Favorite Films of the 2010s

See also: my favorite books, TV shows, and albums of the 2010s.

My initial list for this endeavor had 77 movies. After I barely managed to winnow it down to 50, I just couldn’t figure out how I’d get to that arbitrary yet appealing round number of 10.

But once I realized most of the movies could be grouped pretty cleanly into 10 different categories (some of which I devised myself), that allowed me to compare movies of the same genre or subgenre to each other rather than to movies doing something completely different. Using that system, my top picks of each slot fell almost immediately into place.

Note that the list ranks the movies, not the categories they represent. The categories made picking the top 10 easier, but the finalists in each one—consider them my honorable mentions—wouldn’t have necessarily ended up in the same ranking and often could fit in several of the categories.

As with all best-of lists, I strove to use an alchemy of my head and my heart to make the final determinations, consulting my yearly best-of lists and trusty logbook to make sure I didn’t miss anything. It was at once overwhelming and rewarding to consider all I’ve seen and decide both what has stuck with me the most and what best represents a decade in cinema.

Here’s what I got.

10. This Is Martin Bonner


A serene and sure-handed film about two men with a faith problem, which inspired one of my favorite blog posts.

Category: Quiet Drama

Finalists: Moonlight, The Rider, Paterson, Ida, Columbus, A Ghost Story

9. Arrival


How could I not love a movie exploring the intersection of language and love across the space-time continuum?

Category: Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Finalists: Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, Snowpiercer, The Lobster

8. Minding the Gap


A stunning documentary about teen skateboarders that’s about one thing before it becomes about many others.

Category: Documentary

Finalists: Nostalgia for the Light, Tower, These Birds Walk, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, California Typewriter

7. The LEGO Movie


What should have been just a brainless cash-grab brand-stravaganza was also a surprisingly rich, hilarious, sunnily dystopian meditation on creativity and existence.

Category: Comedy

Finalists: Coco, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, They Came Together, The Muppets, Midnight in Paris

6. Mad Max: Fury Road


Submitted without comment:


Category: Action

Finalists: Creed, Noah


5. Spotlight


This video by Nerdwriter1 gets at what makes this movie so compelling and why I’ve returned to it repeatedly, despite the heaviness of the subject.

Category: Searing Drama

Finalists: The Florida Project, Like Someone In Love, Calvary, First Reformed

4. The Social Network


The final confrontation between Mark and Eduardo might be the best scene of the decade. I’d wish for more collaborations between David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, but how would they top this?

Category: Creative Nonfiction

Finalists: The Founder, The Favourite, The Death of Stalin

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


An electric, vivid, and original vision that I hope instigates a sea change in film animation and superhero movies.

Category: Superhero

Finalists: Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Wonder Woman

2. Lincoln


A biopic done right: not as a shallow, decades-spanning survey treated like a greatest hits album (cough Jersey Boys) with bad aging makeup (cough J. Edgar), but as a focused, intentionally contained story that captures its subject and his times with an appropriate mix of reverence and rigor.

Category: Historical Drama

Finalists: Selma, Brooklyn, Inside Llewyn Davis, Roma

1. Hell or High Water


But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

—Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”

Lots getting tangled up in this steely, ruggedly graceful, no-bullshit modern western: family, friendship, the past, the future, tragedy, redemption. A dangerous momentum drives the two bank-robbing brothers and the lawmen hunting them through a dust-choked Texas toward their fates. All we can do is buckle up and hold on.

Category: Family Drama

Finalists: Wildlife, Boyhood, Before Midnight

Film Review

Best Films of 2010

Toy Story 3
How great was the epic Western opening sequence? (It was actually a recreation of the original film’s opener.) I couldn’t stop smiling throughout this movie. It does a remarkable job of marrying old characters with new challenges. But the reason this is the best of the year is its ending. Andy decides to give away his toys (and, in essence, his adolescence) as he enters adulthood, leading to the most emotional and bittersweet goodbyes I can remember in film. So long, Woody, Buzz and Co. Here’s hoping the Academy wises up and awards Best Picture to the best film of 2010.

Black Swan
I sat in the theater, watching the credits roll, wondering what in the name of Natalie Portman just happened. What was the most stressful movie-going experience for me was also the most fascinating. Credit goes to director Darren Aronofsky, for creating the film’s unique vision and suffocating atmosphere, and to Portman, who finally shows how far she can go to achieve greatness as the conflicted ballerina. Who says ballet isn’t interesting?

The Social Network
The director David Fincher jokingly calls his film “the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies.” On technical merits, it’s no Citizen Kane. But The Social Network understands its generation much better than any of Hughes’ movies did. You can’t get hung up on the facts because when viewed as an allegory of our time—the Age of Facebook—it’s brilliant and oddly epic. Here’s to seeing more of Jesse Eisenberg (and less of Justin Timberlake).

The Fighter
Mark Wahlberg beefs up, Amy Adams dresses down, and Christian Bale whacks out. And all three make this taut, unvarnished true story worth watching. Like many good sports films, The Fighter isn’t so much about the sport as it is about the competitor. Though Bale sticks out as the crack-addict brother, it’s Wahlberg who shines as the boxer with something to prove.

True Grit
The Coen Brothers’ first foray into the Western is in many ways the Brothers’ least typical. The trailer doesn’t let on how funny the film is. A lot of the humor derives from the characters’ antiquated diction and sharp tongue of 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. But watch out for what is arguably the only time the Brothers Coen let sentiment sneak into their story’s end.

More amazing, I think, than Christopher Nolan’s mind-blow of a movie’s special effects and concept was how such a big summer feature was kept under wraps for so long. I really didn’t know what to expect until I saw it in theaters, and when I did I was hugely impressed by the mind-web Nolan spun. Not perfect by any means, Inception gives me hope for more smart, well-made summer films. (A fool’s hope?)

The Kids Are All Right
Gets the award for most pleasant surprise. Once you move beyond the novelty of the lesbian-mothers dynamic, The Kids Are All Right reveals itself as a compelling and endearingly odd family drama. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.