One of the major film releases I remember from 2010 was Toy Story 3, and the reason is because I saw it three times in theaters – once with my dad, once with my mom, and once with my closest high school friends. It felt appropriate to have these three separate viewings of this specific film, because for people exactly my age, it was more than just a goodbye to Buzz, Woody, Rex, Mr. Potato Head, and the others. It was a goodbye to childhood. In just a few weeks after its release, we’d be headed to college. Just like Andy, we were letting go of all the routines and comforts that had comprised our last 18 years of being, and headed into the unknown.
I just recently watched that movie again, and it put me right back in that theater seat in 2010, halfway between high school and college, tears streaming down my face knowing that what Andy was going through onscreen was what I’d be going through in just a few weeks. So much has changed since then. I’ve moved from South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh, to Brooklyn; I graduated college; my mom got cancer, then beat it; we had to sell my childhood home; I’ve had bummer heartaches, fist-bumping successes, and met my best friend. Zooming out, it’s a decade bifurcated into Obama-era hope and a challenging, upsetting reckoning of those ideals. But through it all, Toy Story 3 remains the same.
That’s really the magical thing about movies – they’re these permanent artifacts in a world that only spins forward, and real fucking fast at that. Meeting a movie that speaks to your current moment can feel like falling in love, and one of my favorite sensations is revisiting a film I’d written off and realizing it had more wisdom than I had initially realized. Some films are with you for that moment, but as time goes by, they drift away as you move forward. See Spot Run… Osmosis Jones… Casper… these are movies I’ve sat through in my life. Gone… all gone… Others, you carry with you into your next chapter. Films like The Wizard of Oz, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather: Part II, Spirited Away, Mulholland Drive, The Fellowship of the Ring, E.T. – these have stuck with me through the years because they’ve always had something to give me no matter how many times I go back.
In that way, they’re a lot like friends. The people who sat with me in that theater in 2010 may no longer be the ones closest to me, but they remain a part of who I am regardless of how often I may see them or whenever the last time is that we talked. Since we left Toy Story 3 and all went on our separate journeys, I’ve met so many people – funny ones, wise ones, ambitious ones, sad ones, toxic ones, weird ones, brave ones, annoying ones, adventurous ones, smartass ones, and everything in between. I’ve also seen a lot of movies – over 400, by my count – short, long, slow, fast, cartoon, live-action, thrilling, boring, hysterical, devastating, some with Vin Diesel, some without Vin Diesel. Culling all I’ve seen, here are the 50 movies released from 2010 to 2019 that will be sticking with me into the next decade, ranked and accompanied by lovely and illuminating blurbs written by just eight of the people most special to me, people who I met this decade and with whom I’m so pleased to be heading into the next.
50. INSIDE OUT (2015)
What makes a perfect story? There’s no one answer, but there is a tried and tested formula – a hypothesis that’s been proven correct 14 times by a bunch of so-called computer nerds in California. The three elements they believe make a perfect story? Thrills, humor, and heart. What a simple idea, yeah? Tell stories that are a lot of fun, make people laugh, and create genuine feeling, and you can make $500 million dollars a movie. No, I’m serious. They’ve LITERALLY made an average of $500 million dollars a film. Pixar has made over $14 billion on their 21 movies, for an average of $680 million a movie. Subtract the $100-150 million price tag on most and boom – over $500 million profit. Even when other studios started to produce computer animation on the same level, Pixar still outran the competition. What was the reason? Thrills, humor, and heart. You’ll be hard pressed to find one of their films that doesn’t contain strong remnants of each of these components upon viewing. But what separates the good Pixar movies from the exceptional ones? Finding the perfect mix of all three ingredients. While there is no “bad” Pixar movie, there are ones that don’t find that perfect balance. Or better put, there are certain entries that are overstuffed with one element of the three, thus throwing off the perfect equilibrium desired. Cars? Too much thrills and humor, probably not enough heart. Up? Enough heart to literally kill you in the first ten minutes, but could use some more of the other two. But when you find the perfect mix, you can feel it in the theater. It’s palpable. It’s magnetic. Inside Out is one of those perfect blends. The idea alone is so ingenious it’s infuriating. But at no point do they rest on the laurels of that initial concept, as the recipe gels together to perfection throughout. They mix gut-busting laughter with a thrilling story, and tie it all together with enough heart to give the first ten minutes of Up a run for its money. And yet, my favorite element of Inside Out isn’t its thrills, humor nor its heart, but rather its lesson – that this life is full of happy moments and sad moments; embrace both. The simple beauty of that lesson left me sitting in my seat long after the credits finished. Damn it, Pixar. You did it again. – Jimmy Nicholas
49. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018)
Action movies are the best kind of movie. One liners. Huge stunts. Intense fight sequences. Sexy set pieces. I love all of it. In fact, much like Diet Coke and Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, I’m addicted to them. They’re my Movie Comfort Food. Needless to say, the Mission: Impossible series is the cornbread of my action movie addiction. I just want to stuff my face with it till I can’t see straight. After so many successful entries in this franchise (all of them are really solid films, excusing the second one, which is garbage), I thought that the best days of this franchise were behind it. I mean, when your lead just turned 57 years old and you’ve already had him hang out of a plane, scale the tallest building in the world, hold his breath under water for six and a half minutes (yes…six and half minutes), and battle the legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman (the best villain of the series), where are you supposed to go next? Enter director Christopher McQuarrie, and Mission Impossible: Fallout. A callback to the espionage feel of the original, Fallout goes back to the roots of the franchise in a thrilling two hours that grabs you by your collar and refuses to let go. In the age of endless sequels and cinematic universes galore, Fallout is an imperative reminder that any source material can be reborn with a bold storytelling approach and a fresh creative point of view. Oh! And of course $175 million and the best action star ever. The only question that remains is “Was this film worth ruining Justice League, all because of Henry Cavill’s mustache?” Oh wait, Justice League was gonna suck regardless. Not all cinematic universe and sequel movies need suffer that fate, and Fallout is living proof of that. – Jimmy Nicholas
48. INCEPTION (2010)
Inception is a movie that shouldn’t work. The sheer number of concepts and plot devices is staggering, and it races from one to another at a breakneck pace. When I first saw the movie, I left thinking the world-building was flimsy, the character moments rushed, and the fridge logic truly rancid. But images from Inception have stuck with me for nine years – the story affects me more today than it did then. Perhaps the theme of longing for a different reality is more moving in one’s late twenties than having just graduated high school. Perhaps the ambition and originality behind the film are more stirring in a media-culture usurped by remakes and remixes of an earlier generation’s IP. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a movie with the same blend of high-concept thought experiment and star quality oneironautics being made today, and Inception delivers on both in spades. There is quite a lot of hand-waving past the funkier contrivances of stakes and circumstance, but helped by an iconic score by Hans Zimmer and a couple of heartbreaking acting moments from Leo and Cillian Murphy, the movie soars. Behind the flashy dream-within-a-dream of it all, there is a story about a man who lost his wife to a shared delusion, a man who never fully recovered from that experience, and how he must risk losing himself to get back home. Inception explores notions of faith and certainty with a profound curiosity of spirit; it reminds us all that we too are waiting for a train; it asks us to question what exactly is so real about reality. It shouldn’t work, but it does. “An idea is like a virus,” and the ideas behind Inception rise high above the sum of its parts.– Thomas Moore
47. GIRLS TRIP (2017)
Pack ya grapefruit, girl. We goin’ to New Orleans! I’ma be real, I kinda live under a rock and didn’t know much about this movie until one day Kyle was like, “Bitch, let’s go,” so I was like, “Ugh, okay bitch.” And let me tell you, I am so glad I said “okay, bitch!” On the surface, Girls Trip is a cute lil’ comedy about four women traveling to New Orleans for the annual Essence Fest and rekindling their friendship. But it gives us sooooo much more, including – peeing over Bourbon Street, zesty dance battles, six pack abs, a group absinthe overdose, and LARENZ TATE! And that’s just scratching the surface! So many real and relatable-ass questions are asked over the course of this film. How do you genuinely celebrate your friend’s success when you’re stuck on the struggle bus? What happens when life pulls you and your besties in opposite directions? How do you recover from a horrible heartbreak? Are massively successful women granted the room to be imperfect? How do you give a bomb blowjob?!? The Flossy Posse is here to answer! Regina Hall (who is my FOREVER fav for playing Brenda in the Scary Movie franchise) acted her ass off and completely stole our hearts as a successful woman whose perfect life is secretly imploding. A star was born in Tiffany Haddish who came in like a wrecking ball, left us all in stitches, and solidified her comedic career in one fell hilarious swoop. Queen Latifah reminded us all that she is 100% that bitch and Jada Pinkett was absolutely adorable, giving an endearing and inspired performance that melted our icy hearts. In recent years, Black folks haven’t really been given the place to make our own fun romp movies, and when we do, they are usually labeled as “black films” and tend to get a limited release or end up going straight to DVD. But Girls Trip casts a spell that few can resist. If you watch this movie and by the end you don’t feel compelled to call your closest friends and hop on a plane to NOLA, something is wrong with you and you should stay far away from me. – Harron Atkins
46. THE BIG SICK (2017)
The Big Sick is one of those movies that’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying. In a grounded and thoughtful way, it’s really got something for everyone. The thing I adore most about this movie is the simultaneous lightness and richness in its sense of humor. It feels like one of the most grounded romantic comedies I’ve come across, and I think that’s largely due to the quality of the relationships these characters have, and how we witness those relationships grow and change. Every performance (Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself; Zoe Kazan; Ray Romano; and Holly Hunter, one of my personal heroes) gives us a character moving through the world with a wonderful naturalism, vulnerability, and a tickling sense of humor, even if they don’t know they have it. Also, big shout out to my girl Vella Lovell who plays Khadija, a woman with whom Kumail’s parents attempt to set him up. Though she only appears in a few scenes, I found it so exciting to see a religiously conservative woman of color played with such zest, strength, and a hella good sense of humor (she also rules on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend if you wanna see more of her). If there’s one thing this movie says to me, it’s that family is love. It’s where we first learn and continue to learn how in the heck we love one another, and ultimately, it’s what romantic love grows into with just the right balance of water and sunshine.- Alexis Floyd
45. BLACK PANTHER (2018)
WAKANDA FOREVAAAAA! I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing the screen open up on Wakanda for the first time – full body chills. Then… tears. I think it was the shock of seeing dozens of black bodies, adorned in jewels, stunning garments and tribal makeup, and realizing that these were not some random villagers about to be saved from some crazy demise by a strapping white man… these were the stars of this Marvel film. The image left me in complete awe. And the rest of the film proceeded to snatch my edges right off my head. Sure, the action is unreal and the cinematography is gorgeous, but what is so special to me about Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the specificity of it. It takes all the elements of a Marvel blockbuster and makes it so damn (and I really don’t know how else to say this) BLACK. Unapologetic and original. The script, the costumes, the music, the performances, it all just feels so thick with history and imbued with the lore of the world and the spirit of black folks that at times, I forgot it was an MCU offering. For example, during an action sequence, Danai Gurira literally snatches her wig off and throws it at an enemy before knocking his ass off a balcony with a spear. Like, WHAT?!? Moments like THAT. So full of flavor and nuance and soul. To watch black people exist so organically in the Marvel Universe is pure magic. Also, the joy of seeing legends like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker act alongside rising stars like Leititia Wright, Winston Duke, Michael B., Chadwick, and Lupita… it just feels like this multi-generational effort to do it for the culture and I am obsessed. One of my favorite elements of the film is the use of Martin Freeman’s character as the one white good guy we see. Because he is SIMPLY there as an ally and not a savior. A guest in this world (and they don’t let him forget it). He got to fill that token seat that is too familiar to black characters in these films, and he is utilized with a grace and wit that is just so smart and cool. Black Panther is a game changer. It has helped change the rules of who gets to tell what stories and the scale in which they get to be told. Because the Coogs and his team ran, a whole lot of folks are gonna be able to soar. – Harron Atkins
44. MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018)
What a completely magical surprise this movie was for me. Our very own Rob Marshall speaks right to the inner child running wild in each and every one one of us through a spectacular display of sound and color (especially the greens and blues of it all), and though we fly quite high, we never lose touch with the movie’s very grounded connection to the importance of family above all and of the trials and tribulations of all things Life. Any chance to celebrate patron saint Lin-Manuel Miranda must be taken seriously, and this movie spares no expense to give the man his space to shine shine shine as our beloved Jack (and we have absolutely no problem forgiving his dialect coach for sending him into battle with a B+ in Cockney). But the one who really knocked me out of my seat, with his performance as Michael Banks, was Ben. Friggin. Whishaw. Holy Heartbreak, that man’s soliloquy in the form of the original song “A Conversation”… if nothing else, do your tear ducts a favor and clean those suckers out with a watch of that song on YouTube. I don’t even wanna say more than that in case you haven’t seen it yet, but I promise you ya don’t wanna leave this planet without doing so. Emily Blunt became one of my favorite actresses this decade, and her portrayal of this iconic wonder of a woman is a big reason why. Her dispatch of subtext, her subtlety followed by wonderfully big and brave choices, the secret that’s always just behind her eyes, the way she ever-so-slyly sneaks you juuuust a peak into Mary Poppins’ own insecurities and questions about life… it’s quite truthfully a masterful performance. Delicious, delightful, and dare I say soulful? If ya haven’t yet, give it a chance; not only will you not regret it, but you might just fall in love. – Alexis Floyd
43. UNCUT GEMS (2019)
Much of my childhood was me being pressured, kicking and screaming, into watching Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy upwards of a thousand times by my cousins. Words cannot describe my contempt for these films, or how much I would have rather watched The Sound of Music. Yadda, yadda, yadda, this all checks out, anyway… Flash forward to 2019, where I’m pretty sure I’m okay saying that Adam Sandler gives one of the best performances of the decade in Uncut Gems. This is a movie that, pardon my French, fucks. It fucks hard. There’s really no other way to describe it. The Safdie Brothers, fresh off 2017’s Good Time, give Sandler a dynamite role as Howard Ratner, a rush-addicted sports gambler, then place him in control of a teetering and towering house of cards seconds away from collapsing. Add to that a supporting cast of naturalist veterans and fresh-off-the-street amateurs and the Safdies’ cinema verite shooting style and the film is less setting Sandler up for success than saying, “Hey my dude, keep up.” How he rises to that challenge is most of what gives this film its electric buzz, and in lesser filmmakers’ hands his galvanizing performance would devour the film alive. But because the Safdies have penned a great script, and because they’re in such command of the form, he fits in perfectly, and watching Uncut Gems becomes a thrilling experience, equal parts white-knuckle anxiety and fist-pumping fun. “I think you must be the most annoying man alive,” says his wife Dinah. The triumph of the Safdies’, and of Sandler’s – the thing that makes this thing a real sicko masterpiece – is that even while we know she’s dead right, we’re still rooting for this guy to win. – Kyle Wilson
42. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2015)
“So sweetie, I don’t know if we ever figure our lives out. And the people that help you, they might not be who you thought or wanted, they might just be the ones who show up.” Yup. Everybody in this movie is just trying to figure out what it’s all about. They each have these hangups and at times are spinning out of control in a way that is both similar and very unlike fellow 2010s movie protagonist, Llewyn Davis. Where Davis has a strong sense of purpose and belief in his work, these characters are trying to figure out why we even do what we do at all. This movie is messy, and that’s what I kinda like about it to begin with. Nobody is without flaw or fault, not every avenue mentioned gets fully explored, and I think that’s okay considering the existential themes of the movie. Life rarely gives us closure in the ways we wanted, and while this movie’s open-endedness might not feel as satisfying to some audience members, I think it’s just what it needs to be. When looking back at this movie, I instantly picture Annette Bening. The relationship with her son showed me that no matter how close you can get with someone, there will always be space that divides and blocks full understanding. What we choose to do in that dividing space is what can make or break our relationships. – Luke Lamontagne
41. THE LOBSTER (2015)
I love this movie so much it’s difficult for me to think of where to start. Everything about it works in concert to produce a pitch-black comedy that is somehow more mesmerizing than it is uncomfortable. From the bizarre opening act of equicide to the violins-on-a-chalkboard soundtrack, this movie manages to take the subliminal social warfare around relationship status and paint it in an absurd, yet always recognizable, light. To those at the film’s hotel, being single is an aberration punished by literal dehumanization; to the forest-dwelling ‘loners’, entering a relationship is an act of betrayal answered with punishments that would make Hammurabi blush. Every performance in this movie is as inspired as it is deeply weird, and the raw creativity of the script fills me with indescribable joy. The Lobster is a movie about love and attraction, but set in a world where the societal baggage overshadows the thing itself, to the point where people cannot authentically relate to one another at all. And that starts to sound familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a heartbreaking satire that goes all-the-fuck-out. It’s a movie that I wince at rather than weep through, because it resonates with how we all mythologize romance, affinity, and togetherness. And lest we forget about the ending, Yorgos Lanthimos outdoes himself in that drawn-out final shot in the diner… leading me to wonder if Colin Farrell may have decided he’d be better off as a lobster, after all. – Thomas Moore
40. JOJO RABBIT (2019)
Like most great coming-of-age films, Jojo Rabbit is built around the questions of what we do/ who we become in order to fit in, to feel like we belong, and to feel like we are a part of something larger than ourselves. What makes this one so special is that in the case of its protagonist, fitting in means enthusiastically joining the Hitler Youth and having the Fuhrer himself as an imaginary best friend. It’s a comedy about indoctrination, an insightful examination on how hate is passed on, and the year’s most relevant movie to the time we’re living in that’s not actually set in the time we’re living. The film walks a difficult line, holding young Jojo accountable for the monster he could become while adamantly insisting he doesn’t have to become it. There are outrageous laughs to be sure, but the heart of this movie is its quiet star, and at times when the comedy falters, the richness of the world and the characters carries the movie forward. Scarlett Johansson takes your breath away with a fake beard and a dangling shoe, and Sam Rockwell is his usual wonderful self. But it’s the children who make this movie. And no matter how stellar the performances of the adults are, they are triumphantly overshadowed by Roman Griffin Davis’ lonely and yearning Jojo, Archie Yates’ hysterical Yorki, and Thomasin McKenzie’s portrayal of Elsa, one of the most simultaneously scared and brave characters I’ve ever seen. Plus, and I cannot emphasize this enough, Hitler gets kicked in the balls. – Sam French
39. WAVES (2019)
When was the last time you WEPT at a movie? And I’m not talking about some mild, single tear action, I’m talking about a full-body, convulsive, feel-it-in-your-gut ugly cry fest. For me, that’s Waves, Trey Edward Shults’ sensory, anguished, and ultimately cathartic melodrama about pressure, pain, and the purification that can happen in the aftermath of tragedy. The first half is an assault; the camera flies in every direction, the soundtrack needle drops battering your ear as Shults takes Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Tyler and you to the depths of hell. Coming off that, the back half feels like salvation, illuminated by a spirit of love and forgiveness and anchored by an astounding breakthrough performance by Taylor Russell. This is a film made powerful by images – expressionist, bold; the hellish glow of police cars on a devastated father’s face, the magic-hour tranquility of two lovers immersed in water. Those images communicate more than words ever could, and in the hands of Shults they reach deep down and touch on something really, really true. It’s overwhelming how much this movie hurts, and how much it heals. – Kyle Wilson
Alexis’ Honorable Mention:
SPIDER MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)
Y’all. I love this movie so much. I love what it has to say about heroes in the world, and I know it’s not the first nor will it be the last to say it, but it was really something to see a young black boy, Miles Morales, although every bit of his world is hardcore telling him he’s not enough for his dreams, awaken to an inner-power no one and nothing can destroy. Spider-Man has always been my favorite of the Marvel superheroes, largely because rather than growing out of his awkward phase, Spider-Man learns how to use it to his advantage, creating a superpower all his own. And as the film leaps through time and the many reincarnations of our Spider-crusader, we see that none of them are quite what you’d expect to show up when you call out for a hero, but all of them are experts at doing things their way; and at the end of the day, there’s nothing more powerful than that. If you’re a lover of all things animation and/or the urgent and necessary revolution of the black boy narrative, sit back, relax, and so very deeply enjoy Spider-Verse, my dear friend.
38. BRIDESMAIDS (2011)
If for some reason you have been living in the deepest, darkest cave for the last decade, let me tell you about this little movie from 2011 that changed the world. Or at least mine. Bridesmaids is the greatest comedy of the decade and one of the greatest of all time. It is about loneliness, redemption, and radical friendship. It features one of the best casts ever assembled, and it showed the world that Melissa McCarthy is a goddamned genius. This movie broke open my idea of what women were allowed to be on film, and proved to any skeptics that a women-led comedy can fucking. make. money. To understand why, see: Kristen Wiig getting stoned on a plane and screaming over the loudspeaker, “There’s a colonial woman on the wing!”, Maya Rudolph having explosive diarrhea in a wedding dress in the middle of the street, and Melissa McCarthy getting an Oscar nomination for one of the funniest and weirdest performances I’ve ever seen. So for Chrissake watch it if you haven’t, or watch it again with your best friends and some cheap rosé. – Molly Griggs
37. THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)
The feel-good coming-of-age comedy rarely registers anymore. The story beats are familiar, the cliche pile-ups too colossal to ignore. How then to combat genre fatigue? Casting Sam Rockwell sure goes a long way. His performance here, far too many years before he was finally recognized by the Academy, is a master class in easy charm, spontaneity, and blowing a movie up into a firestorm of warm fuzzies. That warmth turns out to be the movie in a nutshell, as writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon infuse this most formulaic of stories with an unwavering commitment to honesty and compassion. This is a movie whose cast is so strong, whose heart is so locked into the right place, that (despite its shaggy dog stretches) it’s hard not to fall in love. For me, that has a lot to do with the fact that I saw it for the first time with my mom, and that this is certainly one of the best mother-son films of the decade. Because as much as it follows Liam James’ Duncan through his summertime blossoming, it also charts the journey of his mother, Pam (always-MVP Toni Colette) as she confronts the fears and anxieties that have led her so far away from her life’s initial trajectory. Duncan sees that fear in his mother, and Pam sees the light in her son that has somehow faded for her. Nobody knows a mother better than her son, and nobody knows a son better than her mother; despite all the hard knocks of life, the twists and turns and detours to seaside oases and “spring breaks for adults,” Duncan and Pam wind up right where every mother and son should – side by side in the way way back. – Kyle Wilson
36. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
I love this movie. It is one of the best sequels ever made (other qualifiers: Godfather: Part II, Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, Rush Hour 2, and – apparently – Paddington 2). I don’t understand why more people didn’t see it. Twice as many people who saw this movie saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales. That is a crime and makes me want to go Oedipus on my eyes. You know what doesn’t make me want to do that? Roger Deakins’ cinematography in this movie. Just writing about how forgotten this movie is pisses me off, because this movie kicks ass. Lots of ass. A plethora of ass. THIS MOVIE KICKS A PLETHORA OF ASS! WHY DIDN’T IT WIN MORE OSCARS! IT DESERVED BETTER!!!! …that escalated quickly.
Random Thought: I think about the parallels between this movie and Her all the time. Lot of similar themes, both criminally underrated. – Jimmy Nicholas
35. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2015)
This movie was considered a flop, and I guess I can understand why. To me, it feels even more niche than Richy Link’s other memory films, focusing on a well-represented and well-critiqued form of masculinity: the sex-obsessed jock. But I gotta say, as a guy who went to an all-male prep school, where students were scouted and recruited for their sports ability, where the prospect of playing at the professional level was not only possible but tangible, they kinda nail it. This movie makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a young, aspiring sports team because you ARE. All the ball players in the film lived on Richard’s ranch in Texas for three weeks in order to build that team camaraderie, and you feel it in the performances. It’s easy to write this movie off as agro-nonsense, but I think that would dismiss all that this movie genuinely captures about young masculine camaraderie, competition, service, and, ultimately, brotherhood. It’s Richard Linklater recalling the highlights of college in the late 70’s, and everything that comes with it. It’s memory, where things are larger than life; the jokes funnier, the legends more outrageous. And all the while, Linklater threads the movie (with help from Glen Powell’s Finnegan) with some real hard-hitting wisdom and truth that makes it more than just hanging with your bros at the party of your life. The movie may seem all a five-keg rager, but underneath it all are whispers of an impending hangover. – Luke Lamontagne
34. FIRST MAN (2018)
My favorite thing about First Man is the way it captures the terrifying claustrophobia of early rocket launches, of being strapped into an aluminum cylinder and fired into outer space. This movie is muted in almost all other things, from the slightly awkward gatherings of astronauts and their wives, to the moments of strangled grief. It is surprisingly a very quiet movie, which only makes the scenes of screaming machinery and shuddering metal more jarring. It features one of my favorite Ryan Gosling performances in his pitch-perfect take on the famously shy and soft-spoken Neil Armstrong. And the whole of it is an at once awe-inspiring and tragic biography of not only Armstrong, but the space race itself. There is something wonderfully reflective about the film; it can rest on the truth of the story because the truth is so compelling and the script is so well-researched. The sheer insanity of what these people were doing, and the geopolitical pressures that brought it to be, is set against a humble, human community with very strange lives. My first exposure to the film was its soundtrack; Kyle sent me a link to “The Landing” and I must have listened to it a hundred times before finally watching the movie. It’s just one piece of the beautiful score by Justin Hurwitz, which elevates the emotionality of the movie’s themes. The story stands on its own; but there is a dichotomous through-line to it that is grander still, a mournful sadness that death and violence should be so inextricable from the serene beauty of the universe and of life on Earth. – Thomas Moore
33. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019)
It’s crazy how Portrait of a Lady on Fire invented cinema. That’s what I (half-jokingly) declared to Kyle after we first saw this together, about five minutes after I stopped sobbing and had somewhat regained my composure. While that may be a slight overstatement, writer/director Celine Sciamma created a film that’s so bracingly intimate, sharp and subversive that it feels like something that’s never been done before.
Set in 18th-century France on a remote seaside estate, the film follows a perceptive young artist named Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who’s tasked with painting Heloise (Adele Haenel), an aloof, volatile heiress grieving the loss of her sister and her freedom, as an arranged marriage looms ahead. Given that she refuses to sit for a portrait, Marianne is forced to closely observe Heloise and commit her likeness to memory: fervently attempting to replicate the shape of her ears, cascading blonde curls and piercing hazel eyes on a canvas.
That attention to detail is part of what makes Portrait so damn HOT. As Marianne and Heloise spend more and more time together, they begin to pick up on each other’s small mannerisms and quirks: how one bites her lip when she’s embarrassed, or the other touches her forehead when she’s lost for words. It manages to be intensely erotic without ever ogling its actresses or resorting to porny depictions of lesbian sex (We love you, Blue is the Warmest Color, but not great, Bob).
It’s a credit to Merlant and Haenel’s mind-blowing chemistry, but also to Sciamma’s unmistakable female perspective. In Portrait she creates something of a women’s utopia: There’s literally one line of dialogue spoken by a man in the entire film, as Marianne, Heloise and their young maid, Sophie (Luana Bajrami), are free to talk and laugh and create and learn from each other. Without ever feeling preachy, the movie deftly addresses the limitations placed on women at the time: from the realities of abortion, to the kinds of art permissible for them to make, to who they’re allowed to love.
But what ultimately makes Portrait such a special film – one that makes me tear up literally every time I watch the trailer, and has continued to haunt me even after repeat viewings – is what Sciamma says about the power of love and memory. In one pivotal scene, the three women debate the Greek myth of Orpheus, who despite Hades’ warning, looks back at his dead wife Eurydice as he escorts her from the underworld and she vanishes forever.
“He doesn’t make the lover’s choice, but the poet’s,” Marianne explains, suggesting that sometimes it’s better to have the remembrance of someone, rather than a relationship that’s doomed to end. Forbidden to ever be together, Marianne and Heloise achingly accept their own tragic romance – deciding to hold onto the beautiful, if brief, time they shared together. It’s all encapsulated in one devastating, uninterrupted, three-minute crying shot that would make Timmy Chals hurl himself into a fireplace after watching it. It’s that fucking good. – Patrick Ryan
32. BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)
Earlier this year, I watched the Before trilogy for the first time. I watched them over three consecutive nights, and they fucked me right up. For those who don’t know, the first movie is all about that young love – that feel good, marketable, unsustainable, magic love. That movie, 1995’s Before Sunrise, captures that feeling of instant connection, the electricity and excitement of it. By the time we get to Before Midnight, layers upon layers of history, trials, and compromise have affected and changed our lovers. Young love is gone, and that’s okay because in its place is a mature love, love that has long ago ditched the honeymoon excitement. Love in Before Midnight is an active verb. It’s a choice that the characters decide to make every day, and if you’ve seen the movie – IT’S FOR SURE NOT BLIND. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy communicate this beautifully. Both are so funny and charming, and by now you’ve been with these bastards for like twenty years, so all you wanna do is listen to what your old friends have been up to since you last saw them in Paris. That being said, it is destroying to watch them argue at impasses, to watch this relationship tumble apart. They’ve long ago ditched the rose-tinted glasses and are instead looking at each other with shrewd, sometimes hateful eyes. Of course, this makes it all the better when we see them pick up the pieces they blasted apart together, and start to rebuild. Together. These movies are some of my favorites, and what makes this last one so important to my mind is that it reveals the uglier side of romance and domestic partnership, without passing judgement. – Luke Lamontagne
31. FRANCES HA (2012)
Co-written by and starring the patron saint of heartfelt millennials herself, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is a journey about selfhood, art, money, love, and a tenacity that wavers but never fully buckles. And it’s in black and white. Because it just SHOULD be. It features simple and stark direction by Noah Baumbach, and beautifully buoyant performances by the entire cast, particularly Adam Driver and Mickey Sumner. Gerwig’s Frances is so funny, alive, and fully three dimensional it HURTS! While in many ways the story is of the same waters as her masterpiece, Lady Bird, it is unique and special and deserves its own shrine. The story structure is open and free and, dare I say, feminine? We get to see the world through Frances, and she shines a light on the cruelty of making art in a capitalist society as well as the weirdness of just being an adult. However, even as I watch her literally stumble through her difficult friendships – paying rent and making art – I know she’s going to be okay as she leaps and twirls through the crosswalk, onto the sidewalk, and into the glorious unknown.- Molly Griggs
30. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
Fresh off The Hurt Locker, we all patiently waited for what project Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal would take on next. That film, arguably the only good Iraq war movie, was so brilliant and so fleeting in the public eye that we almost didn’t have time to appreciate it, and spent three years reminiscing about how fantastic of a film it was as it played on cable channels continuously. This intrigue was made greater by the news that Bigelow and Boal had started production on a film about Osama bin Laden’s death within a mere 18 months of the news breaking. I had doubts. They were unnecessary. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t just a movie. It’s a feeling. It gets underneath your skin and sticks around long after you’ve finished viewing. This gripping, engrossing movie, forces you to decide for yourself whether the ends justify the means, and what happens when we get to the end of the rainbow we’ve been searching for. The feeling that this film gave me lingered around for weeks after. The movie wasn’t stuck in my head because of its set pieces, or because of its intricate plot webs. In fact, it wasn’t stuck in my head at all. It was stuck in my lungs. In my breath. In my pulse. I couldn’t shake the “thrilling uneasiness” that had grabbed hold of me in the theater. The older I get, the more I understand that this is a tell tale sign of a masterpiece film. When it lingers inside you much longer than it should. Like a song lyric you can’t get out of your head. Ask me when I finally got this film out of my head, and I can’t quite say. Maybe that’s because it’s still there. – Jimmy Nicholas
29. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017)
Florida is famous for its unique ecosystems and the wildlife they contain – the everglades with their snakes and gators, the gulf beaches with their stingrays and sharks, and, yes, Disney World itself with its tourists and townies. In The Florida Project, Sean Baker zooms in on one of the less-explored stretches of Florida, the rougher hinterlands outside the Magic Kingdom, where the Mouse’s shadow is cast over cheap restaurants, tacky motels, and souvenir shops. It’s in one of these motels – the Magic Castle, painted a perfect purple – where six-year-old Moonee is growing up under the trying-their-best watch of her mother and the motel’s manager (played with infinite compassion by Willem Dafoe). With Brooklynn Prince’s mischievous and revelatory performance, and Sean Baker’s achingly tender perspective on childhood, Moonee becomes a sort of twenty-first century Tom Sawyer, romping wild through the halls of the motel and through the Florida streets. But The Florida Project is telling another story of childhood alongside that of Moonee’s hijinxes, and it is one of poverty, of deep sorrow and anxiety. The balancing act Baker achieves – where we cheer so joyously at Moonee’s vibrant spirit, all the while fearing so deeply that that spirit will be crushed – makes The Florida Project the humanist epic that it is. It’s a beautiful and specific portrait of growing up that balances what a child wants with what that child needs, and finds them both essential to the growth of her heart. – Sam French
28. CAROL (2015)
Carol is a story about falling in love for the first time. But in this love story, the lovers’ obstacles are so thorny and dangerous it seems nearly impossible for them to connect. The biggest problem being that it’s America in the 50s, and their love is illegal. Of course, there are the additional hurdles of their difference in age and life experience, as well as a significant gap in wealth. The resulting feeling is that of watching a thriller, where every single glance, smile, and smolder is super-charged. This brilliant effect is made possible in large part by the pitch-perfect performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Blanchett’s Carol is imbued with darkness and intelligence, making the most out of a mysterious character that, in less capable hands, could have fallen flat. This is paired beautifully with the fragile vulnerability of Mara as Therese, and provides an honest, albeit anxious, point of view that leaves you on the edge of your seat. The tension is so high in Carol that pleasantries seem brutal and a look could downright kill you. But even through the intensity, I left the theater feeling like I witnessed something quotidian, universal, and quietly human. – Molly Griggs
Sam’s Honorable Mention:
Lucky might not be the best movie of the decade, but I’m sure it’s one of the best movies almost no one saw. Which is a damn shame. The film has many triumphs, none more impactful than giving Harry Dean Stanton the leading role he always deserved, even if he wouldn’t live to see it. The plot is simple – a ninety-year old man drinks coffee, smokes cigarettes, listens to strangers tell stories, and tells some of his own. One of his friend’s pet tortoises goes missing. Not much actually happens. But, in the hands of the masterful Stanton and his ensemble of real-life friends and collaborators, the simplicity is rendered into something exquisite. The end of Lucky’s life is coming, and it’s a gift to us as audiences (and as people who will one day die ourselves) to witness Stanton accept his changing body and the changing world. The making of this movie was an act of deep admiration, respect, and love for the actor, created and performed by his life-long friends. That it is a personal project only magnifies the urgency, the tenderness, and the radical sense of humanity that hum ever so softly throughout the movie.
27. ROOM (2015)
Seven years. Seven. Years. I recently re-watched Room for the first time and let me tell you: I forgot what a gut-punching, lung-twisting, heart-poundingly intense experience it is. This is a movie that makes you feel every defeat, every close call, every win and loss reverberating through your body. The first time I burst out into tears is when Brie Larson tells Jacob Tremblay, “You’re gonna love it. The world.” And it happens again, and again. Unexpectedly. Without warning. True to life. I don’t want to distract from the core of this movie with too much flowery language or speculation on themes; it is just devastating. And life-affirming. And excruciating. The mid-film sequence in the truck is more adrenaline-fueling than most action films; the escape is just too close for comfort. That everything comes down to a multi-step plan carefully executed by a 5-year-old in the back of a moving truck is just about as hair-raising as it gets. I also love how this movie grapples with both the before and after of Room; not settling for the easy feel-good win of ending on the high note of success. Instead, it devotes half its running time to the painful process of re-acclimating. This choice enriches the ultimate catharsis: an overwhelming gratitude for the time we have, and for the endless, endless world. – Thomas Moore
26. TAKE SHELTER (2011)
Jeff Nichols is arguably one of the most underrated directors working today. In his last three features, he’s skillfully hopped between genres – the coming-of-age fable Mud, sci-fi mystery Midnight Special, and historical romance Loving – all without losing the southern-fried soul and deep-rooted sense of family and belonging that permeate all his films.
My introduction to Nichols’ work was 2012’s Take Shelter, his breakthrough second movie and the one I’ve come back to countless times since seeing it in theaters. I most recently showed it to my family over Thanksgiving, and was reminded what a total blast it is for first-time viewers as they try to figure out what the hell is going on with Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), a Midwestern family man who’s haunted by apocalyptic dreams of violent weather, swarming birds and home invasions.
Things get more unsettling as you learn that Curtis’ mom was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he begins building a storm shelter in his backyard stocked with gas masks and canned goods. Curtis’ patient wife (Jessica Chastain) grows more concerned and his friends soon turn against him, resulting in the single most Michael Shannon-y monologue Michael Shannon has ever delivered.
Trying to keep it together at a town potluck, but confronted by an ex-coworker for crying wolf about a coming apocalypse, Curtis eventually cracks and makes sure to go completely off, Thomas. Eyes bulging, flipping a table and pointing to the heavens, he bellows, “THERE’S A STORM COMING LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN, AND NOT ONE OF YOU IS PREPARED FOR IT!” I’m not sure anything has fucked harder or louder in a movie this past decade, nor been more fun for me personally to drunkenly recite.
At this point, it’d be easy for Take Shelter to go totally off the rails, pulling out jump scares or cheap twists for the popcorn horror audience. But even as the film careens into psychological thriller territory, Nichols keeps it simple and grounded: never losing sight of the fact that this is a story of a man just trying to protect his family, nor in any way judging Curtis for his mental illness.
I still get chills every time I watch the climactic storm shelter scene, as a frightened Curtis outfits his wife and young deaf daughter with gas masks, before she gently coaxes him to open the cellar door. As an audience member, you are so genuinely wrapped up in Curtis’ plight that you can’t help but wonder if the end of the world is waiting for them just outside, and there is something so overwhelmingly sad about watching Shannon work up the courage to take what could be his last breath. Shannon’s towering yet vulnerable performance, coupled with Nichols’ deeply human approach, elevate Take Shelter from an entertaining genre picture to an existential masterpiece, with a jaw-dropping final shot that’s one for the ages. – Patrick Ryan
25. TANGERINE (2015)
Merry Christmas, bitch. Tangerine is one of those movies that restores my faith in the film industry. It is completely original, gutsy, constantly surprising, and so. damn. funny. There really isn’t anything like it. So, it’s shot entirely on iPhones. Which like… lol…fierce. But what is truly amazing to me is that it is basically a buddy comedy set in the gritty world of transgender sex workers. And it really is hilarious. It has these stunning moments of sweetness, grit and raw truth, but the film does not present its protagonists as victims. These women are survivors and hustlers and most importantly, they are people just living – which I think is incredibly important to see. It shatters our expectations and preconceived notions about what trans stories can be. It is loud and ridiculous and fast and unconcerned with how you feel about it and I am so here for it. Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are phenomenal. Both first time screen actors and both having had experience with sex work, their performances explode with a vibrancy and abandon that could only come from real friendship and true lived experiences. Director Sean Baker was incredibly smart in enlisting these women not just as performers but as collaborators in the entire process. The debate of “who gets to tell what stories” has been pretty constant in the 2010’s. Now here, we have a cis gendered white man directing this film… could have been a problematic disaster, but Baker shows himself to be a genuinely curious storyteller dedicated to telling a real story about real people, rather than fabricating one about a community to which he has no connection. He did the humble and important work of admitting he could not tell this story alone and then seeking out and really listening to those who have LIVED in this world and who know WTF they are talking about. The result of that kind of commitment to sharing the truth speaks for itself. Tangerine is a triumph. And like, maybe a new Christmas classic? Get with it or get lost, bitch. – Harron Atkins
24. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)
Something devastating has happened in Lee Chandler’s life. Revealed in the middle of the film, this event is so monstrous, so cataclysmic, so gut-wrenchingly awful, that it takes something from you to watch it happen. This man, who we’ve been watching for a little less than an hour, lives with the haunting memory of this event every day of his life. How does he go on? What does he do next? He takes out the trash. He shovels the snow. He microwaves pizza and can’t remember where he parked the car. Life doesn’t just go on in Manchester By the Sea, it kicks you when you’re down, blows raspberries your way when you’re crying, stubs your toe at the worst possible moment. In this way, there’s arguably never been a more perfect portrait of the quotidian inanity of living than Kenneth Lonergan paints here. The story is pretty simple, mixing a “guy returns home” narrative with an odd couple situation between Lee and his 16 year-old nephew, Patrick. And yet everything about this movie, from the purgatory of Manchester with its gray skies and still waters, to the expertly-realist screenplay, to the achingly-true performances, feels so deeply felt it’s overwhelming. Casey Affleck controversially won an Oscar for his performance here, but it’s fairly undeniable as one of the most disciplined and harrowing performances of the decade. The pent-up trauma, the volcanic sadness bubbling under, threatening to overflow out of him at any moment, is captivating. His scenes with Lucas Hedges, whose breakout performance here will only become more legendary as his career gains in richness, are as genuinely funny as any comedy. And I could write a dissertation on the Michelle Williams Scene With the Baby Carriage. It’s no small feat Lonergan made a movie that is at once one of the funniest and saddest of the decade. Living is hell. It’s also a bit of a stinker. Manchester By the Sea is just giving us the truth. – Kyle Wilson
23. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)
“Once there was a Hush Puppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub,” said Quvenzhané Wallis, and just like that my entire world was changed forever. Such is the strength behind Beasts, a true myth for the modern age – one that shines its light on a child hero and, in doing so, projects her shadow as large as any Hercules. She sprints through fields carrying sparklers like Berserker torches, she arm wrestles grown men and breaks crabs in half, she hides from storms. Wrapped up in all the magical realism and the inspiring score is a desperate and relevant story about land betraying its people, daddies betraying their children, and hearts betraying themselves. Writer/director Benh Zeitlin must have had the Gods on his side when he decided to gamble on a cast of local non-actors and found his two stars in a five year old girl and the baker who would play her dad. Critics scrambled to find the best superlatives to throw at Quvenzhané Wallis, but the forces she wields in this movie are beyond the world of words. “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right,” she says, and you can’t help but think that if its her the Universe is depending on, things might just be okay. – Sam French
22. STORIES WE TELL (2012)
The first time I saw Stories We Tell was alone in a theater on a weekend afternoon in June 2013. I went in with a vague idea of the premise – Sarah Polley makes a documentary about her family – but otherwise walked in blind, totally unaware that I was about to witness a “perfect film,” as I so eloquently raved on Instagram later that day.
Over the course of its two hours, I found myself captivated and awestruck by all the story’s twists and turns, as Polley painstakingly recounts her late mom’s infidelity and early death, and begins a tireless search to find the identity of her biological dad. (Mamma Mia! found dead in a ditch.) Because it’s my M.O., I also found myself weeping uncontrollably throughout, and went back to see it a few more times that summer whenever I wanted to cry like Claire Danes in literally everything she’s ever made.
For no particular reason, I never watched the film again after that, and yet I continued to rave about it at every opportunity. So when Kyle suggested we watch it with Alexis a couple months ago for movie night, I was equal parts excited and nervous: afraid that whatever made me so emotional back then wouldn’t resonate the same way again, and that maybe Polley’s freewheeling approach to documentary wasn’t as inventive as I once thought.
It’s safe to say that Stories We Tell still makes me Claire Danes (My So-Called Life era, not Homeland), and I think Polley is even more genius now. Part of what makes her such a brilliant filmmaker is the way she blurs the line between fact and fiction, challenging the audience to determine what’s real and what’s not through a mix of home footage and uncanny reenactments. But she also tells us that none of that really matters and “truth” is all relative, which is the other thing that makes this movie so incredibly wise and moving.
Through a series of casual and contradicting talking-head interviews, Polley asks family and friends to describe her late mom, Diane: ruefully recalling her infectious yet restless spirit, and the long shadow she cast over all their lives. What ultimately comes through is the very simple idea that our stories are all our own, and no one else can ascribe meaning or value to the relationships we cherish most. “Had I been her biological father, she would’ve been different,” says Michael, the man who raised her. “She might’ve been better or worse, but she definitely wouldn’t have been the Sarah she is today. And that’s the one I love.” – Patrick Ryan
21. HEREDITARY (2018)
I was terrified to watch this movie for the longest time. It’s always seemed to me that demonic possession in western medieval Europe was an explanation for an unknowing population to explain mental illnesses. So a movie that explored that relationship in such an inttricate way felt potentially traumatizing to me. Finally, I was convinced to watch it with Kyle and Harron, provided they tightly flank me on the same small couch, and I’m happy to say this movie changed my perception of what a horror movie can be. I dislike gore; I don’t see that changing. But Ari Aster shoots this thing so beautifully, so meticulously, and the performances are so strong, it hurts my feeble brain. It also freaks me the fuck out. For instance, after Toni Colette’s “snap,” she crawls behind her son, alongside of the wall at a pace that doesn’t match the movement of her limbs. It’s so creepy. It’s so off. It’s so wrong. But alongside the horror movie tropes, this movie has something big to say – that in the same way that evil and good define the severity of each other, so do sickness and wellness. Some recent studies have shown that trauma is written on genetic material, so we are able to pass on not only our chemistry, but our experience. Perhaps that’s what makes this movie so cutting for so many of us – there is something about it that’s hauntingly true. – Luke Lamontagne
Molly’s Honorable Mention:
THE WITCH (2016)
This movie gets my honorable mention, because it was, for me, the auteur horror gateway drug – the perfect combination of artful, edgy, and truly scary. It is set in 1600’s New England, and the sheer difficulty of what it meant to survive in the woods as a family of two parents, four kids, a baby, and a sketchy goat is half of what makes this movie terrifying. Well, that and the naked old witch who lives in the woods, steals the baby, chops off his penis, and smashes it into a pulp. Aside from these well-timed moments of heightened and nauseating gore, the film is quiet and measured, and feels extremely realistic – the most important reality being society’s ancient and irrational fear that teenage girls are the devil’s playthings, and that it’s only a matter of time before they do something completely ruinous. In The Witch, it is that fear that fulfills the prophecy.
20. A GHOST STORY (2017)
Rooney Mara ate a whole goddamn pie in one take and still no Oscar? How come, Chief Willoughby?
The first time I heard about A Ghost Story, I was at Sundance and managed to get into the last screening of the festival after 72 hours of reading nothing but pie tweets. Even if you haven’t seen the film, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about this scene: Mara, still mourning the recent death of her unnamed lover (Casey Affleck), returns home to find a neighbor has left her a sympathy dessert. Wordlessly, Mara unwraps the pie and begins to nibble at it with a fork – eventually sinking to the floor and ravenously shoveling it in, eyes welling with tears as she gasps for air in between bites. This goes on for roughly eight uninterrupted minutes until she finally runs to the bathroom and purges it all out.
It’s a striking image that viscerally encapsulates that empty, sick feeling of grief; of feeling rudderless and idle, and trying to find happiness at the bottom of a pastry. It also gives you a good idea of the type of movie you’re getting into with David Lowery’s A Ghost Story which I say without hyperbole is one of the single most audacious and transfixing experiences I’ve ever had with a film.
From the moment Affleck rises from a hospital autopsy table cloaked in a billowing white sheet with cutout eyes, I’m rapt. Despite wearing what is essentially an overgrown child’s Halloween costume, he somehow manages to convey a whole range of emotions: loneliness, that he’s stuck inside his old house and his ex-partner can’t see or hear him; anger, as she begins to move on and eventually out; and melancholy, as he reflects on the music, arguments, laughs, and intimate pillow talks they shared inside their home, which he always felt a certain attachment to that she never quite reciprocated.
Attachment is central to this film, as various tenants – couples, families, bohemians – pass through Affleck’s house, and yet his specter remains there unnoticed, forced to watch them play out their lives yet never able to get any closure on his. It’s only when he unearths an old note from Mara – the last shred of evidence of his life and memory – that his phantom is finally able to leave limbo and go onto whatever comes next.
Ghost Story elegiacally reckons with the passage of time and the inevitability that we’ll all be completely forgotten eventually. Lowery raises bleak and brutal questions about when we cease to exist and whether art truly lives on, but does so in such a visually stunning and oddly comforting way that you can’t help but stare into the void. If we’re all going to die anyway, at least let’s scarf down some pie first. – Patrick Ryan
19. MIDSOMMAR (2019)
Historically, I have not been one to really fuck with horror movies. But when I saw Robert Eggers’ The Witch, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary, I had to reconsider my narrow idea of what the genre truly was. This made me perfectly primed for the release of Midsommar in 2019, and even so my expectations were exceeded. Led by the deeply soulful and Greek-esqe performance of Florence Pugh, this beautiful and blindingly bright nightmare is not a revenge story, but an Odyssey of trauma. It is gorgeous to look at (I feel like I could write an entire dissertation on the costume design brilliantly executed by Andrea Flesch), it is DEEPLY funny (Will Poulter, how dare you), and it is nauseating/ disorienting (wanna do shrooms and watch an old lady jump off a cliff?). Midsommar grapples with the brutality of nature, the futility of fighting one’s inherent flaws, and the richness of grief, while also making you laugh and gasp aloud with gross and hilarious details such as drinking period-blood cocktails, peeing on an ancient ancestral tree, and dressing a man in a fucking bear-skin onesie. While the film is teeming with so many mythical, cultural, and narrative details it could make your head spin, you walk away with feelings that are simple, primal, and essential. What makes this film (particularly the ending) so perfectly unsettling is how Aster’s direction and Pugh’s performance make you feel simultaneously revolted by her choices while also finding a deep satisfaction in them – I think we all secretly wish we could be the May Queen. – Molly Griggs
18. THE IRISHMAN (2019)
This has been a decade of embracing new American masters in film – Paul Thomas Anderson, Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, Barry Jenkins, Greta Gerwig… new and exciting voices making a new generation of masterpieces. With this film, arguably our True Living American Master of Film looks at all that, respectfully smiles, and says, “Hold my beer.” Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman feels like a historic event. It’s not just that it’s his best movie. It’s not just that it boasts a superbly-written screenplay by Steve Zaillian, or masterful editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, or unforgettable performances by some of the greatest actors of all time. No. It’s how all these men’s histories – Scorsese’s, De Niro’s, Pacino’s, Pesci’s – come together here in the twilight of their careers to offer us a work about mortality and legacy, a work which haunts and challenges even as it slams the lid on the coffin of the gangster movie, whispering, “It is finished.” De Niro hasn’t been this good since The King of Comedy. Pacino harnesses his late-career fire-and-brimstone showmanship better than ever. And Joseph Pesci… I type as I breathe a deep sigh of contentedness, of awe at how surprising an actor can be so late in his life, of triumph at how dynamic, how commanding, how powerful a return to the screen can be… And Joseph Pesci. Well. Wow. Scorsese, of course, steers this massive behemoth of a movie with his signature light touch – it’s as funny, as entertaining, and as brimming with blood, guts, wiseguys, and spaghetti sauce as anything he’s ever made – until he slows it all down for a denouement that reckons with the consequences of not only a film, but a career. If this is indeed The Last Gangster Movie, then mangia, che cresci. – Kyle Wilson
17. SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)
I love a quirky and fun movie about outsiders. But I usually leave the theater feeling that the people who made it couldn’t have been nearly as far outside the mainstream crowd as they claimed – their movie being too stylish, too clever, too off-kilter in its presentation but not in its heart for me to actually believe it came from someone who ever felt really, really strange. This is not the case for Swiss Army Man, the movie about a suicidal loner and his best friend, a farting corpse. The movie stumbles over and over again, especially in the home-stretch as it tries to bring everything together in a meaningful way, but it doesn’t matter much. What matters is the exhilarating score (“Now we killed a raccoon/ We are using your body like it’s a machine gun”), the imaginative and striking cinematography, and the massively unique but somehow relatable performances by Dano and Radcliffe. What matters is that it’s a movie where a fart made me cry. And then more farts made me laugh a lot. And then they made me cry some more. In the movie, the two main characters spend a lot of time picking up trash and transforming it into something wondrous. And that’s what Kwan and Scheinert did with Swiss Army Man, my personal favorite movie about friendship, loneliness, outsiders, and farting. – Sam French
16. PHANTOM THREAD (2017)
When the first trailer for Phantom Thread was unveiled in October 2017, many on Film Twitter (myself included) let out a collective yawn: Did we really need another stuffy period drama about a domineering older man (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his lovely, diffident young muse (Vicky Krieps)? In retrospect, we all sounded like idiots, and should’ve known that Paul Thomas Anderson wouldn’t let us off that easily (seriously, I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me what the fuck happened in Inherent Vice).
Phantom Thread is, for my money, one of the funniest, kinkiest, most flat-out gorgeous films in recent memory. Everyone likes to think of their relationships as partnerships, where each person feels equally seen and heard, but Anderson astutely suggests that the truest form of love is a power struggle. Here, he explores the basic human need of wanting to feel desired and appreciated, and takes that to a darkly erotic extreme: Alma (Krieps) literally poisoning her uptight, self-absorbed, dressmaker husband Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) until he’s “flat on (his) back, helpless, tender, open,” only with her to nurse him back to health.
The most strangely beautiful thing about Phantom Thread is how Reynolds surrenders, and even embraces their twisted dynamic. In Alma, he’s finally found a romantic equal who calls him out on his shit and knows how to take him down a few pegs, so by the time he beckons, “Kiss me, my girl, before I am sick,” you’ll be convinced the sweetest thing someone can do is cook you a poisonous mushroom omelette that’ll make you violently ill.
This all might sound like an unpleasant, highly cynical view on relationships in general, but Anderson comes at Phantom Thread with an unexpectedly light touch. Every meal is a battleground rife with confrontation and searing wit, and Lesley Manville – playing Reynolds’ caustic, overprotective sister – reads everyone to filth with so many gloriously withering put-downs that you’ll want to curl up in the fetal position inside a designer gown. Throw in its sumptuous cinematography and costumes, and a hypnotic score by Jonny Greenwood, and you have a piece of filmmaking so rich it’ll have every hungry boy saying, “Mmmmmm, DELICIOUS CINEMA.” – Patrick Ryan
Jimmy’s Honorable Mention:
Whiplash is a drug. A drug that goes right to the veins and takes you on a fucking trip. Resistance is futile. There aren’t enough metaphors in the world to describe what this movie does to audiences. It’s a rocket ship. A punch in the mouth. A heart attack of a film. I could go on all day. The plot pitch doesn’t sound like much; however the movie clicks on all levels, from start to finish. And it ends on a flourish, as it soars off the screen in a finale that is, in my opinion, the best 20 minutes of cinema this decade. While entertaining on a spectacular level, the film also asks questions too complex to answer while viewing. When does an artistic pursuit become an unhealthy obsession? Is a teacher that pushes you to your brink a gift or a poison pill? When does the obsession with the art destroy the artist? And perhaps the biggest question of all, how is this film not on this list?
No, seriously, Kyle, there must be a mistake. This is the best movie of the last 10 years and you left it out. I demand a recount.
15. FIRST REFORMED (2018)
In the run-up to this year’s Joker, there were a lot of comparisons to Taxi Driver thrown around. But now that we’ve seen that movie, the similarities are fairly surface – Taxi Driver, unlike Joker, is an exceptionally-written, superbly-directed and acted work that spoke directly to societal anxieties and issues of its time. For its real modern-day analogue, throw the clown movie in the trash can where it belongs and focus instead on First Reformed, a true masterwork written and directed by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader. When I first saw it, I felt like I hadn’t seen a movie that had commanded my attention as powerfully in a long, long time. Rewatching it even a year later, it’s still a stunning achievement, a chilling depiction of a world getting smaller and smaller, a powerful portrait of a man waging war with his soul. Its style is reserved, organized, seemingly presenting an objective view of a world abandoned by God, a world rotting before our very eyes. It’s the jarring of its slow, meditative, formalist sensibility and the Gethsemane-esque turmoil devouring the characters that makes you feel an overwhelming threat of violence and sense of dread. Its genre is fairly difficult to classify – it’s a pseudo-horror thriller about global warming even while it’s a character study of a Travis Bickle Of The Cloth. Ethan Hawke is one of the most intriguing and versatile actors of our time, Schrader one of the most compelling but uneven filmmakers. Together, they made something haunting and profound. – Kyle Wilson
14. PARASITE (2019)
It is an honor and a privilege to get to write about Parasite, and I apologize upfront that this will not be the detailed analysis the film deserves (although several incredible ones exist on the Internet/ do it far more justice than I ever could; also, I’m positive film schools around the world will continue studying it for decades beyond). What I can say is that Parasite is not only one of my favorite movies of the decade, but it’s absolutely one of the best films I have ever seen. A complete triumph in the making of movies, if you ask me. Story, structure, symbolism, cinematography, performances, design… every creative category one could think of gets an A+ in both craftsmanship and execution. It also fills my heart with so much hope to write about a Korean film enjoying such spectacular success in the global community, and so much joy to celebrate a familiar and beloved face in the remarkable talent that is Song Kang-ho as father Kim Ki-taek, who navigates our most spectacular character transformation in the film. In a perfect display of what it means to live in an economic class war, Parasite tells the story of two families, the Kims and the Parks, whose worlds meld together by way of a dangerously hot flame made by an insatiable desire for More. We witness special-intelligence-level manipulation tactics from the Kim family – most impressively the daughter, Ki-jeong (expertly performed by Park So-dam) – as they slowly convince the wealthy Park family, who don’t know they’re related, to hire each of them as members of their full-time caretaker staff. The traditional family roles could not be turned more upside-down in the Kim household, whereas the Parks highlight all there is to fear about following tradition for tradition’s sake. In the end, though, money will make all parties blind. And lust, in tandem with the quick and dirty way to get what you want, often leads to devastation and destruction. Love, on the other hand, which is all about the long game, is the way to get there and stay there. – Alexis Floyd
13. LADY BIRD (2017)
Okay Saoirse Ronan, you had yourself a pretty killer decade, girlfriend. We loved you in Brooklyn (though I didn’t… love Brooklyn), but you showed up to show out on a whole new level in Lady Bird. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, who also shined many a time this decade, Lady Bird tells the story of one of life’s most challenging and turbulent terrains: the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter. Our mother, Marion McPherson (played by a brave and boundless Laurie Metcalf), is a hardworking nurse who does everything she can to keep her husband and senior-in-high-school daughter, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, alive and afloat, even if only just barely so. I love the way this movie celebrates the power of a family car ride. The car has always been a breeding ground for drama, honesty, tears, too-loud or just-loud-enough music (depending who you ask), and self-discovery. This movie so beautifully hosts a celebration of life behind the wheel, and what happens when we sometimes have to let our good ole pal, Jesus, take It. I don’t have much intellectually to say about lighting because I understand it not, but I just really love the way this film is lit. It’s got such a yummy/ nostalgic sense of color and light that is a joy ride for the eyeballs. And here comes a shout out to some friggin’ delightful supporting cast members in this film, all of whom also had kick ass decades! Always terrific Lucas Hedges plays Danny O’Neill, a wonderfully unique choice in boyfriend for the peacock of a woman that is our Lady Bird. Always hypnotic Timothée Chalamet plays Kyle Scheible, a bit of a Peter Pan figure. Always her-wonderful-self Beanie Feldstein plays Julianne “Julie” Steffans, a nothing-short-of magical bestie who keeps our Lady Bird’s wings gliding high on the winds. This film is supercharged with ferocious feminine energy, and all of the bizarre circumstances women all too commonly find themselves in when navigating love, family, and the changes you simply can’t prepare yourself for, including the sudden and perhaps even reluctant acceptance of that thing most commonly referred to as God.- Alexis Floyd
12. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)
Whew, chile. Timmy Chalz. Alright, so here’s the deal. I don’t rewatch movies. I saw this one 4 times. I’ma tell you why – it is PERFECT. I have never seen a film that so accurately and painfully and gorgeously depicts infatuation and the roller coaster ride of a budding romance. Director Luca Guadagnino and his team somehow capture the uncertainty, the flirting, the chasing, the longing, and the STRESS of “DOES THIS BITCH LIKE ME OR NAW?!?!?!” And every single element of the movie fits together so unbelievably cohesively to break all our damn hearts. The performances? Ridiculous. Timmy is from another planet and it makes me so mad. Honestly, pick any scene and just throw the Oscar at his forehead. I dare you to look away during that end credit sequence. Armie is fine AF and offers a subtle and grounded performance that works beautifully opposite his co-star. Michael Stuhlbarg is, I think, a MF genius. He delivers one of the most spellbinding monologues of the decade and I want him to adopt me. Call me by Stuhlbarg’s name. Amira Casar is STUNNING and the movie deserves a rewatch dedicated to just studying her. Baby girl is telling us a STORY. And the music? My God. Sufjan Stevens. How he distilled the essence of this movie into song is beyond me. Three seconds into “Mystery of Love” and I am a puddle. People don’t really talk about “Futile Devices” as much, but it is everything. The music is so in Elio’s contemplative voice that it feels like the character wrote it himself. Cray. Lastly, I think what is maybe most special about CMBYN is what it does for gay cinema. No one is dying of AIDS. Nobody is busting the gays over the head with a pipe. No one is being disowned by their family. For once, we get to just watch two men wrestle with love and longing against a beautiful landscape that feels frozen in time and space and untouched by the outside world. It is a rarity and a reprieve and I will stan for the rest of my days. – Harron Atkins
11. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
Okay, so the basic plotline here is that a proud New York folk musician in the 60’s is looking to revamp his solo career after the suicide of his partner. But to me, Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of an artist struggling to determine his direction, and a person struggling with his own self-destructive behaviors. These themes don’t seem to be going away any time soon, and that combined with the freakin’ Coen Bros makes a movie with great rewatch value. I think it hits home with a contemporary audience, because both the 60’s and our quickly departing decade are moments of upheaval, not only in the structure of the music industry, but major cultural paradigm shifts. Llewyn is constantly trying to place an unsure foot on uneven ground, and Oscar Isaac kills it. He gives Llewyn complexity that’s intrinsic to his story, having both a talent that’s easy to root for, and prickly personality that keeps him interesting and amusing to watch. You just want to ask his opinion on things because you know whatever comes out of his mouth, whether you agree or not, it’s gonna be worth the ask. – Luke Lamontagne
10. GET OUT (2017)
I remember where I was the first time I watched a Key and Peele video. I remember the time and place. I remember who all was there. The reason I remember it so clearly was because it wasn’t just a one video viewing experience. It was a 4 hour deep dive, involving too many texts like, “Hey _____! I know it’s 2 am, but have you seen this video?”, or “Have you watched Key and Peele’s Retired Military Specialist?!?!” It was confounding to me. These guys were hitting home runs like Barry Bonds, but doing it with a Ted Williams-esque batting average. By the twentieth video of my search, I remember desperately trying to find the bad sketches. There HAD to be a bunch of bad sketches, because there were way too many perfect ones. But there weren’t. Four hours in, and my search was futile as I was doubled over in pain from gut-busting laughter, eyes dry from the happy tears that had been pouring out video, after video, after video. Then, like a star that burns twice as bright, they went dark, ending a beautiful run, when it was time – the mark of a true artist. Just like Chappelle before them, when it was time to be done, they didn’t fight it. They did the unthinkable. They (say it with me) quit while they were ahead. Then, like a teenage girl, patiently watching TMZ for a glimpse of her favorite pop icon, I hunted the internet for the next sightings of my favorite two comedians. Immediately after finishing the show, they made a movie (the criminally underrated, Keanu). After that, Key had lined up an incredible amount of films (including Don’t Think Twice, a great movie in its own right). However, Peele had gone a different route. He was… directing a horror movie? And writing it? I wouldn’t say I had doubts, mainly curiosities. These curiosities were intensified by a trailer that told us nothing, and early reviews that were not just overwhelmingly positive, but earth-shattering. I was worried. This could only end badly. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my lifetime of movie loving, it’s that nothing ruins a “pretty good” movie quicker than unbelievably high expectations. Yet here I was, about to watch my favorite comedian direct a horror movie that critics were shitting themselves over and audiences wouldn’t shut up about – a movie that had sold out 4pm showings on a Wednesday in February. This movie could never live up to the expectations. I walked into the theater (the Thursday after the sold out Wednesday fiasco), scared of the disappointment that I knew awaited me as the lights dimmed…
And then I watched a perfect film. If you disagree with me, get out. – Jimmy Nicholas
9. HOLY MOTORS (2012)
There’s been a lot of conversation this year about what cinema is, about who it’s for, and what it’s all about. Holy Motors imagines a world where filmgoers are scarce – where the cameras are so small they’re not even visible, where actors ride around in white limos, changing costumes and caking on makeup in the backseat, moving from one role to the next with no ostensible validation from an audience. M. Oscar (played in a genius performance by Denis Lavant) is one such being, and halfway through the film he’s asked by a cigar-chomping producer type, “What makes you carry on?” Oscar answers simply, “What made me start. The beauty of the act.” Some filmmakers bleed celluloid so much they can’t help but capture that beauty, and here Leos Carax crafts an ode to cinema so joyous, so weird, so sad, so pained, and so downright thrilling that it manages to feel less like one film than an entire history of movie-making. In two hours, he throws Lavant into a frenzied variety of scenarios, from the absurdity of a flower-eating leprechaun who abducts a supermodel into the sewers or a motion-capture dragon creature who engages in sexual relations, to the domestic drama of a father having a talk with his daughter after picking her up from a party or an old man on his deathbed, to a sumptuous musical melodrama featuring Kylie Minogue (eat your heart out, La La Land). Every frame, every sequence, every twist and turn of this Lynchian roller-coaster ride is aglow with the beauty of the act. – Kyle Wilson
8. THE MASTER (2012)
There’s no doubt in my mind that Paul Thomas Anderson is the foremost filmmaker of his generation. This would’ve been true even if he stopped making movies after his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood. But his output this decade has been unparalleled; as Patrick stated above, Phantom Thread is a home run, and Inherent Vice only just missed inclusion on this list. But unquestionably his best work of the last ten years is The Master. Maddeningly opaque and majestically in control of its vision even as it refuses to hold to any conventional ideas of film storytelling, The Master is a work that has yielded new wonders and revelations each and every time I’ve watched it. Many smarter people before me have weighed in on its depiction of post-World War II America, its haunting observations about religion, about cults, about our search for family and our desire for greatness. So I won’t. What I can do is gush about PTA, who consistently makes films that feel different and unique while still being distinctly his. I can also bow down to Mihai Malaimare’s elemental cinematography, to Jonny Greenwood’s eerily epic score, and, perhaps most of all, to the trio of performances at its heart. Amy Adams is maybe the decade’s best actress, and yet they still wouldn’t give her an Oscar for giving PSH a power handy in the bathroom. We’ve seen what can happen when Joaquin Phoenix’s “loose cannon” energy turns into indulgence. Here, it’s majestic, his unhinged, rabid dog performance threatening to flip into anarchy at any moment, the perfect foil for the calm reserve of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd. Hoffman is one of the greats we lost this decade, and yet it’s a loss that can feel more titanic than others. I would say this is his greatest performance, but to do so would be to ignore the fact that he was truly excellent in every single thing he was ever in. From the gentle nurse in Magnolia to his iconic speechifying as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, he was an actor who was never false – at once somehow strong as a rock and heartbreakingly tender. Of all the masters involved in The Master, he may be the greatest. – Kyle Wilson
7. PADDINGTON 2 (2018)
When I first heard someone say “Paddington 2 is a great movie,” it seemed to be a typical “internet take,” bordering on being some type of meme. But then I bit the bullet and saw the movie and realized no one who was saying it was kidding at all, they were preaching gospel. Because Paddington 2 is, after all and above all else, a great, great movie. It’s funny without being obnoxious, heartfelt without being cloying, and if you think either (let alone both) of those combos are easy to pull off, I don’t think you’ve been watching many movies this past decade. It is, along with its also very good predecessor, one of the most effective and subtle political pieces of recent memory, promoting humanity and compassion, yes, but also specifically tackling xenophobia and the prison industrial complex with critical bite. And it’s a potent character study, a masterclass in efficiently imbuing every single character on screen with very real and human (or ursine) needs. There are multiple jaw-dropping moments of cinematic beauty, joy, and humor— from a beloved pop-up book of London springing magically to life, to Hugh Grant soft-shoeing down penitentiary stairs singing Sondheim. If, having somehow still not seen it, your imagination and taste are too limited to even consider the possibility that Paddington 2 might be a great movie, I feel only pity for you. – Sam French
6. ROMA (2018)
Roma centers around a quiet yet unfathomably strong live-in housekeeper who cares for the home, hearth and hearts of an upper-middle class family in 1970’s Mexico City. Cleo is an indestructible pillar of unconditional love, who weathers an incomprehensible storm of heartbreak, betrayal, loss, and revolution. I’ll never forget Roma washing over and through me for the first time, completely re-framing my idea of the strength it takes to take care, both for yourself and for others. The film is a semi-autobiographical retelling of writer/director/cinematographer/producer/co-editor (I mean, jeez) Alfonso Cuarón’s experience with his own childhood caretaker whom he lovingly referred to as Libo. Our caretaker is played by break-out star Yalitza Aparicio, who was a teacher in Mexico City at the time she landed the role after attending an open call. Cuarón recalls meeting Aparicio at the call and almost instantly knowing she was the one. It was a largely spiritual decision, as many of his decisions in the making of Roma seemed to be, including the choice to show very few script pages to his actors and fellow creators, but instead describe the events of the scene in grave detail during large production-wide gatherings at the top of each day on set. This beautifully organic and original approach to the filmmaking process instantly made Roma one of my favorite movies not just of the decade, but of all time. In the spirit of ego-less storytelling, Aparicio’s magnificent performance is nothing but the truth. She experiences every color of life throughout the film, and though she was a “rookie” to the film world at the time, never once did you doubt her incredibly personal and profound relationship to each and every event of the film. If there’s one thing this movie says to me, in its stunning display of black and white frames and masterful and meditative wide shots, it’s that there is nothing like the strength of a woman’s love for her family, and not a single wound it cannot heal. – Alexis Floyd
5. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
This is one of my favorite movies of the decade. It satisfies my lust for action and lavish production design, but also carries a simple and powerful message: women are not things. It’s full of stunning desert views, a macabre and wacky design, and elemental performances, especially by Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy. Hardy’s Max is animalistic, wounded, alone, and tormented by past trauma. But even in his brutality, which we quickly learn is out of necessity, there is a genuine, childlike gentleness that comes through in every frame. As Imperator Furiosa, Theron finds the perfect combination of badass and vulnerable, most clearly realized in the moment she falls to her knees and screams at the sunset like a fucking wolf. It is Furiosa that sets in motion the high-speed chase through the desert to rescue five women and herself from a tyrant warlord. While their journey is treacherous, brutal, and full of wretchedly delightful details like that dude playing the flamethrower guitar, it culminates in the decision to turn around and go back toward the danger. Perhaps they realize that there isn’t enough gasoline in the world to outrun tyranny. “It sounds like hope” one of them says, as they rev up their bikes to go kick some ass and reclaim a small part of this wasted land. And rebuild. – Molly Griggs
4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
The Social Network may be one of the most recognizable movies of the decade. Not only has it spawned many timeless memes, but it chronicles the ignominious birth of Facebook, a business that brought basic Internet services to half the world’s population at the price of decimating its privacy, politics, and news media integrity. Kyle and I went to see it in my freshman year of college, and I had no idea at the time how important this movie would prove to be. What I did notice, and what is still evident today, is that Social Network is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Aaron Sorkin is at his best, inverting a revenge-of-the-nerds-style power fantasy into a cautionary tale of toxic male genius. He balances the movie’s cynicism with some genuine “FUCK YES” moments at the Armie Hammers’ expense, “If you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook!” being one of cinema’s greatest mic drops. It’s hard to argue with a tautology, and there is a vast, inertial velocity to the film that might just be ‘inevitability.’ It was only a matter of time before this happened. I watch Social Network at least once a year, both because it’s a tremendously fun movie and because it grows more relevant with every passing moment. Just this October, Sorkin wrote the real Mark Zuckerberg an open letter in the freaking New York Times, drawing connections between the malignant behemoth Facebook has become and the movie’s making and message. The most peculiar part of the letter for me is the bit about a private screening; Sorkin recounts, “Ms. Sandberg stood up in the middle of the screening, turned to the producers who were standing in the back of the room, and said, ‘How can you do this to a kid?’” But a better question might be, “How did that kid do this to us?” which is exactly the question Social Network explores: how a brilliant narcissist with a chip on his shoulder exploited social capital for his own gain and at the expense of everyone around him. – Thomas Moore
3. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)
My parents thought I would be a priest. This is not a joke, but a truth of my childhood brought on by my obsession with the structure of Mass and the Bible, as well as my countless rewatches of The Ten Commandments. Somewhere along the way, that prediction went away, and I became what can only be classified as an optimistic skeptic, spiritually. But I kid you not when I say, wholeheartedly, that I see God in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life – something about the wind that grazes the blades of grass, the clouds that suddenly part to shed a brief light on a child sitting on a porch, the flickering flame that bookends the film’s two and a half hour running time. In between those flickers lies nothing less than Eternity – the creation of the universe and, in the end, Afterlife – a heavenly beach where the dead are reunited with all they’ve lost. In that Eternity is where I can see some semblance of the much-buzzed-about Creator, which is not surprising I suppose, considering God is this film’s subject, the target of the questions that still haunt many as they grow up in this world – “Where are you?” “Why am I here?” And, most potently, “How can a God responsible for such beauty allow such horrible things to happen?” It’s a question we all have asked, spiritual or not, and as we glide through the images of this film, with its stunningly impressionistic, yet incredibly tactile and earthy photography by Emmanuel Lubezki and its soaring score by Alexandre Desplat, we are faced with that beauty, and that horror, head on. Malick sets the majority of this film in 1950s Waco, Texas, focusing mostly on the childhood of one Jack O’Brien, but the way he shoots it and the way it’s framed with such cosmic import brings home the notion that Jack’s experiences are eternal. Babies are born, kids play, parents fight, childhood ends. To watch The Tree of Life is to revisit that childhood, but it’s also to commune with the spiritual and to go on a majestic voyage of the heart and the mind. Jessica Chastain, stunning here, begins the movie talking about the way of Nature and the way of Grace. “Grace doesn’t try to please itself,” she says. “Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it.” Terrence Malick, for all his faults and indulgences, is perhaps our foremost expert in the former, and The Tree of Life may just be his masterpiece. He made a film about Life that is grand enough, intimate enough, warm and soulful and true enough, to bear that title with utmost Grace. – Kyle Wilson
2. MOONLIGHT (2016)
Pass the tissues, bitch. It’s La La Land. Lol, jk. Tis Moonlight. The little movie that could and, against all odds, absolutely DID. Barry Jenkins took Tarell Alvin McCraney’s source material and weaved together a coming-of-age masterpiece unlike anything I have ever seen. Which is funny, because it is also so painfully and beautifully familiar. Moonlight is an epic win for black people, gay people, black gay people, and anybody who has longed to see themselves reflected onscreen. In Chiron, I see myself and so many other queer black boys who grew up loving ourselves only halfway or not at all because we were not taught that the totality of who we are is lovable. The care that is put into every single element of this film, from the striking color palette to Nicholas Britell’s stirring score to Barry’s now-signature down-the-lens character portraits, every piece feels purposeful and integral to Chiron’s journey of self-discovery and his desperate need to break the surface and finally come up for air. There are scenes in this thing that are so stunning, they are seared into my memory. The beach scene (LORD), the cooking scene (YAS), the final image of the film (GOLD). The water! Ugh! The performances! Baaaaaaby, this cast. The three Chirons (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevonte [fine AF] Rhodes) are so different and yet a gorgeous emotionally-charged tether exists between them that doesn’t make us second-guess the fact that they don’t even LOOK alike. Brilliant and brave casting choice on Barry’s part. Same goes for the charming Jharell Jerome and silky-smooth Andre Holland sharing the role of Kevin. Mahershala Ali is phenomenal and anchors TF outta a movie he’s only in for like 20 minutes. As Juan, he offers us a nuanced depiction of black masculinity that embraces and encourages softness and self-realization. And of course, Naomie Harris is absolutely heartbreaking as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. This is a revolutionary gay film precisely for the reason that we get to finally see a black gay coming-of-age story in mainstream media. And it’s not smutty! In a sea of art that tends to oversexualize gay people (I mean, I like my sex, but come on, y’all), Moonlight offers a multi-decade spanning romance that culminates in a revolutionary act of intimacy – two black men simply holding each other. It is wholesome AF, tasteful AF, and profound AF. There is a beautiful catharsis that comes with having your likeness and experiences validated on the big screen. That is what Moonlight did for me and that is why this Best Picture winner is my top movie of the decade. Revolutionary. – Harron Atkins
1. BOYHOOD (2014)
Richard Linklater called this film an “art project.” He would meet with a ragtag group of actors and craftspeople once a year for 12 years and shoot for a week, bit by bit cobbling together the story of Mason Jr. and Mason Sr., of Samantha and Olivia and all the people that glide in and out of their lives during that period. It was an experiment, and it’s easy to say now that no one could’ve possibly imagined how powerful the cumulative effect would be. But the truth is, it’s exactly the kind of movie Linklater set out to make. I know that not just because he’s said it, but because it’s simply the greatest distillation of all that makes him one of our most special filmmakers – his warm sense of humor, his empathic spirit, and his gentle finger on the pulse of what makes the quotidian interesting and the banal stir with wondrous watchability. It’s called Boyhood, and indeed it is the best film I can think of to capture the expanding consciousness of a child’s mind – how our world grows bigger as we grow older, how our perceptions change, how our parents become less and less like Beings and more and more like Real People. But that title barely does justice to all that this film encompasses; right alongside of Mason’s maturation is the story of a mother’s love and how you can wind up alone despite doing everything right, the story of a father learning how to be the husband he always should’ve been, the story of a girl coming into her own even as she realizes her brother isn’t as lame as she may have thought. It’s a story about a country awakening to Hope, about the families we make on our road through adolescence, about the rat race of those 12 years of elementary, middle, and high school. Linklater gave us a document of our pasts, our politics, our pop culture (“You think they’ll ever make another Star Wars?”) He made a film about Time, and all the ways it can shape and mold us, break our hearts, and maybe even put us back together again. But most of all – as Patricia Arquette said in her BAFTA speech on the road to accepting a much-deserved Oscar (my bid for the truest performance of the decade), Linklater made a movie about Love. As I watched the credits roll on Boyhood for the first time – an experience I can only liken to closing the book on a Life Lived, to severing ties with a cast of people I felt like I knew and never wanted to leave – all I wanted to do was reach out to everyone I’d ever met – anyone who’d ever inspired me, moved me, made me laugh, made me cry, pissed me off, played with me, drank with me, danced with me, raised me, and ultimately made me the person I am today – and say “Thank you.” I don’t mean it glibly when I say this movie kind of changed my life not only in the kind of transcendent experiences I expect from film, but in my understanding of what’s important in life. Time is fleeting. Friends come and go. To live is to experience a succession of moments. We should all strive to embrace each and every one of them as presently, as empathetically, and as lovingly as Boyhood. – Kyle Wilson