The last decade has been super-influential to me when it came to developing my taste and my preferences in film. I’ve been introduced to film festivals and their joy (thanks to the Bastians, Katie Grover, John Decesero, the Treats, Cale, and everyone else that ran through those with me and helped me be there), I’ve begun following awards ceremonies, and I’ve learned what I do and don’t like in film. I’ve also spent years learning how to talk about these pieces, discussing what they mean to me and how to articulate such. I went on to develop a personal viewpoint and a voice of my own thanks to not only these films but the people I talked about them with. This is, after all, an international community that asks us to draw comparisons and contrast different viewpoints. In honor of this (and to jump on the bandwagon because…why not?) I decided to compile a list of my absolute favorites from the last decade in film. These aren’t necessarily the films that I think are the best, the be-all-end-all, or even the ones I think were the most influential to the culture and society. Nah, most of you know that’s not how I compile these lists. To me these are the most watchable, the ones I can’t get enough of, and the ones that have a lasting effect on me. I’ve done my best to not include more than one entry from each director because otherwise this would be a lot of Darren Aronofsky and Wes Anderson, so my rules dictated that I could only have one film from each director on the list. That led to absolute agony in the endgame, and I’m overjoyed with how that turned out.
10. Interstellar : I’ve never tried to pretend that Nolan films haven’t hit me on an emotional level. Many get irritated with him, talking about how cold he is and how little he seems to want to connect to the audience in favor of crafting his Rube-Goldberg machines in cinematic language. What we’ve been given here is a beautifully-crafted love letter to science fiction, asking us to look at the ultimate building blocks of reality through the lense of human interaction. Each piece of this puzzle comes together in a way that many found quaint, whereas I thought it profoundly moving. Beyond just the emotional work, which is dense, the visuals of this are beyond insanity. The work put into this beast of a film made it a work that was absolutely stunning to behold. There was little to compare it to after viewing it in the IMAX, an experience that I turned around and had again less than 24 hours after my first viewing. An absolute masterwork of visual style and, I think, a beautiful treatment of how love is one of the most important formats of human interaction.
09. The Tree of Life : Terence Malick is something of an enigma to many people. His films often have a poetic quality to them, leaving many viewers stuck in his pretentious vision without an exit. For me, though, I came away from this struck at how beautifully human the entire thing was. Malick compares the birth of the planet to the rough relationship a man can have with his father, exploring the ways that these small moments create a mature individual that is the sum of their past interactions. There’s anger, danger, love, and misunderstanding throughout this growing period. I’ve often reflected on how films make me think of my relationship with my father; our interactions are complicated and often clashing but laden with a desire to understand each other’s point of view. He wasn’t always the best parent but, well, I wasn’t always the best son. This is, again, a masterwork of visual language as his contemplations on the birth of Earth are stunning to behold. There’s some odd CGI work during some of the dinosaur stuff, but I can forgive it because of the things it entails. Malick bred kindness and emotion into creatures that aren’t traditionally portrayed as versatile and emotional animals. A stunning look at what it means to be a human being in general and a son in specific.
08. Under the Skin : Jonathan Glazer made one of the most uncomfortable, weird little films that I’ve seen in ages. Scarlett Johannson was born into cinema through independent film, her debut as a starlet coming through Ghost World and continuing on from there to become a sex symbol via her Marvel roles. After that, though, she returned to the world of indie darlings to play an emotionless alien helping her people to harvest humans for what we presume is food. This contains some of the most loving, wonderful scenes in modern film alongside what might be some of the most horrific. Each one is a work of art, delicately crafted to portray someone observing us through the lens of a higher form of life. It’s not just about what lies under her skin, but what lies under our own and what that makes us. The things that make us people are, ironically, our ugly flaws and our horrible sides. For her, though, the world is a new thing that she sees through unadulterated eyes. Our lead (never named) inspects people through sex, through kindness, and through a desire to see what makes us tick. It’s how we all interact, we just don’t like to admit that we’re being so clinical and fight the openness that a new entry into the species might have at their advantage. Top that with a beautiful score from composer Mica Levi and you’ve got one of the most stunning films of the decade and a personal favorite of mine.
07. Ex Machina : Look, I’ve loved Alex Garland since I saw The Beach and discovered his novels. Sure, that movie is a fascinating mess, but it’s so interesting that I couldn’t let it go. From there I followed his film writing until he was, at last, given the chance to direct. It became a fast favorite of mine, contemplating what it means to truly be human (see a pattern in my favorites here?) and what sort of manipulations are at work when one attempts to become a god. When you add a few things like the three main performances, a fantastic score, and really stunning visual work that contrasts the sterile environment of a laboratory with natural, outdoor beauty, things get wild and you land at one of my favorite films of the decade. It’s mean, it’s gorgeous, and it’s ugly, but holy hell is it wonderful. It’s hard to parse out into words how this film made me feel on first viewing but I’ve tried a few times since its release and keep coming up short. This is one of my most frequent rewatches, something that I adore and yet feel profoundly shaken by.
06. Crimson Peak : And here’s where I start catching hell. Look, I adore this film. Sure, it isn’t the Del Toro masterpiece (that would be The Devil’s Backbone), but it’s a beautiful work that paints itself as a gothic horror story while existing as a romantic tragedy. Every detail is so finely crafted, from matching some costumes to the set design all the way to creating a score that sings out everything I want from this type of film. At first it isn’t going to seem like there’s any subtlety to be found here, but there’s plenty when you begin delving into everything and it makes for a wonderful film to watch when you want to kick back and just watch someone eke out their craft in little increments for the world to see. I pop this in at least once a year, usually around Halloween, to just sit back and revel in all of the wild imagery and performances. It’s hard to portray the non-traditional interactions that go on in this film, but I think Del Toro pulls it off with flair and style all his own. So many skipped this in theatres and…you know what? That’s YOUR fault! You missed out, and I urge you to find this so you can see it.
05. Jackie : I turned in a review on this one back in 2017, unable to see it because I don’t live in a city that gets those nifty limited-releases that other critics are privy to (I live in KS, it’s just part of the game at this point). Before seeing this I figured I’d love it. Hell, it seemed like they made it in a factory for my specific enjoyment. It’s a Natalie Portman vehicle, co-starring John Hurt, directed by Pablo Larrain, produced by Darren Aronofsky, and scored by Mica Levi. I just…I can’t even. It was ridiculous how much this was designed for me to love, and it did not disappoint me. Repeat viewings have made this an absolute favorite film for me, getting regular play for me at home after I bought it. This is a performance film, wall-to-wall, and Portman delivers her best yet. I enjoy all of it but her work is insane. After watching archival footage of Jackie Kennedy (viewed by Portman to prep for the role) I can’t even believe what she’s done. Somehow she managed to embody an icon while making the role her own. It’s a stunning piece of acting work that I hope everyone makes time for because it’s so very special to me.
04. Parasite : That’s right, a brand-new film is on my list. I know there’s probably a recency-bias, but this is one of the most tightly-scripted and best performed films I’ve ever seen. Once in a while you get to see a film where people laugh, gasp, cry, and freak out all within two hours and this was one of those beautiful moments. I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit and each time I try to make sure I’m watching it with someone new to the story. It’s gotten a lot of buzz and I’m hoping that this is the first foreign film to break through and win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. Hilarious, touching, stupid, and poignant, it takes one of the most palatable looks at late-stage capitalism and really goes out of its way to discuss things like wage gaps, privilege, and the desperation of the downtrodden. Everyone is a parasite, not just the poor, and I haven’t ever seen something that was willing to talk about the issues surrounding this type of thing while still making such an effort to entertain the audience. The first hour is a blast, the last hour is anything but, and you’re going to have fun the whole way through. I love watching people watch this and I’m telling you…you want a viewing partner, I’m here for you.
03. mother! : Look, I love Darren Aronofsky with an unashamed passion. He’s one of my earliest film studies and remains someone special to my heart to this day. This is one the absolute weirdest, most bat-shit insane things I’ve ever seen. Most filmmakers don’t have the kind of clout to get something like this to an agent, let alone onto screens where people can freak out about it. All I heard beforehand was that this was beyond definition and understanding. I don’t agree with that, but I think it’s definitely something wonderful. Touching all at once on environmental issues, biblical allegories, personal interactions in a marriage, and dealing with unwanted guests, the film asks so much of the audience as gives them nothing in return. You have to buy into this fully to make it work, looking at the varying aspects of the themes while also trying to pay attention to the plot as it progresses. I won’t say much more about this, but it was my favorite film of 2017 and remains one of my favorite Aronofsky films to this day.
02. Never Let Me Go : Cards on the table, I saw this after a breakup and that has added a lot to how I feel about it. This was my introduction to Andrew Garfield and one my my early realizations that I’ve got a hearty crush on Carey Mulligan (if you don’t get one it). The two of them deliver absolutely transcendent performances. If you don’t believe me, just watch the field scene. It’ll break you. Beyond that this is filmed by Mark Romanek, who is unknown to most unless you’re familiar with the film One Hour Photo. That took Robin Williams from household funnyman to monster in an hour and a half, and he’s accomplished what I see as the opposite with this film. Taking non-people and making them human is a feat that is important in this day and age, no matter what you may think otherwise. Utilizing a stellar cast, a tight script (written by Alex Garland), and a beautiful book as a base (by Kazuo Ishiguri) created something that is geared to hit us in the emotional nads each and every time.
01. Moonrise Kingdom : Look, sometimes you want to put art at the top of your list and sometimes you just have to put chicken soup there instead. This movie, for me at least, is like curling up next to a roaring fire with a hot mug of tea and a dog to cuddle. Had a bad day? Sure, watch Moonrise Kingdom. Looking to have a good time after a rough one? I’ve got the cure, watch Moonrise Kingdom. This is my happy-place movie, a story about a misunderstood boy that is left by the wayside and falls in love with a girl that suffers from struggles of her own. This is a film about showing adult relationships through the lense of childhood, and pairing them together makes for a heartfelt-but-heart-breaking film you can’t get enough of. While many see this as an early sign of Wes Anderson’s ego, I see it as his most open and honest film. This is something that asks us to look at love, what it means to us, and how we portray it to each other. When it’s mixed together with flood metaphors (totally not a way of discussing the hormones that overtake us during adolescence) it becomes something transcendental. I adore each and every instant of this film and it’s perfect in every way.