If in 2029 I start talking about doing another Top 100 of the decade, feel free to smack some sense into me.
This was tough! It nearly broke me. When I did this in 2009, Punch Drunk Critics was barely a year old. The number of movies I saw, while still quite a lot, was nowhere near what I’m seeing now and that made widdling a couple of thousand down to 100 a painful task. I spent an entire day just to kick out the final two, which turned out to be The Great Gatsby and Wind River. I REALLY wanted those in here.
Unlike others which have a roundtable of critics plucking out and negotiating which films make their list, this is all me. My favorites. I don’t presume to call them the “best”, but they do speak to me for whatever reason. If a film made the cut, it’s one that has lingered on my mind and had some personal impact. In the case of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, no other movie captured both my love of video games, in particular fighting games, and my complete misunderstanding of women. The Raid films, both of them, encompass everything I’ve ever wanted from the genre. The toughest part was figuring which movies had really slipped off my radar over the years, and which had risen in my esteem. We Bought a Zoo, a movie I absolutely adored in 2011, is nowhere to be found and never got close.
So what’s changed over the decade? The explosion of superhero movies for one thing, although there are few that actually made the list. Also, the arrival of Netflix and other streaming platforms as major forces within the industry. There are simply more movies than ever and that means more content to dig through. It also means film has more of an impact, more of a presence than ever before. I want to avoid getting into the broader view of what cinema stands for during this chaotic time, but for me it’s helped get me through a myriad of tough times. Sometimes the right movie can pull me out of the darkness, other times they are a glimpse at a future I hope to create, or a guide to becoming a better person.
Let’s just do this thing then. Below you’ll find part one of my favorite 100 movies of the 2010s. Feel free to chime in with your choices because I’m genuinely interested in knowing which films made an impact with others. Thanks for reading!
100. Killing Them Softly (2012)
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn
The economic crisis, 2008 Presidential election of Barack Obama, and mob rule collide in Andrew Dominik’s brilliant, soulful crime flick. A cautionary tale about greed and the dangers of capitalism, the film goes against title, hitting like a shotgun blast of violence and dark humor. When I think of how underrated Brad Pitt was and continues to be to this day, it’s his quietly charismatic performance here as eloquent hitman Jackie Cogan that springs to mind first.
99. Blue Ruin (2014)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair
My love affair with Jeremy Saulnier began here (I was late to the Murder Party), with a revenge thriller that made me look at the genre in an entirely new way. Starring Saulnier’s pal and creative muse Macon Blair, Blue Ruin begins where most of these movies end. Vengeance has been achieved…and now what? The cycle of violence keeps rolling along in ways that are brutal, hilarious, totally unexpected. Saulnier throws you into unfamiliar waters and you can either sink or swim.
98. The Hunt (2012)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen
One thing you won’t find a lot of in a Thomas Vinterberg film? Laughs. His latest harrowing personal drama The Hunt returns to the familiar theme of sexual abuse, explored in his breakthrough film The Celebration fifteen years ago. Teaming with co-writer Tobias Lindholm, who appeared on this list earlier for A Hijacking (these guys just don’t do funny), the film features a Cannes Best Actor-winning performance by Mads Mikkelsen as a small town teacher falsely accused of molestation by a young student. The firestorm that sweeps the village engulfs his personal and professional life, while internally he’s reeling with the incredulity that his claims of innocence are falling on deaf ears. It’s a harrowing, surgical look at how only a few small words can reduce a person’s life to ashes.
97. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes
“If you must blink, do it now’ warns the one-eyed protagonist of Laika’s stop-motion masterpiece. But why would you ever want to look away from the acclaimed studio’s most spell-binding film, that tells an epic tale rooted in horror and Japanese samurai folklore?
96. Five Star (2015)
Director: Keith Miller
Cast: James “Primo” Grant, John Diaz
A little authenticity goes a long way, and the incredible performance by gangster-turned-actor James “Primo” Grant in this gritty tale of street legacy is what separates it from the more polished urban dramas. I don’t know what happened to Primo, but considering he hasn’t acted since I’m assuming he decided Hollywood wasn’t for him. That’s a shame, because as a member of the Bloods guiding the son of his slain mentor, Primo’s imposing presence belies a deep humanity.
95. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)
Director: David Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner
David Zellner’s oddball crime fantasy twisted my brain so much it took me months after attending its Sundance premiere to finally pen a review. This strange walk through the Coens-verse is based on an urban legend of a Japanese woman who believes everything in the movie Fargo was real, and if she just went to the right spot she could find a satchel of money. The Zellner’s take this loopy idea and run with it, giving the confused (?) protagonist an imaginary bunny sidekick. What unfolds is a surreal, offbeat look at the American heartland from an outsider’s perspective, while also offering a sobering peek at what happens when one’s imagination consumes their reality.
94. The Hunger Games (2012)
Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Remember when The Hunger Games was thought to be too big for Jennifer Lawrence, at the time a rising star with a few impressive performances under her belt? Three movies later and she was one of the biggest stars in the world, and this is the movie that really started her ascension, and ushered in the YA boom…for what that was worth. It is largely due to Lawrence that the dystopian, Battle Royale-esque world of The Hunger Games connected with us so deeply. Lawrence evolved the heroic Katniss Everdeen into a symbol of rebellion and female strength that transcended both the novels and the blockbuster movie franchise.
93. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
I hesitated to put very many 2019 films on this list but it would be dishonest not to include the ones that deserve. Tarantino’s love letter to a turbulent era in Hollywood history is the director’s eccentricities boiled down to their essence. He indulges in cinematic details like none other, gives actors like DiCaprio and Pitt room to breathe in fictionalized, heightened portrayals, and can’t stop himself from the occasional controversy. Its meandering pace, colorful violence, and frequent diversions aren’t for everyone, but at this point in his career who would want Tarantino to change? I certainly don’t.
92. Mommy (2014)
Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement
I’m still sore the Academy didn’t nominate this for an Oscar. In truth, I wasn’t sure I would be able to tolerate breakout star Antoine Oliver Pilon’s performance as Steve, a walking powder keg fresh out of jail and into the life of his ill-prepared mother, Diane, played by Anne Dorval. But this is a film that defies expectations on a character and technical level, with emotions that literally stretch beyond the boundaries of the screen. While Xavier Dolan’s toying with the aspect ratio may come off as a cheap ploy it proves a crucial element, and paired with an impeccable soundtrack (“Wonderwall” has never been used better. Ever.), Mommy was a huge leap forward for the oft-controversial filmmaker.
91. The Shape of Water (2017)
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer
Literally flooding over with raw sensual power and Guillermo Del Toro’s gift for the macabre, The Shape of Water is (for now) his crowning achievement. An exotic love story about a mute woman and merman at the height if Cold War tensions is somehow more honest and real than a thousand generic rom-coms. Maybe hasn’t aged as well as it should, but it’s undeniable the passion that Del Toro put into this movie.
90. mother! (2017)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Oh, how I drank of the haters’ tears over this one! The more people complained about Darren Aronofsky’s divisive home invasion thriller/religious parable the more I liked it. mother! had the entire damn Internet up in arms trying to crack the code of this insane flick, which I think Aronofsky intentionally designed to be polarizing, which makes me appreciate it even more. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the twisted work of a mad genius, fueled by Jennifer Lawrence’s go-for-broke performance.
89. Let Me In (2010)
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins
A perfect example why remakes shouldn’t be dismissed automatically, Let Me In is an improvement on the great 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In. The story of a bullied 12-year-old boy who befriends his neighbor, a girl who appears to be his age but is actually a long-lived vampire, is fleshed out in ways its predecessor simply did not. Add in Reeves’ skill with action and horror (he directed Cloverfield and later the Planet of the Apes sequels excellently) and you have the strangest little story of puppy love that works in making you want to see more. Sadly, other than a comic book prequel we never got to see where this tale went, although a circular narrative is implied.
88. Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation/Mission: Impossible-Fallout (2015, 2018)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Alec Baldwin
Tom Cruise, who hasn’t aged over the last ten years, gave up an ankle for you people! He leaped from a freakin’ plane for you people! Henry Cavill kept his mustache for you people! Christopher McQuarrie transformed Abu Dhabi into Paris for you people! And the result? Not only the best back-to-back movies of this two-decade-long franchise but one of the best action movies, from start to incredible finish, that we’ve had in years.
It’s no coincidence this comes as Cruise is joined by Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, the first female character who can hold her own alongside Ethan Hunt and interesting enough to carry her own movie.
87. Victoria (2015)
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau
Those who claim Victoria is a one-trick pony, that being its 2-hour-long single continuous shot, aren’t acknowledging HOW FREAKING AMAZING THAT ONE TRICK IS!!! No seriously, rare is the cinematic feat quite like it (only 1917 truly compares), but I also fell for the arc of the central love story which goes from Before Sunrise to True Romance at the drop of a hat.
86. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn
Forget what Derek Cianfrance would later do with The Light Between Oceans (*shudder*), and remember his sprawling epic, The Place Beyond the Pines. Not only does it feature one of Ryan Gosling’s many great performances this decade, totally overshadowing Bradley Cooper in the process, but the film is a truly ambitious look at the legacy of violence wrapped in complicated narrative structure few directors would even dare.
85. Burning (2018)
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo
Class resentment, loneliness, repressed violence, and ego make for a toxic but fascinating brew in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, a slow-burn thriller that features The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun as you’ve never seen him before. You’ll never think of him as Glenn again.
84. Inside Out (2015)
Director: Pete Docter
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind
Finally, a movie that attempts to tell us guys what exactly is going on in a woman’s head! Surprise! The whole thing’s an amusement park. A crumbling amusement park. Pixar needed this stroke of brilliance after a few years afflicted with “sequel-itis”, which they sadly returned to soon after the failure of The Good Dinosaur. But that doesn’t diminish what was accomplished here; an adventurous roller coaster that teaches us that all of our emotions are valid and should be embraced.
83. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt
The Jennifer Lawrence breakout began here, with Debra Granik’s hilltop thriller/coming-of-age film set in the poorest of Ozark communities. As noted elsewhere on this list, Lawrence would eventually go on to command much bigger franchises on her way to becoming an A-lister, but it was her Oscar-nominated performance as the strong-willed Ree Dolley that showed us what she’s made of. Small in scale but epic in its look at crime and the desperate state of rural America, Winter’s Bone would serve as the template for Granik’s later work.
82. Whiplash (2014)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons
I’ll never forget attending the world premiere of Whiplash at Sundance. The insanely physical, adrenaline-fueled film had the Opening Night audience in a cold sweat, gripped to the edge of their seat as Teller’s ambitious drummer pushed himself to the limit and beyond, Simmons’ domineering instructor screaming away. It’s a film as much about blind ambition as it is about striving to be the absolute best. By the time it was over, we were all exhausted but we also knew we had just seen the rise of a director we’d be wanting to keep a close watch on. Chazelle made a statement with Whiplash and he hasn’t let us down yet.
81. Parasite (2019)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Chang Hyae-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
The thing about any movie by Bong Joon-ho is they are very rarely what they appear to be on the surface. Parasite is absolutely a film you want to go into knowing as little as possible because it takes so many twists and turns, reorienting itself on a dime so you don’t know who you’re supposed to be pulling for. Is it the poverty-stricken family of grifters? Or the naive and out-of-touch family of wealth? After a tense game of cat and mouse orchestrated beautifully by Joon-ho and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, you won’t know which way is up and feeling of unpredictability is extremely satisfying.