This is part four of my Top 100 Movies of the 2010s! The process of coming up with this list damn near broke me, so do me a solid and check out the earlier stuff, too. Thanks!
40. The Wind Rises (2013)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
We now know The Wind Rises was not the final film from legendary Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazki, as he has a new one coming out next year. But if it were, he couldn’t have chosen a better film with which to go out on top. As complete and fully-realized as any biopic that emerged this decade, the film tells the story of engineer Jiro Hirokoshi, a dreamer who would ultimately design the Zero Fighter plane used during the war. The aeronautical details are fascinating in and of themselves, but so is Hirokoshi’s personal story as an obsessive artist in love with his craft and the one woman who accepted him for who he was. There’s been a lot of controversy over what the film doesn’t say, but none of that matters in the long run. All I know is every time I watch this, which is often, I find myself spending hours afterwards digging up info on Hirokoshi’s life. I just don’t want the story to end.
39. Selma (2014)
Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast: David Oyelowo, Andre Holland, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Common, Tessa Thompson, Stephan James, Wendell Pierce
Thank goodness for Ava DuVernay. Remember this was going to be a Lee Daniels joint at first? In only her third feature, DuVernay showed the skill of a seasoned veteran, boiling down a few months in Martin Luther King’s campaign for voting rights into a profound statement on the power of people to affect change. Refusing to conform to standard biopic pitfalls, Selma lets us in on the ground floor of King’s movement, putting us in touch with the immediacy of his cause. Depicted with warmth and commanding presence by David Oyelowo, King is honored but never idolized; the cracks in his armor seen in tense struggles with his wife Coretta, President Lyndon Johnson, and his own supporters. But through all the human frailties arose a powerful leader. And chalk up another win for cinematographer Bradford Young, whose vivid imagery captures the urgency of the time. With so much going on in this country right now in terms of race relations, the importance of an inspiring, relevant, and yes extremely crowd-pleasing film like Selma can’t be overstated.
38. Ex Machina (2015)
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander
The best sci-fi is weird, funny, and forces us to think about our current society in a different way. Ex Machina does all of these things, plus it has the most awesome dance scene of the decade. At times a mental struggle between Gleeson and Isaac, who are playing two sides of the human debate on artificial intelligence; and other times a psychological thriller led by Vikander’s Ava, it’s a film that never fails to twist our expectations as it goes in increasingly weird directions. An expansion of ideas Garland laid out in 2010’s underrated Never Let Me Go (It very nearly made this list), Ex Machina explores what being human truly means in a world sustained by the artificial.
37. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jude Law, Carla Juri
I never expected Blade Runner 2049 to be a blockbuster smash. It was stupid for anybody to think it would be. But like Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 film, vindication will soon come, for Denis Villeneuve’s robust, breath-taking sequel is superior to the original. As cinematographer Roger Deakins paints one indelible image after another, finding astounding beauty in this ruined future civilization, a haunting neo-noir emerges that touches on themes of loneliness, desire, corruption, and greed, just as its predecessor did, but filled with the hope that humanity always endures even when we least expect it. That Villeneuve and Gosling have occupied so much space on this list is totally unintentional, by the way. The two of them pretty much owned the decade.
36. Inception (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy
The final scene of Christopher Nolan’s masterfully manipulative mind-bender Inception still has people debating its meaning today. Nolan melds a seemingly simply action-thriller inside a winding narrative that plays with time and memory in much broader ways than he ever did with Memento years earlier. Like The Matrix more than a decade earlier, Inception’s visual and conceptual impacts are far-reaching, but it’s also just a damned entertaining movie if you want to leave the heavier stuff behind!
35. Black Panther (2018)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Angela Bassett, Winston Suke
Any movie that can make millions of people attend dressed like extras from Coming to America gets a thumbs up from me. The baddest, blackest movie of the decade was Marvel’s Black Panther, which brought kickass superhero action, diversity, and social awareness to the MCU. Finally giving the MCU its first multi-layered villain, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is a revolutionary with a warrior heart, a Malcolm X to T’Challa’s Martin Luther King. The ideological war between them is just as exciting as the physical one, giving this film an extra dimension of drama that carried it all the way to the Oscars.
34. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler
My first thought after the credits rolled on Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour symphony of greed and depravity was, “How in the hell did this not get an NC-17 rating”??? Seriously, there are so many heinous acts committed in this constantly hilarious film, by none other than Hollywood golden boy Leonardo DiCaprio, that you need to see it multiples times just to properly sort them all out. When midget tossing is on the low rung of the immoral totem pole then that’s really saying something, but let’s just say cocaine gets snorted out of more orifices than I think it was ever meant to. While Goodfellas is clearly the model here in just about every respect, the film treads its own path in the story of Wall Street whiz kid Jordan Belfort, who starts from nothing before becoming top don at the craziest brokerage firm in the world. Besides DiCaprio, the film is bolstered by great supporting turns by Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner, and a chest-thumping Matthew McConaughey.
33. Hell or High Water (2016)
Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster
Stupid me for thinking screenwriter Taylor Sheridan couldn’t match the heights of Sicario. His lean yet muscular neo-Western is a tale of loyalty, poverty, and desperation, a recurring theme in many of the decade’s best movies. Complicated men tangle with inconvenient moral codes, and Sheridan, along with director David Mackenzie, offer no easy resolutions for the audience. Do we champion the bank-robbing brothers, who see themselves as modern day Robin Hoods taking back what has been stolen from the people? Or do we side with Jeff Bridges’ gritty, dogged, racist sheriff who belittles his half-Comanche/half-Mexican partner, who knows all too well the history of white men taking what they want from his people? There’s so much to unpack, and Hell or High Water hits its themes hard and without mercy.
32. Skyfall (2012)
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw
Best Bond movie ever? I’m probably the wrong guy to make such a claim since 007 was always more of my Dad’s bag than mine, but Skyfall is simply incredible. Beginning with the fact it was directed by Sam Mendes, who along with cinematographer Roger Deakins gave the franchise an artistic flair it never had. The set pieces were simply stunning, setting the mood for a film with undeniable personal stakes for James Bond. The lackluster followup Spectre only reminds us that Skyfall is the highlight of the Daniel Craig era, and perhaps for the character as a whole.
31. Frank (2014)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy
I was down with Frank from moment I heard it was about “Michael Fassbender under a giant papier-mache head”. It’s that kind of boldness, that willingness to embrace something so weird that makes Lenny Abrambson’s (who would go on to direct Room) exploration of creative genius and insanity so lovable. Domhnall Gleeson plays a hopeless musician who falls in with a quirky band of weirdos led by the titular masked singer, who may or may not be a complete lunatic. While he latches on to their creative energy without bringing much of his own, he also tries to push them into the mainstream, which doesn’t go over so well with the band. From the searing soundtrack (performed live by the cast) to the off-kilter tone, Frank celebrates individuality in all its forms while quietly lamenting those who crave conformity.
30. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Nicolas Cage, Lily Tomlin, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney
The best Spider-Man movie of the decade wasn’t by Marvel Studios, it was by Sony Pictures. And nope, it ain’t got nothin’ to do with Andrew Garfield. 2018 was the most diverse year in comic book movie history and it was led by a black/Latino kid named Miles Morales, and through him we are reminded of all the things that make Spider-Man the greatest of Stan Lee’s creations. He’s just a regular kid, and while he doesn’t have an Uncle Ben level tragedy in his life, Miles has his own problems to deal with having to do with his mixed-race heritage. That’s something we’ve never seen in a Spider-Man story on the big screen before. With an array of colorful characters, terrific humor, and kinetic animation, Spider-Man has never been this good cinematically and I hope it’s just the beginning.
29. The Descendants (2011)
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Amara Miller, Matthew Lillard
Other than Sideways, which has the benefit of being about two guys getting drunk, I feel like Alexander Payne movies quickly fade from memory. Not necessarily from the people who saw them, but they do tend to get overlooked by the larger film community. I would put The Descendants in that category. A heartwarming, funny, empathetic drama set on the gorgeous islands of Hawaii, it features what I think is George Clooney’s finest performance as a father who must care for his two rebellious daughters after an accident leaves his cheating wife in a coma. Bittersweet to the core, humor is used to deal with the grief Clooney’s character is carrying throughout, a delicate balancing act pulled off by Payne and writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. I think people need to check this one out again.
28. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Anne Hathaway
Unfairly judged because it’s not The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s franchise finale The Dark Knight Rises deserves credit for being a true ending to Batman’s story. Nolan doesn’t let the franchise linger on with endless sequels, even though Warner Bros. would try and get him to do so. Instead, he positions Christian Bale’s Batman as more than just some vigilante terrorizing the Gotham streets, but a righteous hero who literally gives up his body facing down a superior, unstoppable foe in Tom Hardy’s gravelly-voiced Bane. When he finally hangs up his cape and cowl and settles down for a drink with the elusive Selina Kyle, we’re there with him because he deserves a chance at happiness after everything he’s sacrificed.
27. Mudbound (2017)
Director: Dee Rees
Cast: Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige
Walking out of the Sundance premiere of Dee Rees’ powerful post-WWII drama, the first thing I said was “That film is winning Best Picture.” Ultimately, I was completely wrong on that, but it doesn’t take away from Mudbound‘s searing look at race and how poverty binds so many of us together. Two poor families, one black and one white, whose lives intersect because of one muddy piece of land and a war their sons (Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, both amazing) are called on to fight. But the bond that forms between the two soldiers upon their return is one forged of mutual respect that goes beyond race. There’s a harsh reality that comes intruding in on that friendship, and when it does it’s an ugly reminder of how little has actually changed.
26. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, Derek Luke, William Peterson, Connie Britton
Probably the most light-hearted movie about humanity’s destruction you’re likely to find, Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut (she later directed something called Hustlers. Heard of it?) is basically two fantastic movies rolled into one Her trademark ear for realistic dialogue is put to great use by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, who find surprising chemistry as two people who discover one another during the Earth’s final days. A charming, tender love story about making the most out of life, regardless of how much of it is left. A perfect example of a movie I loved the first time and has only grown more dear to me over the years.
25. Logan (2017)
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
One of my least favorite Wolverine comics becomes the best Wolverine movie. In his tenth (!!!) performance as the clawed berserker X-Man, Hugh Jackman finally finds the honorable warrior within the feral mutant. James Mangold delivers a violent, R-rated neo-Western that serves as a perfect goodbye to Jackman’s run as Wolverine, while introducing a worthy successor in Dafne Keen’s X-23. I’m still waiting for the X-23 payoff, folks. Probably not gonna happen.
24. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)
Director: Michael Rapaport
There are only three documentaries that made my list, and of course this one would be at the top. I have always worshipped A Tribe Called Quest. They are hip-hop royalty and an integral component of my teenage years. Michael Rapaport’s documentary, which arrived at a time when the group had gone through reconciliation after years of conflict, was every bit as reverential as I wanted it to be. You can feel the passion Rapaport has for the group and their music, but also for them as individuals. That also means you can feel his pain in documenting their split. However, in that moment when they are reunited on stage and everything falls into place just like the old days, it is a moment of pure joy that goes beyond simple fandom. I’ll forever remember this movie for giving me the opportunity to interview Phife Dawg a few years before his death. It was a surreal moment for me, meeting one of my idols, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
23. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Admittedly, I’ve soured a little bit on The Force Awakens and its director JJ Abrams, but it would be a lie to pretend it’s not a great film. Looking back on it now, its reliance on nostalgia was exactly where Abrams should have gone, but he takes steps to move the franchise forward with new characters like Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. The right balance was struck, and my love of Star Wars was rekindled as it never had been before.
22. First Reformed (2018)
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
I had no idea what to expect with First Reformed, but it wasn’t much. Paul Schrader hadn’t made a movie worth seeing in years, Ethan Hawke is hit ‘n miss with me, and the religious subject matter isn’t at all up my alley. And yet I was hooked right from the start, as Hawke’s troubled Protestant minister grapples with his faith both in private, where he keeps a journal of his most sacrilegious thoughts, and in public where he can hardly hide his disdain for the world. It’s a fascinating, complex descent into spiritual oblivion that Hawke carries on him like the entire weight of the universe is on his shoulders. One of the few movies I saw this decade that you could show to a dozen different people and get a dozen different opinions about, which has only made me appreciate it more.
21. The Spectacular Now (2013)
Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler
When I get asked why I make it a point to attend the Sundance Film Festival every year, the answer is because of movies like The Spectacular Now. What struck me right off the bat was how far it sets itself apart from other teen romances. The teens all look and sound like normal everyday people, not the easily recognizable stereotypes we see perpetuated constantly in any number of similar movies. Showing the emotional range he had only recently displayed opposite Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, Miles Teller plays life-of-the-party high school senior Sutter Keely, with Shailene Woodley as the shy and disarming Aimee Finicky. We’re treated to their courtship, which evolves naturally from mentorship, to friendship, to eventual romance, but from there it goes into unexpected territory as Sutter’s personal demons threaten to engulf them both. Directed with an observant eye by James Ponsoldt, it’s probably the closest any film has come to matching the sincere tone of those great John Hughes movies we all love. The Spectacular Now deserves to be in the same conversation with all of them.