Best Movies of the 2010s

Much of my interest and enthusiasm for movies has waned significantly (and I never thought I’d get to this point). But I am interested in seeing some of the best movies of the decade, especially those that compare favorably to all-time great movies prior to the decade. I’m going to use Film Comment’s top 50 as a guide. If you guys know of any other good lists, or have any strong, personal recommendations, let me know.
  1. Zama (2018) Dir. Lucretia Martel
  2. Toni Edrmann (2016) Dir. Maren Ade
  3. Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) Dir. Apitchatpong Weerrasthekul
  4. Holy Motors (2012) Dir. Leos Carax
  5. No Home Movie (2015) Dir. Chantal Ackerman
  6. The Tree of Life (2011) Dir. Terrence Malick
  7. The Master (2012) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  8. Phantom Thread (2017) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  9. Moonlight (2016) Dir. Barry Jenkins
  10. Boyhood (2014) Dir. Richard Linklater
  11. Under the Skin (2014) Dir. Jonathan Glazer
  12. Carol (2015) Dir. Todd Haynes
  13. Margaret (2011) Dir. Kenneth Lonergan
  14. Leviathan (2012) Dir.
  15. The Turin Horse (2011) Dir. Bela Tarr
  16. Inside Llweyn Davis (2013) Dir. Coen Brothers
  17. Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) Dir. Raul Ruiz
  18. Burning (2018) Dir. Lee Chang-dong
  19. The Act of Killing (2012) Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous
  20. Parasite (2019) Dir. Boon Joon-ho
  21. Certified Copy (2010) Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
  22. The Assassin (2015) Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
  23. Tabu (2012) Dir. Miguel Gomes
  24. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Dir. George Miller
  25. First Reformed (2018) Dir. Paul Schrader
  26. Get Out (2017) Dir. Jordan Peele
  27. Stray Dogs (2014) Dir. Tsai Ming-liang
  28. Stranger by the Lake (2013) Dir. Alain Guiraudie
  29. Cemetary of Splendor (2015) Dir. Apitchatpong Weerasthekul
  30. A Touch of Sin (2013) Dir. Zia Zhangke
  31. Timbuktu (2014) Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako
  32. Goodbye to Language (2014) Dir. Jean-luc Goddard
  33. In Jackson Heights (2015) Dir. Frederick Wiseman
  34. The Social Network (2010) Dir. David Fincher
  35. Faces Places (2017) Agnes Varda
  36. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Dir. Martin Scorsese
  37. Roma (2018) Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
  38. A Separation (2011) Dir. Asghar Farhadi
  39. Horse Money (2014) Dir. Pedro Costa
  40. Phoenix (2014) Dir. Christian Petzold
  41. Certain Women (2016) Dir. Kelly Reichardt
  42. This is Not a Film (2011) Dir. Jafar Panahi
  43. Happy as Lazzaro (2018) Dir. Alice Rohrwacher
  44. The Strange Case of Angelica (2010) Dir. Manoel de Oliveira
  45. Camera Person (2016) Dir. Kristen Johnson
  46. Hard to be God (2013) Dir. Aleksei German
  47. Poetry (2010) Dir. Lee Chang-dong
  48. La Flor (2019) Dir.Mariano Llinás
  49. Western (2017) Dir. Valeska Grisebach
  50. Elle (2016) Dir. Paul Verhoeven

23 thoughts on “Best Movies of the 2010s

  1. From that list, I’ve seen Moonlight, Carol, Boyhood, Inside Llewyn Davis, Certified Copy, First Reformed, and The Social Network. I have The Phantom Thread on my computer but haven’t watched it yet.

    1. How’d you like First Reformed? I’m curious to see that, but I’ve never been in the mood and/or had the time.

      1. It was interesting but I didn’t care for the last part for some reason. Thought-provoking for sure. You might like it. I think you might especially like the part where I thought it jumped the rails.

        Which have you seen?

    2. OK, thanks for the feedback.

      I’ve seen Boyhood, Inside Llewyn Davis, Certified Copy, The Social Network, Uncle Boonmee…, Holy Motors, The Tree of Life, Under the Skin (Didn’t we see that together?), The Turin Horse, The Act of Killing, The Assassin, Mad Max: Fury Road, Faces Places, A Separation, This is Not a Film, Poetry.

      Writing out this list gives me some confidence about Film Comment’s judgment. These seem like worthy choices–although I didn’t love Llewlyn or Mad Max as much as other critics.

      1. …or Boyhood or the Social Network.

        Yeah I did see Under the Skin with you. Missed that—maybe I should look at the list again.

        Two omissions I notice right off are Inside Out and Up.

    3. Yeah, I don’t think I cared for The Social Network. I think thought a little more highly of Boyhood. (Man, I don’t have a clear memory of my feelings about those films.)

  2. I just watched Godard’s Goodbye to Language. I’m not comfortable judging the film, as I’m miles away from having a decent understanding of it. A part of me feels like the film is a conscious a self-conscious assault not only on narratives, but logic itself, particularly the linear aspect of this. I believe Breathless was known for it’s abrupt editing, I have seen any of Godard’s 70’s films, so I don’t know where he took that approach, but in this film, he seems to have taken it to an extreme–music, phrases, ideas, sounds–in addition to visual images seem randomly cut. Fragmenting, fragmenting, fragmenting–denying the viewer any completion of any idea or even a meaningful sequence, and he does this by stultifying any logical development.

    I should not that this approach feels very different from other non-narrative films. These type of films can deny narrative, but they don’t actively and conspicuously deny or prevent some for of meaningful sequence or development. A filmmaker can organize and develop images, sounds, words, and music in a non-narrative and even confusing way, in a conventional sense. But such films can convey meaning, emotion and an aesthetic experience that is non-rational. Godard seems to be denying this.

    Right now, I don’t even know what aspects of the film have meaning. For example, the movie references books, films, and utilizes fragments of familiar music. Generally, I would assume that Godard had a reason for choosing these things and that they have a meaning. But I’m not sure. I’m also not sure if and wheh he’s using certain images in a symbolic way. If every decision he made has some purpose, deciphering this film is going to take a really long time.

    I will say that the film interested me enough to watch it a second time. And I may even re-watch it. (It’s only 70 minutes so that has something to do with it.)

  3. Zama (2018)
    Dir. Lucretia Martel

    I don’t have a good grasp of this film, and I haven’t really analyzed it deeply, and I’m not sure I will. The film takes place in the 18th century involves a Spanish magistrate in South America waiting to be transferred. He is an average man, which is to say a man characterized by weakness, failure, and a lack of ability, much more than the opposite. The whole film seems to be about the futility of such a person’s life. I have a feeling the movie is more than that, but that’s my initial impression.

    The one thing that stands out about the film to me is the visuals. This is a period film, and the cinematography, costumes, set designs, and even casting of both professional actors and extras are all very good. In this way, the film reminds me of Barry Lyndon (although not as gorgeous), and The Leopard.

  4. The Master (2012)
    Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
    Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, etc.
    (rating could get higher)

    I’m not a big fan of P.T. Anderson, at least not his more recent work, although I suspect I say this because the later films (e.g., Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) didn’t match the hype. (I didn’t really care for Inherent Vice as well.)

    This film feels like the most interesting and original, at least in terms of the story and themes. Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is an outsider whose oddness and personal problems will almost always keep him on the outside, reminiscent of Travis Bickle, perhaps. Quell, by chance, happens to meet Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a leader of a quasi-religious group. Quell is drawn into this group.

    Before I write about my reaction, a quick word on whether I think it’s a worthy candidate for one of the best films of the 2010. I haven’t fully analyzed the film, so I can’t speak confidently, but I think it has potential to be a solid pick. Take that for what you will.

    My impression of the film was that it would be a fairly typical, unoriginal story about a cult-like leader–similar to the way I felt TWBB was a rather unoriginal story about a business mogul who yearned for an intimate loving relationship (similar to Charles Foster Kane). But this film surprised me.

    I don’t have a great grasp on the film yet–specifically, a great grasp on the two main characters or the dynamics and nature of their relationship. Right now, I think that’s where the essence of the film lies.

    Here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

    Typically Hollywood movies portray the Lancaster Dodd character as frauds, con-men, hypocrites, and/or outright kooks. This film doesn’t really do that–or at least the character is much more complex. Dodd may be kooky, but a part of me feels like he is genuinely searching for some deeper meaning.

    Really, both Quell and Dodd are what some Christians call, “seekers”–namely, non-believers who are genuinely open and seeking answers about God and spiritual matters. Dodd has started the project, and when he meets Quell, Quell becomes someone that Dodd believes he can help, or at least that is a genuine part of his motivation, which may involve other things. Because of this, I believe Quell is drawn to Dodd, even though, deep down, he is doesn’t really buy the spiritual message. Indeed, Quell isn’t so much a seeker as much as an outsider who is search of acceptance and even love. That Dodd seems to provide this, on some genuine level, is a powerful draw, earning a kind of interesting devotion and loyalty–interesting because Quell seems cognizant, at times, that much of Dodd’s ideas are bunk, but he seems loyal as any true believer (in a cult).

    I’m not sure a lot of American movies have really captured this dynamic. On some level, the film makes me think of Robert Duvall’s The Apostle–because the main character is a complex mix of genuine religiosity and a more savage and carnal side that seems incompatible with the former. Quell and Dodd are like that (especially Quell), but The Apostle doesn’t have this father-son dynamic. Both films are wholly American, though.

    More later.

  5. Burning (2018)
    Dir. Lee Chang-dong

    A good candidate for the best films of the 2010s. I regret not watching this without any breaks or interruptions. I thought Poetry and Oasis, two other films by Lee, were interesting. I’m at the point where I’ll see a film if he’s directing it. (I need to watch Secret Sunshine, a film I think Don recommended.)

    The Netflix description I read didn’t really spoil the movie, but I would recommend avoiding that and going in blind. But if you need more information, here’s a brief description. Lee Jong-soo (a guy) runs into a childhood neighbor, Shin Hae-mi. Their relationship begins to develop, but Shin leaves for a planned trip to Kenya. There she meets another Korean guy, Ben. When they get back, the three begin to hang out.

    At this point, a reader might think the film could be a rom-com or just a romantic love-triangle. It could be just a drama about friendship, or a thriller or action film. For people who want to know, I will say that it’s not a rom-com.

    I saw this film last weekend, and I regret not writing sooner. But here are some quick thoughts:

    The film seems to be about two things–one of which is a rather well-worn subject and the other, not so much. The former involves the state of slackerhood and malaise of twenty-somethings–specifically involving the lack of meaning. The latter involves a sense of uncertainty about what to believe is true–something that seems like a big part of the current zeitgeist. I like the way the film deals with this by using a mystery, love-triangle, while also creating a sense of mystery with all three characters.

    The crepuscular dance sequence (as well as as one or two scenes that precede it) was really terrific and beautiful. It’s the type of moment that could become iconic. (It’s example of a better use of film score from the original.)

    1. I watched this yesterday, and came away with a different reading of the film. Before I go into that, I wanted to mention that the film is based on Haruki Murakami’s short story, “Barn Burning,” which I don’t recall knowing on the first viewing. Also, I’m pretty sure the film is also based partly on William Faulkner’s short story with the same title as Murakami’s. I believe this to be the case because a) the main character’s favorite writer is William Faulkner, and b) there are similarities between the film and Faulkner’s short story. (Note: I read the Murakami story before the second viewing, and the Faulkner story after it.)

      Here’s the reading that came to mind on this viewing (spoiler):

      After the first viewing, I thought the fate of Hae-mi, the female character, was ambiguous. While I ultimately think that’s the case after the second viewing, I lean towards her committing suicide, with Lee Jong-su calling her a whore (after her crepuscular dance) being the straw that broke the camel’s back. (She was also in debt as well.)

      There are indicators that Ben killed her–e.g., Hae-mi’s watch at his apartment; the fact that he seems to have Hae-mi’s cat; and his lack of empathy, pointing to sociopathy. However, after the second viewing, this felt more like a red herring. Lee Jong-su (and Ben and his friends) seem clueless and unempathetic towards Hae-mi’s existential crisis–and he also seems unaware about how his comment might have driven Hae-mi away or even towards suicide. This possibility should have been apparent when Ben tells him that he was the only person Hae-mi truly trusted, or something to that effect. I could argue that Jong-su is too quick to blame Ben–maybe because he doesn’t want to face his role in this.

      This parallels to the situation with Jong-su’s father, who refuses to apologize for attacking the servant, and as a consequence goes to prison. (However, this reading feels a little off the mark to me.)

      So: Maybe the ending signifies Ben blaming someone else, while absolving himself (wrongly)?

      Some other things to think about: What’s the relevance of Jong-su’s backstory–e.g., his relationship with both his mother and father; the burning of his mother’s clothes when she abandons the family to the burning of the barns and ultimately burning of Ben’s body.

      What’s the meaning of the title? Some possible answers: “Burning” refers to the smoldering anger and jealousy within Jong-su; Jong-su burns his mother’s clothes in anger–because his mother abandoned them; he burns Ben’s body in anger because he believes Ben killed Hae-mi. Could burning represent a way to destroy something unpleasant?

  6. Western (2018)
    Dir. Valeska Grisebach

    I wish I were more in the mood for film when I saw this. I’d compare the filmmaking to movies by Claire Denis and Robert Bresson. Some critic compared this to Denis’s Beau Travail, and I can definitely see parallels.

    A group of German construction workers go to rural area in Bulgaria. They start to have encounters with the locals. Two of the Germans have almost an opposite response. One of them, Meinhard, seems to want to connect with the people in a respectful, human way, and eventually develops relationships with them. The other, Vincent, seems to have a more arrogant attitude, and the dynamic between he and the locals feels almost imperial.

    The film’s title seems to allude to the film genre, and there are some elements of this, albeit stripped of gun play and action. However, I tend to think the film is about the relationship between the West and Third World or less advanced nations. Bulgaria may not qualify, although a Romanian I knew mentioned to me that Eastern Europeans looked down on Bulgarians (sort of the way some denigrate and make fun of Polish people or Portuguese people in Hawai’i). So that was in the back of my mind as I watched this. Some from the West will be respectful and seek a real connections, but others will not.

  7. Happy as Lazzaro (2018)
    Dir. Alice Rohrwacher

    I’m still grappling with this film, so I can’t really render a judgment about it. This is an Italian film about a group of farm hands, working for aristocratic matriarch. One of the farm hands is a simple, angelic person–in the mold of holy fool.

    I will come back and fill in notes or a complete analysis.


    OK, this represents my current and best understanding of the film.

    In the Bible, sheep are often a metaphor of humanity. One of my Bible teachers described sheep as highly dependent, maybe even helpless and rather dumb animals. I thought of this while analyzing the film, as this seems to be one of the main focal points of the movie. The film also reveals the cruel side of humanity as well.

    While this reading seems correct on one level, on another it doesn’t. Specifically, the film’s tone doesn’t quite match this description. Someone reading the paragraph above may assume the film’s tone to be biting, harsh, and the overall film being dark. But I don’t think any of that is true–not in an overt way. But by the end, it’s hard not to reach this conclusion.

    1. Seems like a lot of overlap, at least in the top 20-30, with Film Comment.

      Regarding omissions, were you thinking of Up! or was that on the list?

      1. No, it wasn’t Up, which I was reminded of when I went back through these posts. It does surprise me that Up isn’t in the top 100. I’ll go through the IndieWire list again and hope I’m reminded of what I was thinking.

      1. One that sticks out is Reds. The year it was in theaters, I think it was the first year I started paying attention to the Oscars, and around when I really paid attention to Siskel and Ebert. Maybe it was because Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I had actually seen in the theater, was also nominated for Best Picture that year, or because the theme song for Chariots of Fire (also nominated for Best Picture) was so great.

        Or maybe I was 12, and maybe that’s when movie lovers start paying attention to film in general and not just films.

        Anyway I always had Reds in mind when I was in high school, but never made time to see it, and seeing it in this list with this write-up makes me want to see it.

  8. Phantom Thread (2017)
    Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
    Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps, etc.
    77/100 (possibly higher)

    This film, along with The Master, and, to a lesser extent, Licorice Pizza), has significantly altered my impression of PTA, from perceiving him as overrated to now having a more favorable view.

    Having said that, I’m having some difficulty understanding the film (which lead me to put off this review). Initially, I thought the film was about the tension between the career ambitions of a man and the time and energy required for a healthy marriage level. I also vaguely recall hearing that Alma (Krieps) was a muse to Reynolds (Lewis), so I wondered if the film was about the relationship between the artist and his muse (inspiration) and the way this affects the artistic process. At the end of the film, neither seem entirely satisfying, and I had the nagging feeling I was missing something important. Unfortunately, I never really took dig for this missing something.

    I will say that the film does feel like a solid contender for one of the better films of the decade. Also, while I haven’t been a big fan of Daniel Day Lewis (I think he’s a bit overrated.), I thought he was solid in this. Specifically, I thought he acting was a more subtle. I liked Manville’s performance in this as well.

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