With the decade drawing to a close, it's time to look back on a transformative 10 years in film. This decade has been marked by the dominance of franchise tent poles, while new voices have emerged in more independent mediums. With the addition of new streaming services and changes in the way films are made and distributed, this decade is an interesting snapshot on where film has gone and where it could be going. Here are the 10 best movies of the 2010s.
10. “O.J.: Made in America” (2016)
While it can be argued that “OJ: Made in America” isn’t actually a feature film, it’s impossible to argue against its overwhelming power. At seven hours and 47 minutes, the film is a jaw-dropping exploration of race, celebrity, violence and the American judiciary system. Given the film’s 2017 Oscar win for Best Documentary Feature, “O.J.: Made in America” is a beautiful, heartbreaking portrait of who OJ Simpson was, what he meant to America and how his case captivated millions.
9. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” (2019)
Premiering this past May, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” certainly feels like the movie of the year. As a love letter to Hollywood, this film acts as a fitting end to the decade for Quentin Tarantino. Rather than being a genre-bending experiment or an exploitation romp like Tarantino’s other work, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is an exploration of life and the dark violence lurking on the edge of society. With remarkable performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, the film certainly deserves revisiting as the decade ends and the Academy Awards approach.
8. “Gone Girl” (2014)
While controversial in its time, David Fincher’s 2014 film “Gone Girl” has aged beautifully as a modern, thrilling classic. The film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a man who comes under intense scrutiny after the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). “Gone Girl” is a remarkable depiction of American media, relationship dysfunction and how perception conflicts with reality. Fincher is famous for his attention to detail and creation of tension, and “Gone Girl” lives up to those expectations with an outstanding cast and thrills at every twist and turn.
7. “Before Midnight” (2013)
As the only sequel on the list, “Before Midnight” is Richard Linklater’s third film of his “Before” trilogy, which follows the relationship between leads Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) over the span of decades. The “Before” trilogy has been a linchpin of film culture since “Before Sunrise” in 1995, and the most recent chapter is a heartbreaking conclusion to Jesse and Celine’s emotional odyssey. With its idiosyncratic arc and emotional depth, “Before Midnight” feels like Linklater is coming to terms with his own view on love over time, delivering one of the most emotional films in recent memory.
6. “Whiplash” (2014)
As Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut, “Whiplash” is a triumphant exploration of obsession and the pursuit of excellence to the brink of insanity. With Miles Teller delivering a career best performance as an aspiring jazz drummer and JK Simmons in his Oscar-winning role as a ruthless instructor, the film asks powerful questions about abusive relationships, the price of greatness and the role music plays in life. Chazelle has established himself as one of the preeminent directing talents of the decade, and for proof of his mastery, look no further than this intense drama.
5. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
Often misunderstood during its release, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is likely the most ambitious portrait of excess and decadence ever put to screen. With a possible career best performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and masterful work by Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie, Martin Scorsese’s film eschews any kind of convention, instead opting for a drug-fueled bender yielding equal parts delight and disgust for viewers. At three hours long, the film moves with fascinating momentum, asking what happens in a world devoid of conscience and solely occupied with greed and power. By the film’s end, the audience experiences the cinematic equivalent of a hangover only to find an audience staring back at them, attempting to learn the tricks of dishonesty, self-aggrandizement and narcissism that made Jordan Belfort so powerful.
4. “Get Out” (2017)
As a solely original achievement, “Get Out” is a clear work of art, establishing Jordan Peele as more of a mind-bending auteur than sketch comedian. Daniel Kalyuaa gives an awe-inspiring performance as Chris, a young black man visiting his white girlfriend's parents, grounding the film’s more absurdist moments with such despair and dread that Peele’s vision is fully realized. “Get Out” is possibly the most innovative exploration of race in American society of the decade, and it manages to deliver on its social commentary and produce a transcendent genre thriller in the process. No film infiltrated the American consciousness this decade quite like “Get Out,” making it clearly one of the best cinematic achievements of the last 10 years.
3. “Lady Bird” (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, “Lady Bird,” paints possibly the warmest, most sentimentally successful film in recent memory. The story of Lady Bird, a teenager undergoing her senior year of high school in Sacramento, California, works on every single level, pondering ideas like parental relationships, sexuality, friendship, economic anxiety, depression, faith and identity all through a wonderfully idiosyncratic adolescent frame. Gerwig’s talent as a director shines through the film, exhibiting a mastery of detail and tone that only elevates the tremendous performances from Saorsie Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges. “Lady Bird” has a profound understanding of the high school experience and creates a perfect picture for an audience of all the anxiety and optimism of everyday life.
2. “The Master” (2012)
Another film which garnered controversy during its release, “The Master” may be the greatest film writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has ever made. Following a story resembling the founding of Scientology, Anderson’s film is a singular work of art with Joaquin Phoenix and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman dialing up two of the greatest performances of the decade. Anderson has always forced the viewer to question their own moral truths in application to warmly articulated characters, and with “The Master,” he invokes specific ideas about systems of belief and masculinity, creating a film that feels entirely unique. “The Master” doesn’t attempt to preach or explain, but instead allows the viewer to live with its characters, following the film’s own rhythm and forcing the viewer to look inward.
1. “The Social Network” (2010)
When thinking about “The Social Network,” the word that comes to mind is revolutionary. Whether it be David Fincher’s momentous directing style, Aaron Sorkin’s masterful screenwriting, Jesse Eisnberg and Andrew Garfield’s pitch-perfect performances or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ propulsive score, everything about the film feels beyond innovative. Telling the story of Facebook’s founding, “The Social Network” manages to dramatize court depositions and computer programming into a thrilling contemplation on social interaction, the pitfalls of success and how social media has revolutionized modern life. “The Social Network” is a perfect collection of people telling a story at the perfect moment and producing the best possible outcome: a film that asks what happens when the antisocial dictate the terms of social interaction and what price is paid for that power.
Contact Chris Carr at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.