10) Inception Every decade or so comes a film that catches the audience off guard and breaks what they think is possible with cinema. In the 90’s, it was watching Trinity escape the agents in the opening of The Matrix that made us all realize we were in for something we’ve never seen before (and the rest of the film just got more incredible). In the 00’s, it was watching Sméagol have a conversation with his alter ego Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. And now in the 10’s, it’s watching a zero-G fight happening in a rotating hallway in Christopher Nolan’s Inception that defined the shift in cinema. From the bombastic trailer (which launched a genre of horn blasting Bwaaam trailer soundtracks), to the incredibly complex plot, the vast visuals, and the notional core in the film, Inception became one of the most unforgettable movie-going experiences for all who watched it. Some can argue there are better films that deserve this slot, but none were as effective or influential as this.
9) Amour Moving on from the gigantic Inception, my number 9 is the tiny and intimate masterpiece from Austrian auteur Michael Hanneke, Amour. A heartbreaking and harrowing tale of love under the worst circumstances, Amour was one of the few foreign films of the decade that crossed over to the mainstream due to nothing more than its cinematic perfection. Equally shocking and moving, it’s a landmark in foreign cinema and the best film in a filmmakers impressive career.
8) Moonlight Another small film, made famous for being the actual Oscar winner in 2018 although La La Land had been mentioned by mistake first, Moonlight bring the introduction of an entirely new voice to cinema, Barry Jenkins, The film is beautiful, touching, cool, stylish and different than most other films out there, the cinematography is gorgeous, but it’s the raw and real emotions on display that elevate this film and makes it one of the very few Best Picture winners that actually deserved it.
7) Marriage Story The only film from 2019 on this list, and probably a potential spoiler for my year-end list (though things can change while writing it) Marriage Story is an incredible work in dialogue, realism, character development, and the deconstruction of a relationship. While describing the film to a friend, I told them it was a love story told through the divorce, which is virtually an impossible task. But like Michel Gondor and Charlie Kaufman did with one of my favorite films ever, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, sometimes the best way to depict a relationship is unfurl it at the moment of breaking. Marriage Story is incredible filmmaking from all sides, and the kind of film that will grow in respect and adoration as the years go by. Also, Adam Driver gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
6) Drive Moving from realism to the most stylized and stylish film of this list, here we have Nicholas Winding Refn’s explosion onto the world with Drive. One of the most perfectly directed, paced, and edited films of the decade, Drive is the kind of film that will make you fall in love with cinema. Take any scene, and spend a few minutes studying it and breaking it down, and you will be floored. Watching this retelling of western classics bathed in neon lights, an amazing soundtrack, and the noir moodiness of a David Lynch, this film is one for the ages.
5) The Act of Killing I couldn’t write this list without including a documentary, an essential section of cinema, and what a documentary this is. By the time the end credits roll, you’ll find yourself unable to speak at the power of what you just witnessed. Joshua Oppenheimer ‘s take on unveiling war crimes by approaching the war criminals (now heroes in their country) and asking them to play themselves in a fictional retelling of the war, thus allowing them to relive the actions they took part in is not only brilliant, but the resulting emotional reaction is more powerful than anything I’ve seen in documentary cinema before. This isn’t only one of the best films of the decade, it’s one of the most quintessential documentaries ever made.
4) The Master If you watch movies, then you know Paul Thomas Anderson was getting a slot on this list. From the man who brought us the amazing Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and Phantom Thread, it’s quite a feat to somehow top those with this intriguing enigmatic look into loneliness through the lens of a cult (roughly based on Scientology). Featuring the best performances of their careers from the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (yes better than Joker), an incredible soundtrack by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, and striking 70 cinematography, The Master is a timeless masterpiece.
3) Un Prophet The greatest crime film of the decade is not a film by Scorsese or Tarantino, but by a Dramatic auteur Jacques Audiard and about a Moroccan prisoner navigating his way in a prison of immigrants in France. Un Prophet takes its American crime cinema influences, films that were originally influenced by the French New Wave, and reclaims them for himself in this exciting and life changing prison epic about a small time introverted prisoner who slowly works his way up the crime ladder in prison. There are moments in this film that will make you flinch, others that will make you laugh, but in the end it will ultimately make you stand up and applaud. For those who have missed it, you owe it to yourselves to watch it today,
2) The Social Network Even today almost 10 years later, I’m surprised by how good a movie about the founding of Facebook turned out. Directed by cinematic genius David Fincher, working to the full capacity of his perfectionism, and supported by the best screenplay that Aaron Sorkin has written (considering his career, wow), the social network is directed and edited to the tiniest details. The storytelling in which we are witnessing a case discuss another case, both of them conversing cinematically with each other is just a masterstroke in storytelling, and one that has been and will continue to be studied for years. It also introduced us to new possibilities of film scores, with NIN’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross creating one of the most unique and memorable scores of the decade, taking us inside the cold and calculated mindset of our main character. A film where every department is held by the best of the business, this is the result when masters show the amateurs how films are made.
1) The Tree of Life To be honest, any of these ten films deserve to be number one, it’s a bit strange to have to rank them when they’re all so different. But when selecting my number one, it had to be The Tree of Life, if just for its sheer ambition. What other film this decade, or this century, had the Gaul to tell a story of a family growing up set against the backdrop of the creation of life and the universe itself, and somehow make sense out of it. The Tree of Life is one of the most unique films every made (its 4 hour director’s cut is even more incredible). Directed by one of cinema’s all time greats Terrence Malick, here he manages to bring together all of his strongest qualities into a monumental experience: family drama, coming of age, the balance of nature and grace, macro and micro juxtaposition, the presence of the creator, vintage Americana, spiritual voiceovers, sweeping cinematography, expressionistic editing, and a story that spans years and millenniums. The Tree of Life is one of the most beautiful films ever made, and the kind of film that has the power to bring an audience to its knees. And it is tome without a doubt, the best film of the decade,