Mike’s Top 100 Films of the Decade (50-41)
And here we are. The big list. Theoretically the one we’ve been building toward. But really anticlimactic when you get down to it. You think the list of my ‘favorite’ films of an entire decade would be the thing you want. But really it’s just me going back over a lot of the stuff I covered on the other lists and a broad regurgitation of my top ten lists from the ten years. So, rather than treat this like some big holy set of rankings, I’m just gonna do what I did with all the other lists – try to get you to see some of these you haven’t seen before and maybe introduce you to some cool movies.
It’s important to note, as it’s important to note with all my lists – the rankings don’t really matter. The number is only a function of the day I put it together. The only way to truly get a real ranking of my favorite films of the decade is for me to take the pool of films I used and make up this list from scratch at least ten different times and then use some sort of formula to figure out the average position of each movie and then create a ranking. And that’s not the goal here. I don’t care about the numbers. I care about talking up the films I like and trying to get people to see some of them.
So, if you feel like you want to get upset about where something is ranked, know that it’s a broad ranking. For the most part, films are in the general range of the 25-50 where I’d generally rate them next to everything else. Things will change as I revisit stuff and as time goes on. Like I said, this is really just about telling you what I enjoyed most in the hopes that it gets you to check out some of the stuff you either didn’t know about before or never bothered to see (or maybe saw and didn’t fully appreciate at the time). That’s it. It’s really just about celebrating movies. Don’t get so hung up on the numbers.
So, here are my 500 favorite films of 2010-2019:
50. The Girl with All the Gifts
This movie. This movie. This movie. One of the greatest gems of the decade and somehow something I knew I was gonna like from way, way out. I remember seeing this book at some point (knowing nothing of what it was about, but somehow registering it) and then, two years later, seeing that they made a movie with this title. And I went, “Oh, I know that title.” And then I sort of looked up what it was, but even then was kinda vague on the whole thing. But I somehow knew I really wanted to see it. So I got lucky. They were screening this at a festival I always go to and it was the one movie I really wanted to see that year. And somehow they ended up doing it as a double bill with Arrival, so I ended up seeing both. And yet this was the one I came out more positive on.
Here’s the premise: the zombie apocalypse happened. It happened and they’re largely contained it. Not totally, but it’s like The Last of Us or something like that, where society has maintained some sort of foothold, even though zombies are still out there and still attack. The military has created a base that holds off zombies and operate in this underground bunker inside it. And what’s going on there is — children. The virus that created the zombies, using its biological instinct to survive, evolved. The first group of people became zombies and eventually just sort of died out the way zombies do when there’s no flesh to feast on. But in the second generation, it molded with the kids’ DNA to create these people who are largely human but also need to feast on flesh and have this urge to eat flesh. So the government has taken these kids underground, keeps them in cells and uses them as lab rats to try to figure out a cure. Meanwhile, they’re also educating these children since they are actual children. And the story is about one girl in particular who seems to be the most human of the bunch. You’d think she’s just a regular girl at the outset. She’s really likes her teacher a lot and just really wants to make all the adults proud. But also… part zombie. And so the film is about her and this select group of people that includes her teacher (Gemma Arterton) the head soldier (Paddy Considine), the doctor searching for a cure (Glenn Close) and a few others, who, after the base is overrun, go out across the countryside in search of a place where the doctor can try to create a cure. And what’s amazing about the movie is the dynamic between everyone and the girl. Because the girl doesn’t want to eat all these people, but all they see when they look at her (except the teacher) is this dangerous monster. It’s almost like Grizzly Man or something. Where one person is like, “I see the beauty in these animals and I don’t see why you’re all so afraid of them.” But also… capacity to murder. And so you’ve got this journey and it’s so interesting, deals with such amazing stuff you never see in zombie movies and really creates this beautiful, layered portrait of what it means to be human and introduces a lot of ethical and moral dilemmas along the way. And the ending is really terrific. It’s one of those… well, it’s better to discuss it after you see it. But it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill ‘and then we shot the bad guy and humanity endured!’ endings. It’s a lot more of a gray area and really asks a lot of questions most other movies wouldn’t dream of doing.
I really, really love this film a lot and was devastated when they barely released it in the U.S. and dumped it on VOD. I’m not sure it ever properly came out in the U.K. either, but it doesn’t matter. More people need to see this movie, because it’s really one of the best of the decade and really needs to start being treated as such.
49. About Time
I remember my first time watching this movie so well. This was 2013, and it was a really important movie for my development as a film watcher and as someone who runs this site. Because I generally see everything that comes out each year, but it’s been a building process as the decade’s gone on. The number of films I see each year steadily rose for the entirety of the decade as I got more comprehensive about it all. And I also will always make sure that I see something that I think has a chance of being one of my favorite films or is big enough that it should be considered before I make my final decisions. So I always go out of my way to find or go see things when I think that might be the case. And it’s exactly because of this movie. Because 2013 happened, and I watched all the movies, I wrote up my top ten list and I was good with it all. This movie had come out quietly in November and I really hadn’t gone to see it because I barely registered it as something that came out. And so when I hadn’t seen it and the year ended, I thought nothing of it. And then New Year’s Day, literally the day after I wrote up my top ten list, they released the movie digitally for people to watch. And I watched it that day. And within an hour I went, “Oh fuck.” Because I knew this was a top ten movie for me and I knew I fucked up by not having the opportunity to put it on that initial list for people to see right as it went up. And you only have one bite at that apple. You can change it all you want later, but that first time is the time you need to have your shit together. So because of that, I made sure to really know what films were okay for me not to see by the time the list goes up. Because, if it’s going in tier three or something, okay, it can wait a week or two for me to see it and write something up. But if it could be top ten? That won’t stand. And it’s all because of this.
The movie, by the way, since I think people have come around and seen it in some reasonable form, but I’m not sure it’s as widely known as it should be — it’s Richard Curtis, who wrote almost every charming British comedy of the past 25 years (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Yesterday…). He also directed Love Actually and Pirate Radio (a hugely underrated film as well). And this film is sort of the pinnacle of who he is as a director. It’s the story of a guy who is one day sat down by his father and given ‘the talk’. Which is where his father explains to him: “the men in our family have the ability to time travel.” And he explains to him how it works and what the rules are and then gives him general advice but basically says ‘you’re gonna have to figure it out for yourself’. And so now, armed with this power, we see how he uses it throughout his life. Going back and fixing his disastrous attempts to talk to a girl at a party he’s had a crush on. Things like that. Then he meets Rachel McAdams (who hasn’t met a role about a time traveler’s wife she hasn’t wanted to do) and really wants to get to know her. So we see him using his power to try to make sure his dates and interactions with her go really well. And it’s charming and funny and the romance is great and the whole thing. And then you get to the second half of the movie, where you really start to get into the more adult/mature repercussions and side effects of time travel. And it becomes this really heartwarming story about so many things. And it’s just beautiful. I cry real tears every time I watch this movie. It’s so beautiful. I need everyone to know who hasn’t seen this movie that — you need to. It’s absolutely perfect. I know we all love Love Actually, but this is a better movie than that is. It’s just such a perfect entity and I really, really hope that everyone one day has a chance to see this at some point in their lives.
I’m gonna say it — this is the best movie Disney has made this century. I know people love Frozen and whatever… this is the best. This ranks up there with the best of the Renaissance and everything else. Honestly the only thing missing from this movie is hand-drawn animation. It’s perfect. It’s them going to the Pacific Islands and telling the story of a princess of a tribe that lives on this island that is being threatened by the changing conditions of the sea. And they are afraid to leave the island, believing everything they need is all right there. She, meanwhile, dreams of going out on the ocean and looking for adventure. And of course the film is her needing to go out on the water in order to help save the island and her people. And she goes on this adventure with demi-god Maui in order to undo a curse that threatens the lives of everything in the ocean. It’s so good. The songs are incredible (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda), the voice acting is tremendous (the Rock as Maui) and it’s just one of those stories that, as you watch it, you realize is just great. There’s a certain magic to the truly great Disney movies. And Frozen and ones like that approach it and maybe even achieve it for a length of time. But this one really is that good and deserves to be in the pantheon of greatest Disney movies ever made.
47. Black Swan
We all know this one. We’ve all seen this one. It’s amazing. Darren Aronofsky directs the hell out of it, Natalie Portman gives one of the best performances of the decade. It’s an amazing movie. Of course it’s gonna go this high.
46. Inherent Vice
Perhaps the most misunderstood Paul Thomas Anderson movie. It’s a tie between this and Punch-Drunk Love. I feel like with him, though, unlike the Coen brothers, people don’t necessarily go back to the overt comedies and realize how great they are despite less than stellar reactions upon release. Because with them, I think people find themselves going back and rewatching them and realizing how amazing they are. With Anderson, they just sort of move on. And the comedies never get the same kind of acclaim that the dramas do. Consider Anderson’s three dramas from post-2000: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Phantom Thread. All acclaimed as masterpieces, generally beloved, 17 Oscar nominations between them. Punch-Drunk Love and this movie, 2 between them. And what’s funny is that, in effect, all of Anderson’s films are comedies. Or rather, are funny, even if they’re not out and out comedies. But for some reason people don’t immediately gravitate to the comedies.
This one’s based on a Pynchon novel, which already means it’s not gonna translate to everyone. Pynchon’s not the easiest writer and the book being a detective story also means a general aura of weirdness. So I get it. But this movie is amazing. Joaquin Phoenix is so good, the movie is just so wonderfully 70s and weird and hilarious with these absolutely surreal and bizarre moments. Everything Josh Brolin does in this movie is hysterical, and everything about it is just pitch perfect. You just have to embrace the weirdness of this one. That’s the only way. And while I won’t tell people they need to love it, they do need to see it, because it’s Paul Thomas Anderson, and his films are essential viewing for anyone who loves movies. And while I do think it’s truly one of the best of the decade, I understand that not everyone will feel that way. Still — I love this movie.
Rian Johnson. I was a huge fan of his just from Brick and Brothers Bloom. And so I was all over this one from the second it came out. And this is just an amazing piece of work. I feel like most people have seen it, but just on the off chance you have no idea what this is or never really saw it — it’s a futuristic sci-fi movie that takes place only about 30 years in the future. Time travel exists. And what the criminals in the future figured out is a way to dispose of the people they need to kill by sending them back in the future to be killed in the past, eliminating the need for bodies to have to be disposed of. And so they hire these hitmen called Loopers, who go to an assigned place at an assigned time, murder the person (who they never see) and collet a tidy sum of money. The trade off is that eventually at one point they will need to kill their future self, so they know how much time they have left. But in return, they get to live really comfortably during that time. And so the plot is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Looper, finding out that in the future there’s some sort of ultimate crime boss who has started getting rid of all the Loopers. And so his future self (Bruce Willis — somehow it works) comes back in time and escapes death in order to go and go track down this future crime boss when he’s still a child and get rid of him. It’s basically the baby Hitler paradox in a sci-fi movie. And it’s great. It’s really, really great. The writing is so good, the directing is great, all the actors are great. It’s just an all around amazing movie and reminds you of what Rian Johnson can do when he’s able to make his own kinds of movies (which we will get to yet again very soon).
One of the most underrated gems of the decade. This is Steve McQueen’s followup to 12 Years a Slave. It’s based on a 1980s BBC miniseries and is co-written by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. The basic premise is — the wives of criminals, whose husbands died during a botched heist, get together and plan what would have been their husband’s next job in order to pull it off themselves. Now, you hear that plot and you think, “That’s a dumb action movie.” You expect shitty thriller. But there’s so much more than that going on here. Because there are all these other rich, rich plot lines going on, to the point where this movie could have been twice as long and I’d have watched it because there’s such great stuff going on here. Because the heist involves stolen money from another criminal (Brian Tyree Henry) who is seeking local election as a city alderman in order to try to go (more) legit, which puts him up against Colin Farrell, son of Robert Duvall, whose family has been city alderman for generations, and so Farrell sees it as a sort of birthright (even though he’s not really sure, deep down, that he even wants it). And there’s this interesting race and class dichotomy going on there, as the ward in Chicago they’re fighting over is predominantly black and really should be run by someone who understands the community. And you just have this old money white family running everything that is corrupt just institutionally because they’ve been in power for so long. But then you have the criminal running against them who actually does sort of have a desire to help the community. Meanwhile, the criminals stole money from him that was gonna be used for the election, so now he’s upset and demands the wives pay him back, which leads to them planning the next heist, which involves stealing from Farrell… and everything weaves together really, really wonderfully. It’s truly one of the best movies of the year and one of the richest narratives I’ve seen, with so much more going on than just the basic premise. Plus you get Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Jacki Weaver, Garrett Dillahunt — this amazing cast of people. Trust me when I say you need this movie in your life. McQueen’s made four films thus far — Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave and this — you know you’re getting quality. Do not sleep on this one, because it really is one of the best movies you’ve likely never seen.
43. A Star Is Born
I’m a sucker for this story to begin with. I love the Gaynor/March version from 1937, I love the Garland/Mason version in 1954. I even like What Price Hollywood in 1932, which is basically the story but before it became ‘the story’. The ’76 Streisand/Kristofferson version I like too, but not as much as the others. Still… you put this story on the screen, chances are I’m gonna like it. So seeing this as Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, having Lady Gaga… it felt like a safe debut that was gonna bring about a solid film that would generally work. I didn’t expect much more than solid. But holy shit, this movie. All Cooper needed to do was be adequate behind the camera and let the acting and story carry the way. But no. He went all out and showed that he is great behind the camera and really finds a way to tell this story in the greatest way possible from every single little angle, down to the smallest shot, smallest gesture and even edit. You find out about it from the first shot of the film, where he tells you everything you need to know about his character without realizing it. And he really directs the hell out of the rest of it. There are shots in this that I go back to each time I watch it and go, “That is not the work of a first time director.” And then he gets the best out of Gaga, gives an incredible performance on his own, gives Sam Elliott the role of his career and then gets these amazing songs out of Gaga. There are something like 15 songs in this movie and every single one of them is great. Even the ones designed to be ‘bad’ (because they represent her selling out and going pop). Every ounce of this movie is incredible and every time I go back to rewatch it (which has been way more often than I’d have thought), I find another thing about it to be in love with. I was predisposed to this one from the start, but this so far and away exceeded my expectations to the point where it might now be the best screen version of the story that’s been made. And that is not something I say lightly.
42. Little Women
The only reason this is so low is because I haven’t has as much time with this as I have with a lot of the other films. So give me some more distance from immediately seeing this one for the first time and I guarantee you it will be higher than this. It’s already gone up in my esteem for it in the few months since its release. I fucking love this movie. Just like with Star Is Born, I’ve loved all the versions of Little Women they made, from the 1933 one to the 1949 one to the 1994 one. They’re all great movies. But this one takes the cake because Greta Gerwig crafts what should be the definitive film version of the story, telling it in such a way that she makes the material feel fresh again by juxtaposing certain scenes in one timeline to certain ones in another and creating this overall larger theme to it about women and their place in the world and just being the author of your own story and having agency. It’s a stunning piece of work. There’s not a false note in the entire movie and I’ve already gone back and watched this like three times. And it’s so rewatchable. I really cannot stress enough how beautiful this movie is and how everyone who loves movies needs this in their lives.
One of my most cherished gems of the decade. This is just a quiet, unassuming movie that radiates sheer perfection and beauty through and through. I remember seeing this for the first time, going to a small screening with not many people. There was no big fanfare for it, it was just this little movie. And by the end of it, I felt so profoundly changed by it and couldn’t get it out of my head. I watched it like five times within the first three months of it coming out. It just has so many truths about life in it. You feel like you understand everything that’s happening in this, even if you haven’t remotely had the experience this girl has.
It stars Saoirse Ronan as an Irish girl who dreams of going to America. And so you see her life in Ireland as she eventually gets the money and plans the trip across the ocean. And you watch her on the boat, going through customs and then landing in Brooklyn, knowing no one and having no idea what to do. She’s on a new continent, has no connections here whatsoever, and just has to figure it out. So you see her getting a job, finding a community of people who’ve done similar things, trying to deal with homesickness and doubt and fear and ultimately just making a life for herself and falling in love. The crux of the movie is the immigrant experience but there’s also this really sweet romance of her falling in love with an Italian boy (even though it’s not really the kind of guy Irish girls would normally marry, especially since she has a suitor back home, which adds to her doubt. Because it only underscores the homesickness aspect). It’s just a perfect movie. It’s so charming and so lovely. It’s one of those movies I would, if I had the ability, make everyone watch, because I imagine that 80-90% of people who see it will really like it. It’s just that kind of movie. It’s so incredible. This is one of those, above almost everything else from this decade, I will cherish really strongly for the rest of my life and go back to every time I want to feel great. I love all of these movies and will go back to a lot of them often, but this is one of those that really holds its own special place in my heart.
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