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"Good Old JR" Jim Rutkowski weighs in with his picks for the TOP 10 films of 2010's

The Top 10 of the Decade of the 2010’s

(010520) The landscape of film has changed significantly during the 2010s, with streaming services and large, cinematic universe franchises taking hold of Hollywood. At the same time, the growing internet has allowed a larger number of people to make their film criticism heard, with some rising YouTube and Twitter critics gaining larger followings—while other cases have brought bad faith harassment campaigns against filmmakers and actors.

Even amongst the new media landscape of the past decade, filmmakers have still created films that cut through all the noise. There is still the traditional “Oscar movie,” prestige dramas that incite intrigue, perhaps providing a bold new creative vision or maybe throwing back to a cinematic era of yore. Some of the best films of the past decade are large-scale epic historical movies, while some are deeply intimate and personal.

The top films of the 2010s span different genres, from drama to comedy and musical; some are animated as opposed to live-action, some are documentaries rather than scripted, and many of these films are made outside of Hollywood and the United States as a whole. Even with Netflix and large franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and “Star Wars,” audiences and film buffs, in particular, are still drawn to prestige and independent fare.

What will we remember about the cinema of the 2010s, when we look back at it years from now? Some of the answers seem obvious: Marvel and the rise of the cinematic universe, the Hollywood horror renaissance, the push for more diversity onscreen. Perhaps there will be certain moods or themes that strike us as especially of this moment (#metoo Class warfare?). Probably we'll notice precursors to trends that haven't taken off yet. It's impossible to say. What we can be sure of is that there will be films that endure because they reflected these times or pushed them forward, and others we keep close simply because we love them. Maybe they'll be the ones listed below, or maybe they won't. But as we close out the 2010s and head into the 2020s, here are my 10 best (unranked!) films of the decade.

Parasite (2019)
Director: Bong Joon- Ho

Coming in just under the wire, Bong Joon-ho’s boggling mix of suspense and social comedy has so much to say about the current state of economic inequality in the supposedly developed world. Sending two families—one rich and oblivious, the other poor and scheming—crashing into one another, Bong manages a roundness, a grace, out of what could easily be just a haves-and-have-nots brawl. Through all its cleverness—Bong stages a con game with a giddy, sideways humor; he ratchets up tension masterfully too—Parasite smuggles in a lament that reaches an unignorable crescendo in the film’s devastating final moments. What have we actually been laughing at this whole time? What has all this slipperiness, this subterfuge, been necessitated by? Parasite has a striking moral clarity; it is not stingy with its sympathy, and yet it pretty firmly comes down on one side of things. Leave it to a wondrous talent like Bong to patiently listen to a decade’s conversation and then encapsulate it so brilliantly right at the very end.

The Tree of Life (2011)
Director: Terrence Malick

The decade had barely even begun when Terrence Malick brought forth this culmination of an already mythical career, and what audiences witnessed in 2011 was the uncompromising vision of one of the great American directors. The Tree of Life is an epic that ties the fiery beginnings of the Universe with the quaint suburban existence of a Texas family in the 1960s, an almost laughably ambitious setup that works because of the performances and rapturous cinematic images at its center. With an undeniably 21st century bravado that is restless and all-knowing, this is a film experience with little precedent and an avalanche of influence in its wake. Malick’s personal reflection on growing up, growing old, and what happens when you die. This movie was an honest look at the biggest questions we all face. Perhaps Malick’s most hopeful meditation, it brought his work to the forefront of pop culture and really made you confront the idea of existence. Plus it has one of the greatest film scores of all time.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
After 30 years away from the franchise, director George Miller returned to the Mad Max universe and in so doing made the best action movie perhaps of all time. A symphony of fire and metal, Fury Road is the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen in, well, at least 10 years. Max and a coterie of women resisting their subjugation—including Charlize Theron’s action hero for the ages, Imperator Furiosa—embark on a relentless flight from a hellish patriarchy, pursued by young men high on the totalizing, vulgar power of their leader. Furiosa and Max lead the charge as the band of rebel’s races across a hostile desert toward freedom. And then they turn around. While ever thrilling, a balletic spree of explosions and acrobatic combat, Fury Road also manages a more serious stirring. It’s rousing to watch Furiosa and her comrades in arms fight back against their oppressors, charging through them on a mission of liberation. There’s a gnarly triumph in their assertions against a harmful institution; Fury Road swells with revolutionary spirit as it hurtles toward its moving conclusion. Though it is the fourth film in a series, Fury Road feels like a brand-new thing. It’s a startling and enveloping vision, one that should stand as a sterling example of what tentpole filmmaking can be as we zip so recklessly toward our own dystopia.

The Act of Killing (2012)/The Look of Silence (2014)
Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn
“The Act of Killing” tackled a serious and heinous act, telling the stories of individuals who were involved in mass killings that took place during 1965 and 1966 in Indonesia. Director Joshua Oppenheimer, along with co-director Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian filmmaker, retold the history that led to these atrocities, with nearly 1 million people killed for belonging to a local communist community. The film was described as raw, powerful, and unsettling, and several critics listed the film as one of their top favorites in 2013.

Joshua Oppenheimer made another film regarding the 1965–66 mass killings in Indonesia following “The Act of Killing,” with “The Look of Silence” focusing on one anonymous victim’s journey after the event. The man confronts the perpetrators responsible for his brother’s death, finding that many of them have little-to-no remorse. The film was considered less shocking, but just as compelling as “The Act of Silence.”

The Rider (2017)
Director: Chloé Zhao
The contemporary Western film “The Rider” follows a young cowboy who after suffering a head injury explores the badlands of South Dakota in search of a purpose in life. Most of the actors in the film were not professional actors, leading to a gritty and grounded tone. And director Chloé Zhao was certainly noticed, as she is currently filming the upcoming superhero blockbuster “Eternals” for Marvel Studios.

The Florida Project (2017)
Director: Sean Baker
One of studio A24’s more prolific releases in the decade was “The Florida Project,” a film that garnered supporting star Willem Dafoe an Oscar nomination for acting. The film focuses on the hardships of a 6-year-old girl living with a single mother in a motel which is managed by Dafoe’s character. The film does something that not many films do. It focuses on generally under-represented people in modern-day America.

A Separation (2011)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
The Iranian film “A Separation” centered on the dynamic between middle-class family members as the parents underwent through a legal separation. At the same time, the daughter experienced stress and sadness as a result of the dispute, and the parents are faced with the decision to move to another country or to stay with their ailing grandfather. “A Separation” became the first Iranian film to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Moonlight (2016)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins’ staggering Best Picture winner is a meditation on identity that asks what it means to be a gay black man in America. In the past, Moonlight might have fallen through the art-house cracks, another tragic casualty in our multiplex-or-bust marketplace. But this poignant story of one man’s journey from boyhood to adulthood was so transcendent, so note-perfect in its tiniest details, it couldn’t be denied. And thank God for that. Because Jenkins’s coming-of-age story was as close to poetry as movies get.

Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater
In an unprecedented project, writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film “Boyhood” over 12 years. An epic drama, this 2014 film depicts the coming of age of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, with the movie following his life from age six to 18. With his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the latter winning an Oscar for her role) divorced, Mason undergoes the standard rituals and hardships that come with puberty and maturation, with the film’s real-time nature taking advantage of the evolving real-life popular culture landscape.

The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is arguably one of the best living film-makers. So it should come as no surprise that at least one of his films lands in our top ten. Like all of his films, The Master provides us with meaty characters that aren’t easy to interpret or predict, yet that somehow remain profoundly relatable. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver some of the best performances of their careers in their strange, elusive bro-mance founded on their father-son-like connection and fueled by their devotion to a gnostic cult religion that lightly mirrors Scientology. Amy Adams, of course, is the whip cream and cherry on top. Hell, maybe she’s the whole sundae. She’s that great. No person or thing could be excised from The Master as it stands. Every frame, note, action, sound, tone, and line is crafted with supreme magnificence. The Master is one of those films that’s so rich, you just want to bask in it.

Trying to pare down a decade’s worth of cinema into ten films is daunting. There are a hundred other movies that could easily make the cut. Here are a few more. All deserving of a place at the main table...

Before Midnight


12 Years a Slave


The Wolf of Wall Street

Stories We Tell

A Ghost Story

Certified Copy


Inside Llewyn Davis

Under The Skin

Get Out

First Reformed


Force Majeure

The Phantom Thread

La La Land


Take Shelter

Beasts of the Southern Wild


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