This is the finale of my Top 100 Movies of the 2010s! The process of coming up with this list damn near broke me, so do me a solid and check out the earlier stuff, too! In the beginning, I swore off doing this again in ten years, but the stress of this was still pretty fresh. By the end, I was happy to have taken the time, daunting though it may have been. It gave me a chance to revisit some films, reexamine my feelings about them, and consider why certain ones connect with me when others don’t. It was all worth it, and as long as I’m able I’ll do it again in 2029!
20. The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek
Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t make small movies. Of course he doesn’t necessarily make them for anybody other than himself, either. This may explain why The Master is probably his most polarizing, and certainly his most challenging, a deeply psychological look at two charismatic men who are flipsides of the same dark coin. In a decade full of stellar performances, Joaquin Phoenix twists and contorts himself until he’s unrecognizable as Freddie Quell, a disturbed and destructive man (a clear predecessor to his Joker role later) whose inner rage finds new focus as part of a secret religious organization. What strikes you is how meticulous everything is, from the sun-kissed colors to the nerve-rattling tick-tock of the metronome. Once my favorite filmmaker without question, it was a rough decade for Anderson but here he is at the top of his game.
19. 1917 (2019)
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
I know. It’s a bit early to rank 1917 so high but I do think it’s warranted. I don’t think anybody expected this much from Sam Mendes, coming out of too-long stint in the massive Bond franchise, with the prior film being a major letdown. And to learn his WWI film would be a single continuous take (yes, there are hidden edits), it all sounded like an overwhelming prospect for the former playwright. But once again, Mendes proved he is among the greatest filmmakers working today. The technical achievements, given incredible weight and searing beauty by cinematographer Roger Deakins, only add to the visceral sense of being there in the trenches, never knowing where the danger might be coming from one moment to the next. The emotional stakes are established early and only increase as these two British soldiers go on their suicide mission, and we are right there with them through every horrific second. Not only will this go down as one of the great war movies but one of the great films, period. In a storied career, this is Mendes at the absolute pinnacle of his talents.
18. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Nicholas Hoult, Halle Berry, Peter Dinklage
You pretty much have me with anything involving the heroic, flawed, histrionic mutants in the X-men. I’ve been reading the comic for basically my entire life and have loved just about every movie (that wasn’t an insult like X-men: The Last Stand), but X-men: Days of Future Past is the first one that gets everything right. With so much that could potentially go wrong with the massive cast and three time periods to juggle, Bryan Singer showed a skillful hand in giving every character their moment to shine and every era a unique flavor. The central “love” triangle between Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has all the soap opera elements fans of the comic will love, while the endless array of super powers flung around the screen is impressive. I got to see Blink! Bishop! Sunspot! Characters I never thought would be on the screen, and that’s with all of my old and new favorites. This was a fanboy’s dream flick. It turns out this was the last gasp of the franchise that I loved so much. Sure, there were other movies after this but none of them could come close to the heights achieved here. Disney has their hands topping this one.
17. The Avengers (2012)
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders
The Avengers didn’t even make my short list of the best movies of 2012 when it came out! Looking back on it, I don’t know how that was even possible. I loved it at the time but it took multiple viewings over the years to convince me of its greatness. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. From the moment Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, and Hawkeye have their “hero moment” in the battle against the Chitauri, the MCU suddenly took an evolutionary leap and it was the Goddamn coolest thing. It was the exact moment when all of us long-suffering comic book nerds became cool…or at least sought-after for our Marvel trivia skills. Joss Whedon had the unenviable task of putting this master plan into effect, using humor to merge all of these wild characters,with their huge, conflicting personalities and incredible powers. That he struggled to pull it off a few years later (No Age of Ultron on this list!) is more reason to appreciate his accomplishment here.
17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, Sebastian Stan
The MCU enters a post-9/11 world with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a pulse-pounding political conspiracy thriller that showed Marvel can effortlessly combine real-world drama with spectacular superheroics. This movie has it all; shadowy organizations, government corruption, car chases, the downfall of SHIELD, the introduction of Bucky Barnes (that scene where he snatches Cap’s shield!!!), the “death” of Nick Fury, the debut of Falcon, the first appearances of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver…and so much more. And to think this was the first Marvel movie for the Russo Brothers, completely unproven as action directors after a career spent in comedy. They would go on to become the drivers of Marvel’s dominance, and it all started here with this movie that saw them echoing their favorite political thrillers from the past.
16. Rust & Bone (2012)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
My Matthias Schoenaerts man crush began here and it hasn’t gone anywhere. Without a shred of sentimentality or conventionality, Jacques Audiard presents a love story like no other, where two badly damaged people, one of body and the other of spirit, look for whatever shreds of comfort can ease their troubled souls. Marion Cotillard’s fearless performance as a killer whale trainer who sees everything she loves, including her sense of self, stolen from her is the finest of her career. Schoenaerts’ ferocity smolders, and the sparks between him and Cotillard are undeniable. A cinematic tour de force and an emotional juggernaut, Rust & Bone will forever be remembered for its use of Katy Perry’s “Firework” in a key scene, but don’t let that stop you from taking this movie as seriously as it deserves to be.
15. The Raid (2012)
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian
I thought about combining The Raid and its sequel into one spot, but that would be doing both a disservice because they are individually special and groundbreaking. Gareth Evans completely revolutionized action movies with his breakout feature (he directed the little-seen Merantau in 2009), but you wouldn’t know it by the simplicity of the plot: “1 ruthless crime lord. 20 elite cops. 30 floors of chaos.” What unfolds is what amounts to the most vicious of live-action video games, as a SWAT team engages in a fight for survival that escalates in violence as they ascend to the big boss at the top. Evans employs crazy camera techniques and off-kilter angles to maximum effect, showing how adept he is at getting the most from shootouts and hand-to-hand battles alike. This movie made a star out of Iko Uwais, who I think is the decade’s best action star not named Keanu Reeves. They would go on to star together in Reeves’ directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, which you should also check out…after you watch The Raid and recover from having your mind blown.
14. Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki
What does it mean to be a parent? Hirokazu Koreeda has explored the complexities of family in many films over his career, but this question is one he has grappled with most often. Like Father, Like Son is a complex, enriching drama about two families of vastly different economic status, who discover their sons were switched at birth. What are the responsibilities of the parents? To keep the son they have raised all of his life? Or to upend his world by changing everything they’ve ever known? There are no easy answers, and Koreeda’s impartiality leaves just enough room for debate long after the credits roll. Other than Denis Villeneuve, I don’t know if anybody had a more consistent decade of great films than Koreeda, but this was his best.
13. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard
One does not really enjoy a movie like 12 Years A Slave. You endure it. You experience it, and Steve McQueen’s harrowing drama is the most unflinching look at the slavery era we’ve ever seen captured on film, TV, anywhere. McQueen brings his aloof approach to the unbelievable true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man kidnapped and forced into brutal slavery under the whip of masters ranging from coldly dismissive to sadistic. While movies about slavery are common, McQueen does something different by making this one such a distinct, personal story. This isn’t some grand sweeping epic of the Antebellum South; it’s a stark look at the inhuman cruelty faced by one man who refused to accept the chains of bondage. Not sure it’s a movie I’ll ever watch in full again, but everyone should experience it at least once.
12. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin
As anybody who just saw The Rise of Skywalker knows, it’s damned hard to just stick the landing. I think that was all of our concern going into Avengers: Endgame, especially after the shocking finale of Infinity War. How do you go about wrapping up a full decade’s worth of storylines? It turns out, you just turn it into the massive superhero spectacle everybody wants it to be. Who will ever forget the massive finale battle (“On your left.”), with literally hundreds of characters on screen at once, the Avengers broken and Thanos appearing triumphant? The beginning is a bit somber, as it should be, but the story eventually rebounds with a lot of wonky time travel and science mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t make any sense and, honestly, doesn’t really need to. It’s just meant to the kind of fun you’d find splashed on your favorite comic book pages. When the MCU began with 2008’s Iron Man, I don’t think any of us thought it would lead to this, the highest-grossing movie of all-time. So yeah, it’s damned hard to stick the landing, but Avengers: Endgame proves it isn’t impossible.
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Hungtington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones
To think, I absolutely hated the very first footage they showed of this at Comic-Con. I went into George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road not at all a fan of the previous films, and exited a total convert. A breakneck 2-hour thrill ride through Miller’s warped imagination, the film also marks a welcome turn away from CGI effects and into the practical. Let’s hope it stays that way when/if Miller returns us to this great and shiny dystopian world of chrome, whether we’re following the enigmatic Mad Max or the resolute Furiosa.
10. The Revenant (2015)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
The most breath-taking change of pace from Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu’s grueling survival thriller put Leonardo DiCaprio and Co. through their paces, but damn was it worth it. Shot mostly using natural light by DP Emmanuel Lubezki, the cast and crew endured brutal weather patterns and an overlong production. Normally such stories are the deathknell of a film, but this is the rare case where the difficulties seem to have made it better. Infamous for its scene with DiCaprio being mauled (or worse??) by a bear, The Revenant‘s gruesome violence is only matched by its beauty.
9. Rogue One (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed
I keep going back to the fact I paid to see Rogue One four times. That just doesn’t happen, but I simply couldn’t get enough of, ironically, the first Star Wars movie that actually felt like they were fighting an actual war. Who would’ve guessed that stripping away the Jedi mysticism would lead to such heightened emotional stakes? Given all of the doubt that surrounded this film, and the future turmoil for these spinoffs, Gareth Edwards (and Co.) managed to pull off a seamless companion to the original trilogy and enhances our love for them.
8. Short Term 12 (2013)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Lakeith Stanfield, Rami Malek
A small film with big hopes, and big ambitions, Short Term 12 follows the mentors and charges at a foster care facility for at-risk teens. At the center of it is Grace, played with vulnerability and passion by one of my favorite actresses, Brie Larson, in what should’ve earned her first Oscar nomination. Her perfectly nuanced performance ranks as one of the year’s finest, even if I think the Academy will ultimately overlook her. The script by emerging star Destin Cretton is a thing of beauty, hitting on all of the right emotional beats as it skillfully studies the devastating effects of abuse on its survivors. There are moments of revelation, followed by dramatic setbacks, moments of peace followed by unbridled chaos. Life is never just one thing, and Cretton throws us into the deep end with his characters and expects us to swim. And while sometimes that exploration can get pretty bleak, Cretton never lets us totally give up hope, imbuing the film with an everlasting humanist spirit.
7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin
Forget the Avengers, this was all about the villain’s journey and I was totally down for it! Josh Brolin’s Thanos is so much more than he has ever been in the comics. There’s a soulfulness to his genocidal quest that is both perplexing and captivating. Granted, I almost always root for the heel to win, but in this case I actively cheered on Thanos’ mad quest to wipe out the universe and smiled with glee when the snap of his fingers wiped away everybody’s heroes. Of course, he would eventually get his comeuppance the following year in Endgame, but for a short while I was allowed to savor his victory as the greatest pulled by any bad guy in the history of cinema. Who can claim to have accomplished more?
6. The Florida Project (2017)
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite
Admittedly, it took me a while to fall in love with Sean Baker poetic, pastel-colored The Florida Project. The first hour took some getting used to, as Baker trailed behind a group of Little Rascals-esque kids, causing trouble around the long-term housing projects that litter the tourist traps near Disney World in Orlando. The chief brat amongst them is Moonee, played by the energetic Brooklynn Prince, who always has a spirit as bright as the Florida sun beaming down on her. But Baker takes us deeper, exploring the cold reality of her life on the fringes of society. Her mother, Hailee (Bria Vinaite, in a fearless acting debut), is barely more than a child herself and makes all the wrong decisions as a result. It’s a life of shocking poverty and danger, that Moonie is too young to notice until it all comes crashing around her. Fortunately, Baker injects plenty of light into what could have been one sullen ass movie. Willem Dafoe shines as the hotel manager, Bobby, an honest, soulful caretaker who looks out for everyone as best he can. While The Florida Project has its share of darkness, Baker reminds us that good people exist, and there is hope we’ll all get our shot to enter the Magic Kingdom.
5. Brooklyn (2015)
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent
I have an appreciation for simple stories told well, and that’s what Brooklyn is. Nick Hornby’s concise adaptation, along with John Crowley’s smooth direction paints a beautifully vivid picture of America as a place of hope and opportunity. Saoirse Ronan, in a shining performance that should’ve won her an Oscar, has never been better, capturing the fear, loneliness, and eventual strength of a homesick girl trying to find her place in the world. Brooklyn is a truly timeless story that reflects the best of what cinema has to offer.
4. The Raid 2 (2014)
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
I know, most people prefer The Raid, and that’s perfectly fine. I love it, too. But the sequel gives us so much more. Gareth Evans continues his streak as the best action director of the decade with a crime epic that makes all of the incredible fight scenes mean so much more. Iko Uwais returns and he is just an unstoppable force, whether he’s battling Baseball Bat Guy (in a legendary sequence), or surviving Hammer Girl, or getting sliced to ribbons in a kitchen fight so tightly-constructed it’s a thing of claustrophobic beauty. That we’ll never see the end of this story (Evans has said no to a sequel) gives me heartache worse than anything, but I’ll always have this classic to return to.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Alex Driver, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson
Don’t @ me. I don’t want to hear shit from you haters. While Mark Hamill himself has expressed misgivings at the ballsy direction Rian Johnson took this long-stale franchise, even he had to admit it was for the best. And he was right. The Last Jedi is the wake-up call these movies desperately needed, shedding the myths and the nostalgia we’ve been clinging to for decades. The Jedi? They fucking suck, yo. George Lucas made an entire trilogy about how badly they suck, so why so angry that Johnson is just hammering the point home? By “killing our darlings” so to speak, Johnson set up Star Wars to go in bold, new directions. That opportunity was sadly squandered by JJ Abrams, but in the long run I believe The Last Jedi will be looked at with the same reverence as The Empire Strikes Back. I’m already there. Get on my level.
2. Roma (2018)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
As the soapy water washes away across the opening credits of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, for about 5 straight minutes, you instantly understand this is the kind of deeply personal movie that a filmmaker gets to make once in a career. For Cuaron, who is notoriously obsessive about every shot, he holds every frame of Roma so tight it’s like he can barely stand to let them go. A love letter to the era of his childhood and the women who inspired him, Roma is both intimate and profound, with gorgeous black & white cinematography that Cuaron, naturally, shot himself. It comes across less like a movie, and more as if we’re walking through a flipbook of Cuaron’s fondest memories. When we so often complain that originality is gone from Hollywood, Roma is truly a film that could only have been made by Cuaron.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong
There’s no explanation for why I didn’t take to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World at first. It has literally everything I want in a movie. It’s an unconventional romantic-comedy that combines Street Fighter-esque video game graphics, comic books with big ol’ splash panels and crazy supervillains, a loaded cast of rising stars, all done with music video flair by Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. Instead, it was years before I realized how much this movie spoke to me. I saw a lot of myself in Scott Pilgrim, this flawed guy who always sees himself as the heroic good guy, but doesn’t understand a damn thing about women and is often made to look not-so-great. Shit, we still have a lot in common. There hasn’t been a love story presented like this elsewhere that I’m aware of, and I doubt there will be for a very long time. Look at that, my #1 movie of the decade turned out to be a comic book movie, after all, and arguably the most faithful one.
Honestly, this surprised me as much as anybody. I knew it would be high on my list, but it really boiled down to a few simple questions I had to answer. What movie always makes me smile and I’ll watch it no matter how I’m feeling or what I’m doing? What movie makes me want to share it with all of my friends, and if you get it then you probably get me, too? After that, it was a no-brainer.