Monday, September 28, 2020

Top 10 Films of the 2010s

Well it’s about damn time I post my top 10 of the 2010 decade. Pro tip: Recording and editing your own podcast takes up a shit load of personal time. But I told myself when I started that podcast that I wouldn’t neglect this blog and my followers’ blogs. So, apologies for the brief absence, but I’m so excited to see what everyone has been writing lately.

On to the list. I should have published this in January, but the good news is that these movies will never get old, to me anyway. I remember the first time I saw each of these movies so vividly; a few of them even changed how I approach my own filmmaking. This was a good decade for film, perhaps not as influential as the two decades prior, but a solid 10 years for films all the same. Here were my favorites, and if you posted your list and I missed it, please let me know so I can check it out!

10. Rust and Bone (2012)
Directed by Jacques Audiard
What happens when two deeply flawed people find one another amidst the muck and shit, the rust and bone of the world? Marion Cotillard (my vote for female performance of the decade) and Matthias Schoenaerts played one of the best, most unlikely couples in this painful film. A tough movie to take, but for my money, the last 15 minutes of this film stand up to damn near any consecutive 15 minutes of film in the decade.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese was 71 when he released The Wolf of Wall Street, the most unapologetically depraved movie of his career. And the fact that this movie was released just two years after Hugo, Scorsese’s most family-friendly film, makes me appreciate Wolf’s wickedness even more. Has DiCaprio ever been better?

8. Phantom Thread (2017)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Oh Phantom Thread, how I love you so. Those decade middle years were tricky for me; but PTA’s equally gentle and ferocious masterwork was a pure standout. My mom died really suddenly a few months before this movie came out, and I connected with Reynolds Woodcock’s grief on such a visceral level. The way Daniel Day-Lewis masked the trauma of his character, by controlling everything with such delicate precision, was so quietly unsettling to watch. This is close to my favorite DDL performance, and if it is surely his last, then he left us with something remarkablw.   

7. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
My favorite 5-minute stretch of this 161-minute movie is a dude driving home. He zooms out of the Hills, cruises down Hollywood Boulevard, hops on the 101 to Van Nuys. The top’s down, the music’s blasting, his hair is blowing, and Cliff Booth is headin’ home. The lights, the cars, the vibe. This movie had a lot going on in it, but Tarantino making this drive feel so damn alive is what I’ll always hold on to. (Also, is Cliff Booth the coolest character of the decade?)

6. Upstream Color (2013)
Directed by Shane Carruth
It takes a specific kind of person to write, direct, star in, produce, score, shoot, edit, market, and distribute a movie on your own. Shane Carruth certainly had collaborators when he made Upstream Color, but no one can deny that the movie represents his singular vision. This was the only movie of the decade that I saw back-to-back in the movie theater, with barely any break. I saw the 7:00 p.m. show, sat stunned in my car after, then walked back in and saw the 10:00 p.m. show. This movie had me from the first moment I laid eyes on it.

5. The Tree of Life (2011)
Directed by Terrence Malick
There’s Terrence Malick before and after The Tree of Life. It’s always been my belief that The Tree of Life was the one film Malick always had to make. His entire career before had been leading up to it (including researching it tediously in the 20 years between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line), and most of his films since have adopted a much more fluid narrative style (save A Hidden Life, a great film from 2019 that Fox Searchlight barely released). In short, The Tree of Life is the magnum opus of one of our greatest filmmakers.

4. Blue Valentine (2010)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
The ballad of Dean and Cindy is one of the most painful film romances I’ve seen. Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling, and Michelle Williams were so committed to showing the highest and lowest dips of love. I’ve never been able to shake that ending, the way wedding vows are used against someone as a weapon. Or should those vows be honored? Maybe both people need to walk away to think about it. Damn.

3. Somewhere (2010)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
“Who is Johnny Marco?” This is a question the man himself, played to quiet perfection by Stephen Dorff, cannot answer. And if he doesn’t know who he is, how can we? That’s the exercise behind Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. This film is a patient, European-inspired character study of a privileged life emotionally unlived. Dorff deserved more praise here, of what is surely one of the best performances of the decade. (For more of my thoughts on Somewhere, check out the podcast I recorded about it recently!)

2. Waves (2019)
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Few films are able to match the raw energy of Waves. As I sat and watched this movie for the first time – entranced, engaged, sobbing – I identified that the film had its own language and poetry. I had never seen a movie told in this way; the opening frenzy met with the lasting calm. To go a step further, there are very few films I watch that make me actively approach my filmmaking in a new way. Waves is one of those movies, so no matter what life this movie takes on in the following years, I will personally always be indebted to it. The waves, you know? The waves.

1. Shame (2011)
Directed by Steve McQueen
This won’t surprise dedicated readers of this blog, as I haven’t shut up about it since December 2011, but Steve McQueen’s Shame is as fine a contemporary film as I’m going to see. This movie redefined the language of cinema for me. I so appreciate its coldness, is frank honesty, its deeply melancholic performances. Time is the greatest judge of all art, isn’t it? For me, time lets the sugar high wear off. It gives a movie space to breathe outside of hype, buzz, controversy, whatever. Time gives me the chance to look back and go, “Goddamn, I remember that movie, and it stills means something to me.” That’s Shame. That’s Michael Fassbender as Brandon. That’s Carey Mulligan as Sissy. 

The extended sequence that captures Brandon’s downfall toward the end of this film is my favorite film sequence of the decade. “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” Yes, certainly. And now, what of it?


  1. I LOVE The Wolf of Wall Street, Blue Valentine and Shame. Waves and Rust and Bone are also great as well. I re-watched that quaaludes scene from TWOWS again the other day and it still makes me laugh my ass off every time. I wish that's what Leo would've gotten his Oscar for.

    1. I loved TWOWS when I first saw it, but that thing is an all-timer now. It's crazy how such an insane movie has held up so well. Definitely think Leo should've nabbed his first Oscar for that.

  2. So far, the only film on the list I haven't seen (but is going to be in my DVR as I got a new one a week ago) is Waves. Every film on that list is still incredible and always worth re-watching. I'm not going to do my list of the best films of the 2010s until 2022 as I want to get it right as there's so much that I haven't seen and films I'm sure we all haven't seen.

    I haven't had a lot of time to do anything these days as I blame the pandemic for just stifling me creatively and actively.

  3. What an epic list, and what should comprise the next seven and a half films I watch (I will never admit to a film on here I didn't finish [the shame!]). Even with my personally scant online presence, I'm never short of absolutely stoked when I come here and check out something you've posted. More than wildly informative, your passion AW, just f--king flies off the page...but like in a totally chill way (if that makes sense).

    Good stuff, man. As always.

  4. Great list and wonderful words, as always. I really need to see Upstream Color again- am in pre production (+ writing/directing/editing/DoPing/ect) for my own first feature and have been reading your posts regarding your own productions very carefully.

    Re-watched Wait again recently- still fascinating. Without spoiling anything I love the way you followed the character responsible for the big tragedy- really reminded me of how Michael Mann suddenly shifts gears to Donald in Heat.

  5. I haven't seen movies #2 and 3. Of the rest, there are several I'm not fond of, but I love that you are. Your passion coms through in each entry. Great post!

  6. Shame being your #1 is the least surprising list placement I've ever seen ;) Waves being #2 though was unexpected. Now I want to make sure I get to seeing it sometime soon!