Today marks two years since this blog began, and what better way to celebrate than to take a look back at the movies I’ve loved? Going to movies has always been my favorite activity (even though it occasionally bugs my girlfriend), and I’ve seen a lot over the last decade – over 650 in fact. That number has ramped up significantly over the last couple of years, which is partially why I started the blog in the first place.
Bear in mind, this ranking only reflects my favorite movies since 2010. These aren’t necessarily artistic or merit ratings. In fact you’ll see plenty of movies I’ve given an A-grade to left off in favor of a B+ movie. These are the films that stuck with me, either right after seeing them, or over the course of months and years. A lot of them I’ve watched over and over again, because they’ve left an indelible impression on my mind and heart. Some just shook me to my core – both in good and bad ways – even if I only saw them once.
The one other disclaimer I’ll mention here is that there will be many more entries from the back half of the decade than the front. That’s simply because I saw more stuff over the last five years than the five that preceded. I live in a major market now, and therefore have access to a lot more independent, foreign, and documentary films, with plenty more theatres to choose from depending on what I’m looking to see. Subscription services like AMC Stubs and MoviePass before it fucked itself also facilitated much more viewing for my somewhat humble budget. There are also a ton of films that I just haven’t gotten around to after missing their initial releases and respective heydays (Easy A for example; I’ve heard nothing but great things, just haven’t had the chance to see it yet). So if you’re wondering why something spectacular from 2012 didn’t make the list but a bunch of stuff from 2019 did, that’s why. It’s not a qualitative declaration of one year being better than the other. It’s just a matter of sample size.
So with that, let’s celebrate the blog’s Second Anniversary and hopefully trigger a nostalgia nerve or two. Here are my top 100 films of the 2010s!
This is one of the few times I’ve ever wanted to retroactively alter a film’s grade. I initially gave it a B+, and I’ve had to stick by it, but it’s become one of my personal favorites of 2019, even as more technically and artistic movies have overtaken it. The whip smart script, the performances, Olivia Wilde’s note-perfect direction, and Billie Lourd by herself make this one of the funniest and most endearing films I’ve ever seen, and given the disastrous trend of “Let’s do it with ladies this time,” this movie could so very easily have just been Superbad for Girls.
99. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
This film is much more of a stand-alone than the original, which tied more into the Infinity saga, so it has more room to breathe. The characters feel more lived in, the Awesome Mix is better, and we get the instant memes of “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” and “Baby Groot is life!”
98. Hidden Figures
It can feel a bit too clean and polished on rewatches, but the message is pure and the characters are bliss. It’s also just good to see smart people succeed and make the world a better place, especially in this utterly fucked environment we’re living in right now.
97. Blinded By the Light
I’m at the age where I get instantly dismissed by younger people simply because of differing musical tastes (Billie Eilish sucks, deal with it), but this film can always serve as my argument if I ever decide to get in a flame war with the kids. The awakening that Viveik Kalra’s Javed experiences when hearing Bruce Springsteen for the first time is exactly how I felt growing up with his music. The melody draws you in, the lyrics make you cry, and when you recover, you sing it with full voice, a defiant scream to the masses that the world can never fully bring you down. “Bruce sings about not letting the hardness of the world let the best of you slip away.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Somehow, this was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theatre, and it’s by far the best of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. It also spawned the first Bond theme to win an Oscar. Benicio del Toro makes a great villain, a worthy follow-up to Anton Chigurgh, and watching Judi Dench in her last moments as M were worth the price of admission alone.
95. Sausage Party
One of the better innovations of the last decade was the expansion of animation into a genre no longer just for kids. Sure, the 70s had Fritz the Cat, but that’s about it. Now we get mature, cerebral animation for an audience that grew up with cartoons. We also now get raunchy, racist sex romps with food. From the opening number to the “no matter what you were expecting, it wasn’t this” food orgy that closes the film, this is a laugh riot for the ages.
Using previously unseen footage, Jane gives us a double treat, as we see not only the budding genius of Dr. Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees, but also the budding romance between her and Hugo van Lawick. There’s a gentle care with which he films her, looking like a young Meryl Streep, where you can see them fall in love through the lens. Coupled with her fascinating, groundbreaking work, this was one of the best documentaries of the decade, and an absolute crime that it didn’t even get nominated for the Oscar.
93. On Body and Soul
Nominated in the Foreign Language category, this magic realism love story is one not to be missed, as a normally emotionless woman and a self-loathing older man come together over a shared reality in their dreams, where they take the forms of mating deer. The emotional discovery paired with the stark, haunting dreamscape has stuck with me ever since I first saw it.
Social media movies are almost universally crap. The lone exception is this Hitchcockian mystery thriller framed entirely in the electronic devices of John Cho as he searches for his missing daughter. Aneesh Chaganty’s feature debut is about as strong an introduction as you can get, as he crafts a spellbinding puzzle filled with innuendo and red herrings and clues in the plain sight of modern technology. Even Debra Messing, who I normally don’t care for as an actress, gives the best performance of her career.
Reboots are normally pretty stupid, mostly because nothing new is added to the equation. It’s just the same story with younger faces. Well Creed bucked that trend, revitalizing the Rocky Balboa franchise. While the story is still a somewhat familiar retread of the plot beats of the original Rocky, it’s refreshing to see Michael B. Jordan take on the mantle of his late, absent father and study under the gritty tutelage of Rocky himself. The film breathed new life into a tired series, earned Sylvester Stallone a deserved Oscar nomination, and got back to what made these films great, namely the fact that they’re more exciting than any actual boxing match I’ve seen in the last 15 years.
90. Frozen II
It is a rare thing for Disney to make a sequel. It’s even rarer when that sequel begs for a third installment. Frozen II is that diamond in the rough. Improving on the story structure, fixing mistakes and answering questions left over from the first movie, and just being genuinely funny make this a movie worth seeing again and again. The music’s not up to par with the original, but when you’ve set the bar so high, you’re bound to regress just a little bit.
89. This is Where I Leave You
Acting as a 90-minute bottle episode of the best type of sitcom, This is Where I Leave You gives us heartwarming and hilarious performances from Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Jane Fonda as a non-Jewish family sitting shiva for their atheist patriarch. Connie Britton gives a strong supporting performance, and the film is my introduction to Adam Driver, who’s quickly become one of the best actors out there.
88. Shutter Island
This is the rare early year release that ends up being among the best of the year. The sheer mind fuck that Leonardo DiCaprio goes through in this film is beyond impressive, and one of the moments that finally fully converted me into a DiCaprio fan after hating him in the 90s and only occasionally enjoying him in the 00s (Catch Me if You Can, The Aviator, and The Departed were all I could stand).
The film that announced to the world that Netflix was ready to be a serious distributor for movies, Mudbound is one of the best takes on racial justice and inequality I’ve seen. The dueling fates of a black and white family sharing the same plot of land in the Jim Crow south is compelling on so many levels, and the performances are about as good as they come. The expectation that the black family should help the white one bury their racist father is one of the most spellbinding images in recent cinema.
If I could live for a day inside Charlie Kaufman, I’d either be in awe the entire time or I’d go insane. There’s no middle ground. This stop-motion masterwork is part of the reason why. Imagine a world so mundane that you hear everyone speaking in the same voice (Tom Noonan), and then just once you hear something different. How manic would you be in encountering this one bit of excitement? It’s a strangely erotic head trip.
85. Baby Driver
We’ve had something like nine Fast and Furious movies, and this one flick tops them all. The characters are compelling, the soundtrack is its own ass-kicking supporting character, and the stunt driving is nothing short of amazing. The film’s popularity has died off in the wake of Kevin Spacey’s downfall, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer fun of the movie. Plus Lily James got added to my crush list.
84. The Lego Movie
I’m not made of stone. I am susceptible to thinly-veiled advertising, same as the next guy, though I do try to avoid it. There’s plenty of it on display in The Lego Movie, but it’s done in the most clever way possible, by slyly editing in set and part serial numbers as things get built. And even if this weren’t a feature-length ad, it would still just be a fun, heartwarming cartoon with a stunner of a twist ending that hits you right in the feels and alters your whole perspective.
83. The Old Man and the Gun
If this is the end of Robert Redford’s career as an actor, then it is the best swan song imaginable. A classic western-style adventure with heart, humor, and an acknowledgement of Redford’s amazing tenure in Hollywood, he literally rides out into the sunset one last time as a lovable outlaw who lives for the thrill of the game. Also, somehow, incredibly, this is the first time he’s ever worked with Sissy Spacek.
82. Apollo 11
I’m not much for archival documentaries, because that basically lets the director just edit stuff together and pretend to tell a story without really putting in the effort. But Apollo 11 is one of the rare exceptions to the rule, with a breathtaking, large scale retelling through footage of man’s journey to the Moon 50 years after the historic flight. It’s the first documentary I’ve ever seen in a normal theatre and then went to see again in IMAX at the first opportunity. You feel like you’re in the capsule going there yourself, and it’s wondrous.
81. Inside Llewyn Davis
My introduction to Oscar Isaac is still his greatest achievement as an actor (though he’s had plenty of great roles since). The sad sack iconoclast folk singer and his doomed road trip to an audition for his shot at the big time is filled with symbolic melancholy and achingly beautiful camera work, to say nothing of the great music. I saw a lot of myself in Llewyn Davis, a competent yet frustrated artist that can’t get out of his own way half the time. It hit home pretty hard.
80. Dallas Buyers Club
The performances are great and worthy of their Oscar wins, but really, I love this movie for deeply personal reasons. There was a close friend of my family who we lost to AIDS in 1997. He was one of my mother’s best friends, and at one point I think they were even engaged or close to it. In some parallel universe he’s my father. Anyway, the last two years of his life it was these sort of “buyers clubs” that got him the drugs he needed – legal or otherwise – to keep him alive, keep his strength up, and keep him eating so his weight didn’t drop too low. I’ve only seen this film twice; it’s too emotional to watch again, but it’s a story I’m so thankful got told.
79. The Other Guys
I dare you not to laugh at this. Seriously, I dare you. From the moment Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson go out in a blaze of machismo glory to the passive-aggressive “negging” that serves as sexual play for Will Ferrell and Eva Mendes, this is just one of the funniest movies out there, and it still holds up nearly 10 years later.
78. Loving Vincent
This is one of the more unique movies I’ve ever gotten to experience. An animated story about Vincent van Gogh (IT’S PRONOUNCED “VAN GOFF,” DAMMIT!)? Sure. A Citizen Kane-style exploration of his last days that calls his suicide into question? Unexpected, but captivating. Doing the whole thing with 60,000+ individual oil paintings in his style, including a cast that looks photographically similar to the subjects of his actual artwork? Masterpiece!
77. Straight Outta Compton
Giving the musical biopic treatment to the group that brought gangsta rap into the mainstream was a risky choice, but it paid off tremendously. Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell give breakout performances, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. does a spectacular job playing his own father. Highlight of the movie, though, even if it’s completely made up, is the origin of “Bye, Felicia!”
76. Spider-Man: Homecoming
It was kind of up in the air whether or not Spidey would make it into the MCU due to the licensing agreement Sony’s had this entire century, but our fears were allayed when he showed up in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. A year later, he got his stand-alone film, rebooting the reboot for the MCU. As much as I like Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland is the first actor to properly do justice to the character. Michael Keaton made a fantastic villain. And of course, Ned is a goddam national treasure.
75. Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett gives the best performance of her career in a late-stage Woody Allen masterpiece. The world is also properly introduced to Sally Hawkins, and Andrew Dice Clay ends up the most sympathetic character of the film. Who would have ever seen that coming?
74. Life of Pi
A visual marvel from beginning to end, Ang Lee took a book that critics thought couldn’t be properly adapted and made it into a feast for the eyes. Also, apropos of nothing, I love this film for the memory of the first time I experienced the dated stereotype of loud black people in a movie theatre. Specifically it was two Madea-looking old women shouting, “OOH, that tiger’s SCARY!” Still makes me laugh. To this day I wonder if they were pulling an intentional prank.
73. The Disaster Artist
James Franco’s #MeToo moment ended up costing him a well-earned Oscar nomination in the only art project film he’s ever done that ended up being any good. His turn as Tommy Wiseau is manic, madcap, and masterful in this hilarious chronicle of how one of the worst movies ever made came to be.
72. Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler made me want him to win an Oscar. How could I not put this film on the list for just that miracle alone?
71. Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
A lot of praise is being bandied about for 1917 and it’s single-shot cinematography style. As cool as it is, this movie did it first, and did it better, with a much more engaged cast, including Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Zack Galifianakis, and Michael Keaton in the role that should have gotten him an Oscar, but instead it inexplicably went to Eddie Redmayne for sitting in a chair. This is the first Best Picture winner on this list, and spoiler alert, the other nine won’t all make it.
I look forward to a generation of Jordan Peele and Ari Aster competing to see who is the new master of horror. Us is such a unique horror idea, riffing on the concept of pod people and body snatchers, but in this case making them literally the second half a human soul, forcing the “man in the mirror” trope into an actually scary existential concept. Lupita Nyong’o gives her best performance since she won her Oscar, and the image of Elisabeth Moss’ demise is still gore at its finest.
69 (nice). Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
While I have enjoyed the new Star Wars trilogy and the spinoff films, this is the only one that makes the list. While the story does create some plot holes in the larger mythos, and there’s no suspense since we all know what happens to the Death Star, it was still compelling to see this relatively self-contained adventure featuring characters we’ll never see again because they all died. That in itself is a bold choice. And while the CGI abomination versions of Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher were off-putting, the mere presence of K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Donnie Yen as a blind, Force-attuned monk more than makes up for it.
68. Sorry to Bother You
Quite possibly the best satire this side of Thank You for Smoking, this side-splitting take on race and labor relations goes well off the deep end (in the best way possible) in the third act thanks to escalating tensions between Lakeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer, both giving career-best performances. The introduction of “white voices” was just the appetizer for a main course that includes labor strikes, orgies, and horse cocks. It’s every bit as weird and fucked up as you’d imagine, but it’s also hysterical.
67. Wreck-It Ralph
“I’m bad, and that’s good! I will never be good, and that’s not bad!” My heart, you guys. My heart.
Rami Malek was brilliant as Freddie Mercury. Taron Egerton blew him out of the water. Turning Elton John’s catalog into a movie musical is something I’m amazed hadn’t already happened, as the man and his work are just ripe territory for fact and fantasy. From the moment Egerton walks in as Elton in a flamboyant devil costume to what we later see is a group therapy session which becomes an elaborate production number of “The Bitch is Back,” you are hopelessly hooked. The soundtrack’s original contribution, a duet between Egerton and the former Reg Dwight, is also Elton’s best new song in nearly 30 years.
A heartwarming testament to the families we choose, this Japanese gem is a saccharine sweet tale of a group of petty criminals who all live in a hovel as a makeshift family unit to scam the government. When they see an abused child in a dumpster, they take her in as well, perpetuating their crimes, but also showing their deep capacity for empathy and love.
Now more of an historical footnote due to the Oscar snafu, this brilliant and deeply insightful look at the sexual development of a young gay man in Florida works on so many levels, and made an overnight star out of Mahershala Ali. I still would have voted for La La Land as Best Picture, but this will hopefully one day be looked at as a timeless classic.
63. Seven Psychopaths
Still one of the best dialogue-heavy character studies I’ve come to know. Martin McDonagh, the playwright and screenwriter behind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges crafts a Tarantino-esque talker that pits Christopher Walken and Colin Farrell in a great game of wits, and introduces me to Sam Rockwell. Loved it then, love it now.
A French vegetarian gets a gory and erotic taste for meat. Take THAT, PETA!
61. High Life
Robert Pattinson is quickly becoming one of the great actors of his generation. It really does suck that his career basically started with all that Twilight garbage, but he’s grown by leaps and bounds since then, to the point where he should get serious awards attention for films like this, where he plays a condemned man sent on a one-way space flight to avoid execution, only to become quite aware of the morbid nature of his punishment. This is especially true when he is forced to conceive a child, and then raise her by himself in space. There are plenty of stories about convicts who become religious in prison, well Pattinson becomes basically a zen monk during his space odyssey, and in the technicolor hellscape that it his fuckbox space cell, it truly is an exercise in existential beauty.
60. The Cabin in the Woods
Ever since Scream, the world of horror has been one of cheap remakes, lazy jump scares, and bad special effects. Because of that, whenever a really good horror movie comes out, it quickly rises to pantheon levels. Also like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods takes a lot of its enjoyment factor from subverting long-standing horror tropes, including cannon fodder characters, instantly accepted mythology to drive the violence, and the voyeuristic effect that watching teenagers screw and die has on us, both from a story and media standpoint. It also helps that the chaos that ensues from our sacrifices daring to live is just comedy gold.
Proof positive that gross-out humor is great no matter who does, as long as they do it right.
58. Mad Max: Fury Road
Fire guitar. Need I say more? Motherfucking FIRE GUITAR!
57. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Young Zack Gottsagen gives a tremendous performance in his debut, striking a blow for Down Syndrome representation, and the feel-good Huck Finn-style story begins some career rehabilitation for Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson. Like Booksmart further down, I only gave it a B+ grade, but I’ve seen it several times since my first viewing, and it’s quickly become one of my personal favorites of 2019.
56. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
It took until 2019 with Detective Pikachu to get an honest to God good movie based on a video game. But years before we had the best video game-style movie with this graphic novel-based classic. Michael Cera dating a manic pixie dream girl by fighting boss battles against all her exes pays off again and again. Plus, we get Alison Pill and Sex Bob-omb, as well as a hilarious Kieran Culkin.
55. Little Women
There’s not much I can say here that I didn’t go over a few days ago in my review, but I really do love this film. Greta Gerwig is just an absolute virtuoso with character, and Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh are all Oscar-worthy.
54. If Beale Street Could Talk
How could Barry Jenkins possibly top Moonlight in his follow-up? Well, how about securing the trust of James Baldwin’s family to adapt his novel into one of the most poetic films of the decade? That about covers it, right?
Christopher Nolan is one of the true modern visionaries, and this World War II epic is a prime example. Taking place over three different converging timelines, it’s a tale of heroism, despair, and sheer force of will. Aside from the time fuckery, you get grand performances from Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and somehow, Harry fucking Styles. And amidst the surrounding din of warfare, you never see the enemy until the very end, and even then it’s not in full. This isn’t about Nazis, this is about brave men living to fight another day.
52. The King’s Speech
It’s somewhat appropriate to have two WWII films next to each other, but again, this isn’t about the struggle of war, but rather the courage to see it through. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are a dynamic pair in the most unlikely buddy film you’re ever likely to see.
51. Black Swan
No one captures melancholy and spiraling madness like Darren Aronofsky. That figurative spiral is made literal in the form of Natalie Portman’s manic ballerina. Worth the price of admission for Portman alone, the film is freaky in the best way possible, from Barbara Hershey negging her daughter to literal feathers growing out of Portman’s body. Also, there’s a lesbian scene between Portman and Mila Kunis. “Was I good?” Kunis asks when she learns of the fantasy. Yes, yes you were.
50. The Help
Shit pie. I don’t think I’ve laughed harder in my life than the shit pie.
49. The Big Short
We’re being robbed blind, and Adam McKay somehow made that entertaining and funny while also exposing corruption with insightful skill. Also, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.
48. The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe screaming at each other for two hours should not be this brilliant. It really shouldn’t. But dear God it is!
Romantic comedies are not my cup of tea, but over the last few years we’ve gotten a few gems that redefine the genre by subverting the clichés that tired it out in the first place. None do it better than Amy Schumer’s awkward, stumbling, crisply-written farce. In a world where non-actor celebrity cameos are all too commonplace, the scenes of LeBron James squeeing over Bill Hader having sex is something beautiful to behold.
46. 12 Years a Slave
I never have to watch this film again. I likely never will. It was the first, and so far only, time that I have felt traumatized by a film, because that’s how deep and visceral Solomon Northup’s story is. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is heart-wrenching in the extreme, only to be outdone by Lupita Nyong’o. It hurt to watch the cruelty, but I also couldn’t look away, and those images are seared into my mind for all time. Steve McQueen gave us a magnum opus, and to think it nearly lost Best Picture to fucking Gravity?! This world is weird.
45. Hail Satan?
I don’t have a problem with religion in general, but I do have a problem with religious hypocrisy, or using it as a crutch to justify hatred and persecute non-adherents. Thank God for the Satanic Temple, which this film shows was formed just to troll these zealots that try to impose their fundamentalist will on our laws, but now it’s evolved into a legit religion, with “deeply held beliefs” that would surprise just about anyone if you asked them to define what Satanists actually practice or preach.
44. The Lost City of Z
An odyssey and cautionary tale about obsession, this film is an adventure for the ages, and the first example of Robert Pattinson’s conversion into legitimate actor. And of all people, it’s Charlie Hunnam leading the brilliant ensemble cast.
43. The Death of Stalin
The gallows humor is on full display in this hilarious farce about the power vacuum created by the death of Joseph Stalin. Steve Buscemi leads a cast of comedy legends, none of whom even bothers to affect a Russian accent, as the absurdity of authoritarianism and communism is displayed in stark contrast to the wacky set pieces the creators of Veep put on the screen for us.
42. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
This isn’t the highest-ranking animated film on this list, but it is the best pure animation, with the different textures and styles for each version of Spidey. The running gag of resetting the story to give each version their own backstory narration is an inspired touch as well.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the more underrated actors in Hollywood today, and he does tremendous work here. Seth Rogen turns in one of his first serious performances, and Anjelica Huston will just break your heart. This was also the movie where I resolved to make Anna Kendrick mine one day!
Quite possibly the most important documentary of the decade, especially in the Trump era. The Constitutional amendment that officially ended slavery has been bastardized ever since its ratification as a loophole to oppress minorities and skew the justice system in a way that may never be fully redeemed. Ava DuVernay’s look at how race relations have devolved since blacks were freed is essential viewing, not just for the racial component, but for exposing the prison industrial complex. This film should be part of high school civics classes nationwide, and is a key reminder of who has the power in this country, and what they do when they have it.
39. John Wick
A lot of actors have turned into action stars in middle age, but none have done it so stylishly as Keanu Reeves. The simple revenge plot spurred by the loss of a car and a dog is ultraviolence at its absolute peak, with highly-choreographed fight sequences that rely on the capabilities of Reeves and the stunt cast rather than quick-cut editing. It’s appropriate that the third installment shows Wick learned under an assassin’s outfit that uses ballet as a front, because to watch him ply his trade is to watch a literal dance of death.
38. La La Land
A truly original movie musical is a rare thing indeed, and Damien Chazelle created an instant classic. As a fan of referential media, I loved all the homages to classic Hollywood throughout the film, and the bright, exuberant musical numbers awakened my inner theatre nerd. And while “City of Stars” won the Oscar, I still contend that Emma Stone’s “Soliloquy” is the best song of the film, a heartfelt ballad to dreamers like me that always brings a tear to my jaded eye. Along with Moonlight, the Oscar Night gaffe renders it a footnote of cinema history, but I still irrationally love it.
37. The Favourite
Emma Stone makes back-to-back appearances with Yorgos Lanthimos’ ribald masterpiece. Olivia Colman wholeheartedly earned her Oscar, and watching Stone and Rachel Weisz fight for her affections is a cat-and-cat game that gets better every time I see it. And who could forget some of the best naughty jokes ever, like “I like it when she puts her tongue inside me” and “Have you come to seduce me, or rape me? I’m a gentleman. So, rape then.”?
Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut is one of the greatest comedies of all time. Only the creator of Family Guy could make a shit-talking teddy bear a star in his own right. Also, only MacFarlane could make America care about Sam Jones again (HE SAVED EVERY ONE OF US!). I have a talking Ted. He is my thunder buddy for life!
Film is magical, and Martin Scorsese, the greatest living filmmaker (if not all time) knows better than anyone how to show it. In one of the rare films that truly needs to be seen in 3D to fully appreciate (like Life of Pi), Scorsese uses a young French boy as a lens into film history, to show how early film pioneer Georges Méliès created some of the first special effects and artistic movies like “A Trip to the Moon.” Filled with tremendous effects and whimsical characters (from the likes of Emily Mortimer and Sacha Baron Cohen), this was my Best Picture pick for 2011, and to this day it holds up exponentially better than The Artist.
34. Lady Bird
The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age comedy from Greta Gerwig is the absolute height of character study, and the all-too-rare look at life for the working poor in a movie. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf give expert-level performances, and the fact that this film didn’t win a single Oscar is criminal.
33. Black Panther
Wakanda forever, motherfuckers! What more need I say?
Watching Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons square off is an experience without equal. The climax is one of the greatest single scenes in modern film history. The intensity just builds and builds, with neither side giving an inch, until a spectacular payoff with the greatest jazz drum solo ever! By the end, you’re sweating just as much as Teller.
The X-Men films have widely varied in quality over the years, but throughout the series, Hugh Jackman has been the one constant, to the point that he’s inextricably linked to the role of Wolverine. This film is the most appropriate swan song for a beloved character we could ever get, as a worn out Logan goes on one last reluctant mission to save his “daughter,” with all the gusto, violence, and foul language that a gritty, R-rated exeunt should have. I never thought I could weep for what is basically an exaggerated cartoon character, but here we are.
Argo fuck yourself! To be honest, this film only won Best Picture as a middle finger to the Directing Branch of the Academy for not nominating Ben Affleck, but God is it great! The real Tony Mendez died almost a year ago today, and because of this film, an American legend will live on in glory forever.
While his fetish for Texas creeps me out sometimes (I still can’t believe schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the state), Richard Linklater remains one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, and this 12-year labor of love is his greatest work by far. This unprecedented undertaking is one of the most amazing movies ever made, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with Patricia Arquette, as her character reminded me a lot of my own mother, struggling to raise two kids on her own.
28. Knives Out
Daniel Craig with a southern drawl is priceless on its own, but I have absolutely fallen in love with this movie in the few weeks since it came out. Like a lot of other movies on this list, it’s redefined its genre by subverting expectations and tropes. The brilliant ensemble cast commits 110% to the bit, playing hilarious archetypes in this topsy-turvy murder mystery.
Spike Lee finally wins an Oscar, John David Washington and Adam Driver make a dynamic undercover duo, and Topher Grace plays David Duke as the sniveling twerp we all know he is. What more could you want?
26. Green Room
In one of the most unexpectedly great horror movies in recent history, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, and the late Anton Yelchin try to survive an assault by Patrick Stewart of all people as the owner of a skinhead bar. The shocking gore coupled with the punk rock soundtrack makes for a little film with big ambition and even bigger payoffs.
25. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
“Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys,” says Emma Watson to Logan Lerman, as the quirky, literary freshman becomes part of an offbeat clique of seniors at a Pittsburgh high school, in what is my favorite coming-of-age film of all time. How I wish I could have been adopted by a group of friends like this when I moved to a new town to start high school. Add in all the Rocky Horror stuff and I’m locked in for life.
24. Django Unchained
“Say goodbye to Miss Laura.”
The highest-ranking comic book movie should be no surprise. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this raunchy, violent, fourth wall-breaking bit of genius. Ryan Reynolds had two attempts at playing a superhero before this, and both times he was insufferable. Third time was the charm, though, and now he’s a bona fide superstar, branching out into meta territory all over the place thanks to his absolutely perfect alter ego.
22. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
In this age of polarization, hatred, and bigotry, the world desperately needs a man like Mr. Rogers to remind us all that kindness is a virtue and that all people have inherent value. It’s been 17 years since the world lost its television saint, and we’re all the worse for it. Between this film and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we’ve had fictional and non-fiction looks at this extraordinary man, and we need to take his lessons to heart. For this documentary, the clincher for me was the animated sequences where Daniel Striped Tiger (who I always loved as a kid because it felt like he was talking directly to me) stood in for Fred’s childhood insecurities. It was tear-jerking, but also reassuring to know that a rough upbringing doesn’t always leave a person horribly jaded.
As I mentioned in my review for Frozen II, the original film hit me like a ton of bricks at a point where I was basically feeling my lowest as a human being. I saw it looking for a half-pleasant distraction. I fell in love with a piece of high art that spoke directly to the fear and isolation I had been feeling for years. It was a turning point in my adult life, and that’s before we even get to the amazing music, characters, and visuals (I still tear up watching Elsa build her castle).
Now more than ever, the fourth estate needs our support, and it’s because of people like the ones at the Boston Globe who exposed pedophile priests. Michael Keaton (starring in his second consecutive Best Picture winner), Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams are spectacular, bringing light to one of the most open horrible secrets of our society. It’s part of the reason why I’ll likely never belong to any organized religion, because people who purport to speak for God can still do this type of disgusting, unspeakable shit and still get away with it.
19. Toy Story 3
Although undone by 2019’s latest sequel, Toy Story 3 made for the absolute perfect ending to Pixar’s flagship franchise. With Andy grown up and off to college, the gang must survive a bitter throwaway and a horde of preschoolers, not to mention a goddam incinerator. This movie is so good that even Quentin Tarantino named it his favorite of 2010.
Although it spawned one of the most annoying sounds ever, and one that sadly gets used WAY too often in movie trailers, Christopher Nolan’s utter mind fuck of a dream adventure still holds up as one of the most cerebral stories ever put to celluloid, with special effects that still look groundbreaking a decade later.
Ari Aster’s debut, Hereditary, was filled to the brim with fucked up imagery and horror effects. Midsommar, his 2019 sophomore effort, raises the bar by doing all of this again, but this time in service of an actual plot. The kills are righteous, the mushroom trips are felt viscerally by the audience as ripple effects make it look like the very earth is breathing, and the camera work reveals exactly what Aster wants you to see at any given moment. Just for fun, the second time I saw this, there was a fairly major earthquake that hit the theatre, adding an extra scare that caused half the audience to flee. Good times.
16. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika Studios has put out five wonderful films since its inception, but none are better than Kubo. Taking inspiration from classic Japanese folk tales, the group behind Coraline created a stop-motion odyssey with a completely original story that’s as visually dazzling as they come. More importantly, the film – and Laika by extension – gives their young audiences a lot of intellectual credit, telling stories with dark, mature themes like death, knowing the kids can handle it if you engage them on their level. And the whole thing gets wrapped up by Regina Spektor covering “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The guitar’s not the only thing weeping by the end, I assure you.
Leave it to Spike Jonze to create the best love story of the century to date, with one half of the main couple never appearing on screen, because she is a screen. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson do amazing work together without ever appearing in the same space. Phoenix’s lonely protagonist is a hopeless romantic who literally sees the world through rose-colored glasses, as his job writing greeting cards is filled with red windows. The color red is basically its own character in the film, an oddly prescient look at man’s love of technology, and how that can be both healthy and heartbreaking.
14. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson is hit and miss for me, but when he hits, he hits big, as in this animated treasure that blends stop-motion and 2D cell-shading, and whose title is a homophone of just about everyone’s feelings about man’s best friend. A blend of western and Japanese styles, the movie smartly does not use subtitles, instead relying on a news broadcast translator (Frances McDormand) for complicated language or just the visual context for simpler stuff, assuming rightly that the audience is smart enough to understand what’s going on without holding its hand. The film is beautifully animated and truly heartfelt. It makes you want to cuddle the nearest furry friend you have, which for me is my next door neighbor’s pooch. His name is Peanut and he’s perfect and I won’t hear a word otherwise.
13. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film blends two of his favorite things in the whole world: cinematic homage and revisionist history. His love letter to Tinseltown boasts an all-star cast, including what looks to be an upcoming Oscar win for Brad Pitt, all giving top notch performances. But amongst all his tricks, the best one QT pulls is framing the Manson family murders against a wistful reminder of how fleeting our achievements can be in the grand scheme of things. All the Tarantino hallmarks are there, from the violence to the feet to the references that only seven people understand, but God is it a sight to behold when it all comes together.
12. The Mustang
I instantly fell in love with this prison drama of rehabilitation through training horses, and it stands as one of the best films of 2019, even if it gets no recognition from the Academy. Matthias Schoenaerts gives the best performance of his career, aided by Jason Mitchell and Bruce Dern in strong supporting roles. But really, the star of this film is the horse that Schoenaerts must break for auction. Whoever the animal wranglers were on this film, they didn’t get paid nearly enough for the well above-and-beyond work they put in on this one.
11. The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language film is still his best, an absurdist romp into a dystopia where single people get forcibly mutated into animals. Both sides of the coin Colin Farrell fights against are militant in the enforcement of their philosophies. On one side you go through superficial motions to find a mate to save your humanity, and on the other you live as a complete loner, but in a commune full of other loners committed to dancing by themselves. The intentionally stilted dialogue and monotone line readings only add to the humor as people figuratively and literally contort themselves away from anything resembling a normal person just to be considered a “normal person.”
10. The Wolf of Wall Street
This film has some latter day detractors, mostly those who think the movie glorifies excess. Those people, naturally, miss the point entirely. The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t put people like Jordan Belfort up on a pedestal, but rather a public stockade, so that we can see how far they rise when they break all the rules, but also how far and fast they fall when the bubble bursts. The movie delights in its vices because it’s daring you to get jealous, to find something to aspire to in the sleaziest of people who ride high for a while, only to come crashing down. No better is this exemplified than the Looney Tunes-style tumbling act performed by Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio when their characters are hopelessly high on quaaludes in the middle of a crisis.
This generation’s Heathers hatches a delightfully wicked plot between two teenage sociopaths (Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) who want to kill an overbearing douchebag stepdad. Filled with dark humor and matter-of-fact deliveries, the film slyly offers commentary on just what makes someone a good or bad person, and whether friendships have to have an emotional basis. This film also serves as a sad reminder of what might have been, as it was the last project of the tragically late Anton Yelchin.
8. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s getting on in years. Who knows how many more films he’s got in him, much less ones this great. Reuniting his stable of mob film legends (Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, etc.), the great one delivers one last epic crime saga, detailing a small-time enforcer’s rise through the ranks of the Philadelphia mafia and Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters days. At a whopping three and a half hours, the movie’s got a lot of story to tell, and it tells it just about as perfectly as possible, only dragging as it enters Lord of the Rings territory near the end and can’t quite decide on where to stop. But the ride there is so rich that you don’t even care.
Bong Joon-ho is a master at blending genres, and in 2019, he delivered his best work yet, seamlessly shifting from satire to goofball comedy to thriller to outright horror with his tale of high and low class coming together in a long con that oozes brilliance in every scene. Just when you think you know where the film is headed, Bong delivers another style shifting twist to completely throw your expectations out the window (or just leaves it open for someone to piss in it). The real trick though is that you never once feel cheated when he turns the tables on you. Instead, you’re locked in even further each time the mood changes like an indecisive wind.
Written over the course of nine years by childhood friends Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) and Rafael Casal (Are You Afraid of the Dark), Blindspotting is equal parts buddy comedy and social commentary, and completely outstanding. As the lead pair, Diggs and Casal play Collin and Miles like a modern day Dante and Randal from Clerks, only set against the backdrop of gentrification in their hometown of Oakland. And while the rapport between the two is top notch and ripe for laughs, the real meat in the film is the racial aspect, as Collin, an ex-con with three days left of probation, witnesses a policeman killing an unarmed black man, and feels pressure from all sides on how to handle his growing paranoia. It all culminates in one of the greatest scenes in modern cinema history, as Diggs freestyle raps his frustrations and fears while holding the killer cop at gunpoint, to prove who’s the real killer between the two of them. I first saw the film last year at a test screening, and then went back weeks later when it debuted for real. Both times the film got a standing ovation. It truly is a singular achievement in film.
5. Your Name
Makoto Shinkai is slowly but surely staking his claim as the heir to Hayao Miyazaki in the realm of anime films. His 2016 magnum opus represents magical realism at its best, with his initially cute body switch comedy quickly turning into a time-travelling mindbender that will have you questioning the very nature of your existence by the end. And amidst all the mental games, the man still finds a way to sneak a genuine love story in for good effect. The visuals are incomparable, the story serene, and the sheer emotion behind it all is something rarely seen, regardless of the form of media.
4. The Martian
Matt Damon sciences the shit out of this Cast Away to the nth degree survival film, noteworthy as perhaps the first major science fiction film where no one dies. Using actual physics and math, and somehow making them seem cool, Damon leads an all-star cast in this testament to human ingenuity. Just for good measure, you get one of the more inspired uses of catalog music, as the climactic montage is set to David Bowie’s “Starman.”
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Remember what I said about Wes Anderson? Well, this is his biggest hit yet for me, a sprawling, well-choreographed bit of goofiness that is every bit as quirky as you’d expect from Anderson, but with much more sincerity than you’re used to with his work. Ralph Feinnes gives a transformative performance as a hotel manager doing everything he can to cling to the gentlemanly ways of old Europe before war consumes all, and Anderson’s usual stable of actors all contribute in their own unique way. Alexandre Desplat finally won an Oscar for his peppy score that gets you humming along from the first notes. In an inspired creative choice, the film is divided into three time periods, each filmed in the aspect ratio most popular for their time. And if nothing else, how do you not love Willem Dafoe casually tossing Jeff Goldblum’s cat out of an open window?
2. Get Out
I still remember the first time I saw Get Out three years ago. I met up with some friends completely out of the blue, and went in with zero expectations, as it was a horror movie released in February. I was intrigued that Jordan Peele, previously known for comedy, would be directing, but otherwise I figured it would be at best, a mediocre distraction. Instead, we all witnessed one of the single greatest horror movies ever made. Peele’s direction and script were something completely unexpected, keying into racial insecurities to create a nightmare that was relatable to a sizable chunk of the audience. Referencing the opening sequence where Lakeith Stanfield is kidnapped off the streets by Caleb Landry Jones, I heard several black audience members after the show openly musing, “I wonder if that’s how Trayvon [Martin] felt. I wonder if he was that scared up until the end.”
The beauty of a great horror movie is when the scares can seem real. Even if the story is fantastical (and the idea of transplanting rich white people’s consciousness into virile black people certainly qualifies), a deep-seated, plausible fear can make the scares palpable to the entire audience. That’s what Peele accomplished here. While it’s impossible – if not outright absurd – to transfer personality to another brain, the idea that upper class white people would go to such lengths to preserve themselves and erase the identity of black people is not so far-fetched, and that’s where Peele finds his terror. Add in the litany of homages to classic horror masters like Hitchcock, Craven, and Carpenter, and an uproarious bit of comic relief from Lil Rel Howery, and you’ve got a scare-fest that will echo for years to come.
1. Inside Out
One of my favorite early episodes of The Simpsons is a Season 1 episode called “Moaning Lisa.” In it, middle child Lisa mopes about, too sad to really care much about anything. After encouraging her to smile just for the sake of it, Marge sees people take advantage of Lisa, a first-hand example of the cynicism her young daughter is exposed to on a daily basis. When she sees this, she takes Lisa out of band practice and delivers one of her best “mom” moments in the show’s history.
Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back. Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.
It’s that understanding and embrace of our own loving darkness that pervades every minute of Inside Out. Not only is it Pixar’s most imaginative journey to date, with visuals that rival WALL-E, but on a thematic level, this is the most poignant and resonant work the animation house has ever pulled off. The journey through young Riley’s mind is an adventure like no other, but what really sticks with you is how understanding, how essential, our emotions are, how much our memories define us, and how much love there is in everything we do, even if it’s not happy. Part of growing up is the realization that there will be more sad moments than joyous ones, but seeing the beauty in that is what makes us human, and Pixar finding a way to convey that to a young audience that doesn’t understand such lofty concepts as emotional analysis (and who certainly don’t get Chinatown references) is an achievement without equal. My mom used to collect Disney VHS tapes in hopes of them being valuable to my sister and I as children. If I ever have children of my own, this will be the film I show them again and again, so that they know that happy, sad, silly, angry, sick, scared, or whatever, I’ll love them just the way they are.
Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you agree with my list? What would you pick? What should I have added or left out? Let me know!