Putting together a list of the top films of the 2010's for the Music City Film Critics Association was not an easy task. So many great movies. It's hard not to have "recency bias" and go with the movies fresh in my head. Those movies have an advantage. The others must have stood the test of at least 10 years.
In no particular order are my top films of the decade.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Of all the "twisted history" films Quentin Tarantino has made (Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards), this is bar far his best. This story of a B-list actor (Dicaprio) and his stuntman buddy (Brad Pitt) is an incredible journey through an actor's career arc. Add in a little Manson murder crossover, and you have one of his most inventive movies in years.
Ex Machina (pronounced ex mock-ee-nuh)
This brilliant film is about a wide eyed IT tech (Domhnall Gleeson) who meets his evil genius tech boss (Oscar Isaac) and finds he's created a highly sexualized AI robot. I'm a sucker for AI possibly becoming sentient (i.e. Westworld). These films ask us to define ourselves by trying to figure out if a machine is life. Ex Machina does it with some weighty questions behind a gorgeous esthetic. I also love that Gleeson and Isaac trade their protagonist/antagonist roles in the latest Star Wars films.
Richard Linklater's film has been called "gimmicky" by some. But all films done unconventionally could be labeled that. The movie took 10 years to make, in secret, a testament to the cast and crew's belief in the concept. Boyhood is the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up. After being uprooted by his mother and forced to mature while having to endure a phalanx of his mom's (Patricia Arquette) abusive relationships. He maintains contact with his biological dad (Ethan Hawke) and eventually finds himself. They filmed this movie for 10 YEARS! Ethan literally grows up over the course of this incredible film, not by CGI or incredible makeup, but by time.
Everyone in this cast is terrific (Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner) in this masterful con-man, cat vs mouse thriller. It's a feast of performances and plots twisted together wonderfully.
Christopher Nolan's mind bending thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio (I know, I know, he pervades this list) and Joseph Gordon Levitt is the first film of it's kind to be set in a bold new place, the levels of the subconscious mind. Do you know what's real? I still don't. Years later.
La La Land
This rebrand of the old fashioned, romantic, Hollywood musical is still enchanting. There's no denying the incredible chemistry these two have on film (Crazy, Stupid, Love). Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling perfectly embody the genre by literally doing a mating dance with playfulness, emotion, and realism. Yes, realism. Sure it's fantasy. But it's rooted in each other's emotional journey, discovering who they want to be, and how it makes their paths converge and diverge.
The Cohen brother's remake sinks it's teeth into you by linking two unlikely characters on a quest. Bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) begrudgingly yields to the demands of persistent Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who is hell bent on justice. I'm not a big fan of westerns. But I don't consider this one. Does it transcend the genre I don't care for? I still ask this today. So it makes the list.
The most raw of the movies on this list, this horror film from Darren Aranovski starring Jennifer Lawrence is THE most divisive film on this list. This home-invasion thriller will make you feel awful and fill you with dread to your core. I felt as trapped as Lawrence the entire time. And that was the point. It was so well executed, it's unpleasant echo reverberates through me years later. I repeat, you will most likely hate this movie. But you can't argue it wasn't well done. You've been warned.
BTW, you'll get the same feeling from 2019's scariest horror film... Midsommar.
The Social Network
David Fincher's story of the socially inept college boy turned internet billionaire is less about the true story of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg and more about how a girl (Rooney Mara) and her rejection of a guy (Jesse Eisenberg) changed the world as we know it. This movie is a fictionalized tale of what happened (everyone signed NDA's in real life). It holds up because Facebook and Zuckerberg are exponentially more powerful today and gives us the only insight into it's formation. And it's a great story.
Won't You Be My Neighbor
Don't confuse this documentary with the Tom Hanks film in theaters now (an excellent film in it's own right). This is Fred Rogers. Real footage. A real person person who was extraordinary in his own time. He seems to be the greatest human ever in our time. Purity distilled on screen. I'll never forget walking out of the sold out Belcourt, moviegoers mostly in their 20s and 30s. When the lights came up, there was silence. Then discussion about the man who may have changed generations.
Toy Story 3
This is a beloved franchise that has been cared for well and has taken us deeper into the characters as the movies progressed. These CGI characters have so endeared themselves to us that when Woody, Buzz, and friends face certain death in a furnace... I felt like I was watching loved one's dying. Straight up fear! A great representation of the Toy Story universe.
This movie was akin to the first 10 minutes of 2009's Up!.
The strongest films turn a mirror on ourselves and make us ask questions. And in Joker. Those questions are very uncomfortable. Like, mother!, this movie is really hard to digest. This is not milk and cookies. It's wretched tasting cough syrup. Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is so complex, horrifying, and yet likable that he eclipses all the other great actors who took on this role (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger). This Arthur Fleck lives a tortured life in a tortured world. Another film that you'll finish in silence with your mind racing.
Les Miserables (2012)
The movie that changed my mind about this musical. Another outstanding cast (Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Russel Crowe) that not only made this story of Jean Valjean's redemption watching, but fulfilling. Hunted by Crowe's Valjean enforcer amidst the French revolution, each actor sang their lines live on set. And that was the soundtrack. No overdubbing later in the studio. Somehow this cinematic choice makes each character's story more personal. And that's where it rises above every other telling of this story onscreen.
One of the best horror films of the decade, Jordan Peele mastered the feelings of suspicion, even when things seem wonderful by all appearances. There's nothing more cringe worthy than overt political correctness, especially when you can feel deep down it's not sincere. A lawn party where Rose (Allison Williams), brings home her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) embodies this in such a recoiling way. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly, that your hair stands up straight. And the twists! No spoilers here, but this film goes places you'd never suspect.
And to cheat just a little, here's some movies that almost made the list:
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of The Southern Wild