The Twenty-Teens were a tumultuous decade for the movie business.
Streaming services shifted the balance of power among distributors in a battle that remains ongoing. Studios strip-mined nearly every single intellectual property of the last half-century under the premise that familiarity breeds something other than contempt. And despite Thanos snapping half the world’s costumed crusaders out of existence, superheroes thrived like weeds overtaking an abandoned shopping mall. (Which, if you went to see these movies at a mall-adjacent theater, you know is a fairly literal metaphor.)
But what do you care? You’re not in the movie business. You just want to see good movies. And despite all the doomsday prognostications, the decade produced an exceptional crop of films, perhaps even a stronger collection than that of the 2000s—but that’s a debate for another blog.
Below are a list of City Pages’ movie critics’ favorite films of the last 10 years. These lists are final, inarguable, and objectively 100 percent factually correct.
"My 10 favorite movies of the decade in no particular order..."
Ultraviolence, a killer soundtrack, and Gosling at peak Gosling make Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive endlessly entertaining—for me anyway. I’ve never seen so many people walk out of a theater. Welcome to Hell, The Notebook fans.
A masterclass in doing a lot with a little, this story of a captive mother and a child born of rape finds wonders in the smallest and most horrible of places. As a newish parent, I’m not sure I could watch it again. It hits that hard.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I don’t think anybody was ready for just how awesome Fury Road was going to be. The epitome of the overused “nonstop, action-packed, high-octane thrill ride” tag… except, ya know. Good.
Django: Unchained (2012)
Whether Django’s blowing shit up or killing slavers, Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western love letter provides constant badassery. It’s also my dog’s favorite movie, for some reason, so it must be good. My dog is a good dog.
The Rider (2018)
A criminally slept-on indie rodeo drama, The Rider blurs the line between fiction and reality for an experience that’s both sublime and truly gut-wrenching. Keep an eye on director Chloé Zhao. She’s got the right stuff.
One of the dumbest movies you’ll ever see—and I mean that in the best possible way. MacGruber shows Will Forte and his bare, celery-stuffed ass at its absolute finest.
The Master (2011)
Maybe it’s because it was Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to There Will Be Blood, but I was pretty iffy on The Master at first. Two weeks later, I was still thinking about it and now I’m convinced it’s an existential masterpiece.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Funny script. Stunning graphics. A whole lotta heart. Into the Spider-Verse is the Spider-Man movie we’ve always wanted. Sony has messed up the ol’ web-head plenty, but for once they done good.
The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos Lanthimos threw us a real curveball after The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The Favourite carries all the same auteur splashiness, but it seems to work even better within a more classical framework. Plus it didn't make me physically ill, so that was a nice change of pace.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Blade Runner 2049 has it all: First-rate direction from Denis Villeneuve; probably Roger Deakins’ best cinematography; knockout performances from Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks; neo-retro bangers via Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch; and a story that feels modern while exploring classic sci-fi themes. I love this movie.
Ten Honorable Mentions Because I Lack Conviction:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Social Network (2010)
Ten years and some dark political turns have revealed David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s vision of the creation of Facebook to be more grimly prescient than they could have known then, in this, a movie that helped define a decade just as it got started.
The Master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson is the greatest living American filmmaker (you can argue, but no blinking while you do it), and this, his most enigmatic film, reveals more layers with every rewatch of this battle of wills between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix playing a bestial outcast way before all the overblown Joker nonsense.
Ryan Coogler’s brilliant reimagining of the Rocky franchise captured the heartfelt introspection and thrilling inspiration of the original Oscar winner, with Sly playing a supporting role to two of this generation’s greatest new actors, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson.
Director Denis Villeneuve may have the best run of movies this decade of any director (seriously, look it up), and this intricately structured sci-fi mindbender mused, with dazzling visuals and nuanced writing, about the essential nature of love, language, and time.
Get Out (2017)
Jordan Peele’s debut solo feature might well be the definitive movie of the decade, a masterpiece of the horror genre that explores black identity and the insidious nature of white supremacy in a massively entertaining but incisive thriller that would make both Rod Serling and Ralph Ellison proud.
Phantom Thread (2017)
The real surprise is that PT Anderson isn’t on this list more than twice; his portrait of artistic perfectionism and romantic obsession, starring Daniel Day Lewis, turns breakfast and dressmaking into a bloodsport, with a barely restrained hysteria screaming beneath its perfectly manicured surface.
Ari Aster’s twisty, barbed, and profoundly disturbing portrait of a grieving family in full meltdown might put off those with a distaste for its straightforward horror tropes (remember what we said about this list being 100% accurate?), but any movie that can make you hold your breath for ten minutes of artful agony—you know which part—is cinema firing on all cylinders. Good luck sleeping the night after you watch it.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Boots Riley’s wild, often upsetting comedy about a black man pretending to be white to raise his status at a shady call center is an absolute riot of anti-capitalism, racial politics, and bold comedic metaphors—as daring and genuinely iconoclastic a film as you’ll ever see, and a perfect showcase for LaKeith Stanfield, one of the decade’s MVPs.
Bong Joon Ho’s lively, lurid, genre-bending metaphor for class warfare in set in a stratified South Korean economy, but this perfectly photographed film’s worldwide appeal speaks both to Bong’s masterful craftsmanship and the unfortunately universal relevance of its dark themes in 2019.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood… (2019)
Quentin Tarantino’s sun-drenched, subtly melancholy phantasmagoria of Hollywood legend and revisionist history is a kaleidoscopic look at the way the truths and lies of cinema become inextricably intertwined with real life—featuring plenty of amiably ambling scenes packed full of crackerjack dialogue, all slyly building in intensity to the brutally cathartic climax that we may not deserve, but that we need.
"Here are the 10 movies that stuck with me the most, one per year. OK, the 20 movies—I couldn’t resist adding some runners up."
Carlos – A magnetic Édgar Ramírez strides through Olivier Assayas’ gripping five-and-a-half hour study of the life of the notorious ’70s terrorist Carlos the Jackal as he descends from sexy poster boy for leftist violence to deluded Cold War pawn.
Runner up: Winter’s Bone – Jennifer Lawrence, you can afford to do another Debra Granik movie.
Melancholia – As a depressed woman who experiences the destruction of the planet as a kind of happy ending, Kirsten Dunst finds emotional nuance within Lars Von Trier’s misanthropy. And to his credit, the nuance is there to be found.
Runner up: A Separation – Asghar Farhadi tells this grueling story of an estranged couple navigating the intricacies and of Iranian state bureaucracy.
Cabin in the Woods – Joss Whedon’s ingenious meta-teen-horror-comedy looks at the appalling compromises required to save the world and says fuck it, let it all burn. Who can relate?
Runner up: Amour – Michael Haneke basically remakes Funny Games, but with the home invasion conducted by senile dementia rather than a pair of psychotics.
Frances Ha – Greta Gerwig hits her stride, and if that’s not all you need to know then we are very different people, you and I.
Runner up: Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coens make a more humane Barton Fink, asking “What happens when a merely talented artist is afflicted with the temperament of a genius?”
Girlhood – No director working today conveys the fraught dynamics of ecstasy, rivalry, and desire at play in teen-girl friendship as sharply as Céline Sciamma.
Runner up: We Are the Best! – Teen girls form a punk band in ’80s Sweden in Lukas Moodysson’s adaptation of his wife Coco’s graphic novel. A “feel good movie” for people who’d rather guzzle their own lymph than call anything they enjoy “a feel good movie.”
The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Marielle Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel is hilariously squirm-inducing even for a sexual coming-of-age movie, and its at times just as daring visually.
Runner up: Taxi – Jafar Panahi, who has been banned by the Iranian government from making movies, poses as a cab driver through Tehran, filming his passengers with a dashboard cam and capturing the everyday humor and horror of life in Tehran.
American Honey – With a visual sweep that suggests Malick at his least pompous, Andrea Arnold trails a gaggle of exploited teens through the heartland as they sell magazine subscriptions in a movie that, among its other accomplishments, offers some of the most vivid scenes ever of kids bonding by singing and rapping along to their favorite songs,
Runner up: The Fits – Members of a girls’ dance troupe inexplicably begin to suffer epileptic attacks, an uncanny scenario that director Anna Rose Holmer endows with the foreboding of a horror movie.
Phantom Thread – Only a control freak like Paul Thomas Anderson could make such a wickedly funny masterpiece about being willingly power-bottomed into submission.
Coco – “How much of a blubbering mess was I by the end?” isn’t the only criterion for judging a Pixar movie, true. But it’s far from the least important one.
Shoplifters – Hirokazu Kore-eda’s emotionally unpredictable story of the daily lives of poor Japanese is funny when you expect it to be sad, grim when you expect it to be hopeful.
Runner up: The Rider – Chloé Zhao’s story of rodeo riders isn’t just wonderfully insightful into how hard it is to abandon your passion even when it destroys your body—it’s just flat-out one of the most beautiful movies to look at released this decade.
The Souvenir – What sets this autobiographical story of a posh young artist’s affair with a smug heroin addict apart is what director Joanna Hogg leaves out—she repeatedly drops you into a scene and forces you to regain your bearings, and the results are bracing.
Runner up: The Irishman – De Niro’s performance as a mob dupe who estranges his family, betrays his friends, and lives long enough to see the world lose interest in the grand historical events he lived through may be his most moving… ever?