Top Ten lists are the most personal, subjective, and ludicrous arrangements in the universe. If there’s any essential purpose to their existence, it’s that they instigate conversation, harmless controversy, and passionate opinion sharing. Ambiguous weight is placed on terms like “Top,” “Greatest,” or “Most Influential.” I think these lists we make are simply our “favorites.”
Regarding the creation of a Top Ten Movies list, it is crucial the entire world is represented and only fair that all genres – including horror, animation, and documentary – are considered.
Looking back at the last decade in film, I’m reminded of the enigmatic dreamscapes in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), or the extrapolation of sci-fi spiritualism in his Interstellar (2014); the devastating analyses of crumbling relationships in Blue Valentine (2010), A Separation (2011) and Amour (2012); the pioneer of Bridemaids (2011), which broke the mold for female-propelled comedy; the haunting documentary in Blackfish (2013) that forever changed the look and philosophy of SeaWorld; another documentary that actually flipped on itself and became two movies in one: Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010); and, the first time a horror movie actually kept me up at night: The Pact (2012).
Again, it’s all subjective and personal, and no matter what list I come up with and how I order it, one average-going moviegoer has every right to call it ludicrous.
At the very least, I hope my list sparks your cinematic memories of the past ten years, introduces new gems to look at, gives you butterflies in your stomach, makes you wince, or makes you shout for joy in affirmation.
10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Now, this is what comic book/superhero movies should be about – a celebration of comic books and superheroes! Actors flexing their muscles in costumes in a series of the same movie with 20 different titles just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
This one is bombastic, hilarious, and, yes, amazing. Although the plot is marginal, the viewer is given training wheels to ride on Spider-Man’s back and enjoy pretty much every genre supplied by a movie. It is essentially a comic book come to life, and through its various hyper-color animated mediums, “Spider-Verse” breaks new ground on a technical and narrative level.
9. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
Not only did the Force awaken, so did the entire Star Wars industry, including nostalgia graspers like me and all the newbies who could tolerate the prequels. The moment the opening title sequence read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” and John Williams’ score rumbled our seats, and the crowd screamed in joyous unity, that old school, boyhood charm lit up inside me. J.J. Abrams was the perfect choice as director, for he, too, was a Star Wars/80s fanboy, and you could see how much he cared for his brand new characters in Poe, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Rey (a pitch perfect, downright likable Daisy Ridley).
Star destroyer battles, adorable droids, enthralling landscapes, and a new First Order enemy are all introduced “a tempo,” as if we are watching a postmodern version of the “original Star Wars” of 1977. (It’s a shame Abrams’ trilogy-concluding “Rise of Skywalker” consists of just running around, grimacing, and a surface-level construct.)
8. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
Following the lead of the greatest documentary ever made – 1988’s The Thin Blue Line – the Paradise Lost trilogy dove so deep in its murder investigation of three wrongfully accused, nonconformist boys that it helped free them from prison and bring to light the corruption of forced confessions, the awareness of mental illness, and a modern day lesson of not judging a book by its cover. I followed this documentary’s origin in 1996, absorbed the alluring and haunting Metallica music, and witnessed the long overdue liberation of Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Wayne Echols. The real murderer is still out there, and by the end of this third movie in the trilogy, you have a pretty good idea of who it is.
7. Steve Jobs (2015)
I’m a sucker for historical fiction as it toys with timelines and actual events but holds true the atmosphere of the period, character impressions, and the filmmaker’s freedom to interpret. As the late, great Roger Ebert would say, “I look to books for facts and movies for feelings.”
Despite fabricating a few incidents and compartmentalizing Steve Jobs’ technological feats, Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin preserves the tone of Steve Jobs’ unparalleled and fascinating ego. Using three backstage room settings to his new computer launches, Sorkin provides a platform to expose Jobs’ humanity, no matter how difficult it is to accept or appreciate.
Most will pick The Social Network (2010) as Director Danny Boyle’s best of the decade, but I’d rather watch an arrogant, self-entitled marketing genius than a bunch of arrogant, self-entitled brats who have billions come to them because of a social media idea. Both are tremendous movies (the soundtrack to The Social Network is the most provocative of the decade), but what Danny Boyle and actor Michael Fassbender can accomplish in three backstage rooms in Steve Jobs still blows my mind.
6. Roma (2018)
Roma is a beautiful, observant film that intentionally keeps its distance from the focal narrative. In this typical Alfonso Cuarón style, the viewer is granted the liberty to connect relationships, messages, and motifs through visual happenstance, often shot in one long, brilliant take. The world comes to the characters, and with a patient eye, the movie and the viewer unite in empathy for both the servants and the wealthy family who employs them. The black and white photography of a 1970s Mexico City is a pristine replication of Cuarón’s memories as a boy. This is an example of a filmmaker’s diary.
5. The Greatest Showman (2017)
Out of all the movies on this list, I have probably seen The Greatest Showman the most. Every song is a catchy, beautiful hit, every choreography number is entrancing, and the story – albeit extremely fictional in its references to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – is a humble ode to following your dreams. As I mentioned before, I watch movies for the feelings, not the facts. This is an airtight, seamless, and remarkably joyful musical production. Hugh Jackman is an astounding performer, defying age and igniting hope in youngsters and adults alike with that million-dollar smile. This is my “feel good” of the decade.
4. The Babadook (2014)
An insecure single mother and her erratic son read what’s supposed to be a bedtime story for kids and quickly find out the book has invited a third presence in their dark, lonely home. Claustrophobic, brooding, and threatening even to the innocent, Australian Director Jennifer Kent’s creation doesn’t let up, and it became the world’s freshest cult horror movie to see in 2014. All places of comfort – a mother’s protection, the shelter under the bed covers, and the denial behind closed eyes – are exploited by The Babadook, a supernatural and metaphorical phenomenon to be witnessed…if you dare.
3. Black Swan (2010)
No director can get inside your head like Darren Aronofsky. He pushes his actors and actresses to physical and psychological extremes and challenges his viewers to accept both the real and the imaginary as truths. Natalie Portman threw all self-preservation to the wind, trained for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week in NYC ballet studios and sacrificed her body to implore the demands of Tchaikovsky’s music, Aronofsky’s vision, and the madness of playing a person with paranoid schizophrenia. Or, is it dissociative identity disorder? No matter – this is an impressionistic piece, placing mood in front of the literal. In other words, it’s the kind of movie that drives Marvel Comic Universe stans nuts. The Black Swan of ten years ago is The Lighthouse of today, and a strong case can be made that images stay with you longer than actions.
2. The Hateful Eight (2015)
This is Quentin Tarantino’s pet project – a Reservoir Dog-hybrid tribute to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone (heck, he even got Ennio Morricone to do the score). It’s a sick and twisted comedy and probably the most character-dichotomized murder mystery ever made (I loved the recent Knives Out, but that is a baby chew toy compared to this one). The mountainous scenes are breathtaking to look at, but the brilliant dialogue, quips, jabs, and shootouts all happen in an isolated cabin, filled with comfy cowhide chairs and a pot of Minnie Mink’s famous coffee brewing in the kitchen. The murderous plot that brews on the surface between a bunch of colorful Civil War characters keeps you guessing to the very last drop of blood on the floor. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a Tarantino fan like me, I think this is still his best since Pulp Fiction.
1. The Florida Project (2017)
Not since the cinéma vérité of Chop Shop (2007), has a small, independent film been so raw and compassionate in celebrating its people. Set in the outskirt apartment slums of Disney World, these people really do exist and have a voice that must be heard. Director Sean Baker hits the record button and lets his actors and actresses live naturally (only Willem Dafoe is a Hollywood name), becoming so real, they invoke a pain, a yearning, and a redemption in the viewer. Dafoe is the patient, forgiving savior of a landlord, and his residents are simply born into their poverty, despair, and fading hope of a better life. The ending is all about hope. The movie is all about empathy. It is a slice of life that can breathe the air of spontaneity yet sit still in serenity a moment later. I am jealous of anyone who gets to see The Florida Project for the first time.