This blog launched in summer 2010, and I’ve been writing or broadcasting about movies since 2003. As I launch a transparently nostalgic series of posts, I figured those details are worth mentioning.
We’re drawing near to the end of 2019, so this is as good a time as any to put together a list of the best films of the past 10 years, going back to the beginning of 2010. You could argue this is just a list of my favourite movies, but in my semi-professional capacity there’s no distinguishing between the two.
I’ve always considered a big part of a film’s quality is its rewatchability. Does it share elements in second and third viewings that it didn’t in the first? Does it continue to connect emotionally over time? Does it evolve in my memory and experience?
The importance of this criteria means some feature films I might have considered the best of the year—you can see my various Top 10s here—haven’t aged as well as others. Some have surprised me by becoming a favourite over time when they weren’t near the top of my lists to begin with. And some, which I enjoyed when I first watched them, won’t appear on lists like this simply due to the film’s subject matter. Sorry Son Of Saul, Amour, or Phantom Thread, you’re terrific, but once was enough.
I’m collecting my Top 40 of the 10 years. With each film I’ll including one or more other pictures, which I call alternates, that I recommend either from the same filmmaker, or in the same genre vein. This way, if you liked one, there’ll be suggestions of adjacent pictures you may appreciate, an offer of increased utility.
You may notice there won’t be many from 2019. That’s because as of this writing, it’s been a dismal year, though it’s not done just yet This exercise proves that some movies can rise to the top unexpectedly, years later.
Here’s my list, from 40 to 31.
Pacific Rim Guillermo Del Toro would break out of the genre jail with his Oscar-winning, fish-loving feature The Shape Of Water, which is a great movie, but you’ll notice it’s not on this list. It hasn’t aged as well as this passion project, his ode to kaiju pictures and giant robots. This is an outrageous, physics-ignoring cartoon come to life, and it’s wonderful. Alternate: the decades best Godzilla movie by a wide margin, Shin Godzilla
The F Word aka What If Romcoms haven’t had a great decade, though Netflix has really stepped up its game to bring back the fallow but beloved genre. Canadians Michael Dowse and Elan Mastai provided what should be recognized as a classic in this film, mixing up an ideal cast (including Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, and Mackenzie Davis) who have a blast exploring what’s known in common parlance as “the friend zone” in a none-more-beguiling Toronto. Alternate: Halifax filmmaker Andrea Dorfman’s gorgeous Heartbeat, and Susanne Bier’s middle-aged dramedy Love Is All You Need
Take Shelter Writer-director Jeff Nichols’ portrait of anxiety resonates—it nails a dual fear of mental illness and of environmental apocalypse—and helped launch Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain into the Hollywood stratosphere. Alternate: Nichols Amblin-esque thriller Midnight Special
Mission: Impossible Fallout I enjoy having Tom Cruise risk his life for my entertainment, but even more so I feel like this franchise keeps all other action movies honest, especially when they over-rely on CGI to increase the pulse. Special effects work best when you don’t notice the trick, and that’s what Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have excelled in here, that and their skill at continually upping the stakes while managing the bombast. Alternate: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, or the gun-fu redefiner, John Wick
Get Out Production company Blumhouse has developed a solid reputation for delivering quality horror and thriller pictures, but this was one that busted out of any and all expectations. It resonated so widely by providing an exciting and involving genre picture while never soft-peddling on a central allegorical conceit: this is about racism in liberal America. Alternate: The fear of sexually-transmitted infections infects It Follows
Zero Dark Thirty A recent exchange with respected and passionate cineastes on social media prompted me to revisit this picture, a third watch for me since it arrived in 2011. People have said the recent Joker movie was a Rorschach blot, but it’s got nothing on ZDT. If the story of the hunt for Bin Laden being told in a geopolitical thriller framework is problematic, especially one where the CIA had input, this film isn’t going to work for you. I stand by my original review, and subsequent viewings have only deepened a sense that the film is a document of the fight-fire-with-fire dark times we lived through rather than any particular endorsement of black site tactics—if anything, it shows advances in technology, detective work, and sheer blind luck worked where rendition and waterboarding didn’t. Bigelow’s interest in tension-building from historical docudrama would continue in Detroit. Alternate: Andrea Riseborough, who showed up in a lot of quality thrillers through the decade, shines in Shadow Dancer
Before Midnight Richard Linklater’s third film joining collaborators Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke to explore a romance through time. This one strips away the romance for something altogether more pragmatic—how a couple who’ve been together for years manages to stay together, if they do. I was quietly heartbroken to see Celine and Jesse in dire straits after the gorgeous Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but taken as a trilogy I adored what they accomplished here, each film deepening the experiment. Hawke has said a fourth is unlikely, but I guess we’ll know in 2022—they tend to reunite every nine years. Alternate: Linklater’s should’ve-won-the-Oscar family drama, Boyhood
Skyfall Sam Mendes applied a level of visual style and professionalism to the old warhorse that is the 007 franchise, and it’s kept me coming back to figure out what worked and what didn’t—it was much more of the former than the latter—even while I recognized the problems in the plotting, and a conclusion that delved too deep into the character’s past diminishing the necessary mystery. The wild success of the film showed that for audiences Bond was still relevant, and EON Productions had found a way to bring a problematic cultural icon into a new age by being honest about his psychological problems and deepening his story for audiences both new and old. Alternate: the freshest franchise reboot brought boxing movies into the new millennia, Creed
Columbus When we screened this at Carbon Arc Cinema, I was a little uncertain of it. I was impressed by the effort, but suspected the austere visual formality chosen by writer-director Kogonada was just a little too self-conscious to be entirely successful. But subsequent viewings have driven home the specialness of the film, which owes more to the two leads’ performance than I’d originally credited, a chaste intergenerational connection that recalls Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Alternate: A sour romance that also brings to life its gorgeous locations, Copenhagen
Neruda Biopics are often so disappointing—they promise insight into their inspiration, and so rarely deliver anything approaching it. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain has found a way to bring history to life, depicting the folk hero poet and politician Pablo Neruda as a canny fugitive through the eyes of the detective looking to capture him and be a character in his story. Standing on its own, this biopic would be impressive enough, but then the next time out Larrain delivered the astounding Jackie. Frankly, it’s hard to choose between his films, they’re all strong. Alternate: Larrain’s scathing drama about the Catholic Church, The Club
Check back on Flaw In The Iris for more from this list in the days and weeks to come.