This is the last part of my list of the top 40 movies of the decade. Go here to see the first part of it, which includes details of my selection criteria. Here’s the second part. Here’s the third part.
This part of the list counts down from 10 to 1. I also include a number of alternate choices that didn’t quite squeeze onto this list of 40, but they’re films that would make a solid double-feature with the chosen one, something else from this past decade by the same director or adjacent in the genre. Click on the titles to read my original reviews, where they exist on the blog.
While I was assembling this list, I started with much longer list, which I whittled down to 40 (plus a little cheat with those double-feature alternates). What was on the long list, I hear you ask? Here are a few more quality films that were under consideration: Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Coco, Daydream Nation, Embrace Of The Serpent, The Florida Project, Gravity, The Guest, Hanna, Mandy, Magic Mike/Magic Mike XXL, Moonlight, mother!, Mustang, Paddington/Paddington 2, Predestination, Pride, Room, Roma, Slow West, Sweet Virginia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tracks, The Trip/The Trip To Italy/The Trip To Spain, Winter’s Bone, Your Sister’s Sister, You Were Never Really Here, Z For Zachariah
This is my Top 10 from the past 10 years.
Ex Machina Alex Garland finally got to direct his own feature film following years of screenplays and novels, and it was a landmark. Sure, it explores all the same themes from Blade Runner, or its sequel —what does it really mean to be human—but unlike those films Ex Machina directly addresses the male ego, the presumptive creator, and instead suggests that the creation imagined herself into existence, which feels like a 21st Century step in the right direction. Alternate: Garland’s flawed but fascinating Annihilation.
The Grand Budapest Hotel To be honest, much of Wes Anderson’s recent work has left me with mixed feelings, but having revisited many of his films for an episode of Lens Me Your Ears last year, it was clear The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the picture he will struggle to ever better. It cuts the filmmaker’s natural inclination to be twee with a story about the fight against fascism. It’s also a story about pride in duty and hospitality, and the glory of moustaches. Alternate: To not have included Anderson’s peers the Coen Brothers anywhere on this list feels like a cruel omission, so please let me recommend Inside Llewyn Davis.
A Separation If I had to choose a filmmaker whose work I’ve stumbled upon and found most impressive in the past decade, it would probably be Asghar Farhadi. I feel like his films reveal the soul of his Iranian culture in a way that anyone on the planet could understand. This picture is about divorce proceedings, and starts fairly innocuously but then becomes a courtroom drama that reexamines those beginning moments. Watching Farhadi at his best is to be reminded that cinema is an international language, and artists in other cultures are stringing together some of the most potent phrases. Alternate: Farhadi’s Paris-set follow-up, The Past.
Inception An action movie that’s so busy explaining its internal logic you’d be forgiven for not noticing it’s the ultimate heist picture, and maybe even the ultimate James Bond picture, so I suppose now Christopher Nolan needn’t ever make one of those. I’ve seen the film seven or eight times, and I still have questions about how the dream logic works, but the effort to piece it together is a big part of why it’s such a blast. Alternate: Nolan plays with time and subjectivity again in Dunkirk.
Café de Flore Oscar-nominated Jean-Marc Vallée’s double narrative—one story about a fractured family in present-day Montreal, one in 1960s Paris—is connected by a single song, but the film is filled with music. So much of his work is. What it does so well is explain in an almost spiritual way how music becomes a part of our lives, how it connects us, and how it can travel through time. Alternate: Tonally, Sing Street couldn’t be more different, but it takes the connective power of music about as seriously.
Her Set a few years from now, Spike Jonze’s Her reflects our growing need for connection with people, but that we’re often satisfied by what our devices can do for us instead. It’s not just about that—there are a host of hard sci-fi ideas in play—but it seems the most prescient in our relationship with Alexa and Siri and, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, the hard rectangle in our pockets. Alternate: Another remarkable film where we only hear then voices of key characters is Locke.
Call Me By Your Name There’s just nothing at all wrong with this picture—a celebration of the perfect, eternal summer of a first love. Alternate: Director Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love is also wonderful in its own way, and I’ll mention it even though it’s technically from 2009.
Under The Skin Jonathan Glazer is proving to be the real heir to Stanley Kubrick, not only in his cinematic style over three films, but because he directs features so rarely. Under The Skin freaked a lot of people out, including me, but I’m still disappointed the blu-ray was so bereft of extra features, like one revealing the looks on those Glaswegian men’s faces when they realized they’ve climbed in a van with Scarlett Johansson. Alternate: Splice is a monster movie of a different breed, but also entirely unsettling.
Mad Max: Fury Road Australian master George Miller worked for years to get this movie made, and it turned out to be a masterpiece. Arriving 30 years after the last Mad Max, it simply flattened all expectations of what a 21st Century action movie could be: Exciting, emotional, and political. Even if Miller somehow manages to get another sequel off the ground, it’s hard to imagine there’ll ever be anything like this one. Alternate: If this were a list of the decade’s best car movies, Fast Five arrives as a distant but entertaining second place.
My choice for the best film of the past 10 years is as much an intellectual one as an emotional, which seems like the right way to go. There were other films on this list that moved me more, but I kept coming back to The Social Network as the one that really felt most representative of the world in which we now live: A slightly fictionalized, mediated place where a broken-hearted douchebag in his dorm room created an app that changed human communication forever, or at least until the apocalypse. It united three brilliant, sometimes frustrating creative forces: David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, and Trent Reznor, and inspired them to do some of their best work. And, in Mark Zuckerberg, it gave us a character for the ages, both the pro- and antagonist of his own story, someone both undeniably loathsome but, in comparison to the obnoxious privilege of the Winklevii Twins, sympathetic. Alternate: Another film where the hero’s ambition makes him look pretty ugly is Whiplash, or try Fincher’s perverse date movie, Gone Girl.
If you’re a regular reader, thanks for checking out Flaw In The Iris. If you want to take me to task about my list, please comment below, or offer some picks I might’ve missed.