There are two movies by Martin Scorsese on this list, and five Marvel movies. Let us demarcate the next decade by refusing to ever stop talking about this.
But, hey, here we are: our staff’s favorite 100 movies released between 2010 and now. There’s a lot of the familiar and a lot of the divisive and a small bit of the esoteric, but in its weird breadth this list is the best we could do to cover so much, from our writers’ taste to our best guess for which films will have a lasting effect on whatever post-apocalyptic hellscape is to come as direct result of this moment’s war between Scorsese and the MCU.
In that spirit, we had to leave a bunch of films out, make some serious compromises to get other titles in. John Wick is here, representative of all three chapters; Blade Runner 2049 can stand in well enough for Arrival’s scope; The Beach Bum is the humanist opus in conversation with what Spring Breakers promised; Coco is the best of what kind of magic Pixar’s conjured all decade; Annihilation wraps Ex Machina in its warm embrace, and absorbs it. Or, at least that’s how we reasoned our way to the following 100.
And make sure to check out more of our Decade’s Best lists, dutifully analyzing how closely we stayed consistent throughout:
The 30 Best Documentaries of the 2010s
The Best Horror Movies of the 2010s
The Best Anime Movies of the 2010s
The Best Bollywood Movies of the 2010s
The Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 2010s
Here are the best 100 movies of the 2010s:
100. The Bling Ring (2013)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Director Sofia Coppola and journalist Nancy Jo Sales are not entirely worlds apart. Coppola has evolved, through films like The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, to become an astute examiner of middle class white femininity on film, while Sales, with a long history of featured reporting in Vanity Fair and the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, is one of the foremost experts on (primarily) middle class white teenage girls (and also the internet and modern sexual culture). But The Bling Ring, directed by Coppola and based on Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” shows that their basic similarities stop there. Though both women have an anthropological eye on the same demographic, Coppola extends to the subjects of her film what Sales rarely has time for: empathy.
Sure, privileged LA brats are maybe least worthy of our sympathy, but Coppola and cinematographers Christopher Blauvelt and Harris Savides present an observational documentation of (dramatized) events—chronicling the robbery of several stars’ houses (including Paris Hilton’s) by rich teens—without the condescending armchair psychoanalysis that might be easy to fall into. By reserving judgment of these characters (played by the likes of Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang and Taissa Farmiga), Coppola allows their ties to capitalism, their inheritance of a certain economic and social paradigm passed down from their negligent and narcissistic parents, to emerge naturally as she observes the intrinsic relationship between consumerism and identity. Coppola has made an impressive film extrapolating what it might mean to be the “millennial generation,” and shouldn’t worry about receiving any phone calls from sobbing teens correcting her on what shoes were worn to court. —Kyle Turner
99. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Director: Taika Waititi
Like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, which are the closest non-Thor MCU cousins in tone and spirit to the third installment in the God of Thunder’s personal series, Thor: Ragnarok opens with a lively prologue/set piece involving its protagonist, Thor-ing like a boss, accompanied by a rockin’ tune. It’s a great nod to all the comic book fans jonesin’ to see Thor using Mjolnir, his trusty hammer, to just all-out wreck those who oppose him. From there, Waititi keeps the pace swift, resolving a few plot cliffhangers, throwing down an extended cameo, introducing this film’s big bad in Hela (a dependably enjoyable Cate Blanchett), propelling Thor (and Loki) to their next stop on the “it’s a big universe” express, meeting new faces (Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie foremost among them), reuniting with everyone’s favorite green-thewed god-pummeler before bringing it all back for the big finale in Asgard. The result? One of those two-hour-plus films that you’ll swear was half that. Waititi seems to delight in exploring the interplay between Chris Hemsworth’s physical and comic presence; it’s yielded a version of Thor that might annoy some comic book purists (but certainly didn’t this one), but has revitalized both his franchise and the whole cinematic universe. —Michael Burgin
98. A Field in England (2013)
Director: Ben Wheatley
In the 17th century, amidst the buffered explosions and death rattles of the English Civil War—that always seems just over the ridge—three men meet a fourth who feeds them psychotropic mushrooms and then herds them to a fifth, who forces them to search for buried treasure in the middle of A Field in England. Co-written with partner Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley’s fourth film fails the Bechdel Test so tremendously it practically suffers Ego Death, obliterating all barriers—physical and temporal and whatever else—to be as much about the relentlessly stupid nature of masculine power dynamics as it is about the experience of losing oneself within the sensation of total loss. In an otherwise incoherent tale of men abusing men, Wheatley strips back elemental layer after layer, revealing emptiness within emptiness. Story, logic, none of it seems to matter, nothing matters, everything is mutable and transigent and malcontent—except for a hair of sympathy threaded through everything, the sense that were all of these men to give up on each other entirely, whatever’s going on would spin out beyond all recognition. And so, a man called Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) offers to inspect the genital warts (which we get to inspect too!) of his new vagabond friend Trower (Julian Barratt), out of the kindness of Whitehead’s heart, while a man called Friend (Richard Glover), upon his death, confesses his love for his wife’s sister, describing the manner in which they had sex to his recently close companions with unexpected, moving intimacy. Skirting the madness, Blanck Mass’s score sweeps from baroque ditties to vast and sparkling soundscapes, especially arresting for how strangely Wheatley uses them, willing to show the characters in his film how easily, how meaninglessly, he can bend the world around them to his pointless will. A man on a leash running out of a tent in slow-motion? Is that a Waiting for Godot reference? Mesmerized for mesmerization’s sake, one weeps at the beauty. —Dom Sinacola
97. Attenberg (2010)
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Coming-of-age drama as weird nature documentary, Athina Tachel Tsangari’s Attenberg observes the social and sexual awakening of Greek woman Marina (Ariane Labed) as a series of increasingly intimate, obliquely odd physical rituals. Literally: Marina bonds with her only friend Bella (Evangelia Randou) through synchronized dance, moves typically mired in genital-grabbing and blowing raspberries and skipping in lock step, their routines resembling schoolyard rhymes or practiced choreography or kids playing doctor—Tsangari never clarifies, though Marina translates so much of her uncontrollable feelings through the habits and behavior of the animals she obsessively watches on the Discovery channel. Like showtunes, the movements spring fully formed and practiced from the friends’ mutual ether. Which helps, because otherwise Marina can’t stand affection, finds human bodies repulsive, slimy, twitching things—big wide, dripping unknowns. She’s content sharing a modest home with her terminally ill dad (Vangelis Mourikis) and working at the steel mill and wading in the liminal space between one’s teen years and one’s elder fornicating years while she counts down the days until she’s alone. Then she meets the Engineer (director Yorgos Lanthimos), a nice guy with a nice face with whom she can figure out how to do sex, and Tsangari beautifully conflates our relationship with Marina—befuddled as we watch her do so much weird shit—with Marina’s relationship to everyone but Bella and her dad. She doesn’t quite get it, but neither do we, and Attenberg explores the gross uncertainty of aging into our broken DNA with a chef’s kiss of body horror and an impressive pair of shoulder blades. —Dom Sinacola
96. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
The films of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy” may get more emphasis as the core of the director’s oeuvre, but allow one to submit that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the “most Edgar Wright” film we’ve witnessed yet in the still-young filmmaker’s career. A brilliant adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series of the same name, the film is a perfectly cast wonder of an action comedy that translates with preternatural ability the comic tension between banality and bombast present on the page. Scott’s (Michael Cera) existence as a slacker musician in a crappy Toronto indie rock band isn’t exciting or glamorous, which makes it all the funnier when his day-to-day romantic life is a series of climactic, overly dramatic videogame boss battles. Each Wright presents with a hyperkinetic style that revels in its joyful disconnect from reality or consequences. Freed from such trivial matters, Wright can present dynamic action sequences that still have time for clever asides and banal workplace humor, simultaneously getting the absolute best out of every person he has on hand. Really: When has Brandon Routh, as an actor, been put to better use than as an egomaniacal vegan with psychic powers? An early-career Brie Larson as rock singer Envy Adams is a bonus as well. —Jim Vorel
95. Bisbee ’17 (2018)
Director: Robert Greene
Robert Greene opens his essential new documentary, Bisbee ’17, with a quote from American writer Colin Dickey’s 2016 book, Ghostland: “Cities that are haunted … seem to straddle past and present as though two versions of the same city are overlaid on top of each other.” He’s talking about haunted manors littering the United States specifically and not the Arizona burg of Bisbee, but the town Greene acquaints us with indeed straddles its past and present, and something more—a collision between the two in the form of theater. In 1917, at the height of World War I, Bisbee was a critical hub in the war effort, not just a copper town but the copper town churning out minerals and profits. Then the miners went on strike, demanding safer work conditions and railing against campwide discrimination. To quash protests, Bisbee’s sheriff deputized a small army of locals, rounded up strikers in the early morning of July 12th, stuck them on cattle cars, and dropped them off in the New Mexico desert in an effort by the Phelps Dodge mining company and Bisbee’s law to halt dissent and restore order to their bottom line.
Greene comes into the story 100 years later, as Bisbee’s current residents, prepping for the Bisbee Deportation’s centennial, decide they must recognize the evils of Bisbee yesteryear. How best to do so? By putting on a reenactment, casting townsfolk as miners, as the sheriff’s posse, as witnesses to the travesty. This is Greene’s jam: He blends traditional documentary techniques, talking head interviews and appraisals of primary sources, with the artifice of feature narrative. Greene’s craftsmanship invites awe as easily as the reenactment itself, scrappy but successfully harrowing in execution. The players get into their roles with more than professional enthusiasm—their performances exhibit a relish and zeal both shaped by an underlying desperation to observe the truth when for so long Bisbee has lived with truth unspoken. As the crimes of the deportation haunt Bisbee and its inhabitants, so, too, are we haunted by them through the filter of Greene’s lens. But that experience, the experience of being haunted, proves vital. Maybe it’s necessary to let history haunt us. —Andy Crump
94. No Home Movie (2015)
Director: Chantal Akerman
Most startling, perhaps, is Chantal Akerman’s voice when it first comes from behind the camera. She sounds broken, ground into gravelly paste, and given that she’s in her mother’s apartment in Brussels, filming small, intimate and completely mundane conversations had during visits, her mother’s health failing throughout, it becomes futile to source the legendary director’s pain. Her mother’s impending death, her own depression, the endless maw of distance and time that separates them when Akerman’s in the U.S.—No Home Movie breathes with regret: not that Akerman, or any of us, didn’t appreciate what she had when she had it, but that she didn’t appreciate enough, didn’t linger enough to savor her mother’s company, didn’t truly understand what her mother went through as an Auschwitz survivor, didn’t stay when she should have or remember what she’s forgotten, now all gone. As can often be the case with Akerman’s films, no meaning is approached directly, and every conversation or long shot (in this case: desert landscapes and her mother’s empty, perfectly clean apartment) is an oblique tapping into some sort of richer, subtextual vein. This isn’t a home movie, it’s much more aware than that; this isn’t a movie about Home, because Akerman, in her 60s, seems to be realizing that Home is something she’s missed all her life. No Home Movie is a reflection on that lack, on the emptiness she put between her and those she loved most, an emptiness we all wield, an emptiness that Skype and the phone can’t make up. Can anything make it up? Akerman committed suicide not long after the film’s release, a film she’s said she never intended to make when she was filming in 2014. If we’re looking for reasons as to why she did what she did, we have No Home Movie, which isn’t enough. It was never intended to be enough. —Dom Sinacola
93. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Director: Boots Riley
Sorry to Bother You has so many ideas busting out of every seam, so much ambition, so much it so urgently wants to say, that it feels almost churlish to point out that the movie ends up careening gloriously out of control. This is rapper and producer Boots Riley’s first movie, and it shows, in every possible way—good, bad, incredible, ridiculous—as if he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to make another one. There are moments in Sorry To Bother You that will make you want to jump giddily around the theater. There are also moments that will make you wonder who in the world gave this lunatic a camera. (Some of those moments are pretty giddy too.) The former far outnumbers the latter.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius, a good-hearted guy who feels like his life is getting away from him and thus tries his hand at telemarketing, failing at it (in a series of fantastic scenes in which his desk literally drops into the homes of whomever he is dialing) until a colleague (Danny Glover, interesting until the movie drops him entirely) recommends he use his “white voice” on calls. Suddenly Cash sounds exactly like David Cross at his most nasally and has become a superstar at the company, which leads him “upstairs,” where “supercallers” like him go after the Glengarry leads. That is just the launching off point: Throughout, we meet a Tony Robbins-type entrepreneur (Armie Hammer) who might also be a slave trader, Cassius’s radical artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), who wears earrings with so many mottos it’s a wonder she can hold up her head, and a revolutionary co-worker (Stephen Yeun) trying to rile the workers into rebelling against their masters. There are lots of other people in this too, and only some of them are fully human. It’s quite a movie. —Will Leitch
92. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (2016)
Director: Brett Story
Empathy is at the forefront in The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, director Brett Story’s masterful collection of vignettes. No central figure to focus upon, Story uses her snapshots of different individuals to suggest something grander—namely, Americans’ inescapable entanglement with their country’s overwhelming prison system. With so many different stylistic techniques—sometimes her subjects address the camera directly, sometimes we’re a fly-on-the-wall observing, from a distance, people talking to each other—The Prison in Twelve Landscapes may risk didacticism, but such worries are mitigated by Story’s aesthetic adventurousness.
There’s a cumulative power, a headlong rush, in watching one vignette segue into another, the viewer trying to make connections between seemingly dissimilar American portraits. The Brooklyn man who started a business that ships penitentiary-approved goods to inmates; the Detroit P.R. rep who has no idea how slimy he sounds; the St. Louis County resident waiting in long lines—Story deftly makes the point that they’re all invisibly part of the same system, and the juxtaposing, sometimes counterintuitive correlations enliven each snapshot and make The Prison in Twelve Landscapes stronger collectively than in any one sequence. Other filmmakers would mount a frontal assault on the classism and racism rampant in the way we lock up so many people, but Story doesn’t want us to stare at the usual images and absorb the normal statistics. She’s asking us to see the dilemma in a new light, and her powerful essay film never stops making us queasy—and, at the same time, alive with anger and sorrow that the dilemma is being communicated so forcefully and innovatively. —Tim Grierson
91. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up post Avengers with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in the modern day trying to be that quaint relic from his earlier life during World War II—the good soldier—but the black-and-white ethical landscape of that time has been displaced by countless shades of gray. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself are all embodiments of a more complex present than that to which Cap is accustomed. To their credit, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely suggest early and often that no matter how much simpler the age from which Captain America has sprung, he’s not stupid. They also suggest—and this is something Captain America has had in common with Superman almost from the beginning—that one of Cap’s unofficial and less showy superpowers may just be a keen, correct sense of what’s right and wrong.
But no worries, Captain America: The Winter Soldier consists of more than moral quandaries and Steve Rogers sending discerning or suspicious looks in the direction of those around him—the brothers Russo have made, first and foremost, a thrilling action film. Starting with a perfectly paced rescue mission nicely leavened with relationship banter between Evans and Johansson’s characters, the film has little down time. This is especially true once the titular bad guy (Sebastian Stan) enters the picture (in an effort to erase Fury from it), but in truth, the movie is filled with enjoyable moments, both quiet and action-packed. That, along with the pitch-perfect casting of Evans as Cap, makes The Winter Soldier a worthy addition to the ranks of “flat-out fantastic sequels” and among the best superhero movies of the decade. —Michael Burgin
90. The Grand Bizarre (2018)
Director: Jodie Mack
A spectacle of tedium; an opus of patience: Experimental filmmaker Jodie Mack seems to bring so many of her aesthetic and physical concerns to bear with the jaw-dropping The Grand Bizarre, one struggles to conceive of the ways she “got that” or “did that” or “made that happen.” Context, especially in Mack’s work, is important—the climax of the hour-long film uses the scant sounds of Mack’s 16mm Bolex camera in her studio, clicking once per image, to convey just how arduous the gleeful images we’d witnessed were to birth—and while we watch the swathes of textiles and colors spin and whirl across the screen and throughout countless international landscape, patterns whorling in time to a, in turns, quirky and menacing and blissful techno beat (like Holly Herndon’s Platform or Matthew Herbert’s concept albums, an arrangement of post-industrial detritus metamorphosing into music), we can’t escape the nagging question: Was all this work worth it? The answer must be “absolutely,” because The Grand Bizarre is too often astounding, but the answer is in the question as well. Mack wants us to know that she individually photographed innumerable pieces of cloth, that she painstakingly animated this whole hybridized doc. Mack wants us to be constantly aware of her work—just as she, in filming huge open air markets and major shipping ports and long car rides with fabric strobing in the rear view mirror (how many hours did she sit in the back of a car and just hold up pieces of cloth?), begs us to think about the labor behind these textiles and colors and patterns and materials, how much human effort is expelled in getting them, doing them, making them happen. Exciting and exhausting, The Grand Bizarre is both celebration and eulogy to that which nourishes us as much as it kills us. —Dom Sinacola
89. Shin Godzilla (2011)
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
In the shadow of Shin Godzilla, Hollywood has failed. Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla movie wasn’t really one so much as it was a brand exercise, astoundingly executed, but divorced from Toho’s legendary lizard flicks. Godzilla (2014) does not encourage audiences to seek out Godzilla (1954), because the two are fundamentally different beasts, the former adept at creating some serious awe and suspense from its abundant CGI, while the latter wore its allegorical bonafides openly, strikingly realized man-in-rubber-suit mise-en-scene providing a stark balance to images of evacuating citizens, panicking under the threat of otherworldly disaster having just gotten over a previous otherworldly disaster. Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with that kind of trauma.
Looking back, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi seem to have preemptively rescued what Hollywood would have otherwise lost. Rendering the CGI Godzilla with traces of rubber-suit bounce and flavor, they never abandon the tactile nature of the kaiju melee to the endless void of photorealism, while still reinventing, from one moment to the next, what Godzilla, and Godzilla, is. Like Ishiro Honda’s first Godzilla, Shin Godzilla is about the threat of nuclear annihilation as much as it is about Japan’s ability to band together—which isn’t so much a virtue as it is a survival mechanism—in this case alluding directly to the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It’s also half dry political farce, starring the facile entirety of the Japanese government, that tumbles into a sci-fi thriller that almost trips into rom-com, metamorphosing and evolving, as does its monster, into ever delightful permutations of the kaiju formula. At one point, Godzilla splits the bottom of its jaw apart to open its gaping maw even wider, hemorrhaging nuclear energy like so much projectile vomit. It means nothing, and it means everything, and it means that some poor bureaucrat’s got a lot of paperwork to do. —Dom Sinacola
88. Shirkers (2018)
Director: Sandi Tan
Making sense of one’s past can be both a lifelong undertaking and a thorny proposition. In Shirkers, novelist Sandi Tan accomplishes that trickiest of endeavors, directing a documentary about herself that isn’t cloying or cringe-worthy. Quite the contrary, her movie is refreshingly candid and self-critical: She may be the star of the show, but she has a story to tell and the right perspective to frame it properly. Tan narrates the documentary as a memory piece, recounting her childhood in Singapore with her best friend Jasmine, where they were the two cool kids in their pretty square school, dreaming of being filmmakers and leaving their mark. To further that ambition, they collaborated with another friend, Sophia, on a surreal road movie called Shirkers, which would be directed by Tan’s mentor, an older teacher named Georges who carried himself as someone who knew his way around a movie camera. In her late teens and perhaps smitten with this man who showed her such attention—the documentary is cagey on the subject—Tan was intoxicated by the rush of making a film that she wrote and would be the star of. So how come we’ve never seen it? The documentary traces the strange, mysterious journey of the project, which was waylaid by Georges sneaking off with the reels of film with a vague promise of finishing the work. That never happened, and 20 years later Tan decides to open those old wounds, connecting with her old friends and trying to determine what became of Georges. Scenes from the unfinished film appear in Shirkers, tipping the audience off to the fact that there will be a happy-ish resolution to Tan’s quest. But the documentary ends up being less about tracking down the film canisters than an exploration of nostalgia, friendship and the allure of mentors. Tan is lively, self-effacing company throughout—her voice has just the right sardonic tinge—but her visits with Jasmine and Sophia are particularly lovely and illuminating, suggesting how lifelong pals can see us in ways that we cannot. —Tim Grierson
87. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Director: Marielle Heller
Ten minutes into the film, the aging, broke, world-weary Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) walks by a room of women circled around a fastidiously dressed man decrying “Writer’s Block” as laziness, as a justification of the inability to do work or to be original. At a party held in her agent Marjorie’s (Jane Curtin) enormous apartment (there’s a coat check guy), Israel is an invisible outsider to the world of the literary elite. No one talks to her, plus there’s the palpable friction of her contempt for the snobbery of such characters who ramble on about structure and reflexivity with her yearning to be recognized and embraced as worthy and talented. The writer of a handful of well-received and panned biographies, Israel is told by Marjorie that she has not made a name for herself, that she has disappeared behind her writing. Or, as Israel retorts, she’s doing her job. But still, she has doubt. And what do so many queer people do when they want to toe the line between disappearing into someone else and flaunting their own persona? They do drag.
Certainly, one of the fundamental questions at the heart of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on Lee Israel’s autobiography, is a notion of authenticity within art, or, in this case, within writing. To make ends meet, Israel begins to forge and embellish the personal letters of literary and social figures like Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward, and as she becomes further invested in the con of selling them to collectors and bookstore owners, she realizes she has to negotiate the space between her persona as a writer and how much of that persona is predicated on imitation without a real grasp on her own sensibilities or idiosyncrasies as a writer. How much real is there in this representation, how much authenticity is there in her artifice?
Through the eyes of Israel and Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), New York retains the gritty luster of the 1970s, a time where the city still had a place for them. Heller and Holofcener and Whitty have an otherworldly skill at pinpointing the queer bitterness of these people’s lives, their willingness to keep living, and what may lurk beneath their armor. Like few other films, Can You Ever Forgive Me? seems tailor-made for a person like me: It’s a film about the frustrating, often sad life of writers, the anxiety of being able to create, the uncertainty of whether you have a voice in your craft, the adoration for a time and its figures to whence you do not belong, the things queer people will do to fight off loneliness. —Kyle Turner
86. We Are the Best! (2013)
Director: Lukas Moodysson
In 1980s Sweden, everything that’s happening in the world—the fear of Soviet submarines invading, the gradual industrialization of the country, the Moderate Party gaining control of parliament—doesn’t really include Bobo (Mira Barkhammer), an aspiring punk rocking tween with a lush of a mother. Spending most of her evenings in her room listening to tapes of her favorite punk band, the short and curly-haired Bobo teams up with her best friend and mohawk-sporting Klara (Mira Grosin) to create a band of their own. Wrangling a guitar-playing Christian girl, Hedvig (Live LeMoyne) into their quest to join the school talent show, they’re met with nothing but skepticism from their peers and parents. But Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!, adapted from graphic novelist Coco Moodysson’s memoir Never Goodnight, is hardly a conventional coming-of-age film. Though it features recognizable tropes from the genre—Boys! Neglectful parents! Angst!—We Are the Best! is filled with such joy and ebullience that it feels liberated from the restrictive structure of so many teen films. With a freewheeling, quasi-improvisatory style, Moodysson imbues his film with a gorgeous ease and tenderness, crafting a little world for these girls and their audience to negotiate their politics, find their voice and fumble along the way. —Kyle Turner
85. High Life (2018)
Director: Claire Denis
High Life begins with a moment of intense vulnerability, followed immediately by a moment of immense strength. First we glimpse a garden, verdant and welcoming, before we’re ushered to a sterile room. There we realize there’s a baby alone while Monte (Robert Pattinson), her father maybe, consoles her, talking through a headset mounted within his space helmet. “Da da da,” he explains through the intercom; the baby starts to lose her shit because he’s not really there, he’s perched outside, on the surface of their basic Lego-piece of a spaceship, just barely gripped on the edge of darkness. They’re in space, one supposes, surrounded by dark, oppressive nothingness, and he can’t reach her. They’re alone. Next, Monte empties their cryogenic storage locker of all the dead bodies of his once-fellow crew members, lifting their heavy limbs and torsos into space suits, not because it matters, but maybe just because it’s something to do to pass the time, as much a sign of respect as it is an emotional test of will. Monte looks healthy and capable, like he can withstand all that loneliness, like he and his daughter might actually make it out of this OK, whatever this is. High Life lives inside that juxtaposition, displaying tenderness as graphically as violence and anger and incomprehensible fear, mining all that blackness surrounding its characters for as much terror as writer-director Claire Denis can afford without getting obvious about it. Pattinson, flattened and lithe, plays Monte remarkably, coiled within himself to the point that he finishes every word deep in his throat, his sentences sometimes total gibberish. He doesn’t allow much to escape his face, but behind his eyes beams something scary, as if he could suddenly, and probably will, crack. He says as much to Willow, his kid, whispering to her while she sleeps that he could easily kill them both, never wanting to hurt her but still polluting her dreams. He can’t help it, and neither can Denis, who, on her 14th film (first in English), can make an audience believe, like few other directors, that anything can happen. Madness erupts from silence and sleep, bodily fluids dripping all over and splattering throughout and saturating the psyches of these criminal blue collar astronauts, the overwhelming stickiness of the film emphasizing just how intimately close Denis wants us to feel to these odd, sick fleshbags hurtling toward the edge of consciousness. —Dom Sinacola
84. Force Majeure (2014)
Director: Ruben Östlund
Hidden behind this uncomfortably snickering fable about modern masculinity is something with no real patience for heteronormative nonsense. Though Force Majeure is mostly about a seemingly good and cool dad (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) who makes a bad and lame split-decision while on vacation with his seemingly perfect family, the film would rather question the more primeval forces that bind us: monogamy, safety, companionship, blood and lust. This isn’t about a father who, in a brief moment of weakness, failed to protect his family, it’s about the dynamics of any relationship: Can we ever know the people we love most? Why not? Director Ruben Östlund asks this over and over—especially when subjecting our sad dad and his best friend Mads (Kristofer Hivju, Tormund from Game of Thrones) to the indignities of age and irrelevance—wreaking sickly funny havoc upon his male protagonist’s ego as he builds to a sweet little climax wherein this beaten-down bro revels in the chance to show his family his true colors. —Dom Sinacola
83. Coco (2017)
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco may count as one of Pixar’s clearest successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams could prove the studio’s most meaningful yet. The implicit contract between films like Coco and the audience is a simple one: Sit back and let us immerse you in a world you haven’t seen before, or one you’ve only imagined. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do just that. Coco’s underworld is richly textured and imagined, but so is the “real world” where we start and end up. Sure, by now it’s what we expect from Pixar, but it’s notable nonetheless. And the lasting accomplishment of Coco lies in the reverence and joy with which it depicts another culture’s celebration. Dia de los Muertos isn’t used as some convenient, exotic setting or explored through the eyes of someone from the United States (though early iterations of the script did just that, apparently). Instead, the film represents a full embrace of a culture and its people, as well as a celebration of family, both present and past. As such, it’s difficult to imagine healthier holiday fare. —Michael Burgin
82. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Taken purely on its plot, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a crime procedural. But plot does not a movie make: In actuality, it’s more like a human procedural, to be inane but also fairly accurate. Through how it uses the Anatolian wilderness and captures and edits around the lines of its narrative, the film creates a contemplative context in the presence of atrocity and then carefully observes the characters that it puts in that context.
Nothing can ever be a Tarkovsky film besides a Tarkovsky film, but this is the closest anyone’s gotten without losing themselves. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has the philosophical discourse and the images which meditate, but applies it to stories that are personal to him and his culture, and he translates Tarkovsky’s elegant spirituality into the parallel mysteries of the psyche. Apples floating down a stream have a completely different directive in theme than they would in a Tarkovsky film, but in Anatolia they hit with the same sort of mythic import, digging away at some part of our collective subconscious that we can’t fully touch.
Ceylan had been making esteemed films for about a decade and a half before Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, but this is the moment that the whole sphere of cinephilia stood up and took notice. To be frank, it’s one of this decade’s great masterpieces, a vision of the world and the people that live in it that is epic not as much for breadth as for bottomless depth. It plunges us into the spaces between the words of its scenario. It lets us taste its terroir, a natural essence of bleak humor and vivid melancholy, to find what’s underneath us all. To taste the dirt we’re made of. —Chad Betz
81. Roma (2018)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie.
Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz
80. Lemonade (2016)
Directors: Beyoncé, Kahlil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Dikayl Rimmasch, Mark Romanek, Todd Tourso, Jonas Åkerlund
Lemonade opens with a roar, or a growl, or it might be a rumble. It may be all three. Her boxer braids slowly revealed, Beyoncé moves carefully, at calculated but glacial speed, returning from a rest against the roof of a car. And the next shot: black and white, rusty chains disturbed by not even the wind lay against a wood shed, our gaze pointed beyond the tips of the trees. And the third short: floating above grass green and yellow, swaying in the wind. Only then does, at the behest of a queen, the music start.
Lemonade, the “visual album” created by Beyoncé (with collaborators Kahlil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Dikayl Rimmasch, Mark Romanek, Todd Tourso and Jonas Åkerlund), is a feast of sumptuous, incisive imagery and a banquet of sounds contemporary, modern and archival. It is a history of blackness, womanhood, a fight for freedom and liberation, the fury of silence and forced restraint, and a celebration of those things that break away from oppression and build closeness in community. Pulling from a history of film, photography and art that spans across nations and races, imbuing the film with eruptions of rage, beauty, sorrow and joy in both song (“Freedom,” “Daddy Lessons,” “Six Inch” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” are favorites) and spoken word (by Warsan Shire), Beyoncé has crafted nothing less than a gift to her audience. (She continues to go the extra step with her community in mind, with the Formation Scholars.) With Lemonade, she let us know that it’s Beyoncé’s world and we’re just living in it. —Kyle Turner
79. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Director: Luca Guadagnini
In Kyle Turner’s Paste review of Call Me By Your Name, he muses that in the film’s opening credits “there’s enough of a hint to suggest that, as Michael Stuhlbarg’s professorial patriarch Mr. Perlman mentions, the statues are ‘daring you to desire.’ The film, while occasionally inching towards it, never takes that dare.” Much has been made about whether the film flinches at the physical love it champions, or embraces with grace and decorum the same love, finding eroticism in other (maybe juicier, stickier) images. Regardless, the allure of Call Me By Your Name, the story of a 17-year-old rich white kid (Timothee Chalamet) and his Italian summer tryst with a hunky grad student (Armie Hammer), is in all of that anticipation and lazy anxiety, of never being quite sure what’s right for you because you’re not yet quite sure what “you” means. Perhaps Guadagnino never “takes that dare” because the film is less about the consummation of the two characters’ desires, and more about the dissolution of that consummation, the need to let it go for all its fantasy and excitement and confusion, and then to live with the quiet, needling regret that more could have been done, that somehow the desire, the sumptuousness of the flesh, should have been better grasped. It’s in Michael Stuhlbarg’s final, bittersweet monologue, as well as in Chalamet’s credits-long fireplace cry: Call Me By Your Name is an exquisitely shot movie, alive with the privilege and luxury of what it means to spend one’s formative sexual years in the Italian countryside, but more importantly, it’s a movie that aches far harder for the lives and relationships that could have been. —Dom Sinacola
78. The Rider (2017)
Director: Chloé Zhao
A dream dissipating. The Rider begins with flashes of a horse, in close-up, so intimately observed we immediately abandon all assumptions of symbolism or pretention of deeper meaning. Chloé Zhao’s second film invites social commentary and political dissection—it’s about the obsolescence of a certain way of life; about the death of toxic masculinity as exigency of a frontiersman’s spirit of adventure; about the failure of rural America to embrace an obvious socioeconomic future—but there’s nothing clearer, or more devastating, in The Rider than the bond between cowboy and horse. Said cowboy, and aforementioned dreamer, is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young, lithe South Dakotan rodeo rider still recovering from a head injury, a blurry accident we re-watch with Brady via YouTube video on his phone. With a cast of non-professionals basically playing themselves, Zhao rarely pushes her actors to too riskily delve into melodrama, or anything, for that matter, that might make them uncomfortable. Instead, in Jandreau and his family, Zhao discovers a beautiful, intuitive sense of calm, which she reflects in long, mournful shots of Dakotan vistas, so unhurried and unhindered by the boundaries of the screen that each interstitial segment—often of Brady contemplating the world before him as he stands, his hip cocked, before a magnificent sunset—feels overwhelming. What cinematographer Joshua James Richards can do with a camera bears the weight of countless filmmakers in thrall to the pregnant possibility of this marvelous continent. Every frame of this film speaks of innumerable lives—passions and failures and tragedies and triumphs—unfolding unfathomably. —Dom Sinacola
77. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The decade’s been both kind and not so kind to good ol’ Marty, ten years of bad takes questioning his credentials for directing Silence, for denying Marvel movies the honorific of “cinema,” for forcing audiences to showers en masse following screenings of The Wolf of Wall Street. And yet it’s impossible to keep him down; he’s immune to controversy and he thrives on lively debate, which is why, at 70 years old, his chronicle of the life, times and crimes of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)—a stock broker and inveterate fraudster who bilked over 1,000 schlemiels, suckers and saps out of billions (and got off easy)—feels like something an artist half his age directed.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a pissed off film. It’s also a horny, pervy, brutal, an impeccably made and fundamentally hideous film. At every passing image, Scorsese’s white-hot rage burns around the edges of the frame. The director has his own beefs and conflicts with his Christian faith, but here his presence is felt as a furious deity sitting in judgment on the fun Belfort has screwing over his clients, two-timing his first wife, jerking around his second wife and doing more blow in three hours than Scorsese himself did in the 1970s and ’80s. The easy knock to make against this movie is that it endorses the finance bro culture it navigates over the course of its running time, because at no point does Scorsese impose manufactured morality on what happens in front of us; instead he plays the hits as Belfort wrote them, showing the audience exactly what Belfort did while running his company, Stratton Oakmont, and while running around on his spouses. That the film ultimately ends with Belfort out on the prowl again is the ultimate indictment: Being rich allowed this man to get away with financial murder, because being rich, in the end, makes everything better.
“Being rich makes everything better,” for some, is the movie’s embraced philosophy, but The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t appreciate displays of wealth unhinged. It reviles them. Scorsese puts energy into the film, a spring in its every greedy step; one could call such debauchery without consequences a “good time.” But The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t care about that kind of time as much as it cares about hanging Belfort out to dry. —Andy Crump
76. The Avengers (2012)
Nestled amongst the gaudy box office numbers ($1.52 billion) of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is a much simpler achievement. Yes, The Avengers should evoke a deserved appreciation of Joss Whedon’s directorial skills. And yes, the film’s release and reception make for a natural “And that’s when it was official” moment that the MCU took over Hollywood. But for comic book fans especially, The Avengers represents the first instance of the superhero team dynamic truly captured and sustained on film. Even though the X-Men and the Fantastic Four had received big screen treatments at that point, those films were all still pretty static; the interaction between both heroes and villains were slow, separate vignettes rather than two-way, three-way or more-way battles. To be fair, Whedon had plenty of help, both from long-term studio strategy (there’s a rarely heard kudos for you) and cast. In fact, Robert Downey Jr. may be the ideal delivery system for Whedon’s signature banter—a banter that permeates and propels the plot of the two-hour film along just as effectively as the set action pieces. If Raimi’s Spider-Man showed why comic book superheroes are fun, The Avengers showed why superhero teams are—and set the stage for the cinematic behemoth to follow. —Michael Burgin