The 2010s ushered in a new era of film. The decade heralded the rise of comic book movies as a box-office juggernaut. The last 10 years also saw several genres soar to new levels of filmmaking, such as sweeping musicals, hard-hitting real-life dramas, space spectacles, viscerally thrilling action flicks, inventive mind-benders, subversive cartoons and a modern horror renaissance.
As the decade prepares to fade to black, Joe Baress and Rebecca Kivak count down their top 10 best movies of the 2010s. The picks are based on a mix of personal favorites, quality, impact, craftsmanship, rewatchability, quotability and emotional resonance. Let’s rewind and look back at the last 10 years in film as seen through their eyes.
10. “La La Land” (2016)
The movie that came oh so close to winning best picture cracks my top 10 movies of the decade. That’s not a great consolation prize as no award comes with this list. In 2016, the film wracked up 14 Oscar nominations to tie for the most ever and it’s time everyone accepts there was a reason for that. This film is a masterpiece from top to bottom. Beautiful cinematography, phenomenal music and expert direction from one of the best directors of the decade in Damien Chazelle. “Whiplash” put him on the map, but he deserves recognition on this list for his best film. That is “La La Land.”
What separates it from his other work is the execution of the story, unbelievable acting and chemistry from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and stark reality a relationship can die even though it has every reason to survive. Humans can be quite human sometimes and this movie shows that in a crushing, but absolutely beautiful way. It’s one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen on an emotional level. As Stone and Gosling stare at each other at the end and smirk, it makes you want to cry and smile at the same time. Also, that Oscars moment will never be topped.
9. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)
It’s easy to dismiss this as a blockbuster, a film that took too much from “A New Hope” and simply a movie in an oversaturated franchise. It was much more than that. Let’s go back to before 2015. The “Star Wars” saga was in a dark place after the prequels and the franchise was now in Disney’s hands. Sure, it had a capable director (J.J. Abrams) at the helm who just made two awesome “Star Trek” films and the trailer looked phenomenal. However, I just remember anxiety from a lot of fans leading up to the film as they hoped and prayed the film would be good. It wasn’t good. It was great. And it is still the best “Star Wars” film since “The Empire Strikes Back.”
People say it was too much like “A New Hope” and I never really understood that criticism. I don’t understand it even more now because the studio listened and then the franchise went into a tailspin. “The Force Awakens” didn’t take from “A New Hope.” It returned to its roots, which is exactly what the franchise needed to do after the disappointing prequel trilogy. It needed to recapture the hearts of a strong fanbase and that’s what it did. It had the biggest opening weekend of all-time and brought life to a hibernating franchise. Everything we loved about the original trilogy was there, including Han, Leia, Luke, C-3PO, R2-D2, the Millennium Falcon and John Williams’ score. It also added some inspiring new characters in Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) as one of the biggest franchises of all-time was now led by a woman and a black man. Also, BB-8 is adorable.
The visual effects are phenomenal and the setting of the forest lightsaber battle with the darkness, snow and colors looks gorgeous. It also has a really solid pace, but the part that still gives me chills is when Rey uses the force to take the lightsaber from Kylo Ren and the John Williams score kicks in. A beautiful moment perfectly executed. It was an event of the decade and a theater experience I will never forget.
8. “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
“Iron Man” started the franchise, “The Avengers” made fans believe anything is possible and “Avengers: Endgame” was the realization of a dream fans didn’t know they had 11 years ago. While not the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” is the most fulfilling. It was a love letter to the fans, a way to say thank you. It’s exactly what the fans needed after a 22-movie journey. I talked to my friend before it came out and he asked me if I thought it would have the biggest opening weekend ever. I said it would probably be around the same as “Avengers: Infinity War,” which was about $257 million and record holder at the time. He told me it would make at least more than $300 million. I pretty much told him that was impossible. It made about $357 million in the U.S., obliterating the previous mark. Once again, that same friend asked me if it would be the highest grossing movie ever. I said there’s no way it will have the legs to pass “Avatar.” $2.79 billion later, I was wrong again.
The highest grossing movie of the best franchise of the decade deserves to make this list. It is also the culmination of everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe built and helmed by the franchise’s best directors, Anthony and Joe Russo. “Avengers: Endgame” is a beautiful and emotional ending to a story 11 years in the making.
7. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)
All the credit has to go to my sister on this one. She asked if I was going to see “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” I told her no and that it looks stupid. She told me I should go see it. I was so wrong. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is one of the funniest and most quotable movies ever. Directed by the great Edgar Wright, it is also one of the cleverest and most unique movies ever. Michael Cera was born to play Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is excellent, but this movie has an insane amount of talent. At the time, nobody realized it because they hadn’t hit it big yet in 2010. Chris Evans is one of the evil exes a year before he became Captain America and a few years after he was attached to “The Fantastic Four” as the Human Torch/Johnny Storm. Marvel had announced Evans as Captain America and I didn’t have the confidence until I saw “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” It also had future Oscar winner and Captain Marvel Brie Larson. Throw in Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill and Aubrey Plaza and this movie is stacked. We just didn’t know it until years later.
So not only does it stand on its own, but “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was the first step in a phenomenal decade for a lot of its actors and a continuation of Wright’s illustrious career. This movie bombed at the box office, but quickly developed a cult following. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. You won’t regret it.
6. “Spotlight” (2015)
Not all of the best picture winners of this decade have held up, but 2016’s best picture winner “Spotlight” did. I predicted “Spotlight” would win best picture, but I had thought “The Revenant” was a better film at the time. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was wrong. I have watched “Spotlight” many times since its release, while I’ve seen “The Revenant” maybe twice since it left the theater. “Spotlight” is a perfect movie with great writing. Working in a newsroom, it is the most realistic film about investigative journalism I have ever seen. I’ve always been so taken with its realism. Obviously, it’s based on true events, but the understated nature of it makes “Spotlight” one of the best films of the decade.
The acting is so good that they all seem like real people. The score is simple and perfect for this subtle but powerful film. None of the actors really yell until Mark Ruffalo’s blow up toward the end, which makes that scene more memorable. It builds to that moment and is patient. There are no love interests. There are no actors done up to look unrealistically beautiful. The film just grinds and sticks to its purpose. In the end, “Spotlight” is perfection.
5. “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)
From a movie that won best picture to a film that should have won best picture, “Zero Dark Thirty” was snubbed at the 2013 Oscars, losing to “Argo.” One of my favorite directors Kathryn Bigelow took on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden after directing best picture winner “The Hurt Locker.” Her direction was once again top notch as production on this film started before Bin Laden was found and killed. That told audiences the kind of film they were getting. This wasn’t going to be a movie showing the United States is better than everybody else. It was originally supposed to be about the failure to find Bin Laden. He was then found and killed and Bigelow didn’t miss a beat. So essentially, this is three movies in one film and I still don’t understand how she made it so seamlessly. It also just tells the story, instead of making the U.S. seem like the good guys. It was real. Some people didn’t like that, but it made it one of the best movies of the decade.
Speaking of robbed at the Oscars, Jessica Chastain should have won best actress over Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Chastain carries that film turning in the best performance of her career and one of my favorite performances of the decade. She simultaneous has to grow as a character while devolving into an obsessed hunter. The movie ends on such a beautifully tragic note as Chastain’s character, Maya, spent so many years trying to find Bin Laden that she doesn’t know what to do now. It all catches up to her as she realizes all that she’s lost and how much of her life she has wasted. She breaks down and the movie ends. She handles it beautifully and it launched her career. Also, it’s perfect the film didn’t end in celebration. Without the backlash, this movie would have received more recognition. It most certainly deserved it.
4. “Get Out” (2017)
When I first saw “Get Out,” I thought it was good, not great. What a fool I was. I watched it again … and again … and again. This movie gets better with each viewing. I find something new every time I watch it. The movie is excellent on its own, without diving deep into it. The horror works very well. I was afraid to fall into the Sunken Place for weeks after. Daniel Kaluuya is unbelievable in the leading role and I was shocked to learn he was British. His performance blows me away every time I watch the film, especially when he first falls into the Sunken Place. Lil Rel Howery provides awesome comic relief. LaKeith Stanfield is excellent in a small role, and Allison Williams is brilliant. Add in the social commentary and now we have a movie of the decade. The attention to detail is insane.
Jordan Peele vaulted himself from a comedian to one of the best filmmakers right now after one film. He handled this movie like a veteran and it was his feature-film directorial debut. Unreal. He also wrote the film, which is one of the most rewatchable of the decade. It was easily the best picture of 2017, although it lost to “The Shape of Water.” I think people are already forgetting “The Shape of Water” as “Get Out” will go down as a classic as it ages.
3. “Arrival” (2016)
Despite “La La Land” winning best picture for two minutes before “Moonlight” took home the trophy, it was “Arrival” that deserved the award at the 2017 Academy Awards. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors of the decade and this is his masterpiece. The way he handles time is seamless and the story is emotionally resonant and phenomenally written. I think about “Arrival” probably about once a month. It still makes me think. “Arrival” made me cry in the first five minutes and the last five minutes and it will continue to do so the rest of my life. Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is played over the two scenes and it is the perfect music. The rest of the film has nothing to do with those first five minutes and last five minutes, but it also has everything to do with it. Absolutely beautiful.
I don’t know if I really need to get into how good an actress Amy Adams is, but here we go. She is the best actor working today who does not have an Oscar and this is her greatest performance. Adams is a beautiful woman and a lot of movies tend to use that beauty, not “Arrival.” She gives a gritty performance to carry the film. She steals the show, relegating a great actor Jeremy Renner as the sidekick. The cinematography is gorgeous, and although this movie is a slow burn, the pace is perfect. Even though it’s been three years, I don’t want to spoil anything because this movie made me gasp in the third act. This may be the most impactful movie of the decade on me.
2. “The Social Network” (2010)
Somehow the studio was able to pair directing great David Fincher with my favorite writer of all time Aaron Sorkin. In the end, we got one of the greatest movies of the decade. These two greats challenged each other and turned a movie about Facebook into one of the most rewatchable films over the past 10 years. It has outstanding performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara and Justin Timberlake. It pulls the audience in right from the start with the back and forth between Eisenberg and Mara. Garfield is the heart of the film. In the end when it is revealed what Eisenberg and Timberlake did to Garfield’s character it’s crushing, and Garfield handles the sequence like the amazing and sought out actor he became after this performance.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is amazing as this movie, which is mostly dialogue driven, somehow turns into an action film because of the pace it is able to keep. The verbal action is the best I have seen in a film. It is a movie I could turn on and just listen to the dialogue and the score and be completely satisfied without looking at the scene. That would be dumb to do though because of how Fincher is able to shoot the sequences. He embraces Sorkin’s rapid dialogue and builds on it. Fincher and Sorkin is a dream pairing and they made an unbelievable movie.
1. “Inception” (2010)
Christopher Nolan is my favorite director and “Inception” is his best movie. “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” could just as easily be on this list, but “Inception” tries to accomplish to most and somehow achieves it. This score is top three for me at least. We all remember the “BWONG!” noise, but “Time” at the end of the film is a beautiful piece of music. The score absolutely drives the film. It’s powerful and matches the action perfectly.
The complexity of the story would be messed up in another director’s hands. I wouldn’t have blamed them. There are so many layers to this movie and it somehow delivers. Whether you think the top falls at the end or believe it isn’t Cobb’s totem at all, the film is emotionally gripping.
The climax of the film just blows my mind. Four levels of dreams are happening simultaneously and it is seamless. I swear this film has a van falling for a half hour in movie time. Nolan’s attention to detail is unmatched.
The cast is phenomenal with Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard. It also helped launch the career of the great Tom Hardy.
I haven’t even gotten to the visual effects and the breathtaking cinematography, both Oscar-winning and make dream worlds feel incredibly real. “Inception” kicked off the decade with a bang and survived the test of time at the top of my list.
“Wonder Woman,” “Wind River,” “Black Panther,” “Moneyball,” “Warrior,” “The Avengers,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “The Raid 2,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Imitation Game,” “John Wick,” “Interstellar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “Logan,” “Dunkirk,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Knives Out,” “Moonlight,” “Whiplash.”
10. “The Conjuring” (2013)
After the tortured-based scares of “Saw” and “Hostel,” “The Conjuring” reinvigorated the horror genre. Based on the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the supernatural thriller reminded moviegoers that horror films don’t have to be gory to be scary. Instead, James Wan’s carefully crafted flick doles out its scares with patience, suspense and frightening imagery. It’s simple but effective, and audiences loved it. “The Conjuring” won me over and turned me into a modern horror fan.
The film’s success kicked off the “Conjuring” movie universe, including a sequel, “The Conjuring 2,” a trio of “Annabelle” films and “The Nun.” The franchise has grossed a whopping $1.9 billion against a combined $139.5 million budget. The third “Conjuring” film is set to bow in September.
9. “Fast Five” (2011)
The flashy “Fast & Furious” franchise started out focused on street racing, with a love of all things family. But five movies in, “Fast Five” elevated the pulse-pounding series to a whole new level by adding a heist element. The absurdly fun flick upped the ante with stunning action sequences, one-on-one brawls and physics-defying car chases, making flying cars a regular part of the franchise.
Starring Vin Diesel as street racer Dominic Toretto and the late Paul Walker as cop-turned-vigilante Brian O’Conner, “Fast Five” brought together characters from the four previous films – beating the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the concept. The film also marked the franchise debut of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose popular lawman Luke Hobbs landed the series’ first spinoff, this year’s “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”
8. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (2011)
Tom Cruise’s spy franchise “Mission Impossible” was trending downward until “Ghost Protocol,” the fourth film in the series. The adrenaline-pumping thriller breathed new life into the franchise and set a new standard for action movies.
“Ghost Protocol” showcases breathtaking sequences and jaw-dropping stunts featuring Cruise. The box-office hit showed its leading man’s athletic prowess and the daring lengths the actor will go for his films, cementing his status as an action star. In one epic sequence, Cruise scales the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
The movie established the “Mission Impossible” series as one of the best spy-action franchises in films today, paving the way for acclaimed sequels “Rogue Nation” (2015) and “Fallout” (2018).
7. “Frozen” (2013)
Disney’s animated musical about the power of sisterhood created a cultural phenomenon. The story of Elsa, a misunderstood young woman unable to control her ice powers, and her headstrong but loyal sister Anna captured the fancy of children and adults alike. The cartoon became an instant classic with its dazzling visuals and rousing songs. The film’s liberation anthem, “Let It Go,” could be heard everywhere – and I mean everywhere, to the joy of some and the annoyance of others.
But while “Frozen” evoked Disney’s previous princess movies, such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” the film dared to be different. “Frozen” challenged the fairy tale clichés often seen in the House of Mouse cartoons, turning traditional tropes on their heads. Its empowered heroines speak to a determined generation of young men and women. This year, the film’s excellent sequel, “Frozen II,” continues to push fairy tales in new directions.
6. “Get Out” (2017)
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut established the comedian as the father of modern horror. A bold mix of social commentary and horror satire, “Get Out” tackled race relations in America during a turbulent time in society. Peele’s clever screenplay addressed systemic racism by subverting horror tropes. The film was a critical and box-office hit, with a domestic gross of $176 million on a budget of only $4.5 million.
“Get Out” kept audiences talking long past its release, earning Peele an Academy Award for best original screenplay a year later. The film’s symbols and messages have been so widely discussed that a Google search of “Get Out symbolism” brings up hundreds of analysis pieces and videos. The film’s impact has paved the way for more social horror films, including Peele’s sophomore effort, “Us,” earlier this year.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
After a 30-year break in between films, visionary director George Miller revived his post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” franchise with the high-octane “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The unrelenting assault on the senses is one of the best action films ever made.
The mile-a-minute thrill ride is unlike any action movie before it, with intense car chases, dust storms and fire-spewing guitars along a desert wasteland. “Mad Max: Fury Road” wowed critics and audiences alike.
Tom Hardy seamlessly took over the reins from Mel Gibson in the titular role. But Charlize Theron’s one-armed, head-shaved warrior Imperator Furiosa stole the film, creating a new action heroine for the ages.
4. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)
More than 30 years after “Return of the Jedi” and 10 years after George Lucas’s much-maligned prequels, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” marked the glorious return to “a galaxy far, far away.” The seventh episode of the Skywalker saga delivered a fun adventure full of heart and humor.
The masterful first installment of the new trilogy reunited franchise fans with their favorite characters, including Han Solo (Harrison Ford), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), while adding new heroes and villains to the mix. Mysterious scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), Stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega) and lovable droid BB-8 became characters to root for. The fantastic Adam Driver turned Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren into a formidable yet sympathetic villain.
Under J.J. Abrams, “The Force Awakens” lovingly harkened back to the original trilogy and made the CGI-laden prequels feel like a distant memory. But the film received criticism for sticking too closely to the original three films. As a result, 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson, went in the opposite direction, polarizing audiences. As this year’s “The Rise of Skywalker” draws mixed reactions from fans, “The Force Awakens” remains the best of the new trilogy and my favorite, restoring balance to the iconic franchise.
3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
The sequel to 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” is more of a political thriller than comic book film, breaking out of the superhero genre to become one of the best films in the still-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” established Chris Evans’ super soldier as a major player in the MCU. After being on ice for 70 years, Captain America/Steve Rogers evolves from the patriotic boy next door to a fugitive on the run from his own government. In a genius move, the film casts Robert Redford, star of ’70s political thrillers, as a nod to the genre.
The flick also features some of the best action sequences and hand-to-hand combat in all the MCU films, including an elevator throwdown that ranks as my favorite of Cap’s fights. This is the film that cemented Captain America as my favorite character in the MCU.
2. “Inception” (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending tale of dream stealers is possibly the most influential sci-fi film of the decade. The imaginative film never underestimates the intelligence of its audience, asking viewers – just like it asks its characters – to determine what’s real and what’s not.
The ground-breaking masterpiece boasts spectacular visual effects, such as buildings that fold in upon each other, that other films have tried to replicate. The awe-inspiring hallway sequence with a floating Joseph Gordon-Levitt still astounds me every time I watch it. The levels of the dream states are fun to figure out.
“Inception” also features an impressive cast: the always great Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Ken Wantanabe and Michael Caine. The film achieved both critical and audience acclaim, winning four Academy Awards, including best visual effects.
1. “The Avengers” (2012)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Avengers film set the bar for superhero teamups. The epic blockbuster showed Marvel’s bold experiment to create a sprawling world of beloved superheroes and interweaving storylines could work on the silver screen – and pay off handsomely. “The Avengers” racked up a staggering $1.5 billion worldwide, becoming the third-highest grossing film of all time. The box-office smash boosted the comic book genre to the level of mainstream popularity it enjoys today.
Joss Whedon’s witty masterpiece assembled a cast of heavyweights – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – whom audiences came to know and love over the course of six films, closing out Phase 1 of Marvel’s grand plan. Moviegoers continued to demonstrate their devotion through this summer’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the remarkable culmination of 22 films in the Infinity War saga.
Famed director Martin Scorsese says the Marvel Cinematic Universe films are not cinema. But as a fan of the genre, I believe comic book films are some of the best movies made today. The MCU films demonstrate a high level of character development and in-depth storytelling, taking years to trace their superheroes’ journeys. “The Avengers” was the first stop in the magnificent ride of the MCU’s Mightiest Heroes, and it remains among my favorite all-time films.
“Arrival,” “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War”/”Avengers: Endgame,” “Bridesmaids,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Wonder Woman,” “Logan,” “Moonlight,” “BlackkKlansman,” “John Wick,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Joker.”
Rebecca Kivak and Joe Baress write about movies for Take 2 blog. Together, they review current flicks and offer their insights into the latest movie news. Rebecca is a copy editor and page designer at The Times-Tribune. She started her career with Times-Shamrock Newspapers in 2005 and has won several professional journalism awards for page design and headline writing. She also covers NASCAR races from Pocono Raceway. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5126; @TTRebeccaKivak