Peter’s Movies of the Decade: 2010s

The triumph of cinema for the 2010s has been varied, to say the least. While streaming became the medium of choice for millions, blockbusters still broke records, and smaller films, whether seen on a phone or big screen, created much by way of discussion. We close out the decade with the old “what is cinema?” question back in the conversation. True cinephiles would simply throw shade, offering their best Billie Eilish “Duh,” but for those who think of movies as merely “entertainment,” Martin Scorsese’s remark about the MCU films not being “real cinema” was a brain-busting WTF moment. Still, the decade began with business as usual (franchises, Oscar-bait). It ended with what felt, for some, like the very survival of more adult fare, which too was an overreaction. Along the way, great strides in diversity arrived by way of #OscarsSoWhite, the success of Black Panther, gender-focused shakeups, and more.

It’s been a strange and sometimes scary time for cinema this past decade, but as of right now, I encourage all the chatter. Movies should be hotly debated, passionately defended, and laughed at as the trainwrecks they can sometimes be (Thank the makers for  Fred Durst’s The Fanatic, starring a very committed John Travolta). With all of that in mind, I offer up my picks for the best film of the 2010s. Some I have seen over and over, some only once but left a crater-sized impression.

10.  Tangerine (2015)

25 years after Jenny Livingston’s Paris is Burning gave voice to a mostly ignored community, director Sean Baker (The Florida Project) highlighted strong, defiant, vulnerable voices as a pair of trans BFFs cruised the streets of Santa Monica Blvd. on Christmas Eve looking for a former ex. Shot on three iPhone 5s, with a gorgeous color palette never thought possible on a mobile medium, Tangerine is at once a celebration of people who are still criminally underseen, and a love letter to the power of the kinds of families we create, not the ones we are born into.


9. The Neon Demon (2016)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive has deservedly appeared on many “Best Of” lists. Neon Demon takes what made that film a breath of fresh synthy air, removes the somewhat generic crime thriller plot, and replaces with a stronger sense Refn’s psychological dysphoria. Set in the City of Angel’s cold, calculating world of high fashion, it’s filled with bland/terrible dudes (a disturbing Keanu Reeves) the new to the scene Jesse (Elle Fanning) must navigate to be truly seen. Neon Demon has the right amount of eye candy, a creepy mood, and an outlandish DePlama-like finale. On my first viewing, I marveled at the super crisp digital photography. Upon several re-watches, I’m fascinated by Fanning’s go-for-broke portrayal of someone who knows beauty isn’t just everything, it’s the only thing.


8.   Moonlight (2016)

The weird thing about me: I typically can’t stand to have a story told with various actors playing the same person. Until Moonlight, my one exception was It’s A Wonderful Life. Child actor Robert J. Anderson killed it as little George Bailey before Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart took over for the adult scenes. Cinema Paradiso, Slumdog Millionaire, etc. all lose me when we get to the adult parts, as the actors never felt like the same person to me. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is beloved as a tale about identity, sexual orientation, systemic racism, the dissolution of the family as a result of drug addiction, and more. The key for me, though is how I always believe these three actors ARE Chiron. Picked on Alex R. Hibbert, bullied too far Ashton Sanders, and almost a kind of bully Trevante Rhodes. At first, Rhodes may seem too different but look closer. The way he clenches his teeth, the subtle slouch, he is the same man. In many ways, Moonlight is the decade’s ultimate victim narrative. One where all those years of abuse nearly destroy Chiron. Yet, in the end, there is hope.


7. Spring Breakers (2013)

Baz Luhrmann may have delivered a whacked-out (and underrated) big-screen version of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s “Great American Novel,” but Harmony Korine delivered the real Great Gatsby of the era. “Look at all my shit” is the best distillation of greed, id, and pain. James Franco’s South Floridian drug hustler, “Alien,” is this millennia’s Jay Gatsby. The great tragedy is that none of his newfound partners in crime (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) were ever going to be his Daisy. In the end, the closest Alien could get to his green light was playing a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on a piano, as his masked, armed posse watched. The genius of Spring Breakers is how we all laugh and eye roll at such a moment, but by the end, we get it: there’s never too much, and it’s never enough.



6.  Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens was everything a zeitgeist pic should be: funny, fresh, and sure, full of nostalgia. Starring a terrific cast of newcomers, plus the original trio from the original trilogy, I got all sorts of feels. Yet, I’m going with writer/director Rian Jonhson’s entry as my pick as the best Star Wars of the decade, because of how it’s about the burden being part of the biggest movie franchise in cinematic history. The script was crazy subversive, as it burned through story beats faster than Darth Maul twirling his double-sided lightsaber. “Let the past die… kill it if you have to,” has become the mantra of the latter 2010s. When even Luke Skywalker thinks maybe all this Jedi stuff is kinda over, you know you’re swimming deep and poking holes at a fanbase who perhaps needs to grow up.  That The Last Jedi could do all this with passion, heart, and a genuine look forward is a damn near a miracle. Maxi Big The Force.


5.  Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Five years before Tarantino would finally make a film acknowledging his own fear of Hollywood obsolescence, Olivier Assayas delivered a 21st-century take on All About Eve, where Eve is an afterthought. Jo-ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the new young star on the rise, ready to take over an iconic role Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) made famous decades ago. The real conflict, however, is not between Jo and Maria, although Moretz has never been better as an entitled social media celeb. What Maria can’t get a grip on is her personal assistant’s way of looking at the world. Played by Kristen Stewart in her best role to date (she was the first American actress to win a Cesar Award), Valentine knows Maria inside and out. We, as the audience, see just how much that can bleed into one’s reality, as the two spend a majority of the film reciting lines from a script while debating the struggles of each other’s lives. That we often can’t tell the difference between the two is Assayas’s masterstroke.


4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

What hasn’t been said a gazillion times already about George Miller’s masterpiece? Years in the making, with a $150 million budget, featuring stunts so outrageous Steven Soderberg can’t believe no one died, Fury Road is incredible. A threadbare plot – two car chases against an orange-tinted desert – in which a determined Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max (Tom Hardy) are exhausted, pushed to their limits to escape Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). One is tired of running, the other somewhat ambivalent to a nobler cause. There’s not enough space to go into all of the ways Miller’s script is the best possible leap forward action films needed in terms of gender. No matter one’s politics, I can’t imagine a viewer not being awed by the two hours of tangible, brutal, exhilarating stuntwork. Similar to how John Carpenter’s The Thing made the gore the point, so does Miller with the metal to bone explosions. Miller’s action says it all. Fury Road’s level of artistry makes practically any other film in its genre seem by comparison, as Joe would say, MEDIOCRE!


3. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Isolation as the conduit for an existential crisis pops up at least twice on this list. In the Coen Brothers’ ode to the folk era of the 60s, Oscar Isaac (joined by one of the best onscreen cats ever) plays a singer/songwriter who travels in and around the east coast in search of a paycheck and value beyond dollars and cents. That such a heavy film is filled with wall-to-wall moments of levity and beautiful harmony is a near feat of impossibility. May I never get Adam Driver singing, “Outerrrr… SPACE!” out of my head. Like ever. Like, Please, Mr. Kennedy, don’t let that go.


2. The Social Network (2010)

David Fincher’s captivating look at the creation of Facebook was ahead of its time. Aaron Sorkin’s biting, funny, and, in the end, the hopeful script began as a kind of Citizen Kane for the digital era but now feels like the ultimate expose on how we’ve become a Nation of Narcissists as a result of social media. Like Welles’ masterpiece, this is a defining work that works as a singular in vision, yet features top shelf contributions with Fincher’s collaborators in front of and behind the camera. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ music gives a pulse to the proceedings as few scores have. The cast, which includes a terrific Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer are all note-perfect.


1. Under the Skin (2013)

Jonathan Glazer’s third feature is one of the most influential films of the past seven years. The visual design of the black inky otherness can be felt in the Duffer Brother’s cultural sensation Stranger Things, every time we venture into the Upside Down. Rian Johnson was such a fan of the Scarlett Johansson sci-fi flick, he hired the crew responsible for film’s palpable negative space to design Rey’s encounter with her many selves in the eerily trippy moment from The Last Jedi.

Beyond the plot, beyond even traditional acting (many scenes involving ScarJo’s alien meetings with citizens of a small Scottish Burrough were shot incognito), Under the Skin feels like the future and the past, sometimes in the same scene.  The film wears its own influences on its human skin suit sleeves: a little Antonioni, a lot of Tarkovsky. Chillingly scored by Mica Levi, the power of the film was more about the impact on both the senses and the mind. A scene with a baby on a beach cannot be unseen. No matter how much one might wish they could.

In the end, my pick for film of the decade was the one that made me forget I was watching one. The first five minutes served as a kind of palate cleanser from all the familiar stuff we watch all of the time.  In the end, no matter the literal or figurative interpretation – was she really an alien or just a metaphor for gender identity? – for the past seven years Under the Skin really got under mine.

11 – 20 (in no particular order)
It FollowsLittle Women, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Master, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, A Separation, Nightcrawler, Mission Impossible: Fallout


3 Responses to “Peter’s Movies of the Decade: 2010s”

  1. Brian White

    Wow! Shocked at your #1, but LOVE it so much! You touched me with two titles in particular on your list, Under the Skin and Spring Breakers. Both excellent choices for future 4K disc releases, am I rite? Just sayin’! And that score by Mica Levi, some of the best of the decade for sure!

    Equally impressive is your love for It Follows, Nightcrawler and the most impressive Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

    Mad Max would obviously be very high on my list. And there are two missing here, which I definitely would include on mine.

    I’m just stunned at your love for #1. Made my day!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    Give or take a few titles, when I finally put together a list for the decade, I expect plenty of overlap. Great job!

  3. Gerard Iribe

    Any list that has Neon Demon is okay with me! I’ve been meaning to catch Clouds of Sils Maria for a while now. I enjoy Assaya’s films – Carlos is a masterpiece and Personal Shopper was also great.