Happy New Year! On the day before a New Year’s Eve that will usher in the dawn of a new decade, I’ve become inspired to write an article on the best films the “2010s era” brought us. As always, it is a subjective, opinionated piece. However, I will say that Oscar nominations and/or wins held significant weight in my decision-making process, as they should. From a personal perspective, like the Academy, I also am a sucker for movies that are based on true stories. After all, nobody can write a script better than real life itself.
With all that being said, I’ve comprised my list of the 15 best films that were released in theaters or streaming sites between 2010 and 2019. Narrowing the list down 15 was harder than I thought, but I think I got it right. The 2010s decade for filmmaking was very strong. To give you an idea, favorites of mine like Skyfall, which is arguably the best James Bond film of all-time, did not make the list. Arrival (the first movie reviewed here on reelmoviesmatter.com) or Gravity – two innovative, Oscar-nominated films that each set the bar for the next wave of sci-fi classics, also just missed the cut. I also tried so hard to get Hereditary or Midsommar in there, both horror films by Ari Aster that will go a long way towards dictating how the horror genre will and should look in the decade to come, but I couldn’t justifiably pull off anything from my top 15 in order to add either of those great films in.
When I thought about movies that had the best overall grade in terms of how much I loved the movie myself, combined with other critic acclamation, awards, innovation, and overall social impact, this is what I came up with for my best films of the decade.
- Mudbound (2017)
Mudbound might be the winner in terms of the most underrated movie of the decade. The film had a strong ensemble performance, led by Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell, and had a powerful story about the lives of two men, one black and one white, and their different experiences coming back home to the same small Mississippi town from World War II. Dee Rees is such a great director and storyteller, and I can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve for the 2020s.
- Cold War (2018)
Here in America, a lot of people did not and still have not seen this movie. I heard a lot about it during the awards season last year, so it intrigued me to see what it was about. It was one of the best decisions I made in the decade. Cold War is a Polish film set during the time when Poland was trying to pick up the pieces from Nazi devastaton post-WWII. Pawel Pawlikowski wrote and directed such an incredible, original love story in black and white, even though the passionate storyline of both main characters was anything but.
- Whiplash (2014)
Nominated for five Oscars in 2015, Whiplash was an awesome movie that featured J.K. Simmons’ career-defining performance. The veteran actor went from having the “oh yeah, he’s the guy from” title, to distinguished “Oscar-winner” for his unforgettable performance in an unforgettable film about the struggles of pressure and the rewards for perseverance told by Damien Chazelle, one of the best new directors who debuted in the 2010s.
- Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck directed and starred in this non-stop thrill ride that educated us about the declassified CIA mission to free six Americans from Iran in 1979. After watching this movie, you’re left with a sweaty shirt trying to catch your breath from watching this mesmerizing but stressful story play out – a crazy one that you wouldn’t ever believe if it weren’t true. I also was left with the memory that Affleck was shafted by the Academy that year and didn’t receive a Best Director nomination, although the film did take home Best Picture.
- O.J.: Made In America (2016)
For a documentary to have made my list, you know it had to have been remarkable. O.J.: Made In America was just that – remarkable. In fact, Ezra Edelman may have made the best documentary piece of all-time about the infamous, Shakespearean-esque rise and fall of former NFL star, O.J. Simpson. The coverage and material uncovered in this Oscar-winning masterpiece from the murder trial of the century is just a piece of the whole story encapsulated in this 8-hour must-own series.
- Spotlight (2015)
With one of the best ensemble casts of the decade, Spotlight was a movie that I wish wasn’t on this list because I wish it never had to be made. It told the story of the origins of the sexual misconduct and molestation charges against Catholic priests uncovered by the Boston Globe in the late 1990s. I still remember the emptiness I felt in my soul and the knot in my gut when the full list of cities all over the world was revealed at the end of the movie that each had priests convicted of sexual crimes against children. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2016 and was definitely one of the most important films not only of the decade, but of all-time.
- 12 Years a Slave (2013)
One of the most heart-wrenching films of the decade was Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. It told the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York who was tricked by a devious scheme, abducted and sold into slavery. It was a look into a dark period of American history that had never been seen from that angle before. The audience was held captive right alongside Northup throughout his story, which made the movie so impactful. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014, and turned Lupita Nyong’o, who won Best Supporting Actress that year, into a star.
- La La Land (2016)
His second film on my list, director Damian Chazelle’s La La Land officially put him on Hollywood’s center stage. Telling a dark, modern-day love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) as a bright, vivid, throwback-style musical was so innovative and stunning. I went into the theater with my guard up thinking I wouldn’t like it at all, but I left in awe. La La Land was prime example of why you should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a movie by its trailer poster. The film won six Oscars, but was nominated for 14 Oscars, the most of any film in the decade and tied for the most of all-time. Among those nominations was Best Picture, even though it will go down in history as the movie that infamously was inaccurately announced as the winner initially at the 2017 ceremony.
- Inception (2010)
Inception is one of my favorite movies of all-time. The mind-bending thriller also cemented Christopher Nolan as one of my favorite filmmakers of all-time, too. Even though The Dark Knight made Nolan a household name back in 2008, Inception made him the new Alfred Hitchcock. Along with an all-star cast that included Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and others, Inception was superbly written with so many hidden nuggets that it required you to watch it multiple times. It concluded with one of the best, most talked about endings to a film ever. It was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture in 2011, winning four, including Best Cinematography.
- The Revenant (2015)
The Revenant was nominated for 12 Oscars at the 2016 ceremony, including Best Picture. However, it will forever be the movie that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the best actors of this generation, his first Oscar for Best Actor after multiple snubs and questionable losses in the category throughout his illustrious career. Based on a series of unbelievable actual events, The Revenant was a story of survival and revenge told through the genius directorial lens of Alexandro Inarritu, who won Best Director for his work on the visual experience.
- Get Out (2017)
Calling Jordan Peele clever for creating a horror film with a deep, metaphorical meaning about race relations in America as the undertone of the entire project would be like calling Steph Curry a “pretty good shooter.” Peele revealed to us his inner greatness by creating, writing and directing Get Out, arguably the best, most impactul movie it’s genre has ever seen. It belongs next to other classics like Psycho, A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist on the Mt. Rushmore of the greatest horror films ever. In fact, it was one of the few who ever earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, which is a win in itself. Even more impressive was the fact that it had February release date and still earned a nomination for the award, which is almost unheard of for any movie of any genre. The Academy had almost a whole calendar year of movies to dissect after Get Out was released, yet couldn’t get the film out of the forefront of its collective minds. As a black man living in America, neither could I.
- The Social Network (2010)
The actual story of Mark Zuckerberg and his rise to fortunes, whether you believe he truly was the creator of Facebook or not, basically wrote itself. Aaron Sorkin, one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, took a juicy, tailor-made for cinema story and somehow made it even more appealing. The Social Network, nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture back in 2011, had everything you could want in a movie – it was funny, maddening, dramatic, but was also informative, taught valuable lessons, and had a flawless script with great actors giving spell-binding performances. Sorkin perfectly told the story of literally the day society across the entire world changed forever, and earned an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his astonishing work. Because of that, The Social Network is a classic gem that this generation will hold on to forever.
- Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther was the biggest movie of the decade for a lot of reasons. It was the first time we saw a black superhero on the big screen as the star of his own standalone film, let alone the fact that it featured a predominantly black cast of amazing filmmakers and actors. What that movie did socially for so many people can’t even be measured. On top of all that, it was the first time a film from the “superhero” genre was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture (along with six other Oscar nominations – winning three), something that other great films of its ilk like The Dark Knight and Logan came close to doing, but couldn’t quite get there. When I left the theater after seeing Black Panther, which received a chorus of cheers and applause from a racially diverse audience, I was filled with so many positive emotions, but from a filmmaking perspective, it gave me the chills – only rivaled by the way I felt when I left from seeing Avatar. I knew it would be big, but I had no idea exactly how big. It surpassed my expectations tenfold, as well as the expectations of many others. The larger than life classic went on to become the 10th highest grossing film of all-time, making over $1.34 billion globally in box office sales.
- Moonlight (2016)
Barry Jenkins, another great filmmaker we were introduced to this decade, wrote and directed a daring script about a young African-American boy growing into a man in a world where he doesn’t feel comfortable being himself, due to the expected social norms within his environment. Moonlight told the story of Chiron, one of the most endearing characters in any movie from the 2010s, and how he struggled with growing up in a single-parent home raised by his drug-addict mother (Naomie Harris), while a neighborhood drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) ironically became the most positive and only male influence in his life. Unfortunately, the memory of this film winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017 will always be a little tarnished due to the fact that Warren Beatty wrongfully announced La La Land as the winner at first, before the correction was announced. Nonetheless, Moonlight also took home two other Oscar wins, including Barry Jenkins winning for Best Original Screenplay and Ali winning for Best Supporting Actor. Pound for pound, Moonlight was the best movie of the decade.
- The Irishman (2019)
Just making it in before the bell, The Irishman became an instant classic from the moment Netflix released it this past Thanksgiving weekend. The latest film by esteemed director Martin Scorsese was based on actual events told by mafia hitman, Frank Sheeran. The movie covers everything Sheeran said he was connected to, from the Philly mob, to the “disappearance” of Jimmy Hoffa. It is the longest film on the list, but the time flies as you become completely encompassed in the fascination of where Sheeran’s enthralling story winds up taking you. It was the first movie I graded out as a perfect 10 rating since I started this site back in 2016, and I believe it will lead the pack this year in Oscar nominations once they are officially announced. Aside from the film being a bona-fide lock to earn a Best Picture nomination, the trio of legends, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci gave classic, Oscar-worthy performances as well, full of memorable scenes and quotable lines. The Irishman was just the latest great masterpiece from Scorsese, and may become this generation’s The Godfather.
I thought, in addition to the list, it was worthy to note that based on the accumulation of each year’s award nominees and acclamations, I concluded that the weakest year of the 2010s at the movies was 2011. That year yielded The Artist as the Best Picture of the Year, which was extremely overrated, over a weak group that included The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. I don’t even think half of those movies would’ve been nominated in any other year of the decade.
As far as the best year overall, that would go to 2016, in which Moonlight won Best Picture. It beat other great films such as Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion and Manchester by the Sea – all of which could have won the prestigious award in most other years, no to mention a strong list of great movies that couldn’t make the cut, including Nocturnal Animals, Silence and Sully.
BY: CHRIS GUEST