Watching films as a hobby isn’t quite as highlighted on my blog as anime, but in all honesty, I almost prefer it. More vast of a history behind it, typically shorter amount of time spent, and the indie scene is far more rewarding. According to my letterboxd profile, I’ve logged 397 films since January of 2015, around five years ago. That’s a much higher rate than the 450 anime I’ve logged since mid-2012. As such, I felt I could add to another discussion of the best films I’ve seen this decade, even if I started somewhat late. As always, this is a personal list and I have not seen everything. If an omission upsets you, make your own list.
The only conditions I could think to set for this specific list were that I wouldn’t include short films (not that I’ve seen many anyway) and that they had to premiere somewhere between 2010 and 2019. Sometimes films are given early screenings at festivals and such, and don’t receive theatrical runs until much later. I account for this here.
That done, let’s start with something broody.
20. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
What attracted to me this film initially was in its splendid promo art. The isolating white of the background served as an indication of what’s to come, highlighted by the gorgeous red of the hood she wears. Almost fairy-tale-esque, it envelops the viewer in the original intention of the since-altered genre: teaching moral values through tragedy/horror.
This isn’t quite as straightforward, but the tragic figure of Kumiko serves as a great beacon, aided by Kikuchi’s great performance. The essence of dreams, hopes, and goals far beyond our reach are noted here, only to be treated by the cold grip of reality. Any hope that perks itself up is just as quickly blown away into the whiteness. A really captivating portrait of dreariness that I really enjoyed. Does that make me a sadist?
As one continues through this list, they’ll come to understand that my preferences in films are not always pure. “Pure” is a funny word, I could throw it around vaguely and everyone would interpret it in a way only they can. What it means, and without hesitation of difference I may add, is that these films are not going to make you feel a sense of mirthful overwhelming. Many are going to make you feel sad and lonely and critical of everything. Despite my recent desire to be more optimistic, I can’t help but adore those that create stories wishing for something better.
Nightcrawler is about a sociopath who wants to do what he loves to do. He will do anything. Anything. He loves getting scoops, recording grotesque material, and receiving the praise that should obviously be associated with his genius. All else be damned. And do we listen? Perhaps, with a glance of the eye behind the hand covering our face. An insatiable appetite for the obscene and the darkest capabilities humanity is capable of. What of it is wrong if people continue to sneak their peeks? With the pressures of profit and notoriety looming, how do you say “No”? He’ll give you a great scoop. Just don’t get in his way.
18. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Okay, okay. That whole thing about preferring “not pure” things above is not absolute, only a general admission. This is pretty much the antithesis to it… probably.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the sole animated film present on this list (Kizumonogatari barely made it before another film later on knocked it off). This isn’t to say that animated films fail to make an impact on me or provide quality entertainment, but the competition throughout the decade was simply too great. Even with this, Into the Spider-Verse pummeled its way in through charm alone… or with five other parallel-dimensional copies.
Likely among the more general storylines of the films included on this list, the quality is found in its emotional impact. And animation, but that’s been stated to death. It feels like a story for everyone, rather than the niche demographic (if you can believe that) of nerds who pay thousands of dollars for a rare mint condition comic strip. Displaying beats of a different kind and smart, humorously cheesy writing, it managed to capture practically everyone’s attention. If more films like this are made because of it, I wouldn’t complain.
Have I ever mentioned that Denis Villeneuve is (probably) my favorite director? You bet your screaming retinas I’m going to include a few of his films in here.
It’s weird. A very layered film that doesn’t try to make anything obvious. Slowly etching out various things that could be possible, then opening up new routes that only further exemplifies the multi-directional focus. That seemed like a lot of gobbledygook to simply say “This is pretty confusing.” That’s the fun of a Villeneuve film.
Gyllenhaal, due to repeated exposure through great films, has become among my more preferred cast of actors. Here, it gets a double dose of action, playing two different characters that are essentially one self (probably). A lot of the tension that’s built up by the fascination and intention of these characters make the film enjoyable outside of fascinating, with Gyllenhaal’s strength making it all the more engrossing. Give it a shot, unless you have arachnophobia.
16. The Favourite
You all have no idea how often I had heard the joke, “The Favourite is ‘my favorite‘ film of 2018!” Thanks, everyone.
However, there is reason to hear the joke often. This is a splendid film, though probably not as extravagant as some are willing to argue. Darkly funny, oddly charming, and another representation of power ruining humanity, it instills itself from the very beginning. If you are not hooked from the first few minutes, you will have no reason to continue watching, as it all goes downhill from there (that’s a good thing).
I had already known Emma Stone to be a valuable actor, but this was one of few films I had seen featuring Rachel Weisz, and the first with Olivia Colman. All three of these women did a fantastic job of roping me in and having me care for their situations, even if the infighting was prevalent. All throughout, attention was taken in providing insight into each character’s perspective, more so than the average director would choose to do, so kudos to that. The ending is tragic, though a little unexpected and open-ended. It held me close from the beginning and kept me in check through to the end, filling me with merriment and admonishment at regular intervals. It’s definitely an uncanny feeling, but one I’d recommend to veteran film aficionados.
15. The Tiger
A large volume of my viewerbase (and anyone’s viewerbase) probably has no idea what this is. According to letterboxd, this film has been logged by a total of 1,300 members. I certainly had no idea when I saw it at my local video rental store over four years ago. It had a big tiger on the cover and it seemed interesting, so I took a chance. Turned out to be a good rental.
I love the mood to The Tiger. Almost spiritual and very naturalistic, it creates a(n albeit trope-ish) tale of honor and tragedy. Almost like an epic poem in visual form, it creates a phenomenal atmosphere that values the importance of strong moral values and empathy. Unfortunately, some of the more crucial aspects of the film’s strengths are lost on me, washed by time and plenty of other subjects. Nevertheless, I still receive a spell of recognition when I see the ferocity of the tiger’s expression.
For something of an obscure experience that feels worthy and different, The Tiger is a tenacious opponent.
14. First Reformed
This is probably the most boring film to appear on this list. I say that with a double-sided meaning: both literally and figuratively. The entire scenario is gray, dull, lacking in life, and seemingly without hope. An abominable lack of effort upon those present in the film to try and provide some spirit or adjustment to their surroundings. Large portions of the story are simply people existing, interacting with daily trials, and making putrid small-talk with others. All for the sake of instilling a message.
As the message becomes more clear, all that came before begins to fold into itself in a coordinated attempt at clarity. The world is in grave danger, and the foundations set by humanity are jeopardizing looking at crucial evidence. Even the main character, stricken with some sort of illness, refuses to do anything to mend his own body. A parallel to the situation at hand, it fills the viewer with dread and a looming anticipation of some inevitable breakdown.
Many say Ethan Hawke was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his performance in this. I would agree, especially considering some of the actors who were up for consideration. Nevertheless, no trophy case will have one forget the amount of effort he took in making the most effortless man in fiction for a large portion of the story feel quite as invigorating.
13. La La Land
Remember when I mentioned Emma Stone as a previously-established credible actor? This film helped her case.
An emotional rollercoaster from top to bottom, there was a bit of controversy surrounding this film for its lack of musical flair. It’s technically a musical, as it features song and dance numbers, but its lead actors aren’t great vocalists, and the music wasn’t quite that catchy. For me, that hardly matters at all, as I stayed for the human drama and the effect of dreams on real human beans. The chemistry between Stone and Gosling was more than enough to carry the film on its own.
Sure, the glamour of Hollywood and the “place where dreams are made” is as tired a trope as clubs as a setting in anime, but I didn’t feel that it affected the overall quality, even if it all but guaranteed that the Oscars would take notice. Through it all, I’m a huge sucker for dreams and far-sighted goals, as someone with such things myself. To dream is a wonderful, powerful thing, which drives our species to heights we have yet to exhaust. That intoxicating aura is present throughout most of the narrative’s course, presented in ways romantic and ambitious. Such a splendid piece that I’m glad I got to see in theaters.
12. Little Women
Some recency bias may have affected the placement of this film on this list, as I saw it all of three days ago. Nevertheless, I adored it.
A completely bonkers all-star cast (Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep) is only the tip of what is ultimately a very, very carefully-crafted portrayal of a story told many times in film before, only with enough tender care to give it modern life all over again. Greta Gerwig has established herself as a quality director capable of squeezing the emotional juices out of the richest elements, crafting them into trinkets capable of making anyone faint with passion. Lady Bird was already very good, but Little Women has taken the throne as an accomplishment well worth the admission.
Wholesome doesn’t even remotely come close to the powerful comfort this film provides. Feminist in tone, it does a surprising amount of fair treatment to a number of different groups without feeling patronizing. At the end of it all, it chooses to remain faithful to the good of humanity. Great acting all around and a story that has very few problems with it. One thing I will mention is that if you give Florence Pugh pigtails, she doesn’t look 13. That was a shock.
If Gerwig could cast Saoirse Ronan in anything she does, that’d be wonderful. Wouldn’t mind that whatsoever.
Many people just remember this film for its role in the infamous “Best Picture Mix-Up at the 2017 Oscars” segment, where the presenter claimed La La Land had won, only to have an angry dude pop out from the back and correct him and say that Moonlight had one. Oops.
As for the film itself, it was very easy to pull for it. Performances were constantly engaging, the content was engaging and romantic, even if the chemistry was off and on for a little while. Tragic as much as it is heartwarming, there’re bits of rekindling, the way time manages to reverberate as much as it does heal, and the realization of something looked down upon by society. Like with a few films on this list, there is a bit of rust on my memory of the film’s whole, though the more impactful bits still resonate.
Very slice-of-life-esque, it moves at the pace of a general lifetime, experienced with the faults of poverty and the triggers of shady situations in exchange for power. While still a love story, it is also a story of overcoming one’s potential as a speck in a desolate, hopeless situation. Relevant and cautiously optimistic, it’s something I’d love to re-watch in the near future.
10. The King’s Speech
There’s something about Colin Firth I really like. It’s odd, as I had zero experience with him prior to this film, and here I am “stanning” him after a single course. I’ve since seen him in other things, but the power he had here was something I found really charming.
To some extent, this film is pretty nostalgic to me; logging this back around the time it released, it was during the days where I would leave short, non-critical reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes forums because I wanted to feel important. The sprout of an aspiring film critic, how cute.
Overcoming one’s personal trauma, along with trusting those who claim to be your friend, are key characteristics of this uplifting film. Firth and Rush eventually come to a point where this chemistry onscreen rivals that of everlasting lovers tied by fate. Consistent pacing, clear progress, and a little on the silly side, it’s as enjoyable as it is well-crafted, even if it doesn’t say particularly much. Ending scene is incredibly satisfying. Sometimes it’s cool to just have a positive finale. I don’t know how many more films after this will have them.
Did you know that I like romance? I may have mentioned it a few times. Just making sure you knew, because I wasn’t sure I had made it clear in the past six years. Please excuse me.
Her reminded me a lot of myself. To get swallowed in the world that shrinks when it’s only two, I’ve imagined that many times. Offering yourself in your entirety to another person, who not only understands and accepts you, but cherishes you for it, is an infinitely amazing feeling that I can only admit to have felt in fragments throughout my life. That uplifting, passionate feeling of relation and personal connection is so prevalent here that it was almost guaranteed that I would love this.
Also enjoyable was the dialogue an A.I. and its impact on humanity and the effectiveness of its imitation of the human mindset. Phoenix’s character falls in love with an A.I. program voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and all throughout the film, I couldn’t help but think that A.I. could actually be a person. Johansson’s performance helped tremendously, obviously, but there was such a realistic tone to the emotions she portrayed and curiosity she embodied that it was hard to assume she was only machinery. To assume this would be both my and Phoenix’s character’s downfall, which is another integral aspect to this indie darling. Romantic or not, anyone could watch this and take something from it.
I’ve made it a tad more apparent in recent years, but I find politics fascinating. Despite this, it’s not hard to find someone who rather leave politics to the “important people” and focus on simply being happy and ignorant. If that is your mindset, I hope you can enjoy it. Please proceed to the next film on the list.
What’s nice about Blindspotting is that it doesn’t really try to sugarcoat anything. While comedic in the first half, the tensions of racial prejudice is the forefront of this film’s purpose, going so far as to challenge the perception of one’s actions in relation to their color. How do we, as people, tend to adjust our thinking when it comes to race? If a black man has his hair in dreads and dresses in baggy pants, he’s a “thug.” If a white man has a “grill,” indulges in gangster rap, and has a myriad of tattoos all over him, he’s “one of them.” Is race in the culture or the color? Where is the line drawn?
Fantastic performances, culturally relevant, an attitude that cuts to the chase quickly and aggressively. Blindspotting is a nerve-wracking, brain-pinching effort to look at things differently. To look into context rather than the surface of everything. There is a story to everything, even if it seems hard to grasp. Whatever power this film has over its viewer is in their willingness to be open-minded. As an American, perhaps it’s more relevant to me than if I were to recommend this to someone in Europe or wherever else, but it’s still a fascinating topic of discussion for the political crowd.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Some may find it ironic of me to put this film right after Blindspotting considering the latter deals with spotting inherent racism and others have noted that this film may very well be racist. They have some justification for this: any black character in this film is brought in and neglected whenever anything integral occurs, seemingly used as a figure to signal that the director is listening, though hardly interested. What makes this film great for me, however, is that it changed my mindset.
It wasn’t so direct an impact that I suddenly went from Oscar the Grouch to Mr. Rogers in the blink of an eye, but the film’s political nature forced me to acknowledge some of the inborn hatred I carried with me. I like to acknowledge Three Billboards as one of the pillars to my trying to become more kind-hearted as a person and empathetic of others’ viewpoints. More than anything, and sidestepping all other problematic elements that have some weight to them, it made me appreciate the phrase, “Hate begets more hate.”
Performances were great, especially McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell. Its message, despite the holes, is something I can get behind, with all the extravagant infighting that comes with it. Such is the effect of political discourse. Everything I received from this is that we should love each other and be happy and thankful for what we have. Maybe that’s naive, I don’t know, but it made me appreciate the film all the more.
6. Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name is something I was honestly kind of shocked was available at my local theater. It took a while, but eventually it was available for about a week or two with a few screenings a day. You see, my theater hates anything even remotely indie, so occasionally I don’t get the chance to see films as great as these in theaters. I’m glad I did with this.
Sensual. Erotic. Festering with emotion and that teenage angst that people tend to attach themselves to when they’re feeling mentally drained or anxious. Sweet Summer sun, bike rides around nature, lazing around the fields with the one you adore. “Picturesque” would be one word, though others may use more provocative vocabulary. What this film means to portray seems to be a specific timeline in one’s life where everything blends together in parting colors. How quickly things travel when bathed in bliss and fantasy.
I had never heard of either Armie Hammer or Timothée Chalamet prior to this film, and now I can’t seem to rid myself of either of them (especially Chalamet). Perhaps that isn’t an altogether bad thing, seeing as both give performances of their lifetime here. This is one where its impact on me and the tendency to focus on the fantastical moments of life (quite relatable) will make me never forget it.
I think J.K. Simmons should get more roles in film. Not to say he hasn’t since this film, it’s just that I think he should have more. Like, ten films a year, tops. That’s not too much, right?
This is basically if Uncut Gems was set on a college campus and about music. That unending desire for more, for perfection, for going past what should be humanly possible, against all odds. Constant, total concentration the likes that would fry the brain of an infant. Beautiful in its passion and terrifying in its conquest, I would quit any hobby altogether if I were to face anything Teller’s character did in this film.
Simmons, though… good golly. Such a perfect role for a screaming sociopath who only cares about the most perfect-sounding orchestration known to man. He gave as close to a perfect performance as I have seen anyone give, which made me appreciate his “GIMME PICS OF SPIDER-MAN” role all the more. If you loved things like Uncut Gems and Good Time, this is another one to put on your bucket list. Rather, put it in your DVD player/Blu-ray player
/pirated online media player this instant.
4. The Rider
If there was any film I considered “beautiful” from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s this one. More than Call Me By Your Name, more than Little Women. There’s something that feels more tranquil to this, whether in its soft rebuttal of cowboy nature or the plains of the Midwest(?). Full disclosure: I live in the Midwest portion of the U.S.
What blew my mind with The Rider is that the director hired zero actors for this film. All of the people who play their roles are the actual people they’re playing. Each actor is playing a fictional version of themselves, supported by real-life material from their actual horseback-riding experience. And they all performed pretty well! That’s such a neat trinket and a sure sign of great directing.
I would recommend this approximately now, for anyone interested in character studies of those who are faced with giving up on their passions because of tragedy. A lot of steady build-up comprised of further downfall could lead to unfortunate circumstances. Amazing shots and a genuine tone are only aspects of an overall great film that this film is.
3. The Lighthouse
Gothic presentation. Lots of freaky imagery. Pattinson does maintenance work. Dafoe is Dafiend with da beard. Mermaid fucking. Seagull swatting. Lighthouse orgasms. Fever dreams. Pleasant dinners. Book scribbling. Personal histories. Drunken dancing. Thunderstorms. Long-winded vocal curses. Steak. Secrets. Loneliness. Salvation.
Great Gothic work that grew more interesting as it went on. Very highly recommended.
Have I ever mentioned that Denis Villeneuve is (probably) my favorite director? You bet your screaming retinas I’m going to include a few of his films in here.
Let me state something right now: I adore big-budget sci-fi/fantasy films. I love seeing the human imagination come up with weird shit that challenges the mental ceiling capable of humankind and the oodles of different things that could be thought up and explained in such detail. That looming, gargantuan force that dominates our subconscious and all that which we believe to be reality. Everything about Arrival does this so amazingly well that the moment I left the theater, I was ensured that I would never be so captivated by anything ever again (until #1).
Villeneuve just knows how to destroy an audience’s brain with visual anticipation. The build-up of tension, leading up to some mind-destroying moment is so titillating and hard to replicate that it makes me so envious of my own smallness. It inspires me to think harder than I consider possible, to dream bigger than anyone and anything. Everything is so splendidly perfect that it’s hard not to recommend this to anyone with a pulse. Only small problem with it could be its slow pace and potentially faulty logic in its story, but otherwise, as gorgeous as the word can muster.
1. Blade Runner 2049
There was no debate! It wasn’t possible! How could anything else top what is everything I want in a film with zero flaws?! Villeneuve, you fucking sci-fi genius, I am so fucking excited for Dune!
Just read my overlong review. Any normal reader knew this was coming.
Let’s make the next decade one to remember!
The ratings for these titles and all others can be found on my letterboxd profile.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.