I’ve never been a fan of applying math to movies. Films were meant to be experienced and discussed, not reduced to pass/fail mechanics or assigned a number to denote value. So instead of boring you with a ranked list, here are the films over the last decade that I thought were worthy enough for further discussion, all based on my personal, terrible taste.
Parasite (2019) and Snowpiercer (2013)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho is one of the most gifted directors working today. He is a masterful storyteller who can create the most plausible tragedies from the most fantastical set-ups. “Snowpiercer” is a mental dystopian story of culture clash. It takes place on a perpetually moving train where the have-nots decide it’s time to overthrow their elitist overlords by battling their way from the caboose to the engine. “Parasite” is a story that shares a similar theme of the haves versus the have-nots on a much smaller scale. Both films are absolute gut-punches that effectively use elements of horror and drama in unique ways.
Into the Abyss (2011)
Directed by Werner Herzog
Of all the films released in the last 10 years, this is the one I’ve watched the most. It’s a riveting documentary from Werner Herzog about a heinous crime committed by teenagers and the subsequent consequences for their horrific actions. Herzog, the most gifted documentarian of our lifetime, weaves his way through escalating tragedies and bureaucratic processes associated with the death penalty. There are so many real-life moments he captures—soul-stirring realities that surround the burden of ending someone’s life. The final moments, when Herzog is interviewing a former prison guard, who details the moment he could no longer participate in state-sanctioned murder, might be the most compelling drama captured on film this century.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Directed by Wes Anderson
As I write this list, I’m noticing a common theme in my choices: melancholy. Wes Anderson’s most ambitious movie chronicles the recollections of an elderly hotel owner detailing his days as a lobby boy in one of Europe’s most eccentric institutions. Ralph Fiennes delivers the most fun and flamboyant performance of the decade as M. Gustave, a legendary (and heavily perfumed) concierge who believes in delivering a quality experience for his guests and occasionally bedding them. After one of his elderly matrons dies and leaves him a priceless painting, Gustave and his lobby boy end up on the run. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the most perfectly distilled of Wes Anderson’s cinematic efforts and a sad, beautiful fable filled with quirky characters.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
I like films and filmmakers that make bold choices. “Birdman” is a wonderful example of the unapologetic filmmaker—Alejandro Iñárritu—taking a lovely saunter through the mental breakdown of an aging movie star desperate to be considered a respected actor. The cast is exceptional, with career-best performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Iñárritu bolsters a very small drama with some views inside the mind of our hero, while scoring the entire affair with erratic drums that heighten the sense of growing tension as the film moves toward its ambiguous conclusion.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman
The last decade has seen movie theaters overrun with comic-book adaptations. For the most part, those movies have been pretty standard, interchangeable, mediocre blockbusters that struggled to capture the beauty and scope of the source material. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the first cinematic outing that feels like it takes the inspiration from a comic book and adds a new level of entertainment. The visual style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and the script manages to deliver the drama, tragedy and comedy of being a superhero in a way that’s not forced. It’s the perfect comic-book movie and came at a time when I wasn’t sure such a thing existed.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen
It’s amazing how successful the Coen Brothers have been. Their career spans three decades, and yet they still make fresh movies, incapable of being imitated. The last 10 years have them churning out quite a few very different films. While the decade’s first, “True Grit,” didn’t do much for me, I found a lot to like about each of their next three films. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a heartbreaking story of an artist struggling to be heard who ends up perpetually a day late and a dollar short. “Hail, Caesar!” is a madcap comedy about Golden Age Hollywood that delivers some wonderful characters and moments. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a Western anthology that beautifully blends both comedy and tragedy. The Coen Brothers have unique visions, and I’d venture to guess my list for the next decade will include more of their works.
The Favourite (2018)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos had an amazing decade, and like many aforementioned filmmakers, he created a series of bold movies on engaging subjects. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Lobster” both provide unique portrayals of human drama, but his fourth film, “The Favourite,” finds a creative sweet spot. It delivers an engrossing tale of power, love and manipulation. Olivia Colman offers up the best performance of the decade as an emotionally crippled queen. The always great Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play two highly ambitious women who seek her attention and the favor it brings. It’s a delicious dalliance into the fleeting concept of power.