10. Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis is human sorrow, longing, and utter hopelessness visualized into a hundred and five minutes of beautiful agony. There is no better way to describe the Coen Brothers’ 2013 saga of quiet misery partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk. The film follows the endless pitfalls of fictional failing folk singer Llewyn Davis (a quite literally pitch perfect Oscar Isaac), as he struggles to regain his minor footing in the music industry after losing his music partner to suicide. The film feels like less of a true narrative and more like a taxing glimpse into someone’s personal and professional hell, which somehow comes off as the warmest hug you could ever want. Perhaps, it’s the unforgettable soundtrack: a collage of melancholic folk songs meant to stir your heart and short circuit your tear ducts, or perhaps it’s the way the film brings us in and understands our failures. (Brianna Zigler)
9. The Lobster
Is this Yorgos Lanthimos’s most accessible film? His funniest? Who knows, and who would even try to figure that out? All of Lanthimos’s films are strange, with a stilted quality that almost verges on self-parody. But they all have uncanny humor to them, as well, and The Lobster embodies both in a stellar way. The setup is perfectly simple: if you’re single for more than 45 days, you’ll be turned into an animal. (Like, say, a lobster). And for two hours a cadre of perfectly normal people function around this setup in perfectly reasonable ways. No, of course, that isn’t what happens. The Lobster is a film that embraces its artifice utterly, while still convincing you that you actually have a grasp of what’s going on. It’s my first and favorite Lanthimos film, and the one I’d insist on showing anyone who wants a taste of what he’s all about. (Liz Baessler)
8. What We Do in the Shadows
Before Taika Waititi slipped into his first pineapple onesie, he and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement made a mockumentary about a collection of very lame vampires living together in Wellington, New Zealand, and stole all our hearts. What We Do in the Shadows could be a loose collection of sketches, and it would still be hilarious. Hell, it could just be an hour and a half of gags and it would probably stand on its own. (Viago’s penchant for problematic vampire costumes might be my favorite joke in the whole world). But on top of the beautifully executed comedy, the film actually has a story, and it has real, believable you could almost see yourself in. It has motion and character growth, which is saying something when your characters are hundreds of years old and can’t even be bothered to do the dishes. What We Do in the Shadows isn’t just one of New Zealand’s best horror-comedy mockumentaries of 2014. It’s one of the finest films of the decade. (Liz Baessler)
7. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson is the greatest filmmaker alive. That’s why he’s the only person on this list with three films. So it should come as no surprise that at least one lands in our top ten. Like all of his films, The Master provides us with meaty characters that aren’t easy to interpret or predict, yet that somehow remain profoundly relatable. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver some of the best performances of their careers in their strange, elusive bromance founded on their father-son-like connection and fueled by their devotion to a gnostic cult religion that lightly mirrors Scientology. Amy Adams, of course, is the whip cream and cherry on top. Hell, maybe she’s the whole sundae. She’s that great. No person or thing could be excised from The Master as it stands. Every frame, note, action, sound, tone, and line is crafted with supreme magnificence. The Master is one of those films that’s so rich, you just want to bask in it.
It will make you terribly uncomfortable while also not allowing you to peel your eyes from the screen. You’ll feel all of its riches washing over you at once and wonder how it ever came to be in the first place. And when it hits its emotional strides, you’ll collapse with the characters on screen, or find tears streaming down your face as they do. The drama of it all is compounded by the fact that Hoffman committed suicide only a couple of years later, The Master holding one of the dearest, genuine, and sentimental experiences of the all-time performer’s career: Lancaster Dodd’s a cappella rendition of “Slow Boat to China” sung to Phoenix’s Freddie Quell with all of the pain and love one could possibly muster in two minutes. And don’t get me started on Jonny Greenwood’s score. Anderson knows how to get exactly what he wants out his collaborators, even if that means taking a step back and giving them the wheel as often he needs to—one of many signs of his complete and confident artistry. (Luke Hicks)
6. The Social Network
Absolutely my number 1 of the decade (though I humbly accept its placement at number 6 on this particular list), The Social Network is a timeless piece of cinematic perfection that is hard to fully articulate myself on. It’s a beautiful skewering of the assholery of Mark Zuckerberg, it’s a portrait of power-hungry ego, its capacity for corruption and ability to lose its own sense of humanity; it’s the perfect blend of David Fincher’s unique directing style with Aaron Sorkin’s equally unparalleled approach to screenwriting; it’s the only good bio-drama that exists!! Though the discourse surrounding the film’s questionably positive(?) depiction of Mark Zuckerberg as a cool, aspirable anti-hero is as ceaseless as it is daunting, Jesse Eisenberg nevertheless excels at bringing to life a fictionalized version of Zuckerberg that makes him both more human and more likable than he actually is. Still, the film does not shy from exposing Zuckerberg as a self-serving, conniving little weasel; a narrative having its protagonist be an anti-hero is not necessarily an endorsement of that anti-hero’s actions, and the film’s Best Picture Academy Award loss to the fucking King’s Speech still imbues my nightmares to this day. (Brianna Zigler)
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
There is no other film I’ve written about more than Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The movie seems to have been made specifically for me, celebrating everything I love about comic books, animation, and humanity. The fact that the rest of you are enjoying it as well is just a bonus. What more could I possibly say about it? Well, bear with me for a second. I’ve got a tangent.
About a month ago, I had the magnificent pleasure to witness famed illustrator William Stout’s presentation at the Baltimore Comic-Con. He took the audience through the absurd collection of projects he’s been a part of over the years. From his conceptual work on Conan the Barbarian and Masters of the Universe to his poster jobs on Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and House, to the massive dinosaur murals he painted for the San Diego Natural History Museum. At the start of the talk, he mentioned how experiencing King Kong ’33 as a boy sent shockwaves of creativity through his imagination and kickstarted his journey to becoming an artist. When it came time for questions, I raised my hand and asked him what was the last piece of art (movie, comic book, painting, whatever) to have a similar effect on his being. His answer fired immediately: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Stout explained that before watching the film, he thought there could be nothing more to say around the concept of Spider-Man, or superheroes in general. The introduction of the multiverse allows these fantastic concepts to be explored through an infinite web of characters, revealing inherent goodness in humanity. “You can wear the mask.” We are the change we want to see in the world. On top of that, Into the Spider-Verse refuses to fall into the Disney/Pixar house style, freeing the artform by reveling in the myriad techniques of comic books and cartoons. The film simply looks unlike any other movie out there. As it did for William Stout, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did for many, returning a child’s awe to a seasoned seen-it-all-done-it-all moviegoer. (Brad Gullickson)
Sometimes I think maybe Moonlight is too perfect. Stories are typically founded in drama, whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner, which offers a glimpse into a triptych of moments in a man’s life, is based in pure humanity, presenting its hardships and conflicts as everyday realities rather than expected narrative beats. The characters aren’t just pawns in a scripted plot; they feel like they’re actually living their lives beyond and around the confines of the film frame, wandering in and out of view naturally and empathically as if the story is found out of their existence instead of the other way around. (Christopher Campbell)
No movie can be all things to all people, but Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece about a poor family who infiltrates a wealthy household under false pretenses comes pretty damn close. Part satirical black comedy, part tensely coiled thriller, part deftly acted drama, the movie is above all else a good old-fashioned cinematic experience. At its heart is a searing commentary on income inequality and class tension, one that boils beneath the surface during the film’s lighter first act before overflowing on-screen in a way that’s as breathtaking as it is shocking.
Few movies are objectively great enough to rocket to the top of most critics’ “best of the year” lists immediately after first watch through, and even fewer deserve to be catapulted to the top of “best of the decades” lists without having stood the test of time. An achievement in acting, writing, and directing alike, Parasite is a singular exception: a virtually perfect film whose place in history was solidified in viewers’ minds the second the end credits rolled. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
2. Get Out
Even Jordan Peele knew that his directorial debut was going to be iconic. At least, that was his reported reaction when shooting Get Out’s “sink into the floor” scene. And by all accounts, he couldn’t have been more right.
Get Out hit the cultural zeitgeist in a way that no other film did in this decade. It was a rare February hit, with rarer awards season staying power in a rarely rewarded genre. It became the highest-grossing original debut of all time, affecting moviegoers worldwide who knew that this was a film you had to see in a crowd. It inspired college courses, master’s theses, and countless thinkpieces. And most importantly, it ushered in Jordan Peele as one of Hollywood’s foremost storytellers; he closes the 2010s with a second original horror film, an acclaimed reboot of one of the most beloved television series ever made, and a production company that continually invests in stories driven by African American talent. Despite being heralded as the second coming of a number of famous auteurs, it’s clear that he’s one of a kind, and he is paving the way for much more exciting content to come.
Ultimately, we owe it all to this film, because it’s really just that good. Leveraging singular and deeply unsettling iconography (that bowl of fruit loops with the glass of milk on the side…come on), Get Out consistently delivers on twists, laughs, and scares, all while interrogating pervasive structures of racism and oppression that definitely did not end in 2008, no matter how many times you would’ve liked to vote otherwise. It’s a horror movie. It’s a documentary. And it’s simply one of the very best that this decade has to offer. (Christina Smith)
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Oh, what a lovely day it was the first time I saw Fury Road. (And the second. And the third. And the twelfth…) That such a breathlessly bold film managed to come out of the studio system as we know it is nothing short of miraculous. George Miller took every presumption on which conventional action films are built, turned them on their heads, and laughed all the way to the bank. If this dude Max is in the title, you need to make him the center of all the action, you say? Ha. Ah ha ha ha ha. You can’t have your whole movie be a 2-hour car chase because your viewers will get bored? BITCH YOU THOUGHT.
Max, our favorite iteration of muzzled Tom Hardy, may be the film’s backbone, but Charlize Theron’s rageful Furiosa is the real star of the show, the explosive force that propels this marvel forward. About the crafts, enough good things cannot be said. John Seale’s cinematography is gorgeous, Margaret Sixel’s editing well deserving of its Oscar, Junkie XL’s score a proper head-banging rager of a good time. And then there are the stunts. Holy shit, the stunts. And here, perhaps, is where we get at the hilariously simple brilliance at the heart of Fury Road—the understanding that a few incredibly skilled stuntmen on poles and a daring guitarist in a harness have the potential to blow an audience’s mind more than a galaxy of CGI planets. In sum, Fury Road is a high-octane magical fucking unicorn, the sort of film you get once a decade if you’re lucky—and this time, we got very lucky indeed. (Ciara Wardlow)