Top 100 Movies of the Decade (2010-2019): Introduction and List

I don’t know that there has been a time in living memory when we could so freely cast aspersions on the reality of our lived experience. Never has the possibility of receiving so much truth been so blunted by the presumed infallibility of perception (he said, taking a risk before debuting a list which could only be so titled in a fit of great hubris). Individual wants may be catered to with staggering ease, and in indulging those wants, little Balkans sustain themselves in corners of the virtual and tangible worlds alike. Perhaps a global pandemic of a kind we have not seen in a century will change the way that people live to fit their experiences to their minds rather than the other way around, but I’m not so sure that’ll be true. After 9/11 there were a great number of people who thought there’d never be another skyscraper. How many dozens of skyscrapers have gone up since then?

The movies are here with us in these final years, or at least the best of them are. They understand how little there is for us to hold on to. Quite by accident, some of my highest ranked movies of the decade are movies in which religious or spiritual faith plays a significant role, but of course that’s not accidental at all. Many of the world’s great filmmakers are deeply concerned with where our faith will lead us and when the limits of our faith will let us down. Others have similar levels of concern about the warming planet; capitalist locusts and neo-fascist anacondas; the depths of our devotion when we’re suffocated by choice; how people from traditionally marginalized groups will act when the traditionally powerful groups give them lip service and a pat on the head and call the whole history of oppression square. As I find myself saying over and over again, when people say a movie is “relevant,” it’s a statement about how obviously we can connect it to a current event. All movies are movies of their own times, and all of them have something to say about the settings they were born of. Relevance, connoted in a callow way or a chronological way, is not synonymous with greatness, and yet I like to think that these hundred movies I’ve picked out are particularly of the time. It’s a quality that makes them more real, insofar as movies can claim that ground; it helps them to stake out the emotional sincerity and acuity which gird a picture.

Here are the rules:

  1. As always, this is not a list of favorites from the past decade, as that list would definitely read differently. Here’s a list of twenty-five movies that fell off this list during the research stages, many of which are favorites or very dear to me. Further below you’ll see some more darlings I killed. (I am a decisive person and I choose easily. I do not much agonize over what will end up on my lists or where. This list, the first list I’ve made in my life where I would describe the cutting stage as “rough” has been a real exception.)
  2. I’m looking for narrative features here, regardless of fiction or non-fiction status. If it’s an art installation somewhere, or only getting screened in New York or Los Angeles, alas that I am out of luck seeing it, and it doesn’t really fit the spirit of this list anyway. Ironically, COVID-19 is doing more to make it possible for people to see something like Bacurau or Mysteries of Lisbon who don’t live in one of a few cities than has ever happened before, so good for that, I guess.
  3. I have cast as wide a net as I could here in looking for stuff to see: multiple streaming services, borrowing from libraries and friends, renting or buying here and there. Obviously this is a list limited by accessibility (see the thing about NYC and L.A.), and it will obviously have gaps in the predictable places: movies from the Global South which never cracked the mainstream after skimming the festival circuit, extremely low-budget indies, etc. It takes away from the purity of the list, which hurts, but then again, part of this exercise is about having sagacious judgment even without serious resources to fall back on. Vulture did the work on over 5,000 movies and somehow put The Florida Project tenth, which is…edifying. Let’s call it edifying.
  4. I’m not trying to unravel the present or predict the future of the great merging of cinema and television. Roma, which for the way people talked about it should have been called Netflix’s Roma, debuted at Venice. Columbus, which was so deep on Hulu you couldn’t buy a DVD of it for years, premiered at Sundance. Carlos premiered at Cannes on the same day as it aired on Canal+ for the first time. If it was at a festival they showed it on a big screen, and instead of writing a thinkpiece that’s a good enough qualifier for me.
  5. This sounds like a lot, but if a movie debuts in the nation where it’s from in one year, and it debuts somewhere else another year, then the national debut year is the one I’m choosing rather than the international debut year. However, it is definitely important, because there are a number of end-of-decade lists I’ve looked at which include Dogtooth, which by my calculations for this list is pretty emphatically a 2009 movie. If it were a 2010 movie, it would rank very highly on my list, but of course I can’t include it.

I’ll be debuting entries in this series by the release years of those movies, which makes that last bullet point more important. I have not put any kind of floor or ceiling on how many movies can appear from a given year. (Mostly I’m just tired of counting backwards.) The complete list from 1 to 100 is below, and I’ll update links to each year as I finish the posts about them:

    1. 2010
    2. 2011
    3. 2012
    4. 2013
    5. 2014
    6. 2015
    7. 2016, part 1
    8. 2016, part 2
    9. 2017
    10. 2018, part 1
    11. 2018, part 2
    12. 2019

One last hiccup before we get going. I began giving this list some focus last November, and there have been some pretty serious upheavals along the way. I do want to mention some movies that lasted on my top 100 list as long as May or June after having been on that Google Sheet for months.

  • Like Someone in Love (2012, dir. Abbas Kiarostami) – Elegant, thoughtful, and just could never get it above 85.
  • Leviathan (2012, dir. Verena Pareval and Lucien Castaing-Taylor) – Maybe it pushes the edge of “narrative” a little too strongly for this list, and like the movie above I couldn’t find a way to get it out of one of the last two columns on my Sheet, but it is a movie which has a clear purpose and then absolutely fulfills it. At once we are overwhelmed with the sense of what it’s like on that fishing boat or indeed off the boat entirely, and then at the same time we know that we’re not hearing everything, let alone smelling what’s aboard that ship. It’s an exceptional movie, I fully understand why it made much more prestigious lists than this one, and I regret that this means I won’t have any replicated movie titles.
  • Cameraperson (2016, dir. Kirsten Johnson) – Another unusual documentary, although unlike Leviathan it was at one point fairly secure in my draft, and when I was looking back at some of my monthly viewing lists I reminded myself that I ranked this very, very highly. In the end I opted for movies that I thought were more penetrating, although I do wish I had room for a movie which might literally be unique.
  • Let’s just pile more documentaries in here. There’s not a documentary without a place that I wish I could have found one for more than Apollo 11, Todd Douglas Miller’s brilliantly composed retelling of a story that is only recently beginning to revert back to fact after years as legend. Miller must take real credit for some of that reversal.
  • Night Moves (2013, dir. Kelly Reichardt) – I find room for Reichardt elsewhere on the list. Along with a handful of other directors—Scorsese, Petzold, Assayas, Lanthimos, McQueen—I think Reichardt has a credible case to be considered this decade’s most successful and important filmmaker. Night Moves I kept around as long as I could, but in the end I felt like the ultimate choice Jesse Eisenberg’s character makes in reference to Dakota Fanning’s was more forced than any other decision I’d seen in a Reichardt movie, and that made the difference.
  • Four Lions (2010, dir. Chris Morris), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, dir. Lynne Ramsay), and American Honey (2016, dir. Andrea Arnold) all belong together because all of them made one of my projects from last year (“Better than BFI’s Top 100“), but none of them managed to skate into this list. (That is just about the only list I can imagine those three all sharing.) Part of it is a little reevaluation, part of it is just how little room there is for so many movies.
  • I saw a discussion going around on Twitter the other day where someone put into the world, Who is a director who did not make your Top of the 2010s list who you think would make your Top of the 2020s? Mine is Andrew Haigh, because Weekend and especially 45 Years were in the drafts, and you will not read about either again, and that bums me out because Haigh is a terrific filmmaker.
  • Jackie (2016, dir. Pablo Larrain) was here for a long, long time, and heaven knows I love seeing a biopic that doesn’t act like every other biopic. In the end it fell off the list by inches.
  • Inherent Vice (2014, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) is a movie that belongs to a genre I’ve never much cared for, and is set in a place I am indifferent to. All the same it’s a captivating, lovely movie, absolutely gorgeous, mostly nonsensical, slightly feverish. I’m torn between being terrified that I’m going to regret leaving it off this list when I look back on it in a couple years, but it’s also collateral damage for the success of its director. If including it is an error, why err on the side of a guy who has two movies that were always going to make the top 100?
  • This Is Not a Film (2011, dir. Jafar Panahi) never made it much higher than 90, and while I was fascinated by the movie and by how inventive Panahi was throughout, I also felt watching it that it was superior as a piece of protest art than it was as a movie. Tremendous last act, though.
  • The Forgiveness of Blood (2011, dir. Joshua Marston) just kills me because I could not find room for it, exceptional as it is. It felt so real that I had to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself that this was not a documentary but just a splendidly made film, one where the moving and wobbly camera reads not as style but as substance. It’s been a long time now since Marston made his two foreign-language movies about young people trying to swallow peril whole, and I worry that we may not get another from him; there are only so many people who have that touch, and he certainly has it.
  • A Dangerous Method (2011, dir. David Cronenberg) continues our unfortunate streak of 2011 movies that just miss the cut. I left this movie off my list of favorites that I linked to above because I was confident that it would make the list. It never did have the ceiling to justify my confidence in it, no matter how good I think the three leads are, and I am bummed that it has not backed into a place.
  • The Wind Rises (2013, dir. Hayao Miyazaki) treads carefully on some really treacherous ground, and there is a gracefulness in the way that Miyazaki can recognize the spirit of invention and the intention to make something perfect within Jiro Horikoshi while also recognizing that his brilliance was badly misused, justly tarnishing what might have been a much happier legacy. Going into the movie I thought a little too much hero-worship of Horikoshi might end up keeping it off this list; it turns out the romantic subplot, which is moving without being overwhelming, is what made it one of the very last movies to fall out of the top 100.
  • Boyhood (2014, dir. Richard Linklater), is probably 101, for whatever that’s worth. I admire the ambition of the movie, and in the early years of filming the returns are very, very strong, but the further that movie goes on the less cohesive it is and the less compelling the subjects are. In that way it’s not unlike a very good TV show that runs a season or so too long.

Without further hemming and hawing, my top 100 features of 2010-2019. (I know this list is not attractive for scrolling purposes, but at least you don’t have to click through a slideshow.)


The Top 100 Movies of the Decade (2010-2019):

  1. Certified Copy (2010), dir. Abbas Kiarostami
  2. Timbuktu (2014), dir. Abderrehame Sissoko
  3. The Master (2012), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  4. Leviathan (2014), dir. Andrey Zyvagintsev
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), dir. George Miller
  6. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), dir. Bill Morrison
  7. A Separation (2011), dir. Asghar Farhadi
  8. Silence (2016), dir. Martin Scorsese
  9. Mr. Turner (2014), dir. Mike Leigh
  10. Meek’s Cutoff (2010), dir. Kelly Reichardt
  11. The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick
  12. Cold War (2018), dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
  13. Embrace of the Serpent (2015), dir. Ciro Guerra
  14. The Social Network (2010), dir. David Fincher
  15. Amour (2012), dir. Michael Haneke
  16. Beyond the Hills (2012), dir. Cristian Mungiu
  17. The Irishman (2019), dir. Martin Scorsese
  18. Parasite (2019), dir. Bong Joon-ho
  19. Widows (2018), dir. Steve McQueen
  20. Zama (2017), dir. Lucrecia Martel
  21. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), dir. Tomas Alfredson
  22. Columbus (2017), dir. Kogonada
  23. Ida (2013), dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
  24. O.J.: Made in America (2016), dir. Ezra Edelman
  25. Melancholia (2011), dir. Lars von Trier
  26. Carol (2015), dir. Todd Haynes
  27. Barbara (2012), dir. Christian Petzold
  28. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
  29. Another Year (2010), dir. Mike Leigh
  30. Phoenix (2014), dir. Christian Petzold
  31. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), dir. Olivier Assayas
  32. Margaret (2011), dir. Kenneth Lonergan
  33. Roma (2018), dir. Alfonso Cuaron
  34. Before Midnight (2013), dir. Richard Linklater
  35. A Hidden Life (2019), dir. Terrence Malick
  36. Two Days, One Night (2014), dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
  37. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), dir. Céline Sciamma
  38. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), dir. Barry Jenkins
  39. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  40. Brooklyn (2015), dir. John Crowley
  41. Tower (2016), dir. Keith Maitland
  42. The Lobster (2015), dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
  43. Carlos (2010), dir. Olivier Assayas
  44. Little Women (2019), dir. Greta Gerwig
  45. Phantom Thread (2017), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  46. Sorry to Bother You (2018), dir. Boots Riley
  47. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  48. Moonlight (2016), dir. Barry Jenkins
  49. L’avenir (2016), dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
  50. Personal Shopper (2016), dir. Olivier Assayas
  51. The Lost City of Z (2016), dir. James Gray
  52. Holy Motors (2012), dir. Leos Carax
  53. Nightcrawler (2014), dir. Dan Gilroy
  54. The Death of Stalin (2017), dir. Armando Iannucci
  55. The Act of Killing (2012), dir. Joshua Oppenheimer
  56. Train to Busan (2016), dir. Yeon Sang-ho
  57. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), dir. Jim Jarmusch
  58. Get Out (2017), dir. Jordan Peele
  59. First Reformed (2018), dir. Paul Schrader
  60. The Kid with a Bike (2011), dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
  61. Transit (2018), dir. Christian Petzold
  62. The Other Side of Hope (2017), dir. Aki Kaurismaki
  63. Stray Dogs (2013), dir. Tsai Ming-liang
  64. True Grit (2010), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
  65. Happy Hour (2015), dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  66. Dark Waters (2019), dir. Todd Haynes
  67. Son of Saul (2015), dir. Laszlo Nemes
  68. The Souvenir (2019), dir. Joanna Hogg
  69. Burning (2018), dir. Lee Chang-dong
  70. Marwencol (2010), dir. Jeff Malmberg
  71. BlacKkKlansman (2018), dir. Spike Lee
  72. Loving (2016), dir. Jeff Nichols
  73. Snowpiercer (2013), dir. Bong Joon-ho
  74. Happy as Lazzaro (2018), dir. Alice Rohrawacher
  75. A Touch of Sin (2013), dir. Jia Zhangke
  76. First Man (2018), dir. Damien Chazelle
  77. Upstream Color (2013), dir. Shane Carruth
  78. Toni Erdmann (2016), dir. Maren Ade
  79. Baby Driver (2017), dir. Edgar Wright
  80. Long Day’s Journey into Night (2018), dir. Bi Gan
  81. Take Shelter (2011), dir. Jeff Nichols
  82. Wuthering Heights (2011), dir. Andrea Arnold
  83. Shoplifters (2018), dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
  84. The Nightingale (2018), dir. Jennifer Kent
  85. The Witch (2015), dir. Robert Eggers
  86. Nostalgia for the Light (2010), dir. Patricio Guzman
  87. Knives Out (2019), dir. Rian Johnson
  88. Ash Is Purest White (2018), dir. Jia Zhangke
  89. Girlhood (2014), dir. Céline Sciamma
  90. Annihilation (2018), dir. Alex Garland
  91. Certain Women (2016), dir. Kelly Reichardt
  92. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
  93. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
  94. Ex Machina (2014), dir. Alex Garland
  95. 12 Years a Slave (2013), dir. Steve McQueen
  96. Elena (2011), dir. Andrey Zyvagintsev
  97. Life of Pi (2012), dir. Ang Lee
  98. The Salesman (2016), dir. Asghar Farhadi
  99. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), dir. Richard Linklater
  100. The Farewell (2019), dir. Lulu Wang

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