The 2010s were filled with a lot of truly masterful cinematic pieces, most of which I didn’t see. It seemed like every year the Oscars came and went and I had seen less than 10% of all the movies nominated across every category. And I am really passionate about film! I just never quite found the time to go to the movies. In fact, when we all decided to make some decades pieces I went back to count what I’d seen, and from 2015-2017 I saw less than 10 total films.
So my list was always going to look a little different from the rest of the Nerdy crew’s lists. But I’m proud of it nonetheless. Without further ado, my top ten movies of the decade are, in no particular order:
There’s a specific niche of movies that prey on the entertainment value in being tense. Uncut Gems from this year was in that category, and the 2014 film Whiplash was much the same. For me, the best example of this is Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a con man who turns to crime videography as his latest money-making scheme. I was studying journalism when I saw this film, so it was relevant in a dark way for me as it showed the skeezier side of reporting, and it really highlights the eternal struggle in journalism between reporting the ethical truth and showing the grisly stuff people tune in for.
What really captivated me in this movie, though, was Gyllenhaal’s performance. He was an incredible creep. In fact, I don’t think he ever blinks during the movie, which is a subtle acting choice that emphasizes how eerie the character, Louis Bloom, becomes. This movie shows Bloom devolve into a full-scale orchestrator of chaos, and I left the theater with my skin crawling.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Hi, my name is Jazz Foster and I love animated movies. They’re like my guilty pleasure, except I feel absolutely no guilt about it. There’s something to be said for reconnecting with your inner child through a method of storytelling, and I find myself sucked into every animated movie I watch, no matter how bad.
But How to Train Your Dragon is good! Incredible, in fact. All three of the movies in the trilogy came out this decade, and while they’re all gorgeous and emotional in their own ways, it’s the first in the series that stands out to me. It presents a unique take on a classic Bildungsroman – with the whole dragon thing, naturally – and the scene where Toothless and Hiccup go flying for the first time never fails to steal my breath.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Another animated film, and what a doozy it was. I’m the first person to say that I’m sick of Spider-Man origin stories – poor Uncle Ben has been resurrected so many times by now I think he’s a Lich King – but this film had my attention from the get go. An animated version of the Miles Morales version of the titular hero? Diversity and soaring art design? I was hooked.
This movie deserved every single bit of the praise it got. I loved the different take on an old origin story, the quick and witty script, and of course the visuals, but what really grabbed me was Gwen Stacy’s character. Her interactions with the Peter Parkers of the multiverse had an underlying depth of emotion that reflected truly masterful writing. Plus, it was a superhero movie that reminded us (spoilers!) that not every hero needs a love interest to create a resolution.
This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
Sometimes there are movies that come out that my dad is insistent I watch. Most of my taste in movies was shaped by the movies my dad watched with me as a kid, so I tend to trust his cinematic judgement. This Is Where I Leave You was one of those films. He never explains why he wants me to watch these movies, just tells me to see them, so I jumped in with no expectations.
What I got was a heartwarming but very raw depiction of a family dealing with the many shades of grief. I think it’s easy to forget that if you weren’t related to your family, you probably wouldn’t be besties with any of them, and this movie reminds us of that. Death isn’t easy, and neither is family, but sometimes it’s worth it to weather the storm of sadness with them rather than without. This movie has an all-star cast of traditionally comedic actors (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn) showing off their dramatic chops while maintaining lighthearted moments. Also, it’s the movie I first fell for Adam Driver in. Leather jacket and a sports car, woof.
In contrast with the last movie, Chef is a film that my mom really wanted me to see. Rarely does my mom get excited about a movie, so I agreed to sit down and watch it. What struck me about this movie most of all was the story it tells. In my mind, it takes the traditional narrative structure of screenwriting and subverts it by presenting us with what feels like a very low stakes conflict, as opposed to the high stakes ones that capture so much of our attention. Jon Favreau’s character Carl isn’t racing across the country in a food truck to save his son, or trying to make $1 million to save his house from foreclosing. He’s just trying to follow his passion and improve his relationship with his son. It’s such a relaxed journey, and that makes it very enjoyable. The stakes don’t always have to be do-or-die to tell a good story.
The soundtrack is worth mentioning too. I encountered it before I ever saw the movie, and honestly that would’ve been enough to get me to watch, without my mother’s recommendation. It’s an upbeat and playful selection of music that fully highlights the movie’s laidback, fun themes. Special shoutout to the brass band rendition of Sexual Healing that provides one of the most fun scenes in the movie and is also just a jam.
Knives Out (2019)
This is the one movie I saw that I expect to be on at least one other Nerd’s list for decade best movies. When the trailer for Knives Out dropped, three different friends sent it to me, saying they thought of me when they saw it. My favorite movie of all time is the 1985 improv masterpiece Clue, and from all of the advertising Knives Out seemed like a spiritual successor to that. It was one of the few movies I made a point to see in theaters this year (including Clue, shoutout to those Alamo Drafthouse watch parties.)
It turns out that Knives Out is nothing like its advertising would suggest – and I think that’s an incredibly good thing. It was a masterclass in the craft of movie trailers and catching an audience. I maintain that if you advertise a movie starring a relatively unknown Cuban woman as your lead, you don’t get nearly the traction that Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and America’s hero-turned-bad boy Chris Evans gained this movie. And it was so worth it! Craig was a perfect Poirot-style detective – that accent LANDED – and the supporting cast played an incredible dysfunctional family to serve as the backdrop to a tense mystery that isn’t remotely what it seems. The plot was reminiscent of stories by the queen herself, Agatha Christie, and I look forward to the imminent sequel.
Had to have a heist movie on my list, didn’t I? Flypaper was a movie I stumbled across with a friend one night in college, back when Netflix was less original content and more indie movies. Patrick Dempsey in a heist movie seemed absurd, so we watched it for a laugh, and boy was I surprised when I absolutely loved it!
Now, listen. This is my list of the best movies of the decade. Which means it isn’t graded on the same scale as, say, the Golden Globes, or one Ben Bellevue and his whole Wannabe Film Class. This is my favorite good things that I enjoyed for their entertainment value and rewatchability. Flypaper was never going to win any critical acclaim. But goddamn is it ever funny. The movie knows it’s ridiculous from the start; the main plot is two different crews trying to rob the same bank while Dempsey stands in the corner, snarky as hell. It’s well-timed, clever comedy with some great running jokes and a pretty solid heist-twist ending. As a heist connoisseur, it’s a film I deeply enjoyed.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
I can’t believe this didn’t get more hype when it came out. The main cast is so stacked with award winners – Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly are the parents of an at-the-time upcomer Ezra Miller – that it baffles me that it was really only nominated for one Golden Globe. We Need to Talk About Kevin takes the viewer from the past to the present as it tells the tense story of a mother trying to stand by her son as he grows increasingly strange. It’s anxious and tragic and so darkly poignant, and it has stuck with me for years.
It was also the first film that made me appreciate set design. I’d argue that set design isn’t an aspect of filmmaking that most casual viewers regularly notice. Hell, I was studying filmmaking at the time and it still wasn’t something I paid much heed to. This movie was the first time I actually took notice, and it was so subtle but so pronounced that it blew me away. A small part of me has harbored a dream of being a set designer myself, ever since I saw this film. Not to spoil too much, but the color palettes of every scene say a lot more than you might initially notice. Brilliant stuff.
American Hustle (2013)
First off, what a star-studded cast. Amy Adams in another film she wouldn’t win an Oscar for, Jennifer Lawrence at the peak of her popularity, Jeremy Renner before he was big as Hawkeye, Christian Bale looking disturbingly ’70s, Bradley Cooper is also there. Just a huge ensemble cast who work incredibly well together to present a semi-true story of one of America’s greatest cons. Heist movies, con movies, I love them all, so it’s no surprise that this film appealed to me the way it did.
The costuming and character design is just impeccable. Often I find I’m dragged out of my suspension of disbelief in a movie because there’s something incongruous about its era. Any movie set in the past has to be so precise about its design, especially anything in semi-recent history, because it’s so easy to fact-check. American Hustle handles this flawlessly. Additionally, it’s a film that maintains a high-octane pace from start to finish. You’re all in from the moment the title card comes on screen telling you it’s loosely based on a true story. What I really appreciate about the film is the way the story is told. Crime stories can get a little too Sherlock-y in the way they lay their story out, where one character has all the information and we, the audience, have substantially less, so we could never discover the ending before it’s told to us. American Hustle treats its audience as con men just the same as Irving and Sydney; it lets us in on the scheme as it progresses, so we anticipate the ending rather than being surprised by it. Someone should’ve warned poor Richie.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think I saw this movie in the proper mood. Grabbing a beer to drink with my date during the matinee showing of BlacKkKlansman we went to see was probably not the best way to jump into this. I walked out of that theater at 3pm feeling well and truly shaken by what I’d seen.
The actual true story of Ron Stallworth was one I’d never seen before. Sometimes I think we leave the most interesting parts out of our history classes in schools. The idea of a black man infiltrating the KKK is a great conceit for a movie, and I’m honestly surprised it wasn’t made sooner. The acting is incredible here – as aforementioned I love Adam Driver, and John David Washington gave great levity and depth to a leading role. This film also stood out to me for its script, and the way it treats its themes. There are moments that really force the audience to consider their lives and the privileges they are or aren’t afforded based on who they were born as. It’s passionate and moving, and I respect that at the end of the film it didn’t take the easy way out. A happy ending would have been the safe route, but BlacKkKlansman forces us to confront the society we’re living in and ultimately how little it’s changed since Stallworth’s time on the force. It stays just the right side of preachy, instead presenting a very sad portrait of realism.