50 Best Movies of the 2010s - Rolling Stone
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The 50 Best Movies of the 2010s

From superhero blockbusters to experimental docs, ‘The Social Network’ to ‘Parasite’ — our picks for the greatest films of the past decade

Rolling Stone, Movies, Decade

Clockwise from upper left: 'Roma,' 'Mad Max Fury Road,' 'Boyhood.'

NETFLIX (ROMA); Village Roadshow/Kobal/Shutterstock (MAD MAX); Ifc Productions/Detour Filmps/Kobal/Shutterstock (Boyhood)

It was the best of decades, it was the most WTF of decades — looking back on the movies that came to define the 2010s both critically and commercially, it’s nearly impossible to nail the particular arc of the medium in a few concise words or phrases. (Though “A24,” “superheroes” and “now streaming” immediately come to mind.) You can argue that every that-was-the-era-that-was summary charts an art form in some sort of transition, but this particular 10-year span suggested that cinema — not just a New York word, for what it’s worth — was dealing with one hell of an identity crisis. What was a “movie,” anyway? Was it a nearly eight-hour, multipart documentary that showed in a theater? Was it an auteur-driven pet project that debuted on a streaming service? Was it a TV show made by a director that film critics loved? (The answer to that last one is a resounding no.)

We started the decade with a drama about a social-media pioneer who’d help make the internet our primary mode of communication and ended it with a long, epic story by America’s greatest living filmmaker that most people will see on Netflix. In 2010, the notion of a “cinematic universe” seemed far-fetched. It’s now the dominant Hollywood-studio model. No one might have guessed there would be 23 Marvel movies, and a new Star Wars trilogy with several spin-off films, and a whole slate of animated classics redone as live-action spectacles. No one knew that Disney would own all of them.

The 50 movies we picked as the best of the decade covered a lot of traditional types — blockbusters, arthouse films, indies, studio-sponsored hits (and misses), foreign-language films, docs, star vehicles, director-driven projects — and spanned the globe. They involved aliens, postapocalyptic heroines, gangsters, literary icons, saints, sinners, killers, a monstrosity named Monsieur Merde and even, on occasion, normal human beings. Some reflected the times we lived in; some helped us escape them for a few hours. But above all, they each reminded us that, over the last ten years, there were lots of films that cracked us up, broke us apart, scared us, comforted us and made us feel a little closer to our fellow Homo sapiens. They represent the ’10s. They also feel timeless.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/Shutterstock (3301651f)Oscar Isaac, Justin TimberlakeInside Llewyn Davis - Sep 2013

Photo: Snap Stills/Shutterstock

14

‘Inside Llewyln Davis’ (2013)

Before starring in the Coen brothers’ bittersweet portrait of an early-1960s folk singer going nowhere slow, Oscar Isaac was just a promising Julliard-trained actor. But as a troubadour suffering from bad timing and bad luck, the future movie star immediately found his voice, articulating the struggle of a complicated artist who can’t stop self-sabotaging. Gorgeously period-specific and as weary as a Phil Ochs ballad, Inside Llewyn Davis turned one forgotten musician’s quixotic journey into an existential lament for the random forces that shape our destiny — the road not taken, the cat we befriend, the sudden appearance of a songwriter from Minnesota who will achieve things Llewyn can only dream of. In the process, the Coens’ tragicomic ballad of a thin-skinned man assured Isaac’s ascent into the A-list — ironically, even the guy who plays this sorrowful folkie ended up more successful than he did. TG

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Asghar Falhadi/Kobal/Shutterstock (5878543b)Leila HatamiA Separation - 2011Director: Asghar FalhadiAsghar FalhadiIRANScene StillForeignA Separation / Nader and SiminUne Séparation

Photo: Asghar Falhadi/Kobal/Shutterstoc

13

‘A Separation’ (2011)

Long before Marriage Story let a thousand memes bloom, there was Asghar Farhadi’s take-no-prisoners tale of a union rent asunder by anger, custody issues, blinkered self-involvement, double standards and a need for relocation. The fact that this fight is taking place in Iran, of course, also means there is a different set of cultural rules in play. The couple, played by Peyman Moadi and Sarina Farhadi, keep finding themselves running up against their respective bitterness and a mutual frustration with bureaucratic red tape; an incident involving a carekeeper (Sareh Bayat) hired to care for the husband’s elderly father only complicates things further. A major touchstone of modern Iranian cinema and a stunning example of how to mine drama from the simplest of conversational scenes, Farhadi’s breakthrough movie reminds us that there are no heroes and villains in these types of stories. There are only people — loving, flawed, best-intentioned and perpetually screwed up people. DF

Photo: Neon Pictures

12

‘Parasite’ (2019)

Cometh the hour, cometh the movie — and in 2019, Bong Joon-ho’s deliciously nasty, twisty, slo-mo home-invasion movie came to articulate something in our modern, collective moment with a vengeance. A family of struggling working-class citizens, led by Song Kang Ho’s hustling paterfamilias, slowly integrates themselves into a rich family’s life, one member at a time. Then things become even more complicated than they could have possibly imagined. Insights into Korean social injustice explode into a fable that works anywhere the barrier between rich and poor feels porous — which is to say: everywhere. Gorgeously performed and immaculately crafted, with production design so sleek you’ll never find the joins and cuts sharp enough to slice a passing jugular, beware of how much you’re enjoying Parasite. You might not even notice you’re bleeding out. JK

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Annapurna Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock (9296599c)Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis"Phantom Thread" Film - 2017

Photo: Annapurna Pictures

11

‘Phantom Thread’ (2017)

“Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick.”  Paul Thomas Anderson’s journey in to the 1950s world of British haute couture is the sort of bespoke, finely tailored movie you’d expect from the meticulous filmmaker; move Daniel Day-Lewis’ designer Reynolds Woodcock, someone so attuned to the tiniest details of his personal-to-a-fault garments, into a director’s chair and you’d have a self-portrait. But beneath its gorgeous, grandiose surface is one wonderfully twisted parable about the power dynamics of relationships, made all the more romantic by the way the scale tilts before it evens out. Woodcock thinks he’s found a muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps), the Luxembourgian waitress who he brings into his insular world of luxury dressmaking. His objet d’amour would prefer to be more of a partner. And overcoming the obstacle of Woodcock’s so-and-so sister (Lesley Manville), she proceeds to remind him that real artists can’t live on work alone. An absolutely stunning, swoonworthy reminder that love means never having to say you’re sorry, but may require you to tell your soulmate that you need them flat on their backs, helpless and tender. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/Shutterstock (5407411j)Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet'Carol' film - 2015

Snap Stills/Shutterstock

10

‘Carol’ (2015)

Their eyes meet across a department store’s toy department crowded with Christmastime shoppers — and from the moment that the young photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) sees the older, aristocratic Carol (Cate Blanchett), Todd Haynes’ romance has you right in the palm of elegantly gloved hand. Adapting Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel about a love that dare not speak its name during the era of repressive conformity, the Poison director and cinematographer Ed Lachman give this period melodrama the full Sirkus Maximus visual treatment; you could not ask for a more lush interpretation of lust. Yet Haynes’ heartbreaker never feels too highbrow, thanks to his deftly subversive touch and two actors who know how to tap into the awakening of sexuality and the cost of giving in to such desires, respectively. And the ending is a perfect example of how to turn the tragic into the sublime. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (4313723l)Tom Hardy'Mad Max Fury Road' Film - 2015

Moviestore/Shutterstock

9

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

Genre hounds and arthouse aficionados are often antagonists in the pop-cultural cage match — so thank the Lord (by which we mean Imperator Furiosa) for the unifying, mutilated beauty of George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise. Just consider the sheer bloodbag balls it took to sideline Tom Hardy’s marquee hero and instead let the film play out as a splayed-leg, electric guitar solo dedicated to Charlize Theron’s one-armed savior, dedicated to saving a gaggle of comely women from biological slavery come hell, high water or an actual apocalypse. A wildly kinetic chase movie, it’s been accused of having too little substance beneath a stylish veneer that’s less smoke and mirrors than belching plumes of orange flame and orally-administered, silver spray-paint. But that would deny this film the revolutionary bona fides it rightfully deserves. This is the action movie as extended state of grace, and an air-horn blast of guzzoline-and-breast-milk-scented fresh air. JK

(L to R) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte

Photo by Carlos Somonte

8

‘Roma’ (2018)

Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece doesn’t feel like a movie so much as a time machine — one that takes you back to the 1970s Mexico City of the director’s youth, where the streets are crowded with life and domestic workers like Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) double as a nurturing force. The longer we ride shotgun with this formative figure (based on the woman who looked after Cuaron when he was a kid) as she goes about her daily chores and takes care of a fracturing family, the more we’re reminded that cinema is a medium whose specialty is not spectacle but empathy. Not that Roma lacks big moments or ambitious set pieces — riots, earthquakes, mass martial-arts demonstrations and even death occur. But the glory in what the filmmaker accomplishes here is that he immerses you in what feels like one long, intimate memory. It’s a personal film for him; what makes it work is how personal it ends up feeling to you by the end of it. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ghoulardi Film Company/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884600j)Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin PhoenixThe Master - 2012Director: Paul Thomas AndersonGhoulardi Film CompanyUSAScene StillThe Master

Ghoulardi Film Company/Kobal/Shu

7

‘The Master’ (2012)

Is Paul Thomas Anderson the fiercest, most unfathomable and untamable American filmmaking talent of the 21st century so far? His 2012 drama stars the Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix as a raw, exposed nerve named Freddie Quell, a World War II vet with a penchant for drinking homemade hooch and drifting from job to job. He’s exactly the kind of lost soul who would fall under the spell of Lancaster Dodd, a 1950s cult leader played by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman (a pause here to honor the enormity of his loss). Is Dodd — rhymes with God — a stand-in for L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology? Anderson has denied that the controversial figure was a direct inspiration on the movie’s larger-than-life father figure. But the resemblance matters less than the way the filmmaker indicts unthinking allegiance to institutions, such as religion, country, sex and money, that demand absolute allegiance. It’s a complex, endlessly fascinating dissection of the American character, as seen from the dizzying heights of “success” and those seconds away from hitting rock bottom. PT

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Komplizen Film/Kobal/Shutterstock (7902862k)Sandra Huller'Toni Erdmann' Film - 2016

Komplizen Film/Kobal/Shutterstoc

6

‘Toni Erdmann’ (2016)

Parents live to embarrass their children; children exist to disappoint their parents. This truism is the fodder for a thousand anodyne Hollywood movies. It’s also a notion that’s explored, denuded, forced to wail Whitney Houston songs and is then shoved into a shambling, hairy Bulgarian folk costume in German director Maren Ade’s blisteringly original comedy. Sandra Huller is tightly-wound, careerist exec named Ines. Peter Simonischek is her bearish father Winfried, a lonesome, tiresome prankster whose even-worse alter ego, Toni Erdmann, will eventually make his offspring’s life better … by first making it much worse. Over the course of three funny, wildly unpredictable hours, Ade delivers absurdism laced with pathos and pointedly feminist corporate satire, while her actors vividly sketch a parent-child relationship as uncategorizably unique as your own. Every family thinks they’re freakish. Toni Erdmann doesn’t just agree with that idea; it reminds all of us to revel in it. JK

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (8552241k)Daniel KaluuyaGet Out - 2017

Moviestore/Shutterstock

5

‘Get Out’ (2017)

Former sketch-comedy star turned scary-movie-maestro Jordan Peele’s debut feature was nothing less than a cultural phenomenon, an elegant tribute to the social horror of the ’70s and ’80s, and a shockingly sharp treatise on institutional racism. Hitting theaters during the early months of the Trump administration, his dark twist on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? cast Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a photographer who heads upstate to meet the family of his new girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). Her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) seem nice enough, though something feels off from the jump. By the time we find out what these privileged white liberals are actually up to, we’re already several leagues deep into the Sunken Place. Lacing his genre exercise with sharp humor yet refusing to skimp on the shocks, Peele opened up a safe space to have a necessary conversation about our post-Trayvon Martin world, where the deadliest place for African-Americans is a sleepy suburban street. An instant classic. KW

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matt Lankes/Ifc Prods/Detour Filmproduction/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884872ai)Ellar Coltrane, Ethan HawkeBoyhood - 2014Director: Richard LinklaterIfc Productions/Detour FilmproductionUSAScene StillDrama

Matt Lankes/Ifc Prods/Detour Fil

4

‘Boyhood’ (2014)

What if you followed a protagonist from childhood to young adulthood — and shot it over a dozen or so years, using the same actors? Richard Linklater’s sui generis coming-of-age film sounds like a high concept experiment on paper; onscreen, the cumulative effect of watching Ellar Coltrane go from daydreaming babyface to philosophizing emo-hunk college student is like speedreading someone’s photo album. The indie-film godhead has dabbled in playing the long game before (see his Before trilogy). But this chronicle of marking the milestones of American adolescence via a random assortment of moments — some minuscule, others monumental — both milks its central “gimmick” for all it’s worth and transcends it. Spend all those rapidly passing years with Coltrane’s everyteen, as well as his screen family (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater), and the very concept of time no longer seems so abstract. The grow up so damned fast. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1940087c)Denis LavantHoly Motors - 2012

Moviestore/Shutterstock

3

‘Holy Motors’ (2012)

A metaphor for acting? An exploration of the many roles we must play in life? Or simply one of the most exuberant and gonzo blasts of pure imagination to grace a movie screen this decade? Yes, yes, and hell yes: Holy Motors is such an uproariously surreal comedy that it may take a while to realize it’s also a profound statement on modern malaise. Writer-director Leos Carax sets Denis Lavant loose in Paris, with the actor executing a series of different “assignments” over the course of a day. He might be asked to be a motion-capture artist participating in a surreal love scene one minute, and then become a monster who terrorizes the population the next. Gleeful yet constantly attuned to the poignant, allegorical implications of its all-the-world’s-a-stage premise, Holy Motors asks us to see existence as a grand game of dress-up where cars can talk and accordion bands kick out the jams. Maybe it really is a wonderful life. TG

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884788j)Andrew Garfield, Jesse EisenbergThe Social Network - 2010Director: David FincherColumbia PicturesUSAScene Still

Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

2

‘The Social Network’ (2010)

Meet Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) — just your run-of-the-mill dark, depressive Harvard student who’d end up founding a website he’d call Facebook, betraying his partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and laying the foundation for the fountain of backbiting and misinformation we call the modern world. Blessed with the dream team of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher (and a cast that includes Armie Hammer as both Winklevoss twins and Rooney Mara as the object of Zuckerberg’s fixation), this adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s book Accidental Billionaires is one deliciously re-watchable preview of the apocalypse, as entertaining and cheeky as it is troubling and startlingly prescient. From the moment that the glowering Zuckerberg figures out how to turn what we now call toxic masculinity into a billion-dollar industry, you can see how Fincher & co. are coldly dissecting the entire notion of smartest-guy-in-the-room entitlement. And in the harsh cold light of a decade later (post-Gamer Gate and Cambridge Analytica), what seemed merely ominous then is now what has likely driven our sense of civility and civilization to the brink. Thanks a lot. [Clicks unfriend.] KW

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David Bornfriend/A24

1

‘Moonlight’ (2016)

Barry Jenkins’ second film seemed to come of out nowhere — an adaptation of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s little-known work “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” from a modest indie distributor with little industry juice (what’s an A24?) and a director who’d run into obstacles trying to follow up his impressive 2008 debut Medicine for Melancholy. “Gamechanging” doesn’t begin to describe the impact it had once audiences saw what the then-37-year-old filmmaker had come up with. Charting a sensitive young Florida kid’s rocky road to manhood via three time periods and three different actors (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, all of whom are fabulous), Jenkins refracts the agonies and ecstasies of African-American life through a very subjective prism. Yet the story he’s gifted us with goes beyond any attempt to categorize it. Moonlight is simply a profound, tender, sympathetic look at a human being finally, painfully coming into his own. Every character, from the neighborhood drug dealer (long live Mahershala Ali!) to the addict mother (Naomie Harris) to the high school tough guy contains multitudes. Every shot looks ravishing. It’s the sort of once-in-a-lifetime project that hits at just the right time and finds the audience it deserves. This is what the movies look like when the medium’s full arsenal of expression is being tapped by someone with vision. DF

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