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 Ukraine State Film Agency/Garmata Film Production/Kobal/Shutterstock (5878521b)Yana Novikova, Grigoriy FesenkoThe Tribe - 2014Director: Miroslav SlaboshpitskyUkraine State Film Agency/Garmata Film ProductionUKRAINE/NETHERLANDSScene StillDramaPlemya / The Tribe

Ukraine State Film Agency/Garmat


‘The Tribe’ (2014)

Most films try to bombard the senses — Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s suffocatingly tense debut was the decade’s most innovative use of sensory deprivation. The Tribe immerses us in a school for the deaf, where A new student (Grigoriy Fesenko) in a Ukrainian school for the deaf quickly learns the ropes — and discovers an elaborate criminal underworld operating under the administration’s nose. Featuring no subtitles, voiceover or non-diegetic music, this bleak drama — performed by a deaf, non-professional cast communicating via sign language — turns its Lord of the Flies scenario into a thrilling cinematic exercise. TG

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dreamworks/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock (5885990bb)Sally Field, Daniel Day-LewisLincoln - 2012Director: Steven SpielbergDreamworks/20th Century FoxUSAScene Still

Dreamworks/20th Century Fox/Koba


‘Lincoln’ (2012)

Had Steven Spielberg simply made his there-goeth-the-great-man drama as a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis, it would still be remembered as the actor’s finest moment of speculative mimicry. (How the hell did he know that Lincoln’s voice sounded like a high-pitched 78 rpm record?) But the director and screenwriter Tony Kushner opt for a road less traveled, in which the story of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, becomes an opportunity to examine the unruly adolescence of American politics, the responsibility of keeping a divided nation together during wartime, the horse-trading lollapalooza of legislation and the concept of what constitutes a presidential legacy. Yes, you get Lincoln the man, and the myth. You also get a history lesson that feels vibrantly, vitally of the moment. DF

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Cg Cinema/Kobal/Shutterstock


‘Personal Shopper’ (2016)

Continuing a collaboration with her Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart cemented her victorious post-Twilight transformation into one of our finest actresses with this beguiling portrait of a woman in mourning. Maureen works for a high-powered (but rarely seen) model in Paris, but she’s troubled by the recent death of her twin brother, convinced she might be able to make contact with him from the great beyond. It’s around this point that she starts receiving mysterious texts from a possible stalker — and those three dots from an incoming message have never been so terrifying. Enigmatic, profoundly moving, and the perfect existential ghost story for the 21st century. TG

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Omnijoi Media/Boneyard/China Film Co/Kobal/Shutterstock (5874204e)Fan Liao, Lun Mei GweiThin Ice Black Coal - 2014Director: Yi'Nan DiaoOmnijoi Media/Boneyard Entertainment/China Film Co.CINAScene StillMystery/SuspenseBai Ri Yan Huo

Omnijoi Media/Boneyard/China Fil


‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ (2014)

Cops, corpses, corruption, a coal factory and life in China’s north country — filmmaker Diao Yinan’s procedural about an ex-police detective (Liao Fan) who returns to an old murder case is a near-perfect blend of film noir fatalism and “sixth generation” social realism. When the victim’s widow (Gwei Lun Mei) re-enters the picture, things start to heat up between her and the not-so-white knight trying to unravel the mystery … and everyone know what turning up the temperature does to already dangerously thin ice. It’s a crime flick that laces its cutting commentary on the state of the nation’s provinces with sex, violence, and one genuinely ecstatic dance sequence. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Palmstar Media/Kobal/Shutterstock (9723529m)Toni Collette"Hereditary" Film - 2018

Palmstar Media/Kobal/Shutterstoc


‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Ari Aster’s auspicious debut delivers a witchy fright fest — and an elegy on inherited trauma — starring Toni Collette as a mother searching for answers in the wake of a tragedy. As she starts to dig deeper into her family history, this grieving woman wonders if some odd occurrences that may have something to do with her recent loss…and her son’s increasingly erratic behavior. It’s a horror film blessed with an absolutely incredible central performance and the sort of unbelievable, near-unbearable tension that when everything finally hits the ceiling (literally), you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream. Maybe all three? KW

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‘Amour’ (2012)

An extraordinary love story revolving around mortality — and proof that yes, arthouse feel-bad auteur Michael Haneke does indeed have a heart — this devastating look at an elderly couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both astounding) dealing with an illness may arguably be the Austrian director’s greatest work. That it looks impeccable and lacks sentimentality is a given, considering the man who brought us Funny Games and The White Ribbon is responsible for its pitiless gaze. But don’t let the chilly surface fool you. It’s a romantic tragedy, but also a deeply felt celebration of lives lived together, a personal movie (it was inspired by the suicide of one of Haneke’s relatives; the apartment is a meticulous recreation of his parents’ flat in Vienna) and an emotionally resonant look at watching a soulmate slowly slip away. The title is earned. DF

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‘Elena’ (2011)

Russia’s preeminent modern filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev delivers a distancing moral drama/slow-burn Hitchcockian thriller about a sixtysomething woman named Elena (Nadezhda Markina) who’s married to a wealthy businessman (Andrey Smirnov). He refuses to help her ne’er-do-well son from a previous marriage; frustrated by her husband’s lack of generosity, Elena decides to take matters into her own hands. A quiet film, and one dedicated to exploring the rising tensions between society’s haves and have-nots — as well as questioning people’s willingness to justify anything in the name of their own self-interest. TG

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, 2016. ©Magnolia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

©Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Eve


‘I Am Not Your Negro’ (2016)

The idea was to take an unfinished book idea from James Baldwin — which would’ve traced our nation’s failure to reconcile with the notion of race via the lives of three slain black luminaries — and explore where the author might have gone had he finished it. The result of director Raoul Peck’s documentary-cum-essay, however, ends up as something deeper, richer and far more profound then tying up loose literary threads. Using the writer’s own prose (read by Samuel L. Jackson) and lectures/interviews/talk show clips, this extraordinary examination of a continuing struggle to deal with an original sin continually reminds you that “the story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.” The movie allows viewers to look back in anger — and begs them to look forward to the future not just with rage but also hope and clarity. DF

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer appear in Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute.

Sundance Institute


‘Call Me By Your Name’ (2017)

A love story that unfolds as languidly as a hot, lazy day, Italian director’s Luca Guadagnino coming-of-age romance charts the short-lived summer fling between the bright teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the impossibly beautiful graduate student who enters his orbit. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker transformed André Aciman’s novel into a potent memory piece, all sensual images and sweaty euphoria. (“I know the smell of that feeling, which is a summery smell — the smell of the night, where you can’t sleep because you are restless,” Guadagnino told Rolling Stone at the time.) Some love affairs are more powerful because they’re not meant to last — but anyone who experienced Call Me by Your Name will carry it in their heart forever. TG

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Killer Films/Kobal/Shutterstock


‘First Reformed’ (2018)

Writer-director Paul Schrader has long occupied the combat zone between flesh and spirit (remember, this is the same strict Calvinist who wrote Taxi Driver). But his late-career masterpiece about a Dutch Reformed pastor (a brilliant Ethan Hawke) who experiences an existential crisis of faith brought on by eco-terrorism and love throws compassion into the mix as well, and that makes all the difference. At 71, the former young lion of New Hollywood brings vitality to this journey into the dark night of the soul. It’s not just a return to form; it’s also Schrader’s most searching, compelling, provocative film in years. PT

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‘Zama’ (2018)

All hail Lucrecia Martel, and her portrait of an 18th century colonialist Job with a cutlass and a tri-cornered hat — a blistering reminder that so much of history is an endless loop of hubris, folly and failed hustling for power. Stationed in Argentina, Spanish diplomat Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) wants to either level up in authority or relocate to a more “civilized” place. Instead, he’ll suffer the slings and arrows of his peers and so-called underlings, as bad luck follows our hapless hero from huts to deep in the jungle. Martel’s woozy epic connects the dots between her previous class-conscious, character-based explorations of moral slipperiness to centuries of exploitation, complete with a surreal third act that stakes its claim at the corner of Herzog St. and Buñuel Ave. DF

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’45 Years’ (2015)

On the eve of the 45th wedding anniversary of an old married couple (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling), a body is found frozen in the Alps, decades after an accident. It turns out that she was once the husband’s girlfriend; his wife, however, is the one who starts to fall apart. Rampling’s stunning turn suggests continental ice shelves of desolation crumbling beneath a sensible Englishness, as her life’s partner turns into a stranger in her arms. Bedded into drizzly, rural, hatchback-and-high-street ordinariness, Andrew Haigh’s vivisection of a marriage is a vast epic of minutest intimacy. When your heart’s on fire, it’s sometimes not with love but grief — and either way, smoke gets in your eyes. JK

WE ARE THE BEST!, (aka VI A BAST), from left: Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne, Mira Grosin, 2013. ©Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

©Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Eve


‘We Are the Best’ (2012)

For misfits who grew up in the early ’80s, starting a punk band was a great way to express your discontent with other outcasts; for bored Swedish middle schoolers Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), however, it’s just a pipe dream. Then they meet a fellow student/classical guitarist named Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), and suddenly, the idea of forming a female preteen power trio doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Adapting his wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel, Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever) captures the youthful rush of finding your bliss in two chords and the truth, i.e. screaming that P.E., like, totally sucks! This is what a pure, unadulterated blast of grrl power feels like. DF

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Augustas Quirk/Magnolia/Duplass


‘Tangerine’ (2015)

A small story about two best friends — transgender sex workers Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) — who spend Christmas hunting a cheating ex-boyfriend across Los Angeles, Sean Baker’s comedy is the sort of empathetic, raw, and ferociously funny work of cine-anthropology that could almost double as a documentary. It’s also infamous for being shot on an iPhone 5S, a fact that adds an vibrant, hyperreal aesthetic (that SoCal sunlight! those nighttime neon-lit donut shops!) and D.I.Y. feel at that it brandishes like a challenge to the next wave of directors. Go forth and explore, its says — the sidewalks are bustling with stories to tell. AN

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bfi/Kobal/Shutterstock (9534668g)Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov"You Were Never Really Here" Film - 2017



‘You Were Never Really Here’ (2017)

Lynne Ramsay turns the revenge noir genre into a bouquet of barbed wire, in which the glitchy score, throbbing cinematography and Joaquin Phoenix’s schlubby angel of death, rescuing a young girl and dealing retribution to a high-society pedophile ring — a less far-fetched idea every day — are all irreplaceable. But this revenge movie’s real brilliance lies in its rhythm: already slender scenes are sushi-knifed further until they’re keen as the bamboo slivers in the arsenal of a torturer. Watch this brutal, brittle, balletic 85 minutes, and realize how much time most films waste in neutral. Meanwhile, Ramsay’s already three states away, radio blasting, bloodied hammer on the dashboard. JK

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Despina Spyrou/Irish Film Board/Kobal/Shutterstock (7977431b)Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz'The Lobster' Film - 2015

Despina Spyrou/Irish Film Board/


‘The Lobster’ (2015)

Why are birthrates dropping in industrialized cities? Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist flick doesn’t have an answer—but it’s got an extreme solution. Single folks have 45 days to select a mate, or be transformed into an animal of their choice. Compared to divorcee Colin Farrell’s other options, molting into a lobster sounds sanguine. Then he meets a “loner” (Rachel Weisz) who lives off the grid and is part of a group looking to rebel. The Greek filmmaker is too cynical to flog true love; he’s more curious about the compromises people make to partner up. Either way, he believes we’re still beasts faking domestication, something his dystopian thriller/deadpan satire takes to a weird, wonderful extreme. AN

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‘No’ (2012)

Shot on fuzzy lo-fi ’80s video, Pablo Larrain’s staticky satire details the real-life ad campaign that organized anti-Pinochet sentiment prior to Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, and helped lead to the dictator’s eventual downfall. It’s about as inventively far from a dull history lesson as it’s possible to get, with the warring impulses of cynicism and idealism, principle and pragmatism, providing a darkly loopy sense of humor. A paradoxically optimistic “Vote No” campaign — and therefore democracy itself — is given a chirpy theme song, a rainbow logo and reworked into a candy-colored “happy product,” with a befuddled Gael Garcia Bernal its endearingly compromised salesman. JK

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‘Meek’s Cutoff’ (2010)

It’s the mid-1800s, and a frontier guide (Bruce Greenwood) is helping a caravan of pioneers make it to the promised land. Only this man doesn’t really know where he’s going; worse, he can’t admit that they may be lost. Supplies are low. Fuses are short. And when a Native American (Rod Rondeaux) who could get them to safety is treated like a prisoner of war, a power struggle between the guide and a settler (Michelle Williams) kicks into high gear. Any resemblance to what’s happening in Kelly Reichardt’s true-story mood-piece of a Western and numerous early 21st century instances of belligerent white men leading people into peril is not the least bit coincidental. And the way the filmmaker uses the boxy frame and slowly mounting dread to suggest a claustrophobic, unstable vision of the wild West makes for one paranoid, poetic puncturing of the manifest-destiny myth. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (3613765g)Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Mathieu Amalric, Ralph FiennesThe Grand Budapest Hotel - Jan 2014



‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)

Back in its glory days, the pink pastel hotel that gives Wes Anderson’s comedy its title was a symbol of what humanity could accomplish, if only everyone followed the lead of Ralph Fiennes’ fastidious, filthy-mouthed supreme concierge. (Sure, he has some less-than-stellar traits … but he runs a tight ship and couldn’t be more civilized in exercising his vices.) History, however, isn’t going to play along with his idea of a never-changing Mitteleuropa paradise. This is the Anderson movie where you can bask in his snow-globe like set designs — and then watch as the real world starts to chip away at the glass. Funny and sad, in equal measure. Make cream puffs, not war. AN

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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012)

Released about 18 months after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Kathryn Bigelow’s absorbing chronicle of his capture was accused by some of justifying America’s controversial torture program. Several years and a thousand hot-takes later, Zero Dark Thirty transcends those complaints: It stands as a stark, foreboding document of the post-9/11 mindset, in which a group of intelligence officials — including Jessica Chastain’s brilliant, unrelenting analyst — thought that by bringing down the attack’s mastermind, they could somehow repair all that he destroyed. And in our #MeToo/Time’s Up era, Bigelow’s portrait of a woman who hasn’t been treated seriously at her job takes on a whole new resonance. TG

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‘Spring Breakers’ (2012)

It just might be sleazecore auteur Harmony Korine’s masterpiece — a hedonistic, neon-smeared ode to that most American of collegiate rituals. What starts as a warped teen flick turns into a girly take on Scarface, starring former Disney kids (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens) and James Franco in a high-key weirdo turn as a cornrow-wearing rapper named, of course, Alien. (His siren song: a drawling, extended cry of “spraannng brrreaaakk.”) There’s no happy ending, just the gleeful upending of norms and a Gatsby-esque soliloquy about shorts. Plus, for one brief, shining moment, Britney Spears’ “Everytime” played on a baby grand piano while girls in bikinis and balaclavas brandish machine guns against a rose-colored sunset. Look at my shit, indeed. KW

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Opus Film/Amazon/Kobal/Shutterstock (10043985r)Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor'Cold War' Film - 2018A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times.

‘Cold War’ (2018)

Based loosely on the story of Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents, this tale of a decades-long romance between a singer (Joanna Kulig) and a musical director (Tomasz Kot) is a heart-rendingly poignant portrait of love, sex, sorrow, joy, pain—and the often cruel passage of time. As equally steeped in old-world folk tradition as it is jazz, Cold War is epic and intimate; it’s a story of a tumultuous 20th century history where no borders, gulags or Iron Curtains can keep these lovers apart. KW

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Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock


‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ (2010)

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes movies that operate like pulley systems between wakefulness and dreaming (he claims not to mind if you fall asleep during them), and his 2011 Palme d’Or winner is a terrific gateway drug. A tale of transformation that is itself constantly morphing, Boonmee exists in the inexplicable borderline moment when the subconscious begins to rearrange reality’s furniture, mixing the magical with the mundane, and the mystical with the mischievous. Dead relatives reborn as glowing-eyed Bigfoot creatures come to dinner; ancient princesses have amorous encounters with catfish; and you have the strangest sensation of having dreamed someone else’s dream. JK

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Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount/Path


‘Selma’ (2014)

Good biopics give you a sense of a public figure’s life and times, failures and phoenix-like rises; great biopics allow you to feel like you’ve actually walked a mile in that figure’s shoes. Or, in the case of writer-director Ava DuVernay’s phenomenal look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 50 miles — the distance that the reverend and his fellow demonstrators marched when they set off from Selma, Alabama, for the city of Montgomery, facing opposition every fraught step of the way. Focusing specifically on this landmark moment in the Civil Rights Movement, this recreation of three momentous weeks in March of 1965 downplays neither the achievement nor the animosity that characterized King’s nonviolent protest — and, with no small amount of help from star David , somehow gets at who this man was far better than any cradle-to-grave narrative could. DF

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‘The Act of Killing’ (2012)

Fifty years ago, death squad leader Anwar Congo helmed the murders of one million fellow Indonesians; cleansing his country of Communists made him a hero, at least according to the killers still in charge. Cut to 2012, when documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer gave him a second challenge: direct a film about his accomplishments. Congo agreed. An exercise in catharsis, it’s easy to read The Act of Killing as a high-concept joke — that history repeating the cruelties of the past first as tragedy, then as a surreal musical number featuring a giant fish. There is nothing funny, however, about what Oppenheimer is doing here, however, or how he’s forcing someone to confront their part in a national trauma. When Congo calls “Cut!” on his comedy-musical about decapitation, he vomits. The past can be rewritten … but the truth still scars. AN

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock (8966691u)Dunkirk (2017)"Dunkirk" Film - 2017

‘Dunkirk’ (2017)

After his Dark Knight trilogy and several inner/outer space-traveling epics (Inception, Interstellar), Christopher Nolan turned to something closer to home. His astonishing war film about the 1940 Battle of Dunkirk — and the subsequent civilian rescue of British troops from a French beach — placed audiences directly into the action without much warning or explanation. This meticulously complex ticking clock of a film braids together one week, one day, and one hour timelines, expressing the both enormous scope of the event and the individual experiences within. It’s a movie that focuses on the different perspectives of combat by land, sea, and air, chronicling a nation’s fight to survive in all of its breathtaking in its beauty and terror. KW

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‘Lady Bird’ (2017)

High school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) swears she’s outgrown the stultifying suburbs of Sacramento, California. But this wannabe artist-something-or-other has a lot left to learn before she flees to New York and becomes her best self. Not every ambitious NorCal ex-pat is as destined for greatness as actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig, whose directorial debut doubles as a detailing (and deconstruction) of her own self-mythology. Luckily, Ronan’s headstrong, maddening, and often self-defeating Catholic schoolgirl has enough moxie to compensate for her lack of any specific talent. In her quest to be unique, McPherson becomes something even more powerful: a symbol of the universal agonies and ecstasies of growing up. And in her first solo outing as filmmaker, Gerwig proves she already has a fully formed vision and the chops to put it all onscreen. AN

BURNING, (aka BEONING), from left: YOO Ah-In, JEON Jong-seo, Steven YEUN, 2018. © Well Go USA / courtesy Everett Collection

Everett Collection / Everett Col


‘Burning’ (2018)

In the midst of telling a lengthy anecdote to friends, Burning‘s object of affection, Hae-mi (Jeon Jong Seo), gives up: “I can’t explain it in words,” she finally says. “You need to see it for yourselves.” The same could be said of Lee Chang Dong’s luminously enigmatic thriller, in which troubled, sensitive everyman Jong-su (Yoo Ah In) yearns for an old classmate. He then loses her to a dashing, haughty stranger named Ben (The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun) … who just might be a serial killer. The more that Lee shows us, the less sure we are of what we’re seeing. What exactly is going through our hero’s head? Does Ben really love Hae-mi, or does he want to murder her? Even after the film’s unsettling ending, you’re left with more questions than answers — the mysteries continue to burn. TG

Photo: Netflix


‘The Irishman’ (2019)

Martin Scorsese reunites with Robert De Niro 25 years after the duo made Casino, in the name of a Mob movie unlike any that he (or anyone else) has made before. The American filmmaker, perhaps our greatest, claims he was searching for “something more profound and set for his and my time and life.” And so the ravages of time — both men are in their mid-70s — pervade this tale of mob soldier Frank Sheeran (De Niro) and his alleged role in the hit on union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) ordered by Philly capo Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). In moving through the mid-20th century, this superb acting trio is digitally de-aged before Scorsese, creating a sorrowful, late-career classic, demonstrates how growing older and loneliness can be more lethal than a gun. PT

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Paramount Animation/Kobal/Shutte


‘Anomalisa’ (2015)

“Always remember the customer is an individual just like you,” lectures Michael Stone (David Thewlis) to a salesman conference in Cincinnati. The bruising joke in Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s puppet show is that everyone sounds identical to him — this visiting lecturer is a narcissist so absorbed in his own ego that the rest of mankind is monotone. Until Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), that is, whose unique voice cuts through the chatter, and the two get swept away by romance in a banal corporate hotel. As a screenwriter and director, Kaufman has made a name for himself as the king of chilly fables about human frailty where the mundane melds with the postmodern fantastic. Yet here, audiences wince at recognizing themselves in his agonized stop-motion marionettes. It makes a world of difference. AN

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Filmnation/Jw/Kobal/Shutterstock (5881438m)Scarlett JohanssonUnder The Skin - 2013Director: Jonathan GlazerFilm4/Filmnation Entertainment/Jw FilmsUKScene StillScifi



‘Under the Skin’ (2013)

There are many films about extra-terrestrials — Jonathan Glazer’s psychtropic-horror-sci-fi mindfuck feels like it was actually made by one. Like the men lured off the gray Glaswegian streets by Scarlett Johansson’s alien seductress (eerily precise right down to her imperfectly applied lipstick), you might find yourself mesmerized by the irresistible otherwordliness of the movie’s imagery, which you’d swear was being transmitted directly from a consciousness several galaxies away. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. This sweet, black hallucinogen is one of them. JK

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1663620a)Winter's BoneFilm and Television



‘Winter’s Bone’ (2010)

It’s a predictable but maddening quirk of film-industry fate that The Film That Made Jennifer Lawrence a Star did not make Debra Granik a comparable fixture in the directorial firmament. Yes, the future Oscar winner truly arrives in this hillbilly noir, as her resilient Ree goes on an Ozarkian odyssey through poverty-stricken hollers, frozen forests and meth-scarred households to find her deadbeat dad. But in only her second film, Granik displays an intense, eye-level compassion — also evident in 2018’s wonderful Leave No Trace — that gives Winter Bone‘s thrillerish plot not just empathy but also a spartan poetry. Footsteps pound over icy earth, wind blows through scrawny branches and snatches of echoey bluegrass twang and sigh. JK

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/Shutterstock (3196865b)Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender12 Years a Slave - 2014

Snap Stills/Shutterstock


’12 Years a Slave’ (2013)

Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 book — detailing how the author, a free black man, was abducted, sold into bondage and survived to tell the tale — isn’t simply the memoir of a slave. It’s a visceral, violent, unshakably disturbing chronicle of the institution of slavery itself, and how it systematically destroyed men, women, families, generations, and the moral foundation of a nation. A visual artist before he began making feature films, the British director has a knack for finding odd, fleeting moments of beauty in Northup’s story, all of which make his unflinching scenes of historical horrors that much more nightmarish. To see Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hero look from the horizon to the camera, gazing at viewers with a pleading stare, is to feel decades of a cursed past collapse on you in an instant. DF

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Cine Tamaris/Kobal/Shutterstock (9132805g)JR, Agnes Varda"Faces Places" Documentary- 2017

Photo Cine Tamaris/Kobal/Shutterstock


‘Faces Places’ (2017)

This exhilarating, late-career gift from Agnes Varda, the diminutive goddess of the French New Wave who died in March at the age of 90, encapsulates the humor and humanism that made her a consummate artist. Varda and her colleague, the photographer JR, drive around rural France memorializing the faces and places of those they meet through conversations and taking large-format photos that they paste on the walls of farms and houses so, in the elderly figurhead’s words, “they don’t fall into the hole of memory.” Nothing happens, except for the interaction between everyday people and the power of art to enlighten and transform — so, in other words, everything happens. PT

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


‘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


‘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


‘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


‘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


‘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



‘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


‘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


‘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


‘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



‘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


‘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



‘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



‘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


‘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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