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.