The 2010s have been an exciting, variable, and unpredictable period for cinema, hasn’t it? Even a cursory glance at the titles listed here show a wide-ranging assortment that includes auteur-driven films, influential movies, astonishing international fare, a few blockbusters, plentiful arthouse gems, genre films, and many magnificent female-led projects, too (that’s truly been one of this decades best progressions), each of which represent the very best of the cinematic artform.
PLEASE NOTE: While listing a mere 25 films means that many worthwhile films and filmmakers had to be left by the wayside, we encourage you to join the conversation and list your favorites in the comments section below (be nice!).
Additionally, the following list does NOT include non-fiction films. A best documentaries list of the decade will be forthcoming.
And now, with all that said, here are the best films of the 2010s. Enjoy!
25. Certain Women (2016)
Further demonstrating her dactylitic mastery of the form, writer/director Kelly Reichardt continues her neorealist reconnaissance of contemporary American life with Certain Women. Adapting and interconnecting several short stories from Maile Meloy’s 2009 anthology “Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It”, three women (Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Reichardt regular Michelle Williams) in small-town Montana stay the course in separate and interconnecting struggles.
Dubbed by Senses of Cinema scribe Sam Littman as “The poet laureate of the Pacific Northwest,” Reichardt once again proves to be a patient, powerful, and luminous auteur, compassionately capturing the tangled and sometimes torturous emotional expanses––namely loneliness and bereavement––via flawed and occasionally Delphic women.
Tiny but imperative victories and workaday tenacity rests at the soft-touch crux of Reichardt’s film, and while some of the ambiguity will estrange some viewers, the frequent flashes of brilliancy and nuance will deeply satisfy the adventurous. This is a measured masterpiece from a refined and elegant original filmmaker.
24. Goodbye to Language (2014)
A ciné-poem from the father of modern film, Jean-Luc Godard, 84-years-old at the time of this production (and still going strong as he nears 90), proves to be light-years ahead of us all. Will we ever catch up to him? The aural-visual array of Goodbye to Language is often suggestive, on occasion very deep, sporadically goofy, seductive, and everyplace suspicious. Combining a cast of cool characters rapt in irascible and odd conversation, Godard’s delightful dog, Roxy, and at least one gob-smacking sequence of technical derring-do, this is a landmark psych out all the way.
23. The Turin Horse (2011)
A sedate and somber showpiece from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, The Turin Horse depicts the meaning of life in microcosm, and would we expect anything less from the Hungarian husband and wife duo? Perhaps their greatest achievement, the repetitive and routine daily lives of a horse-owner (János Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bók) take on Bresson-like dimensions that are both perfunctory and profound.
Fred Kelemen’s black-and-white lensing may not at first seem all that flashy, but the film, comprised of only 30 long takes, is a measured miracle of nuance and heartache.
22. American Honey (2016)
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey seems to move from one desultory random moment to the next; arranged with radiant, tantalizing possibilities, and unsettled questions. A rambling masterpiece, this is both a road movie, and a coming-of-age odyssey of singalongs that is both luxurious to look at and dazzling to contemplate.
Sasha Lane shines as Star, an unfettered 18-year-old, she escapes her abusive scumbag father and joins a mysterious young man named Jake (a shockingly good Shia LeBeouf), whom she had a chance meeting with. Soon Star hits the road with Jake and other teens; a tattooed and glitter-bombed crew who sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door as they zigzag across America.
When we first meet Jake he seems to move with an unpredictable and meteoric energy, like he could just leave the scene or even exit the movie altogether on a whim, if he wanted. And by the end, this meteoric energy has moved on to Star in some sort of cinematic transmigration. And that’s American Honey; a narratively audacious, picaresque pageant of youth, exhilarative spectacle and aspiration.
21. Get Out (2017)
Intelligently satiric, incredibly horrific, profoundly funny, and deeply resonant for anyone who thoughtfully ponders the issue of race in North America, Jordan Peele makes an outstanding directorial debut with Get Out (which he also wrote).
Riffing on Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), with some well-placed reservations, reluctantly but good-naturedly accompanies his new girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) for a weekend in the country with her upscale folks (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Knowing that the only other African Americans within screaming distance will be the Armitage’s servants, it’s no wonder that Chris is nervous about how Rose’s family will receive him, even knowing that they are liberal-minded, educated, and easy-going.
Get Out is great as an uncomfortable comedy, but it excels at social commentary and reconstituted horror movie hyperbole. Funny, frightening, and perpetually thought-provoking, Peele expertly provides a slow-build with some great twists, palatable payoffs, and plenty of wit. This is an excitedly ambitious film from Peele, and a poignant one, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
20. Cold War (2018)
Gracefully charting the delirious highs and heartbreaking lows of the excited love affair between a composer named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and a folk singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig) as they conform to the sour vagaries of life in post-war Poland under Communist rule, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is an achingly lovely achievement.
Like Ida (2013), Pawlikowski’s previous period drama, Cold War shares a similar setting and luminous black and white view, but the two films are vastly different in their emotional approach and expression.
Kulig, as Zula, is absolutely electrifying. As she vibrantly descants Parisian torch songs that sets the enraptured mood of the film it’s easy to see why so many have suggested she may be the new Jeanne Moreau. With a sentimental sigh and a quick wiping away of tears, Cold War is a film of burning seduction and charming, cryptic truth.
19. The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) does it again, adding yet another absurdist gem to a collection that shows no sign of slowing down in quality and fanfare. In The Favourite, he reimagines the reign of Queen Anne and the periodically playful, somewhat sexy competition between her two ladies-in-waiting, Lady Sarah Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone).
Avoiding the common pitfalls of the set-up, Lanthimos manages to earn sympathy for each of the characters, no matter how low they’re willing to go––if only because they’re doing it to survive. It’s easy to cheer on every player when the game is as cutthroat as the 18th century could be, especially for women.
Lanthimos loosens the corset strings in the most surprising ways, creating room to breathe in a period piece that could have been stuffy and heavy-lidded. Every frame is a treat for the eyes and its razor-sharp comedy and precise editing delivers a near-perfect film that is not soon to be forgotten.
18. A Separation (2011)
“A Separation will become one of those enduring masterpieces watched decades from now,” wrote an enthusiastic Roger Ebert of writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s stirring film. A narratively complex, stylistically dense and morally confrontational tale of class, gender, justice, and morality as a secular middle-class family grapples with the dissolution of a marriage.
Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are a married couple who live in Iran with their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) at odds as she wants to leave the country but he needs to stay to care for his Alzheimer’s afflicted father. And so Simin, painfully, files for divorce.
And while A Separation is a compelling divorce drama, it is so much more than that as Farhadi’s expertly told tale moves beyond being only about men and women, husbands and wives, children and parents, as the familial upheaval winds up in conflict with an impoverished religious one, too, as well as bringing Iranian society into a sharp focus so rarely seen in cinema. Not to be missed.