I talked recently about my favorite films of 2019, but we’ve not just finished out a year, we’ve finished out a decade. And never in my life have I been so immersed in movies as I have been the last 10 years—from film student to media intern to videographer for hire to film professor!
So naturally, a lot of films in these last 10 years were really formational for me as a videographer, and I’d like to talk about them here now. Here are my top 25 films from between 2010 and 2019!
- The Irishman (2019, R; dir. Martin Scorsese)
With this film and Silence, Scorsese and his team ask questions about mortality, suffering, grief, and regret that are so fleshed out in the storytelling that you can tell these filmmakers have spent a lifetime contemplating them. As I said in my top-20-of-2019 list, that’s what makes The Irishman such an “epic” film.
- Toy Story 3 (2010, G; dir. Lee Unkrich)
This movie came out right after I graduated high school, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. A compelling conclusion (or so we thought lol) to a great film series, and by the end, I was definitely holding back tears along with many others in the theater.
- Her (2013, R; dir. Spike Jonze)
Who would have thought that a movie that’s essentially about a guy falling in love with his Alexa device would be so truthful about relationships? A great visual style and a musical score by Arcade Fire only add to this film’s gentle power.
- Zero Dark Thirty (2012, R; dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Fewer films this decade presented modern history so objectively, and yet so thrillingly, as this film, from its cold open to its edge-of-your-seat finale. In the years following its release, it’s gotten criticism as “CIA propaganda”, and while I don’t know enough to know whether or not that’s true, I still think this is a great historical thriller.
- Inside Out (2015, PG; dir. Pete Docter)
A film that deliberately lays out its subtext for all to see with personified emotions, only to then subtly present the idea that all emotions are necessary in order to properly grieve. Pixar’s best in a long time.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, PG-13; dir. Benh Zeitlin)
Even if you do understand the geographical and historical context of where this story takes place, seeing it through the eyes of a little girl adds a level of wonder—and horror—that it wouldn’t otherwise have. Zeitlin is finally releasing a new film in 2020, and it’s long overdue. Can’t wait.
- The Social Network (2010, PG-13; dir. David Fincher)
I remember critics in 2010 calling this the Citizen Kane of this generation. I can see how the two films relate in terms of their stories and protagonists, but more prominently, I see The Social Network’s influence on modern digital filmmaking in the same way that Kane had on cinematography 80 years ago.
- Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, R; dir. George Miller)
I didn’t easily warm up to this movie when I first saw it, but I think that’s because I wasn’t prepared for the kind of world building that this film accomplishes. It’s pure, visual storytelling, as well as heart-pounding action, and it is indeed a great action movie.
- Whiplash (2014, R; dir. Damien Chazelle)
A tight, entertaining film with a tight, entertaining script and great performances (both in acting and in music). But perhaps even better (or more infuriating), it brings up questions about how much we as artists can or should push ourselves in order to be excellent—and then leaves it to us to answer them.
- 127 Hours (2010, R; dir. Danny Boyle)
I still really enjoy this film for the true story it portrays, a strong lead performance from James Franco, Boyle’s signature directing style, and most of all, the fact that we’re alone with Aron Ralston for most of this film, experiencing this story as he is.
- Room (2015, R; dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
A film about a mother and her son both wrestling with how the world works and what their “home” even is. The first half is admittedly stronger than the second half, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. I definitely cried at this one too.
- Gravity (2013, R; dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
I definitely noticed fewer people talking about 3-D after Gravity came out—probably because everybody realized that with this film, 3-D had peaked. And even if you didn’t see the film that way, it’s very entertaining, and the fact that much of it takes place in real time gives you more of a “you-are-there” sense that 3-D could even do on its own.
- La La Land (2016, PG-13; dir. Damien Chazelle)
More than just an homage to classic Hollywood musicals, La La Land ultimately is about two people trying to navigate what they want life to be like, and what life actually is like, and the filmmaking helps externalize that conflict. Proud to say that I’m having my students watch and analyze this.
- Inception (2010, PG-13; dir. Christopher Nolan)
A high-concept action movie so original that, quite unfortunately, nobody’s really tried to replicate it (except for perhaps Nolan himself). Hopefully that won’t keep Inception from being properly remembered as one of this decade’s iconic blockbusters.
- Manchester By the Sea (2016, R; dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
A film so carefully crafted yet so authentically executed that it feels like real life happening before your eyes. The coldness of the setting (as well as the characters) leaps off the screen. It’s quite funny, often heartbreaking, and ultimately just real.
- 12 Years a Slave (2013, R; dir. Steve McQueen)
I wouldn’t have thought that this biographical film about American slavery would have used such bright and beautiful imagery, but the fact that it does makes Solomon Northup’s struggle more real. It’s a hard but important film to watch.
- Amour (2012, PG-13; dir. Michael Haneke)
Not unlike 12 Years a Slave, Amour often will simply let the characters live within the frame, complete with all their suffering, in a way that the audience feels rightfully helpless to save them. To see this foreign film in a theater as a college student was a privilege as well as a revelation.
- Frances Ha (2013, R; dir. Noah Baumbach)
When I watched Frances Ha for the first time, I would have believed you if you had told me it was improvised. Then I realized it wasn’t, and I appreciated it even more. It’s a quirky yet thoughtful coming-of-age story—not to mention a milestone for professional DSLR filmmaking.
- The Look of Silence (2015, PG-13; dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
By far the finest documentary I’ve seen this decade (along with its companion piece The Act of Killing). Indonesian man Adi gently confronts many men responsible for his brother’s genocidal death, and we simply observe the perpetrators’ depravity as well as Adi’s attempts at reconciliation. The Look of Silence comments on human nature in a way that most documentaries—and films in general—rarely do.
- Silence (2016, R; dir. Martin Scorsese)
In a decade when a lot of “Christian movies” made a lot of money, Silence was one of the least profitable ones and yet wrestled with harder questions than the rest of them. And thankfully, they’re questions that can’t be easily answered in a two-hour period, meaning that the film stays with you long after you see it. And you should see it.
- Fruitvale Station (2013, R; dir. Ryan Coogler)
Before he made Creed and Black Panther, Coogler told the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man shot and killed by police in San Francisco in 2009. One of many films of this decade that tackled such subject matter, but one of few that makes an active attempt at reconciliation, and I’m very grateful for that.
- Dunkirk (2017, PG-13; dir. Christopher Nolan)
Dunkirk is certainly an unconventional war movie, not simply for the sake of being unconventional, but in order to convey a sense of dread, uncertainty, and anonymity that was present among all the soldiers trapped on the beach. And frankly, I loved it—and seeing it projected on the big screen in 70mm film was an incredible privilege.
- Drive (2011, R; dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
More than just a well-crafted thriller, Drive allows enough mystery about its protagonist that you can apply your own back-story to his—and I would argue that it makes him more relatable. I didn’t initially admit how much I liked this movie, but I’ve actually come to love it.
- Boyhood (2014, R; dir. Richard Linklater)
There are movies that feel like you’re watching real life on screen, and then there’s Boyhood, where people literally grow up on screen. It’s easy to say “nothing happens” in the film, but I’d argue that actually, a lot of character development happens; it’s just very quiet. Even so, I’d still prefer it to the alternative, where “too much happens” and you feel emotionally exhausted by the end when you shouldn’t.
- The Tree of Life (2011, PG-13; dir. Terrence Malick)
The Tree of Life had a huge impact on me as a film student; it served as the basis for my Master’s thesis; its filmmaking influenced how I shot and edited documentary-style video; and several years after first seeing it, it still stands out not only as a unique, ambitious film, but also as a contemplative piece about who God is and what His plan is. Even Malick himself has not been able to replicate what this film creates—and several years later, it’s still my favorite movie of the decade.
So that’s my list. What are your favorite movies of the last 10 years? Let me know below. Thanks so much for reading!