Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
If the previous decade was a mix that explains who I am, the films of the 2010s firmly established what that taste would be. In fact, the chronology of the list inverts the progression of my film understanding. The second decade of my life defined the first decade. So even though many of the films written up last week are some of my favorites, these films are more important overall.
Looking back now, and particularly writing about the two decades, it is easy to see that many of these films — unlike most of the more mature choices in the previous lists — are the films that really changed my life and perception of what it means to be an adult within American popular culture. I truly hold them dear.
“The Social Network” — 2010
For our generation, Facebook has always been old news, but our interest in Instagram, Tik Tok and Twitter looks similar to the impact Facebook had on millennials. In “The Social Network,” director David Fincher portrays a site and company built by a vengeful and hormonal Mark Zuckerberg — who Fincher renders in his own style, never ruining a good character by sticking too closely to the truth. In retrospect, it is the film that defined the decade that followed as it characterized and dramatically explained the murky origin and greedy foundations of one of the world’s most influential companies.
Runner-up: “Inception.” A dream, within a dream, within a dream? How dreamy.
“Moneyball” — 2011
Most baseball fans have championships to celebrate. A’s fans, like myself, have Brad Pitt. Since 2011, without having championship runs to cheer for, I have watched “Moneyball” many times in the month of October. You know, to feel something. Someday that finishing scroll will ring less than true. Someday…
“Moonrise Kingdom” — 2012
"Moonrise Kingdom" film is the perfect example of why 90-minute movies can be my favorite. They are tight in their intention, quick with a narrative and so rich in their impact. When Wes Anderson is at the directorial helm, they can even be poetic:
"Poems don't have to rhyme, they just have to be creative." — Sam Shakusky, “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Runner-up: “Django: Unchained.” Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in this movie is what I believe to be his best performance. The depth and vile of his character are near the top of movie villains from the last two decades.
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“The Wolf of Wall Street” — 2013
Jordan Belfort is a gangster, they just look different when they have a Wall Street job. Generally, they joke more and kill less, but the criminal hubris is all the same. Nobody can render and critique that frantic hubris better than Martin Scorsese. Also, just in case folks have this confused, Jordan Belfort is not a good guy — he is just funny.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” — 2014
Wes Anderson is often described as a builder of dollhouses: dollhouses that world-build around trinket characters and pastel-colored misadventures. That is not to say his movies are childlike — often the setting allows the adult concepts to play out in exacting ways that are impossible to show in a more realistic setting. His style makes the meaning of the film of supreme importance, while the complicated business of intervening issues of realism are gone within the confines of his unreal worlds. It is for these reasons that "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — a film that deals with male vanity, murder, fascism and brutality — is the ultimate dollhouse.
Runner-up: “Whiplash.” Music is one of the most human things. It encapsulates so much of what is good, yet capacitates all of what can make us brutal. What makes “Whiplash'' so powerful is how potently it puts that theme in a movie.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” — 2015
There are action movies and then there is this action movie. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the cinematic embodiment of sight and sound. Plot and dialogue are there, but mostly they function to advance the mission of creating the most ambitious action spectacle ever captured on screen. And they freaking did it. But do not just take my word for it, here is a fantastic oral history by the New York Times on the film’s fraught production.
Runner-up: “The Hateful Eight.” Never has there been a more ambitious murder mystery. Nor has there been a better revisionist Western since “Unforgiven." This film does both, all while using the simple canvas of eight awful people in one cabin over three riveting hours.
Honorable Mention(s): My favorite movie year of all time might be 2015, so I am going to spread the love and break my own rules. Here are my honorable mentions from 2015 ranked: "The Martian," "Spotlight," "The Big Short," "Inside Out," "Sicario," "Brooklyn" and “Bridge of Spies.”
“Arrival” — 2016
Alien movies typically are not fundamental explorations of temporal philosophy and the tragedy of doomed love. Thus, "Arrival" is no normal alien movie. In fact, the film is something unique, even in the endlessly fantastical world of science fiction. It is a cinematic exploration of the intersection of metaphysics, global politics and human capabilities. Filmically, "Arrival" is a masterpiece. Not just for its story, but for the way it blends that transformative narrative with spectacle and computer-generated beauty that will be timeless. Whatsmore, “Arrival” is the center of a three-year run from director Denis Villeneuve of “Sicario,” “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2048,” which establishes the French auteur as a marquee name in filmmaking.
Runner-up: “Hell or High Water.” One of the underappreciated neo-westerns of the last 20 years, “Hell or High Water” deals with family loyalty through brotherhood, crime and the murk of capitalist greed in a modern Texas landscape. The film is an underappreciated favorite of mine that I absolutely recommend.
“Get Out” — 2017
“Get Out” is the most important film of the decade. Let me tell you why.
First, the film fits into American popular culture of memes and dark humor, but it also satirizes and comments on America’s systemic racism. Second, it reaffirmed the capability of a true Black lead film, dealing with social inequality, from a young Black filmmaker. Third, even with the moral weightiness of the film's deeper meaning, "Get Out" was a widespread hit and had inescapable appeal to so many of the younger generations.
Honorable mention(s): "Logan" and "Logan Lucky." The year 2017 was the apex mountain for Logans. Not only did Logans everywhere get two movies with our names in the title, but we also got two super fun movies with our names in the title.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” — 2018
New things are hard to find in the 21st century. While the Spider-man story is nothing new, telling the story in mind-bending color and animated-inducing chaos is one of the most neck-tickling theater experiences I have ever had. This film is all about the feel and that should be celebrated.
“Knives Out” — 2019
"Knives Out" is a classical murder mystery in a maximalist, contemporary contortion. In all the same ways that "The Hateful Eight" escapes the conventions of the genre, "Knives Out" embodies them. Like other classical murder mystery stories, there is a cast of characters who all have motives; there is an old country house at the end of a lane; there is a suave detective who puts it all together. Nonetheless, it refuses to shy away from the complications of a contemporary timeline. Nor does it shy away the politics of traditional family values and nationality. It is a vivid masterpiece that cuts right to those joy receptors in the viewer. It is an awesome movie that I am so glad we have.
Runner-up: "The Lighthouse." Shoutout to A24 Films for making this deranged movie and shoutout to Willem Defoe for allowing makeup to render his beautiful face into a force of supreme ugliness.
“Palm Springs” — 2020
In 2020, time got silly. Perpetually and repeatedly, life felt like it was slipping by, yet simultaneously stood entirely unmoving. By not-so-happy coincidence, the comedy of Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti in the perpetual time loop of a Palm Springs wedding lets the viewer escape their own time loops to live in one that is much funnier.
Runner-up: "Borat Subsequent Movie Film." A tidy little reward for a year of sheer absurdity.
“Licorice Pizza” — 2021
I have to admit that I am something of a stickler for geographic continuity. Space should mean something in film, even in a medium that can fib a little. For my tastes, films that are of a place ground me in a reality that is so dang comfortable. "Licorice Pizza" is a consummate example of how this works. The movie, as much as it is about young formative love, is more focused on being a sparkling homage to a place and to a time. The place? The San Fernando Valley. The time? The 70s. Everything else is secondary. What is first, and what lasts, is that vivacity of life found in the memory bank of a reflective filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson, grounded in the place that built him.
Runner-up: "Dune: Part One." I am a big fan of endings. I will reserve judgment on this part one when I conclude part two, a film that should be arriving in theaters next year.
Contact contributor Logan Jones-Wilkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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