This decade in cinema has been a wild ride. We saw the rise of the comic book movie, the return of some of the biggest franchises of all time (from Star Wars to Jurassic Park), and an explosion of indie studios—from the social media savvy A24 to the microbudget horror juggernaut Blumhouse. For this list, Street sorted through it all to give our top 15 movies of the decade—listed in the order in which they came out.
The brilliance of Inception goes beyond its analysis of the dream state and exploration of the human subconscious. The impressive part is Christopher Nolan’s ability to subvert audience’s expectations while combining genres like science fiction, to heist, to action–thriller. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the ideal haunted protagonist in a set of environments that challenge his own fears and failures. The action is outstanding, and the cinematography only adds to the impact. The plot and dialogue keeps you on the edge of your seat up until the ambiguous conclusion. As the viewer, you’re left with unanswered questions that will have you thinking about the film long after you’ve finished watching.
–Arjun Swaminathan, Staff Writer
The Social Network (2010)
There’s no film as emblematic of our changing times as The Social Network. At the very top of the decade, Fincher directed this opus commenting on an ethos that we’re all still living in. Our increasing reliance on social media and technology has forced us into largely unexplored ethical territory. Written in Aaron Sorkin’s characteristic snappy style, The Social Network tells the story of Facebook’s early years, contending with questions about the conflict between the Silicon Valley mindset of idealism and its untold power and unintended consequences. And, with questionable business ethics and ongoing controversies constantly reminding us of Facebook’s rocky beginnings, The Social Network’s relevance endures.
–Samantha Sanders, Film & TV Beat
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie that is nominally set in another time, harkening back to the early 1960s when folk was in vogue. But it’s more a movie about this decade than any other—a decade of stagnant wage growth, decaying culture and norms, and a dearth of job opportunities for young people. The music anchors the film in the ‘60s, with homages to Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan, among others, but the fire and passion of the era is replaced by the Coen brothers with a millennial malaise much more familiar to modern audiences. We watch Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) drift through his own life, confronted again and again with the failures of his career, the collapse of his romantic relationships, and his own general lack of direction, and we have no choice but to laugh at the darkly funny portrayal of a man whose life is falling apart—not from one catastrophic explosion but from the slow, eroding drip of disappointments and inconveniences. Isaac gives perhaps his finest performance, and the Coen brothers come through in all the areas you’d expect them to: The film is beautifully shot, well–written, and compelling. The angst, melancholy, and disillusionment make it a perfect fit for the 2010s—but the themes, and the movie as a whole, will endure long afterwards.
–Sam Mitchell, Incoming Street Campus Editor
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
It would be a crime not to have any Wes Anderson on this list, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is by far his most impressive film of the decade. This movie is Anderson at his best: a quirky plot, a bunch of eclectic characters, and, most importantly, gorgeous and bright coloring throughout every scene. Budapest is about the story of a concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), and his trusted lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who recounts their adventures at the hotel to the Author (Jude Law). Every shot of this movie is perfectly framed, showing Anderson’s penchant for symmetry and vivid coloring as well as his talent for set pieces. On top of it all, Budapest is hilarious and clever in its complexity. Through layered storytelling and interconnected plots, this movie ensures that it is not only pretty, but an intricate masterpiece. The soundtrack, performances, and stylization of Budapest makes it a stand–out film in Anderson’s collection, and certainly one of the best of the decade.
–Anna Collins, Film & TV Beat
Gone Girl (2014)
Gone Girl feels like a period piece about a time that we all lived through—an incisive reconstruction of the public outrage and true crime sensationalism of the Nancy Grace era. The whip–smart thriller holds a mirror up to the viewer. It asks what we would believe if we were watching the primetime news as pretty–boy Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) swears that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of his perfect, suburban wife who looks pulled from a J. Crew catalog. Gone Girl has all of the trappings of Fincher’s genre fare—meticulous camerawork, a sleek plot, a killer score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross—but the movie lives and dies on Rosamund Pike’s performance. Her Amy Dunne remains one of the standouts of the decade: a contemporary Hitchcock blonde so fixed in her alarming convictions that you can’t help but root for her. She’s a femme fatale turned up to 11: her bob sharper, her schemes more impressive, and her demeanor more chilling than anyone else put on screen this decade. We watch Amy adapt to situations with frightening precision—right down to the last shot, where we stare at her imperceptible face, still unsure of exactly what she’s thinking. But at the end of it all, the horror lies not in staging bloody murders or slitting someone’s throat with a box cutter, but in the ways that two unhappy people can completely and utterly ruin each other.
— Dalton DeStefano, Managing Editor
Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece is so much more than just another movie about music. At its most basic level, the film is the story of Andrew (Miles Teller), a talented young drummer at a cutthroat music conservatory, and his journey playing with a prestigious studio band and dealing with its tyrannical director Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). But Whiplash is so much more. This is a movie about human willpower, abuse, and suffering in the pursuit of greatness. That sounds dark and that’s not coincidental; this movie is downright painful to watch. It’s made to make you think about how far is too far when pushing yourself to achieve something—and whether it’s all worth it. Teller is gritty and determined, while Simmons is crazed and impassioned. It’s a complex, emotional film that will make you wince but also, more importantly, make you think.
—Jonah Charlton, Film & TV Beat
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie. It’s also a directorial tour de force, a feminist manifesto, an excellent showcase for Tom Hardy’s lips, and a film that relies not on dialogue but on movement. And there’s so much movement. The racing sequences define the movie, with director George Miller reveling in uninterrupted shots of cyberpunk–futurist landscapes populated with armies and rebel factions who feed on human blood. The best word to describe Fury Road is propulsive. It’s not right to say that it breathes life into the Mad Max franchise. It’s more like this movie drenched the franchise in motor oil and set it on fire. Though it nominally figures around Tom Hardy’s Max, the standout is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a defector from Joe’s cause who kidnaps his five wives and starts the car chase that figures most of the movie. As we approach climate disaster and reckon with staggering income inequality, the film becomes even more prescient. Its depiction of the tyrannical Immortan Joe, who hoards water, wealth, and women in equal measure, sets up the triumphant reclamation of the film's end. While the majority of the movie is sandy, unsaturated, unwatered, so steeped in movement it feels hard to breathe, the final scene is an exhale. Color pours back into the frame, drenched in the water that flows from Joe's citadel. Those final images provide a hopeful coda to a movie concerned with the tenacity and beauty of human life in a fundamentally harsh world.
— Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief
With an outstanding ensemble cast, and the steady direction of Tom McCarthy, Spotlight earned critical acclaim—and an Oscar for Best Picture—for its sterile and precise telling of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the epidemic of child molestation in the Roman Catholic Church in the Boston area. Although little of the actual crimes is recounted, the devil is in the details as we follow the beleaguered team of investigative journalists working to uncover the scandal. The film features standout performances from Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo, along with supporting work from Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci, each bringing the most to their parts as everyday citizens all driven to a singular goal. With the dreary backdrop of Boston and a subtle score, the muted moments of the film only serve to make the tense and confrontational scenes that much more powerful. Following in the great line of cinematic portrayals of investigative journalism, not only does the film convey the gravity of the crimes, but also captures the lengths to which people will go to bring systemic tragedies to light.
— Sam Kesler, Music Editor
No movie this decade is as technically perfect as Carol. Every painstaking detail rings true to director Todd Haynes meticulous vision: a cigarette effortlessly cocked in Carol’s hand, the pale pinks and greens of the department store where Therese works, the glow of Christmas lights on fir trees, the clarinets that pulse dejectedly throughout the opening scene. Go down the list of cinematic terms and it’s all perfect. The score? Haunting and emotional—perhaps the best of the decade. The cinematography? Deliberate, warm, and intimate. The costume design? An Old Hollywood movie buff’s dream (read: lots of pressed blouses, plaid dresses, and fancy hats). And that’s before you even broach the plot. The wealthy housewife Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett at her most opulent) and the unsure, younger Therese Belivet (a precise, restrained Rooney Mara) crackle like a warm fire when they’re on screen together. Their relationship feels lived-in from its very first coy moments, sparked by a pair of misplaced gloves. They revel in small talk and their gazes last for just a second too long—and it all feels so devastatingly true. It’s about two women navigating the repressed, buttoned-up world of 1950s New York, but it speaks to the thrill of anyone discovering exactly what they want in a world that feels otherwise empty. Their story is one of restraint and longing, of the pain and confusion and beauty of the queer experience, and of the explosive, impossible joy felt when—if just for a second—two people lock eyes across a room and feel truly seen. If only all of our ardent, forbidden love affairs could feature this many dramatic fur coats.
— Dalton DeStefano, Managing Editor
Moonlight is the quiet and careful tale of the often unexplored: It is a film about queerness, and blackness, and poverty all at once. A film that manages to tackle one of those topics is a feat. But Barry Jenkins manages to pay service to all three with deft simplicity and vulnerability. Moonlight follows Chiron, the protagonist, through three stages of his life—childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. It is an unfolding as it is an awakening. Its receipt of the Oscar for Best Picture was a landmark moment in Hollywood, even with the whole La La Land snafu.
–Samantha Sanders, Film & TV Beat
Get Out (2017)
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, delights in its discomfort. The first horror movie directed by a black man to be bankrolled by a major Hollywood studio, Get Out uses a sharp wit and well–timed psychological scares to reveal a deeper truth: Racism isn’t just the stuff of fundamentalists, and minorities still must navigate a tightrope of respectability—even among white liberals. The history–making feature is distinctly contemporary, using the backdrop of a polarized America to leave a sense of responsibility and malaise with viewers. The dialogue’s intelligence seeps under your skin. Get Out is compulsively watchable, like any good horror movie. And yet to slot it within that genre is reductive, ignoring the real magic of Peele’s work. Get Out is seminal, leaving an imprint that can’t be scrubbed away.
— Bea Forman, Incoming Street Culture Editor
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig has been working since the very beginning of the decade, and her role in pop culture has only evolved and expanded. In a relatively short amount of time, she’s gone from the face of the mumblecore movement, to small–time indie film girl, to star and co–writer of the acclaimed black–and–white Frances Ha, to an Oscar–nominated director. She, in and of herself, is an artifact of the 2010s. Gerwig’s film Lady Bird, too, is a standout of the past decade. An exploration of the relationship between mothers and daughters, Lady Bird is one of the rare films that quietly exceeds all expectations. With heart–wrenching performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf at its core, Lady Bird is the direct result of Gerwig’s past. It doesn’t always try to say something concrete and obvious, but it doesn’t have to. It’s simply a coming of age story—and anyone who’s seen it knows that’s good enough.
–Samantha Sanders, Film & TV Beat
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name is less a movie than a feeling. Can you remember each specific plot point, or the order of specific scenes? Maybe not. You’re much more likely to remember the way the sun washes over its characters on the Italian countryside, the sounds of birds chirping over establishing shots of the family’s villa, each string on Sufjan Stevens’ devastating “Mystery of Love.” It’s the rare movie that’s greater than the sum of its parts: Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is the gawky son of an archaeologist, Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an all–American beefcake, and they spend a summer together—that’s pretty much all there is to it. But it feels like so much more. Director Luca Guadagnino frames his two stars like they’re Greek statues, and lets them luxuriate in the nature surrounding them—they swim in lakes, sprawl out on lush summer grass, hold up an infamous peach. And, of course, this is the movie that introduced the world to Chalamet, the Leo DiCaprio successor meets euro–chic bad boy who’s captivated this generation and promises to be a star well after we close the book on the decade. His impish fluidity is tailor–made for this role, while Hammer remains at arm’s length. Elio and Oliver trade intellectual jabs and run errands in town together. They’re magnetized, and maybe they don’t quite know why at first, but we spend the better part of the movie waiting for them to finally click into place. By then, we’re so wrapped up in the freedom and spontaneity of it that we almost forget that this relationship has an expiration date—and so do they. It’s a summer love, and all summers come to an end. And by the time the movie reaches its agonizing final shot, you’ll feel the pain as if it's your own. Call Me By Your Name isn’t just a story about two people falling for each other. It’s the excited apprehension—and the bitter conclusion—of love itself, all compressed onto 35mm film.
— Dalton DeStefano, Managing Editor
The Favourite (2018)
While 18th century English queens may seem dreadfully boring and stuffy, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is far from the logical, composed scene of the dukes and duchesses that one might imagine. The Favourite is, in equal measure, a delicate yet incomprehensible film about the descent of the historically forgotten Queen Anne of England (Olivia Colman), who ruled alone after her husband’s death in 1708. Colman won the Best Actress Academy Award for this role, but Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as her competing lovers are also perfectly cast, both brilliantly witty and fiercely cruel. Lanthimos captures the deep sadness and madness of a queen who had a gut–wrenching life, immersing his audience in this foreign world and its characters, who are both horribly sympathetic yet messy and very often vicious. Lanthimos employs fisheye and wide–angle techniques to create a feeling of isolation and terror in the composed world of the English courts, and the starkness of the film’s palette adds to the artifice. Lanthimos’ innovation in cinematography, lighting, and coloring make this film a technical masterpiece. Its powerful story, astounding acting, and dizzying world make it a top contender for the 2010s.
–Anna Collins, Film & TV Beat
Parasite is a film wrought with despair, joy, anger, and humor. The Kim family, living in a small, half–underground apartment, seem to find their salvation when the oldest son lies his way into a tutoring job for the Parks, a wealthy family that lives in a mansion on a hill. Soon, each of the Kims begin working under the Parks, securing their jobs through less than savory means.This decade has been marked by politically charged, class–based stories that challenge unjust societal structures in vivid, emotional detail. Above them all (Joker, Us, The Florida Project) rises Parasite, not only for its attention to detail and bold characterizations, but also for its willingness to face the realities of both the rich and the poor head-on. The latest piece in director Bong Joon–ho’s growing list of acclaimed filmography, Parasite turns an exceptional, critical eye to a timely social issue. No explicit moral judgements are made against any one family—instead, the movie paints a picture of fear and anger, warmth and familial love, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, with objectivity, tension, and a great deal of universal sadness.
— Shannon Zhang, Film & TV Editor