The 10 Best Films of the Decade So Far – by Daniel Rester

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The 10 Best Films of the Decade So Far – by Daniel Rester

The twenty-tens (or however one pronounces it) has been an impressive decade in film so far. Since the decade is now half over, I decided to look back and choose what I think are the ten best films to release between January 1st, 2010 and December 31st, 2014 (according to U.S. release dates).

This was a very hard list to make. Seriously, to leave off films like Django Unchained (2012) and Birdman (2014) seemed nuts to me, yet I found ten films that rose above those and others. I’ve seen hundreds of films over the past five years while working on my film criticism, but these ten below are the highlights in my opinion. Let’s start out with some honorable mentions though.

20 Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order): Argo (2012), The Avengers (2012), Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Before Midnight (2013), Birdman (2014), Black Swan (2010), Django Unchained (2012), The Fighter (2010), The Hunt (2013), Life of Pi (2012), The Master (2012), Mud (2013), Nightcrawler (2014), The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), 127 Hours (2010) , Toy Story 3 (2010), The Tree of Life (2011), Under the Skin (2014), Whiplash (2014), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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10. The Descendents (2011)

No one captures the messiness of everyday life quite like Alexander Payne. He took a seven-year break after directing Sideways (2004), but The Descendents was worth the wait – and may just be his finest work yet. In dealing with themes like grief, infidelity, and teenage angst, Payne crafted a rich and poignant study of a modern American family. Seeing George Clooney – in a layered, career-best performance – running in flip-flops is priceless, but the film also delivers with its exceptional writing, beautiful Hawaiian locations, and stellar supporting cast (including a star-making turn by young Shailene Woodley).

My score in 2011: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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9. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

Raw, real, and daring, Abdellatif Kechiche’s 3-hour film Blue is the Warmest Color features the two best female performances I’ve seen this decade so far.  Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos – the two actresses – deservedly shared the winning of the Palme d’Or with Kechiche, a first-time occurrence in history. The movie touches on social class, the exploration of romance, prolonged melancholy, and much more as it paints the love-and-sadness story of Emma (Seydoux) and Adèle (Exarchopoulos). Color isn’t warm and fuzzy, but rather a relationship movie that floors you.

My score in 2013: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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8. Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan cemented himself as one of the great British directors working today with The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception. The latter is a mind-bending sci-fi adventure that intelligently and creatively deals with dreams and regret while delivering on blockbuster thrills. Does the film have some questionable spots that might not fully work? Perhaps. But Nolan’s world-building ambition and entertainment payoffs in the film easily trump minor flaws. Inception also further pushed now-star Tom Hardy into the spotlight while providing Leonardo DiCaprio one of his more interesting performances.

My score in 2010: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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7. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

After delivering with the exceptional war drama The Hurt Locker (2009), audiences wondered what journalistic writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow had in store next. Their answer was the controversial, endlessly tense film Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Some people have lashed out and questioned some of Thirty’s story turns. Is the picture likely 100% accurate? Hell no, but it takes the audience on a dramatic thrill ride and gets them to think and want to research about the important topic at hand. The film is also responsible for further elevating the careers of newer stars like Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, and Chris Pratt.

My score in 2012: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

If John Hughes was alive to make coming-of-age films today and used a form similar to American Beauty (1999), it might look and feel something like Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower – which is based on Chbosky’s own book from 1999. Perhaps the most underrated and overlooked film on this list, Wallflower is a graceful and deeply-felt teenage drama dealing with suicide, homosexuality, new friendship, and much more. In a decade full of terrific coming-of-age films so far, Wallflower easily stands as one of the best in many years. It’s a film that still resonates for me today.

My score in 2012: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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5. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen’s groundbreaking, sledgehammer of a historical film, 12 Years a Slave, is now the great film in dealing with the subject of slavery in America. The picture shakes the nerves and provides insight into one of the more controversial periods in American history while telling the story of Solomon Northup. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o touched something deep with their performances, and Michael Fassbender turned in a realistic antagonist for the ages with his work as Edwin Epps. Perhaps not since Schindler’s List (1993) has a film felt quite like this.

My score in 2013: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: 4 out of 4 stars.

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4. Drive (2011)

An instant cult classic, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is prime postmodern coolness with an unforgettable existential hero – The Driver (Ryan Gosling) — at its core. Still featuring my favorite opening scene and overall soundtrack of the decade so far, Drive is actually a subtle romance story with a mask of neon colors and bursts of bloody – and sometimes unnecessary – violence. Though the film’s material may not be for all tastes, Drive undoubtedly reinvigorated some style in modern filmmaking and is already a go-to example in many film studies situations.

My score in 2011: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: 4 out of 4 stars.

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3. Her (2013)

Leave it to a visionary filmmaker like Spike Jonze to provide arguably the most intriguing and touching love story of the decade so far. Her goes beyond just a metaphor of man’s love for technology, with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, incredible) and Samantha’s relationship being palpable throughout. Scarlett Johansson takes voice acting to a new level as the operating system Samantha, but the entire cast works on the same level. Films this smart and delicate – and with this much foresight – don’t come around very often.

My score in 2013: 3 ½ out of 4 stars. My score now: 4 out of 4 stars.

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2. Boyhood (2014)

Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age masterpiece Boyhood has already received some backlash for “being too long,” “relying on a gimmick,” etc. To each his own I guess. But for me, and many others, Linklater crafted something special out of this 12-years-in-the-making film. It takes away any form of big Hollywood-like mechanics or melodrama and instead focuses on the little, ordinary moments in life that flow together but stick with us down the road. Would the film be as well-regarded if it was filmed as a regular movie over a couple of months and just used different actors for different ages? No, probably not. But to strip away that piece is to take away its true identity. Boyhood works so well precisely because it doesn’t move like a regular movie. It moves like a flow of real-life memories, and I couldn’t love it more.

My score in 2014: 4 out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

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1. The Social Network (2010)

And here it is: for me, David Fincher’s The Social Network is still the best film to come out in the last five years. Fincher’s electrifying treatment of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s story of the founding of Facebook makes for masterclass filmmaking. While Social Network, like Zero Dark Thirty, is perhaps loosely guided around facts, it’s the movie’s overall examination of its themes that is more important here; just seeing this as “the Facebook movie” is surface-level thinking. The fascinating story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and others just makes up the exterior. The interior explores classic themes of loneliness, betrayal, determination, class, and much more in its showing of how things have drastically changed and also stayed the same in this Internet-based era. Social Network still holds mammoth relevance and feels like literature put to film.

My score in 2010: 4 out of 4 stars. My score now: Same.

What about you guys? What are your favorite films of the decade so far? Do you agree with Daniel? Sound off in the comments below!

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