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A year by year look at the best movies of the decade

The best movies of the decade.

Time sure does fly. Especially when you decide to do a best of the decade article before the decade has actually ended. Well, you know what they say: no risk, no reward. And if the remainder of 2019 offers up one of the best movies of the decade, we will make up for it next year. (Hindsight is 2020, after all.) AIPT contributor Alex Curtis and Movie Editor Nathaniel Muir go year by year and pick the best movies of the past decade.

2010: Black Swan

Nathaniel: Inception is an excellent groundbreakng movie but in the interest of being different, I am going with Black Swan. As much a dark character study as a psychological horror, director Darren Aronofsky’s movie is a frightening look at achieving perfection. The performances are fantastic (Natalie Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress) while the story is as engaging as it is frightening. In a career filled with polarizing movies, this may be Aronofsky’s most accessible.

2010: Inception

Alex: Very possibly Nolan’s finest film, Inception takes a high and hard sci-fi concept and spins it into a trippy thriller. While it’s easy to get caught up in all the dream dimensions, the emotional core of this film speaks the loudest (well, other than the score). Dicaprio serves as a metaphor for Nolan himself: a man distanced from his family by work, clawing to get back to what he’s lost.

2011: Moneyball

Nathaniel: Brad Pitt does a wonderful job in a movie that also reaches out to stats geeks. Jonah Hill stands out and proves hes is more than just a funny sidekick. Lots of sports movies deal with the generational gap. Moneyball also involves ever changing technology. The story is all about baseball but is strong enough to attract those who are not fans of the sport.

2011: Drive

Alex: Initially failing to break into the Hollywood/English-speaking market with Fear X, Nicolas Winding Refn roared back into the mainstream with his art-house neo-noir, Drive. Personally, this had a huge impact on my development as a film lover. At first I thought Drive would just be some generic crime caper with a tacked on romance. But Gosling and Mulligan’s pure relationship elevates the subversive, cruel film into a hypnotic, swooning masterpiece (take that, William Friedkin). 

2012: Moonrise Kingdom

Nathaniel: Wes Anderson is a master at the coming of age story. A beautiful movie about family and love, Moonrise Kingdom may be the most touching of Anderson’s career. The distinctive Anderson style looks especially great here. A heartwarming story that reinforces why Anderson is so respected. Great performances from a cast that includes Bill Murray and Bruce Willis.

2012: Django Unchained

Alex: Moonrise Kingdom is darn close, but I gotta throw Tarantino a bone. His best work to date, QT doesn’t give us any mere revenge flick. Emotionally stirring, Django makes us ache for Jamie Foxx’s thirst for not only vengeance but the search and rescue of his wife. This is an America epic for the modern era that puts a gun to racism’s head and pulls the trigger while spitting unparalleled dialogue. In two words that I’m sure Tarantino would approve of: mother***ing badass. 

2013: The Wolf of Wall Street

Nathaniel: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have teamed together to make some amazing movies. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best of them. Based on a true story, the film chronicles the hilarious rise and fall of a greedy stockbroker. Margot Robbie is fantastic in a breakthrough performance. A fun and engaging story. Just be prepared to hear a lot of naughty words.

2013: Short Term 12

Alex: Roger Ebert spoke many times of how cinema is a machine for empathy, and Short Term 12 is a prime example of the emotional power that film can bestow on us. Brie Larson is unparalleled as an abuse survivor that struggles to overcome her own demons and help foster kids in her care. Refusing to dive into clichés or cheap melodrama (while also balancing hardships and warmth), Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is a tear-jerking revelation. 

2014: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Nathaniel: Before Joker, Birdman used a popular superhero to examine mental health. A dark story that is hard to limit to one genre. The direction of Alejandro G. Inarritu is great. The movie looks like it was filmed in one single shot. Michael Keaton is fantastic in what may be the best performance of his career. A great ending that will have its audience talking for days.

2014: Whiplash

Alex: While there are artsier picks, like Birdman or Phoenix, Whiplash’s pummeling power won’t let me pass it by. It’s a classic set-up about a dreamer encountering a tough teacher. But JK Simmons is incendiary as Fletcher, the cruelest, most terrifying teacher imaginable. Damien Chazel breathes new life into the well-worn themes of artistic obsession with a feast of unrelentingly abrasive dialogue and fluid, jazzy direction.

2015: The Big Short 

Nathaniel: How do you make an interesting movie about the housing collapse of the early 21st century? Adam McKay uses an impressive ensemble cast and clever writing to do just that. Christian Bale and Steve Carell lead the way with top notch performances. The subject is not funny, but the movie still brings the laughs. A powerful story that will anger audiences.

2015: The End of the Tour

Alex: I didn’t even know who David Foster Wallace was when I first saw this. But that didn’t matter, because James Ponsoldt topped himself with The End of the Tour. Not only is this a character study of the complex bundle of contradictions that was Wallace, but also of his interviewer foil, played insightfully by Jesse Eisenberg. Through dialogue, performance, and direction—all beautifully observational and yet prickly—we see the tiniest tip of the iceberg in regards to Wallace’s troubled genius. Nobody can truly understand somebody like the Infinite Jest author, much less in two hours. But The End of the Tour doesn’t force answers. It uses him as a springboard for us to look at our own longings, fears, and purpose. 

2016: The Witch

Also the most underrated and overlooked movie of the year. One of the scariest films of the century. Few movies this decade have been as polarizing as The Witch. Methodical pacing adds to the horror, while frustrating some who watch. Perfect setting and tone in a story that induces paranoia. A multilayered folktale with an ending that will stay with anyone who sees it.

2016: 20th Century Women

Alex: To pick Moonlight—or not to pick Moonlight. That is the question. But since it won Best Picture (suck it, La La Land) and is included in tons of decade-end lists, I’ll go with my more personal pick. Following a cast including the effervescent likes of Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig, Mike Mills’ film charts an unlikely family throughout the 70s. Almost every scene feels iconic (how to smoke a cigarette like a man, menstruation talk at the dinner table) as it explores generational gaps and bonds between us fragile, beautiful humans during our short period on this earth. 

2017: mother!

Phantom Thread was the best movie of 2017, but it was very close race. mother! is a very polarizing movie. Some people feel it is overbloated and pretentious while others think the themes and storytelling are incredible. One thing that cannot be denied is it one of the most unique movies of the decade. Lots of negative press caused audiences to miss out on one of the best movies of the year when it was released. Years removed, people have a chance to watch a truly mesmerizing film.

2017: Phantom Thread

Alex: Paul Thomas Anderson remains my favorite living director—and a big reason for that is his latest film. Sure, Phantom Thread is a gorgeously elegant and twisted story on its own: Reynolds Woodcock, an austere fashion designer’s life is turned inside out by his chaotic lover, Alma. To be honest, it sounds like a boring 90s rom-com. But this is PTA we’re talking about, and this is a microcosmic examination of how men and women interact. Oh, and Daniel Day-Lewis rivals his Daniel Plainview role from There Will Be Blood. No big deal.

2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A groundbreaking film that is arguably the best Spider-Man movie. Peter B. Parker is one of the best Peters ever while the story brings the tried and true Spider-Man formula into the modern world. The story will have audiences run the gamut of emotions. The movie is so good it is impossible to fully appreciate in one viewing. The perfect mix of casting, music, and storytelling.

2018: Roma 

Alex: I almost want to cheat and make this a tie with First Reformed, You Were Never Really Here, The Rider, and Minding the Gap. But I’ll stick with Alfonso Cuaron’s epic semi-autobiographical tale of his childhood maid. So burdened is this poor woman, that she takes the role of the abused and passed-around donkey in Au Hasard Balthazar, enduring human cruelty and witnessing fleeting moments of grace. Both tremendous in scope and devastatingly intimate, this is a saintly film with almost spiritual power. 

2019: Parasite

The first Korean movie to win the prestigious Palme D’Or is an era defining film. Dealing with the class divide and abuse of power, Parasite is filled with fantastic acting and a tremendous story. This may be the best movie of the entire decade.

2019: The Nightingale

Alex: OK—huge disclaimer up top. There are lots of 2019 movies I need to see before truly declaring my favorite of the year. That being said—Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale wrecked me and will remain high on my favorites list no matter what else I see this year. After an Irish woman is raped and witnesses her family being slaughtered by a British officer, she sets out to hunt him down with the help of an Australian aboriginal guide. Although the plot sounds exploitative or like a typical rape-revenge plot, Kent yanks out any titillation or easy answers in the proceedings. Although about many things, The Nightingale deals with racism, trauma, gender, and the search for lost heritage. In a just world, this would win all the Oscars. 

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