With the decade about to come to a close TheaterByte offers up what we feel were some of the best films to hit theaters – or stream – over the past ten years. Some may be familiar, some obvious, some are guilty pleasures. We also asked our staff to offer up their own individual lists of their personal favorites, which you can see below, stretching back over the past ten years to 2009. And now, without further ado, TheaterByte’s Best Films of the Decade.
20. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, 2019)
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the moonwalk – the original one. And the year was chock-full of TV specials, news reports, and looks back at the NASA space program and the historic moon landing, but perhaps none were more riveting than Todd Douglas Miller’s film Apollo 11. Less a documentary than a straight archival visual telling of the events culled from resurfaced NASA film footage, much of it shot on 65mm, this film will place you right in 1969. It’s especially thrilling to see the launch sequence in pristine, 4K Ultra HD with HDR as if it never aged.
19. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
35 years after Ridley Scott’s original cyberpunk classic was released, director Denis Villeneuve gave us this epic sequel set thirty-years after the original and successfully captures the atmosphere, mood, and intelligence of the original without directly copying it. This story of a Replicant (read: an android) Blade Runner who hunts other Blade Runners that unearths a shocking secret is engulfing from beginning to end.
18. Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu, 2018)
In the decade that got “woke” while Hollywood still struggled with representation and whitewashing, director Jon M. Chu gave us the first all-Asian Hollywood production since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club with Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan. The film, a rom-com which showed off the dazzle of Singapore may have had its own controversies about lack of representation of ethnic groups other than Chinese from Singapore or Asians not all being wealthy, but it’s hard to argue with so many of the tear-filled social media posts from Asian viewers of the film who see so little of themselves in the media.
17. Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
Matthew McConaughey had been slowly but surely building to a complete career turnaround when he landed this Oscar-winning (Best Actor) role, based on a true story, as a Texas cowboy in 1985 whose life is turned upside down when he is diagnosed with HIV, during an era when there was little hope of survival, few if any treatment options and a government that was openly hostile toward the AIDS victims. The rugged, macho cowboy finds himself befriending and working with an unlikely ally, a transgender woman (Jared Leto) and traveling the world to find alternative treatments, legal and otherwise to help himself and others. It’s a powerhouse film full of powerful performances.
16. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Richard Linklater filmed Boyhood over 12 years with the same cast to tell the story of growing up and all of the pitfalls that entails as seen through the eyes of a child (Ellar Coltrane). Sparked by poignant moments and a brilliant soundtrack that has artists such as Coldplay and Arcade Fire, the film’s progress can be seen through small elements such as changing technology and literal aging of its characters like no CGI effects can ever achieve.
15. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Arguably no filmmaker has dominated Hollywood as much as Christopher Nolan in the past ten years, from his Dark Knight trilogy or his mind-bending sci-fi film Interstellar to the epic World War II film Dunkirk, but Inception is one of those rare films that ticks a lot of boxes and has something for everyone. It’s a heist film, a CGI spectacle, a mystery, a romance, an action film, and a cerebral study of what reality really means. Plus, it has a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, and Ken Watanabe. Put your thinking caps on and watch this high-octane, mind-bending thriller.
14. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2014)
You may be familiar with Korean director Bong Joon-ho from his Netflix Original film Okja or his recent film Parasite, but if you haven’t seen 2014’s Snowpiercer – a post-apocalyptic dystopian action film set entirely on a non-stop, globe-spanning monorail, then you are missing out. This film is mayhem with a purpose, violent, but also with an underlying social commentary. The cast includes Hollywood heavyweights Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and Alison Pill.
13. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada, 2018)
This indie may have slipped under the radar for most, but it is one that is worth seeing. Carlos López Estrada tackles much of the pertinent topics of the late 2010s such as racism and police brutality but does it with a touch of dark comedy. As a black ex-con trying to finish out his year-long probation witnesses a police shooting, he begins to reassess his friendship with his white best friend, a guy who is very free-spirited, reckless, and prone to violence. The subject matter is never shoved down our throats and Estrada has an interesting way with the camera.
12. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
A taut, paranoid, quick-paced, human horror about a crime photojournalist in Los Angeles who ends up becoming a bigger part of the story than he should, this is probably one of star Jake Gyllenhaal’s best roles you never heard of.
11. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
A black & white silent film (well, okay, there was one word uttered) framed at 1.33:1 in the 2010s? You better believe it! And this silent comedy/drama was enthralling enough to keep audiences hooked and win it a Best Picture Academy Award.
10. Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, 2009)
As my colleague, our Contributing Editor Chris Chiarella put it so well, this animated classic from Pixar is a lesson in emotional storytelling and arguably the height of Pixar’s craft, dealing with love, loss, aging, youth, hope and many more things we all must face in life. The studio has been a little less consistent with their product in the time since, giving us some absolute multi-level, complex gems like Inside Out (2015), multiple Toy Story sequels that have remained consistently earnest, and some below average fare like The Good Dinosaur (2015), but Up will always be there to get our tear glands going.
9. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
This reboot from George Miller returns us to the post-apocalyptic wasteland, restores some dignity to the franchise, and delivers a nearly surreal action experience that is best experienced in full-blown Dolby Cinema (or if your home equipment allows Dolby Vision and/or HDR10/HDR10+ and Atmos).
8. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)
Writer/director Paul Schrader gives us his most powerful film since Taxi Driver with this slow-burning thriller about a troubled pastor (Ethan Hawke) at a small-town Dutch Reform church in Upstate New York. With its unusual, tight 1.33:1 framing, Schrader delivers a claustrophobic and shocking film that is not easily forgettable.
7. Her (Spike Jonze, 2014)
Spike Jonze is always one for providing viewers with the slightly off-kilter in his films and Her was no exception. This film set in the near future about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the AI on his new computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) now seems quite prescient in a world where we are not only surrounded by AI assistants like Alexa and Siri, but literal AI companions such as Replika have been introduced.
6. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
British filmmaker Steve McQueen is no stranger to tackling difficult subject matter. Prior to making 12 Years a Slave, the director made Hunger (2008) about Irish Republican Bobby Sands leading a hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison, and Shame (2011) about a sex addict whose carefully structured life begins to fall apart when his sister arrives for a visit. So, it was not surprising when the director would take on America’s original sin, slavery, and deliver a powerhouse, Academy Award-winning film (Best Picture) based on the 1853 slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. It was the first film directed and produced by a black filmmaker (Steve McQueen) and also the first to be written by an African-American (John Ridley) to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
5. The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Thirst, Oldboy) is known for films that shock, and while the sapphic elements of The Handmaiden may be a little less shocking to Western audiences, Park still delivers one heck of a punch with this time-twisting erotic thriller about a Korean maid hired to serve a wealthy Japanese heiress who is secretly plotting to defraud her. There are so many unforeseen twists and so much of signature Park gore in The Handmaiden that you’ll need to brace yourself for this glorious ride.
4. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Jordan Peele, one half of the comedic duo Key&Peele, makes a stunning directorial debut with this Blumhouse horror film that seamlessly tackles the politics of race and the fears of black men living in America while also being at the forefront of what has been a new horror renaissance in the past decade, seeing a shift away from gore porn franchises like Saw to more thought-provoking and often throwback films.
3. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
This indie film garnered a Best Picture Academy Award and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for J.K. Simmons. It’s a seething look at the thin line between obsession and creativity. Even if you’re not a music fan or a fan of jazz, this one is a definite winner with universal appeal.
2. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)
This ‘Netflix Original’ is being compared to Kramer Vs. Kramer and led the 2020 Golden Globes for nominations (6). Noah Baumbach delivers a powerful film exploring the breakdown of a marriage and the consequences it has on a family.
1. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
This science fiction film that won 7 Oscars including Best Director is less fantastical than it is grounded in something that could possibly happen in contemporary space travel, which is what helped to make it so fascinating – well, that and a spectacular 3D production that was and remains the best use of the technology since Avatar, and a Dolby Atmos audio mix that is truly engulfing. Sandra Bullock is a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission out on a routine spacewalk when space debris destroys the shuttle leaving her and her partner, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stranded and left to figure out how they can possibly make it back to Earth. This film helped to kick off the 2010’s “space travel” movie craze, ushering in a plethora of films in the genre, big and small, such as Interstellar, The Martian, Ad Astra, and High Life.
What our staff say:
Marialena, Contributing Writer
- The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)
- Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017)
- The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
- Rush (Ron Howard, 2013)
- Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
- Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, 2011)
- The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)
- First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
- Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017)
- The Runaways (Floria Sigismondi, 2010)
- Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
- Crazy Stupid Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2011)
- La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
- Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)
Lawrence D. Devoe, MD, Senior Contributor
- The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)
- Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
- The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015)
- Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016)
- Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)
- Free Solo (Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 2018)
- Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)
- Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018)
- American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
Chris Chiarella, Contributing Editor
Right from the top, I need to be clear: This is NOT my list of the best movies of the last ten years, rather a sampling of my personal favorites, for the reasons noted below. In some cases, a movie on my list might qualify as the “best” in some way, but that’s a discussion for another time… and possibly another list.
UP (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, 2009)
An absolute treasure from the first frame to the last, Up is a lesson in emotional storytelling, thanks in large part to Pixar’s unparalleled mastery of character. Using every tool in the moviemaker’s kit, in fact (writing, scoring, casting, editing, cinematography, etc.), Pete Docter & Co. created a love story for the ages, and so much more.
Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
If Casino Royale was an epic reboot, then Skyfall managed to top it, taking Daniel Craig’s new and improved Bond into uncharted territory of deep character development. Bond 23 also proves that any franchise, no matter how long in the tooth, can be truly reinvented with solid modern moviemaking.
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Researching this story has reminded me just what a tremendous year for film 2009 was: As eminently re-watchable as Tarantino’s other highwater mark, Pulp Fiction, Basterds is not so much a remake of 1978’s Quel maledetto treno blindato as a magnificently inspired riff on the basic premise, with bold twists and clever innovations all its own.
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
I love the work of director David Fincher… sometimes. Between The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, both of which left me a little chilly, came this electric tale of Mark Zuckerberg’s bumpy, world-changing rise to power. The cynic in me thought a brilliant movie about Facebook impossible. I was dead wrong.
The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
Perhaps no longer the single strongest entry in the illustrious Marvel canon, but certainly a landmark upon its release, and more importantly a beacon to what could be. Without Iron Man, there would be no MCU, but without The Avengers, there could be no Infinity War or Endgame, and that would be a damn shame.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I had the privilege of seeing this one in IMAX 3D, and it was a near-religious experience of sight, sound and true exhilaration. A grand achievement in technical wizardry to be sure, but always in service to the singular life-and-death race against time, with the eminently capable Alfonso Cuarón as our mission commander.
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
There have been plenty of great action movies, but a true masterpiece? I used to think that Mad Max 2 (better known here in The States as The Road Warrior) qualified, so it’s only fitting that auteur George Miller has topped himself with his justly lauded return to the wasteland, not merely bigger and wilder but more elaborate in its scope, concept and execution.
The LEGO Batman Movie (Chris McKay, 2017)
So much better than anything titled “The LEGO Batman Movie” has any right to be. Gorgeous to look at, deeply respectful of comic book lore and incredibly funny, too, this one has earned a place beside the Nolans as one of the best Dark Knight adaptations yet.
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017)
Margot Robbie is unquestionably talented and, well, easy on the eyes, so she probably has her pick of projects, and she chose to train as a figure skater and strip away all glamor to play the controversial Tonya Harding–opposite scene-stealing Allison Janney–in this low-budget, brutally revealing dramedy. Like the rumpus surrounding that business with Nancy Kerrigan, I find this crafty movie hard not to watch.
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Only Jordan Peele could direct his Oscar-bound script, mining all of its nuance for near-nonstop hand-wringing tension, aided by an often-unspoken racial undercurrent. With a hypnotic set-and-spike of “What the hell is happening?” and “No way…” Get Out manages to be so utterly original, even in its use of horror movie clichés.
Brandon A. Duhamel, Editor-in-Chief
For my personal list of bests and favorites from the past decade, I chose to include a mixture of some of my more esoteric likes and some more familiar films. Here is a list of ten, not necessarily in a particular order, but numbered nevertheless.
- The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa mijikashi aruke yo otome (Yuasa Masaaki, 2017) – This dazzling anime film about a young college woman’s night out on the town almost defies description. The animation is breathtaking, the storyline borders on the surreal at times and Otome’s adventures involve book fairs, festivals, and an upperclassman with a crush who spends the night “accidentally” running into her. If you love animation and anime, then this is a must-see film.
- Long Day’s Journey into Night (Diqiu zuihou de yewan) (Bi Gan, 2018) – This Chinese arthouse noir follows a man who returns to his hometown after his father’s death and tries to track down the woman he once loved there twenty-years earlier. A slow-burning, dreamlike film that sees Bi also pull off a brilliant, unexpected, 40-minute-long continuous 3D shot (the rest of the film is 2D) in the middle of the film is a spectacle that must be seen to be believed.
- First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018) – Slow-burning, powerful performances set in Upstate New York give us one of Schrader’s best works since Taxi Driver as he explores the life of a troubled pastor and gives us a shocking twist ending.
- I Saw the Devil (Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da) (Kim Jee-woon, 2010) – A visceral revenge thriller from Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon is not for the faint of heart but will have you on the edge of your seat.
- Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, 2009) – One of Pixar’s best. Who can’t love this sweet story of an elderly man coming to terms with the loss of his wife who finds a new purpose in life by helping an awkward young boy dealing with his own growing pains?
- Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) – Horror with a social commentary that isn’t gore porn and still manages to scare the bejeebus out of you? I’m in!
- The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (Park Chan-wook, 2016) – Park Chan-wook’s 2016 romance/thriller film is sexy, it’s clever, and it has too many twists to count. It also sumptuously filmed with lavish visuals.
- Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013) – An edge of the seat science-fact thriller that uses visual effects and audio design flawlessly. If you haven’t seen this in 3D or heard this in Atmos, you don’t know what you’re missing.
- Wolf Children (Ookami kodomo no Ame to Yuki) (Hosoda Mamoru, 2012) – If Up gets you teary-eyed, then this anime film from Hosoda Mamoru (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) about a widow having to raise her two part-werewolf children on her own will have you swimming down a salty river of tears. As with most of Hosoda’s films, the 2D animation is gorgeous, on par with anything out of the more well-known (in the West) Studio Ghibli and he seamlessly interweaves the fantastical with the mundane.
- Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – The original film, especially in the various ‘director’s cut/final cut’ versions, has been one of my favorite films for many years and 2049 didn’t disappoint me at all. It captured the mood, it was intelligent, and it looked great.