The 2010s was an extraordinary decade of cinema. Films were made that explored the deepest aspects of humanity, transported us to new worlds and re-envisioned how the art of cinema operates. We saw new worlds and explored the struggles of characters that made us more intoned with ourselves and the world around us. With that, let’s take a look at the 25 best films of the 2010s.
25. Shutter Island (2010)
Martin Scorsese’s most stylish picture, this thrilling adaptation not only features Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance to date, but provides an unpredictable roller-coaster of a mystery filled with stunning imagery and a final act that will leave you speechless. DiCaprio’s performance as a troubled U.S. Marshall investigating the disappearance of a psychiatric patient from an insane asylum is a profound and thrilling look at mental instability and one sadly overlooked in the actor’s expansive career.
24. The Tree of Life (2011)
Terrence Malick’s visionary work of art that explores both the cosmic and spiritual aspects of life and humanity may not be the most loved by audiences, yet this gorgeous masterpiece is one of cinema’s most extraordinary and existential explorations of life, told through the beautiful direction by Malick and spectacular cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki.
23. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019)
Avoiding a traditional narrative, Quentin Tarantino manages to express his love for Hollywood and cinema through a day in the life exploration of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a fading western TV actor, and his care-free stuntman buddy. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt deliver hilarious and iconic performances and are a cinematic match made in heaven, every bit of witty dialogue from Tarantino expressed perfectly, every scene rooted in the fun nature of their characters. Tarantino brings us back into Hollywood during 1969 and once again gives history his own spin, this time with the Manson Murders and Sharon Tate (played with pure kindness by Margot Robbie), giving the actress the ending she deserved and us an unforgettable climactic ending.
22. First Reformed (2018)
No film this past decade captured the growing hopelessness felt during the 21st century by so many people than “First Reformed.” Ethan Hawke is astonishing as the broken Reverend Toller, a lonesome pastor of a historic upstate New York church whose faith and perception on life is changed when a young woman comes to him concerned about her eco-terrorist husband with an unhealthy obsession of militant environmentalism. Paul Schrader’s brilliant script and nuanced direction take us into a seemingly hopeless world and subtly invites audiences to examine the world around them, making this film a truly unique and complex work of mastery.
21. JoJo Rabbit (2019)
Out of all the films on this list, none is more unique than Taika Waititi’s blazingly original World War II satire “JoJo Rabbit.” Waititi’s ingenious coming-of-age tale about love and growth is not only a heartwarming testament to unity but a hilarious riot of satirical brilliance. This is the kind of film you laugh at one second, then cry at the very next, each second making you fall more in love with this truly one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
20. Roma (2018)
Cinema at its purest form, Alfonso Cuaron’s beautiful passion project feels like a moving painting. “Roma” captures the essence of the human condition by following the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City through the eyes of their housekeeper Cleo, a tale largely based on Cuaron’s childhood. We feel the passion instilled in Cuaron’s beautiful direction and cinematography, the film becoming more and more breathtaking and emotionally captivating the deeper you get invested in this powerful story of love, family and loss.
19. Moonlight (2016)
Beautiful in every sense of the world, Barry Jenkins’ exuberant exploration into one man’s alienated and isolated existence in three separate stages of his life is an intimate and universal visual poem of a film capable of moving audiences simply due to its gorgeous composition. Jenkins proves he’s a visionary auteur, capturing the harrowing feelings of loneliness and what it’s like to be outcasted by society. Mahershala Ali is incredible in his supporting role as Juan, a mentor to the protagonist Chiron at a young age who instills an infectious feeling of love onto us. The winner of the Best Picture award in which “La La Land” was mistakenly awarded, “Moonlight” is an American classic and a film that simply cannot be forgotten.
18. The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful and unusual tale of a mute janitor at a research facility who falls in love with an Amazonian fish-man creature is a fairy tale layered with artistic depth and passionate storytelling. Del Toro reaches one of the best directorial achievements of the decade, each image more visually arresting than the next, the film engrossed in a classical style of filmmaking capable of charming even the most cynical of film viewers. Exploring what truly makes something a monster and the oppression so many different groups of people experience, few films from the 2010s are as magical as this work of art.
17. The Wolf of Wall Street (2017)
Martin Scorsese’s electric true story of the sleazy stockbroker Jordan Belfort is one of the most entertaining movies of all time. Leonardo DiCaprio is on fire in one of the most off-the-charts demonstrations of this actor’s abilities, playing the most unlikeable snake of a human being and wowing us at every second. Scorsese, staying true to themes he has always explored, once again examines the nature of greed and American capitalism, his depiction of Belfort’s life a disturbing insight into what happens when money becomes one’s biggest obsession.
16. Room (2015)
Every now and then a film comes along capable of moving you as you could never imagine. “Room” is that film. Brie Larson gives one of the past decade’s best performances as a woman trapped in an underground facility for seven years with her son who is the product of rape in a disturbing yet beautiful look at the love between a mother and son. Lenny Abrahamson brings this story to the screen with staggering beauty and powerful emotions, giving us more to feel and be in awe of than we can imagine. Not only is this a beautiful and emotionally uplifting experience, the escape scene in which Jacob Tremblay’s character escapes from he and his mother’s captor is one of the most heart-stopping scenes in recent film history. And don’t even get me started on the scene when he meets a dog for the first time.
15. Joker (2019)
One of the 2010s most controversial films, “Joker” reinvents the comic book genre and explores the iconic Clown Prince of Crime through the eyes of Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill and socially isolated clown-for-hire whose frustration leads him down a path of violence. Joaquin Phoenix is simply amazing as Arthur and the Joker, giving us insight into what living as a socially disenfranchised and mentally ill person does to the soul. Todd Phillips proves he’s capable of doing more than comedy by inventing a film that mirrors classic noir films, yet has his own unique vision instilled in every scene of this haunting and disturbing tour-de-force.
14. Under the Skin (2013)
The greatest alien movie of all time, Jonathan Glazer’s mythical, soul-piercing insight into what makes us human is a film for the ages. Not only does this film feature a captivating performance by Scarlett Johansson, but every technical element of this film is mind-boggling, from it’s disturbing and poignant score, dark, haunting cinematography and stylish editing. “Under the Skin” sneaks up on you and manages to wow you at every step of the way, especially in its final act that will haunt you for days. Few films hit as hard as “Under the Skin,” and no other alien film has taken more risks and delivered such mesmerizing or profound results.
13. Whiplash (2014)
Few films have wowed me more than Damien Chazelle’s electric debut feature, a kinetic take on competition and how far people are willing to go in today’s world to succeed. Miles Teller gives a revelation of a performance as a jazz student at a top-ranked music school, capturing the anxiety and drive of someone with a dream, and J.K. Simmons is ferocious and terrifying as his abusive instructor. “Whiplash” is a thrilling and insightful ride that will hit you harder than you can expect.
12. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
One of the best romance films of the 2010s, Luca Guadagnino’s beautiful and heartbreaking tale of first love is a testament to romance and pure infatuation that everyone can relate to in some way regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Timothée Chalamet gives a soulful and breakout performance that will break your heart, carrying the film and making this an unforgettable love story.
11. Her (2013)
The best romance of the 2010s, Spike Jonze’s profound and original exploration of human nature and the digitization of society and human interaction is one of the most refreshing installments in modern cinema. Joaquin Phoenix's tender performance as a recently divorced loner who falls for his technology operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson allows us to see the world in different ways and gives us one of the most emotional and surprisingly believable love stories of all time.
10. Boyhood (2014)
No film last decade took more of a risk than “Boyhood,” who followed the same cast and crew over the course of 10 years to create one of the most authentic, true-to-life films the world has ever seen. Richard Linklater beautifully captures the various stages of adolescents through the eyes of a young man, depicting the family, social and personal struggles that erupt as we grow from an innocent child full of energy and wonder to a heavy-minded college student. Each scene reminds us of a time in our lives and captures everything joyful and harrowing of growing up in the 21st century, making “Boyhood” a truly special film.
9. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
“Manchester by the Sea,” an absolute miracle of a movie, is a story that may not make you smile throughout but will leave you filled with more pure emotion than almost any other film I can think of. Casey Affleck gives one of the most powerful and profound performances of the 21st century as an emotionally broken man who, after the death of his brother, becomes the guardian of his teenage nephew, played brilliantly by Lucas Hedges. This is a film that captures some of the most realistic and unworldly acting you’ll ever see, most notably the sequence in which Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams discuss their broken marriage after running into each other on the street. While depressing and emotionally draining, “Manchester by the Sea” will charm you with Kenneth Lonergan’s storytelling powers and stay with you for the rest of your life.
8. The Master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s monumental work of talent about a troubled World War II veteran who gets involved with a theological cult is as disturbing as any distressing horror film, not because of any blood or terror, but because of how it examines loneliness and the lengths we’re willing to go to feel belonged. Joaquin Phoenix gives what is simply to me the single greatest performance by an actor of all time as Freddie Quell in his fiery, nuanced, and emotionally raw portrayal of a lost soul. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives the best performance of his career as Lancaster Dodd, the cult leader who mirrors Scientology’s Elrond Hubbard. Anderson crafts his most cinematically beautiful film in this troubling yet important jewel that may come off as strange, but after thoughtful viewing becomes clear we’re watching the work of a mastermind.
7. Drive (2011)
Grisly, electric, subtle, dark, beautiful, existential. So many words can describe Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylish noir thriller that takes a classic genre and applies stunning visuals and mesmerizing direction to turn it into something extraordinary. Ryan Gosling is one of the coolest characters of the 21st century as a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals and gets involved romantically with his next-door neighbor, falling into a trap as he tries to help her ex-convict husband. Featuring bloody and gruesome violence, Refn makes every scene beautiful and eye-catching regardless of what is occurring on screen. The film has an infectious style and graceful energy, its car-chase sequences some of the best in film history. Most notably, the elevator scene in which Gosling passionately kisses Carey Mulligan in slow motion while beautiful music plays before quickly turning to brutally kill a hitman with nothing but his foot is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
6. Hereditary (2018)
I’ve seen over 1,000 films. Not one has gotten more of a reaction out of me than “Hereditary,” the debut feature from Ari Aster. “Hereditary” is so terrifying and disturbing for so many reasons, but mainly due to how it intimately explores the horrific breakdown of a family due to their traumatic experiences. While the supernatural and cult elements are enough to scare you to death, Aster’s unsettling portrayal of how a normal family tips into chaos will leave you speechless. “Hereditary” hits harder than any film I’ve ever seen, filled with eerie music and a wonderful obsession for detail. Not only is this the best horror film of the 2010s or the 21st century, it’s the greatest horror film of all time and features one of the most chilling endings in cinematic history.
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Martin McDonough brilliantly blends humor and heart in what would sound like a depressing story about a grieving mother who, after her daughter was raped and murdered, places three billboards up in her town that calls out the police department for not working hard enough in her eyes to find the killer. Frances McDormand is exquisite in the lead role as Mildred Hayes, capturing the feelings of regret and fury masterfully while also shining comedically. Woody Harrelson is good as always as Chief Willaby, whose conflict with Mildred turns into an unlikely friendship, but Sam Rockwell as the stupid, drunken, prejudice, yet morally ambiguous Jason Dixon is who makes this film so memorable due to the layered performance he gives as a lost man who struggles to let his true colors shine. McDonough’s story is one that both moves us and makes us laugh, a story about coming together and putting aside our differences to find common ground.
4. Birdman (2014)
Few movies made us fall in love with cinema in the 2010s as much as Alejandro González Iñáritu’s cutting-edge dark comedy about a failed movie star known for his superhero role as Birdman who struggles to make a comeback on broadway. Michael Keaton gives the best performance of his career in this creative insight into a flawed individual and his relationships. Iñáritu shines as a director in every scene, Emmanuel Lubezki’s single take tracking-shot style of the film a mesmerizing cinematic depiction that wows the screen from start to finish.
3. Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino’s best film behind “Pulp Fiction,” “Django Unchained” took us into a world where Tarantino made the rules, not the history books. As he does in several other of his films, Tarantino bravely and boldly does whatever he wants to make this film as epic and exciting as possible. Jaime Foxx stars as the title character, a freed slave who, with the help of German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (a superb Christoph Waltz), hunts down outlaws and tries to rescue his wife from the brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a viciously evil role). “Django” bleeds with style and creativity, a film that mirrors classic revenge westerns but one filled with soaring tension and intensity, the dinner table scene enough to give you a heart attack. Featuring hilarious comedy in a film about a slave may seem odd, but Tarantino’s powers as a director and writer are evident from start to finish. The shootout scene at Candyland alone gives this film a place on the list, being unquestionably the best movie shootout of the 21st century and perhaps of all time.
2. The Revenant (2015)
Alejandro González Iñáritu’s revenge tale about fur-trapper Hugh Glass is as magnificent as movies get. Leonardo DiCaprio (in the performance that finally got him his Oscar) is unbelievable as Glass, capturing the struggles of man versus man, nature, and self with staggering intensity and emotion. Tom Hardy is just as impressive as John Fitzgerald, Glass’s fellow fur trapper, who, after Glass is brutally wounded in a bear attack, murders Glass’s son and leaves him for dead. Iñáritu puts you out in the wilderness with his characters and makes you feel every uncomfortable and painful detail that Glass encounters in his survival adventure. The film makes you feel connected with its characters and setting every step of the way, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography appearing as if from a nature documentary due to its jaw-dropping beauty.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Many may find it strange that a film not known for its story but rather its visuals is number one on my list, but George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” is unlike anything in the history of cinema, a visionary work of pure amazement. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are awesome in this intense post-apocalyptic masterpiece that feels like either a dream or a drug trip. Consistently entertaining due to its groundbreaking action and editing, Miller transports us into a world that seems both foreign and familiar, a warning for the dangers of authoritarianism and exploitation of our resources. From start to finish this is a fast-paced work of kinetic ingenuity, two hours of pure cinematic wonder and greatness and the single greatest action movie of all time.