The Simple Cinephile’s Favorite Films of the Decade

The 2010s has been one of the most revolutionary decades for all things cinema. Technology has advanced, a slew of promising new actors have been introduced in Hollywood, and there are more exciting films to look forward to than ever before. As we segue into 2020—the start of a new decade to be full of new films to enjoy—the writers of The Simple Cinephile talk about their favorite films of the past decade:

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) – source: Annapurna Pictures

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Director: Barry Jenkins
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

While many place Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight on their best of the decade lists, I also include If Beale Street Could Talk. Described by the director as a series of “memories, dreams, and nightmares,” this film holds me from start to finish every time. Nicholas Britell’s score and James Laxton’s cinematography evoke just as much emotion as the story and characters do themselves. This combination brings sound and color to Baldwin’s novel, inviting viewers to truly live the experiences of Tish and Fonny. Jenkins crafts Beale Street with such sensitivity that it’s impossible not to find yourself emotionally-invested and yearning for the young couple’s happiness.

Black love is a rare thing to see on screen with it usually being side-lined, but Beale Street dives deep, and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. Their love is celebrated. The camera dwells; we have time to study the faces of our characters, we feel every touch and are warmed by the gentle, intimate moments. Their bodies are portrayed in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative, but true. One particular scene feels so private that I held my breath the first time I witnessed it, afraid to disturb the characters I cared for so much. If Beale Street Could Talk helped me learn to love myself more and will always remain incredibly important to me.

Honorable Mention: Little Women (2019)

Written by Yazz

The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises (2013) – source: Studio Ghibli

Cast: Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Miori Takimoto
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

It has been a decade of swan songs (or at least films with the feeling of finality), with films such as Twin Peaks: The Return, First Reformed, Amour, or more recently The Irishman. We see artists who have been admired for many decades take a took at themselves and their accomplishments up to this point—how their latest work ties in with the themes they’ve investigated throughout their careers. No film displays this like Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful and bittersweet The Wind Rises.

Focusing on a lifelong love of flight, Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi’s storied career includes the creation of the A-6M World War II fighter plane, Miyazaki choosing to never choose a side of anti or pro-war, but the love of creation. Jiro’s drive to design is eclipsed by the morality of eventually what the aircraft are used for. The romance between Jiro and Naoko acts as a parallel to Jiro’s career—knowing the end is near but making the most of it. Despite being Miyazaki’s first foray into real-life adaptations, it’s never bound by the limitations of trying to remain accurate to the real like engineer. Instead, it fits perfectly into the catalog of Miyazaki’s masterworks, just a little wiser. It’s a movie that is gorgeous in every frame, from the sophisticated color palette to the master sound design from Koji Kasamatsu. Joe Hisaishi’s score is melancholic and romantic, especially the theme, which is able to exist as a piece of music both for the film and on its own. It’s clear from the very beginning that this is craft shaped from many decades.

Honorable Mention: The Florida Project (2017)

Written by Jack

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015) – source: The Weinstein Company

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Where to watch: Netflix

That’s right, The Hateful Eight, largely considered by critics as one of Quentin’s Tarantino’s lesser films, is my favorite film of the 2010s. It’s a crying shame that the film is not considered in the same league as Tarantino’s most popular and acclaimed works such as Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds because, for this cinephile, not only is it his favorite of the decade, but it is also his favorite of Tarantino’s entire oeuvre. That’s because The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at the top of his craft. Filmed on glorious 70mm, every composition in every frame receives rigorous attention to formal detail. Through careful staging, use of off-screen space, camera placement, framing, movement, and particularly the evolving utilization of foreground and background, creating those delicious deep space compositions, Tarantino can imbue his suspenseful confined take on the mystery genre, drawing from The Thing and The Great Silence, with a sophisticated formal elegance. An elegance which primarily manifests using layered wide screen composition. Each composition is filled to the brim with so much visual information consistently revealing and withholding crucial narration: an approach that would make Akira Kurosawa blush. As a result, the audience is constantly encouraged to scan the screen and unravel the layered mise-en-scène presented for any hint of subterfuge. 

The Hateful Eight doesn’t stop at just virtuous visuals and compositions. Sound, particularly Ennio Morricone’s original score, plays such an important role in this audio-visual. Morricone’s fantastic score evokes a sense of suspenseful looming dread that could manifest and burst violently onto the screen at any moment. Speaking of violence, Tarantino through this tale of these hateful, sadistic, misogynistic, and racist strangers confined to this limited space in the aftermath of the civil war has much to say about the violent, selfish, and turbulent nature of America then and now. Tarantino intelligently juxtaposes moments of warmth and potential understanding with depravity calling for compassion in the middle of a wailing storm and a boiling poisoned pot of coffee. It is a cynical cold perspective on America’s political and social landscape—a nation founded on violence. However, none of this would work if the performances were in any way lacking, and boy oh boy, they sure aren’t. Walter Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Samuel L. Jackson are clear highlights, and all involved eat up the ebb and flow of Tarantino’s signature witty dialogue at every turn.

Honorable Mention: Silence (2016)

Written by Lachlan

Frank (2014)

Frank (2014) – source: Magnolia Pictures

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

There are few films from this decade that comment on performance, identity, and modern masculinity as aptly as Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. Based on the real story of papier mâché head-wearing musician “Big Frank” Sidebottom—Abrahamson’s fictional adaptation brims with offbeat humor, strange instruments and a real appreciation for the weird and contradictory experiences that come with being human.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is an aspiring musician who gets a gig working with an experimental, dead-end band run by the elusive, mask-wearing Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank follows the disjointed process of the band as they work on their first album, as well as getting a sudden skyrocket to fame, thanks to the internet. But amidst the cartoonishness of Frank’s big head (metaphorically speaking, as well as his literal papier mâché head) and absurd songs, Frank is surprisingly moving and vulnerable. There are petty band disagreements and relationship dramas abound, sure, but there are deep sorrows and moral reconciliations just beneath the fanfare. At its core, Frank gets at the personal cost of building up walls and putting on masks. More importantly, it asks a compelling question of its characters and its audience: what happens when you’re deathly afraid of what’s underneath all of that?

Honorable Mention: Raw (2016)

Written by Cody

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray
Director: Wes Anderson

Choosing one of so many great films brought to the public this decade was an extremely difficult task. Add to this the fact that, as a millennial young woman, probably 80% of my movie baggage was built just this decade. So, in order to get to my chosen one, I set some criteria: the film should be technically as good as its narrative—including editing, visual effects, etc.; its director’s style should definitely be present throughout the film; the acting of the cast should convince viewers that these characters were real within that story; and it should be as memorable to me as a bedside book.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that​ The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson, is my favorite movie of the decade. Bringing together familiar faces from previous Anderson films such as Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody—and notable new additions—Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Jude Law, and Saoirse Ronan, to name a few.​ The Grand Budapest Hotel not only meets all the requirements listed above, but also has everything one could wish for in a great story—from drama to romance, mystery, and comedy—without ever losing its essence. Besides its delightful visual aesthetic—one of Anderson’s trademarks, along with his talent for storytelling—​The Grand Budapest Hotel takes supplements of classic genres, like the chase films from the First Cinema Era, the jailbreak films and the noir films, something that honors the history of the Seventh Art, and serves as a full plate for all cinephiles.

Honorable Mention: Get Out (2017), Mommy (2014), Palo Alto (2013), Columbus (2017)

Written by Leticia

Palo Alto (2013)

Palo Alto (2013) – source: Tribeca Film

Cast: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, James Franco
Director: Gia Coppola
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Kanopy

Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, came out in 2013—a year known for its surge of teen movies, such as The Bling Ring, The Spectacular Now, the Carrie remake, and The Kings of Summer. Among all of these (and more), Palo Alto seemed to jump out at me and resonate with me so much that I just had to pick it as my movie of the decade. The simple plot line (but complex in the characters’ eyes) is quite niche as a whole, but so many of the character’s traits and side plots pull me in and almost mirror my own relationships and feelings. It’s like a comfort movie—seeing all these high school students struggling, but ultimately the main characters getting their happy ending. The beautiful cinematography makes you almost feel like you’re in a dream, or as if you’re an onlooker onto these seemingly mundane but twisted happenings. The soundtrack is also the finishing touch to the movie, filled with melancholy songs to add as a backdrop to the characters’ ennui and dark teenage angst.

Honorable Mention: Lady Bird

Written by Maddie

Ex Machina (2014)

Ex Machina (2014) – source: A24

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Sonoya Mizuno
Director: Alex Garland
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Kanopy

A staggeringly beautiful and innovative story of technological testing from the last 10 years which holds up as one of my absolute film favorites. Alex Garland makes a grandiose debut led by the star-making turn of the truly entrancing human-esque robotics of Alicia Vikander. Ex Machina is a captivating, chilling, blue-toned science fiction feature that has a lot to say—and if that’s not enough, there’s that spectacular dance moment starring Oscar Isaac.

Honorable Mention: Sing Street (2016)

Written by Troy

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017) – source: Focus Features

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Where to watch: Crave (Canada)

Phantom Thread isn’t just an intriguing title. This is a ghost story—of the past returning to haunt the present, of letting go, and the trouble with breaking a curse. In his supposedly final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, ‘50s London’s most in-demand and highly-strung dressmaker. In absentia from work, Reynolds meets waitress Alma and embarks on a love affair that threatens to shake up the prestigious House of Woodcock for good. If only she can show him how to relax a little. This is a gorgeously conceived, seductive film with a huge appetite (for both people and food) and often belly-aching in its humor, tossing screwball energy at a twisted romance that’s far weirder and more subversive than you’re expecting. Frankly, Vicky Krieps, the film’s devilish anti-muse, was robbed. Imagine a decade without a new Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece.

Honorable Mention: The Guest (2014)

Written by Luke

Frances Ha (2012)

Frances Ha (2012) – source: IFC Films

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Director: Noah Baumbach
Where to watch: Netflix

Perhaps better films than Frances Ha have come out this decade, but there is certainly no movie from the past ten years that has filled me with the same amount of happiness and warmth. Watching Frances Ha is like wearing your favorite sweater, or drinking a nice cup of tea, or chatting with an old friend. To me, it is pure comfort. The film follows a 27-year-old dancer, Frances (Greta Gerwig), as she meanders through apartments, relationships, and jobs. Frances, it is clear, isn’t quite sure of who she is. “I’m so embarrassed,” she says in one scene, “I’m not a real person yet.” This quote is, in many ways, central to the film.

Frances Ha is about people in different stages of becoming—people who aren’t quite fully formed human beings yet. Far from shying away from the scary idea of being in your 20s without knowing where you’re headed, the film is a celebration of the state of being a work-in-progress. Its nostalgic black-and-white cinematography and charming performances time and time again ease my fears of the future, gently reminding me that it’s okay to be a little lost.

Honorable Mention: The Florida Project (2017)

Written by Saru

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016) – source: Paramount Pictures

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Arrival is a masterpiece—it’s a deeply introspective rumination on human nature, our desires, our fears, and our faults. The score and cinematography are incredibly haunting, and the screenplay and use of language as a plot device is brilliant. Arrival hits you like a gut punch and stays with you long after the credits roll. Am I forgetting anything? Oh, right, Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of all time. We will never forgive and never forget that The Academy snubbed her.

Honorable Mention: Lady Bird (2017)

Written by Meg

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – source: Paramount Pictures

Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, David Tennant
Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix

The thing about How to Train Your Dragon is that it’s a perfect movie. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with this, but then I have to ask: what don’t you enjoy about an underdog story? Hiccup, the unlikely hero of the story and our fateful protagonist, is constantly trying to prove himself—whether that be trying to make his Viking father proud, or attempting to hold his own against the dragons that systematically invade his village of Berk. When he captures a dragon of his own, Hiccup feels that killing him is the only way to finally convey to the rest of his village that he’s not a coward—and yet, he can’t do it.

From then on, Hiccup’s relationship with his new dragon—named Toothless—is the core of the film, demonstrating acceptance and what it means to come into one’s own. Hiccup carried me through my gawky teenage years and well into young adulthood, because there’s nothing more comforting than seeing your own awkwardness mirrored onscreen and realizing that maybe, just maybe, things will get better. For those of us that never feel like the heroes in our own lives, the ones who look in the mirror and wonder if we’re ever going to conquer whatever beasts we’re fighting: take a look inside your heart, and maybe you’ll see Hiccup staring back.

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn (2015)

Written by Gaby

First Reformed (2017)

First Reformed (2017) – source: A24

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Philip Ettinger
Director: Paul Schrader
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

If any film captures the unique yet universal feeling of existential dread that came with the 2010s, it’s Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Schrader immerses his audience in a cold and harrowing world of unanswerable questions. Through a very specific tale of existential dread, First Reformed subtly digs at blind evangelism and the damage that religious denial has aided in causing. At the start of the film, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller quotes Thomas Merton as he states “I know nothing can change, and I know there is no hope.

Although the film presents many queries, First Reformed is about the horrors that transpire when we as individuals lose hope. As bleak as Paul Schrader’s latest is, it functions as a plea to open our eyes and harden our hearts, because the damage humanity has caused will not be undoing itself anytime soon.

Honorable Mention: Carol (2015)

Written by Ella

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