Join us as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. Today, we look back at the 100 Best Films of the 2010s.
At the top of the 2010s, in one of the top films on the list you’re about to read through, a young tech mogul declared in an ecstatic frenzy that we were going to live on the Internet. He was right, of course, even if Sean Parker probably didn’t realize what Mark Zuckerberg was about to unleash on the global community.
Like everything, so much of the decade in film unfolded on the Internet. The decade began with Netflix still taking its earliest steps into on-demand streaming, and it’s ending with the production and release of a Martin Scorsese-directed tentpole feature. We watch movies at home as often as theaters now, if not far more frequently; we praise and argue and think about them online for the same reason we’ve always talked about the movies, to better understand them and ourselves and the world through them. In confusing and increasingly fraught times, we needed ways to understand, and film at its best gave us a chance to do exactly that.
The list you’re about to read, like every other one you’re about to read in the coming weeks and months, is a condensed version of a far longer list, one full of films just as exceptional as the 100 to follow here. That’s just part of the list-making game. But we’d like to think that it also captures the spectrum of moviegoing experiences from the decade that was, the genre-bending experiments and bold new voices and revelatory career peaks that accompanied film’s transition into cinematic universes and dedicated repertory theaters and the press of a button on your remote.
We have a lot more to say about what we’ll call the 100 best films of the 2010s, as you’re about to see, so let’s get started.
100. mother! (2017)
In 2017, Darren Aronofsky wrapped two careful fists around his directorial detonator and pushed down to deliver mother!, his most acerbic work in nearly two decades, and, arguably, the most divisive film of that year. Some loved it, others hated it, most just weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. mother! doubled down on the psychological horror, pinning its viewer against the wall and peeling back their eyelids to watch Aronofsky’s dizzying, in-your-face, and violent approach to exploring the terrors of humanity: the emotional labors inherent in love, the exploitability of giving oneself to another, the selfishness required in creating, the dangers of cult-like religion, the utter destruction of the world by man and his ilk — you name it. In just a few harrowing hours, Aronofsky devised a new mythology for mankind, and this time, paradise was placid. –Irene Monokandilos
99. Gone Girl (2014)
What does one do when directing an adaptation of a book with an incredibly satisfying, much-discussed twist? If you’re director David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (adapting her own 2012 novel), you find new ways of subverting expectations. You cast Ben Affleck, a guy whose public persona is a cocktail of the likable and the untrustworthy. You capitalize on Rosamund Pike’s angelic face and her knack for turning on the shark-eyes. You make sure it’s every bit as mean, sharp, and blackly funny as the novel. You use all that to lull the audience into forgetting everything they know about Amazing Amy — and then you stock up on fake blood. What a ride. –Allison Shoemaker
98. The Raid 2 (2014)
Writer and director Gareth Evans took the warp-speed, bone-breaking fisticuffs of 2011’s The Raid to the next level with its epic 2014 sequel. Trading a claustrophobic siege movie for an epic crime drama, the next entry in the saga of Rama (Iko Uwais) picks up immediately where the previous film left off, thrusting him deeper into the criminal underbelly. The result remains a fine-tuned, accomplished film with a sprawling cast of memorable characters. With precision and economical storytelling, Evans upped the ante on his own breathtaking action sequences and fight choreography, no doubt inspiring a number of successors and imitators across the industry. –Meagan Navarro
97. Her Smell (2019)
Now is the age of Elisabeth Moss; long may she reign. The past decade is practically littered with stellar, vulnerable Moss performances, but few of her post-Mad Men roles are as intriguing or raw as as riot-grrl firebrand Becky Something in Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell. She’s demanding, difficult, and quick to anger, circling the drain of addiction and abstract spiritualism. But Moss breaks through Perry’s deliberate aesthetic distance in exhilarating form, allowing her the kind of messy, entitled anger (and subsequent fall from grace) usually afforded to male characters in these kinds of grimy artistic profiles. It came and went this year, but in a just world, Her Smell, and Moss, would get the recognition they deserve. –Clint Worthington
96. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.” At the beginning of Kubo and the Two Strings, the young titular hero introduces this concept for the sake of a performance. Kubo’s retelling a tale that even he doesn’t fully know or understand, just to make a little spare change and take care of himself and his grandmother. But Laika’s sterling achievement invites and even encourages you to revel in every frame of lustrous stop-motion animation, to savor every meticulously crafted detail along the way. Kubo offers a poignant warrior’s saga, one in which the danger is real and the consequences are permanent, but also one which believes that even the worst among us can still return to the light. You just have to tell the right story. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
95. The Favourite (2018)
An unholy concoction made up of Kubrick, PBS’s Masterpiece, and battery acid, Yorgos Lanthimos’ fiendish satire The Favourite is perhaps the closest we’ll ever come to knowing how Jane Austen would sound on a bender. Set in the court of Britain’s Queen Anne, the film ostensibly centers on a love triangle between Olivia Colman’s Anne, a noblewoman and trusted friend (Rachel Weisz), and a newly arrived servant (Emma Stone). But Lanthimos quickly peels back the elegant wallpaper to reveal a more complex power struggle, then pulls up the floorboards to show the beating heart beneath. Uniformly excellent performances make it unmissable, but it’s the sound of that heart (and of bunnies) that lingers. –Allison Shoemaker
94. Krisha (2015)
A24 wunderkind Trey Edward Shults made his feature film debut with a modestly budgeted pressure cooker of a family drama, loosely based on (and cast with) his actual family. Centered around Shults’ real-life aunt Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), Krisha turns a tense Thanksgiving homecoming into a simmering mixture of unresolved guilt and complex familial dynamics. Shults lays out many of the hallmarks of his filmmaking style here (from frenetic, elliptical editing to aspect ratios that shift with his characters’ state of mind), and pulls an Oscar-caliber performance from Krisha herself that’s impossible to pull your eyes from. (Just ignore the part where Shults writes himself into a scene where Krisha gets to gush about how much of a filmmaking genius he is.) –Clint Worthington
93. A Ghost Story (2017)
Rooney Mara stomachs half a pie. Casey Affleck hides behind a sheet. Will Oldham muses about obsolescence. This is the plaintive world of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, and it’s more haunting than anything in The Conjuring universe. Built like a MoMa installation and blocked like an Off-Broadway play, this 95-minute excursion through the afterlife offers a sobering outlook on mortality, the stuff we leave behind, and how time cruelly (albeit naturally) drifts away from it all. How far Lowery is willing to take this concept is a true marvel of the production itself, particularly how he never shatters its minimalistic structure. With each frame comes another gasp of life — until it’s a fading memory. –Michael Roffman
92. The Wind Rises (2013)
Japanese animation goliath Hayao Miyazaki has woven a career of films that delight viewers with oddity, sincerity, and beauty in equal measure. The Wind Rises is no exception. Eschewing fanciful cat buses, mermaids, and adorable witches for the gorgeousness that comes within the mundane and the solemn, Miyazaki’s supposed final bow follows a young Japanese engineer who dreams of building airplanes, only to spend a life struggling with the use of his art as vehicles of destruction. As Jiro looks back in lament at how his dream of beauty was corrupted by men, so too does Miyazaki, in his tragic and bittersweet farewell. –Irene Monokandilos
91. Elle (2016)
Paul Verhoeven made a return from his 10-year hiatus in high, offensive style. Elle opens with its hero (Isabelle Huppert) being violated on the floor of her apartment as her attacker scurries away. Then she cleans herself up and goes to work. The mystery deepens like a Patricia Highsmith novel as she unexpectedly draws nearer to unearthing the identity of the man who got away and finds herself in the thick of sexually charged, if petty, corporate espionage. Verhoeven shoots the film like a modernist farce, letting Huppert’s feline visage and icy eyes do the heavy lifting, crafting his most twisted film since he left his native Netherlands for America. –Scout Tafoya