Exclaim!'s 30 Best Films of the 2010s

Ranking the top movies of the decade, from 'Moonlight' to, uh, 'Jackass 3D'

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Oct 24, 2019

It's hard to believe that the 2010s even happened, but the decade that we still lump together with the 2000s had its own distinctive qualities — something you can clearly see with Exclaim!'s 30 Best Films of the 2010s. 

In pop culture, there were plenty of shifts. Big-budget blockbusters all but incinerated the movie middle class, while streaming services ensured that every project found its place no matter the quality. Between it all, our triumphs and tragedies were reflected through film.

What follows is a diverse and delectable collection of cinema that will serve as a definitive document of life in the 2010s, with our best film selections including modern classics like Moonlight, Bridesmaids, You Were Never Really Here, Good Time, Mad Max: Fury Road and more. Also, one writer insisted we include Jackass 3D.

Exclaim!'s 30 Best Films of the 2010s:

30. 20th Century Women (2016)
Directed by Mike Mills

20th Century Women is a stunning and emotional portrait of a group of people at a specific moment in time — we see how they lived, what they argued about, what genre of music they listened to, and we follow their journeys to self-discovery. The film allows itself to be messy and it doesn't try too hard; the characters we get to know along the way are allowed to breathe.
Bethany Wilson

29. The Master (2012)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson's melancholic parable of post-war masculine alienation and spirituality plays as beautifully today as it did on release, punctuated by career defining performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jaoquin Phoenix.
Chris Luciantonio

28. Annihilation (2018)
Directed by Alex Garland

Four women (including Natalie Portman as Lena, the soldier/scientist) travel into the otherworldly, apocalyptic phenomenon known as "the Shimmer" in search of answers to what lies beyond, not knowing if they will return. While the film's plot drives its characters into the exploration of a horrifyingly alien environment — which, as an exploration of human nature in the face of certain disaster, is a strength unto its own — the true beauty of Annihilation lies in its cinematography and visual effects. Transcendental depictions of flora and fauna are simultaneously ethereal and deeply disturbing, a quality from the original novel that director Alex Garland aimed to capture before anything else. Coupled with the film's scaled back dialogue and cast, Annihilation is a slow-burning, visceral beauty, which remains as ambitious as it is artistically successful.
Allie Gregory

27. The Fireflies Are Gone (2018)
Directed by Sébastien Pilote

Sébastien Pilote's The Fireflies are Gone (La disparition des lucioles) follows Leo (Karelle Tremblay) during her apathetic final days of high school. Like many of the films characters, she feels trapped by her circumstances and by her small Quebec town itself. Maintaining a certain quirkiness and charm, Pilote's film is powerful for its ability to slow down and give careful attention to the complexity, and often pain, of daily life.
Sarah Melton

26. Interstellar (2014)
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan's moody space epic explores the lengths that humans will go to in order to save our species in the face of environmental collapse. The key is the heart-wrenching bond between astronaut Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter — a relationship that reinforces exactly what's at stake in saving the world.
Alex Hudson

25. Certain Women (2016)
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt's films continue to demonstrate a quiet confidence that solidifies her as a true American master. Her familiar glacial pace is still on display in Certain Women, but the film's narrative is split into three short stories. As such, it solves the viewer's potential boredom problem while still delivering the meditations on modern life that Reichardt is unparalleled in offering.
Josiah Hughes

24. Bridesmaids (2011)
Directed by Paul Feig

With its depraved poop humour and drunken, druggy meltdowns, Bridesmaids proves that 30-somethings can be every bit as aimless and irresponsible as teenagers. In particular, Melissa McCarthy delivers a hilariously crude supporting performance for the ages. But as absurdly funny as it is, the film's lasting impression is one of heartwarming friendship.
Alex Hudson

23. The Square (2017)
Directed by Ruben Östlund

As time goes on, modern art continues to increase in its ridiculousness. That means its a perfect backdrop for Ruben Östlund's absurd satire, which lampoons the foolishness of the snooty art world while simultaneously trolling the viewer at the same time. You'll never see another movie as delightfully uncomfortable as The Square.
Josiah Hughes

22. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
Directed by Joe Talbot

Of the many maladies facing humanity in 2019, one of the most brutal is housing injustice. As income inequality grows, so too does the cost of living for regular people who can't gobble up property like wealthy elites. Gentrification might feel like a boring subject for a film, but Joe Talbot's The Last Black Man in San Francisco captures the subject with a poetic grace and vivacity that certainly only comes once a decade, if that.
Josiah Hughes

21. Paddington 2 (2017)
Directed by Paul King

Feel-good never felt so good until the little bear from Peru graced our screens. And Paddington 2 is probably the best sequel of all time, let alone this decade. [Ed note: take THAT, The Godfather Part II.] It feels like a warm hug. The film is so full of love and magic that it mystifies audiences of all ages.
Sara Clements

20. You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix have gained acclaim in their own spheres for their uncompromising executions of unorthodox visions; in You Were Never Really Here, they use each other to reach the height of their powers. In a scant 90 minutes, Ramsay's stylized explorations of trauma and corruption are matched by Joaquin Phoenix's devastating, nuanced portrayal of Joe, a former FBI agent who now rescues victims of sex trafficking, for an all-encompassing, unrelenting cinematic experience.
Matt Bobkin

19. Jackass 3D (2010)
Directed by Jeff Tremaine

While James Cameron's Avatar (2009) may have delighted moviegoers with its immersive 3D worlds, Johnny Knoxville and co. took the burgeoning film format, and their shitty stunts, to new heights with their third full-length feature. It's a true work of fart. I mean art.
Matthew Ritchie

18. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

No film this entire decade has pushed the medium of animation, and animated storytelling in general, quite like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It's an all-around awe-inspiring achievement in style and motion.
Chris Luciantonio

17. Good Time (2017)
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

Robert Pattinson in a goatee and a shitty dye job, running around New York City in an Ecko Unltd hoodie soundtracked by Oneohtrix Point Never and shot on crackly film. Come for the cutting edge hip aesthetics, stay for the unspeakably tense, anxiety-inducing action thriller. The Safdie brothers have ensured that you'll be stressed as hell, but you'll still have a Good Time
Josiah Hughes

16. Hereditary (2018)
Directed by Ari Aster

Ari Aster's already-iconic debut feature Hereditary blasted into 2018 and rose on a trajectory of well-earned hype. Harrowing, ambitious and intense, it's the most stressful ghost story you'll ever see.
Laura Di Girolamo

15. Spring Breakers (2012)
Directed by Harmony Korine

Irony is completely finished and there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure anymore, as the lines between "underground" and "mainstream" have seemingly disintegrated. Perhaps the last evidence of those distinctions are on display in Spring Breakers, a film where casting Disney starlets as drug-taking mischief-makers alongside Gucci Mane still felt transgressive. Nearly plotless, endlessly colourful and soundtracked by ear-piercing dubstep, Spring Breakers was one of the last films to add vitality to the great highbrow/lowbrow debate.
Josiah Hughes

14. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Directed Céline Sciamma

As much as it's a perfect depiction of the relationship between painter and artist, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an equally perfect portrait of love. Starring a lesbian and directed by one, too, it's the most authentic portrayal of lesbian romance this decade. It's also a stunning feast for the eyes.
Sara Clements

13. The Social Network (2010)
Directed by David Fincher

For most of his career, David Fincher has made a name for himself with character-driven stories about killers, crooks and the people tasked with catching them. But in 2010, he tackled something far more sinister: Silicon Valley tech bros. We've only grown more scared of them since.
Matthew Ritchie

12. The Handmaiden (2016)
Directed by Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook's dense psychological espionage is teeming with overwhelming erotic energy and a palpable sense of dread. Exacerbated by Park's breathtaking visuals, The Handmaiden is the classic queer novel made fresh.
Chris Luciantonio

11. It Follows (2014)
Directed David Robert Mitchell

It Follows channels the classic horror atmosphere of John Carpenter, complete with a creepily beautiful synth score and a supernatural villain who hunts people down by walking very, very, very slowly. Plus, the movie has educational value, since we're pretty sure the whole thing is a metaphor for STIs.
Alex Hudson

10. First Reformed (2017)
Directed by Paul Schrader

Few films really get at the crux of our modern hell world and its constant cries for us to actually do something like Paul Schrader's meditative drama First Reformed. In this expertly shot, endlessly melancholy film, a zealous priest is taunted by the oppressive bleakness of an environment in turmoil and the millionaire hypocrites who continue to pillage its resources. Whether you're religious or not, you'll find plenty to relate to in this harrowing, highly philosophical tale.
Josiah Hughes

9. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Directed by George Miller

Thirty years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome redefined cage matches forever, George Miller revived the franchise to turn the action genre on its head once again. By sparing plot theatrics in favour of a stark visual style and shocking amounts of character depth, Mad Max: Fury Road rewrote the rules of what a high-octane roadster flick could look and feel like — no wonder many have already started calling it the best action film of all time.
Matt Bobkin

8. The Witch (2015)
Directed by Robert Eggers

Set in 1600s New England, The Witch follows the lives of a settler family and their daughter Thomasin, who have been banished from their community over religious differences. Stationed in a farm next to some seriously creepy woods, the family begin to experience supernatural occurrences. Thomasin soon finds herself in the position to make a decision: to eschew her repressive society and live deliciously with whatever lies in the darkness, or submit to God and paternalistic forces. 

Director Robert Eggers worked explicitly using only natural light on location in Kiosk, Ontario, for the entirety of the film, giving it its signature moody, bleak aura. The Witch is grandiose while somehow remaining decidedly understated. Through its balance between delicate and brutal imagery, the film forms a powerful allegory of the demonization of women and girls — resulting in a dark and oddly empowering tale about feminine solidarity.
Allie Gregory

7. Ex Machina (2014)
Directed by Alex Garland

Even though Ex Machina is about an AI, it's an incredibly human film. The robotic protagonist has wants, needs and emotions. Her final scenes have some of the most powerful visuals of the decade: putting on her new skin and releasing herself from her cage with child-like bewilderment when met with the outside world for the first time. It's moving.
Sara Clements

6. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

There are very few films in the world that can transport you straight to its setting. When watching Call Me by Your Name, Italy is a character in Elio and Oliver's romance — you can feel the hot Italian summer heat burning into your skin, the fiery passion and even Elio's fear of letting himself fall in love for the first time. Luca Guadagnino manages to capture everything there is to feel about your first love while also curating every scene so perfectly that there isn't a single frame that doesn't feel beautiful. Call Me by Your Name is an artistic masterpiece that will continue to make history and tear heartstrings for years to come.
Bethany Wilson

5. Frances Ha (2012) 
Directed by Noah Baumbach

As an indie coming-of-age flick, Frances Ha is so perfect that it nearly borders on self-parody. Co-written by director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, the film is a buoyant and playful jaunt that also demonstrates the financial instability and aimless ennui of the millennial experience. Admire the breathtaking black-and-white New York City, relate to the discomfort at a lack of future prospects.
Josiah Hughes

4. Arrival (2016)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

On the one hand, Arrival is a harrowing human drama about a woman grieving after the death of her young daughter and her divorce; on the other, it's a heady examination of extraterrestrials, the fourth dimension, and the way language shapes our experience of the world. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve establishes a sombre mood that's as emotional as it is academic — which is made all the better by a spine-tingling, minimalist score from Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Alex Hudson

3. Boyhood (2014)
Directed by Richard Linklater

In the 1990s, Richard Linklater felt like filmmaking's answer to the Velvet Underground — he inspired countless penniless would-be directors with his first feature film (1990's Slacker) and galvanized American indie cinema over the ensuing decade with a verbose love story (the first Before film) and a throwback coming-of-age tale (1993's Dazed and Confused). Still, while his beautiful tone poems have always seemed to find the right audience, they didn't exactly scream "ambition" to some.

All that changed in 2001 when he began work on what would become Boyhood: a 12-years-in-the-making film that charted a boy from a broken home's life as he moved from childhood into adulthood. While conceptually gimmicky, few films over the past ten years have felt as honest, heartfelt, and heroic.
Matthew Ritchie

2. Get Out (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele

We're living in a horror renaissance, the apex of which was Get Out. Upon its release in 2017, it shattered multiple box office records: for debut features, horror features and black writer/directors. Within weeks, it firmly transformed Jordan Peele's career from sketch funnyman to satirist who knows exactly what scares us. With its sharp brilliance and deeply unsettling tone, Get Out expertly weaves uncomfortable social truths with old-fashioned horror homage. More than any other film this decade, it reminded audiences that the best kind of horror is the kind that reflects the mirror back onto ourselves.
Laura Di Girolamo

1. Moonlight (2016)
Directed by Barry Jenkins

When taking stock of the last decade in politics and pop culture, one can't help but ask, "Has anything truly changed?" The President of the United States is a white supremacist, and long-festering currents of racism, homophobia and xenophobia have come to dominate today's divisive sociopolitical era. But while these odious themes have been galvanized in the past ten years, they didn't emerge from nothing — these events have opened ignorant eyes to the oppression that many have been facing since the dawn of human civilization. 

Moonlight was born from these marginalized spaces. Charting the life of Chiron, a young black man coming to terms with his sexuality, Moonlight is at once vivid and still, heartbreaking and uplifting. Its methodical pacing and stunning performances blew open the doors for the type of storytelling that could be accepted by general audiences, while also bolstering the profiles of stars Trevante Rhodes and Mahershela Ali and director Barry Jenkins. Its impact has lingered far longer than its improbable Best Picture win at the Oscars — a historic moment that not even a pair of bumbling, aging heisters could ruin.
Matt Bobkin

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