20 favorites from the past 10 years. You can read my introduction in Part 1, which also includes some bonus content, like a timeline of major fantasy/sci-fi films.
Pride (2014) – What happens when an LGBTQ group in 1984 decides to raise money for families affected by the British miners’ strike? Surprisingly: comedy gold! One of the most uplifting movie-going experiences of the decade for me. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Ensemble cast including Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, and Ben Schnetzer. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Hmm, what to say about this? I’ve always been a Star Wars fan, and I even enjoyed the prequels (1999-2005) for the most part. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, they took on the huge task of creating the “sequel trilogy.” I could have picked any of the three films from 2015-2019, but Episode IX capped it off with a fantastic IMAX 3D experience, full of surprises. (See also: Timeline of Epic Fantasy Films.) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. Passes the Bechdel Test.
BLACKkKLANSMAN (2018) – What happens when an African-American detective in the late-1970s starts a phone friendship with the Grand Wizard of the KKK? Like Pride in 2014, this is based on a true story. Detective Ron Stallworth went undercover for the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1979. After the investigation came to a close, he kept it a secret until 2006 and later published a memoir about it: Black Klansman. I just noticed that I have two Adam Driver movies here. He’s not my favorite actor, but he was in a LOT of good projects over the last decade! Also starring John David Washington (son of Denzel), Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. Directed by Spike Lee. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – A very different experience from your typical Marvel movie, animated in 3D. Alternate universes come together and we get multiple Spider-Man characters: Miles Morales, Peter Parker, Spider-Woman, Peni Parker, and even Spider-Ham! Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. Here’s the catchy “Sunflower” lyric video with clips from the film:
Gravity (2013) – I’ve mentioned 3D films several times already, but this is probably the first one since Tron: Legacy that really works for the story it tells. There are two human actors in this film (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), but the main character here is Low Earth orbit. How could astronauts survive a snowballing debris field at that altitude? Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. As you can see from the trailer alone, the visuals are stunning, but the nerd in me must point out that there was one obvious scene where the filmmakers incorrectly portrayed the force of gravity (presumably for dramatic effect).
This Changes Everything (2018) – Geena Davis has made it her mission in the past 15 years to influence gender balanced onscreen portrayals. Simple but ambitious. This documentary follows some of the work she has done, and also examines other aspects of gender disparity in the film industry. I can’t recommend this enough! Aimee and I did a whole Cast50 podcast episode about it.
Night Will Fall (2014) – “Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall.” This film, directed by Andre Singer, is a masterful account of why the 1945 British documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey was never released to the public until 1984. Alfred Hitchcock was an advisor for the original film, of which 17 minutes is shown in this documentary, more than enough coverage for the average person to stomach. (The mostly-complete release is streaming online from a 1985 PBS Frontline episode. A 75-minute fully-restored version was released in 2017 on Blu-ray, but it is currently hard to find a copy – here’s a review from DVDBeaver.) Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter.
Nostalgia for the Light (2010) – Another sobering but impactful documentary. Patricio Guzmán focuses on the similarities between astronomers researching humanity’s past, in an astronomical sense, and the struggle of many Chilean women who still search, after decades, for the remains of their relatives executed during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – A creative tale written by Lucy Alibar to cope with her own father’s death. A six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy lives in the “Bathtub” community of the Louisiana bayou, and a storm floods the area. This is a modern fairy tale, with an amazing performance by child-actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Directed by Benh Zeitlin. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Selma (2014) – Ava DuVernay is the only director to appear twice on my list (13th being the other). Selma is a dramatization of the 1965 civil rights march to Montgomery. David Oyelowo’s performance as MLK, Jr. is incredible (especially considering his Nigerian and English heritage). The song “Glory” by John Legend and Common won Best Song in the Golden Gloves and Oscars.
Amour (2012) – Rarely does a foreign film get accolades for American awards shows, but the performances by veteran French actors Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are something special. This is a relatively simple film, about a dying wife and what a couple (and daughter) goes through in their final days. Also starring Isabelle Huppert. Directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Before Midnight (2013) – Almost all of Richard Linklater’s films are about the passage of time, and I’m a big fan of his work. This is the final episode of the “Before Trilogy.” The films are centered on conversations by Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delphy) and how their relationship evolves throughout the years. The first in the series was released 18 years earlier. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Monsieur Lazhar (2011) – A poignant tale of the power of great elementary school teachers, this one an Algerian refugee played by (real-life Algerian refugee and comedian) Mohamed Fellag. I saw this at U of L’s French Film Festival that year. In French, directed by Philippe Falardeau. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Sausage Party (2016) – The first American CGI-animated film to be rated R. It’s raunchy (I usually don’t like Seth Rogen movies for this reason), but creative and hilarious throughout. The afterlife theme is particularly fascinating. Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) – This one tugs at your heartstrings, especially if you’ve ever been to rural Italy. A ground-breaking love story set in 1983 between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his tutor, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Directed by Luca Guadagnino, mostly in English. Passes the Bechdel Test. Witness the feels in Sufjan Stevens’ music video “Mystery of Love”:
12 Years a Slave (2013) – Director Steve McQueen’s breakout film based on the 1853 narrative of Solomon Northup. Not just another painful slave story – this is a universally-acclaimed and incredibly inspiring movie. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Australian director George Miller has somehow managed to make four awesome movies about Max Rockatansky, and this one really calls back to the original with a chase scene lasting nearly the entire film. It also introduces us to a new lead, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Tom Hardy plays the titular character, formerly popularized by Mel Gibson. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Charles Bradley: Soul of America (2012) – This one is a very personal choice. I had the chance to see Bradley perform several times over the years, and this documentary really captures the heart of his life and stage presence. He started as a James Brown impersonator when he was nearly 50 years old. The love he shared on stage is like nothing I’ve ever felt. He died in 2017 from stomach cancer, at the age of 68. Here’s a photo I captured of him giving out hugs @ Forecastle 2012. Directed by Poull Brien.
The Babadook (2014) – All the pieces fit together to make this original, creepy children’s book character come to life. “You can’t get rid of The Babadook.” From Australian first-time director, Jennifer Kent. Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman. We talked about this in our first episode of the Cast50 Movie Podcast. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Cloud Atlas (2012) – Connects the human experience across the entire globe in six different eras (from 1849 to 2321). “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” The use of yellowface is a problem for some viewers, but otherwise, I consider this to be the Wachowskis’ masterpiece. Co-directed by Tom Tykwer. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon. I get teary-eyed just watching the trailer:
The top 20 are in bold.
|The Social Network (2010)||Somewhere (2010)|
|Nostalgia for the Light (2010)||Drive (2011)|
|Monsieur Lazhar (2011)||Cloud Atlas (2012)|
|Amour (2012)||Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)|
|The Act of Killing (2012)||Blancanieves (2012)|
|Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)||Charles Bradley: Soul of America (2012)|
|Gravity (2013)||12 Years a Slave (2013)|
|The Conjuring (2013)||Before Midnight (2013)|
|Blackfish (2013)||The Babadook (2014)|
|Selma (2014)||Pride (2014)|
|Virunga (2014)||Roger Waters The Wall (2014)|
|Night Will Fall (2014)||We Are a Horse Nation (2014)|
|Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)||Doctor Strange (2016)|
|Moonlight (2016)||Sausage Party (2016)|
|13th (2016)||I Am Not Your Negro (2016)|
|The Eagle Huntress (2016)||Wonder Woman (2017)|
|Blade Runner 2049 (2017)||Call Me By Your Name (2017)|
|BlacKkKlansman (2018)||Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)|
|This Changes Everything (2018)||Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)|
|Booksmart (2019)||Star Wars IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)|
I’ve also posted this list on my Letterboxd account. If you’ve never heard of it, Letterboxd is like IMDb, but a more user-friendly design and with more of a community feel. It was established in 2011.
Thanks for following me on this walk down memory lane. Check out Part 1 for my picks ordered 40 to 21.