I’ve pored over my movie spreadsheet to curate a list of films that you should see. I arbitrarily ended up with 40, so I’ll present 20 of them here; my absolute favorites will be revealed soon, in Part 2.
This is a mixture of personal, critical, blockbuster, and groundbreaking favorites. You’ll notice that I gravitate towards drama, sci-fi, and documentary films, but I’ve included a few horror and comedy flicks in here, as well.
To give you a little bit of my personal history of the past decade, I started looking at films more critically around the year 2013. Learning about Bechdel Test (to pass, it must have two named characters who talk to each other about something other than a man), and the complex history of Hollywood inspired me to find movies that were more than just your typical mindless blockbusters. In 2016, I co-hosted a movie podcast called The Persistence of Popcorn. In 2017, I started my ongoing 10 Years 10 Films series (starting in the year 1888). In 2019 I started co-hosting the Cast50 Movie Podcast, where we question why women make up 50 percent of the world’s population but only a small percentage of the film industry.
More details at the end of this post if you want stats about each movie, like runtime, availability, IMDb votes, etc. I’ve also included a little bonus item: Epic Fantasy Films Timeline. Without further ado, here’s my 40th favorite, working up to number 21…
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) – I still remember walking out of the theater with my mind blown after seeing this. Ai is an impressive Chinese artist and activist. This is the first major documentary about him and it focuses on his art and 81-day imprisonment. I continue to follow his Twitter and Instagram accounts for coverage of world affairs. Directed by American filmmaker Alison Klayman.
Blackfish (2013) – Investigative documentary following the third human death by SeaWorld killer whale Tilikum. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve did a superb job matching the feeling of Ridley Scott’s 1982 original. Music by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch. Starring Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, and Harrison Ford. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Wonder Woman (2017) – I felt like the ending dragged on, but the film is a “wonderful” addition to the DC Universe, this coming from a person who really doesn’t care for comic book movies. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and Robin Wright. Passes the Bechdel Test. I get goosebumps every time I watch this battlefield scene from the movie:
Doctor Strange (2016) – This is the second of 3 comic book movies you’ll see on this list. The mystical quality of the film is fantastic, particularly in IMAX 3D! Directed by Scott Derrickson, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams.
The Social Network (2010) – Directed by David Fincher, and written by Aaron Sorkin, this movie really defines the decade of Facebook and social media. This is also the first soundtrack from the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross collaboration. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, & Andrew Garfield.
We Are a Horse Nation (2014) – A touching documentary about the “family” connection between horses and the Oceti Sakowin people in the American Midwest. Directed by Keith BraveHeart. I saw this at the Speed Cinema. They curate great films year-round. You can buy or rent this film through the Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi website.
Booksmart (2019) – A hilarious coming-of-age comedy from director Olivia Wilde, her first feature film. Rotten Tomatoes named it the best comedy of the decade! Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, and Lisa Kudrow. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Roger Waters The Wall (2014) – Based off of the 1979 Pink Floyd album, this documentary chronicles Roger Water’s 2010-2013 live tour of the album. The stage setup is amazing, but you also get off-stage bits of Water’s personal journey in-between songs. Co-directed by Sean Evans.
The Conjuring (2013) – This kicks of the “Conjuring Universe” franchise, inspired by real-life paranomal investigations by Ed and Lorraine Warren. Directed by James Wan, starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor. Passes the Bechdel Test.
The Eagle Huntress (2016) – A Kazakh-language documentary about a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia as she attempts to become the first female competitor at the annual Golden Eagle Festival. Directed by Otto Bell, narrated by Daisy Ridley.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) – This Australian stand-up comedy performance starts out normally, but gets serious when Gadsby starts to explain why she is giving up comedy. Directors Jon Olb and Madeleine Parry.
Moonlight (2016) – A coming-of-age drama focusing on threes stages (played by three actors) in the life of Chiron Harris, in Miami and Atlanta. Based on an unpublished semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney and his struggles with sexuality, abuse, and identity. Directed by Barry Jenkins. Starring Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, and Trevante Rhodes (adult Chiron). Ashton Sanders plays the teen Chiron, and Alex Hibbert the child. This won Best Picture in both the Golden Globes and Oscars.
Virunga (2014) – This documentary focuses on the conservation work of park rangers in the Congo’s Virunga National Park, fighting to protect the world’s last mountain gorillas. The British filmmakers, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, also found connected interests with French journalist Mélanie Gouby in her investigation of British oil company Soco International and the violent M23 Rebellion at that time, in 2012. A Netflix Original.
Blancanieves (2012) – This Spanish drama was obscured by the other silent film that came out that year, The Artist, but in my opinion is much more entertaining. Pablo Berger wrote and directed this masterpiece of a Snow White tale, told with bullfighting dwarves instead of miners. There is no dialogue in the film, only intertitles harkening back to the era of silent film in the early 1920s. Starring Macarena García and Maribel Verdú.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016) – Samuel L. Jackson narrates this documentary inspired by James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, written in the mid-1970s. The memoir recounts the lives of his close friends Malcolm X, MLK, Jr., and Medgar Evers, and eloquently analyzes American race relations. Directed by Raoul Peck, former Haitian Minister of Culture.
13th (2016) – Ava DuVernay’s documentary, named after the 13th Amendment (prohibition of slavery), explores the “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.” This is one of the few films Netflix has on their community screening program.
The Act of Killing aka Jagal (2012) – It is a miracle that this documentary, and the 2014 follow-up, The Look of Silence, were made. The directors, Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and an anonymous Indonesian, actually got the gang leader of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66 to re-enact his death squad. It’s quite a mind-bender!
Somewhere (2010) – A famous actor (played by Stephen Dorff) stuck in an existential crisis reconnects with his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). Like many of Sofia Coppola’s films, this film explores the strange reality of Hollywood life. I really enjoyed the minimalistic mood of the film, largely due to the soundtrack by Phoenix – Coppola is married to the lead singer, Thomas Mars. Passes the Bechdel Test.
Drive (2011) – I will admit that this is a pretty typical Ryan Gosling vehicle (pun intended), with a silly plot when you think about it. But the seemingly simple stunt driving and cinematography are top notch. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has a recognizable style, and this one is my favorite of his so far. The music by Cliff Martinez and Johnny Jewel are perfect, as well. Check out the opening scene. Also starring Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and Oscar Isaac. Passes the Bechdel Test.
|The Social Network (2010)||Somewhere (2010)|
|Drive (2011)||The Act of Killing (2012)|
|Blancanieves (2012)||Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)|
|The Conjuring (2013)||Blackfish (2013)|
|Virunga (2014)||Roger Waters The Wall (2014)|
|We Are a Horse Nation (2014)||Doctor Strange (2016)|
|Moonlight (2016)||13th (2016)|
|I Am Not Your Negro (2016)||The Eagle Huntress (2016)|
|Wonder Woman (2017)||Blade Runner 2049 (2017)|
|Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)||Booksmart (2019)|
I’ve set up a Dropbox folder where you can download a spreadsheet of my picks, as well as a simple timeline of epic fantasy films. For up-to-date streaming options for each film, I recommend JustWatch.com.
I enjoyed the Hunger Games films, but they’ve been mostly forgotten now. You can also see how much Disney has ramped up all the Star Wars titles in the past two years alone!
My master spreadsheet of over 5600 films is available on /mymovies page. I watched or rewatched 566 movies with a 2010 or later release date. I’ll soon be posting more details about my 2019 movie-watching. But first, keep an eye out for Part 2 of the Best Movies of the Decade…