This is not a "Best Films of the Decade" list. And that's probably a good thing. There are plenty of those making the rounds right about now anyway. Let's all just create our own, so you can focus on how Mad Max: Fury Road was a singular adrenal hit, or Under the Skin was the peak of arthouse paranoia, and I feel no shame about including all three eligible Paul Thomas Anderson films.
In this retrospective, we'll focus on 10 movies that kicked off waves, reshaped our film conversations for better or worse and captured the 2010s in all their ingenuity, beauty and awfulness. These are, in effect, our period pieces. May they age as gracefully as we deserve.
The Social Network (2010)
"You're going to go through life thinking girls don't like you because you're a nerd, but…it'll be because you're an asshole." In one line, Rooney Mara (via Aaron Sorkin's pen) slashes to the core of Zuck, who helped turn online discourse—and perceptions of reality—into a quagmire. David Fincher's masterpiece now comes off as a horror movie about how we arrived right here.
The Avengers (2012)
Frankly, I'm not sure the first Marvel team-up is that good. But as with most MCU entries, quality is second to existence. Serviceable in every way, The Avengers exemplified the quick-dry bargain of 2010s blockbuster filmmaking. "We show you a configuration of something you already like. You give us a billion dollars. We give you more." Is it cinema? I don't know, but artistic value was never the point.
John Wick (2014)
Wordless, puppy-avenging Keanu Reeves has essentially market-corrected James Bond for the past five years. Pitch black and exceptionally simple, the John Wick movies made the stunt coordinator-turned-visual artist into a mainstream concept, and entered Keanu into a growing category of aging stars breaking their bones for our pleasure.
Inside Out (2015)
The high-water mark of Pixar's spotty past decade, Inside Out remains resonant for more than just its creativity in literalizing a child's brain. Its focus on dialectics between emotions clicked into place just as the entire discourse around storytelling shifted toward examining mental health, empathy and trauma.
Moonlight announced a generationally great filmmaker in Barry Jenkins, raised the trophy at the only culturally transcendent Oscars moment of the decade, and teased the irrational few of us who still care that the Academy's tastes may have changed for the better. Gulp.
O.J.: Made in America (2016)
If you made me cut my list to one decade-defining entry, this is it. Ezra Edelman's towering documentary tapped into '90s nostalgia, true crime, the blurred lines between TV and film, and, perhaps most reassuringly, fed the modern audience's insatiable appetite for context about events we thought we already knew.
Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird announced a generationally great filmmaker in Greta Gerwig, infused the high school movie with intelligence and specificity, and remember what I said about the Academy 20 seconds ago? Well, Gerwig was the only woman all damn decade to be nominated for Best Director. Do better in the 2020s.
Get Out (2017)
Not many movies can launch 10,000 think pieces, get your parents into a theater and spark a two-year debate about how a genre is evolving. What's more, every conversation about blockbuster exhaustion somehow holds up Get Out as the original-minded alternative.
Eighth Grade (2018)
The 2010s raised mortal questions about the future of movies. But let's focus on one: From The Irishman to the Ghostbusters reboot, how long can we keep living in the 20th century? Bo Burnham's affectionate cringe comedy went where more movies assuredly will in the next decade—into an iPhone camera roll, the mind's eye of Gen Z and the refracted space in which we present ourselves to the rest of the world.
If The Social Network predicted the 2010s online, Parasite detonates the eerie disjunctions in our physical spaces. Drawing $20 million worth of American moviegoers so far, the great Bong Joon-ho has touched a nerve. His Palme d'Or winner is about class, sure, but also how we hide from each other in the edifices of our cities, careers and homes. Can we possibly regain sight of each other without malice and death? Bon voyage, 2010s.