By Christian DiMartino
A lot can happen in a year. A lot can change in a year. So try 10 years, and thus, here I am delivering unto you, a decade in review. A lot has certainly changed for me in 10 years. Yet for this, I am of course here to focus on the movies that we have been given. Personally, I think it was overall a great decade for film. Sure, things seem a little more money-hungry these days, but in my heart I know that these things are just phases.
Part of what I enjoy about making a best of the decade list is that it is almost never definitive. As I sit here typing, I can tell you that I have not seen every movie from the last 10 years. I can also tell you that, as someone who generates a 10 best list every year, my opinion can change over time. Yet as I sit here, on December 29th, 2019, these are my choices. You might not agree with them. Hell, 10 years from now, I might not agree with them. But they’re mine, dammit, and I’m sticking to it.
Best Movies of the Decade (alphabetical order)
Birdman: The last Best Picture winner I totally agreed with. Alejandro Inarritu’s comedic masterwork took my breath away when I first saw it in 2014, and it’s a film that I have seen numerous times, and will be watching for the rest of my life. I love the feel, cinematography, score and rhythm of this brilliant film, which features glorious performances from Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton. To me, it’s a purely exhilarating blast, with one of my favorite endings in recent memory.
Black Swan: I am very much a Darren Aronofsky fan-girl (or, er, boy), but my lord, do I never get tired of watching Black Swan. This film is a richly entertaining nightmare. It’s sleezy and trashy, and yet a complete work of art, featuring a performance from Natalie Portman that is so amazing, it just might be the best performance of the last 10 years (more on that topic later).
First Reformed: I admit that I love this film more than most. But why? Sure, Paul Schrader’s masterpiece is one you have to be in a particular mood to sit through. Yet there’s something beautiful and haunting about the entire thing. It’s so hopeless, so unsettling, and so wild, only Schrader (the writer of Taxi Driver, for those uncultured) could’ve dreamt it up. It’s also so ambitious, yet you don’t realize it. On top of that, it features a marvelous performance by Ethan Hawke that deserved the Oscar (plot twist: he wasn’t nominated). Lastly, while many would probably yank their hair out over it, I adore the ending of this film. See it, and hopefully you’ll join my choir (or you’ll yank your own hair out).
Inception: Not to sound like one of those cliché filmbros, but this is probably my favorite. Because here is a film that will never, ever get old. Every time I see it, I pick up on some new detail that I never caught before, even if it was right before my eyes. Some element of it always feels fresh. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is so richly detailed, so beautiful to behold, so entertaining, so mind-numbing, you don’t just have to return to it, you want to. It’s a dizzying masterpiece of constant brilliance that never runs out of ideas, from beginning until its beautiful finish. Nolan is perhaps the most ambitious, creative filmmaker we have, and while this is debatable, this just may be his finest hour.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: As a long-time worshipper of Quentin Tarantino, I can say that he’s never made a movie quite like this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s purely Tarantino- its storytelling reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, its conclusion reminiscent of Inglourious Basterds, etc.- but this time it’s a little different. I don’t think he’s ever made a movie this… sweet. It’s clear that he has an affection for his characters here, not to mention the time period they’re in, and the film he’s concocted is wonderful, hilarious, horrifying, delightful and thoughtful.
The Descendants: Until Downsizing, I constantly bragged about Alexander Payne’s perfect track record. Even so, the majority of his films are amazing, and personally I’d say The Descendants is his best. Everything about this film feels right. Its sense of humor is rich. Its emotional moments feel earned. It has charm galore. Its characters are fascinating. It’ll make you laugh and break your heart, sometimes at once. George Clooney’s performance is also perhaps his best, in a role that plays very much against type. But it’s so tender, and raw, you feel his pain. And you feel the pain within the film.
The Florida Project: Let me just say, the first time I saw Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, I started weeping in the last five minutes. As I left the theatre, I wept some more. I had to drive home too, and as I drove, the weeping continued. At that point, it wasn’t just because the story affected me so, but it might’ve also been because of how much I loved it. Baker’s film works so magically because of how real it is. What’s so unique here is how he manages to build a sort of universe set at this Floridian dump of a hotel, right outside of Disney World. You become so caught up in the world of these characters. Each of these characters feels super realistic, thanks in part to Baker’s genius move of casting familiar faces (Willem Dafoe, never more charming) and unknowns (Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, both totally worthy of Oscar nominations). I could go on all day. I don’t know if this work of miserable beauty is up everyone’s alley, but it’s certainly up mine.
The Irishman: There is something so perfect about this film. Clocking in at 3 and a half hours, it almost never feels like it. Its story always holds you in its grip. The performances- from Robert De Niro, to Joe Pesci to Al Pacino- are Oscar worthy. Its scope is grand, its ambition is remarkable. Some might complain that it’s too long. Yet I strongly disagree, because here is a story more about character than story, and if it had been any shorter, these fascinating characters would’ve been robbed of a worthy payoff. It’s a tribute to the great Martin Scorsese that he manages to make this much time fly by, and it builds to perhaps the most moving finale of Scorsese’s career.
The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, as I see it, is the terrific filmmaker at his most hypnotic. I find the groove and storytelling of this masterpiece almost dreamlike in some aspects. There’s something about it that stays with you and lingers in the mind, and probably will for all eternity. Featuring some of the best performances of the last decade (from Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant turn to the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), not to mention a bizarre, fascinating story that holds you in its grip, The Master finds Anderson at his most masterful. This is the kind of film you will never forget, and will always feel the urge to revisit.
The Tree of Life: Terrence Malick is… certainly not for everyone. Yet when I think of film as an art form, I almost always think of Malick’s The Tree of Life. Say what you will about the man- he can be pretentious and artsy. Yet The Tree of Life was the last time that really truly worked for him. The film is beautiful and arty and complex and frustrating. Yet it’s so gorgeous and unforgettable. So richly fascinating and emotional. It certainly is an acquired taste, but if you don’t like this one, avoid every other movie he’s made after it like the plague.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Worst Movies of the Decade (in alphabetical order)
For this list, I tried to avoid easy targets. Instead, I tried to aim for movies that should’ve been great, but of course were repugnant. And there’s plenty of garbage to go around.
Fantastic Four: It’s hard to make a superhero movie boring, but they did it here with this 10-megaton bomb.
Food Fight: Don’t know what this is? Lucky you. I had Norm of the North in this film’s slot, until my PTSD from this film came back. This is the worst movie I’ve ever sat through, hands down.
Life Itself: Not to be confused with the great Roger Ebert documentary, this pretentious nightmare was too focused on convincing us that we were watching something meaningful. I assure you: we weren’t.
Mother’s Day: At the end of his career, the late Garry Marshall had a knack for destroying holidays. But none were worse than Mother’s Day. If your kid took you to see this, I’d consider cutting off ties.
That’s My Boy: Why Adam Sandler great til he gotta be great? Sandler is worthy of an Oscar for his new movie Uncut Gems, but he has plenty of garbage to his name, and perhaps none worse than this creepy, horribly unfunny monstrosity.
The Human Centipede III- Final Sequence: Again I tried to avoid easy targets, but this repulsive torture porn cinematic abortion cannot go unscathed.
The Last Airbender: It’s been about 10 years since I saw it last, but I remember really hating it, so I probably still do.
Transformers: The Last Knight: God, gag me with a spoon. I don’t hate Michael Bay as much as others, but I loathe this clinging, clanging visual effects throw-up nightmare of a sequel, which has everything except coherence.
Welcome to Marwen: I mostly include this one because I love to talk about how horrible it is, and how horribly it went wrong. This film mainly suffers from one flaw- the depiction of its hero. But that flaw is so major, it sinks everything else around it. As a fan of the great Robert Zemeckis, after I saw this film, I wanted to reach out and ask if he was okay.
Yoga Hosers: As a fan of Kevin Smith… sheesh, if you’ve seen this painfully disgusting and unfunny disaster, the review writes itself.
Best Performances (by year)
2010: Natalie Portman- Black Swan
2011: George Clooney- The Descendants
2012: Daniel Day Lewis- Lincoln
2013: Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine
2014: J.K. Simmons- Whiplash
2015: Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
2016: Natalie Portman- Jackie
2017: Frances McDormand- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2018: Toni Collette- Hereditary
2019: Adam Sandler- Uncut Gems (subject to change)