Kristen Wiig in a scene from film Bridesmaids.
Kristen Wiig in a scene from film Bridesmaids.

The 53 best movies of the decade

It's near-impossible to pull together a list of the best films of the decade, any decade.

Unless you've seen some 4000 movies, including foreign language films, any such list is going to be incomplete.

So this is less a definitive "best of the 2010s" list as judged by both emotional reactions and more "objective" criteria such as writing and craft and more a compilation of films, unranked, over the past 10 years that have left their mark in some way.

Some of them have been movies that wowed me on a technical level (Roma and Mad Max: Fury Road), some of them are stories that have been so emotionally moving that I can't bear to watch them again lest it dilute that first experience (Call Me By Your Name and Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Others have been films that I liked but didn't love at the time but have managed to really make an impact on a cultural level over the years (John Wick and Wonder Woman). And then there are the films that are so charming or thrilling, you return to them time and again (Frances Ha and Skyfall).

I know I've missed many films that deserve to go on a list like this so consider this only a jumping off point for the decade of movies that was the 2010s.

 

Social Network won three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.
Social Network won three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.

The Social Network (2010): David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's origin story of Facebook and a cold and calculating Mark Zuckerberg is so tightly structured, both a searing portrait of ambition and an almost classic morality tale. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Animal Kingdom (2010): David Michod's directorial debut made a big splash when it first came out and continues to impress a decade later. A pulsing and electrifying crime drama about a Melbourne family, Animal Kingdom propelled the likes of Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver to international stardom. (Watch: Stan)

Incendies (2010): While Canadian director Denis Villeneuve had made three films before this, Incendies heralded his arrival on an international stage. The story of a pair of Canadian twins who return to their mother's homeland to discover her secrets, this war thriller adroitly reveals its heart and soul with heartbreaking humanity. (Watch: SBS On Demand)

The Descendants (2011): This George Clooney film by Alexander Payne is a gorgeously crafted movie about the trustee of a family trust who holds 25,000 acres (10,117 hectares) of beautiful Hawaiian land and becomes mired in questions of fidelity and family. It's a work of great grace, and it doesn't hurt that Hawaii truly looks like paradise. (Watch: Netflix/Foxtel)

 

Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo.
Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo.

 

Bridesmaids (2011): Yes, we all remember the pooping in the street scene, but what really made Bridesmaids such a cultural touchstone was its unflinching yet hilarious portrayal of female friendships. It was honest, hysterical, crass and moving - all the things women can be. (Watch: Foxtel)

Shame (2011): Steve McQueen's second movie starred Michael Fassbender as a sex addict who traipsed his way through New York with increasing desolation and loneliness. It's a film filled with emotional wounds but featuring some truly stunning scenes, including a one-shot take of Carey Mulligan singing New York, New York. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Then 30-year-old filmmaker Benh Zeitlin seemingly came out of nowhere with his imaginative, fairytale-like epic about a young girl named Hushpuppy (an extraordinary, Oscar-nominated performance from then six-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis) facing impossible odds against a biblical storm while searching for her missing mother. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Frances Ha (2012): Noah Baumbach's collaboration with co-writer and star Greta Gerwig is irresistibly charming, a black-and-white film as much about New York City and dreamers as it is about its plucky heroine, an aspiring dancer. (Watch: Stan)

 

Greta Gerwig is the perfect screwball heroine in Frances Ha.
Greta Gerwig is the perfect screwball heroine in Frances Ha.

 

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012): Felix Van Groeningen's wrenching Belgian drama is the story of a free-spirited bluegrass musician couple falling in love. When tragedy strikes, their passion and love for each other goes through the ringer. The film's soundtrack is a real highlight. (Watch: SBS On Demand)

Stories We Tell (2012): Canadian actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley's highly personal documentary tracks her discovery of her parents' extramarital affair and her own real parentage through the framework of memory and storytelling. (Watch: Stan)

The Master (2012): P.T. Anderson's The Master tells the story of a WWII vet who finds there's no place for him in a peacetime society until he meets a charismatic cult leader who accepts him into his flock. The scenes between Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are electrifying to watch. (Watch: Stan)

Skyfall (2012): Action-packed with heart-thumping sequences and yet emotionally resonant, Skyfall has everything you're looking for in a Bond movie. Daniel Craig's super agent is tested when a psychopath goes after his most enduring relationship with Judi Dench's M. (Watch: Stan)

The Avengers (2012): Maybe you agree with Martin Scorsese and think comic book movies are akin to theme park rides, but there is no denying the commercial power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the impact it's had on screen culture in the past decade. The first Avengers movie is the one that tied it all together, and it did it with humour, heart and thrills. (Watch: Disney+)

 

You can stream The Place Beyond the Pines on Stan right now.
You can stream The Place Beyond the Pines on Stan right now.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012): Derek Cianfrance's stylish crime epic about the sins of the father and how our histories can both save us and damn us is a wonderfully performed piece by the likes of Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes. (Watch: Stan)

Before Midnight (2013): In the final chapter of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset), Jesse and Celeste are now a married couple and on holidays in Greece. This wonderfully written and penetrating film swirls around with ideas about marriage, dependence, parenthood and what we owe to one another in a meaningful partnership. (Watch: Foxtel Now)

Her (2013): Original, funny and poignant, Spike Jonze's philosophical sci-fi film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely and depressed man who forms a bond with his AI assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The relationship between Theodore and "Samantha" can teach us more about what humans need from each other than any silly rom-com. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Inside Llewelyn Davis (2013): The perfect distillation of all of the Coen brothers' quirks and sensibilities, this darkly comical story of a frustrated musician steeped in the 1961 Greenwich Village folk music scene features a masterful performance from Oscar Isaac. (Watch: Stan)

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Wes Anderson created another visual marvel in Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson created another visual marvel in Grand Budapest Hotel.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Wes Anderson's visual masterpiece boasts an even more impressive rogues' gallery of stars than Anderson can usually wrestle, from Ralph Fiennes to Tilda Swinton to Bill Murray. The unusual friendship between a famed hotel concierge and a lobby boy is tested when they set off on a quirky adventure to prove the concierge's innocence against a murder charge. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Boyhood (2014): Richard Linklater shot Boyhood over 12 years, charting the journey of Mason from six-years old until he leaves for college. It's an insightful story of growing up and the emotional touchpoints of a transformative time with superb performances from Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Leviathan (2014): Andrey Zvyagintsev's scathing indictment of Russian corruption is set in a small coastal village, centred on a hot-tempered mechanic and his Job-ian journey. Zvyagintsev won no fans among the Russian government for his moving, considered and tragic satire. (Watch: Stan)

John Wick (2014): Few saw Keanu Reeves' beat-'em-up movie coming and even fewer would guess it would become a phenomenon. As a retired assassin forced back out to exact vengeance on a Russian mob boss's idiot son, Reeves is perfect as the taciturn Wick. The movie's inventive and propulsive fight sequences and practical effects cements its status as the prime action franchise of the 2010s. (Watch: Netflix/Stan)

 

John Wick’s action sequences remain among the best of the decade.
John Wick’s action sequences remain among the best of the decade.

 

The Babadook (2014): Australian director and writer Jennifer Kent's nailbiting horror made a bigger impact overseas than it did locally, which is a real shame because The Babadook - the story of a single mother and her son battling a monster in their home - is exactly the kind of smart, visceral Australian filmmaking we should pay attention to. (Watch: Amazon Prime Video)

Ex Machina (2014): Alex Garland's sci-fi thriller is one of the smartest films about artificial intelligence. Wrought with tension and stakes, Ex Machina hinges on a superb performance from Alicia Vikander as Ava, an android model searching for answers. (Watch: Kanopy/iTunes/Google Play)

Inside Out (2015): Animation powerhouse Pixar is known for making incredible films that transcend generations, and Inside Out is a sophisticated, nuanced and inventive story about emotions - joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust - and the power of embracing them. All that in a "kid's" movie. (Watch: Disney+)

Brooklyn (2015): Sweeping, romantic and hopeful, John Crowley's film about a young Irish immigrant arriving in 1950s New York hits all the right notes and beautifully illustrates the pull between the comfort of the old and the excitement of the new. Brooklyn netted Saoirse Ronan, then 22, her second of three Oscar nominations. (Watch: Netflix/SBS On Demand)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road proves sequels can be better than the original three-fold, easily. The dystopian wasteland gets an update with Charlize Theron's Furiosa in this visually stunning masterpiece, fuelled by rage and attitude. It features some of the most impressive practical effects chase sequences in cinema. Tour de force. (Watch: Stan)

 

Mad Max: Fury Road was a technical marvel. Picture: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP
Mad Max: Fury Road was a technical marvel. Picture: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

 

Carol (2015): Todd Hayne's visually stunning Carol is a tale of great yearning and elegance, anchored by sublime performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two women in the 1950s who embark on a forbidden romance. (Watch: SBS On Demand)

Mustang (2015): The debut feature from Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Erguven centres on five sisters cloistered in their house by their conservative family. This rich, textured story masterfully flits between the sisters' predicaments while also commenting on the increasingly dangerous environment for women in Recep Erdogan's Turkey. (Watch: Kanopy/iTunes/Google Play)

Spotlight (2015): Hardly a visual feast, but Spotlight's screenplay, by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, is so tightly constructed and well written that the movie still leaps off the screen. It follows a team of investigative journalists who reveal widespread child sex abuse and its insidious cover-up by the Catholic Church in Boston. (Stream: Netflix)

Hell or High Water (2016): David McKenzie's movie, from a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, is a modern take on an old-fashioned heist movie, following two brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) who rob a string of banks. Laced with moral ambiguity and a thrilling chase, it captures the bleak and desolate existence of West Texas. (Watch: Stan)

 

Kiwi star Julian Dennison nabbed his Deadpool role after Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Kiwi star Julian Dennison nabbed his Deadpool role after Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016): An ode to misfits and outcasts, Taika Waititi's comedy is the story of city kid and "bad egg" Ricky Baker who finds himself on the run from child services in the bush with "Uncle Hec". It crackles with wit, warmth and whimsy without a hint of pretension. (Watch: Foxtel/Kanopy)

Paterson (2016): We all know Adam Driver can go to extreme places on screen, but his most compelling performance this decade is actually his quietest, as a laconic and poetic bus driver in Jim Jamusch's minimalist Paterson, a film that celebrates the beauty in the mundane. (Watch: Netflix)

Manchester by the Sea (2016): Featuring emotionally scalding performances from Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck, Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a portrait of grief, isolation and despair. Not a barrel of laughs, but this film about a man who's given custody of his dead brother's nephew is an incredibly affecting movie. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Call Me By Your Name (2017): Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer star in this tender, sensual and emotionally charged coming-of-age story directed by Luca Guadagnino. Elio and Oliver become drawn to each other in the heat of the Italian summer, an exhilarating and transformative romance for the characters and the audience. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

 

Jordan Peele’s Get Out inspired many deep readings about its portrayal of modern US race relations. Picture: Universal Pictures via AP
Jordan Peele’s Get Out inspired many deep readings about its portrayal of modern US race relations. Picture: Universal Pictures via AP

 

Get Out (2017): Comedian Jordan Peele's directorial debut is all about pacing and reveals - something comedy and horror have in common. This tone-perfect, accomplished and entertaining movie follows a young black man who visits his white girlfriend's well-to-do progressive family in their country home. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Wonder Woman (2017): Have you heard? Female-fronted superhero movies can make money. They can make a lot of money. They can also be an absolute joy and thrill to watch. Patty Jenkins' visuals of Diana/Wonder Woman kicking total a**e is a roaring spectacle and more than a little empowering. (Watch: iTunes)

La La Land (2017): Damien Chazelle's musical is a dazzling affair but it would be little more than that if it weren't for its final 15 minutes in which it turns upside down the expectations of romantic musical. This movie featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two romantic leads is a sophisticated romance. (Watch: Netflix)

A Ghost Story (2017): A meditation on time, grief and memory, David Lowery's A Ghost Story transcends its gimmick (Casey Affleck costumed in a bedsheet) to become a film you'll never forget. Centred on a young couple, one who dies in the first act, the movie is less driven by character or plot. Instead, it captures a feeling, an emotional response to a singular experience. (Watch: SBS On Demand/Kanopy)

 

Moonlight was the Best Picture Oscar winner in its year.
Moonlight was the Best Picture Oscar winner in its year.

 

Moonlight (2017): A transcendent cinematic experience like few others, Barry Jenkins' beautifully photographed, performed and written Moonlight is an artful film, the story of a young, gay African-American boy growing up in the Miami projects told through three chapters in his life. (Watch: Kanopy/iTunes/Google Play)

Paddington 2 (2017): Who would've thought Hugh Grant would make the perfect, narcissistic villain in a so-called kids' movie? But here he is, having an absolute ball as the playful former theatre star Phoenix Buchanan and pitch-perfect foil to Paddington's earnest charm. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Logan (2017): James Mangold's Logan is far from the comic book movie template we've become used to. The gritty closing chapter of Wolverine's story in the X-Men movie universe plays like a Western. (Watch: iTunes/Google Play)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): This kaleidoscopic movie featuring an alternative Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is an imaginative, smart superhero movie that kids and adults both love. It's some of the accomplished animation these past few years and will have you crying out for a sequel. (Watch: Amazon Prime Video/Foxtel)

Lady Bird (2018): This smart and funny coming-of-age story about a teen in her final year of high school stars Saoirse Ronan. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, this authentic film with its perfect tone flows easily from one beat to the next. Truly a gem. (Watch: Netflix)

 

Lady Bird is perfectly balanced between humour and heart.
Lady Bird is perfectly balanced between humour and heart.

 

Shoplifters (2018): A work of grace and empathy, Kore-eda Hirokazu's Palme d'Or-winning Shoplifters is the story of a Japanese family who survive on grandma's pension and pilfering what they can and take in a neglected young girl. Deep but light on its feet, it challenges the concept of what it means to be family. (Watch: Google Play/YouTube)

First Man (2018): Damien Chazelle's symphonic and technically ambitious film about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 moon landing manages to be emotionally crushing with barely a raised voice from a restrained Ryan Gosling. (Watch: Foxtel)

Roma (2018): Alfonso Cuaron's epic three-hour black-and-white Netflix semi-autobiographical movie is both intimate and grand. It follows the travails of a family in 1960s Mexico City, told through their indigenous maid. Emotionally rewarding, socially conscious and filled with depth and detail, Roma connects on so many levels. (Watch: Netflix)

The Favourite (2018): Venomously sharp-witted and darkly funny, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite is a supreme performance showcase for three ferociously talented women in Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as they jockey for power and favour in Queen Anne's court. (Watch: Foxtel)

Sweet Country (2018): A subtle but breathtaking piece of work, Warwick Thornton's film about an Aboriginal man accused of killing a white land owner stabs right at the heart of Australian identity in this wrenching tale of justice and injustice. (Watch: Kanopy/iTunes/Google Play)

 

Parasite is still in cinemas so go and catch it while you can.
Parasite is still in cinemas so go and catch it while you can.

Parasite (2019): A biting social satire and black comedy, Bong Joon-ho's Palme d'Or winning Parasite tells the stories of two families, one a working-class grifter clan in their semi-subterranean apartment and the other an upper middle-class family in their architectural marvel, and how they become enmeshed in each other's lives. Dark, hilarious and truly shocking, Parasite will burrow into your subconsciousness. (Watch: In cinemas)

Knives Out (2019): This smart whodunit from writer and director Rian Johnson is a loving homage to old-school detective mysteries, specifically the cleverly plotted stories of Agatha Christie. It's wildly entertaining, blisteringly contemporary and it'll keep you guessing until the end. (Watch: In cinemas)

Marriage Story (2019): The premise of Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is that you only really understand a marriage in the process of divorce. This emotionally bruising yet hopeful film follows a young creative couple struggling through their conscious uncoupling, featuring incredible performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. (Watch: Netflix)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): Quentin Tarantino's love letter to old Hollywood is a beautifully textured movie that proves even Tarantino has become sentimental in his older age. Following the adventures of two Hollywood fringe players over the summer of love, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an opulent mood piece where every frame is a marvel to behold. (Watch: iTunes)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019): Celine Sciamma's period drama is a burning story of women's passion and desire, the story of a female painter and her reluctant subject. (Watch: In cinemas on Boxing Day)

What are some of your favourite movies of the 2010s? Comment below.

Share your movies and TV obsessions | @wenleima


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