I spent the first few days of 2020 reminiscing on my favorite films of the 2010’s detailing why they mean so much to me or impacted me the way they did. Here are the results!
First up at #10: Searching For Sugar Man
This movie is simply put, one of the most fascinating captures of persona I’ve ever seen. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it’s hard to speak of without sharing some of the magic. The movie is about a community of music lovers in South Africa trying to find the story of how their favorite musician died. Rodriguez was an American musician who was bigger than Elvis Presley in South Africa. Yet people from the States had never even heard of him. What follows is one of the most fascinating stories you have to see to believe. Every single time I watch this I cry and am filled with wonder.
There are few people that have spent any time with me that haven’t heard my pitch for why they must see this documentary. It’s on Netflix now.
#9: The Perks of Being A Wallflower
I can acknowledge that the decade has provided with many movies better than Wallflower, but this movie spoke to me on the deepest of levels. If you are unaware, my entire professional life I have worked with Middle and High School students. This movie cut deep, deep into the why that I do this work and it has never taken its claws out of me. It is a hard but beautiful tale about how trauma takes it’s toll on us and how loving community and friends who care can help us get through. That life was not meant to be watched and observed from the sidelines but to be felt honestly and lived abundantly here, now, in the moment. It also gave us the line “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Perks is an all call for us to be gentle with one another and to be aware and concerned for the people in our lives.
I think this is Spike Lee’s best film and one of the most potent and powerful pieces of art of the past decade. I should have seen the ending coming but I didn’t. What was a night out with friends became the realization of just how hard I had been carrying the events that transpired in Charlottesville, VA.
I’ve cried watching plenty of films but this was one of the first times those tears felt angry and wounded and hopeless. I found my hurt and recognized my despair. And that’s the brilliance of the film . Its ability to entertain and yet not let you free. It’s revelatory. It’s a film that makes you laugh and then asks why are you laughing? We allow and create danger when we don’t confront and transform evil.
Y’all I was paralyzed by this movie. And the girl next to me at the end of the film said to her friend softly “Wow, I feel targeted.” And I just about gave that girl a sermon. This movie is so important to me because it captures the anguish I have felt at the arrival of this moment and the way it has wounded me and people and places I care about. But also it reminds us that we are above it and we will defeat it and that there have always been those fighting against it. There is and has always been a movement at foot, and that should give us courage.
Selma is a perfect film. But I didn’t think that when I first watched it. This movie matters so much to me because it’s likely the movie I have grown the most with.
When I first saw Selma there was still enough of me guarded going into it thinking it was some hyper-liberalized Oprah account of what happened during the Civil Rights movement. (A narrative likely given me by Fox News.) I ended up loving the movie but the only thing I could say about it to friends was how I got so hung up on the lyric in “Glory” equating the movement of King to what happened in Ferguson. I’d never read any King. All I had ever received were white-washed ideas of the peaceful King and I thought to equate his movement to Ferguson was just so awful. I’ve since learned that not only did I get a white-washed account of King but also one of Ferguson.
I’ve had and continued to unlearn a lot of my whiteness over the last decade and every time I revisit Selma I find a story that becomes more and more powerful to me. The vision and bravery to risk it all so that the cameras would show whites and those in power the kind of brutality that blacks in the Deep South were experiencing in a way that could not be ignored. So many of us weigh our personal experience as the one every person has. We know it’s not true and yet we position it supreme anyways to ignore the urgent issues of the day. Those marchers knew they needed to visually elevate the deep need for the unobstructed vote to have say in the institutions that obstructed justice against them. Those marches changed our nation and many of those heroes are still alive. We like to think these things, this division, these issues long behind us. But they are here and now. Ferguson became the event that opened my eyes. It made me come face to face with the validity of experiences unlike my own. And I couldn’t have gotten there without this film and the tension it put in me. This is the invitation of putting the story of Selma to film here and now.
The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtapositionin’ us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
Truant livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down”, and we stand up
Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up
King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh one day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
I limped out of the theater the first time I saw Scorsese’s Silence. For days I tried to define what I took from this movie and in many ways I’m still processing a movie I saw years ago. One of the most fascinating films about faith and devotion you will ever see. It is a film that looks into the soul and asks how strongly do you believe these things and what would you sacrifice for them? It is one thing to lay down your life, but would you let others suffer and be killed for what you believed was right if it meant maintaining the intended order of life and goodness?
How can we endure and even allow so much suffering for our faith when God seems silent? In the film the Japanese who imprison the Jesuits deny the priests their desired martyrdom because they know that is considered an honor and a victory for the Christian Faith. Instead they continue to torture and kill the Japanese converts until the Jesuit’s agree to deny their God. It is a most trying and unpleasant movie that to me exemplifies the trials of actually committing to what we claim we believe and all the doubts and trials and arguments of theology that we carry with it.
Much like “The Mission” from years ago, people of faith are invited to wrestle with the consequences of not giving ourselves to the world and just how messy that fight can be. It is a most honest movie. To really understand the weight of choosing love and forgiveness and wondering if we are actually capable of that sort of life in the face of such clear evil. Similarly that year Andrew Garfield portrayed another man convicted by his faith in Hacksaw Ridge. Both of these movies embody beliefs in nonviolence in their most radical forms and both of these movies explained clearly the doubts and questions of the goodness of that difficult idealism.
The movie is a sharp meditation on Christianity as well as the spiritual and political implications of colonialism and pride. And whether or not anything the priest are doing is actually just, actually right. Is all the persecution they are allowing and receiving about love or about ego?
“The price for your glory is their suffering.”
That the entire time they were in these countries they taught but never learned. Never bothered to learn the language or the culture just move people towards their beliefs even though the language barrier never granted complete understanding of the teachings. So did the priests really care? Or was it about influence and power? The interests was rarely the people and relationships rather “winning.”
In the end the character does something Christlike. It just so happens to feel like the most un-Christlike thing he could do. Rather than cause suffering for his glory, he sacrifices a part of himself to end the suffering of others.
You will likely never find a deeper meditation of Christianity on film and that is why it is one of my favorite films of the decade.
#5: Sing Street
This movie is the hidden gem of the decade. My reasons for loving it are likely obvious to anyone who has seen it. It’s just the most optimistic, delightful film in recent memory.
I pretty much always respond cheerfully to the “they went for it” stories. It’s where my “just ask” attitude gets its inspiration. I don’t have enough lives to wonder or sit things out.
But what gives this film such life is the nostalgia of our youth and our forgotten dreams. It’s the support the characters give the lead, Connor, to achieve his dreams. Not a single character in this film tries to squash his dreams. It’s just what I believe community oughtta be about. Each of us pushing each other to our creative best. (See Dolemite Is My Name for a brilliant and similar narrative. Yes, I just compared Sing Street to Dolemite.) This is especially so with regards to the brother. The brother in this film is probably one of my favorite characters of the decade. He’s so true and giving. He resonates to the many of us who feel like one way or another we missed our shot at some dream. But rather than be destroyed by bitterness and resent, he does all he can to teach and help his brother attain his success. He makes sure his brother gets out and overcomes the things that kept him back. It’s such a beautiful dynamic and offering and message to every single one of us. And at the end of the film I am literally standing in a theater cheering as Adam Levine sings “You’re never gonna go if you don’t go now.”
The entirely of the film just screams my belief that we have to take our shots and not be deterred when life puts us down. Rather we capture those trials and transform them into something beautiful and creative that we can offer the world.
Connor learns to receive his life experiences to create beautiful art that he shares with his friends. He includes the people around him. And he offers it to the people he loves. And he gets better the more he does this. He thrives in individualization, and sees the gifts of others and equips them to use them. And this makes his success all the more meaningful. And…well, FUN.
John Carney has made these fantastic odes to music and love with both Once and Begin Again preceding, but this personal take on youth, risk, and expression is unquestionably my favorite. (Plus this soundtrack is just good, good, great, wonderful.)
The entire film could be received many ways but for me it’s the way music and creativity delivers us and keeps us afloat in our trials. It’s the way music provides voice and expression to our experiences. It’s the way friends and community are vital to our dreams.
Optimism doesn’t always succeed. And I like that this film doesn’t give us that answer or message. But optimism sends us forward and helps us survive no less. And don’t we admire those who go for it? It is such a valuable thing to carry in the times before us.
#4: Before Midnight
Witness the finale to the greatest trilogy you’ve probably never heard of. Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy” is some of the most authentic cinema you may ever witness. I have never seen a more honest and realistic portrayal of love and relationship on film. The acting and writing (nominated for an Oscar) is so real and present that you spend the entirety of the films asking “But how….how did they capture something so pure and so real?”
Before Midnight captures Jesse & Celine twenty years after the first film. Each film is often little more than the two lead characters walking around beautiful cities and conversing about life and personhood and specifically love and relationships.
These films dig so deep because they are so true and familiar. Somehow there is no fluff or bs, just a wise capture at different points in the life of a relationship.
Ethan Hawke has described Before Sunrise about “what might be,” Before Sunset about “what could or should be” and Before Midnight about “what is.”
Obviously, I’m not 40, I haven’t lived these events, I can’t even understand them fully, but the absolute throat punch that is the final scene of this movie made me love and appreciate every single person who is and who has; especially my own parents. At least I recall that being what brought me to tears at the end of it. It was like seeing behind a curtain that youth had been withholding from me.
As you’ve probably discovered, relationships are incredibly beautiful and incredibly difficult. This fact was never hidden from me growing up. And yet we’re all sold these fairy tales that rob us of the truth and often even take what is real and beautiful and rare from us. These films are the opposite of that.
When I first saw Before Sunrise I was almost embarrassed with how close to Jesse I felt. The playfully inquisitive cynicism. It just met me right here and now like few other films have. Watching Before Midnight I grew an appreciation for my own parents and the trials they’ve faced together and overcome again and again. I grew this insight for all married couples and those ahead of me in life. Before Midnight I think is the most honest movie of the decade and captures the beauty of the ugly. Not beautiful because it’s messy, beautiful simply because it’s real. These films have really helped me understand my life’s seasons and they feel like a way to spy on some of the reality ahead. Not that one should just falsely receive such things, but to acknowledge that they are indeed a part of this life and that love, real honest love endures all things. It evolves and changes and grows.
“But if you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect. But it’s real.” -Before Midnight
#3: The Social Network
That David Fincher’s film didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar in 2011 will never make sense to me. It is the defining film of the 2010’s. The movie is so brilliantly executed and paced and a reflection in the social shift of a generation, heck a culture. The soundtrack is one of the decade’s best. It’s hard for me to name a more effective opening title sequence. Everything about this movie is so masterfully fine-tuned. Plus the talent that it gave us! Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Rooney Mara. This movie pushed each of them into stardom. Plus it had unquestionably the best trailer in recent memory. Y’all remember that trailer?
My main reason for loving this film is its apparent perfection in delivering a gut-wrenching tale of greed, lust for power, betrayal, and douchebaggery that brought us the creation the entire globe has come to use every single day. All grounded in the insecurities of one brilliant mind. (Yeah, yeah, it’s fictionalized.)
It’s a movie about an anti-hero. The movie is almost a horror story about friendships and relationships in the digital age and the need to be seen a particular way that almost always leads to our undoing.
The entire film is around the character of Zuckerberg and his lust to make himself distinguished amongst the rest of the characters for what he believes is a better life. He uses the people in his life to achieve this; building himself up by putting them down. That his pursuit to become elite ultimately leaves him lonely and a slave to his own creation for connection.
This movie was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 3: Writing, Editing, and Music. Y’all, it has some of the best of all time. I mean that, all time. It’s just outstanding. OUTSTANDING I TELL YA.
This is probably my geekiest film on this list because my praise for it is predominantly rooted in the masterclass that it is in filmmaking. Every beat is effective.
I struggle to name a film that introduces their lead character more effectively than watching Zuckerberg unravel his relationship with his girlfriend in the opening of the film. It’s plainly put just a perfect film. The entire film is born and built from that chaotic opening. (Apparently it took 99 takes.) Every single thing can be brought back to that one scene. Ya’ll that is a rare achievement. Just everything about this movie is impressive and it captures and gives commentary to such a crazy moment in history that shaped civilization for generations to come.
Like I said, the defining film of the decade.
Look, almost since its release I’ve been saying this is the best movie of the decade. I’ve consistently said over the years (people do in fact ask me about my favorite films from time to time) that I place it just beneath The Lord of the Rings as my favorite film of all time. This is such a brilliant epic filled with Nolan’s signature blend of action and mystery. I must have seen this in the IMAX four times before it left theaters. And yet not one soul I invited to see it with me got it haha! And perhaps that was the delight at first, unpacking this movie, it’s messages and that bizarre ending with my friends and family.
It’s a movie about purpose and sacrifice and ultimately a story about the relationship of time and love.
Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brand.
Brand: So listen to me when I say that love isn’t something that we invented. It’s… observable, powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing…
Brand: We love people who have died. Where’s the social utility in that?
Brand : Maybe it means something more – something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artefact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.
Perhaps the cliche is what lost some people, but it’s what drew me in. Ultimately because…it’s what I believe about love.
I often think, like the tension and disbelief of much of the film, that we disregard the power and need of love. That we are not brave enough with the simplicity of the message. As if we need of something more complex or “rationalized” that we don’t give the human experience of love the validity and sincerity that is at the heart of the message hidden in this film. I think that’s why some people might find the movie stupid or roll their eyes. It’s not in the story’s complexity (which is has plenty to offer) but rather it’s simplicity.
That we could become aware of the mysterious power of love to save and connect us to the whole, transcending time itself, is the very kind of thing I’m just going to eat up. The scene of Cooper watching his children’s messages is one of the most moving I can name. And McConaghey plays it so well. That kind of loss is terrifying. And to be so disconnected from it is grueling.
We resonate because on some level we all have already experienced this. “To move forward, you have to leave something behind.” The passage of time and coming back to something that was so precious and seeing that it is no longer the same. And that hurts because of love, especially if it’s something that was not left on the right terms. Time eats away at this. That’s the scar of abandonment and distance and the way that time both helps us heal and hurts us more.
That seems the point of the “tesseract” at the end of the movie. That it’s that moment of deepest pain and hurt that becomes the anchorpoint for love and time. Our sincere wounds become the place that we cry for love the most. The place in need of deepest healing and hope becomes the time stamp in our minds, the place in need of love the most.
The passing of time is such an effective and damning element on life and love and I think at the end this is why we respond so deeply to this movie. It invites us to reconsider the moments of our past, what we do with the present, and what we leave for the future. (And don’t miss the urgency of that truth with the warnings this film offers to our relationship to this planet.)
The passing of time is a loss and this calls us to make the most of that which we have. But also that we transcend time by taking what we have, what we cherish, and passing down the wonder, the culture, the science, and the stories of our lives. (You know, the things we put in books on a bookshelf. Wink, wink nudge nudge.) Our gift to the future and what we leave for our children is what we make of the time we have now. So think ahead!
This is some of the most visually effective Science Fiction we may get for a very long time. Every ounce of it is visually believable and awesome. Plus, one must mention the greatest Oscar snub of the decade, Hans Zimmer’s most epic and gut-wrenchingly powerful score. (Which just go put that on now.) His music in the “no time for caution” scene actually pushes you back into your seat riding the spin of that stress and determination. Id love to one day have a chance to see that all performed live.
I could probably debate and pick out parts of this movie to no end. (Like the ship being a dang clock.) And I’m sure my thoughts on it would become all the more articulate over time. But meanwhile, I’ll leave it with saying this movie is an experience worth having and wrestling with. It’s an invitation to muse on the entirety of existence, what we’re doing with it and the love that transcends and saves it all.
#1: The Tree of Life
Being bold as usual: I can’t name a more beautiful thought-provoking film. Terrence Malick makes films like no other person. They are poetry, philosophy, spirituality. Watching one of his films is like breathing in beauty. And this is his best film. The clarity of its vision is unlike anything else. The movie begins with an idea. That there are two ways through life; the way of nature and the way of grace. What follows is what I could only described as akin to watching planet earth, but it’s about people and it’s from God’s perspective. I don’t know. It’s not a narrative as much as it is an exploration of these two ideas on one family whose mother embodies grace and whose stern father grieving that he’s always a step behind the success he craves embodies nature.
This has some of the most incredible cinematography you’ll ever see as well as the most surreal experience of creation randomly in the film. No joke, the movie just takes a pause and for the next ten minutes you get to watch the beauty of creation and evolution. One of my favorite scenes takes place here. There are two dinosaurs and one is weak and wounded and the other a predator lunged forward to kill it, but pauses and reconsiders. It takes pity on the weaker dinosaur. Nature & Grace.
This movie isn’t for everyone. But I wish everyone would see it and let it take over. It’s visual poetry and as such I’m sure all who watch would take something different away.
But for me it captures the total beauty of life. It’s challenges and sorrows, it’s temptations, it’s loving goodness and the ways our families, our experiences, shape us for good and not. The entirety of the film questions the meaning of it all.
It’s a movie about growing up. And I think I connected so strongly because it reminds me so much of my father. I couldn’t know him as a child, but I feel like I’m watching his youth play out when I watch this movie. And that gets at me every time I watch it. There’s a lineage of fathers and how they raise and discipline and shape us. Which is its own evolution.
If you are ever in crisis and just need to slow down and entertain wonder. This film will get you there. I’ve watched it more times than I can count. Sometimes I put it on just to feel peace and clarity. It’s the closest art has ever brought me to the heart and mind of God. And for that I’m just so, so grateful for this movie.