The Top 10 Films of the Decade

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I recently invited film critic Tasha Robinson from The Next Picture Show podcast to join me on Culturally Relevant to count down our top 10 films of the decade. It can be difficult enough to count down one’s top 10 films of a given year, so asking a fellow critic to count down one’s top 10 of the decade is downright sadistic.

Nonetheless, I was grateful to Tasha for participating in this exercise with me. It was a clarifying experience, as it forced me to look back on the decade and consider not only which films I enjoyed the most, but which films I felt represented my decade in filmgoing. What films contained the ideas, the techniques, the themes, and the characters that I feel will make an indelible impression going forward?

I’ve listed my choices below, but you should listen to the podcast episode to get the full discussion, plus hear Tasha’s choices too.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 films of the 2010s:

10. Nightcrawler (2014) – No other film better captures the spirit of vulture capitalism that has come to define this decade. In Nightcrawler, a sociopath shows that by using some ingenuity and a take-no-prisoners approach he can accumulate wealth and power and destroy his enemies. It’s a chilling tale of how our society can shapes its contributing individuals and hone them to value profit above literally all else. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms into Louis Bloom, an always-hustling, cutthroat businessman, and Rene Russo is tremendous as the woman who ends up becoming vulnerable to his machinations.

9. The Raid 2 (AKA The Raid 2: Berandal)  – The Raid 2 is the Godfather 2 of action movies. It takes the scope of the first film and blows it up, while amping up the ambition and carnage of the action scenes tenfold. It’s rare in this day and age to get an action film that strives to be epic, where the emotions are meant to be as large and complex as the action choreography. I don’t know that this film achieves what it sets out to do but I’m so glad it tries. It’s my favorite action movie of the decade and that’s why it’s on my list at this spot.

8. Avengers: Endgame (2019) / Avengers (2012) (it’s a tie, which is cheating, but it’s my list, so…) – We are in the era of the extended universe, which is dominating both our box office and our cultural conversation. No other films have done a better job proving that you could have all these disparate characters combine into one movie, and do it in a way that was satisfying, enjoyable, even a must-see event. I still remember when the idea of any one of these characters getting their own films at all was a pipe dream, let alone teaming up. When Avengers proved it was in possible, I was in awe. When Avengers: Endgame proved you could tie it all up and bring this thing to a close, I was in tears. Lots of people are unhappy with what Marvel films have done to the cinematic landscape but regardless of where the MCU goes from here, I’ll always be grateful I was able to take this incredible journey with them this decade.

7. OJ: Made In AmericaOJ: Made in America is a towering work of documentary filmmkaing. No other documentary I saw this decade did a better job at unearthing footage that consistently made me say, “Wow, I can’t believe they got that.” But it’s not just the footage itself – director Ezra Edelman assembles it all in a compelling way that makes the outcome feel sadly, inevitable. There’s a reason the OJ Simpson case continues to retain such power up until this day. It symbolizes how we in America remain intensely divided and how the legacy of our past and present crimes around race can manifest themselves in our justice system in surprising and unfortunate ways. [Hey, at least I didn’t put Twin Peaks on my list.]

6. Before Midnight – I know it sounds naive and maybe even silly of me to say, but I I learned a lot about love from Richard Linklater’s Before series. Before Sunrise (1995) taught me about young love and how exciting and dynamic it is. Before Sunset (2004) taught me about the disappointments of middle age. And Before Midnight (2013) taught me about the miracle of companionship and what it takes for partners to survive in the long term. The film series spans 18 years in the lives of its characters as well as the actors portraying them, and it is a huge accomplishment in showing the evolution of a relationship on screen. Before Midnight puts a capper on the whole affair, bringing the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion while never straying from the grounded realism that made the series so memorable in the first place.

5. Parasite – I think one of the main themes of 2019 films has been this notion that we as a society need to grapple more with privilege. How much of it do we have, and what are its impacts and implications? This is something that Parasite does wonderfully, telling the story of a lower-class family who goes to work for an upper class one and all the tensions that result. There are twists and turns, and more than a handful of shocking moments. Beyond this, the film is impeccably composed with frames that are bursting with meaning. It’s the one film from 2019 that I feel pretty confident saying we’ll still be talking about 10 years from now.

4. Gravity – I think when we look back at this decade, Gravity is going to be one of the films that we will see as the most technologically groundbreaking. The film is nearly entirely CGI, but even to this day, I find the illusion to be complete. If you look at how this film was made, it’s a miracle that it works at all. A lot of the film was created with Sandra Bullock harnessed into a high-tech moving platform while LED lights were blasted at her to simulate the lighting conditions what the CG images would end up being. Bullock’s performance, as a woman who believes she has little to live for down on Earth, helps keep this space movie grounded.

There’s a line in the movie where the astronauts have lost communication with Houston and they start prefacing all their communications with “Houston in the Blind” because even though they can’t hear any responses they have faith people are listening. Director Alfonso Cuaron has said in interviews this is how he felt making this film, hoping blindly that his vision for this film would work on a fundamental level. We can all be grateful he took that leap because Gravity is thrilling filmmaking that manages to make us ponder mankind’s place for the universe.

3. Get Out – Jordan Peele has said that in the aftermath of Obama we were living in a post-racial lie — the idea that racism had somehow been solved because we had a black president. I think our real-life politics soon showed that that lie was temporary, but Get Out illustrated it in through a tense horror film that is thematically rich and interesting. The idea of white people wanting to take over the bodies of black people has so many parallels and so much resonance with modern day society that it’s literally scary. That’s the visceral terror that Get Out brought to life. It’s also a film that has made so many cultural contributions, including the concept of The Sunken Place or the quote, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a third term,”— the words of a performative ally. Get Out also represents this decade in low-budget filmmaking and a vindication of the Jason Blum method of production, in which you place many bets on low budget films, and not all of them hit. Get Out of course hit, landing over $175 MM in domestic box office, and it showed you could still get folks to the theater with an ambitious idea and flawless execution.

2. Under The SkinUnder the Skin is one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen. Jonathan Glazer has created a story that feels dreamlike and terrifying. But the film was also innovative from a filmmaking perspective. Glazer pioneered new camera technology to be able to film strangers in tight enclosed spaces, much of which was done with Scarlett Johansson literally just walking around and picking up guys on the street. Johansson herself delivers a bold, chilling performance as a woman whose body is used for ends beyond her control. Under the Skin is one of those rare films that makes you reflect on how cruel and inhumane our society might seem if viewed from the outside.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road – I can’t get away from it: Mad Max: Fury Road is still one of the most bold, spectacular pieces of action filmmaking. The stunts are jaw-dropping, the pacing is propulsive, and the performances by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are transformative. It’s relentlessly watchable and chilling in its depiction of a future in which natural resources are hoarded by a handful of malevolent forces — a plot which feels strangely relevant today. George Miller has created a masterpiece and action filmmakers will spend the next decade trying to best it.

My 10 favorite longreads of 2018

Every year for the past few years I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite longreads, which include lengthy journalistic features and other forms of online writing. This year, I actually feel like I read more than I ever have before, although much of it was shorter form and thus not the best fit for this list. With news moving at the speed it does these days, I found myself engrossed by detailed write-ups of current events, rather than expanding my mind with rich stories of people I’d never heard of before.

Still, there’s plenty of amazing writing to be found online as always. You can go here to read my previous years’ lists. Here are my 10 favorite longreads of 2018, in no particular order:

The Young and the Reckless – Brendan Koerner wrote a great yarn for Wired about what happens when hacking Xboxes goes from being a fun hobby to a life-altering, law-enforcement-provoking activity. As a former Microsoft employee, it was fascinating to read about this case, which I’d heard nothing about when I worked for Xbox.

Too Many Men – In China and India, men outnumber women by 70 million, and we are about to witness how this involuntary social experiment will play out on a massive scale. Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen put together a startling piece for the Washington Post about this vast gender imbalance and what it will mean for society.

Sperm Count Zero – Speaking of ways in which humanity is doomed, Daniel Noah Halpern has a detailed examination for GQ on how fertility is dramatically declining around the world, the possible causes, and what happens next.

What Ever Happened to Brendan Fraser, How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million and The Trouble with Johnny Depp – Call this a three-way tie for celebrity profiles, but in an age when celebrities can share their inner thoughts instantly with millions of fans via Twitter and Instagram, these profiles creatively brought fascinating details to light. See also: the NYTimes profile of Alfonso Cuarón, and Rolling Stone‘s profile of M. Night Shyamalan.

Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong – A bold story by Michael Hobbes for HuffPo, that suggests that the way we’ve been treating obesity is not only ineffective, it’s actively damaging.

The Kilogram Is Dead; Long Live the Kilogram – Loved this piece by James Vincent, which makes you rethink how you understand one of the fundamental assumptions you have about the world: how much a kilogram weighs.

How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monoply Game and Stole Millions – This piece by Jeff Maysh for The Daily Beast is by turns fun and disturbing. But perhaps most importantly, it answers the question: why the hell couldn’t I ever find that Boardwalk piece in the McDonald’s Monoply game?

The comforting fictions of dementia care – Larissa MacFarquhar wrote a fascinating piece for the New Yorker that asked one fundamental question: Should we lie to dementia patients to ease their pain? The answer is more complicated than it seems.

The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion Users – This exceptional feature by Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox for Motherboard challenges the popular notion that Facebook isn’t trying to moderate hate speech and other objectionable content on its website. But it also makes clear that while the task of moderation is noble, it’s also likely impossible. See also: This Radiolab episode about the same topic.

I’m broke and mostly friendless, and I’ve wasted my whole life – I make it a yearly tradition to link to a Heather Havrilesky piece. This year, it’s a column that displays Havrilesky’s characteristic style of humor combined with insight and compassion.

My five favorite podcasts (right now)

I was recently featured in an alumni magazine for my work in podcasting, and I was asked what my five favorite podcasts are. When you listen to dozens of different podcasts at differing frequency, it can be difficult to distill your list to only five (particularly when your preferences can change over time). Moreover, it feels pointless to list podcasts that are already extremely popular — why not give love to shows that need it?

I tried to strike a balance between longtime shows that I love and shows that are relatively new that could use more attention. Here were my submissions:

Reply All – A show about the internet that manages to take major trends and online obscura alike to create compelling, emotional stories.
The Next Picture Show – A movie review podcast that evaluates older films and their newer analogues. It’s a must-listen for folks interested in how the past has inspired the present.
On The Media – A show about the media that looks past the headlines to explore how coverage is influenced and deployed.
Death Sex & Money – Anna Sale interviews people from all walks of life and has in-depth discussions on topics that we all think about but don’t usually talk about: death, sex, and money.
Today Explained – This relatively new daily podcast explores the biggest news topics of the day via interviews with experts and other people impacted by world events. Impressive production value for a show that is produced so frequently.

My 10 favorite longreads of 2017

I didn’t get nearly as much reading done in 2017 as I wanted to — hence why this year’s list is coming out much later than usual. I didn’t even know if it was worth putting together a list, as many of these choices are from the first half of the year, before I got a new full-time job and barely had the time to enjoy longform journalism regularly.

But hey, I’ve been keeping this list running for several years now, and it would be a shame to stop it just for having an off year. So without further ado, here are 10 pieces I read in 2017 that I really appreciated:

My President Was Black – On the verge of the Trump presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ wrote a moving account of the Obama White House, capturing both its redemptive nature and the high price that came with it.

The Republican Waterloo – Healthcare was a hot button issue this year and in this essay, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum explains why the Republican strategy was always bound to be a losing one.

The Heart of Whiteness – Ijeoma Oluo’s interview with Rachel Dolezal is contentious, uncomfortable, and revealing. It also helps to bring some closure to this crazy saga of the past two years.

The Lost Picture Show: Hollywood Archivists Can’t Escape Obsolescence – One of the side effects of the digital age is the challenge of archiving films. With a frightening, clinical approach, Marty Perlmutter lays out the very real possibility that many of our greatest cultural works are in danger of being lost forever.

The Leftovers: Life, Death, Einstein and Time Travel – There’s been a lot of great writing about The Leftovers, but this piece by Maureen Ryan is my favorite. It really destroyed me. Ryan powerfully relates personal tragedy with how the show captures grief.

The Silence of the Lambs – Kathryn Joyce chronicles a sex scandal in the Protestant church, demonstrating that complicity and cover-ups are not confined to any single religion.

Four Castaways Make a Family – You don’t have to be biologically related to be a family. In this piece, Rene Denfield describes the process of adopting children. And while she makes it sound intensely difficult to love someone that much (especially when they don’t love you back), it’s also clear that sometimes only the hard things are worth doing.

The Two Americans – Sabrina Tavernise writes about the case of Abraham Davis, who helped vandalize a mosque in Fort Smith, Arkansas, then unexpectedly found forgiveness by the people he attacked. Even in the increasingly divided age that we live in, love still trumps hate.

How Uber’s Hard-Charging Corporate Culture Left Employees Drained – Caroline O’Donovan and Priya Anand’s deep dive into Uber’s intense culture asks the question: What is the true cost of unicorn startup valuations, and is it worth it?

Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Accusers for DecadesHarvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories, and many others  Possibly the most socially consequential stories of the year, Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow broke the story on Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual assaults, and helped create a movement whose impact is still being felt today.

The 8 podcast episodes of 2017 that I’m most proud of

A lot of writers on Twitter have been sharing pieces they’ve created this year that they’re most proud of. Since I do way more podcasting than writing, I thought I’d take this idea and apply it to the podcast episodes I’m proud of having been part of. Here they are in no particular order:

1) The /Filmcast: Transformers: The Last Knight review with Paul Scheer – Paul Scheer’s comedy career has been ascendant recently (I loved him in The Disaster Artist) so it was a delight to have him on the /Filmcast to dismantle this atrocity of a franchise film. Bonus: We used this episode to raise over $8500 for LA Children’s Hospital.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

2) A Cast of Kings – Live from Con of Thrones: The Ghosts of Westeros Panel – I was honored to moderate this panel with Joanna Robinson at Con of Thrones, in front of an audience of thousands of Game of Thrones fans. We talked with characters who’ve met brutal ends on the show. It was really a geek’s dream come true.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

3) The Tobolowsky Files: The Soldiers of Empathy – This episode from the latest season of the Tobolowsky Files is a wonderful articulation of the challenges and rewards of being an actor.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

4) The /Filmcast: The Dark Tower movie review with Matt Singer – I try not to take too much glee in panning films. Nobody sets out to make a terrible film, and even the worst films feature a lot of hard work from dozens, if not hundreds, of people. But Sony’s The Dark Tower felt like such a half-hearted effort, lacking the resources necessary to tell a story of such epic scope and tragically closing off the possibility of any similar adaptations for the foreseeable future. I had fun deconstructing this film with Matt Singer from Screencrush.

I try to do at least one of these movie dissections per year with Matt Singer and it’s always a lot of fun. See: our review of Collateral Beauty last year.

5) Peaks TV: Series Finale recap – The return of Twin Peaks was a genuinely exciting television event. David Lynch opted not only to subvert viewer expectations, but to deliver episodes that were chock full of exciting ideas and bravura filmmaking. That said, the experience of watching the show could often be baffling and disorienting. I’m proud of the finale recap episode I recorded with Joanna, where we try our best to explain WTF happened and summarize the entire experience of watching this unique show.

Listen below:

6) A Cast of Kings: Season Finale recap – This season of Game of Thrones was amazing and terrible in almost equal measure, hinging largely on an incredibly stupid plotline up North that was totally unbelievable. That said, I was happy that Joanna Robinson and I got to dissect the show in brutal detail as usual. This recap of the season finale really nailed many of the issues and the joys we had with the show as a whole. It’s also Joanna Robinson at her best, bringing wit and insight to this beloved series.

[Side note: A Cast of Kings shattered download records this year. Over 300K people downloaded this episode.]

Download or listen below:

7) The /Filmcast: Blade Runner 2049 review with C. Robert Cargill – I’ve followed C. Robert Cargill’s work since he was a movie reviewer for AICN. Since then, he’s gone on to write two hit films (Sinister and Doctor Strange), and become a brilliant creator in his own right. His appearance on the podcast this year to review one of my favorite sci-fi films of recent memory was a wonderful geek-out session.

Download or listen below:

8) The /Filmcast: A lot of conversations about The Last Jedi – The /Filmcast did two episodes on The Last Jedi, totaling about 3.5 hours of conversation (not to mention this additional 1-hour Periscope I recorded). I’m about done talking about this film, but was super thrilled to have many thought-provoking conversations about how this film takes the Star Wars franchise in bold new directions. Our first episode can be found here. Our spoiler-filled follow-up episode is below.

Download or listen below: