By now you’ve probably seen all of our individual genre lists for our Best of the Decade (2010 – 2019), but in case you missed it or if you were hoping for the collector’s edition featuring ALL genres, your time has come. After you’ve had a chance to unwrap presents, make jolly and sat down to watch a movie or two, let this be a guide to help jog your memory on some of the absolute best films of the last 10 years. Agree or disagree with all selections, there’s most certainly something in there for everyone, so take a gander at our top picks in this master list and let us know which ones stood out for you (or which ones didn’t) and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and a Happy Movie New Year!
As a reminder, all of our lists are in alphabetical order so as to focus on the films instead of the ranking, as that tends to just steer everyone in the wrong direction as they fight over which should be #1, #7 and #10, which is just about as arbitrary as it gets in our book. So, enjoy the lists and put the 10 films in each category in whatever ranking you want!
BABY DRIVER (2017)
Director Edgar Wright has shown his proclivities toward action in everything from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, THE WORLD’S END and, most notably, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, but his films have been mostly known as comedies. However, in 2017 Wright went full-tilt action with BABY DRIVER, a heist-driven thriller starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonazlez and Lily James. Like all of his films, music plays a key role in the proceedings, but the real star of the film is the absolute kinetic energy that Wright injects into the film, coupled with his brilliant, fast-cut editing style. In many ways, BABY DRIVER is the film he was working up to since SHAUN and it’s an absolute rush of a ride (pun intended).
In what could’ve been a fairly formulaic high-speed car chase heist movie, Wright creates characters and backstory that makes everything more fun and compelling. Beyond that, like any good heist film, you never quite know who is really good and who is really bad. It’s full of surprises and double-crosses, ending in an unexpected showdown that changes villain hands and presents a challenge for the protagonists that has real stakes and repurcussions. If you’re going to invest in a fast-moving actioner it definitely helps to have characters you can love (or love to hate) and with Wright’s signature style in full force, BABY DRIVER is one of the best wheel screechers to hit the big screen in a long time and is an extremely rewarding rewatch, likely for more decades to come. – Paul Shirey
BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017)
S. Craig Zahler is one of the most divisive directors to emerge from the last decade. Tough to pin down as far as his point of view goes, he makes distinctly un-P.C. movies, albeit ones that are phenomenally well-made and acted. Even the people that hate him, and there are many, respect his talent.
For my money, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 is one of the best, low-tech actioners of the decade, with Vince Vaughn iconically brutal as the anti-hero Bradley, with his bald head and tattooed head as big of a change of pace as you can imagine. This is the movie that reminded everyone that the towering Vaughn could not only be imposing, but downright terrifying if he chose, and his fight scenes are brutal and brilliant. And, like in other Zahler films, the supporting cast is spot-on, with Don Johnson as the icy cool warden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier, and Jennifer Carpenter all now a part of Zahler’s stable of actors that go with him from film to film. Whether or not the film was a success is hard to gauge, as it didn’t get much of a theatrical release, but I believe it was a rare VOD phenomenon and certainly a barometer for an all-new metric of success that’s still mysterious to those of us more used to traditional box office receipts. – Chris Bumbray
FAST FIVE (2011)
It’s hard to believe that THE FAST & THE FURIOUS started as a series of schlocky B-movies. In the first movie, Vin Diesel and his crew were stealing DVD players in what was little more than a POINT BREAK rip off. Now, they’re literally saving the world. Credit is due to director Justin Lin and Universal for raising the bar in a big way starting with FAST FIVE. First, they jacked up the budget. Then, they took the films international. Finally, they added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose career as a leading man at the time was arguably in the toilet.
FAST FIVE was the one that opened the series up to a major international audience, with the over-the-top chases, including the now-iconic moment where the muscle cars drag a vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro establishing the series as one of the most unlikely phenomenons of the decade, weathering even the loss of co-star Paul Walker in a tragic accident midway through production on FURIOUS 7. All of the films since have been good, but this is the one that made the series a global phenomenon. – Chris Bumbray
While one could argue that it was the 2000’s that cemented Christopher Nolan on the A-list, it was the 2010’s that turned him into one of our most celebrated directors. THE DARK KNIGHT singled his arrival in a big way, but INCEPTION proved Nolan’s ambitions knew no bounds. This is a complicated film, but rather than be turned off by that fact they flocked to see it over and over again. The mind-bending visuals, the score by Hans Zimmer and the performances by the ace ensemble, including Leonard DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and especially Tom Hardy made this one of the most iconic films of its era.
What THE MATRIX was to the nineties, INCEPTION was to the 2010s, and it’s worth noting that Nolan’s probably the only director that could make an $800 million-grossing action film without having to plan for a sequel. He planned it to be a singular ride, and his reputation is so sterling now that instead of asking him to revisit past triumphs he’s allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants at this point. Arguably, INCEPTION was the film that put him there. It also provided Leonardo DiCaprio a tentpole blockbuster to help establish some legit box office clout for him outside of his passion projects, and he brings the same level of commitment here that he does to everything else he’s in. It all adds up to one of the best studio films of the decade and a model example of four-quadrant movies done right. – Chris Bumbray
JOHN WICK – CHAPTER 1-3 (2014, 2017, 2019)
It’s hard to believe, but JOHN WICK came close to becoming a DTV film. Keanu Reeves was coming off of a long string of flops and co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski were an unknown quantity. Pre-release screenings suggested the film had breakout potential, and sure enough, it grossed a solid $86 million worldwide on a modest budget. But, it was the VOD/digital release that turned the series into a phenomenon, with JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 more than doubling the worldwide take, and then, even more spectacularly, the third, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM, doubled the take of the second film.
People have taken to this character, and credit is due to Reeves for committing whole-heartedly to this comeback action role, as well as Leitch and Stahelski for creating a whole mythology for him to occupy. It’s worth noting, the action is superlative, with Reeves especially dynamic in the numerous hand-to-hand scraps and close-quarters gun battles. The visual style of the films is also immediately recognizable, with Stahelski making them into beautifully lit action epics, a far cry from the usual teal and orange style favored by most. – Chris Bumbray
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)
Having read Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ (Watchmen) comic, I never expected that a film version would amount to much. But, once Matthew Vaughn became involved it took on a whole new life. A modern-day, James Bond-ish style tale that takes a rough-around-the-edges rebel named Eggsy (then newcomer Taron Egerton) and places him in a world he was never meant to be a part of; a top secret British spy agency. All that sounds pretty straightforward in terms of the genre, but with Vaughn and Jane Goldman‘s screenplay make for a far more cheeky, profane, stylish, violent take.
All of that sounds well and good, but what really sets KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE apart (and superior to its sequel, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE) is that it goes balls-to-the-wall in every way, including a church shoot-out sequence set to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tune “Free Bird” thats by far one of the most hyperviolent, badass sequences ever made. Beyond making Egerton a star, it’s also the first time we see the commonly-known thespian Colin Firth break free and deal out some serious ass-kickery (see the aforementioned Church scene), which is a sight to behold. With a catchy theme by Henry Jackman, a raunchy Bondian concept and characters that are instantly memorable, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is a prime example of taking what’s known and spinning it into something fun and original. Manners Maketh Man! – Paul Shirey
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
After three low-key genre entries starring Mel Gibson as the titular character, director George Miller put his focus elsewhere, all the while attempting to continue the series in between projects. Gibson’s personal controversies certainly helped stall those efforts and by the time Miller got around to reviving the series he had to cast a new Max Rockatansky. Fortunately, he found a gem in Tom Hardy, who strapped on the leather jacket for 2015’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a sequel 30 years in the making. But, it wasn’t just Hardy that would be making a massive impact with this one; Charlize Theron created her own iconic counterpart with Furiosa, a battle-hardened woman on a mission, every bit as strong and vicious as Max. After a stunning trailer debut at Comic Con, everyone wondered if there was any way the actual film could live up to such an electric tease.
And that question was answered with a resounding “hell yeah!” MAD MAX: FURY ROAD isn’t just one of (if not THE) best action films of the decade, it’s a technical marvel that also manages to not only be well-acted, but contains a story that’s fairly simple, yet replete with unique and compelling characters, from Max and Furiosa to the armada of villains and good guys. It’s a visual powerhouse that leaves you energized and shaken with awe, wondering how much of what you’re seeing is practical vs. CGI, often beckoning the question, “How did they do that?” Brilliantly edited and with a pulse-pounding score by Junkie XL, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the total action package and a film that holds up on repeat viewings, which hopefully are happening on the biggest, loudest home theater you can find. Witness! – Paul Shirey
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)
The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise has been an absolute beast since it debuted, transitioning star Tom Cruise from a talented dramatic actor to a bonafide badass as Ethan Hunt, the IMF superagent that seems to run (literally) on high-octane adrenaline and sheer fiery intensity. From Brian DePalma’s inventive caper in 1996 to John Woo‘s bullet-ballet-fest in 2000 to JJ Abrams’ slick spy actioner in 2006, it was unclear where the franchise would go from there. Enter Pixar director Brad Bird, who injected an intensity, energy and absolute bonkers stuntwork to the franchise with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, the most fully-realized of the franchise and one that pays homage and builds its story on the narrative of previous films to make a perfectly evolved MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film.
Now, some of you are up in arms over how both of Christopher McQuarrie‘s entries, ROGUE NATION and FALLOUT, deserve to be here as well. And, maybe you’re right, but when it all boils down, GHOST PROTOCOL stills has the edge. A pitch perfect supporting cast, including Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin and Jeremy Renner with great villains in the form of Lea Seydoux and the late Michael Nyqvist, the stakes, the missions, the stunts, the locales, the fast-paced, nonstop energy and clever set pieces make this a perfect MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film. Thankfully, the franchise remains in good hands under McQuarrie’s watch and his films deserve an honorable mention in the least and we’ve still got two more on the way. Long live Tom Cruise on the run! – Paul Shirey
THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011) / THE RAID 2 (2014)
THE RAID series is responsible for both one of the lowest and highest points of my movie reviewing career. The first had to be the lowest, as I opted to skip this Indonesian action movie no one had heard of when it made its TIFF debut, only for it later to become a classic. Thus, I missed the world premiere of one of the greatest action films of all time. Naturally, it went on to become a phenomenon, and I caught THE RAID: REDEMPTION a few months later at sundance, where my jaw rested flat on the floor throughout most of the running time.
While neither film was a box office sensation in North America, they’ve had a huge impact on everything from STAR WARS to JOHN WICK, making them perhaps two of the most iconic films of the decade. So if missing THE RAID: REDEMPTION’s world premiere was my low point, what was the high point? Easy. I got to be there for the debut of the sequel, with star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans in attendance. In my mind, Uwais arguably the greatest martial arts movie icon to emerge since Jet Li, although Chinese audiences might make a strong case for Wu Jing, who I’d love to see turn up in a third film if one is ever made. Of the two, THE RAID 2 is my favorite with it probably the greatest action sequel since TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. The car chase with the transfer from the car-to-car is astounding action directing., and one of the decade’s setpiece highlights. I don’t think action gets any better than this. – Chris Bumbray
In 2006 we welcomed a new Bond into the fold in the form of Daniel Craig, a very different-looking prototype for the character, being a bit more rough around the edges and sporting blonde hair, rather than the traditional brunette. Doubters were soon assuaged, however, when Craig proved to be up to task with CASINO ROYALE, a strong new entry in the Bond franchise. Two years later came QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which was met with lackluster critical reception and made many wonder if Craig’s first foray was a fluke. After a four year hiatus, SKYFALL was delivered, welcoming Craig back to the fold in one of the most refined, stylish and badass Bond flicks to come out of his 50 plus year history. Director Sam Mendes, known mostly for his dramatic fare at the time, delivered a take that brought to life everything we love about Bond and brought it into the modern era.
With an amazingly cool and creepy villain, played by Javier Bardem, Bond not only has to contend with an antagonist that is his match, but also has to deal with his checkered past and the ties that bind him to it. In rare form, we get to peel back the layers of a beloved character, while still getting to enjoy all the things that we expect from him. With a smooth sailing pace, inventive, striking action and stakes that feel very real for Bond, SKYFALL is what happens when everyone involved in a major franchise really understand what they’re working with and how best to bring it to audiences. – Paul Shirey
Unleashed upon the world – and the vulnerable wallets everywhere – by Walt Disney Animation Studios, FROZEN was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, with Lee also penning the film’s game-changing screenplay. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” elements of FROZEN’s story were re-shaped several times before the film was finally commissioned in 2011. At the time when FROZEN took cinemas by storm in 2013, the film arrived as a box office barn burner and merchandising juggernaut the likes of which had never been seen before. Despite FROZEN’s story taking place in the snow bound kingdom of Arendelle, word of the film’s excellence still managed to spread like wildfire, thanks to the praises of the public and critics alike. To this day, FROZEN stands as the highest-grossing animated film of all time with $1.276 billion in worldwide receipts. Some would say that Jon Favreau’s THE LION KING now holds the record thanks to its $1.65 billion global take, but who among us would place Simba’s latest live-action adventure amongst other, more traditional animated features? Nobody? I didn’t think so.
To say that FROZEN started a revolution among Disney animated features would be an understatement. In my opinion, FROZEN single-handedly re-wrote the studio’s antiquated “Princess Formula,” by having Elsa’s “act of true love” be one of a familial nature as opposed to the threadbare yarn of a prince coming to her rescue. This single plot point, coupled with the film’s overwhelming success, arguably sent up a signal flare over Disney’s Magic Kingdom, which burned a bright message into the sky that said “THE PRINCE IS DEAD!” Thus, Disney’s next Princess film, MOANA, abandon the true love motif entirely. Moreover, Disney’s live-action ALADDIN re-wrote aspects of Jasmine’s long-established narrative, by proclaiming her the new Sultan of Agrabah by the close of the film. In addition to triggering a sea change within the industry, FROZEN’s message of empowerment to young viewers has helped secure the film’s stranglehold on pop culture. Mouseketeers young and old have embraced the film for its breath-taking animation, depth of character, and positive messaging for young minds. In conclusion, if you’ve got an ax to grind about FROZEN being on this list, maybe you should just let it go. – Steve Seigh
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)
When Dreamworks Animations’ HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON took flight in theaters, it could not have come along at a better time. With the studio being three chapters into its SHREK franchise, and the arrival of KUNG FU PANDA 2 still a year away, Dreamworks needed a palate cleanser for those who’d grown tired of ogres, talking animals, and middling animations that barely moved the needle. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dan Deblois, who co-wrote the screenplay with William Davies, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is loosely based on the 2003 novel of the same name by British author Cressida Cowell. Starring the voice talents of stars like Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, and Kristen Wiig, Dreamworks’ gripping and emotional fantasy tale about friendship and self-actualization breathed fire at the box office with $494.9 million in global returns.
In addition to being the first of three successful films in the franchise, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON remains one of animation’s more inspiring stories of the past decade. Without delving too much into plot particulars, suffice it to say that Sanders and Deblois’ film takes the all-too-familiar underdog trope and adds just enough new ingredients to the formula to make the story feel impactful and important. Visually speaking, HTTYD manages to impress thanks to its unique creature designs and emphasis on bringing emotion to its human characters. While the movie does have something of a muted color palette when compared to its sequels, there’s been few animated experiences this decade as exhilarating as Hiccup’s first ride atop his dragon companion, Toothless. At the end of the day, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON remains a film that packs just as much heart as it does moments of pure fantasy bliss. The series might have come to an end this year with the release of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD, but the legacy left by this first film will be felt for decades to come. – Steve Seigh
INSIDE OUT (2015)
Arriving like an emotional haymaker in theaters on June 19, 2015, Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT tells the all-too-relatable tale of Riley, a young girl who’s been uprooted from her Midwest life and is moved to San Francisco, an event that triggers a torrent of emotions as she navigates her new life. Directed by Pixar legend Pete Docter and co-directed by Ronnie Del Carmen, the film boasts a screenplay written by Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. According to Disney lore, Docter began developing INSIDE OUT in 2010, after noticing a shift in his daughter’s personality as she got older. Sandwiched between Pixar’s MONSTERS UNIVERSITY and the “simple story, well told” THE GOOD DINOSAUR, INSIDE OUT pierced the hearts of theatergoers everywhere, resulting in a staggering $857.6 million global take for Docter’s psychological love letter to his daughter’s forever-expanding psyche.
Amidst the movie’s visual splendor and nuanced cast of characters, INSIDE OUT’s crowning achievement lies in its ability to come off as wholly-relatable to audience members. Regardless of gender, we’ve all felt the pangs of puberty, as well as the delightful delirium that comes from navigating uncharted emotions. Riley’s story, in one aspect or another, is also our own, making the film truly unique among its other animated compatriots. For my money, INSIDE OUT also teaches an important lesson to its young viewers; in that it’s okay to accept the good with the bad. Not a single person on this planet has life all figured out, and it’s okay to feel sad, angry, disgusted, and fearful about the unknown. Alongside the film’s positive messaging, INSIDE OUT also takes us on an eye-popping tour of the human mind, unique in its presentation. Throw in the emotional gut-punch of sacrificing an imaginary friend to Father Time due to a lack of relevance, and you’ve got the makings of one of the most memorable animated films in the past ten years. – Steve Seigh
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016)
No one does stop-motion animated marvels like Laika Studios, who in 2016 released their most ambitious film to date, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. Pitched as a “stop-motion samurai epic” by production designer Shannon Tindle, the concept was so intriguing that Lakia’s own CEO, Travis Knight, helmed the project for his directorial debut. Starring the voice talents of Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rooney Mara, and Matthew McConaughey, the story revolves around Kubo, a young boy who must locate a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. Meticulously crafted, visually spellbinding, and emotionally crippling, Kubo was lavished with praise upon its release, with some fans and critics proclaiming the film to be Laika’s crown jewel in an already ornate library of greats. Unlike other box office behemoths on this list, Kubo only managed to fold up $77.5 million at the worldwide box office, but that’s not going to stop us from proclaiming this stop-motion masterpiece as one of the best animated films of the decade.
For what KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS lacked in box office returns, the film more than makes up for it in critical acclaim. Throughout the 2016 awards season, Laika’s stop-motion saga of song and samurai legend was nominated for two Academy award categories: Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects. Additionally, the movie was recognized as the Best Animated Film of the Year by critics’ associations around the world, as well as other awards organizations. While CGI-animated spectacles continue to dominate the animation market, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS stands as a masterclass of stop-motion, a process that has the film’s creators literally going hands on with all the action. The result of this intimate approach to animation is something that feels organic, whimsical, and painstakingly plotted. To watch all of Kubo’s elements come together on screen is to witness a delicate dance between many partners, each one a technician or puppeteer who helped create an unforgettable stop-motion fable. – Steve Seigh
THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)
Everything was awesome when the time-honored build-a-brick toy company, LEGO, announced their plans to construct an animated film universe featuring minifigures from across their expansive library of original and licensed properties. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from a story written by Lord, Miller, and Dan and Kevin Hageman, THE LEGO MOVIE stands as one of this decade’s technical stunners, in addition to being among the best laugh-out-loud comedies in all of animation. Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman, the film centers on Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary LEGO construction worker, thought to be the prophesied “special,” a title that finds the happy-go-lucky minifig in a position to help save the LEGO universe from an evil tyrant. Green-lit by Warner Bros. in November of 2011, with a planned release for 2014, the LEGO film project used a total of 3,863,484 unique LEGO bricks to complete the project. When it comes to dollars stacked for Lord and Miller’s animated and madcap comedy, THE LEGO MOVIE assembled $469.1 million at the worldwide box office. Since that time, WB and LEGO have teamed for a series of animated films, including THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE, and THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART.
After creating a series of successful short films, direct-to-video features, video games, and TV series, it was only natural that LEGO make the jump to the big screen. Fueled by nostalgia and a passion to present LEGO to long-time fans like never before, THE LEGO MOVIE delivers as both a family-friendly comedy and a wild ride down memory lane for veteran Master Builders in the audience. The film positively explodes with personality as we’re introduced to one colorful world after another, each one populated by a cast of new and legendary characters. None of this would have been possible without Animal Logic, the studio in charge of giving the movie a stop-motion animated look despite its CGI presentation. Through the power of technology and imagination, the team that built THE LEGO MOVIE managed to create a visually-compelling roller coaster ride that also carries an important message about order, and how sometimes something beautiful and inspiring can be created out of chaos. In my opinion, the only reason one would need to use Kragle, would be to cement this movie’s place as one of the best animated films of the decade. – Steve Seigh
Still my favorite of Laika’s films to this very day, PARANORMAN excels at being both a stop-motion masterpiece for the ages as well as a love letter written in blood for fans of the horror genre. Production on PARANORMAN began in 2009 and lasted for three long years, two of which were spent on capturing the film’s seamless and spooky animation. Conceived by MISSING LINK director Chris Butler, PARANORMAN was constructed as an ode to the horror films of yesteryear, while also serving as a social commentary on the challenges kids face as they continue to learn and grow. Butler co-directed the family-friendly frightfest alongside Sam Fell, from a script based on one of Butler’s original ideas. Come the 2012 Awards season, PARANORMAN was nominated for an Academy Award in the category for Best Animated Feature. Despite losing the award to Disney’s BRAVE that year, PARNORMAN went on to receive a plethora of Best Animated Feature wins, courtesy of the BAFTA Awards as well as a myriad of notable Critics Association outlets. With regard to the film’s box office returns, Laika’s stop-motion spooktacular scared up $107.1 million in tickets sold, making PARANORMAN Laika’s second-most lucrative film behind the 2009 feature-length debut, CORALINE.
As a child of the ‘80s, I grew up while surrounded on all sides by horror legends such as Freddy Kueger, Jason Voorhees, Jack Torrance, and of course, re-airings of George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. For people like me, PARANORMAN acted as a revelation for the animated medium, as no other film in stop-motion history had so lovingly represented the horror genre while also establishing a world all its own. While telling the story of Norman Babcock, a young and misunderstood horror fanatic who battles ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse, Laika invites viewers into a world that feels haunted, savage, and alive with the spirits of the undead. In addition to acting as an ode to old school horror, PARANORMAN also carries a positive message about tolerance, and how a fear of the unknown will keep us separated as a society. Inherently creepy, ceaselessly spectacular both in atmosphere and technical prowess, PARANORMAN has emerged as one of the most lively and lovingly-crafted animated films of the past ten years. – Steve Seigh
If’n you didn’t think that Paramount Pictures’ CGI-animated Western, RANGO, was going to eventually mosey onto this list, well then, pardner, it might be high time that you revisit this criminally unsung gem of the Wild West that are this decade’s animated offerings. Directed by Gore Verbinki as his first animated film from a screenplay by John Logan, RANGO finds Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root and Ned Beatty starring in a film about an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. As a part of the film’s unique filming process, the actors donned costumes and performed on makeshift sets to “give them the feel of the Wild West.” If’n you’re curious about RANGO’s box office reception, you’ll find that Verbinski’s sand-swept nod to the Westerns of old rustled up $245.7 million in global ticket sales. The film arrived as a critical darling among many entertainment outlets, in addition to receiving the Oscar for Best Animated Film at the 2011 Academy Awards. In fact, if you take a gander at RANGO’s lush list of accolades, you’ll find that the film was hailed as the Best Animated Feature by damn-near every film organization under the blazing sun.
Pulling up its bootstraps the same year as a series of animated sequels oft-forgotten original animated films, RANGO shot straight from the hip with its off-kilter character designs, wickedly-cool Western setting, and more tips of a ten-gallon hat to the classics from which many of its set pieces and scene-stealing moments are based. By lassoing up a number of references to films like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, CHINATOWN, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, RAISING ARIZONA, and even FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Paramount’s “fish out of water” animation strikes it rich for this story of vermin, varmints, and embellished identity. At its core, RANGO is an elaborate underdog tale paired with important messages about crooked leaders, bullying, and doing what’s best for the posse as opposed to remaining a lone wolf. In addition to being a character-driven display of technical beauty, RANGO also features one of the most pulse-pounding dogfights of the decade courtesy of Rango and his deputies going hoof-to-claw against Balthazar’s bat-riding clan of contemptuous cronies. There’ve been few animated films this decade that have set themselves apart from the herd like RANGO, and I’ll be a cowpoke being measured for his coffin if’n it doesn’t deserve a spot on this list. – Steve Seigh
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)
When Sony and Marvel’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE was released in theaters it came out slinging. Word of there being an animated Spider-Man film in the works had leaked following the November 2014 hack of Sony’s confidential files, which in turn had fans of the webbed wall-crawler, well, crawling the walls for any and all details related to the mysterious project. After assembling a team comprised of top-tier talent, it was announced that Bob Persichettie, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman would co-direct, with THE LEGO MOVIE’s Tim Lord, Christopher Miller, Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, and Christina Steinberg producing. Based on a story written by Lord, it was soon revealed that the highly-anticipated animation would revolve around Miles Morales, Marvel’s first African-American and Puerto Rican web-head. Upon being unleashed in theaters, Into the Spider-Verse quickly became the animation event of 2018. With a worldwide gross of $375.5 million over its $90 million budget, Spidey’s latest big screen adventure was labeled a financial success and then some. During awards season, Into the Spider-Verse webbed up the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, in addition to a spoil of other accolades from major film and entertainment outlets.
To quote an advertisement for Popsicle-brand “Lick-A-Color” Ice Pops, “The colors, Duke! The colors!” Without a doubt, Into the Spider-Verse is the most visually-arresting animated film of the decade. Ask anyone who’s seen the movie what they thought of it, and I guarantee you that the first words out of their mouth will be in relation to the film’s bold, energetic, and game-changing array of art styles. That’s impressive, especially when coupled with the opinion that Into the Spider-Verse is an emotional powerhouse as well. Another overwhelmingly-impressive aspect of the movie’s excellence is how it excels at introducing not one, but six individual Spider-people, each with their own origin and reasons for fighting the good fight. It’s a juggling act that takes meticulous planning, a keen sense of balance, and the talent to expertly establish an entire universe in just under two hours. I honestly can’t think of another animated film that has left more of an impression on the genre since Disney and Pixar changed the landscape forever with the 1995 release of TOY STORY. Mark my words, you will see studios taking cues from Into the Spider-Verse for years to come, as it definitely represents a revolutionary leap for animation on the big screen. – Steve Seigh
TOY STORY 3 (2010)
Presented as the third chapter of Disney and Pixar’s cherished Toy Story franchise, TOY STORY 3 is not only the most nuanced installment of the series, it also stands as one of the most striking, sentimental, and sinister animations of the past ten years. Directed by COCO helmer Lee Unkrich, and written by Michael Arndt from a story conceived by Unkrick, John Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton, TOY STORY 3 takes Woody, Buzz, and all their friends on an emotional journey for the ages, despite a series of production woes, including a heated custody battle over who owned the rights to the characters. At the start of 2006, Disney purchased Pixar, a power move that resulted in an early version of the film being cancelled. In time, a wholly-original script was approved, and work began on the project with 2010 as the sequel’s tentative release date. After all was said and done, the studio produced the fourth highest-grossing animated feature to date, after TOY STORY 3 deposited $1.067 billion in worldwide receipts into Disney’s toy box. Come awards season, TOY STORY 3 earned both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, in addition to a series of other prestigious honors from film organizations the likes of BAFTA, Critics Association, People’s Choice, and Women Film Critics Circle establishments.
When presented with the daunting task of describing TOY STORY 3 to people who’d never seen it before, I tell them it’s the “Kali Ma” of Pixar’s long and storied career. By that I mean that the final act of the film will rip your heart out and show it to you before you die of dehydration, thanks to all the tears you’re likely to shed once the story of Andy’s toy collection comes to its bittersweet conclusion. The film is also overtly sinister, as themes of segregation, slavery, and separation anxiety lord over every madcap moment, high-energy hijink, and clever character-defining display of virtuousness and determination. For my money, there’s no moment in animation this decade that was more nail-biting than when Woody and friends were incinerator-bound, the lot of them joining hands as the flames licked at their vintage varnishes and collector’s item clothing. Oh, and that moment when Andy and Bonnie play with the toys together? Unforgettable. I’d continue, but I trust that we all know why TOY STORY 3 is on this list. If you don’t. You had better ask somebody. – Steve Seigh
Last but certainly not least, we’ve arrived at Walt Disney Animation’s ZOOTOPIA. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, with co-direction by Jared Bush, the screenplay by Bush, and Phil Johnson, takes place in a city of anthropomorphic animals, where a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy. Pitched as one of six ideas by Byron Howard to Disney Animation chief creative officer and executive producer John Lasseter, the concept that would eventually become ZOOTOPIA underwent a series of revisions before arriving as a police procedural with social commentary that was just as much of a conversation starter as the film’s rich inner-city setting or cast of outrageous characters. At the time of its release, ZOOTOPIA delivered its messages of tolerance to millions, resulting in a global total of $1.024 billion in tickets sold. Much like many other films on this list, ZOOTOPIA won Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards, and went on to collect a menagerie of other accolades from a variety of world-renowned outlets.
Resting currently as the seventh highest-grossing animated film of all time, Disney’s ZOOTOPIA connected with audiences in a very big way. Much of this is likely due to the animation’s timely subject matter, which delves into the departments of racism, political corruption, and inalienable rights among the citizens of our diverse and forever-expanding society. In addition to offering an animated take on the “love thy neighbor” adage, ZOOTOPIA is also teeming with life thanks to the film’s anthropomorphic populace and bustling city of sin, suppression, and societal norms under fire. That’s not to say that ZOOTOPIA is all doom and gloom. Far from it, actually. Alongside the film’s clever, albeit blatant commentary, is a pseudo-noir mystery that lends wonderfully to the film’s unlikely detective-like duo and the blossoming of their peculiar partnership. Moreover, ZOOTOPIA also introduced audience members to the wonders of “iGroom,” a fur-controlling software that granted Disney’s artists complete control over, you guessed it, fur. Through this technology, ZOOTOPIA presented some of the most detailed animal character designs that animation has ever seen. To be clear, the movie showcases 64 different species of animals, with up to 800,000 mammal variants. When you combine ZOOTOPIA’s layered story elements, impressive technical display, and world-building majesty, it all starts to make sense as to why it deserves a spot on this list. – Steve Seigh
21 Jump Street (2012)
At the rate things are going now, it was only inevitable that the powers that be would’ve found a way to bring a revival/remake of the hit ‘80s show “21 Jump Street” to audiences. The call was made to do a movie version back in 2008, and instead of it being a similarly dramatic and gritty show, this one was meant to be an R-rated comedy set 20 years after the events of the show. Originally starring pre-rock-n-roll stepdad Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, this new version enlisted the unlikely pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and surely, the early 2010s internet had a blast tearing this thing apart pre-release. However, the surprising combination yielded tremendous results, with critics and audiences praising the adaptation, leading to an impressive $201 million at the global box office, and even kicked off what would essentially be the Year of Tatum (MAGIC MIKE, THE VOW, HAYWIRE). All of this led to a rush into a sequel, which is arguably just as good and was an even bigger hit at the box office – wondering why it’s been five years with no plans set for a third.
As mentioned before, there was perhaps more scorn aimed at 21 JUMP STREET than anticipation heading into its release, but that’s what made its wild success even sweeter. Together, Hill and Tatum proved an unexpectedly perfect comedy duo, wringing out endless laughs with their natural chemistry, and with the writing from Michael Bacall highlighting enough of their characters’ differences to make the mission taking them back to high school all the more meaningful. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were coming off the CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS hit, making a seamless transition to movies that would lead to THE LEGO MOVIE, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE and, er, I guess STAR WARS? Blending the depth of high school movies from John Hughes with delightfully raunchy humor and an often hysterical supporting cast (Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube) and the leading pair, 21 JUMP STREET hasn’t aged a day and remains the kind of comedy you can pop on at any time and laugh yourself stupid with. – Matt Rooney
Comedy guru Judd Apatow has an eye for talent, and it didn’t take him long to see that Kristen Wiig was a true genius. After working with her on KNOCKED UP he asked her if she had any screenplay ideas, leading to her and writing partner and actress Annie Mumolo to write what would become BRIDESMAIDS. Primarily releasing dude-centric comedies like STEP BROTHERS, ANCHORMAN and more, this would be the first of Apatow’s filmography to center on a primarily female-led ensemble with Paul Feig (THE OFFICE, and later SPY, GHOSTBUSTERS) directing. While Apatow’s movies had received praise and great box office results in the past, BRIDESMAIDS — with the pitch-perfect ensemble of Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey leading the charge — blew them out of the water, making $288 million worldwide, earning rave reviews and leading to a bevy of awards attention, including two Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Melissa McCarthy).
Between all his producing and directing efforts, BRIDESMAIDS stands out from the pack and by a country mile. Wiig, McCarthy and the rest of the cast stomped up to the R-rated comedy sandbox that all the boys were playing in, took all their toys and showed them how it’s done. Deliriously funny, the movie sports countless scenes that should be etched into the cinematic comedy history books, like Annie’s (Wiig) in-flight meltdown and the collective diarrhea explosion in the wedding gown shop (re-live below). It’s crass, sometimes disgusting and never not hilarious, all on top of being incredibly poignant in its themes of friendship and growing older. Perhaps more so than any of the other movies on this list, BRIDESMAIDS provides numerous reasons for why it will be remembered long into the future as a comedy classic, and as we look forward to covering the Best of the Century list 80 years from now, I’m sure it will have a firm place on all lists. – Matt Rooney
Eighth Grade (2018)
After going through a bit of an emotional, existential crisis himself, comedian Bo Burnham decided to explore themes of anxiety and self-discovery by examining the life of an eighth-grade girl, and in turn, an entire generation linked to YouTube and social media. Shopping the project around for a bit, Burnham eventually got $2 million to make the movie from A24, under his condition that he direct. Star Elsie Fisher was cast from many young girls who auditioned, Burnham believing her the most genuine. Leading up to release the movie built some fantastic buzz coming out of festivals like Sundance, with critics hailing Burnham’s writing, directing and Fisher’s performance. Upon its release the rave reviews held, making it one of the best-reviewed movies of the year and poising it for awards potential. Despite the praise, the movie didn’t quite break the box office as it should’ve ($14 million), and it was shut out of the Oscars entirely (Fisher was nominated for a Golden Globe), but it remains an indie classic and one of A24’s more notable titles.
No movie will likely capture the anxiety and intricacies of the Gen-Z crowd quite like EIGHTH GRADE. Coming at it from a curious and empathetic point of view, Burnham’s movie explores Kayla’s desire for acceptance and quest to find her place in a world lived online with equal parts hilarity and depth. On the comedy side, Burnham masterfully captured the voices of his young actors, their awkwardness and innocence of full display, while weaving in a sense of realness that audiences of all ages can relate to. The way Kayla throws her phone across the room after her dad enters as she was looking up some risque content, or him catching her “experimenting” with a banana, there’s tons to laugh and cringe with here. The movie’s greatest claim to fame though is how it manages to fully capture what it’s like to be going through so much discovery, no matter how unintentionally funny it is for a young person, or how emotionally jarring or, sometimes, terrifying. There were plenty of great comedy-dramas this decade, but EIGHTH GRADE, coming a bit late in the game, is the funniest and most soul-piercing of the lot. – Matt Rooney
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The eighth film from filmmaker and master of the eccentric comedy, Wes Anderson, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is based on the stories of author Stefan Zweig and found Anderson reuniting with some of his usual suspects for a grand European adventure. The number of talented people in the ensemble ranges near two dozen, but the major players include Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray. Anderson had found success on the indie circuit before and received several Oscar nominations for movies like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, but BUDAPEST marked a peak for both critical reception and box office. Blowing past his other movies like a finely-mustachioed gentleman sledding down a snowy mountain, BUDAPEST brought in $175 million globally (off a $25 million budget), and wracked up nine Oscar nominations (Anderson receiving his first for Best Director), and winning four for Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Anderson has demonstrated from his earliest films to be a master at blending in style, grace, and wit with the high strangeness of his stories and characters. With BUDAPEST we see this master at his finest, with his precision to detail in framing the immaculate production values, including picturesque mountains and lavish architecture. Within these fine buildings and small, snowy towns is his most colorful assortment of characters – including his finest leading character yet in Fiennes’ M. Gustave. A man full of poems and elegant quips, he also drops hysterical, crass bits like “Did you see her? She was shaking like a shitting dog.” Along with Fiennes you get an incredible ensemble at their quirkiest, like Dafoe as the scowling, intense but still somehow goofy J.G. Jopling; Harvey Keitel as a bald, tattooed inmate, Ludwig and; Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and more as members of the Society of Crossed Keys. A sweet story on a grand scale, BUDAPEST ranks high on the list of one the best comedies of the decade, as well as Anderson’s filmography, as it shows the director pushing himself aesthetically, but still delivering on the style and sheer, strange hilarity we should all expect. – Matt Rooney
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Director Taika Waititi began adapting the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” back in the mid-’00s but didn’t get to make it for almost a decade. Starring Julian Dennison (DEADPOOL 2) and New Zealand’s favorite son, Sam Neill, the movie centers on a young boy venturing into the NZ bush with his foster dad — with the two becoming quite close in the process. Rhys Darby (FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS) and Waititi regular Rachel House flesh out the cast and the whole thing was made several weeks for about NZ$4.5 million. Waititi had received acclaim for past movies BOY and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, the former of which once stood as the highest-grossing NZ film ever ($9 million). WILDERPEOPLE can be seen as Waititi breaking into the mainstream, surpassing BOY and now holding the record for the highest-grossing NZ movie ever ($12 million), all while earning rave reviews from critics. It surely helped Waititi break into bigger projects, leading to his hiring for THOR: RAGNAROK, the upcoming sequel, work within the STAR WARS universe and basically becoming an Avenger himself as the lovable rock alien, Korg.
Waititi may be all hotshot now as he directs Marvel movies while wearing assorted shirts with pineapples on them, but he’s a man who can do wonders on the small scale (see this year’s JOJO RABBIT), and in terms of his ability to blend earnest sweetness and gut-busting laughs, WILDERPEOPLE has no equal. Dennison’s Ricky Baker and Neill’s Hec are two richly written characters, both of whom have their own issues to get over, their clash of personalities making for an affecting, hilarious dynamic. Like Wes Anderson, Waititi is able to inject a pitch-perfect, precise sense of humor throughout every scene of his films, getting the best possible actors to deliver quirky lines with effortless charm, and in the case of the wonderful House, a deadpan approach that steals the show. Waititi has an almost childlike imagination and sense of play in him, and between movies like BOY, WILDERPEOPLE and this year’s JOJO RABBIT, he digs into the issues kids can have with deep emotion and an infectious sense of humor. Between House, Darby’s insane bush-dweller and the dynamic between Ricky and Hec there’s just so much to find funny in WILDERPEOPLE, and just as much to warm your heart with. – Matt Rooney
Yet another SNL sketch to make it to the big screen (WAYNE’S WORLD, NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY), MACGRUBER was an attempt to take the mullet-wearing secret agent with a knack for making impromptu gadgets that never work and turn him into a hero the satirical action-comedy genre sorely needed. Starring Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer and brought to life by the Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, the movie did…not do well. Mediocre reviews from critics, an obscure character, and coming out at the start of summer killed it at the box office, leading to a dismal global bow of $9 million off of a rather low $10 million budget, quickly blowing it out of theaters. However, it didn’t take long for the movie to become a cult classic, and after coming out on DVD it began making the rounds and becoming an instantly quotable comedy gem.
MACGRUBER is the sort of movie that’s easy for even the most passionate of fans to point at and say, “It’s so funny because it’s so stupid!” To that I say, the only thing stupid about MACGRUBER is the face it gives when you’re laughing so hard you’re nearing suffocation. MACGRUBER is, in no hyperbolic sense of the word, absolutely f**king genius. In the same class as an action-comedy that hit three years earlier — Edgar Wright‘s HOT FUZZ — it’s instantly evident that the love is there for the ridiculous 80s-90s actions flicks the movie spoofs. Because of this clear passion, writers Taccone, Forte and John Soloman were able to pinpoint hallmarks of the genre — from the kind of car the character drives, the haircuts, the saxophone music, and our hero’s undoubted sexual prowess — and spin them with their unabashedly bizarre sense of humor. Like Mac himself, the humor only ever operates at an 11, with not a single moment lacking in gut-busting absurdity or crassness. Forte is a true comedy titan, a master of delivering lines so that Mac’s wild emotional fluctuations can dominate scenes in all sorts of hysterical ways. His performance is so infectiously fun, and such is the movie itself, that I think what makes MACGRUBER something that’s resonated so well with audiences this decade is that it seems like it was never not a blast to make. You can picture everyone cracking up as they figured out a way to push a scene further. Along with Forte giving it 120% is Wiig, much funnier in a low-key way, hilarious in her undying love for the mulleted hero. Truly, every inch of this movie is unforgettably funny, and as far as pure comedies go, few movies that have come out this decade have been able to match it. Next year marks 10 years since it’s arrival, and though plans for a sequel have floated around, this one remains a singular, bizarre work of comedic genius. – Matt Rooney
The Nice Guys (2016)
The development of this project went all the way back to the early 00s, with writer/director Shane Black working on drafts with Anthony Bagarozzi. Being turned down and failing to get it even into TV form, it eventually got the green light from Warner Bros. — perhaps having something to do with Black directing the megahit IRON MAN 3. Finding his leading duo in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, the rest of the cast includes Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger, Beau Knapp and Keith David. A critical darling, the movie didn’t fare as well at the box office, coming in amid lots of other competition (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, ANGRY BIRDS, NEIGHBORS 2). Still, the movie made a fair amount of money considering it was an R-rated period comedy coming out in summer, making $62 million…against a budget of about $50 million, at the least. Chances of a sequel aren’t great, but there could still be hopes for a proposed show, but who knows how long until that comes around.
Much like 21 JUMP STREET, the pairing of Gosling and Crowe seemed like it could be either genius or a disaster. In the end, the two solidified themselves as an on-screen pair few could get tired of watching, and in part that’s thanks to them fully embodying the terrible, often hilarious men, of which Black wrote so well. They both play to their strengths, but get to turn things a bit askew in ways that work incredibly well. Crowe is a burly muscle man with an imposing attitude, but there’s a sweetness to him too, which makes his arm-breaking seem almost endearing. Gosling gets to be the suave wise-cracker, but he’s a shit father and a drunk, but also in a way that’s charming enough to root for him. Together they are a brilliant, unexpected comedy pairing, and they work wonders are they sleuth around the expertly crafted 70s-era Los Angeles, making for a seedy, sometimes sexy, and always crass and outlandish mystery on-par with Black’s KISS KISS BANG BANG. It’s an intelligent, adult comedy that fits in perfectly in the buddy-cop canon, one that has a ton of fun playing with the setting, getting the most of it’s two impeccable leading men, and offering a cavalcade of jokes and set pieces that can range deadpan to silly and all the way to gleefully violent. – Matt Rooney
Paddington 2 (2018)
After the first PADDINGTON movie cuddled its way into hearts around the world with its unflinching optimism and undeniably delightful, well, everything, a sequel was a no brainer for producer David Heyman (HARRY POTTER) and the team. Director Paul King came back on the direct and to co-write the script with Simon Farnaby, with the main cast reprising including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon and Ben Whishaw as the marmalade-loving bear. Joining the cast were Brendan Gleeson as the salty prison cook Knuckles McGinty and Hugh Grant as the big bad, Phoenix Buchanan. The movie remains to this day the best-reviewed movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes, besting TOY STORY 2 to have the most reviews ever and remain at a 100% rating. Despite the critical reviews the movie didn’t fare as well stateside at the box office compared to the first, making $40 million where the first made $72 million. The international numbers were still solid, pulling in $277 million globally. A third movie is not yet in the works, which I’m sure is violating some sort of humanitarian law.
If there is any movie on this list, or out of all the movies this whole decade, that could actually make the world a better place, it’s PADDINGTON 2. The adorable CGI bear from Peru is the harbinger of kindness and warmth, and this new adventure of his is more thrilling, funnier, and more immaculate on a craft level. The visual effects, the production design, the score from Dario Marianelli all add to the incredible wit and cleverness to make not just a top-tier family film, but an extraordinary film, period. Making matters unbelievably better is a show-stopping performance from Hugh Grant, leaning into the over-the-top deviousness of Buchanan with enough showmanship to steal the show from even Paddington himself. It’s a genuinely fantastic performance in an incredible movie, and one that should’ve even warranted some awards attention — and that fact he didn’t get it is, also, a violation of all that’s good and pure. PADDINGTON 2 is a family comedy that’s a litmus test for the soul, one that reaffirms all that’s good and magical in this world, aone that can make you walk away from it wanting to be a better person. If not that, then at least the visual of Paddington using his furry body to wash windows can make you ugly-laugh in public. – Matt Rooney
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Graphic novel writer Bryan Lee O’Malley published the first volume of “Scott Pilgrim” in 2004, and it was soon after he was being commissioned for the movie rights. Nabbed by Universal, they looked to SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ director Edgar Wright to bring it all to life, which was destined to be challenging and expensive. In the end, he got a cast that is rivaled only by GRAND BUDAPEST on this list, including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Jason Schwartzmann, Ellen Wong and Brandon Routh. Collaborating on the script with Michael Bacall (21 JUMP STREET), with contributions from O’Malley, it took Wright a few years to get this movie to theaters, arriving in the latter half of 2010. The biggest project of Wright’s to date, the movie cost a gross $85 million to make but netted a disappointing $47 million worldwide. The movie left the top ten at the box office by its second week, many labeling a box office bomb for Universal. But as we’ve seen with another movie on this list, it didn’t take long for an audience to find it on home video, and it’s been hailed as a cult classic and a black sheep in the comic book movie world.
IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT hit theaters two years before PILGRIM, and while the comic book movie market was building towards domination it hadn’t quite taken over just yet. This decade has seen an explosion in the genre, and still, no movie looks, sounds or feels like Wright’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Nothing about it looks like it’s trying to be grounded or even realistic, with words hitting the screen now and again to give it a comic book vibe, and sounds and style to make it feel like you’re inside a colorful video game. Every ounce of this movie is pure imagination and escapism, nothing too wild or off-kilter. Sleek, stylish and action-packed, but at its core, it’s truly a romantic comedy, centering on the love-stricken Scott Pilgrim (Cera) and his inescapable infatuation with Ramona Flowers (Winstead). He’s not a perfect person, but you still root for him nonetheless as he leaps into every new and unique fight. This is a Wright movie, and just as dominating as the visuals is the abundance of humor, with every character big or small bringing some sort of funny to the stage — like Pill’s monotone Kim, Routh’s uber-dramatic-vegan Todd, and especially Evans chewing the scenery as typical gravel-voiced-action-archetype Lucas Lee. PILGRIM is strange, intoxicating, and as hysterical as it is visually arresting, and so it’s no wonder how it’s managed to stay above the pack of both comedies and comic book films as an untouchable classic modern in its own class. – Matt Rooney
What We Do In the Shadows (2014)
A feature-length version of a 2005 short film from Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, “What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires,” WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS marked Waititi’s first feature after his successful BOY. He rounded up the cast from the short, including himself, Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer and Stu Rutherford, and got to make his flick for just under $2 million. Proving BOY was no fluke, his movie was praised by critics for giving a fresh bite to the mockumentary format, blending horror, humor and a peppering of sweetness. Not destined to be a big hit around the world, the movie is included among BOY and HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE as one of the biggest movies ever in New Zealand, making nearly $7 million worldwide.
Under his belt, Waititi has tender coming-of-age tales and a massive blockbuster (one more soon to be underway soon), with WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS being a special gem that stands apart. Inspired by his and Clement’s love for movies like INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and BLADE, the movie has a blast playing with vampire movie tropes and lore. The brilliance comes from Waititi and Clement’s script, which blends the eternal lives of the three vampire roommates with a quirky, naturalistic sense of humor, like how they all debate over who’s going to do the mountain of blood-soaked dishes or having to help each other dress because they can’t see themselves in the mirror. It might not have the colorful, crazy sense of humor he put on display in THOR: RAGNAROK, but for me WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is pound-for-pound Waititi’s funniest film, with everyone in the cast being so naturally funny that it feels like the whole thing was improvised. While very different comedically this movie reminds me a lot of MACGRUBER, in that the love for the subjects and the genre is clearly evident, and everyone involved is having so much fun poking at every little aspect. There’s something very low key and effortless about Waitit’s sense of humor, and meshing that with a mockumentary style with vampires as the main characters made for the perfect comedy brew, and when mentioning the 2010’s in comedy would not be worthwhile without including this hysterical entry. I mean, how can you not laugh at “What are we? Werewolves, not swearwolves?” – Matt Rooney
There had been rumblings for years that Richard Linklater was working on a project that would be shot over an extended period of time, and even that Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were involved, but no one knew what to expect when BOYHOOD was added at the last minute to the Sundance program back in 2014. I was lucky enough to attend the premiere and watching Ellar Coltrane’s Mason grow up right there on the screen was an emotionally transcendent moment.
Thus, I was pretty thrilled when IFC gave this a royal rollout to the tune of $25 million, making it something of an arthouse sensation. The film played to near-universal acclaim, with all admitting that even beyond the gimmick of shooting years apart, the film was a lovely coming of age story told with heart. Linklater can be inconsistent, but when he puts his heart into a project, the results are usually quietly transcendent, and this, along with the BEFORE series will stand up as his masterwork. – Chris Bumbray
Call Me By Your Name
Along with MOONLIGHT, it can be argued that CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was a landmark LGTBQ themed film, and simply a lovely romance to boot, starring Armie Hammer and one of the breakout stars of the decade, Timothee Chalamet, who became a heartthrob that transcended a lot of barriers. I’ve often criticized director Luca Guadagnino as a style over substance guy, but here, working from the novel by Andre Aciman and a script by James Ivory, he had a lot of both.
So many moments of this film hold up as iconic, from what Elio does to a peach to the iconic chat between him and his kindly, supportive dad played by the great Michael Stuhlbarg. But, what makes the film stand out is the quietly haunting and heartbreaking ending where a forlorn Elio stares into a roaring fire to Sufjan Steven’s “Visions of Gideon”, an iconic moment for young Chalamet. In terms of the box office, it was only a modest success but the cultural imprint is huge. – Chris Bumbray
Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE could have probably made it onto our action list, but compared to the other films on that particular list, it can’t be denied that it emphasizes mood and character over carnage and spectacle. In that way, it’s more like a Michael Mann film. Sure, there’s action, but it’s not the film’s defining feature. Like other movies on this list, in terms of box office dollars, DRIVE, while undeniably successful ($81 million worldwide on a $15 million budget) has a cultural imprint that outweighs its box office.
Ryan Gosling is terrific as the quiet, laconic unnamed driver, a romantic, chivalrous but dangerous hero who becomes mixed up with a young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her sympathetic but doomed husband (Oscar Isaac in a breakout role). Albert Brooks ultimately steals the show in a case being cast wildly against type as a ruthless gangster, while Bryan Cranston had one of his first great parts outside of “Breaking Bad” as Gosling’s mentor. It’s also worth noting the film has possibly the best soundtrack of the decade, with now-iconic selections by Chromatics, Desire, College, Kavinsky, and a great score by Cliff Martinez. – Chris Bumbray
Christopher Nolan’s emerged as one of only a handful of directors that could get virtually anything made on the strength of his name alone. Warner Bros has never gone wrong with him, thus when he wanted to make a WW2 film based off of a seventy-six-page screenplay (half the length of his usual scripts) with a giant budget and in IMAX 70MM to boot, they said sure! The result was an Oscar-winning blockbuster, and one of the most visually dynamic war movies of our time.
Using a British cast with an unknown lead (Fionn Whitehead), Nolan made a war movie that invites you to experience what the soldiers themselves are experiencing in an utterly exceptional epic, and one of the decade’s great achievements in film (although it certainly has its haters). – Chris Bumbray
Undeniably, the 2010s were dominated by new advances in smart technology that thoroughly changed the way we live. In a society where we all walk around with Siri in our pockets, Spike Jonze made the first man/technology love story of our time. Going into HER, I thought it would be quirky and funny. I didn’t expect it to be heartbreaking, with one simple exchange, when Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha admits she’s simultaneously in love with thousands of other users, illustrating why a machine can never really love in the end, no matter how close they can approximate it.
Joaquin Phoenix is uncommonly sweet in a gentle performance as the lovelorn copywriter, and it ranks as one of his greatest roles. Again, HER is another whose cultural footprint far outweighs box office, with a modest $48 million worldwide take – although six years later is there anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it? – Chris Bumbray
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan actually had two great movies come out this decade, but the first, MARGARET, was shot years before and ultimately got released on a compromised, much-delayed version. He bounced back a few years later with the most financially successful film of his career, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, which was an early acquisition for Amazon, and grossed a considerable $79 million on a $9 million budget (they paid $10 million for it).
Casey Affleck’s performance in the lead is one of the great ones of the decade, with him a former family man trying to bounce back from a tragedy that’s broken him. There are some truly gut-wrenching moments here, such as his reunion with his sympathetic, now remarried ex-wife (Michelle Williams in a great role). It was also the movie that introduced us to Lucas Hedges, who – for my money – will become one of the icons of the next decade. – Chris Bumbray
The Social Network
It’s funny to think now, but when THE SOCIAL NETWORK came out, a lot of people thought David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin were too hard on Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook. As the decade ends though, he’s an even more controversial figure than when it started, leading many to wonder when the two will deliver a sequel, as one seems pretty warranted at this point.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK struck a nerve for many of us, with it playing to blockbuster business. We pretty much all use Facebook, so none of us could resist finding out more about the enigmatic figure behind it, with Jesse Eisenberg cast so perfectly to type, I’d wager in some ways it’s hurt him as he’s no so identified with the part. It also made Andrew Garfield into a star, with him delivering a bunch of excellent performances in movies that just missed out on this list like HACKSAW RIDGE and SILENCE. – Chris Bumbray
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the best movie I have no desire to ever rewatch. It’s a stunning achievement from a brilliant director, but it’s also among the most brutal, devastating films ever made. It delivers a horrifying account of the free Solomon Northup’s abduction and experience as a slave in the South during the antebellum era and its filmmaking at its most harrowing.
Chiwetel Ejiofor emerged as one of the best actors of our era for his role in the lead, although it also gave Lupita Nyong’o her first major role (and an Oscar) while Michael Fassbender played, without a doubt, the most despicable villain of the decade as Solomon’s sadistic owner. It wound up being a major hit, grossing $187 million worldwide and solidifying McQueen as one of the great moviemakers of the decade, but it’s also a rough watch, albeit a movie that needs to be seen at least once. Like it or not, stories like this are part of our heritage. – Chris Bumbray
I’ll never forget seeing WHIPLASH at the Sundance press screening. Now, for Sundance, the way it works is that usually, the first night is pretty low-key. Folks have a hard time flying in at times, so typically on day one, there are only a few press screenings in the evening. Everyone pretty much winds up seeing the same thing, and in the year it premiered WHIPLASH was the one we all checked out. Usually, though the opening night press screening isn’t for a movie that’s all that great, as the big guns are saved for the weekend when they can be sure everyone’s arrived in Park City. Suffice to say, everyone sitting in the Yarrow Hotel audience was blown away by Damien Chazelle’s thrilling story of the tortured relationship between a jazz drumming student (Miles Teller) and his sadistic teacher (J.K. Simmons).
In the end, Simmons won an Oscar for his iconic role (“not my tempo”) while Miles Teller hit the A-list. No one came out of WHIPLASH better than Chazelle though, with him becoming one of the most acclaimed directors of the era, following it up with the amazing LA LA LAND and the unfairly maligned FIRST MAN. – Chris Bumbray
The Wolf of Wall Street
If it were up to me, there would be two Martin Scorsese movies on this list, with THE IRISHMAN, for my money, as good as anything he’s ever made. That said, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is possibly his most iconic film since GOODFELLAS, and, amazingly, it priced a three hour, drug-fuelled opus could gross almost $400 million worldwide. Leonardo DiCaprio was robbed as the Oscars, as he no doubt should have taken home the prize for his tour de force performance as Jordan Belfort, the coke-fuelled thief whose exploits on Wall Street stand as some of the most outrageous in history.
He’s a horrible man, but DiCaprio makes him unbelievably compelling. Some of the set pieces here will go down as all-timers, such as Belfort’s attempts to get home while under the influence of some expired quaaludes, and the movie is both hilarious and horrifying. Jonah Hill is also excellent as his partner in crime, while the film also gave us our first look at Margot Robbie, who’d end the decade as an icon in her own right. – Chris Bumbray
THE BABADOOK (2014)
When THE BABADOOK arrived, people were promised something truly frightening. And frankly, if you are a parent or have dealt with loss in any way, shape or form, this fantastic film will stick with you long after your first viewing. This is the story of a mother – a brilliant performance by Essie Davis – who is not only dealing with the death of her husband, but also the uncontrollable paranoia of her son – young Noah Wiseman was also terrific. As the young boy’s fear grows and those around her feel that she may not be able to handle him, we soon realize that perhaps the boy may truly have something to fear. Brilliantly directed by Jennifer Kent, this phenomenal feature explores the tragic death of a loved one and the pain and suffering that it leaves behind.
Not only are the performances in this impressive feature fantastic, the mysterious titular character is a fascinatingly scary creation. When mom finds an slightly disturbing children’s book called “The Babadook” – complete with Edward Gorey inspired images – she discovers that the spooky main character may be absolutely real. It’s a fascinating villain. While the final sequence will have you questioning what is real and what isn’t, it’s a perfect examination of how a single mother and her child deal with tragedy. This is a heartfelt and yes, chilling tale that helped usher in a number of inspired horror films with more on their minds than jump scares and gore. As Christmas approaches, listen carefully for Dook, Dook Dook, because you can’t get rid of The Babadook. – JimmyO
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)
Having a solid history with television genre such as Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Drew Goddard decided to bring his own take on smart, referential horror to the big screen. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS may look like THE EVIL DEAD, but it had more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The film featured a bright young cast that included Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, and some dude named Chris Hemsworth – you know, before MCU made him a massive star with THOR. This clever horror flick managed to take elements of all the scary movies that came before, and cook up something refreshingly unique. This is the type of movie that manages to bring a whole lot of fun to the frights on display.
The most impressive thing that Drew’s script manages to do is create a sense of reality in all the madness. How his characters ultimately become victims to an unexpected evil, and more importantly, WHICH unexpected evil is ridiculously creative. As well, by exploring a number of different horror sub-genre’s, the filmmaker manages to inject much of the same energy that he brought to Buffy and Angel – the script was co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon. This is the kind of scary tale that manages to keep a bit of humor without lessoning the thriller aspect. As well, it manages to offer up a few gruesome images that delighted genre fans. This is the type of film that is just a fun as it is frightening, and it’s one that started off a fantastic decade of horror brilliantly. – JimmyO
THE CONJURING (2013)
James Wan was already on a roll well before he decided to bring modern horror to this grounded and reportedly true tale. After all, Wan’s penchant for mystery and scares gave us the original SAW way back in 2004. He then went on to bring fans a unique take on the funhouse thrills of a haunted house with INSIDIOUS back in 2010. Yet with THE CONJURING, he did something that was truly special. By bringing to light the many investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, he gave this ghostly story real heart thanks to the perfect casting of both Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. The two portray the true life paranormal experts with grace and without judgment. In fact, this incredible feature – as well as the film’s 2016 sequel – is almost as much of love story as a spooky examination of a reported haunting.
If this film simply had these strong leading characters, it would’ve still likely been great. Thankfully, it also gives us a fantastic supporting cast that includes Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, as well as Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Roy, Kyle Deaver and Joey King. Add to that Wan’s stylish direction and understanding of genre, and you have one of the most memorable haunted house movies ever made. Even when they gave away one of the best scares in the first trailer, this impressive feature moved audiences and became a massive hit for the director. In fact, the film was so popular it brought us what they now call The Conjuring Universe which has seen numerous offerings. However, nothing beats the wonderful chemistry between Farmiga and Wilson, and of course the immense talent of Mr. Wan. – JimmyO
GET OUT (2017)
It’s a rarity for a horror film to achieve the kind of monumental success that GET OUT did. Not only did this feature film manage to bring audiences in with it’s unique take on a familiar science fiction storyline, it also earned several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. It even took home the trophy for Best Original Screenplay. All of this thanks to Jordan Peele, a talented performer known for his comedic chops rather than being a horror icon. Well, he certainly is one now thanks to not only this, but this past year’s critically praised hit US.
While the storyline is familiar, Peele brought this particular tale a fresh look and incredible performances from Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield and Lil Rel Howery. This is one of those times where not only is he creating an interesting twist on a familiar trope, but it’s one that happens to feel quite relevant. This is perhaps why it was such a colossal success for Peele. This refreshing twist on a familiar tale is one that resonated with audiences, as well as managing to keep fans on the edge or their seats. It’s also one that seems to play better on repeated viewings. After GET OUT and US, I’m looking forward to what other kinds of frights he’ll bring to this genre. – JimmyO
What horrors await in the mind of writer/director Ari Aster? Stepping into this fascinating feature I knew next to nothing about what would transpire. This disturbing drama tells the tale of a grieving family dealing with the death of a grandparent. In fact, the first half of this eerie feature strongly resembles a very dark family drama as opposed to a horror film. And then it happens. The moment that had audiences gasp at the sheer audacity of where the story goes. This brutal and shocking moment changes the film on every level. Suddenly, viewers found themselves in a nightmarish exploration of grief, one that is absolutely unexpected and horrific. HEREDITARY is a powerhouse of a film.
One of the most important factors in the success of this chilling drama is the lead performance by Toni Collete. The actress is sensational as a mother – and a daughter – struggling to bring any sense of order she can to her family. As impressive as she is, she is surrounded by a talented cast that includes Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Ann Dowd in an unforgettable role. Ari has the uncanny ability to bring real life human suffering to the forefront, which ultimately leads to a devastating conclusion – as he also did in this year’s MIDSUMMER. Even if you aren’t a fan of the filmmakers twisted take on terror, you can’t deny his audacious talent for brining tension and tragedy to nightmarish reality. – JimmyO
IT: CHAPTER ONE (2017)
Ever since I caught the original televised mini-series on cable, I was utterly fascinated by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Whatever you think of the 1990 small screen chiller, you can’t deny the power of Tim Curry’s incredible performance. Who could possibly replace him? Well, apparently, they found the right guy. Bill Skarsgård was the perfect choice to fully realize this iconic villain, one that quite literally feeds on the fears of children. As a fan of Stephen King’s original novel, this big screen adaptation directed by Andy Muschietti brings the wonder and frights of the original work to life in an incredibly satisfying way.
Aside from the fantastic work from Skarsgård, “The Losers Club” couldn’t have been better than they are here. Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs and Jack Dylan Grazer are all exceptional. Even when this tale of terror isn’t soaked in blood, the focus on friendship and the real life terrors these young people face makes for an engaging and scary story. While the recent sequel didn’t quite live up to this exceptional beginning, it certainly reminded me of how frightening childhood can be. And let’s be honest, who among you made sure to avoid getting too close to the storm drains on the street after the fate that Georgie suffered? – JimmyO
IT FOLLOWS (2014)
Horror is one genre that is allowed to use metaphors of oftentimes serious situations in a cool and entertaining way. IT FOLLOWS is a perfect example of a low budget genre flick embracing a real world problem. While certainly not the first film to create scares around an apparent STD, this well crafted indie written and directed by David Robert Mitchell is also a bit of a love letter to John Carpenter’s original classic HALLOWEEN. The film features a fantastic lead performance from Maika Monroe, and places emphasis on suspense as opposed to straight up gore – something that films connected to STD’s tend to rely on when it comes to on-screen imagery. They didn’t need it here.
While the story here is nothing like a masked maniac stalking babysitters, it does play homage to Carpenter in a number of ways. One of the strongest elements happens to be the impressively creepy score by Disasterpeace. It harkens back to the 80’s synth sound, and builds a spooky musical landscape that works perfectly with the world Mitchell has crafted. There is a ferocious energy that never lets up until the final shot. While the ultimate battle that befalls upon our heroine is a bit over the top, it’s easy to connect to thanks to its charming cast and impressive cinematography from Mike Giolakis. If anything, IT FOLLOWS shows how damn creative independent horror can be in the right hands. – JimmyO
A QUIET PLACE (2018)
Who says PG-13 horror doesn’t work? While we’ve certainly had a number of terrible horror flicks with that particular rating, every so often we get something like A QUIET PLACE. And speaking of not seeing this coming, who would’ve guessed that the dude from The Office had such a great talent for creating a dread filled genre flick? From the very beginning, we realize that writer/director – and star – John Krasinski isn’t playing around with his first foray into horror. This is a lean and scary tale of a family hunted by monstrous beings that can’t see the intended victims. But boy can they hear you.
This fantastic thriller manages to create a shockingly suspenseful ride, one that rarely lets up. It also features a stunning lead performance from the incredibly talented Emily Blunt – who also plays the on-screen wife to her real life husband, Krasinski himself. Considering that she is the heart of this horror feature, it’s especially important to feel fear for her and the family she desperately tries to protect. And the actress rises to the challenge giving one of the best performances of that particular year. The sound design, the family dynamic, and the intense level of sheer chills help make A QUIET PLACE one of the most satisfying modern horror films of the past few years. – JimmyO
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
It took a very long time for me to finally sit down with TRAIN TO BUSAN. While I love zombie movies in general, it’s rare to find one that feels fresh and relevant in an age where these monsters have become a television staple with The Walking Dead. As good as the word of mouth was, it just appeared to be a typical zombie outbreak flick. While there is certainly a familiarity the way that this particular story plays out, it truly rises to the occasion with one of the best takes on flesh eaters to ever terrifying viewers. The claustrophobic setting, and the brutal transformations help make this edgy South Korean zombie entry one of the best of its kind.
Co-written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon – Joo-Suk Park is his co-writer – this is a thrilling version of what happens when a small group of survivors attempt to fight off a mindless mob of the walking – well, maybe more like running – dead. Fueled by a smart script, this surprising solid entry is a chilling, edge-of-your-seat ride that rarely slows down. The soul of this story involves a father and daughter (Yoo Gong and Su-an Kim) who are not only fighting off a horde of angry flesh eaters, they are also attempting to connect to each other. If you’ve not seen this modern take on the zombie apocalypse, I highly recommend you do. This is one train you don’t want to miss. – JimmyO
THE WITCH (2015)
Filmmaker Robert Eggers has a unique vision. The writer/director tends to lean towards classic dialogue that is enriched in the period that his films take place. THE LIGHTHOUSE is a perfect example of that with Willem Dafoe embracing his seafaring Lighthouse keeper. However, it all started with the weird and wonderful THE WITCH. Instead of presenting a more modern examination of witchcraft and religious beliefs, Eggers explores a world far different from ours. The rich dialogue is befitting of the 1600’s, the period in which the film takes place, as are the costumes and the set design. This journey into a world of religion and superstition is as eloquent as it is harrowing.
Like most of the entries on this list, you have to give credit to the actors bringing these characters to life. Anya Taylor-Joy is remarkable as a young woman coming of age is a household ruled by religion and a deep-seated relationship to God. As well, her devout yet flawed parents and brilliantly portrayed by Kate Dickie and Julian Richings. The striking imagery that Eggers embraces here helps to create a dark and twisted near fairy tale, one that questions the righteousness and morality of a very different time. This classic tale may not be for everybody, but for many of us, THE WITCH cast an unforgettable spell making this one of the most fascinating indie features of the past ten years. – JimmyO
Director Alex Garland’s 2018 contemplative sci-fi mystery stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac. Based on a series of novels by writer Jeff Vandermeer, the film had the odd distinction of being released theatrically in the US and Canada but on Netflix in other countries a few weeks later. The story follows an expedition of scientists led by cellular biologist Lena (Portman) into The Shimmer, an ever-expanding anomalous zone caused by the crash landing of a strange meteor. The film was critically well received but a commercial failure, being unable to even recoup its modest $55 million budget.
Nevertheless, ANNIHILATION proved to be a tour de force of acting and visual thrills. The science-fiction equivalent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Garland’s film is as terrifying as it is insightful. Whether it’s a horrifying silver doppelganger or a haunting female scream from a mutant bear, ANNIHILATION is a film you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s also a stark and thoughtful examination of regret and what it means to be human. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
The first of two Denis Villeneuve films on this list, ARRIVAL became both a critical and box office success in 2016. It received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story Of Your Life,” Villeneuve, who’d wanted to make a science fiction film for ages, went through hundreds of possible titles before finally settling on ARRIVAL. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer had been pitching the film for years and almost gave up until Villeneuve took a chance on the script. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, the film chronicles mankind’s first encounter with an alien species known as heptapods. Adams plays linguist Louise Banks in one her best film roles to date.
Like all great science fiction, the story is so much more than humanity’s first contact with an alien race. It’s a two-hour elegy about language, coping with grief, and human beings’ desperate need to be heard and more importantly, understood. Amy Adams gives the performance of her career as linguist Louise Banks. It also asks the question, if we know those closest to us will one day die, is the joy we experience while they are alive worth the eventual pain? Arguably director Denis Villeneuve’s finest work, and touting breathtaking cinematography from Bradford Young, ARRIVAL is a film that will be dissected and discussed for years to come. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
Ridley Scott’s landmark 1982 film BLADE RUNNER is regarded as not only one of the best science fiction movies ever, but one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema. In subsequent years, several BLADE RUNNER novels and comicbooks would hit the shelves, however the possibility of a sequel didn’t emerge until March 2011. Originally Christopher Nolan was attached to direct and later Ridley Scott himself. However, Scott eventually decided to only produce putting Denis Villeneuve at the helm. The film saw the return of original BLADE RUNNER screenwriter Hampton Fancher who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Green. Rather than following Harrison Ford’s character, BLADE RUNNER 2049 instead centers around Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, a blade runner who himself is also a replicant. As Agent K uncovers a vast conspiracy that extends back three decades, he’s inexorably led back to Rick Deckard, a blade runner who disappeared over thirty years ago. Much like its predecessor, BLADE RUNNER 2049 was a financial flop with audiences, garnering only $260.5 million worldwide against a $185 million budget.
Fans were understandably weary of a sequel to the classic, however director Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 film delivered on every single level. Masterfully shot by Roger Deakins (who finally won an Oscar for cinematography after being nominated thirteen previous times), impeccably scored by Hans Zimmer, and brilliantly directed by Villeneuve, BLADE RUNNER 2049 expands on the world Philip K. Dick created and Ridley Scott perfected. Ryan Gosling’s understated performance as Agent K carries the film. The sequel pairs a heart-breaking story of self-discovery and what it means to be human with spectacular visuals. Equally captivating and contemplative, BLADE RUNNER 2049 was the sequel audiences deserved and needed. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)
Although actor Tom Cruise has been firmly ensconced in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise over the last decade, you can’t overlook his 2014 sci-fi actioner EDGE OF TOMORROW. Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, the Doug Liman directed film is part mind bending time travel story, part alien invasion, part Halo mashup. Cast against type, Cruise plays the cowardly Major William Gage who’s stuck in a time loop where he’s forced to live out the same day over and over while remembering all his past experiences. Billed as a major tentpole film when it dropped on June 5, 2014 in the US, the film holds a 90% Certified Fresh approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the set design, humor, and fresh premise. Unfortunately, the film was only a moderate hit, raking in just under $380 million worldwide, although a sequel is currently in the works.
Tom Cruise’s performance in EDGE OF TOMORROW is only surpassed by a masterful turn from Emily Blunt who plays combat legend Sergeant Rita Vrataski. Although you could draw comparisons between EDGE OF TOMORROW and video games like Halo and Titanfall, the movie never comes off derivative or boring. I could talk about the movie’s solid examination of gender roles or the film’s theme of learning from your mistakes, but why bother? Bottom line is that EDGE OF TOMORROW is just a super cool, stylish, action packed, GROUNDHOG DAY-esque thrill ride that boasts amazing visuals and possesses a ton of heart. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
Director Christopher Nolan has delivered audiences an eclectic range of films over the last twenty years, everything from mystery thrillers like INSOMNIA to big budget comicbook fare like THE DARK KNIGHT. And indeed his 2014 film INTERSTELLAR is no different. Originally conceived by producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, INTERSTELLAR began development in June 2006 with Steven Spielberg originally attached to direct. Although the film started at Paramount, the company eventually co-financed the film with Warner Bros. Led by Matthew McConaughey as Coop, the film chronicles mankind’s attempt to find a new home after climate change has ravaged the Earth. Nolan was so focused on scientific accuracy he visited both NASA and Space X. The film sold over 22 million tickets domestically and set, at the time, an IMAX opening record with $20.5 million in the first weekend.
Coming hot off of his Oscar win, the McConaissance was in full force as the actor delivered a performance arguably better than his Academy Award winning role in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. INTERSTELLAR also sports an all-star supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Timothee Chalamet, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, and Nolan regular Michael Caine. It’s a movie that’s vast in scope yet never feels cold. Indeed, there’s a heart and an emotional resonance to INTERSTELLAR that can’t be overlooked. I dare you to watch the scene where Coop watches videos of his children from Earth and not get choked up. Visually captivating, the film is also a remarkable commentary on the enduring power of love and self-sacrifice. It boasts yet another incredible, otherworldly score from composer Hans Zimmer and contains some of Hoyte van Hoytema’s best cinematography work this side of DUNKIRK. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
Before Rian Johnson’s divisive STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, the director of BRICK treated audiences to one of the better science-fiction movies involving time travel…well…ever. Set in a future where organized crime uses time travel to dispose of bodies, the film reteams Johnson with his BRICK star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a “looper” who kills targets sent back through time and disposes of their bodies. When Joe’s older self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time for the younger Joe to kill however, he must confront the consequences and morality of his past deeds. Of note were the heavy prosthetics employed by Johnson and applied by makeup wizard Kazuhiro Tsuji to make Gordon-Levitt appear like a younger Bruce Willis. The film (whose modest budget was only $30 million) was a box office success nabbing over $175 million worldwide and earning a B+ Cinemascore.
A time travel film as well as a crime thriller, Gordon-Levitt and Willis are stunning in LOOPER with their café scene being one of the best in recent memory. Paul Dano also provides a small but poignant performance as Seth, one of Joe’s coworkers and an essential catalyst to the film’s overall plot. Director Rian Johnson wanted LOOPER to focus less on the intricacies of time travel and more on how the characters deal with the situations time travel brings about. The film accomplishes precisely what Johnson set out to do. Aside from an adrenaline inducing adventure, LOOPER also manages to be a reflective look at fate, free will, and consequence. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
THE MARTIAN (2015)
Andy Weir’s 2011 seminal novel opens with the lines, “I’m pretty much f*cked. That’s my considered opinion. F*cked.” Thus, begins the journey of marooned astronaut Mark Watney. Four years after publication, the great Ridley Scott brought Weir’s work to the silver screen with 2015’s THE MARTIAN. Starring Matt Damon in the lead role, THE MARTIAN follows Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III crew who is left on Mars by mistake after a vicious sandstorm. After the disastrous films EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS and THE COUNSELOR, THE MARTIAN proved a true return to form for Scott, raking in over $600 million worldwide, Scott’s highest total to date. Ironically, Scott was not the film’s initial director, the film’s screenwriter Drew Goddard was. THE MARTIAN also won numerous accolades including (inexplicably) the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Damon.
Masterful direction from Ridley Scott brings Weir’s world to life. While full of hard science, the movie never comes off pedantic but rather as an uplifting story of survival that demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit. Matt Damon owns this role, exemplifying Mark Watney’s sarcasm, ingenuity, and ultimate humanity. A 21st century Robinson Crusoe, Watney is a character you constantly root for despite the various setbacks he experiences. The film also sports one of the great ensemble casts in recent memory with Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Davis all delivering memorable performances. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
I don’t think anyone expected a thought provoking and cerebral science-fiction film from the directors of DAYBREAKERS but that’s exactly what audiences got in 2015 with PREDESTINATION. A time travel tale that possesses a distinctly noirish tone, the movie is also extremely intimate. Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke plays Agent Doe, an officer with the Temporal Agency tasked with apprehending and preventing time traveling criminals from pulling off nefarious deeds. His final case revolves around the Fizzle Bomber, a mysterious Ted Kaczynski-esque villain obsessed with carrying out a NYC attack. The film was released without much fanfare in January 2015, typically a dumping ground for less regarded features. However, critics loved the film calling it an “entrancingly strange time-travel saga.”
PREDESTINATION I believe marks the first time in cinema history that a time travel device comes in the form of a suitcase. Aside from being a phenomenal time travel mystery movie, it’s also a candid look at the concept of fate and transgender identity. It’s also a true coming out party for actress Sara Snook (HBO’s Succession) who delivers a dual tour de force performance as characters Jane and John. The best part of PREDESTINATION however is the ending. It’s essentially the science fiction equivalent of THE USUAL SUSPECTS and a total mind-f*ck. PREDESTINATION is a hidden gems that deserves a spot on this list. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
Although director Bong Joon-ho is one of the most acclaimed directors working today (his latest film PARASITE is already generating a ton of awards buzz), the Korean visionary’s first English speaking film didn’t come about until 2013’s SNOWPIERCER. The Chris Evans led sci-fi film is set in a not too distant future where an attempt to counteract global warming goes disastrously wrong, resulting in another ice age. The few survivors are aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that circumnavigates the globe on a yearly basis. Broken into very specific class divisions, Evans’ character Curtis decides to lead a revolution and take control of the train and its conductor Wilford (Ed Harris). Shot entirely on 35mm with a 1:85:1 aspect ratio, Joon-ho originally wanted to shoot the film entirely in his native Korea, but space issues forced the director to shoot on set in the Czech Republic. With a budget of $42 million it was the highest budget with Korean investors of all-time. Harvey Weinstein also notoriously caused a delay in the US premiere of the film when he demanded opening and closing monologues, something Joon-ho refused to do. His stubbornness paid off and the film was released in its intended form in the United States.
SNOWPIERCER is a bleak but enthralling look at a dystopian future that brilliantly examines class structure and seems bereft of hope until the final closing scenes. Known mostly for his role as Captain America, Evans delivers a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance that showcases his incredible talent. Additionally, SNOWPIERCER is an excellent examination of both the evil and good humanity is capable of. Plus, it offers some really gross protein cubes, superb cinematography from Hong Kyung-pyo, a haunting score courtesy of Marco Beltrami, and a dynamite performance from Tilda Swinton sporting an outlandish getup worthy of Cher. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
A worthy successor to Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP, UPGRADE was one of those movies that came out of nowhere to land on many a critic’s top ten lists in 2018. A sleeper hit; the film made more than five times its modest $3 million budget. Directed by Leigh Whannel, known mostly for his writing duties on the SAW franchise, UPGRADE marked only the second time Whannel helmed a picture. Produced by Blumhouse and written by Whannel, UPGRADE stars Logan Marshall-Green as Grey Trace, a Luddite who abhors technology. After he suffers a devastating injury and a personal loss, he receives an A.I. implant that allows him to walk again. However, Grey soon discovers the A.I. has other plans besides Grey’s recovery.
A commentary on man’s relationship with technology that also serves as a body horror flick, the film blurs the lines between man and machine. Shot in Whannel’s native city of Melbourne, Australia the movie boasts several memorable fight scenes and possesses a distinct red color palette that highlights some stunning cinematography work from Stefan Duscio. The ending of the film is also one of the all-time showstoppers and will leave you floored. – Corrye Van Caeseele-Cook
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR/ENDGAME (2018/2019)
An impossibly outstanding culmination of what Marvel set out to do a decade ago when the MCU launched with Robert Downey Jr. and IRON MAN. Who knew that the Russo Brothers were both superhuman storytellers as well as Marvel Comics prodigies. All this ingenuity translated to a record-setting combined $4.8 billion in worldwide box office and critical praise from the majority, including our own Joblo reviewers: Joblo review Infinity War. Joblo review Endgame.
This is essentially a six hour movie (broken into two parts) that never drags and always entertains. That’s a feat in itself! The performances are exceptional all around, especially the work put in by Mr. Downey Jr., Chris Evans and the utterly hilarious Chris Hemsworth. The action, the callbacks to so many previous Marvel films, the humor, the emotions, this Avengers juggernaut is a super heroic epic that I don’t think will ever be topped! – Mike Catalano
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
This was more than a movie. It was a movement. Boundaries were broken as African Americans as well as every other race of film goers found a hero who wore his heritage on his sleeve! In this grandiose origin story, writer/director Ryan Coogler painted a visual masterpiece that completely won audiences and critics over (and became the first Marvel film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture). And $1.4 billion in worldwide box office is an amount worthy of a king! Joblo review.
The world of Wakanda was its own character in Black Panther and made for a stunning backdrop to tell the tale of Prince T’Challa. The advanced technology aspect was a super cool and smart means for developing the superhero aspect of the story. Chadwick Boseman was born to play this role and yet, was still equally matched by the masterful Michael B. Jordan, who brought a balance of rage and pain to the villain, Killmonger. Coogler was right to bring his CREED compadre aboard! – Mike Catalano
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
This is the film that brought the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to a whole new level. It was the first MCU directed by the Russo Brothers and easily displays why they were hired again! Grossing a whopping $714 million worldwide, this Cap adventure was a solid step up from the still fun The First Avenger. Joblo certainly enjoyed it: Joblo review.
Chris Evans completely embodied the soul of Captain America with The Winter Soldier and as an added bonus, Scarlett Johansson got to fully realize Black Widow. Having Bucky return as Cap’s friend/new nemesis was a stroke of genius and Sebastian Stan knocked the role out of the park! The whole film had this fresh, spy-like quality which was so engaging, yet the action was still on awesome overload! – Mike Catalano
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
There is no superhero trilogy that can match the might of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. And while this third installment couldn’t quite match the ridiculous hype of THE DARK KNIGHT, it still represents a fittingly epic ending to Bruce Wayne’s journey and still ended up grossing over $1 billion worldwide. And yes, that does give this film power over many of its kin. Joblo review.
I still believe that what Christopher Nolan created with Batman is one of the best trilogies ever, period! And even without Heath Ledger in RISES, there’s no denying the sweeping scope of the story. Plus, Tom Hardy as Bane was dynamite casting! I still quote his lines! Even Anne Hathaway succeeds as a bad/good Catwoman. And of course, this film as well as its two predecessors wouldn’t be anything without the brilliant Christian Bale as our stalwart, incorruptible hero! – Mike Catalano
Thank the good Lord for Ryan Reynolds who turned the entire superhero genre on its (decapitated) head with his spot-on portrayal of everyone’s favorite merc with a mouth! Marvel movies these days weren’t supposed to be rated R, but Deadpool said, “Fuck that!” The flick went on to become one of the highest grossing R-rated films EVER at $783 million! Joblo review.
Ryan Reynolds truly was born to play “Mr. Pool”. I mean, the dude IS Deadpool in a nut sack, err, shell! His timing with both jokes and sword swinging is impeccable. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role EVER (except maybe Hugh Jackman). The laughs, the gore, and yes, the love story make DEADPOOL a truly unique mutation in the superhero movie genre! – Mike Catalano
The heroic judge finally got a movie worthy of his prowess! Hardcore, viscious, and relentless with THE BOYS’ Karl Urban absolutely oozing badass brooding… and yet, it was not a financial success, grossing only $41 million worldwide! However, the critics knew what was up, as the reviews were killer! Joblo review.
What was the freakin’ deal?! How could DREDD not have become a massive hit?! Was the world not yet ready? Were people still put off by Sly Stallone’s version? I can’t explain it, but damn it, I want our sequel! At least the film has found a huge, cult-like following since its release back in 2012, so hopefully, the court is not out yet on DREDD 2. – Mike Catalano
This film was a f*cking revolution. An R-rated origin story about one of the superhero universe’s most iconic villains ever! Much like the titular character, this movie had a lot to overcome (filling Heath Ledger’s shoes, fear of implications of real life violence), but Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips didn’t care. They took on the world and delivered the biggest R-rated grossing film in history (over $1 billion and counting). Also, look out Oscars because the Joker is coming to collect again! Joblo review.
Don’t anyone tell me that this isn’t a superhero-related movie because the Joker is synonymous with Batman (who IS in the movie). Granted, this is definitely a different type of superhero/comic book movie, but that does not take away from the profound impact it delivers. If Phoenix does not win an Oscar for this role, I’ll be shocked! The dude embodies the Joker with a performance that astounds from his emotions to the way he transformed his actual body. You can’t take your eyes off him whether he’s dishing out tragedy or comedy! – Mike Catalano
This movie’s existence does owe a good amount of credit to Deadpool. For two decades, Wolverine had been muzzled to PG-13 status despite the fact that the character’s disposition screams for an R rating! Thankfully, we finally got the R! Add in director, James Mangold, Sir Patrick Stewart and, of course, Hugh Jackman and you’ve got something super special! The script was nominated for an Academy Award and the film was the biggest X-Men grosser ever at $619 million worldwide! Joblo review.
After 20 years, Mr. Jackman was saving his best for last! It took “Old Man Logan” to fully realize the truly ferocious stature of Wolverine on the big screen. And Sir Patrick Stewart totally killed it in his own swan song as Professor Charles Xavier! The action is visceral and the bond between Logan and Prof X is beautiful. And how about that kid?! – Mike Catalano
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)
The first ever MCU animated feature, Spider-Verse exploded onto the scene in 2018 with a gorgeously unique, comic-book-style look. It was a mega success both financially ($375.5 million globally) and critically (hello, Academy Award for Best Animated Feature)! Credit Phil Lord (THE LEGO MOVIE) with conjuring up the story. Joblo review.
I’ll admit that I didn’t think much of this movie when I first saw the trailer. Well, my “Peter tingle” was way off! This movie is a complete blast from start to finish with wonderful doses of humor, action and emotion! It may very well be the BEST Spider-Man movie ever! And you know what’s best of all? In 2022 we are getting a sequel! – Mike Catalano
WONDER WOMAN (2017)
The Amazonian princess finally got her due in a grand big screen adventure from director, Patty Jenkins! This film made a positive impact on female empowerment and proved that it didn’t matter if a superhero was a man or a woman. Wonder Woman just kicked ass on screen and at the box office with a worldwide haul of $821.8 million. Joblo review.
A lot of people didn’t think Gal Gadot was the right choice for Wonder Woman. Thankfully, she proved them wrong, projecting strength and beauty in equal amounts! I even dug the World War I setting and how she was incorporated into it. Plus, her supporting cast, especially Chris Pine, provided some big time backup! – Mike Catalano
Sure, Ben Affleck was the bomb in PHANTOMS, but I never would have guessed that he would amaze me behind-the-camera as well. Directed by Affleck, ARGO was penned by Chris Terrio, who adapted “The Masters of Disguise” by CIA operative Tony Mendez as well Joshuah Bearman’s Wired article, “The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.” Affleck also stars in ARGO alongside Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Scoot McNairy, Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Victor Garber, and Kyle Chandler. The film follows CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) as he launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. How does Mendez plan on pulling this off? By creating an elaborate cover story in which the six Americans would pose as Canadian filmmakers scouting locations for a science-fiction movie. ARGO scored 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out a review from our own Chris Bumbray) and grossed $232.3 million worldwide.
The whole concept sounds rather far-fetched, but amazingly, ARGO is based on real-life events. Although certainly tense, the film is also surprisingly funny, with some particularly great zingers coming courtesy of Alan Arkin and John Goodman, but in no way does the humour get in the way of the very real jeopardy these men and woman were in. Right from the beginning, we’re treated to a hostile takeover of the American Embassy in which over fifty American’s were taken hostage, with just six people able to sneak away. As the escapees seek refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador, ARGO is a race against the clock as Mendez and company devise a plan to get these people out before they’re discovered. What follows is a series of suspenseful near-misses as the group of faux Canadian filmmakers attempt to reach the airport and escape to freedom. Even if you know how it all comes together, ARGO is a nail-biting ride from start to finish. – Kevin Fraser
BLACK SWAN (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky with a screenplay written by Mark Heyman, John McLaughlin, and Andres Heinz, based on an original story by Heinz, BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as ballerina Nina Sayers, who is one of the leading dancers in a prestigious New York City ballet company who are staging a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. With the leading role of the Swan Queen calling for a dancer to take on the dual role of the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan, Nina struggles with competing for the role and attaining perfection, all while constant hallucinations transform her waking life into a nightmare. In addition to Portman, BLACK SWAN also stars Vincent Cassell, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder. The film received 84% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out our own Chris Bumbray’s review) and went on to gross $329.4 million worldwide, one of Aronofsky’s most successful films.
Almost immediately, Darren Aronofsky establishes a tone of uneasiness as Nina clearly isn’t in the best place mentally. In addition to the physical demands of the ballet, Nina must also deal with an overbearing mother who rarely allows her a moments privacy and is obviously struggling with her own issues. The first half of the film is peppered with moments of “did I just see that?” as objects appear to move imperceptibly and Nina is haunted by visions of a woman who may or may not be her doppelgänger. As Nina further descends into madness, these moments become more prevalent until you’re never sure what’s real and what’s not. BLACK SWAN is fantastically disturbing, delightfully tense, and features a standout performance from Natalie Portman, who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the film. – Kevin Fraser
BLUE RUIN (2013)
After making films with his childhood friend Macon Blair for years, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier knew that he had one last chance to go all out and make the film he wanted; it was that, or admit defeat and throw in the towel. After several successful crowdfunding campaigns and maxed out credit cards, Saulnier unleashed BLUE RUIN, a revenge thriller which stars Macon Blair as Dwight Evans, a beach vagrant who sets out on a mission of revenge when he discovers that the man who killed his parents years ago is set to be released from prison. Also starring Devin Ratray and Amy Hargreves, BLUE RUIN was a critical success upon its release, scoring 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and a rave review from our own Chris Bumbray. BLUE RUIN would go on to gross $993,313 worldwide, more than double the film’s meager budget, but don’t let the film’s small-budget origins fool you, the film is beautifully shot by Saulnier as every single dollar (and more) is right up on screen.
A large part of what makes BLUE RUIN so compelling is the performance of Macon Blair as Dwight Evans, who admittedly makes for an unlikely vigilante. “Jeremy said, ‘We’ll do this as a really stark, brutal revenge movie, and you’re gonna be the lead,’” Blair recalled while speaking with Rolling Stone. “And I’m thinking, ‘That’s a terrible idea.’ I’m imagining Liam Neeson or Clint Eastwood. I was like, ‘Bro, you need a big, tough guy who’s credible kicking ass…and that’s not me.’ He was explaining, ‘That’s precisely the point: You don’t belong here, and that’s why it’s hopefully going to be interesting.’” Soft-spoken and unassuming, Dwight is not a character who’s comfortable with guns, or even people, but he knows what he has to do right from the get go, and BLUE RUIN slowly ratchets up the tension as his mission of revenge gets bloodier and you begin to wonder how he can possibly get out alive. – Kevin Fraser
GONE GIRL (2014)
Directed by David Fincher with a screenplay by Gillian Flynn based on her 2012 novel of the same name, GONE GIRL stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle, and Emily Ratajkowski. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home to discover that his wife Amy (Pike) is missing. Forensic analysis soon uncovers evidence that Amy was murdered, and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect as the case turns into a media sensation. GONE GIRL scored 87% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out a review from our own JimmyO) and grossed $366 million worldwide, which stands as David Fincher’s most commercially successful film.
As we’ve come to expect from David Fincher, every element of GONE GIRL is precise, from the spectacular casting to the dark and stylish cinematography. Flashbacks chronicle the rise of fall of Nick and Amy’s relationship, filling in the gaps and providing us with vital clues, but GONE GIRL is also the type of film which frequently pulls the rug out from under us; we think we know what’s going on, we think we know what kind of man Nick Dunne is, we think we know how everything fits together, but time and time again, GONE GIRL throws us a curve-ball which requires us to re-analyze what we’ve already seen. GONE GIRL is a darkly pulpy masterpiece, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Rosamund Pike for praise, as the actress delivers a complex and riveting performance. – Kevin Fraser
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton. NIGHTCRAWLER received 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out a review from our own Chris Bumbray) and went on to gross $50.3 worldwide. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis “Lou” Bloom, a con-man who becomes a freelance photographer specializing in graphic accidents and violent crimes. In order to sensationalize his footage and sell it to news-stations, Bloom begins tampering with crime scenes and even manufacturing some of his own.
Lou Bloom is an incredible character, a modern-day Travis Bickle, and Jake Gyllenhaal brings him to life with an intense and profoundly disturbing performance, but at the same time, there’s something appealing about Lou’s charisma and his willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. You’re never quite sure just how far Bloom will go in his pursuit of a story, and even while he’s spouting quips which sound like something out of a self-help book, there’s an undercurrent of something dark behind everything Bloom says and does. “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?” Bloom ponders. The chilling and unsettling tone of NIGHTCRAWLER builds and builds until it reaches a neon-soaked crescendo, leaving Bloom’s actions firmly etched in your brain. – Kevin Fraser
PRISONERS was the film which first introduced me to Denis Villeneuve, a French-Canadian director who quickly became one of my favourite filmmakers. PRISONERS, which was scripted by Aaron Guzikowski, deals with every parent’s worst nightmare – a kidnapped child. Featuring an all-star cast which includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Mario Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, PRISONERS follows the abduction of two young girls and the subsequent efforts of law enforcement and their families to save them. When the police are forced to release their only suspect, the father of one of the girls takes matters into his own hands. PRISONERS scored 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out Chris Bumbray’s review) and grossed $122 million worldwide.
Of all the films on this list, PRISONERS might just be my favourite. As everything is ripped from these two families, the tension builds as you’re presented with more than a few options regarding the culprit, but much like the characters themselves, you’re kept in the dark for much of the film. PRISONERS features some amazing acting from everyone involved, but it’s Hugh Jackman’s performance as Keller Dover which impresses the most. Desperate for answers and believing that the police aren’t doing enough to find his daughter, Dover quickly takes matters into his own hands and the results are, at times, horrifying to watch. We typically think of Hugh Jackman as the rage-fueled Wolverine, but the actor has never been pushed to the brink nor stripped to the core quite like this before. Intense and emotionally devastating, PRISONERS is one of Villeneuve’s very best films. – Kevin Fraser
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)
Directed by Martin Scorsese with a screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name, SHUTTER ISLAND is Scorsese’s fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio after GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR, and THE DEPARTED. In addition to DiCaprio, the psychological thriller also stars Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, and Ted Levine. SHUTTER ISLAND received 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and went on to gross $294.8 million worldwide. Be sure to check out our own Chris Bumbray’s review of the film as well.
After one of the patients of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island goes missed, U.S. Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) are brought in to investigate. What follows is a deeply atmospheric story full of twists, hallucinations, and red herrings as Daniels begins questioning his own sanity. In lesser hands, you get the sense that SHUTTER ISLAND might not have turned out nearly as well, but with Scorsese giving us his best Alfred Hitchcock homage and the cast, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio, giving it their all, the film is a tightly-wound, pulpy thriller of the best variety. – Kevin Fraser
Denis Villeneuve, the only director with two films on this list, returns with SICARIO, an action-thriller which was written by Taylor Sheridan and stars Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, and Jeffrey Donovan. Blunt stars as Kate Macer, an FBI agent who joins a secretive government task force with the aim of bringing down the leader of a brutal and powerful Mexican drug cartel. SICARIO scored 92% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out a review from our own Chris Bumbray) and went on to gross $84.9 million worldwide.
Emily Blunt’s Agent Kate Macer is tough-as-nails, but still naïve and green enough that she feels out of place with the other members of the task force. Faced with the gruesome tactics of the cartel and realizing that the motives of the task force may not be entirely above board, Macer struggles with allowing herself to move into those morally gray areas. Although Emily Blunt is the star of SICARIO, it’s Benicio del Toro’s measured and complex performance as Alejandro Gillick which steals the show. Piece by piece, we uncover Gillick’s true motives over the course of the film, leading to a truly disturbing and shocking climax. Denis Villeneuve’s set-pieces, shot by the great Roger Deakins, slowly escalate until they’re punctuated by quick flashes of savage violence. A sequence near the beginning of the film in which the task force is attempting to extradite a cartel member is particularly tense, as the task force finds themselves trapped in traffic at a border crossing. Any of the hundreds of cars surrounding them could contain members of the cartel with orders to kill, and the scene is pulled off beautifully. – Kevin Fraser
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018)
Written and directed by Lynne Ramsay and based on the 2013 novella of the same name by Jonathan Ames, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is a taut arthouse thriller which stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a traumatized mercenary who has been hired by a New York State Senator to locate and rescue his daughter after she was kidnapped by a human trafficking network. Also starring Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, and Judith Roberts, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE received 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out our own Chris Bumbray’s review as well) and went on to gross $7.4 million worldwide.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE tells a simple story of revenge, but thanks to an exemplary performance by Joaquin Phoenix and fantastic direction from Lynne Ramsay, not to mention a great score from Jonny Greenwood, it feels like so much more. We’re offered brief glimpses into Joe’s mind in the form of hallucinatory flashbacks, and Joe struggles with suicidal thoughts due to the abuse his mother and he suffered at the hands of his father as well as his brutal past with the military and FBI. It’s heartbreaking knowing just how tormented Joe is, but even when everything is stripped away, his compassion keeps him moving forward. Not a second is wasted during the 90-minute run-time of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, which leaves you wanted to watch it again as soon as the credits roll. – Kevin Fraser
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, ZERO DARK THIRTY stars Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Kyle Chandler, Stephen Dillane, Chris Pratt, Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Ehle, John Barrowman, Mark Duplass, and Frank Grillo. The film received 91% on Rotten Tomatoes (check out a review from our own JimmyO) and went on to gross $132.8 million worldwide. Typically, what makes a thriller so compelling is not knowing what’s going to happen; Who’s the killer? Will our hero get out alive? What the hell is going on? Questions of that nature; So, there’s a lot to be said for a film which successfully generates suspense and tension from an event which much of the world is quite familiar with – The death of Osama bin Laden.
ZERO DARK THIRTY follows Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, a CIA analyst who has been tasked with finding the al-Qaeda leader. Using various methods, including torture, bribery, and constant surveillance, Maya is able to track a senior courier to a compound in Pakistan, where it’s believed that Osama bin Laden is hiding. ZERO DARK THIRTY isn’t afraid to show its darker side, leaving it up to us to decide whether or not we agree with the methods used. During the nearly ten year investigation, there are failures and false leads, but it’s gripping to watch everything unfold as the pieces are slowly put together. Obviously, we know the outcome of the investigation, but it’s to Kathryn Bigelow’s credit that the late-night raid on Bin Laden’s compound is the standout sequence of the film. Eerily quiet save for the dialogue among the Navy SEALS and quick bursts of gunfire, much of the sequence is bathed in the green glow of night-vision goggles and Kathryn Bigelow manages to keep us glued to the screen the entire time, only allowing us to breathe when the mission has been accomplished and the team has returned to base. – Kevin Fraser