Entries 11-25 are listed alphabetically. The top ten are ranked.
10. A Ghost Story
An indie darling unlike any film I’ve ever seen. A Ghost Story allows us to see the world through the eyes of a man with a white sheet over his body, as he experiences his past, present, and future and reckons with everything he left behind after death. It is a film unafraid to build itself from its eccentricities, and it’s all the better for it. The aspect ratio choices, unkempt editing, and breaks from the surrealist narrative to show scenes of things all too real create a wonderful picture.
Another film with a great lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Lynne Ramsay’s take on violence and the hollow shell that man can become is masterfully edited and written. I mention the editing first, because that’s the heart of the film. The jump cuts that reveal harsh truths are contrasted by several scenes where the camera just lingers for way too long. Phoenix gives a completely different performance than in The Master, as a quiet and reserved veteran who has a crisis when he sees a young girl going down the same path as him. It’s absolutely heartbreaking stuff.
Another answer that one might consider cliché, but come on, it’s Moonlight. Though, I don’t know what I could say about this film that hasn’t been said. It has a perfect three-act structure, wonderful performances, and a heartwarming story at its core. It’s the epitome of a movie that just works, and it works magnificently.
A debut feature with three creative minds (director Carlos Estrada and writer/actor duo Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) coming together in perfect synergy to create a film that perfectly delivers their dispositions. The exploration of Colin and Miles as individuals and as a pair is a powerful display of acting and character work. It’s also hilarious, and the way it switches from comedy to drama so well is only thanks to the well-defined pacing that carries it through.
6. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson began writing The Master with a simple concept in mind: religion prospers after times of war. This idea, combined with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s incredible performances and chemistry, create one of the most classical-feeling films of the decade. It’s a drama that somehow finds ways to be unsettling and charming simultaneously, but leaves on a positive (if incredibly daunting) note about the quest to conquer all of our masters.
It might be a standard choice, but I can’t help but adore 2049. The way it approaches continuing the simplistic story of Blade Runner with themes that reach even farther and impact more of its world is immaculately written. Harrison Ford and Jared Leto give career-best performances, while Ana de Armas gets the breakout role of the decade with Joi. Ryan Gosling shouldn’t go without mention, as his lead performance as Joe is vulnerable and captivating. Roger Deakins deserves a museum built in his honor for the cinematography in this film alone.
Yimou Zhang is a wonderful filmmaker who has never been given his time in the limelight, considering his biggest exposure to American audiences is the middling co-production The Great Wall. Shadow feels like a film from the golden age of cinema, remastered and teleported to the future for all of us to see now. It’s a film painted in ink and blood, with beautiful aesthetics and a masterful dual-performance from actor Deng Chao.
Likely the closest thing we’ll get to a Studio Ghibli film in live-action format, A Monster Calls is a coming of age fantasy with a by-the-numbers (in the best way) structure that works to build a powerful fable. The wonderful performances by a young Lewis MacDougall and simultaneously intimidating and endearing motion capture work from Liam Neeson carry the movie forward to victory, with an ambiguously supernatural plot coupled with animated storybook sections making this an excellent modern fairy tale.
Animation is the best way to bring a superhero movie to life. The Incredibles and The Iron Giant should’ve proved this a long time ago, but it took Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to bring us here. I’m thankful that we got it, because it’s one of the most emotionally satisfying animated films in a long time. It has a deep love for Spider-Man and his iterations, and it feels like a love letter to anyone who has any familiarity with the character.
The Coen brothers’ typical nihilism dominates the world of Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s a miserable film with only a few moments where the sun comes up for our protagonist, who is constantly beaten down by how little the world seems to care about him. It’s also a film that subverts a lot of conventions of musicals, casting actors from all across the history of the subgenre as general assholes. The ending only cements the film as one of the saddest works of the decade, with a cameo to tie the knot that only serves as the most pessimistic form of catharsis. It’s a film about loss. Loss of hope, will, and whatever you have left after that. Any other film about music would reassure the audience that music is the savior of us all. For Llewyn, music is just a job.
The Best of the Decade a ghost story a monster calls ad astra american animals ana de armas annihilation barry jenkins blade runner blade runner 2049 blindspotting bob persichetti carlos estrada coen brothers daveed diggs david lowery deng chao denis villeneuve ethan coen harrison ford if beale street could talk j a bayona jared leto joaquin phoenix joel coen john wick kubo and the two strings lewis macdougall liam neeson logan lynne ramsay moonlight nightcrawler once upon a time in hollywood pariah paul thomas anderson peter ramsay philip seymour hoffman rafael casa rafael casal rodney rothman roger deakins roma ryan gosling shadow spiderman into the spiderverse the great wall the incredibles the irishman the iron giant the master toy story 3 whiplash yimou zhang you were never really here