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  • Rough Cut Staff

Heists, Aliens, and A Little Bit of Love: The 20 Best Movies of the Decade

By Carson Cook, Jonny Diaz, and Zach D'Amico To rank or not to rank? As the 2010s wind down, that's the question facing culture writers across the Internet. We at Rough Cut bravely take up the challenge with a resounding, "when one can rank, one must rank." It's been a tumultuous decade. The 2010s saw the rise of Netflix and Disney, the crash-and-burn disruptor service MoviePass, and perhaps the most stunning moment in Oscar history when La La Land was briefly, mistakenly awarded Best Picture. Through it all, we've seen some earth-shaking, heart-shattering, perspective-changing movies. And, through it all, Amy Adams somehow still doesn't have an Academy Award.  Far from an objective overview of the decade in film, the following 20 movies offer a snapshot of the most powerful experiences we had in cinemas over the last 10 years. Enjoy, argue, and above all, go see these movies.​

Regency Enterprises

20. Widows Steve McQueen’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave is perhaps his most easily accessible film, disguised as it is in the trappings of a modern crime drama. But there is much more to Widows than its premise might let on. McQueen and Gilian Flynn’s script (adapted from a 30-year-old British television series) is brilliantly intricate, touching on matters of race, class, gender, violence, and politics without ever feeling preachy or bloated. With the help of an all-star cast, including standouts Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya, McQueen somehow ties all these threads together and manages to still turn out a crackling thriller that deserves to be mentioned alongside the best heist films ever made. -CC

Paramount Pictures

19. Missions: Impossible In a cinematic landscape oversaturated with reboots, remakes, and sequels, the Mission: Impossible series has managed to avoid franchise fatigue both by doling out its films relatively sparingly and through its commitment to upping the action ante with each new installment. Ghost Protocol and Fallout -- the fourth and sixth in the series, respectively -- are high-water marks (though 2015’s Rogue Nation is nothing to sneeze at), surrounding star Tom Cruise with excellent supporting casts and ratcheting up the difficulty of his stunts. With any luck, we’ll be watching him jump out of planes and scale the world’s tallest buildings well into the next decade. -CC

Fox Searchlight

18. The Tree of Life How do you capture the entirety of existence in a single film? It’s a task nearly as daunting as trying to capture The Tree of Life in a paragraph. Terrence Malick’s magnum opus is one of my most cherished moviegoing experiences. It’s an odyssey of the human experience, ruminating on our place in the world by contrasting the full length of Creation with the span of a single life. It’s an exercise in cinematic romanticism that seeks to glimpse the divine, a philosophical celluloid poem as evocative as a memory and inscrutable as a dream. And to me, it’s the single most astonishing cinematic achievement of the decade. -JD


17. Inside Out Pixar’s fifteenth feature depicts the inner life of a young girl going through what is, to this point, the most traumatic experience of her short life: moving somewhere new. What follows is the best animated film of this decade and the culmination of their entire output to that point: full of absurdist humor, inventive designs, and a wistful look back at the universal experience of growing up and learning what it is to feel. Inside Out is a wildly imaginative exploration of the complexity of human emotions, the nature of the self, and the importance of embracing and accepting loss. You know, a kids’ movie. -JD

Focus Features

16. The World’s End Leave it to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg to use their third in a trilogy of genre pastiches to smuggle out an unforgiving screed against nostalgia. The World’s End follows the booze-filled journey of five middle-aged men, led by Pegg’s glory-days-obsessed Gary King, returning to their hometown to complete the 12-pub Golden Mile. Though I won’t spoil the details, college-humor comedy becomes sci-fi thriller becomes social commentary on same-ness in a “Starbuck’d” world in this rollicking comedy-drama-horror. Importantly, the film never strays from its forceful case against romanticizing the past. From the sepia-toned shots of the gang’s golden era to the subtle references to The Matrix and its ultimate choice of harsh reality versus comfort, The World’s End feeds audiences a bitter red pill that goes down easy, coated with brilliant genre fare. As Gary King says after smashing his head against a wall repeatedly: “that proves I’m human.” -ZD


15. Moonlight Moonlight couldn’t have been set anywhere but Miami. Like the city itself (director Barry Jenkins’ hometown and mine), the film is the product of immigration--a fusion of Asian, European, and Latin American cinematic influence filtered through Jenkins’ unique perspective, resulting in a heartbreaking and deeply felt representation of African-American identity never before captured on screen. The camera moves with a deliberate pace, like a slow breeze on a humid night, blending vibrant colors and piercing light like a sunrise on the seaward horizon. And at the center of it all, a trio of stoic, reserved performances barely concealing a whirlwind of emotion: the proverbial eye of Moonlight’s hurricane. -JD


14. Portrait of a Lady on Fire An incredibly human look at love, equality, and choice among women in the late eighteenth century. Not a single moment wasted and every shot purposeful, director Cèline Sciamma takes audiences with breathless exhilaration through a love story that in another’s hands could have been staid. In a portrait of how women use courageous acts of tolerance and acceptance to defy their lack of choice in life, love, and family, Sciamma takes some of the boldest risks of the decade in film. The performances from Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant are equally daring, and the photography worthy of the landscape it captures. -ZD


13. Lady Bird Lady Bird, the title character in Greta Gerwig’s resonant coming-of-age tale, is self-assured in everything she pursues. College, theater, boyfriends – she walks up and owns it all. But with each triumph comes subsequent struggle, and as Lady Bird’s façade falls, she’s left confused, unsure of what she wants.  ​​There’s a lot in a name. Lady Bird takes ownership of her life by taking a name “for me, by me.” She doesn’t know what it symbolizes, but it’s hers. Saoirse Ronan gives a towering performance, and in the final moments of Lady Bird, Gerwig wisely focuses on her face. As she grows and learns, Lady Bird finds that the future isn’t everything, and that our pasts are part of our identity. She may not have figured out who she is or what she wants – but she’s finding her identity in that journey. And that’s the magic of Lady Bird. -ZD

CBS Films

12. Inside Llewyn Davis It’s perhaps the pain that stands out most in the Coen Brothers’ portrait of the 1960s New York folk scene, authentically realized with the help of Bruno Delbonnel’s ashen cinematography and a selection of T Bone Burnett-produced music. You see, the true problem with Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis isn’t his personality, or that he’s the surviving half of what used to be a double act (though that surely plays a role). It’s the fact that, when it comes down to it, he probably just isn’t good enough. But the true secret of the movie is that it knows that even if Llewyn can’t cut it, the music is all that he has, and so he’ll keep going, and he’ll keep playing, all the way to the end of the line. -CC

Columbia Pictures

11. Zero Dark Thirty A source of political controversy that likely cost it some Academy glory, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker is an expansive procedural that isn’t afraid to unpatronizingly depict the horrors of the war on terror and the effects on those caught in its wake. As we follow Jessica Chastain’s CIA analyst around the globe, watching her search for Bin Laden become more and more personal, the ugly, underlying question steadily makes its way to the foreground: was it all worth it? Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don’t provide any easy answers however, and the devastating final shot (that alone should have won Chastain the Oscar) leaves us feeling more uncertain than ever. -CC

Paramount Pictures

10. Arrival Has there been another movie this decade that rested so heavily on a single performance, succeeded both at the box office and at the Academy Awards, and yet didn’t garner a nomination for that performance? No, of course. And no, we don’t deserve Amy Adams. Arrival is an astounding, aching story of a linguist, played by Adams, tasked with understanding the foreign communication system of extraterrestrials who suddenly appear in a dozen UFOs sprinkled around the world. A story of grief and time and the endlessness of love, Arrival is the ultimate re-watch movie. Every decision Adams makes in the first 90 minutes is motivated by the barrage of personal and existential details revealed in the final 30. It’s one hell of a risk, but it pays off in spades. -ZD

Universal Pictures/Blumhouse

9. Get Out Get Out isn’t just a dark comedy, a psychological thriller, a cutting sociopolitical satire, or a genuine psychological horror film--it’s all those things, and more. It’s hard to think of a recent non-franchise movie that so quickly entered the cultural lexicon; references to the Sunken Place or “I would’ve voted for Obama a third time” guys are ubiquitous in everything from cultural writing to political coverage. That Jordan Peele was able to distill dark truths about America’s oldest racial wounds in a way that no one had in over a century is an incredible accomplishment in itself; that he did it in a directorial debut as entertaining as it is insightful is nothing short of astonishing. -JD

IFC Films

8. Boyhood It may have taken twelve years to make, but Boyhood cemented Richard Linklater’s status as our greatest cinematic chronicler of the passage of time. What’s most striking about it is its focus not on life’s big events, but on the smaller moments that surround them and how those seemingly mundane moments tend to stick in your memory and shape who you become just as much (or moreso) than the major milestones. That those moments land so beautifully is largely due to the fact that these characters--these actors--actually age and develop in response to those moments before our eyes. The result is more than a gimmick; it allows Boyhood to not just represent, but truly capture the act of living. -JD

Amazon Studios

7. Manchester by the Sea Life is never one thing. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea understands that: the movie, like life, is constantly shape-shifting between comedy, drama, and tragedy, unwilling to stick in any one spot for too long. A story about a man and his family who withstand more grief than most humans could imagine, Manchester understands that humans are the filters for life’s prism of emotions. Lee Chandler (a stunningly restrained Casey Affleck) wallows and revels in angst, and so misery is never far, lurking around every corner. Randi (a heartbreaking Michelle Williams) runs from it, and it, in turn, chases her constantly. And Lee’s nephew Patrick (a star-making Lucas Hedges) finds the humor in everything, deflecting and debasing until the grief erupts. At the same time it wrestles control from its characters through life’s twists, Manchester by the Sea finds grace in the self-possession that acceptance can bring. It’s a special movie. -ZD

Summit Entertainment

6. La La Land Damien Chazelle won the Best Director Oscar for La La Land, his third feature, but there is a sense that the movie may be resigned to serving merely as the historical punchline of the 2017 ceremony after the infamous envelope fiasco. While “Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture” may overshadow the rest of the 2016 film slate, it would be a shame for La La Land--the best musical of the decade and a return to form for the genre--to fade from public memory. Heavily influenced by the musicals of Jacques Demy, Chazelle paints a sometimes joyous, ultimately melancholy portrait of the sacrifices made in pursuit of success, and makes us feel as though, in the end, we are all simply fools who dream. -CC

Warner Brothers Pictures

5. Mad Max: Fury Road It shouldn’t have worked. The fourth film in a cult action series coming thirty years after its most recent installment, from a director who’d spent a decade making children’s films about talking animals. And yet, with Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller delivered an exhilarating, feature-length chase sequence that pushes the boundaries of action filmmaking to their limits. Miller’s fusion of balletic, death-defying stunts with electric visuals could’ve been thrilling enough as just an immaculately-crafted action movie, but he went further, using every frame to deepen Mad Max: Fury Road’s themes of gender equality and survival in the face of impossible odds--a theme that, in this case, could apply equally to the filmmaker as to his film. -JD


4. Carol A sumptuous romance featuring career-best work from both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Todd Haynes’ Carol beautifully evokes the mid-century period in which it is set, while simultaneously feeling absolutely timeless. Adapted by Phillis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, the film’ tale of an undeniable connection between two women finding their way in the world is incredibly affecting, letting the audience fall in love alongside Carol and Therese. Served in no small way by immaculate production design and Carter Burwell’s all-time great score, Carol resonates on the deepest possible wavelength and culminates in a final sequence that brings even the most Harge-ish of us to tears. -CC

Warner Brothers

3. Inception When I complained to my wife Sara about how many complex, plot-heavy movies I’d been assigned to write blurbs for, I bitterly moaned that “they’re all filled with ideas within ideas within ideas, it’s like inception.” At that moment I realized I was using the title of one of those movies as a regular noun to mean “meta,” which spoke volumes about how Christopher Nolan’s slowly unfolding dream-meditation on grief and obsession and loss has entered the cultural lexicon. And then, of course, it hit me that I hadn’t even realized I was using the term that way, which is to say that Inception incepted me – there I go, using it as a verb this time – during the process of me writing about Inception. So, yeah, it’s a good movie, folks. -ZD

Columbia Pictures

2. The Social Network Many were skeptical, but in the hands of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin the story of Facebook’s origins becomes a small-scale epic about societal evolution. Whether or not events occurred exactly how they’re depicted here is beside the point; Fincher uses his stellar cast, Sorkin’s incisive script, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Oscar-winning score to paint a portrait of isolation and ambition that feels strangely universal, especially in the age of social media. We create and use these online platforms to carefully craft external personas, but in the end we just want to make real connections and be loved for who we are - a sentiment perfectly expressed, somehow, through the image of a man sitting at his computer and clicking refresh, over and over and over. -CC


1. Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is equal parts comedy, thriller, and class parable, and yet the most impressive thing about the Korean maestro’s coup de grâce is its sympathy for its characters. It’s a story of two families – one, the Parks, wealthy and domestically well-endowed; the other, the Kims, beneath them in every way. The fewer details divulged the better, as the twists and turns are best experienced fresh, but suffice to say that even in the topsiest and turviest of moments, Bong never forgets the flawed yet fundamentally human characters at the center of it all. -ZD


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