“The news is momentary and ephemeral. But the artistic realm, this is something deeper. It can stay in people’s minds forever.” So said Konstantin Ernst, Vladimir Putin’s unofficial propaganda minister, in a recent profile in the New Yorker.
In that spirit, here are my 30 favorite movies of the last decade—the ones that, for better or worse, have burrowed deepest into my memory and absolutely refuse to leave.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
A fable by Joel and Ethan Coen about an early-1960s New York folk singer (Oscar Isaac) who would rather maintain his artistic integrity while being poor, homeless and forgotten than sell out his talents and become rich, comfortable and famous. And then there’s the cat.
- The Social Network
The origin story of arguably the most culturally powerful human being on Earth, Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg), written by Aaron Sorkin as not quite a villain but far less than a hero. We didn’t know the half of it.
- Before Midnight
The deepest, wisest and most fraught encounter yet with Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), as their 18-year relationship threatens to disintegrate during an idyllic vacation amidst the ruins of ancient Greece. Director Richard Linklater has not guaranteed a fourth installment in this saga, so the future of Celine and Jesse’s partnership may need to remain between them.
I cannot say whether Barry Jenkins’ meditative triptych accurately reflects the experience of being poor, young, black and gay in Miami in the 21st century. All I can do is note the stunned silence that washed over the sold-out auditorium during the end credits on opening night.
- The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson’s thinly-veiled depiction of the Church of Scientology features a volcanic performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic head of a mysterious cult and Joaquin Phoenix as his most troubled and vulnerable mark. Any resemblance to current personality cults is coincidental and more than a little alarming.
- Django Unchained
Following “Inglourious Basterds,” in which we got to see the entire Third Reich massacred by a merry band of warrior Jews, it seemed only fair that Quentin Tarantino would use his artistic license to imagine a Nat Turner-like revenge plot against a had-it-coming slaveowner in the antebellum American South. Retaining the services of Christoph Waltz was a nice touch.
- The King’s Speech
A thoroughly engrossing and hilarious recreation of the battle between King George VI (Colin Firth) and his fear of public speaking, with reinforcements provided by his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and whimsical Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Cinematic comfort food at its most sublime.
- Hell or High Water
The half-despairing, half-comical journey of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who rob their way across West Texas in the hopes of paying down the mortgage that was issued by the very bank they’re knocking off. With Jeff Bridges as the over-the-hill ranger hot on their trail who, with his partner (Gil Birmingham), finds out the perils of ordering off-menu at a steakhouse that only serves T-bones and iced tea.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s fun house of an adventure film concerning the history of a nonexistent hotel in a nonexistent country, which nonetheless turns the titular inn into one of the most indelible interior spaces in modern cinema, anchored by its prim, proper and priceless owner, Gustav H., essayed with juicy relish by Ralph Fiennes.
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If you are not immediately tickled by the notion of Melissa McCarthy as a frumpy, alcoholic New York writer who sells forged documents to gullible booksellers in order to pay her rent and feed her cat, there’s not much I can do for you, pal.
- Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson’s other recent portrait of a hypnotic, overbearing mid-century cultural influencer. This time it’s the legendary passive-aggressive (fictional) dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who meets his match in a seemingly meek-and-mild waitress (Vicky Krieps), instigating a relationship that only grows weirder by the minute. Beware the yellow mushrooms; they’ll get you every time.
Except for Michael Apted and his “Up” series, no one but Richard Linklater would think—or dare—to spend 12 years following around an adolescent boy just to see him grow up. That the boy is, in fact, a fictional character (played throughout by Ellar Coltrane) doesn’t make the experience of watching it any less curious or profound.
Perhaps the best movie about journalism since “All the President’s Men,” and for the same reasons. It is well worth debating whether the Boston Globe exposé of industrial-scale pedophilia in the Catholic Church was ultimately more significant than the Washington Post exposure of the Watergate caper three decades earlier. It’s one thing to bring down a president; it’s quite another to bring a 2,000-year-old institution oh-so-deservingly to its knees.
Wesley Morris has correctly observed that no one can end a movie like Damien Chazelle, and while I would recommend the entirety of his absurd and slightly terrifying profile of a band teacher from hell (J.K. Simmons) and the drummer who won’t go gently into that good night (Miles Teller), the exhilarating final 10 minutes of this insane dive into raw artistic ambition are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
The dirty little secret about America’s 16th president is that, in addition to being a moral exemplar for the ages, he was also a brilliant—and often ruthless—political tactician. As portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, we are able to see how the former is useless without the latter. If you’re looking for purity in your leaders, you’ll never be anything but disappointed.
- Call Me By Your Name
As raw, honest and messy a depiction of young lust as you’ll ever see in a mainstream picture. I’ll never look at a peach the same way again.
A meditation about the gulf between the haves and have-nots in South Korea that begins as ironic social commentary and ends as…well, let’s just say the influence of Quentin Tarantino extends well beyond the Hollywood Hills.
An utterly charming, unpretentious, old-fashioned love story between a sweet Irish girl and a nice Italian boy in New York City in the years shortly after World War II. I’d mention the girl is played by 21-year-old Saoirse Ronan, but you probably figured that out already.
- The Florida Project
The trials and tribulations of impoverished, itinerant single motherhood from the point of view of a six-year-old girl and her friends, who have precious little sense of what trouble they’re in. As the motel owner who sees much and understands all, Willem Dafoe serves as the movie’s moral center and guardian angel.
- Personal Shopper
Having never seen a minute of the “Twilight” series, I’m as surprised as anyone that Kristen Stewart has, at 29, become one of the boldest and most compelling actresses in contemporary Hollywood. Not just anyone can play an insecure, overworked psychic medium without looking completely ridiculous, but Stewart is considerably more than just anyone.
- If Beale Street Could Talk
How does one follow up a work of unsurpassable beauty like “Moonlight” without letting the entire universe down? For Barry Jenkins, the answer could be found in a novel by James Baldwin and the most fruitful cinematic use of the color green since Kim Novak emerged from the fog in “Vertigo” in 1958.
- The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s most disposable film is also the easiest to enjoy, thanks to the Agatha Christie-like coziness inherent in a large group of homicidal maniacs hauled up in a haberdashery during a blizzard in the middle of nowhere in 1877. Remember: Don’t drink the coffee unless you know who brewed it.
Whoever wagered that the most enchanting, heartbreaking and humane children’s movie of the last decade would be directed by Martin Scorsese—yes, that Martin Scorsese—step right up and collect your prize.
A Thanksgiving dinner from hell, courtesy of the most volcanic—and underappreciated—performance in ages by one Krisha Fairchild, the aunt of the movie’s own director, Trey Edward Shults, in his feature-length debut.
- O.J.: Made in America
While debate still rages about whether a seven-and-a-half-hour documentary that first aired on ESPN can properly be classified as a movie, there is little question that Ezra Edelman’s deep dive into the life and times of O.J. Simpson is among the sharpest and most entertaining examinations of race—and racism—in the United States ever committed to film or television.
- Free Solo
The spellbinding story of Alex Honnold, the first person to successfully scale the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope or harness. They say you never feel more alive than when staring death directly in the eye, and Honnold seems to take this as a personal credo. So far, so good.
- A Separation
Domestic drama of a high order, as multiple generations of a family in modern-day Iran come to blows in pursuit of their own happiness, which only causes further misery for all. Funny how often that tends to happen, in art and in life.
- Marriage Story
Speaking of contemporary marital squabbles, here are Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver turning in the finest work of their careers to date as a soon-to-be-divorced pair of artists in the most Bergman-esque autopsy of a relationship since, well, Ingmar Bergman.
- The Irishman
Speaking of Bergman-esque, who knew a three-and-a-half-hour crime saga about the inner circle of America’s most notorious union boss, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), would turn so elegiac and existential by its final act? While it’s likely that Martin Scorsese has several more tricks up his sleeve before he calls it a career, if this reunion of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel proves to be the master’s swan song, it’ll do.
- Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood
Speaking of swan songs, Quentin Tarantino has vowed to retire from directing after his tenth feature film, which makes this revisionist paean to the Summer of ’69 his penultimate project. Considering how his entire oeuvre has been one long love letter to the history of cinema, the mystery is how it took him nine movies to concentrate explicitly on the cultural and geographical mecca of the movie industry itself.
For good measure, here, in alphabetical order, are 30 runners-up, any of which could find their way into the first tier, possibly before New Year’s Day 2020.
Bridge of Spies
The Death of Stalin
The Edge of Seventeen
Everybody Wants Some!!
Eye in the Sky
56 Up / 63 Up
Leave No Trace
A Most Violent Year
Silver Linings Playbook
Twelve Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street