Everyone loves lists. No one knows why, but it’s a proven fact. Just ask BuzzFeed or any other internet listicle juggernaut and you’ll see that it’s a weirdly pervasive phenomenon.
I love my lists, and I love my films. So, for your consideration, I made a list of 10 films from the last 10 years you should buy. My point is, here’s some movies!
10. Inception (2010)
This should surprise no one, but, generally speaking, Inception is unequivocally one the most genre-defining films to come out in the last decade. It’s no wonder so many action adventure movies mimic the intense power of the musical score, or the dramatic expository dialogue so exquisitely crafted for Inception. It’s a mind bending exploration into the nature of dreams and reality, and is every bit an exciting ride into the surreally familiar world of the subconscious today as it was a decade ago. The casting, writing, and structure of the film will ensure that it remains a strong staple of modern cinema. It’s nothing less than what audiences have come to expect from Christopher Nolan as a powerhouse director and writer. If you don’t already own it, it’s worth buying simply because it’s worth returning to time after time. Most films, in my estimation, stand or fall upon the second and third viewing; if it’s great once, it should be great more than once. If it’s a transcendent experience, not anchored in its own moment in time, it should be engaging for decades to come. Inception is one of those films.
Finding the redeeming qualities:
In a time of global uncertainty and cultural divide, many films fall into the trap of becoming political or ideological and preachy. Inception explores deeper concepts than most movies care to attempt—the nature of reality and the uncertainty of truth, the pitfalls of living for something or someone you cannot hope to attain—without turning into a film that questions reality and free will (The Matrix) or turning dreaming into a weird plot device (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Inception remains a timely, thought-provoking exploration in desire and dreams, and just how far a man will go to see his family again. DiCaprio, Caine, Page, Hardy, Gordon-Levitt, and Watanabe all churn out incredible performances and make this movie a classic that will live on for generations (just keep your totem close by).
It’s not easy to adapt a beloved and classic novel into a film. It’s definitely not easy to do it after it already has been adapted into a well received film once already. What makes Little Women a stunning film is its contemporary stylization and how faithful it remains to the source material. It’s rare that a period piece made by an accomplished director is accessible and rated PG and is flawlessly cast AND captures the imagination of younger audiences who have already enjoyed the novel it’s based on. Little Women does all this and more by offering a well crafted story of young love and the bond of family in even the worst of times. What it does better than the 90s version of the story is add finesse and sharpness to a story that focuses on many intertwining lives. It’s so engaging and fun to follow because it’s so organic and unassuming. In a time of big budget CGI record breakers it’s refreshing to thoroughly enjoy a film that pulls at your heartstrings without being hammy or difficult to watch. It’s a fantastic choice for family movie night, and a classic story that never seems to get stale.
8. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers. Need I say more?
It’s not every decade that a massive, 20-plus film franchise breaks box office records time and time again. That’s exactly what the Disney-owned Marvel Studios juggernaut has done, and this past decade has been one of shattering world records and unbelievable star power (and multiple 3+ hour epic movies that have to tie together 12 years of storytelling in a satisfying way). All that is obvious enough, but the reason these films have been so incredibly well received has less to do with CGI or celebrities and more to do with epic yet relatable stories that everyone wants to see. Infinity War is not only a great superhero epic, but it presents an unusually well crafted villain, a story layered with dozens of unique and primary characters, and an ending that turns the traditional comic book narrative on its head. It’s not THE perfect movie, but it’s by far the best chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and well worth watching again. Thanos is, in my opinion, the best comic book villain to be brought to the big screen since Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Mad Tyrant will likely remain a pop culture icon for years to come.
While you’re at the video store—err, I mean, on the iTunes Store—just get The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Avengers: Endgame (2019) as well. You can’t go wrong getting them as a boxed set, if that’s still a thing. Every MCU movie ever made is also available to stream on Disney+.
7. Arrival (2016)
If you prefer a compelling, cerebral sci-fi diversion, you’ll like Arrival as much as me. After my first viewing of the film I immediately fell in love with its premise. It’s a mind bending, slow burning think piece that relies upon emotions and character interactions rather than aliens and explosions during its best moments. Amy Adams is a quiet and fierce force, and the story drives home such powerful and deep messages that by the end of the film you’ll question everything and be ready to see it again right away. It’s a contemplative and stunning masterpiece made all the more fantastic thanks to the haunting and atmospheric soundtrack. Don’t miss out on owning this gem.
(If you have no interest in this film, consider looking up a masterful piece of music featured in it called “On the Nature of Daylight”. You won’t regret it.)
6. Inside Out (2015)
Some films are light hearted, fun, and filled with wonder. Others are wise, introspective, and clearly convey deep truths about people and relationships. Inside Out does all this and more, while still being a great kids movie throughout. If you like to laugh, and maybe even shed a tear, grab this Pixar masterpiece and enjoy it for years to come. It portrays loss, grief, joy, fear, and many other complex emotions in a fun yet poignant way. The cast is flawless, the story is good, and the jokes are not only timely and funny, but enhance the film in a way that elevates the characters and story throughout. If nothing else, the now famous scene that shows the inside control room of the minds of mom and dad is reason enough to love this movie. Pixar rarely disappoints, and Inside Out is the furthest thing from the forgettable mediocrity so common in kid’s movies these days.
(As a side note, I took my wife to see this movie on our second “real” date, and we held hands for the first time. Even if that magical experience had not happened, I would still love this movie.)
5. Knives Out (2019)
Buy this movie and invite some family and friends over. Get the popcorn and drinks ready. Sit back, get comfy, and get lost in acampy, funny, and pointed murder mystery. The all star cast, the Wes Anderson-esque cinematography, and the sneakily subversive plot all make Knives Out a big serving of good fun. Rian Johnson sets your expectations up and then masterfully turns them upside down as the plot thickens, and each and every scene adds to the juicy mystery of who killed Harlan Thormbey. It’s a whodunnit unlike anything you’ve seen before, and it’s worth adding to your collection.
(Bonus points for attempting the drawling and thick as molasses accent Daniel Craig lays down as the deliciously fun Benoit Blanc, the “last gentlemen sleuth of the south”.)
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Look, I’m a bit of a sucker for romance and drama, especially when you have English ladies and English not-so-gentlemen involved. I also like period pieces set in the era of World War II. So of course I was delighted to experience the joy and drama of this unfortunately titled little film. Lily James plays our heroine, a writer who gains an accidental pen pal and discovers a small literary society on a little English isle across the channel. It’s all very English and all a bit predictable, but the love story and the acting make up for some of the weaker plot points. Lily James yet again delights and surprises me with her sternness and flawlessly bright demeanor. She brings to light a compelling and tragic story of love and loss, and highlights the pain felt by men and women who never fought in the war, but still lost a part of themselves to it.
I hesitated to add this to my “need to own” list, since it’s on Netflix and I’ve seen it only twice. I do thoroughly enjoy its brightness and atmosphere, and the supporting cast make it a strong drama that reminds me of other romantic films set in wartime Europe. If nothing else, it’s a gorgeously shot love letter to the pretty little island just south of England called Guernsey. It’s thus been added to my “must visit before I die” list of destinations.
3. Toy Story 4 (2019)
I did not like Toy Story 3 that much. It’s my least favorite of the four films, and after seeing Toy Story 4 I understand why extending the series was a wise move. Concluding the saga after our little heroes are nearly incinerated right before our eyes (look kids, it’s the merciless inferno that will melt away all of your hopes and dreams!) seemed a little heavy to me, especially for such a popular and somewhat whimsical series of kid’s movies. Bringing Woody, Buzz and the gang back again was the right choice for Pixar. Our newest friend, Forky, has an existential crisis throughout the film, and our heroes come to terms with their own limitations and shortcomings in fun yet sincere ways. What Toy Story 4 manages to achieve is both a narrative success and technical brilliance. I cannot stress enough how awestruck I get when I really notice just how amazing the graphics and details are in newer Pixar films. It’s a testament to the care, talent and precision that goes into each and every frame of this movie that it looks as gorgeous as it does. Animation has come a long way since we first met Woody, Buzz and the gang. A very, very, very long way indeed. And it shows.
Toy Story will never get old, even if we can’t help but grow up and move away from childish things. Buying this new addition to the classic trilogy is an obvious win for both you and the kid inside of you (or at least the kids inside your home).
Finding the redeeming qualities:
Knowing your place in the world can be daunting and sometimes downright impossible, especially if you don’t fit in. Some things we can take for granted, like our very existence and purpose for being; and remembering what we are and who we were made for is vital to our understanding of the world and our place in it. Having friends who love and support you can mean the difference between despair and a full life, and no matter how old or young you are, the power of community- even if they are just toys- is great.
2. 1917 (2019)
Some films are so awe inspiring from the outset of the first scene that you immediately get lost in the art of the film and the weight of the story and characters. 1917 is one of those films.
As Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review so poignantly began, “[No historical] complications and next to no history, though, have made it into 1917, a carefully organized and sanitized war picture from Sam Mendes that turns one of the most catastrophic episodes in modern times into an exercise in preening showmanship.” It’s true that 1917 is a film that showcases some very technical editing and cinematography skills. But that’s not my reason for encouraging you to go out and buy the film.
War movies such as Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, and Dunkirk all focus heavily on characters and the forward momentum of the plot rather than history or historical context (Dunkirk does a fantastic job, however, of integrating the reality of the British defeat in France into three separate stories that Americans may not be familiar with). 1917 completely disregards most historical context and throws you right into the action of man to man, trench to trench warfare, in all its brutal and stomach churning horror. We follow our two main heroes as they traverse no man’s land, underground bunkers, farmlands, and burning cityscapes, all in an effort to deliver a message of vital importance to the front lines.
In my review of this film, I discuss the effectiveness of the film’s main “gimmick”. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to go in cold, I won’t give away this selling point. It’s a technical achievement for sure, and the cinematographer deserves the recognition he has received. But what makes this film one worth keeping in your collection is its depth, it’s star studded cast, and its overarching message (or lack thereof). Mendes stays away from making any obvious political or ideological statements that would seem easy to make in a movie that is so often focused on death, misery, and pessimism. Rather than subject you to lengthy dialogue or exposition, the film tells you the bare minimum in order to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It services a film like this without seeming lazy- over explaining or even lingering too long on one character would negatively affect the continuous momentum of this movie. It’s immersive without being heavy handed, and beautiful and haunting without being unrealistic.
The entire supporting cast is a wonderful mix of some of the best English talent in Hollywood, and the progression from scene to scene is continuous but not anxiety inducing. Benedict Cumberbatch is flawless as usual, if only for a minute or two, and every scene featuring our main characters interacting with the supporting cast is delightful and makes the movie all the more compelling.
I cannot stress to you how strongly I feel that this film is a war movie classic that deserves your attention. If you go buy it and watch it once, or even every year, you’ll be glad you did.
1. The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Tom Sawyer is a classic story for many reasons, not the least of which is its gleaming romanticism of the American South, its waterways, and the lazy ease with which its protagonists attempt to move through life in the land of rafts and fishing huts. The Peanut Butter Falcon reflects some of that romantic atmosphere, yet doesn’t polish up some of the life’s uglier realities. The film sets up both of our heroes flawlessly. One is an ambitious and strong headed inmate at a local retirement home who, you should know, has Down Syndrome, but will still invite you to his birthday party. The other is a young man who has seen loss, is lost, goes it alone, and can’t seem to help but make destructive decisions (one in particular that sets off the plot). Tyler is charming yet brooding, energetic but haunted. Zak is curious and lovable, but doesn’t defend himself from getting used and abused due to his condition. What I love about this movie, and why I’ll be watching it again soon, is that its main focus isn’t necessarily on loss, love, or even friendship. It’s about freedom; freedom to explore, freedom to try new things, freedom to make mistakes, and freedom to discover yourself. As cheesy as that may sound, the movie stays far enough away from sentimentalism and cuteness that even the most “dawww” moments of wordless bonding are bearable and feel genuine. The two runway fugitives have very different goals at the end of the day, but they seem to connect quickly and organically. Without the vulnerability of Shia LaBeouf and the convincing tenderness of Zach Gottsagen, this movie wouldn’t work well. Forrest Gump, I Am Sam, and other films focused on the mentally challenged stay away from casting anyone with the wrong look and feel for the particular character with a particular disorder. Gottsagen embodies an adventuring wrestling fanatic who just wants to be free so convincingly that putting an A list actor in his place sounds like a terrible and cringe inducing notion. Without trying to sound cliche, he is breathtakingly compelling and flawless in his execution. LaBeouf is certainly slouch, and holds his own when he interacts with the supporting cast and the surprisingly enjoyable Dakota Johnson. It’s no surprise that LaBeouf is going for a more serious tone in this film, as his talent and dedication to his acting has become more and more apparent in recent years. This is by far his strongest effort, and yet his most subdued and “real” performance. His ease and genuine enjoyment as he plays off of Gottsagen makes the sparse middle section of the film an immersive and heartfelt journey with these two young men.
I would advise you to watch this movie and look for its simplicity and depth. Own it if you can. It’s a great exploration of the search for freedom, expectations, and learning to love what you have, even if you don’t know how.