And here are the 10 best films of the decade.
10. Get Out (2017)
The brilliance of Get Out is simple and yet so utterly profound. Take one of Black people’s deepest-seated suspicions – that even “nice” White people are horrific racists – and turn it into our worst nightmare. It’s remarkable that the film got made at all. Though, I still think Chris’ refusal to kill Rose is a copout (and weirdly undercuts the film’s smart observation that White women are often the most vile racists) that undermines the film tremendously. But even with that there’s no denying that Get Out is some of the smartest filmmaking of the decade.
9. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
In terms of sheer thrill and geek magic, no comic book film can top what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers. He figured out The Hulk, made Natasha a fully fleshed out character, and he found a way to make Clint important without being a drag. Most importantly, he made all the disparate pieces of the nascent MCU work. This is the first MCU film that feels like it was made by an auteur. With this film, it felt like we finally got the superhero film we’d been waiting for made by a filmmaker with a point of view. And because we did, nearly every other filmmaker working on these films afterward got to do a bit more than they likely would have been able to before.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
In purely economic terms, Iron Man is the most important film Marvel has made. In purely creative terms, the Captain America trilogy within the MCU are the apex. Marvel figured out how to make Cap relevant, cast the perfect actor (Chris Evans, a revelation – man was i wrong? lol), and put their finest screenwriters and directors at the helm. The Winter Soldier is the finest of the three by a pretty wide margin. It’s the tightest, tautest film in the MCU with some of the most memorable setpieces of the decade. But what is most thrilling for me is the way the film takes seriously how a man like Cap would react to post-9/11 American foreign policy, imperialism, and technology. And that is what makes this film, in particular, perfect.
7. Creed (2015)
There are a fair number of films with Black men at the center. There are few as attuned to Black men’s inner emotional life as Creed. Ryan had to really understand what’s at the heart of the Rocky films in order to flip them and make one about a young Black man. And he did because he knows that, at their core, these films are about men who struggle with self-worth. By making a Rocky film with a Black man at the center, the film takes that core idea and deepens it. In Creed, this is about heritage. Roots. Black male self-definition.
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
Into the Spiderverse shakes up everything we know about Spidey by centering the film on Miles Morales. And by including multiple versions of Spidey, Into the Spiderverse makes textual what has always been subtext: anyone can be Spider-Man. Couple that wondrous bit of intersectionality with stunning animation and a simple, but emotionally resonant story and you get the best Spider-Man film yet made.
5. Selma (2015)
Given how much we evoke Martin Luther King Jr’s name in America, it’s astonishing that it took nearly five decades for Hollywood to make a film about the civil rights giant. But man was it worth the wait! Ava’s Selma does important work here by telling one aspect of King’s advocacy, and in so doing, captures his brilliance far more usefully than a traditional biopic would have done. The Selma to Montgomery march was important not just because it led to the Voting Rights Act, but because King pursued it even though he had helped to secure a major win the year before – and crucially, in spite of resistance from allies like Johnson. It’s King’s most important lesson to us – that we fight for what’s right even when it’s inconvenient for our allies – and Ava’s film does a great job of showing us why.
4. Black Panther (2018)
I wrote two pieces on this blog about how I never thought the kind of Black Panther film we deserve would ever get made. Man – I have never been so happy to be totally wrong as I am here! Ryan’s Black Panther exceeded every expectation I had and is easily the best film in the MCU to date. What’s striking is that Ryan actually told a better story than most of the stories in the original comic. The repurposing of Killmonger. The reworking of Man-Ape into a scene-stealing delight. The Dora Milaje. And most importantly, an emotional contemplation of what all African-descended people owe to one another across the diaspora.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I remember being mostly bored with the original Mad Max films. I mostly remember Thunderdome for the Tina Turner song. So when I went to see Fury Road, it was really just another film. I didn’t expect to see such a stunningly feminist film, to be reminded of the beauty of practical effects, or to be surprised by what the actors – all of whom have been great before – would do. Mad Max: Fury Road is classic moviemaking, the kind of which we just don’t get much anymore.
2. Fruitvale Station (2013)
Fruitvale Station forgoes the usual biopic and Important Black Film narrative tricks by going small. Rather than tell us that Oscar Grant is Important, we simply get to spend his last day with him. Oscar is struggling, but he’s also trying to celebrate his mother’s birthday and spend some time with his daughter. What Ryan understands is that Oscar’s specialness lies in the mundane details of a young life, not the moment of his death. And that approach makes his death at the end more emotionally devastating than we realize.
Here’s my original review of the film.
1. Moonlight (2016)
No film impressed or moved me more than Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. There has never been a film to take Black masculinity this seriously and deconstruct it as expertly as Moonlight. We see a lot of movies about Black boys in the ‘hood. And we see what they “become,” but we’ve never seen so much of the inner life. Jenkins, heavily influenced by French director Claire Denis, takes a more elliptical approach to storytelling that thrusts us deeper inside Chiron’s psyche. There are few movies more beautifully shot. There are few movies that have this many well-crafted roles for Black male actors to play. And there is no film that was better than Moonlight in the 2010s.