The list continues below.
20. Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher’s masterful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s book was my favorite thriller of the decade. Rosamund Pike was dynamite here playing up the ambiguity so masterfully that I had no idea what to think about Amy or Ben Affleck’s “Nick” (I still haven’t read the book). I’ve since watched it a few times and it still holds up even though I now know the twist and that’s thanks to smart direction by Fincher and Pike’s performance.
19. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Barry Jenkins is the first filmmaker to adapt a James Baldwin novel. His impressionistic, elliptical style is perfect for Baldwin, a writer you read for the way he tells the story. If Beale Street Could Talk is perfect for this moment a story as much about young Black love as it is about racist police abuse. And in Kiki Layne and Stephan James, Jenkins finds the perfect actors. They understand the close-up and interact wih each other and the space like dancers in every scene they share together.
18. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christopher Nolan had an incredibly tough job to do following up The Dark Knight. The film is a bit overstuffed much the way all concluding chapters of film trilogies are. But there’s so much to love here from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Gary Oldman’s tortured performance to the stunning Anne Hathaway, who is a total revelation here. The Nolan films in total are arguably the best comic book films ever made and it’s remarkable that Nolan stuck the landing.
17. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
The rebooted Apes films are perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the decade turning a dormant franchise into a sharp critique of mankind’s hubris. Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot the franchise with style and heart. Dawn takes it to the next level with an emotionally resonant middle chapter that completely shatters you by the end. The opening sequence of the Ape community is technically and narratively brilliant. Andy Serkis’ performance here is the best he’s yet given (and he’s been dope for a very long time).
16. Top Five (2014)
I love Top Five so much. A talky relationship-oriented film for Black people. It’s literally the kind of film I’ve dreamed about. We so rarely get to see Black people having conversations where they reveal character, desire and vulnerabilities. Chris Rock has never been seen in quite this way on film and it’s been quite a long time since Rosario Dawson got to be this down-to-earth and beguiling. It’s a love letter to romantic possibility, to New York, and importantly, to hip-hop.
15. Weekend (2011)
Every once in a while a film comes along that is perceptive about the ways that gay men relate to one another. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend doesn’t soft-pedal anything, including casual drug use, but it is masterful in depicting the ways that gay men can fall in love almost in spite of themselves. Haigh understands that it’s one thing to reject heteronormativity; it’s another to know what to replace that with.
14. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years a Slave is a brutal film. Though I loved it, I haven’t watched it since that first time in the theatre. Some great films don’t need to be rewatchable to be great. I don’t know that I’d ask Steve McQueen to show less of the torture because I think it’s critical to the narrative. There are so many dimensions to American chattel slavery. And one aspect of it that is underexplored is the system of capturing freed Black people and putting them into slavery. It’s one thing to be born into slavery; it’s another to be kidnapped and enslaved. McQueen understands that and treats the material accordingly.
13. Inception (2010)
With Inception, Christopher Nolan confirmed his status as one of the best filmmakers of his generation. The film is thrilling with gorgeous visuals and the most original film – conceptually – on this list. Nolan films are experiences so I appreciate that Nolan doesn’t really talk much about the plots or the ideas of his films before they are released.
12. Pariah (2011)
There are so, so few films about the coming of age experiences of Black girls. Fewer still films about queer Black girls. So much of the narrative about inclusion is gendered. It’s about Black men and boys. But what we are often missing are pespectives and images of Black femininity in all its variants. Pariah then is unique, and uniquely beautiful.
11. Big Words (2013)
Big Words was my favorite find of the decade. It’s of a piece with Top Five, but warmer. I only heard about it because I followed the filmmaker, Neil Drumming, on Twitter and saw him promoting the streaming release. I loved it so much. It’s a love story and a story about middle-aged Black men grappling with regrets. Dorian Missick has never been used as well as he is here. But the revelation for me is Gbenga Akinnagbe. It’s a star turn that is a wonder of stillness and steely gazes. He’s never played a character like this and it should have led to more romantic, leading man roles.