As say goodbye to the 10’s (or 2010’s? There was never a good way of abbreviating or referring to this without it being awkward) to a close, I feel a need to put the last ten years in film, as a whole, into perspective. This is the first decade where, in-full, I was not a child and had the capacity to appreciate the intricacies of film outside of a cartoon character making a fart noise. Through a year-by-year recap, it makes me appreciate how far the industry and my experiences have come. I want to break down not the best film of each year this decade, but what movie defined that year for me as a movie-goer. Those experiences and stories are what makes the experience of watching a movie stand out to us all, and last us a lifetime.
2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
A masterpiece from Edgar Wright in every way. The all-star cast, the video game/comic book graphics and animations, the absolutely stellar original soundtrack, and the timeless quotes and jokes that are still relevant today, make it arguably the most rewatchable hipster movie of all time. Michael Cera’s performance is actually what makes it one of the decade-definers, though; his performance puts it in this pantheon by starting the “awkward guy becomes the hero” trend and made us awkward guys that sit on the couch and watch cartoons feel like we can play guitar and defeat the exes and get the girl. It can only be defined as pure awesomeness.
Brad Pitt’s performance as a tortured, isolated figure on a franchise as miserable as the Oakland A’s captured the underdog story unlike anything I had ever seen; through the little victories along the way, with Jonah Hill’s type-cast-breaking supporting role, the movie manages to capture everything there is to be romantic about America’s pastime without necessarily the big “victory” or ignoring the absolutely brutal realities that take place behind the scenes. My dad and I travel to the stadiums across the country together, so baseball has become what has created some of my best memories, but this movie beautifully shows what really goes on in the game that I can’t see when I’m shoveling a hot dog down in the bleachers. However, it’s done so masterfully that I couldn’t help but fall more in love with the game.
2012: Silver Linings Playbook
This one was incredibly important, not only to my movie-watching repertoire at the time as a 14-year old, but also as a conscientious, well-educated human being. Up until the incredible, nomination-earning individual performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as the leads in the charming, non-corny romantic comedy, I had never been exposed to the serious issue of mental health in life. One could tell that they displayed their character work in a well-done, non-offensive manner that allowed for viewers like myself to learn about the seriousness regarding the issue. On top of that, it was just an adorable movie that lifted up your heart. Their performances owned the year.
Not only did Frozen create a phenomenon with “Let it Go” alone, but in the theater, I witnessed a full-grown man whisper “…oh hell no” and get up out of his seat when the plot twist with Hans happens. It’s a legendary moment in Disney history and nothing was more memorable to me in 2013.
2014: Guardians of the Galaxy
I know some may argue that Marvel changed the cinematic game when they combined their properties in Avengers in 2012, but for me they proved they were at the peak of their powers when they made Guardians of the Galaxy, my favorite superhero entity of all-time. They proved they could do it all successfully. If you were to have told me that I would have fallen in love with a team consisting of a dorky human, a talking raccoon, a giant tree who can only say his name, a green girl, and an alien assassin in space, I would have thought it was going to stink in every way possible. Instead, they delivered comedy in the adventure genre like never before, incorporated probably the best soundtrack ever, and created even more loveable characters to expand their universe off of planet Earth. You also had Peter Quill carrying a superhero franchise without even needing God-like capabilities or a ton of money or technology; he’s just awesome. Marvel officially became a powerhouse with the Guardians.
2015: The Revenant
Our KING, Leonardo DiCaprio, finally got his moment by winning an Oscar. All it took was getting mauled by a bear, EATING BISON GUTS despite being on a plant-based diet, and sleeping inside of a dead horse in the movie. Not to be outshined by his individual performance, The Revenant also started off with a scene by making me fear life itself, followed by two hours of unbearable freezing cold scenes that made me feel like I wanted my life to end just as much as Leo’s, only then to teach a lesson on morality and vengeance that will forever stick with me. It was an unforgettable year for Leo and The Revenant as a whole.
2016: La La Land
For how beautiful in every way of a film La La Land is from start to finish, from the dancing, the meant-to-be romance in every way relationship of Mia and Sebastian, the MAGICAL jazz soundtrack, the inspirational narrative that can be applied to anyone, to just plain being the prettiest on-screen experience I have ever seen, I will never get over it being robbed of Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I legitimately wanted to go buy a tie and a piano and cry all at the same time after watching it in the theater for the first time, but I settled upon seeing it again in the theater the next day after telling everyone that they had to see it. I will forever be a La La Land defender.
2017: Baby Driver
This was a time period where for some reason, the film industry felt even more saturated with sequels, spinoffs, prequels, or remakes than ever, so to see something as fresh and new as Baby Driver, a charming, action-packed, visually-stunning, original work of art was absolutely refreshing in every way. After loving his work with music at the beginning of the decade in Scott Pilgrim, Edgar Wright cemented his face in the Mount Rushmore of directors that effectively use it in film. This also came out during my senior year of high school; Baby, the main character masterfully played in a loveable-yet-subtle manner by Ansel Elgort, wants nothing more than to listen to music and drive. These are PRECISELY the only two things that an angsty senior such as myself cared about at the time, so the “headphones in, people out” persona spoke to me in a way like none other. It was funny, it was electric, and it was different from start to finish with a powerhouse of a cast (excluding a tall white man named Kevin whom I refuse to acknowledge) and it genuinely felt like watching a music video movie. Baby Driver won the year with originality.
2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Somehow during an era where the market for superhero blockbusters and animated movies was completely oversaturated, this movie stands alone. The inventive animation, the music, the breathe-of-fresh-air take on comics that makes it completely self-aware, but most of all, the absolutely outstanding take on a protagonist in Miles Morales makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse one of the greatest achievements in animation and blockbuster history and it without a doubt was the movie-going event of 2018. You left the theater asking yourself in delight, “…did that really just happen?” because you were expecting just another Spider-Man movie. Miles’s character arc as a teen learning responsibility as the creative misfit genuinely made me feel like I was a kid once again which is a magical feeling that is absolutely insurmountable. For that reason alone, it’s the movie of the year.
2019: Uncut Gems
This may be a film that I never watch again. In fact, there are very few movies that I was more miserable for two hours watching in the theater. However, that’s EXACTLY what the movie wanted to elicit out of the experience and I will never forget my night watching Uncut Gems. Not only was it Adam Sandler’s coming out party in which he finally took on a role outside of ‘your suburban buddy neighbor who only wears gym shorts’, but he molded himself into a villain. It essentially ruined my childhood memories of laughing at his slapstick humor. On top of that, what made Uncut Gems so unique was the camera work of one long-shot that placed you right in the thick of situations that were so stressful, so anxiety-producing, that you wanted the movie to end for the characters’ sake and your sake, too. The raised stakes that these despicable people continued to undergo gave you a rush like no other. I didn’t think Sandler had it in him. It will never be an enjoyable watch, or rewatchable for that matter, but Uncut Gems was the story of 2019.