Pure and simple: The best films of the 2010s are tales told well

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

Wanna feel old?

In 2010, Avatar ruled the box office, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were all the craze, Lost ended its six-year run, and Netflix was just jump starting its streaming service in certain regions.

Oh, and Toy Story 3 came out, and now we’re on the fourth one. Not to mention, Netflix is competing against itself this year for Oscar gold (Marriage Story vs. The Irishman vs. The Two Popes). My, how we’ve grown.

Thousands of films have been released in the past 10 years. The sheer number makes narrowing down this list as challenging as determining whether or not the totem fell over at the end of Inception. But here we go.

12. It Follows (2015)

Resembling the horror thread of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, the tension of Terminator, and the style of DriveIt Follows uses the complexity of today’s youth as a canvas for some expertly crafted psychosexual drama. It Follows plays a waiting game and lets scenes breathe. Many of today’s horror films neglect to revel in this, and that’s what makes this haunting punch a knockout.

11. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

The original Blade Runner is an undisputed sci-fi classic for its haunting themes and inspiring visual aesthetics. With its sequel, I’d argue lightning struck twice. Director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and actor Ryan Gosling stepped right back into the dystopian world of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard and expanded upon its meanings without compromising its overall quality.

10. Raw (2017)

A young vegetarian heads off to college to study veterinary science. The hazing process requires that she eats a rabbit kidney, and slowly but surely, she begins to crave meat, which then eventually leads to human flesh. Ew! No, but seriously, this horror movie is a more textured story than its plot may have you believe. It’s actually a rather sweet film about the bond between sisters — one of the decade’s finest dishes.

9. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Most love stories these days are either too cheesy or bitter to swallow. But every once in a while a good one sprouts up and has the power to blossom into something truly worthy of note. With a tender story, memorable performances (Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg) and one scene centered around the concept of “better to have loved than not at all,” Call Me by Your Name earns the title of best romance of the 2010s.

8. Moneyball (2011)

Leave it to the teaming of screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, cinematographer Wally Pfister and director Bennett Miller to shape an inside-baseball movie with the pulse on a high-octane action vehicle. With acting homers like Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, here’s a film that cracks with an electric fever and throws an emotional curveball that highlights the value in what others miss.

7. Toy Story 3 (2010)

For anyone who has grown up with Toy Story, the third entry was an emotional wallop. I was 5 years old when the original came out, and it meant the world to me. Growing up with the trilogy expressed that I, too, was reaching the milestones of life alongside toy owner Andy. In Toy Story 3, Andy and I both were in college, and the film’s themes of change and saying goodbye to childhood resonated with me deeply.

6. The Social Network (2010)

You could box the film’s plot into a synopsis that says it’s about the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. However, David Fincher’s sharp-as-a-razor Social Network is more compelled by the human aspect of the story. Once again, Sorkin pens a Shakespearean-like script that uses the power of vocabulary to bruise its characters and audience. When you put together the first-rate performances and these filmmaking giants, you get an exquisite film that will likely outlive Facebook itself.

5. Inside Out (2015)

Pixar’s Inside Out is a beautiful personification of core emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Not since the original Toy Story have I been this emotionally wrecked by an animated feature. It beams with originality and lessons about the importance of feeling. The significance of our emotional health is a poignant takeaway for viewers of all ages.

4. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Sometimes it’s nice to not have to put on the thinking cap while watching a movie and just hang out instead. While director Richard Linklater doesn’t much concern himself with traditional plot progression, he can cut to the core of humanity in a compelling fashion. His spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused is loaded with laughs, smiles and everything to celebrate about L-I-V-I-N.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Just when you thought the recent wave of rebooted franchises had run out of gas, along comes Mad Max: Fury Road — George Miller’s nonstop concerto of clanking iron, splattering blood and broken bones. Fury Road truly doesn’t let up, riding its momentum from start to finish. Miller has orchestrated much more than mindless explosions and noise — the characters are unique, relatable and moving, and their situations ring with vibrant authenticity. It’s a one-way ticket that descends into hell.

2. Drive (2011)

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is a strange cat, but he sure makes wildly polarizing movies. His 2011 crime-thriller Drive could very well share the No. 1 spot. It’s not only one of the best films of the decade, but it has one of the best opening scenes of all time: a quiet but extremely intense getaway sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film. It’s a thoughtful piece of pulp noir that is unconcerned with explosive action. It puts Ryan Gosling’s anonymous driver character behind the wheel in a classic good-versus-evil tale. It’s pure cinema.

1. Boyhood (2014)

I am a simple person with simple tastes, so it’s only natural that I gravitate toward small, quiet and non-pushy motion pictures. Sculpted from the highs and lows of his own life — and shot across 12 years — Richard Linklater’s Boyhood assembles a living and breathing piece of art about growing up. It’s a film with themes anyone can identify with, whether it is parental divorce, alcoholism, political ideology, first loves or self-identity. Boyhood is a package deal that serves as the ultimate coming-of-age tale and the decade’s best.

Honorable Mentions:

13. The Revenant
14. Jackie
15. Sing Street
16. The Guest
17. First Man
18. Captain America: Civil War
19. Before Midnight
20. 20th Century Women
21. Inception
22. Bridesmaids
23. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
24. Little Women

25. If Beale Street Could Talk

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.