Scott’s Best Films of the Decade
In January 2010, at the dawn of the decade, I was theater-hopping at the Regal Fox Tower in Portland, catching up on the remnants of 2009 cinema, calling them repeatedly to find out just when they’d be showing The White Ribbon anyway. A year later, my wife and I moved to Los Angeles with a couple thousand dollars and few goals other than remaining citizens of one of the world’s great cities. As I look back over the decade in life and cinema, I think about that struggle to survive, how fortunate we’ve been to keep it working, and how many others are still left in the same struggle. I think about the friendships that seem to have ended – some painfully – as well as those that have cropped up and flourished, and especially the many that have remained consistent or rekindled. I think about the disappointment and heartbreak of realizing the many other decisions I could have made at a more formative time, and of the joy that has come from seeking contentment in what is.
All this undoubtedly colors my perception on which films stand out. Common themes of impermanence, disappointment, going in circles, paranoia, romance, spiritual growth, contentment, reconciliation, and artistic experiment recur. There are certain films that tapped into wider cultural movements and forces. Some could even tell the story of the decade – how a desire to connect deeply with others gets twisted into cultish devotion; the entrenched inequality that pits poor against poor and leaves us both disdainful and envying the wealthy; how lingering trauma infects even small routines. Certainly there are background, encouraging details that inform the list, in the increased distribution of even the most obtuse foreign films, the proliferation of digital cinema, or the rising opportunity for women behind the camera. Other films continue traditions and themes that have been explored since the birth of the medium. Still others seemed to be made for and enjoyed by maybe like ten of us. I don’t pretend my lists to be anything approaching definitive – certainly one way I’ve changed since January 2010 – but I do mean them seriously. I deeply love each of these films.
The thirty-one films I’ve picked as the best of the decade often bear little relation to the lists I made each year, or even those I maintain at Letterboxd, which get updated semi-regularly. There are films on those lists that I put in the first or second or fifth slot that don’t appear on this list, while others that linger in the teens suddenly jump to the fore. This is also why I don’t use any kind of star/number/letter rating system. Films aren’t just what they are.
Art echoes differently in different spaces. A book feels different when it’s assigned for class or you’re pulling it off a shelf; you go to an art gallery, you start to draw associations between the pieces. Certain things about one emerge because you saw it placed next to another. So it is with films. When considering the group of films of the past decade as the films of the decade, rather than just their individual years, they start to bounce off one another in surprising, sometimes enlightening ways.
Why thirty-one? I aimed for twenty-five but still had a few I wanted to get in there. And it wasn’t necessarily the ones at the very end. Like I said, there’s no real arithmetic at play here. Oh, and I only allowed one film per director, so that half this list wasn’t Terrence Malick, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Hong Sang-soo.
- The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
- No Home Movie (dir. Chantal Akerman, 2015)
- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
- Let the Sunshine In (dir. Claire Denis, 2017)
- Beyond the Hills (dir. Cristian Mungiu, 2012)
- Song to Song (dir. Terrence Malick, 2017)
- Margaret (dir. Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
- Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas, 2016)
- American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold, 2016)
- Never Let Me Go (dir. Mark Romanek, 2010)
- Yourself and Yours (dir. Hong Sang-soo, 2016)
- Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher, 2014)
- Like Someone in Love (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 2012)
- The Assassin (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
- Silence (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2016)
- The Arbor (dir. Clio Barnard, 2010)
- Our Little Sister (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, 2014)
- Goodbye to Language (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
- Transit (dir. Christian Petzold, 2018)
- Bachelorette (dir. Leslye Headland, 2012)
- It’s Such a Beautiful Day (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)
- Carol (dir. Todd Haynes, 2015)
- Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)
- The Princess of France (dir. Matías Piñeiro, 2014)
- Pain & Gain (dir. Michael Bay, 2013)
- Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)
- Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
- Enough Said (dir. Nicole Holofcener, 2013)
- La Flor (dir. Mariano Llinás, 2018)
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (dir. Christopher McQuarrie, 2015)