The 20 Best Movies of the 2010s

Oscar Isaac stars in Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).
Oscar Isaac stars in Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).
CBS Films

The feature-length narrative film as we know it turned 100 years old in the 2010s. Moviemakers marked the centennial by finding new ways to amuse, shock, and thrill us (and bore us, but those movies aren't on this list). Herewith, a highly subjective rundown of the decade's best movies.

1. The Social Network (2010)

This exhilarating account of how a total jerk started Facebook is even more alarming given what we've learned about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook since then. Jesse Eisenberg's crisp lead performance, Aaron Sorkin's verbose dialogue, and David Fincher's energetic direction combine to make this a cautionary tale of Shakespearean proportions. It might be the best document of how the internet and social media have fundamentally changed us.

2. Toy Story 3 (2010)

We see action movies all the time whose flesh-and-blood characters never convince us they're in any real danger, and existential dramas where we just wish people would shut up about their problems. Yet here we are wide-eyed with giddy tension over the fate of some toys—and not even actual toys, but cartoon drawings of toys! This was the apex of Pixar's creative abilities, brilliantly funny and sophisticated, yet accessible to 5-year-olds.

3. The Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick's rumination on the purpose of life, the meaning of suffering, and the nature of God is as poetic and philosophical as you'd expect a movie about those subjects to be, yet it's as down-to-earth and unpretentious as possible. Malick uses the gentle rhythms of poetry and the majestic images of the natural world to put us in a meditative state. It's a movie that wants us to ponder the big questions.

4. Drive (2011)

On paper (like in the pulp novel it's based on), Nicolas Winding Refn's tale of a taciturn getaway driver whose life spins out of control is familiar. But on the screen, the combination is uniquely intoxicating—a fresh, lurid, melancholy neo-noir with a hint of existential crime thriller and, for some reason, an '80s-ish techno-pop soundtrack. Spinning its uncommonly entertaining yarn out of perilous characters and nightmarish scenarios, it feels dazzlingly original.

5. Holy Motors (2012)

It is gratifying to discover, at this late stage of human society, that mankind is still capable of finding new ways of being weird. Leos Carax's loopy, non-literal discussion of the past, present, and future of cinema is fascinatingly strange and creative. With an outstanding lead performance by Denis Levant (whose character transforms himself into many other characters), it's both a tribute to and an example of the unlimited potential that movies have to expand our imaginations.

6. Kill List (2012)

Ben Wheatley's ominous, sinister murder-for-hire story is unlike any you've ever seen, alternating between scenes of straightforward brutality (hard to watch but easy to understand) and moments of disquieting eeriness (easy to watch but hard to understand). There is some ambiguity to its deeper mysteries, but more important than absolute clarity is the feeling, when it's over, that you've experienced something profoundly unsettling.

7. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen's artfully directed depiction of slavery is full of haunting beauty, forcing us to consider the actual, literal, day-to-day monstrousness of it in a way few things have. Yet it has an undercurrent of hope, too, as Chiwetel Ejiofor's Solomon Northup refuses to give up. It's exactly the sort of thing we mean when we talk about the arts reflecting, ennobling, and strengthening a culture.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Like many of Joel and Ethan Coen's films, this one—about a struggling folk singer in 1961 determining once and for all whether he's cut out for this—has a dark whimsy to it, peculiar and funny but run through with deep melancholy. Oscar Isaac's heartfelt turn in the lead role is one of the best the Coens have ever directed, and memorable performances by Adam Driver, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman help it along.

9. Whiplash (2014)

Damien Chazelle's unusually unromantic approach to the "music teacher inspires a student" formula is funny, exhilarating, and almost works as a psychological thriller as a talented young drummer (Miles Teller) with a chip on his shoulder butts heads with a drill sergeant of a teacher (Oscar-winning J.K. Simmons). The film's many explosive rehearsal and performance scenes are fraught with nerve-wracking intensity, sure to send you out on an adrenaline high.

10. Under the Skin (2014)

This uniquely surreal and understated film by Jonathan Glazer was based on a novel, but Glazer revised it into something you can scarcely imagine existing in book form at all. Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless extra-terrestrial roaming the streets of Scotland looking for humans to feed on before starting to develop empathy. Unnerving and unforgettable, the film is frequently mesmerizing, using sound, music, and silence to great effect.

11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Nothing this decade made us stare goggle-eyed at the screen more than George Miller's reboot of the post-apocalyptic franchise that launched his career. It's essentially a feature-length car chase, most of the action taking place in, on, and under speeding vehicles; amazingly, Miller paces it so it doesn't get tiresome, and the spectacular stunts and intricately choreographed fights are always easy to follow. It's easily the best action movie of the decade, and one of the best of any genre.

12. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins's quiet, poignant Best Picture winner is about identity, race, sexuality, poverty, and masculinity (among other things)—several movies' worth of themes, all considered in a single, deeply felt drama of elegant, heartbreaking simplicity. The main character is played at different ages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, each giving a delicate performance that seems to borrow from and influence the other two.

13. Green Room (2016)

Here's a film that starts with an uncomfortable arrangement (a young punk band has booked a gig for a den of Nazi skinheads) and descends from there into expertly crafted cold-sweat terror. Though it's primarily a siege scenario, the band barricading themselves in the dressing room after witnessing a skinhead-on-skinhead murder, the story goes in more directions (figuratively and geographically) than you'd expect. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier never lets it get stagnant. He barely lets you catch your breath.

14. Arrival (2016)

This is optimistic, life-affirming science-fiction of the highest order, using an alien first-contact scenario to tell a wholly engrossing story in which mankind's worst tendencies—selfishness, suspicion, aggression—threaten to overtake our best ones. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams, it's a steadily paced drama of discovery that makes us feel more hopeful about humanity.

15. Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan's account of the World War II evacuation isn't as viscerally harrowing as some war movies, but it packs the punch of something far more graphic. With a God-like view of time that sees three parts of the story happening at once, Nolan keeps it from building to a climax in the customary way; instead, the movie feels like one slow, sustained climax, urged onward by Hans Zimmer's tick-tock musical score.

16. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

A sunlight-drenched gay coming-of-age drama that transcends boundaries of sexual orientation, Luca Guadagnino's adaptation of André Aciman's novel is built on glances, implications, and indirect acknowledgements. Timothée Chalamet's sensitive performance captures the awkwardness and exuberance of unexpected love with devastating accuracy, while Armie Hammer adds a layer of tenderness to his foundation of natural charisma. It's a beautiful, deeply erotic film.

17. Hereditary (2018)

The best horror movie of the decade, Ari Aster's astonishingly confident feature debut offers a number of eerie possibilities—it's not just one kind of hell that's threatening to break loose—and a performance by Toni Collette that would have won awards if it hadn't been from a lowly horror movie. At its core, though, it's about a disintegrating family haunted by the traumas that pass from one generation to the next.

18. The Favourite (2018)

This immensely entertaining, roughly fact-based story about two women vying for the affections of England's Queen Anne (an Oscar-winning Olivia Colman) in the early 1700s offers the pleasure of watching the bad behavior of corrupt, vain characters without our having to suffer the consequences of it. Elites are reduced to pathetic figureheads, the behind-closed-doors absurdity showing them to be no better than the rest of us, all in a package of dark comedy with an undercurrent of real pathos.

19. Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical story of growing up in an affluent Mexico City home in the early 1970s is a tribute to the women who shaped him, told through the eyes of a live-in housekeeper and nanny who comes from a much poorer stratum of society. Impeccably, affectionately crafted, the film breaks down the language and class barriers that divide us to deliver an emotionally powerful story.

20. The Irishman (2019)

The culmination of themes that Martin Scorsese has addressed throughout his incredible five-decade (and counting) career, this gangster story stars Robert De Niro as a man reflecting, at the end of his life, on the multitude of regrets he refuses to acknowledge, the apologies he should have offered, and the loneliness that has always plagued him. It's sad, thrilling, funny, and introspective, with outstanding performances by De Niro and Joe Pesci.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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