Chris Evangelista’s Top 10 Movies of the Decade

Chris Evangelista's Top 10 Movies of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

Narrowing down a top 10 list for one year is hard enough. An entire decade? It’s almost impossible. Almost. I hemmed and hawed my way through this task, debating with myself as to what titles would go where, and what titles would make the list at all. The bottom line: it was a great decade for film, and don’t let anyone claim otherwise. As of this moment, I am happy with this list. But check back in with me in a week – I may have changed my mind by then.

top 10 once upon a time in hollywood

10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may not be Quentin Tarantino’s final movie, but it certainly feels like the culmination of his entire career. It’s his most mature work since Jackie Brown, and also his most melancholy. To be clear, this portrait of 1969 Hollywood is often riotously funny, with stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt both scoring big laughs as washed-up actor Rick Dalton and his longtime stuntman/buddy Cliff Booth. But underneath the humor is a sadness – a sense of time going by, and a realization that your best days are probably behind you. It’s not so much that Tarantino is pining for the good old days of the late ’60s. It’s more that he’s connected to his main characters, who find themselves in an era they don’t quite understand.

At the center of it all is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. She’s the heart and soul of the film (even if her part isn’t particularly big), and Robbie’s Tate is not just a recreation of the slain movie star, but also an ideal – a representation of something sweet and innocent, and potentially doomed. Tarantino once again subverts history and plays around with the facts, all in the name of a happy ending that’s not quite so happy when you step back. And in a film with a wall-to-wall soundtrack of tunes, the one that resonates the most is the Rolling Stones informing us (and the film’s characters), “Well, baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time.”

top 10 lincoln

9. Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is one of those historical figures who has passed beyond the realm of being mortal and into something close to godly. History has changed Lincoln from a man into a marble statue, a being so far removed from us today that he might as well have never existed at all. So it’s no easy task to bring him back to life. Yet that’s exactly what Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis did with Lincoln. With the help of Tony Kushner‘s zippy, warm, and surprisingly funny script, Spielberg’s Lincoln makes America’s 16th President come across as an actual person. None of us can know what the real Lincoln sounded or acted like, but Day-Lewis’ performance feels entirely authentic as if he’s not so much playing the part but rather channeling Lincoln from the great beyond.

Rather than tell a standard biopic, Lincoln instead zeroes in on a specific time in Lincoln’s presidency, when he was working to pass the  Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and abolish slavery. Kushner’s script shows that Honest Abe and company weren’t above some not-so-ethical tricks to get the job done – another fact that goes a long way towards humanizing Lincoln. He’s not a saint here. He’s not even perfect. He’s just someone doing what he thinks is right, doubters be damned.

inside llewyn davis top 10

8. Inside Llewyn Davis

Arguably the best film in the Coen Brothers’ already impressive filmography, Inside Llewyn Davis is the portrait of an artist as a perpetual fuck-up. Folk musician Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac in a star-making turn) has the goods. He’s clearly talented as hell and takes his art seriously. And yet…it doesn’t matter. For one thing, he’s on the scene a little too early – soon Bob Dylan will make folk music big, but for now, Llewyn is just another troubadour plucking away in coffee shops. The bleaker-than-bleak message the Coens are pushing here is that you can work hard as hell, push yourself to extremes, and be a genuinely great artist. And it might not matter in the end. Success is fickle like that.

last jedi top 10

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson‘s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is arguably the best Star Wars film for many reasons. Its storylines are complex and sprawling. Its cinematography is breathtaking in the way it captures, and creates, whole worlds. The cast is great across the board, with Mark Hamill giving the best performance of his career. But most of all, The Last Jedi is so special because of how exciting and new it feels. The Force Awakens is a wildly entertaining film, but it was following a very rigid formula. Last Jedi blows that up almost immediately, instead expanding the galaxy and bringing in new tricks. At the same time, Johnson isn’t saying what’s come before is bad. Indeed, he’s honoring everything up until this point while also asking, “Where can we go from here?” Best of all, The Last Jedi rips The Force away from seeming like something passed down through the Skywalker bloodline and reveals that it belongs to all of us. Even the lowliest of persons in the galaxy is capable of great things. On top of all that, this is blockbuster filmmaking at its absolute finest. Proof that a filmmaker can work within a mega-franchise and still manage to inject a real heart and soul.

wolf of wall street top 10

6. The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street is an electric, coked-up freakshow; a condemnation of capitalism and excessive greed wrapped up in a darkly comedic package. Leonardo DiCaprio (in the role that should have won him the Oscar instead of The Revenant) is stock bro Jordan Belfort, who lies and cheats his way to wealth and doesn’t learn a god damn thing in the process. The comedic nature of Scorsese’s film has lead some to incorrectly assume Wolf is glamorizing the odious Belfort. But in truth, Scorsese is telling a story about a man who puts everyone around him through hell, gets busted for his bad deeds – and still doesn’t have to pay the consequences. And worst of all, the movie’s final moments sell the message that as long as there are scammers like Jordan Belfort out there, there will always be suckers willing to let him con them.

top 10 irishman

5. The Irishman

Another Scorsese movie so soon? Yes, we’re going there. The Irishman might seem too fresh to include on a list like this; too new. But it’s an achievement that cannot be denied. While I hope Martin Scorsese keeps making movies for years to come, his new crime epic feels almost like his final bow; his grand finale. The film wherein he distills what he’s learned over the years while also wrestling with his own mortality. On the surface, this may look like another gangster pic, but it’s not at all. In telling the story of self-proclaimed hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), Scorsese is taking us on a trip through time. We watch Sheeran and his associates, including Jimmy Hoffa (a hilarious Al Pacino) and gangster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci, giving a quiet, powerful turn), age before our eyes as the years go by. The first two-plus-hours follow Frank’s life of crime. But it’s the final hour that really packs a punch, as we get to the end of Frank’s days and he learns that everything he thought was so important really doesn’t matter anymore, and that he has nothing to show for it.

carol top 10

4. Carol

A swooning, lovely romantic drama, Todd Haynes‘ Carol follows two very different women living in 1950s New York. There’s shy shopgirl Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), and then there’s the upper-class Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who is in the midst of a nasty break-up with her husband. The two women spot each other one day, and the attraction is immediate. They’re drawn to each other, and while Carol has some experience in these matters, Therese is a novice, not accustomed to feeling this way about another woman. The two end up on a road trip, and we’re drawn deeper into their budding romance as we wait to see how it’ll all turn out. Blanchett and Mara are sensational together, and we never once doubt their attraction to one another. And while the era the characters inhabit spells potential doom for their love, there’s hope burning underneath it all. The hope that love will win out in the end.

social network top 10

3. The Social Network

When The Social Network opened, there were several people who thought the film was being too mean to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Now, years later, in light of Zuckerberg’s complete indifference to his platform’s contribution to the destruction of democracy, it appears David Fincher‘s movie wasn’t mean enough. When The Social Network was announced it sounded silly – a movie about Facebook? And yet, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ended up creating what might just be the defining film of the decade – a portrait of the beginning of the social media age that would, in a sense, pretty much destroy us all. Featuring an unbeatable score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a crackling script that never lets up, The Social Network is a film that will stand the test of time and serve as a reminder of a warning that we didn’t quite heed.

under the skin top 10

2. Under the Skin

I’ve never seen another movie like Under the Skin and I doubt I ever will again. This is a haunted movie; it seems to exist in some sort of alternate universe – an insane one, where the laws of the world as we know it don’t quite apply. A sci-fi-horror-mystery-drama, Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form, navigating through Glasgow. She encounters men and lures them back to what appears to the scariest house on the goddamn planet. There, the men disrobe and proceed to sink into an inky black floor that promptly implodes their bodies. It’s all so terrifying and strange – and best of all, director Jonathan Glazer never once feels the need to explain what is going on. We’re just along for the ride, feeling almost as alien and out-of-this-world as Johansson’s character.

fury road top 10

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

A pulsing, rip-roaring reminder of how awe-inducing movies can be, Mad Max: Fury Road ride roughshod over the landscape, staging what amounts to a feature-length chase scene. Loaded with practical effects and stunts that look like they might have straight-up killed someone, George Miller’s magnum opus is both a big, loud action movie and also a meditation on crushing the patriarchy. Miller effectively uses the Mad Max framework to tell the story of an abused woman (Charlize Theron) spiriting other abused women to safety while fending off violent, entitled male characters who want to maintain dominance. Miller knows exactly how to balance the action with big, emotional moments – moments of raw power; of anger and pain, but also of hope. “Where must we go…we who wander this Wasteland in search of our better selves?” asks the title card at the end of the saga, underscoring the ultimate goal of our main characters as they ride out of hell and into a future they hope will be better than the past.

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