Hoai-Tran Bui’s Top 10 Movies of the Decade

hoai-tran bui's top 10 movies of the decade

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

I can’t stress enough how formative this past decade of movies has been for my moviegoing experience. Sometimes I wonder if I can fully trust my opinions during 2010-2019, ever-shifting they were, and ever-evolving my movie knowledge was. I went and graduated college during that time, and began to form a movie opinion of my own outside of the one the film classes would impose on me. And in my opinion, the last decade of movies was fantastic.

It was never a more exciting time to be a movie fan in the 2010s, because the movie landscape itself underwent a dramatic shift. This was the decade when the genre movie began to get taken seriously by critics and the Academy, when cerebral sci-fi made a vengeful comeback, when horror got a socially thrilling edge. And most importantly, it’s one where a bear taught us the value of being kind. Here are my top 10 movies of the past decade.

10. Paddington 2

Was there ever a purer distillation of joy than Paddington 2? Paul King‘s follow-up to the charming but perfectly fine Paddington shouldn’t be this good. And yet Paddington 2 far exceeds what a feel-good family film calls for. A magical realism fairy tale adventure, Paddington 2 follows the marmalade-loving bear as he embarks on a mission to earn enough money to buy his aunt a birthday present. The Charlie Chaplin-emulating physical comedy — complete with a visual homage to Modern Times — and a precious voice performance by Ben Wishaw make Paddington feel like the most alive CGI character put to the screen. Surrounding him with the warmest of onscreen family and friends, including a radiant Sally Hawkins and a curmudgeonly Brendan Gleeson, certainly helps, of course. But the scene-stealing diva of this film is Hugh Grant as a washed-up actor who frames Paddington for theft, in an outlandishly gonzo performance that is by far one of the best roles of his career. A vibrant, candy-colored film that is part Wes Anderson, part children’s pop-up book, Paddington 2 came at an essential time, providing a balm for the soul (and an impassioned response to Brexit) when the world had become a fiery hellscape. But even outside of the cultural context of its release, Paddington 2 is a near-perfect movie: a sincere plea that if we’re a little kinder and a little more polite, the world will be right.

9. Get Out

When Get Out hit theaters in 2017, I was still tentatively dipping my toes into the horror waters. But Jordan Peele’s debut film was such a major pop cultural phenomenon that even the most adamant of horror haters would be loathe to miss it. A crowd-pleasing horror film and a sharp commentary on systemic racism and privilege, Get Out features a star-making turn from Daniel Kaluuya, who stars as Chris, the unwitting victim of his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) and her too-friendly family. Williams’ subversive typecasting as the sympathetic ally is one of the many strokes of genius from Peele, who wrote and directed the satirical thriller. Peele rightly won the Academy Award for his airtight script, which turned racial microagressions into plot twists, and darkly satirical laughs into screams of terror. Though it kicked off a groan-worthy debate about the nonsensical term “elevated horror,” Get Out was a crowning moment for horror’s banner year in 2017, kicking off a trend of genre films socially incisive films that appealed to a wider audience.

Phantom Thread dressing

8. Phantom Thread

I have to admit that a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson films have left me cold. But Phantom Thread is a film I adore with my whole soul. An absolutely hysterical period comedy-drama, Phantom Thread takes to task the concept of male genius and toxic masculinity by offering up an equally toxic romance to counterbalance it. Set in the haute couture world of London in the 1950s, Phantom Thread traces the intoxicating romance between renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, electrifying in maybe his last screen role) and his charming young muse Alma (a thoroughly captivating Vicky Krieps). A “romance” in the loosest sense of the word, Anderson offers up perhaps the truest modern interpretation of the gothic romance — a genre that has long been misinterpreted as being sincerely romantic. Gothic romance is all about a lavish, beautiful exterior hiding the social and moral decay underneath. Like the best of gothic romances — Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights — happiness comes at a price in Phantom Thread, if arguably at all. But it’s that twisted, bizarre happiness that makes Phantom Thread so sickening to behold and so addicting to watch.

7. The Tale of Princess Kaguya

When Isao Takahata passed away in 2018, we lost an animation titan. But with his last film, 2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the co-founder and pillar of Studio Ghibli left us with his masterpiece. An elegiac fairy tale, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is the culmination of Takahata’s works: his experimental art style that resembled a comic strip come to life, his otherworldly whimsy, his deep understanding of heartache. Based on the Japanese folk tale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Princess Kaguya follows an old bamboo cutter who discovers a tiny princess within a bamboo shoot. He and his wife decide to raise her as their own but discover all kinds of strange happenings surrounding the little princess: she grows in sudden bursts, aging rapidly in the span of a few weeks, and her appearance is followed by rich silks and treasures that fall out of the bamboo shoots. But despite her strangeness, the local children quickly accept her, and she grows close in particular with one boy named Sutemaru. But the bamboo cutter and his wife become convinced that rural life is beneath the princess, who they christen Kaguya and drag away to the capital, where she is showered with riches and greedy suitors, much to Kaguya’s dismay. Like its wild, free animation — as unpredictable and miraculous as the film’s cherry blossoms floating in the wind — The Tale of Princess Kaguya is about the bittersweet transience of life. Nothing lasts forever, but we were all the more blessed to have experienced it.

lightsaber dueling

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

News flash: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is good. In fact, it is the best Star Wars film in decades. Rian Johnson‘s 2017 film is a visually dazzling, boundary-pushing achievement of sci-fi that manages to bring Star Wars into a new era; one that is exciting, and unpredictable, and unknown. While its predecessor The Force Awakens was all about paying tribute to legacy, The Last Jedi grapples with that legacy and sheds light on the fallibility of our heroes. Mark Hamill gives a career-best performance as a broken shell of the hero Luke Skywalker once was, weighed down by the burden of his legacy and the consequences of his failings. The film plays with our expectations with how the interactions between the old hero and new hero will go — and completely bucks them, allowing Daisy Ridley‘s Rey to forge her own path, divorced of the legacy of Luke Skywalker and fascinatingly intertwined with the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, with whom she shares the most charged onscreen dynamic of any Star Wars movie). No Star Wars film has been able to capture that mythic quality of A New Hope as well as The Last Jedi, which busts wide open the concept of the “chosen one” while preserving the original 1977 film’s themes of unlikely heroes who are united not in the grand fates that had been ascribed to them, but in their desires to save the universe.

Parasite Review

5. Parasite

No one walks the tonal highwire better than Bong Joon-ho, a director who defies any limitations of genre. That’s eminently clear in Parasite, the most recent movie on my list, and a film that also defies comparison. A black tragicomedy, a heist flick, a social thriller, a Hitchcockian suspense film, and a horror movie all at once, Parasite literalizes the concept of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic that forms the backbone of capitalism — then rips that backbone out in front of you to show you every crooked bone and fractured disc. It’s a searing indictment of class stratification and a violent treatise to the horrors of capitalism, all told within the confines of a wildly funny, often-absurd modern day fairy tale. The titular parasites in Bong’s film are the impoverished Kim family, led by the sluggish patriarch Ki-taek (Bong’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho), who latch onto the wealthy Park family when the Kim son (Choi Woo?shik) lands a job as the Park’s English tutor. But are they really the parasites? The brilliance of Bong’s film is that it makes us take a good hard look at our own preconceptions about the have and have-nots, and reckon with the actual consequences of eating the rich.

call me by your name sequel novel

4. Call Me By Your Name

Call My By Your Name is like finding yourself adrift in someone else’s dream: a transporting experience so immersive that when you wake from it, you find yourself inexplicably crying. Set against the eternally sun-dappled backdrop of the Italian countryside, Luca Guadagnino‘s LGBT romance perfectly captures that gauzy summer romance — fleeting and infinite all at once, and so, so heartbreaking. It takes a while for the heartbreak to set in though, as the romance between Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer unfolds so slowly that you’d be liable to miss the early stolen glances and the piano-playing flirtations. Chalamet is perfect in his breakout role, his face an open book, while Hammer is a little more unreadable, but no less sensual. It feels almost like an intrusion to watch the pair’s slow-burning romance, until it’s rudely interrupted by reality, which comes with an overwhelming torrent of emotions after Michael Stuhlbarg‘s powerful monologue delivered to Chalamet’s Elio toward the end of the film. The speech — which by now has been memorialized as the stuff of cinema magic — stands in stark contrast to the dreaminess of the rest of the film, but, like salt added to a sweet dish, only serves to make the memories of that romance feel sharper and more acute.

3. The Social Network

Two masters are at work in The Social Network, and watching the dance between David Fincher’s meticulous direction and Aaron Sorkin‘s mile-a-minute dialogue is almost as exciting as watching the origins of Facebook told as a piece of tragic Americana. Fincher’s cold precision is exactly what’s needed to reign in Sorkin’s sharp (and often indulgent) writing, and — coupled with knockout performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield as well as an electric score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — makes for a perfect storm. Eisenberg stars in the film as computer genius and insufferable asshole Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergrad with a chip on his shoulder and an obsession with final clubs. When a bad break-up and a meeting with two enterprising Harvard athletes inspires him to create Facebook with his friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), it sets him down a classically American path of ambition, greed, and power. When The Social Network was released in 2010, it hit like a bolt of lightning — amazing relevant and timeless all at once. Nearly a decade later, it still feels as potent a portrait of America’s early digital age as before.

2. Arrival

If science-fiction was invented to imagine the best of what humanity is capable of, then Arrival is the pinnacle of science-fiction. Denis Villeneuve‘s optimistic take on the alien invasion movie is a grand testament to the goodness in humanity and an intimate ode to the fleeting beauty of life. An emotional, eerie affair that boils down to Amy Adams learning how to communicate with giant squids, Arrival makes us question our preconceived notions about the genre and about the storytelling structure itself. Based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, Villeneuve’s 2016 film follows Adams’ linguistics professor as she is tasked with finding a way to communicate with the aliens that have landed on Earth before the most powerful nations can throw the world into war, all the while experiencing flashbacks of her daughter. A cinematic version of the Kuleshov effect (the phenomenon of two sequential images influencing our thinking), Arrival argues that if we change our minds, we can change the world. It’s a startling prescient film — coming right on the eve of the 2016 elections — that is thought-provoking in the best way: arguing that humanity’s saving grace isn’t cold, hard logic but the warmth of human connection. And that human connection is worth any of the pain and grief that comes along the way.

mad max fury road lawsuit

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is the gasoline-guzzling, flamethrower guitar-playing embodiment of cinema as a visual medium. George Miller‘s 2015 operatic action masterpiece is more than its outrageous imagery, stunning technical feats, and dusty, saturated palette — though those alone would be enough to catapult the film to the top of the best action films ever made — it’s a dystopian fable about the fierce, feminist battle for a new world. Much of a stink has been made about the film being simply one long chase scene (to which I say: yes, they get chased, but then they go back), but Mad Max: Fury Road‘s deceptively simple story is one that challenges and rewards its viewers to dig deeper. The titular Mad Max, Mel Gibson’s famously vengeful character who Tom Hardy imbues with a quiet soulfulness, is but a hapless witness to the greater story at play with Charlize Theron‘s Furiosa, the essential damaged, wrathful heroine for our times. While Furiosa is the clear star of the piece, the surrounding characters rise above the archetypes they’re introduced as —the beautiful wives of Immortan Joe displaying a complexity of female emotion not usually permitted in these kinds of high-octane action films, and the pathetic antagonists like Nicholas Hoult’s Nux earning a sympathetic turn. Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of deranged, spectacular action film that feels like a miracle of modern filmmaking, but Miller does something more radical with it: he shows that out of action can come meaningful, even profound, art.

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