The 10 Movies That Saved Us This Decade

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

As 2019 nears finality, wrapping up decade-end lists across internet publications, I opt to close on a high note. Any other year I’d be dishing the “Most Disturbing Movie Moments” or “Best Kills” given my horror focus, but life’s about keeping things fresh. Ducking when your opponent thinks you’ll counter. This past decade has defined my life in ways never thought imaginable, and thoughtfully, movies have become an undeniable influence whether I’ve been actively conscious of their importance or not.

This list strikes a more personal tone than most “rankings,” so here’s what I hope my musings inspire. These are the films that “saved” me this decade, the movies that struck a lasting positive nerve with one particular writer. Instead of scoffing at how someone could find happiness and joy within the titles listed below, let me hear about which movies helped you through the last ten years. Dig deep and find answers within. We all deserve a smile sometimes, and here are the ten films this year that plastered a cheek-to-cheek grin on my face. At the end, why don’t you tell me yours?

Paddington (2014)

“Mrs. Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right – because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright, because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington.” – Paddington Brown

Way back when, I strolled into my Paddington screening thinking “oh golly, another child-friendly property optioned for box office value.” By the time of my exit, Paul King had erased any and all cynicism from existing. There is, this decade, no franchise more important to our most basic pleas for civility. Paddington, through King’s representation, is the do-gooding orphan bear we needed to meet as a reminder of how hate will never solve any of the problems we face. Do good, treat others warmly, and life will find a way. Truthfully, the film that saved my decade.

Paddington’s love of marmalade and devotion to the Brown family is a humble slice of British morality served on a silver platter. Just a wee cub from Darkest Peru searching for his new clan, guided only by his Aunt and Uncle’s distant voices. Beyond Paddington’s life-savingly adorable interactions with human contraptions as a bear who retains no such knowledge, his words are undefeatable mottos from someone who believes, with all his heart, each last syllable (voiced by Ben Whishaw). Everyone deserves a home, everyone deserves to be loved, and everyone deserves a companion like Paddington.

Paddington 2 (2017)

“Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” – Paddington Brown

Enter Paddington 2, an even MORE indestructibly well-mannered tale that doubles down harder on Paddington’s lessons. I mean, Paddington goes to jail, softens the “hardest” criminals he can find (Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty) and kneads them all into pastel-clad bakers. He squares against Hugh Grant as bottoming actor Phoenix Buchanan with nothing but an open heart. Helps save the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris) from the ides of domesticated mundanity with a smile on his face. Paddington 2 is a rare cinematic feat that’s bursting with good-natured sincerity from a perfect start to even more perfect finale.

Honestly, King’s sequel is emotional terrorization of the most approvable order. Even just remembering certain sequences are swelling this otherwise closed-off writer’s heart. Paddington’s sad little eyes after being “caught” by the law. A near-death drowning experience that almost seals Paddington’s watery grave. A closing-minutes reunion with Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton). Knuckles’ transformation thanks to tasty-yum homemade marmalade. Paddington 2 does everything right and somehow tops an already divine original. The hero, quite seriously, this decade deserves is a talking bear in a blue coat and red hat.

The LEGO Movie 2 Title

The Lego Movie (2014)

“You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you… still… can change everything.” – Emmet

In a decade that was, assuredly, not always awesome across the board, it meant everything to get this ultra-violet blast of positivity in the form of The Lego Movie. Sure, “Everything Is Awesome” may be satirical, but it’s also the peppy source of do-it to-it energy that reminds us what it’s like to let our childhood imaginations run wild. Not to be consumed by “Lord Business” and the daily monotony of life’s most soul-sucking obstacles. It’s a sugary-sweet beam of family entertainment, one that combats the greyness that can overtake our vision weeks at a time.

Chris Miller and Phil Lord took a brand – which, in meme form, is synonymous with immeasurable pain – and created something more than tie-in marketing opportunities. From Tegan and Sara’s radio-friendly hit to ordinary Emmit’s discovery of what it means to be “special,” The Lego Movie is powerful enough to erase the gloomiest days. An achievement in brick-laid animation, no doubt. Even more impressive? The swelling sensation of bliss this film creates inside viewers who’re ready to feel like a kid again.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

“It’s a leap of faith. That’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith.” – Peter B. Parker

As a comic book movie watcher who’d previously shown no significant affinity towards Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse hit me like a Mack truck. What it says about representation through a coming-of-age lens, uncertainty about our futures at a young age, works undeniably well with the “title character’s” hangups. Until recently, we’d only known Peter Parker’s journey on the big screen. To push that aside and assert Spider-Man is just a costume, and there can be countless “heroes” wearing their own spandex (or alternate) designs? Oh, look, I care about Spider-Man movies now!

Miles Morales’ turmoil is both relatable and unique, able to connect with emotions that swirl inside most of us yet still embolden Miles’ own significance. This idea of a “leap of faith,” having the courage to blindly jump, left me with a surge of ambition. Miles’ breaking away from the skyscraper, glass shards raining downward because he’s still not 100% “ready,” is one of the most monumental sequences of 2018. A superhero movie that defines what it means to be “brave,” to be that iconic “hero,” while not making it about a single namesake identity. Take a hike with your “superhero movies are just mindless entertainment.” One of the decade’s most nuclear-charged personal exploration pieces is an animated team-up flick about diversity amongst web-slingers. Mic drop or whatever. 

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday’s my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.” – Pat

Spend more than thirty seconds on Twitter and you’ll agree how hard it is to block out negativity. Human nature, for some reason, highlights failures and sadness in neon lights while ignoring the beauty of everyday life. Silver Linings Playbook is about just that, those “silver lining” moments buried under stress, aggravation, anxiety, and the whole gang of distractions. Right time, right message, right movie to help remind a college grad with no discernible direction post-graduation to breathe every once and a while. David O. Russell’s adaptation feels good in the right ways meant not to sugarcoat what experiences await while reminding us that flowers can still grow between pieces of gravel underneath our feet.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those “messiness of life” stories that embraces uncertainty head-on, and gives hope to those attempting to lay pasts to rest. A story about moving forward, finding comfort in someone else who understands our complications, and living fullest despite “unconventional” happiness. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s work brims with the kind of romantic entanglement required to sell Matthew Quick’s based-upon story, as the two tango with far more than intermediate dance choreography. It’s a reminder of what we all deserve, no matter what our subconscious or acting thoughts pump into our brains. Even in life’s darkest moments, there’s a little beam of sunlight, somewhere, we can find.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

“I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I would be grateful to die surrounded by my friends.” – Gamora

Superhero movies often get a rap of being shallow (as previously stated). Eye-candy cinema with no substance. James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy fights against that stereotype branch and claw, through a story of outcasts who form the most dysfunctional – but needed – family unit. Characters who’re literally worlds apart, finding friendship in the fact that they’re the ones who never thought they’d be understood. Hurtling through the cosmos thinking only of themselves, now fighting alongside one another as brothers, sisters, possibly lovers in arms.

Maybe it rings louder because I, specifically, needed to hear this message when the film first released. I was still finding my “Guardians,” after years of fitting myself into other peoples’ perceptions of normality. “Family” doesn’t have to be blood-related, and that’s an important message to hear. Plus, bravo to any film that can get me all misty-eyed when a trigger-happy talking raccoon allows his new brute berserker alien friend to pet his head because their other anthropomorphic tree friend just sacrificed himself. Who would have thunk a story about rag-tag space cowboys could have pulled me up from a low moment, let alone “just another Marvel movie?” Like they say…”We, are Groot.”

Chef (2014)

“I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this. I manage to touch people’s lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.” – Carl Casper

Jon Favreau had me hook, line, Cubano when Chef was announced. A deeply personal self-reflection on the importance we put on critique and how others define our success…THROUGH FOOD? They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I’m the prime example. As Favreau’s fine dining turned food truck hero travels the country bringing his signature dishes to the masses, getting back to the basics of culinary love, I remembered, myself, what fuels my passion for writing. 

From then on, that fateful SXSW premiere, I promised to block the noise out and never lose sight. What’s important in life, whose rules we live by, and more importantly, who makes those rules. It’s a touching reclamation of self after complete self-combustion, besting all the frustrations of working in a creative industry. More importantly, it’s a lick-your-fingers rich serving of soulful filmmaking that allows Favreau an understood outlet after being tied to multiple studio tentpoles. Welcome reassurance that, hey, you can always revisit where you started. No matter how overwhelming life might seem.

Shaun The Sheep Movie (2015)

“[sheep noises]” – Shaun

I’ll be the first to argue against cinema being “just entertainment,” but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. A claymation Wallace And Grommit spin-off about one rule-breaking sheep. It’s charming, light-hearted, and pleasantly cordial much like everything Aardman Animations molds into form. Isn’t escaping the gravitational weight of daily life for a bucket of popcorn, comfy theater chairs, and a film that’s nothing but utter cheerfulness indescribably grand? Shaun The Sheep Movie is just what the doctor who’s actually a heifer in disguise ordered.

The film itself follows farm creatures who trick their owner to sleep with hopes of enjoying a relaxing day off. Instead, said farmer ends up suffering from amnesia and in town as a now-famous hairstylist. While without guidance, Shaun the Sheep realizes everyone needs Mr. Farmer in order to go about their day. Cue sheep-out-of-water hijinks as Shaun’s woolen crew teams up with other animals to bring home their master and avoid an evil animal control meanie. Lots of thumbs up, trendsetting haircuts, and a final message that rings in “home, sweet home” compassion.

Sing Street band

Sing Street (2016)

“This is your life

You can go anywhere

You gotta grab the wheel and own it

And drive it like you stole it” – Sing Street

“Drive It Like You Stole It.” Do I need to continue? It’s almost cheating to use musical accompaniment, especially through lyrics, when conveying emotional depth. Am I mad at Sing Street for plucking my heartstrings in every right chordal fingering? Never in a million years. John Carney’s effervescent coming-of-age ballad is an Irish taste of singing through your troubles. Young love, juvenile escapism, Back To The Future music videos – this is an enchanting ode to the dreamers who never quit. One everyone needs to hear.

As Ferdia Walsh-Peelo’s “Cosmo” wrestles with adolescent transplantation, into a new school and such, an impromptu garage band provides a chance to be something more. Everything around him is dire and bleak, yet the boy won’t let his path be guided by downtrodden influences. Bullies turn to allies and aspiring models give him hope (Lucy Boynton), always with Conor at the wheel. As the song goes…[see above].

2016 summer movie recap

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

“There’s magic in the woods, if you know where to look for it.” – Meacham

When debating Disney’s most successful live-action remakes of its new generation, Pete’s Dragon stands as the studio’s crowning achievement (in my eyes). David Lowery broke our hearts with A Ghost Story, but effectively stitches them back together even stronger with a “remake” that retains few nostalgic memories. A feral boy, his larger-than-life companion, and a story of friendship in its purest form. What could easily be written off as generic fantasy adventure at mere glance is one of 2016’s most emotionally giving watches for all ages.

Heap credit upon young Oakes Fegley, who acts alongside his fuzzy green best friend Elliot – lumbering CGI pixels. Their withstanding bond is stronger than stone or steel, worth puppy-dog adoration that shreds your insides as they’re pulled apart by outside forces. Pete and Elliot’s quest to reunite, aided by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Oona Laurence, only strengthens the film’s family-driven core as fear places a target on innocence. Did I sob while a digitized mythical creature embraces the boy who fights all odds to save those sweetest sentiments of childhood wonder? You betcha, and that wasn’t the only time.

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Since this list turned out to be more personal than intended, I asked some other /Film voices to toss me their own personal picks. Here are some honorable mentions from familiar perspectives:

Wonder Woman (Amelia Emberwing): Wonder Woman was big for me and many women. The movement that grew behind Diana, the all-women screenings, all of us walking out of the theater feeling like we could take on the world and win even though we’d (still relatively recently) suffered a monumental loss in regards to a man who’d abused and assaulted women his whole career becoming president.

John Wick (Meagan Navarro): For me, a solid action film can be an instant mood lifter, a thrilling shot in the arm, and whatnot. John Wick takes it to the supreme next level, defying all the odds time and time again with style and determination. All in the name of a dog. John Wick forever.

It Chapter 1 (Chris Evangelista): Stephen King was a huge part of my childhood, and his tales of terror were the biggest influence on my wanting to be a writer. For years, King movies were a big deal, but they kind of fell by the wayside, ending up as cheap, lazy adaptations that relied more on schlock than what really drives King’s books: heart. So when 2017’s It came along and took King seriously and realized that character building and emotion is what really makes King’s work so special, it was like a validation of everything I grew up loving.

Obvious Child (Meredith Borders): The 2010s have not been a promising decade for women’s rights. So thank god for Obvious Child, the 2014 romantic comedy about, simply, a woman who gets an abortion. Other things happen – beautiful things, hilarious things, deeply insightful and heartfelt and vulnerable and true things – and Jenny Slate gives one of my favorite performances of the decade. But also. This is a movie where a woman gets an abortion. And that’s okay.

Coco (Hoai-Tran Bui): When I saw Coco with my family, we all left the theater crying. The Pixar film was a watershed moment for us: Here was a major animated studio film that managed to nail all the nuances and specifics of our culture, and it wasn’t even about us. And yet, that specificity of Coco‘s fantastical premise — ancestors living on through our memories in a stunning world modeled after the Day of the Dead — made it feel all the more universal.

Moonrise Kingdom (Marisa Mirabal): Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom contains all of the necessary elements for escapism. The film portrays a sweet rebellion accompanying young love, which is beautifully enhanced by Robert D. Yeoman‘s sun-kissed cinematography. Anderson reminds us that when things get rough, sometimes an adventure or dancing with your crush while spinning records is all you really need.

About Time (Ethan Anderton): Dwelling on the past can be dangerous. But in Richard Curtis’ charming romantic comedy About Time, it’s literally how a young man finds happiness, not just in love, but in everyday life. Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, who has the genetic gift to travel back in time. He uses this unique ability in an attempt to cure his hopeless romantic life, and he finally finds it unexpectedly in Mary (Rachel McAdams). The romance stuff is what you’d expect from the writer and director of Love Actually, but it’s what Tim learns from his days spent traveling back in time that really helped me through this decade, especially the latter half. In this waking nightmare that has spawned since roughly November 2016, making the last three years feel like a decade in itself, I hang on thanks to Tim’s temporal revelation, “I just try to live everyday as if I have deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it as if it was the full, final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

Thor: Ragnarok (Jacob Hall): This movie is pure, bottled joy. Marvel characters we love go on a loose, comedic adventure full of droll comedy, wild imagery, and character actors hamming it up and having a great time. Chris Hemsworth is finally unleashed as a force of goofy goodness. Korg proves himself to be the greatest supporting character in the MCU. This film lowers my blood pressure and allows my antidepressants to kick in faster. Few movies make me happier. 

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