Under the Radar’s Top 50 Films of the Decade | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, February 24th, 2020  

Under the Radar’s Top 50 Films of the Decade

Jan 01, 2020
Bookmark and Share


It’s been a decade of high highs and low lows, but one thing that the 2010s did deliver us consistently was great movies – it’s arguable that years in cinema even got better as the decade went on.

Yes, some of the best cinematic works have come from familiar auteurs – you’ll find names like the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Wes Anderson – but it’s also a decade that’s introduced us to exciting new filmmakers such as Sean Baker, Barry Jenkins, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, the Safdie Brothers, Damien Chazelle, and David Lowery. It’s been a decade of surprises, too, especially for genre fans. Back in 2009, if we were told we’d not only have new Mad Max and Blade Runner sequels, but five more Star Wars movies, we’d have thought you were crazy.

Below you’ll find Under the Radar’s Top 50 films of the decade, as voted on by our film critics and the most dedicated cineastes amongst the larger staff. What were your favorite movies of the decade? Judging by the number of movies we loved that just missed the cut, there are far more than fifty movies that deserve Best of Decade consideration, so please let us know in the comments which ones you think we shouldn't have left out. 

1

The Florida Project

2017

At once both abrasive and an ultimate vessel of empathy, The Florida Project was roundly overlooked by the big awards shows upon its release. Only Willem Dafoe's superb performance as The Magic Castle Motel's kindly and conflicted manager received appropriate attention from the Academy Awards, and even he came up short of winning. But it's through the eyes of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) that we inhabit the setting and the film truly earns its status. Halley, Moonee's mother, is desperate and down on her luck, resorting to sex work to pay the bills. In hands other than director Sean Baker's and his incredible team, this material could have easily been mined for total tragedy, but instead it doesn't devolve into tragedy porn. Moonee - and even the caustic, chaotic Halley - are treated like humans. They aren't sugar-coated or talked down to, but are allowed to be multi-faceted. Combine all this with the saturated pastels of the motels and sun-soaked surroundings, and it does look like a magical place in spite of the real struggles Moonee faces. By Jason Wilson

2

Mad Max: Fury Road

2015

The fact that Mad Max: Fury Road came off at all is remarkable. It’s a decades-late sequel to a genre franchise. It’s an old school return to immaculately conceived practical effects and painstakingly arranged stunt work. I mean, it’s basically just two extended chase sequences. The fact then that Fury Road didn’t just come off, but is the second best film of the decade should really be viewed as a miracle. So much of the thrill of Fury Road comes from its loud, brash and clearly shot set pieces, but it deserves more credit for the quiet confidence of its world-building. Each iteration of Max has pivoted slightly, but this is the most bugged out rendition yet, a perfect fusing of the greezy propulsion of The Road Warrior and the borderline camp of Thunderdome (never has a flamethrower guitar seemed so at home outside of classic rock album covers). Miller’s diligence in bringing such a full-bodied vision to the wide screen is one of the great labours of love this past ten years. As we moved forward into a decade anew, its near universal praise should be taken as a sign that the endless cycle of re-quels and se-boots could be repurposed into something totally idiosyncratic. Wouldn’t that be the loveliest day of all? By Blaise Radley

3

Moonlight

2016

Of the themes explored in modern filmmaking, few are more tragic than when a character is denied their authenticity. Here, Little, even as a young boy, seems to know he's gay, but he's raised in an unloving, economically decimated world of toughs who discourage him from being who he is. Two men show him warmth: one, a drug dealer (a brilliant Mahershala Ali), teaches him the street smarts and steely veneer he eventually adopts to survive. The other, Kevin, provides the unlikely friendship and sexual attraction that's more representative of who he actually is. The film doesn't judge even its worst characters or even attempt to point fingers at the conditions that made them who they are, nor does it sanitize these painful moments. It's a film that values human connection, in whatever form it takes. By Shawn Hazelett

4

Drive

2011

Excessively cool, Drive is the movie that may someday be considered the peak display of both star Ryan Gosling’s and director Nicolas Winding Refn’s talents; neither has found another project that’s felt better-tailored to what it is they each do so very well. The movie’s relatively simple crime story is told with a degree of style that’s almost comical, yet somehow achieves cinematic near-perfection. Plus, with a cast that boasts Gosling, Bryan Cranston, and Oscar Isaac, this movie is just one Adam Driver away from featuring every “it” actor of the 2010s. Arguably more influential than the film itself was the movie’s soundtrack, led by artists like Chromatics and Electric Youth, which saw dozens of synthpop-centric new artists crop up in its wake and attempt to capture the movie’s dreamy, electric tones. No single piece of cinema or television would have this much of an impact on the indie music scene until Stranger Things came along years later and pushed every retro, John Carpenter-like keyboard act into sudden significance. By Austin Trunick

5

Frances Ha

2013

Fleet, funny and winsomely poignant, Frances Ha the film is remarkably similar to Frances Ha the character. Co-creators and real life couple Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig reach back to the breezy editing and monochromatic visual style of the French New Wave to convey the financial uncertainty and emotional complexity of millennial life in New York City. Anchored by Gerwig’s loose-limbed physicality and awkward sincerity, Frances Ha is documentary-like in its portrait of mid-twenties angst while exuding a style and wit that is both classically hip and unmistakably modern. By Stephen Danay

6

Boyhood

2014

I often wonder what would have happened if Ellar Coltrane, by the time he reached high school, had become a jock. Or incredibly ugly. Or preppy. The beauty of Boyhood is how the path feels unencumbered and everything feels possible. It at once provides the experience of growing up in a changing world and also as if you're the one raising this kid, witnessing the formative moments that make him who he is, watching in terror as he experiences relatively minor childhood mishaps, eventually calming into the idea that he will find his way. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are wonderful as his parents, who provide a subplot as fascinating and Americana as the main action. After having kids as a young couple, we learn he abandoned the family as he was not ready to settle down, and his return marks the start of the film. He gets to be the fun parent who eventually becomes an incredibly responsible dad, but what about his ex-wife? A single mother of two, she's forced into the role of the tough parent and provider, who has barely any time to date and, when she does, has incredibly bad luck. By the time her final kid goes off to college, she's left a wonderful mark on the world, but she's ultimately alone and with nothing to show for it. The film is about boyhood, and it's equally about the least-applauded and most essential job in the world: motherhood. By Shawn Hazelett

7

Inside Llewyn Davis

2013

In which the Coen Bros. offered both their most emotionally complex film since Fargo and their most formally challenging since Barton Fink, a meditation on music, fame, and "the artistic temperament" that only gets richer upon repeat viewing. Oscar Isaac, just on the brink of broader fame, went all-in on a title character as unlikable as he was curiously sympathetic; he was surrounded by indelible supporting performances by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake (that song!), and of course, that cat (that cat!). By Dustin Krcatovich

8

A Ghost Story

2017

That it’s called ‘A’ Ghost Story and not ‘The’ Ghost Story is telling. The film follows one spirit, a musician who died young in a tragic accident, leaving his mourning wife alone in their rural home. Unlike the living who are bound by time, his ghost is bound by place; unable to meaningfully interact with the world as it passes around him, he can only watch at his wife moves on, as new lives enter and leave the house he used to call his own, and the years blow by like a breeze. As the ghost comes to terms with his reality, the past opens up to him and A Ghost Story enters an ever deeper realm of philosophical exploration. David Lowery’s film is a cinematic poem about love and loss, but also the insignificance of human lives within the grand scale of our universe. A haunting mood piece which moves slowly but purposefully, the gorgeous visuals and deliberate pacing are easily on par with Terrence Malick’s best. It can be argued there wasn’t a more beautifully-shot film this decade. By Austin Trunick

9

Get Out

2017

Key & Peele was the sketch comedy show to beat this decade. Still, who could've predicted from those beginnings (or the duo's lackluster feature debut Keanu, for that matter) that it would be the launchpad for a singular writer/director who could merge Kubrickian complexity with Spielbergian accessibility (probably not Spielberg, who's repeatedly flubbed the same)? With Get Out, Jordan Peele plowed out of the gate with a film that was not just a gripping, funny, expertly crafted piece of supernatural horror, but also a film that will surely be a historical reference point for our cultural moment for years to come. By Dustin Krcatovich

10

Green Room

2015

Jeremy Saulnier’s best two features this decade were concerned with brooding colours, but it’s Green Room over Blue Ruin that’s the hardest to wash out. In any other context that might be to its denigration, but this pulpy tale of gutter punks facing up against the oppressive hand that feeds them is grungy to the core, and rightly so. Plus, it probably features the best rendition of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” ever (sorry Dead Kennedys…). Where Green Room succeeds is in its clear stakes, and its evocation of time and place. Saulnier has clipped a bizzaro news story straight from the music presses—Nazism takes hold amongst hXc punk scene in Pacific Northwest—and layers it atop a taut tale of reverse-home-invasion in the backroom of an isolated gig venue. It’s lean, mean, and most definitely green, and a reminder that the loss of Anton Yelchin was truly a great one. By Blaise Radley

11

Parasite

2019

After a solid slate of preceding and varied films, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite stands as his masterwork to date. One of the later movies on our list, Parasite is as tightly wound a tale as you will find. The ratchet wheeled tension starts early as the down-on-their-luck Kim family methodically begins to interlace with the well-heeled Park family. The setup of the film is every bit as compelling as the payoff, as once the unraveling begins the recoil is unrelenting. Stand out performances by Song Kang-ho and Choi Woo-shik as the Kim father and son, respectively, and Cho Yeo-jeong as the Park mother are outdone only by the perfectly paced plot, intricately constructed stage set of the Park home, and the expansively shot nightscapes of Seoul. In spite of the overriding themes, there are plenty of moments of comic relief as the audacity of free WiFi lost and relief of peach fuzz found keep things buoyant. Given the past decade’s strides in Korean cinema, it’s amazing to think that Parasite may well be the first film from that country to be nominated for a foreign language Academy Award. By Mark Moody

12

Tangerine

2015

Easily the decade’s most unorthodox entry into the Christmas movie canon, Tangerine follows a pair of transgender prostitutes on a fast-paced, high-drama journey across Los Angeles’ seedier neighborhoods, as one hunts for the boyfriend/pimp who cheated on her while she spent a month in prison. Famously shot on an iPhone, director Sean Baker obviously went on to do bigger things with better resources for our #1 movie of the decade, The Florida Project. Still, there’s a seat-of-your-pants energy that doesn’t let up through the movie’s intense 88 minutes, and a wonderful DIY ethos on display that we hope he never loses through all of the increased budgets and inevitable Oscar nominations to come. I don't think we need to worry: that incredible follow-up film was all the indication we need that he hasn’t lost touch with the human aspect of his storytelling. By Austin Trunick

13

First Reformed

2018

Paul Schrader brings us to the intersection of religion and environmentalism with a piece of existentialism that sits heavy on the conscious. Ethan Hawke’s Reverand Toller finds himself growing ever more concerned with humanity’s treatment of God’s Earth, leaving him with questions of how he can serve The Lord and how he can contribute to the betterment of mankind. The film’s stark pallet, dense setting, and repressed characters all make it difficult for any joy to seep in, but Schrader’s persistence in reaching for answers along with his grappling of spirituality and humanism makes for a thematically rich and ambitious film. By Harry Jones

14

The Master

2012

Recognizing the genius of Paul Thomas Anderson is not difficult. He has delivered some of the greatest works in modern cinema, so it is natural that his impressive oeuvre would be featured on a list of this kind. While he has made fantastic films in the previous ten years, without a shadow of a doubt, The Master ranks as his greatest achievement. Boasting career-defining performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams, this exploration of a new religious cult through the eyes of a dispossessed and traumatized World War II veteran is poetically harrowing, sincerely contemplative, and meticulously and passionately constructed. The Master is nuanced and multi-faceted, exploring many ins and outs surrounding listlessness, toxic charisma, seduction, corruption, the importance of family, and self-actualization. Quite possibly PTA’s most gorgeous film besides Phantom Thread, The Master is an all-around powerhouse in film craft, language, and thematic depth. By Matthew Roe

15

Phantom Thread

2018

An intensely decadent affair from beginning to end, Phantom Thread’s deeply destructive perfectionist Reynolds Woodcock casts a shadow over a film striving for perfectionism itself. Every set, every costume, and every shot are beautifully captured in one of the most stunning films of the decade. PTA’s perfect craft is matched by stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps’ note-perfect performances as conflicted lovers, while Jonny Greenwood’s intricate and beautiful score ties this up as a gem of modern cinema. By Harry Jones

16

The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014

There's a certain maturity about Grand Budapest Hotel that sets it apart from Wes Anderson's previous work. Despite its title and a setting clearly representing pre-World War II Eastern Europe, the film isn't set in an actual time or place. It's a fantasy land colored by all the pastels, zany adventures, and cacophony of sharp dialogue that mark his previous work, but it's more purposeful. Here, it represents a certain nostalgia for a society of romance, understanding, and beauty that could never survive fascism. His protagonists are purveyors of these values -- including Ralph Feinnes in a career performance as the hotel's concierge -- and as they're pitted against the mustache-twirling fascists, there's this nagging sense that any triumph will be short-lived. For the way the 2010s began and ended, it's hard to say there's a more representative film. By Shawn Hazelett

17

Toni Erdmann

2016

Toni Erdmann is an outlandishly funny, indulgently bonkers and bittersweet ode to father-daughter relationships. Here, Maren Ade found the sweet spot as prankster father Winfried tries to reconnect with career-driven daughter Ines by mixing engaging family drama with cringe-fest comedy. With scene after scene of laugh-out-loud ridiculousness, Toni Erdmann becomes a celebration of fatherly embarrassment. Winfried’s crazed and socially unerring altar ego is a waved flag to tender weirdos everywhere, proving there’s a soft side to even the most unrelenting of jokers. By Harry Jones

18

The Social Network

2010

There are a few rare movies which can be considered as generation-defining: The Wizard of Oz, Easy Rider, Heathers, and Slacker are among the most cited of this type. For millennials, the movie that encapsulated my generation the best is David Fincher’s The Social Network. Though the film has gone on to inspire countless startups with dreams of following in Mark Zuckerberg’s footsteps, the strongest thesis of the film can be explained through a quote by Rooney Mara’s Erica Albright, “You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays.” Millennials, through our own devices and the conditions we grew up under, have grown more emotionally volatile and insulative, more technologically savvy, and have discovered first-hand that being the petri dish of the new global social construct has its own social and cultural ramifications. While this thesis is not always on complete display, in underlies every sequence and characterization with near-perfect craft and nuance, and has retained its staying power with every subsequent year since its release. Also, this boasts the best music composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to date. By Matthew Roe

19

It Follows

2015

Be honest: you spent weeks after seeing this movie wary of any stranger walking towards you on a dark sidewalk at night. David Robert Mitchell’s clever little horror film produced one of the decade’s most chilling, cinematic boogiemen by giving it no face – it could be anyone – and a persistence that never lets up. That relentlessness alone created a villain where it wasn’t any question of whether it would get you, but when you’d grow tired of running. Accompanied with a single way out of the curse that echoed Ringu’s heavy question of whether you’d be able to “pass-it-along” to save your own life, It Follows is a horror movie that genre fans will be rediscovering for generations to come. By Austin Trunick

20

You Were Never Really Here

2018

There’s a heavy noose hanging around the neck of Lynne Ramsay’s fourth picture, a sag that’s written expressly over Joaquin Phoenix’s gorilla-esque frame as he plays hired brute Joe. And yet, YWNRH is also incredibly lean, flooding your senses even as it remains light on dialogue. Ramsay’s decision to keep violence off-screen or frame it through a mediary device results in one of the most visually-dense representations of trauma and its rippled effects. We live as much in Joe’s past as in his present, transitioning between memories and reality as if slipping through cracks in time. It’s disorienting, and yet Joe’s remembrances aren’t flights of fancy—they’re environmental triggers and premonitions of what his actions beget. The fact that such a work doesn’t feel gratuitous speaks to Ramsay’s control of the material, and Jonny Greenwood’s pummeling and diverse soundtrack. A deftly handled piece that finds grace in strange places. By Blaise Radley

21

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2018

Over the decade, it sometimes felt like a new Marvel superhero movie was landing in theaters every other week. Trying to keep up left more than a few fans feeling exhausted, especially when the number of sequels and overlapping characters meant that plotlines, villains, and continuity could blend together if you weren't keeping good notes as you went. Into the Spiderverse, though, doesn't run the risk of blending in to the crowd. It's a manic piece of eye-catching animation that melds together numerous styles (not to mention, numerous Spider-people) to tell one of the best superhero origin stories ever committed to the screen. Best of all, it's the first superhero movie in a long time that looked and felt like the comic books that served as delightful, childhood escapism for so many of us, embracing the quirks of the medium rather than pushing them under a rug. By Austin Trunick

22

Eighth Grade

2018

Bo Burnham’s hilarious, heartbreaking debut Eighth Grade will feel like some kind of reverse period piece to most adults, depicting a world where the most mundane events and heightened emotions are filtered through a complex web of social media interactions and stilted, fraught conversations. Sketching a few days in the life of Elsie Fisher’s Kayla as she navigates the gauntlet of pool parties, parental interference and awkward romance that make up life in middle school. The all-consuming awkwardness of Kayla’s day-to-day experiences can be grueling, but Burnham never wallows in misery or artificially cruelty toward his protagonist. Eighth Grade is honest in that eighth grade is hell, but kind enough to know that the kids are alright. By Stephen Danay

23

Burning

2019

Lee Chang-dong’s mysterious anti-thriller is a true test of endurance. Uncertainty on top of uncertainty forces a claustrophobic pressure onto its audience and leaves the findings of the film to reverberate in the mind. It’s difficult to know just what kind of impression Burning may leave on a person, but it’s certain that it’ll refuse to sit still, making you question yourself at every turn. By Harry Jones

24

Paterson

2016

Adam Driver's best performance is also his smallest. That's not always a recipe for success, but Paterson is both an unlikely protagonist and film in its quiet, gentle nature and - along with Only Lovers Left Alive - proved that filmmaker Jim Jarmusch still has plenty in the tank. Paterson is a love letter to simplicity without being humourless or scolding, and it's a joy to watch him drive his bus while getting prolonged glimpses into the lives of his passengers through snippets of conversation. His relationship with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) isn't the source for traditional (see: cheap) drama, either. It's a portrait of unconditional love between two people who couldn't appear more different in terms of their duelling personalities (she's very extroverted, while he's far more interior). But they understand one another, and it's not communicated through hackneyed exposition but through tone and subtext of their shared familiarity. It's a week in the life that I constantly want to revisit. By Jason Wilson

25

Carol

2015

Adapted from a 60-year-old Patricia Highsmith story, Carol is one of the decade’s best romances, centering on a young woman (Rooney Mara) that falls hopelessly in love with an older, married woman (Cate Blanchett). Being the 1950s, much of the tension and drama comes from their repressed society, so rigid that it almost feels that their being together is forbidden by the highest law—which makes their passion for each other all the more aching. Blanchett and Rooney, with strong support from Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, turn in two of their best-ever performances, and director Todd Haynes returns the gift with an unbelievably well-crafted picture. With stunning lighting and framing and impeccable period detail, this is the film where Haynes finally cut loose and went full Douglas Sirk, all while pulling the subtext typically found in that filmmaker’s melodramas to the forefront. By Austin Trunick

26

Moonrise Kingdom

2012

Films built off the backs of a juvenile cast are difficult enough on their own, but when they’re placed into the whimsical world of Wes Anderson, all bets are off. While Anderson has been lauded for his consistently unique cinematic vision, Moonrise Kingdom is the culmination of all of the aspects which make his work so wonderful. This story of an orphan boy escaping from a scouting camp to unite with his love interest before a massive hurricane hits their island is brimming with childhood wonder, hilariously snarky characters, some of the most magnificently crafted cinematography I have ever seen in any movie, and dialogue that always manages to conjure up a smile. The film so utterly encapsulates that odd time in every child’s life where they’re trying to grow up and become more autonomous, at the same time they are not yet ready to take on those responsibilities. However, what makes this film more unique than others of its type, is that it also showcases the childishness and egotism of adults, and how (at our core) nothing changes as we age; just that our priorities shift. The duality of the storytelling meshed with such a phenomenal audio/visual presentation makes Moonrise Kingdom a wholly singular cinematic experience. By Matthew Roe

27

American Honey

2019

Few films this decade captured the reckless, capricious energy of youth better than Andrea Arnold's opus American Honey. Following a state-to-state door-to-door magazines sales crew, Arnold renders that specifically youthful need to escape without judgement. It’s not just a grungy road trip movie, it’s an odyssey into an entirely unseen yet integral part of American society; a bastardised and yet purified version of the American Dream where sales are king and the truth is flexible. Visually Arnold shifts between an appropriately floating and free-roaming camera to tight close-ups of specific details; a dog-eared photo, a few leftover crisps slowly going stale; a half-seen underarm tattoo. Narratively we're pinned to the core relationship between skeezy charmer Jake (Shia LaBeouf), and the crew's latest addition Star (Sasha Lane), but it’s the texture of the entire family of misfits that makes American Honey transcend to an experiential plane. By Blaise Radley

28

Lady Bird

2017

Hearkening back to the distant past of 2003, Lady Bird depicts the last gasps of classic teenage life before internet and cell phones changed the game. Chronicling the senior year of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, writer/director Greta Gerwig investigates the yearning for identity that defines young adult life, while crafting an intelligent, winning comedy that balances laugh-out loud moments with genuine pathos. Featuring an enchanting, layered performance by Saoirse Ronan and heart-breaking turn by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s long suffering mother, the quasi-autobiographical film builds upon Gerwig’s previous collaborations with Noah Baumbach, announcing her as a confident cinematic voice in her own right. By Stephen Danay

29

Inside Out

2015

In a decade that produced many excellent animated films, Inside Out sticks out for how entertainingly it executed an ingenious high concept. Inside Out follows the anthropomorphized emotions working the control panels of a young adolescent girl, as they compete to navigate an exceedingly emotional period of her life. There are so many ways this idea could have been handled poorly, but Pixar (of course) handle it deftly, in a manner that’s equally silly and emotionally touching. By Austin Trunick

30

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

2019

For her fourth feature, Céline Sciamma delivered an exquisitely rendered knockout, a tortured tale of forbidden love that’s both timely and timeless. Composed to a tee and perfect in its visual arrangement, A Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a deeply emotional experience that builds to its stirring denouement in steadily weaving strokes. For a film whose title speaks to abstracted artistic imagery, the conceit is a suitably familiar yet twisted one—a female painter must capture the essence of her muse without them ever catching wind that they’re being studied. What follows is a witch’s coven-esque deep dive into love and sisterhood unburdened by patriarchal pressures. Much more than a period drama, this is a stunning film that understands true beauty is texture and depth singing in harmony. By Blaise Radley

31

Blue Ruin

2013

32

The Handmaiden

2016

33

Whiplash

2014

34

Anomalisa

2015

35

The Act of Killing

2012

36

Inherent Vice

2014

37

Under the Skin

2013

38

Black Swan

2010

39

Her

2013

40

The Wolf of Wall Street

2013

41

The Fighter

2010

42

The Nice Guys

2016

43

Upstream Color

2013

44

Brooklyn

2016

45

Sorry to Bother You

2018

46

Ex Machina

2015

47

Bridesmaids

2011

48

Dunkirk

2017

49

The Favourite

2018

50

Midnight in Paris

2011

Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.