Advertisement

The best movies of the decade: Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang’s essential picks

Movies of the decade
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, left) of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Joy (Amy Poehler) from “Inside Out” and Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight.”
(Jasin Boland / Warner Bros. Pictures | Pixar | David Bornfriend / A24)
1

As the decade comes to an end, Times film critics Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang collaborated on a list of 10 essential cinematic achievements that earn their mutual endorsement and each added five more titles they personally adore.

KENNETH TURAN: When you watch movies for a living, you’re always looking forward, eager for the next film that will change your life — or maybe just make a dull evening a little more entertaining.

Though looking backward can feel as perilous for critics as it was for Lot’s wife, there are key moments — like the turning of the decade — when it can be exhilarating to reflect on the best of what we’ve seen and to point out what still means the most over that period of time.

In that spirit, we’ve put our heads together and come up with a joint list of 10 films that stood out for us, as well as an additional five individual choices (all listed in alphabetical order). If you’ve seen them already, you know what we mean. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

Advertisement

JUSTIN CHANG: It should go without saying — and yet also probably bears repeating — that there is nothing definitive about our joint list of 10. There were many more films at the center of that Venn diagram where our favorites overlap, and figuring out which ones ultimately rose to the very top for both of us was both fun and difficult, whimsical and arbitrary — as, I think, all list making should be.

We hope you enjoy watching and rewatching these wonderful movies as much as we did. And here’s to the next great decade of cinema.


The Films of the Decade

2
“Amour”
Jean-Louis Trintignant, left, and Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour’
Jean-Louis Trintignant, left, as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in “Amour.”
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Directed by Michael Haneke, this devastating winner of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or uses shattering performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva to show what happens to a long and harmonious marriage when the wife suffers a series of debilitating strokes. No film moved me more, or made me think harder about the vicissitudes of the human experience. (K.T.)

3
“Brooklyn”
Saorise Ronan and Emory Cohen in ‘Brooklyn’
Saorise Ronan as Eilis and Emory Cohen as Tony in “Brooklyn.”
(Kerry Brown / 20th Century Fox)

Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel by Nick Hornby, directed by John Crowley and starring the peerless Saoirse Ronan. A feast of rich emotions presented with wit, grace and not a trace of sentimentality, this 2015 release is the kind of film I’m always looking for but rarely find. (K.T.)

4
“The Deep Blue Sea”
Rachel Weisz in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’
Rachel Weisz in “The Deep Blue Sea.”
(Music Box Films)

Advertisement

A tale from two Terences (the playwright Terence Rattigan and the filmmaker Terence Davies) led by a heartbreaker of a performance by Rachel Weisz, this wrenching expressionist melodrama didn’t receive the attention it deserved when it opened in the U.S. in 2012. Seven years later, its operatic intensities of color, music and feeling have yet to subside. (J.C.)

5
“Inside Out”
Joy and Sadness in ‘Inside Out’
Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) catch a ride on the Train of Thought in “Inside Out.”
(Pixar / Disney)

Pixar’s 2015 triumph not only goes to places other animation creators don’t dare; it goes to places the rest of the pack don’t even know exist. Made with visual magic and emotional sensitivity, it casually probes deeper questions about what matters in life. (K.T.)

6
“I Am Not Your Negro”
James Baldwin in “I Am Not Your Negro.”
James Baldwin in “I Am Not Your Negro.”
(Bob Adelman / Magnolia Pictures)

This 2016 documentary is a mesmerizing experience — smart, thoughtful, disturbing — in which filmmaker Raoul Peck uses the full spectrum of film language to illuminate James Baldwin’s extraordinary insights into America’s complex racial crisis. (K.T.)

7
“Lady Bird”
Saoirse Ronan in ‘Lady Bird’
Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.”
(A24)

At one point in Greta Gerwig’s luminous 2017 coming-of-age classic, Lady Bird and her mom (the sublimely matched Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf) have an argument that builds to the literal mother of all putdowns: “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.” This movie is exactly that. (J.C.)

8
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Charlize Theron in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Charlize Theron as Furiosa, right, in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
(Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

A barn-burner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day. Released in 2015, it stars Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, who helped director George Miller reanimate the franchise he began. (K.T.)

9
“Moonlight”
‘Moonlight’
Alex Hibbert in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.”
(David Bornfriend / A24)

Gorgeously acted by an ensemble led by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, Barry Jenkins’ 2016 movie about a young black man’s impoverished upbringing and sexual awakening is the most exquisite of landmark achievements. Its realism is both tough-minded and lyrical, with a depth of feeling that envelops you like a dream. (J.C.)

10
“Poetry”
‘Poetry’
Yun Jung-hee in “Poetry.”
(Kino Internatiional)

One of three decade standouts (the others are “Secret Sunshine” and “Burning”) from the great South Korean humanist Lee Chang-dong, this 2010 portrait of a seemingly unremarkable woman (the remarkable Yun Jung-hee) is a transcendent movie about the search for transcendence. (J.C.)

11
“A Separation”
Peyman Moadi as Nader, left, and Sarina Farhadi as Termeh in a scene from “A Separation.”
Peyman Moadi as Nader, left, and Sarina Farhadi as Termeh in a scene from “A Separation.”
(Habib Madjidi / Sony Pictures Classics)

Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 tale of a family and a society coming apart is a gripping, ultimately devastating weave of domestic drama and detective fiction: as intricate and suspenseful as Hitchcock, as compassionate and multi-threaded as Renoir, but with a laserlike intelligence that is all Farhadi’s own. (J.C.)


Justin Chang's Five Favorites

Advertisement

Choosing five favorites from a decade of cinematic riches was an impossible task. Five minutes ago, Lee Chang-dong’s “Secret Sunshine,” Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” were all on the list; ask me tomorrow and they still might be.

12
“The Assassin”
‘The Assassin’
Shu Qi in Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s “The Assassin.”
(Well Go USA)

With this stunning 2015 foray into the mountain mists and palace intrigues of ninth-century Chinese wuxia, the Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien and his star, Shu Qi, created a shimmering dream of an action picture. Concrete yet evanescent, merging stasis and kinesis, it’s a movie that seems to exist both in and out of time.

13
“Boyhood”
Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in ‘Boyhood’
Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason (Ellar Coltrane) in the movie “Boyhood,” directed by Richard Linklater.
(IFC Films )

More than a decade in the making but released in 2014, Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age drama was assembled piecemeal but unfolds with masterly assurance. It tells the simplest, most deceptively commonplace of human stories, but tells it in a way that it never has been, before or since.

14
“The Master”
Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘The Master’
Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master.”
(The Weinstein Company)

This was an agonizing choice between two Paul Thomas Anderson stunners, the other being 2017’s gorgeously romantic “Phantom Thread.” But I ultimately gravitated toward the even darker, broodier pleasures of “The Master” (2012), and I am no less seduced by its own impossible love story, hauntingly inhabited by Joaquin Phoenix and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

15
“Toni Erdmann”
Sandra Hüller in ‘Toni Erdmann’
Sandra Hüller as Ines in “Toni Erdmann.”
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Sandra Hüller gives one of the decade’s richest performances as a corporate climber who gets an impish intervention from her father (the hilarious, deeply soulful Peter Simonischek). Maren Ade’s 2016 pointillist comedy is a triumph of deadpan realism, a belly-laugh symphony and a movie that, to paraphrase its guiding spirit Whitney Houston, walks in nobody’s shadow.

16
“The Tree of Life”
“The Tree of Life”
Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain in “The Tree of Life.”
(Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/ Merie Wallace)

It’s about so much more than grief, but a movie this personal demands a personal response: I first watched this Terrence Malick masterwork — one of the great films on fatherhood, both earthly and divine — shortly before its release in 2011, less than a month after my own dad’s death. The full force of it didn’t hit me immediately; in some ways it’s hitting me still, in ways that never cease to devastate and console.


Kenneth Turan's Five Favorites

Asking a critic to pick a personal five films of the decade is a bit of an impossible mission. With so much to choose from, where to begin.

For better or worse, I made the painful decision to leave off magnificent, much applauded work by master filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) in favor of films that I wish would get the widest possible acclaim.

17
“The Clock”
‘The Clock’
A still from Christian Marclay’s “The Clock.”
(Todd-White Art Photography)

A 2010 art piece structured around a 24-hour viewing experience by Christian Marclay that gets under your skin. Whether you’re awake or asleep, whether you’re watching or looking away, you can sense its presence. You look at your own clock and wonder: What’s it doing now? What’s on that screen at this exact moment in time?

18
“Dawson City: Frozen Time”
‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’
Film recovered from the Yukon permafrost in the late 1970s as seen in the documentary “Dawson City: Frozen Time.”
(Kino Lorber)

Bill Morrison’s documentary, which premiered in 2016 and opened in the U.S. in 2017, is almost impossible to describe, filled with intense exposition about film and socio-political history but also such a visual knockout you feel you don’t want to so much as blink out of fear you’ll miss something exceptional on the screen.

19
“Footnote”
‘Footnote,’ March
Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote.”
(Ren Mendelson / Sony Pictures Classics)

Brainy, bravura filmmaking by Israeli master director Joseph Cedar, this 2011 motion picture about dueling Talmudic scholars who happen to be father and son is as difficult to pigeonhole as it is a pleasure to enjoy.

20
“Manchester by the Sea”
Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester By the Sea’
Casey Affleck in “Manchester By the Sea.”
(Claire Folger, Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions )

A triumph for actors Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams, but the real star is writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, whose 2016 film brought the tang of truth to a world where heartbreak and humor coexist, a world where something real is unfolding before our very eyes.

21
“Son of Saul”
‘Son of Saul’
Géza Röhrig as Saul in “Son of Saul." 
(Sony Pictures Classics)

A drama set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 and directed by Laszlo Nemes, this 2015 Hungarian film is an immersive experience of the most disturbing kind, an unwavering vision of a particular kind of hell. No matter how many Holocaust films you’ve seen, you’ve not seen one like this.


Newsletter
Get our weekly Indie Focus newsletter

Movie news, screening invitations and reviews from the world of independent film and beyond.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Justin Chang has been a film critic for the Los Angeles Times since 2016. He is the author of the book “FilmCraft: Editing” and serves as chair of the National Society of Film Critics and secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.
Kenneth Turan is film critic for the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.