The Best Movies of the Decade

Emily Liu

With the decade coming to a close, it’s nice to reflect back on all the best media and film entertainment that have so greatly shaped our personal lives, culture, and society. Here, I will rank the top ten movies from the last ten years in ten different genres. There will be three metrics for determining the top accomplishment of my chosen movies. The first metric is how revolutionary a movie was in shaping today’s culture, or how influential it was in affecting the socio-political atmosphere. A second metric is the nostalgia factor and whether the movie will be historical and reflect cultural trends of the decade. The last factor is essential to the quality of any great movie: artistically potent cinematography and acting.

The first genre we are going to start with is also my personal favorite, and one that is popular and easily likable: romantic comedies. I’m going to give this one to Crazy Rich Asians directed by and casted with a majority Asian team. This movie was revolutionary because it seamlessly integrated the minority group of East Asians into Hollywood—the movie didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that it was about Asians (even if that’s how the title makes it seem), and it surely wasn’t produced by white directors who then marketed it and made a big deal out of the fact that it was about Asians. Instead, it capitalized off of the already-existing buzz around ethnic representation in Hollywood. And we can all see the power of this movie through the careers it set off, from Constance Wu in Hustlers, to Henry Golding as the star love interest in Last Christmas, to the success of The Farewell starring Awkwafina, who’s now also part of TIME 100 Next

Another romantic movie, Call Me By Your Name, wins the LGBT+ movie category for the similar reason that it doesn’t make a huge deal out of its LGBT+ subject matter. In this dreamlike romance, never before seen since the 1995 dramatic romance Before Sunrise, Elio naturally meets and falls for Oliver in a romantic Italian summer setting. Call Me By Your Name is ultimately a love story; Elio deals with the same inner conflicts of any young person going through their lustful dose of first love, and it just so happens to be with a man of the same sex. At the same time, Call Me By Your Name knows and utilizes its power and influence for the LGBT+ community. At the end of the movie, Elio’s father’s monologue is absolutely historical and empathetic to the LGBT+ community, even when without explicitly acknowledging the same-sex relationship. Before all else, this interaction between father and son is about the delicacy of young love. Call Me By Your Name highlights Timothee Chalamet’s (playing Elio) acting strengths and launched his career, making him the youngest Oscar nominee in all history. His acting was also a good example of the artistic benefits of testing the waters of breaking the fourth wall, with Chalamet’s own personality adding depth to Elio’s character. In addition, Luca Guadagnino’s cinematographic decisions cannot be overlooked; the entire movie was shot with one camera and one lens, with a stagnant foreground, middle ground, and background, in order to emulate the human eye. 

Winning the musical theatre category is yet another emotionally evoking movie La La Land, which redefined the musical theatre genre for years to come. Through the utilization of color harmony, memorable music and soundtracks, and the vintage nostalgia of Hollywood and Los Angeles, Chapelle manages to thread together an enjoyable, bittersweet movie for all ages. There were certain musical numbers and scenes that clearly exhibited mastery of artistic cinematography, such as the scene with the song “Someone in the Crowd” or the entire 8-minute Epilogue rewind and flashback. The movie is also incredibly realistic, which gives it some semblance of the real world even amidst the colorful backdrop and glamor of Hollywood. Spoiler alert: in the end, though Mia and Sebastian reconcile their differences, they can never end up together. Chapelle wanted this ending instead of one that the audience wants, one that satisfies our hopes that at least in the fictional world, maybe everything will be okay; but the only possible end goal for Mia and Sebastian is their inevitable separation. In this way, La-la Land definitely broke tradition and set new ones, telling a love story reflective of our current generation’s opinions on love and entertainment media. We’re tired of the same cliche love stories. We want to see something relatable, something that doesn’t make us feel worse about our own lives, but also something that still passes on valuable life lessons. 

Another movie that also paved a way to redefining its genre is Get Out for horror. Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a thrilling and mind-boggling experience, and his horror style’s increasing popularity can be seen through his immensely successful movie Us in 2019. Ultimately, Get Out brought the horror genre into a more respectable art form. More than just jump scares, antichrists, or ghost stories, Jordan Peele’s work really makes you feel scared, and you probably aren’t really conscious of why exactly either. Peele includes symbolism all throughout his movie, which is what makes it a valuable and enticing story to follow. It messes you up on the insides. Get Out, especially, also sprinkles in several doses of reality, as at surface-level it does deal with a very scary and very real concept of persisting American racism. The start of the movie was a very traditional American family scene, so the movie is scary because of how real and unreal it feels at the same time. Comparable is Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommnar; these just show how Get Out definitely paved the path for a future of successful abstract and avant-garde horror movies. 

Also breaking cinematic traditions is the winner of the animation category: Into the Spiderverse. The contextual driving factor of the movie was that anyone can be Spiderman, bluntly admitting to character’s cinematic history of being played by white males. In Into the Spiderverse, we have more than just POC representation-there’s also representation for people with disabilities and women. They even include a pig as a “Spiderman” to really drive the idea home. Despite the cliche and mostly predictable plot points, Into the Spiderverse radiated a sense of familiarity to the typical hero’s journey and American superhero story, triggering the warm nostalgic memories of childhood in our psyche. What truly makes the movie revolutionary, however, is its artistic deviation from the popular and over-saturated animation style characterized by the dominating powerhouses of Disney Animations and Pixar. Into the Spiderverse’s animation team paid great attention to detail, such as through shifting their style to match the characters (for example, Penny Parker was drawn in with traditional Japanese anime elements). Sony was willing to take creative risks, and it sure paid off, winning a Golden Globe in 2018. 

While La La Land and Into the Spiderverse set a precedent for the future of their respective genres, we cannot forget to acknowledge the winner of the book to movie adaptation genre, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. The entire Harry Potter series and world was truly transformative to the last two decades, and the last installment absolutely meets all the three above mentioned metrics of determining a truly important movie. From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, we’ve created entire theme parks, video games, and universally understood colloquiums. The series created a world of magic and love for fantasy that hasn’t ever been seen before or matched. Unlike the similar Percy Jackson series attempted, the Harry Potter cast and crew were committed, creating eight movies that will definitely age well and become the next generation’s classics. 

Another great pop culture phenomenon is Disney’s Frozen series. Similarly, Frozen created its own magical world for audiences of all ages. Its catchy songs such as Let It Go also gained incredible popularity, recognized by its own creators with a scene in Frozen 2 of Elsa cringing at a memory of herself performing the song. Plot-wise, Frozen 2 was revolutionary for being the first Disney “Princess” movie where the female protagonist’s story doesn’t end when or where she finds a man. In fact, Frozen 2 carefully characterizes Kristoff as a self-aware, securely masculine, and realistic love interest of Anna’s; there’s a specific scene where Kristoff is a literal “knight in shining armor” sweeping Anna off her feet onto Sven and riding into safety, only after asking our true hero Anna exactly what help she needs from him. More than about their romantic loves, Frozen is ultimately about familial and self-love, especially for Elsa (although I have a pretty strong conspiracy that Elsa fell for Honeymaren, but that’s a story for another day). Cinematics-wise, Frozen and Frozen 2 also document Disney Animation’s incredibly technical artistic progress throughout the decade (summarized well by Insider’s Youtube video). 

The obvious choice winner of the action genre would be Avengers Endgame. Over Marvel’s ten year making of these movies, the Avengers were the superheroes that we all grew up alongside with. Naturally, the end of the series was an emotional trainwreck, in the best way possible. Endgame also summarizes a generation of cultural progress, reflected through the increased inclusion of women and POC into superhero stories and entertainment media in general. Especially with the ending, there is a set precedent normalizing diversity and inclusivity in future action movies. Endgame gave us a set of characters, stories, and universes that we can all connect with and with each other about. Best of all, this movie gave us words to say when there are no words… “Love you 3000.”

Also documenting the concept of growth is Sing Street, winning the coming-of-age movie category. While the coming-of-age genre dominates many movies with a young adult audience, Sing Street is the obvious winner. Similar to La-la Land, Sing Street wins this category just because of how incredibly realistic and relatable the movie actually is. The movie revolves around the concept of “happysad,” a seemingly universally dominating theme of and feeling of limbo familiar only to adolescence. Director John Carney hits the sweet spot in capturing the absolute essence of the transition into young adulthood-a balance (or imbalance, depending on the way you see it) of impending inevitable harsh realities versus the feeling of knowing there are no consequences, that THIS is the time to break the rules, of being invincible. Given, this movie was not traditionally extraordinary; it didn’t have a never-before thought of plot or top-notch Hollywood cinematography. It was just a movie about a boy trying to start a band and impress a girl, and that’s what makes it stunningly beautiful. The greatest works of art are those that can make you FEEL something, and nothing can take that away from the precious story Sing Street tells. 

Lastly, is a movie that wins its own niche category of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. In fact, the manic pixie dream girl as a genre deserves as award for defining entertainment of the decade. The archetype truly shone in this past decade, saturated in most young adult novels, and especially popularized through John Green’s immensely successful The Fault In Our Stars and Papertowns. TI believe the manic pixie dream girl character trope is a dangerous path that women can be encouraged to head down and take the bait of: the savior complex. While this female character helps advance the storyline of her male counterpart, she herself never grows up, making it a toxic ideal for girls to look up to. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World then satirizes the entire story of a prepubescent boy who believes he’s falling for a girl “not like other girls” because she has magenta hair. It’s a movie that you watch just to make yourself constantly go “WTF LOL” and if that doesn’t define the type of entertainment our generation values, then I don’t know what does. Of all the cheesy, horribly awesome, available on Netflix in their own super-vague category, super ironic teenage movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the OG, the one that started it all.