We’re just about smack dab in the middle of the decade, a great time to look back at the best movies of the teens — so far. Which will stand the test of time? Which truly struck a chord?
Here are my top 10 picks (I can already hear the backlash). How many have you seen?:
1. “Gravity” (2013) — Alfonso Cuaron rightfully won an Oscar for his labor-of-love tale of a medical officer helplessly adrift in space trying to get back home. The film pulsated with urgency and was a jaw-dropping technical marvel. But it was also wondrous, grounded — excuse the pun — in a gripping performance by Sandra Bullock. She made us feel every exasperated moment, and as she fought to survive, she seemed to come alive a little bit more. She may have been enveloped in nothingness, but she refused to succumb to it.
2. “The King’s Speech” (2010) — A monumental, Oscar-winning performance by Colin Firth brings out the humanity in King George VI, who struggled with a psychologically devastating speech impediment. The real story, though, was about the king’s relationship with his eccentric speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), who prepares him to address the world via radio when Britain has no choice but to go to war. Director Tom Hooper makes the actual speech remarkably suspenseful as we hang on every syllable — it’s rousing only in the way that against-all-odds films can be.
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3. “12 Years A Slave” (2013) — Unforgettable in its depiction of the horrifying atrocities of slavery, the story of a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery was made truly monumental by the soul-baring performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor and the heartbreaking one by Lupita Nyong’o.
4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) — A visceral adrenaline-pumping ride from start to finish, we get completely caught up in the feverish journey as things go from worse to worse. Director George Miller returns to ferocious form as he lovingly resurrects his franchise, but he also created a post-apocalyptic universe with surprisingly meaningful mythology, injecting commentary about the state of humanity and blind faith. This is a new action classic.
5. “Inception” (2010) — Writer/director Christopher Nolan wasn’t afraid to make up his own rules and revel in them. The technique and the story — about a team of specialists who infiltrate a businessman’s dreams to plant an idea — are the real stars, but Nolan’s actors (led effortlessly by Leonardo DiCaprio) inhabit the dreamscapes with precise motivation. The film is a dizzying, euphoric ride.
6. “The Fighter” (2010) — We’ve seen underdog boxing tales before, but this film is really about family dynamic. And Micky “Irish” Ward certainly had a combustible one, which he tries to control when he finally gets a shot that could advance his flailing career. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo were outstanding as his loud-mouthed brother and mother, and Amy Adams was perfect as his spitfire girlfriend, but Mark Wahlberg was every bit as impressive as Micky. He’s the center of the chaotic storm, only his shouting is internal — and it’s louder than anyone around him.
7. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014) — Sure, I awed at the technical feats of the cinematography, editing and direction, but I loved the story, too — about a washed-up actor trying to reinvent himself on Broadway — because we were never sure if what we were seeing was actually happening or just inside the warped head of the actor played by Michael Keaton, who gave a blistering, fearless performance that should have won the Oscar.
8. “Bridesmaids” (2011) — So much better than all the raunchy comedies it spawned, this proved that women could be funny front-and-center, and rightfully made Kristin Wiig a star. And it gave a rare Oscar nod to comedy with a supporting actress nomination for Melissa McCarthy. Comedy is hard, but these women made it look easy.
9. “Drive” (2011) — Beautifully hypnotic in its bleakness, this drips with director Nicolas Winding Refn’s stark visual style and calculated pacing, with a mesmerizing Ryan Gosling playing a quiet Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights for criminals. A truly “artsy” action film that was dark and surprisingly violent. It’s already a cult classic.
10. “Her” (2013) — Spike Jones’ sweet, soulful, Oscar-winning script dazzles with creativity, about a man who falls in love with his new computer operating system, voiced spot-on by Scarlett Johansson. But it’s Joaquin Phoenix who sells it, as a lonely man who has feelings awaken inside him that he forgot about. When his heart finally breaks, so does ours. The film emerges as a smart meditation on the state of technology, and how it will affect our ability to have relationships.
Reach Rod Pocowatchit at firstname.lastname@example.org.