Lists are incredibly subjective. There are no bones about it. There is no way to take out personal leanings and preferences. It is inescapable.
With that being said, here is how I am approaching my “Favorite 10 Films Of The Decade” list. There is going to be a blend of multiple variables, including but not limited to: enjoyment, personal & cultural impact, connectivity, critical praise and originality. I did not consider any movies that I rated lower than a “B-“. I also picked one movie per director to try and diversify my list and genres.
Will I have doubts and regrets as soon as I publish this list? You betcha.
Without further ado, here are my favorite 10 films of the decade…
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Staring: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
Release Date: November 8, 2019
The most modern addition to this list, Parasite is the best movie I have seen in 2019. Director and writer Bong Joon Ho bends genres with an ease that’s honestly unnerving. He can blend poignant social commentary with genuine comedy and ghastly horror.
Additionally, Parasite takes the audience on a curvy trail of empathy. It’s like being part of a Rube Goldberg machine. As a viewer, you are the ball that’s being tossed through various obstacles, constantly having your pace and direction switched. How the different contraptions (in a cinematic sense, the story’s checkpoints themselves) work together seems illogical. But come the end, the audience is dropped into a pool of “HOLY CRAP WHAT IS HAPPENING” water.
Parasite is the topsy-turviest movie I have seen, honestly since Cabin In The Woods (2011). You cannot predict it. You cannot anticipate it. Parasite sucks you in, latches on, and doesn’t let go. It drains you in the best possible way.
Stanko Rating: A (5.0/5.0 Stars)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Staring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard
Release Date: September 8, 2017
It is a bit of a personal pick. No bones about it. I genuinely loved the movie and put it inside my top-five of 2017. But It also came at the perfect time of my media consumption maturity. I had just begun to get into Stephen King when the trailer first dropped, and then once I saw the movie it was full bore. I had not read any King books to that point, but since 2017 I have listened to 14 different audio books of his. So It really kindled something in me in regards to taking in new literature.
But as a movie itself, Pennywise and Bill Skarsgård absolutely blew my socks off. It scared me when I first saw it, and still there are moments that are just eerie as hell. When Pennywise is waving the single arm to young Mike Hanlon…or when that creepy-ass painting lady creeps up in the sewers to chomp down on Stanley Uris; those images still stick with me.
There is no doubting that It is the best King novel adaption in recent years. It earned a ton of money and became the most popular R rated horror movie of all-time. It was a cultural phenomenon and it’s left an impact. Anyone who has seen the movie doesn’t like it when I start going “you’ll float too…” in my squeaky voice…insert sly Pennywise smile*
Stanko Rating: A (4.5/5.0 Stars)
Stanko Stance Review
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Staring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Queue the water works. Trigger the emotions.
When Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, it was the summer before I attended my freshman year of college. For many, including myself, that is a tumultuous time…and to see the toys literally having to see Andy grow through the same motions I was growing through…whoof.
The thing I will remember about Toy Story 3 is my connection to that final scene. Andy handing over his entire childhood to Bonnie, that just crushed me. I remember when I handed my mom a garbage bag full of my Lord of the Rings action figures and said I was too old for them. I remember the day I realized I didn’t have my Legos anymore.
Toy Story 3’s direct approach to the realization of growing up is something to marvel at. Woody and the gang having to rediscover themselves and their purposes in a new environment is a lot like children having to grow up and learn to adapt to different schools and expectations. There are few things harder than knowing you have to give up something you love, and for me, Toy Story 3 does that both from the perspective of Woody and Andy. It’s perfect.
I can count on a single hand the movies this decade that brought out as much emotion as Toy Story 3 elicits.
Stanko Rating: A+ (5.0/5.0 Stars)
Director: Ari Aster
Staring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Release Date: June 8, 2018
When someone asks for a great horror movie to watch, my immediate response in Hereditary. Ari Aster’s diabolical pacing and direction makes it the best made horror movie I have seen this decade. Toni Collette deserved to be in all the awards conversation for her performance, and I think both Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro make transformative presentations.
What makes Hereditary so scary is its grounded floor. Every single bit of tension and terror is constructed from family dysfunction. Annie, played by Collette, is slowly crumbling as a series of traumatic events plunge her deeper into a well of desperation. That drowning is terrifying on a tangible level of its own, but throw in a supernatural element that unfurls at a glacier pace and you have enough anxiety to shake an entire forest.
Now the most important thing with a great build up is being able to end it well…right? The final 20 minutes of Hereditary ranks among the scariest 20 minutes I have ever watched. It is straight up craziness. Aster’s ability to make fear so artful is beautiful. If you can manage not to cover yourself as the conclusion unfolds, you’ll be privy to some of the best directing horror movies have to offer.
Stanko Rating: A (5.0/5.0 Stars)
Director: James Mangold
Staring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Release Date: March 3, 2017
There is no denying that superhero movies have been the money makers for Hollywood this decade.
I am not the biggest fan of the Avenger films, and Logan is the perfect antidote to the same wish-fulfillment checkpoint storytelling that the majority of said films fall into. Logan is by far my favorite superhero movie of the decade.
The old western tone and apocalyptic atmosphere of Logan differentiate it from the many comic book movies this decade. There aren’t any of the bright colors dragging your eyes in every direction. The dialogue is not whittled down to motivational speeches and quirky quips. Instead Logan brings vulnerability, heart and brutality.
Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are unbelievably good. Director James Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson create visually striking scenery and make the violence quick, brutal and fierce. Logan is a superhero movie that uses grounded stakes, character development and terrific acting to raise itself above the clutter of audience’s traditional picks.
Also, about Logan….its first trailer with Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” is one of the best movie trailers I have ever seen. I go back and rewatch it just because. It is the perfect tone setter.
Stanko Rating: A (4.5/5.0 Stars)
Director: Damien Chazella
Staring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Release Date: October 15, 2014
J.K. Simmons. I repeat. J.K. SIMMONS.
TEMPO. TEMPO. TEMPO. Were you rushing, or were you dragging? I DON’T KNOW.
Simmons gives is the best acting performance of the decade. And then you add on Miles Teller putting forth the best performance of his career.
There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job.’
Whiplash may be the toughest watch on my list. It is not a happy film. Frankly, it beats you down and makes you nearly want to quit on whatever dream you are chasing.
The tension between Fletcher (played by Simmons) and Andrew (played by Teller) all builds to the final climactic concert.
The stress the audience feels for Andrew is all-time levels of high, but when he clashes that simple high into Fletcher’s cursing face, you get that “oh, hell yea, brother” moment. The song itself draws emotions out of the viewers; it starts out with a frenzy eliciting the “oh no, what’s he doing” reaction, but then lulls down into a valley that lures everyone into a sense of frankly unrealistic calm.
But then director Damien Chazelle, in one of many fantastically executed decisions, reminds the audience that it’s a battle between Fletcher and Andrew. The quick swerving pans back and forth between the calm and cocky conducting Fletcher and the panicked and sweating Andrew re-quickens the increased heartbeat of nervousness.
The lights dim…its supposed to end…but Andrew is in control. He tells Fletcher that he’ll cue him, and the torch of respect has been passed. Fletcher legit looks aroused as he works with Andrew to create the climactic crescendo of this just ridiculous drum solo. That moment when the piercing eyes of Fletcher are framed, but you can see the corners of his mouth widen in a smile is just a wonderful use of an extreme closeup by Chazzelle.
Guys, simply put, Whiplash is edge-of-your-seat stuff. Simmons is gold and Teller is the best he has ever been. It’s still somehow under appreciated. It’s a must watch.
Stanko Rating: A (5.0/5.0 Stars)
Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood (2019)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Staring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Release Date: July 26, 2019
A movie about the love of movies by someone who is the best to ever make movies. What a wonderful combination. I mentioned earlier how Parasite is the best made movie of the year, but Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood is my favorite movie of 2019. Walking out of the theater, it is impossible for anyone who loves movies not be completely enthralled.
Quentin Tarantino writes and directs the hell out of his blatant love-letter to Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt both deliver powerhouse superstar performances. Margot Robbie, playing the famous femme Sharon Tate, is really unbelieve in her short time on the screen encapsulating what was it was like to be enamored with the movies during its golden age.
Putting it plainly, Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood is effortlessly cool. Pitt just oozes confidence (sometimes in a purposely over brash way) and is sexy as hell. Playing Cliff Booth, I wrote earlier in a review that I was entranced by his combination of Paul Newman’s Luke from Cool Hand Look and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt in Bullitt.
Then there is DiCaprio, who again excels under the direction of Tarantino. Playing Rick Dalton, he is playing the part of a fading star that Tarantino has seen in the movie industry his entire life. His conversation with a young eight-year old actress by the name of Trudi is heartbreaking, but Dalton’s moment of excellence in acting out a hostage sequence shows the fragility in confidence in a Hollywood industry that’s constantly evolving.
Then there is the ending to Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood. Fans of Tarantino are accustomed to some spurts of violence, often bloody. There is not much fighting in the opening 7/8’s of the movie…but come that final scene…holy cow. Tarantino’s reimaging of history and final act leaves the audience wanting this two hour and forty-minute story to continue even further.
Tarantino does not make bad movies. In my eyes Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood is his second best, trailing only Inglorious Bastards.
Stanko Rating: A- (4.5/5.0 Stars)
Stanko Stance Review
A Star Is Born (2018)
Director: Bradley Cooper
Staring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
Release Date: October 5, 2018
I cried five times during this movie. Twice of happiness, and three times due to sadness. A Star Is Born was a phenomenon in the culture, and while it didn’t clean up the awards like many thought it would have…I still think its out-of-this-world good.
It is impossible for me to count the amount of times I have listened to the entire soundtrack. Every time I rewatch Ally come out and sing “Shallow” for the first time with Jackson Maine I get goosebumps. It’s INSANE. It’s hard to think of a better scene showing the sudden rise of someone’s confidence in the midst of immense trepidation.
For a directorial debut, Bradley Cooper creates just a classic Hollywood tale. It’s a story that had been told many times, but never as powerfully as this. The first scene of the movie immediately grabs you; the shaky cam showing exactly where Maine is at on a personal level with the exposition of his pills and booze. From there it’s a tale of tragedy, seeing a man fall while a young woman rises.
Alright, now lets countdown the times I cried in A Star Is Born. Just for old times sake
- When Ally comes out and sings “Shallow”
- When Ally and Maine meet in the rehab center
- When Maine kills himself
- When Maine and his brother Bobby have the heart-to-heart in the driveway
- When Ally is singing the final song AND IT CUTS TO MAINE ACOUSTICALLY SINGING IT (that’s just cruel Cooper, but genius.
The back-half of A Star Is Born is not as strong as its first half. But the slightly rocky package is all but made up for with the emotions it elicits in the final 20 minutes. When Ally lies for the sake of her husband and their relationship…but Maine really knows what she is doing…that is just brutal. It is the spark for the ending moments.
A Star Is Born was the first time I was totally blown away by a movie and all the performances since the Whiplash.
Stanko Rating: A (4.5/5.0 Stars)
John Wick (2014)
Director: David Leitch & Chad Stahelski
Staring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Release Date: October 24, 2014
The John Wick franchise is this decade’s version of the Bourne saga. Jason Bourne is one of my favorite movie series of all-time, and now John Wick wears that mantel as well. John Wick was the start of it, and it came in the best way possible: totally unexpected.
John Wick has the simplest of action movie formulas. Initiate heartbreak…bring sense of hope…bad guys take away hope…good guy decides it’s time to take revenge…ass-kicking ensues. Sometimes it best not to mess around with a tried and true method.
Keanu Reeves, as the retired John Wick, is impeccable. Everyone knows how he does all the training and is his own personal stuntman in all three of the movies, but that isn’t all that makes Reeves stand out. It seems stupid to praise acting and casting in an over-the-top action movie, but this deserves it. The solemn understated way he approaches everything is the exact approach directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski take in setting up the world of John Wick. The audience is not over-indulged with exposition and heavy-handed table-setting. Instead, the rules of The Continental are oozed out only as needed, and the backstory of Wick himself is barely spotlighted at all.
But with that being said, can we talk about the “Baba Yaga” scene?
Amongst all the fantastic fight scenes and truly inventive kills, there is no scene more rewatchable than Viggo Tarasov explaining to his son, Iosef, the catastrophe he has created. Viggo gets the phone call from auto repairman Aurelio and is told of his son’s digressions…and all he can do is muster an, “Oh.”
While Viggo is just explaining the reputation of this Mr. Wick, we see the Baba Yaga smashing up his cement floor and rebirthing his immense focus, commitment and sheer will. The violence of anguish contrasted with the calm of fear.
This entire scene is perfection. Kiss on the lips and look up to the sky.
John Wick started a franchise that I am now in love with. It may not even be the best of the franchise, but it is the first of its kind. Upon its release, the momentum this film had in terms of action fans just chatting about it non-stop was palpable. I remember my cousin and I just texting about it non-stop. I remember when my friends who were years behind the party finally saw it and then texted me saying “Holy crap, you were absolutely right.”
It wasn’t an award winner, but who cares. As I mentioned at the top, movies and enjoyment of them is totally subjective. John Wick hits on so many cinematic aspects I love. It will be a rewatchable for me for my lifetime.
Stanko Rating: B (3.5/5.0 Stars)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Staring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Holy hell. What a ride. Madness.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the best made action movie I have ever seen. George Miller is a mastermind for making this. He is the only one that could make this vision of pure carnage look so god damn sexy.
Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of despair, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, leads a band of strong-willed revolting females in a race against a disgusting tyrannical mad-man. Max, played by Tom Hardy, becomes intertwined with their escape through his own misfortune, and together the drifters are in a battle for survival.
What makes Mad Max: Fury Road so perfect is its pace. It is 1,000 miles per hour non-stop. Just look at the first trailer that dropped in March of 2015. It sets that precedent and never lets up.
The set-pieces are out of this world good. They all look practical as hell, and it is remarkable that most of the action is not CGI at all. The explosions, propulsions, flips and crashes are planned out and edited perfectly. And even the CGI elements like the sandstorm are visually striking.
Okay, so the action is great. That’s not debatable. But now let’s touch on Theron.
What a total badass.
Imperator Furiosa is in my Mount Rushmore for female action superstars. Honestly the only characters I’d dare breath in the same sentence as her are Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and The Bride from Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies as well. Theron is amazing in her madness.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect example of how sequels do not need to be bad. It is a perfect example of how sometimes years of production and filming is a positive thing. It is obvious that Miller took his time crafting this monstrosity of a movie. It’s that process that breeds confidence, and Mad Max: Fury Road earns its braggadocio’s freneticism.
People have dissected Mad Max: Fury Road for how it represents environmental hardships or the rise of feminism. If you look deep enough, you can see those points. But for myself, George Miller’s return to this post-apocalyptic world is just pure adrenaline. There is a prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road in the works, and one can only hope it matches this action classic.
Who knows, maybe 2020’s Mad Max: The Wasteland will give the backstory of the hell-raising out guitar guy?
Stanko Rating: A (4.5/5.0 Stars)
A Quiet Place (2018)
The Cabin In The Woods (2011)
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Diego Maradona (2019)
Lady Bird (2017)
The Lego Movie (2014)
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
What are your favorite movies of the decade? Have strong opinions about my choices? Let me know what you think!