Second, I want to talk about movies. I suspect more people do than would admit it. I've overheard too many discussions about Joker this last fall and can conclude people are hungry for real conversation about movies deserving of it (Joker's bad). I'm grateful for anyone I've ever had a real, non-Chris Farley-Show-esque conversation with about culture, up to and including the conversation I had tonight with a coworker about the Watchmen finale. Movies are the stories a creator is telling about themselves, but also about ourselves, and I not only want to understand my own mind, but broader collections of people and the myths and the systems they use to justify and perpetuate their existence.
As Shane will tell you, I don't look at him in the face when we're recording. I'm curious about people even if some part of me pushes back at being around them all that often. Movies bridge the gap, an arms-length way to observe and consider human behavior and experiences I will never have, and I love them for it. Below are one hundred 2010's films that inspired some amount of joy, sadness, introspection, revelation, apprehension, awe, or all of that and more. Thanks for reading.
- Jon Kissel
What is it: A documentary about an Indiana town on its last legs and the local high school basketball team that can't win a game.
MVP: Directors Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothpart, gelling so intimately with the charming high school kids at the film's center.
Why it's here: Even a nostalgia skeptic like me is susceptible to this powerful dose that vividly takes me back to all those hours spent on Indiana basketball courts.
What is it: A Danish morality play about a soldier who creates civilian casualties to rescue his own men.
MVP: Pilou Asbaek, complicating any possible outcome for his character.
Why it's here: Eternally relevant discussion about who is and isn't worthy of protection, especially under a president who likes to pardon confessed war criminals.
What is it: A lonely divorcee falls in love with his phone's rapidly evolving operating system.
MVP: Scarlett Johansson, infusing a digital assistant with life and wonder
Why it's here: Spike Jonze's only 2010's entry is both romantic and dystopian, optimistic and prophetic, and makes the viewer wholly buy into the off-putting premise.
What is it: A Disney adventure about a Polynesian girl and her quest to revive her people's island.
MVP: Lin Manuel Miranda, writing the best Disney soundtrack perhaps ever.
Why it's here: Because I can't get through the coconuts song without crying, to say nothing of the pathfinder song.
What is it: A compulsive gambler and a friendly gadabout take a riverboat casino tour of the titular river.
MVP: Ryan Reynolds, calibrating his onscreen persona to the exact right volume.
Why it's here: Palpably captures the delirious highs and crushing lows of gambling, such that watching it is like having a sense memory of an insane craps run or a bad poker beat.
What is it: Martin Luther King Jr's fight for voting rights collides with entrenched racist elements on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
MVP: Ava Duvernay, ascending to the top tier with a first-rate historical epic.
Why it's here: Selma's a rousing tribute to both the average people who stand up to injustice at great personal risk and the political savvy required to reach the greatest amount of people.
What is it: The aged X-Man shuttles his clone and a senile Professor X across the United States on a run to the northern border.
MVP: Hugh Jackman, justifying his worst outings as Wolverine by making it all mean something in the end.
Why it's here: Logan represents a childish genre aiming for real meaning and emotion, and it achieves its goals and then some with great performances and a chilling vision of the future.
What is it: A Courtney Love-esque rocker alienates her bandmates and her family before making an earnest attempt to correct past mistakes.
MVP: Elisabeth Moss, making the viewer hate her and then pity her and then love her.
Why it's here: Moss' Becky Something, in the throes of self-recrimination, still finds enough grace to sing all of Bryan Adams' Heaven to her daughter in a quiet scene that completely recalibrates the whole film.
Kubo and the Two Strings
What is it: A stop-motion extravaganza through medieval Japan, complete with human-beetle hybrids, magic shamisen's, and moon demons.
MVP: Travis Knight, bringing an expansive world to life out of his imagination and the work of dozens if not hundreds of craftsmen and women.
Why it's here: The reveal of the meaning behind the title is a gasp-inducing metaphorical moment that ensures this beautiful film isn't subsisting on visual beauty alone.
Only Lovers Left Alive
What is it: Ancient vampires, too bored to hunt humans, set up shop in post-industrial Detroit.
MVP: Jim Jarmusch, envisioning vampires as cultural scavengers who collect original prints and first editions.
Why it's here: Effortlessly cool, the film imagines eternal life as intellectual consumption which in turn further elevates and isolates the deathless creatures above the masses they can't help but resent. Also, Tilda Swinton as a vampire.
What is it: Daniel Day-Lewis' supposed final performance places him as the fastidious head of his own fashion house and a romantic partner to an enchanting and ambitious waitress.
MVP: Lot of competition, but Jonny Greenwood for making one of the best scores of the decade, perfectly calibrated to the subtle action onscreen.
Why it's here: As funny and finely composed as any Paul Thomas Anderson film, Phantom Thread works as a meta exercise into the mind of any insistent male creator, not unlike Anderson himself.
I Am Not Your Negro
What is it: James Baldwin's unfinished novel about the deaths of Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and MLK Jr is put to chilling images of black political life in America.
MVP: Editor Alexandra Strauss, assembling endless picture montages over Baldwin's words that trace America's treatment of black people through the 20th century into the present day.
Why it's here: This incendiary doc brings Baldwin's genius to a wider audience, hearkens back to a time of deeper public debate, and forces reflection on everything from cinema to marketing.
Our Little Sister
What is it: Three adult sisters take in their half-sister, the product of their recently-deceased father's affair.
MVP: Hirokazu Koreeda, making the viewer so invested in a low-stakes world
Why it's here: There's a hang-out vibe in many of Koreeda's film, but none so warm and charming as the feeling created here. Scenes of the sisters making plum wine are just as enthralling as any car chase or shootout.
What is it: A self-sufficient teenager in the Missouri backwoods must find her missing father before his bond expires and her home is repossessed.
MVP: Jennifer Lawrence, dominating her first major film and kicking off a decade that would bring her, deservedly, to super-stardom
Why it's here: Director Debra Granik's love of Ozark customs comes shining through in a throwaway scene where a multi-generation family plays folk music in their living room, evoking the deep roots that keeps struggling communities like theirs alive.
The Death of Stalin
What is it: The Soviet dictator's deputies jockey for position after he suffers a fatal stroke.
MVP: Writer/director Armando Iannucci, for finding the absurdity in atrocity but not at the victim's expense
Why it's here: That a film can be as funny as this one and also accurately show the brutalities of the Soviet police state is a minor miracle.
What is it: A post-9/11 allegory about a young woman who inadvertently causes a bus accident and struggles to find justice for the victim.
MVP: Anna Paquin, panicking at the edges of her teenage understanding in an often-unlikable performance that is always engaging.
Why it's here: Kenneth Lonergan's long-delayed domestic epic grapples with so much and leaves no stone unturned in its plumbing of its lead's psychic depths as she goes from entitlement towards disillusion and full-on collapse in the striking final scene.
Zero Dark Thirty
What is it: Released 18 months after the death of Osama bin Laden, the film chronicles the many failures, moral and otherwise, of the CIA on its way to an extrajudicial assassination.
MVP: Jessica Chastain, all steely resolve until one of the decade's most crushing final shots.
Why it's here: For all the controversy surrounding this film's portrayal of torture and results generated from its use, it's unwavering in its depiction of how poisonous such methods are to the perpetrator and how hollow victories derived from it become.