Best of the Decade: Favorite Films by Year!
"Best of" lists are an odd beast. Some picks are obvious, some surprising, and some are, frankly, indefensible. And the omissions, by virtue of there being more of them, fall into those categories to a higher degree. But, what I find interesting about making them is the way they show both who you were at the time you encountered your picks, and who you are now, reflecting back on them. For as unexpected as some of my choices were, for me, the ten films listed below create a pretty accurate view of who I am, overall.
2010 - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I knew from the moment Matthew Patel floated into the air alongside his goth cheerleaders during his battle with Scott that this was a movie I would love. What I didn't expect, at the time, was that it would become my all-time favorite movie (until a later entry on this list came along), displacing more "serious" films, like Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. The aesthetics of the film, alone, are enough for me to love it, but it's also full of fantastic music and wonderful performances (including Kieran Culkin's Wallace and Ellen Wong as Knives Chau). I've seen this movie more than any other, and I could still sit down and watch it right now without hesitation.
2011 - Captain America: The First Avenger
I was all-in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the opening of Iron Man, but I liked (but didn't love) Captain America: The First Avenger when it first came out. It was over time, as I'd periodically rewatched it, that it grew in my estimation. And my initial complaint about the film - that there's so much time spent with Steve Rogers and the Cap/WWII stuff felt glossed over and rushed - became what worked so well about it. Looking at the span of the character, from this film all the way through Avengers: Endgame, I think the reason Chris Evans's performance works so well, the reason we love his Captain America, is rooted in the scrawny Steve Rogers who hates bullies and would throw himself on a grenade without hesitation.
2012 - Avengers
This film is just pure, unadulterated fanboy glee, for me. With most of the heavy-lifting done, in terms of introducing the characters, in previous films, Joss Whedon was able to focus on the character dynamics. And, in doing so, he laid the ground work for the next dozen+ MCU films, including Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and Captain America: Civil War - not to mention Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame. Unless you were a twelve year-old comic nerd pouring over double-page spreads of heroes rushing into battle against hordes of bad guys, it's hard to explain the joy of the long shot moving from hero to hero, battle to battle, across the New York skyline.
2013 - Man of Steel
I'll be the first to admit that, based on the two following films - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League - Zack Snyder doesn't like, and doesn't seem to get, Superman. But, for me, his take on the character and concept here, equal parts hero's journey and first contact film, does something new and interesting. He's helped by the fact that Henry Cavill is, in my estimation, perfectly cast as the character, physically embodying the powerful superhero even more than Christopher Reeve (though Reeve's performance is the superior one). Of all of the standalone Superman films, this is the one I'm always likely to put on, in the same way that if I'm only going to read one Batman comic, it's almost always Batman: Year One.
2014 - John Wick
Unlike the previous films on my list, I don't think I even saw John Wick until a year or two after it came out. "Shoot-em-up" action films aren't usually my thing (though, ironically, I love Shoot 'Em Up), but I'd heard so much about how this was a next-level action movie that I rented a digital copy to check it out. And, holy shit, does it deliver. I have a nostalgic love for kung fu movies, and this translates what I love about those to the very gun-obsessed American culture. Wick is exceptionally skilled and drawn back into a conflict rooted in a very unreal mythology of assassins, guilds, and alliances that feels like it's right out of the 70's martial arts movies I watched on Saturday afternoons.
2015 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I tried, and keep trying, with the Star Wars prequels, and they just never give me what I love about the original films. Then, along came The Force Awakens. Cool protagonists, iconic bad guys, charming droids, all updated with a modern aesthetic (even if the story, yes, heavily echoes the beats of the original Star Wars). These same things carried over into Rogue One and The Last Jedi (which, if I'm being honest, I like even more than this one) and reignited my love for the Star Wars saga.
2016 - Moonlight
Another film I came to late, not watching it until after its Best Picture win at the Academy Awards. As you might be able to tell from my list, I'm not usually that into serious dramas, but I was hooked from the very beginning of Moonlight by the beautiful cinematography and the performances by Mahershala Ali, and later by the three actors playing the central character of Chiron - Alex B. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes - who manage to convincingly feel like the same person at different ages.
2017 - Get Out
I went into Get Out knowing very little, and thank god for that. Jordan Peele revealed with this film that he's a master at tension and suspense, and having no idea of where the movie was going to go from one moment to the next left me on the edge of my seat throughout. Every performance works for me, but Daniel Kaluuya's Chris is the MVP, carrying the film on his shoulders. The combination of that performance and Peele's direction leads to, perhaps, the best depiction of the hyper-visibility of blackness that I've seen on film, while also introducing the concept of "the Sunken Place" into the cultural lexicon.
2018 - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
When I mentioned a film displacing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World from my all-time top spot, this was, unsurprisingly, the movie I was talking about. I don't know if it's possible to make a movie that is more "for me" than this one (or, for that matter, more perfect for my eventual dissertation). This movie appeals to me as a comic nerd, a film nerd, a scholar, and, frankly, just as a person - particularly a person of color who is constantly thinking about and analyzing his own identity. Honestly, nearly everything I've loved about the other films on this list is present in this film, as well, so I'll leave it at that. This is why, and what I love about, movies.
2019 - The Last Black Man in San Francisco
With the caveat that 2019 isn't over, and there are still a number of films that I missed or that haven't come out yet, this is the movie that has stuck with me the most this year. And that's saying a lot in a year that saw the culmination of a decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the third John Wick film, and Jordan Peele's follow-up to Get Out, Us - two of which nearly made the list. I didn't know anything about The Last Black Man in San Francisco going into it, but I immediately loved the two central characters, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails, who co-wrote the film) and Mont (Jonathan Majors), and their quest to restore an old Victorian house in San Francisco, while also restoring the family history that draws Jimmie to it. This is the debut film by Joe Talbot, and the confidence with which it's directed is amazing. Everything from the score to the visual design to the editing works together to tell a beautiful, heartbreaking, and (arguably) optimistic story about the stories that define us, and our ability to rewrite them.