This is a list of my favorites movies and TV shows from the decade, not a list of best anything. First, I do not consume enough cultural artifacts to have an informed opinion on anything. Second, I’ve prioritized items that have become part of my thought process or relaxation process through repetition. Almost all the movies on the list I’ve seen more than twice, and I’ve thought about constantly, either in the few years after they came out, or even now, literal years later. Recency bias is potentially a problem for the last few years. But, eh, this is my list. Regarding TV shows: I have no principled criteria for how I chose my TV show list.
Toy Story 3 — I began the decade (kinda, it was released in June) with my three youngest siblings, crying our eyes out, closing out our childhoods.
Midnight in Paris — I know, I’m sorry, but the jaunty score and famous people cameos made this my most rewatched movie of the first half of the decade. Sometimes when I read aloud sections of Hemingway or Steinbeck in class, I can hear myself sounding like Corey Stoll. I smirk.
Skyfall — Javier Bardem is not in enough movies to satisfy me, and this movie looks so good, and I personally love both the maternal tension with M and the Home Alone ending. It’s all good, folks! (Ralph Fiennes also!)
Zero Dark Thirty — This movie solidified my love of Jessica Chastain, and I still think of her last few moments, alone in a plane, with that incomprehensible expression on her face. A decade-best performance for me.
Lincoln — There’s a scene where Lincoln is imparting some folksy wisdom to a captive audience, and one of the guys sitting there just cannot bear it. He explodes in frustration, punching right through the “wise man delivers great wisdom” scene, and since that time, I’ve considered this the only good biopic, four endings and all.
Cloud Atlas — I loved this era-spanning epic about society and love and personhood and, okay, yes, reincarnation. It’s weird and reverential and full of emotionally, rather than intellectually, absorbing ideas about who we are and how we’re bound together.
Much Ado About Nothing — It’s no sunny Kenneth Branagh, but it’s similarly delightful (thank you, Shakespeare). I still rewatch Kenneth Branagh’s more, but I’ll always keep this one in the back pocket. Nathan Fillion makes a good Dogberry.
The Great Gatsby — It’s actually good. It’s wildly skewed to interpretation, not adaptation, but that’s FINE
Before Midnight — I would have like Marriage Story more, I think, if I hadn’t already seen this movie, but in all honesty, I like this movie more because of the two previous entries as well.
The Grand Budapest Hotel — Between this, 2015’s A Bigger Splash, and 2016’s Hail, Caesar!, I spent roughly three years just thinking about the greatness of Ralph Fiennes. (Also, the Alexandre Desplat score is one of my decade favorites)
Phoenix — all the plastic surgery and betrayal in the world is not enough to keep these two away from each other! (I’m sorry, that’s irreverent, Nina Hoss gives one of my favorite performances of all time)
Mad Max: Fury Road — I rarely have a visual memory of anything, and yet I see images of this movie in my mind maybe twice a month
Spotlight — A movie that hit my sweet spot of “religion as a consequential part of people’s lives” and “truth will out” and “quiet competence will change the world” and “Rachel McAdams.” I’ve seen it circa 15 times (I show it during a journalism unit each year in school), and I’m still moved by it.
MI: Rogue Nation — My favorite entry in my favorite film franchise. A night at the opera, baby!
Brooklyn — As a romantic, I love everything about this incredibly romantic movie, but especially the way Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan stare and smile at each other, not starstruck, but deliberate: they’re deeply pleased to be falling for each other. Me too.
Bridge of Spies — I admire people who live by principles because I was raised by people who live by principles. It’s not romanticizing or propagandistic to demonstrate that such people do actually exist, and that they do actually make choices from other motivations than insatiable want.
Crimson Peak — I worship the first person narration of Jane Eyre but feel that in plot and ending, this is a preferable cultural artifact (I’m at least partially serious about this).
Hidden Figures — I watched this movie a couple times in the theatre, and then a million more times on TV. This was partially for the Mahershala Ali, but also because, despite the somewhat cheesy family feel good drama trappings, these women — the actors and the people they’re portraying — are interesting and inspiring. Their inner vibrancy always shines through. And, yeah, I feel good.
Hail, Caesar! -
- Would that i’ twere so simple
- On Wings As Eagles sound effects
- No Dames, but also everything Channing Tatum does
- Everything Tilda Swinton does
- The religious leaders’ argument about the depiction of Jesus of Nazareth
- LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THIS MOVIE; I LOVE IT SO MUCH IT IS LIKE EATING DILL PICKLES WHICH ARE BASICALLY CANDY TO ME
Silence — a masterpiece that’s also deeply personal to me.
The Lost City of Z — I thought bout this movie again when watching Ford v Ferrari, a movie on similar themes that was entirely uninterested in examining those themes. I wasn’t captivated while watching it — it was just an afternoon movie that I turned on. I knew it was good while I was watching it, but after months (and now years) of it lingering, I think highly of it.
Love & Friendship — It’s not romantic but it is funny. So funny. Mean funny and sweet funny and chaotically funny and critically funny, absurdly funny and whimsically funny. It’s all funny.
Lady Macbeth — On a summery Thursday night in Santa Fe, NM, I went to go see Lady Macbeth. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, because I thought it had something to do with communism (because of the Shostakovich, although I now know the Shostakovich has nothing to do with communism either.) Besides the tour de force breakout performance of a truly great actor, I remember two things: Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score vibrating loudly enough to hear in my theater, and me actually squirming in my seat in horror and fascination. I’ve never watched anything that so strongly made me wish for someone’s hand to hold onto, because the lack of humanity displayed here is TERRIFYING.
Get Out — Do you ever just mentally rewatch Catherine Keener twirling a soup spoon and Daniel Kaluuya falling back into The Sunken Place? No? Just me?
Lady Bird — “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?” — a life motto if I ever heard one
PHANTOM THREAD — DECADE FAVORITE ANYTHING; If I desert islanded with one thing from this list, it’d have to be this.
First Reformed — A real WTF ending that only increased my appreciation for everything that had gone before.
Logan Lucky — I recently rewatched this for the third or fourth time, and you know what, I’m very close to liking it as much as Ocean’s Eleven.
Game Night — Rachel McAdams interaction with the henchman who gets sucked into the plane engine resulted in one of the funniest line readings of all time.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs — The prospector story and the Zoe Kazan story.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — The teen romcom of the decade. Still not nearly as good as my generation’s teen rom com, 10 Things I Hate About You, but I like it. I’ll be watching it again.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor — I made it three minutes into this documentary before breaking down. (Do I need a therapist?)
The Tale — I’m never going to watch this again, but every time somebody on the internet starts defending sex with middle school “women” (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE THAT DO THIS), I’m going to think about the way Jennifer Fox forces us to comprehend just how young a thirteen-year-old girl is. I teach fourteen year olds every day, so I know what they look like, and even then, I gasped.
Too soon to tell, but also, Little Women. Probably Knives Out, also.
Miscellaneous: The Trip movies (2010, 2014, 2017) and John Mulaney’s stand-up specials (New in Town, The Comeback Kid, and Kid Gorgeous) — In essence these have functioned as a sort of therapeutic weighted blanket. When I need to laugh — actually laugh? I watch these.
Alias Grace (2017) — It’s so good, and it reunites Slings & Arrows cast members. Unsettling, violent, and haunting — it’s one of the best literary adaptations of all time.
The Hollow Crown (2012) — I’m not sure actually sure if this is considered a miniseries, but here’s where I’m putting it. I especially like Ben Whishaw’s Richard II, and Tom Hiddleston’s makes a roguish Prince Hal (I’m less into his Henry V).
Howards End (2018) — I’ve seen this four times now, and I think it’s just wonderful. I especially like the way Kenneth Lonergan layered in a racial component in a way that highlighted the obliviousness of all the characters, not just Henry Wilcox. Hayley Atwell is superb, but Matthew MacFadyen’s hollow briskness that eventually crumples under devastation is unforgettable.
Show Me a Hero (2015) — Plenty of currently occurring injustices have radicalized my politics this decade, but this miniseries was instrumental in shifting my understanding about the real-life consequences of policy. Also had a lot to do with my fondness for Oscar Isaac existing on my television screen.
Unbelievable (2019) — My heart broke while watching two women’s rapes being processed by the state. This series is telling a true story, but nothing that happens in the story is limited to only those individual situations.
A Very English Scandal (2018) — I’m haunted by Hugh Grant’s conversation at the end of this miniseries.
1. The Leftovers
Nothing I’ve seen on TV in the past decade comes even close to The Leftovers. It’s brilliant. It’s devastating. It’s the kind of art that pulls the audience through experiences, forcing you to process, to come to catharsis, to feel. It has my favorite TV performance of the decade: the great Carrie Coon as Nora Durst. It has a score that makes me want to cry because of how beautiful it is, but also because of how good it is. I’m not sure another show will ever mean as much to me as this one.
My top three favorite shows of all time are Slings & Arrows, The Leftovers, and Hannibal. While True Detective was mired in pseudo-philosophical oblivion, Hannibal was carefully and outlandishly forcing its viewers to think about violence: what it looks like, how it’s practiced, what it means. Sometimes the violence was campy, sometimes it was grotesque, sometimes you saw things far worse than your imagination would ever have been able to conjure, but no matter what, it was always weighty.
Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy’s relationship was something extraordinary, and also, there were these curtains.
I’ve called Fleabag S1 Beethoven’s Eroica, and Fleabag S2 Beethoven’s Fifth. I’m not wrong.
4. Parks and Recreation
I find this show’s approach to community life so beautiful. I also find it funny. I love everyone except Jean Ralphio, and I want to marry Ben Wyatt.
5. Schitt’s Creek
The only currently airing show on my all-time favorites list. I wrote about it here. I don’t care what happens in its final season, nothing will knock it from this list.
Other favorites that have wrapped up. I think. — Happy Valley (I can’t imagine a more perfect two-season show), The Fall (I would die for Gillian Anderson), Jane the Virgin (the wildness was always too much for me, but the emotional stuff landed perfectly every time), Veep (shatteringly funny), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (the theme song is impeccable), BrainDead (a one-season treasure), American Crime Story (The People vs. OJ season resonated with me. The Gianni Versace season I had thought would be forgettable, but, well, I haven’t forgotten it.), Sherlock (I only really loved the pilot episode, but I LOVED the pilot episode)
Other favorites that are still ongoing: Babylon Berlin (it’s ridiculous, but that’s a half-hearted critique), BoJack Horseman (I’m getting the tiniest bit bored, tbh), The Crown (it’s not that it’s good so much as it is Engineered For Me), Derry Girls (recency bias, probably, but hilarious), The Good Place (when it works for me, it WORKS for me), Mindhunter (again, always takes violence seriously)
RIP to the worst show of the decade, The Newsroom, and the worst movie of the decade, Les Miserables