Cole Sansom’s Top 25 Films of the Decade

Cole Sansom’s Top 25 Films of the Decade


Can you remember 2010? It seems like a lifetime away. In the 2010s time seem to compress, and frequently stop. Streaming became big. 3D didn’t. We got some Hobbit movies! Remember how they were pretty big? I don’t. They’ve vanished into a big cultural soup of franchises that will soon be forgotten. Will the next generation of kids be excited to stream the “Infinity Saga?” Regardless, here are some films I thought stood out from the rest.

25. The Florida Project  — 2017

A story of childhood and motherhood at the gates of DisneyWorld. Lush colors meld with naturalistic performances in a forgotten part of the US. Sean Baker’s trick is to depict the lengths parents will go to raise their children, demonizing poverty, rather than the poor.

24. Call Me By Your Name — 2017

Few films have captured the bliss of a summer romance as beautifully as Luca Guadagnino did here. The languished pace, beautiful Italian countryside, and the occasional Sufjan Stevens song give the film a dream-like quality, with the aid of an exceptional turn from Michael Stahlberg, and a lead performance that made Timothée Chalamet into an icon.

23. First Man — 2018

After two increasingly successful music-based films, Damien Chazelle shifted gears to create a biopic of Neil Armstrong. The result is nothing short of remarkable (if under-watched), and the film contains some of the best cinematography and score of recent years.

21. The Irishman — 2019

Cats CAN have little a salami.

22. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — 2019

I’ve said enough in my top 10 list, but I absolutely adore this film (and yes these two rankings do not quite line up, shhh).

20. Interstellar — 2014

Christopher Nolan films, in my opinion, are better the less sense they make. Interstellar is criticized for that particularly obnoxious line, but it, like the rest of the film, is unashamed of its what it is trying to say. Sit back, let the movie wash over you. It’s a thrill ride that wants to tug at your chest and make you feel.

19. The Social Network — 2010

This list is chronologically biased. I was 13 at the beginning of the decade, and as a result, have seen more great films from the latter half of the decade. The Social Network was one of the first “adult” films I saw in theaters. It was great then, and it still is now. One may critique with Sorkin’s way of resorting to cheap misogyny to depict lust for power, but if anything, we haven’t learned enough from these films. Seriously? The guy who made a website to compare the attractiveness of women at his college can control the flow of worldwide information.

18. Manchester by the Sea — 2016

I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch Manchester by the Sea again. Partially for what’s come out about Casey Affleck (I know there were things before the release, but I was not attuned to the media then), but for how emotionally distraught I was upon first viewing. Few filmmakers have captured grief as well as Kenneth Lonergan does here.

17. Little Women — 2019

Let Greta Gerwig direct anything she wants! This movie is perfect. Unlike 18., I can’t wait to watch Little Women again. And again. And again.

16. Paterson — 2016

Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in Paterson, N.J.? What sounds like a throwaway Bojack Horseman joke is Jim Jarmusch’s attempt to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. The movie about poetry becomes poetry.

15. The Wind Rises — 2013

We do not deserve Hayao Miyazaki. That said, every time he comes out of retirement is a gift, and The Wind Rises, a film reckoning with war more directly than any of his previous films, is quite possibly his greatest work….yet!

14. The World’s End — 2013

The final part of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s “Cornetto Trilogy” is its most grown-up, or at least, is about the process of growing up. Taking cues from a suburban horror film, The World’s End crystallizes the feeling of coming back to your hometown to find that things are somewhat off, and is not only hilarious and tightly scripted but contains some of Wright’s best action direction.

13. Inside Llewyn Davis — 2013.

“We thought the film didn’t have a plot, so we added a cat”. Plotlessness becomes the plot, reflecting the state of the protagonist. Llewyn Davis, one of the best characters of the decade, just misses out on being Bob Dylan. And that makes all the difference.

12. Annihilation — 2018

Natalie Portman enters the Zone. She leaves. What happens in between makes Annihilation one of the most thrilling films of the decade. I will never forget some of the images Alex Garland creates.

11. The Act of Killing — 2012

There are not enough documentaries on this list (or on most top film lists). This is as much a personal failing as it is an industry-wide one. Joshua Oppenheimer’s film is nothing short of transcendent. If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately.


Cole Sansom’s Top 25 Films of the Decade [Cont.]

10. Burning — 2018

Lee Chang-Dong’s tale of wealth relocates a Hitchcockian psychological thriller and layers on social critique. The final scene left me in shock

9. Paddington 2 — 2017

If anyone touches a hair on that bear’s head (or says this film is anything less than perfect) I will fight you! Gosh, this film overflows with joy and care. I can’t think about certain scenes in public else my eyes soon flood with tears. That bear is our best hope for a better world.

8. Marriage Story — 2019

Any movie where Laura Dern plays a divorce lawyer is automatically a 10/10 in my books.

7. 20th Century Women — 2016

“I’m binging hard on Annette Benning”, sings Matt Berninger of the National. I always imagine he is rewatching 20th Century Women because there are few movies more life-affirming than this one. Mike Mills directs a gorgeous ode to the women who raised him. I can’t wait to binge on this movie again.

6. The Master — 2012

I have a Blu-ray of The Master at my parents’ house, and I watch it each time I visit. Every viewing I have a different interpretation of this film. I love all of PTA’s films, but the Master is undoubtedly his best. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman leads a trifecta of some of the greatest performances ever committed to film (Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams being the other two). The Master is a masterpiece.

5. Moonlight — 2016

It’s absolutely insane to me to think that La La Land even came close to winning Best Picture. Moonlight is unquestionably a towering achievement. It tells a story rarely shown on screens and is one of the most hauntingly beautiful films of the decade, and one of the best. The Academy doesn’t deserve Moonlight.

4. A Ghost Story — 2017

Speaking of haunting, the story of a man who is hit by a car but lives on as a ghost, passing through time and space as an ethereal being — depicted as a man wearing a sheet. What could have been cheesy is instead an intensely powerful and emotional experience? A Ghost Story stuck in my head long after I watched it. It has never left.

3. The Last Jedi — 2017

Given basically a blank check to create an installment in one of the largest franchises in the history of cinema, Rian Johnson could’ve easily done what J.J Abrams did; essentially remake the original films. What Johnson decided to do instead was to make a film that interrogated the notion of being beholden to the past. What resulted was a film that renegotiated the relationship between the past and present of the series in a way that uplifted every film that had come before and paved the way for an exciting new future (that has since been squandered… ah well). The Last Jedi does all this while giving Mark Hamil the performance of a lifetime, finally making Luke Skywalker into a compelling character, introducing a whole host of great new ones (Laura Dern!) and giving each existing character a compelling arc. AND it happens to be of the most exciting, fresh, funny, action-packed blockbuster of the decade, one that gets even better with each rewatch. The Skywalker Saga may have ended with a thud, but the future for Rian Johnson looks brighter than ever.

2. Lady Bird — 2017

Greta Gerwig has, without doubt, the most impressive double feature of the 2010s. Where Little Women might succeed in giving each March daughter a character arc, Lady Bird goes deep on the relationship between the titular protagonist and her mother. It’s hard to put in words how beautiful this film is. It’s funny. Not just in a funny-quipping way. Many of the jokes are made with editing and camera movies. The movie radiates humor and warmth. What’s most impressive is how the humor sits right alongside the emotional material. And boy does it get emotional. I am welling up just writing this and thinking of the last few scenes. This is an intensely personal list. I don’t expect anyone to have to agree with me. But for me, Lady Bird was the best film of the 2010s…

1. Boyhood — 2014

…that is, besides Richard Linklater’s 2014 masterpiece. When I saw Boyhood, I was seventeen. I had lived through 90% of the movie. The first two-plus hours were my life reflected back on me. The last twenty minutes were my future. The joke is that the film “TOOK 12 YEARS TO MAKE” as if it is an easy task. The trick of Linklater is to make the intensely difficult and time-consuming appear seamless. Watching Boyhood is like watching life go past us. All these small moments, they are memories. As Patricia Arquette’s character says, watching her younger child leave for college, “I just thought there’d be more”. So did we.


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Cole Sansom

Cole Sansom is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based out of Philadelphia

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