To begin with, a disclaimer: There are practically no 2019 titles on my Best of the Decade list, not because there weren’t a lot of great films this year, but because I haven’t had the opportunity to live with them for all that long. My Best of 2019 list was its own challenge to write, but this year’s movies are just too new for them to have knocked around in my central nervous system the way these earlier titles have. (Decades are a pretty arbitrary division as well, but that’s a topic for another day.) Film historians can debate the major movie-related events of the decade -- the rise of streaming, the dominance of Disney -- but these are the films took up residency with me and refuse to move out:
11-30 (alphabetically): “Anomalisa,” “Before Midnight,” “Bernie,” “Bridesmaids,” “Call Me by Your Name,” “Certain Women,” “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Ex Machina,” “Force Majeure,” “The Great Beauty,” “The Handmaiden,” “Happy Hour,” “Holy Motors,” “Leave No Trace,” “Little Women” (2019), “Love & Friendship,” “Love Exposure,” “Melancholia,” “The Other Side of the Wind,” “Take Me to the River” (2015), “Tamara Drewe,” “Their Finest,” “This Is Not a Film,” “A Touch of Sin,” “The Trip to Italy,” “Under the Skin,” “Upstream Color,” “We Are the Best!” “The World’s End,” “Zama”
Honorable Mention -- “The Clock”
It’s way too apples-and-oranges to compare Christian Marclay’s 2010 installation (which runs a solid 24 hours) to a conventional feature film, but watching “The Clock”
was, for me, the film event of the decade. (It took me four sittings, but it’s a testament to the piece’s hypnotic power that I got through nine solid hours of viewing with only one bathroom break.) If you thought “Avengers: Endgame” was the ultimate crossover movie, Marclay’s piece turns all of cinema into one unified work, tied together by the passage of time.
10. “The Skin I Live In” (2011) Pedro Almodóvar takes a daring leap into body horror in a film that, in some ways, foreshadows the obsession with decay and dissolution that marks this year’s extraordinary “Pain and Glory.” Antonio Banderas stars as a surgeon who wreaks unspeakable vengeance on his daughter’s assailant in a chiller that’s as indebted to artist Louise Bourgeois as it is to David Cronenberg.
9. “Carol” (2015) Todd Haynes takes a novel by Patricia Highsmith (adapted by Phyllis Nagy) and weaves a swoony tale of love and suppression in the upright, uptight 1950s. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara dance seductively around each other, operating in the rigid codes of the era, until their passion can no longer be hidden behind a veneer of propriety, and the result is one of the decade’s most breathless romances.
8. “Locke” (2013) Writer-director Steven Knight and a never-better Tom Hardy take an experimental-film concept -- what if the protagonist and the camera never leave the inside of a moving car? -- and create tension, drama, characterization, backstories and everything else that so many traditional movies manage to bobble. As Hardy’s character’s life implodes through a series of phone conversations (the voices on the other end of his calls include Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott), he grapples with his destiny and his stubborn determination not to perpetuate a familial cycle of neglect. It’s a bold gamble that pays off, gloriously.
7. “Toy Story 3” (2010) Some of 2019’s finest films, including “Pain and Glory” and “The Irishman,” examine the idea of aging, obsolescence and the inevitability of death -- topics that Pixar covered in a 2010 sequel that no one had particularly asked for. As Andy heads out for college, his toys (Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest) must face being shoved off to new homes, as well as the distinct possibility of utter destruction. It’s a cartoon aimed at children, and it was one of the decade’s most poignant and wrenching film experiences.
6. “Frances Ha” (2012) Before coming into her own as a filmmaker, Greta Gerwig gave an exuberant performance in Noah Baumbach’s look at an aging bohemian who realizes that the irresponsibility of youth is no longer a good look on her, even if she feels her free-spiritedness is an essential ingredient of her creative life as a dancer. It’s a movie as alive in the big moments (Gerwig sprints down the streets of Manhattan to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” a moment she recreates in “Little Women,” albeit with much different music) as in the small interactions between best friends.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) In a decade in which computer-generated extravaganzas took us to the furthest reaches of space and into outlandish future worlds, many of which lacked heft and gravity altogether, George Miller reminded us of the power and the thrill of more tangible and visceral entertainments, with Charlize Theron’s powerful Imperator Furiosa becoming an instant icon of strength and determination.
4. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010) Master Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or for his most accessible -- yet no less dreamlike -- film to date, one that makes the cycle of life, death and reincarnation feel universal and powerful, and encouraging audiences to consider their role in the world not only in this moment but also in the wisps of the past and in the unforeseeable future.
3. “Paddington 2” (2017) If pure joy and delight could so easily be summoned on the big screen, everyone would do it. The further adventures of a kind bear who sees the best in everyone was a much-needed balm in the latter half of the decade, reminding us that countries of origin and past mistakes shouldn’t matter if we can genuinely try to respect and understand our fellow human beings. And if we can enjoy a marmalade sandwich together, so much the better.
2. “Boyhood” (2014) Richard Linklater’s epic tale of a child growing to manhood would be notable enough for its legendary shooting schedule, which took place over the course of a dozen years, but the results aren’t just a gimmick: The boy becomes a man, yes, but as we follow this journey, we see the people around him (particularly his parents, performed exquisitely by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) mature in their own way. It’s a masterpiece of empathy.
1. “Moonlight” (2016) Director Barry Jenkins (working from a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney) tells a different boyhood story, featuring a child growing into adulthood under fraught circumstances, learning to navigate the world as a black gay man. It’s something of a miracle that a film this poetic and this unapologetically committed to the notion of same-sex desire reached a mainstream audience (to say nothing of it winning a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar), but its power and its beauty are undeniable.