In March, I will have been doing this whole ‘self-professed Film Critic’ thing for a full decade. I was compelled to get on this beat following a screening of my first new-release film of the 2010s, Tim Burton’s ghastly re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, which I had seen as part of a school trip and just had to splurge words on for my (thankfully long-defunct) original blog because I was 15 and massively egocentric despite not being in any way qualified to do meaningful film criticism. A lot more reviews by me would follow over the decade (239 “official” ones to be exact), and a lot more films would be consumed by me in the years since my ignoble debut. The last new-release film I saw in the 2010s was Joanna Hogg’s frustratingly half-measured The Souvenir which, even with it being heavily flawed, I think we can all agree is a massive step up from Burton’s inept Lord of the Rings rip-off.
Much as I personally have evolved significantly over the past 10 years, so has the medium of film. Way more radically than anyone can effectively summarise in an opening 1,000-word preamble, so let’s look at this in bullet-point form.
Superhero and comic book films, which had already been revitalised throughout much of the 2000s, went supernova thanks to the unstoppable Marvel Cinematic juggernaut, alternately saving or murdering cinema depending on what day of the week you log online. Even though they were the biggest story of the decade, you’re only going to find three such examples on this list.
Mid-budget dramas, comedies, etc. slowly started to disappear from theatrical spaces as audiences, likely still smarting from the economic recession of 2008 and continually rising ticket prices, shunned these vital cornerstones of moviemaking in favour of sure bets. But their “death” has very much been exaggerated overall, flourishing in digital spaces and with the odd sleeper hit breaking through financially.
Studios have relied ever more on nostalgia properties and franchise fare in an effort to offset unsustainable fluctuations in audience attendance (even as year-on-year revenue has mostly been on an upward climb). For every handful of brands which were immediately consigned back into the dustbin of history or empty baseless pandering, however, there were also some genuinely exceptional belated reboots and sequels which managed to push their franchises in exciting new directions. Several examples of those cracked our list because, hey, for every five Men in Black: Internationals, there can be one [REDACTED] which makes it worthwhile.
Horror, which spent much of the 2000s and early 2010s being derisively (though not undeservedly) booted to the bottom of the totem pole in critical consciousness, went through an astonishing revival thanks to a new class of prodigious talent – Jordan Peele, Mike Flanagan, Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, Jennifer Kent, David F. Sandberg, and so many more – who have managed to turn the genre into one where some of the most exciting and vital filmmaking today is originating from.
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Disney bought everyone. Everyone. Including, likely, you. Yes, you, reading this right now. Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most troublingly 20th Century Fox. But I guess that’s the sort of thing you can just do when you’re already almost-entirely responsible for the biggest movies of each given year. If you saw a giant blockbuster in the last half-decade, chances are it was made by Disney.
The 3D fad came and went. Yeah, that 3D craze was just last decade. Popularised by the mega-success of James Cameron’s Avatar in late 2009, ran into the ground within the next four years in a cynical effort by the big studios to capitalise on the surcharges and China’s love of the medium, now a rare occurrence which thankfully allows those of us for whom the technology doesn’t work to no longer deal with 3D screenings taking all the usual ideal 2D screenings instead. Hope nobody was duped into buying a 3D TV or anything stupid like that!
Diversity and the battle for it both in front of and behind the camera finally bubbled over in the age of social media and a rise in newly-empowered diverse voices calling out long-unchallenged industry bullshit. Progress has been frustratingly slow (and frankly non-existent at awards shows) but it is at least a topic which isn’t going away, particularly since the runaway successes of (to name a few) Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Get Out, Black Panther, the Hunger Games series and so many others proved “get woke, go broke” to be nonsensical red-pill Reddit bullshit.
Online film rental services transitioned into online film streaming services, and soon after that sparked the great Original Content arms race which has, in recent years, moved into the realm of filmmaking. The greater effects of this schism won’t be fully clear until probably the end of the new decade, but we already know that Netflix is scaring and enticing the old guard in equal measure.
Finally, the decade was bookended by a new Biggest Film of All-Time as James Cameron unseated his own Titanic from the throne with Avatar, and it ended with Avatar being dethroned by Marvel’s giant celebration party Avengers: Endgame. A culmination of both the decade’s inarguable biggest franchise and the story of the decade overall.
Oh, and Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper’s Cats happened.
It’s been a wild decade, one whose effects we’ll likely be feeling for much of the new decade. More importantly, the 2010s weren’t all Alice in Wonderland. There were an entire armoury’s worth of phenomenal movies released across the last 10 years – and, on a personal note, I’d honestly go to bat for 2014 being one of the best years ever for film as a whole – and that’s what we’re here to celebrate. Today and tomorrow, you will get to witness the results of a site-wide poll, one that was open to all contributors from Set the Tape past and present, to determine our collective Top 25 Films of the 2010s.
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Every writer was allowed to submit a ranked ballot of up to 50 films with each film receiving a descending number of points – starting at 10 for #1 then going down by increments of 0.5 until #20, with every entry afterwards receiving a uniform score of 0.25 in an effort to break ties and encourage overlap since everyone’s tastes across the decade can be so varied. Any film with an IMDb production date of between 2010 and 2019 was eligible for entry regardless of the release format and even if the film hadn’t been released in the UK (our main base of operations) until the start of 2020.
Below you will find highly influential masterpieces which shifted the course of both their own genres and the film landscape at large, as well as one-of-a-kind works of art we nonetheless adored to death. You’ll find giant blockbuster totems, decades-later sequel revivals, quiet personal dramas, raucous genre fare, and everything in between. You’ll find movies released all the way back at the decade’s very beginning sat alongside films which have only just been birthed into the world. You’ll find movies which seemed to appear on everybody’s individual ballots, and others which broke on through into the list on the strength of a few extremely passionate writers. There is no way this list will be entirely to your liking, it’s barely even to our own writers’ likings given the debate which sprung up upon its reveal, but that’s what happens when you try and condense a decade’s worth of incredible movies into just 25 slots. Let us know your favourites in the comments and our various social media.
It’s been a decade. An often trying one, at that, and we’re all different people than when we started it off. These are the movies which made getting through that decade a little easier. Turn your lights down where applicable. – Callum Petch
25] The Irishman
Scorsese. De Niro. Pacino. Pesci. Rarely has a film marketed itself as easily as The Irishman.
Given a blank cheque by Netflix, Scorsese and De Niro went to town on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, bringing the story of hitman Frank Sheeran and legendary Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa to big and small screens alike across 209 minutes of soul searching, internal conflict, twisted morality and, ultimately, tragic regret.
Both cut-to-the-bone raw and technologically masterful, The Irishman is a timely reminder of the power cinema is capable of. And no, it is not too long. – Nicholas Lay
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24] Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It can be argued that Captain America – The Winter Soldier is where the MCU really hit its stride.
The ninth instalment of the Marvel movies, this was when the audience began to get both a proper payoff to threads lain down in movies before, and to see the kind of action that would go on to define the MCU films. Finally, we got to see superheroes doing properly super things, with beautiful set pieces such as the elevator fight and the overpass gun battle upping the action to the next level.
Chris Evans was an inspired piece of casting and by this film he had settled into the role and entirely shrugged off the lingering whiff of the Fantastic Four. A stone-cold classic action movie. – Shaun Roger
22 (TIE)] Paddington 2
With barely the scope to improve over its excellent 2014 predecessor, 2017’s Paddington 2 managed to clear that bar with distance to spare.
Settled with the Brown family, Paddington looks to earn the money required to buy a book for his aunt, but when the book is stolen, the bear finds himself imprisoned for its theft, while the true culprit, Hugh Grant’s narcissistic actor Phoenix Buchanan, gets away.
As the Browns try to exonerate him, Paddington’s example of fine manners and gentleness makes the prison a better place. This sequel is a heart-warming testament to the power of kindness, and one of the best films of the decade. – Dave Bond
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22 (TIE)] The VVitch
Oh, hell yes.
Robert Eggers burst onto the scene with The VVitch, a slow burn horror spoken in Olde English with meticulous historical detail — a feat for any filmmaker, let alone a newcomer.
It could have been a case of biting off more than you could chew, but Eggers delivered and then some, his attention to detail and prizing of atmosphere and theme over conventional jump scares foreshadowing the changing face of horror in the decade’s second half.
You’re completely immersed in the world of this isolated family who have a string of bad luck, or perhaps the touch of Satan himself. Long live Eggers and long live Black Phillip! – Jenn Reid
Without a shadow of a doubt, BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s most significant work since Do the Right Thing, lifting the veil on the systemic racism and the rise of the alt-right.
And true to Spike Lee’s nature, he refuses to apologise for it, laying down educative truth bombs as part of its lesson and drawing active parallels with today.
Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by the excellent John David Washington), he carries the film with all the necessary gut-punch of the devastating impact of the Ku Klux Klan while serving a few wise-crack punchlines that smacks them in the face. – Kelechi Ehenulo
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20] The Avengers
You can cut 21st Century cinema into two distinct sections: pre-Avengers and post-Avengers.
Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios’ inaugural phase-ending mega-team-up changed everything, for better and worse. The $1.5 billion smash success conclusion to Phase 1 is a relentless crowdpleasing machine of a thing.
Perfectly balancing its large ensemble with the same grace and zip as Whedon’s best TV shows, paying off the groundwork of the Marvel solo movies in a manner that’s akin to a 143 minute fireworks factory, whilst also working as a brilliantly fun standalone comic romp with arresting splash-page visuals, strong characters, and a third act for the ages.
Eight years, billions of dollars, and dozens of failed attempts to copy its formula later, this is the one that everybody, including Marvel themselves, is still chasing. – Callum Petch
19] The Grand Budapest Hotel
There were few finer comedies in the 2010s than Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
Set predominantly in the 1930s, the film follows a young man, Zero, as we see how he came to own the hotel, beginning with him in the employ of Ralph Fiennes’ Concierge, Monsieur Gustave.
Featuring mistaken identities, prison breaks, quirky cameos from well-known Hollywood stars, sudden bursts of exquisite bad language, all told at a breakneck pace, inducing a sense of modern farce, The Grand Budapest Hotel is at once very Wes Anderson, and yet completely unique. – Dave Bond
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18] La La Land
When Damien Chazelle announced that his follow-up to Whiplash would be a modern-day homage to the lost art of the Old Hollywood musical, scepticism abounded.
After all, traditional, original silver screen musicals were long gone.
Chazelle had more than earned a little faith, however, and those who kept it were rewarded with a toe-tapping masterpiece that glides easily though big traditional numbers to a heartbreaking love story built on classic jazz tones and memorable melodies. That’s right, you will now be humming ‘City of Stars’ for the rest of the day, and your day will be better for it. – Nicholas Lay
17] Jojo Rabbit
If you only see one coming-of-age picture featuring an imaginary genocidal maniac best friend, make sure it’s this one.
Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire hits it out of the park, providing the perfect mix of satire, black comedy and slapstick, tinged with tragedy and pathos.
Jojo Rabbit is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, with winning central performances by Thomasin Mackenzie and newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, and quite unlike anything else you’ll see at the cinema.
It really is Springtime for Taika. – Lee Thacker
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16] Gone Girl
I still vividly remember my first viewing of Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, and the moment when that reveal hit – I damn-near levitated out of my seat in both shock and admiration, I swear to God.
But that’s reflective of director David Fincher’s masterpiece, the best film of his career (if you ask me).
A gripping, trashy, nihilistic look at modern relationships whose thesis is so grim that even Yorgos Lanthimos would say to lighten it up, but also who the fuck cares when the results are this stylish, this tense, this unapologetically fun, and that’s before I mention Rosamund Pike giving the performance of her life?
Fincher is still yet to follow it up, presumably because few other movies this decade have bothered to step up to Gone Girl’s level. – Callum Petch
Come on back tomorrow for #15 to #1!