As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to outline my top 10 favorite films of the decade! To make it more fun, I am writing two lists (1) general cinema and (2) horror specific. Since I am known as Professor Horror on Twitter, I couldn’t disappoint everyone by not composing a horror specific list. That being said, in order to provide some sort of structure to selecting the films, I’ve decided to pick one film from each year. Furthermore, instead of simply listing them, I am writing a brief thought about each. The first list will be general cinema and the following list will be horror specifically. What does your decade list look like?
2010: Black Swan-A brilliant horror adjacent adaptation of the famous ballet that is equally beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Portman and Kunis deliver compelling performances and the art direction and production design are outstanding. Aronofsky’s direction is masterful in what is likely his greatest motion picture IMO.
2011: Hugo-A movie for cinephiles in the vein of Cinema Paradiso. Whereas Scorsese is often seen as an iconic film director of gangster movies, he also has a softer side that is largely unappreciated. His work in this film showcases his enthusiasm and love for cinema as a visual art form to tell great stories. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking.
2012: Silver Linings Playbook– Truly hits you in the feels. The thing about silver linings is that they cannot come without clouds. This gritty love story takes audiences on a tremendous journey, following both son and father as they respectively deal with their mental problems though that which they love. It’s an unapologetic look at the mountains and valleys of relationships.
2013: Blue Jasmine– Cate Blanchette’s award-winning and Sally Hawkins award-nominated performances are gripping and sharp. The dark comedy about the mental breakdown suffered when your entire world is ripped out from beneath you is compelling and powerful. This is an incredibly relatable film about identity crisis and self-centeredness. The hilarious comedy is matched and counterbalanced by the heavy drama in a film that is brilliantly layered with plenty of substance.
2014: Gone Girl– Such an incredibly, thrilling ride! This spellbinding crime/mystery drama will have you on the edge of your seats from the time acclaimed director David Fincher opens the film the time the credits roll. There are few directors who can visually capture the very essence of a novel cover to cover, and that is exactly what Fincher did. Aside from the brilliant direction of David Fincher, this movie benefits greatly from the screenplay written by Gillian Flynn, the author of the original best-selling novel. This proves to be an excellent move because the movie is so incredibly close to the book.
2015: The Big Short– Brilliantly casted and directed, this film will have your utmost attention the entire time. Screenwriters Adam McKay (also the director) and Charles Randolph create a movie with such realism and candor that you will be able to truly understand the foundational problems that aided in creating the mortgage-backed security crisis which led to the housing meltdown and the loss of millions of jobs. The scariest part is, at the end of the movie, you will read that starting in 2015 that big banks are once again engaging in similar behaviors under a new name. The utter greed, absurdity, and naivety on display in this movie will leave you astounded.
2016: La La Land– Simply dazzling! A beautifully produced motion picture musical that is sure to delight audiences around the world. Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia) shine brightly in this self-reflexive modern romantic film set on the backdrop of a classically composed movie musical echoing the song and dance numbers that Busby Berkeley brought to the silver screen through Hollywood studio system powerhouse Warner Bros. Every aspiring professional who has the dream of a substantive career as an artist in the visual and performing arts–or just an artist in general–needs to watch this film.
2017: I, Tonya– Of skates and class. Margot Robbie stars as the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel at a national competition…also the most infamous woman in the history of US Figure Skating in what is likely one of the most difficult and controversial biographical films ever produced. This film provides audiences with an unapologetic glimpse into Harding’s early life through “the incident.” Although “the incident” is what everyone remembers, this movie shows a struggling young person attempting to change, but thwarted at every angle by hearing that she cannot because she isn’t what America is looking for and has no class. But why couldn’t it have been just about the skating??? It’s also the film that, ironically enough, inspired me to learn figure skating myself.
2018: The Favourite– A brilliantly entertaining satirical dramedy! Not your history channel biopic. This no-holds-barred dramedy provides audiences with a story about a twisted love triangle within the royal court of Queen Anne that is anything but prim and proper. You will be instantly sucked into just how bizarre and brilliant this film is because of the seductive visuals and razor-sharp wit. The costumes, locations, and set design are incredible. Upon watching this film, I was reminded of another worldclass period drama where each scene felt like it was an oil painting. I am talking about Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Never before have I seen a film come so close to delivering the experience that the Kubrick masterpiece did.
2019: Judy– A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. While there are many movies that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.
2010: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark– The atmosphere of this movie in a mansion that is ostensibly a character in and of itself is fantastic! Not only is is a great horror movie, but it also comments on the response of adults to children’s imaginations. The suspense and tension is earned and built brilliantly. Up to this point, the majority of horror movies were gore-fests; but this movie (along with Insidious), helped it usher in a return of the haunted house subgenre of horror. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production design is incredible. Until we actually saw the creatures, they were extremely terrifying. After we see them, a little less so.
2011: Scream 4– Wes Craven is back! The Scream franchise returned to the big screen after over a decade of hiatus. Scream 4 is the ultimate payoff of the groundwork laid by the first film. Although this film couldn’t exist without its predecessors, it yet somehow manages to elevate the concepts it’s built upon whilst doing it. Not to be confused with elevating the genre–this genre has always been elevated. The final act reveal is one of the most satisfying and surprising in modern horror history. It’s dripping with savage social commentary about the lengths that people will go to to be famous, and how the nation’s obsession with canonizing serial killers leads to a world in which the line between celebrity and mass murderer becomes increasingly blurred.
2012: The Possession– Although the demon possession subgre of horror is all too familiar, this film is a refreshing take on the subgenre. It’s a truly terrifying film that depends are far more than jump scares and loud noises to generate nightmares. It’s no surprise that The Exorcist inspired many films, but this is certainly among the best! That scene in which Emily completely loses it in the tunnel, flinging the groceries everywhere is one of the best horror scenes ever. Bringing the nightmare to screen is the phenomenal direction provided by Ole Bornedal. It possesses some of the best writing of horror this decade!
2013: The Conjuring– Fresh and terrifying! The atmosphere of this horror film is so intense and terrifying that you may find yourself keeping the lights on at night. And hide-and-seek is all of a sudden a much more nightmarish game than it ever was before. From start to finish, this unnerving film is the stuff nightmares are made of. Even after the movie, you feel personally haunted. My favorite thing about this film is how the entire plot feels like an old-school haunted house horror film. James Wan not only delivered a brilliant addition to the horror library, but it also inspired the ConjuringVerse.
2014: Oculus– This movie could’ve just as easily been subtitled “Through the Looking Glass” or “Alice in Horrorland.” Oculus does not rely upon jump scares to curdle the blood and cause the heart to race. It takes a much more Hitchcockian approach–the fear is in the mind of the audience. Hitchcock once said, “greater is the fear in the mind than the fear on the screen.” And, director Mike Flanagan has “suspense” in spades. Not that “Oculus” is without an ominous presence materializing behind a character; but the film is successful in creating legitimate fear in the minds and stomachs of the audience without having to result to cheap parlor tricks. Unlike a typical horror movie, the enemy is an intimate object with malevolent powers of “perception.” Throughout the entire movie, you will ask yourself if what you are seeing is real or are you seeing what the mirror wants you to see.
2015: The Blackcoat’s Daughter– Unnerving from beginning to end! The atmosphere is dismal and ominous, which gives way to the bloody horror that unfolds. Seductively slow, the pacing draws you in moment by moment into the unsettling world. I liken this film to Rosebary’s Baby because the horror is implied and atmospheric more so than gimmicky or tropey. For fans of gothic horror, this film delivers a mesmerizing story that delivers frightening situations and imagery that are a testament to art house horror. Here’s something cool too: it is directed by the son of horror legend Anthony Perkins (Psycho). The muted performances by the two lead actresses are an outstanding achievement in that there is so much power in the restrained delivery of the subtext-rich lines.
2016: Don’t Breathe– Don’t Breathe is a brilliant horror film that will keep your adrenaline pumping and keep you guessing from the beginning of Act II to the final cut to black. Crossing into different sub-genres of horror, this movie will capture your attention every moment and catch you off guard every chance it gets. Although there is no scientific evidence for the collective belief that when one sense is removed that the others take over, it does make for a fantastic plot device that will greatly heighten your own senses while watching this efficiently ruthless movie. It’s a cinematic claustrophobic rollercoaster that includes one terrifying turn after another. In other news, if you’re looking to buy a house, this film includes some great shots of your next neighborhood in Detroit.
2017: IT: Chapter I– IT’s hauntingly fantastic! From the first to the last scene, the Stephen King adaptation directed by Andres Buschietti is nothing less than a horror masterpiece that does both the original novel and the TV mini series (1990) justice. The brilliance behind the adaptation is found in the excellent cast. So organic, so relatable. A common trope in King novels (and by extension the movie adaptation) is the tried and true narrative structure of the “coming of age” story. IT may serve as a horror film for shock value on the outside; but beneath the nightmare-inducing exterior, beats the heart of a heavy drama with a great message about growing up, friendship, teamwork, and facing one’s fears.
2018: Halloween– David Gordon Green’s Halloween truly is the sequel that we have been waiting for in the Halloween franchise. Green set out to direct a Halloween movie that he desired to work both as an homage to the original whilst crafting an original story that could do more than be a great horror film, but be a great film period. And suffice it to say, he delivered in spades (or knives, as it were haha). Words cannot even begin to capture the energy of the auditorium when I saw it last year. From echoes of the original (and some of Halloween 2) it still succeeds in providing longtime fans and those newly discovering the franchise with an original story that will hook you from the very beginning when you realize that all bets are off because no one is safe. It’s thrilling, engaging, and fun. It may lack Dean Cundey’s brilliant cinematography from the original, but visually the film has those quintessential moments that act as a throwback to Carpenter’s original groundbreaking slasher.
2019: Doctor Sleep– A brilliantly unsettling and crisp horror film! Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is both an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, by the same name, and a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Although many unplanned sequels to iconic classics are challenged to justify their own existence, and often fail to live up to the magic of the original, Flanagan defies the fate that so often befalls sequels and delivers a compelling film worthy to be connected to Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece. While the specter of Kubrick is lurking in the background, and our foreground story takes place on the backdrop of The Overlook Hotel complete with the presence of Jack Torrance, this is a completely new story that acts as a bridge between the literary and cinematic worlds. Doctor Sleep takes audiences to some very dark places–a no holds barred approach–that will surely get under your skin and cause you to cringe at the vile actions on screen in Rose the Hat’s quest for ostensible immortality. There is something irresistible about returning to the infamous Overlook Hotel.
Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!