I’ve long gone on record as disliking 10-best-movies-of-the-year lists, because they’ve never made much sense to me. Nobody sees every movie, and I see fewer than I used to, so how is it possible to be definitive? And how do you look at two utterly different but both very good movies and say which one is “best”? So, over my 18 years of reviewing movies for The Seattle Times, I’ve evolved a compromise: I choose 10 movies at year-end, listing them alphabetically (how does anyone distinguish their sixth-favorite movie from their seventh?) and simply calling them my favorites.
So, asked to do a movies-of-the-decade list, I’m taking the same approach: looking back at my yearly lists and picking one favorite per year. And it turned into a rather interesting journey into the recent past, crowded with old friends. It’s always fascinated me how some films linger in your memory years later, while others fade away. Here’s what remained most vivid for me, during a crowded movie decade.
“Inception,” directed by Christopher Nolan. I remember rewatching this dizzying dreambox of a film multiple times that year, trying to follow its silken threads. A tale of a dream extractor (an impossibly glamorous Leonardo DiCaprio) assigned to plant an idea, it’s a cerebral heist movie that both stays with you and blends into your own dreams, in the most intriguing of ways.
Other favorites: “127 Hours,” “Black Swan,” “The Kids are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “Please Give,” the “Red Riding” trilogy, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” “The Social Network,” “Winter’s Bone”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” directed by David Yates. Was this, by any measure, the “best” movie of the year? Absolutely not. But I look back on it thinking of the remarkable journey the Potter movies took us on — and by “us” I mean all of us, as well as me and my movie-loving nephew, who joined me for all the Potter screenings (he was 17 for the final film). The kids on screen grew up, the kid sitting next to me grew up, and magic was made. Unforgettable.
Other favorites: “The Artist,” “Beginnings,” “Bill Cunningham New York,” “The Descendants,” “The Hedgehog,” “Jane Eyre,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Tree of Life,” “Win Win”
“The Deep Blue Sea” directed by Terence Davies. Nobody remembers this achingly gorgeous drama set in war-ravaged 1950s London, centering on a romantic triangle between Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston. Too bad, because its glowing firelight and beautiful performances (particularly Weisz, as a woman slowly learning that loving and desiring aren’t the same) seem perpetually etched in my memory.
Other favorites: “Anna Karenina,” “Argo,” “The Avengers,” “Flight,” “I Wish,” “Lincoln,” “Margaret,” “Pina,” “Ruby Sparks”
“56 Up,” directed by Michael Apted. This was a great year for movies, but the most remarkable was this one: Apted’s long-running documentary series that follows a group of Brits from childhood, checking in with them every seven years. They’re now settled in middle age, and while it’s haunting to compare them to the children they once were, the group seems to exude serenity and grace. (Heads up: “63 Up” is coming to theaters soon.)
Other favorites: “12 Years a Slave,” “Before Midnight,” “Enough Said,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “Stories We Tell”
“Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen,” directed by György Pálfi. The ultimate love letter to movies, this unique film was made by snipping together very brief clips from 450 classic films in a way that tells a classic story — a couple meets, falls in love, faces obstacles and emerges together. It’s gloriously intercut madness (Charlie Chaplin puts on a jacket to leave the house, and suddenly he’s John Travolta, strutting in “Saturday Night Fever”), and it’s an utter joy. (“Final Cut” can be tricky to find due to copyright issues, but was streaming on Vimeo when I last looked.)
Other favorites: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Gone Girl,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Life Itself,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “Love Is Strange,” “Mood Indigo,” “Selma”
“Carol,” directed by Todd Haynes. Haynes’ loveliest film, a companion piece of sorts to his autumn-toned “Far From Heaven,” is this wintry 1950s-set lesbian romance, starring Rooney Mara and a quietly glowing Cate Blanchett and based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. It casts a rare spell; I remember feeling, at its end, as if I’d been immersed in beauty and longing, reluctant to ever let it go.
Other favorites: “45 Years,” “Brooklyn,” “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Grandma,” “Inside Out,” “Room,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Spotlight,” “The Third Man/Tales of Hoffmann”
“The Handmaiden,” directed by Park Chan-wook. Another tough year to choose from, but ultimately the film that emerged for me was this one-of-a-kind erotic-revenge-crime thriller, based on a Sarah Waters novel (“Fingersmith”) with its setting moved from Victorian England to 1930s Korea. Told in two languages (watch the color of the subtitles), its plot whips like a roller coaster; two and a half hours never went by so quickly.
Other favorites: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “The Innocents,” “La La Land,” “Loving,” “Maggie’s Plan,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight”
“Phantom Thread,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel Day-Lewis claimed this would be his final film performance (he seems to have meant it, at least so far), and it’s one for the ages: a masterpiece of silky irritability as fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. A strange and beautiful film, quietly echoing Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” yet finding a delicate magic of its own.
Other favorites: “The Big Sick,” “Dunkirk,” “Lady Bird,” “Lady Macbeth,” “Mudbound,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water,” “Step,” “Their Finest”
“Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler. I’m smiling just remembering the giddy whoosh this film gave me. I watched it three times last year, and every time the action sequences left me breathless, and the cast left me a little bit in love. Such a joy to see, with this movie and “Wonder Woman” within a year of each other, so many of us newly able to picture ourselves as superheroes on screen.
Other favorites: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Paddington 2,” “The Rider,” “Roma,” “Shoplifters,” “Widows,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
“The Farewell,” directed by Lulu Wang. It takes a very special movie to both break your heart and leave you joyful, and Wang’s movie — based on her own family’s story, and anchored by a quietly soulful performance by Awkwafina — did exactly that. An extended Chinese family gathers after its matriarch is diagnosed with a fatal illness — but everyone’s forbidden from telling her that she’s ill. Wang makes all of us members of this family, learning how to say goodbye.
Other favorites: “Amazing Grace,” “Everybody Knows,” “The Irishman,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” “Pain and Glory,” “Parasite,” “Peterloo,” “Us”
What a decade. Now, tell me your favorites!