Leveller Media is launching at the tail end of the 2010s and will be releasing its first film in 2020. Given the timing, I thought it made sense to share my personal top ten English-language films of the last decade. From studio tentpoles to streaming releases, from musical to action to somber meditation on death, there’s a little bit of everything here. I hope you enjoy!
-Eric VonFeldt, CoFounder and Co-CEO, Leveller Media
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, d. George Miller)
No genre film has appeared on more end-of-decade films than this one, and I’ll refrain from explaining how great it is, since you’ve probably heard it all before. Instead, I want to reflect on its creator’s career. Is there any director as hard to pigeonhole as George Miller? Yes, he directed four Mad Max movies, but he also helmed a John Updike adaptation, two movies about dancing penguins, an expressionist children’s film about a pig in peril, and a documentary about Australian culture and Aboriginal Dreamtime. Miller can do anything, but Hollywood doesn’t always know what to do with him. How many more films might he have made in a less risk-averse world?
Dunkirk (2017, d. Christopher Nolan)
Only Christopher Nolan could get $150m of funding for a war film that has no central character, is about a retreat instead of a victory, and never shows the enemy soldiers. Dunkirk is surprisingly experimental; I wish the current studio system had more patience for unusual visions like this one. Christopher Nolan shot his first film, Following, for about $5,000; he then made the tricky and confounding Memento from an original screenplay. He directs nine-figure blockbusters today. Is that career progression still possible? Who would finance Memento today?
The Social Network (2010, d. David Fincher)
One of those movies you wish weren’t prescient; I’ve seen several critics say, with the benefits of a decade’s hindsight, that Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin are too kind to Mark Zuckerberg. Fincher made more viscerally exciting films this decade in Gone Girl and the underrated Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but this was his best for the past ten years.
The Tree of Life (2011, d. Terrence Malick)
The first and greatest of the six films that Terrence Malick released this decade, a perfect melding of the objective and the subjective, of the universal and the particular. Or perhaps I should say it’s near-perfect? After all, Malick recut and expanded it in 2018. Whatever version you watch, The Tree of Life is a masterpiece.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, d. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)
How often does a film combine technical innovation — varying frame rates, meshing animation styles, split-screen framing — with a great script and a diverse cast of perfectly chosen actors? And how often would you expect a film like this to be a comic-book adaptation? Into the Spider-Verse had three directors, but one vision: It’s the best and most original animated film in years.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, d. Quentin Tarantino)
Both the most chill and the most brutally violent film released this year, Tarantino’s ninth film is among his best: Nostalgic, ambivalent, surprising, and provocative. Pitt and DiCaprio have never been better than in this fairytale of a Hollywood that could have been.
John Wick (2014, d. Chad Stahelski)
A ferocious combination of high concept and perfect execution. Which of us wouldn’t want that dog avenged? And who could resist watching the sequels?
The Irishman (2019, d. Martin Scorsese)
Considered just as a work of art, The Irishman — as you’ve already heard and will go on hearing through the awards season — is a masterpiece. But I think it’s more than that: It’s the highest-profile prestige movie Netflix has yet released, bigger than Roma, bigger than The Other Side of the Wind, and it’s pioneered radical de-aging technology. The Irishman changed the way we watch movies and the way movies are made. This is a film about history that’s also a movie for the history books.
La La Land (2016, d. Damien Chazelle)
Today, musicals aren’t supposed to be made. If they do get made, they should be Broadway adaptations or jukebox musicals. They should star pop musicians and they should have happy endings, unless they’re the fifth remake of A Star Is Born. La La Land breaks all these rules, and does so joyfully. The opening freeway sequence alone would make this a film of the decade for me.
Moonlight (2016, d. Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight is exactly the kind of movie we need more of: Beautiful, bold, diverse, for adults, and (yes) mid-budget. Chiron’s story hasn’t left me since I walked out of the theater, and I cannot wait to see what Jenkins does next. It’s also worth noting that this is the film that put A24 on the radar for many cinephiles; their subsequent films — First Reformed, High Life, Under the Silver Lake, The Lighthouse, In Fabric, and all the rest — have hugely impressed me.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012, d. Kathryn Bigelow)
Women filmmakers remain underrepresented in Hollywood and also on best-of-the-decade lists, so it’s been wonderful to see Bigelow at last recognized as one of today’s great directors.