The story that will be told about film in the 2010s is going to be the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A massive gamble that paid off amazingly and gave comic fans some of the greatest film moments we never thought we’d ever get to see.
But the other story of film this decade for me is the rise of Black auteurs like Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, Ryan Coogler and a resurgence in films made for, by and about Black folks.
All in all it was a pretty great decade for film.
30. Chronicle (2012)
There are so many things to love about Chronicle. The found footage conceit. The first glimpse of Michael B. Jordan’s movie star charisma and character actor chops. But it’s the story itself about a troubled, abused teen who gets superpowers and destroys everything that knocks you on your ass. It’s the kind of film that every first time director wishes that he could make.
29. The Best Man Holiday (2013)
I didn’t need a sequel to The Best Man. But since we got one I’m glad that it stayed true to the essence of each of the characters (and filled out characters played by Regina Hall and Sanaa Lathan who were relatively minor in the first film). The Best Man Holiday becomes shamelessly manipulative in the third act, but before that it’s astonishingly good. Every actor is remarkable. But the revelation here is Morris Chestnut. He has never been as good as he is here. He may want to have Malcolm D. Lee write for him all the time a la Spike and Denzel (or Michael B. and Ryan).
28. The Bling Ring (2013)
I really love Sofia Coppola’s work as a director. She seems to be really fascinated with stories that allow her to subvert expectations about how White girls are supposed to behave. In The Virgin Suicides, the White girls kill themselves because they can’t bear the weight of expectations. In The Bling Ring, the White girls’ entitlement is so deep-seated that stealing from their idols seems like the most logical thing in the world to do. Emma Watson is unbelievably good here, giving one of the best performances of the decade. But it’s Coppola’s camera that makes the film. This isn’t satire and it isn’t glorification. It’s an indictment.
27. Girls Trip (2017)
Malcom D. Lee has a special way of making commercial films that have a deeper center than you’d expect them to have. The Best Man is deadly serious about Harper’s betrayal. And in Girls Trip, he tells another great story about friends who’ve hurt one another. The humor is outrageous – Tiffany Haddish earned every bit of her stardom – but the stuff at the center with Regina Hall and Queen Latifah is where the film soars. So much so that when the four women end up in a big fight toward the end of the film, we feel it deeply.
26. Blue Caprice (2013)
Blue Caprice is an independent film about the DC snipers. It’s both psychological study and a tragedy. The film builds a sense of dread and terror as John Muhammad manipulates Lee Boyd Malvo into becoming a killer. We get that there’s something missing from Lee’s life and we see how John zeroes in on that. The film conveys much of this silently and through smart direction. Tequan Richmond, as Lee Boyd Malvo, is astonishing in a role with very little dialogue. This role should have netted him awards and many more roles. It didn’t and its one of Hollywood’s biggest, most egregious mistakes this decade.
25. Beyond the Lights (2014)
One of my favorite small moments in film this decade comes relatively early in Beyond the Lights. Gugu’s Noni is performing and the rapper on stage with her starts to get too aggressive. Nate Parker’s Kaz is off stage and comes to her rescue … after a beat. They had caught each other’s eye and it’s almost like she gives him permission. It’s a small moment, but it’s really powerful. It’s in that moment that we see the trust Noni has for him. She thinks she doesn’t need him, until she does. Audiences have somewhat forgotten this film in the shuffle of wonderful Black films this decade, but they shouldn’t. It’s one of the few Black love stories we got in the last 10 years and it’s wonderful.
24. I Will Follow (2010)
Ava DuVernay’s first film remains, in many ways, her most emotionally complex. A film about loss and grief, it feels a bit like a tone poem. We drop in on Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s Maye as she’s packing up her recently deceased aunt’s home. As people come in and out of the house, we get to see Maye (and some of the other folks) process that death. And it’s at once overwhelming and inviting. There’s a warmth here that I’ve rarely seen on film. I Will Follow announced the arrival of a major talent in DuVernay.
23. Skyfall (2012)
Skyfall earns the title of the best James Bond film ever made because it does the one thing the films have never bothered to do before: make James Bond into a real person. The trick – that Sam Mendes mastered admirably here – is to not lose the essential cool, the spy of it all, in the process. It also helps that Daniel Craig seems engaged in the film (he’s the only Bond who seems to openly hate the role).
22. Attack the Block (2011)
Attack the Block never tells you explicitly that Black people would be left to their own devices should an alien invasion happen in their neighborhood. But in every way, you know this to be true. It’s in every frame. It’s a refreshing way to tell a story we’ve seen before in a different way. It introduced us to the great John Boyega and opened up a bit of the diaspora to those of us who hadn’t seen our Black British brothers in their own neighborhood before.
21. Mudbound (2017)
There have been so few films about the time in American history when Black folks were sharecroppers that a great deal of the pleasure of Mudbound is seeing us in such a different way. Everything about this time is tenuous and the film does a magnificent job of dramatizing it. From the friendship between Jason Mitchell’s Ronzel and Garrett Hedlund’s to the way the Jacksons are essentially destitute and beholden to the White McAllans. But the film is matter of fact about both family’s fortunes, not depressing.