In 2010, Netflix had just launched its streaming service, but it was relying on its DVD and Blu-ray rentals to pay the freight. That same year, there were 39,520 movie screens across America — only marginally fewer than the 41,172 in operation today, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.
So the proliferation of streaming platforms for movies — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+ and so on — hasn’t destroyed the theatrical model the way everyone feared. And with Netflix taking their prestige pictures, like “Roma” and “The Irishman,” to theaters before streaming them, there’s still some life in the old movie house yet.
Onscreen, there were big changes, too.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe grew from some one-off superhero adventures into an interconnected web of movies that told succinct stories while also furthering an uber-narrative, much as comic books themselves do.
Chinese investment made action movies more global. Often, a supporting character or section of the action would be set in China, giving a marketing hook there to match the ones here. Sometimes a movie would bomb in the States but do well at the Chinese box office, meaning a sequel would still happen. But if the Chinese objected and didn’t open a movie there, it could be the kiss of death.
And the mid-budget movie all but disappeared from movie theaters, relegated to Netflix and other streaming services. At theaters, it would be $100 million blockbusters in the multiplexes, and Sundance-derived indies at the art houses, and very little in the middle.
One thing that was consistent between 2010 and 2019 was that a good movie is a good movie is a good movie. Sometimes it required some digging to find them, but the great movies would always rise to the top.
Here’s my list of the 20 best movies of the last decade.
1. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012) • Feeling not so much like a film and more like an artifact, director Benh Zeitlin’s made-from-scraps drama — of a little girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), trying to make sense of her life in the Louisiana bayou — is a wonder to behold. The mostly nonprofessional cast (the actor who played Hushpuppy’s father, Dwight Henry, was a New Orleans baker when Zeitlin found him) and Zeitlin’s anthropological approach made this fantasy junkyard of a world feel real and alive.
2. “127 Hours” (2010) • It’s hard to imagine a less cinematic topic than climber Aron Ralston’s misadventure, getting his arm stuck by a boulder in a Utah slot canyon, and spending five days making the decision to cut off his arm. But director Danny Boyle, adapting Ralston’s propulsive memoir, turns the story into a lively exploration of Ralston’s you-only-live-once philosophy and its consequences. James Franco gives a career-best performance as he channels Ralston’s regrets, frustrations and bittersweet triumphs. (Fun fact: Much of the movie was shot in a shuttered Sugar House furniture store, in which an exact replica of the slot canyon was constructed.)
3. “All Is Lost” (2013) • Another one-man show, this time with Robert Redford, then an agile 77, giving his all in director J.C. Chandor’s survival drama, playing a retired businessman whose dream of an around-the-world solo trip on a sailboat is scuttled when a container box breaches his hull. Using his wits, his knowledge of the sea, and raw determination, Redford’s character nobly — and almost wordlessly — struggles to stay alive in an unforgiving ocean.
4. “Parasite” (2019) • A cat-and-mouse thriller worthy of Hitchcock and a satire of class divisions all in one sleek package by director Bong Joon-Ho. A family of low-income hustlers works their way into the employ of a rich family, one member at a time — but just when they think they’ve achieved the good life, a former housekeeper returns with a shocking secret. Bong ratchets up the tension while also offering sly commentary about the super rich, the conniving poor, and the terrifying gap in between.
5. “Sorry to Bother You” (2018) • Rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s satire — starring Lakeith Stanfield as a black telemarketer who gets ahead when he uses his “white voice” (which sounds just like David Cross) — is a scathing takedown of capitalism and institutionalized racism. It’s also milk-out-the-nose funny, evoking such comic geniuses as Richard Pryor and Monty Python.
6. “The Irishman” (2019) • Martin Scorsese is 77 now, and has earned the right to make any damn movie he wants. His dream project for the last 10 years has been to reunite with his frequent collaborator, Robert De Niro, to recount the reminiscences of Frank Sheeran, a truck driver and mob fixer who claimed in his old age that he killed Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Whether it’s true or not, Scorsese and De Niro — aided by a cast that includes Joe Pesci and Al Pacino — create a lived-in portrait of a witness to American history, and an inside look at the rot that mob corruption and violence permeate through life at the most personal level.
7. “Room” (2015) • Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel to tell the tender yet brutal story of a young mother (Brie Larson, who won an Oscar for her troubles) held captive with her son (Jacob Tremblay) for years. Director Lenny Abrahamson explores the terror of their captivity, and the challenges when mother and son are rescued, in this riveting drama.
8. “Roma” (2018) • Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white drama is at once nostalgic and confrontational, as the filmmaker recalls growing up in a prosperous Mexico City neighborhood in the 1970s — but through the viewpoint of the family’s maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who was both part of the family and outside of it. Cuarón acted as his own cinematographer, getting the images in his head onto the screen better than anyone could.
9. “Moonlight” (2016) • The Best Picture winner that year (after a memorable envelope snafu) was also the most deserving. Director Barry Jenkins shows a life at three stages — as a small boy (Alex Hibbert) influenced by a drug lord (Mahershala Ali), as a teen (Ashton Sanders) experiencing sexual longing for the first time, and as an adult (Trevante Rhodes) reconciling his reputation with his heart — and reveals with poetic gentleness how the child becomes the man.
10. “Wonder Woman” (2017) • If comic book superheroes are our modern mythology, Wonder Woman is the queen of the gods. And Gal Gadot’s Diana, as majestically realized by director Patty Jenkins in this World War I drama, is a worthy monarch — a fierce warrior who charges into battle, a determined champion of justice and fairness, and a naif in the modern world who gushes over her first ice cream cone.
11. “Get Out” (2017) • A black man (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet the parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) — and the normal fears of such an encounter soon become secondary to other, bigger terrors as he realizes what the family has planned for him. Writer-director Jordan Peele channelled long-buried (and not-so-buried) racial fears into a chilling format, and established a new standard for smart horror.
12. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) • Like a blast from the past, director George Miller revived his post-apocalyptic franchise — this time with Tom Hardy as the drifter Mad Max, aiding the rebellious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) — and reminds us what a high-octane motor-driven action spectacle looks like.
13. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010) • The mysterious British street artist Banksy skewers the film world as thoroughly as he has the art world with this documentary. Banksy commissions filmmaker Thierry Guetta to make a film about street artists like him — but when the footage turns out to be unusable, Banksy takes control and directs a movie about Guetta, who has also swapped roles and aims to be an outsider artist called Mr. Brainwash. While the details may be fabricated, the takedown of art-world pomposity is deliciously real.
14. “Taxi” (2015) • Jafar Panahi may be our greatest living filmmaker, but he’s not allowed to make movies because of a 20-year ban by the Iranian government. Panahi uses that ban as the conceit for this on-the-fly drama, in which Panahi plays himself, driving a cab because he can’t work as a filmmaker. His dashboard camera becomes his entry into the lives of his passengers, who talk about the challenges of living in modern-day Tehran. It’s subversive, smart and soulful.
15. “The Act of Killing” (2013) • How does a documentarian effectively capture the horrors of Indonesia’s death squads? Director Joshua Oppenheimer — who’s pretty much banned from returning to Indonesia these days — does it by asking the squad leaders, who all have a flair for the theatrical, to reenact their actions in the cinematic styles of their choice. The result is a daring documentary that simultaneously depicts the horrific acts and the wildly inadequate justifications for them.
16. “Beginners” (2011) • Love comes in many forms in writer-director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical comedy drama. For the protagonist (Ewan McGregor), it comes when he meets a French actress (Melanie Laurent), while also learning that his aging father (Christopher Plummer, in his Oscar-winning role) has come out of the closet, and has been diagnosed with cancer. The movie is wonderfully eccentric and universally charming.
17. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) • Marvel’s friendly neighborhood wall crawler has had many iterations in the last decade, but this one tops them all. Teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) discovers that a spider bite has given him astonishing power — and he soon learns that he’s just one of many spider-themed superheroes across the dimensions. The movie distills the comic-book art style, as well as such genres as Japanese anime and Saturday morning cartoons (say hello to Spider-Pig), in this endlessly inventive animated delight.
18. “La La Land” (2016) • Get past the jokes about how Ryan Gosling saved jazz, and Damien Chazelle’s valentine to the City of Angels remains an exuberant delight. Gosling and Emma Stone, as an uncompromising jazz pianist and a struggling actress, fall in love while also creating a running commentary about the act of falling in love in a movie.
19. “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) • Director Wes Anderson, our chief supplier of movie whimsy, tackles the travails of young love with this funny, charming story of preteens (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who try to run away together but are hemmed in by their isolated New England island and its oddball population. That cast of characters includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman — perhaps as eccentric and hilarious a crew as Anderson has ever assembled.
20. “Selma” (2014) • One of the few film depictions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that doesn’t cast him as a plaster saint, director Ava DuVernay narrows her focus to the 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to the state capital of Montgomery. The movie not only highlights the rhetorical gifts of Dr. King (David Oyelowo) but his political and organizational savvy, as well as the enemies arrayed against the movement and the man.
THE DECADE’S BEST MOVIES, YEAR BY YEAR
Here are Salt Lake Tribune movie critic Sean P. Means’ top 10 lists for every year of the 2010s:
1. “127 Hours”
2. “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
3. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
5. “The Social Network”
6. “Another Year”
8. “Winter’s Bone”
9. “Toy Story 3”
10. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”
2. “The Artist”
4. “Another Earth”
5. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”
6. “Super 8”
7. “The Last Lions”
8. “The Adjustment Bureau”
10. “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
1. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
2. “Moonrise Kingdom”
3. “Zero Dark Thirty”
4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
5. “The Sessions”
6. “The Avengers”
7. “Safety Not Guaranteed”
8. “The Loneliest Planet”
9. “The Master”
1. “All Is Lost”
2. “The Act of Killing”
5. “In a World…”
8. “12 Years a Slave”
9. “Much Ado About Nothing” / “What Maisie Knew”
10. “Upstream Color”
4. “The LEGO Movie”
5. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
6. “Obvious Child”
8. “Edge of Tomorrow”
9. “Gone Girl”
10. “The Overnighters”
3. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
5. “Inside Out”
6. “The Tribe”
7. “The Martian”
8. “The Hunting Ground”
9. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
10. “Steve Jobs”
2. “La La Land”
4. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
6. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
7. “The Birth of a Nation”
10. “The Handmaiden”
1. “Wonder Woman”
2. “Get Out”
3. “The Florida Project”
4. “The Big Sick”
5. “Phantom Thread”
6. “Patti Cake$”
7. “Wind River”
8. “Megan Leavey”
9. “Battle of the Sexes”
10. “The Post”
1. “Sorry to Bother You”
3. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
4. “Black Panther”
5. “Minding the Gap”
6. “Paddington 2”
7. “The Hate U Give”
8. “Incredibles 2”
9. “Eighth Grade”
10. “Crazy Rich Asians”
2. “The Irishman”
3. “Her Smell”
4. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
5. “Avengers: Endgame” / “Captain Marvel”
6. “Apollo 11”
7. “Ms. Purple”
8. “One Child Nation”
10. “The Farewell”