As the dust cleared from our Best of 2014 features, 2015 previews and awards season coverage, we realized something terrifying: we’re now halfway through the current decade. Five years have passed since the 2010s began, we’re all sixty months (or sixty two?) older, and literally thousands of movies have hit theaters in that time.
So what better time to take stock of the decade thus far? Box-office returns might have been dominated by superheroes, ice princesses and dystopian teen-on-teen murder, but once you look outside the multiplex (or even, very occasionally, within it), it’s clear that cinema is as healthy as it’s ever been, with everyone from A-list auteurs to foreign-language first-timers delivering stunning, boundary-pushing work.
But after re-running our best of the 00s series, we began to wonder: what were the very best of the films of the last five years? And so a weeks-long process of arguing began— at first, we narrowed down a long list of hundreds of films, then our final list of 50 (going by U.S. release year, which in some cases followed a 2009 release elsewhere, just so you know), which we’ve ranked by the highly unscientific process of shouting at each other until everyone was happy/equally miserable. Below, you can find the first part of that fifty, running through to number 26, and part two (and our extensive honorable mentions), will follow tomorrow. Take a look and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
50. “Spring Breakers” (2012)
Harmony Korine’s raison d’être is the beauty of trash and the poetry of transgression. He’s dumpster-dived this preoccupation every which way, in one instance literally with the sublimely damaged “Trash Humpers,” but he still manages to make each examination compelling, urgent and hilarious. “Spring Breakers” is no different, looking at the human garbage that constitutes the hedonistic culture of spring break through trippy celebratory goggles. Synthesizing Korine’s pastiche-y influences, “Spring Breakers” melds the cacophony of dubstep, hallucinogenic binges, adolescent vitality and hip-hop white trash swagger with the tone-poem reflection of Terrence Malick. It’s Korine’s most entertaining and watchable film to date, containing a tour de force turn from James Franco and gorgeous work from Korine’s two yin/yang composers, Skrillex and Cliff Martinez, who articulate his candy-colored vision to perfection: it’s the sweet spot where the vile and the beautiful merge to make something divine.
49. “Drive” (2011)
Giving the crime movie a well-deserved amphetamine-kick up the backside, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (about a getaway driver, Ryan Gosling, who becomes unexpectedly involved in the life of his beautiful neighbor Carey Mulligan) wasn’t original in its separate elements: virtually every plot beat had been deployed somewhere before, and its neon-lit, synth-scored aesthetic called back to classic Michael Mann, Walter Hill and William Friedkin pictures of the ’70s and ’80s. But somehow, the Danish madman repackaged those elements into something that felt incredibly fresh, with a brace of fine performances (Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks proving particular highlights), grotesque violence and a fairy-tale romanticism melding with one of the most striking looking and sounding movies of the last few years, one that’s set to be ripped off by filmmakers and commercials for years to come.
48. “Boyhood” (2014)
A decade-plus-spanning project begun at the turn of the millennium, it’s barely six months since “Boyhood” hit theaters (and only days since it was mostly ignored by the Oscars), but Richard Linklater’s film already feels like a film that’ll define the decade. Like a scripted take on the “7 Up” series, tracking a boy (Ellar Coltrane) from the age of six to eighteen as well as his family and shot at annual intervals, this process let Linklater use the signature low-key, intimate, beautifully observed style he’s honed over twenty years, but blown up to a grander scale by virtue of the film’s virtually unique conceit. Time-travel movies remain popular in the genre world, but none of them can match the weight and cumulative power of what Linklater managed here, making the simple story of a single family into a Great American Novel by letting it unfold at its own pace.
47. “Tom at the Farm” (2013)
It was a toss-up for us between this entry from Xavier Dolan (the only film on this list without a proper U.S. theatrical release) and his more recent “Mommy.” But though we adore the latter film, it’s a messier, less disciplined affair than the masterfully unsettling ‘Tom,’ which marks the biggest step up for Dolan. It’s the deceptively simple story of a young man (Dolan himself) who travels to the country for his lover’s funeral, only to discover that the grieving mother had no idea of her son’s sexuality, and his volatile brother wishes it to stay that way. What could turn into a black comedy or some sort of French farce (there’s even a fake girlfriend) uncoils in a much weirder and yet more insightful way, as currents of grief, guilt, deceit and lust roil around and builds to a paranoid pitch amid leaden skies, fields of corn and dusty barns.
46. “Birdman” (2014)
Not quite sure when or where the critical backlash against Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman” began, but it will probably only gain pace now that it’s a Best Picture winner —how terribly de trop! But round here, ‘Birdman”s rep as a gonzo blast of kinetic, self-referential fun is assured; it’s a shot in the arm and a slap round the chops, and despite all its evident artistry (dazzling Emmanuel Lubezki camerawork, the famous one-take-style “gimmick,” the high-strung performances), the film wears its lack of self-seriousness like a badge of pride. Perhaps it doesn’t have the lingering sustain of other films on this list, but it makes up for that by a) giving us a bigger, buzzier rush of delight in the moment than almost any other film on this list and b) Michael Keaton.