30 Essential Films of the 2010s

The 2010s has been defined by crisis and conflict but also hope and solidarity. The decade saw a rise in blockbusters and superhero films. Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and the rise of Netflix and other streaming sites have greatly affected the way we consume media. Outside of corporate and capitalist media, films saw the rejection of art for art’s sake. While the medium has always been inherently political, there is a sense of urgency in today’s cinema. Moviegoers are no longer mere spectators but are more active in demanding the content they need and want. Good films are being redefined; they are not only reflections of our current social order, but are also able to reimagine what our world could be like.

To us, these are the films that have made a lasting impression and have defined the decade. We present our 30 Essential Films of the 2010s.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)

Suffering from kidney failure, Boonmee is on the last days of his life. This prompts a visit from his dead wife Huay and his missing son Boonsong who has turned into a monkey ghost. Boonsong tells Boonmee that the animals and spirits know that he is sick. Boonmee wonders if Huay has come to take him with her to the afterlife. It’s strange, almost dreamlike, but there’s also a sense of normalcy to it. Uncle Boonmee is immersive, filled with lush and breathtaking visuals. It’s almost a spiritual experience. Weerasethakul meditates on life and death; perhaps they are just the same thing. – Jay Serrato

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

The rise of social media at the start of the decade gave forth to technology as an omniscient force of a presence, powerful enough to steal ideas and vote fascists into office whilst fronting itself as a way of bringing together every living person in on its own. At the center of it all is Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. The Social Network isn’t a factual re-telling of the site’s birth, rather it shows us the circumstances of it: an idea of connection and how we eventually cut forth of it for the sake of profit and power. It was darkly humorous back in 2010, and a decade later it now seems like a harrowing path we’re headed towards at. – CJ Tabigo-on

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is still, to me, Lynne Ramsay’s best work. Its non-linear narrative works well and keeps your eyes on the screen. Most of the violence is kept off-screen but when implied it is anxiety-inducing and disturbing. Kevin (Ezra Miller) peeling fruit and crushing it in his mouth as an angry and horrified Eva (Tilda Swinton) looks at him remains to be one of the most terrifying scenes in cinema. Tilda Swinton is at her best, capturing Eva’s complicated relationship with her son and her grief and trauma after Kevin murders his father, sister, and classmates. It’s the perfect psychological thriller and PSA to never have kids. – JS

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

The Act of Killing, a documentary where unrepentant death squad leaders reenact the genocide they made happen in surreal films-within-a-film, is the best movie I never want to see again. In the non-fictionalization of fiction—the killers constantly said they were inspired by gangster movies—and the fictionalization of non-fiction, the filmmakers were able to create something so searing and spine-chilling not only for the audience but the actual killers-slash-actors themselves. There is no overt violence in this movie—in fact, the special effects are subpar—but it’s made more terrifying by the context, by the knowledge that just a few decades ago these same people were doing these same things sans movie crew. I had to look away from the screen multiple times despite the unconvincing prosthetic—powerful and absolutely terrifying. – Andrea Panaligan

Barber’s Tales (Jun Robles Lana, 2013)

The past decade has been good for director Jun Robles Lana who has found success both in mainstream (The Panti Sisters, Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes) and arthouse (Shadow Behind the Moon, Kalel, 15) endeavors. 2013’s Barber’s Tales finds the esteemed filmmaker at the peak of his storytelling bravura, seamlessly weaving women (and queer) empowerment with the need for armed resistance as shown in its exploration of gender oppression amid the Marcos dictatorship of the ‘70s-‘80s. Actress Eugene Domingo, then known mostly for her comedy roles, performs a wide range of emotions as the widowed Marilou on the path towards sexual and political awakening and proves that she is one of the most talented actors working in contemporary Philippine cinema. – Gerald Cajayon

Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014)

Probably the best movie written by a 25-year-old this decade, Mommy is a poignant and practically untouchable vignette of motherhood and messy love; and my favorite movie in the whole wide world. This is Xavier Dolan’s magnum opus, and ultimately what cemented his place as a festival prodigy after catching everyone’s attention with his second most critically acclaimed work, 2009’s I Killed My Mother.

Through the film’s 1:1 aspect ratio, an already thoughtfully written screenplay is made more intimate, as if peeking through a neighbor’s window. Which is fitting, because while I carry multiple pieces of art with me, I still always come back to this film. It never not feels like home. In fact, I have a habit of watching it whenever I’m staying in unfamiliar places: new college dorms, bus terminals with extra long waits. I press play then I am found. – AP

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (Lav Diaz, 2014)

This six-hour period drama is Lav Diaz at his best; an intimate portrayal of a small barrio and its townspeople’s lives before and after Marcos declares Martial Law. It integrates us into its characters’ lives, the town and how fascism slowly crawls among its roots.

As stories of dead cows, burned huts and weeping mothers slowly fill the frame, Diaz’s long takes allow us to settle with the terrifying notion of whether something worse is about to happen. Do we deserve this? A constant state of fear that will lead to destruction? Is it something inherent in our nature? Diaz doesn’t give us an answer but empathizes with the thought of suffocating in on itself. – CT

Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)

Fincher’s Gone Girl is a thriller that apparently doubles as—and I quote Anne Hathaway on this—a romcom. Unhappily married Nick (Ben Affleck) is the center of scrutiny when wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is reported missing. In an unexpected turn of events, revealed is a twisted marriage, sinister motives, and a satisfying conclusion all arguably brought about by great direction and an even greater performance by Pike.If not solely for its Cool Girl monologue, this film has solidified its iconic status within the decade and is a genre-defining piece that no one is going to forget anytime soon. – Gabie Dolor

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)

Love is a bizarre emotion to grapple with and in Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language film it is an extreme delight. It’s this decade’s modern fairytale starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Divorcee David (Colin Farrell) finds himself back in a hotel required to look for a suitable partner within 45 days and if he fails to do so, will be turned into an animal of their choice and be released into the forest.

Lanthimos’ deadpan dialogue and odd humor may be off-putting at first, but its heart is sincere and determined to find an escape in its tyrannical system that dictates how love should be. Its cliffhanger end asks us if it really is worth the trouble too. – CT

88:88 (Isiah Medina, 2015)

Poverty is not an uncommon theme to explore in cinema, but Isiah Medina’s experimental approach gives it a new perspective. 88:88 is about that feeling of stasis experienced by poor people, when time itself feels suspended and everything else only seems to pass us by. Images are juxtaposed in a way that revels at the beauty of the world yet also questions the inequality experienced by its people. It is philosophical without being inaccessible, always grounded in humanism, angry yet understanding and hopeful at the same time. It is an audio-visual tour de force that serves as a reminder of the infinite possibilities of cinema and the importance of balance between formalism and emotionalism. The best thing about this film? It’s available to stream for free on YouTube! – GC

No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)

Chantal Akerman’s last film, No Home Movie is an intimate portrait of her mother Natalia, a Holocaust survivor. More than an attempt to document a loved one who is slowly leaving, it’s an examination of the mother-daughter relationship, particularly how Natalia’s trauma has affected her and Chantal. The penultimate shot of Akerman closing the curtains in her mother’s room is heartbreaking; an image that I will keep thinking about for days to come. – JS

Honor Thy Father (Erik Matti, 2015)

A critique of organized religion and the flaccid wrongness of crime, among other larger social issues, told through the intense, solidly written character study of a desperate father. With pitch-perfect direction backing up a strong screenplay, Honor Thy Father is one of the few gems of recent MMFFs. Tension crescendos smoothly through the runtime, plateauing in one of the most haunting ending sequences in recent memory. What’s most terrifying, however, is how familiar the themes are, bolstered by the recognizability of the characters. You know the church, the scheme, the people; and their actions are not ungrounded in reality. This feels like it could happen to anyone, even you. – AP

Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016)

Cameraperson spans 25 years of Kirsten Johnson’s career as a documentary cinematographer. A memoir; a collage of footage from different films, we learn about her through her encounters with different people and places. From the victims of ethnic cleansing and systemic violence against women during the Bosnian War, a young mother at an abortion clinic, to Johnson’s own mother with Alzheimer’s. The order of images may not make sense—there seems to be no logic to it—but it does to Johnson. “You were making me cry even though I don’t understand the language,” says Johnson to Najibullah Afghan, a Kabul teen who lost an eye and his brother during a bomb blast. It’s astonishingly intimate, a testament to human connection and how people and places can deeply impact us. – JS

American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)

American Honey isn’t a movie as much as it’s a door, every feeling so palpable you swear you can feel it in your fingers. Inauthentic depiction of teenhood bordering on laughable has been an epidemic in coming-of-age cinema, but Andrea Arnold proves she’s no ordinary filmmaker with this immersive capsule universe. It’s instantly engrossing, hypnotic without being indulgent, complex without being overtly frustrating—Arnold knows the pulse of Americana and lets us in on the rhythm. The 162-minute runtime flies by, and for that she’s practically a miracle worker; not to mention she brought us Sasha Lane, which is one of the better things to come out of this decade. – AP

Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

Drop dead gorgeous and the kind of heartbreaking that makes you feel a little wiser after its runtime. This romantic fantasy (or fantastical romance?) inevitably won (and broke) the hearts of mainstream audiences, becoming the highest-grossing Japanese animated film and twelfth highest-grossing non-English film worldwide. Everyone and their mothers saw this film, and deservedly so: it’s the perfect manifestation of style with substance, playing with sci-fi elements without sacrificing emotional resonance. Its commercial success and everyone’s obsession with it made it the perfect gateway film for viewers unfamiliar with Japanese animation but want to see more of the medium. – AP

By the Time It Gets Dark (Anocha Suwichakornpong, 2016)

Rarely do films get told in the way Thai auteur Anocha Suwichakornpong does, with spatial and temporal elements meticulously manipulated to create a lyrical portrait of Thailand that is at once communal and personal. By the Time It Gets Dark is an incredible feat in filmmaking that uses the arthouse approach to its fullest extent: patient, meditative, and highly intelligent. It is both an ode to filmmaking and a critique of cinema’s futility in capturing reality and history, with different narrative threads connected into one seemingly incoherent yet totally emotive narrative. – GC

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)

This Oscar-winning depiction of the life of a Black gay man is inarguably one of the decade’s greatest cinematic offerings. Here is a film about marginalization that never feels obtrusive or exploitative but is instead deeply humane, heartfelt, and real, inviting the viewers to listen and empathize. The three Chirons (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) give a seamless performance that is both strong and vulnerable, generating pathos and a sense of relatability that is rarely seen in American cinema today. Barry Jenkins’ direction is nothing short of superb, his camera able to effectively capture the Black queer experience with such beauty and sentimentality only attainable by someone who belongs from the same cultural background. – GC

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

The refreshing thriller Get Out is the first of its kind that puts the social issue at the very center of its narrative, explicitly sending a message against racism that a generation has always thought but never said nor seen on the big screen. Jordan Peele, brilliant in his writing and direction, perfectly merges humor with bluntness with lines peppering the film such as “all I know is sometimes, if there’s too many white folks, I get nervous, you know.” What makes Get Out so brilliant is—while it ticks all the boxes of a typical horror/thriller—it transcends genre; it is elevated and sniper-accurate to what it is trying to say and accomplish. That’s what makes it iconic in this decade where social consciousness and criticism is not only accepted but considered a heavy necessity; an obligation, even, by the people that have the voice to express their unrest. – GD

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly Surya, 2017)

The first full-length film from Indonesia to be shown in Cannes after 12 years, Marlina is a slow and seething rape revenge film told through quietly explosive long takes. Silence is made the norm, so shrieks of pain are more deafening; the minimal dialogue never feels scarce as Marsha Timothy and Dea Panendra’s eyes are sharp, clear, and brimming with emotion.

Set against the sandy backdrop of a hilly island, with our protagonist riding horses and wielding swords, this film is, frankly, the best spaghetti western of the decade. Its feminist slant proves that there is no greater force than the solidarity and unconditional care women have for each other. Now repeat after me: men will not protect you. – AP

The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

It is the year 2017, of course a woman and a fish can fall in love! The Shape of Water dives into (pun intended) a story that first perplexes, then, slowly, feels strangely familiar and intimate. It is a dissection of the very essence of love and friendship, for all its perplexities and forbiddenness—in a way that needn’t any words.

A performance like Sally Hawkins’ matched with the beautiful cinematography of Dan Laustsen and direction of Guillermo del Toro makes for a film that will defy the test of time or, in this case, species. – GD

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

I’ve only seen Lady Bird twice: when it came out and two years after to revisit it. The first viewing left me bawling, coming home with swollen eyes and giving a tight hug to my confused mother. Apologies for the cliché, but it feels like Greta Gerwig stole my high school and college journals and made a screenplay out of it. It feels authentic; lived-in. Gerwig perfectly captures teenage angst, suburban ennui, and a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

I don’t know how many times I cried when I watched it for the first time. Coming from a working-class family with big dreams, I couldn’t help but feel for Lady Bird. She begs her mother to talk to her and apologizes for being ungrateful and wanting more. It feels like a punch in the gut and it is so wonderfully acted by Saoirse Ronan. I don’t know if I’ll be rewatching Lady Bird anytime soon, but it will always be there when I need it. – JS

Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang (Jewel Maranan, 2017)

Poverty porn is perhaps one of the most pressing discourses surrounding Philippine cinema discussed in the past decade, with many people raising valid concerns on the inaccurate presentation of the Philippines to film festivals abroad. Although not directly a response to that, Jewel Maranan created Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang (In the Claws of a Century Wanting), a documentary about the people of Tondo and their struggle and resistance against demolition and inhumane relocation. This film is proof that we can make films about poverty without succumbing to the Western gaze if only we genuinely express solidarity to the plight of the urban poor. Maranan improves and expounds from her previous documentary Tundong Magiliw: Pasaan Isinisilang Silang Mahirap? and creates a profound commentary on neoliberalism and the Global South experience that questions the status quo and celebrates the people’s fight against development aggression. – GC

Balangiga: Howling Wilderness (Khavn, 2017)

Khavn’s Balangiga, a coming-of-age film about Kulas and his grandfather retreating from their town after the American forces have wreaked havoc is nothing short of a coherent narrative. This is a child in between escaping and confronting the pain of it all, with its absurd and terrifying imagery. It grapples with the wreckage of war in Kulas’ eyes: burning cottages, an abandoned infant and emptiness.Balangiga doesn’t cope with the aftermath of it all, rather it shows us its bones, its ghosts slowly salvaging its remains and re-creating what was ours again: ghosts, bodies and burning memories. Sometimes films about war and colonialism are exploitative or emotionally manipulative, Khavn’s insistence to tell us that this is not a film allows us to look beyond from this narrative. It is years of grief and trauma that demands confrontation with the sound of Balangiga’s bells ringing, over and over again. – CT

Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)

The first time I saw Paddington 2, my friend and I were maybe the only young adults in the cinema, unsurprisingly surrounded by children with their parents. By the time Paddington opens the door and sees Aunt Lucy, I may have already cried at least five times. I didn’t expect the Paddington films to have impacted me the way it did. It’s a silly and delightful sequel, but it’s so much more than just a cute bear in a duffel coat and his shenanigans. It’s a response to Brexit, rampant racism, and the justice and prison system. Paddington constantly reminds us: “if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” It’s what we need in a world that is so endlessly cruel. – JS

An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

Any talk of An Elephant Sitting Still is not complete without mentioning the tragic story behind the film: its director, Hu Bo, committed suicide during the post-production stage, unable to see the final four-hour epic form of his first and last directorial effort. In a way, this piece of information also becomes etched onto the film itself, what with its bleak, almost hopeless atmosphere and constant questioning of the value of existence. An Elephant is a dark and angry insight on modern China and humanity in general, one that desperately seeks for compassion and kindness. There are plenty of moments that might trigger those suffering from depression, but I still found the film somewhat optimistic; it does not give false hope that life will get better immediately, but it argues that any amount of possibility, no matter how small it may be, is worth sticking around for. – GC

Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)

Shoplifters stole everyone’s hearts as soon as it premiered. As the title suggests, the story follows a group of people living in the outskirts of Japan who shoplift items to use or resell for lack of viable income. The story is simple: it is a story of family—one that was not meant to be but, rather, chosen—one that the world pretends is not there and makes complicated even as they call each other sister, father, grandma.As much as it is a socially conscious piece, it is a cultural critique as well. The question Kore-eda poses now is not simply What is family? but rather, what should it be? GD

Oda Sa Wala (Dwein Baltazar, 2018)

Dwein Baltazar’s sophomore film about loneliness and yearning is one of the few gems of modern Philippine cinema. It’s a meditation on empty lives, trying to fill that void with all that will come along with it. Marietta Subong (Pokwang)’s Sonya is an empty shell, an embalmer creating life from the dead, coping with the struggles of rent and yearning. She finds an unclaimed corpse on her table and soon enough, strange things start happening. Whether this is coincidental or supernatural, we see Sonya’s life start to change drastically.

While Pokwang is commonly known for handling comedic roles, here she enthralls us with her grief and yearning elevated by Baltazar’s quiet imagery. Oda Sa Wala is intimate in examining the gaps of nothingness but also provides us a poignant letter about the kind of homes and companions we make and connect with. – CT

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, 2018)

The decade gave rise to superhero films, a battle of franchises and reboots of major studios. Surprisingly rising among them is a coming-of-age film about Miles Morales who struggles to fit into the ropes of his mentor, Peter Parker.It’s a refreshing take on the Spider-Man narrative that isn’t afraid to embrace its origins as a comic book story and maximizes the use of the animation medium. It’s hilarious, confident and passionate in every sense and paves way to an optimistic path that we lean upon. Spider-Verse is a rejuvenating film that doesn’t question the why’s of how one gets bitten but rather what we do with the power regardless of it. After years of re-telling the Spider-Man narrative, it’s nice to look forward to a story finally done right. – CT

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019)

Rarely does a piece like Portrait of a Lady on Fire come into people’s lives, tear their hearts out, and leave them utterly breathless and at a loss for words. Thank god it did just as the decade was coming to a close.

Sciamma paints the narrative of two women that fall in love with a sensitivity to all its intricacies that only a woman can have. It truly is a film for women by women, a representation of the ferocity of the female bond—graceful and poignant—not based on the time it is set in but as the love that it is. It’s really too beautiful for words to describe, but why try when a painting is worth a thousand more words. – GD

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)

Today we chant: eat the rich. Parasite is a masterful representation of the class divide, told with twist and turns as complex and seamless as the home it was set in. It is a feat in storytelling as it is for set design, performances, and everything in between that weaves a film together.The Palme d’Or winner has put Asia at the forefront of the film scene in the final year of the decade; a foreshadowing, finally, to the shift in focus on the emerging excellence that is not of Western orientation. It’s always been there, Parasite merely taught the world to look. – GD

Honorable Mentions

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010) / A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) / Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (Alvin B. Yapan, 2011) / Big Boy (Shireen Seno, 2011) / Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2012) / Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2013) / Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz, 2013) / Four Sisters and a Wedding (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2013) / Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014) / Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014) / Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) / Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015) / Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, 2016) / Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) / Sunday Beauty Queen (Baby Ruth Villarama, 2016) / Beauty and the Dogs (Kaouther Ben Hania, 2017) / Respeto (Treb Monteras II, 2017) / Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) / Shirkers (Sandi Tan, 2018) / Cleaners (Glenn Barit, 2019)

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