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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of the Decade (So Far)

Written by on February 17, 2015 

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During the early life of The Film Stage, we set out to chronicle the 2000s with our 100 favorite features. In the last five years, as we’ve grown and our tastes have evolved, it’s now time to take a look at the demi-decade. In culling from individual lists of 15 contributors, we’ve highlighted our 50 favorite films released since 2010. Check out the cumulative list below, then head to the last page for individual ballots. If you’d like to keep track via Letterboxd, you can do so here.

50. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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It is a story as old as the ages: man comes face-to-face with himself and chaos ensues. What makes Enemy different, however, is the incredible richness built into and around this simple narrative. For one thing, Jake Gyllenhaal invests both of his characters with so many small physical characteristics that there is never a question about which of the doubles we are looking at in any given moment. This physicality allows him to build fully realized and distinctive human beings out of two men who look exactly the same, and to create a disparity and a tension that is engrossing to behold. Add to this performance the dense layers of rich visual symbolism, and you have a movie that is a strange, wonderful work, and one of the most enthralling and enigmatic films in years. – Brian R.

49. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

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One of the most accomplished directorial debuts of the decade thus far, Sean Durkin‘s Martha Marcy May Marlene is a suffocating, stripped-down character study of manipulation and trauma. Through dream-like editing, we’re trapped in the fractured mind of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, giving a subdued, intoxicating break-out performance) as we weave in and out of her perception of the past and the semblance of life she’s attempting to live in the present. In a rare feat, what Durkin has assembled manages to burrow into one’s psyche and linger long after the exemplary final scene. – Jordan R.

48. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky)

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For those unfamiliar with the cinema of auteur Béla Tarr, his style is marked by a few distinctive traits. From his use of moody black and white cinematography with shots often lingering unbroken for several minutes to the stark portrayal of his local Hungarian culture, the filmmaker creates an uncanny sense of time and place akin to Russian legend Andrei Tarkovsky. Based loosely on a story about Friedrich Nietzsche going insane, The Turin Horse is an existential examination of mundane daily life filtered through Tarr’s unique style. It is also a searing vision of a looming apocalypse, transforming the themes of the film into a metaphor for the weight of mortality that life is forced to bear. – Raffi A.

47. Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)

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Director Radu Muntean takes a style firmly lodged in the Romanian New Wave lineage and applies it to domestic, everyday material: a man’s two-sided love life, his affections split between his wife and a new, younger girlfriend. Muntean’s intricate, ever-evolving single-take feats provide total access to disarmingly convincing snippets of natural human activity — it’s hard to top A.O. Scott’s use of the word “pornographic” in describing our witnessing the catastrophic collapse of one of the movie’s core relationships. The behavior is so real that watching it feels illegal, uncalled-for — and thrilling. – Danny K.

46. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

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A Terrence Malick film is an event, no matter the time or the subject, but it is undeniable that there’s something markedly different and all-together special about To the Wonder. Perhaps it’s Malick’s transition from period pieces into the modern world, or the tight focus on people whose only extraordinary circumstance is their search for love. Either way — and for whatever reason — Malick has never felt more sentimental or raw than he does in this film. There is a reality to this film that even his other masterpieces shied from, and his unflinching gaze at the way in which love ebbs, flows, grows, and evolves lays bare the romantic lies in almost every other film ever made. This is to say nothing of his trademark visual style, which makes even bland suburbs and fast food restaurants looks hauntingly lovely. To the Wonder confused people when it first came out, but, as The Film Stage Show proved, with time and understanding, regard for this film can and does grow stronger. – Brian R.

45. Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara)

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A younger, unchecked Abel Ferrara might have made something louder and more aggressive out of this tawdry material, but this study of a monster is disciplined and startlingly de-sensationalized. Ferrara’s formal approach — dim lighting, long takes — prioritizes depiction over commentary; while there’s no questioning the deplorability of Devereaux’s (Gérard Depardieu) cravings, Ferrara doesn’t waste time moralizing. The reason for this is wise and ingeniously simple: after enough time in Devereaux’s company, the man will simply render himself pathetic. The project couldn’t have clicked without a committed central performance, and the one Depardieu turns in is heroically vulnerable. The excruciating, near-real-time sequence in which the actor is detained, processed, questioned, and stripped in a police department is process-oriented filmmaking at its most revealing. – Danny K.

44. A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel)

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What makes Philippe Garrel’s films so distinct is their blend of autobiographical pain and silent-film mise-en-scène — a failed relationship or revolution rendered not so much through the increasingly dialogue-heavy scripts of his films, but the placement of bodies, gestures, and, furthermore, the dreams that contain and emerge from them. Yet while A Burning Hot Summer may be the only film he’s made in the 21st century not shot in black-and-white, once the senior Maurice Garrel (in his final role) appears as an apparition in his grandson’s hospital bed-bound vision, the personal and the fantastical have formed their most natural relationship. – Ethan V.

43. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)

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A movie is just a movie, unless, of course, it’s the director’s sly way of telling the world that he faked the moon landing. That’s just one interpretation of The Shining presented in Rodney Ascher‘s first feature documentary, which examines the many theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick‘s horror masterpiece. The range of subjects, including a respected journalist, an academic, and a known conspiracy theorist, creates a varied look at just how deep film analysis can go, where everything from minor props to continuity errors come under massive scrutiny. It also demonstrates how our backgrounds and experiences dictate our relationship with film, making it one of the most fascinating documentaries about cinema ever produced. – Amanda W.

42. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn)

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Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyenRush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll documentaries ever made and one of the best movies about music since Almost Famous. Beyond the Lighted Stage is a comprehensive look at three boys from Toronto who make good, and make brilliant music for over 30+ years. A love letter of sorts that’s both personal and historic, Dunn and McFadyen incorporate historic footage, images, performances into present-day sit down interviews with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, along with insightful talking heads of their musical contemporaries. The film’s most fascinating passages demonstrate how Rush has evolved, tackling genres from hair metal to grunge along with electronica and jazz – there’s nothing these three boys can’t do. A triumphant, sweeping behind-the-scenes documentary released just as Rush was finalizing their long awaited Clockwork Angels album, it’s the kind of movie that inspires a standing ovation in the theatre. – John F.

41. Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé)

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Enter the Void is a rare example of pure cinema, a transformative experience so intense that, by the end, your eyes might be bleeding. French filmmaker Gaspar Noé pushes the envelope with amazing aerial camera techniques used to create an enveloping sense of floating like a spirit in the afterlife. It also has arguably one of the greatest opening credit sequences in the history of cinema. This film is a testament to Noe’s ambition and skill, whose rebellious and unconventional attitude makes him akin to a modern day Jean-Luc Godard. While his graphic subject matter may be a turn off for some, at its core Enter the Void is an uncanny experience that will leave you unnerved and mesmerized. – Raffi R.

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