My 25 Most Memorable Films of the Decade

As 2019 came to a close, I found myself looking at lists of “the best films of the decade” and thinking about what films I would put on a list like that.

I don’t see every significant film that comes out, but here are the films from the past ten years that lingered in the mind and kept coming up in conversation months or years later.

The films I remember seem to be the ones that don’t tell you how to feel about them, movies that give you room to think so that you end up thinking about them and talking about them long after you’ve watched them. Especially movies about ordinary people.

What are your most memorable movies of the decade?

56 Up

56 Up is the eighth film in Michael Apted‘s monumental Up series of documentaries, which has followed the lives of a group of British children, interviewing them every seven years since 1964. The first film I saw in the series was 28 Up, and Rick and I have watched every one since then. We think about these people, worry about them, wonder what they’re doing. 63 Up is already in some theaters and is coming to Seattle in March. Yay!

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade shows how being in 8th grade is mostly exactly the same now as it was when I was in 8th grade, but it’s also harder in some ways because kids carry the excruciating social pressure of adolescence around in their pockets and remind themselves of it by checking their social media constantly. It has a great performance by the star, Elsie Fisher.

The Florida Project

The Florida Project is about innocent childhood fun and resilience. Until it’s suddenly about America. The ordinary people who subsist on meager resources like the people in this story almost never get to star in any movies. The last scene is one of the saddest, most beautiful film endings I’ve ever seen.

Get Out

You’ve probably heard of Get Out. But that’s not going to stop me from saying again how great it is. It makes you want to immediately watch it again, because it’s so crammed with Jordan Peele‘s smart allusions and double meanings. And it was way scarier the second time we watched.

A Ghost Story

When I saw images from A Ghost Story, with the ghost played by someone draped in a bed sheet, I assumed it would be a funny, sweet movie. Turns out it is sweet, but very, very sad. It’s about grief, about how ghosts linger. I strongly identified with the ghost.

Gloria Bell

This film is not nearly as simple as a trailer or plot synopsis would make you think. Gloria is lonely, but not like people in movies are lonely. She’s not miserable. She has a loving family and knows how to have fun, and she doesn’t always have a simple reason for why she does what she does. If Hollywood ever decides to make believable movies about women with some life behind them, perhaps Gloria Bell can serve as a role model.

I Am Not Your Negro

There is a reason that there is a renewed interest in James Baldwin‘s writing. His ideas, which I found startling and mind-expanding when I read them as a white teenager in Spokane, Washington in the 1980s, still inspire and clarify the mind more than 60 years after he wrote them. That’s because he was a prophetic thinker, and also because much of what he described hasn’t changed.

Lapland Odyssey

A wacky road movie set in the dark Lapland winter as a young man and his friends frantically try to find a TV adapter in the final hours before Finnish television switches from broadcast to digital. I was living in Finland at the time the switch was happening, and it was a very big deal there at the time, in a way that it wasn’t in the cable-tv dominated United States. This is a clip of one of the very few quiet moments in the film. I confess that I hesitate to show you the trailer, because it might make it too obvious that this is indeed a very silly movie.

Lynch: A History

I don’t think I have watched a single entire NFL game in my life, and yet I, as a Seattleite, knew who Marshawn Lynch was, and had heard about his refusal to talk to the press, before I saw this film. It’s an unnarrated video collage that relies entirely on the juxtaposition of images and clips to put Lynch’s famous silence in its broad cultural and political context–and it’s brilliant.

Like Father, Like Son

Another in a string of fantastic films by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who is perhaps our favorite director. As the trailer makes clear, it’s about two families who discover that their sons were accidentally switched at birth, and what that discovery does to their relationships. Nobody else describes families so beautifully and truthfully.


Kenneth Lonergan‘s film about a well-to-do teenager who inadvertently causes a fatal accident was first released in theaters in 2005, in a cut that reduced his nearly 3-hour movie to the 150 minutes that the studio demanded. Six years later, the original, complete film came out on DVD, which is how I first saw it. Margaret portrays the struggle to do the right thing with a realistic complexity that makes most other films I’ve seen seem simple-minded by comparison.


I heard director Alexander Payne in an interview mention that Nebraska was criticized for “making fun of poor people”. He responded that first of all, the people in this movie aren’t poor–they’re just ordinary, working-class Montanans and Nebraskans–and secondly, it’s a comedy. It’s so rare to see ordinary people in American movies that the mere presence in a film of people who aren’t rich and Hollywood-pretty has apparently become hard for some people to process. I loved this movie. The ending made me cry with happiness.

Paddington and Paddington 2

OK, I guess these two movies aren’t that thought-provoking, although they did make me think about why it is that almost every film adaptation of a book I loved as a child seems to miss what it is about the book that’s lovable and instead turns it into something that feels cheaper and more cynical. The Paddington movies know why I loved Paddington, and they love him for the same reasons, which makes for delightful movies.



I’ve put up a clip from this film, because the trailer might give you the impression that it’s a typical romantic comedy. But what was interesting to me about it was that it seemed to take the script from a typical romantic comedy and instead take it seriously as drama. The acting in the film is intense and extremely good, and I was especially glad to see he of the dreamy eyes, Irrfan Khan, in a juicy American role.

The Rider

The Rider is not a documentary–it’s a fictional film with the cast playing themselves and telling their own actual stories of rodeo riding, victory, and debilitating injury. Director Chloé Zhao met the lead actor, Brady Jandreau, while making her first film on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, and decided to make him and his story the center of this, her second film, spectacularly shot in the same location.

Sami Blood

Sami Blood is about a Sami girl growing up in mid-20th-century Sweden, and it was one of the most moving films I saw in the past ten years. It was such a strange combination of utterly foreign scenes that were specific to the place and time and people in the film and helped me understand indigenous life in a new way, and utterly familiar experiences, like the love and cruelties among sisters, or the pain of separating from your home and your mother, that I identified with more than most any American film I’ve seen that purports to portray people like me. The star of the film, Lene Cecilia Sparrok, won the Best Actress audience award (The Golden Space Needle) at the Seattle International Film Festival when I saw the film 2017.

A Separation

The trailer for Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation doesn’t even begin to convey how complex, deeply thoughtful, and humane this movie is. It’s about an intractable disagreement between a relatively well-to-do family and the poorer, devoutly religious people who work for them. As happens so rarely in movies and so often in real life, no one involved is blameless, and no one is completely in the wrong.

Steam of Life

The original Finnish title of this film is Miesten vuoro–The Men’s Turn. It refers to the custom of setting aside hours for men only (or women only) in Finnish saunas, which are visited regularly by virtually everyone in the country. This documentary goes with men into the sauna and overhears their conversations in the safety and warmth of this fixture of Finnish life. Available on POV.

Support the Girls

Support the Girls left me feeling so warm and satisfied. It is very true that demeaning drudgery can be much more bearable if you have a good boss. Or so I’ve been told. Just kidding! I’ve had a lousy job with a good boss a couple of times.

Take Shelter

Like Todd Haynes’ brilliant film Safe, Jeff NicholsTake Shelter is about its own specific time, and about how it is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between unhealthy paranoia and a justified fear of the real threats around us. My favorite Michael Shannon performance–and that’s saying a lot.

Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann is so kooky and touching. It’s about an extremely annoying dad who keeps intruding on his daughter’s life when she’s trying to do her (admittedly boring and unfulfilling) job. And slowly it dawns on you what it is that he’s trying to recapture with her, and how much she is–or once was–a lot like him. It has the most surprising and delightful musical number of any film I saw this past decade.

The Tree of Life

Terence Malick has some sort of magical ability to create visual images that feel like something I saw myself as a child, or in a dream. He’s trying to capture something beyond reality, something more real than reality, and he seems to almost, sometimes, succeed.

The Trip, The Trip to Italy, and The Trip to Spain

If you judge a movie by how often you find yourself quoting it–and I do–then the Trip movies would definitely be near the top of the list. (“Gentlemen, to bed! For we leave at daybreak!”) These movies are funny and annoying and sad, and the characters become like entertaining but exasperating friends. They also make you hungry. I have a real-life friend who has been worried about Steve ever since he left Spain and is very angry that there hasn’t yet been another Trip movie to tell us what happened to him.



Winter’s Bone

It’s weird how differently I feel about Jennifer Lawrence now. When I saw this movie,  I had never heard of her. I still think she’s a gifted actor with a very genuine quality, but it’s almost impossible to see her as I did then. She carries a cloud of movie-star glamour wherever she appears, and could never go “incognito” as a girl you’re just learning about. This is another one of those films Rick and I quote all the time. “Get over here and watch how I do this.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There has been a lot of writing and filming about Mr. Rogers since he died–including several documentaries and one feature fictional film–but none of them are as interesting as Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I thought this would be an interesting but very traditional doc–and it is. I didn’t expect to be crying by the end of the film, as were many other people in the theater. It really captures what was unusual about Mr. Rogers–his tenacious, almost fanatical ability to insist on kindness and respectful attention.

~ by lolarusa on January 11, 2020.

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