“What are the best films of the decade so far?” I tweeted this query over the holidays, having just passed through another cycle of year-end film critic list-making and recapping only to realize that we are now at the midway point of the 2010s. I thought to poll some of my fellow critics via email to see what consensus might materialize, but by then most of my colleagues were on vacation or else burned out on list-making. I posed the question on Twitter, and over the course of the holidays more than 260 people tweeted their top 10 lists to me. Naturally I was compelled to compile the results, which you can watch in this video countdown of the best films of the last five years:
A full list of the results, as well as my own top 10 list, can be found on Fandor, which commissioned the video. But here I’d like to share a few observations:
1. How did Twitter matter? The poll was theoretically open to anyone: All they had to do was tweet their list to me. Still, I was curious about the extent to which the results would match my own tastes in films, and thus reflect the “echo chamber” effect of one’s social media circle. I didn’t know half of those who submitted ballots, but no doubt they heard about the poll through people I knew. The poll results definitely bear a certain kind of cinephile sheen, with films that have enjoyed high regard among critics rather than popular hits. Compare the results to the IMDb’s top rated films, where three of the top five films of the decade are Christopher Nolan movies (the highest rated Nolan film in my poll, Inception, comes in at No. 53). I did notice that as more people took part in the poll, the more it benefitted mainstream American films like The Wolf of Wall Street, Moonrise Kingdom, and Boyhood, which all rose up in the ranks considerably as I tracked the poll results over time.
2. Forget the Oscars, look to Cannes. If the poll results are to be believed, the Cannes Film Festival is a more reliable source for great cinema than the Academy Awards. Five of the top 10 films in the poll had their world premiere at Cannes. In contrast, the top placing Oscar Best Picture winner of the poll, 12 Years a Slave, checked in at #39. The other Best Pictures managed only one or two votes; 2012’s Oscar winner, Argo, didn’t get any votes at all, an outcome I don’t mind in the least.
3. Fortunes rise and fall. Even though the poll bears the imprint of a critic- and festival-informed cinephile contingent, not all such films fared well. Films that ranked at the top of the Indiewire critics poll recent years, such as Carlos, Twelve Years a Slave, Winter’s Bone, and Zero Dark Thirty had mediocre showings in the Twitter Poll. On the other hand, films like Certified Copy, The Master, and Margaret seemed to have appreciated well over time.
4. Women and animators to the middle. Midway through the poll, one participant, film critic Miriam Bale, asked how female directors were doing. The answer was not encouraging: At the time, there was only one film by a woman director in the top 50. This led to a heated discussion about the role of these polls in recognizing the contribution of women in film. Eventually four films directed by women placed in the top 50 (Leviathan, Meek’s Cutoff, Zero Dark Thirty, and Stories We Tell).*
Animated films ranked similarly, with The Wind Rises, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, and Toy Story 3 placing at Nos. 44, 49, and 59 respectively. It’s worth noting that unlike the others, It’s Such a Beautiful Day barely had a theatrical release, but eventually found a following through home video, VOD and through world of mouth.
5. Is Joaquin Phoenix the actor of the decade so far? Phoenix stars in three films in the top 25 (The Master; Her; The Immigrant), more than any other actor. Scarlett Johansson leads actresses with two films (Under the Skin; Her). Richard Linklater is the only director with two films in the top 25 (Boyhood; Before Midnight).
Top comedy: Moonrise Kingdom (No. 13)
Top documentary: Leviathan (No. 14)
Top sci-fi/horror film: Under the Skin (No. 7)
Top animated feature: The Wind Rises (No. 44)
Top film directed by a woman: Leviathan (No. 14)*
Top Best Picture Oscar winner: 12 Years a Slave (No. 39)
Top Hollywood blockbuster: Inception (No. 53)
Update, Jan. 9: Below is the full list. For the vote totals, head over to Fandor.
1. The Tree of Life
2. Certified Copy
3. The Master
5. Holy Motors
6. A Separation
7. Under the Skin
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
11. Goodbye to Language
12. The Social Network
13. Moonrise Kingdom
16. Mysteries of Lisbon
17. The Act of Killing
(tie) The Turin Horse
19. Before Midnight
(tie) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
22. Frances Ha
(tie) The Wolf of Wall Street
24. The Immigrant
(tie) Spring Breakers
* Correction, Jan. 9: This post inaccurately counted the number of female directors in the top 50. It is four, not three, as Leviathan was co-directed by Verena Paravel.