The 3 Brothers Top 10 Films of the Decade (So Far)

Although it may not feel like it, half of the current decade has come and gone. That means we’ve seen half of what this decade has to offer, and have been able to come to some conclusions regarding which films are the best of the bunch so far. Always jumping at the chance to make lists and celebrate great films, we thought it appropriate to offer up our Top 10 Films of the Decade (So Far). We readily admit that many of these films will look different five years down the line when time and experience have flavoured our perspectives, but at this moment in 2015, we submit these films as the best cinema the past five years had to offer. Also, for the first time since we launched Three Brothers Film back in 2011, we’ve compiled a definitive, combined list that represents all three brothers’ tastes. That means we had to determine which films topped the list through highly scientific methods (read: simple arithmetic). Each brother submitted a Top 20 list of his favourite films of the half-decade. We then awarded points to each film on the list (20 points for No. 1, 19 points for No. 2, etc.). The films were then sorted into a final list based on their score, with the film receiving the most points sitting at the top. In this case there were some ties, so we let the ties stand. We’ve also listed every film that we voted for in our ballots at the end of the article, without commentary. See if you can determine which brothers voted for which films. If there’s reader interest, we may even release each individual brother’s ballot at some point in the near future.

Without further preamble, the following are our Top 10 Films of the Decade (So Far).

1. The Tree of Life (2011) dir. Terrence Malick

In The Tree of Life Terrence Malick doesn’t tell the story of a man growing up in mid-twentieth century Texas, but rather invites us into that man’s head. What Stanley Kubrick attempted to do in 2001: A Space Odyssey, looking outward and exploring man’s place in the universe, Malick reverses, going inward and exploring the interior life, memories, and daydreams that make us who we are. In doing so he reminds us of our place in the universe. His trademark shots of nature, roving camera, and stream-of-consciousness voiceover have never seemed so appropriate and essential to communicating the meaning of a film. In The Tree of Life, Jack O’Brien tries to discern his place in the world, and reconcile his experience of the universe with his love for his family, or as his mother puts it, navigate “The way of nature and the way of grace.” The vast gulf between scenes depicting the origin of the universe and the smallest moments in an individual life are brought together in the memories and thoughts of one individual person. Has a film ever been so epic and intimate at the same time? (Anders)

2. The Wind Rises (2013) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is the world’s greatest living animator and in The Wind Rises, his supposed swan song, he comes to the conclusion that all the amazing work he’s completed over the years—Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away—means absolutely nothing. The world corrupts all art and creativity (his films included) just as it corrupted Jiro Horikoshi’s love of airplanes and used it to make tools of destruction. No mere biopic, The Wind Rises shows us that all things of life, all works of art, all acts of love, will pass away from this earth. In the end, the only incorruptible things are our dreams, and those will pass away when we do. (Aren)

3a. Inception (2010) dir. Christopher Nolan

Truth be told, I wasn’t head over heels for Inception the summer it came out. I certainly liked it, a lot even, but I felt like Christopher Nolan hadn’t fully exploited the potential of the dream worlds he was depicting. Sure, we get folding cityscapes and eroding skyscrapers, but the free play of dreams, where you can literally do anything you think up, seemed limited. A few years and a few viewings later, it hit me: this movie isn’t about the nature of dreams, it’s about the nature of reality. I also began to see how the film is deeply interested in how perceptions of reality are constructed, whether through memories or moving pictures. Nolan’s experiments with action and heist movie conventions, not to mention the very foundations of classical Hollywood style as he pushes cross-cutting to new possibilities, illustrates the film’s thematic obsessions. (Anton)

3b. The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher

By showing how one petty insecurity drives Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook as a tool for superficially connecting the world together, David Fincher gets at the heart of our modern world. The Social Network demonstrates the ineffability of truth in the age of information. It explores how we create versions of ourselves in our interactions with each other, and how not even the versions we reveal only to ourselves are real. Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” The Social Network shows how our modern world has removed the warning from that axiom, enticing us with the promise that there’s no difference between the person we project to the world and the person we are. (Aren)

5a. 12 Years a Slave (2013) dir. Steve McQueen

5b. Django Unchained (2012) dir. Quentin Tarantino

It’s a happy coincidence that these two movies tied, since they share similar subject matter, even if they are both far from happy movies. The subject: American slavery. In their own ways, each work uses the forms and conventions of film to expose and excoriate this darkest of sins in the history of the United States.

Though 12 Years a Slave is based on an autobiography, the narrative’s trajectory, which follows a freeman, Solomon Northup, as he is kidnapped and forced into slavery, is a useful device for carrying the viewer through, and not just showing, the historical institution. At the same time, the stark contrast between his past freedom and unjust degradation reinforces how unnatural all slavery is. The dread-filled score and Steve McQueen’s unflinching camera, which often records in unbearably long takes, never let the viewer hide from the horrors of slavery—something that’s all too easy to do in regular life.

In a vastly different though nearly as powerful way, Quentin Tarantino rubs the evil of the institution of slavery in our faces, revealing the sick and twisted motivations that were cloaked with absurd justifications and varnished with propriety. Through his trademark irony and shock tactics, Tarantino dismantles claims that slavery “wasn’t that bad” and explodes the romanticized vision of the Old South that Hollywood has long promulgated (most famously in Gone with the Wind). And in the end, Tarantino, always the lover of revenge, let’s the slavers have it! As with Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is as much a deconstruction of evil ideology as it is blistering entertainment. (Anton)

7. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) dir. Martin Scorsese

Is Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street the flat-out funniest, most entertaining film of the decade thus far? Or is it a horror show, bombarding the viewer with the excesses of Jordan Belfort and his cronies as they grab hold of the American Dream and throttle it to death? I would say it’s both. Few films of three-hours length maintain this kind of momentum and hold their audience the whole way through; and it all culminates in an indictment of the very society that finds Belfort’s story so enticing. I hold Scorsese in the highest respect, but even I was astounded that any director in their 70s could deliver a film with this much sheer energy. And Leonardo DiCaprio gives what is perhaps his greatest performance, both wildly hilarious and frightening, as Belfort, the dark double to his Jay Gatsby: the American self-made man. The Wolf of Wall Street gives us a view of the Bacchanalia of American capitalism, not as a finger-wagging cautionary tale, but simply to remind us that this is what we’ve all bought into. (Anders)

8. Skyfall (2012) dir. Sam Mendes

James Bond is a womanizing, elitist, cold-hearted killer who stands for nationalism and violence in a world where borders, loyalties, and ideals are eroding. He’s a relic. However, instead of changing Bond to reflect the present, Skyfall embraces that he is a thing of the past. It makes an unequivocal argument that the world needs men like James Bond to exist just as the cinema needs movies like the Bond films to exist. In an age where the multiplex is full of shallow films playing to the current trends, it’s essential to have movies like Skyfall—impeccable, stylish, but substantial entertainment—that stand for the old-fashioned ideal that movies can be fun and mean something too. (Aren)

9. Certified Copy (2011) dir. Abbas Kiarostami

Is the “authenticity” of the original more important than the meaning communicated in a good copy? This is the question that Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, explores in the masterful Certified Copy, but rather than keep the question in the realm of self-reflexive musings on the nature of cinema, he explores this idea through the relationship between a couple, played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel, that may not be what it initially appears to be. The pivotal moments of this film explore how we change and grow over time, and how we allow our need to be our “authentic” selves keep us from connecting with the ones we love. Kiarostami has achieved something all too rare with this film, creating art as cerebral and surprising as it comes, while getting to the heart of real human experience. (Anders)

10. Hugo (2011) dir. Martin Scorsese

“If you’ve ever wondered where dreams come from, you look around. This is where they’re made,” says film pioneer Georges Méliès to a young boy visiting his filmmaking studio late in Hugo’s second act. It’s a magical statement in an enchanting film, professing director Martin Scorsese’s love for the cinema and the silent classics that pioneered the medium. While many films celebrating the past do so with outdated techniques and hokey sentiment, Hugo is inventively modern and genuinely loving. It uses state of the art special effects to recreate Paris of the 1920s—a depiction of that most magical of cities that could only exist on the big screen—and employs 3D to immerse the viewer in its delightful world. Like all good children’s films, it explores the wide spectrum of human emotions, allowing for sorrow alongside excitement, but in the end it comes down squarely in the camp for optimism. It embraces  cinema, and the world in general, with an open heart. (Aren)

List of Nominees (films that received at least one vote, but didn’t make the final list):

The Act of Killing (2013) dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Before Midnight (2013) dir. Richard Linklater

Carlos (2010) dir. Olivier Assayas

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) dir. Werner Herzog

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) dir. Christopher Nolan

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) dir. David Fincher

Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) dir. David Yates

Holy Motors (2012) dir. Leos Carax

Ida (2013) dir. Pawel Pawlikowski

The Immigrant (2014) dir. James Gray

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Interrupters (2011) dir. Steve James

Interstellar (2014) dir. Christopher Nolan

The King’s Speech (2010) dir. Tom Hooper

Lincoln (2012) dir. Steven Spielberg

Looper (2012) dir. Rian Johnson

The Master (2012) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Mud (2013) dir. Jeff Nichols

Prisoners (2013) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Shutter Island (2010) dir. Martin Scorsese

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

Upstream Color (2013) dir. Shane Carruth

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) dir. Kathryn Bigelow