We can probably all agree that "Easy Rider" was the movie of the 1960s, but subsequent decades tend to give rise to cinema-related arguments. Was the movie of the '70s "The Godfather" or "Star Wars?" The '80s surely belonged to John Hughes, but what about Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing?" Fast forward to the 2010s and things get truly difficult. Can any one movie capture this decade? Whose decade are we talking about? For that matter, what's a movie anymore, in this age of small screens and streaming content?
Here's a list of films — somewhat broadly defined — that captured their moments, broke new ground or, in some cases, were just incredibly good. If your list differs, then maybe so did your decade.
10. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (2016) Ezra Edelman's five-part, made-for-television documentary was the definitive story of the O.J. Simpson case, still a fresh wound after 25 years. Almost as important was the film's Oscar-qualifying theatrical release and controversial win, which led the Academy to change its rules to bar content made for the small screen. Nice try — for better and for worse, "O.J." was a harbinger of the way we watch movies now.
9. BLACK PANTHER (2018) Talk about a cultural landmark: This was the first Marvel movie with a predominantly black cast (led by Chadwick Boseman), the first superhero film to earn an Oscar nod for best picture, a box-office record-breaker ($1.3 billion worldwide), the highest-grossing film by a black director (Ryan Coogler) and a critical smash to boot. "Black Panther" was proof — as if there were any doubt — that populist cinema had finally arrived.
8. MOONLIGHT (2016) Barry Jenkins' film about a gay African-American's coming of age marked several Oscar milestones, including the first acting win for a Muslim (Mahershala Ali), and the first best picture win for an all-black film and a gay-led narrative. (Don't forget its involvement in a historic Academy envelope mix-up, either.) All that aside, "Moonlight" is a wrenchingly beautiful film that landed on several best-of-the-century lists.
7. INSIDE OUT (2015) Pixar's animated tale about a pubescent girl's anthropomorphized feelings — Amy Poehler as Joy, Bill Hader as Fear, and so on — took children's movies to a new level of sophistication. In a decade marked by mental health crises and worrisome suicide rates, this sensitive, funny and profound explanation of the mind — and the soul — should be required viewing for all ages.
6. MELANCHOLIA (2011) The story: Several wealthy people (Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg) learn that Earth will soon collide with another planet. The metaphor: climate change, end of empire, old age — you decide. The effect: Almost unbearably powerful. Leave it to Lars Von Trier ("Antichrist") to perfectly capture the angst and agita of the 21st Century.
5. THE MASTER (2012) Paul Thomas Anderson's drama about the self-improvement industry — big then, and getting bigger — told the story of a guru (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who starts a religion (Scientology, thinly disguised) and find an early follower (Joaquin Phoenix). It's an unsettling epic and the last truly great film to feature Hoffman — a master, indeed — who died in 2014.
4. BOYHOOD (2014) More timeless than topical, Richard Linklater's drama followed the growth of Mason Evans Jr. from boy to man — played by one actor, Ellar Coltrane, filmed over the course of 12 years. Also aging before our eyes are his parents, played by Ethan Hawke and Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette. It's a powerful and poignant blend of reality and fiction — the very definition of the movies.
3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) Pouncing on the still-emerging social-media phenomenon, David Fincher's biopic of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (a never-better Jesse Eisenberg) helped define our new industrial titans: whip-smart, data-driven and just as ruthless as the old titans. It's the "Citizen Kane" of the 2010s, with Rooney Mara as its Rosebud, and a prescient portrait of a now-familiar type.
2. GET OUT (2017) It was the movie of the moment, a funny-but-frightening story of a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his white girlfriend's parents for the first time. Brilliantly written and directed by Jordan Peele, "Get Out" worked as social critique, dark comedy and artful horror film all at once. Its moment, by the way, may not pass for a very long time.
1. HER (2013) Spike Jonze's love story about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls for an artificial intelligence (the voice of Scarlett Johansson) may strike some as merely fanciful, but it addresses the biggest social issue of the era: identity. What is it? Who defines it? We're talking about not just race and gender, but the notion of humanity itself. For the breadth of its ideas — and the disorienting conclusions they lead to — this underrated masterpiece qualifies as the No. 1 movie of the decade.