Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
While the title of this article is 5 favorites, there’s no way to do a best of decade list without expanding beyond 5. At least not if you want to do something else anytime soon. A top 100 list would take 20 weeks while a top 50 would take ten. That’s too long. That said, keeping in tradition with fives, we’ll do a five-week set and we’ll break everything down into five genres.
To break this down in five genres, I’ll be looking at animation & fantasy; horror & suspense; comedy; sci-fi, action & thriller; and pure dramas. Because the best of the decade don’t break themselves down into neat subdivisions, we’ll look at them in uneven batches. I even did do a bit of cheating by combining several films into one rank because they really do deserve to be considered together rather than separately. All lists will be presented in order of preference, rather than chronologically as I have done in the past.
Today is animation and fantasy.
Animation is the easiest category to delineate as a film is either animated or it’s not. There might be gray areas when there’s photo-realistic effects and no humans or if there’s a mixed media, but ultimately, these films are all ostensibly animated.
Fantasy is a bit tougher to break down since traditional fantasy doesn’t quite encapsulate everything there is. Comic book adaptations could fall under action/thriller, but ultimately, I put them all here because when all is said and done, their implausibility is stronger than their action elements.
There were two films that barely missed the cut in this category and while I only list 18 here (drama picks up the two leftover slots), there are two films that could have filled out this list if it were just a top 20 rather than a series of lists to get to a total of 100. Those films are Black Panther (2017) and Wonder Woman (2017), both of which turned our comic book expectations upside down. They presented underrepresented demographics in the comic movie genre and were sensational films in their own right, taking formula and tweaking it to great effect.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
We’ve seen stop motion animation in myriad forms over the years, but seldom has it been more effectively used than with this film. Kubo and the Two Strings may tell a semi-conventional Asian action film narrative, but the creativity, beauty, and intense emotional connections built with the film are undeniable and there was no other animated feature this decade that was better and that’s a lot of terrific animated films to beat.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The final feature film from animation legend Hayao Miyazaki was both personal and fantastical looking at the life story of a young man who dreams of making planes, but reaches adulthood in the midst of wartime where his desire to dream big is counterbalaned by his desire not to get involved in the war itself. Miyazaki spent his entire career in animation looking at coming of age dramas and as his protagonists hit adulthood, he left them to the audience’s imagination. Here, he went beyond the coming of age and went straight to the end, a poignant and riveting exploration of life and death, both celebrating his career and bringing it to a fitting conclusion.
Inside Out (2015)
One of the most inventive concepts of the decade, and one that highlighted the sheer brilliance of Pixar’s animation expertise, this female-centric film was a deviation from the largely male-dominated pictures they had produced before and the new direction was well executed. Filled with Pixar’s trademark blend of pathos and humor, Inside Out is brilliant as it moves from one fantastic discovery to the next all within a compact narrative.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Likely one of the funniest animated films of the decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is easily the best film about the web-slinging superhero ever made, easily topping the Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland years combined. Apart from being a sensationally fun adventure, the use of comic book art styles on 3D forms is revolutionary and it shows the producers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe exactly how it’s done (and was ultimately better than nearly everything thing either studio has yet to produce).
Toy Story 3 (2010)
The first two Toy Story films helped launch Pixar into the powerhouse it is today. When John Lasseter returned to the universe he initially created, he brought each audience member back to their respective childhoods. In this tale of growing up and letting go of childish things, the series came to what should have been a powerful and emotional end. That it was followed by a seemingly unnecessary sequel doesn’t diminish the greatness that this final film gave to the audience.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010, 2014 & 2019) series
When Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders began their journey adapting Cressida Cowell’s noted book series, there were a lot of ways things could have gone wrong. As the film played out through two sequels, the potential for cascade failure increased, but when all was said and done and the final film of the trilogy released, the end result was a superb series of animated pictures that told stories differently than a lot of others in its genre, growing with its characters to the point where they seem like a part of your own family. With stellar animation in each and every outing, this is one series of films that can be remembered forever as among the best the medium has ever produced.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Although the Kung Fu Panda films have three entries, they spanned two decades, making it difficult to recognize all of them. While the original film was outstanding and the third was satisfying, the middle chapter, Kung Fu Panda 2, was far and away the best of the series and stands well above the others. Featuring even more gorgeous animation than the prior film, its creative energy exceeded both of its other entries and the end result is a fun and exciting tale told incredibly well.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Once upon a time, Disney’s animation house churned out stories about princesses. When Pixar’s Brain Trust became a part of the Disney machine, Disney began to diverge from its standard fare ever so slightly. Wreck-It Ralph was the first film in years with a male protagonist and the end result is a joyous exploration of video game history. A deliriously fun story about an arcade villain trying to be the hero, the film upended convention both in terms of narrative and animation. Few films were as utterly enjoyable as this one and its sequel was no slouch.
A more traditional Disney-esque story, Zootopia was about a world where anthropomorphic animals coexisted and humans didn’t exist at all. An amusing story about a bunny who wants to be a cop when the rest of the animal kingdom has set expectations for itself and its people. Upending those expectations, she excels at her job even when the odds and a homogeneous culture would block her. The parallels to society were pointed and clear and the end result was an enjoyable effort, even if it wasn’t the best animated film of its year.
The Hunger Games (2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015) series
Based on the book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games told the story of a young woman who volunteers to enter a set of death games to protect her sister and ends up the symbol of a nation on the verge of rebellion. Over the course of four films, Jennifer Lawrence gave us a competent, compassionate, determined, and conflicted heroine who must survive against insurmountable odds. The commentary on current cultural situations positions it as one of the best post-apocalyptic stories ever put on film. The terrific cast brought depth and haunted emotion to this frighteningly possible saga.
While Captain American: The Winter Soldier found a way to excel within the confines of the Marvel machine, another film was tearing up expectations and breaking new ground. Logan was the final film in the Wolverine storyline at Fox with Hugh Jackman reprising his role years in the future as he fights to protect a young girl who was put through the same hellish program he had been decades ago. With stellar performances form Jackman, Dafne Keen as the young girl, and Patrick Stewart as an Alzheimer’s-ridden Charles Xavier, Logan showcased how working outside the mainstream could succeed most spectacularly. One of the crown jewels of Fox’s Marvel properties, this film represented a high water mark for the comic book adaptation genre.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
While Disney and Warner Bros. were starting to churn out pop culture comic adaptations Universal obtained the rights to a popular underground comic label’s property of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and turned it into one of the most stylish, enticing, and wonderful films in the last decade. Michael Cera plays a young man who must defeat the ex-boyfriends of the woman he wants to date to prove to her that he’s worthy of her affections. The delightful design and pointed, droll, and outrageous humor made for an exciting adventure.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 & 2 (2010 & 2011)
Last decade saw one of the most popular franchises in cinema history whip up a popular frenzy, but the final two films released this decade and all of the plot threads of the prior six films wove together with such excitement and clarity that audiences were left reeling at the revelations within. Although most fans of the books were already familiar with how it ended, a whole new generation of fans who had never read the books got to see what amazing events would unfold. They would not be disappointed with many of the series’ favorite characters getting a moment or two to shine. These capstones to the Harry Potter series were easily among the franchise’s best.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Setting the stage for the future of comic book adaptations, 20th Century Fox released a series of films based on the popular X-Men comics starting in 2000, eight years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born and one year before Spider-Man became a sensation. Having rebooted the flagging genre after the disastrous third and fourth films in the original Batman series, Fox knew how to handle an ensemble and although its first trilogy of films went out poorly, the studio never gave up on the property. After the successful rebirth of the series with X-Men: First Class, Fox decided to adapt the legendary and popular Days of Future Past storyline from the comics and did so quite successfully. Brilliantly blending the casts of both the original X-Men films and the First Class film, the dizzying and exciting blend was everything one could have hoped for from some of Marvel’s most diverse and compelling characters.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
For superhero movies, most audiences only want to be entertained. The story could be rote and cookie-cutter and the performances can be barely above average and they will flock to the theaters to revel in the majesty of comic books turned into movies. Yet, among the numerous copycats in the genre, there have been a handful of films that have found a way to exist within this regimented genre while presenting a potent story that spoke to our modern political climate. Returning to the socially conscious heart of what comic books can and have been in the past, the second solo outing for Captain America (Chris Evans) was easily one of the best in a storied franchise.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
When George Lucas made his new trilogy of Star Wars films two decades go, fans were left underwhelmed and disappointed. When Disney bought Lucasfilms and proceeded with the long-awaited final trilogy in the originally planned Skywalker saga, they tapped J.J. Abrams to produce and direct the first film. Like the original Star Wars, it was a serviceable film with noble ideas that wasn’t as well executed as it could have been. The second film in the trilogy, The Last Jedi, like The Empire Strikes Back before it, subverted the ideas of what makes a great Star Wars film and managed to far exceed its predecessor to become one of the best in the series and the best since Empire. Although it has been reviled by fans and contradicted by the final film released in 2019, years from now, wizened individuals will look back with fondness and awe at a film that reached beyond our expectations and excelled in the process.
A Monster Calls (2016)
Surrounded by adaptations of all sorts, Universal was busy tapping into unique sources for its productions and A Monster Calls is one of the more unique. This sorrowful story is told with passion, inventiveness, and color. The story of a young boy who listens attentively to a gnarled monstrous yew tree while his mother is dying of cancer is a challenging one to tell. It’s not the kind of film that audiences want to rush out and see simply because of its dark and depressing narrative, but even the saddest part of the film helps renew one’s faith in the nature of hope and the challenges of regret and loss. Perhaps it isn’t the most joyous film to enjoy with your children, but it’s an important one nevertheless.
Releasing a silent film in the modern age is a guarantee that most audiences aren’t going to flock to see it. Yet, the soul of Blancanieves, a black-and-white silent adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White, is as accessible and visually resplendent as any other colorful sound-filled tale being made. Written and directed by Spanish auteur Pablo Berger, the film is a luscious, vivid feature filled with stirring images and fascinating adventures. Everyone owes it to themselves to see the film even if it would push them outside of their comfort zones.