March Madness of Movies: Best American Movies of the 2010s

Crystal Zhong/Staff

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This decade of American cinema has been defined by a plethora of incredible films across genres, with several blockbusters and even a few low-budget flicks permeating our cultural discourse. In many ways, the 2010s have been the decade of change in Hollywood, both in creation and consumption. From the redefinition of genres to a growing recognition for diversity, Hollywood has introduced to us several films in recent years that have become instant classics and have made a mark not just within the scope of movies, but in our daily lives as well.

The first round of competition ran rather predictably, with the only major upset occurring with “Django Unchained” (13th seed) versus “The Tree of Life” (fourth seed). Tarantino’s 2012 reimagined Western starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio bested Terrence Malick’s unconventional, ambitious drama, and it fared quite well in the competition overall, making it to the Top 8 despite its low-seeded position. Other notable upsets included Spike Jonze’s “Her” (12th seed) beating Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” (third seed) and “Spotlight” (11th seed) beating “Boyhood” (sixth seed) in the second round. This round also included an ironic post-Best Picture “Moonlight” (second seed) and “La La Land” (seventh seed) face-off, with “Moonlight” emerging victorious once again.

Four creators had multiple films in the running: directors Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master,” “Inherent Vice”), Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash,” “La La Land”), Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar,” “Inception”) and writer Aaron Sorkin (“Moneyball,” “The Social Network”).

The competition reached its most interesting point when only four films were left, pitting “Inception” against “The Social Network” and “Moonlight” against “Mad Max: Fury Road.” All four films are undeniably deserving in their own right, offering distinct strengths that shape their status as landmark cinematic achievements. “Inception” gave us a blockbuster that was as cerebral as it was exciting, and the technical genius and craft of Christopher Nolan was as transparent as ever. A fascinating original premise, the dream-travel concept driving the film was common knowledge to people who hadn’t even seen it. “The Social Network” offered an incredibly tight script, absorbing visuals and gripping performances, and it benefited greatly from its captivating direction by David Fincher. Juxtaposing a coming-of-age story against rapid technological development allowed for a fresh, topical drama; nothing like it had ever been seen before. George Miller’s “Mad Max” was a complete re-envisioning of the predecessors in its franchise. The post-apocalyptic world came to life through brilliant performances and thoroughly compelling technicality and production design, making it a true juggernaut in the action genre. “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s poignant, reflective drama, was a beautiful character-driven story that was revolutionary in both its artistry and representation.

Ultimately, all four films defined the changing landscape of Hollywood in different ways, representing the power of modern cinema to both reflect the reality of our world and create new worlds alike. Thus, it was fitting that the final two films were a monumental blockbuster, “Inception,” and a low-budget but powerful drama, “Moonlight.”

After achieving a remarkable victory at the Oscars this year, there’s no denying that “Moonlight” cemented its status as a landmark film. It’s hardly surprising that this low-budget production, so personal in its portrayal of Black and LGBTQ+ life but so universal in its exploration of identity, was an emotionally impacting and important film for audiences. The quiet influence of “Moonlight” crowned it the winner of our American movies of the 2010s bracket. In a decade filled with enriching cinema, the triumph of a movie as personal as “Moonlight” over several blockbusters or films with big names attached doesn’t just reflect our changing tastes in movies; it illuminates the film’s profound experiential effect, as well as its transcendent capacity to shape Hollywood’s representation for years to come.


March Madness of Movies brackets were voted on by the Arts & Entertainment staff.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected].