The 10 Best Movie Scenes of the 2010s

01/18/2021

My personal ranking of the very best moments in cinema to come from the past decade. Criteria for this list includes the quality of the scenes themselves, both as individual stories and within the context of the stories of their respective films, the cultural significance of these scenes at the time of their releases, and my own subjective preference. Below is the list in chronological order. 

THE TOP 10:

A Billion Dollars - The Social Network (a window into our future)

When Fincher's and Soarkin's The Social Network released at the turn of the 2010s, Facebook was hugely popular, but no where near the world changing, misinformation super-platform that it is today. Seeing Justin Timberlake's (what a throwback) Sean Parker exciting a fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg at a brunch about the endless possibilities that his company could bring is very enticing within the story of the film, but an alarming indication into where our future has been heading. Not only is it a key turning point of Zuckergberg in the film, but a perfect halfway mark between the company that he and his partner Eduardo initially envisioned, and the internet monopoly it had no other way to go.

Processing - The Master (the strongest acting showcase)

Who knew that Paul Thomas Anderson would be able to match, if not surpass, the performances in his previous film - There Will Be Blood - with the legendary pairing of Joaquin Phoenix and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman at odds with one another. In this scene, we see Hoffman's Dodd interrogating Phoenix's Quill to determine whether or not he is loyal to the cause (cult), with a series of questions he must answer without blinking. The conversation is brilliant, as is the minimal editing of shots that focus on the facial expressions and attitudes of our leads. 

Queen Jane - Inside Llewyn Davis (unmatched catharsis) 

Set in 1960s New York and revolving around a struggling, practically homeless folk singer who seems to just miss the chance at success, Oscar Isaac's Llewyn Davis travels to Chicago hoping to perform for a music producer and show off his talent. A long journey, indeed, but he ultimately arrives and sings the English ballad "The Death of Queen Jane." The producer's response, then, is as simple as "I don't see a lot of money here." Both empathetic and honest, the Coen Brothers' magnum opus is a timeless story of following one's dreams when the world is stacked against you. 

The Beach - Under the Skin (a terrifying experience)

In Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson's titular alien goes on an odyssey to learn what it means to be human. And while that half of the film is both beautiful and heartbreaking, the scene on the beach where she vicariously experiences a surfer drown in the ocean is, undoubtedly, one of the most bone-chilling moments in modern cinema. Jonathan Glazer and DP Daniel Landin create a cold, unforgiving lens into apathy, ending on a final shot of the man's infant child left behind in tears. 

Experience - Mommy (dreams of a better life)

Xavier Dolan's Quebecois-film Mommy is full of great scenes that center on broken family bonds and disconnect, as a single mother is left to take care of her explosive, mentally unstable teenage son. However, the scene that stands out most in comparison to the rest of the story is a dream-sequence in which the mother looks to a fictional future in which her son is healthy, successful, and with a family, cued to Ludovico Einaudi's orchestrated piece "Experience." As the scene begins, it seems unlikely but possible that this is where the story progresses, but as time goes on we are left as heartbroken as she by the reality that this life will never happen. 

Final Performance - Whiplash (the power of editing)

What can be said of Whiplash's ending that has not been said time and time before. During the film, Andrew and Fletcher are pinned against one another in, what feels like, a war. With a few minutes to spare, it seems Fletcher has won the final battle and screwed Andrew out of ever finding success by giving him the wrong music to play to a very prestigious crowd. But Andrew turns things around and decides to show off his own skills as a drummer, and this entire sequence is both acted and edited to perfection. Focusing on the facial details of the two characters' dynamic, the sweat and blood on the drum-kit, as well as that final smile the two share with one another, Damien Chazelle's Whiplash has an ending more intense than Rocky's itself. 

How Do I Know? - Moonlight (the weight of the world on your shoulders) 

We aren't explicitly told until Moonlight's second act that our protagonist - Chiron - is gay. Yet the way in which Barry Jenkins and DP James Laxton shoot his interactions around other boys, whether playing contact sports or participating in dance, gives a subtle indication without ever spoon-feeding the audience. Chiron's mother knows this, too, leading to a sickening interaction in which she calls him a "faggot." The scene that follows - his final confrontation with Juan, a father figure to him - is a brutal, heartbreaking way for a child to first openly question his sexuality. "Am I a faggot?:" Chrion repeats this word back to Juan, as if such a term were ever acceptable, and with this conversation alone, Moonlight's examination of toxic masculinity and hereditary demons within a vicious cycle of poverty is presented boldly and powerfully. 

Sink to the Floor - Get Out (something isn't sitting right)

Daniel Kaluuya acts with his eyes, and never is that more apparent than in Jordan Peele's breakout debut Get Out. Playing Chris, a black man in a relationship with a white woman, we get a sense of unease from his girlfriend's family the moment that they arrive at their home. What initially seems like cringe-conversation between rich white folk who are trying too hard to seem accepting soon turns into a genuine sense of fear, as Chris is put into a nightmare state and forced to recall his trauma for the amusement of bigots. His eyes pop open, his mind goes through a bad trip as his body "sinks to the floor," and we spend the rest of the film with just begging Chris to get the fuck out. 

Générique - Burning (something isn't sitting right, again)

The absolute brilliance of Lee Chang-Dong's Burning is that it never leaves our questions answered. A puzzle within a mystery, we are eventually introduced to Stephen Yeung's Ben: a foil to our protagonist, Jong-su, much wealthier and charming and seems to have stolen the heart of his girlfriend, Hae-mi. In the most riveting scene of the film, Ben reveals to Jong-su that he likes to burn down greenhouse gases to feel alive because "there is no right or wrong; just the laws of nature." Then, we cut to a high Hae-mi, topless and dancing to the music of Miles Davis. On its own, the scene could be beautiful, but with the information we have just received about Ben's lust for arson and destruction, as he stares at Hae-mi, it becomes downright terrifying.  

It's What It Is - The Irishman (a test of friendship)

The Irishman feels like the movie people have been waiting their entire lives to see. Martin Scorsese creates his swan song with a bang, as we finally get to see De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci star alongside each other. But, throughout this sprawling runtime, De Niro's Sheeran seems to have a bond as close with Pacino's Hoffa as he does with Pesci's Buffalino. Which is why it is both devastating and inevitable that sides would have to be picked. Hoffa is causing too much trouble for the mafia, and Sheeran is attempting his very best to lead them to another decision, which was never going to happen. "It's what it is," as is always in such a life.


FULL LIST:

So Long, Partner -Toy Story 3; New York, New York -Shame; Stairwell -A Separation; Elevator -Drive; Candyland Shootout -Django Unchained; Stay Right Here -Beasts of the Southern Wild; Still There -Before Midnight; Quaaludes -The Wolf of Wall Street;  Church -The Hunt; Thought There Would Be More -Boyhood; Relevance -Birdman; Countdown -Interstellar; Sand Storm -Mad Max: Fury Road;  Highway -Sicario; Across The Room -Carol; Mexico Fight -Creed; On The Nature of Daylight -Arrival; Police Station -Manchester by the Sea; Soda Machine -The Florida Project; Our Weakest Spot -Call Me By Your Name; Your Best Self -Lady Bird; An Accident -HereditaryEverlasting Arms -First Reformed; The Beach -Roma; Fonny's Old Friend -If Beale Street Could Talk; Leap of Faith -Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Peaches -Parasite; The Fight -Marriage Story; Celtics Game -Uncut Gems; Orchestra -Portrait of a Lady on Fire.