Earlier this year, as nearly every column I wrote had something to do with the Academy Awards, I realized the obvious: Movies are very personal. We think we leave our lives at home when we go to the movies, but I don’t think so. I think we take our problems, anxieties, our triumphs and defeats, into the theater, hoping that whatever is projected before us does not make us forget ourselves but makes us feel seen and understood.
Even movies that we think exist purely to entertain are beloved because they appeal to our personalities and our ways of seeing the world. In writing about the Academy Awards, I realized that what the Academy says is “good” does not matter. At the end of the day, they are just people who bring their own experiences to the movies; they like and dislike movies just like us — they just have a better platform for speaking their mind.
Since then, I would like to think I emphasized the personal dimension of watching movies more than anything in my column. And, to conclude its first year, I decided to follow through on my conviction by letting others speak up about their favorite movies of the decade.
Below are writers and editors from the Daily Trojan whom I admire both for their technical writing prowess and their sheer enthusiasm for the work. I’ve had the pleasure of working with most of them for nearly an entire year, and each one has inspired me in a different way. Not all of them write about movies, but I don’t care — their opinions are as valid as any member of the Academy.
That’s why I told them not to write about what they think is the “best” movie of the decade or the most “important” — whatever that means. I told them to write about their favorite film of the decade, the one that they had the best experience with and that meant the most to them. My goal in compiling their answers is not only to offer a break from the sea of monotonous critics’ lists you’ll see in the coming months but to emphasize, once again, that the most important issue when considering any movie is not what critics or voting bodies think but how your neighbor felt about it.
This isn’t my last column, but it’s my last as the arts & entertainment editor for the Daily Trojan. I don’t see a better way to conclude my year editing at the paper than by doing what I’ve been doing all along — letting the writers write about what they love.
“The Social Network” — Eileen Toh, digital managing editor
It could be assumed that at Facebook’s inception, Mark Zuckerberg would have more friends than anyone, but “The Social Network” (2010) proves viewers wrong. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as the Facebook CEO in what may be his most iconic role, the film unveils the rocky basis on which the social network was founded.
The film provides softball critiques of Zuckerberg’s character though somehow convinces viewers that men with oversized intellect who are not afraid to disguise their insecurities with narcissism — which came to embody the “tech-bro culture” that is heavily concentrated in the Bay Area — emerge as the clear winners.
Nearly shot as a daylight-horror movie, with Zuckerberg and booted cofounder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) facing off amid Zuckerberg’s betrayal following Facebook’s success, “The Social Network” serves as the ominous prelude to Facebook’s notoriety as a social network that has enabled false news and hate speech, not to mention the Cambridge Analytica scandal that sent the company spiraling.
“Blue Jasmine” — Anton Vayedjian, A&E staff writer
If there’s one thing I expect from a Woody Allen picture, it’s characters that enthrall from the get-go. Their witticism is unparalleled. They’re wildly clever, often too intelligent for their own good, and I think that’s what makes them so endearing.
“Blue Jasmine” (2013) chronicles the story of socialite Jasmine Francis, played by the remarkable Aussie American thespian Cate Blanchett. Once married to a wealthy, New York City con artist and womanizer (Alec Baldwin), she now finds herself crashing at her estranged sister’s (Sally Hawkins) apartment. Suffice to say, Blanchett delivers not only her greatest performance but perhaps one of the best performances of the last decade.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of her compulsive quirks and pretenses on every rewatch. Allen captures the contempt that the “bourgeoisie” has for everyone else. But what sets this picture apart more than anything else is all of the ugliness that comes with the loss of a woman’s livelihood. It’s a classic riches-to-rags story — except it isn’t.
“About Time” — Natalie Oganesyan, A&E editor
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m somehow both a cynic and a hopeless romantic at once. I watch romantic dramas and comedies with a zeal that is unparalleled by most: I can’t help it — I’m a sucker for a good love story (even ones that are told badly). That’s why “About Time” (2013), a movie I first watched five years ago, which I think about constantly and rewatch to this day, is my favorite movie of the decade.
“About Time” tells a love story that’s warped and transformed by time and mistakes. It all begins when Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) spends a fateful summer at his parents’ house and learns from his father James (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family can travel through time. So, Lake sets out on a journey to improve his love life.
The film, while criticized for its plot holes regarding time travel (but, let’s be honest, which movie has tied up loose ends when it comes to the space-time continuum?) is endearing and powerful.
It taught me some of the most powerful lessons I know and stick to now: One, when we truly love, we love deeply enough to sacrifice ourselves for someone else; two, try as we might, we cannot outrun time — it catches up to us all, three, life is meant to be lived, complete with all its sorrows, joys, triumphs and losses.
“Inside Out” — Finn Kobler, A&E staff writer
Nobody tells a story like Pixar — that’s gospel truth at this point. What makes a film like “Inside Out” (2015) soar above even the best Pixar works, however, is how nuanced its storytelling is. To set the premise of a story inside the brain of a tween girl is a bold task that runs the risk of being gimmicky. But “Inside Out” is so much more. It glides over the hazardous chasms of crude contrivance and, by refusing to take the easy way out, lets itself shine as arguably the most poignant, clever and (appropriately) emotional adventure film ever made.
When the characters Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) must find a way home to save Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), the girl they live inside, they could have easily been forced to battle vague “enemies” that exist within the human mind. A lesser writer could have easily scrapped major research and cheaply homaged “Indiana Jones” or “Jaws” by making the big bad guy a medulla oblongata axe pendulum or a broadly sketched “nightmare monster.”
“Inside Out” isn’t written by lesser writers though. Its characters enter all sorts of erudite and psychologically accurate lion’s dens. In abstract thought, they have to find a way to navigate out of the decay from “nonobjective fragmentation” to “deconstruction” to “nonfigurative.”
In “Inside Out,” Joy and Sadness learn from each other. They balance one another. Their combined strength defeats the real antagonist of the film: depression. It’s hidden masterfully, but in the end, Riley’s inability to feel Joy and Sadness cause her to feel nothing at all, which is a deeply relatable and — prior to this film — hardly talked about issue in children. “Inside Out” reminds kids and parents alike that there are no right or wrong ways to feel or remember things. It’s one of those movies that, if seen at the right time, can help kids go from lost to well-adjusted. I wish it came around when I was 11.
“Creed” — Eduardo Ocampo, A&E staff writer
“Creed” (2015) transcends the boxing film genre with its focus on the father-son story. What appears to be resentment for a father who Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never met is revealed to be fear: fear of letting down a father’s legacy. Johnson’s moment of catharsis comes through the line that makes me tear up everytime: “Let me finish. I gotta prove it … I’m not a mistake.” As someone who recognizes the sacrifices my dad had to make to move to this country and raise me and my sisters, the thought of living up to our parents’ expectations can be taxing. After that line, in which the iconic “Rocky” theme blares, he’s accepted his father is a part of the legacy that he’s trying to forge for himself.
My love for “Creed” has gotten to the point where when I’m watching it, I recite the lines before they’re even spoken.
As Donnie aids Rocky (who can no longer take a step without pain) in walking up the iconic steps of the first “Rocky” film, both the old and the new take a moment of reflection. They are at a point in their lives where they’ve accepted themselves. And it was at that moment that I realized that “Creed” would be a movie I’d rewatch for years to come.
“La La Land” — Anmol Bajpai, A&E staff writer
“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.” This iconic line from the character Mia (Emma Stone)’s emotionally climactic song “Audition (the fools who dream)” captures why “La La Land” (2016) is so special to so many people, including me. Damien Chazelle’s modern classic takes place in the grandeur of Los Angeles where two young dreamers, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia , have big ambitions to follow what they are passionate about.
A talented pianist, Sebastian wants to have his own successful jazz club while Mia wants to be a Hollywood actress in big movies one day. When they’re drawn together and fall in love, the film combines jazz music and classic Hollywood to create an infectious musical spectacle in the vein of “Singin’ in the Rain.” All of these elements are a perfect recipe for a film Hollywood critics and fans would eat up, but “La La Land” has something else that makes it a true zeitgeist film when it came out in the end of 2016.
I think that’s because “La La Land” wasn’t concerned with extravagant dance choreography or grandiose musical numbers or even worried about the love story between the leads. No, “La La Land” is a film about and for the ones who dream, no matter what those dreams may be. This film spoke to me at a very poignant point in my life as I was finishing senior year of high school. I had to make my own decision to let go of things close to me — friendships, home, love — to chase my dreams far away. That’s how “La La Land” connects with people — it makes them fall in love with their dreams again.
“The Florida Project” — Natalie Bettendorf, associate managing editor.
My favorite movie of the decade has to be Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” (2017). This film is an absolute masterpiece that got less recognition than it deserved. It is perfectly imperfect — the improvisation, the amateurs cast from Instagram and everyday interactions, the colors. I watched this film a second time with my parents right before the 2018 Oscars. It extracts what I love the most about children, which is their boundless imagination and their ability to turn the most mundane space into a fairytale land. It articulates the humanity of poverty and teen motherhood in a beautifully heartbreaking way.
The scene where the 6-year-old star Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her adolescent mother (Bria Vinaite) are together, being kids and reminding the audience of their youth despite their adult circumstances, are the points of the film that are still ingrained in me: spinning Moonee in the shopping cart of a dollar store, squealing at fireworks on the Fourth of July and, the biggest tear-jerker, the two of them spinning in the rain in the middle of a field. Watching the rain scene with my own mother multiplied my emotional attachment to the film and gave me an indescribable ache toward growing up in a cruel world. This film is everything I could ask from a cinematic experience.
“Call Me By Your Name” — Christina Tiber, A&E food columnist
“Call Me By Your Name” (2017) is a nostalgic movie, but not the kind of in-your-face, pastiche-overload nostalgia we’ve become accustomed to in this decade. Instead, the film showcases a subtle kind of nostalgia — the fruit was sweeter, the summers were warmer, the love was unconditional. Through gentle direction and nuanced performances, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) romance quickly became iconic, not only for the LGBT+ community but also for anyone who has ever experienced all-consuming love and heartbreak. From the saccharine establishing shots of lush Italy to the expertly written dialogue, to the profoundly cathartic ending, I can’t help but watch this movie over and over, wishing for my own sunny villa somewhere in northern Italy.
“First Reformed” — Kabir Malhotra, A&E staff writer
My pick for movie of the decade has to be “First Reformed” (2018). Written and directed by Paul Schrader, it tells the story of Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) who works at First Reformed Baptist Church and his ongoing crisis of faith in the face of climate change. It’s the kind of film that is so obviously great, even upon first watch — the Bresson-esque directing, rich, layered script, show-stopping performance from Hawke and the beautiful cinematography. More than all, though, the thing that I love so much about “First Reformed” is the existential, jaw-clenching fear it conjured up inside of me.
I’d argue that the scariest movie I’ve ever seen isn’t a horror movie — it’s “First Reformed.” It’s pervaded by this overwhelming sense of dread, disillusionment and powerlessness — the feeling of knowing the world is ending, watching it happen and unsure if you or any of the institutions you place faith in can help with it. The first time I watched it, I literally had to pause the movie and take a break because I became so terrified. But Schrader allows for a hopeful ending. Up until the final scene, the camera never moves, allowing images to flutter in and out of the screen. But in its final moments it glides and spins around two characters in a carnal embrace, facing the despair of the world and combating it the only way possible — through love.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” — Ellice Ellis, A&E music columnist
Love, Black Harlem and the ’70s not only top the list of my favorite things but are the bricks that “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) are built on. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin classic brought intimacy, better yet, Black intimacy to life.
Growing up, I wanted perfect love stories, ones without the heartbreak of suffering — but this film isn’t that. There are hours of television and cinema that reckon Black love and family with social ills, but Beale Street is different. It’s shot softly, it’s touching and the story of Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) is poignantly real without gimmicks or dialogue plucked from social media.
If a film with a storyline imbued with profound tragedy can make a person want to experience love despite its risks, it deserves accolades and praise for years to come.
Isa Uggetti is a junior writing about film. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “All the World’s a Screen,” runs every other Monday.