I've been writing about film for just over nine years now, and writing in a professional capacity for just over six. When I started this site in November of 2007, I had no notion that I would still be grappling with cinema through the written word nearly a decade later, or that I would eventually be paid to do so. Roughly in the summer of 2007, however, before I had even started trying to write about film, I knew that I wanted to become more cinematically literate, as a sort of personal development goal. To that end, I started watching films with greater frequency than I ever had before at that point in my life. I started going to the theater a few times a week, instead of once every two or three weeks. I started devouring DVDs obsessively using the (then new) movies-by-mail service Netflix. I started taking more risks in terms of the types of films I was willing to pay to see, and I started filling in the conspicuous voids in my cinematic literacy.
One effect of this obsessive consumption was that by the time the end of 2007 approached, something new had happened. For the first time in my life, I felt that I could put together a respectable list of the "Best" films of the year, since I had actually seen (what seemed at the time to be) a healthy chunk of the year's wide and limited releases. List-making is always fun, of course, and the exercise of assembling that Best of 2007 inventory in turned motivated me to maintain my zealous film consumption habits in 2008. And now here it is, 2016, and I've written nine such year-end best lists (plus one that will be published soon), not to mention countless reviews, essays, interviews, listicles, and other miscellanea on the subject of film.
It seems like an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the past ten years in cinema. It's also an opportunity to compile a different kind of inventory. While I strive to ensure that the feature films on my Best of the Year lists reflect artistic excellence in all its myriad forms, not every film that makes the cut ends up sticking prominently in my memory for years. Nor does every "Best" film inspire the sort of passion that prompts multiple re-visitations. Conversely, some films sneak up on me, becoming vital personal touchstones only in retrospect, sometimes despite the fact that they were regarded without much enthusiasm when I first assessed them in my annual review.
It is with that in mind that I present my Personal Cinematic Canon: 50 films from the past ten years that have emerged as key works in my ever-evolving appreciation of contemporary cinema. Some of these are stone-cold masterpieces by any estimation. Some are fascinating but flawed conversation pieces. Some are amusing larks that nonetheless engender fanboy devotion. Some are esoteric, some are audacious, and some are frivolous, but they have all left a profound impression on me personally. All of these films are essential viewing in my house, and all are films I have fervently evangelized about to others. If you know me personally, these are the films you're tired of hearing about. They are not necessarily great films (though many are), but rather the films that define the last ten years of my cinematic life.
I followed just two rules when assembling this canon: 1) I had to choose exactly five films from each year spanning 2007 to 2016; and 2) I could not choose more than one film by any single director (or animation studio).