Posted March 9, 2020
taking a deep dive into my choices for the best films that were released
over the last ten years, let's look back and reflect on the moviegoing
movie industry was riddled with seismic levels of change unlike few
other recent decades, which that saw the rise and dominance of one
overwhelmingly popular genre (the super hero event picture).
Tied to this was the gargantuan rise of Disney, which
single-handedly dominated the worldwide box office in previously unheard
of and unseen ways.
Furthermore, the ascension of social media and the manner that
people consumed films fundamentally altered the landscape - and some
would say, the future viability - of cinema chains the world over.
heroes reigned supreme during the 2010s.
They, like, totally manhandled the competition.
Those doubting that need only look at the facts: Comic book
centric films occupied multiple spots on yearly Top Ten worldwide
grossers, with MCU owning that category.
The recently released AVENGERS:
ENDGAME became the highest grossing film worldwide in history,
defeating the once thought of unbeatable AVATAR
(the former made nearly $3 billion).
Nearly every major MCU installment crushed their contemporary
releases, with BLACK PANTHER
in particular - the first MCU film featuring a black protagonist - not
only becoming the ninth highest grossing film of all-time, but also a
darling at the Oscars, even being nominated for Best Picture.
Last year's JOKER also
received widespread critical acclaim and Best Picture nomination
accolades, and unfathomably managed to out-gross the
last STAR WARS film in cinemas last year.
This was a pure dominance genre during the 2010s, and one with no
apparent trail off in public interest in sight. If you're one of
the few that think it's on the verge of hitting audience fatigue
levels...give your head a shake.
course, the unparalleled might of the MCU is inexplicably tied to
Disney, and they perhaps made the most shockingly unexpected move in the
film world by purchasing STAR WARS (and Lucasfilm and all ancillary
properties associated within) from George Lucas early in the decade,
furthering tightening their monopolistic stranglehold on the industry
(and some would say for the worst).
Eight of the highest grossing films of the last ten years
belonged to the House of Mouse, with four from the MCU, two from STAR WARS, two
and one of their own animated films occupying those eight positions.
Roughly 38 per cent of the movies seen in mainstream cinemas last
year alone were Disney led properties, and the studio had a record
number of seven films in the same year that made a billion dollars each
Those are some truly staggering - and scary - figures.
no discussion of the 2010s would be complete without mentioning the
prominence of streaming and the ripple effects it continues to have on
As more and more consumers cut the cord on cable subscriptions
and opted for services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the recent
Disney+, less and less people felt inclined to go out to the
movies (despite the massive success of the aforementioned franchises listed above, movie theater attendance hit a 25 year low in
2017, and haven't fully or healthily recovered since).
On a positive, studios like Netflix - which began launching
streaming content at the very beginning of this decade - started
dabbling in financing and producing their own movies, which led to
future Oscar nomination success stories like ROMA,
MARRIAGE STORY, and THE
IRISHMEN, with ROMA taking home statues for Best Foreign Language Film and
No streaming giant has managed to win a Best Picture
The debate about the Oscar worthiness of films produced for
mainstream small screen consumption versus theatrical consumption is
simply too large for the purposes of this article, but I imagine and
fully believe that one of the major streaming giants will strike Academy
gold in that high marquee category in the next ten years.
It's inevitable, as Thanos would argue.
One last note: The individual write-ups for each of the following films have been essentially copied and pasted from my discussion of them - albeit, with minor alterations here and there - as they appeared in their respective Top Ten Films of the year articles. I did this for the sake of time, and to get this article out as soon as I could.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY
ROAD was easily the best two-plus hours that I had in a movie theatre in
simply because this sort of sequel, sort of reboot of Miller’s landmark
post-apocalyptic series did the most bravura job of transporting me as an
escapist thrill ride. Right from its
opening few minutes, the 70-plus year old filmmaker's unbridled creative passion and
boundless enthusiasm in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD shined through. Everything
here had a remarkably lived-in and tactile look and feel, showing
Miller at his most cheerfully fetishistic in terms of conjuring up
nightmarishly horrific costumes and makeup design, not to mention a
ghoulish menagerie of vehicles that were the stuff of our most perverted
collective car-porn fantasies.
And when the film unleashed its positively eye-gasmic orgy of
vehicular mayhem – all choreographed astonishingly well with practical
cars and stunts – I was in a state of action cinema Valhalla.
This film will ride eternal...shiny and chrome.
2. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)
How could I not put
Terrance Malick’s film as one of the very best of the 2010s?
It is, as I stated in my review, perhaps one of the most
awe-inspiringly ambitious films I’ve ever seen.
Here’s a drama
that, on one level, appeared to be a semi-biographical meditation on
Malick’s own childhood memories of growing up in 1950’s Waco, Texas.
It was also a searing portrayal of family strife, the innocence of
childhood, and a commentary about unavoidably dealing with loss, death, and grieving.
Yet, THE TREE OF LIFE also managed to have the tenacity
and daring aspiration of framing that story within the larger and more
cosmic one of the very origins of the universe.
In what has to be one of the most visually arresting and
impressively sustained sequences of visuals ever committed to film, Malick
took great pains and time (twenty minutes worth and virtually silent
throughout) to depict a God’s eye-view portrayal of the cold blackness
of space, the eruption of the Big Bang, the early expansion of the stars
and planets, the birth of Earth, and the very first stirrings of
biological life on the planet. It
quite simply the closest that film viewers will perhaps ever get to
witnessing a camera crew capturing and shooting the beginnings of...everything.
Then again, THE TREE OF LIFE was about the interconnectedness of everything. No matter how tiny and inconsequentially small or universally large, Malick pointed out how everything is connected (all of God’s creatures, from dinosaurs to young boys in the 1950’s, are both capable of cruelty against much smaller creatures, as shown in two mirrored sequences in the film). Then there is randomness: the death of one character in the film was depressingly random, but so too was the randomness of the Big Bang or the asteroid, for example, that impacted the Earth, killed off the dinosaurs, and irrevocably altered life on it. When it comes to the larger scheme of things, an asteroid or a boy dying is miniscule compared to the vastness of the universe.
THE TREE OF LIFE might be the first film to deserve worthy comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, one of the greatest of all films, perhaps because both are oftentimes unfathomably impenetrable and befuddling to explain. Both films show man’s evolution through the bigger framework of the cosmos. Both films have extraordinarily believable visual effects that show space and time (Douglas Trumbull served on both films, this being his first credited work in decades) and both films have surely agitated some critics and audience members alike. Yet, both films have the resolve to leave their own inherent mysteries open-ended to speculation and demand patience from viewers. 2001 was not initially loved by critics, but it's now heralded as an unparalleled masterpiece; I believe that THE TREE OF LIFE, years after its release, has come close to being similarly received.
3. BOYHOOD (2014)
been championing BOYHOOD since I screened the film earlier in the summer of 2014. Richard Linklater’s pioneering film – a near three-hour
family drama epic – was one of the great filmgoing experiences of my
life. On a basic level, the
film could not have been any simpler: Linklater chronicled the upbringing a
child from elementary school to his high school graduation…over the
course of twelve years. Here
was the utterly fascinating hook, though: the character in question during
this decade-plus time frame was played
by the same actor. No makeup.
No CGI special effects. No
movie trickery. We get to see
this child – and the actor that played him (Ellar Coltrane) effectively
grow up on screen.
How did Linklater achieve this? He shot BOYHOOD every year over the course of 12 years and then edited the 39 days of shot footage together to create a rich tapestry of the lad’s upbringing. Not only was this an endlessly audacious and courageous filmmaking endeavor (what if Coltrane – God forgive – died during the production?), but it also created a stark intimacy with this boy’s story. We see this boy emerge from a precocious and inquisitive child to a somewhat rambunctious young adolescent to a thoughtful and independent minded adult on the verge of discovering what he wants to do in life. And we see the adult characters grow – and age – on screen as well. The results were nothing short of miraculous. BOYHOOD cost just $5 million, which wouldn’t cover the catering of the last Michael Bay film. Yet, it was a magical cinematic gamble that paid off.
BOYHOOD never felt like a three hour film; it sort of just rushed by at the blink of an eye. Kind of, oddly enough, like life. There has never been a film that has so meticulously captured the ebb and flow of life like this one. BOYHOOD is a small-scale movie marvel of incalculable dramatic magnitude.
My CTV Review of BOYHOOD:
4. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)
I guarantee you that this film was hardly on anyone's best of the decade radars.
PLACE BEHIND THE PINES was my choice for the best film of 2013 - and is
definitely one of the best of its decade - primarily
because of the quiet and transfixing power that its vast and epically
rendered storyline maintains. It
also cemented director, Derek Cianfrance as one of the most important and
skilled filmmakers in American cinema.
He's the kind of inspired and intrepid new breed of director that only comes once in proverbial generation, and one that takes noteworthy risks, avoids criminally overused Hollywood clichés and conventions, and forges ahead by telling unique and authoritative stories that feel both familiar and novel at the same time. Much like, as odd as this comparison sounds, THE GODFATHER saga, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was a sprawling family drama that chronicles how the sins of two sets of fathers have unavoidable consequences for their sons. Cianfrance’s film was atypically bold in the way it told a multi-generational story – in three separate vignettes, covering a period of two decades – and, in turn, simply, but brilliantly, showed how the first story arc segues into the second and, in turn, into the third. There was a dark undercurrent of Greek tragedy to the film, seeing as the unsuspecting sons of the narrative are forced to deal with the past indiscretions of their respective fathers, and it all comes to a head in the film’s mesmerizing final act. There were so very few dramas over the last ten years that existed with the same limitless narrative ambition of Cianfrance’s film.
5. PHANTOM THREAD (2017)
I've been one of Paul Thomas Anderson's biggest fans and harshest critics.
I felt that he couldn't artistically do wrong when he made BOOGIE
NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA in the 90s (which I felt were two of the best films of
that decade), but then came experimental outings in films like PUNCH DRUNK
LOVE, THE MASTER, and, most
recently, INHERENT VICE
that, to be fair, still showed the director's supreme command over
technical artifice, but nevertheless displayed a somewhat undisciplined
narrative approach that left me feeling more than a bit hollow and empty
after watching them.
6. THE REVENANT (2015)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s sixth film, THE REVENANT, came hot off the filmmaker’s multiple Oscar winning BIRDMAN, and it emerged as an unforgettably extraordinarily rendered outdoor survival thriller, set in the early 1800’s and loosely based on the fact-based account of a frontiersmen that was viciously attacked by a bear, left for dead, and then traveled across 200 miles of harsh and uncompromising wilderness terrain to survive.
Inarritu and company have expanded upon this real premise by making it a larger tale of the survivor’s thirst for ultimate vengeance against the man the ultimately left him for dead. Featuring an astonishing physical and mostly non-verbal performance by Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally won his first Best Actor Oscar trophy for it), absolutely breathtaking cinematography that paints the screen with the intoxicatingly foreboding beauty of the terrain that comes to haunt the film’s characters, and bravura direction by Inarritu – who frequently used ultra-long and unbroken shots (especially during action sequences) – that gave the proceedings a startling sense of realism and immediacy, THE REVENANT was a tour de force display of filmmaking craft. It was also a spellbinding tale of perseverance, anguish, and the dicey relativism of savage eye-for-an-eye frontier justice. This film was an endurance test to sit through, but it was a visceral experience like few others in the decade that was.
7. INCEPTION (2010)
Just as he did with THE
DARK KNIGHT in 2000s, Christopher Nolan made one of the the very best films of
the 2010s in INCEPTION.
Featuring the most wickedly
ingenious script of 2010, shot on a grand and epic scale (with a reported
$160 million budget) in six different countries around the world and
featuring an all-star cast of respected actors performing at the top of
their game, Nolan's masterstroke work here
thoroughly and effortlessly transported viewers into this intriguing hybrid
of the sci-fi fantasy, the tension-filled heist flick, and the riveting
psychological thriller is noteworthy enough, but he also managed to
immerse those genres into a dissection of some of the most prevailing
themes of all fiction: the nature of reality and our perception of it.
All of it worked harmoniously together to create one of the most
thoughtful, thrilling, and contemplative escapist films in a long time.
The overall plot is far too
dense to modestly disseminate: All
you need to know is that it starred a rock-solid-as-ever Leonardo DiCaprio
as a corporate raider that uses methods no other movie thief has ever
doesn't break into buildings and simply rob them,
but rather he uses cutting edge science and technology to infiltrate the
minds of men to steal their ideas that allow him to profit in the real
world. One last mission that he
attempts involves the incredibly convoluted and dicey proposition of
“inception”, which involves entering dream states upon dream states of
his unsuspecting victims and then planting ideas within their
subconscious. Now that’s
Nolan has over time emerged as one of the most shrewdly sophisticated and accomplished directorial minds of his generation. From early successes like his mind-bending thriller MEMENTO, the police procedural INSOMNIA, a virtuoso re-imagining of the BATMAN film universe with BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT sequels, epic sci-fi extravaganzas like INTERSTELLAR, and war drams like DUNKIRK, Nolan has managed to forge a career of astonishing variety. Moreover, all of his work, INCEPTION included, places an intimate level of trust in the attention spans and intelligences of their audience members. He asks them to engage their minds in the stories and characters first while other directors bombard them with visceral mayhem and teeth-clenching noise. No other populist filmmaker during the past two decades has taken audiences on such a ride as Nolan, and INCEPTION fully emerged during the last ten years as a dream worth entering.
8. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
Just as she confidently did in 2008 with the multiple Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER, director Kathryn Bigelow most certainly made the best film of 2012 year in ZERO DARK THIRTY, which chronicled the real-life decade-long manhunt to find and kill Osama bin Laden. And it deserves worthy placement on this list as well.
ZERO DARK THIRTY
told a long, but briskly
told story that we all know the outcome to, but it’s the manner that
Bigelow and her writer Mark Boal (who collaborated with her on THE HURT
LOCKER) manage to generate tremendous interest and suspense with building
to its outcome that is the film’s crowning achievement. We all know that SEAL Team Six killed the infamous terrorist
on May 2, 2011 in a drab, dingy, but well fortified compound in Pakistan.
Calling ZERO DARK THIRTY anti-climatic misses the point.
It’s mostly obsessed with the obsessed CIA woman (played with
supreme vigilance, authority, and raw guts by Jessica Chastain, in one of
her best performances) that did the impossible by finding the
ultimate needle in a haystack.
The film was, to Bigelow’s credit, a technological marvel (the final climatic raid on the compound – shot with virtuoso hand-held, green-night-vision hued intimacy and authenticity – is a masterstroke), but Bigelow deserved more credit for crafting a film of haunting and complex thematic ambiguities. Accusations that the film is pro-torture have been levied, among other things. ZERO DARK THIRTY was far and away more intricate and compelling that this criticism. It neither condoned torture, nor apologized for it. Secondly, this film was not a documentary, but a dramatic document of a fact-based mission. Furthermore, it never explicitly stated that torture was the only catalyst in finding bin Laden, but rather just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Most crucially, though, the film was not a fist-pumping patriotic rallying cry for torture, and it never concluded with a sense of overjoyed happiness on the success of the mission as a whole. In the end, we gained a sense - by looking at the teary-eyed exhaustion of Chastain’s damaged character - that perhaps all of the mission's efforts did not amount to a hill of beans, because the war on terror will unalterable carry on. ZERO DARK THIRTY was one of the great films of our nihilistic times; superbly crafted, impeccably acted, intellectual stimulating, and morally complicated.
9. THE IRISHMAN (2019)
The most recent
entry in this list, THE IRISHMAN - a fact-based, Netflix financed and
produced crime drama - came out last year to unprecedented levels of anticipation. It
marked director Martin Scorsese's first return to the genre he made
masterfully his own since his 2006 Best Picture and Director winning THE
DEPARTED. That, and
it also showcased his first re-teaming with Robert De Niro since 1995's
CASINO. THE IRISHMAN also
brought the long-in-retirement Joe Pesci back to the movies and alongside his frequent
co-star in De Niro. And
finally, this film also astoundingly represented the first teaming of star
Al Pacino and Scorsese...like...ever. In
short, and if you excuse the sarcasm and referencing to a very recent
public movie controversy, THE IRISHMAN was the AVENGERS:
ENDGAME of Scorsese gangster films.
My CTV Review of THE IRISHMAN:
10. SING STREET (2016)
If this film were a person...I would hug it.
SING STREET, the most modest and unassuming entry on this list, filled me with euphoric joy while I watched it four years ago. The glow of that screening has never subsided.This coming of age musical dramedy spoke to me on more profoundly personal levels than most films from the previous ten years, primarily because it was set in the era of my childhood and enthusiastically tapped into its neon-hued pop culture. That, and John Carney's coming-of-age musical comedy was one of boundless feel-good optimism, made all the more engagingly toe-tapping because it celebrates music, music creation, and one young man's artistic ingenuity. It told a tale of a young Irish lad in economically ravaged mid-1980's Dublin that decides to start a band and make music videos...all to impress a pretty girl. That fairly bare bones premise could have been reduced down to petty genre troupes and conventional plotting, but there's an undeniably potent message at the core of SING STREET: no matter how impoverished and bleak life appears, there's salvation to be had in art and artistic creation. Refreshingly lacking any semblance of annoying cynicism, this film reminded me of the vitality of movies to serve as escapist engines to fill out hearts with feel good happiness.
And as far as feel good cinema goes, SING STREET still remains pretty much damn perfect and a work to be embraced.