|| My Thirty Best Films of the 2010s
It has been a decade of tumultuous change in cinema. In terms of how audiences actually watch movies (with the rise of streaming services). What kinds of movies secure mainstream distribution. The increased stranglehold of corporate behemoths like Disney and Netflix. And the ongoing struggle of franchises and indie auteurs alike to engage a mass audience not only seemingly more ideologically divided than ever but more taken with YouTube videos that rip 'em to shreds.
Yet all that aside, the consistency in quality filmmaking has been remarkably high. Arguably more so than over the previous decade. Nations with once-moribund film industries have bounced back strong. Veteran auteurs are still crafting memorable works. Fresh new voices have broken through. Cinema is more diverse and eclectic than ever before. What's not to love?
Obviously this list skews to my own personal taste. Whatever notable omissions there are comes down to opting for a film that resonates with me on an emotional or intellectual level over one whose artistry I simply admire. As a huge Marvel fan I've surprised myself by largely sidelining what is otherwise undeniably the decade's most consistently compelling franchise (although, if I had to pick one, I'd go with Avengers: Endgame). On the flip side I make no apologies for including five animated films. It has been just that great a decade for animation.
So without further ado, in no particular order...
I Wish (2011) director Hirokazu Kore-eda - An honest, tender, uplifting study of what family means in the twenty-first century, filtered through the prism of childhood wishes and dreams.
Le Quattro Volte (2010) director Michelangelo Frammartino - Mind-blowing cosmic contemplation of life, the universe and everything. Seen through the eyes of an old shepherd who dies then comes back... as a goat.
Dope (2015) director Rick Famuyiwa - Energetic, ebullient filmmaking that marks a shot in the arm for not just African-American but American Cinema as a whole. It's criminal that Rick Famuyiwa hasn't had more projects green-lit yet.
The Babadook (2014) director Jennifer Kent - For my two cents the decade's finest horror film showcasing an instantly iconic monster, who like all iconic monsters is a fear made flesh. In this instance: the anxiety of motherhood.
Your Name (2016) director Makoto Shinkai - So much more than a cutesy anime rom-com. Your Name plunges into a well of anxiety over identity issues for young people both in Japan and around the world and draws out something stirring, profound and beautiful. And it's laugh-out-loud funny.
Inception (2010) director Christopher Nolan - Nolan's mind-bending sci-fi thriller was proclaimed an instant classic before the perplexing, if inevitable, backlash. Never mind that nonsense. It's Last Year At Marienbad re-imagined as an action film. Genius.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman - On a conceptual, artistic and thematic level, this was the most audacious superhero film of the decade. Thrilling, heartwarming and hilarious in equal measure.
A Royal Affair (2012) director Nikolaj Arcel - Along with bestowing Alicia Vikander upon a grateful world, this Danish historical drama spins one of the most fascinating, stimulating and gut-wrenching true stories the rest of the world never knew.
Inside Out (2015) director Pete Docter - Pixar's most audacious, if curiously divisive, outing to date features arguably the most avant-garde premise central to any mainstream movie. And pulls it off with unparalleled levels of artistry and heart. R.I.P. Bing-Bong. Sob...
The Kings of Summer (2013) director Jordan Vogt-Roberts - Released to inexplicably divergent reactions on either side of the Atlantic, this is one of the most heartfelt, original, inventive coming of age movies ever made.
White God (2014) director Kornel Mundruczo - Equal parts heartwarming girl and her dog story, searing indictment of animal cruelty and, in its third act, a fiercely apocalyptic horror movie.
The Lego Movie (2014) directors Phil Lord, Christopher Miller - Outdoes The Matrix at its own game. Assembles a better Justice League movie than the actual Justice League movie. Builds a world out of multiple branded I.P.'s more imaginatively than even Spielberg managed in Ready Player One. Fashions a children's toy into a metaphor for life itself. And it's a friggin' Lego Movie. Everything is indeed awesome.
Spring (2014) directors Justin Benson, Aaron Moorehead - Before Sunrise re-imagined as a Lovecraftian horror movie. Benson and Moorehead are among the most fascinating genre filmmakers at work today.
The Assassin (2015) director Hou Hsiao-hsien - Sumptuous, intoxicating wu xia epic from arguably one of the great actor-director teams (Taiwanese auteur Hsiao-hsien and superstar Shu Qi) in contemporary world cinema.
O.J.: Made in America (2016) director Ezra Edelman - Okay, as a multi-part documentary that aired on TV this is kind of a cheat. But it was screened theatrically. Either way, O.J. Made in America delivers a compelling, incisive sociological history of race, class, politics and prejudice in America. Filtered through the life of the beloved Twitter star. Oh wait, what else did he do?
Shoplifters (2018) director Hirokazu Kore-eda - History may well count Kore-eda the decade's most important filmmaker. Not least for this remarkable, devastating study of a makeshift family barely surviving on society's lowest rung. The twist in its third is somehow both poignant, darkly funny and achingly sad all at once.
Loveless (2017) director Andrey Zvagintsev - Trust the Russians to deliver the most harrowing, visceral study of a collapsed marriage and its devastating effect on a child. A tough watch but essential.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) director Doug Liman - A.k.a. the movie that could not settle on a title. Or alternatively, a Tom Cruise hater's wet dream. See the Cruiser get killed. Again and again. For all that this remains an inspired, inventive, darkly hilarious and exciting slice of sci-fi cinema. And it established Emily Blunt is a badass. Who knew?
Mustang (2015) director Deniz Gamze Erguven - Despite some pushback in its native Turkey as to questions of authenticity (and pandering to preconceived western notions), this lyrical fable about young women oppressed by a paranoid patriarchy bent on controlling and exploiting their sexuality remains relevant, inspiring and simply great filmmaking.
Paddington (2014) director Paul King - A beloved children's icon from yesteryear re-imagined as a potent allegory for the immigrant experience in Brexit-riddled Britain. Impossible. Yet somehow Paul King pulled it off. And the sequel was just as fantastic. Anyone that says different deserves a hard stare.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) director Wes Anderson - Wes Anderson's most nuanced and subtly politically charged film deserves a place on this list if only for allowing me to pen the words: Ralph Fiennes comedy genius.
Love and Other Drugs (2010) director Edward Zwick - An unjustly overlooked gem that starts out as yet another frothy rom-com. Then before you know it morphs ingeniously into a searing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry. Sure, Anne Hathaway gets nekkid in it. A lot. But that has nothing to do with anything...
Starry, Starry Night (2011) director Tom Lin - Conceptually similar to Disney's Bridge to Terabithia this Taiwanese fantasy romance deals with adolescents using fantasy and art as a means of enduring hardship, building bonds and a brighter future. Its beautiful, romantic and child star Xu Jiao has never been better.
Populaire (2012) director Regis Roinsard - Possibly the decade's most original rom-com, Populaire interweaves Fifties nostalgia, re-imagines Rocky as a speed-typing contest for secretaries, and fashions a feel-good feminist fable appealing to both sexes. Utterly delightful.
Hell or High Water (2016) director David Mackenzie - Chris Pine shows off his range while Jeff Bridges cements his iconic status in the decade's finest western that wasn't technically a western. But, thanks to another outstanding script from Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, spotlights the ongoing devastation wrought by decade prior's the socio-economic collapse.
Gone Girl (2014) director David Fincher - A smartly satirical thriller that scared a new generation of feckless husbands while also providing a powerhouse showcase for Rosamund Pike and a profoundly disturbing treatise on the psychological gulf between two sides of a marriage.
Welcome to the Space Show (2011) directors Koji Masunari, Masaaki Yuasa - The most mind-boggling, brilliantly bonkers children's film of the past ten years features a talking ninja dog from outer space and a cherishable scene where an ancient prophecy-spouting super-robot goes ignored by two bickering little girls. At one point it also briefly turns into drug-smuggling thriller in outer space. Y'know. For kids.
The First Time (2012) director Jon Kasdan - Among the smartest, most insightful and just plain likable teen movies to emerge over the past few years. A snappy yet sensitive study of intimacy and heartbreak with a breakout performance from Dylan O'Brien.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) director Stephen Chow Sing-Chi - Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow Sing-Chi unexpectedly proves himself the Asian Spielberg (no, really) with this barnstorming, unexpectedly intense re-imagining of the Monkey King legend. Features genuine scares and suspense, mind-blowing fantasy set-pieces and a barnstorming tomboy turn from gorgeous and talented Shu Qi.
Escape (2012) director Roar Uthaug - Barely anyone talks about this Norwegian medieval horror-adventure (even though it won splendidly-named director Roar Uthaug the Tomb Raider reboot). It is a taut, brutal and suspenseful heir to Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes with visceral action, a kick-ass female lead and a disarming, emotionally resonant story.
... and on to the Ten Worst Films of the 2010s (I.M.O.)
More than any other decade in film history the 2010s unfolded amidst a cacophony of pundits venting rage or self-righteous indignation over whatever the internet, in its wisdom, deemed the "worst thing ever." Whether it was the seemingly bottomless sinkhole that was Michael Bay's Transformers films, the joyless Batman v Superman and other offerings from the dismal pre-Wonder Woman DC Universe or the absurd misogynistic furore over the Ghostbusters (a failure due not to its stellar female-led cast but by virtue of being as funny-as-a-kick-in-the-genitals). In most cases such so-called disasters were over-inflated, merely disappointing to mediocre. To be honest I had a hard time finding films I truly hated but the following ten will do nicely.
Fun Size (2013) director Josh Schwartz - A truly hideous family comedy. If your idea of hilarity is watching a naked fat kid take a dump this is the film for you.
The Green Inferno (2013) director Eli Roth - Eli Roth's enduring cult appeal continues to mystify. Here he shits all over the sociopolitical legacy of Seventies' horror by lampooning environmental activists. Because caring about the rainforest is annoying and dumb, right? Anyone else up for a horror movie where Greta Thunberg eviscerates Eli Roth?
Sabotage (2014) director David Ayer - Arnie's career hits a new low (dragging the ever-hapless Sam Worthington with him) with David Ayer's crass, scattershot, incoherent re-imagining of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians as an action-thriller. Ayer's uneven output throughout the decade leaves End of Watch looking increasingly like an anomaly.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) - Confession time: Bay's other unholy, horny fusions of army recruitment video, toy commercial and Victoria's Secret ads are kind of a guilty pleasure. This one though is a whole other level of bludgeoning torture. Only Bay would take time out between blowing shit up to spotlight an appalling monologue wherein Jack Reynor explains why he has the legal right to fuck Mark Wahlberg's underage daughter. Jeezus.
A Karate Christmas Miracle (2019) director Julie Kimmel – Nothing says Christmas like a mass shooting, psychic lawyers, Satanic cults and Eric Roberts. Bizarrely, karate has almost nothing to do with the plot. Seek this one out. It is destined to become an all-time classic.
Pixels (2015) director Chris Columbus - The premise (not to mention the original YouTube short) held so much potential. Yet Adam Sandler's all-too familiar brand of toxicity drags this high-concept sci-comedy down to the depths of hell. Remember this is the one where Josh Gad fucks Qbert (?!!)
That's My Boy (2012) director Sean Anders - Frankly, apart from Uncut Gems and the Hotel Transylvania films, every Adam Sandler movie from the past ten years should be on this list. However this one almost derailed the career of the talented Andy Samberg (who happily bounced back) and features statutory rape, incest and Vanilla Ice.
The Legend of Hercules (2014) director Renny Harlin - Remember that hot minute when Kellan Lutz was a bankable movie star? Me neither. A ludicrous, campy bore that drove one-time in-demand action director Renny Harlin to make movies in China.
The Human Centipede trilogy (2009, 2011, 2015) director Tom Six - Someone please explain why this exists?
The Emoji Movie (2017) director Tony Leonidas - Quite possibly the most cynical, dismal, cash-grab excuse for entertainment ever foisted on family audiences. Appalling. On so many levels.