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by Jason F. Koenigsberg
As the decade comes to a close now is a better time than ever to reflect on the past ten years of cinema. A decade that was mostly filled with remakes, reboots, and sequels. A lack of original ideas replaced with big blockbusters creating cinematic universes is what primarily made up what movies were showing in multiplexes over the past ten years. Creativity seemed to give way to retreads of familiar ideas and properties that studios were hoping to cash in on. Nostalgia was huge, if one were to travel forward in time and look at what movies were playing in the theaters they might think that they landed at some point in the 1990’s or 1980’s, or maybe even the 1970’s since the Rocky, Star Wars, and Alien franchises all started back then and were more alive than ever this decade. With the myriad of franchises that were squeezed to the last drop, risk taking cinema seemed to take a back seat to focus groups and heavy effects spectacles.
Through it all, some real art emerged. A handful of films really left their mark on our society and a deep impression on my psyche. Some are films that could have been made anytime over the last fifty years, others are films that are very much a product of their time and about life right now. Some great auteurs from the twentieth century continued to pump out great work this decade like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Miller. Other filmmakers that emerged around the turn of the century came into their own such as Christopher Nolan, Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson. African-American directors started to have their voices heard more often. Spike Lee was no longer the token but was joined by the next generation of black visionaries behind the camera such as Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, and Lee Daniels. Women also became less of a novelty as feature film directors with Kathryn Bigelow leading the way after becoming the only female director to win the Best Director Academy Award for The Hurt Locker (2009). Hispanic filmmakers probably made the biggest leaps in the art form winning a total of five Best Director Academy Awards this decade divided among the three brilliant minds of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, and Guillermo Del Toro.
Transitions were made across the board for minorities and underrepresented groups, yet somehow the majority of what filled the cinemas felt like safe popcorn drivel. For every step forward with a film like Moonlight (2016), there was Green Book (2018). For every Social Network (2010) there was a Life of Pi (2012). Worse yet, for every unique movie that was meant to stand on its own there was a dozen Avengers movies, or at least that is how most of the 2010’s felt.
Here are the films that almost made the cut into the Top Ten Movies of the Decade list:
20. Django Unchained (2012) directed by Quentin Tarantino
One of three terrific films made this decade from Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained was the one that felt the most thoroughly entertaining as he used cinema to skew slavery and one the darkest eras in American history. Christoph Waltz won his second Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in three years but scene stealing performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson seem every bit as award worthy. Django Unchained is an exploitation film that challenges the viewer to accept the words and images onscreen as a satire on the Western and historical epic genres.
19. Straight Outta Compton (2012) directed by F. Gary Gray
Straight Outta Compton does the groundbreaking N.W.A. justice as it chronicles their rise to fame and eventual break up and is one of the best musical biopics of all time, the Amadeus of rap movies if you will. Most notable, the film documents their cultural importance and illustrates their impact on American music. Its biggest flaw, because Straight Outta Compton was such a massive success it has indirectly spawned the numerous musical biopics that have become insanely popular and more monotonous with each passing year.
18. Before Midnight (2013) directed by Richard Linklater
The third in Richard Linklater’s improbable Before trilogy and without a doubt, the best. One of the most honest and emotionally engaging pictures about a relationship and the work that goes into it. It is warm, funny, heartbreaking and I would love for Linklater and actors/writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to revisit these characters next decade.
17. Hell or High Water (2016) directed by David Mackenzie
The deeply profound, poetic, and gorgeously shot Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the the careers for everyone involved. It has all of the elements of a classic John Wayne western cleverly inserted into a culturally relevant crime movie that has an old time feel yet is very much a movie for right now. Hell or High Water is an ingenious piece of filmmaking with the way it took old elements of westerns, showing them to be universal and timeless and making them socially relevant in 2016
16. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) directed by Wes Anderson
A Wes Anderson film that allows us to enter a whole new world inside the unique filmmakers imagination and what a fun time it was. A commentary about World War II and how it forever changed peoples lives and tore Europe apart. As time has passed this has emerged as one the best films of his distinguished career. His distinct style cannot be duplicated and has never been as intricately detailed as the sets, costumes, and even changing aspect ratio of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
15. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) directed by Wes Anderson
One of the hardest decisions was putting this film right above Grand Budapest Hotel. Despite the fact that Grand Budapest may be the better technical achievement and reflects on historical tragedies, Moonrise Kingdom is the film that I found to be more endearing. The romance, quirky characters, and all the laughs land just as flawlessly as they did when I first saw it.
14. Lincoln (2012) directed by Steven Spielberg
Biopics have become almost as popular as comic book movies this decade and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is one of the best of them anchored by Daniel Day-Lewis’ virtuoso performance winning his record setting third and final Best Actor Oscar. An intellectual, complex, and powerful motion picture about our 16th president during his final months working to pass the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery. If it were not for the unnecessary epilogue scenes this may have been on my top ten.
13. Hugo (2011) directed by Martin Scorsese
This is the first time since the 1960’s that Martin Scorsese does not have a picture on my top ten of the decade and he had quite a busy decade with Shutter Island (2010), Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Silence (2016), and The Irishman (2019). Now at 77 that list there shows how diverse and hardworking Scorsese has been as a senior citizen, but it was Hugo, his PG-rated love letter to cinema in the form of a children’s film was the one that touched me the most. A moving cinematic experience on the big screen that will not be forgotten.
12. Spotlight (2015) directed by Tom McCarthy
A smart, sophisticated throwback to a film that David Mamet or Sidney Lumet could have made. A brilliant indictment of Boston’s small town mentality as much as it was a condemnation of the massive cover-up by the Catholic Church of pedophile priests on a global scale. This film was not only masterfully directed and insightfully written but it also featured outstanding performances from its ensemble cast. Spotlight was undeniably an intellectually satisfying and riveting film.
11. Hereditary (2018) directed by Ari Aster
A decade that featured some of the smartest and most mature horror films ever made, Hereditary was the one that stood head and shoulders above the rest that worked just as good as a family melodrama with a supernatural twist about how horror is embedded in our DNA and that is practically impossible to change. The best part of Hereditary is what it says about family, how we inadvertently hurt the ones we love so much and how we suffer for the sins of our parents and grandparents and it is a vicious cycle that is very tough to break. Few horror films also serve as such a profound cry for help to remind us that we need to love and cherish those closest to us.
And now here are the Ten Best films of the Decade:
10. Birdman (2014) directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
A tour de force and career crowning performance by Michael Keaton, the role was tailored for Keaton perfectly. He is the only actor in the world who could have played this part and he hits a home run. The unconventional, seemingly no takes, direction will have you guessing how on earth a lot of the shots were filmed and the unconventional drum centered score captures the New York City streets stunningly well. Birdman is a rare once in a decade type of picture.
9. Inception (2010) directed by Christopher Nolan
n some ways this is Christopher Nolan’s masterwork, a psychological thriller on the grandest scale with outstanding special effects, no it is not as riveting as Memento (2001) nor is it as entertaining as The Dark Knight (2008), but Inception is the most pure Nolan movie of his filmography thus far. Through all the high tech special effects some great performances emerge especially Leonardo DiCaprio as a man struggling with his own reality and the dreams he inserts himself into.
8. 12 Years a Slave (2013) directed by Steve McQueen
What Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust and cinema in 1993, twenty years later 12 Years a Slave did the same for legalized bondage in the United States. A harrowing and heart-wrenching emotional experience that does not give the audience the happy ending even though Solomon Northup eventually gets his freedom. The viewer cannot forget the horrors of slavery they witnessed from the other slaves that were never as fortunate as he was. A modern masterpiece and one of the most important movies made this decade.
7. Parasite (2019) directed by Bong Joon Ho
The foreign film that singlehandedly restored my love of cinema after such a humdrum year of going to the movies. Parasite is a dark comic social satire that has to be seen by anyone tired of the mundane motion pictures Hollywood has released in 2019. Parasite manages to touch on every emotion and it may seem too soon to call one of the best films of the decade but I admire this movie so much as an astounding and universal examination of class structure I doubt that I will regret ranking it so high on the list. Bong Joon Ho has made other great films but none as powerful as this. Parasite is a mischievous morality tale and one of the most timely and sensationally entertaining films of recent years.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) directed by George Miller
The film that grew on me the most since writing my review. I gave it three stars but my description of the film is more worthy of a four star review and it holds up flawlessly every time I revisited it on HBO. This really is that impressive of a film that it truly deserves all the accolades it has received. Mad Max: Fury Road is without a doubt he best pure cinematic experience of the decade and was ahead of its time with strong women fleeing a powerful man who also serves as a dictator hoarding all of his resources while giving his people just enough to keep them subservient. In a decade of reboots, remakes, and sequels, Mad Max: Fury Road worked as all three while also being the most sublimely thrilling movie of the decade.
5. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Another film that has grown immensely with time since I first saw it in theaters back in 2012. Zero Dark Thirty is a masterpiece. There is not one shot that I would change. Also unlike some other other films which could have been made almost any decade, Zero Dark Thirty has a heart pounding sense of urgency and relevancy that makes it stand out among its peers. Between 2009’s Best Picture Winner The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow has directed two of the best war pictures of the 21st century. A cinematic triumph about recent history that will be remembered for decades to come.
4. Her (2013) directed by Spike Jonze
Her is this decades Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Her has only grown better and more insightful as the years go by. Even though 12 Years a Slave was a harrowing, brutal and important film that shed light on one of the darkest times in America and was my number 1 film of 2013, I think that Her in its short life has surpassed 12 Years a Slave not in terms of importance or dramatic impact but in terms of relevance and ability to relate to the characters. One of the most humanistic and realistic looks as dating evolves further into the twenty-first century where we rely more on our devices and technology for companionship.
3. Moonlight (2016) directed by Barry Jenkins
Even years later I still cannot believe this movie was made. Moonlight is a thrillingly deep and emotional journey that explores themes of race, sexuality and poverty in the form of a brilliant coming of age story about the power of memories. An unforgettable and poetic tale that uses the camera as a tool for empathy in ways that have not been done before in motion pictures. The best sympathy generator of the decade and its surprising and unlikely Best Picture win remains one of the biggest highlights and blunders in Academy Awards history.
2. Boyhood (2014) directed by Richard Linklater
Boyhood is more like a once in a lifetime kind of picture than anything else on here. Following a child actor for twelve years and capturing him on screen literally growing up before our eyes, Boyhood is the one true masterpiece of cinema to come out of 2014 and only Moonlight comes close to capturing its powerful message about memories as we mature. It encapsulates growing up better than any other film mostly because it touches on every single emotion that we feel as we grow older. It is masterfully directed by the great Richard Linklater and featuring brave and revealing performances by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. No other film moved me emotionally as much as Boyhood. But it would take more than that to be my number one film of the past ten years…
1. The Social Network (2010) directed by David Fincher
This is the best movie of the decade and has been since it was released. It is like Citizen Kane for the 21st century only instead of newspapers it is about the internet and how it simultaneously brings people together and isolates us from each other. With its outstanding soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the movie feels refreshingly modern yet at the same time as if it could have been directed by Alan J. Pakula or Sydney Pollack during the 1970’s when they put out smartly written dramas for adults on a more regular basis. The Social Network is enthralling and intensely topical just as All the Presidents Men was for the 70’s and reflects the new century as well as Wall Street serves as a time capsule for life during the 80’s. This is a modern masterpiece that will stand the test of time.