As the 2010s wrap up, we asked ourselves - what film really rocked our world this decade? It's a tough one to choose, but here are our picks.
Hannah - Pariah (2011)
Looking back at a decade of films, it’s hard not to choose one of the more recent experiences, those freshest in my mind. I challenged myself to look a little further back.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve had a bounty of stellar LGBTQ-focused films: Portrait of a Lady on Fire most recently, Moonlight, Carol and Tangerine before that. (I could continue to list but my name is not Enrique so I will restrain myself.) One film that has stuck with me since I saw it in my teens is writer-director Dee Rees’ feature debut, Pariah. Hailing from 2011, Pariah follows Alike as she struggles to balance the freedom of coming into yourself with the expectations of family. It’s a raw and intimate performance, and the film’s final lines ring in my head to this day.
Kieran - Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
There are several films that could have swung it for me. Drive (2011), Room (2015), La La Land (2016), The Nice Guys (2016), Logan (2017), Baby Driver (2017), Paddington 2 (2017), and Booksmart (2019) all have a special place in my heart. But at the end of the day, there’s no other film I’ve fallen in love with like this one.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a heartfelt tale about Ricky Baker, a boy abandoned by society, finding a home within his new foster family - a loving mum and a reluctant dad. Whether it’s Taika Waititi’s comedic touch, the heartwarming story, or just the fact that everything sounds funnier in a Kiwi accent - this film manages to strike that perfect balance between funny and emotional, and is undoubtedly my favourite of the decade.
Max - Anomalisa (2015)
In an effort to not only pick a year already picked AND not pick a more obvious 2015 film that will no doubt jump to mind (my choice could have so easily been Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., or Crimson Peak - the first two of which I would say are IMMENSELY important films in their own right), I present for your consideration: Anomalisa.
I’ve got a soft spot for stop-motion, but you’ve never seen it quite like this. Customer service expert Michael’s perspective on life and the world are portrayed to subtle, sinister effect when you figure out what’s going on with all the people around him, and the film even has a fourth-wall-breaking meltdown. To quote my favourite review, “the most human movie of the year… and it doesn’t star a single human”, and it’s got more ennui than you can shake a Wes Anderson film at.
But good luck enduring the humanly honest and awkward sex scene - you have been warned.
Natalie - It Follows (2015) / Train to Busan (2016)
Whenever I try to think about the films I’ve enjoyed over the past ten years, I somehow instantly forget every film I’ve ever seen. I realised that pinning down my ultimate favourite might be near impossible, especially with my goldfish memory, so I thought it would make sense for me to remain on-brand and talk about a couple of the horror films that have managed to wedge themselves comfortably into my brain.
The first of these films is 2015’s It Follows, the most elaborate abstinence campaign in existence. It tells the story of Jay, a teenager who has fallen victim to a deadly curse after sleeping with her boyfriend. The film’s title lends a perfect description to the nature of this curse. It follows you, walking incessantly in whichever direction you go, until it finally catches up. This film is disturbingly simple, extremely creepy and a great exercise in sustaining tension. Also, it has a really cool soundtrack.
Next up, from 2016, is Train to Busan. This South Korean film is an incredibly refreshing addition to the overdone zombie genre as we follow a unique cast of characters fighting for survival in the midst of a nation-wide zombie outbreak. Oh yeah, and they’re trapped on a train. This film isn’t afraid to showcases its intense, visceral horror, yet unlike many other films of a similar genre it does this through characters you can’t help but care about, each with their own struggles and vulnerabilities. I could go on forever about its strong social commentary, how it uses zombies to portray the true human nature of South Korea’s seemingly pristine society, but I’ve already written quite a lot! Just watch it, if you haven’t already.
Mark - Whiplash (2014)
As I’m sure everyone else has written, there were a tonne of films I’d love to have rattled off about. Both Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) flaunt some of the most stunning cinematography to which I’ve ever been treated. Logan’s (2017) gritty yet heartfelt deconstruction of the superhero genre gave a fitting and compelling end for a contemporary icon of modern cinema. I happened to catch A Quiet Place (2018) towards the end of its cinematic release in an otherwise empty cinema screen - one of my all-time favourite cinema experiences. Props to director and star, John Krasinski, whose rewrite of the original script really propelled the original material into something truly special. Does it really need a sequel? Guess we’ll see how that goes - I’m keeping an open mind.
But, for me, this was always going to be about Whiplash (2014).
It’s been a big decade for director Damien Chazelle and, following his other recent offerings, La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018), I've become something of a fan. And, by the time the latter came out, I was curious to find out how the story of Neil Armstrong was secretly about one man trying to save Jazz.
But in all seriousness, I love everything about this film, from its story about a young jazz drummer giving his all - blood, sweat and tears - to be the best, to J.K. Simmons accepting his well-earned Oscar for Best Supporting Actor by reminding everyone to give their mum a call.
There’s no other film to which I return so often for examples of tight, perfectly plotted storytelling, heart pounding editing, and intensely compelling characters delivered by outstanding performances. I remember once characterising Whiplash as “a film that makes me love film” which I like to think says more than any in-depth analysis I could offer.
I generally try not to be the person who goes out of their way to insist “you need to watch this” but it’s one of my greatest regrets that I didn’t get to see it at the cinema, so I’ll simply say this: if you love cinema (and aren’t aversed to some particularly colourful language),Whiplash is well worth your time.
James - First Reformed (2017)
Disclaimer: picking a film of the year is hard enough, never mind a film of the decade, so I’ve included a list of other films that could have taken this slot at the bottom. However, I eventually settled on First Reformed because it bucked more trends of modern cinema than any of the other film on my (long) shortlist, and as such was refreshing to watch.
First Reformed tells the story of a Reverend Toller – played by Ethan Hawke in what is definitely my performance of the year – who falls in love with one of his parishioners, Mary (Amanda Seyfried). As his love for her blooms, so does his interest in her deceased husband’s environmental activism. He comes to realise that his church is beholden to mass polluters, and begins to question whether his own church is now merely a historical landmark to be exploited. God has left the building.
Plot wise, that about sums up First Reformed. However, there is no need for more, for it is not the plot that matters. In fact, the plot matters so little that the film barely even has a conclusion. It simply stops. What matters is Hawke’s character; his musings, his malleable philosophy. What happens to him is not really of interest; how he transforms is.
That is why First Reformed is my film of the decade. In a cinema landscape dominated by high-concept, plot-driven movies, First Reformed eschews the need to generate interest via what happens, and instead generates interest via finding meaning in whatever happens. Of course, it’s not the only film this decade to do so, but I’d argue it’s the one that does it the best.
Honourable Mentions: Interstellar, Avengers: Endgame, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, Django Unchained, Bone Tomahawk, BlacKkKlansman, Brimstone, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Drive, The Babadook, Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Irishman, The Shape of Water, The Revenant, A Quiet Place, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years a Slave, Mandy, It Comes at Night, Whiplash, First Man, Inception, Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, and probably everything else on this list, then some.
Enrique - Can’t decide so he wrote an essay
This decade has meant a lot of personal and intellectual growth for me, and hence, many films have shaped what I think about cinema and inspired me as a filmmaker and as a human. As an early entry (and I do mean early, this film came out a few months shy of 2010 but I’m counting it anyway), Celda 211 (2009) is one of those films that shocked me as a teenager and I can enjoy endlessly as an adult; a masterpiece in both building tension and storytelling.
The Babadook (2014), Mandy (2018), Hereditary (2018), and A Quiet Place (2018) all rediscovered what it means to be a horror film in a genre saturated with pointless sequels and soul-less slashers. We’ve also seen an amazing trove of character pieces this decade, that have made me cry a lot. Calvary (2014), Anomalisa (2015), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Paterson (2016), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017) and The Florida Project (2017) have shown how people deal with a large spectrum of what to expect from life; from unbearable loss to simple and menial joy. The most intense stories in life sometimes end right where they started.
Then we have films used another genre or a specific situation to say something deeper about us. The Shape of Water (2017) talks about love and loneliness through the veil of a monster film, Arrival (2016) talks about memories and parenthood through a sci-fi lens and You Were Never Really Here (2017) talks about feeling irrelevant and insignificant through the guise of a mercenary. The Lobster (2015) is another one that uses a bizarre alternate future to exaggerate and critique how ‘love’ is perceived in our society.
With satire, there’s a fine line between exaggerating and making shit up - but The Death of Stalin (2017) managed to show us the hilarious (and mostly accurate) events leading up to and following Joseph Stalin’s death, with a hilarious cast of characters whose accents just add to the comedy, and American Animals (2017) rivals any in Hitchcock’s filmography for tension and suspense.
I can’t finish this list without mentioning True Grit (2010), Chronicle (2012), The Wind Rises (2013), Birdman (2014), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), The Hateful Eight (2015), The Nice Guys (2016), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Logan Lucky (2017), and Logan (2017). And that is my rambling list of some of the films that I consider to have defined this decade and which are genuine jewels of the seventh art.
Ed - Created a program to figure it out, and then just talked about whatever anyway
A decade is a long time in film years, and looking back at everything that I've watched I found myself frequently surprised at just how many films I had to pick from. So, with what seemed like an impossible task ahead of me I decided to write a bit of code that could help pit the films against each other and maybe make my choice a bit easier. The thing is, after that it was still pretty difficult, so instead I'm copping out a bit and just doing a selection of favourites that floated to the top in the process.
I’m going to start off with a couple of the best feel good films that have come out, and I don’t think you can do much better than 2014’s Chef, which will leave you feeling both wholesome and very hungry, or Paddington 2 from 2017. A film that has the potential to leave you with watery eyes, feeling like there’s still hope in the world, and with a very understandable 100% on rotten tomatoes.
In terms of action, I think that this decade has definitely had some standouts, whether that be outlandish over the top blockbusters like the Fast and Furious franchise, insane Tom Cruise injuring himself and generally putting his body at risk in the latest Mission Impossible series, or the brutal simplicity of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), to me though, I think the films that have potentially done action best, are the visceral Raid and John Wick series. Both having started in the last 10 years, they show what can be done when you take actors that are willing to go all in, and film the choreography and chaos that they can accomplish.
Sci Fi has unsurprisingly also had some excellent entries this decade, with some of my favourites being Arrival from 2016, and Blade Runner 2049 from 2017. Both beautifully shot films with intriguing stories that play on memory, parenthood and our place in the world. Also both by Denis Villeneuve, leading me to just quickly recommend his other films, as well as get excited for Dune next year. Lastly, 2014’s Ex Machina gives an interesting look into the concepts of AI, as well as human individuality.
Now I want to get into some documentaries, the first one I’ll mention is Tim’s Vermeer (2013), which is a really interesting little doc that follows a Texan inventor discovering the techniques that Johannes Vermeer likely used for his paintings. Then we have Icarus (2017), Weiner (2016) and Tickled (2016), that all evolve further than the stories that they set out to look at. Finally Senna (2010) chronicles the story of F1 legend Ayrton Senna in a gripping way that will leave your palms sweaty.
Moving on from documentaries I want to look at the films that document true stories in a fictionalised way, these include 2010’s The Social Network, the excellent Moneyball from 2011 and the Wolf of Wall Street from 2013. As well as The Big Short (2015), to stick with the money theme. But possibly my favourite of these is Spotlight (2015) that tells the story of the journalists that uncovered one of the biggest scandals of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Jenna - was still thinking of this as a top 10 list and is bad at picking favourites in the best of times so here is an essay also
Thinking back to the beginning of the decade, I’m struck by how differently I feel about the films that were my favourite then. I mean that should be obvious, I turned 13 in 2010, and while I’d like to think I had sophisticated taste I re-watched Pirates of the Caribbean 3 multiple times that year. All this to say that the films that really floored me in the early 2010s feel different to me now. When I first saw it Inception (2010) made me cry for days, I was so amazed and so touched, and now I think of Nolan as a very effective but quite mainstream director. Oh and remember how big a deal the last two Harry Potter films were? I haven’t thought about them in literal years but I was sooo excited about them a decade ago. And I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) three (or was it 4?) times in the cinema because I was in a huge Sherlocky detective phase…oh wait that phase didn’t really go away that movie is sick.
Before this I wrote two big sections about great genre films and great LGBT films, but a lot of my favourite films this decade have already been mentioned by my colleagues, so I’m going to go a slightly different way and mention a few films that aren’t quite as widely lauded but that are really worth watching if you haven’t already.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) is often either hated by people I know or they haven’t heard of it. But when I saw it at a fairly young age I was completely captivated by the suspense and the maturity of the mystery. It’s a spy film featuring lonely, aging men who don’t really know why they’re doing what they’re doing anymore, and there is incredible pathos in the matter of fact way that they interact with both enemies and friends.
Seven Psychopaths (2012) is probably my favourite of Martin McDonough’s films, and I’m a big fan of them all. It’s weird and meta and hilarious and Christopher Walken is an old swearing Quaker who steals dogs. What more could you ask for?
Ex Machina (2014) is a Frankenstein story that is less about the hubris of man in a grand existential sense and more about how cruelty and manipulation comes home to roost. I absolutely love the simplicity of the script, most of it taking place inside one space. It could make for a wonderful three person stage play, and I’m always a sucker for scripts that feel like plays. But in addition to that, the production design is absolutely stellar. The design of the androids and the merging of the cg elements is flawless, and there is great care taken in the physical acting as well (the main two robots are played by trained ballerinas and it shows).
I have a soft spot for quiet protagonists, and Tom Hardy really delivers with The Drop (2014). It’s a very well thought out, subtle gangster film that has some interesting critiques of violence and masculinity, but what really makes it is the main character, who always stays one step ahead because he is unassuming. (I’m actually realising every single one of these on this list has this element in common where there is a character who observes more than they speak). Oh, and there’s a cute dog in it.
Paterson (2016) is probably my favourite film about art. It’s quiet and meditative and there’s not a lot of conflict. Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani deliver beautiful performances as a couple who just simply understand each other. Jim Jarmusch’s script is very refreshing first in finding poetry in simplicity and routine, and second in portraying art not as a big grand torturous act, but as simply something you do, an action undertaken for its own sake. (this one also has a dog).
Ok, finally finally, I think You Were Never Really Here (2017) is my actual favourite film of the decade. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely devastating and understated in this role (which makes his portrayal of the Joker two years later all the more frustrating, although I blame that on the writing). The way that Lynn Ramsey uses a surprising lack of onscreen violence to portray a deeply disturbing subject matter is unlike any director I’ve seen. She evolves the techniques that new wave and avant garde cinema used—surreal imagery, choppy editing, lack of a clear plot—which were often pioneered to confuse the viewer or question the role of the author or disrupt what the notion of a film even is. While I think these were all valuable questions to ask especially as a reaction to rigid definitions of cinema, I am often left cold by these films, and see them more as an academic exercise. However, all of these techniques are now being used by modern directors in ways that tell stories with a clearer emotional heart than would be possible without them, and Ramsey is probably my favourite example of this. Because life feels disjointed sometimes, because memory comes in snippets to haunt us, because beauty finds at strange times. Because sitting alone in a café can sometimes feel like the most violent thing in the world.