The best films of the 2010s were notably profound, lasting

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 1/17/20

The cinematic landscape over the past 10 years (2010-2019) was dominated by the comic book flick, but they were just showcases for the dramatic technological advances that quickly found their way …

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The best films of the 2010s were notably profound, lasting

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Tom Cruise in the 2018 film 'Mission: Impossible - Fallout,' one of reviewer Neil Morris' picks for best movies from the past decade.
Tom Cruise in the 2018 film 'Mission: Impossible - Fallout,' one of reviewer Neil Morris' picks for best movies from the past decade.
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pict
Posted

The cinematic landscape over the past 10 years (2010-2019) was dominated by the comic book flick, but they were just showcases for the dramatic technological advances that quickly found their way into even the most critically acclaimed films. Still, sturdy cinema is revolves around theme and story, and the 2010s boasted profound entries, sometimes in defiance of the inevitable march towards big-budget, Disneyfied homogeneity. Indeed, by the end of the decade so-called prestige films were increasingly being forced online, crowded out of their erstwhile big screen homes.

Judging a decade of films does not occur in a vacuum. The true import of a particular movie cannot be fully known until years hence, and sometimes its import hinges on the turns our world and culture take. So, here are the most notable, well-made, profound, and/or lasting films of the past 10 years.

1. “Mad Max — Fury Road”: The most feminist film of the decade. Like an artist working in his medium, director George Miller paints an immersive, post-apocalyptic epoch where societal structure is upended and its most susceptible members — mainly women and children — become natural resources. The film is part superhero flick, part Western, with Tom Hardy as a monosyllabic man-with-no-name and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa falling squarely in the lineage of action heroines like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner. But it’s mostly a rock opera divided by acts more than scenes, a symphony in which the relentless action and visual intensity builds to a kinetic crescendo.

2. “The Social Network”: It’s suddenly become passé to heap hosannas on this film about the origins of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, its tempestuous, brilliant creator. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin crafted a smart, seriocomic story about the blending of genius and ambition, together with a snapshot of the youthful, technological exuberance that largely defined the aughts.

3. “Get Out”: The relevance of this film only grows each year. The dynamic of interracial relationships is the fulcrum of comedian Jordan Peele’s audacious directorial debut. Beyond mere gore, two elements have long been at the heart of the horror film genre: humor (intentional and otherwise) and social commentary. “Get Out” is quite purposefully funny. But it’s also deadly serious. Let’s be clear: Peele equates the black experience in America with a horror movie. What begins as a wry take on the clash of cultural assimilation morphs into a funhouse mirror reflection on cultural appropriation and even slavery.

4. “Compliance”: This little-seen film from director Craig Zobel won’t dissipate from your consciousness even weeks after absorbing it. The fact that it’s drawn from a tragically true story is essential to its power as a graphic illustration of both the psychology of victimhood and the Milgram-tested capacity of humans to commit horrible acts in obedience of even perceived authority. Dig deeper and you’ll also find a deconstruction of femininity and a searing critique of isolation in our fast food culture. Evocative of the gritty best of Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke, its lessons about group-think are more relevant today than when it was released eight years ago.

5. “12 Years a Slave”: It’s everything that Quentin Tarantino claimed “Django Unchained” to be. But it’s far more than shock cinema. Director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s eponymous 1853 autobiography is at once both straightforward and layered, unsightly and gorgeous, disheartening and uplifting. It’s an extraordinary illumination of America’s “peculiar institution.”

6. “Mission Impossible” Second Trilogy — “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation,” and “Fallout”: While comic book films saturated the action genre in the past decade, the genre was defined by this second trilogy in Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movies. The series began in the aughts with an entertaining opener and two middling sequels. But paced by directors Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie, this latter-day trilogy one-upped itself with each passing film.

7. “Parasite”: South Korean director Bong Joon-ho crafts this film about members of a poor household scheming to find jobs with a wealthier family by posing as unrelated, qualified service workers. That tantalizing premise makes a terrific film by itself, but here it’s just half the story. Things spiral downward — literally and figuratively — from there, as this Palme d’Or winner takes some surprising and provocative turns. A great ensemble cast rounds out a film that’s not just the year’s top film, but also one of the decade’s best.

8. “The Revenant”: Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu won a Best Picture Oscar for “Birdman,” but his most engrossing film this decade is this epic neo-Western, centered around the theme of (re)birth, that reimagines a film genre set amid the infancy of our nation’s early 19th century westward expansion. In the end, the survival and revenge story of trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a cinematic tour de force.

9. Damien Chazelle troika — “Whiplash,” “La La Land” and “First Man”: Damien Chazelle might not instantly spring to mind when you consider the decade’s best directors. But he surely should (only Ryan Coogler and Denis Villeneuve are close). Two of his films — “Whiplash” and “First Man” — were my best films of their respective years, and the other — “La La Land” — was one of the most popular and entertaining audience movies. All three films are engrossing, and the common thread running through them is the notion of achievement: being the best you can be in your chosen field, even if it involves sacrificing family, friendship, and love.

10. “Hell or High Water”: All the traditional Western movie tropes are here: cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, an aw-shucks lawman, hayseed banks, land barons, and even an armed posse. But instead of being about how the West was won, this postmodern Western is about how it was lost. Two brothers steamroll across West Texas, trying to rob enough banks to save the family ranch from foreclosure. As the savvy, crotchety Texas Ranger on their trail, Jeff Bridges conveys a melange of racial complexity and world-weariness that’s part Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers,” part Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in “No Country for Old Men.” There are no white and black hats here, only moral shades of gray.

11. “First Reformed”: Ethan Hawke gives an aching, penetrating performance as small-town pastor in upstate New York struggling with despair and a crisis of faith on multiple fronts. Director Paul Schrader’s best film in years skewers religion, politics, and even environmentalism.

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