At the end of every year, as every respectable film magazine, we look back and sum up what movies you shouldn’t have missed. No easy task, with so many titles screaming for your attention. This year, we’re faced with an even harder job, as this decade came to a close as well. In twenty years or so, what will be the movies that came to define the ’10? Only time will tell. Some films are spectacular at first sight but disappoint when the hype is over. Then again, some films take years before their true cultural value becomes clear. Which is why this list isn’t put together in a specific order. Sometimes you simply can’t say one thing is better than the other. All these films contributed, in their own way, to the (increasingly) diverse cinematic landscape.
Ruben Östlund tackles the divide of race and wealth in this provocative and psychological drama of adolescence. The film takes place in Gothenburg where a gang of five black teenagers seek to swindle white teenage boys. They do so through an athletic game of deception. Based on true events, Östlund’s tackles a troubling issue with a very simple premise in a way that is both telling of the times and questioning of our own politics in a very unsettling way. Not an easy film to watch for the conversations it will bring up but they’re conversations worth having in their challenging of culture that focuses on capitalism and power.
It Follows (2014)
Though posing a throwback slasher with its retro vibe and sinister synth soundtrack, It Follows is a uniquely fresh horror from director David Robert Mitchell. Teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) has sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) and soon learns that she has now inherited something far worse than an STD. She is now affected by a curse where spirits only she can see chase her around suburbia. If she gets caught, she’ll be contorted until she’s less human and more modern art of blood and bone. The only way to get rid of the curse is to pass it onto someone else but surely there’s another way to stop the curse altogether. Though the film could be read as a cautionary tale of sex, the film presents a more intriguing aspect of feeling all alone in trying to navigate from adolescence into adulthood, considering few parents seem present in the film. How do you stop something only you can see? It Follows poses these tough and interesting questions with a brilliant throwback horror atmosphere.
Jake Gyllenhall plays his most perfect of sinister roles as Lou, a deceiver eager to weasel his way into the competitive arena of capturing news footage. Eager to become the top dog of filming crime scenes, Lou plays dirty and breaks laws to get the most exclusive of footage, to the point of arriving at the scenes of murders before they occur. The more illegal his actions, the more desirable he becomes to the TV news. The more desirable he becomes, the bigger his ego expands. Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir take on the scummy world of TV news is an unrelentingly creepy thriller experience that never holds the audiences hand, where even the soundtrack doesn’t signal the obviously immorality of Lou’s actions that are more than acceptable in a media environment that craves the gritty of entertainment no matter the cost.
The shy teenager Marieme (Karidja Touré) is finding life in Paris hard with a bumpy family life at home. When she is taken in by a gang of girls, however, she finds herself becoming more brave and confident. It’s just that the gang she aligns with is one of much robbery, drugs and vicious fights. But what makes director Céline Sciamma’s film shine particularly bright is that it presents Marieme’s story as more of a non-judgemental coming-of-age story that breathes with more empowerment than downfall the way Marieme finds herself in a world that seems to favor only the strong. It is a hauntingly empowering film for young women that challenges society and stereotypes.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Based on the compelling novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is quite the uncommon coming-of-age story. Set in 1980s Italy, the teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) finds himself spending his summers as a bookworm. All of the changes when he meets the eccentric and charming adult Oliver (Armie Hammer). They soon find themselves attracted to each other in a relationship they fear may not last and only exist as a summer fling. Boasting brilliant performances and a romance most sensual, Call Me By Your Name is brimming with a touching tragedy of trying to one teenager trying to find himself through his sexuality with all the discomfort that journey brings.
J.K. Simmons is at his most intense in this fiery drama of jazz perfection. He dominates the room as jazz teacher Terence Fletcher, holding harsh rehearsals where good isn’t good enough and only the most pitch-perfect of musicians will do. Miles Teller throws himself face first into this hell as Andrew Neirman, striving to sacrifice everything from his relationships to his knuckles to be the best. Rushing or dragging, Neirman pushes his body to the limits while Fletcher turns cynical shouting to its highest volume.. Their performances of maddening obsession makes this one of the most nerve-wracking of pictures where jazz is anything but relaxing.
Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland’s dark and contemplative tale on artificial intelligence and human nature is some of the best science fiction of the era for being so minimalistic. The film follows one lucky programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who lands the chance to stay at the secluded sanctuary of tech CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and take part in his secret experiment. That experiment involves interviews with the robotic woman, Ava (Alicia Vikander), endowed with a remarkable intelligence. But when Caleb suspects Nathan has gone mad and Ava may be conspiring, he finds himself questioning who to trust. Ex Machina’s visceral thrills and challenging scenario proved to be so engaging that it won the Academy Award for Visual Effects, toppling the likes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Marriage Story (2019)
Noah Baumbach directs a tough and touching tale of a marriage that slowly crumbles. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson perfectly portray the married couple of Charlie and Nicole Barber with a son they love. As they develop careers in acting and directing, they find themselves drifting apart as their quirks tragically turn anger with a divorce that doesn’t come easy, despite their wishes. As their separation grows more bitter with influential lawyers (Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda), the somber nature grows heavier with some of the most astounding performances, strong enough to garner multiple awards nominations.
Natalie Portman stepped into the shoes of the iconic First Lady Jackie Kennedy and also an awards-worthy performance. She portrays the tragic woman just after the assassination of her husband and trying to adjust to a chaotic world and trying to adjust with all her grief. Consoling your children and organizing your husband’s funeral can’t be easy, especially when it occurs so quickly. What follows is an emotionally somber experience of trying to place the audience in the unenviable position of bringing a life and a presidency to a close in one of the finest performances of the decade.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is going through a tough time after the death of his older brother Joe. Aside from struggling to hold down a working class job and now take care of his teenage nephew Patrick, he’s once more haunted by his tragic past of his home fishing village. His return forces him to come to the uncomfortable confrontation of his tragic and deadly mistake that has shattered him as a person. This is easily one of the most somber and emotional homecoming pictures ever that poses that most depressing of situations with the most moving of performances.