Much has changed in the cinema landscape since the start of the decade. After Avatar took the world by storm in 2009, studios and filmmakers attempted to capitalize on the trend. Today, 3-D movies are dead. At the start of the decade, Disney had 11% market share. In 2019, it has 33.6%. In 2010, physical media sales were strong. Today, we have just one video store left in Toronto (a major film market) as streaming platforms have disrupted the industry. Some of the films included in my Top 10 lists from the start of the decade were not easy to find. In the years since, streaming platforms have given a home to plenty of smaller films (and have even funded them). Times have changed. But, regardless of how we choose to see movies, there is one constant – movies of exceptional quality are still being made. And the 2010s were an incredibly exciting time for moviegoers. Here are my 10 personal favorites of the decade:
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
“If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song,” says our embittered folk singer (Oscar Issac, wonderful) whose existential voyage into the folk scene of New York’s Greenwich Village is traced in Joel and Ethan Coen’ masterful Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s 1961 and this year will not be kind to him. He’s got talent. But, he’s a victim of poor timing – he lacks commercial appeal in a time of shifting cultural tastes. Inside Llewyn Davis is every bit as playful and melodic as you’d expect from a Coen Brothers movie about folk music. What struck me most was just how heartbreaking Llewyn’s odyssey becomes, despite some of it being his fault for his shortsighted decisions! Unappealing as he may be, the movie’s magic trick is how much we empathize with him. This flick about the high potential for artistic failure that comes with living a creative life is a downer movie for the ages. The Coen Brothers made the best movie of the 1990s – Fargo. They made the best movie of the 2000s – No Country For Old Men. And now, they’ve made the best movie of the 2010s – Inside Llewyn Davis.
2. A Separation (2011, dir. Asgar Farhadi)
Right from the opening, Asgar Farhadi’s masterpiece places us in the middle. A Separation opens with a middle-class Iranian couple opting to call it quits. It’s a decision that spirals out of control, enveloping another family. It’d be easier if Farhadi gave us a clear villain but life is much more complicated than that. He clearly feels empathy for everyone in this story and that’s part of what makes it so brilliant – he exposes their humanity, showing the push/pull of social and religious expectations. This is very much a movie that defines the 2010s – nothing captured that feeling of these polarizing times of two sides convinced they’re right, neither side willing to compromise in the slightest. A Separation won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. That wasn’t enough. There wasn’t an English film that year that came close to achieving its level of greatness.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)
One of the greatest action movies of all time. 4.5 years later, it’s still hard to believe that George Miller’s post-apocalyptic extravaganza exists. How did a major studio blockbuster that represented a powerful, original directorial vision make it into theatres in an uncompromised state? If there’s a flaw to be found, it’s in the title. The Road Warrior himself is just a passenger. It’s Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that drives this story. In my May 2015 review for Corus, I wrote “When a character takes a pair of bolt cutters to her chastity belt, it is a declaration of independence.” Viewed today in the years following #MeToo, I realized that this statement could have been about the entire movie itself as it’s story is about its women who break free from the monstrous men that have exploited them.
4. Moonlight (2016, dir. Barry Jenkins)
The Oscars almost got it wrong on February 2017. But, after a correction, they thankfully got it right. And it was the only time this decade they got it right. “At some point, you gotta decide who you gonna be. You can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” This coming-of-age story of a black kid in Miami named Chiron showed us the world through the eyes of another human being – and though his story and circumstances may not have been our own, we all felt something. When Roger Ebert described movies as an empathy-generating machine, he was talking about movies like this. This is pure cinema and a prime example of its transformative power.
5. Phoenix (2015, dir. Christian Petzold)
The best performance of the decade comes from Nina Hoss in Phoenix. She plays a disfigured Jewish singer who returns to Berlin after undergoing reconstructive surgery to repair a serious facial injury. There, she finds her husband who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. He doesn’t recognize her but is quick to figure out how he can use her to claim his wife’s inheritance. Petzold mines his pulp premise to explore post-war identity. There isn’t a single wasted shot as the movie builds to one of the most piercing, jaw-dropping endings in the histoires du cinema.
6. Paterson (2016, dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Jim Jarmusch’s celebration of the creative process is the most life-affirming movie of the 2010s. The film stars Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver who writes soulful poetry. He watches the world – what he observes fuels his art and helps him find meaning. The movie revels in the sublimity of the mundane. It’s also wonderfully romantic, portraying a complex relationship dynamic between two artists with polar opposite personalities. Patience. Joy. The beauty of a small life. Watching Paterson provides me a great sense of peace, which is why I find myself coming back to it and why it continues to appreciate in value.
7. Poetry (2011, dir. Lee Chang-dong)
And now another film about poetry called…Poetry. Lee Chang-dong’s heartbreaking drama follows a 66-year-old woman (Yun Jung-hee) coping with Alzheimer’s while facing a tough decision involving her irresponsible grandson accused of rape. Along her journey of self-discovery, she enrols in a poetry class, which opens her eyes to life, allowing her to truly see – to find the words to describe the beauty she sees before language fails her. I love Lee’s refusal to provide easy answers. Poetry is a delicate, humanistic masterpiece that quietly sneaks up on you. And then you realize you’re in a puddle of your own tears.
8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, dir. Celine Sciamma)
The other nine films on my list had the benefit of having time to marinate. I just saw Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire three months ago. But, I’m 100% certain of its resonance. A female artist, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), is hired to paint a portrait of a spirited young noblewoman, Heloise (Adèle Haenel), for an arranged marriage she doesn’t want, and finds herself falling for the would-be bride. The movie is exquisitely composed – every shot a kind of portrait itself. If the romantic dramas of 2020s hope to surpass the standard now established by Sciamma, best of luck to all comers!
9. Incendies (2010, dir. Denis Villeneuve)
“Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks.” The movie follows a set of Quebecois twins assigned to locate their estranged father and brother as part of their deceased mother’s will. The movie is filled with haunting images that have been burned into my brain. It is not an easy watch – there are some truly shocking developments along this psychological journey. Director Denis Villeneuve went on to make some of the most critically acclaimed films of the decade – Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 – but his cinematic breakthrough, Incendies, remains his masterpiece. You’ll never forget this one.
10. The Social Network (2010, dir. David Fincher)
David Fincher’s retelling of the rise of Facebook is somehow more relevant now than it was 9+ years ago. Part of its resonance is due to the damage Facebook has levied on society and democracy. The warning signs were in this time capsule of a flick: the company’s origins were rooted in male ego and dishonesty and it was a mistake to place this much power in the hands of someone incapable of human interactivity “You write your snide bullshit in a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays.” I can’t think of a better statement to capture the online culture of the 2010s.
Honorable Mentions: Amour, Boyhood, Frances Ha, Her, Mommy, Nocturama, Parasite, Roma, Stories We Tell, The Tree of Life