27th Dec2019

Rupert’s Top 10 Films of the 2010s

by Rupert Harvey

A brief preamble. This is a piece about my favourite films from the last ten years. Not the “best”. These are simply the films that I’ve enjoyed the most; the ones which have moved me the most, thrilled me the most. I’ll start with some reflections and honourable mentions, before moving onto my highly subjective list.

Outside the comic book juggernaut, franchise cinema had a shaky ride during the 2010s. But for every pointless Godzilla sequel, Universal Monsters false start, or extra nail in the Terminator coffin, there was a glimmer of gold. Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (2012) was an exceptionally intelligent and stirring James Bond instalment, and comfortably the best of a sometimes-uncomfortable franchise. And Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) was everything I want from a blockbuster: gorgeous, smart, fun, thoughtful, and philosophically substantial.

But I think I’m with Mr Scorsese on the comic book thing – there just aren’t the human stakes. As dazzlingly impressive as Endgame turned out to be, I found Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s warm, witty, wisecracking Captain Marvel (2019) to be the most appealing of the Marvel output, and Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) the most satisfying comic book movie overall, for its grimy, visceral intensity, and the circus mirror it held up to today’s toxic pop(ulism) culture.

Alongside comic books, perhaps the strongest cinematic movement of the decade was low-to-mid-budget horror, spearheaded by the likes of Blumhouse and A24. The works of Ari Aster (particularly Hereditary (2018)) and Robert Eggers (The VVitch (2015)) stand out. Their genre-twisting filmmaking broke triumphantly into the mainstream, but there were relatively hidden gems also, like Anna Biller’s The Love Witch (2016), the Blaine brothers’ Nina Forever (2015) and Erik Kristopher Myers’ Butterfly Kisses (2018). And I’ll never forget David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2015), one of the most purely terrifying films I’ve ever seen.

A host of filmmakers, perhaps channelling some of the spirit of the American New Wave of the 1970s, chose to examine the shadow side with darkly philosophical dramas which played with classical Hollywood genres. Eminent among them was Denis Villenueve, who followed his flawed, morally challenging Prisoners with the utterly mind-blowing sci-fi, Arrival (2016). This got him the gig on Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – a vast endeavour, superior in most ways to its influential predecessor.

There was Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River (2017), a brutally brilliant modern murder mystery and the best Cormac McCarthy story not written by Cormac McCarthy. In 2014, Jeremy Saulnier exploded onto the scene with his Coen-esque Blue Ruin. Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015) announced the arrival of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, and it was a devastating character study in its own right. And toiling in the background was Oren Moverman, whose quietly furious, Richard Gere-starring Time Out of Mind (2014) was an intelligently moving deployment of a one-time mega-star.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, as we are still clinging to the coattails of a Golden Age of children’s cinema. Uppermost in my mind is Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) – the cleverest, funniest and most poignant kids’ film of the decade. And the only thing more surprising than a decent, live-action Paddington film is that Paddington 2 (2017) would be even more surreal, joyous and lovely.

Without further ado, onto my ten favourite films of the 2010s, in loosely chronological order…

The Social Network (2010)

 

Stylishly shot from a script by the peerless Aaron Sorkin, this would not have been so impactful and defining were it not a film of the highest quality. David Fincher’s precisely calibrated drama doesn’t just capture the development of a social media behemoth at a specific moment in time. It also has plenty to say about the changing nature of the digital West, and the alarmingly intelligent sociopaths who’d spearhead Capitalism 2.0. I’m starting to think my hoped-for 2020 sequel, focusing on Cambridge Analytica, isn’t going to happen.

Margaret (2011)

It was 2016’s Manchester by the Sea that captured audiences’ attention, but Kenneth Lonergan’s largely ignored 2011 film (actually filmed in 2005) is his masterpiece. On the surface it’s a small-scale drama about a young woman witnessing an accident, and how the trauma affects her and her relationships. But Lonergan constructs something far more expansive, shining a theatrical spotlight on human subjectivity and empathy. It’s a masterful mix of performance, editing and narrative distancing; long and meandering and moving, and completely enthralling from start to finish. Find the director’s cut (wherever it’s buried) and make an afternoon of it.

The Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick’s last great work – before he disappeared where the elegantly refracted sun doesn’t shine – is a film that begs to be surrendered to. Its juxtaposition between history of existence and the intimacy of family seems like a stretch, but this is pure, deliberate Malick: he’s been trying to persuade us for over 40 years to appreciate the magnificence of the everyday world and simple acts of grace. Brad Pitt shines in these repressed male rage roles (see also: Jesse James and Ad Astra), but it’s all about the aesthetic: the sumptuous visuals, the choice of music, and the glorious rhythmic editing.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

I’ve never read David Mitchell’s novel and I never will, for fear of breaking the spell the Wachowskis cast with this colossal adaptation. Its balancing of sci-fi craziness, spiritual gobbledegook and a firmly rational appreciation of the Ripple Effect is complex and involving. To grasp it is to love it, and the boundlessly generous Wachowskis – who covered similar ground in their insanely intricate Sense8 TV series – make it all so wonderfully digestible. When I left the cinema, I felt like my brain chemistry had been changed.

The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-2014)

I prefer the Hobbit trilogy to Lord of the Rings. It’s swifter, simpler, prettier, and runs just as deep. The human (or indeed dwarvish) stakes are higher. I love how Thorin is a counterpoint to Aragorn: instead of rags to riches, it’s riches to rags. Bilbo is a more interesting character than Frodo, and Martin Freeman’s a better actor. And what a delightfully twisted sense of whimsy. This is Peter Jackson unleashed, injecting the kind of slapstick grotesqueness we’ve not seen since his ‘90s output. For me, the expansion of Tolkien’s flawed little novel is at least as impressive as the truncating of his more celebrated saga.

Before Midnight (2013)

The first film was a thunderbolt; the second was wiser, darker and more romantic; and then came the reward for yet another nine years of waiting. Up to this point, the travails of Jesse and Celine were wrapped in the thrill of the Hollywood romance, but here we have an incisive examination of a truly lived-in love. It’s not just a great sequel, it’s a necessary one. And that climactic argument is one of the great barneys in all of cinema. Will we get Before Dawn in 2022? Here’s hoping.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen’s superb Shame explored some of the great taboos in cinema (sex addiction, impotence et al), but the ultimate taboo – black slavery – he saved for this cultural bombshell. It’s the furthest thing from a date movie, but I watched it on a date – and spent ten minutes weeping uncontrollably in the auditorium afterwards. (We’re now married.) Fearless performances, exquisite direction, a sensitive score, and a thoroughly courageous aversion to sentimentality make this a modern classic.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Like Margaret, George Miller’s action spectacle had a terribly troubled road to production. Thankfully, unlike Margaret, it received the attention it deserved. Like Gareth Evans’ The Raid, this is a step up for action cinema. Essentially an expansion of The Road Warrior’s last act, Fury Road’s fusion of practical effects and digital tweaks is seamless, and it’s anchored by two commanding lead performances. But it’s in Margaret Sixel’s editing suite where the magic really happens. With a thunderous score by Tom “Junkie XL” Holkenborg, septuagenarian Miller shows that you don’t need supermen and CGI to deliver the best action film of the decade.

Get Out (2017)

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This is surely the highlight of the modern horror resurgence. It may not be the best, but it’s certainly the most iconic, and it’s the one I return to most often. Horror has a great tradition of suburban discomfort, and this tops them all. Comedian-turned-auteur Jordan Peele finds the terror in a twisted smile or a tearful gaze, hiding the agony behind the eyes; and then he lets rip with a bloody roar – and ample bloody gore. It’s scary, funny and eminently re-watchable.

Love, Simon (2018)

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Watch this space: alongside Booksmart, Love, Simon will be regarded as a youth classic in years to come, sharing the same esteem as the likes of The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Easy A et al. Nick Robinson shakes off his stolid turn in Jurassic World to deliver a performance of pure, self-effacing charm. A teen love story that only too easily resolves the darker themes under the surface, it is of course pure cheese. But it’s delivered with such skill and earnestness – such a refreshing absence of irony – that it already feels timeless.
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Season’s greetings, everyone. See you next decade, in peace.

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