Who doesn’t love a good list?
This week, as part of our weekly feature Top Ten Tuesday, Chris Shortt concludes his retrospective of the decades of modern cinema with the Top 10 films from the 2010s.
So, five lists later and here we are at the 2010s. After a dismal couple of years (looking at you, 2011), this decade has since sorted itself out – offering quality in both blockbuster and indie, domestic and abroad.
Granted, this decade still has a good year and a half left in it – but there’s certainly enough to choose from already without making this more difficult. So, without further ado, here are my top ten picks from the 2010s.
10. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
There was a slight danger of Birdman restricting itself to a bit of a novelty film – a gimmick, perhaps, given the foregrounding of its camera work (when Chivo is shooting your film, why wouldn’t you?). Indeed, it’s become somewhat known as ‘that film that looks like it’s shot in one take’.
It is, of course, that film (though many others have done so before) – but that shouldn’t take anything away from Birdman as a dark satire in its own right. Michael Keaton’s leading turn isn’t just his best since Batman, it’s his best outright – lampooning exactly that type of role by showcasing the inevitable downfalls of celebrity culture.
9. Train to Busan (2016)
Like all the best outings in this sort of genre, Train to Busan adopts a high-concept approach by placing the action in a regular, everyday locale – perhaps it’s best not to watch it on your commute.
The film follows bank manager/terrible father Seok-woo, who takes his young daughter on the train to go and see her mother in Busan for her birthday. A zombie outbreak ensues, forcing Seok-woo and his fellow passengers (a pregnant couple, a berserk homeless man and a high-school baseball team) to try and disembark.
8. The Master (2012)
After a 5-year absence following the sensational There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson returned with another ambitious introspection of masculinity, enterprise and madness.
He won’t confess to it for reasons understood, but The Master is a thinly-veiled analogue to the rise of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. Standing in for Hubbard is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, leader of The Cause. Dodd takes in the alcoholic war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as his muse, using his movement’s unusual methods in an attempt to ‘cure’ him of his aggression and unruly libido.
7. Ex Machina (2015)
Finally emerging out from Danny Boyle’s shadow, writer Alex Garland made his directorial debut (incredibly) with Ex Machina in 2015. A maestro of science fiction, Garland delivers on the film’s intriguing premise with a genuine consideration for the questions it raises – making this one of the most fully fleshed out and thought-provoking story about artificial intelligence since, dare I say, Blade Runner and 2001.
Admittedly, Domhnall Gleeson can be a little flat in what is ostensibly the leading role, but I think that’s precisely the point. Oscar Isaac is menacingly great (it’s Oscar Isaac, of course he is) but clearly an deranged human being – which paves the way for the robotic ‘servants’ Kyoko and Ava, the film’s true protagonists.
6. The Handmaiden (2016)
This erotic thriller was surprisingly adapted from the Welsh novel Fingersmith, with Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) instead translating its Victorian setting to Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century. It follows Sook-hee, the titular maid, who is hired by a conman to infiltrate the mansion of Lady Hideko in an elaborate, long-term ploy to steal her inheritance.
It’s a film with countless twists and turns, initially provoked by the burgeoning secret romance between Sook-hee and Lady Hideko. Director of photography, Chung Chung-hoon, transforms the entire film into a dark, beautiful painting – while composer Jo Yeong-wook crafts an appropriately elegant score to match the serene visuals.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A somewhat-reboot of his original Mad Max trilogy, George Miller dispensed with Mel Gibson for Tom Hardy’s battle-weary and laconic hero is surprisingly not the protagonist this time. Instead, Fury Road is actually led by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa – a figure of strength and endurance to match a similarly breakneck-paced film.
It’s easy to overlook what Miller achieved with Fury Road, given it screams BLOCKBUSTER with every rev of the engine – but that’s precisely why it should be given its credence. Too often do films of this scope fall ultimately short of greatness – they’re fun, but not coherent or meaningful beyond their explosions. Not Fury Road.
4. La La Land (2016)
A classical example of the acclaimed-awards-favourite-turned-socially-divisive film, La La Land isn’t a perfect film, but it’s too joyous and heartfelt to dismiss entirely.
The struggling artist narrative is easy to turn your nose up at, but it’s an important one nonetheless – with Gosling and Stone conveying their troubles much more effectively than most screen narratives of this type. The chemistry between these two stars is one of the most heartfelt and believable we’ve seen on-screen, as is their not-quite-professional dancing pedigree.
As for that final shot, I’d rather not burst into tears just discussing it – but what a brilliant compliment to the ending of Chazelle’s Whiplash.
3. Interstellar (2014)
Of all the criticisms levelled at Christopher Nolan, the most common seems to be that – for all their intellect and mind-numbing technological feats – his films lack heart.
It would take a brave individual to claim Interstellar fits such a mould. That’s not to say the sci-fi epic isn’t~ a technical marvel (those black hole sequences and rendering of the 5th dimension attest to that). Musically, Hans Zimmer shows why he’s at the forefront of his profession – seamlessly incorporating a church organ into his usual blaring score.
Rather, what makes Interstellar work so well is that it’s a paternal film at its core, and it never once loses sight of this.
2. Moonlight (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ sophomore feature seems to reward each further viewing. Not in the traditional way of discovering hidden imagery and secret analogies; simply, in recognising just what an achievement in filmmaking Moonlight really is.
It’s a coming-of-age film meticulously crafted from start to finish, with every colour palette and every start and end of its diegetic music there for a purpose.
The acting trio who portray Chiron are all brilliant in their own subtle ways, but it’s Mahershala Ali who still remains the real on-screen triumph of this film.
1. Prisoners (2013)
Denis Villeneuve has seen his stock rise massively in the last few years, helming Blade Runner 2049 most recently, with Arrival and Sicario before that. Looking at this staggering plight, it seems the best is yet to come – but I’d argue he’s still yet to match what he created with Prisoners in 2013.
The film concerns the kidnapping of Hugh Jackman’s young daughter in a suburban neighborhood. With Jackman sent in a deranged, alcoholic spiral, Jake Gyllenhaal’s police detective Loki is trusted with tracking the girl and her abductor down. Frustrated by Loki’s lack of progress, Jackman takes matters into his own hands, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator.
Prisoners boasts, incredibly, the best work of both Roger Deakins and Jóhann Jóhannsson – with Deakins’ murky, silhouette-filled photography bearing a strange beauty to match the Icelandic composer’s haunting organ score.