December is the last month in the tumultuous 2010s, a decade that saw the rise of new political heroes and villains, a changing of the guard in different sectors of society, the growing concern for climate change taking a more desperate turn, and an unending cacophony of opinionated people screaming into the Facebook void. In "The Last 10 Years," a series of pieces scattered over these last 30 days, we look back at what happened to try to figure out what comes next.
A year-end listing of the best movies is one thing; a list of the outstanding movies from an entire decade is quite another. Year-end lists allow for the short view; decade-end lists demand that we look at where we were and how far we’ve gone—or how far we’ve regressed. And curating a list of only 10 movies to represent an entire decade is a Herculean task: How do you distill with just 10 titles the messiness and flux of a decade in which Netflix rose up in the movie landscape with all the disruptive force of a volcano in the middle of a city, in which superhero movies declared their hegemony over the box office, in which Hollywood reckoned with the #MeToo movement and an overdue push for diversity both in front of and behind the camera?
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It has been a decade of change, both incremental and momentous. And the 10 films listed below all portray that change in one way or another: by commenting on it directly through its subject matter, alluding to it through nostalgia and the mutable prism of memory, underlining the aching need for it, or even—as one quietly jaw-dropping entry below does—capturing it over the course of many years. Here, listed by order of the year of their release, are ANCX’s top 10 movies of the 2010s:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
“We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) gleefully declares in The Social Network, and it is chilling how prescient that line has become. The biggest irony in David Fincher’s seething, restless masterpiece is that it traced the journey of its egomaniacal wunderkind (Jesse Eisenberg) from being the genius who identified our need to connect to being the loneliest guy on the planet. Of course the biggest joke was played on all of us, who were offered a utopian vision of cyber-connectedness only to feel even more isolated and adrift. It’s mind-blowing that one of the most decade-defining films was released at its dawn. And I am truly fearful—as Facebook evolves into a threat to democracy and its founder seems unwilling to do anything to check its power—that it will continue to define the decades to come.
A SEPARATION (2011)
Before Marriage Story, there was Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, a chronicle of marital dissolution whose suspense lies in its broader and more devastating stakes. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran with her family to pursue opportunities abroad; her husband Naader (Peyman Moaadi) refuses to leave his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. Not only reckoning with their individual heartache, this couple have to contend with a bureaucracy that reduces them to statistics and a society that insists on imprisoning them in outmoded gender standards. More complex and damning than Farhadi’s other Oscar winner The Salesman (2016), A Separation is world cinema at its most taut and most involving.
A lot of ink has been spilled over what a daunting logistical undertaking Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is—the auteur filmed one child (Ellar Coltrane) and a company of professional actors (Oscar winner Patricia Arquette and Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke) intermittently over the course of 12 years. So, yes, you can marvel at the complexity of Linklater’s experiment but still be touched by its profound reflections on how we perceive time, and how it shapes us. Linklater is one of those directors who finds the universal in his era- and milieu-specific films, and his seamless melding of the particulars of one boy’s life with his ideas about the relentless passage of time makes Boyhood his most towering achievement to date.
WILD TALES (2014)
This stunner from Argentina might have slipped under your radar; if it did, I suggest you find it on streaming—¡andalé! Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated Wild Tales is perfect for this age of truncated attention spans: six bite-sized tales of revenge with the ability to bite back. It starts with an airplane ride orchestrated by a disgruntled ex-composer and ends with a wedding reception from hell, and all through the ride you will at turns laugh and be horrified. But most of all, you’ll be dazzled by how something so twisted can be so much fun.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
George Miller was 70 when the latest installment to his post-apocalyptic franchise came out, but he ran over Michael Bay and the Fast and the Furious movies with the visual energy and narrative intelligence of a director less than half his age. Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a two-hour chase movie, yet within all that automotive mayhem, Miller still manages to poignantly consider themes like sexual slavery, PTSD, and female empowerment. You can sit down and parse its subtext like a slobbering cinephile. Or you can sit back, and enjoy cars tumbling through tornadoes and mohawked hooligans playing flamethrowing guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is expansive enough and entertaining enough to give you what you want.
“Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all,” Isabelle Huppert’s video game magnate Michèle declares late in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. It’s a line that may as well serve as the manifesto for this delicious thriller that gets its tang from a slight hint of European sleaze but soon reveals deeper flavors of complexity and contradiction. Beginning with Michèle’s rape in her beautiful Parisian townhouse, Elle proceeds to confound our expectations at every turn, refusing to devolve into a hysterical revenge fantasy by investigating Michèle’s knotty relationships. Huppert animates every frame with her trademark opaqueness, and anchors every sequence with a cool ferocity that tells you she is no victim—in many ways, her Oscar-nominated performance implies that she may well be the aggressor.
LA LA LAND (2016)
A struggling actress and a borderline-bitter jazz pianist try to make it in LA. Big deal. Oh, and they’re both played by actors (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) with no training in song or dance. Get out of here. If you think Damien Chazelle can’t make a soaring musical out of those ingredients, that’s a load of pishy caca. The Los Angeles of La La Land feels like a playground Chazelle conjured up so he can tinker with the musical form, melding its grandiose set pieces with the focused intimacy of independent cinema. And while La La Land indulges in nostalgia for seminal masterpieces like An American in Paris and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, it’s also pointing an exciting path forward for the genre. La La Land is so good, it hurts.
LADY BIRD (2017)
Saoirse Ronan’s Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is just the kind of loopy heroine to make the coming-of-age story feel alive again. Greta Gerwig’s much-heralded directorial debut spins most of its comedic gold from the fact that the titular Catholic schoolgirl/Sacramento teen possesses a deep self-belief that is mostly undeserved, then weaves most of its melancholia from her inevitable journey to self-awareness. Along the way you’re treated to one of the most full-blooded mother-daughter relationships ever committed to celluloid, and wisdom so offhandedly thrown—“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”—you’ll want to smack your forehead even as you feel your chest warmly expanding.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma may have been a worldwide critical darling, but it also feels like a deeply Filipino story…and that is why it is so devastatingly powerful. In chronicling the cruel but also loving relationship between a middle-class family in early-‘70s Mexico City and their devoted servant (an understated but transcendent Yalitza Aparicio), Cuarón uses crisp black-and-white photography with tremendous depth of field to capture the unnerving clarity of memory, from its smallest details to its biggest traumas. For anyone who has ever experienced oppression of any kind, or loved the stranger who raised them, Roma’s poetic grace notes will hit you hard, in every direction.
The lack of perspective might make including a recent film in this list an iffy proposition, but after watching Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite twice, I can safely say it will go down not just as one of the Korean director’s best, but as one of the decade’s finest. Bong specializes in films that skewer class differences, but in this story of a poor family of grifters in Seoul who infiltrates the lives of a clueless architect and his upper-echelon kin, he is at his funniest, angriest, and most grounded. Walking a tightrope between comedy and tragedy, suspense and social commentary, shifting tones and head-spinning plot twists, Parasite is an indelible achievement. What a way to close the 2010s!
And because I can’t leave well enough alone, here are my next 10 honorable mentions:Inception, Christopher Nolan (2010) Amour, Michael Haneke (2012) Her, Spike Jonze (2013) The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos (2015) Frantz, Francois Ozon (2016) Moonlight, Barry Jenkins (2016) Get Out, Jordan Peele (2017) Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins (2017) Call Me by Your Name, Luca Guadagnino (2017) Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson (2018)