The past decade has seen the best of times and the worst of times. It’s difficult to place the 2010s-era into the 100-year spectrum that makes up cinema history. Unlike, say the 70s (arguably the most important decade for film) which produced a raw and unapologetic version of cinema that took a direct cue from the 60s French New Wave, the 2010s are a bit all over the place, but that’s okay.
In this curation we outline films that we think both defined the era and stand as significant pictures that occupy a space next to any film classic in history. It’s important to note that only half of these are English language films; simply because foreign language films were consistently better throughout the decade. Yes, perhaps your favourite is not on the list, so feel free to give us a piece of your mind at the end, but really do yourself a favour and get a hold of any of these that you might not have seen. Now’s your chance – you won’t be disappointed.
A list of 10 doesn’t give much room to wiggle, so notable films like The Master, Toni Erdmann, Tree of Life and The Salesman narrowly missed the cut, nevertheless the following are our pick for the 10 best films of the 2010s.
10. Boyhood – Richard Linklater (2014)
We loved Birdman and we couldn’t get enough of Whiplash, but when it’s all said and done it’s Boyhood that will define that period in time. The film is simply about a young boy growing up and experiencing life from age 6 to 18. Nothing special about that, right? Well, the director shot the film from 2002 to 2014 capturing the young actor growing up in real life as the film progressed. That approach to film-making is what makes this picture quite unique. It’s hard to compare Boyhood to anything that has ever been done before.
9. Ida – Pawel Pawlikowski (2013)
The stillness of Ida is something to marvel at for years to come – it could be frozen into picture frames and hung in a gallery. This Polish film follows a communist-catholic young woman who has to confront her promiscuous, middle-aged aunt before she takes her final vows. This thrusts her into a world of introspection, embedded within a bleak winter setting that reinforces the stoicism of this modern classic. The cinematography is beautifully oppressive, with huge grey voids occupying the screen while characters are relegated to the corners of the frame. It is slow. It is magnificent.
8. Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson (2017)
This film belongs in the same category as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and a few other masterpieces that are able to bring forth emotions hidden deep down in places that we don’t talk about at parties. It’s largely set in a beautiful period villa on the edge of Fitzroy Square in London. The director uses the spaces in the house to highlight the minutiae of Mr Woodcock’s obsession with his own particularities. The film was beautifully shot in Anderson’s trademark overexposed style which brings each frame to life. And of course, the music; Jonny Greenwood composes what may well be the best film score of the decade.
7. 12 Years A Slave – Steve McQueen (2013)
“Strike her! Strike her!”… That bone-chilling outburst is enough to raise hairs on the backs of the necks of anyone that has ever seen this period masterpiece. Based on a true story about the experiences of Solomon Northup, this film highlights – in stark detail – the cruelties of slavery and oppression. It forces you to endure it. There have been many films about slavery but very few that have depicted quite a particular struggle. Oh, and Lupita Nyong’o gave one of the most compelling performances we have ever seen.
6. Son of Saul – László Nemes (2015)
It’s hard to find the words to truly do the film justice; this Hungarian masterpiece simply has to be experienced. It is a complex story of an Auschwitz prisoner forced to work in the gas chambers, ushering in and clearing out the bodies of his own people. He discovers a dead boy who he believes is his son and ultimately spends the entire film trying to save him from incineration and afford him a dignified burial. The film was shot in a tight close-up with the peripheries slightly out of focus, capturing glimpses of further atrocities, leaving the viewer uncomfortably sharing in the angst and misery of the characters in the camp. Quite a cinematic experience!
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel is to the 2010s what Kill Bill was to the 2000s. Many will look back at Wes Anderson as one of the most polarizing directors of the last decade. Love him or hate him, his style will go down in cinema history. With a string of classics already to his name, few can argue that his magnum opus is almost certainly this one. Glowing with bright colours that burst out of your screen and shooting in perfect symmetry; he intentionally denies any natural feel to the picture. The film is like a massive doll’s house infiltrated by miniature cameras, with characters re-enacting toy soldiers that hop from frame to frame, mimicking a stop-motion technique. The film is mechanical to say the least, but intentionally so. It is a brilliant classic caper story that will have you grinning the entire time.
4. Roma – Alfonso Cuarón (2018)
This film is the antithesis of the previous one on our list – it is a film about the basic humanity of everyday life, no frills, no gimmicks and in fact, no colour. It is always difficult to describe Roma; we like to think of it as having an intimate-monumentality or maybe it’s a monumental-intimacy. Feels more like the former. This Mexican film follows the life of a domestic worker in a middle class family, as she suffers hardships and enthuses at her unexpected fortunes. Like Ida, it is a stripped-down piece of slow cinema, with the intro sequence serving as a useful regulator, setting the pace for a drawn out visual experience of the banality of daily routines. The picture is as technically brilliant as it is aesthetically pleasing. The shots are carefully considered; the context is crucial to the narrative and the main house is itself a significant character in the film. Cuarón was able to pull this all together in the most masterful way.
3. Parasite – Bong Joon-ho (2019)
This South Korean genre-defying cinematic work of art was a pleasant surprise; Joon-ho describes it as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains”. It is a story of an underprivileged family (The Kims) who manipulate their way into servicing the life of a wealthy family (The Parks) who they study intimately with the intention of finding a way to sustain their livelihood. The film reveals itself one step at a time in psuedo-visual point form, constructing an entire charade that inadvertently comes crashing down. It masterfully draws you in so deep that by the time the old nanny rings the door bell, you have invested so much emotion that you are practically crawling beneath your own coffee table as you anticipate the consequences to come. From delight to hysteria to repulsion and even terror; the film massages every kind of cinematic muscle in our bodies and appeases all our senses.
2. Moonlight – Barry Jenkins (2016)
Delicate!… Moonlight is delicate. Jenkins’ second feature film cast a shadow over the film industry half way through the past decade. Beyond it’s now infamous Oscar night faux pas, it stands as a turning point in American cinema for its gentle depiction of what is otherwise dismissed as threatening – the African American man… delicate! It is a three part narrative that follows a young boy as he progresses through different stages of his life. First as Little; a vulnerable boy who deals with his mother’s drug addiction and finds refuge in the home of the drug dealer that facilitated his mother’s plight. In the second part he grows into Chiron; a scrawny adolescent battling with bullies and his own sexuality. The final part reveals a bulked-up Black; who seeks out his old friend and very intimately confronts their past sexual encounter in one of the most tense yet tender kitchen scenes ever. “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me”… delicate!
1. The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino (2013)
The dark horse in all of this is the modern Italian classic, La Grande Bellezza; a pseudo-surrealist, Fellini-esque masterpiece. This film may require two or three viewings to fully digest its themes and narratives. It comes at you in full force, with masterful cinematography, intricate dialogue, complex themes and overwhelming blown out extravaganzas – Italian style. What Fellini himself might have made in the 2010s – yeah, we said it. The film follows Jep, a reluctant journalist, who wears his disdain for culture and politics on his face as he ambles through his day engaging his duties to pass time between his frequent parties. Sorrentino shows these contrasts with hard cuts from serene tableaux to cacophonous Eurotrash midnight fiestas. The whole film is an experience, it is exactly as the title suggests, A great beauty! Find it, watch it!