Wow, a decade has passed. And film has had its peaks and troughs. Netflix has solidified itself as a content machine to be reckoned with. Disney has grown and expanded more aggressively than ever before. Young Adult fiction was still making big money in the mainstream. But ultimately what we expect from films has changed and evolved. Genres have merged and evolved. Big name actors have moved to directing. Stories that have been at the forefront of social consciousness are now plastered across the screen. Female protagonists have come into their own, regardless of their likability or “reflection” of what women are like. But what the last decade has shown us is that there is no one path forward. Expect more changes and divergent in storytelling. And when new writers, actors, filmmakers and the rest are given more opportunities, watch how they transform the art and make it their own.
Centre stage: an unlikable heroine. She’s jealous and bitter. She’s impossible to sympathize with and you can’t see yourself in her. Annie (Kristen Wiig) had bad luck and things go downhill for her personally when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) tells her she’s going to get married. She’ll spend less time with her, she’ll have to finance a few wedding-related activities, and act like she’s totally fine. Enter Helen Harris III (Rose Byrne, in a career making comedic performance) who is Annie’s opposite. Rich, beautiful, likeable and potentially a replacement for Annie. It’s a heavy premise but the script is pitch perfect. It puts you in Annie’s shoes and makes you feel compassion for someone you’d hate. She’s not a typical victim. Paul Feig makes you slowly root for her, but also see she’s an awful person. Plus the conversation it has on female friendship is realistic and grounded in reality. Plus it’s consistently hilarious, heartfelt and is an unconventional love story about two best friends and coming to love oneself.
9.Get Out (2012)
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is political and reinvented horror. By converging a horror film with a socially conscious theme underlying it, it has cemented him as a modern day Alfred Hitchcock, particularly with his explosive sophomore film Us. Here Get Out balances the expectations and modernity of interracial relationships and the ongoing paranoia of mixed race communities. Is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) just being overly sensitive to how these people are treating him? Or is his unease relevant? Even as his white girlfriend (Alison Williams, a fantastic portrayal) tries to keep him settled, you know there’s something wrong. Get Out is perfect as it balances frights, humour and satire that doesn’t try to evade the colour of its characters skin, but plays off audience expectations and what we know to be true in the real world. If one of the last scenes of a police car pulling up to Chris’ body doesn’t strike fear into you, you haven’t been paying attention.
The love story of a man and his phone sounds a bit ridiculous but this Spike Jonze written, directed and produced film is anything but. Sweet and full of soul, Her is a smart romantic comedy that plays with the future of technology and where we are at as a society. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is an isolated and depressed man who finds himself drawn to his virtual assistant Samantha (Scarlett Johannson) who turns his world around. His loneliness begins to disappear when he interacts more with Samantha, coming out of his shell and reflecting positively in Theodore’s writing. Here the transition from friend to Artificial Intelligence lover is natural as he “falls” for his computer. They try a sex surrogate to consumate the relationship and things begin to dissoolve from there. It’s a visually stunning film and a heartbreaking story about social loneliness and the need for connection, plus the story of love lost when it may not have always been found. Johansson was robbed of accolades for her voice acting and it’s bizarre but gentle story is something to be remembered.
7.Gone Girl (2014)
“I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.” It’s the line that stopped me in my tracks watching David Fincher’s Gone Girl for the first time. This psychological thriller based on the novel by Gillian Flynn who also adapted it, is the perfect mystery. With Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) at the centre of a mystery involving his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), this sexy and stylish film is dark and subversive. Fincher’s depiction of paranoia is superb, as is his ability to draw out two perfect performances from the leads. Everything from the script, editing, score and visual style is striking. Side characters played by the likes of Tyer Perry, Carrie Coon and Missi Pyle are fleshed out in their fleeting moments on screen. But moreso it’s an intellectual and post-modern narrative, one that is troubling but understandable. It gave rise to the idea of the cool girl and the ultimate revenge. And when the stakes get higher and higher, the very ending is a shock that feels like the ultimate betrayal. Not for the faint hearted, it’s a tale old as time about a woman scorned that will make you rethink what you know.
6.The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
From the opening titles of Karen O, Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch’s’s rendition of ‘The Immigrant Song’, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo leaves you with an impression that’s hard to shake. Based on the famed 2005 novel by Stief Larsson, David Fincher takes center stage with a script by Steven Zaillian. With 007 Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist, and Rooney Mara in a career making performance as Lisbeth Salander, it’s the second adaptation of the story, the first in English. Retaining the spirit of the novel, it’s a brutal and engaging thriller that would’ve been nothing without Rooney Mara. From the beginning you can feel her commitment to the role. The overall feel of the film is austere and anxious that grows bigger and bigger as it moves along. The Scandinavian landscape is shown as such a terrifying future throughout. The cinematography is unforgettable and the eeriness of the shots don’t leave you. Revelations come and go, but it’s a film very much carried by its lead stars.
5.12 Years A Slave (2013)
Despite slavery being central to the history of the USA, Hollywood hadn’t looked at these horrors in such clarity until 12 Years A Slave with the help of director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, it is the emotional rollercoaster of a man taken as a slave and forced to work in the south, all because of one misunderstanding. It explored beatings and attacks, the suffering of the African American people. Using McQueen’s brutalism and raw imagery, it made a star of Lupita N’yongo and won the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s a tough film to watch not ripe for repeating, but it’s as impactful as ever. Every character throughout is bringing their best and moments of solitutde and quiet beauty are indispersed with torture and utter pain. The ending is a reprieve that is a bit Hollywood-like, but it feels like coming up for air after hours held beneath water.
4.Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
What a ride! This post-apocalyptic flick is a moving monstrosity from beginning to end. Opening with an exhilarating action sequence, it brings life to the post-apocalypse genre and is a spiritual sequel in the Mad Max series. Following Max (Tom Hardy), who works with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as he tries to outrun a cult leader and army in an epic road battle. One would think such a film is lacking in the narrative department, but Fury Road looks at Max’s survival and the strength of one woman in Furiosa, who leads the revolt against the oppressors. The screenplay, stunts, humour and direction are impressive, as are performances from Hardy and Theron. It’s intensity and over the top action is a heart-pumping show that is radical and visionary. It is one of the best action films of the century so far and uniqueness is something to be praised. It’s not your conventional film and that what makes it so perfect. One for the books.
3.We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
So many images stick out in my head when I think of this film. Eva (Tilda Swinton) being carried during La Tomatina, hiding in a supermarket against a wall of Campbell’s soups or Kevin (Ezra Miller) eating a lychee slowly in a way that mocks something that has happened to a family member. This psychological drama by Lynne Ramsay and based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, takes us inside the mind of a woman whose son has done something horrendous and unforgivable. We jump space and time to understand how things got to this point and the audience tries to piece together what has gone wrong. We see her breakdown and we feel the despair in her life. We understand that for years Kevin was slowly torturing Eva with his action and has a cruel streak that he enjoys inflicting upon her. Ezra Miller is the perfect psychopath, who loves his father Franklin (John C. Reilly), but wants to make Eva see and feel every bit of hatred he has for her. Eva’s daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) also becomes a target for Kevin’s actions and leads the way to a cataclysmic finale that you saw coming. It’s a brutal story of a child’s transgressions and the relationship between mother and son, and what eventuates when one doesn’t always receive the love they deserve. It’s called We Need To Talk About Kevin because no body in the film ever has, Eva pays him no attention and seeks for a return to her own life. Tilda Swinton does a great job showing the shock and inability to take anything else. And in the end we begin to understand why Kevin did all these things and what his idea of revenge was for all the years. It’s so unsettling and masterfully done that you don’t know who is the worst person in the situation.
2.The Big Short (2015)
Who knew the Global Financial Crises could be so fun? The Big Short does the rare thing of being able to take on a serious, very complicated topic and make it understandable to the masses whilst still retaining comedy. It’s attention to detail and focus on the Wall Street crash of 2008, The Big Short does a rare thing by portraying the story of some who benefited from the crash of a nation’s economy. Directed to perfection by Adam McKay, its list of stars are too long the name but all equally as powerful as the next. And how can you deny the likes of Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain breaking the fourth wall to explain the concept of subprime mortgages? It’s a captivating story that is bettered by the comedic performances and the format that breaks Hollywood conventions. It comes across as smug at times, but it’s tone is ripe for a great time for audiences. But even at the end it comes back down to the truth of the situation and those who were affected. It’s a farcical story but it’s true! You can’t beat that one-two-punch that leaves you both entertained and horrified at the state of the world. McKay has tried to mimic this in Vice (2018) to middling success. This is the real success potion here.
1.The Social Network (2010)
This list has seen historical classics and modern day comedies. But is there a film that can capture the zeitgeist of the decade and but also reads like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, anti-hero and all? The best film of the decade is The Social Network, a film that from the outset looks to be about the founding of the largest social media platform in the world – Facebook. Even when it came out in 2010, Facebook was still growing across the world, long before fake news and privacy concerns that have come to shape the business in the public sphere. From the first scene of Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and Erica (Rooney Mara), talking rapid fast about becoming a part of a prestigious club at Harvard, it portrayed an individual unbelievably intelligent, arrogant and whom, with the correct opportunity, may put their own need to be accepted and admired above friendship and ultimately morals. It really is the birth of a villain, Mark Zuckerberg who gets his way and is “the winner” with “over 500 million friends”, but who has dug himself into this space whereby he is totally alone yet in control of one of the most powerful sources of information sharing in the world. It reduces its protagonist to a pathetic, petulant person hoping to impress women and act like something he is not. Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) comes out as the hero, the anti-tech bro that has his headlines for misogyny throughout the world. His victimization at the hands of Mark isn’t always about the individual itself but toxic masculinity, raw ambition and the culture of misogyny that is perverse across the world. It’s a work of art that is improved by the directorial eye of Fincher, with every scene of fighting, cross examination, corporate conversations and coding as cinematic as ever. It’s a glorious modern day epic that is grounded in reality that makes it even scarier. It’s about what happens when we breed individuals with these mentalities and they not only create their own empire, cutting down all those in their way and may have walked alongside them, but what happens when these people become in charge. It’s not as much a film as it is a dissertation on modern masculinity, the power of technology, corporate greed, entitlement and so much more. It deserves a rewatch every year.
Originally published on Back Row, 30 December, 2019.