Decades ago we were singing “I want my MTV”, but nowadays its like “I want my Netflix please”. However, it seems over the past decade, the trouble with movies is that there is so much of it. From the big screen to the comfort of our lounge, we are spoilt for choice, but I suppose that’s a good thing, right? Though deciphering through what is worth your time can be frustratingly taxing. So often, we eventually lean to watch the genres or things that we are passionate about like romcoms, horror or even action movies, instead of getting out of our ‘comfort’ zone. My passion, and I say usually, lies somewhere in the vicinity of sci-fi and fantasy. (For the record I’m a huge foreign film and classic movies enthusiast too.) It’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good indie drama or action movie but it better be a cut above most of the shit Hollywood serves up.
The following list doesn’t follow any rules, except to say I have gone with my gut feeling on the films that packed a emotional punch when I first saw them (and still today continue to amaze me). Almost by default, sci-fi is significantly represented in this list below, arguably because in my opinion it had a very good decade. That said, can you imagine not including a Marvel Universe or Star Wars film in your own favourites list!? The thought of not including a Star Wars film in my list honestly made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. Alright, I’m exaggerating here a little, but while I did initially struggled between Rogue One and A Force Awakens, I eventually decided upon the latter because it reminded me why I love Star Wars so much.
Anyway, I have rambled on far too long, so here are my top ten favourite films of the 2010s, ranked, for better or worse.
10. Melancholia (2011)
Melancholia is a film set against the sense of dread when you know that the end of the world is coming. Importantly, it is also a film about depression. In short, with the Earth about to collide with an enormous planet named Melancholia, we follow the last days of two sisters, played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and the overwhelming feelings of fear and inexplicably inner turmoil they face. Of interest, Dunst won best actress at Cannes for her role as Justine, a young women unable to shake her unspeakable despair. But I must warn the reader Melancholia is a film you will either love or hate, in terms of its premise (the end of the world) but also the creative way director Lars von Trier visually tackles depression through the distorted lens of his own mind.
9. Drive (2011)
While many film enthusiasts have cooled on Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, because of its slow pace, very little dialogue and ultra-violence; many of these same reason why they now hate it, are the reasons why I still find it compelling. Whether we call it an arthouse film, genre crime or a Hollywood neo-noir, there is no denying that Refn gave us a film with both heart and style. One of the things I like about it is Ryan Goslings cool brooding performance. As a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a crime getaway driver by night, almost everything Gosling does in character seems impassive and calculated, except for the warm moments he shares with his next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mullgan), whom he has fallen in love with. Of course like most crime noir stories, this one goes to shits too, when Gosling’s last driving job goes horribly wrong and he seemingly loses his cool and everything else in the mayhem.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
When George Lucas handed over the reigns of the Star Wars franchise to Disney, I was excited by the prospect of a new Star Wars trilogy. By and large, I believe Kathleen Kennedy and her team, together with J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, did an incredible job under the weight of immense expectation of how it would handle George Lucas’s legacy. Importantly, I was completely satisfied with the end of the Skywalker saga despite the critic backlash against Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, J.J. Abrams had played it safe but as a fan I was still very emotionally moved how this trilogy in particular played out Rey’s story. Looking back now Rey’s introduction in The Force Awakens, as the new hero for a new generation was perfectly cast. I loved everything about her story arc, including the “problematic” issue of Rey’s lineage that had throughout dogged the new trilogy. In short, The Force Awakens along with Rey and a host of new exciting character such as Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren was the shot in the arm the Star Wars franchise needed. It was a return to the simple story telling or hero’s tale that made the original Star Wars very much-loved.
7. The Revenant (2015).
We can probably call Leonardo DiCaprio the actor of the decade. The acclaimed Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu cast him as Hugh Glass, the larger than life nineteenth century fur trapper and frontiersman out for revenge after being left for dead following a bear attack in The Revenant. Interestingly, Glass’s journey from death’s door is brilliant shot entirely on location in some of the most rugged locations across Canada, the United States and Argentina. The documentary that accompanies the film called A World Unseen highlights the extremities cast and crew endured in making this masterpiece. Interestingly, the real story of Hugh Glass is even wilder than the movie, but it is my understanding that Gonzalez’s chose to base his film in part on a work of fiction by Michael Punke. Moreover with a little bit of poetic license and Hollywood sensationalism, Alejandro G. Iñárritu manages to create (in my opinion) one of the most epic stories ever captured on film. Incidentally, The Revenant, won the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Cinematography. DiCaprio also won the Oscar for Best Actor, which he so desperately deserved. Noteworthy too, was Tom Hardy’s Oscar nod as John Fitzgerald, the man who betrays Hugh Glass.
6. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011).
When the Swedish film adaption of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the first of three books in The Millenium trilogy) was released in 2009 I was pleasantly surprised how faithful it was to the book. I rushed to finish reading The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and was equally satisfied by the subsequent film instalments.
Looking back now, right there and then, in late 2009, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, the anti-establishment goth hero, of Larson’s corrupt violent world, was everything I imagined Lisbeth would be onscreen. Moreover, casting veteran actor Michael Nyqvst, as the book and film series other hero, as the fortysomething year old Larssonesque investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist was perfect. But little did I know a Hollywood version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was in the works. Who would play Lisbeth, I thought? Another Swedish actress? Noomi? What about Mikael?
Eventually when it was announced that director David Fincher would tackle the Hollywood version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was somewhat disappointed he didn’t recast Noomi, but in hindsight now it was a wonderful blessing in disguise. Instead, Fincher cast the relatively unknown actress, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, controversially against the wishes of Sony Pictures. I too, remember thinking she was a brave choice as Lisbeth. Could it work though? Definitely. But lets see how this plays out I thought, once Fincher transforms Rooney Mara, an exceptionally beautiful young woman, into the street smart Lisbeth Salander with body piercings and tattoos. To her credit, Mara’s amazing interpretation of Salander was breathtaking. Equal to the task was also Daniel Craig as Micael Blomkvist, playing against Mara’s troubled fierce heroine.
Interestingly, despite all comparisons between Rapace and Mara, and the Swedish version and Fincher’s film, I still find something about each of them that I really enjoy. But do check out Fincher’s version, it is nothing short of brilliant.
5. Inception (2010).
Christopher Nolan action masterpiece Inception is considered almost universally as one of the best films of the 2010s. Still today, almost ten years on, diehard Nolanoids and casual fans alike are fascinated by the mindboggling storyline of a team of dream invaders, who must implant new ideas into the mind of a billionaire heir, in the hope that in the near future the heir will dissolve his father’s corporations. Leading the charge is corporate raider Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who hopes to redeem his own life after the tragic death of his wife. By the end of the film, and believe me when I say this, the emotional payoff of sitting through this genre-busting film is immensely satisfying. But then again, the open-ended conclusion of the film will leave some viewers scratching their heads, wondering whether or not Cobb was actually still stuck inside the dream state of the seemingly successful mission when the credits cut to black. All I will say is that the key to this question lies in Cobb’s wife’s totem. It’s a personal object used throughout the film to determine whether Cobb is dreaming or back in the real world.
4. Interstellar (2014).
Where do I even begin in my appreciation of the space adventure that is Interstellar? How about the idea that space exploration beyond what we understand about science can be a whole lot of fun. Moreover, it’s epic scope leaves you amazed, breathless and wondering about what would it be like, if we had to abandon our earth in search of a new home because climate change has made it inhabitable. At the heart of Christopher Nolan’s epic space opera is the story of Joseph Cooper, a former NASA pilot-turned-farmer, played by Matthew McConaughey, who understands he has no choice but to sacrificing himself, in search of a new home beyond our galaxy, so that his kids can have a future. Besides all the wonderful set pieces where we find our hero traversing through wormholes and black holes into new worlds, where time shifts dictate the success or failure of the mission, it is also the quiet moments that matter the most in particular the bond shared between Cooper and his daughter Murph, who idolizes her father.
3. Silver Lining Playbook (2012).
In a society where mental illness isn’t often talked about, it is through music and in particular film, that it is openly raised with sensitivity (Melancholia) and at other times brave humour. In the case of Silver Lining Playbook, it handles mental illness with unusual honesty. While this is not the place to get bogged down on how accurate health professions see the film, Silver Lining Playbook‘s attempt to have a little fun in a romantic comedy, where both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play terribly flawed but ultimately likeable characters, Pat and Tiffany respectively, struggling with bipolar and depression, is commendable. With so many emotional, wonderful and screwball cringeworthy moments in the film, I struggle to pinpoint one scene over the other as to which is my favourite. Though the three scenes that often come to mind when I think of Silver Lining Playbook are – the jogging scene where Tiffany wont leave Pat alone on his meditative jog, the diner scene where Tiffany opened up to Pat and he unwittingly puts her down; and the parley scene where Tiffany comes charging into the Solitano household and confronts Pat and his father (Robert De Niro) about their behaviour and suggest an outlandish proposition.
2. Arrival (2016).
Denis Villeneuve’s thrilling sci-fi epic Arrival missed out by a whisker of being considered my favourite film of the decade. A lot like Steven Speilberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, aliens have arrived to teach the human race a life- changing lesson. At the centre of the film is linguistics expert Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, who is trying to teach the aliens, known as Heptapods, how to speak English, while at the same time trying her damnest to decipher the Heptapods language. Little does she know the Heptapods already know everything. As the tension and perceived threat of an Alien invasion builds, Banks is eventually able to crack the code. By using her intuition and (I think) the illuminating flashbacks and flashforwards of her own life, Banks saves humanity from the brink of disaster. Banks comes to understand that Heptapods non-linear language and the perception of time is the key to the human race having the ability to live in the present, the past and the future.
Anyone game enough to sit through Arrival, will definitely benefit from a repeat viewing of this mind blowing film. Yes, the ending is a little tricky to understand, but the incredible cinematography, sound and storytelling by a master filmmaker at his peak is all worth it.
1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
It was a surreal feeling mid way through the decade when I heard that Harrison Ford would be reprising his role of ex cop Rick Deckard from the original Blade Runner (1982) and that Dennis ‘The Arrival’ Villeneuve would be directing the new sequel. In all the years that I have been quietly admiring Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir masterpiece, I honestly never thought the day would actually come. It was also exciting to think that the new sequel might finally help address some of the questions the ambiguous ending of the original left us with, especially whether Deckard was a replicant.
In the lead up to all the hype, I read all the stories about how Ridley Scott had given Villeneuve free reign to recreate the world of Blade Runner 2049. Interestingly, Villeneuve, and I’m so thrilled he did, kept many of the elements of the original, especially its rhythm and its dystopian atmosphere. But ultimately Villeneuve breathed new life into Blade Runner 2049 through a new protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling as K; an integrated replicant, working as a blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, in pursuit of a new generation of rogue replicants. In his duties he stumbles across a mystery involving Deckard, and a mysterious child born to Rachael. (Rachael is the replicant that Deckard fell in love with. The two of them disappeared in the end of the original presumably on the run from the authorities.) The repercussions are massive contradicting the belief that replicants are sterile, setting in motion a multi-layered detective story, to untangle its implications.
Blade Runner 2049 may well be the best film of the decade. It is a landmark in modern filmmaking with stunning visuals, special effects and a very good narrative worthy of its predecessor.
Great list Robert. I have only seen a few of those as the ’10’s were not a big movie time period for me outside of Pixar and Disney…the kids are getting older now, so I am hoping that will change.
I loved all of these movies too Robert, agree with your choices and you did an amazing job reviewing them here, you reminded me of how great they were, many I haven’t seen for years. Are you going to do a top ten sci-fi list for the 2010s? Please please do that, I would like your thoughts. While I am not a fan of sci-fi specifically, I do appreciate well made sci-fi.
Alas, the only one of these I saw was “Silver Linings Playbook”. I did see the Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” however.
I’m happy to see Arrival on your list. I really think Annihilation (Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac) should be here too. Have you seen that film?
I thought about putting Annihilation on my list too because it definitely deserves recognition, but there were so many other movies that were just as deserving!
I loved Annihilation. A very intelligent sci fi. It’s last ten minutes or so is mind blowing. Looking forward to your thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I still can’t bring myself to write something about it.
I feel you completely about the abundance of choice we now have as moviegoers. It is a constant conflict. Is it better to watch as many movies as possible or savour only a few?
The amount of choice also makes it difficult to compile a list like this one. My own Top 11 List is full of movies I love, but there were also many others that could have been on the list and were just as deserving, but alas there are only so many slots!