Review 2010s:

Film Boiling a whole decade's worth of film watching to just ten items is a nonsense but let's do it anyway. In the middle of the decade, I posted a weekly non-review of a favourite film in each year across a whole century, but that stopped with the 2014 installment so really the following is about providing some closure to that project, bringing the choices up to date. But unlike most of that other list, I don't really have enough perspective to say that these really are my favourite films of those years and even as I write this introductory paragraph I'm regretting a couple of the choices, but as a barometer of the kinds of films I've enjoyed in the 2010s, this as good as any.


Christopher Nolan has consistently been one of the most interesting directors of the past ten years, but that's true of his entire career.  With Inception he demonstrates, just as the Wachowski sisters did ten years earlier with The Matrix that it's entirely possible to produce a film with all the excitement of a typical summer action blockbuster but with the intelligence and weight and beauty of a Tarkovsky film.  Inception's storytelling structure expects much its audience, running across genres and narrative threads in a way which tests our concentration and imagination.  Arguably there have been numerous films since which have attempted the same trick.  Many of them are in this list.  Both Dunkirk and Interstellar would have been here too if this decade hadn't been overstuff with so many great films.  But there was something about Inception which felt fresh and a harbinger for a really exciting decade to come.

Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl was 2011's secret classic.  I suspected at the time the teenage version of me would have judged it the year’s best.  Well, now I'm forty-five and I'm still saying it was.  It's essentially a British take on the Mary-Kate and Ashley cultural tourism series, but throughout exploding expectations of the genre by making the bitchy blonde rival the best friend, putting the handsome suitor at the epicentre of a discussion on class politics and hiring Bill Bailey to play an emotionally crippled Dad. But the key success is Felicity Jones as the eponymous service worker who uncannily appropriates in her tiny form some of Katherine Hepburn’s verve, timing and just general weirdness, taking full advantage of a script which is drenched in buckets full of cynicism and still able to look just plain cute in a ski coat against the snow. It's just a shame the typically mishandled advertising campaign and critical reaction put everyone else off.

Cabin in the Woods

Does Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's film count considering that it sat on the shelf since the decade before? Well, since most of us didn't get to see it in the meantime, enough time in fact for Chris Hemsworth to play Thor and become a major star, then it probably does. If most of the films in this list share one element, it's that they're endlessly rewatchable because you like spending time with the characters, even the evil science guys due to them being endlessly adorable despite their nefarious aims.  But it also shares the element of trusting the intelligence of the audience by confronting us immediately with what would have been the twist at the first act break in lesser works and balancing the various story elements.  There's an argument for this being the best thing Whedon's written outside of the special episodes of Buffy.


Here's another one.  Gravity also straddles the divide between blockbuster and art film.  Amid the heart stopping action sequences, there are moments of sheer awe as we see our blue bauble home drift by in the background and Bullock's character simply stops and watches with us.  An incredible artistic achievement, almost every scene in Alfonso Cuaron film is computer generated, with moments in which the only organic element is Sandra Bullock or George Clooney's face.  This photorealistic animation would reach its most recent apogee in the remake of The Lion King, but whereas that sapped the emotion from scenes as the animals faces failed to emote in any meaningful way, Cuaron remembers that the best way to bridge the uncanny valley is the give the audience something they can relate to.  Arguably has the best final shot of the decade too.

Stories We Tell

There's been a recent vogue for film documentaries with a major narrative shattering twist in the middle (Three Identical Strangers, Searching for Sugarman) and Stories We Tell has one of the strongest. Sarah Polley reflects backwards on her own life tracking the story of the relationship between herself and her father through her career to the point that afterwards we can remember the huge, life shattering moments which occured when she was shooting particular films, notably during the little seen but actually pretty good Mr Nobody.  Few films of this genre have been quite this raw and emotionally open.  IndieWire interviewed Polley about its legacy back in July.  Although later in the decade Polley would write and produce the superb Netflix series Alias Grace, she's not directed since.  Hopefully this will change.


Bought for distribution at Sundance by Netflix in the time before such projects would be labeled as "Originals" and provided with the associated publicity and so ironically causing unfortunate obscurity, Jennifer Phang’s indie wonder Advantageous glimpses a dystopian future in which an older woman is given the choice of losing a job which guarantees her child’s future, or sacrificing her own identity.  Tense, impressionistic, refreshing and warm filmmaking.  It's still available on Netflix all of these years later and although it's just possible I've inflated its quality in my memory, it still feels like an important commentary on how non-western cultures are co-opted and modified outside of their native countries.  See also the Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell.


You could argue that I have a very samey taste in films, and you'd be right, since this is another with a female lead within a piece of contemplative sci-fi.  Rewatching Arrival recently, I was struck by just how upfront its message of international co-operation was in a year when such things seemed impossible and still do a couple of years later.  But like Amy Adams's character, I remain hopeful despite knowing that the future is already to some degree set.  In that film its because of the laws of physics and alien technology, in our world the weakness of righteous nuance in the face of simplistic but effective messaging.  But a pendulum always swings back, and it still will however long it takes (assuming the everything doesn't blow up in the meantime).


Even more than some years, 2017 was an incredible year for film and I could have chosen a dozen different films to be marked up in bold above this paragraph. For a few seconds each it would have been Get Out or mother!, Anchor and Hope or Ocean's 8. Wonder Woman! But there was just something incredibly odd and charming about Colossal which somehow managed to be a seemingly indie budget relationship film and a monster mash in a way which didn't quite happen with Godzilla a couple of years later.  Anne Hathaway at her most charming, Jason Sudeikis at his most punchable and incredibly rewatchable.

The Square

The film which made me think again about contemporary art and really rather ruined the entirely unconnected Liverpool Biennial for me later that year (to the point that I didn't even review it on here).  The performances are extraordinary, especially from Claes Bang, the gallery curator with a far too high opinion of himself and a A1 demonstration of white men failing upwards. He's the sort of chap I've been either tried to be or fight with all my heart not to be across the years depending on the social circles I was wanting to join (eventually giving in to Groucho's maxim). Some reviews have suggested the wallet related subplot is the weakest element, but it offers a glimpse of how some people, despite what's being professed through the artworks are unable to appreciate the mechanics of the world outside their tiny spheres of influence.

Avengers: Endgame

Yes, I know. But having dodged featuring an MCU film anywhere else on this list, it seems only fair to put its near season finale at the bottom. Arguably Infinity War is the more substantial and experimental installment and selecting Endgame is a bit like saying Best of the Both World pt 2 is the better half of that Star Trek story, but the Russo brothers somehow managed to bring the curtain down on a decade worth of storytelling across multiple films in a satisfying way which also suggested future potential.  MARVEL apparently have everything mapped out until at least 2026.  So there's still plenty of time for the Beyonder to appear.

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