By Justin Luteran
What a difference a decade makes.
As we close out 2019, it’s amazing to think of how the movie landscape has changed over the last ten years.
As 2010 began, 3D was just reaching its peak as part of the movie-going experience. James Cameron’s Avatar was fresh into theaters and on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all-time, bolstered overwhelmingly by 3D admissions. Today the medium has largely faded from the zeitgeist. While plenty of films each year are still released in the format, marketing and distribution execs aren’t placing nearly as much emphasis on it, neither in terms of advertising nor reporting of grosses. Instead, more of the focus is placed on IMAX and PLF (Premium Large Format) screens such as AMC Prime or Cinemark XD; formats that are growing more popular as event films dominate the multiplexes and audiences look for better reasons to leave home and shell out for a night at the movies. Upgrading to the glasses-wearing of 3D has been relegated to a lesser of many options that now includes large reclining seats, immersive theaters like D-Box which adds movement or wind and rain effects, made-to-order food and alcohol being allowed inside theaters, and enhanced screen and sound formats like 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos.
Also when 2010 began, Marvel’s comeback was still in its infancy and we were years away from understanding what a “cinematic universe” was. Iron Man kicked things off in marvel-ous fashion (zing) in 2008, but the same year, Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk was met with lukewarm reviews and the film was a financial miss. It would end up being completely ignored as Marvel chose to recast Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. The much-maligned Iron Man 2 would come out in the summer of 2010, but it wouldn’t be for another year that the next entry in the MCU would show up in the form of Mjolnir-wielding form of Thor. 20 films and over $22 billion later look where we are.
Finally, and most importantly, as the decade began we were still a solid five years away from a Netflix original film (and still three years from House of Cards and OITNB). It’s crazy to think that streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu weren’t even on the periphery as little as five years ago and now they dominate the entertainment landscape. The addition of streaming as a viewing option has forever altered the way the film community has had to think. At first considered second-rate, being a “Netflix movie” meant that a project simply wasn’t thought of as good enough for a wide audience and a theatrical release. Netflix was movie purgatory; a place where a movie went after all the traditional studios had passed on it and it would get buried in an expansive library without much thought or recognition. Now, not only are streamers luring top-end talent from both sides of the camera and making a wider variety of content, they have forced the traditional studios into their game with Disney+, HBO Max (Warner Bros), and the upcoming Peacock (Universal).
Yet while on the surface it’s been a decade of remarkable, and potentially permanent, change, underneath the emotional experience of watching movies remains as reliable as ever. We’ve had movies that made us laugh, and ones that made us cry. Ones that have scared the hell out of us, and ones that have taken us to worlds we could have never imagined.
Below I present my Ten Movies of the Decade. These aren’t necessarily my personal favorites, but rather those that felt most important and/or influential in terms of subject matter, timeliness, connection to the zeitgeist, or careers they launched.
While going through the list keep in mind, these are only one stunningly handsome man’s opinions. The important thing to remember is: the movies are for everyone. There’s no right or wrong answer and the beauty of cinema is that any film can speak to someone in a way that they will remember forever. There’s a quote I love from Alejandro Gonzalez Inárritu who is a true joy to listen to, the way he speaks about filmmaking. He reminds us that, “Movies started out as an extension of a magic trick.” and anyone who saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo should remember how. I think about that a lot. Movies always have been, and always will be, a little bit of magic and no matter what your personal preference is, there will always be some for everyone to find.
Without further ado, here are my Movies of the Decade. **SPOILERS BELOW**
Richard Linklater’s intimate look at growing up took an unprecedented approach to filming. The story follows a young boy named Mason from ages 6-18 and watches him go through the typical growing pains of adolescence and early adulthood while balancing friends, family, and learning what it means to be his own man. Only instead of shooting over the course of several consecutive weeks or months with different actors playing the same role, Linklater decided to shoot in real time. From 2001-2013, he and his crew would shoot for several days a year with the same principal cast including newcomer Ellar Coltrane as Mason. Ellar was only 7 when shooting began and 19 when it wrapped. It was an incredibly risky gamble but the end result was an even deeper connection to Mason and his story than likely anyone could have imagined as we literally watched this boy, and his family, grow up before our very eyes.
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza, 2013)
Paolo Sorrentino’s thought-provoking Italian film is wonderful for its simplicity and introspection. As writer Jep Gambardella turns 65, he contemplates the life he’s spent at all the highest society parties of Rome, chasing fast times and beautiful women. With the future uncertain, he wonders if it was all worth it and sets out to find the “great beauty” in life. It’s a wonderful look at all of the things people chase; fame, wealth, success, and of all the moments of real beauty we tend to miss in between.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Not only was Toy Story 3 the highest-grossing film of 2010 with over $1 billion in box office grosses, it was also the highest-grossing animated film of all-time for several years, until it was dethroned by Frozen in 2014 (which itself was knocked off by Disney’s The Lion King in 2019). But box office receipts don’t matter nearly as much as what else this film represents. The original Toy Story was Pixar’s first full-length feature back in 1995 and the start of an era that would see an almost unparalleled run of both critical and commercial success. In the hearts of many who grew up with Woody, Buzz, Andy, Potato Head, Rex, Ham, Bo Peep, and the rest, the Toy Story films stand out in the Pixar canon in their own special way. What started as a simple idea of, “what if toys came to life when you left the room?” soon took on as emotionally heavy themes as dealing with abandonment and emotional turmoil, accepting one’s own mortality, and sacrificing for the sake of a child’s happiness. The utterly beautiful moment of all the toys holding hands as they head to their own incineration was matched only by a grown-up Andy playing with his toys one last time as the sun sets behind them. There is a serious case to be made for Toy Story 1-3 as the best start-to-finish trilogy in film and this ending was only too heartbeakingly perfect.
The only documentary to make this list, Blackfish’s impact was as swift and fierce as the creatures it portrayed. Revolving around one of Seaworld’s killer whales named Tilikum, which was involved in the deaths of three people (including two trainers), the film follows him from his capture in the wild, to his treatment by other orcas at Seaworld facilities, and Seaworld’s handling of their whales in captivity. It was a disturbing portrait of the treatment of animals and led to significant fallout for Seaworld. Numerous public figures condemned the theme park and there were drops in both attendance and revenue for several years after the film’s release. The company has rebounded in the past year but not before permanently ending its orca breeding programs and live shows featuring killer whales, a direct result of this harrowing film.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
George Miller took 30 years between films in the Mad Max franchise, yet he lost none of his flair for mind-boggling action sequences. Boasting a budget that was 450x larger than the original film, all $150 million+ of that showed up on screen in some of the most outrageous and beautifully choreographed stunt sequences of all-time. While the main story of several characters trying to outrun a mad dictator in a post-apocalyptic world was simple enough, there was more vehicular warfare and anarchy in one act than possibly every other film of the decade combined. Between the vibrant colors, insane stunts, maniacal characters, and roaring soundtrack, Fury Road was a two-hour assault on the senses; a technical masterpiece from a filmmaker who was as in-his-element as anyone has ever been.
An overlong, black-and-white, foreign language film about a housekeeper in the 1970s Mexico City is about as niche as a movie can get, but Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma came THIS close to winning a Best Picture statue for Netflix and for that reason it deserves recognition. Despite losing to Green Book, Roma was a monumental step forward for Netflix and other streamers in terms of being taken seriously in the artistic and awards communities. It showed that there is, in fact, a place for streamers at the Oscar table after all.
Some Best Picture winners, like Titanic, seem preordained (ayo) from minute one. Then there are those like Spotlight, which start off strong, sort of fade away, but ultimately are able to hang on for the win. This haunting look at how the Catholic Church covered up decades of child sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area was chilling to watch, especially for those of us that grew up in a Catholic household. Being spread out over so much time, and covered up so well, seeing the full extent of these acts and the Church’s coverup was truly horrifying, especially given that many priests and clergyman had gone unpunished, even been promoted. Though it only focused on the Boston area, the scope of the film really hit home during the end credits when screen after screen of cities around the world where church abuse scandals had occurred rolled by. Since its release, the Catholic Church has appeared to show interest in addressing and preventing future abuse, but there is no question that what the Spotlight team revealed shook a community of millions to its core.
A master-class in tension and suspense, director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) burst into the mainstream with this thriller about a father who takes matters into his own hands when his two daughters go missing. What seems, at first glance, like a run-of-the-mill abduction thriller turns out to be a much more complex and layered story anchored by sharp writing, fantastic cinematography, and outstanding performances from Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
MOVIES OF THE DECADE
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Although it’s 2019’s Avengers: Endgame that has become the highest-grossing movie of all-time, The Avengers was the culmination of Marvel’s Phase One and our first taste of what a “shared cinematic universe” looks like, a concept that has gone on to define the last decade of movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is, to-date, comprised of 23 features and 9 television shows and its collective box office is over $22.5 billion. No film and only two of its TV shows have a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the MCU shows no signs of slowing down. Superhero/comic book films took over the 2010s and, like auteur-driven movies of the 70s or action movies of the 80s, this era will be defined by them. While there are certainly standout entries on both the DC and Marvel side, none represented the biggest risk, nor had the biggest impact culturally, as the first film to bring our heroes together on screen did.
The Social Network (2010)
By 2010, Facebook had already been mainstream for several years among America’s youth (myself included), but I don’t know if anyone could have foreseen where the next decade would take us in terms of technology and social media takeover. Influencers now make millions of dollars simply by posting a video or getting likes. Movie stars promote their films to millions of followers better than most ad campaigns. Our President tweets every single day. We live in a world dominated by social media and David Fincher’s take on Facebook’s origins was utterly captivating. As much as Aaron Sorkin’s outstanding script is supposed to be about the founding of Facebook, it’s really about a group of college kids and the relationships they all have to each other, before, during, and after. We relate to all of them in a way; from doing something so a girl will like us or being betrayed by a close friend. Watching how they all personally deteriorate while Facebook is being born and having success was intoxicating on many levels and foreshadowed much of how society would behave in the decade to come.
This is a great example of why representation in movies is good because personally, as a guy in his 20s when Bridesmaids came out, I wasn’t really into it. Not my kind of humor, just didn’t think it was funny. But I wasn’t the target audience and it was overwhelmingly embraced critically and commercially and lauded for taking a chance on a female ensemble comedy. People loved the chemistry between the characters and looking back, it’s amazing to see where those actresses are now. Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph were already well-known but Rose Byrne and Ellie Kemper have had their stars rise drastically since and this movie introduced the world to the genius of Melissa McCarthy. It was a breakthrough for female comedies and is still revered by many today as being a classic of the genre.
I sometimes think Spike Jonze’s heartbreaking love story between a man and his female operating system was a little ahead of its time. The world wasn’t yet being run by Siri and Alexa and I wonder how it would have been received if it came out today. But maybe that’s part of why it was so good. At the time, it took place in a vague sort-of near-ish future, somewhere that felt just close enough to be believable while holding back from being too real. Like that point just before you wake up where you’re still clinging to those last whispers of a dream. Jonze bathes his peaceful world in warm colors and gentle sunlight and it’s not hard for us to fall in love along with the unassuming Theodore and intoxicating Samantha. It’s also a commentary on how disconnected we’re becoming from each other and presents a world that, in 2019, is closer than ever to being a reality. And that original score by Arcade Fire…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)
While not my favorite of the film series (gotta say it’s still Sorcerer’s Stone, although Emma Watson didn’t steal my heart until Azkaban), DH part 2 makes the list for concluding what was one of the greatest franchises in movie history. Harry Potter was a phenomenon the likes of which we may never see again in our lifetimes, but credit has to be given for the way its film adaptations were handled. They remained faithful to the books, filming on location in the UK, and getting the biggest names in British cinema on board to keep everything authentic. While Fantastic Beasts is still trying to keep the magic alive, for a lot of us millennials this ended a chapter of our childhood we were lucky enough to have open far longer than it should have been. It’s a beloved book series and a beloved film franchise and Part 2 gave us a fittingly magical end to a decade’s worth of extraordinary movies.
Get Out (2017)
For those that weren’t familiar with his longtime comedic work, Jordan Peele quickly became a household name after his feature directorial debut broke the zeitgeist and the box office. Though billed as a horror film, Get Out has become legend more for its social commentary on race in America and its psychological approach to how Daniel Kaluuya’s African-American character’s weekend of meeting his girlfriend’s white family turns into a living nightmare. Although certain elements are satirical or taken to extreme proportions, Get Out created a scathing and visceral view of race relations that was somehow both fun and horrifying, while making an honest and powerful statement. The film was considered a risk given the unproven talent and unique take on the subject but the budget was kept low and it ended up making a huge profit while launching Jordan Peele into the horror stratosphere. Now, sink into the floor…
Christopher Nolan has become one of the biggest and most iconic directors of our generation; a brand unto himself, like Spielberg or Tarantino. From a Christopher Nolan film we can expect a massive event, something that will be both original and mind-boggling on the grandest of scales. Blockbusters like that rarely get made anymore but it’s become his signature. Before Inception, Nolan had found success on a smaller scale tackling memory and magic in twisty films Memento and The Prestige. His first big commercial movie also did well in Batman Begins, while The Dark Knight will likely go down as his magnum opus and one of the greatest comic book films of all-time. But Inception was his first attempt at a grand-scale, original film; creating a multi-layered heist movie that took place in peoples’ dreams. It was anchored by technical mastery, a wonderfully unique story, and a stellar cast (world, meet Tom Hardy). Inception was the film that took an underrated auteur and made him one of the premiere directing forces of the last decade. Here’s to Tenet (2020) and beyond.
The Big Short (2015)
I put off seeing The Big Short for a long time. I thought, “a movie about the 2007 housing market crash? Pass.” When the crash happened I was in high school so never really thought about it and it didn’t sound at all like a subject I cared to go back and watch a film about. To this day, it’s one of the very rare films where every time I’ve watched it I love it more and more. It’s storytelling is pure genius. Adam McKay, known before this as the guy who did all of Will Ferrell’s movies, took a subject that could either be boring, or depressing, and made it not only understandable, but incredibly fun. Breaking the fourth wall and having celebrity cameos (such as Margot Robbie in a bubble bath or Anthony Bourdain cooking) explain complicated financial terms was genius and really did make things simple to understand. The Big Short took a disgustingly complicated economic disaster and presented it in a way that was both great entertainment and something any layman could understand. It was a monumental achievement and helped many Americans finally grasp the bigger picture of what had happened and why.
Though one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners in Oscar history, and being infamously overshadowed by the La La Land non-win gaffe, Moonlight was a powerful and timely story that absolutely needed to be told and deserved better. The story portrays a black man at three stages in his life: youth, adolescence, and adulthood, and how he struggles with his identity and sexuality while growing up in the Miami projects. It was a subject that not many films have touched on and Barry Jenkins’ firm direction allowed for the harsher moments to feel extra brutal, while the gentle moments feel that much more reserved and painful. Standout performances aplenty, including Mahershala Ali as a Cuban drug dealer and Naomie Harris as a crack-addicted, neglectful mother, Moonlight bravely gave a voice to an under-served audience and showed the painful reality of people struggling to be the best versions of themselves.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Yes Star Wars has been around for over four decades and yes the second trilogy was…a mixed bag to say the least, but when King of Nerd Culture JJ Abrams took over the reins of the iconic franchise, the cards felt stacked against him. After the one-two punch of Jar Jar Binks/Hayden Christensen’s acting left a bitter taste in many fans’ mouths, it didn’t feel like there was much of an appetite to continue the series. The original stars had aged significantly and many felt nothing would ever come close to the original films so best let sleeping dogs lie. Lo and behold JJ delivered the unthinkable; a film so enjoyable that not only did it reinvigorate the hearts of the older fanbase, but introduced a newer version of the story for the modern youth. Where TFA ultimately lands in the canon remains to be seen but it’s undeniable that this film, eventually becoming the highest-grossing domestic film of all-time (and it’s not even close), managed to bring cinema’s most iconic franchise back from the brink and reignited the world’s love for a galaxy far, far away.
There you have it, the movies that defined the 2010s. Where the roaring ’20s will take us, nobody can know, but just as Jay Gatsby was the last time the ’20s came around, I’m incredibly filled with hope, old sport.