The decade supplied ammunition for both arguments. It was the time of new and exciting voices like Yorgos Lanthimos and Christian Petzold, and of lazy underachievers like Uwe Boll. It was the age of billion-dollar blockbusters, and tiresome trends yielding colossal flops. Established filmmakers plodded along in a career trajectory that allowed for new and exciting ventures. Some promising newcomers like David Robert Mitchell, meanwhile, diversified their portfolio between solid entertainments (“It Follows”) and disastrous aberrations (“Under the Silver Lake”). But all the same we showed up, watched, and responded with our constant passion as moviegoers. A great film was never far from grasp at local art-house movie houses; so, too, was a bad one inevitably playing in the mainstream chains, where it stood a better chance of rising to notoriety, unintentional or otherwise. The common bond among all of them, you could say, was their ability to remind us that there is a bigger world outside of the Walt Disney brand, whose choke-hold on the financial market of moviegoing has cast an impenetrable shadow going into the next decade.
The box office statistics will support this theory. After purchasing 20th Century Fox in the previous year, the conglomerated Mouse House all but secured their legacy as the titan of money-makers, with 7 of the top 10 films of all time now belonging under their umbrella (including “Avatar,” which was displaced mid-year as the most successful film ever made by the last “Avengers” picture). In the broadening image of platform releases across the globe, Disney is finding legs follow anything with name value; that includes a handful of live-action remakes of their famous cartoons, which amounted to most of the repeat business for this year’s ticket purchases.
Unfortunately, not many of the monumental moneymakers is likely to show up on any major awards lists celebrating the last ten years, much less the last twelve months. The values of the critics rest elsewhere: usually in the quiet, the unassuming, the sublime and the delicate. They prefer movies that engage the mind rather than do all the thinking for them. Human behavior is, suffice it to say, more resonant than explosions and a constant barrage of special effects. While this in no way undercuts the joy one might experience with the likes of “Black Panther” or even “Guardians of the Galaxy,” ask yourself this: would you really rank any of them against, say, “12 Years a Slave” or “Moonlight?” How many people can legitimately argue they were moved by any of the “Avengers” films, which do a great job at swelling momentary sensations but nothing for long-term thought?
Cinema descends further and further into the wilderness of marginal creative energies with each passing year, and in the process seems to slacken its grasp on the attention of the civilized world. Is this the nature of a movement that first began in the mainstream in the 1970s? Or a consequence of the gradual dominance of action blockbusters, which too began in the same time window? The answer is no clearer than our own barometer for taste. What I do know, as a movie blogger who shared in on these experiences, is that the ten most important films I saw in the 2010s revealed something new – whether that was about people, history, intellectual and cultural possibilities, or something previously beyond my sphere of understanding. They stimulated something inside I was not expecting. One action film does actually make this list, and it may very well be among the greatest ever made. But its hyperactive foreground was, to its great credit, a mask covering something deeper. And underneath that mask was an insight that reflected the changing political tides of today, where a dying planet could provide an apropos visual platform for our own decaying sense of morality.
(Note: titles will link to the full reviews when available)
THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015)
THE HIDDEN CITY (2019)
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
SON OF SAUL (2014)
Written by DAVID KEYES