Was it The Teens or The Aughts? The Tens? The Twenty-Tens? We didn’t even know what the fuck to call it.
In a move as arbitrary as it is underwhelming, I’m going with The Teens. Whatever it was, it ended. At times, I thought it never would. Somewhere beneath the ether are folks who feel like the last decade just flew by. They must have been having a lot of fun. No one I know would describe The Teens as expedient, least of all myself. I would personify the 3650 days following January 1st, 2010 as some kind of interloper who was hanging around my house for entirely too long, overstaying her welcome, and eating up all my mini corn dog bites while I slept. Sweet fucking Christ, has it really only ten years since we entered that rotten decade? Seems like at least fifteen. Perhaps the atomic clock needs re-calibrating. I began to wonder, what would be a proper send-off for a decade so abominable. Mass rioting in the streets? Abandoning our societal comforts and halting production for the ruthless corporations to which we are slaves? Burning this motherfucker down, as they say? If that’s what is in your heart, I say run, do not walk. Go do exactly that… and don’t let the strikebreakers dissuade you. They will try.
Alas, I’m only one man, and not a particularly influential one. I’m a writer and an artist. I’m not starving, but I’m an unlikely candidate to spark the revolution. With that thought in mind, I’ll spit in the face of the now-concluded Teens as best I know how; by recalling its merits and refusing to dwell on traumas incalculable. Traumas from which, many of us are still trying to heal.
As bad as the teens were, art has been quite poignant for the last ten years, particularly with regard to film. Movies from the last decade have provided no shortage of beauty and wonder to lucky spectators like us and we’re all eternally grateful. Sometimes these films were a much-needed distraction, other times they provided feelings of empowerment or inspiration. Often enough, and perhaps most importantly, these movies reminded us that, yes, the pain is here, and yes, we have to deal with it, but we are not alone. Some writer or director out there gets it. More to the point, every fellow audience member, with whom this picture has resonated, is an empathetic soul. Someone to discuss great cinema with. Maybe they’re someone we can relate relate to; a potential friend.
Great art is a often symptomatic of unimaginable strength from an artist regularly descending stairways into hell. In my estimation, art is often a dark period in history’s saving grace. I probably saw eight-hundred or perhaps a thousand films since 2010. Not that many, really. And a great number of those were released in previous decades. That said, I’m never one to forsake contemporary art for the cheap high of nostalgia or egocentric mantras to the tune of: “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” No, they sure don’t. For one, many of the aforementioned “they” are either dead or decrepit. Furthermore, if they still made movies like they did in the “good ol’ days,” it would be indicative of artistic stagnancy. And that, my dear friends, would truly be the end of the world.
Art, like science, technology, politics, and our ancestors, must evolve. Film history and traditions must be observed, learned from, appreciated, paid tribute to, and hopefully improved upon. I’m glad to say everything is working out exactly as it should, in regard to the evolution of film. Movies are as good and often better than they’ve ever been. And as always, there is still no shortage of terrible movies being released every week. One of the most exciting aspects of The Teens for film fans was the fact that horror movies entered a new golden era. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when that started. If I ventured a guess, I’d say it was a prophecy foretold by The Babadook in 2013 and then later reinforced by It Follows and The Witch. But that’s far from the entire story. There are countless amazing horror films that were coming out before either of those movies, between those movies, and they’re still coming out. So, I don’t care about age or to which generation someone belongs. If you’re a Boomer, okay. A Gen X-er, great. A fellow Millennial, or a member of Generation Z, it does’t matter. Anyone asserting that movies aren’t as good as they used to be is probably not paying attention.
To those types of people, I have two things offer:
- A crowbar, so you may pry your head from that fleshy aperture you keep insisting is a hole in the ground.
- A list of the best movies from a recently deceased decade, so you may watch them and hopefully change your mind.
Recounting a decade’s worth of cinema is not like recounting a single year. Ten times as many movies to consider, memories of films I saw in 2012 aren’t so fresh as the memories I have for something released three months ago, and of course, no matter how much work I put into something like this, it’s still just my opinion. Some writers don’t rank their films, but to me that seems like taking the easy way out. I’m a fan of ranking my favorites. I’m not sure why.
- Ex Machina (2014)
My undying love for Alex Garland’s science fiction masterpiece, Ex Machina, can be traced back to one simple bit of dialogue in the film. Yes, the sets are amazing, the effects are uncanny, there’s acting and cinematography to chew on for days, but the moment this movie most squarely hit me in the gut Ava’s test, in which she asks Caleb his favorite color. Initially he says “red,” but Ava determines he is a liar. She asks again. After thinking for a moment, Caleb responds: “I guess… seeing as I’m not six, I don’t really have a favorite color.”
Perhaps I’m shallow, but until that moment, it had never occurred to me that I don’t have a favorite color anymore either. Then I realized I missed having favorite colors. In this moment, the simplicity of being a child and having favorite colors is juxtaposed against a world in which technology has advanced to the level of artificial intelligence. It’s a hard reminder that, as we grow, our search for contentment or joy becomes increasingly complicated—emotionally and technologically, both on an individual level and as a society. This isn’t to suggest that technology is evil or that we must abandon our smartphones. I do question, though, with every upgrade to our smart devices, every new development in technology, is some part of us just chasing that next dopamine hit? Are we trying to recapture a feeling that was once activated by seeing our favorite colors, but now requires a minimum of fifty likes and ten re-tweets? Are we, as a species, just looking for a short-lived euphoric moment, then watching shimmer fade into something familiar and underwhelming? Maybe that’s all we’ve ever done.
Final Score: 9/10
- Creep (2014)
This movie seemed to come right the hell out of nowhere. Usually I can figure out where a movie is going within five or ten minutes of the first shot, but not Creep. All the way through this movie my fists were clenched and sweaty. Gross. It’s rare that I enjoy a found footage movie and I generally don’t like horror comedies at all. Creep is an anomaly, methinks. I talk to horror fans all the time, and I have heard my exact sentiments about this film echoed by hundreds of them. “It’s a horror comedy, it’s a found footage movie, I usually don’t like either, but holy shit this movie hits the nail on the head.” I think part of the success is that it’s not only a horror comedy, but it’s actually funny, not just tongue in cheek. It doesn’t wink. Horror comedies would do well to follow in the footsteps of movies like Creep and The Greasy Strangler. You can’t effectively play a joke on an audience if they’re in on it. Get weird or hand your camera to one of those passionate psychos fiending to make some real art. Nothing reeks on a movie worse than the smell of pandering desperation
Final Score: 9/10
- Arrival (2016)
If I were to try and dissect this movie, we’d be here all day. Actually, only I would be here all day, you would stop reading. All I’ll say is, this is a beautiful film from start to finish that resonated with me so heavily that I felt compelled to make some abstract poster art for it once.
It’s science fiction, it’s political drama, it’s art house, and I think I even detected a Lovecraftian element in there, as should always be present, whenever possible. Far be it from me to say Moonlight shouldn’t have won best picture at the Oscars in 2017, as it was a phenomenal movie, but personally, of the nominees, my pick was Arrival.
Final Score: 9/10
- Blue Valentine (2010)
Recently, Marriage Story has made a lot of noise for being a heartbreaking look at marriage and divorce. And it’s great, don’t get me wrong. Blue Valentine did it better, grittier, and almost a decade earlier. So much so, that my divorced self doesn’t even really want to talk about this movie for any extended period of time. It’s a lot. I’ve only seen it once and I’ll probably never see it again. That was enough.
Final Score: 9/10
- Mother! (2017)
Maybe other people have mentioned this, but I haven’t seen it discussed. Mother! is a fucking nightmare for anyone with social phobias. There’s an overwhelming feeling of invasion here that I think trumps the biblical parables presented by Darren Aronofky’s best film to date. What’s more interesting is that I don’t really have any social phobias. I’m perfectly comfortable being around people or having guests in my home. But those bloody savages just wouldn’t leave. Hordes of them. Not wearing out their welcome, but defiling it. Nowhere was safe. This movie taps into a specific fear, and if you don’t have it, it may not be particularly scary. If you do, however, it’s going to be a stressful watch.
Final Score: 9.1/10
- Melancholia (2011)
Obviously, Melancholia is a Lars Von Trier film about depression. Obviously it’s heavy, obviously it’s going to be something of a downer. What’s more, many movies have been made about depression and plenty of movies even get it right. Melancholia is the definitive slice of depression porn because it shows viewers just how much more functional a clinically depressed person is in the face of hopelessness than her neurotypical counterparts. In normal, everyday society, she’s been reduced to a useless puddle of self-loathing. She can’t even find the strength to get out of the bed stare into a mirror while hating her own reflection. She’s vapor. But when the world is about to end, she’s a source of comfort, because she’s not afraid. Why would she be? Her world ended some time ago. Everything which follows, is a superfluous epilogue.
Final score: 9.2/10
- Take Shelter (2011)
I wrote an entire analysis for this film once. A lengthy one, at that. Suffice it to say, I think this is a film about America’s mental health crisis and the hell people go through trying to battle it. Simply put, mental health is just health. In Take Shelter, an unwelcome surprise onset of schizophrenia becomes a reality one man and casually begins to ruin his life. His job, his wife, his daughter, it chips away at everything. People just want to dismiss him as crazy, and in a sense, they’re not wrong. He’s very much breaking with what most people consider sanity. But no one really knows how to help him. Furthermore, they don’t care. It’s not an amputated leg or a cancerous tumor or anything so acceptable. Curtis is just dealing with a gradual disconnection from reality and the world he knows.
Final Score: 9.2/10
- The Counselor (2013)
I’d like to say I don’t know why critics and audiences seemed to dislike The Counselor, but I do. The trailers for this movie were terrible representations of what was actually going to be delivered. From previews, it looks like an action thriller with an all-star cast. What it actually is, is a deeply philosophical tragedy penned by the greatest living American author, Cormac McCarthy… with an all-star cast. If you’re unfamiliar, McCarthy wrote books like Blood Meridian, The Road, and No Country for Old Men. Two of those books have been turned into highly lauded films. McCarthy has received countless accolades for his writing and doesn’t need film critics to tell him whether or not his work is good. It’s good. I think if The Counselor had been marketed differently, it would have been received differently. There was some action in it, but not a great deal. It’s just a harrowing tale of hopelessness about a man who can’t undo a mistake he wishes he’d never made. Futility is kind of McCarthy’s thing.
Sicario hadn’t come out yet in 2013, but I think that movie is closer to what the studios was trying to promote. And Sicario is a great movie, albeit a vast amount different from The Counselor, despite similar subject matter. The Counselor was something all its own. Gothic overtones and dialogue that sounds like prose from, well, a Cormac McCarthy novel, this was never going to be a film for mass audiences. But I sure as hell loved it and guess what? There’s a good chance you never saw this one, so go check it out.
Final Score: 9.3/10
- The Killing of A Sacred Deer (2017)
It took me almost an hour into Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre fucking movie, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, to realize it was a comedy darker than Agent Dale Cooper’s coffee. This is really as dark as a comedy can get, I hope. I’m not anti-Colin Ferrell, he’s just never been an actor I particularly cared for. I remember getting annoyed when I heard he’d be the star of True Detective season two, as season one was so brilliantly cast. But The Killing of A Sacred Deer changed my perception a bit. He’s holds his own in this. Purposefully wooden dialogue delivery reminiscent of a David Lynch movie, with cinematic shots filmed with the precision of a Stanley Kubrick picture, The Killing of A Sacred Deer still stands on its own as something wholly original and deeply horrific.
Final Score: 9.3/10
- Nebraska (2013)
Another movie I feel didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Granted it got plenty of Oscar nods, but never quite seemed to find its audience. Bruce Dern is amazing as usual. The black and white cinematography is, honestly, I’m not sure why they chose it, but I was glad to see it. I’m always glad to see black and white. Nebraska is hilarious and one of the more wholesome films on this list. In fact, I dare say it’s the only wholesome movie to be named here.
Final Score: 9.5/10
- Inherent Vice (2014)
Inherent Vice is really nothing at all like The Big Lebowski. Having said that, The Big Lebowski is the only movie I can compare it to, for contemporary audiences anyway. Still, it’s its own thing. I normally advise people watching it for the first time, don’t try and understand the plot. It’s purposefully convoluted and difficult to follow. Just appreciate the characters and the dialogue. The plot will come into focus on subsequent viewings. Inherent Vice is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s not my favorite of Paul Thomas Anderson’s, but it’s still a classic. Joaquin Phoenix, as expected, is amazing.
Final Score: 9.5/10
- Amour (2012)
Amour is a love story. Beautiful, but not pretty. Finding the love of your life is difficult for most people. The loneliness of searching for someone who feels like home can dim even the brightest of eyes. Then, you find them. Someone you truly love more than anyone on Earth. And guess what? They love you just as much. Realize, even that can end in a suffocating, sorrowful breakup that leaves your eyes so deadened they can’t even reflect light anymore. It’s a reality with which most people are familiar, to some extent. But even that isn’t the worst of it all. Amour isn’t about the difficulty of searching for a partner in life. It isn’t about finding that partner and losing them either. Amour reminds us of, perhaps, the most agonizing truth of all. It’s about the couple who actually found one another, loved one another, did everything right, and made it all the way to old age together. All the way to that moment where Anne’s mind begins to betray her while her husband watches helplessly as she succumbs to age, indignity, hideous lingering illness. The final chapter of a successful love story is one most people don’t want to read. What is waiting at the end, for the couple who lived happily ever after?
Final Score: 9.8/10
- It Follows (2014)
I’m going to concede something. It Follows has some flaws. Few. I won’t be pedantic and wax condescending about them, but there are a few moments that could have been better thought out. Understand, these are minor complaints. One being, I don’t love the fact that The Follower can throw people it isn’t even following across a beach, or pull their hair. It doesn’t come close to ruining the movie. I love It Follows so much, despite its blemishes. I love my friends and family members despite their blemishes too. How would you like it if everyone excluded you from the group just because you had a fucking zit?
It Follows is one of the more atmospheric films I’ve seen. It’s in the same class as John Carpenter’s Halloween in being a horror movie that evokes a very specific feeling no one has ever been able to identify or properly name. You don’t know how to describe the feeling you get when you watch Halloween, no one does, but everyone who loves Halloween knows this feeling. It Follows evokes this feeling. It is a combination of suspense, dread, tension, wonder, anxiety, sexual energy, and nostalgia. Squonky. I’m just going to call that feeling squonky from here on out. That’s easier. It Follows is dripping with squonky. The world Jay inhabits is a lot like our own, but it’s a different world. An even more burned out and depressed version of Earth. At least that’s what I took from it. A lot of people love this movie, a lot of people hate it. I can accept that there are flaws within the script. More so, even, than some of the films I ranked lower than this one. All I can say is, the flaws aren’t terribly important to me. It’s whats inside that counts, and squonky is in me when I watch It Follows.
Final Score: 9.8/10
- The Lighthouse (2019)
I just saw The Lighthouse recently, so I’m honestly still unpacking it a little. I may feel like it deserves a higher ranking than this three months from now. Be that as it may, I’m writing this article now, so it is what it is. I’ve always said Eraserhead is the single most beautiful example of black and white cinematography in existence. I think The Lighthouse might finally have beaten it for me. I have a few theories about the end of this movie, but I’ve only seen it twice and feel like I need to watch this more and let it digest a little longer before going off half cocked. Regardless, I fell in love with this movie within the first minute. Willem Dafoe’s infamous “HAAARK!” monologue may be one of my favorite moments in cinematic history. We’re so fortunate to be alive while Robert Eggers is making movies (That means I also quite loved The Witch, in case you were wondering).
Final Score: 10/10
- A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Did I just see a grown man try to fight a cat because he thought it was his dead wife?
Final Score: 10/10.
- Hereditary (2018)
What can I even say about Hereditary that I haven’t said a million times before in other reviews, roundtable discussions, and on social media? It’s a masterpiece. I do believe Hereditary is this century’s The Exorcist and I know plenty of people would love to crucify me for that statement. Grief, a movie a bout trauma, and how those things chew through the foundations of family. The decision to go fully supernatural in the last act was a bold one that seemed to divide audiences a bit. I love psychological horror, but in Hereditary I think going the psychological route would have been the easy way out Ari Aster took the more challenging road, and for my money, it paid off.
It’s the first movie since Candyman came out in 1992 that genuinely scared me. For that alone, it has my undying loyalty and respect. Add in the fact that it’s perfectly shot, acted, scored, and edited, and I do believe you have a candidate for one of the greatest films of all time. A great horror film? Unquestionably. But its successes are not restricted to its genre. People have recently started calling films like Hereditary, Green Room, The Witch, and Midsommar, “elevated horror.” I don’t know a single horror fan who appreciates this term. There have always been horror films with significant artistic merit, deep philosophical implications, social and political overtones, and stunning technical aspects. Hereditary was an original idea and broke a lot of ground, horror movies being groundbreaking is nothing new. For example, no other genre of film is capable of making people experience squonky.
Final Score: 10/10
- The Sunset Limited (2011)
Another film written by Cormac McCarthy. Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, it also stars Tommy Lee Jones as well as Samuel L. Jackson. The Sunset Limited legitimately changed my life. The first time I watched it I was so moved by Cormac McCarthy’s words, I decided to set music aside and focus on writing instead. Best decision I ever made.
“Your fellowship is a fellowship of pain and nothing more. And if that pain were actually collective instead of simply reiterative then the sheer weight of it would drag the world from the walls of the universe and send it crashing and burning through whatever night it might yet be capable of engendering until it was not even ash. Justice? Brotherhood? Eternal life? Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There’s a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies. If you could banish the fear of death from men’s hearts they wouldn’t live a day. Who would want this nightmare if not for fear of the next? The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death.” –Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited
Final Score: 10/10
- Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
This deeply strange film is what I’d imagine would happen if David Lynch directed a Dario Argento movie. There’s a lot of emphasis on sound in this film, as you might imagine. Initially when I saw it, I liked it quite a bit, but didn’t think too much of it. Since then I’ve come to consider it one of my all time favorite movies. It’s difficult to explain exactly why, but I found the shots of a crawling spider in this movie to be particularly entrancing. And that’s really Berberian Sound Studio‘s defining characteristic. It’s hypnotic. Moreso, perhaps, than any movie I’ve ever seen. The forefront of my mind isn’t entirely sure what’s going on in Berberian Sound Studio, but I think my subconscious understands it perfectly.
- Midsommar (2019)
I didn’t think I could possibly like Midsommar more than Ari Aster’s first studio film, Hereditary. I was naive. Midsommar proves that Ari Aster is truly something special and we’re lucky to be receiving his unique brand of cinema. I would say Midsommar is a slightly more accessible film than Hereditary. Not as abrasive or upsetting, but more emotionally resonant, which is saying something. Midsommar‘s subtle but uncomfortably accurate approach to depicting a psilocybin mushroom trip is perhaps it’s most frequently discussed moment, but for me, the opening ten minutes of Midsommar was some of the most effective film making I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen the movie four times since its release and I still can’t watch Dani’s horrific revelation without welling up with tears. I’m not at all ashamed to say, I’m more excited to see what Aster brings us next than I am for probably any filmmaker working today.
- The Master (2012)
Well, this is it folks. The best movie of the decade, according to me. The Master would be Paul Thomas Anderson’s crowning achievement, if only he hadn’t made There Will Be Blood. This is probably my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance and definitely my favorite Joaquin Phoenix performance. Yes, it’s even a better performance than he gave in Joker. The loneliness in The Master‘s protagonist, Freddie Quell, is palpable. Paul Thomas Anderson has never made a bad movie, but he’s made some depressing ones. I don’t think any of them quite achieve the heartbreaking nature of The Master. In the end, Freddie Quell leaves Lancaster Dodd, despite his pleas to stay. He doesn’t leave any less lonely than he was at the beginning of the movie, but with the knowledge that he has only himself to rely on. A notion with which he’s seeming to grow more and more comfortable. An independent and self-sufficient Freddie is a gutting loss for Lancaster. Freddie doesn’t need him anymore. And that’s a good thing. Freddie should be self-sufficient. Furthermore, Lancaster was not really a positive influence in Freddie’s life. He was a cult leader with a God complex. Those kinds of people aren’t good for anyone. Still, there was clearly genuine love between the two and it’s a sobering thing to realize someone has outgrown you.
As always, thanks for reading. Let’s do this again in another ten years, yeah? Hopefully movies will suck in the ’20s, because that will probably mean it has been a decent decade.