The 2010’s have been a transformative decade for society in many ways. Cinema – which has always been a reflection of the world we live in – is also changing massively.
I wanted to collate a list of movies that represent this change, as opposed to one that reflects my own preferences (which would be a very different list). But ten years is a long time to cover and it was never going to be an easy task to choose the films that I feel deserve to be mentioned.
Without further ado, here they are in chronological order of release.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
This may be a surprisingly timid choice to begin with, but hear me out. Though Tim Burton’s adaptation of the Lewis Carroll book received a mixed critical reception, it earned $1 billion at the box office and has thus shaped Disney Studio’s business model ever since. Alice in Wonderland was one of Disney’s first remake efforts and its success led to live-action versions of many cartoon classics in their repertoire (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin included).
Disney’s nostalgia fever has spread to the rest of Hollywood as well, with the revival of franchises such as Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Terminator crowding the movie market this decade. This begs the worrying question: the overabundance of remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels signify a lack of creativity in the film industry, or is this merely due to the increasing demand of nostalgia movies?
Honourable mention: The Force Awakens (2015)
Christopher Nolan has never been one to shy away from convoluted efforts (Memento, for instance) but with Inception, he outdid himself. Nolan’s effortless genre blend of science-fiction, crime, psychological thriller and film noir is undoubtedly one of the greatest films of the century. It is incredibly easy to lost in the story-line, which features multiple layers taking place simultaneously with its own reference points in time. Yet despite its complexity, it manages to develop its plethora of characters sufficiently and provide emotional value.
Inception ends on an open note and begs for repeat viewings, which is perhaps the reason why the film continued to live on in popular culture. But the main takeaway from the reception to this film is that audiences are not quite as simple as Hollywood usually makes them out to be, and that in an era of unoriginal content and fan-service, there is still some space left for brainy blockbusters.
Honourable mention: Interstellar (2014)
Avengers Assemble (2012)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is by far the largest cinematic project of the decade and it all stands on the shoulders of this action epic which changed the genre forever. For the first time ever, Avengers Assemble brings iconic comic-book superheroes together to face an adversary too challenging for any single one of them to beat on their own. The strength of its film is not just its stunning action sequences but chemistry between its protagonists which added some levity and characterisation.
Marvel found a winning formula in Avengers Assemble and expanded upon it to great effect, revitalising the genre for a long time to come. Of course, one may wonder what the fate of the MCU would have been had this film failed, like Justice League had…
Honourable mention: Avengers: Infinity Wars (2018)
People are often surprised when I say that I love Frozen; this cute little movie about princesses is made for a very different target audience! Indeed, long after Frozen fell out of cinema theatres, the hit animated musical lived on through five-year-old children playing the movie on loop, dressing up as their favourite characters and screaming the lyrics to Let It Go!
The songs are catchy, Olaf is goofy and it’s a beautifully animated film. But why has Frozen garnered such a long-lasting attention? Simply put, it’s because it resonated with audiences in a way that Disney has been unable to do in the past regarding female protagonists. The two princesses in this film, Elsa and Anna, are strong and realistic characters with real strengths and flaws, which perhaps many young viewers saw themselves in. More importantly, Frozen tears down the gender stereotypes that has plagued Disney for decades and transforms our understanding of what “true love” really looks like.
Frozen is a rare moment of self-awareness from Disney and it has paid off for them tremendously.
Honourable mention: La La Land (2016)
When Moonlight won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it made history. One reason for this is that it was the first LGBT+ film, the first film with an all-black cast, a gay black protagonist, and a black director to do so. This in itself is a major achievement and proves a landmark moment in terms of diversity in the film industry.
But there is another crucial reason why Moonlight deserves a spot on this list. Moonlight is the creation of A24, a tiny independent studio which was founded just 7 years ago and is now responsible for some of the greatest films of the decade – Lady Bird, Ex Machina, Hereditary, The Florida Project, The Disaster Artist and The Lobster included. And so, when Moonlight became the cheapest made film to win that coveted prize with a budget of only $1.5 million, it gave the studio with much-needed recognition and provided a small glimmer of hope to the indie scene in an industry dominated by countless big-studio franchises.
There are many factors that make Moonlight a defining film of the decade, but the most important of all is that it truly is a beautiful, human piece of film-making, akin to what many critics have described as “a symphony or a poem”.
Honourable mention: Lady Bird (2017)
Get Out (2017)
If anyone told me that one half of the comedy duo of Key and Peele would end up making a film this good (and that too on his first attempt!) I would not have believed. But here is Get Out, a film that is horrifying not because of its jump scares but because it speaks the truth.
Focusing on Chris, a black photographer who is about to spend the weekend with the parents of his white girlfriend, the movie is incredibly upfront about its discussion of what life is like as a black person in the US. Despite that, it still shocks us because the specific nature of Chris’ visit turns out to be even more disturbing and perverted than any of us could ever imagine. There is subtext and foreshadowing in every single line of its screenplay leading up to the plot twist and for that reason, you may find a second watch very rewarding for that reason.
Get Out – a unique, layered masterpiece that combines the suspense of Hitchcock and the social commentary of Spike Lee – has sparked an intense conversation about race relations like very few others and has proven Jordan Peele to be an auteur for the future.
Honourable mention: Black Panther (2018)
Much like A24, Netflix as a production company is still in its infancy stages, having just made its first film Beasts of No Nations in 2015. Netflix’s early efforts were decent at best, but it was only with Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma that their films have started to be taken seriously by the industry.
In Roma, acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón crafts a moving, minimalist landscape of his childhood in Mexico City that is both vast in scale yet intimate in nature. The story patiently unfolds through the eyes of a maid, Cleo, and the family she takes care of as they go through a turbulent time in their life. The gorgeous black-and-white epic earns a spot on this list by virtue of being the first Netflix original to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, paving the way for more of its kind to be recognised (such as The Irishman and Marriage Story).
Netflix’s success in the entertainment industry is significant because it has led many to wonder whether the rise of streaming services as producers may lead to the slow decline of television and cinema. Could the next decade see Netflix, Amazon Prime and many other providers overtake cinema theatres entirely? Hard to say, but if it does happen it is easy to see where the revolution began.
Honourable mention: Beasts of No Nations (2015)
When we got The Dark Knight twelve years ago, Heath Ledger’s Joker was posthumously hailed as one of the greatest acting performances of all time and at that point it was impossible to imagine that anyone could ever replace him. But Joaquin Phoenix is not just anyone; he is an acting maestro who puts his heart and soul into bringing Todd Phillip’s imagined origin story of the disturbed Clown Prince of Gotham to life.
The one aspect that will be talked about in years to come more than Phoenix is its themes, which have divided practically everyone into two camps: those that think that Joker is an accurate, brutal portrayal of how society deals with mental illnesses; and those that feel that Joker encourages violence and depicts the titular character in an inappropriately sympathetic manner.
Having only released in cinemas three months ago, is it too early to decide that Joker is an influential film? Typically I would say yes…but no one is forgetting this any time soon.
Honourable mention: Logan (2017)