Tom Jolliffe offers 10 essential films from the past decade…
As a miserablist of impending middle age, I’ve often joked with friends my age (and perhaps with a demi-truth belief) that music died in 1994. On the subject of cinema, I’ve increasingly found in opining (the increasingly difficult task of selecting personal favourites, or creating Top 10’s and more) that my picks rarely include anything this century.
However, it is not to say that this century isn’t without its great works. That being said, the first decade of this century was stronger than the last 10 years. Again though, the 2010’s have had some fine cinema. As opposed an outright Best of list I’ve decided to pick an essentials list that will encompass a range of films and genres. I’ve also not yet been able to see potential contenders such as The Farewell, The Irishman, The Lighthouse or Parasite (not least the chance to rewatch said films for further reappraisal).
Without further ado, here is an essential list from the last decade.
To begin, this one slipped somewhat under the radar in 2015. Writer/director Stephen Fingleton’s excellently written, thoughtfully constructed Tarkovskian sci-fi sees a man in a post-event (as opposed Post-Apocalypse) world living alone on a farm, hidden from the stragglers of society who still roam the world. He’s self sufficient, keeping enough crop to keep himself (but not enough to take on board any one else). When a mother and her adult daughter arrive, he reluctantly gives in to his lustful urges and lets them stay (in exchange for sex with the daughter).
Brutal, beautiful, haunting and powerful, The Survivalist is an exceptional film, and a prime example of a recent boom in the quality of Northern Irish cinema (beginning to step into the forefront of the British isles for interesting cinematic output).
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen cemented himself as a vital cinematic voice with this crushingly powerful bio pic. Based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free black man, living in relative affluence, who was kidnapped by two con-men and sold into slavery, the film charts his long (and brutal) ordeal and eventual escape. McQueen pulls exceptional work from a top cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.
A film difficult to invest in more than once, but as gripping and powerful a drama that has been produced in recent history.
Blade Runner 2049
Quite why anyone decided making a follow up to renowned flop Blade Runner (but reappraised masterpiece) was anyone’s guess. Long gestating, much was rumoured about this but eventually the film, to be helmed by Denis Villeneuve was made. Okay, so it turned out to be financially foolish, but creatively, marked one of the finest sci-fi films of the last 30 years.
As someone who marks Blade Runner as their favourite film, and thus feels a preciousness over any potential mishandling of the world in follow up films, it pleased me greatly that Villeneuve not only beautifully honoured a lot of the great aspects of Ridley Scott’s original, but also injects something of his own brilliance into a film that can also stand by itself. Aided by some of the most astounding visuals you’ll ever see (and watch Roger Deakins’ astonishingly creative brilliance in crafting such wondrous visuals, with a lot of groundbreaking practical cinematography on behind the scenes videos), and the returning Harrison Ford as inspired as we’ve seen for almost 30 years, Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film holding up to repeat viewings and analysis.
As a director renowned for high concept action or sci-fi films, that are heavy on exposition (and long on run-time), Christopher Nolan pulled an about turn and made a pulsating and relentlessly thrilling war film that was sparse on dialogue and with exceptional grit, tells the tale of the evacuation of Dunkirk. The film splits between three primary stories from the P.O.V of allies trying to escape Dunkirk (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles), one of the fisherman taking his boat into dangerous military waters to aid the army (an exceptionally understated Mark Rylance) to the sky with Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot in a relentless cat and mouse chase with an enemy plane.
This is easily the best war film since Saving Private Ryan and a great example of Nolan’s ability to go less is more sometimes.
Under The Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s brooding, dark and haunting arthouse re-imagining of Species (Remember that goofy Natasha Henstridge classic?) is a film that cinephiles and critics seemed to latch onto. Scarlett Johansson is an alien in this allegorical horror who, under the eye of some larger entity is tasked with seducing men and bringing them to their death to be grimly consumed of their flesh and bone. She’s almost like a…black…widow…(mic drop).
With a score that scratches your spine and beautiful cinematography, Glazer’s film moves slowly and purposefully as the horror gives way to the aliens development and understanding of humans. Johansson is superb. It’s a role that has little dialogue but she conveys her journey from Glasgow to Highlands, with all its encounters and progressive emotional confusion beautifully. To add to some of my choices so far, this certainly (along with The Survivalist and Blade Runner 2049) evokes Tarkovsky with it’s beautiful and grungy depictions of the surroundings as well as the wilful pacing. Note: This has no actual connection to Species, aside from basic plot outline.
How to explain Mandy…wow…it’s almost tragic that the film didn’t get a larger release than it did. For complicated reasoning, certainly UK side, the larger chains wouldn’t take it, restricting it to Indie cinemas only. That being said, in some screenings it regularly sold out. Panos Cosmatos rakes in a huge hodgepodge of influences from arthouse (hell, even a bit of Tarkovsky too) to horror (touching everything from the Wicker Man to Hellraiser), sci-fi, grindhouse, and trash cinema. 80’s/90’s B movie legends like Albert Pyun, Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray used to make films this odd. Cosmatos captures the best of the B’s and broad strokes with art-house flourish, before a mid film flip into pure carnage.
Andrea Riseborough is mesmerising, as is Linus Roache (in a far creepier way). Oh yeah…and in what should be a sub-genre in itself, this features classic Nic Cage meltdown mode. As only Cage can, he dials it up to 11.5 and lets everything out. Yet, quite unlike the post-modern, revisionist irony of Vampires Kiss for example, in Mandy, even at his most histrionic it actually feels completely natural. Mandy is visually dazzling, with a magnificent synth score from the late Johann Johannsson. It’s one of a kind horror.
Mad Max: Fury Road
If we’re talking essential action, then Mad Max: Fury Road, which brewed a long while before finally arriving, is THE film of the decade. Much like its strongest predecessor, The Road Warrior, it’s a beautifully simple, thunderously paced action spectacle with the titular Max once again wandering into a wider story. It’s never particularly Max’s mission (aside from the original). He seems to happen upon a story and hook into it. Tom Hardy is very good, offering ample enigma, if not quite the effortless badass charisma of the young Mel Gibson in the original trilogy. Charlize Theron is the real protagonist and she’s superb.
George Miller, after years of irregular children’s films slips back into the world with ease. The film is visually resplendent and the action sequences are astounding, staying true to the original trilogies wont for jaw-dropping stunt work. Some of the sequences are utterly breathtaking, particularly when seen on big screen. The film may not have huge caverns of character depth, but this is a pure, balls to the wall action film.
Firmly establishing Barry Jenkins as a leading light in cinema Moonlight is a moving and effective coming of age film. If the somewhat overrated Boyhood felt more like an achievement of bullheaded endurance, this has a rawness, grit and emotional depth the former doesn’t quite have. It’s also another triumphant example that shows A24 studios to be forerunners in quality modern cinema (see also High Life, Good Time, Ex Machina, The Lobster, The Witch, Hereditary and several others which pushed close to being included). They’re almost becoming a last bastion of cinematic hope in a bastardised Hollywood wasteland.
Aiding Jenkins in Moonlight are exceptional performances from Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali and the young cast portraying Chiron from youth to young adult.
From wry comedic observer to cutting cultural commentator in one fell swoop, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out set a high bar from his first stab. The film beautifully blends horror, comedy, satire and telling observation, and manages to be fiercely effective in everything it wants to achieve. The film is funny, thought-provoking, but above all, a fantastic horror/thriller that sets the pulse to high. Peele may well, with no shortage of sardonic wit, point the camera out to society (in particular the attitude toward African Americans not only from Caucasian observers, but themselves too).
On top of the rich screenplay, the film is wonderfully shot and beautifully designed. Daniel Kaluuya takes a leading leap into the big time here as the weight of his situation (moving from awkward politeness against seeming white faux-pas, to true horror) gets ever more heavy.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
We need a bit more comedy to round out the 2010’s essential, and whilst Taika Waititi is shit hot right now, his most effective film (as writer/director) remains Hunt For The Wilderpeople. It’s an effortlessly charming, constantly hilarious but touching coming of age story of a troubled teen’s need to belong.
Pushed from pillar to post and constantly acting out, Ricky (Julian Dennison) thinks he’s finally found someone who won’t abandon him, even despite his behaviour, until she sadly dies. Less assured is his relationship with her partner Hec (Sam Neill). When Ricky is to be taken back into care, he absconds and Hec follows. The pair, almost begrudgingly begin to bond as they both evade the law.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has several features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019/2020, including Cyber Bride and Scarecrow’s Revenge both available on Prime. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.