Skip to main content

Who would want to be stuck in a dream for ten years?

Top 10 Films
2010-19

Now, you may glance down the following and blanche at its apparent Yankophile and populist tendencies. I wouldn’t seek to claim, however, that my tastes are particularly prone to treading on the coat tails of the highbrow. And there’s always the cahiers du cinema list if you want an appreciation of that ilk. As such, near misses for the decade, a decade that didn’t feature all that many features I’d rank as unqualified classics, included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tron: Legacy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and Edge of Tomorrow.

10. The Social Network
(2010)

Okay, The Social Network admittedly fails to document how Facebook was actually created by the CIA and that Mark Zuckerberg was nothing more than a stooge, and David Rockefeller’s grandson at that. Or alternatively, how Zuckerberg was “just sitting around with his friends in front of his computer ordering pizza”. But apaaaart from that. David Fincher’s filmmaking chops are unlikely ever to desert him so much as become shopworn by repeatedly returning to the well of serial killers and B-thrillers. It takes something like this, an Aaron Sorkin think piece about the seductiveness of success and status to evidence why he’s really in a class of one as a director. The specific Facebook conversation here may have been left in the dust by subsequent events, but there’s always room for a sequel…

9. Cloud Atlas
(2012)

Flawed but frequently stunning sixth feature from the Wachowski sisters, a meditation on the “continuity of souls” across hundreds of years via juxtaposed stories, timeframes and actors in multiple and contrasting roles. All the plotlines aren’t created equal (although, that goes back to the David Mitchell source material), and some of the prosthetic decisions are, shall we say, not entirely convincing, but as a visionary whole, aided by a gorgeous score from Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil and (co-director) Tom Twyker, it has conceptual scope to spare.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013)

The sole Coen Brothers picture of the decade to stand with the very best of their work. Not that they aren’t head and shoulders above most filmmakers even on an off day. Inside Llewyn Davis tells the unpropitious story of the musician title character (Oscar Isaac in an increasingly necessary reminder of how good he can be), more often than not the artist as his own worst enemy. But as per the Coens’ work generally, we’re still willing to stick with him (see also Barton Fink). A melancholy affair, one that appreciates the fickleness of the swing doors of success and failure.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive
(2013)

Another melancholy picture, Jim Jarmusch’s goth chic vampires may be impossibly cool (I mean, they go to Tangiers on their hols) but they embody cup of blood half-full/empty attitudes. Tom Hiddleston’s dashing, despairing grump may reflect Jarmusch himself, aghast at the state of the modern world, ultimately unable to avoid the edicts of his own “humanity”, while Tilda Swinton contrastingly sees the positives in embracing their existence. The director uses the eternal knowledge aspect to touch magpie-like on a number of his pet subjects, but the couple’s prevailing need for each other overrides such side bars. 

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
(2017)

The McDonagh brothers have run a relay of at very least interestingly pithy (Seven Psychopaths, War on Everyone, Calvary) and at best caustic, sharp and clever (The Guard, this) over the past decade. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the most fully formed, balancing a tendency to revel in the luxury of form (quick, cutting, biting characters trading barbs to often hilarious effect) with unearthing substance that sometimes doesn’t quite yield gold (Calvary’s main problem). Martin McDonagh hits the bullseye in a manner not seen since his outstanding debut In Bruges. Perhaps too accurately. Possibly the picture received too much in the way of awards attention, as it meant his irreverence was suddenly held up to the lens of how he “should” be addressing the themes therein, particularly of race, in an approved and certified manner. 

5. Bad Times at the El Royale
(2018)

Drew Goddard’s delirious neo-noir multi-plotted thriller is a delight that keeps you surprised and guessing, showing off the kind of narrative sleights and dexterity that might fool you into thinking this kind of thing comes easy. It’s superbly directed and cleverly cast too. There’s a touch of Tarantino about Bad Times at the El Royale, if Tarantino had honed his story skills rather than given in to his addiction to genre referencing. Goddard may not garner an ounce of the adulation, but his creations are much more satisfying. 

4. Blade Runner 2049
(2017)

Blade Runner 2049 isn’t as good as the first film – it pushes itself into areas of too traditional plotting, with the foregrounded Deckard genealogy and replicant uprising, that were largely bypassed in the anti-detection detective story of Scott’s original – but it is still a remarkable achievement. The only serious mistake (one also made with Tron: Legacy) was somehow thinking there was an enormous waiting audience for it that justified the budget. Sir Ridders may have complained that Denis Villeneuve’s sequel was slow and overlong, but his days of making films of this quality are far in the past.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
(2014)

Will this be seen as peak Wes Anderson? It would be ironic if it does, as The Grand Budapest Hotel finds the director flourishing a broader, slapstick approach compared to his previously established, wryly distanced tableau observations. As such, the film motors along infectiously and often hilariously, Anderson making vivid use of a selection of faces both new and familiar to his repertory in a variety of cartoonish guises, and accompanied by a masterpiece score from Alexandre Desplat that perfectly reflects the piece’s exuberant energy. 

2. Inception
(2010)

Did the top keep spinning? Is there a spoon? Another that may eventually be seen as its director’s peak picture – although we can hope for the best from Tenet – as his subsequent trio have been decidedly lesser affairs. An outstanding, immersive, Russian doll envisaging of dream reality by way of a heist format. Nolan’s deftest move is not to treat his dream logic as dream logic but rather as a state of consciousness with clearly defined rules and relationships. If there’s a yardstick for the intelligent blockbuster, this is it.

1. Mad Max Fury Road
(2015)

And if there’s a yardstick for the blockbuster as pure, cinematic experience, this is surely it. Mad Max: Fury Road is an astounding piece of work, a kinetic kaleidoscope of sound and fury, of colour and chaos. And edited to within an inch of its life, such that it shows off George Miller as the aging master of action cinema. All else should kneel before the master. The shame of it is that we’ll have to wait so long for a follow up, while he goes off to make his next Lorenzo’s Oil.

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).