The 2010s: the decade of Obama and Trump, hope and hate, dashed dreams and heightened anxiety, increasing interconnectedness that lead to both positive grassroots movements and sharper divisions, social media overload, hacks into our privacy and once sacred institutions, political chaos, and drones delivering both presents and bombs.
Personally, this was the decade I traveled abroad for the first time and ultimately visited six different countries. I advanced multiple rungs in my corporate career. I met an amazing woman – our first date was seeing the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself – who I married. We then bought a wonderful old house together in a charming neighborhood, and became parents to an awesome little boy. I also published a novel, Then Came Darkness, that will likely always be my own sentimental favorite piece of work.
Film was right there with me every step of the way, mirroring the light (La La Land) and increasing darkness (most of Villeneuve’s output) in the world at large, sometimes in the breadth of the same film (Arrival, Drive, The Tree of Life).
It’s terms of consistency of output, Denis Villenueve had a banner decade and directed more list entries than any other auteur: Arrival, Enemy, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049. It was also a great decade for Ryan Gosling, who is the performer who shows up on more list entries than any other: Drive, La La Land, The Place Beyond the Pines, Blade Runner 2049. The Gos also brought my wife and I together as our shared love for him was one of the first topics of discussion the night we met at a rooftop party, both of us reluctant guests of mutual acquaintances. Her favorite Gos performance was Half Nelson, mine was Drive. We abhorred The Notebook. Both of us passed each other’s first test.
But I digress. Back to the decade at hand where some films reflected the anxious yet still somehow hopeful mood of the moment through depictions of complex modern relationship (Moonlight, Waves), while others just flat out broadcast our deepest modern anxieties (Take Shelter, Enemy, Sicario, Us). Still others looked back and reminded us there were times before ours even more tumultuous (Phoenix). Still others bent time (Inception, The Tree of Life, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) while others stood austerely outside of any context and proved the timeless nature of art (Phantom Thread).
Some could’ve only been made with the boldness of young auteurs finding their voice (Moonlight, Us, Waves), while some could’ve only been made by a reflective master looking back on their career (The Irishman). Then there were others that could’ve only been made by auteurs in their prime (Arrival, Inception, Phoenix).
Yet some could’ve only been made by a depressed madman looking for the beauty in the end of the world (Melancholia). And still some blazed a trail so defiant in their logic and reason for being (a continuation of a series thought long dead directed by a senior citizen) that they perfectly reflected the madness of our times by showcasing an even madder future (Mad Max: Fury Road).
But the movie that I think about probably more than any other film of the decade; a film whose climax features a haunting, emotional, draining, and ultimately uplifting rendition of Sarah Vaughn’s “Speak Low” that was so memorable my wife and I later added it to our wedding song list; a film that I compared to such classics like The Third Man (routinely in my Top Five of All Time) and Hitchcock’s Notorious…is none other than Christian Petzold’s neo-noir psychological slow-burner about survivor’s guilt and hidden identities, Phoenix. Just as Nelly (played by Nina Hoss in a performance for the ages) survived her husband’s betrayal, WWII and the Holocaust, so did all of us looking back now survive the wild anxiety-riddled ebbs and flows of the 2010s. Phoenix is without a doubt, the greatest film of the decade.
|Phantom Thread||2017||Paul Thomas Anderson||2|
|If Beale Street Could Talk||2018||Barry Jenkins||3|
|The Tree of Life||2011||Terrence Malick||5|
|Mad Max: Fury Road||2015||George Miller||6|
|Waves||2019||Trey Edward Shults||7|
|Melancholia||2011||Lars Von Trier||8|
|Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives||2011||Apichatpong Weerasethakul||9|
|Drive||2011||Nicolas Winding Refn||10|
|The Irishman||2019||Martin Scorsese||11|
|12 Years a Slave||2013||Steve McQueen||13|
|Winter’s Bone||2010||Debra Granik||14|
|La La Land||2016||Damien Chazelle||17|
|Cold War||2018||Pawel Pawlikowski||18|
|Lean on Pete||2018||Andrew Haigh||19|
|The Place Beyond the Pines||2013||Derek Cianfrance||20|
|Take Shelter||2011||Jeff Nichols||21|
|Biutiful||2010||Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu||22|
|Personal Shopper||2017||Olivier Assayas||25|
|A Separation||2011||Asghar Farhadi||HM|
|The Grey||2012||James Carnahan||HM|
|The Impossible||2012||Juan Antonio Bayona||HM|
|The Master||2012||Paul Thomas Anderson||HM|
|Inside Llewyn Davis||2013||The Coen Brothers||HM|
|Blue Ruin||2014||Jeremy Saulnier||HM|
|The Salesman||2016||Asghar Farhadi||HM|
|Blade Runner 2049||2017||Denis Villeneuve||HM|
|Wind River||2017||Taylor Sheridan||HM|
Yes, a few of these could have made my Top Ripples Decade list too if there are more spaces within the 20. 🙂 Among them are Phoenix and Drive. Before Phoenix, Nina Hass did Barbara, I think that’s even more impressive. And congrats on all your achievements in 2019, new family, new book and many more. May the next decade lead you to more wonderful finds and brilliant works, David!
Our lists shared a number of entries. Barbara was another great Petzold-Hoss pairing from the prior decade. Phoenix is their peak though for me.
Thanks for the kind words, Arti – here’s to another great decade of films (and writing about them)!
I saw Hoss’s newest The Audition at TIFF. She’s also good but of a different nature. For classical music lovers.
I’ll have to check that out.