Editor’s Notes: My old friend and BBP! contributor Scotty G is one of the most avid moviegoers I’ve ever met. He went to see Cats! On that note, I asked him to share his favourite movies in the 2010s. He didn’t disappoint. Here’s his list:
10) Whiplash – Watching this movie was like being hit by a jolt of electricity. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons give note-perfect performances in this tale of a student prodigy and his demanding teacher who is either trying to get his students to realize their full potential or collapse under the weight of their teacher’s expectations. Everyone remembers this movie for the rushing/dragging speech, but its finest moment is in the climax when the teacher and student come face-to-face in a performance at Carnegie Hall. The writing is razor-sharp, it is very well directed and let’s not forget how great the music is as well. You can tell that writer/director Damien Chazelle has a passion for music (also displayed in La La Land) and that Teller and Simmons are completely on board with his vision. Watching the end result on screen is pure brilliance.
9) The Spectacular Now – Miles Teller appears again in my top ten list with this wonderful film about a teenager who is throwing away his life because he is an alcoholic. I don’t know what it is like to be an alcoholic and I’ve never had a long enough conversation about alcoholism with someone who was one, but this is a film that in my opinion treats its subject matter with respect and honesty. Shailene Woodley gives a wonderful performance as a girl with her own dreams but is being held back because of Miles Teller’s character. The best scene in the film is when Teller’s boss wants him to be sober so he can continue to work at the men’s clothing store, but Teller decides to quit as he cares more about alcohol than his own well-being. It continues to stick with me for how honest the writing and performances are and if you have not seen it, I strongly recommend that you do.
8) Cloud Atlas – This is probably the most polarizing film on my list, but I can easily say this is the film that I have watched the most in this decade. Equal parts brilliance and frustration, the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer’s centuries-spanning epic is a film that keeps sticking with me no matter how many times I view it. I catch something new, a different meaning, a performance I didn’t think much of in one viewing means more in another or one of the storylines that I thought was weaker becomes the strongest one. It also does a tremendous job of mixing genres which makes this a film unlike anything else that came out this decade and hopefully it will be a film that academics and scholars will show more love to as the years pass.
7) Argo – This is another film that benefits from a great script and committed performances by all the actors involved. To me, it is an ensemble film, although one could argue that it is more about Ben Affleck’s CIA operative than the group of Americans trying to escape Iran. Although the film takes its subject matter seriously, there are some wonderfully comedic moments, usually involving a never-better John Goodman and Alan Arkin. I’ll admit that I did not know much about the Iran Hostage Crisis, but after watching this film, it made me want to learn more. Although it was disappointing to read after the fact that the climactic airport sequence never happened in real life, the film did a great job building tension knowing that one mistake or false move could cost them their lives. The cathartic sense of relief on the airplane in the third act is what I also felt knowing that the hostages were free. When a film can take a real-life event, where you already know the outcome, and still make you feel engaged and tense, then I think the film has done its job. Argo also gets a special mention, because it had my favourite movie quote of the decade, which is “Argo f*&k yourself”.
6) Ex Machina – This film was a big coming out for writer/director Alex Garland, who deservedly got a ton of acclaim after doing very solid work over the years as a novelist, screenwriter and game writer. If you’re familiar with “The Turing Test”, then this is like watching an interrogation of the test being played out before your eyes between man and machine, the catch being that the machine knows it is a machine, so how can you believe that it can have a conscious if it knows this already? The film can be cold and isolated at times, but that adds to its believability because where the film is set feels that way as well. The effects and general look of the film are spectacular, the script is razor-sharp, the performances of Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac are spot-on and it has the best ending of any film this decade. Add all those things up and it is easy to see why it is in my top ten films of the decade. Side note – what’s interesting for me is that this is the only film on my list that I did not see in theatres.
5) Her – When you try to describe this film in one sentence to someone who has not seen it before, you would probably get eye rolls or a dismissive comment as watching a man fall in love with his AI is a stretch for some people. In the hands of writer/director Spike Jonze, Her is a carefully crafted film about modern and future love as well as the importance of loss and living. The performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson make you care and believe in these characters, made more impressive because to me this is a quiet film. The nuances and care that everyone involved in the making of this one showed when it came to the subject matter turned what could have been a disaster on screen, into one of the best films of the decade. I did not intend for Ex Machina and Her to be back-to-back on my list, but I think they would make an excellent double bill.
4) How to Train Your Dragon – This film is absolute magic in my opinion. The story of Hiccup, a young boy who finds a dragon is an absolute powerhouse. It is a tale of friendship, fearmongering and trust and it still holds up on repeated viewings. The voice cast led by Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler are wonderful and the animation is gorgeous. I remember watching this one at a theatre in Whitby, Ontario and being in absolute awe at the sequence where Hiccup and Toothless fly for the first time. The way it was directed, the musical score by John Powell and the pure terror and joy in the animation of flying for the first time had me sitting on the edge of my seat, wishing I could fly on a dragon. That statement may sound silly to some, but I stand by it. I also appreciated the side story of a son trying to earn his father’s respect without compromising what he believes in. I don’t like when adults dismiss animated films as being for children, because they are not. Animated films are just another format to tell a story and How To Train Your Dragon tells its wonderfully.
3) The Wolf of Wall Street – What a wonderfully dark and twisted life Jordan Belfort once lived. I normally do not like watching films about despicable human beings, but in the hands of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Terence Winter and Thelma Schoonmaker, I enjoyed this tale immensely. We watch the rise and fall of a Wall Street con-artist and some of the side stories that happened along the way. I genuinely think that Belfort got into the business with the best of intentions, but money and power corrupt people and he is no exception. What makes it so fascinating is how the more power and wealth he attains, the less regard he has for humanity. There are lots of great moments in the film, from the office hijinks, the Matthew McConaughey chest-thumping scene, the Quaaludes story to the iconic photo of DiCaprio holding up a wine glass that can be used as a meme for pretty much everything. This film has it all. I was engaged in the entire story from start to finish and even though I didn’t feel bad for Belfort in the end, I was very appreciative that his story made to the big screen.
2) Blade Runner 2049 – The original Blade Runner was not a commercial or critical success but gained much appreciation over time. I hope the same happens with Blade Runner 2049, as although it was a critical success, it did not meet box office expectations, so I do hope that it finds an audience in the coming years. I loved everything about this film. The pace, the performances, the writing (and lack of dialogue at times), the look, the score, the story. I genuinely had no idea where the movie was taking me as a viewer and the red herrings that it throws up had me fall for them hook, line and sinker. It is also the third film on my list that deals with a relationship with an AI, although unlike the other two films, that is not the focus of this film. Director Denis Villeneuve hits all the write notes with this masterpiece, having enough references to acknowledge the original, but having a style that is unique and distinct and of his own voice. Ryan Gosling is terrific in the lead role of a blade runner that discovers a secret that could change the balance of power between humans and replicants. It leads him on a quest that is unlike any that I have seen on screen before. It is a visual masterpiece that also has a story filled with heart and loss. Harrison Ford’s presence in the second half of the film only strengthens the story. Every pause, nuance and unspoken word is just as powerful as an image or line of dialogue and it is the rare film that I can say that I think the sequel is better than the original.
1) The Social Network – David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin teamed up for the story of how Facebook came to be and what a powerhouse of a film it was. Social media dominates our way of life, our culture, our very being. It is how we get our information and disinformation, how we form our opinions of friends and newsmakers as well as even being a way of life for some, no one could have realized at the time who much of an impact it would have on society. To see how it came to be was handled with extreme care and grace, while not sugar-coating the naivety and coldness of Mark Zuckerberg as he made Facebook from an idea to a reality, is an absolute joy to watch unfold on the screen. The script is sharp (as one would expect from Aaron Sorkin) and you are immediately hooked by the opening exchange between Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara. The film features career-best performances from Eisenberg, Armie Hammer and Andrew Garfield as well as a fantastic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The only thing that angers me about this film is that it lost Best Picture to The King’s Speech. I would argue that history will remember The Social Network to be the better film, but only time will be able to prove my theory correct.
Honourable Mentions: 12 Years A Slave, Annihilation, Arrival, Avengers: Endgame, Baby Driver, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Coco, Hugo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (U.S. Version), Inception, Jojo Rabbit, The Martian, Maudie, Skyfall, The Town, Toy Story 3