Diverging from the overbearingly vanilla lists of ‘best and worst of the year’, I thought I’d wrap up our film’s columns business for the year with a personal look at the most interesting, stunning films of the past decade. So, join me on this little look back to the shocks, laughs and tear inducing flicks that have graced the big screen these past 10 years.
Agree, disagree and debate! I’m just here to light the match and watch the pudding go up in flames.
2010 – Black Swan (Dir: Darren Aronofsky)
This stunning trip into the crooked psyche of Natalie Portman’s ballet dancer Nina was a dark, intrinsic look at the quest for perfection and the determination of one young woman to become better than all the rest, at the cost of her own mind. Portman managed to pick up ‘Best Actress’ when awards season reared its head, and only just missed out on ‘Best Picture’ to The King’s Speech.
2011 – Shame (Dir: Steve McQueen)
Steve McQueen (no, not the one you’re thinking of) presents the life of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a paranoid sex addict with a pornography and intimacy problem amidst a family crisis. Close sibling Sissy (Carey Mulligan) spirals out of control and begins to invade Brandon’s personal life, culminating in a drama of love, addiction and mental health.
McQueen has gone on to become a director held in very high regard for his vision and talent. However, his film unfortunately evaded the Academy and BAFTA, instead receiving vast praise at Venice.
2012 – Skyfall (Dir: Sam Mendes)
Every interpretation of James Bond was thrown up in the air in 2012, as the famous macho spy became a wounded, traumatised veteran whose chickens come home to roost. We were shown a vulnerable side to 007 in the series’ 23rd entry, as Judi Dench bowed out from her time as MI6 handler M. Javier Bardem also delivers a venomous performance as cyber terrorist Raul Silva.
2013 – Filth (Dir: Jon S. Baird)
Based on Irvine Welsh’s popular novel, Filth stars James McAvoy as corrupt reprobate Bruce Robertson. Working his way through the police ranks, Robertson plans to ruin the reputation of all his friends and colleagues to worm his way into the top job.
Whilst the rotten deeds of this nasty piece of work are entertaining for the most part, there’s also a lot of heart imbedded into the film’s story. Here’s a man who acts so disgustingly towards other people, he slowly begins to hate himself more and more as the plot develops leading into a stunning third act which should be proud of its ability to throw everything up in the air and change our perspectives completely.
2014 – Locke (Dir: Steven Knight)
Birdman would have truly topped the list, had I not discovered Locke at such a late date. Before the critical acclaim of what can only be described as the British counterpart to The Godfather, Peaky Blinder’s Steven Knight wrote and directed this single-location piece about a construction foreman driving down the motorway in time for the birth of his child, conceived during a one night fling with a woman he can’t bring himself to love. We watch Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) solo in his car as he multitasks work, his mistakes and the horror of having to confess his one night stand to wife (Ruth Wilson) and children (one of whom is Tom Holland). There’s even some great voice work from Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott.
2015 – The Witch (Dir: Robert Eggers)
A deeply unsettling film, and bloody better for it. It’s a once in a blue moon experience that really affects the spectator in a number of ways, most importantly in its power to make you question everything you’ve just seen. With shocking visual imagery, and a gothic backdrop not dissimilar from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, it would be advisable not to watch this alone at night. Demonic goats, surreal imagery and nude hags prancing in the woods accompany you on this journey into black magic.
2016 – Hail, Caesar! (Dir: Coen Brothers)
This comedy takes us through the debacles of a 1950’s Hollywood studio, as the head of ‘physical production’ Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) attempts to fix the problems of his leading talents, meeting oddball directors and actors along the way, whilst attempting to avoid scandal as screen icon Baird Whitlock is kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters demanding ransom and radical change in the film industry.
There are some brilliantly witty performances from Scarlett Johansson as an Esther-Williams-type actress, and Ralph Fiennes in his famous “would that it were so simple” pronunciation battle with a cowboy actor.
2017 – Phantom Thread (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)
A stunning look into the life of a fashion designer called Reynolds (Daniel Day Lewis) who lives his life as a bachelor to a strict mandate, overshadowed by his work. But upon meeting love interest Alma (Vicky Krieps), the two personalities clash. Their tumultuous relationship becomes a bleak love story based solely upon dominance. One over the over.
A blisteringly good “final” performance from Daniel Day Lewis before his retirement – however long that lasts.
2018 – The Favourite & Suspiria (Dirs: Yorgos Lanthimos & Luca Guadagnino)
A joint entry for last year, with an incredibly tough choice.
Lanthiamos is a visionary. He’s managed to shape worlds that mirror our own reality, but with a macabre twist to everything we see, feel and do. His breakthrough Dogtooth (2009) was about the development into adulthood, and the protective streak of parents. The Lobster (2015) was undeniably about love, particularly the rules imposed by society – who we can and can’t fall in love with, and the ways in which he conduct our own lives.
The Favourite (2018) is an exceptional period piece that floats far above the lines of both comedy and drama. It’s a female led piece, headed by a trio of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, showing us the beauty and ugliness of royalty.
Suspiria, being a remake of 70s cult horror flick, is one of the most impressive films ever made. Charting the suspicious acitivites of a German dance company in Cold War Berlin, it’s grossly violent and grim in its tone – but art, nonetheless.
2019 – Joker (Dir: Todd Phillips)
In a tough competition against Ari Aster’s Midsommar, Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Greta Gerwig’s brilliant adaptation of Little Women, the clown prince of crime prevails at the top of the bill.
Not only is the story of this mentally traumatised man thrilling and touching, it puts a mirror before the audience showing reflections of society’s attitude towards mental health and idolisation.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a beautiful performance as a character we’ve all been raised to believe is the embodiment of the devil, and yet there we sit sympathising with a man who, without a doubt, starts off as a victim and transforms, with every kick in the face from the rest of the world, into the same archaic figure we’ve come to love and hate.
And with that, we draw to a close. With #MeToo more prominent than ever, let’s try and make a necessary difference in our own little ways. To fellow creators, good luck. To readers, thanks for your eyes. And for the rest of you out there, here’s a quote from the late Carrie Fisher:
“Take your broken heart. Turn it into art.”