This decade has so far been a transitional decade for movies. We are living in an exciting, confusing time where superhero movies, sequels and popular book adaptations are becoming the foundation at the box office. If the notion of an original, creative, idea seems to be lost and forgotten, there are still – now more than ever – filmmakers pushing the norms and boundaries of what a movie can be. Filmmakers like these are few and far between, but they need to exist to make movies further progress and evolve just like they have in past 100+ years. To me, the following ten movies represent the most important of the decade thus far. They are the movies have marked my mid-decade, the movies I feel have further advanced the cinematic medium. As always, I write articles such as these to get the readers to chime in with their own picks. Looking forward to reading them.
1) The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” is a mosaic of a film that might test the limitations of its audience, but more importantly, the cinematic medium’s limitations. No matter what faults you may have with Malick’s movie, you cannot deny the sheer chutzpah and originality that went into its creation. There has never been anything quite like it and I highly doubt there ever will be. Malick tries to transcend the boundaries of life itself by trying to find a kind of meaning. This is his search for transcendence, in the little moments that make us and shape us. Death, mourning, rebirth, transcendence are just a fraction of the themes being tackled here. The mainstream might not have warmed up to the film’s non-linear narrative; for the rest of us, the symposium of abstract shapes and colors that pop our eyes out on the screen is just what the doctor ordered. This is the greatest cinematic experience of the decade.
2) The Master
P.T Anderson’s masterpiece is almost unexplainable. A reinvention of the cinematic language with a never better Joaquin Phoenix. The backdrop is scientology, but that’s only the backdrop for a much more complex movie. The surrealistic nature of the film was a hint for things to come in the Anderson cannon – “Inherent Vice”, anybody?- but here was a movie that had the best director of his generation at the peak of his powers, using scientology as only the background for bigger more complicated themes. I was more than riveted. Bold, innovative and infuriating, “The Master” is a landmark movie, but one that will likely divide its audience in half. Too bad, I was hypnotized by almost every single frame of its puzzling, schizophrenic narrative.
“Margaret” is an absolute masterpiece. It thematically is going for the tone of a grandiose opera, but in a modern day context, filtered through the emotions of a teenage girl associated with a tragedy she witnessed and felt responsible for. It expresses the emotional teenage mind-set like no other. Every performance is astounding and every character in it so compelling and fully-realized. There’s no doubt in my mind that if this movie hadn’t been tangled up in lawsuits years ago, Anna Paquin surely would have been winning many awards for her performance. It’s such a shame that a movie of this size and scope was overlooked. Director Kenneth Lonergan asked friend Martin Scorsese for some help in the editing room and what you ended up getting was a movie that could not be explained easily and has only gotten better with time.
4) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Grasping a film such as this one may require some major attention from the viewer, and even when the attention is there, frustration may come about as a result of the film’s abstractedness and non-linear narrative. This is all not too surprising when you consider Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s filmography and his constant acknowledgment of nature and the way it binds to us as human beings. Have I lost you yet? Snoozing? That’s how some folks might react when watching “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”. Coming out of the screening I attended, there was a kind of head scratching vibe in the air. It was as if Weerasethakul’s film had not only confused the general public, but actually angered them in frustration with what they had witnessed. I dug it the its mysterious setting and its dream-like episodes. If you’ve seen “Tropical Maladay” or “Syndromes and a Century” you know just how special this guy is.
5) A Separation
Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s indisputably great “A Separation” is the portrait of a country in turmoil. Just like the marriage depicted, it is constantly caught in the politics and restrictions the society offers. In one memorable scene, a man tells his daughter to speak Arabic as opposed to Farsi. In another telling moment, a girl’s school textbook recalls a time in the country’s history when the only two classes that existed were “royalty” and “everybody else”. Every person involved in the trial of “A Separation” has the best intentions and their own honorable values to go by. It is the most truthful and unbiased depiction of Iran I have seen this decade. The characters in Farhadi’s film live their lives according to the same religion and guidelines that are asked for them to obey. Yet, in the end it is only our own personal experiences that can provide us with the moral compass for the story.
6) Under the Skin
What Glazer has accomplished here is quite remarkable and shouldn’t be forgotten. He’s made a picture that defies all the rules and, just like most films on this list, has reinvented a new kind of language. He showed real promise with his first film “Sexy Beast” back in 2000, a cerebral and intense film that paved the way for Ben Kingsley’s best performance. He followed it up with “Birth”, which was kind of all over the place and not as successful as I wanted it to be, but now he’s really surprised me with this one, an out of left field vision that stuns. More than two years after having seen it I still can’t get the damn thing out of my head. Its originality and absurdity is what I love the most about it, and of course Johansson, who is just perfect for the part of a murderous, seductive alien, was the perfect casting choice.
7) Holy Motors
Leos Carax. You have to give it to this wildly imaginative filmmaker. He’s allergic to formula and refuses to adhere to the norm. In this thrilling, visionary, frustrating, exhausting and masterful film, he decided to give a poisonous valentine to the cinema, splitting his film into a bunch of different genres. Episodic in nature and more than eye-opening, Carax gave us something we’ve never seen before: a surreal nightmare of the past, present and future of cinema. With unusual acting chameleon Denis Lavant by his side, this was a movie in which anything could happen, in which any image could get juxtaposed with any other. There is no three-act structure built upon a tired, overplayed premise. Carax pushes, pushes and pushes until he finds the existential, surrealistic nirvana he’s been looking for throughout the movie with a simple but awe-inspring final image that is as haunting as it is ridiculous.
8) Black Swan
Taking a cue from Kanye West’s 2010 album, this is Director Darren Aronofksy’s Beautiful, Dark, twisted fantasy. Natalie Portman gave the performance of the year in a film that was more than just about ballet; it was about the boundaries an artist had in order to push his or herself to the very limits of their art. The same could be said of Aronofsky, who’s never adhered to the conventional or acceptable. A potent, poisonous child of Emeric Pressburger/Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive”, this was a campy, visionary, extraordinary mess that turned into the film that confirmed the filmmaker was the real deal.
9) Inside Llewyn Davis
There was a hint of reflective existentialism in the Coens’ Best Picture winner “No Country For Old Men”. Those kooky brothers were maturing before our very eyes and we had no idea what was to follow. “A Serious Man” was unlike any movie they’ve ever done: autobiographical, philosophical and damn near apocalyptic. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is where the Coens, the thinkers, make the masterpiece they’ve been hinting at this decade. A meditation on failure which just so happens to have as a backdrop the 1960’s Greenwich Village New York folk scene. This is the scene right before Dylan, when Folk was still square and the struggles for the artists were very apparent. Our Llewyn Davis doesn’t want to sell out, sticking to his artistic integrity and preferring a life without money than to sell himself to the devil. If only we had more artists like him today.
10) The Social Network
A film such as “The Social Network” relies on characters more than plotting. The characters populating the film stay etched in your head way after the film is done, which is in fact the highest quality of the film. There is an almost irresistible vibe created; Fincher uses low lit cinematography to enhance the dreary atmosphere happening throughout. The hallways of Harvard feel cavernous and nightmarish, whereas the look and portrayal of University life is nothing short of condemning. Although the movie can be seen as an entertainment first and foremost, the substance that drives its themes home is very apparent. After a second, third and even fourth viewing of David Fincher’s masterpiece, I discovered new things that might not have seemed as obvious or apparent the first time around. “American Beauty’s” advertising campaign told us to “look closer; the same goes for “The Social Network”.