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I have some surprising news, which is that we just said farewell not just to the year but they decade and before I can move on, I must ask “what just happened?” The answer might be, “not much.” As the Best Picture Oscar Winners for the past ten years have been largely forgettable, unless they have the suffix “light”, as in “Spotlight” and “Moonlight,” here’s an unranked list of assorted films to check out, because when was the last time you thought about “The King’s Speech?”
“Hell or High Water” (2016) is an utterly riveting, exciting and moving film that pits my dear dude Jeff Bridges against two bank robbing brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, in Texas.
“Fury Road” (2015) is probably the only film of the decade that could be described as ground-breaking, taking the concept of an action film to its purest and most artistic conclusions. It was truly “mad” in the best, most exciting way, with everything from the production design to the character names unabashedly insane and inventive. It might be the coolest movie ever, and certainly lately, and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is iconic.
“Eighth Grade”(2018) and “Booksmart” (2019) and of course Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” (2017) delivered cringingly honest portrayals of young girls and should outlast this decade for their memorable female characters and the actresses who portrayed them, of whom we will hopefully be seeing much more in the future. Similarly, squarely in the middle of the decade and his career explosion, Adam Driver starred in Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” (2016) a beautiful and quiet story much better than their subsequent pairing in last year’s “The Dead Don’t Die.” My favorite Jim Jarmusch film, and one of my favorites of the decade overall, was also a supernatural story, but about vampires, 2013’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, who also went on to star in Marvel movies.
Don’t let the decade end without me mentioning my deep, abiding love of “Paddington 2” (2017) yet again. And two films you could have missed, “A Ghost Story” (2017) and “The Farewell,” (2019) are movies about death that are well worth watching.
I forgot how much I liked “Whiplash” (2014) then I realized that Damien Chazelle made some of the decade’s best films, with that one and then, of course, “La La Land” in 2016. Taken together, these are both films about artistic processes, and jazz specifically, with “Whiplash” being a smaller drama that gave J.K. Simmons his Oscar for his turn as the terrifying mentor to drummer Miles Teller.
“La La Land” is a technicolor throwback musical about characters who love throwbacks and, even if you don’t buy into the musical format, it’s also achingly romantic. When I saw it at the Crescent Theater, several audience members moaned in agony when it is revealed that Emma Stone is not married to who we want her to be married to, and the final scene, which is a rhapsodic dance through what might have been, breaks my heart every time I watch it.
Before he made “Joker,” (2019) Joaquin Phoenix was wonderful in “Her” (2013) a wistful and interesting film directed by Spike Jonze, who was one of the most exciting filmmakers of the decade before this one. And what did some of the other artists who became my favorite filmmakers more than ten years ago, produce recently? The Coen Brothers made “Inside LLeywn Davis” (2013) a melancholy masterpiece starring Oscar Isaac, who would of course go on to star in this decade’s entries to the “Star Wars” world. It’s a downbeat film that really gets under your skin while the Coen’s 2016 film “Hail, Caesar,” is a detailed film geek valentine with a magnificent dance number from Channing Tatum.
My other stalwart, Wes Anderson, kept on making movies of course, with “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) and “Isle of Dogs” (2018) but none of these were his greatest films. Maybe the whole decade really was more of the same, for better or worse, and I guess it truly was dominated by Marvel and other superhero movies. I like some of those movies well enough, particularly “Thor: Ragnorok,” (2017) but in the end, what I really like about them is that Mark Ruffalo is the Hulk, and the movies I love him for, like “You Can Count on Me,” (2000) and “The Kids Are All Right,” are many years behind him, with the latter just squeaking into this decade in 2010.
While a look back at the past ten years has left me unsettled and unsatisfied, I can say with clarity what the worst film was and that was “Aquaman,” (2018) the single silliest thing I have ever seen in my life. Every minute was indefensibly absurd, and it lacked both its own fantasy internal logic and certainly any other kind of logic. Did you see Willem Dafoe’s well, everything? His hair, his costume, the whole thing was a travesty and even the action sequences were terrible.
You can find some good things to say about “Wonder Woman,” or “Avengers: Endgame,” but “Aquaman” was indefensible and the only film this decade with more underwater tomfoolery was Matthew McConaughy’s extended, repeated skinny dipping scenes in the other worst film of the decade, this year’s “Serenity.” May we all find ourselves on firmer ground in the next ten years.
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