The decade’s over, Ooh Trayers, and so too are the movies. Their demise has been prophesied before of course. TV was once the enemy, then colour TV, then home video, then home cinema. Now new TV, in the form of streaming services, has accelerated the theatrical experience’s demise, making it archaic and inconvenient for most, but worse of all – poor value for money.
Once, a movie ticket was a cheap passport to some expensive and star-studded entertainment. But you don’t care about stars anymore – rather characters, and the talent know this hence their emigration to big-budget longform serialised television. At the end of the 2010s its increasingly common to find new films released straight-to-streaming by the provider who made them. By the end of the next decade it will be the norm. Who will go to the cinema then, with its risk averse backers, hemmed-in by the brutal demands of an increasingly narrow market? A subscriber model means guaranteed income and guaranteed income means freedom to experiment.
The movies used to beat the competition by providing greater spectacle, sometimes buoyed by technological gimmicks. What will they offer in the 2020s to pull you to the multiplex and break your living room viewing habits? Virtual cinema? New franchises featuring long-dead movie stars? Interactive flicks? Who knows, but the days when serious filmgoers got together in a quiet room and took a chance on an original story look to be numbered.
Your abdication from the role of casual cinemagoer will accelerate Hollywood’s shift from original concepts to mercilessly exploiting existing IP. For those that remain they’ll be nothing bar Reboots, Sequels, Remakes, and disguised remakes masquerading as Reboots. Give yourselves a slow hand clap.
As you’ve already decided to leave the multiplex behind and watch everything at home, enabling you to be as inconsiderate, vocal, and distracted as you like, you’re encouraged to seek out the ten movies listed below that stood out in a largely mediocre decade, and avoid ten that stank the place up like a body stuffed inside a sofa bed.
These are picks from the shit people actually watched in the 2010s. Your obscure French film isn’t in there, nor that brilliant adult Japanese animation you keep telling people about. In the 2010s The Ooh Tray was your multiplex companion – the one that kept tutting when you brought out your phone or whispered a question into your friend’s ear at a volume that EVERYONE could hear. We watched what you watched and reflected it back to you. No wonder you got a Netflix subscription.
Will the ratio of greats to nightmares improve in the 2020s now the audience for adult drama and comedy has vanished up Marvel’s pipeline? Unfortunately, there won’t be anyone left in the cinema to find out. Now read on and I’ll see you and a diminishing number of your friends in the audience for the now rendering Avatar’s 2, 3, 4 and 5. Don’t cry, it’s the series you neglectful heart deserves.
A low-key drama of the kind that was once a Hollywood staple. Had it been made thirty years ago, and not in an era when no-one goes to see intimate, character-focused drama anymore, it would have been marked as one of the decade’s greats. In the ‘70s it would have been given to Bob Rafelson. Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds star as a gambling addict and a drifter who find each other in an Iowa poker room, then hit the road to play in a New Orleans poker tournament. It’s funny, tragic, sympathetic to its self-destructive protagonists, and horribly truthful. A movie for anyone who feels like a passenger in their own life, i.e. everyone.
Alexander Payne may have suffered a creative dip in the second half of the decade, but back in 2011 he produced one of the tens’ more transcendent offerings. It’s a tale of legacies, both genetic and material, full of warmth, idiosyncratic humour and vivid characters. Unlikely to feature on many ten-best lists, for it’s subtle enough to be forgotten, it’s nevertheless worthy of rediscovery; a movie that’s like making a great new friend on holiday. The impression they leave, coupled with the exotic milieu, never leave you.
A good old fashioned comedy about a psychotic couple who holiday in the north of England, visiting tourist hot spots and committing serial murder. Ben Wheatley shoots the movie with the same dispassion and eye for local points of interest as the killers. The result is one of the refreshing exploitation movies of recent years, and a great social satire to boot.
Richard Ayoade gifted audiences a magnificent debut with this adolescent fable. It’s charming and idiosyncratic, sweet without being sentimental, profound without being whimsical. Best of all its exploration of a teen’s underground existence is devoid of cliché. Directed with great confidence and a good eye for character-based quirkiness, of the kind so successfully personified by Ayoade himself, the key to Submarine’s success is building the world of the film around Craig Roberts’ awkward protagonist. It plays like an extension of his character, a character that knows he’s occupying his own story. It’s a film that loves language and isn’t compelled to butcher it for the sake of offering up a kind of fool’s realism. A wonderfully mature piece of work, cineastes will appreciate Ayoade’s invocations of Eric Rohmer and Jean-Jacques Beineix. On his first attempt he managed to make an equal of their best work.
A terrific Phillip K. Dick-inspired circular time travel movie that combines a great hook, “future mob boss uses illegal time travel technology to send victims to hitmen waiting in the past, only for one hit man to bottle it when his older self appears”, with careful plotting and intellectual quandaries. Rian Johnson famously went on to have his childhood nostalgia exploited by Disney, who tempted him to make the middle-chapter of their Star Wars sequel trilogy. He reacted to J.J Abrams’s lazy remake of A New Hope and its passive aggressive mid-scene cliffhanger; tramlines that would have moved a lesser filmmaker through an equally derivative Empire Strikes Back reprise; by tying off his plot threads, effectively forcing the returning hack to plot the third movie from scratch (something both Johnson and we suspected he’d be unable to do). Still, this uncontroversial pre-Star Wars brush with the sci-fi/fantasy genre deserves to be the one he’s associated with in the 2010s. Travel into the past and treat yourself.
Martin Scorsese is currently getting great end-of-decade reviews for The Irishman, but his decision to abandon all his principles and take the Netflix shilling was probably inspired by the story of Jordan Belfort – a very funny tale of excess that in the master’s hands became one of the Tens’ most memorable trips to the cinema. A movie about depravity and greed in which the protagonist/antagonist survives three hours of story without a single, discernible scruple, Wolf is unapologetically immoral and uproariously accomplished in its storytelling. It’s also notable for containing Leonardo DiCaprio’s one bona fide great performance in the Tens (at least until Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). It took one of the medium’s best helmsman to get it out of him, but man alive, it was worth it.
Phantom Thread (2018)
Paul Thomas Anderson (not be confused with his degenerate namesake) made three great movies in the Tens – The Master, Inherent Vice, and this, his best since There Will Be Blood, and maybe the film of the decade. Any movie that turns the cooking of a mushroom omelette into a psychosexual case study is essential. This eloquent and visually dynamic feast of a flick, features a shy (and retiring) Daniel Day-Lewis as an imperious, selfish and demonstrably damaged clothing designer who unleashes his dead mother complex all over a waitress he covets, then marries. As Freudian dramas go, Anderson’s film is first rate. The scenario would have kept Hitchcock hard for a year. It manages to be both challenging and surprising – two adjectives you’d struggle to attribute to 98% of all modern movie releases, and consequently the chance to indulge in its amorality, inhumanity and arse clenching perfectionism, should not be missed.
The Social Network (2010)
Facebook may be associated with propaganda and the spread of misinformation now, but nine years ago we could still appreciate an extraordinary invention that had changed the lives of its users. In a scene that underlines the same, Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker – founder of Napster and late to the Facebook party, tells Mark Zuckerberg that he’s had a “once in a generation” idea. It’s hard to dismiss that as hyperbole. It’s now possible to live your entire life and never lose touch with a single person. David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have little interest in Facebook as a utility, however. Instead they created one of the decade’s great cautionary social satires. Facebook, they say, was built on a wounded ego and misogynist streak rather than a social conscience and entrepreneurial zeal. That’s a pretty funny idea and one to give you pause. The Social Network challenges its audience to reflect on an online culture built on the values of someone who doesn’t understand people and yet, perversely, created something that, in 2010, united one in twelve of the world’s population. Today it’s around a third. Go out, says Fincher – forge some real world friendships. But watch this first.
Danny Boyle made more personal movies in the Tens (T2: Trainspotting) and many lighter ones (Yesterday) but this 2013 effort stands out for its sheer, hallucinatory, oddball lunacy; a flick that takes you into the recesses of the human mind on the pretext of finding the locked away location of a stolen artwork. Boyle digs into James McAvoy’s memories and the supressed parts of his personality, using ellipsis, nonlinear fragments, hard cuts between different plains of consciousness and last minute lashings of good old fashioned, and in this case wholly necessary, exposition. Ironically for a film about amnesia, it’s highly memorable, and in a decade marked by vanilla and undercooked flicks, Trance scores highly for daring to be different and mostly succeeding.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before she became an A-List star and someone who’s occasionally mistaken for Scarlett Johansson, a young Jennifer Lawrence stared in this brooding, atmospheric and anthropologically astute drama about a girl seeking her missing father in a dangerous and highly misogynistic part of the American mid-west. Hollywood can be condescending to the more impoverished part of the US, but there’s a serious critique here of how both government and male heads of households exploit the vulnerable in these rust belt backwaters. Did Lawrence fulfil the potential she showed here? The Hunger Games and X-Men franchises took up too much of her time. But at least her then husband Darren Aronofsky, cast her in mother!, allowing her to claim she starred in both one of the best movies of the decade and Winter’s Bone.
Danny Dyer’s been safely tucked away in EastEnders for years now – the BBC fulfilling its public service remit to the nation by removing him from UK cinemas. But before that great sacrifice, Dyer kept popping up in dyer-bolical British thrillers like this one, in which he played Jimmy Vickers – a squaddie who returns from Afghanistan only to find the country’s turned into a Daily Express editorial. It’s a nihilistic rampage of cockney revenge, in which Jimmy kills the lawless scum who murdered his family. “There was a time when I’d have bled to put red in the Union Jack,” he tells a disillusioned bobby, apparently unaware the flag’s pre-existing colour scheme would make the sacrifice unnecessary. Dyer would also star in Jim Dale fever-dream, Run for your Wife before the BBC finally intervened for the good of the nation’s health.
An Alien 3 fan film obnoxiously funded by Universal in the belief that Noel Clarke was a UK box office draw. Talk about cultural illiteracy. Clarke’s 2014 follow-up, The Anomaly, proved he had something on the head of Universal Pictures distribution. We never learned what it was, but on this evidence it was a secret big enough to bring down a studio, maybe all of Hollywood.
It had the director of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, and the editor of Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre, yet this Nordic thriller was an incoherent cold mess. Michael Fassbender plays a detective called Harry Hole. Val Kilmer shows up with throat cancer and is dubbed with the same precision as a character in a bootlegged Hong Kong action movie. That’s all you need to know and all you can know.
A legal thriller, for the sake of the argument, in which one character tells another to remain “calm as ice”, and the director frames out the heads of those speaking so the dialogue can be redubbed in post. There’s no point discussing the plot as it’s incomprehensible. Instead, we recall the scene that sums up the flick – Al Pacino blowing his brains out at the close, yet still managing to stumble (with a bullet in his skull) to the comfort of a nearby seat where he duly falls and waits to hear “cut”. Grossed £97 in its opening weekend in UK cinemas.
Highlander 2 meets the Star Wars prequels in the movie that introduced the world to phrases like “Stalin’s Balls” and “Bees don’t lie”. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as the megalomaniac villain was so bad it broke the decade in two. The Wachowskis other memorable contribution to the 2010s was changing gender and an adaptation of David Mitchell’s (not that one) Cloud Atlas, or as it will one day be remembered, gender dysphoria: the movie.
Plenty of the former and none of the latter in Michael Bay’s crypto-fascist rendering of a real-life extortion attempt that lead to double murder. It’s hard to know what attracted Bay to the story, but the rippling physiques and hatred of physical imperfection were probably incidental. The families of those killed must have been grateful to the Transformers maestro for his sensitive treatment of their relatives’ killing, not least the touching scene when Anthony Mackie gleefully plays with a deceased woman’s breasts.
Some think the worst thing Madonna did was the album Hard Candy, but she proved the critics wrong with her punishing biopic of Wallace Simpson – a movie that set up alternative facts like George III died in 1936 (presumably at the age of 198). Here, Wallace gets a Biggles inspired time twin – a miserable, 1990s-set Abbie Cornish. Both struggle with men, and wanting kids and Nazi sympathies. Both are somehow spiritually tethered. We never learn or care why.
A movie that ended with the lead characters as invisible nanobots, absorbed into a raincloud, and carried by serendipity to their favourite garden, where they fell into a puddle in a garden spade. Audiences were left to conclude that Christopher Nolan passed this to his old DP, Wally Pfister, to sabotage the latter’s directorial career. “We need to get off the grid,” says an uploaded Johnny Depp in one scene, forgetting he IS the grid. Depp’s decade would also include other indignities like Dark Shadows, Mortdecai, The Crimes of Grindelwald, and beating his wife.
The worst movies destroy something you love. J.J Abrams’ sequel to his own dumbed down version of Gene Rodenberry’s beneficence to pop culture, showed he and all concerned were clueless when it came to recreating the Starship Enterprise’s exploits with respect and fidelity. The plot was senseless, the themes – centred on terrorism, heavy handed and turgid. No one wanted to see a 9/11-inspired Trek this far into the 2010s…or at all. Dumb and full of cum, Abrams’ flick, designed to signal to Disney that he could orchestrate big-budget space thrills, was Wrath of Khan remade by an illiterate teenager. The would-be Spielberg, sans the storytelling acumen, was duly hired by Uncle Walt and would go on to ruin Star Wars. Twice.
If there’s ever been a remake that understood the appeal of the original less than Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, I’ve yet to see it. This is Divine covering the Rolling Stones. Feig junked the grounded tone, deadpan wit and intelligence of the 1984 film and replaced it with a bubble gum colour scheme, a comedy sketch universe, mirthless improvisation, and camp. Gender-flipping the leads doesn’t make a movie progressive when it’s misandrist and condescending. In short, this was one of the worst movies of the decade, not just because it represented everything wrong with the so-called comedy of the period, but on account of inducing a kind of madness; an attempt to retrospectively erase the great film that made this imbecilic remake possible. Those critics who now said Ivan Reitman’s movie wasn’t funny, or quotable, or in the case of New Statesman hack Ryan Gilbey, “too stately” when it came to its cinematography, i.e. a comedy shot to look like it took place in the real world, should have lost their jobs. A shameful movie moment that will fortunately itself be erased when Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens in summer 2020.
Wrote I – “[The film] overpowers your senses with absurdity, the filmmakers hoping to break your resistance and entice you to embrace the degeneracy.” And that’s all I can say, really. By any objective yardstick Mike and Dave was a terrible flick, but reader, this reviewer laughed and left the cinema upbeat and ready to chew on a steak. Something happened to me in there. One day I hope to understand what it was.