Benjamin Cox's Top 20 Films of the Decade: 2010-2019
So what's this all about then?
With weeks to go until the start of the next decade, it's only natural to pause and reflect on the decade that's coming to a close. Whatever your feelings, you can't say that it's been boring. For myself, it's been a genuine roller coaster—from being newly married at the start of the Teens to being widowed and slowly finding my feet again these days, the past ten years have taken me to places I never thought I'd ever see (like the jaw-dropping beauty of Japan or the Grand Canyon) and experiences I never believed I would go through. The one constant through it all has been the movies and my expansion from being one of many voices on IMDb to my own personalised blog - and a massive thank you to each and every one of you for being a reader, whether this is your first time visiting my work or whether you are a regular reader.
As a matter of fact, cinema itself has also been on something of a roller coaster. Following the enormous success of Avatar at the end of the Noughties, the decade saw an explosion in interest in 3D technology which has more-or-less petered out now. Predictably, we also saw a slew of sequels and prequels as well as advances in film-making and expansion of the ever-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, which in turn fuelled further superhero films to flood multiplexes the world over. But in the face of corporate greed and the continued fallout from the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, we are now seeing films tackle these difficult subjects head-on with a greater desire for more female directors and representation throughout cinema. Of course, the industry has long had a history of abuse with stories about Hollywood 'casting couches' dating back to before the age of the Talkie so I doubt change will happen overnight. But at least cinema seems to be moving in the right direction.
The other big change in the decade was not so much in the films we saw but how we saw them. Technology has now enabled us to watch movies almost anywhere from tiny phone screens to being streamed or downloaded straight to your plasma TV. It's telling that Martin Scorsese's epic crime drama The Irishman is currently the bookies' favourite for numerous awards come the new year - and was exclusively distributed by online streaming service Netflix, who are becoming an important part of the Hollywood scene. I, for one, hope that this leads to further innovation and increased artistic freedom instead of endless sequels and witless Adam Sandler comedies.
The following films on this list are in no particular order and have all been watched from start to finish by yours truly. Some films that I haven't reviewed just yet will be here while other films I have reviewed will contain a link to the relevant article. Before I start, I do have a small list of honorable mentions though - while I haven't seen it through to the end, I was sufficiently impressed enough by La La Land to include it here as it's an amazing throwback to the glory days of the Hollywood musical that's full of song, energy and radiates colour. And as much as I enjoyed both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, I haven't included them because there was another MCU picture that I enjoyed even more. Other films just missing out on my list include Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Swan. Finally, please bear in mind that the following films do not represent my sole recommendations.
So, in no particular order, we'll begin with...
Number 20: Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan has become one of the most respected and sought-after directors in the last twenty years and Inception, made between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (itself another honourable mention), is possibly his most ambitious film to date. A mind-bending blend of special effects, imaginative storytelling, inventive action sequences and an incredible cast, it is one of the best reasons to visit a cinema and experience it on a big screen where it really comes to life.
Number 19: Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
The perfect riposte to anyone who claims that Marvel films are formulaic, Guardians Of The Galaxy came out of nowhere and shook up everyone's expectations of what a superhero film could be. Visually stunning and immersive, the film is catapulted into the stratosphere by the genuinely funny and warm chemistry between the five leads who each bring something different to the picture. The sequel is just as good but for me, this first film is an example of what Marvel can do if they really put the effort into their pictures. Amazing soundtrack, too!
John Wick: Chapter 2 Fight Scene (contains scenes of violence)
Number 18: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Speaking of surprises, this blistering action film simply left me breathless and eagerly wanting more. Combining fluid action scenes, a mesmeric performance by Keanu Reeves as the legendary hitman and enough references to other action films to please a true geek like myself, John Wick: Chapter 2 is both more entertaining and inventive than its stablemates. Not since The Matrix has a straight-forward action film impressed me as much as this.
Number 17: Inside Out (2015)
I freely admit to being a massive fan of Pixar so it's no surprise to find some of their films listed here. While not eclipsing the billion-dollar earnings of the studio's more popular films (more on that in a bit), Inside Out was Pixar at its most daring for a number of years - a film set mostly within the mind of a young girl as she undergoes a traumatic house-move with her parents. Brilliantly written and animated, the film is a total delight that might not be to everybody's tastes but deserves to be seen at least once. Don't be surprised if you find yourself crying at points as well.
Number 16: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Released in the UK in March 2010 (hence its inclusion here), the first screen adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium series of novels is a brutal and difficult watch thanks to the career-making performance of Noomi Rapace as the troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander. Also helping to bring co-star Michael Nyqvist to international attention, this Swedish-language original knocks spots off its Hollywood remake and continues to influence film-makers with its bleak cinematography and gripping narrative.
'Cut Me Some Slack' - Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic & Pat Smear
Number 15: Sound City (2013)
Produced and directed by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl in his directorial debut, Sound City is a delicate and loving look at a run-down and little-known studio in Los Angeles that somehow became a mecca for American rock bands to record their studio albums. Featuring interviews and music from the likes of Tom Petty, Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Trent Reznor, Rage Against The Machine, Slipknot and even Paul McCartney, the film is an unashamed look back at the glory days of rock music and the important part played by this unassuming and old-school studio. If you have a chance, check out the soundtrack (track above) because it's amazing and recorded using the studio's original analogue mixing desk.
Number 14: Zootopia (2016)
Possibly overshadowed by an earlier Disney film (which I'll get to shortly), this imaginative family film is a lot deeper than you might expect. Wonderfully animated and perfectly captivating for younger viewers, it contains not just a great story but a powerful and timely message about inclusion and diversity. Thankfully, Zootopia avoids being overly preachy by being hugely entertaining and very funny in places and is one of the best family films of the last ten years, without question.
Number 13: Frozen (2013)
Think back before Let It Go echoed from every school, kindergarten and nursery in the land. Watching this for the very first time, you were captivated by its gorgeous visuals and powerful female leads. You were singing all the songs to yourself in the days afterwards. You laughed at the physical comedy and were caught off guard by the sudden sting in the tale as the film neared its climax. You were hopelessly won over by Frozen, just as I was. And the fact that the film is still massively popular with children (as well as long-suffering parents pursuing the endless merchandise - this is still Disney, after all) speaks volumes. Don't try to deny it!
Avengers Assemble: Nick Fury speaks to Steve Rogers...
Number 12: Avengers Assemble (2012)
While the later Avengers films might have scooped up all the plaudits and box office receipts it could find, I actually prefer Avengers Assemble which avoids becoming too bloated and is possibly the finest comic-book film in existence. Endless fun, huge excitement and enriched by the level of depth and characterisation introduced into the MCU thus far, the film is the perfect blend of superhero silliness and po-faced seriousness. It feels exactly as a comic-book film should, as opposed to the graphic-novel gravitas of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or the flawed adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen.
Number 11: The Theory Of Everything (2014)
Based on the memoir by Jane Hawking, this beautifully performed and well directed biopic of the late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking is both a touching love story and a look behind the scenes at family life when things suddenly start to go wrong. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were both nominated for acting gongs at that year's Academy Awards (Redmayne winning his) for their genuinely heart-breaking portrayals of a young couple tragically struck with ALS and the effect of their marriage as well as Stephen himself. This is a drama film done right.
Number 10: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
A delightfully quirky but still enjoyable rom-com, Silver Linings Playbook didn't just bring Jennifer Lawrence onto the A-list but also turned Bradley Cooper into a serious performer after his breakthrough role in goofy comedy The Hangover. Supported by fantastic performances from Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker and Jacki Weaver, the film doesn't just explore the relationship between Pat (Cooper), his father (De Niro) and Tiffany (Lawrence) but also the struggles with bi-polar disorder as well as the effects of grief and loss and the often comic misunderstanding of those around them. Thoughtful, insightful and genuinely worth a watch.
Number 9: Toy Story 3 (2010)
Again, another film overshadowed by the huge success of its belated sequel, Toy Story 3 is possibly my favourite of the series so far. Easily brushing aside my initial skepticism, the film is more grown-up and darker than before with a remarkably complex plot dealing with the passing of time, the loss of childhood innocence and even the grim spectre of death itself. Still having enough manic energy to entertain younger audiences (and a wonderfully funny performance from Michael Keaton as a fabulously camp Ken doll), the film also has several emotionally charged moments and I defy anyone not to cry at the film's overwhelming climax.
Rogue One - Vader's Rage
Number 8: Rogue One (2016)
The surprise spin-off from the main Star Wars franchise delivered in every sense - a thrilling and authentic adventure through the series' extensive backstory that brought the original films bang up to date. Perhaps overly reliant on CG (like most Star Wars films these days), Rogue One is daring enough to bring old characters back to life and introduce new characters for fans to fall in love with. But besides recreating the look and style of A New Hope, the film is also the bleakest in the franchise's history and it gives the story a narrative depth that JJ Abrams wishes he had for his trilogy.
Number 7: The King's Speech (2010)
Based on factual events, The King's Speech might sound fairly dull on paper but is enriched by the performance of his career by Colin Firth as the stuttering King George VI. Supported by the equally talented Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, the film becomes a detailed and absorbing drama that feels a little stagey at times but is nonetheless a triumph. This is one of the few films that I've seen in a cinema that ended with a standing ovation from the audience and if that doesn't testify to the film's quality throughout then I don't know what will.
Number 6: Skyfall (2012)
It might not quite match the quality of Daniel Craig's debut as James Bond but Skyfall proves that there is still some life in the old dog. With the franchise now brought bang up to date, director Sam Mendes gives the Bond series a modern and stylish adventure that looks great and has a baddie for the ages in Javier Bardem's Silva. Craig has finally made the role feel like his own, giving us a Bond that feels unique as well as maintaining the character's danger and sex appeal. While his tenure has been somewhat inconsistent in terms of overall quality, you can bet your ass I'm excited by the next film - No Time To Die - due in 2020.
Rush: the start of the Japanese Grand Prix
Number 5: Rush (2013)
As a Formula One fan anyway, Ron Howard's painstaking look back at the sport's most incredible season was always likely to float my boat. The film has two fantastic performances from Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth as rival drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt and an attention to detail that is both laudable and uncomfortable, given the obvious dangers involved. Rush might not be the director's best film but it manages to combine drama, thrilling action and romance to create one of the most complete sports films I've ever seen. And if you're lucky enough to be born after the events depicted, it's even better because you don't know how it ends.
Number 4: Deadpool (2016)
Thanks to the convoluted situation involving the character's rights, 20th Century Fox were able to deliver a Marvel movie that didn't feel like a Marvel movie - in fact, it damn well gave the MCU the middle finger. Deadpool is brilliantly subversive and hugely enjoyable superhero fare with long-time fan of the character Ryan Reynolds taking a hands-on approach to the film (he also served as a producer as well as starring) and wisely erasing the botched introduction to the character from the poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The film takes aim at almost anything related to the endless tide of superhero flicks - even Reynolds' own appearance as Green Lantern - and while it isn't as family-friendly as its competition, it is a noteworthy and enjoyable experience in its own right.
Life Itself: the trailer
Number 3: Life Itself (2014)
What can I possibly say about such a touching and heartfelt documentary about the man I consider to be my inspiration? Life Itself is simply compulsive cinema, loosely based on Roger Ebert's own memoirs but also able to capture the man towards the end of his life. Not only does it portray Ebert as a champion of cinema and a titan of film criticism (which he undoubtedly was) but it also shows his very human side, shining a light on his marriage to Chaz as well as the alcoholism that plagued him. And yet, the film remains optimistic in the face of death and reassures us that his work and influence will never be forgotten. I wept watching this film and it is simply unmissable.
Number 2: Source Code (2011)
It's unusual to encounter a sci-fi film that feels speculative and not just filled with killer robots and lightsabers. Source Code is an ingenious thriller that sees Jake Gyllenhaal trapped in a time loop on board a train that is blown up after eight minutes. It's difficult to explain without giving too much away but I was very impressed with its narrative complexity, its cohesiveness and its ability to different enough to other films despite borrowing heavily from them. Frankly, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.
The Artist: dance scene
Number 1: The Artist (2011)
In the same way that La La Land is a tribute to the golden age of Hollywood musicals, The Artist is a loving and very clever tribute to the silent era of film-making and the difficult transition to 'talkies'. With a cast including an Oscar winning performance from Jean Dujardin who looks every inch the silent movie star, the film is a delightful throwback to an almost forgotten time in cinema and is loaded with comic touches, dramatic moments and obvious chemistry between its stars. Just watch the above clip and try not to smile - the film has an infectious energy and presence that simply demands your attention.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Benjamin Cox