If you look back at every decade since cinema’s inception, more than likely there will be certain films that express the decade they are home too. The 1940’s and 50’s were a time for both anti-war and noir, while the 70s are defined by the auteurs and individualistic strokes of genius like Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) and Coppola’s first two Godfathers (1972/1974). While it’s impossible to say what really makes a decade defining film, if you enjoy cinema from every inch of it’s timeline then chances are you can pick the very best from each decade. But the point of this list is to decide which films, in 20/30 years, might be considered the defining films of this current decade, and hopefully cinema history.
Get Out (2017)
director: Jordan Peele | Runtime: 1h 44mins | Comedy, Thriller, Horror
In terms of quality you will struggle to find a film with more impact than Peele’s breakout film Get Out. The subtlety on display is that of a seasoned veteran, both from a craft perspective and the commentaries of contemporary society, it’s rich with atmosphere that doesn’t use cheap horror to get it’s scares but rather uses the darkness of it’s comedy and a consistent strain of fear running through the entire film. But while Peele is absolutely nailing the craft and writing, he has phenomenal performances by a great cast, more specifically though his leading star Daniel Kaluuya. Arguably deserving so much more praise than he’s already received, you won’t find a more pitch perfect performance in fear and paranoia. Strong in it’s message and subtle in the craftsmanship, this should already be considered as a decade best.
Why is it defining?
These 7 films aren’t here for just their quality, it’s what they represent for the decade. The real genius of Jordan Peele is how he subverts audience expectations on race both for black and white. In a time where racism seems to take one step forward and 50 steps back, Peele reminds people in the simplest form that it boils down to good vs evil, and even more so expresses the fact that film is such an important form of expression for everybody. This is a stroke of genius that rightfully speaks volumes about a contemporary world we live in, and 20 years from now whatever condition the world is in we can rejoice in the fact that Peele’s was a voice to be heard.
The Avengers (2012)
director: Josh Whedon | Runtime: 2h 23mins | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Despite the phenomenon of the blockbuster rising to prominence through Spielberg and Lucas in the 70s, it’s not until the 2010’s that we got the exploration of the movie universe. Now in the final year of the decade there’s a number of people attempting to build a world across multiple films, but all fall so short to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In terms of trending genres as well this decade will forever be associated with the Superhero genre, so it doesn’t feel right to include a defining list without the most defining Superhero film of all time – The Avengers. Not just because it’s the first but Whedon’s balance of characters not just in screen-time but in action as well is superb. While the magnitude and size and of Marvel’s Universe has grown exponentially nothing has really felt as authentic as their first attempt, and while I think the world really appreciates what the Russo Brothers have done for the franchise the first time you see the original six battling in arms, it felt like the start of something extraordinary.
Why is it defining?
Truthfully there’s a lot of films that would make a list of best films from the 2010’s over this one, but nothing in this decade feels so defining than the Superhero genre. And while you take the good with the bad (and there is a lot), Joss Whedon’s risky and balanced first attempt pretty much hits the nail on the head. There is an argument that the film loses it’s gusto with every new Avengers film, but it should still be remembered as a landmark in Blockbuster cinema, and for the films that would go onto dominate this decades box office.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
director: Luca Guadagnino | Runtime: 2h 12mins | Romance, Drama
When Call Me By Your Name was released it was received with such applaud, and rightly so. It’s a beautifully shot, beautifully performed and a beautifully written piece of film that brings romance back to a mature level. While most of the praise is received due to the sensibility of it’s relationship, it can not be understated how wonderfully Guadgnino captures his setting. The stoney streets of Italy capture not only the place, but the liveliness and utopian paradise of romance better than any film before it. It’s reminiscent of a golden-age Roman Holiday (1953), but brings forward ideas for a progressing audience that can not only handle this film but deserve it.
Why is it defining?
It would be a real shame not to mention Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) in this conversation, for the touching coming of age story of a homosexual black man, being a representation of it’s own. But Jenkins’ film has more of a personal approach, and Call Me By Your Name in it’s simplest form is a romance. It doesn’t aim for a specific niche, nor does it shame those who object, it simply tells the story of love between two men. If you consider as well that for another group of people who have seen a lot of hardship for a long time, this speaks volumes for that community by normalising their views, not focusing on the turmoil they suffer, but rather focusing on the characters in front of you.
director: Christopher Nolan | Runtime: 2h 28mins | Sci-Fi, Adventure, Action
Inception, like all of Nolan’s films post-Dark Knight (2008), is a spectacle. But what a spectacle it is. A mind-bending experience that’s not just playful in it’s story but also in Nolan’s practical decisions. It may seem like an easy choice but the truth is, outside of franchise blockbusters, Nolan’s vast and complex world-building have made his films the biggest releases around. His films are more anticipated, with such high expectations, and he really hasn’t exceeded them better (this decade anyway), than with Inception. Despite spending a lot of the film explaining itself, you can’t help but feel that the explanations alone are entertaining enough, bolstered by a fantastic cast as well, including a solid Leo performance and one of Tom Hardy’s best.
Why is it defining?
By this point in his career, Nolan has become what Tarantino was to the 90s or what Spielberg was to pretty much every decade since Jaws, making his films an experience based purely on his reputation. While The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Interstellar (2014) and Dunkirk (2017) are all great additions to this decade, you can’t deny the overall impact Inception has made on popular culture, you’ll struggle to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of it. It may not be big on message but it surely makes up for in spectacle and entertainment, something that even 9 years later still makes you want to watch it.
director: Alfonso Cuaron | Runtime: 2h 15mins | Drama
There aren’t many films you consider to be more beautifully shot than Alfonso Cuaron’s beautiful and most personal film. Even out of the slick movement of the camera comes a story that still feels raw to the bone. Taking his home country of Mexico, Cuaron glides his way through not just an experience, but a full blown expression of what it’s like to grow up in his home country. Not just that, but the experience is filled with emotion that is rich with thematic wherewithal, that not only make this a masterclass in filmmaking but as an international film, completely accessible to everyone. It’s that accessibility as well that truly proves the director’s talents both in writing and direction. Truly one of the best films to come out of it’s year, it’s absolutely no wonder Cuaron walked out of Award season with his hands full.
Why is it defining?
Out of every film on this list, this is the film that covers the most in terms of cultural importance, and even industry importance. For one, we all know the stance that certain leaders have over the Mexican people, so it’s an absolute delight that in this entire decade five of the best director awards have been shared between three of the most influential Mexican directors of all time. Another is the fact that it embraced the change of how we view content, becoming the first Netflix Original film to be nominated for Best Picture. Both these reasons are so different but say so much about the current world we live in, and hopefully in 20 years people will look back and understand just how important people like Cuaron are, and even more so, how important Roma is.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
director: Denis Villeneuve | Runtime: 2h 44mins | Sci-Fi, Adventure, Action
The first Blade Runner (1982) by all accounts is a classic, the world building, the story and the atmosphere are just a few things that make the original so great. Who would have thought that 35 years later, the sequel would in fact surpass such a protected classic in quality. But in retrospect, with the talent on show was there really any doubt? Gosling in one of his best roles to date, Roger Deakins lending his expert cinematography to such a gorgeous world, and more importantly a director that’s consistently been pumping out modern masterpieces since the turn of the decade. This isn’t just a great sequel however, it’s world expansion leads to such depth that’s rich with all kinds of colour pallets, along with a story that tests you and will eventually rattle you to your core. This is a modern masterpiece, a genuine experience of film like no other, with it’s closest comparison coming in the form of it’s originator – a film it respects completely, but isn’t afraid to be better than.
Why is it defining?
You’ll notice a running theme in this list, that all the films have some sort of relevance to the world we live in today, but is it so bad to just pick a film for it’s sheer genius? Honestly Villeneuve’s catalogue of films are fantastic, and in fact Arrival (2016) very nearly made this list. But throughout all the decades you’ll notice the one’s that are remembered the fondest are in fact due to the calibre of talent, and this film encompasses so much of the talent that comes from the film industry. It’s blockbuster but has the softness of arthouse and it’s complexity is balanced perfectly with it’s accessibility. Christopher Nolan may have began the decade as it’s defining director, but Villeneuve’s filmography and future suggest that he will be leaving it as the defining figure in spectacle filmmaking.
La La Land (2016)
director: Damien Chazelle | Runtime: 2h 8mins | Musical, Romance
Even though this list has been a representation of films that impact the outside world this one is specifically for the individuals making the films, as this decade has seen some of the best individualistic styles and talent from the industry working at their zenith. No more so than the unbelievable talent and passion that bursts through the screen when watching Chazelle’s ode to the classic musical. A vibrant and beautifully set-pieced film, La La Land in it’s simplest form has the dazzling movie magic of those it’s honouring, but uses mature storytelling to bring the style of a 50’s musical to a modern audience. Heavily influenced by Umbrella’s of Cherbourg (1964), it clearly breaks down the ideas of a doomed relationship and uses the spectacular nature of it’s choreography and cast to showcase this, and despite it not resonating on a social or political level (a lot of the reason it get’s it’s critics) – this is still one of the best achievements of the decade.
Why is it defining?
To be brutally honest there are a number of films that you could choose to represent the individualistic talent of the decade: Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Alejandro Inarritu, The Coen Brothers, Guillermo Del Toro, Jeff Nichols, Ryan Coogler, Adam McKay, Ari Aster, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele. Even internationally people like Bong Joon-ho and Xavier Dolan make their presence known so vividly. But despite all these directors entering the decade as either a proven talent or an emerging one, it feels right to honour the idea of this newfound auteurism with one of the biggest gifts this decade has given us – Damien Chazelle. His passionate embrace of the craft and of his own love of Jazz really shine in both Whiplash (2014) and La La Land, but also, you’ll struggle to find two better years in film than 2014 and 2016, and it just so happens that he’s represented in both.