The Masked Critic: The Ten Best Movies Of The Last Decade
Did you know that the new millennium didn’t start until the 1st January 2001 (I’m not sure what we were celebrating on 1st Jan 2000?) and that the current decade didn’t start until 1st Jan 2021?
Neither did we. Once we knew, it seemed like a good excuse to look back at the films of the last decade. We asked a friend with good movie related credentials. They wanted to remain anonymous, so we’ll call them ‘The Masked Critic’, a sort of cinematic Stig.
Here are their favourites. Which are yours?
10. The Greatest Showman (2017)
Directed by Michael Gracey
Written by Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya
"The noblest art is that of making others happy" said P.T.Barnum. Truth be told, "The Greatest Showman", which is such an underrated film in my opinion, should be perceived as a fairy tale and not as a story based on the life of P.T. Barnum. On the other hand, Hugh Jackman proves once again that he is so talented and charismatic, a really great showman and it doesn't really matter whether his portrayal of Barnum is historically accurate or not! "The Greatest Showman" doesn't really try to be historically accurate or overly artistic anyway! It's just an entertaining and heartfelt movie full of great, beautifully crafted and emotional scenes. The music and the choreographies are fantastic, something that's vital for a musical and the cinematography is really beautiful too. To cut a long story short, "The Greatest Showman" is nothing more or less than an extremely enjoyable movie that also offers a pretty simple, but quite strong and inspiring moral lesson.
9. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Directed by Alejandro G.Inarritu
Written by Alejandro G.Inarritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton
"Birdman" (let's use a bracket here to point out that I'm going to avoid what's in the title's brackets from now on!) isn't a film that I particularly love, but one that I really appreciate! I enjoy the sarcasm and the irony, I recognize and admire the allegory, I cherish the performances, the editing and the score, but most of all, I appreciate Inarritu's unique technique and vision. "Birdman" is supposed to look like one long, uninterrupted shot and it actually feels more like a theatrical play rather than a live-action film. That's really so unique and inspired. Inarritu deserves all the praise here and so does Michael Keaton. His comeback as the titular character (Baaatman!) is really impressive. I should also mention that "Birdman" won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture.
8. Black Swan (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
It's difficult to talk about "Black Swan". It's actually quite a heavy task talking about any of Darren Aronofsky's movies. He's such a talented, but also, dark, demanding and unpredictable director. Most of his movies feel like an ode to darkness and "Black Swan" isn't an exception. I could describe it as a darker version of "The Wrestler" with some influences from "Requiem For A Dream". It also feels like a typical thriller sometimes, it's supposed to feel this way, but it's not. It's a character study, a really dark character study, twisted and artistic. Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime here. It's such a demanding role and she's really impeccable. The music, so vivid and emotional, similar to all other Aronofsky's films too, feels and reacts like a living character here. I'm so fond of "Black Swan", but I'm also really intimidated by it. "Black Swan" is a really haunting film and I'm saying this in the best way possible.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Written by Martin McDonagh
Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
This movie with this strange, long title, simply broke my heart. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a dark, inner drama with some pinches of irony and black comedy. It sometimes feels like a Coen film, but it's even better! It's also not about the destination (Ebbing, Missouri, duh!), but about the journey. The journey of the characters. How they feel, the ways they choose to live their lives or to waste them, their need to exact revenge or to forget, their longing to set things on fire or to embrace the pain, their inevitable realization that the most noble goal in life is to love and to be loved, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is all about its characters, how they evolve and how they stay still. The performances are all great, both McDormand and Rockwell won Oscars here and so are the direction, the screenplay, the cinematography, the editing and the music. The original score is actually magnificent, one of the best of the recent years. To this day, I hold a grudge against the Academy that chose "The Shape of Water" over this one for Best Picture...
6. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Directed by David O.Russell
Written by David O.Russell
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
"Silver Linings Playbook" is the "feel-good" movie of this list and probably of the whole decade. It's absurd how a film about some characters with serious mental and emotional issues, some people that had really difficult lives, can feel so uplifting and can help you look at the bright side of life. It's a perfect mixture of drama and comedy, nothing feels forced here, nothing is out of place. Maybe the plot is too simplistic, maybe the direction is too "by the book" and there are probably some people that wanted this movie to focus more heavily on the drama. But no. It feels right, so it has to be right! And what actually makes this movie feel so right is mostly the acting and the chemistry between the characters. Jennifer Lawrence is so fragile and so strong at the same time here, so authentic that she totally deserved the Oscar she won. Bradley Cooper proved to many people with this movie that he's actually a good actor. And Robert De Niro reminded us (and himself) how great he still is when he's not just out for a paycheck! In the last act of the movie, the way sadness and joy go back and forth, is simply exemplary.
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Written by Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
I don't like Miles Morales as a concept. Peter Parker is my Spider-Man. Period. Additionally, when I watched the trailer for "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" I felt the animation looked... weird. I was expecting to be disappointed by this movie and I was totally wrong! This is probably the best animated film of the decade. The unique animation style actually took so much hard work and it aims to make the viewers feel as if they are in the pages of a comic book! It still feels a bit weird sometimes, but definitely not in a bad way. What about the characters, you said? Well, what a perfect gathering of great characters, mostly different variations of... Spider-Men (and women... and pigs)! Even Peter Parker here is so different than the Peter Parker we're used to and he's really good! I have to admit though, some characters needed some more depth and screen-time. The story is also great, touching and unpredictable, a refreshing superhero movie plot. My only argument here is that I actually felt this film had the potential to be even better!
4. The Avengers (2012)
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner
Take a look at the rest of this list and then take a look at me placing "The Avengers" at the fourth spot. I know what you're thinking: this guy is a lunatic! I have to admit that this movie isn't the epitome of an artistic film and Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola would agree with that last sentence! That being said, "The Avengers" is one of the most entertaining films I've ever watched in a cinema theatre and it's also the film that solidified Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this movie came out the world had never seen anything like this before, this sense of grandeur that was years in the process, this perfect combination of action, humor and emotion. The characters' chemistry is great here, the threat is real and the Battle of New York is one of the most beautiful cinematic battles ever. "Infinity War" and "Endgame" may be better movies, but the importance of this film as the foundation of Marvel's future success and as a first thrill of a superhero ensemble film is far too great to ignore.
3. The Artist (2011)
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman
It took me years to finally decide to watch "The Artist"! Can you blame me? A French, black and white, silent film in this day and age? What were they thinking? But you know what? I'm glad I decided to watch it! Furthermore, the fact that the film is black and white and muted isn't just for artistic expression. It's vital not just to the atmosphere of the movie, but to the plot too, something that makes the ending even more satisfying. The film may be called "The Artist", but it isn't addressed to the intellectuals, it's not elitist. It's a movie that everyone can watch, enjoy and feel. Everything works like a clockwork here. The direction, the writing, the music, the cinematography, the performances, all great! What's even more impressive, though, is the pacing! Everything is in place and it's totally remarkable how a modern black and white, silent film never gets boring, not for a single moment! Deservedly "The Artist" won an Oscar for Best Picture that year.
2. Inception (2010)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy
All the people in this world have dreams. All the people in this world strive for greatness. But there are some people that reach the top, they climb Mount Everest and they're still not satisfied. They want more. They keep aiming for new highs and they keep succeeding. Christopher Nolan is one of those people. He was just 30 years old when "Memento" came out. And then he made "Insomnia", "The Dark Knight Trilogy", "The Prestige", "Interstellar", "Dunkirk" and, of course, "Inception"! He also made "Tenet", but that's a bit controversial! He is probably the greatest director of his generation. He's also a really imaginative and daring, almost provocative, writer too. "Inception" could be a mess. The story is so complex and multi-layered, but it's also open to interpretations. It's a thought-provoking film and that's part of what makes it so great. The visuals are outstanding too and the performances are excellent. Ellen Page is marvellous here and DiCaprio... well he wasn't nominated for his performance here, but I won't lie to you, this is my favourite DiCaprio performance along with "Gangs of New York" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"! By the way, spoilers ahead, what do you think about the ending? Did the top keep spinning?
1. Boyhood (2014)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
"Boyhood" is undoubtedly the most underrated movie of the decade. Probably one of the most underrated movies of all-time. The word "masterpiece" is overused nowadays, but Richard Linklater's magnum opus is definitely a masterpiece. Period. Only a genius madman like Linklater could conceive something so innovative and crazy as "Boyhood". It took 12 years to be filmed! When Ellar Coltrane was cast he was just 7 years old! A kid. When filming ended, he was 19! A young adult! "Boyhood" isn't cinema. "Boyhood" is life itself. It's something unprecedented, unique and audacious! But what makes this movie great isn't just the premise. It's the execution too! The story is simple as it should have been, the performances are so emotional and heartfelt and the characters really grow in front of your eyes! I mean, literally, they grow! The music is fantastic too. This is more than just a film. It is an experience. A lifetime experience about, probably, the most important years in everyone's lifetime! The journey to adulthood. "Boyhood" makes you remember what being a kid and then a teenager felt. It makes you question your life and your choices as an adult. It makes you feel as all great artistic achievements should make you feel.
Well, there you go. What do you think? Which films did our masked friend miss? No 'La La Land'? No 'Joker'? No 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood'?
That's the beauty of cinema. There is something for everyone.
Adam and the Art of the Movies team.