We’re not going to lie. Cramming the most defining movies of the last decade into one list is no easy task. But as we roll into a new era of telling stories on screen, a time where superhero franchises dominate dollars and juggernaut streaming services challenge movie monopoly, we can’t help but get a touch nostalgic and think about what movies were pivotal in shaping movie storytelling and actually made history through the 2010s.
Sure, when we first think about the culture that came into fruition from the 2010s we think memes, influencers and Marvel everything. But deeper shifts were also in play—the aftermath of 2007's huge financial crisis, the rise of the Internet of Things, social media making way for the #MeToo movement, the presidential election of Donald Trump and the widespread concept of “fake news”, and shifting social attitudes that saw LGBQTI+ rights and female representation make substantial progress.
Here are all the central movies that defined the last decade.
The Social Network (2010)
It wasn’t really the 2010s without social media, was it? David Fincher’s iconic “Facebook movie” did more than enlighten us into the beginnings of, well, Facebook. And apart from lapping up a tonne of acclaim and eight nominations at the 83rd Academy Awards, this two-hour movie stands the test of time in its lessons of privacy and power—maybe even more so as Facebook’s dubious data intentions have come to see the light of day in the past few years.
Bridesmaids—your personal go-to for a damn tear-jerking funny movie and the world’s standout moment for breaking the mould for women in comedy. Packed with SNL alums (Kirsten Wig and Maya Rudolph), this iconic film flipped the long-standing idea that “women can’t really be funny”. And though it seems normal now, comedy from the “female perspective” was never really a thing. Okay well that and the famous food poisoning scene, let’s be real.
Spring Breakers (2013)
We know, controversial. It may seem pretty normal now that entertainment and pop culture is largely driven and amplified through memes (jump cut to Baby Yoda sipping soup in Disney’s new Mandalorian series) but Harmony Korine’s hyper-neon Spring Breakers, starring a young James Franco and Selena Gomez, dropped in cinemas way before it’s time. In effect, Korine’s flick was created to generate gifs and memes and its relevance was basically born straight out of the interweb.
This movie also gave way to the “A24 effect”, because it was one of the first movies released by the distributor A24, which has subsequently presented some of the most successful indie and arthouse films this last decade (The Witch, Ex Machina, Hereditary, Midsommar and Moonlight).
The 2010s were pretty huge for director Christopher Nolan—making it almost impossible to pick just one of his mind-bending movies as the ultimate standout. Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Dunkirk were each absolutely epic in their own way. But we've gone with Interstellar—it's the only sci-fi to make the cut on our decade-defining list, and for good reason.
As 2019 wraps up, the tale of an Earth in environmental turmoil and humanity's quest to endure and to navigate the boundaries of space and physics feel all the more poignant (especially set to a deeply moving soundtrack from Hans Zimmer). Not to mention Interstellar's impressive scientific detail (time dilation is real guys, just ask Einstein), which led to the publication of new scientific papers based on what a black hole would actually look like. And in 2019, when the world saw the very first true image of a black hole some 53.5 million light-years away, we learned that Interstellar's "Gargantua" was pretty spot on.
During a time when traditional media was diminishing, Spotlight served as an incredible reminder of why old-school heavy-hitting and meaningful journalism ever lived in the first place. Based on true events, this drama follows four journalists at the Boston Globe who get pushed by a new editor in chief to pursue a story about child molestation charges against Boston’s omnipresent and very influential Catholic Church. Why does Tom McCarthy’s poignant film make the cut as a decade-defining movie though? Spotlight was essentially the silver spoon the world needed to highlight the importance of journalism as a vital and necessary voice for injustice in an otherwise free-for-all social media-led world.
Where does one even start with Moonlight? Directed by master filmmaker and storyteller Barry Jenkins (distributed by A24 too), Moonlight made leaps and bounds in not only the history of film but the history of the world. Adapted from playwright Tarell Alvin McCarney’s “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, this beauty stands for more than just an awkward exchange for Best Picture at the Oscars. It poetically rises to the forefront as possibly the most defining movie of the 21st Century in the way it steadily, slowly but utterly captivatingly unfolds, unravelling white heterosexual narratives as a racially and sexually diverse coming of age tale.
The Revenant (2015)
Make no mistake, The Revenant isn’t as much of an influential movie that defined the decade as it is a brutal and gut-wrenching portrayal of revenge. But this one also played a major part in upping the ante on speaking out about climate change. Leonardo Dicaprio was pretty damn vocal on this after filming saying he that the weather changes and scrambling to shoot during the half-an-hour of sunlight each day was like nothing he’d been through before. There’s also director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s shots of absolutely breathtaking North American landscape, paired with a soundscape of ice, roaring bears and cracking trees from Academy Award-wining sound designer Randy Thom—which come together as a reminder of nature’s awe-inducing ferocity.
Get Out (2017)
No one can deny the 2010s was a decade filled with horror and the standout undoubtedly was Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The premise? Chris, an African American man decides to visit his girlfriend’s parents during a weekend away but things take an extremely horrid turn. The impact? A powerful and spine-chilling narrative of inherent racism that ricocheted throughout the movie industry.
In 2018, Alfonso Cuarón's Roma was dubbed as “movie of the year” and with good reason too. It might be weird to call this neorealist film a gentle depiction of human nature but honestly, that’s exactly how it feels. Shot in black and white it is an absolute tear-jerker, but it also copped a lot of controversy when it was nominated for a sling of awards at the 91st Academy Awards, ultimately taking out the top spot for Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film (being the first Mexican film to do so). Why? Because this one was actually produced by streaming giant Netflix and there was typically a bunch of rules stating movies needed at least a seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles theatre.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
This blockbuster of a movie didn’t only bring Kevin Kwan’s book by the same name into the spotlight, it also shone a light on inclusivity in film. We’re talking a totally Asian cast. It might be shocking, but it was the first time a Hollywood studio halted itself from essentially whitewashing yet another on-screen narrative (there’s a complex history there we won’t get into), with director Jon M. Chu saying his main goal was to push for greater Asian-American representation in Hollywood.
Placing this South Korean film into one genre doesn’t really work. Basically, Parasite unashamedly and creatively dips its figurative toe into a few and the film deservingly took home the big spot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Yep, Parasite is genre-fluid—at times horror, at others drama and then even comedy and it portrays the harsh realities of families sitting at two opposite spectrums of the societal ladder in South Korea.
Lion King (2019)
And it really wouldn’t be an ode to the 2010s without pinning down a nostalgic Disney reboot. The Lion King was the entertainment conglomerate’s biggest animated earner ever (Disney says it’s not an animated film but for argument’s sake, we’ll say it is because... computers) and it surpassed what many thought was possible with CGI. True, the movie was met with a lot of harsh criticisms, which suggested the new era of Disney’s live-action remakes completely missed what made Disney special in the first place, but it achieved big things with photorealistic depictions wildlife and camera movements when no actual equipment or animals were involved.
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