Before we crack open the champagne, herald in a brand new year and then rush off to an early morning screening of Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated Little Women (opening January 1), let’s reflect on some of the big game-changers that have redefined film this decade.
Love it or hate it, Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age melodrama filmed over twelve years is an impressive and fascinating feat. Starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, the film follows Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from ages six to 18, charting his parents’ divorce, shifts in musical tastes and the start of college life. It’s not the only film of the decade concerned with questions of time and legacy. Other notable highlights include Terence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) and Alfonso Cuarón’s exceptional masterpiece Roma (2018).
Get Out (2017)
A debut feature from comic mastermind Jordan Peele, this smart horror flick coupled jump scares with nuanced political commentary that cut to a deeper social truth about micro-aggression and deep-seated racism in contemporary society. While horror films have often attended to the social ills of the time, the genre has often been white-washed and routinely avoids questions of race relations. Get Out is a radical redress of this absence. It’s a trail-blazing, hugely enjoyable and darkly funny horror film. For intelligent horror closer to home, try Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) and The Nightingale (2019).
Awash in hues of purple and blue, Barry Jenkins’ beautiful coming-of-age drama is a tender study of a young man’s life through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Based on an unpublished, semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film explores the vulnerability of budding homosexual desire and the aftermath of childhood trauma. This is one of the many queer-focused films of this decade that garnered widespread acclaim. Others include this year’s A Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma), Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2017), Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015), and Peter Strickland’s sumptuous Duke of Burgundy (2014).
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A surprisingly feminist and wonderfully exhilarating ride from Australian filmmaker George Miller. Sure it’s called Mad Max but it’s Furiosa (played with steely determination and lots of automotive grease by Charlize Theron) who really takes the wheel. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which petrol and water are scarce, the film has a lot of resonance with our current situation. Importantly, the fast-paced flick demonstrated the commercial success of women-focused action films and was followed by smash hits like Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017), Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017, with Theron again), and the sci-fi Netflix release Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) with five female scientists in the lead (Gina Rodriguez, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson).
Cemetery of Splendour (2015)
Set in a hospital for sleeping soldiers who are visited by a volunteer with a severe disability, this film is potentially a hard-sell but well worth investing in. From independent Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the film is a stand-out example of a new trend called ‘slow cinema’. Characterised by long shots, minimal or observational style and a de-emphasis on plot, this trend has really come into its own this decade. You might also want to see Ron Fricke’s Samsara (2012), Miguel Gomes’s Tabu (2013) or Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (2015).
It’s impossible to summarise an entire decade of cinema but hopefully these game-changers provide a moment to reflect on some of the wonderful shifts in film, especially in relation to changing socio-political circumstances and greater visibility around gender politics, racism, and disability.