As film culture moves onward, it’s best to approach 2020 by previous milestones. The past movie decade did not belong to social-justice propagandists but to Alain Resnais, Zack Snyder, Clint Eastwood, and the rise of S. Craig Zahler. What makes those four auteurs the most significant filmmakers of the preceding ten years is that their films were, consistently, the best examples of craft, insight, vision, and imagination — they exemplified the only hope for 2020 film culture.
The many film-publication retrospectives that insist on calling Twin Peaks: The Return the decade’s “best movie,” without admitting that it’s merely a TV series, encourage cinema’s demise. They want TV — and the political manipulation that comes with fragmented, isolated audiences (now called “diversity”).
TV’s binge fanatics who have probably never seen cinema’s great epics (Griffith’s Intolerance, Von Stroheim’s Greed, or Visconti’s La Terra Trema and Ludwig) don’t know what extended visual narrative can be — only the excessive, incessant, unenlightening repetition of streaming.
Even Netflix employee Scorsese walked back his tirade against Marvel. It seems that Scorsese forgot what he used to know about movies such as Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939) by eventually capitulating to the pointless commercial hackery of binge formula. (Another ’70s giant falls.)
Great movies give more than momentary sensation; you continue thinking about them long after watching them for the spiritual expectation and beauty that outlast Internet chatter. Extraordinary works of art also have political impact, so I give you 20 great films from the 2010 decade, if you can keep their essence and learn their lessons.
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Man of Steel (2013) Because Zack Snyder’s attempted epic of D.C. Comics films turned Hollywood’s worst commercial tendencies into astonishing reconsiderations of myth and beauty, I’ve dubbed him ZSnyder (in memory of the 2016 passing of Vilmos Zsigmond, groundbreaking cinematographer of the ’70s). ZSnyder’s first Superman film holds up over repeated viewings as the decade’s most daring and unparalleled expression of our moral and aesthetic needs.
Wild Grass (2010) Alain Resnais surpassed his French New Wave legacy, an Old Master attaining fresh relevance. He unexpectedly discovered the common touch. Who knew his modern moral tale was also summing up pop culture itself?
Vincere (2010) Marco Bellocchio understood the Obama phenom best through a Mussolini allegory — fearlessly and thoroughly examining the cult of personality.
Incendies (2011) Denis Villeneuve made sense of Mideast crisis by making powerful, irrefutable parallels to Ancient Greek tragedy.
The President (2016) Moshen Makhmalbaf escaped Iran knowing its treacheries were universal, and this global allegory, about a displaced potentate, pinpoints national tendencies as personal tendencies.
Being 17 (2016) André Téchine fell out of film-cult favor by refusing identity politics and embracing something richer: homosocial confidence.
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (2013) Resnais again, with a ZSnyder-worthy acknowledgment of myth and art as our ultimate adieu. (Plus, the best-ever movie use of Sinatra.)
4 Moons (2014) Mexico’s Sergio Tovar Velarde anticipated the centennial of Griffith’s magnificent Intolerance and made maybe the best-ever movie about passion and compassion in four contrapuntal movements.
Yossi (2013) Israel’s Eytan Fox made the best follow-up film since the Godfather sequels, charting the spiritual growth of a committed bachelor (Ohad Knoller) outside political fashion.
Dragged Across Concrete (2019) S. Craig Zahler uses pulp fiction to scrutinize American error and aspiration. The very apt title ingeniously describes Millennial experience.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) Steven Spielberg faced the digital future by contrasting technology and perception and kinetics with amazing clarity and pop-art sophistication. A last hurrah?
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2015) Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second American film explored innocence and experience through a ten-year old’s invention of a perpetual motion machine — love as the hidden answer to family and worldly grief.
A Quiet Passion (2017) Terence Davies visualizes Emily Dickinson’s wisdom so that a bio-pic becomes soulful revelation.
Queen and Country (2015) John Boorman’s auto-bio-pic sequel exceeds his Hope and Glory, recalling his familial, cultural, nationalist foundation.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) ZSnyder transforms comic-book gimmickry and graphic-novel potential into a powerful ethical query.
Mother and Child (2010) Rodrigo Garcia’s intertwined stories about spiritual responsibility made the right to life bold, imaginative, and compelling.
Mom and Dad (2018) Brian Taylor’s wild satire got to the root of Millennial dysfunctional and turned the apocalyptic frown into a grin — but not a smirk.
Vox Lux (2018) Brady Corbet and Natalie Portman’s showbiz exposé finds personal trauma in contemporary pop spectacle.
The We and the I (2013) Michel Gondry’s inventive, funny-sad existential teen flick takes place on a bus on the last day of school and the beginning of our future.
Pain and Gain (2013) Michael Bay’s masterpiece where dazzling form meets outrageous substance. Bay’s version of Stroheim’s Greed.