10 films – 10 years: The films that made the decade

Tuesday 24 December 2019

By Dr Katharina Bonzel

The reason I research and teach films is because I find them endlessly fascinating for a great variety of reasons – the films that stick with me aren’t necessarily the “best” films (by whose standards anyway?), or the most successful ones (e.g. financially), but the ones that move me in one way or another. With this in mind, I have chosen ten films that represent the good, the bad and the “ugly” of the last decade for me:

Red (Schwentke, 2010)
Together with The Expendables (Stallone, 2010) Red heralded a series of films known as “geriaction” – a remarkable development in which actors well over the standard action hero age are cast as such, reflecting the needs of the baby boomer audience and creating empowering visual representations of the aging body.

The Avengers (Whedon, 2012)
An agreeable action film that heralded a juggernaut of a franchise, the Marvel cinematic universe, knocking everything else out of its way, perhaps only briefly interrupted by the omnipresence of Frozen (Buck and Lee, 2013).

Boyhood (Linklater, 2014)
This is one of my picks not least for the audacity of setting out to make a film over 12 years in order to follow a boy growing up from childhood to young adulthood – a new take on the Bildungsroman. Patricia Arquette shines as the mother, and the soft Texan light captured by the camera deserved its own credit (but got none).

Carol (Haynes, 2015)
A rare treat, this high-profile, star-powered lesbian film shows great depth and nuance in depicting a love story between a socialite and a department store worker in 1950s New York. It rewards repeat viewing not just because it is simply beautiful to look at, but also as a character study supported by magnificent acting and Todd Haynes’ delicate touch.

Mad Max Fury Road (Miller, 2015)
This film is a festival for the ears and the eyes, thumping its way through the gut into our brains, where, if we can resist the spectacle, we find an unlikely eco-political story with feminist leanings. 

Ghostbusters (Feig, 2016)
Because it showed how sometimes too much newness in a reboot can be too much of a good thing – for some – especially when it comes to progressive gender politics. As a film in its own right, it was some of the best entertainment on offer in a film with – unusually – four lead roles for women, unabashedly sending up gender roles with intelligent and provocative jokes.

Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016)
Perhaps the most deserving Oscar winner of the decade. A delicate film that was not only a poignant commentary about race, but also homosexuality (a feat in itself), doing so in an aesthetically ambitious and hauntingly beautiful way.

Get Out (Peele, 2017) 
A most intelligent film about liberal racism, that frightened us into not knowing which one is more absurd, reality or film.

The Favourite (Lanthimos, 2018)
Its quirkiness and mixing of anachronisms and “authentic historical biopic” form a heart-wrenching portrait of loneliness in spite of (or perhaps because of) wealth, power and status.

The Farewell (Wang, 2019)
An American film in Mandarin (with a smattering of English) about the difficulties of straddling two cultures – easily the most moving film on this list, showcasing Awkwafina’s talents beyond comedy. 

Prediction for 2020-2029

Looking to the 2020s it’ll be interesting to see what impact the ever further splintering of the streaming market will have – will Apple+ rival Netflix’s ambitions in not just making series but also films? Will the niche programming of these services provide more opportunities for smaller, more independent projects beyond the blockbusters? It looks like a certain fatigue has set in with reboots, remakes, and sequelisation, so perhaps the age of superheroes will come, if not to an end, then a slowing down that will allow some breathing space for other stories. Given the uncertainty of the political and economic stability in various parts of the world, however, there may remain a need for heroic individuals that save us from certain annihilation, but films like the ones on this list show that there is always room for intelligent, quirky, and entertaining voices in the film industry. 


Dr Katharina Bonzel is a Screen Studies scholar in the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics. Hear her talk about what mainstream movies can teach us on our podcast Better Things.

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