DEVIN MEENAN, Arts & Life Editor — With the 2010s soon to be behind us and this being the final Denisonian of this decade, I thought it an ideal time to look back on this decade’s films. Below I list my favorite (not best, necessarily) film from each year of the decade. If we share one, great! If not, remember, film is subjective.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Billed as “a love story,” (true from a certain point-of-view), Blue Valentine chronicles the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), cutting between two parallel storylines that show the beginning and end of their marriage, respectively. This juxtaposition adds weight to both concurrent storylines, while both Gosling and Williams excel at playing essentially two different roles whilst making their performances feel consistent between past and present.
Take Shelter (2011)
When Curtis (Michael Shannon) is besieged by apocalyptic nightmares, he begins the construction of a storm shelter in his backyard, alienating his family and peers, all while dreading his own actions to be the onset of schizophrenia, inherited from his mother. Usually typecast as villains both creepy and hammy, Shannon gets a chance to break out of his wheelhouse with a more subtle performance as the self-destructive but still sympathetic Curtis. Shannon’s trademark terrifying rage is in turn held back until near the film’s conclusion, when the proverbial last straw has been broken for Curtis, and the film is all the more effective for it.
Django Unchained (2012)
Probably the most purely entertaining film on this list, and definitely the most conventionally structured of Quentin Tarantino’s films. Django Unchained is at its core a hero’s journey; the timid slave Django (Jamie Foxx) evolves in the self-described “fastest gun in the south,” in a quest to liberate his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). It can be tempting to lose notice of the title character in a sea of more eccentric supporting characters, from his bounty-hunting mentor King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), to the vile-but-dimwitted plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Stephen, the calculating power-behind-Candie’s-throne (Samuel L. Jackson), but the ending makes it clear the film is Django’s story. Plus, the shootout that punctuates the second act may be the best staged set-piece of Tarantino’s career.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a talented but perpetually-failing folk singer couch-surfing his way through 1960s New York City. While unmistakably a Coen Brothers film, this character piece is one of their more down-to-earth works, with the ultimate statement about the cyclical nature of artistic failure stinging with uncomfortable honesty and the moody, foggy lighting giving a perpetual grayness to Llewyn’s world.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s quintessential film, The Grand Budapest Hotel embraces the artifice that so often comes across in the director’s filmography and is all the better for it. From the deliberately stylized dialogue to the integration of miniature models in the film’s setting, the only thing missing is puppet strings on the actors themselves. Speaking of, this has undeniably one of the most illustrious ensemble casts assembled in a film; the focal characters are titular hotel concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori), but Anderson brings along several others, too many to list in fact, for roles minor but still essential.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
What a lovely day, indeed. No film this decade equals the visual storytelling on display in Mad Max Fury Road; there’s almost no verbal exposition present, but you understand and inhabit the world of the film better than films that pile on such explanations. The immersion is helped by the astonishing action, bolstered by CGI but mostly shot practical, and a searing color palette from which you can feel the desert heat beating down on the characters just by glimpsing the frame. Ultimately this is a film about living in a world that’s already come to an end, though the ending does offer the faintest glimmer of hope, a needed message in these times.
Progressing with a theatre-esque triptych structure, Moonlight is the story of Chiron, a young African-American man who struggles with his sexuality and masculinity in equal measure, and consequent social alienation from his peers and single mother. Showing him first as a boy, then a teenager, then an adult, all three actors encapsulate the essence of Chiron at the point in time they’re portraying him while all believably portraying the same person. The technical qualities of the film, from the stirring score to the richly-colored but humanistic lighting, congeal together just as smoothly
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
With the conclusion to the sequel trilogy imminent, it’s as good a time as ever to remind y’all Rian Johnson gave us easily the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and certainly the first since the 1980 sequel to meaningfully expand upon the setting. The Last Jedi is flatly the best looking Star Wars (that silent scene is a thing of immaculate beauty), and the haunted man Luke Skywalker has become maybe the pinnacle performance of Mark Hamill’s career. With The Last Jedi, Johnson rejects the notion that Star Wars must be shackled to its past, and lights the spark for a bright future along the way.
Hereditary is the first horror movie, and to this date the only, that has made so uncomfortable that I wanted to leave the theater (I didn’t, but I was tempted). The sequence that ends the first act and its aftermath is so horrific in its conception yet brilliantly-executed that the rest of the movie never quite hits the same high, but it does come close. Truly great horror needs a human element to anchor the audience during the scares, and Toni Collette’s powerhouse performance as grieving mother Annie does that and more.
The Irishman (2019)
Appropriately enough, we’re ending this decade on a swan song for the major players involved. In terms of the genres he’s broached, Martin Scorsese is one of the most versatile directors working, but the gangster sub-genre is what earned him his break into public consciousness, with 1973’s Mean Streets, and it’s one he’s returned to a handful of times over the course of his career. With The Irishman, which tells the supposed life story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), Scorsese does so for likely the last time. All three lead actors (De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci) deliver their best performances of the 21st century, like the best epic films it’s sprawling without being tiresome, and the sheer brutality of the criminal lifestyle, coupled with the inevitability of aging, instilled more dread in me than most horror films this year.