2010s: The Listing Begins

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011)

Brace yourself for a deluge of lists. Over the coming weeks and months, critics will be doubling up as they pick not only their favorite films of the year but of the decade as well. And the annual list-making season is already underway. Today we’re concentrating on the 2010s, and we begin at RogerEbert.com, where thirteen contributors have voted up a list of twenty-five titles. From #11 on down, each film has been freshly blurbed, while each of the top ten is accompanied by a full essay. Glenn Kenny revisits Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012, #10), Monica Castillo lauds Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018, #8)—the International Federation of Film Critics’ selection for best film of 2019—while Sheila O’Malley writes about Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, #6), and Matt Zoller Seitz takes on #1, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

Malick’s 2011 film, the winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes, launched a prolific run that few would have expected from a filmmaker who had made just four features between 1973 and 2005. When A Hidden Life opens in theaters next month, it will be the sixth film Malick has made and released in the 2010s. As it happens, there’s a Malick retrospective running at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York through December 8, and over the past few days, the Museum has reposted two appealingly informal video essays that Seitz made in 2011, one on Badlands (1973), and the other on Days of Heaven (1978).

In his new piece at RogerEbert.com, Seitz argues that “Malick’s fusion of semi-improvised drama and spontaneous yet elegant camerawork (overseen by director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki) fills The Tree of Life with a different sort of suspense than we’re used to seeing when we go to movies: the feeling that something truly magical could happen at any given second.” Surveying the Museum’s series for Hyperallergic, Michael Joshua Rowin suggests that The Tree of Life “makes explicit the crushing vastness of geological time that was implicit in the overwhelming natural environments of his previous work, and does so through a ’50s suburban family drama. It’s as intimate in its subjective impressions of childhood as it is in mulling the loss of innocence and the grief of death.”

The Tree of Life comes in at #5 on the list of the hundred best films of the decade at the A.V. Club. “The 2010s brought us a number of remarkably structured, time-haunted coming-of-age stories (including Moonlight and Boyhood),” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, “but none that attempted a more ambitious fusion of the psalmic and the personal.” The Club’s pick for #1 is George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), which A. A. Dowd calls “an impossible blockbuster that restored faith in the very idea of the studio system as a dream factory.” Fury Road also tops the list of a hundred at Paste, where Chad Betz calls it “the apotheosis of the old Charlie Chaplin routine or Buster Keaton set-piece.”

Time’s Stephanie Zacharek has put an action movie on her annotated list of ten—but it isn’t Fury Road. Instead, she’s going with Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick (2014) with Keanu Reeves, “one of our finest action stars, perhaps among the best of all time, in a line tracing back at least to Douglas Fairbanks.” Rather than rank her ten, Zacharek rolls them out chronologically, and it’s an eclectic selection that includes Christian Petzold’s Phoenix (2014), Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)—filmmaker Robert Greene has tweeted out a call to “include nonfiction on your damn lists”—and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013) with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Writing about her ten favorite performances, Zacharek argues that Hawke delivers one here that “proves that listening, not talking, is the greater part of acting.” Hawke also appears in Linklater’s Boyhood (2014), which currently holds the decade’s top score at Metacritic and is Matt Singer’s choice for #1 at ScreenCrush: “The late, great Roger Ebert, who we lost this decade, famously said that we ‘live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls.’ I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie that opens those windows any wider than Boyhood.

You’ll find best-of-the-decade lists all up and down Twitter—see, for example, the entries from filmmaker Chad Hartigan, programmer Michael J. Anderson, and critic Neil Young.Roderick Heath has written about his twenty-five “essential” films of the 2010s in alphabetical order, from Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013) to Lucrecia Martel’s Zama (2018)—which tops Manuel Betancourt’s list of the best Latin American films of the decade. Zama is “that rarest of creative feats,” writes Betancourt, “a perfect coupling of literary source material and cinematic sensibility.” Ninety-seven programmers from around the world agree: Zama crowns the poll at Cinema Tropical, a leading distributor of Latin American cinema in the U.S.

While New York’s Film Forum is spotlighting Romanian cinema through next Tuesday, critic Flavia Dima has conducted a poll of thirty-one Romanian critics to come up with a list of the country’s ten best films of the decade. Tied at #1 are Radu Jude’s Aferim! and Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, both from 2016. And finally for now, let’s wrap with some eye candy. Adrian Curry has put together a marvelous gallery for the Notebook in which he writes about each of his eleven favorite movie posters of the 2010s—and if your eyes are left wanting for more, you’ll find plenty at Posteritati.

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