Contemplation & Collaborations: Film Phenomena of the 2010s
As opposed to picking just 10 favorite movies for a whole decade, it seemed like more fun to explore themes, collaborations, connections and companies that impacted me. What follows are my ten PERSONAL favorite phenomena of the last decade… films that made me yell, “Oh My God” in the theater (or at home). If a film makes me audibly gasp, recoil, laugh, shatter or cheer, it has me forever. It doesn’t happen all the time, so when it does it’s noteworthy. Here are the 10 miracles from the 2010s that I will always come back to.
10. The Power of Music
(Frank, Coco, Amour)
While all very different movies, they all touch upon the importance of music in our lives. Music is a supporting character in all these films. FRANK perfectly captures the creative process of home recording and that ANYTHING can be music. We’ve all heard stories about innovative recording techniques (Pet Sounds, Trout Mask Replica, et cetera) but this movie throws you right into this intimate and bizarre recording session. You feel like one of the band members, that your creative input would be appreciated. FRANK was obviously made by a musician and as one myself, there are so many authentic details to dote over. And of course, Michael Fassbender’s performance as the mysterious, masked, titular character embodies the artist’s plight to make art for art’s sake.
COCO is my favorite of the Pixar lot from the 2010s. The exploration of Día de los Muertos was personally very impactful, but the way music is used to remember people we have lost is just incredible. Music is used as a story function and celebrates the role of popular music in our lives. The final scene where Miguel plays the song on acoustic guitar for Coco… heart breaking…. And the detail in Coco’s face… the wrinkles… the eyes…. So much humanity from a computer.
AMOUR is definitely the most challenging movie to watch on this entire list. The agony of caretaking for your spouse after suffering a stroke is explored in painstaking detail. You can’t untangle Franz Shubert’s “4 Impromptus in C Minor” from this movie. This movie transcends language and will SERIOUSLY MESS YOU UP! Go watch immediately and vow you will never burden your family when your health declines.
9. The Jonze-Kaufman Connection
(Her and Anomalisa)
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman made the scene with BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999) and ADAPTATION (2002), two mind blowing movies that created a high bar for the director and screenwriter. Turns out, Jonze is an amazing writer himself and Kaufman is a masterful director of his own material. The 2010s gave us 2 of their most touching and original works: Spike Jonze with HER and Charlie Kaufman with ANOMALISA.
Both stories explore the arc of love, but approach it in different ways. First comes infatuation, then long talks, love making, dependency, and then disenchantment. HER explores this on a longer timeline with stunning colors, settings and technology. ANOMALISA, on the other hand, takes place within 24 hours in a characterless modern hotel called “The Fregoli.” Jonze and Kaufman are filmmakers who take their time in between projects, so the 2020s could yield only one more project each and that would be OK.
8. Long Strange Trip
I never “got” The Grateful Dead. I knew they had this massive cult following, I knew they started in San Francisco in the 60’s, I knew there was a Cherry Garcia ice cream. But listening to the music never hooked me. I love music. I love music from that era. I felt like an aficionado of sorts! WHAT WAS I MISSING? I was missing the context. If you’re in the same boat, there is nothing like 6 hours of context to set you straight on The Dead. There are so many lessons to pull from their career and how they handled (or didn’t handle) their unfathomable popularity. Seemingly without trying, this acid-infused band came together and forever changed the music industry.
Music aside, this is such a well produced and edited documentary. It’s worthy of an annual viewing, just to keep the spirit of the Dead alive. It’s entertaining from the very start and holds your attention the entire time. Just like a 25 minute live version of “Dark Star,” there’s no way to do this story justice in less time. It’s a movie about The Grateful Dead, OF COURSE IT’S GOING TO BE LONG! AND YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE EVERY SECOND OF IT.
7. Gerwig & Baumbach
(TOGETHER: Greenberg, Frances Ha, Mistress America. SOLO: Meyerowitz Stories, Lady Bird, Marriage Story, Little Women)
I have always dated other artists (writers, performers, directors) so I am biased on how romantic relationships can elevate art. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are the power couple of the decade.The have made amazing films (together and apart) and it’s all just getting started. In interviews, they talk about how much the other is infused in their individual work. Whether they are writing the script together or making their own films, their spouse/best friend will always find a way into the film. They met on the set of GREENBERG, then wrote FRANCES HA and MISTRESS AMERICA together. Gerwig’s directorial debut, LADY BIRD, was my favorite film of that year and Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY is my favorite of this year. They know how to write complex stories, get amazing performances from their actors, and edit for comedy. Greta + Noah, with a heart around it, carved into a tree in Central Park.
6. Despicable DiCaprio
(Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood)
After Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio could have done anything. He was a heartthrob, a teen idol, everyone wanted him! He formed a strong working relationship with Martin Scorsese in the 2000s, but all that work finally paid off this past decade when he decided to master the “loveable asshole.” Casting DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in DJANGO UNCHAINED was another masterful move of “cultural casting” for Tarantino. He casts actors knowing all the cultural baggage that comes with them (John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Pam Greer in Jackie Brown, David Carradine in Kill Bill).
SIDE NOTE: Best Example of Cultural Casting in 2010s was GONE GIRL. Of course you think Ben Affleck did it! It’s Ben Affleck!
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is definitely crude and a non-stop parade of white male privilege, but damn does it move! The pacing and rhythm of that movie is only matched by Scorsese’s earlier work. He re-captures the energy of youth, excess, and tyranny for one last great epic. This movie is the culmination of their creative partnership; balancing disgust, humor and pathos. Again, you love to hate DiCaprio.
In 2019, we got another Tarantino/DiCaprio collaboration with ONCE UPON A TIME IN… HOLLYWOOD. It’s not that Rick Dalton is an asshole, he is just so lost. His character is forgotten in the landscape of “New Hollywood” (perfectly symbolized by Roman Polanski moving next door to him). DiCaprio is in a pity party for the first hour of this movie, until he finds courage in playing “the heavy” on the pilot for LANCER. Finding solace in the western is a metaphor for Rick, how he would prefer to live in the past. As an audience member, we like it both ways: to see a washed up Rick Dalton get served a dose of reality AND to see him play the action hero one last time. With this character, DiCaprio finally finds the middle ground between hero and heathen.
Filmed over the course of 12 years, it’s hard to top this movie in terms of scope, commitment and understated beauty. Richard Linklater isn’t trying to force this concept down your throat, it’s a gently guided film through a boy’s upbringing. Every summer, they got the same actors together and filmed for 2 weeks over a 12 year period. At times, it’s hard to tell when one segment ends and another begins. This could have been handled so many ways and it’s approach is mature, honest and relatable. It feels like Linklater was exploring whatever felt real for him and the lead (Ellar Coltrane) at the time.
What I didn’t expect was to watch my own life unfold. I am roughly the same age as the lead actor and experienced many of the same things (divorced parents, split custody, alcoholic step parents). I was a puddle watching this movie in the theater, it’s simply a miracle. I am in awe that it even exists.
4. Twin Peaks: The Return
There is some debate over whether this is a movie or a limited series. David Lynch has described the return of TWIN PEAKS as a really long feature film. I like to see it that way too. The original plan was for 12 episodes, but Lynch kept finding moments to stretch in the editing room or things to film on set and it turned into 18 parts! The sheer excitement of weekly installments, discussions, and fan forums brought me back to the old days of watching LOST.
The original series is my favorite show ever, so I was without words when the return was announced. I re-watched everything, I read the books, learned all the theories, it took over my life. Watching each installment of The Return was the best summer of my life. As I have learned more about Transcendental Meditation and experienced it myself, the return of TWIN PEAKS is David Lynch’s closest cinematic representation of the practice. Simply, it is his masterpiece. This 18 hour film is full of beauty, bewilderment, patience, horror and transcendence - a true example of instinct on display. This is something we can cherish and re-visit for a lifetime. A damn fine achievement.
3. The Return of Alejandro Jodorowsky
(The Dance of Reality, Endless Poetry)
Alejandro Jodorowsky has returned to filmmaking! The original Midnight Movie Master is back! Not one, but TWO movies! Watching THE HOLY MOUNTAIN in college was one of the most impactful movie viewing experiences of my life. I had no idea you could make a movie like that and that someone already had 40 years prior. It was a revelation. I was sad to discover that such an original voice only had a few films to his name.
After a 23 year hiatus, Jodorowsky returned with THE DANCE OF REALITY, an autobiographical fantasy about his childhood in Chile. While I love his early films, there is almost a rebellious dismissal of traditional storytelling. The film (and its second installment ENDLESS POETRY) is masterfully told with Jodorowsky’s distinct style and language. It’s a bold act of translating his own experience and telling it exactly how he wants. He proves to us, we are in control of our past. The best part of these movies are his adult son, Brontis Jodorowsky. Brontis plays the father of Alejandro as a child and gives one of the most brilliant, committed performances I’ve ever seen.
The 2 films capture the essence of Jodorowsky as an artist and a person. To put it mildly, this dude is a trip. I wouldn’t say he lives in a different universe, more so, he lives more connected to the universe than any other filmmaker I can think of. I could listen to him talk for hours. I could watch his movies all day.
BONUS: If you want to learn about his most ambitious project during that 23 year hiatus watch JODOROWSKY’S DUNE - Your mind will be blown at the movie that got so close to happening: Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, HR Giger, Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd, David Carradine… yeah… it’s the greatest film that never was.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson in the 2010’s
(The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread)
I am seeing a pattern: filmmakers (who were early influences on me) surpassing the ridiculously high bar they set for themselves. As you get older, you’ll always be compared to your early work. Of the modern filmmakers, none have been more impactful than Paul Thomas Anderson. I watched BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE over and over when I first got into filmmaking. So everytime he releases a new movie I am equally terrified and elated. Will it be better? Will it be worse? Will it ever be better than his past work? It’s exhausting. Here is what I have learned… his films get better every time you watch them. It doesn’t matter if you loved it on first viewing or were lukewarm… every subsequent viewing will increase your appreciation of it.
It’s worth noting the similarities between the films he directed this decade (THE MASTER, INHERENT VICE, PHANTOM THREAD). All 3 movies were shot on 70mm, feature a score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and are period pieces. Every picture is an event, with the research bleeding through the frame. PTA was once a flashy young filmmaker who did long tracking shots, whip pans, extreme close ups and multiple story lines. As he gets older, his films slow down and the actors are given so much space to do their thing. His style is a perfect mix of meticulous and accidental. From what I have heard, his sets leave a lot of room for discovery and play. He is always looking for the humor in any given situation and gets the most incredible performances from his actors. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this.
A24 wins the Gold Lion, The SIlver Bear, The Palm D’or, everything. The New York based distribution company has created a brand this decade that is synonymous with independent filmmaking excellence. When you see A24 is releasing a new film, you are already sold on it. They have received 24 (coincidence?) Academy Award nominations since starting in 2012 and changed the game for indie filmmakers. It feels like home.
The photo features some of my favorite releases from A24. They represent a diverse catalogue of filmmakers and there is no sign of slowing down. They are brilliant at being able to market bold, challenging and original work. God Bless A24, you were my favorite phenomenon of the 2010s.
BONUS: Top 10 Films of 2019
Marriage Story 2. Honey Boy 3. Uncut Gems 4. Parasite 5. The Farewell 6. The Lighthouse 7. Jojo Rabbit 8. Little Women 9. Pain and Glory 10. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
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Love, Peace, and Understanding