Finally, the time has come to stop our daily rush and stop for a bit. I’m taking my time to look back at the previous decade in the film – the decade that changed the way we watch films, and changed our own perception of them by wanting more diverse, less white male-driven slops – we saw the first mainstream teen romance with a gay lead character (unlike Twilight with which we started the decade with). A new age cinema was born – already established directors such as Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson proved their power and newcomers like Safdie brothers proved their talent. Also, our own Latvian film scene grew to a level that we can experience a world-class film festival with film premiers just after the biggest festivals. Accordingly, after years of watching, I can present a subjective list of the most daring and interesting works of the last decade – films that rise above the status of a great film.
Cover photo: fragment from the poster of The Kid with a Bike (2011) dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.
15. ‘L’illusionniste’ (The Illusionist) – 2010. Dir. Sylvain Chomet
Starting the list with the simplest charm – a film based on an unproduced script by the French cinema legend Jacques Tati and directed by Sylvain Chomet, more known as the acclaimed author of The Triplets of Belleville (2003). It doesn’t have the sweetness of My Life as a Courgette (2016) but more of a melancholic way of telling the story combined with a more nostalgic & traditional animation quality. A charm that is lost in most popular films.
14. Toni Erdmann – 2016. Dir. Maren Ade
Toni Erdmann is a German comedy about a lonely father who tries to put himself into his daughter’s busy life. She is doing everything she can for corporate life, which translates into an underline sadness in the father’s attempt to be funny. The sympathetic approach is so unique, also an ending you won’t find anywhere else.
13. Clouds of Sils Maria – 2014. Dir. Olivier Assayas
Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche mixed in a masterfully directed film – the first time I saw Kristen as she is and she is wonderful. The mysticism and philosophism that throughout the film is a great example of contemporary cinema.
12. ‘버 닝 ’ (Burning) – 2018. Dir. Lee Chang-dong
There are films that just feel effortless in the way that they present themselves to us – with an observer’s perspective Burning tells a story about an unusual love triangle adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning. It speaks without words, immersing you with exemplary cinematography, life contrasts and time-stood-still moments that put emphasis on our strange realities, that we are going through – about fires that we have to burn in order to survive.
11. Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – 2014. Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
If Burning takes an observer’s point of view, Birdman gets in the character. Driven with an unease fly mechanism, we float through Michael Keaton’s personal hell – while trying to shake off his past he’s confronted in it; in one of the climaxes, he’s running naked on broadway, making one of the scenes of a decade. The excellent screenplay showcases every level of the complexity of the human state; lead’s inner monologues work on a different level – the line between reality and fiction is just as thin as between the film and theatre, the camera follows as it would be attached on a string to every character.
10. Manchester by the Sea – 2016. Dir. Kenneth Lonergan
A deep examination of grief in Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film. The pace is similar to his Margaret (2011) but this time the director has chosen to show loss – some people never forget it, some never get over it. Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges are shown in a brutally personal light, making their best roles in years.
9. جدایی نادر از سیمین (A Separation) – 2011. Dir. Asghar Farhadi
There are many ways of telling a story, Asghar Farhadi has chosen a scheme, whereas in unpacking drawers one by one, the story unfolds elegantly but with a large expressiveness, which seems effortless and could be unnoticed by a regular watcher.
8. ‘Le Gamin au vélo’ (The Kid with a Bike) – 2011. Dir. Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Written and directed by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the film shows a young boy, that reminds of the rebellious characters from Truffaut’s best films. As the plot is laid simply, we see that we know nothing about life; the truth is we have no idea about it, as the boy who has nothing to lose. The film follows him, transforming the feel of escapism, leaving us nothing to criticize with.
7. ‘Jusqu’à la garde’ (Custody) – 2017. Dir. Xavier Legrand
Custody grows in the same line as The Kid with a Bike but its tricks are something never seen before. It can capture the viewer and actually put it in the story, just as the storm starts to unfold. The strongest debut I’ve seen, mastered to the bone.
6. ‘Copie conforme’ (Certified Copy) – 2010. Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
A talk can be emotionally powerful, it can be a tale, it can be a puzzle. Binoche knows this and knows how to deliver it. In a way similar to Before Midnight (2013) but much stronger.
5. Amour – 2012. Dir. by Michael Haneke
Haneke has the reputation of a genius in the realms of sadism. Here he explores love or more accurately tests it in the lines of age and union. The way he has made these scenes, speaking of naked rawness, using every aspect that he can – the apartment, that is full of memories; every gesture and detail is a small star, that lets Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver performances of a lifetime.
4. Phantom Thread – 2017. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack has the same love of filmmaking that Paul Thomas Anderson has. Phantom Thread has a slightly older, classical soul – very elegant and delightful, at the same time very dangerous. The thread has a taste of pain, each character its place. What does it take to break it? No one could stand as long as I can, Alma (Vicky Krieps) – the lead says. She will stand till she falls? No, she will stand endlessly, this kind of dedication – a different kind of love than in Amour, but also tasted with just as deadly weapons.
3. Lady Bird – 2017. Dir. Greta Gerwig
The only film in this list that has the lightness and the problems of a teenage girl. The director has lived that and made that – the last year of high school in 2002. Throughout the performance of Saoirse Ronan, one can see themselves, nothing is left to chance, could a single scene be any better? It’s the same dreams and heartbreak we had back in our senior year.
2. The Tree of Life – 2011. Dir. Terrence Malick
The life’s work of Terrence Malick – a search for the meaning of life, with which Malick made his own way of showing. It’s not only life as we know, but it is also all life overall time, every aspect of it. The camera has become the wind; with the help of Emmanuel Lubezki, every shot is matchless.
1. Holy Motors – 2012. Dir. Leos Carax
An unbeaten experiment of a film – when expectations are set this high it is interesting to watch will they last? They last until the very last minute. Films like this, that are a bit higher than everything we know (or we think we know), show the field what is possible and how in the 21st century one can play with form and meaning. The boundaries that can be pushed are never pushed, well here they are.
Only feature-length films were considered, documentaries were also not considered.