From Boyhood to Get Out – why the 2010s is my favourite film decade

The last seven years has given us career bests from visionary veterans and a horde of hungry up-and-comers ready to drag Hollywood into modernity. The death of cinema? We’ve never had it so good

•Read the rest of My favourite film decade

The faint whiff of something rotting at the back of the fridge has attached itself to cinema in recent years. A feeling that movies are on their way out, past their best. It’s a view endorsed by Martin Scorsese (“Cinema is gone”), Ridley Scott (“Cinema mainly is pretty bad”) and Jane Campion (“The really clever people do television”). Thing is, they’re wrong.

Okay, this decade hasn’t slam-dunked the greatest film ever made, not yet. But the past seven-and-a-bit years have given us vital movies, movies that matter.

Out in the real world, a generation of social activists – feminists, LGBTQ campaigners, the Black Lives Matter movement – are ramming equality into the mainstream. Films, too, are doing their bit. The late critic Roger Ebert’s elegant description of films as “empathy machines” never felt more true. Moonlight, Lady Macbeth, Carol, Call Me by Your Name, Girlhood, God’s Own Country, The Florida Project, Mustang – these movies put us inside characters who are not straight white men. What does it feel like to live their lives, dream their dreams? (For those of us who don’t already live or dream them.) In the 2010s the movie empathy machine has cranked into overdrive.

Blazing a trail … Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight.
Blazing a trail … Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Photograph: David Bornfriend/AP

I admit there is a bit of rose-tinting here. The cold hard fact is that when it comes to the lack of women and ethnic minority film-makers, things are no better today than 10 years ago. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements show how much work Hollywood needs to do to fix its problem with women.

But while female film-makers account for a small percentage of directors (roughly 11% in the US; 13% in the UK), movies by women this decade are making an outsized impact. Name a lady who’s made a film you’ve loved since 2010. Céline Sciamma (Girlhood). Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Mustang). Julia Ducournau (Raw). Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come, Eden, Goodbye First Love). Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann). Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). Haifaa al-Mansour (Wadjda). Claire Denis (Let The Sun Shine In). Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit). Jennifer Kent (The Babadook). Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz, Stories We Tell). Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman). That’s 14 without the need of Google.

And everywhere you look there’s a young and sickeningly talented director making movies like there’s no tomorrow. Damien Chazelle arrived on the scene at 29 with Whiplash then made La La Land. The French-Canadian wonderkid Xavier Dolan bashed out six feature films by the time he was 27. Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, which has passed the $1bn barrier at the box office, is 31.

And the directors who’ve been round the block a few times? They’ve been busy knocking out their best work in years. The 2013 vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive is one of veteran hipster Jim Jarmusch’s best movies. Richard Linklater’s career-topper Boyhood earned him his first best director Oscar nomination. Martin Scorsese is in his 70s, but The Wolf of Wall Street felt like it could have been directed by a slip of a lad. Paul Verhoeven made an almighty comeback with Elle. Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is a stunning achievement. (Okay, so he should have quit right then and there).

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin.
Grand ambition … Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin. Photograph: Allstar/Film4

For a jolt of pure cinema we’ve had wildly beautiful experimental films like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives from the Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Leos Carax’s crackers Holy Motors, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Documentaries are on a roll (Stories We Tell, The Act of Killing, Amy, I Am Not Your Negro).

Perhaps it says something about how much we have to fret about at this point in time that the sci-fi movie is in such rude health (Her, Gravity, Ex Machina, Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road and, just this week, Annihilation). Oh, and three of my top 10 horror films were made this decade: The Babadook, It Follows and Get Out.

So, reports of cinema’s death have been exaggerated. I haven’t got round to A Great Beauty or the staggering holocaust drama Son of Saul. Or Manchester By the Sea or 12 Years a Slave. Or blockbuster juggernauts like the Star Wars franchise. And who knows, we’re still nearly two years away from the 20s – maybe the tennies has got a few more doozies up its sleeve.


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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