The 2010s were an exceptionally eccentric time for the medium of film. In it, we saw the masterworks of classic directors, as well as the talents of upcoming auteurs. Though parts of the decade appeared to be on nostalgia highs, many films released were timely and definitive of the 2010s that will allow us to look back on the zeitgeist for years to come. 

Birdman

Birdman simultaneously defines Hollywood and deconstructs it. The one-take realism of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Best Picture-winning drama examines the consequences of the public image. It also examines broken relationships between lovers, family, and dramatic professionals as they battle criticism with the opening of a play in New York City. Birdman breaks down the New York City art scene with self-awareness and existentialism. With actors who practically play themselves (Micheal Keaton as a man fading from superhero fame and Edward Norton as an overbearing method actor), the film allows Hollywood to make fun of itself. Birdman captures this in a timely way through its allusions to social media and criticism, which can make or break one’s passion with its harsh responses yet comforting appreciation. Birdman is a flame, one that reflects the modern art world and the ability to look in the mirror and simply accept ourselves.

The Social Network

The Social Network oddly stands out in David Fincher’s filmography; it’s a non-bloody meditative musing on power structure and the formation of social media. With hypnotic dialogue and nuanced performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Armie Hammer, and Andrew Garfield, the film walks the line between drama and thriller perfectly. Not only is it a modern masterpiece, but signaled our acceptance and normality of social media, as well as reflects on how our perceptions change when image and power come into play. Touches of hedonism and recklessness show how the new millennial, 2000s college-goers who have gone on to shape our world. The Social Network is a modern greek tragedy with its lingering ending that despite common thought, doesn’t leave us hanging at all. Our consequences from social media is the finite ending the film needs.

Spring Breakers

A Terrence Malick-style odyssey of youthful hedonism and party culture that left most audiences alienated and uncomfortable, as it should have. In the early 2010s, with EDM and party culture at its peak, the concept of spring break getaways in seaside cities was a fantasy for most college students and still is. The idea of getting away and getting lost in dangerous activities seems blissful to the proto-young professional. Spring Breakers not only presents that lifestyle but deconstructs it and creates a caricature of the so-called “bikini culture”. The opening sequence of the film seems bizarre, as it presents real-life spring breakers partaking in booze gimmicks and naked dances, seemingly unaware of the way they’re presenting themselves within the context of the film; their oblivion almost enhances it. The film is nonetheless an adventure, from euphoric scenes of the coast of Miami to violent montages set to Everytime by Britney Spears. The film is definitely not for everybody but explores a hedonistic lifestyle we’re all familiar with.

First Reformed

“Who can know the mind of God?” asks Paul Schrader’s First Reformed; a film that hurts to be known as fiction. Shrader’s film asks big questions that cannot be answered directly, which is intentional. With socio-political crises that test strict religious beliefs and tragedies occurring so frequently, we can’t help but question God and how we perceive beings higher than ourselves. Ethan Hawke gives the performance of a lifetime as a conflicted Reverend attempting to find morality and understanding in religion and science. Though distressing and incredibly dark, First Reformed isn’t afraid to juxtapose violence and faith, showing how contradicting we can be with human life. The film mirrors Schrader’s past works like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull but defines itself through exposing tragedy unique to the 2010s, with specifics such as climate change, terrorism, and imperialist wars. Not a film for everyone, but a film that captures the confusion and sadness in everyone’s subconscious.

Her

Most people know of Her as the film about the man who falls in love with a phone. While yes, at its most basic that is what it is about, it’s much more. Her is a sci-fi romance fever dream that blends melancholic visuals with traditional Spike Jonze existentialism. Think of it as A.I meets Lost In Translation; a musing on love both lost and found with a hint of sci-fi. Though it’s funny and heartwarming at times, an unshakeable loneliness prevails through most of Her. As Joaquin Phoenix plays the shy and awkward Theodore who rebounds his marriage through love for his A.I friend Samantha, Her doesn’t seem set in the “near distant future” of Los Angeles at all. The film captures love in relation to technology; how does it change our love? Can loving technology, one day, become socially accepted? The film suggests otherwise, but it’s nonetheless puzzling.

Parasite

Parasite’s Best Picture win was historic, but the film is timely (in the best way possible). At the surface, Parasite is a Korean thriller film about the economic and social dependence between two families but is filled to the brim with commentary on late-stage capitalism and wealth inequality. The film takes aspects of modern lower-class life and allows them to present a greater message on the consequence of wealth. The film also questions our morality and how it changes when our socio-political status does. With the film not having perfect or morally righteous characters, the audience asks “who is the parasite?”. Parasite is not all class anger, however, as it also reflects on family relationships and ends with a conflicting monologue that further polarizes the working class, like a lingering effect of capitalism.

Moonlight

Moonlight is too often overshadowed by it’s Oscar mishap, which wrongly nullifies its powerful and embracing narrative. Moonlight, like Parasite, are historic examples of the narratives of marginalized people gaining greater recognition. Barry Jenkins’ breakout film is an artsy masterpiece of modern Black cinema that highlights many of the community’s issues such as homophobia, drug use, and gang culture. The story of Chiron is poetic and masterful in its presentation and effective in presenting the modern tale of a young black man. His love is never fetishized but rather heartbreakingly honest. As Chiron struggles with prejudice, conformity, and the rejection of love, Jenkins blends newfound mainstream inclusivity with timely portrayals of Black life. 

The Florida Project

The Florida Project is a beautiful film about a conventionally unbeautiful topic; poverty. The lifestyles presented in The Florida Project are ones we are all familiar with to an extent, but one that film has been hesitant to explore. Unlike films similar to it, Florida doesn’t rely on a pity-party narrative; it presents a naive one through the eyes of six-year-old protagonist, Moonie. While we know the truth about her situation, she’s blissfully unaware, creating a combination of desperation and joy. Her untouched lens of the world around her shows modern poverty in a unique and colorful way. The film’s final sequence, although alienating, is blissful in its cathartic expression of childhood dreams and escapism. Baker’s touching realism shows a uniquely modern demographic in a fresh way that allows us to see beyond the stereotypes of poverty, but instead, the companionship thriving within it.

La La Land

Every year, a flood of college-age kids with passions for the arts move to Los Angeles, looking to fulfill the American dream in the city of angels; sadly, not all of them achieve such. Ask any film student, there’s always thought of doubt in mind when pursuing the medium you love. With the mainstream popularization of nostalgia and the loss of dreams becoming increasingly common, La La Land is a love letter to hope. As the story follows two semi-flawed hopeful performers, an infatuating tale of love and aspiration is told. With them both aspiring to go into competitive fields, the debate and eventual compromise of love are examined. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) resonates deeply in the hearts of young artists across the world with its earnest ambition and aching acceptance of failure. Not only is La La Land beautifully created, but it also presents a sad fact of life for modern artists in a way that inspires them at the same time.

Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller Nightcrawler combines Nicholas Winding Refn’s colorful sensibilities with a political subtext to create a powerful musing on modern journalism. The film tackles the concept of fake news in a disturbing way that exposes it and entertains that the typical journalism film doesn’t. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Lou Bloom is calculated and cold, seeming to represent the desensitization of the modern consumer.  His relentless search for the truth and access to violence ponders contemporary morbid curiosity and pushes it to the extreme. The film also forces the audience to become aware of the bias that infiltrates seemingly untouched information, and how it alters the world around them. The themes of mortality and sensationalism contrast yet intertwine, both in the narrative and in current events. Not only does this film question our moral truths, it asks how far we will go to define them.