The 2010s have been a special decade for me here at JoBlo.com, as thanks to the site, I’ve been able to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Sundance each and every year since 2009. I tend to file something like thirty reviews every time I go, so I’ve seen a lot of movies, and specifically a lot of dramas. Now, drama as a genre is tough to pin down. All art, in some ways, is drama. To be an effective drama, you don’t have to be melodramatic, meaning tears aren’t a necessity, although certainly there are a few on this list that might have made a few of us here at JoBlo.com cry.
Still, some may take issue with what’s being classified a drama and what’s not. Truth be told, we struggled with this when putting together the list. Is WOLF OF WALL STREET a drama or a comedy? Is DRIVE action or drama? In truth, both films fit many genres, but the ones below, for us anyway, worked us over first and foremost on a gut-wrenching emotional level, hence their inclusion on the list. As usual, this list is alphabetical and not on the level of best to worst, as they’re all great. Check it out and strike back below with what you think we missed or your thoughts on the films we included!
There had been rumblings for years that Richard Linklater was working on a project that would be shot over an extended period of time, and even that Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were involved, but no one knew what to expect when BOYHOOD was added at the last minute to the Sundance program back in 2014. I was lucky enough to attend the premiere and watching Ellar Coltrane’s Mason grow up right there on the screen was an emotionally transcendent moment.
Thus, I was pretty thrilled when IFC gave this a royal rollout to the tune of $25 million, making it something of an arthouse sensation. The film played to near-universal acclaim, with all admitting that even beyond the gimmick of shooting years apart, the film was a lovely coming of age story told with heart. Linklater can be inconsistent, but when he puts his heart into a project, the results are usually quietly transcendent, and this, along with the BEFORE series will stand up as his masterwork.
Call Me By Your Name
Along with MOONLIGHT, it can be argued that CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was a landmark LGTBQ themed film, and simply a lovely romance to boot, starring Armie Hammer and one of the breakout stars of the decade, Timothee Chalamet, who became a heartthrob that transcended a lot of barriers. I’ve often criticized director Luca Guadagnino as a style over substance guy, but here, working from the novel by Andre Aciman and a script by James Ivory, he had a lot of both.
So many moments of this film hold up as iconic, from what Elio does to a peach to the iconic chat between him and his kindly, supportive dad played by the great Michael Stuhlbarg. But, what makes the film stand out is the quietly haunting and heartbreaking ending where a forlorn Elio stares into a roaring fire to Sufjan Steven’s “Visions of Gideon”, an iconic moment for young Chalamet. In terms of the box office, it was only a modest success but the cultural imprint is huge.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE could have probably made it onto our action list, but compared to the other films on that particular list, it can’t be denied that it emphasizes mood and character over carnage and spectacle. In that way, it’s more like a Michael Mann film. Sure, there’s action, but it’s not the film’s defining feature. Like other movies on this list, in terms of box office dollars, DRIVE, while undeniably successful ($81 million worldwide on a $15 million budget) has a cultural imprint that outweighs its box office.
Ryan Gosling is terrific as the quiet, laconic unnamed driver, a romantic, chivalrous but dangerous hero who becomes mixed up with a young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her sympathetic but doomed husband (Oscar Isaac in a breakout role). Albert Brooks ultimately steals the show in a case being cast wildly against type as a ruthless gangster, while Bryan Cranston had one of his first great parts outside of “Breaking Bad” as Gosling’s mentor. It’s also worth noting the film has possibly the best soundtrack of the decade, with now-iconic selections by Chromatics, Desire, College, Kavinsky, and a great score by Cliff Martinez.
Christopher Nolan’s emerged as one of only a handful of directors that could get virtually anything made on the strength of his name alone. Warner Bros has never gone wrong with him, thus when he wanted to make a WW2 film based off of a seventy-six-page screenplay (half the length of his usual scripts) with a giant budget and in IMAX 70MM to boot, they said sure! The result was an Oscar-winning blockbuster, and one of the most visually dynamic war movies of our time.
Using a British cast with an unknown lead (Fionn Whitehead), Nolan made a war movie that invites you to experience what the soldiers themselves are experiencing in an utterly exceptional epic, and one of the decade’s great achievements in film (although it certainly has its haters).
Undeniably, the 2010s were dominated by new advances in smart technology that thoroughly changed the way we live. In a society where we all walk around with Siri in our pockets, Spike Jonze made the first man/technology love story of our time. Going into HER, I thought it would be quirky and funny. I didn’t expect it to be heartbreaking, with one simple exchange, when Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha admits she’s simultaneously in love with thousands of other users, illustrating why a machine can never really love in the end, no matter how close they can approximate it.
Joaquin Phoenix is uncommonly sweet in a gentle performance as the lovelorn copywriter, and it ranks as one of his greatest roles. Again, HER is another whose cultural footprint far outweighs box office, with a modest $48 million worldwide take – although six years later is there anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it?
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan actually had two great movies come out this decade, but the first, MARGARET, was shot years before and ultimately got released on a compromised, much-delayed version. He bounced back a few years later with the most financially successful film of his career, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, which was an early acquisition for Amazon, and grossed a considerable $79 million on a $9 million budget (they paid $10 million for it).
Casey Affleck’s performance in the lead is one of the great ones of the decade, with him a former family man trying to bounce back from a tragedy that’s broken him. There are some truly gut-wrenching moments here, such as his reunion with his sympathetic, now remarried ex-wife (Michelle Williams in a great role). It was also the movie that introduced us to Lucas Hedges, who – for my money – will become one of the icons of the next decade.
The Social Network
It’s funny to think now, but when THE SOCIAL NETWORK came out, a lot of people thought David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin were too hard on Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook. As the decade ends though, he’s an even more controversial figure than when it started, leading many to wonder when the two will deliver a sequel, as one seems pretty warranted at this point.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK struck a nerve for many of us, with it playing to blockbuster business. We pretty much all use Facebook, so none of us could resist finding out more about the enigmatic figure behind it, with Jesse Eisenberg cast so perfectly to type, I’d wager in some ways it’s hurt him as he’s no so identified with the part. It also made Andrew Garfield into a star, with him delivering a bunch of excellent performances in movies that just missed out on this list like HACKSAW RIDGE and SILENCE.
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the best movie I have no desire to ever rewatch. It’s a stunning achievement from a brilliant director, but it’s also among the most brutal, devastating films ever made. It delivers a horrifying account of the free Solomon Northup’s abduction and experience as a slave in the South during the antebellum era and its filmmaking at its most harrowing.
Chiwetel Ejiofor emerged as one of the best actors of our era for his role in the lead, although it also gave Lupita Nyong’o her first major role (and an Oscar) while Michael Fassbender played, without a doubt, the most despicable villain of the decade as Solomon’s sadistic owner. It wound up being a major hit, grossing $187 million worldwide and solidifying McQueen as one of the great moviemakers of the decade, but it’s also a rough watch, albeit a movie that needs to be seen at least once. Like it or not, stories like this are part of our heritage.
I’ll never forget seeing WHIPLASH at the Sundance press screening. Now, for Sundance, the way it works is that usually, the first night is pretty low-key. Folks have a hard time flying in at times, so typically on day one, there are only a few press screenings in the evening. Everyone pretty much winds up seeing the same thing, and in the year it premiered WHIPLASH was the one we all checked out. Usually, though the opening night press screening isn’t for a movie that’s all that great, as the big guns are saved for the weekend when they can be sure everyone’s arrived in Park City. Suffice to say, everyone sitting in the Yarrow Hotel audience was blown away by Damien Chazelle’s thrilling story of the tortured relationship between a jazz drumming student (Miles Teller) and his sadistic teacher (J.K. Simmons).
In the end, Simmons won an Oscar for his iconic role (“not my tempo”) while Miles Teller hit the A-list. No one came out of WHIPLASH better than Chazelle though, with him becoming one of the most acclaimed directors of the era, following it up with the amazing LA LA LAND and the unfairly maligned FIRST MAN.
The Wolf of Wall Street
If it were up to me, there would be two Martin Scorsese movies on this list, with THE IRISHMAN, for my money, as good as anything he’s ever made. That said, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is possibly his most iconic film since GOODFELLAS, and, amazingly, it priced a three hour, drug-fuelled opus could gross almost $400 million worldwide. Leonardo DiCaprio was robbed as the Oscars, as he no doubt should have taken home the prize for his tour de force performance as Jordan Belfort, the coke-fuelled thief whose exploits on Wall Street stand as some of the most outrageous in history.
He’s a horrible man, but DiCaprio makes him unbelievably compelling. Some of the set pieces here will go down as all-timers, such as Belfort’s attempts to get home while under the influence of some expired quaaludes, and the movie is both hilarious and horrifying. Jonah Hill is also excellent as his partner in crime, while the film also gave us our first look at Margot Robbie, who’d end the decade as an icon in her own right.