Film

8 highlights of an unforgettable decade of cinema

15 December 2019 - 00:00
Director Ryan Coogler capped a good decade with ‘Black Panther’ starring Chadwick Boseman (pictured) as the king of Wakanda..
Director Ryan Coogler capped a good decade with ‘Black Panther’ starring Chadwick Boseman (pictured) as the king of Wakanda..
Image: Marvel Studios 2018

It was the decade of the unstoppable rise of the Marvel Comics Universe juggernaut, the JJ Abrams reboots of Star Trek and Star Wars and the fight over whether Netflix films should be allowed to compete for coveted awards.

It was the beginning of the final part of the career of Quentin Tarantino, the late-period mastery of Martin Scorsese and the rise of a representative cinema that gave proper space to the voices of black, woman and queer filmmakers.

Here are a few personal highlights of a decade that turned out to be better than I thought it would be:

1. THE RETURN OF TERRENCE MALICK 

The most poetic and reclusive of the American New Wave directors returned after a six- year hiatus with Tree of Life - a sprawling, deeply personal and philosophical epic that is one of the most beautiful and constantly fascinating movies ever made.

After that Malick started churning out films as if to make up for lost time — with mixed results — but continued singularity and visual bravado from To The Wonder to Knight of Cups, Song to Song and his most recent, much applauded festival hit A Hidden Life.

2. OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS - MARTIN SCORSESE 

Scorsese began the decade with the epic prohibition gangster series Boardwalk Empire for HBO. He then finished an epic documentary on George Harrison, moved into 3-D experimentation with Hugo, and unleashed the baroque excess and cynical black humour of the anti-capitalist tragicomedy The Wolf of Wall Street.

He created the high-energy, off-the-rails but sadly short-lived '70s record industry series Vinyl, made a long gestating, deeply personal and poetic project about questions of faith, Silence, and  gave us the slyly winking wonders of his second Bob Dylan documentary Rolling Thunder Review.

He topped it off with the instant mobster classic The Irishman.

3. FOR HIS SECOND-LAST TRICK TARANTINO KICKS CHARLES MANSON'S ASS 

With only four films to go until his promised allotment of 10 before retirement, the maverick genre-bender began the decade by taking audiences on a violent exploitation ride through the slave era south in Django Unchained before turning to the American West for the nasty, backstabbing, star-studded chamber piece The Hateful Eight.

For his second-last film Tarantino blew it out the water, pairing Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a revisionist love letter to the end of the Hollywood golden age and the death of the promise of the '60s in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.

4. RYAN COOGLER, BARRY JENKINS AND AVA DUVERNAY KICK DOWN THE DOORS, SPIKE LEE BLOWS THE ROOF OFF AND JORDAN PEELE SCARES THE HELL OUT OF WHITE AMERICA

Coogler started his career with the brilliant, urgent indie account of police brutality in Fruitvale Station before breathing much needed relevant life into the Rocky franchise with Creed and changing the racial dynamic of blockbuster culture indelibly with Black Panther.

Jenkins won the Oscar for Moonlight, a deeply felt, personal and heartbreakingly true film of love and adolescent awakening, before tenderly bringing James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk to cinematic life.

DuVernay powered the stirring Martin Luther King jnr biopic Selma before moving into television with Queen Sugar, directing the hard-hitting critique of the US's prison system in The 13th and creating the righteously dramatic series When They See Us.

Pioneer of the African-American cause, Lee finally won an Oscar for his gut-wrenching black comedy BlackKklansman.

And Peele took a dark, unforgettable look at race by using the horror genre to brilliant, darkly comic and original effect in Get Out.

5. RICHARD LINKLATER PLAYS THE LONG, LONG GAME 

'90s Indie pioneer Linklater took 12 years and used the same actors to create Boyhood, his gently empathetic exploration of growing up, one of the truest and most emotionally honest films in cinema history.

6. PAUL THOMAS MAKES JOAQUIN PHOENIX A LEGEND AND RETIRES DANIEL DAY-LEWIS 

The most singular filmmaker of his generation began the decade with a masterpiece about a shadowy cult leader in The Master, dared to attempt to bring the literary postmodern gameplay of Thomas Pynchon to screen with Inherent Vice and gave Day-Lewis his third Oscar in the staid, ravishingly realised The Phantom Thread.

7. GEORGE MILLER GOES TO NAMIBIA, TEARS UP THE DUNES AND CREATES THE DECADE'S HARDEST-HITTING FEMINIST BLOCKBUSTER 

Thirty years after sending Mel Gibson into the Disneyesque realms of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Miller took Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy to Namibia and unleashed an old-school, petrolhead, feminist charged hell to create the most in-your-face feminist-centred action film in cinema history.

8 ALFONSO CUARÓN GOES TO SPACE AND THEN GOES HOME 

The Mexican director took audiences to space like they'd never been before with his 3-D, hyper-realistic, stratospheric, dramatic adventure Gravity before getting back to deeply personal history in Roma, his autobiographical, carefully observed piece of black and white nostalgia.