Every decade has its gems but some of the cinema produced in the ten years KCW London has been reviewing truly makes the head and soul ring. As the Christmas break is upon us, we’ve collected some of our favourites below for you to enjoy and look back on. To the next ten!
The Social Network
A Harvard peer once described collegeaged Mark Zuckerberg as cursed with a “self-defeating awkwardness” that “had been so palpable, it had acted like a force field… a sort of reverse magnetism, pushing anyone nearby away.” You wouldn’t get that from The Social Network; thanks to the most wickedly sharp script that Aaron Sorkin ever penned, Zuckerberg (icily portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg with a swagger the real version can only dream of) is reborn as half tech bro, half incel Richard III. The Social Network presages the seething anger that pervades every level of online
(and offline) discourse in 2020 and gets closer to the dark heart of our cruel
digital age (and of the obsessed young man who helped create it) than any
documentary ever could. The fact that the Oscar-Winning soundtrack by Trent Reznor is an all-time classic doesn’t hurt it either.
Nothing in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite should work; it’s a period drama that abandons the genre’s usual staid frothiness with a fanged surrealism that strains and pants like a badly tethered dog. Olivia Coleman recreates the mostly forgotten 18th century Queen Anne as a tragic monster, broken by ill-health and lost children, whilst Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz wage a battle for the absent-minded queen’s favour, both sapphic and otherwise. Scabrously funny with dialogue less barbed than actively murderous, The Favourite rewrote the rulebook on period drama and blazed a trail that only the most daring will be able to follow.
The End of the Tour
A quiet little masterpiece in a sea of crass overblown biopics, The End Of The Tour dramatizes a young Rolling Stone journalist performing a cross country interview with an equally young David Foster Wallace, when the latter was fresh off writing Infinite Jest. Whether or not you’ve read Wallace, the film paints an incredibly arresting, funny and human portrait of the creative process and the meaning of celebrity, through a plethora of tangential discussion and subtle gamesmanship between the two writers. Featuring an unexpectedly transformative performance from Jason Segal as Wallace, The End of The Tour is funny, moving and intimate.
The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing explodes the very idea of what a documentary can be. Tracking down the gleefully unrepentant members of a Indonesian death squad who personally murdered over 1000 accused communists in 1965, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer gives them the rope to hang themselves. He helps them organise and shoot fictionalised versions of their state sanctioned killings in the style of their favourite Hollywood genres; from 30s gangster to full-on musical where victims are dispatched to the sound of Born Free. As the film goes on this bizarre ‘celebration’ of their unpunished crimes begins to stir unexplored feelings of guilt in men who felt themselves incapable of it. Searing, deeply surreal and shocking, The Act of Killing is filmmaking at its bravest.
In the last decade, long continuous shots (think the opening shot of Orson Welles’ A Touch Of Evil) so Birdman deserves a hat tip for creating a continuous shot that lasts the entire film years before 1917 stuck its head over the parapet. Of course there’s a million clever cuts throughout it, but that sensation of motion, spurred on by the bombastic jazz drum soundtrack takes a cerebral look at the nature of acting and artistry and supercharges it into a flat-out sprint. Michael Keaton plays an actor who rose to fame as the titular Birdman before quitting to pursue ‘serious drama’ (a clear nod to Keaton’s own history as Batman). Attempting to put together a theatrical version of a Raymond Carver piece that has no business being staged, the tightly wound has-been begins to unravel. Unique and urgent, Birdman endures.
Whilst The Irishman got all the ink, Scorsese’s best film this decade (hell this century) is Silence, his stark yet profound take on Shusaku Endo’s classic 1966 novel. Abandoning his usual frenetic style for a pointedly slow and beautiful approach to the camera, Silence is a weighty, violent and emotional meditation on the nature of faith and God. Set in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate of 1640 where Christianity was brutally repressed, Silence follows two Portuguese priests who are smuggled into the country to track down their mentor, who has allegedly publicly renounced his faith. Slashed through with violence and nearly three hours long, Silence can feel like an ordeal, but it’s a stunning work that swings for the fences in a way that films about religion rarely dare to attempt.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The problem with Wes Anderson is that for all of his wonderful froth and whimsy there’s never any real stakes so his films frequently just feel like beautiful crafted automations whose pleasures lie entirely on the surface. With The Grand Budapest Hotel however, he combined the spun-sugar wonder of his masterful recreation of the pre-WWII European world with the genuine emotion of its irrevocable destruction. In between, the film absolutely sings with Ralph Fiennes’s incomparable hotel concierge Gustav H. (how he was not even nominated for an Oscar will forever be beyond me), one of the finest comic creations of the past decade. From Anderson’s painterly control of the mise en scène to the soundtrack, everything about The Grand Budapest Hotel is pure delight.
So much of Drive’s DNA has been replicated through cinema and TV since its release that the film itself seems to have been relatively forgotten. Nicholas Winding Refn, one of the most talented yet contrarian directors currently working, for once restrained his ‘challenging’ impulses and made a sleek and retrofuturist classic that melded the best of indie and action cinema into a shimmering hybrid. With Ryan Gosling in his best role (let’s face it Gosling only ever plays one character) as the emotionally repressed heist driver and Cliff Martinez’s effortlessly cool score, Drive has set a tone that cinema’s still dancing to.
Pain and Glory
It’s generally not a great sign when an elder-statesman director decides to make a movie clearly about their experience of being a director, but with Pain and Glory Almodovar was able to rise above the clichéd subject matter for a magnum opus that underlined his entire career, in what might very well be his best film. Both a feast for the senses and funny and tragic in equal measure, Pain and Glory is the kind of film that only a true auteur could make, one that stands entirely alone.