As far as actors are concerned, the first five years of the 2010s proved that you can’t make it big unless you’re prepared to get into the Lycra and stride around in front of the greenscreen. This has been the demi-decade of the superhero, coming alongside genres like sci-fi and fantasy. Perhaps it’s surprising that it didn’t happen long ago and that, until very recently, only three or four A-list superheroes were being consistently reinvented in franchise properties. Now there are dozens, with the Marvel stable a powerhouse of profitable movies.
In the past five years, we have also seen the emergence of a recognisable new genre, young adult, drawn from colossal multi-volume bestsellers targeted at teens: these fanbases are formidably loyal, intelligent, opinionated, with a sense of self and identity; the product driven by social media. The authors reach out to the fans through Twitter; the fans amass considerable followings of their own; they go on fan-fiction sites, self-publish and some become players themselves. And the movie studios have to react like lightning to a big new product before its fans outgrow it, but they have to be careful to bring the fans along with them, with visits to Comic Con and the like. YA has assumed distinctive characteristics in stories like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent and Maze Runner: the heroes and heroines are smart, essentially celibate or pre-sexual but intensely romantic, not interested in smart-ass irony, burdened with a sense of apartness and destiny.
The quintessential YA heroine is Shailene Woodley, who made her name as George Clooney’s tricky teen daughter in The Descendants and then hit the big time in two massive YA pictures: The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Woodley is a thoroughly modern YA heroine: smart, cute, but not sexy exactly – lonely, vulnerable, but with inner strength that will be tested and found far from wanting. It all connects with the escapist yearning of the readers who will become consumer-fans of the film versions.Then there’s the “documentary surge”. There has been a growing market for non-fiction feature films that come out on many platforms: theatrical and download. But documentaries can have a real life in the cinema. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing ran for a year at London’s ICA cinema, an unheard-of achievement. And the rise of services like Netflix shows that people are prepared to pay for (as opposed to pirate) niche movies like this.
As far as production goes, the most extraordinary development of the last five years is surely the rise of crowdfunding with sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Previously, we had all assumed that web 2.0 was all about people working very, very hard for no money. Now Kickstarter has proved that web activity can be alchemised into actual hard cash. Paul Schrader’s The Canyons was an example of a crowdfunded film; its screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis says that in future all films will made like this, sold to iTunes and then the creators will move on to the next project. Perhaps he’s right.
As far as international arthouse movie trends go, it’s difficult to tell. Romanian and Greek waves have come and – perhaps – gone. German and Austrian film-makers have made an impression. Hardcore “extreme” cinema from the far east seems to be in abeyance. South Asian cinema continues not to be especially fashionable, and periodic revivals of Satyajit Ray demonstrate that we in the west are not as receptive to Indian cinema as in the past.
In Britain, there is a good deal to be happy about. We have seen a major new artist and film-maker in the form of Steve McQueen, who has made a remarkable career transition to movie director, with his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. There has been a very exciting new wave of independent directors: Andrea Arnold, Carol Morley, Clio Barnard and Joanna Hogg, who have challenged the gender stereotype of the director as the Guy In Charge. Ben Wheatley and Chris Morris have scored great successes, and writers-turned-directors Iain Morris and Damon Beesley scored another colossal and indeed critical triumph with their Inbetweeners 2: Morris and Beesley look like joining Edgar Wright and Richard Aoyade in the ranks of TV comics who made the shift to cinema.
Here is my demi-decade top 50 …
The Headless Woman (dir. Lucrecia Martel)
A brilliant, disturbing film from Argentina about guilt, denial and the return of the repressed. A woman from Buenos Aires’s upper-middle classes hits something or someone in her car. An enigmatic coverup begins.
Lourdes (dir. Jessica Hausner)
Superbly controlled mysterious film about a young woman with MS played by Sylvie Testud who visits Lourdes with a church group expecting only a spiritual miracle. But who knows?
Samson and Delilah (dir. Warwick Thornton)
A love story of the most challenging and opaque kind between two Aboriginal or Indigenous Australians: Samson and Delilah. Both are living painful lives of poverty and vulnerability, but somehow their love, or companionship, or simple solidarity in the face of life’s woes allows them to carry on.
Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn)
Brutal, delirious and drenched in execrable taste, this comic-book fantasy of homemade super-heroism is an explosion of energy and provocation. Nicolas Cage gives a terrific performance as a paternal masked crimefighter.
Dogtooth (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
The movie that put itself at the vanguard of the New Greek Cinema: elegant, stylised, disturbing essays in dysfunction and tragedy. It is a macabre black comedy whose claws embed themselves in your mind.
Four Lions (dir. Chris Morris)
Chris Morris, reliably fearless and brilliant, tackles the most difficult social issue head-on. His comedy is about Islamic suicide bombers in Britain, a topic skewered with an absolute lack of political correctness or timidity.
Toy Story 3 (dir. Lee Unkrich)
The last and arguably the greatest of the Toy Stories – and the moment at which the modern golden age of animation appeared to come to an end. It is a joyous, heartrending parable of saying goodbye to one’s childhood – and accepting that one’s children will grow up and grow away.
The Maid (dir. Sebastián Silva)
A gripping satirical thriller from Chile’s Sebastián Silva. A maid who is patronised and ignored by the family who employ her gradually turns against them. A movie to compare with Losey’s The Servant.
Enter the Void (dir. Gaspar Noé)
A magnificently deranged display of delirum from the great enfant terrible of French cinema: stroboscopic, hallucinatory and Kubrickian, it is a journey into a druggy, neon-lit hell, and really has to be seen on the big screen.
Exhibition (dir. Joanna Hogg)
Joanna Hogg is an artist and film-maker who challenges her audiences with her calm, deep-focus gaze. Exhibition is a fascinating experiment in cine-portraiture, with links to Rachel Whiteread and David Hockney. Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick play an artist couple who live in a handsome modernist house that is now associated with some mysterious trauma.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
This gentle, dreamlike, magical film from Thailand won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. A dying man comes to the remote northern forest to end his days and commune with previous lives and the spirit presences of nature. An absolutely beguiling film.
Animal Kingdom (dir. David Michôd)
David Michôd revived the great memories of Ozploitation with this cracking contemporary drama-thriller, about a dysfunctional crime family in blue-collar gangland Melbourne. Guy Pearce and Ben Mendelsohn give brutally potent performances.
How I Ended This Summer (dir. Aleksey Popogrebskiy)
A tense, mysterious dramatic two-hander from Russia: two men on an isolated meteorological research station in the Russian arctic find themselves in an unbearable situation. It’s a movie that deserves to be better known.
Le Quattro Volte, or the Four Seasons (dir. Michelangelo Frammartino)
A superlative, almost wordless film from Italy. An old shepherd in Calabria tends his flock of goats; the sun rises and sets; the animals roam; the shadows move. A film to melt the heart.
Bridesmaids (dir. Paul Feig)
Co-writer and star Kristen Wiig gave mainstream audiences a funny feminist alternative to girly-simpery romcoms with this uproarious movie about all the status-envy and rivalry involved in getting married.
A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
With this Iranian drama, Asghar Farhadi established himself as an auteur in the tradition of Antonioni and Haneke – and his film looks increasingly like a classic. When an unhappy couple break up, the fracture exposes the fault-lines of Iranian society. Masterly.
The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
The reclusive master emerged from his long period of silence with this colossal rhapsody of cosmic images and dramatic themes which some found indulgent and others compelling. Brad Pitt gives a great performance as the stern 50s Texan father.
Kill List (dir. Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley was a new British talent who broke out in the previous decade, moving from obscurity to a powerful position in British cinema. His Kill List is disturbingly unclassifiable: a horror-comedy in a dreamy arthouse-realist style, overlaid with dreamy fear.
Poetry (dir. Lee Chang-dong)
A remarkable meditation on ageing and memories from Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong. A delicate, shy sixtysomething finds that in the evening of her life she must bear a terrible burden: her troubled teen grandson has disgraced the family and she finds herself suffering from memory loss. A beautifully acted piece of work.
Wuthering Heights (dir. Andrea Arnold)
This visceral and challenging adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel divided opinion at the time, but its sheer audacity is thrilling. It has a pre-literary reality: it looks like the raw series of events on which the book might have been based.
Margaret (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Lonergan achieved cult status with this superb personal drama starring Anna Paquin. It reached the screen after years of studio wrangling, while a grassroots social-media campaign got it a wide cinema release. Now it looks like a modern classic.
Dreams of a Life (dir. Carol Morley)
Carol Morley established herself as one of Britain’s most exciting new talents with this deeply moving documentary: a study of modern loneliness, centring on the mystery of a young woman whose dead body lay undiscovered in a council flat for three years.
The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
A wonderful tribute to the age of silent cinema, itself silent and in black-and-white, starring Jean Dujardin as a Douglas Fairbanks-style star who can’t adapt to the talkies. The movie had something to say, by implication, about modern media adapting to the web.
Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)
The great Austrian film-maker brought a kind of moral grandeur to bear on this almost unbearably moving and touching study of an ageing couple, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who face hard choices when one suffers a stroke.
The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson got one of the greatest performances from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in this mysterious and mesmeric study, a fictional variation of the life of L Ron Hubbard, founder of dianetics.
Leviathan (dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Zvyagintsev is the pre-eminent Russian director, and this film is a majestic and commanding indictment of the Russian Putinstan: a perfect storm of reactionary clerics, cynical lawyers and gangster-rich politicians.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Ceylan is the Turkish film-maker who had steadily amassed a reputation over almost 20 years, and took last year’s Palme d’Or for Winter Sleep. But Anatolia is his masterpiece: a massive, slow-moving but riveting drama of violence and its aftermath.
This Is Not a Film (dir. Jafar Panahi)
This courageous documentary is a samizdat document about the Iranian government’s quasi-Soviet attempt to quash artist dissidents. Director and pro-democracy activist Jafar Panahi has been subject to a 20-year ban on film-making: this film about his life had to be smuggled out of the country.
Ted (dir. Seth MacFarlane)
Seth MacFarlane disgraced himself with a clownish turn at the Oscars. Even before this, his stoner fantasy comedy Ted got some grumpy reactions from broadsheet critics, but it is very funny: a misanthropic study of kidulthood, about a guy whose teddy bear grew up with him.
The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
Yearning, plangent, superbly and distinctively directed and shot, Paolo Sorrentino’s love letter to Rome stars Toni Servillo as the ageing man about town who realises that he is reaching the end of the high life.
The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
This documentary is about the ageing generation of killers and gangsters who enforced Suharto’s brutal anti-communist rule in 1960s Indonesia. Startlingly and controversially, Oppenheimer persuaded the unrepentant killers to re-stage their crimes in the style of old movies: a Marat/Sade nightmare of tyranny.
Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Refn’s study of ultraviolent revenge in Bangkok, starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas, was mocked when it appeared at Cannes, but its formal, lethal brilliance gives it a radioactive pulp potency. An outstanding, and much misunderstood film.
I Wish (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
The spirit of Ozu and family drama is revived in this lovely, delicate movie from the Japanese master Kore-eda: two nine-year-old brothers are forced to live apart when their parents split, taking one son each. The children plot to be reunited in a movie to melt the heart.
The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Barnard)
Clio Barnard followed her experimental “verbatim cinema” drama-doc The Arbor with a devastatingly impressive, conventional movie in the poetic, social-realist vein – a modern variation on the Oscar Wilde short story. Two kids bring stolen goods to a scrap-metal dealer in the unenchanted garden of his yard.
Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)
Just when the world had written him off, or professed themselves too disgusted with allegations about his private life, Woody Allen came back with one of his best films, starring Cate Blanchett as the socialite forced to come to terms with poverty.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)
A movie rocket-fuelled with passion, sex, idealism and youth. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play two young women whose love story becomes a tragedy as one outgrows the other.
Winter of Discontent (dir. Ibrahim el-Batout)
There is remarkable technique and artistry, as well as raw anger, in this compelling movie about the 2011 uprising in Egypt and Tahrir Square. Arguably the best feature about the much debated Arab spring.
Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
This demi-decade was the period in which this film-maker left behind his enfant terrible status and became almost an elder statesman: his pulp satire about slavery was a brilliant and dizzying adventure showing no one can deliver the crazy opiate of cinema like Tarantino.
Frozen (dirs. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
Families with daughters find that they are playing the DVD over and over and over again. This Disney musical based on The Snow Queen was an animation in the classic style, with the most addictively hummable original tunes we’ve heard at the movies for ages. What a joy.
12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)
Tarantino gave us a black comedy; Britain’s Steve McQueen directed a tragedy based on Solomon Northup’s memoir and changed the way slavery is commemorated and debated in America. A great performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Inside Llewyn Davis (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Despite a growing suspicion that “Llewyn” is a Welsh name they invented or misheard, the Coens’ study of a middling pre-Dylan wannabe in the 1960s New York folk scene is pungent, beautifully acted and unmissable.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson had a UK box-office hit with this eccentric and beguiling screwball comedy-farce that channelled the spirits of Lubitsch and the interwar popular author Stefan Zweig. Ralph Fiennes hit a career high as the elegant hotel concierge M Gustave.
Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
It does what it says on the tin: it gets under your skin. This electrifying sci-fi masterpiece from Glazer starred Scarlett Johannson as the alien invader in Glasgow, preying on credulous horny males. Scary, sexy, unforgettable.
A Touch of Sin (dir. Jia Zhang-ke)
Jia Zhang-ke is a Chinese director known for his quietist, contemplative work. This film (original title: Heavenly) is a startling change of form: an angry, ultraviolent, almost Tarantino–esque blast at modern China’s obsession with money.
Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
If I had to choose just one, it would be this: a film to inspire love. Linklater contrives a remarkable, rigorous time-lapse study of a boy growing to manhood over 12 years. Sublime.
Norte, the End of History (dir. Lav Diaz)
From the modern Philippines comes this stunning, epic, and distinctively spiritual new version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about an innocent man taking the rap for a crime committed by someone else – and entering a state of grace denied to the real culprit.
Ida (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
It may have a short running time, but it encases a whole world of mystery, history, rapture and pain. A young woman about to become a nun in 1960s Poland discovers she was born Jewish and – in the company of a depressed, drunk judge – sets off on a journey to discover the truth.
Mr Turner (dir. Mike Leigh)
A rich, ripe and positively gamey late masterpiece from Mike Leigh, and also from Timothy Spall, playing the painter JMW Turner in his final years. Moving and visually ravishing.
Birdman (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Alejandro González Iñárritu achieves takeoff in a big way with his crazy, freaky-deaky, hellzapoppin’ showbiz comedy Birdman. Michael Keaton stars as an ageing movie star trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor – but plagued by memories of Birdman, the dumb superhero role that made him famous.
Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poitras)
A courageous documentary about a no less courageous man. Laura Poitras interviewed the former NSA analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden about his revelations that US security agencies were engaging in wholesale invasions of everyone’s privacy.