If it was premature to call Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives one of the best films of the 2010s upon its release in 2010, I think it’s fair to say that it’s shaping up to be one of the decade’s defining masterpieces. Most haven’t seen it and I was lucky enough to catch it while it was available on Netflix Instant. Since seeing it those two times (yes, I watched it twice in the same day), there have only been a few new releases which have, for me, matched or topped the experience.
The most significant one may be Malick’s The Tree of Life, which touched me profoundly and quite simply, is just an all-around beautiful film. For me, the prize of Best Film of the 2010s currently sits between it and Uncle Boonmee, but I’m skeptical of the significance of that considering that we’re only 2 and 1/2 years into the decade. Of course, there will be more great films in the next 7 and 1/2 and I’m sure there is a wealth of wonderful cinema that I’ve already overlooked or haven’t yet acknowledged.
And then there are the movies that I have seen and enjoyed, but will grow better to me as time goes by. Perhaps Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Perhaps The Social Network. Perhaps The Turin Horse (though I really doubt it). In fact, I’ve already become a great deal fonder of The Artist during the past year. On the other hand, I’m sure some movies will prove to be less significant down the road than we may have suspected initially. For example, Holy Motors may disappear into the shadows by 2019, Looper may become a staple on the discount racks of our local video stores, and Drive a nearly forgotten film that we recall during some sort of trivia game. I certainly hope not but with the Internet, instant streaming, etc. the chances of recent films disappearing completely are diminishing.
What will we come to view as the best films of the 2010s? At the moment, the closest we can come to answering that question is to consider what recent films we love the most. For me, the list would look something like this (in no particular order):
-The Tree of Life
-Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
-The Social Network
-Beasts of the Southern Wild
From these films, it seems to me that cinema is still in a positive place right now. We’re paying tribute (The Artist). We’re ruminating on our past and future (Uncle Boonmee, The Tree of Life), our fragile existence (Amour), and the things that hold us captive (The Master, Take Shelter).
There is a lot of talk, from critics, bloggers, and some popular audiences, about a recent decline in quality films. We look at Hollywood and the projects that it funds, very many of which are questionable when considered as necessary, significant, or even moral works of art. Not every movie has to be a sweeping, auteur-driven work of art, but even Hollywood entertainments should have a hint of something new to say or show us.
And then there’s the issue of all of the remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and trilogies, which to me, is less of an indicator of the studios’ laziness than their refusal to invest in anything that isn’t a sure bet. The apparent laziness we detect is rather that of the filmmakers who relentlessly recycle material from other films. It’s easy for cinephiles (and I’m no exception) to point at Hollywood and claim a cinematic recession, but if there is one, I do think it only applies to Hollywood.
The list above is proof that there are great and unique films being made inside the studio system and all around the world. If you are still skeptical, open an issue of Sight & Sound or Film Comment and skim through the pages. Each time that I read either one, there are many films featured which I have never heard of. Those movies embrace ideas that haven’t been filmed before, so it may be unfair to denounce all of world and independent cinema when there actually are plenty of original films being made.
Finding quality movies to watch is simply a matter of knowing where to look. For ages, we have all relied on Hollywood to provide and that makes sense. Those commercial films are more readily available and more heavily promoted than most others anywhere in the world, but there are alternatives to them. Perhaps it is time for us to look elsewhere. Independent cinema in the United States is growing and improving; in my opinion, it is becoming a worthy successor to the traditional Hollywood. In addition, foreign films are more accessible than ever before.
I suppose my message here is that the movies are not getting worse. Hollywood may be in a slow decline, but cinema is not. As the decade progresses and as low-budget and imported films become easier to view, I suspect we may see a slight shift of public interest away from the cliches, the sequels, and the remakes. In that case, it seems to me that a cinematic revival is just around the corner.