teens and tens in the ’10s
the decade’s most important films (to me)
As we approach the end of 2019, major publications—readying their year-end arts & culture retrospectives as per usual—are charged with an additional, even more brazen task: determining the highlights of the 2010s at large. How could we ever transition into 2020 without definitive, “official” recognition of the decade’s best and worst content? Yet if these lists fail for me as a method of remembering our collective past, it’s because the people who curate them have the audacity to contradict my personal rankings. Jerks.
Joking aside, I know these lists are essentially harmless: fumbling attempts to canonize what’s most important from ten years of cultural detritus. However, they rarely take me on a tour of collective history, instead recalling my personal memory. That, to me, is the key component these “best-of” lists tend to neglect: There are personal reasons why we remember certain works of art, why we might cherish something regardless of its quality or content. Allow me to provide some examples from the deep recesses of my own teenage cinephilia that will hopefully inspire your own think pieces. And if a particularly egregious choice lands me on your kill list, remember: I’m not saying these are the best films—just the ones that spoke the most to me.
2010: The Social Network
I’d never been on social media. It didn’t matter. At 11 years old, I was distinctly aware that David Fincher’s The Social Network was a fantastic movie. What made it good? Perhaps it was Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant, rapid-fire dialogue, or Jesse Eisenberg’s effectively neurotic delivery of really big words that went (and still) go over my head. Perhaps it was the film’s crushing loss to The King’s Speech for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the series of battles I waged with my history-obsessed father over which movie was better. And since a 12-year-old couldn’t quite comprehend the merits of shot composition then (and a 49-year-old Dad in 2010 barely understood Facebook in the first place), it goes without saying that I lost every time. Ah well. He got his history movie. I got film history—and my first sense of what masterful directors like Fincher were capable of.
2011: Midnight in Paris
What can I say? I’ve been addled by melancholic pangs of nostalgia since before my teenage years. I also spent two woefully short days in Paris a few months prior to watching this in theaters, so to say I came in with a little bias would be an understatement. But even if my knowledge of the region was limited to the Eiffel Tower, cool catacombs, and the weird, horrendous-tasting “grape juice” that Dad let me try, the movie made me feel tangible longing for a place I could never be a part of. And the score! The score! Trumpets are the best, man.
2012: The Avengers
Do I even need to talk about this one? Words fail. You have to understand—back then, these superheroes appearing together as a unit in a film that wasn’t their own solo title was revolutionary. If you can recall the famous 360-degree shot around the team in the film’s final battle—and in today’s oversaturated superhero-driven society with Disney operating as feudal lord, you probably aren’t allowed to forget it—please add this mental image of me watching it: a chubby 13-year-old, scarfing down popcorn, smiling ear-to-ear. These movies might not quite be cinema, but they’re certainly movie magic.
2013: The Green Inferno
Don’t watch this movie. Please. I snuck in and shouldn’t have. It’s a cannibal horror film. It’s just gross. Skip, skip, skip. I wouldn’t, however, tell you to skip the experience of sneaking into an R-rated film with your friends (might be a little late if you haven’t already had the chance, alas); I’ll never forget the horrified gasps and giggles as bodies exploded, faced decapitation, or worse; and our nervous assurances to one another afterwards that it was “fun, right?” Our collective horror when we remember the experience makes the whole ordeal worth it. If theaters ever do go, I’ll miss the sojourns they allow into random cinematic territory.
As an aspiring screenwriter, one of my long-term goals is to utilize music in new and exciting ways. That goal wholly comes from this film. There’s plenty of room to debate the movie’s message and morality (no spoilers here—that ruins the “fun”), but all I will say is this: The last 12 minutes engaged me like nothing I’d ever seen. A perfect union of sound and image, and the creation of raw energy. The sense of being alive.
This one was my first real cinematic disappointment. I even liked 2008’s Quantum of Solace (and James Bond fans loathe that one). After the brilliance of 2012’s Skyfall, I expected another masterpiece, another extension of Bond lore that wasn’t a rehash—and got an overambitious, tonally confused mess. Here’s to the next one. It had one unintentional side effect, though—it made me begin to wonder if somehow, someway, I could do better.
2016: La La Land
Moonlight is a better film. That is clear. But I said it myself: I’m a nostalgia boy. And despite the silly spectacle of Ryan Gosling saving jazz, the movie couldn’t help but win over this viewer—an angsty former child star questioning his place in showbiz. And that ending. Sigh. This movie’s been charged with being a tad sentimental, its nostalgia the primary fuel for its emotional verve. I may even agree with that reading upon a rewatch. Which is why I never will rewatch it. Some experiences should be left untouched.
2017: The Florida Project
This one’s tough, because for me it totally hinges on what I believe is an utterly ingenious ending. Just watch it. And think of this—I’ve never seen a movie make a more effective point about both the beauty and frailty of dreams in so short a time frame. If La La Land shows the beauty and tragedy of our dreams, this film captures the poignant, brutal truth that they cannot always come true, and maybe never had a chance to in the first place.
2018: Eighth Grade
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was my favorite. This one was more important. You may be beginning to notice a trend in my selections—themes of nostalgia, childhood, dreams. Unsurprising, given my biggest role from my child-star days. Would it be weird if I said this movie felt like an authentic, digital-childhood version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Would Greg Heffley even keep a diary in today’s world—or, like Eighth Grade’s protagonist, start a vlog? The longing, the hope, the anticipation of the future—all here, captured wonderfully. Got high hopes for you as a director, Bo Burnham.
What? I haven’t seen Parasite yet.