One of many curses affecting the film fan is the pain of knowing that you can never truly see everything that cinema has to offer. Whilst this is sometimes a good thing – there’s always more to explore, and there are more than likely a million terrible films out there that you’ll escape being subjected to just by never finding them – but there’s also the pain of knowing for every terrible film you have the luck to completely avoid, there could be ten great ones you’ll never become aware of. So, to help ease this pain oh-so slightly, this list intends to point you in the direction of ten movies released in the 2010s, and maybe even some new directors to explore!
Love is the Message, the Message is Death (Arthur Jafa, 2016)
Opening with the only short film on the list, a film sadly only accessible via a camcorder upload on YouTube, artist and activist Arthur Jafa’s 2016 masterpiece is easily the most overlooked film of the last decade, mainly due to the general lack of access to it. An incredibly vast collection of footage from all over the internet, from movies, music videos… basically from anywhere and edited over Kanye West’s luscious Life of Pablo opener Ultralight Beam, Jafa’s short film is an impossibly towering representation of what Jafa calls ‘black cinema’, a film that follows the disgustingly mixed representation of the modern African American. In interviews, Jafa speaks about how many African Americans suffer due to the mixing of two very different cultures within them, of course rooting back to times of slavery, and connects this too W.E.B. Du Bois’ idea of the double life of the African American to emphasise this duality, and uses the footage to look at how, on top of the African American’s themselves experiencing such turmoil within themselves, the media surrounding them only adds to this, from minstrel comedies to police brutality to modern blockbusters like Cloverfield. It really is incredible, working as an insane collage of so many moments in American culture from the last century or so, watching as media slowly consumes culture as a whole. As mentioned, a very hard film to find, but thankfully it is on YouTube (even if the quality of the video certainly leaves something to be desired…) – if any film deserves eight minutes of your time, it’s this one.
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
Akerman, being one of the most renowned and beloved filmmakers of all time, was a director truly willing to push the boundaries of cinema. This statement is most conveniently applicable to her most well known film, Jeanne Dielman, for its’ lengthy runtime and focus on mundanity (with the subtleties of performance, camera positioning and script becoming the focal point, directly contrasting the vast majority of… hell, all of mainstream feature-length cinema), but No Home Movie is often forgotten despite the fact that it follows similar rules in an incredible and new way. Considering that the film follows so intimately the lives and actions of Akerman herself (who committed suicide around the time of this films release) and her at-the-time dying mother, you can imagine that this isn’t exactly one for the light hearted, and yet the film goes beyond focusing on these heartbreaking circumstances and goes so far as to question where digitalisation may play a role and how history adds up (not a new theme to Akerman’s work, but even so, it is surprisingly powerful in the context of this film specifically). It is one of those works that has a primary focus on a storyline or character that is already perfectly satisfactory but also develops a consuming, underlying narrative that plays out alongside the primary, culminating in a doubly-crushing, incredibly harrowing film which even extends to the soul-crushing real life context surrounding it. As already stated, certainly not a film for those looking to relax and have a fun time, but a very rewarding watch even if you may require some time to recover after seeing it. It is one of Akerman’s finest works and, regretfully, one of her most often overlooked.
88:88 (Isiah Medina, 2015)
Isiah Medina has managed to build up a cult following due to his incredible short films and excellent eye for experimental visual storytelling, and when he released his debut feature, 88:88, all of a sudden Medina became one of the most promising young directors worldwide. Managing to weave this beautiful story, or more the idea of a story that is more a collection of varied ideas and thoughts that complement each other and become something more akin to a feeling than to a narrative, through primarily abstract visuals is impressive by itself, but the way in which the visuals take precedent over the narrative and the audio is so arresting to the point that the film is utterly unforgettable and as impressive as cinema can really get. It’s a perfect entry point for those looking to get into longer form experimental work, being only 65 minutes and being such a visually focused piece (with limitless gorgeous shots worthy of framing on your wall), and it remains shockingly under the radar, so do view it on Vimeo, where it is available in its entirety for free!
Season of the Devil (Lav Diaz, 2018)
Of course, Diaz really came to be known as a world cinema force to be reckoned with throughout the 2010s, mainly with the hit (or as close as Diaz can really get to a commercial hit) Norte, The End Of History (2013), which did so well at festivals around the world that it soon became one of the most anticipated films of that year, and Season of the Devil was another Diaz film that did take off more compared to his other work, mainly due to the relatively short runtime (for Diaz) of four hours and the fact that Diaz decided to turn his fascism-focused epic into a musical (yes, really!) will have certainly helped to garner an interested crowd, however, this film still managed to slide under for so many, and it’s a real shame. Diaz is admittedly quite off-putting due to his extreme runtimes – his shortest films at this point in his career are around four hours, and the longest (Evolution of a Filipino Family) clocks in at almost eleven hours long – but his films are almost always worth viewing nonetheless, and make for some of the most rewarding cinematic experiences you can ever have – that and they work as terrific endurance tests for anyone unsure about just how long they can sit still for. Season of the Devil is just another ambitious, sprawling attempt from Diaz, and it is an absolute wonder to watch.
Pendular (Julia Murat, 2017)
Becoming more well known in small cinephile circles due to a 30 day stretch release on MUBI in early 2019, Julia Murat’s 2017 romantic drama focuses on two artists in a frequently testing relationship, looking specifically at how their relationship with one other impacts their relationship to their art forms and vice versa. Featuring staggering dance sequences, surprisingly intimate sequences detailing the central relationship of the narrative and terrific performance, it is a wonder that this one didn’t manage to find a stronger audience seeing it is just… brilliant, for lack of a better description. It’s absolutely flooring, and a film that whilst hard to find is more than worthwhile. Seeing as comparison sells so easily, stating the stylistic similarities this film shares with Claire Denis’ work, particularly Beau Travail, should definitely have some more of you intrigued… best of luck finding it, though.
Your Face (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2018)
As a fan of documentaries, hearing that one of the finest directors currently alive had made a talking-heads documentary was quite exciting. However, this is Tsai Ming-Liang after all, and he doesn’t really seem to follow suit with most anything, and so it was no surprise to find out that he had meddled with the talking-head documentary template a little, too. It was surprising, though, that Tsai went so far as to largely remove the ‘talking’ aspect of the talking-head documentary and simply show a group of people staring back into the camera for a few minutes at a time, even allowing one to peacefully sleep. Of course, when intentionally detracting from the drama of a film within any genre, the audience becomes more interested in the nuances, and so in Your Face, the audience is on the verge of gasping just from seeing a sleeping man slightly stir or make a quiet noise… say what you will, but this is outright fascinating filmmaking and another Tsai risk that has paid off tenfold. This makes for a beautiful documentary, one that feels as if it cares more for the people involved than it does about literally anything else, and there are so few films that share the same feeling or the same risk-taking bravura that go with such an idea. It isn’t stunning, it’s not large scale, it’s not really even exciting, but there is something to intrinsically peaceful to the way that this film is handled that honestly just feels quite therapeutic to witness and know that it is out there, in any capacity.
House Within The Night (Daniel Offenbacher, 2019)
Low budget amateur filmmaking often gets a bad rap, but if you look deeply enough, there is proof that some directors working within these confinements have the talent to make some extremely exciting projects sooner rather than later. Detailing the lives of three characters all stuck (primarily mentally) in different situations, and looking at how these trappings effect their viewpoint on the physical world, on each other, etc., House Within The Night magically manages to take on an impressive blending of the styles of directors like Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch without ever feeling like imitation. It’s shocking self assured direction, strong performances and beautiful dialogue make for a beautifully controlled film, one that feels both old and new, both loud and introverted, mixed but never muddled or messy. It’s astounding work, really, and probably the single most overlooked film on this entire list. As already said, this film is available in its entirety on Youtube for free, so do see it if you can!
The Central Park Five (Ken Burns & Sarah Burns, 2012)
With their story recently being told once more by the brilliant Ava DuVernay with her great Netflix-produced miniseries When They See Us, the shockingly sad story of the Central Park Five who were coerced by police into falsely admitting guilt for a rape case (primarily based on racial issues at the time), Ken Burns’ slightly older documentary seems to have been completely left behind in the dust. The miniseries is astonishing work, however, the value given by seeing the Central Park Five themselves speaking of their experiences as well as Burns’ brilliant direction is impossible to put into words. In bringing such a story to light, and telling it in such a precise and factual manner, Burns takes his journalistic style another step further. One has to wonder why this one hasn’t caught more attention, however, the new series telling the same story has certainly overshadowed it now. A shame, as it is a terrific documentary and some of the ideas discussed in this documentary aren’t mentioned in the series. This one is definitely worth watching for fans of documentaries, even if it may be quite difficult to find.
Despite The Night (Philippe Grandrieux, 2015)
Grandrieux is a master – there is simply no doubt about it, and Despite the Night is his strongest work of the decade, if not his entire career (his films are so marvellously consistent that it is quite difficult to say, really). Playing on themes of sexual corruption, violence and being generally disturbing (as is typical of Grandrieux), this plays as Cronenberg playing within the realm of the current wave of French Extremity films, it is deeply unsettling and utterly ruthless. With gorgeous cinematography, absolutely astonishing performances and a narrative followed bound to make you want to shower for at least a week as soon as the credits start rolling, Despite the Night is one of the most truly horrifying films ever produced, one that will shake most anyone to the core and linger in their mind for… much longer than you could ever want it to, really. Thankfully, Grandrieux does seem to be coming into more general awareness with time, but Despite the Night remains left behind in undeserved obscurity!
4:44 Last Day On Earth (Abel Ferrara, 2011)
Ferrara has been one of the best directors currently working since the 1990s, but it has been in the 2010s that his work has taken an entirely new step up, with Welcome to New York remaining maybe the single best film of the decade and not even being the only film he released in 2014. 4:44 is no exception to this rule of excellent 2010s output, and if anything may be the most gruelling of them all, following Willem Dafoe as he improvises his way through the end of the world. Working from the iconic T.S Eliot line ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper’ and only becoming increasingly desperate as it continues, 4:44 follows the end of the world from a singular perspective, something rarely tested, and focuses on the complete lack of excitement that comes with it in a way that contrasts the countless blockbusters on the same topic. With one of the most memorably haunting performances of all time from Willem Dafoe, the film works so beautifully because it allows every aspect to work itself out over time, and never forces any kind of explicit drama. So much happens between the cuts, from character growth to small storylines unfolding in their entirety, and it all culminates in this stirringly tender fashion that will even leave some of the most hardened film fans close to tears. Much more moving and personal than any of Ferrara’s other works (although the currently elusive Tommaso may just change that!), this is not to be missed by any fan of Ferrara’s filmography – it is one of his finest films and almost certainly the most upsetting.