The 2010s are over and it is finally time to bring an end to my end of the decade lists.
This list represents all that was beautiful in the 2010s. Whether it was a pure form of artistic expression or a well-crafted product, I believe that the following 10 releases deserve to be celebrated.
These are the 3 questions I asked myself when I made my picks:
- What review score did it receive?
I have a review scale for a reason. If one release gets an 8/10 and another release gets a 9/10, I likely preferred the release that got a 9/10.
(This one isn’t as applicable as it was for my end of the year lists since I only started reviewing in 2018, so the majority of picks on this list have not been previously reviewed.)
- What type of art/entertainment release was it?
If a movie trailer got an 8/10 and a musical album got an 8/10, the album will have a much greater chance of being chosen since it is more artistically significant. I’m sure you could guess what I would pick between a movie poster and a 15 hour long video game.
- How substantial was the release?
Continuing on from the previous answer, this also affected how I viewed the release’s artistic significance. However, it is slightly deeper and more complex than merely answering what TYPE of release it was. Answering this question meant I had to take into account how MUCH the release had to offer (which is unrelated to the AMOUNT of content). For example, a 30 minute musical album packed full of interesting ideas has more artistic significance than a 60 minute musical album which is vacant of interesting ideas.
So without further ado, let’s kick this list off…
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
I loved the first two films in the series but ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ took everything to the next level: the action was visceral in its brutality, fluid in its execution, efficient in its choreography, and impactful with its story-telling.
Don’t expect a shaky camera with quick, disorienting edits resulting in an action sequence that is difficult to follow and boring. No, that is not the approach that the ‘John Wick’ series takes. ‘John Wick’ treats its fighters like ballerinas and its action sequences like a performance. Every move, every punch, every shot fired, every knife thrown, every book used is a chance to tell a story.
Visually, the film gives its action sequences plenty of room to breathe. And while I think this aspect has been appropriately appreciated by fans alike, the sound design may be the most underrated part of the film. Its music-less action sequences are enhanced by the sounds of crushing bones, loud guns, breaking glass, and whatever other bodily or environmental sounds may be happening at any given moment. This excellent combination of audio and video (you know, the parts that make up a movie) results in a film that is tangible, allowing the viewer to be swallowed whole by its world.
‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ is one of the most fun movies I have ever watched. There were a few scenes that dragged out a bit too long and some action sequences were less exciting than others. But it is hard to fault it too much for these things as it also delivers some of the most original, thoughtful, and amazing action sequences in a movie this decade. It doesn’t try to be smarter than it is or more meaningful than it needs to be. It knows that it is an action movie at its core and it trusts in its action wholeheartedly.
Link to the review:
Cemetery of Splendour
Apichatpong Weerasethakul has finally become a household name (at least in the world of slow cinema (also: fans refer to him as “Joe” because it is easier to say, so I will be referring to him as Joe from now on)).
Tarkovsky once wrote: “Just as a sculptor takes a lump of marble, and, inwardly conscious of the features of his finished piece, removes everything that is not a part of it — so the film-maker, from a ‘lump of time’ made up of an enormous, solid cluster of living facts, cuts off and discards whatever he does not need, leaving only what is to be an element of the finished film, what will prove to be integral to the cinematic image”.
Like Tarkovsky and Tarr before him, Joe masterfully sculpts time into something that is wholly cinematic. His frames are imbued with a certain spirituality in which the characters + environments become enveloped. While this film could be read as a fairly direct political statement (Joe is openly critical of his home country, Thailand), Joe manages to avoid the all-too-common mistake of using the medium as a vehicle for a particular message (David Lynch once said, “If you want to send a message, go to Western Union”). Form and content intertwine effortlessly, saturating the films abstractions with deeper meanings. Through its stunning simplicity, the film leaves itself open to a multitude of metaphysical interpretations. Its dreamlike qualities and deep philosophies are resonant and deeply affecting.
‘Cemetery of Splendour’ is one of the most moving and beautifully shot films of the decade (it may be Joe’s best film as well, although it has some tough competition with ‘Syndromes and a Century’).
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience
I watched this in an IMAX Dome (aka Omnimax) at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and it was easily one of the greatest cinema-going experiences of my life-time. This is basically Malick’s version of a nature documentary except he tries to tell the story of the entire Universe (so far) from beginning to present.
The Big Bang happens, stars are formed, scorching lava cools into rock, ocean creatures come into existence followed by creatures that eventually crawl out of this aquatic habitat, dinosaurs reign supreme but are eventually (mostly) obliterated, evolution results in humanoids (and eventually humans), humanoids create tools for hunting + survival, and there are highly populated cities filled with lights and skyscrapers (it is interesting to note that Malick shows as much reverence for the glowing city of Dubai with its enormous skyscrapers (the Burj Khalifa makes an appearance) as he does for anything typically considered more “natural”; this reverence is communicated through the camera, as it soars above Dubai, showcasing the multitude of technological advancements that humans have made and this image is paralleled by images of early humans who hadn’t even started wearing clothes yet but who were using tools for hunting purposes).
Malick’s phenomenological obsessions are as present as ever as the film contemplates (or leaves itself open to contemplation of) many metaphysical meanings (teleological, cosmological, epistemological, mereological and ontological reasoning’s are valid and welcomed). There is a beautiful shot in which an early human sees a reflection of himself in the water and, not knowing that it is his own self, waves his hand over the water causing ripples. There is a moment of realization and comprehension experienced by this early human (he knows that he is looking at a reflection of himself), and this effect (for the audience) becomes amplified by Malick’s impressionistic sensibilities.
The film is book-ended by shots of a little girl wandering through a field in wonderment – this same sense of wonder permeates every second of this film. In fact, it is this very sense of wonder that I left the theater feeling. ‘Voyage of Time’ is an experience that has stuck with me since I first saw it a few years ago on that giant IMAX Dome. As pinkyfoo says in his review of this film on RateYourMusic: “this brief but enormous film stayed with me when I left the theater in a way that few do. As I walked to the parking lot and looked into passerby’s eyes, felt the wind on my face, saw the trees blowing, and the birds flying, it felt as if the film hadn’t ended, or had been more memory than film”.
Link to where pinkyfoo’s review is (aside from the quote that I used, I also used his review as a reference for the film’s content since it has been a few years since I have seen the film):
Colored Sands by Gorguts
Gorguts has been a force to be reckoned within the extreme metal scene for almost 3 decades now. ‘The Erosion of Sanity’ was a fantastic technical death metal record (one of the best) but ‘Obscura’ represented a turning point in the band’s history (in which a new musical language was created (this album is often referred to as the ‘Trout Mask Replica’ of death metal and rightly so)). The avant-garde technical death metal found on ‘Obscura’ has been immensely influential in the death metal world and ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ continued this noisy style of weirdo death metal while building on it in new ways. ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ also acted as a stepping stone to the band’s follow-up album ‘Colored Sands’ (the band’s first release in 12 years).
Released in 2013, ‘Colored Sands’ is a concept album about Tibet: the first four songs are about “the splendours of the country, the culture, the topography, the geography”, while the orchestral piece “The Battle of Chamdo” is a transition in the album’s mood, leading into the last four songs about “the country being invaded, people protesting through immolation, people getting killed trying to escape”. While Lemay respects the Tibetans non-violent dogmas, he questions its usefulness in regards to their situation. And this synchronous respect and questioning lays at the heart of the album. What would happen if there was a violent uprising? Tibetan culture is in danger from its oppressors.
On a musical level, ‘Colored Sands’ is a complete triumph. It may be the most forward-thinking metal album since Gorguts’ own ‘Obscura’ with its inventive song structures, complex layers, nuanced arrangements, and brilliant production. Originally, I thought that the production was muddy and lacked any sort of real punch. But much like any other aspect of this album, the production was not done conventionally. The album was not mixed and mastered like every other death metal album and that can be offsetting at first. However, after dozens of listens I realized that Marston did a brilliant job with the production on this album. It suits the music incredibly well and Marston gives each instrument their appropriate space in the mix.
‘Colored Sands’ is a brilliant, inventive, and thoughtful album that easily ranks as my favourite metal album of the decade. An unparalleled experience in the world of death metal.
The Tree of Life
Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ is probably the most well-known art film of the decade and maybe the most watched art film of all-time (aside from maybe ‘2001’). Much like Tarkovsky’s masterful ‘The Mirror’, ‘The Tree of Life’ is semi-autobiographical, often feeling like a dream within a dream as it impresses its emotions and images on the viewer. It is a case of an artist disregarding the conventions of cinema and ignoring any notion of being marketable in favour of creating something that is equal parts moving, challenging, and immensely personal.
As Ebert proclaimed in his review, ‘The Tree of Life’ is the boldest film since ‘2001’ and I think that this is due to its extraordinary vision. It is a film that tries to say a lot about a lot of different things. But instead of being a jumbled mess of philosophical garbage (like in ‘Arrival’, ‘Blade Runner 2049’, and ‘The Revenant’), ‘The Tree of Life’ is astonishingly thoughtful and provocative. Malick is not just a visual poet but a philosophical one too. And while his films sometimes suffer from hammy dialogue, this exact same dialogue always serves a greater purpose as it is loaded with metaphysical contemplation.
Malick’s films can be described as “spiritual searching”. Malick reflects on the nature of things (i.e. the Universe, being, time, consciousness) in his search for meaning and purpose in a complex and difficult world. In his searching, Malick often finds great beauty in the world despite all of the suffering. Take the main character Jack, for example: he loses a brother, he has a difficult relationship with his father, he feels ashamed and confused by his sexuality after stealing a woman’s night-gown (or whatever it was)… yet he finds great purpose within all of this. These moments of suffering and unknowance are juxtaposed by moments of great beauty (whether these moments are personal or universal).
‘The Tree of Life’ is a spiritually heavy film that demands the viewer’s complete attention. It is unlike any other film ever made barring a few similarities to some of the aforementioned arthouse films and anything else inside Malick’s own oeuvre (mostly his later works). It is near unparalleled in its vision as it jumps from the Big Bang, to the age of dinosaurs, to living life as a young boy in Texas during the 1950’s. A triumph of modern arthouse, Malick shows other directors how it is done.
Knight of Cups
Yet another Malick film (he was on a roll this decade). If ‘The Tree of Life’ was Malick in a state of “spiritual searching”, then ‘Knight of Cups’ is Malick feeling completely lost. Bale plays Rick, a screenwriter living in L.A., who has had a successful career but feels completely empty. He distracts himself with the excesses of Hollywood life yet the feeling of emptiness remains.
Stylistically, ‘Knight of Cups’ extends Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ style and surpasses it with flying colours. Malick employs a wide variety of different cameras (35mm, 65mm, digital, GoPro) and mixes the resulting shots together in way that is inharmonious and clashing. With most directors, this would be a criticism, but Malick does this with a masterful touch. Malick’s modern films are exemplary of his phenomenological, impressionistic trappings, none more so than ‘Knight of Cups’. “Form and content intertwine effortlessly, saturating the films abstractions with deeper meanings” applies as much here as it did for ‘Cemetery of Splendour’. ‘Knight of Cups’ is always at odds with itself in the same way that Rick is always at odds with himself.
Conceptually, this film kind of reminds of Fellini’s films (most notably ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘8 1/2’) in that it is an existential examination of the artistic soul. Rick is likely difficult to relate to for most viewers but I would argue that this works in the film’s favour (side-note: Malick is often criticized for making movies with white people doing white people things and having white people problems – who would have expected that from a white man that grew up in Texas during the 40’s and 50’s?). As with ‘The Tree of Life’, Malick has not gone to great efforts to make his protagonist relatable or likeable… the film wasn’t created to pander to the largest audience possible. The creation of the film was likely a very deep spiritual experience in which Malick tries to find himself and his place in the world (just like Rick). If we give up the ridiculous idea that we need to understand or like characters in order for a film to be good, we can come to appreciate films like this. Films that commit themselves to finding some universal truth in a confusing world.
I think that misterie’s review on RateYourMusic summarizes my feelings towards this film perfectly: “The impossible culmination of all of Malick’s imperfectly searching post-millennium pictures. In other words, the caterpillar has finally turned into a butterfly. Get the superlatives out: this is some kind of next great evolution in cinematic language. One of the most sensual, tactile films ever dreamed up. An out-of-body experience. Magic. No words.”
Link to where misterie’s review is:
Yeezus by Kanye West
From the harsh opening of “On Sight”, to the notable (and often imitated) drums of “Black Skinhead”, to the croissant line in “I Am a God”, to the beautiful sampled outro on “New Slaves”, to the mesmerizing guitar solo on “Hold My Liquor”, to the dog barking samples on “I’m in It”, to the hard-hitting Nina Simone samples on “Blood on the Leaves”, to the strings on “Guilt Trip”, to the humourous lyrics on “Send It Up”, to the phenomenal closer in “Bound 2”, this album packs a powerful punch.
Compared to ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘The Life of Pablo’ (both run near-70-minutes), ‘Yeezus’ is an incredibly concise and focused album with its almost exactly 40 minute run-time. But unlike ‘ye’ and ‘Kids See Ghosts’, which felt a bit insubstantial despite being great albums (both run just over 20-minutes), ‘Yeezus’ retains its substance due to its length. In this sense, ‘Yeezus’ is probably Kanye’s best album as it occupies the happy middle-ground between the absurdly short and the overly long (‘The College Dropout’ is his best long album and both ‘808s’ and ‘Graduation’ could be improved by removing a couple of songs). Kanye fills these 40 minutes efficiently and effectively. I would argue that there isn’t a single song on here that could be cut. Every song serves a greater purpose and every song is good enough to justify being on here.
Musically, Kanye’s sampling and production is better than ever on this album. A lot of people have compared this album to Death Grips (with some people even saying that this is Kanye’s Death Grips rip-off) but these comparisons are only surface level (the only notable similarity between this album and the work of Death Grips is the industrial aesthetic which is employed in an entirely different way by each artist (also, industrial hip-hop existed way before Death Grips)). The harsh sounds and minimal production work in tandem to create something simple yet effective. It is difficult to execute music that is this simple, usually because there aren’t enough ideas to push the ideas along, but Kanye makes it work through his sharp, personality-filled lyricism and his ability to string ideas together in a uniform way.
Never has a musician’s entire existence been more perfectly encapsulated in their music than on Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’. As the great Lou Reed once said about this album: “There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old shit. But the guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet”. Coming from Lou Reed himself (arguably one of the most influential + greatest musicians of all-time), that is one hell of a compliment.
Link to Lou Reed’s write-up for Yeezus:
The Turin Horse
Shot in beautiful black & white with an average shot length around 5 minutes, Tarr displays the heaviness of human existence in a way that few directors ever could. The film depicts the repetitious lives of father and daughter as they try to get by in a dying world. As the film goes on, the atmosphere begins to weigh you down and there is an approaching inevitable destruction (a falling apart). This destruction, the ending of the world, the Armageddon… it remains ambiguous until the end of the film. Thematically, it makes sense to read into it as a human-caused destruction but there is also a higher power at work. Tarr seems to be suggesting that destruction is inevitable. All things must end.
As Tarr once said: “In my first film I started from my social sensibility and I just wanted to change the world. Then I had to understand that problems are more complicated. Now I can just say it’s quite heavy and I don’t know what is coming, but I can see something that is very close – the end”. And so ‘The Turin Horse’ is Tarr coming full circle as he brings his oeuvre to its logical conclusion. The end is coming whether we want it to or not. The father and daughter’s refusal to eat their potatoes appears to be a choice but it is not. It is a co-fated event. We are doomed to the throes of fatalism. Where a film like ‘Arrival’ struggled in its inept notions of fatalism, ‘The Turin Horse’ succeeds in its simplicity and focus.
For what it is worth, I think that ‘The Turin Horse’ is the greatest film of the last 40 years. Very few films reach the level of absolute perfection that ‘The Turin Horse’ does, both conceptually and in execution (it is 1 of 3 films that I consider perfect, along with ‘Stalker’ by Tarkovsky and ‘2001’ by Kubrick). ‘The Turin Horse’ is pure cinema.
Twin Peaks: The Return
‘Twin Peaks’ has always been a special television show. Prior to seeing this limited series, I considered ‘Twin Peaks’ to be peak television. Sure, the second season ended up stumbling quite a bit but how many television shows have an episode as powerful as “Beyond Life and Death”? How many shows had a character as awesome as Agent Dale Cooper? How many shows had a villain as terrifying as Bob? How many shows have a location as recognizable and as iconic as the red room, with its backwards speaking inhabitants? Some shows have just 1 of these but I can’t think of a show that surpasses ‘Twin Peaks’ in each of them.
After 25 years, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ had seemingly insurmountable expectations. Many shows have returned after long periods of time but many of them failed miserably, either because they fell into the “nostalgia trap” or they tried to update their aesthetic to no avail. Clearly, I don’t believe that ‘Twin Peaks’ suffered the same fate. In fact, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ is so damn fine that it completely surpasses the original series. Lynch is a phenomenal director/writer and I absolutely love that he was given so much creative control over this series. It is so unheard of in television that a show has the same writer(s)/director(s) over their entire run, but this show proves that it should be way more common (although to be fair, a lot of limited series have consistent writers/directors).
‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ refuses to indulge in nostalgic fan service in both form and content, instead taking the opportunity to do something new and creative. The original run’s distinct grainy filmic look is gone in favour of an extremely digital look, we are deprived of Agent Dale Cooper, old cliffhangers are left hanging and new cliffhangers are introduced. And as in every one of Lynch’s works, questions are often more important than answers and feelings are more important than explanations. By making the choice to do something completely different, Lynch & co. gave themselves a huge amount of space to experiment.
Given this space, Lynch & Frost have expanded on the original series in meaningful ways: the supernatural aspects are fleshed out and elaborated on in a way that serves the plot on hand, characters are given appropriate arcs based on their stories in the original, its metaphysical contemplation’s are deepened and amplified. But the new series also evolves what was already there in the original series as it becomes even more terrifying, even more funny, and even more intelligent and engaging. ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ is equally one of the best horrors, one of the best comedies, and one of the best dramas I have ever seen on television.
There is a specific episode that I want to talk about and fans of the new series can probably already guess which one it is: Episode 8. Episode 8 is a masterful piece of experimental film-making + meaningful story-telling that pushes the absolute limits of what television can be – ‘Twin Peaks’ meets Stan Brakhage. Episode 8 adds so much to the ‘Twin Peaks’ lore with its digital abstractions and is perhaps the most emotional episode of television ever filmed (Laura is created as an anti-thesis to Bob, so her existence is consequently sacrificial in nature). Not only is this arguably the greatest episode in television history, it is also one of the best hour long sequences ever recorded on video.
As I said earlier, Lynch is a phenomenal writer/director responsible for many amazing films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway (my personal favourite), Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. And yet, I consider ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ to be his magnum opus. Whether you consider it an 18-hour film or a television series, it doesn’t matter because very few works can go toe to toe with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
‘Dota 2’ is so good that every other video game I have ever played feels empty in comparison. Featuring nearly 120 heroes (with over 500 unique abilities, combined), over 150 unique purchasable in-game items (some with active abilities), nearly 70 unique droppable items (some with active abilities), ‘Dota 2’ is absolutely exemplary for a free-to-play game (the entirety of ‘Dota 2’ is completely free aside from the limited time events, Dota Plus, and Battle Passes, which are all extras and don’t affect the in-game results at all).
The first version of the original ‘DotA’ (Defense of the Ancients) came out as a ‘Warcraft III’ mod 17 years ago before Valve picked up IceFrog to make the sequel. And with 17 years of changes, improvements and additions comes a game that is extremely streamlined and polished while creating and retaining a ridiculous amount of depth (8 years later and I still suck).
Mechanics such as creep denying and jungle stacking/pulling work to add an incredible amount of depth to the game. Furthermore, the game’s map has evolved over the past 17 years to something nearly unrecognizable from the original but completely masterful in execution (especially when they started to really change fundamental parts of the map (i.e. placement of high-ground and low-ground, introducing shrines, moving Roshan, introducing bounty runes, and so on)).
On top of its fantastic gameplay and incredibly designed map, ‘Dota 2’ also features some of the best graphical and audio design in video games (‘Dota 2’ is a gorgeous game and has amazing colours). Visually, there is a lot of distinction between different objects with every active ability and item ability having distinctly recognizable visual effects as well as extremely distinct neutral creeps. The same thing applies to the audio design as well. Whenever I watch professional ‘Dota 2’, I can tell exactly what active abilities and items are being used based on their sound effects alone which is impressive considering the fact that the combined number of active abilities and active item abilities is likely 700+.
‘Dota 2’ also has amazing character design … all incredibly distinct and full of personality both in terms of their physical designs as well as their voice lines and animations (attack, ability, movement animations). Some of my favourite characters in all of gaming are in ‘Dota 2’: Earthshaker, Pudge, Lion, Crystal Maiden, Juggernaut.
Nowadays, I watch ‘Dota 2’ far more than I play ‘Dota 2’. Professional ‘Dota 2’ teams exemplify the very best in ‘Dota 2’ gameplay and show the true depth of the game in their drive to master it. Watching OG beat PSG.LGD in the ‘The International 2018’ grand finals in a best of 5 was one of the most exciting moments of my life. Staying up all night every night and sleeping during the day to watch ‘The International 2019’ (which was hosted in China, hence my altered sleep schedule) was one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life.
Whether I am playing ‘Dota 2’ or watching professional ‘Dota 2’ (as I have been for the past week since there is currently a DPC Major underway), there is no feeling quite like it. Almost all of my greatest gaming experiences come from this masterpiece of a game. I’ve spent several thousands of hours playing ‘Dota 2’, watching professional ‘Dota 2’, watching ‘Dota 2’ videos on YouTube, reading about ‘Dota 2’, and talking about ‘Dota 2’ with friends…
‘Dota 2’ fully deserves the label of “Best entertainment release of the 2010s” because nothing else compares. ‘Dota 2’ has become, and will continue to be, an integral part of my life.