1: The Wolf of Wall Street
From the director who gave us some of the best films of the 70s (Taxi Driver), 80s (Raging Bull, The King of Comedy) and 90s (GoodFellas) comes the one to beat for this decade. Scorsese takes the logical next step in his career: Jordan Belfort is akin to the hoodlums of Mean Streets or Casino in that he cares only about quick and easy money and has a sociopathic ability to crush beneath him anyone who stands in his way. Scorsese’s smart enough to know that our fascination with gangsters on film has always been closely related to our fascination with the greed and corruption inherent in the capitalist system: ‘It’s not personal,’ as Michael Corleone observed once, ‘it’s strictly business.’
This film is the sharpest satire released in many years. Its target is not just the bankers and stockbrokers who drove the world towards economic meltdown in 2008, but also the general public who allowed these wolves to perpetuate their fraud. After three hours of laughing along with Belfort and his gang as they destroy the lives of all those
around them, in the masterful final shot Scorsese shows us a mirror version of ourselves: we become an audience watching an audience watching Jordan, entranced by his wealth and charm and wishing, even if just for a moment, that we could be just like him.
We are all in thrall to the ruthless world of the capitalist elites, who entrance us with their extraordinary wealth and possessions whilst at the same time robbing us blind; Jordan Belfort is the personification of this. Our collective stupidity, relentlessly and remorselessly preyed upon by the wolves, will inevitably lead us to another economic catastrophe. This is a terrifying thought, which has been dealt with in such serious and intelligent films as Margin Call and The Big Short. But nowhere has it been so thoughtfully and entertainingly examined than in The Wolf of Wall Street, the sharpest and the funniest and the most disturbing film of the decade.
I love everything about this film: I love the exquisite animation, the sensitively detailed characterisations, the expertly judged sense of comic timing; I love the way in which the film subtly shifts its focus from romantic to familial love in the grandiose finale; I love how the difficulty of human connection is conveyed with the most delicate touch; I even love that song, one which fascinatingly implies that maybe human connection isn’t worth the trouble after all. It’s a moving testament to the walls we surround ourselves with, and the ultimate need to tear them down. It’s a film about love which inspires love in others, and as such it deserves every penny it has earned, and will continue to earn, from every one of its devoted fans.
3: The Selfish Giant
The most encouraging hope for contemporary British cinema is Clio Barnard, who has made two brilliant and deeply disturbing films in her career thus far, and seems set on the path to becoming one of the truly great directors. This emotionally devastating miniature depicts with brutal honesty how the youth, and particularly the working class youth, of today are being exploited by the cruelty and selfishness of the business giants which dominate our national landscape. It is a tough film, however Barnard is not despairing: the final image is one of hope, in which she envisages the possibility of a future where man can live side by side with nature without feeling the need to exploit it. I hope her hard-won optimism is well-founded.
The premise of Haneke’s masterpiece can be an intimidating one: it is a film which follows a couple approaching the end of their lives and being forced to confront this fact of mortality which we would all rather choose to ignore. But don’t be intimidated – the real theme of the film is in its title. It is an affirmation of how love is our greatest achievement, and explores the possibility of its persisting through decay, disease and even death. This is achieved through an understated and obliquely metaphysical filmmaking style, which calmly yet emotionally observes love struggling to triumph over physical deterioration. Haneke’s tender touch manages to transform a film about death into an uplifting, even a life-affirming experience.
5: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The most startling debut of the decade so far, from the Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour, is set in an Iranian-American fantasy town called ‘Bad City’. The surrealism of this film, in which a young female vampire roams the night on a skateboard, is heightened by the black and white cinematography and the Iranian-American soundtrack. Extreme close-up shots of cats abound, and there is a scene which lasts for several minutes where a couple, one dressed as a vampire and the other in actuality a real vampire, simply approach each other in slow motion. That scene is one of the most vivid and memorable in recent years. It’s a film which you can read as much or as little into as you like: it welcomes feminist, Marxist and populist interpretations; but maybe that will spoil the fun of a visually audacious and immensely enjoyable cinematic treat.
A quantum leap forward from Quantum of Solace, and indeed the rest of the Bond canon. Suddenly there is a Bond film imbued with meaning: one which looks to the future of technological impingement and international terrorism with a sense of horror, whilst also looking back to ask if maybe the old ways are sometimes the best. Mendes strikes just the right balance between updating the franchise for future generations, with its younger Q and Moneypenny, and reflecting on its place in history, including Bond’s personal history which is explored in greater depth than ever before. Yes, it’s often facile and silly as well, but it wouldn’t be a great action film if it wasn’t. Kudos to Roger Deakins, who imbues the action with a greater sense of drama than ever before, and Adele, who belts out the greatest theme tune since that Bassey tour de force. A triumph all round.
Runners-up: The Social Network, The Revenant, A Separation, Boyhood, Anomalisa, Leviathan