If there’s one thing I learned about film this past decade, it’s that where and how you see a film is just as important as the content of the film itself. Even without bringing up the totemic shift in how streaming services have fundamentally changed our relationship to media, the theatrical experience itself has changed so much since 2010. Monopolization of chain theaters like AMC led to a service that simultaneously overprices and underserves the consumer. Disney is vaulting not only its original titles but Fox’s rightfully well-worn catalogue of titles. The earned apprehension from studios to release more of their micro- and mid-budget movies outside of metropolitan areas has created a lack of variety for those of us living in smaller cities that wasn’t necessarily the case 10 years ago.
It’s why the IU Cinema has been such an elemental force in my life since I started going in the spring of 2011. As cinephiles go, I was a late bloomer getting into movies. I came to IU in 2008 as someone who liked seeing whatever was out in theaters with their friends and had some favorites but I wasn’t seeking out things to challenge or move me in anyway. It’s mostly serendipity that I ended up meeting other weirdos in music school who were more into movies than me at the time, but also not dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles. It was through many trips to dorm video libraries and Vulture Video (formerly Plan 9) to take the stress off between all the hours spent in music practice rooms and libraries that we all started to turn into bona fide cinema junkies. However, it wasn’t until the IU Cinema opened its doors that we had a proper cinematic experience.
And what an experience it’s been. I’ve seen hundreds of movies and probably have met just as many people this decade all because of the IU Cinema. I have so many memories attached to the people, the place and the films themselves that I thought it would be fun to do my “Best of the Decade” list entirely through the prism of the films that played at the IU Cinema that I was lucky enough to catch. The rules are simple: the film itself has to have come out between 2010 and 2019, and I had to have seen the film itself at the IU Cinema for it to count. Example: films like Moonlight and Mad Max: Fury Road would have made this list, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see it at the IU Cinema. Also, if you feel like im overlooking something, just know that if this had been a top 50 of the decade it was probably gonna be on here. Think of this as more an amuse bouche of cinematic experiences and not a definitive ranking.
Without further ado…
Madeline’s Madeline, Josephine Decker, 2018
I love films that intertwine the spaces between the theatrical, the real and the psychological. It’s what made me a lifelong fan of Michelle Gondry, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. Josephine Decker’s phenomenal film was the first time I had seen all those elements taken to a sensual place and out of the realm of white male ennui. It also features an incredibly sympathetic portrayal of mental illness.
Surviving Life, Jan Švankmajer, 2010
This film falls into the category of “Most Unique Discoveries I Made This Decade.” This was played as part of a full retrospective of Jan Švankmajer’s work, an animator and artist who truly made films like I had never seen before, truly demented and absurd surrealist portraits that are burned into my memory. One of the best retrospectives to be programmed at the Cinema in my opinion.
Drive/Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011/2013
Whether or not you enjoy the film, it would be dishonest not to recognize Drive as one of the most impactful films of the decade. I’m sure you know someone who flirted with the idea of buying a scorpion jacket and blared “Nightcall” out of their parents’ Honda Civic. What I love about Refn, however, is that with Only God Forgives he quickly revealed to people that while the synths, neon and Dario Argento-lighting would remain, the commercial aspects of his craft would not. Seeing Drive at the IU Cinema as part of a sneak peak will always remain special to me simply because I’ve never seen so many sorority and fraternity members in an arthouse theater in my entire life. With Only God Forgives, I was humbled by Refn when I asked the dumbest question I have ever asked at a Q&A. Embarrassment is a great teacher folks!
Melancholia, Lars Von Trier, 2011
I have my problems with Lars Von Trier, but with the exception of Bob Fosse I can’t think of any other director that gets to the black narcissistic depths of one’s own psyche as poetically as he has this decade.There’s a reason this movie is referenced so much among people who struggle with real crippling depression. It illustrates it in as plain and grandiose terms as possible. One of the few sold-out screenings in which conversations about the film didn’t start until after people were out of the theater and down the steps. People were speechless.
10. Faces Places, Agnès Varda and JR, 2017
The first Agnès Varda film I ever saw at the IU Cinema (or anywhere for that matter) was her 2008 self-portrait The Beaches of Agnès. From that screening forward, she quickly became one of my favorite directors of all time. Her brand of humanism is so pure that I’m hard-pressed to name another director who explores that concept with the level of amusement and joy as she does. Faces Places felt like the purest distillation of the joy in her long and incredible career.
9. Ex Machina, Alex Garland, 2015
Sci-fi is without a doubt my favorite genre across all mediums. Its conceptual canvas is infinite and its central conceit is simple: to ask the question “what if?” and dig down into the possibilities of its premise. Ex Machina is one of those incredibly intelligent films that takes its basic premise (what if an A.I. given human form could pass the Turing Test?) and then adds layer upon layer of complication to that equation (the A.I. is female, its maker is male, the subject is male) which results in one of the most metaphor-rich pieces of science fiction I’ve seen this decade. It also doesn’t hurt that this movie, with a $15 million budget, proves that a smart script, clever, imaginative design, and a stellar cast is enough to hold an audience’s attention.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to have this:
8. Mommy, Xavier Dolan, 2014
Sometimes pure gusto and and unfiltered emotion are enough to make a movie resonate with you long after you’ve seen it. Xavier Dolan is one of those artists that seems to operate purely from their gut and heart, which allows him to create these extravagantly visceral experiences mostly focused on LGBTQ+ identities, but also the relationships between mothers and sons, which is a dynamic I personally find endlessly fascinating. Mommy feels like this decade’s definitive piece on the subject. It also marks the only acceptable use of the song “Wonderwall” in a movie, or in any medium really.
7. The Forbidden Room, Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, 2015
Much like the Jan Švankmajer retrospective, Guy Maddin’s visit to the IU Cinema marks another time where the films I was watching seemed as if they came from a different plane of reality just left of our own, The Forbidden Room being the absolute peak of that sentiment. This film is a fevered fantasia of celluloid fetishization, a Russian nesting doll of stories meant to give the audience the experience of viewing a film lost and unstuck from time. An absolute treat.
I will never forgive the Academy for not nominating this for Best Song, and I’m not even joking.
6. Pina, Wim Wenders, 2011
I love dance. It’s fluid, kinetic, spontaneous, meticulous, alluring, alien and above all mesmerizing. I didn’t know anything about Pina Bausch and her work going into this film but in the eight years since I’ve seen it, I haven’t been able to get certain images and poses out of my head. Which is interesting when you consider how fleeting dance can be.
The film is a tribute to the woman whose work is on display from those she taught and loved and projected in one of the finest uses of 3D technology to date. It was pure euphoria sitting in the IU Cinema with those little used 3D glasses over my face as me and my friends got to experience something that felt borderline sublime at the time.
5. The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook, 2016
The erotic thriller is a genre that struggles to be as relevant or as interesting as it once was in the last century. So when one comes along made by one of our finest living filmmakers, my attention is immediately grabbed. What Park Chan-wook is renowned for is his ability to play with narrative structure to recontextualize a character’s inner motivations in shocking and welcome ways. He’s also a romantic at heart. The Handmaiden gave us the thrills and twists we seek from the cinema of the salacious but also something so engrossing and idiosyncratic, it’s tough to think of another film this decade that treads the same ground as successfully.
4. Under The Skin, Johnathan Glazer, 2013
When my friend and colleague Elizabeth Roell picked this as her “Staff Selects” choice, I was over the moon. I had watched this movie countless times within the confines of my tiny laptop screen when I bought it on Itunes back in 2014 and I was elated to finally watch this on the big screen with an unsuspecting crowd.
This to me is one of the definitive pieces of sci-fi canon from this decade. This film puts me in such a liminal state that my surroundings legitimately begin to blur and I’m only vaguely aware I’m watching a movie. I don’t know if Scarlett Johannson’s given a better performance in her career and composer Mica Levi’s score will go down in history as one of the most unique in the history of the medium. Hyperbolic? Maybe. But it’s the truth.
3. Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018
I must confess that while Jon Vickers and Brittany Friesner have done a wonderful job programming Hirokazu Kore-eda films every year he’s made one, it wasn’t until last year that I finally got around to catching one in the Cinema after taking a couple of weeks to sit and watch his work. By the time I got to Shoplifters, I truly knew the meaning “quietly devastating.” To put it quite simply, Shoplifters is the most quietly devastating piece about found family and support systems to grace screens this decade.
2. The Act of Killing/Look of Silence, Joshua Opennheimer, 2012/2014
These are of a single piece so it didn’t feel right separating them. To put it succinctly, I don’t know if I ever seen a more harrowing portrait of evil and the warping effect it has on generation after generation. I haven’t been able to bring myself to revisit these but I don’t think I’ve forgotten very many frames of either.
1. Holy Motors, Leos Carax, 2012
I’m pretty sure I went to every screening of this at the Cinema with my friends and it still didn’t feel like enough at the time. I feel like nothing I can write can quite sum up why this love letter to cinema is so powerful and just wholly unique so I’ll just leave you with one of the best scenes in cinema history:
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.