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!
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. Pendular (Julia Murat, 2017)
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.