Best of the 2010s: F-Rated Movies
What do we call this decade? The Tweenies? The Teens? The Onesies? Or simply The Tens? Whatever we call this decade, there is no denying it is coming to a close with this year. By year's end, you'll notice professional critics and bloggers looking back at the decade that was. But, being as how there's been over 6,000 films released this decade, doing a proper retrospective can be a bit daunting. Therefore, it is time for the return of my Best of the Decade series!
Every month I'm going to focus on a particular genre of film and count down the 10 Best of the Decade from that genre. This will, ultimately, lead to a 100 Best list. In addition to this, our podcast, The Movie Lovers, will have a corresponding segment monthly during the Film Faves portion of the show wherein we count down our favorite films.
This month is a big one that I think really helped define the decade: F-rated movies. We'll get into what exactly qualifies as an F-rated movie in a bit, as well as count down the best F-Rated movies of the decade.
Okay, so... what is an F-Rated movie? Well, we got into it a bit in episodes 7 and 13 of The Movie Lovers podcast, so feel free to check those out as we discussed what was a fairly new term at the time. The term F-Rated was coined, more or less, by Holly Tarquini of the Film Bath UK Festival in 2014. Jump to March of 2017 when IMDb popularized the term among what I'll call the cinemanet (film circles on the internet and social media) as it adopted it as a searchable keyword (though quite erroneously) in their database. There are two major qualifiers towards a film being F-Rated:
1) is the film written by a woman?
2) is the film directed by a woman?
If the answer to either of those questions is a "Yes" then a film is F-Rated. If the answer is "Yes" to BOTH questions and the film also features at least one female lead then it is a Triple F-Rated movie, as it hits both major boxes and has the bonus of providing a primary female voice. Of course, just because a woman wrote and/or directed a film does not automatically guarantee the film is of the highest quality. But the concept puts a necessary spotlight on women in film, which, one could say, makes it another factor that lead to the #TimesUp movement. Prior to this decade, there were women behind the camera. But the average moviegoer could think of a number of male directors, yet be hard-pressed to count enough female directors to fill a hand. This decade helped change that.
The term isn't 100% rock-solid, as the occasional movie will have four or more writing credits, one of which may be a female, and it can be at that point difficult to discern how much of the script can be credited to the female writer - especially since sometimes credited writers will have done a draft of the script, which is then largely altered. So, you're not likely to find any of those cases in this list.
What you will find is that 3/5 of the films on this list were directed by women. I think ALL but one were written by women.
Oh! Before we dive on in - one last thing: the year isn't over. There are around a dozen more F-rated films still to come this year including A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Charlie's Angels, Frozen 2, Harriet, Last Christmas, Little Women, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Queen & Slim. If any of those end up being one of the best films of the year then it's possible you'll see it make an appearance on the Best 100 list in a few months.
I will say it was incredibly difficult to boil down over 100 movies to just 10 - and then arranging those 10 until I landed on a number one! Needless to say, this is one of the few instances where you can easily come up with an entirely different list of ten movies that would make perfect sense as such. There were simply that many quality and iconic films by women this decade. But let's dive on in, yeah?
There are few comedies from this decade as iconic as this instant classic written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig. It is one of the best BFF movies ever. Perhaps not since When Harry Met Sally had we seen as good a depiction of how adult women talk and relate to each other (some may argue Sex in the City, but that's become debatable recently). There is a scene in the first act of the film between the lead characters (Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph) where they talk about sex and relationships and each other that is at once silly and warm and dirty. This is a crucial scene that not only provides dialogue we've never heard from women, but has a natural chemistry that leads us to understand how close these women are. Some may lean on a more conventional perspective of the film as a romantic comedy between Kristen Wiig's Annie and Chris O'Dowd's Rhodes. But that's all B-plot stuff. The real meat of the story is a friendship between two women and what happens when one of them feels threatened by the other's other friendships and impending life change. That's real stuff that many women go through. Oh, and there's also poop and vomit jokes.
French director Julia Ducournau was one of many exceptional debut directorial talents this decade. Her horror film Raw, about a teen (Garance Marillier) joining her older sister at a vet school and developing unusual cravings, was a sensation on the festival circuit being nominated for 60 awards and winning 20 of them. This Triple F-rated effort (Ducournau also wrote the script) touches on schoolyard sibling rivalry, sexual awakening, and familial tradition while also being incredibly unnerving and occasionally grotesque. This film has both one of the most fucked up veterinary schools ever and the best body horror this side of peak Cronenberg. IMDb reports no upcoming projects by Ducournau, but she is truly a visionary and we eagerly anticipate her sophomore effort.
Band Aid (2017)
In some ways Band Aid is the ultimate F-rated movie. It is another Triple F-rated feature as Zoe Lister-Jones wrote, directed, and starred in the film. It reportedly used an all-female crew. It's about a couple in a strained marriage who decide to create music and form a band in order to exorcise their underlying issues. Adam Pally and Lister-Jones are great, both spitting barbs that escalate arguments and deepen wounds in one scene while also in another being incredibly witty and making both the audience and each other laugh. Plus, the music they make is actually good! And what a perfect title! It refers to a musical endeavor that attempts to heal a marriage, but, like an actual adhesive, it's only a temporary salve and can't be the solution towards health. Band Aid is a little-known treasure that tragically only made roughly 5% of its budget. Zoe Lister-Jones is a massive triple-threat talent. Earlier this year she was hired by Blumhouse to write and direct a remake of 1996's The Craft. That's a big opportunity that will hopefully allow her the freedom to improve upon a mediocre film and create more original films like this one.
The Hate U Give (2018)
There were a handful of female voices of color this decade: Selma, Pariah, The Fits, Beyond the Lights, Queen of Katwe - all of which are worthy of consideration. But, in terms of the black experience in the United States today, none seemed more relevant than The Hate U Give. Directed by George Tillman Jr. (Faster, Notorious) and based on the novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is about a black teen who navigates her social life between a black neighborhood and a white private school. One day her childhood friend is killed by a police officer and her life is turned upside down. But the script was written by Audrey Wells, a white woman best known for Under the Tuscan Sun and who tragically died of cancer one day before the film's limited release. While it is uncertain what drew Wells to the project initially, it is reported that she, understanding the limitations of her perspective, sought to collaborate with Tillman and star Amandla Stenberg to make the voice of the film feel as authentic to the black experience as possible. The result was a powerful script brought to life by equally powerful performances and direction. It is a teen drama that elevates the YA genre to a prestige drama that could stand proudly next to like-minded films that year Sorry to Bother You and BlacKKKlansman. Audrey's tireless efforts to adapt the book with integrity and authenticity are a big reason why.
Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher was more active in cinemas the first half of the decade than the second. But he got us to the halfway point with this film based on the hit novel by Gillian Flynn, which she adapted to screenplay. There was a lot of locked up female hostility and rage in this film that, in a way, provided a certain release for women. The film is anchored by a spoiler-heavy career-high performance by Rosamund Pike as the titular small-town upper class wife who goes missing and appears to be murdered. Ben Affleck plays the hapless, clueless husband who we learn isn't perfect, but becomes trapped in his own way by societal expectations. One would be hard-pressed to claim Pike's Amy a feminist hero, as her true nature was far too nefarious to be a role model. But her suffocating lifestyle and expectations were relatable to many, her twists a catharsis against the patriarchy. Gone Girl became one of the decade's most iconic thrillers, one that several tried - and failed - to duplicate, typical of any great film. Flynn went on to have two more of her novels adapted and to work with Steve McQueen to adapt an '80s British crime miniseries into a film. Her career as a hot screenwriter is still only just getting started. No matter what happens we at least have Flynn to thank for creating one of the greatest thrillers of the decade.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Kathryn Bigelow followed up her Oscar-winning 2009 collaboration with Mark Boal by collaborating again with him on this film, which follows the investigation that lead to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The script by Boal is heavily researched, but it is Bigelow that balances the reality of a years-long investigation with a riveting visual narrative and avoids audience boredom or fatigue. Anyone watching can comprehend the investigation and its ups and downs. Of course, all of this is anchored by a strong character performed remarkably by Jessica Chastain. Her composite character Maya goes through a remarkable arc from squeamish tolerance of torture to brass balls determination leading the biggest manhunt of the decade. Yet, after the mission is accomplished she is left with nothing. It's a surprising amount of character work in a film that could've coasted on political and military thrills so shortly after the real events took place. Maya became one of the decade's early great female characters and a huge step forward for Chastain's career. This was on top of her performances in The Help, Take Shelter, and The Tree of Life before. Zero Dark Thirty sky-rocketed her to opportunities like Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, Crimson Peak, and The Martian - all of which cemented her as one of the best actresses to come from the decade. Kathryn Bigelow would continue with the moderately successful Detroit and otherwise lay low for most of the decade. We're hopeful she comes back strong in the next decade.
Bridesmaids showed us how adult women related and talked to each other. Booksmart showed us the same with teen girls. Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is incredibly sharp and energetic. The script was written by four women - Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman - and the dialogue is incredibly witty and smart. It's about a pair of studious BFFs (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who realize they are no better than their classmates, who spent a lot of their time partying, and must prove they are more than the sum of their studies by going to a class party. The key line in this film is one about not being one-dimensional. Beanie's character doesn't want others to assume she can't be studious and fun when, in fact, she's assuming her classmates can't be fun and smart. It's a theme that combusts the Breakfast Club archetypes and acknowledges everyone as complicated people. But it's also a hilarious film with humor that comes from both the lead characters and situations that involve sex and drugs. Booksmart is an instant Triple F-rated classic.
The Farewell (2019)
Lulu Wang's directorial debut is a beautiful film that crosses cultural and generational boundaries. Based on a real life story, The Farewell stars Awkwafina as a young Chinese American woman with an unstable life and ties to her grandma in China who she learns is diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. The family decides to gather around their matriarch for one last farewell. However, as is Chinese custom, they choose not to tell her she's ill and gather under a fake wedding. Absurd to western audiences, the concept could've been played for broad comedy. But Wang, who also wrote this Triple F-rated film, keeps things grounded, playing out the drama of a young woman still trying to figure out herself and the world surrounded by silently grieving family members with occasional light touches of humor. Awkwafina takes a surprising and affecting turn towards drama, carrying the film without a false step. Shuzhen Zhao also brings the film a lot of pathos with a performance that makes this clueless, yet loving grandmother shine. The film is full of other great female voices, including Diana Lin as Awkwafina's mother, the daughter-in-law of the subject, who is reactionary towards Awkwafina's Billie, but hides her own pain. Let's not overlook the fact that this is an all-Asian cast speaking predominantly Chinese and the film, while making less than Crazy Rich Asians's opening weekend, has earned $16 million; modest, yet five times its budget. It proves that 2018's bubbly romantic comedy was no fluke: Asians can lead movies outside of the action genre in Hollywood. The Farewell is a special film about family, culture, and personal growth and one of the finest F-rated films of the decade.
Is there a more powerful film than Room this decade? Okay, probably - but not many! Written by Emma Donoghue based on her novel, Room is a powerful film about trauma and maternal selflessness. Brie Larson plays a young woman who was kidnapped and held captive as a teen, raped and impregnated by her captor. The film is as much about her need to survive and escape as it is for her son (a remarkable Jacob Tremblay). Director Lenny Abrahamson did a lot with a very little space for a good portion of the film, adding to a feeling of imprisonment and limiting worldview. While the actual story is harrowing enough as is and a fascinating character study of a child literally sheltered from the entire world, the film also serves as a metaphor for the need for women to break free of male toxicity and teach their children how to respect and treat women. It's no Goodtime Charlie, this film, but Brie Larson's performance especially keeps us glued to the screen. She won an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Award, among 60 (!) other awards and nominations. Her career was instantly launched into the stratosphere giving her franchise offers (Kong: Skull Island, MCU) and opportunities to direct (Unicorn Store). Room was a unique and unforgettable experience from a talented writer with an exceptional cast that continue to get more and more exciting opportunities.
Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird is a film with a surprising amount of nuance. Much of it can be credited to performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the bickering daughter and mother. But there's also Lucas Hedges as the guilt-ridden gay teen and Timothy Chalamet as the teen who can't take responsibility for - let alone consider - other people's feelings and deflects when called out on it. Ronan's title character wants to reject so much of her mom and her hometown, but she can't; she eventually realizes they are a part of her. Whether she likes to admit it or not, she does care for these things. As well as her oldest friend played by Beanie Feldstein. Even her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend (Marielle Scott) have their own version of rebellion. They wear black all of the time, dye their hair, and pierce their faces. But they have jobs, ambitions, and affection for Metcalf's Marion. In terms of Marion, so much of the screen time features her needling and expressing exasperation towards Lady Bird. But we see her outside of the home with co-workers and others and we know she is well-liked and a genuinely warm person. What writer / director Greta Gerwig captured so well in Lady Bird is the turbulent relationships a teenager can have with the people around her. Everything can be fine in one second and then explosive or even icy the next. The words on the page are beautiful, the direction carefully measured. Lady Bird is an exceptional piece with laughs and heart-ache, a perfect film.
The Big Sick (2017), Winter's Bone (2010), The Kids Are All Right (2010), The Favourite (2018), Stories We Tell (2013), Wonder Woman (2017), Megan Leavey (2017), The Babadook (2014), Cameraperson (2016), Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Those are the best F-rated movies of the decade. What do you think is the best of the decade? Comment below.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the Best of the 2010s series, including last month's comic book movies list. Next month we'll take a look at horror movies! What are some of your favorite scary movies? Will they make the list? Find out in October!