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Our top 50 movies, music, TV and books of the 2010s

When it came to picking our favorite arts and entertainment culture from the 2010s, we kept running into one big problem: There was simply too much of it.

Sure, you could probably say that about any decade. But it felt especially true in this one, when the social media and streaming services that launched in the 2000s came into their own as fully-formed, industry-eating monstrosities, intent on assimilating us into a constantly connected, constantly monitored society.

But while a few mega-brands (Marvel, Netflix, Taylor Swift) did dominate the decade, the 2010s still made room for new voices to develop and find an ever-evolving audience, and empowered regular Janes and Joes to shape the cultural discussion like never before.

Think of this look back at the 2010s as a time capsule: The 50 best things about the decade we just scrolled past. Much like #TheDress, you may see it differently. But at least we got through it together.

MOVIES: THE DAWN OF A NEW CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson and Sebastian Stan in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.” [Marvel Studios]

Shortly after Iron Man came out in 2008, someone, possibly Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige, coined the term “cinematic universe.” Rarely have two words better summarized a decade in film.

The 2010s proved that in Hollywood, you are nothing without intellectual property, and even a hit isn’t a hit until it’s spawned its own franchise — or better yet, a series of films, TV shows and multiverses that interconnect like the patterns of a mandala.

When Martin Scorsese recently likened the popular cinema of this decade to “theme parks,” he was barely speaking in metaphor. Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (based on the books, yes, but more so on the films that followed) debuted in 2010, opening the doors for movie-themed parks like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land and the Avatar-themed Pandora.

At their best, this multifaceted approach to cinematic storytelling is the ultimate form of service to paying customers, honoring beloved source material with depth, heart and attention to detail. At its worst, it enables an entitled toxic fanboyism that festered throughout the decade, embroiling films like Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel and The Last Jedi in sexist culture wars.

All this dissonance in the, um, cinematic universe of the 2010s occasionally drowned out the decade’s brightest new voices — visionary directors like Ryan Coogler and Jordan Peele, or incandescent performers like Lupita Nyong’o and Timothee Chalamet.

None of them have made $22.5 billion at the box office, as have the 23 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in another sense, they’re all aboard the same roller-coaster ride.

As multi-billion-dollar platforms like Netflix and Amazon keep gobbling up facets of Hollywood, there may come a day when every movie is part of the same shared universe.

No time stone can undo that snap.

BEST FILM: GET OUT

No one expected a sketch comedian (Jordan Peele) and horror producer (Jason Blum) to deliver a bracing and suspenseful racial satire, but Get Out will be held up as a classic — especially as Hollywood continues to course-correct its history of under-representing diverse viewpoints in mainstream film.

Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out.” [PA WIRE | ZUMAPRESS.com]

BEST DRAMA: MOONLIGHT

No envelope oops here: Barry Jenkins’ heartfelt, personal coming-of-age story about a young gay man in South Florida challenged and uplifted notions of black masculinity with poetic beauty, becoming the best in a decade of great indie films (The Florida Project, Spring Breakers, Waves) shot in the Sunshine State.

BEST COMEDY: BRIDESMAIDS

A murderer’s row of comic talent led by Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy turned a script (co-written by Wiig) full of great laughs and heart into a classic look at enduring friendships and honest self-examination.

In this publicity image released by Universal Pictures, from left, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig are shown in a scene from “Bridesmaids.” [SUZANNE HANOVER | Universal Pictures/AP]

BEST ACTION FLICK: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

Tom Cruise should have died several times this decade, jumping out of planes and over buildings and whatnot, but the scene where he scales Dubai’s Burj Khalifa remains the most white-knuckle, pin-drop stunt sequence this decade.

BEST HORROR FLICK: THE CONJURING

How a modest little suspense flick about ’70s ghost hunters became a multi-billion-dollar franchise is a mystery worthy of Ed and Lorraine Warren themselves, but we’re grateful for all the creeps they (not to mention Annabelle, the Nun and La Llorona) have given us.

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE: INSIDE OUT

Frozen and its soundtrack are classics worthy of Walt Disney’s name, but Pixar’s emotionally wrenching story about the conflicting states within a young girl’s mind will forever pulverize the hearts of those who’ve seen it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA

Maybe it’s cheating to call Ezra Edelman’s docuseries, produced by ESPN, a single film, but it did with the Oscar for Best Documentary, which was fitting — a saga like O.J. Simpson’s is unparalelled in modern history, and deserved every minute Made In America gave it.

BEST ACTOR: BRADLEY COOPER

Every year brought new performances that chipped away at Cooper’s prettyboy facade and lent depth to his resume: The fallen rock star Jackson Maine, the tortured sniper Chris Kyle, the bipolar hero of Silver Linings Playbook, the human science experiment of Limitless, even the fast-talking Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy.

BEST ACTRESS: JENNIFER LAWRENCE

It’s hard to believe Lawrence only burst onto the spotlight in 2010′s Winter’s Bone, considering she’s top-lined blockbuster franchises (The Hunger Games, X-Men) and racked up even more critical accolades (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy) in the years that followed.

The Tampa Bay Times’ picks for actress and actor of the decade, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, appeared together in several films, including “Silver Linings Playbook.” [JOJO WHILDEN | The Weinstein Company/AP]

BEST DIRECTORS: ALFONSO CUARON, GUILLERMO DEL TORO AND ALEJANDRO G. INARRITU

You cannot choose, nor should you: From Gravity to Roma, Birdman to The Shape of Water, the three Mexican filmmakers and friends overwhelmed cinemaphiles this decade, winning 11 Academy Awards for films that transcended language and defied technological belief.

BEST QUOTE: “IF YOU GUYS WERE THE INVENTORS OF FACEBOOK, YOU’D HAVE INVENTED FACEBOOK.”

Let us now credit Aaron Sorkin for putting into words the arrogance we’d eventually associate with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook — and, really, every infuriating social media industry-state — way back in 2010.

Jesse Eisenberg in a scene from “The Social Network.” [MERRICK MORTON | Columbia Pictures]

BEST HERO: TOM HANKS

Tom Hanks really leaned into the whole American hero thing this decade, playing everyone from Mister Rogers to Walt Disney, Captain Sully Sullenberger to Captain Phillips, Ben Bradlee to Sheriff Woody — and, of course, David S. Pumpkins, who’s just his own thing, man.

BEST VILLAIN: THANOS

Who better to symbolize our collective sense of impending global doom than this hulking purple people-snapper, whose Buick-sized biceps and body mask all of the deep, dark feels we all have inside us?

MUSIC: THE BALLAD OF TAYLOR AND KANYE

In this Sept. 13, 2009 file photo, Kanye West takes the microphone from Taylor Swift as she accepts the “Best Female Video” award during the MTV Video Music Awards in New York. [JASON DECROW | AP]

The 2010s began on Sept. 13, 2009. That was the night Taylor Swift won Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards, and Kanye West jumped on stage to interrupt her.

“I’mma let you finish,” West began, but he never did. We’ve been talking about that moment ever since.

For 10 years, no two artists have been as picked-apart as Swift and West, twin points on a helix that couldn’t help crossing one another. And it all began that night at Radio City Music Hall.

The Swift-West incident accelerated the evolution of Swift from country ingenue to musical monolith, forever altering how we’d see the world’s most famous pop star. It made West look inward, expounding on the introspective themes of 808s and Heartbreak to write My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, without which one cannot imagine the decade of hip hop that followed.

Swift’s blockbuster 1989 Tour was an assertion of her global dominance, with each night’s surprise guests — her squad — sorting the pop world into those who stood with her, and those who did not. West’s exploration of darker, higher art — his abrasive Yeezus and The Life of Pablo, his groundbreaking tours, his fascination with fashion and design — won as many detractors as admirers, yet few artists have ever been as good at shaping the cultural conversation.

It may have seemed like a silly awards-show squabble. But it was really the big bang of the 2010s, a decade when sorting heroes from villains dictated the digital discourse. Who should we stan? Who should we cancel? How much lasting impact can a viral moment have?

Even without their musical accomplishments this decade — which were profound — the 2010s belonged to Swift and West. They dominated from the start. And they never really finished.

BEST ARTIST: KENDRICK LAMAR

In this Dec. 4, 2015 file photo, Kendrick Lamar performs at Power 106’s ‘Cali Christmas’ 2015 in Inglewood, Calif. [JOHN SALANGSANG | AP]

The Compton, Calif. rapper pitched a perfect decade, with at least four classic albums (Good Kid, M.A.A.D City; To Pimp a Butterfly; Damn.; the Black Panther soundtrack) and a Pulitzer Prize cementing his status as America’s most inspired and thoughtful songwriter.

BEST ALBUM: KANYE WEST, ‘MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY’

It is audacious, it is opulent, it is loaded with iconic guests (Jay-Z, Rihanna, an uncredited Elton John) and all-time hits (Power, Monster, All of the Lights), and it influenced nearly every major hip-hop album that came in its wake — just as West surely assumed it would.

BEST SONG: MARK RONSON AND BRUNO MARS, ‘UPTOWN FUNK’

The ultimate compliment one can pay to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ insidiously catchy, masterfully produced funk-pop single is that throughout all of pop history, it’s hard to imagine a year in which this wouldn’t have risen to No. 1.

BEST VISIONARY: BEYONCE

She was already a superstar, but this was the decade Beyoncé went from R&B idol to artistic icon: Her cinematic tours with husband Jay-Z, her surprise-released self-titled album; her personal opus Lemonade; her historic Homecoming performance at Coachella.

BEST PERFORMER: LADY GAGA

The robotic pop of Poker Face couldn’t have foretold it, but Gaga’s commitment to overwhelming the eye with each performance — from her meat dress to her high-flying Super Bowl show to A Star Is Born — put her in a class of multihyphenates that might just include only her.

In this Feb. 5, 2017 file photo, Lady Gaga performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in Houston. [DARRON CUMMINGS | AP]

BEST SONGWRITER: TAYLOR SWIFT

Between Speak Now, Red, 1989, Reputation, Lover and various singles, Swift released around 100 sharp pop songs this decade; there’s a universe in which every single one was a hit (and many of them actually were).

BEST BELLWETHER: DRAKE

The shift from sales to streaming changed the record industry this decade, and no artist benefited more than the 6 God, whose vibey, in-my-feelings and extremely long albums felt designed specifically for clock-munching services like Spotify and Apple Music.

BEST PHENOMENON: HAMILTON

If you want to talk about musical works that will stand the test of time, look no further than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s culture-shaping historical hip-hop musical, which ended up nearly as beloved an album as it was a Broadway show.

In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Lin-Manuel Miranda appears at the curtain call following the opening night performance of “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP]

BEST NEW ARTIST: BILLIE EILISH

Of all the new stars to emerge this decade (Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande), no one feels better positioned to own the 2020s than this teenage bolt of creative lightning, who by this time in 2029 will still be younger than Taylor Swift is now.

BEST COUNTRY ARTIST: MIRANDA LAMBERT

That she was named the Academy of Country Artist’s top female vocalist nine out of 10 years this decade is the stuff of legends; that she closed out the 2010s with her finest album in Wildcard is the stuff of icons.

BEST ROCK ARTIST: VAMPIRE WEEKEND

They could have gone down as a blog-rock punch line, but all three of their albums this decade (Contra, Modern Vampires of the City and Father of the Bride) sharpened and deepened their sound, making them the rare rock band to end this decade in a better place than they started.

BEST DJ: ZEDD

When the nostalgia cycle inevitably comes around for the decade when electronic dance music took off in America, it’ll focus on Zedd, whose incredible string of smash singles (Clarity, Stay the Night, Break Free, The Middle) best represent the sound of this decade in dance-pop.

TELEVISION: THE DECADE WE BINGED ON AUTEURS

This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from “Breaking Bad.” [Frank Ockenfels/AMC/AP]

Tony Soprano died on June 10, 2007. Or maybe he didn’t. The screen went black, so we’ll never know.

Either way, Soprano didn’t stick around to watch his peers usher in a new decade of TV. Men like Don Draper. Walter White. Dexter Morgan. Dr. Gregory House. Each of those iconic antiheroes debuted in the 2000s, but their dirty shadows linger over the 2010s.

Television is a hard medium to slice up into neat decades. Shows run for years at a time, and so it’s hard to say what makes a show “of” a particular decade. Looking back, was Mad Men (2007-15) a 2010s show? What about Breaking Bad (2008-13) or Modern Family (2009-today)? What about Lost (which ended in May 2010), or The Mandalorian (which debuted in November 2019)?

The shine of TV’s golden age has dimmed a bit this decade, largely because of how much the medium has changed since The Sopranos. The broadcast universe expanded beyond premium cable into streaming, as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon forced the Oxford English Dictionary to add the term “binge-watching.”

Networks gave auteurs like Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Louis C.K. (yeah, we know) unprecedented leeway to start and stop their series as they saw fit. Learning to wait two years between seasons of Game of Thrones, Homeland or Stranger Things was just part of being a fan.

Tony Soprano made a lot of this possible. The Sopranos’ epic scope, auteurist ambition and bingeworthy narratives would have fit right in on Netflix or Amazon (although probably not Disney+). If Tony were around today, he’d be live-tweeting each week’s whacking, guesting on a recap show like Talking Mob, and visiting Fallon to sing Don’t Stop Believin’ with a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

Maybe it’s better the screen went black after all.

BEST DRAMA SERIES: THE AMERICANS

Since we’re limiting most of our best-of-the-decade picks to things that premiered this decade (sorry, Breaking Bad and Mad Men), nothing topped FX’s stellar drama about a couple of Russian spies hiding in plain sight in Reagan’s America, and all the mental and marital tension that entailed.

This publicity image released by FX shows Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, left, and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in a scene from “The Americans.” [CRAIG BLANKENHORN | FX/AP]

BEST COMEDY SERIES: VEEP

During a decade in which most great so-called sitcoms were actually dramas in disguise (see: Louie, Atlanta, Girls, Barry and Master of None), only Veep came out as a relentless joke machine, with Queen Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and an all-world cast of comedic performers delivering Armando Iannucci’s bloodthirstiest barbs with utter relish.

BEST REALITY SERIES: VANDERPUMP RULES

It started as a Real Housewives spinoff, but Vanderpump Rules set a bar for all reality shows this decade, featuring a Botoxed, in-on-the-joke American dream of a cast that was smart enough to be interesting, but dumb enough never to learn from their mistakes.

BEST STREAMING SERIES: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Not only was it one of the first shows to establish streaming services as a place to find high-quality original content, the sprawling cast featured mostly women, people of color and LGBTQ backgrounds, paving the way for many other shows with leads that are not white men.

Cast members including Taylor Schilling, Dascha Polanco, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba, Selenis Leyva, Laura Gómez, Jackie Cruz and Jessica Pimentel appear in a scene from Season 4 of “Orange is the New Black.” [JOJO WHILDEN | Netflix]

BEST NETWORK SERIES: THE GOOD PLACE

Network shows generally have a tougher time cracking the prestige-TV nut than those on streaming and cable, but The Good Place’s high-concept comedy and serialized storytelling — a rarity on any sitcom — was the biggest Must-See TV success story in years.

BEST REVIVAL: QUEER EYE

In a decade in which everything came back from the dead (Full House, Roseanne, Twin Peaks, The X-Files), no revival has been as purely enjoyable as Queer Eye, whose life-affirming, tear-jerking, catchphrase-filled episode have catapulted the new Fab Five — Antoni, Karamo, Bobby, Tan and Jonathan — to household-name status.

BEST ACTOR: STERLING K. BROWN

With Emmy-winning turns in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and This Is Us — not to mention shining guest turns on everything from Insecure to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — Brown spread his simmering, cinematic sensitivity all over the small screen.

Sterling K. Brown as Randall in an episode of “This Is Us.” [Ron Batzdorff/NBC]

BEST ACTRESS: KATE MCKINNON

Since joining Saturday Night Live in 2012, McKinnon’s ability to create and physically embody quirky characters — to say nothing of her uncanny impressions, from Hillary Clinton to Rudy Giuliani to Justin Bieber — has made her one of the show’s most versatile performers ever.

BEST CAST: GAME OF THRONES

From Season 1 to Season 8, the Game of Thrones cast — largely unknown before the series — went from one acting Emmy nomination (for Peter Dinklage, the show’s heart and soul) to 10, an indication of how lucky producers got by casting actors like Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Heady and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

This publicity image released by HBO shows Peter Dinklage, left, and Sophie Turner in a scene from “Game of Thrones.” [HELEN SLOAN | AP]

BEST TALK SHOW HOST: JIMMY FALLON

The Tonight Show host has endured his share of critical slings and arrows since debuting on Late Night in 2009, but there’s no question his celebrity-friendly style — silly games, viral skits, etc. — shifted the way casual viewers thought about late-night TV.

BEST EPISODE: BLACK MIRROR, ‘SAN JUNIPERO’

Netflix’s resuscitation of this devilishly dystopian British anthology series yielded this beautiful, thrilling third-season love story between two women whose souls fall in love in a picturesque version of the afterlife.

BEST FINALE: BREAKING BAD

You can’t talk about the end of Breaking Bad without tipping your cap to its even better third-to-last episode, Ozymandias — or, for that matter, its follow-up movie El Camino — but watching Walter White free Jesse Pinkman amid a massacre of white-supremacist meth dealers was about as satisfying a conclusion as you could imagine for one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

BOOKS: WOMEN LEAD THE WAY

Jennifer Egan’s book “A Visit From the Goon Squad” was our critic’s favorite fiction work in a decade dominated by female authors. [Peter Van Hattem]

Times book critic Colette Bancroft has plenty to say here about the decade in literature, particularly the impact female authors had across the board. Here are some of the titles that made the most waves throughout the 2010s.

BEST NONFICTION: TA-NEHISI COATES, ‘BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME’

Written as a letter from father to son, Coates’ manifesto on racial injustice and disparity forced the world to reckon with the grand falsehood of the American dream: That everyone is truly equal in society, when in fact, that’s never been the case.

BEST FICTION: JENNIFER EGAN, ‘A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD’

Whether read as a novel or a collection of short stories, Egan’s much-lauded work about life and society viewed from fringes of the music business has as much to say to the young and impassioned as it does to those in the thick of middle age.

BEST POP LIT: GILLIAN FLYNN, ‘GONE GIRL’

Everyone, everywhere, read it — on trains, on plains, on beaches, in bars — and it’s hard to fault them, because Flynn’s novel about a troubled marriage and missing(ish) woman is just that hard to put down.

BEST COMIC BOOK: SAGA

The epic space opera about star-crossed aliens from enemy races, who cross lines to raise a daughter amid a brutal galactic war, is a reminder: Not only can the graphic medium go toe-to-toe with film as a vehicle for vivid worlds and unshakable characters, sometimes it’s far superior.

BEST ADAPTATION FROM A BOOK: TRUE GRIT

After sweeping the Oscars with No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers dug deep with this loving, funny, note-perfect Western epic, which owed more to Charles Portis’ 1968 novel than John Wayne’s 1969 film.

BIGGEST OUTPUT: STEPHEN KING

It’s Stephen King’s world and we just live in it — in this decade, he published 14 novels and two story collections, and there were 12 movies and nine TV shows based on his books.

DIGITAL CULTURE: EVERYONE INTO THE STREAM

This category is basically Stuff You Do On Your Phone.

Think of how much time you spend being entertained by the oracle in the palm of your hand. Streaming music or podcasts or shows or movies. Group-texting or FaceTiming or Venmo’ing or blasting out SpongeBob memes. Debating #TheDress and “Laurel/Yanny,” or naming one thing in this photo. Monitoring the latest Trump tweetstorms or Kylie Jenner TikToks through Alexa. Very little of this paragraph would have made any sense in 2010.

Last decade, sure, most of us were familiar with the word “stream.” We might have clicked on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and we all played Paramore on our MySpace profiles, and we may have owned an iPhone 3G, and we’d at least heard that Ricky Gervais had a podcast. But we also still got Netflix DVDs through the mail to watch when we weren’t flipping through cable.

Wasn’t life quaint?

Today our digital overlords own us in ways we never imagined. How many streaming services must we subscribe to in order to feel like we can participate in the cultural conversation (a conversation unfolding, obviously, on Twitter or Reddit or Twitch)? Will the government someday bust up Google or Facebook or Amazon, fearful that each service has become too invasive and powerful?

We’ve come a million miles from Auto-Tune the News to The Irishman, and it’s changed the very concept of what it means to be entertained. In a lot of ways, we are the entertainment. We just don’t always know who’s watching.

But take a bow anyway. Because someone, somewhere, probably is.

BEST SERVICE: INSTAGRAM

What felt like a joke around 2010 (“Who would want to see what I ate for breakfast this morning?”) has basically changed the way we see the world, allowing for new forms of visual expression and evolving into one of the most successful marketing platforms for small businesses and self-starting Insta-celebs alike.

BEST GAME: MINECRAFT

Pokemon Go was a phenomenon, and games like Overwatch and Fortnite turned esports into a billion-dollar industry, but Minecraft was a universe unto itself — both as a merchandising mint, and as a space where young players and creative types could find just as much joy in world-building as competitive gamers.

In this June 13, 2013 file photo, Jonny Rice wears a Minecraft-themed mask while promoting a video clip he created during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. [JAE C. HONG | Associated Press]

BEST PODCAST: WTF WITH MARC MARON

Though it launched in late 2009, even the cantankerous Maron himself would likely admit it didn’t find its footing until the 2010s, when his insightful, truth-baring interviews with legendary figures (Robin Williams, Keith Richards, David Letterman, President Obama) changed how we think about celebrity interviews.

BEST VIDEO: PIZZA RAT

At the end of the decade that gave us double rainbows and bed intruders, Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake, we must give it up for the humble Pizza Rat and his insatiable, ratlike love of pizza, for at times, we are all Pizza Rat.

BEST VIRAL STAR: LIL NAS X

It takes a special kind of viral star to rewrite music history, and Lil Nas X — the gay, black, country-bopping, Nine Inch Nails-remixing singer and rapper who took Old Town Road from TikTok sensation to the longest-running No. 1 single in history — came along at just the right moment to usher in a new era of digital cultural consumption.

BEST MEME: REACTION GIFS AND JPGS

The blinking guy, Kermit sipping tea, Homer backing into the bushes, the “This is Fine” dog — not only did these gifs and images all debut in the 2010s, they and countless other meme-able images transformed the way we communicate online.

BEST TWEET: MILKSHAKE DUCK

Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, a.k.a. @pixelatedboat, knew that if the 2010s taught us anything, it’s that every viral social media hero eventually lives long enough to get canceled as a villain.

Times staff writers Michelle Stark, Colette Bancroft and Christopher Spata contributed to this report.


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