The 50 Best Films of the 2010s (Part 1)

Here are my favourite films of the 2010s, starting with number 50 to 26. A few notes before we begin:

  • For the sake of diversity, I have only included one film per filmmaker on this list. This means that films that might have made the list like Phantom ThreadSilenceGone Girl, and Dunkirk were automatically ruled out by default.
  • I have no set criteria for what is on this list other than ‘did I like it’? Reasons why I like something could be formal ingenuity, emotional resonance, thought-provoking ideas, high entertainment value, etc. Every film on this list does one (or more) of those things very well.
  • The order is kind of immaterial, especially after the top 20. I had a very unscientific process where I just crammed the 50 (and the 20 or so that missed the cut) into the list and kept rearranging them until it arrived at a shape I liked.
  • There are plenty of films I have not seen, including critical darlings like Roma (yes I know, it’s on Netflix, I have no excuse) and The Shape of Water, and new works from creators I like such as Her Smell and Little Women. That’s the beauty of this, I suppose. There’s always more to see. And without further ado …

50. The Avengers (2012)


This list begins with its most flawed and most important movie. In fifty years, film historians in the sun-scorched hellscape that is Earth will point to The Avengers as the Big Bang of our contemporary age of cinema, where words like ‘tentpole’ and ‘franchise management’ entered the mainstream lexicon. Yes, there were superhero movies before The Avengers. Yes, there were sequels and long running series (I see you, Mr. Bond). But The Avengers was truly the first of its kind. Before it, there were a bunch of Marvel Studios movies that shared some cute links. After it, there was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the all-conquering juggernaut that all other franchises aspired to be. None of this happens if The Avengers itself isn’t as fantastic as it is. Other MCU movies may have topped it in terms of scale and scope, but they all owe a debt to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Counter-intuitively, the world’s biggest movie could only have been made by a guy who mostly did TV, as Joss Whedon’s experience with wrangling large ensemble casts allowed him to find the perfect alchemy among its many heroes. People may have oohed and aahed at The Battle of New York, but the true magic lay in the interactions between Cap, Tony, Nat, Thor, Hawkeye, and Bruce[1]. More than the action or the effects or the plots, Whedon and The Avengers understood the reason why people came to watch these movies was the characters. Seven years and billions of dollars later, it still remains the case.

49. Black Swan (2010)


An extended metaphor for the search for artistic perfection, Darren Aronofsky’s mad mindfuck of a movie also serves as one of the most chillingly effective psychological horror films of the 2010s. Centred around a career-best performance by Natalie Portman, whose fragile vulnerability is repressing some very dark urges, Black Swan is a breathless thrill ride that plunges the viewer into the headspace of a deeply messed-up individual that will raise questions as to what is real and what is merely in our protagonist’s head. Aronofsky’s largely handheld and over-the-shoulder camerawork creates an overwhelming sense of urgency and tension, broken up with some very terrifying scares. Black Swan does teeter over the edge into overwrought ridiculousness, but in my opinion, that just enhances the effectiveness of the film, lending it a Grand Guignol flavour that is sadly lacking these days. Screw realism, sometimes what you need is Natalie Portman pulling feathers out of her back and shrieking at Mila Kunis while Swan Lake plays over the background. If only more films were willing to risk going over the top like this one.

48. What We Do In The Shadows (2015)


The best joke in What We Do In The Shadows has to do with comparing drinking virgin blood to eating a sandwich. This in essence is the core genius of Shadows, the seamless meld of the supernatural and the mundane. There is so much cleverness bursting at the seams in this movie, such as how the various characters represent a different era’s interpretation of vampires (from Nosferatu up to Twilight), or how the typical petty arguments among flatmates are amplified by the fact that said flatmates can fly and transform into bats. It helps when the men behind and in front of the character are as talented as Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who are both on fire when it comes to the writing and delivery of jokes. No other comedy this decade was as dense as Shadows when it came to pure joke delivery, with every frame bound to contain at least one gag, even if it were simply in the background. Sometimes you need a deep, sombre rumination of society, and sometimes you just need Jemaine Clement saying that a sandwich would taste better if you knew no one had fucked it.

47. Creed (2015)


In a cinematic landscape dominated by franchise movies and hastily rushed out remakes or sequels to long dormant IPs, Ryan Coogler showed the world how to do it right. Even before Black Panther reshifted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Coogler was revitalising the Rocky series, which looked down for the count after the execrable Rocky V. With deftness and creativity, Coogler shifts the focus to Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s erstwhile frenemy Apollo Creed. With Michael B. Jordan in his starmaking performance in the title role and a rejuvenated Sylvester Stallone sliding back into the gloves of his best known character, Creed takes the Rocky formula and perfectly reinterprets it for a new age. The fights are magnificently choreographed (especially the one-shot fight), the emotions run high, and when the familiar strains of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ play over the soundtrack, it is as though Coogler and Jordan are raising their fists in triumph at having gone the distance. It takes a lot to adequately follow a classic film, it takes even more to rise to its level and bring it into the future.

46. Amour (2012)


The first entry in this list by a filmmaker I hate (the second comes right after this), Amour initially seemed like another of Michael Haneke’s formally magnificent but emotionally barren constructions. After all, isn’t the title yet another of his sneering, ironic jokes? Look at what love amounts to, one aged person (Emmanuelle Riva) dying while the other (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has no choice but to care for her. Yet, Amour avoids much of the cynicism and nihilism that Haneke has been (justly) accused of, instead seriously dissecting the question ‘what is love’?[2] Love, Amour posits, is sacrifice. Love is debasement and indignity. And love, as embodied in Amour‘s achingly unbearable denouement, is a willingness to suffer the greatest of pain in the hope that it will provide another person with at least the smallest measure of solace. In its unsentimental, clear-eyed depiction of a couple facing the inevitable, Haneke reveals more about the nature of love than all the hearts and flowers that spring up every February. Amour is not for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is love.

45. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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I hate Wes Anderson. I hate his saccharine tweeness. I hate the two-dimensional assemblage of quirks he passes off as characters. I hate his artificially flat and symmetrical compositions, his fussily airless tableaux, his insert shots arranged just-so, his goddamn use of the Futura font. I have only ever found Anderson tolerable when he deals with children (Rushmore, part of Tenenbaums) as this is the only time the aesthetic seems to make sense. After all, don’t children live in an artificial world that bears little resemblance to reality? With all that said, Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderful film, a beautiful coming-of-age story that mixes the excitement of young love with the melancholy of innocence lost. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are delightful as the young couple running away from their dysfunctional homes into the bosom of nature, while the usual Anderson ringers (Murray, Norton, Swinton, Schwartzman, etc.) do their usual jobs of being very deadpan. It is all very sweet and heartfelt, which I suppose is the strongest emotion that Wes Anderson will ever be able to elicit from me, so … yay, I guess?

44. Raw (2017)


There is something magical about a great debut. Maybe it is the thrill of novelty or the promise of better things to come. Julia Ducournau’s debut feature, Raw, is not a great debut. It is a spectacular one. With dashes of Gaspar Noe and Catherine Breillat, two other filmmakers who blend art and trash in a provocative manner, Ducournau cooks a devilishly delicious tale of a meek vegetarian who finds her dark side when forced to eat raw meat in a bizarre hazing ritual. So much of Raw is off kilter – seriously, an entire university dedicated to veterinary sciences that is somehow treated like Harvard? – but in the best possible way. Ducournau’s direction is inspired, creating a vibrant and kinetic tone through her use of music and camerawork. In a ferocious (quite literally) performance, Garance Marillier is an absolute revelation in the lead role, playing Justine’s emergence from her shell as a violent, savage, beautiful act of becoming. With bright colours, thumping music and nubile bodies thrusting at each other, Ducournau creates a sensuous party that only seems to become more seductive when the blood starts pouring. Cannibalism never looked or sounded so good.

43. Get Out (2017)

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There is an argument I have seen online that Jordan Peele’s debut Get Out is not that good. This line of argument tends to focus on how Get Out‘s message and politics have caused critics and viewers to overestimate it as a piece of cinema. This argument is wrong, for a number of reasons. Firstly, a film’s thematic and political dimension is inseparable from its value. Craftsmanship with no deeper meaning is literally pointless. More importantly, Get Out is a hellaciously entertaining and gripping horror-thriller, with Peele’s background in comedy giving him a terrific instinct for how to build and release tension. But it is Get Out‘s elegantly constructed, Oscar-winning screenplay that is the real gem, with Peele finding note-perfect metaphors to convey the state of race relations in the United States through protagonist Chris’s (Daniel Kaluuya in a fantastic introduction to a wider audience) weekend from hell with his girlfriend’s bougie liberal parents – y’know, the type that would have voted for Obama for a third term. It is the nuance that Peele brings to Get Out that makes it sing, as the film perfectly notes the peculiar love that some white people have for black culture without having any of that love for black people. Also, it introduced the idea of ‘the sunken place’ into popular culture just in time to perfectly describe whatever the hell Kanye West is going through now. That alone gives Get Out a spot on this list.

42. Burning (2018)


An uneasy neo-noir thriller that will have you questioning what is really going on, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a masterpiece of ambiguity. Set amidst an uneasy love triangle between aspiring author Jong-su, his old classmate/friend with benefits Hae-mi, and the supernaturally charming and urbane Ben, Burning also doubles as a fantastic glimpse into the resentment and jealousy that comes with massive social inequality. When Hae-mi suddenly disappears, was it because she was killed by Ben, who got bored with her and murdered her just because he could? Or did Hae-mi just leave as a result of Jong-su’s misogyny and cruel slut-shaming? Lee’s film never provides any definitive answers, not in terms of plot or character motivation, but this just adds multiple layers to Burning. What you think happened is probably representative of your point-of-view and your sympathies towards the question of privilege and class. Yet, even without providing easy answers, Lee maintains a steadily increasing tension throughout, before bubbling over in its final violent moments. Based on a Haruki Murakami short story, Burning might be the first film to perfectly capture his elusive tone – a sense of danger, intrigue, and mystery that fully envelops the characters and the viewer in the murk of uncertainty.

41. First Reformed (2017)

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This is one of those films where the old cliche ‘they don’t make them like this any more’ perfectly applies. Paul Schrader’s sparse, unsparing drama is a homage to the formally austere religious European films of the 50s and 60s, back when a ‘Christian film’ actually involved grappling with weighty ideas instead of spewing hateful propaganda (which the film itself directly addresses, comparing its protagonist’s thoughtful, philosophical Christianity with the surface-level pleasures of the far more popular megachurch nearby). Taking his cue from Bergman and Bresson, Schrader subjects his protagonist Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, continuing his series of wins throughout the 10s) through a gauntlet of spiritual crises, from the wound of his son’s death to the oncoming spectre of climate change. This is a film that asks difficult questions. Has mankind failed in their duty as God’s stewards of Earth? Is radical violence the only way to stop impending doom? Can religion rescue a man from his demons? Schrader, the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, is no stranger to onscreen suffering and alienation, and there is plenty of that to go round in this film. What truly elevates First Reformed though, is the fact that it ends on a moment of grace so powerful that Bresson himself would be proud, a moment of profound connection that is the closest thing this movie has to a spark of the divine.

40. Son of Saul (2015)


For a while, there seemed to be a general agreement that there was little left that could be done with the Holocaust film, to the extent that the TV show Extras mocked actors who starred in them as fishing for an Oscar. And then something like Son of Saul comes along, and reminds us all that when done well (and uncynically), a movie set in one of the darkest eras of history can still shake an audience to the core. Hungarian director László Nemes’s debut film does three things very cleverly. Firstly, it focuses on the Sonderkommando, Jewish prisoners forced to help the Nazis dispose of corpses, which is a new angle that raises all manner of questions about guilt and culpability. Secondly, it introduces dual ticking-clock missions of protagonist Saul having to find a rabbi to give his dead son a proper Jewish burial while an uprising ferments in the background, granting its protagonist a sense of agency even in the worst of circumstances. Finally, Son of Saul utilises an ingenious method of cinematography, relying on tight close-ups of (superb) lead actor Géza Röhrig in Academy ratio (so the frame is not very big) filmed with a very shallow depth of field. This means that the atrocities are all glimpsed and hinted at in the background, which removes the possibility of exploitation and focuses the viewer on Saul’s reaction (or in many cases, non-reaction) and his mission. All this combined makes Son of Saul one of the most painfully rewarding watches this decade, an agonising blend of formal ingenuity and artistic vision that serves as a stark (and sadly necessary) reminder that something like this must never happen again.

39. Drive (2011)


The worst critique one can give is ‘all style, no substance’. Not because it is lazy (which it is), but because it is so commonly wrong. Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir masterpiece, Drive, stands as a towering rebuttal to that critique by proving that if a work of art is stylish enough, then style becomes its own substance. Is there a hollowness to the film? Sure. Are its characters thinly sketched out to the point of caricature? No doubt. Could the plot be charitably described as ‘bare-bones’? Hell yes. Does any of it matter? Not in the slightest. Refn is a self-described pornographer, and one viewing of Drive is all it takes to understand why. Who cares about any of all that stuff when every frame of this movie brings such aesthetic pleasure? Even 8 years later, who could possibly watch Ryan Gosling, clad in that iconic scorpion jacket, lit with that sunset LA glow and soundtracked by that thrumming Cliff Martinez score and not think “hell yeah, that’s fucking badass’? Ordinarily, a film that relies purely on cool imagery would fall flat, but the alchemy between all the elements in Drive elevate it to something almost mythic. When style is done so well, so effectively, so stylishly, it becomes its own substance. Refn has chased this style-as-substance ideal to increasingly diminishing returns, but for one glorious moment in 2011, he made something that went far beyond cool. He made something beautiful.

38. The Witch (2015)


A vision of darkness so despairing that you will need a shower afterwards, Robert Eggers’s debut feature at first appears to be a wicked little tale about how religious fanaticism can tear apart a family, with the disappearance of a Puritan family’s baby blamed on oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). And then, in no uncertain terms, Eggers reveals that the titular witch is no metaphor for misogyny or any highfalutin nonsense like that. No, it is a real, cackling witch who has stolen and killed the baby, and said witch will proceed to make the family’s life a living hell, with an assist from the lord of hell itself (in the form of the family’s billy goat). Filmed only with natural light and candles, and with a screenplay written entirely in early modern English, The Witch might be the single best film this decade at evoking atmosphere, with the bleakness of life in 1630s New England palpable in each individual shot. While not a ‘horror’ movie in the traditional sense, The Witch is far more successful than the usual jump-scare schlock at creating an overwhelming sense of dread, thanks to its vision of an unknowable world containing an evil so mighty that man (and woman) stands no chance against it. And speaking of visions of despair …

37. The Turin Horse (2012)


As imposing as a work of art can be, Béla Tarr’s final film is a fitting end to one of film history’s most formidable oeuvres. Composed of thirty shots (yes, total), each one beautifully staged and choreographed in black and white, The Turin Horse is one of the bleakest artistic visions ever put to film. Based on the apocryphal story of Nietzsche’s mental breakdown after seeing a horse get whipped, Tarr depicts the dreary, difficult lives of the owner of the horse and his daughter. They wake up, perform menial labour, and that’s about it. This is pure existence. Living does not factor into it. Yet, when their horse refuses to work and the world outside their hovel appears to be undergoing some kind of apocalyptic event, we see both father and daughter continue to struggle just to eke out the barest of lives. Make no mistake though, this is no ode to the unquenchable spirit of man. This is a film that, to phrase the philosopher it is named after, gazes into the abyss only to see nothing there. As the literal and figurative darkness grows and existence descends into repetitive misery, there is little nobility in the characters’ plight, only an animalistic will to survive. It is one of the most difficult films I have ever watched. I will never see it again. But I am glad that I got to see it once, if only to know just what a completely uncompromising vision of the end of all things would look like – an old man, sitting in total darkness, eating a raw potato.

36. Arrival (2016)


Canadian director Denis Villeneuve might have had the best overall filmography of the 2010s, with masterworks like IncendiesSicarioEnemy, and Blade Runner 2049 all released to rapturous acclaim in this decade. But for my money, nothing Villeneuve did topped Arrival, a science-fiction film that manages the difficult task of being both realistic and high-concept. The premise is simple – aliens arrive on earth, and linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams, probably the current best actress in Hollywood) is dispatched by the US army to figure out their language so that humanity can communicate with them. As it turns out, the aliens communicate in pictograms and experience time differently from humans, which results in the single best plot twist in any movie this decade. This is a film about communication and its necessity in a connected world. If we can barely communicate with each other, how can we be expected to communicate with extraterrestrials? Yet, Arrival is more than just wonky abstract concepts, anchored on Adams’s superlative performance and a heartbreaking emotional throughline of accepting one’s fate even when armed with the knowledge that it will all end in tragedy.

35. Frances Ha (2013)


I am writing this on the date of Anna Karina’s death. For those who do not know, Anna Karina was Jean-Luc Godard’s (one of the most important filmmakers ever) wife and lead actress (for a time) in masterpieces such as Vivre sa vie and Bande à part. I mention this not just because it is topical, but because the discussion centred around Karina consistently refers to her as Godard’s ‘muse’. Such a term is extremely reductive, diminishing a (female) actor’s creative contribution to simply standing there and inspiring a (male) filmmaker. This is especially instructive for Frances Ha, which is directed by Noah Baumbach, stars his partner Greta Gerwig, and is co-written by both. The magic of Frances Ha is not possible without either of the two. Baumbach’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and his usual trenchant wit are perfectly coupled with Gerwig’s superb line delivery and her sense of warmth. Frances Ha is a character study of a flighty, obnoxious dancer that threads the needle perfectly between empathy and critique, and this is possible only through the balance between Baumbach and Gerwig. The two would go on to make another wonderful film (Mistress America) together and Gerwig herself would emerge as a premier filmmaking talent (she will appear later on this list), but for my money, nothing they have done, individually or apart, will ever approach the exuberant heights of Frances dancing through the streets of New York set to David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’.

34. The Tree of Life (2011)


The first film of Terence Malick’s new phase remains the best one he’s made since The Thin Red Line. Much of nu-Malick is all too easy to parody – the whispered voiceover, the fragmentary plot, the bucolic nature shots – and yet when the filmmaking works, as it does in The Tree of Life, it contains such awesome power that the film itself seems to be conjured from the heavens. Piecing together a story of a young boy’s (autobiographically based on Malick) coming-of-age in 1950s Texas with nothing less than the story of how the universe came to be might seem awfully pretentious, but The Tree of Life presents itself with such earnestness and sincerity that it rises above such earthly concerns. I cannot say that I adore this film as much as many other critics. The Sean Penn sections bring its momentum to a grinding halt, and on a personal level, my atheism (and lapsed Christianity) will always be an emotional barrier for me in terms of fully accepting Malick’s gnostic mysticism. Nonetheless, I cannot deny the power of Emmanuel Lubezki’s sweeping camerawork and Malick’s gift for creating stunning imagery, particularly when they coalesce into something as beautiful and resonant as The Tree of Life.

33. The Lobster (2015)


My glib description of The Lobster is that it is half a perfect film, half a very good one. It speaks to how spectacular the first half of Yorgos Lanthimos’s English debut is that the second half being ‘very good’ feels like a letdown. That first half, with Colin Farrell’s schlubby David trying to find a romantic partner in the world’s saddest hotel before he is forcibly transformed into a lobster, is the best satire of modern romance I have ever seen, using straight-faced absurdism to brilliantly dissect the ridiculousness of contemporary courtship rituals. The Lobster also happens to be an absolutely hilarious comedy. Lanthimos’s signature deadpan is in full effect, with static long takes observing each scenario as they get more and more bizarre. The film remains steadfastly ambivalent on its central question – is love simply about finding superficial common ground, or is there more to it? The final shot, which sets up a ‘lady or the tiger’ scenario, puts the onus to answer on the viewer, and based on everything that has come before, it is hard to imagine any other answer but ‘no’. Still, as they say (and the film quite literally shows), love is blind.

32. A Ghost Story (2017)


Now this is a tough sell. A nearly silent movie filmed in 1.33:1 ratio (the frame is basically almost a square box), set almost entirely in a single house, where the lead actor spends most of his screentime as a ghost. And not just any ghost, but a literal sheet with two holes, like a child’s Halloween costume. Yet, A Ghost Story is astonishingly profound because of (not in spite of) these formal oddities. Director David Lowery is clearly inspired by Terence Malick, and like The Tree of LifeA Ghost Story melds the intimate and the grandiose seamlessly. A mournful, poetic meditation on death and the passage of time, A Ghost Story wrings bucketloads of existential melancholy from its simple premise. A man dies. His ghost lives on. He watches his wife find new love and move away. He watches new inhabitants move into the house. He watches the house get demolished, to be replaced by a very Blade Runner-esque future. And then he watches the universe end and begin again. All the while, he remains, rooted, a reminder of the fact that even as things move on and die, a little something always remains. The title is no misnomer, for A Ghost Story was one of the most haunting movies this decade.

31. The Handmaiden (2016)


A year after 50 Shades of Gray arrived to terrorise us all, South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook arrived to remind us all that ‘erotic’ need not be a four letter word. Transposing the elaborate labyrinthine plot of Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith from Victorian London to wartime Korea, Park has created a visually sumptuous delight that revels in its sheer eroticism and sensuality. Actors Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee are spectacular as the central duo, a common thief and a well-bred lady who seduce and scheme around each other before falling in love. Unlike 50 Shades, Park and his collaborators have crafted a work that actually thinks about sex instead of just portraying it, and The Handmaiden venomously tears into sexual objectification and the predatory men who seek to control the women in their lives. More than every other element (yes, even the subplot about ancient pornography), it is this feminist undercurrent that makes The Handmaiden so gosh-darn erotic, as Park and his lead actors bring a charged energy to the explicit sex scenes by portraying them as the freeing of previously withheld desire. It is a film that dares to make its characters sexy and sexual, and does so by granting them the agency denied to them for so long.

30. Inside Out (2015)


At the start of the decade, I was browsing through Pixar’s announcements for their new slate of films. Buried beneath the new batch of sequels was a movie simply (and bluntly) titled The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind. Four years after reading it, I walked out of Inside Out thinking ‘yup, they did it.’ Pixar has always made movies that operate on two levels – text for children and subtext for adults. While The Incredibles, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and the like communicate complex themes through the vehicle of (relatively simple) high concept children’s stories, Inside Out is the first Pixar film that pushes the boundaries of how complex the plotting and narrative of these movies can be. Taking place both inside and outside the mind of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she navigates the difficult emotions involved in moving to a new home, we see how the (quite literal) emotional struggle within her, particularly between Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), result in her growing alienation and depression. Pixar Studios, like other famed animation house Studio Ghibli, have gained a deserved reputation for not underestimating the emotional depth of children, and Inside Out shows just how expansive Pixar’s reservoirs of empathy are, conveying all of Riley’s emotional turmoil with heart, wit, and intelligence. It also contains the only scene in this entire decade that caused me to break down weeping in the middle of the film. You know which one it is. Take her to the moon indeed.

29. Phoenix (2014)


A twisty neo-noir that raises all manner of interesting questions about guilt and identity, Christian’s Petzold’s Phoenix begins with an alluring concept. Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoff, remarkable) is a survivor of Auschwitz who has undergone facial reconstruction surgery after damage from a bullet wound. In the ruins of post-war Berlin, she searches for and finds her ex-husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may have reported her to the Nazis and is now unable to recognise her as a result of said surgery. To complicate matters, Johnny approaches her with a scheme – to impersonate his dead wife so that they can claim her inheritance. Phoenix is not so much a ripoff of Vertigo as it is a remix of that particular masterpiece, and there is no question that Petzold is alluding to it in the scenes where Johnny coaches Nelly to behave more like ‘Nelly’. But if you’re going to steal, you might as well do it from the best, and Phoenix is more than worthy of being described as ‘Hitchcockian’. With its expressionistic use of shadow and colour, it also happens to be a damn fine looking film, giving us a glimpse at the scars of post-war Berlin and into Nelly’s fractured psyche. It also has the finest ending scene this decade (which it shares with another film that ends on a musical moment), a perfectly poised denouement that ties up both its complex narrative and its even more complex themes.

28. You Were Never Really Here (2018)


A hallucinatory riff on Taxi Driver, Lynne Ramsay’s tale of revenge and violence zigs where other films would zag, using dream logic to create a sense of alienation and fragmentation. As Joe, Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional (this, not Joker, is the performance he should have been feted for[3]), a hulking, damaged brute tasked to rescue a senator’s daughter kidnapped by a paedophile ring. Violence, betrayal, revenge, and more violence ensue. These are the ingredients for a fine genre picture, but in the hands of a chef like Ramsay, they become elevated to something more. Using quick flashes of Joe’s time in the army and an elusive, elliptical editing style, Ramsay completely plunges the viewer into Joe’s disturbed consciousness. Ramsay’s formal craft is also unimpeachable, with several scenes, such as Joe’s rampage through the brothel viewed purely through security cam footage or his deathbed singalong with a hired assassin, filmed with immense visual creativity and panache. She takes a lean, almost primordial narrative and uses it as an avenue to tell a much deeper and more powerful story, and in so doing, creates one of the most unique and enthralling cinematic experiences this decade.

27. Force Majeure (2014)


In legal terms, force majeure refers to the unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract. As with most things in Ruben Ostlund’s searingly dark comedy, it is an ironic joke. Is the threat of impending avalanche-based death enough for Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) to abandon his duties as husband/father and run away to save his own skin? With his objective camera and cold formalism, Ostlund savagely satirises every aspect of bourgeois morality and manhood. In the pristine white grandeur of the mountains, there is a certain pitilessness in how the film trivialises man’s pathetic attempts to make himself feel important. Yet for all its high-mindedness, Force Majeure is hilariously, brutally funny, as we watch Tomas squirm his way through awkward encounter after awkward encounter trying to rationalise his actions. The movie also has several strong contenders for the scene of the decade, including one where Tomas and his friend Mats melt with embarrassment after believing two women were hitting on them, or the excellent final scene where Ostlund turns the movie on its head and suggests that Tomas’s selfish cowardice may be less of a personal issue than a fundamental flaw with our species.

26. Certified Copy (2011)


Like many of his Iranian New Wave brethren, Abbas Kiarostami is a filmmaker obsessed with the boundary between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. This obsession is in full effect in the late, great director’s first work set outside of his native Iran, Certified Copy. The setup at first appears simple. A pompous art critic (William Shimell) is giving a talk in Italy about how all art is a mere ‘copy’, and that the idea of authenticity is irrelevant. An antiques dealer (the always spectacular Juliette Binoche) approaches the critic to talk about his ideas. They drive around. They have conversations about art and life. They make jokes and flirt. So far, so good. This is familiar territory, an artier Before Sunrise, if you will. Then, in the middle of the film, a woman mistakes the two for a married couple. They play along. Or do they? Their conversation takes a different tone. Suddenly they talk like an old married couple, referring to their son and their shared history. What exactly are they? The flirting strangers or the married couple? Does it matter, especially in the context of Kiarostami’s thesis that all art is but a copy of something else? Such intellectual abstraction would be infuriatingly obtuse in less skilled hands, but Kiarostami and his actors have the deftness of touch to weave these complex ideas into something almost whimsical. Both realities, Certified Copy seems to tell us, can be simultaneously real and unreal, intertwining in such a way that brings us to a greater truth than vulgar ‘reality’ – the truth of art’s unparalleled power to uplift the mind and the spirit.

The top 25 to come soon (at least by the end of the year)

[1]And Fury and Loki and Coulson and Hill and you get the idea.

[2]Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

[3] Or Her. Or The Master. Or Inherent Vice. Or I’m Still Here. Joaquin Phoenix was basically the best Hollywood actor this decade.






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