I watched a lot of movies this decade – approximately 1,600 films released in the 2010s, according to Letterboxd. Well, that sounds like a lot, but it’s not even a quarter of every film released in UK cinemas this decade; when you consider those going direct to DVD or streaming as well, it feels like barely a drop in the ocean. As someone who lives in a suburban location, there’s a heavy bias towards multiplex releases; I try to catch almost everything that plays at my local ten-screen Cineworld, but more limited releases I have to catch up with on disc or internet. As such, there are many, many independent, arthouse, non-English language and/or documentary features I wish I had found time or money to see, but have not yet. There’s a bias towards major, white-male-directed, US- & UK-produced features here that I wish I had been able to better correct.
Caveats aside, of those 1,600, these are the 101 I enjoyed the most.
Commiserations, first, to twenty-five close-runners: the brutal and haunting 12 Years A Slave; the poignant grief of A Ghost Story; Black Swan‘s psychological torture; the surprisingly profound reflection on trauma and obsession Brigsby Bear; the jaw-dropping Catfish; The End of the Tour‘s fascinating conversation between David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone contributor David Lipsky; the controlled explosion of First Reformed; feel-good comedy-drama The Fundamentals of Caring; Good Time‘s good times gone bad; The National-inspired and -soundtracked short film I Am Easy to Find; I, Daniel Blake‘s portrait of the UK’s broken welfare state; If Beale Street Could Talk‘s piercing character study; the jaw-dropping revelations of The Imposter; the charming and beautiful Isle of Dogs; the steadily-encroaching horrors of It Follows; The Kids Are All Right‘s magnificent portrait of marriage; twisty sci-fi Looper; Mid90s‘gritty coming-of-age; the sun-drenched horror of Midsommar; Once Upon a Time In Hollywood‘s tribute to ’60s Hollywood; the warm-hearted Paddington; The Place Beyond the Pines‘ tragic crime story; Shame‘s portrayal of sexual addiction; the brutal boxing drama Southpaw; Thunder Road‘s (and Jim Cummings’) remarkable emotional range; and Top Five‘s sharp celebrity satire.
Now, the list proper..
101. How to Train Your Dragon
(2010, d. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois)
The first in the magnificent animated fantasy trilogy; Viking teen Hiccup befriends dragon Toothless, thus beginning one of the decade’s strongest screen partnerships. Unlike so many of the decade’s tentpole CG flicks, adventure and drama are prioritised over cheap laughs.
100. Sorry We Missed You
(2019, d. Ken Loach)
Loach returns to the gritty realism of I, Daniel Blake with an even stronger indictment of working conditions in zero-hour-contract Britain. The stringent demands of parcel delivery and emotional labour of social care do their best to break the Turner family.
99. Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2)
(2013, d. Abdellatif Kechiche)
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux deliver remarkable turns in this three-hour marathon of lust, passion, and sexual release; the infatuation of first love is catalogued and documented in breathtaking, relentless detail.
(2013, d. Spike Jonze)
Director Spike Jonze and leads Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson nail the tone of this sci-fi romance: an introvert falling in love with a virtual assistant is funny, sweet and sad all at once, and Her delivers on the raw vulnerability and warmth the story calls for.
(2015, d. Ryan Coogler)
Everything a modern Rocky spin-off should be; an uplifting, inspirational boxing drama that takes story cues from its predecessors, while developing its characters in more fascinating, specific ways than anything else in the franchise.
96. Western Stars
(2019, d. Thom Zimny & Bruce Springsteen)
Springsteen brings his country-inspired record “Western Stars” to life in a literal barnstormer, performing the album in full with a bar band while reflecting on the light, dark and shades of grey in his life and career to date.
95. The Hate U Give
(2016, d. George Tillman Jr.)
YA fare with a difference; the red-raw rage of this police-shooting drama threatens to spill right off the screen. Attacks racist institutions head-on; lead Amandla Stenberg is magnetic, her protagonist Starr Carter fighting back hard as wrongs are whitewashed.
94. Wild Rose
(2019, d. Tom Harper)
Jessie Buckley’s titular aspiring singer is one of the decade’s most winsome characters, a Glaswegian with a passion for Nashville and a criminal past she’s trying hard to move on from. Her journey – backed with country performances aplenty – is an stirring joy.
93. Any Day Now
(2012, d. Travis Fine)
Overlooked study of institutionalised homophobia; Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt are perfectly cast as two gay men looking to become guardian of an abandoned teen with Down syndrome. Warm-hearted, with a real eye for detail.
92. Patti Cake$
(2017, d. Geremy Jasper)
The crackling energy of the titular aspiring rapper – played by the revelatory Danielle McDonald – her friends, and her mother (an on-form Bridget Everett) propel this familiar tale to new heights; the desire is palpable, and the freestyles are fierce.
(2010, d. Christopher Nolan)
Mind-bending kinetic visuals bring this Russian doll, sci-fi puzzle box to life. Nolan juggles reality, dreams, and dreams-within-dreams in this high-wire act, a challenge to the very notion of what a blockbuster could be.
90. Three Identical Strangers
(2018, d. Tim Wardle)
A stranger-than-fiction documentary that chronicles three adopted 19-year-olds’ discovery that they were born as a set identical triplets. A compelling, surprising meditation on identity, with some distressing narrative turns.
(2017, d. Kathryn Bigelow)
A sensational ensemble tackle this 50th anniversary dramatisation of the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s ’67 12th Street riot. Juggles multiple characters and storylines, placing us at the heart of not just the violence and aggression, but the horrifyingly racist climate of the time and place.
88. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
(2015, d. Marielle Heller)
A darkly amusing film, following 15-year-old Minnie as she begins a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend. It’s a brave expression of an extremely muddy area, never judgmental or censorious, rather letting the viewer make up their own mind on this most taboo setup.
87. Another Earth
(2011, d. Mike Cahill)
Haunting science fiction that finds the humanity and heart in dark apocalyptic fantasy. Brit Marling chills as the young astronomer who fate draws into the path of an accomplished composer on the same day a duplicate, “mirror” Earth is discovered.
86. Django Unchained
(2012, d. Quentin Tarantino)
In some ways the natural climax of Tarantino’s career to this point: the ultimate in revenge fantasy, a phenomenally entertaining revisionist take on race and slavery in the Old West and Antebellum South. The pace and structure may be the film’s biggest win: the scope of a sprawling epic, the focus of the finest character drama, the story parcels out its joys at a gratifying clip while the viewer can’t help but beg for even more.
(2010, d. Matthew Vaughn)
A frenetic, cacophonous frenzy of bright, blinding violence, pitch-black comedy, and profanity unbound; this tale of school-age superheroes is at turns gleeful, audacious, sleazy and hilarious.
(2016, d. Denis Villeneuve)
Science-fiction has never been averse to political metaphor, but Arrival‘s portrayal of a linguist attempting to find connection with an extraterrestrial being before tensions lead to catastrophic war, feels particularly relevant. A profound, thoughtful treatise on the power of communication; Amy Adams excels.
(2015, d. John Crowley)
Saiorse Ronan stuns as young Irish immigrant Eilis, looking to find happiness in 1950s New York, but unable to fully break away from the ties that bind her to Enniscorthy. Deftly wrangles with matters of the heart: the fluttering eyelashes of young romance, the weighty loyalties that can keep us from fully embracing change.
82. The Florida Project
(2017, d. Sean Baker)
Candy-cane cinematography juxtaposes with the scraping-by lifestyle of a rebellious single mother and her well-meaning but mischievous daughter. Their motel sits just outside Disneyland, drawing obvious contrasts, but this is no simple them-and-us tale: it’s compassionate, three-dimensional filmmaking, with love for all of its characters.
(2014, d. Jon Favreau)
Street-ready food porn collides with authentic family drama in this winning, light-hearted gem from, and starring, Favreau. His amiable adventure in food truck frippery is uncommonly welcoming, imbued with casual swagger; there’s a clear preference for sense and authenticity over Instagram-friendly perfection.
80. Call Me By Your Name
(2017, d. Luca Guadagnino)
Lustrous-looking, lusty period romance: in 1980s Italy, 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver fall hard for each other. Their relationship feels vital and vigorous, their secret passion conspiring with their interests and surroundings to recall the great romances of classic literature.
79. Horrible Bosses
(2011, d. Seth Gordon)
The straight-up comedy is sometimes given short shrift in lists like these, but generating guffaws is a harder task than might be expected. Bosses delivers its share of laughs and then some, as the screwball plot – in which three friends seek to murder each other’s bosses – bounds and careens, dispatching character comedy, verbal repartee and slapstick.
78. Begin Again
(2014, d. John Carney)
An ebullient, winning gem: Keira Knightly’s an absolute joy as singer-songwriter Gretta, who, discovered by an ex-record label exec, embarks on a plan to record an album outdoors in New York City. The songs, by Gregg Alexander, are the key here: authentic, striking, and catchy.
77. Gone Girl
(2014, d. David Fincher)
A twisty, compelling story of a woman disappearing and the spotlight placed on her husband in the aftermath; it’s the perfect material for Fincher to sink his teeth into, and his regular cinematographic and soundscape co-conspirators enhance the unnerving experience.
76. Straight Outta Compton
(2015, d. F. Gary Gray)
Fiery recreation of the rise and fall of gangsta rappers NWA: candid about their flaws; celebratory when it comes to their achievements; reflective on what might’ve, should’ve been. Rough at the edges and weighed down with baggage, in the best possible ways: sidelines in the broader African-American experience in ’80s USA work perfectly.
(2013, d. Denis Villeneuve)
An attention-grabbing setup – two girls are abducted in plain sight on a cold Pennsylvania Thanksgiving – gives way to introspective and restrained storytelling, one whose thrills stem more from an escalating dread. Jake Gyllenhaal’s detatched persona is the perfect counterpoint to Hugh Jackman’s bouncing-off-walls desperation, and Roger Deakins’ dark, stark, snowy cinematography is perfectly suited.
74. The Sessions
(2012, d. Ben Lewin)
A remarkably candid study of a man with polio who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity; its forthright discussion and navigation of incredibly difficult topics is brought to life by a career-best Helen Hunt and a brave, intelligent John Hawkes.
(2018, d. Carlos López Estrada)
A rugged comedy-drama that skips and trips through genre as it confronts the complexities of African-American life in contemporary Oakland, CA, through the eyes of a young parolee who witnesses a police shooting three days before freedom.
72. The Wolf of Wall Street
(2013, d. Martin Scorsese)
An indulgent, grandiose bacchanal of the highest order; darkly comic exposé of horrible, horrible men and their horrible, horrible schemes. Jordan Belfort’s Wall Street corruption, fraud and debauchery are brought to life by a brilliantly game cast.
71. The Mule
(2018, d. Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood’s spent a good couple of decades examining older men who struggle with the world changing around them, but this is up there with the best of them: Earl Stone, renowned horticulturist, falls into drug-running while seeking a new source of income. Despite the high concept, it plays out with calm and restraint.
70. It Comes at Night
(2017, d. Trey Edward Shults)
A nightmarish journey to the deep, dark depths of paranoia, and an unsettling portrait of the lengths people will go to for the sake of saving their own. Joel Edgerton’s patriarch of a rural family living in a world terrorised by an unnamed threat is fascinating.
69. The Shape of Water
(2017, d. Guillermo del Toro)
The decade’s most unlikely love story – between a mute cleaner and a captured amphibian-human hybrid – unfolds with remarkable warmth and sparkle, a deeply emotional journey told through del Toro’s ever-stunning trademark visual grammar.
68. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
(2017, d. Martin McDonagh)
Frances McDormand’s fiery performance anchors this jet-black comedy-drama about Mildred Hayes’ anger at local police’s failure to identify a culprit in her daughter’s murder. Leans into controversy, a scathing indictment of institutional injustice that still attempts to find humanity in our worst people.
67. The Martian
(2015, d. Ridley Scott)
Matt Damon struggles to survive alone on Mars in this most crowd-pleasing of blockbusters, science-fiction heavy on the science but grounded in that most universal of emotions: the desire for company, for connection. Amusing, thrilling, and never dry.
(2013, d. Alexander Payne)
Home to a bountiful array of performances both comedic and dramatic, an old-school father-son road movie joy. Stark, beautiful black-and-white cinematography enhances the down-to-earth vibe, and the compelling, witty screenplay allows room for its characters to breathe.
65. Wrinkles (Arrugas)
(2011, d. Ignacio Ferreras)
Simple, expressive animation suits this Spanish-language study of the residents of a retirement home. Broaching quietly upsetting topics, but retaining a warm and welcoming ambience, it offers profound insight into subjects rarely broached in mainstream features.
64. We Need to Talk About Kevin
(2011, d. Lynne Ramsay)
Tilda Swinton is the fracturing core of this distressing, gripping psycho-drama. The story is inherently strong, but her turn as long-suffering Kevin’s mother turns this take on the threatening-teenager novel into something truly exceptional: agitation turns to desperate sadness.
63. Blue Valentine
(2010, d. Derek Cianfrance)
This juxtaposition of early courtship and the crumbling marriage that would follow is a devastating watch: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play the doomed couple to perfection, buoyant then bleak. Partially-improvised dialogue and explicit sex scenes enhance the heart-wrenching authenticity.
62. A Star is Born
(2018, d. Bradley Cooper)
Bradley Cooper’s retelling of the iconic story is revelatory: both he and co-star Lady Gaga electrify the screen, the chemistry between his aging rock star and her young up-and-comer palpable. Oscar-winning “Shallow” is the showstopper, but there’s no shortage of moments of movie magic; the inevitable denouement is devastating.
61. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
(2011, d. David Fincher)
Sinister and brutal, David Fincher’s perfectly-cast take on the Swedish novel is a pulpy treat. The intriguing story that develops between journalist Mikael Blomkvist and young hacker Lisbeth Salander is enthralling, despite the chilly darkness.
60. Four Lions
(2010, d. Chris Morris)
A razor-sharp satire of Sheffield terrorist jihadis; as ever, Chris Morris is quietly incendiary, finding comedy in the most unlikely places and never going for easy laughs. The ensemble cast are expert at wringing humour from mundanity.
59. Short Term 12
(2013, d. Destin Daniel Cretton)
Tender and sensitive drama that tackles the world of the caring professions directly and authentically: Brie Larson is breathtaking as the supervisor of a group home for at-risk teenagers, while the storytelling is life-affirmingly empathetic.
58. Under the Skin
(2014, d. Jonathan Glazer)
An all-consuming waking nightmare, like the bastard child of David Lynch, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and rural Scotch drama Shell. Scarlett Johansson is entrancing as an alien wandering Scotland, luring men into her van, but Mica Levi’s score is the first among equals here, a bubbling, eerie and haunting soundscape of disorientation and disconnection.
57. The Gift
(2015, d. Joel Edgerton)
A cat-and-mouse thriller that keeps tension heightened right up through the final frame: Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are haunted by a ghost from high-school past, threateningly portrayed by Edgerton, who’s also on nervy directorial duties.
56. Get Out
(2017, d. Jordan Peele)
To see Get Out unfold for the first time is to witness a gobsmacking thrill ride, a high-stakes social satire that gradually morphs into something liable to scare you stiff, freeze you to your seat. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, a black man meeting the parents of his white girlfriend for the first time, is a star-making role.
55. Lady Bird
(2017, d. Greta Gerwig)
Saiorse Ronan’s Lady Bird may the decade’s definitive pop culture adolescent: witty and erudite, but alienated and difficult. This tale of her travails at home and school in early-2000s California is wistful, poignant and authentic: every line feels real and every scene hits hard.
(2018, d. Spike Lee)
Spike Lee’s acute commentary on 21st century America, told through the kinda-true-life story of Colorado Springs’ first African-American police detective and his attempts to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan. Shifts neatly between tension you could cut with a knife and provocative political humour.
53. Hell or High Water
(2016, d. David Mackenzie)
This neo-western, following two bank robbers and the rangers who pursue them, finds its greatest joys in the ambience: all Texas heat and smaller-than-small town elegy. Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography is masterful.
(2015, d. Tom McCarthy)
Surprisingly taut retelling of the Boston Globe’s investigation into systemic child sex abuse by Catholic priests. Old-school filmmaking: well-told, sensitively-performed tribute to process, both in journalism and in filmmaking; subtle yet ultimately hard-hitting.
51. The Artist
(2011, d. Michel Hazanavicius)
Elegant, precise, and formally flawless, this black-and-white Academy-ratio silent film is a magical love letter to the cinema of days gone by. But the real win here is just how funny it is: it’s rare that a 21st Century Best Picture winner delivers this many laughs.
50. Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013, d. Ethan & Joel Coen)
A week in the life of Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village. Perhaps the Coen brothers’ most melancholy meditation yet: originally intended to be shot in black-and-white, it wallows in the greys.
49. Dallas Buyers’ Club
(2013, d. Jean-Marc Vallée)
Matthew McConaughey stars as an AIDS patient diagnosed in an era in which the disease was heavily stigmatised, and the medical-industrial complex worked hard to make medication as inaccessible as possible. Strikes an impressive tone; a beautiful, melancholy balance between sentiment and good humour.
48. Silver Linings Playbook
(2012, d. David O. Russell)
A murderer’s row of great on-screen talents escalate this study of mental health and the impact it can have on interpersonal relationships: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver were all Oscar-nominated for their work here, and they make for a magnificent ensemble, often funny without compromising the dramatic stakes.
47. 127 Hours
(2010, d. Danny Boyle)
Almost certainly James Franco’s strongest work: he really becomes Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who became trapped in a rural Utah canyon for five days. A harrowing and brutal spectacle, unafraid to press the severity and desperation of the situation, demanding the viewer share in his nightmare.
(2019, d. Neil Jordan)
Isabelle Huppert is gloriously menacing in this theatrical thrill-ride about a young woman stalked by an older widow who has become obsessed with her. The growing tension between Huppert’s Greta, and her prey, Chloe Grace Moretz’s Frances, is fantastically compelling.
45. Eighth Grade
(2018, d. Bo Burnham)
The final weeks of Kayla Day’s middle school life are the basis for this sincere and generous coming-of-age tale; Day’s social anxiety and social-media fixation see temporary respite in friendship with her designated high-school shadow. Uncommonly candid and open.
44. Brad’s Status
(2017, d. Mike White)
Writer-director Mike White’s portrayal of baby-boomer ennui is one of the decade’s most overlooked films. Ben Stiller is Brad Sloan, taking his son – Austin Abrams – to visit colleges while going through a mid-life crisis, of sorts. Expectations of the future and ghosts of the past collide; introspective and self-pitying, a big-screen National anthem.
43. Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
(2011, d. Morten Tyldum)
Director Tyldum expertly blends dark Nordic noir with sparky black comedy in this enthralling Jo Nesbø adaptation; a twisty cat-and-mouse tale of art theft gone awry. The Coens on crack.
(2018, d. Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh has had a remarkable decade, but Unsane‘s iPhone-shot practicum in pressure is its highlight, a thrilling portrayal of Sawyer Valentini’s (Claire Foy) escalating battle to discover the truth about her stalker, while involuntarily committed.
41. That’s What I Am
(2011, d. Michael Pavone)
A gentle, heart-rending study of schoolchildren in ’60s California that dares to quietly battle with complex issues; authentic set-design and warm character comedy warm the tenor. Relegated to a single weekend in ten US cinemas and ignored by critics, this is a welcome addition to the coming-of-age canon, a heart-on-sleeve gem.
40. Paddington 2
(2017, d. Paul King)
2015’s Paddington was a lovable, amiable joy of a film, but its sequel is even better: stakes are higher, thrills are greater, and the emotional weight is far heftier. Picture-book visuals and winningly theatrical performances (especially from Hugh Grant) perfectly suit this tale of Paddington’s present-buying gone awry.
39. The Big Sick
(2017, d. Michael Showalter)
Based on screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real-life romance, this culture-clash comedy-drama uses Emily’s unforeseen illness as a jumping-off point for exploring the interpersonal relationships of stand-up comedian Kumail and Emily’s complicated, hard-edged parents. It’s extremely funny and profoundly affecting; Ray Romano shines as Terry, Emily’s father.
38. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(2012, d. Stephen Chbosky)
Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel, a chronicle of Charlie Kelmeckis’ travails in freshman year, as anxieties, depression, and past sadness prove speedbumps on the way to lasting friendships. Sincere and genuine, its stellar cast – led by Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson – ably deliver a screenplay that wears its heart on its sleeve.
(2016, d. Jeff Nichols)
Mildred and Richard Loving were the plaintiffs in the groundbreaking lawsuit against state laws that forbade interracial marriage; Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton do their bravery justice in this understated, dialogue-light recreation that finds valour in tragedy.
36. The Big Short
(2015, d. Adam McKay)
The 2007 financial crisis, and the housing bubble that preceded it, are brought to unexpectedly bubbly life in this convention-busting, fourth-wall-breaking explainer-entertainer.
35. Adult Life Skills
(2016, d. Rachel Tunnard)
An overlooked entry in the quirky coming-of-age annals, Jodie Whittaker is endearingly eccentric as twenty-something Anna, living in the garden shed of her parents’ and struggling to balance the realities of adulthood with her freespiritedness.
34. Pain & Glory (Dolor y gloria)
(2019, d. Pedro Almodóvar)
A riveting study of a man (Antonio Banderas’ Salvador Mallo) in decline, still working through the emotional labour of past experiences. Memories of childhood, reappearance of past loves, and present-day ill-health collide. Salvador, a director, and a clear conduit for director Almodóvar, wrestles with a creative well run dry and a life full of unexpected speedbumps.
33. Toy Story 4
(2019, d. Josh Cooley)
Having found renewed life with franchise torch-recipient Bonnie, Buzz, Woody and co are joined by homemade toy spork Forky, and head out on a road trip with Bonnie’s family. It doesn’t quite hit those rattling emotional highs of the third installment, but 4 more than justifies its existence with fine spirits, exciting adventure beats, and a beautiful, stirring climax that really feels like a capper for this franchise.
32. The Way, Way Back
(2013, d. Jim Rash & Nat Faxon)
Charming indie coming-of-age flick that deftly alternates comic setpieces with penetrating emotional insight; protagonist Duncan’s battles with his stepfather and connection with his boss at the water park feel remarkably raw. Faxon and Rash’s screenplay captures the misfit adolescent spirit, prioritising mood over plot.
31. Like Crazy
(2011, d. Drake Doremus)
A fragmented collage of lyrical romance. Director Drake Doremus and cinematographer John Guleserian bestow upon the film a bittersweet, instantly-nostalgic look, that really suits the intoxicating material. Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are a magnetic pairing.
30. Cemetery Junction
(2010, d. Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant)
Gervais and Merchant triangulate ’70s working-class Britain, unfiltered coming-of-age nostalgia, and the dead-end towns of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest work to deliver the underappreciated jewel in their post-Office crown.
29. Jeff, Who Lives at Home
(2011, d. Mark & Jay Duplass)
The Tree of Life for the mumblecore set: an offbeat portrait of a naive young stoner who seeks greater meaning in the grab-bag pot pourri of life. Jason Segel’s Jeff, whose journey here begins when he sets out to buy some wood glue for his mother, is eminently plausible; the way his story unfolds is rather more unexpected.
28. The Hateful Eight
(2015, d. Quentin Tarantino)
Three hours in the company of eight strangers seeking solace from snow post-American Civil War; racial, sexual and social tensions boil over, as a trademark Tarantino ensemble allow chaos to unfold over a stunning Panavision backdrop and a haunting Morricone score.
(2017, d. Darren Aronofsky)
Uninvited guests at a couple’s woodland home are the catalyst for a rollercoaster of mixed metaphor: as Aronofsky’s screenplay threatens to run right off the rails, we consider the multitude of mythical mothers; Mother Earth, Adam and Eve, Mary and Joseph. Gaslighting, communion, the failures of organised religion, original sin, vanity and self-obsession, what it means to give life: all wrapped up in a two-hour major studio thriller.
(2015, d. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson)
Charlie Kaufman’s experimental, experiential approach to cinema collides with middle-aged malaise; a stop-motion-animated, Kickstarter-funded study of loneliness and the way sparks of connection can knock down, and rebuild, our entire world.
25. Untouchable (Intouchables)
(2011, d. Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano)
Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet make for one of the warmest screen partnerships in recent memory. Their exploits in this real-life-inspired take on a classic Odd Couple setup are at turns funny and moving. While the direction and cinematography are certainly solid, this is the kind of film that lives or dies on the cast’s ability to connect with the material: thankfully, they stun.
(2014, d. Dan Gilroy)
A captivating, can’t-look-away thrill ride. Jake Gyllenhaal’s career-best performance here is skin-crawlingly dark and unsettling; his amoral freelance videographer is nimble in the most disquieting way. Part dark media satire, part nighttime road movie, part offbeat character study.
(2015, d. Lenny Abrahamson)
Emotionally tumultuous portrayal of an abducted woman, living in an enclosed space with only her son – born in captivity, the product of rape – for company. A claustrophobic opening gives way to a wrenching catharsis, as the two seek freedom, but face unforeseen challenges on the outside.
22. Moonrise Kingdom
(2012, d. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s filmography isn’t short on beautiful-looking features, but Moonrise might be the most stunning of them all, every frame worthy of framing. Following a young Scout who runs away with his pen-pal love interest, it’s a coming-of-age tale perfectly suited to Anderson’s sensibilities: fanciful and eccentric, with a heart of gold.
21. The Social Network
(2010, d. David Fincher)
Fincher’s striking direction and Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp verbiage are in true waltz time here, as Jesse Eisenberg’s enthralling portrayal of Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg leaves the individual viewer to mull over the rights and wrongs of his path to success. A wry and witty portrait of the decade’s most fascinating technology figure.
20. Rust & Bone (De rouille et d’os)
(2012, d. Jacques Audiard)
Audiard blends fervent romance with wrenching tragedy in this tale of love between a whale trainer and an unemployed father. Emotionally intense yet never succumbing to the saccharine, Cotillard and Schoenaerts’ performances in this devastating work are blisteringly good.
19. Baby Driver
(2017, d. Edgar Wright)
Classic rock and glam sets the cadence for this propulsive, driving, criminal thrill ride. Ansel Elgort’s titular Baby is the tinnitus-plagued getaway driver, forced into working with bad people while dreaming of a better life with his diner-working love; Edgar Wright directs the kinetic, frenetic beast with metronomic precision.
18. Manchester by the Sea
(2016, d. Kenneth Lonergan)
Lee Chandler’s older brother has died, naming Lee as sole guardian of his son, Patrick. An incredibly reluctant father figure confronting demons past and present, Lee’s battery of mixed emotions churn away underneath a steely surface. Casey Affleck proffers a pained, restrained performance that sits among the decade’s best; while Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams each deliver blistering performances in support.
17. Another Year
(2010, d. Mike Leigh)
A melancholy, tragicomic gem; Mike Leigh weaves another compelling, character-driven kitchen-sink drama, through four seasonal vignettes and delivered by a murderer’s row of great English performers. Lesley Manville’s desperate Mary particularly captivates.
(2016, d. Barry Jenkins)
Three acts in Chiron Harris’ life: a troubled childhood, a teenage sexual awakening, a twenty-something struggling to define who they are. A full-bodied character study that reckons directly with little wins and major losses, seeking to understand black male identity in contemporary America, thoughtfully shot and (later on) languidly paced.
15. Take Shelter
(2011, d. Jeff Nichols)
The apocalyptic visions of Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) leave him questioning which danger is the greater: that of the impending storm he hallucinates, or the threat of LaForche himself. The escalating dread is so palpable, so all-consuming, you begin to think you can’t bear it a second longer. Threatening imagery and sound complement the screenplay perfectly.
14. The Babadook
(2014, d. Jennifer Kent)
As struggling widowed mother Amelia battles with her son’s fear of a monster in the house, director Jennifer Kent bravely draws parallels between mental illness, past trauma, and supernatural horror. Ratcheting up the tension early on before grabbing hold of your psyche and not letting go, it’s a film that paralyses the viewer with fear in the most unexpected ways.
13. A Simple Favour
(2018, d. Paul Feig)
A thoroughly game, crackerjack cast – led by a winning Anna Kendrick and a campily enthralling Blake Lively – drive this captivating patchwork of genres, a dark comedy about class struggles and Joneses that segues into a more sinister missing-person mystery. Twists abound; it’s a jaw-agape jaunt that leaves you breathless and begging for more.
(2014, d. Richard Linklater)
A three-hour treatise on what it means to grow up – but for that sprawling scope, Linklater realises that what matters is the small stuff. The mise-en-scene that breathes life into the film, the pop culture ephemera that permeated our own childhoods, the outside-world constants that give our characters something to latch onto in a volatile home. It’s about how our formative years are formed, the way in which we become the sum total of our caregivers, friends, surroundings and opportunities.
11. Exporting Raymond
(2010, d. Phil Rosenthal)
Phil Rosenthal’s attempts to get his hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond adapted for a Russian audience make for fish-out-of-water gold, as culture clashes and attitudinal differences rear their heads in the most surprising ways. Rosenthal has a knack for making compelling viewing out of the most unusual situations.
10. Inside Out
(2015, d. Pete Docter)
In the mind of 11-year-old Riley reside five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, each seeking to lead her through life, balancing her reactions and categorising memories. It’s a clever concept that suits Pixar’s sensibilities, as the profound screenplay navigates the ups and downs of growing older with characteristic deftness of touch. The candy-coloured visuals are enchanting, and the emotional beats – Bing Bong! – are remarkably traumatic.
9. La La Land
(2016, d. Damien Chazelle)
Taking all the right cues from the great Hollywood musicals of old before shapeshifting into a more world-weary revision of same: artifice and authenticity collide. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are the archetypal screen partnership in this love letter to the city of stars, their chemistry palpable in those initial meet-cutes and chance encounters, progressing through infatuation, love, and the gut-wrenching of growing apart: the fools who dreamt, trying to restart that fire.
8. The Tree of Life
(2011, d. Terrence Malick)
Inflected with the sepia-tinted memories of Terence Malick’s rural Southern upbringing, a film that seeks to visually demonstrate how one person’s life fits into the context of the world-at-large. It takes time to acknowledge the personal importance of the most arcane memories, before demonstrating the ultimate insignificance of our time on this Earth. A majestic construct, pulled off with aplomb.
7. The Muppets
(2011, d. James Bobin)
A shot of pure joy, a life-affirming tonic, and easily my most-watched film of the decade. Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and Muppet superfan Walter lead a spirited attempt to get the old gang back together again, packing both honest nostalgic punch (“Pictures in My Head”) and classic Muppet-y joy unbound (“Life’s a Happy Song”). It’s rare for a franchise revival to deliver such generosity of spirit.
(2011, d. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Every frame of Nicolas Refn’s neon-drenched, synth-saturated masterpiece glistens. Ryan Gosling’s performance here is a marvel; he fully inhabits the role of the titular (getaway) Driver, the ultimate in post-modern detachment, forever towing the line between quiet contemplation and devastating ultra-violence, struggling to find room for personal connection is his most anonymous life.
5. Before Midnight
(2013, d. Richard Linklater)
Nine years from Before Sunset, we meet up with Jesse and Celine once again. Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s mastery of naturalistic dialogue is at an all-time high, as our protagonists wrangle with the challenges of long-term commitment. The marvellously-shot Peloponnese peninsula is the perfect backdrop for the most conflicted of the trilogy.
4. Blinded by the Light
(2019, d. Gurinder Chadha)
Javed Khan, of Pakistani origin, is a teenager in 1987 Luton, an English city bearing the brunt of Thatcherite policy. An aspiring writer, he wrestles with questions over his identity and his family’s conservative values, eventually finding solace in the music of Bruce Springsteen one stormy night, changing his life for good. An utterly joyous film with a tremendous, heart-on-sleeve spirit – one scene involves singing “Badlands” at a gang of racist bullies – that plays as part wish-fulfillment jukebox musical, part grounded, gritty, coming-of-age character study.
3. Toy Story 3
(2010, d. Lee Unkrich)
Pixar’s most affecting work to date, a second sequel timed perfectly to devastate those who grew up with entries one and two. The toys of a now-college-bound Andy are accidentally donated to a daycare center; as they fight their way back, the laughs sit neatly alongside astonishingly hard-hitting emotional beats. The head-on confrontation of death is stunning, but it’s the adolescent torch-passing that gets me on repeat viewings.
(2014, d. Damien Chazelle)
My first viewing of this still rates as the most visceral moviegoing experience of my life, a masterclass in escalating intensity. The spark between Miles Teller’s drum student and JK Simmons’ terrifying instructor is fuel for an explosive electricity. As their relationship worsens, every word of dialogue unsettles and every hit of the drum feels like a gunshot. A 90-minute high-wire act, ever on the precipice of ignition – jazz drumming never felt so dangerous.
1. Take This Waltz
(2011, d. Sarah Polley)
Michelle Williams’ Margot is torn between her husband of five years (Seth Rogen), and the rickshaw driver who has moved in opposite (Luke Kirby). From that simple premise, director and writer Sarah Polley dives in deep. Lives unfold and unravel before our eyes; we are left to ache and ponder over each choice these characters make, and the sundry ramifications. The screenplay wrestles with big questions: Beauty is transient; does love have to be too? How does ageing affect us and how we perceive others? Which decisions play the greatest role in shaping our lives? What matters most in life? Williams is one of the great talents of her generation; she’s never shone brighter than here. Rogen demonstrates formidable dramatic chops, while the cinematography of Polley’s frequent collaborator Luc Montpellier brings Toronto to vibrant, vivid life.