Thanks to creating and maintaining this drop-box of random thoughts, recommendations and opinions, I’ve seen an extraordinarily wide range of films over the last 10 years, and found my tastes mutate in the process. Everything is fluid. This list – in 5 parts – is a countdown of my favourite films of the decade.
Is it premature? Yes. Yes, it is. Most likely this time next year would be better, when the films made in 2019 across the globe will have (mostly) managed to find some platform or other in the UK. We have months to go still.
And yet there is an argument that, for inclusion, a truly great film needs time to settle; to earn its status. Would any of the films coming up in the next year have enough of a chance?
I’m making excuses for jumping the gun. Another is that I’m not the first to do so. The making of this list was triggered by World Of Reel publishing the results of a critics poll, which landed Mad Max: Fury Road at the top. Where will it feature here? Is it my best film of the decade? It’s certainly included. Let’s get rolling. Today we go from 100 to 81.
100. Starlet (2012, Sean Baker)
Sean Baker broke big in 2017 with The Florida Project but this shining light of the American independent scene has been making gems for some years now, bringing us stories from the fringes of society. Starlet is a case in point. Dree Hemingway portrays an amateur porn actress who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an octoganarian woman (Besedka Johnson). Starlet put a human face to porn; demystifying it and paving the way for other sex-positive films, like Netflix horror Cam.
99. Mustang (2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
A sun-dappled Turkish film about the troubles and injustices of arranged marriage that somehow still manages to feel light as air, recalling the twist of melancholy mixed with zest of youth found in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. The film is available/distributed in the UK by Curzon.
98. The Fits (2015, Anna Rose Holmer)
Anna Rose Holmer’s debut is fleet of foot and promises great things to come. Young Royalty Hightower stars as 11-year-old Toni; training to box but inexorably drawn to an extracurricular class in urban dancing. This coincides with a spate of fits among the dancers. Dialogue is kept to a minimum as Holmer exhibits her dexterity at documenting the human body, as well as providing a neat metaphor for the changes of puberty.
97. Lady Bird (2017, Greta Gerwig)
Having already proven herself a charming talent in front of the camera, Greta Gerwig turned in a fantastic, knowing and wryly amusing document of late adolescence of her own with the not-quite-autobiographical Lady Bird. Saoirse Ronan is superb in the title role, while Laurie Metcalf received just praise and recognition for her turn as Lady Bird’s mother.
96. Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle’s thrilling debut caused quite a stir and struck a chord with the public, rocketing up imdb’s Top 250. With good reason. An expansion of his own short film, Chazelle burrows into two battling egos at a prestigious New York music school. J.K. Simmons swept the 2015 awards season for his supporting role as the maniacal Fletcher, but Miles Teller holds his own as the arrogant apt pupil.
95. The Love Witch (2016, Anna Biller)
Samantha Robinson stars as a witch looking for love. Biller’s polarising cocktail of by-gone styles raises the question – why have the stylistic traits of the 50’s and 60’s fallen by the wayside? The lush production and costume design, along with the acting style redolent of classic melodrama, help enhance the pleasures of The Love Witch. It’s a product of sincerity, rather than irony, making it a delicious outlier amid post-modern also-rans.
94. Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson)
Kirsten Johnson has been a documentary cinematographer for over 15 years. Cameraperson is a revelatory souvenir; a compilation of outtakes from her extraordinary and diverse career, juxtaposed against one another. This personal tapestry has the feel of both a career summation and a celebration of factual filmmaking itself. A document of documenting.
93. Claire’s Camera (2017, Hong Sang-Soo)
Korean filmmaking machine Hong Sang-Soo has been churning out at least one movie a year lately, putting out three in 2017 alone. The most curious and precious of which is this off-the-cuff little gem; less than 80 minutes long and all improvised and filmed during the Cannes Film Festival. French favourite Isabelle Huppert stars opposite Sang-Soo’s muse (and significant other) Kim Min-Hee. It’s slight and unashamedly cute, but a great deal of fun.
92. Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher B Landon)
Happy Death Day arrived as a Halloween also-ran a couple of years ago with meagre competition from Jigsaw. Nobody expected anything of it, really. Many of those who saw it, however, were greatly charmed by Christopher B Landon’s slasher take on the Groundhog Day plot device. It all hangs on a committed and supremely entertaining central turn from Jessica Rothe. Word of mouth did its thing and now this is shaping up to be the first in a trilogy.
91. Minding The Gap (2018, Bing Liu)
Made by a skater kid barely in his twenties, Minding The Gap needs to be seen to be believed. What initially seems like a fluid and nimble doc on skateboarding quickly reveals itself to be an enquiry into systemic domestic abuse. This secondary mission statement eclipses the first, providing something of ambition, heart and great worth. A diamond.
90. Call Me By Your Name (2017, Luca Guadagnino)
“Is it a video? Is it a video…?” I’ve perhaps never been more proud of a review than this one. Go deep on Luca Guadagnino’s horny masterpiece.
89. Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
How Leos Carax’s mind works is a mystery, but so long as it generates work as vivid as this who are we to question? Carax’s sole feature of the decade was this beautiful, dark showcase for his lead actor Denis Lavant, playing a mysterious man with a set of tasks to accomplish on one long Parisian day. From assassinating his own doppelgänger to getting serenaded by Kyle Minogue, Holy Motors is dream cinema to wake you up.
88. Widows (2018, Steve McQueen)
Former Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen updated an 80’s ITV miniseries from Lynda La Plante and the results were searing and extraordinary. A complex bruise of a film, Widows paints a picture of an entire city; the fulcrum of which is Viola Davis’ impenetrable wall of grief and fury. The cast is stacked, too, featuring the likes of Colin Farrell, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez (on form) and Robert Duvall to name but a few.
87. Ex Machina (2014, Alex Garland)
Alicia Vikander turned heads as artificial intelligence Ava. Ex Machina marked the (official) directorial debut of Alex Garland, the acclaimed novelist who provided the source for (among others) Danny Boyle’s film of The Beach. Ex Machina proved a shrewd move. Confined to (almost) a single set, it allowed Garland to grow confident in the director’s chair, something that showed in plenty of evidence when his follow-up Annihilation landed on Netflix in 2018.
86. Something In The Air (2012, Olivier Assayas)
Disappointingly under-seen, Assayas’ 2012 film Something In The Air depicts the political unrest of Paris in the early 70s through the eyes of youth. Its a film brimming with passion and idealism, at once intelligent and sexy. Central to its success is a great turn from Lola Créton; one of the rising stars of French cinema this decade, who’ll feature again before this list is through.
85. High Life (2018, Claire Denis)
Denis’ English language debut – a sci-fi starring Robert Pattinson – might’ve fooled some into thinking they were getting an easy ride. Not a bit of it. Denis’ sexualised space odyssey is a disturbing glide into the infinite; a slow creeping ride for the senses. Cinema as art with – as always – no compromises.
84. Queen Of Earth (2015, Alex Ross Perry)
Speaking of under-seen, here’s one of the many great performances from the ever-compelling Elizabeth Moss. From Mad Men to The Handmaid’s Tale, Top Of The Lake to Us, its been a sensational decade for this versatile performer. She gets a real showcase here in Perry’s Polanski-esque psychological chiller. As good is her co-star Katherine Waterston. You can find it in Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema range.
83. Happy Hour (2015, Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
The title is a little misleading. Happy Hour unfurls over four and a half glorious and leisurely hours (including nearly an hour-long detour to a real-time Q&A session). But the inclusive sprawl of the picture is part of what makes it such a gem. This tale of four women in modern Japan is thoughtful, intelligent, and one of the heights of the country’s continuing wave of contemplative family driven cinema.
82. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, Jim Jarmusch)
Here comes the king of indie-cool. Jim Jarmusch has had a pretty glorious decade (Paterson, The Dead Don’t Die), but top of the pile (and a strong contender for his best film) is this tale of hipster vampires eternally in love. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfectly case in this wordy pleasure, with smashing support from the likes of Mia Wasikowska and the much-missed Anton Yelchin and John Hurt.
81. Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn)
After the overwhelmingly positive response to his slick superhero movie Drive, Refn could only disappoint or baffle his new legion of fair-weather fans. Only God Forgives is far more in-keeping with his uncompromising cinematic world view, revelling in the dark hearts of humanity and favouring ruin and corruption over his previous film’s sense of vigilante justice. For those along for the ride, this was a mesmerising, neon-drenched descent into hell. His best film.