Putting this list together made me realise something; there have been a startling number of great films this decade. I could easily have stretched to 200. A lot of the more populist films fell just outside of this arbitrary self-imposed cut-off. No Marvel films made the cut, for instance. This isn’t a snobbish diss. I love some of those movies. But rather while constructing the list, my affection for the underdogs and the under-seen crept to the fore. I hope that this countdown inspires some of you to seek out titles you may have missed before the year is over.
80. A Bigger Splash (2015, Luca Guadagnino)
A Bigger Splash gets a little better every time I see it. Gudagnino’s hot and sexy summer vacation features four fine turns from four superb actors; Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and a career-best from Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is the joker in the pack; a music industry mogul imposing on the peace of Swinton and Schoenaerts’ lovers. An unexpected death changes the tempo of this shimmering Mediterranean treat.
79. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
Richard Linklater’s ease with the camera is so unassuming its easy to forget how ambitious his output has been. From adventures in rotoscoping to following a relationship through the decades, he’s a quiet innovator. And so to Boyhood; a coming of age film with the audacity to be shot incrementally over the course of 12 years. Wise, affecting and universal, it became one of the best reviewed and most beloved films of the decade.
78. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Sean Durkin)
In contention for the decade’s most gasp-worthy final shot is Sean Durkin’s insidious thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which Elizabeth Olsen gave a career-best performance as Martha, newly ‘escaped’ from a self-sufficient commune in upstate New York and traumatised by her experiences there. Durkin’s film asks the viewer to pay close attention, and rewards with an ending as ambiguous as it is downright chilling.
77. Paddington 2 (2017, Paul King)
The best Wes Anderson movie not actually made by Wes Anderson. Going above and beyond the requirements of kid-friendly light entertainment, Paddington 2 is “The Godfather II of quasi-animated family caper films” (source, David Jenkins). I can’t top that. That’s exactly what it is. Oh, and Hugh Grant delivers the kind of supporting performance that ought to generate awards. Hugh Grant.
76. Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)
A woman disfigured in the concentration camps has reconstructive surgery that changes her face. Her husband (who gave her up) doesn’t recognise her, but asks her to pose as his wife to make a bid for her inheritance. She plays along… Petzold’s fantastic post-war melodrama is a Hitchcockian marvel, and one of the best German films of the decade.
75. The Revenant (2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Leonardo DiCaprio gets fucked up by a bear; finally wins an Academy Award. Spoiler: Tom Hardy actually outclasses him in Iñárritu’s classical survival epic, though the real star of the show here is Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography.
74. Selma (2014, Ava DuVernay)
Ava DuVernay’s Selma was such an obvious Oscar frontrunner that its absence from most categories added fuel to the #OscarSoWhite backlash. With the dust settled, Selma remains perhaps the most peerless biopic of the last 10 years; impassioned, coolly angry and boasting great factual integrity. And, in David Oyelowo, a performance that transcends the limits of the genre. Peerless.
73. Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche)
Gaining a quick reputation for its labyrinthine sex scenes, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour should be remembered for much more than that. Over three languid, often exquisite hours, the film encompasses all aspects of falling in (and out) of love. Adele Exarchopoulos’ central turn is frank, open and astonishing in its generosity. A rare Palme d’Or winner that has managed to crossover into the popular cinematic lexicon. It’s a shame Kechiche’s methods have proven increasingly controversial and troubling.
72. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010, Edgar Wright)
Some of the gild has left the lily with Scott Pilgrim (the character really is kind of a douchebag…), yet, in spite of this, Edgar Wright’s first adventure across the Atlantic is a comedic win; the subject matter fitting his breakneck style perfectly. Like a musical with fights instead of songs, this has become a geek’s treasure.
71. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)
The best Star Wars. That’s it. That’s what it is.
70. Timbuktu (2014, Abderrahmane Sissako)
A Moroccan film of artfully political persuasion, Sissako’s Timbuktu deconstructs the hypocrisy and arbitrary brutality of the extremist regime occupying its titular city. It does so with mockery, but there’s also a heartbreaking truth and tenderness to the film. It also features one of the truly great sequences of the entire decade. With football banned, the children play openly in front of their keepers, but with an imagined ball. An act of creative defiance rendered as a pure, cinematic celebration of play and movement.
69. Embrace Of The Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)
A beguiling, dark and at times deadly descent into the heart of the Amazon. Guerra’s exploration features a dual narrative as German scientists of two generations search for a flower of mythical power. The film culminates in Kubrickian psychedelia, but along the way bares comparison to the great works of Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola. Impressively, Guerra bares the comparison with striking confidence. He could be one of the greats.
68. Excision (2012, Richard Bates, Jr.)
This strange little horror movie passed most people by, pretty much landing straight-to-bluray in the UK. For those who caught it, though, Richard Bates Jr’s sparky debut Excision was a twisted treasure, owing equal debts to American Beauty and the surgical horror of Cronenberg. Starring 90210‘s AnnaLynn McCord (who owns the piece and shows her versatility), Bates Jr also managed to secure an eclectic supporting cast that boasts Ray Wise, Traci Lords, John Waters and Malcolm McDowell.
67. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi’s A Separation asks its audience to play armchair detective as we watch its Iranian family disintegrate. Combining the tragedy of classic melodrama with these levels of intrigue makes for compelling storytelling, so its quite easy to see why the final product has had such crossover appeal, appearing prominently on the imdb’s Top 250.
66. The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodóvar)
Speaking of melodrama, here’s Spain’s most delicious export; Pedro Almodóvar. But in 2011 he cross-bred his usual flamboyance with the chilly body-horror shenanigans of David Cronenberg (via overt nods to Georges Franju’s nightmarish classic Eyes Without A Face). The Skin I Live In is a dastardly, twisty thriller, with a WTF conceit so strong that you’ll be rewatching it with friends to gauge their reactions.
65. Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach)
When Noah Baumbach collaborates with Greta Gerwig, his work is better. It seems to be that simple. If you’ve been enamoured by Frances Ha, skip While We’re Young and seek out this under-seen little number, which plays in broader screwball comedy territory… especially once it reaches its masterful third act. There is unfortunately still no UK physical release of this one, but it can be found on some streaming platforms. Gets better with every rewatch.
64. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014, David Zellner)
2014 was an astonishingly giving year for female lead performances. An outlier in the pack was Rinko Kikuchi’s turn in David Zellner’s touching Kumiko, which feeds perfectly into the mythos of the Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo (currently finding new life on TV via Noah Hawley). Kikuchi brings to mind silent master Charlie Chaplin, while Bunzo the rabbit might just be the most adorable screen pet of the decade.
63. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
The Coen Brothers channelled a more melancholic vein following the high adventure of their western remake True Grit. In a star-making turn, Oscar Isaac took the lead as a disenchanted 60’s folk singer in wintry New York. The search for a lost cat acted as the loose string for a number of vignettes that the Coens wanted to play with. In combination, Inside Llewyn Davis became one of their most evocative experiences, and a scene shared between Isaac and Adam Driver also prefigured their coming Star Wars connection.
62. Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde)
A Generation Z shot in the arm for the teen movie, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is an absolute blast from start to finish, and a superb calling card for rising star Beanie Feldstein. There’s an optimistic streak to Wilde’s belief in these ambitious young ‘snowflakes’. It also helps that the flick is frequently, genuinely hilarious.
61. OJ: Made In America (2016, Ezra Edelman)
A sprawling Oscar winning exploration of OJ Simpson, unjustly overshadowed by the inferior Netflix miniseries. Edelman’s extensive document doesn’t just burrow deep into the crime and controversy of Simpson; he places it into greater societal context, painting a picture of not just a man, but a country at war with itself. Mighty.