Final leg. Thank you for reading. Thank you for coming back. And thank you for visiting, if you’re here for the first time. I’ve been writing film reviews for 10 years now (first way-back-when was Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist). I do it because I love the cinema. I love film. The ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes is extraordinary. The stories we tell each other are marvels that tell us so much about ourselves. The experiences we share. Film is a collaborative and communicative art form, reflecting the times we live in, the things we’ve learned and our collective anxieties for the future. We’re on this ride together and its tough to figure out. These are my 20 favourite films from the last 10 years.
20. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)
Edgar Wright calls Mad Max: Fury Road the greatest action movie ever made, a stance that doesn’t particularly require justification when looking at the thing. Miller’s film is glorious, from texture and pallet (Black & Chrome was curious but weaker), to performance, pacing and sheer technical bravado. A recent critics poll named it the best film of the decade. If its not, then its sure up there for consideration.
19. Annihilation (2018, Alex Garland)
I feel robbed. Annihilation was denied a cinematic release here in the UK; instead landing as a Netflix exclusive before journeying to the physical release market a year later. It’s a shame, as Alex Garland’s sophomore film is one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade and, in its psychedelic climax, one of the most visually arresting films this side of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
18. Jackie (2016, Pablo Larraín)
Continuing a Natalie Portman double-bill – and really, its time we admitted she is one of the finest performers of her generation – Pablo Larraín’s Jackie Kennedy biopic succeeds so beautifully because it zeroes in on just one week; the week following JFK’s assassination. The film is a bruised and tender essay on grief. Portman’s central turn is tightly calibrated, and there’s a Malickian quality to the final moments of the film, deftly underpinned by another great Mica Levi score. Folded into awards season as just another also-ran, its really one of the decade’s most impressive pieces of work.
17. Heaven Knows What (2014, Benny Safdie, Joshua Safdie)
The Safdie Brothers’ extraordinary – nigh perfect – Heaven Knows What ought to have gained a lot more traction here in the UK. Ex-junkie Arielle Holmes stars as an iteration of herself, surviving on her wits in NYC, forever on the brink of disaster, usually thanks to her on-again/off-again beau Ilya (a career-defining turn from Caleb Landry Jones). The scuzzy energy of the filmmakers’ work is reflected in Arial Pink’s percolating score. A true under-seen gem.
16. Upstream Color (2013, Shane Carruth)
A simple tale of codependent people inexorably linked to a herd of pigs thanks to a drug that enhances suggestibility. Obvs. The belated follow-up to 2004’s time travel head-scratcher Primer, Upstream Color was a lightweight revelation brimming with ideas, one positively offended by the idea of conventional exposition. It’s director Shane Carruth is notoriously controlling of his films. Here he directs, writers, stars, acts as composer, and editor, and DP, he designed the marketing campaign… Film is a collaborative medium, but Carruth may be the first to eventually do everything himself. Whatever comes next will be, of course, interesting.
15. Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter)
Pixar’s team have exploded our imaginations for over two decades, bringing emotional weight and hilarity to all manner of aspects of the world. Here they turn inwards, creating an adventure out of a young girl’s neuroses, in which different personality facets are given form. Inside Out is a staggering achievement; both a fun and funny adventure story and an incredibly wise lesson in self-awareness for the young and old alike.
14. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
When Tim Burton headed the Cannes jury that selected Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives for the prestigious Palme d’Or he explained that its “a movie that you normally don’t see… It is a beautiful strange dream” He was right. Thai culture is breathed throughout the airy, quiet fantasy of Uncle Boonmee; a film about death, but also about peace and stillness. Its a meditative experience all alone in a landscape of busy cinema.
13. Raw (2016, Julia Ducournau)
Julia Ducournau’s directorial debut is a stunner; pigeon-holed as horror for its extreme (cannibalistic!) content, but also a fine allegory for growing up and sexual exploration. A young woman attends the first year at a prestigious veterinary college, only to find herself lost in a maze of intense hazing activities and – against her vegetarian instincts – addicted to the taste of raw meat. Not for the faint hearted, but arresting from start to finish. Bold cinema.
12. Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
Hirokazu Kore-Eda is frequently compared to Yasujiro Ozu and for good reason. Both directors have a consistent interest in the family unit. And – as is becoming increasingly clear in Kore-Eda’s case – both are among the very finest artists of their respective generations. Kore-Eda may well be the ‘best’ director working today. For me, Like Father, Like Son is his masterpiece. Based on true accounts, the film explores what happens when two families (one rich, one poor) discover that their 6-year-old children were accidentally switched at birth. The film is available in the UK via Arrow Academy, and is well-worth your investigation. A deft emotional body blow.
11. The Florida Project (2017, Sean Baker)
Shot frequently from the perspective of its child star, The Florida Project portrays close-to-the-edge poverty within throwing distance of Disneyland; a world of pastel colours and endless sunshine. Baker’s breakthrough picture is a sigil for his generous heart. Brash, sassy and sparkling with life and humanity; he’s fashioned a believable, funny, friendly and sad micro-climate here. Get caught up if you missed this one.
10. Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins)
Jenkins’ second feature and the most righteous Best Picture winner in at least 20 years (and the way it won was just perfect), Moonlight is a hushed whisper of a film. Split into three chapters that layer the emotional resonance of one boy growing up, the net result is a humanistic symphony. Not for the first time in this top 10, the final act is everything. Also – and this doesn’t get said enough – Janelle Monáe is amazing in this.
9. Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas)
Juliette Binoche is an actress asked to star, again, in the play that made her famous – only this time in the role of the older woman. Chloe Grace Moretz is taking her spot and defies expectations as the starlet on the rise. Between the two of them is Kristen Stewart, stunning in the part of Binoche’s PA. This triptych of women talking, musing, debating and reminiscing is the fuel of Olivier Assayas’ wordy but wonderful drama. A sophisticated, underrated gem.
8. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, Barry Jenkins)
Hot on the heels of Moonlight, Jenkins could have done anything he wanted. So he did, and he brought James Baldwin’s celebrated novel to gorgeous cinematic life. Nicholas Britell’s score swells like a bursting heart. KiKi Lane’s performance is an exposed bruise. In fact every member of this cast is bringing such generosity to the work. Topping Moonlight was going to by nigh-on impossible. I can’t even figure what this director might achieve next. A major voice is here and we are fortunate to bare witness.
7. Like Someone In Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami)
The Iranian director travelled to Japan for what I consider one of the outright masterpieces of the decade. Like Someone In Love dares the viewer to make judgements about what they’re seeing, then puts its characters in the same danger. Pocked with wry reveals and imbued throughout with a maverick’s playfulness, it’s a lightly surreal comedy of mistaken identities and (of course) driving.
6. Certain Women (2016, Kelly Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt’s trio of short stories in the mid west amount to an earthy, deftly poetic vision of grounded Americana. And while there are minor victories and lowkey dramas to be found with Laura Dern’s beleaguered lawyer and Michelle Williams’ landscaping wife, Certain Women becomes a smouldering fire at its end when Kristen Stewart’s night school teacher intersects with Lily Gladstone’s lonesome rancher. It isn’t for everyone, but the best things usually aren’t.
5. Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach)
I came to Frances Ha deeply suspicious. To my mind, Noah Baumbach was the none-more-hipster voice of whiny NY entitlement. One might well argue that he still is, but this film (along with 2015’s Mistress America) showed a spirited levity bolstered in no small way by his muse Greta Gerwig; the indie darling of the 2010’s. Gerwig’s directionless dancer Frances charms completely, and the movie as a whole skips along with effervescent exuberance. Bad day? Stick this on.
4. Girlhood (2014, Céline Sciamma)
Céline Sciamma lit up Cannes in 2019 with her new film Portrait Of A Lady On Fire; immediately rising to the top of my must-see list. If for no other reason that because Girlhood was *so good*. For her third feature, Sciamma examines the life of a young black woman growing up in an all-girl gang in the Parisian suburbs. Part of the brilliance of Girlhood is how it switches from naturalistic detachment to heightened genre cinema; witness a fourth-wall busting musical showstopper in which the girls lip-sync to Rihanna’s “Diamond”. One of the finest coming-of-age films there is.
3. Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Social media coven Film Twitter loves Phantom Thread; originator of a thousand memes and exasperated screen shots. With great reason. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is his swooning best; a 50’s set romance that warps into a tender and wise examination of the motivations behind a BDSM relationship, while coyly skirting the need to get freaky in the bedroom. Daniel Day-Lewis has called this his swan song. He’s towering as fusspot genius Reynolds Woodcock. Worth underscoring, however, is how strongly he is matched by Vicky Krieps as the obscure object of his desire; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And while we’re on that subject, see also Lesley Manville as Reynolds’ caustic sister Cyril. I could watch these three run circles around one another for decades.
2. Carol (2015, Todd Haynes)
Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s landmark novel is a slow brood. Haynes’ love of the 50’s melodrama informs the narrative, but it also means that the film simmers with you rather than immediately wrenching you by the collars. It has its immediate charms; chiefly the chemistry and tender, flabbergasting performances from both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. But Carol is so much more giving on return. Carter Burwell’s score is his finest. The smudged reflections that pepper the film speak of Carol and Therese’s combined turmoils. This is one from the heart, and it is essentially tied as my favourite film of the decade, along with this terminally tricky customer…
1. Under The Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
Stalking out of the shadows, with eerie vacant spaces like empty parenthesise, Jonathan Glazer’s hypnotic Under The Skin moves at an alien pace; defiantly a creature of unique genus. True enough, there are shades of Roeg and Kubrick in there, but Glazer’s radical reinterpretation of Michel Faber’s source novel feels like a genuine original. Casting Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien being roaming rural Scotland was, it transpires, a master-stroke. Her celebrity brings with it its own incredulity, its own otherness.
And otherness is where Under The Skin lives. The film charts a kind of slow thawing process to humanity. In the process, Glazer’s ability to channel the feelings of the outsider are razor sharp. In spite of its apparent coldness, there’s great empathy locked away inside this cruel beast. I find it oddly moving. This is a movie for black sheep, and who hasn’t felt ‘other’ at some point. It may feature an alien, but its all too human in the end.
Mica Levi’s score is a stunner; as iconic as Glazer’s crystalline lead. And you can already see the bold visual dynamics of the film impressing themselves upon other giants of popular culture. From the Sunken Place in Get Out to the Upside Down in Stranger Things and beyond, the sparse aesthetics of Under The Skin are rippling out from its deadly black lake.
It isn’t an easy film, and it won’t satisfy all. That’s fine. You can like art or not. If this isn’t your jam; that’s okay. There are 99 other choices above for your consideration. I’ve hopefully made something of a case for investigating each of them. The point of this 5-part countdown has been to illuminate and celebrate. To suggest that even if they don’t make them like they used to, they make them like they do now. And that is sometimes an astonishingly good thing.
We’re in a great age of cinema, even as what that even means is given new shape.
’til next time x