I’m going to open with a bit of an explanation and a disclaimer of sorts. This is subjective. My opinions are my own and I’ve put a lot of thoughts into them. I probably won’t agree with a lot of your personal choices, but I have reasons for every film that’s on this list. That being said, this list is an amalgamation of my ‘best’ of the decade list and my ‘favourite’ list. Some films got a boost for being “better” than others, and some films are included for sentimental value or rewatch value, or simply because I like them more. Not every film on this list is going to be a 10/10 masterpiece (though I think a lot of them are), but I love every film I’ve included a lot.
Oh and also before I forget, I’ve compiled this over the month of December, and there are a lot of movies I haven’t seen that have been critically acclaimed this decade. Nobody can see everything, and there are a lot of films that I have yet to see from 2019, but I wanted to get this list out before 2020 rolls around, so unfortunately they’re going to have to wait. If I see them in 2020 and feel very strongly about them being in this list, I will just update it accordingly. If I’m being honest, the only film I’ve yet to see that I think could make this list is Waves, but I haven’t been able to see it yet, so it’ll have to stay off for now. If anything changes, I’ll let you all know. I know some people complain about ‘Best of the Decade’ lists being done without having seen as much as possible, but it’s just how the timing works out. My decision is to release it while I’m still in 2019 and I’m sticking to that.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s dive right in because there’s a lot of ground to cover and I have a feeling I’m going to go way overboard in talking about the films that I love. Some of the placements and results may surprise you, and they surprised me too. But I’m mostly happy with how I’ve ranked them and I hope you all enjoy reading about my favourite/best films of the 2010 decade.
It’s been a great decade for film, though admittedly some years weren’t as great as others (looking at you, 2011). The 50 films you’re about to see are some that I believe represent the best of what the decade had to offer that I’ve managed to see. I do want to run through some honourable mentions quite quickly, because I had a very tough task in cutting down my shortlist that was originally 120 films long. So I feel as though 10 honourable mentions is worth, well, mentioning because there’s a lot of great films that I missed off.
- Nocturnal Animals (2016) dir. Tom Ford
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017) dir. Denis Villeneuve
- The Handmaiden (2016) dir. Park Chan-Wook
- Nightcrawler (2014) dir. Dan Gilroy
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma
- Little Women (2019) dir. Greta Gerwig
- Burning (2018) dir. Lee Chang-Dong
- You Were Never Really Here (2018) dir. Lynne Ramsay
- The Favourite (2018) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
- Short Term 12 (2013) dir. Destin Daniel Cretton
I love the above 10 films with all my heart, but a lot of hard decisions were made and they unfortunately didn’t make the cut. It was a close thing, though, but the 50 I’m about to list have a little something special that make them stand out in a decade full of brilliant cinema. Without further ado, here are my picks for My 50 Films of the Decade.
50. It Follows (2014) dir. David Robert Mitchell
It Follows kicks off this list with one of the most impressive opening scenes of the decade. Mitchell’s camerawork is stunning throughout, his positioning genius in terms of how it relates to the audience’s experience, making us feel as though we’re being followed too, as things often walk straight towards the camera which is some of the most chilling stuff I’ve seen. Maika Monroe delivers a brilliant breakout performance in one of the most original horrors of the decade, which almost doubles as an effective PSA about teenage sexuality. A terrific score and solid direction make this a fantastic introduction to both this list and the directorial talents of David Robert Mitchell. Even though I didn’t love his follow up Under The Silver Lake, I have faith in his abilities once he can provide a story that’s on par with his vision. Here’s to more great stuff from him in the 20’s.
49. Drive (2011) dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the decade’s most controversial directors. All three of this films this decade (Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Neon Demon) have been subjected to similar criticism regarding style over substance. In Drive, it almost doesn’t matter. I’m someone who loves a good story and I usually don’t want to sit through a plotless film that looks nice. Drive combines its breathtaking visuals with a heart-pounding synth score that locks you into the aesthetic Winding Refn planned. Ryan Gosling stars as The Driver, clad in his iconic jacket, who performs getaway services for less than morally upstanding characters. The films contains some brutal violence which turned some off, but the engaging production values and talented cast make this a memorable watch, and one that is as technically proficient as it is controversial. Also, a film with Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling, and Christina Hendricks in it? Of course I’m going to watch it a million times.
48. The Avengers (2012) dir. Joss Whedon
Anyone who knows me at all knows that this was coming. The culmination of four years worth of world-building and character introductions resulted in a marvellously paced (sorry), high-adrenaline superhero movie that became the cornerstone of the ‘shared universe’ dynamic that studios are attempting. Marvel brought together its six iconic heroes for a comic book fan’s wet dream. Combining these wonderful actors in this wonderful team up with an interesting fan-favourite villain in Loki, The Avengers brought Joss Whedon’s signature comedic style to the genre, utilising the rest of Phase 1 of the MCU without alienating those who weren’t avidly following along. One of the highest-grossing films of all time, The Avengers should probably never have worked. But with the combined efforts of the cast, crew, and the developers at Marvel Studios, it became a celebration of collaboration and the gateway to the rest of Marvel’s cinematic canon, and still remains one of their best.
47. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) dir. Stephen Chbosky
You would think that a movie adaptation of a beloved yet controversial epistolary novel from the 90’s would collapse and fail to make an impact. But Stephen Chbosky’s Perks, adapted from his own novel, utilises its picture-perfect casting and the nostalgic soundtrack to inject a lot of heart that is drawn straight from the pages of the novel. Logan Lerman’s Charlie is flawless, a true case of casting magic. It is also credited, along with the fabulous We Need To Talk About Kevin, with launching Ezra Miller into stardom. Sure, there were complaints of the movie being too cloying and Emma Watson’s accent not being great, but she truly detaches herself from the Hermione Granger image in this film. Perks is smart, well-acted, stunningly written, and knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do. Incredibly heartfelt and pretty faithful to the source material for the hardcore fans of the novel.
46. Leave No Trace (2018) dir. Debra Granik
It’s difficult not to launch this way up the list and have it sat in my Top 20, because I truly think this film is pretty much close to perfection. Debra Granik’s (of Winter’s Bone fame) first feature in eight years, Leave No Trace is a study of isolation and being alone together. Beautifully performed by Ben Foster & Thomasin McKenzie, the film is an incredibly heartfelt expression of the necessity of independence in a world where everything is controlled. Written and directed to perfection, Granik doesn’t shy away from the emotional beats and she knows just how to grab you. With authenticity dripping from every beautifully composed shot, Leave No Trace will transfix you before punching you square in the face during the third act. A mesmerising film that should have seen an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at least. I know that I’ll continue to revisit it many many times to come.
45. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
This list really is ripe with controversy so far, isn’t it? Bigelow’s historic, Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker remains one of my favourites of the 2000’s, so it’s no surprise that Zero Dark Thirty, her acclaimed follow-up makes my list here too. The Hurt Locker featured a greatly explosive lead performance, some great action moments, and tension that’s just as good as anything you’ll see. Zero Dark Thirty has a lot of the same. Bolstered by Jessica Chastain’s fierce, dynamic performance, the film dramatises the search for Bin Laden, so was obviously going to attract controversy. Detractors claimed that the film presented a pro-torture stance, but Bigelow and Boal have defended this, claiming that it was an unfortunate part of the history that was necessary to question the use of force in gathering intelligence. I’m not one to weight in on this issue, but the filmmaking stands for itself. It’s gripping, shocking, and brutally shot. The third act sequence is one of the most tense things I’ve ever seen. It’s not one that I’ll watch over and over again because it’s very heavy, but it’s stuck in my mind after 7 years so that must count for something.
44. 12 Years A Slave (2013) dir. Steve McQueen
Without a doubt one of the heaviest, emotionally draining films on this list, 12 Years a Slave is nothing short of masterpiece filmmaking from McQueen and an assortment of fantastic performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and Sarah Paulson. As harrowing as it is necessary, 12 Years a Slave is smartly directed, superbly written, and expertly performed. Filled to the brim with shocking moments of true evil, yet manages to find hope in the darkest of sequences, due in part of the relentless dedication of the cast and crew. 12 Years a Slave is a very difficult watch, but will also stand the test of time as one of the most poignant, realistic depictions of racism and slave-owning ever put to film. McQueen’s masterwork. Again, the only reason it’s not way higher is because of how truly hard it is to watch.
43. A Separation (2011) dir. Asghar Farhadi
A Separation isn’t what you think it is. The titular ‘separation’ is a multi-faceted inclusion in the movie. Sure, there is an actual issue of a separating couple, who are faced with the decision to leave Iran for a better life for their child or stay to care for a parent suffering with Alzheimer’s. The ‘separation’ is the true genius of the movie because it not only refers to this, but also to the class divide, gender politics in contemporary Iran, and even the physical space between people. Farhadi shoots the film in such an intelligent way, using the space to create these boundaries and reinforce the themes. The issue of actual physical contact sends the naturalistic plot into a tailspin and creates moral and ethicals quandaries that globalise the film and open up Iranian culture to everyone. These struggles aren’t esoteric by any means, A Separation is actually largely relatable when you really look at its themes and motifs. It doesn’t hurt that the two central performances by Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi are as captivating and nuanced as anything you’ll see. Farhadi has made a masterpiece that will absolutely stand the test of time. A must-see.
42. Booksmart (2019) dir. Olivia Wilde
The first 2019 film on this list and one of my favourites of this year. Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is on one hand your typical coming-of-age movie that has drawn comparisons to Superbad. Conversely, it’s a whip-smart look at teenage rebellion as well as the expectation of stereotypes. Booksmart is a hilarious entry into the genre’s canon, solidifying itself as one of the decade’s standouts already. Performed to perfection by leads Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart plays to its strengths at every turn, showing off its witty dialogue and reinforcing the strength of the female friendship. Some have claimed it to be predictable, and perhaps it is, but Wilde ensures that it remains fresh and exciting and expertly paced, and it is one of the most impressive directorial debuts of the last few years. This one is more of a personal pick, as it is intensely relatable and there’s an assortment of characters with a surprising amount of depth to see yourself reflected in. Here’s to more female-driven high school movies and to Olivia Wilde’s hopefully extensive directorial career.
41. Jackie (2016) dir. Pablo Larraín
Another entry, another masterpiece. Jackie is, obviously, the story of Jackie Kennedy following the assassination of her husband, but it’s not the biopic that it could have been. Larraín smartly utilises Noah Oppenheim’s brilliantly-written script in a non-linear structure that only benefits the storytelling. It breaks down the traditional ‘biopic’ conventions and becomes its own thing. Of course, none of this would be on this list without Natalie Portman’s stunning portrayal of Jackie, less a vocal imitation than a transcendent immersion of the highest quality. Portman is a delight to watch, delivering not only Jackie’s essence, but only the emotional stakes of the movie. Tie this performance with the luscious costuming work and production design, not to mention Mica Levi’s gorgeous minor-key compositions, and you’ve gotten yourself a bonafide masterwork.
40. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
This is me we’re talking about, of course we’re not done with Marvel movies just yet. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of my favourite films of the decade because it’s barely a superhero movie, it blends into the political spy thriller genre so incredibly well. With Chris Evans truly nailing down the intricacies of Steve Rogers, and Scarlett Johansson’s first time truly digging into Natasha Romanoff’s complexity, the Russo brothers’ first outing into the MCU creates an interesting relationship between the two Avengers as well as setting up some interesting stakes and payoffs for future movies. Winter Soldier stands on its own as well though as a movie about acclimatising in a world where you don’t know your place, and who to trust when everybody seems to have an agenda. With some smart casting choices, and a great script, Winter Soldier stands out amongst the sequels in the MCU for following up an origin story with terrific character development and some greatly direction action pieces. And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention how brilliant Sebastian Stan is in this.
39. Ex Machina (2015) dir. Alex Garland
Ex Machina boasts one of my favourite screenplays of all time, including a third act that is so pleasing to watch from a screenwriting standpoint that it automatically registers itself as one of my personal favourites. Led by an exciting trio of performances by Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina explores the nature of humanity through how it contrasts with artificial intelligence. Ava (Vikander) possesses several of the things that identifiably make us human and it’s interesting to see how her growth affects the actual humans, Nathan and Caleb. This really should be higher up my list but, unfortunately, I’ve watched it way too many times and isn’t as fresh as some of the higher films. Still, I have a deep love for this film and is one of the only screenplays I will actually read for fun, because it’s beautifully written and complex and intelligent and it’s everything I love about a piece of writing. Garland is a true talent.
38. I, Tonya (2017) dir. Craig Gillespie
Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya is a biopic that doesn’t deal with facts. It deals with perspectives, three of them to be precise. Led by three incredible performances by Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Oscar-winner Allison Janney, I, Tonya cleverly plays with structure and convention to tell a story of class, truths, and how the media can shape a narrative to their own viewpoints, perhaps persecuting the wrong person in the process. We don’t know the full truth around the Nancy Kerrigan scandal, but that works to the movie’s advantage. Unreliable narrators shrouded in doubt and uncertainty, Tonya, Jeff and Lavona tell the infamous story led by Steven Rogers’ smart script, tackling strong social issues and pushing a startling array of conflicting emotions upon the audience which all contributes to the idea that we never really know anything for sure, from our own emotions to the truth behind a national news story. One of the most entertaining, well-performed ‘biopics’ in recent memory.
37. Jojo Rabbit (2019) dir. Taika Waititi
The newest film on my list, having only seen it a week ago yet it’s going to become entrenched in my memory for a long time to come. Having never properly acclimating to Taiki Waititi’s directorial style or his offbeat comedic sensibilities, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Jojo Rabbit, his Nazi satire movie in which he stars as a 10 year-old wannabe Nazi’s imaginary friend. Sounds incredibly risky and not at all divisive, right? Well, you’d be correct in thinking that. The film portrays a lot of Nazi symbolism and some anti-Semitism, all in the name of making a point through satire about hate groups and the state of the world as we know it. The film has a surprising amount of heart, some moments of euphoria and some of bleak tragedy, and a collection of great performances from Scarlett Johansson, newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, and the previously mentioned Thomasin McKenzie. Not for everyone due to some occasional attempts at Nazi redemption, but if it hits you the right way, you’re in for a treat.
36. Steve Jobs (2015) dir. Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle movies are hit and miss with me. I hated Slumdog Millionaire and Yesterday, but really liked Sunshine and Trainspotting. His style either really works for me or doesn’t at all. Steve Jobs is an occasion where it really works, though I’m giving considerable credit to Aaron Sorkin’s fluidly masterful script work, as well as every single member of the cast. Michael Fassbender gives a tour de force performance as the titular tech mogul. He doesn’t try to imitate, neither physically or vocally, but instead he evokes Steve Jobs. He hits all the right beats, and elevates the script to even higher levels. Kate Winslet is also thoroughly effective as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ right-hand woman. Supporting players Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels, and Katherine Waterston also put in pretty great work in their roles. Boyle’s direction doesn’t quite make the script leap off the page but it does a good enough job that Sorkin’s script is allowed room to shine to the best of its ability, particularly in the first sequence. It’s a wonderful piece of film that depicts one of the world’s most controversial cultural icons with a flourish that remains impartial and presents a really interesting character study outside of Jobs’ technological accomplishments.
35. Hereditary (2018) dir. Ari Aster
I remember hearing about this movie when it played at Sundance, with people saying that it was a unique, special kind of horror film that would shake you to the core. I avoided the trailer and booked my ticket off the back of those glowing reviews. It twists the horror genre into a family drama about grief and survival, while providing enough vitality to get you through the initially perplexing plot turns. As brilliant as it is unconventional, Hereditary thrives on Aster’s balanced script, his exciting visuals and ideas, and the performances. As you’ve likely heard, Toni Collette gives the best performance of her career so far in a role that explores so many avenues that it’s a feat of genius just to pull it off, let alone perform it with such aplomb that you make an already brilliant movie even better. Alex Wolff also deserves a lot of praise for his measured, mostly physical work. Ann Dowd also out here killing it as usual. I love Hereditary because it’s deeply emotional yet the plot dissolves into an absurdly appropriate ending that might have been jarring to some, but for me it was the only way it could have ended. Grief can ruin a person if not handled correctly, and Hereditary shows that you can find comfort in the oddest of places.
34. Blue Valentine (2010) dir. Derek Cianfrance
If you’ve seen Blue Valentine, you’re probably missing a piece of your heart that you haven’t quite managed to get back. This movie will chew you up and spit you out a little more cynical that you might have been before. The way Cianfrance structures it, Blue Valentine is half a love story and half a tragedy. The non-linear elements work nicely with the thematic content, showing how even if something seems perfect, or someone seems perfect, people change and things might not work out the way you want them to. Bleak, right? Blue Valentine is a draining experience, right up until the last gut-wrenching scene. The movie is helpfully anchored by two perfectly cast and delivered performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Their chemistry is appropriately effective in every scene and it’s always what it needs to be. The actors play off each other wonderfully and helps the script flourish until it plunges you into abject heartbreak. It has a magnetism to it, though, helped out by the tremendous performances. Once the relationships descends, it’s hard to look away. And despite how sad it gets, you never want to.
33. Bridesmaids (2011) dir. Paul Feig
Oh yeah, Bridesmaids maid the list (spelling mistake intended for the pun). A delightfully hilarious comedy bolstered by a side-splitting lead performance by Kristen Wiig, supported by standout turns from Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne. A glorious celebration of female friendship, independence, and how to survive hitting rock bottom. The ensemble are perfectly cast and Paul Feig was definitely the right person to direct Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s rhythmic, hilarious script. Bridesmaids, while depicting the utter meltdown of its protagonist is also one of the funnest films of the decade, providing a whirlwind of laugh-out-loud moments, great character work, and an arsenal of quotable moments that ensure Bridesmaids won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Just going to say it, Kristen Wiig deserved an Oscar nomination.
32. Wildlife (2018) dir. Paul Dano
I love films, but it’s not often that they emotionally hurt me like a bullet to the heart. Each year there are a handful of films that I find pieces of myself in, that affect me so acutely that I become a little obsessed with them. Wildlife is such a film, the sensitive, wise directorial debut from actor, writer, and now director Paul Dano. Featuring a trio of great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, and especially Carey Mulligan, Wildlife paints a delicate picture of a family torn apart by circumstances, a sense of obligation, and a confined sense of gender roles. Mulligan’s Jeanette is given freedom to find herself outside of her marriage when Gyllenhaal’s Jerry goes off to help the efforts to fire the wildfire that has spread. Dano crafts a gorgeous picture, exquisite cinematography complementing the wonderfully rich dialogue. It’s a film that seems to do everything right and one that will last in my mind for years and years to come.
31. The Shape of Water (2017) dir. Guillermo del Toro
You know The Shape of Water: that movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars when the main character is a mute woman who has sexual relations with a fish-human creature in her flooded bathroom. For the Academy to bestow the highest honour in film unto a distorted fairytale like this has to mean something. And it wasn’t for nothing. del Toro’s masterpiece, The Shape of Water, boasts just about everything you want in a movie. Great performances from Hawkins, Jenkins, Spencer, and Shannon, an array of luscious visuals and editing techniques that feel so well-graded that it’s like you’re looking at water sometimes, the way shots flow into their successors, the intricate production design that feels as offbeat as the movie itself does. The script, co-written by Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, explores the nature of being different and how it’s not circumstance that defines you, it’s the things you do and what you make of them. As well as being well made, it has so much heart and tenderness that you’re locked into this bizarre romance and you find yourself rooting for them due to how Del Toro portrays intimacy between the characters. And as strange as you might feel, it’s unstoppable. Not to mention Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous score that floats in and out of the scenes, adding to the fairytale atmosphere that the cinematography creates. It’s a film like no other, and it’s embedded in film history for all the right reasons.
30. Shame (2011) dir. Steve McQueen
The second McQueen film on this list, Shame might not be his best, but it remains my favourite for how internal it all is. It allows Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, two perennial key players on this list, to utilise their full range of talents to communicate their emotions. Fassbender’s Brandon is struggling with sex addiction and how he is unable to form emotional attachments to people. Mulligan’s Sissy is a lounge singer with much the same problem. She is depressed with suicidal tendencies and doesn’t know how to cope. She tries to lean on Brandon for support, but he is in no position to provide it to her. The movie interestingly explores their relationship as they try to understand each other while also dealing with their own issues. Fassbender is brilliant once again, providing a much different performance to those mentioned before in the list, this one being largely internal without a lot of dialogue to deliver. Mulligan impresses once again, haunting in her portrayal of a woman struggling on the edge. Shame has a lot of interesting plot developments, but McQueen’s daring direction and the duo of hypnotic performances make this one such a worthwhile watch.
29. The Way Way Back (2013) dir. Jim Rash & Nat Faxon
I couldn’t not include a movie I once watched three times in two days because I finished it and then missed the world it pulled me into so I watched it again later that day. Was I okay? Probably not, but The Way Way Back is something I don’t think is a particularly excellent film. Sure, the script is good and the performances are terrific, but it feels loose and a little trite in a lot of places. A large part is relatability, as I so easily replaced Liam James’ Duncan with myself, immersing myself in the world of the summer at the waterpark. Sam Rockwell delivers a spirited, vigorous performance, delivering witty dialogue with such a chaotic energy that it really, really works. The rest of the ensemble are well cast and includes some of my favourites: Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, all who have featured on this list in some capacity already. The Way Way Back is an experience movie, a hot summer dreamscape that has a surprising amount of heart to it. I expected it to be just a dumb coming-of-age movie and perhaps it is, but it’s also an ode to those who feel undervalued with no way of knowing how to become the person people around them want them to be, and instead focusing on the person they really are. Personal escapism of the highest order.
28. Easy A (2010) dir. Will Gluck
So apparently I love it when classic texts are reimagined as high school movies. Between this and 10 Things I Hate About You, the technique seems to work. Easy A reworks The Scarlet Letter and makes it a story about a precocious teenager, Olive Penderghast, who lets a small misunderstanding become a school-wide gossip topic, sending her life into a tailspin that she must endure. Emma Stone basically carries this movie, and does so with aplomb, but the supporting players all put in great work. Amanda Bynes, Penn Badgeley, Aly Michalka, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, and the best movie parents ever Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are all excellently cast. Stone’s dry delivery of the witty script ensures the movie is a lot of fun and an excellent addition into the high school movie canon for the decade. Basically, we have realised today that if there’s a high school movie with an intellectual protagonist, I’m all in.
27. First Man (2018) dir. Damien Chazelle
Ah and now we arrive at another series of Great Oscar Snubs: First Man in a lot of categories. First of all, the fact that Justin Hurwitz’s impeccable score was not nominated is a travesty of international proportions and I will never forgive the entire Academy for letting it go with a nomination. Awards season aside, First Man is a technical masterclass, and Damien Chazelle has complete control over how it flows. Perhaps the slightest bit overlong in places, but the landing sequence is one of the best sequences of the decade in every aspect, the score and sound design are key to this being successful, but Ryan Gosling’s patient, internal performance really adds another layer to what’s happening. There are moments where the film isn’t really about Neil Armstrong, it’s more about the actual achievement of landing on the moon, but it still really works as a biopic of sorts. The fragile masculinity on show really pays off in the third act, a dizzying half-hour or so that boasts some of the best technical work I’ve ever seen. Sandgren’s impeccable camerawork helps a lot here, aiding Chazelle in emulating the feel of being in space as best as he can. And it works, Tom Cross’ spasmodic editing creating a hyper-sensational experience like no other. The film proves that Chazelle can tackle literally anything he wants to and pull it off and make it fantastic. Here’s to anything that man wants to do in the 20’s.
26. Before Midnight (2013) dir. Richard Linklater
The third movie in my favourite trilogy of all time, Before Midnight had one hell of a task on its hands. Reuniting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for the third instalment of their decades-spanning love story was something that was necessary and also really, really successful. Where its predecessor Before Sunset may be my favourite of the three, Midnight elevates the tension in the relationship. Whereas the previous two were about getting them together, Before Midnight has to deal with what happens when they’re actually a couple. Jesse and Celine are one of modern cinema’s greatest couples and this movie tests them in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of existential angst tied up in this one, rather than the usual romantic wonderment and philosophy of the previous two films. Hawke and Delpy are superb once again and their chemistry is undeniable, and the way the third act develops and unfolds is a joy to behold as an acting masterclass and also a culmination of three movies and 18 years of storytelling. Still fantastic beyond words, with one of my favourite endings to a film probably ever. It’s so effective and honours the entire film and trilogy in pretty much one really brilliant scene. I love this trilogy and I love this movie so much.
25. Avengers: Endgame (2019) dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
Oh, like anyone really expected me not to include this! Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of 20+ films that all led to one epic conclusion, spanning multiple planets and timelines and bringing together all the characters you’ve known and loved for 11 years and giving a great deal of them either a brilliant resolution or an open door for more content in the next Saga of the MCU. A three-hour movie that doesn’t feel like three hours, Endgame barrels along with very little filler, exploring how the characters deal with the traumatic events of Infinity War, and how they’ll risk everything to reverse them. Sure, the solution is a little convenient, but they only had three hours to wrap this up, they couldn’t spend an hour trying to solve time travel so I’m not too bothered about it. The third act, while it could have felt like an overloaded barrage of visuals, instead had genuine stakes and emotional impacts while providing an entertaining battle scene that blows everything we’ve seen so far out of the water. For a long-time Marvel fanboy, it was everything I could have asked for and a surprisingly emotional experience reflecting on the last 11 years of filmmaking and watching these movies. That definitely contributed to Endgame‘s positioning, even though I still think it’s an excellent film and the best the MCU have produced, there’s a lot of personal love for it that I couldn’t help but bump it up a bit.
24. Room (2015) dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Room is an unusual film for me. It made me love a child performance which I never usually do, but the undeniable maturity in Jacob Tremblay’s performance sold me from the get go. He’s curious, because he grew up in a small room which he thinks is the extent of the world. Patiently attended to by his Ma, Joy, who has been captive in that room and gave birth to Jack while being held hostage. The strength in Brie Larson’s performance is mesmerising, and you can tell that Larson and Tremblay genuinely connected with each other while filming. Abrahamson has a good grasp of the camera and how to film such a claustrophobic environment. He also completely nails the key scene of the film (spoilers) which is Jack’s eventual escape from Room. It’s one of the most tense sequences of the decade and leads into the emotionally resonant third act and really ties you to both of the characters, making what comes next successful in its emotional endeavours. Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel is a triumph too, capturing the desperation of the world around Joy and also the lengths she goes to to protect her son. It’s a parental bond like no other and it’s translated to the screen so beautifully it’s hard not to consider Room a total masterwork.
23. Birdman (2014) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Where a great screenplay meets great production values. The long takes emulate the constantly flowing nature of fame, notoriety and what it means to be in the public spotlight. The actors are fast-talking, wildly gesticulating, emotional beings. They’re angry, they’re sad, they’re melodramatic. They’re people without being humans. And all of this is exactly what Iñárritu frames and that’s exactly why it works. Using a plethora of cinematic tricks and tropes to provide a flippant commentary on its own media whilst also having something to say besides that? This is where Birdman takes its place as one of the greatest filmic achievements of the decade. The cast are excellent too, everyone plays their part to a tee. Keaton delivers one of the best performances of the decade, and Stone, Norton, Watts, Ryan, and Riseborough all follow suit and are aptly cast in their roles. I love this movie because it feels new and exciting and surreal that a film like this actually worked. Iñárritu has solidified himself as an auteur, and one of the best we currently have, but it’ll be hard for him to top Birdman in my eyes because it’s a stroke of pure genius, lightning in a bottle type stuff. An inspired choice from the Academy to award this Best Picture (even if there were better films that year, but we’ll get to that). It’s exciting that they are still able to recognise the more offbeat films and aren’t too stuck to their conventions. This should be studied in depth in film schools everywhere.
22. Marriage Story (2019) dir. Noah Baumbach
Is this just recency bias? I don’t think so, because Marriage Story is one of the most affecting movies of 2019 and seemed pretty much tailored for my specific tastes. A movie that highlights extraordinary writing and performances that capably toes the line between drama and melodrama, all while telling an interesting story about connection, communication, and the dissolution of a marriage? Sign me up! Driver and Johansson deliver career best performances here, each taking a decent chunk of the movie to make you feel for them, which makes it all the more conflicting when they face off against each other. Like their son, you feel as though at some point you’ll end up picking a side, and Baumbach can make it hard to know which side you fall on. Of course there’s the heavily memed argument scene, which despite the discourse around it, is heavily impressive and displays some of the duo’s finest acting in the film. There’s also the indomitable Laura Dern to consider, who balances the tightrope of flashy Renata Klein and sensitive nuanced character so very well and announces her presence very effectively. Baumbach’s use of camera has never been better to support his magnificent screenplay and there are several moments of high emotion that will go down as some of my favourite moments of the year and decade. Perhaps I’ll grow to love this even more over time, having only seen it once, and I can imagine I will because this is something that’s emotionally impactful and also very well made. Has the best of both worlds, really.
21. Manchester By The Sea (2016) dir. Kenneth Lonergan
From one emotionally draining movie to another, Manchester By The Sea is one of the only films to have me either on the verge of tears or full on crying for the whole movie, pretty much. It’s down to Lonergan’s fantastic screenplay and the trio of perfect performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams. Affleck carries the movie very stoically, only periodically letting out bursts of emotion. But it’s the pain behind his eyes that he’s trying so hard to contain, the ghosts that swim around in his mind that make the performance and character so impactful. Williams is a true supporting queen in this movie, coming out in a few key moments to really remind us why she’s one of our greatest living actresses. Lucas Hedges really knocks it out of the park, too, embodying the confusion of a young person dealing with grief and growing up at the same time. He’s terrific in a movie full of great moments of acting. Admittedly, there isn’t much to be said about the craft here, but the focus is rightly on the performances and script which are about as good as you could ask for. If you want to cry, watch this (or basically any pre 2017 Michelle Williams movie). If you want to see a masterclass in acting or writing, watch this movie. I promise you, it will deliver on both fronts in spades.
20. Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky
Black Swan is so cinematically brilliant that I devoted half of my dissertation to dissecting it. Darren Aronofsky crafts a dance-horror-psychological thriller movie like no other, capitalising on the vast talents of Natalie Portman to explore the pysche of obsession and mental illness, projecting the undoing of the White Swan onto Nina Sayers, a devoted ballerina at a prestigious company. The films also gifts us the talents of Mila Kunis, who completely smashes her part as Lily, the mysterious free spirit who is the antithesis of Nina, yet the one who threatens to destroy her. Barbara Hershey is also excellent as Nina’s overbearing mother and delivers a few of the film’s best moments. Portman is transcendent though, and there’s a very good reason she won the Best Actress category for her work, which is heavily physical and also incredibly vulnerable at the right moments. Aronofsky’s exploration into this twisted psychosis is the definitive study of duality in cinema for me, using the cinematography and lighting to accentuate the theme yet still making it subtle enough that it has rewatch value. Aronofsky never leaves all the answers in plain sight, hence audience interpretation has a lot of merit with this one. An all-timer and a great way to kick off the Top 20 of my list.
19. Brooklyn (2015) dir. John Crowley
Brooklyn is a film that I have grown to love more and more with each rewatch. It’s a film that provides a universal sense of home, all told through the god-tier performance by Saoirse Ronan, who completely embodies Eilis, using her personal experience to communicate her struggles more effectively to the viewer. Hornby’s endearing script is expertly performed, using Crowley’s tight, sensitive direction to really capture a spirit of closeness wherever Eilis is, making it that much harder when she has to make a choice between two countries and two men in her life, played by the charming Emory Cohen, and the ever-talented Domnhall Gleeson. Her choice is seemingly obvious to the viewer, but Ronan deftly communicates Eilis’ state of mind through her expressive eyes and she makes us feel exactly how she feels. It’s a very warm movie that gets better every time you see it. Watch it if you’re ever away from home and you won’t survive it. I think it’s a masterpiece and I’m obsessed with Saoirse Ronan’s performance.
18. Silver Linings Playbook (2012) dir. David O. Russell
Absolutely one of my favourite go-to comfort films, Silver Linings Playbook is both an interesting study of support systems for mental illness sufferers and also an offbeat comedy about two people trying to get by who eventually fall in love. It’s excellently performed by both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and their chemistry started a ‘4 films in 3 years’ trend together for a good reason. The other films might not have fared as well as this one did, most likely because Silver Linings Playbook feels fresh and has a warm energy to it that makes me fall in love with it. The writing is great, Russell is in full command of his actors as usual and it really works here. DeNiro and Weaver give great supporting performances, but this show belongs to Cooper and Lawrence, who are as good as each other and have such good organic chemistry that the romance falls into place so well and it doesn’t feel forced like it could without their connection. The dance sequence is literally one of my favourite cinematic moments because of its electricity, and there are genuine stakes for the results and the way the film develops you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Pat and Tiffany are two very likeable characters who seem to be doing the best they can with what they have and it becomes such an easy film to love.
17. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) dir. Barry Jenkins
Just look at that image. Look at the use of colour and then imagine 2 hours of that. Barry Jenkins continues his masterful control of material with his own directorial flair that continues to improve with every film he makes. Beale Street is a poetic, beautiful story of love that impresses in every single avenue of filmmaking. The script is among the best I’ve ever experienced, and James Laxton’s luscious cinematography pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. Nicholas Britell makes hands down the best film score I’ve ever heard and I’m on the verge of tears every time I listen to ‘Agape’. The performances are aptly brilliant from everyone: Layne, James, Domingo, King, Tyree Henry, Parris, and Ellis to only name most of the cast. It’s a testament to Jenkins’ adaptation of the legendary novel that it really works and doesn’t feel too controlled. Everything works so very well and combines together to create one of the most visually and aurally pleasing movies I’ve ever seen. The first time hearing that score watching those colours on the big screen was a very special moment for me and I’m waiting in anticipation for anything that Barry Jenkins is going to do in the 20’s.
16. Spotlight (2015) dir. Tom McCarthy
If you haven’t seen the Best Picture winning Spotlight yet, allow me to tell you why you should. Look at the five incredibly talented actors on that poster above. Now imagine them performing a flawless script that is patiently, tenderly directed and edited with some truly exquisite dialogue that studies an interesting yet controversial topic about sexual assault in the Catholic Church. Picture Mark Ruffalo as a tamer version of Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac. Picture Rachel McAdams using her immense range to become both a hardcore journalist and a support network for the survivors. Hear Howard Shore’s beautiful piano-led score as the truth about what happened is exposed by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. Spotlight is a very important movie that using Josh Singer’s powerful screenplay to highlight the necessity of dedicated investigate journalism. It’s a wonderful movie with a gut-punch of an ending that never fails to shake me to my very core. A worthy Best Picture winner that unfortunately will probably always have thematic and societal relevance.
15. Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes
Carol is a heart-rending masterpiece. Led by two of the decade’s finest performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Todd Haynes’ magnum opus delves into the achingly gorgeous world of Therese Belivet and Carol Aird, and how their lives become intertwined forever. Edward Lachman’s masterful cinematography portraits their lives beautifully, while Carter Burwell’s best score to date swells around the frames like a beating heart. Dripping with a luscious melancholia, Carol is the one of the best films of the century and one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. I discover new things I love about this movie every time I see it and I become more impressed every time. The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is tender and masterfully written, letting Mara and Blanchett show off their incredible talents. Mara is the window to the film, her wide, expressive eyes letting the audience into this luscious, seemingly unavailable world. Blanchett is the dynamite behind the movie, the assertive presence to Mara’s steadily beating heart. With great supporting performances from Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, Carol is an essential exploration into being able to love who you love no matter what. God-tier!
14. Phantom Thread (2017) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
As Tina Fey once said at the Golden Globes, “Enough silliness…Daniel Day-Lewis is here” and she had a very good point. Day-Lewis is perhaps the greatest actor of all time and here he shows us why once again. His character isn’t as wild as Daniel Plainview or as iconic as Abraham Lincoln, but Reynolds Woodcock is so idiosyncratic that Day-Lewis has a field day becoming him, dominating the screen and immersing himself so deeply into Reynolds’ routine that it’s hard to take your eyes off him. That is, until Vicky Krieps’ Alma comes onto the scene and she is just as good as him and frequently goes toe-to-toe with the acting legend. PTA cast this movie to perfection as Krieps brings the perfect amount of innocence and vulnerability so the third-act switch up is all the more shocking, but it really works. Lesley Manville also does great work and has some scene-stealing moments that are genuinely iconic. Reinforced by a terrific script, and perhaps Jonny Greenwood’s best score to date, Phantom Thread is a delicately crafted movie about power, but it’s also somehow a love story? Only PTA could produce something as deliciously savage yet tonally potent as this. The costume design is glorious, Mark Bridges creating very specific pieces that help the movie to flourish within its context. Anderson continues to make masterpieces and he’s so amazingly in control of his craft that everything about this movie works.
13. Arrival (2016) dir. Denis Villeneuve
I’ve said on numerous occasions that I can never write something coherent about this movie, but I will try my best. Arrival is a unique type of sci-fi story because it doesn’t focus on the aliens coming to Earth and the humans trying to work out how to destroy them before they destroy Earth. No, Arrival concentrates on what makes the humans and aliens similar, and how they can communicate through language. It’s thoroughly intellectual and Eric Heisserer’s script adapts Ted Chiang’s complexities in a surprisingly accessible way. Of course, Actress of the Decade Amy Adams heads up the charge here and she’s electrifying. Delving into so many different states of mind and situations in this one, she is at the top of her game, bolstered by Denis Villeneuve’s assured direction and Bradford Young’s delicious cinematography. The production design is intriguing and unique, and the third-act twist is truly something to behold. The way the film plays with structure and editing is ingenious and Arrival will go down as one of the best sci-fi classics of our time. There, was that coherent?
12. Roma (2018) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Probably the deserving Best Picture winner of last year, Roma is one of the most exceptionally crafted films I’ll ever see. Cuarón gets incredibly personal here, telling an emotional story through light plot points and a lot of assumed introspection. Led by first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio, who does a stunning job at playing Cleo, a housekeeper to a middle-class family. We see everything through Cleo’s perspective, except Cleo herself which is a smart move. It’s only towards the end we start to learn a lot about her through her traumatic experiences later in the film. Despite Cleo’s demeanour, Roma is a loudly presented film, with some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve seen and sound design that is unexpectedly brilliant for a film so internal and hushed. It got a lot of complaints for being slow-moving and uneventful, but that’s part of what I love about Roma. It glides along through time and space, observing and following the mundanity of Cleo’s life. It helps us to empathise with her, and Marina de Tavira’s bold turn as Sofia, the matriarch, helps Cuarón to explore gender roles within that society and what was expected of women. It’s a sensational film that just screams “masterpiece” in every single frame and every single camera movement. The fact that this is on Netflix for everyone to see is truly special and everyone should see this movie.
11. Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
A smart, stylish thriller with all the makings of a classic. A strong cast, a supernova of a screenplay and a directorial turn from David Fincher that elevates the already god-tier writing from Gillian Flynn.The main thing a lot of people take away from this movie is the dynamic performance from Rosamund Pike. And it is phenomenal, I’d even say one of the best ever put to screen. Amy Elliot-Dunne is a complex, twisted woman and one of the greatest cinema characters of the century so far. Pike plays her effortlessly, switching from persona to persona even through voiceover. Her style keeps turning, changing, so you don’t know quite who this woman is, even when you think you’ve got a handle on her. The same can be said for the story. Whilst a lot of people guessed the twists and turns, it still manages to be shocking. The revelation of how it turns out is beautifully handled and perfectly written. Some say this movie drags and that the final act loses the best parts of the previous sections, but I disagree. I think that every part of this movie is efficient and the runtime does not drag, the writing, directing and acting are so stellar throughout that you almost forget how long you’ve been sat there for, tense and nervous as the plot unfolds. Gone Girl is a stunning piece of filmmaking from a man who knows exactly what he is doing. Also, Rosamund Pike should have easily taken the Oscar for this tour de force performance.
10. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
I’ll admit, I originally had this a lot lower down the list. Then I started thinking about and it kept moving up until all of a sudden it was in my Top 10 and I couldn’t stop it. By far my favourite Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis is a searing study of making it in a tough industry, and how to live as opposed to just surviving. Is success the key to that change? For Llewyn Davis it seems to be. Portrayed flawlessly by Oscar Isaac, Llewyn Davis is a messy, borderline unlikeable folk singer who has a lot of talent but cannot break through following the suicide of his partner. The Coens explore isolation and a sense of place beautifully by captalising on Bruno Delbonnel’s exquisite yet bleak cinematography to immerse us in their story world and help us to follow Llewyn on his journey. Supporting players here including a bunch of talented actors such as Carey Mulligan (who might as well just be the face of this list at this point), Adam Driver, the eternally overlooked Garrett Hedlund, and F. Murray Abraham. It’s a story about endless cycles and the inability to escape from the humdrum life Llewyn lives in. And no matter how combative Llewyn was, I never stopped loving him and supporting him throughout and a large part of that is due to how truly masterfully compelling Isaac is in the role. Magnificent all around and a film that continues to surprise me.
9. Lady Bird (2017) dir. Greta Gerwig
I’ve seen Lady Bird a lot of times now and it never once loses its freshness. Gerwig injects so much soul into the screenplay and the directorial effort that you pick up on new things every time and it’s a testament to how good it all is that it never becomes trite or boring on multiple viewings. Saoirse Ronan is, once again, incredible in the lead role and turns in a surprisingly effective comedic performance, balancing the coming-of-age aspects with the comedic moments with the dramatic moments like a champion. Laurie Metcalf is this film’s secret weapon because Lady Bird is supposed to have a conflicting relationship with her mother and Metcalf’s ability to switch from critical and brutally honest to kind and caring is astonishing and helps us to ground ourselves in their world, where not everything is perfect but they’re going to be alright. Lady Bird wants more for herself, while Marion continually reminds her to be a little more thoughtful and think of the things that truly matter. It’s exceptionally paced, utilises fantastic emotionally-based editing to trace the beats of the script, and boasts a lot of talented actors including Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothée Chalamet, and a scene-stealing Beanie Feldstein. I’ve always said that Lady Bird is the filmic equivalent of a really tight warm hug from your mother and that’s something that’s so special it will cement its place in modern film history forever.
8. The Tree Of Life (2011) dir. Terrence Malick
Yes, yes this is heavily pretentious but I do not care. I often consider this the greatest film ever made, but it has perhaps one problem. It’s so good and so complex that I can’t watch it as often as I want to. It’s probably the best shot movie ever made, literally pause it at any moment and you’ll find something to blow up and put on your wall. Emmanuel Lubezki is a God amongst men, and Terrence Malick’s impressionistic genius peels back the layers of every frame, each one in a window into a new life. This film is primordial, honing in on our natural instincts in a way that accentuates the story of family being presented to us. Pitt and Chastain are our leads here and they are sublime. It’s unfortunate that they take a backseat to the one-of-a-kind cinematography and vision for this movie. Malick has created something so raw yet sprawling that it was always going to be polarising, but for me his vision and execution wins out over any flaws it may have. This is bold, dynamic filmmaking on a scale like I’ve never seen before, truly exploring the origins and meanings of life and the way we think and how it stems from evolutionary thinking and natural instinct. I’d like to think I understand the world a lot better than I did before seeing this movie and I daresay that I’ll never find one more impactful, or one that’s better. Let’s see what the 20’s bring.
7. Parasite (2019) dir. Bong Joon-ho
Parasite is by far the best film of 2019. It’s so good that it rocketed up this list no problem and cracked the Top 10 without even a shadow of a doubt. I’ve seen it three times and I still cannot find a single thing that I don’t like about it. The writing is sharp, urgent, and deeply intelligent. The performances across the board are top notch, especially Song Kang-Ho who delivers an exceptional turn as the family patriarch. But the direction…it’s truly something special. Bong Joon-Ho has expert control over this movie from the camera positioning to the movements to the timing of every single thing that happens. The pacing is unbelievably good and it’s one of those films where you immediately want to watch it again as soon as it finishes. It’s thematically solid, backed up by its craft in terms of how it wants to portray its themes, the key being the luscious production design which shows the class disparity and sets the stage for the third act shift which could have lost my attention but instead had me gripped, on the edge of my seat. It’s genius-level stuff and Parasite is going live on for decades to come as one of the best films probably of all time. The only reason it’s not Top 5 at least it because of the ‘favourite’ aspect of this list. The next 6 films all have a special place in my heart which I’m positive Parasite is going to claim over the next few years.
6. Call Me By Your Name (2017) dir. Luca Guadagnino
Shocking, I know, considering I’ve widely and publicly cited this as my favourite film of all time. So why, you ask, does it sit in 6th place? Allow me to elucidate. I was thinking about the variables used to compile this list, and it got me thinking about the decade as a whole, both from a personal and objective point of view. What shaped my decade? What shaped the decade in the film industry? This may be one of my favourite films, but there are more shall I say important films that lie atop this list. Anyway, let’s get on with the usual spiel about this movie. Call Me By Your Name almost feels like a dream. A dream of one perfect summer that I woke up from and can only remember fragments of it, feelings that I know to be truer than reality. The movie doesn’t just dance around the feelings and ideas it presents, it embraces them, pushing the audience headfirst into Elio’s thoughts, emotions and experiences and letting the perfect, groundbreaking performance by Timothée Chalamet do the rest. It lets us inside his mind and his heart, tricking us into thinking we ARE him, making us remember things that never were, simply because we’re experiencing it so deeply through Elio that we are completely immersed in that one summer of ’83. The writing in this movie is some of the most near-perfect, tonally exceptional I’ve ever come across in all of cinema. Though the dialogue is superb and performed well by every actor (in all languages), it’s the little moments that really strike hard. Those little pieces of a summer that don’t necessarily add up to anything, but on their own they tell a story. Whether it’s a look in Elio’s eyes, a note played on the piano or a kiss, every lingering feeling captures more depth than the last, leading us through a trail of false nostalgia and wondrous adrenaline. The monologue at the end speaks for itself as one of the best scenes of the decade, in my opinion. Michael Stuhlbarg cements himself firmly as one of the greats. This monologue speaks for everything Elio needs to hear, the reassurance he needed, the calm for the apprehension he felt. The words hit hard, their impact both emotionally stirring and poignant, the calm aura that lingers throughout the dialogue really places us in the scene. The camerawork here is simple, nothing fancy, just focusing on the words and performances, where the heart of the scene really is. Call Me By Your Name, with its lush scenery and beautiful cinematography along with the music that flows through every scene, creates a realistic yet idealistic image of growing up and self-discovery. Using its central performers as a handhold for the audience, we are guided along a beautifully complex journey of what it’s like to find a connection with another person and what it feels like to lose it. Oh, look I took it too far as usual!
5. Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
I’m going to call this the best Best Picture winner of all time so far, simply for what it invited, for what it became. Despite the controversy of how it won, it became a symbol for the future of representation within cinema. Oh yeah and it’s also a perfect film. That’s becoming a trend with my Top 10, but Moonlight is everything you want in a film. It’s exquisitely written, gorgeously shot, and scored to perfection. Jenkins’ vision to cast three separate actors as Chiron and depict his life from childhood to adulthood in three acts was truly inspired as a directorial choice and man he did cast them well. Alex Hibbert really captures the quiet intensity of young Chiron (or Little). You can tell he’s always thinking, always feeling every way too hard. Chiron is a highly internal character, he doesn’t get as many lines as your typical protagonist would. But Jenkins ensures that he doesn’t even need them. Ashton Sanders takes on teenage Chiron and does it fantastically. He’s a little more confident, a little more aware of the world around him now and he knows exactly what to expect from it. It’s now we’re definitively introduced to his struggle with his sexuality, encapsulated with a wonderfully effective scene on the beach with Jharrel Jerome that is so tenderly written and directed that it speaks volumes without actually doing a whole lot. Jenkins makes the most of every moment of this second part, helping the viewer to adjust to Chiron before it switches in the third iteration and Trevante Rhodes steps into the role. Rhodes is fantastic, taking on board idiosyncrasies from the other two actors whilst adding a maturity to his own performance, showing that Chiron has learned and is his own man, finally. You don’t get much better supporting performances than those of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, whose impacts are largely felt even if we’re mostly with Chiron. Ali possesses a quiet strength which imbues his character Juan with so much unspoken backstory it’s scary how good Ali is in the movie. Harris plays somewhat against type here as Paula, Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. It’s a fierce, scary performance as Harris somehow shows the love she has for her son while also accepting the mistakes she made parenting him. It’s beautiful, beautiful work. But I would expect nothing less from a flawless movie such as this one.
4. La La Land (2016) dir. Damien Chazelle
Funny I should mention Moonlight winning Best Picture, because for a whole 30 seconds, so did La La Land. From January 2017, when I saw this, until November 2017 (when I saw Call Me By Your Name), I championed La La Land as my favourite film of all time. You probably know the story by now, I saw it in the cinema three times in the same days and a whopping 10 times overall. I was and am obsessed with everything about this movie and the way Damien Chazelle injects so much passion into every aspect of it. I sat there, rendered speechless by how much I connected with the material, how much each element of the craft had so much influence on the storytelling. Ryan Gosling puts in a committed performance, but this movie belongs to Emma Stone who is truly wonderful as Mia. Justin Hurwitz’s work on both the soundtrack AND the score is impeccable, with “Audition” being one of my favourite and the best scenes of the decade. The technical crew are all on another level with this one: Mary Zophres’ illustrious costumes, Tom Cross’ exquisitely dexterous editing, Dave Wasco’s gloriously appropriate production design, just to name a few. Each tell their own micro-narratives within the bigger story. We usually get the narratives about the only thing more powerful than dreams is love, but Chazelle flips that on its head and creates what is probably the most gob-smackingly brilliant ending to a movie I’ve seen, perhaps ever. There is so much passion that fills this movie, and Chazelle’s love for cinema shines through. This film is an all-timer.
3. Whiplash (2014) dir. Damien Chazelle
Whiplash is a truly electrifying movie. Yes, I have two Damien Chazelle films back to back because he’s my favourite director of the decade. He tells stories about the struggles of those who yearn to be the best and how they deal with the obstacles they face. Whiplash takes this to the extreme and presents a picture of a teacher/student face-off of manipulation and abuse. The other film I wrote about in my dissertation, Whiplash is full to the brim of interesting ideas presented in such a pleasingly cinematic way that every aspect is working to say something about the themes and the character dynamics. From lighting, costumes, camerawork, everything means something. It helps that it’s led by a dedicated Miles Teller performance, undoubtedly the best of his career so far. He effectively communicates Andrew’s passion for music, and the dizzying range of thoughts and feelings he encounters throughout. But as you probably know, it’s JK Simmons who steals the show here. He notches the intensity up to 11 and delivers a monstrous villain performance up there with the best of them. He’s truly terrifying in this film, his acerbic wit showing off the nuances of Damien Chazelle’s tremendous script. Whiplash will, like it does with Andrew, build you up, break you down, build you up again, and leave your jaw hanging on the floor at its climactic finale, a maelstrom of music, anxiety, and still more character development as everything you’ve been watching falls into place during a grand musical sequence that shows Andrew and Fletcher butt heads for one last time. One of the greatest endings to a film and one of the most impressive, alive movies of the decade.
2. Her (2013) dir. Spike Jonze
Oh this so easily could have been first. Despite how much I’ve rambled on for the past 48 entries about how much I connect with films, Her is the movie that speaks to me in the most raw way imaginable. Jonze presents his ideas of humanity and communication in such a unique, beautiful way that I can’t help but be drawn to it. The script has an innate magnetism to it with the futuristic setting that’s supposed to distance you and force you to relate to the relationship presented instead. And even though that’s between a man and the voice of his new computer, it’s one of the most realistic relationships of the decade. Joaquin Phoenix delivers another stunning performance, really showing Theodore’s ennui and his dichotomy of wanting to find love after his relationship with Catherine ended, and still missing the woman he fell in love with in the past. It’s a thoroughly nuanced performance and my favourite of his. Scarlett Johansson also impresses in her vocal capacity. We never see her, but she’s always present, her voice becoming a vital force in the movie. She runs the full range of human emotions using just her voice and that’s extremely impressive. We don’t need to see her cry or laugh or yell, we just hear her and that paints enough of a picture to understand her. The rest of the supporting cast are well-chosen, including frequent list dwellers Amy Adams and Rooney Mara. Her will indeed break your heart, because it’s so surprisingly relatable and that’s the genius of Spike Jonze’s legendary script. There’s so much heart and depth packed into the characters and their relationships with one another that it doesn’t matter that it’s in the future or one of the characters is artificially intelligent. Jonze is telling a story about human connections and that’s something everyone can relate to. Her is one of the best movies of the decade and quite possibly on its way to becoming my favourite.
Yes, you guessed it, there’s one cinematic juggernaut that stands out above all the rest and for that we have to journey back to the very beginning of the decade for one of the most important, impactful, and impressively made films of all time.
1. The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher
I thought about what film I wanted to be at the peak of this list because it had to tick all of the boxes: be genuinely great, have a special place in my heart, and also represent the decade in film. And I think, out of every movie on this list and the honourable mentions, only Moonlight had as much impact as The Social Network did. David Fincher’s masterpiece cleverly uses what we know about social media to tell the story of its origin, at least in the modern era. Again breaking the rules of typical biopic structure, The Social Network creates a complex non-linear style that jumps back and forth to different points in Aaron Sorkin’s masterful screenplay to highlight the progression of Mark Zuckerberg’s accomplishments juxtaposed with the consequences of his decisions. With Zuckerberg notoriously back in the spotlight over the last few years, The Social Network continues to have relevance. And it will for as long as we remain obsessed with social media. Jesse Eisenberg continues the trend of not going for an impression of Zuckerberg, instead an evocation of the man, which lends itself well to his fantastic performance. His natural fast rhythm suits Sorkin’s style well. Eisenberg is matched by the talent level of Andrew Garfield, who blazes through the film as Eduardo Saverin, demonstrating his huge range and talent for understanding the characters he plays. Fincher rules over The Social Network with his signature precision and interesting directorial visions. Accompanied by Trent Reznor and Atticus’ Ross terrific electronic score, Fincher uses tight cinematography and sharp editing to communicate the different viewpoints on display here and it’s fascinating to witness. What could have been a “boring” movie about depositions and some guy sitting at his computer becomes a thudding, whip-smart film about what is now one of the most basic communicative methods, and how the empire of Facebook started in a college dorm room. The Social Network is vital viewing for anyone and everyone, and will stand out as being not only one of the best films ever made, but also one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent history. Yes, I had to bring it up, the Academy chose wrong here and I will never forgive them.
So there we go, my Top 50 films of the decade. It’s been such a wonderful time for film, with new innovations being tested around every corner and some of the most wonderful performances on display. Films are going to come and go, but I believe that these 50 are going to stay with me forever.
I’d love to see all of your decade-end lists if you’ve made them! Link them below in the comments or just let me know some of your favourites!
Hope everyone has a great New Year and I’ll see you in 2020 with more posts!