The 2010s was a big decade for me in terms of films. I’ve always enjoyed watching films, but the 2010s was when I really fell in love and began diving deep. I began writing my blog here on Shuggie Says, and quickly decided to focus on films as a big passion that I enjoyed writing about. Whilst I have had some periods of low motivation I have kept this blog going for about 8 years, and the quality of films we’ve been treated to over the has been a reason for that. So I’m going through 100 movies that everyone should watch from the last decade, with 10 films from each year. I tried to include a good range of films, with some bigger and more successful films, but also many smaller and underappreciated ones as well, but all connected by the fact that you should watch them.
The Fighter – David O. Russell’s sport drama is based on the lives of boxers Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund, two half-brother boxers. Whilst Mickey has talent, his career has stalled. Dickey meanwhile lives in the past focused on one fight where he went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, and has since developed a crack addiction. It is a remarkable true story with a rich look at brotherhood that is elevated to greatness by the performances. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams were all Oscar nominated, with Bale and Leo winning, whilst Mark Wahlberg as Mickey gives one of the best performances of his career. This is truly a touching story that deserves to be seen, and you get to watch some incredible actors at the top of their game.
How To Train Your Dragon – The How To Train Your Dragon franchise is certainly successful, but it has never done the numbers of big Disney or Pixar releases, and honestly that just seems criminal to me. I would easily put any of these three films up against anything that Disney/Pixar put out in the 2010s. It is rare for someone to change source material so heavily in adaptation and still receive such acclaim for fans, but Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois managed it. They also brought on talent like Roger Deakins to do the cinematography and John Powell who wrote some exceptional scores. How To Train Your Dragon is such a beautiful and emotional experience about friendship and overcoming differences that if you haven’t dived into the franchise yet you really should.
Inception – Ok, I’m sure most of you saw Inception. But there was a lot of talk flying around Inception’s release about it being an incredibly confusing and dense movie that it may have put some people off. Which would be a shame, because this is a film that deserves all the acclaim it has garnered. Coming from a brilliant idea, and growing into a genuinely exceptional film from Christopher Nolan. The entire cast is fantastic and packed with talent, and some of the practical effects done in some mind bending action scenes are breathtaking, particularly as the spinning hallway fight.
Let Me In – A remake of the incredible 2008 Swedish romantic horror Let the Right One In, Let Me In is one of the few English language Hollywood remakes that does warrant your time. Directed by Matt Reeves, who has since gone on to garner huge acclaim for his Planet of the Apes movies and starring brilliant young actors Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz there was a lot of talent behind Let Me In, so it is no surprise that they did the original source material justice. Both versions of this film deserve to be seen, and it is criminal that Let Me In barely made its reported budget back, which sadly means it probably lost money. Definitely a film to check out if you haven’t.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World always feels a little like the odd one out in Edgar Wright’s filmography. His other major releases all feel as though they are strongly defined by his voice, whereas this is obviously adapting a graphic novel series. I don’t know if that put people off, or the style that incorporated a visual comic book style into live action, but this movie bombed hard at the box office. I’m glad it has developed a cult following, but if you’re a fan of Wright’s other work like Hot Fuzz or Baby Driver then Scott Pilgrim is an absolute must watch, because Wright is still an absolute genius filmmaker.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – A small British biographical film where Andy Serkis takes on the role of the legendary Ian Dury and his battle with polio. I imagine that only big fans of Ian Dury and the Blockheads ever bothered to see it. However Dury’s story is one that deserves to be seen as much as Freddie Mercury or Elton John’s. Andy Serkis is an absolute revelation in the role for those of us who had previously only known him for his motion capture work in films like The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, giving a performance that was just as awards worthy as Rami Malik’s turn in Bohemian Rhapsody. Oh and Ian Dury and the Blockheads produced some absolute tunes.
The Social Network – Yes The Social Network film was definitely a success, but really it had no right to be. A film about the creation of Facebook, and the lawsuits surrounding it should not be this enthralling. Of course with David Fincher directing the project I seriously doubt that it would have been. Nearly every aspect of the film is executed to perfection, and this kind of role is where Jesse Eisenberg excels. The film also introduces us to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as a film score composing duo, to the point where the two are even writing the score for the upcoming Pixar film Soul. A lot of people hold up The Social Network as the best film of the 2010s, and it definitely has to be in the conversation.
Tangled – Frozen really reinvigorated the Disney Animated Classic line in terms of Box Office in 2013, but Tangled was probably the film that put them back on the right track after a pretty rough 2000s. The film performed admirably at the Box Office, but it never saw the commercial success of Frozen, and frankly it deserved to. With a really lovely story, great voice performances from Mandy Muse and Zachary Lev, hilarious and memorable supporting character, and some great musical numbers, particularly ‘I See the Light’, this has all the ingredients to be remembered as a top tier Disney film. However it never seems to get the love it deserves.
The Town – Ben Aflleck proved with his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone that he was a director to watch out for, and then with The Town he really confirmed what a talent he was. The opening heist sequence alone should be enough to convince you of that, it’s grounded and real, but exceptionally tense. The Town also benefits from some excellent performances. Affleck himself is really good, and Jeremy Renner is great even managing to score a Best Supporting actor nomination at the Oscars. Honestly whilst The Town doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it executes on its classic crime premise fantastically.
True Grit – I am not a fan of westerns. Many people these days don’t seem to be a fan of Westerns given how little a splash they make at the Box Office these days. But what the Coen Brothers achieved with their remake of True Grit was a western that I genuinely think almost everyone out there can enjoy. Jeff Bridges is a brilliant Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld might have only been around 12 or 13 when the film was made, but she owns every second of screen time. That duo alone is enough to warrant your time, but the whole film is good enough to even draw in someone who doesn’t like westerns as much as me.
The Adventures of Tintin – This film was something of an experiment with the entire film being done via motion capture performances translated into animation. As a result it doesn’t quite look like your conventional animation, and I wonder if that put people off, because it certainly couldn’t be the talent behind it. With Steven Spielberg directing, and producing alongside Peter Jackson, from a script penned by three of Britain’s best Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. And the film honestly delivers a good Tintin adventure, with a stellar cast and some great set pieces.
Attack the Block – Joe Cornish’s sci-fi comedy horror Attack the Block is the kind of film that I expect more and more people, particularly those outside of Britain will find over time, largely because of the enormous success both Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega have gone on to enjoy in Doctor Who and Star Wars respectively. This is one of the most unique sci-fi films of the decade, with a brilliant alien design, and a focus on working class Londoners. It is also very funny, with some of the unknown actors involved in the project getting even more laughs than the likes of Nick Frost.
Crazy, Stupid, Love – Romantic comedies aren’t always the genre that I would immediately jump to, unless you’re counting teen coming of age movies. I think Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the big exceptions to that rule. The cast for this is incredible. With Steve Carell, Julianna Moore, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon and more. It also marks the first collaboration between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, a pair who just have electric chemistry, that would thankfully see them star together in La La Land. But Crazy, Stupid, Love is more than just its cast, because it is also just a sweet film in the end that will definitely leave you feeling good.
Drive – The 2010s was a great decade for Ryan Gosling, and 2011 in particular saw him shine in a number of different roles. I think Drive showcases his incredible capacity to give such a powerful and emotive performance with remarkably few words or big explosions of emotions. He is capable of giving such subtle performances that say so much. He also works brilliantly with director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose distinctive visual and tonal style suits Gosling’s more reserved performances to a tee. This is a violent, tense, a raw thriller, and one which comes with the perfect soundtrack.
Hanna – There has since been a TV show adaptation of Hanna made, however every time I try and watch it I just wonder why I’m not watching the movie instead. A great action thriller following a 15 or 16 year old Saorise Ronan playing the titular character, as a reclusive girl who was extensively trained by her father, and finds herself on the run from a CIA operative. The film has some great action, Ronan in a role so unlike anything else in her career so far, and an absolute banging sound track from The Chemical Brothers.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – The final Harry Potter movie had to be included. For an entire generation this book and film series was a defining cultural touchstone and this was the last true film in that series, yes there have subsequently been spin offs, but they’re not the same. So I feel as though The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 warrants inclusion on this list just based on what a seismic event it was. It also helped that it was a really good film, after the messes that were The Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix and the fact the first Deathly Hallows just didn’t feel like Harry Potter this could easily have gone wrong, but David Yates stuck the landing.
Hugo – Hugo is such an outlier in Martin Scorsese’s filmography. This was his chance to explore the space of a children’s film, and new technology, in this case 3D. It is a really lovely film that manages to hark back to the classic Amblin films of the 80s and early 90s in a way that had sort of drifted out of fashion, whilst still being remarkably current because of Scorsese’s decision to push technology to the fore in the way he did. It obviously pays great reverence to the history of cinema, whilst pushing forward cinema itself. If Scorsese isn’t a director you usually like, then Hugo might be the film to change your mind.
Melancholia – The middle part in Lars von Trier’s so called “Depression Trilogy”, Melancholia is really the only one of the three I have any interest in watching. Unlike the other two it doesn’t rely on shock value to attract people. No instead this is truly a powerful story of depression led by Kirsten Dunst’s incredible performance. She plays Justine, a woman whose severe depression is slowly bringing the titular planet towards Earth. I am really not a fan of Lars von Trier’s general work, and would describe most of his films as an acquired taste, but Melancholia is an exception.
Source Code – Duncan Jones’ second feature film Source Code doesn’t necessarily equal the level of genius we saw in Moon, but it is still a brilliant idea for a sci-fi film. With more than a touch of Groundhog Day in the premise we follow Jake Gyllenhaal’s Captain Colter Stevens having to reenter a past terrorist attack on a train in order to discover the identity of the bomber and prevent future attacks. The train storyline is a solid mystery that adds something new to that Groundhog Day style premise, and the sci-fi world around it makes this probably the most imaginative take on the idea since Groundhog Day.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – I am honestly still frustrated that Gary Oldman didn’t walk away with the Best Actor award at the Oscars for his performance as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is a masterclass in subdued and nuanced acting as we follow Smiley’s investigation into a double agent in the British secret service. Tomas Alfredson, who previously made Let the Right One In, does a marvelous job in adapting John le Carré’s classic spy novel. It doesn’t have the quick pace and action of a more modern spy thriller, instead focusing on great craft and an engaging story.
21 Jump Street – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s first film, but with 21 Jump Street they really cemented their voices as some of the most brilliant comedy filmmakers working today. Rebooting old TV shows can be a hard ask, you have to make it stand on its own well enough, whilst still pleasing fans of the original. Or you could just use your reboot, and subsequent sequel, as a chance to lambast and mock Hollywood’s habit of pumping out reboots and sequels. The Jump Street films are genuinely laugh out loud hilarious, even when you’re not with an audience, and the chemistry that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have is brilliant. A must watch if you’re frustrated by a lack of originality in Hollywood.
The Avengers – When you think about how many attempts there has been to get big shared universes off the ground in the 2010s, with the likes of the DCEU or the Dark Universe, the film that really began it all, and the only one that succeeded is The Avengers. Bringing together characters from essentially 4 different franchises into one film was a hell of an achievement for Marvel, and to have it be a brilliant, entertaining movie in its own right is really something. At the time seeing The Avengers together would have been enough to get fans to love a mediocre movie, but the fact that it is so beloved and quoted even now really says something. But there have been plenty of great and successful blockbusters, but few that have shaped the cinematic landscape like The Avengers.
The Cabin in the Woods – Horror can be a hard genre to do. You have to try and find something new and fresh, whilst still playing into the majority of the horror tropes out there, because people still expect that in their films. I don’t think I’ve seen a film twist those conventions on their head, whilst still using them, quite like The Cabin in the Woods. It offers big explanations for all the dumb things you always see in horror movies in a genius way. And the right when the film needs it everything gets switched up and we get one of the most insane and bloody finales you’ll see. I’m sure horror fans will have been all over The Cabin in the Woods, but this is a great film for those who aren’t big fans of the genre as well.
Dredd – Dredd is a comic book film but with the feeling and gritty tone of Robocop with the trapped in tower block story from The Raid. It is also finally a fitting adaptation of 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd comic books after the atrocious Sylvester Stallone version from 1995. Karl Urban makes a far superior Judge Dredd and Olivia Thirlby’s performance as Judge Anderson is an underrated aspect of the film. The film is written by Alex Garland, who would go on to make Ex Machina and Annihilation, so it is not surprising that the script was great. And the way that director Pete Travis’ brought the Slo-Mo scenes to life is beautiful.
The Grey – The Grey was a film that performed fine, but definitely drew some criticism and that is purely down to the mismanagement of the advertising campaign. The trailers sought to capitalise on Liam Neeson’s resurgence as an action star since Taken and made this seem to be a film where Neeson fights wolves. In reality that isn’t the point of the film. This is a film about a man on the verge of committing suicide who through a disasterous situation finds a will to survive and live again. If you go into The Grey expecting a survival film like that rather than an action film, then you’ll be in for a treat.
Killing Them Softly – Killing Them Softly is one of those rare films that received the worst possible grade, an F, when polled by CinemaScore. Some of those films that received an F are awful, but Killing Them Softly is not one of them. The trailer showcased it more akin to a Tarantino film than the film actually happens to be. There are some funny moments in there, but nothing like what the trailer suggests. It feels like if people were to go watch Killing Them Softly expecting more of a crime thriller that comments on capitalism in America then they’d enjoy it a lot more.
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson movies don’t tend to be full of action and blockbuster excitement. No, he is a filmmaker who focuses on his characters. Their journeys and interactions. The Master tells the story of a World War II veteran who gets drawn into a cult called The Cause after meeting its leader. The two men are played by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and they are why you should absolutely watch The Master. You may not be a fan of slower paced storytelling, but when you get two acting performances like Phoenix and Hoffman’s it needs to be seen. The film itself is brilliant and unsettling, but these performances are something else.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I love coming of age comedies and drama, I’m not sure exactly what it is about that time in your life that is so ripe for great storytelling, but there have been a lot of great examples in the last decade. The Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with some social misfits and the struggles they go through, particularly with their mental health. All its main actors play against type, at least for what they were known for at that time, with Emma Watson in particular managing to lose the Hermione tag that has hung over her since Harry Potter. Honestly there haven’t been too many coming of age films in this decade that really succeed when played as a drama rather than a comedy, but this is one. However I do find it unrealistic that three people would have never heard David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ before.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! – I still can’t believe that no one really talks about The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! Because this was Aardman Animations coming back to their roots and making a brilliant stop-motion animated film. People rightly adored Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and I think The Pirates! deserves to be talked about alongside those. Hugh Grant is delightful as Pirate Captain and the supporting cast list includes Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, and a host of other talented actors. I’m a big fan of stop-motion, particularly from Aardman, and I’ll keep hoping more people check out The Pirates!.
Skyfall – I think James Bond films can be an acquired taste. I recently watched all 24 of them (you can find my rankings here) and it is fair to say there is a bit of a formula. The one film that really feels like it breaks from that formula is Skyfall. This is a film grounded by the relationship between Bond, M, and the villain Raoul Silva. It isn’t about world domination, but rather it has personal stakes. Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, and Javier Bardem are all superb, and the new Q and Moneypenny are excellent. Sam Mendes’ direction is stunning, and working with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins means Bond has never looked better. Honestly this isn’t just a great Bond film, but a great film, and the one I would recommend to those who aren’t fans of the franchise.
12 Years A Slave – 12 Years a Slave isn’t an easy watch, but it is an important one. Telling the story of violinist Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and solid into slavery for 12 years. Steve McQueen is known for making hard but powerful dramas like Shame and Hunger, but 12 Years a Slave is the best of the lot. Brutal and uncompromising in its depictions of the cruelty Northup experienced whilst held in slavery this is the kind of film you will only ever want to see once. And see it you should, there are some incredible moments in the film, most notably is when Northup declares “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” a quote that has resonated with me to this day.
Before Midnight – The final film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, which spanned 18 years, Before Midnight is the perfect ending to this long term treatise on life, love, and relationships. This entry is really in here to represent the trilogy as a whole, because you should watch the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, before you move onto this one. Much like the previous film this one was written by Linklater and the two stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and once again they absolutely knock it out of the park. Much like the first it is set over a single afternoon, but the situation in this one has changed since those first two. All three films are great examples of Linklater’s ‘slice of life’ filmmaking, and are impossible not to love.
Elysium – I think Elysium got a bit of a raw deal upon release. Sure it isn’t as good as District 9, but District 9 is a work of genius, and I do think Elysium deserves to be judged on its own merits. As an action film Elysium is a lot of fun. As a sci-fi film the social metaphors are about as subtle as… well as subtle as District 9, but honestly that doesn’t make it any less impactful. Elysium is a film about the class divide and the ways that the working class are controlled and kept down in capitalist societies, particularly looking at healthcare, and whilst it isn’t perfect, it does get Neil Blomkamp’s message across. Oh and if social commentary isn’t your thing it has a ridiculously unhinged performance from Sharlto Copley and so great action sequences.
Fruitvale Station – Ryan Coogler had a hell of a decade. He would go on to reinvigorate the Rocky franchise with Creed and was at the helm for one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most acclaimed films with Black Panther, and Michael B. Jordan has been there with him every step of the way. But before those the pair made Coogler’s directorial debut, the brilliant and powerful Fruitvale Station, a film detailing the last day of the Oscar Grant’s life before his murder at the hands of the Police. This is still a subject that is still so important and relevant, 7 years since the film’s release and 11 years since Grant’s death. This is the kind of film that is hugely important, and should be seen.
Rush – Formula 1 is one of those marmite sports, so I imagine a film about Formula 1 was off putting to many people out there. But the story of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is a pretty extraordinary one. Hunt was laid back and exuberant, whilst Lauda was more calculated and reserved. The 1970 season was an incredible clash of these two completely different personalities, and director Ron Howard brought it to life. I think motor racing can be hard to make cinematic, but Howard does an excellent job. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl are fantastic as the two racers and completely embody them and their rivalry.
Short Term Twelve – Brie Larson appeared in a number of films in the 2000s and early 2010s, particularly memorable in the likes of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street. But her first leading role, which has since propelled her to being one of the biggest stars on the planet in the likes of Room and Captain Marvel came in Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12. Larson is wonderful as Grace, the supervisor of a group home for troubled teens, who discovers she is pregnant, ubt struggles to emotionally open up to her boyfriend. The film also touches on the stories of Jayden and Marcus, two of the group home’s residents, who are struggling to deal with mental health issues. The film is heartbreaking and uplifting, and all of that is embodied in Larson’s performance.
Sunshine on Leith – A Scottish musical built around the music of The Proclaimers just makes perfect sense, and it’s a bit of a surprise it was never done before. The film is such such a joyous experience, and will hopefully introduce people to more of The Proclaimers songs than just ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’. The film stars George MacKay, an actor who ended the decade starring in 1917, as Davy, a young soldier who returns home to Edinburgh, and we follow Davy and his family’s subsequent relationships. Sunshine of Leith is just a good time, guaranteed to leave you beaming and with a host of great Scottish music.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the beautiful and heartbreaking story of a young girl from rural Japan who is found in mysterious circumstances and grows rapidly. A Studio Ghibli film by Isao Takahata, it is based on the story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Completely animated using a traditional hand drawn style taken to the fullest, with every shot appearing like a sketch. That makes every shot in the film a joy to look at, even without the story behind it The Tale of the Princess Kaguya should be seen just for the stunning work that went into the art for every shot.
Under the Skin – Under the Skin isn’t a film everyone will love, but this bizarre and ambiguous arthouse science fiction film is a one that deserves to be seen so everyone can make their own minds up. Despite the presence of star Scarlett Johansson the film failed to make back its £8million budget, which given that writer and director Jonathan Glazer created something completely unique and original in the world of film is a real shame. The film doesn’t offer answers as to why Johansson’s other world being is here, or exactly what Glazer was trying to say with the film, but there is a lot you can read into to draw your own conclusions. Whilst not a film for everyone out there, it is the kind of film that can easily get under your skin (sorry).
The Wolverine – Logan is the only one of the Wolverine spin off trilogy from the X-Men film series that really received any love from the public, but I still maintain that The Wolverine, the first film James Mangold made in the series has been underappreciated since its release. The film sees Logan denouncing his previous monacur of the Wolverine and retreating away from society in an attempt to avoid his guilt of Jean Grey’s death in The Last Stand. This is a very different story for Logan than any other in the franchise, and Jackman is fantastic. The Japanese setting and story is mostly great. Whilst there are a couple of weaker aspects to the film, I think it deserves to be looked at as one of the better X-Men films.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Rupert Wyatt did a fine job with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it is when Matt Reeves came on board for the second installment in Caesar’s story, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that the series went to a whole nother level. Andy Serkis continues his remarkable performances as Caesar, but Toby Kebbell as his more aggressive lieutenant Koba is equally as exceptional. These motion capture performances really deserved more recognition than they got. Contrasting the internal struggle between the apes is Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, and he offers the human counterpart to Koba to really allow Reeves to explore the build up to all out war, and how that was created by some individuals.
Edge of Tomorrow – Edge of Tomorrow, Live. Die. Repeat. or All You Need Is Kill. Whatever you want to call this movie, it is a brilliant action science fiction film, and a great take on the repeating day idea. The film takes what could easily have been a dense concept and turns it into an exceptionally fun ride. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are fantastic, and the way they manage to build the relationship between the pair, despite only Cruise’s character remembering the time loops. But it isn’t just great sci-fi, the action sequences Doug Liman directs are thrilling, and should appease those who aren’t as interested in the higher concept storytelling.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson is a one of a kind filmmaker, and Grand Budapest Hotel may well be his masterpiece. Anderson has such a definitive and original style and I feel like everything building up to The Grand Budapest Hotel allowed him to perfect and hone his craft until he produced something that is as close to perfect as Grand Budapest Hotel is. Every frame is a carefully produced work of art, with every detail being considered to make it look perfect. Anderson also stacks the cast with his usual assortment of collaborators, but amongst those he hadn’t worked with are Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori who are both fantastic. But the standout is Ralph Fiennes in the starring role as M. Gustave. Fiennes has never been better, showcasing a flair for comedy that I never knew he had, it is unforgettable.
It Follows – It Follows is David Robert Mitchell’s suspense filled horror movie about a young woman who is stalked by a shapeshifting entity that is invisible to others and is passed on through sexual intercourse. Part of the new trend of critically acclaimed horror films that eschews the traditional jump scares that many find cheap and wearisome in favour of creating a tone and atmosphere of dredd and horror. Mitchell specifically goes for a nightmarish dream feeling, with Disasterpeace’s first feature film score really helping cement that. The film doesn’t spell out answers or ideas for you, instead leaving it open to interpretations, whilst still providing a satisfying narrative.
John Wick – If you haven’t embraced the action masterclass that is the John Wick franchise you really ought to give it a try. There are two things that really make John Wick such a special film. Firstly the world of the assassins that is created in the film, particularly around the Continental, is one of the coolest new worlds for quite some time. The first film creates a rich lore around Wick and the Continental, and if you’re a fan of that the later films expand on it, but if you’re not the it isn’t so over the top in the first film. Secondly the action sequences in John Wick are stunning. The film being directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two people who had worked as stuntmen, means they truly understand how to craft great action sequences, and how to shoot them. The John Wick films have been setting a new standard for action films, and deserve to be seen.
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a dark and twisted film about a man who records violent and shocking events for the LA news, and raises questions about ethical journalism and how far news channels and individuals will go to in order to keep the public interested in the news. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, the man who begins selling the footage he takes to KWLA 6 and gives one of the best performances that you’ll see in any film from the 2010s. It is still unbelievable to this day that Gyllenhaal didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination for the role, when I’m sure many people out there will still believe he should have won.
Pride – Pride is the kind of film that was never going to get much play outside of the UK. A film about the relationship between an LGBT organisation and a town of striking miners in 1980s Britain. The group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, realised that there was a lot in common between the the causes and realised that despite their differences they needed to present a unified front against Thatcher and her Conservative government. Pride is funny, heartwarming, and powerful. The film features an all star cast of British talent with everyone from Imelda Staunton and Andrew Scott to Dominic Wes and Paddy Considine. This is the kind of underseen gem that deserved so much more attention.
The Raid 2 – The first Raid film was a brilliant and small scale Indonesian martial art action film directed by Welshman Gareth Evans. The Raid 2 however is a crime epic that sees Iko Uwais’ Rama go undercover in the Jakarta criminal underworld. Where the first film was confined to a single tower block this sequel encompasses the waging of a full on gang war, something that we witness through Rama’s involvement. Iko Uwais is a great actor, and an exceptional martial artist, and Evans really knows how to get the best out of him. In particular the scene where Rama fights the Assassin will be remembered for a long time as one of the great action sequences of the 21st Century.
Selma – Ava DuVernay’s historical drama depicting the march between Selma and Montgomery focusing on the role of Martin Luther King Jr. was the film that propelled DuVernay to a big name amongst the film community. DuVernay imbues Selma with such heart and passion that she draws you right into this well known story. Even in the USA, where this is obviously better known than the rest of the world, this is a film that managed to strike a chord and not merely feel like a history lesson. One of the big reasons behind that is David Oyelowo’s powerful performance as King.
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle’s sophomore film Whiplash might not be the kind of film that you’d immediately gravitate toward if told it was a film about a drummer at a prestigious music conservatory. But that is really just a way for Chazelle to explore the intense relationship between an highly ambitious young performer with dreams of being one of the greats and an abusive teacher who pushes his students to breaking point in an attempt to unlock that level of greatness within them. JK Simmons in particular is extraordinary as that teacher, Terence Fletcher. This film is also a perfect example of the importance of editing in crafting a film, as editor Tom Cross gives scenes of the bands playing the same energy and urgency of a great action film. Whiplash is simply a stunning piece of work, and not the last time Chazelle will be appearing on this list.
Bone Tomahawk – Bone Tomahawk isn’t a film for the faint of heart, S. Craig Zahler’s western horror is something truly brutal, containing one of the most notorious scenes of the 2010s. Western films have dropped out of favour since their hayday, but by mixing it with horror Bone Tomahawk truly reinvigorated the genre. Where something like The Hateful Eight from the same year feels sleek with Tarantino’s expert filmmaking and rich dialogue, Bone Tomahawk is a nasty film that doesn’t shy away from the harder and grimmer parts of life in the 1800s wild west. As mentioned there are some scenes in Bone Tomahawk that have gained notoriety, but I don’t think that it’s such a comprehensive part of the film that it’s unwatchable if you’re squeamish when it comes to the gore.
Crimson Peak – It still saddens me that Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak was mostly dismissed as being a light and forgettable film. I think what most people expected from Crimson Peak was a film that leaned heavy towards either the gothic romance or the haunted house horror aspects of the film. However what del Toro created in Crimson Peak blends the two perfectly. This is a film all about atmosphere. Whilst Crimson Peak isn’t traditionally scary. There certainly aren’t any scares, that are hallmarks of the horror genre, instead del Toro creates a haunting feeling over the entire film. The production design, something always immaculate in del Toro’s films, really adds to this by making the mansion so sinister and creepy, meaning one you arrive in England there is a level of unease throughout.
Dope – Often coming of age films fall in two distinct categories. Firstly there are the dramatic ones, which tend to show a tougher side to life as a teen, and then there are the comedic ones that are usually light and focus on relationships. Narratively Dope really plays out more like the former as the central characters get mixed up in a drug deal, but has the heart, humour, and colourful joy of the latter. Director Rick Famuyiwa took a big risk by making Dope a more comedic film given that it could easily feel tonally inconsistent as it doesn’t lean too hard in either direction, but Famuyiwa walks that line brilliantly and delivered a delightful film.
Ex Machina – Alex Garland has been working in the world of film for a while writing on Danny Boyle films 28 Days Later and Sunshine as well as Never Let Me Go and Dredd. But it was his directorial debut Ex Machina that really brought him to most people’s attention. The film is a small-scale sci-fi examination of the concept of artificial intelligence and humanity. The cast is threadbare, with only four actors really featuring at all, and the core three Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander are all stunning. Ex Machina is the kind of film that will have you gripped and invested for the entire runtime, but will leave you with so many fascinating ideas that stay with you after the fact, and that is always the sign of great sci-fi for me.
Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier’s horror thriller revolves around a punk band who end up being trapped in a bar’s green room by neo-nazi skinheads when they discover a body after the show. Green Room is a gritty, grimy, claustrophobic, and gore soaked experience. The majority of the first half of the film slowly ratchets up the tension, before the second half sees it come to life as the violence slowly escalates. Thankfully Saulnier isn’t interested in gratuitous violence, but the very real threat he establishes in the film makes it a gripping experience. The cast is packed with young talent, including Anton Yelchin, who sadly passed away after the film was released. But Patrick Stewart as the leader of the nazis is a revelation, menacing and genuinely scary at times, it feels unlike anything you’ll have seen him in before.
Inside Out – Easily Pixar’s best film of the 2010s, and quite possibly ever, Inside Out does the thing that Pixar does so well, taking complex ideas and simplifying them so that younger viewers can understand them. In the case of Inside Out Pixar is exploring the complexities of emotions, particularly the importance of an emotion like sadness, and the importance of these emotions in a person’s growth and life. On top of that it has all the memorable characters, great humour, and big emotional moments you would expect from a top tier Pixar film. I think what makes Inside Out such a must see however is that this is a film aimed at younger people, whilst still being accessible for all, that can really help teach them true emotional maturity, and the importance of letting yourself feel sad and upset, and not to repress that.
The Lobster – The Lobster is truly an absurd film. A bizarre dark comedy from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster exists in a world where single people have just 45 days to find a romantic partner or they are turned into lobsters. Everything in the film is played extremely deadpan, with even the more emotional outbursts still being underplayed and as deadpan as possible. Despite the strange style the film feels more accessible than much of Lanthimos’ other work as both a director and writer, particularly when compared to something like 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and a nice gateway to seeing whether Lanthimos’ work is something that gels with you. If you enjoy darkly satirical films then The Lobster is an absolute must.
Mad Max: Fury Road – Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterclass in both storytelling and action. Obviously people gravitate towards Fury Road because of the action, which is pretty breakneck throughout the film, which is played out as one big car chase across a desert and back. George Miller decided to have almost everything in the film be done through practical effects and exceptional stunt work, meaning that scenes of people on swinging poles during a car chase actually happened. What I believe makes Fury Road one of the all time great films however is the way Miller and the other writers told the story. How many films rely on big exposition dumps? It is something that can be done well if you use those scenes to inform character, but often we just get exposition. Fury Road however has none of that. This is all ‘show don’t tell’ storytelling where there is so much you can gleem about the world and the characters but the film isn’t put on hold to tell us. Fury Road is simply a masterpiece.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – Whilst Guy Ritchie’s film reboot of the classic Man from U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t a huge box office failure on paper, making a little over its stated budget, it didn’t exactly make bank at the box office, meaning that it lost the studio a fair amount of money. And that is a real shame because Ritchie’s version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an absolute delight. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill are such a great pairing. They do fantastic jobs as Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, and every scene with them squaring off against one another or reluctantly working together is just electric. The film is stylish, fun, and has some excellent action scenes, but the reason it needs to be seen is the central pairing.
Sicario – Denis Villeneuve directing a script written by Taylor Sheridan with Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin starring is every bit as brilliant as that combination of talent sounds. Sicario is a film that explores some of the ethics and the more questionable side of the US government’s attempts to take on Mexican drug cartels around the border. Villeneuve crafts some of the tensest and most thrilling scenes of the decade and Benicio del Toro is such a powerful force in the film when his character chooses to step into the limelight. But what makes Sicario really work is Emily Blunt and her character Kate Macer. Not only is she the one who we follow into this world, but she is the moral centre of the film, and was a character who was sorely missing from the sequel Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
Arrival – With films like Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario Denis Villeneuve really made his name in the thriller genre. So when he made the sudden sideways step to idea driven science-fiction with Arrival it could easily have raised a few eyebrows. However Villeneuve proved himself to be a master of sci-fi as well. Arrival is the kind of film that tells a small and personal story, in this case about linguist Louise Banks, whilst still tackling expansive ideas about the world and themes of bringing people together. Amy Adams is absolutely stunning as Banks, giving Arrival its emotional anchor that makes everything around it work. Without her performance Arrival wouldn’t have anything like the impact it does, but with her it has become one of the great modern sci-fi films.
Kubo and the Two Strings – The animation studio Laika has done some exceptional things using the medium of stop-motion animation, but their crowning achievement thus far has been the beautiful Kubo and the Two Strings. Firstly this film looks gorgeous and knowing that it was painstakingly created through models, including a 16ft tall skeleton puppet, just makes it all even more special. The world that the writers and director Travis Knight created is so rich as well, and the characters are wonderful. The monsters and set pieces set up in the world are so cool and feel unique, but it is the really heartfelt story about family and the power of stories that always stands out to me far more.
La La Land – La La Land was a film that as soon as I saw it I just fell in love. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming. This is the definition of a happy place film for me. But La La Land is so much more than that. Damien Chazelle’s musical masterpiece follows the relationship between Seb and Mia, two people struggling to follow their respective dreams of owning a Jazz Club and being a successful actor. At La La Land’s core is the struggle with this beautiful relationship, that Chazelle and actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone get us so invested in, and the pursuit of their dreams which ends up coming into conflict with that. What makes La La Land so special is the way Chazelle makes us care about and get invested in both aspects of these characters, and still gives us a satisfying end, despite this conflict.
Moonlight – As well as being one of the strangest Oscar winners ever, after La La Land was originally wrongly announced to have won, Moonlight is a genuinely jaw dropping film from Barry Jenkins. A tender and powerful look at a gay black man, Chiron, through three different stages of his life: childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. All three actors who take on the role of Chiron are extraordinary, as are the three who play his closest friend Kevin. Every technical aspect of Moonlight is pushed into greatness, with some truly stunning cinematography by James Laxton, and a great score by Nicholas Britell two of the aspects that stand out the most. But most of all Moonlight is a film that shines a light on the type of stories that are not often told, but Jenkins makes sure that it is here.
The Neon Demon – Nicolas Winding Refn’s films have often been firmly based in the crime thriller genre, but with The Neon Demon he fully moved into psychological horror. Following a young woman who enters the fashion industry as a model her youth and beauty instantly generate intense jealousy from those around her. The Neon Demon was the kind of film that worms its way into your brain and sticks around despite not immediately being blown away because of its very surface level characters. Instead of character The Neon Demon is very much about atmosphere and the place that the film ultimately goes, to the point that I think that the thin characters really don’t matter. Give The Neon Demon a chance, the only thing I’ll say is that its not forgettable.
The Nice Guys – When people talk about films that should spawn sequels The Nice Guys is frequently near the top of that list. Shane Black’st throwback 70s neo-noir black comedy crime film felt ripe for some franchise potential, managing to end off the film in a place that felt open for new installments. Despite this it never feels like The Nice Guys never feels like a film that is concerned franchising, instead telling a great self contained story. Ryan Gosling showcased some exceptional comedic timing, and this was the best that Russell Crowe had been in years. Shane Black has become known for creating great stories filled with his razor sharp wit and hilarious dialogue, and in The Nice Guys he created a film up there with Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford’s psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals is something really unique. The film features a story within a story, where the framing device sees a woman, Susan, reading a dark and disturbing novel by her ex husband. Amy Adams is terrific as Susan, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal plays both her ex husband, and the central character in the novel he’s written. This is the story within the story, and it features an exceptionally gripping and tense sequence that stayed with me long after the film finished. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the principal villain of this story, and his menacing and terrifying performance was unlike anything I’d seen from him before, really breaking away from the image I had of him from Kick Ass, Godzilla, or Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Pete’s Dragon – Of all the Disney live action remakes the one that seems to have been most ignored by the general public is Pete’s Dragon, despite the fact that it remains amongst the best. When you consider that Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion all made over a billion dollars despite being terrible it really saddens me that Pete’s Dragon never found close to the same level of success. Despite that however Pete’s Dragon remains one of Disney’s best live action remakes, a film with such heart and love running through it that it will move adults and children. It feels like a throwback to the classic Amblin movies, particularly ET, certainly delivering far better than Spielberg’s own reimaging of a beloved kids story in 2016, The BFG.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – If you want a great comedy from the 2010s then honestly you don’t need to look any further than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Created by the guys from The Lonely Island, Popstar is a brilliant send up and satire of modern day pop stars. It features so many hilarious bits or jokes and some exceptional comedy songs as you would expect, but also a genuinely lovely story about friendship at its core. Andy Samberg is absolutely hilarious as Conner4Real, and the expansive supporting cast is not just stacked with great comedy talent, but they all get some great moments to showcase it. I feel like Popstar is the kind of film that could have been a Waynes World esq phenomenon, but somehow it underperformed, and that is a real shame.
Your Name – Studio Ghibli has been the gold standard of animated storytelling in Japan, and to be honest around the world, but with Your Name Makoto Shinkai really announced himself as a name to watch. Shinkai has been making feature films since the mid 2000s, but Your Name was the one that broke through and captured a lot of people’s attention. Your Name is ethereal and otherworldly, whilst still telling a beautiful and relatable love story that’s connection isn’t lessened in the slightest by the fantasy elements. Your Name is the kind of film that will always make me fall in love with the story, laugh at the brilliant humour and jokes, and sob uncontrollably at the emotional moments. I genuinely believe that Your Name is the greatest animated film since Spirited Away, and we had some great ones in that 15 years.
Blade Runner 2049 – After showing he could do exceptional work in the science fiction genre with Arrival I don’t think anyone thought you could get a better pick for a belated sequel to the 1982 classic Blade Runner. The first Blade Runner is a great piece about the nature of humanity and what it means to be human, something that Blade Runner 2049 takes even further. Starring Ryan Gosling as a replicant, K, who works as a blade runner that gets caught up in the search for the child of the replicant Rachael, Rick Deckard’s love interest from the original film. 2049 has all the thoughtfulness of the original, is packed with great performances, and has some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve ever seen from Roger Deakins. 2049 was a big box office bomb, and it deserved so much more.
A Ghost Story – A Ghost Story isn’t a film that everyone will love, but David Lowery’s arthouse supernatural meditation on grief is the kind of film that if it affects you will affect you hard. There’s one really infamous scene fairly early on that is really a litmus test. Watching it I was almost laughing at what I was watching, but then slowly found it becoming deeply moving. Casey Affleck plays C, a musician who is killed in a car accident and slowly witnesses moments in time as they happen at his former house. Rooney Mara as his wife M is just incredible, and it is her who we watch attempt to cope with the loss of C. I’d highly recommend watching A Ghost Story, because even though it is a film you may well hate, there is a good chance it will resonate with you as strongly as it did with me.
Good Time – Before Uncut Gems became a big hit on Netflix this year the Safdie Brother really became a known quantity with the crime thriller Good Time. Set over one day as Robert Pattinson’s Connie takes his developmentally disabled brother Nick from a therapy session. This film right from the off starts tense as the pair rob a bank at Connie’s insistence, and it only continues to grow over the course of the film. The Safdie Brothers’ managed to make a genuinely brilliant film on a fairly shoestring budget. Pattinson is fantastic as an increasingly desperate man, and this was the film that really changed many people’s minds about Pattinson as an actor, and that should be enough of a reason to watch it.
It Comes at Night – The marketing really did It Comes at Night dirty. It portrayed it as some kind of zombie film where an external force was trying to get into the home the central group of characters lives. In actual fact the film is about the growth or paranoia, which is the titular ‘it’ that besets the two families living in the house. Watching this in the cinema was a hell of an experience. Director Trey Edward Shults really captures the feel of paranoia by crafting an exceptionally tense atmosphere that never lets us, to the point that I needed to take a short break just to breath, and that really shows what a great job Shults did.
Lady Macbeth – She may now be becoming something of a household name thanks to her starring roles in Midsommar, Fighting With My Family, and Little Women, not to mention her upcoming role in Black Widow, but Lady Macbeth is still Florence Pugh’s finest hour. Based on a 1860s Russian novella that was inspired by the Shakespearean character, rather than a retelling of Macbeth, this is a film about Katherine, a woman who refuses to accept her standing as a woman constrained by the society of the time, and over the course of the film realises her power and grows throughout. Pugh plays this journey exceptionally, growing Katherine from a meek and controlled young woman, to someone who completely takes control of her situation.
The Lost City of Z – Based on the life of British explorer Percy Fawcett and his attempts to find the titular lost city in the Amazon, The Lost City of Z is a great examination of obsession and the destructive impact it can have on someone, and their family. Charlie Hunnam is an actor that I usually like in films, but he’s never really shown himself to be an exceptional actor. Playing Fawcett however Hunnam is fantastic, really helping carry the film through some of the slower sequences. Robert Pattinson is unrecognisable, literally for a little while in my case, as Fawcett’s companion Corporal Henry Costin giving another great performance in a smaller film. This is a beautiful film, and one that really showcases the destructive nature of obsession.
Paddington 2 – Many critics claimed that Paddington 2 was the best film of the 2010s, and honestly I can absolutely see why. The film is an absolute delight, and truly embodies the spirit of “If we’re kind and polite the world will be right”. You just don’t get films filled with the level of charm and joy as you do Paul King and Simon Farnaby’s Paddington movies. The second one in particular features a great villainous turn from Hugh Grant as a washed up and self obsessed actor, Phoenix Buchanan. It is truly a delicious performance where Grant gets to ham it up to the max. Everything about Paddington 2 is just wonderful, and the moving finale is sure to bring a tear to your eye.
Personal Shopper – For anyone out there who still believes that Kristen Stewart is a bad actress you have to watch Personal Shopper. Olivier Assayas’ supernatural psychological thriller, which follows personal shopper Maureen who recently lost her twin brother and makes attempts to contact his spirit, gave Stewart a medium to truly shine. The film is a meditation on loss and grief, and this really allows Stewart to show her range, where she never could in her biggest hits Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman. The film changed my mind of Stewart in a big way, and is an excellent film. As a whole Personal Shopper is ethereal and moving, whilst maintaining all the creepy and tense moments you’d want from a thriller.
Raw – Ok, I said that these were going to be films that everyone should watch, well let me say that if you can’t really stomach gruesome images then you should avoid Raw with every fiber of your being, but you will be missing something special. Raw is a film I haven’t rewatched since 2017, but it is still a film that was deeply affecting when I think back on it. Following a student at a veterinary school, who during a hazing ritual begins to develop a taste for cannibalism. Raw is awash with seriously graphic images, and some of the practical effects look incredibly real. But beyond that the writer director Julia Ducournau has created a really great film about sexual awakening, with an exceptional performance from young star Garance Marillier. A lot of people are going to want to avoid Raw, but for those who can stomach it this is a film that will truly affect you.
Wind River – Taylor Sheridan had previously written Sicario and Hell and High Water for directors Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie. But with Wind River he decided to step in and direct himself. Wind River can be seen as the third part in his trilogy of “the modern-day American frontier” and focuses on the investigation into the rape and murder of an indigenous woman on the titular resevation in Wyoming by a rookie FBI agent, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent she recruits to help her. Sheridan proved that he was every bit as good a director as he had been a writer, especially in the tight and tense action sequences. Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are excellent as the two agents leading the investigation, as is Graham Green as the local police chief, but it is Gil Birmingham as the girl’s father who steals the film. One scene in particular had me bawling whilst watching. Both of the previous films in this trilogy received a fair amount of attention and acclaim, but Wind River just got a bit overlooked.
Blindspotting – Daveed Diggs is best known for originating the roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the smash hit musical Hamilton, but with Blindspotting he teamed up with his childhood friend Rafael Casal to make this beautiful buddy comedy drama, about Collin, a parolee who witnesses a black man gunned down by a police officer. As well as containing social commentary that touches on race, gentrification, and police violence, Blindspotting is a film about friendship. The film sees Collin question whether his friendship with Miles and whether it is destructive. Diggs and Casal handle all of these ideas fantastically, both in the writing and their performances, managing to balance all of this with a deft touch of comedy to keep it from becoming too heavy.
Eighth Grade – Whilst it didn’t get a UK release until deep into 2019, Bo Burnham’s debut film as a writer and director was a really special film for me. Telling the story of eighth grade girl Kayla in her final week of Middle School, the film showcases Kayla’s struggles with anxiety, particularly in social situations. Burnham’s depiction of anxiety was one that rang so true for me, as someone who suffers from it myself. That makes watching Eighth Grade an incredibly personal experience for me, but beyond that it is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy drama. Burnham’s script is every bit as funny as it is relatable, and teenage lead Elsie Fisher is fantastic. From a personal standpoint this is a hard to watch yet brilliant film for me, but this is a film I’d encourage everyone to watch.
Free Solo – I’m sure you can tell from the fact that there aren’t many documentaries on this list, but I’m more of a fan of fiction storytelling, even if it is about true events I prefer it dramatised. However Free Solo is a documentary everyone should watch. You may not get to have the same experience I did watching it on an IMAX screen, but it is still a breathtaking work. Telling the story of rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to achieve the incredible feat of free soloing El Capitan, Free Solo is one of the most exhilarating watches out there. Honnold is a fascinating person, and his drive to achieve his goal, despite the exceptional risks, makes him someone you want to root for. The cinematography on display is not just stunning for the shots, but the fact that they had to get them in a way that would endanger or distract Honnold on his climb.
Hereditary – In my opinion Hereditary is the best horror film of the 2010, and probably for quite a few years before that. It is incredible to think that this was Ari Aster’s directorial debut and first feature film as a writer because he handles both aspects with the touch of a master. Hereditary isn’t just a film that needs to be seen, it is a film that needs to be watched multiple times. There is so much depth and craft, both in Aster’s script and his work behind the camera, with an exceptionally tight plot that all pays off, in a way that needs to be caught on rewatches. And then we get to the performances. Everyone is great in the film, but Toni Collette gave one of the best performances of the decade, but was sadly overlooked for awards because Hereditary is a genre film. There is so much going on in the small details of the film that repays multiple watches that if you only watch one horror movie from this list make it Hereditary.
Revenge – Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a bloodsoaked and hallucinatory French revenge action horror film about a young woman, Jen, who is sexually assaulted and left for dead by the men she’s staying with, who then seeks revenge on them. And revenge we get. Fargeat slowly ramps up the levels of action as Jen takes on the three men. And as the action gets ramped up so does the level of blood that begins flowing. Revenge is brutal, exhilarating, and when the action kicks off a fairly cathartic experience to see these despicable people get what they deserve. But it isn’t just a schlocky B movie. We also see Fargeat’s skill as a director, particularly in collaboration with cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, because the film is beautiful to look at on top of the action.
Searching – We’d seen films all presented through computer screens before, principally the Unfriended horror series. However in these cases it felt like a gimmick that was the only thing holding the film together. In Searching it is certainly a gimmick, but one that director Aneesh Chaganty used fantastically to unravel the story, and it is backed up by an excellent mystery thriller. What really makes Searching work though is the lead performance by John Cho, as the father of the girl who goes missing, and he is well supported by Debra Messing and as the Police Officer leading the investigation and the girl who goes missing respectively. The film explores the different lives we lead online and in person, and the medium of having every appear on computer screens allows this to be explored fantastically.
Shoplifters – Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Japanese drama Shoplifters tells the story of a family that relies on shoplifting to survive as they live around the poverty line. The explores the very idea of family, and what it means particularly in a situation like this. Every one of the performances from the actors portraying the family is fantastic, but special mention to Kairi Jō playing the young son. They really make sure you feel the bond between the group, and as we get to the final act of the film they deliver a big emotional gut punch. Kore-eda keeps the film feeling grounded, and is never trying to be too flashy, just letting the character speak for themselves. Shoplifters is such a beautiful film and it was well deserving of its Palme d’Or win.
Sorry to Bother You – Boots Riley had been known as a musician, particularly with The Coup, but moved into the film industry with his writing and directorial debut, the dark comedy Sorry To Bother You. The film is a weird look at capitalism and the way it is used to oppress the working classes, it particularly focuses on people of colour and how they are used by the capitalist system. That sounds like it could be a dense film, but Riley tackles these themes through comedy and complete absurdism. The film starts strange and goes to some of the wildest places you’ll ever see in a film, and it is truly joyous. In the UK Sorry To Bother You got a very limited release, but this is a must see.
Upgrade – Upgrade was Leigh Whannell’s second film as a director, but he had already made a name for himself in horror as a writer on the Saw and Insidious franchises, but whilst Upgrade does have some big body horror aspects it leans harder into the cyberpunk action action genre. The film is about a technophobe who gets an upgrade called a STEM implant that allows him to regain the control of his limbs after being left paralysed by an attack that kills his wife. The film sees the man wrestle for control of his body with STEM before it offers to help him track down the men responsible for the attack. The action sequences are brilliantly constructed by Whannell, and are brutal. Upgrade was a film that largely went under the radar, but Whannell’s brilliance is on full display here, and it deserved more hype.
You Were Never Really Here – Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a slow burn thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a mercenary who deals with his own trauma, who is hired to find a politician’s daughter. The film is absolutely stunning and really should have dominated at awards season in my eyes, with Ramsay’s direction, Phoenix’s performance, Thomas Townend’s cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s score all deserving at least a nomination. It all coalesses into a brilliant and stark insight into Joe’s mentality and trauma that is slowly explored, but never overtly stated by Ramsay. It adds such depth onto the already engaging storyline. It reminds me of a more lowkey and independent Mad Max: Fury Road, capable of even more brutality.
1917 – War films have always been one of the genres that I have the least interest in, but 1917 is a genius work from Sam Mendes that hooked me in. From a purely technical point of view what Mendes achieved is staggering. The entire film is filmed as though it is one continuous shot. There obviously are some cuts in the film, but they are seamless, meaning it seriously appears as though it is all one long take. And this isn’t just a gimmick, it draws you into the story of these two men who have to make it to another troop to call off an attack. It makes you even more invested in their journey. And there is even more technical greatness in the film as Roger Deakins easily claimed his second cinematography Oscar for this film, and Thomas Newman delivered a spectacular score, which makes the emotional resonance of the film even greater. 1917 is truly a film that has it all. Brilliantly imaginative, moving and emotionally engaging, and with an incredible level of craft behind it.
Ad Astra – Ad Astra, whilst not a box office catastrophe, was certainly a disappointment. James Gray’s tale of an astronaut who goes out in search of his missing father is a stunning depiction of space travel grounded by a touching story of a dysfunctional father and son relationship. The scale Gray creates in the travel scenes is breathtaking, and hopefully that will translate to home screens like it did in the cinema, and the cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema is just beautiful. Brad Pitt is brilliant in the leading role as the astronaut Roy McBride, and Pitt plays McBride’s confused feeling towards his father with a delicate touch that gives the entire film a real poignant feeling.
Avengers: Endgame – Ok chances are you’ve seen Avengers Endgame, it was the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusting for inflation) after all. But that is why it belongs on this list. This is a film that made history with, not only its box office success, but with this kind of long form ambitious storytelling. Endgame was the closing chapter of 11 years and 21 previous films worth of story, and it delivered a satisfying final chapter. Now that does mean you’ll have to get some kind of understanding on the previous storylines to have all the character’s storyline and character arcs work for you, but like Avatar and Titanic before it I feel like you have to see a film that had this level of cultural impact.
Booksmart – Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, is in my opinion one of the greatest coming-of-age comedies of all time, up there with The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Booksmart story that puts female friendship front and center, as we follow Molly and Amy, played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, as they attempt to party on the last night before graduation because they’re viewed as boring by most of their classmates. Despite the majority of the young cast being made up of unknowns Wilde gets great performances out of them. Billie Lourd is my favourite, with her performance as Gigi quickly becoming one of my favourite characters. Booksmart is heartfelt, hilarious, and just a joyous movie experience.
Diego Maradona – The second documentary that appears on this list is Asif Kapadia’s documentary that tells the story of the titular footballer’s time with Napoli. Maradona is a controversial figure in the sport, his level of talent is undeniable but his self-destructive nature was always in conflict with it. That story of rise and fall for Maradona is best reflected through his time at Napoli, to the point that it feels like this must’ve been scripted. It is a truly remarkable story, that all comes to a head in the most perfect way imaginable during the Italia 90 World Cup semi final. The film will really help you understand the tragedy of Maradona, and even those who despised him before will surely feel for him after watching Diego Maradona.
Knives Out – The murder mystery genre is often based in the work of Agetha Christie, and tends to have a more archaic feel to them, so Rian Johnson set out to make one that was definitively based in modern day America. A good murder mystery is hard to pull off, but when you have a film as tightly scripted as Knives Out those worries just flow away. Every single scene and moment in Knives Out is important in some way. And you may not even realise all of those on a first watch, which means that even when you know the film’s plot it is ripe for rewatching. Johnson also made a concerted attempt to get an all star cast, and definitely nailed that. Thankfully Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, the detective in the film, is a joy. He is clearly having the best time, and that carries through the audience, so I cannot wait to see more films with him in the role in the future.
The Lighthouse – Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a film like no other. We’ve seen other psychological horror films that feature isolated characters slowly losing their minds, but we’ve never seen it depicted like Eggers does in The Lighthouse. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers who both give superb performances. Pattinson’s more reserved junior wickie Ephraim Winslow slowly comes more out of his shell as the isolation sets in, whilst Dafoe is more bombastic as the senior keeper who gives some exceptional speeches. The film is shot in an unusual square 1. 19:1 aspect ratio and in black-and-white, both of which just add to the film’s unusual charms.
Little Women – Period dramas certainly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I know they aren’t really mine. I’ve seen a few and have never come out of one having been blown away, even Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. However this adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel about the four March sisters stuck with me. This film is a little slice of pure joy in 2 hours. Yes the film, like the novel, has its heartbreaking moments, but when I think back on my time watching Little Women I cannot help but smile. Gerwig’s screenplay and direction are fantastic, the performances from the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet are stunning, and all the behind scenes elements come together to make this version of Little Women one of my absolute favourite cinematic experiences of the decade.
Parasite – Bong Joon-ho’s last couple of films, Snowpiercer and Okja had largely been in English, but he returned to his roots with Parasite, a darkly comic crime thriller following a family who live in a semi-basement apartment who attempt to con their way into the household of a wealthy family. Bong Joon-ho has always been a director with a talent for addressing social and political issues in films that still have broad and populist appeal, but never before has he achieved it as well as in Parasite. The film tackles the issues of class, and class struggle in Korean society, but it was a message that was felt around the world. On top of that Parasite is a great thriller, with a genius storyline. The performances are all spectacular, particularly Song Kang-ho and Park So-dam. Everything about Parasite is genius, and it is easy to see why it made history by becoming the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture at local awards ceremony, the Oscars.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Céline Sciamma’s historical drama set in late 18th Century France showcasing the relationship between Héloïse, a young woman who is being married off to Milanese nobleman, and Marianne, the painter who is hired to secretly paint Héloïse’s portrait by her mother. The film is a gorgeous depiction of a relationship, as well as the two women’s friendship with Héloïse’s maid Sophie. Sciamma builds the relationship slowly, meaning when it finally comes it feels exceptionally well earned. The performances of the two central women, Noémie Merlant as Marianne and Adèle Haenel as Héloïse, are stunning. Haenel in particular is an absolute joy in the film. Portrait of a Lady on Fire builds your heart up before completely breaking it. This is just a stunning film, and one that should have been competing at the Oscars.