With the year almost concluded, I am taking a look back at my favourite movies of the past decade. Here are picks #275-251, but in all honesty it is less about where a film has ranked and more that it’s on the overall list. These are all films I would happilly recommend to others. It’s also worth noting that the overall list is obviously drawn from films I have seen – with a lot of movies released every year all around the world, there is plenty of popular and acclaimed stuff since 2010 that I simply have not had the chance to see. Let me know your opinions of these 25 films in the comments below.
Independent filmmaker Ti West scored a critical horror hit in 2009 with The House of the Devil. He scored another one two years later with The Innkeepers, an intimate and low budget horror film that relies on old-fashioned haunted house techniques over any sort of contemporary shock or gore. Two employees of a reportedly haunted hotel (Sara Paxton and Luke Healy) spend the last weekend before the building closes down hunting for ghosts and supernatural phenomena – only to find more evidence than they expected, or wanted. It’s a wonderfully unsettling and effective horror piece based on a cine-literate understanding of the supernatural horror genre on West’s part. Kelly McGillis is good in a supporting role as a travelling actress-turned-psychic.
Also known as ‘that one where Tom Cruise keeps dying’. While it has its flaws in story and character, Edge of Tomorrow is a strong and very enjoyable science fiction action vehicle for Cruise, in which a disgraced military officer fighting an alien invasion of Earth experiences a Groundhog Day-style time loop. It’s smart, appropriately funny when it needs to be, and packed with rock-solid action beats. Emily Blunt makes an impact in a showy supporting role of the fellow soldier persuaded (repeatedly, every day) to help Cruise in his mission. The film also acts as a positive showcase for Doug Liman, whose career has had a few bumps and misses since he first came on the scene with Go (1999).
Danny Cannon’s 1995 film Judge Dredd was very badly received by fans of the popular British comic character, for a variety of reasons that were both core to the character and weirdly trivial. They were much more impressed with the 2012 take directed by Peter Travis, which smartly relegates the protagonist role to the optimistic Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). This leaves Dredd (Karl Urban) to remain the unrelenting satirical figure that he is in the 2000 AD comic strip, and provides for a much funnier and authentic narrative. The plot, shamelessly stolen for Gareth Evans’ The Raid which hit cinemas first, is a clever one that allows for a confined location and intense action. The cast, which also includes Lena Headey and Domnhall Gleeson, are savvy to the tone. As a comic book adaptation, it’s one the decade’s very best.
Matteo Garrone’s ode to European fairy tales is a visually lush and stylised work, presented deliberately to an adult audience who could take the far bloodier and sexualised stories than what family-oriented films typically presented. The cast is sensational, including Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel, and Toby Jones. The selected stories that Garrone adapts are particularly old versions of famous stories, giving everything a much darker and brooding tone. The film is a big depature for Garrone as well; having made his career out of stark naturalism, he gives Tale of Tales a deliberately artificial look. This is also a film that rewards repeat viewings, with its qualities becoming more apparent as the viewer settles into its distinctive style and narative rhythm.
A woman loses her husband in a landslide, and struggles to rebuild their family business – a hot springs bathhouse – that has been buried in the debris. While she works to save her livelihood, she starts to receive greeting cards from her dead husband – leading her to question if he is still alive. Kuo Chen-ti’s independent drama is a small-scale but powerful work, shot on location among Taiwan’s mountainous region. It is well written and performed, and also well shot – capitalising on the natural landscape’s beauty and divided between colour and black and white. The Boar King is one of the more obscure films on this list – I had to get the DVD from Spot Film House in Taipei – but it is a wonderful small gem.
Lake Bell has always been a great actor who never quite managed to gain the profile she deserved. Back in 2013 she took matters into her own hands by writing and directing her own star vehicle, In a World… It is a wonderful, small-scale comedy set in Hollywood’s voiceover industry, pitting Bell’s aspiring voiceover artist Carol Solomon up against her industry legend father Sam (Fred Melamed). The supporting cast reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Hollywood stand-up talent, including Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Rob Corrdry, Demetri Martin, and Stephanie Allynne. It is a wonderfully enjoyable film, with a strong screenplay, funny performances, and a unique setting.
On the interplanetary road between Earth and a far-off colony lies an orbital diner where travellers can dock and grab a meal before setting off into deep space. One particular day it’s staff and customers suffer a range of crisies ranging from career opportunities, to romantic entanglements, and sexual escapades. Galaxy Turnpike is a broad 2015 Japanese comedy from popular writer/director Kōki Mitani (The Uchoten Hotel). It is a love-or-hate-it sort of a film, partly because it is so actively silly and bizarre and partly because Mitani’s use of old-fashioned farce techniques are going to wear on some audiences. Personally I find the weirdness makes the farce palatable, but comedy can be such a personal thing. I find it a strange little delight; your own mileage may vary.
There has been a gradual but firm decline in the quality of Jackie Chan’s films over the past decade or two. He’s getting steadily older and less able, which is to be expected, but with most of his works remaining broadly superficial there is little else to appeal to viewers once the stunts wind down. Weirdly 2016 saw him star in two action vehicles. One, Kung Fu Yoga, was among his weakest works with misplaced comedy, racial stereotypes, and CGI heavy stunt work. The other, the historical action film Railroad Tigers, was smartly written, well cast, and genuinely funny. Chan plays the leader of a Chinese crew sabotaging Japanese train lines during World War II. One of the best elements of the film is that it spreads the action out from Chan to his co-stars, including his own son Jaycee. There is a bit of broad and subtle racism against the Japanese here, which is typical of some Chinese films, but to be honest it’s no worse than how the Germans get depicted in similar features.
A Korean intelligence agent (Lee Byung-hun) goes on a vengeful rampage against the serial killer (Choi Min-sik) who murdered his fiancee. I Saw the Devil is relentlessly violent and ceaselessly grim stuff, courtesy of director Kim Jee-woon. It is beautifully shot, and its two stars are among South Korea’s finest, but the film does present a graphic grand-guignol descent into back-and-forth depravity that a lot of viewers are really not going to like. For its very specific genre, however, I Saw the Devil is one of the all-time best. People complaining about the likes of Saw and Hostel have no idea how far these kinds of movies can go.
Two people in Hong Kong meet at their building’s outside smoking area and fall in love. Pang Ho-cheung takes a change in Hong Kong’s smoking laws and spins it into a comical and socially astute romantic comedy. Stars Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue’s agile, funny performances makes this a wonderful two-hander. You can feel the influence of films like Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally in Pang’s film, as smart conversation between friends slowly transforms into something more emotional. For a Hong Kong comedy, it is surprisingly grounded and lacks the overt silliness that creeps into most movies of its type. Only a modest commercial success in Hong Kong, it managed to segue into two similarly funny sequels.
Maude (Adelaide Clemens) refuses to join her family in believing her twin sister Cleo is dead. Searching for where she has gone, Maude stumbles on a unwelcoming and suspicious community out in the countryside. Luke Shanahan’s Rabbit never really got the profile I think it deserved. Clemens is excellent, as is her co-star Veerle Bætens, and the film has been assembled with strong visuals and a brilliantly edited together musical score (by Michael Darren). Overall it is a deliberately ambiguous and shifting work, with a large and open debt to similar European thrillers from the 1970s.
While not as good as its 2008 predecessor, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sequel pops with energy, style, and humour. Robert Downey Jr does perhaps push Holmes’ eccentricities a little too far this time around, but he is well balanced by Jared Harris as a coolly professional Professor Moriarty and by Jude Law – still performing what it to my mind the all-time best turn as Dr John Watson. The film’s ambitions are a little larger this time, and makes great use of its European setting. A third film in the series is yet to be made, which seems a shame. At their best these Holmes films are top-of-the-line, with plots, music, and visuals that are at the very best of Hollywood standards.
When a home in Rhode Island becomes haunted by a supernatural force, paranormal investigator Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are brought in to investigate. This is the first film in the immensely lucrative Conjuring shared universe, which has expanded out from here in such films as Annabelle, The Nun, and various sequels. It is a very effective horror film, directed by James Wan in a distinctly different style to his enormous popular Saw franchise. Despite its strengths as a hugely enjoyable slice of ghostly terrors, the issue over the Warrens remains. They are based on real people who seem likely to have been deluded at best and predatory con artists at worst; their reputation really did not need to be burnished by a popular Hollywood film franchise.
To get 127 Hours‘ big problem out of the way: it is ultimately a film in which the audience waits about 90 minutes for a man to cut off his own arm. That does dent any sense of suspence, to be honest, but what is left is an enormously stylish and creative blend of flashbacks, hallucinations, and a lot of James Franco understandably freaking out. Danny Boyle was the perfect director for this project, applying his immense directorial skills to make a narratively limited true story into a near-psychadelic horror show. Sometimes that creativity goes a little too far: scenes of the actual amputation are dizzyingly unpleasant to watch. Franco is outstanding, given how much of the film he has to perform on his own.
I am a sucker for films in which a single person is trapped on their own in a dangerous and seemingly inescapable situation (hence the appearance, in part, of 127 Hours above). The Shallows is a great example of this genre: a young American woman (Blake Lively) who goes surfing off an isolated Mexican beach and winds up trapped on a rock with the tide rising and a large aggressive shark attempting to eat her. It has a simple premise, a very limited scope – you essentially don’t leave the rock once Lively reaches it, and does not outlive its appeal. Plenty of filmmakers attempt to build thrillers out of sharks every year. This one is possibly the best attempt since Jaws (1975).
Britain’s strongest contributor to the folk horror genre this decade has definitely been Ben Wheatley, who followed up on his deeply unnerving film Kill List with this black and white thriller set during England’s civil war period. Men fleeing a pitched battle are led to a promised ale house, only to find themselves left in a field for the night instead. Urged to eat a mushroom stew to keep their strength up, they instead descend into a paranoid nightmare. Wheatley makes great use of the civil war setting, creating echoes of Witchfinder General, while Amy Jump’s screenplay makes disturbing miracles out of a deliberately constrained setting.
Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono has had a brilliantly busy decade, directing no less than 18 feature films between 2010 and 2019. They all stand out in one way or another, thanks to Sono’s seemingly endless creativity, but Tokyo Tribe makes a particular impression. Based on a popular manga by Santa Inoue, it is a frantic blend of action, drama, comedy, and music, and it is almost entirely performed in hip-hop rhyme. Viewers can debate whether the film is misogynistic or simply a portrayal of misogyny, but it is certainly going to stimulate debate and have both its fans and detractors. My recommendation is to watch it and make up your own mind if you can. If nothing else it’s strikingly original.
Tony Krawitz is one of Australia’s best contemporary directors, and Ewen Leslie one of its best actors. Their 2005 short feature Jewboy was a remarkable drama, and their 2012 follow-up Dead Europe is even stronger. Leslie plays Isaac, a gay photographer who volunteers to take his father’s ashes back to Greece. Once there, he becomes fixated on his father’s past actions and becomes haunted by a hidden tragedy – both metaphorically and physically. It is based on the Christos Tsiolkas novel, and is a tremendously atmospheric and increasingly bleak film.
Rome’s most powerful general Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) wins a major victory for the state, and is invited to enter politics. When his rage sees him betrayed by his own people, Coriolanus switches sides to join his arch-enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Coriolanus is one of William Shakespeare’s most challenging and mature tragedies, and this feature – directed by Fiennes – is the first attempt to adapt it for cinema. He does a great job, relocating the action from ancient Rome to a modern Eastern European state and finding contemporary relevance as he goes. Fiennes is fantastic in the title role, but it is Gerard Butler who truly excels as the bitter, ambitious enemy Tullus Aufidius. It’s possibly the strongest performance of his career.
#256: The Garden of Words (2013, Japan. d. Makoto Shinkai.)
Makoto Shinkai has since become Japan’s most popular anime director outside of Hayao Miyazaki, but in 2013 he directed this intimate, small scale, and conversational short feature set in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen.
A soft reboot of Paramount’s Transformers franchise, Bumblebee emerges as far and away the best film of the entire series. Travis Knight directs in a career transition from animation to live-action, and acquits himself well. The film is set in the mid-1980s, giving it plenty of nostalgic appeal and ties into the action figure range’s origins nicely. The story has a much better focus to it by concentrating on the one Autobot rather than a dozen or more. It also repeats the “teenager’s first car” themes that made the original Transformers film connect with viewers.
In an alternative 1941, the world’s scientists are being kidnapped one by one and forced to work on an unknown project. April, whose own scientist parents have already been kidnapped, finds herself a target herself after perfecting their live-regenerating serum. April and the Extraordinary World is an absolutely charming cel-animated feature with a French bandes desinees aesthetic and a clever science fiction narrative. It boasts drama, action, and humour in equal measure. Due to its Francophone origins, it by-and-large passed English-speaking audiences by – it is will worth tracking down and checking out.
A dream project of Tsukamoto’s, this adaptation of the Shōhei Ōoka novel takes World War II – it follows a group of starving and desperate Japanese soldiers out of the Philippines – and renders it in the most graphic and bloodsoaked fashion imaginable. It is astonishingly violent, with no holds barred in terms of making it bluntly realistic. Tsukamoto pulls double duty as both director and star, and his tired and sickly infantryman makes for a readily identifiable but somewhat pathetic protagonist. A bit of self-awareness is needed to watch Fires on the Plain; you are going to be the best judge of whether or not you can cope with the violence. One scene in particular, involving a group of soldiers charging into American machine gun fire, is particularly confronting stuff.
A movie foley artist (Toby Jones) takes on a new job in Rome, and travels there from London. Once working on the film – which is supposed to be about horses – he discovers it is actually an increasingly violent horror movie. Peter Strickland achieves a remarkable feat in this small, independent thriller, being both cine-literature and stylistically progressive, and also focusing much of the film’s horror in its sound effects and design. It might be a little too ambitious for its execution, but I will take ambition over neatness every time. Toby Jones is excellent in this, as he almost always is.
A Russian intern named Pasha (Grigoriy Dobrygin) spends the summer months attached to a radioactivity sensing base on an Arctic island. When his gruff, unlikeable supervisor Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) illegally goes fishing, Pasha receives a message via radio that Sergei’s wife and child have been in a deadly accident on the mainland. It parks off a growing altercation between the two men. A ship and helicopter fails to arrive, and the tension between the two men spirals to ludicruos extremes. How I Ended This Summer is a claustrophobic and deeply intense thriller with a captivating setting and two great performances. The ramp-up of tension between the two men builds logically and frighteningly.