With the decade coming to a close, it is worth taking a look back at the best and most enjoyable films to come out over the past 10 years. I put together a long list, sorted them very roughly into some kind of order, and have been counting them down over the past few weeks. I have a fairly broad taste in film, so there are almost certainly films that should be on this list that I simply have never seen. I recommend not taking the rankings too seriously; in essence, if the film is on the list then I think it is worth checking out. Here are films #175 to #151.
It’s rare for a sequel to surpass its predecessor, and even rarer for a comedy sequel to do so, yet here 22 Jump Street is: making jokes about being a sequel without ideas but a greater budget. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill continue to make one of the best comedy double-acts of the decade, with guest star Jillian Bell working wonders as a snarky college student on Jenko and Schmidt’s latest mission. There has yet to be a 23 Jump Street, but that may be for the best: the closing titles sequence pretty much does a better job of it than any real film could do.
One of the more unexpected Disney animated features of the past 10 years, Big Hero 6 very loosely adapts an obscure Marvel comic miniseries. A strong anime influence gives it a distinctive and contemporary look, while the main narrative – a teenage boy grieves his dead older brother via that brother’s hand-built robot – is emotionally powerful and regularly very funny. The film is on hugely effective ground when it matches up protagonist Hiro Hamada with the robot Baymax. It is less exciting when it inevitably winds up an actual superhero flick,. The generic climax is unsatisfying, but luckily the lead-up is superb.
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are beautifully matched in this commercial American comedy in which a woman discovers her recently deceased boyfriend was secretly an intelligence agent and gets subsequently dragged into his final mission. The jokes hit well, the action is surprisingly brutal for a comedy, and McKinnon continues to prove herself as one of America’s absolutely best comic talents. Quotable lines and practical gags give this film a remarkable capacity for rewatches. I’ve laughed every single time.
“Stonehead” is a third-grader living in rural China while his parents work in a nearby city. He wins a merit certificate in school, and is given a football by a regional administrator – only to have his teacher take the ball as equipment for the school, ridiculing Stonehead in the process. When Stonehead sabotages and breaks the ball, his friend is blamed for it – leading him to desperately search for a way to replace the ball without incriminating himself. Zhao Xiang’s directorial debut is a naturalistic, small-scale drama with strong performances and powerful emotions, and a very distinctive Chinese setting.
As a country with a one-child policy, China has always suffered the problem of child kidnapping – a social issue dramatised to powerful effect here. Andy Lau plays a father who has spent 14 years driving cross-country in the hope of finding his son. Instead he finds a mechanic (Boran Jing) without parents; a victim of the same crime. They travel together in a journey to help each other and re-connect with their families. There’s an element of sentimentality to Lost and Love, but it’s an element that feels authentic and well-earned by the ensuing drama. It’s a particularly strong role for Lau, who delivers great work here and highlights a serious problem for Chinese society.
Marvel Studios finally produced a superhero film with a female lead. Continuing the science fiction themes and interplanetary settings of Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel successfully introduces a new hero to the MCU roster, brings in comic book stalwarts the Skrulls and the Kree, and best of all: casts Australian acting legend Ben Mendelsohn as a green-skinned, shape-changing, Australian-accented villain. Comic reader expectations are subverted, and an exciting origin story is told. Quite why Marvel are taking so many years to produce the sequel is a mystery.
Fast & Furious‘s Justin Lin takes on Star Trek, and injects into it the high pace and humour that rejuvenated the earlier franchise so well. The result is a breezy thrill ride that absolutely nails the characters of the original Star Trek, tells a solid science fiction adventure story, and ups the action to hugely entertaining levels. It makes Star Trek feel contemporary again – something the franchise has not managed in a long time. Not just the best of the three reboot Trek films, but the best in the entire franchise since The Undiscovered Country in 1989.
Emmanuelle (Emmanuelle Devos) is an executive in the European renewable energy sector who gets the chance to become the first woman in the industry to lead a major company. The response from the male-dominated company, however, proves a viciously confronting challenge. Number One is dramatic, suspenseful, intelligent, complex, and very timely. Devos is absolutely outstanding in the central role, facing hurdles and blockades from every direction – including her own husband. A great supporting cast includes John Lynch, Sami Frey, Richard Berry, and Benjamin Bolay.
A spectacularly incompetent police officer goes undercover to join the Japanese yakuza in this ridiculous comedy from Takashi Miike. Toma Ikuta plays the hapless title character in a violent farce that adopts a scattershot approach: don’t find a joke funny? There will be another one in a few seconds. Want comedic violence, jokes about sex, knob gags, or musical numbers? The Mole Song has something prepared for you. Particularly good is Shinichi Tsusumi as the deadpan gangster Crazy Papillon. A slightly inferior sequel followed in 2016, but if you enjoyed this it’s obviously a must-see as well.
An ambitious police detective arrests a junior drug dealer and forces him to cooperate in bringing down a major drug kingpin. This is a slightly odd one, because not only is it a remake it is a remake of a film I have listed at #159 further down the page: Johnnie To’s Chinese thriller Drug War. Believer does some aspects of the film better than To, and other aspects not quite as well. Both, however, are excellent thrillers with strong performances, well-written characters, and slightly different plot twists and directions. Either are worth watching. If you have seen one it is still worth checking out the other. These intra-Asian remakes are getting more and more common. Believer is one of the best ones.
An ambitious and broadly very effective anthology of horror short films, directed by some of the USA’s most promising new genre directors. The content and quality varies a bit from film to film, but honestly there isn’t a bad short in the bunch. The two strongest pieces are probably “Amateur Night” and “10/31/98”. Portmanteau features like this rarely find much success, and it’s tremendous that V/H/S went so well. It was followed by two sequels – also both anthologies, and also well worth checking out.
A group of friends reunite in a country cabin, but find something dreadful has happened around them. This is an outstanding Spanish horror film, best viewed as context-free as possible. Rather than be a scary film of shocks and scares, it is the more effective (to my mind, anyway) slow and purposeful horror of dread. It boasts strong performances, solid direction, and a killer premise. There’s something very quiet, gentle, and relentless about The End that sticks in the mind, and earns it a place on this end of the decade list.
Director Mami Sunada takes a behind-the-scenes look at Japan’s noted Studio Ghibli animation studio, during a period when company co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were preparing their purported final films (Miyazaki has since started work on another; Takahata has sadly passed away). A combination of behind-the-scenes show, historical account, and biography gets to the heart of what makes these two exceptional directors tick, and why their films have been so successful. A montage of Miyazaki’s films at the documentary’s climax brings tears to the eyes.
Alita took literally decades to go from a manga licensed by James Cameron to a finished live-action product. While the result was hugely entertaining and remarkably faithful to its origins, its 2019 release saw it underperform; another casualty of Disney’s overwhelming strangehold over contemporary popular culture (ironically Disney also bought Fox, the studio that made Alita). It was unfair: a smart, fun, and attractive science fiction franchise could have easily supported another few trips back to the ruins of Iron City. A great film by and return to form for Robert Rodriguez.
Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired, Ron Howard almost reshot the entire feature, and Disney weirdly released it just months after the previous Star Wars film and directly in the path of an Avengers sequel. Costing too much (they did effectively make it one-and-a-half times) and earning too little, amiable action prequel Solo is the one Star Wars movie that flopped. It shouldn’t have: a cracking pace, strong elements of humour, and great performances by Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Donald Glover, and particularly Alden Ehrenreich as a pitch-perfect young Han Solo made this film a gleeful pleasure. Sure, it plays out a little too much like “How Han Solo Got His Stuff”, but the good elements are simply too much fun to care.
A retiree refuses to sell her apartment to make way for luxury condos, leading to a head-to-head battle with an unscrupulous property developer. This Brazilian drama is ostensibly about a real estate conflict, but really it’s all about getting old and losing out of status, happiness, love, and sexual satisfaction. It is all centred around Sonia Braga, who delivers a captivating performance in the lead role that was very likely the single-best acting work of its year. A marvellous and criminally under-seen picture.
An ambitious police detective arrests a junior drug dealer and forces him to cooperate in bringing down a major drug kingpin. If this sounds familiar it may be because you have already read entry #166 above, which is a remake of this Hong Kong/China original. Beating its remake out by a hair, this version is fabulously directed by Johnnie To – particularly in a bravura sequence where a police detective (a superb Sun Honglei) impersonates a drug buyer to connect with the seller, and then impersonates the seller to connect with the original buyer. Louis Koo excellently under-plays his captured and cooperating drug dealer.
A typically unrestrained revisionist take by Quentin Tarantino, this cine-literate western feels like a glorious, guilty pleasure. Mixing the spaghetti western with Blaxploitation, along with gleeful profanity and outrageous violence, Django Unchained is a showcase for actors Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo Di Caprio. It’s a deliberate drive-in movie, and the more westerns you have seen in the past the more you come to appreciate Tarantino’s collage-based, self-aware post-modernist approach here.
One time a captive orca at Seaworld named Tilikum went insane and murdered three people. Blackfish is the furiously angry and righteous documentation of why this should make all of us angry, and why we should never support performing animals in zoos and aquariums ever again. It is not a fun watch, but it is a powerful and important one. Its original release led to record losses at Seaworld and – by 2015 – the announcement that they would end performing shows and breeding programmes involving orcas for good. Pair this one with Project Nim for the most rage-inducing double bill of the decade.
The science fiction trilogy that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and continued in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 comes to a loud, violent close with this deeply tragic war film. The most remarkable part of the movie is that its motion-captured performances have become so strong, and the visual effects so convincing, that you simply stop watching a great effects picture and instead watch a story of humans dying out of a terrible virus while still trying to hunt the hyper-intelligent apes they created into extinction. Andy Serkis, through CGI, is superb as the ape leader Caesar. It’s a combination of acting and effects, but it is absolutely awards-worthy. Some award. Any award. We badly need a category for this.
Another Tarantino film, and another western. The Hateful Eight is everything Django Unchained was, and in addition it is extremely long, structured like a play, and deeply and deliberately unpleasant. It is an indictment of misogyny so harsh it features a black man and an avowed white racist team up to murder a woman. It is a sharp and brutal satire, with excellent actors playing terrible people: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and more. Likely Tarantino’s most difficult film, and I suspect if we ran a survey it is probably the most divisive. It’s a hell of a thing.
The true story of an Indian boy who was separated from his family, sent to an orphanage, adopted by Tasmanians, and who then found his way home years later using nothing but a laptop and Google Maps. Knowing the conclusion doesn’t matter; Lion is a powerful and poignant Australian film drama formed by powerful performances – particularly Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman – and pushed along by the sheer ‘wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true’ nature of the story. The tone shifts deftly from the tragic to the uplifting, and occasionally to the genuinely unsettling (early scenes in the orphanage are somewhat confronting).
The Walt Disney Animation Studio started the 2010s in an unenviable position, having lost its dominance of the American animation market to Pixar, DreamWorks and other CGI-heavy studios. Tangled led the way back, with animators finally nailing a method of restoring the painterly, hand-drawn style of Disney’s greatest animated features and tying them to the computer-generated visuals that audiences were demanding. It is a fairytale in the classic Disney style, and paved the way for their return to the top of the industry.
Another great film from the beginning of the decade. Lee Chang-dong directs the story of a Korean grandmother who faces the twin challenges of Alzheimers and a violent crime in her family by immersing herself in writing and reading poetry. It’s a long film, covering quite challenging material, but it is done with tremendous sensitivity and a surprising lack of sentimentality. Yoon Jeong-hee is simply outstanding in the lead role; she effectively came out of retirement to play it.
Robert Eggers’ 17th century horror film sees a family of deeply religious New Englanders get menaced by a supernatural presence from within the woods. It is a hugely effective and eerie work, with some striking sequences and scares, but more than that it’s a whip-smart thriller that has a lot to say about early American society and religion. It is deeply involved in presenting not just a historical setting but a historical mind-set – the terrified family are deeply superstitious, and the slow build of the horrors around them works spectacularly well.