With the 2010s now passed, it is time to review the decade’s best achievements. From here we enter my 100 favourite films of the past decade: this is a measure of how much I enjoy them, rather than a measure of quality. With 100 films from 10 years, everything from here is good enough – in my opinion at least – to make an annual top 10. Here are the picks from #100-76.
#100: Bridesmaids (2011, USA. d. Paul Feig.)
Paul Feig’s wedding-themed comedy was a proper delight, making excellent use of a hugely talented group of women including Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Ellie Kemper. It also enabled women to star in the sort of exaggerated gross-out comedy that has traditionally been the overwhelming domain of men. The jokes come thick and fast, and are immensely quotable – and most importantly of all, they never get old. This is easily one of my favourite comedies of the decade.
#99: Journey to the Shore (2015, Japan. d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa.)
In Kurosawa’s unsettling and lyrical drama, a piano teacher receives a visit from her dead husband, and together they embark on a journey through Japan. The performances by Eri Fukatsu and Tadanobu Asano are superb, and Kurosawa directs the film with a measured pace and tremendous grace. He continues to be one of the most interesting directors working today – not only in Japan, but worldwide.
#98: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, USA. d. James Gunn.)
When they announced that James Gunn, director of Slither and Super, was jumping to the big leagues with a feature film based on the Abnett and Lanning run of Marvel’s comic book Guardians of the Galaxy, I predicted it would be a big commercial hit. Weirdly, many Hollywood commentators doubted its chances because the cast featured a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree, when to me it was clear it would succeed for precisely the same reason. Succeed it did, with a funny screenplay, a great cast, an ‘out there’ science fiction setting, but most of all because the characters had charm, humour, and heart.
#97: Kong: Skull Island (2017, USA. d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts.)
Just when it seemed Hollywood didn’t make old-fashioned proper monster movies any more (the Jurassic Park sequels have not really been working out creatively), along comes Jordan Vogt-Roberts with the perfect giant monster adventure with a clever period setting, the exact sort of talented cast you want to see in this kind of a picture – Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman, and plenty of fast-paced running away from hideous creatures. A part of Warner Bros’ “Monsterverse” shared universe, Kong currently sits heads-and-shoulders above the studios two Godzilla pictures.
#96: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, USA. d. David Fincher.)
The original made-for-television adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was solidly made and boasted a career-making turn in the lead role by Noomi Rapace, so many people questioned the creative merits of an English-language remake. The answer? Style. David Fincher’s version is visually stunning, sexualised and violent to a squirm-inducing extent, and brilliantly cast with some of the very best – notably Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgard. It is Rooney Mara, however, who makes the biggest impression as Lisbeth Salander. She offers a distinct take from Rapace’s, which I personally find more striking and effective. She plays Salander simultaneously as an exposed electrical wire and a cracked and brittle work of art.
#95: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, USA. d. Gareth Edwards.)
On the one hand, I generally dislike prequels because rather than tell stories they deliver trivia, and I have never been a fan of lead actress Felicity Jones. On the other, Rogue One is a smart, fresh take on a Star Wars universe of grunt-level soldiers, and desperate rebel missions far and away from Jedi Knights, super powers, dynastic sagas, and ancient mysticism. Instead it’s essentially The Dirty Dozen for the science fiction set, with good characters undertaking desperate measures against impossible odds. It turns out that without the Force, the galaxy is a terrifying place.
#94: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017, USA, UK. d. Guy Ritchie.)
Guy Ritchie’s laddish, contemporary take of the King Arthur myth was critically slammed and commercially unsuccessful, yet I found a huge amount to enjoy in Legend of the Sword. Whether the adaptation of Ritchie’s schtick to the Dark Ages, or Jude Law’s suave villainy, or Charlie Hunnam’s no-nonsense take on the titular hero, or Daniel Pemberton’s outstanding musical score, this film left a huge impression on me. A few more years and this will become a small cult favourite like Excalibur before it.
#93: Long Shot (2019, USA. d. Jonathan Levine.)
The concept – a schlubby journalist played by Seth Rogen has a romance with a Presidential candidate played by Charlize Theron – is about the least promising of its year, and yet in practice Long Shot was tremendously funny and wildly effective. The screenplay sparks from joke to joke, while Rogen and Theron successfully sell a Hollywood-style “pretty girl, chubby man” romance better than just about anyone. The film is also a great opportunity to showcase Theron’s comic talents. She’s brilliant.
#92: Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018, USA. d. Christopher McQuarrie.)
The magical action franchise that keeps improving keeps improving. The first direct sequel of the series, Fallout delivers grim consequences to super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) for his capture of an international terrorist in the last film. The ensemble work is still working well, and the stunt work and action are absolutely outstanding. The only caveat is there is definitely an end or a change needed soon, as Cruise is visibly looking both old (which is, in itself, fine) and trying to hide it (which is distracting).
#91: Like Father, Like Son (2013, Japan. d. Hirokazu Kore-eda.)
Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful architect whose life is thrown into a spin when he discovers that his son was accidentally swapped with another family shortly after birth – and the child he has been raising his not his own. It is an absurd yet nightmarish scenario, one that Kore-eda uses to spin off debate on class, nature versus nurture, definitions of family, and more. It’s a film made up of great acting, beautiful photography, and strong and surefooted pacing.
#90: John Wick (2014, USA. d. Chad Stahelski.)
The genius of John Wick is certainly not in its simple story, in which a retired assassin (Keanu Reeves) goes on a murderous rampage when a group of criminals murder his pet dog (a gift from his terminal ill wife). The genius is in how a simple revenge narrative is used to frame a series of increasingly violent and over-the-top action sequences that are fluidly choreographed, gleefully entertaining, and gloriously soaked in blood. Keanu Reeves was already a star; John Wick and its sequels (one good, one terribly leaden) have made him a legend.
#89: Free Fire (2016, UK. d. Ben Wheatley.)
IRA members go to make an arms deal in an anonymous warehouse, only for a combination of poor behaviour and disastrous misunderstanding lead to an all-out shootout between the two parties. Free Fire is, like John Wick, an outstanding shell constructed around non-stop action. It’s much more overtly comic in this case, and uses a great ensemble cast too: Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, and Cillian Murphy.
#88: The Big Short (2015, USA. d. Adam McKay.)
The lead-up to the global financial crisis is played out in a genius manner that highlights imagination, humour, and style. It is a tremendously dry subject matter on which to base a film, but Adam McKay manages it in a way that is not only entertaining and easy to follow, but which is actively educational as well. Great performances don’t hurt it either, including good work from Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling.
#87: Avengers: Infinity War (2018, USA. d. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.)
If The Avengers was a miracle of filmmaking in how it dragged together several different films and threw their protagonists together, then Infinity War is an event of an order of magnitude so much higher we probably don’t have a word for it. The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is pulled up into the alignment to tell one great big intergalactic epic, and presents the climax of a 20-odd film series that took a decade to tell. It is imperfect, but on this scale imperfection is completely acceptable. The cliffhanger ending – probably Hollywood’s biggest since The Empire Strikes Back – doesn’t hurt. The sequel (Endgame) was less impressive, but putting the genie back in the bottle is never as exciting.
#86: The Nice Guys (2016, USA. d. Shane Black.)
If your reaction to The Nice Guys was to roll your eyes at yet another aggressively male Christmas-set buddy movie from writer/director Shane Black, I honestly don’t blame you. The truth is though, I don’t think he has ever made one quite as good as The Nice Guys. Ryan Gosling is on typically good form, while Russell Crowe delivers one of his best screen performances in absolutely years. Inappropriately funny, cleverly plotted, and immensely stylish, this is a superb variation on Black’s career-long theme.
#85: Bacurau (2019, Brazil, France. d. Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles.)
In the near future, a small Brazilian town comes under siege from foreign big-game hunters, each targeting the local villagers. That is honestly the extent you likely need to know going into this excellent and unexpected Brazilian thriller, co-directed by Aquarius filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho. If it is any help, the Internet Movie Database classifies this one as action-adventure-mystery-sci-fi-thriller-western. That’s as good an indicator as any.
#84: Mary Poppins Returns (2018, USA. d. Rob Marshall.)
Some films simply do not require sequels. Mary Poppins had previously struck me as one: while author P.L. Travers wrote multiple novels about the magical nanny, the one-of-a-kind nature of Robert Stevenson’s 1964 film seemed like lightning in a bottle. While Rob Marshall’s 2018 follow-up does not quite hit the heights of the original, it is remarkable just how close it comes. Emily Blunt thankfully gets to deliver her own lead performance. It is informed by Julie Andrews’ take, but has valuable room to chart its own course.
#83: A Quiet Place (2018, USA. d. John Krasinski.)
Emily Blunt is also superb in A Quiet Place, co-starring and directed by her real-life husband John Krasinski. After most of the world’s population has been killed by sound-sensitive monsters, a family of four silently prepare for the birth of their third child. It is a deft exercise in setting up a deadly restriction – don’t make any noise or you will die – and then put its characters in every situation imaginable where they must make noise. The star player here is Millicent Simmonds as Regan, a hugely talented deaf actor playing a deaf teenage girl
#82: Blade of the Immortal (2017, Japan. d. Takashi Miike.)
Takashi Miike directs this overwhelming act of samurai excess, based on the popular manga of the same name. It is a superb visual tribute to chanbara director Hideo Gosha. The opening fights pits samurai Manji (Takura Kimura) against more than one hundred swordsmen. The films gets more over-the-top before it ends. This was Miike’s 100th feature film in a varied career running the gamut from arthouse to grindhouse. It is the perfect celebration, and a huge amount of fun.
#81: Amour (2012, France, Austria, Germany. d. Michael Haneke.)
Michael Haneke is a supremely talented director, and likely one of the world’s most depressing. This French language masterpiece begins with a dead body found in an apartment bedroom, and then flashes back to deliver a dreadful and heartfelt tragedy of an octogenarian couple (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) forced to face the consequences of a stroke. It is a deeply moving work, and probably one of Haneke’s very best.
#80: Little Forest (2018, South Korea. d. Yim Soon-rye.)
Hye-won (The excellent Kim Tae-ri) returns to her countryside home, having left Seoul and her university studies there. Her mother is absent, but Hye-won stays on regardless, reconnecting with friends and rediscovering the traditional comfort foods of her youth. It is really difficult to make an interesting movie without some kind of antagonist. Little Forest goes without one entirely, and instead offers a leisurely and gentle character study blended with a showcase of some tremendously tasty-looking Korean cuisine. It is such a relaxing experience to watch.
#79: Brave (2012, USA. d. Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews.)
Brenda Chapman’s spiritual Scottish fantasy is one of the best features ever made by Pixar Animation Studios. It is beautifully rich and complex in its visuals, tells a woman-centric story for the first time, and blends humour, drama, and scares in a seemingly effortless fashion. It is enormously sweet and charming, with a surprising degree of historical accuracy (Hollywood has never showcased archery better). While Chapman was sadly fired from the project midway through production, we are lucky that her inspiring vision remained intact in Mark Andrews’ final version.
#78: I Wish (2011, Japan. d. Hirokazu Kore-eda.)
Yet another inventive drama by Japanese directorial master Hirokazu Kore-eda; I think this is his third on the overall list, after Air Doll and Like Father, Like Son (above). Two young brothers, separated geographically by their parents’ divorce, formulate a plan to make a wish at the exact point the trains from their respective new homes cross paths. As with much of Kore-eda’s work, it is a serene and naturalistic work with rich characters, a measured place, and strong acting – including by the two juvenile performers playing the brothers, real-life siblings Koki and Ohshiro Maeda.
#77: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, USA. d. Rupert Wyatt.)
20th Century Fox’s once popular Planet of the Apes franchise is provocatively and excellently re-created in Rupert Wyatt’s near future drama about a scientific project that boosts the intellect of a group of apes – with extremely unexpected effects. It is a remarkable way to reboot a story, taking the basic ideas and tropes of the original 1960s and 1970s science fiction films and positioning them freshly into a effectively contemporary setting. James Franco, John Lithgow, and Freida Pinto are all very good, but the film belongs to Andy Serkis – performing a CGI character that far and away represents his best work.
#76: Hidden Figures (2016, USA. d. Theodore Melfi.)
The real-life contributions of three African-American women to the American space program are told in Hidden Figures, a subtly-told and emotive course-correction for audiences’ understanding of the space race. The script captures the woman in spirit, if not 100% in fact, but it is the lead performances that nail it. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are a dream cast, while Kevin Costner is wonderful in his supporting role. There’s never been a better male actor at portraying American history.