Firstly thank you to our glorious editor-in-chief Tom for allowing me to use JUMPCUT, in lieu of me having a personal blog/website (2020 goals) to write an article on my Best Films of the Decade.
My main aim with this is to draw attention to lesser-known films that you may easily have missed, particularly films not in the English Language and those directed by women (although I haven’t tried to force films directed by women into my Top 100), which nearly always seem to fly under-the-radar. These films are more weighted towards 2016 and beyond, because that’s when I got Letterboxd and actually have a record of what I’ve seen. Unlike most people, I’m happy for you to respond with things I may have forgotten, especially if they’re in the genres mentioned below.
I am decided to group my favourites into genres (I’m using that term extremely loosely). Please don’t come at me about genre definitions because I’m using these terms according to what they mean to me. I group certain films together and I can’t always articulate exactly why, it’s usually to do with tone, atmosphere and aesthetics. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write something about every film.
So without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.
Full disclosure: I’m not great with numbers and can’t promise I’ll stick to an even hundred.
These aren’t in any order, but I’m gonna publish the first block of 50 first, in order to not overwhelm you all.
I expect about 5 close friends to read this, so if you do make it all the way through to the end, I sincerely thank you.
Guided by Gothic (9)
It’s a tough call between whether this or Noir & Neo-Noir are my favourite film genres but I have to start here. There have been some amazing Gothic films this decade and they haven’t all been literary adaptations. They are usually period films of course, but not always. It’s about a spooky atmosphere, the attitudes of the characters and a strong use of colour. The influence of Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, the Brontes and Alfred Hitchcock are all palpable in these films.
Honorable mentions (I’ve stuck some folk horror in here too because why not): The Duke of Burgundy, The Beguiled, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Little Stranger, The Limehouse Golem, Braid, Thoroughbreds, The Falling, Only Lovers Left Alive, Byzantium, Judy and Punch, The Quiet Ones, Gwen, The Isle, Hagazussa, Koko-Di Koko-Da, The Witch/The Lighthouse, Midsommar
Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, 2011)
Robbie Ryan’s stunning cinematography and the performances of Kaya Scodelario and James Howson, as well as the young actors who play Cathy and Heathcliff when they were children all make this one of the best adaptations of the book we love to hate.
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011)
Stoker (Park Chan Wook, 2013)
A contemporary twist on the Gothic genre, with a timeless feel (the mid-century design makes it feel as if it belongs in the past). Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska give incredible performances in this Hitchcock inspired dark and twisted family saga. Fantastic use of black and white, as well as bold colours such as golden-yellow, dark green and dark blue. Has one of the best editing transitions in film – Kidman’s golden hair becomes a golden wheatfield.
Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015)
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2016)
Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
You may be confused as to what makes Phantom Thread Gothic but Woodcock is haunted by his mother’s ghostly presence, Lesley Manville is basically playing Mrs Danvers, the mushroom-poisoning could be ripped straight from a Gothic novel and there is something extremely Gothic about the wedding dress with “never cursed” sewn into the lining. The main thing that makes this film fit the genre is the constant push/pull between the two main characters, our sympathies shift, one gains the upper hand, then loses it and we are never sure who to entirely trust.
My Cousin Rachel (Roger Michell, 2017)
Beast (Michael Pearce, 2017)
Another successful contemporary take on the genre. The small island of Jersey is rocked by a spate of serial killings. Jessie Buckley falls in love with the mysterious Johnny Flynn and starts to suspect he is the killer. Again filled with mistrust, suspicion and the audience not knowing who to believe or root for. Buckley is unbelievably good.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019)
Neon-Noirs and Dirtbags (8)
Another favourite genre. This will probably be the most controversial category, because I know there are several films here that many people truly hate. I just can’t help loving the dirty, grimy but frequently neon-drenched underworld of these neo-noirs and other films which I feel belong here, among the dregs of society.
Honorable mentions: Map to the Stars/Cosmopolis, Inherent Vice, Personal Shopper, Only God Forgives, Gemini, Free Fire, Out of Blue, Nightcrawler, You Were Never Really Here, Postcards from London, The Paperboy (sorry), Spring Breakers/Beach Bum, Atomic Blonde, Stretch, Sin City 2, The Iceman, Good Time/Uncut Gems
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
I don’t need to tell you about this one, everyone loves it, right?
High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2015)
Not a big success with the critics (60% on RT), but I love this film for taking on the almost impossible task of adapting Ballard (my favourite author). Captures the chaos and anarchy of this 70s-design fueled world with some great casting of British character actors plus Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Moss.
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)
A film that inspires strong opinions – many friends of mine and critics truly despise this film. This has one of the best Jake Gyllenhaal performances for me, I think he’s extraordinary in this film. It’s Tom Ford, so I love Amy Adams’ clothes and make-up in this film. This film features many harrowing scenes, definitely not for everyone.
The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)
Yet another film fairly widely trashed (59% on RT). I guess I’m a Winding-Refn shill, as I even like Only God Forgives. This absolutely works for some people and not others. I loved every minute of it. I am who I am.
The Nice Guys (Shane Black, 2016)
Funny neo-noir! You can’t go wrong! Gosling’s performance here makes such a great contrast to his Drive character.
Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard, 2018)
One of my most memorable cinema experiences of 2018. The design of this film had my jaw on the floor. The way the impeccable sets are framed, the blocking of the actors, everything about it is *chef’s kiss*
Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, 2018)
I have seen this film three times and it only gets better on re-watch. The construction of this narrative is outstanding and Kidman really deserved attention for this performance.
Burning (Lee Chang Dong, 2018)
The eerie tone and atmosphere that pervades this film is so strange and wonderful. Steven Yeun gave one of the best performances of the decade here.
Horror Hybrids (9)
I am very particular about the type of horror I gravitate towards. I usually like horror with a twist, whether it’s comedy or some other genre splinched in there.
Honorable mentions: The Love Witch, Train to Busan, One Cut of the Dead, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Invitation, Suspiria, Overlord, Black Swan, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, Blue My Mind, Evolution, Thelma, The Skin I Live In, Sightseers, Prevenge, Green Room, Odd Thomas, Fright Night, Revenge, Mandy, Color out of Space, Come to Daddy, Atlantics
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
Good work, zombie arm.
What we Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014)
We’re werewolves, not swear wolves.
The Voices (Marjane Satrapi, 2014)
Ryan Reynolds’ best performance? An evil foul-mouthed Scottish ginger cat? Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick? Probably the most amount of pink ever used in a horror film? This film is freakin fantastic.
The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)
I think we can all agree that you need an 1980s Polish horror mermaid musical in your life.
Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)
French university-set horror about two cannibalistic sisters.
Tigers are not Afraid (Issa Lopez, 2017)
A devastating Mexican film about a gang of street children searching for their missing mothers and attempting to take on the cartels. Infused with fairytales, ghosts and three wishes which go horribly wrong. If you love GDT, you need to watch this.
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Would have voted for this three times if I could have.
Knives and Skin (Jennifer Reader, 2019)
Really smart commentary on teenage girls and Surburbia in this Lynchian horror, reminiscent of Heathers and The Stepford Wives.
In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2019)
Would die for Miss Luckmoore. Great to see Secrets and Lies’ Marianne-Jean Baptiste getting a meaty main role in a film (after appearing mostly in TV for a long time). A twisted tale of a cursed dress, a thoroughly fudged-up department store and bureaucratic bankers (played by Julian Barratt and Steve Oram).
Rural Roams and Road Trips (7)
Again, grouping these films together under this heading will possibly only make sense to me. Westerns are probably my least-favourite genre of film, but I have enjoyed some modern re-imaginings of the genre that have come out this decade. A theme I have also noticed (since a certain event in November 2016) is a spate of films focusing on rural poverty in the US, which have all been fascinating in their own ways.
Honorable mentions: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Captain Fantastic, Locke, Little Woods, The Nightingale, Swiss Army Man, Mudbound, Tracks, Silence, Mobile Homes, We the Animals, Monos, Summer 1993, Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016)
American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)
Oh, Lucy! (Atsuko Hirayanagi, 2017)
Half set in Japan and half set in the US, where a crazy road-trip unfolds, this film stars Shinobu Terajima (in an awards-worthy performance) as a lonely hoarder who takes English lessons from f*ckboi Josh Hartnett and then pursues him when he leaves abruptly for America, absconding with her niece.
The Rider (Chloe Zhao, 2017)
Stunningly shot (by Joshua James Richards, same cinematographer as God’s Own Country), Zhao follows up Songs My Brothers Taught Me by discovering a story on the same reservation, using non-professional actors and basing it on what her lead actor, Brady Jandreau was really going through (recovering from a rodeo accident).
God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017)
One of THE greatest romances of the decade. Reluctant and reticent isolated young farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is brought out of his shell by Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). Stunning performances.
Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
Shot on 16mm by Helene Louvart (who also shot Beach Rats), this film is divided between the summery countryside where Lazzaro works with a large number of exploited workers and the cold, grey city where they are forced to move once their situation is exposed. Full of mystery and mysticism, Lazzaro has an ethereal quality – he is a pure soul and a martyr. Sob.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam, 2018)
25+ years in the making, Gilliam finally finished his adaptation of the 17th century Spanish epic. Of Driver’s FIVE 2019 cinema releases, this was my favourite – both the film as a whole and his performance. Driver delivers on a physical, comic and romantic level and this film is as absurd as you would expect from Gilliam.
A Song and a Dance (5)
Musicals are notoriously difficult to pull off and if one is to tackle a musical in the 2010s, they need to be pretty brave and ambitious. This can lead to big success (La La Land) or a car crash (Cats). I’ve included films here which feature music in sometimes subtle and quiet ways and often in interesting and unusual ways.
Honorable Mentions (didn’t expect there to be two good Scottish musicals this decade, but here we are): Begin Again, Blinded by the Light, Rocketman, La La Land, Inside Llewyn Davis, Song One, We Are Your Friends, Vox Lux, Teen Spirit, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Anna & the Apocalypse, God Help the Girl, Beyond the Lights, Jackie & Ryan, Dirty Computer
London Road (Rufus Norris, 2015)
Based on a stage-play, which took the concept of verbatim theatre (using interviews, testimonials and documentary techniques to make a play) and turning it into a verbatim MUSICAL, this film has got to be the most unique blending of genres on this list. The real-life murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich (UK) in 2006 sounds like an absolutely insane basis for a musical, but it is pulled off here, partly thanks to the acting talent involved, such as Olivia Colman.
Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)
A strong decade for both Scottish and Irish musicals, Sing Street follows a group of Dublin teenagers in the 80s trying to be the next Duran Duran (or whichever group they’re into that week). Featuring breakout turns from Jack Reynor and Lucy Boynton. The original songs are authentically 80s, both musically and lyrically. The best coming-of-age 80s-set movie since Son of Rambow.
Swing Kids (Kang Hyeong-cheol, 2018)
Combining a prisoner-of-war film, which doesn’t shy away from brutality with the uplifting distraction of tap-dancing, this film is colourful, joyous, heartbreaking and wonderful. Amazing costumes and production design.
We Are Little Zombies (Makato Nagahisa, 2019)
A group of teenagers cope with grief by going on the run and forming a band, this film is heavily influenced by computer games and music videos. Colourful (you’re probably starting to tell what appeals to me), with great costumes and catchy songs.
Beyonce’s Lemonade (2016) and Homecoming (2019)
The talent involved in Lemonade is overwhelming – directors include Beyonce herself and Melina Matsoukas (who went on to direct Queen & Slim), cinematographers include Reed Morano and production designers include Hannah Beachler (who won the Oscar for Black Panther). We have had music videos which have pushed into the realm of film in the last few years – Childish Gambino’s This is America, The Carter’s Family Feud (directed by Ava DuVernay) and Apesh*t, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, but Lemonade is perhaps the closest we came to an album tie-in that is a masterpiece.
Definitely one of my favourite genres, as you can see by how many films they are in this category.
Honorable Mentions: Girlhood, Mustang, Princess Cyd, Easy A, Bridgend, Antigone, Ginger & Rosa, Lady Bird, 20th Century Women, The Only Living Boy in New York, Carrie Pilby, Boyhood/Everybody Wants Some, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Somewhere
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010)
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013)
Featuring an insanely stacked cast, bursting with potential – Brie Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, John Gallagher Jr, Stephanie Beatriz and Rami Malek – who have all gone onto big things. This is a fantastic drama.
The Way, Way Back (Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2013)
Featuring some great performances from Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015)
This is firmly in my Top 10 of the decade. Bel Powley gives an astonishing performance as Minnie, a 70s teenager who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Minnie is also an artist and her drawings become animations which interact with the film in beautiful ways.
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
Miss Stevens (Julia Hart, 2016)
Timothee Chalamet’s potential was absolutely evident in this story of a drama teacher (a fantastic performance by Lily Rabe) who takes a small group of her students away to a competition and finds herself getting more embroiled in their emotional lives than she planned for.
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016)
Hailee Stanfield gives a fantastic performance as a teenager struggling with school (especially a teacher played by Woody Harrelson), her best friend (Hayley Lu Richardson) and brother. Extremely funny as well as emotional.
Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
Again, I haven’t ranked these films, but it will come as no surprise that this is my Film of the Decade. I saw this six times in cinemas (I believe) and noticed new things each time. The fact that Chalamet lost out on the Best Actor to Gary Oldman and it wasn’t even nominated in key categories, such as cinematography are still sources of great bitterness within me! Not over it!
Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)
An absolutely beautifully-shot love-letter to architecture, this achingly lovely film features two brilliant performances – from John Cho and Hayley Lu Richardson.
Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman, 2017)
British actor Harris Dickinson gives an astonishing breakthrough performance as a Brooklyn teenager coming to terms with his sexuality.
The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)
Honor Swinton Byrne plays a film student in this 1980s-set film, based on Hogg’s own life and formative relationship with an older man (Tom Burke), who is an addict. Hogg’s framing and blocking are masterful, the details of the production design (Hogg’s student flat was meticulously recreated) and costuming are incredible. The last two shots of this film will take your breath away.
RIGHT I’VE PROBABLY STRETCHED YOUR PATIENCE ENOUGH, SO THAT’S YOUR LOT FOR NOW.
As I say, my main aim is that you might discover a film on this list that you want to give a try. Please let me know if you do!