10. You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Dir: Lynne Ramsay
Waiting 6 years for Scottish auteur Lynne Ramsay to return to the big screen following her very special 2010 release We Need to Talk About Kevin felt like such a long time, but when You Were Never Really Here finally hit cinemas, it offered all that fans of the filmmaker could dream of and more; the trim, meaningful work, telling the tale of a hitman paid to rescue a kidnapped girl, at times featuring ultra realism and at others operating on a metaphorical level, but the two contradictory elements blending only to elevate its artistry. Joaquin Phoenix was phenomenal despite having little to say, the story was timely and moving, and this is a film that should have been honoured with more at festivals and awards than it ultimately was. A special entry into the decade from a filmmaker too infrequently presenting her work, You Were Never Really Here is the first entry into our top 10 of the 2010s.
9. Boyhood (2014)
Dir: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater has never been your typical filmmaker, but when he set forth to make Boyhood in 2001 with the idea of filming a child for a few weeks per year for a 12 year period, nobody could have expected him to have pulled it off, yet in 2014 the director released Boyhood to universal critical acclaim, the director not only somehow managing to forge a linear and cinematic story, but one filled with heart, timely references and all the pain of growing up. Linklater captured time in a bottle and presented it piece by piece in Boyhood, one of the most special movies we’ve ever seen.
8. The Master (2012)
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
A visual masterpiece with two of the best leading performances of the decade, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was perhaps the perfect way to follow up his 2007 critical hit There Will Be Blood, the same vicious mood as presented in his previous release explored in a different aspect of the human condition here, and the taking to task of a Scientology-like religious cult being nothing short of necessary. Joaquin Phoenix was great, but it’s the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman that is perhaps more fondly remembered, the late actor offering a stellar turn as the unrelenting Lancaster Dodd in what was the last great performance of his stellar career.
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7. The Handmaiden (2016)
Dir: Chan-wook Park
Park Chan-wook’s erotically charged psychological thriller, adapted from Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith”, was effortlessly presented in context with the South Korean relationship to Japan, and was uniquely played out as three separate acts. The film’s form, which played to great dramatic effect, aided an already fascinating story in such a manner that the picture’s almost obscene levels of visual beauty were exclusively reaffirming of the already existing written material. As has become the norm for director Chan-wook, The Handmaiden was astoundingly beautiful but also thought provoking, and was another entry into the director’s sensational ouevre; one of the international films of its year and an unmissable cinematic experience.
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6. Cold War (2018)
Dir: Paweł Pawlikowski
Polish auteur Paweł Pawlikowski followed his phenomenal 2013 hit Ida with the equally as beautiful but arguably more accessible Cold War, a continent and decade-spanning tale of romance and melancholia the director penned as a tribute to his parents. Shot on film in crisp and sumptuous black and white, Cold War was an epic romance unlike most since Hollywood’s golden era, complete with addictive musical leitmotif and phenomenal performances.
5. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Starring a year-stealing performance from Timothee Chalamet on the cusp of his rise to A-List prominence and Armie Hammer (who also starred in list entry The Social Network), this Luca Guadagnino directed and James Ivory written adaptation is one of the greatest love stories ever told, a peer into the parts of you that are unpurchaseable, irreplaceable; a timeless classic of youth, romance and our meaning in this world.
4. Under the Skin (2013)
Dir: Jonathan Glazer
This small and independent yet spectacular individual vision from English director Jonathan Glazer, set largely in the Scottish city of Glasgow and starring Scarlett Johansson in the year after her appearance as Black Widow in The Avengers, is an arthouse masterpiece; a masterfully off-beat, tense and beautifully realised project.
Acting as a reminder of Johansson’s strong acting background at the point of her transition from dramas to popular movies, Under the Skin is mostly acted by non-actors picked up by the film’s lead in the van her character peruses the streets of Glasgow with, yet this fact is never distracting from the intense and mysterious pulse of the film which is driven forward by the debut feature score of artist Micachu – one of the greatest pieces of music presented in this way this decade.
3. I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Dir: Ken Loach
The 2016 Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake was described in The Film Magazine’s review as “our quiet rage”, the Ken Loach directed feature offering a voice to the underclass northern Briton and managing to become a European independent success in the process. More than kitchen-sink and down-trodden drama however, I, Daniel Blake featured moments of quiet poetry and assured artistry that made it an unmissable political statement; one that was even adopted into the campaigns of the British government’s opposing party at the time.
2. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
Dir: Steve McQueen
When Scottish auteur Steve McQueen offered a cinematic exploration of the United States’ historical relationship with slavery in 2013, courtesy of the story of Solomon Northup (a free man from the north enslaved in the south), it felt like much of the country’s institutionalised racism was a thing of the past – Obama was president and police officers had yet to be confronted for abusive, racist behaviour – and as such 12 Years A Slave was celebrated by the Oscars in what some commentators believed to be the Academy’s final wave goodbye to racist and otherwise problematic behaviours.
This was, of course, all entirely wrong. The 7 years following the release of 12 Years A Slave only compounded the above issues both within the academy and American society at large, but rather than reduce the impact of McQueen’s release, this fact only made it all the more poignant, timely and powerful. The film is, of course, a historical account of a real man’s struggle against injustice in a corrupt system of exploitative, racist men, but also a strong reminder of how far there is yet to go.
Chiwetel Ejiofor was a revelation in the lead and Fassbender unrelenting as the antagonist. Every shot was carefully constructed like a masterpiece you could hang on a wall, every choice of camera placement had meaning and the blocking of action was comparable to the very best to ever direct cinema. This was a special and important movie in every aspect, from the presentation on the screen to its meaning beyond it.
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1. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Dir: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
The unequivocal mood piece of the decade and comparable to any of the visual masterpieces on this list, Inside Llewyn Davis from the iconic, all-time great directors The Coen Brothers was a snug 1 hour 44 minutes of melancholia that could be unwrapped as a metaphor for capitalism and the American dream; a layered piece with fantastic performances, sensational music and a vision for a movie that was simply on a different level. This 2013 release, which can be looked back on as the rocket ship to Oscar Isaac’s career, feels like a special moment in time when a number of otherworldly creative minds came together to make something extraordinary. Inside Llewyn Davis is, simply, the film of the decade.