We’re two months away from the end of another decade and as I’ve seen other film folk putting out their “best of the decade” lists, I thought it’d be a good idea to do the same.
It took a while to settle on a list but over the next 5 weeks, I’ll be releasing my top 50 films of the decade (2010 to 2019 based on date of release in Australia) in reverse order. I’ve reviewed just over 1,900 films across that period and so any film that makes the top 50 has my ringing endorsement. If you’re yet to see any of these, make sure you do so!
50. The Skin I Live In (2011) is from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon who has developed a new type of synthetic skin. The less you know the better.
49. I Am Love (2010) is a beautiful drama focusing on a wealthy Italian family. This will polarise audiences but I loved it. The cinematography and film score are stunning. The characters will keep you guessing and I enjoyed the lack of dialogue.
48. The Nightingale (2019) is a confronting, powerful drama that is not easily forgotten. Set in 1820s Tasmania, it's the tale of a flawed, strong-willed woman who seeks vengeance against an abusive British soldier. Filled with exceptional performances, this is both an absorbing character study and a gripping history lesson.
47. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl (2015) is riveting, disturbing and thought-provoking. Based on the graphic novel and set in the 1970s, it's centered on a 15-year-old girl who enters into a purely sexual relationship with her mother's 35-year-old boyfriend. Not often you see a film that asks so many questions of its characters.
46. Gravity (2013) stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts who become stranded in space. Forget the over-the-top stuff we normally see in action films. This film shows how to extract maximum tension from a minimalist story. Alfonso Cuarón direction will leave you in awe (and also wondering how he did it).
45. Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2012) is a scrumptious documentary about an 85-year-old sushi maker from Japan and his unmatched dedication to the craft of sushi making. His restaurant has just 10 seats but has been awarded 3 Michelin stars. If this film doesn't make you hungry, nothing will.
44. Lady Bird (2018) is about a restless high school senior from Sacramento who isn’t sure what she wants out of life. There are storylines that we've seen before in other teen flicks but what separates this from the pack is the way in delves into the relationship between mother and daughter. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deserve all the praise they have received.
43. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012) is a moving story that explores the world of a insecure teenager and his efforts to fit in during his first year at high school. Rarely has this subject matter been covered so deeply, so beautifully.
42. Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012) explores the relationship between father and daughter in a remote community near New Orleans. In her first acting role, 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis is simply extraordinary. The music is distinctive and unforgettable.
41. Anomalisa (2016) is a rarity - a stop-motion animated feature pitched at adults. It's no surprise that it's come from the creative mind of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich). The film follows a depressed writer travelling to Cincinnati for a public speaking event. It's a great conversation generator and I’m still reflecting on its style and themes.
40. The Guilty (2019) is a Danish film about a guy who sits at a desk in an office and talks on the phone for 80 minutes. It may sound dreadfully dull but I was hooked from the opening scene to the closing credits. The less you know going in, the better. Trust me.
39. A Monster Calls (2017) is based on the novel by British author Patrick Ness and is about 12-year-old boy trying to come to grips with his mother's terminal cancer. This is a beautiful coming-of-age drama with some wonderful visual imagery. It delves into the ways we deal with grief whilst also reminding us that there are many different perspectives when looking through the prism of life.
38. Margin Call (2012) looks at 24 hours in the life of a major investment bank that is on the brink of collapse. Thankfully, the film does not demonise these characters - it portrays them as level-headed human beings who must decide whether to put their own interests ahead of others. The dialogue is superb and writer-director J.C. Chandor deserved his Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
37. The Hunt (2013) is a Danish film about a teacher from a small town who is falsely accused of sexual assault by a misguided young girl. This is a riveting, depressing, amazing piece of cinema. You'll feel swamped by a sense of hopelessness as the tragedy unfolds.
36. The Secret In Their Eyes (2010) is an Argentinean film which won the Oscar for best foreign language movie. The story of a justice agent trying to solve a long-running case about a murdered woman. With believable twists and some fantastic dialogue, this is a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good crime thriller.
35. Searching For Sugar Man (2012) is a wonderful documentary that looks at the way in which a unknown American musician became a huge star in South Africa in the 1970s. This is superbly told with a strong narrative. It teases you with mystery and then when all is revealed, you'll feel amazed, inspired.
34. Custody (2018) is a French drama that delves into the complexities of a relationship breakdown when children get caught in the middle. Director Xavier Legrand uses a number of techniques to create a tense, uneasy experience for the viewer. The unrelenting narrative and flawless performances make this a powerful piece of cinema.
33. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) is based on the true story of Lee Israel, a struggling writer who forged personal letters from deceased authors in the 1990s to help pay the rent. Melissa McCarthy and co-star Richard E. Grant deserve praise for creating rich, complex, interesting characters.
32. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is one of the more creative action films that we’ve seen in recent years. It begins with a well-choreographed chase sequence that never really stops. Except for a handful of very short detours, this is two hours of unrelenting warfare. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an action film with less dialogue. Intense and easily to follow. This is great stuff.
31. Sing Street (2016) is set in 1985 and follows a high school student from a poor neighbourhood in Dublin who forms a band to win the affection of a girl. This is a simple, funny, sweet, beautiful film. Directed by John Carney (Once), it's filled with great 1980s music and a bunch of new songs that I'm still humming. A movie for anyone and everyone.
30. Eighth Grade (2019) is an outstanding debut feature from first-time director Bo Burnham. It's the story of a shy, nervous, anxious girl trying to make friends and navigate her way through the final week of middle school. Newcomer Elsie Fisher has created a fascinating leading character. I was cringing (in a good way) at some of the dialogue.
29. Moneyball (2011) once again proves the value of Brad Pitt as an actor. He's not just a pretty face and he continues to pick good roles. He plays the GM of a baseball team and tries to turn their fortunes around through unconventional means. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), this film reeled me in very quickly with its interesting story and a surprising number of laughs.
28. Coco (2017) is this year's best animated feature. It's the story of a 12-year-old kid from Mexico who stumbles into the Land of the Dead and goes in search of his great-great-grandfather. This is beautifully touching tale that has a lot of say about celebrating the past and why me must remember those who have come before us. The walking, talking skeletons are great too!
27. Manchester by the Sea (2017) is the story of a man who has distanced himself from his family but is force to reconnect after a tragic event. This is an exquisitely well-told tale about the way we deal with trauma and loss. It also has a surprising amount of comedy. The performances, headlined by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, are wonderful.
26. Another Year (2011) is more brilliance from director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky). It revolves around a happily married couple in their 60s who find that all their friends around them are falling apart. Leigh has a great knack for capturing the "human condition" and he does so again here. It's capped off by a unforgettably annoying and/or touching performance from Lesley Manville.
25. Crazy Heart (2015) is the story of an alcoholic country 'n' western singer (Jeff Bridges) trying to revive his sagging career. A young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) then enters his life, offering a chance at a fresh start. With a brilliant performance by Jeff Bridges, this is a beautifully told drama with a superb soundtrack.
24. The Big Short (2015) follows three groups of people who predicted the 2008 global financial crisis and profited substantially from the demise of the U.S. housing market. These guys are continually questioned and ridiculed but you know they’ll get the last laugh during the film’s final act. The performances are superb with Steve Carell the standout.
23. Burning (2019) is an absorbing drama-thriller from South Korea. It's the tale of an introverted young man who bumps into a girl he knew from school but hasn't seen in years. This is a film with some great conversations and plenty of twists and turns. Lots to think about afterwards.
22. Inside Job (2011) is a well-made documentary which looks at the reasons behind the global financial crisis. It's easy to understand (the charts and diagrams are very persuasive) and features many very interesting interviews. A friend of mine called it "the best comedy of the year". You can only laugh at how crazy some people are within the financial services industry.
21. Blue Jasmine (2013) is an engrossing black comedy about the wife of a multi-millionaire who goes from "riches to rags" after her husband is convicted of fraud. Jasmine is a fascinating character and writer-director Woody Allen is careful not to judge her. Cate Blanchett is superb in what may be her most memorable performance!
20. Zero Dark Thirty (2013) recounts the events that led to the capture of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. We all know this story ends but this is still gripping and action-packed. Jennifer Chastain is brilliant as a CIA agent who spends 10 years of her life trying to hunt him down. The film explores so much about life within the CIA.
19. Land of Mine (2017) recounts a fascinating piece of post-World War II history. It follows a group of young German prisoners of war who had to locate and disarm more than 150,000 land mines on a Danish beach. Unlike traditional war films, the tension comes from moments that are eerily quiet (as opposed to big action sequences). The moral is as relevant today as it's ever been.
18. Phantom Thread (2018) is from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and dissects the power struggles between a renowned fashion designer, his sister, and his latest lover in 1950s London. The less you know going in the better. These are fascinating characters who are part of an unorthodox love story.
17. Still Life (2014) follows a middle-aged council employee charged with the responsibility of organising funerals when a person has died with no friends or family. This is an immensely warm-hearted drama that is dripping with poignant moments. Eddie Marsan is fantastic is the leading role. There aren’t many films that have reduced me to tears but Still Life can now be added to that short list.
16. A Single Man (2010) is about an English professor (Firth) who is struggling to overcome the sudden death of his long time partner (Goode). With less dialogue than you'd expect, director Tom Ford (a fashion designer by trade) lets his camera do the talking. I loved the facial close ups and creative mix of colours. A beautiful movie.
15. The Social Network (2010) is fantastic. I enjoyed learning how Facebook was created but much more interesting is the way in which Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed. Is he a sociopath or is he just misunderstood? Much to think about.
14. Inside Out (2015) is a Pixar animated feature that takes us inside the head of a vibrant, impressionable 11-year-old girl. It’s a fascinating concept that is rich in detail. The film’s most impressive attribute is the way it explores human emotions and the way they are so often intertwined. A stunning achievement that blends creativity, humour and emotion.
13. A Separation (2012) won the Oscar for best foreign language film. An outsider could see these characters as deeply flawed. That’s not the reality however. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi slips us into their shoes and we appreciate each of their perspectives. Life is rarely clear-cut and you can’t always rely on a textbook when faced when a tough ethical dilemma.
12. Senna (2011) is a well-crafted documentary that has the look and feel of a drama. It goes beyond what you might expect and provides an intimate account of Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna and his motivations to succeed. The never-before-seen footage is amazing.
11. Life Of Pi (2013) is the story about a boy stranded in the middle of the ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. I still can't shake the thought-provoking ending. It's a stunning directorial effort from Ang Lee who has brought this tricky novel to life.
10. Moonlight (2017) follows a kid named Chiron who is from a poor, troubled neighbourhood in Miami. It is split into three segments with each providing a glimpse of Chiron’s at key points in his life. This is a remarkably good movie about one man trying to find love and his place in the world. The performances are hard to fault.
9. Take This Waltz (2012) was a funny, sweet, emotional and real experience. We've seen many films about people cheating on their spouses and whether it's the right thing but I love this level headed perspective from director Sarah Polley. Yet another amazing performance from Michelle Williams.
8. Shame (2012) is one of the best films of the year. The story is fascinating in itself but it’s Steve McQueen’s careful direction that gives it a seductive, hypnotic edge. He takes us into the life of a sex addict and there’s very little respite. The lack of editing, curious camera angles and odd choice of music will leave many feeling uncomfortable. It's brilliant filmmaking.
7. Inception (2010) is the most intelligent action film you will ever see. How can I describe the complex storyline? I won't even try. Words do it no justice. This is a film which can only be experienced... multiple times! Writer-director Christopher Nolan has created a remarkable fantasy world. Incredible story, incredible visuals, incredible score.
6. Boyhood (2014) is masterpiece that chronicles the process of “growing up” through the eyes of an introverted kid named Mason. Director Richard Linklater shot this fictional tale over 12 years using the same actors! It seamlessly jumps between time frames and the character interaction feels amazingly natural. Sure to release the valve on your own childhood memories, this is about as good as cinema can get.
5. If Beale Street Could Talk (2019) is from director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and is adapted from the 1974 novel by James Baldwin. Part of the film is a beautiful, poetic love story and part of the film is a sad, anger-inducing tale of racism in America.
4. 20th Century Women (2017) is an observational drama set in 1979 about a 55-year-old mother (Annette Bening) trying to connect with her 15-year-old son. Drawing from personal experiences, Mike Mills has created a remarkable film that offers tragedy, laughter and reflection. I could listen to these characters talk and watch them interact for hours.
3. Call Me by Your Name (2017) is a hauntingly beautiful love story set in northern Italy. Director Luca Guadagnino makes the most of the idyllic setting and perfectly captures both the exterior and inner beauty of his characters. Dialogue is used sparingly with Timothée Chalamet gives the performance of a lifetime.
2. Spotlight (2016) is based on a true story and follows a team of investigative journalists as they dig deeper into the Catholic Church's cover up of child abuse in Boston. The script highlights the tough challenges that journalists face and the performances of the cast cannot be faulted.
1. Brooklyn (2016) is set in 1952 and follows a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to the United States. Battling homesickness, she meets an Italian guy determined to win her affections. This is a sweet, moving, gorgeously-shot tale that has the perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality. The characters are honest and genuine too. As good as cinema gets.