The Skinny's Films of the 2010s

This was a decade of upheaval and change in the film industry, but the films themselves were as strong as ever. New talent like Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins emerged while masters like Claire Denis and Martin Scorsese were making some of their best work

Feature by Film Team | 09 Jan 2020
  • Films of 2010s

30. Blue Valentine (2010)

Dir. Derek Cianfrance

Back in 2010, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams finally shook off any lingering connections with their teen-market pasts in Derek Cianfrance’s memorable portrait of a marriage disintegrating. The quiet, unshowy performances from the two leads are crucial to the film’s delicate balancing act between a desperately suffocating atmosphere and a romantic, intimate depiction of how passionate the couple’s relationship once was.

Unusually for a tale of disappointment and bitterness, the film left audiences enchanted by its rare beauty and sensual cinematography. Not at all a grimly realist exercise, but a swooning tribute to the fleeting brilliance of life’s rare and profound moments of connection. [Jenny Munroe]

29. The Badadook (2014)

Dir. Jennifer Kent

With her debut film, Australian director Jennifer Kent delves deep into the tensions bubbling under between a widowed mother and her difficult-to-manage son. Is the film's titular 7ft monster a manifestation of the mother's anger, or her son's imagination, or both? Or is it just one tall, creepy dude?

We won't spoil the surprise, but all horror filmmakers should take note of the psychological credibility Kent brings to every nail-biting scene. [Jamie Dunn]

28. High Life (2018)

Dir. Claire Denis

Claire Denis’ space film is an urgent, throbbing ache. It’s mostly about a lonely man and a baby, but it’s also a cautionary tale of a dystopian future where convicts become guinea pigs for a fertility experiment and are hurled towards a black hole.

Sex, extinction and taboo are its themes, but Denis is more interested in experience than analysis. Go with it. [Katie Goh]

27. Moonlight (2016)

Dir. Barry Jenkins

A character study in three parts, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight combines a lyrical meditation on identity and self-determination with the challenges facing young black men in modern America. In doing so Jenkins constantly upends stereotypes, finding knotty contradictions in among moments of grace.

It’s a beautiful and sad tale, made all the more poignant by the wonderfully coalescent performances by Alex R Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. The actors play our protagonist Chiron at different ages, and all seem to inhabit the same person despite minimal resemblance. [Ben Nicholson]

26. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

The main problem with most comic book movies is that they rarely feel like comic books. This animated feature bucks the trend, expertly incorporating the pulpy pop thrill of the page with a breakneck story of a young mixed-race teen from Brooklyn who transforms into Spider-Man.

On the way he meets various other versions of the web-slinging superhero, who include Spider-Man Noir, a black and white version of the character wryly voiced by Nicolas Cage, and Spider-Ham, who seems to have sprung from a Looney Tunes cartoon. Blending several animation styles, this is endlessly thrilling and inventive stuff, with a winning message that anyone can be a hero. [JD]

25. A Separation (2011)

Dir. Asghar Farhadi

When A Separation begins it appears to be a straightforward story of a marriage breaking down in contemporary Tehran. By the time it has ended, we've seen a film that deals with family conflict, the Iranian legal system, class, religion and death, weaving these themes seamlessly into an emotionally charged narrative that unfolds with the urgency of a thriller.

Asghar Farhadi's masterfully constructed film presents us with complex, real characters who each have valid reasons for their behaviour, making it increasingly difficult for us to decide where our sympathies should lie. [Philip Concannon]

24. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

Dir. Bill Morrison

Bill Morrison’s enchanting film is constructed from hundreds of reels of silent films that were discovered in 1978 in Dawson City, Yukon, which Morrison uses to tell the story of the frontier town from its gold-rush heyday to the present. [JD]

23. The Irishman (2019)

Dir. Martin Scorsese

In their ninth feature together, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have delivered a mournful epic that feels like a capstone and a reflection on their decades-long collaboration.

The story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a loyal bruiser caught in the power struggle between union head Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), The Irishman is a devastating study of an old man haunted by guilt, regret and his daughter’s reproachful gaze. Perfectly paced across 210 minutes and magnificently acted, it’s a late-career masterpiece from an artist at the height of his powers. [PC]

22. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

The Coen brothers don’t trade in success stories, and Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their most perceptive and resonant studies of a person failing at life. The eponymous folk singer is a man with some undeniable talent, but he's also an irascible and self-destructive individual who lacks whatever that indefinable quality is that propels an artist from one level to the next.

Instead, Llewyn Davis just keeps wandering in ever-decreasing circles; it's a futile odyssey in which the bleakness is offset by the filmmakers' customary wit and attention to character, and by the evocative cinematography and music. [PC]

21. The Social Network (2010)

Dir. David Fincher

Who’d have thought a movie about Facebook’s murky inception would have been one of the most compelling films of the 2010s? In director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin’s hands, the story of how smug Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (a rarely-better Jesse Eisenberg) launched Facebook with his only friend and fellow student Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), only to shaft him and the two jock twins (both played by Armie Hammer) who came up with the idea in the first place, becomes one of the great films about capitalism in our modern age. And it only gets more relevant by the year. [JD]

20. Inherent Vice (2014)

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Adapting a Thomas Pynchon novel, even one that harkens to Chandler and film noir, would never have been an easy commercial sell, despite Joaquin Phoenix’s tragicomic turn as ‘Doc,’ a stoner PI in 1970 SoCal experiencing first-hand the hangover from 60s utopianism.

Inherent Vice captures Pynchon’s grimy, lived-in nostalgia, rejecting the millennial need to cannibalise the past into kitsch. The result is a dense rabbit hole of a movie that begs repeat viewings. [Rachel Bowles]

19. Toni Erdmann (2016)

Dir. Maren Ade

A clownish, prank-loving father (played by an unforgettable Peter Simonischek) visits his corporate high-flyer daughter (Sandra Hüller) in this meandering comic masterclass from German director Maren Ade.

It's an easy juxtaposition – the international businesswoman versus a man who keeps a pair of joke-shop teeth in his front pocket – but Ade operates with a deceptively shaggy precision as she weaves moments of excruciating cringe comedy into a dense treatise on work, corporate culture and humanity. [Tom Grieve]

18. Hard to Be a God (2013)

Dir. Aleksei German

Aleksei German spent 15 years directing this adaptation of the classic Russian sci-fi novel only to die before its release. Few filmmakers could imagine creating a more detailed, distinctive and expansive swan song; it can fittingly be called the work of a lifetime.

Taking place on the planet Arkanar – a fetid Medieval hellscape vision of what our own planet would be like if there had been no Renaissance – it follows a scientist from Earth who has installed himself as a ruling lord with the intention of leading and guiding, but in practice is simply struggling to stay afloat in the squalid swamp. It’s bewildering, darkly hilarious, something of an endurance test, and made with such epic scale and precision that it’s also breathtaking. [Ian Mantgani]

17. Boyhood (2014)

Dir. Richard Linklater

Ellar Coltrane plays Mason Jr, a six-year-old boy growing up in the America of the 2000s: the nervous years of Middle Eastern war, digital advances and eventual economic depression. Against the backdrop of a changing society we watch Mason’s parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) divorce, find new love, lose it and find it again.

Meanwhile Mason grows up – he falls for a girl, tries to understand his wayward father, discovers art and goes to college. The film is at once of a piece with Linklater’s other pictures – as temporal as the Before/After series, as philosophical as Waking Life – and also more universal than anything else he’s done. [Sam Lewis]

16. The Turin Horse (2011)

Dir. Béla Tarr

A sense of impending doom permeates every frame of this absorbing picture, as a father and daughter living in a remote wooden cabin spend a few final days together before darkness falls on the world.

Tarr's long, beautifully composed takes and the brilliantly achieved sound design ensure the film retains a vice-like grip from its stunning opening image to the understated, compassionate ending. Perhaps this is how the world will end; not with a bang, but with a quiet howl of despair. [PC]

15. Frances Ha (2012)

Dir. Noah Baumbach

Visiting her former roommate Frances’s new dwellings (dwellings that change multiple times during Frances Ha, as the eponymous 27-year-old drifts across the five boroughs and beyond), BFF Sophie delivers one of the film’s numerous arch zingers: “This apartment is very… aware of itself,” she sniffs.

The same could be said, less derisorily, for Noah Baumbach’s seventh feature, which self-consciously offers familiarity in its themes (everyday embarrassment and the quarter-life crisis) and execution (with a monochrome NYC underscoring the Woody Allen parallels). But in the title role, co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig offers something fresh: not that indie staple of a kooky fantasy to fall for, but a gauchely charming hero to root for, with neuroses balanced by a vibrant joie de vivre. [Chris Buckle]

14. You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Dir. Lynne Ramsay

Not so much a breath of fresh air but a tornado, You Were Never Really Here is a character study in trauma. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, the PTSD-suffering hitman with a heart of gold, commissioned to recover a politician’s teenage daughter, played by Ekaterina Samsonov.

Fragmented and visceral – and accompanied by a claustrophobia-inducing score from Jonny Greenwood – You Were Never Really Here is an electrifying statement on violence: about the violence done to us and the violence we do on to others. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. [KG]

13. Stray Dogs (2013)

Dir. Tsai Ming-liang

In 2003, Tsai Ming-liang announced the death of cinema with Goodbye, Dragon Inn. However, Stray Dogs distorts time and memory to singlehandedly resuscitate the medium he declared DOA over a decade ago.

A masterpiece of social realism, this requiem for Taiwan's marginalised and displaced demonstrates the power of cinema to embody the spiritual dissonance of a society. Examining the definition of home, Tsai’s investigation into the poor’s right to their own city is a transcendental experience like no other. [Patrick Gamble]

12. Tabu (2012)

Dir. Miguel Gomes

After its release, Tabu nestles in the cerebrum not as a dazzling, enigmatic whole (which it undoubtedly is), but as a series of indelible images: a glassy-eyed crocodile submerged in still waters; a solitary woman transfixed by flickering celluloid; a colonial explorer shadowed by a spectre.

With these images come echoes of its soundtrack, particularly the erudite voiceover that extends throughout the second half, silencing dialogue and fostering a disconcerting nonpareil tone. Formally audacious and thematically opulent, Tabu is a treasure trove to be pored over. [CB]

11. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Dir. Lynne Ramsay

After a nine-year filmmaking hiatus Ramsay exploded back on screen with Kevin, a baroque fever dream filled with bravado images, a splintered structure and the kind of colour design that makes Suspiria look like a watercolour. Subtle family drama this is not.

It’s the nightmare that even Polanski, cinema's great cynic, couldn’t fully embrace: some mothers don’t want to 'ave 'em. Tilda Swinton plays a globetrotting hedonist who become shackled to the suburbs by 8lbs of baby-shaped evil that grows up – in the niftiest bit of casting – to be Ezra Miller, Swinton’s smirking doppelganger. The horror is balanced by a wicked sense of humour, making this the finest black comedy about the mother/son filial bond since Psycho. [JD]

10. Phantom Thread (2017)

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

There are blatant shades of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, but the more one revisits this endlessly watchable movie, the more the spirits of Howard Hawks and Elaine May come through in its sly comic take on romantic power plays.

The breakfast and dinner tables become a battleground as an arrogant, coddled artist is brought low and rebuilt by the woman he chose as his subservient muse, before they finally find a sense of equilibrium, as all relationships must. Anderson's artistry feels more effortless with every picture (his camerawork here is astonishing), and Phantom Thread's swooning elegance instantly seduces the viewer, before its perverse streak and morbid sense of humour is unveiled to startling effect. [PC]

9. Margaret (2011)

Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Made in 2005 but unreleased for six years when Lonergan failed to provide an edit short enough to satisfy the studio, this compromised cut he eventually put out is still a knockout.

Anna Paquin makes for an infuriating protagonist as Lisa Cohen, a spoiled Manhattan teenager who loves to talk, debate and generally argue her way through her privileged life. Our sympathies with her dwindle further when her interest in a bus driver’s cowboy hat causes a catastrophic event that sends both parties into freefall, but the genius of Lonergan’s film is that he keeps us gripped and engaged, even as Lisa spirals. [JD]

8. Carol (2015)

Dir. Todd Haynes

A paean to burning passion and restraint, Carol follows a tentative romance between two women (played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) in 50s New York. It's told through fleeting glances and the electrifying intimacy of apparently innocent contact; a hand placed on a shoulder is imbued with such deep and poignant longing as to enrapture even the stoniest viewer.

Carol exists as an enigmatic tear withheld on an eyelash, refusing to fall and reveal its nature. Todd Haynes’ command of his canvas is impeccable, the rich Super 16 compositions allowing perfect room for the luminescent performances of Blanchett and Mara. Exquisite. [Ben Nicholson]

7. In Jackson Heights (2015)

Dir. Frederick Wiseman

Any film from this prolific documentarian would be worthy of inclusion on this list, but In Jackson Heights is probably the warmest and most vibrant of his excellent 2010s output. Rather than celebrating an institution, In Jackson Heights’ subject is a whole neighbourhood (part of Queens, New York).

Wiseman captures the neighbourhood in his trademark, sprawling style, building up the sounds, images and textures of a community through its diverse community of immigrants, LGBT activists, government representatives, senior citizens, and blue-collar workers. [JD]

6. Get Out (2017)

Dir. Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele’s surprise hit of a directorial debut follows photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) to the countryside, where he will meet her family for the first time. What begins as a modern-day Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner soon descends into something far more diabolical when it turns out the Armitages are the architects of an insidious scheme.

The film effortlessly balances humour and horror and boasts impressive performances from its cast. But it's the layered social commentary underpinning the horror that cements Get Out as one of the most important films of its year, if not the era. [Kelli Weston]

5. Cameraperson (2016)

Dir. Kirsten Johnson

A documentary, a self-portrait, a kind of cinematic scrapbook – Cameraperson is a unique formal achievement. The film consists of unused footage shot by cinematographer Kirsten Johnson over the course of 25 years, but taken together these discarded images create an extraordinary portrait of humanity.

A boxing match in New York, a maternity ward in Nigeria, a wounded teenager in Afghanistan; Johnson has captured piercing moments of great joy and pain, and her film touches on a number of questions about the ethics and responsibilities of filming such images. Cameraperson is a film one can return to time and time again, to be continually moved, challenged and surprised in new ways. There is so much life in this movie. [PC]

4. Certain Women (2016)

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt’s triptych, based on short stories by Maile Meloy, was the most quietly riveting movie of 2016, contemplating the burdens, strengths and everyday rhythms of four Montana women.

In a meticulous social drama of strivings, perpetrations, loyalties and miscalculations, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone all perform masterfully without any sudden movements, drawing us into their internal lives with tiny and sometimes shattering gestures, against backdrops so vividly rendered you can smell the cold mountain air. [IM]

3. Under the Skin (2013)

Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Under the Skin is a film that shows you things you’ve never seen before. Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary and singular picture blends footage shot covertly on the streets of Glasgow with vivid and nightmarish images to create a wholly original and deeply unsettling experience.

It is a film about being an alien in a human world, or perhaps being a woman in a man's world, and Scarlett Johansson's work as the film's enigmatic protagonist constitutes 2013's most imaginative use of an actor's particular star quality. Under the Skin is a most apt title for this remarkable film. Once it has seduced us into its dark world, there is no escaping it. [PC]

2. The Act of Killing (2012)

Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Few films have explored the moral implications of murder as creatively and powerfully as The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary introduces us to men who were partly responsible for the murder of a million alleged communists in Indonesia in 1965.

After hearing them casually recount their actions with an almost boastful air, Oppenheimer invites them to re-enact the murders in the cinematic style of their choosing, which leads to amateurish depictions of brutality in the form of Hollywood gangster movies and musicals. This extraordinary work serves up a series of shocking and surreal sequences, and uses the artifice of filmmaking to expose horrendous truths. [PC]

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Dir. George Miller

Mad Max: Fury Road feels like a miracle; similar to “the green place” MacGuffin that Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is seeking in the film, it's a furtive oasis within a parched, CGI landscape. It's also full of contradictions: the plot is pared to the bone yet its world is bursting at the seams with ideas; the action feels non-stop but it’s peppered with elegiac grace notes; the characters say almost nothing but, like all good acting from the Robert Mitchum school, their eyes say everything.

George Miller, a septuagenarian with the energy of a 20-year-old (another contradiction), has given us a kind of junkyard Wacky Races. It's a mad and beautiful thrill ride that leaves the rest of the 2010s action films choking on its exhaust fumes. [JD]