At its very best, cinema not only influences its audience but changes the very medium around it; a great film builds itself as it plays, showing you how to view it and redefining itself in real time. And this can apply to any kind of film, from any kind of context. (Our #80 literally builds as it goes along.)
Our Top 100 Films of the 2010s list is designed to do one thing: reflect the consensus of a group of disparate tastes. This thereby reveals the key films that’ve cut through and, in a multitude of ways, through a range of approaches, created interesting new perspectives on the art form – both in and out of the mainstream. Yesterday we published our numbers 100-81; now it’s time for another 20 brilliant films to get their spotlight.
Packed tight with genre riffs, visual gags and a theme song so catchy it should be monitored by the CDC, The Lego Movie defined a new formula for the modern animated flick. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller took a preposterous idea and didn’t just make it profitable – they made something magnificent, coming at you from all sides with heart, humour and the hyperactive imagination of any good Master Builder.
The Lego Movie is emotive, resonant and hilarious – everything a callous cash-in shouldn’t be. Where other toy tie-ins crashed and burned, it was the humble brick that rightfully earned its place in the decade’s best films. —Joni Blyth
Mark Jenkins’ ode to a vanishing Cornwall may have sold itself on its hand developed 16mm photography but the immediacy, rage, and nail-biting tension in this tale of a fisherman’s clash with tourist encroachment. Conversations and timelines rapidly intercut with each other and shots of the Cornish seascape, conveying a dread that spills over only in the film’s final act. Jenkins’ cast – largely made up of non-actors – lends verisimilitude to this adventurous storytelling. Bait is not exactly a nuanced picture of gentrification and class tensions, but subtleties are not always necessary. It is an immediate, immaculately crafted tale that earns its fury. —Carmen Paddock
What is there left to say about Orenthal James? In the two decades that have elapsed since the Trial of the Century™, the juice has been all but squeezed. It takes the mastery of director Ezra Edelman, alongside a sprawling (but essential) 467-minute running time, to examine every facet of its mythology. In his documentary O.J.: Made in America – which is as much a thesis as it is a narrative film – Edelman demonstrates the inevitability of the Simpson tragedy, and how each strand is as much a part of the larger story of America as the red, white, and blue; emphasis here upon the red. —Christopher Preston
A paradox driving American cinema has been the lack of slavery movies told fully from the perspective of the slaves. Steve McQueen and John Ridley’s alternately lyrical and prosaic adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir not only rectifies this; it develops a wide-reaching drama about systemic horror, weak complicities, and ultimately – somehow – the triumph of the human spirit. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries the weight of this in every frame, supported by a remarkably believable cast who pull us right in with them. McQueen dramatizes atrocities anew, shooting with an eye for the pastoral beauty surrounding the worst horrors; we are often told of civilisation’s rotten core, but here we’re trapped alongside it. —Calum Baker
Coming in at its tail end, Uncut Gems shows that the decade was saving some of the very best for last. A non-stop adrenaline rush, the ceaseless tension conjured up by the Safdies makes this physically stressful in a way few, if any, other films are. It’s closer in tension levels to live sports than to other thrillers, always heart-in-mouth, always anticipating the one slip-up that will lead to irrevocable disaster. Anchored by a stellar Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems dares you to hate it and its abrasive instincts before making you care in a profoundly affecting way. —Jack Blackwell
Paolo Sorrentino was one of the most exciting new directors to burst onto the scene in the noughties. His cinema was a thrilling mesh of stylistic verve and tangy satire, and expectations were high for what he could do in the teens. If, in truth, he hasn’t always delivered on his cinema’s swooning potential, that is of no great concern because he still made one bona fide masterpiece, The Great Beauty, in 2013. Utilising his great muse, Toni Servillo, it is an absolutely riotous ride through the decadent pomposity of contemporary Roman society. It is also hugely emotional as one man takes an elegiac glance back at all the lost loves of his life. —Patrick Nabarro
Life of Pi combines fantastical storytelling, disaster movie peril and survival drama grit with spellbinding use of CGI. The source novel, which explores Goliath themes of philosophy and technology, could easily have proved too ambitious, but Pi stands out as a successful adaptation, imbued with real warmth, depth and poignancy – all the more impressive considering that the majority of filming was done with a single actor on a boat in front of a green screen. The supernatural elements are just as likely to make you believe in magic as in God, and like any good myth or folktale, the ending is beautifully elusive, allowing the viewer a choice between the tangible and the unimaginable. —Jessamy Queree
The work of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke has always contained themes of violence, usually to a more implied degree than most films would concede. Amour retains all the malice Haneke has always mined from human interactions, but places them relatively within the vicinity of, as the title suggests, love. Emmanuelle Riva received universal praise for her realistically sorrowful turn as the bedbound octogenarian wife, though Jean-Louis Trintignant’s admirable performance as husband Georges drives the plot. Haneke weaves Georges in and out of despicability and kindness, tugging hard at the strings of empathetic connection. The result is a magnificent display of darkly real emotions, held together by affection and responsibility. —Dan Sareen
Marvel may have the biggest comic-book movies of the decade, but with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, no one captures their spirit better than Edgar Wright. His unmistakeable visuals are the perfect partner for a medium full of colour, energy and wit. Nine years on you can only wonder why most rival films in the genre are so bland. Crowd-pleasing and endlessly quotable, Wright packs in so many jokes and deft touches it’s easy to forget he also coaxes a career-best performance from Michael Cera as the sensitive, selfish lead, battered by love’s labours. —Tom Bond
Why did Alex Garland keep us waiting so long for his first film? The novelist and screenwriter made one of the most electrifying directorial debuts of the decade with this existential tech thriller, which explores the perils of artificial intelligence and omniscient social media giants. Domnhall Gleeson, a never-more-charismatic Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, in a star-making turn, are all highly watchable as loyalties and upper hands twist and twist again during Garland’s multi-award nominated screenplay. Come for the tense interplay between creator, machine and pawn; stay for Isaac’s funky dancing. —James Andrews
A relic of the decade’s earlier, hopeful half, Matthew Warchus’ film following the 1984 miner’s strike and the LGBT bookshop that mobilises in its support exemplifies the best of British cinema. Quirky, awkward characters? Check. Those characters forming unlikely friendships and taking the film to a bittersweet conclusion? Check. Two screen legends having a heartfelt chat while buttering some bread? Check (Bill Nighy’s unconvincing Welsh accent makes it all the more charming). Romanticising the good old days? Thankfully, no. Pride is far from the decade’s most political film, but it harbours no illusions about the progress that has and had not been made since the Thatcher era. —Carmen
Inherent Vice may not have received the acclaim of The Master or Phantom Thread, but this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic detective story is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s finest films. Joaquin Phoenix does some of his best comedic work as stoner PI ‘Doc’ Sportello, the love child of Philip Marlowe and Jeff Lebowski, and the picaresque narrative sees him careening around a cast of richly drawn characters. But there’s a current of sadness underlying everything. The film’s title is an insurance term, reminding us that nothing can last forever: chocolate melts, glass shatters, and the innocence of the ’60s – rent asunder by the twin spectres of Charles Manson and Watergate – can never be recovered. —Phil W. Bayles
As its poster was keen to tell us, Four Lions is funny – searingly, unforgettably funny. But it’s also deeply poignant and humanising – and it’s this incredible deftness and duality of tone that makes it such a vital film. Christopher Morris’ unflinching satire about the escapades of an incompetent group of homegrown jihadis is a bold and rare example of a Western film willing to hold a mirror up to the global West’s handling of terrorism both domestically and abroad, when the UK and US were – and still are – unwilling to admit how instrumental their actions have been in fuelling radicalisation. —Nick Evan-Cook
Before helming the electrifying Thor: Ragnarok and arriving in the public consciousness as one of the planet’s most interesting filmmakers, Taika Waititi was known for low-key tales of melancholy set in his native New Zealand; with Wilderpeople he perfected the formula. The film tells the story of Hector (Sam Neill) and Ricky Baker (newcomer Julian Dennison), a father figure and son on the run after inadvertently becoming the subjects of a manhunt in the bush. Equal parts Midnight Run and Up, Wilderpeople was a revelation fuelled by an unforgettable central pairing, standing as one of the decade’s sweetest. —Thom Denson
The best way to experience Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods is to go in ignorant of its true central conceit. However this excellent comedy horror, which follows a likeable Scooby Gang as they head to the eponymous cabin, remains an unbridled treat. Fondly skewering classic tropes (“I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand here. Do NOT read the Latin”), Goddard builds to a bloody and enjoyably madcap finale that demands repeat viewings. It’s one of the few horror flicks that actually deserves half a dozen spinoffs – though with that ending, a sequel may be out of the question. —Katy Moon
Following a family trying to survive in a world overrun by sound-sensitive monsters, John Krasinski’s Hollywood breakthrough A Quiet Place is a masterclass of agonising suspense – with few jump-scares to be found. Writing, directing and starring, Krasinki leans into the perceived limitations of the setup, presenting a film largely free of spoken dialogue where even the audience feels uneasy about breaking the silence. The creature design is enjoyably grotesque (though, in the film’s tensest moment, the real villain of the piece is revealed to be shoddy carpentry), and the performances uniformly excellent – particularly young Millicent Simmonds in a breakout role. —Katy
Eighth Grade feels weirdly universal for a film so specifically about being a 13-year-old girl in the late 2010s. Writer-director Bo Burnham nails the balancing act of truthfully portraying the life of a kid today while also picking out the parts of that experience that ring true across generations. Mostly, these are the moments of unbearable awkwardness as Kayla (Elsie Fisher) desperately tries to become a “cooler” version of herself. Eight Grade itself doesn’t care if it’s cool – it distinguishes itself from other teen movies by recognising the sympathy in each cringe, and treating its subjects with kindness and honesty. —Rory Steabler
Rian Johnson has had quite a good decade, folks. Quality beats quantity every time, and with each of the three films he’s put out this decade, Johnson has brought something new to the table – be it revitalising the whodunit in Knives Out, or throwing out the franchise rulebook with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. With Looper, we were blessed with a thoughtful and moving take on the time-travel thriller. Boasting technical excellence, a stellar script from Johnson and great performances from a stacked cast – including a scene-stealing Jeff Daniels and my personal champion of the decade, Emily Blunt – Looper is one of the decade’s finest sci-fi flicks. —Joni
As a story, a script, and an acting showcase, The Revenant is hardly flawless. Yet, where problems with these elements might typically prove a problem with a film at large, Iñárritu’s snowbound epic overcomes them with ease. The sound, music, and visuals make this a film to simply sink into, a sensory experience that is matched by very, very few movies; an ode to the awe-inspiring power and vastness of nature that makes phenomenal use of everything that makes film a unique medium. Lubezki’s camerawork immerses you instantly into this harsh and violent world, and it’s exceptionally difficult to leave. —Jack
2017’s A Ghost Story manages to somehow encapsulate the enormity of human existence and its possible afterlife by basically sticking a bedsheet over Casey Affleck. It’s heartbreaking, thought-provoking and desperately sad, and achieves this with a surprisingly sparse script. Dialogue is minimal, increasing the sheer loneliness of the limbo that Affleck appears to have arrived in. Rooney Mara brings some humanity to the film, a small but impactful role that adds much-needed warmth to what could have been a cold and soulless film. This is a truly beautiful look at grief from the perspective of the living and the deceased. —Louise Burrell
Check back over the next four days as we count down towards our Top 20 – and our number one – favourite films of the decade!