Our countdown of the Top 100 Films of the Decade continues apace as we start reaching the titles with some very high aggregate scores.
Debate continues to rage over the relative merits of (usually heavy) CGI. Cinema has spent most of its history with a pleasingly analogue feel, even the early days of computer effects now taking on a quaint tone not too far from our collective idea of, say, Georges Mèliés. There’s always been something oneiric about both the grain of the medium and the tangible physical inventions conjured up to transport us; the 2010s, however, have brought such impressive advances in imageries created with pixels that perhaps a crucial element has often found itself lost.
Yet at the same time a number of the titles found here boast true visual beauty, regardless of their format or their CG content – some of these, advances on aesthetics that have been slowly developed for decades; some entirely new and groundbreaking.
Hirokazu Kore-eda became one of the decade’s most prolific directors with a string of yearly releases, all characteristically considered, engaging, and philosophical. His humanist tendencies and obsession with the family reached their natural apotheosis in Shoplifters, an understated cry for Japan’s working classes. Following a kind of surrogate family living on society’s bottom rung, the film finds focus when the group chooses to rescue a young girl from her own real family. Thereafter Kore-eda tightens the screws in unexpected but often tragically logical ways, leading up to perhaps his most fraught final act yet. We’ve grown accustomed to labelling each Kore-eda release a (justified) masterpiece – Shoplifters finds this quintessential cine-storyteller at his fullest expression. —Calum Baker
Abbas Kiarostami’s passing in 2016 came at a time where his meta-fictional games had become a talismanic precursor to the likes of Catfish and Vine. Certified Copy is about an author’s (English opera singer William Shimell) encounter with a woman (fabulous, Cannes prize-winning Juliette Binoche) he meets at a bookstore. But about halfway through the film their behaviour changes. The couple act as though they have been married for years. Like Last Year at Marienbad, or Letter From an Unknown Woman, it asks how well we know our lovers, ourselves. How do we watch? Who do we perform to? —Ben Flanagan
Paterson is a very peaceful movie. That’s not to say it’s without incident, or entirely plotless, but the film’s chief pleasure does come from settling into the daily routine of a bus driver who jots down poems on his lunch break. Adam Driver plays a poet in a way unseen in movies, as neither a tortured genius nor a pretentious nitwit. He’s just a good, warm-hearted guy, and it’s a genuinely lovely experience to enjoy his company for the film’s runtime. Watch if you want to meditate on the joy of patterns, and uncomplicated love, and building each other up. —Rory Steabler
Despite having been working in the industry for over 25 years, Kenneth Lonergan’s list of directorial credits is extremely short. It’s a fact that makes his three films extremely special, and none more so than Manchester by the Sea, a beautifully tragic story about loss, regret and potential salvation. Lonergan’s expertly gentle touch brings extremes of heartache and throat lumps, as well as touching comedy to break the sorrowful spell. Casey Affleck is perfectly matched by Lucas Hedges in this dichotomic battle of old demons facing off against new responsibilities. Inescapably moving, scenes remain on the brain long after the film whispers its ending. —Dan Sareen
Molly and Amy are the iconic teenage duo that we never knew we needed. They transform from subdued, intelligent workaholics hell-bent on creating a life of academic success, into flourishing feminists and partygoers, making the most of everything they missed out on before college. The film is rooted in friendship and the protagonists’ care for one another is genuinely touching. Director Olivia Wilde showcases female power in amongst the difficult socioeconomic cultures of today. The film feels familiar, with the pressures of being smart and successful demanding a compromise between academic life and social life. Most of all, Wilde has created a high school comedy that is wonderfully warm, and gross, filthy and hilarious. —Alice Rooney
Comprised of one of the best ensemble casts of the decade, The Death of Stalin’s first half hour is a barrage of ‘oh look, it’s so-and-so’ moments. As the sheer lunacy of the situation around Stalin’s demise ramps up, the fact that his Russian comrades all have various English accents only adds to the ridiculousness of the film. Armando Iannucci doesn’t shy away from the brutality that occurred during this era, with some truly despicable acts happening alongside equally hilarious moments. As with The Thick of It, Iannucci expertly shows that even the people at the top don’t really know what they’re doing. —Louise Burrell
Like paint smeared across a face, Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature revels in visions both obscure and revelatory. The budding romance between painter Marianne and high-class subject Héloise is presented with this writer-director’s usual confidence, each sumptuous frame and edit spinning an ambitious and compelling drama. There is mysticism here, charging the apparent strictures of the period-costume mode with a vivid erotic power. Every element works in harmony: the lush, minimal sets, the careful colouring, the sublime performances – these latter calibrated for maximum spontaneity, even in a world defined by its suppression. This is a film presented to you as a constructed objet d’art, but into which you can’t help but plummet, completely ravished. —Calum
No flashy camera angles, shocking twists or much ostentatious innovation to find here – this is a film of sublime simplicity, powered by a universally strong cast, telling a story that needed to be told. Its old-fashioned idealism about the unwavering honesty and nobility of journalism has been often unfairly critiqued. Really, writer-director Tom McCarthy should be credited for bypassing the saccharine, obnoxiously righteous traps, and focusing squarely upon the uncovering of the scandal. It’s a film that helps you appreciate the art of straightforward, rigorous storytelling. To quote our own Bertie Archer, this kind of story is why we need films like Spotlight. —David Brake
An obvious contender for a list like this, what’s most remarkable about Boyhood – as a film, first and foremost – is how smoothly it shifts balance between emotional melodrama and flat observation. Its protagonist, as he reaches college age, becomes a little insufferable; his parents, who undergo profound maturations themselves, are blatantly flawed. As Linklater and his collaborators construct in near real time their study of the everyday, and the cycles that underpin it, the cumulative effect of these 12 understated short films becomes not just a trumpeted (though legitimately brilliant) exercise in screen experimentation, but a transcendentally moving triumph of narrativised observation. —Calum
Ever felt lost? Alone? Of course. Sometimes when you don’t have any answers it’s easiest to follow the man offering them. And what a man he is: Philip Seymour Hoffman gives one of the best performances of his legendary career as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic cult leader who sets his sights on controlling rebellious loner Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). The pair clash and rage in a ferocious dynamic of power and control that’s impossible to tame, even after multiple viewings. It’s an acting masterclass, a heavyweight battle of minds and wills, and the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. —Tom Bond
Moonrise Kingdom delivers many of the beloved hallmark traits of earlier Wes Anderson outings – meticulous sets, eclectic instrumentation and unconventional families – while bringing something brand new to the table with its focus on two pre-teens as central characters. Despite its leading actors’ youth, the film is mature and touching, echoing both the poignancy that elevated The Royal Tenenbaums and hinting at the emotional depths yet to be plundered at the Grand Budapest. Moonrise masterfully balances the impact and resonance of first love with wit and style, all without sacrificing the stakes or diluting the threat to the young couple’s plight. —Jessamy Queree
The ubiquity of superhero movies has passed through the realm of parody and become a simple fact of life, so it’s easy to forget how monumental a feat of logistics the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into. Joss Whedon’s 2012 team-up seems like child’s play when compared to Infinity War, which serves as a climax to 18 previous films spanning an entire decade. This could have been the moment when the entire endeavour collapsed in on itself, but it turned out to be a triumphant, ridiculously entertaining blockbuster – right up to the moment when big bad Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half of all life in the universe.
It’s hard to forget the deathly silence that fell across audiences as we saw our beloved heroes crumbling into dust, and the first hour of Endgame made it clear that the remains of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were struggling to come to terms with their failure. Of course, the status quo is eventually restored in a fist-pumpingly awesome final battle that feels like a splash page come to life, but the victory feels all the sweeter when contrasted with that crushing defeat. Now the Infinity Saga has come to an end, and the future of the MCU feels wide open. —Phil W. Bayles
Another Mamma Mia! musical? Yes! Sequels are typically much less enjoyed than their predecessors, but Here We Go Again is a major exception to this rule. This film is genius. The ABBA tunes are perhaps less well known that the popular ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ or ‘Dancing Queen’, but having Cher perform ‘Fernando’ as a duet with Andy Garcia is an absolute jam. Lily James as young Donna Sheridan, meanwhile, is casting at its best; stepping into the shoes of Meryl Streep as the protagonist is no mean feat, but James’ interpretation of the much-loved character is sublime. She makes us cry, makes us want to get up and dance, and makes us feel warm inside. The ultimate feel-good film, with a stellar cast and beautiful setting. —Alice
After whetting everyone’s appetite with his small appearance in Civil War, King T’Challa’s long-overdue solo film broke through the growing monotony of Marvel’s output in spectacular fashion. Ryan Coogler’s bright, Afrofuturist vision boasted a stellar cast, breathtaking costume and production design, and one of cinema’s most compelling “Shit, he’s got a point” villains to date in Michael B. Jordan’s tragic, rageful Killmonger. Chadwick Boseman shines as the conflicted and compassionate king, but it’s the women who surround him – Shuri, Okoye, Nakia, and the fearsome Dora Milaje – who provide many of the film’s finest moments. —Katy Moon
Never one shy of grandiosity, Terrence Malick saw this decade in with The Tree of Life: unquestionably one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken. Malick merged the microcosmic with the macrocosmic, as one man’s middle-aged ennui takes him sensually back to his epochal childhood home, while the whole cosmic evolution of how grace manifested itself from the materiality of the world is charted. It is cinema as pure poetry, and the only logic Malick abides by is the lore of memory and the senses. —Patrick
Roma finds writer-director-cinematographer-editor Alfonso Cuarón in majestic form – an artist operating at the very peak of his craft. This deeply personal, semi-biographical film is perhaps his greatest yet, marrying as it does his unparalleled technical virtuosity with the rich soul and emotional power that had perhaps been missing from some of his later works. Billed as Netflix’s first seriously major punch towards award-season glory, Roma is by no means a small-screen undertaking – every sublime scene positively thrums with detail that begs to be savoured on the largest screen possible. It’s a staggering cinematic achievement. —Nick Evan-Cook
Almost a decade later, Bridesmaids remains a quite perfect film. Producer Judd Apatow’s frat boy-with-a-heart schtick had flatlined by the start of the 2010s, resurrected by Kristen Wiig and Paul Feig’s outrageous comedy decoupage. Wiig’s script – co-written with Annie Mumolo – has her hapless thirty-something flailing at her best friend’s impending nuptials, suffering an existential crisis while trying to go through the rituals of pre-wedding activity from engagement party through the hen to the big day. Broad studio comedies live or die on their set pieces, and each one here is a classic: vomiting in the dress shop, Wiig high on the airplane (‘Help me I’m poor’). Paul Feig utilises his rich cast of comedy heavy-hitters like Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne and Rebel Wilson, and made bona fide movie stars out of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (how often do comedy performances garner Oscar nominations again?). —Ben Flanagan
Ever killed a man, just to film him die? In this decade, the extreme has become normalised. We’ve had to become louder, bolder and bigger just to get attention, and Nightcrawler shows the absolute worst of that. Opportunistic media mogul Louis Bloom goes ambulance hunting in LA to track down the grisliest footage he can sell to news channels, and the fact he succeeds says far more about our society than it does about him. The race for fame is a race to the bottom, and Bloom goes straight to hell in a perfectly unhinged performance from the Machiavellian Jake Gyllenhaal. —Tom
Everyone seems to have forgotten Gravity all too quickly. It’s a six-year-old film that gathers dust in many collections, with people collectively shrugging, dismissive of its genuine excellence. This is a crying shame, as Alfonso Cuarón’s exhilarating and exhausting 91-minute thriller is a true feat of blockbuster filmmaking. Its technical dazzle, seemingly showing us real astronauts stumbling and surviving in space, inspires wonder, awe and terror. Gravity ignites your imagination around the possibilities and thrills of the big-screen experience. An all-engulfing heart-stopping capital-M Movie, miraculous in its clean, daring, ingenious execution. Time to dust off that DVD. —David
After The Force Awakens opened the latest Star Wars trilogy in a delightful, if predictable, manner, Rian Johnson blew the franchise out of the water by refusing to play into the saga’s favourite tropes and fan theories. The Last Jedi – and indeed the beloved fantasy universe – is all the better for it. Here, our heroes are fallible, and no one narrative or interpretation defines the events surrounding Rey’s battle against the First Order. The core ideals that Luke and Leia have espoused since A New Hope are challenged, reimagined, and resurgent – intact and in very good hands. In the world of risk-averse franchise cinema, its bravery stands out. —Carmen Paddock
Check back over the next three days as we count down towards our Top 20 – and our number one – favourite films of the decade!