Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Paddington 2 (Photo: Warner Bros), Get Out (Photo: Universal Pictures), Spring Breakers (Photo: A24), Inception (Photo: Warner Bros), Carol (Photo: Trailer screenshot), The Master (Photo: Trailer screenshot), A Separation (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics), Burning (Photo: Well Go USA), La La Land (Photo: Trailer screenshot), Moonlight (Photo: A24), Mad Max: Fury Road (Photo: Warner Bros.), Winter’s Bone (Photo: Trailer screenshot)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Time flies when you’re watching movies. Back at the start of 2015, The A.V. Club took the temperature of the half-elapsed 2010s in film, ranking our favorites of a decade still very much in progress. It’s been a long, wild, eventful five years since. Netflix, having successfully mounted a big challenge to network television, took on the Hollywood studios next, perhaps helping to hasten the slow death of the theatrical experience, even as it provided wide access to plenty of smaller films and funded plenty of mid-budget projects the majors passed on. Disney increased its worrisome dominance of the whole entertainment industry, re-launching Star Wars as an annual appointment, successfully pulling off the 10-year Marvel plan, and swallowing 20th Century Fox whole. In response to hash-tagged criticism of their enduring whiteness, the Oscars embarked on a diversification initiative; the influx of new voices may have helped an acclaimed indie make history, in a Best Picture upset nearly as shocking as the bizarre award-show gaffe that preceded it, but it couldn’t prevent a very retrograde winner two years later. And a reckoning finally arrived for Harvey Weinstein, whose downfall was the catalyst for #MeToo, though the jury’s still out on whether the movement will really transform the industry, or even if these supposedly canceled predators are really canceled.

A lot happened, in other words, over the back half of the 2010s. If there was a comfortable constant, it was that for all the changes to the cinema landscape, movies themselves still delivered. Without fail, people kept making good ones, in stubborn defiance of the bellyaching cliché that they never make ’em like they used to. Whether judged as a whole or as two five-year parts, the 2010s were a terrific decade for film; you just had to be willing to go looking for the best, and to look outside of an increasingly IP-obsessed studio system—not that the multiplex didn’t offer some gems of its own, including the movie you’ll find at the very top of The A.V. Club’s new list of the decade’s best.

To qualify for inclusion, a film had to be released in the United States on or after January 1, 2010. (Hence the appearance of such superb international holdovers as #38 and #29 below.) Meanwhile, nothing scheduled to hit theaters after December 31 of this year is eligible, even if it already premiered on the festival circuit. Beyond that, we stuck to features—no shorts or music videos or, ahem, 18-hour movies that played on television, one a week, in discrete installments. Just over half of the films come from 2015 or later, though only 40 appeared on the previous list—a reflection of the different tastes of the writers polled this time, or the rising and falling reputations of different works. And of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the movies that mattered these past 10 years. A truly comprehensive list would go well beyond 100, though even then, we’d probably still miss a few of your favorites. After all, fiery differences in opinion were another constant of this tumultuous decade.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Photo: Strand Releasing

100. Miss Bala (2012)

Ignore the recent American remake starring Gina Rodriguez and revel instead in the harrowing yet elegant sordidness of Gerardo Naranjo’s original Mexican version. Ostensibly a grim look at Mexico’s drug cartels, this fact-inspired melodrama, in which a beauty pageant contestant (Stephanie Sigman) gets abducted and pressed into service as a mule, actually has much more to say about the various self-defeating traps that society—any society, really—sets for young women. Naranjo shoots much of the film in meticulously choreographed sequence shots, which only makes it feel more oppressive. [Mike D’Angelo]


99. The Immigrant (2014)

Already a cult figure among cinephiles, the director James Gray cemented his status as an underappreciated American master with this drama about a Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) who goes to work for a small-time pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) in 1920s New York to get her sister out of Ellis Island; eventually, she attracts the romantic attentions of the pimp’s cousin, a magician (Jeremy Renner). Working in a style that recalls the tragic splendor of different eras of classic film, Gray creates a novelistic sense of the emotional and psychological compromises of his characters, who live at the edge of despair and in the shadow of the American dream. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


98. The Comedy (2012)

The specific strain of Brooklyn hipster embodied by Tim Heidecker as trust fund a-hole Swanson largely left his PBR tallboys and fixed-gear bikes in the first half of the decade. But the pathology animating him—the shell of ironic provocation that acts as insulation from the surrounding world—has only intensified as it’s spread from the borough to the whole of the internet. Rick Alverson’s study of a deeply damaged man fearful of his own capacity for sincerity has ballooned in significance since 2012, from a hyper-specific sociological portrait to a prophecy on a generational scale. [Charles Bramesco]


97. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011)

Ghost wives, hirsute monkey sons with glowing red eyes, smooth-talking catfish providing oral pleasure—these are but three examples of the playful peculiarities offered by Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. But director Apichatpong Weerasethakul isn’t interested in weirdness for weirdness’ sake. His tenderly spiritual vision is grounded in compassion for those merely passing through our mortal realm. Boonmee operates on a logic-defying emotional wavelength, one that accepts the porous borders between worlds and reincarnated lives. Accept the mystery and enjoy the ride. [Vikram Murthi]


96. Bridesmaids (2011)

Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, a classic of contemporary comedy, does not endure thanks only to its many vulgar (and sometimes scatological) set pieces. The dolphin, the airplane, “It’s coming out of me like lava”—excellent stuff, gold stars all around. But no, Bridesmaids still shines because of the vibrant, deeply felt friendships at its center. It’s a strength best embodied by a scene in which Megan (Melissa McCarthy)—a mere caricature in almost any other movie—tells Annie (Kristen Wiig) to get her shit together by literally biting her in the ass, the supremely weird act of a person who really cares. [Allison Shoemaker]


95. Cameraperson (2016)

Kirsten Johnson, a veteran documentary cinematographer, has spent her professional career filming other people’s stories—not just witnessing firsthand the atrocities and ethical dilemmas that make up so much nonfiction filmmaking, but also seeing how the personal and political are permanently entwined. Her collage-style memoir, Cameraperson, absorbs these ideas and filters them through unused footage from old projects, sans any exposition beyond location cards. Eventually, a through-line of associative memory emerges, providing some internal logic to the assembly of superficially unrelated scenes. What Johnson understands is that life isn’t defined by linear chronology but rather a shared humanity linking every beautiful, mundane moment. [Vikram Murthi]


94. The Turin Horse (2012)

Master of attenuated apocalypses captured in extended, often dazzling long takes, Béla Tarr promised The Turin Horse would be his final feature, and he’s stayed good on his word. After rendering total desolation in gorgeous tracking shots—and reducing the whole world to a miserable farm, a father and his daughter, and a lot of potatoes—what else was there left to express? In two and a half hours, Tarr brings all of his signature elements to complete fruition, blasting past pretension into a microcosmic epic. [Vadim Rizov]


93. Creed (2015)

After the heartbreaking Fruitvale Station and before the record-smashing Black Panther, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan collaborated on Creed, chronicling the rise of a Black star. This continuation of the decades-old Rocky story shifted perspective from the Philadelphia boxer to Jordan’s Adonis Creed, consumed by a desperate desire to prove himself, especially to the man who let his father die. The film’s dirt bike sequence, set to Meek Mill’s “Lord Knows/Fighting Stronger,” is an unforgettable moment of braggadocio—a deeply satisfying middle finger to every doubter in these streets, epitomizing the swagger Coogler and Jordan injected into a re-energized franchise. [Roxana Hadadi]


92. Uncut Gems (2019)

In one of his rare “serious” roles, Adam Sandler delivers what may be the funniest performance of his movie career, playing a gambling-addicted New York diamond dealer. Over the course of several days, Sandler’s anti-hero juggles multiple make-or-break deals and a series of crazy high-roller bets—all while teetering between euphoria and rage. The writer-director team of Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time) plunge viewers into the bedlam of his life, delivering a white-knuckle experience that’s at once exhilarating and—in a good way—utterly exhausting. [Noel Murray]


91. The Arbor (2011)

Among the most formally adventurous documentaries yet made, The Arbor is a portrait of English playwright Andrea Dunbar, who died of a brain hemorrhage at age 29. (Alan Clarke directed a film adaptation of her best-known play, Rita, Sue And Bob Too.) Rather than simply interview Dunbar’s friends and family on camera, however, director Clio Barnard hires actors to lip-sync along with said interviews, and the resulting cognitive dissonance (enhanced by Barnard’s deliberately offbeat staging) beautifully echoes what we’re shown of Dunbar’s own work, which is at once autobiographical and highly artificial. [Mike D’Angelo]


90. High Life (2019)

“Prisoners in space undertake a dangerous mission to explore black holes in exchange for commuted sentences” sounds closer to a fly-by-night Netflick than a mind-knotting inquest into the potential and limits of the human body. But Claire Denis definitely had the latter on her mind when she embarked on her English-language debut, a sci-fi movie more interested in the purity and essence of our natural fluids than traditional genre tropes. An eclectic cast, led by astro-monk Robert Pattinson and mad scientist Juliette Binoche, swan-dives into the void for the most out-there entry in Denis’ cerebral, uniformly superb filmography. [Charles Bramesco]

Carol
Photo: Screenshot

89. Carol (2015)

“What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space.” Cue mass swooning, as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara quietly burn up the screen in Todd Haynes’ rapturous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price Of Salt, which dared to dream of a non-doomed May-December lesbian romance. From its opening shot, the film looks positively suffused with old-school Hollywood glamour, yet its tenor is unmistakenly modern (without feeling anachronistic). It’s another of Haynes’ bewitching throwbacks. [Mike D’Angelo]


88. Drug War (2013)

Possibly the leanest thriller of the decade, Johnnie To’s stripped-down cartel movie is a marvel of perfectly engineered simplicity. Made under Chinese censors, it pits a desperate drug trafficker (Louis Koo) against a ruthless police captain (Sun Honglei), pushing the latter’s single-minded sense of justice to such extremes that the film effectively doubles as state critique. As purely entertaining as it is morally ambiguous, this police procedural barrels forward with relentless force, culminating in a take-no-prisoners shootout for the ages. [Lawrence Garcia]


87. Weekend (2011)

In his breakout feature, Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Lean On Pete) carefully peels back layers of human intimacy with naturalistic grace, taking as his focus the short-lived relationship between two men over the course of a couple days. There are certainly shades of other movies, like Lost In Translation and Brief Encounter, in this deceptively uneventful romance, wherein two strangers meet and converse, emerging as different people. But what separates Weekend from the rest of the pack is how it juggles these universal elements with a textured commitment to the singularity of the gay experience circa 2011: the shame, the fear, the humor, the joy, the sex. [Beatrice Loayza]


86. The Lost City Of Z (2017)

A breathtaking match-cut from a stream of liquor to a racing locomotive transports us immediately to David Lean’s neck of the jungle. But the classical dramas of James Gray build their own bridges across cinema history, linking the sweep of a golden age for epics to a prickly modern psychology. Chronicling the wilderness expeditions of a 20th-century explorer (Charlie Hunnam) who disappears, literally and spiritually, into his quixotic search for an ancient civilization, The Lost City Of Z identifies multiple mysteries and meanings in the uncharted thicket of the Amazon. Also there in its verdant green: a self-portrait of obsession, the kind it takes, maybe, to devote yourself to unfashionably ambitious opuses like this. [A.A. Dowd]


85. Happy Hour (2016)

Ryūsuke Hamaguchi made a splash at Cannes last year with Asako I & II, but his previous film, Happy Hour, proved he was a filmmaker to watch. The film follows a group of four late-30s women in Japan whose friendly group outings serve as emotional reprieves from their daily lives; when one of them announces her plans to divorce her husband, it sends the remaining three into respective states of existential disarray. Across five hours, Hamaguchi acutely observes how people fail to openly communicate in domestic and professional spheres—and how urgently we need to overcome that obstacle. [Vikram Murthi]


84. Tangerine (2015)

Sorry Bad Santa 2this is the decade’s best Christmas movie. Shot on three iPhones, Sean Baker’s yuletide comedy centers on Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker who finds out in Tangerine’s opening moments that her boyfriend (James Ransone) has been cheating on her. From there, both the film and Sin-Dee’s friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), struggle to keep up with her as Sin-Dee tears out of Donut Time and through Los Angeles like a high-heeled hurricane. Anchored by exemplary performances, it’s raucous, breathless, and almost unbearably tender, arriving at an ending touching enough to warm any Scrooge’s heart, even if the laundromat fluorescents don’t twinkle quite like the lights on a tree. [Allison Shoemaker]


83. Gone Girl (2014)

David Fincher’s thriller about the power dynamics of relationships drips ink-black humor into pools of blood. Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name, Gone Girl devolves from Pinteresque marital mystery into unabashedly absurd pulp. But the joyride, full of twists and turns, plays out smoothly with Fincher’s formalist touch, which lends an eerily polished, nearly insidious tone to banal and preposterous events alike (but none so preposterous as the fantasy of a blissful marriage!). And let us not forget Rosamund Pike, whose titular performance as Amy Dunne evocatively communicates a woman’s multitudes with subdued rage. [Beatrice Loayza]


82. You Were Never Really Here (2018)

A year before Joker, Joaquin Phoenix essentially played the same character—a tortured soul who commits dramatic acts of violence—in another arty genre piece clearly influenced by Taxi Driver. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay brings her unique fascination with bleary visual textures and extreme subjectivity to this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel. The result is a powerful and personal revenge thriller, about a PTSD-affected contract killer who takes a shot at being a hero, if only to drive the demons out of his head. [Noel Murray]


81. Spring Breakers (2013)

“Spring breeeeeak.” These slurred words hypnotize the heroines of Harmony Korine’s neon Florida crime odyssey. James Franco’s Alien, a wannabe gangster who brags about “all my shit,” gleefully corrupts college students Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Faith (Selena Gomez). But Spring Breakers isn’t his story. The focus is on the allure of nihilism and the realization that not much matters aside from being hot, fun, and young. The movie’s self-awareness is its strength, and its millennial signifiers—DTF sweatpants, Britney Spears’ “Everytime”—help secure its status as a cult classic, expressing a warped American dream. [Roxana Hadadi]

Hereditary
Photo: A24

80. Hereditary (2018)

Aside from maybe the film sitting at #35 below, Ari Aster’s frightening take on the haunted house movie may be the most auspicious horror debut of this decade: It shook Sundance to its core and put its director on the radar of everyone from Bong Joon Ho to Martin Scorsese. Proving that Hitchcock’s techniques still have the power to shock, even as the film’s specific visual language has begun to spawn imitators of its own, Hereditary draws its spooky power from deep emotional trauma rather than cheap jump scares. You’re left hoping Aster has a good therapist—maybe the highest compliment you can pay a budding master of the genre. [Katie Rife]


79. Hell Or High Water (2016)

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s neo-Western trilogy, bracketed on one side by Sicario and on the other by Wind River, explored how government mismanagement and capitalist corruption grind people into dust. It’s the film in the middle, the grittily poetic Hell Or High Water, that hits hardest. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play post-recession Robin Hoods, turning to bank robbing out of exasperation with having other people’s hands in their pockets; their opposition comes in the form of Jeff Bridges as the grizzled Texas Ranger in hot pursuit. It’s a tense elegy for a lost way of life, one that refuses to keep any troublesome facet of modern American society—from our fetishization of guns to our collapsing agriculture class—out of its crosshairs. [Roxana Hadadi]


78. Shoplifters (2018)

A film that opens with a father and son stealing food from a grocery store seems like it should be neo-realist misery porn, but Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Palme d’or-winning Shoplifters is a joyously anarchic tribute to family in all of its forms, but particularly the chosen ones. The sweetness of the makeshift unit glued together by anti-establishment obaachan Kirin Kiki is fueled by Kore-eda’s love for his characters, even when their actions are inarguably criminal. What’s a little kidnapping among family? [Katie Rife]


77. Paddington 2 (2018)

“If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” The simple motto of a marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru became words to live by in the increasingly tumultuous latter half of the 2010s. Paul King’s sequel to his equally delightful Paddington maintains the enchanting tone and clever physical comedy of the original while adding in a career-best performance from Hugh Grant as villainous thespian Phoenix Buchanan. With a pro-immigrant, pro-prison-reform message to boot, Paddington 2 proves that movies for kids don’t have to talk down to them—or the adults watching either. [Caroline Siede]


76. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Kathryn Bigelow’s ambivalent account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden remains the definitive film about the war on terror, an information-age procedural about means, ends, and corrosion. Depicting the world of post-9/11 intelligence (seen mostly through the eyes of a composite character played by Jessica Chastain) and the eventual raid on bin Laden’s compound, Zero Dark Thirty was decried by some at the time as pro-torture propaganda. But it remains as gripping as its conclusions are grim; the film opens with a powerful evocation of national tragedy and ends on a note of profound emptiness. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


75. Mudbound (2017)

Recalling both John Steinbeck’s East Of Eden and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, this lyrical adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel tracks two families—one Black and one white—united by a plot of land in Mississippi after World War II. Each family deployed a son, and those traumatized veterans, played by Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell, can only stand to be around each other, attracting unwanted attention from the racist townspeople. The film’s gorgeous cinematography pairs well with poignant social questions, but writer-director Dee Rees’ true triumph is a stark ending that pointedly, hauntingly rejects the notion of American racial harmony. [Roxana Hadadi]


74. Minding The Gap (2018)

Bing Liu’s debut film walks through the door as a documentary about skater kids in economically depressed (and generally depressing) Rockford, Illinois, but slowly reveals itself as an empathetic portrait of a created family. The young men at its center—including Liu—have more in common than geography and kick-flips: They’re reckoning with their escapes from parental abuse, and trying with varying degrees of success not to fall victim to the cycle. Shot over a dozen years, Minding The Gap feels like both a beautiful accident and a small miracle of editing. [Josh Modell]


73. Stranger By The Lake (2014)

Iconoclastic director Alain Guiraudie achieved greater recognition with this impressively controlled thriller (his first film to get U.S. distribution), set in a secluded gay cruising spot in the French countryside. Incorporating rigorously composed landscape shots, casual male nudity, and explicit sex, the film follows a handsome cruiser (Pierre Deladonchamps) who becomes drawn to a hunky, mustachioed cipher (Christophe Paou), even after watching him drown another man. By withholding visual cues that might help us understand this behavior, Guiraudie transforms a gripping tale of lust and death into a kind of epistemological inquiry, recalling no less than Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece Blow-Up. [Lawrence Garcia]


72. Computer Chess (2013)

A near-total break with the mumblecore genre he pionereed, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess grounds itself in an early ’80s conference for fans of the eponymous pastime. Shot, disorientingly, on a vintage Sony camera that gives the movie a grungy but unfamiliar video vibe, the film starts as a comedy about weirdos hanging out but quickly mutates into something much stranger. Are the computers becoming sentient? Are they giving birth? The possibilities are endless, and the laughs are numerous. [Vadim Rizov]


71. Mustang (2015)

A cluster of five sisters is chiseled down to one in Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, an aching familial drama that couches its complex coming-of-age narrative in the strict gender oppression of Turkey. But though this suffocating milieu helps shape the narrative, it doesn’t dictate it—no one sister’s journey is the same as the last, with each trying (and sometimes failing) to bend a culture to their own desires. As their bonds dissolve, as they eventually must, Mustang argues that it was their collectivity that helped prepare them for individuality. [Randall Colburn]


70. Tabu (2012)

Taking its title from the 1931 F.W. Murnau classic of the same name, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu unfolds across two distinct chapters but contains even greater multitudes: It’s at once a tragic story of a failed romance, a gorgeous exhumation of silent-film grammar, a reckoning with Portugal’s colonial legacy, and a moving meditation on both personal and cultural memory. Immaculately photographed on 35mm, the film merges the anarchic storytelling pleasures of Guy Maddin with the evocative lost worlds of Raúl Ruiz, offering puckish humor alongside a genuine sense of wonder. [Lawrence Garcia]


69. The Witch (2016) 

Writer-director Robert Eggers views his films through the lens of folklore. And the Jungian possibilities of such an approach are evident in the array of reactions to his debut feature, The Witch, which has been interpreted as everything from a manifesto of satanic feminist liberation to a regressive validation of historical persecution. Contrasting with the Rorschach effect of the story itself is the gorgeously textured specificity of the film’s period production design, in which Eggers and his team recreated a 17th-century homestead and shot it by candlelight. That’s one way to live deliciously. [Katie Rife]


68. American Honey (2016)

Across a sprawling 162 minutes, British director Andrea Arnold brings a lyrical touch to her anthropologic interest in American “mag crews”—groups of wayward teens who travel the country selling magazine subscriptions in exchange for room and board and a sense of freedom. Anchored by the fearless, fiercely empathetic performance of newcomer Sasha Lane and a mesmerizing supporting turn from Shia LaBeouf, American Honey shines a light on a desperate, scrappy, underexplored corner of American life. [Caroline Siede]


67. 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Too many filmmakers flinch when tackling sobering topics like slavery or genocide. But with 12 Years A Slave, director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley made an absorbing, emotional drama, staged and shot with real panache. Based on the true story of educated Black musician Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor)—who was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and shipped from one plantation to another in rural Louisiana—the movie gradually becomes a nightmarish survival tale, about how learning to please cruel masters sometimes comes at the expense of morality and empathy. [Noel Murray]


66. Force Majeure (2014)

Few films dare to wade as deeply into the swampy recesses of the human psyche as Force Majeure. The butt of writer-director Ruben Östlund’s mercilessly droll joke is toxic masculinity—specifically the rapid collapse of the male ego in the form of Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), a Swedish family man whose self-image (and marriage) unexpectedly pivots on a spontaneous moment of craven self-preservation at a French ski resort. Fueled by stark emotional brutality in the Michael Haneke vein, it’s a biting satire and an existential horror movie wrapped into one. [Katie Rife]


65. Right Now, Wrong Then (2016)

Of the 14 features (!) Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo made this decade, this beguiling feature was the closest he came to a breakthrough with Stateside audiences. Detailing a set of awkward romantic encounters between a well-known director (Jeong Jae-yeong) and a budding painter (Kim Min-hee), the film is presented in two parts, with the second recapitulating the events of the first, only with innumerable minor variations and an entirely different outcome. Though unassuming in scale, Right Now, Wrong Then exhibits Hong’s keen ability to channel hilarious social observations (often centered around copious drink and feckless male behavior) into something approaching philosophical inquiry. [Lawrence Garcia]

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Photo: Sony

64. Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse (2018)

A superhero movie so wonderful and creative, even Martin Scorsese might call it cinema. Swinging in toward the end of a decade dominated by Avengers, this Oscar-winning blast of comic book fun (emphasis on the comic, thanks to that signature Lord-Miller touch) redeemed an oversaturated genre partially by clowning on endlessly rebooted continuities and overcrowded shared universes. But there’s sincere poignancy, too, in the origin story it spins for teenage Miles Morales, taken under the wing (web?) of a hilariously over-the-hill Peter Parker. The imagery, meanwhile, brilliantly captures the colorful, eye-popping splendor of the source material, leaving one to wonder why more of these panel-to-screen adaptations don’t go the animation route. [A.A. Dowd]


63. Eighth Grade (2018)

How does Bo Burnham know so much about being a 13-year-old girl? The writer-comedian’s assured directorial debut understands its protagonist, played by a revelatory Elsie Fisher, on an almost cellular level. Driven by insecurities and entranced by her smartphone, Fisher’s Kayla spends her free time vlogging in the guise of a person she’d like to be—a girl with endless confidence and a signature catchphrase (“Gucci!”). That girl doesn’t exist, though. Thankfully, the real Kayla, imbued by Fisher and Burnham with bottomless vulnerability and oddball charm, is a thousand times more compelling. And it’s she who really sits at the center of this coming-of-age comedy, a rich tapestry of empathy, anxiety, and mortification. [Allison Shoemaker]


62. The Loneliest Planet (2012)

Blink and you might miss the inciting incident of Julia Loktev’s devastating relationship drama, about two young lovers (Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal) whose backpacking vacation through Europe hits the skids when one of them suffers a split-second failure of nerve. It’s a brief but shattering occurrence, sending a mighty crack down the center of the idyllic romance we’ve been observing, and cleaving the movie itself into two distinct parts: a before and an after, each colored by emotions so radically different that they seem to warp the very landscape around the two. Sound abstract? For anyone who’s ever been suddenly confronted by the stark, unflattering reality of who they are or what they value, it’ll feel as rock solid as the Caucasus. [A.A. Dowd]


61. Inside Out (2015)

It was not a sterling decade for America’s most respected animation studio, as Pixar upped its output (11 movies in 10 years!) and chipped away at its reputation for originality (only four of them were non-sequels). But Inside Out proved that the company can still summon its exhilarating inventiveness, here using it to visualize the brain of an 11-year-old girl, as Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and other emotions grapple over the kid’s mental state. By foregrounding the inevitability and necessity of sadness, Inside Out becomes the rare children’s film that feels like it could make a genuine difference in its audience’s lives. [Jesse Hassenger]


60. The Favourite (2018)

It’d be silly to expect a straight-ahead period drama from the director of The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, and while Yorgos Lanthimos enjoys some of the genre’s trappings—gorgeous costumes and highbrow accents—he adds some modern touches to The Favourite. The palace intrigue—centered on a backstabbing love triangle among Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and the Best Actress-winning Olivia Colman—is rendered with wide angles and fisheye lenses, all the better to make the crackerjack black comedy simultaneously more frantic and claustrophobic. [Josh Modell]


59. Support The Girls (2018)

Following an ensemble of working-class women on a more-or-less-average day at the Hooters-like restaurant Double Whammies, Andrew Bujalski’s Support The Girls intimately understands how the workplace effectively stamps out humanity in favor of efficiency. Yet manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall) does her best to instill generosity into the drudgery by elevating her fellow workers at the expense of her job security. Bujalski’s matter-of-fact approach to this kind of mundane heroism carves out space for empowerment without cheap progressive bromides. Institutions won’t save you, but if you’re lucky, the people within them will have your back. [Vikram Murthi]


58. A Ghost Story (2017)

It sounds like a tough sell: a deliberately paced fairytale in which the star (Casey Affleck) is mostly silent and dressed like a Halloween-costumed ghost from Peanuts. But writer-director David Lowery threads the needle perfectly with A Ghost Story, carefully moving his bed-sheeted apparition through time and a lonely house with precision and poignancy. Though there is some light haunting, the film isn’t scary in any conventional way, though it might cause some existential terror in anyone who dwells on the bigger questions of grief, love, legacy, and the passage of time. [Josh Modell]


57. Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn is a fighter, not a lover. But at least once, the Danish director split the difference, crafting a gloriously cool genre pastiche with a heart tuned to FM radio. As an action movie, Drive is ruthless and efficient, speeding from tight getaways to head-stomping elevator brawls to the unexpected menace of Albert Brooks with a straight razor. Yet it also fancies itself an unrequited love story, perfectly casting Ryan Gosling as an urban-samurai cipher with a storm of emotion brewing behind his baby blues and—via one of the great soundtracks of the decade—synth-pop running through his head. You’ll wince and swoon, which is maybe the exact blend of reactions Refn desires. [A.A. Dowd]


56. Inception (2010)

Just imagine being able to enter the subconscious of another person and run around in their wildest dreams. The counterintuitive but cleverly on-brand trick that Christopher Nolan pulls with his unconventional heist movie is that the people doing the dream-hopping don’t want to run through surreal, anything-can-happen dreamscapes. Instead, like so many Nolan protagonists, they’re struggling for control, even if they have to bend buildings and sky to obtain it, creating a tension that lingers straight through to that evocatively, ambiguously turning topspin. There’s another feat of imagination here, too: Picture what Hollywood would look like if more blockbusters were as clever, propulsive, and ambitious as Inception. [Jesse Hassenger]


55. Her Smell (2019)

It’s no coincidence that Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) stalks the halls of a dank punk club in a Phantom Of The Opera T-shirt. She, too, is a chaotic force, a figure of malevolent charisma hammering organ keys in the basement, ensorcelling even those she repels. The best (so far) of Moss’ collaborations with writer-director Alex Ross Perry, Her Smell cares not for rock-’n’-roll glamour, hurling you instead into the orbit of an abusive addict swan-diving toward rock bottom. Moss is a marvel, the film wholly in her thrall; when both finally arrive at stillness, it hits like a kick behind the knees. [Allison Shoemaker]


54. La La Land (2016)

Buoyed by witty direction, an eminently hummable score, and the screen chemistry of stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, Damien Chazelle’s homage to old-fashioned song-and-dance love stories is an exuberant musical about unhappiness; nearly every one of its razzle-dazzle flights of fancy is cued to a moment of anxiety, frustration, or disappointment. Set in a romanticized version of Los Angeles, the film has more in common with Whiplash and First Man, Chazelle’s earlier portraits of antisocial, obsessively driven men, than its Technicolor trappings might imply. La La Land builds to a bittersweet finale that suggests that even in a world of dreams, we’d still be wondering if things could have turned out better. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


53. The Lobster (2016)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ work is striking not just because of his insights into the human condition but because it seems as though he’s formulating them from outside humanity, like a newly arrived alien. A 21st century Hal Hartley, the writer-director deploys his signature deadpan style to wonderfully comic effect in The Lobster, a fanciful reimagining of society wherein single people have 45 days to find a romantic partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing. Lanthimos finds satirical targets aplenty, but locates something more profound in his eventual focus on two people trying to love each other in the absence of any outside support or influence. [Alex McLevy]


52. Parasite (2019)

Thrillingly entertaining and wickedly satirical, Bong Joon Ho’s genre-bending Parasite is ostensibly about a family of clever grifters who worm their way into the household of one rich, naive family. But just when Bong has hooked the audience on this high-spirited and often hilarious caper, he throws in a big twist, and then another, and then another. By the end, he’s produced a densely layered social drama, which has a lot to say about contemporary class divisions—and which does so with a rare brio. [Noel Murray]

Her
Photo: Screenshot

51. Her (2013)

Who needs Joaquin Phoenix to showboat in clown makeup when he so perfectly encapsulates loneliness in this sci-fi romance from Spike Jonze? The near-future story of a sad guy (Phoenix) who enters into a romantic relationship with his computer’s operating system (expressively embodied, sans body, by Scarlett Johansson) should look sillier or scarier as real-life technology threatens to catch up with it. But while Her has funny moments, Jonze takes his material seriously—not as a cautionary tale or an indictment of male entitlement, but as a sensitive, open-hearted relationship story about one partner growing beyond another. [Jesse Hassenger]


50. Amour (2012)

Anyone familiar with the punishing work of Michael Haneke had to shudder when they heard he’d made a movie called Amour. After all, the Austrian provocateur dubbed his cruelest act of audience antagonism Funny Games—and to quote Nelson Muntz, we can think of at least two things wrong with that title. So the truly shocking thing about this unlikely Oscar winner is that its title is completely sincere. Tracing the slow but steady physical/mental decline of an elderly music teacher (French screen legend Emmanuelle Riva) after she suffers a stroke, it may be the most gruelingly realistic movie ever made about the indignities of old age. Yet in witnessing the tireless care and devotion of the woman’s husband (fellow acting veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant), Haneke also reaches for an expression of love at its purest and most selfless. Amour is completely unromantic on the subject of dying, which makes the undying romance at its center all the more powerful. [A.A. Dowd]


49. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

While the term “period romance” may not immediately conjure up the 1980s, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is lyrical enough to rival any great 19th-century love story. (It doesn’t hurt that costume-drama connoisseur James Ivory wrote the screenplay, adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel.) The connection between sensitive, bookish teen Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and confident, charismatic grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is one of unspoken longing, equal parts intellectual and physical. Yet the masterstroke of the film is the way it puts us firmly into the intimate headspace of Elio’s intoxicating erotic awakening, only to zoom out with a monologue from his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) that reminds us of the universality of heartbreak and the all-too-rare gift of truly unconditional love. [Caroline Siede]


48. Paterson (2016)

Jim Jarmusch’s ode to the creative process and the quotidian pleasures of everyday life, starring Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry on the side, might be the wisest film that the king of hip deadpan has ever made; it shares its working-class hero’s curiosity and appreciation for the world around him and his eye for meanings and rhymes. More than that, it offers up, in the relationship between Paterson and his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a down-to-earth love story about cohabitating artists with opposite personalities. Stories of conflict, heartache, and turmoil invariably dominate lists like these, but Paterson is that rare great film about happiness. Whether in love or in artistry, Jarmusch suggests that it all comes down to learning patience. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


47. It Follows (2015)

Depth of field is the real menace of It Follows. Make no mistake, David Robert Mitchell’s Carpenteresque thriller boasts a pretty scary monster: a shape-shifting phantom that ambles single-mindedly after a group of teenagers, chasing them all over the state of Michigan like a supernatural homing missile. But this evil force wouldn’t be half as frightening in the hands of a less accomplished craftsman. Mitchell, putting a sinister spin on the end-of-summer wistfulness that defined his earlier Myth Of The American Sleepover, plays accomplice to his bogeyman by weaponizing the space it occupies or doesn’t. At a certain point, the background of every shot and the unseen area just beyond every frame-line becomes a danger zone, a source of fresh anxiety. Because the curse spreads through sex, It Follows has been misunderstood as an STD allegory. But that’s too literal an interpretation of a horror movie that makes inevitability itself the enemy, the dread enhanced by the simple sight of something, of anything, appearing on the distant horizon. [A.A. Dowd]


46. Arrival (2016)

Denis Villeneuve never settles for less than exceptional, and his perfectionism extends to nearly every aspect of Arrival. He finds it in Amy Adams, delivering a soulfully unflashy performance—and capturing the very spirit of humble idealism—as a troubled linguist trying to solve the mystery of 12 alien spaceships that have touched down on Earth, each containing a pair of seven-armed aliens communicating a complex message that could alter the fate of the world. It’s there, too, in the subdued palette of cinematographer Bradford Young, emphasizing the quiet human dimension of the story, and in the score composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, an ideal blend of bombast and beauty. The result is science fiction at its best, combining heady conceptual ideas with generous heart, like Spielberg doing Star Trek. [Alex McLevy]


45. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson’s signature style is so distinctive (and so easily parodied) that it’s always tempting to focus on superficial aspects—the symmetrical compositions, the sudden whip-pans, the omnipresent use of Futura—at the expense of noting other, more significant preoccupations. What really makes Wes uniquely Wes is his penchant for juxtaposing youthful naïveté with middle-aged regret, which dates back to Rushmore and found its most expansive expression to date in the delightful, poignant Moonrise Kingdom. Ostensibly, this period piece, set in 1965 New England, is the tale of two child runaways (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) whose misadventures in “the wild” provoke plenty of laughs. But Anderson devotes just as much time to the emotionally insecure adults hot on their trail, including an atypically soft-spoken Bruce Willis. Some will still resist, but this may be as close to irresistible as WesWorld gets. [Mike D’Angelo]


44. Green Room (2016)

When Green Room was released in the spring of 2016, its premise felt expertly heightened: Some punk rockers agree to play a Nazi club in the Pacific Northwest, then witness a murder and must fight their way out of a potentially fatal lockdown. Less than a year later, the film looked like a chillingly natural extension of current events. Despite the loathsomeness of his bad guys, no one can accuse writer-director Jeremy Saulnier of trying to notch easy victories; Green Room is vicious, bloody, and harrowing, a genre workout with teeth (which are often attached to marauding dogs). Yet this relentless thriller never loses its humanity, embodied by Imogen Poots and especially by the late and much-missed Anton Yelchin, giving one of his best performances as the band’s embattled bassist. [Jesse Hassenger]


43. Marriage Story (2019)

While nervously attempting to give a child welfare agent a positive impression of his parenting skills, playwright Charlie (Adam Driver) inadvertently slices his arm open. Even if he wasn’t nakedly positioned as a stand-in for writer-director Noah Baumbach, the connection between them would be clear in this moment; Baumbach, after all, splays every part of himself all over this messy, unflattering recollection of a crumbling union. The split between Charlie and his wife-muse, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), draws out their nastiest selves, but not in the smart-aleck register identified with much of Baumbach’s work. The hostility gradually slinks out from a cordial divorce, just another manifestation of the love the two will never fully relinquish. The vicious disputes about custody of their son and coastal relocation only mask the truer and rawer feelings that make up this tender, sensitive film: selfishness, resentment, insecurity, and finally humility. [Charles Bramesco]


42. Leviathan (2013)

Over the past decade, Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab kept doing novel things with the documentary form, from the Montana sheepherder chronicle Sweetgrass to the structuralist cable-car ride Manakamana to—best of all—the churning, plunging, sloshing Leviathan, a visceral full immersion into one American fishing vessel’s toilsome routine on the Stygian seas. Directors Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor don’t have much use for explanations or talking heads or even straight-on reportage; instead, they want you to experience. Made on marathon shooting shifts with a whole fleet of digital cameras—all of which seem to know no bounds, not least the GoPros flung overboard like life buoys—the film lays bare the nature-versus-man mythos to which the modern-day fishing industry is anchored. [Benjamin Mercer]

Magic Mike XXL
Photo: Screenshot

41. Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Where Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike cast a cold light on hustling and economic inequality, the sequel (directed by his longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs) replicates his characteristic visuals—Soderbergh shot it—while channeling them into a totally different tone. Channing Tatum and his gang of lovable male strippers take a road trip toward an erotic dancing convention, spreading good cheer, self-confidence, and respectful sexuality everywhere they go. If that sounds didactic, know that XXL is a true blast: an inclusive comedy where all are welcome. Loosely modeled on Nashville, it climaxes with back-to-back-to-back stripping numbers at the conference to cap off a truly aughts refashioning of the musical genre—a vision of a better, kinder America that’s increasingly in the rearview mirror. [Vadim Rizov]


40. Elle (2016)

Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert joined forces to deliver this wicked little thriller, a spitting cobra that wriggles out of the grasp of political critique with a sneaky grin on its fangs. Opening with a brutal rape seen from the point of view of a black cat, Elle finds its true bite in the banality of the aftermath, and the slippery way that its protagonist, Michèle (Huppert), regains control of her life and body on her own twisted terms. Both feminist and anti-feminist, heroine and anti-heroine, victim and perpetrator, Michèle seems to relish embodying the stereotype of the femme fatale. Her vicious psychology affirms the complexity of both female sexuality and the effects of trauma. [Katie Rife]


39. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019)

Closing out a decade that produced his two most didactic and overtly political films, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino created what might be his most ambiguous work with this wistful fantasy of Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s. A depressed, alcoholic B-list actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend, a stuntman (Brad Pitt, rarely better) who may have gotten away with murder, cross paths with the Manson family and their most famous victim, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). If the initial mood of this world of Cadillacs, Cinerama marquees, and whiskey sours is one of nostalgic twilight, the undercurrents are chiefly sadness and latent violence. Both a hangout movie par excellence and an affectionate tribute to the detritus of pop culture past, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood offers up some of the most sensitively directed sequences of Tarantino’s career—and, in DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Pitt’s Cliff Booth, two of his richest characters. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


38. Everyone Else (2010)

An uneasy break-up comedy not far off tonally from Modern Romance, Everyone Else centers on a German couple, Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger), on an uneasy vacation together. She’s an extrovert, he’s decidedly the opposite, but no matter: In their repeated collisions with another couple, they take turns outrageously upping the ante on unexpected, alienating, and often outrageously funny behavior. If Maren Ade’s follow-up, Toni Erdmann, gives a whole new rendering to the idea of “committing to the bit,” Everyone Else functions much the same way, analyzing the shared pathologies of a toxic couple as they repeatedly blow themselves up, making others cringe as much as they do. What’s performance and what’s genuine pain? These two may never know, but everyone else is going to have to deal with it. [Vadim Rizov]


37. Whiplash (2014)

“Suffering for your art” has rarely been given a more literal workout than in Damien Chazelle’s absorbing and often difficult-to-watch psychodrama about a talented young drummer (Miles Teller) pulled into the orbit of a vituperatively cruel instructor (J.K. Simmons). Working from his own script, Chazelle unerringly captures the obsessive drive that pushes so many artists past the boundaries of normal behavior, sacrificing everything in pursuit of greatness. Better still is the way the film remains cleverly ambiguous on the ultimate cost of the work, illuminating the darkly codependent nature of the two men’s relationship with nuance and understanding. Teller is excellent, but there’s a reason Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar: He terrifies and entrances in equal measure, demonstrating exactly why someone would willingly submit themselves to the force of his volcanic tutelage. [Alex McLevy]


36. Upstream Color (2013)

If Shane Carruth’s knotty sci-fi debut Primer was an intellectual puzzle box, his second feature could be described as an emotional one, its emphasis on intimacy and the natural world deviating wildly from his brainy breakout. As such, it’s fitting that Upstream Color defies the kind of fastidious dissection Primer courted, its near-absence of discernible, meaningful dialogue serving to highlight its quiet, complex dance of trauma and recovery, not to mention its offbeat aesthetic pleasures and elliptical, Malickian storytelling. Hard as it is to parse, Upstream Color pulses with purpose and confidence, due in no small part to Carruth commanding every aspect of the film, from the direction and writing to its score and distribution. Take a cue from our initial review and just let it wash over you. [Randall Colburn]


35. Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele lived every filmmaker’s dream with his directorial debut, a critical and commercial smash that catapulted him from working comedian to A-list auteur, then won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The film will be remembered as a needle-moving moment both for the horror genre and for Black creatives in Hollywood. But beyond its historical significance, Get Out is also first-rate entertainment: suspenseful, surprising, and satirical. Following a photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) over a weekend with his girlfriend’s family that slowly moves from exasperating into something much worse, Peele’s zeitgeist hit successfully threads the needle between broad appeal—as demonstrated by this Twitter thread of a woman live-blogging her parents’ reactions to the movie—and the type of incisive political commentary that could inspire a whole library of doctoral theses. [Katie Rife]


34. The Duke Of Burgundy (2015)

Without question, the most moving film ever made about being a power bottom. Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) seem to have a good thing going, playing out daily domination-submission scenarios as an expression of the mutually nurturing bond between them. But as Evelyn’s tastes grow more exotic, Cynthia longs for a more conventional intimacy, and begins to worry that she may not be the woman her lover needs. Nicking stylistic flourishes from the giallo masters and ’70s sexploitation, Peter Strickland illustrates how the desire to please another person can turn into a self-imposed tyranny. When a relationship has a giver and a taker, even when the giver takes pleasure in giving, that dynamic eventually gets pushed to its limits as the taker continues taking. This is the rare love story about compatibility and calibration, as two adults reestablish the terms of their partnership to find a new normal. (For them, it involves getting peed on.) [Charles Bramesco]


33. Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a masterpiece of memory in the tradition of Fellini’s autobiographical works, a black-and-white drama drawn from the writer-director’s recollections of the working-class women who raised him in 1970s Mexico City. These memories are filtered through Cuarón’s own passionate love of movies, evident in his signature showy long shots, here rendered with a new intimacy by the filmmaker putting himself behind the camera in place of his usual cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. In scenes like the one where a political protest explodes into a riot outside of the furniture store where indigenous housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is shopping for her unborn child, Roma takes intimate moments in this often-invisible woman’s life and raises them to the scope of sweeping epic, anchored by its lead’s wonderfully subtle and plainspoken performance. [Katie Rife]


32. Burning (2018)

Loosely adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami, Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s finest film to date observes a vaguely dissatisfied aspiring writer named Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) as he develops a potential romance with an impulsive young woman, Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and subsequently gets tossed into the orbit of Hae-mi’s extravagantly wealthy new friend, Ben (Steven Yeun, in a memorably wily turn that won him the Best Supporting Actor award from several critics’ groups). Initially playing as a low-key character study, Burning slowly metamorphoses into a highly unconventional thriller, built around a mysterious disappearance. The film’s emphasis on class warfare is impossible to miss, but Lee declines to offer facile conclusions. Even when Jong-su finally takes action in the last few minutes, it’s unclear whether he’s an avenging angel or just dangerously paranoid. [Mike D’Angelo]


31. Winter’s Bone (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence likely would’ve become a star even without the boost of Winter’s Bone. But she definitely made a strong impression in her first major movie role, playing Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old high school dropout forced to become an amateur detective to save her desperately poor Ozark Mountains family. Half hilltop noir and half mythological odyssey, the film follows Ree as she antagonizes all the dangerous drug-dealers in her extended family, turning over every slimy rock in the region in order to find her fugitive father and keep the cops from seizing her home. Directed and co-written by Debra Granik, working from a Daniel Woodrell novel, Winter’s Bone resembles one of the small, finely grafted genre pictures of the ’70s and ’80s that were later recognized as classics. It’s direct in its storytelling, but deep in its exploration of crime and class in rural America. [Noel Murray]


30. Before Midnight (2013)

Each decade gets the Before movie it deserves. For the 1990s, it was the dreamily romantic Before Sunrise, for the 2000s it was the high-stakes reunion of Before Sunset, and for the 2010s it was Before Midnight, the most grown-up entry in Richard Linklater’s ever-evolving portrait of modern love. While the first two films hinged on variations on the question of whether Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) would see each other again, Before Midnight introduces a different set of stakes. The lovers are no longer at risk of losing touch, but there’s now a chance—materializing in the stunning hotel room spat that threatens to derail their idyllic summer vacation in Greece—that the two will blow up the life they’ve painstakingly built together. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy build on everything that’s come before to craft a poignant snapshot of how youthful bliss transforms into long-term love, for better and worse. [Caroline Siede]


29. Dogtooth (2010)

By turns darkly funny and shockingly violent, the breakthrough feature by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (who would go on to make The Lobster and The Favourite, cited above) follows in the footsteps of pull-no-punches directors Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier. A couple keeps their three adolescent children locked in their home/compound, sheltered from the world and imprisoned not just by high fences but by fear and even language. Outside influence creeps in via painfully awkward sex and surreptitious smuggling of Hollywood movies on VHS, but any lighthearted moments are punctuated by awful fits of aggression, all the more brutal for how mundane they are. The father—played with banality-of-evil brilliance by Christos Stergioglou—never attempts to explain or justify his actions, and the almost clinical, detached eye of Lanthimos’ camera only adds to the terror. [Josh Modell]

Melancholia
Photo: Screenshot

28. Melancholia (2011)

Indelible sci-fi imagery and a searing exploration of depression are strange (and rare) bedfellows. But alongside Tarkovsky’s Solaris we can now place Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, which uses the conceit of a mysterious celestial body hurtling toward Earth as a framework for gripping character studies of sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Split into two sections, the film excels in expressing Justine’s crippling depression as it intrudes on the supposed happiness of her wedding reception. Even more stunning, though, is the second half, which jumps ahead to the imminent arrival of the doomsday planet as the siblings’ positions start to reverse—Claire crumbling under the anxiety of potential doom as Justine finds a kind of peace. No stranger to depictions of depression, von Trier makes his most transcendent meditation on the paralyzing pains of the condition—and the inescapable frustration of loved ones trying to confront it. [Alex McLevy]


27. The Handmaiden (2016)

Of the many fiendish tricks director Park Chan-wook pulls off in The Handmaiden, the most potent and least expected is that the film turns out to be, at heart, quite a sweet love story. The plot, pulled from a Sarah Waters novel, appears to follow a young pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) hired to help a nefarious con artist (Ha Jung-woo) seduce a seemingly fragile aristocrat (Kim Min-hee). But even the ulterior motives have ulterior motives in this kinky, opulent, blackly funny thriller. Park and his winsome co-conspirators, the two Kims in particular, expertly deceive their audience again and again, pulling the rug out with obvious enjoyment. It’s a magnificent con, but the real shock lies not in the twists, nor the finger-maiming violence or even the ben wa balls; it’s in the romantic sincerity, a first for this master of extremity. [Allison Shoemaker]


26. Phoenix (2015)

A Jewish singer (Nina Hoss) survives the horrors of Auschwitz, returning with a new face built from the wreckage of her old one. In Berlin, she finds the husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) who may have sold her out to the Nazis, but he doesn’t—or won’t—recognize her; in a scheme to claim her inheritance, he coaches this woman he believes to be a stranger on how to look, sound, and walk more like the person she used to be. There are undeniable shades of Vertigo in Phoenix’s preposterous pulp premise, but writer-director Christian Petzold finds a critique of national identity and denial in the silhouette of Hitchcock’s classic. With an economy of storytelling that’s become his trademark (there’s not a wasted scene or shot across the movie’s lean 98 minutes), the filmmaker plays out his noir melodrama, right up to an ending so startlingly perfect it leaves you as speechless as the characters. [A.A. Dowd]


25. Two Days, One Night (2014)

Following her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, Marion Cotillard decamped to Hollywood for nearly a decade, before taking her most unglamorous (and most remarkable) role to date. Two Days, One Night casts her as Sandra, a woman fighting for dignity and against severe clinical depression. Forced to individually petition her co-workers after discovering they’ve opted for a bonus in exchange for her termination, she embarks on a weekend mission to change their minds—a journey of encounters that blossom into discrete moral quandaries. It’s with their signature naturalistic flair that Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne probe the nature of community empowerment and ethical decision-making under capitalism. But not since the ’90s have the brothers delivered a work so emotionally raw and direct, and that triumph is largely indebted to Cotillard’s tremendous performance, which teeters between persistence and hopelessness, doing battle for one woman’s will to live in the face of ruin. [Beatrice Loayza]


24. The Wolf Of Wall Street
 (2013)

Remember 2013, when Martin Scorsese held a magnifying glass up to the unhinged id of Reagan-era capitalism and everyone nodded in complete understanding, laying to rest all analysis of the film for the remainder of the decade? No? The most insistently misread entry in Marty’s canon works its magic by tricking the objects of its satirical jabs into telling on themselves; the Wall Street bros still idolizing the weak, impotent, psychotic stock-jockey Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, vanity shed from the moment he bends-and-spreads for a lit candle) confirm all the moral vacuity that Terence Winter’s script assigns them. Wolf’s generous assorted pleasures—Jonah Hill growling “SMOKE CRACK WITH ME, BRO;” the dance of the Lemmons; the instantaneous invention of a movie star named Margot Robbie—can trip a person up. But the darkest moments betray this as an American horror story of addiction, to drugs or money or power, all of which are the same thing. [Charles Bramesco]


23. Toni Erdmann (2016)

“Are you even human?” the garrulous Winfried—dressed up in fake teeth and a preposterous black wig as the titular alter ego—asks his frigid, workaholic daughter in Toni Erdmann. The rare brilliance of Maren Ade’s movie is how it approaches this loaded question without cliché or sappy sentimentality but through a half-comic angle that privileges the awkward and embarrassing, exalting the bitter fruits of everyday banalities. For a film that runs nearly three hours, Toni Erdmann goes down easy, deceptively breezy as it considers the inexhaustible complexities of parenting and the alienated state of modern relationships, while proposing humor as an antidote to the scourge of objective-oriented behavior. It also offers Sandra Hüller’s desperate, bravado rendition of the Whitney Houston ballad “The Greatest Love Of All”—a scene that already looks like one of the greatest bits of musical comedy of all. [Beatrice Loayza]


22. First Reformed (2018)

Megachurches aren’t just buildings; they’re faith institutions. That’s the case, at least, in First Reformed, a roaring, deeply felt meditation on spiritual purpose from the legendary filmmaker Paul Schrader, here trying his hand at the transcendental mode of cinema he dissected early in his career. A never-better Ethan Hawke stars as Toller, the shepherd of a historical church kept alive only by a corporate arm, whose spiritual impotence finds a cure in a cause: global warming. What follows is a study in extremism and self-sabotage, a condemnation of faith’s commodification that never lets its hero off the hook as the architect of his own downfall. Schrader’s trademark brutality asserts itself, physically and emotionally. But First Reformed is, first and foremost, a film investigating the shape of holiness in a modern world. [Randall Colburn]


21. Nocturama (2017)

A tour de force of style and abstraction, Bertrand Bonello’s deconstructed terrorist thriller follows a group of French teens and twentysomethings as they execute a deadly series of attacks around Paris before retreating to wait out the night in a massive department store. We never learn their ideology, which is arguably irrelevant to Bonello’s interest in alienation, anger, and fantasy as common denominators and motives. Drawing inspiration from everything from the TV experiments of Alan Clarke to the genre classics of George A. Romero and John Carpenter, Nocturama might earn its place as one of the great films of the decade on panache alone. But Bonello’s formal ingenuity (which extends from the awesomely eclectic soundtrack to a bravura approach to time and psychic space) would be nothing without its ability to move and perturb. The result is a dark and unforgettable vision. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


20. Meek’s Cutoff (2011)

In a decade that saw the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Alejandro González Iñárritu dabble in the Western, it was Kelly Reichardt who breathed the freshest life into it. Her triumph was stripping this intrinsically American genre down to its elemental essence—dirt, sky, survival—without abandoning all the familiar pleasures of desperate people navigating a violent frontier. Set in 1845, Meek’s Cutoff dramatizes a historical boondoggle: the true story of a caravan that strayed off the Oregon Trail into disaster, thanks to either the incompetence or the ill intentions of the eponymous guide (a loquacious, unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood). Reichardt emphasizes not just the grueling hardship of wagon travel but also the way time may have passed on a wilderness voyage with no end in sight. For all the deliberateness of the pacing, Meek’s Cutoff also offers an acutely suspenseful battle of wills, as a crisis of leadership and the introduction of a stranger with even more mysterious motives threatens to seal the fate of these lost pilgrims. At the film’s center is the writer-director’s frequent leading lady, Michelle Williams, whose performance as the most sensible and headstrong of the group underscores a prescient political dimension. Who knew, a decade ago, what resonance we might later see in the story of a smart woman trying to steer away from the catastrophe courted by a foolish blowhard? [A.A. Dowd]


19. Margaret (2011)

Kenneth Lonergan’s ambitious sophomore feature emerged from six years of post-production purgatory in slightly mangled form, but it’s a major work nonetheless. Anna Paquin delivers an uncommonly lacerating portrait of teenage solipsism as Lisa, a high-schooler who accidentally causes a bus accident. That inciting incident is one of the innumerable dramas she negotiates across the film’s epic New York canvas, while confronting the fact that she’s at the center of no one’s story but her own. Though Lonergan is a celebrated playwright, the film’s richly detailed soundscapes, alternately assaultive and symphonic, would be impossible to fully convey on the stage. Likewise, the film’s preoccupation with the essential separateness of people is uniquely suited to the exterior viewpoint that cinema so naturally provides. Taking its title from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Margaret is a film about the difficulties of truly connecting with another person. Words fail, emotion is limited. But in its moving final scene, which sees Lisa and her mother weeping together at an opera house, the film suggests that perhaps art, after all, is the best thing we’ve got. This is the kind of rare, staggering vision that lives up to that suggestion. [Lawrence Garcia]


18. Certified Copy (2011)

Throughout his lengthy career, the late Abbas Kiarostami was obsessed with performance—with how we’re always playing a version of ourselves for the world. In his Persian-language films (like Close-Up, Taste Of Cherry, and the Koker Trilogy), Kiarostami reveled in shattering the fourth wall. His willingness to cast non-actors and his patience for letting long conversations play out between those individuals as they wondered about the purpose of art and life irreversibly expanded our understanding of cinema itself. Kiarostami’s preferred methods are on full display in the polished and playful Certified Copy, in which Juliette Binoche and opera-singer-turned-actor William Shimell portray seeming strangers engaging in debates about authenticity and artifice. At first, their conversations are externally focused, with arguments about creative motivation and the worthiness of forgery. But in time, their characters flirt with candid reflection, and the pair becomes entangled in a performance of seductive ambiguity. Kiarostami is determined to unravel how one can assume the identity of another, and Binoche and Shimell are devoted collaborators who build Certified Copy as a delicate maze that leads audiences down variously evocative paths in a search of human truth. [Roxana Hadadi]

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Photo: Screenshot

17. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel reportedly cost about half as much as The Life Aquatic, and yet it remains Wes Anderson’s most ambitious (and financially successful) film to date. Sprawling across decades and countries, the movie tells the story of an uncommonly efficient concierge, managing the intricate operation of a fantastical 1930s mountaintop resort, where authoritarianism’s creeping forces and Europe’s fading aristocracy frequently cross paths. Ralph Fiennes is both hilarious and affecting as the hero: a noble man with many, many rules. But what made The Grand Budapest Hotel such a big box office hit was that at heart it’s a throwback adventure movie, with a twisty plot involving murders, heists, and chases, all rendered in Anderson’s insanely detailed style, where every set looks like an overdressed diorama. The film is surprisingly pointed, too—and perhaps damnably prescient—in its portrait of a principled Old World rotting from within, spoiled by an unfortunate fealty to fascists. [Noel Murray]


16. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Llewyn is the cat. No, he just has the cat, but the difference becomes negligible over the course of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, a high-water mark in a career of existential portraits. Our embittered folk singer hero, wonderfully rendered by Oscar Isaac, wanders around a gray, wintry Manhattan, sleeping on the couches of exasperated friends, nursing a permanent wound in his heart. He’s doomed to be a day late and a dollar short, forever marginalized by a scene that’s on the precipice of mainstream recognition. Cosmic ironies and shortsighted decisions conspire to keep him poor and out of the spotlight, but he’s as much a victim of bad timing as his own behavior. A dead partner and changing cultural tastes have made his talent all but irrelevant, illustrated by a demoralizing anti-Kerouacian road trip to Chicago that climaxes with the single most devastating line reading of this terrible decade. A bummer movie for the ages, Inside Llewyn Davis showcases the human cost of living a creative life. Passion and principles aren’t sustainable forces in a world that demands compromise. Dues can’t be paid back. Existing is for suckers. So what are you doing? [Vikram Murthi]


15. The Act Of Killing (2013) and The Look Of Silence (2015)

Yes, it’s a cheat, celebrating two films in one entry. (You’re welcome, #100!) Yet Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentaries, each looking back from a different angle on the wave of sanctioned carnage that blew through Indonesia in the mid-’60s, work so well in dialogue with each other that they function as equal parts of a damning whole. In The Act Of Killing, the more conceptually audacious (and divisive) of the two, Oppenheimer doesn’t just interview the perpetrators of the military genocide—he provides one of them the opportunity to direct a movie about the bloodshed he committed. Through the dramatization process, will this famous ex-gangster come to feel any remorse? As if anticipating criticism that this approach only feeds the ego of monsters, the concurrently made Look Of Silence offers the victims a voice in the form of a bereaved doctor who confronts the aging killers directly on camera, courageously (and perhaps dangerously) speaking truth to power. Though the tactics vary, the goals are the same: rewrite the narrative of a national atrocity, and force those responsible to account for the evil of their actions. It’s the rare cinematic project, nonfiction or otherwise, that feels both morally and socially urgent; remarkably, the two films fascinate on their own unusual terms, too. [A.A. Dowd]


14. Holy Motors (2012)

Holy Motors might be the strangest, slipperiest film of the decade. What is it about, anyway? Leos Carax, French cinema’s enfant terrible, ensures we never come close to a satisfying answer by constantly undercutting the rules of his own game. The result is a manic multi-genre mishmash that flirts with cinema history and gestures toward its future. The film casts singular physical performer and Carax regular Denis Lavant as a gallivanting, shape-shifting everyman, inexplicably assuming a new identity—business executive, bag lady, assassin, sewer troll—in each of the film’s nine “appointments.” Among its bounties are a supermodel kidnapping, CGI-rendered phallic dragons, and a Kylie Minogue musical number—events so unthinkably random, it takes multiple viewings to detect the film’s guiding melancholic undercurrent. Abandoning the narrative comforts of his past work, Carax treats his fifth feature in more than 25 years as a headfirst plunge into the creative impulses of the artist and everything horrifyingly stupid, beautifully weird, and erotic that entails. But as strange and uncategorizable as it may be, Holy Motors also comes off as deeply personal: a slice of the filmmaker served raw and quivering. [Beatrice Loayza]


13. Boyhood (2014)

Twelve years. That’s how long Richard Linklater took to piecemeal-film his coming-of-age movie. It’s also the film’s original title, and later became part of detractors’ argument that his accomplishment was a simple, empty gimmick. The movie’s approach is simple: It drops in on Mason (Ellar Coltrane) for a few scenes at a time, every year, following him from 6 to 18, filming its actors with real-life gaps. This isn’t a movie predicated on “act breaks” or a master plot: Mason’s hard-working mom (Patricia Arquette) gets in and out of bad relationships; his dad (Ethan Hawke) gradually improves as a parent. Time passes. Homes change, families blend and un-blend, Harry Potter midnight release parties are attended. Time passes. Linklater captures mundane events, like Mason and his dad talking about Star Wars, and makes them warmly memorable; he dramatizes some pivotal moments with inelegant writing. Time passes. There’s a scene where Hawke playfully harangues his children to be more talkative and specific when he asks them how they’re doing. They push back, and he relents: “So we should just let it happen more naturally? That’s what you’re saying?” His kids have a point, and yet still, they age 12 years before our eyes, making 165 minutes seem like an instant. It’s simple, and also a miracle. [Jesse Hassenger]


12. Manchester By The Sea (2016)

How do you recover from a stupid, drunken mistake that destroys your entire world? Kenneth Lonergan’s devastating third feature (you’ll find his second at #19) has the bleak courage to acknowledge that sometimes you don’t, though maybe you can at least make partial amends in a roundabout way. Casey Affleck won an Oscar (despite allegations of sexual harassment related to a different film) for his deeply internalized performance, in which grief functions as a parasite that almost but doesn’t quite paralyze its host; his climactic scene opposite Michelle Williams (equally superb) is true rip-your-guts-out stuff, insisting that some wounds just never heal, regardless of how good people’s intentions may be. Yet life goes on, which Manchester underscores via a film-length “subplot” in which Affleck’s self-exiled Lee reluctantly returns to his hometown—the scene of the non-crime for which he longs to be convicted—in order to care for his semi-orphaned teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). In the midst of life we are in death, sure… but for Lonergan, the inverse is equally true, and he digs deep into that horrible dichotomy. Few other American filmmakers are so willing to examine the necessary impossibility of simply enduring. [Mike D’Angelo]


11. Under The Skin (2014)

Jonathan Glazer labored for more than a decade over the best way to adapt Michel Faber’s excellent Under The Skin, and it shows. His final product, light on dialogue and heavy on dread, strips back the sensational premise—alien seductress drugs men, harvests their meat for her home planet—to the bare essentials, emphasizing the seduction over the exact purpose of that seduction. Scarlett Johansson stars as the nameless extraterrestrial, and Glazer, in a move as cruel as it is effective, surreptitiously filmed her encounters and flirtations with real men to ensure they resonate with all the curiosity and giddiness one might feel when getting picked up by, well, someone that looks like Scarlett Johansson. The desolate tar pit that indifferently swallows her targets frighteningly embodies Glazer’s themes of loneliness and isolation—“Are you alone?” is the film’s refrain—but it’s the character’s own drift toward empathy and her tragic, empty fate that lingers. There’s also, of course, Mica Levi’s violent, viola-forward score, which is alien enough to accompany Glazer’s Kubrickian glimpse of the cosmos, as well as his brief, gruesome look at the guts that flood the intergalactic assembly line. [Randall Colburn]


10. Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig had perhaps the 2010s’ most remarkable movie career arc, starting the decade as a recent escapee from the micro-budget “mumblecore” movement and ending it as an Oscar-nominated writer and director. Lady Bird is, in a way, a belated origin story, for a filmmaker and actress who had already been working in the business for over a decade. The very Irish Saoirse Ronan gives a remarkably lived-in performance as a self-absorbed Sacramento high-schooler who spars with her mom (played by the wonderfully thorny Laurie Metcalf) and burns through multiple best friends and boyfriends as she prepares for the next stage of her life. With its breakneck pace—some scenes last mere seconds—and its snappy dialogue, Lady Bird is a rush to watch. But it’s also a finely shaded character study, looking back with empathy and more than a little scorn at a young woman who could sometime be casually cruel to friends and family, perhaps because deep down she realized she was just a doggedly ordinary teen, daring to have extraordinary dreams. [Noel Murray]

Phantom Thread
Photo: Focus Features

9. Phantom Thread (2017)

On its surface, Phantom Thread looks like Paul Thomas Anderson’s most conventional film—a simple romantic power struggle, set in 1950s London, between fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he claims will be his final role) and his headstrong muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps, plucked from semi-obscurity). Their relationship revolves as much around food as it does clothes: Reynolds first meets Alma as she takes his ludicrously extravagant breakfast order at the restaurant where she works, and later heated arguments between them involve such niceties as the way she prepares asparagus. Eventually, there’s another, more sinister culinary development, which concludes with mutual decisions that strongly suggest a kinky subtext to all the very proper disputation. At heart, Phantom Thread is a gloriously perverse love story, functioning as a coded mirror image to the film that you’ll find at #34. But that interpretation isn’t necessary to enjoy PTA’s lushly beautiful depiction of vicious politesse. Plus, it’s just exciting to watch Krieps more than hold her own opposite perhaps the world’s greatest actor, as Alma tolerates, withstands, and finally upends Reynolds’ imperious bullying, recognizing what even he doesn’t know that he truly desires. [Mike D’Angelo]


8. Frances Ha (2013)

Romantic comedies took a weird journey through the 2010s: degraded by studios, discarded out of superstition, and reborn as de facto TV movies on Netflix, leaving few recent highlights of the genre. The quarterlife-crisis comedy Frances Ha certainly doesn’t qualify, not technically; flailing late-20s dancer Frances (Greta Gerwig) doesn’t so much as kiss anyone during the film’s crisp 86 minutes, much less enter a romantic relationship. But it’s easy to spot the wit, sparkle, and affection of a vintage screwball rom-com in Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s film (a lineage continued by their follow-up, Mistress America). Jennifer Lame’s relentless editing punctuates Baumbach and Gerwig’s dialogue, giving it even more rat-a-tat energy by knowing when to cut it off and jump to the next scene, while Sam Levy’s black-and-white cinematography makes hipster New York look timeless, occasionally even glamorous. The heartbreaks and highs of romance are there, too, in the severing of codependent friendships, the magic of running through city streets, and the disappointment of an impromptu trip to Paris, among others. It takes the combustible talents of Baumbach and Gerwig to create this platonic rom-com by way of New Wave, refashioning the journey from twentysomething to thirtysomething as an urgent, capricious, on-and-off love affair with yourself. [Jesse Hassenger]


7. The Florida Project (2017)

Demonstrating empathy for society’s outcasts without romanticizing the iffy behavior that often gets them cast out is a tricky business, and Sean Baker—who’d previously made a splash this decade with Starlet and the iPhone-shot, trans-centered drama Tangerine (see: #84 above)—gets the balance miraculously right in this portrait of life at a tacky motel within walking (or frantic running) distance of Disney World. Much of the alchemy stems from the juxtaposition of rowdy, live-wire newcomers with one of Hollywood’s most reliable and beloved pros: Baker found Bria Vinaite, who plays single mom Halley, on Instagram, then deployed Willem Dafoe—in the role of the motel’s harried but kind manager—as a stabilizing counterpoint to the emotional chaos. But the film also frequently adopts the viewpoint of 7-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and her rotating gaggle of friends, watching these kids strive to create their own improvised amusement park a stone’s throw from the real thing, oblivious to their own uncertain circumstances. It’s a remarkably vivid, clear-eyed, and compassionate look at people for whom the American dream is at once within sight and a million miles away. [Mike D’Angelo]


6. Moonlight (2016)

Movies at their best can show the viewer the world through the eyes of another human being, no matter how different that person’s circumstances might be from their own. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight does just that, sketching a sensual roadmap to the soul of a South Florida native as he grows up from a neglected child into a misunderstood man. Chiron, the film’s protagonist, is played by three different actors: Alex R. Hibbert as 10-year-old “Little,” vulnerable as a baby bird; Ashton Sanders as 16-year-old Chiron, terrified of his homosexuality; and Trevante Rhodes as young adult “Black,” hardened by years working in the drug trade that ruined the life of his mother (Naomie Harris) and may have killed his mentor (Mahershala Ali). Jenkins paints Chiron as a reserved person, with a limited number of lines to match. But in the absence of long monologues, moments of profound stillness speak just as eloquently: the floating feeling behind the eyes after a long day of swimming; the bracing clarity of ice water on a bruised face; the beating of waves against the sand like a heartbeat. Moonlight is cinema at its most poetic, and its most empathetic. [Katie Rife]


5. The Tree Of Life (2011)

At once intimate and cosmic, Terrence Malick’s impressionistic and sometimes impenetrable epic (which inaugurated an unbelievably prolific decade for the reclusive filmmaker) unfurls as a stunning stream of consciousness; it might be the ultimate director head trip, reaching from the birth of the universe to scenes of life and childhood in 1950s Texas that feel as richly specific as memory. Somewhere at the center of it all is a nuclear family headed by a distant father (Brad Pitt) and a nurturing mother (a then-unknown Jessica Chastain), and a son who might be a stand-in for Malick himself. But even if the content is basically autobiographical, Malick’s sensibility remains mythic, drawing together science and apocalyptic vision, faith and fairytale. His subject is nothing less than how we see ourselves in the universe and the universe in ourselves; as life forms in primordial goo and Emmanuel Lubezki’s celebrated camerawork captures children dancing through clouds of DDT, Malick’s vision coalesces into inner space, a world of memories refracted through creation stories, archetypes, and feelings of guilt and regret. The 2010s brought us a number of remarkably structured, time-haunted coming-of-age stories (including Moonlight and Boyhood), but none that attempted a more ambitious fusion of the psalmic and the personal. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


4. A Separation (2011)

Right from its opening minutes, Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece—a film of staggering moral and dramatic complexity—strands its audience in the middle, dividing our sympathies along the fault line of a faltering marriage. In the most literal sense, the title refers to the relationship status of Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), an Iranian couple at an impasse. Yet there are multiple separations at play in the film: of class, of gender, of religion, all exacerbated by the legal and ethical crisis that opens like a sinkhole at the center of the movie. A Separation, which catapulted its writer-director into the upper echelons of world cinema, gradually transforms into a kind of thriller of culpability and deception, as conflict ripples out from that first courtroom confrontation and another family is pulled, slowly but forcefully, into the emotional wreckage of Nader and Simin’s broken home. What’s perhaps most remarkable about the movie is the way Farhadi sustains the balance of identification established in the first scene, withholding key information to put us all in the position of an impartial third party trying to sort out the whole mess. In a film about what divides people, he locates commonalities. Which is to say, for all A Separation may communicate about life in contemporary Iran, its insights into human nature are shatteringly universal. [A.A. Dowd]

The Social Network
Photo: Screenshot

3. The Social Network (2010)

When The Social Network was released in 2010, some questioned whether David Fincher’s film was being too hard on poor Mark Zuckerberg. Nine years later, as Facebook’s true (and truly alarming) potential to undermine democracy is finally under discussion, it seems the real question is whether the movie was harsh enough. It certainly turned out to be prescient: As well as warning against putting too much power in the hands of the petty and vindictive, The Social Network also diagnosed the bitterly misogynist, perpetually aggrieved cancer metastasizing throughout nerd-bro tech culture while most observers were still in the thrall of millennial techno-utopianism. In retrospect, the film also turned out to be a clearing house for young actors whose careers were at a turning point in 2010, including Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, and Rooney Mara, who would go from supporting character to star in Fincher’s next film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Speaking of transitions, the film was also the first to feature a full score from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.) One thing about The Social Network that hasn’t changed is the remarkable skill with which Fincher spins suspense out of abstract ones and zeroes, even if Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to. [Katie Rife]


2. The Master (2012)

Moonshine and therapy, past lives and postwar malaise, lust and trauma, the sea and the soul. Paul Thomas Anderson’s perplexing masterpiece about the search for meaning in America in the years after World War II is a film of elusive subjects, an allegory repressed into the ironies and human puzzles of its characters. An alcoholic, sex-obsessed sailor (Joaquin Phoenix) drifts into the inner circle of a charismatic cult leader (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) who bears more than a passing resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard—yet the parallels to the beginnings of Scientology, while hard to miss, are just one part of the fabric of the film. Even more so than the fêted There Will Be Blood, The Master announced Anderson’s transformation as a writer-director. Where earlier ensemble films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia dazzled, the movies of Anderson’s mature period (also represented on this list by the sublime Phantom Thread) tantalize and transfix, focusing our attention on characters who are as psychologically complex as they are ultimately mysterious. A master class in acting and direction, the film has lost none of its power to both enthrall and confound since it topped our first list of the best films of the decade in 2015. If anything, its existence seems even more unlikely. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

One contradiction of many roaring under the hood of George Miller’s flabbergasting road-rage spectacular: In a decade that saw Hollywood nearly give up on making entertainment that might double as art, here was an impossible blockbuster that restored faith in the very idea of the studio system as a dream factory, spending astronomical sums on passion projects. Fury Road, Miller’s triumphant return to the lawless dystopian future, fulfilled its mandate to restore a franchise left to rust in the IP junkyard. (No one could possibly find its nonstop, jaw-dropping flurry of vehicular mayhem outdated.) But the writer-director also rebooted Mad Max on his own cracked-visionary terms, redeeming the action genre in the CGI era through the lost arts of practical effects and stunt work. Going further still, Miller subverted his own series formula by taking the Road Warrior himself (Tom Hardy, capably filling in for Mel Gibson) out of the driver’s seat. With Charlize Theron’s instantly iconic Furiosa behind the wheel instead, this feature-length demolition derby became an unlikely race against fascism and toxic masculinity—a parable that only looked more and more relevant the further we sped into the 2010s. But can something so damn fun really be the movie of the decade? It can when it’s made with this much craft and idiosyncratic soul, finding in a dark fictional tomorrow the blueprint for a better today at the multiplex. [A.A. Dowd]

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