This is the combined list of two of our film critics, Dashran Yohan and Samuel Lim.
We’re hours away from the dawn of the new decade and man, what a decade has it been. Who would’ve guessed that our pop cultural landscape would’ve seen such a monumental shift? If you told your neighbour at the beginning of the previous decade that comic book movies would one day go on to win the prestigious Golden Lion at Venice and reign supreme at the box office, that neighbour would have knocked you out and dumped you in a mental asylum. Yet, here we are. Imagine jumping into a time machine, zipping back to the year 2000 and telling your younger self that there will be a time when a Martin Scorsese film would not get a big screen, wide release, but drop on an internet streaming platform. A lot has changed, hasn’t it? But what has remained a constant through the years is our unbending love for cinema.
And for two cinephiles who are now in their 20s, the 2010s is perhaps the most important decade in cinema for us. The 90s and 2000s may have sparked our love for the artform (we will never forget walking into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace as pre-schoolers and being blown away by the pewpewpews), but it’s the 2010s where we really started to take cinema seriously.
Anyway, thousands of films have been released over the past decade (2010 – 2019). Here are the 25 greatest.
*Keep in mind, this list is the personal opinion of both our film critics.
25. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director: Mel Gibson
Writer: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Richard Pyros, Hugo Weaving.
Hacksaw Ridge is based on a true story about a young army medic named Desmond Doss, who served in the US military during the battle of Okinawa. Because of his religious beliefs, he refused to carry a weapon, nor kill anybody, even if it’s to protect himself. The first half of this Mel Gibson film is a deep character study, one that dissects the protagonist’s psychology to such a degree that by the time we actually get to Hacksaw Ridge (location), you’re firmly behind Desmond Doss even if every fibre of your logic doesn’t agree with him. And once we actually get to Hacksaw Ridge? My god, is it brutal, unforgiving and utterly terrifying. Nobody crafts violence like Mel Gibson. Nobody.
24. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Screenplay by Terence Winter, based on a book by Jordan Belfort
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill
Like finely aged wine, Scorsese has only gotten better at being our eyes and ears through the wondrous, terrifying round-the-corner world of the criminal underworld. Do not let its white-collar vernier fool you. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie and about everybody in this films channels an otherworldly charisma and energy that tethers between urban sophistication and unbridled savagery. With script dripping with jet-black humour and obscenely gorgeous visuals, Scorsese has managed to make low cunning high art. Even with the financial controversy surrounding the film, we simply couldn’t keep the Wolf off our list. So much of Scorsese’s crime pieces have followed the archetypal rise and fall of empire. Never has the rise looked, sound and felt this good in all of its decadence, and depravity.
23. The Handmaiden [South Korea] (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Screenplay by Park Chan-wook & Seo-kyeong Jeong inspired by “Fingersmith,” a book by Sarah Waters
Cast: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha
The Handmaiden is Park Chan-wook back in-form and on fire after his huge misfire, The Stoker. This was of course, a huge relief for some of us who have alters in our prayer rooms specially dedicated to Oldboy. Anyway, The Handmaiden is awesome. It’s spellbinding, incredibly funny, thrilling and very, very horny. What’s interesting is, the film is quite the departure tonally from the auteur’s usual work which is oftentimes very intense, brutal, dark and sad. While this one has those elements (a lot of the film is about the systemic abuse of women in Japanese culture), it also has a warm heart constantly beating at its centre. It’s surprisingly very kind towards its characters, but of course, not before putting them through muck and shit first. It’s difficult to even divulge the basic plot of the film without giving away spoilers, but let’s just say The Handmaiden is one of, if not the best heist/scam films ever.
22. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Life for Oscar Issac’s Llewyn Davis is not a good one and on multiple levels, we love it to death. Perhaps it’s due to the relatability of Issac’s performance as a self-sabotaging folk music auteur reaching near the end of his rope that so brilliantly reflects the Sissephean nature of our existence? In his struggle and desire to be more, we see ourselves. Then again, it could be Ethan and Joel Coen’s comedic mastery of framing misery that has us laughing uncontrollably. A reaction born out of hedonic reversal or as a coping mechanism for life’s absurdities. Maybe, it’s just plain, good ole schadenfreude. It’s probably all three and more. If art is pain and to err human, then Inside Llewyn Davis is a stunning monument to human error.
21. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Director: Joe Russo & Anthony Russo
Writers: Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely based on Marvel comics
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, etc
Spoiler: this is the only MCU film that makes the list, not because we don’t love the others, but because we’re absolutely in love with this one. Here, the combination of writers, Markus & McFeely and directors, the Russo brothers, deliver an epic film that makes you think as much as it makes you feel. They juggle a bunch of established characters, introduce a couple of new ones and give everybody meaningful arcs. More importantly, they made a film where both leads — Captain America and Iron Man — have completely contrasting ideologies, yet both are absolutely right, from a certain point of view. Most action sequences in (good) comic book films are cool — and here you have one known by the internet simply as THE AIRPORT SEQUENCE, that’s the coolest of cools — but you also get another, right at the end that’s so emotionally overwhelming, that you just want them to stop fighting. Please.
20. Her (2013)
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson
Years after we’ve reached technological singularity, Her, alongside films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, will seem prophetic. Yet in spite of the film’s impressive ideation and execution of a future to come, it has profound insights for the now. Within the film, questions regarding power structures, alienation amidst hyperconnectivity and the human experience are seamlessly explored without pomp or spectacle. Rather it is all translated through a contained relationship between Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore and a disembodied A.I. Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. In loose conversations and late-night pillow talks, Spike Jonze’s Her makes hard science fiction feel intimate and emotionally resonant. This is in no small part due to Johansson’s phenomenal vocal performance, the foundation in which this impossible endeavour stands.
19. Inception (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy
Inception may not be the best film of the decade, but it’s certainly the most original by a long mile. It’s a corporate espionage-thriller, only taking place in one’s mind, deep within a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream (you know the drill by now). The screenplay is so intricately written that it comes as absolutely no surprise that Nolan took 10 years to write it. Inception is incredibly enthralling from start to finish and bends your mind in a manner that will leave your mouth gaping in awe (and possibly confusion the first time you watch it). It’s also the film that solidified once and for all, Christopher Nolan as a thinking man’s blockbuster filmmaker — a Steven Spielberg for the grim and gritty era if you will. He’s the only director in the world who can pitch deeply complex ideas like Inception to a major studio and walk out of their office with $US 160 million. (By the way, the film grossed $US 828 million at the global box office, which is madness for a non-franchise film.)
18. Sicario (2015)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
In 2015’s Sicario we find visionary director Denis Villeneuve’s magnum opus of the thriller genre. Every single detail of this film was engineered for dread, tension and terror. Every performance animated by fresh horrors and old wounds. Move over Alfred Hitchcock for Villeneuve is the new Master of Suspense! Through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s Kate Mercer, we dive deep into the black heart of the American War on Drugs. It is a thorough study on the subject of evil. It is a tragedy of innocence lost. It is a panic-inducing thrill ride through a hellish Nietzcherian landscape powered by Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography and Johann Johannson’s ominous score. It is the killing blow to any lingering moral delusion of manifest destiny. It is sickening perfection.
17. Blue Valentine (2010)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Before Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story there was Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. In fact, you could see Marriage Story as a spiritual sequel to this 2010 film. Blue Valentine follows Dean and Cindy (flawlessly portrayed to an unfathomably realistic degree by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) whose marriage has slowly but surely begun to decay. The film cuts back and forth between time periods, as we observe the couple under a microscope, examining every intricate detail, from their blissful days of innocent love to the moments filled with nothing but misery and regret. It’s a tough watch, perhaps the toughest watch on this list, because of how real everything feels. Blue Valentine is heartbreaking without being tear-jerking. Cianfrance frames everything in such a way that a lot of the times you feel genuinely uncomfortable watching the events transpire.
16. The Irishman (2019)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Steven Zaillian based on a book by Charles Brandt
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel
The fellas are back and better than ever. The Irishman is the kind of film that defines a generation and would have if not for the tide of time. Scorsese has further solidified his status in the annals of crime film history. If any film shall bring about, or at the very least inspire, the second coming of the mobster film trend, The Irishman shall be that herald.
The world of The Irishman is one that feels familiar and yet so much more complex than the one we knew from Goodfellas. A story about the intersection between political factions and organized crime. A tangled web of alliances, betrayals and wars that go as far as to influence the outcome of the Cold War. Namely, the mob’s involvement with the Bay of Pigs.
15. The Raid: Redemption & The Raid: Berandal (2011 & 2014) [Indonesia]
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
The Raid duology delivers an uncompromising offer: if you may withstand the staggering brutality of street warfare on display, you may find between the many cuts, strikes and blows transcendence. Director Gareth Evans pushes the letter, snaps its femur and beats the board of censorship to death with it. The film follows Iko Uwais’ Rama from special forces rookie to a dancer of death as he navigates and eviscerates the criminal underworld in the name of the law. Evans’ duology has undoubtedly placed Indonesia on the map and has set the bar high for what close-quarter combat choreography should be. Long after it cuts to black, you’ll be grimacing and giddy with visions of violence. This Cirque de Carnage is a cinematic triumph of machismo.
14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Writer: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Truly, director George Miller took the expression of showing rather than telling to heart. In place of the dreary cookie-cutter wasteland of the passe post-apocalypse, he gives us a visual feast of colour, fury and personality. That primary personality is batshit, rock and roll, weaponized-BDSM crazy! The film can be essentially described as a prolonged ride through Miller’s metal mind of visceral vehicular battles, flaming guitar solos and masterfully crafted sequences of manufactured madness. All built from scratch. Some may attempt to deride the film for lacking a story but it would be a fallacy to do so. Within every desperate ride, ear-ringing shot of pistol and piston we see the hopes and fears of our heroes and monsters connoted with impressive economy.
13. Logan (2017)
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Screenplay by James Mangold, Scott Frank & Michael Green based on Marvel comics
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Logan is an emotional journey, one that starts off violently and ends brutally, yet perfectly. It’s the unbridled, unadulterated, unflinching and unforgiving Wolverine movie we craved for since mutants first hit the big screen in 2000. Logan is about three characters who are at different stages in life: The Wolverine, now 197 years old and a shell of his former self, completely depressed and constantly drowning himself in alcohol; Charles Xavier, aged and suffering from schizophrenia; X-23, Wolverine’s clone, a violent child born and bred in a laboratory and completely devoid of a childhood. They go on a trip together, journeying towards a supposed better place, facing imminent mortality and rediscovering a new meaning of life. It’s brutal, it’s emotionally dense and by the end, left us swimming in a pool of our own tears.
12. Whiplash (2014)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Whiplash so intense and f*cking unforgiving that my first experience watching it almost killed me. What happens when an aspiring young musician (Miles Teller) meets a teacher/conductor who believes in manipulating and torturing his students into achieving greatness? This film is about an unbending passion, nay obsession and the pain and suffering that you encounter on the road towards achieving your dreams. What’s interesting is the perspective director Damien Chazelle provides. It’s almost as if he’s condemning the road, while also noting that sometimes the road is absolutely necessary. The ending of the film is transcendent and one of the best climaxes to ever grace the silver screen. Whiplash didn’t just introduce us to Damien Chazelle, it grabbed us by the collar, slapped us senseless and showed us that he will be a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
11. The Garden of Words [Japan] (2013)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Fumi Hirano
There are moments in Mikato Shinkai’s Garden of Words that seem far too real and by extension far too beautiful to ever be animated. It makes us wonder if perhaps Shinkai has found another world beyond ours. One where rain glistens with a lightning sheen, trees so perfectly sway in the breeze like mechanical clockwork and lights may tell stories. With a hybrid blend of traditional hand-drawn animation, CGI and rotoscope, Shinkai reaches for majestic hyperrealistic aesthetic, accompanied by a powerful story of two burdened souls finding solace in company. Garden of Words isn’t a parody of reality, nor is it merely a facsimile of it. It is a concentrated distillation of beauty, tragedy and connection that will leave you with tears that never quite look as true or precise as that on-screen.
10. The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
In lesser hands, the story about Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard dropout who programmed Facebook would’ve been a colossal bore. Seriously, how do you make a movie about computer programming interesting? In the hands of director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, though, you get a highly riveting, ridiculously addictive tale brimming with characters who feel almost mythical in nature, yet are completely grounded in reality. The Social Network is a dense and layered character drama about creativity, insecurity and the ugliness of the male ego. With Sorkin’s intelligent, hyper-realistic rhythmic dialogue and the modern master of thrills captaining the ship, Social Network hooks you right from its opening sentence. It doesn’t let go. It doesn’t even let you breathe. You feel the proverbial noose tighten from scene to scene to scene. Choke me to death goddammit! you scream as you sit at the edge of your seat salivating in anticipation. Yes, we’re still talking about a biopic about a computer programmer.
9. The Lighthouse (2019)
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers & Max Eggers
Cast: Robert Pattinson, William Dafoe
What madness gripped director Robert Eggers and his brother Max we do not know. What muse possessed Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s performances to such heights of euphoria, anguish and every potent expression of the soul in between is beyond me. Not unlike Robert Eggers’ creative choices to mirror cinematic antiquity via a 1:19:1 aspect ratio and a black-and-white lens, The Lighthouse is a return to man at his most primal and it is utterly unsettling. The film is an ideal summation of artist Francis Goya’s belief that “the sleep of reason produces monsters”. Not since Tom Hardy’s Bronson have we seen such generosity of self in performance as witnessed in Pattinson and Dafoe’s. There is a strong desire to inquire if they are genuinely alright…it’s that magnificent.
8. Vada Chennai [India – Tamil] (2018)
Cast: Dhanush, Andrea Jeremiah, Ameer, Radha Ravi, Daniel Balaji, Kishore, Samuthirakani, Aishwarya Rajesh.
Vetrimaaran’s sprawling gangster epic is just as smart as it is utterly intoxicating. The film is directed with such vigour and oozes so much detail that you can literally smell the blood-soaked sickles through the screen and feel the dust and sweat stick to your skin. The screenplay is intricate with many interwoven threads that span two generations and encompasses a plethora of fabulously fleshed out and performed characters. At the centre of it is the electrifying Dhanush who plays Anbu, a talented carom player from the slums of North Chennai who wishes to play professionally and one day land a government job. But life has other ideas…
Vada Chennai is violent. Vada Chennai is poetic. Vada Chennai is effing AWESOME.
7. One Cut of the Dead [Japan] (2018)
Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda
Writer: Shin’ichirô Ueda
Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama
With a shoestring budget of $25,000, One Cut of the Dead is a cinematic masterpiece borne of unparalleled poverty and unrivalled genius. The premise is a fantastic farce and yet the execution is nothing short of jaw-dropping. In every good work of comedy, there lies the concept of the bit, a running joke or gag that relies on timing and taste. I’ve seen good bits overstay their welcome and bad bits crash and burn entire shows. Rarely have I ever seen a bit done as passionately, with as much technical competence and metatextual layers as Shinichirou Ueda’s tour de force parody of the zombie genre. In an age of the ironic/post-ironic, One Cut has come to embody the pervading zeitgeist of the decade and I suspect beyond that as well.
6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill , Oscar Isaac, Carie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, etc
We recognise that this pick is going to rub certain people the wrong way. We also don’t really care because all we can do is be true to ourselves and honest with our feelings. And our honest to god feeling is that we bloody love this movie. The Last Jedi is an enchanting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and all-out beautiful piece of pure cinema.
Rian Johnson understood that for Star Wars to live, Star Wars must first die. That was his philosophy. That was the Gita in which he stood atop of while meticulously painting every frame. But killing the past didn’t mean denigrating it (though many will argue otherwise), rather it meant delicately deconstructing and examining the legacy of Star Wars and the legends that reside in the galaxy. Johnson maintained the magical essence of Star Wars without conforming to the formula of Star Wars. He may have driven an unholy wedge through the fandom, but he also shattered the large, rusty shackles that were tightly clamped around the ankles of this franchise.
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes & War For the Planet of the Apes (2014 & 2017)
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Matt Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Tobi Kebbell
Built on a solid foundation by Rupert Wyatt, director Matt Reeves saw no limit to where he could take Andy Serkis’ Caesar and his nation of apes. In the span of two films, we’ve seen civilization unfold before our very eyes and like spectators in the wild, every moment of it felt like a privilege. In the breadth of approximately four and a half hours altogether, the cycle of human history has unravelled. Except we see it all through the eyes of our primate usurpers brought to life by revolutionary VFX and spirited performances by Serkis and team. The story of our hubris, our ambition, our shame and at last even our religious faith has been pulled apart and reconstructed through a narrative that is as bold as it is thoughtful.
4. Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn based on her own novel of the same name
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike.
David Fincher’s dizzying down-the-rabbit-hole thriller is a marvel on multiple levels. A rousing display of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike’s dramatic chops. A prime example of masterful pacing and the perfect picture of a mystery film. More importantly, it is a scathing rebuke of the romance of unsustainable relationships. In place of fiery supernova like excitement and passion is a black hole that devours all idyllic notions with a fanged script. It confirms the very worst of suspicions if not fuel more terrors than a lover’s mind can conjure. Gone Girl is a violation of every warm and decent norm set by the romantics of yesteryear. It is the beast that ate Valentine’s and there will always be fear that it isn’t finished. That it’s sleeping right next to you.
3. Nightcrawler (2014)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton , Riz Ahmed
There’s criminally underrated and then there’s Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. It is no hyperbole when I say that there hasn’t been a film more emblematic of the evils of 21st century careerism than this film. A chilling tale of media-sensationalism and those who profit from it. Jake Gyllenhaal with frightening clarity and disturbing charm has delivered one of the greatest performances of the decade. It’s one thing to play people from different walks of life. It’s a whole other endeavour for a man to play a reptile playing a man. The concept of the uncanny valley purports how we feel revulsion and fear in the presence of imperfect imitations of the human form. Gyllenhaal goes beyond the demands of performance and elevates the craft to soaring heights ironically by tapping into a valley we dare not traverse.
2. Arrival (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay) based on a story by Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life.” Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner
Arrival is an utterly captivating, spine-chilling and stimulating piece of mindfu*kery by Denis Villeneuve. This is an alien invasion film that doesn’t involve badass heroes, kickass action sequences and unlimited ammunition semi-automatic weapons. There are plenty of films with those elements, including Chicken Little. This is an alien invasion film that’s frankly not even about aliens nor an invasion. The aliens are vessels in which Villeneuve tells a wonderful and philosophically profound story (based on Heisserer’s script adapted from Ted Chiang’s story) about the unceasing wonders of language. And he tells it in such a thrilling, magnetic and overwhelmingly gorgeous manner, that you’ll refuse to blink throughout the film. It goes without saying that this is also the best Sci-Fi film of the decade. Sorry, Interstellar.
1. Joker (2019)
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver based on DC comics
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen
Joker is a wonderfully written, superbly crafted, unnerving and uncomfortable telling of a sad man. A broken man with a deeply tortured soul. A literal clown (he works at a company called ‘Hahas’) suffering from severe depression and who tries to justify — and perhaps understand — his mental instability by pointing towards the escalating volatility of Gotham City. A man who starts off wounded and progressively morphs into a delusional cold-blooded killer whose moral compass is vastly different from ours. A man we come to empathise with but rarely feel sympathy for. The broken man is brought to life by Joaquin Phoenix, who delivers a heartbreaking performance of staggering genius that anchors the whole film.
And now for some HONOURABLE MENTIONS — the movies that missed our top 25 by less than a whisker.
- Rogue One
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Pariyerum Perumal [India – Tamil]
- Black Panther
- Django Unchained
- La La Land
- Ex Machina
- Inside Out
- Knives Out
- Zero Dark Thirty
- The Force Awakens
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- Parasite [South Korea]
- Beasts of No Nation
- Burning [South Korea]
- Four Lions
- Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 & 2 [India – Hindi]
- The Death of Stalin
- The Favourite
- Seven Psychopaths
- The Big Short
- Paddington 2