100. Atomic Blonde
(David Leitch, 2017, USA / Sweden / Germany)
A glorious blast of pure style, in which the sensibility of the late Cold War is boiled down to neon colors, sneering attitude, and an unbeatable collection of synthpop. A tale of spies double- and triple-crossing each other for petty reasons of local dominance, as the nations and ideologies they ostensibly work for collapse into obsolescence and irrelevance, it’s a film whose pointedly shallow appeals to the eye and ear serve to amplify the essential hollowness of the world it depicts; it’s like a candy-colored version of John Le Carré’s cynicism that’s so much fun to wallow in, you almost don’t notice the extreme rancidity of it all. And it doesn’t hurt that it boasts some of the decade’s very best action choreography.
99. The Bling Ring
(Sofia Coppola, 2013, USA / UK / France / Japan / Germany)
Impeccably balanced: the film makes no attempt to hide its laughing contempt for the shallow superficiality of its characters, while it also hungrily glamorises those same shallow trappings as delectably cinematic visuals. Nobody was better-positioned to create this affectionately vicious satire than Coppola, whose films had developed quite a complicated love-hate relationship with celebrity culture before this film turned into the greatest commentary on Southern Californian unreality of the 21st Century. The great cinematographer Harris Savides, in the last project of his life (it was completed by Christopher Blauvelt), does excellent work in capturing the slickness of this world under a layer of scuzzy grain, making something sunshiny, appealing, and still just grotty enough to sell the film’s ambivalence about the consumer culture it depicts.
98. 45 Years
(Andrew Haigh, 2015, UK)
A crushing portrait of how we never really know the people we love. Haigh, quickly becoming one of our great character dramatists, made his best film to date by putting a comfortable bourgeois marriage into a pressure cooker, and adding a single revelation that threatens to destroy the bonds of several decades. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are extraordinarily good at making small choices that are buried in the actors’ and audience’s keen awareness of what these people will not say aloud and perhaps refuse even to think privately. The unforgiving wintry quality of the visuals adds an austere, spare environment for these performances to do the best possible work, but even if this were just an acting showcase, it would be a great one.
97. The Wailing
(Na Han-jin, 2016, South Korea)
The best twist on the exorcism movie in a generation. On the one hand, it has all the genre signifiers you could hope for: terrifying, symbolism-laden nightmares, something with glowing red eyes in the dark woods, elaborate rituals (with some of the decade’s best cross-cutting. On the other hand, it crosses these elements with a richly-detailed community, whose small-town rhythms are explored with a great deal of affection and fascination. And then we need a third hand to get at how strong it is as a story of a father-daughter relationship, and the levels to which a scared parent can rise to save his child. Its indulgent, epic length means that it can explore each one of these threads with all the depth they deserve.
96. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
(Dean DeBlois, 2019, USA)
A terrific trilogy ended on its strongest note with this gorgeous blend of bleeding-edge animation technology (those particles! those lighting effects) and well-earned sentiment. It’s a modest human story about being forced to take responsibility and be mindful of one’s actions, and about the difficult of having to leave loved ones behind as part of growing up and into new phases of life. This could easily be played as a shameless tug on the viewer’s emotions, but instead, it’s treated with a light, playful touch that belies any weepy melodrama. It’s a comic adventure that’s given an injection of weariness and late-autumn chill, a loving farewell to characters and a world that have been one of the most reliable highlights of 2010s mainstream animation.
95. The Witch
(Robert Eggers, 2015, USA / Canada / UK / Brazil)
A great piece of high-concept genre filmmaking: what if we try to get into the heads of a culture wildly different from our own by embracing the way it sees the world. And thus we get what surely must be the world’s only Puritan horror film, in which the reality of the Devil and witches is mixed with the terror of being socially ostracised to create a uniquely otherworldly depiction of the horrors out in the dark woods. But this would be only an intellectual exercise without the very strong family story backing it up, in which petty authoritarianism trickles down from a bullying father to his children, to the great misfortune of all. A brilliantly designed and acted tale of evil in all forms.
94. Tuesday, After Christmas
AKA Marţi, după Crăciun
(Radu Muntean, 2010, Romania)
A study of the psychology of three people embroiled in a bit of adultery, treated with the clinical detachment that was a hallmark of the Romanian New Wave that was just starting to wrap up when this film hit. It’s flawlessly acted by the leads, presenting human behavior as it simply is, with minimal judgment towards the relative morality of anybody’s behavior, nor does it look to justify what goes on; it simply examines what happens when a selfish man allows lust to triumph over sense. The iciness is diluted by just enough of the dry humor that’s one of the hallmarks of Romanian art cinema, but in the end, it pulls no punches in examining the way that humans can hurt each other.
93. The Babadook
(Jennifer Kent, 2014, Australia)
In a great decade for art horror, nothing tops this wonderful metaphorical monster movie, in which the difficulty of being a single mother with a special-needs child is embodied in the form of a freakish top-hat wearing, knife-fingered beast out of a little boy’s nightmares. The “is it real or in her head?” gambit is an old cliché of horror cinema, and this film admittedly leans a little bit too heavily into the “in her head” side of the equation for its own good, but by using this trite frame as the basis for a numbing psychological thriller, Kent makes it feel as fresh and devastating as it ever has. And doesn’t hurt that the monster, real or not, is a deliciously bone-chilling creation.
(Bong Joon-ho, 2013, South Korea / USA)
A big, burly sci-fi action picture with the hectoring soul of a political cartoon, the narrative flow of a video game, and the visual style of a European comic book (which makes sense, given that it was adapted from one). Broadly exaggerated even by Bong’s gonzo standards, but one of its strengths is how it uses caricature as part of its argument: we are, as a global society, so obviously on the wrong track that it needs something equally obvious to smack us into noticing it. Amazing design, uniformly superb performances, and one hell of a bad climax are all part of no-holds-barred energy that makes this a wildly messy but endlessly compelling satire as well as one of the decade’s best genre exercises.
91. The Duke of Burgundy
(Peter Strickland, 2014, UK)
A story of two lesbians involved in a BDSM relationship sounds like pure exploitation, and the film’s embrace of the aesthetic signifiers of 1970s Eurosmut doesn’t do much to change that first impression. But Strickland’s characteristic perversity means, in this case, that the treatment of this lurid material is heartbreakingly romantic, a sad and sweet and yearning depiction of the desperation of a woman who can’t imagine losing her lover, even when she’s on the receiving end of borderline-abusive emotional manipulation. It’s also a masterpiece of craft, beatifully shot and designed, with a the rich and full soundscapes that does much of its storytelling in other rooms and out of sight, forcing us to wonder what we’re not seeing, and how that impacts the characters.