Not only is it the end of the year, but it’s also the end of a decade, so this is the first time that I’ve ever been able to do this properly as it was in 2010 that I started reviewing films.
So, you might have seen a hundred of these lists already, but here is “My Top 20 Films Of The Decade”, going by UK release dates from 2010-2019.
This was a mammoth task but I feel like I’m finally happy with how this list has turned out. I’ve tried to keep it varied, including a few of my personal favourites whilst also taking into account better quality films over some that I was more entertained by. I’ve also tried to keep the genres varied by only included one superhero film and ensuring that I’ve included a foreign film and an animated film.
However, you will have to excuse the fact that four musicals have somehow slipped into this list, although it very easily could have been five so I do feel like I’ve compromised a little…
For me, these are the films that have defined this decade and all deserve to be watched if you haven’t seen any of them already. Keep reading to see why I have chosen these films and for a link to my reviews of them.
Some of the films that have just missed out on a place in my list but that are also still worth mentioning include: Shame, Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, Her, Gravity, The Place Beyond The Pines, Prisoners, Inception, Django Unchained, The Raid, Your Name, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Rocketman, The Light Between Oceans, My Week With Marilyn, and We Need To Talk About Kevin.
1. Blue Valentine (2010)
This is one of my favourite films of all time so it’s no surprise that Blue Valentine tops my list of the best film in this decade.
Completely depressing but beautiful in every way, Blue Valentine is romantic but so anti-romantic at the same time. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are absolutely brilliant. Their raw emotion is deeply powerful and their chemistry is outstanding. The film’s structure, constantly going backwards and forth, works incredibly well, allowing us to engage with both characters, showing both of their likeable and unlikeable characteristics alongside each other, and the cinematography is beautiful. Whilst this film tears me up inside every time, I absolutely love it.
2. Drive (2011)
We’re only two films in and this is already the second film starring Ryan Gosling in my list, and he’s going to appear in two more so it’s no wonder who my favourite actor of the decade is.
Brutal scenes contrast with some truly passionate ones in Drive, and I think that’s why it has been so successful. It’s like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. The film opens with a getaway – a mission has been given, Driver picks up two thieves who have just robbed a warehouse and then drives away whilst trying to avoid capture from the police. Engines roaring, sharp corner turns – it’s surprising no prostitutes were purposely run over. But what’s not to love about that?
For me, the best feature in the film is its synthy-pop soundtrack, which includes Nightcall by Kavinsky (ft Lovefoxxx) and Under Your Spell by Desire. Two 80’s style, slow-paced techno songs that really endorse the film. They emphasised the more romantic scenes in the film, or Gosling’s calmness when driving and, without this soundtrack, the film wouldn’t have given the same effect. They made the Grand Theft Auto style storyline more like LA Noir; they gave the film a bit more class and helped to tone down the more violent scenes by having these songs to fall back on.
3. Les Misérables (2012)
My first musical on this list is Tom Hooper‘s adaptation of Les Miserables. Hooper hasn’t ended the decade well with his adaptation of the Cats musical, but this is something else. For me, this film has everything that the onstage production has: intense emotions, powerful musical performances, and beautiful set designs. The way Jackman, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Barks all take my breath away with every single watch, there was no way that I couldn’t include this film so high up on my list. It’s utterly remarkable.
With only a few words spoken throughout the whole film, the entire story is told through song. The film, therefore, relies heavily on its performances, which are – unsurprisingly – superb all around. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are absolutely incredible in the main leads, and it is their characters who give the most impact. The fact that the cast all sang their songs live on set means that you get to hear every choke in their voices, and therefore feel every emotion that their characters are feeling.
This is why scenes of Jackman and Hathaway stand out above all else; their characters aren’t made to look pretty when the cameras are put so close to their faces, and the actors aren’t made to sing every key perfectly (though they do a bloody good job of it despite their range of emotions whilst singing). Instead, their performances are all about looking and feeling as real as they can. The two undeniably deserve the awards they have received for their performances so far, but the whole cast is worthy of appraisal, though.
4. Dunkirk (2017)
My first of two Christoper Nolan films in my list, although I could very easily have included Inception as well, Dunkirk is told from three perspectives – land, sea, and air – the stories come together so well. The method of storytelling is phenomenal and each section is so impacting, especially with the limited dialogue set against Hans Zimmer’s incredible score.
Nolan strips the story of war down to its gripping and terrifying reality – only showing it from one side, our side, emphasising the brutality of being in battle and having to constantly defend yourself, but also the sheer courage and commitment of all involved.
5. Interstellar (2014)
My second Nolan film is Interstellar. On my first viewing of this film I felt a little overwhelmed by it, but the more times I watch it, the more emotion I feel from Matthew McConaughey‘s which now completely takes me over.
Interstellar is ambitious, intelligent, and the pure definition of mind-blowingly good. It’s a thought-provoking film that will keep you thinking and has you thinking about for days after viewing. Nolan already has a number of five-star films under his belt with the likes of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento, and The Prestige, but Interstellar is so much more. You’d think it impossible for such a phenomenal director to step up, but Interstellar has masterpiece written all over it. The thought, dedication, and detail that went into this film are inspiring, and it’s films like this that remind you of why we love film so much. It’s also a film that makes me want to revisit 2001: A Space Odyssey and like it (let’s not get into that!) because you can see its influence and also see the similar influence that this film will have.
6. Arrival (2016)
Another sci-fi and my first Denis Villeneuve film, Arrival is based on a short story that had a huge impact on me.
Not just a story about aliens, its science fiction setting is merely a background to something much bigger. The film adaptation expands way beyond Chiang’s minimal plot, but it still uses the aliens’ arrival as a means to look at how we evaluate our own lives and being. It’s is not a science fiction story about conflict, action and futuristic technologies, it is about everyday ideas and ways of thinking.
Above everything else, Arrival is an incredibly intelligent and philosophical sci-fi with a compelling narrative that hints to something much deeper throughout. Linking language, maths and physics, Arrival combines two stories – one about aliens and one about humanity – to explore how we perceive our own existence.
7. Shutter Island (2010)
Not only did there need to be a Martin Scorsese film in my list, but Leonardo DiCaprio had to be included somewhere, too. He’s given some of his best performances this year, in equally brilliant films such as The Wolf Of Wall Street, Inception, and Django Unchained, all of which could have been in this list, and finally earning himself an Oscar-win in The Revenant.
Shutter Island also stars one of my favourite actresses, Michelle Williams, who is in three films on this list. It is her relationship with DiCaprio in this film that I especially love. There are some really stunning scenes and parts that you need a double-take on, as this is certainly a film that you will appreciate more on repeat viewings. It has a dark yet brilliant storyline that plays out incredibly well, and the twist will stop you in your tracks.
The film’s closing line – whilst not in the book – is what leaves such an impact, and it is because of that effect that this film has on me that it definitely has to be considered as one of the best of this decade.
8. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Whilst there are many Marvel films that I could have included somewhere in this list (Sorry, DC), my choice for a superhero film had to be Endgame. Bringing an end to Phase 3, which started just over 10 years ago, this was the perfect film for us to say goodbye to some of our favourite Avengers characters and for the franchise to begin the new decade with some fresh developments.
Avengers: Endgame is everything that I could have wanted and so much more. With all of the footage that we’ve seen from the film’s trailers and promotional footage happening within the first 15 minutes, at least, Endgame is a voracious, tense, daring, hugely entertaining, and emotionally impactful blockbuster of epic proportions.
The film brilliantly begins with a focus on the traumatic state of the world is after half of its population turned to dust. With the Avengers feeling defeated, they each deal with the loss of so many loved ones in their own way – Captain America councils others, Black Widow buries herself in work, Hawkeye goes on killing a rampage, and Thor falls into a state of depression. With such a personal feel to the destruction left behind from Infinity War, I wasn’t expecting so much real-life context in a film that I thought was going to get straight to the point.
9. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Another director who had to appear on this list somewhere is Quentin Tarantino. Whilst Django Unchained is another one of my favourites from this decade, I much preferred The Hateful Eight as it delivers on all counts. It’s gruesome but equally hilarious, it’s over the top but genuine, and it sticks with you for a long while afterwards.
As always, The Hateful Eight is incredibly well moulded and unfolds like a staged play. Set mainly in a single room with a group of well-developed characters reacting off each other, Tarantino’s incredible dialogue takes centre stage. Beautifully filmed in 70mm, as well, you get to see much more of these characters and their surroundings, making these characters feel somehow closer than they normally would, which adds to the excitement when their blood is splattering all over the place.
10. Ex Machina (2014)
From the writer of hugely impressive 28 Days Later and Sunshine, there’s a lot to be excited about when a writer of such talent is about to make his directorial debut. And that’s why many of us couldn’t wait for Ex Machina. Garland has been the source of some of the best films in their genre; the huge scale of space sci-fi Sunshine and the intense zombie apocalypse 28 Days Later were enough to promise that another brilliant sci-fi was on its way.
Many films have used the revolution of technology as a basis to their stories recently, but Ex Machina has such an original feel to it throughout. The film doesn’t belittle its audience by throwing too much jargon at them, but it’s enough to scare the audience of the possibility of something similar happening in the future.
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road plays homage to the great car chase films of the ’70s and ’80s but is revved up with so much exhilarating force that it leaves the thought of them trailing far behind. Think back to the original Mad Max films and to classics such as Death Race 2000, and that’s what you’ll get…but with much bigger engines, so much fire that you’ll feel the heat, and a truck-load more madness.
It takes everything to the next level. It’s one of the grimmest dystopian films that you’ll have seen in a long time, one of the most thrilling car chases ever, and is filled with so much demolition and big action sequences that you’ll need to take a minute to slow your heart rate down after watching it.
12. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
My second film from Denis Villeneuve is his reboot of the Blade Runner franchise. It’s not often that a reboot of a classic that many people regard as one of their favourites of all time is so successful, but this only highlights Villeneuve’s talents as he’s undeniably one of the best directors of this decade. Ryan Gosling also leads the film, so it’s no surprise that this was another favourite for me.
With such talent both behind and in front of the cameras, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the few films that is just as good as its predecessor. It has everything that was so great about the original – including Harrison Ford – but enough originality to make it stand out on its own accord, too. It’s a gorgeous film with a brilliant story – one that I actually understood 90% of – and is a perfect example of why science fiction is quite possibly the best genre of film that there is.
13. La La Land (2016)
And the fourth and final starring Gosling, and the second musical in my list, is La La Land. It’s a film that gets me every time. I find myself unable to move for a few minutes after it ends as I sit and think, “But are they happy?” Okay, so they smiled at each other. But wouldn’t they be happy together? So what if that means that Seb has to settle for a smaller dream. Wouldn’t he think that it was worth it in hindsight? I love that this film makes me think about this with every watch.
What I love most of all is the score. It has such a distinguishable score that even a few seconds of a song would make you connect the music to this film. More instrumental than musical, Damien Chazelle has created some beautiful melodies as his love for Jazz radiates throughout his masterpiece.
14. Coco (2017)
My pick for best animated film of the decade goes to Pixar‘s Coco. Beautifully animated with vibrant colours and patterns, as it should be being inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, Coco is a beautiful story about life. But, most notably, it is also a story about death, because to be remembered in death, you need to have lived a good life. Mexico has a beautiful tradition of celebrating the dead with their Day of the Dead festival, allowing themes which are usually quite difficult to talk about to be explored in a beautiful and magical way. It is a story that has meaning and honesty, and that’s why it’s one that won’t easily be forgotten.
Disney and Pixar are making a point of exploring different cultures and characters recently. From Scotland to Polynesia, it is important for family animations to introduce our children to new worlds and experiences, but also for studios such as Pixar and Disney to keep up with modern times for two reasons. Firstly, to avoid outdated stereotypes of princesses awaiting their princes that are no longer relevant, but also to teach the rest of the world about different people, places, and traditions, and to make younger generations more open-minded and excited about the world.
15. The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro is the man to go to if you want to make a film equally terrifying, fantastical, and engaging. He has such amazing ideas, and this tribute to old Hollywood monster movies blends perfectly with del Toro’s love of dark fairytales.
Whilst I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to divulge in a film about a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious sea creature, the refreshingly told story, remarkable performances, and enchanting score pulled me deep under the water with them. The use of bluey-green tones throughout gives this illusion, as the film feels like an elegant dance underwater. The Shape of Water is simply mesmerising.
16. Gone Girl (2014)
We don’t see enough of David Fincher these days, but when the news came that he was adapting one of my favourite books, I always had great hopes for this film. Fincher had promised that he was going to highlight the dark comedy in Flynn’s novel, but would the story come across on the big screen as well as it does when read? It’s a difficult story to handle, but Fincher couldn’t have worked with it any better.
The dark humour is what makes Gone Girl‘s story stand out amongst the many female-led thrillers out there. Depending on how you want to read the novel and take the ending, this dark comedy twist had a huge influence on how I read the story. I found myself laughing far too often, and then I very quickly felt awkward afterwards as I had to ask myself if it was genuinely funny or just plain psychotic. This was an aspect that Fincher’s style of film-making complemented really well. The overall theme is very dark but that’s what we usually love about his work, so to have that alongside a story of love and humanity, there was a lot that needed a professional touch.
17. A Star Is Born (2018)
My third musical on this list is Bradley Cooper‘s A Star Is Born. Whilst I was unsure whether to include this film or not, it is the soundtrack that persuaded me that this is a film that deserves to be amongst the best of this decade.
A Star Is Born is a beautifully told modern-day romance about a relationship that is equally touching and heartfelt but also tragic and fragile. The characters are developed with such delicacy and admiration that it’s no wonder their story has been told so many times and in so many different ways. It was wasn’t completely what I was expecting it to be, but it was also so much more.
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are both phenomenal and lead the film perfectly. Gaga has such a powerful voice and I’m so glad that Cooper gave her the opportunity to play this character and to give us the opportunity to get to know her better. I loved seeing her in American Horror Story but her performance here is something else, so I hope that this opens up many more feature-length roles for her.
18. The Greatest Showman (2017)
And my final musical on this list The Greatest Showman. Again, this is one of those films that many people won’t agree on me including, but it absolutely took the world by storm at the end of 2017 and I don’t think that kind of impact can be ignored.
Whilst it didn’t get off to a great start, word of mouth meant that everybody was wanting to go and see this musical on the big screen by early 2018, many of those seeing it more than once and even participating in the Sing-A-Long special screenings. Soon enough, The Greatest Showman became a must-see phenomenon, making its way to become the fifth-highest grossing live-action musical of all time.
I’ve always been a fan of musicals and of the talent that is Hugh Jackman, so this was always a film that I was going to call a babysitter in for so that I could have a night out and enjoy it as soon as possible. Yet I didn’t quite expect to love this film as much as I did. Walking out of the cinema, however, it was obvious that everybody in the room had had an amazing experience.
19. Snowpiercer (2013)
This is a film that I will forever try and get people to watch, as the lack of a release in the UK meant that this film didn’t get the recognition that it deserved. But since it has been on Netflix, and now on Amazon Prime, audiences are finally able to experience this underappreciated gem.
Dystopian settings are my favourite for both books and films – when they are done right, that is – and Snowpiercer is undeniably one of the best examples of how to work with the genre.
You can tell that the film is based on a book, as a film like this needs a strong source to work from. Background, development, structure, and setting are all incredibly important when creating a futuristic environment, and that’s usually why dystopias work best when they are adapted from novels. And Bong Joon Ho works with the story brilliantly. I’m in awe of his efforts here. Korean filmmakers have a certain knack for stripping back a genre to reveal a rawness that not many directors are able to capture, and that’s why Snowpiercer is one of my favourite films.
20. The Handmaiden (2017)
And finally, I really wanted to include a foreign language film in my list. Whilst I can’t believe that I haven’t managed to squeeze a Studio Ghibli film in here somewhere, and whilst films such as Blue Is The Warmest Colour and The Raid definitely deserve a mention, it had to be The Handmaiden.
From the director of Old Boy, Park Chan-Wook uses the power of narrative to tell an unpredictable story of passion and betrayal. It will leave you feeling shocked by its maze-like structure, impressed by its compelling exploration of gender and social class, inspired by its beauty, and also uncomfortable in its lustful perversions.
On first viewing, the complex plot will ensure that you’re unable to take your eyes off the screen, as twist after twist takes you on a psychological journey that you will instantly want to watch again, even with its 145-minute length. The story unfolds in a way that leaves you speechless, but it only improves on repeat viewings as you begin to see the ways that the intricately intertwined layers of dark subplots and conspiracies unravel.