It might have given us a twenty-something Robert De Niro and even hinted at resurrecting James Dean entirely, but 2019 was a year of endings.
Fittingly, the final twelve months of the decade saw the curtain fall on several of Film/TV’s heaviest hitters, from Game of Thrones, to the Skywalker saga, to a team of remarkable superheroes overthrowing a purple galactic tyrant and his jewellery collection.
In all aspects of life, decade’s end invariably marks a time of poignant and thorough reflection. In cinema, it’s a chance to gaze pensively back over the last ten years and contemplate those films that shocked you, scared you, moved you and, perhaps most profoundly, stayed with you.
The beauty of such an exercise lies in the subjectivity of it all: an opportunity to recognise those movies that had a lasting personal impact on you, and maybe even shaped you in some way.
As for my own picks, the wonderful thing about compiling it was that I was never really sure how the final list would look. There were some inclusions that were sure-fire contenders from the get-go, while others quietly crept up on my blind side. Others seemed to come from total obscurity, while some had etched themselves deep on my soul without me even knowing.
So, here we go. My top 25 films of the past decade. Concur, dispute, and disagree at your leisure…
25. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson, 2012)
Long before Will Smith was fighting with himself in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, hitmen were on the hunt for their future selves in Rian Johnson’s slick, smart sci-fi thriller.
Down the dark city streets and through the rural farmland of a futuristic Kansas, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe, part of a group of contract killers called “Loopers”, is tasked with taking out criminals sent back from a future where time travel has been invented, but immediately outlawed.
There’s one rather significant caveat that comes with such an occupation, of course. “This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward-thinking people” Joe explains, in the knowledge he will one day have to terminate his future self. That day soon arrives, but older Joe (played by Bruce Willis) has an agenda of his own, one that threatens to unstitch the entire fabric of time. And so young Joe is quickly thrust into a violent game of cat and mouse with himself, where resolute farm owners, formidable gunslingers and remarkable children lie in wait.
Out pacing several of its rather large plot holes, Looper is a gritty, neo-Western of the most enthralling, entertaining kind. Indeed, it might not be the most forward-thinking people, but Johnson’s film is certainly one for those who like their science-fiction cinema musing over issues of duality, fate and existentialism.
24. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2014)
In a decade when the push for diversity at the Oscars (and the industry more widely) reached fever pitch, British actor David Oyelowo’s scintillating portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s affecting 2014 historical drama remains one of the most unforgiveable awards snubs of the last ten years.
Selma, as might otherwise be the temptation, is not a MLK biopic, however. Choosing instead to focus on one of the most important fights of his life, the film begins after his famous “I have a dream” speech, and ends before his assassination in 1968. It remains no less powerful or hard-hitting, however, and delivers an emotionally charged account that, rather alarmingly, continues to strike a chord 50 years on.
23. Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King, 2017)
Many believed a Paddington sequel wouldn’t leave so much as a paw print on the delirious charm of the first film. Turns out they were right — it’s in an entirely different league altogether.
Sweeping aside the likes of Baloo and Ted, the return of Michael Bond’s sandwich-loving, hat-wearing creation in Paul King’s film firmly cements Paddington’s place at the summit of the best movie bears list. Featuring a career-best performance from Hugh Grant and the warmest of warm sentiments, Paddington 2 reminds us all why we love going to the cinema in the first place. Like a jar of thick, delicious homemade marmalade, you won’t find many films as unequivocally sweet as this.
22. The Raid (dir. Gareth Evans, 2011)
In the last ten years, multiplexes have been awash with mind-bending science-fiction, cutting social satire, pulsating political thrillers and a lady falling in love with a fish. It’s testament then to the craft of Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans that one of the decade’s best is a good ol’ fashioned punch up.
In what is essentially a thumping, bloody deluge of blokes beating the fuck out of each other for 100 minutes, The Raid is a raucously entertaining ride that sees a team of elite paramilitary, including rookie Rama (breakout action star Iko Uwais), infiltrate a high-rise building run by a ruthless drug lord.
Evans’ film, a beautifully brutal ballet of inventive, meticulously choreographed combat, understands exactly what it is and, more importantly, exactly what it isn’t. This is a lean, mean, action movie that unapologetically thrusts the genre back to its brilliant basics. Fists, flips and flailing limbs do the talking here in a bruising flurry of bending bodies and broken bones, as Indonesian cinema packs what is, in a very literal sense, quite the punch.
21. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)
In a decade brimming with supernatural shockers, if ever there was one to encapsulate the notion of not judging a book by its cover, it would be Jennifer Kent’s startling 2014 Australian horror, The Babadook.
The cover here — a story about a nightmarish character in a sinister children’s book coming to life — invokes all the archetypal terror of a James Wan jump-fest. Its contents, however, deal in much deeper, defter strokes. At the horrifying heart of Kent’s film is a mother/son relationship pushed to breaking point by unimaginable tragedy. Blame creates monsters, and it’s in the strained family dynamic where the terror truly lies: a potent environment perfect for the arrival of the titular bogeyman.
Like the very best of the genre, The Babadook is two tales spliced into one, with Kent’s refusal to delineate between them yielding an affecting atmosphere of fear and poignancy.
Noah Wiseman’s young Sam is infuriating yet affecting, while Essie Davis’ Amelia treads the delicate line between mother and monster.
20. Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
Spandex meets swears in Matthew Vaughn’s deliriously entertaining superhero tear up of 2010: a comic book movie where a 12 year old girl drops the C-bomb, a man explodes in an industrial microwave and the teenage protagonist masturbates to an image of a tribal woman.
Kick-Ass could have quite easily been anything but. Entering the frame as the fires of the MCU were starting to be stoked, this adaptation of an alternative Marvel comic could have derailed the entire enterprise. Thankfully, Vaughn gets the balance of parody, pastiche and ingenuity spot on. The result: a sharp action movie that mischievously inverts genre tropes as much as it knowingly plays into them, with a blend of memorable set-pieces (a strobe lighting siege of a warehouse), whip-smart dialogue (“Ok you cunts — let’s see what you can do”) and nifty casting choices (Nicolas Cage, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Pretend as though the woeful sequel never happened, and remember only the good times. Those of an everyday kid with a dream, and enough fashion nous to make Timberlands and Marigolds superhero canon.
19. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)
With Inception, Christopher Nolan proved that there’s a huge market for big-budget blockbusters with a brain.
An intricately layered, two-and-a-half-hour heist thriller set predominately in the subconscious and leading to one of the most ambiguous endings of the decade took just shy of $830m at the global box office. It’s testament then to Nolan’s ambitious, uncompromising storytelling that Inception was such a hit, and a genre movie that remains the pinnacle during an era when epic, visually arresting sci-fi really took off.
Its ensemble cast (including the likes of DiCaprio, Hardy, Watanabe and Cotillard) all yield impressive work, but it’s Nolan’s masterful blend of thrills and smarts that truly elevate the film, fusing intelligence and entertainment to produce a slick, shrewd story of cinematic splendour.
18. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik, 2018)
There haven’t been many films in the 2010s driven by the same raw emotion and observed with the intelligence of Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. With power so often coming in restraint, Granik’s film (adapted from Peter Rock’s 2009 novel My Abandonment) soars thanks to its quietly complex emotional core, which sees Will and Tom (a father/daughter duo played with compelling intimacy by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie) living out an undetected existence deep in the forest of a large public park in Portland.
They read books, share a tent and take every conceivable measure to ensure they remain unnoticed. However, a painful divide begins to creep in when Tom carelessly allows herself to be spotted by a hiker and the pair are forced into life beyond the safety of the woods. Love and survival quickly collide as Will, an army veteran suffering from severe PTSD, harbours a deep desire to run from the world, while Tom, a young adolescent curiously embracing her new surroundings, starts to find her place in it. It’s a balanced, honest story that barely puts a foot wrong throughout its two-hour running time.
17. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, 2018)
If Ex Machina was writer/director Alex Garland at his most stylish, his female-led mindbender Annihilation is him at his most uncompromising. Were it not for Garland’s resilience, his striking, spellbinding Netflix film would have lost all its alluring shimmer. Battling hard against studio pressures calling for him to dumb down the film, Annihilation was picked up by the streaming service with Garland’s vision intact. The result is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, ears and mind.
The basic set-up seems simple enough. Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh lead an all-female team of scientists into a mysterious, coastal abyss from which only one person has ever returned (Oscar Isaac’s Kane) in search of answers. But it’s what they find there that really gets the brain boggling: revelations that threaten to shatter the very notion of existence.
Beautiful, bold and baffling, Garland’s film is an unyielding gem of existential musings and trippy, subconscious terror. Channelling shades of Cronenberg body horror and a sprinkling of Kubrick sci-fi, Annihilation is a film you’ll want to watch with the most open of minds. Then, when it’s finished, you’ll immediately want to watch it again.
16. Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013)
Few films over the last decade have divided critics quite as wildly as Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-violent neo-Western Only God Forgives. In that time, even fewer films have been quite as misunderstood.
The Danish director’s second collaboration with actor Ryan Gosling takes us down the backstreets of a neon-drenched Bangkok and a criminal underworld of drug trafficking, underage prostitution and semi-retired, sword-wielding cops who enjoy a spot of karaoke.
Maligned by many on the festival circuit (its press screening at Cannes was met with booing from a large section of the audience), Only God Forgives is a gripping, uncompromising fable about fate, family and (futile) revenge, laced with lethal black humour and scenes of graphic violence almost too tough to watch.
Just like in Drive, Gosling’s protagonist has, cumulatively, what must constitute little over a page of dialogue across the entire film. But unlike his coolly psychopathic anti-hero of 2011, Gosling isn’t quite the suave, sexy leading man you might expect him to be here.
Instead, the real stars are those behind the camera. With a surreal quality to Refn’s direction and an equally dream-like sensibility to Larry Smith’s cinematography (not to mention Cliff Martinez’s haunting score), it’s a dark, disconcerting 90-minute odyssey. But one no less intriguing and certainly no less deserving of your attention.
15. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller, 2015)
Two hours of loud, relentless four-wheeled carnage will either sound like a mind-numbing test of stamina or one of the best cinematic spectacles of the last ten years. Thankfully, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is parked firmly in the latter.
A “revisiting” of the Mel Gibson franchise from the late ’70s and early 80s (which, by the third film, also starred Tina Turner), Fury Road takes all that is good about the action road movie, strips away all narrative baggage, and turns everything right the way up to eleven.
Tom Hardy replaces Gibson as the eponymous hero who is quickly thrust into a raucous race for freedom against antagonists with names like “The Bullet Farmer”, “The People Eater” and “Immortan Joe” while going hell for leather in armoured trucks across a baron dystopian wasteland.
The film took home six Oscars in 2015, but in the years since has earned an even greater accolade: the adoration of avid cinephiles the world over. Come for Hardy eating a lizard, stay for Charlize Theron’s epically bad-ass Imperator Furiosa. Miller’s film remains this decade’s best example of how chaos can be truly beautiful.
14. Her (dir. Spike Jonze, 2013)
There is perhaps no greater a sign of these peculiar times than a film with as ridiculous a premise as a man falling in love with an A.I. voice assistant proving to be one of the decade’s most moving movie romances. But that is the story of Her, director Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi set in a not-too-distant-future Los Angeles.
Ten years in the making (Jonze conceived the idea after reading an article in the early 2000s about a website that allowed users to exchange messages with an artificial intelligence system), this character-driven drama is a delightfully off-piste exploration into technology, humanity and relationships in the 21st Century.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the lonely writer who becomes infatuated with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a companionship that is at once entirely artificial and completely transcendent of physicality. But it’s the pertinent musings and sharp quips of Jonze’s Oscar-winning script (his screenwriting debut) that are its true pièce de résistance, making for a movie as touching as it is thought provoking.
13. Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Not many films can match the tempo of Damien Chazelle’s exhilarating 2014 film Whiplash in a single scene, let alone sustain it for nearly two hours. Intensity exudes from every beat, every thrash, every expletive and every chair launch in Chazelle’s film, as an aspiring jazz drummer sets his sights on reaching the very top.
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are electric as the central student/teacher duo who are equal parts inspiring and repulsive; a distinction that gradually blurs as their relationship, one shaped by both hatred and respect, builds to a raucous chorus of terrifying, obsessive drive.
Pummelling away at the film’s core is an examination of what it takes to be the best, even if that brings out the very worst in you. While La La Land might have showered Chazelle in Oscar glory, and his Neil Armstrong biopic First Man confirming his status as an auteur of sweeping, intricate cinematic grandeur, Whiplash remains his most kinetic, impactful film — the cinematic equivalent of a relentless, bellowing drum bass pedal to the soul.
12. Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie, 2016)
The decrepit ranches, economically-ravaged communities and time-forgotten towns of its Texas setting provide the perfect backdrop for the moral ambivalence of Scottish director David Mackenzie’s sharp, sun-soaked neo-western of 2016, Hell or High Water.
It’s a deceptively simple tale; a lean cat-and-mouse thriller about a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his volatile ex-con brother (Ben Foster) trying to raise the cash to keep the family farm by robbing banks, all the while evading apprehension by a wily, veteran Ranger (Jeff Bridges). But complexity rolls in as quietly as a tumbleweed across a dirt road and political prods echo like faint gunshots over a vast, baron plain.
All three leading men are on fine form (with a top tier turn from Bridges) in a story from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan that waltzes effortlessly between gritty, high-stakes heist and charming nonchalance.
11. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay, 2017)
Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay certainly knows how to pick her projects. Meticulous to the point of being labelled “difficult”, movies bearing her name and distinctive vision have been few and far between. When they arrive, however, they do so with an air of eager anticipation.
Her fourth film, an adaptation from a novella by Jonathan Ames, is beautifully bleak. It opens in a nondescript Cincinnati hotel room, where we see Duct tape on the bed and a bloody tool in the sink — the aftermath of a hitman’s notoriously brutal methods. Our imagination is left to fill in the blanks. And so begins You Were Never Really Here: a dark, uncompromising thriller about pain, trauma and spectral antiheroes.
An atypically bulked up Joaquin Phoenix leads the violent charge as the aforementioned hired gun, a troubled war vet tasked with rescuing the young daughter of a New York senator from a sex trafficking ring. As Joe, Phoenix cuts a striking, intimidating figure on a vengeful search for redemption, armed with his weapon of choice — a ball-peen hammer that nods to a painful childhood — while haunted by past demons and plagued by suicidal thoughts.
Joe’s journey into the darkest corners of an inner-city criminal underbelly and through the murky waters of morality makes for a gritty watch, but Ramsay slices through troubling subject matter with touching moments of quiet, gentle humanity and dreamlike visual sensibility.
Shades of Taxi Driver and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (namely, in the pulsating, synth-heavy score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) speckle Joe’s journey. Ramsay’s sharp eye constantly defies convention, however, making for an immersive, challenging walk along the razor-sharp shards of a fractured psyche. At under 90 minutes, it might seem like a fleeting foray, but few films this decade have captured so much in so little time.
10. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Before Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s dizzying, labyrinthine LA story from earlier this year, Paul Thomas Anderson was subverting both convention and expectation in his strange, sweeping, surreal adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Cali-set novel, Inherent Vice.
Following the movements of stoner P.I. Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he scours the City of Angels’ criminal underworld while investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s married lover, what is arguably Pynchon’s most accessible work becomes PTA’s least. Toying with a narrative set-up that teases a coherent, if slightly off-centre crime caper, Anderson’s quirky, ’70s-set sunlight noir quickly spirals into a near three-hour deluge of gloriously playful convolution, conspiracy and nutty revelation.
Dissonant by design, Inherent Vice is a purposefully erratic, intentionally perplexing mess. But it’s a wonderfully unique, visually mesmerising mess — one that doesn’t really make much sense but equally doesn’t quite not make sense either.
In the end, ignorance is bliss. The more you try to unravel, the more confusing it becomes. The less you think, the more deliriously entertaining the payoff.
9. Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
Trepidation was rife among Blade Runner’s vast and loyal following when it was announced that a sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi film was in the works. Thirty-five years after Harrison Ford was hunting down replicants and puzzling over paper unicorns, it was almost inconceivable that a follow-up would do anything other than sour the legacy of Scott’s dystopian masterpiece, and do little more than piss off an entire generation of Deckard disciples.
Still, there was undoubted intrigue. How faithful would it be to the original? What narrative angle would it take? And would the watching world finally get closure on one of the most ambiguous endings ever put to celluloid?
In the end, they naysayers needn’t have worried their little Vangelis-worshipping selves for a single second, because such immense responsibility fell into the hands of diverse, ambitious Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.
Set three decades after the events of the first film, within minutes of returning to dystopian America — an LAPD patrol car cutting through the thick fog as it hovers in the skies above a beige patchwork of factories and protein farms — the beautifully bleak spirit of Scott’s existential odyssey is resurrected in style.
Faithful in both its complex themes and striking visual sensibility — the pseudo-sex scene between Gosling’s replicant Kay, Mackenzie Davis’ doxie-turned-freedom fighter and Anna de Armas’ Alexa-esque hologram is as beautiful and heart-breaking as (one imagines) a threesome could possibly be — any shred of doubt was very quickly lost. Like tears in the rain.
8. Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau, 2016)
A feminist cannibal horror film might not sound like one to be immediately placed at the top of the watchlist, but the horror genre so often flourishes in controversy. And the lure of Julia Ducournau’s exquisite French-Belgian body shocker about a young, impressionable vegetarian garnering a taste for flesh while attending a veterinary school was bolstered in no small way by reports of two audience members fainting during a midnight screening at the 2016 Toronto film festival.
Combining a relentlessly visceral exploration into the body (and its many desires) with a complex examination of hazing, sex and conformity, Raw trades in cheap frights for meaningful comment on the pressures of adolescence. It’s a disconcerting watch, and those prone to queasiness might find several of its more graphic moments tough to stomach. But Ducournau’s film is a fascinating, innovative example of how the horror genre continues to be such an effective vessel for capturing the shared, rational fears and anxieties of an entire demographic.
7. Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes, 2015)
Irrespective of the approach, capturing the Holocaust on celluloid with any degree of authenticity is, invariably, a near impossible undertaking.
The risk of exploitation hangs heavy in the air of Holocaust dramas, yet Son of Saul, the directorial debut from Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes, avoids any ounce of it. Following the eponymous Saul (a striking performance from Géza Röhrig), a member of Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando, Nemes instead constructs a hauntingly raw account of the horrors inside a concentration camp through intense closeup, where atrocities are only ever heard, or half seen in the blurry background.
The story, or the stinging, splintered shards of one, centres on Saul’s desperate attempts to bury a boy who may or may not be his son. But this has much less a narrative feel than it does a poignant, profound snapshot: a singular experience under the vast, looming shadow of one of history’s darkest periods. It’s sincere, intelligent work, defunct of any trace of artificial sentimentality but, rather, laced with a powerful stoicism mirrored in the emotional numbness of its central character.
By the time the film reaches its devastating final shot, you too will feel too numb to weep. Instead, you’ll be left shaking for days by a sadness reverberating from deep within your soul.
6. American Animals (dir. Bart Layton, 2018)
American Animals begins with a title card that simply reads, “This is not based on a true story”. Not long after, the words “not based on” suddenly vanish from view. And thus begins the second feature film from British filmmaker Bart Layton: a story that treads the treacherous, slippery path between fact and fiction.
The film recounts what only ever might be the events that led to a quartet of US college students, in 2004, attempting to pull of the perfect heist at their campus library. A dangerous concoction of youthful exuberance and naivety ends in spectacular failure, and brings about disastrous consequences. But Layton’s audacious storytelling style, which confidently interweaves interviews with the real people amidst a reconstruction led by a talented cast of young actors (Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters are particular stand outs), makes for a startling, compelling exploration into the elusiveness of truth. As a mash-up of innovation, homage and classic genre tropes, American Animals begins as one thing and, by the end, becomes a different beast entirely.
5. The Social Network (dir. David Fincher, 2010)
Quite possibly the definitive film of the 2010s, with The Social Network, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin made a film about the birth of Facebook that was so much more than just likes, relationship statuses and tailored ads.
This is a story tinged with Shakespearian tragedy, about deception, jealousy, monolithic empires and, ultimately, shattered friendships. It’s not a straightforward morality tale, but instead a complex algorithm of truth, success and toxic masculinity.
And at its centre is Eisenberg’s brilliant but flawed genius antihero Mark Zuckerberg. Beneath an almost impenetrable exterior, a fragile war is raging within, between a man wanting to be liked and a man wanting to be right. Elsewhere, Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin — both Zuckerberg’s best friend and greatest adversary — captivates, while Justin Timberlake gives his most convincing performance to date as the smart yet slimy Sean Parker.
But The Social Network’s most pivotal components are Fincher and Sorkin. Sharp, slick and lyrical, the latter’s script soars, while the former’s whip-smart direction gives the film an equal blend of hypnotic fluidity and moments of slow, poignant reflection.
The film also perfectly encapsulates the great paradox of our time — that a digital landscape designed to bring people closer together has the venomous capability to drive us further apart.
At the time of writing, Facebook has over one billion active members. That’s countless hours of users liking, tagging and sharing the best bits of each other’s lives. All made by a guy who, quite frankly, isn’t all that likeable. Funny that.
4. Inside Out (dir. Pete Doctor, 2015)
“Take her to the moon for me.” In the long, illustrious history of the moving picture, have seven simple words caused the tear ducts to go into overdrive quite as uncontrollably as those uttered by a pink imaginary friend who is part elephant, part dolphin, part cat and who cries candy?
But if fan-favourite Bing Bong has become the lasting image of Inside Out’s immortal legacy, he (it?) is just one endearing feature in a movie of many. In its ambition, delirious ingenuity and delightful visuals, Inside Out marks the pinnacle of Disney-Pixar’s 21st Century exploits thus far. Bringing both joy and sadness (as well as anger, fear and disgust, of course) and fusing it with generous lashings of its trademark charm, few films could do what Inside Out does and take such conceptual conundrums and imbue them with such dazzling, colourful inventiveness. Then again, Inside Out is no ordinary film. It is an irrefutable modern masterpiece.
3. Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, 2018)
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be bestowed upon Bo Burnham’s debut feature film is that it is almost unwatchable.
Following every awkward, wince-inducing interaction that constitutes the life of a timid 13-year old, Eighth Grade is so uncomfortable because it’s so relatable. While the specifics might not completely resonate with everyone, whether your smart phone was a cassette player, your version of a DM had to be sent with a stamp, or you define a ‘dab’ as something you do with a sponge, it matters not. That’s because the trials and tribulations of middle-schooler Kayla Day (a wonderful turn from Elsie Fisher in her breakout role) tap into a single universal truth: we were all young once.
In little over 90 minutes, the teenage experience — a period defined by monumental change — is translated with such effortless authenticity by Burnham that, for some, the screen will become a mirror to their present, and for others, a window to their past.
There’ll be laughter. There’ll be tears. There’ll be the overwhelming sense of finally being seen. Gucci!
2. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold, 2016)
After years stagnating on the franchise circuit as a misguided leading man in Michael Bay’s ill-judged Transformers series, Shia LaBeouf reminded everyone why he’s one of the most captivating character actors of his generation in 2016 when he starred in Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling indie road movie American Honey.
Captured ingeniously in 4:3 aspect ratio by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Arnold’s film is imbued with both dreamy sensibility and honest, organic observations on life. LaBeouf scintillates, but the sweet centre of American Honey lies in the casting of breakout star Sasha Lane. Combining raw charisma with her newbie status (Lane had no previous acting experience when she was discovered by Arnold while on spring break with her friends), her compelling presence makes for a film that is at once gritty, intimate, heart-breaking and uplifting. Also one for fans of Lady Antebellum and/or door to door sales.
1. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)
Over the last ten years, comedy actors turning their hand to horror has been something of a trend. Take the likes of John Krasinski (director of A Quiet Place) or Danny McBride (co-writer and producer of 2018’s Halloween reboot-cum-sequel) and it’s easy to see the line between fear and laughter draw ever closer as gags are traded for jump scares, and funnies fused with frights. And few filmmakers working today have understood this better than Jordan Peele.
His debut feature, Get Out, is an incisive, twisted first foray that works just as effectively as a straight-up chiller as it does a searing, razor-sharp race satire. Smart and entertaining, Peele’s is a film that absolutely understands its genre, its audience and the troubled world in which they exist. Imbued with quotable, meme-worthy dialogue (“I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could”), a terrific central performance from leading man Daniel Kaluuya (alongside a memorable, scene-stealing turn from Lil Rel Howery) and a moment that inspired a viral running challenge, Get Out has helped lead a rather spectacular surge in horror cinema over the last ten years, while putting Peele — one of its most intriguing new auteurs — firmly on the map. We’ll never look at Bingo and bone china in quite the same way again.
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.