The 2010s had a lot of high profile movies – but here’s 50, from indie to mainstream, that perhaps deserves a bit more love.
Even one year removed from the decade, it’s clear that the 2010s irrevocably changed cinema forever. It was a decade that saw the rise and then dominance of the streaming services as a way to view films. Star Wars was reborn. Disney consumed Fox. The all-time highest grossing box office record fell twice, proving that going to the movies was far from dead. Hollywood and the wider industry had an overdue reckoning with diversity issues and sexual abuse and harassment.
And films, lots and lots of them, were released. Below is a selection of the ones that I feel didn’t (and still don’t) get the recognition they deserved at the time. Whether it was just the wrong release window, or audiences didn’t even get a chance to hear about it, or maybe time has been a little kinder to these films in the years since they debuted, here are 50 films you should probably check out, either for the first time, or the second. But as long as they received a theatrical release in either the UK or US from 2010-2019, then they have a chance of making the cut.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013, d. Alan Taylor)
A controversial choice right out the gate. Well, I would watch The Dark World over Iron Man 2, both Ant-Man’s, Age of Ultron, Captain Marvel, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 and Dr Strange. While Thor Ragnarok rightly got plaudits for transforming Thor into arguably the best Avenger going, it was The Dark World that laid the groundwork for it. It dials down the Shakesperian operatics from the first film, and instead ramps up the character interactions and comedy. Thor hanging up Mjolnir will never not be funny. Yeah they absolutely waste Christoper Eccleston as Malekith, but that’s an MCU weakness. All I’m saying is that there’s a reason this film was central to the plot of Endgame…
- The Front Runner (2018, d. Jason Reitman)
Hugh Jackman takes on the role of Gary Hart, the Democratic front runner for the Presidential nominee in 1988, and how he went from the likely next POTUS to out of the contest. The film was initially a hoped for awards bet, but essentially disappeared upon release. Which considering back in 2018 we were mired in the middle of four years of US political turmoil, might have had a lot to do with the non-audience. Which is a shame, as this is a tightly acted, technically skilled (the audio work truly stand-out) look at a scandal that would now seem almost quaint, and robbed us of a USA that maybe would have been a better place.
- High Life (2018, d. Claire Denis)
As others have pointed out, if you just read the description of High Life (a gang of criminals are sent on a spaceship to do explore black holes in exchange for shorter sentences) without any other context, you would think you were settling in for a no holds barred action adventure movie. Maybe starring The Rock. Instead, you have Robert Pattinson doing some of the most individual work of his career in a film which wants to explore both the physical and metaphysical realities of humans pushed to the limit. It’s beautiful, it’s horrible, it’s transfixing.
- Apostle (2018, d. Gareth Evans)
Dan Stevens will appear several times in this list. The man is doing some truly underrated work it seems. In this case, he takes on the role of Thomas Richardson, who in 1905 must travel to a remote Welsh island to rescue his sister from a mysterious cult. So far so Wicker Man, but Apostle resists being just another homage to the bees through a commanding central performance from Stevens, an unhinged and desperate one from Michael Sheen as the leader of the island, and a slow ramping up of tension and dread from director Gareth Evans, who proves he can do a lot more than exquisite action films.
- The American (2010, d. Anton Corbjin)
Most audiences expected an action packed spy thriller from this George Clooney-headlined film. They most certainly did not get that. But if what you’re after is instead a Western influenced movie more interested in mood and atmosphere instead of kinetic high jinks, then this tale of an American hitman being pursued across Europe while trying to atone for his crimes is probably for you. Clooney has pretty much cornered the market in world weary but capable men, and here he adds a haunted dimension which says more than the sparse script ever could.
- Hearts Beat Loud (2018, d. Brett Haley)
Perhaps too slight to really ignite a wider outpouring of love, Hearts Beat Loud is well worth catching up with. Frank (played wonderfully by Nick Offerman) is the owner of a failing record store in Brooklyn. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is about to leave for the West Coast, and is upset about leaving her girlfriend behind. Father and daughter combine to write a song one night, which ends up going viral, to Frank’s delight and Sam’s chagrin. The chemistry between the two leads is truly lovely, and the film is packed full of genuine human moments, with a supporting cast including Ted Danson and Toni Collette.
- The Sisters Brothers (2018, d. Jacques Audiard)
I’m still not sure if anyone apart from me actually saw this western starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the titular siblings when it was released. For those who did, you got a sumptuous and often very funny tale of the two brothers chasing down gold prospectors Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal across the American West of the 1850s.
Notable for being the English language debut of Jacques Audiard, the director of the sensational A Prophet, The Sisters Brothers shines in the interplay between the four main actors, and the sense that anything could happen at just about anytime.
- The One I Love (2014, d. Charlie McDowell)
At the risk of undermining my own recommendation of this film, try and make sure you go into watching The One I Love with as little knowledge as possible about it. There isn’t some grand twisting conspiracy or jaw dropping reveal after jaw dropping reveal, but there’s definitely enough surprises in there to make it worth being in the dark. Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a married couple who’s therapist (a delightful Ted Danson turn) recommends them a stay at a remote cottage he owns in order to work on their relationship. What transpires is surprising, and a lot fun, as well as being a deft examination of how relationships can evolve or fail.
- Mother! (2017, d. Darren Aronofksy)
An allegorical story on the destruction of Earth, which also retells the Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel story, Mother! is certainly ambitious in its intent. It received both boos and a standing ovation upon its Cannes premiere, and honestly, that feels about right. It’s a hugely impressive piece of concussive visual filmmaking from Darren Aronofsky, but unlike his previous work which divided audiences (see The Fountain), its allegorical nature ultimately takes away from the humanity that would drive this into being something truly, truly special.
- Mindhorn (2016, d. Sean Foley)
Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, two of the UK’s leading comedy lights in the 21st century, team up to give us this marvel. Farnaby plays the titular Mindhorn, a fictional TV detective. Well actually he plays Richard Thorncroft, a washed up actor who played fictional TV detective Mindhorn. When a crazed fan of the show is being hunted for murder, Richard sees an opportunity to revive his career (and love life) by getting involved. What follows is often deeply silly and laugh out loud, yet makes room for the subtle moments to interrogate life and the mess we often make of it. Plus top notch performances from Farnaby, Essie Davis, and Andrea Riseborough help.
- Only God Forgives (2013, d. Nicolas Winding Refn)
How could you follow up Drive? Most people would argue probably not with this neon soaked Bangkok set nightmare of revenge and twisted familial bonds. But then most people aren’t director Nicolas Winding Refn. I find Only God Forgives fascinating in the way it apes Drive and the commercially oriented pulse that, heh, drives that film, but then purposely bucks against it. Central to this is Ryan Gosling again playing an emotionally damaged main character, but here is utterly pathetic and irredeemable. No iconic Scorpion jacket here. Just a sad man waiting for his life to have any sort of meaning.
- Destroyer (2018, d. Karyn Kusama)
In arguably a career best performance, Nicole Kidman absolutely disappears into the role of LAPD detective Erin Bell, who pursues a gang she went undercover in sixteen years previously. Director Karyn Kusama brings an unflinching realism to the twists and turns of the plot, but it all comes back to Kidman, and the layers of pain and deceit she reveals to the audience as her true history with the gang comes to light.
- Her Smell (2018, d. Alex Ross Perry)
The fictional story of a rock star at war with herself, Her Smell is told in five scenes. Elisabeth Moss is Becky Something, and we follow her and her band as they disintegrate and come back together. Each vignette acts as a short film in its way, as we skip forward in time, with Moss anchoring each one with a haunting presence. Fitting then that she should wear a Phantom Of The Opera t-shirt while prowling a punk club. But if nothing else, watch it for Moss’s cover of Bryan Adams’ ‘Heaven’. Absolutely wondrous.
- Pete’s Dragon (2016, d. David Lowery)
Is this the best Disney remake? I’m going to say yes, absolutely. Between his directing work on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story, David Lowery took on this family focused project telling the story of a young orphan boy named Pete who lives with a dragon in the forest. Stripping away the music and schmaltz of the 1977 original, this Pete’s Dragon is a soulful and enchanting look at friendship, and the trials of growing up and moving on. It fizzes with warmth, and its emotional depth belies its origins.
- Crimson Peak (2015, d. Guillermo del Toro)
Guillermo del Toro is a man of many interests. But perhaps nothing sums him up better than the 2013-15 one/two punch of Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. Both could easily sit in this list, but for me Crimson Peak is by far the most misunderstood and overlooked film (to be fair, it is quite hard to misunderstand the film where giant robots punch giant monsters). An operatic, gory, gothic horror romance which unashamedly leans into the theatrics of it all, this is certainly not Pan’s Labyrinth reborn. Instead, it’s a sumptuous reimagining of the classics, with a twisted scene stealing double act in Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain as the sibling owners of Crimson Peak.
- MacGruber (2010, d. Jorma Taccone)
First a Saturday Night Live sketch, then this movie, now a TV series; the many iterations of MacGruber all share the comedy genius of Will Forte as the titular send up of MacGyver, and if the TV show is even half as funny as the film, it’ll be unmissable. MacGruber definitely isn’t subtle, but that’s where the charm lies. This is a film with Airplane! core to its DNA, the thump-thump of one joke landing, another maybe not hitting but don’t worry, here’s a a quotable line which will have you howling. To take it seriously, as some notable critics did, is to truly miss the point. This is a film which delights in its own knowing sense of witless charm. Plus Rock My Body is an absolute banger of a song.
- Slow West (2015, d. John MacClean)
Headlined by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender, this alt-western decidedly lives up to its name as the mismatched pair take an almost absurdist trip across the American West. At times a coming-of-age tale, Slow West flips from comedy to intense violence, all the while building to a chaotic, cathartic showdown in the finale. For fans of film who think maybe the Western is played out, Slow West is a fine counterpoint.
- A Field In England (2013, d. Ben Wheatley)
The 2010s were a mixed bag for Ben Wheatley. He began the decade with the one-two punch of Kill List and Sightseers, showcasing his versatility and freshness. He ended with the less acclaimed Free Fire and the widely derided Rebecca (although that was 2020, so technically not the 2010s). In between came High Rise and A Field In England, two fascinating pieces, but of which High Rise tends to get the most notice. However I contend that A Field In England is to be Wheatley’s definitive film of his career. A hallucinogenic dive into the English Civil War, it tracks several deserters as they descend into madness across a misty battle field. Subversive in form and content, it distills the weirdness of Wheatley and writer Amy Jump into something not quite tangible, but more substantial than their later work.
- See You Yesterday (2019, d. Stefon Bristol)
A smart time travel film focused on social justice and running in at 80 minutes? What more could you want? Well how about exciting new talents in both writer-director Stefon Bristol and lead Eden Duncan-Smith? And one more thing; it’s Michael J Fox’s final film role before his retirement in 2020. See You Yesterday conceit is simple; can CJ save her brother from being killed in a police shooting by using a time machine she has recently invented? From this you not only have a fast-paced genre thriller, but also a moral quagmire of decisions gone wrong but for the right reasons.
- Under The Silver Lake (2018, d. David Robert Mitchell)
I thought this film was horrible when I first saw it. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Which then I realised was probably the whole point of it. David Robert Mitchell’s next film after the critically acclaimed It Follows, Under The Silver Lake is an LA set neo-noir following Andrew Garfield’s Sam, a drifting though life hipster who finds meaning when investigating the sudden vanishing of his next door neighbour. This draws him into a mind-bending quest involving conspiracy theories, Hollywood parties, a prostitution ring of struggling actresses, and a meeting with the Homeless King. All of it could be connected, all of it could be in Sam’s mind. It’s a sprawling, ambitious, absolute mess of a film, with Garfield playing such an unlikeable lead that it’s almost off-putting, before you become enthralled with his commitment to the cause.
- Colossal (2016, d. Nacho Vigalondo)
It’s the film where Anne Hathaway controls a Godzilla type monster! And that’s all most people probably know about this gem. Which is a huge shame, as Nacho Vigalondo (whose film TimeCrimes remains one of the best of this century) has crafted a genre mash-up which is so much more than a gimmicky pitch. Themes of self-hatred, abuse, cycles of destruction, and bonds that tie us down are played out between Hathaway and co-star Jason Sudeikis’s duelling monsters. This is a film that demands a closer look.
- The Edge Of Seventeen (2016, d. Kelly Fremon Craig)
A coming of age drama, The Edge Of Seventeen distinguishes itself by a few different things. Firstly, there is the tight script and direction from debut writer-director Kelly Fremon-Craig, which makes this tale of two best friends seem authentic in a way which so often teen dramas fail at, while never forgetting this is a film designed to entertain. Secondly, Hailee Steinfield delivers a stunning central performance which illustrates just why she is one of the finest young actors working today.
- The Guest (2014, d. Adam Wingard)
Before he was the man who saved going to the movies with Godzilla Vs Kong, Adam Wingard made his reputation with a series of horror and thriller genre films, including You’re Next and Blair Witch. But for my money, The Guest is the best. Completely reinventing himself after his turn on Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens plays a US soldier called David, who unexpectedly turns up at the home of the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in combat. Obviously all is not as it seems, and as the bodies pile up, only Anna (It Follows’ Maika Monroe) is suspicious of their new houseguest. A homage to the classic 80s films of Carpenter and Cameron, The Guest is a huge amount of fun, with a ridiculously charismatic Stevens making the whole thing endlessly rewatchable.
- Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (2012, d. Peter Lord)
Based on the beloved 2004 book of the same name (although titled The Pirates! Band Of Misfits in the US, Australia and New Zealand), this beautiful stop motion film essentially proves that Aardman can’t make a bad film, and that their claim to being the greatest UK film studio is pretty legitimate. Hugh Grant can barely contain his glee as he voices the Pirate Captain, and the endless smart gags on display shames most other comedies trying to operate on this level, let alone wrapping it all in a family friendly adventure film which if there was any justice would be a holiday staple for years to come.
- Cloud Atlas (2012, d. The Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer)
Ambitious doesn’t even cover it. Based on David Mitchell’s astounding, time and genre hopping novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas answers the question ‘what if the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer decided to cast every actor ever and make a sci-fi epic?’ The book was long considered unfilmable, but Cloud Atlas very nearly succeeds. It’s big, it’s messy, it spans six different stories with actors swapping roles, and it almost collapses in on itself multiple times. But it’s also triumphant, lyrical, and brings to life the profound personal introspection the novel makes you feel.
- The Double (2013, d. Richard Ayoade)
Richard Ayoade’s follow up to Submarine was this adaptation of the 1846 Fyodor Dostoyevsky Novella of the same name. Most people found themselves wanting Submarine part two, and were turned off by the experimental and minimalist style of the whole thing. While yes, this is a film more to be admired than loved, for those wanting wanting to relish in a superlative dual performances from Jesse Eisenberg, in what is easily the match of his work in The Social Network, and the artistic prowess of a director who can seemingly succeed at anything he wants, then The Double is more than worth your time.
- Eighth Grade (2018, d. Bo Burnham)
When he’s not creating generation-defining work about how a large portion of the population felt about living through a global pandemic, which also upends ideas of a what a comedy special can be, Bo Burnham is also a brilliant director (as well as actor, with his turn in Promising Young Woman a highlight in a film full of them). With an innate understanding of social media and its role in teenagers lives, Eighth Grade is an exploration of anxiety and its debilitating consequences. As much of Burnham’s work is, this is framed through smart, sensitive, yet devastating comedy moments, which shine with authenticity. Of course, none of this would work without the talents of Elsie Fisher, who plays the lead role of Kayla. She is utterly believable as a young woman struggling to define herself in, and understand, a world she can’t control.
- ParaNorman (2012, d. Sam Fell & Chris Butler)
A love letter to classic monster movies, but somewhat overshadowed by the release of Tim Burton’s FrankenWeenie later that year, ParaNorman is a beautiful stop-motion animation from the makers of Coraline. While perhaps not in that film’s league, instead we have a tale about young boy who can speak with the dead. For a film so concerned with death, the joyful message of celebrating life absolutely shines through. I can’t think of many family films which tackle issues of inclusion, mortality, acceptance and understanding with such aplomb.
- Them That Follow (2019, d. Britt Poulton & Dan Madison Savage)
This ultra-low budget character study wearing the clothes of a thriller was criminally ignored upon its release in 2019. Just look at the cast, with Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Jim Gaffigan, Thomas Mann and Alice Englert all performing miracles as members of a remote rural religious community in Appalachia. Presiding over the congregation is Walton Goggins, who is absolutely phenomenal as the snake-handling pastor who’s flock have a nasty habit of being bitten. While the tension of the storyline comes from an illicit love affair, it’s the atmosphere and the little details which keep you riveted, before Goggins enters the scene and mesmerizes you.
- How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017, d. John Cameron Mitchell)
I love this gloriously strange movie from Hedwig And The Angry Inch director John Cameron Mitchell, and based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. In 1970s England, punk loving Enn (Alex Sharp) comes across a group of fellow teenagers which include Zan (Elle Fanning). It turns out Zan is actually an alien, here on Earth to complete a rite of passage. The pair quickly fall in love, with Zan experiencing the wild individual joy of punk, which sets her against her conformist alien society. Throw in Nicole Kidman as punk den mother, Matt Lucas and Ruth Wilson as alien leaders, and a kinetic, ramshackle plot, production design, and performances, and you have a film which wears its outsider status proudly, fitting for its punk protagonists.
- John Carter (2012, d. Andrew Stanton)
Oh John Carter, how you live in infamy. A quick recap for those asleep at the back. An adaptation of the beloved Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, directed by acclaimed Pixar director Andrew Stanton, and starring a cavalcade of Hollywood talent including Taylor Kitsch, Bryan Cranston, and Mark Strong. It was anticipated for decades. It currently ranks as the biggest Hollywood box office bomb of all time, adjusted for inflation, with a roughly $225 million loss (as reported at the time). Ouch. Yet this is a film which is often an absolute joy to behold, with incredible visuals, and a pulpy sense of adventure which rings true to its roots. It’s certainly better than all the of the Michael Bay Transformers films, which while sounds like I’m damning John Carter with faint praise, hopefully encourages you to give this a shot. Perfect Saturday film.
- Widows (2018, d. Steve McQueen)
I’m genuinely torn on how I feel about Widows, but there’s no doubt that this film is criminally underrated. Steve McQueen adapts the Linda LaPlante TV series with an all star cast featuring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. Perhaps it falls into the trap of not being trashy fun enough for the thriller it wants to be, but paradoxically too much fun to be taken as seriously as the rest of McQueen’s work. However, it shines as a somewhat rough diamond, with explosive performances and a script from Gillian Flynn that will keep you on your toes the whole way through.
- Plus One (2019, d. Geoff Chan & Andrew Rhymer)
If this was released in the 90s, we would be talking about Plus One as a staple of the genre, up there with Sleepless In Seattle, Four Weddings And A Funeral, and Clueless. Not for any great reinvention of the genre, as while the story of two long time friends who agree to be each other’s ‘plus one’ at a hectic wedding season is cute, it’s not boundary pushing. Instead, we have some of the best chemistry between leads in a very long time. Maya Erskine from PEN15 and Jack Quaid from The Boys absolutely sing together. Plus One does what very few rom-coms manage, and gets you to believe in their relationship, root for them to succeed, and be charmed head over heels while it happens.
- Melancholia (2011, d. Lars Von Trier)
Ten years after its release, Melancholia only becomes more relevant and prescient than ever. A doomsday sci-fi focused on two sisters, Justine played by Kirsten Dunst and Claire played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, we follow their story over two parts. Part one is Justine’s wedding day, where her life is in total collapse due to her depression. Part two is later, where a rogue planet is on a collision course with the Earth. This has sparked a seeming improvement in Justine, while Claire’s ‘perfect’ life is completely undone. While an incredibly insightful exploration of depression and the pain it causes, I also can’t help but note that Justine’s ‘improvement’ in the face of disaster lined up with how many who catastrophised through anxiety felt when the worst came true as Covid circled the globe.
- Hell Or High Water (2016, d. David Mackenzie)
Despite the omnipresent success of his show Yellowstone, and the many nominations this film received, somehow (somehow) Taylor Sheridan remains underrated? Pulling writing duties here, his influence is unmistakable. My working theory is that he makes what is considered a very old style of writing and filmmaking, which is pretty unsexy to many, and beloved by a huge audience that probably isn’t very vocal online. It’s solid and dependable, like your favourite truck. Gets the job done perfectly, and doesn’t need to be flashy about it. Either way, Hell Or High Water is the platonic ideal of what a Sheridan-verse film should be. Great actors (Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges) do great work in a story of two brothers who become bank robbers to save their ranch. An unsparing look at modern America not often shown in films, with all the problems highlighted. A longing for a way of life that might not have ever existed.
- First Man (2018, d. Damien Chazelle)
I imagine no-one expected Damien Chazelle to follow up two critically acclaimed music focused films with a understated, intensely personal biopic of Neil Armstrong, but here we are. And I’m incredibly glad he did. Ryan Gosling as Armstrong uses his presence to do what he has done a few times now to great effect, hinting at a great well of emotion roiling under a stoic veneer. Justin Hurwitz confirms his place in the top tier of modern movie composers, with his ‘The Landing’ soundtracking what has to be one of the most stunning film sequences this century, let alone the last few years. How this left audiences and critics seemingly underwhelmed I will never know, but I’m glad it exists.
- The Hate U Give (2018, d. George Tillman Jr)
Based on the young adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give tells the story of a young black man killed by the police, and his best friends efforts to gain justice while keeping her home life in a black neighbourhood and her school life at majority white private school separate. Unfortunately only more and more relevant with each passing day, The Hate U Give showcases a searing and sensational lead performance from Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter. Through her, the film builds its ferocity and anger at the injustice of it all, and the inescapable rawness of life in modern America.
- Fast Color (2018, d. Julia Hart)
Well, superhero films have certainly come a long way in a decade. If the 2000s finally showed that audiences would take comics seriously on-screen, the 2010s began to get wilder with their breadth of genre. Superhero films could basically be anything they wanted, and Fast Color demonstrates this with a generational tale of women dealing with powers, and how the trauma and anxiety of them will often smother the inspiration and change they can bring. Gugu Mbatha Raw is at the centre of this, anchoring the film when it occasionally loses focus, and always making sure the human element, rather than the superhuman, is the most important and interesting thing here.
- Prospect (2018, d. Zeek Earl & Christopher Caldwell)
Proof that low budget sci-fi is just as effective as the big blockbuster (arguably more so), Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell’s sublime directorial debut follows a father and daughter as they take on a mining mission to an alien moon, which while looks beautiful, is inhospitable to human life. It’s a film which is economical in the very best way at setting up relationships, with the opening scenes dedicated to Jay Duplass as the father, and the phenomenal Sophie Thatcher as his daughter. The world building is tight, the stakes clearly set up, but the fun really begins when Pedro Pascal shows up as a rival prospector. Imagine if his Mando had taken a darker path, and that’s what you’re getting here.
- Snowpiercer (2013, d. Bong Joon-ho)
Based on a 1980s French sci-fi comic, directed by the incomparable Bong Joon-ho, and starring America’s Ass Chris Evans, the fact that Snowpiercer isn’t a celebrated household film is baffling. Even with the recent TV series adaptation, this is still a film that far too many have on their ‘oh yeah, I’ll probably watch that one day’ list. Set on a train that circles the Earth keeping the last vestiges of humanity safe after an apocalypse, Snowpiercer has Evans leading a revolution against the elites of the train. Aided by the talents of Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Jaime Bell, and Alison Pill, Snowpiercer is an invigorating, often absurd, slice of sci-fi excellence.
- The Lost City Of Z (2016, d. James Gray)
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, The Lost City Of Z portrays the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who made several expeditions to find a fabled lost city in the Amazon, only to eventually be lost without trace when on an expedition with his son. Charlie Hunnam gives a career-best performance as the haunted, driven Fawcett, with Robert Pattinson serving notice of what an extraordinary talent he is with his portrayal of fellow explorer Henry Costin, imbuing the supporting role with a bone-weary yet hopeful aura. But this is a film that is truly about duty, whether that is duty to your own self-interest, or duty to your family. Fawcett is compelled by both, at times in complete opposition.
- Leave No Trace (2018, d. Debra Granik)
Debra Granik follows up Winter’s Bone with another slam dunk, yet again with an astonishing lead performance from a young actor. In this case, it’s Thomasin McKenzie, playing a young girl who lives with her PTSD suffering father illegally in a forest near Portland. If there is one word for this quiet, thoughtful film, it’s empathy. Watching it you can’t help but understand the situation the pair find themselves in, and even if it’s in both their interests to be reintegrated with society, you still hope they can outrun the authorities just one more day. Ben Foster is exceptional as the father, but he knows this is truly McKenzie’s show, and allows her room to shine completely.
- Dredd (2012, d. Pete Travis)
I’m going to make a bold claim; I think Dredd is my favourite comic book adaptation made to date. From writer Alex Garland, who also directed the film according to reports, Dredd brings the Judge Dredd series to life, with Karl Urban donning the famous helmet and fully becoming the law. A million miles away from Sylvester Stallone’s ill-judged 90s effort, this time Judge Dredd is assigned to evaluate new recruit Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) as the pair investigate a high-rise drug den ruled by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). While the film delivers its action set pieces in spades, with practical effects and a satisfying realism to proceedings, it’s in the way it perfectly conveys the satire and bleakness of the 2000AD comic. It’s subtle, and always in service of the story, but the dead-pan nature of it all is unmistakable.
- Maiden (2018, d. Alex Holmes)
True story, a friend of mine once bumped into Henry Winkler at a shoe store. They got talking, and Winkler rhapsodised about Maiden, telling my friend it made him cry. Well, I am happy to report that The Fonz is spot on with his film recommendations, as Maiden is an absolute emotional triumph. Through archive and interviews, it tells the story of sailor Tracy Edwards as she rises from stewardess to captaining the first all female round the world racing yacht crew. Even if you’ve never been on a boat in your life, you will be enthralled as the tension mounts, egos clash, and the women struggle against both misogyny and the elements to achieve their dreams. By the ending you’ll either be punching the air, or weeping Fonz style.
- Sing Street (2016, d. John Carney)
How this isn’t regularly lauded as one of the best modern musicals is beyond me. Set in 1980s Dublin, the film tells the story of teenage Connor moving school, starting a band, and falling in love, while dreaming of escape from Ireland. Towing the line between harsh kitchen-sink style realism, and wish-fulfilment fantasy pop, Sing Street is a movie so full of heart, charm, and exuberance that I defy anyone to have a bad time watching it. It doesn’t hurt either that the 80s influenced tunes are absolute bangers either.
- Ingrid Goes West (2017, d. Matt Spicer)
Aubrey Plaza is perfectly cast as Ingrid, a desperate, angry young woman whose life is consumed with social media, leading to an obsession with infiltrating the seemingly perfect world of Elizabeth Olsen’s influencer. While an often uncomfortable watch, I would also argue that it’s a completely necessary one in today’s world. Ingrid is harrowingly relatable, and the film also spares no-one else in its merciless gaze – Wyatt Russell as the seemingly nice partner of Olsen, but actually as horrendous as the rest of them typifies what you’re getting here. A generational film.
- The Love Witch (2016, d. Anna Biller)
Feminist filmmaker Anna Biller writes, directs, edits, produces and scores this absolute masterpiece of marrying theme to image and performance. A superb Samantha Robinson owns the film as Elaine, a witch who moves to a small town in Northern California and proceeds to cast a spell over the men of the town in her search for the perfect lover. While set in modern day, The Love Witch wouldn’t look out of place in a 60s horror marathon. But behind the campy charm and playful storyline is a damning look at gender inequality and the entire concept of why we have vilified the witch in society. The Love Witch may look light and breezy, but its heart is black, in the best possible way.
- Minding The Gap (2018, d. Bing Liu)
Bing Liu’s debut is a documentary that only comes around once every few decades. Set in Rockford, Illinois, it follows Bing and his two friends he met through skateboarding; Keire and Zack. All are from abusive homes, and have chosen the logical family of each other over the biological family that has betrayed them. But is it enough to undo the cycles of abuse? An absolutely astonishing portrait of masculinity, race, domestic trauma, economic hardship, and class in modern America, this is a film that challenges almost every belief you hold.
- Sorry To Bother You (2018, d. Boots Riley)
In Boots Riley’s astonishing debut film, Lakeith Stanfield plays Cash, a struggling black man who takes on a telemarketing job in order to earn money. However, once there he learns to use his ‘white voice’ on calls, which leads to incredible work success. This, though, is just the start of the places this film will be going. A political satire, state of the world address, and anti-capitalist polemic, Sorry To Bother You mashes up dark comedy with absurdist fantasy, all while (just about) keeping its story of how power corrupts on track. It truly is an unforgettable film, and for it to be a first feature is truly extraordinary.
- Annihilation (2018, d. Alex Garland)
Based on the acclaimed Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name, Alex Garland’s follow up to the superlative Ex Machina is hypnotic, beautiful, confounding, and challenging. Exactly the type of sci-fi we say isn’t being made anymore. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist tasked with leading a team of scientists into a mysterious area known as The Shimmer, a place transformed by an alien meteorite into a world where DNA is rewritten and nothing makes sense. Lucky for Natalie Portman, her team includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and Gina Rodriguez, so she’s got some serious back-up. I think what really makes Annihilation sing, and why it is far too often dismissed, is its refusal to give you any answers. The film wants the audience to do the work, take their own meaning from what they are seeing on-screen, and digest the questions raised slowly and thoughtfully. In an age of internet explainers, this is a bold and uncompromising vision for a film, and I’m hugely impressed Garland made it happen.
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