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Top of the Tens: The Best Films of the Decade by Graeme Clark

  There were loads of terrific films in the 2010s, from the multiplex to the arthouse, but here's my Top 30, followed by the runners-up by year. You can't go wrong with these, either for sheer entertainment or for intellectual stimulation - both at once, in some cases.

Top Thirty:

1: Love & Mercy (2014)
Paul Dano and John Cusack take the role of pop genius Brian Wilson at two stages of his life, the biggest success leading to his breakdown, and the consequences of that decades later. As a study of mental illness, from one of the world's unique talents, it should be alienating, but its immense compassion made it both relatable and desperately moving.

2: Captain Phillips (2013)
This tale of a real life hijack neglected to emphasise the wayward decisions of the titular Captain, but it did not matter to the story Paul Greengrass wanted to tell, a masterclass in acting from Tom Hanks and a reminder to check your privilege, ending in a scene of quiet devastation at the terrible set of circumstances that brings business like this about.

3: Toy Story 3 (2010)
One of the great franchises, cartoon or otherwise, considers what it means to pass on and not matter anymore. Andy's toys have been consigned to the attic, but yearn to be part of his life again: that will never happen - or will it? The hope would be heartbreaking, but that they are brought to reckon with their demise was incredibly brave. OK, there was another sequel that was pretty great.

4: We Are the Best! (2013)
Who cares about little girls, anyway? Lukas Moodysson does, in this tribute to his wife, from whose memoir this coming of age comedy was adapted. As they set up their own punk band, with one song to their name, this underdog account was frequently hilarious, perceptive in a way that many other teen movies are not, and convinces you the title has a point.

5: Tower (2016)
In a decade where armed men with grudges managed to make the world seem a lot more dangerous, it was not merely instructive to go back to Charles Whitman's sniper attack of 1966, it was vital, and this part-animated documentary was both harrowing and full of affirmation that most people are basically decent, and will not stand for mass murder.

6: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
For many, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight had been the final word in Batman movies, so the fact he followed it up with an even better finale was an achievement in itself. It expands to fill the near-three-hour space in a way that suggests the advantages of the comic medium, and a perfect cast delivers the message about chaos not being allowed to reign. Anne Hathaway shone.

7: Magic Magic (2013)
This film was doomed for many audiences the second it was labelled a horror, when in fact it was a painfully credible depiction of a young woman, played by Juno Temple, suffering a mental collapse in the worst place possible, cut adrift from any comfort or assistance. She was nothing short of brilliant: in a decade focussing on mental health, this is completely necessary viewing.

8: The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
Peter Strickland had a very good 10s, ploughing his own furrow born of his own personal obsessions that somehow appealed to a wider, if cult, following. The two leads, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D'Anna, saw their relationship threatened in a fantasy lesbian land, leading to a superbly acted confrontation where their reverie buckles and tears.

9: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
What is there left to say about one of the most divisive blockbusters of all time? You cannot even mention it in passing without starting a heated argument, which is both testament to its bravery and its stubborn reluctance to play by the Star Wars rules, even placing the conflict into question (at last!). Finally, a reason to be engaged with the biggest franchise of all, once again.

10: Game Night (2018)
The breakout cult comedy of the decade, an exquisitely well-cast and genuinely hilarious shaggy dog story of a group of social gamesplayers whose fun gets way out of hand, far more than they realise. Jesse Plemons threatened to steal the movie as the creepy would-be participant, but Rachel McAdams won the night with a stunningly well-crafted comic turn.

11: I Saw the Devil (2010)
South Korean cinema went from strength to strength this decade, eclipsing both Hong Kong and Japan for genre movies, but this one was the finest thriller it produced, a blistering suspenser about cop Lee Byung-hun tracking down serial killer Choi Min-sik and losing possession of his soul in the process. Violent, wildly exciting, but finally sobering and emotional.

12: Us (2019)
Jordan Peele seemed to signal a new respect for horror with his debut hit Get Out (Oscar-nominated, no less), but this follow-up was less successful with audiences. Their loss, this was an improvement on an already impressive piece, a study of identity and the dangers of complacency with a standout lead from Lupita Nyong'o that took so many risks it was bracing.

13: The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent took the monster in the kid's closet subplot of Cujo, and came to a similar conclusion, that monsters are all too real. But rather than killing them, what you have to do is come to terms with them, as you must do with all life's slings and arrows in this resonant horror that accepted some people never get better, but that doesn't mean they cannot cope.

14: Train to Busan (2016)
South Korea could deliver on horror too. The zombie subgenre was the most overlaboured of the 10s, demonstrating the fear of crowds the world has more than anything, but Yeon Sang-ho's contribution was one of a select few that breathed new life into its shambling corpse, a ripsnorting action shocker that relentlessly pares away its cast to excellent effect.

15: Toni Erdmann (2016)
A three-hour comedy of emotional discomfort is not everyone's idea of a cheery visit to the pictures, but Maren Ade's painfully funny, often absolutely ridiculous, story of a perfectly sensible businesswoman sabotaged by her perfectly non-sensible father was both insightful and riveting. You'll never listen to Whitney Houston the same way again.

16: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Who would have believed the Planet of the Apes franchise would be revived, not only as a financial success, but an artistic one as well? This took the basic framework of 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and worked wonders with it, a warning against oppressors and an environmental reminder that humanity was not necessarily going to stay on top of the tree.

17: Christine (2016)
Again with the mental illness, it was a definite theme in this era, and nowhere as keenly played as in Rebecca Hall's brilliant performance as the real-life 1970s television reporter Christine Chubbuck who took drastic action when her life hit a dead end. Even if you know her fate, it does not make the film any less harrowing, nor Hall any less overwhelming.

18: Computer Chess (2013)
Is it a science fiction movie? Is it a comedy? What is it trying to say about topics such as evolution, technology, relationships? The true enigma of the decade was Andrew Bujalski's look back at a non-existent computer chess tournament, managing to be creepy, funny and weirdly haunting as A.I. takes centre stage, only to be absurdly foiled by the weather.

19: Under the Silver Lake (2018)
One of the most misunderstood films of the period, this caustic riposte to anyone who thought they have the world figured out from the privileged position of their own (and others') pet conspiracy theories was an epic ramble around Los Angeles that evoked the 1970s, yet implied that was where the seeds of the modern malaise of fake news and swallowing self-serving bullshit had begun.

20: Three Identical Strangers (2017)
A most astonishing documentary in a very strong field, the less you knew about these men going in the better. Starting with one of the strangers on his first day of college finding everyone recognises him, this escalates into tragedy and a conspiracy so dense the film is not allowed to get to grips with it. Shocking, angering and saddening in equal measure.

21: Super (2010)
Is it ironic director James Gunn went onto make superhero movies with the big two - Marvel and DC - when earlier he had crafted this scathing takedown of the whole concept of costumed vigilantes? Pretty much stating these characters had to be psychopathic to succeed, it had far more to say than the smug, belittling Kick-Ass which stole its thunder.

22: Force Majeure (2014)
Toxic masculinity was a seeming epidemic throughout the 10s, but there was an optimism that if it was called out, there was the capacity for change. The self-centred, callous behaviour that fuelled it was nowhere more sharply depicted here, where a father's sudden exposure of his pathetic soul on a skiing holiday was both achingly hilarious and witheringly frank.

23: One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Yeah, yeah, zombies again - but this time, well, not really. Without giving the game away, what seems like an invasion of the undead is revealed, via one bravura, unbroken shot, to be a highly amusing comedy set-up that falls into place in such an ingenious way you want to applaud. Proof that tiny budget can succeed with one superb idea at its heart.

24: BlacKkKlansman (2018)
The Oscars gave veteran director Spike Lee reason to celebrate and reason to denigrate when this lost out to the banal Green Book for Best Picture, but gave him his first award (for his screenplay). Few will remember that other movie, but Lee's based on fact exposé of his society's racism was cool-headed and uncompromisingly revealing, warning us it had not gone away since the 1970s.

25: Pitch Perfect (2012)
Musicals could be justifiably said to have made a comeback in the 10s with a number of big hitters, but none were as hilarious or had the sheer joy in the power of pop songs than this did, screenwriter Kay Cannon offering a terrific script that a cast of well-honed voices went to town on. The sequels were good, but this acapella-fest was the cream of the crop.

26: Mustang (2015)
Another trend saw women interact in groups, and nowhere more poignantly than the Turkish sisters of Mustang, who start their film in strong, happy solidarity, but then find the constraints of a society that refuses to allow them to express themselves in even the slightest instance of individuality too much to bear. Nevertheless, even with this situation, there is hope.

27: Tabloid (2010)
Errol Morris continued to further his particular cause this decade with his technique of allowing his subjects enough rope to hang themselves, yet few were as willing or enthusiastic as Joyce McKinney, one time tabloid sensation of the 70s who kidnapped a Mormon as a (supposed) love slave and it only got weirder from there. Students of bizarre human behaviour would have a field day.

28: Denial (2016)
As world politics veered to the right, at times the extreme right, this dramatization of the infamous Holocaust denial case of self-styled historian David Irving was one of the most relevant of the era, worth far more attention than it received. Eschewing sensationalism, its calm, measured approach hit all the harder when you understood the essentials of humanity being questioned.

29: 45 Years (2015)
As much a cautionary tale to listen to the lyrics of songs as it was one to point out you may not know the heart of those closest to you, this Andrew Haigh drama of an elderly married couple built up to one of the cruellest, most sobering yet wordless conclusions of the decade. Charlotte Rampling's chilly persona was never more powerfully taken apart.

30: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
When the internet was employed for cheap laughs or lazy plot points in so many other areas, here was a film that took the bull by the horns and questioned what we really got out of it, and highlighted the seismic shifts it has created in global society. Not only that, but it was hilariously funny and wonderfully colourful too. And if it makes you think twice before hitting "post", great.

And now the Runners-Up, worthy of a Top 100:

Easy A
The Other Guys
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Tucker and Dale vs Evil

The Act of Killing
The Artist
The Guard
The Muppets
Project Nim
Red State
Young Adult

The Hunt
Iron Sky
Room 237
A Royal Affair
Wreck-It Ralph

Before Midnight
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Kings of Summer
Only Lovers Left Alive
The World's End

Big Hero 6
The Guest
Inherent Vice
The Lego Movie
They Came Together
Two Days, One Night

The Big Short
Chuck Norris vs Communism
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out

I, Daniel Blake
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land
The Nice Guys
Under the Shadow

Faces Places
The Farthest
First Reformed
Funny Cow
Lady Bird
The Lego Batman Movie
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

American Animals
Cold War
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Woman at War

A Good Woman is Hard to Find
Little Monsters
Long Shot
Missing Link
System Crasher
Toy Story 4

Better mention the decade's worst, too, though let us not dwell on the Bottom 10, in no particular order:

Dracula 3D (2012)
Dario Argento - possibly the most drastic descent of a great talent? This certainly looked like it.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019)
I didn't excuse Tarantino's cruel revenge fantasies on a real tragedy, but this is ten times worse.

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
As horror movies continue to be remade and sequelised, this especially had no justification.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)
A fascinating real-life case descended into total, fanciful, self-serving bullshit for a couple of frauds.

Manglehorn (2014)
Looking for a film so horrendously precious it will drive you up the wall? Look no further.

Caniba (2017)
A murderer who got away with his crime is celebrated in excruciating closeup. Who does this help?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Phoney-baloney teenage pandering that was shown up by far better teen movies this decade.

The Gunman (2015)
Basically: Sean Penn beats up all the actors he suspects are more talented than him.

The Green Inferno (2013)
Eli Roth puts the climate change activists in their place. Who needs a better world, right?

Leprechaun Origins (2014)
Never the greatest of franchises, even that one did not deserve this travesty.

A turbulent decade, then, but for film it was creative, thought-provoking and entertaining if you knew where to look. And remember: plenty of movies are simply fine, no more, no less.
Author: Graeme Clark.


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