Buckle up boys, we’re about to go on a super subjective, entirely unfounded journey through what I consider to be the best 12 films from 2010 to 2019.
But first, an apology to all the many other, much belovéd films that cannot be mentioned here today, compiling this list was incredibly difficult and in many ways, entirely arbitrary, however, I have certainly dwelt long enough on it. Here are my favourite films of the last decade.
A GHOST STORY (2017), dir. David Lowey
Casey Affleck manages to communicate solitary grief under a bed sheet. We watch Rooney Mara eat a pie for five minutes: it is melancholy, hilarious then devastating. Lowery asks us to consider how we are irrelevant sparks in grand, moving waves of time, and why that’s something to love, and a reason to love.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsey
The film you wanted Joker to be; similar components but far better in execution. We follow Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, through his unstable conception of life as a veteran with punishing PTSD, in his new role as hired muscle/investigator specialising in the kidnapping and sex trafficking of underage girls. As usual, a score from Johnny Greenwood (of Radiohead fame) is phenomenal, presenting Joe’s trauma and intense emotion as audible and tangible. Ramsey is the only female director to feature on this list, which I *am* furious about, but also serves to demonstrate how distorted and prevalent the gender and power dynamic is in the film industry, to be so evident in even a brief, sweeping overview of the decade’s finest films.
TIMBUKTU (2015), dir. Abderrahmane Sissako
A film which holds a calm decorum, and gently cheeky humour, in the face of the increasingly agitated Islamic fundamentalists who impose themselves on the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali in 2012. Check out Amine Bouhafa’s ‘Timbuktu Fasso’, featuring Fatoumata Diawara, whose relaxed but moving vocals encapsulates the tragic destruction of Mali’s rich culture, in song, community and artefact, that the region contended with.
12. PHANTOM THREAD (2016), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Let yourself become entirely endeared by the world of 1950s couture in London. Daniel Day-Lewis is, naturally, remarkable as the obsessive, spoilt and distressed artist, Reynold Woodcock.
The delicacy of tailoring and embroidery echoes through Paul Thomas Anderson’s emphasis on long takes and silent focus, which allow us to slowly take in the privileged, aesthetic world where dressmaker, Woodcock, falls in love with his muse and model. Each shot functions as a work of art and you are given time to appreciate its subtle joining of a muted English palette to moments of great passion. Enjoy the ardour that will build as Day-Lewis orders a full English breakfast. Another score from Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, I could not recommend this soundtrack more. String-heavy, fluttering and romantic - you are swept away in so many senses.
11. SPOTLIGHT (2016), dir. Tim McCarthy
Spotlight expects a lot of its audience and subjects us to the pacing and content of information one expects of an room of unforgiving investigative journalism. Dealing with the first un-earthings of the extent of child abuse within the Catholic church by the Boston Globe in 2002, the real-life reporters are offered their due accolade through unembellished, sincere portrayals.
While the film races ahead with mounting tension as the size of the scandal is revealed, there is still space for moments of heart-breaking empathy alongside bitter understanding, where the courage of the insistent whistle-blowing of the reporters and the victims themselves, pour through.
10. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), dir. George Miller
George Miller’s long anticipated follow-up to his post-apocalyptic Australian action films released in the 1970s, speaks perhaps even more loudly now than when released in 2015. Set in a post-ecological collapse where humanity has destroyed itself through its plight for energy, non-verbal Tom Hardy as Mad Max, and a ruthless Charlize Theron as amputée Furiosa, are images of survival.
The film is essentially an extended car chase, but a distinctly female notion of hope travels through the narrative, moving from depiction of female exploitation, wherein suitable women are kept as prisoners for breeding, into the set-up for a matriarchal society to take over from the testosterone-fuelled violence, the war bands that rule the wasteland. Not a subtle metaphor, but you love to see it.
9. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017), dir. Luca Guadagnino
A familiar, if classic, story of a summer fling but undeniably visually beautiful. Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 coming-of-age film while adding a new, irrevocable weight to peaches.
Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet’s easy, erotic chemistry lift the film’s formulaic narrative, allowing the audience to fall indulgently into its languid summer Italian shots and pervasive classical allusions, most present as a Roman statue is dragged, emerging prophetically, out of a lake. The impending heartbreak arch is given further depth by the father of Elio’s closing speech: to fully realise his grief instead of hardening because of it.
8. IT FOLLOWS (2015), dir. David Robert Mitchell
A giant scary metaphor. Drawing on cursed chain-mails of the early 2000s that gave a pre-teen me nightmares and the still prevalent STI stigma. Another iteration of contemporary monster-construction. The way to induct the curse upon yourself? Have sex.
David Robert Mitchell works in dialogue with overwrought virgin tropes in the horror genre and even longer standing social structures of demonisation regarding female promiscuity. The nature of the beast lends itself to crippling suspense over cheap jump scares as our monster is a shape-shifting demon who only moves at a slow walking pace, but cannot be stopped or deterred except by deferring the curse on to another, unwilling, participant through a further sex act. Mitchell evokes a fear that lingers for days in exposing the shame embedded in our society, of harbouring disease and its transmission.
7. INCEPTION (2010), dir. Christopher Nolan
Just making the cut chronologically is Inception, released in 2010. Not only did Hans Zimmer’s signature soundtrack structure the fore-coming decade, known as the "BRAMMS" which seems to have been sampled in every action trailer since.
I could talk about the intricacies of Christopher Nolan’s dreams within dreams, how its logic is impeccably sound, because it is. Instead, I’ll focus on Leonardo Dicaprio’s portrayal of an utterly convincing, and fleshed-out, protagonist, Cobb. In a film in which almost 2/3rds consist of action sequences, while still presenting room for discourse around the internal logic of the subconscious state is commendable. We watch in a consistently unsettled orientation, questioning whether each scene stands as part of the dream of not, yet the clear narrative pace is maintained as we plummet through each level, be that a Paris-mock, a snow-scape or a limbo, rendering the film a success.
6. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018), dir. Boots Riley
A bizarre but superbly executed satire. A hugely exciting directorial debut that takes on the whole system. STBY is a chaotic and cutting commentary on capitalism; how class intersects with race in the prolific neo-liberal friendly and diverse corporate engines that we all know and hate.
Set in an alternate current day Oakland, we follow Cassius "Cash" Green’s journey up the corporate ladder against his friends and their activist protest group through a mix of the very real and the cartoonishly surreal in a visual amalgamation. While the plot strands veer out beyond control in the third act, Lakeith Stanfield’s strong charisma and the late entry of Armie Hammer, with his consistent, charming confidence, keep the momentum pushing forward as things semi-unify again at its denouement.
5. ARRIVAL (2016), dir. Denis Villenueve
A film that I feel snuck up on a lot of us with an understated release entirely matching the quite poise of Arrival’s aesethic as it probed scientific and philosophical questions.
Amy Adams holds the film, though Jeremy Renner offers up a typically consistent supporting role, but this is really a film about communication: parent to child, country to country and human to 'other'. Despite the potential for continuous originality that the science-fiction genre provides, it is rare to feel so completely refreshed by the subject matter of initial extraterrestrial contact as we explore the eventually through the eyes of a linguist. The two strands, of clinical, removed institutions of the military and the academic, even rendered in the grey palette used predominant in the sweeping shots which reinforce the philosophical themes central to the plot - of scale, and what really is important. Plus Jóhann Jóhannsson’s tense and haunting score, featuring eery looped vocals tie it all together.
4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), dir. David Fincher
My crush on Rooney Mara continues in 2010’s The Social Network, which has aged fantastically in the wake of Zuckerberg’s court appearances in relation to public data-usage. Alan Sorkin’s opening dialogue alone wins David Fincher’s biographical drama a place here, setting the pace as Jesse Eisenburg’s (pre-incel.) Zuckerberg operates a beat ahead of all those around him. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails kill it with a techo-grounded soundtrack that screams fanatic, caffeinated, coder.
The film perhaps somewhat loses momentum in the final third, which is often the case with biographies, but is still an entirely enjoyable masterpiece of screenwriting, direction and performance.
3. SICARIO (2015), dir. Denis Villenueve
Denis Villeneuve loves mono-titular films and he’s great at making them.
I love Sicario. It is so tightly formed, its pacing military, you feel the claustrophobic window of time as CIA task force, with FBI agent, Kate Macer, tracks a Mexican drug cartel before they disperse again, even as the camera offers a series of pans over the Arizona desert and the US-Mexico border that must have heavily contributed to the film’s winning one of its three academy awards for best cinematography. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is, again, the film’s beating heart, while Benicio del Toro’s mysterious sub-plot, which dips in and out of Emily Blunt’s POV comes into full disturbing focus in the film’s denouement.
What works here is how our protagonist, an isolated female character in a male-dominated environment, is not able to cut it. While there stands fair critique regarding the real-life plausibility of her character, her figure is essential for Villeneuve’s narrative. Naive FBI agent, Blunt, acts both as us, the viewer, and as protagonist. She stands as a justice, and run-time of Sicario lets her witness how justice is bent in the world of cartel violence, by groups both sides of the border. Instead of highlighting her helplessness, the magnitude and overwhelming lawless and exploitative chaos gang violence in the drug war on the border are simply made clearer.
2. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), dir. Martin McDonagh
A film that feels like a play, which is most likely due to the wonderful screenplay and direction of Martin McDonagh. Upon first viewing, I wonder, once the opening scene had featured the billboards up and present, where can the film go now? As I discovered, the film deftly navigates a gentle but insistent character study which is equally tense, comic and plaintive.
Frances McDormand as Mildred, a mother who sets herself against the local authorities when they fail to apprehend the man responsible for her daughter’s violent murder, is superb. We shift between entirely rooting for her, standing firm beside her in equal anguish, to perceiving her destructive behaviour. McDonagh perfectly generates a small town feel through the time we spend with the few key characters, in what perhaps feel often like darkly comic tangents but are still rendered intensely enjoyable by the consistently strong cast (Sam Rockwell, Caleb Laundry Jones, Woody Harrelson). Instead of intricate chronological layering which culminates in a final scene, where all the loose ends are neatly packaged, a popular trope of late, we are left with the sense that all the characters have travelled by the film’s close but not raced to the same finish line.
1. MIDSOMMAR (2019), dir. Ari Aster
I gave myself a 4 month break before rewatching Ari Aster’s stunning follow up to 2018's Hereditary. Perhaps I went in expecting a more psychological Cabin in the Woods, I did not expect to be slowly lowered into breathtaking, and an inherently female, mental anguish.
Florence Pugh as Dani is devastating, her portrayal of living with mental illness one of the best I’ve seen. Bobby Krlic’s classical score moves from dissonant and gut wrenching with ‘Gassed’, to a serene accompaniment in its closing ‘Fire Temple’. We watch Dani and Christian’s toxicity to one another implode amid the summertime rituals of a bizarre Swedish cult, strewn with flowers and an unyielding sunlight. All of this caught by a fluid, hovering camera that seems to move ahead of what our characters know. As in Hereditary, the film is steeped in a visceral grief. So much so that I don’t hasten to recommend the film to everyone. Make sure you’re in the right headspace first. Aster calls this a break-up film. It is this and so much more.
Slow Motion Panic Masters' Top 12 Films of the Decade:
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
4. The Social Network
6. Sorry To Bother You
8. It Follows
9. Call Me By Your Name
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
12. Phantom Thread
Holly Loveday is a student at King's College, London, studying English literature. She enjoys film, and hopes to leave the world of books behind in favour of staring into people's souls through the art of psychology.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England. Subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a post is published on the site.