The Best Films of 2019

Top 10 of the Year

1. Vitalina VarelaPedro Costa
2. MidsommarAri Aster
3. About EndlessnessRoy Andersson
4. Once Upon a Time in HollywoodQuentin Tarantino
5. Ad AstraJames Gray
6. ParasiteBong Joon-ho
7. The IrishmanMartin Scorsese
8. WavesTrey Edward Shults
9. A Hidden LifeTerrence Malick
10. 1917Sam Mendes

Best Film

Vitalina Varela. Pedro Costa’s darkly-lit, glacially paced character study of a woman’s grief may be one of the more obscure films in my top 10, but even in this year loaded with masterpieces, it manages to come out on top. Vitalina Varela is also the name of the non-professional actress playing herself, wandering the gloomy remnants of her deceased husband’s derelict home in a decaying Portuguese village, and as Costa studies her grief and resentment, he hypnotically slips through a series of cinematic paintings that challenge us to peel back the layers of its solemn visual poetry. His rigorous presentation of such an immersive visual style effectively sets Vitalina Varela up as a work of astounding formal beauty, meticulously rendered through static tableaux that demand patience from its audience.

The stillness of Vitalina Varela is trying and inaccessible to mainstream audiences – but sit with this and Costa’s glacial meditation on grief and contempt sinks its teeth into you.

Most Underrated

About Endlessness. Roy Andersson’s deadpan gallery of absurd dioramas is missing from the TSPDT list entirely, meaning it isn’t considered to be in the top 31 films of 2019. It is a meditation on war, loss of faith, and a binding love that pulls us through the miasma of the mundane. But even more than this, it is about exactly what its title states – the concept of infinity, which we can either perceive as soothing or terrifying. It very much follows in the style and form he has been returning to for almost 20 years of rigorously presented tableaux, though he also weaves through a voiceover which delivers observations of its scenes ranging from unassumingly basic to beautifully profound. Such is the nature of eternity’s rhythmic ebb and flow.

A stunning formal break from Andersson’s static tableaux lands halfway through About Endlessness, with his camera slowly gliding over this derelict city. Just about the definition of a cinematic painting.

Most Overrated

First Cow. This might have ended up in the top 10 if 2019 was any weaker. Unfortunately for Kelly Reichardt though, this is one of the strongest years in film history, and #4 is far too generous given the competition. Much like McCabe & Mrs Miller, First Cow often feels like it is skirting around the edges of America’s grand historical legends in the Old West, letting every instance of violence play offscreen while we sit patiently with those who traditionally go unnoticed. This is a microcosm of modern society – a region where almost everyone is an immigrant looking to tame this strange, unfamiliar environment, only to find the cogs of capitalism at work, forcing the disadvantaged into petty crime just to get ahead. With some fantastic, authentic production design on its side as well, it is certainly an admirable film, but far from the top 5 of the year.

This fable of capitalism and corruption set in 1820s Oregon is rich in its subtext and storytelling.

Best Directorial Debut

Swallow. Carlo Mirabella-Davis sets up a disturbing character study here of a housewife slowly taking back control of the life she handed over to her domineering husband – something she achieves by eating small objects like marbles, tacks, and trinkets. The oppressive lines and angles of her house feel very inspired by Todd Haynes’ psychological drama Safe, and our central character seems to blend right into the light colour palettes of her surroundings. This a very visually inspired yet uncomfortable piece of body horror, boding well for Mirabella-Davis’ future efforts.

A lot of directors can only hope of directing a debut this formally layered and stylistically lush. Swallow is very much a psychological twist on more traditional melodramas like those from Douglas Sirk.

Gem to Spotlight

The Souvenir. There is a quiet frustration in seeing haughty intellectual Anthony emotionally manipulate ambitious film student Julie in The Souvenir, but Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical self-reflection on toxic young love takes a touchingly nuanced understanding of the matter. This is a gently paced study of flawed characters, and the frequent symmetry of Hogg’s compositions is integral to the framing of this tempestuous relationship, shooting her actors through corridors and doorways that open into small, isolated frames. Julie is a woman not yet fully sure of the space she inhabits in the world, but Hogg quietly reassures us – she’s getting there, even despite her many blunders and setbacks.

Easily among the most powerful closing shots of the year in The Souvenir – a daunting frame as Julie embraces new beginnings and heads out into the world.

Best Male Performance

Adam Driver solidifies his 2010s reign with his single greatest performance in Marriage Story – a raw, naturalistic display of bitterness, regret, fury, love, and resignation. Charlie Barber is a thorny, complex character who has cheated on his wife, built a prosperous career, proved himself to be a loving father, and is now finding it all ripped away from him in his divorce. Like his wife, he makes some impulsive mistakes in the heat of the moment, and when Driver delivers venomous lines like “Everyday I wake up and I hope you’re dead!” you can feel both the savageness of the barb and the tender sensitivity of the wound it comes from. This is pure, psychological pain rendered onscreen.

Next, Brad Pitt has the slightly better year than his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-star Leonardo DiCaprio for also leading James Gray’s space epic, Ad Astra, with quiet introspection. Solely within Tarantino’s hang-out film though, their achievements are relatively even, displaying humour and charm as old friends ruefully coming to the end of their careers in the film industry.

Adam Driver’s greatest performance to date as Charlie Barber – a raw, naturalistic display of bitterness, regret, fury, love, and resignation.

Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker in Todd Phillip’s psychological thriller is pure expressionism, like a character lifted from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and twisted into a disturbed clown. He is hunched, painfully cackling, and unhealthily gaunt.

Al Pacino and Joe Pesci beat out their co-star Robert de Niro who sadly won’t get a mention here for The Irishman. Pacino is loud, bombastic, and incredibly likeable as the leader of the Teamsters, while Pesci comes out of retirement to play against type as the more level-headed of the two.

Coming towards the end of these mentions, Adam Sandler proves again that he is more than just a lowbrow comedian in the thriller Uncut Gems, though he still gets his own share of dark humour. His descent feels like watching a train crash in slow motion, heading towards inevitable disaster through a series of bad choices. Lastly, Song Kang-ho gives the single best performance in Parasite’s ensemble as the father of the Kim family, suffering the prejudice of his employers.

Joaquin Phoenix is a collection of askew, contorted angles in Joker. A complete commitment to the madness of the most iconic comic book villain.

Best Female Performance

Florence Pugh’s major breakthrough comes in the last year of the decade in two of 2019’s best films, Midsommar and Little Women. Her portrayal of Amy is certainly deserving of praise, but it is her performance as the severely traumatised Dani which marks her as a truly special talent worth watching. When we first meet her, she is on edge, unable to make contact with her sister, and then a few minutes later we see her at her lowest point – awful, guttural sobs erupt from deep in her chest, making the sort of noise no human should be able to make. From there, she undergoes a drastic transformation and brainwashing at the hands of the Swedish cult at the film’s centre, and in its very final shot, leaves us with an uncomfortably cathartic smile in close-up. 

Pugh’s co-star in Little Women gets the second mention of the year – Saoirse Ronan gives the definitive take on literary heroine Jo March, beating out Katharine Hepburn with a performance that is bleeding with all the contradictions of adolescence and young adulthood. She is self-assured yet insecure, intelligent but reckless. Her line deliveries are so natural, stumbling over herself as she laments the position women are relegated to in society as wives, while expressing a profound loneliness in the exact same line.  

Trauma and catharsis in Florence Pugh’s character arc, finding the terror in both.

The second-last mention in this category rivals the two above her – Scarlett Johansson gives her most purely realistic performance to date in Marriage Story, chipping away at her image as sex symbol and revealing the true ugliness of divorce. Quite essentially, her rapport with Adam Driver opens up an incredibly rich, bitter relationship between them, and those scenes where they are just going at each other’s throats are some of the best. Johansson has proven her range before, but this still feels like yet another level for her.

A little bit below these towering top 3 performances is Haley Bennett for her work in Swallow. There is so much going on in those eyes, at times looking completely dazed and entranced, yet slowly clearing over the course of her character’s awakening. Laura Dern doesn’t have nearly as much screen time as Johansson playing her lawyer in Marriage Story, but she is a real scene stealer. Sometimes you’re not sure whether you love her or hate her, but this only speaks to the nuances she brings to the part.

The definitive Jo March put to film, even beating out Katharine Hepburn’s.

Best Cinematography: Vitalina Varela

1. Vitalina VarelaLeonardo Simões
2. 1917Roger Deakins
3. MidsommarPawel Pogorzelski
4. About EndlessnessGergely Pálos
5. A Hidden LifeJorg Widmer
6. Ad AstraHoyte van Hoytema
7. Once Upon a Time in HollywoodRobert Richardson
8. WavesDrew Daniels
9. JokerLawrence Shur
10. SwallowKatelin Arizmendi
11. ParasiteHong Kyung-pyo
12. The SouvenirDavid Raedeker
13. Portrait of a Lady on FireClaire Mathon
14. Little WomenYorick Le Saux
15. The LighthouseJarin Blaschke
16. The IrishmanRodrigo Pietro
Dilapidated architecture and suffocating darkness presses in on Costa’s characters from virtually every direction, you can barely tell the difference between interiors and exteriors.

Best Editing: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

1. Once Upon a Time in HollywoodFred Raskin
2. Little WomenNick Huoy
3. A Hidden LifeRehman Nizar Ali, Joe Gleason, Sebastian Jones
4. MidsommarLucian Johnston
5. WavesTrey Edward Shults, Isaac Hagy
6. Marriage StoryJennifer Lame
7. ParasiteYang Jin-mo
8. The IrishmanThelma Schoonmaker
9. The LighthouseLouise Ford
10. JokerJeff Growth
11. Uncut GemsRonald Bronstein, Benny Safdie
Much of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood drifts by at a comfortable pace, but Fred Raskin also knows how to turn the tension up in the Spahn Ranch scene, and of course the build-up to the final, violent confrontation.

Best Screenplay: Marriage Story

1. Marriage StoryNoah Baumbach
2. ParasiteBong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
3. MidsommarAri Aster
4. The IrishmanSteven Zaillian
5. Once Upon a Time in HollywoodQuentin Tarantino
6. The LighthouseRobert Eggers, Max Eggers
7. Little WomenGreta Gerwig
8. Ad AstraJames Gray, Ethan Gross
9. The SouvenirJoanna Hogg
10. Uncut GemsRonald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
11. About EndlessnessRoy Andersson
12. Portrait of a Lady on FireCéline Sciamma
13. A Hidden LifeTerrence Malick
14. SwallowCarlo Mirabella-Davis
Noah Baumbach writes the character relationships of Marriage Story with so much moral complexity and sincerity, committing to the realism of their many-layered conflicts.

Best Original Music Score: Midsommar

1. MidsommarBobby Krlic
2. A Hidden LifeJames Newton Howard
3. 1917Thomas Newman
4. ParasiteJung Jae II
5. JokerHildur Guonadottir
6. Little WomenAlexandre Desplat
7. The LighthouseMark Korven
8. Marriage StoryRandy Newman
9. SwallowNathan Halpern
10. WavesTrent Reznor, Atticus Ross
11. Uncut GemsOneohtrix Point Never
12. Ad AstraMax Richter
Bobby Krlic’s score for Midsommar wails with its characters and shimmers with the dazzling, bright daylight – remarkable and unconventional scoring for a horror film.

Year Breakdown

2019 is the best year of film this decade, and the only real competition is 2017 – but not even that can compete with the seven masterpieces here. When you have a film as strong as 1917 just barely cracking the top 10 list, you know that there are going to be some brilliant ones left off, so it is worth shouting out Little Women, Marriage Story, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire which would all make appearances in any ordinary year. This is also the year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the industry hard and sunk the quality of films for a short while – perhaps the universe knew what was coming and lined this up for us.

I am sorely uneducated on Pedro Costa’s career (the only other film of his I have seen is 1997’s admirable Ossos), but Vitalina Varela feels huge for him, landing in the #1 spot of an already crowded year. In fact, there is a huge wealth of established auteurs working at the height of the powers and creating their single best films to date – Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), James Gray (Ad Astra), Ari Aster (Midsommar), Sam Mendes (1917), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) to name a few. Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Terrence Malick are heading towards the tail-end of their careers, and yet are still putting out hugely impressive works of cinema that land in the top 10 of the year.

Parasite makes history in multiple ways this year, dominating the awards circuit and playing to both arthouse and mainstream audiences. It grosses almost $300 million, wins the Palme d’Or, becomes the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and climbs to the #1 spot on Letterboxd’s ‘Top 250 Narrative Feature Films’ list. It is also the third film in history after The Lost Weekend (1945) and Marty (1955) to win both big prizes at the Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival.

Parasite dominates the awards circuit in 2019 with its painful evisceration of Korea’s class hierarchy.

Thematically, Bong’s film is part of a 2019 trend which saw socially-conscious films take aim at class inequality, joining Us, Knives Out, Hustlers, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco in this vein. This may speak less to what’s going on in the world of cinema than it does the world at large though, with directors using the medium as an outlet for their own frustrations and filtering them through a wide expansive of genres.

Despite the Parasite-mania, Avengers: Endgame is the bigger talking point among mainstream audiences at large, becoming the highest grossing film of the year, and the second-highest grossing film of all time. It also ends a massive decade-spanning saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an entertaining watch, but there is little argument to be had regarding its value as a piece of art. The superior comic book movie of the year is quite easily Joker, which features some brilliant expressionistic filmmaking from Todd Phillips and one of the genre’s finest performances from Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s official – Malick is back on form with A Hidden Life, recovering from his post-Tree of Life slump.

Film Archives

1917Sam MendesMS
A Beautiful Day in the NeighbourhoodMarielle HellerR
A Hidden LifeTerrence MalickMS
About EndlessnessRoy AnderssonMP
Ad AstraJames GrayMP
BombshellJay RoachR
BooksmartOlivia WildeR
ChernobylJohan RenckR
Doctor SleepMike FlanaganR
El Camino: A Breaking Bad MovieVince GilliganR
Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and VileJoe BerlingerR
First CowKelly ReichhardtHR
Ford v FerrariJames MangoldR
HustlersLorene ScafariaR
I Lost My BodyJérémy ClapinR
Jojo RabbitTaika WaititiR
JokerTodd PhillipsHR
KlausSergio PablosR
Knives OutRian JohnsonR
Little WomenGreta GerwigMS
Marriage StoryNoah BaumbachMS
MidsommarAri AsterMP
Once Upon a Time in HollywoodQuentin TarantinoMP
ParasiteBong Joon-hoMP
Portrait of a Lady on FireCéline SciammaMS
Richard JewellClint EastwoodR
RocketmanDexter FletcherR
Sound of MetalDarius MarderR
SwallowCarlo Mirabella-DavisHR/MS
The FarewellLulu WangR/HR
The IrishmanMartin ScorseseMS/MP
The Last Black Man in San FranciscoJoe TalbotR
The LighthouseRobert EggersHR
The Peanut Butter FalconTyler Nilson, Michael SchwartzR
The SouvenirJoanna HoggHR
The Two PopesFernando MeirellesR
Toy Story 4Josh CooleyR
Uncut GemsThe Safdie BrothersHR
UsJordan PeeleR
Vitalina VarelaPedro CostaMP
WavesTrey Edward ShultsMS/MP


American FactorySteven Bognar, Julia Reichert
HoneylandTamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
For SamaWaad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
FyreChris Smith
Honeyland is unusually beautiful for a documentary, soaking in the golden hues of the sunlight, and observing the daily routines of a reclusive Macedonian beekeeper.

Short Films

NimicYorgos Lanthimos
Nimic is Yorgos Lanthimos’ brief experiment with short filmmaking, but with its eerie copycat premise, it is just as absurd as anything else he has made.

The Best Films of 2018

Top 10 of the Year

1. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
2. Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski 
3. The FavouriteYorgos Lanthimos
4. BurningLee Chang-dong
5. HereditaryAri Aster
6. WidowsSteve McQueen
7. ClimaxGasper Noé
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseBob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
9. If Beale Street Could TalkBarry Jenkins
10. Ash is Purest WhiteJia Zhangke

Best Film

Roma. Alfonso Cuarón had already asserted his place among the best directors of his generation in the 2000s with Children of Men, and backed it up in 2013 with Gravity. Roma takes that to a whole new level – it is a supreme achievement of black-and-white photography, aural design, camera pans, mise-en-scène, formal symbolism, and neorealism that makes almost every other film in history pale in comparison. It is also a window into Cuarón’s childhood in 1970s Mexico, filtered through the eyes of his family maid who sits on the periphery of their everyday lives. It is currently my #2 film of the decade behind The Tree of Life, but there is very little space separating them.

Roma is a memory piece on another level, soaked in the detail of 1970s Mexico as Cuarón remembers it from his childhood.

Most Underrated

Widows. #33 of the year on TSPDT is far too low for Steve McQueen’s bold swing into genre filmmaking. It still carries all the marks of an auteur in complete control of his work – the cool blue and green palettes, the audacious camerawork, the uncomfortably long takes – but it is also a riveting thriller narrative with a huge ensemble and smartly plotted twists. In effect, this is McQueen’s take on a Michael Mann urban crime drama, navigating the chaos and corruption of Chicago’s most powerful players with smooth, slick pacing.

McQueen’s most purely compelling narrative to date comes in the form of Widows, his take on a Michael Mann urban crime drama.

Most Overrated

Shoplifters. This is #4 of the year on TSPDT, and winner of the Palme d’Or – but I don’t see the evidence of its greatness onscreen beyond some decent writing of characters and their complex relationships. As director, Hirokazu Kore-eda seems a little passive.

Shoplifters is admirable to an extent, but there were better contenders for the Palme d’Or in 2018 than this.

Best Directorial Debut

Hereditary. Ari Aster came onto the scene in 2018 and very quickly asserted himself as the leading horror filmmaker of the decade. It is legitimately surprising how fresh he can make this genre feel while playing to age-old conventions, and there is a lot to chew on in the subtext of the piece. But quite importantly, the accomplishment is not confined simply to writing. This is what sets him apart from other modern horror auteurs like Jordan Peele. There is painstaking direction in this – the use of miniatures, the long takes, and the rigorous symmetry are signs of an incredibly promising filmmaker.

Horror cinema reaches another peak in the 2010s with Ari Aster leading the way. You’re not the same person coming out of Hereditary as you were going in.

Gem to Spotlight

If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it a transcendent piece of cinema nonetheless. In place of a traditional three-act structure, he opts for a non-linear narrative drifting around one young woman’s attempt to clear the name of her lover before she gives birth to their child. In place of Moonlight’s cool blue hues, he develops a warm, autumnal colour palette that seeps into every shot. It also features an astounding jazz score from Nicholas Britell which stands among the decade’s best – if nothing else tempts you, it is worth checking out for the music alone.

An indelible composition of colours here in If Beale Street Could Talk, shining the red umbrella bright above these young lovers as they walk through the rain.

Best Male Performance

A very light year in this category, led by Steven Yeun as the enigmatic burner of greenhouses, Ben. He is charming, but there is something off about him from the start of Burning that lies menacingly beneath the surface. The only other mention in this category is for Michael B. Jordan as one of the decade’s greatest villains. Killmonger is written with both empathy and complexity in Black Panther, and Jordan adds a huge dose of bombastic charisma into the mix as he swaggers into every scene in a blaze of fury, pain, and confidence.

Michael B. Jordan plays one of the better superhero villains in recent years, rich with both nuance and wounded anger.

Best Female Performance

Joanna Kulig looks like a sombre version of Jennifer Lawrence in Cold War, but she also delivers a mesmerising performance here that outdoes any from her American counterpart. Her character, Zula, is a singer picked up by a talent scout in rural Poland, and quickly finds success performing as an ambassador of Communist propaganda all across Europe. It is impossible to take your eyes off her as she sings a romantic, jazzy rendition of ‘Two Heart, Four Eyes’, or as she dances around a club to ‘Rock Around the Clock’, and Pawlikowski clearly feels the same way with his camera. The tragedy of the piece comes from the love she has for the talent scout who finds himself increasingly at odds with state politics, landing them in a decades-long affair that keeps bringing them together and tearing them apart, and through it all Kulig’s face betrays a great deal of heartbreak and regret.

Toni Collette sits at #2 for her part in Hereditary, joining a lineage of scream queens – quite unusually in her middle age. Places #3 to #5 are virtually tied between Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, each tied up in the knotty power struggle of Queen Anne’s royal court. The Favourite features one of the decade’s best screenplays complete with savage barbs, and each actress relishes chewing on the darkly funny web of character dynamics.

It was well-known before 2018 that Viola Davis possessed immense raw talent, but she finally gets a film that fully capitalises on that in Widows, which pivots much of its narrative upon her stern, commanding presence. Zhao Tao was another one who had been working for a long time, especially in her collaborations with Jia Zhangke, but she becomes a more powerful force than ever in Ash is Purest White, playing the lover of one mob boss across three chapters of her life. This is an epic character study of feminine strength and its moulding in the fiery heat of adversity, and she internalises that with hardy resilience. Lastly, Natalie Portman gets a nod for her leading part in Annihilation, as she journeys into the centre of the mysterious ‘Shimmer’.

Joanna Kulig is often sombre throughout Cold War, but when she lights up it is gorgeous to behold.

Best Cinematography: Roma

1. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
2. Cold WarŁukasz Żal
3. The FavouriteRobbie Ryan
4. ClimaxBenoît Debie
5. BurningHong Kyung-pyo
6. WidowsSean Bobbitt
7. If Beale Street Could TalkJames Laxton
8. HereditaryPaweł Pogorzelski
9. Black PantherRachel Morrison
Alfonso Cuarón acts as his own cinematographer for the first time in Roma, designing each frame to absolute perfection with a deep focus lens.

Best Editing: The Favourite

1. The FavouriteYorgos Mavropsaridis
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseRobert Fisher Jr.
3. Cold WarJaroslaw Kaminski
4. HereditaryJennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston
5. WidowsJoe Walker
6. BlacKkKlansmanBarry Alexander Brown
The Favourite is sharp in its construction, every so so often slipping into these slow-motion sequences of absolute absurdity unfolding around Queen Anne’s court.

Best Screenplay: The Favourite

1. The FavouriteDeborah Davis, Tony McNamara
2. HereditaryAri Aster
3. WidowsSteve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
4. BurningOh Jung-mi, Lee Chang-dong
5. Sorry to Bother YouBoots Riley
6. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
7. Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Głowacki, Piotr Borkowski
8. AnnihilationAlex Garland
The Favourite is two hours of a three-way verbal sparring match between Queen Anne, her adviser Sarah, and the opportunistic Abigail. Its political intrigue, absurdist black comedy, and cut-throat dialogue makes for the best screenplay Yorgos Lanthimos has worked with yet.

Best Original Music Score

1. If Beale Street Could TalkNicholas Britell
2. BurningMowg
3. HereditaryColin Stetson
4. WidowsHans Zimmer
5. Black PantherLudwig Göransson
6. AnnihilationBen Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
I can only hope that Nicholas Britell and Barry Jenkins’ partnership never comes to an end. If Beale Street Could Talk is infused with this soft, jazzy sound, gently permeating the tragic relationship at its centre.

Year Breakdown

There is no getting around the big story of the year – as mentioned above, Alfonso Cuarón’s staggering masterpiece, Roma, is the second-best film of the decade. It solidifies Nuevo Cine Mexicano as a dominant cinematic movement of the 21st century, Netflix as a major production company funding bold artistic visions, and Cuarón as one of the greatest working filmmakers, even if his output this decade was relatively light. If it weren’t for Roma, Paweł Pawlikowski would have topped the year for a second time this decade following his success with Ida. The similarities between that and Cold War are striking – both are foreign period films shot in crisp black-and-white, telling the tales of their respective director’s families. Looking forward into the 2020s, you can trace the trends of personal memories pieces by Paolo Sorrentino, Kenneth Branagh, and Steven Spielberg back to this moment in recent history.

Yorgos Lanthimos also transcends new heights with his most visually sumptuous film yet in The Favourite, as well as a script that cuts deep to the power hierarchies of Queen Anne’s court. He is a skilled director of offbeat comedies, and he settles on an outlandish aesthetic here which formally matches his skewed, ridiculous worlds.

A blocking of faces here in Cold War like Ingmar Bergman, expressing both intimacy and disconnection between characters.

The 2010s in general saw a resurgence of auteur-driven horror films, and Hereditary quite remarkably takes that to the next level. Ari Aster would top himself just a year later with even greater visuals and formal sophistication in Midsommar, but 2018 is where it all starts for him, marking the pinnacle of this mini-movement.

Speaking of peaking trends, Marvel is having an unusually good year. Their output in the 2010s was generally more prolific than it was high quality, but both Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Panther break the pattern of mediocre-to-decent movies, with both sitting in my top 15 of the year. Key to the success of these above other Marvel movies is that they actually look like something – one is a hyperactive display of neon-coloured animation, and the other lets Ryan Coogler run free with his brilliant set pieces, camerawork, and production design. Though both perform well at the box office, it is Avengers: Infinity War which dominates as the studio’s huge tentpole release, signalling an era of storytelling coming to a close.

Although Black Panther was the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, awards season was a bit of a mess. Just as it seemed like the Academy was finally going to make some progress and award its top prize to Roma, it went with Green Book instead – the far safer option. The Palme d’Or meanwhile went to Shoplifters, which isn’t particularly close to touching the year’s best films either.

It isn’t often that Marvel makes two of the most artistically potent films of the year, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also stands among the decade’s finest animations.

Film Archives

A Quiet PlaceJohn KrasinskiR
A Simple FavourPaul FeigR
A Star is BornBradley CooperR
AnnihilationAlex GarlandHR
Ash is Purest WhiteJia ZhangkeHR
Avengers: Infinity WarThe Russo BrothersR
Black PantherRyan CooglerHR
BlacKkKlansmanSpike LeeHR
BurningLee Chang-dongMS/MP
Can You Ever Forgive MeMarielle HellerR
CapernaumNadine LabakiR
ClimaxGasper NoéMS
Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski MP
Crazy Rich AsiansJon M. ChuR
Eighth GradeBo BurnhamR
First ManDamien ChazelleR
Green BookPeter FarrellyR
Her SmellAlex Ross PerryR
HereditaryAri AsterMS
High LifeClaire DenisR/HR
If Beale Street Could TalkBarry JenkinsHR
Isle of DogsWes AndersonR/HR
RomaAlfonso CuarónMP
SearchingAneesh ChagantyR
ShopliftersHirokazu Kore-edaR
Sorry to Bother YouBoots RileyHR
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseBob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney RothmanHR/MS
SuspiriaLuca GuadagninoR
The Ballad of Buster ScruggsThe Coen BrothersR
The FavouriteYorgos LanthimosMP
The House That Jack BuiltLars von TrierR
The NightingaleJennifer KentR
ViceAdam McKayR
WidowsSteve McQueenMS
Like all Gaspar Noé films, you need to be prepared for a gruelling experience going in. Climax is punishing to watch, but the stylistic wizardry on display is undeniable with the floating camera in the second half literally turning this party from hell upside down.


Free SoloElizabeth Chai Vasarhely, Jimmy Chin
Period. End of Sentence.Rayka Zehtabchi
The Great Buster: A CelebrationPeter Bogdanovich
Free Solo is sure to give you sweaty palms and vertigo, as we follow one rock climber’s attempt to ascend El Capitan without harnesses or protective equipment.

Short Films

BlueApichatpong Weerasethakul
Blue is as mystically opaque as anything Weerasethakul had made, and as far as short-form cinema goes it is a very intriguing experiment.

The Best Films of 2017

Top 10 of the Year

1. DunkirkChristopher Nolan
2. Blade Runner 2049Denis Villeneuve
3. ColumbusKogonada
4. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
5. First ReformedPaul Schrader
6. Call Me By Your NameLuca Guadagnino
7. Good TimeThe Safdie Brothers
8. The Shape of WaterGuillermo del Toro
9. You Were Never Really HereLynne Ramsay
10. Get OutJordan Peele

Best Film

Dunkirk. It is an intricate contraption of a film – a swiss watch with inner mechanisms that are so painstakingly in sync with each other that it looks effortless. Christopher Nolan’s best films always possess some brilliant mix of parallel editing and montages, but by stripping back conventional plotting to a minimum here he constructs a pure exercise in editing along the lines of Battleship Potemkin or Breathless. Like those cinematic landmarks, Dunkirk delivers a jolt of stylistic innovation, following three separate narrative strands set over a week, a day, and an hour leading up to the eventual evacuation. The effect is deliberately disorientating, jumping across multiple timelines that eventually meet at a single point in time, recalling the similarly climactic finale of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Considering this along with Hoyte van Hoytema’s IMAX photography and Hans Zimmer’s distillation of a heart attack in the form of music, and you get an easy #1 film of 2017, as well as the #3 film of the decade.

Dunkirk is a supreme achievement for Christopher Nolan on many levels. Gone are the chunks of bulky exposition, and in its place is a lean narrative structure that frees him up for pure cinematic innovation.

Most Underrated

Columbus. I would almost say Blade Runner 2049 owns this category given its position at #20 of 2017 on the TPSDT list, but Koganada’s astonishing debut isn’t anywhere to be found on there at all. Hopefully this is rectified with time, perhaps as he continues to build his career and becomes a bigger name in the industry.

Like Antonioni, Koganada has an eye for architecture which turns it into expressions of character.

Most Overrated

Lady Bird. It hurts a little to call this one out, given how much it is a personal favourite. The screenplay and performances can’t be faulted, and Greta Gerwig has a wickedly sharp sense of humour. #4 of the decade is just too high though for something that refuses to engage with any visual aesthetic, and which doesn’t really pack a formal punch. Thankfully she would go on to prove she is capable of delivering both with 2019’s Little Women, where her artistic voice significantly matures.

Greta Gerwig’s screenplay can’t be faulted. It is engaging, funny, smart, and incisive – she just doesn’t yet have the visual direction to back that up.

Best Directorial Debut

Columbus. This is also a strong contender for the best debut of the decade as a whole. Koganada’s roots are in online video essays, so it is no surprise that he brings a considerable understanding of film theory and history to his work as a director. Given that Columbus is so architecture-focused, comparisons to Michelangelo Antonioni will naturally emerge, but it also shares Yasujirō Ozu’s fascination with hallways, windows, and doorways as frames, submerging his characters in a city that expresses the potential of human imagination as large, postmodern constructs.

It is a stroke of genius in this shot to use existing architecture as divisions in the mise-en-scène, splitting up these characters as they say goodbye.

Gem to Spotlight

A Ghost Story. David Lowery transforms the material world into a quiet limbo of poignant self-reflection in this philosophical drama, playing out a meditation on loss, history, and existence from the perspective of the deceased. He effectively translates the inert feeling of grief into a gradually accelerating narrative pace that sees time frustratingly slip away, moving from static shots which last several minutes into montages that start leaping decades and centuries ahead. Despite the title, the only horror to be found here is purely existential.

David Lowery executes an intelligent metaphysical study of grief and the passage of time in The Ghost Story, gradually accelerating its pacing as seconds and centuries flit by.

Best Male Performances

Ryan Gosling’s performance in Blade Runner 2049 is comparable to Rutger Hauer’s in the 1982 film, finding a human sensitivity within the cold stoicism of their replicant characters, but he also benefits from being given even greater screen time to work through his internal conflicts. The scene where he discovers the toy horse in the factory is simply a masterclass of silent acting, seeing his entire world turn upside down purely through his muted facial expressions that hold back an existential terror.

Ethan Hawke is next, subverting his romantic image from Richard Linklater’s films as the stern Reverend Toller in First Reformed. This is a typical Paul Schrader protagonist – introspective, weary, and highly intelligent, though Hawke puts his own highly-strung spin on this archetype as a religious figure slowly losing his faith and grip on reality.

Ryan Gosling gets his fourth acting mention in this category for Blade Runner 2049, doing what he does best with his stoic, silent acting.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film performance before retiring (we’ll see) stands among the best of his brilliant career, playing the perfectionistic fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous period piece. Timothee Chalamet is in the same class in Call Me By Your Name – he is only 22 years old here, but he effectively sets himself on the road towards becoming one of the greatest actors of his generation. This is a coming-of-age drama that navigates transgressive territory, and Chalamet contains so much sensitivity and youthful idealism in his performance.

After freeing himself from the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson took risks by picking up more arthouse films, and it all pays off here in Good Time with his wide-eyed, highly-strung bank robber. Joaquin Phoenix plays a far more sympathetic antihero in You Were Never Really Here, packing on weight (just two years before he would shed it all again for Joker) and moving around like a mass of depressing, negative space.

Returning briefly to Blade Runner 2049, Harrison Ford returns to the role of Rick Deckard several decades later and outdoes his original performance, while Daniel Kaluuya owns virtually the entirety of Get Out. Finally, John Cho is a thoughtful, sensitive fit for Koganada’s gentle ruminations in Columbus.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of cinema’s great method actors, and his performance in Phantom Thread is as introspectively perfectionistic as his character.

Best Female Performances

It is not an overly strong year in this category. Sally Hawkins’ mute performance in The Shape of Water leaves everything up to her incredibly expressive face, playing out the complexities and nuances of this fairy tale heroine. Not far below her, Margot Robbie gives her single strongest performance in I, Tonya, nailing every single strained, unhinged eccentricity of the controversial sporting figure. Her scene in front of the mirror applying makeup as she tries to cover up her agony with a passionless show smile is incredible to watch. Lastly, Haley Lu Richardson makes real, heartfelt connection with John Cho in Columbus, and earns the final mention.

Sally Hawkins proves she doesn’t need dialogue to convey character in The Shape of Water, placing so much emphasis on her expressive face.

Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049

1. Blade Runner 2049Roger Deakins
2. DunkirkHoyte van Hoytema
3. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
4. ColumbusElisha Christian
5. The Shape of WaterDan Laustsen
6. Good TimeSean Price Williams
7. First ReformedAlexander Dynan
8. The BeguiledPhilippe Le Sourd
9. Call Me By Your NameSayombhu Mukdeeprom
10. The Killing of a Sacred DeerThimios Bakatakis
Blade Runner 2049 is surely a landmark of visual effects, but it may also be Roger Deakins’ best work. There is so much in the lighting and colours which build out the sci-fi world Ridley Scott created in 1982.

Best Editing: Dunkirk

1. DunkirkLee Smith
2. You Were Never Really HereJoe Bini
3. Baby DriverPaul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
4. Blader Runner 2049Joe Walker
5. Good TimeRonald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
6. I, TonyaTatiana S. Riegel
7. Call Me By Your NameWalter Fasano
8. A Ghost StoryDavid Lowery
9. First ReformedBenjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Enough can’t be said about the editing of Dunkirk. It is pure tension and disaster rendered on film for close to two hours. It also showcases some of the greatest editing in history – and I don’t make that claim lightly.

Best Screenplay: First Reformed

1. First ReformedPaul Schrader
2. Call Me By Your NameJames Ivory
3. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
4. Get OutJordan Peele
5. ColumbusKoganada
6. Good TimeRonald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
7. Blade Runner 2049Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
8. I, TonyaSteven Rogers
Paul Schrader wrote some of cinema’s finest screenplays including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and First Reformed sees him continue along the line of formally intensive character studies, this one centring a troubled man of faith.

Best Original Music Score: Dunkirk

1. DunkirkHans Zimmer
2. Phantom ThreadJonny Greenwood
3. The Shape of WaterAlexandre Desplat
4. Blade Runner 2049Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
5. You Were Never Really HereJonny Greenwood
6. A Ghost StoryDaniel Hart
7. Good TimeOneohtrix Point Never
If Dunkirk is a Swiss watch, then Hans Zimmer’s score is its constant ticking, using auditory illusions to ratchet up the tension with no resolution.

Year Breakdown

Until 2019 came along, this was the single best year of the 2010s, with both huge depth to its quality and a monumental masterpiece sitting right at the top.

We’ll get to both, but first we have to praise Christopher Nolan coming out with his most accomplished film yet, Dunkirk – the third best film of the decade. He is the single greatest working director during this time period, and this is effectively his purest exercise in formal filmmaking, excising the cumbersome dialogue that can sometimes drag down even great masterpieces like Inception, and laying into his strengths as an editor. As the leading modern blockbuster auteur, he is a great source of inspiration for others like Denis Villeneuve, and this just so happens to be the year that he too made his best film in Blade Runner 2049 – a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic.

Although Koganada’s Columbus got the shout-out as the best directorial debut of the year, we need to take time to recognise the emergence of Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig. Get Out is just managing to hang on there in my top 10, and although Lady Bird is sitting a little further down, it still shows the promise of a great filmmaker. Meanwhile, other directors like Chloé Zhao, David Lowery, Luca Guadagnino, and the Safdie Brothers are finding their own breakthroughs, gaining international attention respectively for The Rider, A Ghost Story, Call Me By Your Name, and Good Time.

Call Me By Your Name marks a huge breakthrough for Luca Guadagnino this year, and also cements Timothee Chalamet’s rising star.

Another name you probably wouldn’t have expected to find in this year’s top 10 is Paul Schrader, who is effectively making a major comeback with First Reformed and kicking off his late career Renaissance. This is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and this follows in the same lineage of formally intensive character studies.

Guillermo del Toro finds success at the Oscars, beating back healthy competition to win Best Picture with The Shape of Water. It is one of those times that the Academy doesn’t get it completely right, but it is so close you can hardly complain – virtually every frame of this Cold War monster fantasy is so beautifully curated.

Franchise movies continue to dominate the box office in 2017, with The Last Jedi especially pulling in large numbers and stoking controversy among Star Wars fans. There are significant flaws here, but nothing that entirely could sink Rian Johnson’s brilliant visual direction. This is easily one of the most handsomely mounted Star Wars films after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. 2017 is also a notable year for some decent comic book movies, with James Gunn continuing his Guardians of the Galaxy series, Taika Waititi taking the Thor franchise in a fresh new direction, and James Mangold sending out Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine with a Western-style farewell in Logan.

You just don’t get shots like this in your average Marvel movie. Taika Waititi brings fresh humour in Thor: Ragnarok, but he also has an eye for striking imagery.

Film Archives

A Fantastic WomanSebastián LelioR/HR
A Ghost StoryDavid LoweryHR
Baby DriverEdgar WrightHR
Blade Runner 2049Denis VilleneuveMS/MP
Call Me By Your NameLuca GuadagninoMS
CocoLee UnkrichR
Darkest HourJoe WrightR
DunkirkChristopher NolanMP
First ReformedPaul SchraderMS
Get OutJordan PeeleHR
Good TimeThe Safdie BrothersMS
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2James GunnR
Happy EndMichael HanekeR
I, TonyaCraig GillespieHR
ItAndy MuschiettiR
Lady BirdGreta GerwigR/HR
LoganJames MangoldR
Loving VincentDorota Kobiela, Hugh WelchmanR
Molly’s GameAaron SorkinR
MudboundDee ReesR
Paddington 2Paul KingHR
Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas AndersonMS
Star Wars: The Last JediRian JohnsonR
Sweet CountryWarwick ThorntonR
The BeguiledSofia CoppolaHR
The Big SickMichael ShowalterR
The BreadwinnerNora TwomeyR
The Disaster ArtistJames FrancoR
The Florida ProjectSean BakerHR
The Killing of a Sacred DeerYorgos LanthimosHR
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)Noah BaumbachR
The PostSteven SpielbergR
The RiderChloé ZhaoR/HR
The Shape of WaterGuillermo del ToroMS
The WifeBjörn RungeR
Thor: RagnarokTaika WaititiR
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriMartin McDonaghR
You Were Never Really HereLynne RamsayHR
Paul Thomas Anderson slightly faltered in 2014 with Inherent Vice, but he is almost entirely back on form here in Phantom Thread with some lush cinematography and rich characterisations.

The Best Films of 2016

Top 10 of the Year

1. La La LandDamien Chazelle
2. MoonlightBarry Jenkins
3. PatersonJim Jarmusch
4. The Neon DemonNicolas Winding Refn
5. ArrivalDenis Villeneuve
6. JackiePablo Larraín
7. SilenceMartin Scorsese
8. The Lost City of ZJames Gray
9. Manchester by the SeaKenneth Lonergan
10. Everybody Wants Some!!Richard Linklater

Best Film

La La Land. Damien Chazelle takes another step up from the fast-cutting, virtuosic direction of Whiplash, and delivers one of the greatest movie-musicals of all-time, letting loose one cinematic highlight after another. The opening number ‘Another Day of Sun’ is a colourful long take on a crowded Los Angeles highway. ‘A Lovely Night’ is a gorgeous tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, set against a stunning view of Hollywood at sunset. Emma Stone dazzles us with an impassioned solo in ‘Audition’. Perhaps Chazelle’s finest moment comes in the dreamy, wordless montage of the epilogue, floating us through so many different worlds set inside his characters’ dreams. All of this considered together makes for a pretty easy #1 pick.

The opening number of La La Land will dazzle you with its single long take, energetic camera movement, meticulous choreography, and colours – and somehow the film will just go on to keep topping itself.

Most Underrated

The Neon Demon. Nicolas Winding Refn may forever be doomed to inhabit this category, sitting at #38 on TSPDT. Complain about his slow pacing, uncomfortable violence, and opaque narratives all you like – this is a director with a defined aesthetic and formal acuity, and here he applies that to the cult-like world of models and fashion. As a result, this is also a cutting study of femininity, asking the layered question to its central character early on, “Are you sex, or are you food?” If she is sex, then she is a woman who will engage directly in the ways others devour her beauty; if she is food, then she will be feasted upon and destroyed in the process. Either way, she is joining a community of women whose purpose is to satiate the appetites of consumers, and Refn fully recognises the body horror potential in mixing these two symbols within the setting of a menacing, erotic cult.

No one is quite making films like Nicolas Winding Refn these days, and his style certainly isn’t for more casual cinema lovers. But those with the patience and stomach for the grisly psychological horror of The Neon Demon will find lots to appreciate and pick apart.

Most Overrated

Toni Erdmann. TSPDT has this at #1 of 2016, which is frankly unreasonable. Its biggest supporters fall back on its unconventional German humour, warm character dynamics, and touching performances. I don’t disagree that these are its greatest strengths – but the formal achievement is minimal, and its cinematic style is all but non-existent.

Great writing, great characters – and entirely lacklustre direction from Marien Ade.

Best Directorial Debut

Raw. Julie Ducournau would go on to win the Palme d’Or with Titane in 2021, but she gets her start here with a coming-of-age horror drama, using cannibalism as a metaphor for a growing sexual appetite. Her visual flourishes are scarce but worth savouring, showcasing some fine compositions and tracking shots, though it is clearly the body horror imagery where she is most comfortable.

Julia Ducournau is clearly a David Cronenberg acolyte, using body horror as a coming-of-age metaphor in Raw.

Gem to Spotlight

Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater’s nostalgic musings have an immortalising effect on the youthful characters of his films. As far as we are concerned, Jake Bradford will eternally be 18, permanently existing within those three, carefree days leading into the official start date of the 1980 college semester. This is richly character-driven, and while each member of this college baseball team is defined early on by their quirks and relationships, it isn’t until after the accumulation of time they spend together that we, along with Jake, begin to sink into the cool dynamic between them. Linklater is entirely committed to the subtle form of the piece, gradually evolving it into a compelling, unhurried study of young adulthood at the point that one is truly free from their parents for the first time.

Richard Linklater is no great stylist, much like Dazed and Confused he finds these ripe opportunities for visual flourishes – especially with his colourful wall murals.

Best Male Performances

Ryan Gosling is a master of stoic subtlety, and yet he integrates that manner perfectly with Damien Chazelle’s expressive musical vision in La La Land, smoothly pulling off a dance tribute to Fred Astaire and effortlessly running his fingers across piano keys. There is great passion in his performance, but he often plays it as slightly uptight and conservative compared to Emma Stone’s more relaxed demeanour. This is the third time the two have played lovers onscreen, and the chemistry they share is incredible.

Adam Driver has had a prolific decade thus far playing bit parts in dramas like Inside Llewyn Davis and kicking off the Star Wars sequels as its main villain, but Paterson marks his finest achievement to date. Paterson is a man with structure embedded so deeply into his bring that the only alarm he needs is his ‘silent magic watch’ that wakes him up at the same time every morning. He is one of Jim Jarmusch’s greatest character creations, and Driver brings such warmth, poetry, and sensitivity to this study.

Mahershela Ali and Trevante Rhodes both get a mention apiece for their roles in Moonlight – the former as young Chiron’s warm, sturdy father figure, and the latter as Chiron himself all grown up. He carries a huge presence onscreen, and yet he is cripplingly shy character, deeply affected by the trauma of his childhood. Finally, Manchester by the Sea sits a little further down my top 10 than those other films cited above, but Casey Affleck’s performance in it is so purely devastating that it nabs a mention.

Ryan Gosling’s performance is bursting with both passion and restrained subtlety. There are so many emotions in the final look he gives right at the end.

Best Female Performances

Emma Stone sings and dances her way across beautiful panoramas and dream sequences in La La Land, becoming a purely magnetic force of emotionality and musicality. Struggling actress Mia is one of this decade’s finest female characters, and Stone proves she has both the comedic and dramatic chops for the part, effortlessly becoming a classical Hollywood movie star in ‘Someone In the Crowd’ and then moving us as she belts out her big solo ‘Audition’.

Natalie Portman gets her second mention for the decade too with Jackie, an unnervingly psychological glimpse into the mind of Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s murder. It is a studied performance that transcends mere imitation and invites us right into her unsettled head space.

Elle Fanning and Amy Adams both get the final mentions of the year for The Neon Demon and Arrival respectively. For Fanning, this is her first mention in this category, and her icy cold demeanour is a perfect fit for Refn’s stilted style. Adams meanwhile is coming towards the end of her great 2010s run, teaming up with Denis Villeneuve on his unconventional sci-fi drama Arrival.

Emma Stone’s big, expressive eyes are one of her greatest assets as an actress, though it certainly isn’t her only strength in La La Land where her singing and dancing also impress.

Best Cinematography: La La Land

1. La La LandLinus Sandgren
2. MoonlightJames Laxton
3. The Neon DemonNatasha Braier
4. JackieStéphane Fontaine
5. SilenceRodrigo Prieto
6. ArrivalBradford Young
7. The Lost City of ZDarius Khondji
Chazelle’s work with his cinematography Linus Sandgren relishes the purple magic hour sunsets of Los Angeles, using it as backdrops to songs like ‘City of Stars’ and ‘A Lovely Night’.

Best Editing: La La Land

1. La La LandTom Cross
2. MoonlightJoi McMillon, Nat Sanders
3. PatersonAffonso Gonçalves
4. The Neon DemonMatthew Newman
5. ArrivalJoe Walker
6. JackieSebastián Sepúlveda
La La Land whisks you through on the sort of rhythmic montages that Tom Cross previously established in Whiplash, but it is the editing of the ten-minute epilogue which will bowl you over.

Best Screenplay: Paterson

1. PatersonJim Jarmusch
2. MoonlightBarry Jenkins
3. La La LandDamien Chazelle
4. ArrivalEric Heisserer
5. Manchester by the SeaKenneth Lonergan
6. Everybody Wants Some!!Richard Linklater
7. Hell or HighwaterTaylor Sheridan
8. SilenceMartin Scorsese, Jay Cocks
There are few films from this decade which are as formally rigorous in their construction as Paterson, studying its central character as a man of comfort, routine, and poetry.

Best Original Music Score: La La Land

1. La La LandJustin Hurwitz
2. MoonlightNicholas Britell
3. The Neon DemonCliff Martinez
4. JackieMica Levi
5. ArrivalJóhann Jóhannsson
6. Manchester by the SeaLesley Barber
Justin Hurwitz was Damien Chazelle’s composer on Whiplash, though that film was largely dominated by existing music. La La Land gives him the freedom to create a fresh, jazzy sound, and weave that through both musical numbers and instrumental orchestrations.

Year Breakdown

With only four films sitting in the Masterpiece and Must-See range, 2016 is evidently a very shallow year for cinema. That said, we do get La La Land which safely sits inside the top 10 of the decade. It also laid claim to the Best Picture trophy for a short few seconds before Moonlight took it away, making Oscar history with the notorious mix-up. Both are fine choices, and there is no real beef between them. They also cement Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins as two of the best new auteurs to emerge in the 2010s, especially marking the breakthrough of the latter.

Not quite on the same level as Chazelle and Jenkins, we see Nicolas Winding Refn on his unstoppable 2010s run, continuing to polarise critics with The Neon Demon, while the formal master Jim Jarmusch is still going strong decades into his career with Paterson.

A tier below these films, we see quite a few familiar faces present. Martin Scorsese, Denis Villeneuve, James Gray, and Richard Linklater each make some great films that may have not cracked the top 10 of a stronger year. That said, it is especially worth singling out Linklater here – Everybody Wants Some!! is his fourth film in a very prolific decade for him, bolstering his position as one of the best screenwriters of the 2010s.

Marvel Studios continues to dominate the box office with Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, and Doctor Strange, but within the top 10 biggest earners of the year there is no real crossover with art. La La Land does get pretty close though.

Barry Jenkins makes his breakthrough in 2016 with Moonlight, shooting some of the greatest close-ups in cinema since Jonathan Demme’s work in the 80s and 90s.

Film Archives

ArrivalDenis VilleneuveHR
DeadpoolTim MillerR
Doctor StrangeScott DerricksonR
Don’t BreatheFederico ÁlvarezR
Everybody Wants Some!!Richard LinklaterHR
Hacksaw RidgeMel GibsonR
Hail, Caesar!The Coen BrothersR
Hell or HighwaterDavid MackenzieR/HR
Hidden FiguresTheodore MelfiR
Hunt for the WilderpeopleTaika WaititiR
JackiePablo LarrainHR
Kubo and the Two StringsTravis KnightR
La La LandDamien ChazelleMP
LionGarth DavisR
LovingJeff NicholsR
Manchester by the SeaKenneth LonerganHR
MoonlightBarry JenkinsMP
PatersonJim JarmuschMS
RawJulia DucournauR/HR
SilenceMartin ScorseseHR
SplitM. Night ShyamalanR
Swiss Army ManDaniel Kwan, Daniel ScheinertR
The Lost City of ZJames GrayHR
The Neon DemonNicolas Winding RefnMS
The Nice GuysShane BlackR
Toni ErdmannMaren AdeR
Train to BusanYeon Sang-hoR
The Lost City of Z parallels Apocalypse Now in some ways with the journey through jungles towards a singular goal, but it is James Gray’s use of natural lighting which is most impressive of all.


13thAva DuVernay
Voyage of TimeTerrence Malick
During his prolific stretch of filmmaking in the 2010s, Terrence Malick dipped into the world of documentaries with Voyage of Time, which feels very much like the ‘birth of the universe’ section of The Tree of Life stretched out.

The Best Films of 2015

Top 10 of the Year

1. The RevenantAlejandro Iñárritu
2. Mad Max: Fury RoadGeorge Miller
3. Son of SaulLászló Nemes
4. VictoriaSebastian Schipper
5. The AssassinHou Hsiao-hsien
6. CarolTodd Haynes
7. The LobsterYorgos Lanthimos
8. Tale of TalesMatteo Garrone
9. Sunset SongTerence Davies
10. The Big ShortAdam McKay

Best Film

The Revenant. Steadily over the years, this has been creeping closer and closer to Mad Max: Fury Road as the greatest film of 2015, and only recently has it finally overtaken George Miller’s high-octane action blockbuster. As a result, this also marks the second year in a row that Alejandro Iñárritu has cracked the #1 spot – a remarkable feat that marks the peak of his career and the Nuevo Cine Mexicano movement in general. This survival tale set in the 19th century snowy Dakotan wilderness is easily one of the most beautiful films of the decade in its natural lighting, long takes, and meticulously staged battle sequences, but then there are the surreal interludes on top of that which bring an otherworldly mysticism to the central spiritual journey.

A spiritual and visceral journey through the Dakotan wilderness in The Revenant, meditating on mortality and the transition from one life to another.

Most Underrated

The Revenant. The most recent update on TSPDT saw this land at #20 of the decade. This has been worst in the past – the previous year saw it at #26, and the tide has been gradually shifting over time to compensate for how badly critics missed on this when it came out. At the time it got a bit too caught up in Oscars politics with the whole narrative about Leonardo DiCaprio sleeping in a bear and going full method for the part. With some distance from that, fortunately people are starting to take it on its own merits as an astounding, awe-inspiring film.

These surreal dream scenes are staggering, and integral to our main character’s psychological journey. This is not a film to underrate so lightly

Most Overrated

Inside Out. This stands among Pixar’s best films, and it is certainly a smart, touching, endlessly imaginative screenplay. But I can’t reason its #4 spot on TSPDT above superior cinematic achievements like Son of Saul, Victoria, and Carol.

Pixar is a powerhouse of animation through the 2000s and into the 2010s, and Inside Out is worth admiring as part of that great run, even if it lacks the formal ambition of something like WALLE.

Best Directorial Debut

Son of Saul. It actually hurts a little bit not being about to mention The Witch here, but László Nemes’ Holocaust drama possesses an unparalleled formal rigour and dedicated aesthetic that Robert Eggers’ folk horror can’t match. Point-of-view is everything, trapping us in long takes that hang on the shoulder and face of one Jewish-Hungarian concentration camp prisoner, and confining us in extreme shallow focus to a wilfully incomplete picture of history. The horrors of the setting are kept just out of view, as if blocked out in his own head, but we still see just enough for this to become one of the most traumatic depictions of war committed to film.

It is hard to believe Son of Saul is the work of a first time director. Its style of shallow focus, dim lighting, and close-ups doesn’t immediately leap out, but it grinds away at you over the course of the film – a sure sign of excellent form.

Gem to Spotlight

Cemetery of Splendour. For Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this is actually a bit of a disappointment, and yet a weak film by his standards is still incredibly fascinating. In a former elementary school somewhere in Thailand, a temporary clinic has been set up to manage the overflow of comatose soldiers from a nearby hospital. A mysterious “sleeping sickness” has been taking over military units, and the only way nurses have been able to treat them is by soothing their dreams through light machines, each one standing tall above the beds like over-sized, neon canes. As the machines rotate through psychedelic colours in this otherwise pitch-black space, Weerasethakul invokes a hallucination of hypnotic effervescence. There is political subtext here as well, but Cemetery of Splendour thrives in those scenes where we disappear into his tropical fever dreams.

A standout sequence from Cemetery of Splendour, cycling through the neon colours in this temporary clinic as if tracing the dreams of its sleeping soldiers.

Best Male Performance

Leonardo DiCaprio won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2015 for his part in The Revenant, but it’s hard not to feel that the Academy simply wanted to recognise his prolific career rather than the actual triumph of acting on display. Still, you can’t complain too much when they get it right, even for the wrong reasons. Rarely has such a character been rendered onscreen with such visceral pain and spiritual awe, seeing DiCaprio rely less on his verbal skills and more on his primal, physical presence. He undergoes a transformation throughout the film, turning into a ghost who haunts the wilderness and soon becomes one with it. In Alejandro Iñárritu’s wide-angle lens close-ups, his dirtied face and pale blue eyes convey transcendent expressions of terror, wonder, and longing.

Tom Hardy is also having a great year starring in its two best films – the villain in The Revenant, and the hero of Mad Max: Fury Road. The former is far more talkative than the latter, and may actually be the greater achievement in the end, but both are worthy of praise.

DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant is more than just a display of visceral pain and suffering – it is the canvas upon which Iñárritu maps a spiritual journey into nature, following the traditions of Native American cultures. There are few faces in film history so suited to close-ups as his.

Meanwhile, Géza Röhrig makes a brilliant onscreen debut in Son of Saul, offering us the narrow perspective through which this harrowing Holocaust story is filtered. Almost the entire film is shot in intimate close-ups hanging on his shoulder, the back of his head, and his face, leaving a lot hanging on his performance.

After this top 3, it is worth singling out Benicio del Toro in Sicario and Christian Bale in The Big Short – these are films with big casts, and yet both actors break through as particularly notable. Colin Farrell’s deadpan turn in The Lobster is a perfect absurdist fit for Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre black comedy, while Nicholas Hoult brings just enough to Mad Max: Fury Road as a war boy with shifting allegiances to earn a spot in this category.        

Son of Saul was Géza Röhrig’s film debut, and he is our vehicle into this concentration camp. It is exciting that he is also now using the clout he earned from it to work with Terrence Malick.

Best Female Performance

Charlize Theron’s Furiosa will go down as one of the great female action heroes of cinema, right next to Ripley from the Alien franchise and the Bride from the Kill Bill duology. She has more lines in Mad Max: Fury Road than her co-star Tom Hardy, but it is her swaggering physicality, pale blue eyes, and stoic face which open us up to her emotional journey as she resolves to find the utopian ‘Green Place’. The heartbreak of discovering its destruction and her subsequent determination to topple Immortan Joe’s tyrannical reign centre her as one of the decade’s greatest characters, come to life in Theron’s confident performance with strength and grit.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara come next in Carol, Todd Haynes’ warm, romantic melodrama about the transgressive relationship formed between the glamourous, middle-aged title character and Mara’s younger, fresh-faced shop assistant in 1950s New York. Laia Costa also deserves a mention for her part in the one-take film Victoria, carrying an incredible intensity across all 138 minutes of its uncut runtime, while Qi Shu maintains an elegant yet dynamic presence in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s wuxia film The Assassin.

One of the great female action heroes of film, and Charlize Theron deserves all the praise she gets for it, driving the narrative forward right next to Tom Hardy’s Mad Max.

Best Cinematography: The Revenant

1. The RevenantEmmanuel Lubezki
2. Mad Max: Fury RoadJohn Seale
3. VictoriaSturla Brandth Grovlen
4. The AssassinMark Lee Ping-bing
5. CarolEdward Lachman
6. Tale of TalesPeter Suschitzky
7. Son of SaulMatyas Erdely
8. Sunset SongMichael McDonough
9. SicarioRoger Deakins
A ruined church discovered in the middle of the wilderness. So much symbolism packed into this, paired with remarkable photography in the symmetry, low angle, natural light, washed out colours – it earns the Tarkovsky comparisons.

Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

1. Mad Max: Fury RoadMargaret Sixel
2. The Big ShortHank Corwin
3. Gone GirlKirk Baxter
4. The RevenantStephen Mirrione
5. The AssassinHuang Chih-Chia
6. The LobsterYorgos Mavropsaridis
Mad Max: Fury Road is more than just great action editing with an incredibly short average shot length, though it is certainly that as well. Margaret Sixel cut out single frames in the middle of shots to create the impression of speeding up footage, and the results are magnificent.

Best Screenplay: Sicario

1. The LobsterEfthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
2. SicarioTaylor Sheridan
3. CarolPhyllis Nagy
4. The Big ShortCharles Randolph, Adam McKay
5. The WitchRobert Eggers
6. Sunset SongTerence Davies
The Lobster is an invention of Kafkaesque absurdism, building a world on inane rules which are right at home in a Yorgos Lanthimos film.

Best Original Music Score: Mad Max: Fury Road

1. Mad Max: Fury RoadJunkie XL
2. The RevenantRyuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
3. CarolCarter Burwell
4. SicarioJohan Johannsson
5. The WitchMark Korven
6. VictoriaNils Frahm
7. The AssassinLim Giong
8. Sunset SongGast Waltzing
9. Tale of TalesAlexandre Desplat
Junkie XL brings the sound of thunder to its score of pounding drums, distorted basses, and aggressive strings. Much of it is diegetic as well, played by Immortan Joe’s own war boys as they race across dusty landscapes.

Year Breakdown

2015 has two decade-defining masterpieces sitting right at the top – Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. The first is George Miller’s widely beloved comeback that virtually revived his entire career, and the second is Iñárritu at his absolute peak, landing at the top of the list two years in a row. Birdman and The Revenant would be his only two films this decade, but he would leave a huge mark on it nonetheless. With Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak also coming out this year, it is clear that Nuevo Cine Mexico remains alive and well long after it kicked off in the early 2000s, and is still far from over.

Besides these major Hollywood movies, 2015 is also a significant year for world cinema. Just in my top 10 alone, there are only two American directors – other countries represented include Hungary, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom. While their films don’t land in my top 10, it is notable that Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jia Zhangke are both present and working this year too, further diversifying the pool of talent. Given the Academy’s taste for a very specific kind of film, it isn’t surprising that many of these weren’t recognised among their nominations. By giving Spotlight the award for Best Picture, they also missed out on the two very easy blockbuster choices I already mentioned sitting at #1 and #2 of the year.

Jurassic World and The Force Awakens sit atop the 2015 box office. Along with the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, these indicate the growing popularity of legacy sequels reviving nostalgic movie franchises from decades ago. Between Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and Jurassic World here, Chris Pratt proves to be a very bankable star, and would continue to lead both franchises into the 2020s. This year is also a highpoint for Pixar with Inside Out raking in big numbers and proving to be one of their most imaginative films, while The Martian leaves its mark as one of Ridley Scott’s most financially successful films.

Hou Hsiao-hsien crafts indelible imagery in his Chinese wuxia film The Assassin, patiently building the fable of Yinniang’s quest to kill military governor Tian Ji’an.

Film Archives

AnomalisaCharlie KaufmanR/HR
Bridge of SpiesSteven SpielbergR
BrooklynJohn CrowleyR
CarolTodd HaynesMS
Cemetery of SplendourApichatpong WeerasethakulR
Crimson PeakGuillermo del ToroHR
Inside OutPeter DocterR
Knight of CupsTerrence MalickR
Mad Max: Fury RoadGeorge MillerMP
Mountains May DepartJia ZhangkeR
RoomLenny AbrahamsonR
SicarioDenis VilleneuveHR
Son of SaulLászló NemesMS
SpotlightTom McCarthyR
Star Wars: The Force AwakensJ.J. AbramsR
Steve JobsDanny BoyleR/HR
Sunset SongTerence DaviesHR
TangerineSean BakerHR
The AssassinHou Hsiao-hsienMS
The Big ShortAdam McKayHR
The Danish GirlTom HooperR
The Hateful EightQuentin TarantinoR
The LobsterYorgos LanthimosHR/MS
The MartianRidley ScottR
The RevenantAlejandro IñárrituMP
The WitchRobert EggersHR
VictoriaSebastian SchipperMS
Terence Davies adapts the 1932 novel Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibson here, bringing its powerful literary prose to film by way of enchanting voiceovers and spectacular exterior photography.

The Best Films of 2014

Top 10 of the Year

1. BirdmanAlejandro Iñárritu
2. The Grand Budapest HotelWes Anderson
3. WhiplashDamien Chazelle
4. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceRoy Andersson
5. Mr. TurnerMike Leigh
6. Gone GirlDavid Fincher
7. BoyhoodRichard Linklater
8. MommyXavier Dolan
9. InterstellarChristopher Nolan
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightAna Lily Amirpour

Best Film

Birdman. Alejandro Iñárritu’s Best Picture win is one of the few times the Academy has gotten it 100% right. Enough can’t be said about its darkly humorous, self-deprecating screenplay, drum solo score, and trio of brilliant performances (Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Ed Norton). As far as long take cinema goes, it earns its place among the finest displays of moving camerawork. It formally ties its daring style to its content, studying the unstable mind of an aged movie star making a comeback on Broadway, and when it does finally land a cut in the final act, it may be one of the most well-placed edits of the year.

Alejandro Iñárritu kicks off the first part of his one-two punch this decade with Birdman, featuring one of the finest long takes in the art form’s history as a vehicle into its intensive, darkly comical character study.

Most Underrated

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. #36 of the year on the 21st century TSPDT list is far too low for Roy Andersson’s bleakly absurdist gallery of cinematic paintings. This concludes his Living trilogy as a deadpan meditation on wealth, poverty, and our obsession with both. The first few tableaux show us a series of deaths in which material possessions seem to take priority, while the main running thread concerns two salesmen of novelty gag items. “We want to help people have fun,” they repeat in ironically expressionless tones, though what a sad state of affairs this world is in that these people are in charge of “fun.” Andersson’s lighting is deliberately flat and colourless, while his eye for composition is incredibly refined, creating frames and boxes around characters trapped in dull, repetitive lives.

Roy Andersson’s influences come more from painters than filmmakers, and yet he makes his gallery of deadpan tableaux into something cinematic with his rigorous formal construction.

Most Overrated

Goodbye to Language. The Jean-Luc Godard of the 21st century does not bear a whole lot of resemblance to the great director of the French New Wave. #2 of the year on the TSDPT list is far too high for this experimental essay, which doesn’t really come close to making the cut in the archives below. It is experimental to the point of being virtually formless, and much of it is just about the ugliest thing Godard has put to screen, minus maybe three shots. This was his effort to innovate 3D film technology, and though I appreciate the ambition, I don’t believe it really amounts to much in the end.

By the time Jean-Luc Godard’s career reached Goodbye to Language, the glory of his artistic innovation in the 1960s was well and truly gone.

Best Directorial Debut

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Ana Lily Amirpour’s Persian vampire film is a strange meld of Lynchian horror, acid western, and feminist grunge, while possessing the stripped back formality of a Jim Jarmusch film. Her expressionist lighting is impressive, and stands out even further in her black-and-white photography, cutting a sharp, sloping silhouette out of the hijab worn by the titular ‘Girl’. Through the streets of Bad City, she pursues and feeds on men, seeing Amirpour subvert several conventions at once while sinking us into the film’s dark, eerie ambience.

Ana Lily Amirpour sheds a dark ambience over her vampire fable, crafted delicately through her minimalist arrangement of compositions like these.

Gem to Spotlight

Two Days, One Night. This raw piece of neorealism from the Dardenne brothers can’t quite find a way into the year’s top 10, though its infusion of particularly high stakes into an otherwise mundane conceit finds excellent form in its storytelling. Marion Cotillard’s factory worker Sandra puts up a fight to keep her job, and over the course of the film she approaches her 16 co-workers, encouraging them to keep her on at the sacrifice of their own bonuses. What results is a fantastic theme-and-variation structure as the same request draws out different responses, each bringing depth to otherwise minor characters who are individually dealing with domestic violence, cultural ostracisation, immigration, financial hardships, second jobs – the list goes on. The Dardennes are committed realists, and Two Days, One Night just keeps piling on one stress after another in its social issues.

Two Days, One Night follows through on a formal pattern set in the opening minutes, leading factory worker Sandra down a path to hopefully winning back her job.

Best Male Performances

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Michael Keaton in Birdman sit incredibly close together at the top. Fiennes is brilliantly funny as the sophisticated, polite, but occasionally potty-mouthed Monsieur Gustave, delivering one of the best purely comedic performances in decades. He would slot perfectly into an Ernst Lubitsch comedy of the 30s and 40s, maintaining that air of upper-crust civility whether he is pleasuring his hotel guests, swearing, or running from police. It is an unassumingly physical performance as well, playing perfectly to Wes Anderson’s visual gags and effectively becoming his finest character creation.

Keaton delivers a comedic performance of a different kind in Birdman, tempered with a heavier dose of cynicism, psychological instability, and morbidity. Like his character Riggan Thompson, this is his big comeback as an actor, trying to escape out from under the shadow of the superhero character he became known for decades ago. He is raw, angry, insecure, and his voiceover rattles around in his head, reminding him of his former success which he may never capture again.

The civilised, potty-mouthed Monsieur Gustave is Wes Anderson’s finest character creation, and Ralph Fiennes’ strongest performance to date. His gentle voice makes for some brilliantly incongruous line deliveries, and his upright posture opens up some wonderful physical gags.

A very small drop below those two performances, Timothy Spall fully inhabits the coarse figure of J.M.W. Turner, whose exquisite watercolours reveal a sensitivity not immediately obvious in his crude, grunting demeanour. J.K. Simmons’ and Miles Teller’s duelling performances as mentor and student in Whiplash holds up Damien Chazelle’s intense study of obsession and ambition, with Simmons especially revealing an incredible complexity to a character who by all means is an abusive villain.

Though he is not as fully dominant as Keaton in Birdman, Edward Norton is similarly playing to his image as an egotistic, difficult actor, making uncomfortable, impulsive decisions and riling up his co-stars. In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal’s lonely antihero draws heavily on Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, though clearly possessing more self-awareness around his absolute moral corruption. He is thin, gaunt, and wide-eyed, like a hungry hyena preying on a victim.

In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey delivers the most emotional performance of any Christopher Nolan film, setting up huge personal stakes as a father seeing the time he could have spent with his children gradually slip away. Speaking of fathers, Ethan Hawke’s stamina is also showcased in Boyhood as Mason Evans Sr., developing his character across 12 years of his life, and Antoine Olivier Pilon delivers a volatile yet sensitive performance as the troubled son of Mommy.

Timothy Spall waddles, spits, and grunts his way to the list of 2014’s best performances, recognising painter J.M.W. Turner as a complex historical figure.

Best Female Performances

Emma Stone rounds out the trio of superb lead performances in Birdman as Michael Keaton’s estranged daughter, dealing with her own issues as a recovering drug addict, though often feeling second to her father’s ego. Next up, Anne Dorval plays the titular widowed figure of Mommy with guilt, fury, and an undeniable love for her unstable son, while Rosamund Pike is straight up chilling in Gone Girl. David Fincher’s mid-story twist would not work without her absolute commitment to the character’s deviousness.

Patricia Arquette stands right next to Ethan Hawke as one of the strongest actors in Boyhood, and Marion Cotillard lands as the fifth and final mention for this category for her work in Two Days, One Night. Her performance is pure, empathetic realism, visibly bearing the pressure to win her job back by the end of the weekend.

Emma Stone completely owns her savage monologue directed at Michael Keaton in Birdman, but she also claims the ambiguous final shot of the film with this wordless expression of wonder.

Best Cinematography: Birdman

1. BirdmanEmmanuel Lubezki
2. The Grand Budapest HotelRobert Yeoman
3. Mr. TurnerDick Pope
4. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceIstvan Borbas, Gergely Palos
5. WhiplashSharone Meir
6. MommyAndre Turpin
7. InterstellarHoyte van Hoytema
8. Gone GirlJeff Cronenweth
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightLyle Vincent
Even beyond its immersive moving camerawork, Emmanuel Lubezki still finds the time for brilliant lighting compositions and close-ups with his wide-angle lens in Birdman.

Best Editing: Whiplash

1. WhiplashTom Cross
2. The Grand Budapest HotelBarney Pilling
3. InterstellarLee Smith
4. Gone GirlKirk Baxter
5. MommyXavier Dolan
6. BoyhoodSandra Adair
7. NightcrawlerJohn Gilroy
8. A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightAlex O’Flinn
Tom Cross is the greatest editor to make his debut in the 2010s, pairing with Damien Chazelle to unleash a musical onslaught of rhythmic montages in Whiplash.

Best Screenplay: Birdman

1. BirdmanAlejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bó
2. The Grand Budapest HotelWes Anderson
3. Gone GirlGillian Flynn
4. BoyhoodRichard Linklater
5. InterstellarJonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
6. WhiplashDamien Chazelle
7. NightcrawlerDan Gilroy
8. Two Days, One NightThe Dardenne Brothers
9. Ex MachinaAlex Garland
10. MommyXavier Dolan
11. CalvaryJohn Michael McDonagh
Iñárritu and his team of writers pick apart an ageing movie star’s ego with ferocious wit in Birdman, ringing the self-deprecating voiceover of the superhero he once played through his head.

Best Original Music Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel

1. The Grand Budapest HotelAlexandre Desplat
2. BirdmanAntonio Sánchez, Victor Hernandez Stumpfhauser
3. InterstellarHans Zimmer
4. Mr. TurnerGary Yershon
5. Gone GirlTrent Reznor, Atticus Ross
6. NightcrawlerJames Newtown Howard
7. Ex MachinaBen Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Alexandre Desplat was born to score Wes Anderson films, lightly touching his lush orchestrations with an air of whimsy and a vaguely Eastern European sound.

Year Breakdown

When you study the dominant cinematic choices in the 2010s, you have to note the trend of long takes and moving cameras. Alejandro Iñárritu may be the single greatest director working with these techniques, and Birdman is the first film you point to as the best example. Emmanuel Lubezki is absolutely essential here too as cinematographer. Although Nuevo Cine Mexicano has often been defined by the ‘Three Amigos’ of Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro, Lubezki’s input is invaluable, and is distinguished by this strong aesthetic. Birdman won Best Picture at the Oscars – but this is the second year in a row he won Best Cinematography, and the year after this, he would make it three.

Another 2010s trend which peaked in 2014 was the idiosyncratic use of changing aspect ratios. The most famous example of this is in The Grand Budapest Hotel where Wes Anderson defines each time period with this device, though Xavier Dolan turns it into an absolutely transcendent moment in Mommy as his main character physically pushes the edges of the screen out, expanding his world.

A small spurt of realism appears this year as well, most notably in Richard Linklater’s immense project Boyhood which spent a massive 12 years shooting, and finally comes to fruition here. The more modest yet still impressive achievement comes from the Dardenne Brothers, whose neorealist-inspired piece Two Days, One Night just barely misses out on the year’s top 10.

Xavier Dolan physically expands the aspect ratio of Mommy with a single push – hugely inspired filmmaking.

2014 also marks the year Roy Andersson would finish off his Living trilogy with a film that has my vote for the best title of all time, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. He works intermittently, but his deadpan galleries of absurd tableaux are always worth the wait. Andersson is easily one of the finest filmmakers to come out of Sweden, with the top slot obviously reserved for Ingmar Bergman.

In terms of new emerging auteurs, it is impossible to look past the breakthrough of Damien Chazelle with Whiplash. He was only 29 years old when he directed this, and already evidence of his genius is coming across with one of the decade’s best edited films and a thrilling study of obsessive ambition.

James Gunn won the 2014 box office with Guardians of the Galaxy, easily one of the better Marvel instalments out there and clearly the product of a director with his own creative ideas. It isn’t very often you can look at one of these big comic book movies and recognise the unique stamp of a filmmaker. David Fincher and Christopher Nolan also prove they can keep pulling in big numbers with thought-provoking thrillers and science-fiction films, and although it has been a while since Clint Eastwood has made a film on the level of Million Dollar Baby, the box office figures clearly indicate that audiences loved American Sniper.

Whiplash is the announcement of a major new talent – Damien Chazelle’s energetic style of whip pans, rhythmic montages, and ambient lighting is evident from the start.

Film Archives

A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightAna Lily AmirpourHR
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceRoy AnderssonMS
American SniperClint EastwoodR
Big Hero 6Don Hall, Chris WilliamsR
BirdmanAlejandro IñárrituMP
BoyhoodRichard LinklaterMS
CalvaryJohn Michael McDonaghR
Ex MachinaAlex GarlandHR
FoxcatcherBennett MillerR
Gone GirlDavid FincherMS
Guardians of the GalaxyJames GunnR
How to Train Your Dragon 2Chris Sanders, Dean DeBloisR
Inherent VicePaul Thomas AndersonR
InterstellarChristopher NolanHR/MS
It FollowsDavid Robert MitchellR
John WickChad StahelskiR
Kingsman: The Secret ServiceMatthew VaughnR
MommyXavier DolanMS
Mr. TurnerMike LeighMS
NightcrawlerDan GilroyHR/MS
PaddingtonPaul KingR
SelmaAva DuVernayR
Still AliceRichard Glatzer, Wash WestmorelandR
The BabadookJennifer KentR
The Grand Budapest HotelWes AndersonMP
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesPeter JacksonR
The Imitation GameMorten TyldumR
The Theory of EverythingJames MarshR
Two Days, One NightThe Dardenne BrothersHR
What We Do in the ShadowsTaika WaititiR
WhiplashDamien ChazelleMS
How does a director like Christopher Nolan follow up his hugely successful blockbuster Inception and the final instalment of his Dark Knight trilogy? With more IMAX set pieces and another magnificently mind-bending narrative in Interstellar, perhaps his most emotionally-driven film yet.

The Best Films of 2013

Top 10 of the Year

1. IdaPaweł Pawlikowski
2. Inside Llewyn DavisThe Coen Brothers
3. GravityAlfonso Cuarón
4. EnemyDenis Villeneuve
5. 12 Years a SlaveSteve McQueen
6. The Great BeautyPaolo Sorrentino
7. Only God ForgivesNicolas Winding Refn
8. The GrandmasterWong Kar-wai
9. Under the SkinJonathan Glazer
10. Before MidnightRichard Linklater

Best Film

Ida. It is strange to see such an explicit influence from mid-century European directors like Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni on a contemporary filmmaker. In Ida though, Paweł Pawlikowski calls back to both in his powerful use of architecture and blocking to inform his characters – one representing faith, and the other representing secularity in post-war Poland. Exhuming secrets of their own nation’s shameful role in the Holocaust takes a psychological toll on these women, and Pawlikowski proves himself to be a master of the form in carrying this through to tragic end of both character arcs.

Pawlikowski stages a sombre reckoning with Poland’s history in Ida, studying its psychological toll on a woman of faith and one of secularity acting in counterpoint.

Most Underrated

Only God Forgives. This is likely the underrated film of the decade as well. Not only does it not crack the TSPDT list at all, its Metacritic score sits at 37 – a huge miss from the consensus, and especially those critics who decry ‘style over substance’. Perhaps it has something to do with the mix of a patient, slow-burn narrative and harrowing violence which, for most directors, would typically be at odds with each other. Rest assured though, this a hypnotic experience for those who are open to its dreamy rhythms, ambient neon lighting, and surreal terror. 

A stunning arrangement of the frame here from Only God Forgives – the red lanterns hanging over the ‘Angel of Vengeance’ as he sings in a Thai night club.

Most Overrated

Her. Sitting at #5 of the year isn’t outrageous, but this year has great depth in its quality, and so it currently sits just outside my top 10. It is beautifully designed and smartly written, but it generally seems to get more praise for its ambitious sci-fi concept than anything else.

Spike Jonze’s direction is backed up by a warm, romantic aesthetic, though it is the creative screenplay where Her shines.

Best Directorial Debut

Nothing. For the second year in a row, the best films of the year are by returning directors.

Gem to Spotlight

The Immigrant. This is a highly recommended film, and yet it doesn’t end up cracking my top 10. James Gray takes great inspiration from the flashback scenes of The Godfather Part II, telling the tale of one Polish woman’s immigration to the United States in 1921 with strong narrative form and visual precision. It also features Marion Cotillard’s best performance to date, seeing her become a vehicle of pure pathos as she struggles against a system rigged against her.

James Gray brings a sensitive touch to this tale set in 1920s New York, piling up a series of hopes and tragedies against one Polish woman’s immigration.

Best Male Performance

First up, Oscar Isaac’s performance as the titular character in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis is layered with the idealism and frustration of a musician who is extremely talented, but not enough to be famous. He wears the weight of Llewyn’s poverty and hardship with a beaten down acceptance, so much so that it becomes a part of himself, leading him to give into despair the moment it arises. There is no version of this character that one could imagine being better off – this is the way he has always been and will continue to be.

Next, The Great Beauty sees Toni Servillo plays an aged version of the Marcello Mastroianni role in La Dolce Vita, searching for some remaining vestige of authentic spirituality in the vapidness of modern-day Rome. Conversely in The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio is all vapidness and no spirituality. Corruption and sleaziness have taken over this successful stockbroker, and DiCaprio plays everything to perfection – the rise and fall, the physical comedy, the smarmy dialogue, and most of all, the pure charisma.

Oscar Isaac’s beaten down performance in Inside Llewyn Davis is an acting landmark of the decade. He has maintained a pretty excellent career since this breakthrough, but nothing that quite touches this.

Michael Fassbender gets another mention in this category a couple of years after Shame, this time for his work next to Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender is terrifying to watch, while Ejiofor maintains a sturdy, warm presence in the lead.

Ethan Hawke ties off his work in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (at least for now) with an older, jaded version of Jesse who has finally married Celine, and isn’t nearly as happy as he expected. It is simply a masterful development of this character audiences have been following since 1995.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s dual performances in Enemy as college professor Adam and seedy actor Anthony carries on the lineage of doppelganger roles that we have seen Jeremy Irons pull off in Dead Ringers and Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique. It is one of his strongest to date, and incredibly subtle in the tiny mannerisms distinguishing both men as opposing masculine archetypes – the brash, misogynistic player, and the quiet, reserved academic.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s dual performances in Enemy reveal two sides to one man, both conjured up in his own mind.

American Hustle is an ensemble film, but Christian Bale does some of his best work of the decade in it, packing on a huge amount of weight, while Tony Leung leads Wong Kar-wai’s big return in The Grandmaster as Ip Man. His composure exudes authority, and when he wears that wide-brimmed fedora in dimly lit scenes of rain and smoke, he even strikes the figure of a film noir hero.

Lastly, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Her is remarkably warm and gentle for an actor so known for his intensity. It is also so full of pathos as he makes what he believes is a genuine, romantic connection with his AI virtual assistant.

Just a year after playing Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale is here in American Hustle with the big gut and loud mouth.

Best Female Performance

Scarlett Johansson plays with her image as a sex symbol in Under the Skin as a man-devouring alien, topping the year with a chilly, reserved performance which somehow still finds empathy from the audience in the end.

The pair of leading women in Ida are not far behind though, as Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kuleza respectively play a young woman of spiritual faith and a cynical, middle-aged women who rejects religion entirely. Both undergo a personal reckoning as they face a national trauma, and Pawlikowski’s close-ups are put to incredible use with their facial expressions.

Julie Delpy’s achievement in Before Midnight is comparable to Ethan Hawke’s, taking Celine in a new direction with her troubled marriage to Jesse, while Lupita N’yongo makes her excellent film debut in 12 Years a Slave and immediately becomes a mainstay in Hollywood.

Scarlett Johansson’s cold, blank face hides beneath a wig of black hair in Under the Skin, ensnaring men with her looks and luring them back to her void.

Marion Cottilard might be more recognised in mainstream cinema for her supporting roles, but she embodies pure empathy in The Immigrant as a Polish woman making her way to America in 1921.

Zhang Ziyi slightly outdoes her co-star Tony Leung in The Grandmaster, and even gets the greatest scene of the film as she exacts vengeance against her father’s murderer in the brilliantly choreographed train station fight scene.

Cate Blanchett’s turn in Blue Jasmine is the equivalent Blanche DuBois role in A Streetcar Named Desire, playing out a breakdown which continues to prove why she is one of the strongest actresses of her generation.

Lastly, Amy Adams’ charm in American Hustle continues her winning streak in the early 2010s, while Sandra Bullock gives her finest performance to date in Gravity. She brings a movie star quality to Alfonso Cuarón’s space drama and confidently carries large chunks of on her own, but she also transcends her usual screen persona with surprising sensitivity and emotion.

Sandra Bullock proved her chops as a movie star a long time ago – it isn’t until Gravity though that she had the perfect vehicle for a performance that shows off her range and stamina.

Best Cinematography: Ida

1. IdaLukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
2. GravityEmmanuel Lubezki
3. Inside Llewyn DavisBruno Delbonnel
4. Only God ForgivesLarry Smith
5. The GrandmasterPhilippe Le Sourd
6. EnemyNicolas Bolduc
7. The Great BeautyLuca Bigazzi
8. 12 Years a SlaveSean Bobbitt
9. The ImmigrantDarius Khondji
10. HerHoyte van Hoytema
Lukasz Zal is one of the decade’s great emerging cinematographers, and his work with Pawlikowski is key to this talent, always finding the perfect framing of actors towards the bottom of the shot.

Best Editing: The Grandmaster

1. The GrandmasterWilliam Chang
2. EnemyMatthew Hannam
3. 12 Years a SlaveJoe Walker
4. Only God ForgivesMatthew Newman
5. Under the SkinPaul Watts
6. GravityAlfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger
7. The Great BeautyCristiano Travaglioli
8. American HustleJay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten
9. Inside Llewyn DavisThe Coen Brothers
William Chang has long been Wong Kar-wai’s editor – but he is also the art director and costume designer on many of his films. This train station fight scene in The Grandmaster may be his greatest work yet.

Best Screenplay: Inside Llewyn Davis

1. Inside Llewyn DavisThe Coen Brothers
2. Before MidnightRichard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
3. The Great BeautyPaolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
4. The Wolf of Wall StreetTerence Winter
5. 12 Years a SlaveJohn Ridley
6. IdaRebecca Lenkiewicz, Paweł Pawlikowski
7. Under the SkinWalter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
8. Blue JasmineWoody Allen
9. EnemyJavier Gullón
10. HerSpike Jonze
11. American HustleEric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
The Coen Brothers continue to assert their position as their generation’s greatest screenwriters in Inside Llewyn Davis’ dark comedy and bleak drama.

Best Original Music Score: Under the Skin

1. Under the SkinMica Levi
2. GravitySteven Price
3. 12 Years a SlaveHans Zimmer
4. Only God ForgivesCliff Martinez
5. EnemyDaniel Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
6. The GrandmasterShigeru Umebayashi, Nathaniel Méchaly
7. HerWilliam Butler and Owen Pallett
8. The Great BeautyLele Marchitelli
Mica Levi uses minimalist musical textures, whining strings, and hollow percussion to create an ambience that could sound like the language of its alien protagonist.

Year Breakdown

There is great depth to 2013 as a year for cinema. We have 16 films total graded a Highly Recommend or higher, meaning there are 6 films that could have cracked my top 10, yet sadly miss out. It is also a fantastic year for screenplays, with three all-time great writers putting forward some exceptional work – Woody Allen doing Tennessee Williams with Blue Jasmine, Richard Linklater tying off his Before trilogy with Before Midnight, and The Coen Brothers doing some of their greatest work yet with Inside Llewyn Davis. When you consider that Her is the tenth-best script of the year, you know there’s solid competition.

World cinema makes its mark this year with many foreign auteurs such as Alfonso Cuarón, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Bong Joon-ho making films in Hollywood, though arguably even stronger are those working in their own native countries. Wong Kar-wai makes a comeback nine years after 2046 with his brilliantly tactile martial arts film, The Grandmaster, which is also the best edited film of the year. Paolo Sorrentino carries on the spirit of Federico Fellini in The Great Beauty, and Paweł Pawlikowski leaves everyone else in the dust with Ida, which probes Poland’s troubled history during World War II. This isn’t his debut, but it is a major breakthrough which puts him on the radar for many cinephiles.

Paolo Sorrentino makes his La Dolce Vita for modern day Rome with The Great Beauty, setting up 2013 as a great year for world cinema.

The last two directors who define 2013 in significant ways are Denis Villeneuve and Steve McQueen. Villeneuve released two films this year, and one of them belongs in the top 10. This was far more common in the early days of cinema, but it is a feat that has grown increasingly rare. Prisoners would be the audience favourite, and it possesses an incredibly engaging narrative, but Enemy is a thunderous formal achievement in its psychological character study, announcing him as a powerful cinematic force. Meanwhile for McQueen, this is the year he would finally be recognised by the Academy, winning Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave and building on his brilliant run through the 2010s.

With so much strength in the world of arthouse film, there is little of note going on at the box office, with the only major exception being the spectacle that is Gravity. Iron Man 3 sits at the top, a fine Shane Black film, though one which is heavily flawed as so many Marvel movies are.

One of Steve McQueen’s most gruelling long takes, sitting with this man torturously hanging on his toes for several minutes.

Film Archives

12 Years a SlaveSteve McQueenMS
A Touch of SinJia ZhangkeR
About TimeRichard CurtisR
American HustleDavid O. RussellHR
Before MidnightRichard LinklaterHR/MS
Blue JasmineWoody AllenHR
Dallas Buyers ClubJean-Marc ValléeR
EnemyDenis VilleneuveMS
GravityAlfonso CuarónMS
HerSpike JonzeHR
IdaPaweł PawlikowskiMP
Inside Llewyn DavisThe Coen BrothersMP
Only God ForgivesNicolas Winding RefnMS
PrisonersDenis VilleneuveHR
SnowpiercerBong Joon-hoHR
The GrandmasterWong Kar-waiMS
The Great BeautyPaolo SorrentinoMS
The Great GatsbyBaz LuhrmannR
The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugPeter JacksonR
The ImmigrantJames GrayHR
The Wolf of Wall StreetMartin ScorseseHR
The World’s EndEdgar WrightR/HR
Under the SkinJonathan GlazerMS
Before Midnight brings Richard Linklater’s decades-spanning trilogy to a close with a cynical sting.

The Best Films of 2012

Top 10 of the Year

1. The MasterPaul Thomas Anderson
2. Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson
3. Holy MotorsLeos Carax
4. Django UnchainedQuentin Tarantino
5. Spring BreakersHarmony Korine
6. The Dark Knight RisesChristopher Nolan
7. SkyfallSam Mendes
8. Frances HaNoah Baumbach
9. AmourMichael Haneke
10. LooperRian Johnson

Best Film

The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson’s formal prowess is on full show here, crafting an enigmatic study of soulmates drifting through a post-war America lost in its identity and direction. Robust counterpoints are constantly drawn between the leader and his follower. When Dodd speaks of humanity’s supremacy over the animal kingdom, Freddie amusingly asks a total stranger if she wants to fuck. When Dodd is arrested for practicing medicine without a licence, he maintains an air of civil decorum, and of course Freddie is right there by his side, refusing to let his friend go down without a fight. It may take a couple viewings to fully grasp the extent of this supreme achievement, but this is an incredibly rewarding allegory of freedom and obedience.

Point and counterpoint in a single image – brilliant form drawn all through the characterisations of The Master.

Most Underrated

Spring Breakers. This can’t find its way onto the TSPDT list, and its Metacritic score sits at 63. No doubt this has more to do with its content than its craft. Some have accused it of essentially being a 90-minute music video, but what a brilliant music video it is, shot with neon lighting in the style of Nicolas Winding Refn (another divisive auteur) and energetically cut together in Terrence Malick-style montages. We are essentially watching one bad decision after nothing, driving this spring break vacation into total chaos like a Gaspar Noé film.

Spring Breakers is what you would get if Terrence Malick and Gaspar Noé collaborated on a music video. The results are both hypnotic and frightening.

Most Overrated

Amour. I’ve got this at #9, and TSPDT has it at #2 above The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, and Django Unchained which is wrong. Michael Haneke’s is coming off his glory days in the 2000s, and although Amour is a powerful, touching, and even disturbing film, it doesn’t touch the formal triumph of Cache or The White Ribbon.

Michael Haneke is coming off his run of great films in the 2000s with Amour. There is actually more warmth and sensitivity here than much of his previous work – but the slow downslide of our main characters is equally tough to watch.

Best Directorial Debut

Nothing. Perhaps I just have more work to do here, but the best films of 2012 are simply full of already established directors.

Gem to Spotlight

The Hunt. It would be easy to push this higher purely based off the gut-wrenching tragedy of the narrative and pure sensitivity of Mads Mikkelsen’s performance, but Thomas Vinterberg’s direction is a little more modest in comparison. The false allegation one young girl makes against an older man in her life without recognising its ramifications call to mind Atonement, though this moves in a very different direction with the main perspective remaining with the accused. The ending leaves a bitter aftertaste and will continue to haunt you for days.

It’s almost like Mads Mikkelsen has two careers – as chilling villains in English language films, and as the sympathetic protagonists in more arthouse fare like The Hunt.

Best Male Performance

Freddie Quell is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s greatest character creations – a creature of impulse with an instinctive need to follow a leader. In other words, he is like a dog to Lancaster Dodd’s master, and Joaquin Phoenix delivers a studied performance in The Master of ticks, outbursts, and volatile mood swings that escape anyone’s control. There always seems to be some crooked angle in his posture, whether hunched over, bent to the side, or completely splayed out, marking this as the best male performance of the decade. That said, it does go hand-in-hand with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s pompous cult leader, Dodd. Hoffman’s voice is booming, and his portly physique asserts a huge screen presence like Orson Welles. These inverse reflections of each other possess enormous chemistry, bringing Dodd down to a level of casual intimacy that is disparaged by his uptight family, and seeing his façade of perfect self-control slip in moments of shameful, impulsive anger. Tragically, this would be Hoffman’s last appearance in the archives before his death in 2014.

With these two huge performances in The Master out of the way, we can recognise Denis Lavant’s shape-shifting work in Holy Motors as an actor who can never quite be pinned down. He becomes a banker, a beggar, an eccentric homeless man, a gangster – the list goes on, and it is remarkable to watch.

These are incredibly complex performances from Phoenix and Hoffman, acting in perfect harmony against each other.

There are four big performances in Django Unchained that deserve recognition, starting with Christoph Waltz. He is an incredibly controlled actor with a penchant for brilliant line deliveries, which is a match made in heaven with Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue. After him, Jamie Foxx is confident in the leading role, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson respectively steal scenes as a pair of twisted villains.

Christian Bale caps off his great work in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with Tom Hardy, who is presented an even greater challenge of acting behind a mask. Even then, there is a lot in the voice, posture, and movement which sets him up as one of the more memorable superhero villains of the decade.

Jamie Foxx leads an ensemble of magnificent performances in Django Unchained, seeking justice for historical transgressions.

Best Female Performance

It is a disappointingly light category for female performances this year, though Greta Gerwig’s turn in Frances Ha can’t go unnoted. This is a character study of a 27-year-old woman drifting through her youth, insecure about her future, and making impulsive decisions to ward off that uncertainty. In comparison to the nuance and empathy Gerwig brings to this role, we have Amy Adams’ restrained performance as Peggy Dodd, the wife of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in The Master. It isn’t a large part, but it is important to the film – she may be the closest thing we get to a villain as she asserts control over her husband.

Before Greta Gerwig was a great director, she was a great actress, doing some incredibly warm work here in Frances Ha.

Best Cinematography: Moonrise Kingdom

1. Moonrise KingdomRobert Yeoman
2. The MasterMihai Malamaire Jr
3. SkyfallRoger Deakins
4. Spring BreakersBenoit Debie
5. The Dark Knight RisesWally Pfister
6. Holy MotorsCaroline Champetier, Yves Cape
7. Django UnchainedRobert Richardson
8. Frances HaSam Levy
Perfect symmetry and curated colour palettes in Moonrise Kingdom, typical of Wes Anderson’s style, though the cinematography here also sheds a warm, nostalgic glow.

Best Editing: The Master

1. The MasterPeter McNulty, Leslie Jones
2. The Dark Knight RisesLee Smith
3. Moonrise KingdomAndrew Weisblum
4. Spring BreakersDouglas Crise
5. Django UnchainedFred Raskin
6. SkyfallStuart Baird
7. Frances HaJennifer Lame
8. Holy MotorsNelly Quettier
Jagged montages and long dissolves drift The Master through its obscure, lyrical narrative, pulling us into the wandering mindset of its characters.

Best Screenplay: The Master

1. The MasterPaul Thomas Anderson
2. Frances HaNoah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
3. Django UnchainedQuentin Tarantino
4. Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson, Roman Coppola
5. The Dark Knight RisesJonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
The Master is laden with subtext at every turn, creating meaning the characters themselves aren’t even recognising – “I do many, many things. I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but, above all, I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.”

Best Original Music Score: The Master

1. The MasterJonny Greenwood
2. Moonrise KingdomAlexandre Desplat
3. SkyfallThomas Newman
4. The Dark Knight RisesHans Zimmer
5. Spring BreakersCliff Martinez, Skrillex
6. HerArcade Fire, Owen Pallett
Jonny Greenwood continues his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson with his eccentric, avant-garde score for The Master.

Year Breakdown

2012 marks a pair of huge milestones for two of our great modern auteurs. It is the year that Wes Anderson delivers his third masterpiece (after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums), and his first in 11 years. Moonrise Kingdom is his tribute to forgotten children failed by the institutions meant to protect them, from foster parents to juvenile justice systems, and his dioramic style is as heavily curated as ever.

For Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master is an even superior achievement – it is both his fifth masterpiece, and his fourth time making the best film of the year (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood). This streak would be broken with his next film in 2014, Inherent Vice, but nonetheless, this achievement is staggering. Rounding out this year of great directors we also have Quentin Tarantino putting his revisionist spin on the Western genre, Christopher Nolan concluding his Dark Knight trilogy, and Leos Carax continuing along his wild, avant-garde path.

Holy Motors is Leos Carax’s shape-shifting meditation on death and reincarnation, as assured in its direction as Denis Lavant is in his wildly swinging performance.

The Avengers tops the box office and effectively cements the reign of Marvel Studios for the rest of the decade. Too often have they fallen back on their ‘shared universe’ in cheap ways to draw in audiences, but it still feels like something fresh and exciting here in 2012. Right behind this big earner though is The Dark Knight Rises – the superior comic book movie of the year, as Nolan rivals Marvel with a far more artistic vision. Another big draw at the box office is Skyfall, the best James Bond film of the modern era, making this an all-round big year for action movies.

Argo isn’t quite an action film, but its thriller conventions and giant set pieces might place it in a similar category, and Ben Affleck’s Best Picture win for the film points to this as a favourable trend among critics and audiences alike. The Palme d’Or on the other hand couldn’t have gone in a more different direction – Michael Haneke’s Amour is all about long takes and static shots, watching the difficult decline of an elderly couple. This is three years after he won for The White Ribbon as well. Amour isn’t up to the same standard as any of his films in the 2000s (Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, Cache, The White Ribbon) but it is admirable nonetheless.

Adam Driver would soon become one of the best actors of the decade, but it is here in 2012 where he would start making a name for himself in Frances Ha. It especially notable given his ongoing collaborations with Noah Baumbach, reaching a high point in 2019 with Marriage Story.

Sam Mendes’ direction and Roger Deakins’ cinematography are a perfect match for James Bond, putting forward an incredibly strong entry in Skyfall.

Film Archives

21 Jump StreetPhil LordR
AmourMichael HanekeHR
ArgoBen AffleckR
Cloud AtlasThe Wachowski SistersR
Django UnchainedQuentin TarantinoMS
Frances HaNoah BaumachHR
Holy MotorsLeos CaraxMS
Les MiserablesTom HooperR
LooperRian JohnsonR
Magic MikeSteven SoderberghR
Moonrise KingdomWes AndersonMP
Seven PsychopathsMartin McDonaghR
SkyfallSam MendesHR
Spring BreakersHarmony KorineMS
The AvengersJoss WhedonR
The Dark Knight RisesChristopher NolanHR/MS
The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyPeter JacksonR
The HuntThomas VinterbergR
The MasterPaul Thomas AndersonMP
The Perks of Being a WallflowerStephen ChboskyR
To the WonderTerrence MalickR
WadjdaHaifaa al-MansourR
Zero Dark ThirtyKathryn BigelowR
Christopher Nolan is a brilliant editor – but his set pieces in The Dark Knight Rises are virtually unrivalled in the superhero genre.


The Act of KillingJoshua Oppenheimer
Joshua Oppenheimer is no fly on the wall in his documentary The Act of Killing, examining Indonesia’s 1960s genocide fifty years later by contacting its executioners and having them reenact the murders they committed.

The Best Films of 2011

Top 10 of the Year

1. The Tree of LifeTerrence Malick
2. The Turin HorseBéla Tarr
3. MelancholiaLars von Trier
4. ShameSteve McQueen
5. We Need to Talk About KevinLynne Ramsay
6. DriveNicolas Winding Refn
7. A SeparationAsghar Farhadi
8. The Deep Blue SeaTerence Davies
9. A Dangerous MethodDavid Cronenberg
10. MargaretKenneth Lonergan

Best Film

The Tree of Life. The best film of the year, the best film of the decade, and the best film of Terrence Malick’s career. It is a deeply personal work for him, lingering in the memories of his childhood growing up in 1950s Texas, though a large portion of its greatness lies in the formal comparison he draws between this and the larger cosmos – its formation, the birth of life, and its eventual end. It is the epitome of Malick’s magic hour photography, montage cutting, pensive voiceovers, and philosophical writing, and the results are jaw-dropping.

The Tree of Life has an easy time taking the #1 spot of the year and decade. This also puts it in very esteemed company among the greatest films of all time.

Most Underrated

Shame. TSPDT’s ranking of #20 for 2011 is far too low for this masterpiece. It is Steve McQueen’s strongest film to date, and carries the best examples of all his recognisable trademarks – the washed-out blue and green colour palette, the gruelling long takes, the formal rigour of his characterisations. All of it comes together here in a brilliant study of a self-loathing sex addict trapped in the same old cycles, weaving pleasure and pain into a single paradox through brilliant displays of editing and a virtuosic performance from Michael Fassbender.

Steve McQueen’s blue and green colour palette suffuses Shame with an air of melancholy oppression, trapping this sex addict in the same guilty cycles.

Most Overrated

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film is currently the #5 film of 2011 on the TSPDT consensus list, and I would drop it about 10 spots or so. His richly spiritual screenplay imbues this film with a sense of mysticism that accompanies a convoy of men on their quest to uncover the location of a dead body buried somewhere in Central Anatolia. In its first half, it deliberately meanders from one site to the next as one of the murder suspects, Kenan, leads the men on a trail of guesses as to where it might be. The painstaking precision of the investigation can be trying, dwelling on details that carry little to no significance, and yet every now and then Ceylan breaks through the monotony of these conversations with a delicate flourish of style and symbolism.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – a quietly languid meditation on sin, regret, and the passing of one’s transgressions onto the next generation.

Best Directorial Debut

The Cabin in the Woods. Drew Goddard’s only film since this is 2018’s Bad Times at the El Royale which I am still yet to see. While The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t come very close to cracking the year’s top 10, it is still an admirable meta-satire of horror films, pulling back the curtain on familiar genre contrivances and hilariously placing them next to scenes of ordinary office work where they are cooked up. The metaphor of the Ancient Ones who serve as representations of the audience makes for a superbly depressing ending as well.

A smart, subversive horror satire from Drew Goddard in his debut, turning the genre on its head.

Gem to Spotlight

Oslo, August 31st. This is Joachim Trier’s follow-up to 2006’s Reprise, and the second part of his unofficial Oslo trilogy (later capped with The Worst Person in the World). The core conflict here is between choosing the future or choosing oblivion, and the mind of recovering drug addict Anders is the battleground upon which it is fought. The titular date might as well be a deadline for him to find some sort of salvation, or at least direction, though with much of the film being set on August 30th, there are precious few hours left for that miracle to take place. The 8-minute take which ends the film is one of the year’s single best shots, and is utterly heartbreaking to watch.

A devastating 8-minute tracking shot through Anders’ house ends Oslo, August 31st, finally settling on this doorway and inching forward.

Best Male Performances

Michael Fassbender has a great year with one of the decade’s best male performances in Shame, and then on top of that playing Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s historical psychological drama A Dangerous Method. Both are uptight, reserved men battling with their sexual impulses, but it is the character study in Shame where he excels, fluctuating between stiff, reticent mannerisms and hunched-over, bestial deviancy. He is served particularly well by Steve McQueen’s close-ups – even as he climaxes, his face is twisted in a pained grimace, weaving pain and pleasure into the paradox which underlies his agonising sex addiction.

Like many of the roles in The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt’s role as Mr O’Brien is largely silent, but he conveys a severity in his manner which is absolutely integral to the film’s dichotomy of grace and nature. Unlike Tyler Durden or Cliff Booth, this is not a role that relies on Pitt’s effortless charisma, but rather lets him explore his range by forcefully repressing that which comes most naturally to him.

One of the great performances of the decade from Michael Fassbender, constantly in conflict with his own compulsions.

Ryan Gosling is also given a similarly stoic role in Drive, though this in the context of an action film, proving that he can hold a self-assured screen presence with little dialogue. On the opposite end of the spectrum Payman Maadi is put under extreme pressure in A Separation, giving a performance of raw naturalism and complexity as he navigates thorny moral issues.

Finally, it is worth giving a spot to Viggo Mortensen who plays opposite Fassbender in A Dangerous Method as Sigmund Freud, the older and wiser psychologist, as well as Anders Danielsen Lie in Oslo, August 31st. He is a talented actor who always does great work with Joachim Trier, and this is his most melancholy part yet, searching for hope in a future that holds little for him.

Some actors have range, others have screen presence – Gosling has both, but it is the latter he chooses to show off in Drive as the stoic, nameless hero.

Best Female Performances

Kirsten Dunst is at the top here with Tilda Swinton, both playing women in separate films who are suffering under the weight of numb, suffocating depression. Dunst finds a strange calm in the despair of Melancholia, fitting perfectly into Lars von Trier’s nihilistic worldview, while Swinton is an equally perfect vehicle for Lynne Ramsay’s gut-wrenching tragedy and paranoia in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz’ work in The Deep Blue Sea plays out a more classical tragedy than either Dunst or Swinton, pursuing love and only finding disappointment. Asghar Farhadi’s neorealist dramas ask a lot of their actors to play high-intensity situations, but Leila Hatami makes it look effortless in A Separation, fully realising each layer of her character caught up in an awkward situation between a divorce and a lawsuit.

Kirsten Dunst’s most notable performance outside a Sofia Coppola film, and it is with Lars von Trier – you couldn’t pick two more different directors.

Carey Mulligan plays supporting roles in both Shame and Drive, but this is the year that officially marks her big arrival in the world of cinema, and she does brilliant work in both. Jessica Chastain also comes onto the scene in a big way with The Tree of Life playing Mrs O’Brien – the gentle, compassionate “way of grace” to Brad Pitt’s severe “way of nature.”

It is strange seeing Anna Paquin so young in the 2011 film Margaret, but this was shot in 2005 and subsequently delayed for six years. Like her part in The Piano, she is loud, verbal, and at times incredibly frustrating, but the ferocity of performance is undeniable.

Tilda Swinton is guilty, paranoid, and sapped of all strength in We Need To Talk About Kevin, drifting through life as if in a traumatised trance.

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

1. The Tree of LifeEmmanuel Lubezki
2. The Turin HorseFred Kelemen
3. ShameSean Bobbitt
4. MelancholiaManuel Alberto Claro
5. DriveNewton Thomas Sigel
6. We Need to Talk About KevinSeamus McGarvey
7. A Dangerous MethodPeter Suschitzky
8. The Deep Blue SeaFlorian Hoffmeister
9. The Skin I Live InJosé Luis Alcaine
Transcendent wonder in Malick’s floating camera and spiritual imagery, often looking to the heavens.

Best Editing: The Tree of Life

1. The Tree of LifeHank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa
2. We Need to Talk About KevinJoe Bini
3. ShameJoe Walker
4. MelancholiaMolly Malene Stensgaard
5. DriveMatthew Newman
6. Oslo, August 31stOlivier Bugge Coutté
Like most of Malick’s films, The Tree of Life relies on lengthy, impressionistic montages, piecing together spiritual ideas from images of the natural world and the broader cosmos.

Best Screenplay: A Separation

1. A SeparationAsghar Farhadi
2. MelancholiaLars von Trier
3. We Need to Talk About KevinLynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
4. ShameSteve McQueen, Abi Morgan
5. The Tree of LifeTerrence Malick
6. MargaretKenneth Lonergan
7. The Deep Blue SeaTerence Davies
8. A Dangerous MethodChristopher Hampton
Asghar Farhadi throws down one complication after another in A Separation, sorting through the moral mess of a divorce and the resulting drama. It is uncomfortable to watch, but totally engrossing – this is top tier writing.

Best Original Music Score: The Tree of Life

1. The Tree of LifeAlexandre Desplat
2. ShameHarry Escott
3. We Need to Talk About KevinJonny Greenwood
4. DriveCliff Martinez
5. HugoHoward Shore
6. A Dangerous MethodHoward Shore
7. The Turin HorseMihály Vig
Incredibly fine work from Alexandre Desplat in The Tree of Life, playing to his strengths as a composer with lush orchestrations and playful flourishes.

Year Breakdown

When The Tree of Life arrived at Cannes Film Festival in 2011, it was met with applause, boos, and mixed reviews. It then went on to win the Palme d’Or and nab an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (losing to The Artist – clearly the Academy was at loss this year with its usual fare given all the superb arthouse films running around). What became even more evident over the following decade was just how gigantic of a masterpiece this is, elevating Terrence Malick’s career to greater heights and asserting itself in the #1 spot of the decade. Like virtually all of his films, it is supremely beautiful in its use of natural light and gliding camerawork, but the scene of the universe’s creation lands in this spiritual meditation on nature and grace as a monumental formal interlude.

You have to feel a little for Béla Tarr when this is the competition he is up against. The Turin Horse is my #2 film of the year, and #4 of the decade, and this has become a bit of a pattern from him ever since his first masterpiece in 1994 with Sátántangó. That year, he is inched out of the top spot by the decade-defining Pulp Fiction. In 2000, Werckmeister Harmonies runs up against the slightly-better In the Mood for Love, which is also the #1 of its decade. 2011 is also sadly the year Tarr retires, so we may never see him come out with another film, let alone a masterpiece.

Béla Tarr goes out on a high with The Turin Horse – about as bleak as the rest of his films.

Trailing behind The Tree of Life and The Turin Horse in the #3 spot is Melancholia, another film which depicts the end of the world (though Malick’s film only briefly touches on this). Malick’s apocalypse is spiritual and a natural part of life. Tarr’s is bleak, dreary, and oppressive. Lars von Trier’s is one huge metaphor for depression and acceptance. Each of these speak profoundly to the philosophy of their respective filmmakers. To examine this trend a little deeper, The Cabin in the Woods takes this on with comedic sensibilities, while Steven Soderbergh’s thriller Contagion depicts a more immediate, apocalypse-adjacent event. The threat of a global pandemic was never so terrifying as it was until 2020 when this film was suddenly being reappraised for its accuracy and prescience.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the top earner at the box office, but there is no great crossover between popularity and art this year. The explanation for this is easy – 2011’s best films are by foreign and indie directors, many of them making the best films of their careers including Tarr, Malick, Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsay, Asghar Farhadi, and Kenneth Lonergan. Among those, it is notable just how many are recluses who you won’t find conducting interviews or asserting much of a media presence.

Finally, although Oscar Isaac doesn’t get a mention among the best male performances of the year, his part as Standard Gabriel in Drive effectively kicks off his meteoric rise as an actor throughout the 2010s, proving his compelling screen presence.

The final Harry Potter movie is the top earner of 2011, bringing an era of young adult fantasy films to a close.

Film Archives

A Dangerous MethodDavid CronenbergHR
A SeparationAsghar FarhadiHR/MS
BernieRichard LinklaterR
ContagionSteven SoderberghR
DriveNicolas Winding RefnMS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2David YatesR
HugoMartin ScorseseHR
MargaretKenneth LonerganHR
MelancholiaLars von TrierMP
Once Upon a Time in AnatoliaNuri Bilge CeylanR
Oslo, August 31stJoachim TrierHR
ShameSteve McQueenMP
The Adventures of TintinSteven SpielbergR
The ArtistMichel HazanaviciusR
The Cabin in the WoodsDrew GoddardR
The Deep Blue SeaTerence DaviesHR
The MuppetsJames BobinR
The Skin I Live InPedro AlmodóvarHR
The Tree of LifeTerrence MalickMP
The Turin HorseBéla TarrMP
We Need to Talk About KevinLynne RamsayMS
David Cronenberg moves away from body horror entirely in A Dangerous Method, and turns his cold, analytical mind to human psychology instead, examining the friendship and feud between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

Short Films

JuniorJulia Ducournau
Before winning the Palme d’Or in 2021 for Titane, Julia Ducournau gets her start in body horror with the short film Junior.

The Best Films of 2010

Top 10 of the Year

1. The Social NetworkDavid Fincher
2. InceptionChristopher Nolan
3. Black SwanDarren Aronofsky
4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesApichatpong Weerasethakul
5. Certified CopyAbbas Kiarostami
6. Blue ValentineDerek Cianfrance
7. The Ghost WriterRoman Polanski
8. Shutter IslandMartin Scorsese
9. SubmarineRichard Ayoade
10. True GritThe Coen Brothers

Best Film

The Social Network. In pairing with Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher works with his best script yet, turning his eye away from serial killers and focusing on a sociopath of a different kind. In pairing with David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin’s prescient writing is given the direction it deserves, drenched in a dim, yellow lighting which underscores the shadiness of these backstabbing tech bros. It is a film that only seems to improve and grow more relevant as the years go on, which itself speaks to the brilliance of these characters.

The Social Network is a slight change of pace for David Fincher, but it is still drenched in his trademark lighting and cynical worldview.

Most Underrated

The Ghost Writer. #20 of the year is too low for this gripping political thriller. There are several highlights that one could point to as evidence of its greatness, but none that linger in the mind so much as the final scene. The utter powerlessness of any whistle blower against the government’s tyrannical forces is succinctly captured in a single depressing shot, leaving us with papers of evidence blowing down a street.

Roman Polanski’s haunting final shot in The Ghost Writer, as papers scatter away on the wind.

Most Overrated

Toy Story 3. This is a funny, moving, and at times scary third part to Pixar’s greatest series, but #5 of the year on the TSPDT list is bit too lofty given the competition. For comparison, Certified Copy sits in the equivalent spot in my list, and though it may not hold the same mainstream appeal, it is a far more formally complex work.

Toy Story may be Pixar’s only franchise which is consistently excellent through each instalment, with Toy Story 3 especially pulling the heart strings.

Best Directorial Debut

Submarine. Richard Ayoade emerges from a class of comedic British directors like Paul King and Edgar Wright who use their mise-en-scène and editing to tell gags in dry, deadpan tones, and who themselves are influenced by Wes Anderson. He was primarily a comedian before this, starring in television shows like The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh, though his transition to the cinema screen is smooth and self-assured. Throw in a few French New Wave techniques like freeze frames, irises, zooms, and kaleidoscopic imagery, and you get a film which fizzes with playful, romantic energy.

Submarine, a playful, subversively off-kilter coming-of-age story, is Richard Ayoade’s superb film debut.

Gem to Spotlight

Incendies. Admirers of Denis Villeneuve who have only seen his blockbusters need to go back and watch this. After their mother suddenly passes away, two siblings are left with the task of going to her home country in the Middle East, tracking down a father and brother they have never met, and delivering her final letters to both. It is a decent narrative with some solid cinematography, but it is the final, gut-wrenching twist that will stick in your mind.

Denis Villeneuve lands Incendies with a gut-wrenching twist ending.

Best Male Performances

Jesse Eisenberg and Leonardo DiCaprio give the two best performances of the year respectively in The Social Network and Inception. Both display an intense focus in their roles as experts in their fields, though Eisenberg gets the slight edge for playing the thorniness of his part to perfection. As unlikeable as Mark Zuckerberg is, somehow we still find empathy for him. Andrew Garfield is his equal in many scenes and even gets a few where he comes out on top – “I’m coming back for everything.”

Ryan Gosling starts his excellent 2010s run with Blue Valentine, playing the same character in time periods set five years apart and showing his disintegration over time. Next, William Shimell goes toe-to-toe with Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy and pulls off an elusive transformation, becoming a jaded married man over the course of the film.

Finally, Ewan McGregor wins a spot for his leading role in The Ghost Writer, essentially becoming a paranoid 1970s thriller protagonist like Warren Beaty in The Parallax View.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, playing a young Mark Zuckerberg as an isolated, lonely asshole.

Best Female Performances

There aren’t as many actresses getting mentions in 2010 as there are actors, but none of Natalie Portman’s male counterparts can match her transcendent performance in Black Swan – the best female performance of the decade. Like her character Nina, a lot is asked of her in as she plays dual roles and simultaneously pulls off challenging ballet routines, but she is also perfectly suited to this portrait of dedicated obsession. The camera hangs on her for much of the film, giving her close-ups that capture a huge range of emotion, from vulnerable fragility to severe, intimidating confidence.

After her, it is Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy, who just slightly outdoes her co-star’s work with a subtle transition from one character to another over the course of the film. Known only as ‘She’, this character is laden with formal complexities, and Binoche’s focus on those tiny shifting details makes for a mesmerising performance.

In the other marital drama of 2010, Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams goes up against Ryan Gosling and shows a different kind of transformation, while Marion Cottilard’s neo-femme fatale in Inception brings both personal stakes and a visceral threat to the central mission.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan, a study of obsession, femininity, and perfectionism.

Best Cinematography: Inception

1. InceptionWally Pfister
2. Black SwanMatthew Libatique
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesSayombhu Mukdeeprom, Yukontorn Mingmongkon, Charin Pengpanich
4. The Social NetworkJeff Cronenworth
5. Blue ValentineAndrij Parekh
6. Certified CopyLuca Bigazzi
7. Scott Pilgrim vs The WorldBill Pope
Inception’s mind-bending illusions and clean mise-en-scène shot by Wally Pfister in IMAX.

Best Editing: Inception

1. InceptionLee Smith
2. Black SwanAndrew Weisblum
3. SubmarineChris Dickens, Nick Fenton
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldPaul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
5. The Social NetworkAngus Wall, Kirk Baxter
6. Blue ValentineJim Helton, Ron Patane
7. Shutter IslandThelma Schoonmaker
Lee Smith is one of our great working editors, and Inception is one of his greatest works – a fine display of parallel editing that only sits behind Dunkirk in grandeur and intricacy.

Best Screenplay: The Social Network

1. The Social NetworkAaron Sorkin
2. InceptionChristopher Nolan
3. Certified CopyAbbas Kiarostami
4. The Ghost WriterRobert Harris, Roman Polanski
5. Shutter IslandLaeta Kalogridis
6. Blue ValentineDerek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis
7. Black SwanMark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
8. True GritThe Coen Brothers
9. SubmarineRichard Ayoade
There are few writers who can write dialogue like Aaron Sorkin, and The Social Network is the greatest showcase of his talent.

Best Original Music Score: Inception

1. InceptionHans Zimmer
2. The Social NetworkTrent Reznor, Atticus Ross
3. Black SwanClint Mansell
4. The King’s SpeechAlexandre Desplat
5. True GritCarter Burwell
6. The Ghost WriterAlexandre Desplat
7. SubmarineAlex Turner

Year Breakdown

In the very first year of the new decade, Aaron Sorkin would pen a landmark of screenwriting which hasn’t been topped since. He is virtually peerless in today’s film industry when it comes to writing dialogue, and The Social Network necessarily relies on the fast-paced back-and-forth between Mark Zuckerberg and virtually everyone he rubs up against. The writing achievement of Inception is worth a huge amount of praise as well for its narrative ingenuity and nesting-doll structure. In fact, 2010 is just a great year for screenplays in general when you consider the thrilling twists of both Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, and Incendies, as well as the pair of marital sparring dramas in Certified Copy and Blue Valentine.

When it comes to the box office, Pixar wins big with Toy Story 3 coming out on top. Not far below, we find Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter too. It is always worth singling out where popularity and art intersect though, and this year it was in Inception. This is a project of Kubrickian ambition, seeking to dazzle audiences with spectacles they had never seen before, only made possible by way of the cinema screen.

Tom Hooper finds artistic success in the sumptuously-directed The King’s Speech, and awards success by nabbing Best Picture for it at the Oscars. Even more praiseworthy though is this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s follow-up to the incredibly formal work of Syndromes and a Century in 2006, and though it isn’t quite at the same level, this profoundly Buddhist, magical realist meditation on reincarnation is worth the time of any cinephile looking to expand their viewing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives wins the Palme d’Or in 2010 – a hypnotic, tropical fever dream.

Film Archives

Alice in WonderlandTim BurtonR
Black SwanDarren AronofskyMP
Blue ValentineDerek CianfranceMS
Certified CopyAbbas KiarostamiMS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1David YatesR
How To Train Your DragonChris Sanders, Dean DeBloisR
IncendiesDenis VilleneuveR
InceptionChristopher NolanMP
Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldEdgar WrightHR
Shutter IslandMartin ScorseseHR
SubmarineRichard AyoadeHR
The Ghost WriterRoman PolanskiMS
The King’s SpeechTom HooperHR
The Social NetworkDavid FincherMP
Toy Story 3Lee UnkrichR
True GritThe Coen BrothersHR
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesApichatpong WeerasethakulMS
Abbas Kiarostami creates a formally complex work in Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche and William Shimell going head to head.