23. I Saw The Devil
20. Lost River
17. Blue Valentine
15. High Life
14. The VVitch
12. Apocalypse After
11. Hard To Be A God
10. Holy Motors
Leos Carax’s glorious and delirious ode to performance owes everything to his muse: the chameleon-like Denis Lavant. Lavant seems to shift shape and form from segment to segment, his body a ribbon dancing to the rhythm of its master’s hand. This long-time partnership culminates in a truly special and entirely unique experience in Holy Motors, the heart filled with the immeasurable joy of having borne witness to such a spectacular fusion of art and energy.
Andrew Dominik doesn’t have a tonne of films under his belt, but every one he’s made has been a cracker, and Killing Them Softly is the cream of the crop. Dominik’s adaptation of Cogan’s Trade transplants the events surrounding a mob-run poker game into the midst of 2008’s global financial crisis. Whilst knowledge of this world-shaping situation isn’t required to enjoy the film, for those in the know it’s impossible to ignore the parallels between the shady characters depicted here and the forces behind America’s economic capitulation. Even if one chooses to disregard the incisive commentary, Killing Them Softly still offers up perhaps the best mob film of the decade, with fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta. A banger through and through.
I was admittedly late to jump on the Kristen Stewart hype-train. My moment of clarity occurred in early January 2018, when I finally got around to watching Olivier Assayas’ modern ghost story, Personal Shopper. In this film I found a haunting, ethereal meditation on grief, with Assayas crafting an atmosphere that adroitly treads a line between cold and comfort. Stewart is in striking form, giving a subtle, yet soulful performance that immediately cemented her in my mind as one of this generation’s finest young actresses. Twilight feels like no more than a distant memory – a ghost from the past, if you will.
From one ghost story to another, David Lowery explores a different angle in this beautifully rendered portrayal of love in the space between the living and the dead. Here the perspective sits with Casey Affleck’s recently deceased musician instead of his grieving widow, his ghost forced into passivity in much the same way that we, as audience members, are watching. A Ghost Story succeeds in evoking both feelings of intimacy and elasticity, the scope expanding alongside the passage of time, until it all folds into one perfect moment of complete emotional catharsis. What a release.
In 2011 Terrence Malick made only his fifth film in the 38 years since his career began with Badlands, sparking a creative resurgence (for better or worse) from the auteur, who proceeded to turn out the same number of features in the 8 years since. None of these subsequent efforts have come close to matching the majesty and complexity of The Tree of Life, though. Within it, Malick shoots for the stars, literally and figuratively, in a soul-searching exploration of the compelling forces that give rise to our humanity and individuality, capturing the journey of life in both a micro and macro scale. It’s all stunningly lensed by Emmanuel Lubzeki, containing some of the most magnificent imagery captured on celluloid to date. Words fail me in attempting to describe the true essence of this film – it must be seen to be felt.
Only God Forgives is Nicolas Winding Refn at the peak of his powers, ruthless in abandonment of a number of traditional cinematic conventions to deliver an evocatively pure mood piece. Narratively stripped, with dialogue as harsh as it is minimal, these elements are purposefully employed, and the aesthetics amped up, to stimulate a visceral call and response to the dialectic nature of the film and its themes. If Drive is iconic, OGF is iconoclastic.
2017’s Phantom Thread saw Paul Thomas Anderson apply a delightfully provocative twist (read: kink) to the conventional romance drama, but Strickland had this territory covered years earlier, and to greater effect, with The Duke of Burgundy. It’s not to say that the Duke doesn’t owe its own debts of gratitude, far from it – it’s both topically and aesthetically indebted to many boundary-pushing pieces of global cinema and television that came before it. The evocative melting pot of genre and formal influences that results suggests a feeling of warm familiarity that assists in bridging the gap between my own male heterosexual experiences and the left-of-centre love life of a lesbian lepidopterist depicted here. Regardless of how close I am to the subject matter, The Duke of Burgundy provides an intoxicating experience that had me under its spell throughout. Special mention must be made of the beautiful and bewitching soundtrack score from Cat’s Eyes.
Uncle Boonmee’s power is such that it has become a fixed point of reference for almost all meditative cinema coming from South-Eastern Asia since its release at the start of this very decade. Apichatpong Weerasethakul taps into another plane of existence in this work, drawing on connections spiritual, ancestral and cultural, to create an experience that defies attempts at definition. Truly transcendent cinema that offers little in the way of narrative cohesion, but plenty of opportunity for self-examination and existential reflection. Many try but fail to adequately explore the space between dream and reality, or that which lies between men and the ether. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives might be as close as we ever get.
Were it not for the existence of my number 1 pick, Under the Skin would be a shoe-in for my best film of the last decade. Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s science-fiction novel is one of the most personally unsettling experiences I’ve had whilst watching a film, due in no small part to Mica Levi’s phenomenal score. It is a spine-tingling mixture of scratching strings, white noise, ominous drum hits and occasional digital manipulation, almost as if the music itself were an alien interpretation. It adds to the intense sense of apprehension felt as we follow Scarlett Johansson’s transition from street-level surveillance to harvesting of human-kind. What most impressed me was how effectively Under the Skin was able to evoke such a distressing sense of alienation and isolation from my fellow man, but perhaps the only way we are able to honestly examine the dissonance our species has wrought upon our planet is through a cold and distant alien lens.
Shane Carruth is a genius. It has to be said. His two films (Primer and Upstream Color) demonstrate the capability of an auteur in their prime, with minimal financial expenditure, but complete creative control. He oversees every single aspect of his films, and one has to wonder if there’s anything he can not do. After all, he has created the most profound cinematic experience of this decade on a budget of $50,000. There is no greater indication that our world is irrevocably fucked than the fact that Carruth is not having bags of cash thrown at him by a bevy of wealthy benefactors and financiers. His films aren’t money-makers, which may be the issue, but their presence in this world is essential – and Upstream Color is mindful equilibrium for an unbalanced civilization.
Carruth stars with Amy Seimetz, as two lost souls brought together by circumstances beyond normal comprehension. The plot may be straight out of science fiction, but their presence grounds the piece in reality, the vulnerabilities and fragility expressed in their performances all too real. The score for Upstream Color is, like the film itself, a gloriously ethereal slow-burn, a lush and melodic soundscape that tugs ever so gently at the amygdalae. As The Sampler draws Kris to his location using infrasonic sound, the viewer is also pulled into the world of the film through the beautiful sonic ambiance created by Carruth, echoed visually through the gorgeous and lush photography that eclipses any preconceptions of what is possible with digital. All these components are brought home in the edit, with Carruth ably assisted by David Lowery in the process (a favour he would return for A Ghost Story).
Upstream Color is a film that will remain firmly implanted in mind and memory for decades to come. I’m not sure if or when we will see another film from Shane Carruth, but if there is another coming, it can not come soon enough.
The Best of the Decade a ghost story amy seimetz andrew dominik apichatpong weerasethakul apocalypse after badlands blue valentine brad pitt casey affleck david lowery denis lavant drive emmanuel lubezki enemy hard to be a god her high life holy motors i saw the devil james gandolfini jonathan glazer killing them softly kristen stewart leos carax lost river mica levi michel faber mother! nicolas winding refn olivier assayas only god forgives paul thomas anderson personal shopper phantom thread post tenebras lux primer ray liotta richard jenkins scarlett johansson shane carruth terrence malick the duke of burgundy the house that jack built the tree of life the witch tower twilight uncle boonmee who can recall his past lives under the skin upstream color walden