10. The Tribe
The Tribe remains one of the toughest viewing experiences I’ve ever endured. The Ukrainian drama follows a new arrival at a boarding school for deaf teenagers and his induction into a bleak world of crime. Though it unfolds entirely without dialogue and offers no subtitles to translate the sign language used, The Tribe is surprisingly easy to follow, but excruciating to watch, due to the brutal and unflinching violence. Gorgeously shot, but ugly in content, and featuring one of my favorite endings of all time, The Tribe is easily one of the decade’s most underseen films, though not one I think I’ll ever revisit.
The flipside of that coin is Clouds of Sils Maria, which nearly necessitates a second viewing. From Juliette Binoche’s aging actress fearing obsolescence in the vein of All About Eve, to Kristen Stewart’s thankless assistant (in the best performance of the decade), to Chloe Grace-Moretz’s satirical take on millennial actors, there are so many layers to unpack in Assayas’ best film (since Irma Vep, at least).
Magic Mike XXL is pure celebration. Soderbergh hands over directing duties of the sequel to his 2012 film about male dancers to fellow filmmaker Gregory Jacobs, though still shoots it himself. Jacobs strips the film of all superfluous plot, essentially boiling the film down to a series of intricate, gorgeous, and hypnotic dance sequences. It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite scene (or vignette, as it were), but one strong contender is the sequence of the gang encouraging a group of middle-aged women (including Andie MacDowell) to feel better about themselves, and of course, subsequently dancing for them. The real show-stopper is the absolutely jaw-dropping finale though. Magic Mike XXL is a captivating action film, complete with astonishing stunts, but minus all the violence.
Pure formal mastery. Every second of this film is acutely calculated; every frame precisely composed. Absolutely brilliant editing (the late cut to Brandon’s reaction to Sissy’s rendition of “New York, New York” is quietly devastating), the best Michael Fassbender performance (which says a good deal), and a haunting score. Shame isn’t a film about sexual addiction, it’s about the loneliness of despair, the soul-deadening comfort of routine, and the intrinsic yearning for improvement.
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey makes a much better case as a portrait of modern America than Spring Breakers, simply by portraying it without grandiose intentions. Arnold neither glorifies nor condemns her band of disaffected youths traveling across America selling magazines door-to-door, and drinking, smoking, and screwing in the interim. Though it tackles many things (culture, class, capitalism, etc.), it’s appropriately light on message, aiming for unobstructed depiction, rather than didacticism. American Honey is a remarkably honest film about the desire to find your place in the world.
5. Holy Motors
Like Clouds of Sils Maria, the insane brilliance of Holy Motors only became clear on subsequent viewings. The uniquely batshit vignettes, while visually stunning and enjoyable on the surface, initially feel incohesive if not properly attuned to director Leos Carax’s distinct wavelength. Further viewings help to process the film’s metatextual layers and appreciate the dynamic filmmaking. Inventive, gorgeous, and delightfully bizarre.
If I were to include the extended version on the Criterion release rather than the theatrical cut, The Tree of Life would rank even higher on this list. Those added 50 minutes allow the last third more space to better balance the shifting tones, but even without them, in its original form, there is no film on this list more divine. This sprawling, loose portrait of a family in the 1950s is one of the most life-affirming films I’ve ever seen; its transcendent beauty often bringing me to tears. There are very few films I consider life-changing, but this is absolutely one of them.
Takes the virtues of the Before Trilogy (Before Midnight barely missed my list) – romance approached with a sense of naturalism and a keen ear for dialogue – and adds a brilliant and heady structural twist: the nature of the central relationship seems to (impossibly) shift over the course of the film. Kiarostami was one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, and Certified Copy is his best film.
The most unnerving, quietly terrifying film I’ve ever seen. Even more so than Shame, Under the Skin is a display of unmatched formal control. Glazer’s direction sets a disorienting tone that he sustains throughout the entire runtime. Earns my vote for many of the decade’s best categories: sound design, score, lead performance, and direction. Absolutely hypnotic and haunting.
1. Toy Story 3
Words can’t convey how deeply I connect to Toy Story 3. It’s ironic that an animated kids movie about toys is the one that resonates strongest with me on a human level; simultaneously the most uplifting and emotionally devastating film of the decade, without even a hint of manipulation. Hilarious, moving, kinetic, and visually ravishing, Toy Story 3 is a tremendous film with a third act that hits me like an emotional freight train every time, and yet, I would gladly watch it over and over again.
The Best of the Decade abbas kiarostami american honey andie macdowell andrea arnold before midnight before trilogy best of the decade carey mulligan certified copy chloe grace-moretz clouds of sils maria gregory jacobs holy motors irma vep jonathan glazer juliette binoche kristen stewart leos carax magic mike xxl michael fassbender olivier assayas scarlett johansson shame spring breakers steve mcqueen steven soderbergh terrence malick the tree of life the tribe toy story 3 under the skin