What a crazy decade it has been indeed. We’ve seen a nearly complete overhaul of a whole business in the last ten years. There’s been ups and downs, but the film as a way of storytelling has survived: the rise of mobile hasn’t killed it. Videogames haven’t killed it. Netflix hasn’t killed it – actually, it only made it stronger. The only thing that’s gotten close was the ever-strengthening TV industry, but even that is still but a shadow in comparison to the best films out there.
Below, I’ve tried listing my top films of the last 20 years. Not too easy, and many films I’ve loved were left out of the list, unfortunately, but if anything, this list serves as a cross-cut through the film industry, all of these being films that one way or another have left a mark at least in me as a filmmaker from the last decade.
20. Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011)
What Killer Joe did to me was it re-introduced me to Matthew McConaughey, an actor who I had thought did a handful of romcoms back in the 90’s and then disappeared (not true at all, but memory works in a funny way). With Killer Joe, William Friedkin, at 75 when the film was released, managed to pull off a snarky, snappy and vibrant little movie full of violent and sexual tensions. Killer Joe which might very well be his last fiction film, a nice little reminder of the momentous career the director has had.
19. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
“Not quite my tempo”, says Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the abusive drum teacher to his young pupil, at the doorsteps of the greatest events in film history that were to take place: the #metoo movement. Whiplash tells a strong, relentless story about power abuse. Yeah, not sexual, but the abuse of a position where one gets and is willing to push others to the brink of insanity by using the powers vested upon themselves to elevate their own excellency. I’ve been a student of such a person a long time ago, and I could feel old traumas creep back in.
18. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
The Holiday season is a great time to stop and look around the family you have and appreciate it in its’ full strange, complicated weirdness. Toni Erdmann manages to capture the disconnection and the complexity of families in this strange but awesome German comedy. Toni Erdmann follows a pretty eccentric father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a go-getter who’s trying to run away from herself in order to become something better. During the course of the story, she learns that an apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
17. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
Oh, the blissful boredom of having nothing to do on a beautiful summer day, under a scorching sun. Our kids will never experience that again: they can always dig out their cellphones and drift away in the always-connected world of the Internet, but hopefully one day they’ll accidentally click on Call Me By Your Name on Netflix or whatever the streaming giant on their phones will be and watch this peek into the times before every minute of your potentially free brain-time was sold in micro-moments to companies trying to get you to consume more of their products.
16. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, 2019)
Apollo 11 is a gripping documentary that keeps you on the edge of your seat, crunching the armrests, knuckles white, breathing short, shallow gasps as in to make sure your presence would in no way alter the course of the tender wheels of human history unfolding in front of your eyes. Every school should include Apollo 11 into their curriculum, for it is not only an accurate documentary of events that changed the history of our race forever but also a hugely inspiring film, too, one that pushes you to reach beyond the limits of possibility in order to achieve something great.
15. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The best in the Toy Story quadrology, Toy Story 3 talks to kids about things that really matter – about friendship and about losing your loved ones – in such a way I as a father could only hope to achieve. The clarity of the language is important, and yes, it’s wrapped in the clothes of an action-comedy, but unlike others in the business, Pixar never forgets the big, important and heartfelt story that’s needed to make a movie into something more than just a bunch of beautifully animated scenes. Toy Story 3 is Pixar at its’ best, most touching and also, most fun.
14. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011)
In yet another outburst of Lars Von Trier’s self-loathing depression depiction, Melancholia manages to be simultaneously hauntingly beautiful, extremely funny and sharp and clear in its’ description of what I imagine depression actually being like, feeling like, looking like. It may not be Lars Von Trier’s greatest work – one can argue whether that would be either Dancer in the Dark, Dogville or Europa (of which I haven’t seen the last one) – it’s still a great and honest film.
13. Intouchables (Olivie Nakache, Eric Toledano, 2011)
A feel-good film of the decade, Intouchables, a French film about a paraplegic multi-millionaire and his streetwise personal assistant became a huge hit, and was even remade into an American picture The Upside (2017) with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston (which I haven’t seen). No idea whether or not the remake made any sense, but I can tell that Intouchables is pretty close to a perfect movie: the writing is impeccable, the film runs on full steam right from the start and the stars – Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy – and their chemistry together – make the film a pure bliss to enjoy.
12. Five Broken Cameras (Emad Burant and Guy Davidi, 2011)
A conflict of the century, the Palestinian struggle of independence, is a narrative that’s easily shifted depending on the point of view of the teller. Five Broken Cameras brings the argument on a new level, telling the story from the point of view of a person right in the middle of it all, a Palestinian observing the Israeli settlers making their way into their small strip of land. Not only is the strength of the film in the circumstances and unique vantage point of the filmmakers Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, it’s also an excellent work of art.
11. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
Things we know about Iranian culture: fuck all. A Separation is both a slap in the faces of western film audience, showing that shit, it’s not just people walking around in burqas and bomb vests, but actually a highly complex culture which has its’ own pitfalls and bureaucracies and that yes, religion is important part of that culture, but so it is in ours. We are actually pretty much the same. But that aside, it’s a terrifically acted and directed film about a very complicated breakup, a film that A Marriage Story should’ve been.
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)
After the success of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit attempted to repeat the impossible, turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic into films that can proudly stand next to their literary versions. The Lord of the Rings were a slam dunk; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just as great. Unfortunately, the following two movies fell off the tracks and ruined the second trilogy but nevertheless, An Unexpected Journey is a beautiful, perfect fantasy movie.
9. Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
Huge, sweeping landscapes, a story that runs back in history millions of years with religious thematics and aliens that gave birth to mankind but realized they had created a beast too dangerous to exist and created an antidote, but failed to deliver it. It’s a big story, one which does have some holes in it, I bet, but I never understood the Reddit backlash the film suffered from. To me, it’s one of the best SciFi films ever, and a great inspiration of how to take a franchise to a completely new level.
8. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn, 2012)
A documentary about Indonesian mass killings in the mid-’60s, or actually, the people behind those killings goes off the rails quite quickly. The film sets the actual killers to recount the murders on-camera, turning them into films made in style of their favorite film genres – western, crime, musical. It’s quite a mind-bender, to see the real people recounting their actual crimes and not really understanding how fucked-up it has been – until someone actually does. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping documentaries ever made and leaves you disgusted and in disbelief for a long time.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
The sheer energy and unhinged power of The Wolf of Wall Street alone make it hard to believe it’s directed by a 70-something-years old. The film moves on like a coke-snorting Wall Street dealer, playing the Scorsese top hits, power-crazy men and their just-crazy women, big-spending, mob-flirting assholes shouldering their way on the top while waving the big middle finger to the law enforcement, finally stumbling and spending the rest of their lives in comfortable obscurity, outside of the limelight, reminiscing their past lives with affection.
6. Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)
Crafting a documentary is storytelling at its’ most complicated level since you are forced to stick with the truth at least in some capacity. Asking a documentarian to do a story about you – or your daughter, as it was the case with Amy – is like Russian roulette: one of you will die. In this case, it was Amy’s father (and immediate family) who got the bullet, who turned out to be a nasty hog riding on his daughter’s money and fame, pushing her deeper into her alcohol-fueled life. She died a sad, skeletal shadow of her former self, but most importantly, she died so that her father could fulfill his dreams of living large and important. Sad shit, great doc.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
What must’ve been one of the shitties productions to pull off, given all the delays, the almost-starting-but-calling-it-off-two-weeks-before-the-first-shooting-day -things and all, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to pull out of the development hell stronger, grittier, nastier and dirtier than ever. Crazy star-studded cast with Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy riding the carriage, and post-apocalypse veteran George Miller running the whole show, it’s a perfect action film: simple-enough plot, high production values and a killer soundtrack to go with it.
4. Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018)
Talking about a tricky production, director getting fired weeks before finishing the shoot must be pretty high on the list of hardships a production has to endure. Still, Bohemian Rhapsody pulled it off and did that with style. The film became one of the highest-grossing films of the year, rivaling even the superhero flicks. Now, it’s not a flawless movie – not by a long shot – but neither are some of my favorite films of all time. What it is, is a pure joy: a film that’s so full of great moments and scenes that even if it does come off a bit shaky as a whole in the end, it’s such a pleasure to watch. And yeah, I’ve been a huge Queen fan all my life, so there’s that, too.
3. Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019)
DC understood that in order to compete against Marvel, one has to come up with a bit of a different angle. They did it already with Nolan’s Batman, bringing a darker, grittier and harder-hitting version of their favorite superhero, and now they decided to do the same with a villain. Not to say they hadn’t tried, but Suicide Squad didn’t really work. And even more so, they tried two impossible things at the same time: to do a superhero film about mental illness and to challenge the greatness of Heath Ledger, who still is the best Joker out there. Somehow, they managed to do both, and while Joaquin Phoenix may not be better than Heath Ledger’s Joker, he’s just as good.
2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
The Irishman is Martin Scorsese closing books on his mob quadrology, which started with Mean Streets (1973), followed by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the 2013 spinoff The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which stuns with its’ tranquil pacing, subtle acting and a sad undertone of watching an old criminal rotting away in a retirement home, reminiscing his past life and crimes to nobody in particular. If this turns out to be also Scorsese’s last film, it’s a fine way to leave the field, saying: try topping this. We’ll never have stars like Pacino, Pesci, and DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.
1. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)
Funny thing, when Interstellar came out in 2014, I wasn’t that smitten by it. It took me another viewing to really start appreciating it, but it needed a full IMAX experience to truly fall in love with it. A film that captures what movies are supposed to be, at least in my mind, Interstellar is defining science fiction film of the decade. Stepping into the hall of fame, populated by the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 2, Moon and maybe a handful of others, Interstellar brings what only a science fiction greatness can: a cinematic masterpiece, a visual behemoth of a story that simply doesn’t fit into the screen of any size, really, and a soundtrack and soundscapes that truly take you to a different vantage point to observe our current reality.