Below is a list of my 100 favorite feature films of the decade. I’ve linked to my original reviews where applicable and added some new commentary not available elsewhere. The top 25 are presented in order of preference. The 75 runners-up are presented alphabetically. Enjoy!
Countdown of the Top 25:
25. (tie) Li’l Quinquin / CoinCoin and the Extra Humans (Bruno Dumont, France, 2014/2018)
L’Humanite aside, I didn’t really become interested in misery-specialist Dumont until the inauguration of his surprising, new “wacky period” with Li’l Quinquin in 2014. And I love that he both doubled down on the slapstick humor and introduced a batshit-crazy supernatural element for the brilliant 2018 sequel. I hope there are more misadventures involving Van der Weyden and Carpentier, the least competent and funniest buddy cop duo in film history, to come.
24. The Mule (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2018)
88-year-old Clint Eastwood, in what is likely his last outing as both director and star, created a work of infinite moral complexity with 2018’s The Mule – a film as deeply moving as it is goofy, told with a visual economy worthy of comparison to late John Ford.
23. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-Soo, S. Korea, 2016)
“By having the same chance meeting play out in two separate realities, Hong offers a whimsical, droll and ultimately profound metaphysical inquiry into the nature of communication. He asks viewers to question how minor variations in word choice and intonation of speech can lead to different outcomes. It’s fun to watch — and even more fun to think about afterwards.” Time Out Chicago capsule here.
22. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr/Agnes Hranitzky, Hungary, 2011)
“Tarr is sometimes unfairly labelled an austere ‘miserabilist’ (let us not forget that Satantango actually contains a fart joke) and there is a vein of mordant deadpan humor running through this movie that did not elude the packed house I saw it with. Eliciting the most chuckles was a scene where the cabman gives a curt response to a long-winded and pretentious monologue by a visiting neighbor, which mirrors Tarr’s own responses to those who attempt to analyze his work.” White City Cinema capsule here.
21. The Social Network (David Fincher, USA, 2010)
“The Social Network uses dark, lush digital images (the kind that only Fincher seems able to capture), wall-to-wall dialogue, hyperkinetic editing and a discordant techno score to paint a portrait of America in the internet age that’s as frightening as it is beautiful.” Full White City Cinema review here.
20. Happy Hour (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan, 2015)
“The story of four 37-year-old female friends living in Kobe who are given occasion to re-evaluate their personal and professional lives after they spend the night together at a spa/hot-spring resort in a town nearby (think GIRLS TRIP as directed by Yasujiro Ozu). This quiet, absorbing dramedy is written, directed and acted to perfection and its moment-to-moment narrative unpredictability belies a rigorous structural ingenuity, which only becomes obvious in hindsight.” Cine-File capsule here.
19. Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz, Philippines, 2013)
“By having Dostoevsky’s themes of crime, punishment and redemption apply to three characters instead of one, Diaz retains the Russian author’s trademark first-person psychological intensity while also offering a panoramic view of society that more closely resembles that of Count Tolstoy.” White City Cinema capsule here.
18. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, UK/Germany/France, 2010)
“The Ghost Writer is a query into the dark heart of our new global society and how the major players on that stage use, betray, victimize and discard one another.” White City Cinema capsule here.
17. Bitter Money (Wang Bing, China, 2016)
It’s tempting to call this incredible documentary a non-fiction analog to Jia Zhangke’s portraits of modern China in that it shows how the increasing privatization of China’s economy sews violence in the hearts and minds of ordinary Chinese citizens. But no narrative filmmaker, including Jia, could’ve staged something as disturbing as the epic scene, captured in a single take with panning camera, in which a husband angrily rebuffs his tenacious wife’s demands for money inside of the shop they co-own.
16. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2019)
Paul Schrader recently asked on Facebook if The Irishman was “the Wild Bunch of gangster movies.” I think it would be truer to say that it’s the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance of gangster movies. Not only does it feel like an elegy for the entire genre, the fact that viewers are always keenly aware of the elderly age of the lead actors even when playing young-to-middle-aged men (more apparent to me through their physical movements than the much-talked about “de-aging” CGI, which I forgot about pretty quickly) adds an extra layer of poignance to this memory-piece par excellence – in much the same way that Liberty Valance achieves a Brechtian sublimity precisely because John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are “too old” to play the younger versions of their characters.
15. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2010)
“Uncle Boonmee is a masterful tone poem that expands on the spiritual themes of Joe’s earlier work to encompass a graceful, feature-length meditation on dying and death. I emerged from the theater as relaxed and refreshed as I typically feel after watching a film by Yasujiro Ozu.” White City Cinema capsule here.
14. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal, 2019)
Pedro Costa has been making films about African immigrants in Portugal for decades but the rise of right-wing nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric across the globe in recent years has made his project take on a newfound sense of urgency. Out of all the films I saw in 2019, this dark, challenging and exquisitely beautiful work of art is the one that best exemplifies what I most hope for every time I go to the movies: an authentic religious experience. My interview with Pedro at Cine-File here.
13. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France, 2012)
“In this most kaleidoscopic of films, Carax frequently intertwines his feeling for beauty with a singularly pungent melancholy and, far from coming off like the novelty it might have in lesser hands, it ends up packing an emotional wallop.” Full White City Cinema review here.
12. Life Without Principle (Johnnie To/Wai Ka-Fai, Hong Kong, 2011)
“’Expect the unexpected’ might as well be the motto for To’s entire career, for no other director of the past quarter century has done so much to reinvigorate genre filmmaking by so consistently pushing genre conventions in as many surprising, intelligent and highly personal directions.” Full White City Cinema review here.
11. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014)
“What’s remarkable about Inherent Vice is the way Anderson has been able to remain extremely faithful to Thomas Pynchon’s novel while also creating something that feels as deeply personal as his other work.” White City Cinema capsule here.
10. Almayer’s Folly (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 2011)
Chantal Akerman’s final narrative feature transposes Joseph Conrad’s 1895 debut novel to 1950s Malaysia, turning it into a contemporary rumination on colonialism and racism every bit as radical and breathtaking as her brilliant re-imagining of Proust in 2000’s La Captive. The use of Dean Martin’s “Sway” is unforgettable.
9. Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz, Portugal, 2010)
“This four-and-a-half hour distillation of a six-hour made-for-television miniseries is the most fitting swan song for Ruiz that one could imagine: an adaptation of a 19th-century novel about a fourteen-year old orphan whose investigation into his origins opens up a Pandora’s box of stories (and stories-within-stories) that make it feel like Ruiz’s magnum opus.” White City Cinema capsule here.
8. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, China, 2013)
“This angry, provocative, disturbing and beautiful anthology film, consisting of four loosely linked vignettes, represents a triumphant return to narrative filmmaking for Jia, the most important member of the Chinese film industry’s ‘sixth generation.’” Full White City Cinema review here.
7. The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal, 2010)
“This is full of the director’s usual digressions on science, art and history but it also features a new twist in a number of charming fantasy sequences involving CGI that, appropriately for someone who began working in the silent era, recall nothing so much as the primitive ‘illusionism’ of Georges Melies. A beautiful, complex, deeply spiritual and essential film.” White City Cinema capsule here.
6. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2017)
Lucrecia Martel confronts colonialism in 18th-century Argentina by focusing on an “unexceptional man,” and turns viewers into aliens in the process. My interview with the director at Time Out Chicago here.
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA, 2014)
“Boyhood‘s central conceit, which allows Linklater the uncanny ability to capture the ebb and flow of life as it is experienced over an extended period of time, also dovetails nicely with his chief strengths as a writer and director, namely his sincerity and generosity of spirit.” Full White City Cinema review here.
4. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan, 2015)
“The substance of the film is to be found in the God-level mise-en-scene — where characters converse on fog-enshrouded mountaintops and behind the billowing silk curtains of exquisite, candle-lit interiors. This amazing recreation of the crumbling Tang Dynasty proves to be the most ideal backdrop imaginable for what Hou posits as Nie’s universal and timeless dilemma: should she obey her sense of professional duty or the desires of her heart? The result is a meditation on violence and morality that would make an excellent double bill with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven; Nie chooses her destiny and then, like a character from a folk tale, vanishes back into the pages of history.” Time Out Chicago capsule here.
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy, 2010)
“I’ve heard Abbas Kiarostami’s latest masterpiece described as both a comedy and a metaphysical horror film. Certified Copy, which seems to be both a curve ball and a true-to-form puzzle film from the master, is great enough and slippery enough to accommodate both descriptions simultaneously.” White City Cinema capsule here.
2. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France/Switzerland, 2014)
“Godard’s poetic use of 3-D in GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE, the best such use of the technology in any movie I’ve seen, puts this groundbreaking work in the class of his (and the cinema’s) great achievements.” Cine-File capsule here.
1. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, USA, 2017)
Is it a movie? Is it T.V.? What year is this? If Twin Peaks should be considered a film, it’s not because it “transcends” the medium of television (whatever that means) but rather because it was written, financed, shot and edited the way that movies are and other serialized T.V. shows are not (i.e., all of it was co-written and directed by the same person based on a 500+ page script with no regard for how it would be broken up into separate “parts” until post-production began). Regardless of what you call it, the bottom line is that the latest iteration of Twin Peaks is David Lynch’s magnum opus — a career-defining work made on the largest canvas that he’s ever had to work with that summarizes everything he’s done before while simultaneously also striking out in bold new directions. I wrote a lot about Twin Peaks in 2017, the most substantial piece being one where I discussed how Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost use western movie tropes to make some surprisingly trenchant political points about life in America today. You can read that here.
The 75 Runners-Up (Alphabetical by Title):
I Was at Home, But… (Schanelec, Germany, 2019)
December 23rd, 2019 at 3:25 pm
Best list out there. Would love to see the rest ranked or at least 25-50. Favorite director or acting of the decade?
December 23rd, 2019 at 4:48 pm
Thanks for the kind words! My original draft had everything ranked but the process of compiling and continually re-editing the list over the past year was so torturous that I decided to make my life easier by only ranking the top 25. Also, I decided at a fairly late stage to only allow myself two films per director in the interests of diversity. Otherwise, Godard’s FILM SOCIALISM, PTA’s THE MASTER and Kiarostami’s 24 FRAMES would definitely all be on there (as well as maybe some films by other directors like Hong Sang-soo).
Jean-Luc Godard is director of the decade for me. While I love almost every phase of his career, FILM SOCIALISM, GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE and THE IMAGE BOOK represent an uncommonly great three-film run. These films have a child-like sense of discovery about them – they represent new ways of putting images together (and of putting image and sound together) – that just blows me away. When I watch them, I feel like I’m watching a movie for the first time ever.
Acting honors for me would go to Juliette Binoche – for her work in CERTIFIED COPY, her films with Olivier Assayas and even for some of her performances in lesser known films like L’ATTESA – Kim Min-hee for THE HOUSEMAID and her work with Hong Sang-soo (I actually think she made him a better director of actors) – and Joaquin Phoenix for his work in INHERENT VICE (my favorite of his performances; how refreshing to see him do comedy!), THE MASTER and James Gray’s THE IMMIGRANT.
December 23rd, 2019 at 7:51 pm
Great list there Michael 🙂 I would actually place The Irishman at number one – (yes I love it that much) while Twin Peaks: The Return would be number 2 and Goodbye to Language 3D I would place at number 3.
As for director of the decade, I would have to think hard about it, but Jean-Luc Godard is most certainly one of the many.
I agree with you totally in the acting department. Anyway, keep up the great work as always and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂
December 23rd, 2019 at 10:22 pm
You and I have remarkably similar taste!
December 27th, 2019 at 11:16 am
Where’s “The Other Side of The Wind?” I thought you rated it as the number one film of 2018? Perplexed it didn’t make the top 100!
December 27th, 2019 at 1:27 pm
Ha! Thanks for following so closely. You’re right – if I had chosen to include it, it would’ve been in the top 5. But I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, not to include it on the grounds that it wasn’t really a “2010s film” and thus allow room for something else.
January 10th, 2020 at 4:37 pm
I feel that, Michael. I always look forward to your Best Home Video releases of the year ~ will that be forthcoming? You always seem to unearth a Chabrol gem I wasn’t aware of.
January 3rd, 2020 at 1:10 am
[…] White City Cinema – Michael Glover Smith does a better job keeping up with international cinema than countless critics with higher profiles. Check out his choices for Top Films of 2019 and Top 100 Films of the Decade. […]
February 15th, 2020 at 10:19 pm
What happened to Tabu, Michael? It was very high on your mid-2010s list. Does it not hold up to repeat viewings?
December 1st, 2022 at 4:47 pm
[…] Inland Empire). Chicago-based director/writer Michael Glover Smith summed it up as Lynch’s magnum opus and I am in complete agreement with him. On the surface, Twin Peaks: The Return may feel like […]