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Best films of the decade (2010-2020)

The King's Speech

Feature by Rob Carnevale

Boy, this one proved a toughie. After weeks of deliberating, IndieLondon delivers its countdown of the finest movies we’ve seen between 2010 and 2020, from Oscar winners such as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave and Green Book via superhero movies from Marvel and DC.

Plus, we pick out some of the great action movies of the past decade (from Mission: Impossible to The Raid) as well as some of the best animation (Pixar) and the odd slice of romance. And we include films from great filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, Damien Chazelle and Rian Johnson.

So, which films proved to be the best (and most enjoyable) of the past decade?



12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave

What’s the story? Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an accomplished violinist and doting family man living free in New York, is conned into joining a travelling show and sold as a slave. At first, he is acquired by the relatively kindly Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who uses Solomon’s intelligence and even rewards it. But when circumstances compel Ford to sell him onto plantation boss Epps (Michael Fassbender), he becomes the property of an increasingly unhinged and brutal ‘nigger breaker’ who will test his will to survive..

Why so good? Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is a film to be amazed by. Astonishingly powerful, deeply moving and frequently harrowing, this is tour-de-force filmmaking of the highest calibre. Inspired by Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, this is landmark cinema that dares to confront the issue of slavery in unflinching fashion. Yet its success is such that it emerges as an empowering experience that will resonate with everyone who sees it.

Read our review l Chiwetel Ejiofor interview l Steve McQueen interview



Argo

Argo

What’s the story? CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called into action when the American Embassy in Iran is seized by revolutionaries, prompting six workers to escape and find shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador. With time rapidly running out before the six are identified, found and executed as spies, Mendez concocts ‘the best bad plan’ at the agency’s disposal: namely, he’ll enter the country by posing as the producer of a new science fiction movie named Argo and escort them out by pretending they are his film crew.

Why so good?: Ben Affleck makes it three for three as a director with Argo, a tense political thriller based on real events that is unquestionably one of the films of the year. Affleck’s film is a grand-standing piece of cinema that works on just about every level, gripping from start to finish. Thriving from an astute script from Chris Terrio and displaying a flawless eye for period detail (thanks to production designer Sharon Seymour), the film manages to shine a light on an amazing chapter in US history that has been kept under lock and key for so long.

Full review



Arrival

Arrival

What’s the story? When giant spaceships descend on Earth in several locations, including the US, its up to a top linguistics professor, Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and a leading scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to attempt to find a common language so that the aliens’ intentions can be discovered. But for Adams’s Dr Banks, the mission unfolds from an increasingly personal perspective that seems strangely linked to a tragedy in her own life.

Why so good? This is essentially about one woman’s journey told on an epic scale. It’s thought-provoking, eye-catching, compassionate and extremely poignant: a film big on ideas that touches the heart and mind. It’s a stunning achievement – and one that only makes you more excited to see what Villeneuve does with his next sci-fi venture, the Blade Runner sequel.

Read our review



The Artist

The Artist

What’s the story? Silent movie mega-star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) slowly finds his fame threatened by the advent of the talkies. At first dismissive of the technology, he slowly comes to realise that he is fast becoming part of a bygone era… yet remains too pig-headed and proud to conform or embrace the technological changes. At the same time, beautiful newcomer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is making her own mark on the industry…

Why so good? Every once in a while a film comes along that truly lives up to the term ‘special’. Michael Hazanavicius’ The Artist is just that… a bold, unique and magical film that delights from start to finish. To dismiss it merely as a one-note ‘homage’ to Hollywood’s silent era would be doing it a disservice, for in looking backwards to pay gloriously realised tribute Hazanavicius’ film is also a bone fide modern classic in its own right.

Full review



Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

What’s the story? The story picks up in the wake of the devastating Thanos finger click that ended Infinity War, as the surviving Avengers – led by series stalwarts Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – regroup, lick their wounds and try and find a way of undoing that tragedy and bringing back their fallen friends. Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned and there’s much playing around to be had in the quantum realm, most of which involves time travel.

Why so good? Whether or not you’ve seen any of the preceding 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is one undeniable fact. Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic achievement unlike any other. And it is a gift… a thank you to those fans who have taken the journey. And for every single one of its 181 minutes (or three hours, plus a minute), it engages: whether exhilarating when it needs to, adopting a more sombre tone than Marvel is more commonly associated with, revisiting past hits, or tugging at the tear-ducts. It has a little bit of everything. The film has rightly become the highest-grossing movie of all time (finally beating Avatar‘s record) and, in my humble opinion, provides proof of why this Marvel cinematic universe offers more than just ‘theme’ park cinema [as begrudgingly written off by a certain Martin Scorsese].

Read our review



Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War

What’s the story? Thanos (Josh Brolin) needs to unite six Infinity Stones in his Infinity Gauntlet to gain power over the universe and bring about the balance he seeks. It’s up to the Avengers, who are still recovering from the events of Captain America: Civil War, to try to stop him.

Why so good? The 19th film in this sprawling cinematic saga is epic in every sense. It’s an eye-popping, sometimes mind-blowing, always exciting and occasionally even poignant ‘event movie’ that delivers in just about every area that Marvel fans could possibly hope for. There are surprises designed to make you gasp aloud. There are cool crowd-pleasing moments to bring on the cheers. There’s even an ending that will leave you floored and crying out for more, which is due to arrive in the form of the as-yet untitled Avengers 4 in 2019. Perhaps most incredibly, there is no sense of fatigue setting in just yet.

Read our review



Baby Driver

Baby Driver

What’s the story? Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break… if only he can break away from his crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and the various jobs he has in store for him.

Why so good? Edgar Wright has delivered the film of the summer, and one of the best of the year, with Baby Driver, a heist movie that tips its hat to past classics while retaining an energy and style that’s steadfastly its own. [It]‘s a cinematic gift that keeps on giving. So, buckle up and enjoy this ridiculously glorious ride.

Read our review



Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

What’s the story? K (Ryan Gosling) is a new generation blade runner who is programmed to hunt down the last remaining Nexus 8 replicants that occupied the first film. After one brutal encounter with a protein farmer (Dave Bautista), K makes a discovery that has life-altering implications, and which puts him on a path to finding Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the rogue blade runner from the first film, who has long since gone into hiding.

Why so good? It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, to properly take in the spectacle. But it’s also one that resonates on a human level, working just as well during its smaller, more intimate moments as it does the grand-standing set pieces… [The film] may take its time to unfold (clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes) but it allows Villeneuve and company (including regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, back on Oscar-worthy form) the time to really preserve and enhance the look of Scott’s original, while building a set of characters who are genuinely worth spending that much time with.

Read our review



Coco

What’s the story? A 12-year-old boy named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), whose close-knit family of shoemakers have banned music following a family tragedy, runs away, steals a guitar belonging to his deceased icon, Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and finds himself unwittingly transported to the Land Of The Dead during the Dia De Muertos celebrations (which enables the deceased to visit the living and perpetuate their memory). Trapped on the other side and seeking his deceased family’s blessing to be allowed to continue playing, Miguel subsequently faces a race against time to get what he wants or risk remaining in the afterlife for good.

Why so good?: As with the best Pixar movies (or their originals, as opposed to a lot of their sequels, Toy Story aside), Coco works on so many levels that it plays equally as well to adults as it does to kids. Hence, while the youngest viewers can marvel at the stunning visuals and the rich world that Unkrich has created (complete with fun characters and wondrous beasts), adults can really explore the many themes the story has to offer – from the importance of family to the choices we make in life and how they can inform legacies… Coco is a grand cinematic treat: a love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture that transcends genres to offer up something that everyone can enjoy. It’s yet another Pixar tour-de-force.

Read our review



Crazy Stupid Love

Crazy Stupid Love

What’s the story? After 15 years of marriage, Cal (Steve Carell) is unceremoniously dumped, mid-restaurant, by his wife (Julianne Moore) who has started sleeping with a work colleague (Kevin Bacon). Distraught, Cal hangs out in a bar bemoaning his sorrows, whereupon hip ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him and resolves to turn him into a slick bar-hound. But just as Cal begins to turn his fortunes around, Jacob finds himself falling seriously in love with Hannah (Emma Stone), who refuses to succumb to his charms too easily.

Why so good? Crazy Stupid Love is positive proof that you can make a comedy about relationships that’s grounded in reality, that’s as heartfelt as it is heart-breaking and downright funny to boot… It is, without doubt, one of my favourite comedies of the year – and one that has something to offer for viewers of both sexes and every age. And how often can you say that about a Hollywood mainstream comedy, especially one that clocks in at almost two hours?

Read our review l Ryan Gosling on Crazy Stupid Love



The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

What’s the story? Set eight years after the events of the second film, The Dark Knight Rises finds Gotham at a time of ‘peace’ with Batman gone, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living as a recluse and secrets still safely buried, albeit with consciences weighing heavy on men such as Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). But a storm is coming in the form of a violent reckoning led by the masked mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy). And while his emergence brings Batman back out of hiding, the odds may be too stacked against him to make the difference anymore.

Why so good?: Christopher Nolan promised us an epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy and has risen to his own challenge by delivering an often breathtaking finale. The Dark Knight Rises succeeds on just about every level. It’s intelligent, often fiendishly so, it’s emotionally engaging, sometimes tear-jerkingly so, and it is genuinely spectacular (especially if seen in IMAX)… Once the dust has finally settled on all of the events that transpire, you may even find yourself shedding a tear, if not for the characters and whatever fate has in store for them, but then at the very least in acknowledgement of blockbuster filmmaking at its very best.

Read our review



Drive

Drive

What’s the story? Ryan Gosling is ‘Driver’, a Hollywood stuntman by day who uses the night-time to make his real money as a cool as cucumbers getaway driver. His talent lies in his coolness under pressure. Things change, however, when pretty mum next-door Irene (Carey Mulligan) enters his life and he decides to step in and help when Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and is menaced by hoods determined to make him commit a robbery.

Why so good? Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is one of the coolest films of the year. A sexy, slick, ultra-violent neo-noir thriller, it’ll likely have film buffs falling over themselves to list the films and directors that inspired it, from Scorsese to Mann, but few would probably arrive at Pretty Woman as a source of inspiration. It exhilarates on just about every level and announces Refn and Gosling as a genuinely cool movie partnership.

Full review l Nicolas Winding Refn interview



Dunkirk

Dunkirk

What’s the story? Dunkirk unfolds from three differing perspectives. Firstly, there’s a squaddie named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) whose repeated attempts to escape the beach, or The Mole, with fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) appear doomed to fail. Then there’s the Spitfire pilots, led by Tom Hardy’s Farrier, who offer the last line of defence from the aerial assault. And, finally, from the home front, there’s Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and local helper George (Barry Keoghan), who join the people’s armada in a bid to rescue the troops stranded on the beach.

Why so good?: It’s not overstating things in the slightest to describe Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as an exceptional piece of filmmaking. A vivid, heart-pounding, emotional rollercoaster of a film, Dunkirk is also one of the most immersive experiences you could ever wish to endure. But therein lies its genius. By putting the viewer at the forefront of the action – whether on land, in the air or at sea, which is how the film divides itself – you feel every emotion, whether it’s fear, anger, compassion or relief. And you endure every bullet and/or bomb blast… It really is easy to run out of superlatives for this one.

Read our review



End of Watch

End of Watch

What’s the story? The lives of two LA cops (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) change forever when they inadvertently take on a Mexican drug cartel.

Why so good? End of Watch boasts a vice-like grip on your attention for the way in which it maintains the tension while delivering an unnerving insight into this particular part of the world. In Gyllenhaal and Peña, meanwhile, it has two guides who are, by turns, charismatic, brave and fool-hardy and whose journey is both real and ultimately unforgettable. David Ayer has created another classic.

Read our review



Gravity

Gravity

What’s the story? Medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission. When we meet her, she’s conducting repairs while on a routine space walk. With her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), making his final flight before retirement. All seems to be jovial and easy-going until Houston suddenly warns of an impending shower of satellite debris, which subsequently strikes with such ferocity that their shuttle is severely damaged and Stone is cast adrift into space.

Why so good? James Cameron, director of sci-fi classic Aliens, has already hailed Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as the best space film ever. It’s high praise indeed and deserving of this special film. An awe-inspiring spectacle that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, this is arguably as close to visiting space as most audience members will ever get. It’s that immersive. What’s more, Gravity is an utterly gripping filmmaking experience – one that engages almost every sense (the sound is also amazing), while also connecting with the heart and the brain.

Read our review



Green Book

Green Book

What’s the story? The story takes its inspiration from the true story of two polar opposites: Tony Lip and Donald Shirley (played, respectively, by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali). The former is an Italian-American muscle man, the latter a renowned pianist. Both live in New York. When Shirley decides to undertake a tour in America’s deep south towards the end of 1962, he hires Lip to be his chauffeur and guide. Yet while initially mindful of each other’s differences, a begrudging respect slowly begins to develop that eventually blossoms into a friendship.

Why so good? For all of the criticisms surrounding it (over-simplification of race issues, inaccuracy complaints from Shirley’s family), this year’s Oscar winner for Best Film, Green Book, is the type of movie that has the potential to begin to repair a broken world, just by acknowledging its frailties and offering some kind of hope for change. Mortensen and Ali are immense. Neither men are afraid to present themselves as unlikeable, at times. Yet they are given the space to explore their complexities and to grow… Green Book therefore remains one of the must-see movies of the year, driven by two of the finest actors working in America today.

Read our review



Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

What’s the story? When the bank threatens to fore-close on their late mother’s farm, divorced father Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) stage a series of heists against various branches of the same bank, in a bid to provide Toby’s own sons with the financial security he never had. But they are pursued by dogged Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges, who is determined to outwit the brothers before retirement forces him to hang up his hat.

Why so good? David Mackenzie follows up his excellent prison drama Starred Up with the similarly striking heist movie Hell Or High Water. Playing like a cross between the Coens’ No Country For Old Men, for the way in which it examines contemporary morality, and classic Westerns, this is an utterly compelling tale that resonates on many levels. It’s a film that’s as thrillingly articulate as it is clever and expertly executed. And given the way that it effortlessly combines classic Western conventions with sincere contemporary resonance, it looks destined to become a modern classic – and deservedly so.

Read our review



Inception

Inception

What’s the story? Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is a corporate spy for hire who specialises in the art of extracting priceless information from people’s dreams. He’s also a man with a shady past: a father who cannot return home to his children in America because of the doubt surrounding the death of his wife (Marion Cotillard). Cobb is given a chance to right this wrong, however, when a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) offers him the chance to achieve the holy grail of dream manipulation, by planting an idea into the rival businessman (Cillian Murphy), who is about to inherit an energy empire from his dying father (Pete Postlethwaite).

Why so good? Christopher Nolan cemented his position as the undisputed king of the intelligent blockbuster with Inception, a mind-bendingly brilliant existential heist movie that raises the bar in mainstream entertainment. Having blown just about everyone away with his last movie, The Dark Knight, Nolan resorted to original material for this unique, bold and extremely clever thriller that delivers on both spectacle and emotional impact. It is the type of film that makes repeat viewings almost essential, so as to allow the full intricate layering to unfold.

Read our review l Leonardo DiCaprio interview



Joker

Joker

What’s the story? Failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

Why so good? Todd Phillips delivers another hangover of a movie in Joker, albeit one where the laughs are few and far between and the messages fly thick, fast and in grim, disturbing fashion. Much less a comic book movie and more a sly, insightful piece of social commentary, this pulls off an incredibly neat trick by framing a cautionary tale about mental health within the single most watched film genre of the moment. That’s not to say that it turns its back on the universe in which it exists, feeding into Batman folklore in masterful fashion. But in a move worthy of the Joker’s own ability to toy with people’s psychology, this film confronts difficult subject matter, challenges contemporary morality and ethics and leaves you with a head-spinning conundrum… Hence, Joker is a film to admire more than like. But it shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a massively impressive, highly intelligent, openly provocative and ferociously performed masterpiece.

Read our review



The King's Speech

The King’s Speech

What’s the story? An Oscar winning account of Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the second son of King George V, and his attempts to overcome a stammer in pursuit of his royal duties with the help of an unconventional therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Why so good? Firth is quite simply flawless as Albert, bettering even the fine work he did in last year’s A Single Man and anyone who still thinks of him as a one trick pony really must think again. But he’s matched by Rush’s Lionel Logue, the unorthodox Australian speech therapist who fought to win his trust and instill him with the confidence needed to carry out his duties, particularly in leading his country to war without projecting weakness… [Together they] guarantee that Tom Hooper’s excellent film will be one of the most inspiring and fondly remembered of the year.

Read our review l Colin Firth interview



Knives Out

Knives Out

What’s the story? A renowned sleuth named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously hired to attend the New England mansion of world-famous crime writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), whose 85th birthday party ended with his apparent suicide. Convinced there has been foul play, Blanc spends the next few days in the company of his family, observing and questioning all present to try and establish a suspect from amid the myriad of motives.

Why so good? Rian Johnson is a masterful writer-director and his latest, Knives Out, provides plenty of evidence to support this. An homage to the classic whodunit crime writing of Agatha Christie, this also subverts expectation at every opportunity, drops in some wry social commentary and allows a star-studded ensemble cast to revel in the type of role they’re not usually associated with. In short, Knives Out is a sharp romp of a film that delights from first frame to last.

Read our review



La La Land

La La Land

What’s the story? Struggling wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and passionate but luckless jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are both looking for the opportunity that will help them to realise their dreams. When they eventually meet each other and start a relationship, it’s their enthusiasm for each other’s ambitions that provide each with something of a catalyst for change. But as their dreams look like becoming a reality, the couple soon realise that there’s a price that may been to be paid.

Why so good? Damien Chazelle’s film is so much more than just a throwback to a golden age of filmmaking. It’s a movie that extols the virtues of the past while keeping an eye on the future. It feels fresh and of its time while tipping its hat to everything from Fred and Ginger to Rebel Without A Cause. And while several moments do sweep you along on a tidal wave of feel-good romanticism, there’s a bittersweet poignancy underpinning the story that could just as easily leave you wiping a tear away come the closing credits. For those reasons, and more, Chazelle’s movie is a must-see experience and an instant classic, entirely worthy of the adulation and awards that have come its way.

Read our review



Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

What’s the story? Former cop Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the terrifying Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and taken to his hellish Citadel (where men are enslaved as potential sacrificial lambs and pregnant women are literally milked), only to become swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a former abductee looking for revenge and redemption.

Why so good? If George Miller’s first two Mad Max films helped to redefine the landscape of what could be achieved in action cinema, then his belated return to the franchise with Fury Road raises the bar still higher. A fast, furious and utterly insane thrill-ride from start to finish, this provides eye-popping spectacle of the old-school variety while employing a surprisingly revisionist element to its characterisation. Indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of Fury Road is the way in which it continually defies certain expectations… And in terms of the aforementioned spectacle, it astounds with the audacity of its stunts, which boast a jaw-dropping, ‘how did they do that’ quality not experienced since The Raid.

Read our review



Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

What’s the story? Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF colleagues are once more scrambling to save the world from a nuclear threat after a mission has gone wrong. In doing so, they must reluctantly take on board new member Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative sent to observe and possibly usurp them, while putting aside personal feelings for former villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, still orchestrating the mayhem he created in Rogue Nation) and MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), once more throwing a spanner in the works with her conflicting loyalties.

Why so good? There’s a term given to football players when they’ve given their all during a match: leaving it on the field. And likewise, there’s a scene at the end of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which sees an exhausted Tom Cruise lying flat on his back, in which he looks as though he has literally done just that. Few modern movie stars throw themselves into stunt-work with as much gusto as Cruise. But therein lies one of the great joys of watching this sixth instalment in the seemingly indefatigable Mission: Impossible series unfold… the stunts are breathtakingly brilliant… Fallout rates among the best in a series that isn’t short on highlights.

Read our review



Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

What’s the story? Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an opportunist loner trying to make a living who stumbles upon the idea of selling TV networks on-scene footage of car crashes or crime scenes. But given the competitive nature of the industry, as personified by Bill Paxton’s rival cameraman, Lou resorts to increasingly desperate measures to be there first and get the best shot.

Why so good? The spirit of ’70s era Martin Scorsese and Paul Schraeder runs throughout Nightcrawler, a hugely impressive character-driven thriller that also boasts a smart contemporary edge. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the film is as twisted as it is brilliant, taking viewers on an increasingly nightmarish journey that is as eerily exhilarating as it is capable of posing moral and ethical questions, particularly of the media but also of society, and how far is too far. Gyllenhaal is also a magnetic presence, creating in Lou Bloom a character with personality and behavioural disorders that rival Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.

Read our review



Paddington 2

Paddington 2

What’s the story? Paddington (once again voiced by Ben Whishaw) takes on a variety of odd jobs with a view to affording the perfect gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday – a unique (but expensive) pop-up book of London. But once the book is stolen by local actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who views it as a way of turning his own fortunes around, Paddington is framed for the crime and sent to prison, leaving the Brown family (once again headed up by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) to clear his name.

Why so good? By turns charming and hilarious, Paddington 2 is that rare sequel that actually betters the original in almost every way. Buoyed by the runaway success of its predecessor, screenwriters Paul King (who also directs), Simon Farnaby and Jon Croker have delivered a crowd-pleasing follow-up that delivers eye-catching spectacle, knockabout fun, self-deprecating wit and a genuinely heart-warming vibe that honours the legacy of original creator Michael Bond (who died in June this year at the age of 91) in effortless fashion.

Read our review



The Raid

The Raid

What’s the story? An elite unit of cops, including one named Rama (Iko Uwais), enter a rundown, 15-storey apartment block with the intention of taking down its brutal resident crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetaphy), only to find their cover quickly blown. Trapped inside, and with Tama offering free sanctuary to all of the block’s criminal inhabitants in exchange for their heads, Rama and company are forced to fight their way back out while trying to complete their mission and get to grips with the real agenda behind their mission.

Why so good? Gareth Evans’ The Raid is one of the most dazzling action movies you’re ever likely to see! A breathless, bruising and incredibly tense roller-coaster ride, it also has the brains to match its ball-busting, head-banging, ‘how didn’t they get injured?’ set pieces. It’s that good. The Raid looks set to redefine what can be achieved in the genre.

Read our review l Gareth Evans interview



The Revenant

The Revenant

What’s the story? Inspired by the real-life adventures of Hugh Glass, a 19th Century Wyoming mountain expert and fur trapper who survived a bear mauling and vowed revenge on the two men who abandoned him to die.

Why so good? Three words best sum up Alejandro González Iñárritu’s survival thriller The Revenant: brutal, breath-taking, astonishing. The film offers a visual tour-de-force that combines stunning scenes of natural beauty with moments of bone-crunching savagery. In doing so, it also examines notions of survival, revenge and humanity: the latter point, in particular, an expansive notion in the way that it often cruelly examines mankind’s lack thereof… either to each other, especially in its depiction of the relationship between the settlers and the First Nation people, or to the landscape and its inhabitants. And it doesn’t sugar-coat nature’s terrifying capacity to hit back.

Read our review



Sicario

Sicario

What’s the story? Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic FBI agent who finds herself being recruited by an elite government unit that is engaged in a covert war against the Mexican drug cartels responsible for committing atrocities on the US side of the border. The deeper she becomes involved, however, the more she begins to realise the dubious morality of what her job entails, while also becoming a possible target for both sides.

Why so good? Tense, uncompromising and morally and ethically challenging, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a formidable piece of filmmaking that undoubtedly rates among the year’s best. An intelligent dissection of America’s war on drugs stretched to a credible what if scenario, this grips from opening set piece to bittersweet climax and then continues to linger for some time afterwards. Quite simply, Sicario is the type of film that leaves you spoilt for superlatives.

Read our review



The Social Network

The Social Network

What’s the story? The story of how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and then was sued by his best friend.

Why so good? The Social Network has variously been described as a Faustian tale, the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies and the movie of the moment that defines a generation. In truth, it encompasses all those things while retaining the ability to entertain on a mass scale. It’s a smart film about intelligent people that is also effortlessly cool. The credit for this lies predominantly with Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin, whose script is one of the year’s finest: sharp, witty, incisive and divisive. It’s not afraid to live in the grey, to make people think and to challenge perception. But it is frequently dazzling, often dissecting modern society as well as the characters we see on-screen.

Read our review l Aaron Sorkin interview



Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

What’s the story? Teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) unwittingly becomes the new Spider-Man after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Barely ready to accept the challenge, he must try and prevent over-sized crime lord Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening up a portal to other alternate realities, only to find himself thrust into a crazy new world in which there are numerous other web-slingers, including the original Peter Parker (Jake Johnson, now somewhat out of shape), the kick-ass Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), the ultra-cool Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and the totally surreal cartoon pig, Peter Porker (John Mulaney).

Why so good?: Marvel’s multi-faceted cinematic universe continues to throw up incredible surprises thanks to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. A visually rich, emotionally compelling, and consistently thrilling alternative Spider-Man movie, this wildly inventive animated adventure from the creative minds behind the 21 Jump Street franchise pretty much exhilarates on every level, while simultaneously breathing new life into a superhero universe that many would have been forgiven for thinking was becoming exhausted… This is as fresh and vital as comic book movies can get.

Read our review



Spotlight

Spotlight

What’s the story? Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) instructs Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his Spotlight team to look into allegations of abuse involving one local priest. But as their investigation exposes a much wider problem, possibly involving global culpability within the Catholic Church, the pressure mounts on those reporting it, whether from those who would seek to bury it, or from within the journalists’ own belief systems.

Why so good? A tricky subject matter is given the mature and highly intelligent treatment it deserves in Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s true story of the Boston journalists who uncovered widespread abuse of children by Catholic priests. Told primarily from the perspectives of the Spotlight team of journalists who reported on it, as well as the editor who oversaw them, this also remains hugely mindful of its victims as well as pointing the finger at corporative wrong-doing and collective culpability.

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A Star Is Born

A Star is Born

What’s the story? Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a massive country music star whose latter-day career is being propped up as much by reputation, drugs and booze as it is raw talent. Seemingly hell-bent on self-destruction, his life changes when he meets and subsequently falls in love with waitress Ally (Lady Gaga), who is a wannabe superstar singer in her own right. But as he helps her star to rise spectacularly, his own career starts to derail and it’s a question of whether their love can save him before his demons get the better of him.

Why so good?: Bradley Cooper makes a stunning directorial debut with A Star Is Born, an emotionally devastating rollercoaster of a journey that exhilarates as much as it devastates… Cooper ensures that the 2018 ‘cover’ is indicative of the times in which it is set. Hence, while there is undoubtedly the feel-good element of the rags to riches story under-pinning one half of its well-worn tale, there’s also a damning expose of modern celebrity, corporate greed and the destructive toll addiction can have on a career and a relationship.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What’s the story? Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a mother still angry and grieving at the rape and murder of her daughter and the apparent inaction of the local sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), to make any arrests. She subsequently takes out advertising on the three billboards of the film’s title in a bid to shame the police into action. But while Sheriff Willoughby remains sympathetic to her plight, he has his own battles to fight, leaving his deputy, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a Mother’s boy with violent tendencies, to try to deter Mildred.

Why so good?: Just as he did with both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh manages to find comedy in the darkest places but here exhibits a greater maturity befitting the generally more sombre tone of the film, which in turn affords it greater bite. This is a story in which death is as much a character as those on-screen for the way in which it informs choices and character. It is a painful companion to them.

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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

What’s the story? As Andy prepares to embark on adult life, his toys end up Sunnyside, an apparently idyllic day-care centre, where they may get to be played with and loved once again. But the dream turns into a nightmare when Sunnyside head toy Lotso (Ned Beatty) places the newcomers at the mercy of some tearaway kids, prompting Woody to come up with a desperate plan for escape.

Why so good? Toy Story 3 was, like its two predecessors and the Pixar creations that have come before it, another masterpiece… a fun, nostalgic romp that effortlessly entertained the kids, while providing plenty to keep the adults exhilarated too. What’s more, the studio’s newfound ability to mix laughter with tears is also in evidence once again, thereby ensuring that when Woody and company waved farewell at the end of another great adventure, there was barely be a dry eye in the multi-plex.

Read our review l Lee Unkrich interview



True Grit

True Grit

What’s the story? When her father is murdered, Mattie Ross (played by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld) hires shoot first lawman Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt the man responsible down. She also accompanies him on the trail together with a cocksure deputy, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), slowly developing a friendship and trust that brings out the paternal instincts in both men.

Why so good? It’s not often you find yourself praising a remake let alone hailing it as better than the original but the Coen brothers’ True Grit fits that bill. A bona fide instant classic, the film sits comfortably alongside the likes of Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven as one of the finest examples of the Western genre. Not to mention one of the very best films of this or any year.

Full review l Jeff Bridges interview l Hailee Steinfeld interview



Up In The Air

Up In The Air

What’s the story? Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a management consultant who specialising in firing people, and whose work enables him to build up his frequent flyer miles. When placed under threat by a new recruit (Kendrick) who plans to introduce video links as a means of firing people, Bingham takes one last trip to try and persuade the newcomer otherwise, and to further his newfound relationship with the fellow flyer of his dreams (Farmiga).

Why so good: Jason Reitman’s comedy-drama was well observed, emotionally engaging and expertly performed, playing to the strengths of its leading man, while also revealing hidden depths. It also treated its potentially tricky subject matter (unemployment) with respect and never felt glib or naive about the emotional consequences involved. A first class experience!

Read our review l Jason Reitman interview l Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick interview



Whiplash

Whiplash

What’s the story? Ambitious young jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) bids to become ‘one of the greats’ by first impressing his hardline teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) into giving him a shot. Far from being a conventional motivator, however, Fletcher is a borderline sadistic tutor who believes in pushing his students to breaking point and beyond in his own insatiable quest to unearth the new Charlie Parker.

Why so good? Whiplash may take its early cues from several well established movie genres but by subverting them in such thrilling fashion it dances to a different beat entirely. Where most films of this nature might set Fletcher up as unconventional but ultimately inspirational, Whiplash poses legitimate questions over teaching methods and the use of fear as a tool, thereby turning Fletcher into something more complex – part-monster, part-genius whose unscrupulous methods are wholly unpredictable. By doing so, the director also creates a genuine tension that drives the film like an action thriller; the question of whether Neyman will or won’t succeed or be broken being kept alive right up until the very end.

Read our review l Miles Teller interview l JK Simmons interview



Widows

Widows

What’s the story? When a group of robbers are killed following a botched heist, it is left to their wives to complete the job or face the consequences of not being able to pay their late husband’s debts.

Why so good?: Taken at face value, you could be forgiven for thinking that Steve McQueen – director of such challenging films as Hunger, Shame and 12 Years A Slave – has decided to take it easy, go mainstream and have some fun with an update of Lynda La Plante’s 80s TV series, Widows. But you’d be wrong. Rather, the filmmaker has taken a well worn genre [the heist movie] and given it his own gritty spin, albeit with a little help from writer Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects fame), who helped co-pen the script. The result is a muscular thriller of the highest order that lacks none of the social awareness or political heft of past McQueen presentations.

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Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

What’s the story? The story of how America hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden.

Why so good? Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may be one of the most controversial movies of the year but it’s also one of the best and most unmissable. This is a tour-de-force piece of filmmaking that refuses to pull its punches in depicting the tireless efforts and often brutal tactics of those involved. Zero Dark Thirty is a film that is refreshingly complex and utterly compelling… intelligent filmmaking at its very best and essential for anyone who has their finger on the pulse of current world events.

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