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Taking stock in 2015: Best movies of the decade so far


Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in Gravity

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

Romantic drama ‘Before Midnight'

Romantic drama ‘Before Midnight'


Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Last week, the Guardian's esteemed and admirably outspoken critic Peter Bradshaw named his 50 best films of the 2010s thus far - or of the demi-decade, as he likes to call it.

His list was far-ranging, including lots of foreign language and arthouse films as well as mainstream Hollywood productions and, perhaps forgivably, a disproportionate number of British movies.

Of course, all 'best of' lists are ultimately subjective, but while I agreed with a good number of Mr Bradshaw's choices, I found some of them a little baffling. He was full of praise, for instance, for Andrea Arnold's 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which started with the novel premise of casting a black actor as Heathcliff. But that turned out to be a right-on gimmick in a film that sucked all the poetry and Gothic splendour out of Emily Bronte's novel, and left us with something that seemed like a depressing episode of EastEnders.

Mr Bradshaw also includes Four Lions in his top 50, but Chris Morris's Jihadist satire was perhaps selected for its commendable bravery, because however well-intentioned, it was anything but funny. Enter the Void, Gaspar Noé's nicely photographed caper in which a man dies and then floats about for a bit, also gets the nod, despite being one of the more feeble-minded and pretentious movies I've seen. Then there's Kick-Ass, which Peter Bradshaw may have chosen because it satirises the depressingly ubiquitous superhero genre: but it's a modestly successful comedy.

But what right would I have to criticise the fine details of Mr Bradshaw's list if I didn't come up with my own? Here, in no particular order, are my 50 best films of the demi-decade, 25 this week, the other half next. And please feel free to violently disagree with me:


Le Quattro Volte

Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte is so eccentric, off-kilter and wilfully unique a piece of cinema that it almost feels like a new kind of film-making. Neither documentary nor straight drama, Frammartino's film turns a leisurely examination of life in a sleepy southern Italian village into a wise and witty meditation on the unending cycle of life and death.

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's surreal, audacious thriller stars Natalie Portman as a brittle but driven young ballet dancer, who (to put it mildly) starts to lose her grip on reality when she's cast in the lead role in a New York production of Black Swan. Visually stunning and perfectly paced, Aronofsky's film builds towards an unforgettable climax.

The Tree of Life

A film that tended to divide both audiences and critics, Terrence Malick's Tree of Life does not adhere to a conventional narrative, and a semi-autobiographical plot about a stern southern American upbringing is merely the excuse for a cinematic search for god and a magnificent sequence depicting the creation of the world. Breathtaking cinema.

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Korea continues to produce outstanding cinema, and Lee Chang-dong's Poetry was a delightfully constructed slow thriller. Rape, suicide and a society mired in cynicism form the backdrop to Lee's drama, which stars Korean screen legend Yoon Jeong-hee as an elderly woman who tries to combat despair by taking a poetry course.

We Need to Talk about Kevin

A grim but oddly beautiful film based on Lionel Shriver's novel. Director Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk about Kevin examines the aftermath of a Columbine-style school massacre from the point of view of the killer's mother. Tilda Swinton stars in this enthralling and gruelling film filled with unforgettable moments and images.

Kill List

Ben Wheatley's fiercely intelligent and magnificently gloomy British horror film stars Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley as a pair of former combat soldiers who've branched out into contract killing. And when they're given a hit list by a mysterious client, the pair begin to suspect that they're pawns in a much larger game.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tomas Alfredson's stylish screen adaptation of John le Carré's novel starred Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the jaded MI6 man who's brought out of retirement to find a Russian mole who's managed to infiltrate British intelligence. A complex plot was beautifully handled by Alfredson to create a delicious slice of Cold War paranoia.


Lars von Trier's Melancholia was one of 2011's most accomplished and memorable films. A kind of modern doomsday play with surreal overtones, von Trier's wonderfully overblown drama starred Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters who react very differently to the news that a huge planet is set to collide with Earth.

The Social Network

If ever a film caught the mood of its time, it was The Social Network. David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's witty and stylish biopic dramatises the founding of Facebook and starred Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, a misfit Harvard student whose creative brilliance and big ideas are not matched by a talent for human relationships.

Of Gods and Men

Xavier Beauvois' extraordinary and poignant film is set in 1996 and based on the true story of a group of French Trappist monks, who got caught up in the bitter Algerian Civil War and became pawns in a nasty battle between Muslim fundamentalists and government soldiers. An outstanding film, and a memorable examination of religious faith.


In the vanguard of Greek cinema's new wave, Giorgos Lanthimos' deeply unsettling drama dealt with a social experiment in an Athens suburb that goes horribly wrong. A controlling businessman has raised his three feral children behind high walls and in complete ignorance of the outside world, and when one of them escapes, tragedy ensues.

A Room and a Half

Ostensibly a biopic of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, Andrey Khrzhanovsky's charming and funny drama A Room and a Half uses the bare facts of Brodsky's brief but eventful life as a starting point for an exuberant exploration of memory, regret and the role of the artist. Evocative, romantic and altogether delightful.


Long, dense and fiendishly complex, Steven Spielberg's stately biopic dramatised Abraham Lincoln's dogged and wily campaign to push an amendment banning slavery through congress while managing the endgame of the Civil War. Daniel Day Lewis was nothing short of astonishing playing probably the greatest American president of them all, and Tommy Lee Jones played the great anti-slavery advocate Thaddeus Stevens.

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's brilliant but controversial film explored the consequences of America's 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain played Maya, a young CIA agent who travels to Pakistan in 2003 to investigate a possible lead to one of bin Laden's couriers, and becomes obsessed with tracking down the orchestrator of the 9/11 attacks. Bigelow's film asked some very awkward and pertinent questions.


Richard Linklater spent 11 years making Boyhood, a moving account of a Texan childhood, using the same young actor, Ellar Coltrane, and filming for a week or so every year. But Linklater's painstaking technique was merely a means to an end, and the result is a mesmerising insight into childhood, parenthood and coming of age.

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer's daring and inventive film is probably the most extraordinary documentary I've ever seen. In The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer tracks down some of the men responsible for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people after a failed coup in Indonesia in 1965, and asks them to re-enact their grisly work.

The Great Beauty

With The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino created a Dolce Vita for our time. Tony Servillo is outstanding as Jeb Gambardella, a celebrated Roman journalist and socialite who's grown weary of glamour and excess and suspects that something very important has eluded him: love. A glorious film.


Simple, stark and absolutely riveting, especially on the big screen, Alfonso Cuarón's film memorably explored the existential terror of space. Astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is left alone and drifting when her space shuttle is destroyed by a shower of debris, and begins a monumental struggle to return to Earth.


Pawel Pawlikowski's crisply photographed black and white film is set in Poland in the early 1960s and subtly explores the uncomfortable legacy of the country's wartime past. A young woman, who is about to take her vows as a nun, travels to the city to visit her aunt and makes an astonishing discovery about her past.

Before Midnight

Overshadowed by the achievements of Boyhood, Richard Linklater's trilogy-ending drama is one of the most delightful romantic comedies of the half-decade. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine, the star-crossed lovers who are now married, and not entirely happily.

Something in the Air

Olivier Assayas' masterfully edited semi-autobiographical saga revives the rioting and pamphleteering of early 1970s Paris, and tells the story of a young Marxist who takes himself way too seriously. Mr Assayas gently mocks the would-be revolutionaries, but also nostalgically celebrates an era where young people were still politically engaged.

Once Upon a Time in Anotolia

In Nuri Bilge Ceylan's long, sumptuous and daringly slow drama, a local doctor and a state prosecutor despair of peasant brutalities as they search Turkey's lush central plains for a murdered villager. Beautifully paced and photographed, Ceylan's film is also surprisingly funny.


Michael Haneke's extraordinary drama uses the awful predicament of a loving couple in their 70s to explore the limits of human love. Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant play Anne and Georges, a cultured Parisian couple who face their worst nightmares when she suffers a series of debilitating strokes. Little by little she begins to disappear, and poor Georges is driven to extremes.


Andrei Zvyagintsev's salty, scrupulously unsentimental domestic drama stars Nadezhda Markina as Elena, a sternly handsome Muscovite in her late 50s, who lives in some style in a plush apartment near the Kremlin. Her partner is a rich businessman, but Elena faces a moral dilemma of her own making when the couple fall out over whether or not to help her grasping, wastrel son.

A Simple Life

This tender and thoughtful Hong Kong drama from Ann Hui starred the excellent Deanie Ip as Chung Chun-Tao, a stoical servant who's worked for the same wealthy family for 60 years. Her young employer, Roger Leung (Andy Lau), seems to take Tao for granted. However, when she falls ill, we find out their connection goes much, much deeper than that.

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