The Tree of Life

As anyone who reads this site (or follows my Letterboxd account) knows, I love making film lists. While I recognize that it’s not very useful as an act of film criticism, there’s something about the exercise that I find satisfying and fun. Instead of reducing these films to an arbitrary ranking, I find that compiling lists gives me a chance to reevaluate and revisit my initial encounters. Am I still thinking about a film after a few years? Are there open questions, mysteries or contradictions to explore? Considering questions like these as I create a list proves that films aren’t finite objects, but experiences that grow and change over time. The best films don’t ever really end, but remain vibrant and alive in my mind long after I see them.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I endeavored to create a list of my 100 favorite films at the halfway point of this decade. Of course, my list is entirely subjective, and my rankings probably wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but these are some of the films of the last five years that I’m still thinking about today.

Many critics, myself included, are quick to bemoan the franchise-driven, superhero-obsessed state of the Hollywood machine today: the past five years of tent-pole productions has done little convince me of the artistic health of Hollywood’s output. Nonetheless, great artistry and bold, singular visions still exist in the cinema. It’s found in the poetic, experimental production style of Terrence Malick, or the unironic humanism of Richard Linklater; it’s found in the magical realism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul or the documentary-fiction hybrids of Miguel Gomes. To me, this artistry is found in these 100 films. And hey, there are plenty of mainstream pleasures to be found too.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below. What are some of your favorite films of the 2010s? Where do you see film evolving in 2020 and beyond?


1. The Tree of Life / Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life is much more than its operatic creation sequence, or its whispered voiceover. The thematic ambition and introspective musing of these distinctive features of the film threaten to overshadow the far more profound poetry of the everyday that makes Malick’s film a masterpiece. Thinking of The Tree of Life, I remember a toddler looking suspiciously at his newborn brother, an adolescent experiencing his first crush, a father’s expression of profound grief. Images like these effortlessly and artfully communicate ideas, experiences, thoughts and feelings, triggering associations and embedding themselves in the viewer’s consciousness. They flow like water (a frequent image in Malick’s filmography), edited into graceful overtures and tonal movements following the logic of music, or of deep-seated memories of the past. The Tree of Life is about grace, about a spirit that flows through all of life, a force at once intensely intimate and evoking the awe of the infinite. With this film, Malick photographed the ineffable, filling its grand canvas with a dense poetry of images and music, layers of meaning and sensations, all the more beautiful for the impossibility of ever discovering them all.

2. The Master / Paul Thomas Anderson Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

While great films come and go every year, The Master will remain an American classic precisely for the jaggedness that disrupts the narrative many seek from it. Like the sharp turns of Jonny Greenwood’s score or the angular boniness of Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, The Master is rough around the edges and difficult to approach. And yet the starling originality of storytelling and filmmaking gets under your skin and stays there, allowing the film’s ideas to gestate and bloom within each viewer. To me, The Master is about souls set adrift, as so many were in America after The Great War, but the miracle of the film is the empathy and sensitivity Anderson shows to its sufferers of existential listlessness. The Master is Anderson’s most singular and assured film, but it’s also his most compassionate.

3. The Turin Horse / Béla Tarr & Ágnes Hranitzky 

The final film from Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr might also be his best. Like Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies before it, The Turin Horse features his unique brand of hypnotic, desolate black & white long takes, the strange beauty of which alone makes Tarr one of the great filmmakers. Yet The Turin Horse also boasts a simple and effective philosophical framework, which at once compliments the raw power of his images and complicates it. The film examines the miserable daily routine that defines a poor coachman and his daughter, and, with a kind of sadistic glee, asks why we cling to survival when all hope seems to be lost.

4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives / Apichatpong Weerasethakul Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Uncle Boonmee, like all of Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work, is a strange and hypnotic experience, sure to captivate some viewers while alienating others. His films are better felt than understood, and this one emerges as a graceful, wryly comic and deeply spiritual work about the spaces we share with memories, ghosts, animals and spirits. Part of the multimedia project PRIMITIVE, Uncle Boonmee deals with the cultural and political scars of Thailand’s tumultuous past, but its pleasures are much more tactile, buzzing with jungle sounds and mesmerizing, expressive cinematography.

5. Leviathan / Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

The experience of life—all kinds of life—aboard a commercial fishing vessel reaches almost mythic proportions in this experimental documentary. Like the best films, Leviathan’s form and content are two sides of a single artistic expression. The filmmaker’s GoPro cameras don’t just yield grainy, breathtaking abstract imagery, they help achieve the fracturing of perspective that the film proposes. Leviathan positively floods the senses, swinging our perspective across every corner of this floating ecosystem with every cut.


6. Boyhood / Richard Linklater

What a poignant and moving gift Linklater has given the world. Boyhood uses the true power of the cinematic image—an impression of the world specific to its own time, yet always unfolding in the present—to allow life to unfold in front of the viewer. That is a fantastic achievement on its own, and a perfectly conceived formal statement, but what makes Boyhood great is the warmth and sincerity Linklater breathes into each moment. There’s a humility and generosity of spirit to Linklater’s work that transcends any experimentations in time and shows the hands of a true artist.

7. Before Midnight / Richard Linklater

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are about romance, but Before Midnight is about love. The first two films in this remarkable and unlikely trilogy entice us with the spark of a connection and tantalize us with second chances. Taking place a decade into a committed relationship, however, Before Midnight shows the real and fully fleshed-out love that develops between the characters we met back in 1995; we believe that they’ve existed for almost 30 years. A successful and nuanced film in its own right, Before Midnight reaches profundity through this powerful, intertextual expression of time.

8. Our Beloved Month of August / Miguel Gomes

Part documentary and part loosely-scripted slice-of-life, Our Beloved Month of August is wholly beguiling. It’s a travelogue, a document of musicians that perform in town festivals throughout rural Portugal, and a tender and moving coming of age story. The film is even its own tongue-in-cheek making-of documentary! Showcasing the same dry humor and merging of truth and fiction as his later Tabu, Miguel Gomes’ first international feature heralds a fresh and evolving voice in world cinema.

9. To the Wonder / Terrence Malick Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Some viewers found To the Wonder to be ponderous self-parody of Malick’s style. In actuality, it’s a rapturous and soul-searching mediation of the theme of love: between two human beings, between humans and the world around them, between humans and God. Even more narratively radical than Malick’s epic Tree of Life, To the Wonder is constructed from fragments of music and images, collected following a spirit of inspiration, not a premeditated script. The film, and indeed most of Malick’s work, is about people searching and longing for this inspiration; Malick finds it in every beam of light and every blade of grass.

10. The Deep Blue Sea / Terence Davies

In this emotionally wrought, deeply felt romantic melodrama, Terence Davies explores the doomed love affair between a mercurial pilot and an unhappy married woman with complexity, wisdom and an emotional intelligence that emphasizes the pained passion over simplistic dime-store romance. Anchored by a trio of beautifully calibrated lead performances, The Deep Blue Sea also abounds with the haunting artistry recognizable in Davies other films, gracefully underscoring an emotion with a lilting camera or a pall of melancholy silence.


11. Goodbye to Langauge / Jean-Luc Godard

Goodbye to Language creates a whole universe of aesthetic possibilities, and its meaning is as much about this visual universe as any conceptual framework used to evaluate its content. Combining consumer-grade video, rule-bending 3D and impressionistic digital images, the film is a wild and thrilling blend of visual modes. This, more than words or philosophy, is Godard’s true vocabulary: his images speak for themselves.

12. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy / Tomas Alfredson Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Tomas Alfredson spy anti-thriller is precisely the type of serious, adult genre film that rarely gets made anymore. It’s smart, expertly crafted and never holds the audience’s hands. In addition to its craft and sensibilities, however, Tinker Tailor is a quietly devastating story of lonely men in the business of deception, watching their lives end up colored by guilt, fear, suspicion, and worse, a sense of the futility lurking underneath each devious machination.

13. At Berkeley / Frederick Wiseman

Wiseman has long been known for his keen eye as an observer of social institutions, able to locate hidden truths beneath bureaucracy through a single, perfect image. Yet his nearly-four-hour document of events both quotidian and tumultuous at the University of Berkeley shows that Wiseman is also a master editor. He constructs beautifully rhythmic sequences of people and locations around campus, but his sense of montage also extends to the intricate structure of the film, allowing seemingly disparate sequences to grow and evolve around each other over the course of the film.

14. Le Havre / Aki Kaurismäki

For a film ostensibly about the hardships faced by African immigrants in Europe, Le Havre is refreshingly fantastical. It’s a comic fable, not a gritty political drama, and that tonal paradox is only the most obvious of the film’s many ironies. Kaurismäki is known for his dry sense of humor and bleak blends of comedy and tragedy, but in Le Havre he embraces optimism, using his power as a writer to miraculously solve his characters’ problems just like that. It’s warm, kindhearted and even hilarious, but if the only way to grapple with immigration is to resort to this level of fantasy, maybe it’s even more a problem than we think.

15. Film socialisme / Jean-Luc Godard

Further proof of the absolute vitality and restless experimentation of Jean-Luc Godard, Film socialisme began to crystalize the aesthetic and textural ambitions he foregrounded in the short video of the 2000s. Film socialisme, as the title subjects, is a populist film, art for all about all. Using a panoply of European languages, only translated in brief snatches a foreign observer might overhear, the film is constructed such that no one viewer, or speaker of any one language, could lay claim to the whole glorious collection of images and feelings. Istead, Film socialisme remains essentially and provocatively open to all.


16. Inherent Vice / Paul Thomas Anderson

Similarities in the California milieux and alt-PI protagonists aside, Inherent Vice deserves to be appreciated free from the influence of The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski. Anderson’s film (and the Pynchon novel on which it is based) is much more absurdist in tone than those films. And indeed, capturing Pynchon’s complex and permeable blend of tones on film is perhaps Anderson’s greatest accomplishment. Inherent Vice is at once madcap and melancholy, flamboyant and achingly romantic.

17. The Social Network / David Fincher

Fincher may have perfected his digital workflow since The Social Network (see #40), but his material has never been this mature and compelling. With key collaborators contributing to the cinematography, editing and music, Fincher articulated a cold, propulsive style that perfectly matched his sensibilities and the near-classical tale of ambition that animates this film.

18. Spring Breakers / Harmony Korine

While the activities and subcultures he gravitates towards couldn’t be more different, provocateur Harmony Korine uses a searching, decentralized style akin to Terrence Malick. With recurring lines and earnest, contrapuntal voiceover, Korine shows that there’s more on Spring Breakers‘s mind than titillation. Instead, he’s after creating an aesthetic structure that can encompass both the hedonistic appeal of debauchery and an ironic inversion of it.

19. Sweetgrass / Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash

Sweetgrass was my introduction to the immersive, rigorously conceived projects of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, and while it may not have the same conscious-altering brilliance of Leviathan, Sweetgrass is equally transporting and transfixing. The film gets inside a Montana sheep drive (complete with a curious breed of modern cowboys) with a quiet, detached patience that belies the intensity of its gaze.

20. Meek’s Cutoff / Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt’s beautifully sombre and mysterious revisionist Western represented a major expansion of the scope and complexity of her films, while at the same time maintaining the insularity and focus of her vision. Through desolate landscapes, composed Academy-ratio images and an eerie sepia palette, Meek’s Cutoff creates existential suspense within a familiar, even mythic scenario.


21. Cosmopolis / David Cronenberg Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Some fans of Cronenberg’s genre films of the 80s and 90s have problems locating the director’s sensibilities in his recent output, but Cosmopolis shows that his systematic deconstruction of human bodies and sexuality is still present. In this 21st-century Heart of Darkness, human consciousness doesn’t merge with TV or the DNA of flies, but with endless streams of data.

22. Holy Motors / Leos Carax Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Carax uses this series of delirious, surreal episodes to deconstruct the masks we all wear as social actors, but the central metaphor of the film can easily be expanded to encompass the cinema itself, to the whole range the form has to offer, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

23. A Separation / Asghar Farhadi

A searing and sensitive portrait, not just of a disintegrating marriage, but of myriad relationships across families, generations and the socioeconomic divide, A Separation turns what may have been a myopic domestic drama into global and thrilling investigation of human connection.

24. Inside Llewyn Davis / Joel & Ethan Coen

In the Coen Brothers’ film, artistic beauty and a profound, consuming melancholy are braided together like the strands of a double helix, or like the doubling of time as the film folds in on itself in a closing touch of mythic grandeur.

25. It’s Such a Beautiful Day / Don Hertzfeldt Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Don Hertzfeldt’s epic of stick figure animation reworks three short films into a moving chronicle of a disintegrating mind, bursting with stunning moments of kaleidoscopic, avant-garde experimentation.


26. The Grand Budapest Hotel / Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson firing on all cylinders. The Grand Budapest Hotel is fleet, funny, beautifully designed and photographed, and features a brilliant comic performance from Ralph Fiennes. But its subtle undercurrent of melancholy and tragedy will make it timeless.

27. Her / Spike Jonze

Her uses its science-fiction premise not just to explore what makes a relationship with an operating system unique, but also what makes it familiar. As a result, the film manages to suggest complex ideas about technology and artificial intelligence while remaining recognizably human to its core.

28. Midnight in Paris / Woody Allen

A deceptively smart film about nostalgia, that knows how to revel in its pleasures while warning of its deceitfulness. Contrary to popular belief, Owen Wilson doesn’t “do Woody Allen,” but rather creates his own laconic, wistful, defeated romantic.

29. Drug War / Johnnie To Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

To’s kickass, Swiss-watch of an action film exhibits masterful control over pacing and style, never allowing the energy to dip, nor its active camera to get in the way of the film’s barreling momentum.

30. Tabu / Miguel Gomes

With rich black and white images and the Academy ratio, Gomes channels the spirit of silent cinema, but adds a dry, modern detachment to investigate the pull of history upon the present.


31. Moonrise Kingdom / Wes Anderson

A delightful, tender ode to childhood and puppy love that, for all its fastidiousness, now seems like Anderson’s film that most colors outside the lines. And it’s all the better for it.

32. Amour / Michael Haneke

An emotionally draining experience, but a valuable one. Amour may be as unflinching as Haneke’s other work, but its title is not a mistake: this is a film about love, albeit one that acknowledges any love must inevitably end.

33. 12 Years a Slave / Steve McQueen

Time may undervalue 12 Year a Slave as it has so many “important” historical Oscar-winners, but the artfulness and tactility of McQueen’s film transcends its genre.

34. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia / Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Ceylan’s lush, meditative shots of exterior environments make a stunning and ironic counterpoint to the often comic travails of its characters. In this film, men toil and struggle, but Ceylan’s careful tone suggests they work against forces too big to control.

35. The Wind Rises / Hayao Miyazaki

The last film from animation master Hayao Mizyaki is a contemplative, bittersweet story of adulthood told with the maturity and wisdom of old age. It’s also about the zen pleasures of work, of finding a calling and pursuing the rising wind tirelessly.


36. Senna / Asif Kapadia

A propulsive story that edits archival footage masterfully, and in the style of its race car driver subject: aggressively, and with a joyous, headlong abandon.

37. Cave of Forgotten Dreams / Werner Herzog Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Herzog understood, early in the most recent 3D craze, that it should only be used to achieve appreciably new effects. This documentary isn’t a big-budget spectacle, but its 3D places viewers in contact with something extraordinary: the yawning chasm of time separating us from ancient man.

38. Certified Copy / Abbas Kiarostami

The decade’s best mystery, Certified Copy poses questions that can never be solved. Kiarostami uses modulations in performance developing across carefully-sculpted time to proliferate the implications of the film, not to narrow the film towards a concrete “answer.”

39. I Saw the Devil / Kim Jee-woon Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A raw and grisly revenge horror film with some of the most bracing explosions of violence in years, the film ultimately justifies the viewer’s discomfort by offering a searing character study of two forms of mania via two extraordinary performances.

40. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / David Fincher

While the material is far less interesting than The Social Network, this bleak cyber-romance posing as a thriller might represent the Rosetta stone for Fincher’s digital palette since Zodiac. It’s an imperfect film showing the aesthetic heights digital filmmaking can reach with superlative craftsmanship.


41. Prometheus / Ridley Scott

Scott’s unfairly maligned, not-really-an-Alien-prequel epic might hint at the future of how science-fiction films should look in the digital age. It’s a beautiful film, sometimes straining for importance, but nonetheless always searching and posing big questions, as a good sci-fi story should.

42. This Is Not a Film / Jafar Panahi Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

The first of three improbably optimistic films made by a filmmaker under house arrest and legally banned from making films. Panahi uses consumer technology like cellphone cameras not just as a new canvas, but as true miracles, tools for a man denied his primal right to self-expression.

43. Like Someone in Love / Abbas Kiarostami Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

While not as blatantly mysterious as Certified Copy, Like Someone in Love is another Kiarostami film that blossoms and evolves long after it’s over, managing to remain tantalizingly open-ended.

44. Force Majeure / Ruben Östlund Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Somehow both naturalistic and allegorical, Force Majeure documents the avalanche of a relationship and might ultimately hint at a way of digging out. The way Östlund visualizes the changing family dynamic throughout the film with combinations of two-shots and isolated figures is masterful.

45. Chico & Rita / Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba

A rare and much-needed animated film for adults. Set in—and creating a visual style influenced by—the vibrant world of Cuban jazz, Chico & Rita is a touching and sexy romance with a quietly devastating third act.


46. Like Father, Like Son / Hirokazu Koreeda Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

This gentle, graceful film takes what may have been a trite premise and turns it into a nuanced and open-hearted expression of the transformative bonds of family. Koreeda’s filmmaking is sharp and incisive without ever being ostentatious or distracting.

47. Listen Up Philip / Alex Ross Perry

As caustic, bitter and prickly as its main character, Listen Up Philip is nonetheless funny, smart and even humane. Its most brilliant maneuver is suddenly changing perspective to focus on the terrific Elisabeth Moss.

48. A Touch of Sin / Jia Zhangke Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A four-part study of alienation and anger in modern China, A Touch of Sin adds interesting swirls of wuxia genre touches to Jai Zhangke’s usual searing penetrating realism.

49. How to Survive a Plague / David France Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

As much an aesthetic statement as a moral one, this powerful documentary about crusaders during the AIDS crisis uses startling and immediate archival footage to bring viewers into the lives of courageous but vulnerable people.

50. National Gallery / Frederick Wiseman

Another of Wiseman’s brilliantly observed and edited films about social institutions, but unlike so many, National Gallery is equally about the subject of its central institution—art—as it is about the infrastructure that makes it up.


51. Cutie and the Boxer / Zachary Heinzerling Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A lovely little documentary about the (sometimes one-sided) compromise of marriage, and the triumph of discovering self-worth.

52. Black Swan / Darren Aronofsky

This supremely satisfying, totally batty psychological thriller—Aronofsky’s best film by a mile—ramps up the anxiety and tension until its breathless, cinematic finale.

53. American Hustle / David O. Russell

Some have decried American Hustle as little more than stylized dress-up, but the joy of the film is in how totally and convincingly we feel the director’s love for its characters.

54. The Babadook / Jennifer Kent

The Babadook is the rare modern horror film with no cheats and no easy scares. Instead, it’s an emotionally honest externalization of the fears of motherhood and the fallout of trauma.

55. Side Effects / Steven Soderbergh Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Soderbergh has long used his intelligence about how scenes are constructed and edited in cinema to create memorable films, but Side Effects, one of his very best, craftily and deliberately uses this power to manipulate the viewer in exciting ways. Watch closely!


56. The Great Beauty / Paolo Sorrentino

Sorrentino’s flamboyant, bombastic interpretation of La dolce vita reexamines that great film’s interest in the excess and emptiness of modern life amid the ruins of ancient Rome.

57. Photographic Memory / Ross McElwee Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Ross McElwee, an obsessive chronicler of his own life, edits his hours of material into poignant, probing ruminations. This film centers on a search for an old flame, and a look at his teenage son through the lens of his own young adulthood.

58. Mother / Bong Joon-ho

Another successful, strange tonal blend from South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, Mother is an exciting, funny and even bizarrely tender murder mystery guided by unflappable motherly love.

59. The Future / Miranda July

The Future remarkably transcends a host of touches that would be too twee or quirky in less confident hands (including a talking cat). Instead, the film becomes a magical-realist comedy about the fear of responsibility.

60. Exit Through the Gift Shop / Banksy Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Whether it’s a hoax, an art project, or something altogether different, Exit Through the Gift Shop is smart, funny and thought-provoking, posing relevant, contemporary questions on art and authenticity.


61. The Trip / Michael Winterbottom Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

The hilarious improvisations of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon make The Trip an instant comedy classic, but its surprisingly sharp digs beneath the egos of the actors give it real weight and resonance.

62. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench / Damien Chazelle

Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s first feature is a much warmer affair: an effervescent, slightly surreal musical evoking the French New Wave to track the romance of young jazz trumpeter.

63. The Arbor / Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard’s haunting and innovative documentary features actors lip-synching to recorded interviews with the family members of English playwright Andrea Dunbar. The technique adds a level of artifice that makes the tragic details of Dunbar’s life and work even more impactful.

64. The Immigrant / James Gray Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A sumptuously-photographed melodrama with an unfashionable but deeply-affecting sincerity and formal classicism. It’s final shot is one of the best of the decade.

65. 21 Jump Street / Phil Lord & Chris Miller

One of the funniest films of the half-decade, 21 Jump Street showed early indications of the creativity and inventiveness of Lord & Miller, and the surprising comedic charm of Channing Tatum.


66. Foxcatcher / Bennet Miller

Foxcatcher has a tone and tenor as strange as John DuPont, showing a hushed and intense intimacy among a trio of men navigating expectations, approval and acceptance.

67. Alamar / Pedro Gonzalez-Rubia

This beautiful and warm docu-fiction blend observes a father teaching his young son about the natural world. The film is filled with quiet moments of genuine connection and the vibrancy of the sea around them.

68. Django Unchained / Quentin Tarantino Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

There’s always some uncomfortable bloodlust in Tarantino’s films, but Django Unchained is still a worthwhile attempt to upset the power dynamics in slavery narratives, and a manic pastiche of styles and tones.

69. The Place Beyond the Pines / Derek Cianfrance

Perhaps Cianfrance’s film is a bit overambitious, but the novelistic structure of this trifurcated narrative is fascinating and allows the themes of the story to reverberate across generations.

70. Frances Ha / Noam Baumbach Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Baumbach shed some of the acerbic cynicism of his earlier films to create this gentler and empathetic New Wave romp, with a great performance by Greta Gerwig.


71. Rust and Bone / Jacques Audiard

This sharp character study places two broken souls in contact and watches them tentatively learn to embrace vulnerability. The stories of Audiard’s films may sound unremarkable, but the performances he elicits are anything but.

72. Mourning / Morteza Farshbaf

Another vibrant, artistic and humane drama to emerge from Iran, Mourning may even rival Boyhood in its convincing and astute child’s-eye perspective.

73. Mistaken for Strangers / Tom Berninger

A self-depricating, funny and touching personal documentary along the lines of the great Ross McElwee. The director sets off to document his successful brother’s tour with the band The National and ends up confronting his own arrested development.

74. I Am Love / Luca Guadagnino Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

This strange and sumptuous throwback melodrama features a ferocious, Italian-speaking performance from one of the decade’s best actresses: Tilda Swinton.

75. Another Year / Mike Leigh

An elegant, tender and honest portrait of love, both functional and dysfunctional. We’d expect nothing less form Mike Leigh.


76. The Elephant in the Living Room / Michael Webber Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A fascinating and underseen documentary about some Americans’ obsession with large and dangerous pets. There’s an absorbing narrative throughline, and Webber also shows empathy for his subjects.

77. Computer Chess / Andrew Bujalski Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Bujalski uses 80s-era video technology to brilliant effect in this funny, smart, even surreal curio about nerdy conventions and artificiality.

78. Take Shelter / Jeff Nichols

Take Shelter is fascinating, ambiguous and mysterious, a film that continues to brood and thunder in the viewer’s imagination.

79. Shame / Steve McQueen

McQueen’s second collaboration with the brilliant actor Michael Fassbender may suffer from some heavy-handedness in its descent into depression and sex addiction, but it shows real pathos and a beautiful visual palette.

80. The Hunt / Thomas Vinterberg Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

This shattering drama explores the fallout of a false accusation of sexual assault. Vinterberg’s near-verite style unflinchingly documents how a lie and a misunderstanding spins out of control.


81. This Is the End / Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg

There’s a brilliant concept behind this ego-busting comedy starting actors as caricature of themselves, but mostly it’s just brilliantly funny, especially James Franco.

82. Toy Story 3 / Lee Unkrich

Toy Story 3 exhibits all of the tight structure and visual storytelling of the best Pixar (complete with a prison break sequence), and adds a deeply emotional climax.

83. A Dangerous Method / David Cronenberg

It’s been fascinating to watch Cronenberg deepen and expand his cinema as he’s moved away from the genre films that made his name in the 80s, and the skill he shows dramatizing the sexual politics of this film showcase his maturity.

84. The Duke of Burgundy / Peter Strickland

A vast improvement from Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, this kinky S&M romance never allows its giallo sensibilities to overshadow the well-drawn characters at its core.

85. Manakamana / Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Another triumph from the Sensory Ethnography Lab, Manakamana is about people at rest: how they fidget and fill silences, and how we respond to them as viewers.


86. The Strange Little Cat / Ramon Zürcher

Zürcher’s debut film demonstrates a unique and perfectly-pitched cinematic voice, weaving together elegantly composed static shots that emphasize the magic and mystery of the mundane.

87. Vengeance / Johnnie To Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

This balletic and colorful action film shows the finesse and intelligence that has become To’s trademark. Now if only more Western viewers could see how sophisticated genre films can be.

88. Pain & Gain / Michael Bay Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Michael Bay shows some surprising self-awareness in this bonkers tragicomedy that embraces the guilty pleasures of his macho style while offering a knowing refutation of its many shortcomings.

89. The Hole / Joe Dante Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Horror-comedy legend Joe Dante has long been unfairly overlooked, and his 3D effort The Hole was especially ignored; but it’s a witty, spooky and fun family film that ranks among his best work.

90. A Prophet / Jacques Audiard

Audiard’s social-realist character studies are uncommonly affecting for their laser-like focus on their protagonists, but A Prophet adds an unexpected dash of surreality and magic.


91. Hugo / Martin Scorsese Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Perhaps all Scorsese films are odes to the cinema itself, but none more so than this inventive and delightfully-artificial kids’ adventure.

92. The Grey / Joe Carnahan

Amidst a sea of vapid late-Liam Neeson action films, this sober meditation on mortality and masculinity slipped by largely unnoticed. Don’t let the wolf-punching ads fool you: this is a great film.

93. Oslo, August 31st / Joachim Trier Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Joachim Trier’s keen eye for detail and a relaxed, considered pacing wring pathos and tragedy from this harrowing addiction drama.

94. Lucy / Luc Besson

A refreshingly zany and propulsive action film that miraculously manages some genuine human moments amidst its considerable silliness.

95. Zero Dark Thirty / Kathryn Bigelow

The moral grayness Zero Dark Thirty depicts makes it a fascinating document of American foreign policy in the 2000s, but Bigelow’s deft suspense filmmaking makes it supremely effective as cinema.


96. Something in the Air / Olivier Assayas Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Oliver Assayas’ semi-autobiographical account of a young artist coming of age during the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s is too smart and nuanced to succumb to simple nostalgia.

97. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning / John Hyams Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

A brutal and relentlessly dark action film that shows that formal inventiveness can come in the least expected of places.

98. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya / Isao Takahata

The delicate watercolors of this animated fable are graceful and beautiful, but so is the wisdom that Takahata brings to this story of the pleasures and pain of earthly life.

99. The Paperboy / Lee Daniels Available on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Lee Daniels’ gritty, deep-fried southern mystery is much more potent and explosive than its camp reputation gives it credit for.

100. Stoker / Park Chan-wook

Park’s lurid, campy and deliciously fun update of Shadow of a Doubt strikes a perfect tonal balance.