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The 100 best movies of the 21st century so far

Counting down the very best films released since the turn of the millennium

Phil de Semlyen
Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
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Cinema has changed irrevocably since the millennium. We’ve seen the genesis and conclusion of billion-dollar franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings; the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the death, and then rebirth, of Star Wars; and the influence of streaming services, which have graduated from producing small indie flicks to Oscar winners.

That quarter century has yielded some timeless masterpieces, like Brokeback Mountain, American Psycho and Pan’s Labyrinth, while filmmakers such as David Fincher and Wes Anderson made good on their early promise.

The 2010s saw the blockbuster take centre stage: of the ten highest grossing films of all time, eight were released in the last decade. Still, among the many Avengers movies, the failed attempts to make 3D happen (again), and Disney’s ever-growing market share, are some killer movies from brilliant new voices like Ari Aster, Barry Jenkins, Greta Gerwig, and Jordan Peele. And as we enter into the not-so-roaring twenties, even more diverse filmmakers such as Bong Joon-ho, Chloé Zhao and Jasmila Žbanić have left an indelible impression, too.

With two decades’ worth of releases to consider, we’ve combed through hundreds of films to pick the best of the best. So without further ado, here are the best films of the 21st century so far…

Written by David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf, Keith Uhlich, Stephen Garrett, Andrew Grant, Aaron Hillis, Tom Huddleston, Alim Kheraj, Tomris Laffly, Kevin B. Lee, Karina Longworth, Maitland McDonagh, Troy Patterson, Nicolas Rapold, Lisa Rosman, Nick Schager, Phil de Semlyen, Anna Smith, S. James Snyder. 

Recommended: The 100 best movies of all time

The 100 best movies of the 21st century so far...

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This David Lynch masterpiece is a film split in half: a glamorous romance that suddenly morphs into bitter rejection, a Hollywood mystery that plunges into doom. Can there be another movie that speaks as resonantly– if unwittingly – to the awful moment that marked the ‘00s? Viewers grappled over the meaning of the ‘blue box’, finding little purchase. But in the troubled autumn of this psychodrama's 2001 NYC release, we might have understood it all too well. Mulholland Drive is the monster behind the diner; it's the self-delusional dream turned into nightmare. The triumph belongs to Lynch, who could have rested on the laurels of his three landmarks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Creatively, though, he saved this project (originally a misunderstood TV pilot) from dismissal, retooling it and extending his story into complexity. Along the way, a star was born: the extraordinary Naomi Watts, whose fearless double performance wrecked all who submitted to its spell. –Joshua Rothkopf

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A man strikes a pickaxe against a stone wall. Later, after this same enterprising individual has found black gold, taken over a small town, gained the world and lost his soul (assuming he had such a thing to begin with), we watch him do the exact same gesture – only this time he's grasping a bowling pin, and that isn't rock he's bashing. Paul Thomas Anderson's revision of Upton Sinclair's Oil! jettisons the source material's muckraking in favor of something far more ambitious: mapping the moment that our nation's bootstrap mentality curdled into a cutthroat corporate culture. Credit goes to Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who transforms the movie's inscrutable gargoyle, Daniel Plainview, into the very embodiment of American rot; he even makes a ridiculous non sequitur (‘I drink your milk shake!’) sound terrifying. But this is Anderson's film, and his black-hearted epic proves that the New Hollywood acolyte deserves a seat in the pantheon. As an oblique critique of Bush II's self-made power brokers and winner-take-all capitalism, There Will Be Blood cuts to the bone. As the work of a visionary artist, it's truly sui generis. –David Fear

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Hard to watch and impossible to fully comprehend, Joshua Oppenheimer’s radical documentary tracks down some of the men who took part in the Indonesian mass killings of the mid-1960s and asks them to recreate and relive their crimes for the camera. Flattered by the attention, these mass-murderers willingly take part, only for some to find themselves perplexed and even traumatised by the experience. Stark, incisive and unafraid to confront the absolute worst of human nature, The Act of Killing is, for better and worse, unforgettable. –Tom Huddleston

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Monsters are everywhere in Guillermo del Toro's dark fairy tale, set in post-Civil War Spain. Dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia retreats into an imaginary world of feral fauns and fairies rather than face the Fascist in her mother's bed. But her fantasy world proves as brutal as the real one; the uses of enchantment have never seemed so bleakly powerful. –Maitland McDonagh

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It's easy to be impressed by vivacious animation, but Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki's timeless fantasia—about a ten-year-old girl who moves to a town inhabited by beasts and specters—also entrances with Shakespearean wit, brothers-Grimm--like folklore and more emotional complexity than most year-end prestige pictures. –Aaron Hillis

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The consummate unconsummated love story of the new millennium, Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece fetishizes early-'60s fashion more thoroughly than several seasons of Mad Men (how many cheongsam dresses can one person own?) and turns Nat King Cole's Spanish balladry into the official soundtrack of lonely hearts. Yet it isn't the nostalgia factor, pop-culture appropriation or even Wong's color-drunk visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, that makes the movie such a metaphysical aphrodisiac. His tale of two neighbors – the stately Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and would-be pulp writer Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) – who obsess over their spouses' affair in lieu of their own attraction works its spell by perpetually keeping passion at bay. Glances are exchanged, bodies brush against each other in hallways, hands are tentatively held... and then their buildup simply fades away before our very eyes. Thanks to Wong and his leads, both of whom give career-best performances, such small gestures turn unfulfilled longing into hothouse eroticism. The director himself would spend the rest of the decade burning out, and not even a sequel – the sci-fi-inflected 2046 – could help him find his mojo again. This peerless ode to snuffed desire, however, still makes our hearts pitter-patter. –David Fear

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In 2020, director Bong Joon Ho made history when Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. A dazzling social-satire-meets-home-invasion-thriller about a poor Seoul family infiltrating the lives of a super-rich household probes at questions of inequality, class, manners and the lengths people will go to in order to grasp hold of what they believe ought to be theirs. Nevertheless, such a thematic melting pot and the film’s genre smash never jars, but is instead a dazzling work, surprising and fully gripping from beginning to end, full of big bangs and small wonders. 

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Sarah Polley’s melancholic investigation of her family’s history begins as a cosy personal journey, then eases into a much scarier proposition: let’s be more curious about our parents’ pasts. Blending first-person interviews and grainy Super 8 re-enactments with panache, Polley’s one-of-a-kind identity pursuit ends up resembling a memory piece – one that honours her mother’s unapologetically spirited misbehaving. –Tomris Laffly

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Pedro Almodvar's brilliantly eccentric girlfriend-in-a-coma melodrama combines a female matador, silent-film dream sequences and an exquisite depth of insight into the male psyche (rare for this feminist auteur). In a decade of comparatively conventional efforts, it's easily the director's most challenging achievement. –Stephen Garrett

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Frances McDormand steers this unexpected Best Picture winner about a van-dweller who drives across the US badlands in search for a life outside of the broken system of late capitalist America. Featuring a cast of real-life nomads, director Chloé Zhao’s lo-fi road trip movie expertly stitches together realism, moments of sheer transcendence and a lightly-worn radicalism in a way that feels nothing but unpatronising and empathetic. 

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Ang Lee's epic tale of a love affair between two male ranchers with big sky in their eyes was glibly labeled ‘the gay cowboy movie’. But beneath its sweeping vistas and breathless melodrama, the film brilliantly calls the bluff of the Western, that most American of film traditions, in order to excavate the universal loneliness and longing at the core of this country's bluster. –Lisa Rosman

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Buster Keaton and Ingmar Bergman haunt Roy Andersson's comic dystopia, a series of absurdist vignettes set in an out-of-time Scandinavian civilization and shot completely on soundstages. Stiflingly artificial and yet thrillingly alive, the movie's stone-faced look at the human condition lurches from bellyaching laughter to stomach-churning despair – perfect for a decade of global unease. –Stephen Garrett

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As aching and graceful as it is, Moonlight will always be synonymous with the greatest snafu in Oscar history. But it should equally be remembered as the film that heralded the arrival of Barry Jenkins, an American auteur possessing an unmistakably original voice, yet one comparable to giants like Wong Kar-wai and Claire Denis. A milestone in mainstream LGBTQ+ cinema, Jenkins’s early-career masterwork gently redefines black masculinity with specificity and universality. –Tomris Laffly

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If the opening of Up made you blub, you might not have been ready for the bit in Pixar’s stunningly brainy, deeply emotional animation where the tweenaged Riley Andersen runs away from home, her world collapsing around her. We’ve all been there: a time in our lives where our emotions just became too big for our ability to process them. But only Pixar has the daring to reimagine those fast-changing young psyches as a dazzling landscape filled with globe-like memories, trains of thought and an imaginary friend called Bing Bong. –Phil de Semlyen

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If eighteenth-century England was half as much fun as director Yorgos Lanthimos’s regal romp makes it look, you’d say to hell with all the itchy skin complaints and rotten teeth and move there. The Favourite plays like The Crown on helium, with bawdiness and bitchiness vying for space with political manoeuvring that would have made Molière proud. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are a pitch-perfect duo as bitter rivals, but Olivia Colman steals the show as the sorta-object of their affections: a maverick, melancholy queen who never saw a crustacean she didn’t want to race. –Phil de Semlyen

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Disaffected suburban teen Donnie gets dire warnings about the future from a guy in a tatty rabbit suit: Is he losing his mind or is he the sole fixed point in a world whose center will not hold? The more often you revisit it, the better Richard Kelly's sly debut looks, and a 2004 director's cut takes the WTF trippiness to a whole other level. –Maitland McDonagh

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In Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning magnum opus, the humane Iranian master explores his customary theme of social justice, mapping out an unflinching study of a marriage’s dissolution intertwined with a shrewd whodunnit. En route to a divorce (not always granted in Iran), we experience an enormous amount of cultural texture as the complex custody case winds its way through the courts. Few films resolve to a final shot this devastating. –Tomris Laffly

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Action movies in the 2010s found their thrills in speed (Fast Five, the Mission: Impossible films), spectacle (Inception, the MCU) and raw-knuckled smackdowns (John Wick, Atomic Blonde). The decade’s standout actioner, Mad Max: Fury Road, just went ahead and put a bullet hole in all those boxes – and a few that we hadn’t seen before, including villains who, unusually, boast a house guitarist (shout out to the Doof Warrior). Director George Miller, whose hyper-kinetic style makes this movie the big-screen equivalent of defibrillation (he’s a doctor, it’s okay), made a majestic, sand-blasted road movie that also came alive in its quiet moments – not that there were too many of those. Four years on, the roar of the War Rig and Junkie XL’s thunderous score are still rattling around in our brains. –Phil de Semlyen

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Burned by the six-year, studio-mandated delay meted out to his sophomore film Margaret, playwright-turned-filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan retreated from Hollywood for more than a decade. When he returned, it was in triumph. Brought on as a writer-for-hire to flesh out an original idea by actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Lonergan delivered a devastating (and ultimately Oscar-winning) treatise on grief. Casey Affleck – an actor who knows a little something about regretting your mistakes – plays Lee Chandler, the taciturn handyman who returns to the eponymous coastal town to bury his brother, only to find himself saddled with an obstreperous teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). One of the best films ever made about the emotional aftermath of deep personal loss, Manchester By the Sea can be spare and relentless, but it’s also unexpectedly hilarious. It recognises, and even celebrates those darkly comic absurdities that come hand in hand with trauma. –Tom Huddleston

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You may be tempted to write off the whole thing as another case of irritable male genius torturing his fragile muse. But a redemptive strain of female retaliation mushrooms in Paul Thomas Anderson’s sophisticated romance (our favourite of his three strong narrative features made during the decade), resulting in a perverse comedy set within the elegance of a fictional mid-twentieth-century London fashion house. What begins as flirtation morphs into a delicious battle of the sexes, fought by former PTA oilman Daniel Day-Lewis – here playing Reynolds Woodcock, a behind-the-times couturier who dresses the rich – and newcomer Vicky Krieps’s headstrong waitress who refuses to keep it quiet at breakfast. Draped by attractive yet fittingly severe costumes and Jonny Greenwood’s stylish score, Anderson’s Rebecca-meets-Ophüls fling is not only one of the decade’s most beautiful films, but also the most quotable. –Tomris Laffly

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Wobbling into view looking like a festive biscuit tin, the gorgeously ornate ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ could only be the creation of Wes Anderson. Controlled by the perfectly camp concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), it is the setting of a graceful character comedy that speeds up as its story gains urgency. War is the unwelcome influence, but the shift in tone is beautifully managed in one of Anderson’s most sophisticated stories. This plays with genre, and it wins. Murder, romance, politics, conflict, crime: all combine in an orderly fashion to create a story that’s as gripping as it is funny. And then there’s the cast: Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe… obviously we could go on. If you haven’t checked in, it’s never too late. –Anna Smith

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Fearless auteur Werner Herzog wouldn't be content with a mere character portrait of eccentric environmentalist Timothy Treadwell, who cohabitated with grizzly bears before being eaten by one. Deepening the possibilities of documentary, Herzog inserts himself into the chronicle, canonizes Treadwell's accidentally poetic nature films and disagrees with his subject's invasion of nature. –Aaron Hillis

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Russia’s Andrey Zvyagintsev exposed deep civic corruption (and an even deeper national cynicism) with this ominous Job-like fable, a microcosm of an anarchic post-Soviet culture stomping on the common man and favouring thuggish special interests. Besieged Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov) may lose his house to a rapacious mayor who wants a dacha for himself. Marital estrangement, murder and iffy religious advice swirl into the mix, making Leviathan an especially cloudy shot of 190-proof vodka. How it got funded by the powers that be is a mystery. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul turns the memories of his doctor parents into a narrative seed, planting it in both a jungle and a city hospital to see what will grow from each. Few recent films seem as driven by pure, organic intuition—and are as consistently sublime. –Kevin B. Lee

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Japanese maestro Hirokazu Kore-eda’s best films explore the mechanics of family: how we relate to, and care for one another. Made in the wake of global recession and inspired by real-life stories of Japanese families stealing to eat, Shoplifters tracks the fortunes of one such criminal collective, unrelated by blood but bonded by necessity and experience. Packed with moral complexity and shifting sympathies, Kore-eda’s film deservedly snatched the Palme d’Or at Cannes. –Tom Huddleston

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Someone is terrorizing Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil by delivering videotapes on which they are the secretly filmed subjects—but who's the culprit? A squirmy, jigsaw-puzzle allegory about guilt and revenge, Michael Haneke's icy masterpiece points his camera and finger at the audience, forcing us to question our own unresolved bloodlusts. –Aaron Hillis

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With Roma, Alfonso Cuarón joined the masters. Exploring the writer-director’s Mexico City upbringing from a unique and empathetic sideways angle, this gorgeous monochrome memoir focuses not on little Alfonso and his privileged siblings but on the experiences of his indigenous housekeeper and nanny, played with understated grace by first-timer Yalitza Aparicio. Robbed of Best Picture by the undeserving Green Book, Cuarón took the consolation prize of being the first Best Director winner for a foreign language film. –Tom Huddleston

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The rebirth of 3D in the late 2000s resulted in countless cinematic crimes and digital misfires – but Gravity made it all worthwhile. The pinnacle of special effects cinema to date, Alfonso Cuarón’s high-orbit road movie follows marooned astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as they struggle to reach safety in the wake of a catastrophic space shuttle accident. Viewed on the biggest available screen in pin-sharp 3D, it’s literally breathtaking. –Tom Huddleston

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Park Chan-wook's deliriously divisive fable is an escalating series of outrages, perpetrated against (and by) a hapless salaryman-turned-avenger whose quest is as romantic as it is perversely unforgettable. Park's beyond-the-pale sensibilities triggered the usual pop-culture alarms: Did Oldboy empower the Virginia Tech killer? How could Steven Spielberg and Will Smith have considered doing a U.S. remake (there would be a remake in 2013 directed by Spike Lee)? Now take a deep breath and step back: The movie that sparks such discomfiting thoughts is the movie you need to see. –Maitland McDonagh

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This sui generis masterpiece is the kind of bonkers gem that has you wishing that French auteur Leos Carax made a whole lot more movies. It’s only his fifth feature in a career that exploded into life in the early ’80s, but, wow, what a comeback: his muse Denis Lavant brings all his loose-limbed, acrobatic genius to the lead, well, 11 roles. One of them is a leprechaun. Another is an elderly beggar. Flowers get eaten. Armpits are licked. Kylie shows up. See? Bonkers – but utterly brilliant with it. –Phil de Semlyen

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Björk's screen debut and probable swan song (Oscar-dress pun intended) perfectly encapsulates director Lars von Trier's genius – and his faults. A multiple-camera experiment that obscures as much as it reveals, this often atonal musical about a innocent woman railroaded onto death row remains, in spite of (or maybe because of) its contradictions, deeply affecting. –Karina Longworth

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If the decade taught us nothing else, it’s that Lesley Manville is a truly stellar actor. Her standout performance came in Mike Leigh’s Another Year, a kind of filmic ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with a London postcode. As singleton Mary, she’s tortured by the contentment of Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent’s happy marrieds and stuck in a damaging spin cycle of expensive mistakes and cheap wine. A judgement-free study of everyday life – and struggle – Leigh’s compassionate film blossoms around her into something truly affecting and universal. –Phil de Semlyen

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So deadpan you want to check its pulse, Roy Andersson’s straight-faced comic marvel feels more like a series of loosely connected tableaus than a narrative whole in the traditional sense. But then, there’s nothing traditional about the Swedish director’s way of synthesising the universal business of being human into an artform that’s somehow larky, profound and existential. Time Out’s review at the time compared him with Monty Python. This is his ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch. –Phil de Semlyen

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Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)
Photograph: BFI

35. Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)

The best of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami's shot-on-video features strings together five hypnotic long takes of the seashore. Whether gazing at a waddling group of ducks or listening to the harmonizing sounds of frogs by moonlight, the director uncovers the profound poetry underlying the natural world. –Keith Uhlich

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For better or worse (Martin Scorsese would probably say worse), the 2010s were the decade of Marvel. The MCU entered our lexicon in a big way: 21 films released during the last ten years alone, amassing upward of $21 billion globally. Pop culture – its production, its marketing, its consumption – was changed forever, and even if the movies themselves weren’t always worthy of the footprint, at least Ryan Coogler’s was. Dense with creative production design and Hamlet-like intrigue, Black Panther was the superhero movie ennobled. Wakanda forever. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Director Pawel Pawlikowski (also of Ida) made one of the most romantic films of the 2010s: a decades-spanning, David Lean-esque epic about the pains of unattainable love. Shot in sparkling black-and-white and embellished with music ranging from Polish folk songs to classic chanteuse ballads (the latter performed by breakout star Joanna Kulig), Pawlikowski’s post-WWII melodrama offers everything we crave from stories of passion: a handsome central couple, unruly surface emotions and beguilingly sexy undertones. –Tomris Laffly

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Encapsulating both Wes Anderson's idiosyncratically mannered style and his unjustly underrated humanism, this Salingeresque storybook of familial genius and dysfunction stands as his most majestic film. Led by Gene Hackman's regally flawed patriarch and electrified by bountiful pop songs, it's a dreamy tapestry of misery, regret and joy. –Nick Schager

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Set at an English country house, Robert Altman's last great film is both a scabrous class study and a whodunit that makes ‘Who am I?’ a central question. Working from Downton Abbey-creator Julian Fellowes's consummately witty screenplay, the director revisits his fascination with hierarchies of power and rewrites the rules of the game. –Troy Patterson

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One cop. One towerblock. An army of bad guys. The plot of Wales-born, Indonesia-based writer-director Gareth Edwards’s ferocious action movie was so simple, it was surprising no one had thought of it before (though coincidentally, the makers of Dredd did think of it at roughly the same time). Punishingly choreographed by stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, The Raid introduced the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat to gobsmacked audiences and spawned an intermittently marvellous but wildly overcomplicated sequel. –Tom Huddleston

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Among the most assured debuts of the century so far, Jennifer Kent’s heartbreaking horror film – also a parable on motherhood – unearths the deeply feminine emotional and sexual frustrations intrinsic to maternity. A grief-soaked, contemporary Rosemary’s Baby told in gothic hues, Kent’s modern classic mines screams not via cheap jump-scares, but something several degrees more terrifying: a single parent (the soulful Essie Davis) on the verge of a nervous breakdown. –Tomris Laffly

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Call it Our Town's evil twin: Lars von Trier's Brechtian takedown of hypocrisy, Amerikkkan-style, turns chalk outlines on a sparsely furnished stage into a full-fledged version of a typically quaint burg. It also allows the Danish enfant terrible to engage in his two favorite pastimes – bashing the USA's penchant for pious facades and dragging his hapless heroines through hell and back. For once, the stars perversely align, and Von Trier delivers what may be his funniest, most savage satire. The odd coupling of minimalist theatrical techniques and high-melodramatic grandstanding is the perfect pomo combination. A once-in-a-lifetime cast – Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Harriet Andersson, James Caan, Udo Kier – complement the material, but it's Nicole Kidman as the avenging angel who wins the MVP award, proving that she doesn't need a prosthetic nose to give a great performance. Those end credits also qualify as the best parting flipped bird to an audience ever conceived. Check and mate. –David Fear

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The masterpiece his entire career seemed to have been building towards, Todd Haynes’s sumptuous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt gathers all of his previous preoccupations – forbidden passion, social anxiety, repressed emotion, painstakingly detailed ’50s fashions – into one majestic package. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are effortlessly convincing as the secret lovers kept apart by convention, and the final scenes are heart-stopping. It’s perhaps no wonder that Haynes has seemed a little directionless ever since. –Tom Huddleston

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A backward-glancing filmmaker but not a nostalgic one, Reading’s Peter Strickland emerged as one of the decade’s most unusual voices: a synth-loving retro stylist who infuses the grammar of ’60s and ’70s exploitation flicks with deep feeling. His third feature is the perfect entry point (gateway drug, to be honest). Clothed in the gauzy soft-focus eroticism of Jess Franco and Radley Metzger, it presents a heartbreaking conundrum: a loving couple on the verge of losing their spark. Sometimes, sadomasochistic bondage play isn’t enough. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Paolo Sorrentino’s elegant comedy harkened back to La Dolce Vita and its debauched journalist hero’s metaphysical yearnings. Jep (the magnificently louche Toni Servillo), a sunglass-shaded observer, is abruptly shaken by his own lifelong superficiality; he hopes to stretch out before it’s too late. Like Jep, the movie chases an evolving sense of beauty amid Berlusconi’s hedonism, but the confidence and panache of the filmmaking is never in doubt. –Joshua Rothkopf

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This brillaint film took 12 years to shoot – by design. That kind of gamble doesn’t necessarily equal a masterstroke, but given the humane outlook of director Richard Linklater, America’s most relaxed player of the long game, it did. Boyhood is about growing up and if you approach it on a granular level, scene by scene, the content is fairly conventional: school days, first love, bad decisions, families in flux. But something magical happens as we watch young Ellar Coltrane steadily become a Texas teen (not to mention Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke deepen into middle-aged resignation). It’s a shift away from melodrama and toward momentum, a remarkably subtle and life-affirming gesture. Boyhood feels experimental but it’s as familiar as a home movie; Linklater did something similar with his Before trilogy – a couple captured in a new film every nine years (each exquisite in its own way) – but Boyhood is the one he’ll be remembered for. It represents the kind of long-term commitment to storytelling that we, as viewers, feel for cinema itself. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Heartwarming raunch? The Farrelly brothers scored big in the 1990s with sweet-and-shallow larks but Judd Apatow spent the next decade making the formula downright deep. Virgin is his masterpiece: a hilarious rendering of bromantic insecurity surrounding one decent man's search for someone to fuck. Or even love. –Stephen Garrett

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Passion blossoms on the Yorkshire moors in Francis Lee’s stunning debut feature. Josh O’Connor is the surly young farmer who initially resents the presence of hired hand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), but who could resist that face? Never falling into stereotype, God’s Own Country manages to be both a nuanced portrait of a struggling farming community as well as a sensual romance: much more than just a Yorkshire Brokeback. –Anna Smith

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Probably the best film named after a boring legal term (Double Indemnity aside), Ruben Östlund’s tragicomic Force Majeure charts the cracks that open in a well-to-do family when dad scarpers during an avalanche on a skiing holiday, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves. Sharper than the pointy bit of a ski poll, what follows feels like a defining satire on the fragility of the male ego. In a meta twist, the avalanche became an internet sensation. –Phil de Semlyen

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A stunner of immersive storytelling, Alfonso Cuarn's apocalyptic thriller plays out almost in real time, propelled by hypnotic long takes. In a future world where infertility has made the masses hopeless and the ruling class has exploited fear to divide and conquer, a band of British fugitives rally around the first baby in 18 years, breaking police barricades to reassert the very best of humanity. –S. James Snyder

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She wanders the post-Soviet slums, dreaming of America. But after a brutal parental abandonment, this teen falls deeply into a trap. Young Oksana Akinshina gives the performance of a lifetime, worthy of Mouchette; her director, Sweden's Lukas Moodysson, was, at this moment, the world's most compassionate filmmaker. –Joshua Rothkopf

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With anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, the subject of the Holocaust feels as vital as ever – as do movies about it, especially those that commit to a studious, unsentimental reproduction of the horror in all its banality. Hungary’s László Nemes made his feature debut with this shattering landmark drama, an immersive plunge into the day-to-day operations of Auschwitz, seen through the eyes of a Sonderkommando, Saul (Géza Röhrig), one of the Jewish prisoners conscripted into the disposal of the bodies. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Has a director ever grown up so well in the limelight as David Fincher? Starting with platinum-tinted Madonna videos, he matured by millennium's end into a Hollywood subversive with style to burn. And still, no one—not his critics nor his fans—expected the shockingly intelligent exploration of obsession that Zodiac appeared to be. On its surface, Fincher's subject was California's notorious late-'60s serial killer, a vague memory from the filmmaker's own Marin County youth. But the movie's real power came in its latter scenes, the police leads running dry, our heroes unable to drop their quest even as it ruins them. Directorially, Fincher was transformed. Gone was the gruesome prankster who made 1995's Seven. Instead, here was a cynical heir to Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang. Zodiac presents a city haunted by a ghost: We float high above nighttime San Francisco as voices whisper. It was way too close for comfort. –Joshua Rothkopf

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If you'd had your heart broken, would you erase part of your consciousness? For Joel (Jim Carrey), the question's a no-brainer: he's so devastated over being dumped by his darling Clementine (Kate Winslet) that he'll have his remembrances of her wiped clean. Until, of course, Joel decides that a mind full of memories really is a terrible thing to waste. In the past, both director Michel Gondry's kindergarten arts-and-crafts aesthetic and Charlie Kaufman's Mbius-striptease scripts have come off as insufferably twee and gimmicky. So why does this existential meta-romcom always leave us teary-eyed and genuinely moved? That fact that it isn't simply McSweeney's: the Movie is faint praise. Rather, the duo finally finds the right combination of high-concept and humanity here, taking the what-if idea of a company that lobotomizes the lovelorn into territory that's funny, painful, poetic and unsettlingly weird. (That midnight parade of elephants marching through midtown Manhattan!) Sunshine is the rare mind-fuck that never takes its eyes off that aching, wounded organ beating away in your chest. It's a work whose oddball, off-kilter romanticism and bruised ideas about beginning again make it feel both of its moment, and somehow, eternal. –David Fear

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  • Animation

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson deliver a startlingly original look at loneliness and love with this stop-motion animation about a travelling businessman (David Thewlis) who tries to look up his ex. It’s a darkly funny character comedy with all the surrealism you’d expect from a Kaufman creation, but like his screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s relatable in all kinds of unexpected ways. It also rivals Team America for the most memorable puppet sex scene in cinema. –Anna Smith

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  • Drama

If Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation was a fierce corrective to DW Griffith’s 1915 namesake, this Oscar winner dismantled the cosy myths of Gone with the Wind piece by piece, showing slavery as the traumatic, brutalising prison it was. The big houses in Brit director Steve McQueen’s Best Picture winner (and surprise commercial hit) are filled only with moral cowards (Benedict Cumberbatch’s William Ford) and drunken monsters (Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps). One, McQueen’s film suggests, is as bad as the other. Thankfully, the soulful Chiwetel Ejiofor as free-born New Yorker Solomon Northup and Lupita Nyong’o (spectacular in her breakthrough role) make it as much a cry of defiance as a litany of miseries. –Phil de Semlyen

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  • Drama

Young Gabita needs an abortion in 1980s Romania, where such things are illegal, and her roommate helps her scrap together cash to pay a man with questionable credentials. When things go terribly wrong in a hotel room, these women find a means to grit their teeth and survive. Cristian Mungiu's pressure cooker of a drama, widely praised upon its release, is an unflinching journey into the waking nightmare of an oppressed people. –S. James Snyder

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With its four-hour running time, Shinji Aoyama's sepia-toned road movie (indebted to the work of John Ford) lacked mass appeal—that's fair. But as an exploration of the post-traumatic effects of a violent bus hijacking, it was a powerful and eerily prescient metaphor for the fear culture that plagued the decade. –Andrew Grant

 

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  • Fantasy

Steven Spielberg inherited Stanley Kubrick's project about a robot boy's quest to become human, furthering his own descent into dark, challenging entertainment. Met with exasperation upon its release, it's the rare superbudgeted spectacle that's ambitiously provocative, using jaw-dropping special effects to probe the nature and future of humankind. –Kevin B. Lee

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Simple as a fable, Terrence Malick’s yearning meditation on compassion and morality derives much of its emotional force from the writer-director’s own experience, dealing as it does with a boy in 1950s Texas who loses a brother, just as Malick did around the same age. But this spare central narrative is imbued with celestial importance, not least in the breathtaking special effects sequence tracking the origins of the universe and the dawning of empathy. Dizzying, frustrating, heavenly. –Tom Huddleston

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  • Drama

Shot and edited with Claire Denis’ customary expertise, but disappointing for both its (admittedly ambitious) script and its performances, this is rather too elliptical and enigmatic for its own good. It tells of two individuals consumed by cannibalistic bloodlust, but cared for by loved ones: Dalle, who keeps breaking out of the house in which disenchanted boffin Descas keeps her locked up; and Gallo, honeymooning with Vessey in Paris in the hope that he may make contact with Descas (or should that be Dalle?). Do the killers thirst for blood because they're victims of medical experiments, or are the experiments carried out to cure such impulses? Who knows or even, given Gallo and Dalle's hollow performances, cares. The murders are nasty, the play with genre tradition uneasy, and certain scenes (Descas wandering cool as a cucumber into a blazing house) laughably implausible.

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Though adored by critics, Hong-sang Soo's brutally honest exposs of masculine ego have yet to find commercial success. This 2002 drama about the romantic foibles of a washed-up actor is the Korean director's strongest and most erotic film to date. That it's never had a proper U.S. release is ridiculous – it made believers out of all who saw it. –Andrew Grant

 

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  • Drama

A stylish filmmaker turned increasingly thoughtful, Jonathan Glazer (Birth) re-emerged after a nine-year break from features with this stunner: a woman-who-fell-to-Earth sci-fi drama that poignantly anticipates the international migrant crisis. Somehow Glazer convinced Scarlett Johansson to wear a dark wig and shoot guerrilla-style on the streets of Glasgow. Her unnamed main character, an alien, lures men to a dark void, but this isn’t an artier version of Species. Rather, Glazer deepens the emotions into cosmic loneliness, with a critical assist from composer Mica Levi, one of the decade’s true finds. Despite Johansson’s Marvel omnipresence, she finds her way into a whole new register (this in a year when she also voiced a disembodied AI in Her). Under the Skin is a definitive example of risk-taking on screen and off. –Joshua Rothkopf

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  • Comedy

A caravanning couple’s dream holiday turns sour in this deliciously dark comedy penned by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. As the tension mounts, so does the body count and the pair must decide whether to turn Bonnie and Clyde. Directed by Ben Wheatley, Sightseers combines alternative British character comedy with horror tropes and amusing sidekicks: if comedies were drinks, this would be a very bitter, black builders’ tea. –Anna Smith

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Two bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne) must work together to help their mutual friend plan her wedding, but rivalry and therefore hilarity ensues. It could have been awful, it could have been ordinary, but in the hands of writers Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids is hands-down hilarious. Never underestimating its audience, it swerved to avoid clichés as if they were littered across this well-trodden path and paved the way for more big-budget female-centred comedies. The aeroplane scene remains magnificent. –Anna Smith

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  • Comedy

Feted by Cannes but ignored by audiences and the Oscars, Paul Thomas Anderson's cracked ode to the transformative power of love in a world that actively mocks sensitivity is perhaps his most original work. Starring Adam Sandler as a tantrum-prone man-boy whose unlikely bond with a luminous Emily Watson gives him strength, it may be the only romance to fully skirt clich. –Karina Longworth

 

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  • Fantasy

For his seventh feature film, writer-director Christopher Nolan took an instantly engaging premise and twisted into a terrifically complex tale, still finding a happy medium between arthouse and blockbuster. The notion is simple: teams of foraging scientists invade someone’s dreams and extract valuable information from their minds. But it’s a precarious business, people’s heads, and when something goes wrong, it has a profound knock-on effect. Impressively, Nolan balances bravura action sequences with a proper emotional payload, deep philosophical ideas and an ambiguous ending that kept the internet theorising for months. –Anna Smith

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  • Comedy

After lending her distinctive voice to mumblecore indies and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig burst on the scene as an undeniable directorial force with this witty semi-autobiographical triumph. A rich coming-of-age comedy that also engages with issues of faith, social class and teenage sex, Lady Bird boasts an ensemble made up of stage veterans and a new generation of talented actors, including emotive heartbreaker Saoirse Ronan and up-and-comers Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges and Beanie Feldstein. Full of attentive visual flair that romances the suburban Sacramento – from drab classroom corners to the comfy nooks of girlhood homes – the film is a reflective celebration of formative female friendships and the guiding voices of mothers. –Tomris Laffly

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  • Drama

‘You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.’ Does any speech from the past decade of cinema resonate more deeply than this one, delivered by college student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) to her demanding date, Jesse Eisenberg’s socially challenged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg? As the real-life Zuckerberg continues to evade public scrutiny, hosts shadowy meetings with powerful men and quietly counts his billions, the world he helped to shape is going up in flames. Powered by a relentless, clinical Aaron Sorkin script, directed with sinuous grace by David Fincher and loaded with smirking, smart-ass central performances, The Social Network is arguably the most important and prophetic film of our era. Isn’t that a depressing thought? –Tom Huddleston

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Talk about a killer third feature. Lynne Ramsay’s chilling adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is gripping from start to finish, with a constant sense of intrigue. Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as the mother of a child who raises alarm bells, but perhaps not loudly or clearly enough, and Ezra Miller is a revelation as the older Kevin. And the story – sadly – remains relevant today. –Anna Smith

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What happened to the guy who opened for Bob Dylan? The Coens take that premise and develop it into a wintry folk fantasia, suffused with the glum frustrations of also-rans. Shivering in the blueish light of Bruno Delbonnel’s masterful cinematography, Oscar Isaac turns in one of the decade’s flintiest performances, dangerously close to unlikable. Fortunately for us (but not for Llewyn), the movie aches with gorgeous music, and is animated by the filmmakers’ total command – as well as the presence of a cat. –Joshua Rothkopf

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For director Ramin Bahrani, magic comes in neorealist mosaics that hover inches from the hopes and hurts of his characters. His breakthrough film was a stripped-down, steadfast study of an NYC food-cart operator, slogging through Manhattan's canyons at dawn. A celebration of the daily routine of perseverance, it's a movie fascinated with the little guy. –S. James Snyder

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  • Comedy

Finding dark laughs in Stalin’s vicious inner circle, Armando Iannucci reminds us that with material this sharp, nothing is off-limits. With co-writer David Schneider, he reimagines the aftermath of Stalin’s death as a vaudevillian carnival of in-fighting and shameless manoeuvring, populating it with some of the greatest comic actors of their generation. It still hasn’t been released in Russia, although it has been illegally downloaded by 1.5 million people. Comrade Beria would have all their names on a list. –Phil de Semlyen

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The first volley of the decade's much-lauded revolution in Romanian cinema chronicles a pudgy retiree's fatal one-night journey through Bucharest's overburdened hospitals. Tinged with post–Soviet Bloc sarcasm but subtler than an anticommunist screed, Cristi Puiu's riveting drama features a protagonist who is unconscious half the time—an astonishing feat of orchestration and focus. –Nicolas Rapold

 

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  • Comedy

Already one of the decade's most iconoclastic screenwriters, Charlie Kaufman upped the stakes with his directorial debut, a morose but playful psychological puzzle about the life of a tortured playwright (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that literally reconstructs reality as it grapples with issues of love, death and creation. A perfect snapshot of a midlife crisis, circa this very moment. –Andrew Grant

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  • Documentaries

Was it a hoax? Turns out that was the least thorny question emerging from this cryptic documentary, as wry and complex as a Robert Altman film. At first, its ostensible subject is Banksy (also credited as the film’s director), the mysterious street artist who likes to deface public spaces after midnight. But prophetically, the film shifts its attention to a phoney on the rise: Thierry Guetta, an amateur videographer reborn as an art star. Thanks to Rhys Ifans’s droll narration, you’re never not laughing, even as the concept of fame unravels. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)
Photograph: Curzon Artificial Eye

77. Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)

Jasmila Žbanić’s film about 1995’s Srebrenica massacre in which more than 8000 Bosnian muslims were murdered General Ratko Mladić’s soldiers might sound harrowing, and indeed it is. But by telling that story through the perspective of Aida, a school teacher, mother and UN interpreter, Žbanić grounds this terrible moment of history by showing the very human cost of war from the most clear-eyed perspective imaginable. 

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001)
Photograph: Travelling Light Productions

78. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001)

A milestone for American independent cinema, this deeply affecting cri de coeur against Iraq War I, from experimental writer-director John Gianvito (who'd follow up with 2007's Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind), interweaves three New Mexico–set tales. A woman with the surname Hussein is the victim of a horrible attack; a passionate high-school activist protests the war to his family's chagrin; and a shell-shocked soldier struggles to survive upon returning home from the battlefield. Gianvito clearly leans left, but his movie rises above any encumbering ideological slant, especially in an illuminating finale in which all the characters euphorically gather at a communal effigy burning. –Keith Uhlich

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  • Comedy

Wunderkind Damien Chazelle breathes new life into a dying breed: the original Hollywood musical. Loaded with jazzy tracks and vintage dance moves, Chazelle’s romantic romp – the winner of the Best Picture Oscar for about four seconds – is indebted to both Jacques Demy and MGM’s legendary Freed Unit, but has a signature all of its own, stopping traffic in the first glorious sequence. A tonic for 2016’s political unsightliness, the movie now feels ageless. –Tomris Laffly

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After double-crossing her partners in crime during a film festival heist, a jewel thief goes on the run to Paris. Her adventures unfold with a sensual dream logic that shows writer-director Brian De Palma operating at peak form. Rife with sleaze and showboating (split screens galore; a tantalizing third-act striptease), Femme Fatale is also a playful inquiry into one of the oldest noir archetypes (see the title). –Keith Uhlich

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Released on Valentine’s Day 2014, this is no ordinary romance. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is in love with his computer’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Her entrancing voice helps make Spike Jonze’s futuristic film seem almost credible; as does the timely concept that’s explored with the writer-director’s usual wit and panache. It’s The Man with Two Brains for the internet age, and yes, that is very much a compliment. –Anna Smith

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  • Action and adventure

Making good on the promise of his pulp-transcending genius, Quentin Tarantino's WWII revenge fantasy delivers a sublime assault on the senses of sight, sound and morality, audacious at every step. To invoke a closing line that can't get invoked enough, his New Wave spaghetti Western "just might be his masterpiece." –Troy Patterson

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  • Drama

Set for release in 2005 but shelved for six years when writer-director Kenneth Lonergan and studio Fox Searchlight couldn’t agree on a final cut, this slippery, intensely felt drama charts one self-absorbed teenager’s experience with tragedy. Anna Paquin is astonishing as Lisa Cohen, the child of New York privilege who witnesses a fatal bus crash and slowly goes to pieces. Part character study, part social satire and part mournful post-9/11 elegy, Margaret is a complex, unpredictable and exhausting masterpiece. –Tom Huddleston

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  • Documentaries

A hardy perennial across decades of top-ten lists, vrit auteur Frederick Wiseman again disproved stereotypes of his work with this heartrending look at a battered-women's shelter. Amid a resurgence of documentary filmmaking that saw numerous formulaic social-interest pictures, Wiseman achieved devastating emotional impact with his tried-and-true approach. –Nicolas Rapold

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Lovers Rock is just one slice in Steve McQueen’s five-film Small Axe anthology, which celebrates and explores Black London life from the 1960s to the ’80s. Unfolding over the course of one night, this ensemble piece tells of a pay-on-the-door reggae night at a house in Ladbroke Grove, and perfectly captures the beats of a night out: from queuing for the loo to the buzz of the dancefloor. Filled with period detail from the ‘80s, as well as an almost scratch-and-sniff level of immersion, McQueen doesn’t ignore the socio-political realities of the time. But rather than letting it dominate the narrative, the politics are implicit, issues of racism, class, power and money are smothered under the thundering noise of the soundsystem, the party offering the characters freedom for at least a night. 

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Two shafts of light pierce the sky above Ground Zero, lending a weighty sense of fatalism to this portrait of a convicted criminal's final night of freedom. It's the first and best of the 9/11-related movies, teeming with a bruised urbanity supplied by Spike Lee, who quietly topped himself. –Joshua Rothkopf

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  • Thrillers

An era-defining political thriller in the tradition of The Battle of Algiers, Kathryn Bigelow’s plunge into the hunt for Osama bin Laden features the most driven main character since Zodiac. She is Maya (Jessica Chastain, portraying a character largely modelled on a still-undercover CIA analyst), the self-professed ‘motherfucker’ who discovered the terrorist’s hideout. Surpassing even her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s psychodrama is a career-best achievement, riven by mission doubts and ethical compromises. –Tomris Laffly

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German filmmaker Fatih Akin's fatalistic tale of two beautiful losers who enter into a marriage of convenience is the best chronicle of a punk-rock romance since Sid met Nancy. It's also a wonderful ode to the modern Teutonic-Turkish diaspora experience, adding sociological depth to what's already a supernova melodrama. –David Fear

 

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  • Drama

David Lynch inverts the arc of his great Mulholland Drive: instead of following an actor swallowed whole by tragedy, he follows one who blazingly overcomes it. Shot on consumer-grade camcorders over several years and through several countries, this is one of Lynch's deepest delves into the subconscious. Holding it all together is the great Laura Dern, who turns on a dime from a naive little-girl-lost to a hardened former vamp – and ultimately, a beatific savior. –Keith Uhlich

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  • Horror

It isn’t too soon to look at the two features of Ari Aster – the punishing Hereditary and this equally impressive sunlit nightmare – and see a young master at work. Horror is Aster’s chosen genre but already he’s subverting it, deepening the vulnerability of his main characters with family tragedies and tenderising his audiences for the bigger chomp to come. Midsommar speaks in a fluent language of betrayal and revenge, beautifully supplied by breakout star Florence Pugh without recourse to strident you-go-girl moments. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Made during the dot-com boom and a shrewd comment on capitalist appetites, Mary Harron's comic-horror take on the Bret Easton Ellis novel styles a serial-killing banker as the embodiment of the Gordon Gekko '80s. Star Christian Bale goes over the top and takes flight like a winged demon, delivering one of the decade's most memorable performances. –Troy Patterson

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  • Romance

Is this ’80s-set summer holiday saga the most tactile film of the decade? It’s not far off. It feels like you can almost reach out and touch the fabric of Timothée Chalamet’s polo collar, or even graze a hand along Armie Hammer’s thigh. That’s just one of the reasons Call Me by Your Name captured imaginations around the world. It’s also a vivid gay love story that’s intelligent, characterful and funny, just like André Aciman’s source novel. Bravo Luca Guadagnino. –Anna Smith

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  • Drama

Set almost in entirely one location, Florian Zeller’s dementia drama manages to turn an expensive looking London flat into a disorientating space where you’re left wondering what is real and what isn’t. Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance mixes mute despair with an almost aggressive joie de vivre as his character grapples with a state of permanent self-gaslighting, his dementia turning a cosy and familiar space hostile, while the editing sees scenes concertina into one another, characters and actors often overlapping. Collectively, it communicates perfectly what dementia must feel like: a world stripped of its signposts, a feeling of being uncoupled, a sense of the familiar slowly becoming frighteningly ‘other’.

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Anybody can make a movie about how miserable holiday family get-togethers are; it takes a filmmaker like Arnaud Desplechin, however, to turn this premise into a sprawling, free-form meditation on morality, mortality and unresolved matters of the heart. The Vuillard clan's matriarch (vive Catherine Deneuve!) has been diagnosed with leukemia, which killed her firstborn ages ago. The resident black-sheep son (Mathieu Amalric) is an eligible donor, though not even his good bone marrow can cure the bad blood between them. That's only one of several stories in Desplechin's novelistic take on the ties that bind and gag, which follows various siblings, grandchildren and cousins as they trade barbs and deal with age-old baggage. This French drama's subversion of the usual seasons-gratings conventions is enough to make it unique, but it's the graceful, organic way that the director lets these characters interact—and his refusal to pander with easy emotional resolutions—that make this movie such a rich, rewarding gift. –David Fear

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Friday Night (2002)
Photograph: Canal+/Palisades Tartan

95. Friday Night (2002)

By the end of the ‘00s, French director Claire Denis stood tall as the respected purveyor of a signature sensibility: gauzy, intimate, suspended in time. Could it be that her sexy 2002 hotel-room romance, at the time considered minor, is actually her most profound and expressive work? Friday Night takes only the merest steps toward plot—in a cacophonous Parisian traffic jam, a young woman picks up a handsome stranger. Together, they are cocooned in a private spell that enraptures them; the evening is young. Lush imagery by Denis's cinematographer, Agns Godard, brings tears to any movie lover's eyes as the amorous duo slips between the sheets, into each other's consciousness and then, as these things go, apart. There's not a false note here. –Joshua Rothkopf

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Using moments from his own childhood as inspiration, Lee Isaac Chung’s big-hearted story about a Korean-American family coping with culture shock in ‘80s Arkansas is overflowing with heartache and hope. It’s a film that picks at what it means to belong, take root and assimilate to your surroundings – with all the fear, opportunities and hostility that comes along with that. 

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  • Drama

Noah Baumbach delivers his most mature work to date with this fiery masterpiece drawn from his own experiences: a divorce drama caressed by notes of humour and evenly split bravura performances by Adam Driver and a never-better Scarlett Johansson. The two play theatre people waging a bicoastal custody battle. A soul-crushing portrait of a marriage gone numb, the film improves upon the ambiguity of Kramer vs Kramer; here, cravings for independence bump up against shared responsibilities and the reality of thwarted ambitions. Baumbach’s frank observations about falling out of love might rip your heart out, especially when an unforgiving argument uncorks things that can’t be unsaid. But almost miraculously for a tale about two combatants, Marriage Story ends generously, amid the soft-pink magic hour of an LA suburb. –Tomris Laffly

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  • Horror

This game-changing horror movie came out of nowhere and drilled straight into the consciousness of anyone who saw it. The reinvention of sketch-comedy star Jordan Peele as a kind of John Carpenter for the 2010s was one of the best stories of the decade: so too, the arrival of Daniel Kaluuya as an actor of serious range. Packed with Easter eggs (you need servicable Swahili to decode one of them), the film’s scary takedown of liberal hypocrisy is constructed around the Londoner’s portrayal of unwitting boyfriend, Chris, as he discovers a cancer in the soul of affluent white suburbia. –Phil de Semlyen

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  • Action and adventure

All of Terrence Malick's characters – from the romantic couple on the run in Badlands to the ruminating soldiers in The Thin Red Line – seem to spring from some Edenic source, only to be trumped by the indifference of the cosmos. So it was inevitable that the writer-director's lyrical eye would find its way to America's origin myth. Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and the Native American princess Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) frolic through Malick's trademark fields of wheat, their intimate snatches of voiceover as deeply rooted in the landscape as the trees. It's always clear that history is not on the side of their love affair, yet while tears are shed, melodrama is never indulged. The particular power of this tone poem comes from how quietly resigned both characters are to their fates, as if they sense a guiding hand in their every action. The final passages of Malick's idyll, after Pocahontas takes a fateful ocean journey, are the finest work of his career, most notably in his portrayal of the princess's death and transfiguration—a shattering five-minute sequence that never fails to move. –Keith Uhlich

Yi Yi: A One and a Two... (2000)
Photograph: ICA Projects

100. Yi Yi: A One and a Two... (2000)

Too often, we critics will celebrate a movie's foreignness, forgetting that even curious viewers need a passport. So let's go the opposite way with Yi Yi, a masterful Taiwanese family drama that was certain to place in this list. The movie, set in a present-day city, is about every extended family you know. It's Rachel Getting Married and the Cosbys and Hannah and Her Sisters. The Jiangs, a middle-class clan of Taipei urbanites, are pivoting in transition: There's the long-foreseen death of their elder; a teenage love triangle preoccupying Sis; and a naughty younger brother who should study more. (These people are your neighbors.) Soulfully at the center of the whirlwind is the Jiang patriarch, played by the magnificent Nien-jen Wu, straining under the weight of his business. (He's your dad.) Director Edward Yang – lost to cancer in 2007 – struck a note of such universal clarity, his movie became instantly recognizable. To explore his legacy is to come home. –Joshua Rothkopf

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