In my opinion, there's no difference between a great movie and one you like, or a best and a favourite. A successful film is one that affects you in some way and captures you on an emotional or intellectual level, so if it's doing that, it's working the magic whatever techniques deployed. With that in mind, here are some of my best of the past decade - a mix of big blockbusters, small films, potential surprises and possibly predictable choices.
It may seem a surprising to many that this is kicking off my list, but for me this is easily one of the best of the decade - the film that took a series I adore and turned it on its head by painting an unblinking, nostalgic M and MI6 as the real villains and Javier Bardem's fascinating Silva as the enlightened version of a blind, victimised Bond. Skyfall dares its audience to look beyond the usual franchise tropes, and as the final act has Bond open his eyes and embrace his past demons in the bleak Scottish highlands, it amounts to one of the most hard-hitting cinematic moments of recent years. Couple that brilliant narrative with a snappy script, Roger Deakins' breathtaking cinematography, and a kinetic score from Thomas Newman that runs through the film like a heartbeat, and you've not only got yourself the best Bond movie, but also easily one of the best films of the decade in my eyes.
Pawel Pawlikowski has emerged as one of the most exciting filmmakers of our time during this decade; demonstrating an incredible confidence to tell his stories visually without relying on dialogue to spell everything out. 2018's Cold War follows two star-crossed lovers who meet multiple times during many decades and in multiple corners of the world, but the way Pawlikowski leaves Lukasz Zal's beautiful shots to tell the story means a film that could have felt clunky feels as organic and exquisite as love itself. Brought to life by perfect performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot who translate a truly tangible chemistry and lust for each other, this movie is wildly under-appreciated, and is easily one of the all-time best depictions of love and lust put to film.
Not many films can make you cry buckets with laughter and sadness at the same time, but somehow Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri does just that. Perhaps it's his genius script which balances the tragic with the absurd following this true story of a mother who goes to great length to uncover the mystery of her daughter's murder. Perhaps it's the final message of love that follows through from all the hatred and anger on display. Or perhaps it's the perfect performances from Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, or the career-besting display from Frances McDormand who perfectly balances genuine badassery with truly touching humanity. Whatever it is, this is undoubtedly one of the best, most emotionally-effective movies of the decade.
For all the reasonable criticism often levelled at him, Richard Curtis has always had the ability to build extremely human characters and get to the bottom of what it really means to be one of our little species. Like all of his pictures, finding love and everyday happiness is the theme that runs through this 2013 drama About Time, and here it shines particularly brightly as we follow an ordinary young bloke who has the peculiar ability to travel back in time and alter events as he pleases. That concept inevitably makes for some pretty amusing scenarios, but it also provides the perfect tool to explore those central themes. With a brilliant script that doesn't take its sci-fi idea too seriously but develops its many characters perfectly, and a bunch of excellent performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, this film hits you like a ton of bricks and, for me at least, it's easily up there with the best of the decade as a result.
The final farewell to Wolverine is far from your usual superhero romp; it's a dark, barren character-study in which everything is dying. Professor X - a man with the most powerful brain in the world - is suffering from alzheimers, and a powerless Logan is the only one left to look after him. When a mysterious young kid comes along as one last glimmer of hope though, Logan decides to commit a final act of good. Hugh Jackman's last moments as the character prove a deeply moving and powerful cinematic experience after such a dark, despairing film, and the result is the perfect conclusion to an era, and one of the most emotionally-resonant movies of the decade.
During this decade Barry Jenkins not only proved to the world that he's one of the smartest directors working today with his delicate and tactile best-picture winner Moonlight, but somehow he then went and topped that in 2018 with If Beale Street Could Talk. This is a gut-punch of a film that crafts highly successful individual scenes to paint a larger picture. Small moments of love, joy and infatuation build a young couple's relationship perfectly, bitter foreshadowing moments taint everything with an inevitable bittersweet tragedy, and witnessing the pair experience individual bouts of terrifying racial abuse expose the constant uphill battle they face. What's so beautiful about that is that the narrative is rarely exposed in the script; Jenkins instead has the confidence in his brilliantly-crafted scenes (and the performances within them) to give us everything we need in a way that feels organic and emotionally resonant. The picture that all of that amounts to is undoubtedly one of the hardest-hitting and most perfectly-executed films of the decade, so my excitement for what Barry Jenkins has in store for the next decade is extremely high.
Being at the very limit of human capability pushes people to discover who they really are and to consider the most fundamental questions of existence. That's why man-vs-nature movies have always been a Hollywood fixation, and - surprisingly enough - Joe Carnahan did an utterly magnificent job with 2011's The Grey. Liam Neeson is among the survivors of a plane crash in the bleak and bitter Alaskan wilderness, and as he and his fellow men fight to survive against nature's toughest courses, basic human instinct - and ultimately the reason we fight to stay alive at all - is brought into question. What makes it so thoroughly affecting is the fact that Carnahan mostly relies on his camera to do the talking, and the cavernous landscape he's photographing and the physical performances he's capturing mean the all-encompassing story translates perfectly and hits very hard indeed.
Christopher Nolan is the undisputed master of intelligent modern-day blockbusters, and all four of the films he's made this decade could have found their way to this list. One of the highlights however has to be his sprawling 2014 sci-fi epic Interstellar. It's a film that brings a rare sense of genuine awe with its profound visual landscape and thunderous Hans Zimmer soundscape. It provokes fear and sadness as it places its well-built characters in terrifying situations in deep space and sets them light-years away from their loved ones back on earth. And it unsurprisingly provides an ambitious thematic drive, but one that this time around is deeply touching. Indeed, in a move that hilariously enough puts it on the other side of the same coin as About Time, this film is ultimately about love binding the universe together, and here the result of all that is a profound emotional roller-coaster that really has to be seen to be believed.
I've talked a lot on this list already about the brilliance of visual storytelling, and another sublime example of that this decade was seen in Debra Granik's deeply touching Leave No Trace. The film follows a young girl and her father who live together without a home and their struggles against a sceptical society and a box-ticking system, and what it does so brilliantly is develop two characters with a deeply-rooted connection without the use of any explanatory dialogue. Thomasin Mackenzie and Ben Foster deliver the incredibly nuanced performances needed to bring such visual storytelling to life, and the way the narrative develops leads to another very emotive conclusion. It tells you everything you need with the slight expression on a human face and the tactile sound of wind blowing through trees, and every example of this kind of filmmaking here is far more effective than it would be had dialogue stepped in instead.
It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love Star Wars - I love everything from the themes, to the characters and the worlds, and I love the new crop of movies that this decade has spawned. In particular though, I have a soft spot for Gareth Edwards' brilliant Episode IV prequel Rogue One - the first Star Wars film ever that genuinely focuses on the ordinary people within this well-established universe rather than those at the heart of the conflicts. It's a rousing story of little people rising up against the might of the Empire, and thanks to its exquisitely-realised world-building and a narrative that follows fascinating yet seemingly insignificant characters, it's one of the most affecting and interesting movies of the entire series.
Denzel Washington's Fences has been criticised for not straying far enough from the stage-play upon which it's based, but frankly that's exactly what's so perfect about this fiery, gut-punch of a character-drama. Indeed, for all the talk about visual cinema on this list, Fences is proof that great dialogue and brilliant performances can be just as powerful. August Wilson crafts a top-notch version of his hit original script which followed a man who takes his anger out on his wife and son, and in the hands of Washington and Viola Davis, the execution feels as raw as it would watching the pair right in front of you on the stage. Just two incredible actors, a masterful script and a camera equals one of the most powerful - and most overlooked - films of the decade.
Is that a typo? Shouldn't that at least be Endgame or something you stupid Marvel-lover? Well, hear me out, because I think Joss Whedon's strange, spectacular, personal Avengers sequel is pretty close to being a perfect big blockbuster. On the one hand it's a sprawling pop-culture sugar-rush with spectacular battles and Whedon's snappy wisecracks going off left, right and centre. It's also got a great villain who serves as the fascinating ideological opposite to his creator and the central hero, and it touches on a few little themes - y'know, like the doomed fate of humanity and the monsters within us all. But at its core, it's a group character-piece where almost every fascinating hero gets genuinely introspective development and plays off each other brilliantly, and that's something that really can't be said for the Russo Brothers' ensemble movies. Sure there's a few missteps, but mostly it's an utterly brilliant movie.
The way Eddie Redmayne portrays Stephen Hawking from his days at Cambridge and his motor-neurone disease diagnosis to his physical decline in The Theory of Everything is probably the finest piece of acting to come out of this decade. The physicality, the nuanced facial expressions, the chemistry with Felicity Jones - it all brings a well-written character to life with ten times more resonance, and that's only emphasised by the fact it's a true story. Even more than that though, Screenwriter Anthony McCarten also brings real universal humanity to the experience (something we similarly saw in his brilliant Darkest Hour script) as the film ultimately becomes about the importance of love against the tragedy of passing time.
The prospect of a sequel to Ridley Scott's seminal 1982 sci-fi masterpiece had many - myself included - feeling pretty nervous. Denis Villenueve pulled it out the bag and then some with Blade Runner 2049 though, as he crucially posed new questions to blur the line between humans and replicants further without answering the quandaries of before. The result is a brilliant thematic exploration that deepens rather than hinders the original, and with new characters and even more spectacular world-building thanks to Roger Deakins' spectacular cinematography and the thunderous sound design, it's the ultimate sequel to a near-perfect sci-fi classic that could have failed so easily.
This horror movie dares its audience to question who the real monsters are once a young peasant girl in the Welsh Highlands starts experiencing a series of mysterious events. Her family's crops rot, their animals die, she hears strange sounds at night, and the whole thing feels eerie as the cavernous surrounding valleys and hills seem to echo and creak around them. Is it a supernatural force though, or is it somehow an even darker, more sinister thing that's happening to the family? Set at a time when capitalism was stripped far back to the bone, these characters really come across as victims of the elite gentlemen and landowners, and when they eventually fight back, it's a thoroughly rousing watch. With characters you care about (enabled in part by their great performances by Ealeanor Worthington Cox and Maxine Peake) and - again - a reliance on visual storytelling to bring the story to life, William McGregor's Gwen is probably the most affecting horror of the decade.
Another entry from the amazing Christopher Nolan, this WW1 epic strips away the complex threads of his many other projects to make for one of the most gripping and terrifying experiences I've had at the cinema this decade. It depicts the incredible true-story of the rescue of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, and it splits its perspectives between land, sea and air to blur the time-frames and build tension perfectly. Buoyed by a Hans Zimmer score that never stops building and an attention to realistic detail that makes every gust of wind, gunshot and bomb jump off the screen all means you'll be on the edge of your seat and gripping your armrests from start to finish longing for everyone to make it home. Heck my hands hurt after watching this the first time it's a visceral experience, and the fact all of that effect is once again done visually rather than through excessive dialogue makes it all the more impactful. The final triumphant message about the spirit of men working together is a very powerful one, and it ultimately makes Dunkirk another decade-bester from Christopher Nolan.
Ok it's no serious thematic masterpiece, but for sheer joy in front of the screen, few films get close to Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. Edited brilliantly to the tune of the pop songs coming through the earphones of its central getaway-driving tinnitus victim, everything from the fast-paced car-chases to strolls down the street here are given an incredible energy that is guaranteed to slap a smile on the face. As ever with Edgar Wright though, it's not just a barrel of joy, as it only keeps you engaged because you care about the characters thanks to the great story of Baby and his girlfriend trapped in this world of crime. It's a ball from start to finish, and is undoubtedly the most fun I've had in the cinema this decade.
This decade has been extremely strong for animation - Pixar's been on good form with Coco, Inside Out and Toy Story, and we've seen brilliant stop-motion animation such as The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette - but the true creme de la creme for me was 2017's The Breadwinner. It follows a young girl in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan who uses stories as an escape from her terrifying reality, and what's so perfect about it is that animation not only offers a universal accessibility for this difficult world, but it also translates those stories perfectly. Each one is brought to life in the brightest of colours to contrast the barren browns used to animate the reality, and the wonder this brings the central character - and the audience - makes for a film that's ultimately all about the power of storytelling. It's a very moving watch this, and it's just one of many examples of the incredible animation we've seen this decade.
Strangely there seem to be an awful lot of 2017 films on this list already, but I couldn't resist putting Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name on here. Much like Barry Jenkins did with Moonlight, this film builds a big picture with small moments and scenes, and the result is a far more powerful painting than one where every brush stroke is articulated and explained. There are voids of time throughout the depicted summer that go un-explored, but that brilliantly allows room to build the most perfect of scenes where the fascinating relationship between Timothee Chamalet and Armie Hammer is able to show itself naturally. The torment underlying the beauty of the Mediterranean surroundings and the breathtaking soundtrack is palpable, and the result of all of that is undoubtedly one of the most affecting and fascinating films of the decade.
The final film on this list is once again one that's all about the power of storytelling to deal with difficult things. JA Bayona's A Monster Calls sees a young boy finding solace in his relationship with a talking tree and its animated stories after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, and it's ultimately that central theme which is so powerful because the importance of storytelling is something anyone can understand. It's also crucially translated very well to the screen by the author of the source novel though, and when enhanced by a set of great performances and some very charming animation, you've got yourself an emotional sucker-punch and easily one of the best family-friendly films of the decade.