Amour (2012) Michael Haneke: Haneke firmly takes his place amongst the all-time greats with this knockout, no-holds-barred chamber piece about an aging Parisian couple dealing with mental illness and testing, late on, the limits of their lifetime of love.
Argo (2012) Ben Affleck: In a genius stroke, Affleck starts us off with a potted history of the Iranian people getting screwed from 1945 to 1979 which precipitates a white-knuckle Hollywood thriller in Tehran which, for once, makes you understand the threat. Consummate Hollywood storytelling and deft shifts in tone make for a great piece of modern cinema.
Before Midnight (2013) Richard Linklater: Continuing the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) but with added bitching and wrinkles. The love for these two never seems to let up but Delpy, Hawke and Linklater really put us through the emotional wringer in the film’s third act. A great addition.
Beyond the Hills (2012) Cristian Mungiu: Frantic emigre, Alina, becomes the victim of uncomprehending nuns and an ignorant priest when she tries to take away her now devout lover, Voichita from her convent. Following up 2007’s brilliant Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days with this devastating depiction of how misguided faith can lead to tragedy.
Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 (2011) Göran Hugo Olsson: A fantastic documentary made up of footage shot by Swedish television crews documenting the rise and fall of African American society as Black Pride gains momentum in the late 60s and is comprehensively destroyed by the US governement’s drugs in the 70s.
Boy (2010) Taika Waititi: From the first time I saw it this was immediately one of my favourite coming of age movies. Waititi dances between the serious and the comic with amazing ease and charm that makes this a real Kiwi classic.
Boyhood (2014) Richard Linklater: What to say that hasn’t been said already? It works. It gets over the hype. It is a sweet, loving and all-encompassing look at life from the perspective of a modern family. But it’s nowhere near as wanky as that last sentence.
Carlos (2010) Olivier Assayas: Five and a half hour biopic orbiting a mighty performance by Édgar Ramírez who takes on shifting waistbands and five or six different languages to essay egomaniacal revolutionary, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal. Don’t let the run-time fool you, it’s one of the best thrillers you’ll ever see.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Matt Reeves: My mate Richard made me go and see this as opposed to one of my ‘reading’ films. Film started. Fucking subtitles! Signing apes, led by Caesar, attempt to make peace with the humans but are thrown into turmoil by the scheming lieutenant, Koba. A really smart, really exciting sci-fi movie!
The Deep Blue Sea (2011) Terence Davies: A director whose old-fashioned style masks a really modern empathy for those on the fringes of British society. Gorgeous to look at and containing Rachel Weisz’ best peformance, an unassuming masterwork.
Django Unchained (2012) Quentin Tarantino: Best work from this director since Jackie Brown. Not too long, either – certainly not something I could say of Death Proof or Inglourious Basterds. A stellar cast help knock this angry, violent, abrasive work right out of the park!
Far From Men (2014) David Oelhoffen: A real surprise with a lot more feeling and a lot more going on beneath it’s surface than reviews and it’s spare style would betray. A great story about a Frenchman (Viggo Mortensen) born and raised in Algeria finding himself out of time and place amidst the political overhauls during the War of Independence.
Foxfire (2012) Laurent Cantet: An already forgotten gem of 21st century filmmaking. The story of a girl gang in 1950s America overturning the everyday harassment from the boys and pervy old men led by their evangelical leader Legs. Laurent Cantet makes good on his Palme d’Or winner The Class with this engrossing tale of unsung rebels.
Girlhood (2014) Céline Sciamma: Another french filmmaker talks girl gangs – who knew there’d ever be two in the same list! Joint favourite of the NZIFF for me and containing one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen when new friends Marieme, Lady, Adiatou and Fily dance and lip-sync to ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna. Amazing stuff!
A Hijacking (2012) Tobias Lindholm: This is not a choice that says Captain Phillips was shit, by the way. That film was great on it’s own terms but this one just trumped it for me because the ship they were on reminded me so much of my Dad’s ship, even down to the curtains in the windows, it had a kind of 3D experience for me.
Ida (2013) Pawel Pawlikowski: A novitiate nun finds out that she is actually Jewish and goes on a road trip with her boozy, manising Aunt. Black and white Polish film about nun discovering herself? Fuck off! It’s really good!
Inception (2010) Christopher Nolan: If cinema is a magic trick then this is one of the greatest it’s ever pulled. To all the jumped-up twats who say it’s not all that, what the fuck have you ever seen in your life that that doesn’t qualify as bloody amazing? You’re a prick!
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011) Werner Herzog: The great Bavarian director takes on the death penalty in this spare, uncompromising look at lives broken whether perpetrator or victim. Apparently Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger only shot four hours for the entire film. Amazing, frightening, despairing and harrowing.
It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell: Maybe not the most daring horror film by quite some distance but a really confidently made, smartly written and directed piece that understands that you can only be scared if you give a damn about the characters. To be fair, though, it’s plenty creepy when needed.
Jimmy’s Hall (2014) Ken Loach: Not perfect but really underrated by the critics. A much needed celebration of cooperation and community spirit from an older director who seemed to be going out on a positive note. Looking forward to I, Daniel Blake next year!
Killing Them Softly (2012) Andrew Dominik: Was it too clever for it’s own good or was it dumb as all Hell? Neither. It was perfectly fine. Brilliantly written and directed by Dominik showing a complex web of idiocy and scabbiness as Brad Pitt takes out crims for crimes they are only peripherally involved in.
Kill List (2011) Ben Wheatley: One of the best horror films I have ever seen. Brutal, creepy, disturbing and giving a sense of the very real main characters, Jay and Gal, caught up in a web of violence and unknown adversaries beyond all control and beyond all comprehension for even these hardened war vets.
The Lego Movie (2014) Phil Lord and Chris Miller: Who the bloody hell would’ve guessed this would even be good let alone on any lists of top movies? Still, Lord and Miller disprove all snobbery (and I include myself in there) by adding vibrancy, a genuinely cartoonish sensibility and brilliant dumb jokes to a story Milligan would be proud of.
Le Quattro Volte (2010) Michelangelo Frammartino: Eat-Your-Greens cinema, surely. A near silent film about goat herding where we end up following the story of a tree? Jokin’, mate! Despite all reservations, it is great. Not sure why but it is.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) Alex Gibney: The documentary powerhouse that is Alex Gibney gave us this consummate piece of work examining paedophilia in the Catholic church. Going from a few cases of abuses of deaf children to the global abuses both physical and criminal.
Nightcrawler (2014) Dan Gilroy: Not for a long, long time have I seen such a complete interweaving of plot, character, story and thesis as with this amazing debut from writer/director Gilroy. Jake Gyllenhaal gives his absolute best performance so far as product-of-our-times Lou Bloom, an unscrupulous TV News cameraman for whom the sky’s the limit and the morals are non-existent.
99 Homes (2014) Ramin Bahrani: A scathing expose of Real Estate evils in modern America. Andrew Garfield is brilliant in the role of fish-hooked builder, Dennis, who ends up employed by scumbag Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the man who not a day before kicked him out of his home. Angry and urgent thriller filmmaking.
Nostalgia for the Light (2010) Patricio Guzmán: Easily the most intelligent filmic thesis I’ve ever seen. The central idea that observatories in Chile’s Atacama desert investigating the stars and women scouring the dirt of the same desert for the bones of their murdered relatives are both looking into the past becomes a moving look at human endeavour and cruelty.
Of Gods and Men (2010) Xavier Beauvois: This is one of those movies that is genuinely humanitarian in the best, least pretentious way. Trappist monks threatened by Islamic Fundamentalists in 90s Algeria. Neither biased nor naive, Beauvois paints a portrait of ordinary men having to face up to religious duties.
Only God Forgives (2013) Nicolas Winding Refn: Divisive at best, I have to say this slow, gory, Thailand-set revenge thriller gets better with every viewing for me. Say what you like, it is a complete creative vision from Refn and I like his vision.
The Past (2013) Asghar Farhadi: A fiercely intelligent family drama that manages to see everyone’s side of the story: currently divorcing mum and dad, testy boyfriend, troubled teenage daughter, even little brat kid is given time to have his story heard. Smart relationship drama from which many filmmakers could take some notes.
Poetry (2010) Lee Chang-dong: 60-something, Mi-ja, finds herself dealing with her grandson’s involvement in a rape/suicide incident, all the while cleaning apartments, attending poetry classes and dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s. Certainly not as grim as all that sounds, this is really heartfelt drama about hose on the fringes of society.
The Raid (2012) Gareth Evans: This is what action movies should aspire to! A kick in the teeth movie that makes you wince and go “AAAAH! OOOH!” Also, if you look carefully, the shots aren’t very short; it’s the actors fighting quicker than your eye can keep up with!
A Royal Affair (2012) Nikolaj Arcel: Looks boring as shit but actually is a really exciting political drama. Mads Mikkelsen stars as the doctor who would force a medieval society towards modernity along with Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander) and the unwitting help of mad, sad King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).
Rust and Bone (2012) Jacques Audiard: Continuing a strong run of films, Audiard brings his mixture of thrills and realist grit to this story of an Orca trainer (Marion Cotillard) maimed in a horrific accident and her blossoming romance with a bare-knuckle boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and how they help each other through.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010) Edgar Wright: Initially reluctant, within seconds I was in love with this movie! Edgar Wright proves he one of the best comedy directors of all time in this insane story of dork defeats evil exes to win girlfriend through gaming, martial arts and punk rock!
A Separation (2011) Asghar Farhadi: Iranian divorce drama. Yay! As with Farhadi’s aforementioned film, The Past, this is a brilliantly fair-handed piece about a man accused of assaulting his cleaner while dealing with a divorce forced by her desire to flee Iran and his duty to his sick father.
Side Effects/Trance (2013) Steven Soderbergh/Danny Boyle: Cheating BUT! I couldn’t decide between the two as both are stellar examples of great, thrilling, grown-up entertainment with plenty of sex and violence by two world-class directors in complete control of their material! Hours of fun!
The Skin I Live In (2013) Pedro Almodóvar: My first Almodóvar film and a great horror for people who don’t like horror. Won’t say too much about the plot but it’s a gorgeous looking film about body image and perverse sexualities and featuring a great turn from Antonio Banderas as a mad scientist.
Snowpiercer (2013) Bong Joon-ho: Proof if proof were needed that Harvey Weinstein is a prick! His calculated bungling of the release of this truly great revolution-on-a-train sci-fi was only just stopped by the outcry from fans. This could’ve and should’ve been huge but at least it’s a sort of hidden gem for us. Weinstein still a prick, though.
Snowtown (2011) Justin Kurzel: Easily the grimmest, darkest film on this list. This Aussie true crime serial killer chiller really gets under your skin as you watch murderer John Bunting turn the Snowtown community against anyone he sees as undesirable, guilty or not.
The Social Network (2010) David Fincher: Not really being familiar with the deified Aaron Sorkin’s work, I really clicked with this subtly subversive movie. A real Hollywood surprise where direction, writing, message, music and performances coalesce into a more than satisfying whole.
Tabloid (2010) Errol Morris: An 87 minute film that has given me more to think about than probably most other movies I have ever seen. A forensic examination of the conflicting personal accounts surrounding Joyce McKinney and the Mormon “Sex in Chains” case from 1977. Errol Morris reaches the apex of his career-long fascination with ‘The Truth’ and do so in dramatic, salacious fashion.
Take Shelter (2011) Jeff Nichols: The best slow burn drama of the decade so far. The ever brilliant Michael Shannon teams up again with undersung American writer-director talent, Jeff Nichols in this story of an ordinary man experiencing premonitions of a devastating storm coming to destroy his home town.
This is Not a Film: Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, defies the filmmaking ban imposed on him in 2010 with this home movie of a day in the life under house arrest. So much more than that premise promises, however, it is a portrait of a genuinely oppressed artist trying to get by by hook or by crook.
Toy Story 3 (2010) Lee Unkrich: A perfect end to a damn-near-perfect trilogy! Essentially a prison escape movie, this is nonetheless as heartbreaking and hilarious as the other two had delivered so well. Woody, Buzz and co. get the best send off… so Toy Story 4 better be fucking amazing!
12 Years a Slave (2013) Steve McQueen: McQueen solidifies his place as one of our modern masters in this, one of the few films to actually make me cry but then, if you don’t cry at the horrors presented here, either physical or psychological, you’re probably one of the twats who was munching fucking popcorn throughout the screening I went to.
Tyrannosaur (2011) Paddy Considine: A devastating story of violence, abuse, faith and class. When the emotional high is a scene at a wake, you know it’s pretty grim but this is a great, great directorial debut by actor Paddy Considine and an amazing showcase for the acting talents of Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan and the incredible Olivia Colman.
Weekend (2011) Andrew Haigh: Even if I didn’t have my very limited knowledge of gay cinema, I think Weekend would still be near the top of the list. This is just a wonderful tale of emerging love from a really up-and-coming British director. 45 Years only solidifies his reputation.