Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week, IndieWire published our list of the 100 Best Movies of the 2010s.
Of course, any list of 100 movies barely scratches the surface of a decade that saw the release of thousands (and thousands), and a ton of special films — especially of the contested or obscure varieties — didn’t make the cut. And, so with that in mind, we asked our panel of film critics to pick the one overlooked film of the past 10 years that they most hope people will find, rediscover, or reconsider in the future.
“Advantageous” (Jennifer Phang)
There’s always been an abundance of beautifully insightful films that miss the general audience conversation but few have been as audaciously assured as director Jennifer Phang’s 2015 feature “Advantageous.” Evident by her directorial work in television, Phang is no stranger to science fiction and with “Advantageous” she took the genre and doubled down on themes of sexism, motherhood, aging and moral autonomy and how they all intersect into something the systems surrounding us deem products for sale or service. It’s a strikingly ominous picture with a standout performance by co-writer Jacqueline Kim featuring imagery that lingers so thoroughly that it’s a film worthy of ongoing dissection.
Not a work that rests solely on its thematic potency, it’s also such an impressive science fiction film that – like most great films of that genre – perfectly marry concept with imagery, creating something visually timeless while keeping evidence of the era it was borne from. As it was directed by a woman on a shoestring budget and released exclusively through Netflix, it’s not surprising that it was so overlooked. However, “Advantageous” is worthy of a new look – both one of the best science fiction films of the past decade and a scorching indictment of how we commodify women’s bodies and minds. Phang created a sharp, engaging and heartbreaking film with “Advantageous,” shot with a keen, stylish eye with washed out palettes transporting us into the “near future,” cutting a fascinating story of excessive opulence, affluent apathy and mothers love. There are few films like it.
“Annihilation” (Alex Garland)
Matt Zoller Seitz (@MattZollerSeitz), RogerEbert.com
“Annihilation.” Possibly the first big-budget visionary science fiction film in a “2001” vein since “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that stuck the landing. It did it by not explaining itself, a temptation that too many idea-driven SF films, including the good ones, are unable to resist. I’ve seen it five times and shown it publicly twice, and what strikes me most about it is that everyone who describes what it is “about” has a different interpretation.
“Bandslam” (Todd Groff)
The most underrated film of the last decade and certainly among the most criminally under-appreciated is Todd Groff’s “Bandslam.” Summit Entertainment distributed the film in August 2009, and while it did well with critics, it was a failure with general audiences. The movie hasn’t even picked up a second life on streaming. Nobody really talks about it, and it’s been on my mind lately because of the upcoming 10-year anniversary in August.
Much in the same way that Annapurna’s marketing for “Booksmart” was criticized, we can say the same for Summit’s strategy surrounding “Bandslam.” This is a film that features Gaelan Connell, Aly Michalka, and Vanessa Hudgens in starring roles. Michalka and Hudgens had a built-in fanbase that came as a result of their work on Disney. Rather than attempt to sell the movie on the concept, the studio opted to focus on the Disney ties. This was a bad idea, and I can only hope it gets rectified.
“Bellflower” (Evan Glodell)
While there’s plenty to consider when it comes to unheralded films of the last ten years, whether it’s Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” or Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets,” the first movie that came to mind was Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower.” Billed as an apocalyptic romance, the film earned its share of good reviews, as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination, though it still seems to have passed people by. That’s a shame.
Director/Writer/Editor/Star Glodell may not have immediately jumped to another project, but making a film that works as an anti-arthouse romance film, with enough eccentricity to also work as an homage to “The Road Warrior” certainly seems like something that could gain the attention of more than just a few. That in mind, when it comes to celebrating what “Bellflower” has to offer, well, this is a movie that found Glodell and his crew building one-of-a-kind cameras to deliver a unique visual experience involving two apocalypse-obsessed dudes, a heavily modified car, and a seemingly doomed relationship.
“Bellflower” actually taps into a lot of ideas that, good or bad, have even more relevance today than when it initially hit theaters back in 2011. Made on a shoestring budget, the film is rough around the edges, but also intensely wonderful to look at as a visual oddity with a lot of ambition. It also features a cinematic vehicle that could have become iconic if the film had received more considerable attention, as who can resist a 1972 Buick Skylark equipped with flamethrowers and referred to as Mother Medusa?
“Cloud Atlas” (Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski)
Time will pass, civilizations will fall, Neo Seoul will rise, and I’ll still be beating the drum for Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski sisters’ 2012 adaptation of Cloud Atlas. Based on David Mitchell’s arguably unfilmmable novel, the movie is a nearly three hour epic––an exploration of time and people and civilization, and a mediation on the way in which a gesture can ripple through time and space. Told through six stories, each its own genre ranging from historical travelogue to ’70s pulp crime thriller to futuristic science fiction, the film reuses its actors across each narrative in order to build to a sense of cohesion. At the time of its release, Cloud Atlas was maligned, in part, due to its use of race altering make-up on both white and non-white actors. I see the criticism, and I agree with it, and where I find myself seven years after the film’s release is that that creative choice is both unacceptable and entirely necessary.
That none of it works cinematically without seeing the same actors over and over again, throughout time, across the globe, and so I’m left with a big question mark hanging over my head. But so much of what is on screen is stunningly shot, deftly funny, and deeply heartfelt. That what’s on screen both works and doesn’t work is part of the magic of it, what makes it feel so intensely personal rather than generated by a series of algorithms. To have something so grandiose feel this specific is increasingly rare across the cinematic landscape, and for that reason alone, Cloud Atlas ought to be celebrated. Even thinking about its six minute (!) trailer will bring me to tears! And, not for nothing, Tykwer’s score for the film is without a doubt one of the best scores of the decade.
Reflecting back on an entire decade of film, for me, is a measurement of staying power. That lingering draw can be a result of any range of emotional or intellectual triggers, from fondly regarded feels to the festering mental gymnastics of an experience you can’t get out of your head. Frustration can make memories as strong as enjoyment. A movie of maligned quality that fits those catalysts and barbs is 2012’s “Cloud Atlas.” It’s a review, to this day, I haven’t been able to write as a critic. The massive work of Tom Twyker and the Wachowski sisters is a such a clash of magic and madness.
Some moments absolutely shatter us to our cores while others overshoot every cerebral landing strip. Even attempting to adapt its monstrous source novel, “Cloud Atlas” stands as one of the most determined and zealous undertakings I’ve ever seen. For all of the touchy and warranted buyer beware flags it earns (length, racial dynamics, spirituality, and more), I will always respect the talent and the effort. We weren’t ready for its headiness seven years ago and the critical and public divisiveness shows. We still might not be ready diving towards 2020. Nevertheless, in an era where a sizable cross-section of filmgoers and cinephiles have started to long for more substance out of cinematic blockbusters, “Cloud Atlas” needs updated attention, freshened eyes, and a renewed chance to earn artistic acclaim and lasting appreciation.
“Coma” (Sara Fattahi)
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
There are many kinds of contempt that great movies suffer, and the Syrian filmmaker Sara Fattahi’s first feature, “Coma,” from 2015, has suffered a cruel version of it: neglect. “Coma” is one of the most original documentaries of recent years; filming in Damascus—largely in her family apartment, mainly centered on her mother, her grandmother, and herself—amid civil war, Fattahi films the intersection of personal and political life with a rare aesthetic imagination. Whether intended or not, Fattahi’s first feature strikes me as the most inspired film influenced by the work of Chantal Akerman. “Coma” won a major award at the Viennale in 2015; it still hasn’t been released here (neither has her 2018 film, “Chaos”), but, at least, New Yorkers can see for themselves: it’s at least screening, once, at Anthology Film Archives on August 15.
“The Edge of Seventeen” (Kelly Fremon Craig)
In a just world, terrific and entertaining films like Destin Cretton’s 2013 “Short Term 12,” Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 “Obvious Child,” Rick Famuyiwa’s 2015 ”Dope” and Kelly Fremon Craig’s 2016 “The Edge of Seventeen” would all have been big hits, bringing fresh writing and exciting performances to the screen. Instead, they each made, respectively (according to Box Office Mojo), $1 million, $3 million, $18 million and, again, $18 million. That last figure truly surprises, since “The Edge of Seventeen” offers teenage angst – something we have all experienced – from the perspective of actress Hailee Steinfeld’s beautifully nuanced and humorous turn as Nadine, a high-school junior in the middle of a depressive funk. When she approaches her favorite teacher, played by Woody Harrelson, to tell him she plans to kill herself, he surprisingly refuses to play nice, establishing a strange, off-kilter rapport that sets the tone for this enjoyable coming-of-age story. Perhaps it’s Nadine’s underlying sadness that kept more people from seeing the movie, but this viewer found director Craig’s approach a welcome reprieve from the usual platitudinous approach to the adolescent experience. Let’s hope it finds a larger audience over time.
“God Help the Girl” (Stuart Murdoch)
I’ve gone on about this movie at every opportunity, but in my heart of hearts, there’s no other choice from this decade than 2014’s “God Help the Girl,” an indie musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, leader of the Scottish rock band Belle & Sebastian. In a decade that saw the movie musical become a regular fixture on release schedules again, it pains me to see how often the best English-language musical of the decade has been overlooked–or dismissed as amateurish or, worse, twee. (I’ll save my treatise on how poor a handle most people using the word “twee” have on its definition for another time.) This is a small-scale musical about a young singer-songwriter (Emily Browning) finding her voice amidst some mental-health struggles and new friendships with a couple of other misfits (Hannah Murray; Olly Alexander), but Murdoch feels profoundly less embarrassed to mount actual musical numbers than most of his lumbering, overscaled competition.
The DIY music-video vibe gives the musical numbers an infectious sense of joy, all the more impressively vivid given the movie’s sustained mood of melancholy. The movie also works as a thoughtful consideration of how a musician’s artistic vision and sense of ambition can develop during personal tumult — and probably some form of coded autobiography for Murdoch, which makes it a superior alternative to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” as well as jukebox horrors of “Mamma Mia.” Granted, “God Help the Girl” jams on a few of my personal-taste buttons pretty hard, from the Belle & Sebastian-adjacent music to the wistful youthfulness to the 16mm cinematography. But I’m still a little surprised this doesn’t seem to be a beloved cult item, and I’ll be throwing away a best-of-the-decade vote on it as many times as possible this year.
“Ingrid Goes West” (Matt Spicer)
Max Weiss (@maxthegirl), Baltimore magazine
Still somewhat amazed that Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West,” a gimlet-eyed satire of our Instagram-obsessed culture, didn’t garner more critical love. What it delineates so clearly is that Instagram needs a yin and a yang—both the “influencer” who carefully crafts a perfect public image and the needy, gullible consumer, who believes in and craves that perfection. Aubrey Plaza is wonderful—sad and scary and darkly hilarious—as the dangerously obsessed Ingrid. As Taylor, the object of her obsession, Elizabeth Olsen is an utterly convincing sun-kissed SoCal princess—a woman whose entire job is to exist on the Internet. Filled with tiny, trenchant details—Taylor’s husband is an artist who repurposes other peoples’ work by stamping hashtags on them; Taylor litters her page with inspirational quotes from books she’s never read—this feels in many ways like the defining satire of our generation.
“The King’s Speech” (Tom Hooper)
Let me first say that I wish this were two questions, spread out over two different surveys. There are a lot of great overlooked movies from this decade and there are also a lot of unfairly maligned movies from this decade, and forcing respondents to choose one angle or the other only limits the number of films that can be dusted off and discussed. Having said that, I’ll go with the unfairly maligned angle because I write a lot about the Oscars, and absolutely nothing can cause a movie to be unjustly loathed more than winning a few major Oscars. I’ll be honest—I actually think every Oscar best picture winner from this decade is pretty good (though certainly some of them weren’t their year’s best film). But on this week of all weeks, in light of the hilariously awful “Cats” trailer, I’m reminded that no best picture winner is more unfairly hated than 2010’s “The King’s Speech.”
Look, I get the complaints: it beat the superior “The Social Network,” which will deservedly top a whole lot of Best-of-the-Decade lists; it’s a movie about a Great White Man Doing Great Things, of which there have been far too many and the Oscars have been far too willing to fall head over heels for; and it’s a movie that washes away any problematic history from its story, such as Nazi sympathizing. But those are mostly complaints of context, not of quality. “The King’s Speech” is a lovely story (without too many problematic liberties taken), the script is dynamic and funny, and the acting is absolutely wonderful. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter all give career-best performances in the film.
So much of the hatred aimed at “The King’s Speech” is based on what kind of movie it is. I also want more diverse representation in the film industry, and I especially want the Oscars to be far better at recognizing that diversity. But that doesn’t have to come at the expense of movies like “The King’s Speech” (or “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” which both fell prey to the same attacks). I reject the notion that a good story shouldn’t be made into a film simply because it’s about a dead white guy with an Encyclopaedia Britannica entry, and more and better stories of diversity don’t have to come at their expense. This isn’t a binary; it’s a case where audiences can and should have it both ways. We just need to retrain ourselves to believe that.
“Knight of Cups” (Terrence Malick)
Broad Green Pictures
I am of the belief that Terrence Malick has yet to make a bad film — he’s only made masterpieces, including that Google Pixel 3 ad. Many critics and audiences have maligned Malick for every one of his films following “The Tree of Life,” but I’m still captivated by the energy and spirit Malick brings to these recent projects. Though I could also praise “To the Wonder” and “Song to Song,” it’s “Knight of Cups” that I want to highlight here, a Malickian meandering through the world of Los Angeles in all its beauty and brokenness. Released in US theaters in 2016, “Knight of Cups” is the moody metaphysical antithesis of that year’s “La La Land” as both films offer imaginative fantasy depictions of the entertainment industry which permeates L.A.’s landscape. Malick’s improvisational approach, wandering camera, and notorious editing practices are on full display here. What results is dreamy, intimate, boundary-breaking, and haunting. Perhaps a cinematic meditation on the biblical book of Ecclesiastes–“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”–or perhaps a reinterpretation of Walker Percy’s novel “The Moviegoer” and its protagonist’s ongoing existential quest, “Knight of Cups” has treasures to offer, both visually and philosophically, for those patient and resilient souls willing to take up the search.
“Margaret” (Kenneth Lonergan)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
I’m an indecisive person by nature, the kind who can see every side to any argument (and then some), but this particular question took me all of about three seconds to answer. Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” (2011) is an utterly unique, stubbornly sprawling, fiercely compassionate film that attempts nothing less than to capture an entire world in its three hours. The “extended cut” that Lonergan was finally allowed to assemble for the DVD release—the only one he fully endorses—is that rarest of things: a true work of art. Given the room to stretch its wings and fully breathe, the three hour and eight minute version of Margaret somehow manages to move much more quickly than the shorter theatrical cut ever did. Several scenes are drawn out and expanded, unspooling in the real-life rhythms which Lonergan had always intended; missing puzzle pieces of the film’s multifaceted plot are restored, allowing relationships between various characters to deepen and cohere; a thematic marriage of content and form, which the earlier version often hinted at, bursts forth in full resonance. It’s an overwhelming experience, universal and specific all at once, and one of the very best films I’ve ever seen.
“Mistress America” (Noah Baumbach)
“Mistress America”. Perhaps because it’s neither Baumbach’s best directing nor Gerwig’s best acting work of the decade–that’d both be the rightfully beloved “Frances Ha”–but this film feels like an un-favorite sibling in their respective bodies of work. A gentle skewering of the millennial ethos that isn’t as insufferable as most films with similar themes because of its thorny, fascinating sympathy for its messy, over-educated leads, “Mistress America” is a portrait of not-quite-youth that feels neither condescendingly pedantic nor hopelessly naive. Sure, that’s not a tone that makes it easy for the film to grab headlines or eyeballs, but it does make it infinitely more interesting to revisit and rethink, especially as the zeitgeist it portrays curdles and calcifies into something more difficult to generalize into a morality tale or pithy observation. If “Frances Ha” is Baumbach-Gerwig’s “Born to Run”, then “Mistress America” is their “Darkness on the Edge of Town”: Not quite as iconic, but almost as great, and an exceedingly fine companion piece.
“Scream 4” (Wes Craven)
“Scream” is a near perfect trilogy but the fourth installment, released in 2011 and intended to kick-start another trio of movies (prior to the untimely death of creator Wes Craven), remains an underrated gem. Put simply, the flick is better than it had any right to be, and it’s only grown stronger with age. Most fans either didn’t bother with it or have forgotten about it in the intervening years but “Scream 4” is a smart, nasty, and consistently entertaining little slasher loaded with the requisite “Scream” charm but which also forges on with a decidedly modern slant.
Series stalwarts Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette all return, taking to their roles with gusto (particularly Cox, who gets many of the best lines). The newcomers, including Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, and Nico Tortorella, are game for the gory madness and the killer’s reveal is brilliantly done, especially in how it relates to fame-obsessed teens (“I don’t need friends, I need FANS”) which, eight years on, feels eerily prescient.
There are those who argue the ending flubs it by choosing instead to kill off the newcomers prancing around in the Ghostface outfit, leaving the original trio alive, but as Campbell’s Sidney states emphatically, you don’t f**k with the original. “Scream 4” pays homage to what came before while staking a claim for a new breed. Consider how the two(!) spinoff TV series faltered in trying to recreate that old “Scream” magic and it’s clear just how special the fourth movie is. No slasher released since has reached its heights and the film still feels current, which is no small feat.
If only “Scream 4” had kicked off a whole new Craven trilogy, ’cause on this evidence, there was much more in the tank.
“Spring Breakers” (Harmony Korine)
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant
Although it got generally good reviews, Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” didn’t really connect with audiences. Some were put off by former teen stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens appearing in a hard-R picture filled with sex and drug use. Some didn’t like Korine’s non-linear, dream-like style, while others simply didn’t understand it. All the negative talk overwhelmed the positive reviews. Here’s the thing, though: “Spring Breakers” is absolutely brilliant. Its neon-lit scenes contain some of the most gorgeous images ever committed to film. The story also has a lot more depth than many people realize. Yes, at first it seems like an ode to hedonism. Repeat viewings reveal that it’s actually a scathing indictment of an entitled generation led to believe that being a badass and having a screw-it attitude is a faster path to success than hard work. Other themes are present, too, but I hesitate to spell them out because I truly think people would enjoy discovering them organically. “Spring Breakers” is so much better than the reputation it’s been saddled with. No other film from the past ten years deserves a bigger re-appreciation.
“Tamara Drewe” (Stephen Frears)
Andrea Thompson, (@areelofonesown), The Young Folks, A Reel Of One’s Own, The Spool, Film Girl Film Festival
When the history of comic book movies is written, I hope it makes room for the 2010 film “Tamara Drewe.” Based on a graphic novel that began as a weekly series of comic strips that was itself a modern reworking of the classic Thomas Hardy novel “Far From the Madding Crowd,” (got all that?) the film is about the titular character, a writer who returns to her small hometown in the English countryside, where all kinds of romantic mayhem awaits.
Although it received mixed reviews upon its release, “Tamara Drewe” is an adaptation that’s smart, sexy, and funny, while improving upon the source material. Gemma Arterton is a joy as the lead, along with some excelling supporting turns from Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, and Jessica Barden. It’s also one of the few graphic novel films to revolve around women’s lives while also featuring some commentary on male entitlement. Moira Buffini, who wrote the screenplay, would go on to do the same for another lush adaptation, the 2011 film “Jane Eyre,” and co-create the criminally underseen Hulu series “Harlots,” which far more blatantly addresses issues of sex, power, and class.
“Thou Wast Mild & Lovely” (Josephine Decker)
I’m torn between Sofia Coppola’s gloriously trashy, deeply off-putting glam-heist masterpiece, “The Bling Ring,” and Josephine Decker’s (“Madeline’s Madeline”) pastoral, experimental, mumblecore-inspired “Thou Wast Mild & Lovely.” “The Bling Ring” would fall more accurately in the ‘wrongly maligned’ category while “Thou Wast Mild & Lovely” would fall in the ‘overlooked’ category. But seeing as one them has the last name Coppola and this is about underdogs, I’ll go with the lesser known of the two. Decker’s sophomore feature is a hectic, poetic haze of romance and rumination that abruptly upends your already dizzied sensibilities with a “Kill List”-esque genre twist in its final moments. Despite its wild, unpredictable exploration of style, everything feels fresh and controlled, likely due to Decker’s uncompromising approach as screenwriter, director, and editor, and the familiarity with regular collaborator and lead, Joe Swanberg. As if that isn’t enough reason to watch it already, it has a god-tier level runtime of 78 minutes. It’s one of the decade’s sharpest and most bewildering films.
“The Visit” (M. Night Shyamalan)
I don’t think people give enough credit to “The Visit” as they should. It is true that the found footage subgenre has met its fall in the last decade, as the “Paranormal Activity” series lead an abnormal class of horror movies of the kind just because they were cheap to produce and earned big at the box office, but M. Night Shyamalan’s take was some sort of a miracle not only because it showed that the format can be explored in different ways, but that it also can be used for purposes more meaningful than jump scares or – like some people love to define – bore crowds to its death by showing endless footage of nothing.
It’s also really sad how the general narrative of Shyamalan’s comeback in the end was mounted upon the success of “Split”, because it’s in “The Visit” where he most submits his cinema to points of rupture and deconstruction. Although he preserves the plasticity of his shots on the handheld camera format, the way the kids are always discussing camera positions and how to do interviews, combined to the ways the movie conduct its horror moments, really revigorate the fable narrative towards something new and more bold in the sense of an update of those structures to contemporary times. I can’t think of another retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” storyline that feels so fresh and consistent with today’s dynamics of wanting to be famous – even if the internet doesn’t even exists and the kids just desire to be celebrated artists or something of the kind.
And the thing is: it works as fable as much as it works as horror, with that whole third act being just amazing and terrifying in all the right ways. I seriously doubt people won’t define “The Visit” as the most important addition to the found footage genre since “The Blair Witch Project” in five or ten years.
“Wuthering Heights” (Andrea Arnold)
As Andrea Arnold’s name has gone around this summer (for reasons both good and ill), she’s often cited as the ferociously stylish auteur behind “Fish Tank” and “American Honey.” What’s typically left out of the conversation, however, is the film that fell between those two: Arnold’s 2011 adaptation of “Wuthering Heights,” a film as startling and thrilling as either of her higher-profile credits. Arnold takes the staid tradition of gothic costume drama and strips it down to the bones and raw nerves, telling Emily Brontë’s story with as little dialogue as possible, favoring primal body language and focusing as much on the harsh landscape and punishing climate as the tortured characters at their center. Presented (in Academy ratio, for the segment of film nerds who thrills to such technical details) free of music and virtually any other concession to conventional taste in prestige melodrama, Arnold’s masterpiece locates the myth underlying a familiar story, inviting the audience to reconsider their expectations not just for period drama, but for independent film as a whole.