Best of the Decade: Film

We asked our contributing writers (as well as a couple of future contributors) to offer up lists of films from the last decade which impacted them in a significant way. While we are presenting these as our ‘best of’ lists, the idea was primarily to show several lists covering a variety of moving image works from the multiplex to the avant-garde, some well-loved, others perhaps under-seen. There was a time in my life in which making a list meant having to show that you knew it all with ‘objectively great’ picks which were ‘the absolute best.’ Such ideas are, of course, nonsense. Such ideas are also perpetuated by ranked hundred-title lists so often put out by online publications, where a film that has already garnered x-million bucks at the box office will be proclaimed ‘unmissable’. I was half-surprised to see such lists already start piling up in the summer of 2019 claiming to name the ‘bests’ of the decade… While we here at Ultra Dogme have waited until 2020 to release our lists, it is still too soon. But hey, it was fun. And we hope you will enjoy sifting through our choices to discover some new gems of your own.

Tobias Burms

10. Napalm (2017), dir. Claude Lanzmann (R.I.P.)
9. What’s your Number? (2011), dir. Mark Mylod
8. Seventh Code (2013), dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
7. The Smell of Us (2014), dir. Larry Clark
6. Abus de Faiblesse aka Abuse of Weakness (2013), dir. Catherine Breillat
5. J Edgar (2011), dir. Clint Eastwood
4. Mulberry St. (2010), dir. Abel Ferarra
3. Mon Amie Victoria (2014), dir. Jean-Paul Civeyrac
2. Passion (2012), dir. Brian De Palma
1. La Fille de Nulle Part aka The Girl from Nowhere (2012), dir. Jean-Claude Brisseau (R.I.P.)

The Girl From Nowhere


10. Drvo aka The Tree (2018), dir. André Gil Mata
9. Paterson (2016), dir. Jim Jarmusch
8. Hard to be a God (2013), dir. Aleksei German (R.I.P.)
7. Goodbye to Language (2014), dir. Jean-Luc Godard
6. First Reformed (2017), dir. Paul Schrader
5. Arboretum Cycle (2017), dir. Nathaniel Dorsky
4. The Master (2012), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
3. The Turin Horse (2011), dir. Bela Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
2. Brouillard: Passage #14 (2012), dir. Alexandre Larose
1. Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series/The Return/Season Three (2017), dir. David Lynch

Twin Peaks

Tijana Perovic

10. Synonyms (2019), dir. Nadav Lapid
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), dir. Céline Sciamma
8. Medianeras (2011), dir. Gustavo Taretto
7. Stoker (2013), dir. Park Chan-wook
6. Nymphomaniac (2013), dir. Lars von Trier
5. Climax (2018), dir. Gaspar Noé
4. Spring Breakers (2012), dir. Harmony Korine
3. Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (2019), dir. Frank Beauvais
2. Detachment (2011), dir. Tony Kaye
1. Laurence Anyways (2012), dir. Xavier Dolan

Laurence Anyways

Noah Rosenberg

10. Leviathan (2012) dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Parvel
Film and photography as a means of mechanical reproduction takes new meaning with Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. What does new technology — in this case waterproof GoPros strapped to a deep sea fishing boat off the coast of New England — tell us about our world?

9. Colophon (for the Arboretum Cycle) (2018) dir. Nathaniel Dorsky
Dorsky’s passion cannot be understated. Film is a religion to him, and it shows in the quality of his craft, and dedication towards celluloid and presentation. His films “invite you in” as Paul Clipson once said.

8. Wishing Well (2018) dir. Sylvia Schedelbauer
How can archival footage be transcribed, collaged together, and used as a medium in itself? Sylvia’s mode of making gives a new, refined, voice to this question, with clear knowledge of film history, echoing the avant-garde filmmakers that came before her.

7. The Grand Bizarre (2019) dir. Jodie Mack
Textiles make up most of our visual world, but have been historically ignored as a medium in the fine art world. The medium is making a comeback in the contemporary scene, and Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bazaar is a prime example of their power.

6. The Master (2012) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
It’s also nice to watch the big lights, and as good as Hollywood movies get, The Master pulls its strength from the acting between Phillip Seymor Hoffman, and Joaquin Phoenix. Their acting reminds me of listening to Coltrane: there is a sadness embedded in how much they give. You eat it up, but what are they left with?

5. Amazing Grace (2018) dir. Sydney Pollack, Alan Elliott
Unedited footage of Aretha Franklin performing in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles in 1972, surfaces this year. In it, we see the power of black american spirituality, love, pain, and soul, manifest itself through music.

4. Zama (2017) dir. Lucrecia Martel
One of the most important narrative directors of our time, Lucrecia Martel’s way of capturing space and culture, and her ability to address timeless themes in intimate settings, makes her extremely exciting.

3. The White Album (2019) dir. Arthur Jafa
Jafa is an archivist at heart, with a passion for conversations, who is leading a radical art movement in contemporary black America. He is not afraid of change, in medium or practice, and his intuitive media collages inspire thought that will hopefully build the future revolution.

2. A Leaf is the Sea is a Theater (2017) dir. Johnathan Schwartz (R.I.P.)
Poetry becomes moving image, while magical and realist imagery waltz. Schwartz’s deeply personal, and stunningly beautiful films surprise me every time with their sincerity, and leave me wondering about the core of poetry. This film is a particular favorite of mine. I can watch it over and over.

1. Black Field (2017) and Hypnosis Display (2014) (tie) dir. Paul Clipson (R.I.P.)
Paul Clipson will always hold a special place in my heart. He opened up film’s possibilities for me, and is a mentor I will forever look up to. “His films give to you, as much as you can give to them.”

Hypnosis Display

Patrick Preziosi

10. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018) dir. RaMell Ross
RaMell Ross’ documentary sidesteps all ethnographic pitfalls in how lovingly concerned it is with the minute building-blocks of every captured moment: the tactility of the weather, the pavement, the timbre of offhand conversations, the guttingly serendipitous ways in which nature blossoms through human tragedy, such as butterflies passing through a funeral. Hale County This Morning, This Evening disrupts the formal qualities of documentary, playing with framing, time-lapse and archival footage to parse matters of perception, centralized to the mobius-strip of the everyday of the black residents of Hale County, Alabama. This snapshot quality is only enforced by the film’s svelte brevity (73 minutes) culled from years of footage; for Ross, comprehensivity is achieved through restraint.

9. Brawl In Cell Block 99 (2017) dir. S. Craig Zahler
S. Craig Zahler will undoubtedly be dogged by accusations of senseless exploitation and even conservatism throughout the rest of his career, but when actually confronted with one of his films, the ever present self-awareness absolutely evaporates these claims. Brawl In Cell Block 99, standing at the exact middle of a still-young filmography, is as good an entry point as any for Zahler’s spiraling mayhem, captured frequently in an eerie stasis worthy of David Lynch. As a nabbed drug running Vince Vaughn finds himself descending through the bowels of the United States penitentiary system, – given an added dose of surrealism with appearances by Fred Melamed, Don Johnson and Udo Kier – it’s the strangely resonant relationship with his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) that dictates the absolute nihilism of the violence.

8. Good Time (2017) dir. Josh & Benny Safdie
Josh and Benny Safdie have an affinity for the conmen, hustlers, and – more generally – dirtbags of the greater New York City area. Good Time is the razor-sharp, unabashedly romantic, and harrowing realization of such: an all night odyssey following deluded, smooth-talking petty thief Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) trying to post enough bail to free his mentally-ill brother Nickolas (Benny Safdie himself) from Riker’s after a botched bank robbery. In possession of the same governing mania of Scorsese’s After Hours – an energy also attributable to DP Sean Price Williams and Oneohtrix Point Never’s throbbing score – Good Time pivots from that film’s more existential concerns to a discomfiting presentation of privilege in an urban center defined by capital and appearances… with a mythic bottle of LSD-laced Sprite at the endpoint to seal the deal.

7. Let the Sunshine In (2017) dir. Claire Denis
Claire Denis has long been cinema’s preternatural conjurer of pure sensorial filmmaking, whether chronicling the elemental, or interpersonal relationships. A contemporary romantic comedy – which make no mistake, Let the Sunshine In is – may seem pedestrian at first glance, but Denis’ usual sensibilities, which also incorporate a near telepathic relationship with regular DP Agnes Godard, elevate Juliette Binoche’s single mother’s travails through Paris trying to find true love all the more affecting, and even transcendent. And with a sturdy bedrock of classicism supporting everything, Denis is allowed to showcase a facet of her directing often eclipsed by the more visceral tendencies: her sense of humor. 

6. Horse Money (2014) dir. Pedro Costa
The eternal night of Fontainhas falls once again; Horse Money situates itself within the same milieu of In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth, while deliriously tipping over into the ghostly surreality those prior works always dangled over our heads. Oppressive institutions reign, hospitals suffocate with their sterility, buildings are razed, and there stands the seemingly immortal Ventura, there to both witness it all and guide us through.

5. Like Someone in Love (2012) dir. Abbas Kiarostami
Like Someone in Love may deserve the distinction of being one of Abbas Kiarstomi’s most impenetrable narrative works, largely forgoing the metacinematic flourishes that actually acknowledged the filmmaking process in his storied 90’s work. Like Someone in Love instead presents its emotional beats from the outset, and thusly begins to circle back on itself to reveal the more academic concerns of the typically inquisitive director – while also bearing a return to the director’s love of anchoring patiently impressive sequences in moving vehicles! A politely rendered culture clash of students, sex workers, mechanics, professors and grandparents, all captured in gorgeous digital hues.

4. Certain Women (2016) dir. Kelly Reichardt
The plainspokeness of the title suggests both anonymity and specificity, as each of the three vignettes of Kelly Reichardt’s affectingly subdued film feature lived-in textures that feel as if we’re only witness by pure happenstance. The three also never explicitly intersect, playing on the peripheries of the small Montana town it takes place within and around. Much has been made of the final third, a wonderful unspooling of queer desire delivered by newcomer Lily Gladstone and a weathered Kristen Stewart, but the markedly more emotionally even-keeled first two – centered on Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, respectively – provide a foundation that implies a cyclicality to the film, as all three course through one another, ending where they started, and beginning once again.

3. Cemetery of Splendour (2015) dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
After a career of building dream-like landscapes from the ground up, it’s only appropriate that Apichatpong Weerasthekaul fastened an entire film to where the mind escapes when we sleep in his still most recent feature film. The hypnotic rhythms – much of Cemetery of Splendour centers around sleeping sickness and guided meditation – carry an initially laconic drift, which then crystallizes into timely political allegory, distilling a history of governmental oppression into the realm of ghosts and dreams.

2. Margaret (2011) dir. Kenneth Lonergan
High school often contains a multitude of emotional/social/mental pinprick explosions that herald the end of the world, and Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret posits that age and maturity only facilitate more inter-human disconnect, which in turn, yes, makes it feel like your universe can implode with you in it on any given day. An intended tapestry that came released as more of a patchwork, no other film was more generous to its protagonist and her immediate orbit than Margaret, which uses a traumatic bus accident to plague the conscience of New York City high-schooler Lisa (a combustible Anna Paquin), as she believes she may be responsible. The accident itself becomes the film’s narrative locus, undergirding countless storylines – ranging from frustrated English teachers to a thespian mother’s new lover – that are just as thrilling when they dovetail as when they break apart.

1. Western (2017) dir. Valeska Grisebach
Couched within the deceptive naturalism of Valeska Grisebach’s Western is a ferocious perfectionism, one that ably situates the film within the genre play implied by its very title, while honing a singular cinematic impetus that draws liberally from the Berlin School and neighboring movements as well. Cast entirely with nonprofessionals, the plot of a group of construction workers building a hydrodam in Bulgaria along the Greek border simmers with an entire history of racism and occupation, which in turn is as simple as a few of Grisebach’s wonderful finds (Meinhard Neumann, the lead, especially) struggling to breach the German-Romanian language barrier. Grisebach’s truncated approach in the editing room, which eschews traditional transitional elements – characters don’t mosey into rooms or climb up mountains, they suddenly appear within those settings – frees her to elliptically pivot amongst numerous narrative strands, any of which could be the driving force that leads Western to its inevitably and potently opaque finale.


Ruairí McCann

The Tree of Life (2011) dir. Terrence Malick
Drug War (2012) dir. Johnnie To
Horse Money (2014) dir. Pedro Costa
Til Madness Do Us Part (2014) dir. Wang Bing
No Home Movie (2015) dir. Chantal Akerman
88:88 (2015) dir. Isiah Medina
Mountains May Depart (2015) dir. Jia Zhangke
Silence (2016) dir. Martin Scorsese
Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) dir. David Lynch
High Life (2018) dir. Claire Denis

The Tree of Life

Arta Barzanji

As the wise Dan Sallitt once said, it’s at least one year early to put out such a list. With that in mind, consider this as the preliminary list of films that affected me deeply in one way or another this decade:

15. Finding Vivian Maier (2013) dir. John Maloof & Charlie Siskel
14. Bitter Lake (2015) dir. Adam Curtis
13. I, Dalio (2015) dir. Mark Rappaport
12. The Other Side of the Wind (2018) dir. Orson Welles
11. Neighboring Sounds (2012) dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho
10. Communists (2014) dir. Jean-Marie Straub
9. The House That Jack Built (2018) dir. Lars von Trier
8. The Day He Arrives (2011) dir. Hong Sang-soo
7. Dead Souls (2018) dir. Wang Bing
6. Transit (2018) dir. Christian Petzold
5. The Image Book (2018) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
4. The Skin I Live In (2011) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
3. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018) dir. Bi Gan
2. Inherent Vice (2014) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
1. Holy Motors (2012) dir. Leos Carax

Holy Motors

Anuj Malhotra

11:25 The Day He Chose his Own Fate (2012) dir. Koji Wakamatsu
Diamantino (2018) dir. Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt
Episode of the Sea (2014) dir. Lonnie van Brummelen, Siebren de Haan
Holy Motors (2012) dir. Leos Carax
I, Dalio (2015) dir. Mark Rappaport
Jajouka, Something Good Comes to You (2012) dir. Marc Hurtado, Eric Hurtado
Journey to the West (2014) / Walker(2012) dir. Tsai Ming Liang
Leviathan (2012) dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
Li’l Quinquin (2014) dir. Bruno Dumont
Neighbouring Sounds (2012) dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho
Nostalgia for the Light (2010) dir. Patricio Guzmán
Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis (2018) dir. Anamika Haskar
The Girlfriend Experience (2016) dir. Amy Seimitz
The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012) dir. João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata
Western (2017) dir. Valeska Grisebach

Li’l Quinquin

You can view an interactive version of this list on letterboxd.

Stay tuned for our upcoming ‘best of the decade’ book and music lists!

6 thoughts on “Best of the Decade: Film

  1. Loads of interesting films here, including quite a few I haven’t seen. Thanks. Interesting to me that Twin Peaks has been widely accepted as a film now – and why not? It sure is as cinematic as anything I’ve ever seen.

  2. Pingback: CV – MLP

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