Win Win (2011, Tom McCarthy) – From the director of the wonderful The Station Agent from a few years previously (the first time I delighted in Peter Dinklage’s talent), this was a perfectly adjudged comedy drama focusing on the evolving relationship between a troubled kid (Alex Shaffer) and a struggling lawyer/part-time wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti).
Prince Avalanche (2013, David Gordon Green) – Based on an obscure Icelandic film, and set in the late 1980s Texas, this is a wonderful gem of an oddity. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two guys working as road-painters during a summer, as they slowly get to know each other and their life problems.
Brigsby Bear (2017, David McCary) – Produced by The Lonely Island, this is a surprisingly low-key but ingenious film about a man who has just been released from an underground bunker where he had been sheltered from the outside world by his parents all of his life. The ‘Brigsby Bear’ thing relates to a TV show he has been obsessed with.
The Tribe (2014, Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi) – A torrid but fascinating film from Ukraine. The film follows a ‘tribe’ of deaf youths who live in a boarding school, but slowly fall into a world of crime and prostitution. The lack of dialogue is unnerving and the content is stark and vividly disturbing.
Trumbo (2016, Jay Roach) – Bryan Cranston owns the proclaimed ‘heroic’ character of Dalton Trumbo in this biographical film set around the time of blacklisting in 1950s Hollywood. A fascinating, insightful but perhaps a tad melodramatic film.
Anomalisa (2015, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson) – As you would expect from Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), this is an extremely quirky and intensely personal story. Made with stop-motion puppets, and voiced by only three people – David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan – it is funny in an offbeat way and is also quite compelling.
The Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland) – A woman teaches the study of moths and butterflies to her maid, who is subjected to a strict regime of cleanliness and chores. This unsurprisingly turns sexual quite quickly. A bizarre premise that is just magically captured by a wonderful and decadent cinematography.
Colossal (2016, Nacho Vigalondo) – Anne Hathaway plays a New England-based alcoholic who realises that her self-destructive tendencies is having a devastating impact on the city of Seoul – her physical actions are being replicated by a giant monster who has just appeared there. Original and brilliant.
Sightseers (2012, Ben Wheatley) – At first, an odd couple (played by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) appear to be typical caravan enthusiasts who are on a road trip, but then the body count starts to build. At any minute, this could turn into a gory, horror film but with Ben Wheatley at the helm, no one knows what to expect. Truly hilarious at times, but also incredibly sinister and nasty too, this is the epitome of ‘dark comedy’.
Greenberg (2010, Noah Baumbach) – Baumbach is a prolific director and has made some great comedy dramas (Marriage Story is currently getting him plaudits). Greenberg was strangely overlooked upon release, mainly because it was not a mainstream Ben Stiller comedy. This was a more adult effort by Stiller and a glorious triumph in its execution to boot.
Paterson (2016, Jim Jarmusch) – A nonchalant and whimsical film about the dreams and desires of a modern-day young couple who live in the suburb of Paterson, New Jersey with their unassuming English Bulldog. There is a quiet beauty in Jarmusch’s tender direction and in Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani’s sweet performances.
Another Year (2010, Mike Leigh) – Leigh has continuously made British movies of the highest order since he started in the 1970s. As much as he is treasured around the world, I still don’t think he is heralded enough. This film about underlying despair within an otherwise loving family as experienced over four seasons in one year is on a par with his earlier masterpiece Secrets and Lies.
King Jack (2015, Felix Thompson) – A terribly underrated film about a teenager (played brilliantly by Charlie Plummer) growing up in an underprivileged part of town, who must hang out with his younger cousin one summer. Together they face the danger of violent bullies, while experiencing alcohol and hanging out with girls for the first time.
Lean on Pete (2017, Andrew Haigh) – Charlie Plummer again emerges as a talented actor playing a growing young man in difficult circumstances, this time as a runaway traveling across the Mid-West with an adored racehorse called Lean on Pete. A tragic drama of simmering power and astounding photography.
Maudie (2017, Aisling Walsh) – A beautiful biographical film of the artist Maud Lewis who lived in Nova Scotia, Canada with her rough and abusive fisherman husband. It is a tender and beautiful portrait of a magnificent women who struggled with arthritis all of her life. The committed acting of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke make this a treasure to behold.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014, David Zellner) – An unforgettable and truly bizarre film that acts as an unlikely sequel to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, if you so wish to see it that way! Rinko Kikuchi plays a women who lives a socially isolated existence in Tokyo, but after she comes across a copy of the movie Fargo, she embarks on an obsessive journey to America in search of the suitcase buried in the snow at the end of that film.
The Golden Dream (2013, Diego Quemada-Diez) – Three teenagers from Guatemala take a desperate and arduous journey from their barrio to the US border via Mexico in search of a better life. This is a deeply affecting and astonishing film about immigration. Despite its fairly despondent and pessimistic tone, The Golden Dream deserves so much more praise. It resonates with current events in a way that shakes one to the core.
20,000 Days on Earth (2014, Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth) – A curious half-documentary drama about the life of Nick Cave, which utilises revealing interviews of himself, his friends and his collaborators in an extremely innovative fashion. The music from Cave and Warren Ellis, unsurprisingly, is fantastic (most of which is found on his album Push the Sky Away).
Tangerine (2015, Sean Baker) – Before the brilliant The Florida Project, Sean Baker made this magnificent gem about those on the fringes of US society. The narrative primarily concerns a transgender woman who works as a prostitute on the streets of Hollywood and we follow her life, and the connected lives of those around her, one Christmas Eve.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour) – This shit-hot vampire film was filmed in California but actually set in Iran in a sort of weird but believable alternative universe. A young woman wanders the streets at night scaring the crap out of young boys and keeping abusive men in place, while simultaneously falling for a young man caught up in a drugs mess. Hands down, my favourite (as well as the most underrated) film of the decade.