5. Macbeth (2015)
Capturing the raw brilliance of Shakespeare’s prose onscreen is often difficult, as the staging of character interactions and exchanges often feels better suited for the stage. 2015’s Macbeth takes a much different approach; it is a purely visceral approach that succeeds in exploring the madness of Macbeth’s mind as the classic tragedy unfolds. With bold, seering visuals of “war is hell,” it’s essentially a matte painting come to life, and spares none of the bloodlust and mythic irony from the original text.
Michael Fassbender is undoubtedly one of the best actors of his generation, and few actors have been able to capture Macbeth’s haunting omnipresence. Marion Cotillard’s work as Lady Macbeth is quite subtle, and although her presence isn’t quite as potent as other adaptations, it lacks none of the power and influence. Justin Kurzel goes all-out with breathtaking action sequences and shocking stillness in the moments of anguish; Macbeth is among the best modern Shakespeare adaptations.
4. Filth (2013)
Filth is an uncompromisingly shocking, relentless work of pulp hijinks transformed into an unsettling work of tragedy. The film pulls no punches, flashing its frequent violence and drug fueled hallucinogenic sequences for comedic effect at first, and then developing into a full on surrealist nightmare. It’s hard to condense the chaos of the story into any form of structure but the film is held together by a tour de force performance by James McAvoy, who brings a toxic, uproarious sensibility to corrupt cop Bruce Robertson, a man so despicable that it’s impossible to not keep watching him.
Inspired by the novel by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, the film follows a loose structure as Robertson investigates a series of murders; it’s clear early on that Robertson isn’t just an unreliable narrator, but he’s deliberately highjacking his own story in an attempt to hide his trauma and erase any semblance of sincerity. McAvoy brings the character to some incredibly dark places, and the fourth wall breaks are both unnerving and effective in depicting Robertson’s mental state. It’s a film that will no doubt be remembered as a cult classic.
3. Locke (2013)
There’s a temptation to call many new films “Hitchcockian,” but one of the rare films to actually earn that title is Steven Knight’s landmark high concept thriller Locke, a film that weaponizes cinematic intimacy into a powerful character study. Tom Hardy stars as a man whose life is falling apart, as a secret hidden from his family begins to rear its ugly head, forcing him to alter any semblance of a normal life that he may have had. Throughout the course of one long car ride, Hardy’s character makes a series of phone calls that will determine the course of his future.
A film like this requires very specific things from its main actor, and Hardy shows once again why he’s one of the most versatile leading men of his time; Ivan Locke isn’t always a likeable character, but due to the creative filmmaking, it’s impossible to not feel the same anxiety and stress that he does. Hardy has experimented with many types of historical and blockbuster roles, but here he’s perfect as an everyman, the type of role that Jimmy Stewart may have taken on decades earlier.
2. Rush (2013)
Ron Howard is one of those filmmakers who can always be trusted to put out quality stuff, but no one saw Rush coming; Howard reginited the racing genre with his best film since Apollo 13. Depicting an epic rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) over ten years, Rush looks at the way in which the competitive spirit pushes both characters to the edge of their abilities, and strangely draws them closer together. The most important thing a film like Rush needs to do is to get the audiences to empathize with both characters equally, and by the time of the final race, the viewer is torn between their conflicting loyalties.
Chris Hemsworth has proven to be a charismatic action star with the Marvel films, but here he takes his first step into becoming a great actor; he shows how Hunt’s competitive spirit permeates all aspects of his life. Bruhl gives a breakout performance as Lauda, a fiercely independent man who has trouble connecting with others outside of the race track. This is one of the most exhilarating sports movies of the decade.
1. Submarine (2010)
Alex Turner’s quintessential coming of age dramedy remains one the most personal, gleefully awkward films of the decade. It may be the funniest British film of the last ten years. All the anxieties of growing up and discovering love (as well as reflecting on what adulthood really means) are summarized into a series of idiosyncratic lists by Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old boy who sees growing up as nothing more than a series of things to check off of a list. Oliver isn’t narcissistic or abrasive, but he’s got a lot to learn, and his eventual realization is that nobody has things all mapped out.
Tate doesn’t revert to playing a stereotypical coming of age hero, and his blunt, wide-eyed nature is depicted brilliantly by filmmaker Richard Ayoade; Ayoade enfuses a terrific soundtrack with stark, lonely visuals that give the film a bittersweet, melancholy vibe. While there’s optimism to be found in Oliver’s maturation, the film also doesn’t deny the hardships he’s endured, or the ones he’s yet to endure. It’s an idiosyncratic slice of life vehicle with a great deal of charm, and if there’s only one underrated British film you should watch this decade, it’s Submarine.