5. Allied (2016)
Allied was a very entertaining romantic thriller film that attempted to be a throwback to a different era of studio filmmaking; with obvious callbacks to Casablanca, it’s a film that is celebratory of movie star charisma and melodramatic wartime epics. The film easily could’ve fallen flat on its face, but Robert Zemeckis brings his signature energy to the exciting World War II setpieces. Brad Pitt plays Max Vantan, an Allied intelligence officer who must determine if his wife Marianne (Marion Cotillard) is a Nazi spy.
There’s perhaps no better modern American actor better suited to take on the Bogart role than Pitt, who is effortlessly charismatic and brings his all to the role. The romance between him and Cotillard is well established, as the two become acquainted throughout the course of many adventures undercover. Zemeckis goes all out with his expansive environments, immaculate costuming, and cleverly staged action sequences; it’s a shame that audiences didn’t respond in the same way to this old-fashioned thriller.
4. Outlaw King (2018)
If there’s one thing that has been missing from action films this decade, it’s the epic; audiences haven’t been granted many historical war films in the vein of Gladiator or Braveheart over the last ten years. A film that scratches that itch is Outlaw King, a film that essentially functions as a quasi-sequel to Braveheart, as it follows the rebellion of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) in 14th Century Scotland following the execution of William Wallace.
Hell or High Water David Mackenzie crafts a film that is both epic in scope and relentless in its pace; it is clear that Robert is in a race against time to outwit King Edward I (Stephen Dillane), and the film does a great job at communicating Robert’s strategy of gradually winning back his country castle by castle. The cinematography is often inventive, specifically with the impressive opening tracking shot that shows Robert’s talent as a swordsman. Few viewers were able to see the film in the best format because it was released on Netflix, but either way it is deserving of an immersive viewing experience.
3. Atomic Blonde (2017)
The John Wick films were undoubtedly some of the most influential action films of the decade, and the first film’s co-director David Leitch also helmed a similar neon-lit, atmospheric crime thriller with Atomic Blonde. Set in the world of Cold War assassins and double crossing, the film follows expert MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as she protects spies during the fall of the Berlin Wall. The plot is a convoluted schematic of various characters betraying each other, but Theron’s charisma and raw physicality shine through.
Although comparisons can be made to John Wick, Atomic Blonde opts for more stripped down and punishing action sequences; the film’s much hyped stiarwall sequence sees Theron pushed to her limit as the character grows increasingly fatigued. There are winks and nods to many elements of spy movies, with femme fatales and KGB moles, and the excellent mix of 80s hits for the film’s soundtrack keeps the momentum going.
2. ’71 (2014)
This fantastic Irish thriller is a stressful and intimate depiction of the 1971 riots in Belfast; all the chaos, fear, and paranoia that exist within a riot are present, and the film shows how easily situations like these escalate into all-out violence. Following a young soldier, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) as he becomes separated from his unit, ‘71 shows what it’s like to be trapped within a city full of enemies, becoming a claustrophobic, and at times nauseating thriller. O’Connell had proven to be a charismatic actor in films like Unbroken and Starred Up, but this is easily his strongest performance to date.
The action itself is sparse but brutal; there are many shocking deaths, leaving the audience to be completely invested in Hook as he tries to make it out alive. Director Yann Demange, who also helmed the gangster thriller White Boy Rick, does a great job at making the audience feel the same paranoia Hook feels as he must choose who to trust and making hasty alliances. The film ends with several absolute jaw droppers, both in seeing the daring heist to get Hook out, and the real reaction from the British Army to the situation. ‘71 is truly one of the most underrated British movies of the decade.
1. The Guest (2014)
Purposively energetic and uniquely stylized, The Guest is a film that is hard to pin down as just one thing. There are elements of horror throughout, and the increasingly bizarre events often lean into dark comedy. It’s a slick, hypnotic deconstruction of suburbia, featuring one of the breakout performances of the decade from Dan Stevens as David, a soldier who returns from war and takes up residency with the family of a fallen comrade. David is polite, kind, and charismatic, and soon enough, the Peterson family realizes that he’s too good to be true.
Stevens brings a hypnotic idiosyncratic nature to the role, and the film excels as David slowly earns the Petersons’ trust as he hides his darker side. The secret as to who David is exactly is well-handled, and the audience never learns more than the characters. There are certainly comparisons to be made with the films of John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but The Guest is completely original and molds its influences into a bold and exciting new vision. Adam Wingard has become one of the most popular modern auteurs of genre films, and this is undoubtedly his best work to date.