The 100 best films of the decade (so far), #51-100

The 100 best films of the decade (so far), #51-100

Illustration by Beck Kramer
Illustration by Beck Kramer

The tough truth about year-end lists is that they’re usually composed in a hurry. When we first started talking about putting together this list last year, part of what appealed to us about it was the chance to rethink old rankings and to catch up with each other’s favorites—a chance to revisit and rediscover, and to try to define this halfway-done decade.

It was a project months in the making. Deciding the best films of the past five years meant organizing the largest film poll The A.V. Club has ever attempted, based on a new system, different from the one we’ve traditionally used for year-end coverage, which factored in both points and votes in an effort to find a more accurate consensus.

Unsurprisingly, the results were diverse, placing experimental documentaries next to blockbusters, IMAX extravaganzas alongside next-to-no-budget indies. This is, after all, the present we’re talking about—the 2010s, cinema’s first decade as a mostly digital medium, and a time when the small films are smaller and the big films are bigger than ever before. Some of the movies on this list—including the very first title, at number 100—didn’t end up in our year-end best-of polls in their respective years. Heck, some didn’t even receive very good reviews from The A.V. Club when they first came out.

Our voters were asked to submit ranked, 50-title lists of the best films commercially released in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014. (This means that movies that were distributed abroad before 2010 were eligible; our oldest title had its world premiere in 2007.) The resulting list of 100 films will appear in three parts: 100 to 51 today, 50 to 21 on Wednesday, and the top 20 on Thursday.

100. Edge Of Tomorrow

An ingenious mix of macabre comedy and special effects, this high-concept sci-fi flick follows a smug military publicist (Tom Cruise) as he relives the last day of an alien invasion, Groundhog Day style. Factor in Emily Blunt as the hero Cruise’s wimp needs to be, turkey-shoot battle scenes in the Starship Troopers mode, and a scene-stealing turn from Bill Paxton, and what you get is one of the decade’s most entertaining (and surprisingly re-watchable) big-budget star vehicles—the summer hit that should have been, but wasn’t. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

99. Mother

Bong Joon-ho may have found success on American shores with last year’s Snowpiercer, but his prior film is an equally haunting genre thriller about a simple-minded boy who’s accused of murder, and the efforts of his mother (Kim Hye-ja) to clear his name. Bookended by some of the most disturbingly dreamy imagery in recent memory, and shot with evocative widescreen precision, it’s a terrifying treatise on willful amnesia, and the limits—or lack thereof—of true maternal devotion. [Nick Schager]

98. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Alain Resnais lived long enough to make one additional film, but this penultimate effort nonetheless remains the perfect parting gift. Assembling numerous Resnais alumni for an ensemble piece about theater, cinema, and mortality, it uses two plays by Jean Anouilh as the basis for a dazzling formal exercise in which parts are frequently played simultaneously on two separate visual planes by two different actors. For a man pushing 90, the very title was an act of defiance. [Mike D’Angelo]

97. The Interrupters

Hoop Dreams director Steve James captures another essential Chicago story, this time following the dedicated peacekeepers of CeaseFire as they attempt to curb gang violence and stem a rising tide of bloodshed. The long-term filming commitment, a James specialty, pays big dividends: Lives change, dramas play out, and personalities emerge over an eventful year in the Windy City. It’s an advocacy doc with the scope and texture of a great novel. [A.A. Dowd]

96. Black Swan

Following the warm humor and lived-in sadness of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky made a distaff—and bonkers!—companion piece, also about the grand folly of performance. Natalie Portman won an Oscar for playing wound-up ballet dancer Nina, who creates her own horror movie out of her desire to succeed. Aronofsky, indulging his obsessive repetitions and gritty following shots, obviously understands and may even identify with Nina and her ability to go after what she wants, potentially nightmarish consequences be damned. [Jesse Hassenger]

95. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

To untangle the twists on first viewing would require the superhuman concentration of George Smiley himself. But doesn’t one look to espionage thrillers for a mental workout? Trading vampires for a different breed of shadow dweller, Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In) drapes a never-better Gary Oldman in the unflattering Cold War couture of John Le Carré’s “anti-James Bond.” Thick with paranoia, dense as a dossier, the film rewards the revisits it demands. Sequel, please. [A.A. Dowd]

94. Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s cinema is one of genre reinvention and laid-back slacker cool, and Only Lovers Left Alive proves one of his finest to hew to that template. Reimagining vampires as lonely souls prone to emotional isolation and secluded guitar-playing sessions in a burnt-out Detroit, the story—about married bloodsuckers (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) who reunite after living apart for years—is equal parts doomed romance and languorous hangout movie. [Nick Schager]

93. A Field In England

A deranged black-and-white historical psychodrama from Ben Wheatley (Kill List), this thoroughly unique genre effort concerns an alchemist’s assistant who encounters deserters and a nefarious sorcerer during the 17th-century English Civil War. From its opening warning about forthcoming strobe lights, to its eventual hallucinogenic mushroom-fueled madness, it’s a film of almost continual formal daring and awe-inspiringly bonkers imagery. [Nick Schager]

92. The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar’s 18th feature, and his first film in two decades to star early-career collaborator Antonio Banderas, is an irresistible piece of arthouse schlock about a particularly diabolical doctor. Almodóvar does some cutting of his own, probing deeply into issues of identity, obsession, and fantasy projection. Here’s betting that The Skin I Live In will endure as a minor classic of plastic-surgical horror—a worthy successor to 1960’s Eyes Without A Face. [Ben Mercer]

91. The Avengers

Superhero saturation reached critical levels this decade, but if all comic-book adaptations were as bright, as playful, and as marvelous as The Avengers, we’d have no reason to complain. Joss Whedon, an old pro at group dynamics, treats his first blockbuster gig like a team-building exercise, colliding the colorful personalities of his various franchise players. His secret weapon is irreverence—the ability to see the humor in a solider unstuck in time, a god fallen to earth, and an enormous green rage monster. [A.A. Dowd]

90. Carlos

Olivier Assayas’ five-and-a-half-hour account of the life and time of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez—the terrorist popularly known as Carlos The Jackal—avoids psychologizing. Instead, Assayas assembles dozens of minor characters, incidents, and intrigues into a panorama of the golden age of hijacking, with Carlos (Edgar Ramirez in a star-making turn) as the central figure. The theme is collapse—of causes, movements, ideals—but Assayas’ direction is pure momentum, energized by live-wire camerawork and a soundtrack of angular post-punk. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

89. Barbara

East Germany, summer of 1980. A doctor (the great Nina Hoss) is transferred to a small-town hospital. Her new boss is a Stasi informant. Day by day, she plans her secret escape to the West. With this riveting, carefully designed period piece, German director Christian Petzold—then best known for his low-key interpretations of pulp and noir themes—established himself as a modern master of dramatic suspense. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

88. Toy Story 3

Not a great decade for Pixar so far, with three franchise movies against a single original. But at least one of the studio’s sequels validates the very idea of a film series. Toy Story 3 turns two great movies into an even better trilogy that meditates on the passage of childhood almost as movingly as Boyhood. It also riffs on prison-break movies and the deathless relationship between Barbie and Ken, on its way to a final section that can make almost anyone cry for impressively diverse reasons. [Jesse Hassenger]

87. White Material

Every genre, from horror to noir to date-night romance, benefits from the elliptical touch of Claire Denis. Here, the French filmmaker returns to the colonial Africa of her youth for a disturbing wartime drama, evoking the fractured headspace of a coffee magnate (Isabelle Huppert) too stubborn to flee her plantation when violence begins to erupt around it. The imagery—of wild dogs scampering out of the light, of child soldiers slinking through tall grass, of a climactic hellfire—creates the impression of a world being slowly swallowed by madness. [A.A. Dowd]

86. Exit Through The Gift Shop

Banksy set down the spray paint, picked up a camera, and ended up assembling one of the most engaging documentaries in years. When a bored immigrant starts videotaping street artists, he uncovers a passion and decides to try things out for himself. What follows is a twisty look at artistic integrity so bizarre that it calls the legitimacy of the documentary itself into question. Whether it’s all an elaborate ruse doesn’t matter: This is art and it’s fun as hell. [Cameron Scheetz]

85. Drug War

“I’m a cop. You’re a drug trafficker. I didn’t betray you, I busted you.” Packed with oddball characters and twisty set pieces, Hong Kong genre master Johnnie To’s cops vs. cartels riff is as playful as an Ocean’s movie, but with serious moral heft. After organizing double-crosses and disguises into a minor symphony of betrayal and movement, To strips it down to pure survival instinct during the stunning shoot-out finale. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

84. The Strange Little Cat

This is ostensibly the story of a fairly uneventful large family dinner in a small apartment, but writer-director Ramon Zürcher’s main interest is a very playful form of staging. The script was color-coded to indicate when people and objects would be on or off-screen, and the resulting placement makes for brain-teasing viewing. Occasionally interrupting the drama for montages of objects seen in preceding scenes, The Strange Little Cat gives inanimate presences the same dramatic weight as people, using visual language to make us stare harder at unexamined quotidian spaces. [Vadim Rizov]

83. The Cabin In The Woods

Watching Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s meta-horror masterpiece is like witnessing an entire genre revitalize. The film summarized decades’ worth of ideas about the reasons we willingly watch bad things happen, devising a mission statement on the horrible beauty of monsters and mayhem. From now on, if teenagers are alone in the woods, there better be a damn good reason. [Alex McCown]

82. Bird People

The first half of Pascale Ferran’s drama tracks American businessman Gary (Josh Charles) as he suddenly decides to cut all personal and business ties. The first half, a somewhat impersonal, chilly documentation of how we live now, flows into a second half that still shouldn’t be spoiled, but the story of hotel maid Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) takes the title in an unexpected and literal direction. Many films on this list have radical structural breaks, but this one’s bifurcation might be the most extreme. [Vadim Rizov]

81. Mysteries Of Lisbon

The late Raúl Ruiz’s engrossing, epic-length adaptation of a 19th-century Portuguese novel is a rubber-band-ball of disguises, narrators, twists, and flashbacks-within-flashbacks—a vision of a universe of fiction. Pirates, twins, illegitimate children, and at least four different love triangles all figure in the impossible-to-summarize plot; meanwhile, Ruiz’s camera coolly passes through walls and doorways. Built around the image of a toy theater, this is Ruiz’s magnum opus: a film about imagination and how people imagine themselves. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

80. The Past

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi relocated to France for his sixth feature, which stars Bérénice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa as a couple finally negotiating their divorce some four years after they separated. From this simple premise, Farhadi spins a complex melodrama involving the woman’s teenage daughter (Pauline Burlet), who misses her former stepdad; the woman’s understandably jealous boyfriend (Tahar Rahim); and the boyfriend’s wife, who’s lying in a coma. It’s a fearsomely tangled knot crossing borders and years. [Mike D’Angelo]

79. Looper

Rian Johnson created such idiosyncratic worlds in Brick and The Brothers Bloom that his facility with science fiction seemed almost like a foregone conclusion. Even so, his time-travel thriller Looper is a tricky stunner, sending Bruce Willis back in time to get killed by his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and instead grappling with the wreckage of his past, present, and future. Johnson, a gifted writer, is also an underrated action director, staging even small-scale physical conflicts with a scrappy, jittery sense of movement. [Jesse Hassenger]

78. The Kid With A Bike

The Dardenne brothers might be the most taken-for-granted genius filmmakers in the world. Every movie brings another masterful odyssey of small moments—perhaps none more so than this, the Belgian duo’s story of a woman who hesitantly takes on the care of an impressionable young boy. Simplicity aside, it feels like the work of artists unearthing the full power of cinema—a rare and precious blend of experienced craftsmanship and wide-eyed naiveté. [Alex McCown]

77. Stray Dogs

The premise—a single father and his two children struggle to maintain their homeless existence—suggests the possibility of rote bathos. But Tsai Ming-liang’s film forestalls sentimentality with rigor, taking in Taipei’s grocery stores and decaying industrial spaces in long, exquisitely composed shots. An ambiguous twist two-thirds through is no less disorienting than Mulholland Drive’s, transforming Stray Dogs from an angrily articulate investigation of Taiwan’s dispossessed into something far less definable. [Vadim Rizov]

76. The Color Wheel

Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Alex Ross Perry’s nervy, anything-goes comedy felt like a gulp of outdoor air in an increasingly fusty indie film culture. Perry and co-writer Carlen Altman are hilarious as a brother and sister on a mostly pointless road trip, bickering their way through a grainy, black-and-white world of rubes and assholes, before a crescendo of claustrophobic psychodrama turns the whole thing on its head. The movie’s rough-edged blend of sarcasm and surrealism is infectious, but it also packs a wallop. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

75. Lincoln

Robbed of a Best Picture Oscar, Lincoln is one of Steven Spielberg’s crowning mid-career achievements. Expertly written by Tony Kushner, this account of Abraham Lincoln’s attempts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment—and hence abolish slavery—generates immense drama from impassioned political maneuvering, much of it shot in gorgeous static compositions and all of it dominated by Daniel Day-Lewis’ towering performance as the eminent, top-hatted President. [Nick Schager]

74. Citizenfour

Edward Snowden proved that one person can bring a massive institution to its knees (or at least cause them to shake a bit). Citizenfour proves, meanwhile, that it only takes a camera and a subject as interesting as this brave whistleblower to grab the attention of moviegoers (and Oscar voters). Capturing the days leading up to Snowden’s historic NSA leak—and offering a vision of our surveillance society in the process—director Laura Poitras engages in first-rate journalism while never forgetting to capture the human drama of her story. [Kiva Reardon]

73. Gravity

Gravity could be shrugged off as a simplistic tech showcase now that its theatrical release is long past, but there’s a difference between simplistic and simple—and the story of an astronaut who reaffirms her will to live while marooned in the vast, unforgiving nothingness of outer space is the latter, not the former. A smidgen of cornball dialogue doesn’t diminish Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful survival story, just as home video can’t diminish its grandeur—even if a gigantic movie screen is still the ideal venue in which to experience the blockbuster. [Jesse Hassenger]

72. National Gallery

In his 80s, Frederick Wiseman still works at a vigorous pace, displaying an unquenchable interest in the iconic institutions of our time, be they schools, boxing gyms, or dance companies. With National Gallery, Wiseman explores not just the physical structures of the National Gallery in London, but also the relationship between painting and cinema, observation and meditation, and capitalism and art. [Kiva Reardon]

71. Beyond The Hills

The so-called Romanian New Wave lost no momentum as it entered its second decade, cresting again with this realist wringer about two former orphans (deserved Cannes prizewinners Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan) who reunite at a remote convent. Fictionalizing a real-life case of an exorcism gone wrong, writer-director Cristian Mungiu (who attracted more international notice with his previous 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days) delivers an intimate epic of self-will and institutional indifference, stylistically spare and dramatically unsparing. [Ben Mercer]

70. Secret Sunshine

Lee Chang-dong’s South Korean small-town drama treats its subject—the search for meaning in the face of grief—as a question without a definitive answer. Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho are both superb as, respectively, a woman dealing with a senseless tragedy and the local man who wants to be there for her. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the movie’s pain and humiliation might seem cruel; Lee turns it into an overview of the human experience. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

69. Greenberg

Roger Greenberg is the sort of malcontent who can revise “youth is wasted on the young” into “life is wasted on people”—in other words, the sorta-hero of another beautifully written Noah Baumbach picture. He’s also the impetus for Ben Stiller’s most abrasive and oddly touching performance in years. The movie places the actor opposite the equally wonderful Greta Gerwig, practicing the quarter-life crisis of Frances Ha, and Greenberg paves the way for that film’s effervescence with one of Baumbach’s best-ever final scenes. [Jesse Hassenger]

68. Winter Sleep

Once upon a time in Anatolia, a bull-headed hotel owner fancied himself a saint. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep is a lush, wide-lense look at the intricacies of relationships and how one’s bloated self-perception can suffocate those they think they’re helping. Over three hours long, the film could easily lose steam, but Haluk Bilginer’s lead performance is an astounding force of gravity, tethering this Shakespearian epic to an irksome but entirely empathetic portrait of human nature. [Cameron Scheetz]

67. Goodbye To Language 3D

“Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality.” Jean-Luc Godard pushes 3-D to its breaking point with this assemblage of deformed scales, distorted quotations, superimposed visual planes, and poop jokes. Working mostly in and around his Swiss home, the French New Wave icon has created one of the decade’s unique audiovisual experiences—a stereoscopic brain-scrambler that, in its most striking passages, accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of showing the world as we can’t see it. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

66. Oslo, August 31st

Adulthood is a rude awakening in the films of Joachim Trier, distant relative to Lars and an apparent expert at diagnosing the disappointment of post-adolescence. An even better lament for lost youth than the director’s previous Reprise, this day-in-the-life drama follows a recovering addict (Anders Danielsen Lie) as he kicks around the titular town, taking stock of what’s changed and struggling to connect with friends who have moved on. The blueprint is a revered French novel, but the building blocks—an early montage tribute to Oslo, a late bender that bleeds into morning—are pure Joachim. [A.A. Dowd]

65. The Turin Horse

Not with a bang, and not even with a whimper—in the film that Hungarian long-take maestro Béla Tarr announced was his last, it’s a furiously howling wind that heralds the end of the world, slowly laying waste to the landscape around a solitary farmhouse. The Turin Horse is even more uncompromisingly bleak than Tarr’s other gravity-burdened works, but this apocalyptic dirge is nonetheless a swan song for the ages, ably capping an extraordinary collaboration with novelist László Krasznahorkai (and recent co-director Ágnes Hranitzky) that also produced such masterpieces as Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies. [Ben Mercer]

64. Blue Is The Warmest Color

Regardless of the contentious claims of on-set abuse and harassment that dogged its release, Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 romantic drama is a piercingly authentic account of the love affair that blossoms between a shy teenage girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and an older blue-haired beauty (Léa Seydoux), as well as the tumultuous social and emotional repercussions it has for both of them. Equally erotic and wrenching, it’s a coming-of-age story that fully immerses itself in its characters’ conflicted reactions to love and lust. [Nick Schager]

63. Tabu

A drolly comic study of a middle-aged woman’s dreary daily life in Lisbon over the course of Christmas week morphs into an unexpectedly lush portrait of a tragic romance in colonial Africa. Miguel Gomes’ black-and-white shape-shifter uses its (dialogue-free) second half in the unspecified past to further tease out the post-colonial implications and implied racial inequalities in the present. No academic tract, Tabu is intensely cinephilic in exemplifying the Portuguese idea of “saudade,” a deeply nostalgic melancholy. [Vadim Rizov]

62. A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg subverts (or is that perverts?) the prestige costume biopic into a study in surfaces and lurking demons. The director’s forays into sci-fi and horror have often presented worlds doomed to the future; the difference with this drama about the early years of psychoanalysis is that said future has already happened. For all of its overtones of repressed and animalistic sexuality, it’s ultimately a movie about a world on the brink of war and genocide—a perfect storm of the rational and irrational. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

61. The Deep Blue Sea

A sterling adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, Terence Davies’ romantic drama charts the emotional and psychological dilemma of a young suicidal woman (Rachel Weisz) caught between a loveless marriage with her older husband (Simon Russell Beale) and a passionate but unrewarding affair with her lover (Tom Hiddleston). Crisscrossing between the past and present, it’s a formally deft and sumptuously melancholy tale of dissatisfaction and yearning, bolstered by career-high performances from Weisz and Hiddleston. [Nick Schager]

60. The Raid: Redemption

A SWAT team invades the criminal sanctuary of a drug kingpin, a high-rise apartment building swarming with armed thugs. It does not go well. That’s the basic setup of The Raid, an Indonesian action import that amounts to little more than an ongoing display of expertly choreographed violence. Some have compared the endless flurry of bullets, blades, and flailing limbs to a video game. But there’s a purity, an integrity even, to the way director Gareth Evans breaks the genre down to its brutish essence. It’s an adrenaline rush you never come down from. [A.A. Dowd]

59. Two Years At Sea

Perhaps the most placid film of the 21st century, as well as one of the most stealthily haunting, British filmmaker Ben Rivers’ unclassifiable first feature follows a bush-bearded guy named Jake just going about his solitary routine in the middle of nowhere, rummaging, tinkering, and puttering around his remote compound in the Scottish Highlands. Shot on black-and-white 16mm that’s been blown up to 35, Two Years At Sea has a hand-wrought flicker all its own—like something Jake himself might unearth and spool up. [Ben Mercer]

58. The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceausescu

Bookended by brutal footage of the Romanian dictator and his wife arrogantly blustering in their final hours before being shot, Andrei Ujică’s monumental, three-plus-hours compilation film reconstructs Ceausescu’s reign, largely through state propaganda. By closely attending to the parades, speeches, and increasingly delusive nature of the images, Ujică’s weighty, blackly comic film posits that an entire country was forced to stage a multi-decade fiction to gratify the delusions of an increasingly disconnected tyrant. [Vadim Rizov]

57. Skyfall

Unlike the MI6 agent’s martinis, James Bond is typically unshakeable, but Skyfall wisely injects the series with a much-needed sense of life-or-death stakes. Daniel Craig is fantastic as a broken, embattled Bond and his existential crisis feels true-to-canon thanks to thoughtful direction from Sam Mendes. The film’s secret weapon is DP Roger Deakins, who gives each setting a distinct atmosphere, pulsing with energy. (The backlit Shangai brawl is one of the most exciting sequences of the franchise.) Bond has never looked better. [Cameron Scheetz]

56. The Father Of My Children

Mia Hansen-Løve’s second feature first concentrates on harried film producer Grégoire (Louis-Do De Lencquesaing) trying to pull together numerous nearly dead features, then shifts its focus to the coming of age of his teenage daughter (Alice De Lencquesaing). Grégoire is modeled on the late Humbert Balsan, but knowledge of the key players of European art cinema isn’t required to appreciate Hansen-Løve’s beautifully modulated, affectingly low-key examination of a young girl’s development, both in relation to and when separated from her father. [Vadim Rizov]

55. Neighboring Sounds

A panoramic portrait of life on one city block in Brazil’s middle-class city of Recife, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s feature debut is an assured piece of sociological drama. With a story that beautifully balances its attention between a host of residents and their various day-to-day problems, all of them occurring as a new security outfit arrives with an offer to help protect the area through ever-present cameras, Neighboring Sounds taps into themes of class inequality, generational warfare, and paranoia with understated grace. [Nick Schager]

54. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The first Thai film to ever win the Palme D’Or at Cannes, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a mesmeric fantasia about a bee farmer named Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) whose kidney is failing, and who’s visited by both his dead wife and his son, who’s now a glowing-eyed Ghost Monkey. Amid this surrealism, there’s also a fable about a princess who mates with a catfish—part and parcel of Weerasethakul’s dreamy meditation on the thin boundary between the here-and-now and the afterlife, and between the past and the present. [Nick Schager]

53. Room 237

Scoff, if you must, at the panel of armchair “experts,” all offering their definitive crackpot theory as to what The Shining is really about. A wildly entertaining plunge through the halls of the Overlook Hotel and into the motivation behind every random continuity error, Room 237 requires neither gullibility nor a membership in the cult of Kubrick. It asks only that you see meaning in the hunt for meaning, in the desire every cinephile feels to pore over their favorite movie in search of new secrets. [A.A. Dowd]

52. Beginners

Scenes of hallway roller-skating and conversations with dogs may cause the twee-averse to roll their eyes, but Beginners is filled with so much emotion and honesty, it’s hard to deny. Mike Mills’ second feature, based on his own experience with a father who came out in his old age, is an aching but affirming love letter to love. If a Jack Russell terrier doesn’t swell the heart, then Christopher Plummer’s buoyant, Oscar-winning performance certainly will. [Cameron Scheetz]

51. Haywire

Gina Carano is not principally an actress. But no one takes to acting challenges like Steven Soderbergh, whether he’s retraining George Clooney into a major movie star or exposing real feeling in the flat affect of Sasha Grey. For Haywire, Soderbergh designs an aesthetically beautiful action movie around Carano’s no-nonsense MMA skills. Her fights with various handsome leading men are wonderfully brutal, but the movie finds its soul in a protracted shot of Carano’s face as she runs down a street into action, her determination converted into pure kinetic energy. [Jesse Hassenger]