10/10: Isabel Sandoval

The director of the acclaimed feature Lingua Franca, currently streaming on Netflix, shares her ten favorite films of the last ten (or eleven) years.

This past decade marked an internal shift in me as a cinephile (and maker of film) where I finally “got” cinema – my experience of it transcended the abstract and intellectual to something visceral and even sublime. I have an aversion to pat sentiment in films, especially if couched in the vernacular of studio movies and anchored on convention, formula, tropes. These 10 films deviated from that beaten path, whether quietly or violently, some of which defy easy categorization. These films expanded the bounds and reimagined the possibilities of cinema and ultimately – and this I consider the highest praise – put me under a spell. Cinema, after all, is an act of seduction. I’ll try to articulate how they made me feel the first time I saw them.

1. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) Rapturously unhinged. Self as amorphous and slippery; reality as a perpetual variety show. The most brashly idiosyncratic vision I’ve experienced since von Trier’s Dogville.

2. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2012) If Cronenberg’s l’amour fou with cars was fetid and fetishistic (as in Crash), Winding Refn’s was hypnotically sensuous, finding a perfect vessel in Gosling. Employing neon, pop, candy-coated danger, he evokes the sublime.

3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) A mystical enchantress.

4. Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018) An intricate architectural marvel. A hushed, ominous simmer building up to a volcanic eruption.

5. Synonyms (Nadav Lapid, 2019) Its narrative fragmentations and jagged dramatic impastos evoke a cubist Picasso.

6. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2018) Seductive phantasmagoria. Somehow reminds me of both The Headless Woman and M.

7. Transit (Christian Petzold, 2018) If Fassbinder reimagined Sirk, Petzold — with both Phoenix and Transit — set his sights on Golden-age Hollywood. Both deeply romantic and political, Transit makes one of the stealthily boldest formal choices in cinema in the last decade, transposing a Holocaust premise into modern-day Marseille without needing to justify itself.

8. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017) Romantic yearning as madness, evisceration, self-flagellation — and made even more ravishing for being so.

9. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) A fever dream of artistic obsession. Fractured, expressionistic, glorious.

10. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, 2015) Enigmatic, melancholy, spellbinding. (I notice that at least half of my picks induce a kind of trance or altered state of consciousness.)

Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca is now streaming on Netflix.

10/10 is an ongoing series in which we ask cinephiles to name their ten favorite films from the last ten eleven years (currently, between 2011 and 2021).