Once again my list is a little later than most, but I had some catching up to do. I tried my hardest to watch the most well received (and some not so much) films of the year. If you think something is missing or doesn’t belong, please feel free to start a discussion (argument) in the comments. As always, I don’t include documentaries, and I try to stick with films theatrically released in the U.S. last year.
Buoyed by some great performances, this pugilistic family drama was deceptively simple. The underdog story has been told to death, but Russell reins it all in with great feeling and human drama to make it all feel rather special.
True Grit – Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Not the best western or Coen film ever, but still pretty damn good. Everything (acting, cinematography, etc.) is above average, if not great, in this throwback journey into the old west. The reverence for language and frontier morals shines throughout.
– Dir. Roman Polanski
A playful thriller with political overtones. The craft, especially the art direction, is remarkable. Don’t be fooled, this film isn’t meant to be taken so seriously, so just sit back and enjoy the technique.
This is a shattering look at the beginning and the end of one marriage. The two leads are most excellent. It isn’t meant to be a downer but more of an unsolvable mystery about why we fall in and out of love. The answers hurt, but are delicately brought to cinematic life.
Mother – Dir. Bong Joon Ho
A Korean mystery about one mother’s quest to prove the innocence of her mentally disabled son. He has been accused of murder, but she is determined to vindicate him. I will have a full review up later, but this film is not what you’d expect. There is quirk and unexpected moments galore with a definite directorial stamp from Bong.
10. Carlos – Dir. Olivier Assayas
Carlos: My name is Carlos, you may have heard of me.
At 5+ hours, this is easily the longest title on my list, but don’t let that dissuade you. This is a fast paced look at the exploits of the notorious terrorist, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. Filmed in vérité style, yet paying close attention to historical details, the movie is like Zodiac for terrorism. As such, it is more combustible, like punk rock. Edgar Ramirez is astounding in the lead role, full of ego, cunning, and ruthlessness. The film is not an endorsement but a study of modern warfare, through the eyes of its biggest star. How it began, flourished, floundered, and became unrecognizable after the Berlin wall crumpled. If that doesn’t sell it, there’s plenty of sex and violence too!
9. – Dir. Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Hiccup: You just gestured to all of me.
Dreamworks has stepped up their game lately. Dragon is a delight from start to finish. It’s funny, heartfelt, and has more than a few show-stopping flight sequences. I expected to roll my eyes at poor pop culture references, but was surprised to find none. The story of friendship is surprisingly touching but not bogged down by mush. The animation pops and the score soars. Whether you have kids or not, you will enjoy this movie.
8. Toy Story 3 – Dir. Lee Unkrich
Lotso: You’ve got a playdate with destiny!
Yet another hit from PIXAR and another great Toy Story film. The animation wizards have capped off their marquee franchise in style. The gang is all here and they’ve got to escape from a prison-like daycare run by the evil Lotso. Once again, the balance between humor and emotion is unmatched. The clever sight gags run rampant, but then you’ll be blindsided by the near death experience and the solemn farewell to one fantastic trilogy.
7. Another Year – Dir. Mike Leigh
Mary: You can’t go around with a big sign saying don’t fall in love with me I’m married.
Tom: Well, most people wear a ring.
Quite possibly Mike Leigh’s best film. This is a look at one year in the life of an older and happily married couple Tom and Gerri. They are a joyful presence, believably brought to life by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. The film’s standout is the remarkably troubled Mary, played by Lesley Manville. Endearing in her sadness and hanging on to a slim hope for happiness. She is obnoxious, lively, and heartbreaking. The film is deserving of the great performances contained within.
6. Un Prophete – Dir. Jacques Audiard
Malik: I work for no one. I work for myself.
A great prison saga with beauty and rawness in equal measure. Un Prophete is the story of a nobody petty criminal, Malik, played wonderfully by newcomer Tahar Rahim. Thrown to the wolves, Malik not only survives but thrives. The film is never predictable. I honestly never knew where it was heading. This not only gives it great suspense, but true originality. The visceral film also finds room for poetic and magical moments like the ghost of a murdered inmate haunting Malik’s everyday existence.
5. Black Swan – Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Nina: I just want to be perfect.
Natalie Portman is magnificent in this ballerina gone mad thriller. Channeling Polanski, the Archers, and Cronenberg, Aronofsky has made a freak flag waving classic. Bold, brash, and sometimes shocking, there are numerous reasons to enjoy this schizoid masterpiece. The camera, the editing, the music and the mix perfectly place you into the hellish landscape of the heroines addled psyche. Plus, Portman and Kunis make-out, what’s not to like?
4. The Social Network – Dir. David Fincher
Tyler: I’m 6’5”, 220 and there’s two of me.
Probably the most quotable movie of the year, this is another great picture from the master, David Fincher. No, it’s not his best, but it is still great. The acting is superb from top to bottom, and the technical quality is as awesome as you’d expect from a Fincher movie. It might not be the film that defines a generation, what is, but it is certainly more than just “the Facebook movie.”
3. Inception – Dir. Christopher Nolan
Ariadne: An elegant solution for keeping track of reality.
I heard all the detractors and all the naysayers, but I don’t care. Nolan’s latest is still amazing. It is original, mind-blowing, and simply a cool action picture. Zimmer’s score is pulse quickening, and all the below the line craft is pure wizardry. Like Memento, I’m still trying to piece everything together. It’s rare to see a film that is as much a feast for the eyes as it is the brain.
2. Shutter Island – Dir. Martin Scorsese
Teddy: Which would be worse, to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?
If I’m a whore for Nolan, as Adam says, then I’m a slave to Scorsese. This misunderstood thriller/homage came out early last year and it has stayed with me since. The imagery is powerful and gorgeously shot by Richardson. The acting is purposefully heightened, but still great. This is a movie you can watch multiple times, not just for new clues, but for new meaning. On its face, it is just a psychological thriller, but like the twists and turns of the plot, there is much more here than meets the eye.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Dir. Edgar Wright
Scott: We are Sex Bob-Omb and we are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff
A person not liking this movie does not compute in my brain. From the 8-bit logo to the final continue countdown, I had a smile on my face. Yes, the main character is a douche, but that’s the point. We were all stupid when we were young, obsessing over ourselves and our own infinite sadness. This movie gets this and gets how we have replaced actual human connection with pop culture. So, the typical boy meets girl story is upgraded with anime fight sequences, video game references, comic book references, musical mash-ups, and a barrage of sights, sounds, and colors. It might threaten over stimulation, if it wasn’t so perfectly handled by Edgar Wright. After Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and now this, he has easily become one of the best directors around.
A lot of these are on DVD now, so get out there and see for yourself. And go ahead and let me know what you think in the comments.