What a year! And Miraculously, I saw almost everything I wanted to see. The only exceptions being; Wreck-it-Ralph and This is Not a Film. Films I liked but not enough to make my top ten include; Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Cabin in the Woods, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Moonrise Kingdom, and another one that wasn’t easy to eliminate.
Not including The Master is a tough decision that I may regret later. I have so much admiration for what The Master does visually, thematically, and with it’s spellbinding performances. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen it once and didn’t feel involved in the story. I had a detached experienced that I like to think could change with future viewings. For now I can only award The Master with my “I Respect You So Much Bro Award”. Though I can’t wait to see it again and reevaluate P.T. Anderson’s enigma.
Martin McDonagh’s somewhat cerebral, dark comedy Seven Psychopaths is a fascinating exploration of a screenwriter’s mind. You might as well call Seven Psychopaths the rebellious younger brother of Charlie Kauffman’s Adaptation. McDonagh’s exploration of film violence is dissected with such insight and wit, it’s hard not to laugh. Not to mention Sam Rockwell has one of the funniest scenes of the entire year.
Sixto Rodrguez was a flash in the pan American folk/rock singer in the early 70s. Yet somehow his records made it to an apartheid-torn South Africa where he became bigger than Elvis. In Searching for Sugar Man, two South Africans set out to find whatever happened to Rodriguez. Did he die? Why did he stop recording music? The entire experience is full of twists, turns, and an incredible soundtrack from the Sugar Man himself.
The Imposter is a story you’d never believe in a typical narrative film. A pre-teen, Texas boy who goes missing only to be impersonated several years later by Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin. Filmed reenactments call back to the heart-stopping suspense of Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line. The Imposter isn’t just a documentary, it’s a documentary/thriller and you’ll never know where it’s going.
The Intouchables was the Feel-good movie of the year. The touching story of a cynical paraplegic (Francois Cluzet) and his ex-con caretaker Driss (Omar Sy). The Intouchables is the classic “opposites attract buddy-story” that audiences never tire of. Cluzet and Sy play off each other delightfully with light-hearted jabs and even heartfelt moments. Omar Sy is especially captivating as the unfiltered Driss, who isn’t afraid to say or do anything he wants. And if this film doesn’t make you want to listen to Earth, Wind and Fire afterwards, than nothing will. Here’s a taste of that.
Half-documentary, half-dark comedy, all Jack Black. It’s hard to deny that this is the best performance of Jack Black’s career. Bernie Tiede (Black) was the nicest, most beloved man in Carthage, Texas, but all it took was one cynical old woman (Shirley MacLaine) to push Bernie into doing something unspeakable. Based on a true story, the intercutting between Black and interviews with real residents of Carthage makes Bernie a memorable experience.
Life of Pi is a breathtaking exploration of faith with some of the best visuals of the year. Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan both tug at the heart strings as young and old versions of Pi, a young man once stranded at sea with a tiger. Life of Pi harkens back to classic fables, but reaches even greater heights. If you find Modern Hollywood is severely lacking in Bengal Tigers, Life of Pi is the film for you.
I don’t care what anyone says, Skyfall is the best Bond film ever. Not only is Skyfall the most exciting and most accessible film of the franchise, it’s also the most personal. For the first time we get to see what makes Bond tick. The character has so much more depth and room to grow in this exhilarating story. Additionally, Javier Bardem makes for one of the creepiest Bond Villains in years. I only hope the series can continue to be this dark and compelling.
“No time travel in any movie ever makes sense. It’s complete balderdash, and it’s just a matter of tricking an audience into believing it makes sense.” – Rian Johnson. Writer/director Rian Johnson set out to make an over-the-top time-travel story and succeeded with some awe-inspiring results. Immediately, Looper feels like a dense universe populated by so many enthusiastic concepts and ideas. It’s difficult to articulate, but there’s an almost anime undertone to how Looper balances sci-fi and fantasy with slick visuals. I just hope Looper isn’t the last time we get to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt play young Bruce Willis. Armageddon prequel anyone?
Ben Who-Fleck has truly blossomed as a filmmaker. Argo is the tense, true story of a fake sci-fi flick setup to save American diplomats during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Argo is a stylized telling of a once classified mission that you have to see to believe. The first hour is fun with all the banter about Hollywood B.S. between Alan Arkin and John Goodman, but it’s the tense last hour that brings it all home.
I like Zero Dark Thirty for essentially all the reasons I like Argo. The difference being that while Argo feels like a conventional Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty is a uniquely fearless beast of another color. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t sugarcoat anything, it’s a gritty depiction of a violent, post-9/11 world. Zero Dark Thirty is edge-of-your-seat suspense while still giving you a great deal to think about. I know I’ll be thinking about this film for years to come and it’s that staying power that makes it number one.