This has been a great year at the movies. If I could have included 15 titles on this list I would but alas I am on a word count. Thank you everyone for reading this year and cheers to a great 2013 to come!
My top ten this year will not be numbered because it’s too hard to rank them. So alphabetical order it is:
Director Benh Zeitlin just nabbed a Best Director Oscar Nomination for his meditative tone-poem about a small community living in extreme poverty just outside a massive levy in the bayou. For me, he deserves all the accolades coming his way. Many people found his vision manipulative and trite. Not me. Zeitlin employed first-time actors to incredible effect. His world feels lived-in, impoverished but still beautiful. Noble savage? Bologna. Truth, humanity and creative freedom is on display here in their rawest forms and Zeitlin deserves credit for crafting one of the most affecting films of the year.
Let it be known, I am no Joss Whedon fan boy. I never consumed his television shows or flocked to Comic-Con for his panels. Consider me a convert after The Cabin in the Woods. Whedon and his longtime collaborator Drew Goddard ripped out the heart of the horror genre, deconstructed it and gave us one of the funniest and most interesting movies this year. The year of Whedon continued with his great take on The Avengers this summer. I think it’s time I go back and visit his iconic Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. If I can expect quality like this I’m in good hands.
Every 5-years or so Quentin Tarantino releases a film and the talk show world has a fit. Is it too violent? What does it say about our culture? Does Leonardo DiCaprio really support slavery? The silly controversy often trumps the achievement. Tarantino’s Django is his funniest and at times most introspective film ever. At times the film can be downright grisly but he infuses a lot of subtlety into a script that tackles modern race relations stronger than any film in the last 20-years. See the movie for Samuel L. Jackson’s incredible performance. He’s Tarantino’s most complicated character ever and worth the price of admission.
Director Ang Lee has had the most incredible career trajectory. His last 5-movies are: Hulk, Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution, Taking Woodstock, Life of Pi. See a pattern? Me neither. Lee’s vision and use of 3D with Life of Pi is stunning. It’s easily the most purely cinematic film of the year. Escapism is a fun cliché in cinema but Pi qualifies. Lee crafts a fantastical story of a boy and a Bengal tiger struggling to survive in a lifeboat together. At times it’s life affirming while being equally challenging. The conclusion left me a little befuddled but the fact that it incited so much discussion is the truest mark of a great movie.
What can I say about Lincoln that hasn’t already been said? I found it to be Steven Spielberg’s quietest and most subtle film in…well maybe ever (Mr. Spielberg can be a bit indulgent.) He took a towering, showy actor in Daniel Day-Lewis and crafted a subdued Abraham Lincoln that flies in the face of myth and history book grandeur that we expect from the 16th President. I should also mention Tony Kushner’s script which spins a political yarn that is of the time but also relevant to our current political climate. His dialogue is sharp, snappy and at times hilarious. With the all-star cast of actors we can expect a lot of awards to be coming its way this season.
I heart sci-fi. I can even sit down and watch something as stupid as Lockout (a Guy Pierce sci-fi vehicle from 2012) and be entertained. Director Rian Johnson gives Looper a great set of time-travel rules that govern his narrative precisely. Of course, you can nitpick these rules all you want but just go with it and you won’t be disappointed. Johnson is my favorite up-and-coming director in Hollywood precisely because he can craft an action movie while dealing with the lofty implications of intrusive technology. He seems to truly care about telling a story and that’s a quality few and far between these days.
Wes Anderson: you either love him or you hate him. I happen to love him (well his work at least.) His latest, Moonrise Kingdom certainly screams Anderson. His movies are uniquely his with the pastel colors, horizontal framing and 60’s soundtracks. On the surface there is very little separating his movies but most of them go deeper. Here he searches for stark humanity in the eyes of 2-wonderfully deadpan young actors. His script (written with Roman Coppola) is witty and melancholy. And his cast (some very familiar to Anderson) give the film a wide canvas which he paints a story that’s comic, cartoony and introspective all in one brushstroke.
Queen of Versailles isn’t the most polished documentary of the year but it is the timeliest. We follow the Siegel family on their quest to build the largest home in the United States. The palace will have 40 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, 2 movie theatres and 2 bowling alleys (duh, who needs just one?) David Siegel made his fortune in timeshares. He and his wife Jaqueline have 8 children (because, as Jacqueline says,” I just kept having kids after I knew you could have nannies”) and a little problem. While building their monstrosity the economy crashes and the shoddily built timeshare business took a crushing blow. Director Laura Greenfield crafts a biting doc that tells the story of the U.S. economy circa-2008 through the eyes of the most vapid, scary group of money-mongers on the planet. It has to be seen to be believed.
When a director wins accolades for films like Revolutionary Road and American Beauty he’s the obvious choice for the next Bond, right? Well, that chance was taken with Sam Mendes and what a great choice it was. Mendes dug into the character of Bond and found something interesting…he’s really not that relevant anymore! What a cool premise to craft Skyfall around. It’s nostalgia meeting the iPhone age. The threats aren’t Russian or Dr. Evil but rather a genius who understands computers. Oh, the action is pretty kick ass too. Mendes knew that Bond in the era of technology is old hat but sometimes we need to look back to move forward. Skyfall is a 007 history book and because of that it’s the best Bond ever.
Katherine Bigelow is one badass mother@#$@%. To tackle the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is a hard enough task for a filmmaker but to make the film a rip-roaring procedural with a strong central-female performance sounds impossible. Not for Bigelow. Working with the best actress in Hollywood today (Jessica Chastain) she and co-writer Mark Boal the film never hits a false note. The 10-years between 9/11 and that fateful May evening in 2011 will become legend because of Zero Dark Thirty. The film is necessary because it never indulges, it just presents without prejudice. The controversy surrounding this film is whack. See it because it marks a time in U.S. history we may want to but we’ll never forget.
What My Wife Thought: Her Top 5
I’m ranking mine:
- Life of Pi
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Beasts of the Southern Wild