A shame, that – after all, this, mine, is the authoritative tome that Scholars will look back on and shower with statuses of validity upon as the definitive list. “Yeah, you know what, The Artist wasn’t a lot more than a nice movie, Sparkle was totally right,” they’ll say a thousand years from now. And I shall smile down on them from Future Heaven, which is just like regular Heaven but with astronaut food, hover boards, and a hilarious robot that is actually pretty good at Stand-Up.
Anyway, here are the ten best motion pictures of the year:
Sundance has birthed a lot of great films, but right now it’s mostly known for feel-bad-for-me movies like Precious. Knowing nothing more about Martha Marcy May Marlene other than its Sundance pedigree, I assumed it’d be another uncomfortably sad Indie; but everyone who’s seen it knows this movie is more about theatrics than dramatics. Making use of an Unreliable Narrator, we’re given two stories, photographed in striking greys, and are forced to reconcile them together – can we even know that both took place? That doesn’t matter so much as the horrific portrait of our title character, whose world is just as shattered and confused as the film’s carefully constructed narrative.
You don’t have to look very far on the Internet to find the uninitiated hating on War Horse for being too in line with an outdated Hollywood epic. But what sets the film apart classical Awards Bait is that War Horse is just as much a new template to honored for this genre as it is a tribute. Steven Spielberg’s WWI animal movie is unchallenging and predictable, but you don’t need to challenge an audience when a story is told with this much feeling, and you don’t need to shock with story when its run by characters that can be so effortlessly sided with. Romantically told with romanticized and stoic sunsets, War Horse is the rare movie practically designed for Oscar that also has a soul.
We live in a society based upon principles found in the Bible, but what would happen if someone claimed that the more fantastic events from the good book could happen today? In the text, anything’s possible, on the silver screen, though, Jeff Nichols’ exploration of Schizophrenia shows a disturbing divide of our personal and impersonal reactions to those who see something no one else does. Michael Shannon’s protagonist tries to make sense of everything just as sensibly as you could hope, but he’s still taken over by thoughts he can’t escape. A daring film that denies expectations at multiple points, Take Shelter – like Martha Marcy May Marlene – questions one person’s perspective in a nightmarish quality in which nothing can be taken for granted.
Pedro Almodóvar is a filmmaker known for an almost Soap Opera level of twists and turns in weirdly authentic relationships, and that skill proved necessary to make The Skin I Live In, a Horror movie of Fairy Tale proportions, work. The bisected tale of revenge has some elements so outrageous that the entire narrative has to be rearranged to make it seem more plausible, but if you give it the benefit of the doubt, an affecting, unconventional story blossoms out of his tale of plastic surgery and mad scientists. Entangled in Voyeurism and Science Fiction, The Skin I Live is so full of desperate elements that it shouldn’t work, but ends up being one of Almodóvar finest efforts.
Serial Killers have been hot in popular culture for a while now, but while most of their appearances attempt to humanize their behavior, I Saw The Devil has the audacity to push it even further into mania. This South Korean film explores the relationship between crime and the obsessed form of justice that everyone saw in The Dark Knight three years ago, what setsI Saw The Devil apart, though, is that it paints its story in fevered extremes of violence that, while bordering on exploitative, are grounded in the portrait of ruinied men who seek only to destroy past the point of revenge. Drenched in dark and punchy color, it’s a cat-and-mouse game in the thread of Notes from the Underground.
At some point, action movie became a dirty word in critics’ circles, but if Brad Bird has his say, that could easily change. This Mission – Impossible film is hardly the franchise cash-in you’d expect out of fourth installment; on the contrary, it’s a confusingly fresh movie from a series that’s fifteen-years-old – a lifetime in Box Office years. The story’s been done a thousand times over, and the characters rarely exit their mold, but Bird’s M:I installment is so enjoyably fluent in the art of the Action Sequence that it makes up for any of its more standard aspects. It asks no questions, instead it flat-out entertains, enough to cut through and above this Film Major’s penchent for pretentious art house fare.
You can’t write about Melancholia without writing about its creator, Lars Von Trier. Indeed, understanding one of his movies can feel more like trying to understand Lars Von Trier, and rarely is it so attractive to try to decode the method to this filmmakers’ madness than with this film. Melancholia is two stories that have nothing in common with each other, except that they’re mirrored to be almost the same thing. That’s simplifying things, but Melancholia, simultaneously about the end of the world and a bad wedding, isn’t meant to be decoded and isn’t possible to be decoded. And just the same, neither the gravity of Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performances nor Von Trier’s somberly psychedellic visions need to be understood to be appreciated.
It’s difficult to encounter discussions about Drive that don’t focus on the sanity of its main, nameless character. How crazy is a man than can stomp a man’s skull straight through without second-guessing himself? It’s a relevant question, but not one that needs to be asked to appreciate the obscenely gorgeous juxtaposition of violence, Hollywood, 80s nostalgia and the color pink. So entrancing is its world of steady calmness that Drive is as hypnotic as a getaway movie can be. Director Nicholas Winding Refn has described it as a Superhero movie, and it is; but more than that it’s an otherworldly contemplation of violence in the guise of an action movie.
Whereas Drive can be appreciated without any meaning that it may or may not have, The Tree of Life has an overabundance of undertone and theme. After three viewings, I’m still not sure what it’s about, and writer / director Terrence Malick certainly isn’t going to let anyone know what he was going for with it. But that doesn’t keep it from being a work of poetically cinematic love. It dwells upon everything from office buildings to dinosaurs without ever feeling like it didn’t know what it was doing. Pretentious? I guess so, but when a film can be so affecting without even being understood, why should it matter?
From its opening images of a drifting household curtain to a festering shot of La Tomatina, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a scattershot account what happens when the unimaginable happens to the most cherished aspects of our lives. Built around Tilda Swinton, Kevin is Horror of the most beautiful and heart-breaking kind, a film that goes places you don’t necessarily want to follow. This is, to put it lightly, a difficult film – when people ask me about my favorite film of the year, I generally tell them to avoid it. But if you can accept every tortured moment, you’ll find a delicate collection of memories that is just as overwhelmingly enchanting as it is depressing. Even if you know the event around which the film hesitates to embrace until the very end, Kevin still shocks and chills. It’s a movie that will put many in a dour mood; but others will be in awe of what wicked power a film can have.
The next ten, in alphabetical order, are A Separation, Beginners, Contagion, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hanna, Meek’s Cutoff, Red State, Tabloid, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Warrior.