I know what you’ve been thinking.
You’ve been thinking, “Who will ever tell me what the Ten best movies of the year are?”
Well, sir or madam, I am here to help you. As the person with the best taste in Cinema (me), I am the authority to seek just such information out from. I would be happy to meaningfully contribute to you in providing these facts.
You are welcome.
It’s difficult to credit Seven Psychopaths as a great film; instead, it’s something more of a playground. Forgoing storytelling for a meta-take on screenwriting that recalls Adaptation, Martin McDonagh’s second film is an excuse to indulge in every tiny thing running through the mind of a writer that’s been taken out by writer’s block. But more importantly than any of that, Seven Psychopaths is hilarious, pitting Sam Rockwell’s zany clusterfuck against Colin Farrell’s confused alcoholic – with a genuinely touching Christopher Walken sprinkled in between. Seven Psychopaths is clunky and doesn’t know where to go, but it’s a joy to watch as it messes around.
I find myself responding more and more to story and photography in films, but a film as hap-dazzerdly svelte and psyched-up as Premium Rush can break into my Top Ten without breaking a sweat. It doesn’t need any aesthetic around the sides when at its core, this action thriller has a souped-up heart that cranks out its beats as effectively as it does. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an asshole biker that loves to outrun the bad guys – Michael Shannon, playing the perfectly sleazy New York cop. It’s a simple game of cat and mouse, but that’s all it needs to be.
The Cabin in the Woods could have gotten onto this list for one reason alone – it feels like the first new episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in ten years. But beyond that, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s script takes mounds of pleasure in its loving takedown of the trashy horror we all grew up on. It’s criminally clever take on the stupidity that runs rampant in cinema’s most brain-dead genre is just as revelatory as it is hilarious. And when a final act attempts to throw in every imaginable movie monster, it somehow succeeds. This is the comedy that cinephiles need.
Christopher Nolan’s last two features – The Dark Knight and Inception – both topped my Top Ten lists on the years they were released. His final Batman film can’t help but partially collapse under all of the weight that Nolan tries to add – three villains, retirement, romance, abandonment, imprisonment, and an entire city being brutally occupied. They can’t come together seamlessly, but if you can appreciate The Dark Knight Rises for its parts and not for its sum of parts, it’s another remarkable accomplishment that redefines the superhero for times like these, where the enemy isn’t so clear-cut, and one man can’t defeat a bad guy by himself. It’s a force of a film that can’t be dismissed.
You should not be able to make a movie about a boy and a tiger stuck on a lifeboat. Maybe if the Tiger talked you could get away with it, but conventional wisdom would tell you that you could only get one scene out of this premise, not a whole film. But thank goodness Ang Lee took a risk to adapt the novel Life of Pi into a feature that is viciously visual, finding ways to paint many a gorgeous backdrop in 3D, all the while barely leaving the confines a raft lost in the ocean blue. The most religious film of the year without ever tacking itself to any religion, Life of Pi is deceptively spiritual.
Quentin Tarantino is the most rambunctious, giddy filmmaker to ever be trusted by a studio to make a film. So it’s strange to watch Django Unchained, ironically one of his least unleashed film. Django lets its story unfold without much cinematic punch-up, and other than a couple sequences that could have been cut, a lot of discipline – even weirdly recalling Barry Lyndon at times. But its leaner constitution leads a clearer path, jaunting towards the Western, with bits of vague history and a suprlus of squibs strewn along the way. It’s not as much fun as his other films, but Tarantino doesn’t have to crank it to eleven to deliver some of the biggest thrills you can catch at the movies.
At this point, Wes Anderson’s films are less movies and more story books. Moonrise Kingdom – his return to live action after trying out stop motion – still has the lovely touch you can usually only find in animation: carefully setting up an environment with just the precise type of colors to establish a palate more useful in telling a children’s story than the ones found in the film. But Anderson isn’t just decorating the frame for the sake of decoration, Moonrise Kingdom is a nostalgic take on childhood, adulthood, and how difficult it is to discern between the two that, like we’ve come to expect from Anderson, draws its heart from a just-right ironic sense of humor.
Steven Soderbergh isn’t interested in making an action film. What he is interested in is tearing apart an action film to find the core and basing the film around that. His no-frills production is in full-force on Haywire, an espionage thriller that shows fight scenes as casual encounters – which only makes them more extraordinary. Lead ass-kicker and former MMA fighter Gina Carano doesn’t make for much of an actress in the traditional sense, but that’s more than made up for with her steely presence that backs her up as a lethal force. There isn’t any editing or scoring to get in the way of her way. She amps up the film – shot digitally like a calmer Bond feature from the future – all on her own.
When Prometheus was released to the packs of crazed and enthusiastic sci-fi nerds last June, they walked out disappointed by questions they had – most of which were nothing more than unsophisticated impressions of its vague plot (“Why did they take off helmets?” “Why isn’t there a bold, obvious line drawn to Alien?” Who cares?) They were too busy asking trivial, meaningless questions to appreciate the soul of Prometheus, a bone-dry exploration of faith and the negative consequences of asking questions that may not lead to the spiritual epiphanies we expect. Of course, that can feel secondary to Ridley Scott’s supreme vision that geekily recalls H.R. Giger’s contributions to the franchise, while building a horror film with dead-tense scenes. Prometheus is not a perfect film, but its mistakes are nothing new, seen in countless other films. Its achievements are unique, staggering and make for an intense experience.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Paul Thomas Anderson is responsible for the best film of the year, what is surprising is that it’s great for reasons his other movies aren’t. Anderson has crafted a film that makes the Arthouse theatre celebrity’s other films feel like something that would be released in 2,000 AMCs overnight. With The Master, we have a visually enormous story that meanders from here to there, all while staying within the confines of the questionable madness of Freddie Quell – a starving animal played by Joaquin Phoenix in a performance that easily takes the cake as best of the year. The Master is a strange masterpiece that refuses to let you know what’s going on in a larger sense, but in the process establishes itself as a force of maddening genius.
The next ten films, in alphabetical order, are Argo, The Avengers, Bernie, Branded, Killer Joe, Looper, Skyfall, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Wuthering Heights and Zero Dark Thirty.