In one of the strongest years in movie history for a long time, out comes a top ten. Blood, sweat, and many tears have been sacrificed in perfecting this list, and whittling it down was more difficult than telling a kid that he was adopted. Anyways, here goes.
10. 12 Years a Slave
It's a lyrical ode to a time gone by, a warning to the future about the brutalities of human past. Almost everything in the film is pitch perfect, from the performances, Steve McQueen's unflinching direction, John Ridley's epic script, and even the Oscar snubbed cinematography. It would rank higher if the movie just had a better sense of time.
Sheit, I may have been too young to see the film, and I may or may not have streamed it via internet, but that doesn't mean I can't sing my praises for it. Adele Exarchopolous gives a natural tour-de-force in her debut lead performance: she feels raw and real in emotion. Lea Seydoux plays against her perfectly, and watching their relationship evolve for three or so hours makes for great filmmaking.
I hated seeing this film get so much recognition, because it was such a small film that hardly anyone got to see. I saw it maybe two or so weeks ago, and it really deserves more recognition. Awards are all about recognition, and that means that Brie Larson deserves all awards that are Best Actress related. She is an embodiment of nature and grace, and she gives such an intimate down-to-earth feeling in every scene she is in. Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. Please seek this little gem out.
I loved this one too! I think I'm saying that I loved every film in my list, but its true. This one's special though: it's a brisk lightweight comedy that feels effortlessly rewatchable and always hilarious. Two words that make this chaotic calamity work so well: Greta Gerwig.
In the past few years of movie history, we've had technological innovations like Avatar, Hugo, and Life of Pi, but nothing on the level of Gravity. Even for 2D movie history, Gravity is on its own level. The shots are beyond normal length and beauty, and Sandra Bullock's solo is great. Cuaron directs with the most risk I've seen in a long time, and the payoff is HUGE. Let's cross our fingers for more Cuaron soon.
I feel that this is the year's most overlooked gem. I have a thing for all things styled like Terrence Malick, and this one is worthy of being placed on the level of him. Lowery, a feature film director newbie, tells the story he wants to tell, and by no one else's agenda. It's lyrical, it's beautiful, it's human, and it's natural. I could not take my eyes away.
I said in my review of the film that it would be guaranteed a spot on my top three of the year. Well, that was a bit of a lie, but it came damn close. Watching Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine love, lose, and rediscover each other is so heartwarming and beautiful, and the two do it with immense ease and grace. It's amazing that Linklater could craft a film just out of walking and talking, but I loved it.
And the winner for the year's best three-hour movie that actually felt like ninety minutes goes to The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese, the best working director today, should be barred from moviemaking ever again, because this movie pretty much confirms he uses filmmaking enhancing drugs. At 71, he shoots scenes more off-the-wall than a 25 year old with an Annapurna budget can. Leonardo Dicaprio, a great guy that tends to overact, gets his best performance yet with the Wall Street investor Jordan Belfort, who just can't get enough, with Jonah Hill as his sidekick that goes too far too many times and Margot Robbie (I'd let her give me AIDS), is his wife. An American masterpiece.
I own a t-shirt with The Dude on it, but I think that Inside Llewyn Davis is the best film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. It's a short look in the life of a struggling artist, a film that frightens me in a way, but its also enchanting too, to see the hopeful Llewyn struggle his way for success in a grim workforce. What makes the film great is that Llewyn is three-dimensional, played brilliantly by the underseen Oscar Isaac. I loved watching the escapades, all of it hilariously somber. I can't wait to see it again.
Having seen it last weekend, I have to admit, this is the best film I have seen all year. Of the 2010's. Of the past thirteen years. Hell, I think it might be the best film since GoodFellas. On the surface, it's a sweet and hilarious (if not slightly weird) look at loneliness, but deep down it is an essay on what the future will behold. It's undeniably a twenty-first century picture, and its a picture that we have unknowingly needed.
Look around you. Any public place you go to, you might see rows and gaggles of people buried into their iPhones and Androids. Absorbed in the cloud of the internet, Jonze taps into this reality with an ambitious and self-contained lens. Extras in the film dig themselves into their devices. It's not the future, it's actually the present.
The past has happened, and what we have now is a present (haha). Joaquin Phoenix somberly plays Theodore Twombly, a ghostwriter for a .com letter writing company, and is one of the best at his job. However, he's deeply lonely. He's haunted by the marriage of his past, and how it fell through. He spends his nights aimlessly exploring the world of video games, in solitude. Until he meets a computer operating system that calls itself Samantha. Sam is brilliant, modified to fit Theodore's every need, and open to exploring the world.
The catch with Samantha is that she is expected to meet people's needs by being hyperintelligent, not human. Watching the film for a second time has shown me the slow evolution of Samantha's thought processes as they gradually become more 'Homo sapien'. She can read full books in milliseconds, recreate versions of philosophers (like Alan Watts), and communicate with others via email, but she can't seem to explore human love without needing time to herself.
Samantha's romantic Achilles Heel is not uncommon, but it's fascinating to watch Samantha's behaviors. Scarlett Johansson's voice performance is brilliant, one of the best performances I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. On paper she reminded me of HAL and Siri, but on screen she was her own entity.
Consider this scene: Theodore is talking to Samantha as they ride a train together. They are playing a guessing game, figuring how many trees are on a mountain. Samantha can determine to the nearest digit, but Theodore aimlessly shoots numbers from out of the blue. Simultaneously, she is communicating with a publisher to see if they are interested in publishing a book of Theodore's ghostwritten letters. She communicates to the publishers as Theodore however, and does this behind his back, but in the best way possible. She's doing this out of what feels like love, and the fact that Samantha is doing this without Theodore knowing is glossed over, something hardly mentioned. Jonze's vision reveals a flaw in his opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey: HAL's decision making was heavy-handed and very logical, while Samantha's decision-making is natural and normal. It's sweet to see the couple so happy, I cried a little.
The supporting cast is good too. Rooney Mara is Catherine Klossen, Theodore's childhood friend and eventual ex-wife, and Amy Adams is Theodore's friend that has also discovered an OS friendship amid a divorce. The score by Arcade Fire is incredibly melancholy and soulfully hopeful, and the Oscar-nominated production design is radically inspired too: The future is not dystopian, nor is it utopian, but it is minimalist and real. Her is a rhapsody to love at any age, any time, and with anyone. It's a movie will define the 21st century, and one of the most incredible things to ever grace the silver screen ever.
So I can finally shut the book on 2013. And with 2014 bringing us Richard Linklater's Boyhood, AJ Edwards' The Better Angels, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, two Terrence Malick pictures, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, I think we're gonna have a good year ahead of us.