My top ten movies of the year. Feel free to offer your own opinions and let me know what you think.
Honorable mentions- Movies that just missed my cut- Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, The Conjuring, and Prisoners.
Full disclosure- Movies that I wasn’t able to see but have garnered some critical acclaim- Saving Mr. Banks, Nebraska, and Philomena.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street- Wolf is an unrestrained full on manic bonanza of rich people behaving like degenerates. There is enough cocaine and strippers in this to satisfy anyone’s debauchery needs, but it also contains a brilliant performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Some editing issues and an overall too long running time are what keeps this from being higher on this list.
9. Fruitvale Station- This is a powerful true story about a young man who was shot in the back by a police officer while handcuffed and laying on the ground. The film shows the last day of his life as he interacts with family and friends. The tragic story is all the more powerful as we know where the story is headed and we have to impotently watch him head there. Wonderful direction decisions from Ryan Coogler and a standout performance from Michael B. Jordan elevate this to a tragedy worth crying through.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis- The Coens continue to fascinate with their well structured and confident films. Davis shows one week in the life of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961. Llewyn Davis’s selfishness and lack of regard for the situations of others make him hard to root for, but the longing for something out of reach and the passion he puts into his craft make him relatable as well. Solid storytelling.
7. Before Midnight- Jesse and Celine are back again. It’s been 18 years since they met on a train in Before Sunrise. While the first two films focused on the wooing period with an emphasis on love, life, and the romantic nature of everything, Before Midnight shows the dark side that can exist when that love is followed. Both Sunrise and Sunset featured snapshots of love. It was easy for them to fall in love (Sunrise) and wax nostalgic about that one night (Sunset), but Midnight shows the mundane, boring, and even cruel elements that can surface when the timetable is elongated. Loving someone for one day is easy. Loving someone for 9 years is hard. Before Midnight dares to take romantic characters to places we weren’t expecting them to go and is a remarkably worthy addition to the series.
6. Stoker- This is an exercise in style. Every frame in Stoker is beautiful with awe inducing shots and a visual palette to die for. Chan-Wook Park, of Oldboy fame, directs with his typical attention to detail using measured performances from his actors as a part of a larger visual story that he is telling. First time screenwriter Wentworth Miller serves an adequate script that has its issues but are overcome by the other filmmakers involved. Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowski prove adept at the dry and nuanced material, but it is Matthew Goode who is utterly remarkable as the creepy uncle moving into the family house. His performance is so reminiscent of Anthony Perkins on Psycho it is unnerving. While the style and story might not be for everyone this is the kind of material that film was intended for. It is poetry realized on screen.
5. Captain Phillips- This movie can be summed up in one word- tense. This is a white knuckle grip your seat thriller that never lets up. Tom Hanks stars as the eponymous captain who fought and was taken captive by Somali pirates. Both sides are given their screen time and Barkhad Abdi shines in his role as the leader of the Somali pirate crew. The last scene with Tom Hanks is some of the finest acting I have ever seen.
4. Gravity- Sandra Bullock and George Clooney alone in space. That is ostensibly the whole plot as written, but Bullock makes it so much more. This is a story of survival, both emotionally and physically, in a situation where a very limited number of people have ever been. Ultimately though, the story and performances have to take a backseat to the technological wonder of the film. An entire film taking place in zero gravity with ridiculously long takes should have been a disaster, but director Alfonso Cuaran makes it breathtaking.
3. 12 Years A Slave- Steve McQueen’s unflinching take on slavery is brutal and uncompromising. Slavery is not a topic that is tackled often in film, especially with this kind of stark realism, and as a result 12 Years feels burdened. McQueen is trying to make you uncomfortable and you should be. Chwitel Ejiofor leads the cast as Solomon Northup who was a free black man that was stolen and sold into slavery with no recourse. Very strong supporting turns from Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender elevate Ejiofor’s performance and the film as whole giving the whole affair an unbearable feel while being extremely well made. This is not an entertaining movie and I will likely never watch it again, but that is a credit to the film and not a critique.
2. Dallas Buyers Club- I don’t cry often during movies. I don’t cry often in general to be honest. I cried buckets during Dallas Buyers Club. As someone who has had to watch someone close fade away from a terminal disease this movie affected me deeply. This is a story of AIDS patients in the 1980’s with Matthew McConaughey starring as a good old boy who contracts HIV from all the drugs and unprotected sex he partakes in. AIDS was still at the time thought of as a homosexual disease and McConaughey’s character can’t figure out his positive test. When he is told about the results he asks how that can be because he “ain’t no faggot.” That pretty much tells you all you need to know about the character. He finds out about medicines in Mexico that are helping but aren’t sold in the US due to the FDA. He eventually figures out a way to obtain and distribute those drugs with the help of a transgender fellow AIDS patient named Rayon. Jared Leto’s performance as Rayon will stay with me forever. Watching people fight for life is hard and both McConaughey and Leto captured every heart breaking tragic aspect of it.
1. Her- On its face Her is absurd. Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his phone. However, Spike Jonze manages to take that concept and craft something so beautiful and profound that it is mind boggling. Her is about so much more than a man and his phone. It is about what it means to be human. It is important in the sense that this future that is depicted is not that far away from our own. We are already trying to invent more and more ways for technology to replace any real human interaction and Her is a logical extension of that endeavor. Every frame of Her is beautiful, yet it is the sad sack vulnerability that Phoenix brings to the table that truly makes it one of a kind. This is a must see movie.