In no particular order:
Christ is this film beautiful. Not just visually but in terms of the scripting, acting, the flow of the story telling. Made even more amazing by the fact that all the actors are non professional. It's kind of like if Fellini made TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or something like that. Hey, it made me cry. I'm man enough to admit that.
It's a tricky thing to do the "surreal." And a lot has been debated on the merits (or demerits) of so called "dream logic" on our Facebook page but Carax's vision is not only compelling, but whimsical and moving as well. Supposedly inspired by the suicide of his lifetime partner, there's a lot of hidden meaning in this flick. However, it's also a love letter to French Cinema (I HIGHLY recommend you watch Frajnu's EYES WITHOUT A FACE before you see this) as the film itself is somewhat Jacques Tati by way of Matthew Barney. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, in Carax's hands it's a bloody awesome thing helped to no end by his creative partner and muse, the actor Denis Levant who absolutely invests himself in every role he plays. And you heard me right: he plays many roles in HOLY MOTORS. Definitely the most jaw dropping, amazing lead performance of the year.
Cold, distant (but all the more effective because of it) and very compelling, a fictional look at the investigation that went into the eventual assassination of Osama Bin Laden. And fictional is the key word, even if the film claims to be based on actual facts. And don't listen to the self righteous critics out there: this is NOT pro torture. And it is NOT jingoistic. And it does not judge either way.
I caught this at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The programmer introduced it as possibly "the most thought provoking film you will see at this festival." And they were right. Documentaries on Israeli/Palestinian conflicts can be a dime a dozen not to mention a sure bet when it comes to Oscar Nominations every year. But this film? Man... a film made up of interviews with six former heads of the Shin Bet - the security arm of Israeli Intelligence. What results is a very eye opening overview of the history of Israel as a state, Palestine as a police state and the complications that arise when one country occupies another. Possibly the most interesting (and damning) revelation is how the greater threat to Israel comes not from Palestine but within Israel itself.
I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Anderson can be very hit or miss for me. And lately, with the exception of FANTASTIC MR. FOX (where it seemed the best format to showcase Anderson's sensibilities was by way of Animated Cartoon), Anderson's flicks seemed very miss to me. But MOONRISE KINGDOM is his best, live action movie since RUSHMORE. It's a film where his quirky vision (dry, left field dialogue, fanciful art direction, oddball characters, whimsical tone) comes together in an almost perfect whole. But is it a children's film for adults? Or an adult film for children? MOONRISE is worth checking out. Even if the trend for us cynical film geeks is to harsh on Anderson's hipster ways.
In one major way, the most subversive release of the year. A lot of people would mistakenly dismiss Lewin's film as a manipulative dramedy. That old canard about the cynical but lovable, physically disabled protagonist who rises above all odds to be somebody important. And charms the pants off of everyone around him. "Everyone" being a quirky cast of characters that could have stepped out of the pages of a failed television sitcom pilot. But this is the thing.... this movie is about sex. Not just about sex amongst the disabled. But quite possibly the most mature, realistic take on sex in any American picture you'll see in this or any year. Most American films dealing with the subject tend to err on the side of kinky (e.g. SECRETARY, THE CENTER OF THE WORLD) or pretentious soft core (HENRY AND JUNE, anything by the late Zalman King). But rarely does an American film treat sex as matter of fact as THE SESSIONS. Yes, the film is explicit (although I believe the film has been slightly edited since the version I saw at Toronto). But it's also presented as awkward, funny and often times confusing emotion-wise for those involved. The film's approach is very similar to the underrated SHORTBUS which is to view sex as a positive act. And a normal act at that. An extension of human nature that should not be frowned upon by our Puritan hang ups.
Said enough on this already. His best film since Jackie Brown.
To enter THE MASTER is to not expect a traditionally told film. This is a character piece. Actually, a three character piece: although the focus may be on Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams role contributes a very important dynamic as well. You're barking up the wrong tree if you're looking for a three act structure with a beginning, middle and an end. Because THE MASTER proves that damn good story telling can result from the nuances of character presentation and does not have to depend on the usual tropes we associate with Screenwriting 101.
LOOPER (dir. Rian Johnson)
The best, most intelligent genre film of the year. And what I mean is it works as both entertainment and successfully provokes the thought at the same time. Very few genre flicks achieved that goal this year. Actually, imho, this is the only flick that achieved that goal. Others might have tried. This one hit a bulls eye for me.
After first seeing this film, I'd never guess I would be putting it on my Top Ten list let alone believe it's one of the better movies I've seen this year. But it grows on you. It really, really grows on you. Having said that, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO will not be for everybody (in fact this might be the most polarizing film I've listed here). It's sort of Coppola's THE CONVERSATION meets Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE by way of a sound fx guy working on what seems to be a Giallo during the 1970s. But it gets under your skin. And the performances - especially from it's lead Toby Jones - are carefully calibrated so that motives, etc, can be interpreted however you want. And the choice to keep the Italian dialogue unsubtitled adds to the confusion and disorientation. Which ultimately serves the paranoia we need to experience through the protagonist's eyes.
SKYFALL (dir. Sam Mendes), THE RAID (dir. Gareth Evans), DREDD 3D (dir. Pete Travis), LINCOLN (dir. Steven Spielberg), 90 MINUTES (dir. Eva Sørhaug), PARANORMAN (dir. Chris Butler), THE HOBBIT (dir. Peter Jackson), THE AVENGERS (dir. Joss Whedon), THE COMEDY (dir. Rick Alverson)