What would this blog be without a few year-end lists? My laptop is getting repaired right now, so some of the lists that I’d been working on are M.I.A., but I figured that I’d at least post a couple of basic ones, which I might elaborate on later. Here are my 10 favourite movies of the past year, keeping in mind that there are a LOT that I still haven’t seen.
Honorable Mention: True Grit
10. The Runaways
It may be a by-the-numbers rock biopic, but Floria Sigismondi’s story of Joan Jett’s teenage band has enough style, spirit, and heart to make it an unusually enjoyable watch. Though Dakota Fanning (playing petulant jailbait Cherie Currie) and Michael Shannon (as the band’s abusive manager) give the flashier performances, it is Kristen Stewart’s slow-boil performance as Jett that provides the most compelling human drama. She conveys the many facets of the introverted but driven Jett with sincerity, and sceptics of her work in the Twilight movies may be pleasantly surprised.
Directing team Jay and Mark Duplass have earned a reputation for creating high-concept films on a shoestring budget (their 2008 riff on horror movies, Baghead, is a prime example). So when they teamed up with a studio and hired big-name actors (John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei), some fans were understandably wary. But while the star-studded cast does distract a bit from the stark realism that they’re known for, there is still plenty of their documentary-style camera work and heavily improvised dialogue in Cyrus. Funny, and with more than a hint of melancholy, Cyrus is a low-key, fun ride.
8. The Ghost Writer
With help from a solid cast, Roman Polanski created a moody, subtly stylish noir drama with The Ghost Writer. The film is slow, but that patience earns the film its whirlwind of an ending (no pun intended). Thanks to Polanski’s steady eye, even the film’s low-key action (for example, a low-speed car “chase” home) feels utterly exhilerating.
7. Toy Story 3
Viewers who grew up with the franchise (such as myself) may get swept up in the nostalgia, but the fact remains that Toy Story 3 is an incredibly well-constructed film for all ages. As cliche as it sounds, it is a film that will probably make you laugh and cry. And even if it may not be the best of the trilogy, Toy Story 3 has the biggest laughs, and a very, very well-deserved heartwrencher of an ending.
The long-brewing hype around Inception reached a fever pitch just before its release. And though it failed to meet some people’s unrealistic expectations, it also became something of a pop culture touchstone, which has to count for something. It was one of the few highlights in a grim summer movie season, and Inception brought whimsy and creativity to a genre that often seems catatonic. The cast is top notch (Cillian Murphy is the unsung MVP, if you ask me), and director Christopher Nolan brought his vision to life in a way that would only be possible with a summer blockbuster budget.
5. The Kids Are All Right
The “quirky indie comedy” has been an annual staple of cinema for a while now (thanks, Little Miss Sunshine!), and this year was no exception. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore give bouyant performances as a middle-aged lesbian couple whose two children contact their charming but highly flawed sperm donor dad (played by the always fantastic Mark Ruffalo). It gets surprisingly dramatic as the film goes on, but The Kids Are All Right works because it avoids maudlin Important Moments and instead opts for realistic human drama.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I will never understand how films like this can tank at the box office. It has a great cast, a sharp script, some of the funniest moments I’ve seen all year, and a lightening-quick pace that would suit the ADD mentality of today. And those who did see Scott Pilgrim were treated to Edgar Wright’s inventive direction (chocked full of video game sights and sounds), delightfully bizarre pop culture references (including a Seinfeld-inspired segment), endlessly quotable dialogue (“Bread makes you fat?”), and a tour-de-force comedic performance from Kieran Culkin, of all people.
3. Fish Tank
I could probably write a thousand words about how much I love Michael Fassbender’s performance in Fish Tank. The physicality alone is remarkable; even the smallest gesture seems loaded with ambiguity and menace. Yet the great charm that Fassbender brings to the role makes the viewer want to have the same optimism towards him that the young protagonist, Mia, has. However, that risky, unspecified relationship between Mia and Fassbender’s Connor (her mom’s boyfriend) inevitably begins to unspool. And even though you kind of know where the film is going, that doesn’t stop the ride from being utterly compelling, in a vaguely horrifying way. Fish Tank blurs the line between ugly and beautiful (exemplified by director Andrea Arnold’s breathtaking ability to create stunning images out of England’s housing projects), good and bad, and optimism and hopelessness. I can’t get this film out of my mind.
2. The Town
And now, my award for the most enjoyable movie-going experience of the year (yes, even more so than Scott Pilgrim!). Considering that The Town is a film about bank robbers, there is surprisingly little action (though what is there is done impeccably). But everything in between is so equally compelling and exciting that is hardly matters. Between this and 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck is proving to be a tremendous directing talent. Here, he accomplished the difficult task of creating an edge-of-you-seat thriller that pleased crowds but also satisfied moviegoers with a desire for quality and depth. The Town is what movies are all about.
1. The Social Network
It may be at the top of everyone’s list this year, but that is for good reason. The Social Network is a smart, timely, fresh take on themes that have been explored since the dawn of story-telling (pride, friendship, betrayal, jelousy, etc.). This is to the credit of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose witty, twisty dialogue set against a Harvard backdrop somehow comes across as perfectly relatable and grounded. David Fincher also does an amazing job of taking a very contained story (which mostly consists of people talking in a room) and making it utterly cinematic. And let’s not forget Jesse Eisenberg, who is amazing as the seemingly inpenetrable but ultimately sympathetic Mark Zuckerberg. Throw in an unorthodox, rumbling score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and great supporting turns by Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer (and even Justin Timberlake is pretty good), and you’ve got a film that is both timely and timeless.