Tag: Cloud Atlas

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 3 of 5

We cross the halfway point in today’s part of the list. Some of these are even more idiosyncratic, which I enjoy. I hope you do, too! Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.

60. Once

During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play these song at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.

A really lovely “realistic” musical. I already really like this kind of folksy rock music and with the bittersweet love story added on top I was destined to love this film. “Falling Slowly” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and the quaint setting in this film allows the viewer to fully invest in the story and emotions of the song. Just wonderful.

59. Cloud Atlas

Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.

An adaptation of the superb book on which this is based would have to do one of two things to work. Either it would have to be a delicate balancing act, one which tones down a lot of the philosophical mumbo jumbo which works well on the page but often doesn’t translate when people have to say the words, or it could steer into the skid and, by holding nothing back, transcend the silly and reach a level of emotional and technical wonder that few films even aspire to. This is the latter and, though it is a mess, it is a spectacular and thrilling mess that really got under my skin.

58. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

We’re not so different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weakness in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps the opposite of Cloud Atlas in every way except their ultimate quality. A quiet spy movie with only a few explosions to speak of, it relies instead upon intricate character work and a deliberately plotted story that takes its time getting where it’s going. Centered around a quiet but forceful Gary Oldman, the story takes many twists and turns and I’m still not sure I know all the ins and out of it as cold war spies deal with the end of their career’s work. A dense and marvelous clockwork spy drama.

57. The Shop Around the Corner

Flora, take a letter. Ah… To whom it may concern. Mr. Vadas has been in the employ of Matuschek & Company for the last two years, during which he has been very efficient as a stool pigeon, a troublemaker, and a rat.

This is one of the top 5 most delightful movies I’ve ever seen. A story of people who love each other in writing and hate each other in person which jumps to life thanks to the wonderful chemistry of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The other characters get a bit to do, as well, giving it a nicely rounded happiness. An all time great Christmas movie.

56. The Tree of Life

Toscanini once recorded a piece sixty five times. You know what he said when he finished? “It could be better.” Think about it.

Here is a film so rich that subsequent rewatches can seemingly change the film itself, morphing it from a coming of age story to a parable about mothers and fathers to a study of the evolution of man and nature together.  Beautifully shot, a given for Terrence Malick, it mushes all kinds of stuff together into one floaty whole.

55. Throne of Blood

Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.

Throne of Blood is what happens when a master of cinema decides to do a mashup of a traditional Japanese theatrical style and one of the best plays Shakespeare ever wrote. Decidedly over the top actors play on relatively sparse stages and still the creepy ghosts and witches spook and the royal plotting delights. Our hero meets his end by a thousand arrows and it’s intensity defined.

54. The Quiet Man

There’ll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate… except those in your own mercenary little heart!

John Ford’s most John Ford-y movie doesn’t even take place in the West! It does have all the myth-making and lush beauty (especially on the recently released Blu-ray) you come to expect with him, and the central romantic pairing totally works. Maureen O’Hara might be the only person who could ever put up with John Wayne’s particular brand of manliness. There’s some questionable sexism type stuff that happens here, but taken in the spirit of the film it’s only a minor bump in an otherwise exquisitely gorgeous road.

53. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Hallie’s your girl now. Go back in there and take that nomination. You taught her how to read and write; now give her something to read and write about!

One of John Ford’s more complex westerns is at least in part a meta-western about the end of the wild west and the beginning of bringing civilization to those untamed lands. Those two opposing forces are embodied by John Wayne (of course) and Jimmy Stewart (again, of course) with Vera Miles trapped in between and Lee Marvin providing the cold violence to get the story going. Shot in beautiful black and white, this movie does all kinds of nuanced things that one unfamiliar with the director and genre might not expect.

52. Manhattan

What are you telling me, that you’re, you’re, you’re gonna leave Emily, is this true? And, and run away with the, the, the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award?

I’ve still only seen three Woody Allen movies, but each of them (Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris being the other two) is great in its own right. Manhattan is consistently funny and really pretty to look at, much like Diane Keaton. It’s one of those movies that I can see myself coming back to every other year or so.

51. The Long Day Closes

“Wish I knew if he knew what I’m dreaming of.”

Yet another coming of age story graces my list. And again it delves into issues of religion and sexuality and escape-via-film. A deeply felt film which has stuck with me for over a year now, one which I find myself returning to in my mind quite often. The recently announced Criterion version will be a must-buy when it comes out in January.

50. The Truman Show

I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.

The Truman Show has only gained cultural relevance in the years since its release with the proliferation of social media instigating a lot of intentional oversharing of a person’s life. Centered around a career best performance from Jim Carrey and smart direction by Peter Weir, this movie is one for the ages as it is entirely of its time and feels specially timeless.

49. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

No, that’s just dried blood. THOSE are his brains.

There really needs to be another movie in this series because Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are too much fun to watch when they go sailing. The ship fights are great and the naturalism subplot adds a really interesting historical and thematic hue to the proceedings. And with a mostly child-populated cast it comes off as a well acted and well directed swashbuckler of a time.

48. The Seventh Seal

I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.

For a movie about death and the absence of God, The Seventh Seal gets a lot of play out of being kind of pleasant, especially in its middle section. It’s also pretty funny, given all those things. There are intense and scary scenes and a lot of deep philosophizing, but it’s those other, calmer scenes which work to make the existential angst even more effective and give it a spot on my list.

47. The Act of Killing

You acted so well but you can stop crying now.

As a movie about movies, The Act of Killing is a really fascinating look at the power of film to play into ideals and perverse fantasies. As a movie about insane people, it’s even scarier. It’s a truly singular documentary that leaves the viewer shocked, grossed out, and thinking.

46. In Bruges

A great day this has turned out to be. I’m suicidal, me mate tries to kill me, me gun gets nicked and we’re still in fookin’ Bruges!

Last year Martin McDonagh finally released his follow up to this sweet-and-sour little movie and, though it wasn’t as good as the intricately plotted and intimately performed In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths at least proved that he’s not a one trick pony in the film world. Though, if In Bruges was a once in a lifetime kind of thing I’d be cool with that because it’s just so darn good.

45. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages

And then we will console ourselves with the notion that the mildly temperate shower of the clinic has replaced the barbaric methods of medieval times.

Haxan is a compelling mishmash of “documentary” and reenactment footage compiled to both scare and draw parallels between our treatment of so called witches in the past and the mentally ill in the present (of 1922). It’s weird and totally interesting.

44. His Girl Friday

Of course he had to have a gun to re-enact the crime with. And who do you think supplied it? Peter B. Hartwell. B For brains.

How hilariously fast can a movie possibly be? I think this one pretty much maxes out both categories. Howard Hawks pairs Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell plus a guy that looks a lot like Ralph Bellamy to perfection. All wits and barbs here, and it’s all super fun.

43. Girl Walk//All Day

You should always be happy.

The unparalleled joy of Girl Walk//All Day can hardly be explained in mere words, so for the first and only time in this countdown, let a clip from this full album length dance video suffice. It’s got a flowing artistry that is really something special and can be seen in its entirety on youtube.

42. North by Northwest

Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets for the theater this evening, to a show I was looking forward to and I get, well, kind of unreasonable about things like that.

And look, another Cary Grant movie! Hitchcock deftly plays into action movie tropes while maintaining a really fun romance and his impeccable direction. Just really well made.

41. Doubt

I will step outside the church if that’s what needs to be done, ’til the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, though I’m damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me.

You may have figured out by now that I like super-verbal films. Throw two or three people into a room and get them talking and I’ll be in, especially when it’s the likes of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (plus scenes with Viola Davis and Amy Adams) speaking the words of John Patrick Shanley. Doubt is a triumph of talking that doesn’t skimp on more typically movie-ish elements in the direction.

See, wasn’t that fun? The lower 60 are now done and the top 40 on their way sometime soon! Let me know anything you feel like saying here in the comments and check back for the penultimate section.

Top 100 Films List (2013): Movies about God(s)

Welcome to the first real post about my new top 100 movies list! It’s very exciting, at least to me. The first grouping will be, as the title suggests, movies about God(s). As a not-religious person my interest here is not to affirm my own point of view or force it upon you, but to see how movies about god(s) and religion raise questions that matter deeply to us as humans. How does the presence or lack of a god inform our lives? How do we cope when we try to approach something beyond our understanding? Who do we blame when something goes wrong, or praise when something goes right? Religion has been a large part of our cultural heritage and movies are no different. Without further ado, here are, in alphabetical order, the movies from my top 100 list that are, in some way, about God(s).

Ok, have you voted? That’s a poll, go vote on it! Pick one that is your favorite. Do it!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk a little. First, movies about playing God. We have within us a deep desire to create and specifically to create life. That is often seen as the territory of God or Gods, depending on the creation myth you like best. Through movies we’ve come up with some fantastic creation myths of our own, none better than Jurassic Park. Here’s an example of creating life gone wrong, bringing back what should have been left dead, or at least should have been created with a little more care and foresight. “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” This pretty accurately describes the thought process up to the beginning of the movie as wryly stated by the one and only Jeff Goldblum. Laura Dern counters with the potential plot of the rest of the film, “Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits the earth.” But Jurassic Park isn’t the only movie about humans trying to reach god-like status as creators of life. Blade Runner, too, concerns itself with the perils of trying to re-create humans and improve upon them. At what point does that creation turn on its creators for being imperfect as some would argue we have done with God? Roy Batty is perhaps the most human character in the film as he struggles with this question, though beneath his synthetic skin an artificial heart beats and a computer thinks. The Truman Show goes on a bit of a different path as a tv producer creates not life but a life for the titular character. Everything is controlled and broadcast for all to see and though it may seem idyllic initially, soon the curated life becomes a prison, which leads the viewer to ask whether or not the same would be the case if we were to know with certainty that our lives are curated in a similar respect.

Some movies warn of the perils of religion and religious thinking. Doubt, for example, presents some obvious issues with the concept of certainty when it comes to things that are immensely complex, whether it be belief in God or the relationship between a man and a boy. That film does a wonderful job of not answering any of the factual questions we have as that would not accurately reflect the situation the characters find themselves in. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages is an early documentary that explores the way religion has treated anybody that isn’t normal in the society of the time. Even in 1922 the movie is smart enough to link this bad behavior to the treatment of mental illness in “modern” times, a situation that hasn’t improved as much as it should. In The Wicker Man a Christian detective is brought to an island of pagans to investigate a missing girl. It’s a clash of religious ideas that is as loopy as it is unsettling, with its nude ritual scenes and creepy costumes. Fanny and Alexander is a movie in which an artistic family is subjected to the strict religious rules thanks to a mother’s second marriage. The bishop she marries is one of the greatest screen villains precisely because he is almost always certain he is doing the right thing. The Night of the Hunter has a similar father figure, and though his evil is even more apparent, it is no less scary.

It’s not always so obvious, though, the insidious implications of religion. The Long Day Closes shows a boy struggling with his sexual identity in the face of religious doctrine which states that he is ill-formed. The Seventh Seal demonstrates that life during the Black Plague was a nasty one, and religions reflected and enhanced that nastiness with their own misguided beliefs. In A Serious Man, the Job story from the bible is reinterpreted for the 60’s as a Jewish man’s life is ripped apart in any way possible while his religious leaders offer little comfort. And finally, in There Will Be Blood, capitalism is set against harsh Christianity as two ideals enter and both lose. There is very little up side to either as the deep-seated flaws are laid out in the forms of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday. Metropolis, too, shows us that economics are nothing to be worshiped.

Of course, God and religion are really just one way of trying to understand things that are bigger than ourselves and beyond our current understandings. As our scientific knowledge grows we answer questions with facts that we had once answered with gods, though new questions always appear in relation to even crazier things that happen in the natural world. Sunshine shows us a man who has lived so close to the sun for so long that he has gone crazy, believing that the sun is God incarnate and that he is an angel sent to destroy humanity. Cloud Atlas has, in one of its stories, a woman who becomes a god-figure thanks to her deeply human act of freeing millions of slaves. How one person can be so good is deified through countless retellings of a story. The Devil’s Backbone shows young orphans as they try to comprehend the insane violence of the Spanish Civil War through an unexploded bomb in the middle of their orphanage and tales of a ghostly kid who will exact revenge. Melancholia is a planet that appears out of nowhere and is on a collision course with the earth. As it nears us, a young woman deals with depression and the pressures of life. The Tree of Life and The Fountain are twins of a sort, both of which examine the role of God in our day to day lives, however mundane or grand they may be.

We also have, in movies, a great way of exploring whether or not God even exists. The Seventh Seal and Doubt ask the question early and often, while movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fantasia, The Exorcist, and Contact answer the question with a resounding yes, and that God is kinda scary. Fantasia and Throne of Blood explore non-christian religions through sometimes creepy and sometimes glorious imagery. Haxan, too, has a terrifyingly beautiful vision of hell, while Contact‘s heaven might be some distant planet. Holy Motors posits that movies are our new religion where we can make our own heavens and hells and realities. That’s the one that appeals to me most, I think. Cameras and projectors as instruments of revelation. That’s my kind of religion.

That’s enough for this subject, I think. I hope you voted. I’ve compiled this list on Letterboxd as well, so you can check off what you’ve seen. If you have any thoughts on what I’ve shared here, or a movie you think might fit this topic that you love, or anything at all, please leave a comment below! Tune in soon for a new topic of consideration.

Insanity Necessary: An argument for going all out

At the beginning of one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters we are treated to maybe the craziest thing anyone will see in theaters this year. Respected actors like Russel Crowe and Michael Shannon are dressed up in super-nuts outfits and barge in on a council meeting of people with silly hats to argue about eugenics. After a quick fight, Crowe jumps on the back of a giant four-winged beast and flies back to his house to witness the birth of his child, the first naturally born and conceived child on his home planet in ages. While all of this is happening, a battle rages outside among a planet that seems to be exploding at all times. It was crazy, it was weird, and I loved it. Man of Steel didn’t end up being a great movie, but it did succeed, at least early on, in doing what too few movies are brave enough to do: trying whole-heartedly to just do something.

All too often I have a moment of clarity while watching a movie. Most recently, The Purge came to a tipping point, a time when the narrative could go one way or another, and the movie’s success felt like it would live or die based on what the writer and director (the same person in this case but not always) decided would happen. In The Purge, a doorbell rings and the locked down family is brought into the moment, the beginning of the rest of the movie. The identity of that doorbell ringer will shape what kind of film the rest will play out as. Will it be a deeply cynical, biting social commentary where neighbors that smile in your face during the day turn into ruthless, jealous killers at night? Or will the ringer be revealed as just some guy, a less biting, less interesting choice which punts the potential of the film on third and one? Well, unfortunately, it’s the latter. The Purge goes from potentially great to boringly normal. Subpar, even, though that lies more on the lack of skill behind the camera than it does on the premise of the film. The Purge was never going to be a masterpiece given how poorly it was made, but it could have been a messterpiece, a movie which, as its most admirable quality, can claim that at least they were doing something. Trying something, giving it all they’ve got. I appreciate craziness, I appreciate insanity.

A few of my favorite messterpieces include Thirst, which melds uber-violent vampire things with wacky slapstick stuff and one of the silliest, most beautiful endings of the past decade, Synecdoche, New York, a movie that takes about a billion threads and tries to weave some of them into a truly emotional epic and mostly succeeds, and The Night of the Hunter, a mashup of a whole mess of techniques and styles that nonetheless congeals into a moving fairy-tale about growing up and being pure at heart. All of these movies are on my current top 100 list of all time, alongside other messterpeices like The Shining, Magnolia, and Brazil. None of these films lack ambition, though they might not quite reach what they’re grasping for. I will always give the edge to a movie that’s going for something with all of its heart over a movie that plays it safe with any kind of subject matter. This generally will reward genre movies as they often have a bit more leeway in terms of what they can go for and even more leeway as to what the audience will forgive. But serious dramas can go crazy with the best of them. The Lion in Winter doesn’t do a whole lot in the directorial department but the dialogue and the glee with which the actors say their lines is so delightfully over-the-top that I can’t help but fall under its spell of deceit and family politics. Punch-Drunk Love takes the patented Adam Sandler man-child and throws him into the real world where his immaturity helps him fall in love with a girl and endangers his life when a mattress salesman goes bananas at him. The Truman Show has a lot of logistical problems and plot-holes when you think about the situation for a while, but the power of the film and its crazy premise overpowers those nits and becomes something great. Again, all of these films are in my top 100 list. I just love a movie that aims high, even if it doesn’t reach its lofty target.

There are a few movies in my top 100 that are restrained, content to be the best that they can be. I’d put movies like Days of Heaven and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Raiders of the Lost Ark in that category, all of which might go all out for a scene but generally keep their ambitions close to their vests. It’s perfectly fine to do so. Last year Lincoln was one of my favorite films even though it was pretty much just a straight biography. But movies like The Cabin in the Woods and Cloud Atlas and Holy Motors occupy a greater amount of my thinking about last year’s films, and are the first titles that come to mind over the more staid films of the year. It’s something almost intangible, and I know that there are people out there that just prefer to have their movies be what they are and then be done. But why go to the cinema to see something you can outline in advance? What purpose do movies have if not to surprise us in their stories or their techniques or their ideas about life? Even today’s safest bets, superhero movies, are embracing the absurd. The opening of Man of Steel is just the most recent in a list of superhero films breaking out of the mold and becoming crazy. Thor: The Dark World had a trailer debut today and looks to capitalize on the biggest strength of the previous film, its sense of humor and high drama. Thor was peppered with Shakespearian dialogue and wacky outfits and canted angles and surreal sets. It’s the craziest of Marvel’s movie universe splinters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

If on a winter’s night a traveler – Italo Calvino

“You have with you the book you were reading in the cafe, which you are eager to continue, so that you can then hand it on to her, to communicate again with her through the channel dug by others’ words, which, as they are uttered by an alien voice, by the voice of that silent nobody made of ink and typographical spacing, can become yours and hers, a language, a code between the two of you, a means to exchange signals and recognize each other.”

I could start this blog post with a cleverly meta reference to Italo Calvino’s book If on a winter’s night a traveler. Firstly, it’d have to start in the second person because that’s how about half of the book is told. It’s kind of a marvel that such a strange storytelling device works outside of Choose Your Own Adventure books. There’s a reason why most books are written in the first and third person, and that reason is because it’s super tough to write in the second without sounding weird all the time. But Calvino manages it because he’s amazing. Moving swiftly on, I’d then have to start the review of the book but it wouldn’t be the review, it’d be a description of you reading the review, and your thoughts about the review as you read it. And then it’d end abruptly and we’d go back to the second person portion of the show for a while while we introduce another Blog Reader of the opposite sex to move the plot forward. I’d go back to the review part again but this time it would be a review for something else entirely, maybe the new Iron Man movie or whatever. And you’d get invested in that review, hanging on my every word, hoping to find out just what I thought of Tony Stark’s latest adventure. And then it’d stop and we’d have a new mystery on our hands. Why am I only writing the beginning of the reviews, and who is this other Reader?

Luckily for you and me, I’m not doing that. Just that paragraph up there was hard enough to write, and I’m sure somebody else has already taken that tack when it comes to talking about this astounding novel. Instead, I’m just going to tell you why the book is amazing. And to go in a completely opposite direction I’m going to do it in a bulleted list format.

  • As mentioned above, about half the book is written in the second person. It’s a way to make “you” a character in the story, which is really cool. It’s also a way to make you connect with the ideas Calvino presents throughout about what literature means to us, the readers. Who has the final say on what a book means. Is the author at all important? Would a computer generated novel that exactly mimics an author be an atrocity to art? Do references and stolen scenes detract or add to our appreciation of a work? How do we form our likes and our dislikes, and how do we pick which book to read next when there are innumerable options? All these questions and more are brought up throughout the novel and Calvino wisely answers few of them, preferring instead to let us come to our own conclusions. If every you’ve been captivated by a novel, this is one that you must read because it makes you question yourself and discovery why reading means so much to you.
  • The other half of the book is ten opening chapters of ten wildly different fictional books. This was the perfect thing for me to read at the perfect time. I hadn’t read anything truly spectacular for a long time, at least the beginning of the year, and I had picked up the troubling habit of starting and stopping several books at a time. Nothing was grabbing my interest. Here comes Italo Calvino (an author I already knew I liked thanks to the Top-50-worthy Cosmicomics) with a book seemingly tailor made for my predicament. I couldn’t read past those tantalizing opening pages by design. And what opening pages they were! Almost every one was interesting in one way or another. The first, a spy caper gone provincial (?) was fascinating in Calvino’s ability to evoke a mood and sense of place. Other highlights include the paranoid musings of a professor who thinks any phone ringing is for him (he might be right) and a sad man who might be taking part in a jailbreak plot or might just be recording scientific observations. Each section has its own style and voice and genre, an idea which delighted me in Cloud Atlas (a book for which this is a clear predecessor and influence) and continued to do so here. It was the remedy for what ailed me and I loved it.
  • The love story between the Reader and the Other Reader is a really nice throughline for a sometimes confusing plot. Always there’s “you” and her and “your” desire for her drives everything “you” do in the book. Even when things get crazy it’s always clear why this is happening. There’s a mystery (why can you only read the openings of books and why are the titles and covers all screwy?) which is fun but even that is a part of the love story because it’s what brings the two characters together.
  • Italo Calvino is a hilarious guy. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and the ever increasing strangeness of the plot is funny in its own way. But more than just being funny for funny’s sake, the humor is used to undercut some of the self-serious ideas Calvino ponders/causes us to ponder. The best example of this comes during the main plot portion of the book which, at this point, takes the form of a diary by a popular mystery writer. He has dreams of being literary and invents a literary writer who has dreams of being popular. He wonders what would happen if he wrote a literary book while the other writer wrote a populist book. Would people be able to tell the difference? Would the wrong person get credit for the wrong book? Would they end up writing the same book, word for word? Would it even matter? It’s a delightfully existentialist musing portion of the book which is unlike any other part of the book. But really, no part of the book is like any other part. That’s the genius.

Alright, four’s enough. In case you haven’t guessed it, I really love this book. It vaulted instantly into my top 5 of all time. I must read others by Calvino. He’s everything I want in a writer. Also, how is there not a movie version of this yet. And I’m not talking a straight adaptation with books taking the focus. It’s pretty easy to imagine a movie about movies like this is a book about books. Movie genres are easy to differentiate, maybe even more so than books. You probably couldn’t fit all ten openings into one movie but you could do 6 or so with the rest being the story of an avid movie watcher. Get on that, Hollywood.

Best Movies of 2012: Part 3

Sorry I’ve taken so long here. Hectic week and I’ve seen two more movies from the year so this installment is going to start at 21 instead of 20 where I left off. Silly, I know, but I’ll go back and fix everything so it looks less dumb. Anyways, time to start with the really good stuff. Remember, asteriskes

21. Django Unchained. A-. *

Our mutual friend has a flair for the dramatic.

Django really only suffers in comparison to the masterpiece that is Inglourious Basterds. Where that movie had a lot of things going on underneath the surface this one feels more like a straight up slavery western, as straight up as those can be. There are some amazing scenes and performances (DiCaprio in particular) and Tarantino does his thing. I only hope that he continues to try to say things rather than make less interesting stuff.

20. Anna Karenina. A-. *

I am not ashamed of who I am or what I’ve done. Are you ashamed for me?

Joe Wright is maybe the best stylist director we have working today. His movies always look and feel amazing, and this is no different with certain key scenes taking place on a stage with the participants sometimes acting as the audience and the backstage stuff indicating the lower class areas of the story. It’s a fascinating device that highlights the performative nature of the ruling class in a society that has a rough relationship with the rich. Keira Knightley and Jude Law are fantastic, it’s just too bad the third part of the love triangle at the core of the film, Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t do anything with the role. It makes it hard to believe Anna’s choices. I wish she stayed with Jude Law.

19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A-.

I know who you are, Sam. I know I’m quiet… and, and I should speak more. But if you knew the things that were in my head most of the time, you’d know what I really meant. How, how much we’re alike and, and how we’ve been through things… and you’re not small. You’re beautiful.

Adapted for the screen by the writer of the popular book, I was really surprised at how much I liked this. It’s a highschool movie which could spell disaster yet through a great script and wonderful acting from the three main kids the movie turns into something grand. It totally weirded me out, actually. Made me feel all these weird feelings about my time in high school (which was neither as good nor as bad as the events depicted here) and my current friend relationships. It’s all so effectively emotional and even artistically inspiring. Don’t look past this one.

18. Les Misérables. A-. *

I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!

I guess there’s a reason why this story has been adapted and remade over and over again since 1862. It’s so damn emotional and it’s hard to not get caught up in the swell of things. Led by a strong Hugh Jackman turn and an amazing supporting performance by Anne Hathaway, the movie only hurts in a bad way when Russell Crowe is asked to sing. At all other times it hurts so good. I even liked all those horrible close ups.

17. Life of Pi. A-. *

I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.

I’m a fan of the first 90% of the book on which this film is based and luckily Ang Lee improves that percentage to about 95%. I still really hate the ideas the film has about God and “reality”. I can get past all of that for the majority of the film, though, because it’s so well made. I got to see it in 3D and it was truly a wonder to behold. I love the magical realism and Irrfan Khan saves a lot of what could be horrible voice over stuff. He even made me tear up during a speech at the end that I fundamentally disagreed with. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

16. The Master. A-. *

Man is not an animal. We are not a part of the animal kingdom. We sit far above that crown, perched as spirits, not beasts. I have unlocked and discovered a secret to living in these bodies that we hold.

I’m probably going to be tried for treason or something for putting this movie so low on my list. Well, hopefully the people with that kind of authority just stop reading this list now before they see what I put above it, then I’ll really get excommunicated. The unfortunate part is that I really really like this movie. It’s probably the best crafted movie on this list, everything is impeccable and works perfectly towards the goal of the film. It’s just that I didn’t have as much invested in this movie as I did with some of the others on this list and certainly with PTA’s previous films. It feels the most distant to me. I can’t really explain it, which, I guess, is apropos considering the film at hand.

15. Seven Psychopaths. A-. *

You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?

For the first twenty minutes or so of this movie had me worried. What happened to all of the wonderful character stuff and clever dialogue from In BrugesMartin McDonagh‘s previous film? It all disappeared for some mildly interesting things about writing a script. Have no fear, though, all of that stuff returns soon and the movie never stops getting better. It’s a rare happening, an increasingly good movie. Bolstered by standout work from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, the movie’s meta-ness threatens to get out of control but always stays on that brink without going over. It’s a movie about movies about stories and I kind of love that stuff.

14. Prometheus. A-. **

A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable. That is natural order of things.

I probably have this higher than most other people. That’s fine. Everybody else just can’t handle the greatness. Does it have script problems? Certainly. Do they detract from the quality of the film? A little, that’s why this has a minus next to that A. Do I care? No. It’s such an interesting movie to me, filled with little idea pods and hints of larger things that all those issues fall to the wayside. A well acted, intense, sci-fi movie with greater things on it’s mind is something to be praised, not torn to shreds by plot-hole-spotters.

13. Holy Motors. A-.

I am so old I’m afraid I’ll never die.

This is by far the strangest movie on this list. It’s almost a sister movie to Cosmopolis, only good. Leos Carax drops us into this weird world where a man has a job which entails going to 11 different locations and acting out a scene or two from wildly different genres of film/life. It’s totally nuts. There’s a motion capture sex scene and an odd (to put it mildly) leprechaun-y troll character and a family drama and a bank robbery gone wrong, to name a few of the crazy things on display here. Denis Lavant is the actor and his physicality changes so much with each character he transforms into it seems like they are being played by different people. It’s a breathtaking achievement that isn’t scared to do whatever the hell it wants at any given moment.

12. Coriolanus. A-.

He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes, geese. Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate.

Shakespeare adaptations are always tricky and this lesser known play is harder still, with a bunch of politics of a country that doesn’t actually exist mucking up the process. Luckily, first time director Ralph Fiennes does a great job of focusing us on the relationship between the two men at the heart of this conflict and the people around them trying to turn them towards their own goals. It’s a classic story, really, and the cast pulls off the tough Shakespearean dialogue with aplomb.

11. Looper. A. *

Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it.

Looper is the third film by writer/director Rian Johnson and continues his streak of amazing films. I’ve loved all of them, even though this is the least of the three. It’s a time travel movie that has very little time travel, and an action movie which slows to a crawl in its second half to develop characters. Weird, right? Well, it’s those elements along with Johnson’s fine eye that make it such a great film. Everything about this movie works.

10. Girl Walk//All Day. A.

If there’s a movie you haven’t heard of on this list it’s probably this one. That’s because it’s actually a 75-ish minute full-album video featuring the entirety of mashup whiz Girl Talk’s All Day record. And there’s no talking, only dancing. There is a modicum of a story, yet another love triangle between The Girl, The Gentleman, and The Creep, but all of that takes second billing to the wonderfully joyous dancing and fluid camerawork on display. It’s just too damn fun not to be in the top ten for the year. And the best part is you can watch the entire thing for free here. Please do.

9. The Deep Blue Sea. A.

Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.

I watched my first and second Terence Davies movies this year, the other being The Long Day Closes, which ended up really high on my top 100 list. This one won’t make that list but it is good enough to place in the top ten for the year. It is, shockingly, another love triangle and where Girl Walk plays with the trope a little bit, this film embraces all of the dramatic potential of that situation. Thanks to astounding acting by Rachel WeiszTom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale, every emotion is amped up to 11 while Davies masterfully orchestrates the drama with his soft focus and long takes. Scenes of note include a long tracking shot in a flashback to Weisz and Beale hiding in an Underground station during WWII and the first encounter between Weisz and Hiddleston which emphasizes the physical nature of their transgression. It’s fantastic stuff.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A. **

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

Nobody in their right mind thought that stretching The Hobbit out to 3 movies was a good idea, and it still isn’t. This feels too long and bloated with things that don’t matter (Rivendell could have lasted 2 minutes, not 15) and yet I still loved it. It’s always nice to get back to Middle Earth on screen and Jackson still has a great eye for the more fantastical elements of the world. And there are more of those here than in the entirety of the Lord of the Rings films, from the rabbit sled to the fighting mountains and the goblins that live inside them. It’s a way more fun movie than any of the previous three, though not as well made as any of them. I’m super excited for the (even sillier titled) Desolation of Smaug later this year. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH!

7. Cloud Atlas. A. *

Fear, belief, love. Phenomena that determined the course of our lives. These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.

Cloud Atlas is one of those books that people call unfilmable thanks to the weird structure and confusing timelines and potential psychobabble. Tom TykwerAndy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski co-direct and somehow manage to pull all of this into some kind of cohesive whole. While some hated the idea of having all the actors play different characters in different timelines, I welcomed the bold choice and I think it payed off spectacularly, especially with Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant in the evil roles. It’s also quite a marvel mechanically as it moves from timeline to timeline across decades and centuries. The pace of the movie is fast and loose, which keeps every ball in the air and never lets us catch our breath. And it looks gorgeous.

6. The Avengers. A. **

I won’t touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you! Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear! And then he’ll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I’ll split his skull! This is MY bargain, you mewling quim!

It took four years and five movies to set up the events of this film in the Marvel film universe and with Joss Whedon‘s second directorial effort it all payed off. He took the broken characters that make up this superhero team and bounced them off each other in his typical quick and witty way. Bringing back nearly everybody left alive at the end of all of those individual films and throwing us the man who was always meant to play Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) was a risky choice that payed off big time. Whedon also shows off his visual skills with some wonderful shots of action and dialogue, including the giant tracking shot at the center of the battle for New York City. I’ve seen it three times already and will be happy to see it again and again and again.

5. Lincoln. A. *

I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!

I was one of those guys that liked War Horse so I think I was a little more excited for Lincoln than those that were burnt out on Spielberg schmaltz. Thankfully, Lincoln is probably one of the ‘berg’s top 5 movies, due in large part to the supreme performance by Daniel Day Lewis and the script by Tony Kushner which gave DDL lots of room to play. This is the most surprisingly funny movie of the year and both of those guys deserve the credit for making Lincoln into a real person and not a mythological figure. It’s a movie marred only by it’s opening and closing scenes and a pretty bad turn by Sally Field who didn’t figure out how to play a crazy person very well.

4. The Cabin in the Woods. A. *

Yes, you had “Zombies.” But this is “Zombie Redneck Torture Family.” Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.

Horror movies are great. I love them, even the crappy ones. I get the feeling that the duo behind this film (Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon) share that sentiment with me. The movie pokes fun at all the silly tropes that horror films use in a playful way. It’s not mocking horror movies, it’s embracing them, eating them up, and spitting them back out with a heaping dose of meta-fiction thrown on top. It escalates wonderfully as well, going from what you expect to what you’ve always wanted to happen in a movie like this. The last 30 minutes are spectacular. DING!

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin. A. *

It’s like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don’t hear about that on the 6 o’clock news, why? ‘Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it’s a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it’s got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they’re watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?

This is technically a 2011 movie but I didn’t see it until February of last year, and that was in a theater so I’m putting it on this list. Deal with it. It’s a truly amazing film, full of artistry and intense emotional struggles as a mother (Tilda Swinton) tries to love her son but just can’t. Well, that’s half of the movie. The other half still follows her as she tries to deal with the consequences of an act that becomes clear as the movie goes on. I won’t go into too much detail here to save the experience for any of you that haven’t watched it yet. Let’s just say that this movie is even more relevant now than it was when it came out. Director Lynne Ramsay totally immerses us in this horrible situation with her use of color and sound. It’s a singular movie experience.

2. Skyfall. A. **

It always makes me feel a bit melancholy. Grand old war ship. being ignominiously haunted away to scrap… The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see?

I liked this movie so much I saw it twice in a 24 hour period. James Bond has always been hit or miss. It’s part of the charm of the series, you never know what you’re going to get from film to film. This time we got the best movie yet. Daniel Craig’s Bond is older and rustier than ever. He faces a world where his necessity is in question. Do we even need a Bond anymore? By the end of the movie the answer is a resounding yes, especially if they all look and feel like this. Outstanding work from Judi DenchJavier BardemBen WhishawSam Mendes, and Roger Deakins meld into something wonderful. And it even has thematic depth!

1. Moonrise Kingdom. A+. *

There’s a cold water crabber moored off Broken Rock. The skipper owes me an IOU. We’ll see if he can take you on as a claw cracker. It won’t be an easy life, but it’s better than shock therapy.

There was a time when I didn’t like Wes Anderson. Fantastic Mr. Fox changed that and now I look forward to every new movie he makes. This was the first I got to see on the big screen and his meticulousness in framing and the art direction really pops when everything is larger than life. Featuring one of the few times when I’ve liked Ed Norton in a movie and a bunch of really solid supporting roles, the real stars are the two newcomers that play the kids at the center of the story (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward). It is, like most Wes Anderson films, full of melancholy and nostalgia and the driest wit and now that I have figured him out I really love it.

 

That’s the list. I hope you got something out of it. There is, of course, another, hidden list that is peeking out around the edges here. The list of movies I just didn’t get to. There are a ton of these and most of them not interesting. Here are the interesting ones:

This is Not a Film, Damsels in Distress, The Five-Year Engagement, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Headhunters, Rust and Bone, Men in Black 3, Oslo August 31st, Your Sister’s Sister, Magic Mike, Ted, Take This Waltz, The Imposter, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Ruby Sparks, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Searching for Sugar Man, Hope Springs, The Bourne Legacy, Compliance, Lawless, Arbitrage, End of Watch, The Sessions, Flight, Chasing Ice, Rise of the Guardians, Hitchcock, The Guilt Trip, Jack Reacher, This Is 40, Not Fade Away, Tabu.

So if you can make a case for any of those please do in the comments below. Also let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my list items. Or even give your top 10 or whatever!