I Am Love
Luca Guadagnino’s astonishingly beautiful portrait of a woman torn between love and loyalty. A deep, layered, stylish work of cinema with all the passion and freedom of Italy’s greatest contributions to the medium. If I had numbered this list, “I Am Love” would probably be number one.
The epic tale of an egomaniacal playboy terrorist. Édgar Ramírez’s brilliant performance as Venezuelan terrorist, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, anchors this 330 minute tale of James Bond-style intrigue, murder and mischief. Director Olivier Assayas makes you want to be this asshole, for a little while at least, and then you realize he’s a bigger douche than you possibly could have imagined. Nice work.
The Social Network
David Fincher’s stylish direction, Aaron Sorkin’s quick-witted script, Jesse Eisenberg’s magnetic performance and Trent Reznor’s perfect score make this topical tech-drama one of the best films of the year.
Bong Joon-Ho has been wowing Korean audiences for years with films like “Memories of Murder” (2003) and “The Host” (2006). With “Mother” he manages to make high art out of an old fashioned murder mystery. Hye-ja Kim’s heartbreaking performance as the titular mother is one of the best of the year.
A brutal prison crime drama that is both sophisticated and blunt. Jacques Audiard leaves out the sentimentality and heaps on the raw, amorality that rules the world he’s chronicling. It could stand on its own a simple prison drama, but its weighty, complex themes elevate “A Prophet” into near-masterpiece territory.
Even bad Coen brothers movies are good. “True Grit” is one of the great ones. Fantastic performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld bring this charming script to life in one of the most purely enjoyable films I’ve seen in a long time.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
A fascinating documentary detailing the ins and outs of street art that may not actually be a documentary at all. Directed by famed and reclusive British street artist, Banksy, “Exit” takes meta to a whole new level. Is it really just an elaborate ruse indicting the uppity art world? I hope so.
I’m Still Here
Definitely, obviously fake. So what? Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his life and makes this Casey Affleck-directed fake-umentary the funniest film I saw all year. It’s also a smart film with interesting things to say about celebrity and the obsessive media.
Danny Boyle’s wizardry behind the camera and James Franco’s surprising skill in front of it, make this true story of survival and the triumph of the human will utterly riveting. Throw in a little Sigur Rós on the soundtrack and you’ve got the feel-good movie of the year.
With an entire cast and crew totaling only five, this micro-budget sci-fi flick would have been a success if it only managed to tell a cohesive story without much else to offer. Surprisingly, director Gareth Edwards manages much more than that, creating a nuanced, sophisticated story with fabulous visuals (which he rendered himself) that surpasses almost everything the big studios churned out this year.
Even though I gave “Black Swan” high marks in my review, I’m still torn on this Darren Aronofsky-directed psych-thriller. I’m confident that it’s one of the most sophisticated and layered films of the year, but it may also be middle-brow, misogynistic dreck. It makes this list based solely on the internal conflict it provoked in me.