It’s not easy to do a year as good as this one for films justice while only mentioning ten, but here’s my poorly-written and pretentious take. As a sidenote, I’ve made this list without seeing films that I’m sure I would love, most notably Never Let Me Go, Black Swan, 127 Hours, Carlos, Dogtooth and Winter’s Bone. This is as best a list as can be managed without seeing those, but I’m fairly confident that the top three or four would remain intact. (Also I fucking suck at formatting shit on tumblr)
10. How To Train Your Dragon
It’s hard to help but feel that so much of the praise garnered by this film is largely based on the fact that nobody would expect it to be this good. Regardless of that, the film actually is pretty unbelievably good. Even without the emotional connection between a boy and his pet, the representation of teenage alienation from one’s culture and family, the visualization of the dangers of mass hysteria, and the hilarious antics of the younger vikings, we’d still have the flight sequences. And how amazing those flight sequences really are, easily the best interpretation of flight that’s been contained by an animated film in recent memory. Beautiful landscapes, strong characters, an inventive setting, and (mostly) great voice acting.This is all coming from someone who didn’t even see the film in 3D.
9. A Prophet (Un Prophète)
While The Wire never got around to examining the intricacies of the French prison system and the Corsican mafia, it’s hard to imagine it being very different from what is done in A Prophet. Trading the scatter-shot focus and ensemble cast of that show for a singular focus upon one man, A Prophet presents a sprawling portrait of the life of a 19-year-old Arab immigrant in a French prison. Even before the fellatio-based assassination plot, it’s already clear that the film is something special, and the turns taken throughout the film only continue to live up to this promise. Just as gripping when he’s cleaning up blood with his only t-shirt as when he’s making the first strides towards full literacy.
The Internet-wide embargo on spoilers for this movie probably did ultimately more to hurt people’s reactions to it than to help. The joy and intrigue granted to those who initially viewed the film completely cold at Sundance lead to the idea that any detail about the story was an irreconcilable spoiler. In that case, hopefully the next sentence cannot be considered a spoiler: this is a film about people on the Internet, how things are often not what they seem, family, desperation and loneliness. I, for one, fully buy everything that happens in the movie and reject the idea that it is a fictionalized documentary. Mystery and suspense lead up to an emotionally devastating climax, that will completely alter the way you feel about and use the Internet. The final line, and explanation of the title, serves as a maxim that rings ever-true. Some people are catfish, and we need them to keep us on our feet.
7. Toy Story 3
Really no surprise that this movie turned out to be as amazing as it was. I’d go so far as to say that it transcends the golden standard of joyful and heartwarming cinema that we’ve come to expect from Pixar, and is something more. A heartbreaking yet optimistic tale of age, obsolescence, worth, and purpose, If Toy Story 3 doesn’t leave you mixing tears with a smile you might just not have a soul. The film can ultimately be seen to have two denouements, one of which is epic and soulcrushing, the other redemptive and magnificent. The two work in conjunction to leave you left with and unnerving, confusing sense of fulfilment. I’d go so far to call it a religious experience.
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Exit Through The Gift doesn’t suffer from the same dilemma that a movie like I’m Still Here, and to a lesser extent Catfish, does. If the film is fake, it’s a brilliant commentary on the nature of art, inspiration, originality, the youtube culture, creativity and celebrity; not to mention that it’s damn funny. If the film is genuine, it’s an achievement in simply capturing the life of an incredibly unique individual and a glimpse into a world that is not nearly as heavily documented as it should be. Great footage of street art in motion and a fascinating protagonist make this film truly notable. The film’s mission statement is summed up in Banksy’s great closing line: “perhaps it means maybe, art is a bit of a joke”.
5. True Grit
While I disagree with the idea that this is the Coen Brothers’ first straight genre exercise (It’s called Miller’s Crossing, Robert), it is certainly one of their most cohesive and gripping. Most immediately notable for Hailee Steinfeld’s breakout role as Mattie Ross in what is, alert the hyperbole police, probably the best debut performance from a child actor that I can remember. Steinfeld, Damon, and Bridges breath life into three fully formed characters under the brilliant direction of the Coen’s, leading up to a climax that was probably one of my most joyful cinematic experiences of the year. Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper don’t even show up until the last 20 minutes and live up to the promises that unseen villains can rarely fulfill. It’s not easy to make a film that more often than not trades dialogue and intrigue for violence feel so action packed. Plus there’s a guy who thinks he’s a rooster or some shit.
4. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Really a perfect storm of a film for me. Michael Cera has been one of my comedic idols since before I got into Arrested Development, Edgar Wright’s movies have provided me with more enjoyment than the majority of other comedies, the original Scott Pilgrim graphic novels are kind of like a nerded out Catcher In The Rye for me, I love the music referenced and utilized in both the comics and movies, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead looks amazing with blue hair. To live up to fan expectations for this property was an insurmountable task, but Wright pulled it off and created an instant cult classic. Funny, heartfelt, honest, and inventive, I’m in lesbians with this movie.
If you thought it was too complex you didn’t get it, and if you thought it wasn’t complex enough then you definitely didn’t get it. A full-scale, big budget, action movie that presents original science-fiction ideas like this is more than hard to come by. The ensemble cast brings forth a wealth of intriguing performances, even when some actors have less than 10 minutes of screentime. It solidified people like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Ellen Page as should-be household names, and put Tom Hardy on the map where he belongs. It works as a heist film, action movie, and exploration of science-fiction concepts all at once. And to address critics of the film’s exposition, I defy you to explain the functions of inception and extraction in a more streamlined way.
2. Mother (Madeo)
A film that defies expectation at every turn, and makes you feel like an idiot for not expecting where its going. Even foregoing the film’s final revelation (Which should remain unspoiled more than anything like Catfish) Bong Joon-Ho is able to twist the plot in ways that would come across cheap in the hands of any lesser filmmaker. The layers of the film peel away artfully, from a family drama - to a somewhat unconventional crime story - to morality tale - to a full formed meditation on motherhood, mental illness, and guilt. The symbolism that Bong-Joon Ho implements, ranging from the golf ball to the cell phone, culminates in a heartbreaking final shot of Kim Hye-Ja and the other parents riding off into the sunset on the bus tour. It’s hard not to see the fiery landscape and writhing figures as Mother’s own personal, guilt-wrought hell.
1. The Social Network
In 2000, when remarking upon Radiohead’s landmark, genre-defying, groundbreaking LP, Kid A, Ryan Schreiber asked “what’s left to be said about Kid A?” - 10 years later, we’re still finding new ways to comment on the nuances and geniuses of that album. It seems that a similar phenomenon has already begun to surround David Fincher’s The Social Network.
We can talk about what the film says about youth, technology, ambition, intuition, friendship, the internet, relationships, intellectualism, education, motivation, invention, intellectual property, originality, and more without end, but does that even really matter. Let’s just look at what this film has. It has Oscar-caliber performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, Timberlake and Hammer. It has a script that reads like Tolstoy and Tarantino squeezed through a router and played at twice the speed. It has a score from Trent Reznor that makes any of Nine Inch Nails’ output seem like a bad joke. It has special effects breakthroughs that boggle the mind with subtlety like nothing else. It has a rowing sequence that serves as an allegory for the whole story, finding the perfect balance between subtlety and heavy-handedness. It has comedic moments that’ll have you mixing heaves of laughter with the shivers down your spine. It has a denouement that turns basic web-browsing into a heart-warming moment of redemption. This is the movie we’ll be talking about for longer than any of us can imagine.