As a disclaimer, these aren't what I necessarily think are the best or most well-made. It came down to which ones were my favorites, for various reasons. This past year was fairly spectacular, mostly because of the amount of great movies but also because I got to see a majority of them in theaters. I think these past couple years we've had the privilege of some veteran directors really coming into their own and discovering who they are as artists and what they want to convey. It makes for a really exciting time as a cinema-lover.
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
We can talk about any number of shots in this movie, but really the reason I enjoyed it so much was because it's apparent from the first scene that Amirpour loves what she does and she has fun doing it. Dutch angles, black and white kinetic energy galore. There's a cat (whom director Amirpour herself described as "gangster") that guides the scenes, a vampire cruising on a skateboard with her chador floating behind her, and a really spectacular soundtrack. But more than the interplay of prey and predator that threads the movie is the idea of relationships -- who we were before, who we are in the relationship, and how much of it matters in the end. We're all bad, in a way, and we just want to be with someone who understands that.
I love this movie though because it's not just Mason whom we see struggling with his woes as a child, his first love as an adolescent, and other life landmarks we can relate to. It's also an evolution and a growth of the people around him. His father (Ethan Hawke always at his best when working with Linklater) grows as a man figuring out who he is in life and what's important to him, and how to reconcile his ambitions and desires with reality. Mason's mother (a fantastic Patricia Arquette) is driven in her careers, but also muddling through life on various romantic ends.
Really though, the idea behind this movie is what's so ingenious. To think that Linklater had the foresight, the patience, and the desire to create this movie is indicative of the sort of art that needs a place in this world. There's an appreciation of life inherent in his movies as well as the recognition of the dual relationship of fragile strength in relationships that we all experience as we grow. Also, it's kind of nuts to think that Linklater was able to pinpoint what would be relevant a decade down the line. How did he know that Star Wars was going to come out with a new sequel? How???
Original review for the movie here.
8. 20,000 Days on Earth
20,000 is also shot beautifully, feeling more like a cinematic film than a documentary at times. And some of the footage from his concerts makes me feel even more strongly that to be a rockstar is to be a sort of god, with the adulation and complete rapt attention of the masses focused entirely on you. So this is what it must feel like to be a god amongst men.
The reason it's not higher on my list is because there are some troubling plot holes as well as scientific inconsistencies (in the science as well as the so-called scientists of the movie) that bog the movie down. But the reason it was a must on my top ten list of the year was the sheer magnitude of the cinematic experience. There are shots and scenes that make me ache to recall, from the earth shots of Matthew McConaughey driving through fields of corn to the up-close, minimal yet highly effective shots of the shuttle docking in space. Some of it had me gripping the armrests of my seat in awe and a sort of joy. This movie thus far, features the usage of the most 15/70mm film and has the distinction of being possibly the last movie to do so. And you feel it in every shot. You have to admire Nolan's commitment to filming as well as the massive sets he built in order to minimize the amount of CG. I love the restraint Nolan shows in the silence of his space shots, as well as in Hans Zimmer's surprisingly effective soundtrack. Bottom line, it's just a beautiful movie to look at.
6. Gone Girl
Fincher is always pitch-perfect in casting, and he couldn't have scored better than Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike - equally enigmatic and inscrutable for different reasons. Jeff Croenworth is the surehanded cinematographer and the movie just seems to glide by visually. The plot twist is easily seen, but Fincher is 100% committed to the thematic elements of deception, public facade, and the meanness of our desires in relationships as well as how we suffer for denying them the light of day. The result is a meticulously crafted movie that bears both instant visual gratification and a considerable amount to chew over afterwards. Go see it with your significant other. Or not.
Original review for this movie here.
A sort of analysis on relationships in the movie here.
Want to see my top five? Click here.