It’s no surprise, so I’ll list it first. I wrote eight separate pieces discussing themes in The Dark Knight Rises, and for good reason. This film is in my top 10 not just because I’m obsessed with Batman, but because it’s easily the most ambitious film of the year. It’s a huge, sprawling epic and a worth conclusion to the trilogy that redefined what’s possible in a Superhero flick.
It shouldn’t be possible for a movie that we already know the ending of to be so suspenseful. Yet here is Argo, Ben Affleck’s third directorial outing (his first, Gone Baby, Gone, is one of my favorite films of all time). Well-paced, well-told and it doesn’t needlessly vilify the Iranians or glorify America. A must see.
One of the most courageous films of the year. The Grey turns an abstract philosophical concept – Nietzsche’s Void – into a taut horror-thriller, complete with monstrous wolves. It takes a lot of confidence in the story you’re telling to end it the way Joe Carnahan chooses to. Awesome.
Marvel’s make-or-break experiment paid off big time, to the tune of $1.5 billion. The Avengers redefined what superhero films can be and raised the bar. I worry that it was so good other superhero films won’t be able to compete.
A sleeper surprise that got way less buzz than it deserved. This is one of those rare treasures that pays homage to its genre by skewering its conventions while faithfully fulfilling them. Think the first Scream, Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I didn’t have this much fun at the movies very often this year.
If you’ve only seen the trailer for this film, you have no idea what it’s about. I’ve seen it twice and I’m still grasping. But it’s a hilarious metacomedy about storytelling. The dynamite cast nails the pitch-perfect script. Well-worth seeing if you can handle everything that comes along with its well-deserved hard R-rating.
We’ve been waiting way too long for another good science fiction time-travel movie. Looper does some amazing stuff with the storytelling, and its themes are just excellent. I won’t spoil it here if you haven’t seen it yet – especially since the trailer does such a good job of not giving anything away. But go see it (then read my review).
I didn’t love everything about this film. It’s certainly got flaws. But it’s one of the most audacious films of the year. The same story told over 6 generations spanning 500+ years, weaving in themes of oppression, freedom, judgment and redemption. Not every note of Cloud Atlas was pitch perfect, but sometimes it’s more fun to swing for the fences, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor.
Technically, this film is a couple years old and was only released in the States this year. But that means the Academy deems it worthy of nomination, so here it is. You probably haven’t seen The Raid, but you should go get it right now. The Raid takes the basic action movie plot and explodes it – what should be the climatic Act III battle is the entire film. 120 minutes of pure insanity. Even Expendables 2 didn’t match it for pure action insanity.
I’m not a huge Tarantino fan, but his last two films – Inglorious Basterds and now Django Unchained – have impressed me. Django is just as insane as everyone says it is. And it’s already generated a huge firestorm of controversy over its depiction of the brutality of slavery. Slavery wasn’t glamorized at all – if anything, the slave-owners were the ones misrepresented (intentionally, as far as I could tell) – they were all immature, even childish and not very bright. Django’s Hero’s Journey is compelling and clear, the narrative is tight and it’s got plenty of humor and action. Now that Tarantino has tackled the Holocaust and Slavery, I wonder what national sin he’ll turn to next?
Life of Pi and Les Miserables. Sorry everyone who loved these. They were fine films. But they don’t deserve Best Picture. Both had plenty of problems.