1. Before Midnight - Best trilogy ever? Spoilers!
2. 12 Years a Slave - An emotionally harrowing look of a man sold into slavery and the series of unfortunate events that befalls him. Across the board, its designed to pierce at your soul, from McQueen's unflinching compositions, Zimmer's score composed of all sharp knives and edges, the powerful emphatic performances of Ejifor and Nyong'o, the beautiful cinematography of Sean Bobbit contrasting sharply with the ugliness of humanity. We riot if it doesn't win BP.
3. The World's End - The best sci-fi film of the year, using its genre trappings to intelligently dissect the human condition and speak about friendship, nostalgia, alcoholism, and growing apart from the people and things you care about. Its also the funniest damn film of the year, as well as having some of the best action sequences. Its kinda the whole package.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis - I actually cried watching this, which I can't remember ever happening in a Coens movie before. Maybe its Bruno Delbonnel's warm photography or perhaps the wonderful folk songs, but I came away thinking this was Coen Brothers' warmest film, one that shows their love for its protagonist despite all the hell they throw him in. Not their smartest, funniest, or best...but maybe their most mature.
5. Her - A gorgeous sci-fi romantic dramedy(ya know you love that word) thats simultaneously universal in what it says about human relationships, and yet oddly prescient about the here and now. Career best performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson go a long way towards selling you on this bizarre relationship, but Jonze's sincere script and the creamy colors of the set design don't hurt, either.
6. The Spectacular Now - A Cameron Crowe like romantic comedy that then successfully transitions into a coming-of-age drama, The Spectacular Now enriches its conventions with a great sense of naturalism. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give two wonderfully nuanced performances that you just can't help but want those two kids get together! This clip is a good example of what I was talking about, just the cutest damn thing.
7. Gravity - Yes, some of the dialog is really clunky. No, I don't understand what that Clooney scene was about. You're right, its probably not gonna hold up at home away from the big 3D screen. BUT. If we get back to the original idea of cinema, coming to the movies and being entertained and escaping your daily lives for a short period of time due to the exciting moment-to-moment experience on display, Gravity is #1. There hasn't been a film in years that has so absurdly captured those you-are-there thrills, showing you all the beauty and terror of space, brilliantly using all the coolest toys of contemporary filmmaking. The most technically accomplished thrill ride in recent memory.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street - Leonardo DiCaprio gives the greatest performance of his career in what is the best collaboration between him and Martin Scorsese. Many of the year's best lines, moments, and scenes are spread across this film, restless with energy and not afraid to explore the darkest corners of America(which is what Scorsese always been best at). The "Lemmons" scene is, bar none, the greatest damn scene of the year(well that and the Hotel from Before Midnight). However, like all post-2000 Marty productions, its too fuckin' long for its own good, and I still believe there's a smarter, funnier, more insightful version of this film that's closer to 2 hours than 3.
9. Short Term 12 - This really should have been a mawkish, sentimental, "take your medicine" after school special. A home full of underprivileged kids where the caretakers may have problems of their own? Oh boy, more manipulative garbage! And yet, its all about the execution. The tone of the film is very relaxed and conversational, so instead of feeling EARNEST and IMPORTANT, it feels honest and natural in its examinations of human beings trying to be better people. I mean, there's a scene where a kid raps about his problems, and its actually one of the best scenes in the film! That usually never works! The film is more about the people than it is their problems, and the problems don't go away at the end through the power of dance(sup SLP). Major props have to go with Brie Larson's fantastic performance that the film hangs around. Her character, Grace, has to both act as the guardian for these kids, but leaks out enough you can get a feel about how damaged she's been as well. A small but powerful film.
10. Captain Phillips - An exceptionally well-crafted thriller both in front and behind the camera, Paul Greengrass proves once again why he's one of the best American directors working in populist cinematic entertainment today. Its not just his skill at capturing kinetic action or nigh-unbearable tension, but the empathy he shows for his characters. The pirates, particularly their leader, are given a great deal of weight and humanity, the movie not condoning their actions, but not outright condemning them as dark evil boogeymen, either. It gives the film a sturdy moral backbone as much of its success lies in the balance between Phillips and Muse. And those two characters are brought to life by two great performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi. Hanks, in particular, stores away his charming Americana persona into the calm and collected workmanlike Phillips, until those final 10 minutes, which contain some of the best acting you'll see all year. Its the best dramatic work Hanks has done in over a decade, and I'm so appalled at him being snubbed at the Oscars this year...happy for Abdi though!
So that's the ten, still haven't seen a few, like All is Lost...now if you'll allow me the honor to do some self-absorbed special honors that don't count. I feel like its been a great year for cinema, and I can't keep my love to just 10 choices.
Favorite Performances, in no actual order
-Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks
-Simon Pegg, The World's End
-Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
-Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
-Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
-Brie Larson, Short Term 12
-Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now
-Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now
-Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
-Amy Adams, American Hustle
-Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
-Joaquin Phoenix, Her
-Scarlett Johansson, Her
-Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
-Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
-Alfre Woodard, 12 Years a Slave
-Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
-Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
-Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
-Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
-Daniel Bruhl, Rush
-Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back
-Matthew McConaughey, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street
-Lea Seydoux - Blue is the Warmest Color
-Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
-Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
...etc, fuck it
Most Improved Sequel: Iron Man 3 - After the nearly unwatchable dreck that was Iron Man 2(I say nearly because Sam Rockwell is always watchable), Shane Black was selected to helm the third and possibly film for the iron Avenger. And while it wasn't the grand slam homer from the combo of RDJ/Black like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it was a still a hilarious and entertaining summer blockbuster none the less. It takes some big chances that mostly paid off, like a smart kid sidekick that was actually one of the best parts of the film, the controversial Mandarin twist, and keeping Tony out of the suit for an extended period of time and getting back to the core of the character. Some of Black's touches shined through the Marvel Studios House Style as well, my favorite bit being the cheap henchmen who look after Tony Stark. "Honestly, I hate working here, this guys are so weird..."
Most Surprisingly Least Improved Sequel: The Hobbit: What if Smaug was One of Us? - Or "Wipe That Smaug Look Off Your Face!" or whatever the hell it was called, but it wasn't very good, despite containing a lot more action and incident the the original but equally interminable Hobbit. The titular character feels like a side attraction in his own film, as Jackson indulges in the world's most painful romantic triangle and overlong dramatically inert CGI sequences. The Hobbit 2 just never comes together as a compelling narrative of its own, concluding with a shitty cliffhanger ending after wasting Smaug on bumbling around like a Chuck Jones cartoon character for what feels like forever. What happen, Peter Jackson...you used to be cool.
Best Foreign Film: Drug War - For some reason, I've ignored all of Johnnie To's filmography up until now. If its anything like this tense and thrilling crime drama, and I need to correct this asap.
Best Action Movie: Ninja: Shadow of a Tear - Do you wanna see a guy kick a LOT of ass in increasingly absurd ways? Do you have a love for the 80s Cannon-era martial arts films with clear, crisp shooting style instead of all this shaky cam close-up shit that's cool nowadays? Do you like ninjas!? If you answered yes to any or all of this, watch this fuckin' movie. If you answered no to all, I hate you and you suck.
Most "actually this is pretty ok" Movie: World War Z - Everybody and their mommas were calling this the big bomb of the year(that would actually be The Lone Ranger!). Script rewrites(by internet hate magnet, Damon Lindelof), way over budget, delays, Brad Pitt feuding with the director, Foster being the guy responsible for those shit action sequences in Quantum of Solace, the laughable ad campaign, this was gonna be a disaster! And yet..you just watch the film free of expectations and feel "ya know, this is almost decent". The final sequence in particular is fantastic, but the whole thing is shockingly watchable with a really grounded fatherly performance by my boy Brad Pitt. And the film actually made a good chunk of money, so hey, what do you know.
Best Cameo: Ed Harris in Gravity - I've loved the film Apollo 13 ever since I was a kid, and The Right Stuff is one the best films of the 80s, so the voice of NASA in cinema is always Ed Harris to me. Clearly, I'm not alone, as he shows up as just that in Gravity near the beginning and the end. Pretty cool.
Most Shockingly Bad Performances by an Great Actor and Actress: Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave and Jodie Foster in Elysium - Holy hell. I can't even decide who's accent was worse, or what the hell accent Foster was even going for. Foster is all misplaced overacting (even more than all the scenery chewing Sharlto Copley was doing in this shit) going well beyond the boundaries of her supposedly cold villain, and Brad Pitt is just misplaced underacting, doing nothing to hide his underwritten White Jesus role and looking embarrassing next to Fassbender and Ejiofor. I don't think these two have ever been worse.
Most Forgettable Movie: Snitch - Do you remember this film? Do you know what it was about? Do you know who was in it without looking it up? Its actually a pretty bankable star!
Best Movie Everybody Forgot About: Rush - Nobody wants to see a film about F1 Racing in America, apparently. Which is really too bad, because this is the best Ron Howard movie since Apollo 13, with an energetic character-driven 70s style you don't see very much these days, a smart and entertaining script from Peter Morgan, and two damn solid performances from Chris Hemsworth and particularly Daniel Bruhl, bringing pathos to the old "opposite sides of the same coin" story. You should have saw this, guys!
Best Trailer to a Bad Movie: Man of Steel - Oh, Snyder, we were all rooting for you! You were gonna take us into the sun! Instead, its a moapy, dingy, boring film with zero dramatic stakes despite all its postering, heavy-handed symbolism, and destruction porn. BUT DAT TRAILER THO.
Best line: Before Midnight - "The best thing about being over 35 is you don't get raped as much" Such a perfectly Celine thing to say. God, I fuckin' love this movie.