Runners-Up (And it was a strong year!):
Life of Pi:
While the bookends of this movie are pedestrian, the lengthy middle section of Life of Pi is a marvel to behold. The great Ang Lee (who won the Best Director Oscar) connects modern visual effects to a touching story of a boy and his tiger.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present:
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see performance artist Abramovic at MOMA. This documentary (my favorite of many fascinating nonfiction films this year) traces her preparation for the landmark show. A fascinating look into a controversial performance artist.
No, Chile’s entry into the foreign film race, is kind of a Latin American Mad Men with higher stakes. A light hearted, loose, yet weighty look at how a simple message of hope can prove a trigger for real change. Bonus points for how the cinematography matches the 80s video look.
A Royal Affair:
Another foreign language film nominee, this one from Denmark. The luminous Alicia Vikander stars as Catherine, a Queen of Denmark who teams with the king’s physician to bring modern life to a backwards country. Impeccably filmed, extremely entertaining, and educational in the best sense.
Take This Waltz:
This one bounced off and on my Top 10 list, and eventually landed in number 11. That said, I thought about this movie about as much as any of the movies on my top 10 list. Director Sarah Polley directs (with great skill) this tale of a trio of Toronto hipsters navigating tricky relationships. Michelle Williams adds another amazing performance to her resume. It's a little messy, and you may hate the characters, but it's a singular film.
10. Anna Karenina: I was both excited and apprehensive to see a film version of my favorite novel of all time. While director Joe Wright didn’t give me the Anna I envisioned, he did give his own daring conception of Anna and the stifling world around her. His choice to film the movie in an abandoned theater was brilliant, given a fascinating theatricality to the whole affair. My major caveat is that I wanted even more of Levin and Kitty’s stories.
9. Oslo, August 31st: There isn’t a misstep or false moment in this portrait of Anders, a drug addict on leave from his treatment program to go for a job interview. It’s portrait of lost opportunity and possible rebirth is profound, deeply personal, and occasionally formally experimental. Director Joachim Trier (who made the wonderful Reprise in 2008) is one to watch.
8. Django Unchained: Following the Kill Bill movies and Inglourious Basterds, here is another revenge fantasy from Quentin Tarantino, and this one is his best film since Pulp Fiction. A daring and bold takedown of all the myths of the old South, this movie is both tremendously fun and genuinely moving. It’s close to 3 hours, and not a minute too long.
7. Silver Linings Playbook: Director David O. Russell gives us a big-hearted movie about Pat Solitano, a bipolar man who is struggling to reclaim his old life. A kind of modern screwball comedy, this movie has it all: laughs, tears, and a great climax. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have the most chemistry between two stars I’ve seen in a long time.
6. The Kid With a Bike: Movies about goodness are perhaps the hardest to pull off, as they so often descend into sentimentality. Leave it to the Dardenne brothers, the Beligan filmmakers who are modern masters, to portray with great sincerity nothing less than the saving of a lost soul. Young Thomas Doret and Cecile de France give beautifully naturalistic perfroamnces.
5. Moonrise Kingdom: This movie crept up my Top 10 list until it landed at 5, and it seems the movie most likely to climb even higher as the years proress. I was actually skeptical of this movie before I saw it, as I felt like director Wes Anderson had become repetitevely twee in The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson returns to the heights of his best movies with Moonrise Kingdom. It is as impeccably and artistically constructed as any of his movies, filled with humorous dialogue, and also achingly poignant and romantic. I can’t stop thinking about that last scene.
4. Argo: This year’s Best Picture winner was probably the most flat-out entertaining of the year. Ben Affleck directs this true (with some Hollywood license) story of an escape from revolutionary Iran aided by the wonders of Hollywood. The performances are great, the directing top-notch (sorry for that Best Director snub Ben!), and I hardly moved a muscle for the entire movie.
3. The Master: Easily the most divisive movie on my list. Strange, gorgeous, off-putting, fascinating, confusing, and epic are all words I can use to describe this movie. I’ve now seen it twice and its mysteries continue to haunt me. It takes the beginning of a Scientology-like cult as it starts, and becomes something even more haunting and mysterious. As in There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson shows us the darker side of a period American history (this time post-WWII), forcing us to hold up a mirror to the worst in our culture, even while giving us haunting and beautiful images.
2. Amour: Simply shattering. The great Austrian director Michael Haneke is often accused of cold-heartedness, but here he makes a movie named “Love.” A true love story about what love looks like in the last days of life, this is a movie I will never forget. I wept through at least half of this movie, and bow down to the great work done by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as the pair who have to learn how to exist in a new pardigm.
1. Lincoln: My best movie of the year was never really in doubt. Director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kushner, and actor Daniel Day Lewis are a trio made in heaven. A historical movie that doesn’t try to do it all but
instead focuses on a historic moment in Lincoln’s life, the passing of the 13th Amendment. This movie is incredibly smart about the intricacies of the personal and the political, and never for a moment did it feel boring or educational. An American masterpiece I’m sure will be remembered for a very long time.
It was a great year for the movies, and I hope 2013 can match it!