My Top 10 Films of 2014

Welp, enough with all of the heartfelt reflection – it’s time for the big show. You know, the one that involves me actually divulging my top ten films of 2014 in a typically untimely fashion. Existential redundancy aside, I implore you to peruse, possibly enjoy and, above all, chime in with (dis)agreeances and general commentary.

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Top 10: Anti-Romantic Films

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To those who know me personally, a list like this created by yours truly is about as uncommon as cheese on pizza (SPOILER: If you eat cheese-less pizza then, well, you’re doing it wrong). That being said, I’ve become particularly fond of anti-romantic “self-torture” films that astound and depress in equal measure, their protagonists suffering through varying degrees of hardship as it’s typically not triumphed over. From a simple case of love on the rocks to a more sprawling effort with a touched-upon, moreover unifying narrative impetus, I feel that this list is a mildly eclectic one that illustrates the many faces of anti-romantic cinema. Consider it my Valentine’s Day gift to you.

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My Top 10 Films of 2013

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Hello everyone, and welcome to my not-so-punctual list of the best films that I saw throughout the year 2013! For a second consecutive time, I ventured out to Toronto, Canada for a predictably lauded TIFF experience – once that you folks have likely recognized as one of note given my discussion of many a worthwhile film. As always, the films I saw last year – regardless of a scheduled 2014 theatrical release – are eligible by default for this list’s consideration. So, without further adieu, I now present to the list you’ve been (or haven’t been) waiting for!

NOTE: While everything I’ve reviewed already has been paired with an excerpt from said reviews, let it be known that I still feel the same way about each of these films with the exception of 12 Years of a Slave, of which has grown on me since my initial viewing of it. That being said, click on the images to read my full-length reviews (where applicable)!

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My Top Ten Films of 2012

I don’t know what it can be attributed to, but 2012 FLEW by almost unceremoniously. Thankfully, this past year brought with it a massive heap of middling to solid cinematic endeavors, a vast majority of which I had the pleasure and sometimes displeasure of viewing and meticulously ranking. In addition to my run-of-the-mill theater ventures, I along with a pair of fellow cinephiles attended TIFF 2012 together – an event that was far and away the most memorable high point of my soon-to-be 25 years here on this earth, and words cannot describe how eager I am to tackle 2013’s festival offerings when the time comes. This in mind, I’ve once again compiled a list of my absolute favorites for you to potentially admire and compare to your own or even others’, so without any further adieu, I present to you my top ten films of 2012!

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Top 10: Collaborators That Could Use a Reunion

Series scribe Tony Gilroy returns with his first directorial go in the Bourne saga tomorrow, The Bourne Legacy. Having parted ways with Paul Greengrass – the man behind the camera for both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum – many have been wondering if Gilroy has the chops necessary to give the franchise’s signature frenetic aura that certain special oomph. While the movie-going public mulls that one over this weekend, Mr. Deepayan Sengupta and I have compiled a list of collaborators both past and present that we hope get back together sometime in the near or distant future. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to voice your own personal wishes for future collaborations!

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Top 10: Best Career Turns

With That’s My Boy looking anything but your typical “I’ve clearly stopped giving a shit” Adam Sandler fare, I find that it’s quite sad to see someone who’s exuded his talent as a dramatic actor squander any and all potential by reverting back to his roots in the worst possible way. Jack & Jill, of which I first thought to be a joke, proved that certain individuals, Sandler especially, fail to realize the depths to which they’ll stoop for the sake of a paycheck and shunning the public’s increasingly unfavorable opinion of them. This in mind, it’s always refreshing to look back upon those actors and actresses that have admirably broken free from their respective character molds, playing against type to prove to us that there’s more to them than meets the eye. Agree or disagree, I’ve concocted a list of those still working today that have successfully tackled such a daunting task.

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Top 10: Best Moments from the Films of Wes Anderson

With today marking the (very) limited release of the much anticipated Moonrise Kingdom, I deemed it appropriate to concoct a list of ten exceptionally memorable moments from his films that have defined him as a singular American filmmaker. Some are a tad more foreseeable than others, comedic or dramatic as well, but as always, feel free to share some of your personal favorites with me considering how restrictive the number ten is in relation to such a visionary auteur. Enjoy!

10. The Gunfight (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)

While The Life Aquatic borders on unfavorable to those not wholly entranced by Anderson’s signature style, its comedic timing is, by my standards, pretty impeccable. In a rather wild turn of events, Zissou (Bill Murray) and his eclectic crew’s vessel is hijacked by a band of Filipino pirates. Realizing that shit’s gone completely haywire, Steve snaps, biting through his restraints and unleashes hell upon his assailants with a 9MM handgun. Accompanied remarkably by one (of many) David Bowie classics, what ensues is pretty off-the-wall, even by Anderson’s standards. It’s a scene that’s meant to be taken half-seriously, what with the predicament itself being all but jokeworthy and Mr. Zissou’s outburst teetering on the brink of awkwardly comedic absurdity.

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My 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2012

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We’re a week into 2012, and I feel comfortable enough sharing with you my most anticipated films of the remainder of the year. It isn’t anything special, and I’m sure there will be more to add as the proverbial diamonds in the rough make their rounds on the festival circuit, but in the meantime, these titles are those I’ve set my sights on. If you’re feeling bold, make sure to comment and voice your own picks. Enjoy!

Haywire (dir. Steven Soderbergh) – The twilight of his career looming precariously on the horizon, Mr. Soderbergh’s decided to tackle several niches of the cinematic spectrum he hasn’t entirely familiarized himself with. This time, the end product takes the form of an action-packed espionage thriller in the vein of Mission:Impossible, starring female MMA dynamo Gina Carano and quite literally every presently relevant A-list actor. The trailers look promising enough, and I assume there isn’t much to be said about the central story arc that hasn’t been found within similar films, but I have enough faith in Soderbergh to see this one through to its end. Haywire opens wide on January 20th. Continue reading

My Top 10 Films of 2011

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I’ve seen a lot of pretty terrible things this past year both in and outside of theaters. A LOT. In fact, to say that 2011 in general was a pretty lackluster year for cinema wouldn’t be too far from the truth much to the chagrin of my closest cinephile cohorts. Aside from not seeing a good chunk of my top ten in theaters due to their very limited theatrical releases, this unfortunate defining attribute was most likely brought about thanks to a record-breaking number of adaptations, remakes and sequels, almost all of which were either unnecessary or a complete waste of time.

Agree or disagree, you can’t help but wonder just why the lesser-known, infinitely more worthwhile labors of the industry aren’t as appreciated as the next Transformers sequel always is. An oft discussed, moreover redundant topic as of late, however it’s always good to keep stuff like this at the forefront of your mind in an attempt to appreciate what actually deserves appreciation come awards season. It goes without saying that I didn’t quite get the chance to see everything I hoped to see throughout 2011, but the above average efforts I had the pleasure of seeing have rightfully earned their spots on this list for a multitude of reasons, even if I was partially let down by a handful of hopefuls.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): 50/50, Bellflower, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hanna, I Saw the Devil, Like Crazy, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Road to Nowhere, Source Code

10. Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)

“Cutesy” as it certainly and very often is, Mike Mills’ Beginners ability to deftly (if very subtly) address the existential crises we can find ourselves grappling with as constantly changing individuals ensure that the film remains touching as can be. While its self-indulgent, almost hip sense of style can prove to be alienating at times, an extraordinarily endearing cast of characters and the overbearing sweetness of it all pair wonderfully with Beginners‘ easily discernible underlying themes, even as some aspects of the narrative feel clumsily implemented or undercooked.

9. The Skin I Live In (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Pairing Almodóvar’s singularly surrealistic, noirish flair with a wildly imaginative script does wonders for this underseen genre-bending effort. Centering on renowned plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard as his latest, highly secretive experiment at first appears to be fueled by a recent familial tragedy, it’s easy to see just why he’s decided to follow through with the taxing task at hand. As events both past and present begin to unfold, details surface that throw both the characters and especially viewers for a loop, allowing us to be consumed by the innumerable intricacies Almodóvar’s script possesses, even if the disjointed narrative’s presentation can feel a bit clunky here and there. As an involving, startlingly original if outlandish triumph for the auteur however, The Skin I Live In is truly something special. Full review here.

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

A harrowing, purely visceral genre-bending effort from writer/director Lynne Ramsay, this adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same title is as distressing as it is masterful in its artistic sensibilities. With simply stellar performances across the board, We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t once opt for easy answers as it examines the complexities of childhood and a mother’s inevitable feelings of self-loathing and questionable guilt on account of an unspeakable tragedy committed by her only son. Remaining steadfast in its intentions as the film bleakly chugs along to its undeniably gripping latter act, We Need to Talk About Kevin is as hard-hitting as it is a prime example of cinematic excellence.

7. Shame (dir. Steve McQueen)

Artfully constructed without being too heavy-handed in addressing the seriousness behind its central character’s perpetual struggle with sex addiction, Steve McQueen’s sophomore effort isn’t intended for the conservative or squeamish yet it almost perfectly illustrates this individual’s heartbreaking journey to the very bottom of an ocean of anguish. While Fassbender’s Brandon’s sexual escapades may often prove to be gratuitous in nature, the introduction of his sister Sissy, aptly portrayed by Carey Mulligan, insists that the film aims to address how difficult it is for these two severely damaged beings to coexist as much as it intends to hit home as a startlingly authentic, gut-wrenching portrait of a helpless sex addict. Full review here.

6. Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller)

While on the surface appearing to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill fact-based sports biopic, Moneyball admirably defies convention by effectively humanizing an otherwise straightforward snoozefest, allowing us to amply sympathize with Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane as his implementation of Sabermetrics into his ailing ball club’s allotted budget reaches far beyond a base level of understanding. Sure, baseball-centric shop talk predictably spews from the characters’ mouths at frequent intervals, yet it’s all presented in a way that can be easily understood and appreciated by fans of the sport and non-fans alike, remaining similar to last year’s The Social Network in its sheer level of engagement. As human emotions reign supreme over its equally more compelling sequences chronicling Beane’s mounting stress both on and off the field, the relationships that exist between central characters feel real, coupling wonderfully with everything else Moneyball has to offer including an absolutely fantastic pair of performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Full review here.

5. Oslo, August 31st (dir. Joachim Trier)

As a masterful, emotionally authentic and far from overblown character study, Joachim Trier’s latest is agreeably grim but a small triumph nonetheless. Focusing on a recovering drug addict, Anders, as a job interview grants him a brief reprieve from the facility he’s been staying at, the subsequent run-ins with old acquaintances and loved ones cause the troubled man to wallow in an interminable amount of self-loathing and regret. Hitting startlingly close to home at frequent intervals, Anders’ search for purpose after throwing his life in the toilet is equal parts involving and appealingly subdued without slipping into the realm of trite melodrama. Full review here.

4. Young Adult (dir. Jason Reitman)

Shining the spotlight on particularly detestable characters is admittedly a tough sell in Hollywood, which is precisely why using them as a film’s focal point is a lesser explored niche of filmmaking. With Young Adult, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman unite once again to bring us a scathingly funny yet increasingly dark and morose character study examining the perils of prolonged adolescence. It isn’t necessarily the happiest of affairs, but Cody’s noticeable departure from her quirkier roots and Reitman’s steady hand behind the camera help us sympathize with this infinitely flawed individual despite her inability to simply grow up, making Young Adult a darkly unique affair that’s sure to polarize audiences, yet I found very little to dislike about Mavis and her alcohol-infused debauchery. Full review here.

3. Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols)

Anyone who’s anyone can attest to having a film strike a particular chord with them, if only on an emotional level. It’s something that undeniably affects how you’ll perceive and subsequently laud that film in relation to your potential detractors, however if the entire production is just that good and then some, you have something wholly unique that’s a wonder to behold. Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is one such wonder, priding itself on its deft examination of the detriments of mental illness and the toll it can take not just on you, but your increasingly worrisome family, friends and neighbors as well. Full review here.

2. Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen)

Simultaneously establishing itself as both a love letter for its Parisian setting and a wonderfully insightful, fantastical examination of the human condition, Midnight in Paris is, simply put, pure bliss. While not as thematically dense as Allen’s past ruminations on similar topics, the notoriously neurotic auteur forgoes substance in favor of embracing a more whimsical and artfully constructed mash-up of several different eras of art and literary history. Remaining engaging in several respects as Allen’s trademark wit permeates this near perfect, aesthetically flawless and plain fun examination of what it’s like struggling to find a sense of personal and professional self-worth during a time it begins to matter most. Full review here.

1. Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

As both a self-satisfying passion project for all involved and a prime example of cinematic mastery in a time when we needed it most, Nicolas Winding Refn’s raw, breathtakingly and tastefully stylish Drive sits atop this list for all the right reasons. Standing tall as a captivating, ultraviolent neo-noir, Refn and the gang set out to make a film lover’s film that’s accessible and benefits endlessly from its appealing minimalistic subject matter, stunning locales and wonderfully implemented action sequences, all of which are complimented by a stellar soundtrack and pitch-perfect 80s-infused score from Cliff Martinez. Gosling reigns supreme as the super-imposing Driver, and stellar efforts from the supporting cast further benchmark this welcome rarity in the realm of contemporary cinema. Full review here.

My Top 10 Films of 2010

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Year-end lists aren’t necessarily hot commodities these days, especially in the realm of us film bloggers. They’re often bland, repetitive as such and generally uninteresting. Why am I compiling one you ask? The answer’s simple: I love lists, and I love film even more.

While 2010 wasn’t what you’d call a landmark year for filmmaking, there were more than a handful of above average efforts I had the pleasure of viewing, a good deal of which arrived in theaters just in the nick of time. This in mind, I’m proud to say that I’m pleased with my choices for the ten best of the past year, and in spite of not being the most awe-inspiring or original, it’s safe to say I’ve finally kicked the habit of letting the opinions of others directly affect my own; something I feel has been reflected in the list I’m about to share with you. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment on whatever you’d like.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Buried, Catfish, Cyrus, Easy A, Enter the Void, The Fighter, Greenberg, Never Let Me Go, The Town, Toy Story 3

10. 127 Hours (dir. Danny Boyle)

Danny Boyle and I have never really gotten along. Sure, I enjoy the hell of 28 Days Later and (most of) Sunshine, but the director’s noticeable creative flourishes have often struck me as somewhat ostentatious. With 127 Hours however, Boyle managed to strike a perfect balance between his signature style and the affecting, emotionally charged framework of the true story the film is based on, allowing James Franco to shine in a breathtaking turn as the one and only Aron Ralston. It’s this performance that transforms the film from good to great, but Boyle’s uncanny ability to keep a film set entirely within a barren crevasse as engrossing as it is further elevates 127 Hours above its contenders.

9. Animal Kingdom (dir. David Michôd)

You can’t throw a rock inside your local Blockbuster without hitting the latest pseudo-intellectual crime drama littered with predictable twists and turns. Having heard nothing but praise for David Michôd’s Australia-set Animal Kingdom, I decided to take a gamble and walked away much more than just pleasantly surprised. Sure, the textbook elements of the genre’s precursors are there, twists and all, but the hard-hitting narrative and genuinely interesting characters bring a whole lot more to the table while Michôd deftly sidesteps any and all clichés. Emotionally riveting and beautifully shot, Animal Kingdom is easily the best feature-length debut from any director to come along in quite some time.

8. Let Me In (dir. Matt Reeves)

Just the thought of remaking a contemporary horror classic roughly 2 years after its theatrical release is blasphemous enough, but actually acting upon that thought and doing the unthinkable is an entirely different animal. Surprisingly enough, director Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame has managed to do something countless others haven’t: produce a remake that actually surpasses the original. As bold as this statement sounds, Reeves’ thoughtfulness in combining the key elements that made the original so great with his singular, tasteful creative touches have allowed me to stand by these words even months down the line. Throw in a pair of captivating performances from two of Hollywood’s most promising young upstarts and you’ve almost perfected something that was already dangerously close to perfection.

7. The Kids Are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)

While some may feel differently about Lisa Cholodenko’s seriocomic foray into the world of familial relations and the importance of togetherness, I found it to be quite the masterpiece. With a budget of around $4 million, it’s safe to say that anything less than a stellar narrative would fail to deliver where the film most certainly should have, and stellar is precisely how it can be described. Deftly avoiding both convention and melodrama to craft an exceptionally well-rounded and accessible piece of cinema, Cholodenko’s indie hit rests safely among the year’s best and showcases several probable Oscar-worthy performances.

6. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Some call it a “thinking man’s blockbuster.” Others say it’s overrated. Seeing as how Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending venture into the inner workings of our very own subconscious has scored a spot on this list, Inception in my eyes is far from overrated; it’s just that good. As an exceedingly intelligent piece of science fiction, Nolan’s sprawling epic puts forth ideas so appealingly complex that any flaws the film does have are immediately overshadowed by the multi-layered narrative that’s bewildered even the most seasoned of viewers. Accompanied by unique, jaw-dropping visuals and an unforgettable musical score, Inception received the attention and overt praise it most certainly deserved.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (dir. Edgar Wright)

The phrase “It was like nothing I’d ever seen!” is probably one of the most hyperbolic and generally misused statements heard today. Sure, I’ve been found guilty of throwing it around here and there, especially after watching something as unique as Edgar Wright’s nearly flawless adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s acclaimed graphic novels. It’s no secret that Wright himself has provided us with a pair of the most hilarious, well-written action comedies to come along in the past decade, and Scott Pilgrim can safely be considered the third. Fantastic sense of humor aside, the film incorporates a wildly entertaining visual flair to coincide with the very essence of the source material, the inclusion of which takes Scott Pilgrim to noticeably new heights within the realm of cinema, even if some may already be suffering from Michael Cera overload.

4. Exit Through the Gift Shop (dir. Banksy)

In the world of street art, to say the name Banksy rings a bell is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a ditch. Originally meant to be a documentary about the famed faceless legend himself, Banksy instead took it upon himself to switch roles with the individual who had initially set out to work with him: the bizarre and eccentric Thierry Guetta. Whether the production as a whole is a hoax or not, it’s hard to deny how fascinating this mostly up-close examination of the most renowned artists of our time truly is, despite the bizarre shift in focus that inadvertently sheds light on topics frequently touched upon within the art world. Humorous, intriguing and just plain wonderful, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the few documentaries I’ve ever taken such a fervent liking toward.

3. Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

Easily discernible as the quintessential companion piece to director Darren Aronofsky’s previous effort, Black Swan once again unflinchingly and brilliantly illustrates the tragic downfall of an individual forever consumed by his or her demanding profession. Aided by a magnificent central performance from Natalie Portman, Aronofsky’s genre-bending psychological thriller is both appropriately melodramatic and wildly entertaining, even as Nina’s deteriorating mental health and overwhelming fragility begin to haunt us as much as they do her. Tense throughout and an absolute wonder to behold, Black Swan is more than just an acceptable companion piece: it’s a stroke of genius.

2. The Social Network (dir. David Fincher)

Creating a film that effectively defines an entire generation of people in just under two hours is quite the achievement. David Fincher’s The Social Network is just such an achievement, bringing with it an unsurpassed cinematic prowess that largely excels due to its enthralling, lightning fast pace and ingenious script. Granted, the story surrounding the social networking behemoth’s inception is fascinating within itself, but Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of the young billionaire that’s responsible is equally to thank for how great the project turned out. Oscar contenders abound round out an already stellar cast and Fincher’s confidence behind the camera ensures that The Social Network is easily one of the year’s best.

1. Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)

After driving nearly three hours to this past year’s Philadelphia Film Festival to see this and this alone, I assure you that the experience was as rewarding as can be. While contemporary meditations on love found and lost aren’t necessarily a dime a dozen, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine carries with it a sense of authenticity so powerful it’s almost surreal. Alternately depicting the highest highs and lowest lows of a couple’s relationship as one Dean struggles desperately to rekindle what he and wife Cindy once had, the film itself remains a hugely affecting, almost devastating account of what it’s like to find and lose that love you swore you’d never find again. Additionally, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams commit to their roles so convincingly that most of what makes Blue Valentine so perfect by way of believability can be traced back to their dynamite performances. It isn’t the easiest film to watch, but it sure is beautiful, which is precisely why Derek Cianfrance’s indie drama rises above the rest.