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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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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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.

My Top 10 Films of ’09

Fashionably late once again, I’ve finally managed to compile a list of my favorite films of ’09! As always, I’ve tried to view as many films as humanly possible in an effort to come up with a slightly above average bunch that will hopefully reflect my still burgeoning fondness of film itself. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment!

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): An Education, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Messenger, The Vicious KindUp, Whip It

10. Where the Wild Things Are (dir. Spike Jonze)

On the surface, it may seem like Spike Jonze has done nothing but reimagine Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s tale. Beyond that, it becomes apparent that Jonze has accurately and meticulously envisioned how the mind of a young boy works, from his grappling with rarely felt emotions to the more simple wonders of a child’s imagination, Where the Wild Things Are establishes itself as more than just a literary adaptation. Some unexpected moodiness may prove to be a bit much for younger audiences, but for those can appreciate it, the film remains remarkably insightful and entertaining as such.

9. In the Loop (dir. Armando Iannucci)

Remaining intelligent and socially relevant amid barrage after barrage of vulgarity, In the Loop proves to be an immensely successful satirical take on one of today’s most pressing political issues. It isn’t perfect, but it effectively manages to compensate for what it lacks via a pitch perfect sense of humor.

8. District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

Equal parts thought-provoking and relentlessly entertaining, District 9 is ample proof that intelligence can still be found within the realm of contemporary science-fiction. Coupling some obvious social commentary with an otherwise straightforward, undeniably engrossing central premise, Neil Blomkamp has successfully crafted one seriously well-rounded film that will certainly give imitators a run for their money.

7. The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

An intended focus on the addictive quality warfare possesses inevitably makes The Hurt Locker stand out among countless other war-related films, zoning in on one individual’s inexplicable thirst for action as war irrevocably changes him for the worse. An adequate script depicting the uneasy bonds Sgt. James forms with his fellow soldiers introduces a welcome shift in the narrative, and thanks to a dynamite portrayal of the character in question by one Jeremy Renner, the circumstances surrounding his erratic behavior are heartbreaking and appealingly honest in nature. Remaining appropriately tense when appropriate while effectively humanizing an otherwise straightforward war movie, The Hurt Locker is as much an emotional experience as it is a visceral one.

6. Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold)

A startlingly honest depiction of misguided youth, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is a simplistic yet crushing portrait of Mia: a 15-year-old girl merely struggling to find her place in the world as the individuals in her life continually push her away. Using dance and the occasional alcoholic beverage as barely functional coping strategies, young Mia finds solace in her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor, that is until his involvement manages to further complicate matters. Featuring stellar performances across the board including one hell of a debut from newcomer Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank is a beautifully shot, thoughtfully paced and altogether authentic piece of independent filmmaking.

5. Adventureland (dir. Greg Mottola)

“While several marketing mishaps may have had Superbad fans scrambling to their seats opening day, Adventureland is assuredly not in the same vein as Mottola’s previous directorial effort, to say the least. Instead, we’re graced with a sweet, believable semi-autobiographical account of what it’s like to work that dreadful summer job just about everyone would never like to have. This in mind, Adventureland’s laid back, yet undoubtedly effective style of humor helps contribute to this all-too-appealing believability factor, allowing us as viewers to revel in copious amounts of nostalgia if appropriate and appreciate the film’s wholly original approach to a genre that’s become a little too familiar over the past few years…” Full review found here.

4. Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

“Tarantino’s latest can quite easily be considered both a triumph and one of the acclaimed writer/director’s best efforts to date. What Basterds provides us with to support such a statement lies partly within QT’s overly frenetic yet refreshingly original style of writing and the sometimes cartoonish editing that often coincides with it; a formula that if applied to a previously vapid World War II setting would potentially blow the minds of theatergoers everywhere. This being said, the film in question does just that, thanks to some wonderfully charismatic and just plain hilarious characters in conjunction with a purposeful ignorance towards political history that succeeds in every way possible…” Full review found here.

3. Moon (dir. Duncan Jones)

While its immediate influences are almost embarrassingly identifiable, it’s hard to deny the brilliance of Duncan Jones’ directorial debut. As it progresses, Moon reveals itself to be one of the most engrossing pieces of science-fiction cinema to come along in quite some time, with Jones deftly mixing equal parts sci-fi and suspense to serve as the proverbial icing on the cake. Sam Rockwell’s mesmerizing performance is without a doubt the film’s most appealing quality, portraying two entirely different characters so well it’s a wonder why he’ll most likely not receive an Oscar nod this time around.

2. Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman)

“Few films have been so daring as to hold a mirror up to our society and expose parts of it for what they really are. Jason Reitman’s simply stellar Up in the Air is just that type of film, mixing equal parts social relevance and brutal honesty to make one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences in recent memory. Aside from touching upon the ever-present economic ruin currently plaguing our country, Up in the Air uses the central character Ryan’s career as a means of exploring the importance of love and relationships to those who are too selfish to commit to anything but themselves, thus potentially forcing us as viewers to reevaluate the states of our own lives as well…” Full review found here.

1. (500) Days of Summer (dir. Marc Webb)

“After finally getting the chance to see this much-anticipated film of mine, I can safely conclude that it’s quite easily the best of the year thus far. It succeeds where a plethora of other films of its type clearly haven’t, mostly due to how unconventionally and borderline brutally honest it is from start to finish, even though the film’s intentions are made abundantly clear no more than several minutes in thanks to some clever albeit sometimes inconsistent narration. It’s with this characteristic that (500) Days of Summer poses some interesting and refreshingly original thoughts on love and the different theories certain individuals have on the matter, further setting it apart from other run-of-the-mill romcoms by staying unpredictable throughout thanks to this and its unique back-and-forth narrative structure…” Full review found here.

My Top 10 Films of ’08, Fashionably Late

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Yes, I’m quite aware that we’re well into ’09, and pretty soon, another list will magically appear outlining this year’s best. Since my previous list of the same title can be considered almost laughable, I’ve decided another would be more than appropriate in an effort to put on display my reformed sense of taste. So, without further adieu, I present to you my top 10 films of ’08!

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Ballast, Burn After Reading, The Dark Knight, Definitely, Maybe, Ghost Town, Gomorrah, Synecdoche, New YorkTwo Lovers, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wendy and Lucy

10. Revanche (dir. Götz Spielmann)

I am not a connoisseur of foreign cinema, and it’s because of this fact that merely seeing Revanche on this list at all is quite the surprise. Focusing on a presumably inept thief’s thirst for revenge following the accidental death of his girlfriend, Götz Spielmann’s beautifully shot crime drama is, simply put, riveting. Deliberate pacing and a poignant emotional underbelly ensure a likable sense of unpredictability, with fantastic performances and an exceptionally gratifying resolution to round out the bunch and establish Revanche as an accessible, terrific piece of modern filmmaking.

9. Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh)

When I first laid eyes on Happy-Go-Lucky, I couldn’t decide between admiring Poppy’s overly (overly) sunny disposition or stabbing myself in the ears. Having decided my sense of hearing was infinitely more important, I managed to tough it out and found myself pleasantly surprised at how truly magnificent the film really is. From dynamite efforts abound to a refreshingly original central premise and female protagonist, Mike Leigh certainly hits all the right notes with this one.

8. Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Alfredson)

Nothing has become as stale and frustratingly overused as the vampire subgenre. Sure, Twilight‘s mostly to blame, but such an abortion-esque series of books and films shouldn’t unjustly render everything in the same vein as something less than it is. Let the Right One In, thankfully, puts an exquisite twist on traditional vampire lore by introducing a heavily tweaked coming-of-age element into an already fascinating script, of which functions wonderfully and teems with an odd yet very intelligible sense of authenticity. Throughout its duration Oskar and Eli’s story remains captivating in spite of the language barrier and showcases a pair of mildly impressive performances from our two never before seen leads.

7. Snow Angels (dir. David Gordon Green)

A devastating account of how unspeakable tragedy takes an unfathomably detrimental toll on life in Small Town, USA, David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels isn’t the easiest to watch, but a wonder to behold. Bouncing between the perspectives of young Arthur and his former babysitter Annie as events unfold following the latter’s plight, the film appealingly refrains from sugarcoating any details so as to maintain an altogether authentic if not relentlessly downtrodden atmosphere.

6. WALL-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)

Pixar has always held a special place in my heart. The studio’s miraculous ability to combine mind-boggling animation, lovable characters and equal parts kid-friendly fun and social commentary is unparalleled, and WALL-E is quite easily their best venture to date. Set far into a rather bleak future, Andrew Stanton’s brainchild is both a subtle wake-up call to the world and an endlessly charming animated feature that touches upon several oft-pondered topics while remaining entertaining enough to avoid being heavy-handed in any sense.

5. In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh)

Combining a staggeringly beautiful setting with one of the most engrossing and brilliantly funny scripts of the past decade is no easy feat, yet McDonagh hits all the right notes in coupling two very different individuals hiding out in Bruges, Belgium following a botched hit attempt. Not once faltering in its effort to constantly entertain, and never coming off as crass or unrefined, In Bruges is a simply fantastic film of great poise.

4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (dir. Nicholas Stoller)

Considering we’ve been constantly adrift in a figurative sea of achingly miserable romantic comedies for years, I tend to look past a film’s unrefined exterior for a solid film underneath all the nonsense. Forgetting Sarah Marshall may very well be the epitome of the American comedy in this regard, never once devolving into uninspired and glaringly unfunny muck. In crafting an able-bodied and infinitely rewatchable film worthy of any and all praise, Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller deftly blend raunch and the essentials of any functional contemporary romance in such a way that finding anything unfavorable to say about it becomes damn near impossible. Splice in a cast of colorful, offbeat characters and you have yourself a fully functional, well-rounded and just plain hysterical piece of cinema that makes the most out of the simplest of premises.

3. Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant)

The significance of Harvey Milk in relation to the ever-present issue of gay rights is nothing short of monumental. Having been familiar with the individual, but not the lengths to which he went in an ongoing effort to give those like him a sense of much-needed security among the general public, I was blown away by Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed biopic in ways I never expected to be. Milk, as a whole, packs the requisite emotional wallop and remains mostly inspirational and infinitely entertaining thanks to a marvelous central performance, sensitive direction and an unrivaled drive to pay tribute to one of the most important figures of the gay rights movement.

2. The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

A film about professional wrestling? Not quite. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler marks a triumphant and welcome return to form for one Mickey Rourke, as his portrayal of fading superstar Randy “The Ram” remains this cinematic gem’s captivating centerpiece. Chronicling the life and times of “The Ram” soon reveals that he’s long since lost touch with everything outside of his demanding profession, letting both his dwindling health and relationship with his estranged daughter take a backseat to the one thing he’s unquestionably good at. Appropriately minimalistic, emotionally devastating and insightful everywhere it counts, Aronofsky’s directorial expertise and Rourke’s flawless portrayal of a fading, tormented athlete effortlessly establish The Wrestler as nothing short of a triumph.

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. David Fincher)

Sure, the idea of transforming a short story into a three-hour epic is a little… off. Even if the essence and general ideas presented within the literature translate well enough to the big screen, therein lies the problem of keeping viewers’ interests piqued as the life of such a character is chronicled almost endlessly. Director David Fincher, thankfully, seemed more than up for the task as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button very easily managed to sneak past countless contenders to the top of this very list. Visually stunning and enchanting almost to a fault, the film in question carries itself straight through to its almost melancholic yet hopeful and gratifying conclusion with great ease. Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying Benjamin Button‘s charm, which is precisely why this and the efforts of the cast helped solidify this masterful epic’s honor as my favorite film of 2008.