10. Friends With Benefits dir. Will Gluck
This raunchy comedy makes full use of its cast’s incredible charisma in asking the question of whether just being friends with benefits can actually work. Mila Kunis and Woody Harrleson are standouts in a very funny and game cast. This was the best time I had in a theater all year.
9. Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol dir. Brad Bird
Never has watching Tom Cruise run around been so fun. This movie directed by Brad Bird has so many wow moments and set pieces, its one of the best action movies I have seen in a long time. Everything that happens feels organic and the craft work from the effects to the sound to cinematography is excellent and works so well together. And Tom Cruise proves that he still has every bit of that movie star charisma he had when the franchise first started.
8. Midnight in Paris dir. Woody Allen
Whimsical without being light, delivered a message without being heavy handed, this flick from famed director Woody Allen is delightful. With great dialog, outstanding performances lead by Owen Wilson and a scene stealing Corey Stoll as Earnest Hemingway, this movie is the definition of fun.
7. The Help dir. Tate Taylor
This is arguably the best acted film that I saw this year, with every actor holding his/her own. Set in the Deep South in the 60s, this movie could have devolved into caricature or parody. Instead, under Tate Taylor’s gentle hand this story managed to make an impressive transition from book to screen. Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are standouts amongst an incredible cast who are all doing great work here. While many can gripe about it being another film about Black women being maids, this film is so much more than that in that it actually gives a voice to those women, who weren’t allowed to have one.
6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes dir. Rupert Wyatt
Who knew a prequel to a morribund franchise would be so good and boundary pushing? In chronicling the rise of the apes, this movie breaks new ground in motion capture technology and action set pieces. I loved that this movie wasn’t shy about making the apes, not the humans, the main leads in this moive. Andy Serkis deserves a special Oscar for his work as Ceasar, a lived in performance if there was one. The special effects by WETA are showy, but they serve more as paint over the actors performances. Rupert Wyatt is a star in the making as a director and the Golden Gate Bridge sequence is masterful. Bonus points for setting it in San Francisco 😉
5. Shame dir. Steve McQueen
This drama about a sex addict is unrelenting and unrepentant in its delivery. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give amazing performances as the sex addict and his wayward sister. While the full frontal nudity gets most of the talk, the best thing about this movie is that Steve McQueen doesn’t let the camera get in the way of his vision. The long takes in this movie are a wonder in an age when people edit movies to shreds and allow his actors to really flex their muscle.
4. The Artist dir. Michel Hazanavicius
It’ll probably win the Oscar and I have no problem with that. It’s an impeccably well made love letter to silent films and the rise of talkies in the last 1920s. While the film is mostly silent, the use of sound in key sequences is an inspired choice. Jean Dujardin is so fantastic as the lead actor in this movie. I really enjoyed this movie and the tap dance sequence at the end is to DIE for. What most impressed me about this movie was how it embraced silent film techniques while still being modern. Michel Hazanavicius deserves all the credit for his direction (and praise for showing us the full bodies during dance sequences!)
3. The Tree of Life dir. Terrence Malick
I’ve seen this movie twice and I’m still not completely sure I understand it, and that’s ok. There was perhaps no movie that invited intellectual discussion more than Terrence Malick’s meditation on life and the universe. This is auteur vision at its finest and aided by Emmanuel Lubeski’s cinematography this film is stunning throughout, even while forcing you to ponder your existence. I loved Brad Pitt in this movie, fully embodying his hard nosed 50’s father. From beginning to end, his performance is superb (those scenes where he’s lamenting how he treated his dead son gahhh). Also great are the special effects used sparringly, (the creation of earth and the dinosaurs sequences), but to tremendous effect.
2. Weekend dir. Andrew Haigh
It’s a movie about two gay men whose hookup turns into something more. I loved this movie because it is just a simple storyline with regular interactions and a fantastic ending, nothing more and nothing less. Andrew Haigh’s script provides a fascinating look at the issues facing gay men without having the weight of being THE GAY FILM. Tom Cullen and Chris New are so good in their roles, and this movie is so reliant on their chemistry and their acting skill (both in conversation and during sex). What I love about the two of them is while they start off as archetypes (sexually confident gay man and reserved gay man), they grow with their characters and show facets of themselves we wouldn’t have known existed. Whether they are having frank discussions about sex or pondering if they could actually have a relationship, their interactions seem so naturalistic that your heart can’t help but break when they get to the train station at the end. It is also a testament to Andrew that not a scene in this film feels overly long, in fact I was pining for more scenes and would love to see a film in which we pick up with the characters in 2 years.
1. A Separation dir. Ashgar Farhadi
There hasn’t been a day gone by since I’ve seen it that I have not thought about Asghar Farhadi’s masterfully made film. It has invaded my mind so fully. Writing about this movie is so difficult because to just present the narrative does a disservice to its complex nature, and also spoils the movie. Farhadi’s script begins with the divorce proceedings of a couple and then takes off to some very unexpected places. This is a movie that wades in the depths of societal conflicts in modern day Iran, painting a picture of a country and a people both prospering and at odds with itself. But what is so great about this film is that it doesn’t shy away from situations or dialog that might be controversial, instead laying out issues like class conflict, religion v secularism, and the failings of a justice system, with such nuance and grace. A Separation is like the Beast’s flower constantly peeling away layers till you get to the conclusion and still are left to wonder about what exactly you’ve been dealing with.
The performances in this film are excellent, each actor revealing so much about their characters but holding back so much. In combining with Farhadi’s fantastic script, their performances each make up a fractured psyche of the human mind. The tug and pull of honor and duty and desire for freedom and a better life pore out from their performances.
You won’t really understand the impact this film has on you till about 15 mins after you watch it, but after that you’ll remember it forever.