10. Beautiful Creatures dir. Richard LaGravenese
This was a late edition to my top 10. And by late I mean it was added the day before it was published. But much like back in February, I wasn’t able to resist the charms of this enough to leave it out of my 10. Beautiful Creatures is just a treat of a film from the Southern setting to the supernatural goings on to the pure scenery chewing of the acting, it’s just a delight and incredibly re-watchable. It gets bonus points for introducing me toAlden Ehrenreich, who gave the best male performance of the year and for having one of the better teen romances in the past few years.
9. Her dir. Spike Jonze
It’s so nice when a movie is so good it can defy your previously conceived notions/fear. To be honest, when I first heard about Her, I had ZERO desire to watch it. How interesting would a movie about a dude falling in love with a computer be? And given my feelings towards the other Spike Jonze films I’d seen I was skeptical of this latest effort. Her didn’t particularly blow my socks off upon initial viewing, but the more I’ve though about the film the more its greatness has become clear. In the creation and presentation of this film, Spike Jonze has crafted a post-modern love story that manages to transcend a pretty silly premise with some great performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice.
8. Saving Mr. Banks dir. John Lee Hancock
There are few films this year that will fill you with the kind of wonderment and joy than Saving Mr. Banks. Channeling the spirit of their glory years, Disney has managed to craft a tale that’s reverential without being overly sentimental. Showbiz stories often fail at this but Banks provides an interesting insight into the making of a fascinating picture. The film really managed to capture just how difficult it can be to create art and how the past can affect your present.
7. Stories We Tell dir. Sarah Polley
Stories We Tell, the sterling documentary from Sarah Polley, is a delicately assembled exploration of a family and how the stories they tell weave together a complicated tapestry. Sarah Polley starts the film nimbly enough presenting all of the subjects, her family members and close family friends. But what starts out as a simple exploration of memory quickly blossoms into an examination of secrets, memory and the human condition. It’s mesmerizing filmmaking, a combination of acted archival footage, interviews and voice recording sessions that congeal together quite well.
6. Short Term 12 dir. Destin Cretton
There are so many moments in this film that stand out, the shark and the Octopus story and “So You Know What It’s Like” that it’s easy to take the rest of the film for granted. No matter, Short Term 12 is an impressive movie from start to finish with some of the rawest performances of the year from Keith Stanfield and Brie Larsen. Cretton’s deft touch behind the camera lets the moments that need to pop really pop while tethering in the rest of the story.
5. Lee Daniels’ The Butler dir. Lee Daniels
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is an easy film to appreciate on face value with its wonderful performances, strong production values, and creative team. However, it isn’t till about the last 30 minutes of the film that you realize you’ve been witnessing a nuanced dissection of intergenerational relationships, race relations and double consciousness, and then the film really reveals itself to you. This is a tough line to walk, being both upfront with your message and managing subtle critiques, but luckily for viewers Daniels manages to find the right balance and deliver a winning movie.
4. Frozen dir. Christopher Buck and Jennifer Lee
When one hears about a new Disney princess film, many happy memories come to mind as well as many questions. Will it be too heavy on the love story? Will the songs be any good? What more can be gleaned from a princess tale? Luckily for audiences, and me, Frozen manages to answer all of those questions with aplomb. The voice work from Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and especially Josh Gad is sterling, as is the beautiful score. I also love their take on an act of true love.
3. Captain Phillips dir. Paul Greengrass
How does one begin to talk about this film that manages to both be claustrophobic and wide open, emotional yet terse, simple yet complex? It might be best to keep it simple and say that Captain Phillips is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. This is one of those movies where you don’t realize just how much stress you’ve been under till the very end, when like Tom Hanks, we finally get our release.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street dir. Martin Scorsese
It’s so wonderful when you can go to the theater and engage in a transformative experience that gives you a good time. The Wolf of Wall Street, the raucously funny new film from Martin Scorsese, might be the most fun you’ll have in a theater this year. More than just a glossy look at debaucheries, this film digs deep into American greed, the financial crisis and morality. In short, it’s easily one of the best films of the year. Leonardo DiCaprio finally finds a part he can truly let loose in. Stuck in the dead wives club for too long, he uses all of that golden boy charm he had in something like The Great Gatsby and twists it into something depraved, unhinged, and glorious.
1. The Conjuring dir. James Wan
Rare is it these days that you get a horror film that manages to elevate itself into being a great film. Sure there are those that are scary, and many are competently made. But every once in a while you get something that is the perfect combination of craft, scares, and spirit that you can’t help but acknowledge its greatness. The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, is the first horror film in a long time that I’ve been so thoroughly entertained by every aspect that even when I was scared shitless I was in awe of just how well made of a film it was. Everything about this movie is flawless from the ensemble to the sound/score to the insane camera work, it’s far an away the best film of the year.