This is what it all comes down to: the films we fight for. This was an amazing year for films, it was nothing short of 12 rounds with a wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac slamming you with good shit all year long. This was bare-knuckle boxing. I can’t remember a year that was as jam packed with films of this caliber. Genre fans were walking around with cinematic hard-ons all year long. It seemed like each week the theater was on fire with rock and roll viscera and when it wasn’t, it paused with touching stories to remind us how strong the human spirit is in a year when we needed that pat on the back.
The bell is ringing; it’s time to fight. Don’t passively read this list, contribute your own. Leave us your Top 10 in the comments section, fight for the films that hit you square in the geek and make your case. Now, without further hint or preview, here are the films that took me to the mat…
10. HOLY MOTORS
Of all the films on this list, HOLY MOTORS is the one that I saw most recently. The other films have had a chance to kind of marinate a little bit but HOLY MOTORS was too impressive to leave off. I had never heard of director Leos Carax prior to this film but his passion for cinema is on full, brilliant display. This film is beautiful, moving, dangerous, mystifying, and full of a chaotic energy unlike anything I have ever seen. Consider me a new fan of Mr. Carax.
9. END OF WATCH
THIS was the kind of film I knew director David Ayer could make. While I liked his film HARSH TIMES and always thought his writing was solid (TRAINING DAY, DARK BLUE), this was the film that it felt like he had been building up to. I don’t know if it was always kicking around or if he felt he needed test runs through that universe via other projects, but this film is nothing short of flawless. A return to the type of filmmaking and storytelling that would have been right at home in the cinema of the 70s; using moments that are brutal and troubling contrasted with moments that are human and contemplative. All the performances in this film are of the highest caliber, but can we finally start getting Michael Peña some leading roles after this? The guy is solid in everything he’s in.
8. THE RAID: REDEMPTION
The last time I saw an official game-changer when it came to action films was THE KILLER (1989). Under the direction of John Woo, there was an incredible dance of controlled chaos that surrounded every moment of action. Chow Yun-Phat put everything he had into each pull of the trigger, never desperate, always full of intent. THE RAID: REDEMPTION is a game-changer. It is a visceral, emotional fight down to the last man. This film had a tremendous amount of hype as it was slowly rolled out across the globe, but it was never manufactured by a faceless marketing machine. It was the fans that had witnessed the punch and believed the hype.
7. KILLER JOE
The last William Friedkin film that I could get behind was TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., though it’s not perfect (the film sacrifices substance for style a bit too often), it’s damn close. After that 1985 film, Friedkin went off the map with television gigs (C.A.T. SQUAD) odd film choices (BLUE CHIPS) and trusting David Caruso as your lead (JADE). But through it all, wherever it was camping out in Friedkin’s mind, no matter how dormant, he’s back. This is a challenging, violent, black comedy that has one of the best third acts of the year (my jaw is still dragging on the floor) and may have one of the best performances of the year from Mathew McConaughey in the titular role. This is a brutal film that plays like a lit match next to a pool of gasoline; you never know who’s holding the match or when they’re going to drop it but when they do… buckle-up because things go from calm to crazy quick.
6. CABIN IN THE WOODS
This film has been compared to THE EVIL DEAD in the way it redefines the genre and I couldn’t agree more, but I am going to go one step further. I think this film is better than THE EVIL DEAD and its sequel. It’s a film that completely deconstructs the horror film in the most unique way imaginable; by creating a meta-film that still serves in the traditional horror construct. This does for horror films what THE RAID did for action films; it raised the bar and challenged filmmakers to be original. Don’t settle for the same old hack and slash, bring something new to the table. At a time when everyone had been SAW’d to death, this was a splash of water to the face. You know what the coolest thing is though? This is only the first film from Drew Goddard. It helps when the your screenplay is co-written by Joss Whedon (who’s THE AVENGERS narrowly missed this list), but goddamn.
5. GET THE GRINGO
(AKA HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION)
I could honestly give a fuck what actors do when they aren’t on-screen. I don’t care if they are dicks, drunks, or douche-bags, I just want a good product on the screen. Mel Gibson hits the papers a lot for whatever reason, but the stuff he has been doing on film has always been inventive. I honestly think GET THE GRINGO is one of the best films of Gibson’s career, it is smart, cool, and features what Mel can do better than most; be a tough-as-hell, crazy, badass, motherfucker. You know that moment at the end of LETHAL WEAPON when Joshua has Riggs down in the mud puddle on Murtaugh’s front lawn? In response to Murtaugh’s question of help Gibson’s Riggs replies “noooo” in a guttural scream of controlled rage. That’s the Gibson you get in GET THE GRINGO, he’s angry and ready to make people pay.
This film has the feel of a dime store pulp novel but it goes admirably over the top serving up a creative story (screenplay by Gibson) and some of the best gunfights I saw all year. This film almost serves as kind of an unofficial sequel to PAYBACK, at least it felt that way to me. Gibson is the same kind of in-it-for-himself type character but like PAYBACK he has genuine moments when you see something else there, something human, or at least something that was once human but is now kind of a scab of a person. Director Adrian Grunberg has served as assistant director for Gibson, Tony Scott, Martin Campbell, Steven Soderbergh and others, but this is his debut film.
Who would have thought Ben Affleck would be one of the best directors working today? He has yet to have a misfire in his directing career and with ARGO he may have just created a film that will be considered a classic in due time. The story is real, we all know how it ends especially those of us that lived through it, but it’s the “how” that drives this film and thanks in part to declassified documents (it only took 18 years), Affleck created a film that is an engine of suspense, directed with a master’s touch.
3. MOONRISE KINGDOM
The films of Wes Anderson are consistently delightful and always pulse with a loving, innocent (in most cases) heart. While it’s true that some of his other films will have more re-watch value, none will move me as much. I do think Bruce Willis was a bit of a miscast, but that is a minor quibble in an otherwise perfect film that has charm to spare.
2. DJANGO UNCHAINED
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most ambitious ambassadors of cinema we have today. His films are love letters to the medium, and in a world where that medium is changing quickly, he is the voice arguing to honor the tradition of the trade. It is why DJANGO UNCHAINED feels familiar but also fully original. His shots have hints of being classically framed though they are anything but. His actors, particularly Christoph Waltz, deliver dialogue with the timing of a Howard Hawks film, but through Tarantino’s rhythm. Tarantino has the ability to put genres in a blender and create something unique. This is an exploitation film wrapped in a love story in the antebellum south. A film which can be alternately beautiful, brutal, and oddly touching until we get to the third act which explodes with brilliant action and spectacular vengeance. Nobody can make a film experience like Tarantino can, nobody.
1. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
“In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.” – Hushpuppy
I hope so. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN wild isn’t just the best film of the year, I think it may be one of the best films of the past decade. This film has a lot to teach the world about never letting your circumstances define you, and it’s all narrated by Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) , a six year old who never talks above her age but delivers a message beyond her years. Directed by Benh Zeitlin in his feature film debut and backed by a resourceful New Orleans-based collective, this film was shot on 16mm which gives it a freedom and nimbleness you can feel. The camera is in constant motion though never nauseating.
It seamlessly blends fantasy and realism to deliver a moving experience that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. The theater I saw it in erupted intro applause when it was over, people walked out with quiet tears in their eyes and I was no different. There are multiple ways to interpret this film, multiple viewings are not only warranted but I would encourage them, but it should never be lost that every once in a while it is pure joy to look at things through the eyes of a child. To get lost from time to time. To escape. To marvel at the sparkles in the sidewalk. BEASTS is that film that allows the escape possible.
THE AVENGERS, KLOWN, HEADHUNTERS, SKYFALL, LOOPER, ARBITRAGE, THIS IS NOT A FILM, HEADSHOT, ZERO DARK THIRTY, DREDD 3D, SINISTER, CHRONICLE, THE MASTER, CHASING ICE, WOMAN IN BLACK, FRANKENWEENIE, SLEEPWALK WITH ME, BERNIE, PROMETHEUS, SLEEP WALK WITH ME.
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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