I hate doing top ten lists of the year at the very end of that year, because I feel as though I haven’t had the chance to see half the movies that could have conceivably ended up on a list like this. Even though, according to my Letterboxd profile, I’ve seen 140 movies since the end of June, 33 from this year, I can’t ignore the blind spots. So, sorry, the likes of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, ZERO DARK THIRTY, MARGARET, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, LINCOLN, AMOUR, RUST AND BONE, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4: CITIZENS ON PATROL, I didn’t get to you. Maybe I can do an updated 2012 list sometime in 2014, after nobody cares.
10. THE GREY
I’m a sucker for a good ’70s adventure survival flick, and Joe Carnahan’s tale of a plane crash in the arctic which the survivors have to fend for themselves against a pack of wolves is the genre stripped to its’ most primal. No love interests, no backstories, no needless sub-plots – it’s just man against the wilderness in a battle of wills. It’s Carpenter’s THE THING without aliens, and it’s nearly as good.
9. CLOUD ATLAS
Is CLOUD ATLAS a mess? Most certainly, but this epic project from the Wachawskis and Tom Tykwer is all be better for it, a hugely ambitious storyline that spans six time periods and, despite its’ lengthy running time, is never dull, thanks to Tykwer’s expert handle on pacing. It’s as bold a project as P.T. Anderson’s MAGNOLIA, and like that film, its’ flaws and awkward moments are part of what makes it so compelling. I haven’t read David Mitchell’s book that served as the source material, but I can only assume that, like the best book-to-film translations, the Wachowskis and Tykwer used it as a jumping off point rather than a straightforward adaptation, with the understanding that film is a completely different medium and should be treated as such.
8. FATHER’S DAY
I don’t think I had as much fun with a movie in the theater as I did with Astron-6’s jaw-droppingly bizarre bad taste horror comedy. While it starts out in a typically low-rent Troma mode as a serial father rapist allows from for some impressively grotesque jokes, it quickly detours into a deranged world all of its’ own. Many low-budget films aspire to become cult films based on shock value (hellooooo HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2) but few manage to make it, as it takes a solid imagination and sense of humor to make a film that’s actually worth watching, and the guys at Astron-6 have it in spades.
Ron Fricke’s follow-up to the similarly visually arresting BARAKA is the only film I saw in the theater twice this year (though DJANGO UNCHAINED will most likely be another) because, as absorbing as an experience as it was, I have a hard time believing it’ll be able to be replicated in the comfort of a living room. A collection of images from around the world ranging from Saudi Arabia to post-Katrina New Orleans to factories in China, SAMSARA essentially feels like the most thought-provoking travelogue ever made, the art-house equivalent to the mondo films of the ’60s and ’70s updated with an exhilarating look at the beauty of both the world and its’ destruction.
6. SOUND OF NOISE
This 2010 Swedish absurdist comedy managed a brief theatrical release in the States last year, but it’s a tragedy that it didn’t get picked up more and become an AMELIE-sized hit, as anyone with any sort of ear for music should check it out. While the premise is strong enough (a group of percussionists become “musical terrorists” by performing their bizarre, four-part symphony on everyday objects and people) it takes a special talent to fulfill it to the extent of its’ potential, and directors Ola Simonsson ad Johannes Stjärne Nilsson manage to do it, resulting in one of the most clever, entertaining movies I’ve seen all year.
5. KILLER JOE
William Friedkin made a step back in the right direction with BUG a few years ago, but with KILLER JOE, he not only returns to prime form but brings Matthew McConaughey with him. (Granted, McConaughey is also great in BERNIE and MAGIC MIKE, but he’s outright amazing here.) Sure, the final third is the money shot that’ll leave you stunned, but it wouldn’t be the same without the first two-thirds consist of such a great build-up that gives the climax such an impact.
4. CABIN IN THE WOODS
Out of respect for anyone who knows nothing about CABIN IN THE WOODS, I will not say anything about CABIN IN THE WOODS. Other than I envy you, and wish that I had the capacity to excise memories of CABIN IN THE WOODS from my brain just so I could go in cold again and enjoy the ride as though it was brand new again.
3. HOLY MOTORS
HOLY MOTORS has been showing up on a lot of my friends’ top 10 lists this year, which boggles my mind — the movie made about a dollar fifty during its’ theatrical release, and yet, everyone loved it. Leos Carax’s first film in over a decade (hopefully this will mean more people will check out POLA X) is a ride unlike any other movie this year, as Denis Levant (BEAU TRAVAIL) is ushered from place to place via limo, taking on a variety of identities and impacting various lives. Going into specifics would ruin it, bu I’ll just say (a) see it and (b) it has the first sequence with accordion playing that genuinely made me feel good about life as a whole that I’ve ever seen.
2. DJANGO UNCHAINED
Seriously, a discussion of DJANGO UNCHAINED shouldn’t be limited to a brief end-of-year paragraph, and no doubt won’t be.
1. THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS
The one film that I saw this year that really punched me in the stomach repeatedly and kept punching long after the credits rolled. (Yes, even more than KILLER JOE.) Based on the true story of a group of murders in Australia, director Justin Kurzel ditches the traditional route of storytelling and gives us snippets of a psychopath’s seduction into killing of the teenage son of a woman he’s dating. The results are disorienting and sometimes confusing, but taken with the attitude that you’re not going to be given all of the facts and understand all of the relationships (because, it can be argued, you never would anyway), you become just as involved in the proceedings as the boy being taken in. It would make a great double-bill with WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, with the proviso that afterwards you should be prepared to give up all hope in human nature.
THE AVENGERS, KLOWN, HEADHUNTERS, SKYFALL, LOOPER, THE MASTER, ARGO, BERNIE, THE DO-DECA-PENTATHALON, MOONRISE KINGDOM, GOON, GOD BLESS AMERICA, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, PREMIUM RUSH, THE LONELIEST PLANET, KEYHOLE, THE INNKEEPERS, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
KEEP THE POPCORN BUTTERED AND BURNT,
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