Directed by Chan-wook Park and Written by Wentworth Miller
The tension is so taut in Chan-wook Park’s horror-thriller Stoker that it feels like one wrong move and the whole thing would collapse, luckily it sustains a perfect feeling of eery suspense, mixed with some classic horror campiness, throughout its 99 minutes. The cast is uniformly excellent including the reliably amazing Nicole Kidman, a breakout performance from Matthew Goode, and my favorite turn yet from ‘it’ girl Mia Wasikowska. Combined with crackerjack film editing, beautiful production and costume design, and an impressive score, Stoker is perhaps the years most underrated gem.
9) American Hustle
Directed by David O. Russell and Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
The hair. The costumes. The music. American Hustle is not only a ton of fun to watch, it’s a return to great moviemaking for David O. Russell after the uninspired Silver Linings Playbook and the showboating misfire The Fighter. Sure, there is a lot of showboating and scenery chewing in this one too, especially from a delightfully unhinged Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, but there is also some genuine pathos and heart, especially by Amy Adams who gives a spectacular performance. It all balances out into a great time. Even if overall it’s a bit of a mess, it’s the most fun mess I saw this year.
8) Cutie and the Boxer
Directed by Zachary Heinzerling
While I have not caught up with nearly enough documentaries this year, of the ones I have seen, Cutie and the Boxer is my favorite. A true ‘fly-on-the-wall’ experience, the film is an in-depth exploration of marriage, love, gender, and importance of artistic expression in a quick 80 minutes. It also lacks the intrusive director/narrator/star that has become so popular in the past five years (I blame Michael Moore) which has become a real strain on the genre. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with these two artists in this moving portrait–plus it’s already available on Netflix!
7) Enough Said
Directed and Written by Nicole Holofcener
Perhaps the best romantic comedy in a decade or so, Enough Said is both unflinching and tender, sweet and sad. Anchored by incredible lead performances from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, the film is filled with dualities of love–bitterness and hopefulness, regret and resolve, standards and compromises. And of course it’s also really really funny. I can’t wait to see it again.
6) Short Term 12
Directed and Written by Destin Cretton
Raw, natural, emotionally unwound performances fill the world of Short Term 12, a small-budget indie drama set in the world of the titular short term foster care facility where aimless 20-somethings just out of college are charged with the safety and care of troubled young people who have been bounced around the social safety net for years. This isn’t your typical inspirational tale of obstacles overcome and young minds molded: the teachers lives are as much of a mess as the students. But the film inspires nonetheless. Especially strong are the performances of Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield, who share one of the most breathtaking moments on screen this year.
5) Frances Ha
Directed by Noah Baumbach and Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
The funniest film this year could easily be compared to HBO’s Girls, a story about a lost generation of millennial fumbling around unemployed and undate-able, the products of the ‘me’ culture we were raised in. And while I also like Lena Dunham’s take on the subject, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach get at the same topic with more generosity, more humor, and probably more truth. Because Frances Ha doesn’t make broad strokes about a generation, but just one lost woman, a type that’s recognizable, but also humanely portrayed and likeable as she is clueless. This one is already on Netflix too.
4) Blue Jasmine
Directed and Written by Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s latest work proves that the greatest screenwriting talent in cinema history is still in a class of his own, producing work that is nuanced, layered, and still full of great one-liners. Blue Jasmine is a gripping satire on the bubble excesses of the new wealthy, a clever modern re-interpretation of A Streetcar Named Desire, an unnerving character study of the supremely narcissistic Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), and a broad ensemble piece that allows for rich performances from Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, and Andrew Dice Clay.
Directed by Alexander Payne and Written by Bob Nelson
Alexander Payne has done it again. His latest, Nebraska, is a wry, witty, and warm look at the people and places who define us–for better or for worse. Bruce Dern deserves all the accolades he has received for his turn as Woody, the film’s centerpiece, and he is surrounded by a great ensemble who bring Hawthorne, Nebraska to life. A poignant screenplay, and magnetic score round this out as an instant classic.
2) 12 Years A Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen and Written by John Ridley, based on the memoir by Solomon Northup
Harrowing, unrelenting, and unforgettable, 12 Years A Slave should be required viewing for all Americans. The ugliest truths about humanity are juxtaposed with the natural beauty of Louisiana. Perhaps our first major historical drama that takes the kid gloves off when it comes to recognizing the human atrocities that made the US an economic superpower. This is our history, and we must recognize that if we expect to create a better, less hateful future.
Directed and Written by Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze’s Her is my favorite film of the year. A genius take on modern human connection, this movie is funny, romantic, startling, and intuitive. Joaquin Phoenix gives the best performance of the year as a man falling in love with an operating system, a premise that could be obvious, cheap, and gimmicky that is instead seriously considered. In addition to being expertly performed and brilliantly written, Her is phenomenally design, gorgeously filmed, and has the best score of the year (written by Arcade Fire). For me, it’s without a doubt the defining film of the year. GO SEE IT!
Blue Is The Warmest Color, The Spectacular Now, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Blackfish, and The Conjuring
The Act of Killing, All Is Lost, Stories We Tell, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Bling Ring