I watched 52 films that came out this year, which is a lot more than I’ve ever watched in a single year before (my TV watching did suffer, in case you were wondering [you totally weren’t, it’s okay, you didn’t hurt my feelings…much]). Hope you enjoy!
NOTABLE FILMS UNSEEN: The Master, Cloud Atlas, Promised Land, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Sessions, Amour, Killer Joe, The Intouchables, Wreck-It Ralph, Ruby Sparks, Rust and Bone.
CRITERIA FOR SELECTION:
- Good Message : Mainstream Appeal Ratio (i.e. how much positive change did this film have on the world at large?)
- Entertainment Value (i.e. how much did I personally enjoy the film?)
- Emotional Resonance (i.e. how much did this film move me emotionally?)
- God Bless America
- Celeste & Jesse Forever
- Liberal Arts
- Game Change
- The Cabin in the Woods
TOP TWENTY FILMS OF THE YEAR:
20. LINCOLN (dir. Steven Spielberg, scr. Tony Kushner) — My review here does a good job explaining how I feel about this film. Lincoln barely cracked the Top 20, but Kushner’s unflinchingly literate screenplay illustrating the art of compromise has proved more popular than I expected among mainstream America.
19. THE HUNGER GAMES (dir. Gary Ross, scr. Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray) — This is where the “mainstream : message ratio” comes into play. The Hunger Games proves that there is a literate, smart alternative to the moronic, mysogynistic, unbelievably-bad-for-you Twilight Saga in the YA market for girls. The message is solid, the performances are solid and the cinematography, while controversial, immersed me emotionally in a fictional world–a difficult task for any film.
18. LIFE OF PI (dir. Ang Lee, scr. David Magee) — I went into this film with extremely low expectations and emerged a very happy camper. Ang Lee once again proves that he can master any type of story in any type of visual language. While the message was a bit muddled, this Cast Away-on-a-boat-with-a-tiger movie won my heart with dazzling visuals and a deft sense of tone.
17. FLIGHT (dir. Robert Zemeckis, wri. John Gatins) — My review here covers the basics. While the film is flawed, Zemeckis’ experienced directorial hand and an absolutely engrossing performance from Denzel Washington create a compelling addiction narrative with one of the strongest central characters put to screen in recent memory.
16. ZERO DARK THIRTY (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, wri. Mark Boal) — Jessica Chastain delivers one of the best performances of the year as an analyst dead set on finding and killing Osama Bin Laden. A realistic, slow-burn thriller from the team behind the better film The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is nonetheless an interesting character study and an incisive look into the absolute, unflinching lack of reward for efforts made in the name of the dogs of war.
15. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (dir. Colin Trevorrow, wri. Derek Connolly) — It shocks me that this film is so high up on the list, even now. This film caught me off-guard when I first saw it, with its mix of absurd scenario, human characters, and riotous sense of humor. Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Kristen Bell and Jake Johnson all bring something interesting to the table in this little feel-good movie that could.
14. ARGO (dir. Ben Affleck, scr. Chris Terrio) — This film pushes all the right buttons, and does all the right things. Its message is solid as well. The acting is all-around excellent, and the screenplay is razor sharp. I’m surprised this film isn’t higher, but to me it was just missing something, and I’m not sure what it was, but I suppose it just felt a little too neat for my taste. Here’s the podcast I guested on, talking about it.
13. ANNA KARENINA (dir. Joe Wright, scr. Tom Stoppard) — My review here does a good job summarizing my thoughts. While it doesn’t seem to have much of a mainstream impact, I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie after I saw it, and I can still have conversations debating the film with my friends who have also seen it. An unusual, groundbreaking adaptation of one of the most profound musings on love in the history of literature.
12. CHRONICLE (dir. Josh Trank, wri. Max Landis) — No, that’s not a typo. Yes, you read that right. CHRON-I-CLE. The found-footage superhero movie. A box-office sleeper hit, Chronicle delved into the psychology of the creation of a monster (played superbly by the soon-to-be star Dane DeHaan). Incidents like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech have made this movie relevant for a whole new generation of kids… and parents.
11. HITCHCOCK (dir. Sacha Gervasi, scr. John McLaughlin) — My review here. A sweet, but never saccharine, fictionalized biopic of the master of suspense. Excellent performances all-around, an unexpected sense of humor and a classic Hollywood love story make this one of the most enjoyable, satisfying pictures of the year.
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES:
10. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (wri/dir. Martin McDonagh) — My review here. This little-seen gangster-epic-sendup blends an underrated performance from Sam Rockwell with several other excellent actors and a witty, legitimately smart screenplay from In Bruges mastermind McDonagh. It sneaks into the last best picture slot.
9. MOONRISE KINGDOM (wri. Roman Coppola & Wes Anderson, dir. Wes Anderson) — My review here. Wes Anderson does Wes Anderson, and while that might mean a more distinct, select audience than other films, this childhood love story for adults wins my heart and has a decent message to boot.
8. LOOPER (wri/dir. Rian Johnson) — My review here. A mainstream AND critical success, Johnson’s sci-fi opus overcame somewhat questionable time-travel logic with an amazing emotional center and a surprisingly intimate second half that brought home a powerful, necessary message regarding the cycle of violence.
7. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (wri/dir. Lorene Scafaria) — Yes, I know what its score is on RottenTomatoes. Yes, I also know the Metacritic score. Yes, I realize it shifts tones as much as a poor ripoff of a Tarantino film. However, this movie moved me in a way I can’t describe. The ending brings me to tears every time I see it. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley lead a cast of talented character actors put to work in surprising, if small ways. A poignant, entrancing love story, this movie is one we all need to see.
6. LES MISÉRABLES (dir. Tom Hooper, scr. William Nicholson, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer) — A flawed, if powerful adaptation of the classic musical (itself an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel) that, courtesy of actors singing live and one four-minute long take of Anne Hathaway moving everyone in America to tears with her haunting rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream”, is able to convey its amazing message(s) through an alternately grandiose and intimate look at the Revolution of 1830 in France.
5. THE IMPOSSIBLE (dir. J.A. Bayona, wri. Sergío G. Sanchez) — A devastating, brutal tsunami sequence rivals the best of disaster sequences in cinematic history. Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and young Tom Holland deliver raw, realistic performances in a movie that suffers only from the implausibility of the truth it portrays. A riveting family drama, and a wonderfully human story of survival.
4. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (dir. Christopher Nolan, scr. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer) — The best superhero trilogy ever made concludes with a less intelligent, but still astounding finale. Not as good as The Dark Knight, but it never tried to be. It laid down its many messages for a whole new generation of superheroes–the kids that will grow up to change the world. So what if Hollywood time was used a bit too much? Nolan knew he had a billion-dollar box-office at the ready just for making the movie, so he decided to use it to do as much good as he possibly could (ahem, Joss Whedon).
3. DJANGO UNCHAINED (wri/dir. Quentin Tarantino) — Tarantino’s at the top of his game with this south-set Western that invites interesting discussion on the politics of race and violence, as per usual with the master. The most fun you’ll have in a theater all year, Django has two of Tarantino’s best villains…and best protagonists. The only flaw with Django is its underutilization of the masterful Kerry Washington. But Scandal’s still on TV so I’ll forgive it.
2. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (scr/dir. Stephen Chbosky) — Some audience members were put off by the main character’s perpetual state of incomprehensible loneliness. But that inquiry into the mind of a 15-year-old boy, a lonely boy named Charlie played so superbly by Logan Lerman, is what makes the film necessary. We all must relate to Charlie. We must understand him. For to understand him and to empathize with him is to understand and empathize with all of those who have ever been lonely. All of us. Empathy is the key to the perfect civilization and this film masterfully brings that message home. An ‘A’ CinemaScore showed that most of us commonfolk in the audience do have the capacity to learn that empathy, and thusly have the capacity to include the excluded and give the world a chance at acceptance and love for each other. Oh, and also, did I mention Emma Watson?
1. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (scr/dir. David O. Russell) — It’s a romcom family drama about mental illness. It’s confusing, I know. But the realistic elements blend beautifully with the stylized dialogue present in the romance of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both giving their best performances to date (the ensemble is fantastic all-around). It makes me swoon just thinking about how quirky and awesome it is. This year’s best story, I left the film feeling amazing and jazzed and ready to try to write something hopefully just as good. I’ve talked to no one who’s disliked it in the slightest. It’s a universal indie film with a heart the size of China and I can’t stress enough how great the messages are. Go see it. You’ll only be glad you did.
And now, the individual awards:
- J.A. Bayona – The Impossible
- Rian Johnson – Looper
- Ang Lee – Life of Pi
- David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
- Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Robert Zemeckis – Flight, Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Tom Hooper – Les Misérables, Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises, Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
- Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom
- Rian Johnson – Looper
- Martin McDonagh – Seven Psychopaths
- Lorene Scafaria – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
- Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Honorable Mentions: Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon – The Cabin in the Woods, Sergío G. Sanchez – The Impossible, John Gatins – Flight
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
- Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty
- Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Tony Kushner – Lincoln
- David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
- Chris Terrio – Argo
Honorable Mention: Nicholson/Boublil/Schönberg/Kretzmer – Les Misérables
- Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
- Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln (tie)
- Anthony Hopkins – Hitchcock
- Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
- Denzel Washington – Flight (tie)
Honorable Mentions: Jamie Foxx – Django Unchained, Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained, Tom Holland – The Impossible, Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
- Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
- Keira Knightley – Anna Karenina, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
- Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games
- Helen Mirren – Hitchcock
- Naomi Watts – The Impossible
Honorable Mentions: Emma Watson – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
- Samantha Barks – Les Misérables
- Kristen Bell – Safety Not Guaranteed
- Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables, The Dark Knight Rises
- Frances McDormand – Moonrise Kingdom
- Kelly Reilly – Flight
Honorable Mentions: Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook, Kerry Washington – Django Unchained, Amy Adams – The Master, Mae Whitman – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
- James D’Arcy – Hitchcock
- Robert DeNiro – Silver Linings Playbook
- Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
- Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
- Ewan McGregor – The Impossible
Honorable Mentions: John Goodman – Argo and Flight, Alan Arkin – Argo, Bryan Cranston – Argo, Bill Murray – Moonrise Kingdom, Bruce Willis – Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, Bradley Whitford – The Cabin in the Woods, Tom Hardy – The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless, Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master, Sam Rockwell – Seven Psychopaths, Samuel L. Jackson – Django Unchained, James Spader – Lincoln, Russell Crowe – Les Misérables, Jude Law – Anna Karenina
- Roger Deakins – Skyfall
- Mihai Malaimare, Jr. – The Master
- Ben Richardson – Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Robert “The Wizard” Richardson – Django Unchained
- Robert Yeoman – Moonrise Kingdom
Honorable Mentions: Caleb Deschanel – Jack Reacher, Masanobu Takayanagi – Silver Linings Playbook, Don Burgess – Flight, Claudio Miranda – Life of Pi, Greig Fraser – Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly, Dariusz Wolski – Prometheus, Wally Pfister – The Dark Knight Rises, Seamus McGarvey – Anna Karenina, Steve Yedlin – Looper
- David Blackburn – Detention
- William Goldenberg – Argo, Zero Dark Thirty
- Fred Raskin – Django Unchained
- Jeremiah O’Driscoll – Flight
- Melanie Ann Oliver – Les Misérables, Anna Karenina
Honorable Mentions: Jay Cassidy – Silver Linings Playbook, Andrew Weisblum – Moonrise Kingdom
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
- Michael Brook – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Alexandre Desplat – Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom, Rise of the Guardians, Rust and Bone
- Danny Elfman – Silver Linings Playbook, Hitchcock, Promised Land, Frankenweenie
- Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Hans Zimmer – The Dark Knight Rises
Honorable Mentions: Alan Silvestri – The Avengers and Flight, James Newton Howard – The Hunger Games and Snow White & the Huntsman, Jonny Greenwood – The Master