It’s that time again. So I’ll skip straight to it and present my sum up of 11 (yes, 11) of the best films I’ve had the pleasure of viewing this year, in a loosely ordered countdown.
11. The Whistleblower
Director/writer Larysa Kondracki’s debut is one of those riveting true stories that you can’t believe you never heard. Set in the aftermath of the war in Bosnia and inspired by the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), it viscerally exposes the brutality of human trafficking.
10. The Conspirator
Illuminating and affecting, it’s a courtroom drama in the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination staged not to expose accused conspirator Mary’s guilt or innocence, but that of her judges. With award-worthy parts poignantly played by James McAvoy and Robin Wright, and deftly directed by Robert Redford.
Pensive, moody and thrumming with intense stares and meaningful pauses, it’s an atmospheric thrill ride with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan at the wheel.
Radiant with colorful characters, acclaimed actors, and Amelie-like whimsy, Martin Scorsese’s sweetly nostalgic homage to the birth of movies will bewitch most audiences. (Though that’s not the case for some distracting 3-D effects.)
7. The Descendants
A family film free of goofy gadgets and action heroes turned comedy clowns. Helmed by George Clooney and up and comer Shailene Woodley, it simply, sincerely and often amusingly portrays the everyday drama of a family faced with unexpected misfortune.
6. Salvation Boulevard
Brimming with brimstone humor and biblical spoofs, it’s a gloriously irreverent comedy hallelujah that suggests ex-Bond Pierce Brosnan’s true calling is to be the comic wild card to Greg Kinnear’s hapless straight man.
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Director David Fincher injects rock-and-roll adrenaline (Nine Inch Nails-style), into novelist Stieg Larsson’s Swedish noir mystery. Enough to add trippy Nordic ambiance while staying true to the tale. Meanwhile Rooney Mara impressively holds her own against the Swedish adaptation’s “Girl” Noomi Rapace.
Lars Von Trier’s latest floats in an air of supernatural malaise. Both minute and grand, human and ethereal, it’s cinematic symphony that will sweep you away in its rare and beautiful atmosphere, with characters like Justine (Kirsten Dunst), that utterly mesmerize.
3. Young Adult
Juno, Diablo Cody’s freshman screenplay was good, but Young Adult approaches greatness. Dark, wry, and raw, it nods its head at romcoms and other superficial Hollywood fare and then cuts unflinchingly, hilariously to the heart of the matter, a heart brilliantly brought to life by its mean girl not-so-all–grown-up star Charlize Theron.
2. The Artist
Another ode to silent cinema that truly inhabits the medium it honors: in black and white, and mum until the very end. As much a love story with old movies as it is between its dashing movie star and effervescent ingenue lead. Clever, funny, heartfelt and charming down to the dog. Everything we adore about movies, then and now.
Don’t let the NC-17 rating scare you away from this Oscar contender. Michael Fassbender shines in the seedy dark of the life of a sex addict that's no Playboy mansion party. Alone in his desperation except for the sister (Carey Mulligan) whose love he can barely tolerate. Director Steve McQueen draws us into his bottomless despair with a stark, grim, gray Gotham that mirrors his pain.
Documentary Dynamite (not on the list with the fictional films but just as outstanding in its category:
Less slick than Gosling’s lap round the fast lane; Senna’s the real deal. A Sundance Award-winning documentary that’s enthralling, chilling, and surprisingly sublime. It chronicles the life of Brazilian racing legend and three-time World Champ Ayrton Senna—as he accelerates to the brink, and beyond.