Well here we are, another year in the can and another one already in full swing. Last year, our favorite directors and a slew of newcomers surprised us by taking tremendous risks and pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible, telling sincere stories with admirable amounts of hope and optimism. Most importantly, last year showed us the way that art and life feed off of each other, with stories that captured that intangible space between dreams and inspiration.
RUBY SPARKS was a complete surprise and a breath of fresh air. It’s unfair to call it a simple rom-com because it’s much more than that. Using it’s story to draw parallels between the vulnerabilities of artistic expression and the unpredictability of relationships, it has a substance that most cinematic love stories could never hope to achieve and an honesty that’s hard to resist. FULL REVIEW
DETENTION is one of those films that most people will write off as unfocused, pandering gibberish. In reality, it’s a colorful look at a generation too restless to sit still. Joseph Kahn’s created a masterpiece that speaks to the now generation the same way that John Hughes connected with his audience in the 80’s (think the Scott Pilgrim of teen horror films). The modern world is messy, overstimulated and drowning in apathy, and Kahn’s captured this with a ferocious pace and unparalleled, inventive technical skill. This film won’t wait for you to understand what’s going on, but don’t mistake that for lack of focus. Everything is very deliberate here, and all culminates in something surpassingly heartfelt and just plain insane. Where else can you see time traveling bears, a boy with a TV hand, aliens, and a serial killer dressed as a literal prom date from hell? TRAILER
CABIN IN THE WOODS is special because of the way it views it’s predecessors and what it says about them. It’s perhaps more than fair to describe the majority of horror films as the junk food of cinema, but at the same time they still have their place. Cabin in the Woods knows this, lovingly dissecting all (and I mean, literally, every single one) of our favorite tropes to issue a love letter of what’s come before and also a challenge to horror films from this point on, to move on and be creative. It’s nice to finally be challenged again in this genre. FULL REVIEW
CLOUD ATLAS is without a doubt the biggest risk-taker on the list. Co-funded internationally in a way that mimics the intergenerational and international qualities of it’s plot, the film is the perfect example of artists who are practicing what they preach. The ambition on display is incredible, and when it works, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. This is true expression and proof that thoughtful, powerful films can still be meaningful and full of substantial weight while still operating as accessible entertainment. FULL REVIEW
THE AVENGERS is the one film on this list that I saw the most. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s plain and simple, the type of film we need right now. Not afraid to be silly or embrace it’s comic book nature in a time when all comic books are trying to be gritty (sigh), this film showed us that there is power in fantasy and not just empty escapism. It also showed us that while it’s heroes may be as broken and imperfect as we are, their real powers are perseverance and their ability to band together, things that we can all aspire to achieve. It’s a wonderful and responsible message, told in the most accessible and broad way — and that’s special. Not to mention it cemented Marvel’s unprecedented gamble in creating a cinematic universe as a flat-out success. More please! FULL REVIEW
MOONRISE KINGDOM may just be the ultimate Wes Anderson film, and I mean that in the best way possible. Anderson is without a doubt an auteur who commands every filmmaking technique with Kubrick-like precision, and with this film, every single one of his trademarks is not only present, but utilized to maximum potency. Not only that, but this is most overtly optimistic film, one in which we view the story through the innocence of two, star-crossed pre-pubescent teens and end up with something akin to Anderson’s take on the Peanut gang. It’s charming, wonderful and just pure magic. FULL REVIEW
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD lives up to it’s name. Part fairy tale, part coming of age journey, the film is one of the best debuts I’ve ever seen, with a keen sensibility to the quiet strength and beauty that shines through tragedy. Held together by Quvenzhané Wallis’ transcendent performance as a scavenging girl left to survive alone and amidst a makeshift community, her journey to find her mother and learn the ways of nature is told in astonishing precision. From the blues soundtrack, evocative and impressionistic cinematography and raw emotion this is an instant classic. FULL REVIEW
BULLHEAD was one of the first films of the year that consumed me. I knew to expect big things from it, but still, nothing could prepare me for the juggernaut that it really is. It’s definitely not for everyone, but is one of the most powerful films about manhood I’ve ever seen. This is a film that really picks apart masculinity and what it means to be a man on a totally primal and visceral level. Matthias Schoenaerts deserves every accolade he can get for this, with his raw, animalistic performance which will make you feel like you’ve been swept up into an emotional torrent of self reflection. FULL REVIEW
THE MASTER is another powerhouse of a film. Less about it’s much publicized Scientology inspirations and more about the effects of faith, director P.T. Anderson has crafted an intimate portrait of two men and their search to become whole. Throughout it all, the film explores the way that people find security in obedience and how blind faith is a force of nature on it’s own. With Anderson’s doc-like direction Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman bare their souls for this important character study. FULL REVIEW
ZERO DARK THIRTY feels dangerous. Delivering it’s raw subject matter through an exhilarating journalistic approach, we feel as if we are an actual bystander, watching all of the events leading to Osama Bin Laden’s capture firsthand with eye-opening urgency. The film lays out the hard truths and lets us pick up the pieces to decide where we stand on the issue, all while delivering a relatable story of how it consumes the lives of all those involved. Jessica Chastain continues to command the screen with another powerful yet fragile performance, and director Kathryn Bigelow delivers the entire thing with pulse pounding precision. FULL REVIEW
LOOPER is science fiction at it’s best. Instead of using it’s fantastic premise to show of epic sights and an empty orgy of eye-candy, Looper thrives on a very mature and human story of self reflection. Rian Johnson has delivered perhaps the most humane science fiction yarn in a long time, and he’s done it in his signature style which takes liberties with our favorite genres and conventions but turns them all on their head. Joseph Gordon-Levitt captures Bruce Willis’ essence without simply mimicking the actor and the pair are perfect extensions of themselves, all resulting in a poignant tale of sacrifice and second-chances. It’s also ultimately optimistic and captures a seldom seen type of innocence which is not at all expected considering how dark it gets. FULL REVIEW
DJANGO UNCHAINED is Quentin Tarantino again at his best. As a loose follow-up to Inglourious Basterds, QT is this time creating an iconic, much-needed western hero amidst the era of cruel and ruthless slave trading. It’s provocative sure, but not without reason, and the final outcome is pure gold. Everything you want from Tarantino is in here, the dialogue, the perfect casting and amazing performances, and even the brutal violence, but this time out, there’s much more subtext to the proceedings and it’s more than just empty fun and games. FULL REVIEW
HOLY MOTORS is frankly a difficult film to talk about. Leos Carax’s first film in over a decade can be described as many things: a love letter to cinema, meta-exploration into the identities we create for different people, or even a celebration of life and it’s tragedies. And yet, the film is all of these and none of these at the same time. Star Denis Lavant shifts through almost a dozen different personas as the film flawlessly shifts through genres and expectations, but throughout all the chaos is a transcendent film about the way that art and life are inextricably linked. Because of this, Holy Motors is a maddening and ultimately beautiful look at the way we need films as much as they need us. FULL REVIEW
List your favorites down below!