"nothing very interesting happens in well-lighted places."

the year that was

Because I know you've all been dying of anticipation, here's my list of favorite films of the year. There are a few things I haven't seen yet (but really, War Horse isn't my jam), so it's a pretty representative list.

1. Melancholia
Grand, stately and haunting -- and that's just the overture. Lars von Trier's ode to the end of the world supposes that the clinically depressed are best prepared for the apocalypse, and though it's subject may be bleak, I can't think of a moviegoing experience I enjoyed more (perhaps it has something to do with watching it in bed). Kirsten Dunst earned major plaudits for her turn as the bipolar bride, but I'd say Charlotte Gainsbourg's anxious sister is the more accomplished performance.

2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
With it's naturalistic tone and eerie atmosphere, this film resembles the character-driven paranoia thrillers of the 1970s (like the Stepford Wives, but in the Catskills). Elizabeth Olson gives the breakout performance of the year as an escapee from a cult who recovers at a Connecticut lakehouse with her sister (an awesome Sarah Paulson). It's hard to believe that this is writer/director Sean Durkin's debut feature -- I can't wait to see what he does next.
3. Young Adult
I'm a bit sick of everyone complaining about how Mavis Gary (the expert Charlize Theron) is unlikable. Yeah, she's a manic, alcoholic, would-be homewrecker, but I'd argue she's misguided, misunderstood, and ultimately very sympathetic (and, yes, part of me is concerned about how easily I identify with her). This dark comedy represents the most watchable work from screenwriter Diablo Cody (free of all of Juno's cutesy dialogue), and a major return for Theron.

4. Beginners
Just one Zooey Deschanel cover away from being too twee and hipster, this lovely dramedy hit the perfect balance of cute and heartfelt without being sentimental and cloying (not an easy task). Ewan McGregor stars as a relationship-phobic guy struggling with his elderly father's coming out. Christopher Plummer will win the Oscar for his touching newly-out dad, and Melanie Laurent continues to be the most adorable gal in movies today.

5. Bridesmaids
Easily the funniest film of the year, it's no surprise that it's a big hit that everyone still talks about. I still want more from it, like a sequel with Wendi Mclendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper that plays like a comedic Thelma & Louise, or a prequel that explores Rose Byrne's terrible step-momming.

6. Shame
The un-sexiest movie about sex ever. It's haunting and at times brutal to sit through, but formally brilliant and ultimately astounding. Michael Fassbender is a hollow sex addict and Carey Mulligan (in one of my favorite performances of the year) is his live wire, unstable sister. Mulligan's slowed-down, heartbreaking rendition of "New York, New York" (pictured right) might be my favorite scene of the year.

7. The Skin I Live In
I don't get why so many people have dismissed this gleefully macabre, absurd film as lesser Almodovar. I'll take diabolical melodrama over something earnest any day. Almodovar's labyrinthine screenplay is the key accomplishment here -- the complex story expertly unfolds and the reveal is killer good.

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin
It's hard to imagine any actress other than Tilda Swinton tackling the role of the mother of a mass murderer in this unrelenting, but gorgeous, melodrama. She's at times steely and heartbreaking, most often conveying the most without saying a word. Director Lynn Ramsey photographs it with grace -- the color schemes and shot compositions are immaculate.

9. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon gives the performance of the year as a man slowly losing grip on reality. Relentlessly paranoid that the world is ending, he goes into debt building a bomb shelter, loses his job, and puts great strain on his marriage (it-girl Jessica Chastain plays his increasingly terrified wife). Is he losing his mind or is the end really coming? It's left open-ended, and thank goodness.

10. Weekend
An intimate story of a one night stand that turns into something more, and one of the few gay films I've found authentic and identifiable.

1 comment:

Layne Adams said...

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