So, I know this list is about four months too late, and since I live in New Zealand we still haven't gotten a large number of movies that could potentially end up on this list, but I'm going to do a draft of it now and revise it as I discover more from last year. I'll try to write a hundred words or so on each film. As a disclaimer: I know other people have different opinions, probably worth more than mine, but these were the best films of the year for me.
What I still have to see: 127 Hours, The American, Another Year, City Island, Fair Game, Fish Tank, For Coloured Girls, The Loved Ones, Monsters, Never Let Me Go, Night Catches Us, The Runaways, Unstoppable.
Feel free to make any suggestions of any standouts you saw last year. I'm interested to know what everyone else loved. Or hated, for that matter.
First, though, the runners up. Any of these films could probably move into the Top 10, depending on what kind of mood I was in. In alphabetical order:
Animal Kingdom, David Michod.
Buried, Rodrigo Cortes.
Greenberg, Noah Baumbach.
A Prophet, Jacques Audiard.
Rabbit Hole, John Cameron Mitchell.
And now for the list itself...
10. Cairo Time, Ruba Nadda. Because I didn't see a more tenderly and intricately sketched map of a relationship all year. Clarkson caught one of those rare leading roles and shone brighter than she ever has before. Siddig was just as capable in a part that is part love interest, part sparring partner. It's not groundbreaking, but it's beautiful and has some of the best and most character-appropriate costuming of the year. Of all the films in my Top 10, this is the one that could have slipped by the easiest. I would have caught up with all the others eventually, but I'll always be grateful that I found this modest treasure in theatres.
9. The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski. Because although Polanski has almost no hope of making a contemporary picture that I'll admire and love as much of his older films, this one came close. The score was my favourite of the year and Williams was my favourite supporting actress. Brosnan was a revelation as well, showing depths to his acting that we hadn't seen before. I'll write about them both more soon. If Catrall had been up to their standard, the film would have created almost a perfect ensemble. Despite the criticisms some had of the script, I think the film has enough to say about the modern world and our identities that these things fade away. Besides, who can resist those last five minutes and specifically that last shot?
8. The Social Network, David Fincher. Because David Fincher created a movie that was actually funny as well as being a gripping examination of an individual and a friendship. I may have found myself out of place with consensus on The Social Network, neither loving it unreservedly nor hating it, but there is a lot of worth in it. Like Fincher says, it isn't his best movie, but Eisenberg, Garfield, Reznor and Ross all add a great deal to this film. A fantastic public arrival for Garfield in particular. I may question the structure of the script, but I give Fincher and Sorkin credit for making something so entertaining.
7. The Fighter, David. O. Russell. Because no other film took something that could have played as a lifeless and rote biopic and turned it into one of the year's most energetic releases. Many of the other directors on this list take something great and make it into something better. Russell reportedly took over from Aronofsky and fine-tuned it into his own vision of family. It may have played to every cliche in the book, but it played to them perfectly and still feels like its director's own work. Wahlberg continues to make a case for being one of the most overlooked actors out there, while Leo, Bale and the menagerie of sisters bring a whirlwind of energy. It would be my pick of Oscar's Best Picture nominees if it wasn't for a film appearing soon.
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright. Because it brought a killer ensemble to a film dedicated to delivering pure fun. In the same vein as Toy Story 3 , I was probably biased to love Scott Pilgrim. It's a geeky tribute to the video games that I loved as a kid, and it's just the sort of movie that I can put on anytime to watch. What deepens my love for it, though, is the subtle self-examaination and critique that goes on just below the surface. The film doesn't celebrate its characters nasty actions, but it also doesn't make the viewers confront them if they don't want to. I don't pretend that the movie is perfect, but I think that certain elements, like Ellen Wong's Knives, just might be.
5. Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich. Because the film tackles many of the themes the series has already looked at, but never once feels like a rehash. Unkrich manages to dig deeper into this world than any of the two preceding movies and emerge with something that feels more true, more emotional and still as entertaining as the first two movies. I'll admit my bias, given that I grew up with the first two movies and the series as is now feels like an analogue to my own life, but I don't think anyone could deny the depth of feeling that Pixar has brought to the film. Half a dozen set-pieces and characters have been ingrained into my thoughts since I saw it, and they're all welcome memories.
4. Dogtooth, Giorgos Lanthimos. Because it stretches the definition of "entertainment" to lengths that are sometimes painful, but still emerges with a film that can be funny and moving. The story is almost surrealist, but the actors all play it with such sincerity that we never doubt its reality. The references to other films Lanthimos brings are funny on the surface level, but also lead us to ask questions about the presence of cinema in our lives and its influence on reality. I don't think I've fully digested what Dogtooth was trying to say, but I'm eager for another viewing.
3. I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino. Because no other movie took a typical melodramatic situation and elevated it to high art. Tilda Swinton is a consummate presence, proving once again that she can excel in any role. The film mixes what could be melodrama with genuine desire and sensuality, resulting in a film that's an intoxicating rush of emotions as much as it is a movie. The beautiful score only highlights this feeling. Giadagnino bathes his cast in the richest light and colours and proves to have a masterful control of his film's tones and technical elements. A stunning mood piece.
2. Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance. Because it's as stunning a mood piece as I Am Love, cutting back and forth in what may be my favourite screenplay of last year. Williams and Gosling both give pitch-perfect performances, molding themselves to Cianfrance's film, an auteurist piece if ever there was one. The screenplay takes infinite dramatic tension from some minimal events and makes the most of every plot point. At times I felt like the movie might have been pushing too hard, but then another crosscutting decision, dialogue exchange or small character moment would place me firmly back in the movie's camp.
1. White Material, Claire Denis. Because no other film this year played to such unique editing rhythms or showed us characters so compromised in their actions. To be completely honest, I'm sure that this film will continue giving up things I hadn't yet noticed on further viewings. But Denis' fantastic direction and Isabelle Huppert's best performance since The Piano Teacher join to give probably the best auteur/star colloboration of the year. The film is mystifying and beautiful, unlike anything I've seen before. I'll be seeking out Denis' other films and hoping for revelations like this one.