Life of Pi
You see colors in this movie you never knew existed. Filmmaker extraordinaire Ang Lee adapted the “unfilmable” novel into a beautiful, moving, and entertaining cinematic experience which has more going for it than its pretty color palette. The movie may dip too heavily into all the silly “What does it all mean?” questions towards the end, but before all those cloying segments appeared, Lee had made a near-perfect movie.
Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik is the real deal. After The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Dominik had a big achievement to live up to. Wisely, he made a full-on genre picture, a complete left turn from his meditative epic. Killing Them Softly may have gone overboard with its political text, but going overboard is what Dominik’s movie does best.
Sam Mendes brought pure class and style to the series. Martin Campbell nailed Bond with 2007’s Casino Royale, but there was certainly room for improvement. With Skyfall, Mendes delivered on all those possibilities of a dangerous, cool 21st Century Bond that Campbell set up. The movie may skimp on logic every now and then, but Mendes always makes up for it with A-level popcorn thrills.
By far the best anti-hero(s) movie of the year. Writer/Director Rian Johnson’s voice has never felt sharper than this. Johnson gave us a unique concept, and then he lived up to it by providing high-minded themes, character-driven action, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s best performance yet.
Wes Anderon’s least cynical and most heartful movie since…well, maybe ever. I saw Moonrise Kingdom three times in theaters, and it progressively became better. Each joke, character, and clever background detail became more lovable with every new viewing. It was the first time in a while where Anderson felt fully in love with his characters, and it paid off beautifully.
For me, looking back on a year of film I often just ask “Where did I have the most fun?” as opposed to “What was the best film of the year?” Too many people get caught up in wrapping their minds around “best,” something I don’t have to worry about when Guy Pearce channels Han Solo on a Snake Plissken adventure. Aside from one horrendous CGI scene, Lockout is a ton of fun and keeps moving via violence and laughs. With inventive action bits and an aces performance from Pearce, this was one of the best times I had watching a movie this year.
21 Jump Street
It’s unlikely you’ll find this film on many Best Of… lists, and after seeing it in theaters, I wouldn’t have thought it’d be on mine. Much like Anchorman though, 21 Jump Street has staying power and gets funnier and funnier every time you watch it. Channing Tatum is great in the role he was born to play – dumb jock – and Jonah Hill gets a bunch of laughs too. With tons of great comedy, an over the top Rob Riggle, fantastic cameos, and moments of awesome violence, this film keeps on giving.
The Cabin in the Woods
A lot of times when a movie tries to really wink at the audience and play inside baseball, the result ranges from decent to lackluster to utter crap. The Cabin in the Woods is perhaps the best of these films, managing to pay homage to many of the great horror tropes of all time while still being a very fresh take on a very old tale. The classic elements are done well and the films final payoff is among the most rewarding of any horror movie in recent memory.
No stranger to “top whatever” lists, Disney & Marvel went for the gold on The Avengers and pulled off a film many of us thought was impossible to do. Bringing together that many superheroes? Finding a credible threat to them? Managing screen time? The task in front of them was a huge one and they put Joss Whedon at the helm, a fan favorite but one who had never seen this kind of budget or this kind of success before – and it all worked. The characterizations continue to be excellent with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark being the glue that pulls them all together. The Hulk smashed the spotlight, with his best portrayal on screen yet and his dual friendships: The Hulk + Thor and Bruce Banner + Tony Stark. A terrific action film and a great comic book movie, The Avengers was fun as hell.
With exception to my own rule about having fun, The Grey is not a fun film, but rather a heartbreakingly serious one that hits all the quintessential notes of a versus film. Man versus man. Man versus beast. Man versus nature. The trailers did not do the film justice as they made it appear to be Liam Neeson boxing wolves, when what was actually happening was a tremendous man versus nature film, one of hopelessness and fighting against the inevitable. With great performances all around, tension throughout, and a dramatic punch straight to the kidneys, The Grey was a fantastic bit of filmmaking, CGI wolves and all.