One of the nice things about ten best lists is that––unlike the Oscars, critics groups’ awards, and other collective judgments––I don’t have to compromise or accept choices I don’t like, and I can trumpet movies I did like even if others disagree. As in past years, these were movies I was most likely to recommend if asked, “What’s worth seeing?”
12 YEARS A SLAVE ::: In spite of a British director and several prominent Brits in the cast, this is a great American film that forces viewers to confront a part of American history we prefer to ignore. Oh, sure, we acknowledge there once was slavery in this country, but on screen we’re more likely to think of “Gone With The Wind” as how it was. Based on the incredible and horrifying true story of Solomon Northrup, this is not only powerful storytelling, but after a career of more than a decade on screen, this ought to put Chiwetel Ejiofor on the map. (And make us all learn how to pronounce his name.)
GRAVITY ::: The best science fiction movie of the year and a performance from Sandra Bullock that was so good it makes you forgive her for abominations like “All About Steve” and this year’s “The Heat.” She plays a scientist literally lost in space when her craft is destroyed and who has to call on reserves she didn’t know she had in order to survive. Some critics gave the film the back of the hand as being merely “technically” brilliant. It was. It was also a powerful story of the human spirit.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT ::: Every nine years since 1995 director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have been chronicling a great love story. In “Before Sunrise” an American college graduate and a young Parisian woman meet and fall in love but he’s leaving in the morning. Nine years later, in “Before Sunset,” they meet again and find a connection in spite of the changes in their lives. Now we pick up the story again and find that even the road of true love can have bumps and detours. Love is about the journey, not the moment. See you again in 2022!
AMERICAN HUSTLE ::: Con artists––legal and illegal––abound in this hilarious fiction built upon the ‘70s Abscam scandal. Everyone has an angle and everyone is hustling everyone else. David O. Russell gets some great and truly flamboyant performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper. (And if Lawrence can sing someone should be casting her as Adelaide in a remake of “Guys & Dolls.”)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ::: Ignored by the critics groups and sure to be overlooked by the Oscars, this labor of love from director Joss Whedon (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers”) is a sheer delight. Shot in 12 days at Whedon’s house with a bunch of his favorite actors, this black and white rendition of Shakespeare’s enduring romantic comedy is a gem.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET ::: Martin Scorsese still has it as he gives us “Goodfellas” on Wall Street. Leonard DiCaprio finally comes into his own as a Scorsese star as Jordan Belfort, who climbs the ladder of success to enjoy incredible debauchery at the expense of the rest of us. The movie is three hours long but you don’t feel it, though you may wish to take a shower afterwards.
BLUE JASMINE ::: Woody Allen’s greatest films are behind him and his dramas are usually clunkers as the comic genius has almost no ear for dramatic dialogue. What made the dramatic half of “Crimes And Misdemeanors” work was the brilliant star performance by Martin Landau, and what makes this work is an incredible turn by Cate Blanchett as a woman who has lived at the top and is now having trouble adjusting to her new status in the real world.
THE WORLD’S END ::: Imagine a cross between “The Big Chill” and “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” and you have a sense of this ingenious British comedy from the team behind “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Five friends relive an epic pub crawl they went on in their youth and discover that the old home town has… changed.
THE UNKNOWN KNOWN ::: There were many good documentaries this year but the most chilling one was Errol Morris’s companion piece to his feature length interview with 1960s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, “The Fog Of War.” This one is with Donald Rumsfeld, the man who gave us the war in Iraq, Guantanamo, torture, and a host of lies. He is not only unrepentant, but he doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong. Worth seeing just for his explanation why the Bush administration’s memos approving of the torture of prisoners––which he claims never to have read––weren’t really from the administration.
FROZEN ::: For many years now to speak of the great new Disney animated films was to speak of Pixar: “Monsters, Inc.,” “Up,” “The Incredibles,” “Wall-E.” Disney Animation itself was turning out forgettable movies like “Chicken Little,” “Tangled” and “Meet the Robinsons.” With “Frozen” they have created a film that hearkens back to the last great Disney revival of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty And The Beast.” The songs aren’t that memorable, but the animation, story, and characterization is top notch and captivating. This put Pixar’s perfunctory “Monsters University” in the shade.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.