Let's get some things out of the way - There's a number of films that were released this year that I haven't seen yet either due to lack of time, laziness or any number of other circumstances. So, who knows, maybe The Wolf of Wall Street might end up as my favorite film of the year. Not inconceivable based off my love for The Departed, Shutter Island or Hugo.
And the other thing is that these are the movies that I have loved this year. There's a real mix of films here, and I think it's representative of the fact that I really do love all genres. Just don't be boring. And of course, there's more than 10.
Starting from the top...
1. The Way Way Back - When I saw the trailer for this earlier in the year, it was already striking a chord in me. And then there was the fact that Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote the film (and directed, too) and they were the same team who co-wrote The Descendants (one of my favorites of 2011). Yes, I had high hopes, but the story of a young guy who finds friends, summer love and a fun job during what might have been the worst vacation ever just felt right on all levels. Steve Carell successfully played a cad. Liam James is perfect as the kid. He doesn't need to say much for us to know exactly what he's thinking. And then there's Sam Rockwell hitting another home run. It's one of those quiet films that hits all the emotional areas that I want.
2. Before Midnight - The third film in the Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater trilogy. Lots (and lots) of talking. But it's soooo good. These are smart characters with a lot on their mind, and I love dropping in on them every 9 years. This year Jesse and Celine are having some marital issues, and it makes for an emotional and gripping story. I found the ending hopeful, and others have seen it as tragic. Any film that can do that has something going for it.
3. Furious 6 - The sixth film in the Fast and Furious series is simply one of the most fun action films I've seen. The series has its own internal logic. How else could you have an airline runway that never seems to end? In this series, based off the amount of time it takes a car to go a quarter of a mile, that runway is spot on. The Rock blends so well with these other characters it feels like he's been with the franchise from the beginning. And then there's the amazing reveal at the end that ties Tokyo Drift to the rest of the series. The death of Paul Walker makes me so sad, because these films have simply been getting better and better.
4. Gravity - I liked Dr. Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock) backstory. I thought it gave the film a reason for her to not give up in the face of impossible odds. And then there's the fact that beyond being visually stunning (the 3D was great!), the film is also a masterclass in suspense. It never lets up. Every reveal lets us breathe a short sigh of relief before forcing us to hold our breath again. I honestly think Bullock deserves an Oscar for this, and Clooney ain't no slouch in the film either.
5. About Time - I like the way Richard Curtis writes. Seeing a film both written and directed by him is even more of a treat. And this one was funny, sad, dramatic, and suspenseful. Bolstered by a great (and game) cast, it was simply a delight.
6. All is Lost - I think Robert Redford says all of six lines in the film. That's all he needs to say. The story of a man who's boat gets punctured by a random shipping crate and then has to stay both afloat and alive is astonishing. Redford plays one of the smartest characters in recent memory, and even with all his smarts, sometimes fate stands in his way of survival. There have been all sorts of comparisons to Cast Away, and while the films are similar, the journey is way different.
7. You're Next - My favorite horror film in recent memory. Talking about the plot only ruins some of the surprises that are in store. Suffice to say, the heroine (Sharni Vinson) plays one of the best "victims" in a horror flick. The satisfaction that I felt from characters that actually acted intelligently in one of these films cannot be overstated. And then you have the fact that even without the cheap shot at the end, motivations have been revealed, and that made me even happier. And, of course, there's the correct grammar.
8. Pacific Rim - Giant robots vs giant monsters as directed by Guillermo del Toro. I wish there had been a little less rain, but otherwise it made me feel like I was ten years old again in the best possible way.
9. The Spectacular Now - A high school girl falls for the alcoholic high school boy. Sounds like a real winner doesn't it? It really is. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller as the two main characters are some of the most believable characters on screen this year. They each have their problems, but you root for them to overcome them. In fact, the whole film, while being about depressing subjects (wait till you see Miles' character track down his father), is never depressing itself. It's about hope, and how we sometimes have to fight for it, no matter the odds.
10. White House Down - A better Die Hard movie than the last Die Hard movie (although, truth be told, that wasn't hard to do). But, boy, did I have a lot of fun watching monuments be destroyed, rockets being launched, and Channing Tatum do a perfectly respectable Bruce Willis impersonation. This is going to be one of my go-to Friday night, time to decompress, action movies.
11. Frozen - The best animated film of the year (and I loved Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill and Despicable Me 2). A true musical along the lines of The Little Mermaid, with a strong, strong story featuring two great female protagonists. The Bechtel Test is passed within the first minute of the film. And the supporting cast is equally fine. If you don't come away loving Olaf (the snowman) or Sven (the reindeer) then I may have no hope for you.
12. The Hunt - A chilling story of what one lie can do. But that lie happens to be a whopper. It's hard not to put yourself in Mads Mikkelsen's place as the teacher whose life is thrown into complete upheaval. It's a rough film, but you can't take your eyes off the screen, as there appears to be no end in sight for Mads. To go from Le Chiffre, to this, to Hannibal Mads Mikkelsen became one of those actors that I've put on my short list of people I'll watch in just about anything.
13. Blue is the Warmest Color - Yes, the three hour NC-17 French lesbian drama is on my list. It would be worth it just to see Adele Exarchopoulos as the main character, but it's just as good in the sad truthfulness of the story.
14. Spring Breakers - The most subversive movie of the year, anchored by a stellar performance by James Franco as the appropriately named Alien. It goes in every possible direction, none of which you think or are expecting. Overindulgent at times, but that may be on purpose. With Harmony Korrine you never know. But I truly didn't have a more mind-blowing time at the movies this year as to when I saw this.
And then the two best movies that I saw this year that were released last year were:
The Impossible - Riveting, intense, incredibly acted. Naomi Watts as the mom, and Tom Holland as her oldest son give two of the most realistic portrayals of the year. It may never make you want to leave the country again, but the fact that this family managed to both survive and meet up after all they went through is staggering.
Django Unchained - Tarantino's newest was just as good as anything else he's done. Christoph Waltz deserved that second Oscar.
And there we have it.