Since the school semester is finally coming to an end and it's been far too long since any activity I thought I'd post a months late top ten from last year. I wanted to try and post this around Oscars but I'm lucky I even saw half of what I intended to by the time Oscars rolled around. Anyway, let's get right into it.
10. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
For the most part ignored because it was deemed "uncinematic" this analytical film tackles a lot more than I would have thought to even attempt. Not only does it break the surface between Jung and Freud's approaches and theories it really develops these historic minds as more than just iconic figures in the world of psychoanalytic theory but as actual people, and their own problems are just as human as the patients they analyze. Fassbender and Mortensen both deliver great performances. Also, the whole "uncinematic" view is a bunch of hogwash. Though the material itself is rather stagey Cronenberg uses simple film techniques to say a lot. There's an early scene where Jung asks Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) a series of questions and just by simply breaking them into their own frames and by use of screen direction isolates the two figures and says quite a bit in a scene that is basically two people in a room talking.
9. Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
Now to move on to something completely different, Brad Bird's wildly inventive Mission Impossible movie. Though its Burj Khalifa tower scaling is the scene that garnered much of the buzz around the movie the other sequences be it a prison escape in the beginning, a rotating car park garage fight sequence, or magic show at the Kremlin are all fresh and exciting in their own right. It's like Bird set out to make scenes that really would be impossible to accomplish and the MI 4 crew seems to breeze through them with ease. Plus there's a lot of humor just through self-aware jabs at the MI tropes like self-destructing messages and face masks that keeps the movie constantly carefree and fun.
8. Terri (Azazel Jacobs)
It's been quite some time since I've seen as honest an interpretation of high school life. How rough and unforgiving it can be for those unfortunate outcasts in teenage social circles. Terri, the character himself though, is impossible to dislike and Jacob Wysocki captures that awkward uneasiness perfectly. John C. Reilly perhaps steals the show, or at the very least every scene in which he appears. It's a performance that trumps every supporting nominee from last year and adds to an already great year for Reilly (including Carnage and We Need to Talk About Kevin).
7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy follows the deconstructionist tradition of the spy genre along the lines of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Unraveling the mystery of a mole which is less important than breaking down the cold landscape in which these people operate and in which they ultimately must live. Oldman's performance is very different than what's usually expected from him, with aggressive and larger than life characters. Here he does a lot by seemingly doing very little, by contemplative looks and small gestures. And visually it's a hypnotic and captivating film.
6. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh's clinical approach to his film about world wide epidemic bio-catastrophe both eliminates much melodramatic sensationalism that generally bogs down these types of disaster films and makes the urgency and danger in the situation all the more real and immediate. Plus this opens the movie up to its moments of genuine humanity to have far more impact, like its low key final scene, which just goes right for the heart.
5. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)
Perhaps the most devastating film from last year is not Soderbergh's disease disaster film but rather Lynne Ramsay's drama about a housewife and the shear overwhelming difficulty of motherhood. Tilda Swinton's starring performance may just be the most overlooked bit of acting from last years Oscars and probably the finest performance from the entire year.
4. The Muppets (James Bobin)
The latest Muppets film may just be the best in the series. It captures what we love about the felt covered puppets who have over the years become real life personalities. It's nothing short of sheer exuberant cinematic joy and the happiest escape into the theater from last year. Its use of self-awared humor is in top form and the (Oscar winning) music is a delight.
3. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Malick examines life and relations in a way that only he can. Like many of his films it's an acquired taste but with visuals this beautiful and questions this big it's a film that really deserves any recognition and praise that it's received. It truly is one of a kind.
2. The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Though it's in great company I found this to be Payne's best film yet, or at least most effective. I can think of few directors that can take moments, and such dramatic moments, and bring them to the point of no return without breaking, and interject them with such genuine moments of comedy as release. Clooney gives another great performance (one I personally found was robbed of an Oscar from last year) where he's even able to break away from being the center of his scenes and is able to fall into the background while giving other actors moments to shine, in particular a great breakout performance from Shailene Woodley, best known for her TV series work.
1. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
This may just be my favorite Allen film since the late 80s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Exceedingly charming, clever, and one of his most realized films from the last ten years. A really delightful movie that avoids what is generally thought of as Allen cynicism and captures a Paris that may not exist, or even have existed in the past, but merely exists in remembrance and not to live in that past but in the present.