absolutely certain about the top three films on this list. But the further down
we go, the more absurd it seems to rank films as different as the Coen
Brothers’ wonderfully layered look at a struggling folk singer in the 60’s and Martin
Scorsese’s bacchanalia of 80’s excess. So feel free to juggle the numbers in
your own mind. What I know is that all these films share ambition and artistry,
and are among the year’s best.
far the year’s most audacious and truthful film, and also its most romanctic. Spike
Jonze uses the affair between a lonely guy (the incredibely touching Joaquin
Phoenix) and his computer’s operating system (Scarlett Johansson’s voice) to reveal
the sometimes uneasy truth about love and romance in the age of the internet. (You
can find my longer take on “Her and
Seduction” at The Daily Beast.)
2. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
story of a free man trapped into slavery is the year’s most powerful film, held
together by director Steve McQueen’s unblinking rigor and grace, and especially
by Chiwetel Ejiofor, giving the year’s single best performance. His portrayal of
Solomon Northrup is so painfully sympathetic you can’t look away, even when the
film is at its most wrenching.
Payne’s droll, affecting story of an old man and the son who takes him on a
hopeless quest to pick up his sweepstakes winnings may be the year’s most perfectly-wrought
film. From its flawless performance by Bruce Dern to its counterintuitive use
of cinemascope black-and-white, there is not a misstep.
4. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
and Ethan Coen’s comic drama about a struggling folk singer in the Greenwich Village
of the 60’s is totally charming, with a dark underside that never gets in the
way of its hilariously observed scenes
and perfect lines. John Goodman saying you commit suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, not the George Washington
( “Who does that?”) is classic Coen brothers.
5. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
amazing. Martin Scorsese’s relentlessly energetic film about a corrupt, drug-fueled
Wall Street millionare (Leonardo DiCaprio) grips you for three hours without ever
offering a likable major character. It’s like being in the vortex of an alien
world of drugs and money.
6. AMERICAN HUSTLE
O. Russell’s comic romp about a 70’s FBI scam is shaped by joyfully outsize performances from Christian Bale,
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
7. THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
Fiennes is dynamic as director and star in this emotionally penetrating film
about Charles’ Dickens’ tortured love affair
with a young actress, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). I hope this delicately
beautiful yet deeply moving film doesn’t get swamped by the Christmas competition.
8. THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
from Belgium, as director Felix Van Groeningen uses music and a fractured chronology
to tell the story of romance, marriage and grief. One of those captivating little
films that is achingly better than its bare-bones plot.
9. TOP OF THE LAKE
If I hear one more argument about film vs. television I
will scream. The lines have blurred; they’re both good. Jane Campion’s sharply observed characters have room to
breathe in this smart, engrossing Sundance Channel miniseries about a detective
(Elisabeth Moss) obsessed with finding a missing girl. .
10. THE SELFISH GIANT
a few films could also have taken this last slot (Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines) but Clio Barnard
is one of today’s most audacious filmmakers. She brings visual poetry to a gritty
world, in the story of the friendship between two working-class British boys
who gather scrap metal for money.
also seemed to be more smart, accomplished, small-scale indies than ever this
year, films that didn’t make the Top Ten but deserve wider audiences and a long
afterlife. Don’t miss Scott McGehee and
David Siegel’s update of Henry James’ What
Maisie Knew, with Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as bad parents in contemporary
New York; Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, with its perfectly balance performance by Brie
Larson as a youth counselor with her own problems; and Todd Berger’s ultra-dark black comedy about a dirty
bomb in the neighborhood, It’s a Disaster.