Ok, so after a month and a half vacation spent watching movies as fast as I could download them, I’ve put together a list of my favorite films from last year. There’s still a handful that seem like promising additions to the list. For instance, Two Years at Sea and Neighboring Sounds look fantastic, but haven’t yet hit the torrents. That said, there are more than enough great films here to occupy your time. If you want to get a sample of any of these, all the titles link to a trailer on YouTube. To save space, I’ve paired up a few of the movies that share thematic or visual themes.
A somewhat clinical, though no less heartbreaking look at an elderly man coping with his wife’s rapid mental and physical decline. It’s hard to watch, as most of Haneke’s films are, but it is certainly one of his best.
Woody Allen is back in form here after the cute but largely forgettable Midnight in Paris.
ACTION ACTION ACTION ACTION ACTION YEAH FUCK YEAH FUCK FUCK FUCK ACTION!!!!!
L’exercice de l’État, or The Minister as the English title has it, takes as it’s protagonist the French minister of transportation as he negotiates his way through the political landscape in a time of austerity measures and rapid privatization. Sounds boring? The film plays like an action film, and yes, that naked women climbing down the throat of that alligator is the opening sequence. Don’t expect too many more surrealist touches, but this one will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Two satires about life in America that are hard to swallow and unfortunately spot on. The Comedy is darkly funny in a squirm inducing way, and really cuts deep into our generation’s disengagement and sarcasm in a way that I’ve never seen before. You may find yourself somewhat implicated, while still despising the characters on the screen. In some ways it’s gravely serious, and will definitely make you think. God Bless America will certainly not be on anyone else’s best of lists since ideologically based shooting sprees aren’t testing well this year, but again it’s one of those that is intended to make you squirm.
I’m not a huge fan of straightforward, realist dramas, but the writing and performances in both of these films are top-notch – these are people from our generation, and you feel like you know them.
Beautiful landscapes do a lot of the story telling in these two films. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a dark police procedural of a very different sort: it’s actually really deep. It may legitimately be the best film from last year, but the methodic pacing and ponderousness of this one might not suit some viewers so I knocked it down a bit. It’s a must see. The Loneliest Planet is a relatively minor film by comparison, but for a relationship drama it’s successful in it’s minimalism. The film follows a couple traveling through the Georgian countryside who’s silences are more telling than their dialogue.
A highly resonant Belgian film about an African immigrant forced to work for a gangster to get immigration documents. He later burns bridges and sets out on his own with nothing to his name, and nothing to lose. Also, it’s a visually stunning, troubling film.
A wryly-funny film that deals with the living remnants of colonial history: the guilt, the racism, and even the nostalgia for an empire lost.
There were some other really great documentaries last year (The Imposter, The Gatekeepers, and Searching for Sugar Man come to mind) but West of Memphis is too good to miss: it’s by turns shocking, enraging, heartbreaking, and, thankfully, bittersweet.
Another film that takes place almost entirely in a limo (see: Holy Motors), Cosmopolis finds Cronenberg dissecting the effects of global capital through a day-in-the-life of someone sitting on top, as the ripple effect of their actions move through the rest of the world. The dialogue here is purposefully stilted and dry, mostly taken from the Don DeLillo novel this movie is based on, but still sharp and often humorous. Monologues on theory, an Occupy-esque riot, art acquisitions, and an asymmetrical colon, among other things, are discussed, as the limo inches it’s way through New York. Meanwhile, everything happening in the real world appears on the TV screen of the limo’s windows. All of this builds up to an engaging and philosophically powerful final scene. Ultimately, it may be the best critique of the Occupy movement on film, that, despite the promise, the movement itself was too rooted in the problem to bring about any legitimate change. Sigh…
Captures all the intensity and wonder of a first crush. It’s an entrancing little tale with all of Anderson’s trademark visual flair and quaint humor. What more could you want?
If you dig art films, these were two of the most intriguing last year: The Turin Horse captures the final days of a hard life in beautifully orchestrated achingly long and mostly silent takes. It feels like the end of the world and is a glorious send off from Tarr who has said this will be his final film. And, pulling from a philosophical anti-fascist novel written by Gunther Anders, differently, Molussia explores a fictional dystopian country on 9 rolls of 16mm film that can be played in any order: it’s heady and mesmerizing.
Hong Sang-soo is one of my favorite new directors, and he’s on a roll. His films all capture the inherent repetitiveness of our daily lives, how our experiences aren’t as unique as we think they are, but how life has charm in spite of that. They’re subtle, humorous, and inexplicably good films.
Everything Tarantino touches lately is pure gold. It’s nice that we have a director that understands the intrinsic goodness of bad cinema and who can craft something as unexpected, intellectual demanding, and undeniably fun as Django from the component parts.
French as fuck, and proud of it: Denis Lavant’s balls-out performance and the endless stream of beautiful images will break through your cynicism even if you’re not tuned-in to all of the cineaste in-jokes, which abound. It’s like a Calvino novel in HD.
An unrelenting thriller with one of the most unshakeable final sequences of the year. While the ending might be a bit divisive, as an experience I think the film is great, and the editing and acting keeps the tension taut.
Two films that manage to dig the transcendent from the rubble of recent disasters (post-Katrina New Orleans, post-tsunami Japan) albeit by very different routes. Sion Sono also had a stellar film in 2011 called Cold Fish which I also highly recommend. He’s definitely a director to keep your eyes on.