It took me a long time to get to it, but I’ve finally narrowed down my top 10 films of the year. There was plenty I never got to see, thanks to a schedule where almost everything great came out in December. But here’s the best of what I saw. Note: some of the entries previously appeared on Screen Invasion.
10. American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell)
A tremendous acting showcase and a hell of a good time. Sure, the writing could be better and Russell could have kept a tighter grip on the tone, but there’s so much good here I can overlook some of the bad.
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir. Francis Lawrence)
The first Hunger Games was much better than it needed to be. Its sequel is something of a revelation. It’s more dangerous, more energetic than its predecessor, and the acting and special effects are better across the board. This is the first blockbuster in a long time that I’ve wanted to see the sequel the second the credits rolled.
8. Monsters University (dir. Dan Scanlon)
I’ll say it again: Pixar is not in a slump. Monsters University is one of the funniest films of the year and a much better depiction of male friendship on the brink than This is the End. It just filled my heart up. I don’t care how corny that sounds.
7. Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass)
Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career as the arrogant but overwhelmed Richard Phillips. Even better is the complete unknown Barkhad Abdi, who completely commands the screen and still brings you into his flashes of humanity. But this movie, gripping as it is, is all about that devastating final 10 minutes. It wrecked me.
6. The Kings of Summer (dir. Jordan Roberts-Vogt)
The true discovery of the year. This is a movie I could watch over and over. It’s a great coming-of-age story and an endless source of laughs. It says something when Nick Offerman is only the third or fourth funniest person in the cast.
5. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)
Nothing in Upstream Color bears any resemblance to anything you will have seen this year. It’s a dark romance, a gripping revenge story, but that’s reductive. It’s simply a complete sensory experience, one you won’t soon forget.
4. About Time (dir. Richard Curtis)
The biggest surprise of the year was this romantic comedy that starts out charming but evolves into something much richer. I never expected a movie like this to have such an emotional impact on me, but it completely knocked me out.
3. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)
For some, marriage is easier than Jesse and Celine’s. For some, much harder. Regardless, no other depiction of long-term relationships felt as real and uncompromising as theirs. Though the film is really comprised of just a handful of scenes, it runs the gamut of emotions that can happen over the years of a relationship, or even just over a few hours. Every relationship has both love and pain, and they intertwine over time. Your reading of the film’s ending depends on what you think wins out.
2. Her (dir. Spike Jonze)
Yet another non-traditional love story, but no less emotionally involving. Everyone here is doing tremendous work, both onscreen and off. The future might not look quite like this, but the movie couldn’t look any better or feel more present.
1. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
Every year there’s a movie critics claim to be a turning point, a game changer. This is the one that earned the hype. Unlike Avatar and other effects-heavy blockbusters, this is the one that I don’t have to give any caveats to. It’s simply an awe-inspiring journey.
Honorable Mentions: The Angels’ Share, Frances Ha, Prisoners, Rush, Side Effects, The Spectacular Now, Terms and Conditions May Apply, Trance, The Way Way Back, The World’s End
Movies I Never Saw but Probably Would Have Loved: 12 Years a Slave, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, August: Osage County, Blue is the Warmest Color, Blue Jasmine, The Counselor, Dallas Buyers Club, The Hunt, Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis, John Dies at the End, Mud, Short Term 12, To the Wonder, The Wolf of Wall Street