The Top 10 Films of 2013

12 Years a Slave

12YAS-Poster-ArtSteve McQueen’s third film (following Hunger and Shame) and a bona fide masterpiece, 12 Years is an unflinching, uncompromising look at slavery in the American south. It’s painful and emotionally harrowing, and makes no attempt to make anyone feel good about not only this history but the long-reaching effects of it, which we’re still feeling today. 12 Years is not The Help, congratulating white people for ending racism in 1962. Instead it holds up a mirror to an ugly, unavoidable truth and asks only that we accept it and then figure out how to move on from there. It’s a beautiful film, almost lyrical at times, even for all the ugliness it contains. And with a central message of hope and survival in the face of soul-crushing despair, it’s one that, even though there are no easy answers, doesn’t give up on the possibility of healing. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a necessary one. Continue reading “The Top 10 Films of 2013”

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The Top 10 Films of 2012

Amour

One of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen, Michael Haneke’s uncompromising, unglamorous look at the end of a long and fulfilling relationship is also one of the most haunting movies I’ve seen in a really long time. Despite its title, Amour is at least as much about the indignity of death as it is the perseverance of love and the delicate Amourpersistence of life in the face of one’s own mortality. It’s a wrenching, deeply moving portrait of the end of a life-long love affair that is remarkable not only for its depth but also that the couple, Georges and Anne, have had a rather charmed life together. So it seems especially cruel that fate takes Anne not in a tragedy or in any kind of bittersweet passing but in the slow devastation of stroke. Starring titans of French cinema Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and co-starring Isabelle Huppert as their daughter, Amour is a painfully raw and honest examination of life and death, framed by Haneke’s spare and unsparing lens. Continue reading “The Top 10 Films of 2012”

Straight to Video Steve Presents: The Top 10 horror flicks you probably haven’t seen, but should

I don’t watch a lot of horror. It’s really nothing against the genre, it’s just that it is entirely impossible to watch horror movies and nothing else. There’s not enough time in the day. So I really only see horror movies if they cross over into the mainstream, like Cabin in the Woods, or if something about the movie distinguishes it, such as marking a new directorial talent (like Dead Snow, which appears on this list).

But it’s October, and with Halloween approaching there are horror movie marathons, DVD deals, and On Demand offers out the wazoo. So I asked my brother Steve—who is a horror aficionado—to come up with ten horror movies from the last decade that are worth watching, but that might have slid under the radar for general audiences (so no Let the Right One In or Cabin in the Woods or Paranormal Activity, because they made the mainstream. Also no Last Exorcism because that movie is ri-goddamn-diculous).

So here it is, from my resident horror expert, Steve, the ten little-seen horror flicks worth your time this Halloween.

10.  The Divide (2011)

Post-Apocalyptic Cabin Fever

As their city is being leveled by bombs from an unknown enemy, the tenants of an apartment building descend to their basement for shelter.  They represent a set of different (and conflicting) personality types that, through a slow progression to insanity, turn this basement into a nightmare on par with the destruction outside.  There is plenty of blood and intensity to keep the audience entertained and the acting (especially that of Michael Biehn of The Terminator and horror classic The Abyss) is stellar for this genre.  This is a good film for people who don’t necessarily like horror, but are intrigued by human drama.  It’s like The Real World with casualties. Continue reading “Straight to Video Steve Presents: The Top 10 horror flicks you probably haven’t seen, but should”

Top 10 films of 2011

50/50

I can’t remember the last time I laughed and cried so hard in a movie as I did in 50/50. Based on the real-life story of screenwriter Will Reiser, 50/50 follows Adam after he’s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 27. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives one of his best performances as Adam and he’s ably supported by Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and a surprisingly tolerable Seth Rogen. 50/50 barely touches on the physical reality of cancer—we only briefly see the effects of chemo—but the emotional reality is sharply drawn, in turns painfully raw and touchingly hopeful. There was no more life-affirming movie in 2011. Continue reading “Top 10 films of 2011”

Top 10 Movies of the Decade: 2000-2009

What do we call the past decade? The Zeroes? The Aughts? “Glad it’s over; surely the next one can’t be that bad?” Whatever. Here are my top movies of the decade just gone. Once again, this list is in alphabetical order. Also, I realized I didn’t annotate anything in the decade’s top 10 post, I just assumed people would know who I was talking about. I will try to remember to do so in future.

Amelie (2001, Miramax Films)

The little foreign film that could! Remember Amelie? How good it made you feel? How happy you were at the end? Romantic, shy Amelie Poulain is the heroine we could all root for, and Audrey Tautou embodied her perfectly. Strikingly reminiscent of another Audrey—Hepburn, that is—Tautou is at once whimsical and practical, beautiful and plain, bold and introverted. Beautifully directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection, A Very Long Engagement) and photographed by Bruno Delbonnel, the Montmartre district of Paris is bathed in sunny yellows, rich greens and bold reds. This is reality slightly left of center, and Amelie’s rich inner life is brought to life through innovative moments of magical realism. If you haven’t seen Amelie recently, give yourself a treat and revisit, or watch it for the first time. Few films will leave you so happy and in love with love. Continue reading “Top 10 Movies of the Decade: 2000-2009”

Top 10 Movies of 2009

This is arranged alphabetically because picking just 10 movies is hard enough, without trying to decide which is better than the others.

Adventureland

Confession: Kristen Stewart is my #1 girlcrush. She’s the ultimate anti-starlet, the pretty girl who refuses to play pretty. And as the uber-famous face of the Twilight franchise, she’d be easy to dismiss, except for work such as Adventureland. This is a wonderful ensemble piece, a period film that does not make a big deal out of the 1980’s. It’s an era that’s easy to caricaturize, but writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad) actually lived this story, so everything feels authentic. Stewart is joined by Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, and Martin Starr as the core of the movie. For a coming of age tale, it’s not saccharine and hardly nostalgic. Despite the “Superbad in a theme park!” ad campaign, this film is kind of depressing and dark and times—these characters have problems, especially Stewart’s troubled, promiscuous Em Lewin—but excellent comic turns from Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Matt Bush keep things from dragging down too far. And the running gag featuring Rock Me Amadeus is priceless. Continue reading “Top 10 Movies of 2009”