In my humble opinion, this was one of the worst years for film I’ve ever encountered. Even the blockbusters were dismal. Thus, I couldn’t make it to even 10 top films. Still to see, however, are The Artist, Young Adult, and The Iron Lady.
Films that I was looking forward to during the Oscar season sadly fell flat, and disappointed me. Chief among those films were – War Horse, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and My Week with Marilyn. More on War Horse later…
It may come as a surprise for my top film of the year, particularly to my former students given that Terrence Malick came out with a film this year. So here goes, in order of like:
1. Warrior – Gavin O’Connor – A brilliantly acted and edited piece of boxing, MMA pulp that could have been folly given the predictable nature of these sorts of films, but 3 performances led by Tom Hardy, and including Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, were riveting to watch. Couple that with an ending that was so visceral and exciting, not to mention moving, and you have one piece of bravura filmmaking.
2. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick – This film is a work of art. You either love it or hate it. I loved it, except for the ending. The film should have faded to black when Sean Penn stepped through the door, which would have brought his adult character fully into focus. Instead, we get another 10 minutes of people walking aimlessly along the beach diluting his meaning. Otherwise, Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and all three of the boys, were terrific. Nature and Grace. Perfect.
3. Hugo – Martin Scorcese – 1 of only 3 films I saw twice this year, Hugo (in 3D) was a beautifully crafted fable centering on the very beginning of film. With an extraordinarily subtle performance by Ben Kingsley, and terrific performances by the entire cast – even Borat – this film was charming to watch from frame one. It also spoke volumes on the creative and entrepreneurial spirit.
4. Shame – Steve McQueen – Michael Fassbender is stunning to watch, even when he has his pants on in this film. But the most incredible scene in this movie belongs to Carey Mulligan as she sings an entirely new version of New York, New York and pulls the plug on the songs over-done versions in the past, and gives new meaning to a city for lost souls. Simply spellbinding to watch.
5. Hanna – Joe Wright – A tour-de-force of action, editing and sheer movie-making, Hanna speeds along energetically until the final moment when you are freed from the grips of a consummate director. Makes David Fincher seem like Michael Bay.
6. The Help – Tate Taylor – Despite the central story of Emma Stone playing the white girl out to help black people, which is just as trite as all the other attempts at this storyline, it’s the women who are The Help that makes this film so moving. These women, including Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer and, again, Jessica Chastain, lift a so-so story structure up, and makes this film a feast for the soul.
Honorable Mentions: Marcy Martha May Marlene – a great character study; Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Much better than one could have hoped for; Moneyball – Brad Pitt and every other actor at their finest in an overly-long film. Midnight in Paris – Would have been number 1 or 2, but I can’t stand Owen Wilson, a boring, one-note actor with not a lot going on, but the movie is a great pastiche and nod to writers everywhere.
Now – about War Horse… I was lucky enough to see the play on Broadway, which was far more affecting and interesting to watch than Steven Spielberg’s film. When is Steven Spielberg going to stop using such stupid devices as a goose chasing people (8 times) to curry favor with an audience? Unbelievable. Worse than that, however, was the cinematography that was distracting from frame one. It was fakery beyond belief. Add to that, one of the worst scored films in history and you have a mess of a film. It’s sad, because this could have been a beautiful film, told simply and elegantly without pandering. Steven Spielberg hasn’t made a great film since Close Encounters of the Third Kind.