10.“Blue Jasmine“: Woody Allen’s latest effort knocks it out of the park, following Jasmine, a psychopathic housewife (Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-worthy performance) trying to get her life back together after her wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin) cheats on her and then gets arrested for tax fraud. Used to the good life, Jasmine finds herself staying with her lower-class sister (Sally Hawkins), but finds trouble adjusting and retaining her sanity. Featuring fantastic supporting performances by Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, and Louis C.K., Allen’s film gently balances biting humor with heavy melodrama making for an entertaining and heartfelt film that’s not to be missed.
9. “Gravity”: Ever wondered what it’s like to drift through space? Visionary director Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematic masterpiece is about the closest you’re going to get without taking a shuttle there yourself. Following two astronauts stranded after their shuttle gets destroyed, Gravity is a scary, heart-pounding work of brilliance. The visuals are outstanding, and should put other recent 3D efforts to shame, thanks to the impeccable cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezski, and Cuaron’s confident and assured direction. It’s one of the best science fiction films in recent memory, and should influence many films to come.
8. “What Maisie Knew”: A movie about divorce, sure it’s been done before. But when it’s filmed from the perspective of the child being affected, then you have something original. That’s exactly what this film does; showing how divorce can totally destroy a child’s perception of what a stable family can look like. It’s heart-wrenching, sad, but not sappy or overly sentimental. If anything, it’s a sensitive portrait of one girl trying to find the little bits of happiness and trying to cope with a larger concept she’s too young to understand, but just old enough to be affected by.
7. “Frances Ha”: If you’re in your 20s Š—ê or were ever in your 20s Š—ê you’ll have something to relate to in the titular character. Frances is an artist living in New York, trying to make it by the best she can while everyone else around her is becoming successful. Even her best friend/roommate abandons her for a better life. It’s amazing how much director Noah Baumbach and co-writer/lead actress Greta Gerwig understand the failures we endure once we leave our hometown for another life. They reveal how much we cling to the past, and are unable to face the future because of how unfamiliar it is. We don’t know what to do, so we live in the moment, because it’s the closest thing to the past that we have. It’s a startling portrait, but also beautifully sad, funny and, above all, familiar.
6. “Her”: An unconventional love story to say the least, Spike Jonze’s latest effort is a masterpiece. Joaquin Phoenix has never been better as Theodore, a man currently going through a divorce, who finds himself falling in love with his new operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It sounds strange, and it is. But it’s also incredibly heartfelt and heart wrenching. Jonze gets what it means to fall in love, and to be in love. But what “Her” does especially well is show why relationships can’t always work, because sometimes one person is ready to move on while another isn’t going anywhere, they’re staying exactly the same. It’s sad, powerful, funny, and moving Š—ê and one of the best films of the year.
5. “Nebraska”: Alexander Payne’s portrait of the rural Midwest is a sight to see. It’s cold, bleak, funny and undeniably beautiful. Following Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in top form) and his son (a surprisingly nuanced Will Forte) as they travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim one million dollars Woody has seemingly won. What follows is a film full of amazing characters, and a narrative that illustrates how much we lose as we grow older, and how sacred memories and family are to us. It’s a powerful piece of cinema, thanks to tender direction from Payne, and a colorful script from Bob Nelson, making “Nebraska” a new American masterpiece.
4. “12 Years A Slave”: Never has there been a more honest and brutal film regarding slavery in America. Perhaps that’s because none have truly been honest in their portrayal of slavery, but that’s what director Steve McQueen is all about. He wants us to cringe, cry and feel emotions towards this dark time in America’s history, and he presents it beautifully. Featuring award-worthy turns from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, McQueen’s searing adaptation of Solomon Northrop’s true story illustrates the complex cruelty of the world, and how there are still shining moments of humanity left when life seems at its darkest point.
3. “Mud”: Jeff Nichols understands rural American culture. His last two efforts have been nothing short of brilliant, and his latest is a film for the ages. He combines the loss of innocence and youth with a southern gothic love story that’s charming and endearing without being sappy. It’s also filled with top tier performances from Matthew McConaughy and Tye Sheridan (who deserves to get more work), both of whom share an electric chemistry of a mentor and his student. It’s an amazing tale of what it means to grow up, experience heartbreak, and try to make the best with what you have. Nichols never skimps on sentimentality, but in his hands that isn’t such a bad thing.
2. “Inside Llewyn Davis”: Let me first say this film has the best soundtrack of the year. But in all seriousness, the Coen’s have really outdone themselves with this gem, chronicling a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) through a single week. What follows is an uncomfortable but endearing portrait of a man who’s brought every hardship upon himself, yet somehow remains empathetic in the eyes of the audience. Remarkably, Isaac brings sympathy to Llewyn, a man with faults but also moments of tenderness; a complex character to say the least. In this sense he’s one of the Coen’s most relatable characters to date, a man who has flaws, and has hardships in life, yet refuses to give up and moves on, through every obstacle life throws in his way. It’s a highlight of what loneliness feels like, but also what it’s like to hang on to the last bit of hope we have left, because sometimes, that’s all that keeps us going.
1. “American Hustle”: Hilarious, outrageous, entertaining. These are a few of the many words that describe David O. Russell’s insanely brilliant comedy. “Some of this actually happened,” claims O. Russell in the first title card of the film, and he’s right to do so, for it sets up the right tone and the right atmosphere for the ensemble comedy. Based upon the Abscam operations of the 1970s, the film doesn’t play off as a drama, but more of a farce. This isn’t the laugh-out-loud comedy you’re used to, this one’s smart and clever, much like the cast that supports it. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are terrific as Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists, in love, and trying to make it big in New York, while Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner are surprisingly funny as an FBI agent, and a crooked senator who find themselves in the mix of organized crime and con artists. Jennifer Lawrence is also electric as Rosenfeld’s unstable wife, and Louis C.K. makes an excellent turn as the boss of Cooper’s egotistical FBI agent. It’s sharp, vibrant, and intelligent thanks to a great script by O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, as well as impeccable direction from O. Russell. It is the best movie of the year.