Custom photo by Iana Kazakova, with thanks
Another year has come to a quiet close, wafting to sleep on a cloud of tryptophan, and like every other berk writing about movies on the internet, this means it’s time to write up my top ten. There’s no time to waste, but as usual this list should come with the caveat that I didn’t see everything this year, including other popular choices like Frances Ha or Fruitvale Station, but let’s be honest here, a movie about normal people living in the real world probably wouldn’t have wound up on here anyway. I mean, it’s me.
#10: The World’s End
The final installment in Edgar Wright and co’s “Cornetto Trilogy” is, in all honesty, the weakest in the trilogy, but really that’s like coming in third in some demented Olympic sport that combines multi-level chess, nuclear physics and cunnilingus, performed simultaneously (which would probably result in only sligtly more neck injuries than usual, if we’re being honest). While it may not quite match up to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, World’s End is still incredibly sharply written, fun and surprisingly emotional.
And speaking of emotional, Makoto Shinkai’s latest film is in top running for “biggest emotional gut-punch” this year, a beautiful and visually stunning tale of young love and eyeball poppingly animated rainy afternoons. Some may detract it for its occasionally Hallmark-y sentiment and short length, but some people detract me for my staunch refusal to watch “grown up” movies and bathe more than twice a month, and what the hell do they know?
#8: Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding-Refn’s latest visual love-letter to Ryan Gosling’s stoic features may pale in comparison to his last, but like all of Refn’s work, is still a dazzling display of pacing, framing, nuance and incredibly gory violence. It’s the kind of film that film nerds love, one that defies expectation and forces you to think on and interpret what you’re seeing for yourself if you’ve any hope of figuring out everything, before ending more suddenly than than the bloated, turkey-drunk Christmas coitus that I expect many of you are enjoying as I write this.
It could be very easy for Eddie Mullins’ Doomsdays to become the next Napoleon Dynamite, a quirky “you get it or you don’t” indie comedy that we’ll all love for a few years then decide to hate when too many people with annoying affectations become rabidly devoted to it. But until the honeymoon ends, Doomsdays is a fantastically charming movie, full of heart and humor, man-on-automobile violence and at least one ex-Wire cast-member in women’s underwear, who thankfully isn’t Wendell Pierce. And for those with the image of Wendell Pierce in women’s underwear now firmly lodged in your brain, I await your pipe bombs.
Maybe it would be exaggerating to call Jerry Bruckheimer’s White House Down the glorious rebirth of the American action movie, but screw it, White House Down is the glorious rebirth of the American action movie. While other action blockbusters in recent years have been busy being dark and cynical grit-fests, White House Down has the sheer audacity to have some damn fun and wear its adorably naive patriotism and sentiment on its sleeve like the proudest ballerina at the school recital. Its a movie that dares to have a sense of humor about itself in a climate of determinedly un-self-aware, overly serious Expendables and Fast and Furious franchises with increasingly depressing numbers stapled on the end, and God knows we could use a little levity.
I’m not a Disney fan, in fact I think it’s safe to say I’m quite anti-Disney most of the time, but Frozen is the movie that convinced me that maybe the House of Mouse can stand with the animation big dogs and deliver a fun, progressive and surprisingly feminist movie that’s still about fairytale princesses, which is like delivering haute-cuisine which is still a lukewarm hamburger made out of a possum. Hell, I even liked the songs! This may not be the turning point for Disney we all hope it to be, the first signs of someone at the company finally realizing it’s the 21st Century and finally making films with a modicum of modern sensibility in terms of things like gender politics and underlying message, but it’s proof that we shouldn’t be picking out that mouse-eared tombstone just yet.
#4: Rewind This
Like most people old enough to get a terrible deal on a home equity loan, I still remember the time when VHS was a thing that existed, and while nostalgia goggles do help my rating of Rewind This!, which chronicles the rise and fall of the VHS tape, the fact that it’s a lovingly and perfectly crafted documentary takes it the rest of the way. The passion and care of the film makers can be felt in every frame, from interviews with legends (legends to me anyway) like Lloyd Kaufman, Frank Henenlotter and Mamoru Oshii, to the 80s-tastic graphics. It educates as well as entertains, which can only really be said about great documentaries and the night classes I take with Professor Bobo.
Oh don’t look so surprised (your highne..wait, no, did that one before), like you didn’t know the movie about giant robots fighting monsters directed by Guillermo del Toro would make my top ten. But really Pacific Rim’s me-tastic setup can only take it so far. What brings it to number three is how unabashedly, unflinchingly fun it is. Pacific Rim does nothing in half-measures, in fact it regards half-measures with the same disdain with which I regard vegetables and exercise. The movie is exactly what it should have been: a fun, half-insane rollercoaster of over-the-top characters and the kind of action that leaves you with a ruptured eardrum or two if you have the right sound system.
#2: Drug War
It should be no surprise by now that Johnnie To has honed the making of Hong Kong crime thrillers into a fine art, but even I was surprised at how tightly packed his latest film is. Drug War is a Swiss watch of a film, a Swiss watch that occasionally involves ass-kicking deaf guys and the BEST MOVIE COP EVER. Look away or let your attention drift for a second and you’re irrevocably lost in the film’s myriad double, triple and quadruple-crosses and mind-bendingly elaborate sting operations. And even beyond the ornately crafted script, the film’s bloody final shoot-out, which redefines the term “bloody final shoot-out,” proves that even 14 years after The Mission, To still has as tight a grasp on what makes a good action scene as any director alive.
#1: Upstream Color
There aren’t many films I thought back on in amazement at this year as Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, a film as mesmerizing as it is hard to explain to people without having their eyebrow rocket skyward in incredulity like a hairy North Korean missile test. Shot and told in a haze of disconnected, fragmentary images, Upstream Color is a headscratcher, but a headscratcher that will leave you moved and amazed, if the scratching doesn’t bore through your skull to leave jagged marks on your occipital lobe first. It’s weird, it’s high-concept, it’s emotional, it’s magnificently shot and edited, and it will probably have film nerds noisily messing themselves for years to come…..pun intended.