It’s that time of year again. Well, almost, as this is actually pretty late for a top ten for the last year, but I can put it off no longer. Firstly, a couple of disclaimers; unlike last year’s list, this time I’m going off American release dates, so basically if something’s up for an Oscar this year, it’s eligible for my list. Secondly, one big omission – as much as it pains me to say, I’ve still yet to see The Master, and I fancy it would have featured on this countdown somewhere, given my well-documented love for P.T. Anderson.
A really nicely understated coming-of-age story set in the early ‘90s and featuring a very impressive trio of lead performances. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is unusual in that it treats its youthful target audience as the characters in the film wish to be treated – adults. It may not be quite at the level of American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused as a cultural time capsule, but it’s a fantastic little film.
Daniel Day-Lewis delivers the best performance of the year bar none, and if the Academy doesn’t reward him, it’ll be for political reasons rather than on merit. Steven Spielberg’s biopic is a huge achievement, no doubt, but does occasionally get bogged down in legalese and it never quite taps into the emotional reservoir that the director is so renowned for exploiting.
What could have been an Oscar-baiting farce actually turned out to be arguably this year’s best romantic-comedy (if it can be shoehorned into such a reductive category). The first film in decades to receive a nomination in every major acting category, Silver Linings is a hugely enjoyable piece of entertainment that never threatens to lurch toward the mawkish mental health rubbernecking that could have been.
Wes Anderson has long been established as one of the most singular, stylistic directors in an age where film, particularly Hollywood, seems geared towards discouraging these traits at any cost. Moonrise Kingdom is his most accessible film to date, and Anderson certainly seems to have achieved the balance between warmth and quirk that his previous films have often misjudged in favour of the latter. Two excellent lead performances and a superb supporting cast means that the only thing that has stopped Moonrise Kingdom being rewarded in Awards season is its unfavourable release date.
6. Searching for Sugar Man
By no means the most innovative documentary (being very much reliant on talking-heads), Searching for Sugar Man succeeds as its truly fantastic story means that it doesn’t need to do anything particularly spectacular. Sugar Man deals with Rodriguez, an American singer-songwriter from the Bob Dylan-mould who was touted by his management and the tiny number of people who took the time to listen as the next big thing. He wasn’t, and after two albums, he gave up and pursued a somewhat less illustrious career as a labourer in Detroit. However, in 1997, his story is picked up by the documentary crew, and he learns of his life-changing level of stardom in South Africa. What makes Sugar Man so marvelous is that, with the internet and instant connectivity around the world, there’s no chance anything like this could happen again.
Benh Zeitlin’s effervescent debut has set the bar for the burgeoning genre of magic realism extremely high. Featuring a stunning lead performance from Quvenzhané Wallis, who became the youngest ever nominee for the Best Actress Oscar as a result, Beasts of the Southern Wild straddles the line between fact and fiction with expert precision, and the fact that it’s never truly clear whether what you’re seeing is a product of Hushpuppy’s imagination or not means you’ll struggle to find two viewers with the same exact interpretation of events.
Occasionally, a film comes along that does is done so well that it doesn’t matter. The Intouchables is that film, and then some. Taking influence from a whole range of sources, chiefly the “odd couple” dynamic, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s work is a testament to film’s ability to continue to entertain, move, and enrapture us, no matter how many times we’ve seen something before. Also quite possibly the funniest film of the year.
Richard Linklater once again demonstrates his chameleonic ability to turn his hand to almost any type of film with Bernie, a based-on-true-events story of Bernie Tiede, an infuriatingly friendly man driven to murder by a vindictive, possessive widow who he befriends. Played to perfection by Jack Black, the titular character seems closer to a Coen brother’s character than a figure from real life, and Bernie is a worthy contemporary of any of their finest work.
2. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s scintillating homage to blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns has served as a timely reminder of why he is the foremost director in Hollywood today. An exceptionally entertaining piece of filmmaking, it does still suffer from the ever-present Tarantinoisms at times (not least Tarantino’s own presence – few of his cameos have jarred quite as much as this one, which comes complete with awful Australian accent), but they do little to detract from his positive traits – even for a film set pre-Civil War, he manages to work in a brilliant, eclectic soundtrack. Without doubt, one of his best.
Ben Affleck truly delivers on his directorial potential with a brilliant heist film. Navigating along the line of tension and humour masterfully, Argo never allows the historical context of the film to overpower its sheer entertainment value. A superb film.
Life of Pi, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Skyfall