In case you missed it, check out the first five films in this list here. We pick back up with the most daring independent film of the year, with an adorable girl named Hushpuppy at the center.
5. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
The most frequent complaint I’ve heard about “Beasts” is that it’s a film with not that much to say while pretending it does. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I find “Beasts” all the more compelling because it doesn’t worry about fitting to a structure. It’s emotional, pure and unfiltered, with a fascinating narrative about a people left behind after Katrina. The film is inspiring, heartbreaking, hopeful and devastating. I’m not sure I’ll be ready to revisit it for some time – it takes so much out of you – but I can’t wait until I do. “Beasts” is so different from anything I’ve ever seen in a film, a true vision from a visionary (Benh Zeitlin). It demands to be seen.
A Steven Spielberg film has certain elements you go in expecting: an inspirational John Williams score, monologues passionately delivered, a fascinating story in an historical context, etc. What “Lincoln” has that most don’t is a tight, focused script that sets all its action in a mostly untold story: the fight to ratify the 14th Amendment. Entertaining and striking, and anchored by a dynamic Daniel Day-Lewis transformation, “Lincoln” is easily my favorite Spielberg of all time, as well as one of the most interesting scripts I’ve ever seen produced. Now if only Spielberg would work with the writer (Tony Kushner) every time – it works for them!
The top three films are far and away higher than the rest of the top ten. In any other year, all three would make a strong case for No. 1. These three really set themselves apart as the three films I’ll continue to revisit for years to come.
3. “Moonrise Kingdom”
Wes Anderson never quite clicked for me until his delightful animated film “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” All of his most irritating tendencies – the tweeness, the dollhouse feel of his productions – finally came together when he finally had the performers he always wanted: those he could completely control. Anderson achieves a similar effect in “Moonrise Kingdom,” where all of his actors feel completely in sync with his storytelling rhythm. The tale is heartwarming, and the performances are truly something special. The film feels effortlessly magical. Easily one of the most enjoyable films I’ve ever seen, and it only gets better upon repeat viewings. It took him a while to get it right for me, but when he finally nailed the right tone, it created an absolute home run.
2. “Zero Dark Thirty”
Forget everything you’ve read about this film. Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is not a film about torture. It’s not pro-America propaganda. It’s not even, at its heart, a docudrama about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” is actually a story about one woman, passionate and morally fluid, who has the insatiable drive to accomplish one of the largest feats in American history. Jessica Chastain is a revelation as that woman, Maya, and Bigelow’s careful hand with her muse makes the performance (and film) all the more incredible. In many ways, Bigelow (along with her writer and partner, Mark Boal) has crafted a pair of films united in theme and setting, all centralized on one flawed person in the midst of a crisis who focuses on their mission instead of themselves. The issues with authenticity don’t bother me simply because the movie isn’t about recreating events exactly as they happened. It’s far more interested in Maya. The overall effect of “Zero Dark Thirty” is beyond words, which is good, because by the time the credits roll, you’re stunned speechless.
1. “Les Misérables”
I dreamed a dream “Les Misérables” would receive the hyperbolic, enthusiastic praise it so richly deserves. But life killed that dream when all that praise went (egregiously unfairly) to “Django Unchained” instead, leaving everyone to pile on “Les Mis.” That’s a shame, because Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the gorgeous musical solves many of the source material’s problems (adding in plot from the book, restructuring the middle section, etc.) while making a daring choice with the live-singing approach. Some have laughed at Hooper’s obsession with the close-up shot (an overused choice, I’ll admit), but they then fail to mention how great the performances were (Samantha Barks as Éponine, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine), both in acting and singing. They gloss over how you fall into the world of the music, eventually hearing the singing as almost its own language. Much of it feels as intense as a high-wire act that the cast and crew pull off with flying colors. It is easy to quibble with parts of “Les Mis,” but it’s even easier to let yourself fall in love with it. And I for one have a heart full of love.
It was incredibly hard to choose between that top three – especially “Les Mis” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” What were your favorite films of the year? Leave a comment or tweet @kokeeffe22.