You could call it bias, but “Beasts” is my number 1. Behn Zeitlin ’04 crafts the most simplistically beautiful film of the year while working in Louisiana with the young and inspiring Quvenzhané Wallis, who might just become the Academy’s youngest nominee for Best Actress. Fantastical images, storytelling, and music all push this film beyond what could be perceived as pretentiousness and instead ground it in a realistic and grimy world full of mythical wonders and characters. Nothing short of a miracle, “Beasts” proves the worth and power of small budget projects and is a film that will be discussed until the end of time. If you didn’t get a chance to see it on the big screen, make it your first thing to watch over winter break.
If you know me at all, then you really shouldn’t be surprised by this pick. In fact, you might be shocked that it’s only number 2. The truth is, and this won’t shock anyone, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a flawed film. There’s no denying that. But what it unfortunately lacks in writing and editing (the two most notable faults, in my opinion), it makes up for in scope and power. Christopher Nolan may take missteps (many, one might argue), but he is a man willing to take gigantic risks, and for that he deserves immense recognition. “The Dark Knight Rises” was without a doubt the most immense cinematic experience of the year. If you never saw it in IMAX, shame on you. What Nolan achieves with the camera when capturing such an epic story with the format is breathtaking and should bring more attention to producing feature films with this technology in the future.
Ang Lee’s masterpiece “Brokeback Mountain” was unjustly robbed of Best Picture back in 2006. Now his first major picture since then might just have a chance to steal the title. Utilizing 3D similar to Scorsese’s delightful “Hugo,” “Life of Pi” is a visual masterpiece that moves beyond the screen and into the viewer’s heart. The tender and soulful story of the titular Pi (Suraj Sharma) stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for 227 days at sea, Lee’s film is at times bogged down by the framing device and its sometimes overt and preachy dialogue. However, that shouldn’t deter the viewer from experiencing such a powerful and imaginative film.
Martin McDonaugh is the best writer in Hollywood, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. His first feature, 2008’s “In Bruges,” was a searing black comedy that proved his worth to cinematic storytelling. His second feature pushes the darkness in his comedy further and still managed to have me in stitches, even when I was churning in my seat from the violence and gore. An all-star cast, including a sublime Sam Rockwell who deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination, bites and chews apart each line of dialogue with vigor and pleasure. Colin Farrell plays a character named “Marty” McDonaugh who is facing writer’s block while trying to come up with his newest material. Meanwhile he has to deal with a serial killer and an insane gangster (Woody Harrelson) who is out to get bloody revenge for the theft of his dog. What’s not to like?
Rian Johnson’s science fiction thriller is the best film in the genre since Duncan Jones’ “Moon,” and while not as cinematically picturesque as the latter, “Looper” contains the action thrills and engaging narrative for a much wider audience. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (what a year for this fine actor!) stars as Joe, a hitman (or looper) hired to execute men sent back in time to the present. The trouble occurs when he recognizes his future self (Bruce Willis) as his next target. The best part of the film was how the third act took everyone completely by surprise, as it was avoided in all marketing campaigns and press talks. It’s tough to make a compelling action drama these days while still keeping the audience on the edge of its seat, and for that reason, “Looper” is a triumph.