Best Movies of the Century, Year by Year
Looking back over my ten-best lists for the past decade, I see that my tastes are slightly out of the mainstream, at least as far as my fellow reviewers and the number ten itself are concerned.
Best Films of 2016
Hell or High Water. Throwback to the great gritty ‘70s thrillers about brothers robbing banks and the about-to-retire Texas Ranger who’s chasing them, with a subtle satisfying twist at the end.
Tower. Documentary about Charles Whitman, the sniper who opened fire on the University of Texas campus in 1966. A moving combination of rotoscoped animation recreations and present-day interviews.
The Handmaiden. Korean period thriller is the most visually beautiful film of the year with unashamed eroticism and a twisty plot.
The Invitation. Another unpredictable thriller about a couple attending a dinner party that’s filled with nasty surprises. Premiered on DVD and pay-per-view.
20th Century Women. Soft-spoken ensemble drama about a young man’s coming of age in a ‘70s household with three complex, demanding women.
Hail, Caesar! The Coen brothers’ affectionate tribute to Hollywood in the 1950s is the funniest comedy of the year.
Rules Don’t Apply. O.K., another movie about Hollywood in the ‘50s and ‘60s is almost as funny with brilliant work by Warren Beatty as an increasingly unpredictable Howard Hughes.
Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s unconventional second film (after A Single Man) is a thriller that’s almost impossible to describe but absolutely riveting all the way through.
Zootopia. In a year filled with excellent animation, Disney’s swiftly paced, smart comic suspense film could be the beginning of a fine series.
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The Nice Guys
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Ralph Fiennes is the concierge of a European hotel who takes young Tony Revolori under his wing. Writer/director Wes Anderson’s quirky sensibility finds a perfect match in this funny and surprisingly touching story.
The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones’ Western is austere, brutal, touching and surprisingly funny at the most unusual moments. Hilary Swank, as usual, is near perfect.
Blue Ruin – Virginia filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier’s low-budget revenge thriller has been compared to the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple. Macon Blair plays Dwight, an addled beach bum who goes back home to exact vengeance on the man who killed his parents. The year’s sleeper.
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s story does for the war movie what he did for Westerns with Unforgiven. It’s an often difficult-to-watch portrait of a man and his family. Perhaps Bradley Cooper’s best work to date.
Nightcrawler – Imagine Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle with a touch of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. That’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a grim update of Network, about a bizarre young man who films accidents, fires and crimes in Los Angeles.
Top Five – Curiously, writer/star/director Chris Rock tells essentially the same story we saw in Chef and Birdman. His version is the funniest, freshest and smartest.
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson’s parody follows a laid-back detective (Joaquin Phoenix) as he ambles through a convoluted but finally unimportant plot that cuts the dark heart of ‘70s California political corruption. Perhaps too druggy, sexy and funny for the mainstream.
A Most Violent Year – J.C. Chandor spins out a understated, complex tale of political and business corruption in the bleak New York winter of 1981. Not to be missed.
Best Movies of 2012
Technological changes finally caught up with the movie business in 2012. Several of the best films actually made their debut on DVD and pay-per-view. After minimal theatrical releases, they went directly to cable pay-per-view, DVD and other formats. I downloaded one of the year’s best, Bernie, to a handheld device, and I suspect that trend is going to become increasingly more important.
Seven Top-Ten Theatrical releases of 2012:
Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are unlikely lovers in the year’s most unusual romantic-comedy/drama.
Lincoln – Steven Spielberg’s look at the last months of the President’s life is the front-runner for all of the major awards.
End of Watch – Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are uniformed LAPD cops and best friends. Perks of Being a Wallflower – A high school freshman falls in with a senior clique and is smitten by Emma Watson, and who could blame him?
Flight – Denzel Washington is brilliant as an alcoholic pilot.
Argo – Ben Affleck directs and stars in the fact-based story of the rescue of American embassy personnel from the home of the Canadian ambassador in Iran.
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western/comedy is set in the antebellum South.
Eight Top-Ten DVDs of 2012:
Bernie – Jack Black deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a funeral director who murders the meanest woman (Shirley MacLaine) in a small Texas town.
Ted – Mark Wahlberg and his best friend, a live stuffed bear (voice of director Seth MacFarlane) can’t quite seem to grow up.
The Campaign – Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis compete for a North Carolina House seat. Funny and nasty in all the right ways.
Arbitrage – Richard Gere is excellent as a New York financier who finds his life crumbling as he tries to put together a deal that will save his company.
The Artist – Last year’s big Oscar-winner loses nothing on DVD.
Hugo – Audiences missed Martin Scorsese’s valentine to silent French movies in theaters, and if it’s not as impressive on DVD, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable and moving.
American Horror Story, Season One – A fiercely original, challenging and frightening story of a troubled family that moves into a haunted Los Angeles house.
The Muppets – One of 2011’s best brings Kermit and company out of retirement. Grand fun for audiences of all ages.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten movies of 2011
(in no particular order)
The Artist – Jean Dujardin channels Peter Sellers as a silent film star facing the introduction of sound.
The Muppets – Kermit and company attempt a comeback. Terrific humor and songs.
Super 8 – Kids making movies and a monster on the loose in 1978. The summer’s best popcorn movie.
The Descendants – George Clooney deals with the death of his wife and other family problems.
Win Win – Paul Giamatti is a small town lawyer dealing with economic problems and a troubled teenager. Thoroughly engaging and smart.
Moneyball– Brad Pitt tries to turn the Oakland A’s into a winning team using unorthodox methods. Fascinating even if you don’t care about baseball.
Hugo– Martin Scorsese spins a fairy tale about movies and a boy who lives within the walls of a train station in 1920s Paris. Perhaps the year’s most entertaining release.
Honorable Mentions: Crazy Stupid Love, Bridesmaids, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Debt, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, My Week with Marilyn
Mike Mayo’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2010
Inception. Thoughtful, ambitious, challenging, entertaining, and, most important, original—not a sequel, not a remake. This is what big‐budget Hollywood escapism can be.
The King’s Speech. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Colin Firth, and in the end, a story that is surprisingly moving.
True Grit. The Coen brothers’ Western has a rougher, more realistic quality than the 1968 film, and better performances from a more talented cast. O.K., Jeff Bridges isn’t John Wayne, and he doesn’t try to be.
127 Hours. James Franco turns in another remarkable performance and director Danny Boyle manages to make the bizarre true story completely involving, and surprising all the way through.
How To Train Your Dragon. Superb animation, goofy characters, and, again, it’s original.
The Illusionist. Old-fashioned hand-drawn animation with a wry sense of humor and genuine warmth.
The Complete Metropolis. Finally, years after I saw this one in grad school, the plot actually makes sense, and it’s still impressive.
Honorable Mentions: Easy A, The Town, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island, Toy Story 3, Black Swan.