I feel like the general public wrote this movie off as a rip off a Big Bang Theory episode, but make no mistake, there is no other movie this year that is as genuine and profound as Her. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates a futuristic world where computers have evolved to the point that artificially intelligent OS’s can be companions, friends, or even lovers. With a love story between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his OS girlfriend Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), Jonze raises difficult questions about isolation in the digital age with a rare amount of heart and passion.
I had never seen anything like Gravity before this year. It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in a long time; its long meandering shots, its gorgeous score, its dizzying attention to detail. Alfonso Cuarón created so much special equipment to make this movie that it’s hard to believe he and his crew didn’t actually fly out to space to film this. There is no denying Gravity’s technical achievements, but what’s truly remarkable is the film’s ability to capture raw adrenaline. Watching Sandra Bullock struggle to survive in space is pulse pounding, rivaling the best thrillers and horror movies.
3. The World's End
I’ve been a fan of Edgar Wright’s for years. He and writer/star Simon Pegg always made movies that are equal parts genre parody and heartfelt comedy, both of which are done very well in all of his movies. With The World’s End, he reaches new highs on both accounts. The fantastic characters, who we feel like we’ve known for years and are just as much a part of this reunion as they are, are such a joy to watch and such a huge improvement over the previous entries into the Cornetto Trilogy. It’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Hot Fuzz, but The World’s End has plenty of heart and humor.
4. American Hustle
David O. Russell has been on a roll lately. In American Hustle, he assembles his biggest cast of Hollywood stars ever, making the film a shoe-in for at least one acting award at this year’s Oscars. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are my two favorites; Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence round out the impressive cast. Russell’s movies always feel like a handcrafted piece of art: lots of hand held camera work, close-ups of personal moments, editing that is noticeable yet smooth. He pours everything he has into his movies and as a writer/director, his influence is everywhere in this movie, from the somewhat messy script to the editing.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Academy, it’s time. Leonardo DiCaprio deserves his first Oscar for The Wolf of Wall Street. This movie would not be possible without his performance. His charisma, energy, and emotional turmoil carry the three-hour-long epic. There were definitely parts of the movie that could have been cut to make it more digestible or flow better, but that’s not what this movie is about. The Wolf of Wall Street’s biggest trick is keeping the energy up for an entire three hours. This is thanks to a number of factors: Martin Scorsese’s refined directorial technique, pure shock value (sex and drugs reach a critical mass here), and great performances, but the film’s saving grace is truly Leonardo DiCaprio.
6. Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett’s performance alone would garner Woody Allen’s latest effort a place on my list, but I’d go so far as to say that this is Allen’s best in years. It’s not as enjoyable or light as Midnight in Paris, but its characters are much more developed and interesting. This is a heavy movie to be appreciated, not a light movie to be enjoyed.
I barely noticed Frozen’s release, but repeated recommendations from many of my friends (a few of them very unlikely to enjoy Disney’s animated fare) drove me to the theater. I was far from disappointed. Its art design is gorgeous, the songs are catchy as hell, and it definitely breaks from the tried and true Disney Princess formula in a few unexpected ways.
8. Evil Dead
Horror remakes very rarely go well, but in true Evil Dead fashion, this is not as much a remake as it is another fantastic entry in a franchise known for its campy, tongue-in-cheek attitude towards itself. This time around, director Fede Alvarez updated the franchise to be darker, bloodier, and more menacing than the other three installments.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen’s character portrait of folk singer Llewyn Davis is fascinating if you attempt to dissect its antihero’s intentions and motivations. He is a fantastic character but a horrible person. Aside from this, Inside Llewyn Davis is another fine entry into the Coen Brothers canon, with great performances by every minor character and a memorable soundtrack.
10. Spring Breakers
Harmony Korine should not have been given a wide release for this film. I don’t think the general public was ready for it. But maybe that’s just part of the joke? While I still don’t understand Spring Breakers, its mesmerizing camerawork and nonsensical plot, paired with Korine’s unique visual style and production design, is sure to entertain and cause debate.
Honorable mentions: The Place Beyond The Pines, V/H/S 2, Upstream Color, Anchorman 2, John Dies at the End
Biggest misses: 12 Years a Slave, Saving Mr. Banks, All is Lost, Captain Phillips, August: Osage County