Best of Times
By Carl Kozlowski
The past year offered the best crop of movies I’ve seen in more than a decade. As usual, I’m offering my personal 10 favorites of the year out of the more than 150 screened, mixing the best of the blockbusters with terrific, yet inexpensively produced art house films.
1. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Debuting writer/director Lorene Scafaria-directed Steve Carell and the magical Keira Knightley through an utterly unpredictable film about two unlikely friends who team up to fulfill each other’s last wishes when it’s announced an asteroid will obliterate Earth in a few weeks. Mixing pitch-black comedy with powerhouse emotions, Seeking was criminally under-seen upon its late June release due to a terrible ad campaign. Catch it now on DVD. You’ll thank me.
2. Flight Director Robert Zemeckis was perfectly matched with Denzel Washington in the role of a lifetime as an alcoholic, coke-abusing, womanizing and extremely cocky airline pilot who miraculously makes a difficult landing. He’s called a hero, yet must scramble to hide the ugly truths about his private life. John Goodman nearly steals the show as the pilot’s drug dealer. Flight is hard-hitting, intelligent and profoundly moving entertainment for adults.
3. Silver Linings Playbook Writer/director David O. Russell adapts Matthew Quick’s hit novel about two mentally unstable people, who improbably find love while preparing for a ballroom dance contest. The performances by lead actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are Oscar-worthy. Russell even manages to make Robert DeNiro seem like he gives a damn for the first time in some years.
4. Django Unchained There is significant and deserved debate over writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the “N-word” in this tale of a freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to kill off white cowboy criminals and slave owners while en route to saving Django’s wife from her sarcastically evil owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). No other movie this year had more highly original dialogue (controversial epithet aside) or unique performances than this one, which overcame a literal bloodbath in the finale.
5. The Avengers A superhero fan’s dream come true, writer/director Joss Whedon’s epic and funny tale of how the Marvel Comics universe’s top heroes—from Iron Man and Thor to the Hulk, among others—teamed up to save the world was pure pop filmmaking that excelled on every level. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johannsen, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner were clearly having a blast, taking audiences along for the ride.
6. Les Miserables Redefining the word “epic”, director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directs a cast of thousands led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway in a musical set amid the grinding poverty of the French Revolution. Most of all, this timeless story offers hope for our own economically troubled times.
7. Life of Pi Director Ang Lee outdoes himself with his wondrous adaptation of Yann Martell’s acclaimed book about a boy named Pi, who is forced to learn to co-exist with a wild tiger on a lifeboat after both are tossed off a bigger ship amid a tragic storm at sea. A tale of bottomless faith and the triumphant human spirit, Pi also uses 3D technology better than any film outside of Avatar.
8. Argo Director Ben Affleck also stars in the year’s suspenseful thriller, about the real-life rescue of six Americans trapped in Iran during the infamous hostage crisis of 1979. Combining Hollywood satire with nail-biting suspense and characters viewers actually care about, Affleck’s masterful direction and superlative cast run rings around the cold, impersonal and vastly overrated Zero Dark Thirty, the season’s other allegedly Oscar-worthy, fact-based Middle East thriller.
9. This is 40 Writer/director Judd Apatow guides his wife, actress Leslie Mann, through the most wide-ranging female performance of the year with this profane and outrageously funny, yet touching take on marriage that’s so close to their real lives it could be a documentary, only one with laughs. It’s so insightful about our way-too-rushed modern lives that it should strike a chord with anyone who sees it.
10. Jeff Who Lives at Home/Safety Not Guaranteed The year’s most unlikely breakout star was Mark Duplass, who co-wrote and directed Jason Segel and Ed Helms to comic greatness in Jeff, an existential film about a hopeless stoner and loser (Segel), who encounters a seemingly random series of life-changing moments while running an errand for his mom. Segal also starred in Safety as a man who’s either built a time machine or is utterly insane. Both films are packed with fresh faces and plenty of plot twists that wind up with endings that make you feel great about life and all its potential.