In celebration of the end of the year, I have decided to put together a list of my 10 favorite movies released this year. Whether because they changed my outlook, taught me something, were innovative or simply entertained me – the following are my favorites. I am completely incapable of ranking favorites, so disregard the order – and there are still several films from this year I haven’t managed to see but desperately want to (i.e. 12 Years a Slave, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Wolf of Wall Street, for starters).
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I’m a sucker for fantasy films, I’ll admit that. I love the Lord of the Rings films and enjoyed the first Hobbit when it came out last year. But this one stepped up the game, I think. Yes, there was more action, but there were also some great new characters. Thranduil (Lee Pace) is perfectly chilling and alluring and I can’t wait to see more of him. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is a good character addition, although I felt like they could do more with her. Second, there was humor! It’s easy for movies like this to take themselves too seriously, but there was a healthy dose of comedy in this one, mostly thanks to the dwarves. And third, Smaug. Yeah, some of the end of the movie could have been done better, but the first scene where we finally fully see Smaug was so good and there was obviously a lot of hard work put into it in post-production. And I never miss a chance to note how much I love seeing/hearing Benedict Cumberbatch on screen. Not as terrifying as the giant spiders, but still right on spot. Fans always complain about cutting back on the plot of a book when adapting it to film, but this is an odd reverse, where Peter Jackson is able to actually add to the content of the book – and I think he’s doing an excellent job.
Yes, a Disney movie. But some of my all-time favorite movies are Disney, and while there have been some good-but-not-great additions to the vault in recent years, Frozen is one I was truly impressed with. It had the adorable animal sidekick as well as the animated inanimate object in the form of Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad). And I love those. But what really sold me is the plot. It’s about being yourself, not hiding because you’re different. So often in our culture, people want to conform and fit the mould, and it’s refreshing to see a film so openly celebrating embracing our differences. And it is ultimately about a different kind of love than has traditionally been at the center of Disney’s princess movies. It’s not about romantic love (entirely); at it’s heart, Frozen is about the love between two sisters. Put that all together and you have a film well worth seeing.
3. Don Jon
This is one I saw at the London Film Festival and have since heard mixed reviews about. If I’m completely honest, I loved it and think Joseph Gordon Levitt has a good future as a director. Of course the acting was great from Gordon Levitt, Scarlett Johanssen, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza – but what I loved was the plot and message of the film. It’s a well-done critique of our society and the influence of the media on our habits and outlook on life. With a film reflecting on such themes it would be easy to get bogged down with it all, but JGL managed to make it a comedy and one that is thoroughly enjoyable to watch.
This one has to be on here, doesn’t it? I saw it twice in theaters and only liked it more the second time around. Both times, the technical aspects are overwhelming (in a very good way). The environment of space is so incredibly well done and director Alfonso Cuarón is truly revolutionary with his production of it. The acting is also notable – George Clooney is charming, of course, but Sandra Bullock is inspiring. Her character is struggling both inside and outside throughout the film and Bullock pulls this off with the subtlety of expressions and actions rather than a lot of dialogue. In the end, it’s about survival, and who doesn’t love a good survival story? But what really placed it on this list is its production and how real it makes the environment of outer space feel.
5. Kill Your Darlings
This is another film I caught at the London Film Festival. It’s about the beat generation poets Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) as well as other members of their group Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). It’s ultimately about a murder but also explores the relationships between each of them. There are many great performances in the film, most notably from Radcliffe, Foster and DeHaan. I would say it’s Radcliffe’s best role yet, and one I’ve been waiting for Foster to get. Well written and well acted – definitely a top film this year.
6. Captain Phillips
Another movie that shouldn’t come as a surprise. While it’s not a film I could watch over and over, it does make an impact. Tom Hanks pulls out all the stops in the lead role and Barkhad Abdi is fantastic as the leader of the Somali pirates. I’m no expert so I can’t comment on the accuracy relative to the actual events, but the portrayal seems fairly done, reflecting both sides in shades of grey. There is a human element to the Somali pirates that can often get left out in favor of painting a clear villain in a film. It’s a roller coaster of a film that does not let up until the credits roll, but it’s one that everyone really should see.
I loved this film. Everything about it really appealed to me. The acting is great – props to Will Forte, Bruce Dern and June Squibb in particular – and the plot itself is so touching. It’s story of a father aging and re-connecting with his son is one that I think many people can relate to. And as good as the story is, there is plenty of comedy to soften it up. Really, I don’t have a bad word to say about this film, and it is honestly one I could watch several times and still enjoy.
8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Yes, Hunger Games. It’s a book and film series with a lot of potential if handled well. They were able to explore more about the Capitol outside of the Arena of the Games in this second installment that adds to the meaning behind the films. All the old faces were good to see back – Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – plus there are several new faces who add to the story – Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) to name but two. And that’s not even getting to the people outside of the Arena. It’s the fact that this film is able to better feature the world outside of and surrounding the Games that sets it apart from the first installment and really makes it worth seeing.
9. Man of Steel
Superman – one of my old favorite superheroes. He was well overdue for a good adaptation to bring him to life again. It’s not a perfect film, but the acting is good and I love Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman. Beyond that, I think what I enjoyed the most was the backstory – seeing more of where he came from and his parents is a part of the story other adaptations do not really touch on. The plot is fine, but I think it sets a good foundation for more films in the future to develop from it with the characters they brought into it as well as the solid background they filled in. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing as a prerequisite for more Superman films that will be released. But really, it’s pretty good on its own too.
10. American Hustle
Would it be too much for me to say this makes the list because of Jennifer Lawrence? Maybe. But she does pull off an incredible performance. To be fair, everyone in this film pulled off an incredible performance and that is why it’s on this list. It has good comedic moments and the plot is interesting, but what really makes this stand out is the acting. Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner all bring their characters to life in a captivating way. Its almost-guaranteed inclusion in the Oscars aside, this is a film to see.