Quentin Tarantino has olways been admired as an audacious filmmaker, sometimes deservedly, but more often than not (in my opinion) he is just being violent/flashy/weird/bad/controverial/obnoxious. To me, Django Unchained is his first really important work since Pulp Fiction. While it is similar in tone to Inglorious Basterds, I thought that film felt kind of phony whereas this film really had something to say. While it was just as flashy and obnoxiously aggressive as his other films, Django took a rather mature look at the complicated mess that was slavery in America in the 19th Century. Samuel L Jackson's character of Steven was probably the most important character in cinema this year. You have to hand it to him, not many filmmakers would have the balls to present a character like that to the world. Fair play!
The Place Beyond The Pines
It was a love it or loathe it kind of film and it seemed to me that the balance lay in your opinion of the third act. Many felt the final act of the film was a bit meandering but in my opinion it was what made it special. All three layers of the plot worked for me. The story was woven together so beautifully and the crisis of masculinity, in the form of fathers and sons was laid bare for all to see in the most lovely, poetic way. Now, I'm certainly not a fan of Ryan Gosling. I'm one of the few ladies who just doesn't get it but I have to say he was utterly magnetic as the dumb, down on his luck biker. Likewise, Bradley Cooper was magnificent as a cop struggling with his sense of morality. A truly unique film, Derek Cianfrance knocked it out of the park with his second feature. Can't wait to see what he does next.
Iron Man 3
Finally! A comic book movie that really did it right. Hilarious, emotional, clever and full of great action sequences, Iron Man 3 brought this franchise back in a big way! Feeling very much like vintage Shane Black, RDJ is as charming as ever and it goes to show that the answer to a great blockbuster lies very much in having a whopper script! Best Marvel film ever.
Although A Hijacking was outshone by another excellent high seas pirate movie, Captain Phillips, it was by far the better of the two films. Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, writer of last year's The Hunt, A Hijacking spends half its time on the boat and half its time in the boardroom with the corporation who is negotiating with the pirates. Completely non-judgmental of the negotiators yet pointing out the very clear differences between classes, this gut-wrenchingly tense drama left me in tatters with a subtly brilliant final shot that really hit home the films central thesis.
The Kings of Summer
Again, a film that was overshadowed by another similar film, The Kings of Summer unfortunately fell under the shadow of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon's inferior The Way Way Back and the also excellent Mud from Jeff Nichols. But it was The Kings of Summer for me by a mile. The sense of effortlessness that this films easy charm portrays is doubly incredible given that this is a first time director, Jordon Vogt-Roberts. The young cast are amazing and the film manages to make the "McLovin"-esque weird kid utterly believable and not even annoying! Everything about this little film worked for me. It had a sense of wonder and passion that is rarely captured by films about kids and made me long for those lazy, hazy days and hope against hope that there are young men like these out there somewhere. A true snowflake of a movie.
I'm the very one who is constantly banging on about pointless remakes and on paper a remake of William Lustig's grind-house masterpiece is about as pointless as they come. But on screen Franck Khalfoun has created something quite lovely. Contemporary and different from the original in all the ways it needs to be, Maniac, sees a very likeable Elijah Wood stalk the streets of L.A. scalping young women and making mannequins of them. How is that likeable you ask? Well, therein lies the alchemy at work in this film. Elijah Wood's doe-like face make you want to mother him and hope that he'll find a better path. Of course, that's not going to happen and therefore the film gives you an emotional "in" that is rarely found in horror. Also, the music and cinematography are as handsome a you'll find anywhere this year.
When he's great, he's great. And this time, he's REALLY great! Woody Allen hasn't made anything this good since the 80's and this modernised Streetcar is both funny, insightful and packs a serious emotional punch in the form as the ever-fading Jasmine, played splendidly by Cate Blanchett. The final scene on the park bench is worth your tenner alone.
This truly magnificent thriller from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is a sad dissection of the ways in which we (often badly) deal with pain. The title ties the films themes together so nicely that it almost makes it's theses sound simple. But they're not. This is a complex look at the evil that men do and the places that these evils come from. They're not from a god or a devil, they're from pain. I wouldn't call it anti-religion but it is certainly dismissive of ideas that anyone is responsible for your actions except yourself. Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and the rest of the cast play a stormer here with material that must be the stuff of wet dreams for actors. And Roger Deakins does a phenomenal job as per usual.
Short Term 12
Brie Larson...where did you COME FROM? Hands down, breakout of the year! This very simple tale of lovely young people who work in a home for young tearaway teenagers is surprisingly fantastic. Mostly due to the central performance by a heartbreaking Brie Larson who plays an intelligent and resourceful care-worker whose own tragic issues bubble under the surface. I know, I know, this doesn't sound great but really it is.
I know this wasn't exactly revered upon release. I wasn't too sure about it myself the first time I watched it. I liked it, thought it was charming and interesting but on second viewing I really thought there was some phenomenal stuff going on with this film. A film about connections and expectations and what it means to be a man. I'd go so far as to say there hasn't been a discussion this deep about modern masculinity since Fight Club. Some have accused the film of being shallow and accused it's central character Jon of being a cartoon. And he is. But he's only a cartoon until he starts to become an actual person. Quite clever script-writing actually I think.