10. Holy Motors
A man's (Denis Lavant, in a wide-ranging, Lon Chaney-esque performance) zany, unforgettable limo ride chauffered by Edith Scob (Eyes Without A Face).
"The cinema story starts with the human body, or an action. We always have, and we still love to watch human bodies in action. We also love to watch landscapes or things we have created, buildings or cigarettes, guns and cars... but above all, we love to watch human bodies, whether they're walking, running, fucking, or anything." - Leos Carax
The sumptuousness is deceiving. Shot in alluring black & white and blending folk tale, realism, and melodrama, Tabu traces the origins of a love affair in Portuguese-colonized Africa. Also at work is the unique sound design and soundtrack of Phil Spector songs ("Be My Baby"!).
"... it’s about the loss of land, of a regime. I think it takes a very ironic stance against the regime. It’s about white people and their concerns, they’re falling in love without any awareness of what’s going on around them. They’re politically and socially unaware of a society that’s killing itself around them. It’s like they’re playing out a film, playing Out of Africa, they don’t care, and I imagine they’ll be very surprised when the Empire comes crashing down around them. So in that respect, for them it’s not about the loss of land and the regime, it’s about the loss of youth and innocence, the loss of a time when they were happier, less lonely. I wanted to place the contemporary section first to add an extra weight to the second. You get to see all the young guys and girls in the second part playing around, but with the sadness that derives from the first section adding another level underneath what you’re seeing." - Miguel Gomes
In this tricky, compelling and ultimately fearless sci-fi thriller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hired mafia hitman hunting for his future self in dystopian 2044.
"I wanted part of the rollercoaster feeling of the movie to also be, 'Who am I emotionally invested in? Who do I want to win? Who do I think is right?'" -Rian Johnson
7. Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell's (The Fighter) Philly-set dark comedy with a dash of Capra-corn. Like Looper, this film also has a great, unpredictable diner scene. Who knew Bradley Cooper was such a good actor?
"Growing up, I was influenced by De Niro's work, and that rhythm is the one I related to from my own family. I also write in that rhythm. When actors relate to it, they dial into it like a song, the intensity of the emotion. My goal as a filmmaker is to grab people by the throat with a sustained intensity of emotion that doesn't really stop. Watching Bradley's face look like a 10-year-old when his mother kisses him; seeing Mr. De Niro cry, surprised us all; you never know what he's going to do." - David O. Russell
Thanks to the rich script by Tony Kushner and the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones, Steven Spielberg's White House drama avoids schmaltz and dials down the hero worship and re-creates the intrigue and complexity of the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.
"I’ve just always had a personal fascination with the myth of Abraham Lincoln. Once you start to read about him and the Civil War, and everything leading up to the Civil War, you start to understand that the myth is created when we think we understand a character and we reduce him to a cultural national stereotype. Lincoln has been reduced to statuary, over the last 60 years or more. There’s been more written about Lincoln than movies made about him, or television portraying him. He’s kind of a stranger to our industry and to this medium. You have to go back to the 1930s to find a movie that’s just about Abraham Lincoln. My fascination with Lincoln started as a child and got to the point where, after reading so much about him, I thought there was a chance to tell a segment of his life to moviegoers. That’s how the whole fascination began."
- Steven Spielberg
5. Zero Dark Thirty
Purposely eschewing too much characterization, Jessica Chastain's underestimated CIA officer is essentially a ghost tracking down Osama Bin Laden in a procedural of violence and moral ambiguity.
“I think what’s so interesting and so poignant for Jessica, myself, for all of us, is this idea that this woman has spent the last ten years exclusively in the pursuit of one man and yes, at the end of the day, she triumphed, but it’s not a victory because finally, at the end of the day, you’re left with much larger questions like, where does she go from here? Where do we go from here? Now what?” - Kathryn Bigelow
4. The Master
Inspired by the origins of Scientology, Paul Thomas Anderson's 70 mm epic traces an aimless WWII vet (Joaquin Phoenix, in a poignant and physical turn) who finds himself intertwined in the lives of a philosophical cult and its towering yet tacitly calculating leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
"Not to get philosophical but we're all kind of loners though, ultimately. You can have family, can have lots of friends, but ultimately we're all here passing through this thing. How much can we hang on to other people? These are things everybody goes through. But I don't know. I'm attracted to these kinds of characters. Not quite sure why, but they make for good stories that I like to tell." - Paul Thomas Anderson
3. This Is Not A Film
Besides its incredible story of being a digital film smuggled to Cannes from Iran in a birthday cake, this piece documents the isolation, pain and frustration of a filmmaker under house arrest.
"We thought of the painting of Rene Magritte where he wrote 'This Is Not a Pipe' and we thought it would be appropriate to call a film about a filmmaker who can’t do a film This Is Not a Film. The credits are blank for two reasons. We had some people who helped us with post-production but we had to protect their identities so as not to harm them. And it also evokes something that the film is supposed to be about: the loneliness of a filmmaker who is banned from working." - Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
A quietly harrowing yarn of a woman (Nadezhda Markina) torn between her wealthy second husband and her struggling, impoverished son and his family in contemporary Moscow.
"It's not a documentary, it's a concentration of images... But it's impossible to talk about everything, to portray all sides of Russian life. I would say it's a sketch of a human nature. One of the things that I wanted to emphasize is that money changed human nature. It is especially visible in Russia, because we never had that before due to social circumstances. All of us had 120 rubles per month and then all of a sudden 20 years ago we were thrown into the world of capitalism and consumerism, unprepared. That changed us in an unexplainable way... I'm confident that this story isn't just about Russia, it's about human nature, it's universal. But just in the Russian context, it's more visible and actualized." - Andrei Zvyagintsev
1. Moonrise Kingdom
An escape picture about the limitations of escape, warmly captured by Wes Anderson's wit and aesthetics and an eclectic cast.
"When I’m on a movie, part of that process is creating a setting for the story and a world that they live in. That’s the kind of movie that I like to make, where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they’ve never been before. The details, that’s what the world is made of. Those are the paints." - Wes Anderson
The best of the rest! In order of preference, these are some of the movies that challenged and entertained me this year.
Compliance, Your Sister's Sister, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Deep Blue Sea, Magic Mike, Queen of Versailles, How to Survive A Plague, Miss Bala, Bernie, Amour, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Django Unchained, Dark Horse, Oslo, August 31st, Sister, The Invisible War, Les Miserables, Seven Psychopaths, Argo, Take This Waltz, Monsieur Lazhar, Rust & Bone, Life of Pi, The Bay, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Side By Side, Keep the Lights On, Searching for Sugar Man, Headhunters, Wuthering Heights, The Loved Ones, The Flat, Booker's Place, Marley, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Cabin in the Woods, V/H/S, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Polisse, The Woman in Black, Damsels in Distress, In Darkness, Lawless, Ruby Sparks, Hope Springs, First Position, Footnote