Earlier, I listed every movie I’ve seen this year. I got to 124, more than 70 of which were released this year. Which means I think – though I have a few more yet to see – I can safely draft my top films of the year and even kinda know what I’m talking about while I do.
How’d I do it? Once I’d highlighted the films released this year, I started picking out favorites, generally speaking. I ended up with 25 amazing films, all of which are listed here. From there, I culled the top ten personal faves, and then ordered those into a ranked list. Behind that, the next ten, then the final five.
And what exactly did I rank them by? Several criteria – including writing, directing, acting of course. But also, and probably moreso, by the impact each had on me. Cinematic quality AND impact? That rocketed a select few to the top of the list.
Since I know you’ve already skipped over this preamble to the list itself, let’s just get to it. (Working my way from #25 to the good stuff, so keep scrolling if you’re looking for the top of the list!)
#25 – 21
2 Autumns, 3 Winters – A favorite from Film Movement this year; one guy, early thirties, bumps into a beautiful girl in a park. They make a go of it, alongside friends as confused as they are, exes they can’t seem to shake, and families who don’t quite understand them. With a unique filmmaking convention to keep things interesting, it’s a romcom for a new generation. trailer
Nebraska – I want to love this one. At best, I can appreciate it greatly. I hated it for about the first 45 minutes, so annoyed by how grating everyone on screen seemed to be. But before the credits roll, Payne’s got you hooked, the emotional weight of one man’s quixotic journey packing an unexpected punch. Dern and Forte deliver. trailer
The Heat – Came to this one late, but loved it. Totally understand why it raked in the box office numbers it did ($160M and counting); though I think I lucked out waiting for the Bluray. The bloopers had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breath. McCarthy/Bullock are the best comedy duo since Laurel/Hardy. trailer
Frozen – Disney’s return to grace. And with something other than a motherless princess and the cad who rescues her, at that. A great cast, catchy tunes and a universal story of unconditional love – exactly what we’ve come to expect from Disney’s animated features, delivered in style. trailer
Computer Chess – I’m still not sure I know exactly what happened in this film, but I don’t really care. It’s like nothing you’ve seen on film before, and so deserving of all the acclaim it’s getting. Independent film at its best. And a pretty talented production designer, too. trailer
#11 – 20
Medora – I’d been hearing about this film for years, even saw early footage of it in…2011, maybe? Many missed screening opportunities later, I finally caught the finished film at, of all places, Kickstarter’s headquarters in Brooklyn. And it lived up to every expectation. About as honest as they come about life in the smallest of small towns in the Midwest. The first of five docs on my Best Of list. trailer
In A World… – As if the subject matter – a woman trying to make a go of it in the voice-over world – didn’t hook me from the get-go, the execution is so crisp you can’t help but have a blast while Lake Bell, as the fledgeling voice actor in her successful father’s shadow, finds her way. One of many female filmmakers on this list, I can’t help but be inspired by films as great as this one. trailer
The Act of Killing – It’s hard to do something unique in a documentary anymore, and yet Joshua Oppenheimer manages to do just that. The story of an Indonesian genocide and the men who perpatrated it, the film watches these men process their crimes through filmmaking, theater and re-enactments that will make your stomach turn. I still don’t quite know what to do with this one, but I know I won’t soon forget it. trailer
After Tiller – I skipped seeing this at Sundance, and regretted it for months until I saw it come up at BAM Cinemafest this summer. An excuse to get to a new theater just a month or so into my time in NYC, the filmmakers were even there to chat with the audience afterwards. The story of the few doctors in the country who’ll perform late-term abortions, it’s a film worth seeing wherever you land on the debate. trailer
The Broken Circle Breakdown – In the world of bait-and-switch trailers, this one takes the cake. You’d never guess (and I’m not spoiling anything, as it happens in the first 10 minutes) that the film is more about a bohemian couple struggling to get past the death of their young daughter based on the film’s preview. And yet, this harrowing tale of broken hearts, wrapped up in folk music to rival Inside Llewyn Davis, is an emotional wollop worth experiencing. trailer
Enough Said – Just charming in every way; a bit of the grown up’s The Spectacular Now – two people just trying to figure out how to be together. I left thinking that if (when!) I get around to telling my stories, it’ll be these kind of stories. If he had to go out prematurely, it’s not a bad note for Gandolfini to go out on. trailer
Blackfish – The most infuriating film you’ll see all year, and easily one of the best documentaries ever made. And that is no understatement. There are countless docs that try to get you riled up about their subject matter; Blackfish doesn’t have to try too hard. I wish I could take back every trip to Sea World I’ve ever been on (several while my dad lived in California), and I certainly won’t go again. trailer
12 Years A Slave – Unlike a lot of other top lists, 12 Years A Slave not only doesn’t top mine, it doesn’t even crack the top 10. Not because it’s not a stunning film – it is, and Ejiofor – long underrated – has finally made a name for himself in the industry. Instead, it’s where it is because, unlike the films to come on this list, it was difficult to keep this one with me, in subject and style. trailer
The Great Gatsby – The book, it is not. And that may be exactly why it is so incredible. Baz Luhrmann goes to the moon and back with his adaptation, looping Jay-Z’s modern soundtrack around a classic tale of haves and want to haves. Carey Mulligan’s first of two appearances on the list. trailer
Short Term 12 – Probably the film I recommended most this year – which might make you think it should be #1 on this list. But no – the films above it all have something propelling them to the top ten. Rather, Short Term 12 is remarkable in its approachability, a film that I’d tell anyone to see, regardless of what kind of films they typically go for. Its sincerity, its honesty are for anyone to appreciate. trailer
#10 – 1
For my top ten, I’ve given each my own award. While I would happily say any of these were the best films of the year (and am, after all), I also wanted to call out what each did exceptionally well in particular.
A Teacher – I’ve already admitted I snuck a viewing of this one before I was supposed to, and, well…sorry, I’m not sorry. Hannah Fidell tackles a taboo without ever going schmaltzy, instead taking us inside the mind of every insecure, neurotic, affection-starved young woman out there, looking for love in ALL the wrong places. Best Female Filmmaker. trailer
Much Ado About Nothing – When your “weekend project” is making a Shakespeare adaptation with your best friends, you know you’re doing something right. Joss Whedon shot this gem in his own house, maintaining the original text while giving the whole debacle of a love story a fresh new take. It’s going fairly unnoticed as the year wraps up, and that’s a damn shame. Best Female Performance (Amy Acker – stunning!) trailer
Stories We Tell – Do yourself a favor and don’t look up anything about this film before you go to see it. Spoilers lurk around every corner if you want to find them, and its best if you go in without an inkling of where this one is headed, trust me. Sarah Polley, best known as an actress, tackles her own family history in an honest, unflinching doc cobbled together like a video scrapbook. Highest-ranking doc in my list, and Best Gut Punch. trailer
Blue is the Warmest Color – I still think of this one as Gone With the Wind-esque in its scope and character development. We see the before, during and after of a landmark (to our characters) romance, where most films are about just one of those phases. And like GWTW, there was plenty of behind-the-scenes drama to build the buzz. But also like the 1939 epic, take the gossip away and you still have an achievement of a film. Best Epic. trailer
The Spectacular Now – Miles Teller’s star turn – a young Vince Vaughn, with a dash of Johnny Depp? – as a troublemaker turned good for a girl was my must see at Sundance, and it’s been a favorite ever since. What could’ve easily been a light teen drama unexpectedly takes on the weight of generational ties and seeking – and accepting – the love we deserve. Best Trip Down Memory Lane. trailer
About Time – Richard Curtis has me as wrapped around his little finger as a filmmaker can have an audience. Notting Hill basically was high school for me; Love, Actually is a perennial must-watch. After writing one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, Curtis started toying with the idea of time travel. The results are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, in the best possible way. There is no way to leave the theater not feeling better about the world around you and every day you’re blessed to be in it. Best Ugly Cry. trailer
Inside Llewyn Davis – I just want to wrap myself up in this movie like one of the big wool sweaters Llewyn Davis fends off the cold New York winter of the film in. The movie without a plot, it is anything but empty. Oscar Isaac infuses Davis with some inexplicable mix of arrogance and vulnerability that you can’t help but want to explore more. Complimented by Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, and a not-to-be-missed cameo by John Goodman, the Coen Brothers win again. Best Vibe (yes, it’s a thing) trailer
Fruitvale Station – I can still picture seeing this film, way in the back at Eccles, Sundance’s largest venue. With filmmaker friends, having scraped together enough tickets to get us all inside. Not a single one of us fidgeted or checked our phones or took our eyes away from the screen for a moment. When the lights came up, we knew we’d just seen something incredible, and it’s a testament to the talent Sundance’s programming team can recognize that this film is now a serious awards contender, almost a year later. Best Male Performance (Michael B. Jordan) trailer
The Way Way Back – the only reason this isn’t at number one is…well, I don’t really know. It just isn’t. But it’s as up there as it gets, a film so special I’ll buy it when its out and add it to heavy rotation in my “why I love movies so much” playlist. Talk about telling a story, taking you on a roller coaster ride in 90 minutes – and leaving you charmed at the end. From soundtrack to cast to writing, The Way Way Back has everything wonderful a wonderful film should have. Best Writing. trailer
Gravity – I left the theater feeling like I’d just come back from outerspace, that’s how jazzed I was after this film (and still am). On so many levels. One of them being that it opened on my birthday, so it was already a pretty great day. But also, the spectacle. The emotion. The triumph. The feminism! Not so much the science, I’ve been told. Pshaw. Bullock – appearing twice on this list – is a powerhouse. Cuaron takes such good care of her, in story and character and scene – it’s probably not going to nab every award out there, but it should. Best Director. trailer
I haven’t yet seen American Hustle, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, and many more; if I get any of them in over the next week, I’ll reconsider this list accordingly. But all told, I’m pretty dang happy with where this year in films ended up.
What were the films that topped your list? What are you going to be sure to see given the buzz?