Ranking movies is always fun. I don’t put much credit into it, but it allows me to put my taste under a microscope as well as examine and explore particular films in a myriad of ways, including technical and creative details. Ranking anything, of course, also furnishes debate. Every year I pick my favorite films released in the U.S. I don’t get a chance to see everything, but I see most. Usually foreign imports are the hardest to track down. I don’t make a Top Ten, but instead I limit myself to choosing five films that proved to be my favorites.
For the last decade or so, I had a tough time coming up with a list of five. I’m picky and honestly there wasn’t much to choose from. This last year was a bit different. Although I disliked most of the films the Academy nominated for Best Picture and I abhorred all the sequels that were the top box office draws for the year, there was some surprising creativity that drew my attention. Although the year lacked a truly great film, my top five were very solid pictures. I also had a few notables to mention: Bridesmaids: a comedy that actually made me laugh. Attack the Block: a genre-mashing flick that, unlike Cowboys and Aliens, got it right. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: a thriller that didn’t rely on chase and action sequences. Moneyball: a Best Picture nominee that had a surprisingly subtle and effective performance from its star. As for the top five:
2. A Separation
3. Tree of Life
5. The Descendants
What I liked about all five films was the relevance they had to the present, especially in terms of economics, morality and identity. Melancholia focused on the well-to-do, their isolation from the rest of society and their disconnect with the important affairs of the day. Trifling issues, such as an expensively planned wedding gone-awry, are not really the end of the world. A Separation tackled family problems within a traditional, patriarchal society during the modern era while commenting on the ever evolving roles of men and women, old and young. Tree of Life was an impressionistic piece that induced audiences to question life, existence and the relationship of man and nature, man and man. Drive questioned the moral values of a hyper-capitalistic society and the motivation of individual greed in an employer-employee relationship. The Descendants showed that an individual can take a higher moral ground amid the heavy social pressures of friends, family and acquaintances who want to sell out.
I appreciated these films very much because they took on the important issues of the day and didn’t deny or deflect by focusing on the past. For example, The Help explored race relationships in the South in the 1960s. The Artist looked back at the end of the silent movie era whereas Hugo focused on the emergence of the silent movie era. Midnight in Paris had a nostalgia for 1920s Paris while War Horse revisited World War I. Even the top box office draws last year were all sequels, in essence films that were trying to recapture the feelings evoked from the original movies.
Let the debate begin…