Before we get to our annual list, we want to make sure people remember a couple key disclaimers before commenting:
1. We would never consider this a list of the “best films of the year” as much as the ones that are the Weekend Warrior’s favorites, although in all cases, they’ve been put through the same rigorous ratings process so that they had to receive at least 8.5/10 to be considered.
2. This is a list by someone who watches well over 300 movies a year, some of them even twice, so there may be a few familiar titles in there, there’s also likely to be some more esoteric fare.
3. Since The Weekend Warrior also keeps a running list of movies as he sees them throughout the year, this Top 10 isn’t made up of movies just from the last four months as is often the case with these things.
4. Just because your favorite movie of the year doesn’t make this list that doesn’t mean you have bad taste in movies. It just means he’s saving it for the Terrible 25 list. (Just kidding!)
5. The Weekend Warrior doesn’t really care what other critics are saying are the best movies of the year. He’s seen all those movies as well and respectfully disagrees.
Now that we’ve got those disclaimers out of the way, let’s get onto the list! (Oh and an asterisk next to the title/number means that you can read my full review by clicking on the title.)
25. Goon (Magnolia) -The hardest part about making this list every year is trying to decide which movie(s) makes the cut and which ones end up shunted to Honorable Mentions and it was hard to not include this hockey comedy co-written by Jay Baruchel about the sport he’s passionate about. It stars Seann William Scott in probably his best role ever playing Doug Glatt, a hockey player better known for his fighting than his hockey skills, who falls in love with the troubled but well-meaning Eva (Baruchel’s future fiancée Alison Pill). It was one of the funniest hockey movies since Slapshot while also being quite touching, so we’re hoping they can get the planned sequel off the ground.
*24. Promised Land (Focus Features) – Apparently I’m in the minority liking this movie written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant looking at how corporations take advantage of small townsfolk, but it’s not really the politics of “fracking” that I cared about as much as the simplicity of the storytelling and the interplay between the small cast that includes Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt. This could have easily been a movie like The Informant!, which Damon made with Steven Soderbergh, but was just too strange to be enjoyable.
*23. The Innkeepers (Magnolia) – I didn’t think it possible for filmmaker Ti West to make a horror movie nearly as good as his previous The House of the Devil, but he proved us wrong with his second major release i.e. one that audiences had a chance to see, either on the festival circuit, VOD or theatrically, unlike some of his earlier films. This one took place in a nearly vacant New England hotel where two slacker employees, played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, start looking into the mysterious hauntings and quickly get in over their heads. The movie was funny and scary as hell, furthering West’s niche as one of the more innovative indie filmmakers.
22. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Co.) – What more can I say about Quentin Tarantino’s eighth movie and his first attempt at a “Western” that was anything but conventional or traditional? This one teamed a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds) and a slave he freed named Django (Jamie Foxx) as they try to rescue the latter’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). But first, they have to face slave-owner Leonardo DiCaprio and his butler Samuel L. Jackson in one of the greatest dinner table stand-offs I’ve seen all year (and I’ve seen a bunch!) While it started off slow, Tarantino fans who’ve been waiting three years for his new movie will be appeased with one of the most amazing hours of any movie this year which needs to be seen to be believed.
*21. The Master (The Weinstein Co.) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to There Will Be Blood, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, may be one of the most divisive movies of the year, partially because everyone who comes out of the movie has a different opinion of it. I was impressed by how drawn I was into this tale of oddly dysfunctional characters coming together to create a religion of sorts, and while it very much felt like something from the director of There Will Be Blood, it also felt like something different from anything else I saw this year and possibly ever, a truly cinematic experience that solidifies Anderson as one of the most creative filmmakers working today.
*20. Looper (Sony) – Only the third movie from Brick and The Brothers Bloom director Rian Johnson, this sci-fi actioneer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a temporal assassin named Joe and Bruce Willis as his older self from thirty years into the future took an absolutely fantastic and original concept and turned it into a movie that mixed great action with truly heartfelt moments due to the performances by Willis, JGL as well as Emily Blunt as the mother of a young boy who may be responsible for all the troubles in the older Joe’s life. I was suitably impressed by how far Johnson has come in just three movies.
*19. Marvel’s The Avengers (Marvel/Disney) – All the other Marvel Studios movies had been building up to this enormous spectacle by Joss Whedon and what more can I say about the movie that successfully pulled together all those disparate superheroes into a movie that was so fun and funny, but also had 45 minutes of the most amazing FX-driven action I’ve seen in years? Whedon’s movie was a fanboy’s wet dream and it got everyone excited by Phase 2 of Marvel Studios’ masterplan for making the movies as good as the comics.
*18. Take This Waltz (Magnolia) – Sarah Polley’s second feature as a director starred Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen as a married couple whose marriage is hitting a hurdle at five years just as she meets a charming neighbor from across the street and starts questioning her own fidelity. Williams really has grown as an actress but Polley really challenged her with daring material that crossed over into low-brow humor at times, but made everyone who watched it question the strength of their own relationship. (In case you were wondering, I rated this movie higher than the linked review after we saw it a second time on release this year.)
*17. Liberal Arts (IFC Films) – One of my favorites from this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Josh Radnor’s collegiate romantic comedy that had him playing a college admissions counselor who returns to his own alma mater to send off an old English professor (played by Richard Jenkins). Once there, he meets a student played by Elizabeth Olsen, they hit it off although he’s constantly questioning being in a relationship so much younger than him. It’s discoveries like this one that makes Sundance such an essential film event, making me truly bummed to be missing it next year.
16. Lincoln (DreamWorks) – There’s no question that Steven Spielberg is a master filmmaker, maybe one of the best living directors in America, but not since Munich has he made as powerful a film as this dialogue-driven one about the country’s 16th President, a stunning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, and his attempts to get slavery abolished. Not surprisingly, this one was also written by one of the great playwrights, Mr. Tony Kushner, and it was paced like one of the largest and most complex stageplays ever with an incredible ensemble of actors coming in and out of the story. It was especially astounding how good the movie was considering that Spielberg worked with much of the same crew as last year’s War Horse with far more effective results.
*15. Rust and Bone (Sony Pictures Classics) – France’s most innovative filmmaker Jacques Audiard created another brilliant piece of drama by bringing together two unlikely people, a bouncer/fighter played by Bullhead‘s Matthias Schoenarts and a partying killer whale trainer played by Marion Cotillard in one of the most daring performances of her career. Audiard’s an amazing filmmaker who has always impressed us with how he can bring together disparate elements in his films and he once again created a film that really leaves an impact with his artful way of telling a story.
*14. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Co.) – Any doubt that David O. Russell was back at his best following his terrific return with The Fighter was dispelled by this more straight-forward comedy that he adapted from a novel but made his own with sharp writing and direction. Much of why it worked was due to the casting of Bradley Cooper as a man with anger management issues and Jennifer Lawrence as the woman who helps him get over it through dance, and though this could have been a cheesy romantic comedy, Russell’s inimitable filmmaking style combined with a great cast made it something above and beyond other similar rom-coms.
*13. The Lady (Cohen Media Group) – Although this did the festival circuit in 2011, it didn’t get a full release until this year. It’s a very different type of movie than we’re used to seeing from director Luc Besson, starring Michelle Yeoh in the role and performance of her career, playing Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a beloved Cambodian general who was dethroned in a coup but whose return decades later gets the current military dictatorship worried about her intentions to enter politics. It’s an amazing true story for anyone who may not know it, but especially the way Besson weaves in the love story between Kyi and her British professor husband Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis) into the typical biopic format. Considering how good this movie is, it’s a shame that more critics couldn’t look past Besson’s name to appreciate the grand cinematic storytelling around it.
*12. Detachment (Tribeca Film) – A movie I saw and loved at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011 finally received a theatrical release earlier this year and I was blown away by Tony (American History X) Kaye’s look at the inner city school system, particularly Adrien Brody’s performance as a substitute teacher who takes in a teenage hooker and tries to save her as well as his students. Kaye assembled a brilliant ensemble cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Bryan Cranston and Marcia Gay Harden around Brody, and though it’s not always an easy film to watch, not by a longshot–this isn’t Mr. Holland’s Opus–Kaye uses filmmaking as an art form to get a message across and it works so well at doing that.
*11. Any Day Now (Music Box Films) – Travis Fine’s film about a drag queen, played by Alan Cumming, and his in-the-closet lawyer lover (Garret Dillahunt) who try to adopt a teenager with Down’s Syndrome was far better than it sounds from that quick synopsis. Like Detachment, I saw this at the Tribeca Film Festival right after it won the Audience Award and the film is so funny and warm and intensely moving that I wasn’t even remotely surprised by how it won audiences over. There’s something that feels very timely about the story even though it’s set in the ’70s and it works regardless of whether you’re gay, straight or other.
And that brings us to our Top 10, which you can read on Page 2.