Honourable Mentions: Iron Man Three, The Place Beyond the Pines, Metallica: Through the Never, The Dirties, Inside Llewyn Davis, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part II, Nebraska, Philomena, The Act of Killing, Captain Phillips
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
A rousing second episode in the sequel/prequel/reboot/remake that, like some of the best Trek, tackles sociopolitical issues about the price of peace. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) take the U.S.S. Enterprise to hunt down a deadly fugitive (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is part of a lager conspiracy to destabilize the galaxy. The movie makes a gutsy decision to flip iconic pieces of Trek lore on their head for a different resonance. Director J.J. Abrams provides each crew member a hero moment, adds old/new bad guys, and delivers thrilling action scenes giving Trek widescreen scope.
9. Blue Jasmine
In a sad and compelling film by Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a wealthy aristocrat who, because of the shady business dealings of her husband (Alec Baldwin), has to live with her sister (Sally Hawkins). But Jasmine’s taste for the finer things clashes with her sister and her blue–collar boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). There’s fantastic acting, Andrew Dice Clay’s small role is powerful, along Allen’s superb direction and crackerjack dialogue. Blanchett is the movie’s centerpiece as the script slowly reveals her collapse, her attempts to hang on, leading to the isolated place she ends at.
8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, who also directed) is an office worker for Life magazine who lives through fantasies, afraid to reach out to the girl of his dreams (Kristen Wigg). To save his job he has to retrieve a picture sent to him by a reclusive photographer (Sean Penn) and soon Walter’s dreams and real life collide as he treks across the world. Mitty’s progressively crazier quest is gorgeously shot, featuring imaginatively directed fantasy sequences and lots of laughs. It strikes a delicate balance between bombastic reality bending and subtly emotional becoming a transcendent experience for cinematic daydreamers.
7. 12 Years A Slave
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man sold into slavery and has to endure life under a the brutal rule of a plantation owner (Michael Fassbender) as Northup pines for the freedom and family that he’ll likely never see again. Fassbender plays a memorable, crazy, sadistic baddie and Ejiofor shows the sea of emotions stirring underneath Northup. Beautifully shot and full of attention grabbing, shocking sequences by Director Steve McQueen as Northup has to endure the casual, offhand brutality of being living property. His trials stick with you long after you’ve finished watching.
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
Capitalistic mad greed spiraling out of control is yet another facet of addiction for a Wall Street stock trader, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who gets extremely rich off shady deals that feed his substance abuse. DiCaprio makes Belfort a preacher man who homilies about the sacrament of making money. Director Martin Scorsese wraps the film in his distinctive style with hilarious sequences like when Belfort has to crawl his way to safety while babbling incoherently. Special commendation is reserved for Kyle Chandler as the Fed tackling Belfort proving that boring can sometimes be badass.
5. Before Midnight
With Before Sunrise in 1995, Before Sunset in 2004, and Before Midnight in 2013, writer / director Richard Linklater and co–stars / co–writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have crafted a fascinating insight into the characters of Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) at different years. Staged with immersive long–takes and conversational dialogue we see Jesse and Celine at a crossroads, contemplating previous decisions and what to do next. If you’ve invested in this series the last 40 minutes are riveting as a budding dissatisfaction that has been simmering subtext blows to the forefront. Watch the trilogy in sequence and see these characters as if travelling through time.
Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation.) looks at the way that digital technology has nestled so fully inside of our lives that it starts to become an emotional dependency. Set in the future an isolated guy, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), installs a self–aware operating system into his home named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and they begin develop a strange relationship. With a fantastic atonal soundtrack by Arcade Fire, Jonze’s vision is stunning showing Theo reaching out to anyone, even if that person is an evolving computer. Her serves sci–fi ideas wrapped in a universally compatible love story.
3. American Hustle
Schemers and con men (and women) on both sides of the law populate director David O. Russell’s ’70s epic about crooks, Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) who are corralled by a flaky FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to take down a corrupt mayor (Jeremy Renner), senators and mobsters but Irving’s wild card wife (Jennifer Lawrence) could unravel the whole thing. The movie is full of off–kilter cinematic coolness such as Lawrence lip–synching insanely along to “Live and Let Die”. With a far–out soundtrack, memorable dialogue, zany characters, funky editing, and double–crosses galore this is shifty, twisty, fun.
Director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) points his skillful eye towards space for a harrowing tale about two astronauts, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), marooned when a debris field threatens their lives. The movie simply follows their attempt to stay alive and the various setbacks and dead ends they endure. Watching it is astounding as Cuarón stages striking and horrific shots unfolding in the majestic void and Bullock’s powerful performance as the determined spacewoman keeps us emotionally invested in her salvation. A truly visual masterpiece.
1. The World’s End
Gloriously bizarre, hilarious and zippy. Gary King (Simon Pegg) drags his buddies to their hometown to relive a pub crawl but he, Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and sober Andy (Nick Frost), don’t know everyone in town has been replaced by robot duplicate “blanks”. All this does is put a slight crimp into Gary’s plans. Starting small as friends begrudgingly reunite it leaps to apocalyptic and by the end the characters are drunkenly arguing for humanity’s right to be petulant jerks. At its core there’s a poignant story about Gary’s inability to let go of the past and feeding his alcoholism. World’s End is full of deft filmmaking, witty character interaction, and propulsive action as Director Edgar Wright inventively creates something unlike anything you’ve seen. V