It's that time of year again, when after catching up on DVD releases, I'm ready to rate my film picks from the previous year. The top five were no-brainers, while the others fall in loosely descending order.
1. Inglourious Basterds.
Quentin Tarantino is back -- the old Tarantino, that is, who showed how excessive dialogue can be so wildly entertaining, characters most impressive when sophisticated, bad-ass, and absurd all at once, and in general how to make cinematic art out of the preposterous. This film is easily his best since Pulp Fiction
, and makes us look at ourselves as Nazis as we cheer along with Fuhrer at so much carnage on screen. Reviewed here
2. The Road.
Post-apocalyptic survivalist, and bleak in the way only Cormac McCarthy novel adaptations are, in which marauding cannibals overshadow lone protagonists and nothing promises to get better. Viggo Mortenson plays a father who will do anything to save his son, even shoot him as a last resort to spare the kid rape at the hands of the baddies. The ending panders too much to those preferring tidy closure, but it's a small quibble on my part, and it actually just follows the book.
3. The Hurt Locker.
Richly deserving best picture (though I would have preferred Inglorious Basterds
), and Kathryn Bigelow's best work to date, even better than her vampire picture, Near Dark
. It's also the best film about the Iraqi war, with some of the best suspense scenes ever shot. Neither anti- nor pro-military, but respectful, it's a sobering lesson in what bomb deactivation squads go through in their tours of duty.
. The premise here is something Cronenberg could have come up with, and the product evokes Lynch's Eraserhead
-- an effective blend of flesh-horror, sexual horror, and science fiction. The success of the film has largely to do with how our sympathies constantly shift gears as Dren evolves and even mutates gender. The infant Dren is playful and vulnerable; the grown (female) Dren who seduces Clive (and almost stings him to death while copulating with him) is a bit more ambiguous; the male Dren who rapes Elsa a complete horror. This was my surprise pick of the year, it seemed to come out of nowhere.
5. The White Ribbon
. I count this the most disturbing film of the year in a subterranean way. It's set in a north German village during 1913-14 and spotlights an aristocratic estate where everyone lives well but rot on the inside from repression and joylessness. A pastor over-punishes his kids for the most trivial offenses -- even non-offenses -- and turns a blind eye when he learns that they're probably responsible for the murder of a villager, a barn fire, and other unspeakable acts. It's a film about hidden violence resulting from psychological cruelty.
6. Whip It!
A coming-of-age sports drama that works surprisingly well, since it has the wisdom to not take itself too seriously, and allow the underdogs to lose in the end when it really counts. A great soundtrack, endearing characters, and edgy roller derby scenes set this way above pathetic '80s dramas like Karate Kid
. And Ellen Page is awesome as always. Reviewed here
7. Last House on the Left.
The inverse of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
of '03, this remake is a vast improvement over an abysmal original, though admittedly not without its faults. You can only do so much with a revenge film, but Eliadis pushes everything perfect up until the last 30 minutes, at which point a seriously film turns into a popcorn movie. The rape scene is the most upsetting I've seen in any film. Reviewed here
A Cape Town professor takes advantage of his position to have an affair with a black student, then flees to his daughter's remote farm to escape the scandal, only to find tragedy when a trio of black youths brutally assaults them, and rapes his daughter. One of the attackers turns out to be related to his daughter's employee, and she actually considers marrying her rapist to minimize future conflict. A thoughtful film about apartheid that plays authentically at every moment.
9. Bad Lieutenant.
I love watching Nicholas Cage play obnoxiously unhinged and out of control like the alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas
. This time he's a cop addicted to painkillers and gambling, a bully who abuses his power to supply his habits, and gets suspended and teams up with shady criminals. In the end, he stays true to being a police officer, though can't kick his drug habits. Wild fun, this one.
10. Halloween 2.
Almost as good as the first remake, and the strength of this one is that it isn't a remake at all, but completely on Rob Zombie's terms. A character film as much a slaughterfest, especially in the way Laurie, her friend Annie, and Dr. Loomis have become damaged by events in the first film. Loomis in particular is worth the price of admission, having deteriorated into a completely vain and petty ass, treating people like rubbish, and getting in great zingers like "When I want your opinion, I'll beat it out of you!"
(See also: The Top Films of 2005
, The Top Films of 2006
, The Top Films of 2007
, The Top Films of 2008
, The Top Films of 2010
, The Top Films of 2012