Ahead of tomorrow's Oscar nominations announcement, our cinephile Wael Khairy gives us his run-down of the best movies of last year. How many will make the cut?
“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel… and from here on out I’m not gonna feel anything new...just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt. ”-Theodore
Indeed, the words of our main character are very thought-provoking, and the truth is, sometimes I feel the same way about movies. I feel like I’ve seen it all before and I’ll never be gobsmacked by another film. But every now and then, I stumble upon an original film like Her and it completely blows me away.
Her is about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man falling in love with an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As absurd as this may sound, their relationship feels more genuine than most human relationships depicted on film. We regard the Internet, with its social networks and operating systems as both a blessing and a curse. We’ve evolved so much as human beings; kids are playing with iPads, and adults are having cyber-sex. Just the other day, I was reading about how the French government has an academy that has been updating their language with new terms since its establishment in 1635. This year they made ‘sexting’ an official word. I don’t think any film is more relevant to the times we live in than Her.
It’s hard to explain how highly I regard this film. I never thought I could learn so much about what it means to be human through an operating system, a machine, or artificial intelligence. How real are the things we feel, anyway? I mean how real are things that are not tangible. Love, hate, fear, and faith, how real are they?
I, for example, believe in the existence of a superior being, I have faith in God. True, I believe in something I never touched with my own hands or saw with my own eyes, but who’s to say we have to see something for it to be real? I can’t touch or see fear, but I know it exists cause I’ve felt it before. The same can be said about the entire relationship between Theodore and Samantha or any emotion for that matter. How real is love? Is it real just cause his mind makes it real? The fact that this film has me pondering on such philosophical thoughts is enough for me to place it at the top of my list. Through her, both Theodore and the viewer discovers what it means to be.
Charlie Kaufman is in my opinion the most gifted writer to ever grace this planet. This is not a Charlie Kaufman film. In fact, it was written and directed by Spike Jonze, who worked with Kaufman twice. He directed both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, films written by the genius writer who has also written modern masterpieces like Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He must have learned a lot from those experiences, because his writing here is on par with that of Kaufman’s best. This is about the highest praise I can give a writer. Her is awkward, funny, weird, surreal, touching, romantic and beautiful in every sense of the word.
2. Jagten (The Hunt)
Mads Mikkelsen delivers the best leading performance of the year as Lucas, a lonely schoolteacher whose entire life and reputation is shattered by a small lie. Thomas Vinterberg explores the flaws of communal societies and how they can snowball out of control within a blink of an eye. People fear a slight problem might cause public disorder; they take comfort in delving in a mob-like mentality, unaware that they have become the very thing they fear for their town. You tell the same lie often enough and it becomes truth. People start believing what they want to believe, regardless if all evidence points elsewhere. This is a brave film about friendship, betrayal, justice, paranoia, hysteria, and standing up for your right to lead a healthy normal life. The final scene is so powerful; it left me speechless for quite some time. Despite all the changes that happen around us, the truth is nothing ever changes…all eyes remain ever fixed on the victim of flawed humanity.
3. La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour)
The Palm D’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is a rarity in cinema. It’s a film about two human beings deep in love with one another, and while the lesbian sex scenes look as real as sex scenes could get, the same can be said about the emotions encapsulated in this masterpiece about love, heartbreak and sex. Abdellatif Kechiche directs the coming-of-age film of this century; the realism of this three-hour tale is beyond me. It is without doubt the most honest film of the year, the most truthful to what it is like to be in love for the first time, and the most authentic depiction of a relationship in years. When you invest so much emotion in another person, you get lost the beauty of it all, breaking this trust or taking it for granted can turn a world of bliss into one of sorrow.
4. Gravity(Click for full review)
Gravity does portray space in a very realistic manner, but it’s far from a “space film.” In fact, it’s more of a psychological drama; it just happens to be set in space. It is one of the most inspirational motion pictures to come out in some time. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film hits a chord with the subconscious mind, and it’s not because of the master-class of cinematography unraveling before your eyes, but because it aims to teach us something about humanity. Gravity is about that precise moment you choose to move forward, the moment you choose to let go of the sorrow that has eclipsed your life for far too long. Here’s a metaphoric journey through space about letting go of the loss has eclipsed your mind for far too long; it teaches you to move forward through a visual feast to the eye.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese proves, yet again, that he’s the most versatile director working today. Seriously, anything this guy touches turns to gold. He made a name for himself dominating the gangster genre (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino), proved he can direct autobiographical dramas like no other (Raging Bull, Kundun, The Aviator), and when he took a stab at the horror/thriller genre, he completely nailed it (Cape Fear, Shutter Island). Heck, the guy even proved he could make a children’s movie, winning five Academy Awards with Hugo. Today, Scorsese can add comedy to his long list of directorial talents. Perhaps what is most impressive about The Wolf of Wall Street is the fact that Scorsese directed this at the age of 71. Most directors lose their mojo when they get older, but Scorsese proves he’s still the daring director he was forty years ago, still in tact with today’s generation. Leonardo DiCaprio gives arguably the best performance of his career (behind The Aviator) as Jordan Belfort, a millionaire who throws parties that make the parties thrown by DiCaprio’s earlier turn as The Great Gatsby look like a lame pyjama party. This is the most fun you’ll have at the movies. Do yourself a favor though and avoid watching it in Egyptian cinemas; about 40 minutes of outrageously hilarious footage involving sex, drugs and caviar have been cut out.
I had the honor to meet Jeff Nichols in a film festival, and like his previous work, his third directorial effort assures me that he’ll be one of the best directors of his generation. Mud is as much a character study as it is a film about growing up. Matthew McConaghey’s first great performance of the year (followed by Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street) is the most underrated of his career. However, the best performance comes from child actor Tye Sheridan as Ellis, a kid who looks up to Mud. Pay attention to the way his character behavior mirrors that of Mud. Ellis takes a liking to a girl and like Mud, his heart gets broken, but he never stops loving the girl and, like Mud, he becomes the girl’s guardian angel. Could the story of Ellis be the story of Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon)? The story of how they first met and how it all ends for them told through two different characters? Food for thought.
7. To the Wonder
Martin Scorsese once said a single film by Stanley Kubrick is equivalent to ten great ones by any other director. This is exactly how I feel about the poetic films of Terrence Malick. Malick has directed six films in forty years, and not a single one of them is not a life changing experience. Malick is the reason I believe film is the greatest art form out there. Even though, To the Wonder is nothing compared to his best work, it still manages to be better than almost everything else out there. I take great comfort in knowing the last film my mentor Roger Ebert watched before his sad passing was a great one. To the Wonder is a film about faith and forgiveness. Neil’s faith in love is tested, and so is Father Quintana’s faith in God. We may never understand the hand we’ve been dealt in life, but through faith and by forgiving not only those who bring you down, but forgiving yourself, one can find comfort in internal acceptance. “To love is to run he risk of failure, the risk of betrayal, you fear your love has died but perhaps it’s waiting to be transformed into something higher.”
8. All is Lost
Robert Redford’s swan song performance of his career is the second best survival story of the year (after Gravity). Like the former, it is about so much more than what meets the eye. This nearly silent film is less audience friendly than Cuaron’s film, but nevertheless remarkable in the themes it explores. All is Lost is almost dialogue-free, with only Redford in the cast, he carries the film like any legend would. His natural performance makes it look so easy. Here’s an actor who has finally figured out what so many actors fail achieve in a role, the less you try to act, the more natural it feels. All is Lost revolves around a man who looks mortality dead in the eye and tells it to fuck off. A single thread of hope can change everything, and even when all is lost, there is still hope.
9. 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup published in 1853. It is said, the film is so powerful, when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, many critics walked out before the credits rolled, unable to stomach the brutality portrayed on screen. Nevertheless, when it did end, absolute silence into an eruption of applause as the audience stood up giving the film a much-deserved standing ovation. It has since swept the awards season paving its way to Oscar glory. This is the real Django Unchained; it does to slavery what Schindler’s List did to the Holocaust, relentlessly transporting viewers to one of the darkest chapters of human history.
10. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
This year saw the premiere of the third installment of Edgar Wright’s blood and ice cream trilogy. The World’s End featured the comic chops of British duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but was a complete let down. At least for me it was, especially when you compare it to the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the fairly good Hot Fuzz. However, I was fortunate enough to quench my thirst for good old British humour in a hilarious hostage film that was everything The World’s End should’ve been: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. I love it when a film I’ve heard nothing about completely catches me off guard. This is the funniest film of the year and Steve Coogan is absolutely brilliant.
11. American Hustle
12. Lone Survivor
15. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug(Click for full review)
17. Captain Philips
19. Before Midnight