It’s January, my favorite month, and not just because it’s my birthday this week. It’s the time of year when I can look back on some of the best films rush released over the past few months, and look forward to the schlock that the winter doldrums hold for moviegoers like me. This is not a scientific ranking, but instead merely a list of my favorites from the movies I saw this year.
Please feel free to rank your favorites in the comments. Without further ado, here are mine:
This spare, intensely personal story of a regular dude (John C. Reilly) searching for a soul mate (Marisa Tomei), to the exception of her son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), may not have registered on most movie radars, but it deserves a second look. Sometimes the harder stories to tell are the simpler ones, and directors Mark and Jay Duplass told theirs in a quiet, unrushed way that worked. It’s these unexceptional stories that Hollywood may shy away from, but when told well and with heart, prove the rare gems that make moviegoing a worthwhile pastime.
This visually-stunning, sophisticated movie became an unlikely summer blockbuster and in so doing shocked the world—and me. I am not going to try to explain the plot, for that I recommend Wikipedia, but let’s just say Leonardo DiCaprio is no light sleeper. I picked this movie not just because I liked it, but because it represents a promising trend—in the era of Twitter, it’s possible for a smart film to gain a wide audience. This makes me happy. And if Hollywood is still convinced they can churn out crap blockbusters at the expense of an interesting script, well, I seriously worry for them.
3. Toy Story 3
I loved the first Toy Story but thankfully skipped the sequel, very sure that it wouldn’t live up to the original. I am happy to report that this is a sequel that grows up with its audience. Director Lee Unkrich’s ability to tackle such adult themes as obsolescence and alienation with respect and humor surprised me. But is it really a kids’ movie anymore? Does Pixar still make kids’ movies? Does it matter? Pixar pulled off an excellent final chapter of the franchise and made one of the most truly grown-up films this year, one that starred a cowboy, astronaut, and a talking huggy bear. Who knew?
2. The King’s Speech
Not only does this film mine an exciting, offbeat story, it features some of the best ensemble acting of the year. The story of how the modern King Henry VI stood up to the Nazi threat and overcame a speech impediment to lead the people of Britain in a series of radio addresses is at turns inspiring and surprising. Colin Firth does a remarkable job as Henry, just as Geoffrey Rush is truly convincing as his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. This script doesn’t paint Henry as a hero, but instead treats him like a very real person with real flaws; further, Firth’s nuanced reading of the king makes this history so much more approachable and human.
1. Tie: Catfish and The Social Network
This year’s favorites are a tie between two of the most contemporary and frustrating films of this millennium. The Social Network presents one of my new favorite antiheroes, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)—and makes his awkward journey riveting. For as we watch the rise of Facebook we also witness his fall—from social lightweight to social pariah. Building a burgeoning media empire whose goal is to connect people, by the end of the movie, he can’t hold onto the most basic friendships—whether “angel investor” Sean Parker or college buddy Eduardo. It’s an awesome conceit, and a perfect metaphor for our generation’s myopic embrace of social networking technology.
Catfish, a documentary directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman explores the more human side of social networking. When Ariel’s younger brother Nev finds two fans on Facebook, an eight-year old artistic prodigy and her beautiful half-sister, Megan, he strikes up a friendship with the family, going so far as to meet them at their home in Michigan. I won’t ruin the surprising conclusion.
Let it be known that this never feels like a conventional documentary—one wonders how unexpected these great plot twists really were. But whether or not it was staged, it provides an interesting message—how much do we really know about the people we are “friends” with online, and how much do we care to delve deeper?