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Top Ten

The Year In Film

Drive, Bill Cunningham New York, Bridesmaids, Attack the Block, The Tree of Life, and more.

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Drive


If this list needed a subhed, it’d have to be “In 3D.” None of the 10 titles listed below, as assembled from ballots filled in by City Paper film writers (see full ballots online at citypaper.com/top10film), were released in 3D (not even J.J. Abrams’ early Spielberg homage/reboot Super 8), which is no surprise: Few serious movie nerds love the caps lock of cinema, and few of the kind of films that tend to dominate this sort of poll indulge in it. Still, respected auteurs Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese both released films in 3D this year—the former the cave-painting documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the latter the children’s book adaptation Hugo, which seems to have opened too late to have made any dent in the voting. While 3D is, in many respects, pure spectacle, Hollywood’s attempt to keep butts in seats at actual movie theaters instead of everyone waiting to watch it on their phones—putting the anxieties of the business side into bold relief, as it were—the fact that Herzog and Scorsese bit has to be a sign of something other than marketing gadgetry. Herzog and Scorsese may not make more films in 3D; in another year or two, Hollywood studios may not either. (Or they’ll make many more—who knows.) But as the titles below attest, great movies are still being made, however we get to watch them and in whatever “D.” And that’ll do for now. (Lee Gardner)

1 Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, United States) Nicolas Winding Refn’s tough-guy revenge flick has a killer soundtrack and a heart of gold, making it a bit warmer than its influences, but it’s just as badass. And though it descends from older semi-obscure action (The Driver, Thief, maybe even Jim McBride’s remake of Breathless), Drive transcends its retrolicious trappings and corrects all that death-wish nihilism. It’s a love story in which the smallest gestures (half a smile, the holding of hands) can take on the same emotional weight as, say, the moment when Ryan Gosling’s driver smashes a dude’s head into a bloody pulp. (Brandon Soderberg)

2 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, United States) Octogenarian Bill Cunningham found his calling, and for decades he’s had the opportunity to follow it. A fashion photographer for The New York Times, Cunningham pedals his bike around Manhattan, snapping photos of any ensemble that catches his eye. This documentary follows him as he does what he does best, and it’s a pleasure to cruise alongside him. Through a series of interviews with New York fashion icons, you discover that few know much about the photographer that has spent decades documenting the lives of other people. Director Richard Press gently delves into Cunningham’s private life (like his choice to be celibate, for instance), but ultimately the most interesting part is hearing about fashion from the unpretentious Cunningham himself. (Erin Gleeson)

3 Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, United States) So much more than a comedy for/by/about women—that distinction only belittles a smart and very funny film about how it feels to have your best friend move forward in her life while you remain stewing in a mixture of whatever potential you might have plus the disappointment and exhaustion of your 30s, wondering, suddenly, when it was that everyone around you went and grew up. Fucking hilarious Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph lead a cast of very funny actresses finally getting some screen time, including Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, and Wendy McLendon-Covey. And for a movie with a bride on the poster, it’s not about the wedding. Thank god. (Wendy Ward)

4 Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, United Kingdom) This movie kicks the living shit out of another alien-invasion movie that came out this year that had cowboys in it, so if you saw that piece of crap and didn’t see Attack the Block, you owe yourself a look on DVD or pay-per for sure. But look, this isn’t about how shitty Cowboys and Aliens was, it’s about how much straight-ahead fun Attack the Block is, with creepy, savage aliens trying to get inside an English subsidized housing building while the residents freak out, engage in class warfare, get high, and generally misunderstand each other until SPOILER ALERT. (Joe MacLeod)

5 The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, United States) Terrence Malick’s middle-aged symphony to God lost some of the Malick faithful with its hyper-Malickness: its elliptical and fragile wisp of a narrative, the intuitive visual poetry taken to an unfettered extreme (bordering on self-parody in spots), the absolute bedrock sincerity of every frame. And it’s a little hard not to mentally recut a version without compassionate dinosaurs and sad Sean Penn. But the central section concerning a young boy (Hunter McCracken) growing and coming to understand the world is filmmaking as accomplished and captivating and flat-out sublime as any put onscreen this year; as a whole, The Tree of Life is cinema art as personal expression at a level all but unseen anymore. (LG)

6 Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, United States) It looks like a salt-of-the-earth indie, and it starts out like a supernatural thriller, but Jeff Nichols’ sophomore feature is something altogether more subtle and rare. It’s a film about the way the world really falls apart for people, as Midwestern working man Curtis (Michael Shannon in the role of a lifetime/performance of the year) loses his grip on reality and wrecks every little thing he holds dear in the process, one bad decision, expensive mistake, and irrational act at a time. And then Nichols manages to hit you with his best punch last and not leave you feeling like a sucker. (LG)

7 Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, United States) J.J. Abrams’ retro sci-fi flick, in which preteen filmmakers stumble onto an alien conspiracy, unabashedly wears its Spielberg influences on its sleeves (he even produced it). Luckily, it feels less like an imitation of classics like E.T. or The Goonies and more like a celebration of what makes those movies great; namely, it’s an exciting adventure movie that’s genuinely affecting, funny, and scary at just the right moments. Super 8’s a movie about love: the strained connection between parent and child, the goose bumps of a first crush, and, more than anything, a love letter to the art of movie-making. It also has the best post-credits scene you’re going to see this year. (Max Robinson)

8 Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, United States) This Purple Rose of Cairo-for-literary-nerds conceit casts scruffy goofball Owen Wilson as the Woody Allen character—charming, sensitive, but kind of a dick—and transports him to 1920s Paris. Wilson hilariously expresses middle-brow slack-jawed awe as he hangs out with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, and Allen just has a ton of fun here, his script gently joshing his lit heroes’ foibles and keeping the movie’s time-travel jaunts full of wonder—no goofy “If this changes, all of history changes” junk. And for some reason, Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali sounds like Tony Montana? Alternate title: Woody and Owen’s Excellent Adventure. (BS)

9 Hanna (Joe Wright, Germany/UK/United States) There’s so much to dig about director Joe Wright’s stylish and haunting action thriller, which pits an adolescent super-soldier against her would-be government captors. Saoirse Ronan’s performance as the titular murder machine is heartbreakingly alien, and she plays off a stellar cast of characters including a delightful Euro-trash assassin (Tom Hollander) and a molasses-voiced CIA baddie (Cate Blanchett, chewing ample scenery). Hanna also gets bonus points for throwing in gleefully surreal fairy-tale imagery and a catchy original score from the Chemical Brothers. Plus, there’s a bit where grown-ass men wail on each other at a playground. (MR)

10 Melancholia (Lars von Trier, Denmark) Think: the anti-Festen. Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 vivisection of a party gone to pot brought Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 filmmaking manifesto to the American art house. In Melancholia, the contrarian Lars von Trier kinda reprises the idea with the unraveling wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) at the posh estate of Justine’s sister and her husband (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland). Von Trier wraps this family melodrama inside operatic sci-fi, as the titular planet spirals closer to Earth, bringing the End with it. It’s a Tarkovsky slow ride, but Trier spices it with a pictorial sumptuousness that flits from advertising crisp to depressive decadence. (Bret McCabe)

Guest List

Eric Hatch, director of programming at the Maryland Film Festival

1 Promises Written in Water (Vincent Gallo, United States)

2 Porfirio (Alejandro Landes, Colombia)

3 Volcano (Runar Runarsson, Iceland)

4 Better This World (Kelly Duane and Katie Galloway, United States)

5 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)

6 The Patron Saints (Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy, Canada)

7 Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)

8 Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)

9 The Future (Miranda July, United States)

10 Melancholia (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

Top 10 Film ballots

Lee Gardner

1 Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, United States)

2 Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, United States)

3 Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, United States)

4 Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)

5 The Housemaid (Im Sang-soo, South Korea)

6 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, United States)

7 Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)

8 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)

9 Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, United Kingdom)

10 Putty Hill (Matthew Porterfield, United States)

 

Erin Gleeson

1 Beginners (Mike Mills, United States)

2 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, United States)

3 The Muppets (James Bobin, United States)

4 Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, United States)

5 Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, United Kingdom/United States)

6 Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, United States)

7 Potiche (Francois Ozon, France)

8 X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, United States)

9 Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, United States)

10 Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, United States)

 

Joe MacLeod

1 Drive Angry (Patrick Lussier, United States)

2 Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, United Kingdom)

3 Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston, United States

4 Bridemaids (Paul Feig, United States)

 

Bret McCabe

1 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, United States)

2 Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz, Portugal/France)

3 Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Belgium)

4 Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, United States)

5 Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)

6 Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, United Kingdom)

7 Nobody Else But You (Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, France)

8 Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine, United Kingdom)

9 The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 (Goran Olsson, Sweden)

10 Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, United States)

 

Max Robinson

1 Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, United States)

2 Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, United States)

3 Hanna (Joe Wright, United States/United Kingdom/Germany)

4 Source Code (Duncan Jones, United States)

5 Bridemaids (Paul Feig, United States)

 

Brandon Soderberg

1 Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, United States)

2 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, United States)

3 Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, United States)

4 The Robber (Benjamin Heisenberg, Germany)

5 Square Grouper (Billy Corben, United States)

6 Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rappaport, United States)

7 The Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, Germany)

8 Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, United States)

9 Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, United States)

10 Conan the Barbarian (Marcus Nispel, United States)

 

Wendy Ward

1 Bridemaids (Paul Feig, United States)

2 Young Adult (Jason Reitman, United States)

3 Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, United States)

4 Dirty Girl (Abe Sylvia, United States)

5 Submarine (Richard Ayoade, United Kingdom)

6 Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, United Kingdom)

7 Hugo (Martin Scorsese, United States)

8 Hanna (Joe Wright, United States/United Kingdom/Germany)

9 Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, United States)

10 Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, United States)

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