1. Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols)
In Jeff Nichols’ carefully-composed, immensely powerful, and absolutely riveting ‘Take Shelter,’ Michael Shannon gives a towering performance as Curtis LaForche, a loving husband, doting father, manual laborer, devoted son, and all-around good guy who fears that he may be losing his mind. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 14.) My review.
2. A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Moments. Director / writer Asghar Farhadi understands that life is composed of moments, one following the other. Sometimes those moments lead to wonderful pleasure. Sometimes those moments lead to gut-wrenching tragedy. A married couple’s separation has far-reaching, unexpected consequences in modern-day Iran. (Opens in Dallas on Feb. 3.)
3. Shame (dir. Steve McQueen)
In an extraordinary performance, Michael Fassbender bubbles forth with emotional pain. ‘Shame’ is not based on true events, but it has the powerful veracity of real life, and is all the more powerful for being so realistic and harrowing in its depiction of an all-consuming addiction. (Now playing.) My review.
4. Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
The film, a character study dressed in the wrapping paper of a stylish thriller, unfolds like an acid-tipped rose, its petals spitting poison with unsettling, violent flourishes. Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed motorist, a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 31.) My review.
5. Carancho (dir. Pablo Trapero)
A desperate, exhausted lawyer (Ricardo Darin, superb and moving) might better be described as an ambulance-chaser, but he wants nothing more than to change his life forever. A film noir from Argentina that burns its way into your brain and burrows through the back of your head. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)
6. Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish)
A British creature feature that combines science fiction with social commentary in a rousing action picture that features a disreputable group of hoodlums as its unlikely heroes. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)
7. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
Achingly gorgeous and incredibly confounding, this is nothing less than an attempt to understand grief and loss through a close examination of the meaning of life. It’s an experimental film writ large, with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain battling for the souls of their children. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)
8. Young Adult (dir. Jason Reitman)
An acutely-observed, acidic character study, ‘Young Adult’ features an outstanding, nuanced performance by Charlize Theron, a strong supporting turn by Patton Oswalt, and the best script yet by Diablo Cody, well-served by Jason Reitman’s direction. It’s a very funny picture, and dead-on in its depiction of a mercurial woman who is just waking up to the idea that she may need to make changes in her life if she ever wants to be happy. (Now playing.) My review.
9. The Descendants (dir. Alexander Payne)
Suffused with sadness and an overwhelming sense of melancholy, ‘The Descendants’ explores yet another corner of Alexander Payne’s United States. It’s a cinematic country notable for the beauty of its landscapes and the exquisite anguish of its inhabitants. (Now playing.) My review.
10. Margin Call (dir. J.C. Chandor)
Superior ensemble drama, imagining greedy maneuvering by investment bankers on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. What price integrity, eh? The film is not terribly interested in the mechanics of financial manipulations; far more fascinating are the decisions made by very intelligent people when presented with the opportunity to make an insane amount of money. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)
I have to disagree with The Tree of Life. The basic story was great and the artistic approach was not terrible, but the fillers were just too much. I saw this movie with a grieving family and I can assure you that while the exploration of grief in film is great, this one only had a few minutes with which one could relate to.
Thanks for your comment, Esteban. ‘The Tree of Life’ is definitely a film that provokes very different reactions; I appreciated hearing from you about your feelings.
Very solid stuff as usual, dear Peter. I greatly appreciate your succinctly popping words on film. While we don’t have too much cross-over (a part of that being I haven’t seen half the films on your list) we do very much agree on one film: Take Shelter. It hit me like few other films this year… perhaps no other.
Thanks for your kind words, Ben!
Love that someone else appreciates “Carancho”. An amazing film (which feels like a blazing rendition of early Scorsese for some reason) and director Pablo Trapero is a great talent. If you haven’t seen his earlier effort “Lions Den” also starring Martina Gusman, check it out.
Agree on “Carancho,” and thanks for the tip on the other film!