We have now reached day three of this countdown, which is starting to seem more drawn out than The Hobbit. (Peter Jackson burn!) This post covers numbers 15 to 11. You can find the last two days here and here. Now let’s get back to the fun part.
After my first viewing of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I came away thinking I had seen a profoundly flawed but occasionally awe-inspiring piece of work. (It likely would not have been close to this spot in the list.) However, I decided to give it one more viewing in 70mm IMAX, and those feelings of awe quickly drowned out whatever quibbles I had about the way Nolan tells his story. The plot is still the least interesting part of Interstellar, but it succeeds in areas where previous Nolan films might have come up short. This is a film driven by the emotions of the characters, rather than pure logic, and Matthew McConaughey’s journey to the deepest reaches of space always seems driven by his relationship to his daughter. McConaughey is spectacular in the lead, the film has some of the most entrancing visuals you’ll find in a movie this year, and it is topped off with a spectacular score from Hans Zimmer.
One of the highest compliments one can give a film is that you can’t imagine it being made by anyone else, and while it’s hardly perfect, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater certainly fits that description. The term “labor of love” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s hard to find another way to describe it when one of the most successful and influential late night hosts around decides to run off to the Middle East for a summer to direct a drama about journalist Maziar Bahari’s 118 days in Iranian custody in the wake of the 2009 election. It’s far outside of his comfort zone, but since the subject hit so close to home (a Daily Show interview was used as evidence against Bahari) Stewart no doubt felt compelled to see this to completion himself. The film hits its stride in the second half, when Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is finally captured and interrogated by a nameless Iranian (Kim Bodnia). Stewart establishes himself here as a fine director of actors, and he turns the film’s latter half into a clash of two opposing cultures that feels utterly truthful.
Few films this year were more energetic than The LEGO Movie, but as is usually the case with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the chaos feels purposeful from start to finish. This is pretty close to a perfect family comedy–equal parts hilarious, colorful and heartfelt, and the final act packs a surprising emotional punch. The cast is also near-perfect, from Chris Pratt’s work as the lead to Will Arnett’s unforgettably delightful turn as Batman. In a world where so many computer animated films are looking and feeling more phoned-in, The LEGO Movie feels especially refreshing. It may seem like a cynical creation on paper, but Lord and Miller have a gift for turning such propositions into minor miracles.
The soul of Bong Joon-ho’s English language debut Snowpiercer is not the protagonist Curtis (Chris Evans), nor anyone else residing in the rear of the titular post-apocalyptic train. It is actually Minister Mason, played by Tilda Swinton, who rules over the impoverished masses with an iron fist. While she is hardly the hero, her unhinged energy sets the tone for the rest of the film: it is odd, brutal, unsubtle, and wildly fun. As Curtis leads the bloody fight for equality on board the last train on Earth, Bong keeps the film driving forward with impressive momentum, and barely gives the audience a chance to dissect what is unfolding before their eyes. (If he did, it might not hold up so well.) This also features what might be the best performance of Evans’ career, and while it’s not a dramatic departure from his superhero roots, it does suggest an even more fascinating actor hiding beneath the surface.
A woman (Marion Cotillard) and her sister arrive on Ellis Island in 1921. Threatened by deportation, she is saved by a mysterious man (Joaquin Phoenix) who promises to give her shelter if she works for him. From there, an impeccable and beautiful drama plays out between the two of them and a magician named Emil (Jeremy Renner). The Immigrant is the kind of modest but powerful drama we don’t see much of these days, and over the course of two hours director James Gray makes a fine case for how unfortunate that is. Even more unfortunate was absurd non-release it got from The Weinstein Company, but at the very least it is now available on Netflix.
Come back tomorrow, when I finally crack the top 10! What surprises will be in store? Not many!