10. Blue is the Warmest Color
Achingly emotional, lush, intelligent, and visually stunning, Abdellatif Kechiche’s film is equal parts a study of the psyches of his two particular characters and a reflection on the potency and polemics of cinematic narrative.
9. 12 Years a Slave
McQueen’s film unleashes a raw, emotional power that is both rooted in historical subjugation and yet transcends the specificity of its setting. As with Hunger and Shame, 12 Years a Slave is essentially a film that explores the nature of human dignity revealed by suffering. It offers an exacerbating journey and a startlingly intimate confrontation with the physical and psychological toll of slavery.
8. Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen’s best film in years isn’t quite a comedy. Cate Blanchett takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster, a tragic and devastatingly fall from grace that cuts straight through the American mores and ideals.
7. Frances Ha
In what may be her best performance in an accomplished young career, Greta Gerwig plays a floundering post-graduate dancer in New York who can’t find her footing in life. Noah Baumbach brings a style and approach that is something of a blend of Truffaut and Woody Allen, full of wit and whimsy, but also warmth, generosity, and tenderness.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte are both wonderful in this movie about an octogenarian whose attempt to claim a million dollars brings him back to a hometown almost forgotten. Director Alexander Payne is at the top of his game, delivering warmth and humor, while packing a few moments of sudden and surprising emotional catharsis.
5. Museum Hours
Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours is an unconventional film, not quite 100 percent fiction, not really documentary, blending candidly captured real world footage with a loosely-strewn narrative. This blending of the two produces a romantic narrative and a meditation on life that is beautiful, unique, and unforgettable. Like Russian Ark, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and The Mill and the Cross, it is one of those movies that anyone interested in art should visit and revisit again and again.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
As if we needed reminding, The Coen Brothers show us once again why they are among the greatest living filmmakers with Inside Llewyn Davis, an intimate and quietly seductive story about a struggling folk singer on the eve of the genre’s emergence into the musical mainstream. Like so many of these year’s best films, Inside Llewyn Davis is a story of a wanderer, a searching soul lost in a world that proves progressively incomprehensible. Beautiful music and cinematography come together in a film that is melodious and melancholic, rich with humor and heartbreak.
3. American Hustle
American Hustle is a superbly-scripted and wonderfully-acted twisting tale of cons and recons that blur legalities, ethics and moralities. David O. Russell matures as a filmmaker with each subsequent film, and American Hustle’s subtle narrative deceptions take the audience on one of the most enjoyable, scintillating movie rides of the year.
2. The Great Beauty
Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to Rome and Fellini portrays a Dantesque mid-life awakening that blends intoxicating romance, bubbly humor, and existential despair. Visual lush, intellectual deep, and emotional intelligent, The Great Beauty reminded me of everything I love about watching movies.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
Like its main character, The Wolf of Wall Street is something of a mess, starting with a burp, wandering on and on, running through madcap comedic scenes that feel like they belong in a Judd Apatow film, and then screeching to a halt for lingering ensemble performances that call to mind Goodfellas. But The Wolf of Wall Street is pure cinematic audacity, full of vigor, wit, and wild appetite. Scorsese pummels something pertinent and undeniable about the American character with a film that cackles like a mad clown. It’s a subtly scathing and brutal film that feels strikingly prescient, a new Gatsby or a contemporary update to Citizen Kane that replaces the historic-tragic Shakespearian tone with the bawdy, vicious wit of an Aristophanes and the slapstick of a Jacques Tati. The result is a paradox, a film that is as distasteful and shallow as it is endlessly enjoyable and brilliant.
The Honorable Mentions
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
All Is Lost
Short Term 12
To the Wonder