One of the highlights of the annual awards pageant, for me, are the nicely-worded tributes written for the American Film Institute’s 10 Movies of the Year. The citations read yesterday are no exception.
AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR
ARGO cracks the code between fiction and truth – and uses both to deliver a rousing Hollywood adventure through a harrowing time in history. Director Ben Affleck drops audiences deep inside the Iran hostage crisis, and then skillfully leads an escape that marshals the forces of American film – including a masterful screenplay by Chris Terrio and an all-star cast that inspires laughs and cheers amidst heart-pounding suspense. Ultimately, the film is a wry meditation on the movies and the high stakes of storytelling in politics and beyond. And to those who doubt this is one of the best films of the year, “ARGO fuck yourself.”
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD roars with the strength of a people who wish to live and die in a world a wonder with adversity. At the center of this poetic storm stands Hushpuppy, a tiny heroine who towers among the toughest of the year. Hers is a triumphant tale of the mind and of the power of fantasy and folklore to carry us forward. In Hushpuppy, director Benh Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar capture the spirit of an unsung America with a commanding reminder from a small but strong voice – that all of us are “a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES leaves the superhero genre forever changed – broken down and reborn with a maturity to match its heroic purpose. With this bruising conclusion to his Batman trilogy, writer/director Christopher Nolan elevates and enshrines one of pop culture’s most iconic modern mythologies and, in the process, lifts the blockbuster spectacle to the level of art. Complex and unrelenting, the result is a towering achievement – a testament to the ambition of the film’s creative ensemble, which not only delivers an adventure worthy of its hero, but also captures the Zeitgeist of a world that needs Batman now more than ever.
DJANGO UNCHAINED explodes America’s shameful past in a brilliant, bloody reckoning that is part Sergio Leone, part Mel Brooks – and all Quentin Tarantino. Hearts racing and jaws agape, movie lovers will revel in the cathartic effects of this modern master at play. With his work underscored by the year’s most eclectic soundtrack, Tarantino rounds up a posse of powerhouse performers, including Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, who together light the fuse of this dynamite film – one that ignites the screen with equal parts originality and “Oh no, they didn’t!”
LES MISÉRABLES dreams a dream of epic ambition and fully realizes its place in the grand and glorious tradition of great American film musicals. Director Tom Hooper invites audiences to soar above the boards as he enlists a stellar creative ensemble to carry the flag of Victor Hugo’s timeless tale into a new generation. Inhabiting the sweeping grandeur that only cinema allows, profoundly intimate performances from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe embody the spirit of revolution and imbue LES MISÉRABLES with its beating heart.
LIFE OF PI is an immersion into the world of imagination – one so powerful, so deeply transformational, that it stands as a cinematic monument to the power of storytelling. Navigating Yann Martel’s beloved novel with David Magee’s script as guiding star, director Ang Lee proves himself a virtuoso of the versatile in a world so rich and so real that only the miracle of 3D in the hands of a master could put it all into proper perspective. At journey’s end, audiences are left to ponder an adventure so life-affirming and a reality so true that they would never dare doubt Dorothy ever left Kansas.
LINCOLN belongs to the ages. Steven Spielberg’s landmark motion picture enriches the American canon – freeing the Great Emancipator from his tintype image and exploring the wit and wisdom that made the man. Daniel Day-Lewis is instantly iconic, demonstrating an immersion into character that is as honest as it is immediate. Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and an extraordinary acting ensemble breathe humanity into history, while Tony Kushner’s brilliant screenplay illustrates the power of words to dazzle above the most special of effects. Film legends D.W. Griffith and John Ford each depicted their versions of America’s sixteenth president, and Spielberg’s now stands beside them with this telling for our time – and for all time.
MOONRISE KINGDOM exquisitely imagines the bubble of a 1965 New England summer, meticulously capturing a delicate world where operatic emotion underscores an orphan’s journey. Director and co-writer Wes Anderson earns his merit badge as an American original, a storyteller whose loyal community of artists exposes the deepest of feelings with the most deadpan of deliveries. This complexity, combined with a needlepoint detail that has become signature, ensures MOONRISE KINGDOM a seat in the glow of the campfire – where great movies find a way to look back as time goes by.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is crazy good – a jagged romance that finds a path ever upward from the darkest, loneliest corners of one’s mind. Lighting the way with equal parts wit and pathos, writer/director David O. Russell choreographs a dysfunctional dance between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both with extraordinary star turns that capture the danger and the delicacy of devotion. This fractured love story is also a reflection on the fortitude of the American family, with unbreakable bonds married by the performances of Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro, who again proves his place in the pantheon.
ZERO DARK THIRTY is a fierce meditation on modern warfare – a film that keeps audiences breathless, even though the ending is history. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal chronicle the world’s greatest manhunt with the electric intensity of a glance, the politics of personality and the very real question of what it takes to find the truth. Jessica Chastain drives the story forward with an enormity of purpose, again demonstrating her place among today’s brightest talents. ZERO DARK THIRTY is a definitive tale of our times, where the battle waged is one of intellect over arms.