Our favourite films of 2013

Sean Van Deuren

1. No

2. Frances Ha
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Blue Is The Warmest Color
5. The Act of Killing
6. Before Midnight
7. 12 Years A Slave
8. Upstream Color
9. The Wolf Of Wall Street
10. Computer Chess

Tucker Johnson

1. Gravity

2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Frances Ha
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. American Hustle
6. Her
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. Blue Jasmine
9. Nebraska
10. The Lone Ranger

Then there's just a whole bunch of other films I really loved this year.

Captain Phillips, Rush, The Conjuring, Much Ado About Nothing, White House Down, Behind the Candelabra, Mud, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Trance, Evil Dead, The Place Beyond the Pines, Side Effects, Mama, The World’s End, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Anchorman 2, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Counselor, Leviathan, Computer Chess, Dallas Buyers Club, Before Midnight, Upstream Color, Prisoners, Kings of Summer.

Dan Khan

No order really. It's impossible to rank films.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Before Midnight
4. Nebraska
5. The Act of Killing/Dirty Wars
6. Her
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. All Is Lost
9. American Hustle
10. Upstream Color
11. The Great Beauty
12. Mud
13. Stoker
14. The World’s End
15. To The Wonder
16. Fruitvale Station
17. Captain Philips
18. Stories We Tell
19. No
20. Side Effects

Honorable Mentions

Short Term 12, Gravity, Prisoners, The Spectacular Now & Blue Jasmine.

Michelle Siracusa

1. Like Someone In Love

2. Stoker
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Nebraska
5. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
6. Her
7. Out of the Furnace
8. The Unspeakable Act
9. Gravity
10. Wolf of Wall Street

Noah Lyons

1. Act of Killing

And in no particular order:
2. Her
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. 12 Years A Slave
5. Post Tenebras Lux
6. Upstream Color
7. Side Effects
8. The Great Beauty
9. Fruitvale Station
10. Only God Forgives

Emily DiPietro

1. Blue Jasmine

2. Frances Ha
3. American Hustle
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
5. The Conjuring
6. Star Trek Into Darkness
7. Her
8. The Kings of Summer

I'd also like to give an honorable mention to The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. I haven't seen but it must be flawless based on the title.

Tori Davis 

1. 12 Years a Slave

2. We Are What We Are
3. The Great Gatsby
4. The Place Beyond The Pines
5. The Way, Way Back
6. Philomena
7. The To-Do List

Lucas Mangum

1. All is Lost

2. Gravity
3. The Last Stand
4. Stoker
5. Bullet to the Head
6. Lords of Salem

Scout Tafoya

1. The Immigrant

by James Gray
If what John Gloag says is true about nostalgia being a powerful drug, it becomes ten times as potent when accompanied by the right visuals. From the very beginning of narrative cinema, directors have been anointing the screen with period costumes and sets, all too aware that taking viewers into the past was one of the more effective tools in their rattlebag. Despite an incredibly rich time in the 20s and 30s when directors like Rouben Mamoulian and Josef Von Sternberg could invent their own idiosyncratic versions of yesterday because their chosen time periods were, at that stage, largely devoid of visual reference points, for my money the most fertile time for historical fiction was America in the 1970s. Dozens of directors from all over the globe sought to recreate a brutish and nasty past, but none with the fervor of the young men and women who orbited the New Hollywood movement. Core members and satellites Peter Bogdanovich, Richard C. Sarafian, Martin Scorsese, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Ritchie, Arthur Penn, Michael Cimino, Terrence Malick, Robert Altman, Sidney Pollack, Charles B. Pierce, William Friedkin, Hal Ashby, Sidney Lumet, Philip Kaufman and Elaine May alternately conjured a version of the past coloured by the cruel times they were living through or a romanticized, dangerous look at the present buttressed by historical precedent and generic convention meant to be taken as an artifact of the moment in which it was created. James Gray missed all that but he's always directed as if the 70s never ended. With many of his favourite auteur's defining traits - an anthropological interest in community, a knack for detailing insanely specific times and places down to the neighborhood, an acidic take on family ties, an presentational approach to sound, rhythm and image, a dark sense of humour, a penchant for identifying with losers and bastards, a willingness to dip into horrifying violence for emphasis - at his disposal, Gray started making sagas about broken homes dressed as crime dramas. This changed in 2008 with Two Lovers, which lost the physical violence and left only the strictly emotional. Here was both one of the most devastating examinations of depression's effect on romantic coherence and the first film to give Joaquin Phoenix center stage. Phoenix was always mighty watchable, but in Two Lovers he's electrifying; crippled by uncertainty and damned with sincerity his suicidal man-child pulled circles many women and always drifts too close to the ones that will burn him out. Gray never looks the other way when Phoenix makes mistakes or risks embarrassing himself, while he himself can't hide his defining traits as a director behind gunplay and car chases. Both men were effectively naked for the first time, and it could have scarcely been any more mesmerizing a duet.

Phoenix went on to become the most interesting actor in America while Gray came up with a story that would break new ground for both of them. Based, as usual, in his own history, The Immigrant could have been made in 1974 and yet still feels like like the film pointing most emphatically towards the future of arthouse cinema. A bountiful melodrama set in the 1920s, The Immigrant signals a return to a classical style desperately needed to invigorate a fledging modern filmmaking current. Many filmmakers went back in time to inject adrenaline into the heart of their art this year (Pablo Larraín, Steve McQueen, Ben Wheatley, Andrew Bujalski, Wong Kar-Wai, The Coen Brothers) but none with the same brand of fearlessness and openness as Gray. It isn't that The Immigrant is a more honest or bold film than 12 Years A Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis or Computer Chess (three masterpieces), it's that it puts all of its chips on belief in the kind of magic one only finds in a movie theatre. Marion Cotillard plays Ewa, a Polish woman who arrives in Ellis Island under a cloud, only to be separated from her beloved, sick sister. Hopeless, helpless and friendless Cotillard puts all her faith in the handsome, boyish Phoenix who arrives out of nowhere offering sanctuary and a host of possible answers to her problems. When those don't materialize she pins her hopes on his cousin, a magician played by the even more charming and certainly more welcoming Jeremy Renner. Illusion is what sustains Ewa in her darkest moments. She must believe that god hasn't abandoned her, that her family does not believe she's been disgraced, that Phoenix's shiftless operator can help her, that her sister is still alive and well, that Renner's magician can fly. And Gray too trusts us to revert to the same innocence of the wide, cruel world that both plagues and nourishes Ewa throughout the story. He wants and hopes that the audience will see the 'new world' as an immigrant might have, frightened, enticed, repulsed, bewildered and hypnotized by every sight, sound and sensation cultivated only in America. Hence why the film plays like a pre-code melodrama by way of the faded, autumnal luster of Heaven's Gate. Gray knows too well that we can't travel to these times ourselves and imbues every detail with a golden hue, an otherness that allows us to see the world through Ewa's eyes. The world gets about as ugly as it can, but Ewa still has faith in one kind of magic or another. In college I was asked by a professor to describe what 'Nostalgia' meant and the best I could come up with was "watch Days of Heaven, The Village & The Double Life of Veronique and you'll find it." I was trying to find a way to say that those films work best if we strip ourselves naked, take off our baggage, our cynicism, our scars and our bitterness, however hard earned, and enter the dark knowing only the purity of the illusion we're going to be treated to. Rich colours, deeply affecting music, guileless direction and performances suffused with a particular innocence join to lull you into a dream you know too well but could never have too many times. It's easy to say that the work done by everyone from the costume designers, digital techicians, set painter, carpenters, cinematographer Darius Khondji, every dayplayer, minor and lead actor, does work we're lucky to get once a decade, let alone a year. I think it's more helpful to say that from now on, if I ever want to explain how deeply felt and personal art can be, how powerful an intoxicant nostalgia can be, or why we watch movies, I'll just say "watch The Immigrant."

2. Inside Llewyn Davis
by Joel & Ethan Coen

"Guys, we can't ALL identify with Llewyn Davis." wrote Matt Prigge after a few weeks of everyone in the world walking out of Joel & Ethan Coen's latest dark night of the soul and feeling like they'd lived some part of it before. In defense of everyone else, if you're a man who's as used to failure as success, or more accurately, have gotten so used to failure that success must be taken in microscopic doses, you've been in Llewyn's snow-dampened shoes. Who's Llewyn Davis? He's the wrong cat. He could have made it but the pool was too full of contenders just like him who knew how to play the game a little better, or didn't know there was a game to play. Davis knows only too well that the game is real and rigged to boot. Anyone else who ever figured this out and said "no" was going to get an extra barb in their heart whenever he slips and falls, whenever he realizes his loved ones are getting fucked over, whenever he pushes his family away, everytime he nails one of his songs to no applause, and especially when he sits at that lunch counter with no money to his name, taking his feet gently out of his sopping wet shoes hoping they'll dry faster. That particular close-up broke my heart in six places. I lost count of the injustices he suffered that I'd also lived through; when I left it was into pouring rain, feeling like there was lead in my shoes. If there's solace, and there is, it's that the Coen Brothers know how to render the struggle for acceptance and the cruelty of fate better than just about anyone. They've returned to the colour palette that made Hudsucker Proxy feel quite so immortal; director of photography Bruno Delbonnel's humane camera turning even the worst demons on Llewyn's shoulder into angels. And then there's the music. I'm definitely someone who's had more than his fill of Marcus Mumford and have on occassion hoped he would pack up his guitar and leave me alone, but his voice works as the broken promise of achievement. That radio-ready voice could and may well have been Llewyn's ticket to fame, but he'll never know that world. All he has is the bittersweet sound of Mumford (or Mike Timlin) to taunt him. Nevermind that it's their saddest screenplay, their most breath-taking evocation of any time period and that in Oscar Isaac one of the greatest performances they've ever directed, the Coens made me understand and even come to appreciate Mumford's voice. If I didn't already think this was their best film, that fact alone would have pushed it into classic territory. Forget that, though, it's too personal. Inside Llewyn Davis combines the lovely Folkways-styled soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the often terrifying depths of human behavior and solitude of No Country For Old Men, the Job-like suffering and hysterical dark humour that drove A Serious Man, the frustration and injustice at the heart of The Man Who Wasn't There and somehow manages to keep alive the romantic worldview that kept Hudsucker afloat. It's like a greatest hits record, but every cut sounds brand new. Who doesn't wish they could achieve that. In the meantime, we can settle for feeling like Llewyn Davis, putting the guitar down to finish the last verse unaccompanied knowing that no matter how good we're doing, there's no money in it.

3. Dormant Beauty
by Marco Bellocchio
A little while ago I read that Marco Bellocchio is going to release another movie in 2014, which is the best news I've heard in an age. Like Scott Foundas before me, I'm of a mind that Bellocchio is the greatest living Italian filmmaker (Naturally Olmi, retired, and Bertolucci, very recently unretired, as you'll read about later, are also high on that list). His films have the ripe elocution and delicious texture one typically associates with opera, yet they hit with the force of a brick thrown by a angry rioter. He's given the cinema some of its most ravishing rallying cries, lighting a fire under the comfortably crooked who sit at the top of the heap that is Italian society and in the process refracting the problems facing most political systems. That Italy just happens to have just as many problems as the US and half the filmmakers attempting to assign blame to the right shower of bastards means Bellocchio has had to speak twice as loud. He isn't alone, of course, but he's been at it longer than the incredibly capable likes of Matteo Garrone and Paolo Sorrentino. Here he presents a Sonata of political machinations from the orchestra on up to the balcony; the theme is euthanasia and the way it effects doctors, protestors, politicians, the rich, the poor and the troublingly committed. With Carlo Crivelli's luscious score sweeping everyone toward dates with destiny and Daniele Ciprì's grey-and-blue hues tying everyone together. Religion, family, illness and unbreakable wills harmonize like a chorus as Bellocchio conducts one of his most surefooted pieces yet. As long as Bellocchio is making films I'll be watching them and thanking no one in particular that someone should know cinema and its secrets so intimately.

4. Leviathan
by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
The short answer is no other film this year was so interested in destroying what we know about how films can be made. The ambition itself is worthy; the success was even better. Leviathan was for me what Gravity was for everyone elsse: an absolute, well-rounded game changer. Sure, yes, everyone who makes a movie in space will now have to start where Gravity left off. That's one genre. Two at most. Anyone who makes a documentary of any kind now has Leviathan on their side, to both rise to and rely on. Under the spell of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, a fleet of cameras become living organisms, then dead ones. They are the fish caught in the might nets dragged behind a monstrous trawler. They are the lifeless eyes and guts sloshing around the holds. They are the fishermen, smoking and talking while being deafened by the sound of their vessel. Then they're the boat itself, turned into a churning, yawning dragon swimming, almost indifferent to the millions of lives it takes. Then a seagull, observing the beast in its undeniable, if unconventional beauty. Then finally we enter the guts of the animal, the gears grinding, the little men working away to keep her alive. This is life. This is real.

5. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
by Alain Resnais
The most thrilling solution to my 21st century problem. What's that? It's what's happened thanks to our plunge into the future without so much as a by your leave to the past. Suddenly we were living in a blue screen nightmare, then a green screen nightmare. Nothing was real because everything could be faked. So the question is whether to plow forward into complete facsimile of reality, or have a little fun in the uncanny valley. Alain Resnais opted for the former. The 91 year old hellraiser did something like throw himself a wake and invited his repertory company over for some fun in the new world. Invited over to critique a work in progress, the hungry thesps can't keep their seats and come alive in the roles they once played. Resnais is one of the greatest magicians around and here he turns a funeral into an ecstatic trance which the actors and audience awake from simultaneously, only to discover a dream waiting for us. Yet the final reveal, the waking we all must do, is even more extraordinary than anything we've seen before. Resnais regards the past and the future with equal insouciance, retreating as ever into kind of erotic fugue state, the sort he's been nesting in (and thankfully inviting us into) since Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Days of Marienbad. Best of all: the title is accurate. He's got another film due very soon.

6. Computer Chess
by Andrew Bujalski
I think my favourite thing about Computer Chess is that it is made up of a series of surreal revelations, each funnier than the next. Knowing nothing about it leads to the discovery that it's shot on black & white video of a 40 year vintage. Then we learn that it's a kind of comedy. In fact it's one of the funniest films of the year; jokes are revealed seconds after they've occurred like toxins released into your bloodstream. You find yourself cackling like a fiend but trying to stifle it because the next setup could begin at any moment. Ingenious writing. Then you discover that it has come to trip logic, narrative and otherwise, down a flight of hotel stairs. Soon the grammar begins to change and the language falls out of synch and we're watching security camera footage that's accidentally picked up the beginning of the end of time. Then we're sitting in Michael Papageorge's mother's house, in horrifying, unflattering colour while he searches for something. The most absurd spectacle of the year. The most probing, hilarious look at our own powerlessness I've ever seen. Bujalski may not have set out to prove there's no god, but I think he's done it.

7. The Wolf of Wall Street
by Martin Scorsese
I suppose I shouldn't be too hasty. Computer Chess is funny, but Wolf of Wall Street is funnier. Scorsese's best film in his patented style (you'd have to waterboard me to get me to choose a favourite) and anchored by the performance of the year. DiCaprio is not only hilarious and charismatic, charm and likability seep out of his pores. He's essentially playing the devil, at least as far as America 2013 is concerned. It's almost comforting to know that he had this much fun setting our money on fire. It would have been a letdown to learn that the Jordan Belforts of the world stand around playing golf. It's more comforting, of course, to learn that Martin Scorsese still has the energy of his performance-enhanced younger self. Who needs drugs when you can do this?

8. 12 Years a Slave
by Steve McQueen
I've said a bit already and when I review this for its UK release, I'll have more to say. For now just know that everything you heard about it is true, and it's better even than that. I've been a fan of McQueen for as long as I've known about him and he's one of the only guys whose shortform work is just as worthwhile and interesting as his features. Here he may have topped himself.

9. A Touch of Sin
by Jia Zhangke
As long as we're looking into the past and the future, let's stick firmly in the now, a disgusting place depending on where you're living it. In China there's a greater divide between the rich and the poor than we here in America could ever get our brains around. It's a constant struggle not to go around my hometown keying the Rolls Royce and Mercedes that line the main street, driven by the owners of the lingerie boutiques and jewelry stores. If I were as poor as the people of Jia Zhangke's China and beneath an upper class unfeeling enough to allow for such gross transparency of corruption and unfairness, I wager I wouldn't have waited as long as his characters to pick up a gun and walk around asking questions, and I'm a quaker. Well...kind of. Anyway, how does one temper their rage when all has turned to bleakness and complacency, where the worst kind of monsters are given ticker tape parades for having funneled an entire town's livelihood into his vacation fund? Jia, like James Gray, sought the warm embrace of classical form. When he isn't setting up the kind of organic tableaux that dissertations are written about, he's following his beautiful subjects through dark roads and pleasant corridors, recalling as some have pointed out, Max Ophüls. His meticulousness is PT Anderson-esque and his images are comparably arresting. The difference is rather than merely performing a kind of psychological post-mortem, Jia exalts his lost souls by framing like cowboys, samurai and avenging angels, at least until that tragic final act. Then the novelty of disguise is deflated, Jia only too aware that illusion can also be a danger as it masks the awful truth and breeds ennui as surely as poverty. There are shots in this film that recall Ophüls, Jean-Pierre Melville, Michael Mann, King Hu, Nicholas Ray, on and on and on, silence broken by violence. It isn't that he's referencing them, it's that he's let a few unbreakable promises find their way into his style. Jia allows for violence to be used 'properly' in the murder of a gaggle of criminals handling the finances of far too many impoverished people, which we can enjoy, but condemns it the next when we see the murder of two random people who merely look like promising marks our new hero doesn't have the energy to rob. Jia allows us to see why one would resort to violence, but he never forgets how heinous it is. There are no easy answers nor should we pretend there are.

10. A Field In England
by Ben Wheatley
I could watch A Field In England every day for the rest of my life. In college I discovered mind-altering cult films in a big way (or rather, they discovered me). Classics like El Topo, Sweet Movie, The Holy Mountain, The Ruling Class, The Milky Way, Catch-22 & The Devils mixed with modern marvels like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Trainspotting and Dead Man, shaken into a potent cocktail that ensured I never bored my friends whenever we watched a movie. Consequently I have a sort spot for movies that look over their shoulders to the great acid films of yesterday (see #100). I take great comfort in A Field In England which melds those films with the look and feel of pastoral menacers like Mark of the Devil, Blood on Satan's Claw & The Conquerer Worm. Four just barely lucky sods flee the English civil war in search of a pub, only to get conscripted by an evil mystic into a search for gold. Much malign behavior, sorcery and mushroom consumption ensues. The search for gold is, of course, the search for meaning in a newly godless land, finding death no escape and life no reward. The only solution is to go mad. Ben Wheatley was already on my good side when he made A Field In England but here he hops the velvet rope and becomes one of my favourite modern artists. Like Women In Chains before it, A Field In England becomes one of the most visually striking freak-outs in its home stretch as the third and fourth dimensions implode and bisect each other. It could be called a slight film, but to do so would be to miss the weight of the way Wheatley frames alchemical rivals Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith, the way they fit in their costumes, the pulchritudinous intrusions through the fourth wall, the differing dialects, the vast chasms between each man's diction and manner, the shot of Shearsmith walking out of a tent overcome by some unearthly hex. This film was made for me and I love it right back.

11. The Past
by Asghar Farhadi
I told myself going into The Past that I would try to pay attention to Asghar Farhadi's direction, to see what secret ingredient he brings to the table that makes his drama go down so easy. This turned out to be a fool's errand as within the second scene I was hopelessly sucked in to the trials awaiting a lonely Iranian visiting France to give his wife a divorce so she can remarry a man whose wife is in a coma. I think to put it concisely Farhadi gives us the role of judge and lets each party present their side like turning state's evidence. His hand is so sure and his style so perfectly restrained that nothing gets in the way of the mystery. It may also help that he doesn't treat his central plot points as a mystery, misdirecting us to the strained relations at the heart of the drama. Or maybe they were the point all along as once we fit the pieces together, everyone's a little guilty, if unmistakably human. Farhadi crafts melodrama with a journalistic eye, making films for and about recongizable adults, never undermining his audience, never letting them rest. I still don't know how he does it and I think I like it better that way...

12. The Congress
by Ari Folman
I remember a twinge of disappointment when I walked out of Waltz With Bashir having experienced only a pittance of the  hallucinogenic distortions of history I was promised in the trailer. The tragedy stole away with the runtime and I was given a lesson in a new form of documentary that I'm grateful for. But I was still in the mood for the kind of Ralph Bakshi-esque somnambulance (I know, I know) I felt Ari Folman was capable of. Lo and behold: The Congress. This was what I was after. After a live action opening 40 minutes set in the desiccated corpse of Hollywood I began to wonder how Folman was going to make his inevitable plunge into animation work. The first act not only makes you thirst for the cool refreshment of the cartoon world it's witholding, but will act as an echo, a memory, when we reach the home stretch. When our hero, Robin Wright, playing herself in a seductive, no-bullshit way, enters the Futurological Congress of the title and she's beset on all sides by animated whales, storm troopers and outsized grotesques given the gargantuan proportions they deserve, it serves as maybe the greatest act break all year, if not of the decade. Awash in colour and near-insanity, I was expecting to drift pleasantly for the next hour, but nothing doing. Folman manages the most touching theoretical coda imaginable. Acceptance and empathy, familial imprinting and the forgiveness of blood, all different hues on Folman's palette. I was happy to have him use my brain like silly putty, I was astonished at how skillfully he did the same to my heart.

13. Vanishing Waves
by Kristina Buozyte
Speaking of brain melting, what to make of this gorgeously retro tease? In a sentence, it's Tarsem's The Cell with all the sleaze scraped off. But that doesn't quite say it. There are enough reference points to satisfy any fan of vintage downer sci-fi, everything from Tron to Coma, The Terminal Man to Phase IV. In a slightly more subjective sense, it's everything I wanted and didn't get from Upstream Color, prizing questions and longing over answers and catharsis. If Krzysztof Kieślowski had made one more sci-fi film before his death, I suspect it would have looked like this. It turns love into a question of morality while sparing no stunning vista on which to place intertwined bodies joined by the impossible. 

14. To The Wonder
by Terrence Malick
This film is sort of like a good whiskey. Drink up and let the warmth of love and connection make its way from your head to your toes. It's going to appeal to some more than others. I understand some of the reservations, I'm just glad I don't share them. Too drunk on Malick's impressionism. He created his world in a more understanding, beautiful likeness than the one we got. Those who care to can retreat to a realm ruled by feeling when we need to, and for a few hours our world makes sense.

15. Her
by Spike Jonze
You don't need to do much more than watch the way Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore Twombly carries himself to gauge how lonely he is. In fact the film could be reduced to its silent observations of Twombly tucked inside and slightly emerging from his shell and learn everything you need to know about his history. Jonze knew what he was doing casting Phoenix as his hero in an uncertain, sterile future. Underplayed and he's a blank slate, overplayed and he's a twee nightmare. I wager that Phoenix is one of a very small handful of people who could make you understand why a man would find dating his computer an acceptable life choice, especially in the midst of a divorce. Life's problems are banging on the door and this is the ultimate refusal of responsibility. Only Jonze could have thought to look this specifically into the future. Only Phoenix could have made it work. 

16. A Hijacking
by Tobias Lindholm
You've gathered by now that I'm pulling for a return to classicism, but so long as there are directors as incisive and painstaking as Tobias Lindholm manning the objectivity ship, we'll never lose sight of what's important, of how to tell the truth. Lindholm's greatest asset is sweaty, nervous Pilou Asbæk at his wit's end, uncertain whether his greatest enemy are the pirates who've taken over his vessel, or his corporate overlords who are playing the long game in getting them back. He doesn't know to which party his humanity means less. The performances are all note perfect, of course, but Lindholm knows that the fear in Asbæk's eyes is where our sympathies lie.

17. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser
by Davide Manuli
The most idiosyncratic choice on here by a country mile, The Legend of Kaspar Hauser isn't about anything, so much as the pursuit and successful capture of cool. A 90 minute commercial for throwing away your inhibitions, it stars Vincent Gallo in the dual roles of a sheriff of a small Italian island and the drug pusher who opposes him, and its lead is a topless Silvia Calderoni who, thanks to a thin frame and black & white photography (black & silver is a more accurate description), never really seems naked. It's powered by house music and features Gallo alternately hamming it up with aplomb, playing the sheriff as a tender Yosemite Sam, or letting sexual foreboding guide his more natural turn as the pusher. You'll know in 15 seconds whether this film is something you'll like. Stick around and watch something that balks at the notion of needing a reason to exist. Yes, thank you, more please. 

18. We Are What We Are
by Jim Mickle
This film grew in my estimation with every day that passed. A remake, yes, but a haunting, lovely terrifying visit with some cannibals hiding away in the woods. The more I ruminated the more I remembered every rainy composition, every nook filled with blood became huge. Mickle is a master at flow; his frames run smoothly past your eyes and into your unconscious, sparking coincidence and nostalgia. He's far more interested in perspective and implication than traditional build-and-release favored by many horror maestros. If there's going to be blood, he doesn't hide it. He's a dramatist at heart, wringing more tension from the inevitable than the unknown, he just happens to love horror trappings. His voice is becoming clearer with every film and this is by far his most mature and enthralling work. 

19. Almayer's Folly
by Chantal Akerman
As she's aged away from her roots as one of the cinema's most important formalist provocateurs, Chantal Akerman has let new methods of communication into her rigorous aesthetic. She's certainly the last person I'd think interested in adapting Joseph Conrad, yet here she is all the same. Before I saw Almayer's Folly, which was my most anticipated release for something like two years (it was completed in 2011), I went to see her do a reading of her private diaries in Chelsea. After standing in front of this small-statured, ornery warrior confessing her emotional traumas and weaknesses to a crowd of strangers (many of whom walked out, their callouss footfall like a hurricane blowing through the blackbox theatre we were seated in), I visited her latest and saw invigorated, hopeful mise-en-scene, ambititous camera moves I can't imagine the extensive planning for, and the image of Akerman cutting a path through the jungle to make this masterwork was altogether something out of Conrad. She may have let action, music, pans, dollies, incident, resentment, longing and sacrifice into her work over the years but she's still the one-woman Belgian New Wave, and she still has passion and ideas enough for a dozen directors. Beginning with an opening musical number that hides a murder, continuing through the most audacious tracking shot of any film on this list, on through to meticulously chosen shots of the city and the jungle that show in thirty seconds what whole films miss about the way lives are lived, Almayer's Folly isn't typical fare for its director, but it is typically foundation shaking. 

20. Stoker
by Park Chan-Wook
If someone had revived Hitchcock, then deafened him and told him to carry on at about an eighth of his usual budget, I wager we'd be looking at something very near to Stoker. Like the best of Hitch's work, the most important aspect is how the images and implications beckon you in like a siren. Park was always more of a style than a substance guy, and here he's reduced story to bare essentials, relying on gonzo compositions to illuminate mythic, elemental sexual and familial issues. 

21. The Bling Ring
by Sofia Coppola
Transparency of personality has always been Sofia Coppola's greatest problem. People watched Sofia in her dad's movies, they read about her friendships and partnerships with designers and artists, hear who she's dating, and think they know her. Think her films are autobiographical and can only be the product of someone obsessed with couture to a damning degree as it means she churns out one navel-gazing wallow after another. All I can do is shake my head and enjoy the bounty that is each new Sofia Coppola film. What her critics miss every outing is that the most important theme in her work isn't a 'poor me' bemoaning of an empty lifestyle, it's that the fact of privilege has left a hole where their soul ought to be, and being liked doesn't mean understanding why it happens. The two lead to personality dysmorphia and a profound misunderstanding of their own lives. 'Celebrity' is an abstract state of mind people hope to achieve and worship in the same way that people used to search for enlightenment. It's a disease that no amount of psychotherapy can cure. Every new Sofia Coppola film becomes my favourite thing she's ever done. The Bling Ring would seem a tough one to be beaten, even given her stellar track record, alternating as it does as both a ground-level probing into the lives of the offenders and a security-camera style observation of their crimes. Managing to both invite viewers in and show them a kind of invisible suffering beneath their delusions. Coppola may be the best alienation artist since Antonioni. 

22. La Noche De Enfrente
by Raúl Ruiz
Ruiz may be gone, but the feeling that he's still embracing us lingers. A phantasmagoric journey through time and imagination, life and death, that opens more doors and windows to questions and possibilities than you thought existed. I think the secret to life may be hidden in this winking farewell

23. The Grandmaster
by Wong Kar-Wai
In a year full of sumptuous cinema, perhaps none was so opioid, so lush as The Grandmaster, Wong Kar-Wai's long-gestating portrait of Ip Man. It's a return to the impressionistic shapeshifters Wong made in the 90s before a detour in the 2000s towards something a little more concretely delineated. I'm glad he's found his way to his early discursive style and though it'd be tough for him to ever top In The Mood For Love, there's enough here to chew on for years to come. 

24. The Act of Killing
by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn & Anonymous
Many people have questioned the ethics of The Act of Killing. I've heard the sounds ripping from inside Anwar Congo's pathetic body. That sound. How could you ever hear that and forget it? How could you see this, which makes a man without conscience realize that he's been a sociopath his whole life, that his patriotism was a lie, that he's just a murderer, and think it unworthy? We will never see him brought to justice, but making him live his last few years aware that he's a murderer maybe the only justice his victims ever see. 

25. Frances Ha
by Noah Baumbach
A love note to Leos Carax and François Truffaut that substitutes New York for Paris. Gerwig here has to be Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Fanny Ardant, Denis Lavant and does so with an adorable smile while remaining ineffably herself. It's the part she was born to play in a film that finally deserves her comic presence, fine-tuned like a mechanical toy to hum along with her. I saw this film on a day I needed a laugh more than anything in the world, and for doing that and feeling like a big hug from friends, I'm forever grateful. 

26. No
by Pablo Larraín
I'm one of the world's biggest fans of slow cinema and recently I've become worried that some of my favourite proponents have graduated. I'm kidding of course; I think they're doing the best work of their lives, but I'll still shed a tear for the loss of some of our masters of objectivity. Look at Pablo Larraín! After two of the finest works of formal rigor of the new school (Tony Manero, Post Mortem), he decides to make a political thriller as funny as it is terrifying. Larraín's credentials prove he'll get as heavy as he pleases, so there's already tension built into the story of an adman trying to take down Pinochet's press machine before we learn what he has to lose. The point is Larraín would take it all away if he saw fit. Let's call that meta-tension and it's one of the benefits of making tragedy before comedy. Tony Manero, which is so tough it almost hurts to think it might still be my favourite of his three films, existed in the kind of ashen netherworld typically associated with Aleksandr Sokurov. To see Larraín working in antique video made perfect sense. Seeing him develop a sense of humour and a flair for expansive intrigue was a nice surprise. I can't even begin to guess what he'll do now and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

27. In The Fog
by Sergei Loznitsa
As much as I enjoyed the tangential, time-jumping My Joy, I did wish it had narrowed its focus ever so slightly so as not to lose me with such frequency. Well, it appears as though Sergei Loznitsa heard my unspoken plea because In The Fog is just as big as I could handle. Quarantined with three soldiers on the same side but with different loyalties, In The Fog forces Loznitsa to a razor-fine perspective, every infinitesimal facet of their existence etched like a bas relief into the Belarusian country side.  And then there's the simple fact that I love Loznitsa's handwriting. I could have watched three or four more hours in the same vein. 

28. Stranger By The Lake
by Alain Guiraudie
A haunting work about rationalization, Stranger By The Lake was part murder mystery, and part something else I'm grateful to not be able to put my finger on. It's almost indescribable really. It resembles horror and thrillers in the same way Red Desert looks like sci-fi but there's something so fascinating, not to mention rare, about its cool detachment from grammatical expectations or story beats. Seeing this was like hearing Public Image Ltd's Second Edition for the first time. Just how in creation did they arrive at these sounds? How did they make the telling of the story so harrowing and yet so impossibly attractive? Guiraudie can keep his secrets, so long as he keeps making films possessed of this same mystique. 

29. The Lone Ranger
by Gore Verbinski
I rather suspect that part of the disappointment that some people felt when they left The Lone Ranger is because it's one of the saddest films Disney's ever produced. It's not immediately apparent but if you left the theatre happy about the future, I don't know how you did it. Perhaps the imagination gets the final say, perhaps adventure still waits for us, perhaps we didn't kill every Native American, but jesus the party sure seems over doesn't it? Verbinski manages to have his cake and eat it, too, because for the length of this film the legend of the west gets to run amok while constantly scraping against the truth like the two trains that propel its climactic set-piece. Can a film about genocide and the horror awaiting anyone dumb enough to survive our history still be a total blast?

30. Lords of Salem
by Rob Zombie
A beautifully rendered homage to the great composers (Kubrick, Friedkin, Carpenter, Ken Russell) as unnerving as it is resplendent.

31. The Selfish Giant
by Clio Barnard
Kes with a little more magic and a little more heartbreak. Barnard gets more great performances than you can count to form her menagerie of tired, hungry animals and she has an eye for the english countryside that puts her in the same league as Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach, if her sympathy and poetic search for truth hadn't already. 

32. Moebius
by Kim Ki-Duk
I'm by no means a fan but I strongly recommend you see the new Kim Ki-Duk. Nor do I feel bad or wrong when I say that this is the only one of his films you need to see. It's his best, it covers all his pet themes, and it makes you laugh from the darkest part of your soul. Kim is less auteur than trickster god put here to test our limits of decency, not stopping until he makes each and everyone of us crack under the weight of crossed lines and indecent behavior. Well, he found my breaking point. I laughed my ass off at this almost silent tale of incest, castration and grievous harm of all stripes. It was the X-rated comedy Harry Langdon never lived long enough to get away with. 

33. Nebraska
by Alexander Payne
I found it impossible not to be moved, even though Alexander Payne has never been more rye. The combined power of earnest straight man Will Forte and embittered crank Bruce Dern trying to find meaning in his life and bonding even if it killed them was unspeakably moving. They don't learn, and they won't change, but they'll go home happier men than they left and that's not just satisfactory, it's honest. I loved this film. 

34. Before Midnight
by Richard Linklater
And the greatest trilogy in film history comes to a bruising conclusion. You know you're in love with characters when Julie Delpy can go on and on about how she's gotten fat and old and all you can think is "You've never looked more lovely." 

35. Postcard
by Kaneto Shindô
Kaneto Shindô, the genius behind Onibaba, Naked Island, Kuroneko and a dozen other indelible works of art besides, died last year aged a hundred years old. No Manoel De Oliveira, but I think we can agree that's one hell of a life, especially considering what he lived through by virtue of his place of birth. That very history was clearly still on his mind in his old age because when he decided he was going to make one more film, the subject was war. Postcard highlights the random nature of survival during World War 2. After a man is sent to the front by lottery, while a close friend is sent to clean bases, his wife prepares for the worst and gets more than her fare share. When the man's widow and friend meet for the first time both have been shaped by tragedy. Even at 98 Shindô had not calmed an iota, still chasing new ideas  and esoteric stylistic choices so as never to repeat himself. A ghostly shot of soldiers, an exorcism and a symbolic dragon slaying are among the many touches alerting us to the presence of a cinematic alchemist behind the camera. He could have kept on writing, innovating and telling the story of Japanese life better than almost anyone. We got him for a hundred years, but it just didn't seem like enough. 

36. Stray Dogs
by Tsai Ming-Liang
I suspect that Tsai Ming-Liang's decision to make at least one more film might have something to do with just how crushing Stray Dogs would have been a film to retire with. For a few unreal hours we watch a single father do his best to help his children survive on the streets of an unfeeling urban environment. God, the mother of his children, and civilization has abandoned him, and yet another pair of eyes watches with concern from the distance, which could bring him even lower. This is Tsai's most epic film, his City Lights, his The Crowd though you might not realize it at first. This is his attempt to reveal the misery beneath every step taken by the rich who can afford to live in the plush new apartments he acts as a human advertisement for in the rainy shadow of skyscrapers and overpasses day after day. Stray Dogs finds comfort in anger, tries to make sense of your world and comforts quitting on you at the same time like civic organ failure. Lee Kang-Sheng bares his soul as Tsai's most injured every man yet, retreating into Chaplin-esque tortured reveries to deal with the pain in his heart. He wanders the city like a sleepwalker, too poor and tired to be seen by the prosperous, who are similarly invisible to us. I'm glad he's not done making films because Stray Dogs is such a soul-blighting work of compassion that we can't help but ask for more. 

37. Drug War
by Johnny To
At once a tactile exploration of the processes performed on either side of the law, in this case a complex drug operation and the vice squad charged with dismantling it, and the action film of the year. The cops work in busy harmony, one muscle, one organism rushing through the underworld trying to remain two steps ahead of the guns. But play with fire long enough and something's bound to go awry. It's maybe a bit of a spoiler to say that the double and triple crosses eventually come to light resulting in the greatest screen gunfight since at least The Way of the Gun, if not Hard Boiled. Sam Peckinpah would have observed the whole wryly, then smiled. 

38. A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness
by Ben Rivers & Ben Russell
A melding of great minds for the sake of one great meditation. Rivers and Russell fuse their tastes and worldviews to craft a tense excursion into the many faces and lives of an artist. They split his life into three chapters and find much to marvel at; this is a worthy subject indeed. He takes his directors deep into worlds and mindsets into which documentaries rarely make a point of venturing. Their response, to stare right back in the face of the void, is as bold as it is inviting. When the views and faces are this alluring, staring only makes sense.

39. Top of the Lake
by Jane Campion & Garth Davis
A howl of rage at rape culture and the bullshit men get away from, directed immaculately by Campion and Davis. A brilliant Elizabeth Moss suffers much as the one woman willing to take up the case of a young pregnant girl in a New Zealand backwater where silence is written into the bylaws. The way the writers and directors navigate the infuriating double standards of an unspoken patriarchy is amazing, but watching Moss wrestle with the fear and hate she feels because of how men look at her, her struggle to be ok with who she can't help but be is unforgettable. 

40. Blondie
by Jesper Ganslandt
I get the feeling that this film, a beautiful, slightly detached look at family most redolent of Melancholia, is what John Wells was aiming for when he decided to make a film about August: Osage County. Or anyway, with something this brilliant, I don't think we needed a loud, American cousin to show up to dinner with its equally obnoxious date. Even when in histrionic, possession smashing mode, there's still enough nuance to keep the film from sliding into parody. Ganslandt is just as bewitching as ever and his eye has just sharpened in the years since the endlessly beguiling The Ape. 

41. Hannah Arendt
by Margarethe von Trotta
Von Trotta has long made it her job to turn questions over until we've been shown every imaginable side of an equation, in the process opening up the wound of a nation, people or era. Multifaceted pleasures abound in this look at the German philosophers darkest hour, not the least of which is the still fierce and winsome Barbara Sukowa as Arendt extending her claws and deflating the rhetoric of her opponents. The production design is perfectly appealing, easing us into a place where you could almost have a civilized discussion about something so heated. Almost.

42. The Wall
by Julian Roman Pölsler
With a practiced austerity, characteristic of contemporary Austrian cinema, Julian Roman Pölsler observes a woman suddenly cut off from the world by an invisible barrier. She's already out of synch with the world, which makes her better equipped to handle something so outlandish than she at first thinks. She finds comforts in animals, a dog, a cat, a white crow, a cow, and realizes that carrying on might be the only thing she can do. She learns total self-sufficiently but there's no mistaking the absolutely jaw-dropping valley she calls home for anything other than a prison. She resolves, every morning, to break free, even if just by refusing to let this new life get the better of her. Pölsler lets his images flow like cool, black water beneath the frozen surface of a stream; perfect, unbroken surfaces concealing an inhospitable cold. 

43. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
by Laurent Cantet 
Asking me to not love a film where teenage girls run around with knives, terrorizing jocks and graffitizing their town, is like asking the sun not to set. Cantet finds the tenderness beneath the truancy, telling Joyce Carol Oates' saga with an even hand, understanding, while refusing to glorify, a lifestyle at odds with the time its lived in. These girls are too big for their own time, and they know too well they've outgrown it. What sadly eludes them is that just down the road isn't far enough to go to be free. 

44. All is Lost
by JC Chandor
I didn't like Margin Call at all. But take away Chandor's words and you find that he really does have a keen insight into the inner workings of drama and suspense. He works in a graceful, unfussy style buoyed by an egoless performance from a man I thought long past taking risks. 

45. Wadjda
by Haifaa Al-Mansour
I was put off for a long time because I suspected a Bicycle Thief-esque milieu of suffering and injustice. How wonderfully wrong I was. One of the funniest, most relatable films of the year follows a young, accidental feminist's indefatigable spirit tested on her quest to ride a bike like any normal kid. The search for normality is beaten down on all sides by what's replaced it in Saudi Arabia. It could have just been a cry for help, but it's a hilarious sigh instead, presenting a young girl smarter than her years who will not take anymore shit than she has to. A big soul in a little body. 

46. Let The Fire Burn
by Jason Osder
I have friends and family who watched the Move bombing on live TV. Remembered how terrified they were, how confused. Someone didn't do their job, didn't understand their responsibility, and now dozens of people were dead. Children were dead. Jason Osder's documentary reconstructs the timeline using news footage, archival testimonial and photographs and you can almost see him shaking his head and looking at his feet. How did we let this happen? Why does it always come to this? We've thankfully gotten over what was once something approaching a murder spree by police departments and the national guard in this country whenever something resembling domestic terrorism took place. Now we have school shootings every few months and the NRA proudly refusing to own up and congress refusing to make them. As long as we keep killing our own people and pretending we can wash our hands of it, we need artists like Osder. 

47. Captain Phillips
by Paul Greengrass
I went into this film with a bit of a snide expression on my face. "What the fuck does Hollywood have to say about this?" That I had memories of A Hijacking rattling around in my brain didn't help. After a rather woeful intro, the film picked up and I got into the swing of things. Watching Tom Hanks attend to life on a ship in that crisp Vermont accent was great fun. He's trying to not try, which is oddly great fun. Meanwhile the four men playing the pirates are killing it every second they're on screen. The film is a compelling look at procedure and a harrowing game of wits, and soon my smarm wore off and I was able to appreciate what had been done with the story and remembered that Greengrass was one of the good guys. And then, and then, and then Tom Hanks' final scene happens and he does the best work of his career. That's something you don't see everyday and it elevates this movie from good to imperative just like that. I remembered for a second what it was like watching Maria Callas do a lifetime's worth of work in her only performance in Medea and was thankful that our film culture allows for transcendent upsets like these once more. 

48. Me & You
by Bernardo Bertolucci
Bertolucci didn't just stop making films. His health got the better of him for a lot of years; he directed Me & You from a wheelchair, but that did not prevent him from whipping up his trademark effulgence and twisted sympathies. Being in Bertolucci's company again after a decade of no new work was unimaginably comforting. Seeing the orange hued sunlight on the face of the face of his hero, who looks a little like a pudgy Pierre Clementi, made me swell with such overwhelming warmth, like a visit from...well, your siblings. I wish I was closer with mine all the time, and this film is one of the best descriptions of that particular hope I've ever seen. You don't know how much you miss someone til they walk in the door. I missed you, Bernardo. 

49. Out of the Furnace
by Scott Cooper
It's all in the silence. Between words, sentence, people, set pieces... Any film that can let a conversation last as long as it needs to, without the need to hurry it up, cover it in music or cut away has my respect. Out of the Furnace is in no great hurry to rush its characters to their fate, allowing the ridiculously talented cast room to let us know how they each breathe, walk, grieve and try to forget. Forest Whitaker was rightly lauded for his work in The Butler but for my money his supporting role here is the best he's been in years. Cooper tightly controls the environment but he trusts his cast to breathe life into the lived-in environs he's built and he's rewarded handsomely. I want to sit most directors down and show them the first confrontation between Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson. Almost nothing happens, which is how it should be, but when it's over you feel a year older. 

50. American Hustle
by David O'Russell 
I wish it had a proper style and didn't feel like they didn't have time for second takes, but I still had an absolute blast watching the players swing for the fences. A great performance by Jennifer Lawrence elevates even the most lugubrious fare. This particular Jennifer Lawrence performance could have saved CBGB. It could have saved Saving Mr. Banks. Perhaps more than any film this year, critics scrutinized the hell out of this film and though I agree that a lot of it doesn't carry much weight and the camera seems a step behind the action, you can't fake a good time. To quote one of the indicted: bullshit walks. This might be standing on one foot, but it ain't goin' nowhere. 

51. Enough Said
by Nicole Holofcener
I know and understand the complaints about the contrivances that make the drama work in Enough Said, but I have never and will never go into a Nicole Holofcener film because I want or need a realistic plot. I go because I want to watch adults dealing with life problems. I go because Holofcener is one of the best American screenwriters. I go because she's the kind of director who could have the good sense to get one of James Gandolfini's best performances. He's gone, too soon. This will stand as a testament to his warmth forever. I think the film transcends its so-called problems. I won't soon forget the feeling it gave me.

52. For Love's Sake
by Takashi Miike
There are many films I'd like to show Abdellatif Kechiche in the wake of the thundering dissapointment of the overlong, tonedeaf Blue Is The Warmest Color, but none so badly as For Love's Sake, Takashi Miike's High School Musical. Like the hysterical Ace Attorney before it, what Miike gets so utterly right is commitment to the style of the manga he's adapting. Miike may get credit for his willingness to try anything, but his fidelity ought to get more notice than it does. He fully commits to the design of his source material and the style required to tell this story with anything resembling a straight face. For me, there's no such thing as bad Miike, because he does every last crazed thing the material asks him to.

53. Traveling Light
by Gina Telaroli
I find sometimes that with avant-garde film like this, an essay film, a road film, a study in space and light, it's always tougher for me to make a qualitative assessment. I could say that I find it theoretically sound, because I do, but more than that I loved taking a jaunt as splendid as this with someone who prizes the same sensations as I do. 

54.  Frozen
by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
A lot of handwringing goes on regarding the typical fare produced by Disney, and I hate to admit it but all that means nothing when they return to their most popular, historically beloved forms and it's this heart-meltingly good and blisteringly entertaining, the magazines fall out of our weapons and we got nothing. Yeah, these films are still problematic, but I laughed, I cried, and I left with a song in my heart. Tough to argue with that. Shame about the drum sound, though...

55. Elysium
by Neill Blomkamp
"So comrades, come rally, and the last fight let us face. The Internationale unites the human race."

56. Outrage Beyond
by Takeshi Kitano
My recollection was a feeling of 'been there, done that' from the critical order when Takeshi Kitano released Outrage at Cannes. It  probably shocked no one that his improbable sequel played a handful of fest dates then was shunted off to VOD with little fanfare. I was however more than a little miffed. This was going to be one of those things. I loved Outrage Beyond (Though I understand they've revered the word order in some territories) as much as Outrage but how was I ever gonna get anyone to listen to me. The films are in the same style though the differences are important, namely a shift in colour scheme meant to show the sun going down on the days of the yakuza. Something about the no-frills way Kitano films action, betrayal and violent discourse is endlessly appealing to me. It's not quite as fatalistic as The Counselor, but that's only because it likes its characters a little more. After all, he wouldn't have brought a few of these guys back from the dead if he didn't find them good company. So do I.

57. Jîn
by Reha Erdem
Turkey's preeminent magical realist, Reha Erdem finds the loveliness of being alive in the worst places on earth, laughs though he's in danger of being drowned out by the sound of bombs dropping and machine guns firing. His subject this time is a young girl who can speak to animals, caught between rebel factions and the army, finding her place only among the dead and dying. Her homeland rejects her specialty, and no party will have her. All she really wants is to live longer than the male dominated society she's trapped in wants her to. Even picking up a gun of her own won't guarantee her safety. She's perhaps Erdem's most pitiful creation, and the desire to hold her becomes a need to change everything that made her an outcast. 

58. The Counselor
by Ridley Scott
As with all of Cormac McCarthy's work, the conclusions are foregone long before the narrative begins. Read the first page of any of his books, or even the synopsis, and you know for whom life will not work out as planned. Here, his focus is strictly on the emptiness of effort; everyone is a corpse waiting to drop, a fate sealed by their certainty that they have control. Ridley Scott gets out of the text's way, and everyone here simply does their best to look good when the police zip them up in body bags (I like Brad Pitt best on that score, with Javier Bardem a close second). McCarthy's the auteur here, and we're all just pawns. 

59. It's A Disaster
by Todd Berger
Just as Hell Baby was funny before the exorcism, It's a Disaster didn't need the apocalypse, per se, because it was already one of the funnier recent comedies to ever come from a sketch group. Their depiction of group dynamics, their slightly exaggerated caricatures of yuppie behavior and as always David Cross' straight man reacting with delicious consternation. The apocalypse scenario just explodes all that, making everyone twice as crazy, twice as petty and, naturally, twice as fucking funny. But now I'm explaining comedy, which is the least funny thing anyone can do. So I'll stop now. Just see it. You'll die. 

60. Byzantium
by Neil Jordan
It'll take much indeed before I quite settle into a Saoirse Ronan performance automatically - she just plain doesn't work for me. The mightiest of kudos must be handed to Neil Jordan, whose other recent fairytale Ondine was similarly sweet, who makes me like Ronan long enough to unfurl a fable most lusty and bloody. Though the film's chief pleasure is Gemma Arterton, who shows off the full range of her dangerous sensuality and chows down on the role of a mother and a whore who never succumbs to the pitfalls of a fantasy. Jordan alternately revels in the atmosphere and builds tension like the old pro he is, resulting in a sexy supernatural thriller that shocks with the ease with which it appears to achieve success. 

61. Nobody's Daughter Haewon
by Hong Sang-Soo
A sort of Korean Frances Ha courtesy of the master of the conversation-over-drinks film Hong Sang-Soo. This time we follow freshly abandoned Haewon attempting to make her life fall into place while remaining constantly in flux. As ever it isn't the details that matter as Hong's pleasures are all in the smiles and confusion of his leads. Jeong Eun-Chae gives Greta Gerwig a run for her money as most lovable heroine of the year.

62. Behind The Candelabra
by Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh, Hollywood's only futurist, embalms the idea of fame to see if love can crawl out from under the taxidermy. Spoiler: it can. Come back soon, Steven.

63. Blue Jasmine
by Woody Allen
In the years since Match Point I've been charmed and impressed by Woody Allen, but I also missed the clarity with which he used to direct, which had been replaced by simplicity. Despite the greatness of the performances, and they're all first-rate, what got me was the number of shot-reverse-shot conversations, the sense that he was shooting and cutting like he remembered how comedy is meant to be handled. I love the way he directed this film.

64. Camille Claudel 1915
by Bruno Dumont
In which Bruno Dumont fixes his gaze on Juliet Binoche and finds Joan of Arc staring back at him. A towering performance surrounded by representations of art and history as fragile and lovely as painted glass. 

65. Gold
by Thomas Arslan
The western gets the New Berlin School treatment and it's just as rough as you'd expect. Though it bears a striking tonal resemblance to Meek's Cutoff, that film owed more of a debt to the Nicholas Ray/Monte Hellman school. Thomas Arslan takes after Man In The Wilderness and Dead Man, fashioning a Heart of Darkness-like parable about the insane lengths that greed makes us go to to escape our lives. Nina Hoss' steely gaze keeps the film centered even as the elements, natives and the land itself seems to cry out for our traveling immigrants to turn back, to leave and never come back. Performing roughly the same trick for the western that Lancelot Du Lac did for Arthurian legend, Gold is not for the faint of heart or those who prefer their mysteries neat and tidy. 

66. Student
by Darezhan Omirbaev
A true meditation on a book that millions of people have already poured over. A kind of seance to invoke Dostoyevsky by letting his spirit guide a dour young man doomed to repeat those age old mistakes. Omirbaev has a quiet flow and enjoyable pace that allows his ideas to walk the streets of both urban and desolate ice-coated Kazakhstan. Unassuming, thoughtful and very satisfying. 

67. The Evil Dead
by Fede Alvarez
This movie didn't need to exist, but I will never say I'm not grateful for an experience as intense and terrifying as this. I had more fun watching this than I did with most horror films based on original scripts this year. 

68. Shield of Straw
by Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike is one of my favourite directors not just because he'll try anything once, but because he goes all the way and does not care who he leaves behind. The film will be exactly as harrowing as he pictured it and he will spare no expense, trick or bead of sweat to make the film as painful (in a good way, mostly) as it's meant to be. At three films a year and almost no failures, he's got to have the best track record in history. Here he excels at a new form, the big budget actioner where no one can be trusted. It's tough to say which is more exciting, watching a truck full of nitroglycerine flatten a police escort, or guessing which of three cops in a quarry is a mole. He knows big, colourful drama as well as anyone and I hope he never slows down. 

69. Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?
by Michel Gondry
Though not as devastating a fusion of live-action and animation as The Congress, this delectable puzzle pits a creative mind against a logical one and watches the sparks fly. 

70. Museum Hours
by Jem Cohen
I will always have time for the gentle touch of a film like this. Cohen fuses the real and the unreal to make us appreciate the importance of connection at our lowest points.

71. Prisoners
by Denis Villeneuve
It's funny: if you agree with Villeneuve's politics as a dramatist has a lot to do with whether you like his skill as a director. I don't mind his moral curlicues and think of him more as an airport paperback kind of writer. What I do care about is that he's one hell of a director and I loved being pulled this way and that through a suburban hellscape. 

72. The Wolverine
by James Mangold
A good year for Hugh Jackman around here... You can chalk this up to my fetishizing 90s craft (I will always give work by the director of Copland the benefit of the doubt), specifically the coherent blocking and spatial storytelling James Mangold specializes in, or you could say I was having such a great time I didn't care how stupid the twist ending is. The important thing? This is how you direct a superhero film. Forget for a minute that he's super and just put him through the gauntlet. Don't forget how the world works, don't forget how cold it can be when it rains, that desire doesn't have to be consummated, that we're allowed to keep our demons and not always save the day. 

73. Mud
by Jeff Nichols
I don't think this film needs much in the way of stumping, so I'll just say that the critique of the film's sexual politics only work if you think that just because the boys at the center of the film are our window into the story, they're automatically right and deserve to be heard out and coddled. I don't think Nichols thinks that and ultimately, would you want to wait hand and foot on this lot, roguish though they may be? I may like Take Shelter better, but this is a good sign for Nichols' future. 

74. / 75. Paradise: Hope / Paradise: Faith
by Ulrich Seidl
I was not looking forward to the second entries in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise after the first installment, Love, was an unendurable slog. A pleasant surprise, then, that the next two were alternately hilarious, humanistic, and hopeful. Faith gets considerable mileage out of someone replacing sex with religion (a lot of people saw this as condescending. I'd maybe agree if I hadn't witnessed this phenomena first hand.) Hope takes something that could have been just plain icky and finds the most tender way of showing it. A summer at fat camp becomes a lesson in growing up too fast without proper guidance. In short, these three women should have spent the summer together. It would have saved them a lot of pain. 

76. Riddick
by David Twohy
Sometimes it's the simplest things that make you happy. In this case an action potboiler with no great ambition done just right.

77. Me Too
by Aleksey Balabanov
It's stupid to appraise the tragedy of a year's death toll because every day we lose the ones we love, most before we're ready for them. We'll never know if Aleksey Balabanov had a feeling he wasn't long for the world ("too strange to live"), or whether his decision to make a booze-fueled, rock-scored roadtrip to heaven with a last minute cameo where he himself shows up to die was just what he wanted to do next. Balabanov's rickety vehicle rides over existential crises like so much roadkill. Whenever the absurdity of life or the sorrow of infinity creeps in, he just cranks the music louder. Yeah, maybe it's Stalker by way of The Leningrad Cowboys, but if you've seen another movie anything like this, I'll eat my hat. 

78. Gebo And The Shadow
by Manoel De Oliveira
Another trip to digital purgatory before the judge arrives. Viva Manoel De Oliveira, at 105 the oldest child with a camera. I love him, and I love his beautiful movies. 

79. The Broken Circle Breakdown
by Felix Van Groeningen
After a heartfelt first act, I began to seriously question whether I wanted to see the movie through if all I was in for was one crushing blow after another. I stayed and I'm glad I did because of the last scene. Let's leave it at that so as not to spoil the nicest surprise in a very tough film. 

80. Blue Caprice
by Alexandre Moors
A fuming examination of what failure and broken promises do to one's resolve, how they poison our understanding of the world. My good friend David Cairns once posited that the reason the US is so prone to mass violence is because of the American Dream; the lie we tell everyone about having it all and being whatever we want to be. Naturally when that proves impossible, we stew in doubt, fury and pride. And a small amount of the time, this happens. The film doesn't judge its doomed heroes for their beliefs, just in their failure to find sympathy with the others who were let down just like they were. 

81. Alpha Papa
by Declan Lowney
It may not be much more than hilarious, but when the humour fires on all cylinders, I don't really need much else. 

82. As I Lay Dying
by James Franco
A good faith effort by James Franco to respect a classic novel while getting to get his hands dirty playing with its text. A perplexing experience, to be sure, but an awe-inspiring one too. 

83. Side Effects
by Steven Soderbergh 
Maybe this wasn't the strongest effort for Soderbergh to go out on (at least theatrically) but even when he's merely twisting genres and spinning webs, he's still one of the American cinema's finest

84. Prince Avalanche
by David Gordon Green
A very odd yet very likable band-aid over bleeding masculinity. Good to have David Gordon Green back, even if he seems to have taken after Jason Segal in The Five Year Engagement and gotten a little stranger out there in the wilderness

85. Drinking Buddies
by Joe Swanberg
I may miss Joe Swanberg's old style when it gives way to crowd-pleasers like this, but I can't begrudge his desire to make films of such extraordinary honesty. How many times have I found myself in these situations or seen my friends do likewise? Swanberg may have shorn some of his traits, but he's still brave enough to look at our emotional blindspots when we ignore them and crash and then pull his characters out of the wreckage. 

86. Bastards
by Claire Denis
Imagine, if you can, that someone took Apocalypse Now out of the jungle, into the present, and removed any and all sense of right and wrong, replacing them with anger and a need to eliminate the self as thoroughly as possible. When the film ended, I wondered if pure rage and lost innocence had been projected on the screen in front of me instead of a series of images. 

87. Like Someone In Love
by Abbas Kiarostami
A confounding, bewildering look at intimacy featuring some of Abbas Kiarostami's finest work in the environment he dwells in most comfortably: inside a car. The voice mail sequence ranks as among the most tragic in his oeuvre. 

88. The Place Beyond The Pines
by Derek Cianfrance
It's terrible filmmaking, as if it was produced intrusively by a dour 15 year old film geek. So why is it here? This one's entirely personal. Maybe I'll tell that story some day...

89. All The Light In The Sky
by Joe Swanberg 
Joe Swanberg trains his eye (for the last time in the mode he mastered, going  as far back as Alexander The Last, before leaving for greener, more open pasture) on a slightly older subject for a non-judgmental look at aging out of your own expectations. Jane Adams plays herself, an actress who looks to the future, socially and professionally with a little trepidation, and looks at her pretty, young niece with kindness tinted with envy. Swanberg films California with the kind of appreciative ease he never managed to apply to Chicago, proving he was right to venture out for experiments like Uncle Kent. Now that he's opened his mise-en-scene up and taken his camera off the trip, I'll miss the films he used to make, even if he's still great. 

90. Fill The Void
by Rama Burshtein
I waffled about whether I liked this film's message, that true happiness can be found in a hermetically sealed community in an arrangement designed to please everyone but yourself...then the last shot happened, and there was the second opinion I needed. Burshtein has a real knack for details and tenderness and ultimately she's got a fairer hand than I gave her credit for. 

91. Star Trek Into Darkness

by J.J. Abrams
One can kind of sense obligation driving this film more so than the first Star Trek's desire to reinvent the wheel with panache. Having said that, it seems like an impossibility for Abrams to step behind a camera and create something that isn't ridiculously entertaining and a little affecting. Like another big, tentpole sequel (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which I really enjoyed), the occasionally veers too far from coherence but the film never slows for a microsecond. I'd much rather trust Abrams with our blockbusters than Michael Bay or Paul W.S. Anderson. 

92. Trance
by Danny Boyle
A kaleidoscopic spin of high art, trash, pulp, beauty, blood, sex and preposterousness. Danny Boyle on a bad day still remembers to take full advantage of every single thing motion pictures allow. Trance's relationship to cinematic images is singularly devotional, like he set out to showcase why film is the greatest of all the art forms. Forget the story, remember the feeling of looking through the history of art as if at a peepshow. 

93. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
by Terence Nance
A meta-textual love letter that spans years and formats with aplomb. As much about how to say "I love you" as actually saying it. 

94. The World's End / Gravity
by Edgar Wright / Alfonso Cuarón
I didn't get out of these films what my friends and peers did, but they're too delightful to leave off. Their charms and achievements are many and important.

95. Lee Daniels' The Butler
by Lee Daniels
Odie Henderson and Steven Boone pointed out in their discussion of the film that the stunt casting of presidents was radical in that it inverts the typical layout of casting protocol. White men make film after film about black leaders, frequently missing the point or turning them into godlike martyrs. Along comes secret freak Lee Daniels to do the same to white historical figures. And you know what? It works pretty well. The idea of celebrity stands in for the regality one associates with Presidents. How does he make us understand how nervous Forest Whitaker's butler would be everyday? Put him in the room with Alan Rickman, John Cusack and Jane Fonda taking immense pleasure in  playing the worst people on earth. I had a pretty wonderful time even though I suspected Daniels was holding himself back. 

96. The Motel Life / This Is Martin Bonner
by Alan & Gabe Polsky / Chad Hartigan
Gentle, non-judgemental films about losers living out of motels and maybe, maybe getting a shred of self-respect back from the world and the people they hurt but still love. Maybe you won't love them, but I'd be surprised indeed if you weren't moved by their moments of grace, by the little gestures that lead to redemption. 

97. Sun Don't Shine

by Amy Seimetz
A 50s love-on-the-run crime sage covered in sweat and in desperate need of a shower. Like an old poverty row romance, with all the requisite murder and deceit. My only complaint is a lack of accents. Kate Lyn Sheil is a force, pure and simple.

98. McCanick
by Josh C. Weller
The death of poor Cory Monteith makes McCanick, a grim riff on The French Connection and Bad Lieutenant featuring an awesome lead turn by David Morse, into a tragic What If? Monteith doesn't have much real screen time but what's more important to me is that he said yes to this role. He was clearly uninterested in repeating himself and could have done awesome work in more films like this, films that allowed him to leave behind who he was. 

99. Magic Magic
by Sebastián Silva
Sebastián Silva hit big this year with two of the most uncomfortable films you might ever see, both relying big time on the anti-charms of a go-for-broke Michael Cera, out to rid himself of typecasting once and for all. A girl is haunted by social anxiety heightened by a rogue's gallery of loud mouths and people who can't figure out how to be nice. Silva turns tiny things into unimaginable hurtles for his heroine, turning running water into paint while he's at it. A truly terrifying little vacation.

100. Only God Forgives

by Nic Winding Refn
I made a point of including this, even as I liked a few other films better this year because it's too interesting, too polarizing, too dark and awful and claustrophobic a work of total commitment to leave off. Like Matt Zoller Seitz says of Spike Lee's Oldboy (which could easily have been #101), it deserves to be argued about. I'm glad it exists.

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