While this list is organized alphabetically, it happens that our first film, Richard Curtis’ About Time, is my absolute favorite on my next-best list, and was actually set to be on my Top 10 list for weeks until Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street knocked it off. This is a film that was all but ignored in the United States when it came out earlier this year, and while I had heard good things about it, the conversation surrounding the film was so quiet that I felt genuinely bowled over by the sheer volume of cinematic riches About Time has to offer.
It is a truly great romantic comedy, for starters, the rare genre entry in which the romantic material between the leads – played wonderfully by an earnest Domnhall Gleeson and a radiant Rachel McAdams – is legitimately funny, because both partners are fully fleshed out, well-rounded characters who share extremely charming chemistry, and because they are allowed to be a sincerely happy couple. There is something gleeful and jubilant about the depth of their connection, and where so many romantic films, comedy or otherwise, mine material through conflict, Curtis is smart enough to know that happiness, when written and executed well, can be absolutely infectious.
But it is no secret that Richard Curtis is good at writing romantic comedy. That’s par for the course for him. What sets About Time apart is Curtis’ employment of his premise, in which the main character discovers he and all his male ancestors have the ability to travel backwards through time. Curtis has fun with the time travel here and there, and he is never frightened of honestly confronting what this ability would mean for this character, for both bad and (mostly) good, but he mostly uses it as a springboard to larger discussions of life, love, aging, and loss. He is exploring what it means to live life to the fullest, examining the various paths people take to reach a point where they may say that, and studying how time itself hurts us, heals us, and makes all the many experiences of our lives possible, good and bad intertwined.
And I will freely admit…the number one reason this film places so highly for me is the relationship between Gleeson’s character and his father, played beautifully by Bill Nighy. There is a moment, near the end of the film, where Curtis employs time travel to give these characters the most perfect goodbye they could ever ask for, and it broke me, having lost my own father a year ago. I was sobbing right there in public, and I did not care – this was cinema at its most gloriously emotional, manipulative in the best possible way. About Time may have just missed out on my Top 10, but this sequence is easily my favorite individual scene of any movie this year, and I can imagine this film being one of my standby favorites for decades to come.
About Time is still playing in a small number of American theatres, and will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray February 4th.
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