6. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s latest and possibly greatest film sees the director at the absolute height of his craft, expanding his thematic ambition beyond the importance of family to explore an idea that is simultaneously more complex and simplistic than any he has yet tackled: why is it we need people in our lives? He frames this discussion through the eyes of two children (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, giving painfully honest performances), displaying a worldview where the emotions are no less valid or complex, but the answers are powerfully simple. Working with what may be the best cast he’s ever assembled – the aforementioned kids in addition to Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, and Tilda Swinton – a razor-sharp script, and the year’s most rapturous cinematography, Moonrise Kingdom is a triumph on every possible level.
Moonrise Kingdom is now playing in theatres everywhere.
5. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
There are many great films I enter deep discussions with, analyzing every last element to explain why it all came together, but my love for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is much simpler. I love Steve Carell. I love Keira Knightley. Both are at their all-time best in this film, and I especially adore watching them together. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria has given them oodles of fantastic dialogue to work through, set them against a palpable apocalyptic background, and let their relationship breathe in beautiful, organic ways. I can’t guarantee the joy I found in watching these two spectacular performers interact will affect you the same way, but I found the entire film irresistible, and I make no apologies for it. This is a great and unforgettable movie.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is now playing in theatres everywhere.
4 and 3 – TIE – The Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers
I see a lot of films, and though I never question my love for the medium, sometimes even I need a reminder of just why it is I keep going to the movies. This year, Joss Whedon presided over two spectacular movies – The Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers – that provided exactly the kick to the gut I thrive on, the kind that keeps me doing this job, week after week, year after year.
Groundbreaking, unexpected, and gleefully defiant of expectations in every possible way, these two films are the purest, most enthusiastic shots of unadulterated cinematic joy I’ve seen in a long, long time. I saw both with sold-out crowds, and each played the audience like a fiddle. Never have I heard so much laughter, gasps, cheers, and genuine, unquenchable excitement in a single screening. And in the span of two months, Whedon did it twice. That’s why they’ve been placed in a tie. How else am I to rank them?
With The Cabin in the Woods, writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer Whedon set out to write a love letter to the horror genre, and wound up crafting one of the sharpest, funniest, most blisteringly insightful deconstructions of any genre in cinematic history. What’s most remarkable about The Cabin in the Woods is how completely unexpected and unpredictable it feels, even on repeat viewings. It’s hard to believe you’re actually seeing most of what Goddard puts on screen, especially in the spectacular third act, but there it is, and it’s wonderful. The funniest film of the year for its audacious and unexpected turns, and the scariest for its unsettling implications about the state of modern audiences, The Cabin in the Woods is a remarkable achievement.
You can cut and paste most of those comments over to The Avengers, which is a conventional superhero flick only in the sense that the good guys win and the music is filled with blaring horns. Marvel gave Whedon $200+ million to realize his ultimate vision for comic-book entertainment, and in turn, he delivered two straight hours of non-stop, glorious payoff, filled to burst with genuine surprises that no amount of anticipation could prepare us for.
Though the subversions don’t run quite as deep as they do in Cabin, The Avengers thrives on Whedon’s ability to turn tropes and expectations on their head (Hulk’s one-on-one with Loki, anyone?), and to give each character such a distinctive, memorable voice. Watching big personalities clash has never been this much fun. I would also highlight how brilliantly Whedon stages the action, especially in the third act, but why bother? You’ve all seen it, and you all lost your s*** for it.
The Cabin in the Woods will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray September 18th. The Avengers is now playing in theatres everywhere.
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