Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)- After winning the Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival, the best possible award from the world's most important film fest, and also breaking protocol by giving best leading actress to both of its stars, Blue went on to become a controversial headline grabber for its graphic sexuality. That's a shame, because its story of two women falling in love is one of the great movie romances. The film's centerpiece is a ten minute long uber-graphic lesbian sex scene many argue went on too long, but that's not the point. The French drama perfectly captures the modern romance with a sensitivity that is both sweet and tragic. It's a beautiful, stunning piece, and was tied as my number one film of lats year. I can't recommend it enough.
Spiderman (2002) - There was a collective groan when Sony announced they were immediately rebooting the Spidey franchise after Sam Raimi’s go, and despite sensational box office performance, most found The Amazing Spiderman unsatisfying and cheesy. Whether you agree or not, it’s tough to deny the campy superhero goodness that is the original Spiderman. Ever since it came out on my birthday as a kid, it’s held a special place in my heart, all the more so by nailing the tone and feel of a superhero flick. It’s funny to remember it was one of the first, since in thirty years this will be remembered as the era of the superhero. Tobey might not be the best leading man, but Willem Dafoe makes for a predictably killer villain, and it’s great to go back and see what helped start it all. And, let’s face it, it’s probably still going to stand tall after The Amazing Spiderman 2.
Room 237 (2013) - Stanley Kubrick’s incredible and obsessive eye to detail has been a treasure of fans of movies for decades, but since the advent of the internet, fans have uncovered more and more insane aspects of his movies. The best example might be with his iconic horror film The Shining, which to this day remains my favorite horror film, where the entire floor plan of the hotel is an impossible design. Room 237 is a documentary that unspools some of the craziest and most entertaining theories behind Kubrick’s masterpiece. Plenty of them might be easy to dismiss, but as the doc continues, you realize there’s too much there for it all to be a coincidence. Some of them have to be real. It’s a trip, and enjoyable for just about everyone.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Billy Wilder is responsible for a number of the best movies of all time, from noir masterpieces like Double Indemnity to raunchy (but smart) sex comedies like The Apartment. With Sunset Boulevard, Wilder made one of the best movies about movies of all time. The journey of discovering Boulevard is haunting and malicious, with the plot summary of “Aging silent-film star Norma Desmond ensnares a young screenwriter in this poison-pen valentine to Hollywood.” It’s a ghoulish film on the nature of art, identity, and moral compromise, and it’s one of the greats.
In the Loop (2009) - The Doctor Who Tumblr crowd might have already discovered In the Loop, the film version and spin off of the wildly successful, and hilarious, BBC comedy series The Thick of It. It’s a political satire of British (and sometimes American) government, and though the comedy as a whole is a constant pleasure, it’s Peter Capaldi’s constantly cussing “fixer” Malcolm Tucker that’s the real draw. If Capaldi’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s replaced Matt Smith as Doctor Who, and his new season premieres later this year. Tucker gives a nuanced and highly layered performance despite his propensity for large, offensive, demeaning outbursts. In The Loop functions not just as wonderful comedy, but it’s also a smartly drawn political satire worthy of anyone with any interest in politics.
Mud (2013) - A lot of us first tasted the McConaissance with this mid-year entry where he plays a mysterious outlaw right out of Mark Twain. In fact, the whole film is, often being called a post-modern take on Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a coming of age story about two 14 year old boys set on the Mississippi River, where river living is the only way to be. The performances are all fantastic, especially Tye Sheridan as the main character. It’s a small but sweet film, made with the same sensitivity that turned Take Shelter (also from writer/director Jeff Nichols) from yet another doomsday film into an intense and powerful experience. It was just outside my top 10 movies of 2013, and McConaughey is sensational.
The Long Goodbye (1973) - This is one of the most obscure movies I’ve ever featured on my Netflix Picks, but it’s worth it. This is the lesser known, but no less brilliantly executed, equivalent to Chinatown, where the tropes of 30s noir are upended and analyzed. That’s a genre that’s a personal favorite of mine, called neo-noir. A private detective named Philip Marlowe, played by the always magnetic Elliot Gould, becomes embroiled in a high-stakes plot involving, as is often the case, stolen mob money. Off-beat, funny, violent, and stylistically bold, it’s one of the best detective movies ever made.