Ottawa Citizen

Sep­a­rat­ing the best from the rest

The 10 best films in a year full of comic book characters, vam­pires and other big-bud­get spec­ta­cles


When the movie year con­sists of big-bud­get comic books, tween vam­pire fran­chises and com­put­er­gen­er­ated spec­ta­cles, pulling a Top 10 list to­gether can be a lit­tle chal­leng­ing. Hunger Games was fine, and all, but Hol­ly­wood seems to be los­ing its ap­petite for fresh and orig­i­nal sto­ry­telling that doesn’t have built-in mar­ket­ing ten­ta­cles. That means this year’s Top 10 list is dom­i­nated by doc­u­men­taries, grown up nods to war and those rare reels that truly man­aged to sur­prise in what was a largely un­even year.

1 The Sto­ries We Tell As far as this critic was con­cerned, this was the most mov­ing voy­age of the year thanks to Sarah Pol­ley’s full un­der­stand­ing of the film medium as well as the un­flinch­ing courage of her own fam­ily. A doc­u­men­tary look at a se­cret with end­less rip­ples, Pol­ley al­lows the viewer to en­ter the story from ev­ery an­gle and comes up with a uniquely poignant pic­ture of hu­man­ity.

2 The Dark Knight Rises Christo­pher Nolan’s rous­ing fi­nale to the Dark Knight tril­ogy had a lot of me­chan­i­cal clut­ter, but we could al­ways feel a beat­ing heart be­neath the rub­ber­ized chest plate of the cen­tral char­ac­ter. Tap­ping into the spinal fluid of the cur­rent moment, Nolan found par­al­lels with the French Rev­o­lu­tion and bril­liantly trans­lated them to the screen with mod­ern clar­ity.

3 Search­ing for Sugar Man A quiet lit­tle doc­u­men­tary that proved the feel-good movie of the year, this film about an un­known folksinger from Detroit who un­wit­tingly be­came a folk hero in South Africa is the sweet nec­tar movies are made of: sur­prise, sen­ti­ment and sub­stance.

4 The Im­pos­si­ble Ewan McGre­gor and Naomi Watts play a cou­ple swept away by the tsunami in Thai­land. The film was in­spired by a true story, but the footage is un­be­liev­ably real­is­tic, al­low­ing the viewer to en­ter a post-cat­a­clysm, al­tered state where all the con­ve­niences we take for granted look ab­surd and the only thing that counts are the peo­ple we care about.

5 Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow re­turns out of nowhere for a spot on the Top 10 — again — with this reprise of Mid­dle East war themes. In Hurt Locker, Bigelow proved she could take us in­side the life of a sol­dier. In this thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, we watch Jes­sica Chas­tain take on pub­lic en­emy No. 1 in a bid for elu­sive jus­tice.

6 Where Do We Go Now? Where Bigelow nav­i­gated the mo­ral abyss of government tor­ture tac­tics, Na­dine Labaki pulls us into the civil­ian side of war in this tragi­comic story of a small town split by re­li­gious ten­sion when a young man dies. Shrink­ing the global politic down to hu­man scale, Labaki makes hate look ab­surd.

7 Hitch­cock Any film that gives two Os­car-win­ning veter­ans a chance to rean­i­mate Hol­ly­wood his­tory is go­ing to be a lot of fun, and Sacha Ger­vasi didn’t miss a beat in this trib­ute to Hitch and the cre­ation of Psy­cho. Smart, well-de­signed and craftily acted, it evokes the spirit of the master be­cause it’s also highly en­ter­tain­ing thanks to An­thony Hop­kins and He­len Mir­ren in the ti­tle roles of Hitch and wife Alma Reville.

8 Les Misérables This kind of con­trived spec­ta­cle can go so wrong, but thanks to Tom Hooper’s clear di­rec­tion and a truly heart­break­ing per­for­mance from Hugh Jack­man, this filmed ver­sion of the Broad­way phe­nom­e­non ap­proaches a level of beauty and in­ti­macy the stage sim­ply can­not con­jure.

9 The Master Sure, Joaquin Phoenix is dis­turb­ing and the whole movie is a long, and fre­quently non­sen­si­cal, in­dul­gence from di­rec­tor Paul Thomas An­der­son. But as he gropes in the dark for the ghosts of war, An­der­son touches on the dark heart of Amer­i­can alien­ation from it­self. Be­sides, watch­ing Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man as a cult leader has end­less cin­e­matic ap­peal.

10 Cabin in the Woods It’s not of­ten you can really get a new twist in genre, but this hor­ror movie ac­tu­ally man­aged to rewrite its own rules thanks to an un­der­ly­ing ni­hilist sen­si­bil­ity and a fear­less ap­proach to for­mula.

From left, Ka­tia (Ox­ana Chi­hane), Anna (Olga Yero­fyeyeva) and Svet­lana (An­neta Bousaleh).
SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS MONK’S #6 PICK: WHERE DO WE GO NOW? From left, Ka­tia (Ox­ana Chi­hane), Anna (Olga Yero­fyeyeva) and Svet­lana (An­neta Bousaleh).

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