20. EASY MONEY
Two years after the flawless Swedish adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” comes another Scandinavian thriller that pins you to your seat. Easy Money is the story of J.W., a business student whose high-class tastes and self-image of success lead him to become embroiled in Sweden’s criminal underworld. Before he knows it, he’s in too deep and sets about a plan of double-crosses and backstabbings that threaten to unravel faster than he can weave them.
Set is Victorian times, when nearly half the women in England were diagnosed with “hysteria” whenever they simply were sexually unsatisfied, Hysteria is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy that also tells the comical origin of the vibrator. With a marvellous cast including Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, and Rupert Everett in a howlingly funny performance, the hysterical laughter the movie elicits does tribute to its name.
18. LIFE OF PI
The story many considered unfilmable finally made its way to the big screen in 2012 and ended up being one of the most sumptuous visual feasts of the year. A teenager named Pi ends up stranded in a lifeboat for seven months in the Pacific Ocean, his only fellow passenger being a Bengal tiger that he forms a trepidatious understanding with. An inspiring tale of survival, acceptance, hope, and perseverance, Life of Pi delivers a wondrous experience for the eyes, the soul, and the heart.
17. THE MASTER
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to the polarizing There Will Be Blood proved even more inscrutable by many, but rewards audiences upon continued reflection and repeated viewings. Whether you love The Master or hate it, it is a movie that’s hard to shake, with memorable shots of visual wonder and confounding scenes of narrative confusion that will leave you discussing and arguing over the movie with others long after the credits have rolled.
16. THE AVENGERS
After four years and five movies, Marvel Studios finally delivered its promised umbrella picture, uniting the leads of The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and the Iron Man movies. With Joss Whedon at the helm, it manages a rare feat in storytelling, masterfully juggling the characters and creating a balanced ensemble out of larger-than-life characters. One of the largest action spectacles to be captured on film, The Avengers masterfully walks the line between appeasing fanboys and remaining accessible to those who don’t know their Iron Man from their Spider-Man.
15. 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK
While technically a sequel to 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, this comedy of manners stands tall on its own, as one of the greatest Woody Allen movies not written or directed by Woody Allen. Julie Delpy’s character lives with her boyfriend (an outstanding Chris Rock) in New York City. When her boorish father, promiscuous sister, and sleazy ex-boyfriend fly in from Paris for her art gallery opening, the culture clashes and misunderstandings pile up in a farcical fashion rarely done this well. It may not be the most original idea for a comedy, but the genius is all in its execution.
A haunting what-would-you-do story about a stressed out fast food manager on the night of a critical inspection who receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, saying one of her employees stole from a customer. The employee claims innocence. But if you were on the phone with a man identifying himself as a police officer who required you to handle a situation before they arrived and he had believable answers to every question you asked, would you question them? How far would you go in obeying their authority? Compliance asks these uncomfortable questions and challenges you to argue that you’d act any differently than the stressed manager in question, as the plot gets darker and darker.
Following in the footsteps of the excruciating old-age love story Away From Her, Amour witnesses a couple in their ‘80s that have lived and loved a lifetime together. When the wife suffers a stroke due to a surgical complication, the husband tends to her during what he hopes will be her recovery, but soon becomes apparent will be a slow descent to her passing. Admittedly, Amour is brutal in how sad it becomes in its march to an inevitable end, but despite that, it emerges an incredibly beautiful and touching love story.
Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) tackles the question of how flawed a hero has to be before their heroics don’t matter. Denzel Washington fearlessly plays a man who crash-lands a jet airliner by flying it upside-down, saving 96 of the 102 people on board. His accolades and praises get called into stark question, though, when it’s determined he was drunk and high on cocaine while flying the plane. A daring film that doesn’t offer an easy answer, Flight continues Zemeckis’s rule as one of the most reliable filmmakers working today.
11. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
(To refrain from spoiling the film, in lieu of a trailer,
a taste of Rodriguez’s sound is embedded below.)
Do not let anyone ruin this documentary for you. The trailers for it horribly give away all the twists and turns of the mind-boggling true story of Rodriguez, a folk rock singer from the early ‘70s whose on-stage suicide after only two albums became the stuff of urban legend. At least, in South Africa it did, where his albums sold so well he is considered the equal to Elvis or the Beatles. In his home country of the U.S., he ended his final show destitute and unaware of his massive success on the other side of the globe. When two South Africans decide to research the man behind the mono-moniker, it leads them on a twisty mystery into the mind and heart of one of the greatest unsung icons of music.