Now that I’ve gotten my unplanned mini-essay out of the way on what the last four years of this blog have meant, I want to do the thing that I always do on the anniversary of my blog (though I’m almost a week late this year) which is lay out my superlatives for the whole year. This whole spiel was more meaningful when I watched more films each year, but it’s okay. I watched a lot of really great movies in the last 365 days, and I’m looking forward to sharing my favorites with you all. As usual for my most recent superlative lists, I’ll link to a review/podcast if that exists. Otherwise, I’ll include a short spiel about why that piece made my list. Anyways, let’s head to the races.
Best Picture – Drama:
1. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
2. La Dolce Vita (1960) – Alongside 8 1/2 and Satyricon, it’s a strong contender for Fellini’s best film, and it’s one of the true opuses of Italian cinema. An existential tale of desire, love, life, and ambition, it was the film that marked Fellini as one of the true masters of world cinema.
3. The Thin Red Line (1998)
4. Funny Games (1997)
5. Memento (2000)
Best Picture – Comedy:
1. Nightcrawler (2014)
2. Her (2013)
3. After Hours (1985)
4. Stardust Memories (1980)
5. Chasing Amy (1997)
1. Krzysztof Kieslowski: Blue (1993)
2. Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave (2013)
3. Terrence Malick: The Thin Red Line (1998)
4. Federico Fellini: La Dolce Vita (1960) – Do I have to explain this one? La Dolce Vita is an almost formless and highly episodic film but not only does Fellini wrest great performances from his leads, he shapes a film of genuine insight that is also positively stunning to behold.
5. Spike Jonze: Her (2013)
Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:
1. Robert De Niro: Raging Bull (1980)
2. Harvey Keitel: Bad Lieutenant (1992) – A fearless and balls to the wall performance of depravity and desperation. That Harvey Keitel is able to be so despicable while coming off so emotionally naked and vulnerable is one of the great all-time feats of the cinema.
3. Michael Shannon: Take Shelter (2011) – A harrowing depiction of mental illness that is never played for laughs or cheap thrills. Shannon’s character is simply ill and we’re taking on his unsettling ride, and Shannon never once loses sight of the basic humanity of the character.
4. Mickey Rourke: The Wrestler (2008)
5. Al Pacino: Serpico (1973)
Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:
1. Hilary Swank: Boys Don’t Cry (1999) – Easily the greatest performance by a woman in the history of cinema. I stand by that (I know) very strong statement. It isn’t simply how well Hilary Swank plays a trans man; it’s how expertly she captures Brandon’s sense of yearning and frustration and terror at a world that doesn’t want him or love him.
2. Juliette Binoche: Blue (1993)
3. Cate Blanchett: Blue Jasmine (2013) – I wasn’t particularly enamored with Woody Allen’s spin on A Streetcar Named Desire, but Blanchett’s performance was positively feral, and if it doesn’t go down as one of the truly titanic performances of the new teens, I don’t know what else could.
4. Adele Exarchopolous: Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) – Adele brought a maturity and presence far beyond her years to this role, and as her character — also named Adele — navigates her sexual awakening and the anguish of first love, Adele brings every ounce of her character’s emotional journey to life.
5. Judi Dench: Philomena (2013)
Best Actor in a Comedic Role:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
2. Robin Williams: The Fisher King (1991) – The best performance from the man who is possibly our all time greatest comedic actor. It’s the special blend of tragicomedy that Robin Williams has always done so well without sacrificing any of his classic manic humor. Robin Williams was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and he is sorely missed.
3. Joaquin Phoenix: Her (2013)
4. Bill Murray: Broken Flowers (2005)
5. Jake Gyllenhaal: Nightcrawler (2014)
Best Actress in a Comedic Role:
1. Judy Davis: Impromptu (1991) – Impromptu fell flat on multiple occasions — particularly it’s bloated final act — but Judy Davis always dazzled as the androgynous Georges Sand. If you can go toe-to-toe in a film with Mandy Patinkin and come out with the better performance, you’re a special talent, and Judy Davis nails the role.
2. Joey Lauren Adams: Chasing Amy (1997)
3. Leslie Mann: This Is 40 (2012) – The film was sort of a dud, but Leslie Mann seemingly effortlessly captures the quiet desperation of being a woman and entering middle age and the fear that all of your best years are behind you. I’d never taken her particularly seriously as an actress before, but she proved me wrong in this performance.
4. Charlotte Rampling: Stardust Memories (1980)
5. Brenda Blethyn: Saving Grace (2000) – Another perfect encapsulation of quiet feminine desperation, Brenda Blethyn is the more serious (and better written) Mary Louise Parker from Weeds before that show was even a thing. And her verbal repartee with the always funny Craig Ferguson provides the heart and soul and laughs of the film.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
1. Gene Hackman: Unforgiven (1992)
2. Donald Sutherland: Ordinary People (1980) – You might think it would be hard to impress as the straight man in a film full of highly dysfunctional people, but Donald Sutherland displays so much pain and heart-ache as he watches depression destroy his son and his wife’s inability to process emotion only make things worse. Sutherland nearly walks away with the whole film.
3. Chris Cooper: Breach (2007)
4. Rolf Lassgard: After the Wedding (2006) – Were it not for the powerhouse ensemble performances of the whole cast, After the Wedding could have come off as a forced melodrama, but Rolf Lassgard and the rest of the crew make the high drama of the film come alive, and Lassgard expertly peels away layers and layers of his character’s defenses til we’re only left with the broken and desperate man he’s become.
5. Nick Nolte: The Thin Red Line (1997)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
1. Meryl Streep: August: Osage County (2013) – The film itself was almost totally unwatchable drek, but Meryl Streep gave her best performance of nearly the last ten years. It’s the sort of emotionally raw and ugly and honestly sort of loathsome character we don’t expect Streep to play, and it reminded me why she’s one of the all-time greats.
2. Lupita Nyong’o: 12 Years a Slave (2013)
3. Jennifer Lawrence: American Hustle (2013) – It’s not half the film that Silver Linings Playbook was, and J-Law rightfully lost the Oscar that year, but David O. Russell brings out both the best of her and Bradley Cooper, and American Hustle is another scene-stealing turn from one of Hollywood’s most brightly burning stars.
4. Emma Thompson: Impromptu (1991) – What could have easily been a thankless role is given enormous life in Emma Thompson’s capable hands. As the feather-brained countess hosting a party for Europe’s most prestigious intellectuals, Emma Thompson feels more alive and real than almost anyone else in the cast.
5. Tilda Swinton: Snowpiercer (2012)
Alright, folks. Be sure to come back next year for another year’s worth of the best films and performances that I’ve seen. It’s always a blast planning all this out.