By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
1. Her - Spike Jonze’s “Her” is the best movie of the year because it is so complete and satisfactory. The science fiction film takes place in the near future and examines the relationship between a man and his computer, a bodiless operating system that gives the man much needed companionship. Not only does “Her” excel in the basic levels of filmmaking (acting, writing, direction, score, production design), it also an incredibly ambitious and meaningful film. The society from the film is allegorical to today’s world, as people rely and depend heavily on technology. The core relationship of the movie is poignant and touching because it takes two characters of different forms and makes them have deep affection for each other. There’s a moving scene where Samantha the robot makes a piano piece for Theodore, her human. It’s entitled “photograph,” for she can’t be seen with Theodore. I interpreted it as a metaphor for love being blind. Like the entire film, this scene is emotional, esoteric and in its own way, brilliant.
2. 12 Years a Slave - Steve McQueen's “12 Years a Slave” is an unflinching and brutal look at American slavery. It is made with heavy passion and keeps an important balance between the artistic and narrative side of cinema. The power of the film left me stunned. The memorable performances by Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Lupita Nyong’o are extraordinary as they fill both emotionally and physically demanding roles. It is a necessary movie, the best of its kind and a transcendent piece of period filmmaking.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street - This is the most entertaining film of the year. Martin Scorsese's “The Wolf of Wall Street” has a savage bite, blasting rapidly past its three hour running time as it is packed with continuously unbelievable events. The film exposes Wall Street's businessmen as modern day animals, ones who are anything but humane. Leonardo DiCaprio is electrifying and explosive as the crazed protagonist, Jordan Belfort. The film is really about greed and addiction. Those who have labeled the film as misogynistic and criticized it for glorifying criminals are as squeamish and naive as the audience in the final shot of the movie.
4. To the Wonder - There are many who will find “To the Wonder” too confusing or vague, but they have yet to skim the surface. This is a film that is full of profound dialogue from its four main characters. The film is about falling in love, but it is also about the yearning to be loved. The movie sees its single mother protagonist as a character who demands love and affection after her past failed relationships. Whereas Scorsese sees most of his characters in “Wolf” as rotten, director Terrence Malick sees a light in everyone, as “To the Wonder” features its characters always moving and dancing, as if they are full of grace and beauty.
5. The Spectacular Now - No film this year is more accurate at showing first love than “The Spectacular Now.” This small budgeted indie flick is about regrets and self-blame, depicting two main characters that, despite their different personalities, find love between them. The film respects its young teenage characters and doesn't make their love foolish or misguided. The story and its characters really stick with you and the performances by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are more than believable. We see ourselves in their roles. Anyone who has dated in high school should view this film.
6. Prisoners - There is a fundamental paradox at the heart of Denis Villanueve's “Prisoners,” that many viewers may have missed. The film features a father who kidnaps the man he thinks kidnapped his daughter. The father is in a prison within himself, believing only what he wants to. This is a dark and atmospheric film, one that is scarier than any other film of the year. It exposes an animalistic side of humans while showing how easy it is to take away happiness, like abducting a child. Hugh Jackman gives a career best performance, as an angry, broken father on the verge of madness.
7. Rush - Endlessly intriguing, “Rush” is easily one of the greatest racing films ever made. Based on the rivalry between formula one-racecar drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, Ron Howard's movie recreates the races as an intense, heart-pounding endeavor. Although its premise is based around machines and vehicles, the film is great at showing its human characters, especially the two leads that both love and hate each other. I was fascinated by the relationship between Hunt and Lauda. By the end, we figure they can't live with or without each other.
8. Before Midnight - Like an old wine, the “Before” film series from director Richard Linklater and actors/screenwriters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, gets better with age. “Before Midnight” is the third and best installment of a trilogy that is based on a relationship that began with one wild night in Venice. While a film like the “The Spectacular Now” is great at capturing first love, “Before Midnight” attempts to convey how hard it is to stay in love. The film is so well scripted; it puts most Hollywood screenplays to shame. This is a deeply layered film, full of flavorful dialogue.
9. American Hustle - David O. Russell appropriately creates “American Hustle” as a farce, showing its characters as literal, out of control two-faced people. This is the best American film about con artists since Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can.” Like that movie, “Hustle” is great at one upping the audience by including clever twists that make it funny and witty. It works best during the montages, when Russell uses 70s songs from the soundtrack to fit the action. Expect crime with a mix of intelligent humor.
10. Fruitvale Station - The remarkable feature film debut of 26-year-old Ryan Coogler is an exposition of the final day of Oscar Grant, a real life African-American man who was shot dead by a police officer five years ago. By including real cell phone footage of the shooting at the beginning, Coogler's sets his film up as a tragedy. The director chooses wisely to not idolize Grant. He presents an objective film, showing Grant as a human being who wasn't entirely good or entirely bad. By doing so, the impact of the finale is all the more compelling and saddening, for it feels like real life. Watch for a star making performance by Michael B. Jordan.