It's that time of year and despite the inherent perversity there's something liberating about proclaiming your ten most affective cinematic experiences of the year that can't happen if you allow yourself the breadth to relive a year of dreaming in dark rooms. Despite a slow beginning the momentum of the festival season kicked this year into high gear and as we're hurtling towards into the awards season, it's been a barrage of great films vying for number one.
This list comprises the top ten films that I've seen this year at the cinema or at festivals despite the fact that some of these releases have already been released overseas or aren't yet released in Australia.
With a desperation of recapturing past glory and grip increasingly slippery idealistic motives, Sinister brought a raw emotional centre to a terrifyingly intimate horror. Co-writer/Director Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill make a horror film that knows the power of the moving image to insight fear. Be warned; Christopher Young's score will infect your mind in a way that fleeting whispers of it will lull you all the way into your nightmares.
"War leaves a mark," and so does Jonathan Teplitzky's amazing portrayal of the life of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth/Jeremy Irvine). The creative group involved in this film are committed to the this true story and it shows. Another amazing film from the best Australian director working today. Jeremy Irvine and Hiroyuki Sanada destroyed me.
9. The Railway Man
Brave, complex, poetic - I'd never seen anything like Cloud Atlas.
8. Cloud Atlas
How could you possibly understand a genocidal maniac that's been glorified for countless acts of perversity? One possibility, give them a camera, a budget and let them tell their own story. Documentary cinema feels like it had an atomic moment.
7. The Act of Killing
When debut director Paul Wright stepped in-front of an astonished Sydney Film Festival audience he said something to the effect of — because I didn't know if I'd ever make another film, I threw everything into this one. With inventive use of different film stocks to evoke nostalgia, immediacy or a dizzying blur between the real and the imagined For Those in Peril impresses as much as any debut I've ever seen and that final shot...there's been nothing like it this year.
6. For Those in Peril
I remember chatting to Cam Williams in the wake of Stories We Tell and him saying that he saw it as being a film that would have a greater impact the more baggage you took in. Just as you'd expect from a friend swiftly delivered this very correct little dig; "and let's face it, you took in crate of luggage." Filmmaker Sarah Polley takes you into her personal history to show you the universal truth that we are what we are because of where we came from.
5. Stories We Tell
Cinema got its spectacle back thanks to Alfonso Cuarón. Walking out of Gravity you feel like you've been weightless, gasping for air. It's relentless, essential viewing.
The problem with delicate subjects like slavery or the holocaust is that you're never sure whether you're going to be able to do them justice. Steve McQueen, and his incredible cast, portray slavery in all its abjection. This is a story that needed to be told.
3. 12 Years a Slave
When it's coming down to figuring out what cinematic experiences moved you the most, you do your best to transport yourself back to the moments that immediately follow a screening. Walking with Graffiti's own Andy Buckle and his partner Sam I remember not being able to contain the gush for Giuseppe Tornatore's amazing Hitchcock-ian mystery The Best Offer. With a score from Ennio Morricone it's no surprise that images continue to swim around my mind months after the viewing.
2. The Best Offer
I walked out of Spike Jonze's work of profound genius in a state of wonder, biting back tears — powerful cinema moves you. Post screening I caught up with my Pod Save Our Screen partner Maria, I used one of her signature phrases. "I can't even, I just can't even." She asked, "Best of the year good?" My knee-jerk answer was; "No." However in the proceeding week, committing this list to a note on my iPhone, as if buoyed by my unconscious, Her continually gravitated toward the top of the list. Even days ago selecting my final three films, it wasn't right unless Her was there. Once again doubting I turned to my fiancé Sam and said, "The style, the score, Phoenix, the effortless philosophical profundity, I just don't know if I felt as moved by any other film this year...but I don't know if it is number one" She replied, the perfect reply: "How can you say that about it and it NOT be your number one?!"
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.