10. The Woman in Black — a stylish, truly scary Victorian tale with a great first post-Harry Potter performance by Daniel Radcliffe. Some genuine fright moments wrapped in a wonderful production design offset an ending that leaves a little to be desired.
9. The Odd Life of Timothy Green — a family film in the best sense of the word, celebrating the bonds of parent and child, relationships, and the impact one life can have on another. Child actor CJ Adams is simply outstanding as the title character, who grows from the garden after one magical thunderstorm. The pencil idea in the movie would be great if someone could figure out how to do it in real life.
8. Lincoln — another great performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in another outstanding film from Steven Spielberg made this version of Lincoln’s story one of this year’s best, with great supporting performances, and another outstanding score by John Williams. Anachronistic use of curse words are the only drawback to an otherwise outstanding film.
7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — surprisingly great first film in a trilogy based on Tolkien’s slightest book, with a great return to a wonderful character by Ian McKlellan as Gandalf and a wonderful, all-it-should-be moment of “Riddles in the Dark” between Bilbo and Gollum. Martin Freeman, as Bilbo Baggins, is perfectly cast and adds a much-needed sense of humor and fun to a film that is full of somber dwarves.
6. The Hunger Games — a film far superior to the book it’s based on, anchored by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games is a dystopian fantasy that offers hope and young love in a bedrock of solid performances and production design. James Newton Howard’s score is perfectly spot-on, and Woody Harrelson is perfect as washed up drunk attempting to mentor young people.
5. Brave — Pixar Animation Studios’ first fantasy is another hit in all the right ways: great story, breathtaking animation, and emotion that fires on all cylinders. When they do it right, usually nobody does it better. The heart of the film is the family dynamic and the struggle between mother and daughter as they grow up. Mixing humor, magic, and adventure into a beautifully drawn and acted film, Brave is an almost-perfect film. Patrick Doyle’s score is also a standout.
4. Wreck-It-Ralph — Walt Disney Animation Studios produced a far better film than Pixar this year, and created a breathtaking combination of action, humor, and heart. It’s easily the best animated film of the year because of an outstanding protagonist–a bad guy who desperately longs to be good–and his quest for meaning beyond the role assigned to him by fate. It speaks to the bigger questions of “who am I meant to be” and how we discover that through life’s adventure. It’s also chock-full of great video game jokes.
3. The Avengers — the ultimate superhero movie, Marvel Studios produced a crackerjack tale that brought together the “lesser” heroes of the Marvel Universe and showed audiences a tale of hope and heroism. Director/writer Joss Wheadon won’t get any awards, but he deserves to for making something so ridiculous (when you stop and actually think about it) into something so freakin’ awesome. Top-notch visual effects, along with great performances by Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans–and a wonderful turn by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson–made this the year’s biggest film, and one of its best.
2. Life of Pi — it’s the most visually stunning film of the year, and features one of the best performances of the year by first-time actor Suraj Sharma who is virtually alone for 2/3 of the film. It’s also a powerful examination of the power of story, faith, and identity. For more thoughts on this film, read my recent review here.
1. Les Misérables — one of the most popular musicals in the whole world makes a beautiful transition to film, carried by strong performances by Hugh Jackman (in an Oscar-worthy performance as hero Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and newcomer Eddie Redmayne as Marius. The music of the stage show shines powerfully in the film, which is beautifully shot both on location and in magnificent set pieces. The film’s story of the power of forgiveness and grace–and one’s response to it–is timeless and something every person can relate to. Will grace transform you? Will it destroy you? It’s more than just a great movie musical, it’s the best movie of the year.