In September of this year, I enrolled at the University of Westminster to study Film & TV Production. There’s a level of aptness that, though moving out and other grown-up things like that, many of my favourite films this year have the overarching theme of naïveté, either through their characters, narrative, aesthetic or all of the above. From Weatherspoons to the upper thermosphere, from broken upper class women to silly yellow blobs, from intimate autobiographies (there are three) to absurd bureaucracies – it’s been a hell of a year.
10. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
It is to their credit that Wright and Simon Pegg are unlikely to be forgotten by their (and my) generation as the duo behind the Cornetto Trilogy, the only series of films from Britain to have made such a cultural impact. Here, they both lampoon and embrace the legacy of body-snatching science fiction before them, further smashing open the possibilities in British cinema in massively rewarding style.
9. I Wish (Hirokazu Koreeda)
No other film embraces such curious characters, with such wonder and hope for the world that even the most cynical bastard (Who, me?) can’t help but be swept up in their sweet childish candor. Koreeda doesn’t scream a moral message or overbearing aesthetic, opting instead for a light touch gracing the narrative.
8. Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud)
If further evidence was needed that Hollywood’s strongest releases come in the form of family animation films, then Despicable Me 2 fits the bill amply. Present here is a concision in style and compression in narrative that is the descendant of Chaplin, with The Simpsons helping along the way. The Minions are always engaging, calamitously guiding our eyes around the screen, like frantic sprigs let loose in a beautifully naive universe.
7. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
The most powerful element in Gravity’s making comes from the Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who, with this and To the Wonder, has established his ambition at an unparalleled level in mainstream cinema. So few mainstream releases have the boldness to hold lengthy, gently roaming shots of its main protagonist, and these impress as much as the stunning weightless action sequences. Though the Cuaron’s try too hard for those cheap one liners you find in multi-million dollar blockbusters, and Gravity may prove to pack less of a punch on later viewings, this remains an utterly sensational immediate thrill ride.
6. Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
Also Mexican, Reygadas has made a name for himself making films that seem to be spiritual successors of bygone cinema giants. Post Tenebras Lux breaks this trend. His most superficially experimental work yet is at times infuriating, at others utterly spellbinding, but always asserting his prominence as an indefinable filmmaker by first pulling the rug, tearing up the carpet and finally dismantling the bare floorboards from beneath our feet. The teaser alone is fantastic.
5. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Despite often appearing to be a one woman show, Blue Jasmine juggles the most infectious characters, the dichotomy between East and West coast USA and a simple but terse play on time and memory. Looking beyond the shadow of Blanchett’s terrific performance, Allen raises and mutes all of these elements with masterful tone and tempo.
4. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard)
Unlike Little Fugitive, Barnard’s loose Oscar Wilde adaptation won’t inspire a new wave of filmmakers. Like that film, however, much of the success of the film can be rooted to the charming performances of its two young leads. For the while, Barnard has nabbed the frequently shifting crown we award to British filmmakers with the ability to expose desperate poverty with overpowering panache. No doubt she will be dethroned, as Andrea Arnold was before her, but, for now, The Selfish Giant deserves to have the spotlight because of its seamless dynamism between emotion and study of exploitation.
3. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
What an impeccable follow-up to Before Sunset, a delectably entrancing and mature observation on relationships, these three have produced (Linklater with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy). Midnight sticks out as the most separated of the three, jettisoning any of the nascent chemistry and evolving intimacy between Celine and Jesse early on in one self-aware, brisk shot of their offspring. Yet these two are still mesmeric every second they are on screen together, with every word, gesture or look oozing scruple.
2. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)
There is a spectacular skill that Terry Gilliam has honed in his own way. It’s unsatisfying to categorise him as a sci-fi, comedy or fantasy filmmaker, even though his films often shift between all three genres. At heart, The Zero Theorem is a further exploration of the relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between everyday reality and everyday fantasy.
1. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)
The best compliment I can give Malick’s latest film is none at all, as I can’t help feeling inadequate just attempting to put my experience into words. Maybe that’s in To the Wonder’s favour, the way that it affects you as much outside the cinema as it does inside, and the way it’s images and feelings fester with deeper meaning the longer they are out of sight. Either way, I hope never to be able to fully articulate my awe for this beautiful work.