Alfonso Cuaron's deceptively simple space epic breaks new cinematic ground in VFX, but it's Sandra Bullock's balletic grace and human heart that fuels this space opera. They couldn't have done it without her.
Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson take us on a meandering (black-and-white) road trip as a family deals with a disappointed father (Bruce Dern, the best role of his life) who needs something to hold onto. He finds it. This is a zeitgeist movie that shows us who we are and what we've lost.
3. "12 Years a Slave"
This movie needed to be made and Brit Steve McQueen pulled it off with elegance and grace. It's his most accessible film to date, formally thoughtful, spare and precise, and yet the filmmaker does not pull back from what he wants us to immersively experience for the first time in our cinema's history.
4. "Captain Phillips"
Paul Greengrass soars back with this unexpected pirate adventure that reveals how vulnerable Goliath can be. And Tom Hanks gives the most naturalistic and moving performance of his long and storied career.
5. "Short Term 12"
With his sophomore film, this year's breakout talent Destin Daniel Crettin coaxes a moving performance from young actress Brie Larson that deserves Oscar recognition, but also shows a sure hand in telling an authentic story about young people in crisis.
6. "Before Midnight"
Richard Linklater and his gifted writer-actor collaborators Etha Hawke and Julie Delpy return 18 years after starting their relationship trilogy with "Before Sunrise" to present an amazingly complex and accurate portrait of a modern partnership that reveals the dynamics of men and women today in a way that no one else has. Kudos to all.
Spike Jonze has returned with a vengeance, for the first time writing as well as directing the well-constructed sci-fi fable of a man on the rebound from a failed marriage. "Her" can be viewed as the flip side of Sofia Coppola's Oscar-winning movie about the end of their relationship, "Lost in Translation," a visual/aural tone poem that followed lonely, disconnected Scarlett Johannson around modern Tokyo, as she finds a soulmate with whom she can never truly mate. Jonze also puts Johannson front and center--but not-on-screen--in this fractured future vision of a city, a digitally reconstructed Los Angeles. She plays sultry, brilliant OS 1 system Samantha, who "bonds" immediately with Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). They fall swiftly in love. Their sex is satisfyingly erotic, and their relationship believable. The film grapples with some of the issues Ridley Scott confronted in "Blade Runner," about what it means to have consciousness, whether human or not. It's about who we are now. And who we want to be.
8. "Enough Said"
Nicole Holofcener's fifth feature in 17 years is by far her most accessible movie to date: witty, sharply observed, painful and entertaining. Her characters ring true, and this relationship comedy provides a perfect vehicle for smart comedy actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who co-stars with James Gandolfini, in what unfortunately turned out to be his penultimate movie role--and could earn him a posthumous Oscar nomination. After an LA party, Eva, an L.A. divorcee and masseuse trying to get back into the dating scene, gets involved with Albert, also divorced, as well as poet Marianne (Holofcener regular and muse Catherine Keener), who becomes a client and friend. They all have daughters heading for college. Things get tangled when it turns out that Marianne is Albert's still-angry ex-wife.
Rookie filmmaker Ryan Coogler figured out how to film a day in the life of a struggling black man whose unaccountable loss wreaks havoc on his family. He recreates the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), who at 22 years old was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer at the titular BART station on New Year's Day, 2009. It's a gut-wrenching tearjerker in the "Precious" tradition.
10. "Stories We Tell"
Canadian actress-writer-director Sarah Polley's family memoir "The Stories We Tell " is remarkable for its innovative, organic transparency, as Polley discovers and shares secrets about her long-lost mother, who died when she was ten, her family and her parentage.
BEST FOREIGN FILM
"The Hunt," Denmark's shortlisted Oscar entry, marks an extraordinary collaboration between Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen. He plays a mild-mannered schoolteacher falsely accused of sexually molesting one of his young kindergarten charges. How he is treated--and how he reacts to being ostracized by an entire community, including his closet friend-- is tough to watch. Mikkelsen deserved the 2012 Best Actor win in Cannes.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
With gorgeously wrought 2-D "The Wind Rises," Hayao Miyazaki escapes from the family film ghetto into Japan's pre-World War II past, as the country was growing into a modern power. He celebrates a young designer who over many years becomes the star creator of the prototype for the Tiger fighter plane. The movie has sparked controversy in Japan--but Miyazaki is clearly presenting a pacifist point-of-view. He identifies with the artist, not the warmonger.1. "Gravity"
Top 10s from TOH! contributors Beth Hanna and Ryan Lattanzio after the jump.