One of my friends read my post from yesterday on the Oscars and noted that I hadn’t written my post on my favorite films from last year. It had slipped my mind for the most part, as I had been focused on the hellish nightmare that has been grad school and the less painful experiences of Vagina Monologues and other work I have done at the Women’s Center. Since I hadn’t been able to get to it, and I was specifically asked to write this, why not repeat the same concept from last year? This list isn’t ranked (it’s only three films, for Christ’s sake) and I will mention other movies that I loved, but these are my top films of last year.
Unlike last year, only one of my favorites from last year were nominees for Best Picture. The first I saw did not have the distinction of being recognized by the Academy, which is rather disheartening, to say the least. Rachel Getting Married was a stupendous motion picture, with a stellar ensemble and a great premise. Kym, played by Anne Hathaway in an Oscar-nominated performance, is a former model in rehab who gets a leave granted to attend her older sister’s wedding at home in Connecticut. The emphasis here is really on the group as whole; yet the relationship between Kym and her sister, the eponymous Rachel, portrayed wonderfully by Rosemarie DeWitt, is arguably the center of the plot. As Kym returns to her family’s home, tensions rise from her presence, and her role in the raw and intense pain suffered by her family is slowly revealed. The unflinchingly real screenplay is enacted dutifully by the players, and the documentary style of the film lends it a more naturalistic feel. Not only did I feel like I was part of this wedding and this family, but I was legitimately moved by the experience. If it were only based on how the film was shot and written, it would simply be a touching glimpse into contemporary families. The actors’ performances push it to an entirely new level, though, and the end result is a true triumph. The spectrum of joy and pain experienced by all humans with a heart or soul or any real emotion is something that definitely stays with you far beyond the end titles.
After Rachel, I saw several films over the course of winter break but anxiously awaited the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It certainly didn’t disappoint. As I noted in the Oscar post yesterday, the feeling was one of Forrest Gump, but, and this is only for me, infinitely more entertaining. There was a darker edge to this film, with a more biting sense of humor and more vivid characters. As I’m sure most of you have either seen it or heard extensively about it, the film is based off of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about an abandoned baby who is born as an old man and ages in reverse. The effects throughout the film are stunning, but perhaps even more enjoyable are the interactions between the characters and the adventures that Benjamin encounters through his incredible life. Landscapes, buildings, and sets are all outstanding, and the costume slash set designers had their work cut out for them as they sketched for decades of story line. If, for some God forsaken reason, you still haven’t seen it, I would recommend finding your way to the nearest theater soon. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and especially Taraji P. Henson are all extraordinary in their roles.
The final film I saw in the group was Doubt, which was another one for which I had been excited for months. Starring some of my favorites actors – Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams – and with a stirring trailer, I was a lock for buying a ticket to this film set in 1964 Brooklyn. The story focuses on Meryl’s character Sister Aloysius, a dragon of a woman, sharp and strict in her iron fist-like reign of a parochial school. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn is the new priest for the parish, and his theories on changing the Church have rubbed Sister Aloysius the wrong way. When Sister James, played perfectly by Amy Adams, considers that a meeting between Father Flynn and the sole African-American student may have had more sinister undertones, Sister Aloysius is convinced beyond a doubt that Father Flynn must be stopped. The entire movie is acted flawlessly, with Viola Davis adding to the absolutely remarkable pedigree of work. While Shanley’s play doesn’t necessarily translate from the stage seamlessly, with some metaphors needing considerable amounts of subtlety, and the speech too rigid in parts, the actors transcend these transgressions. Their collective feat of exceptional acting was proved when nominations were announced – all four roles were nominated, an achievement unheard of in Hollywood.
These were my three favorites, but they definitely weren’t the only films I loved from last year. Other films that would come highly recommended from me include Revolutionary Road, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, Wendy and Lucy, and Waltz With Bashir. I don’t have time to explain all of their strengths, but trust me when I say they are all phenomenal achievements in cinema.