25) Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón
I may have been the last person to seen this, but I am even more impressed by its stratospheric success considering how singular this is. First of all we can't deny the spectacular technical achievement this represents, making any other films set in space seem comically inaccurate. But while some have lamented how straight-forward the story is, I enjoyed its simplicity, in an age of overwrought scripts with 17 writing credits. While it doesn't match the metaphysical highs of say, Solaris or 2001, it still contains some unusual philosophical depths for a film of that scale.
I find thinking about the unfathomably enormous vastness of the universe and our minuscule place within it dizzying, and seldom has it been so adequately represented, within a nail-biting yet almost contemplative survival adventure. I love cinema when it can still be that bold despite a big-budget, and make us reconsider the 3D format we had long given up on.
24) You're Next by Adam Wingard
Often, the best way to enjoy a film is to go having not seen or read a thing about it, which is what happened when I saw You're Next, and what a treat I was in for. What seems at first like a derivative home invasion film quickly turns into something else, thanks to a wicked and witty script and a fantastic cast (which is pretty much a who's who of horror films, old and new).
What sets the story apart is that here victims are all members of a family, which means each death hits hard, as opposed to generic teens. And the film features my favourite death by home appliance since Gremlins. It's tense, it's gory, it's funny, it packs up a lot of surprises (including a unexpectedly resourceful heroine!) and some classic scenes. I saw it at a packed screening, with an adoring audience who laughed and gasped at all the right moments, the kind of unmissable experience which reminds me why I still love the experience of going to the cinema.
23) Behind The Candelabra by Steven Soderbergh
Imagine how differently this could have turned out, directed by somebody else, say Baz Luhramm and shiver. Instead Steven Soderbergh finds a great balance on this, pitting the gaudy grandeur of Liberace's lifestyle against an intimate study of his relationship, which shows the universality of love, no matter how different the lifestyles and the environment. Michael Douglas is predictably brilliant but the real surprise is Matt Damon, in a very touching and nuanced turn. Their whole relationship is very moving throughout. Yes there are the lies, the cheating, the arguing... but their strong bond remains right until the end, under the delicate eye of a director whose swan song this is, sadly.
22) Gloria by Sebastián Lelio
I was a little taken aback with this at first as for whatever reason I expected this to be a pure drama, so the more comedic aspects of Gloria took me by surprise. But this is no comedy, rather the bittersweet disco dance of a middle-aged woman into the twilight years of her love life. Gloria is a sadly fairly representative woman of a certain age, divorced, with children who have little time for her, with uncertain romantic prospects (there is a hilarious twist on the old "spinster with cats" stereotype by the way), and whose latest relationship does not quite live up to its promises (understatement of the century).
But this is no feminist rant. I absolutely loved the performance of Paulina García, especially in her quieter, more contemplative scenes, where she is truly moving. And the film has a refreshingly honest story, which does not try too hard to be inspirational or even uplifting. Yes life is not easy as you get older, especially your love life, and especially for women. And no it doesn't necessarily gets better after it got worse. But Gloria does not ask for sympathy, she faces the bumps head on and moves on, with an almost comedic deadpan attitude, because if she does not carry on living, well, who else is going to do it for her? And that might well be the most insightful life lesson we have learned all year in cinema!
21) The Wall by Julian Polsler
Back in the 70's/80's, there was a clearer line between blockbusters and arthouse. And among the latter, there was a big trend for heavy going German/Eastern European films full of philosophical torments and sometimes a sci-fi twist. So it is refreshing to see a film like The Wall, as a throwback to those more innocent days, now that indie cinema or even arthouse can sometimes by as formulaic as Hollywood and irony prevents big themes to be tackled. This sees a middle-aged woman trapped in a (rather lovely) Alpine setting by an invisible wall that surrounds it, completely alone apart from some animals, in a large but unescapable area, unable to understand what is happening.
As days, weeks go by, she soon realises that she is trapped, and will have to rely on her surroundings and herself to survive. This is thought-provoking film, asking powerful questions and bracing some powerful themes, such as loneliness, the place of an individual within humanity and of humanity within an indifferent nature (a recurrent theme this year!), but also the point of living as well as the acceptance of one's fate. Held by a fantastic performance by Martina Gedeck, this might sound heavy but it is as gripping as any thriller.