As seen in the illustration above, our critics' consensus pick for the year's best film was Gravity, which received mentions from four of our five contributing writers, just ahead of All Is Lost and 12 Years a Slave. To see our critics' individual lists, click here.
If you talk to certain auteurs, the current state of cinema is a depressing one. No less than the mighty George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made headlines earlier this year when they declared that Hollywood's business model of churning out creatively impoverished blockbusters was a doomed strategy that will only make the film industry implode.
Other fed-up filmmakers have opted to wash their hands of the industry altogether. Steven Soderbergh made his supposed farewell film, the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, for HBO. Meanwhile, renowned indie film producer Ted Hope announced on his Truly Free Film blog that he will no longer produce films solely for money. "I want to make films that lift the world and our culture higher—and our current way of doing things does just the opposite," he wrote.
In spite of a film industry that seems to be in a creative crisis, there were still plenty of great movies to partake in this year. And in a symptom of a flawed production and distribution model, many didn't make it to Triangle theaters. Here are some of the most notable, films that are worth seeking out at the video store or online.
For starters: the Chinese crime drama Drug War. Directed by Hong Kong action maven Johnnie To (Exiled), this no-nonsense throwback to '80s cops-and-robbers yarns is capped by an intensely choreographed climactic shootout.
A few headscratchers premiered at Sundance earlier this year that didn't make their way into local theaters. Upstream Color, Shane Carruth's long-overdue, no-budget follow-up to his 2004 no-budget, time-traveling debut, Primer, follows two brainwashed people who fall in love while finding out they're not as unstable as they seem. Then there's Computer Chess, a surreal black-and-white comedy from mumblecore director Andrew Bujalski, where an eclectic group of software programmers convene at a 1980s tournament and have their computers duke it out on chessboards.
Director and UNC School of the Arts graduate David Gordon Green took time out from directing stoner comedies to shoot another '80s-set curio. In Prince Avalanche, a remake of the 2011 Icelandic film Either Way (A annan veg), Green casts Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as an odd couple who butt heads and eventually bond while painting country highways in Texas.
Some movies that didn't get a full theatrical run here did manage to get a screening. A Band Called Death, a documentary about a '70s black rock trio from Detroit whose music didn't get discovered until decades later, and An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, an experimental, semi-autobiographical tale that can best be described as the black (500) Days of Summer, both played at the Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film in Chapel Hill during the fall.
There is a chance that one recently released, must-see movie will show up at Triangle art houses soon. Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty is a Fellini-esque free-for-all where an aging party-boy journalist (the dapper Toni Servillo) travels through Rome, bouncing from one trendy, festive gathering to the next, all while trying to figure out if that's all there is. A visually sumptuous celebration/meditation of life and its discontents, this movie should play here because, quite frankly, it's the best film of the year—and we should be so lucky.
Worst Films of the Year: Being an alt-weekly film critic isn't the cosseted, jet-setting glamour gig it's cracked up to be. For every odd Wes Anderson bonbon or Scorsesian haunch of beef, there are many long, lonely Tuesday nights in suburban multiplexes, watching the cinematic equivalents of hydrogenated oil and Spam. Two of our thus-scarred writers offered their worst of the worst.
Neil Morris: August: Osage County; The Smurfs 2; The Internship ("Google the search term 'awful Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson movie'"); Planes; Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters; Oz the Great and Powerful ("Toto, we're not in the golden age of Hollywood anymore"); The Lone Ranger; RED 2; Last Vegas; Elysium; World War Z; Before Midnight.
Isaac Weeks: Stand-Up Guys and Kick-Ass 2 ("I grouped these two together because their respective screenwriters thought it would be HEELARIOUS to base a comedy scene on a woman being raped."); One Direction: This Is It; Battle of the Year ("Why yes, this WAS the dance movie that featured Chris Brown in a starring role"); R.I.P.D.; After Earth; The Smurfs 2 ("'Who are you, Martin Luther WING?!?' That line will haunt me until the grave."); Runner, Runner; The Host; 21 & Over ("Featuring sexual assault for laughs, a kid's suicidal tendencies used as a forgotten plot point and rampant homophobia. Fun for the whole family").
This article appeared in print with the headline "Feeling Gravity's pull."