- The Grey - an honest action film about death and monsters, as if Robert Bresson had directed The Thing
- Django Unchained - which deserves more reflection than I can give on one too recent viewing, but seems to do for the Western what Inglourious Basterds did for the war film: made its tastelessness the obvious point, confronted the audience with our complicity in violence, and reimagined history from the perspective of marginalized people rather than those who typically control narratives.
- The Story of Film - hugely ambitious, quixotic, romantic and personal in the best sense, a deep history of cinema and headlines of the 20th century sociocultural landscape, and 15 hours I would love even if I wasn't mates with the guy who made it
- The Cabin in the Woods - a film about re-enacting the myth of redemptive violence that avoids re-enacting it
- The Pirates! Band of Misfits - the single funniest night at the movies I had: the smartest comedy for kids and adults alike since Jim Henson’s heyday.
- Moonrise Kingdom - about childhood and adulthood and the life in between, symmetrical in its physical design, rough-edged in its heart
- Brave - Disney’s most pro-feminist film
- Beasts of the Southern Wild - as elevating as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and as socially valuable as Studs Terkel
- The Dark Knight Rises - a definite tragedy, confronting the audience with our own communal selfishness in demanding a perfect king
- Ruby Sparks - one of the best films I’ve seen about the creative process, the anxiety of influence, and the responsibility of power
- The Master - so much has been written that it doesn’t bear repeating here, so I’ll just note how nuanced a film that portrays its dominant figure as a manipulative monster is when it allows for the possibility that his leadership might have some positive benefits
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower - the most honest movie about high school I’ve seen
- Looper - the third film by Rian Johnson, and the latest to imagine characters who want to take the lives of others seriously; a sci-fi delight that also reaches for (and touches) moral profundity
- Holy Motors - a movie on fire with love and regret, for a partner, for people, for a city, for a country, for cinema, for life
- Cloud Atlas - as if Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Blade Runner, The China Syndrome, Maurice, The Matrix, After Life, Ikiru, the Carry On films, Planet of the Apes, and The Last Temptation of Christ decided to get together and remake themselves as one massive holiday favorite
- Seven Psychopaths - the most entertaining and thoughtful treatment yet of how to face the violence in our stories by telling a new one. And way more than that.