A movie critic’s year-end list is generally the result of much hand-wringing, because it’s so personal. The movies that stuck with me the most this year are a reflection of me in this time and place. In other words, here is my year, told in movies.
1. “Short Term 12”
Director Destin Cretton’s feature debut was warm, sweetly funny and heartbreaking. I hope that Brie Larson’s breakout performance gets an Oscar nod so this one can get another run at theaters. No movie punched me in the gut quite like “Short Term 12.”
Alfonso Cuaron’s engulfing space odyssey brought back a true sense of wonder to theaters. Sandra Bullock blended toughness and vulnerability in a film that boils down to a pure celebration of life. And, since the film loses so much impact when it’s stripped of 3D, you’re cheating yourself of a grand experience if you don’t see it in 3D in a theater. Your last chance is approaching.
3. “The Spectacular Now”
It was a great year for coming-of-age stories (“The Way Way Back,” “The Kings of Summer”), but this one shined the brightest. It had an unexpected complexity and great performances from its teen leads (Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley). Think “Say Anything.”
4. “American Hustle”
David O. Russell is on a roll, and this wildly entertaining ’70s crime caper has him reteaming with cast members from “Silver Linings Playbook” (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) and “The Fighter” (Christian Bale and Amy Adams). With so much talent onscreen, it’s hard to look away.
I’m cheating here a little, since this doesn’t open in Columbus until early January, but I can’t leave Spike Jonze’s gorgeous exploration of love off the list. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as a lonely man who falls in love with an artificially intelligent computer OS, voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson. A seemingly cold premise gives way to one of the warmest films of the year.
6. “Before Midnight”
The decades-spanning collaboration of director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy has been like revisiting old friends. Not surprisingly, the latest chapter shows maturity as a snapshot of love and aging.
7. “Upstream Color”
Shane Carruth’s sci-fi love story was as beautiful as it was baffling. Gorgeous cinematography sets the tone, but don’t expect tidy resolutions or traditional plot. (This one is already streaming on Netflix if you want to see for yourself.)
8. “Blue is the Warmest Color”
The NC-17 film got headlines for its lengthy sex scenes between female costars Adele Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux — set in the middle of a three-hour film, mind you. But the journey in and out of love was heart-wrenching and hypnotic, and the experience leaves you emotionally raw.
9. “Frances Ha”
Noah Baumbach’s collaboration with actress Greta Gerwig had a manic energy. If its plot felt like it lacked direction at times, it only shows how well it captures the wonderful confusion of being a 20-something.
10. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
The Coen Brothers’ latest film fits magnificently in their catalogue, using the world of the ’60s New York folk scene as a backdrop for an exploration of melancholy that was also quite funny.