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1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
As a murder investigation proceeds through the night, the inevitable deviations from, and lulls in, the routine afford a view onto the heavy human condition. Writer-director Ceylan, regarded as Turkish cinema’s MVP, had seemed to be on a career path of diminishing returns, but Anatolia arrived in early January only to cast a long shadow over an entire calendar year’s worth of releases.
2. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson
The sprawling American classic might seem to be nearing extinction these days—not to mention ones shot on 70mm—but here we have Paul Thomas Anderson’s marvelously unfriendly drama about the draw between two fringe types of self-made men after the war. A smooth-talking fraud and a drifter skilled at pickling his brain wrestle on a lawn that belongs to neither of them.
3. The Turin Horse
The logical endpoint of the incomparable Tarr style that you never would have previously thought possible—the work from Damnation on down already seemed monolithically austere, but The Turin Horse turned out to be his first (and, apparently, last) to take full stock of the weight of the world. A howling wind of unknown origin heralds death’s by-degrees encroachment.
Linklater exposes the wildly imprecise (and sometimes diametrically opposed) processes of character judgment employed by both the legal system and the court of public opinion. Gratifyingly, not a grotesque to be found among its rural-Texas cast of characters, many of whom appear in improbably revealing faux-doc “interviews.”
5. Magic Mike
Stripped to its essentials, this exemplary summer movie is about freelancing, a term one always fears that friends and relatives are processing as a euphemism for unemployed. The Soderbergh-Tatum production looks at the way of working from a surprising number of angles: the constant hustle, the general precariousness, and how a plum under-the-table gig might begin to cloud your other priorities. Special bonus: Matthew McConaughey singing “Ladies of Tampa.”
6. Two Years at Sea
Tuning-fork resonant, Rivers’s first feature (shot in antique black-and-white 16mm) observes a bush-bearded guy named Jake calmly rummaging through a bunch of stuff around his home in the Scottish Highlands. Naturally, the subject exhibits an openness toward time and place that only seems to adhere in the middle of nowhere.
7. The Deep Blue Sea
Unhappily married to a high-court judge, Hester (a Golden Globe-nominated Rachel Weisz!) falls for an RAF pilot, with the men’s glamorous service to Dear Old Blighty heartbreakingly contrasted with the suddenly decisive woman’s gradual exile to the third floor of a forlorn boardinghouse. Wrought, exquisitely, by British master Davies.
Athina Rachel Tsangari
Bizarre and endearing, Tsangari’s portrait of two indissoluble bonds mediated by rapid-fire word games and full-body animal impersonations—father-daughter and best friends—downshifts into coming-of-age uncertainty with the advance of inadvertently possessive Dad’s terminal illness. But everyone still keeps imitating animals; any actual fauna is notably absent from the Greek-island setting, a Mediterranean jewel that’s gone halfway industrial.
9. Keep the Lights On
Writer-director Sachs anatomizes the snap attraction and long tension between two male culture-industry Manhattanites—a crack-addict publishing-house lawyer and a patient documentary filmmaker—through a decade of living together. As veiled autobiography, it feels strikingly direct; as a follow-up to Sachs’s previous film, the underrated Married Life, it shows a director pressing forward with his exploration of unsettled lovers’ delicate, and sometimes distressing, calculus of commitment and betrayal.
Emerging top-10 regular Gomes takes us from an exhausted modern-day Lisbon to a swoony vision of 1950s Africa, engaging questions of history, memory, and the movies through his bold formal and structural moves. It manages to be both more sidelong and more affecting than 2012’s other great film on the colonial legacy, Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly.