Once or twice a decade, there’s an exceptionally good year for film. The last was 2007, when No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood battled for attention with Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James…, Southland Tales, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Syndromes and a Century, Sunshine, Offside, The Darjeeling Limited, Ratatouille, I’m Not There, The Simpsons Movie and a whole mess of other great ones. Six years later, we’ve had another exceptionally strong year—I mean, Woody Allen’s best in a long time tied for 23rd on our annual critics poll; Joss Whedon’s charming Much Ado About Nothing didn’t even scratch the Top 40; and a movie as weird and bewitching as Upstream Color barely received a single vote.
That’s because there was so much more great cinema to celebrate, and not just the usual suspects you’ll see on every other outlet’s year-end lists: from an unusual documentary experiment in GoPros and sound design at sea to Frederick Wiseman’s latest institutional study, the results of our poll reinforce my pride in this film section I edit—in our writers’ smart prose and good taste, both of which you’ll see in the following pages. As for the latter, to illustrate: 12 Years a Slave tied for 49th with five other films—garnering fewer points than Pain & Gain!