best

States of Being

I’VE RECENTLY spent time researching the vision of the U.S. through the lens of one film for every state, following the intuition that, as most movies are set in Southern California or New York (and there’s a lot more America where those didn’t come from), we need to examine Fight Club and On the Waterfront, Brokeback Mountain and Nashville no less than The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind to begin to capture the American dream life. It seems obvious, but it’s often dismissed: Contrasts between the states are mighty and rich. A Wyoming plain and a Sonoma vineyard, Hoboken and Harlem and Hot Springs, the Florida Keys and the Swannanoa Valley are all magnificent intersections of dreams and mistakes, which in honest art allows them to be places where the past can be faced.

And on that note, here’s my list of the 10 best U.S. films released in 2013:

The new Criterion Blu-ray John Cassavetes box set includes The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, the best entry to his work: A grimy thriller about one man trying to make art against the odds.

Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez show us something more of how to be human in Fearless (newly available on Blu-ray), about a man who needs to die before he can live (and love).

Captain Phillips tries to take seriously both the reasons why poor Somali men might hijack a container ship, and the trauma that resulted.

Fruitvale Station is a necessary, humane film that makes visible a version of young black male life that is almost never portrayed: ordinary.

The most underrated film of the year is The Lone Ranger, with better history than Dances with Wolves.

Before Midnight is the continued unfolding of a relationship between our vicarious selves.

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Top 10 of 2012

THE BEST experiences I had at the cinema last year were nostalgic—re-releases of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Lawrence of Arabia were uncanny reflections on the cost of war to soldiers and some roots of contemporary Middle East strife. Here's my list of the best films released in 2012:

10. A tie:The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a gloriously rich, smart comedy for all ages, full of life and self-deprecating humor, and Life of Pi, which envelopes its audience with visual wonders and spiritual questions.

9. Wes Anderson's delightful treatment of childhood first love amid dysfunctional adults, and a film not afraid of the shadow side of growing up, Moonrise Kingdom.

8. The Cabin in the Woods, a gruesome horror comedy that not only enacts and portrays, but understands the lie of redemptive violence.

7. The sprawling, operatic imagining of love-transcending-all that is Cloud Atlas, which made me feel the way Star Wars might—if it were written for adults.

6. The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to a truly epic film series that imagined heroism as self-giving rather than merely slaughtering every bad guy in sight.

5. A disturbing, unpleasant, and utterly compelling vision of religious searching and abuse, relational longing and exploitation, holistic change and psychic torture, The Master.

4. Looper, the most fully realized and coherent future sci-fi world since Blade Runner, and over-the-top entertainment invoking both The Wizard of Oz and just war theory.

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