My lists: 2010, 2011

Films I Missed: Anna Karenina, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, The Intouchables, The Inbetweeners, The Bourne Legacy, Kill List, Paranorman, Frankenweenie, The Paperboy


Renn2013_1515) Renn On Killing Them Softly:

Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to The Assasination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, is an odd, stilted little gangster picture that certainly wasn’t what all his fans were hoping for. Leaving behind the deliberately paced beauty and far-away-eyes pathos of his last film, Dominik instead goes for something smaller, harder. The story of a mob clean-up guy investigating an open-and-shut case of a knocked over poker game, this film is all about taking the small moments we take for granted in these kinds of movies –the guy getting beaten up, the out-of-town “fixer,” the double-cross– and fixating on them, dissecting them, and loading them with more impact than they tend to get in a genre full of shorthand and rote violence. Killing Them Softly makes you feel that beating and dwell on that double-cross.

All that said, it’s likely the way, way opposite-of-subtle political commentary woven into the film that will either turn you off completely, or ensure it sticks with you. If you’re with it, this oddball little genre film goes through great pains to plant a hook in the universal nastiness that drives everything from small-time crookery to full-scale economic geopolitics.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The unabashed use of political and economic punditry as a sort of diegetic score, a superb cast, a willingness to experiment within each scene.

Performance to savor: Richard Jenkins in sardonic mode should never be missed, but this is Pitt’s show, and he owns it. Pull Quote: “In Dominiks’ film, you’re on your own. If you get your bearings though, you’ll find a great little gangster film.”

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Renn2013_1414) Renn on Vanishing Waves:

On many lists this might be the place inhabited by Holy Motors, but as remarkable as that film is (and it’s super-duper remarkable), I couldn’t help but get even more swept up in the visual poetry and emotional journey of Vanishing Waves. A small but sophisticated drama that mixes science fiction with romance and psychological surrealism, Vanshing Waves perhaps recalls most Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, absent the wry, melancholy humor. Centered on a man who uses an experimental neural exchange technology to explore the mind of a comatose woman, it is about love, lust, guilt, obsession, infidelity, and romance. The film renders all of these emotions largely without words, dispensing with an abundance of dialogue for a heightening of the poetic imagery. The film is a trip through the mind of lovers, grounded in reality but often irrational in the manner that sexuality, anger, excitement, and depression always are. The sensibilities do border on bourgeoise, but Vanishing Waves is a beautiful, top-shelf drama that is worth seeking out right away- don’t let this one slip past you.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The poginont rendering or romance and lust, the dreamy narrative with the shock of a scifi gateway.

Performance to savorJurga Jutaite as the stunning, often wordless object of love, who conveys deep, primitive emotions with shocking power. Pull Quote: “Prepare to have your mind as aroused as your pants.”


Renn2013_1313) Renn on Cabin In The Woods:

Drew Goddard’s meta-horror flick surely has to rank number one on the list of films about which geek ink has been spilled this year, but the fact remains: it’s damn great. Hilarious, bloody, and with more than half a brain in its genre head, it’s one of the rare stories of a shelved title finally getting its day and due (and making some dough). There’s a whole lot of cleverness packed into a concise package, and the humor gives it a repeatability and a friend-share factor that pushes it over the edge.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Richard Jenkins, much of the creature design, the clever shifting of roles, the density of the metaflavor stuff.

Performance to savor: Richard Jenkins, all day and all night. Pull Quote: “Shut up. Tell your friends to shut up. See The Cabin In The Woods. Shut up again.”

Buy It From UsMy Review


Renn2013_1212) Renn on The Raid: Redemption:

Maybe The Raid wouldn’t be as deeply satisfying an experience if action movies had not spent the last decade or so cramming themselves up their own asses with useless convolution and faked-out effects, but they have, so The Raid is. Operating on a welded-steel chassis of a hyper-straightforward plot that would make John Carpenter proud, Gareth Evans is free to explore all the beautiful ways a few dozen men can do violence on a few hundred other men. Characters are made flavorful and menacing, filmmaking explores setting, dimension, and kinetics with ample breathing room, while impeccable fight choreography does the heavy lifting of pushing this into truly sublime action movie territory. It’s just that awesome.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The blazing martial arts, ACTION YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE, and a nice grungy flavor to the villains.

Performance to savor: Surely Yayan Ruhian as the Mad Dog is the only acceptable answer? Pull Quote: “This is meat-grinder martial arts cinema, in the best possible sense. “

Buy it from usJoshua’s Review


Renn2013_1111) Renn on Les Misérables:

It’s become clear that Tom Hooper’s musical just isn’t for everyone, and those it turns off, it does so in a big way. For those for whom it works though, it’s one of the most bold, glorious blockbuster experiences of the year. Hooper doesn’t mince close-ups, fixates on performance, and unapologetically flies through Victor Hugo’s vision of a post-revolution revolutionary France full of characters going through biblical struggles. Like many of the great musicals, Les Misérables operates in the theater of core emotions: fear, misery, love, and hope. You know, the kinds of things that actually make people burst with feeling, and can realistically drive the ostentatious expression of opera. Nuance isn’t the game here, and Hooper’s choices and techniques reflect that, even if the film isn’t as aesthetically aggressive as it is being commonly painted. The performances run the gamut, but the ones that pop do so with such gorgeousness that they skew the film’s average deep into the “great” end of the scale. If you demand your films always look like other films and adhere to an arbitrary set of visual rules then, yes, this might not be the musical for you. Hooper and company worked hard to present a sweeping epic in a bold, memorable way though, and for many it will be the defining musical of this generation.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Sweeping scale contrasting an intimate camera. The recording technique that makes that bad worse but the good MUCH better. All of this together making a uniquely cinematic musical.

Performance to savor: Oh fuck off- Hathaway all the way. Pull Quote: “Fearless in technique, performance, and scale, the film claims its place among the all-time musicals and upholds the reputation of a show that has enraptured millions.”

But The Soundtrack From Us • My Review


Renn2013_1010) Renn on Argo:

Here’s what I said about the film in my review…

“Argo is about accomplishing something very small –and doing it quietly– on a very big stage. The entire world was watching and the stakes were life and death, and yet it all came down to whether or not this gate agent believed that particular forged document or whether a particular phone call made it through at a particular time. It’s about finding slivers of hope where there is otherwise only grimness. Six people is nothing compared to the dozens of other that remained trapped for over a year, but it was enough to restore the world’s faith that a happy ending was possible. It’s a film that seems timely, without making any easy, belabored parallels that will cheapen it in the future. That’s important, because Argo will be admired for a very long time. One of the best films of the year and supremely entertaining to boot, Argo sets a very high bar for a season sure to be filled with great work.”

Yep, that’s about right. While the film doesn’t quite stick to the ribs as much as it might without so much artificiality involved in the thriller aspects, the craft is impeccable and the ride is unmatched this year.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The fidelity to the period aesthetic, the deft handling of the historical context, and that it is just damned entertaining.

Performance to savor: I’m of the mind that Affleck delivers a rock solid performance based on subtlety to anchor the scale of the film, so I’m stick with that. Pull Quote: “…you’re just not going to spend more time at the edge of your seat in 2012 than you will watching Argo.

Pre-Order It From UsMy Review 


Renn2013_99) Renn on Moonrise Kingdom:

Anderson’s last film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, was the first real sign that the director had finally gotten a firm enough grasp on his own aesthetic affectations that he was finally going to be able to put them to mature use. The great news is that with his new film the promise of that animated classic has already been paid off in live-action. Without sacrificing an ounce of his aesthetic eccentricity –in fact, while arguably dialing it up– Anderson has put together a film that is simultaneously his most affecting and most accessible. It’s such a rare joy that when those two qualities come together in one film, especially one that dares to be just a little bit dangerous from time to time. Crammed full of great performances from Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, etc etc., this touching story of loneliness, maturation, community, and rebellion is sure to be one of 2012’s most long-enjoyed treasures.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Perfect match of aesthetic, brave emotional exploration, and an adorably entertaining story.

Performance to savor: Ultimate its the odd chemistry between Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward that drives this one, even with so many high-caliber adult actors surrounding them. Pull Quote: “The true arrival of Wes Anderson as a complete, mature filmmaker.”

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Renn2013_88) Renn on Skyfall:

It was a fascinating thing watching Sam Mendes piggyback off of Nolan’s injection of geopolitical awareness into the blockbuster, while simultaneously rejecting the gritty nihilism that has largely followed it.  He did all this with one of the longest-running franchises in film history, after a successful aesthetic and tonal reboot. Casino Royale caught Bond up with the modern age, and with Skyfall Mendes has actually pushed the spy into the cutting edge. Blazing a new trail that balances an appreciation for tradition and old-school class with the edge of modern blockbuster thrillers, Skyfall is a hell of an action film, and a truly classic Bond film. It’s also the most gorgeous movie of the year.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Craig at his most mature and vulnerable, Deakins stunning cinematography, a clever addition of characters from Bond Canon and wisely staged exchanging of roles, a bizarre, compelling villain, and damn good action.

Performance to savor: What is a Bond film but a film about Bond. Craig does some of his best work yet here, and not just narrowing it to his Bond films. Pull Quote: “Finally paying off the promise of Casino Royale, Bond fully reclaims his place on the action movie throne with Skyfall

Pre-Order It From Us • Tag-Team Review


Renn2013_77) Renn on The Grey:

It speaks to the power of Joe Carnahan’s emotional action thriller that this is the second time I’ve written it up for a Top 15 list. Last year, when our screening happened to occur before the new year and the film’s release, I very nearly published a “Best Of 2011” with The Grey included before realizing that the film was really a 2012 joint. A year later the film is still goddamn great and easily ranks on the list, even with another twelve month’s worth of contenders facing it down. A gut-punching survival story that knows how to explore masculinity without resorting to posturing bullshit, The Grey is built around an amazing performance from Liam Neeson, who is in turn surrounded by a bevy of great –though quickly dwindling– character actors. We don’t get enough meaty, edge-of-your-seat actioners that also prioritize worthwhile subtext and are brave enough to embrace the frustrating ambiguities of life. From the melancholy opening beats to the harrowing post-crash sequences fully through the bloody, desperate journey for survival, The Grey sinks its teeth into all the qualities of a great film.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Unmatched intensity, great action filmmaking, all with a healthy dose of meaty subtext…

Performance to savor: Everyone is great, but Neeson owns this shit, glass knuckles and all. Pull Quote: “The first best movie of 2012!”

Buy It From UsMy Review


Renn2013_66) Renn on Looper:

I’m gonna throw back to my original review for this one, as even after a thousand plot nitpicks and twitter discussions, it’s no less a great scifi film that beautifully opens up a fascinating world.

“It’s rare that a film demands an instant rewatch both because of its rewarding intricacies and because it’s so damned entertaining, but something about the best scifi action does just that. Looper stands confidently alongside thoughtful, contemporary blockbusters like The Matrix and Inception, while preserving so much of the intimate details of films like Primer and Moon. Rian Johnson has proven himself a worthy studio filmmaker who has vision enough to fill out a large budget and give us bigger ideas to match the bigger films. Looper would be a contender for best film in any year it was released, and this year it stands out from all other blockbuster efforts by a large stretch. It deserves virtually every positive adjective you can throw at it and it is the kind of film with which a message can be sent to the studios that audience are hungry for ideas with their spectacle.”

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: A fascinating science fiction world, clever time-travel twists, great acting, and an energizing second-act turn.

Performance to savor: In a cast of cutting-edge young actors and old pros, it’s actually the child actor Pierce Gagnon that steals the show with his almost supernatural intensity. Pull Quote: Looper stands confidently alongside thoughtful, contemporary blockbusters like The Matrix and Inception, while preserving so much of the intimate details of films likePrimer and Moon.

Buy It From UsMy Review


Renn2013_55) Renn on Lincoln:

While the lens may in fact be too long for some folks, the intense focus of Spielberg’s Lincoln is its greatest weapon in the battle to contain such monumental moments and people into a mere feature film. Lincoln himself, the War Between the States, the genealogy of the 13th Amendment, race relations in the mid-19th century, congressional politics… each of these subjects represent dramatic arenas large enough to contain many many films without any rubbing elbows, so to touch each one in a single film is a monumental challenge. By holding tight to the very specific back-room machinations and politickin’ that got that amendment done though, Kushner and Spielberg let the very nature of such a story open up all the windows we need into those various subjects.

With all that said, the film would still be a dry, unremarkable bit of historical drama were it not for the immense powers of Daniel Day Lewis, Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner, Janusz Kaminski, Tommy Lee Jones. The careful tonal balance, the choice of a heist-like approach to the story the subtly gorgeous photography, the performances that are bold, but detailed enough to earn it… these are not qualities you can just fake. This is top-shelf filmmaking taking on the big stuff. This is why the phrase “prestige picture” –for all its baggage and triteness– still means something when this talent is involved.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The tonal balance, the immensely listenable and rich dialogue, the roster of great performances, the choice to make a political heist film!

Performance to savor: Who wouldn’t want to hear Daniel Day Lewis tell stories and give impassioned speeches for as long as he’d want to do so. If only there was a universe where a sequel could happen… Pull Quote: “…as Lincoln himself now belongs to the ages, so does this film. In fact, it is good enough that it may very well survive them.”

 Buy The Book “Team Of Rivals” From UsMy Review


Renn2013_44) Renn on Cloud Atlas:

There simply was no more ambitious film released this year. And while the techniques at work are not as ostentatious as bullet-time, The Watchowskis and Tom Tykwer truly did remarkable work to progress film as a medium, stretching the limits of how moving images can be combined, compared, contrasted, interwoven, and mirrored. Clearly not destined to be recognized right away, it’s an important movie that is going to make the form better for having been made. It’s also stunningly emotional, entertaining, and epic- a true sweeping story of destiny. It’s my pleasure evangelize for the movie, and I’m proud to be among those singing its praises. I look forward to doing it for many years to come.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The sheer density of internal connections, the variety of stories and settings that all work as an ambitious whole…

Performance to savor: I’m always partial to the Wachowski’s evil muse, Hugo Weaving, but Ben Wishaw is the revelation in this one. Pull Quote: “…those that don’t miss the painting for the brushstrokes will see unfold before them a film like no other.”

Buy The Novel From UsMy Review


Renn2013_33) Renn on Beasts of the Southern Wild:

What a joyful, effervescent movie Benh Zeitlin crafted in Beasts Of The Southern Wild, even as it tackles the bittersweet subject of growing up. Death and natural destruction litter the film, and yet this journey with little Hushpuppy is so intensely affirming that it never drags you down. Instead it unfolds an emotionally complex and universalstory of a little girl making her way in a big world, and does so beautifully amidst fantastical scenarios and locations that seem to dip in and back out of reality with reckless abandon. Zeitlin has simultaneously launched himself to the top of the list of new filmmakers to watch, while also launching what will surely be a long and rewarding career for young Quvenzhané Wallis. I can’t wait to see what all of them have in store to follow up what will go down as the most exuberant time I spent in a theater this year.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: A rich, unique setting, the buoyant performance of Wallis alongside Dwight Henry, and the magical mix of practical effects and messy, vivid photography.

Performance to savor: Wallis has to give one of the most thunderous debut performances from a child actor ever in this film. Her discover is worth the existence of the film alone. pull quote: “A roman candle of a film, bursting with emotion and discovery in every scene.”

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Renn2013_22) Renn on Zero Dark Thirty:

The metaphor is obvious: Zero Dark Thirty tells the decade-long story of the hunt and execution of Osama Bin Laden with the same frantic precision, military discipline, and bloodthirsty drive as the squad of elite Navy Seals that go to such furious work in its closing act. A taught, journalistic epic, the film objectively captures the increasingly un-objective quest of one CIA official to track down the whereabouts of our nation’s greatest single enemy. The film surgically slices through the timeline leading to the raid on the compound in Pakistan in 2011, and by nature it gets right up in the face of some ugly procedures and mean people. The subtlety with which the politics and repercussions of those acts are integrated into the backdrop while keeping the main story divorced from anything aside from the task at hand is marvelous. Chastain is a brutal crusader in this film- everything we like to think of America as in our moments of deepest terror and anger in the face of terrorism- cold, intelligent, fearless, and utterly fixated on vengeful justice. She’s supported by a immense network of familiar faces that strike just the right kind of fire-em-up posture when necessary, and grow focused and intense as needed.

When the thrilling procedural is complete and the patriotic welling subsides from witnessing our best-trained men unceremoniously eliminate an icon of terror though, what is left? The filmmakers very carefully choose a very few moments in which to layer on the questions and subtext, not least of which are the haunting final images that are as quietly powerful as anything ending a film this year. One gets the lingering sense that the film is pointing out that Bin Laden’s work is over- he’s dead and martyred. It is now easy going for the monster, meanwhile we’re left searching for identity and direction once he’s gone. Where do we want to go?

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Chastain’s supernatural focus, the incredible journalistic filmmaking that gives way to intriguing emotional ambiguity.

Performance to savor: It’s impossible to focus on anything but Chastain’s fiery eyes, even with half-a-dozen other fantastic performances peppering the film. Pull Quote: “Truly masterful- movies simply do not get more intense, impressive, or important than this.”

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Renn2013_11) Renn on Django Unchained:

It’s the most brutal, most intensely watchable, most excellent movie of the year, hands down. Tarantino’s most narratively straightforward work to date, Django Unchained represents the director’s now masterful handle on his own brand of hip hop filmmaking. Once again he’s pulled off an entertaining, affecting, grand piece of catharsis cinema that engages with the evils of history by facing it against modern swagger. Confidently filmed with the spirit of Sergio Corbucci backing every perfect shot choice, Django Unchained is riveting, the kind of movie that an enthusiastic film fan will simply eat up, frame by frame. Confidently, perhaps even recklessly tackling an atrocity with complicated repercussions through history on through to the present, the film is not thoughtless, even when shamelessly framing a freed slave gushily obliterating a plantation to the tune of James Brown remixed with 2pac. QT’s pop cultural brush is more precise these days and every stroke, no matter how unapologetically loud, carries with it thought and deliberateness. Buttressing the bloody foray into pre-Bellum aristocratic society is a collection of Oscar-caliber performances, with Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson each delivering career-topping efforts.

While it may ultimately shake out to sit somewhere below his absolute greatest films, Django Unchained ranks undoubtedly high among the work of a master filmmaker, and there’s simply no better, more triumphant time to be had in a movie theater this year.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The fantastic chemistry between Foxx & Waltz and DiCaprio & Jackson, the humor, the special kind of violence, the best soundtrack Tarantino has ever assembled.

Performance to savor: Could it be Samuel L. Jackson giving the best performance of his career, surely of his last decade of work? I think it is. Pull Quote: “The best, most brutal, most intensely watchable film of the year.”

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Unchaining Django Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


A few Extra Categories…

The Truly Close Calls

The Master
Magic Mike
Holy Motors
Rust & Bone

Killer Joe

The Honorable Mentions:

Sleepwalk With Me
Miami Connection
The Comedy
Katy Perry: Part Of Me

The Final Member
Snow White & The Huntsman
The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Rise Of The Guardians

Silver Linings Playbook
Project X
Life Of Pi
Room 237
Wrath Of The Titans

Seven Pyschopaths
Re:Generation Music Project

Favorite Documentaries of the year:

Switch (dir. Harry Lynch) – You should serious check this doc out if you want to have a better understanding of our energy systems and the future of energy production on this planet. [review]

Brooklyn Castle (dir. Katie Dellamoggiore) [review]

We Are Legion: The Story Of The Hacktivist (dir. Brian Knappenberger) [review]


And One Last Shout-Out:

Detention!Last year I included a film as an addendum on my list because it was one I truly believed in, but was set as a small 2013 release. Further complicating matters was/is that I’ve done more and more professional work with the filmmaker over the past year, making any list-inclusion dubious at best. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some space at a movie that would be absolutely be on this list if I had never met Joseph Kahn. The film is, of course, Detention. I’ve written plenty about it, and now many of you have too. I hope more of you see it in 2013 and have something to say about this awesome, awesome movie.


Thanks for reading!