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16. "Seven Psychopaths"
Not since "Adaptation" has there been a film that has had as much fun poking holes in the sacred art of screenwriting, and while the film is often very silly, there's a very sly commentary about the way we complain about it when filmmakers appeal to our baser natures, but we complain when those baser natures aren't satisfied. I would recommend this film for the Tom Waits digression alone, a marvelous mini-movie about regret and love and finding your other half, but that's just one great scene in a movie full of them. Christopher Walken has a great rumpled dignity in the film, and Sam Rockwell has never had a role that seemed more tailor made for him and his charming eccentric energy. It is one of those films that seems to be packed full of things for you to find each time you see it, and I look forward to many viewings in the future.
I'm not always the biggest fan of sports movies, but every now and then, a filmmaker gets it exactly right, and "Goon" is a case where you can feel the love in every frame of the movie. Director Michael Dowse has been working on the margins of the industry for a while (unjustly, in my opinion), and "Goon" turned out to be the perfect showcase for his talents. The same is true of Seann William Scott, who has been saddled with the Stifler baggage for his whole career. The thing that really got to me about "Goon," though, has nothing to do with sports at all. Instead, it's the way the film celebrates the need we all have to find the thing we're good at and how hard that can be. When you do finally find your place in life, there's nothing that feels better, and "Goon" perfectly captures that feeling, no small trick.
18. "Damsels In Distress"
Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. And the best tap-dancing of the year in the best musical of the year. Radiant and joyful. I caught up to this late, and to be honest, I've never been the world's biggest Whit Stillman fan. I like his movies, but I never felt the same intense connection to them that some fans did. This time, it all came together for me, and there's something deeply affecting about this portrait of how we often ignore our own faults while we can clearly see them in others. Considering how heightened the reality of most of the film is, I was blindsided by it when the ending hit me like a ton of bricks, real emotion trumping everything.
19. "The Cabin In The Woods"
Clever rarely works for me in the same way that sincerity does, but "Cabin In The Woods" manages to take a very clever set-up and wring real meaning from it. As a lifelong fan of horror films, I've often tried to explain why I see value in the genre, and now I finally have an argument I can just hand someone to watch. We need red meat in our diet, and there is something cathartic and important about movies where we satisfy the darkest parts of our nature. I would argue that these movies channel these thoughts in the best possible way, keeping the real darkness at bay, and when we see politicians desperately point their finger at Hollywood instead of honestly dealing with some horrible real-life moment, it is as wrong-headed as possible, completely backwards. "Cabin" knows full well that our entertainment is where we work out these impulses and ideas, and that it is important we maintain this outlet. Beyond that, it's also just plain entertaining, and that tension between text and subtext is what makes this "Cabin" one that's been built to last.
20. "Beasts Of The Southern Wild"
The arguments this year about "Beasts of the Southern Wild" have been fascinating to watch because it feels like every single person describing the movie has seen a different film. I feel like this is one of those films you can't take as literal, and it works for me as pure fairy tale. I love the handcrafted aesthetic of the movie, I really like the non-professional actors who make up the cast, and I find myself deeply charmed by the lovely work done by Benh Zeitlin in bringing this world to life. I don't really agree with the various real-world-politics readings of the film that I've heard, and I think it's shortsighted to get hung up on how this plays into a post-Katrina America. The world of the Bathtub is an internal landscape, and I was moved deeply by Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her struggle to find her place in the world. By the time she finally faces down the feral beasts that threaten her, standing strong and brave in the face of danger, this ode to self-sufficiency has left its mark on me, and I look forward to many trips back to the Bathtub in the years to come.