Slumdog Millionaire — Oh, you thought it was overrated because it won Best Picture and maybe didn’t deserve that title, and maybe only achieved the Oscar because of a very effective Oscar marketing campaign? WHO F*CKING CARES, YOU DOPE. “Overrated” is just a euphemism for YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE. You don’t have to compare Slumdog to past Oscar winners, or even the best movies of 2011. Just appreciate it for what it is: An exuberant, uplifting crowd-pleaser filled to the brim with pathos and heartache that will dazzle you with sweetness. You want to shit-talk Danny Boyle’s achievement because a group of old white men had the audacity to anoint it the best movie of the year against your wishes? Get the f**k over it, you cynical windbag. This movie is a goddamn treasure.
Rocket Science — Rocket Science is about the ignominious torture of high school; it’s about the unknown, and speech, and the triumph of Trenton, New Jersey; it’s about Clem Snide, and love, and revenge, and it’s about ordering a slice of pizza. But mostly, what it’s not about is cheap victories, or false epiphanies, or phony climaxes. Rocket Science has Wes Anderson’s style wrapped around the heart of early Cameron Crowe — a whip-smart, undeniably sweet movie about self-realization, finding your voice, and taking control of your destiny, even if you don’t know what the hell to do with it once you’ve taken it over. For some cynic to blast Rocket Science because it is too wrapped up in its influences, or because they can’t identify with at least something in this movie, well then, that person has a a heart that doesn’t bleed blood. It bleeds hate crushed dreams.
Angus — Unlike all the other teenage films of its ilk, Angus sports an honest-to-goodness fat kid as its hero. This is not a guy that gets a magical makeover, nor a modestly attractive person slumming it to play the part of geek or nerd. Angus is a real-life lost cause, and that’s what makes this movie different. Charlie Talbert, the actor who played Angus, wasn’t going to play an overweight unattractive kid in one film and turn around and play a superstar high-school quarterback in the next one. This was an obese kid playing an obese kid, and there was something in just that that made Angus so modestly funny, so heart-breaking, and so honest. Angus is unflinchingly earnest — it hits all the usual notes you’d expect from a teen comedy, but there is not an ounce of cool, or hipster, or indie underneath it. If you can’t root for an underdog like this, then you’re no better than James Van Der Beek’s character, and I. DON’T WANT. YOUR LIFE.
It’s a Wonderful Life — The world can take away your house, it can destroy your way of life, and deprive your Christmas tree of ornaments, but it can’t take away the human spirit, which thrives in the face of death, imprisonment, weary road trips, disability, narrow-minded fathers, abusive husbands, the loss of love, dystopia, and the destruction of home. Somehow, we always persevere because our spirit is indestructible while your soul-crushing cynicism for not liking this movie is small, and petty and will drift away in the sneeze of a corpse.
Billy Elliot — It’s a movie about a boy. A boy who just wants to ballet dance. But faced with a working-class background and a masculine obsessed union-worker family in the midst of a crippling national strike, what could be more daunting than for teenage boy to don a pair of tutus and flit about? It’s not always about surviving disaster. Or overcoming a disability. Or moving beyond crippling grief. Sometimes it’s about aspirations, about pushing yourself and proving yourself and finding the joy in living out a dream and giving that joy to others who swallowed pride and helped you to achieve it. Even if that dream is just to become a ballet dancer. HOW COULD YOU DISAGREE WITH THAT? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Up — Go ahead, try and last the first FOUR MINUTES without losing it. Go ahead.
No, of course you didn’t make it. You’re not THAT awful.
In America — In America is an amazing film, about life and death and letting go, based on Jim Sheridan and his wife’s experiences after losing a child. There are a lot of great moments in the film, but the final scene will sneak up on you and just … it will just murder you. It’s this grand epiphanic moment, where Paddy Considine’s character somehow acknowledge’s his child’s death, lets it go, and decides to live. To live for himself. To live for his family. To live for life. If it doesn’t leave you in big puddle of your own human-manufactured saline solution, then just give it up, man. Go back to your emotionally detached existence, where not even your cat loves you anymore.
Harold and Maude — In a strange and perverse way, the movie celebrates life by embracing death. Maude (Ruth Gordon), a Holocaust survivor about to turn 80, believes in living. She brings Harold (Bud Cort), a depressed, suicide-obsessed, hearse-driving 19-year-old into her life. In a short amount of time, Maude instills into Bud a desire to live, to find love and adventure and grace in life and living and being and experiencing and loving and believing and existing, before shuffling off to her own mortal coil. It’s weird, a little twisted, romantic, sometimes dark, kind of icky, deeply morbid and yet, ultimately, Harold and Maude is a profoundly moving, life-affirming burst of cinematic soul and anything that decries it as too whimsical or twisted deserves to spend Christmas alone with a sack of coal SHOVED DOWN YOUR THROAT.
Shawshank Redemption — Shawshank Redemption is about life, about friendship, about family, about breaking free from the chains and burdens that life piles upon us, and about the indomitable human spirit. But most of all, Shawshank is a movie about hope. About realizing that hope is not a dangerous thing, a thing that can drive a man insane, but a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies EXCEPT YOUR SOUL IF YOU NAYSAY THIS MOVIE.
Short Term 12 — Brie Larson’s Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it has the potential to be the best independent film of 2013. It’s an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. I’d call out the haters, but they don’t exist, because no one could dislike this movie. It is what comes along so rarely: A perfect film, one above reproach by even the most black-hearted of cynics.