We’re halfway through the year (how time flies!), and since everyone on the internet is talking about what have been the best movies of the year so far, I thought I’d put my grain of sand in that conversation. So far, I have seen 43 new released this year, which is by far the most I’ve ever watched in the first half of the year in my entire life. I have also reviewed at least one of those movies a week, so if you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll probably know what my favorite movies of the year have been. If you aren’t a regular reader of the blog, well, I invite you to read my reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Double and We Are the Best! As for this post, instead of writing about the movies I loved the most but have already expressed my feelings on, I thought I’de make a few recommendation of the best movies I’ve seen this year, but haven’t reviewed on the blog.
My first recommendation is the French animated film Ernest & Celestine, directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner. The movie was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar earlier this year, and having now seen it twice, it’s become clear to me that it is clearly the superior movie out of the five nominees (yes, even better than Frozen and The Wind Rises, both of which ended up in my top 10 movies of 2013). But as I sing the praises of Ernest & Celestine, I want to make sure that I don’t overhype the movie, because it is not a grand, flashy, or even very ambitious movie. All of its pleasures are to be found in the small details of the beautiful animation, and fantastic design. The movie is based on a children’s book about a world where bears and mice are enemies, yet slouchy bear Ernest and little mouse Celestine strike an unlikely friendship. The greatest achievement of Ernest & Celestine is that it isn’t ashamed of being a children’s movie, it is a delight of animation, funny, entertaining and incredibly adorable. Small children will adore it, and adults will find how an animated movie without double-entendre jokes can also be good for them.
Next, let me go for a slightly more prestigious pick. James Gray’s The Immigrant premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it was received with rather mixed reviews. It made its way to America a year later, where it was received with a much more enthusiastic response. Still, everything I read about the movie made me think the movie was going to be yet another period piece about America’s dark past. I think what happened is it reminded me of HBO’s rather boring Boardwalk Empire, which is also set in the 1920s. The Immigrant, however, slowly won me over, and by the end of the movie I was convinced this was one of the best things I had seen all year. Marion Cotillard stars as a polish immigrant trying to get her sister out of the Ellis Island hospital where she has been quarantined. For this, she is helped, but also pimped out by a hustler named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). Jeremy Renner also plays an important role as a magician, but it’s really the relationship between Cotillard and Phoenix’s characters that fascinated me the most. They are far more complex and interesting that I could have hoped for, and the movie seems to be very delicately and meticulously assembled by Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji, who does fantastic work throughout the movie, and defies the limits of beauty and photographic meaning in the movie’s very last shot.
Finally, let me go out on a much lighter note, by shining a light on Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano, a thriller in which Elijah Wood stars a concert pianist who, before he is to play his big comeback concert, receives a phone call from a man (voiced by John Cusack) who says that if he plays one wrong note, he will kill him. So, kind of like Speed with a piano instead of a speeding bus, and yet, one of the most exhilarating and entertaining movies of the year. Let’s make it clear though, that if you are the kind of person that thinks a pulpy movie about a man trying to play the piano in order to save his life could only be dumb and stupid, you will not like this movie. If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person that recognizes awesomeness when you see it, then you’ll have a hell of a great time watching Grand Piano.