The end of the year traditionally brings a wealth of best-of candidates, as major studios and studio-affiliated arthouse labels unveil their most austere and decorously appointed films for awards consideration. Yet, a few stray winners aside, we in The A.V. Club film staff found ourselves looking further back in the year for list-makers, including a handful of uncommonly ambitious summer blockbusters, several festival holdovers, and the steady supply of indie and foreign films that slipped in and out of theaters, often woefully unnoticed. Fortunately, 2010 was strong enough in the front end to make up for the back, and we wound up finding plenty of films to rally behind, with such a diverse range of styles, budgets, and themes that it’s impossible to draw a thread to connect them all.
Most movies are about relationships—between law and order, between desire and duty, between the past and the present. But in 2013, many of the great and memorable films—the ones that moved or shocked or stuck with us—were about relationships in the most traditional sense of the word: This was the year of Jesse and Céline, of Adèle and Emma, and of Joaquin Phoenix and his computer. There were mysterious romances, like the pig-related courtship of Upstream Color, and platonic love stories, like Frances Ha and Prince Avalanche. For cinephiles, love wasn’t just in the movies, but also in the air: There was so much to adore—so many fine, unconventional films, a large number of them American—that a list of 20 almost doesn’t do the year justice. Regardless, that’s what we’ve assembled below, joining heads to count down the best of what 2013 had to offer.
The A.V. Club has singled out 90 important, terrific, even canonical movies that weren’t nominated—one for every Best Picture lineup going back to the beginning. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but you’d have to be legally blind to ignore most of these films, especially given what often made the cut instead.
When people talk about what a terrible year 2016 has been, they could be referring to any number of things, from virus scares to the death of beloved celebrities to whatever the fuck happened on November 8. What they can’t mean is the movies, though. Only those who spent all their money on the biggest Hollywood product could really complain about the cinema of 2016. As usual, there was no grand unifying element linking all of the year’s finest films, but there were some shared themes and motifs: grief, and coping with it; strained family bonds; the responsibility (and burden) of religious faith; and, of course, cars. More than a few of the year’s best films also took time to highlight the details of normal life, tethering their drama, comedy, or delirious fantasy to something mundanely relatable. The 20 films below all have at least one thing in common: They made 2016 a little easier to bear, either by offering an escape from its nightmares or helping make sense of them.
2017 didn’t improve much on 2016. If anything, the horror and dread of last year only seemed to take root and blossom this year, as some of our worst collective fears were realized and the future seemed to grow dimmer with every bad-news bulletin and misjudged tweet. If there was a constant, at least for cinephiles, it lay with the movies. One can quibble with the cumulative quality of 12 months of cinema. But as the world burned, the films still delivered. There were so many good ones in 2017, in fact, that we surely left out some of your favorites, including The Shape Of Water, Blade Runner 2049, The Post, Faces Places, Wonder Woman, The Disaster Artist, Coco, and Mudbound. Hopefully, 2018 will improve on 2017 in almost every regard. But we really couldn’t ask for much better movies.
A hostage situation is among the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer through: your life in the hands of a stranger, who threatens to snuff it out for their own nefarious purposes or financial gain. But sometimes, Hollywood asks, isn’t abduction... kind of funny? Hey, maybe a kidnapping is just the sort of wild, unexpected detour you needed to really shake things up, help you learn important life lessons, and even fall in love—or so the movies have suggested over the years. The “hostage comedy” has fallen slightly out of favor since its apparent peak in 1994 (when no less than five films from this list were released) and somewhere after 1996's bleakly funny, yet sobering Fargo finally reminded everyone that, don’tcha know, we’re talking about real people here. Still, the sub-genre is making something of a comeback in 2018, what with the Anna Faris-starring remake of Overboard hitting theaters in April, and FX’s Trust adding a dryly kooky flourish to the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. Here are some of their predecessors that similarly found the hijinks in hijacking.
Historically and annually speaking, January is a bad month for Hollywood movies. It’s a “dump month,” that time of year when the major studios offload the projects in which they have no faith. Sandwiched between the holidays and the Super Bowl, these four weeks are generally treated like a write-off season, as bad comedies, bad action flicks, and bad horror movies are slipped quietly into theaters to fulfill contractual release obligations, under the assumption that they’ll basically be ignored in favor of December’s holdover hits or expanding Oscar hopefuls. There are, of course, exceptions. Every once in a while, a Hollywood studio will drop something genuinely good onto the winter wasteland, either hoping to capitalize on the dearth of new competition or failing to recognize a special movie when they have it. These are the diamonds in the rough, the silver linings in the New Year clouds, the true January gems.
Lots of movies are obviously patterned after fairy tales, everything from Sydney White to The Beautician And The Beast. There are also a multitude of straight-on adaptations, like Disney’s new live-action Beauty And The Beast, which premieres Friday, March 17. But we’ve noticed that there are some films clearly based on fairy tales that never come right out and express that they are: more inspiration than imitation, if you will. So in honor of Beauty And The Beast, here’s our list of subversive fairy-tale movies, where if you dig a little beneath the surface, you’ll find a golden-haired home invader, a pack of dwarves, a wolf-like villain, and even a real, live boy.
Conventional wisdom holds that the best movies of any given year tend to arrive sometime between Labor Day and Christmas—those few weeks annually and unofficially designated as “awards season.” But while the major studios and their indie subsidiaries do tend to hold their big prestige titles until at least early autumn, the truly diligent moviegoer knows that every month on the calendar brings quality cinema. (Yes, even January, provided you’re on Liam Neeson’s aging-asskicker wavelength.) Case in point, we’re halfway through 2018, and there are already enough good-to-great movies to stock a respectable year-in-review rundown. In fact, that’s basically what we’ve assembled below: From Black Panther to Zama, these are the best films that have opened in theaters since New Year’s Day. Rather than ranking the highlights (there will be plenty of time for that come December), we’ve divided them into three tiers: the wide releases and studio blockbusters that opened everywhere; the bigger indie films that slowly rolled out into theaters across the country; and the foreign fare and arthouse acquisitions that popped up at only a handful of venues this winter, spring, or early summer. Consider it a halftime guide to everything you need to catch up with, before attentions inevitably drift to this year’s designated Oscar hopefuls and holiday spectacles.
Deceptive movie marketing predates home video—exhibit A: Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, a 1968 Spanish werewolf movie with nary a Frankenstein nor his monster in sight—but it’s on DVD cases and on streaming video services that the practice truly came into its own. We’ve all seen DVD box art prominently featuring a minor character played by an actor who went on to become massively famous, a phenomenon that could easily produce its own Inventory. But there’s also the less common, and equally amusing, technique of repackaging an existing film to make it look like another film that’s enjoying a moment around the time of the rerelease.
For about as long as there have been movies, there have been special effects. That’s no exaggeration: The medium was only a few years old when people began finding ways to toy with the reality of what the motion-picture camera was capturing, creating tricks from quirks in photographic science. A century later, the technology has drastically evolved, but the function remains the same: to make the audience believe the unbelievable. Not that it’s all about fooling us. Yes, some of the best effects blur the line between reality and fantasy. Others simply show us something so cool—so wild or imaginative or beautiful—that we accept the new reality they create, even when we know it’s all make believe. So what makes a special effect special? Maybe it comes down to the effect.
Summer, of course, is the unofficial special effects season, and to commemorate the winding down of Hollywood’s annual parade of CGI-heavy blockbusters, The A.V. Club has picked the highlights from a whole history of cinematic illusion, from the Méliès “trick films” of the early 20th century to the superhero phenomena of today. Note that this is not a list of the most advanced effects work, because as anyone who’s sat through an X-Men movie can attest, even the most state-of-the-art spectacles can look shockingly lousy. Furthermore, not all once-remarkable effects achievements have retained their luster, which is why some of the biggest box office hits of all time are absent from our rundown. (Sorry Titanic stans.) Consider this, instead, a chronological cataloguing of the movies that still dazzle and amaze and disgust us; whether achieved through purely physical/organic means, through the digital magic available at a mouse click, or through something as simple as a cut, the effects within them hold a monopoly on our imaginations.
Yesterday’s history. Tomorrow’s the future. Tonight’s the party.” Can’t Hardly Wait premiered in theaters 20 years ago with that tagline, although it could be applied to a number of similar movies about kids having one, momentous day that sets the course for the rest of their lives. In that 1998 film, those transformative experiences—all those hookups and breakups, the victories for noble losers and the comeuppances for unrepentant assholes—play out against the backdrop of one wild house party, a common trope for the 24-hour coming-of-age-movie. But whatever the individual setting, characters, or circumstances, the messages of these films is clear: When you’re young and not yet yoked to the responsibility and predictability of adulthood—and you still have the energy to go out—a single day can change everything. Here are 18 of them.