FOLLOWING TIME-HONORED TRADITION, studios blew their loads all over Christmas—meaning we won't be getting many new movies for the next few weeks, and what films are showing up in theaters aren't exactly ones anybody wants to leave the house for. Thankfully, that works out great for me—because instead of dutifully covering some movies nobody cares about, I can crank out a list of the best movies I saw this past year. Or, more accurately, I can crank out a list of my favorite movies of the year—a list that, if my eggnog-glazed eyes don't deceive me, contains a couple of films not too many people saw. Hopefully, this means that—unlike all the other best-of screeds floating around this time of year, written by similarly lazy film writers—this thing might be a tiny bit more useful than, say, the lists that're just getting all moony-eyed over Hugo and Steven Spielberg's Battle Pony.
14. Meek's Cutoff (dir. Kelly Reichardt)—If Deadwood showed what life was like in a muddy, shitty frontier town, Meek's Cutoff showed what life was like on the muddy, shitty frontier. Following a group of ill-advised, ill-equipped Oregon settlers, Reichardt's frightening tale of desperation served as an excellent reminder that being a pioneer sucked.
13. The Guard (dir. John Michael McDonagh)—A buddy-cop comedy in which the buddy cops (A) aren't buddies, and (B) feel like actual people. McDonagh's razor-sharp dialogue, paired with excellent turns from Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson, made this one of the most solid films of the year.
12. Bridesmaids (dir. Paul Feig)—Late in Bridesmaids' closing minutes, Wilson Phillips attacked, basically trying to turn an otherwise smart, rewarding film into a Glee-style homage to tween sleepovers where girls sing into hairbrushes. Obviously, this was not okay. Aside from that, though, this outstanding comedy was hilarious and great and fun.
11. The Catechism Cataclysm (dir. Todd Rohal)—This surreal low-budget comedy had several things going for it: an excellent tagline ("God will fuck you up"), the most insane ending of the year (NOT A WILSON PHILLIP IN SIGHT), and a fantastic turn from the dude who plays Stevie on Eastbound & Down. It also had going for it, I suppose, the fact that it was one of the funniest, weirdest movies in recent memory.
10. Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen)—On one hand, this one's kind of a bummer—it'd be nice if we didn't have to high five every time Allen broke his mediocre streak to make something that reminded us how good he can be. But on the other hand, hey, reminder! Woody Allen can still be great! High five!
9. Contagion (dir. Steven Soderbergh)—The movie TriMet doesn't want you to see. What I learned from Soderbergh's gut-churning homage to '70s star-studded disaster epics: Everyone on public transportation has Ebola for blood and sneezes on things for fun.
8. Senna (dir. Asif Kapadia)—An insightful look at Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, who died at age 34. This documentary—told largely through nerve-wracking race footage—was more thrilling than any of this year's thrillers.
7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. Rupert Wyatt)—The sort of movie that no one thought would be any good was also the sort of clever, exciting blockbuster that, as the end credits rolled, made everybody go, "Well, of course that was good. It had a monkey fighting a helicopter!"
6. The Muppets (dir. James Bobin)—Anyone who doesn't like this movie is probably an android. Or an asshole.
5. 50/50 (dir. Jonathan Levine)—See above. What could've been a maudlin bit of tear jerking (the true story of a charming 27-year-old... with cancer!) ended up being subtle, funny, and genuinely moving. This year only one movie got me all embarrassingly teary eyed. This was it.
4. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)—It was pretty. Like, really pretty.
3. Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish)—Fresh and funny, Cornish's spin on the alien-invasion flick—this time focusing on a band of lower-class London toughs who're rather eager to beat the intergalactic shit out of the furry freaks invading their housing project—is one of the wittiest, coolest monster movies ever.
2. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (dir. Werner Herzog)—One of Herzog's best, which is saying quite a lot. Haunting and powerful, Herzog's journey to the center of the earth said more about humanity than just about everything else on this list combined.
1. Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)—Beautiful and brutal and thrilling and sweet and terrifying, Drive was as pure of an emotional, visual, and aural experience as one could have in a theater this year. Refn's best film to date was pure cinema, boiled down and distilled and purified, polished with pop music and blood. It also featured Albert Brooks! With his eyebrows shaved off! Stabbing people! Bald-eyed Albert Brooks, you're the best.