People hate Sofia Coppola for a number of reasons, most of which I cannot understand. While her slow and unglamorous shtick might leave viewers cold and tired, to those who can appreciate the routine malaise of rich and successful people, films like Somewhere are true gems that deserve appreciation. Almost a bookend to Coppola's breakthrough hit, Lost in Translation, Somewhere is a small, sweet, and slow film about a Hollywood actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who is trying to get his life together, which includes being a better father to his daughter, Cleo. Elle Fanning gives a stunning performance as a girl who has lived her life without a father, or any proper support, but her understated talent shines through in tiny but elegant moments. In Fanning's case, a glare across the table can speak wonders for her emotions and anger. As a behind the scenes look at fame and fatherhood, Somewhere is a great film.
9. Toy Story 3
This one is purely a sentimental pick. Yes, Toy Story 3 was great, we can all for the most part agree on this one, but what made it special for me was being able to see how far the series has come from its humble beginnings. Pixar revolutionized animation and paved the way for new and thrilling forms of cinema and CGI. Having grown up with Andy, the owner of the toys, it was especially moving to watch as he matured and grew up, something that Woody the Cowboy realizes in the second film of the trilogy. The film feels like The Great Escape as performed by Happy Meal toys, and as such, gives audiences of all ages plenty of humor, fun, and heart to devour and enjoy. It also had me sobbing like a small child by the very end, which is the true mark of greatness. In short, it was the perfect ending to an iconic series.
8. Animal Kingdom
It's survival of the fittest in this crime drama/sleeper hit. The 'Kingdom' is contemporary Australia, where a crime family is caught in a war between the cops and themselves. At the center of all of this is J, the emotionless but good natured grandson to Janine Cody, played with a chilling precision by Jacki Weaver, who gets stuck with these criminals after his mother dies. The feelings of brotherhood and family unity are sick but compelling, and the action/violence is slow building, and unexpected. Overall, Animal Kingdom is a realistic crime drama that is stuffed to the gills with talented actors and great cinematography.
7. The Illusionist
While many critics scolded Sylvain Chomet's second film, The Illusionist for not being as 'good' as The Triplets of Belleville, his smashing and near perfect debut film, I found a deep flaw in their assessments: It's not supposed to be The Triplets of Belleville! Instead of copying his first film note for note, Chomet adapts a screenplay by Jacques Tati and creates a quiet but richly detailed film about an aging magician and the bond he forges with a young fan. Told with minimal dialogue, the film works at a nice pace, showing scenes of daily life and simplicity, all the while sending its Tati-esque protagonist through a series of magic shows and spectacles. In short, The Illusionist is a sweet, silly, and surprisingly moving film that is about putting aside the top hat and moving on from magic. Which is deeper than 98% of most animated films.
6. Blue Valentine
There isn't much hope for the couple in Blue Valentine, but their unraveling is so painfully honest that we cannot turn away from it. Ryan Gosling was denied an Oscar nomination for his complicated and challenging role, one in which he transforms into a man he never thought he'd become, or maybe, he was all along. Michelle Williams carries her role with true grace, which is odd considering how tragic the story is. It is a great film because it's simple yet complex. I was taken by both lead actors, and as always, love to see a small film that can still captivate audiences and leave an impression.