I’ve seen what feels like a surprising number of movies that genuinely excited and moved me this year, films as different as “The Descendants” and “Drive” – both of which are on my 10-best list below.
“The Descendants” is my favorite film of the year for its ability to find the pain, dignity and humor in the story of a man watching his way of life die, even as he has to act as steward to its demise.
But I loved “Drive” in a different way when it saw it at a screening last summer – and loved it even more when I saw it again in the late fall.
As I watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s measured, explosive film unfold, I kept thinking that it reminded me of movies from the 1970s, something I said in my review. Something a lot of people said.
I felt the same way when I saw – and then re-saw – Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Here was a movie that refused to smooth things out for audiences, or to supply them with a neatly wrapped-up happy ending – a trait of some of the better films of that decade.
So what it is about the 1970s that still makes critics who were working – or seeing movies then – drool when they talk about what is considered a golden era?
It was the willingness, even the eagerness, to do something that went against the grain – to make movies that were thoughtful and complicated, movies that refused to give audiences an easily understood or even likable main character. They were movies that didn’t hedge their bets in order to maximize their audiences.
Above all, they were movies that weren’t afraid to end unhappily or, worse, inconclusively, a trait shared by “Drive” and “MMMM.” I’d also include Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” in my little round-up of movies with that 1970s feel. And Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult,” a movie that puts the happy ending to shame. Think “Chinatown,” or “Night Moves,” or “Nashville,” or “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” or “Taxi Driver.”
This commentary continues on my website.