#1 "Beasts of the Southern Wild": A quintessential sleeper hit. It's that type of beautiful movie that takes you by surprise. The story is familiar enough, a horrendous storm is heading for the delta bayou and we follow a precocious six year old with her father. Everything else that follows is elegant fantasy. The film is typified by its visuals and standout performances, two reasons why movies are even popular in the first place. Beasts is actually one of those movies that leaps off the screen and throws you into horrendous beauty. A keen reminder of how fantasy can help us face some of humanity's most important truths. Even if they reside in a poor old delta bayou.
#2 "The Dark Knight Rises": The heightened realism and pitch perfect tone made the Dark Knight series a hit. Here the film edges out its contemporaries "The Avengers" and "Skyfall" (other 2 hr+ action movies) with its spot on acting and a standout villain. Admittedly, comic book movies aren't for everyone but Christopher Nolan's epic sure tries to be. The cinematography of the picture is so beautifully composed that you forget it is a movie about a man in a cape and the violence is so brutally honest that each blow is visceral. It runs long but the film beckons you to root for the hero up until the very end. Nolan has heightened the bar for movies about explosions.
#3 "Moonrise Kingdom": Wes Anderson's work can be polarizing but his film does one thing that most films are either too preoccupied to do or too mindlessly obsessed with, entertain us. Anderson's movie is quirky and oddball as usual, two awkward kids fall in love with each other and run away from home. A bizarre adventure through the wilderness ensues and without trying it actually kind of makes you pine for young love. All the while broaching complex family issues and making us laugh. Favorite quote: "Does it concern you your daughter has just ran away from home?" Bill Murray: "That's a loaded question."
#4 "The Imposter": Is a mesmerizing documentary for anyone who doesn't like documentaries. The film plays out as an intriguing detective story. A family in Texas discovers that their missing son of three years has turned up in Spain. What starts as a nuanced exploration of a families loss quickly begins to snowball into a mesmerizing tale of lies, mistaken identity and maybe even murder. Anyone who likes interesting things will fall in love.
#5 "Bullhead": The Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee is a tragic and dark thriller out of Belgium. In the vein of recent darker "action flicks" the movie combines psychosis, a muscle bound protagonist and stark violence to envelop us in a ride like none other. We can only hope that this new trend of the thinking man's thriller will overtake Hollywood and save us from movies like "Ghost Rider" and "Battleship: The Board Game: The Movie." The dedicated lead, Matthias Schoenaerts, gained sixty pounds of muscle for the role of a steroid abusing cattle farmer and the cinematography leaves you breathless. It will remind you of what films are like when people actually take their jobs seriously. Here's the trailer.