The Illusionist

Wistful and whimsical, minimalist and moving, slow-paced and rich with pathos, The Illusionist is a surprising, unusually nuanced antidote to garish mainstream cartoon fare; an old-style, hand-drawn animated film of fleeting charms rather than loud noises; a French story without dialogue and with one of the most depressing final acts ever committed to celluloid. It’s enough to make you laugh if you didn’t feel like crying.

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Animal Kingdom

Hardhearted, ominous, violent, and nail-biting, Animal Kingdom is a distinctive distillation of a well-worn genre; a brooding, unrelenting character study about uncaged beasts; and a grim rites-of-passage Shakespearean drama with an atmosphere of lethal portent and malignancy. Skilfully lit and edited with low-key performances, it’s a contemplative policer from down under with a high startlement quotient, marrying heightened emotionality with cool contemporary style.

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Acrid, labyrinthine, unnerving, and well-assembled with visual panache, jarring sound design, and spasmodic pacing, Mother is a deceptively simple and humorous tale with nasty flashes of violence; a slippery drama that suggests the psychological thrillers of Henri-Georges Clouzot transposed to present-day Asia; and a superb thriller that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

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Harrowing, propulsive, and euphoric, Whiplash is a spellbinding drama about the toxic fallout from rampant ambition and cutthroat perfectionism; a make-or-break movie aimed at those who have ever wanted to be excellent at anything; and a cynical, intense, blood-curdling portrait of geniuses as sociopaths. It’s a cymbal-clashing achievement.

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2010 Retrospective

Reeling in a post-Avatar world, 2010 saw a dramatic increase and prominence in the use of 3D technology, and Pixar’s long-awaited trilogy-capper topped the box office with over $1 billion worldwide. For cinephiles, the year was overflowing with goodness, and five major festivals catapulted breakthrough debuts and mature gems to audiences across the globe. Here are my thoughts on a year that shunned the “rules” of filmmaking and in so doing reached the heavens.

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Gone Girl

Mystifying, well-planned, precisely curdled, and tantalizingly mercurial, Gone Girl is a stealthy comedy and an absorbing melodrama; a break-all-the-windows plot-twister that retains every jolt from Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster novel; and a work of chilly wit and bleak metaphor that toys with the viewer like a femme fatale with her prey. It’s the perfect date-night movie for couples who dream of destroying one another.

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Uproariously emotional and painfully personal, Mommy is a heart-swelling, heartbreaking, breathtaking piece of cinema: a mature, funny, and tragic mother’s tale featuring real heart-on-sleeve performances that are almost operatic in scale, a story of rare poignancy and insight told with a delightfully nasal Québecois timbre. It’s a film of startling warmth, sizzling sentiment, and suffocating power.

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