1. The Tree of Life
How a film manages to feature the creation of the universe, 1950s suburbia, and the end of time while remaining thematically coherent completely confounds me, but Terrence Malick has accomplished this endeavor and created one of the most massively cinematic tone poems of all time. Many have drawn comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and they are completely valid. It’s impossible to do anything but admire Malick’s sheer audacity. While The Tree of Life is an immense feature – notice the dinosaurs – it manages to feel deeply personal and honest. At the heart of the film lies a boy’s struggle to adhere to a life of grace, embodied in his angelic mother, or nature, manifested in his oppressive father. Hunter McCraken shines, giving an all too real performance as the film’s protagonist. Jessica Chastain is divine as the mother and Brad Pitt easily gives the best performance of his career as the conflicted father. Emmanuel Lubezki does his finest work as a cinematographer here, giving the film an extra-natural sense of beauty and a fluid immediacy. The collection of classical pieces and Desplat’s score perfectly complement the film’s images, instilling the picture with a mesmerizing gravitas. The Tree of Life provides Malick with an opportunity to grapple with issues of life, death, family and God, and he does it in a fashion that feels emotionally resonant and true. The Tree of Life is a triumphant feat of filmmaking that will undoubtedly stay will me for as long as I love film.
With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese uses modern cinematic technology to pay tribute and give life to the magical roots of film history. In doing so he has created what exists as his most personal film. You can feel his adoration for filmmaking in every frame of this fantastical odyssey. The attention to detail is spectacular. The cinematography, art direction, and costume design all work in tandem to flesh out the dense and gorgeous whimsicality of a Paris train station where the majority of Hugo’s story unfolds. Howard Shore’s score also adds to the film’s fairytale aesthetic. Hugo also boasts the single best use of 3D that I’ve seen in film, making the shots of snowfall and steaming pipes all the more engrossing. All of theseelements operate together in a way that reflects the clockwork and machinery so thematically inherent in the film. Hugo is ultimately about finding one’s purpose and how one can use any fashion of artist expression, be it filmmaking, magic, or literature, to operate in the world around them.