Custom photo by Iana Kazakova, with thanks

Another year has come to a quiet close, wafting to sleep on a cloud of tryptophan, and like every other berk writing about movies on the internet, this means it’s time to write up my top ten. There’s no time to waste, but as usual this list should come with the caveat that I didn’t see everything this year, including other popular choices like Frances Ha or Fruitvale Station, but let’s be honest here, a movie about normal people living in the real world probably wouldn’t have wound up on here anyway. I mean, it’s me.

#10: The World’s End

The final installment in Edgar Wright and co’s “Cornetto Trilogy” is, in all honesty, the weakest in the trilogy, but really that’s like coming in third in some demented Olympic sport that combines multi-level chess, nuclear physics and cunnilingus, performed simultaneously (which would probably result in only sligtly more neck injuries than usual, if we’re being honest). While it may not quite match up to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, World’s End is still incredibly sharply written, fun and surprisingly emotional.

GardenofWords#9: The Garden of Words

And speaking of emotional, Makoto Shinkai’s latest film is in top running for “biggest emotional gut-punch” this year, a beautiful and visually stunning tale of young love and eyeball poppingly animated rainy afternoons. Some may detract it for its occasionally Hallmark-y sentiment and short length, but some people detract me for my staunch refusal to watch “grown up” movies and bathe more than twice a month, and what the hell do they know?

#8: Only God Forgives

Nicolas Winding-Refn’s latest visual love-letter to Ryan Gosling’s stoic features may pale in comparison to his last, but like all of Refn’s work, is still a dazzling display of pacing, framing, nuance and incredibly gory violence. It’s the kind of film that film nerds love, one that defies expectation and forces you to think on and interpret what you’re seeing for yourself if you’ve any hope of figuring out everything, before ending more suddenly than than the bloated, turkey-drunk Christmas coitus that I expect many of you are enjoying as I write this.

#7: Doomsdays

It could be very easy for Eddie Mullins’ Doomsdays to become the next Napoleon Dynamite, a quirky “you get it or you don’t” indie comedy that we’ll all love for a few years then decide to hate when too many people with annoying affectations become rabidly devoted to it. But until the honeymoon ends, Doomsdays is a fantastically charming movie, full of heart and humor, man-on-automobile violence and at least one ex-Wire cast-member in women’s underwear, who thankfully isn’t Wendell Pierce. And for those with the image of Wendell Pierce in women’s underwear now firmly lodged in your brain, I await your pipe bombs.

#6: White House Downwhite-house-down-poster2

Maybe it would be exaggerating to call Jerry Bruckheimer’s White House Down the glorious rebirth of the American action movie, but screw it, White House Down is the glorious rebirth of the American action movie. While other action blockbusters in recent years have been busy being dark and cynical grit-fests, White House Down has the sheer audacity to have some damn fun and wear its adorably naive patriotism and sentiment on its sleeve like the proudest ballerina at the school recital. Its a movie that dares to have a sense of humor about itself in a climate of determinedly un-self-aware, overly serious Expendables and Fast and Furious franchises with increasingly depressing numbers stapled on the end, and God knows we could use a little levity.

#5: Frozen

I’m not a Disney fan, in fact I think it’s safe to say I’m quite anti-Disney most of the time, but Frozen is the movie that convinced me that maybe the House of Mouse can stand with the animation big dogs and deliver a fun, progressive and surprisingly feminist movie that’s still about fairytale princesses, which is like delivering haute-cuisine which is still a lukewarm hamburger made out of a possum. Hell, I even liked the songs! This may not be the turning point for Disney we all hope it to be, the first signs of someone at the company finally realizing it’s the 21st Century and finally making films with a modicum of modern sensibility in terms of things like gender politics and underlying message, but it’s proof that we shouldn’t be picking out that mouse-eared tombstone just yet.

#4: Rewind This

Like most people old enough to get a terrible deal on a home equity loan, I still remember the time when VHS was a thing that existed, and while nostalgia goggles do help my rating of Rewind This!, which chronicles the rise and fall of the VHS tape, the fact that it’s a lovingly and perfectly crafted documentary takes it the rest of the way. The passion and care of the film makers can be felt in every frame, from interviews with legends (legends to me anyway) like Lloyd Kaufman, Frank Henenlotter and Mamoru Oshii, to the 80s-tastic graphics. It educates as well as entertains, which can only really be said about great documentaries and the night classes I take with Professor Bobo.

pacific-rim-poster-image#3: Pacific Rim

Oh don’t look so surprised (your highne..wait, no, did that one before), like you didn’t know the movie about giant robots fighting monsters directed by Guillermo del Toro would make my top ten. But really Pacific Rim’s me-tastic setup can only take it so far. What brings it to number three is how unabashedly, unflinchingly fun it is. Pacific Rim does nothing in half-measures, in fact it regards half-measures with the same disdain with which I regard vegetables and exercise. The movie is exactly what it should have been: a fun, half-insane rollercoaster of over-the-top characters and the kind of action that leaves you with a ruptured eardrum or two if you have the right sound system.

#2: Drug War

It should be no surprise by now that Johnnie To has honed the making of Hong Kong crime thrillers into a fine art, but even I was surprised at how tightly packed his latest film is. Drug War is a Swiss watch of a film, a Swiss watch that occasionally involves ass-kicking deaf guys and the BEST MOVIE COP EVER. Look away or let your attention drift for a second and you’re irrevocably lost in the film’s myriad double, triple and quadruple-crosses and mind-bendingly elaborate sting operations. And even beyond the ornately crafted script, the film’s bloody final shoot-out, which redefines the term “bloody final shoot-out,” proves that even 14 years after The Mission, To still has as tight a grasp on what makes a good action scene as any director alive.

#1: Upstream Color

There aren’t many films I thought back on in amazement at this year as Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, a film as mesmerizing as it is hard to explain to people without having their eyebrow rocket skyward in incredulity like a hairy North Korean missile test. Shot and told in a haze of disconnected, fragmentary images, Upstream Color is a headscratcher, but a headscratcher that will leave you moved and amazed, if the scratching doesn’t bore through your skull to leave jagged marks on your occipital lobe first. It’s weird, it’s high-concept, it’s emotional, it’s magnificently shot and edited, and it will probably have film nerds noisily messing themselves for years to come…..pun intended.

Note: Yes, yes, I know Fantasia started yesterday, rest assured I’m probably writing my account of the first day right now, but in the mean time, I’d be remiss if I talk about this one….

Pacific Rim is a hard movie to stay unbiased about, mostly because I’m pretty sure the director, Guillermo del Toro, was thinking of me the whole time he was making it. I mean look at the premise, for crimminy’s sake. Some years in the future, a dimensional rift opens up in the Pacific Ocean, and giant monsters dubbed kaiju begin spilling out and attacking major cities. To defeat them, the nations of the world ban together to implement the only feasible and realistic solution: giant robots called Jaegers, controlled by two mind-linked pilots. This is basically Thomas the Movie.

pacific-rim-posterSo going in, there was a fair bit of apprehension about whether the movie would live up to the promise of its premise. Two and a bit hours later I emerged from the theater with all that apprehension burned away like a Popsicle on a Montreal summer’s day, because holy SHIT this movie rocks.

The best way I can describe it is as the best animated movie I’ve seen all year. Because for all intents and purposes, this really is an animated film. Not just because of the massive levels of cgi, but because how readily it throws itself into the kind of exaggerated, cartoonish (and I do hate using that word) fantasy that most grim n’ gritty sci-fi these days does its level best to avoid.

Make no mistake, this is a movie that throws itself with all cylinders firing and all guns blazing into the fantastical. Everything that can be exaggerated is, and with gusto. The Russian Jaeger pilots are bleach-blonde golems who barely talk and go into battle with a full Russian choir blaring through the soundtrack. The support crew and scientists behind the Jaegers sport bow ties and suspenders and outrageous accents. Every costume design and set is a marvel, with all the detail and color punched up to eleven, and Ramin Djawadi is a symphony of pounding drums and grinding guitar riffs. The female lead, Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, seems to be channeling every Anime heroine ever, with her giant eyes, partially blue hair and ever-shifting personality. Hell, there’s a goddamn lunch room scene where she and Charlie Hunamm’s Raleigh Beckett, stare at each other across a crowded cafeteria holding trays of food. It’s like for two seconds the film becomes an episode of…I don’t know, what high school drama anime is popular right now, I don’t have time to keep up with this shit.

The upswing of it is, the film is a love letter to the outlandish, the fantastical, the absurd. It revels in its own absurdity, it molds it into a crown and wears it with pride. It knows it isn’t here to make you think, or make some kind of statement, it’s just here to make sure you spend two hours having the time of your goddamn life, and if you let it, it’ll do just that. It’s the best kind of summer popcorn movie, the kind that knows it’s silly, but doesn’t confuse silly with stupid.

One side of this that a lot of people may not appreciate, however, is that the acting and dialogue are almost always leaning toward stilted and hokey. In some cases, like Ron Perlman’s gloriously scenery-chewing turn as black market Kaiju organ dealer (I’m not even fucking kidding) the actor clearly is just running with it and having a blast. Other cases, like Charlie Hunamm, seem to be struggling to walk the line between over-the-top and actually good. Kikuchi seems to have a better time of it, though a lot of her role is just staring wide-eyed at things. Idris Elba, who is no question the biggest name on display, of course does an excellent job as the generic military leader/father figure/retired badass/inspirational figure.

We must break you

Now, all this isn’t to say the movie is perfect. While the massive, theater-shaking Kaiju fights are often spectacular to look upon, sometimes it seems like we’re a bit too close to the action, and what exactly is going on is a bit of mystery. The ending fight scene, which takes place entirely underwater, or the opening scene, which happens during a tidal storm, are good examples of that.

The best fight scene by far, the one you practically know beat for beat from the trailers, comes at the end of the third act, and the movie never quite comes back from that high. Get it? High? Ok, you’ll get it if you’ve seen the movie. To put it in layman’s terms, the movie blows its load a bit too quickly, and while the third act is pretty good, it never quite matches that one fight.

Of all the big, loud, effects-laden summer blockbusters to hit this year, Pacific Rim is easily the best. While most of its competition has been preoccupied with moody, gritty drama and wants desperately to be taken seriously, Pacific Rim wants none of your seriousness, and even less of your grit. This is a movie which is committed, with every frame, to just being fun. Sure, when you start thinking too hard about it, you start plotting holes and inconsistencies and vagaries, but Pacific Rim isn’t the kind of movie so stuck up its own backside that that shit even matters. This is the pure, illogical joy of a kid playing with his action figures in the sandbox, put on screen with a painter’s eye and a great, passionate gusto for the fantastic. This is the kind of movie that makes summer blockbuster season worth it, despite all the Star Treks and Man of Steels with their too cool for school sense of self-importance that just makes you want to throw a pie in their faces and tell them to lighten up and enjoy themselves.

Pacific Rim is that pie.