Best Picture AND Best Director:
Drive, directed by NICOLAS WINDING REFN:
An art house character study wrapped in a violent crime drama and advertised as a high-speed action movie, Drive offers us startling insight into the irrepressibility of one's true nature more than it offers us chases and fisticuffs. In more cinematic terms, one might describe it as Unforgiven set in modern Los Angeles, at least in how it pertains to the central character's noble attempt but tragic failure to smother his violent propensities. Refn directs his picture with intriguing flare, sometimes opting for odd aesthetic choices, but on the whole, it really works.
A Separation, directed by ASGHAR FARHADI:
An exceptional domestic drama about the failure of human relationships, and not just marital ones (as the title implies), one can't help but notice that the film's painful truths are universal ones, delving deep into human conscience and exposing the dangerous inconsistencies between our personal moral codes, and our responsibilities to model ethics for our children. Farhadi's aesthetic technique is economical but very polished. Every character is superbly played with authentic dimensionality. It's a testament to how well Farhadi wrote and directed his characters.
Arguably the elusive master's most thought-provoking – and certainly his most artistically ambitious – effort to date; a flawed, painterly masterpiece that explores in broad, bold strokes mankind's search for God and the fluid relation between Nature and Grace. Malick blurs the venn diagram overlap between his looming themes with scenes that suggest the gracefulness of Nature and the naturalness of Grace. He creates a rich stream of consciousness, laced with internal monologue by our three principles that all seem to be asking “where are you?”.
directed by LYNNE RAMSAY:
Ramsay uses vivid cinematic techniques to immerse us in the guilt, anguish, and confusion of a woman whose son holds an inexplicable personal vendetta against her. She directs the hell out of this thing, and what she's ended up with is a disturbing work of art that gets under your skin and stays there against your will. Her evocation of Eva's frazzled memory is a stellar editing showcase. Lady MacBeth herself wouldn't have had such a hard time absolving herself of the guilt that stalks Eva's mind.
This beguiling psychological love affair that draws us to an epiphany about the root of nostalgia and our human dissatisfaction is Woody Allen's freshest, most imaginative premise since The Purple Rose of Cairo. Owen Wilson aptly plays an extension of the onscreen persona Allen spent years performing himself; the precocious, stammering sentimentalist prone to self-analyzing his own neuroses. The supporting cast that animates his possibly hallucinated alternate Paris is wonderful as well. The midnight sequences are beautifully shot with warm, textured lighting by Darius Khondji and Johanne Debas, before jolting us back into Gil's painful present with the hard, bright light of day.
Best Director: DANFUNG DENNIS
Danfung Dennis employs a smart chronological structure that toggles back and forth between the "Hell" of Afghanistan and the "Back Again" of America, although by the end of the film it's suspected that home may have become Nathan's true hell. He endeavours to dissect and present his subject's state of mind by drawing direct connections between his wartime experiences and his home-front struggles. In keeping with the spirit of true documentarianism, Dennis never indulges in talking head interviews of voice-over narration.
The Adventures of Tintin
If your thirst for adventure is unquenchable, Steven Spielberg's rollicking popcorn pic should be enough to slake your thirst. Freed up by Weta's ground-breaking performance-capture system to play with the camera in ways he never has before, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is easily the funnest movie he's put out in nearly a decade; An Indiana Jones for the next generation.
This gentle little drama about the generation-spanning challenge of finding happiness succeeds in great part due to its three central performances from Ewan MacGregor, Christopher Plummer, and Melanie Laurent. Mike Mills' script and direction are beautifully restrained, employing a melancholy sense of humour when needed to lighten his film's understated but deep-running sadness.
The Ides of March
The hypocritical game of politics is what's put front and centre for us to see; irredeemably cynical (maybe too much so) in its depiction of a profession in which one's career cannot survive without compromising, or even completely abandoning, one's principles. Whether you agree or not with this grim assessment, it makes for a terrific yarn.
This slow-burner of a sports movie (more of an anti-sports movie, actually) appreciates tremendously with time. It's more about ambition and paradigm shifting than it is about baseball, told not through the eyes of the athletes, but of the man putting the team together in hopes that his life and career will mean something. Splendidly written and performed.