I’ve been thinking about you. About what you want from life, from relationships, from the movies. This list isn’t about me, it’s about you. Your needs, your dreams, all that jazz. This may seem like a hodgepodge selection of titles with no connecting thread, but believe me, these films reflect the way you’ve felt and thought in the past year. Don’t say no before taking a look. Like a birthday card, it all boils down to two things: sincerity and love. Bear with me.
1. “Intouchables”: Despite the ignoble nickname of “Driving Monsieur Daisy” it was given by some reviewers in the U.S., nothing can dent the fact that this Gallic life-affirming tear jerker has turned out to be the most successful French film of all time. Based on a real-life relationship between a wealthy Parisian disabled from a paragliding accident and his African caregiver whose life priorities are girls and Earth, Wind and Fire, it’s an unabashed tribute to a beautiful friendship. As for racism: “Qu’est-ce que c’est la?”
2. “The Help”: Racism is the central theme of this tale depicting the life and times of African-American maids during the 1960s. With the civil-rights movement raging just outside its manicured lawns, a white community in Mississippi sees nothing wrong in hiring “colored” maids for peanut wages to look after the house and care for the children. College girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) embarks on a project to interview the maids and write a book about them. Sounds like a noble undertaking, but her privileged upbringing often gets in the way of good intentions. Superbly insightful.
3. “Young Adult”: When does a woman drop her prom-queen mentality, discard her Wonderbras, cancel online dating accounts and settle down to married life with the man of her dreams? Answer: she can’t. See Charlize Theron as an excruciatingly deluded late-30s YA hack author, who goes all-out to snatch her high school boyfriend from a happy marriage, and you’ll see how even a glamor girl like her can’t pull. Theron is on top form here, commanding every frame with regal bitchiness.
4. “Win Win”: If you’ve never seen Paul Giamatti — the epitome of the calcium-deficient, midlife-crisis loser — you’re in for the rare treat of witnessing him in the spotlight as assertive and upbeat wrestling coach Mike Flaherty. OK, Mike doesn’t start out positive, but after encountering a teenage wrestling prodigy (Alex Shaffer) and facing up to a few home truths, Mike decides that a change is in order. Giamatti is first class, but Amy Ryan as his wife can only be described as American suburban super-deluxe.
5. “Melancholia”: According to the Mayan calendar, this was the year the world would go down the tubes. Reflecting this doomsday mood and then multiplying it by about 5,000 is this exquisitely gloomy parable by Lars von Trier, who himself was suffering severe depression when making it. The premise: A huge rogue planet suddenly appears in our solar system and threatens to collide with Earth. What’s a family to do but go ahead and throw a wedding party? Sheer poetry, animal sexuality, and dark and desperate longing.
6. “The Amazing Spider-Man”: When Andrew Garfield appears in that super-snug Spider-Man suit, scaling Manhattan skyscrapers to fight evildoers and remembering to get organic eggs for Aunt May on his way home, I’m sold. He’s also a perfect match for the year’s It Girl: Emma Stone, who stars as love object Gwen Stacy and is a veritable striped candy cane of schoolgirl braininess, short pleated skirts and a heart of gold.
7. “The Descendants”: It’s not easy being a gorgeous, wealthy, successful lawyer in Hawaii. Not even if you are a direct descendant of King Kamehameha. Matt (George Clooney) is cruising along on the path to prosperity and early retirement when his wife becomes comatose after a water-skiing accident. Only then does Matt realize the vast gulf separating him from his family, and how he must work now to mend the rift. Money’s just not going to cut it, but long walks on the beach and some old-fashioned bickering may work their magic.
8. “Hugo”: Getting in touch with retro is good at this time of year. Or more to the point: It’s wonderful to witness a vintage 20th-century fantasy film that’s neither “Harry Potter” nor shot in New Zealand. Directed by Martin Scorsese, this is a tribute to human handiwork, craftsmanship and the inherent respect people once had for industrial machinery. Almost all the action takes place in a Parisian train station, and if nothing else, the gorgeously detailed and intricate set is to swoon for.
9. “Farewell My Queen”: Speaking of which, dive into the Paris of two and a half centuries ago, when Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) was still la reine even though the peasants had stormed the Bastille and many of her courtly friends were put on the infamous “guillotine list.” Here, her main concern is that her secret love, Madame Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), is about to be executed. To ease her loneliness, the queen hires a young country girl (Lea Seydoux) to read to her. The salaciousness broils just below the luxury and extravagance of the last days of the Bourbon Dynasty.
10. “Oranges and Sunshine”: Ken Loach’s son Jim reveals to the world a piece of hidden history (and a dirty secret) of the British government: From the late 19th century to 1970, Britain deported more than 130,000 children to Australia to use as cheap labor. The kids were orphans or from poor, single-parent households, lured with promises of year-round sunshine and oranges. In 1986 a social worker named Margaret Humphreys (played here by Emily Watson) blew the whistle, and strove to reunite the children — now well into adulthood — with their surviving families. Heartrending stuff.