It has been a year of documentaries made on big ideas and small resources. At the other end of the spectrum, some of the best fiction films had the look and feel of a documentary, attesting to the modern notion that the individual and his/her story are just about the most interesting things around.
1. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: Shy high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) tries to locate a tribe of his own, and hits the jackpot when he meets seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). The book was published in the 1990s and was heralded the new “Catcher in the Rye”; author Stephen Chbosky refused to sell the rights for an adaptation, sitting on it for a full decade until he could direct his movie himself. Fresh, engaging, beautiful.
2. “The We and the I”: French filmmaker Michel Gondry’s English may be a little iffy, but that didn’t stop him holding an acting workshop with kids from a Bronx high school. A faux documentary of the bus ride home from school on the last day before summer vacation, this charts the swaying emotions and shifting loyalties of real teens in the Bronx. Raucous and funny, but ultimately heartrending.
3. “Silver Linings Playbook”: A dreamy pairing of It Girl Jennifer Lawrence and Most Adorable Guy in the Western Hemisphere Bradley Cooper, this is about wrecking and fixing, rinsing and repeating. Just out of a mental institution, Pat (Cooper) meets the equally troubled Tiffany (Lawrence) at a dinner party. They don’t hit it off at first, but the fun is seeing how these troubled minds fall into sync. Awesome performances, unforgettable moments. Robert De Niro as Pat Sr. is a gem.
4. “Searching for Sugar Man”: If you’ve never heard of Detroit folk-rock musician Rodriguez and do not hail from South Africa, join the club. “Sixto” Rodriguez signed with Motown Records in the early 1970s, but soon faded away. Unknown to him, however, in South Africa his music became a symbol for the anti-apartheid movement, which ultimately gave rise to the question: Where is Rodriguez now? See the movie to find out.
5. “Cutie and the Boxer”: In 1972, a 19-year-old art student named Noriko showed up at the loft of Brooklyn-based artist Ushio Shinohara, for tutoring and advice. Forty years later, Noriko (59) and Ushio (80) are still married, perpetually strapped for cash and bickering when they’re not working. Their relationship is bitter but has a lot of depth — keep watching and you can almost taste the sweetness.
6. “Star Trek Into Darkness”: Of all the action blockbusters that came out this year, this is the one that stuck in the retina. Director J.J. Abrams concocts an intriguing blend of angst and action, violence and inertia, seriousness and humor. The cast is brilliant, with British snobbery and classicism supplied by Alice Eve, Simon Pegg and the groomed-to-precision Benedict Cumberbatch.
7. “Bernie”: Jack Black is not an actor to do things by halves, and when he was slated to play the part of real-life Texas murderer Bernie Tiede, he visited the prison where mild, kindly Bernie was serving a life sentence and got his mannerisms, his speech, even his gaze down. When Bernie shoots overbearing bully Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), it’s almost a relief. Even a saint like him can only take so much.
8. “Everyday”: Ian (John Simm) is the father of four lovely children, but he’s convicted of drug smuggling and thrown in prison. In his absence, wife Karen (Shirley Henderson) must cope with running the household, pulling pub shifts and bringing the kids over to dad on visiting days. The kids are real-life siblings, filmed by Michael Winterbottom over the course of five years — the same as Ian’s sentence.
9. “Trashed”: Elegant Jeremy Irons scales piles of rubbish and goes knee-deep in filth, in this jaw-dropping documentary about what mankind’s garbage is doing to the planet. From Lebanon to South Wales and on to Vietnam, Irons’ journey tells us this fact: Our waste is killing our own habitat.
10. “Hope Springs”: Tommy Lee Jones and the love story? They just don’t gel. But in this thoughtful tale of marital dynamics in the twilight years, he simply shines. Jones plays Arnold, a tax consultant whose relationship with wife-of-many-years Kay (Meryl Streep) hits a wall so hard she decides to take them both to a therapist (Steve Carell). Moral: You’re never too old for a romantic dinner.