Ain't Them Bodies Saints - David Lowery - Great year for beautifully realized, emotionally charged crime flicks as visual poems. None more so than this.
American Hustle - David O. Russel - Big, showy, electric, fluid, shaggy, cock-sure arena rock pick of this list. Damned if don't rock balls.
The Counselor - Ridley Scott - Glitz, glamour, grisly, gangland garroting. Gosh, I gushed for this morality play infused with amazing dialogue and a metric ton of doom.
Mud - Jeff Nichols - America's cinematic future is not only not doomed to mega-budget shit-blowing-up spectacle, but rich, exciting and pretty fucking badass exhibit A: Jeff Nichols. Three for three and only getting better.
New World - Hoon-jung Park - How do you take a familiar genre to a new level? Re-locate it to the most exciting and stabbiest corner of the movie-making map. Gangsta gangsta at the top of the list.
Only God Forgives - Nicolas Winding Refn - Hypnotic, Lynchian, Kubrickian, Van Damme-ian nightmare. Beautiful, sinister, detached and cold as hell.
Pain & Gain - Michael Bay - You think I'm being ironic? This one's a blast all the way through. Sharper, funnier and more mean-spirited (in my favorite way) than you're going to be prepared for. It's also weirder and more perverse than you'd think the guy best known as the purveyor of mega-budget blow-shit-up poo-piles was capable let alone interested in delivering. The great American asshole tradition has a new and worthy work. Kinda wanna make a double feature of this one and Spring Breakers.
Place Beyond the Pines - Derek Cianfrance - Ambition is what I responded to most here. More like a novel in structure and scope than a typical crime flick, it swings for the fences and when it connects, you'll feel it.
A Single Shot - David M. Rosenthal - You've suffered through backwood horror, south-sploitation, broad, shallow and lazy blue-collar heartland gilding to arrive here, and it's been worth it because this is the rural noir you've been waiting for. This one nails the atmosphere and details of place, character and fucked up situation while delivering a thriller that haunts as well as gets your blood pumping. Damn fine movie that should find a wider audience soon.
Top of the Lake - Jane Campion - Anchored by the disturbing disappearance of a young girl (more disturbing because no one knows how to label it - runaway, kidnapping, murder - and there are cases to be made for each) Top of the Lake explores the secrets and inner-workings of a remote New Zealand community and strikes gold, silver, copper and several gems among its citizens. Nowhere more so than in Peter Mullan's enigmatic and volatile portrayal of crime lord, community leader and family man Matt Griffin. A bit shaggy about the edges (as it turns out - a lot of this year's favs are... I guess I'm responding to ambition more than execution this year) but compelling at its molten core. I'm choosing to include this in the film rather than television category because that's what it is. It originally played festivals as a loooong movie before being distributed as a TV mini-series by the Sundance Channel.