Nicole Holofcener’s poignant adult rom-com serves as a fitting coda for James Gandolfini’s brilliant career. Raw, vulnerable and likeable, he makes us forget all about Tony Soprano.
SHORT TERM 12
The year’s other movie with the number 12 in its title is one of the year’s loveliest surprises, an open- hearted, generous and genuinely touching look at the staff and residents of a foster-care facility for at-risk kids. It’s also a wonderful showcase for a quietly wrenching performance by Brie Larson. —STEVE POND
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Miles Teller, whose motor-mouth and frat-boy arrogance served him well in comedies like 21 & Over, gives a truly eye-opening, star-making performance as a budding teenage alcoholic who decides to change his ways after falling in love. The film defies easy categorization, making it this year’s Silver Linings Playbook. —JEFF SNEIDER
We expect finely nuanced performances from frontrunner Cate Blanchett and from Sally Hawkins, and, boy, do they deliver. But Andrew Dice Clay is the biggest revelation in Woody Allen’s latest, in a role that intially seems to be nothing but a working-class boob. Like his character Augie, Clay should never be underestimated again.
Tye Sheridan, the 16-year-old star of Jeff Nichols’ coming-of-age story, has eyes that perfectly convey a world-weary quality; he’s brilliantly
subtle as a character beginning the process of metamorphosing from boy to man, with the help of this year’s comeback kid, Matthew McConaughe. —BL
Greta Gerwig produced her best work to date this year as the star of a quirky, intimate and poignant black-and-white tale she and Noah Baumbach co-wrote about a subject Gerwig knows: the emotional struggles and insecurities of your 20s. —LUCAS SHAW
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Audiences expecting a commercial crime drama got a star-studded art film instead—but if there has been a better movie this year, I haven’t seen it. With no true lead, every member of the ensemble—Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Eva Mendes, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta and the movie-stealing Aussie Ben Mendelsohn—should be considered for Best Supporting Actor. —JS
The rarest of things: the final installment in a trilogy that got better with each film. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke created one of the most realistic love stories ever. —MICHAEL BALDERSTON
THE WAY, WAY BACK
Comedy or not, Sam Rockwell’s tremendous performance in this coming-of-age tale of a young loner defines supporting, as he brings a spark to every scene without overshadowing his fellow actors. —MB
THIS IS THE END
Comedies never get enough respect come awards season, but this was one of the year’s best. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deserve a look from the Writers Branch for a film that had fun with the rapture—and was far more original than your average bromance tale. —LS