Wasn't this supposed to be the year the movies died? First, Steven Soderbergh announced he had quit the film business in frustration. Then, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted the imminent meltdown of the $30-billion-plus worldwide movie industry, saying that ticket prices will soar for the fewer films that make it into theatres, while everything else will be delivered to your living room. What isn't on IMAX, in other words, will be on your iPad: The artistic middle ground has been ceded to interactive game designers and cable TV's writer-producers.
Sounds plausible. Unless, of course, you've actually been paying attention to the movies. The past year has been as exciting as any in recent memory, with films that emphasize visual storytelling and narrative complexity, and build to satisfy the urge for a one-time only, two-hour epiphanic experience.
Yes, there's a catch. Nearly every quality movie these days comes with a backstory about a Hail Mary financial play: Brad Pitt used his celebrity clout to get 12 Years a Slave made; Leonardo DiCaprio courted investors to produce The Wolf of Wall Street when studios passed on it; French investors stepped up to finance the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis; and one 27-year-old woman, Oracle heiress Megan Ellison, kept the indie world alive through her Annapurna Pictures, financing Her, Spring Breakers, American Hustle and The Grandmaster.
On a humbler level, fans on Kickstarter helped make Paul Schrader's "post-theatrical-cinema" release, The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan, and are currently financing new films from Zach Braff and Spike Lee. You heard that right: Audiences are directly bankrolling the films they want to see. The old business models may be broken, but this year the movies flourished. So much so that a single Top 10 list won't contain the bounty. So I'll break it up.
Top 10 mainstream films
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
A married couple drive, have lunch with friends, go for a walk, and fight in a hotel room in long scenes that strip a relationship down to its bones and build it back again. Richard Linklater’s third film in the Before series, in combination with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, is film marriage as long-term commitment.
Inside Llewyn Davis
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