10. American Hustle: This movie evaporated from my mind like snow falling on warm ground. Yet it left a pleasant aftertaste. The strength of the ensemble is difficult to ignore. Jennifer Lawrence puts another feather in her cap here, believably creating a woman far removed from Winter’s Bone’s Ree Dolly but possessing a similarly fierce, leonine strength. Christian Bale, as always in his collaborations with David O. Russell, is weirder, funnier than he is elsewhere (e.g. in his work with Christopher Nolan). Bradley Cooper creates another motormouth role; has there ever before been a Sexiest Man Alive who could so effectively channel neurosis? I could not follow the effervescent twists of this movie’s plot but its essential tone is celebratory, embracing the American con man as an archetype of ingenuity, ambition, and even deep-down good-heartedness. As Roger Ebert said of the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the very term makes being one okay. But that good-natured quality also imparts a slightness to this film; nothing really seems to have been at stake in the end and the final impression I have is that all the characters should have danced together as the credits rolled, while, somewhere, Rodney Dangerfield looked down upon them and smiled in benediction.
9. Drinking Buddies: I knew little of Joe Swanberg’s work prior to this film except for watching perhaps forty minutes of Hannah Takes the Stairs, which I found borderline incomprehensible. Swanberg is known as a mumblecore stalwart, discoverer of Greta Gerwig, and a few other things. This time around he has crafted a fine, if modest, comedy-drama about the tactful management of inappropriate sexual tension between friends and coworkers whose romantic attachments and obligations lie elsewhere. As has been said of Nicole Holofcener, Swanberg here creates characters who seem actually to be trying to navigate their lives, rather than blundering into dramatic confrontations and life-changing mistakes. The result, while hardly likely to set the cinematic world ablaze, is highly satisfying.
8. Her: Here is a companion piece to James Cameron’s The Terminator: another vision of the Singularity, filtered through the lens of a different genre, the romantic drama rather than the action-adventure. Where Cameron’s post-AI future imagined Armageddon, Spike Jonzes’s film contemplates something almost scarier – abandonment, indifference.