“Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”
97%: “12 Years a Slave”
96%: "Before Midnight"
91%: "All Is Lost"
90%: "Short Term 12"
89.5%: “Dallas Buyers Club”
89.5%: “Fruitvale Station”
88.5%: “Captain Phillips”
88%: “Blue Is the Warmest Color”
87%: “Enough Said”
84.5%: “Blue Jasmine”
(New Zealand, U.S.)
Directors: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Director: A.J. Edwards.
An account of Abraham Lincoln's youth.
(Germany, U.S., Japan, Italy)
Director: Michel Comte
Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly" gets staged in a modern-day production in this 3D performance film.
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
A new kind of participatory variety show hosted by Gordon-Levitt, directing a global online community of artists as they create short films, music, animation, etc.
Directors: Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat
A portrait of Argentinians publicly performing dance numbers they normally only do alone, in front of a mirror.
Director: Thomas Allen Harris
An epic that moves through past and present using the work of contemporary photographers and artists.
Praise: “It seems certain to transcend the movie realm and become a new reference point in contemporary culture — a defining vision of what slavery looked like, and felt like, in the U.S. before the Civil War.” — Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
Skepticism: “The movie nails all this, and it's smashingly effective as melodrama. But (Steve) McQueen's directorial voice — cold, stark, deterministic — keeps it from attaining the kind of grace that marks the voice of a true film artist.” — David Edelstein, New York Magazine's Vulture
Note: This list is limited to films released in theaters Dec. 3 or prior. Percentages are the cumulative average of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores. Compiled by Maane Khatchatourian and Allegra Tepper.
Praise: “In a little more than 90 minutes ('Gravity') rewrites the rules of cinema as we have known them.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times
Skepticism: “Unlike (Alfonso) Cuaron's extraordinary 'Children of Men,' it doesn't quite pull off its ambitious effort to combine formal inventiveness, heart-pounding action and intimate human storytelling. But it succeeds thrillingly at the first two of those categories, and only misses the mark on the last because it tries a little too hard.” — Dana Stevens, Slate
Praise: “If the first two films belong with the greatest (if talkiest) movie romances of all time, the new film is richer, riskier, and more bleakly perceptive about what it takes for love to endure (or not) over the long haul.” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe
Skepticism: “As ever, the energy and sense of spontaneity is enlivening, but there's a slight air of phoniness that doesn't sit well with the in-the-now realism of Linklater's project.” — Dave Calhoun, Time Out London
Praise: “(J.C.) Chandor's attention to detail, and the expressiveness and utter believability with which Redford goes about the anything-but-mundane business of surviving, make 'All Is Lost' a technically dazzling, emotionally absorbing, often unexpectedly beautiful experience. — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Skepticism: “'All Is Lost' is more fun to think about than it is to actually watch: It's a testament to a great actor, an experimental piece of cinema and a bit of a bore.” — Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
Praise: “ 'Short Term 12' is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate.” — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Skepticism: “There's a too-cute-to-be-true ending to this U.S. indie movie by the much-acclaimed young director Destin Cretton; I couldn't buy it, and found myself wondering if I had kept the receipt for the rest of the film too.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Praise: “By the end of this sincerely calculated, always watchable movie, everything has burned away but the fury, including whatever you may think or have thought about the actor (Matthew McConaughey) you're looking at. That's how good the performance is.” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe
Skepticism: “Despite its good intentions and moxie-filled performances, 'Dallas Buyers Club' is ultimately marred by its impulse to compromise its freewheeling humanity in favor of crowd-pleasing tropes.” — Nick McCarthy, Slant Magazine
Praise: “Without ever being forced or false, and with an amazingly honest eye and ear for detail, writer-director Ryan Coogler's drama about a young man's final hours is one of the most extraordinary films you'll see this year.” —Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
Skepticism: “Coogler ... evokes a tangible sense of place, and his staging of the climactic incident hits like a fist in the gut. It's not enough to wipe out his reduction of this real-life figure into a composite-character martyr or the lukewarm filmmaking that's come before, even if you're left shaken...” — Sam Adams, Time Out New York
Praise: “A great many filmmakers — too many — use handheld cameras. ... But director Paul Greengrass is unique. At a glance, his live-wire, ragged-camera method may seem overly familiar, but the way he employs it, that method is as expressive as the style of a superb novelist.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Skepticism: “There is something too dry and austere about Greengrass and (screenwriter Billy) Ray's telescoped vision, which touches only fleetingly on the pirates' motives, the suffering of the Somali people and the collateral damage of global capitalism.” — Scott Foundas, Variety
Praise: “From the moment when Adele first catches sight of Emma, on a busy crosswalk, the movie restores your faith in the power of the coup de foudre and yet redoubles your fear of its effect; love, like lightning, can both illuminate and scorch.” — Anthony Lane, New Yorker
Skepticism: “However sympathetic are the characters and (actress Adele) Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, (director Abdellatif) Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women.” — Manohla Dargis, New York Times
Praise: “James Gandolfini, in one of his final roles before his death in June, is so sweetly funny in this rueful comedy that you wish he had been given more chances to tap his talent for the lighter side.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Skepticism: “Despite the wit and literacy of 'Enough Said,' its form is straight out of a teen romance: A cool kid starts dating someone less cool, and then engages in some elaborate deception that, if found out, will threaten the progress of young love.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
Praise: “ 'Mud' poses as a mere adolescent adventure tale but explores a rich vein of grown-up concerns, exploring codes of honor, love and family too solid to be shaken by modernizing forces.” — Peter Debruge, Variety
Skepticism: “ 'Mud' is as unmoving as it is because it doesn't aspire to be anything other than a competent anti-fairy tale in which the paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists.” — Simon Abrams, The Playlist
Praise: “A meaty, fully realized drama that cleverly functions as both an update of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and a satire on One Percent excess.” —Justin Chang, Variety
Skepticism: “ 'Blue Jasmine' is so relentlessly clueless about the ways real human beings live, and so eager to make the same points about human nature that (Woody) Allen has made dozens of times before, that it seems like a movie beamed from another planet.” — Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice
Praise: “Mr. (Bob) Nelson's observant, detailed script flawlessly captures the mood of what American ennui has done to both old and young men on their way to becoming losers, lending a look and feel that seems like the Great Depression.” — Rex Reed, New York Observer
Skepticism: “The absurdist atmosphere feels thin: the movie is like a Beckett play without the metaphysical unease, the flickering blasphemies and revelations. We seem to have entered dim-bulb territory.” — David Denby, The New Yorker