1. Zero Dark Thirty
It opens in darkness with sounds, sirens, and sobbing phone calls from the burning Twin Towers. Revenge—such as it is—will take time. Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller is mercilessly gripping. It’s all hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Captured suspects don’t want to talk, and wearing them down—with waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other methods of extreme interrogation—takes weeks, months, each day uglier than the last.
Money, lots of it, must be freed up, operatives inserted into dangerous settings. There is always another busy, professionally skeptical CIA bureaucrat to be pitched—and then he’ll have to pitch his superior, who’ll have to pitch his. All of them, up to the (unseen) top honcho, ask, “What are the odds that this is Osama bin Laden?” The question still hangs as the Navy seals board the craft that will carry them into Pakistan, where, at zero dark thirty (half past midnight), they’ll don their night-vision goggles and burst into the compound—and hurry up and wait, and hurry up and wait. Most of the people they kill will be unarmed, with extra bullets pumped into prone bodies for added certainty. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who wrote The Hurt Locker) give you one lonely protagonist, but she’s not in every scene and she doesn’t fight—except to make herself heard: a CIA analyst, played by the arresting Jessica Chastain, who shows her character’s rage via tension in her face and body. This is a phenomenal piece of action filmmaking—and an even better piece of nonaction filmmaking. It also borders on the politically and morally reprehensible. By showing these excellent results—and by silencing the cries of the innocents held at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other “black sites”—it makes a case for the efficacy of torture. How to reconcile these two feelings? The debate begins December 19.
Check the full list at the Vulture website.