3. Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon

Paranoia and dread permeate independent writer-director Jeff Nichols’ devastating, psychologically unhinged character study Take Shelter. In his best performance to date, Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) whips up a nuanced storm of emotions as a small-town husband, and father to a young, deaf daughter, who begins having hallucinations and nightmares predicated on suspicions of an impending apocalypse. Nichols stages the dream sequences, which bleed into what seems to be the film’s reality, as horror movie freak-outs best described as David Lynch meets Roman Polanski, and Shannon’s mounting nerves consistently elevate Take Shelter’s tension to near eruption.

But what truly makes Nichols’ film such an unforgettable experience is how well he maneuvers around the story’s heartfelt pulse: Shannon’s character’s love for his family; extra props go to Jessica Chastain for her excellent work as his vulnerably sympathetic wife. Take Shelter doesn’t provide any easy answers, paying less attention to whether Shannon is crazy or legitimately foreseeing doom than showing how a man’s desperation to protect his loved ones can test both his sanity and others's tolerance of him. It’s a powerhouse drama and a chilling look at wavering psychosis all wrapped into one knockout of a package.