Category Archives: Lists
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Release: June 22 Look at that title and try to deny that this movie is going to kick ass–it’s like the two best things ever in the same movie. The book the film is based on (written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is a strange breed, mashing authentic biographical and historical content of Lincoln with an action/horror vampire adventure and a subtle streak of dark humor as it portrayed Lincoln’s thirst for vengeance after vampires murder his mother. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fun. Take that unique formula, add Tim Burton as producer, and get Timur Bekmambetov (the director of the excellent action flick Wanted) at the helm, and you have what should turn out to be a terrific action/horror/historical mashup.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Release: July 3 When negotiations between Sam Raimi (the director of the first three Spider-Man films) and studio Columbia Pictures fell apart, the latter opted for a straight reboot of the series, with new names across the board. Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) brings a fresh coat of darkness to the high schooler Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield (best known as Eduardo from The Social Network). With the darker tone comes a controversial reinvention of the Spider-Man costume and an emphasis on practical effects over CGI, which should be neat. A solid cast is also rounded out with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Kurt Connors aka The Lizard, but I’m still just mostly excited that Webb intends to make this a more serious film instead of the derailing campiness that Raimi’s trilogy turned into.
Release: May 4
Marvel is essentially putting everything into The Avengers over the course of the last few years, they have been releasing movies as a means of introducing different members of the super team to finally unite them in this film. The scale of the film looks to be tremendous; and since each of the characters’ previous film has introduced their respective origin story, there is no need to bother with origins in this one, allowing director Joss Whedon to go straight for the main story. That Whedon is director is reason enough to be excited–he’s one of the most well-respected directors in the “nerd community”–but the movie itself just looks plain awesome, between intense action, good verbal sparring between members of the team, and Tom Hiddleston finally being able to be truly villainous as Loki.
The Dark Knight Rises
Release: July 20 Christopher Nolan said he would not return for a third Batman film unless he felt he could top The Dark Knight. While few actually were worried that he would opt out of directing the third and final film, his involvement still speaks volumes about his confidence in the production. The final part of Nolan’s Batman story looks significantly darker than ever before, with Gotham City falling apart and suggestions that both Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon are dying. Once again, we have great villains in Tom Hardy as Bane and (hopefully) Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Few franchises have been able to put such a fantastic spin on a popular character from page to screen, and while The Dark Knight Rises has a huge expectation to meet, I’m confident that it is going to be epic.
Release: December 25 Quentin Tarantino seems to be able to effortlessly put out excellent movies. Let him write & direct his movie and give him a good ensemble cast, and he’ll more than likely strike gold. His newest looks like it’ll be in a similar vein as Inglourious Basterds (which is a good thing, considering it’s my favorite of his films): a former slave-turned-bounty hunter returns to Mississippi to save his wife from a plantation owner. As always Tarantino brings an impressive cast with him: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christoph Waltz, Kurt Russell, and several more. Unfortunately, we have to wait until Christmas Day to see Tarantino’s next labor of love.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Release: March 2 Despicable Me completely blew me away, deftly sidestepping the problems I was sure it would fall straight into. It was a stupidly adorable and just a lot of fun. The newest animated film (from the same producers as Despicable Me), based on a Dr. Seuss story, looks just as charming. It might have something to do with the joyful, colorful trailer, or the fact that Danny DeVito is providing the voice of the small, strange Lorax. If the whole movie has me smiling as much as I was through the trailer, this should be great.
The Expendables 2
Release: August 17 There’s really no reason for me to explain this. Expendables 2 adds more actors such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and larger roles for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. If the sequel has the same type of shamelessly absurd action, it should be as outrageously “mantastic” as the original.
Release: January 20 Little is known about Haywire beyond its “government agent gets her employer turned against her” storyline, but the small handful of early reviews are very positive. The first five minutes of the film were recently released on Hulu, and director Steven Soderbergh certainly seems to know what he’s doing. A director of enormous versatility (including the wildly different Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Che, The Girlfriend Experience, and Contagion), Soderbergh handles the action here magnificently, pulling the camera back for wider shots that actually last longer than .05 seconds so everyone can see the action, which, of the preview is any indication, is going to be very brutal. This should be a very satisfying bone-crunching thriller (with a huge cast) when it releases this month.
Almost nothing is known about Lincoln besides Steven Spielberg as director, Daniel Day-Lewis as the President, and one picture from the set (all copies of which are unfortunately under copyright so I can’t post them here). But, hey: Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg.
Release: June 8 It’s an Alien prequel. It’s still a prequel but no longer has the Alien title. It’s not an Alien movie but it kind of is. It’s definitely a different movie but has DNA from the Alien series. Ridley Scott can’t seem to decide exactly what he wants his movie to be, and the trailer for Prometheus absolutely seems to suggest that there is a lot more Alien here than Scott has been telling us–even the trailer has the same style of title card and some fans claim to hear sound bites from the original film in this trailer. All of that said, it’s certainly not a bad thing. Alien is one of the most ruthlessly tense science fiction horror films, and if Scott can return to that style, his fans are in for a terrifying ride. Check out the dread-inducing trailer:
The Secret World of Arrietty
Release: February 12 Japan does The Borrowers. That’s essentially what The Secret World of Arrietty is, save for one twist: Studio Ghibli is doing it. Yes, that Studio Ghibli, the company responsible for My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Anime films from Studio Ghibli are celebrations of life,and even in their dark moments, are utterly joyous affairs. Totoro is one my my absolute favorite movies of all time. The Secret World of Arrietty appears to continue that spirit that the studio has championed over the decades. The Borrowers is certainly not a new property, and it’s been adapted a few times, but seeing Studio Ghibli’s rendition of the story done with their unparalleled talent can’t be anything less than excellent.
Release: November 9 I am a very vocal fan of the new direction Bond is going in. It’s darker, more grounded in reality, and considerably closer in tone, style, and content to Ian Fleming’s original Bond novels. They all but drop the campiness of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan films (Casino Royale, the reboot, had to cut down from an R rating) and have more realistic villains. Skyfall should continue the tradition of the reboots, delivering grittier and rougher action, though still on a large scale. Reportedly, a huge action sequence on a train had to be moved from India to Istanbul after permissions could not be easily obtained. Also, it’s going to have Q so everyone can stop complaining now.
Movies deserve recognition for so much more than just being “good” or “bad”. Other times, movies that did not quite make it onto a Top 10 list had something worth noting anyway. I spent a while coming up with some more award categories, and then started narrowing down my three favorites in each category before choosing my favorite.
Best Performance: Rooney Mara–The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
If Rooney Mara does not get recognition at the Oscars for her performance, I will personally send her a letter. Mara’s performance as asocial researcher Lisbeth Salander is so perfect. Look down a bit. Even Ryan Gosling, one of my main man-crushes, is not as good as Rooney Mara here. Mara completely sells the cold, asocial personality of one of the best characters to grace the page in decades. She’s enthralling to watch, adding little touches to her character, shrinking away from a man’s touch or altering intensity of eye contact based on conversation dominance. The way she slowly grows closer to Blomkvist is nothing short of beautiful, and the final moments of the film advance their dynamic in remarkable, somewhat heartbreaking ways. As good as David Fincher’s direction and Steve Zallian’s scripting is, Rooney Mara’s performance is the main reason to see this movie.
Runners-Up: Ryan Gosling–Drive, Michael Fassbender–X-Men: First Class
Best Soundtrack: Cliff Martinez–Drive
As good as the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross-composed soundtrack for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, it just barely falls behind the Cliff Martinez composition for Drive. Martinez uses retro electronica pieces bubbling just beneath the surface of Drive so that it is never intrusive, yet seamlessly integrated with the rest of the movie. The music is simultaneously intense and ethereal, adding a great sense of atmosphere to the proceedings. Best of all, Martinez went the extra mile and compiled a small handful of extra licensed songs to sprinkle throughout the rest of the movie at just the right moments, such as the attached “A Real Hero” by College.
Runners-Up: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross–The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, John Williams–The Adventures of Tintin
Best Superhero Movie: X-Men: First Class
There were quite a few good superhero movies to come out this year, but none of them had anywhere near the excitement, style, or emotional weight as Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Styled as a reboot for the failing franchise, the movie reinvigorates the characters and gives the whole series a fresh burst of energy. It also shows us the origins of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto. The friendship between the two men is what drives the movie and is anchored by the very strong performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. The movie also has a very cool, 60’s-era James Bond vibe in its elaborate sets and stylish direction. With a fresh start, the X-Men franchise has great places to go.
Runners-Up: Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger
Best Sequel: Fast Five
While I liked Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol a bit more than the fifth Fast and Furious flick, the latter was a significant and marked improvement over 2009’s lackluster Fast & Furious. It all but abandons the street racing angle from the previous four films and evolves into a straight heist movie. In doing this, it ejects most of the juvenile feel of the previous films and lets its true colors as a straight action flick show. Best of all, the movie is quite aware of how stupid and packed with testosterone it is. The centerpiece is a huge 1.CGI-free final chase where the team tows a vault through the streets of Rio, smashing through cars and a building as they do so. It’s shamelessly “manly” and completely ridiculous. I didn’t love the movie the first time I saw it, but the second time was a lot more enjoyable, and the movie stands out as the absolute best of the series.
Runners-Up: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Least Improved Sequel: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Yeah, I didn’t like this movie. There is very little about A Game of Shadows that elevates it above the original, or even makes it an entertaining ride save for the last half hour. The most egregious sin is to almost completely ruin the character of Professor James Moriarty, the “Napoleon of Crime”, who seems smart enough to match Holmes, but not nearly as menacing as Jared Harris is trying to make the character (through no fault of Harris). Finding out Moriarty’s master plan was probably one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen in a movie this year. A Game of Shadows delivers some unsavory plot elements as well as more of everything the first movie had, while fixing nothing and remaining significantly less entertaining than it could have been.
Runners-Up: The Hangover: Part II, Cars 2
Best Action Sequence: The Burj Khalifa–Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
I’ve been singing the praises of this scene since I got out of the theater. There’s just so much going on here: it begins with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climbing up the side of the world’s tallest building using adhesive gloves that of course start to malfunction. The way in which he gets back down drew several audible gasps from the auditorium in my first viewing of the movie. During all of this is a tense exchange of information as the other members of Ethan’s crew pose as villains in order to get an upper hand on the nuclear launch code information. This all concludes in a massive chase on foot and then moving to vehicles. For about 45 minutes, it does not let up, and had me on the edge of my seat.
Runners-Up: Vault Heist–Fast Five, Moroccan Chase–The Adventures of Tintin
Most Pleasant Surprise: Insidious
Some early buzz dismissed James Wan’s newest ultra-low-budget horror movie. I too was mildly unsettled by the poster of a staring child, but I didn’t make any significant effort to catch it in theaters. Once I did see it on DVD, however, I found that some sly aesthetic tricks, a lack of actual violence and gore, and excellent use of sound effects combined for the most crap-your-pants-scary horror movie I’ve seen in years. James Wan will creatively insert things into the background, to where the quieter parts of the movie turn into an “I Spy” of who can scream and spot the bloody claw-print or ghostly face first. The soundtrack does its work as well; clever usage of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” makes the skin crawl, while the rest of the soundtrack is essentially an army of screeching, wailing violins. While the movie does occasionally resort to jump scares and a finale that was a little to heavy on the special effects, the rest is a glorious slow burn of horror that kept me from sound sleep for quite a while.
Runners-Up: Super 8, Friends With Benefits
Biggest Disappointment: Unknown
Unknown was supposed to be awesome. It appeared to be an action flick in the vein of Taken with a healthy dose of paranoia and mystery. It certainly had enough mystery, with Liam Neeson’s character surviving a car accident and realizing that no one, including the women he knew as his wife, recognizing him and another man possessing his identity. There was even some decent action and a pretty cool car chase (though not as well-filmed as Taken). However, the plot twist, the explanation for everything, was one of the worst plot twists I have ever seen in a movie. It wasted the entire movie for me. It was that bad. I was so ready for a huge twist, but the payoff for my time was weak and lazy. Movies with so much mystery rely heavily on the plot twist to make everything worth it, but Unknown completely failed to deliver.
Runners-Up: Immortals, Green Lantern
Best Obscure Movie You Didn’t Watch: The Perfect Host
The Perfect Host was a lot of fun for me: a man commits a robbery and escapes to the suburbs, where he forces a homeowner to shelter him until the heat blows over. Unfortunately for him, the man he chooses to take hostage is a schizophrenic psychopath who hosts dinner parties for his imaginary guests. The movie transitions smoothly between a thriller and a black comedy, and the interplay between the two men, with the advantage consistently changing, is engaging to watch. While the plot takes a strange turn in the third act, it ends up working for the characters. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is a unique and entertaining indie film.
Runners-Up: The Guard, Rubber
Best Worst Movie of 2011: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
Let’s get one thing straight: the Twilight film franchise is, in my opinion, completely awful. Avid fans of the book openly disown the cinematic adaptations, and even fans of the movies themselves call this newest installment one of the worst films of the series. That said, this movie is hilarious. Overwrought and bizarre, Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the culmination of everything wrong with the saga. the Bella/Edward romance is, as always, kind of creepy (made more so here by a furniture-smashing sex scene), and Jacob is even more annoyingly enamored with Bella. Director Bill Condon tries to infuse his film with a colorful sheen, creating humorously excessive wedding and honeymoon scenes. These drew happy sighs from several members of the audience as I was checking my watch. After that, however, things quickly get very funny. Like New Moon, Breaking Dawn Part 1 makes some very strange plot decisions–telepathic wolves, a demon fetus, and, best of all, a creepy “imprinting” scene in which Jacob decides he’s in love with Bella’s child–that make the movie a bit of a dark joy to sit through. It’s a terrible, terrible movie (even some fans of the series reject it), but it had me in stitches with its aggressively serious lunacy. I was asked why I didn’t put this on my “Worst of 2011” list. The reason for this is that I needed to give it special recognition; not for quality filmmaking, but for gluing a derisive smirk on my face for a good two hours.
While 2011 was a year of some really great movies, there were also a great many very poor ones, and several awful ones. I kind of have a soft spot for bad movies, and I generally watch them in the hope that I can find something bad enough that I can laugh at, or at the very last rant about it to let off some steam. Some of these fell into both categories, but all of them were extremely bad movies. As with the year’s best, there were several 0f the alleged worst that I either did not get a chance to see, or refused to give my money to, including Jack & Jill (Adam Sandler plays himself and his sister), Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star (a small-town dork becomes a porn star), Shark Night (a PG-13 summer-vacation-shark-attack movie), Dream House (a horror film that everyone involved refuses to advocate), and The Smurfs. Unfortunately, there were still plenty bad ones I did see, and here are the 10 that made me the angriest.
10. Battle: Los Angeles
A great, moody trailer gave way to a soulless, headache-inducing, and rather stupid action movie. Battle: LA might have a couple of moments of interesting action, but the rest of the movie is not at all interesting. The aliens, like always, want to take our resources, leading to the military getting their asses handed to them by the dozen until a small crew of six dudes manages to outsmart them. It’s so formulaic one could attempt to outline the entire movie before seeing it and have a pretty damn good chance of guessing everything correctly. The abrupt ending makes the entire movie basically pointless.
9. I Am Number Four
Twilight romance meets CW-style high school drama. With aliens that have powers. Doesn’t that sound awesome? If you answered “yes”, we are no longer friends.
8. Atlas Shrugged, Part 1
This excruciatingly boring adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel about making yourself rich and everyone else can go to hell is only the first of a trilogy, a revelation that makes the movie even more difficult to suffer through. Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is a bunch of sharply-dressed people sitting in nice-looking offices and clubs talking about corporate-sounding things. It’s not the least bit interesting, and while some of the actors do an all right job of acting, they can’t hold together a movie that I was getting distracted from after ten minutes.
7. Red Riding Hood
To be fair, I was entertained through some bits of Red Riding Hood, if only because this is one of the stupidest movies to be released all year. Trying to put a dark, sexual vibe on the tale of Red Riding Hood is weird, out-of-place, forced, and a little creepy. I know that that stuff was kind of in the original, pre-children’s version, but in this case it just doesn’t work. Luckily, the script is so ridiculous that I was chuckling most of the way through, and it has its own version of Twilight‘s Edward, who is somehow even dumber here. However, there is Gary Oldman, who not only chews the scenery, but absolutely feasts on it as an outrageous werewolf-hunter villain that genuinely inspired hysterics in me as I watched him. Actually, he’s a reason to see this. The movie is terrible but totally worth the 20 minutes when Oldman shows up.
6. Season of the Witch
Poor Nicolas Cage. He’s gone from doing great movies such as Leaving Las Vegas to this terrible piece. I’d refer to Season of the Witch as a poor man’s Seventh Seal, but that would be an insult and a disservice to The Seventh Seal. Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are clearly ready to cash their paychecks and move on, leading a cast that appears to be equally checked out. The sets are cheap and fake-looking, and the dialogue is infuriating. The highlight of it all is dead monks that get reanimated by a demon and start running on the ceiling, necessitating that their heads be cut off to be put down for good. Never again.
What a stupid movie. From the writer of the excellent revenge action flick Taken, Colombiana has absolutely nothing of what made that movie so good. The action is extremely poor, for starters. You can barely see what’s going on due to the poor camera work and it is not the least bit exciting, even bordering on stupidity (in one fight, she uses a toothbrush as a weapon and then kills someone by stabbing them with the barrel of a gun). Worse, it makes astounding leaps of logic, allowing Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) to carry out tasks with such insanely crackerjack timing that all logic flies straight out the window. And that’s probably the worst part: on top of all that absurdity, we’re also expected to buy into a very dark, serious revenge story. It’s a combination that completely falls apart and is not entertaining in the slightest.
4. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
This adaptation of an Italian comic book is just plain bad. It shoots wildly for the genres of action, horror, and comedy, and misses all spectacularly. It’s never exciting for a second, the horror is little more than lazy over-usage of tired tropes, and the comedy is extremely irritating. The movie thinks it’s awesome and hilarious, but it was by far one of the most unpleasant experiences of the year.
3. Fading of the Cries
This little indie horror fantasy crapfest does not get a pass merely for being an independent film. The script is all over the place and literally explains nothing, the action is boring and ugly, and the acting is perhaps the worst I have seen all year, even from the two or three known actors that are in the film. I’ve already written about this movie at length over at another site, which should convey how I feel about this movie. Suffice it to say, it is a lazy, awful movie and should be completely avoided.
Zookeeper contains exactly eight seconds of comedy, which, unironically, is exactly how long it takes before Kevin James wears out his welcome. Production company Happy Madison, which was responsible for last year’s worst movie Grown Ups, delivers another completely idiotic stinker, this time with talking animals voiced by celebrities like Cher, Jon Favreau, Don Rickles, and Judd Apatow. The worst of these are Sylvester Stallone as a lion (which just irritates me because I love Stallone and this almost killed him for me), Nick Nolte as a gorilla who wants only to eat at TGI Friday’s (stick with me, it gets worse), and Adam Sandler as a monkey. Imagine Adam Sandler’s voice. Now imagine Adam Sandler screaming in a high-pitched, gravelly voice and that’s what his character sounds like. Adam Sandler is dead to me now. And I haven’t even seen Jack & Jill.
1. The Change-Up
The Change-Up is a miserably unfunny, extremely foul film that wastes everyone involved in it. I love everyone in the movie: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde. The problem is, they are guided by a horrible, excessively raunchy, and completely inconsequential script. None of the characters really come out of this body-swap having become better people (which is the point of the body-swap in the first place), and one could argue that they are rendered even more unpleasant as a result. In addition, the movie is so completely, graphically disgusting–the opening scene is Jason Bateman getting a jet of baby feces right in the mouth, and a pregnant woman wants to have sex even though she’s in labor–it’s more repulsive than anything else. Bateman and Reynolds completely fail at trying to act like each other. Finally, the editing and directing are abominable. The same jokes are actually funnier in the trailer. Raunchy humor is not always bad, but when it tries this hard to push my buttons, it turns into a spectacular failure.
It’s been a pretty good year for movies. In assembling this list, there were a handful of films that would definitely make it on, a couple that I spent several days trying to decide which deserved #1, and several more that I really liked but had to omit. I should also mention that there were several movies that I intended to see this year but I could not get to, either through a lack of time or an inability to find a showing near me. Some of the ones I wanted to see, but could not, were: Shame (a drama about sexual addiction), The Artist (a silent film that has been getting awards left and right), Melancholia (Lars von Trier’s latest about a second planet appearing), Moneyball (a stats-based baseball movie), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (an espionage thriller from the director of one of favorite vampire movies, the Swedish Let the Right One In), and Take Shelter (a psychological drama). They are all films I plan on hunting down eventually, whether at the local art cinema that doesn’t update its stupid calendar DAMN YOU KRESS THEATER, or on DVD. But of the movies I have seen this year, here are my favorites:
10. Horrible Bosses
I’m a massive fan of workplace comedies, and Seth Gordon puts a terrific spin on the genre: three men who hate their jobs and employers so much they conspire and attempt to actually murder their bosses. Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell make a vile trio as the bosses, and Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis have a rare chemistry. The dialogue, which is sometimes shocking, sometimes filthy, and oftentimes both, is largely improvised, which adds an extra crackle and spontaneity to the film. Best of all, it’s extremely evident that everyone involved in the film was having an absolute blast doing so.
If you’d told me last year that the director of Pride & Prejudice was going to direct an awesome, visually stunning action flick that would be on my Top 10 list, I would have never talked to you again. But Joe Wright has definitely done it, delivering an action flick that is so visually inventive and exciting, so badass, that I can’t believe that he hasn’t done something like this sooner. It has the feel of a dark fairy tale, but without the gimmick. The cinematography is endlessly creative. Hanna kicks a ton of ass. The soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is rivaled only by the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross composition for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Wright is a creative director and I’m excited to see what he can pull out next.
Rango deserves accolades simply for completely turning me around on my opinion of it. Upon the first trailers, I immediately rejected the movie based on the strange trailers that gave away almost nothing about the film. Then, one little Super Bowl trailer changed my mind completely, showing me that the bizarre randomness was exactly what the movie was about. And what a bizarre movie it was, too: a gecko facing an existential crisis, alarmingly grotesque character designs and more references to other films than can be easily counted in one viewing. Also, it was funny. The humor is largely dialogue-based and will fly straight over the heads of many young children, but for everyone else, there is some extremely sharp humor here. That vein of utter weirdness helps too.
7. Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh was my childhood. I love this cast of characters. After tragically missing the movie in theaters, I eagerly anticipated the release on disc, and when I was finally able to see it, I had a huge smile on my face for the entire running time. Nostalgia poured over me and I found myself filled with countless happy emotions, almost to the point of tears. They don’t make them like this anymore: free of bathroom humor and pop culture references, and returning to hand-drawn animation (that looks utterly magnificent on Blu-Ray). The movie is only an hour long, but for an hour I was a little kid again.
6. The Muppets
Appearing at face value to be just another nostalgia trip, The Muppets proves itself to be considerably more than that. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek), who themselves are unapologetic fans of the franchise, this film is bursting with an air of genuine love of the Muppets. It’s aged with its fans too, seemingly: while the series has always had somewhat sophisticated humor, it seems just a bit more intelligent here (fart shoes notwithstanding). It’s honestly probably the funniest movie of the year, particularly for the self-referential goofiness that the franchise is so well-known for, and plenty of gleeful silliness.
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher’s adaptation of the Swedish novel is brimming with raw, icy dread. Even though he delivered a fantastic film in The Social Network, he is now back in Seven territory and reminds us all why he is one of the main heavyweights of the thriller genre. When the movie isn’t making your mouth go dry from nervousness, it’s drawing you in with an incredibly dense mystery that is at the same time being rendered completely coherent by Steve Zaillian’s intelligent yet still easy to follow script. The driving force is Rooney Mara as asocial hacker genius Lisbeth Salander, in a performance that is impossible to look away from.
4. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
If there is one thing you need to know about the newest Mission: Impossible movie, it is this: it is awesome. Not just “hey, that was a pretty neat little scene” awesome but “OH MY GOD THAT JUST HAPPENED” awesome. Director Brad Bird, in his first live-action film, has made something more entertaining than many alleged “veterans” of the industry. It’s hilarious, stylish, and thrilling, and the centerpiece setpiece in and outside the Burj Khalifa , the tallest building in the world, is the most heart-stopping action sequence I’ve seen in years. In terms of straight thrills and entertainment, Ghost Protocol takes the prize.
3. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s best film since Annie Hall is a complete delight. Also worth noting: I loved a romance movie. While it might not be as conventionally romantic as many mainstream romance films, the movie’s main vein is still that of falling in love, and much of the film’s strength lies in how well it romanticizes its setting and characters: it took two minutes of a rainy opening montage of Paris for me to be instantly sold on wanting to go there. I won’t spoil what makes the movie such a delight, but know that Allen’s sharp dialogue is in full force here. Midnight in Paris is an escape that had me smiling all the way through.
Listen carefully now: Hugo might very well be the best movie Martin Scorsese has made. It’s a love letter to cinema and a whirlwind of emotion and childlike wonder. The clock-filled train station where most of the film takes place is bursting with character, and a stellar cast of characters both major and minor work together seamlessly. It’s not a terribly accessible movie, being about the dawn of cinema and featuring some fairly heavy thematic material, but that doesn’t mean that it kids won’t be attracted to the extremely flashy visual style. Quite simply, it is a beautiful film in every way, and a slight lull in the middle of the very long film does little to dampen that beauty. I spent a very long time trying to decide if Hugo was my favorite film of the year, and even though it barely did not slide into that spot, it is still a remarkable, beautiful, and emotional piece of cinema. Make every effort to see this one; it’s the most emotionally rewarding movie I have seen in years, more so even than this year’s #1 choice, and it simply must be seen.
Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s best movie. And Drive is better than Hugo (though just by a teensy bit). What does that say? Nicolas Winding Refn’s third theatrical film is a masterpiece indeed, and while it just barely edges out Hugo as the best film of the year (indeed, possibly the closest race in recent memory), there’s no denying that Drive is tense, beautifully shot, artistic, and completely, awesomely badass in its occasional hits of startling violence. Refn reportedly removed most of the dialogue originally written for Ryan Gosling’s main character Driver (he has no name, giving the movie a distinct Western flavor), and the result is a character that only speaks when necessary, only adding to the mystique. Gosling’s performance as Driver is stunning. He injects bits of quiet and calculating confidence and is undeniably the coolest character to hit the screen all year. Refn’s direction, combined with Cliff Martinez’s retro soundtrack, create a film that is both pleasing and jarring to the senses. It’s also by turns extremely tense and surprisingly tender. It was the best film I saw this year and one of my favorites in recent memory.
Honorable Mention: I Saw the Devil
I Saw the Devil was technically a 2010 release, so I chose to not include it on this list. However, I cannot in good conscience deny it a round of applause. While I Saw the Devil was not officially released this year, it stands tall as not only one of the best films I’ve watched all year, but my absolute favorite revenge film and one of my favorite foreign films. Its main protagonist is a man who is goes to such lengths to catch his fiancee’s killer that he is unafraid to commit acts of stunning brutality on anyone in his way. Constantly cold and confident, he rushes after his prey with a startling and terrifying fury. The final moments deliver a blindsiding torrent of emotion, starkly contrasting against the utterly merciless, remarkably violent drive of the rest of the film. It’s not easy to watch, but it is undeniably intense and powerful–a true masterpiece of revenge cinema.
The tagline of the movie Salt is “Who is Salt?” After two hours, the question is not answered. The plot twists and turns countless times. Characters appear and disappear in a matter of minutes, characters are revealed to be Russian spies one minute then be actually working for the good guys another minute. Most of the plot elements seem to have been thrown in for no other reason than “Why the hell not?” There is minimal explanation or motivation for most of the characters’ actions. There are some creative and exciting action sequences, but when coupled with the annoyingly convoluted plot, it turns the entire movie into an unnecessary chore to watch.
9. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief
Chris Columbus churns out another movie annoyingly targeted at the younger generation. Pop culture references are in abundance here, from Lady Gaga songs to iPods. The script is cliche and stupid. And the movie as a whole is incredibly boring. It’s really sad, because I always jump at the chance to have fun with a good mythology movie. Some of that mythology is there, but overall it’s pretty watered down and certainly not worth the trudge through such a poorly made film.
8. The Bounty Hunter
Bounty Hunter‘s gravest sin is that it’s just plain frustrating. Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston basically play themselves in what amounts to a smug, self-conscious “comedy”. The poor script is not anywhere near as funny as it thinks it is. It’s entirely forgettable and simply no fun to watch.
7. Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex breaks the trend of recent entertaining comic book adaptations with a putrid supernatural western-ish action movie that deviates heavily from the original comic. It’s truly sad that the movie is from Jimmy Hayward, the director of the delighful Horton Hears a Who! His directing talent seems to be limited to animated films, because his first live-action foray is very, very poor. Take it from star Josh Brolin, who, during production of the movie, admitted that he was starring in Jonah Hex because he wanted to make one terrible movie. You know your movie’s in trouble when your main star knows he’s starring in a pile of crap.
Owen Wilson plays a talking dog based on a one-panel daily comic. George Lopez plays a talking cat. There’s also a dance sequence with a bunch of CGI animals involved. Need I say any more?
5. Alice in Wonderland
It seems like Tim Burton is a one-trick pony. All of his movies have that dark, strange, off-kilter feel. After over a dozen movies that exhibit this style, it’s not as exciting anymore. Not only that, but Burton’s attempt to fashion a pseudo-sequel to the original story by cobbling together elements from multiple Wonderland stories ends up feeling like a hodgepodge of strange elements. Another element of Burton’s films is the presence of Johnny Depp, and as such his character the Mad Hatter becomes a central character, while Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar are relegated to only a couple of minutes of screen time. Also, Wonderland is apparently supposed to be called Underland, and there’s a huge battle sequence at the end. What the hell is going on in this movie?
At its core, Legion has an interesting idea (God decides humanity is too corrupt and sends His own angels to finish us off) with the potential to be either awesome or just completely stupid and horrible. Predictably, it fell into the latter category. Legion is rife with stupidity, missed opportunities, underdeveloped characters, and anemic action sequences. And why does an entire army of angels choose to attack one by one, every few minutes, instead of all at once?
3. The Last Airbender
How the mighty have fallen. M. Night “What a Twist!” Shyamalan (whose name I won’t bother looking up for correctness, because I don’t care) has come a very long way from his Sixth Sense and Unbreakable days. This time, he takes the popular Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender and turns it into a tortuously boring “action” movie. Probably the worst part about The Last Airbender is that there are actually some pretty well-directed scenes, my favorite being one action sequence that was filmed all in one shot, with the camera spinning around Aang as he blasts enemies away. Unfortunately, it’s Shymalan’s writing that kills this movie. Endless exposition still yields little to no coherence in the plot, and the trailer shows just about every action sequence that’s in the movie (which amounts to less than five minutes of extremely tame action in a movie that is almost two hours long). It’s just boring and doesn’t make any sense, even to fans of the show.
2. Cop Out
There are two things I found funny about Cop Out: The first is the original title for the film, A Couple of Dicks. The second is the tagline, “Rock Out With Your Glock Out”. Even those are mildly amusing at best. The rest of the movie is a train wreck of bad ideas and poorly conceived jokes. It does have something of a fondness for old-school buddy cop movie, and its heart is definitely in the right place in that respect, but the execution of its tribute just doesn’t work. It’s too bad, because Tracy Morgan can be really funny on 30 Rock, and I love me some Bruce Willis. Kevin Smith needs to stick to directing his own work; even this is below him.
1. Grown Ups
I can reasonably compare Grown Ups to putting several of my least favorite things in one place and then forcing myself to be subjected to them for an hour and a half. I’ve never really cared for any of these actors. The only two Adam Sandler comedies I really like are Happy Gilmore and Anger Management, Kevin James stopped being funny halfway through The King of Queens, and I have only ever enjoyed David Spade and Chris Rock in The Emperor’s New Groove and Head of State, respectively. Rob Schneider can go die in a fire. Grown Ups is a travesty of a comedy film. There is barely a plot. The humor is an endless stream of lowbrow, juvenile bathroom humor. It’s insulting that studios put this out and expect me to laugh.
10. The Expendables
More recent action pictures have attempted to deliver a serious story, brooding characters, and realistic issues. Sylvester Stallone gives those tropes the finger with the The Expendables, an action flick whose balls hit the wall so hard that said balls explode magnificently in a ball of fire. Critics of The Expendables dock it points for exactly what makes it work: the story only exists to set up the next action scene, and every action scene continues beyond the point of reason for a completely unnecessary finisher. It’s far from perfect, but it does exactly what it sets out to do; a delightfully testosterone-packed throwback to 90s action movies with a laundry list of the era’s star players.
9. Book of Eli
I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies, and Book of Eli delivered in spades. The Hughes brothers showcased some magnificent directorial flair with some very impressive long takes that usually kicked in during the action sequences, which themselves were brutal and visceral. Gary Oldman was an effectively cold and cruel villain and was a lot of fun to watch. The Book of Eli also does a fairly good job of straddling the line between Christian and secular film; it is basically a Christian movie but is never to heavy-handed or preachy. The plot twist is the best kind of twist, in that it immediately demands a second viewing, and doing so enriches the experience.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a Canadian graphic novel. Knowing that will help when viewing the movie, which is an absolute assault on the senses. Bright lights, video-game sounds, comic-book-style visual sound effects, and bizarre, silly dialog dominates every second of the film. The characters are all crazy and most of them have some kind of superpower. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is pure, unfiltered joy for two hours.
7. Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese’s newest and most unconventional film is a fairly obvious love letter to Hitchcock, though such a distinction makes for a very exciting ride. Scorsese’s direction is designed to cause discomfort and upset; the sights and sounds mess with the senses and disorient the viewer to move them out of their comfort zone. The licensed soundtrack is composed mostly of classic contemporary pieces, and the piece chosen for the main theme, Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia, by Antonio Wit, is incredibly ominous. The occasional heavy handedness of the tone only serves to increase the tension. Like Book of Eli, a second viewing yields subtle hints and secrets to help decipher the film’s conclusion.
6. The American
The American is dominated by an air of depressing finality; its central character is a man who has outgrown the world around him and seems to inhabit an empty and lonely space with only his paranoia to keep him company. The extremely small cast of supporting characters are merely window dressings to what feels like the final weeks of the life of George Clooney’s aging, lonely, and remorseful assassin. Clooney’s performance is mesmerizing and the tragic music score fits perfectly with the film. The American is the perfect kind of slow burn and an outstanding psychological drama.
Chris Nolan had the idea for Inception long before he started directing movies, and had been tweaking the script ever since he took an interest in lucid dreaming. All of that care shows in Inception, a thrillingly original and creative action picture. The most impressive aspect of Inception is the scope of the world Nolan has constructed; his universe has its own rules and strikes the perfect balance between being similar enough to our own and having those fantastical qualities that make it a joy to explore. Nolan’s logic in explaining the rules of his world are fascinating. And how about that hallway fight scene?
4. Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 brought forth waves of nostalgia, joy, sorrow, and childish delight from every corner of my heart. More than any film of the year, Pixar’s newest opus really plays with emotions and tugs at the heartstrings. The last ten minutes may bring tears to your eyes. Like Up and Wall-E, the movie is simultaneously tragic and joyous, and it’s cruel how easily Pixar can mess with the emotions of their audiences.
3. Black Swan
Equal parts ballerina drama, cautionary tale of obsession, and psychological horror film, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a parade of shocking and disturbing images and mesmerizing ballet performances. It juxtaposes beauty and ugliness like only an Aronofsky film can. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have remarkable depth and darkness in their roles and have intoxicating chemistry. Nina’s (Portman) transformation into the Black Swan during the final tragic act to the Swan Lake ballet is one of the best scenes in any movie this year. This may very well be Aronofsky’s best film to date.
2. Tron: Legacy
Tron: Legacy was my most anticipated film of the year, all year long. It turned out even better than I hoped. It’s hard to describe exactly what makes this sequel so entertaining. The movie has some beautiful visuals that are a true treat for the eyes. Daft Punk’s brilliant score is the year’s best by a long shot. The action is spectacular and thrilling. Jeff Bridges is in the movie. Despite some minor story issues, it’s incredibly entertaining and the most fun I had all year.
1. The Social Network
The Social Network packs so much talent per square inch it’s almost overwhelming. David Fincher’s creative and breathtaking direction, star-making performances from Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg (the year’s best without contest) and Andrew Garfield as former friend Eduardo Saverin, Aaron Sorkin’s incredibly tight script, and Trent Reznor’s tense, brooding score together are a powerhouse. The Social Network pulls you in and commands your attention like no other film this year. Profoundly fascinating and masterfully executed across the board, nothing else measures up.