The Best Movies of 2012
In the eight years I’ve taken on the regular duty of reviewing movies, 2012 just might have been the best. It wasn’t easy compiling a top thirty list for a twelve-month period of so many diverse, outstanding films. I found myself having to make some absolutely painful snubs, including “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Hobbit: An Expected Journey,” and a little cinematic masterpiece by the name of “21 Jump Street.” In the end though, I managed to narrow the list down to the thirty titles that best encompass 2012 in all its glory. If you’re still behind on the movies of yesteryear, consider this your ultimate movie guide to 2012.
1. Life of Pi: Ang Lee not only granted us the year’s most visually arresting picture, but also the best picture overall, in “Life of Pi.” Newcomer Suraj Sharma leads this extraordinary tale as Pi Patel, a young man that loses his family in a shipwreck and becomes lost at sea. Even worse, Pi is forced to share his boat with a man-eating tiger he names Richard Parker. The film wisely chooses to never turn Richard Parker into a cartoonish animal with humanoid characteristics, making the relationship it develops with Pi equally threatening and momentous. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda exquisitely photographs Pi and Richard Parker’s journey, which includes encounters with flying fish, meerkats, and a whale. At times “Life of Pi” is frightening and tragic, other times it’s uplifting and life affirming. All of the time though, it’s nothing short of enchanting. The film even leaves us with a poignant ending that challenges the audience to choose between their sense of reality and faith. Personally, I’m choosing to side with faith.
2. Argo: Ben Affleck directs his tour de force in “Argo,” one of the most engrossing and remotely unknown true stories ever to meet the big screen. In addition to directing, Affleck also plays a C.I.A. agent named Tony Mendez, who is put in charge of providing cover stories for six Americans diplomats stranded in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. While watching a “Planet of the Apes” movie one night, Mendez gets the idea to disguise the diplomats as Canadian filmmakers. A plan this far-fetched would lead some people to believe “Argo” is a pure work of fiction. The notion that a caper such as this really took place only makes Chris Terrio’s screenplay more beguiling and exciting as we observe Mendez’s unbelievable plot unfold. Along with being one of the most powerful political thrillers of recent years, “Argo” is also an extremely passionate picture about the unlikely impact film can have on the world. This is a textbook example of triumphant filmmaking that will make you fall in love with the medium all over again.
3. The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan brought his magnificent Batman trilogy to a grand conclusion this year in “The Dark Knight Rises,” a film well worthy of its two predecessors. The first-rate special effects aside, what makes “The Dark Knight Rises” stand out from other well-made action pictures is the sense of chaos and realism. The audience feels genuine dread throughout this meaningful film, notably during a remarkable climax. This is furthermore a character study of Batman, fueled by mesmerizing dialog, epic storytelling, and inspired twists. To call this the pinnacle collection of superhero pictures goes without saying. But “The Dark Knight Rises” additionally engraves Nolan’s take on the Batman legend into the history books as one of the best movie trilogies of all time. Although I still have a hard time believing a little girl could escape that prison but not a single full-grown man could ever make that jump.
4. Moonrise Kingdom: In a year of unconventional love stories, no film stood out quite like Wes Anderson’s wonderful “Moonrise Kingdom.” The film has the essence of a fantasy, yet still feels so true to the magic of a person’s first romance. The overall sensation the movie emits is sheer warmth, making spectators want to wholeheartedly cuddle up to it. In a New England island town populated by childish adults and sophisticated kids, two little misfits named Suzy and Sam find kindred spirits in one another. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are transcendent as the young couple that takes off on a road trip though the woods. They are pursued by Edward Norton’s overly efficient Scout Master Randy, Bruce Willis’ bumbling Captain Sharp and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzie’s neglectful parents. Wondrous, unusual, and haunting all at once, Ander has made one of the most oddly charming passions this side of “Harold and Maude.”
5. Zero Dark Thirty: Who better than Director Kathryn Bigelow and Screenwriter Mark Boal of “The Hurt Locker” to depict the ten-year-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden? In “Zero Dark Thirty,” the unparallel filmmaking team turns out another gritty, powerful, and challenging instant classic that every American should witness. Jessica Chastain continues her winning streak as Maya, a woman based on a real life CIA officer in pursuit of bin Laden. We follow Maya from the aftermath of 9/11 to that faithful day in May 2011 as she endures deaths of her colleagues, attempts on her own life, false leads and pressure from superior officers. Chastain flawlessly embodies a person that seems understated on the surface, but is really being eaten away inside by pain and frustration after years of failure. While we all may know the outcome of “Zero Dark Thirty,” that doesn’t stop the film from having one of the most intense and positively authentic final acts you’ll ever see in a movie. Along with Paul Greengrass’ “United 93,” this is truly one of the most significant and passionate pictures of the 21st century.
6. Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino continues to prove that he hasn’t lost his magic touch with “Django Unchained,” a pop entertainment that mixes together elements of the spaghetti western, blacksploitation, and even some of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.” Jamie Foxx is a certified badass as Django, a slave that teams up with a dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz in an engaging performance. The two come across a variety of unique characters on their journey to save Django’s enslaved wife, such as Don Johnson as a Southern KKK leader and Leonardo DiCaprio as a despicably charming plantation owner named Calvin Candie. Tarantino hits it out of the park again with his trademark intensity, wit, silliness, pulpiness, inspired references, and undeniable admiration for cinema. “Django Unchained” also manages to incorporate a meaningful friendship about two guys that love getting paid to kill people.
7. Seven Psychopaths: After writing and directing the severely underrated “In Bruges,” Martin McDonagh dishes out another hilarious, violent, and kickass dark comedy with “Seven Psychopaths.” Colin Farrell gives one of his best performances as Marty, a popular Hollywood screenwriter working on a script entitled, “Seven Psychopaths.” Marty soon finds himself mixed-up in the affairs of several actual psychopaths, including Christopher Walken as a ludicrously deadpan dog kidnapper and Woody Harrelson as an unstable mobster hell-bent on reclaiming his beloved Shih Tzu. Sam Rockwell steals the entire show as Billy, the story’s most over-the-top psychopath who acts as if life is one big gangster movie.
8. The Master: In his latest cinematic triumph, Paul Thomas Anderson renders another extraordinarily strange, yet beautiful, tale that you’ll never be able to take your eyes off of. Joaquin Phoenix is appropriately cast as Freddie Quell, a lonely and disturbed man searching for a place in the world. Freddie believes he has found that place upon meeting Lancaster Dodd, an eccentric cult leader exceptionally played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Although “The Master” never makes a direct reference to the Church of Scientology, one can’t help but relate Dodd to L. Ron Hubbard. This isn’t a movie that sets out to make a mockery of Scientology or religion though. It’s a gorgeously shot, superbly acted piece of work about a drifting soul looking for something, or someone, to believe in.
9. Lincoln: There are few modern performers that could convincingly convey an icon as significant as Abraham Lincoln. In Steven Spielberg’s gripping biopic though, the great Daniel Day Lewis perfectly manifests all the attributes one would expect from our 16th president. He is Abraham Lincoln in a role that had better bring him another Oscar. Along with Lewis, “Lincoln” also features A-list work from Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens and a heartbreaking Sally Field as Marry Todd Lincoln. Tony Kushner’s in-depth screenplay richly illustrates the creation of the Thirteenth Amendment, resulting in a detailed, emotional, and insightful American epic that will be talked about for ages.
10. Wreck-It Ralph: This was a commendable year for animated features and the best by far was Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” The movie is like the love child of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “TRON,” assembling a roster of beloved video game characters. Aside from the novelty of getting to see Sonic the Hedgehog and Bowser on the big screen, “Wreck-It Ralph” is also an imaginatively thought-out story with great original players. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk all do a fantastic job at giving their characters depth and heart in one of the most endearing animated ensembles of recent years. Director Rich Moore has made a definitive movie for diehard gamers with ingenious references you’ll often have to look closely to catch. Even if you’ve never picked up a controller in your life, you can still appreciate the infinitely creative world “Wreck-It Ralph” creates.
11. Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give their finest performances as the two most complicated, imperfect and uncomfortable individuals imaginable in this manic romantic dramedy full of laughs and integrity.
12. Looper: One of the slickest and smartest movies about time travel in a long time composed of some heart pounding action set pieces and a fascinating original screenplay from writer/director Rian Johnson.
13: Les Misérables: After a long, arduous journey through development limbo, the musical phenomenon of “Les Misérables” finally met the big screen via the artistic eye of Tom Hooper. Along with Hooper’s all-encompassing direction, the spirited performances from Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and especially Anne Hathaway are key to what makes this adaptation sensational.
14. The Avengers: Joss Whedon’s mega blockbuster that not only exceeded the overwhelming hype, but also emerged as one of the absolute best superhero pictures ever produced due to the unparallel chemistry between the cast and awesome action.
15. Skyfall: It’s hard to think of a better way to celebrate Mr. Bond’s 50th anniversary than with Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall,” the riskiest, coolest, and most character-driven entry the franchise has seen in years.
16. The Hunger Games: Jennifer Lawrence has certainly had a great year between her Oscar worthy work in “Silver Linings Playbook” and her perfect representation of Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games,” a loyal adaptation of the best selling novel.
17. Bully: An important documentary about the bullying epidemic that every student, educator, and parent needs to see.
18. Hitchcock: Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren shine in this somewhat underappreciated depiction of Alfred Hitchcock’s ambitious endeavor to direct “Psycho.”
19: Ted: After reining as one of television’s most successful animators for years, Seth MacFarlane made the leap to the big screen with his teddy bear buddy comedy, “Ted.” Like all of MacFarlane’s work, “Ted” is occasionally stupid, shocking, random, offensive and completely irrelevant. On the whole though, the film is simply one big laugh after another.
20. Beasts of the Southern Wild: At only six years of age, Quvenzhane Wallis gives an Oscar-caliber performance in this magical independent movie about the smallest human being triumphing over the greatest obstacles.
21. The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Sure, it may be shamelessly sentimental and illogical. But “The Odd Life Timothy Green” is also a timeless, gripping, intelligent, and beautiful picture that reminds us that a family movie doesn’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Truly the most misunderstood movie of the year.
22. The Secret World of Arrietty: Studio Ghibli delivers another charming, elegantly drawn animation that manages to turn an everyday household into an intimidating, large world.
23. The Amazing Spider-Man: In this worthy revamp, Marc Webb presents a darker, more personal take on Spider-Man’s origin. “The Amazing Spider-Man” ultimately worked due to the appealing performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, some energized action, and not a single dance sequence.
24. Ruby Sparks: One of the most overlooked movies of the year, “Ruby Sparks” proved to be an imaginative little comedy thanks to a star making performance and stellar screenplay from Zoe Kazan.
25. The Cabin in the Woods: A clever horror/comedy from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon with the camp value of “Planet Terror,” the wit of the “Scream” movies, and even the sense of mystery of the game “Portal.”
26. ParaNorman: Realized via twisted, stop-motion artistry, “ParaNorman” stood out as an incessantly innovative and wonderfully weird production that can resonate with the monstrous child that delves within us all.
27. Frankenweenie: Tim Burton’s horrifyingly heartfelt stop-motion fable about a child and man’s best friend, shot in glorious black and white.
28. End of Watch: An authentic, funny and at times brutal glimpse into the lives of two police officers on patrol duty, flawlessly played by Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Peña.
29. Amour: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are tear-jerking in this lovely French film about life, death, pain, and what it truly means to love somebody.
30. Cloud Atlas: While it may not be the easiest movie to follow, “Cloud Atlas” is still a bewitching, passionate, visually breathtaking experience from Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers.
The Worst Movies of 2012
In what’s been an otherwise tremendous year for movies, 2012 still brought us quite a few stinkers nevertheless. One general question film critics are asked is how they feel when ripping a movie apart. It may sound mean-spirited and arrogant to criticize a movie that a lot of people invested their time and money into. Anybody that has endured the ten movies listed below however can understand that such criticisms are justified.
1. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie: The antics of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are supposedly intended to be bad. While that may be true, just because an entertainment aspires to be bad doesn’t make it good or ironically comical. In the case of “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” the intentionally god-awful humor results in the most miserable experience I’ve had at the movies all year. To even acknowledge this thing as a movie feels incorrect. It’s more like a series of horrifically unfunny YouTube clips sloppily edited together by socially inept rejects from another planet. Tim and Eric bring together a variety of gifted comedic actors for their big screen debut, including Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Will Forte, and Jeff Goldblum. They’re all at their absolute worst in the single biggest waste of talent since “Year One.” If you find jokes about genitalia piercings, old ladies getting their fingers chopped off, and children defecating on a grown man to be hilarious, “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” should be right up your alley. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone taking pleasure in this excruciating mess without being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a lobotomy.
2. That’s My Boy: While “That’s My Boy” isn’t as bad as Adam Sandler’s previous film, “Jack and Jill,” that’s like saying a solitary shot to the head is better than multiple shots to the head. What a bleak, mean-spirited, tasteless alleged comedy this is, hitting the audience over the head with lamebrain jokes regarding child molestation and sex with old ladies. Then just when you think “That’s My Boy” can’t get any more coarse, it completely jumps the shark with a vomit-inducing twist regarding incest. The fact that this garbage actually tries to incorporate sentimental moments in the midst of all the vulgarity only makes the film more despicable. Unlike so many other Adam Sandler movies, “That’s My Boy” was thankfully a box office dud. This could mean that audiences are finally starting to wise up about Sandler’s comedies. Of course it’s also possible that the R rating alienated the target audience of twelve-year-olds, the only demographic that could possible find this material funny.
3. The Babymakers: No matter how unpromising the subject matter might seem, just about any premise can work with the right people involved. Take “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” for example. Yet, it’s hard to imagine even the most talented filmmakers pulling off “The Babymakers,” a film all about a sperm bank heist. The movie exhausts every tired, crude masturbation joke in the book and not a single one gets a laugh. Seeing a man spill several containers of semen on the ground and slip in the sea of male essence isn’t funny. Even the “Jackass” guys have more taste and wit than that. The usually delightful Olivia Munn and Paul Schneider appear lost in their roles as Director Jay Chandraskhar struggles to strike a balance between being raunchy, charming, and funny all at once. The end result is an atrocity so uneven and wretched that it will make a vasectomy seem like paradise.
4. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: Why does this movie exist? Can somebody please explain? Maybe I could understand if Marvel wanted to completely revamp the “Ghost Rider” franchise. But what warped individual actually thought that people would want to see a sequel to the 2007 Nicolas Cage stinker? Not even Idris Elba can save this watered down follow-up from shoddy special effects, lazy action, and Cage’s unintentionally hilarious facial expressions. Where the first “Ghost Rider” was bad, at least it felt like an actual movie. There’s nothing remotely cinematic about “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” though. It’s more in the league of that 1990 strait-to-video “Captain America” movie or the 1994 “Fantastic Four” movie that never got an official release.
5. The Devil Inside: From “The Blair Witch Project,” to “Cloverfield,” to “Quarantine,” to the four “Paranormal Activity” pictures, the found footage trend has become the most overused gimmick in modern movies. The worst of all these handheld camera films is undoubtedly “The Devil Inside,” which opened number one at the box office its opening weekend and unsurprisingly fell off the charts at a rapid rate. Fernanda Andrade sleepwalks through her role as Isabella, a documentary filmmaker trying to learn more about her mother, who was allegedly possessed by a demon. Andrade is so painfully emotionless here that the camera often shoots around her so the audience won’t notice the full extent of her horrendous acting. Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth aren’t much better as two priests that attend a school for exorcism. That’s right, exorcism is such a common dilemma that we had to dedicate a school to studying it. So stupid! Assuming that you actually manage to endure this preposterous, poorly made schlock all the way through, be prepared for a totally rushed, anticlimactic ending that dares the audience not to laugh.
6. One For The Money: Katherine Heigl has easily become the most annoying actress alive, brashly showboating in one half-witted movie after another for the past five years. Heigl fully lived up to expectations in “One For the Money” in which she plays the most unrealistic bounty hunter ever. “One For the Money” is too dark to be a lighthearted comedy, too awkward to be sexy, too convoluted to be interesting, and too boring to be entertaining. On top of all that, what’s the great Debbie Reynolds doing in this tripe? Come on, Debbie, you were in “Singin’ in the Rain” for God’s sake! Heck, even those Disney Channel “Halloweentown” movies were more worthy of your talent than this.
7. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2: Stephanie Meyer’s asinine chronicle of lame vampires, talking CGI werewolves, and the single worst female protagonist in all of fiction finally came to end this year in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.” It’s actually kind of sad that I’ll never get to rip on another “Twilight” movie again…almost. As we’ve come to expect, the performances are still adequate at best, the characters lack any substance, the effects are cheesy, the narrative goes nowhere, and the dialog would make a canceled ABC soap opera laugh. If that all wasn’t enough, the movie put a nail in the coffin of this idiotic series with one of the dumbest twist endings in cinematic history.
8. John Carter: This was one of the year’s most colossal money losers and the end product certainly shows why. Not even the “Transformers” crowd could get on board with this flashy and corny blockbuster chock-full of bland characters, overblown visuals, lackluster 3D, and a story that makes next to no sense. Granted, “John Carter” does derive its inspiration from a very influential science fiction novel and Andrew Stanton obviously directed the movie with a lot of passion. But that just goes to show that the most promising source material and the most capable filmmakers can sometimes produce the biggest bombs.
9. Chernobyl Diaries: I’ve seen some dim-witted characters in my time, but few have been as insultingly idiotic as the simpletons in “Chernobyl Diaries.” A group of young adults on vacation in Europe are approached by a guide that offers to take them on a tour of Pripyat, an abandoned city with radiation so high it can kill a person over a couple days. The bonehead patrol naturally thinks it would be a brilliant idea to go to a deserted, radioactive city with a strange man they know nothing about. If a stranger offered them candy they’d probably leap at the chance to climb into his van. Naturally, these cretins become stranded in the city and their countless brainless decisions lead to one calamity after another. But does the film at least have any inspired twists or scares in the midst of all the stupidity? Nope, it’s about as startling as somebody jumping out and saying, “Boo!”
10. Piranha 3DD: 2010’s “Piranha 3D” was dumb, but at least it was well made, had a lively cast, and knew what it wanted to be. “Piranha 3DD” is even dumber, but has nothing going for it other than some mildly amusing cameos from Christopher Lloyd and David Hasselhoff. There are lines in this movie that are about as subtle as something you’d hear in a porno. “Lets take our clothes off and go swimming.” Other lines feel like they’re more fitting for a flat-out satire than a self-aware horror flick. “Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina!” “Piranha 3DD” can never decide what note it wants to hit, resulting in an uneven, poorly paced, embarrassing excuse for a movie lacking any dread or fun. To give the filmmakers credit though, they probably set the record for most scenes in which a fish attacks somebody’s genitalia.
The Best Movies of 2011
2011 was a tremendous year for movies with a fair deal of pictures that put an emphasis on nostalgia. There were so many great movies this year that a top ten list isn’t going to cut it. I’m going all out with the 25 best films of 2011.
1. The Artist: I never would have thought that a silent film shot in black and white would top my best of the year list in this day and age. Director Michael Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” completely exceeded my doubtful expectations though, treating me to one of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies. Jean Dujardin deserves serious consideration to win the Best Actor Oscar for his funny and tragic portrayal as George Valentin, a fictional silent movie star whose career is put in jeopardy when talkies begin to take the public by storm. On his road to redemption, Valentin is aided by a luminous rising movie star named Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo, his loyal limo driver, played by James Cromwell, and his scene-stealing terrier. Hazanavicius has made a masterful tribute to the silent movie era that never feels forced or gimmicky. Many audiences are likely to avoid “The Artist” no matter how much praise it receives. That’s a royal shame because they will be missing out on a humorous, suspenseful, and romantic entertainment that they’ll never forget.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: The “Harry Potter” series is truly among the greatest cinematic achievements of the past decade, delivering a saga with the same level of storytelling and inventiveness as the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Director David Yates brought the franchise to it’s stunning conclusion last summer with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” one of the most satisfying cinematic finales of all time. In addition to being a revelation of craft, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a cavernous emotional experience as the once grand Hogwarts shatters to the ground, favorite characters meet their demise, and secrets are revealed. The final five minutes of the film will dramatically impact anybody who has followed this story from the beginning, providing a perfect ending to a timeless series.
3. War Horse: Many people seem indifferent to Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” In my eyes though, this is nothing short of a miracle of a motion picture. The film tells a beautiful story about the unbreakable bond between a young adult named Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, and his remarkable horse Joey. When the two are separated during wartime, Joey goes though several different owners as he attempts to make his way back to Albert. Joey himself may be the most daring and courageous animal star in the history of live-action pictures, never being downgraded to a cartoon horse. From the epic musical score by John Williams, to the sweeping cinematography, to the creative screenplay, I loved just about everything regarding this magical movie.
4. The Help: If movies were living, breathing organisms, I’d give “The Help” a big hug. The movie impeccably mixes moments of heartbreak with an abundance of sheer delight, telling an empowering story about race and some of the most strong-willed female characters of recent times. Every performer is superb in their portrayals, from Emma Stone as the outspoken Skeeter, to Bryce Dallas Howard as the ignorant Hilly Holbrook, to breakthrough actress Jessica Chastain as the naive Celia. The standout performances come from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both of whom are destine to receive Oscar nominations. Director Tate Taylor does a sincere job at adapting Kathryn Stockett’s novel, delivering a funny and joyous experience that will only leave the most pessimistic spectators not uplifted.
5. The Descendants: Alexander Payne’s follows up his exceptional “Sideways” with “The Descendants,” a magnificent dramedy about heartache, betrayal, forgiveness, and letting go. George Clooney gives the best performance of his career as Matt King, a father of two who must stand up as a single parent when his wife is put on life support. As great as Clooney is, the real discovery is Shailene Woodley as his foul-mouthed teenage daughter who tries to keep her family together while feeling severe animosity towards her father and dying mother. Director and co-screenwriter Payne has made a genuine film that feels factual to the hardships of life and still manages to put the audience in high spirits.
6. Midnight in Paris: Easily Woody Allen’s best movie in years, “Midnight in Paris” is a witty and refined comedy about nostalgia, escapism, and frustrated artists. Owen Wilson is splendid as a wannabe novelist who is transported to 1920’s Paris every night at the stroke of midnight. He crosses paths with Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Tom Hiddleston as Scott Fitzgerald and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, all of whom are completely believable. But the real star of “Midnight in Paris” is the City of Lights itself. Few directors do as good of a job at turning locations into real characters. Like he’s done with New York time and time again, Allen fashions Paris into a breathing presence with a life of it’s own.
7. The Muppets: After a 12 year hiatus from features, Director James Bobin and writers Jason Segel and Nick Stoller managed to breathe life back into the Muppet franchise. Their wonderful film, simply titled “The Muppets,” is a winner in just about every respect imaginable. It is crystal clear that all the people involved with the picture share nothing less than complete admiration for the Muppet legacy. The end result is a warm, delightfully corny, refreshing, and funny gem that appeals to adults and kids being introduced to the Muppets for the first time. This is the one movie of the year that I can’t possibly imagine somebody not enjoying. If you’re suffering from clinical depression, forget about Zoloft and Prozac. “The Muppets” is the best cure.
8. Bridesmaids: No movie this year came close to topping “Bridesmaids” in the laugh department. In addition to being a raunchy laugh riot, “Bridesmaids” also manages to tell an appealing story about the friendships and rivalries women share. Kristen Wiig leads an excellent cast that includes Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, Chris O’Dowd, and numerous others. The funniest performance of all comes from Mellissa McCarthy, who deserves a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her flawless physical comedic timing and sheer lovability. She also delivered the single most quotable line of the year, “It’s coming out of me like lava!” So many people had “Bridesmaids” pegged as just another generic “Chick Flick.” Director Paul Feig and company proved skeptics wrong though with a film that’s every bit as fun for men as it is for women, maybe even more.
9. 50/50: Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives another winning performance in this unlikely comedy about a young man trying to beat Cancer. Most comedies that attempt to tackle a subject as tragic as cancer often fall flat, unable to strike the right note. “50/50” is the rare movie that finds the perfect balance of dark comedy and tender charm in the midst of its main character’s horrible circumstances. While “50/50” is a very funny and sweet picture, it’s not one that overlooks the hardships that befall cancer victims. It’s a movie that sufficiently depicts people coping with Cancer and, at the same time, makes its audience feel nothing short of grateful that they’re alive.
10. The Tree of Life: Mainly told through the perspective of a little boy played by Hunter McCracken, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is a profound collection of fragmented memories that capture the joy, confusion, guilt, and fear of being a child. Like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Tree of Life” sends its audience on a deep spiritual journey through visual poetry, envisioning everything from the creation of the universe to the growth of a baby boy. Among all the films released in 2011, “The Tree of Life” might have been the hardest for mainstream audiences to embrace. This certainly isn’t a movie to watch casually as it tests the audience’s patience to the max. Those willing to be challenged though are likely to discover something truly special.
11. Drive: Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s gritty and constantly mesmerizing piece of art that’s fortunately growing in popularity.
12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: A more than worthy American remake of last year’s underappreciated Swedish film with a star making performance from Rooney Mara.
13. Moneyball: Brad Pitt delivers one of his finest performances in this fascinating movie about changing the way people perceive baseball management.
14. The Adventures of Tintin: Steven Spielberg’s hyper and dazzling motion capture adventure reminiscent of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
15. Super 8: J.J. Abrams’ wonderful and nostalgic love letter to Steven Spielberg fuelled by some winning adolescent performers.
16. Hugo: Martin Scorsese’s unexpected and imaginative family adventure that wholly embraces the art of movies.
17. Sarah’s Key: A fiercely overlooked drama with an Oscar-caliber performance from young Melusine Mayance.
18. Thor: The year’s best superhero entertainment impacted by a witty performance from Chris Hemsworth.
19. Young Adult: Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody hit another homerun with this dark comedy about a self-centered, immature woman played by Charlize Theron.
20. The Ides of March: George Clooney directs this very well written political thriller staring Ryan Gosling in one of his best performances.
21. Captain America: The First Avenger: Another fun predecessor to next year’s highly anticipated “The Avengers.”
22. X-Men: First Class: Mathew Vaughn directs what may be the best of the “X-Men” series, providing an interesting origin story for Professor X and Magneto.
23. Horrible Bosses: One of the year’s funniest comedies with a terrific cast lead by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis.
24. My Week With Marilyn: Michelle Williams gives her most dedicated performance in this charming comedy about screen legend Marilyn Monroe.
25. Rango: Gore Verbinski’s bizarre and visually dazzling animated western with some great voiceover work from Johnny Depp.
The Worst Movies of 2011
Sitting through so many terrible movies is the one major downside to this otherwise wonderful job. But at least all that laborious work pays off when I write my annual list of the year’s absolute worst films. It’s time to scrape the bottom of the barrel that consists of unattractive CGI robots, glittering vampires, and the antichrist himself, Adam Sandler.
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon: This past summer, millions of single mothers around the world let their forty-year-old sons out of their basements to see “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” While the film might have been the biggest of Michael Bay’s relentless franchise, it was also the most joyless, pointless, and boring. In traditional fashion, all of the transformers either have no personality whatsoever or talk like black street thugs. But they’re far from the most irritating characters in the film. That dishonor goes to the human actors, who all give such disjointed performances that you begin to wonder it they’re from another planet. Leading this pack of tools is Shia LaBeaouf as an insufferable jerk who screams his dialog even when he’s not in combat. If you like explosions, choppy editing, unimaginative stories, and lackluster characters, this is the movie for you. To me, this doesn’t even contend as mindless entertainment.
3. Red Riding Hood: If getting another “Twilight” movie wasn’t enough, this year also burdened us with numerous “Twilight” wannabes, the worst of which was easily “Red Riding Hood.” This tripe doesn’t even attempt to distinguish itself with opening shots of tall trees, a male lead with gelled-up hair, an uninspired love triangle, and a cheesy CGI wolf. As awful as “Red Riding Hood” is, the film does at least provide some of this year’s most unintentionally hilarious moments, most notably a bedroom scene between Julie Christie and Amanda Seyfried.
4. Zookeeper: Another year means yet another movie about aggravating talking animals. While not quite as horrendous as last year’s “Marmaduke,” “Zookeeper” managed to claim 2011’s title for dumbest children’s film. This misguided comedy exists in an offbeat universe where animals can communicate with humans and, even more shockingly, Kevin James has managed to win the affection of Rosario Dawson and Leslie Bibb. The jokes are stale, the plot is as thin as they come, and the voiceover performers are all greatly miscast, save Nick Nolte as a Gorilla.
5. Sucker Punch: If there ever was a movie that epitomized a video game meets a music video, it would be “Sucker Punch.” When the characters aren’t walking in slow motion to music, they’re fighting dragons, soldiers, robots, and rock titan samurai’s. The plot is incredibly stupid and makes absolutely no sense, none whatever. What’s really insulting is that “Sucker Punch” doesn’t even succeed as the campy, self-aware fanboy daydream that it desires to be. In addition to being incomprehensible, loud, overly long and visually nauseating, “Sucker Punch” evokes sexist undertones with men that are all grimy sadists and females that all dress like schoolgirl hooker goddesses. Director Zack Snyder seems to think that he’s made a movie that embraces women. Rather, he’s made a movie that’s unappealing to both genders. “Sucker Punch” is a royal punch to the crotch.
6. Your Highness: David Gordon Green showed such promise early on in his filmmaking career. Now it appears that the director is on a suicide plane to early retirement with idiotic messes like “Your Highness.” While this comedy is visually impressive, the screenplay reads like it was written by 12-year-olds that spend a majority of their time peaking into the girl’s locker room. Danny McBride and company utter their lines in crude English accents as they crack jokes about masturbation, child molestation and Minotaur penises. That’s right, apparently the genitalia of mystical creatures passes as comedy nowadays.
7. The Change-Up: As much as I like Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds the two shared no chemistry in “The Change-Up,” a drab, formulaic body switching comedy. The film is heavy on mundane gross out humor and forced four-letter words, but lacks any genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The attempt at adding some emotional weight to the equation just feels uneven, especially when it follows a scene in which Reynolds is forced to kiss the breasts of a mummified porn star.
8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1: Rushed sex scenes, talking CGI werewolves, and a grotesque child birth, what more could a man want? “The Twilight Saga” continues to be one of this generation’s most futile series with no interesting characters, meaningful romances, or life lessons. It does succeed however in setting woman’s lib back another hundred years and making young girls insecure about not having a boyfriend. On top of all that, did we really need such a trashy and brainless franchise like “Twilight” to tackle an issue as serious as abortion? It’s like if “Transformers” tried to work in a message about life support. They just don’t go together.
9. Just Go With It: Adam Sandler plays a plastic surgeon that jokes about his patients’ deformities, wears a fake wedding ring to pick up twenty-year-old bimbos, abuses small children, and concocts a needlessly extravagant lie to win over his dream girl. And despite all this, we’re really expected to like this character? In addition to the forgettable Sandler, Jennifer Aniston continues to waste her talent, Brooklyn Decker fails to establish herself as anything more than a beautiful statue, Nicole Kidman searches for a purpose, and Nick Swardson proves to be the most expendable comedic actor since Rob Schneider. It’s hard to believe that “Just Go With It” isn’t even the worst Adam Sandler movie of 2011.
10. The Smurfs: Even at a very young age I found “The Smurfs” to be a rather lame franchise. So as you can imagine I had no affection whatsoever for the live-action “Smurf” movie. Not even a dedicated performance from Hank Azaria as Gargamel can save this unnecessary feature from a plot ripped off from “Elf” and “Enchanted” and really bad jokes. I officially gave up any hope that this movie may improve when a Smurfette voiced by Katy Perry said, “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it.”
The Best Films of 2010
1. Toy Story 3
Like "Return of the Jedi" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Toy Story 3" is one of the few threequels that not only lives up to its predecessors, but makes its previous installments even better. First-time Director Lee Unkirch settled for nothing less than perfection with this sequel, completing what is unarguably the premium trilogy of animation. "Toy Story 3" is full of hilarious running-gags, most notably when Buzz takes on the persona of a Spanish soap opera star. The funniest addition of all is Michael Keaton as Ken, a fashionable and groovy bachelor who insists he is not a girl's toy. There's also a great voiceover performance from Ned Beaty as Lotso, an evil, Strawberry-scented bear who acts as a warden of a daycare center. As funny as "Toy Story 3" is, it goes beyond simply being one joke after joke. There are stakes and characters we care about here. I walk into almost all animated films confident that everything is going to work out for the best. "Toy Story 3" is the first animated feature in a long time, though, that truly left me holding my breath in suspense, wondering how the heroes would overcome their predicament. The scene that probably resonates the most with audiences is the haunting climax when the toys face certain destruction in an oven. It's a down-to-earth moment grounded in reality in the same vein of Bambi's mother dying. The fact that we actually care so much about the well being of plastic only makes the experience of "Toy Story 3" even more incredible.
2010 was an exceptional year for movies that challenged the audience and stirred up thoughtful conversation. There wasn't a more talked about film this entire year than Christopher Nolan's mesmerizing and creative passion project about dream infiltration, "Inception." This is a movie that works on every conceivable level. As a science-fiction thriller it earns comparison to the works of Spielberg and Kubrick. As a mystery it will both fascinate and frustrate you from beginning to end. In terms of visuals, it is unforgettable. When Ellen Page bends the streets of Paris with her mind or when Joseph Gordan Levitt floats through a tilted hotel lobby free of gravity, you aren't aware you are watching a visual effect. You're convinced that what you are witnessing is real. While the look of the film is spectacular, "Inception" is driven by its complex ideas and plot.
3. The Social Network
"The Social Network" is an absorbingly entertaining depiction of one of the most influential individuals of the past 10 years and arguably the most culturally relevant movie of this young century. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect as Mark Zuckerberg, a conceited and socially awkward nerd who created Facebook and became the world's youngest billionaire. The real star of "The Social Network" though is the screenplay, which Aaron Sorkin adapted from the novel, "The Accidental Billionaires." His masterful script zips by without one false note in it. It's unlikely that every event and every conversation in the film took place as Sorkin portrays it. But so what? It was hard not to be completely enticed by the film from its opening scene to the final image, which will stick with you for days. This is probably the most straight forward film from Director David Fincher and in many ways it is his best. Fincher has made a relevant and above all exhilarating film that's imperative for everyone to see, principally this generation's youth.
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Over the course of 2010, the Millium film trilogy was released in America. The best of which was Niels Arden Oplev's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Noomi Rapace is remarkable as Lisbeth Salander, a gothic 24-year-old whose body is sheltered with piercings and tattoos. Lisbeth teams up with a middle-aged journalist named Mikael, played by Michael Nyqvist, to help solve a 40 year old mystery. Lisbeth and Mikael are two completely different people who find comfort in one another during troubled states of their lives. The divorced Mikael comes to care about this mystifying woman who may be his last chance at happiness. Although Lisbeth is reminded through Mikael that men are capable of respect and love, she is still reluctant to fully give herself to anybody. Even when you think "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" has topped itself with one twist it continues to blow you out of the water.
5. The Fighter
"The Fighter" takes a traditional underdog story and creates one of the most inspired boxing movies since the original Rocky. The hero of the picture is Mickey Ward, a real-life Irish-American boxer played by Mark Wahlberg. Mickey has the potential to become heavyweight champ but is constantly brought down by his dysfunctional family. There are superb performances all around from Amy Adams as Mickey's strong-willed girlfriend to Melissa Leo as Mickey's mother. The standout of the movie is Christian Bale who has become an obvious target for satire over the years. Here he delivers a pinnacle performance as Mickey's brother Dicky, who might have gone onto become a champion had it not been for his crack addiction. This is a risky role that could have easily misfired in the hands of another performer. The film is also a great character study about family, addiction and ego.
The ad campaign for "Tangled" might have marketed the film to look like a sarcastic, lowbrow Dreamworks animation. But like last year's underrated "The Princess and the Frog," "Tangled" recaptures the warmth of the best Disney animated features and further establishes that the studio is back on track. Many Moore is positively lovable as Rapunzel, a young girl with an elongated head of hair. After being locked away in a tower for 18 years, Rapunzel finally hits the road with a thief named Flynn Rider, voiced by Zachary Levi. Along the way the two are aided by a chameleon named Pascal and dedicated horse named Maximous, who both join Gromit of Wallace and Gromit as the greatest of all silent animated sidekicks. Stealing the show is Donna Murphy as the villainous Gothel, Rapunzel's alleged mother and the worst female role model since Joan Crawford in "Mommy Dearest."
7. Shutter Island
Although "Shutter Island" was one of Martin Scorsese's most commercially successful movies to date, it was virtually ignored this award season. Nevertheless, I can't think of a better word to describe this movie than "captivating." Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as Teddy Daniels, a duly appointed federal marshal who is sent to investigate a disappearance at Shutter Island, a facility for the mentally unstable. Like Jimmy Stuart in a Hitchcockian thriller, DiCaprio fully escapes into this character who may be on the verge of uncovering a conspiracy or simply going insane himself.
8. Winter's Bone
"Winter's Bone" might not have received much recognition from mainstream audiences. Years from now, though, it will be remembered as the film that made Jennifer Lawrence a star. Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who has a week to find her wanted father or else her struggling family will lose their house. Although Ree has virtually no influence or power outside of her household, she proves to be as determined and courageous as any individual I've seen in some time. While it's certainly not an upbeat film, Winter's Bone is without a doubt one of the year's most encouraging pictures about heroism.
9. Black Swan
"Black Swan" is a dreamlike movie-going experience from Darren Aronofsky. Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime as Nina, a gentle, fragile woman who achieves her dream role of the Swan Queen in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake. As she digs deeper into the role though, Nina begins to loose her grip on reality and literally becomes a black swan. This is the most arresting performance of Portman's acting career.
10. 127 Hours
This is a gorgeously shot, extraordinary true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber who falls down a canyon and has his right forearm crushed by a bolder. Aron is played by James Franco in a performance that redefines his true range as an actor. Despite its seemingly grim subject matter, "127 Hours" is truly an optimistic film, or at least as optimistic as any film can be about a man confronted with the options of amputation or death. That's simply the magic of Director Danny Boyle, who previously brought us the pitch perfect "Slumdog Millionaire."
11. True Grit
12. Let Me In
13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
14. The King's Speech
17. The Town
18. It's Kind of a Funny Story
19. How to Train Your Dragon
20. Easy A
21. Despicable Me
22. Get Low
23. Temple Grandin
24. The Other Guys
25. Waking Sleeping Beauty
26. Get Him to the Greek
27. Alice in Wonderland
29. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
30. The Kid's Are All Right
M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" is the most joyless experience I've had at the movies in some time. Not since "Batman & Robin" in 1997 has a director taken a great license and crucified it in a more unholy fashion. Whatever charm the original animated series had is lost in this unbearably boring live-action interpretation that provides not a single moment of wit or imagination in its whole running time. If you've never seen the animated series you'll be confused and annoyed. If you are familiar with the animated series, you'll feel as if your heart has been torn out. But I could forgive the film's severe miscasting, senseless direction, distractingly flashy visuals, and inaccuracy to the series if only Shyamalan had managed to pronounce the main character's name correctly.
2. I Spit On Your Grave
Here's a film every bit as vile and despicable as the title suggests. This is a malevolent piece of filth that attempts to pass off the raping of an innocent woman as a good time at the movies. Some may construe this as entertainment. I call it a sick, reprehensible and unpleasant depiction of all humanity. If you want to see a great horror remake that came out in 2010, check out "Let Me In" or "The Crazies." If you see "I Spit on Your Grave" you risk never wanting to sit through another movie again.
As much as I hate to admit it I did sit through all of "Marmaduke." Even more amazing is that I managed to do it without killing myself. Looking back on the ordeal, though, I at least wish that I had done myself the courtesy of walking out of the theater. It's hard to imagine that a producer saw a "Marmaduke" comic strip and said, "Now here's a movie!" I suppose "Marmaduke" is just further evidence that Hollywood will literally attempt to stretch anything into a feature.
Kristen Bell plays Marni, a successful businesswoman who returns home to learn her brother is marrying her high school nemesis, Joanna. The notion that Marni's witless brother would be marrying this woman is already contrived enough. You Again adds another level of idiocy to the plot when Joanna's aunt is introduced to Marni's mother. It's revealed that these two were once best friends turned rivals after a senior prom incident. WTF! Did the planets literally line up? Material like this might get by on a sitcom. As a movie though, "You Again" is as bad as any of the unfunny comedies I've seen this year.
Based on this selection you might assume that I hate "Sex and the City." But that's not true at all. As a matter of fact, I love "Sex and the City." I even went out and bought the $200 collectors DVD set. "Sex and the City 2," however, is a needless follow-up that makes the audience hate the very character they once loved. What I find truly degrading about this movie though is that it pretends to embrace the female sex when all it really does is depict women as whiny, self-absorbed and needy.
One thing is for certain about Ashton Kutcher: If there were an award for most overacting on movie posters, he'd take the gold every year. This guy can barely get through a sentence without smiling at the camera, making him the most unlikely actor to play a professional assassin in "Killers." For the first act of "Killers" we see glimpses of a potentially exciting and sexy romp. But whatever little fuel "Killers" has runs out fairly quickly as the film unearths its plot, which goes from inexplicable to inexplicable annoying to flat out unbearable.
Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan play two cops that have been partners for nine years. But they have about as much chemistry as two people that met only five minutes ago. "Cop Out" comes fully equipped with every buddy cop cliché in the book. The problem with "Cop Out" is that it never seizes the opportunity to satirize these clichés. Instead we just get a lot of uninspired action sequences and tiresome comedy bits. What's even more amazing is that the film's director is Kevin Smith, who has made one great movie after another. At least Smith isn't responsible for writing the film's laugh-free screenplay.
Despite their long string of uninspired comedies, I do think that Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider are all capable of being funny. So was it too much for me to keep an open mind and hope that "Grown Ups" would have at least a few funny moments? Apparently. This is one of those movies that the cast clearly had a good time making as they crack each other up. Unfortunately the audience isn't in on any of the jokes. In addition to all the lazy in-jokes, the film features loads of humor revolving around breast-feeding a 4-year-old, relations with a senior citizen, and not one, but two O.J. Simpson gags.
A more appropriate title for "The Bounty Hunter" would have been, "Jennifer Aniston plays with her hair and Gerard Butler tries to act romantic but just looks like he wants to chop somebody's head off." The plot is as formulaic as they come. Butler and Aniston yell at each other, run from each other, and drive golf carts into lakes because getting wet is always funny, right? Then despite their incompatibility, the two still end up together in the end. Is any of it funny, romantic or charming? Not in the slightest.
This is laziest and most forgettable of all recent comic book adaptations. Despite its inexplicable plot and poor production values, "Jonah Hex" makes the unwise choice to play the entire movie with a poker face. The only high point of this dreck is Josh Brolin, who manages to bring some class to his performance as the brooding, self-righteous title character. Other than that we get some truly lackluster work from Megan Fox, who demonstrates more than ever that performing is not her strong suit.
The Best Films of 2009
1. Inglourious Basterds
Many have argued that 2009 was not a good year for movies. I’ll be the first to admit that 2009 certainly wasn’t a golden cinema year like 1939, 1989, or 1999. Nevertheless, this was still a year composed of some marvelous pictures. Looking over the following twenty-four films, I find it hard to say that 2009 was a bad year for movies. As far as I’m concerned, 2009 was a pretty damn good year filmwise. Among all the substantial films released this year, there wasn’t a more enthralling, absorbing, provocative, and audacious movie going experience than Quentin Tarantino’s ingenious masterwork of “Inglourious Basterds.”
The film received mixed reactions when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last may. Some critics couldn’t get past Tarantino’s leap into pure fantasy with this World War II epic. A few months later when the film opened nationwide however, it earned overwhelming praise from critics and mainstream moviegoers alike. Recently numerous of the critics that declined the film have retracted their initial statements and recognized the film for the work of genius it is. As far as I’m concerned, Tarantino’s approach to WWII is a hell of a lot more interesting than what actually happened. I don’t go movies like this for historical accuracy. I go for memorable characters, inventive storytelling, and above all to be entertained. “Inglourious Basterds” satisfies the audience on every conceivable level.
The first ten minutes of the movie alone could have made for a tremendous short film unlike any other. In this scene the proper and polite, yet pure evil, Col. Hans Landa interrogates a dairy farmer who may be hiding Jews. It’s a fascinating sequence full of tension and rich dialog as Landa describes the similarities between Jews and rats. The stakes for movie villains have certainly been raised in recent years with Heath Ledger’s Joker and Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. Christoph Waltz’s chilling creation of Hans Landa in every way lives up to those two recent additions to the great villains of movies. Landa is a genuinely chilling menace that always leaves you pondering what depraved deed he will commit next.
The opening scene all works up to a shocking moment in which Landa persuades the farmer to surrender the Jews he is harboring. Landa’s men storm in and shoot at the floorboards, murdering the Jewish family seeking refuge there. One Jew manages to escape the ordeal alive however, Shasanna Dreyfus. In an elegant and poignant breakthrough performance, the French actress Melanie Laurent breathes life into Shasanna, who is determined to exact revenge on the Nazi party. Tarantino is often regarded for making movies intended for males. With “Death Proof,” the “Kill Bill” movies, and now “Inglourious Basterds” though, Tarantino also proves that he can write tremendous roles for women. Tarantino respects women by fashioning them into strong, independent individuals who do not allow anybody to bully them.
Leading the show is Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine who leads a platoon of Jewish American soldiers into Germany to kill Nazis. Pitt is given plenty of opportunities to simply go over-the-top with his role. While he does indeed bring a fair deal of campiness to his performance, Pitt still manages to create a real character in Aldo. Pitt is hilarious and bold as this rebel soldier who hates Nazis every bit as much as Landa despises Jews. Pitt is having a good time on screen and the audience has a hell of a time watching him. Another superb performance comes from Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a Germany actress who helps the Basterds bring down Hitler. Kruger stands out in a particular scene in which her character’s cover is blown and is confronted by Landa. Kruger’s facial expression says it all as the audience is left imagining the dread that must be going through this her head.
Technically this is Tarantino’s most spectacular movie to date. With note-perfect art direction and costumes along with exceptional cinematography and sound, Tarantino has crafted a gorgeously brutal movie. The reason that “Inglourious Basterds” succeeds as the Best Picture of the year however is because of it’s remarkable characters, excellent performances from the entire cast, and Tarantino’s unmatchable use of dialog. In the end all of the movie’s plots crash together in an imaginative, if not completely impractical, manner.
“Inglourious Basterds” is essentially Tarantino’s love letter to spaghetti westerns, drive-in B-movies, war pictures, and movies in general. In the film’s striking final scene Lt. Raine looks upon Landa with a knife, having just carved a swastika onto his forehead. Aldo then turns to a fellow soldier and declares, “This just might be my masterpiece.” Quentin Tarantino can say the same thing about “Inglourious Basterds.”
I’m sure a lot of you are surprised that this is not my number one choice given how I’ve praised it over the past couple of months. While James Cameron’s “Avatar” didn’t quite exceed “Inglourious Basterds” in my eyes, it certainly came close. For years it appeared nothing would ever top Cameron’s unsinkable epic of “Titanic.” Twelve years later however, Cameron returned with the film that triumphed over his own unobtainable record.
There has been much dispute over whether “Avatar” really deserved a place in the record books and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, which it could very well win. Although it’s not my choice for the Best film of the year or the greatest movie of all time, I am truly proud of “Avatar” and thrilled by it’s critical and financial success. The experience of watching “Avatar” is like seeing the original “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” or “The Matrix” for the first time. It’s a revolutionary picture that is both exciting and romantic that will forever change the way audiences perceive motion pictures. “Avatar” is the definition of what movies were made for.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny that “Avatar” is an enchanting picture simply to look at. The film creates a world unlike any other through ingenious art direction, sound, and visuals. Cameron occupies every frame of the movie with jaw-dropping spectacles of absolute wonderment. A film can’t achieve the rank of greatness based on visuals alone however. Like Cameron’s last film, “Avatar” earns it’s title because of it’s characters and the affection the audience grows for them.
Cameron has developed two classic characters in Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully and Zoe Saldana’s Princess Neytiri. These two breakout stars have tremendous chemistry together in a romance that oddly touched me. I didn’t think I could get caught up in a romance between blue aliens brought to life though motion capture animation. But Worthington and Saldana deliver genuine performances as two characters that will be remembered in years to come. While there isn’t a character in “Avatar” who can contend with somebody like Han Solo, I believe Jake Sully and Neytiri are destined to become the Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia of this generation.
Some have criticized the film for being a retread of “Dances With Wolves” with Smurfs. While I can certainly see the parallels between “Avatar” and “Dances With Wolves” and even “Pocahontas,” so what? After all, isn’t “Star Wars” essentially just a good old fashion western in space? The screenplay by Cameron takes a familiar story and makes it feel fresh and stimulating with fascinating ideas.
The action sequences are reminiscent of the most iconic battles in the history of cinema. The film all works up to a heart-tugging climax with the most superbly shot final battle since “The Return of the King.” Credit must go to the cinematography from Mauro Fiore and film editors John Refoua, Stephen Rivkin, and James Cameron himself. At just under three hours, “Avatar” never drags on or disappoints.
As far as the Best Director Oscar goes, I wouldn’t give the award to Cameron over Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” or Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” At the very least though Cameron deserves a special achievement crown composed of Oscar statues. After years of waiting for the technology to catch up with his vision, Cameron has flawlessly brought his passion project to life.
Whether or not 2009 was a good year for movies is a war that continues to rage on. However, I think we can all agree that this was a remarkable year for animated motion pictures. Throughout this list you’ll find several animations on my honorable mentions and two on my top ten. The best of these two was undoubtedly Pixar’s funny, touching, exciting, and endlessly whimsical “Up.”
It appeared that Pixar had taken it’s biggest risk last year with the almost dialog-free “WALL-E.” “Up” however, brings together two old men, a chubby Asian boy, a talking dog, an exotic bird, and a flying house of balloons. Only Pixar could take this outlandish material and develop a real story that’s more humane and moving than any live-action film to be released this entire year.
In addition to being the best-animated feature of 2009, “Up” is also the year’s most compelling love story. The irony is that a bulk of the love story takes place in the film’s first five minutes. The movie begins with two whippersnappers named Carl and Ellie. Ellie dreams of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America and Carl promises to one day take her.
A four-minute montage, set to a fabulous musical score by composer Michael Giacchino, depicts the life between these two. It’s a beautiful sequence full of joy and heartbreak that all leads up to a tear-jerking moment in which Ellie passes away. Not since the death of Bambi’s mother has there been a more emotional sequence in an animated film. I dare anybody who doesn’t recognize animation as a serious art from to take a look at this sequence not to get chocked up.
Although Ellie is gone within the film’s first few minutes, her love story with Carl lives on throughout the whole course of the movie. When the lonely Carl faces eviction from his house, the only piece of Ellie he has left, he decides to finally make good on the promise he made to his late wife. With a series of balloons attached to his beloved home, Carl soars away on an adventure of a lifetime. Along the way a stowaway named Russell joins Carl much to his discomfort. The friendship that the two develop is one of the most profound of recent buddy pictures as Carl becomes Russell’s father figure and Russell becomes the son Carl never had.
The filmmakers have created a series of unforgettable characters, particularly a talking dog named Dug. There have been plenty of movies with talking dogs, “Good Boy” and “Cats & Dogs” to name a few. However, I don’t believe any film, except maybe “Lady and the Tramp,” has ever been more truthful to the nature of dogs than “Up.” If dogs could speak they would all converse much like Dug, who loves every human he encounters, cherishes tennis balls, and is constantly distracted by squirrels.
Director Pete Docter, who made “Monsters Inc.” and co-wrote “Toy Story,” has produced an animated feature that’s about so much more than frantic action and chases. This is a movie about life, friendship, letting go, and new beginnings. Docter remembers that wherever there’s a laugh, there should also be a heart. “Up” is a breathtaking combination of these two essential elements.
4. 500 Days of Summer
This was a truly dismal year for romantic comedies with several god-awful films that I’ll discuss later. In the mix of some cheerless romantic comedies however, there was one a terrific one. Not since “Annie Hall” in 1977 has there been a funnier, sweater, wiser, or more unique romantic comedy than Mark Webb’s “500 Days of Summer.” Although I think romantic comedy might be the wrong term to describe the picture. It’s really more of an anti-romantic comedy.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a young man who becomes romantically involved with his boss’s new assistant, Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel. The film takes place in a course of 500 days, jumping around between the key points of Tom and Summer’s story. Levitt and Deschanel have always been likable performers. Here they give the finest performances of their young careers. Their relationship is sweat, engaging, touching, and the epitome of everything a movie romance should be.
In perhaps the most joyous scene of the year, Tom dances down the street, having just slept with Summer for the first time. Unexpectedly and hilariously, a parade of sheer joy erupts behind Tom with the song, You Make My Dreams, playing in the background. Most filmmakers would stop with a parade bursting out, thinking going more over the top would be far too silly. Director Web and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are not afraid to take offbeat chances however. They continue to build on that parade sequence with Tom hitting a homerun with a baseball bat that appears as if from nowhere and a cartoon blue bird winking at the camera. The quirkiness and unpredictability of this scene creates is a classic comedic moment of cinema.
This is a movie that understands how real people think and feel throughout the course of a failing relationship. Almost any hopeless romantic man can relate to Tom, who desperately wants to make things work with the woman he thinks is his soul mate. There is also a great deal of truth to Summer, who cares deeply for Tom but simply does not want to be his girlfriend. The most heartbreaking moment in the movie occurs in split screen sequence, depicting Tom’s expectations on a date with Summer and the reality of that date.
Unlike so many other screenplays for romantic comedies, 500 Days of Summer does not end with Tom rushing to an airport or wedding chapel to declare his love. Rather, the movie finishes on a truthful note with Tom letting go of Summer and realizing there are other fish in the sea. This movie knows that although everything might appear wonderful in a relationship matters do not always work out.
Neustadter and Weber have developed one of the most unique anti-romances of recent memory. Their screenplay is a humorous and even moving story full of memorable characters and pitch perfect dialog. It all leads up to a terrific final scene, which I will not give away. What I will say however is that 500 Days of Summer features possibly the greatest final line of any movie released this year, “I’m Autumn.” How the film did not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay I will never understand.
5. The Hurt Locker
Over the past several years there have been numerous fiction films centered on the Iraq War. However, Kathryn Bigelow’s gritting and thought-provoking war saga, “The Hurt Locker,” is the first of these movies to capture the sheer horror and madness of this important subject. This is a bold, haunting, and all around intense glimpse into the lives of an American Army Bomb Squad. Beautifully shot, written with depth, with superlative performances from an outstanding acting ensemble. “The Hurt Locker” is so profound that it ranges with classics such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” and especially “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a masterful war epic and more.
Jeremy Renner emerges as an actor of unlimited talent as Staff Sergeant William James. For thirty-nine days James will put his life in jeopardy, disabling bombs. Most men under these circumstances would wish for nothing more than for that thirty-nine period to end. James however, has been damaged to the point where he feels more comfortable in the war zone than on free soil with his wife and infant son. When James returns home he feels utterly lost in a grocery store. The first chance he gets, James returns to serve duty in Iraq. This is one of the most fascinating characters of the year ingeniously brought to life through this monumentally gifted actor’s performance.
As terrific as Renner and the rest of the cast are, the real star of “The Hurt Locker” is Bigelow’s exceptional direction. Bigelow occupies every scene with heart pounding tension. She has crafted a thrilling epic with note-perfect cinematography from Barry Ackroyd. Watching the film, I was reminded of Paul Greengrass’ devastating, documentary-styled depiction of the events that occurred on 9/11, “United 93.” Like that film, “The Hurt Locker” is a complex and important film that should be seen by everyone.
While everybody was lining up to see “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” this past summer, I kept asking, “Why aren’t more people going to see this ingeniously executed action picture.” And although the action sequences are breathtaking, “The Hurt Locker” is so much more than a typical action movie. It’s an unsettling character study.
“The Hurt Locker” does not shove a liberal or conservative message down the audience’s throat. The story is never clear-cut or simple because the subject matter is never simple. No matter what your personal views on the Iraq War or war in general might be, “The Hurt Locker” demonstrates a statement that we can all agree on: “War is a drug,” as quoted at the beginning of the film.
Disney ushered in what should be a new golden age of 2D animation this year with “The Princess and the Frog.” In an era dominated by 3D animation, I’ve been longing for the revival of traditional, hand-drawn animation for quite some time. Whether an animated feature is 2D or 3D though, the success of the movie ultimately relies on the story. “The Princess and the Frog” takes the most basic of all fairytales and tells a real story that’s funny, exciting, and touching. Although it was out grossed by “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel,” “The Princess and the Frog” is a family movie that will be around a lot longer.
Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos are both incredibly appealing as the two leads, Tiana and Prince Naveen. Tiana is a fiercely independent young woman who dreams of owning her own restaurant. Like the best Disney princesses, Tiana is not just a helpless damsel incapable of taking care of herself. She’s a strong-willed woman who takes initiative to make her dreams come true.
Prince Naveen is perhaps the most well rounded and unforgettable of all the Disney princes. Where most Disney males are one-dimensional Prince Charmings, Naveen has a one of a kind personality. He starts off as a slacker playboy who lives to party and seize the moment. Through Tiana however he realizes how hollow his life has been. Through Naveen, Tiana learns that although it’s important to work hard to make your dreams come true, life is empty without loved ones. For the first time, the two both experience love in one the most sincere romances of the year.
It’s a requirement for all Disney protagonists to be accompanied by wisecracking friends. Here an ensemble of timeless supporting characters such as a jazz-playing gator, a lovesick firefly, a blind fairy godmother, and an erratic Southern Bell aid Tiana and Naveen. They all team up against the slick villain of Dr. Facilier, who stands out as one of the great Disney villains. If you think about it, this film could have been a simple love story between a princess and a frog. However directors Ron Clements and John Musker went all out and invented a grand world of memorable characters and pure imagination.
As silly as it may sound, there has been a bit of controversy regarding “The Princess and the Frog.” Some were outraged that Disney’s first African American princess was a frog for a majority of the movie. They also believed it was racist to have the first African American princess fall in love with a prince who is tan skinned. However, I believed these comments are as ridiculous as the accusations that Pixar is sexist for not having any leading females. “The Princess and the Frog” is not a movie about race relations. It’s an inoffensive, charming, and magical movie about love, friendship, and following your dreams. Along with Pixar’s “Up,” “The Princess and the Frog” stands out as one of the best films of the year, animated or live-action.
Although some may argue that he’s a hipster and smartass new-age filmmakers, I believe that Jason Reitman is one of the most influential writers and directors of the past ten years. With “Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno,” and now “Up in the Air,” Reitman has fabricated three films that define this generation though satire, humor, and above all honesty. Twenty years from now people will look back on these films and say, “This is what life was like back then.”
George Clooney gives one of his most memorable performances as Ryan Bingham. Ryan lives an empty life, never seeing the point in getting married or having kids. Some people claimed that this was an easy role for Clooney to play because he’s essentially playing himself. While Clooney and Ryan share much in common, I don’t believe he is merely portraying himself on screen. Rather, he breathes life into a fascinating character that no other actor could have portrayed quite as well.
Ryan eventually begins to long for a meaningful relationship when he meets a woman named Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. Farmiga has been doing strong work as a character actress for a while now. Here she is fantastic as the woman who catches Ryan’s eye. The real standout in the film though is Anna Kendrick as Natalie, a rookie who Ryan reluctantly takes under his wing.
Kendrick absolutely shines here as a young woman who thinks she has her life all figured out. Much like Ellen Page’s character of Juno though, Kendrick’s character eventually learns that she still has a lot to learn about how the world works. There are times in which Kendrick’s could have simply gone over-the-top with this role such as when her character’s boyfriend breaks up with her via a text message. But Kendrick never overdoes it, creating a realistic individual who any young lady can relate to. With pitch perfect comedic timing and depth, Kendrick delivers a faultless, star-making performance.
The screenplay by Reitman and Sheldon Turner is full of rich dialog. There have been so many awful screenplays that were made into movies this year. Here are two men who really understand how people think and talk. And while it may not be his absolute best film, Reitman has made other American masterpiece that will stand the test of time.
Having never been a Trekkie, I was anticipating J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek” about as much as a fifth “Indiana Jones” movie. I never in a million years thought I’d be praising a “Star Trek” picture, let alone include one on a top ten list. However, Abrams’s “Star Trek” is, in the purest sense, fantastic entertainment. Last May I predicted that there wouldn’t be a finer live-action event picture for the remainder of the summer. After seeing “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra,” and “Terminator: Salvation,” I think it’s safe to say I was right.
This sterling space epic is piloted by a superb new generation of actors. Chris Pine has terrific presence as Captain James Kirk. Pine is charismatic, humorous, and boastful as this iconic character. Here is the young actor who should have played Anakin Skywalker in the “Star Wars” prequels. Like the Jake Scully character in “Avatar,” James Kirk makes for a compelling protagonist because of his sense of awe and astonishment of the new world he has discovered.
Zoe Saldana gave two great performances this year in two exceptional sci-fi blockbusters. One of which was of course as Princess Neytiri in “Avatar.” The other was as Nyota Uhura. In addition to being luminous, Saldana proved with these two breakout roles that she is a highly gifted performer. Right now she might be regarded as a science fiction actress like a young Kerry Fisher or Lucy Lawless. However, I believe she has the potential to do great work in smaller, independent pictures as well.
Everybody from Zackary Quinto’s spot-on interpretation of Mr. Spock to Simon Pegg’s hilarious role as Scotty is pitch perfect. But the success of “Star Trek” is truly due to Abrams’ exceptional direction. Like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, Abrams occupies every shot of his movies with nonstop action. However, the action in “Star Trek” is so marvelously executed. It’s really unfair to compare Abrams to Bay or Emmerich. Unlike those two hacks, Abrams takes the time to create characters the audience cares about and develops a story worth investing in. There isn’t a finer pure-action director working in movies today.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe gave the female performance of the year as Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones. In her debut role, Sidibe delivered one of the most heartbreaking and emotional arresting performances I’ve seen on screen in quite some time. This was a year of some superbly written female heroines. However none were as endearing, independent or fascinating than the wonderful protagonist of Precious.
There’s outstanding work from the entire acting ensemble, particularly Mo’Nique as Precious’ repugnant, despicable mother, Mary. Although Mary does not change throughout the course of the movie, Mo’Nique does not turn her into a one-dimensional monster. She recognizes the character as a woman full of hate and is incapable of taking responsibility for her actions. Although you don’t want to have sympathy for her character, your heart still kind of breaks for her.
“Precious” is not an easy film. I can certainly understand some of the negative feedback I’ve received from my readers. However, I believe this is a magical cinematic achievement from Director Lee Daniels. It’s not easy to make a movie about an obese, illiterate, African American girl who is abused by her mother and impregnated by her father without suffocating the audience. In the wrong hands this movie could have been an overbearing melodrama. Daniels however, managed to take this tragic material and make a Cinderella story that’s touching and at times uplifting.
There wasn’t a movie this entire year that provided more laughs per second than the “The Hangover.” This is a movie that took me by complete surprise and not just because it became the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. The film is unarguably funny. What amazed me was how smart, well-crafted, and lovable the picture was.
The film of course tells the story of four friends who go to Vegas for a bachelor party. The next morning three of the friends wake up to find a tiger in the bathroom, one of the friends missing a tooth, a baby in the closet, and the fourth friend gone. At first the audience isn’t sure if any of this is going to be significant to the film’s final product. In the end however, everything hilariously comes together in a logical fashion. The only thing that isn’t explained is a chicken. Although I suppose we’ll learn the chicken’s origins in “The Hangover 2.”
Director Todd Phillips along with screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have assembled what is simply one of the funniest movies of the past ten years that’s even more fun the second time around. When I revisited the film on DVD I caught even more hilarious dialog and gags that I initially missed. The only thing harder than making the audience laugh in movies today is making a movie that maintains it’s hilarity after multiple viewings. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and especially Zach Galifianakis are all enormously appealing as the three leads. This is the rare buddy movie about a group of friends who like each other and the audience likes as well. Their chemistry is what ultimately makes “The Hangover” one of the best films of the year.
11. Coraline: Like “Up” and “The Princess and the Frog,” Henry Seleck’s wonderfully weird “Coraline” was yet another triumphant animation this year. The film is gorgeously animated with first-rate voiceover performances from Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Keith David. And in a year of such cuddly, lightweight children’s films like “G-Force” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” this is one film that isn’t afraid to explore darker territories. The movie is a recipe to give the smallest children nightmares. However, being afraid is one of the many joys of being a child. Watching “Coraline,” I felt like a little boy again, witnessing “The Wizard of Oz” or “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for the first time. “Coraline” is an enchanting experience with the makings of a classic.
12. The Blind Side: I’d hate to give “The Blind Side” a title as clichéd as “The feel good movie of the year.” However, that’s exactly what it is. At the heart of this inspirational football story is a stunning performance from Sandra Bullock. Bullock is magical as a strong-willed, lively mother who will stop at nothing to help the people she loves. With her performance here and in “The Proposal,” Bullock is officially back on track. There’s also some winning work from Michael Oher as the underprivileged young boy Bullock’s character takes in and newcomer Jae Head as her son. You’d have to be made of stone not to be uplifted by this charming tale of family and football.
13. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: In a summer of so many brain dead action pictures such as “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” I can always count on the “Harry Potter” movies to supply me with an exciting adventure fuelled by a moving story. Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all developed into fine young actors. Behind all the visual effects and magic, their performances and chemistry are the backbone of this entire series.
14. Fantastic Mr. Fox: Here’s a movie that was criminally overlooked during a holiday season in which kids were drawn to movies like “Old Dogs” and “Planet 51.”In the years to come however, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” will develop a strong cult following while those films will be completely forgotten. This is an inventively animated, well written family film from Wes Anderson. The vocal ensemble is perfectly cast and the look of the film is like a toy town sprung to life. At the core of the movie are several endearingly likable leads and a terrific story of family. If you have children and you haven’t taken them to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” then you must be a really shitty parent.
15. Where the Wild Things Are: Having cherished the classic picture book as a child, I was eagerly awaiting the theatrical adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are.” However, I was also skeptical to whether or not they could really pull the project off. When all was said and done though, director Spike Jonze fabricated one of the most powerful children’s films ever made. The movie beautifully realizes the artwork of Maurice Sendak’s original book, creating a world that’s magical, haunting, and joyous. I was amazed by the emotional impact of the film and how perfectly it captured the experience of being a child. The movie is not just an excuse to keep kids occupied for an hour and a half. This is a profound motion picture intended for parents and their children to witness together.
16. District 9: This was a terrific year for the science fiction genre. One of the most intriguing and exciting of the bunch was Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9.” This is a visually stunning picture that is not only pro-humanity but pro all living creatures. There’s also a heartbreaking breakthrough performance from Sharlto Copley. Copley is completely convincing as an ordinary man who is overtaken by tragedy. I wasn’t sure if I could care about creatures as repulsive as the Prawns. However I truly felt empathy for these characters. I just find it strange that so many people had problems with the blue aliens in “Avatar” and nobody seemed to complain about the aliens here.
17. Crazy Heart: In “Crazy Heart” Jeff Bridges gives his strongest performance since he was deemed the Dude in “The Big Lebowski.” Bridges is wonderful as Bad Blake, a washed-up, alcoholic country singer who can barely bring himself to get dressed in the morning. Maggie Gyllenhaal is equally appealing as the young woman who motivates Blake to get his life back on track. Like “The Wrestler” from last year, “Crazy Heart” is a terrific comeback story about second chances and finding love. This is the first feature from director Scott Cooper who made the film over a course of twenty-something days. With “Crazy Heart,” Cooper surfaces as a highly gifted filmmaker who we should be seeing much more of.
18. Adventureland: “Adventureland” might not have received the audience it deserved in theaters. The ad campaign made it out to be a run-of-the-mill teenage sex comedy. The film is so much more though. “Adventureland” recognizes young adults are real people with problems and feelings. Jesse Eisenberg gives his finest performance as a confused young man trying to figure out what he’s doing with his life. Kristen Stewart breaks free of her “Twilight” faze and emerges as a woman who can really act as the girl Eisenberg falls for. There’s also some hilarious supporting work from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. This is a truly wonderful film.
19. Paranormal Activity: Perhaps the most surprising box office hit of the year was “Paranormal Activity.” Despite it’s production budget of only $15,000, the film managed to gross over one hundred million domestic dollars. Many hailed it as one of the scariest movies of all time. Personally I think to even call it one of the twenty scariest movies ever made is a stretch. Still, this is an effectively crafted, convincingly acted chiller that left me on edge at all times. The film does not settle for disgusting the audience and actually conjures up some serious physiological scares. In an age of “Saw,” “Hostel,” and “Friday the 13th,” “Paranormal Activity” is one of the few modern day terror pictures that’s legitimately frightening. Lord knows they’ll only screw it up by making several unnecessary sequels though.
20. Ponyo: Hayao Miyazaki delivered another masterwork of animation this year with the delightful “Ponyo.” This is a beautifully drawn fish out of water story elevated by a superlative vocal cast. While it may not be Miyazaki’s best film, it’s still one of the most purely magical films of the year. I certainly hope it’s not Miyazaki’s last film.
21. An Education: Carey Mulliagan’s breathtaking performance is reason enough to see this charming coming-of-age story. Mulliagan has the screen presence of a young Adrey Hepburn, full of life and utterly charming. She completely wins the audience over as a smart, independent, and above all confused young woman who finds herself. Along with a memorable supporting role from Alfred Molina as her father, “An Education” is a superbly acted piece of work.
22. In the Loop: A bloody brilliant satire with terrific comedic performances from Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Steve Coogan, and Anna Clumsky. The standout performance comes from Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed chief spin-doctor. Capaldi steals every scene he’s in, providing one hilarious one-liner after another. Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche have fabricated a witty screenplay overflowing with dialog you’ll remember long after seeing the film. This British comedy was perhaps destined to be ignored by American audiences during it’s theatrical run. However, I believe it will develop a cult following on DVD.
23. Bruno: Sacha Baron Coen continued his string of tasteless, offensive, and flat out hilarious satires this year with “Bruno.” I was really surprised by the reception to this film, which received disappointing box office returns and modest reviews. Perhaps it suffered in comparison to Coen’s last film, “Borat.” And while it’s certainly not in the same league of that film, “Bruno” provided me with some of the biggest laughs I’ve had at the movies this entire year. If Sacha Baron Coen making out with another man at a cage-fighting stadium filled with intolerant rednecks doesn’t get you laughing, what does?
24. Zombieland: One of the years most pleasant surprises was “Zombieland,” a zombie satire with the same wit of “Shaun of the Dead” and the style of the “28 Days Later” movies. This inspired comedy from director Ruben Fleischer is carried by several winning performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Woody Harrelson. There’s also a cameo from Bill Murray in his funniest performance in years. “Do you have any regrets?” “Garfield maybe.”
The Worst of 2009
Worst Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
1. Robert Pattinson for looking like he wanted to kill himself and making me want to kill myself in “New Moon”
2. Matthew McConaughey for playing himself in “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”
3. Christian Bale for screaming and looking intense for two hours in “Terminator: Salvation”
4. Channing Tatum for giving a performance about as genuine as the action figure his character is based on in “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”
5. Jack Black for wasting his talent and my time in “Year One”
Worst Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
1. Malin Akerman for bringing every single scene she’s in to a screeching halt with her jaw-droppingly awful acting powers in the otherwise entertaining “Watchmen”
2. Katherine Heigl for setting the female sex back another twenty years in “The Ugly Truth”
3. Megan Fox for standing like a gorgeous statue and not doing much else in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
4. Kristen Stuart for wining the entire movie when her biggest dilemma is having to choose between a hot vampire and a hot wolf boy in “New Moon.” Seriously, Bella, lighten up. Right now there are people staving in Africa and living with terminal cancer. Not to mention our country is suffering the greatest economic crisis in history. Count your blessings and get over yourself.
5. Hayden Panettiere for picking the first script that landed in her lap to pilot her film career in “I Love You Beth Cooper”
Romantic Comedies without Romance or Comedy
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
The romantic comedy hit a new low this year. One of the absolute dumbest of the bunch was “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” I don’t know who thought this revamp of “A Christmas Carol” was a good idea. I’m completely oblivious to why talented people like Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, and director Mark Waters wanted to take part in this witless project. My biggest question of all however is why do people keep paying money to see Matthew McConaughey’s movies. Some might think that I hate McConaughey. The truth is that I by no means hate him and I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice fellow in real life. However, after “How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Failure to Launch,” “Fools Gold,” “Sahara,” and now “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” McConaughey continues to prove that he is incapable of playing a real character. But I suppose it’s not entirely McConaughey’s fault. Cary Grant himself could have taken over McConaughey’s role and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” still would have been lousy. The film has no comedic timing, memorable characters, or a shred of originality. I found the entire process of enduring this mess to be a monumental waste of time.
The Ugly Truth
“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was just a harmless, unbelievably stupid, forgettable romantic comedy. “The Ugly Truth” on the other hand is a mean-spirited, charmless, dreary ordeal that I’m still attempting to erase from my mind. Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, two gifted actors, have zero chemistry together and are completely unlikable as the film’s two leads. Heigl plays a successful television producer who doesn’t have time for romance. Why is it that in movies like this the women always have to be either controlling bitches or blonde bimbos? Even more embarrassing than Heigl’s character is Butler who plays a sexist pig that doesn’t believe in love. Only in a movie like this could these two incompatible individuals fall in love. There are a lot of romantic comedies I’ve declined that my readers have told me they actually liked. Although I wasn’t a fan of “It’s Complicated,” “He’s Just Not that into You,” or “Bride Wars,” I can still see the appeal of those movies. However, I can’t imagine anybody taking any sort of pleasure in “The Ugly Truth.” Among all the romantic comedies released this year, I found this one to be the most despicable and the most tasteless. Keep in mind however that I never saw “All About Steve” or “Love Happens” which I consider myself eternally grateful for.
Comedies that are 100% Special Effects and 0% Humor
Land of the Lost
The Multi-million dollar adventure/comedy, “Land of the Lost,” was released into theaters the same weekend as “The Hangover.” “Land of the Lost” starred Will Ferrell, possibly the biggest name in comedy today, and was full of eye-popping special effects. “The Hangover” featured virtually no special effects or big movie stars, although Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis have all certainly skyrocketed into stardom since the release of the film. “Land of the Lost” tanked at the box office while “The Hangover” went on to become the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. So why did “The Hangover” succeed where “Land of the Lost” failed? Because at the end of the day, audiences don’t care if a comedy has any famous names or outstanding visuals. All they really care about is whether or not the film is funny. “The Hangover” was a funny movie, full of memorable dialog and comedic situations. “Land of the Lost” had perhaps one or two amusing moments throughout it’s running time of 100 minutes. Every once and a while a movie comes along that successfully blends effects with comedy like “Get Smart” or the original “Night at the Museum.” Most of the time however, the filmmakers put all their thought into the movie’s art direction and costume design and little to no thought into the screenplay. When will they learn that comedy comes from dialog and characters, not visuals?
Please Stop Making These Movies
I suppose there’s no point is asking the studio to stop making these “Saw” movies. As long as they continue to show profit, the studio will continue to release them. What I will do is beg audiences to stop paying money to go see these “Saw “ pictures. I simply don’t understand why millions of people continue to line up every year to endure the latest installments of this despicable franchise. They’re all essentially that the same revolting exercise in torturing innocent people. This entire series not only hates it’s characters but all of humanity. The truly depressing thing is that there are obviously people out there who enjoy these movies. Why else would they keep going to see them? It overwhelms me with sadness to think that there are individuals who actually take pleasure in watching other human beings die horrific deaths in elaborate fashion.
The “Saw” movies were never very good to start with. It’s just disheartening to see a great franchise like “The Terminator” become desecrated by the unnecessary “Terminator: Salvation.” The story makes absolutely no sense, the action is uninspired, and the movie itself is just plain dull. I never thought in a million years that I would be bored by a “Terminator” movie. Even “Rise of the Machines” held my attention for the most part. But this whole film just left me asking, “What’s the purpose of this movie’s existence?” There are times in “Terminator: Salvation” where we see glimpses of a better movie such as when John Connor meets his future father, Kyle Reese, or when Arnold Schwarzenegge makes a sort-of cameo. But really the movie is one big excuse to milk a once great series. The only saving grace in the entire picture is Sam Worthington, who also starred in “Avatar,” as a half man, half terminator. The film also gave us the year’s most hilarious rant aka “Are you a fucking professional!?!”
I’m Getting a Little Too Old to be Playing with Toys
G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra
I instantly forgot about “G.I. Joe” the minute it ended. However, I’ll do my best to remember why I loathed the movie so. The film is like “Speed Racer,” only louder, dumber, and cartoonier. I can’t imagine any self-respecting individual over fifteen taking pleasure in this dopy mess. I’d be able to let “G.I. Joe” off the hook if it at least had the courtesy to acknowledge how dopy it is. But Director Stephen Sommers makes the foolish decision to play this entire picture with a poker face. Sommers has made some lightweight, silly movies that I actually enjoyed like “The Mummy” and “Van Hesling.” Those movies kind of worked because they weren’t afraid to wink at the camera though. “G.I. Joe” on the other hand, takes itself far too seriously. In addition to that, “G.I. Joe” is basically one big toy commercial. I know that almost every blockbuster gets made with the intention of selling merchandise. “G.I. Joe” however, is a movie that seems to soulfully exist just to sell action figures. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t even attempt to make the actual film good.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I’d choke down a whole toilet bowl of “G.I. Joe” before sitting through the bleak wasteland of bolts that is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” again. Now I like fast cars, babes, and jive talkin’ robots as much as the next guy. That’s probably why I actually enjoyed the first “Transformers” movie for what is was. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” however subtracts whatever little creativity the first film might have had and produces a sequel that’s loud, obnoxious, free of any interesting characters, overly long, and above all boring. Director Michael Bay, who is incapable of finding fault in his own work, overflows this mess with endless action sequences and scenes of people running in slow motion. He edits the picture like a coming attractions trailer, never allowing the camera to settle for more than five seconds. Sure, you can argue that “Transformers” is supposed to be a silly, good time at the movies that’s not intended to be taken seriously. But unlike “Independence Day” or “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a mindless action picture that actually makes the audience dumber. As I predicted, the movie made a bundle at the box office, becoming one of the ten highest grossing movies of all time. Every once and a while a really good movie comes along that becomes a box office sensation like “Avatar” or “The Dark Knight.” Most of the time however, audiences are drawn to cinematic junk food like this. Years from now however, the kids who applauded this movie will look back on it and say, “Gee, I was into some pretty stupid things when I was young.” Like the head cheerleader in high school, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” might be cherished in it’s youth. But in another twenty years it will be completely forgotten.
OMFG, Oober Lame Teen Movies
I Love You Beth Cooper
For every great coming-of-age film like “Adventureland” and “An Education,” there is a god-awful one like “I Love You Beth Cooper.” I got absolutely no joy out of this dismal experience. Paul Rest plays a nerdy high school student who declares his love to the luminous cheerleader Beth Cooper, played by Hayden Panettiere, during his graduation speech. During that speech he also accuses a popular girl of being a stuck up bitch, a bully of getting molested as a child, a skinny student of having an eating disorder, and his best friend of being gay. Although some of these accusations might be true, it’s still pretty cruel of him to say. That’s the problem with this entire movie. The film wants us to like Paul Rust’s character when you really don’t want to spend five minutes with him. We can understand why he’s a social outcast and not liked by his fellow peers. He’s an awkward weirdo who’s creepier than sweat and wimpier than funny. Paul Rust isn’t the only problem with the movie though. Beth Cooper is basically an under aged whore who lives up to all the female high school stereotypes. I don’t know why, but for some reason the filmmakers thought it would be funny to have Dennis’ only friend be in denial of being gay and constantly quote lines from movies. The most unbelievable and unlikable of them all is Beth’s raging boyfriend who beats the living hell out of Rust’s character throughout this movie. I understand that a jerky boyfriend is required in a movie like this. But a character this hostile and mean spirited does not belong in a comedy. The reason that recent coming-of-age stories like “Superbad,” “Juno,” and even “Mean Girls” worked is because their characters were sincere and relatable. There’s not a character in “I Love You Beth Cooper” who the audience identifies with or cares about. It’s films like this that really make me miss John Hughes, who passed away earlier this year. There was a man that really understood the insecurities and issues that real teenagers faced everyday. God rest his soul. I’m just glad that people were smart enough to stay away from this movie.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Now we move onto a teen movie that everybody saw. I know there are a lot of people out there who loved “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” or at least the idea of it. However, I simply don’t understand the appeal of these “Twilight” movies. Kristen Stewart is utterly forgettable as Bella Swan, a needy and pathetic individual who evokes the stereotype that women are incomplete without a romantic partner. Even more embarrassing than Stewart is Robert Pattinson as America’s sexiest vampire, Edward Cullen. Pattinson gives a depressing and empty performance as a character that defines bland. Caught in between the two lovers is Taylor Lautner as a hot wolf boy named Jacob. You’d think all these mystical creatures would amaze Bella. However, she seems even more board in this movie then I was watching it. I’m not for Team Jacob or Team Edward. What I can’t understand is what they both see in Bella who lacks any joy, independence, and spirit. The best performances don’t come from Stewart, Pattinson or Launter but from the minor supporting cast which includes Ashley Greene and Nikki Reed as Edward’s sisters, Michael Welch as a nerdy boy with a crush on Bella, and Anna Kendrick as Bella’s friend Jessica. At least their characters seem to have personalities. That’s exactly what this entire series is lacking: A personality. The people in this movie, who suffer from virtually no major problems, seem more downhearted than the kids in “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Why not have the characters lighten up and have some fun in the third “Twilight” film? I will say this about “New Moon” however. It’s a more realistic depiction of teenage life than “I Love You Beth Cooper.”
The Absolute Worst Movie of the Year
For my selection of the end-all stinker of 2009 I could have gone with an obnoxious blockbuster like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or a charmless romance like “The Ugly Truth.” However, I don’t believe there’s anything more depressing than a comedy without laughs. And there wasn’t a more laugh-free comedy this year than the cosmic disaster that was “Year One.” The film was directed by Harold Remis of “Groundhog Day” and “Animal House,” produced by Judd Apatow of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” with Jack Black and Michael Cera as the leads. How could a movie with so many talented people at it’s helm go completely wrong? This a gloomy experience composed of tired and repetitive comedy bits. There’s one particular unfunny scene in which Eve’s son Cain, played by David Cross, hits is his brother Abel, played by Paul Rudd, over the head with a rock. Cain is petrified, fearing he has killed his brother. Abel lifts himself up to reveal he is actually not dead. Cain then continuously hits Abel with the rock until he finally kills him. The reason this scene doesn’t work is because it wasn’t funny the first time Cain hit Abel and it certainly wasn’t any funnier the eleventh time. In addition to that scene we get lots of jokes about urine, female armpit hair, poop, and circumcision. What were these talented writers, actors, and filmmakers thinking? Didn’t anybody stop and say, “Hold on you guys. Stop everything. This material isn’t funny. We need to go back to square one and rewrite the screenplay.” Like “Land of the Lost,” this is a movie where a lot of thought went into the production design. But there isn’t a gag in the script that’s suitable for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch let alone a feature film. Even in a group that includes “Good Luck Chuck,” “Dirty Love,” and “The Love Guru,” I don’t believe I’ve seen a worse comedy this whole decade than “Year One.”
2008 was yet another difficult year to single out one film as the year’s best. Last February, I was assured that the offbeat dark comedy, “In Bruges,” would surely dominate my top ten. Any other year I would have deemed “Slumdog Millionaire” as unsurpassable. But I managed to find a picture that exceeded both of these terrific achievements. That film is the stimulating crime saga, “The Dark Knight.”
Call it cliché of me to select the year’s biggest blockbuster as the year’s best film. Plenty of films have made it past the 300 million dollar mark in the last couple of years. But unlike “Spider-Man 3,” “The Dark Knight” will be remembered for its innovative storytelling and not just because of its financial success.
People thought it was absurd last summer when a superhero movie was measured up to some of the greatest gangster pictures ever made. “The Dark Knight” is so much more than a superhero movie though. It’s a movie that challenges the audience with it’s characters and ideas. It’s a movie that tackles issues we face in the real world such as spying and terrorism. Among all things it’s a movie that asks the question, “What is justice?”
There hasn’t been a more talked about or beloved performance this year than the late Heath Ledger’s ingenious portrayal of the Joker. When Ledger was first announced to play Batman’s arch nemesis, many found the casting decision to be questionable. A majority of moviegoers anticipated the role would go to a more comedic performer like Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, or even Mark Hamill. Now that everyone has witnessed Ledger’s legendary performance, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor in the role.
Ledger could have easily gone completely over the top here. Instead, he created the single most menacing screen presence since Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lector. The audience is genuinely frightened of this character because Ledger takes his role so seriously. He believes that he’s the Joker and we believe that he’s the Joker. Ledger creates a villain for the ages, with a haunting limp, looming facial ticks, and a voice unlike any other. The only major downside is that we will never get to see this actor in this role ever again.
Despite all the praise Ledger received for his performance, “The Dark Knight” is not a one-man show. Every actor is crucial to this picture. Aaron Eckhart is particularly strong as Harvey Dent, in one of the year’s most underrated performances. Eckhart is terrific as an honorable man who through loss is twisted into the monster of Two-Face. Equally outstanding is Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon. In a low-key role, Oldman provides the movie with a heart and voice of reason. His final monologue is especially thought provoking and will stick in your mind for days.
At the center of the film is Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Unlike the original pictures by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, Batman is the real star of this movie. The Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan fashions Bruce Wayne into a tragic individual that the audience truly cares about. We feel sympathy for this man who is forced to live a lie and sacrifice his own happiness for the good of his city. Is Batman Bruce Wayne’s alter ego or is Bruce Wayne Batman’s alter ego?
Performances aside, what about the action sequences? After all, this is a superhero movie. There are scenes in “The Dark Knight” with the same sense of wonder as the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or the destruction of the Death Star in “Star Wars.” This is one of those movies where you’re completely enthralled by the action. When the characters stop to talk however, you feel even more elevated.
“The Dark Knight” gets it right on every level. The cinematography by Wally Pfister is stimulating. James Newton Howard’s score will shock you. The landscapes of Gotham City, shot on location in Chicago, are genuinely haunting. This is a tour de force from Director Christopher Nolan. Three years ago I proclaimed Nolan’s “Batman Begins” as the king of superhero movies. Now “The Dark Knight” joins “The Godfather Part II,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Toy Story 2,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and “Spider-Man 2” as a sequel that’s every bit as exceptional as it’s predecessor.
2. Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is a film I’m sure many of you never even heard of five months ago. This is one of those movies you might go to see completely oblivious of what you’re going to get. When you walk out of the picture however, you find yourself wanting to attend the next showing. After that you insist that your friends and family go experience the movie as well. Word of mouth grows, and soon everybody is talking about this movie that arose as if from nowhere.
Like “The Dark Knight,” this is one of those movies that you want to re-watch over and over again. The film is a recipe for essentially everything one could possibly look for in a motion picture. It’s a moving, funny, exciting, romantic, and enchanting adventure that leaves you wanting more. On paper, this tale of a deprived Indian boy who goes from rags to riches may seem obvious and clichéd. However, the movie is brilliantly executed through a winning screenplay and extraordinary direction.
In one of the year’s finest breakout performances, Dev Patel plays Jamal K. Malik. The film follows Jamal’s extraordinary life journey as gets on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” to find his way back to his one true love, Latika. The luminous Freida Pinto gives a magical performance as Latika, in one of the years most underrated acting jobs. Together, Patel and Pinto create the one of the most endearing on-screen romances of the year.
Another great performance comes from Anil Kapoor as the Game Show host who believes this underprivileged slumdog is cheating. There’s a notably great scene in which Kapoor’s character attempts to feed Jamal an answer. Should Jamal trust this man? Will Jamal trust this man? Although apart of me knew what was going to happen, I was left completely on edge. “Slumdog Millionaire” is full of moments like that.
The film all leads up to one of best final thirty minutes of any movie this year or any year for that matter. The unexpected finale dance number is especially uplifting. What a great entertainment this is. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like “Slumdog Millionaire” you simply don’t like movies. Either that or you’re just completely lacking in taste.
3. In Bruges
I’ll admit that I was a tad skeptical when I first sat down to watch “In Bruges.” Given that uninspired poster and curious title, I wasn’t expecting much. The end result however was one of the most entertaining and funniest damn movies of the year. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a movie by it’s poster just as you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
In the richest performance of his career, Colin Farrell plays Ray, a hitman who accidentally kills a little boy. Along with his buddy Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, Ray is ordered by his boss to flee to the city of Bruges. The gorgeous sites of Bruges fascinate Ken. Ray on the other hand, considers Bruges to be his own personal hell. “If I grew up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” That’s just one of the handful of lines you’ll be repeating after the movie’s conclusion.
Farrell and Gleeson are without a doubt the most engaging duo of the year. Farrell is hysterical and even sympathetic as a man torn up by the colossal mistakes he has made. At the heart of the movie is Brendan Gleeson, who acts as Ray’s savior. Not since John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” has there been a more fascinating pair of hitmen. Also quite good is Ralph Fines as their employer who is determined to have Ray killed. The final scene in which Fines and Farrell face off is one of the most memorable movie moments of the year.
This is the first feature film from writer/director, Martin McDonagh. McDonagh previously worked as a successful playwright and won an Oscar for his short film just a few years ago. With “In Burges,” McDonagh has made the most impressive directorial debut since Sam Mendes made “American Beauty.” Although “In Bruges” was overlooked in theaters, I’m sure that McDonagh’s credibility as a filmmaker will only increase in the years to come. Eventually people will discover “In Bruges” and realize what a timeless film it is.
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Many have argued the similarities between “Forrest Gump” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” both of which come from screenwriter Eric Roth. I agree that the two films share a great deal in common. Both tell unbelievable, uplifting life stories of underdogs with disabilities. Although the two films have essentially the same story arc, so what? “Forrest Gump” was one of the best films of 1994 and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of the best films of 2008.
The film is an outstanding achievement in art direction, makeup, and visual effects, not only aging Brad Pitt into an old man but also making him appear young as well. For the first thirty minutes I kept asking myself, “How the hell did they do that?” As the movie progressed however, I forgot that I was watching a special effect and became absorbed by the remarkable story. “Benjamin Button” is one of those rare movies that is not only a breakthrough in effects but a triumph of storytelling as well.
Although the visuals are superb, they are not the stars of the movie. With his hilarious performance in “Burn After Reading” and his touching portrayal as Benjamin Button this year, Brad Pitt continues to prove that he is a monumentally talented actor. Also good here is Cate Blanchett as a woman who captures Benjamin’s heart at first sight. Tilda Swinton and Jared Harris are especially memorable in their brief, yet effective, supporting roles. The performance that stood out the most in my eyes however, was Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin’s adopted mother, Queenie. Henson storms onto the screen like a shining star and instantly wins the audience over. She is funny and heartfelt as this woman who takes the misfit of Benjamin in and instantly falls in love with him.
Director David Fincher has been an underrated filmmaker for years. Here Fincher creates a beautiful, epic fairytale for the ages. Years from now I guarantee that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” will be regarded as one of the great fables of American cinema.
This certainly was an interesting year for movies. A year where a superhero picture earned comparison to “Heat” and “The Departed” and the tale of an animated robot was measured up to the accomplishments of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. To some, “WALL-E” might just look like a cute, little cartoon. While the film is indeed cute, “WALL-E” is more than an innocent children’s movie. It’s a movie about humanity, artificial intelligence, and love. It also presents us with a provocative message of a future our society may be headed for. To call this movie a cartoon is blasphemy.
The film tells the story of WALL-E, a trash compacting robot who is isolated on the abandoned planet of earth. Although his vocabulary is limited, WALL-E’s personality is expressed though his eyes and body gestures. In a way, WALL-E shares a great deal in common with E.T. When a robot named EVE visits WALL-E, he finally experiences the sensation that is love. I know that a love story between robots might not seem very inspired. However, the romance between WALL-E and EVE is easily the most touching relationship I’ve seen all year.
This is Andrew Stanton’s first directorial outing sense the Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo.” With “WALL-E” Stanton continues to prove that he, along with the wizards at Pixar, is incapable of producing a bad movie. Stanton took an enormous risk making a movie that’s 60% dialog-free (the 60% is just my estimate). In the wrong hands this material could completely misfire. Stanton however, has simply fabricated a timeless classic that looks and sounds fantastic. WALL-E himself very well may be the most compelling protagonist in the history of animation. It just goes to show that an animated feature can be just as meaningful, thought provoking, and important as any live-action movie.
At the Academy Awards ceremony this year, a cult of people stood outside the Kodak Theater in protest of Gus Van Sant’s biopic “Milk.” To all those protesters I say, “Suck my balls.” Seriously though, how much do you want to bet that those protesters never even took the opportunity to sit down and watch the film? If you were one of the many who boycotted “Milk” due to it’s subject matter, I implore all of you to at least allow the picture a showing. The experience of a film may very well change your outlook on the topic at hand. “Milk” is one of the most entertaining and important movies of the year that everybody should see.
Even in a year of “Doubt” and “The Dark Knight,” “Milk” features the most outstanding acting ensemble of 2008. In one of his best performances, if not his absolute best, Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first opening gay man to be elected into office. Penn does the impossible by becoming Harvey Milk on screen. For a while, James Franco was best known as Toby McGuire’s best friend in the “Spider-Man” films. With his performances in “Pineapple Express” and “Milk” though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Franco went on to have a more successful career than McGuire. In “Milk,” Franco is full of heart as Harvey Milk’s lover. Josh Brolin delivers the movies most complex performance as Dan White, a closeted politician who ends up assonating Milk. The film is full of enriching performances from Emile Hirsch, to Alison Pill, to Joseph Cross, to Diego Luna.
This has been a passion project for director Gus Can Sant for years. Along with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Sant has produced one of the best biopics of recent memory. It’s a bold, endearing, and wise film. I’ll admit that I walked into the theater not entirely sure if I wanted to see a gay movie. However, I walked out of the multiplex overwhelmed with inspiration.
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Comedy is undoubtedly the most complex genre to pull off. Sure, dramas typically go onto win the major awards. However, there is nothing harder to accomplish in the cinema today than producing a movie with one great laugh after another. Like the underrated “40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “Superbad,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a comedy that manages to do just that.
Jason Segel is hilarious and lovable as the film’s protagonist, Peter Bretter. On a trip to Hawaii, Peter accidentally runs into his x-girlfriend Sarah Marshall, played by Kristen Bell, who just so happens to be residing at the same resort. As contrived as that premise might be, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” provides more laughs per minute than any other comedy this entire year.
There isn’t a character in this movie that doesn’t win the audience over. The film is overflowing with hilarious performances from Johan Hill, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Maria Thayer, and Jack McBrayer. The real scene stealer however is Russell Brand as Aldous Snow. The character is so outrageous and unforgettable that I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to get his own spinoff movie. Kristen Bell is a natural beauty but she’s funny too. Mila Kunis is especially endearing as the girl who helps Peter get back on the horse. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” like other comedies of the Judd Apatow bandwagon, is a winning combination of hard-R comedy, hilarious performances, and most importantly a heart.
It’s not easy taking an individual such as Richard Nixon and portraying him as human. Although Nixon was a well-accomplished man, he undoubtedly made some critical mistakes during his presidency. Ron Howard’s great biopic, “Frost/Nixon,” depicts the shamed president as a cocky and corrupt man, too proud to admit his own faults. However, the film also reveals Nixon as a regretful individual, seeking forgiveness for his errors. This approach fashions “Frost/Nixon” into one of the most intriguing character studies in quite some time.
Character actor Frank Langella reprises his Tony award-winning role as Nixon in a spellbinding depiction. Langella perfectly captures Nixon’s mannerisms with a hunched back, a dawdling limp, and an uncanny look in his eyes. I don’t believe there has been a more dead on interpretation of the president in the history of film. Just as outstanding as Langella is Michael Sheen as David Frost. It was a real challenge for Sheen to act opposite to Langella who is such a dominating force on screen. However, Sheen holds his own in one of the most complete and overlooked performances of the year.
Together, Langella and Sheen create the most attention-grabbing rivalry of the year. The movie is full of captivating moments between the two, most notably a phone conversation in which Nixon dishes himself out to Frost. The interviews between the two are fascinating. It all leads up to a steering climax in which Frost finally backs Nixon into a corning. The final scene between the two is thought provoking. Credit must also go to director Ron Howard for one of the best films of his career.
Meryl Streep is considered to be the biggest Oscar looser in history. Quite frankly, I think that statement is a load of rubbish. Yes, Streep has had to watch the award go to somebody else thirteen times in the past. But then again, Streep already has two Oscars of her own. That’s twice as many Oscars than most actresses win in a lifetime. Although she hasn’t won in nearly 26 years, to call her an Oscar-looser is just ridiculous. In “Doubt,” I believe that Streep delivers a performance that’s even better than her Oscar winning work in “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Sophie’s Choice.”
Streep in a is an intimidating and even humorous ice queen as Sister Beauvier, a nun who believes a priest named Father Flynn has been molesting a child at her school. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn in a multifaceted performance. The scenes between the two are heated with intensity. At the heart of the movie are two wonderful supporting performances from Amy Adams as the innocent Sister James and Viola Davis as the molested child’s mother. Davis is particularly strong here as a struggling mother with an abusive husband and lonely, confused son. In her limited screen time, Davis delivers a breakthrough performance and fashions one of the most sympathetic characters of the year.
John Patrick Shanley adapted “Doubt” from his own stage play. In a stunning directorial outing, Shanley has fashioned one of the most complicated and facilitating films of the year. Shanley creates real characters that many can identify with. Are Sister Beauvier’s accusations against Father Flynn true? Or is Sister Beauvier the real bad guy? Although Shanley never spells these answers out for the audience, the picture kept me wondering all the way through. This is one of those movies that will leave you thinking as you walk out of the theater.
10. Man on Wire
“Man on Wire” is an exciting and inspirational entertainment unlike any other. What will surprise many audiences is that this terrific entertainment is a documentary. I know that most people are immediately turned off when the word documentary is spouted about. However, “Man on Wire” is picture that reminds us that a documentary can be every bit as enthralling as a fictionalized movie. The film is such an extraordinary movie going experience that I believe could motivate more people to give other documentaries a chance.
The film brilliantly tells the story of Phillippe Petit, a French high wire artist who illegally walked across a rigged wire between the twin towers. Petit provides much of the films commentary. He is developed into an extremely enthusiastic character who the audience comes to care about. Although I knew that Petit would come out of this ordeal o.k., I genuinely feared for his life. The movie even makes time for a touching romance between Petit and one of the women that assists him to achieve his outlandish goal.
Although “Man on Wire” makes no comments on the events that took place on 911, it’s difficult to not to think about the tragedies while watching the film. The picture brought me back to happier time and filled me with joy. I don’t believe there has been a better documentary ever produced with the World Trade Center as a key factor. The image of Petit walking across the wire is forever burned in my memory. Bravo to director James Marsh for putting together one of the most well made and effective documentaries of recent years.
11. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
This was a great year for superhero movies with “Iron Man” kicking off the summer. Then in July, “The Dark Knight” broke new grounds for the genre. The comic book adaptation that got lost in the shuffle was the underrated “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” This is a technically enchanting entertainment with a heart and sense of humor above all else.
12. Tropic Thunder
With exception to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Tropic Thunder” is with out a doubt the funniest movie of the year. The comedy features a cast of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” caliber with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Bill Hader, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, and Mathew McConaughey. The standout performances come from Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise in his single greatest acting job in years.
13. Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway redefined herself as an actress in “Rachel Getting Married.” In her best performance ever, Hathaway owns the screen as Kym, a recovering drug addict. Although Hathaway received the most praise for the movie, “Rachel Getting Married” is full of memorable performances, particularly from Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel. Jenny Lumet’s screenplay is pitch perfect and director Jonathan Demme is officially back on track.
14. The Visitor
After doing great work as a character actor for years, Richard Jenkins demonstrated his full potential as serious leading man in “The Visitor.” In an understated performance, Jenkins takes the character of Walter Vale and molds him into one of the most compelling protagonists of the year. It’s just too bad that Jenkins had to compete with Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn in the Best leading Acting category. Any other year he would most certainly have my vote. Hats off to writer/director Tom McCarthy for this daring film outing and taking a chance on casting Jenkins.
15. Definitely, Maybe
This is the most original and charming romantic comedy of the year. The film is full of enriching performances from Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and especially Isla Fisher. In a year of “What Happens in Vegas?,” “Made of Honor,” and “27 Dresses,” “Definitely Maybe” proves how great a romantic comedy still can be.
16. Pineapple Express
James Franco proved himself to be an actor of great range this year. In a touching performance he played Sean Penn’s lover in “Milk.” Then he teamed up with Seth Rogan as a rambling drug dealer in “Pineapple Express.” As a pair, Rogan and Franco create one of the most unforgettable and hilarious screen duos of the year. Hats off to director David Gordon Green for an inspired action/comedy and producer Judd Apatow for another winner.
17. The Wrestler
Everybody is saying that this was Mickey Rourke’s comeback year. As far as I’m concerned, he already won me back a few years ago in “Sin City.” In “The Wrestler,” Rourke continues his winning streak with the most complete performance of his career. Rourke is touching and heartbreaking as Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson, a broken down professional wrestler. Although his character might not instantly win the audience over, we eventually come to genuinely care about him. With “Sin City” and now “The Wrestler,” this is a new beginning for Rourke. I look forward to seeing what he will do next and if he can continue to top himself.
18. Gran Torino
There are some actors who become better looking as they age. Clint Eastwood is not one of those actors. As the years progress however, Eastwood simply becomes more and more badass. If there’s one movie character I didn’t want to screw with this year, it was Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski. Although “Gran Torino” isn’t in the same league of some of Eastwood’s greatest achievements, it’s easily the funniest film he’s ever produced. I know that the last thing you expect from a Clint Eastwood movie is to laugh your ass off. The film is full of surprisingly hilarious dialog though as Eastwood delivers one memorable one-liner after another. At the same time however, the film is an endearing thriller with a meaningful story of friendship.
19. Hamlet 2
Like “The Dark Knight” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Hamlet 2” is sequel that’s even better than the first. This independent comedy is carried by a winning performance from Steve Coogan and stylish direction from Andrew Fleming. The film was overlooked during it’s theatrical release. However, I believe it will develop a cult following on DVD and when it’s re-run on Comedy Central years from now.
20. The Spiderwick Chronicles
The year’s best family film, with exception to “WALL-E” of course, was “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Here’s a fantasy tale that soars with imagination. Unlike the recent overblown “Chronicles of Narnia” sequel, the film is more than just a string a battles and special effects. Kudos to director Mark Waters who I believe is one of the most underrated filmmakers working today.
21. Frozen River
“Frozen River” is carried by first-rate screenplay from writer/director Courtney Hunt and a dominating performance from Melissa Leo. Like Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor,” Leo is another veteran character actor who’s only just emerging as a star. I can’t wait to see what Leo do next because she’s proven herself to be an actress of substantial talent.
22. Kung Fu Panda
“Kung Fu Panda” may lack the depth and inventiveness of the animated masterwork that is “WALL-E.” Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable film with some beautiful animation, a first rate cast, and several exciting action sequences. It’s one of the very best animations from Dreamworks. Certainly their finest animated feature since “Shrek 2.”
23. Snow Angels
“Snow Angles” is a heart-breaking suburban drama with note perfect performances from Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. This is one of two great films this year to come from director David Gordon Green, whose popularity as a filmmaker should only skyrocket in the years to come.
24. Iron Man
I admit that I’ve made some questionable decisions as a film critic such as including “High School Musical” on my list of the year’s best films and recommending “You Don't Mess With the Zohan,” both or which are decisions I stand by. However, I will confess that I made a mistake when I gave a negative review to “Iron Man” last summer. Revisiting the film on DVD, I took notice in all of its exceptional qualities I originally overlooked. Robert Downey Jr. delivers a magnificent performance as Tony Stark, who is perhaps even more compelling of a character than Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. Also good here is Gwyneth Paltrow, whose character of Pepper Pots is more than just a damsel in distress. Rather, she helps Tony Stark/Iron Man in his cause. I don’t believe there has been a more independent female in superhero movie to this date. The scenes between Downey Jr. and Paltrow are truly special. While it’s not a perfect film, “Iron Man” is solid entertainment and has potential to become a rousing series.
25. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Stuff flew at the screen!
The Worst Movies of 2008
For the past couple of years I’ve merely compiled a top ten list of terrible films. This year however, I decided to try something different. I have made a list of trends in the movies today and the horrible films that best exemplify those trends.
Cameron Diaz: I’m a hopeless romantic who can’t find true love.
Ashton Kutcher: I’m a guy who can’t commit to anything and never really grew up.
Cameron Diaz: I hate you!
Ashton Kutcher: And I hate you!
Cameron Diaz: On second thought, maybe I don’t.
Aston Kutcher: You know what? You’re right.
“What Happens In Vegas” is probably the best example of everything that a romantic comedy shouldn’t be. The film is loud, obnoxious, unfunny, and predictable to the core. On top of all that, there is never for a moment any chemistry between the two stars, Aston Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. Despite all of this, the film became the highest grossing romantic comedy of the year. While millions rushed out to see this bombshell, the romantic comedy that got lost in the shuffle was the wonderful “Definitely, Maybe.” The film was witty, original, and above all heartfelt. Yet hardly anybody went to see the movie during its theatrical release. Although it wasn’t the highest grossing romantic comedy of the year, I believe the film will have a second life on DVD and on television. Years from now, it will be remembered as an overlooked gem while “What Happens in Vegas” will go down as a complete waste of time.
I’d choke down a whole bucket of “What Happens in Vegas” before enduring “The Hottie and the Nottie” again. I’m not entirely sure that this even classifies as a romantic comedy. Since there’s no such thing as an “it” genre though, where else am I supposed to put it? This is movie that’s dead from it’s opening scene all the way through. The picture is acted, written, and directed like a porno only without any sex or nudity. This isn’t much of a surprise seeing how the movie stars and was produced by the notorious Paris Hilton. Now I don’t want people to think that I have a personal vendetta against Hilton. I like to try and give every actor and actress the benefit of the doubt with the hope that they will give a good performance someday. Paris Hilton however, simply does not belong in movies. The audience knows that she is not an actress and even she seems to know that she is not an actress.
Even more forgettable than Hilton in this movie is Joel Moore as the man who idolizes Hilton’s character. I actually enjoyed Moore’s performance as an awkward dumbshit in “Dodgeball” a couple of years ago. Here however, Moore not only proves that he cannot carry a movie but that he only knows how to play one character. It’s almost as if the cast and crew behind this bomb setout to make a bad movie.
Laugh-free Dead Zones
The Love Guru
Mike Myers is one of the most successful and talented comedic actors currently working in movies. He became overly confident in himself this year however, when he wrote, produced, and stared in “The Love Guru.” I once heard that Myers turned down a movie because he thought the script sucked. I wonder, would Myers have agreed to take part in “The Love Guru” if somebody else came to him with the screenplay? I doubt it. In a year of such original comedies, did Myers really think that people would laugh at jokes about cross-eyed people, chastity belts, and elephant sex?
Myers isn’t the only wasted talent in this dreck however. Jessica Alba plays Myer’s extremely unlikely love interest. Alba, who I suppose I’ve been a little hard on in the past, is a beautiful and occasionally charming actress. However, she’s not given a character to work with here. Like her role in “Good Luck Chuck,” Alba is basically required to do nothing but stand around and look gorgeous. Also wasted here is Justin Timberlake, who continues to prove that he is a unique and always amusing performer. However, he has yet to find a movie project tailored to his talent. The strangest casting in the film is Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kinsley as Guru Tugginmypudha. Isn’t that name just hilarious? Kingsley could be doing just about anything in his senior years. So why is it that he continues to do movies like “Thunderbirds,” “Blood Rayne,” and now “The Love Guru?” Talent should not be wasted like this.
College Road Trip
“College Road Trip” is a movie so insignificant that I’ll make my evaluation of it as short as possible. This is a so-called comedy where you wait the entire movie for the laughs and they never come. When you walk out of the theater you think to yourself, “Was there really somebody out there who thought this material was funny enough to be made into a feature film?” The people behind this movie don’t understand the difference between a film and a television sitcom. The only reason this movie was spared a strait to video release was the presence of big stars like Martin Lawrence and Raven Symone, who both overact beyond content here. The only positive quality regarding “College Road Trip” is that it’s forgettable on almost every level. Not forgettable enough to leave off my list of the worst films of the year however.
A couple years ago, it looked like M. Night Shyamalan might be the next Alfred Hitchcock. If he continues making movies like “The Happening” though, he’ll be the next Kevin Costner. What do these two directors have in common? Both Costern’s first film, “Dances With Wolves,” and Shyamalan’s first film, “The Sixth Sense,” were tremendous critical and financial successes. Costern’s credibility soon diminished however with movies like “Waterworld” and “The Postman.” Now with “The Happening,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water, which was actually a guilty pleasure for me, Shyamalan appears to be going down the same rout.
“The Happening” wants to be a thought-provoking message about the environment. However, the film is more like “An Inconvenient Truth” meets “War of the Worlds.” The movie is full of elements that don’t add up such as a subplot involving a crazy, old lady played by Betty Buckley. By the end of the movie, you feel as if nothing eventful has happened at all. I will say this about “The Happening” though: It has more laughs than either “College Road Trip” or “The Love Guru.”
The year’s most offensive movie was “10,000 B.C.” The film was offensive to anybody who had to endure the struggle of living in prehistoric times. If cavemen still existed today, they’d be suing Roland Emmerich for his inaccurate depiction of their ancestors. Hell, the Geico cavemen are more accurate to the nature of cave people! I’ve actually enjoyed some of Emmerich’s contributions to the disaster movie genre. The main problem with “10,000 B.C.” though is that it takes itself so seriously despite it’s preposterous premise. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that a movie set in 10,000 B.C. can be taken seriously. Why play a movie like this with a strait face? Why couldn’t the movie have winked at the camera and had some fun with the ridiculous concept? “10,000 B.C.” is like “History of the World: Part 1” only without any smiles whatsoever.
Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie
American cinema hit a new low this year with “Meet and the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie.” These are the kinds of movies where you walk into the theater with the lowest of expectations. When you walk out of the theater, you’re amazed to find that the picture was even worse than anticipated. Both of these satires are excruciatingly terrible. On second thought, satire probably isn’t the right word to describe these movies. To label them as satires would mean that they were actually poking fun at a genre. “Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie” on the other hand are essentially the same lamebrain gag over and over again: Every character is based off of something from another source and all the jokes are stolen. What’s funny about that?
These movies were written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. First the two made “Date Movie,” a rip-off of “Scary Movie” which was bad but not awful. Then they made “Epic Movie,” a film I was fortunate enough not to see. Now with “Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie” these men have brought new meaning to the term cinematic shit! Combined, their four movies have grossed 140 million domestic dollars. That’s 140 million dollars hardworking Americans flushed down the drain. Life is precious and only so long. These men have robbed countless individuals hours they will never get back. Consider all the independent writers, directors, and actors who will never be able to make it big. And yet these two get to keep making movies. Friedberg and Seltzer, along with the movie studios that released these films, ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The Absolute Worst Picture of the Year
I was assured that I had witnessed the worst movie of the year when I saw “Disaster Movie” a few months ago. However, there was one movie that I kept returning to throughout the year. The more and more I thought about this film, the more I came to loathe it. It’s a film that overwhelmed me with despair and sadness. The movie is none other than Michael Haneke’s depraved “Funny Games.” Like “The Hills Have Eyes” from a few years ago, “Funny Games” is the equivalent of being forced to watch a person die a slow painful death. Not since “Mommy Dearest” in 1981 has a movie been so well made, well acted, and still gone completely wrong.
I’m not entirely sure what Haneke’s original intentions were with this remake of his own film. I believe he was attempting to provide audiences with a commentary on violence in American cinema. The end result however was every bit as cruel as “Saw,” “Hostel,” or any other film that “Funny Games” criticizes.
Throughout the course of this movie a dog is beaten to death, a little boy is shot dead, a man has his legs broken, a woman is forced to remove her cloths, and a family is physically and physiologically torchered. Who wants to watch that? I don’t want to come off as soapboxy here. But “Funny Games” doesn’t have a shred of conscience or any redeeming values. It doesn’t have anything insightful to say, although it makes itself out to be something more. The film isn’t so much of physiological thriller as it is a snuff film.
On the website RottenTomatoes.com “Funny Games” holds a rating 51% positive. That’s a fairly decent amount of people who admired the film. There were those who described “Funny Games” as bold and original. But what’s so bold about the picture? The fact that the characters break the forth wall? That the movie tows with the audience? That the bad guys are able to travel back in time with a remote control when something doesn’t go their way?
I suppose you could find a million different messages behind “Funny Games.” In my eyes though, the film has a clear-cut meaning: Life is pointless, nothing matters, and everybody deserves to die. Nothing in this movie works. The dialog doesn’t work. The final scene of the movie doesn’t work. “Funny Games” is a despicable movie going experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
2007 wasn’t a particularly easy year to select one picture to top my ten list. In a year of so many great films, I could have just as easily selected any movie in my top five. In the end however, I simply couldn’t deny this year’s independent gem as anything but the year’s best picture. If there is one film that every American should see this year, principally teenagers reaching adulthood, it’s “Juno.” This is a hilarious, meaningful, and all around touching masterpiece much in the spirit of “Little Miss Sunshine.” While even some of the best movies where out their welcome after two or three showings, “Juno” is one of the few pictures that only improves every time you see it. The soul of the film is carried by the young actress Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff. Page creates one of the great characters of motion pictures in one of the great performances of motion pictures. The screenplay by Diablo Cody is fabulous, telling the story of this confused, pregnant teenager who essentially finds love and herself. This is a terrific picture about growing up and how even some adults find themselves longing to reclaim their lost youth. As much as
In a year that promised movies such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the
3. No Country for Old Men
There is genius within every shot of “No Country for Old Men,” the years most entrancing and audacious thriller. This is a movie of heart-wrenching strength and poetry that utterly reminded me why I love motion pictures. Nearly twenty-five years after “The Goonies,” Josh Brolin has finally had a breakout year with his performances in “Grindhouse” and “American Gangster.” His most outstanding work of 2007 however, was in the role of Llewelyn Moss, a Texan who has the misfortune of encountering a suitcase of drug money in the desert. Also notable are Tommy Lee Jones as the local law enforcement, Ed Tom Bell, and Kelly MacDonald as Llewelyn’s loving and loyal wife. Of course the most fascinating character of the film is Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem in 2007’s single greatest performance. Anton Chigurh is an invigoratingly ingenious psychopath who deserves to be considered in the same league of Norman Bates and Dr. Hannibal Lector. Bardem’s creation is bound to stand the test of time as one of the cinemas most treasured villains. Many found it difficult to comprehend the ending of the film, which leaves much unresolved and somewhat lets down. I’d be lying myself if I said I wasn’t unsettled by the conclusion at first. As time passes however, I’ve grown more and more to appreciate the meaning and symbolism behind the ending. “No Country for Old Men” challenges the audience through figurative details with hidden meanings. Joel and Ethan Coen once again prove that they are a pair of our generation’s most superb filmmakers with a captivating screenplay and ingenious direction.
4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim’s ingenious musical spectacle was finally brought to the screen in “Sweeney Todd,” the year’s most joyously bloody good time at the movies. This is a fascinating tale of revenge and tragedy that works as both a blissful musical and a terrifying horror picture. I cannot imagine a more ingenious filmmaker to fabricate “Sweeney Todd” than the visionary mastermind of Tim Burton. The picture is stunningly gorgeous in its haunting, black and blue depiction of
2007 was a prestigious year for dramas such as “Atonement,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Away from her.” None of which made my top ten list so I could make room for the hilarious, gross-out, R-rated raunchfest, “Superbad.” From “Knocked Up” to “The Simpsons Movie,” no other comedy this year made me laugh more uproariously even after I walked out of the theater. Michael Cera has had quite a breakout year with his awkwardly prepubescent roles both here and in “Juno.” Jonah Hill adds to his string of hilarious work as the sex hungry Seth. And Christopher Mintz-Plasse steals the whole show as this years most memorable new character, Fogell aka McLovin. What I admire the most regarding “Superbad” is it’s accurate depiction of young teenage boys. Finally we get a teenage comedy about teenagers that today’s teenagers can relate to. In this perverted tale of horny teenage boys searching for poontang, there is in some bizarre way a heart. The movie tells a sincere story about likeable characters with goals which is more than I can say about “Good Luck Chuck” or “The Heartbreak Kid.” To quote the words of McLovin, “Hey Gangstas, what’s up?”
This year’s most entirely original and whimsically inventive picture was none other than “Ratatouille.” The landscapes of
7. The Simpsons Movie
If any other animated feature was going to give “Ratatouille” a run for its money this year, it’s “The Simpsons Movie.” This is a laugh out loud per minute, endlessly witty, and even touching animation, bringing
There wasn’t a more joyous family film to come out of
9. 3:10 to
I’ll admit that the western has never been my particular favorite genre. It’s always been my opinion that there are no bad genres. Any variety of movies can be done well. With “3:10 to
10. Gone Baby Gone
Ben Affleck had one of the most impressive directorial debuts in recent memory with “Gone Baby Gone,” a spellbinding thriller which embraces the haunting landscapes of
Harry Potter and the Order of the
Live Free or Die Hard
There Will Be Blood
Bridge to Terabithia
Ten Worst of 2007
1. Little Miss Sunshine
For my selection of the year’s best film, I have chosen a film that people have referred to as, “The little movie that could.” It’s a movie that began as a diminutive independent dark comedy and soon arose to become an Oscar nominee for Best Picture. Of course the film I am talking about is “Little Miss Sunshine.” This is a film of absolute hilarity, telling the story of a dysfunctional family’s road trip to a Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. The film brings together one of the most lovable cast of characters in the history of American cinema. Greg Kinnear leads the family as the overly competitive father, Richard. Toni Collette delivers an especially strong performance as Richard’s longsuffering yet loyal wife, Sheryl. Alan Arkin presents his Oscar-winning performance as the fowl mouth grandfather. Especially worth mentioning is Steve Carrell as the sobbing, suicidal uncle, Frank. Newcomer Paul Dano is also effective as the angry, mute teenage brother, Dwain. The standout performance in the film however, comes from Abigail Breslin as Olive. Little Abigail Breslin simply shines in this picture. In an assembly of characters that are all confused and trouble, Olive provides the soul and innocence of “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film explores how dysfunctional families work and is honest and hilarious in doing so. And somewhere down the road, the film has a big heart to offer. It’s a hilarious, ludicrous, wise, sweat, and touching film and a ray of sunshine itself.
2. The Departed
For nearly three decades, movie speculators have asked the question, “Will Martin Scorsese ever win his Oscar?” Scorsese has brought us some of the finest films in American cinema, from “Raging Bull” to “Goodfellas.” And yet he remained Oscarless for so long. Marty almost took the gold home in previous years for his films, “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator.” However, he never prevailed. After years of directing Oscar-like films, Scorsese decided to return to his roots of the mean street mobster genre with the release of “The Departed.” When Scorsese announced he would be remaking the foreign crime drama, “Internal Affairs,” he merely intended it to be for entertainment purposes only. In the end however, “The Departed” went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and finally granted Scorsese his big win. “The Departed” is an incredible, stimulating, suspenseful, well-written piece of genius. The film brings together the acting ensemble of year. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of his best performances to date, proving once again that he is one of cinema’s most promising younger actors. Even after three Oscar wins, Jack Nicholson continues his string of masterful work as the ruthless, racist mob boss, Frank Costello. And Mark Wahlberg steals the whole show, giving a rapid-talking, Vince Vaughn-like performance as Sergeant Dignam. “The Departed” rightfully achieves the status as one of Scorsese’s best films to date.
3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of
I don’t believe that 2006 delivered us a more enduring new character than the creation of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev. This movie simply erupts in scene after scene of nonstop laughter. In this hysterical mockumentary, Borat, a news reporter from
4. Pan’s Labyrinth
Perhaps the most stunningly gorgeous technical achievement of the year was the enchantingly horrifying, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” In this dark fantasy fable, a little girl named Ofelia escapes from the tragic events that surround her reality in the magical Labyrinth of Pan. The film creates a world of its own with breathtaking sets, visuals, and true magic. Unlike some fantasy fables, “Pan’s Labyrinth” never becomes too obsessed with the magic that surrounds it. Director Guillermo Del Toro tells us a real story of loss and suffering in what is quite simply a masterpiece. The film ultimately reminds us that while real life can be harsh and cruel, there is still magic in the world. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a completely astonishing piece of genius that works as one of the most original motion pictures ever made.
5. Little Children
From the opening scene of “Little Children,” I found myself completely enthralled. This is a haunting, challenging, and wise film that explores the scandals of a common suburban neighborhood. Kate Winslet gives a memorizing performance as a mother who finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage. A romance arises between her and a stay at home dad named Brad, played by Patrick Wilson. This is a gripping tale of forbidden romance like a modern day Romeo and Juliet. An especially strong performance comes from Jackie Earle Haley as a lingering neighborhood child molester. Although we might not like want to like this kind of character, the audience can’t help but feel complete remorse for him. In hasn’t been since “American Beauty” that I’ve seen a suburban drama that I can praise as an instant masterpiece.
6. United 93
There wasn’t a more important film to be released this year than the lingering depiction of the events that occurred on September eleventh, “United 93.” When the film was first released, many asked the question, “Is it too early for a September eleventh related theatrical release?” This film proved that it was not at all too soon. “United 93” is a truly bold film that recreated the events that occurred on Flight 93. The film never turns its characters into action heroes like so many other disaster pictures. Rather, “United 93” tells a story of ordinary people that rise as heroes. Although we are never properly introduced to the films characters, I couldn’t help but feel for them. At one point, the audience might even believe that these people might even make it out alright. “United 93” reminds Americans why we must remain united as a country. The terrifying final sequence of this movie nearly brought me tears of suspense and sadness. It is not common for a movie to have that kind of effect on me. There hasn’t been a film as moving, inspiring, or horrifying this decade.
“Dreamgirls” was in ever way, an exhilarating movie musical extravaganza. This was one of the few movie musicals that managed to convert the tremendous energy of a Broadway stage to a movie theater. The film brought together one of the year’s most remarkable acting ensembles, features first rate performances from Jamie Fox and Beyonce Knowles. One of the films most impressive performances comes from Eddie Murphy as James Thunder Early. In recent years, Murphy has hit a slump in his career, bringing us some of the dumbest films of the twenty-first century. In Dreamgirls however, Murphy delivered a comeback performance that made
8. Monster House
Some more than exceptional animated films were released in 2006. In my opinion, the best was by far the creepy, creative, strange, inventively wonderful animated feature, “Monster House.” The film is that rare trick or treat that surprised me to be one of the most fun films of the year. It’s a wonderfully developed animation, with an always inventive sense of wonder. The film has the same kind of eerie sense to it as “Gremilins” with a wonderfully creepy Tim Burton feel. The film seemed to get overlooked during a summer in which blockbuster animations such as “Cars” and “Over the Hedge” were released. In the end however, “Monster House” achieved a much deserved Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.
9. Pirates of the
In my opinion, the most entertaining adventure of 2006 was the record-breaking blockbuster, “Pirates of the
10. Superman Returns
In 2005, Batman began and in 2006 Superman returned. Like “Rocky Balboa,” “Superman Returns” did an admirable job at resurrecting a classic series after some less than inspiring sequels. This is a spectacular piece of entertainment with first-rate visuals, gorgeous sets, and some unbelievably incredible action sequences. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth give worthy performances as
Akeelah and the Bee
High School Musical
Snakes on a Plane
X-Men: The Last Stand
Thank You For Smoking
Notes on a Scandal
The Devil Wears Prada
Ice Age: The Meltdown
Night at the Museum
Ten Worst of 2006
1. Batman Begins
My choice for the years best film will most likely come as a surprise to you and to me. Batman Begins was not only my choice for that best film of the year, but the greatest super hero movie ever made. The film is just as impressive as last years Spider-Man 2. The aspect that made both these films so good was the genuineness to them. Both films show the struggle and sacrifice of being a super hero. I found the first Batman to be disappointing because it was basically just Jack Nicholson as the Joker doing a one-man show. The first four Batmans never seemed to actually be about Batman. In Batman Begins we finally get to the center of Batmanís personality. Director Christiphor Nolan directs the film with a dark and eerie sense, apposed to the animated personality the original four films had. The films groundbreaking action sequences add to the story, making it the best entertainment of the year. The screenwriters do a good job as well at composing a real story that is emotional and funny and suspenseful and thrilling. There is not a feature I did not love of this enormously entertaining piece of art.
Paul Haggis had a knockout in 2004 with his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. Then in 2005, he wrote and directed yet another triumph entitled "Crash." It is a true, powerful, and wise film that explores racism in modern day. It is so good that it is in the same league of To Kill a Mockingbird. Although in To Kill a Mockingbird, there were good guys and bad guys. In Crash there are no heroes or villains; just people that cope with one another in every day life. The film is very realistic, aside from the great amount of coincidences that take place. But it is these coincidences and how they all come together that make Crash exciting, suspenseful, and moving. In the end, the film really makes you think.
3. King Kong
After the successful Lord of the Rings francise and now King Kong, I think Peter Jackson is the the next Steven Speilberg. King Kong is the years best looking movie with ingenious art direction, bracing action sequences, and stunning visuals. Kong himself is the single greatest CGI creation Iíve ever seen. But Jackson goes beyond simply pumping the audience with countless action sequences. There is a story and a romance that really make you care. As the movie works up to its dramatic climax with Kong and Ann Darrow on the Empire state building, you actually feel kind of sad. A soulless friend of mine, Michael Watson, said he felt no sympathy for Kong when he died. But he can suck monkey balls.
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
2005 delivered us two of greatest comedies of the decade. The hilarious Wedding Crashers was released in July. Then when we thought movies couldnít get any funnier, The 40 Year Old Virgin came along. The key that made both of these films so great was not only because they were hysterical, but also that they were sweet, gentle, full of heart, and featured characters you care about. So which one of these two comedies is the better film? As much as I love Wedding Crashers, I still like The 40 Year Old Virgin more. Virgin is slightly funnier and more meaningful. Also worth mentioning is Steve Carell, who has been well known for his performances in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman. Although I think 2005 was the year that he broke out into stardom in The 40 Year Old Virgin and his hit show The Office.
5. Sin City
The comic book literally jumped onto the screen in Sin City, a visually stunning piece of genius. Robert Rodriguez directs the film with black and white cinematography that gives it a dark, haunting, feel to it that matches its story. The spectacular acting ensemble is perfectly cast. With Bruce Willis as the protecting cop Hartigan, Brittany Murphy as the frighten Waitress Shelly, and Mickey Rourke is brilliant as the over grown ape Marv. Many comic book nerds have whined at how some movies like X-Men and Fantastic Four fail to stay true to the original comics. Sin City is almost completely true to its comic book roots though.
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The world of Roald Dahlís Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the perfect project for Tim Burton to take on in this year best family film. Burton expands the world the original story created with wonderful visuals and sets that make you crave candy. The movie manages to stay true to the original basic story, while still making it fresh, funny, and exciting. The film is fun for kids, adults, teenagers, and has even become popular with Gothís. And as for Johnny Depp, there were some who admired his performance as Willy Wonka and some who hated it. I personally thought he was brilliant at creating his own Willy Wonka.
7. Brokeback Mountain
Many have made fun of and taken cheap shots at Brokeback Mountain. The kids in my class have accused my science professor of jerking off to it. Brokeback Mountain is not a slapstick humor film though. It is a honest, realistic love story of two cowboys that fall in love and their struggle. And the struggle is that they love one another and donít know how to deal with that love. When all is said and done, the audience really feels sympathy for these characters and the tragedy they go through.
8. Tim Burtonís Corpse Bride
My favorite romance of the year was between a man and a corpse. In an age when digital animation has pretty much dominated the traditional form of animation, itís comforting to see that stop-motion musicals like Tim Burtonís Corpse Bride still exist. Corpse Bride takes us to a world that even Burton can only express through animation. The film is wonderfully weird and creative with a romance that really intrigues the audience. The film has already become of cult classic for Goths just like The Nightmare Before Christmas. And I hope this isnít the last animated feature by Burton. Although the film lost the Oscar to the also enjoyable Wallace and Gromit, Corpse Bride will always be a winner to me.
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J.K. Rowleingís magical, inventive world was sprung to life once more in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the best of the series so far. In this adventure Harry deals with even more tragic experiences such as slaying a dragon and witnessing the death of a 17-year-old boy. Although Harry doesnít only face the trials wizards must deal with everyday. Harry still must handle the high school drama of asking a girl to the ball for the first time. This is the saddest, most powerful movie of the Harry Potter series thus far. Filled with groundbreaking visuals, ingenious sets, and an astonishing appearance by Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.
10. A History of Violence.
The best thriller of this year, or any year for that matter, was A History of Violence. Viggo Mortenson plays Tom Stall, an average everyday man, accused of formally being a killing machine. Although it is obvious this man is more than likely a killer, the movie keeps you fixated all the way through with shockers around every corner. Along with Mortenson is a first rate cast which includes Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt who might give the greatest performance of all in this astonishing, breathtaking, emotionally powerful, well directed extravaganza.
Family Guy Presents: Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Walk the Line
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Good Night, and Good Luck
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
My Ten Worst