1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: It didn’t come as a massive surprise that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" turned out to be the greatest entertainment of 2015, not to mention the number one moneymaker. What took me by surprise, however, is that J.J. Abrams film hit me so hard on an emotional level with its powerful drama, the return of classic characters, identifiable new characters, and a pitch perfect ending. If you grew up with the original "Star Wars" trilogy, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
2. Inside Out: While Pixar isn’t dishing out masterpiece after masterpiece as they once did, "Inside Out" is fortunately a clear bulls-eye. Pete Docter’s wonderful film is among the studio’s saddest, funniest, and most creative ever made, which is saying a lot. Oh, and of course movie is literally an emotional rollercoaster. Although it was marketed as a children’s movie, "Inside Out" is truly an adult picture with a unique life lesson.
3. Room: 2015 was an amazing year for women in film with a standout performance coming from the invaluable Brie Larson in "Room." Along with little Jacob Treblay’s incredible acting feat, Larson is a revelation in this extraordinary, life-affirming motion picture about the bond of love. Emma Donoghue’s screenplay, which she adapted from her own novel, intelligently addresses the haunting aftermath of surviving a horrible ordeal. What gets us through all the agony, though, is an authentic relationship between mother and son.
4. Steve Jobs: Many people have given their two cents on why "Steve Jobs" bombed at the box office, but the point is not nearly enough people saw Danny Boyle’s masterful film. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin pulls back the emerald curtain and provides a captivating character study. Much like fascinating figure it’s based on, this is ultimately an absorbing and ambitious picture that appropriately thinks different. Michael Fassbender deserves the Best Actor Oscar for flawlessly capturing Job’s spirit.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road: How to describe a film like "Mad Max: Fury Road?" Imagine if every character from a drive-in B-movie came to life. Then imagine if every drawing from a heavy metal album came to life. Now imagine all these bizarre creations entered a death race that makes "Furious 7" look like "Driving Miss Daisy." That wouldn’t even begin to describe just how insanely awesome this movie is. At the same time, "Fury Road" still manages to be dramatically compelling and artistically unmatched.
6. Spotlight: Following the journalists that exposed the Catholic Church child molestation scandal, "Spotlight" may be the best movie of its kind since "All the President’s Men." Director Tom McCarthy, co-screenwriter Josh Singer, and the marvelous acting ensemble wisely never glorify the Spotlight team, however. Instead, they’re depicted as real people who are all simply trying to do their job and make a difference through the vital freedom of the press.
7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: Any young person who has been affected by cancer needs to see the year’s most overlooked treasure. Much like "50/50," "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" will have you laughing one second, and sobbing in grief the next. It demonstrates that life is full of difficult ordeals without easy answers, but anybody who has a loved one to hold their hand throughout should consider themselves lucky.
8. Bridge of Spies: We’ve seen movies about the Cold War before. What’s so absorbing about "Bridge of Spies," though, is how Screenwriters Matt Charman and the Coen brothers observe matters from a middle-of-the-road perspective. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the lawyer who defends a guilty Soviet intelligence officer (Mark Rylance) and director Steven Spielberg shows no signs of slowing down.
9. Brooklyn: A lovely slice of life picture that tackles its themes with stellar comedy, romance, and wisdom. Saoirse Ronan is nothing short of magical as a young woman who chooses her place in the world. Whether you grew up in the 1950’s or in 21st century America, her coming of age journey is one any generation can identify with.
10. The Martian: Matt Damon shines in another terrific sci-fi picture from Ridley Scott, additionally carried by a refreshing sense of humor, convincing visuals, and a killer soundtrack (assuming you enjoy Disco).
11. The Walk: Robert Zemeckis’ latest isn’t only a worthy of companion to "Man on Wire," but a great film in it’s own right too. It’s furthermore an exciting heist movie, a rousing family picture, and a loving salute to the spirit of Philippe Petit. One can only hope more people will discover this overlooked gem.
12. The Hateful Eight: While Quentin Tarantino has made better films, "The Hateful Eight" drips with his passion for filmmaking and his flare for dialog that can’t be replicated by anyone else. Intimate while being bombastic, familiar while being fresh, and brutal while being beautiful, it’s a film unlike anything else you’ll see all year.
13. Jurassic World: Nothing is ever going to top "Jurassic Park," but "Jurassic World" comes as close as any sequel possibly can. The box office champ accomplishes this through clever throwbacks to its predecessor as well as inspired new ideas, technology, and action set pieces. It’s the perfect demonstration of how to make a nostalgic blockbuster.
14. Anomalisa: A sad, strange, darkly funny, and flat-out beautiful triumph of imagination from Charlie Kaufman. Talk about a one of a kind anomaly.
15. Trainwreck: In a year that brought us several female-centric hits, "Trainwreck" just might be the best example of how women are dominating the comedy scene like never before. This is largely thanks to Amy Schumer, who understands how relationships work and, more importantly, how to make the audience laugh.
16. Straight Outta Compton: A gripping account of the prejudice and controversy N.W.A endured from their rise to fame to their eventual falling out. It’s further a powerful biopic about artists expressing how they see the world.
17. Creed: The "Rocky" franchise is truly an underdog story in itself, delivering a knockout of a comeback with "Creed." Michael B. Jordan continues to shine as one of this generation’s best young actors while Sylvester Stallone gives a Best Supporting Actor caliber performance for his career-defining role.
18. Ex Machina: In his directorial debut, Alex Garland fashions a new sci-fi classic that will keep you guessing throughout and thinking long after leaving the theater. Alicia Vikander’s mesmerizing portrayal of Ava cements her as this year’s breakout actress.
19. The Revenant: Although "The Revenant" certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s also riveting entertainment that only a truly masterful filmmaker such as Alejandro González Iñárritu could’ve brought into fruition. It also features Leonardo DiCaprio’s most physically and emotionally exhausting performance.
20. The Danish Girl: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are heartbreaking in one of the most significant films ever made about sexual identity and gender identity.
21. Kingsman: The Secret Service: "Spectre" aimed to strike a balance between new and old-school James Bond, but this action flick came much closer to hitting that target. Director Matthew Vaughn of Kick-Ass once again proves that he’s a master of humor, action, violence, and everything badass. Plus, how can you go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson as a lisping big bad?
22. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: Quite possibly the most fun "Mission: Impossible" yet thanks to exceptional action, strong characters, and pretty much everything that makes a great summer action movie. Can we please see more of Rebecca Ferguson?
23: Paddington: Although it technically came out last year, "Paddington" didn’t see its American release until early 2015. US audiences were at last treated to a charming, humorous, and visually stunning family picture that feels positively perennial. It’s a film you just want to eat up like a marmalade sandwich.
24: Joy: A lot of people just couldn’t get into David O. Russell’s latest picture and I really don’t understand why. While it’s not quite in the same league as "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle," "Joy" is still an all-around delightful movie with one of Jennifer Lawrence’s best performances.
25. Carol: One of the year’s most mesmerizing love stories with angelic performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara at its core. Both manage to get so much across without even speaking a single word of dialog.
26. Spy: Director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy hit it out of the park once again with one of the year’s funniest movies. They’re helped by wonderful supporting performances from Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, and especially Rose Byrne. It’s a spy comedy that truly deserves comparison to "The Naked Gun" and "Austin Powers."
27. The Peanuts Movie: A nostalgic property that understands its source material with jazzy music, a laidback tone, and a strong moral center that screams the Charlie Brown we know and love.
28. The Big Short: 2015 brought us couple great films about the 2008 financial crisis with "99 Homes" and especially "The Big Short." The best way to describe this film is “The Wolf of Wall Street” meets “Moneyball.” It’s sharp, surreal, and funny, but is also thought provoking with something to say about humanity.
29. 45 Years: Charlotte Rampling deserves serious Best Actress consideration for her work in this subtle drama where a marriage of 45 years faces its greatest trial over one week.
30. Ant-Man: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" might have made A LOT more money, but this was the most fun Marvel movie of 2015. Although "Ant-Man" repeats the same formula as many other superhero flicks, the filmmakers really distinguished it with a stellar cast, inventive visuals, and witty dialog. Marvel still has plenty of life left in it.
The Best Movies of 2014
While 2014 brought us a ton of tremendous blockbusters about superheroes, Legos, and talking raccoons, it was also a banner year for smaller movies about life itself. No matter what the budget, this year had no shortage of great films. Today we’ll be taking a look at my 30 personal favorites.
1. Boyhood: Filmed and written over twelve years, “Boyhood” isn’t just one of the boldest coming of age stories ever put on film, it’s one of the absolute boldest experimental films ever made. Ellar Coltrane is superb as Mason, an everyday boy who becomes a man before our eyes in roughly three hours. Mason’s journey to adulthood authentically captures a generation consumed by Ipods, Facebook, and “Harry Potter.” “Boyhood” does so much more than merely reference popular culture highlights from the past decade, however. It’s an honest slice of life with some of the most believable representations of children and parents you’ll ever see. Patricia Arquette never hits a wrong note as Mason’s stressed out, single mother in a performance destined to score her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Ethan Hawke is just as great as Mason’s father, who’s still having some trouble growing up. “Boyhood” has no three-act structure, action climax, or typical storytelling clichés. It’s simply about people living their normal lives. And you know what? That’s pretty fascinating, just as life is much more fascinating than we give it credit. What an enriching life journey Director Richard Linklater takes us on in this extraordinary film.
2. Birdman: After a long career of ups and down, Michael Keaton has forever cemented himself among Hollywood’s A-listers with “Birdman.” Paralleling his own rise and fall from success, Keaton plays an actor named Riggan Thomson. Having peaked as a superhero named Birdman decades ago, Riggan hopes to breathe new life into his career with a stage show. Of course everything goes wrong as Riggan bumps heads with an egotistical method actor (Edward Norton), his angry daughter (Emma Stone), and other colorful characters in this outstanding ensemble. Halfway in, you might think that “Birdman” is about an actor’s final shot at redemption. But Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is truly about what it means to be a respected performer in this day and age. Up until recently, many artistic elitists probably would have written Keaton off as a washed up former superstar. If Keaton’s Oscar-worthy performance here shows us anything, though, it’s that there’s a lot more under his mask than meets the eye.
3. Interstellar: Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is one of the boldest pictures ever made concerning nature, science, and, above all else, the unknown. Drawing inspiration from Kubrick, Spielberg, other sci-fi greats, the film dares to venture into uncharted territory and explore the universe’s vast sea of unsolved mysteries. The man charged with this massive task is a former astronaut turned farmer named Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey in a wonderful leading performance. As we’ve come to expect from Nolan, his latest masterpiece is exceptionally crafted, profoundly written, and humungous in scope. What Nolan gets down most of all in “Interstellar,” though, is the heart. A particular relationship drives much of this story, which amounts to a gut-wrenching game changer half way through. As much as I’d like to go into greater detail, to give away any more information would spoil the film’s astonishing experience.
4. Gone Girl: Based on one of the most talked about novels of recent times, David Fincher’s captivating adaptation of “Gone Girl” is easily the years most twisted thriller. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike give career best performances as Nick and Amy Dune, a couple whose marriage deteriorates from fairytale romance to endless nightmare. The film is told from both of their perspectives as Amy goes missing and the world labels Nick as her killer. Every step of the way, the brilliantly crafted screenplay by Gillian Flynn keeps the audience guessing who’s innocent, who’s a manipulative sociopath, and what’s everyone’s motive. Even when it seems like we have all the answers, the film keeps piling onto the mystery with one riveting development after another. By the time it all adds up, you’ll be both haunted and forever wary of your spouse.
5. Life Itself: Excluding maybe his longtime co-host Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert was undeniably the greatest film critic who ever lived. As much as every aspiring critic would love to be the next Roger Ebert, the truth is that nobody can fill his shoes. Ebert influenced generations of audiences to intelligently discuss films of all kinds, be they drama, comedy, or animated. Ultimately, he showed us that film wasn’t just entertainment, put an important art form. “Life Itself” demonstrates that there was much more to Ebert than the movies, though. He was a loving husband to his equally loving wife Chaz, a recovering alcoholic with a complicated past, an optimistic fighter who endured a long battle with cancer, and more. Who better to pay tribute to him than Director Steve James, who made one of Roger’s favorite movies, “Hoop Dreams?” As the title suggests, his documentary isn’t just a celebration of Ebert’s life, but life itself.
6. Whiplash: J.K. Simmons has been one of our best character actors for a long time. As far as I’m concerned, the Academy can put his name on this year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar right now for his incredible performance in “Whiplash.” Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, a college band conductor who could have been a slave driver in another life. One student Fletcher has been particularly tormenting is a drummer named Andrew, played by Miles Teller in another winning role. As exceptional as Teller and Simmons are, the real star in Director Damien Chazelle’s film is the music. The pitch-perfect soundtrack, editing, and performances all work up to a sensational climax, which acts as the ultimate mic drop to a rousing film.
7. The Lego Movie: 2014 was another great year for animation. So great that I keep going back and forth on which animated film was my personal favorite. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” probably had the best action set pieces where “Big Hero 6” had the most lovable new character (Baymax). When looking at the big picture, though, “The Lego Movie” had the most laughs per minute, the most state of the art animation, and the most touching final act. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have distinguished themselves as two of this generation’s finest comedic visionaries, outdoing themselves with a family film that’s as smart as it is silly. What more can be said except everything is awesome.
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was an enjoyable reboot/sort-of prequel to the 1968 classic, but it was merely a dress rehearsal for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” This sequel continues the story of Caesar, the ape leader played by Andy Serkis in a stunning performance made possible by motion capture technology. At its heart, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a Shakespearean tragedy meets a science fiction war epic. It’s all about humanity and develops everyone as a three-dimensional character, human and ape alike.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy: As silly as it might seem, “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to be more than just another run-of-the-mill action picture. It’s an effective, funny sci-fi adventure about people (or aliens) we legitimately care about. Even if you took out all the space battles, this witty ensemble would still be just as interesting if they had a conversation in a room for two hours. Having a kickass soundtrack doesn’t hurt either. In an age of so many gritty science fiction films, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the life of the party.
10. The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” fame was destined to play Alan Turing, a reclusive genius tasked with cracking the enigma code during WWII. Keira Knightley is equally mesmerizing as Joan Clarke, a brilliant woman everyone but Turing underestimates and in due course becomes Watson to his Holmes. Together, they make for one of the year’s most memorable duos in this absorbingly well-written story of unlikely, unsung heroes who changed the world in more than one way.
11. Selma: The first truly great film centered on Martin Luther King, Jr., “Selma” is furthermore about hope, freedom, and how one person’s dream can act as a beacon of courage for humanity.
12. Big Hero 6: This union of Disney and Marvel is a match made in heaven with carnival colors, charming characters, and all the fun of TVs most stimulating Saturday morning cartoons.
13. How to Train Your Dragon 2: While the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was wonderful, it’s kind of shocking just how fantastic the sequel is, expanding on a grand world with a fittingly darker tone.
14. The Theory of Everything: Elevated by magical performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything” demonstrates that Stephen Hawking’s life is a love story above all else.
15. Still Alice: Julianne Moore deserves to finally nab that Oscar for her heartbreaking performance as Alice, a fifty-year-old woman losing her memory to Alzheimer’s.
16. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Another quirky, charming comedy that could only be brought to the screen by the endlessly inventive Wes Anderson.
17. Snowpiercer: Chris Evans, John Hurt, and especially Tilda Swinton shine is this fascinating sci-fi masterwork, which packs all the excitement, drama, and satire of “The Hunger Games” into a single train.
18. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Just when it seemed like Marvel was wearing out their welcome at the movies, they delivered this rousing superhero sequel with the refreshing essence of a conspiracy thriller.
19. Edge of Tomorrow: It might have looked like “Independence Day” meets “Groundhog Day,” but this science fiction action romp proved to be so much smarter, funnier, and more original than you’d ever expect.
20. The Fault in Our Stars: Shailene Woodley is faultless once again in this tragically authentic depiction of young people dealing with cancer.
21. Nightcrawler: In his directorial debut, Dan Gilroy delivers a funny, thought-provoking commentary on the state of media with an unsettling performance from Jake Gyllenhaal at its core.
22. Foxcatcher: Steve Carell is absolutely transcendent as John Eleuthère du Pont, a multimillionaire whose isolation led from jealousy, to paranoia, to insanity.
23. Begin Again: A spiritual successor to “Once,” “Begin Again” continues John Carney’s streak of passionate films about beautiful music bringing people together.
24. X-Men: Days of Future Past: Everything that’s made “X-Men” a great franchise is displayed here, with jaw dropping action, a witty sense of humor, and intelligent themes regarding prejudice.
25. Into the Woods: Perfectly cast and surprisingly mature, Disney’s adaptation of “Into the Woods” is a spellbinding musical with the essence of a Grimm fairytale.
26. Wild: Primarily thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s powerful performance as Cheryl Strayed and Jean-Marc Vallée’s beautiful portrayal of nature, “Wild” is a strong addition to the man vs. wild, or in this case woman vs. wild, genre.
27. Obvious Child: A true acting showcase for Jenny Slate, who proves she’s a star in the marking capable of tremendous feats.
28. 22 Jump Street: You wouldn’t think it would be anything more than a quick cash in, but “22 Jump Street” turned out to be a clever satire of sequels, the first film, other cop movies, and even the show that inspired this franchise.
29. Ida: An understated, meaningful Polish drama about choosing your own identity and finding your place in the world.
30. American Sniper: Further evidence that Clint Eastwood is the most American director making movies today.
The Worst Movies of 2014
2014 brought us a number of great films…don’t expect to see any of them mentioned here.
1. The Best of Me: “The Best of Me” is like of montage of every cliché ever used in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Liana Liberato is Amanda, the rich, beautiful female lead from a conservative family who wants more out of life. Luke Bracey is Dawson, the brooding, misunderstood male lead from a broken family. They grow up to be played by Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden, neither of whom looks anything like their younger counterparts. Their scenes of kissing in the rain, frolicking in the lake, gazing at sunsets, enjoying the small town scenery, and exchanging corny dialog are only intermitted by conflict involving one-dimensional redneck villains, discussing social class differences, and death of course. Where “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is brainless entertainment for men, “The Best of Me” is the definition of brainless entertainment for women. The filmmakers never cared about producing a film that would stand out as anything even remotely original. They only cared about manipulating the female demographic into buying their cheap, emotional porn by hitting all the same tired romance beats. It all amounts to an ending so contrived and idiotic it would make the ending to “Safe Haven” laugh. “The Best of Me” represents the worst of 2014 cinema, which is saying a lot given this lineup.
2. Transformers: Age of Extinction: Yeah, yeah, you all knew this one would make the list. Michael Bay delivered exactly what audiences expected once again with "Transformers: Age of Extinction,” another overblown orgy of cars, explosions, slow motion, beautiful women without a shred of personality, sunsets, product placement, cringe worthy humor, and repetition. Does Bay make any attempt to improve upon his relentless series, though? Well…Shia LaBeouf and his parents aren’t in this one, which diminishes the annoyance levels a little. Even if the previous sequels were arguably worse, the fact that “Age of Extinction” is almost three hours long, grossed over a billion dollars, and takes no chances whatsoever is more than enough to despise it as much as “Revenge of the Fallen” or “Dark of the Moon.”
3. Endless Love: The screenplay for “Endless Love” reads like it was written by a naïve, stupid teenager who got mad at their parents and wanted to show the world how evil they are. In the film’s inept mind, every problem young lovers face is due to fathers that just don’t understand, freak accidents, and misunderstandings with ex’s. As long as you avoid those things, your love life will always be perfect, kids! In addition to having no idea how relationships or the world work, every plot point can be seen from several miles away. Watching such predictable fluff will overwhelm any thinking human being with grave frustration, making them want to hurl tomatoes at the screen.
4. Winter’s Tale: This adaptation of Mark Helprin’s novel consists of Jessica Brown Findlay playing a redhead who’s clearly more brunette, Will Smith making a meme-worthy facial expression as Lucifer, Jennifer Connelly phoning it in, Eva Marie Saint playing a woman inexplicably over a hundred, Russell Crowe sounding like an evil Muppet, and Colin Farrell riding a flying horse that’s actually a dog...talk about a mess…What’s truly shocking is that “Winter’s Tale” was directed by Akiva Goldsman, the same man who wrote “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man.” Actually he also wrote “Batman & Robin” and “Lost in Space,” which might explain why this love story isn’t very magical or romantic.
5. (Tie) I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold: Have you ever met a really dorky kid who was trying to act hardcore, but just made himself come off as even dorkier? That’s the best way to describe “I, Frankenstein” and “Dracula Untold.” Both turn classic movie monsters into dull action heroes surrounded by uninspired CGI villains, bland battle sequences, and motifs ripped off from superior macho fantasy epics. Frankenstein and Dracula both need to fire their agents.
6. Left Behind: A movie about the rapture starring Nicholas Cage was pretty much guaranteed to suck, but “Left Behind” isn’t even entertainingly bad some of Cage’s other recent films. It’s ungodly boring with Cage stuck in a cockpit most of the running time while Cassi Thomson aimlessly runs around, a stereotypical supporting cast attempts to figure out what the audience already knows, and the extras desperately try to act. “Left Behind” wants to discuss challenging topics regarding god and faith, but the film has no idea what it’s talking about. It’s like the M. Night Shyamalan movie Shyamalan never made.
7. The Nut Job: If you think voice acting is easy, “The Nut Job” is proof that you can give a bad performance in an animated film. All the actors assume that if they scream their lines and always talk in an over-the-top manner they’ll get a laugh. It isn’t entirely their fault, though. They’re saddled with a lazy script comprised of cardboard cutout characters, obvious morals, lackluster slapstick, dated Gangnam Style references, and a story that’s basically ripped off from “Over the Hedge,” which wasn’t that good of a movie to start with. It also doesn’t help that the filmmakers named the main character Surly. Seriously, Surly? Was the name Swarley already taken?
8. Into the Storm: Every single line of dialog in “Into the Storm” is exposition, a bad joke, a formulaic dramatic speech, or screaming. Oh, there’s a lot of screaming. It doesn’t help that we basically got this movie seventeen years ago and it was called “Twister.” Back in the late nineties, it was admittedly cool to see a giant tornado on screen. Compared to modern day visual effects, however, “Into the Storm” just feels primitive with nothing new and little reason to exist.
9. Blended: While Adam Sandler’s latest comedy isn’t the absolute worst of his career, it is clear-cut evidence that he’s not making any attempt to improve upon his shtick. All Sandler really cares about is repeating the same tired formula and gags so he can go on vacation, hang out with his friends, and make some quick, easy money in the process. Seeing how “Blended” disappointed at the box office, though, maybe people are finally starting to wise up to his scheme. If audiences are evolving, so should Sandler.
10. Sex Tape: “Sex Tape” offers one amusing sequence involving a totally coked out Rob Lowe, who ironically made the original celebrity sex tape. Other than that, this comedy is a monumental waste of talent with little humor, little sexual charisma, and not nearly enough material to merit a feature-length running time. Seriously, image one joke stretched out to ninety minutes.
The Best Movies of 2013
After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last June, I was forced to cut back on reviewing movies every week. In between chemo treatments and sleeping for days on end, I’ve made an effort to see as many new releases as possible. Now at the start of a promising new year, I am happy to announce that I am virtually cancer free. Even better, I have a lot of truly great films from yesteryear to talk about.
There’s no doubt that 2013 was a long, difficult year for me, as I’m sure it was many. At the very least, though, the movies were always there to provide us with a much-needed escape. Whether they excited us, made us uncontrollably laugh, or left us weeping like babies, all 30 movies on this list have two things in common, for me at least. First of all, they gave me hope for the current state of motion pictures. Secondly, they gave me hope in general.
1. 12 Years a Slave: Not since the 1977 miniseries “Roots” has a depiction of slavery been more painfully honest and thought provoking than “12 Years a Slave.” Chiwetel Ejiofor is astounding as Solomon Northup, a free African American man who is kidnapped, separated from his family, and sold into slavery. He winds up on a Southern plantation run by an excruciatingly cruel sadist named Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender in the most unsettling performance this side of Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.” The standout in this near flawless cast is newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a young woman who becomes the target of her slave driver’s sexual desires. This is not the feel good movie of the year, but it is the year’s most important cinematic experience, pulling no punches as it exposes Southern plantations for the internment camps they were. Although the film does end with one enslaved person achieving their freedom, “12 Years a Slave” also bluntly reminds us that many slaves did not. Just as shameful, most of their captors never received any form of punishment for their heinous acts. Steve McQueen deserves to become the first person of African descent to win the Best Director Oscar for the best picture of the year.
2. Frozen: Disney is officially in full-on renaissance mode with their latest animated classic, “Frozen.” As far as Disney fairytales go, “Frozen” gets it right in just about every department. The music, the characters, the story, the pacing, the suspense, the romance, the themes, the humor, and, of course, the animation, it’s all done to near perfection. The film is also a thoughtful movie about sisters that takes several inspired chances with the fairytale formula. No wonder it’s become the surprise box office sensation of the year.
3. Gravity: “Gravity” is a film so visually astounding that you’ll be half convinced Director Alfonso Cuarón shot on location in outer space. The effective use of sound, sets, effects, and 3D photography only makes the film more horrifying as an astronaut played by Sandra Bullock is sent adrift. From beginning to end, the audience feels all of Bullock’s dread, excitement, denial, loss, regret, and hope in her pursuit to survive.
4. Short Term 12: Despite only making a million dollars at the box office, Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12” has garnered one of the most passionate followings of any movie released in 2013. Hopefully that following will continue to grow now that the film is out on DVD. Brie Larson is an easy choice for breakthrough actress of the year for her performance as Grace, a young woman who looks after “underprivileged” kids at a foster care facility. Although she’s only a few years older than most of these youths, Grace has all the love, strictness, integrity, and good judgment of a natural mother. Like the film itself, many of Grace’s kids are full of pain and anger. Through their often heartbreaking interactions with Grace, however, they come to realize that it doesn’t matter how damaged a person might appear. Everyone has the potential to be something in life and they certainly have the potential to be loved.
5. Her: Spike Jonze’s “Her” isn’t just one of the most memorable films of recent times, but also a film that’s very much ahead of it’s own time. Joaquin Phoenix hits just the right levels of lonely, dumpy, and pathetic as Theodore, a man who purchases an operating system designed to evolve like an actual human being. The female OS names herself Samantha on the spot and is voiced by the wonderfully affectionate Scarlett Johansson. Jonze’s screenplay tackles its subject matter with great intelligence, great humor, and great sincerity above all else. It further provides a fascinating commentary on the state of artificial emotion, human emotion, artificial connections, and human connections.
6. Prisoners: On the surface, “Prisoners” might look like just another generic thriller. But Director Denis Villeneuve and Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski bring so much more to the table than one would ever expect. This is primarily because the narrative is so well structured, delivering on every plot point and leaving plenty room for human drama. It’s also helped by two striking performances from Hugh Jackman as a father hell-bent on finding his kidnapped daughter and Jake Gyllenhaal as a restrained detective assigned to the case. While “Prisoners” is definitely a suspenseful movie, it goes beyond being purely a suspense movie.
7. The Spectacular Now: 2013 was a terrific year for coming of age movies and the best was “The Spectacular Now.” Miles Teller takes a big step forward in his career as a slacker teenager named Sutter who falls head over heals for a girl named Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley. “The Spectacular Now” is given every opportunity to slip up and become a conventional romantic comedy. Against all the odds, though, it manages to avoid the clichés of so many dumber movies and TV shows about teenagers. Even the supposedly happy ending has an uncertain quality to it reminiscent of “The Graduate.” This is truly one of the most honest movies ever made about love, life, and becoming an adult.
8. The Way Way Back: If one movie gave “The Spectacular Now” a run for its money as 2013’s best coming of age story, it was “The Way Way Back.” This wonderful comedy from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash is lead by newcomer Liam James. He nails it as Duncan, a socially awkward teen in store for a summer full of romance, humor, tears, life lessons, and even magic. Like a great summer vacation, “The Way Way Back” makes you wish it would last forever.
9. American Hustle: On the heels of “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell continues his winning streak with the enormously entertaining “American Hustle.” As always, Russell gets great performances from his entire ensemble in a story where every character is conning someone in some way. “American Hustle” mixes together elements of everything from “Goodfellas” to “The Sting.” Whatever you compare it to, the film still works beautifully as a fun, sexy, well-written con artist picture while also managing to be something deeper.
10. Dallas Buyers Club: Good news, everyone, Matthew McConaughey is no longer the worst actor on the planet. 2013 was truly McConaughey’s year of redemption with his work in “Mud,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and especially “Dallas Buyers Club.” He gives a Best Actor caliber performance as Ron Woodroof, a lowlife bigot who is diagnosed with AIDS. Unable to get the proper treatment, Woodroof forms an unlikely partnership with a transvestite named Rayon, played by the always bold and daring Jared Leto. The two set out to get the medicine AIDS patients require, challenging doctors, the FDA, and their own mortality. The result is an inspiring picture that encourages us to fight for our lives and to think as individuals. In some respects, it’s everything “Patch Adams” should have been.
11. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: While the first “Hunger Games” was excellent, the sequel improves upon everything from the drama, to action, to the visuals, to the character development. Some might even argue it improves upon a book.
12. The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio do it again in this uproarious story of Jordan Belfort, a man the audience both despises and desperately wants to be.
13. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Like the first “Anchorman,” this long-awaited follow-up is more like a series of skits and one-liners than an actual story. But it’s hard to complain when a movie tries to make you laugh every second and hits almost every joke out of the park.
14. Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass’ intensely shot, authentically edited true story carried by a multi-layered performance from Tom Hanks as the title character.
15. Nebraska: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb give career best performances in a drably optimistic comedy/drama about life, regrets, and final shots at glory.
16. Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen Brothers find the comedy in bleakness and the bleakness in comedy, resulting in a film that’s either saying a lot or saying nothing at all.
17. The Kings of Summer: An overlooked little gem, “The Kings of Summer” is another funny, offbeat, and nostalgic coming of age tale that whimsically captures the enchantment of summer.
18. Star Trek: Into Darkness: J.J. Abrams continues to breathe new life into “Star Trek” with this thrilling follow-up to the 2009 reboot.
19. Warm Bodies: “World War Z” might have been a box office smash, but the best zombie picture of the year was Jonathan Levine’s “Warm Bodies,” a clever romantic comedy of sorts where the zombies are actual characters for once.
20. This is the End: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson all do first-rate jobs portraying themselves in this laugh-a-minute satire of disaster pictures and celebrity. Also, Backstreet’s back!
21. Rush: An exhilarating tale of Formula One rivalry driven by Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, and Director Ron Howard.
22. Philomena: Steve Coogan co-writes and co-stars in this delightful true story about finding family and faith lead by a great performance from Judi Dench.
23. Saving Mr. Banks: A genuine crowd-pleaser elevated by two marvelous performances from Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
24. Side Effects: Rooney Mara and Jude Law are terrific in Steven Soderbergh’s calculating thriller that provides an intriguing commentary on prescription medicine.
25. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: The exceptional ensemble carries this fascinating story of Cecil Gaines, a real life African American butler who served eight presidents at the White House.
26. Fruitvale Station: A touching, powerful account of Oscar Grant’s final day on earth, leading up to the reprehensible events that took place at the Fruitvale BART Station five years ago. Yet another example of how 2013 was a great year for African Americans in film.
27. Enough Said: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini shine in the year’s most mature romance from writer/director Nicole Holofcener.
28. All is Lost: Robert Redford delivers one of the year’s most impressive acting feats as a nameless, mostly silent sailor struggling to survive the sea, deadly storms, and himself.
29. Stories We Tell: One of the most unique documentaries of recent years in which filmmaker Sarah Polley digs into her complex family history with heartbreaking and heartfelt results.
30. Mud: Matthew McConaughey gives another great performance while young Tye Sheridan gives a breakout performance in Jeff Nichols’ wise movie about growing up.
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, 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 Movies 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 finale, 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 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, Nina begins to lose 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 about a man confronted with the options of amputation or death can be. 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 Movies of 2009
1. Inglourious Basterds
4. 500 Days of Summer
5. The Hurt Locker
6. The Princess and the Frog
7. Up in the Air
8. Star Trek
9. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
10. The Hangover
The Blind Side
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Where the Wild Things Are
In the Loop
The Worst Movies of 2009
1. Year One
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
3. I Love You Beth Cooper
4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
5. The Ugly Truth
6. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
7. Land of the Lost
8. Terminator: Salvation
9. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
10. Saw VI
The Best Movies of 2008
1. The Dark Knight
2. Slumdog Millionaire
3. In Bruges
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
10. Man on Wire
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Rachel Getting Married
The Worst Movies of 2008
1. Funny Games
2. Disaster Movie
3. Meet the Spartans
4. The Hottie and the Nottie
5. The Love Guru
6. College Road Trip
7. The Happening
8. 10,000 B.C.
9. What Happens in Vegas
10. Speed Racer
The Best Movies of 2007
3. No Country For Old Men
5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
7. The Simpsons Movie
9. 3: 10 to Yuma
10. Gone Baby Gone
Live Free or Die Hard
There Will Be Blood
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Bridge to Terabithia
The Worst Movies of 2007
1. Daddy Day Camp
2. I Know Who Killed Me
4. Good Luck Chuck
6. Georgia Rule
7. Are We Done Yet?
8. The Brothers Solomon
10. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
The Best Movies of 2006
1. Pan's Labyrinth
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Little Children
4. The Departed
5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
6. United 93
8. Monster House
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest
10. Akeelah and the Bee
Thank You For Smoking
Notes on a Scandal
The Devil Wears Prada
Mission Impossible III
The Worst Movies of 2006
2. Basic Instinct 2
3. The Hills Have Eyes
4. Little Man
5. Running with Scissors
6. The Benchwarmers
7. You, Me and Dupree
8. The Grudge 2
9. The Wicker Man
10. When a Stranger Calls