Dravorite Movie of the Year
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Picking a Dravorite this year was an extremely difficult decision. More difficult than any other year since I started doing these yearly movie summaries. I had a hard time even narrowing it down to a dozen. In the end, I went with Beasts of the Southern Wild because no other movie made me feel like this one did. In a year of amazing movies, this one made me feel amazing in a completely new way. As I said when I first saw this, I left the theater feeling like my skin was too small for my soul. Part fairy tale, part hero’s journey, part coming-of-age story, part poetry, part dream, part doom, and it all comes spilling out of the heart of one of the most phenomenal child actors Hollywood has ever seen. It’s raw and rare and full of heart and hope and sadness and song and peace and pain. In the immortal words of our tiny protagonist, who knows this story needs to be saved and told, “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know… Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”
The Grey – Better known as “That movie where Liam Neeson punches a wolf?” I don’t really know how else Hollywood could have marketed it, though. The wolves aren’t important. They’re mostly a metaphor. The meat of the story is about loneliness, masculinity, faith, and death. This film is ruthless. This is the kind of movie that gets lodged in your psyche like a pebble stuck in the sole of a boot, and wakes you up in the middle of the night two months later. I would recommend it to absolutely everybody, but I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever be able to handle watching it again.
The Hunger Games – This is 2012′s first in a truly impressive string of fantastic novel adaptations. I seriously must have watched the trailer thirty times, and every single time I got choked up hearing Katniss scream “I volunteer!” Harry Potter aside, YA fantasy and science fiction stories have not fared well in the transition to the big screen, but this one got everything right and then some.
The Raid: Redemption – There were two action movies this year with identical elevator pitches. “Some cops fight their way to the top of an apartment building!” This is the first one, and it contains some of the most jaw-dropping, wince-inducing, ass-kicking martial arts sequences I’ve ever seen.
Cabin in the Woods – Joss Whedon produced this wildly creative and entertaining horror movie about how terrible horror movies are, and why we should feel terrible about encouraging them. It takes a sure hand to deliberately exploit every cliche in the book, and still make things feel inventive.
The Avengers – Just about every comic book geek has memories of lying on their bed as a child, comic spread open in front of them, looking at a double splash page of some gigantic battle, eyes darting around the page, trying to take in every detail at once, mind buzzing with joy and wonder. This is the movie that finally bottled that feeling and put it up on the big screen, and the whole world said “Oh! I GET IT NOW!”
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s most accessible and most adorable film to date. I think what makes it work so well is that it recognizes how simultaneously serious and silly the adventures of childhood are, and it gives these kids the respect they deserve. I haven’t been so thoroughly charmed by a film since Amelie.
Brave – Hardly anybody I know saw this, but I think its importance will be appreciated later. It’s basically a giant “You’re doing it wrong!” aimed squarely at the Disney Princess trope. It dares to suggest that winning a husband is not the most important thing that can happen to a young girl. It also accepts that the bond between a mother and daughter is complex and frustrating, and a worthy subject for a film. My favorite Pixar flick not directed by Brad Bird.
Safety Not Guaranteed – If you ever want to twee yourself into an adorable coma, watch this back to back with Moonrise Kingdom. It’s weird and sweet and hilarious in a gentle way. I’m pretty sure this movie was inspired by the Missed Connections section of Craigslist.
The Dark Knight Rises – This movie rounds out Nolan’s Batman trilogy into a complex and disturbing thesis on how dangerous the idea of heroes can be. This movie grabs America by the collar and shakes it violently, trying to get us to wake up and see how dangerous it is to allow an environment of anger, frustration, fear, and helplessness to reach the level it has.
Ruby Sparks – This deeply unsettling movie takes an unflinching look at the casual misogyny of the male gaze, and tries to put a bullet in the brain of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. So, naturally the trailers make it look like a lighthearted romantic comedy. Most romantic comedies don’t work so hard to make you despise the hero by the end.
ParaNorman – Laika is a studio full of mad geniuses who do work unlike any other company in the world, with a level of devotion and detail that blows my mind. Who else would take a zombie horror comedy and turn it into one of the most moving “It gets better!” videos of all time? The entire last act of this film gave me goosebumps.
Lawless – Speaking of mad geniuses, Tom Hardy is quickly establishing himself as one of the most interesting actors around. The real life bootlegger he plays here is just as legendary in his own way as Bane, but I would never in a million years have recognized them as being played by the same person. He prowls through this movie like an angry panther.
Killer Joe – I take back every unkind thought I’ve ever had about Matthew McConaughey. He is absolutely the real deal, and I’m amazed it took Hollywood so long to figure out how best to use him. He is so icky in this movie that I bet his romantic comedy card has been revoked. If he dares to appear in another, nobody will be able to watch it without thinking “Oh god, that chicken bone…”
Searching for Sugar Man – It’s not often a documentary makes it this high on my list, because reality is not why I go to the movies, but damned if this isn’t one of the most fascinating stories on the screen this year. It’s so amazing and unlikely that you wouldn’t believe it was true if the evidence wasn’t easily available on line. Watching this really brings home just how much the internet has completely changed the way the world works.
Samsara – I’d bill it as this year’s Tree of Life, except it succeeds in every way Tree of Life fails, despite not even the pretense of a literal narrative. This is the kind of thing we should be putting on any probes we launch into outer space, because I can’t imagine a more worthy snapshot of Earth to send to any celestial neighbors we may encounter.
Dredd – This is the other entry in the “Some cops fight their way to the top of an apartment building!” genre, and it’s very different, but just as good. This movie should be required viewing for any studio executive who can’t figure out how to adapt a comic book without mangling it. In terms of doing justice to the source material, this movie rivals Sin City.
Looper – This is the movie that came closest to taking the top spot on my list, and it would have been Rian Johnson’s second film to do so. That is not something to be taken lightly. This ripping time travel yarn lit my brain on fire in a way only the best science fiction can manage.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I was skeptical of the idea of an author directing the movie of his own book, but here it paid off in a big way. I haven’t seen something that reminded me so much of my own high school experience since My So-Called Life. Every character in this movie reminded me of somebody I knew in high school, and it created, if not actual nostalgia, at least a yearning to reconnect with some of those people.
Cloud Atlas – Yet another novel-to-film adaptation that knocks it out of the park. I read this over the summer, and I would have bet money against the possibility of it working as a movie. I am happy to be wrong. A staggering work of fearless ambition and wonder, the likes of which are seldom even attempted, much less achieved.
Skyfall – Is this the best James Bond movie ever made? I say yes. It’s certainly the most beautiful. It takes everything that used to work about the franchise, takes it apart, shows us why it stopped working, and then puts it back together so that it works again. Congratulations, Bond! You’ve just been field-stripped by a master craftsman.
Life of Pi – And the roaring literary successes just keep coming! After decades of completely mangling my favorite books, I have no idea why Hollywood is suddenly getting so many of them exactly right. Is this the karmic payoff for the existence of Adam Sandler comedies? I guess I can live with that.
Lincoln – It’s a rare filmmaker who can tell a story you already know from beginning to end, and still keep you on the edge of your seat in the last act. A complex portrait of one of America’s most fascinating historical figures. Daniel Day-Lewis is such a sure thing, I think the Oscar prediction ballots should already have Best Actor marked.
Anna Karenina – “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This movie takes that idea and runs with it, to great effect. It imagines Russian high society as a literal and figurative stage, and then goes absolutely bonkers with the metaphor. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence act circles around everybody else in the movie, and when your movie contains Robert De Niro, that’s saying something. A prickly but satisfying story about two slightly broken people who realize how much they need each other.
Django Unchained – Finally, Quentin Tarantino has made a movie I like even more than Pulp Fiction. Part spaghetti Western, part grindhouse revenge thriller, all entertaining. Bloody, shocking, hilarious, thought-provoking, and more fun than should probably be legal. There is nothing quite like Tarantino at his best, and this is definitely his best.
Haywire – In a lot of ways, this is the anti-Bond espionage flick. Steven Soderbergh strips the spy genre down to its barest essentials, creating a lean and meaty story without an ounce of fat. This is pure, primal storytelling, without any of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect. No flashy editing, no special effects to speak of, and even the sound effects are muted compared to what we’ve come to expect. It’s almost disorienting.
Chronicle – As tired as people are getting of the “found footage” style of movie, I suspected there were a few more gems to be mined from that vein, and this year proved me right. Despite the superpowers, this movie is a painfully honest exploration of the pain and rage of being a teenager. Pay special attention to the camera work.
John Carter – I don’t know what heck is wrong with people. This movie is great! It is crafted of the finest pulp adventure cheese, and I had a whole heap of fun watching it. It’s silly, epic, beautiful, imaginative, and it made me feel like a little kid again. Give it a chance!
Jeff, Who Lives At Home – A strange and sweet movie about a clueless pothead, his long-suffering mother, his uptight brother, and the really odd day they share. It reminds me somewhat of LA Story, although they have almost no similarities beyond a slight whiff of destiny.
Mirror Mirror – I can’t believe how good this ended up being. It belongs on the same shelf with The Princess Bride and Stardust. It’s wildly inventive, shamelessly feminist re-imagining of the Snow White story. 2012 was a fantastic year for princesses.
Safe – Jason Statham is kind of like Nicolas Cage in that I am always really entertained by him, but I kind of expect every movie he’s in to be crap. This was a pleasant surprise. I knew I was in for something different when his cornered bad-ass character busted out the usual shocking burst of violence, and immediately vomited after it was finished.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re the kind of person who hears this title and thinks “I want to see that!” then you should probably see it. It’s refreshingly unpretentious, ridiculously entertaining, and surprisingly lacking in irony!
The Amazing Spider-Man – Nobody believes me when I tell them that this movie is better than the first Sam Raimi Spider-man movie. Feel free to blame Hollywood for greenlighting this reboot way too soon, but don’t blame the movie, because it’s freaking great. Better Peter, better Spidey, better love interest, better villain, better web-slinging. It’s just better.
To Rome With Love – The latest in Woody Allen’s collection of love letters to specific cities. An ensemble cast of interlocking characters who are all entertaining and interesting, with just a dash of surreal magic. It’s not quite as good as Midnight in Paris, but it’s a close second.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – This is a lot like Melancholia, except with characters you can relate to. Who behave like actual people. And it will make you think about regret, human connection, family, and love. And it’s really funny. And despite the sadness of the ending, you might actually leave the theater feeling pretty good about humanity. It’s the Love Actually of apocalypse films.
Hope Springs – I haven’t seen very many movies that deal with the later years of a loving marriage. This is a sweet and serious film about an old couple trying to rediscover the passion of their relationship. It has some of the least sexy, yet most honest sexual content I’ve seen in a movie.
Premium Rush – For my birthday this year, the universe gave me an unbelievably entertaining bicycle movie. It’s kind of like a cross between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a Roadrunner cartoon. See the insane cop try and steal Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s MacGuffin! Marvel at the fun and inventive bike stunts!
Robot and Frank – This is one of those movies that sounds like a bad joke when you hear the concept. An aging burglar is given a robot caretaker, and he talks the robot into helping him steal jewels. Most surreal buddy caper movie ever? Possibly. Funny and sad.
Celeste and Jesse Forever – A surprisingly complicated and mature look at the dissolution of a loving relationship. This movie is great because it doesn’t make either one the bad guy, but it also doesn’t let either one off easy. It’s messy and realistic, and sometimes painful to watch.
End of Watch – The year’s other found footage gem, which follows the daily life of two police officers who are partners and best friends. It’s like the world’s most intense episode of Cops. The action sequences are brutally realistic. The main think to take away from this movie is that you can be kind of an asshole and still be a hero deserving of respect.
Argo – Another “I can’t believe this actually happened!” movie. This is a true story about one of the dumbest ideas ever to succeed in saving lives. I still can’t believe how solid a director Ben Affleck turned out to be. He just keeps making these gritty, tense, fantastic movies. This one is a real nail-biter.
Seven Psychopaths – This mind-bending meta action movie about how dumb action movies are is one of the funniest things I saw all year, and it makes me sad that comedic performances rarely get recognized at the Oscars. Unpredictable, entertaining, and flat out hilarious.
Wreck-It Ralph – I can’t believe it took this long for somebody to make a movie that finally gets video games. I mean, it’s not about a real video game, but it might as well be. Don’t let the cutesy character fool you, this movie is aimed squarely at people my age, although the kids will love it as well.
Flight – An extremely compelling look at a wretched mess of a human being who managed to do one incredible thing that will never bring him peace or pride. I didn’t realize until I started working on this just how many movies this year involve the deconstruction of the idea of heroism.
A Royal Affair – A steamy affair movie about the sexiness of social reform. I like it because the lines of right and wrong aren’t as clearly drawn as they usually are in a movie about infidelity. The king is unpleasant enough that you see why his wife would stray, but not so much enough of a monster that it feels unquestionably justified.
Holy Motors – Good lord, this is a weird movie. I’ve never enjoyed a movie so much without understanding it at all. I feel like I need to see it six or seven more times before I really get what’s going on, but even if you treat the main character’s lives/performances as a series of unconnected vignettes, it’s pretty damned compelling.
Les Miserables – I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, because I don’t really know all that much about the musical, but I got really caught up in the tale. The on-set singing gives the story shocking intimacy, and Anne Hathaway’s big number might be the finest cinematic moment of the year.
Promised Land – Based on the trailers and my knowledge of Matt Damon’s anti-fracking stance, I expected something very different from what I got. I was surprised at how sympathetic all the characters are. The natural gas reps are not vile monsters. They are honest and likable people doing a job they believe is necessary, and it’s hard to fault them.
Good, Solid Movies
The Iron Lady – I liked this when I saw it, but I’m having trouble calling up any real feelings about it. I remember feeling like it glossed over a lot of important details, and that it was more interested in provoking a response than telling a story. Still, Streep is absolutely amazing.
The Borrower Arrietty – Easily Studio Ghibli’s weakest film, but still pretty charming. Cute, inoffensive, not particularly ambitious. I feel like even Disney didn’t care too much about this one, which is sad because better dubbing might have lifted it up a tier. Still worth seeing, though.
21 Jump Street – This is an ironic remake of a show I’ve never cared about, starring two actors I actively dislike, and yet I really enjoyed it. I can’t believe how hard it made me laugh, and I can’t believe it managed to be more intelligent and honest about high school than most of the actual high school movies I’ve seen recently.
Pirates: Band of Misfits – I saw this the same day I saw The Avengers, which may have been a bit unfair in retrospect. Again, this is Aardman Animation’s weakest effort, but it’s still pretty damned good. Lovely pro-intellectualism message, despite the studio dumbing down the title.
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – There are a lot of fine actors in this movie about self-discovery during old age, but really I think of the whole thing as a staging area for Bill Nighy and Dev Patel’s epic competition for who can be the most ludicrously charming and likable. I’m told it gets a few things really wrong about India, but I still liked it.
Men in Black 3 – Much better than the second one. This movie’s overall quality is average, but it has two tremendous things going for it. The first is Josh Brolin’s hilariously spot-on performance as a young Tommy Lee Jones. He embodies the character so effortlessly that it perfectly reproduces the chemistry Will Smith has with Jones. The other thing is Griffin, who is one of my favorite characters of the entire year.
Prometheus – Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel started out higher on this list, but the further I got from the actual experience, the less forgiving I became of the movie’s many faults. It’s one of the most beautiful and imaginative movies I’ve ever seen, but it makes no goddamned sense, and not a single character has a believable motivation for any action they take. Probably the year’s biggest disappointment, but still worth seeing.
Savages – I would have placed this one higher if it wasn’t for the sheer WTF-ness of the ending. I’d talk more about it, but it’s too big a spoiler. If you see it, try stopping at what feels like the natural end point. Also notable for its realistic depiction of a poly-amorous relationship, which I have to admit is pretty unusual in a mainstream movie.
Total Recall – I’m unusual in that I have no real love for the original version of this movie. I don’t think it’s particularly good. I don’t think it holds up well at all. I have no idea why everybody loves it so much. I found this version to be much more interesting, if not exactly a masterpiece. It’s just as silly, but it’s silly in different ways. Man, does it ever have some cool gadgets, though.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green – If there were an Oscar for Best Use of Leaves in a Film, this movie would win it for sure. It’s a little stilted and clunky in places, but the fairy tale vibe won me over in the end. Absolutely no surprises, but still solid storytelling.
The Master – I wanted to like this one more than I did, because the acting is so phenomenal, but I just didn’t find the movie even remotely accessible. Why does it so clearly echo Scientology, but not have anything to say about it? Who are we meant to be rooting for here? I don’t always love Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies, but I do always find them interesting. I wish I liked this one more.
Frankenweenie – After a string of really uneven work, it’s nice to see Tim Burton do something that reminds us of why we used to love him so much, even if he had to mine the depths of his past to do so. I do really like this movie, but I feel like other people are ranking it higher than it deserves just because they are so relieved that it’s good.
The Sessions – The fun thing about doing this list is noticing odd little trends you would never have noticed, like Unsexy Movies About Sex. This movie about a polio-ravaged man trying to experience sex for the first time is pretty much the trump card in the game of “Oh, You Think Your Life is Rough?”
Smashed – What happens to two alcoholics when one sobers up and the other doesn’t? This film happens. It’s an uncomfortable and realistic look at alcoholism. It’s not always fun to watch, but I can think of a lot of people that really should watch it.
Rise of the Guardians – A dark and interesting fable about childhood. It really should have been higher, but the whole thing is weighed down a little bit by a few choice moments of pandering to family movie expectations. They stick out like a focus-grouped sore thumb, and prevent me from being as enthusiastic as I’d like to be.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – This movie did the same thing Prometheus did, but it did it a lot more quickly. I loved the heck out of it while I was in the theater, but almost as soon as I left, the disappointment and frustration started to sink in. There are many moments of true wonder that shine as brilliantly as anything in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but there is just so much that doesn’t quite work, and that doesn’t need to be there. This did not need to become a trilogy, no matter what Peter Jackson tells himself. I don’t think it really even needed to be two movies. I’m hoping that after all three are out, somebody does some pruning and crafts one four hour masterpiece.
Fairly Decent Movies
Wanderlust – I had to look this one up. I completely forgot it existed. It’s about a high-strung New York couple who briefly get caught up in commune. I don’t really remember anything about it, except that the commune had a lot of really entertaining characters, like Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls turned up to eleven.
The Three Stooges – The fact that this is even remotely watchable is kind of a miracle. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Stooges, but for better or for worse, this movie is exactly like what I remember. Maybe some of the toilet humor is a tad excessive compared to what they would have attempted, but everything else feels in line with their legacy.
Ted – I had high hopes when this movie opened with Patrick Stewart doing a hilarious parody of the kind of Wonder Years narration so common in the sort of films this movie is mocking, and the concept of a crude and offensive teddy bear carries the movie pretty far, but I felt like the ending was a bit of a cop-out. Actually, the special effects are the biggest reason to see this movie. Damned near flawless integration of CG and real life.
The Bourne Legacy – This movie would be up a floor if it just hadn’t pretended to be a Jason Bourne movie. It’s got nothing to do with the previous movies, but it works really hard to make you think it does. Characters drop his name at every opportunity, to the point where it becomes laughable. It knocked me right out of the movie. Except for that, it’s pretty good, and the two leads have excellent chemistry.
Cosmopolis – Another of the year’s weirdest films. The entire plot of the movie is “Robert Pattinson rides around in a limo, trying to get to the barber shop to get his hair cut.” Every single person in this movie is deeply weird, and nobody talks like a real person, but at least I am now convinced that Pattinson is a fantastic actor, and I can’t blame him for any part of Twilight.
The Inbetweeners – I guess this is based on a British show, but I’ve never seen it. To me, it comes off as basically the UK equivalent of American Pie. The most interesting thing about a movie like this which is clearly intended to push boundaries in the same way American Pie did is comparing the different boundaries that are being pushed.
Pitch Perfect – Basically, it’s Bring It On, but with a cappella instead of cheerleading. I am a sucker for a cappella, and I’m glad this movie made it to theaters, despite how uneven it is. If the creators only had the confidence to let the story stand on its own instead of resorting to cheap, gross-out humor, this could have been a masterpiece. Anna Kendrick can sure carry a comedy, though!
Jack Reacher – The weirdest thing about this movie is how obviously miscast it is. Tom Cruise may be completely insane, but he knows what he is doing when it comes to acting, and that works against this movie. It’s almost like you watch him and your brain processes his performance as a giant, gruff, unpleasant beast of a man, but your eyes and ears still see the charming elf that Cruise actually is. I left the theater with a headache, but the movie itself isn’t bad.
Hitchcock – I feel like this movie was really good, but I can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm about it for some some reason. I like a lot of things about it, but it just didn’t sink in. I might give it another chance on Netflix.
Barely Enjoyable Movies
Safe House – This is another movie that just bounced right off me. I remember it was about a rogue spy and a rookie spy, and there was some kind of MacGuffin. I remember liking it. I vaguely remember being impressed that the rookie actually came off as competent, which is pretty rare. I can’t for the life of me picture a single scene of the movie, though.
Dark Shadows – It’s painful to see Tim Burton make such a bland movie. I want them all to be masterpieces or colossal train wrecks. I don’t want to walk out of the theater thinking “Eh.” I’ve never seen the original show, so I can’t say if it is a worthy remake. I’m starting to think Johnny Depp should get a restraining order against Tim Burton, despite how many of their collaborations I have previously enjoyed.
The Campaign – My first thought was “This was a really bad movie to see right after Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” My second thought was “This is a comedy sketch that didn’t need to be a whole movie.” My third thought was “How the HELL did they get Brian Cox to be in this?”
Iron Sky – This is a thunderously terrible movie that also happens to be fairly entertaining, but not quite entertaining enough to be ranked higher on my list. I mean, you’ve got an invasion of moon Nazis! Conceptually, this should be on par with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it’s just not quite there. I’m not used to being this ambivalent about a movie this ridiculous.
Taken 2 – My theory is that Liam Neeson really phoned this one in because he was saving up all his awesome for The Grey. I absolutely loved the first Taken, and this movie, while not a complete failure, is a tepid imitation. I was more interested in the architecture than the actual story, and that’s a little sad, because I love me some movies about the anger of a gentle man.
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2 – Holy cheese and crackers. I agonized for a long while about where to put this one. I’m still not entirely sure I made the right choice. I mean, this is a spectacularly terrible movie. Truly spectacular. It’s also more entertaining than all the other four combined. It’s almost entertaining enough to ironically make the top tier, but I just can’t give it that much credit. My favorite thing about this movie is that I honestly can’t tell if the director is making fun of the book or not. That, and Bella hunting in a cocktail dress.
This Is 40 – The thing about Judd Apatow that I don’t get is that he really seems to think this movie embodies a universal experience we all can relate to, and it’s just not true. There is a very tiny portion of America that will see themselves anywhere in this movie. It probably blew their minds. For the rest of the world, it misses far more often than it hits, but the hits are fairly solid.
Hyde Park on Hudson – This movie is kind of like the opposite of A Royal Affair. They both deal with infidelity among powerful people, but one is a spicy dark chocolate caramel, and the other is a lump of soggy white bread. Bill Murray exhibits heroic effort, but even he can’t wake this movie up.
Not Quite Enjoyable Movies
Wrath of the Titans – The true wonder of this movie is how it manages to be so epic and so boring at the same time. Solid cast, amazing special effects, gods and monsters being slaughtered right and left, and I couldn’t care less about a single thing that was happening. I left the theater exhausted, and aching for a double feature of Percy Jackson and The Immortals.
The Raven – Oh, John Cusack, you are so good and this is so bad. You deserve better than terrible historical fanfiction. The mystery is boring and obvious, the ending is completely predictable, and this movie has the rare distinction of being the first and only movie to actively annoy me with its ending credits. This movie’s only real value is as a test of devotion to your love of Cusack.
The Dictator – You never know what you’re going to get with Sacha Baron Cohen, and I respect that about him. The opening dedication made me laugh loud enough to startle myself. And that’s about it. Like all of his movies, it’s deliberately offensive. Unlike his other movies, it isn’t clever, funny, or shocking. Parts of it are so unpleasant that they make the sentimental bits actually feel creepy. It does make a few jabs at American culture, but they are so feeble and predictable that I can’t believe they came from the same person who made Borat.
The Watch – Ugh. This alien invasion “comedy” didn’t even manage to live up to my utter lack of expectation. In ninety minutes of movie, I think I laughed out loud twice. That is not acceptable. Also, there is only one even slightly sympathetic character, and she’s barely in the movie at all. If you find yourself considering watching this movie, put it out of your mind and watch Attack the Block instead.
The Words – I’ve never seen a movie done so much damage by its ill-conceived narrative framing device. I’ve also never seen a movie more obviously in need of a twist ending. The idea of somebody taking credit for and publishing a found manuscript is an interesting one, and it could have gone in any number of fascinating ways. Instead, it goes nowhere.
Alex Cross – This movie is so bland and forgettable, I can’t even think of a clever way to be mean about it. Boring story, boring acting, boring editing, boring cinematography, boring action sequences. This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking at its most basic level. Matthew Fox is interesting as the villain, but he can’t quite manage to struggle free from the movie’s mire.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away – I think the main problem with taking various performances pieces from Cirque du Soleil and framing them as a sort of movie is that the whole thing that makes Cirque du Soleil magical is how grounded in reality the acrobatics are. Yes, they are dreamlike and surreal and even cinematic, but you really have to be there. Things happen here that would take my breath away if I saw them in person, and I could barely stay awake through this movie. And it’s not even ninety minutes long.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – You know a movie has gone deeply, deeply wrong when Nicolas Cage is the sanest part of the whole thing. I’m not even kidding. Every single thing about this movie is completely bonkers, and it somehow manages to not even be remotely entertaining. That’s a pretty neat trick, in a way.
Lockout – This movie is so incredibly stupid that it defies the laws of time and space. I don’t know how an hour and a half long movie can contain three hours of stupidity, but this one does. I feel like it only exists because one of Luc Besson’s friends overheard him say “Prison spaceship riot!” and decided to use that as the entire script and storyboard for a movie.
Snow White and the Huntsman – The more I think about this movie, the more it frustrates me. It is strewn with the seeds of a fascinating story, but nobody waters the seeds. With the right director, and less interference from the studios, I suspect something magical could have sprouted. I ache for the version of this movie that could have been. As much of a mess as we have here, I can still see that movie without a telescope, and that’s what makes me so angry. This didn’t have to be terrible. Well, at least I still have Mirror Mirror.
Rock of Ages – Give credit to Tom Cruise. He single-handedly saved this movie from earning my worst of the year award. This movie’s painful cliches, awkward staging, horrible costumes, and criminally wretched mash-ups had my mind made up. And then Tom Cruise appeared. Holy freaking crap, is he ever amazing in this movie. Every second of his performance temporarily elevates Rock of Ages into the sublime. The fact that I feel this way about his performance and still put the movie in my bottom tier should really be an indication of just how awful the rest of it is.
Step Up Revolution – This isn’t a movie. This is a series of YouTube clips with delusions of grandeur. The movie knows it, too, considering how prominently YouTube features in the plot. It’s kind of like a porno, but with dancing instead of sex. I’ve never wished so strongly for a fastforward button while sitting in a theater.
The Expendables 2 – Ugh. The first one of these was pretty entertaining, but it’s really a one joke film, and this movie is like somebody who just heard the joke for the first time after everybody else has already gotten sick of it, and is now wandering around the party telling it to anybody who will listen. Both the action sequences and the one-liners in this sequel are so bad, they border on surreal. I love you, Stallone, but please stop. Please.
The Cold Light of Day – So many spy movies this year. This is easily the worst. Bruce Willis shows up for a few minutes, and then it feels like a real movie for a little while, but then he gets killed and it turns back into a poorly written, badly edited, derivative, unimaginative, and annoying mess of a movie.
Resident Evil: Retribution – Who is Paul W.S. Anderson even making these for at this point? Are there tax shenanigans in play? Is he becoming the new Uwe Boll? Or has he simply become so obsessed with Milla Jovovich that he has crawled up his own ass in pursuit of fetishizing her? Either way “bondage girl kills things” is not a plot, no matter how many men pretend otherwise.
The Man With the Iron Fists – I feel bad for this movie, and I feel bad for RZA. I know he loves kung fu. I’m happy that somebody decided to give him money to make a cheesy kung fu movie. I imagine it’s painful to fail so completely while trying to craft a labor of love. Like spending days writing a sonnet for a woman you love, only to have her not only laugh in your face, but completely dismantle it line by line and post the results on her Facebook page.
Red Dawn – There’s a point fairly early in this movie where the insurgents walk into a Subway restaurant looking for food and ask the guy behind the cashier to fill a garbage bag with food. They actually refer to him as a Sandwich Artist. That was the point when this movie officially lost me. The rest of my memory of this film is nothing but a blur of macho cliches and laughable product placement.
Show Me On the Doll Where the Movie Touched You
Battleship – Why? Dear god in heaven, WHY does this movie exist? I admit I share part of the blame, because I saw all three Transformers movies. To my shame, I have participated in a culture that has now earned the putrid distinction of holding up Michael Bay as an example of something to aspire to. Peter Berg is now officially Darth Vader to Michael Bay’s Obi Wan Kenobi. He was the student, and now he has become the master. Bay likes to bring his military fetish to the party? Berg gives us a legless veteran punching an alien in the face. Bay likes to poke fun at nerds? Berg actually makes science the villain. Bay tries to get us to relate to Sam by having him use Ebay? Berg has his hero drunkenly reenact a real convenience store robbery from YouTube. And on top of all this, the “invading aliens” in the movie aren’t even a threat until our hero BroFist McBeerPong starts an interplanetary incident. They are clearly a military-funded scientific expedition, and at no point do they do anything remotely threatening without first being fired upon. This movie is so bad, so stupid, so terrible, so pointless, and so absolutely WRONG that it couldn’t have happened by accident. We are being punked. There is some kind of long con at play, and I am terrified to experience its culmination.
Dravorite Movies of the Year
Super 8 – Oh, JJ Abrams, did you make this movie just for me? A delightful and loving tribute to pretty much all of my favorite movies from when I was a kid. It’s a little bit ET, a little bit Goonies, a little bit Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even a little bit Jaws. I loved every second of this film, from the Spielberg camera angles to the lens flare to the swelling emotional climax music. I loved a whole lot of movies this year, but this one did something really special. There is a thing that many cartoonists do, where they have one of their main characters experience something, and the visual shorthand they use to express it is to have the character turn into a little kid in the last panel? Well, that’s exactly what this amazing movie did to me.
Rabbit Hole – One of the best films I’ve ever seen about dealing with loss. Sometimes the person you love most in the world is so deeply linked to your pain that they are incapable of helping you, and you need to seek comfort in unexpected places.
Rango – How did this movie even get made? It’s so deeply, deliciously, dementedly weird, and it contains some of the most adorably ugly varmints ever put on film. How can a movie be so many things at once? It’s a silly talking animal cartoon, an excuse for Johnny Depp to go insane, a meditation on life and death and purpose, filled with metaphor and philosophy, and, oh, it’s also a fairly serious Western.
The Adjustment Bureau – I need to steal a quote from MaryAnn Johanson for this; “If Frank Capra made The Matrix, it would be The Adjustment Bureau.” Who are the shadowy, well-dressed men trying to run the universe? Are they angels, demons, or simply bureaucrats? Loosely based on a Philip K Dick story, which is probably the best way to be based on a Philip K Dick story if you are a film.
Battle: Los Angeles – Sometimes the world reacts to a certain film in a certain way, and I Just Don’t Get It. This is the one of those at the top of my list. There is another at the bottom. This movie has been in most of the Worst of the Year lists I have seen so far, and I thought it was brilliant. Take your standard alien invasion movie, but shoot it like a gritty war movie, and make the whole thing a biting commentary on our foreign policy, yet unquestionably in praise of the heroism of soldiers. Seems like a formula for success to me. The rest of America says no, I say yes.
Paul – Crudely funny, but also inherently sweet. This alien road trip movie surprised me by playing it relatively straight as a road trip buddy movie, where one of the geeky guys just happens to be an alien. I mean, he’s a pretty regular dude, which made me happy. Also the most nerdy references I’ve ever seen outside of a Kevin Smith film.
Meek’s Cutoff – This movie is somewhere halfway between being a western and a silent film. Haunting, tense, atmospheric, and unforgettable. Plus, it’s about a family on the Oregon Trail, so I suppose you could say it’s the best video game to film adaptation ever made.
Kung Fu Panda 2 – I actually liked this one slightly more than the first, and I loved the first. A lot of people called this one more of the same, but I felt like it had more meaning, plus a surprisingly mature thesis on adoption and identity.
X-men: First Class – Finally, another excellent movie in the X-men universe! This movie swaggers and slinks across the screen like some kind of lost James Bond flick. It cleverly integrates comic book history with real world history, has superhero fights that are somehow more comic-book-ish and more realistic than what we have seen before, and just manages to be a rip-roaring good time all around.
Midnight in Paris – Who would have thought Woody Allen would make one of my favorite fantasy films of the year? Not me. I’ve been tremendously disappointed by everything he’s done recently, but I adore this time-traveling parable about romanticizing the past.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Good lord, but they knocked the finale of this franchise out of the park. This movie is the fulfillment of a decade long promise that began when the first movie came out. There is so much absolutely sublime about this movie that I can’t even remember what my minor complaints were.
Captain America – The best comic book movie since Iron Man. It’s so good it gives me new appreciation for Captain America as a character. He has mostly been one of my least favorite of Marvel’s main lineup, but no longer. Also, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull is absolute genius casting.
Friends With Benefits – I ranked this movie so highly because so many movies of this type get everything so wrong. It’s a sexy comedy that is actually respectful of all of its characters, who aren’t needlessly humiliated, and all behave like actual people. I never thought I’d say this, but Justin Timberlake has really been impressing me as an actor lately.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – If you had told me a year ago that any movie in the Planet of the Apes franchise would ever make it to my top ten for a year, I probably would have punched you in the face. Against all odds, this is possibly the best ape movie ever made, and may be the film that finally legitimizes motion capture as a performance category.
Point Blank (À bout portant) – If two points define a line, maybe two movies can define a genre? This, plus Johnny Depp’s often overlooked Nick of Time, define a genre which I call the Hostage Coercion Thriller. A good man’s loved one is kidnapped, and he is forced to do bad things. This one has all the ingredients you would expect from an American film of the same type, but the director cooked up a different dish.
Drive – Man, did this movie come out of nowhere. I mean, I’d been seeing the trailers for it, but they basically made it look like an admittedly promising entry in the genre that I just think of as Statham these days. The actual movie is something much deeper, darker, and weirder. It defies genre. It cements Ryan Gosling as one of the most talented actors working in Hollywood right now. You should probably see it.
Martha Marcy May Marlene – One of the strongest stories I have ever seen about being a victim. Very believably depicts how a dominant personality can systematically erase a person and build them into something else, and how difficult that damage is to recover from, even if you escape the source of the damage. Deeply unsettling, and will not soon leave your mind.
Arthur Christmas – Aardman Animations only makes things I love, so I don’t know why I was surprised that this turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas movies of all times. This is the movie to show people who need to be reminded why they love the holidays.
The Descendants – If you saw Sideways, then you probably already want to see this. Alexander Payne tells honest and human stories that can be summed up in a single sentence, but that stick with you for weeks and weeks. Stories about loss, and frailty, and the need for human connection. This one is just as good as everyone is saying.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Once again, Brad Bird shows us how it’s done. His first live action film is the best of the franchise, and one of the best flat-out summer action blockbusters to hit theaters in years. Not even the world’s collective dislike of Tom Cruise can spoil this. See it on the biggest screen you can find.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Unpopular though this opinion may be, I’m going to have to say I liked this one just a tiny bit better than the Swedish version. They are almost identical in quality, if not in execution, but I do think Rooney Mara does a better job of portraying the titular character, and that tips the scales in this version’s favor.
The Artist – No disrespect to Scorsese, but for my money, this film is the silent film love letter to beat. A silent film about the transition between silent films and talkies. Not a step out of place, and bursting with love, humor, sadness, and poignancy. The few moments where it breaks its own fourth wall are so startling, so effective, they will give you the shivers.
The Swell Season – A documentary about two people falling out of love, with a world concert tour as the backdrop. Can romance survive sudden fame? How about love? This movie made me cry more than any other documentary I’ve seen. It also really made me want to hug Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
Blue Valentine – I think this is technically a 2010 movie that I didn’t get to see until 2011, but I’m still going to count it towards Ryan Gosling’s awesomeness of this year. The thing that most movies about break-ups get wrong is they have to make someone the bad guy. This one, neither party is really at fault. Things just don’t work out. Kind of like real life.
Somewhere – Another one that I can see a lot of people really disliking, because the pacing is very languid and it makes you pay more attention than usual to see what it is trying to say. A movie about an actor sleepwalking through life, until his daughter gets dropped on his doorstep, and color slowly seeps back into his world.
Drive Angry – There are a lot of different ways for movies to be great. Not all of them involve quality. (See the entire grindhouse genre!) I have a well-known soft spot for Nicolas Cage in terrible movies, and this is one of his most spectacular. Even if a movie doesn’t aim high, it should still be commended for hitting the target dead on.
Source Code – What if Quantum Leap and Philip K Dick had a baby? That would be this movie. A lot of people were trashing it because of the unanswered moral implications of the ending, whereas I thought the unanswered moral implications of the ending were what made it so interesting. If it had ended a few minutes earlier, during a certain kiss, I think this would be on everybody’s top ten list.
Thor – Whenever I watch this movie, I can clearly picture Kenneth Branagh cackling like a maniac and dancing around the set with glee. Serious Directors need to do something just for kicks every now and then, and Hollywood is better for it. Since this movie basically only exists to decrease the amount of origins they need to explain in Avengers this year, they could have really phoned it in, but everybody gave it their all and the results are a hoot and a half.
Everything Must Go – Will Ferrell is so good when he is in serious actor mode, it makes me mad when he keeps doing terrible comedies. If Stranger Than Fiction was his Truman Show, this is his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which means his career is actually ahead of schedule!
True Legend – Crafted from the purest kung fu cheese! It’s all here; childhood friends becoming sworn enemies, slain masters who must be avenged, forbidden martial arts that warp the user’s soul, and of course absolutely insane fight choreography.
Cowboys and Aliens – This has been a pretty odd year for westerns, or perhaps I mean a year for pretty odd westerns. The story would have worked pretty much the same if had been Indians instead of aliens. This movie seemed to disappoint a lot of people, but I feel like I got exactly what I paid for.
Beginners – Ewan McGregor continues to work hard to make up for the Star Wars prequels. I’ve just about forgiven him. (Not that they were at all his fault, of course!) An excellent movie about many different types of love. Plus, there is a cute dog with subtitles.
Fright Night – I feel like I should start giving out more awards than just best and worst. If there was an award for most inexplicably awesome remake, this would win. Seriously, why is this movie so great? It’s a remake of a cult classic! There is just no excuse for this high level of quality. Between this and Karate Kid, I’m starting to question my hatred of the Hollywood remake grinder.
Our Idiot Brother – You know what’s great about this movie? Apart from its almost supernatural level of sweetness, it’s great because the main character is sympathetic and even believable throughout. Too many movies of this type, we are laughing at the protagonist rather than with him, and whatever lesson he learns seems tacked on at the end. This movie earns every sentiment it displays.
The Guard – This movie is the love child of Hot Fuzz and Lethal Weapon, featuring Brendan Gleeson as a hilariously racist (and all around inappropriate) small town Irish cop, and Don Cheadle as the FBI agent who teams up with him. Quite possibly the most Irish movie I’ve ever seen.
50/50 – The movie tore a pretty big chunk out of me when I saw it. One of those deals where you honestly aren’t sure if you are laughing or crying for most of the movie. JGL’s panic attack in the car at the end is one of the most realistic I have ever seen portrayed on film.
Real Steel – This movie isn’t a remake exactly, but it definitely owes its existence to all the underdog sports movies of the 80′s. If my saying that many critics have favorably compared it to Rocky 3 makes you want to see it, than you are this film’s target demographic. Personally, I loved it.
Ides of March – This movie probably belongs one tier down from here, but its lead performance belongs one tier up, so I had to compromise. A fascinating, if somewhat pessimistic, story about how the political machine chews up ethics and idealism and spits out, well, politicians. Once again, this is the Gosling show, and it really takes talent to steal the spotlight when your costar is George Clooney.
Immortals – Almost all of my love for this movie comes from its mind-blowing visual insanity. The whole thing feels like the fever dream of a young child whose father has kept him up past his bedtime feeding him stories of the gods of Olympus and their deeds. Maybe it doesn’t succeed on very many levels, but this alone makes it worth seeing.
The Muppets – This movie was genetically engineered in a laboratory for the express purpose of making people my age cry. It’s as Muppet-y a Muppet movie as any I have ever seen, and just having the Muppets in front of me on the big screen warmed my heart and tickled all of my fancies. Clearly made by people who love the Muppets, for people who love the Muppets.
We Bought a Zoo – I don’t really mind a movie that is cliche and blatantly manipulative of my emotions, as long as both are done expertly, as they are here. I saw it coming a mile away, but I still lost it around the time the red kites appeared. If you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
Tower Heist – How did this movie happen? I was ready to hunt down Brett Ratner with fire and pitchforks after what he did to the X-men franchise, but here he went ahead and made a clever, funny, exciting, and touching movie, with barely even a hint of misogyny or racism. What the hell, Ratner!
Like Crazy – One of the more grown-up movies about relationships to come out in recent years. Weirdly it glosses over the actual falling in love in what amounts to little more than a montage, and then the focus of the film is about trying to maintain that love while real life keeps happening around it and throwing wrenches into the works.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Did you like the last one? You’ll probably like this one. It doesn’t quite melt my brain the way the recent BBC Sherlock series did, but it’s still a damned entertaining evening at the movies. Also, can somebody please make me one of Sherlock’s domestic camouflage suits? Because I really want one of those.
My Week With Marilyn – I suppose the greatest compliment you can pay to a semi biographical film is to say that it made you want to learn more about its subject. That can definitely be said to this film. I had no idea how bonkers Marilyn Monroe was, but it makes me want to devour all of her movies in a marathon some weekend.
Good, Solid Movies
Sanctum – It’s a little bit like The Descent, except with far superior cinematography, and 100% less bat people. This movie is really REALLY pretty, but not much else. I mean, nothing that hasn’t been done before, and better. But seriously, that cave is freaking impressive.
The Mechanic – Earlier, I mentioned the Statham genre? This movie is a textbook example of a bad movie that is entertaining just because it has Statham in it. Also, it features the manliest threat I have seen all year. “I’m gonna put a price on your head so big, when you look in the mirror to shave, your own reflection is going to wanna shoot you in the face!”
Unknown – If you pretend this movie is a sequel to Taken, well, it gets pretty confusing, actually. If I were to tell you what movie this reminds me of the most, it would probably be a pretty big spoiler, but it’s the end of the year and you probably have already seen it if you are going to, so I will tell you anyway. Total Recall.
Limitless – I had to drop this movie one tier just for the terrible ending, which is a damned shame, because I was enjoying the heck out of it until then. Unfortunately, the ridiculously contrived ending really undermines the message of the rest of the film, and seems to change the thesis from “what price is worth paying for you to reach your ultimate potential?” to “Man, drugs are awesome!”
Arthur – Another remake that isn’t nearly as awful as I was expecting it to be. I actually feel like it captured the feel of the original pretty well. Switching genders for Hobson was an interesting idea, and I was pleased that they didn’t sugarcoat the raging alcoholism element of the character.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – With a less tepid director, this could easily have been as good as the first one. In the first movie, Jack Sparrow was a genius pretending to be a fool. In the next two, Jack is a fool pretending to be a genius. In this one, he is back in top form, with an interesting story, but somehow the movie is lackluster and poorly edited, which is a shame. With somebody more passionate at the helm, we could have had another masterpiece.
Win Win – Loses points for being about sports. Wins points for Paul Giamatti, who is one of the most hypnotizing presences on screen these days. His weird little broken voice, worried eyes, and his fascination with playing deeply unpleasant or deeply awkward people, despite the fact that he can be completely likeable without breaking a sweat.
Cars 2 – Received the worst reviews of any Pixar film to date, but I actually liked it slightly better than the first one. I realize this may only be because I am a bigger fan of the genre they are aping in this one. The world still makes no sense, and I’m still sadly sure that there will be a third, but I don’t think this one is as bad as people make it out to be.
Larry Crowne – Tom Hanks can fart out this kind of performance in his sleep. It’s not exactly phoning it in, but he plays this kind of character so effortlessly that I’m not sure how much credit he should be getting for doing so. This movie would have placed much lower, if it weren’t for a scene-stealing performance from George Takei. I was laughing about his performance for months after I’d forgotten every other piece of this movie.
Crazy, Stupid, Love – And thus concludes the 2011 series of Ryan Gosling is Great. He is great in this, like he is great in everything I’ve seen him in recently. He’s far greater than the rest of the movie, which is a fairly formulaic mid-life crisis story in which he is the supporting role. To the movie’s credit, the twist at the end actually caught me by surprise, but this is really Gosling’s show, start to finish. Even I want to have a one night stand with him after seeing him flirt.
Colombiana – I like movies about ladies. I especially like movies about ladies kicking unholy amounts of ass. Zoe Saldana kicking unholy amounts of ass is just about all that this movie has going for it, but it carries the movie pretty far. I doubt I will ever watch it again, but I enjoyed it at the time.
Contagion – This story has been told far better many times before. What I find the most interesting about this version of the outbreak genre is that it’s the first one I’ve seen that deals with the logistics beyond simply the race to find a cure. What happens when the cure has already been found, but the whole world has been infected? Who gets it first? How to distribute it efficiently? What financial factors are involved?
Machine Gun Preacher – Possibly the angriest movie about religion I’ve ever seen. Gerard Butler recovers from his bad boy biker past, and finds Jesus so hard that he devotes the rest of his entire life and most of his life savings toward kicking ass in the name of the lord.
Footloose – So many remakes this year. Did this movie really need one? Probably not. Am I embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen the original? Definitely. Do you like seeing people dance, and especially ridiculously happy over-the-top dance number finales? If yes, you will probably like this.
In Time – Another movie with a great concept, great promise, great lead performers, a fantastic style, and really no idea how to end the damned movie. Which is a shame, because I was really digging the whole Occupy Movement vibe going on, as well as all the awesomely bad puns involving time.
Puss in Boots – It’s sad when a spinoff surpasses the quality of the spawning franchise. Yeah, this is better than the third and fourth Shrek movie. How, I’m not sure. I mean, it’s not great, but it’s better than it has any right to be, and I defy anyone to watch it without laughing at the “Oooooooh!” cat every time.
Take Shelter – Seems like there was a disproportionately high number of movies this year which dropped the ball in the end zone. This guy sees visions of doom, and wants to build a storm shelter. Is the shelter a metaphor for his mental illness? Is there really an apocalypse coming? The movie tries to have it both ways and suffers for it. Still, some fantastic acting all around!
Hugo – This movie has one of the highest ratings I have ever seen in a mainstream release, and I just don’t get it. It’s clunky and uneven, and is really two films in one. The first is a boring and childish film about a fairly uninteresting orphan boy, and the second is an absolutely riveting retrospective of the silent film pioneer of modern special effects. I’m pretty sure the second film is what all the critics are responding to, and it is clearly the half of it that Scorsese cares about. He probably shouldn’t have changed the title to focus on the boy, who is the least interesting part of the movie.
The Adventures of Tintin – Maybe I just don’t care quite enough about the source material, but this movie didn’t grab hold of me the way it did for so many people. I did really enjoy it, but found it very derivative of much of Spielberg’s past work. It’s basically a really pretty computerized version of an Indiana Jones movie, and one that I enjoyed but probably will never watch again.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – I like how old-fashioned this movie is. It feels very much in synch with the era it is emulating, from a time when spy stories were all about people rather than technology. People rave about Gary Oldman’s performance in this movie, but he disappeared so far into the story that I barely noticed his character at all. I’m having trouble thinking of a single thing he said or did, despite being ostensibly the main character.
A Dangerous Method – Freud versus Jung! One of history’s most bromantic pissing contests, with Keira Knightley as the battleground. Was this filmed a while ago? I noticed Viggo Mortensen’s beard is the same one he was sporting at the Oscars in 2008, and it’s very distinctive!
War Horse – Lately, I have been forced to admit that I actually liked this one slightly better than Tintin, which has shocked a lot of people. This movie doesn’t break any new ground, but it is classic Spielberg in a way that Tintin isn’t. I feel like maybe he made it because he didn’t want Super 8 to out-Spielberg him this year, but it managed to anyway. Sorry, Steve!
Fairly Decent Movies
The Green Hornet – This movie doesn’t earn a whole lot of points, but all the points that are earned come from the freakishly creative special effects, and the ridiculous awesomeness of Jay Chou. If anybody had actually seen this movie, Chou would already be a huge star in the US.
Casino Jack – I can barely remember anything about this movie at all. It suffers from being about some people who are just disgusting enough to loathe, but not quite evil enough to be interesting. Hard to get emotionally involved, despite the excellent performances.
Hanna – I feel like I’m not being fair to this movie. I remember being tremendously excited about it, and I remember being blown away by what I was seeing. I also remember falling off the train at some point in the last act. I can’t remember what caused it. I feel like if I see this again, I might rank it higher, but I do try to preserve the list in its most honest state, and rarely move anything after it has been placed. Never after the list has been published.
Priest – It was vampire movie? It had some cool action sequences? I think it was based on a Korean comic? Good world-building, good action sequences, not a very interesting movie. It’s no Daybreakers, that’s for sure.
Jane Eyre – How can a book written in 1847 have more sass than a film made in 2011? I had just read the book the week before seeing this movie, and maybe that was a mistake, but I found the movie stuffy and dry, and I feel like it left out almost all of the most important scenes from the book.
Conan the Barbarian – Arnold is a terrible Conan. There, I said it. Yes, his version is a cult classic, but it’s not Conan as he was written. This one is much closer to the source material, and Momoa is a far better Conan. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t all that good. I wasn’t expecting much, and I wasn’t technically disappointed.
The Debt – Like Martha Marcy May Marlene, this movie deals with how one relatively brief sequence of events can really mess you up. Unfortunately, while I found the actual story fairly compelling, I couldn’t work up much of an opinion about it, and the ending is just bizarre.
Killer Elite – This movie is basically little more than Clive Owen and Jason Statham having a pissing contest over who is the better action star. Who wins? I’m going to go ahead and call it for Statham, but it’s a hollow victory when the rest of the film is so mediocre.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame – This kung fu take on Sherlock Holmes is a pretty terrible movie, but I am ranking it much higher than it deserves purely because it managed to constantly surprise me. Like, every few minutes, something completely unexpected. Seriously, you are like “Okay, I’m with you so far, that guy wants this and this guy wants that and the empress wants to do that and OH THEY HAVE A TALKING DEER THAT TELLS THE FUTURE!”
Young Adult – Two award-winning performances mired in a mean-spirited and unpleasant movie. I mean, I like a dark comedy as much as the next man, but this movie is just flat-out cruel to its protagonist, who is admittedly a deeply flawed (and mentally ill) person, but to come so close to having her take an emotional journey, and then to pull the rug out from under her and not let her progress at all? Mean.
The Darkest Hour – This is as cookie-cutter as a “plucky group of humans against invading aliens” movie can be and still be entertaining. It has a Russian production team, though, and this fact creates this interesting flavor shines through in random moments which make the movie more entertaining than it would otherwise be.
Rid of Me – I’m having a hard time seeing this movie as much more than a vehicle to fuel my already substantial crush on Katy O’Gradie. Her performance is hilarious, vulnerable, touching, fierce, awkward, and fearless. It’s the kind of performance that makes careers, and it’s sadly wasted in a very earnest, but very amateurish production.
Barely Enjoyable Movies
The Eagle – This movie tried really hard to make me like it, and I tried really hard to cooperate, but I just couldn’t get past the miscasting of the lead role. I can’t buy Channing Tatum as a Roman soldier. It’s just not within my power. And I don’t even really have anything against the guy. He’s not a bad actor, but his inherent bro-ness just constantly yanked me out of what could have been a really engrossing movie.
Take Me Home Tonight – Not every movie that tried to emulate the 80′s this year was a success. This movie really wants to be this year’s Superbad, but it’s really not. Fortunately, it is actually fairly funny, but only barely enough to rise above its unsympathetic and annoying main character.
Your Highness – Another movie with really only one thing going for it. Weirdly, it’s not the humor, although it is fairly funny. No, what knocked this movie slightly into the positive is how creative and interesting the magic in the movie is. Seriously, there’s some fascinating and clever stuff! Too bad about the rest of it, though.
Rio – I’ve said before that this category is mainly for bad movies that have one really good aspect that just barely made them watchable. This one is pretty. That’s about it. It’s lively and energetic and pretty. It’s also dumb and predictable.
Bridesmaids – This movie pisses me off more than any other in this section. It’s two movies, really. One is a sweet, touching, frequently hilarious, painfully honest movie about the friendship between two women. The other is a Judd Apatow gross-out comedy. The first movie is amazing. The second is so bad, it makes me want to slap people. What a damned shame.
Green Lantern – I guess we couldn’t have all the comic book movies this year succeed. The world might have ended. I disagree that Ryan Reynolds was a bad casting choice, but this movie has a lot of problems. Specifically, everything that happens on Earth. What kills me the most is that the outer space stuff with the Green Lantern Corps is so freaking jaw-dropping and awesome that it makes the rest of the movie’s faults even more glaring. *sigh*
J. Edgar – You know what’s a good idea when doing a biography of an extremely controversial and polarizing figure in American history, especially when recent events have called further into question many of his actions and qualities? Have an opinion about him! This movie doesn’t, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s outstanding acting can only do so much.
The Sitter – The factor that nudged this slightly into the positive is how self-aware Jonah Hill’s character is. It doesn’t quite give him the free pass to be an idiotic manchild that many of these movies do, and he actually does go through a character arc, and grows a little bit by the end. That surprised me. Also, the kids are surprisingly funny. I’d still watch Adventures in Babysitting over this any day.
Not Quite Enjoyable Movies
The Beaver – Even over half a year later, I’m still not entirely convinced this movie isn’t just a dare that somehow got out of hand. It’s like a parody trailer you would see on a sketch comedy show, but the movie plays it perfectly straight, start to finish, and then somehow manages to be completely insulting to people actually suffering from depression.
Bad Teacher – Not even Justin Timberlake in one of his most hilarious, image-subverting performances yet is enough to save this trash heap. Seriously, the only real laughs in this movie are from his amazingly awkward sex scene. I’m sure it’s on YouTube by now. Just watch that and skip the movie.
Horrible Bosses – Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey are all hilarious and amazing for every second they are on the screen. Unfortunately, their three protagonist counterparts are so devoid of charm and personality that the movie sinks under their weight. At least the three real stars seem to have enjoyed themselves.
One Day – This is one of the worst trailer bait-and-switches since Bridge to Terabithia, and I actually loved that movie. You know the fascinating story the trailer promised, about a pair of people who see each other exactly once per year, on the anniversary of the day they met? Yeah, I’d really like to see that movie, but it’s nowhere to be found. If there was an award for most egregiously use of a narrative anvil, this would be the winner.
I Am Number Four – This is the only movie in this category that I remember fondly, and I only remember it fondly because I saw it with a dear friend who has a penchant for terrible films. This is a movie that only exists because a fiction factory churned it out as a YA novel for the express purpose of catching Hollywood’s eye, and it shows.
Sucker Punch – Right up until the very last week of the year, this was the reigning champion of cinematic filth. Weirdly, I think this is a movie that actively aspires to insignificance, but poor narrative choices catapult it into the realm of creepy, exploitative, fetishistic, sleazy misogyny. I seriously felt like I needed a shower after seeing it.
Hangover 2 – You know how some people sometimes accuse a sequel of just being a remake or rehash of the original film? In this case, it’s well-deserved. This is literally the exact same film as the first one. It’s two different movies made from the same Mad Lib. It felt pretty fresh and interesting the first time, but this is just sad.
Tree of Life – If a film is about everything, is it really about anything? My vote is no. This rambling, incoherent non-film would work fine as a backdrop for some kind of art instillation, where its imagery could inform and enrich the things going on around it, but as a film it is a complete and total failure, and I can’t understand why it is on anyone’s best list, let alone the majority of critics.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – This movie is an asshole. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. It’s a beer-swilling, titty-ogling, racial-slur-slinging, fight-picking, flag-waving, pompous asshole of a movie. I want this movie to be a person so I can slap it. I wanted to slap Shia LaBeouf from the second he opened his mouth, and I actually like the guy! Look what you’ve done to me, Michael Bay!
Abduction – After The Runaways, I instituted the policy of giving every major Twilight actor one more chance. I have had occasion to regret this policy. Especially this occasion. Swap out Taylor “The Alpaca” Lautner with anybody else, and this would at least become a B movie.
Anonymous – What in the high holy hell was Hollywood thinking, letting Roland Emmerich, he of the thunderously retarded disaster flicks, direct a period piece about Shakespeare? This movie’s terribleness is hilarious, bordering on legendary, and the more you know about history, the harder you will laugh at it.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – I will say that the final scenes of this movie are one of the funniest things I saw all year. Unfortunately, I don’t think that was what they were going for. Now, thanks to this film, I can cross off “werewolf falling in love with a baby just minutes after a vampire daddy has chewed it out of the womb” off the list of Things Hollywood Will Never Allow on Film.
Show Me on the Doll Where the Movie Touched You
Melancholia – Remember way back at the top how I said there was going to be another movie where I completely disagree with every other best and worst list I’ve seen so far? This is it. I hate this movie with a passion unmatched since Southland Tales. If such a thing is possible, this movie is basically the opposite of me. Nihilistic, pessimistic, misanthropic, dehumanizing, joyless, mean-spirited, obtuse, bleak, and without a single sympathetic character or shred of life in all of its more than two hours. The first half of the movie is a wedding reception full of unpleasant people being horrible to each other, and Kirsten Dunst being completely insane. The second half is her sister having one, long panic attack. Then a planet smashes into Earth and vaporizes humanity. It’s “Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The Movie!” (I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything because the opening scene is of the world ending.) This movie is so depressing, so soul-crushing, so irredeemably hopeless, I honestly feel if it had come out when I was a teenager, it might have driven me to suicide. Maybe Lars von Trier is going through something really rough right now, and maybe making this movie was the only way he could survive it. In that light, I can almost forgive its existence, but for him to inflict it on the rest of the world? Unforgivable.
Dravorite Movie of the Year
Never Let Me Go – I agonized over this choice for a long time. There were at least five movies in the running. I almost flipped a coin, but that felt dishonest. In the end, I went with this one because it was so refreshingly different from everything else that came out this year. Smart, subtle science fiction, which deals with what all science fiction should ultimately deal with; the meaning of being human. This story haunted me for weeks, and caused me to seriously examine my ideas on how to judge the value of a life, as well as the true meaning of fulfillment. It’s not often one finds a movie that is gut-wrenchingly sad, yet life-affirming and inspirational. Easily the most thought-provoking film of the year, and one that I highly suggest everyone watch at least once.
The Lovely Bones – I know, this was technically a 2009 release, but I didn’t get to see it until after the new year, so it goes in this list. I actually don’t know very many people who liked this movie at all, which confuses me. It’s an intense story with mind-blowing visual effects and some truly fantastic acting. Maybe I am blinded by my love of Peter Jackson, but I was impressed by this movie.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus – Terry Gilliam at his most insane. The loss of Heath Ledger really cast a shadow over production, but the end result speaks for itself. I was constantly surprised by every turn of this story. Plus, Tom Waits as the devil!
How to Train Your Dragon – Just an all-around fantastic film from Dreamworks. Cute vikings, cute story, and the cutest dragon EVER! There are even a few surprises, and the viking girl love interest is one of my favorite female characters of the year. Dreamworks has really been bringing their A-game lately, so I really hope Kung Fu Panda doesn’t turn into their next Shrek.
Kick-Ass – There is something about Mark Millar that causes Hollywood to adapt his comics into movies that piss off his fans, but which I tend to like better than the source material. Wanted was Exhibit A. This is Exhibit B. This movie is a demented hoot and a half. Plus, it introduced us to Chloe Moretz, one of the best child actresses to hit the silver screen this decade.
The Ghost Writer – Hello, political noir thriller! You are a scarce creature these days. Ewan McGregor, nice to see you again. You’ve got some karma to build back up after Star Wars, but this is a good start.
The Runaways – Kristen Stewart is so famous for Twilight, sometimes I forget she is a fantastic actress. She rocks the house as Joan Jett, who is pretty much the exact opposite of Bella. I wish I could force every teenage Twilight fangirl to watch this movie instead.
The Secret of Kells – As my wise friend Shaenon says, this the most Irish movie that ever Irished an Irish. Cel animation is getting so rare these days that any example of it feels like a breath of fresh air, and this charming movie is no exception. Trust Ireland to create a movie where the central conflict involves painting a really pretty picture in a book.
Iron Man 2 – Surpasses the first one in pretty much every way. More than any other Marvel superhero movie, this one gave me a very specific sense of being part of a larger world. Rich with Marvel lore, but it’s mostly in the background where it won’t bother the new fans. My pet peeve with superhero movies is that they almost always exist in a vacuum. This one, the Marvel universe is starting to really feel like the kind of place where you might catch a glimpse of some random costumed hero while wandering the streets of a big city.
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Billed as the world’s first street art disaster movie, which I pretty much agree with. I had no idea what to expect going in, and I didn’t know what to make of it after I saw it. I still don’t know which parts were real, if any, and which parts were staged, if any. I hope this wins best documentary because I want to see who accepts the Oscar.
El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) – An exceptional crime thriller from Argentina, with a classic noir flavor, if a bit spicier than usual. If you’re like me, you’ll see the ending coming, but that will just make you like it all the more. It’s only a matter of time before somebody in Hollywood finds this and remakes it.
City Island – A symphony of ordinary people, told with charm and honesty, as the various threads weaving through this flawed New York family all tie together and build into a poignant and hilarious crescendo of carefully orchestrated chaos. Probably the movie in this section seen by the least people.
Harry Brown – Michael Caine does Dirty Hairy, but instead of bad-ass, it’s kind of heart-breaking. I mean, he himself is a bad-ass, but the story is heart-breaking. A melancholy tale of a kind man pushed too far by the animals that call themselves children these days.
Toy Story 3 – Holy crap, Pixar. Just before this came out, I watched the previous two with my roommate, and the difference between those and this is astounding. Kids may love it, but this movie was made for people who have already grown up. There are three scenes that absolutely destroy me every time I watch this. Two of them are obvious; the furnace, and the scene with Bonnie and Andy at the end. The third is the moment when Andy’s mom walks into his empty room. Gah, this movie is so good, just talking about it makes me want to watch it again. I almost picked it for the top spot. If this movie didn’t jerk your tears, might I suggest reading my theory? (Spoilers ahoy, naturally!)
Micmacs – Stylistically and philosophically, Jeunet’s latest flick bridges the gap between City of Lost Children and Amelie. Possibly the most perky and charming revenge flick you will ever see. Brilliant concept, brilliant film. One of the few things I saw twice this year. I still laugh thinking about those meta billboards.
Despicable Me – The first of two animated movies this year where the villain is the protagonist, and the slightly superior film. I had no idea what to expect, and many of the places it went surprised me.
Inception – Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. It’s on everybody’s list. Deservedly so. I think this movie is much more straightforward than people want to admit, but it’s still a ripping good yarn. The real inception is done by Nolan, on us, with the movie’s final shot. The idea he planted is “You need to see this movie again.”
The Kids Are All Right – Lovely to see a movie about lesbians with the movie not being about the fact that they are lesbians. Similar to City Island in its ability to create a believable family full of realistic flawed people that are easy to care about.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – The only movie on this list to earn its place purely through style. This movie is completely bonkers, start to finish, and it is like nothing I have ever seen before, and hopefully like nothing I will ever seen again. The fact that it bob-ombed makes me incredibly sad, because it decreases the likelihood of Edgar Wright being given a ton of money to make another insane movie.
Machete – A movie that had absolutely no need to be good, but was anyway. I mean, c’mon, it grew out of a fake trailer attached to Grindhouse! Still, Rodriguez felt the need to throw in some themes and a plot and everything. An exploitation flick where the plot was written using the random scenes in the trailer as mad libs.
Easy A – As MaryAnn Johanson pointed out, this movie is proof that Hollywood can tell grown-up stories about women, but just chooses not to. This movie wins the award for greatest disparity between the trailer and the movie. Terrible trailer, wasn’t even planning to see the movie until MaryAnn’s recommendation, ended up in the running for Dravorite.
The Town – Ben Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone was not a fluke. The man is a far surer hand behind the scenes than he is in front of them. I don’t think he’s a bad actor. He’s just made some bad choices. He is, however, a fantastic director.
Buried – Speaking of people nobody thinks can act, Ryan Reynolds impressed me quite a bit here, which takes some doing considering he is pretty much the only thing in the whole movie. The entire thing takes place in a coffin. There aren’t even any flashbacks to lighten the load. I can’t believe this movie was made at all, and I can’t believe how good it was.
The Social Network – I feel like this movie was a present specifically to me, from the world, saying “It’s okay to hate Facebook.” The validity of the movie’s version of events has been called into question. Who was it that said “Never let the truth interfere with a good story”?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) – My favorite Harry Potter movie since Prisoner of Azkaban, and the first which I can confidently state is better than the part of the series it covers. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book, but that first half is a bit of a slog. The camping has much more of a point in the movie, and is beautifully realized with the help of some amazing scenery and an inspired choice of background sound.
127 Hours – The hardest movie for me to watch this year, mainly because of how much it reminded me of a close friend who died a couple months before I saw it. Sort of a spiritual cousin to Buried, but without the rigid adherence to reality. (Although the story itself is completely true, some of the hallucinations and internal conversations are given shape.)
Rare Exports – The most demented Christmas movie since Bad Santa, but a completely different kind of demented. A very interesting take on exploitation of natural resources. Also, the movie that kept me chuckling to myself for the longest time after I left the theater.
Black Swan – Another Dravorite contender. I have absolutely loved every one of Aronofsky’s movies, and this is no exception. Quite possibly his best. Rich with themes and symbolism and other grown-up junk that people tend to ignore in movies, and whether you find the ending to be a triumph or a tragedy will tell your friends a lot about how you feel about art.
True Grit – One of the most straightforward movies the Coen brothers have ever made, but also one of my favorites. Yet another top contender. I need to watch the original again, because I barely remember it, but this remake is far better than what I remember of the original.
From Paris With Love – Yes, I know this is not a great movie. It is, however, a hilariously entertaining movie, and this list is more about my emotional connection to movies than the actual quality. Please, Travolta, make more movies like this and fewer like… well… everything else you’ve made lately.
Brooklyn’s Finest – Three Brooklyn cops, all broken in different ways. Antoine Fuqua’s follow-up to Training Day is just as good, but not as easy to parody. Really, I just wanted an excuse to say his name again. Fuqua!
Alice in Wonderland – I just don’t have it in me to not enjoy a Tim Burton movie. His brain is like a favorite amusement park ride. It doesn’t impress you like it used to, and when you’ve been around a bit, you know it isn’t that special, but it’s still dear to your heart. Also, Depp WTF Dance FTW.
Crazy Heart – Why is it that I can’t stand most country music, but I really like movies about country music? Wait, did this even come out this year? Oh, right. I missed it last year, and it got released in theaters because of the Oscar. To be fair, I missed a lot of the subtleties of Jeff Bridges’ performance because I was distracted by Maggie Gyllenhaal’s voice. She talks like honey being poured over cornbread.
Chloe – Atom Egoyan is a director who makes some really intense movies, yet I always seem to forget to keep tabs on him. Here, he gives Amanda Seyfried a chance to say, “By the way, Hollywood? Totally not going to let you typecast me as the girl next door. Take a bite of my crazy hooker style!”
The Joneses – A deliciously wicked satire that envisions consumerist culture as something that is deliberately inflicted on us by terrorist capitalist cells. I might have put this one tier higher if the ending had been a little more Draino and a little less Downy.
The Losers – The first in a huge string of awesome men-on-a-mission movies that came out this year. This movie is the plate of jalapeno poppers you order to whet your appetite before the cheesy nacho platter that is The A-Team. “Pooch can do this!”
The A-Team – Second men-on-a-mission, for those counting along. Sharlto Copely is a freaking chameleon, and one of the most interesting actors I’ve seen in the past few years. This movie is exactly what it needs to be, and maybe a little bit more.
The Karate Kid – And Hollywood keeps surprising me by doing the 80′s justice. People never believe me when I say this, but it really is almost as good as the original. It pays tribute, but doesn’t just copy. It perfectly recreates all the story beats, but goes different on the details.
Please Give – When basically decent people make a living in a very morally grey way, how do they reconcile their behavior with their self-image? That’s sort of what this movie is about.
Winter’s Bone – Call it country noir. Full of haggard men with hollow cheeks, and burned out women with dead eyes. If Ree from this movie and Mattie from True Grit had a contest over who is the most grown-up teenage woman, I’m not sure who would win.
Eat, Pray, Love – It’s not as White Privilege as you think it is, I swear. Worth seeing just for the scenery. Would have liked it more if there had been no love interest.
The Expendables – Men-on-a-mission number three, if you’re still counting. Never before has there been so much testosterone in one film. A whole bunch of aging action movie stars get together and throw a cliche party. Good times.
Get Low – Also known as Get Off My Lawn, the movie. Who is this crazy hermit, and why does he want to go to his own wake? Sadly, the answer to the mystery is the least interesting part of the movie, but the rest sure is interesting.
Let Me In – The American remake of Let the Right One In. Amazingly enough, it’s almost as good. I probably would have put this one tier higher if I hadn’t already seen the Swedish version.
RED – Men-on-a-mission four! Geez! To be fair, this one has a woman, too. Helen Mirren, to be specific. I don’t care how old she is. Helen Mirren with automatic weapons or a sniper rifle is HAWT!
Megamind – Another movie where the evil mad scientist is the good guy. Not quite as good as the other one, but still damned good. It’s a surprisingly complex exploration of the dynamic between hero and villain.
Morning Glory – There is really only one reason to see this movie, and that is to see Harrison Ford being a total asshole. It’s like Haley’s Comet. It doesn’t come around very often.
The Next Three Days – Just goes to show you there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you have a recording of Liam Neeson telling you how to do it. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t do crime thriller audio books; he would inadvertently cause a wave of successful crimes!
Fair Game – I’m not sure what it says about our society that we can make a great movie about something blatantly evil that our government actually did just a few years ago, and nobody is even talking about it.
Today’s Special – Okay, Aasif Mandvi, I forgive you for The Last Airbender. Wait, no I don’t. Please be in more movies like this, and maybe you can stop being an Oh, It’s That Guy in mainstream movies. For those who didn’t see this (read: everybody), it’s sort of the Indian Eat Drink Man Woman.
The Fighter – The movie itself belongs one tier down, but Christian Bale’s cracked-out performance belongs one tier up, so the movie lands on great. If I didn’t know better, I would testify under oath that Bale was really on crack while filming this.
The King’s Speech – At the theater where I saw this, they make these little info booths about whatever movie they like best, and this one had a little museum to King George VI with a looped recording of the real speech. I have new respect for Colin Firth.
Made in Dagenham – The English Norma Rae. Features the most exposed bras per capita of any movie I have ever seen, but for perfectly innocent reasons. See it and marvel that there are people still alive today who think it’s okay to pay women less than men for the same work.
Good, Solid Movies
Daybreakers – This was the first movie I saw this year, and I saw it in Las Vegas, which is a good place to see a movie about a world run by vampires, now that I think about it. There were two good movies with vampires in them this year. This was the other one.
Book of Eli – If they ever take a crack at making a movie out of the Fallout series of video games, I hope the Hughes brothers direct it, and I hope it looks just like this, but is much funnier. I’m pretty sure this movie stole Shyamalan’s yearly allotted twist while he was off airbending.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – This love child of Harry Potter and Clash of the Titans surprised everybody by leaning toward the former and being far better than the latter. Better Zeus, better Poseidon, better Hades, and a MUCH better Medusa. File it with Sky High in the Greatly Under-appreciated Movies About Teens With Powers bin.
Shutter Island – This movie isn’t as clever or as sneaky as it thinks it is, but Leo’s performance is damned good, and those hallucinatory dreams he has are fantastically realized.
Greenberg – This movie’s biggest weakness is that it can’t really decide if the main character is meant to be sympathetic or cautionary. I don’t think it would have been made without Stiller’s involvement, but I think it suffers from having such a well-known name in the lead.
Kites – This is one of those Bollywood Version of ______ movies, except I can’t for the life of me figure out what goes in the blank. I can’t quite tell what they were aiming for, and they didn’t quite hit it, but the results are still entertaining. Plus or minus one star depending on how you feel about Bollywood.
Splice – Like many, I have some serious issues with the movie’s ending, and there is a bit of Dumb Science in it, but it’s still a compelling monster flick with some mind-blowing special effects, especially considering the modest budget.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – This year’s entry in the Ridiculous Movies Starring Nicolas Cage genre, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. (Henceforth, this genre shall be called Ridicolas!) Actually, this combines two of my guilty pleasure genres; Ridicolas, and fantasy movies set in modern times. I am hard-wired to love any movie that has both a dragon and a Tesla coil in it.
The Other Guys – When I saw this, I kept thinking that this was the movie Cop Out should have been. Just recently, I learned I was right. Cop Out was supposed to star Ferrell and Wahlberg, but WB wouldn’t pay what they wanted, so Sony whipped up a knock-off script and hired them away. To add insult to injury, The Other Guys ended up being much funnier than Cop Out.
Conviction – So many movies based on true stories this year. If I ever get wrongfully arrested, I’m pretty sure nobody in my family will go through law school just to get me out. If you see this movie, don’t read what really happened to the guy until after you’ve seen it. Trust me.
Tangled – A movie that really wanted to be great, but was weighed down by its god-awful songs. Great heroine, great love interest, great plot, and the most beautiful scene of any movie this year, but DAMN those songs are terrible. Zachary Levi’s got some pipes on him, though!
Love and Other Drugs – Ahh, young sociopaths in love. Sadly, the biggest problem with this movie is that the more the main character grow, the less interesting the movie gets. Still, excellent performances by Chesty Jake and Eyebrows Hathaway.
Burlesque – Fine. I will grudgingly admit that Christina Aguilera is a pretty fantastic singer. I’m pretty sure the driving creative force behind this film was somebody who saw Cabaret on mute, and thought they’d take a crack it. A tasty cinematic meal with no nutritional content.
Cinco dias sin Nora (Nora’s Will) – I hate it when the English title of a foreign movie does not match the actual title of the movie. Five Days Without Nora is a much more interesting name, but it isn’t a clever pun. See Nora manipulate her ex-husband from beyond the grave! Learn more than you ever expected about Jewish funereal customs!
Unstoppable – As exciting as a movie about something moving in a straight line can be, I suppose. A skilled director takes an uninteresting story, injects suspense, and makes a solid flick.
I Love You Philip Morris – Memo to Jim Carrey: You are at a point in your career where ALL of the roles you choose should be this daring and interesting. Be picky. Make more weird movies. Step out of your comfort zone. And to the ladies: This movie features intense makeouts between Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, and they are not played for laughs.
Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) – Better than the second, not as good as the first. Noomi Rapace’s ferocity carries this movie pretty far despite its shortcomings. Can’t wait to see her in the next Sherlock Holmes movie!
Fairly Decent Movies
Edge of Darkness – I remember very little about this movie beyond how scary Mel Gibson is. Of course, I now suspect that he may just be a scary person in real life, which sort of makes sense considering his best performances are the ones where he is unhinged.
Wolfman – Classic monster movie style, with Benicio del Toro as the droopy-eyed Talbot. This movie is so old-fashioned in so many ways that I honestly am not sure why they felt the need to make it.
Date Night – A Truly terrible movie at heart, but highly elevated because of just how damned likeable Tina Fey and Steve Carell are together. Seriously, they are a totally cute and totally believable movie couple. I want them to become a cinematic duo, and make dozens of movies together.
Babies – If you’ve ever felt the urge to watch somebody else’s home videos for a couple hours, this is the movie for you. Essentially wordless, and mostly shot at baby eye level, this movie isn’t very interesting, but is oddly compelling.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Someday somebody will make a totally awesome movie based on a video game. This isn’t it, but I do have to give it some credit for adding the nickname of Chesty Jake to my vocabulary. Plus, bonus appearance by Jeff from Coupling!
Get Him to the Greek – When it’s funny, it’s great. When it’s serious, it’s terrible. Thankfully, there is enough funny to slightly overpower the serious. P Diddy is the best part of the movie, and I can’t believe I said that about a movie. Also, the credits song alone makes the movie worth seeing.
Salt – Not the fanciest spice in the Hollywood pantry, but a solid action flick. Managed to surprise me a few times, but didn’t make all that much of an impression on me.
Hereafter – A chicken soup for the soul kind of movie, which isn’t really something to be proud of, but it did hold my attention with some solid acting, even if the ending was ridiculously contrived.
Four Lions – Was the world really ready for a zany comedy about suicide bombing terrorists? Possibly, but I don’t think I was, because I could not figure out what to make of this movie. I’m still not sure what I think about it, which means it definitely succeeded on some level.
The Warrior’s Way – A movie I saw purely on the strength of one line (“Ninjas…. Damn.”), and that line didn’t even make it into the final cut. This year’s Ninja Assassin, I’d say. It has inspired me to invent the movie alignment cube. The X axis is Good to Bad, the Y axis is Fun to Bleak, and the Z axis is Classy to Tacky. Put this one firmly in the Bad/Fun/Tacky corner.
The Tourist – A movie which I don’t think has been given nearly enough credit by anybody this year. It is showing up on a lot of worst lists, but I found it charming, if a bit stupid. In retrospect, I’m too gay for Johnny Depp to be objective about this movie.
Tron Legacy – Shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of the original. Utterly gorgeous to look at, but with a mediocre script and acting. The best parts are the religious subtext, which I felt should have been greatly expanded upon.
Barely Enjoyable Movies
Legion – The latest bible-humper from the apocalypse porn factory of Hollywood. Barely skates over into watchability for two reasons. 1) God is the villain, which is pretty interesting. 2) Fighting angels with automatic weapons = hilarious.
Clash of the Titans – One of the biggest disappointments of the year. Awesome trailer, solid cast, bland movie. Gets points for Zeus’s war room map, which needed to be in more scenes. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and I couldn’t stop thinking “Can I play Settlers of Catan on this thing?”
The Bounty Hunter – I can’t prove this, but I feel like this might have started out life as a remake of Midnight Run, and somebody just gave up halfway through. Gerard Butler does prove he has some comic chops, so I’d like to see him be in more funny movies.
Letters to Juliet – Two movies in one. One of these movies is poignant, romantic, beautiful, and captivating. The other is so annoying it makes me want to slap the movie. Unfortunately, the annoying part is the main character arc for the protagonist. The long lost lovers, though? Amazing.
Knight and Day – This movie would have been ten times better if Tom Cruise’s character had actually turned out to be out of his mind. For a little while, I thought they might go in that direction, and I was pretty sad when they didn’t.
Going the Distance – A huge waste of potential. This movie takes a believable couple with believable problems, and has a resolution that is satisfying and respectful to both characters. So what’s the problem? Too much gross-out humor shoe-horned in and lowering the tone of the movie. This could have been another Music and Lyrics.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story – It’s kind of not that funny of a story, and really suffers from both Magical Crazy Person syndrome and All Psychological Problems Can Be Cured in a Week syndrome. Weirdly, Zach Galifianakis turns in the most subtle and layered performance of his career so far.
How Do You Know – I don’t think this movie is quite the crime against humanity that people are making it out to be. Mainly, it drove me nuts that Reese Witherspoon’s character really reminded me of somebody I know, but I couldn’t think who. It’s still bothering me.
Yogi Bear – If you had asked me before I saw this, i would have bet money against me finding it even slightly enjoyable, but here we are. Out of all the live action remakes of cartoons I watched as a kid, this is one of the best, which isn’t saying a lot. I do have new respect for Justin Timberlake’s voice acting skills, though! His Boo Boo is terrifyingly authentic.
Not Quite Enjoyable Movies
Cop Out – Kevin Smith, I know you set out to prove that you can make other kinds of movies besides the ones you usually make. Congratulations on proving you can make a dull, unfunny, formulaic buddy comedy that is just like the last dozen or so spewed out by Hollywood. If you are a sushi chef who wants to stretch your creative muscles, don’t learn to make Bic Macs. Make weirder sushi!
Princess Ka’iulani – I just can’t muster up any kind of enthusiasm over any aspect of this movie. I can’t even say what was necessarily wrong with it, but it drifted past me and left no impression whatsoever. I can barely remember a single line from it.
Twilight: Total Eclipse – Almost reaches the so-bad-it’s-good state, but is too self-important to really achieve it. My tweet about this one is my most-quoted-comment of the entire year, so here it is again. Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob; after seeing this movie, I am officially on Team Vibrator.
Animal Kingdom – A movie that was highly recommend to me by a whole bunch of people whose opinions I trust, and yet I really disliked it. I think it was going for a Snatch vibe, but mostly I found everyone in the movie annoying, and didn’t care about any of what was happening.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – Less than the sum of its parts, which doesn’t happen all that often in my experience. A bunch of interesting characters do interesting things in interesting situations, but it somehow doesn’t make an interesting movie, and then it ends just when it feels like it’s about to start getting good.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader – I don’t remember the book very well. I remember the mist, and I remember the dragon, but almost nothing else. I remember it being more interesting than this, though. Maybe I am finally suffering from fantasy burnout, but I found the latest Narnia epic more exhausting to watch than anything else.
The Killers – I’m pretty sure this is to Knight and Day as Cop Out is to The Other Guys. Except both of these are worse than both of those. Now, I’m not on the Ashton Kutcher hate wagon. I really have nothing against the guy, but I sure as hell can’t buy him as a high level assassin.
Jonah Hex – I read an interview with Josh Brolin where he talked about accepting this role because he felt that what his career needed at this time was for him to be in the worst movie he could find. He was non-specific as to why his career might need this. Keeping himself humble? Just because he was bored? Maybe this was like a vacation to him?
Resident Evil: Afterlife – When even I, the quintessential Resident Evil movie apologist, utterly hates your movie, you have indeed failed. RE:A, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Machete had one of the best rope swings of all time!
Due Date – Here’s an idea. Let’s remake Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, only we’ll take out the heart, the charm, and the humor. And lets fill it with drug references and masturbation jokes.
Skyline – The creators of this movie are special effects guys working on Battle: Los Angeles. While that alien invasion movie was still in production, they thought up and created this alien invasion movie. I’m pretty sure the only reason the Battle: Los Angeles people have not sued them is because they saw this movie and know that it can only make their movie look even better.
Show Me On the Doll Where the Movie Touched You
The Last Airbender – This choice was almost as difficult as my top choice. Every single movie in the cringe-inducing category was in the running, and there were some real stinkers. In the end, I have to give it to Shyamalan for taking a television show that is almost universally adored, and churning out a movie that is almost universally hated. Even kids were trashing it. Like, eight year old children. I hadn’t seen a single episode of the Avatar series when I saw this movie, and I still hated it. Later, I saw the show, and hated the movie even more. Terrible acting, terrible pacing, a script so bad it will make you dizzy if you inhale it too quickly. Let’s take a closer look at how it went wrong. Take a fascinating world that is cohesive and beautifully realized, then strip out the rich culture, remove any personality from the characters, chop out the best parts of the story, replace entire character arcs with stilted narration delivered over pretty footage, focus on some of the weakest episodes, leave out all the most imaginative moments of elemental bending, and replace the jaw-dropping finale with a trailer-bait CG money shot that rips off every disaster movie of the past five years. What’s left? Well, Appa sure did look like Appa. In summary, M. Night Shyamalan, I find you guilty of first degree franchise murder. For your crimes against one of the best American cartoons of the past decade, I sentence you to a lifetime of people snickering whenever your name appears on a movie trailer.
Movies of 2009
If you are trying to find the list of movies I saw last year, it’s here.