Mike’s Top Ten of 2009

Out with a bang. The 2000s ends with some real great stuff. What I love most about this year is that, back then if you asked me what my top ten was, I’d have given you a very reasonable set of movies, with a very reasonable choice at #1 and things generally in the places you’d expect them to be based on some populist idea of what the best films were. Though deep down in my heart, I knew what would happen over the next few years. I knew which movies were gonna be my actual favorites and wind up becoming the real top choices. And lo and behold, a decade later, that’s what happened.

I feel like my list is very specific to me and my tastes, and while most people could agree that the majority of it is made up of good movies, I’m not sure most people would have this specific set of ten films. Though maybe I’m wrong. Honestly, all I care about is the fact that #1 is one of the most underrated films of the past 25 years, and I cannot stress how emphatically I have chosen it as my #1 film of this year.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2009

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Black Dynamite

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Up

Up in the Air

Watchmen

Where the Wild Things Are

11-20: Avatar, The Boat That Rocked, The Brothers Bloom, Crazy Heart, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hangover, The Informant!, Whip It, World’s Greatest Dad, Zombieland

Tier two: (500) Days of Summer, Big Fan, The Blind Side, Bronson, Dogtooth, An Education, In the Loop, The Invention of Lying, The Messenger, Moon, Observe and Report, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, The Princess and the Frog, A Serious Man, Sherlock Holmes, The Slammin’ Salmon, Star Trek, The Taking of Pelham 123, Whatever Works, The Young Victoria

Tier three: 2012, Adventureland, Away We Go, Coraline, The Cove, District 9, Fish Tank, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Invictus, Knowing, Me and Orson Welles, Nine, Precious, Public Enemies, The Road, A Single Man, The Secret of Kells, This Is It, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Tier four: Angels & Demons, A Christmas Carol,  Crank: High Voltage, The Damned United, Fast & Furious, The Girlfriend Experience, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, I Love You Man, Julie & Julia, The Last Station, Law Abiding Citizen, The Lovely Bones, Mary and Max, New York I Love You, The Proposal, Sunshine Cleaning, Taking Woodstock, Tetro, X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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1. Black Dynamite

“I’m declaring war on anyone who sells drugs to the community.”
“But Black Dynamite! I sell drugs to the community!”

Picking a quote for this movie was really difficult. This movie is so eminently quotable that if I didn’t just immediately decide on one, I ran the risk of just quoting the entire movie from beginning to end.

I tried for years to pretend like this wasn’t automatically my #1 movie of this year, but let’s face it… it is. This is one of my all time favorite films. I love this movie so much. I’ve been talking up this movie since the moment it came out. I was all over this one. This is entirely my alley.

It’s a blaxploitation parody… which kind of just makes it a blaxploitation movie. But it’s making fun of all the different elements that make those movies great. I don’t even know how to describe it — Black Dynamite’s brother is killed by “The Man,” and Black Dynamite is out to “clean up the streets” and figure out who’s behind this conspiracy that’s causing kid to become addicted to drugs.

The plot doesn’t even matter, it’s just one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s still wildly underseen by the public at large. To me, movies don’t get any better than this.

2. Inglourious Basterds

“You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’.”

This is now the fourth time Quentin Tarantino has been kept out of the #1 spot on one of my Top Ten lists purely because of an all-time favorite film of mine happening to come out in the same year.

This was my #1 for a long time, and with good reason. It might be Quentin’s best film. It’s got so many fantastic elements and set pieces going on that you could just watch a segment of the film as its own individual movie.

You’ve got Christoph Waltz in that incredible opening on the dairy farm, introducing you to one of the best screen villains of the past 30 years. Then you’ve got the introduction of the squad itself, with Pitt leading the Nazi killers. Then you’ve got Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger and the plot to kill Hitler (and that amazing tavern scene), which brings in Melanie Laurent, the girl who gets away from Waltz in the opening who returns years later as the proprietor of a Paris cinema that will become essential to the plot against Hitler. It’s just wonderful. All around. It’s Quentin at his absolute best.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

“Who am I, Kylie?”
“Who how? What now?”
“Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds illegal.”

For a while I might have said I thought this was Wes Anderson’s best film. The stop-motion fits perfectly with his style of filmmaking and really enhances the overall experience.

The idea behind this movie is kinda brilliant. It’s based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, about a Fox who used to be a thief, then settled down to start a family. Only now, he can’t help but go back to robbing the farms of his neighbors, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Which leads to an all out war between the farmers and Mr. Fox. It’s just wonderful.

If you like Wes Anderson in general, know the the stop-motion only makes his style even stronger. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it looks tremendous. And you’ve got George Clooney as Mr. Fox, which is just glorious.

The fact that this is #3 tells you how strong a year this is, because this, in a lot of other years, would be my #1 without hesitation.

4. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

“You don’t have a lucky crack pipe?”

This is the movie that reminds everyone how glorious Nicolas Cage can be in the right situation. He goes through stretches where he makes you forget that, doing shlocky work in less than stellar movies, often hamming it up unnecessarily (or worse, not bringing the energy at all). But once in a while, he’s in the right movie with the right director, and he just shines.

It’s his best performance since Adaptation in this decade (even though I really like him in Matchstick Men, Lord of War and, in a much more campy way, The Wicker Man). He plays a police detective who, during Hurricane Katrina, helps a locked up prisoner escape his cell, but in doing so, injures his back in a way that will cause him pain for the rest of his life. Several years later, we see the results of this… rather than just take his pain medication, he’s resorted to cocaine and (eventually) heroin and crack. He’s also a degenerate gambler who constantly is riding the line between being way in over his head in debt. He’s tasked with investigating the killing of some immigrants, and we watch him on that investigation.

The brilliance of this movie is that you’re not really paying attention to the story. I’ve seen this movie over a dozen times and I still couldn’t really tell you, beat by beat, how the story goes. It’s all about watching the Cage performance. It’s… astounding. And Werner Herzog leans into that by giving you these insane moments, like the one pictured above, where Cage has a full minute music montage of him just staring at iguanas on a coffee table. And the movie never makes it clear if they’re really there or not, or if it’s just a drug hallucination. Doesn’t really matter, in the end, because it’s one of the most wonderful moments in the film.

This is the kind of movie where… if it’s not for you, you’re really not gonna like it. So I can’t push just anyone to go watch this. But man, if this is remotely something that’s up your alley, you’re gonna have a great, great time. Because Cage is just beyond unhinged in the best possible way. The key with him in a lot of cases is when he’s get a director around him who can channel what he does and provide the support and structure around him to not have everything go off the rails (see also: Bringing Out the Dead). And this feels like a train going full speed up the tracks while no one is driving it because they’re all doing coke in another car, and somehow everything turns out okay. Sure, some passengers don’t want to ride that train again, but for everyone else, what a fucking ride that was.

5. Up

You and me… were in a club now.”

Okay, so I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way first — yes, a lot of this ranking is those first ten minutes. But also, those ten minutes are some of the finest ten minutes in the history of cinema. It is what it is.

The beauty of Pixar at its best is that you don’t notice how absolutely insane all of their third acts are. This movie ends on a zeppelin as one old guy is chasing another old guy, a child and a bird around with the help of his trained (and talking) super dogs, trying to kill them. That’s seriously the climax of this movie. And you know what? Totally works. Because they set up the emotion so well in those first ten minutes that you are completely with the character every step of the way, and when they bring the emotion back (try not to cry when he finally opens up the back of the album, I dare you), it doesn’t matter at all.

To me, any movie that manages to wring that kind of emotion out of you, and make you care that much, deserves a spot on this list. Truly, they could have released just the ten minutes of that opening as its own thing and it would have won Best Animated Short and probably still have been nominated for Screenplay.

6. Where the Wild Things Are

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

I need to point this out, because I don’t think everyone truly recognizes this as well they should: Spike Jonze has directed four movies at the point at which I’m writing this. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, this film, and Her. That’s about as perfect as a filmmaker can get for their first four films.

This is our second children’s book adaptation on this list, but, in a way, this might be the best. Maurice Sendak’s book is very short, but very memorable and loved by children of all ages. Spike Jonze takes that book and expands on it in the most beautiful ways, to the point where he makes what I feel is a movie about what it’s like to be a kid. You truly feel during this movie like you would have felt at that age. I’ve almost never seen a movie fully recreate that feeling.

Also, shout out to James Gandolfini, who even in voice work delivers one of the finest performances of this year.

7. Watchmen

“Rorschach’s Journal: October 12th, 1985. Tonight, a comedian died in New York.”

I didn’t grow up reading comics, so while a lot of people, when this was announced, had feelings about it, I didn’t really know much of anything. However, I will say that the concept of this one, when I heard it, made me really intrigued and at one point I actually bought the book to read it. I can’t remember if that was before or after I saw the film, but I do remember being really intrigued by the universe Alan Moore created that felt like it was mostly put up on the screen.

I remember seeing this in theaters and having very mixed thoughts about it. I liked it a lot, but some of the choices that were made seemed weird at the time. And then, after sitting with it for a while and having read the book, I realized that it’s just a really fun movie that visually translates the material in what’s probably the most successful way. Zack Snyder has his directorial quirks, and I’m not always the biggest fan of them, but having seen this, the Director’s Cut and the full version that I think has both the Director’s Cut and the Tales of the Black Freighter short that both appear in the full version of the book, I think I prefer the theatrical cut.

This is one of those where, I know it’s not as good as some of the other films on this list. But it’s also one I like going back and watching. For me, it’s not always about the quality that’s there every moment on screen. It’s what I get out of a film while watching it. I’m someone who can easily drift off during the less interesting parts and daydream about the possibilities within the world and the characters. This is precisely that kind of movie for me, and that’s why it’ll pretty much always be in or around my top ten for this year.

8. Up in the Air

Few directors had as good a start to their career as Jason Reitman did. Thank You For Smoking, Juno, this. An incredible trifecta.

This is a movie about George Clooney as a man who fires people for a living. He goes around the country to offices that are ‘downsizing’ and does the firing for the bosses who don’t want to. And then he goes on to the next place. And that’s a life that he loves having. Only, the events over the course of the movie, beginning with having to take a trainee along with him who developed a system through which people can be fired remotely (which would eliminate the need for air travel), make him start reconsidering it all.

Clooney gives an incredible performance, as do Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. This is one of those movies that is just good. You sit down to watch it and it just fits like a glove.

9. The Hurt Locker

“How many bombs have you disarmed?”
“Uh, I’m-I’m not quite sure.”
“Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir.”
“I asked you a question.”
“Eight hundred seventy-three, sir.”
“Eight hundred… and seventy-three! Eight hundred… and seventy-three. That’s just hot shit. Eight hundred and seventy-three.”
“Counting today, sir, yes.”
“That’s gotta be a record. What’s the best way… to… to go about disarming one of these things?”
“The way you don’t die, sir.”

It took me a while to come around on this movie, I’ll admit. I saw it pretty early, in the summer of 2009, before all the awards hype came up. And I watched it and thought, “This is a pretty solid thriller,” and that was it. And then it started coming on strong and winning all these awards and I went, “Where the hell did all that came from?” And I sort of held a mental grudge against it because of that (because I’m also 21 at the time and I’m still at the age where I think of this as a competition and hold grudges against movies that have nothing to do with their actual quality).

But I waited my time. I took a couple of years, and then by 2014, I was able to come back around to how good this is. It’s a really strong piece of work, anchored by a great Jeremy Renner performance. It definitely holds up as a great war thriller. And while it’s not something that I’ll wanna rewatch a bunch, it’s definitely worthy of its inclusion on this list.

10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“Why is it, when something happens, it is always you three?”
“Believe me, Professor. I’ve been asking myself the same question for six years.”

It’s weird. If you asked me to rank the Harry Potter movies (which I probably wouldn’t really do or be able to do), I’d for sure say that I think Chamber of Secrets is the weakest of the eight. But after that, I wouldn’t really know what to do. I’d probably say that the second weakest for me is either Goblet of Fire or this one. (On a technical level, it’s clearly the first one, but the first one has its own kind of magic, being the one that introduced all of us to the world. So I’m not sure I’d put it immediately down there like that.) But also, they’re just not. And really all it means is that the movies are so damn good that it’s hard to do something like that.

Anyway, this is the sixth one, and it’s, in a way, the darkest the series gets. Visually, at least. That’s partially why I chose the shot I did. The last two go into some real dystopian/Fascist stuff narratively, but this feels like the bleakest it all gets. The big death happens here, and there’s a lot the series has to do with a limited amount of room. This is the most Dumbledore the character really gets, and the movie has to deal with all of that in a meaningful way. (It’s also the first movie to directly deal with Dumbledore being canonically gay, since J.K. Rowling made her announcement about that between Order of the Phoenix and this.) This is also the movie that has to deal with what the books do versus what the movies had been setting up. Since ‘Deathly Hallows’ came out the same summer as the Order of the Phoenix film. So now they know what happens in the end in a definitive way (even though I’m sure they had some sort of idea as the books were coming out). And they have to basically try to force the Harry/Ginny and Hermione/Ron romances onto us despite visually for five movies clearly playing off the chemistry between Radcliffe and Watson. (Even Deathly Hallows 1 makes it clear that relationship is much more important than the eventual one from the books.)

Personally, I think this might be one of, if not the strongest film in the series for strict images. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel in this film is incredible. This, Azkaban and the two Deathly Hallows films are the prettiest in the series by far (though shout out to Goblet of Fire, which has its moments). And also, it’s Harry Potter, so it’s going to appeal to me more than most other movies. I considered a lot of other films for this last spot, but honestly… nothing felt like it meant more to me than this.

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11-20:

Avatar — Regardless of your opinion of it, this is the most important film of 2009. It being, at the time, the biggest film ever made, and the film that did more for special effects than anything since The Matrix and ushering in a whole new era of CG filmmaking. Say what you will about James Cameron, but he goes big. He waited 12 years after Titanic to make this, waiting for special effects to catch up to the idea he had in his head. And while the film now probably seems a bit dated (though I guess we’ll have to reassess all of that once the four sequels start coming out), it’s still a really great piece of entertainment. The story is a mash of all sorts of things that make it feel as though you’ve seen it before. But what’s impressive to me about it

The Boat That Rocked — This is the least well-known Richard Curtis movie. Well, he’s only made three. (Directed three. He’s written a lot more.) And everyone knows Love Actually. And I’m noticing that a lot of people know About Time as well, which is nice. But this one tends to go unnoticed. Part of it is because it was released as The Boat That Rocked in the UK and then was released as Pirate Radio in the US. Not sure why, but that’s what happened. It’s about a ship that broadcasts a pirated radio signal from out in international waters in the 1960s. Because back then, most pop and rock music was not played on BBC radio. So these ships broadcast stuff like The Beatles to all the people who wanted that sort of stuff (aka every young person in the country). And the film is about the people on board the ship, fighting for freedom of speech, and also being a cast of maniacs. The head DJ is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, then you have Bill Nighy as the head of the station, and then also Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, January Jones and Gemma Arterton. It’s so much goddamn fun. The music is amazing, and it’s just a really fun movie. You’ve got the guy who’s written like every famous British comedy of the past thirty years, why would you not expect this to be great? Honestly, this is a movie that, in a slightly weaker year, would be on my top ten list, and honestly might even still make it the next time I watch it. It’s awesome.

The Brothers Bloom — If The Boat That Rocked is the forgotten Richard Curtis movie, this is the forgotten Rian Johnson movie. Everyone knows Brick and Looper and Knives Out, and whatever that space movie thing was with the battles. But this one people just kinda overlook. And even if they know it, they still kinda gloss over it. And I don’t know why, because it’s amazing. It stars Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as con men (and brothers) who create these really complex scenarios through which they con rich people out of money. So now, of course, they’re on one last job, which involves Rachel Weisz, an eccentric heiress to a fortune. And… well, I’ll leave it at that. But it’s wonderful. Rian Johnson is a master filmmaker who always makes great movies. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough and think it’s one of the absolute best movies of this year.

Crazy Heart — The movie that won Jeff Bridges his Oscar. Also Scott Cooper’s first film, and possibly still his best. Bridges plays a washed up, alcoholic country singer who reaches an age where he has to take stock of his life while also encountering on a romance with a journalist. It’s a really good film with a terrific lead performance from Bridges. Also, incredible music in this movie. Bridges does all his own singing and the songs he sings are just great. “I Don’t Know,” “Falling and Flying,” “Somebody Else,” “Hold on You,” and of course, the Oscar-winner “The Weary Kind.” Great, great songs, and one of those movies that’s just good. Bridges especially gives one of those performances that’s so good that you almost don’t even notice it because the character is just lived-in. Which is incredible.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — This is the original Swedish film, not the David Fincher remake. I remember when this came out and it got a lot of acclaim. So I went and started watching this, figuring, “I’m sure it’ll be solid.” I rented the DVD from Netflix (back when that was a thing. Feels so long ago, doesn’t it?) and put it on as I was doing something else. I forget what. And it’s on and I’m sort of paying attention, and then ten minutes in I find that I’m mostly watching the movie and not doing what I was planning to do, so I sit down to focus on the film. Twenty minutes later, I’m on the edge of my bed, staring at the TV. Twenty minutes after that, I’m on the floor in front of the TV, absolutely riveted. This movie is great. The sequels… ehh, not as much. But this one… fantastic piece of work. Noomi Rapace is amazing as Lisbeth Salander, and while I do ultimately prefer the Rooney Mara performance (and the Fincher version, for that matter), I think this movie is absolutely terrific on its own terms.

The Hangover — A comedy phenomenon. Todd Phillips goes through lulls where his movies don’t quite work and then comes back with a movie that just hits big. This is a scenario that feels so obvious that it’s weird that no one’s done it as well as this did. Basically, a bunch of guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party, black out and wake up the next day with no memory of the night before and one of them (the groom, no less) missing. So now they have to figure out what the hell happened and get the groom back for his wedding in two days. It’s still funny. Bradley Cooper, Zach Gaifianakis and Ed Helms are great, and the movie is just loaded with fun twists and turns and eminently quotable moments. It works so well that they completely ruined it by making two sequels which just repeat the same jokes ad nauseam, kind of the way the Austin Powers sequels did (but worse). But this first one… man is it funny.

The Informant! — Possibly the most underrated Steven Soderbergh film, which is an insane thing to even try to comprehend, because there are so many of them. But this one almost no one knows about, and it’s great. I think the thing that kept this from going over at the time was because no one was expecting it to be as much of a comedy as it is. It’s about the FBI going after a company for price-fixing and using its VP as an undercover informant. Damon plays the guy in question, and holy shit, is this a performance. Basically, the guy, when being told he’s gonna go undercover for the FBI, he starts to think he’s an actual spy. Just… trust me on this. Go see this movie immediately, because it’s absolutely wonderful. Truly one of my absolute favorite Soderbergh films, and so few people know it exists, let alone have seen it.

Whip It — A Drew Barrymore film about roller derby. And honestly, if you had told me that I was even gonna wanna see this movie, let alone love it, I’d have said you were nuts. And yet, by the end of this year, I was telling people that this was one of the absolute best movies I saw. It’s so good. It’s a coming-of-age story with Ellen Page as an aimless girl growing up in Texas. Her mother wants her to enter beauty pageants, which she hates, and one day, she meets some people who are in a roller derby league. Eventually she goes and sees it and then joins up. And it’s about her finding a sense of purpose in her life. It’s a really sweet movie that really makes you feel good. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

World’s Greatest Dad — I love this movie. It’s so fucked up. This is directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, whose first film, Sleeping Dogs Lie, is about a woman who had sex with her dog. This one is about Robin Williams as a father and high school poetry teacher. His life sucks. No one gives a shit about poetry, his writing career has failed and his son is an awful person. Just a real piece of shit. And then one day, he comes home to find that his son accidentally hung himself while masturbating (as you do). So he, ever the dutiful father, takes his son down, puts his dick away and pretends like it was a suicide. And he writes a suicide note. Which gets picked up by the school and turns his son into a posthumous celebrity. “I didn’t know he had such deep feelings.” And they go, “Did he have any other writing?” Which, for Williams… jackpot. So yeah, this is a movie about a father who tries to save his son from having to be known as the kid who hung himself while jerking off and somehow ends up profiting off his son’s death by starting a writing career. It’s… great. It’s so great. I can’t explain why this is great other than to say, just see it. Williams is incredible and it’s a movie that manages to turn the supremely fucked up into the supremely funny and even touching. Great, great movie.

Zombieland — Next to Shaun of the Dead, this is the best zombie comedy of the decade. This movie is so funny. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at these kinds of movies, with Jesse Eisenberg narrating all his different ‘rules’ for surviving against the zombies and the wonderful ‘zombie kill of the week’. It’s also got Woody Harrelson, who is great in everything and kicks ass here, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. And, of course, the great Bill Murray cameo (which, it’s been over a decade, it’s not a damn spoiler anymore). The greatest thing about this movie is that the main cast, between them, has eight Oscar nominations and one win. And here they are, killing zombies. But yeah, this movie is amazing. Even the sequel’s entertaining. But this one is the one. It still holds up, even after all these years.

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Tier two:

  • (500) Days of Summer
  • Big Fan
  • The Blind Side
  • Bronson
  • Dogtooth
  • An Education
  • In the Loop
  • The Invention of Lying
  • The Messenger
  • Moon
  • Observe and Report
  • OSS 117: Lost in Rio
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • A Serious Man
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Slammin’ Salmon
  • Star Trek
  • The Taking of Pelham 123
  • Whatever Works
  • The Young Victoria

In the Loop is an Armando Iannucci satire. Which, in 2009, when this movie came out and I was trying to get people to see it, meant nothing. But now, with him having done Veep and Death of Stalin, people know who he is. So now you can get someone to go back and see this, even though for me, when I heard about those other things I went, “Oh man, In the Loop guy? I’m in.” It’s about a group of behind-the-scenes political people trying to stop a war from happening. And, if you’ve seen his other things, it’s hilarious. One of the funniest things you’ll ever see. What a brilliant movie. Truly one of those movies everyone MUST see if you love movies. The Princess and the Frog is famous for being Disney’s return to hand-drawn princess films. And also their first African-American princess, which is also a big deal in a different way. But to me, it’s not about who the princess is so much as it is that classic Disney animation style. So to see them return to that really made it feel like a triumph of sorts, even if the movie is very uneven. I’ve always had a bit of trouble fully embracing this movie just because — you finally decide to have a black princess and then you turn her into a frog for most of the movie? Plus, there’s a voodoo priest and a pretty racist cajun voodoo queen. There’s a lot of questionable racial decisions here. But on the other hand, it’s a gorgeous looking film that opens the door to something that they should have done much, much earlier, and it’s a very likable movie. Kinda telling that they haven’t had a black princess since (though that is also because there have only been three princess films since… which admittedly are all really good and the best they’ve made in that time period), but as a pure Disney movie, it is solid. Moon is Duncan Jones’ debut film that stars Sam Rockwell and basically no one else. He’s the only person on screen for the entire film. I think maybe we briefly see some other people, and Kevin Spacey voices a computer, but otherwise it’s just Rockwell the whole time. He plays an astronaut who is the only person working on his base who really misses other people, and then starts to uncover… well, you’ll see. It’s really good. It’s a film with a lot of cool tricks up its sleeve. Rockwell is great in it.

Dogtooth is Yorgos Lanthimos’ first exposure to most of the world. And it’s… an experience. He’s since gone on to make The Lobster and The Favourite, so people tend to know his sense of humor. But this… this one’s on another level. It’s about a family. And the children of that family have never left the property. They’ve lived on it their entire lives and are not allowed to leave. They’ve been taught a completely new language. Things are called by completely different names (for instance, a hairbrush might be called a banana. I’m making that example up, but that’s what it is). And we follow this completely fucked up existence, and it’s just brilliant and fascinating and supremely fucked up. I would say, while The Favourite is his most generally accessible film, this one is the one that best represents him as a filmmaker. It’s really, really terrific and is something all film fans should see at least once. An Education is such an incredible coming of age movie. Written by Nick Hornby, it stars Carey Mulligan (in a star-making performance that I feel should have earned her an Oscar) as a teen girl about to enter college who begins a relationship with a man twice her age. And it’s wonderful. The film is very solid on its own, but the performance of Carey Mulligan makes the film soar to a new level. It’s a great, great movie. Sherlock Holmes is Guy Ritchie doing Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. And Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong and Eddie Marsan. It’s fun as hell. I slightly questioned the opening, when they turned Holmes into a bare-knuckle boxer, but they make it clear that he does these things in the interest of science and experimentation, using his knowledge in all sorts of situations, and it fit, even if they did turn the film into a bit more of an action-heavy thing than I’d have wanted. Even so, the film is a lot of fun, owing to the chemistry between Downey and Law as Holmes and Watson. The plot I don’t quite remember, since it’s Mark Strong as a dude claiming to be some sorcerer or whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s just fun, and when it’s Holmes, you just go along with it knowing you’re gonna get good fun and an explanation in the end of what was going on. Big fan of this franchise.

The Invention of Lying is a great hidden gem of a comedy with an incredible premise: a world in which no one has ever lied, and the dude who first discovers that he can. Ricky Gervais stars (along with co-writing and co-directing) and it’s got a great cast of people (and some surprises throughout). And what’s great about it is that it gives you the premise, gives you jokes (mostly through people making fun of Gervais, aided by the fact that it’s a world in which everyone tells the truth all the time), then gives you the twist of him learning how to lie, with more gags of that sort with him using his new power to his advantage. But, the real brilliance of this movie is what happens around the middle, which is when (slight spoiler) his character’s mother dies, and in order to comfort her on her way out, makes up a story about going to a better place (essentially, Heaven). And, because everyone in the world always tells the truth, everyone assumes this is real. So basically, he creates religion. And now he has to live with the weight of what he’s just inflicted upon the world, despite having made it all up. It’s brilliant. That’s why this movie is so good, because of the fact that it starts as a dumb comedy and then has some really smart things to say about religion and what it does to a society. I’m a huge, huge fan of this movie and really wish more people would see it. OSS 117: Lost in Rio is the sequel. Cairo, Nest of Spies is absolutely hilarious. This one is very funny too, though not quite at the level of that one. Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin return (sadly no Berenice Bejo this time), and this time it’s him in Brazil. It’s very fun, and this franchise is better than most comedies that came out this entire decade. I highly recommend these movies. A Serious Man is the Coen brothers. It’s a great movie, though admittedly one I can never quite engage with as much as some other people. Micael Stuhlbarg plays a physics professor in the midwest who is just going through some shit. The Coens like to torture their characters, and this one is basically like watching the story of Jonah. He’s just the most put-upon man in the entire world. We just watch this guy’s life fall apart. It’s brutal, but also deeply funny. It’s a very Jewish movie. Which is what makes the whole thing so funny. It’s definitely one of their most esoteric films, but it is very, very well done. You can never go wrong with a Coen brothers film. Everyone knows that.

The Slammin’ Salmon is a Broken Lizard movie. I’ve been showing this to people for years. Because, while it’s not a great film, it’s a funny film. The plot involves a restaurant owned by a famous former boxer who announces to the staff that he’s incurred gambling debts and that the restaurant needs to make an absurd amount of money in a single night or else they all get fired. So it’s comedy Glengarry Glen Ross. And as incentive, he tells the staff members that whoever earns the most money at their tables will win $10,000 and get a trip to Hawaii. So of course they’re all running around trying to do it, and all sorts of insane shit happens over the course of the evening. Like I said, not the most amazing movie ever, but for one point — Michael Clarke Duncan. He plays the owner of the restaurant and holy shit, is this one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. Trust me on this, you are gonna enjoy the hell out of everything he does here. You can hate this movie to the ends of the earth, but there is no way you will ever convince me that Michael Clarke Duncan is not a genius in this role and that he does not make you laugh even once. He’s that good. The Blind Side is a tough movie for me. Because I have strong feelings about Sandra Bullock having won Best Actress for it and it having been nominated for Best Picture. But, when you just take this on face value, as a movie — perfectly entertaining. Kind of a white savior movie, admittedly, but likable. It’s based on the true story of a homeless boy taken in by a white family who became a great football player who was eventually drafted into the NFL. It’s a feel-good kind of sports movie. Not something I’d ever force onto people because it will turn some people off, but it’s fine. The biggest problem with it to me is that all its financial and awards success gives off the impression that it’s a better movie than it is. Otherwise, it’s fine. The Young Victoria is a biopic of Queen Victoria, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Emily Blunt. It’s wonderful. Not much more to say about it except that it is a classy, beautiful film.

Observe and Report is such a fucked up comedy that I’ve always loved. The basic premise is, “What would really happen if Paul Blart existed?” It came out right at the time where they were doing this with superhero movies too (Defendor and Kick-Ass and Super). What if a mall security guard was way too into his job? And that’s this movie. Seth Rogen plays the guy — he’s mentally ill, has a crush on Anna Faris, the lady who runs the makeup counter, and he really wants to be a cop. So in his mind, the entire job is his way of getting to be promoted to “The Force.” And it revolves around a flasher who’s been running around showing his dick to people, and Rogen trying to make the mall “safe” again by stopping him. It’s… so funny. It’s dark in its humor. And it’s fucking violent. It’s not for everyone, but if it works for you, it’s really gonna work for you. I should also mention that it was directed by Jody Hill, who did Eastbound and Down, if that means anything to anyone.  (500) Days of Summer was such a mega hit from this year. Almost everyone saw it. Because it was a regular movie, a rom com even, told in a very unique style. It’s a nonlinear film about the relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. And we follow their characters from their initial meeting, over the course of their 500 day relationship up through their (difficult, for him at least) breakup. And the film jumps all over to different points in a brilliant way. It’s a very fun movie that’s incredibly well made. It’s just very likable (though I know a bunch of people eventually turned on it because it was so out there at the time). I’ve always really liked this one. The Messenger is a wonderful, wonderful drama from Oren Moverman about the soldiers who have to go around, telling families their children have died in combat. That’s a scene you always see in movies, but you never think about what those people actually have to go through, having to do this over and over and over. Ben Foster plays a soldier at home after an eye injury in combat who gets paired with Woody Harrelson, who has been doing this job for years. Foster start to struggle when he becomes involved with the widow of one of the men who died. It’s a really strong film. Foster is great, Harrelson is tremendous (he got nominated for his performance), and it’s also got Samantha Morton, Jena Malone and Steve Buscemi. Definitely recommend this one. It’s terrific and the performances are spectacular.

Bronson is the movie that broke Tom Hardy as a star. He gives — holy shit does he give a performance here. It’s about a guy who got arrested at a young age and then spent basically the next thirty years in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. And along the way he developed this whole prison persona, calling himself Charles Bronson and turning into this charismatic, volatile psycho. And holy shit. Nic Winding Refn does a great job directing it, but Tom Hardy, man. Watching this tells you everything you need to know about what a brilliant actor he is. My god. What a performance. Star Trek is the J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise, his second of three of these. He had done Mission Impossible and revived that one, and then they put him on this, which got him the Star Wars gig. I’ll say this, he knows how to make a broadly liked franchise movie. This is a prequel of sorts to the franchise, finding a clever way around having to recast all the famous characters by giving you an opening prologue with Chris Hemsworth that sets the film in an alternate timeline where they can plausibly say — no, no, the Nimoy and Shatner characters still exist, but just over there. These are still them, but in this timeline. It’s a bit of hoop-jumping, but if that’s what made the fanboys happy, so be it. The film is about young Kirk, played by Chris Pine joining Starfleet and becoming the captain we know him as. It’s fun. Pine is very good, and Zachary Quinto is good as Spock, and Karl Urban is good as McCoy, and Zoe Saldana is good as Uhura, and Simon Pegg is good as Scotty and Anton Yelchin is good as Chekhov… you get the idea. They cast this really well, and that’s what goes a long way to making the film work. The sequels are not nearly as good as this, but this one is very fun and very entertaining. I didn’t expect to like this one (mostly because I largely am indifferent to the franchise as a whole), but it was a really solid piece of work.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a remake of the 1974 movie (which is great). This one isn’t as good as that, but it’s still a lot of fun in its own right. Tony Scott directs and for a large part of the film it’s a two-hander between Denzel and John Travolta. Denzel plays the Walter Matthau role, of the train dispatcher communicating with Travolta, leader of a group of hijackers who have taken over a city train. It’s great. The movie loses a bit of steam in the third act when they get out of the station and it becomes a standard action movie, but on the whole, it’s a really strong film. Tony Scott always makes an entertaining movie, and when he’s got Denzel, you know you’re getting the goods. I know people don’t particularly look upon this favorably, but give it a shot. You’ll be entertained. Whatever Works is one of the Woody Allen movies that I like, largely because of its star, Larry David. Allen originally wrote the movie for Zero Mostel, but then Mostel died and he left it in a drawer for 40 years. Then he brought it back, and found the perfect comically curmudgeon actor to play it. David plays a guy who is just happily miserable and loves hanging out with his friends and complaining all the time. Then one day, Evan Rachel Wood, a runaway teen, shows up on his doorstep. He begrudgingly takes her in and starts to actually warm to her. And it becomes a bit of a father-daughter relationship movie. There’s a sweetness to that (especially since for once it’s not the Allen stand-in having sex with the young girl). There are other subplots going on, which don’t all work, but everything with Larry David complaining is just wonderful. And that’s what makes this film work. Big Fan is a great little indie. Written and directed by Robert Siegel, who wrote The Wrestler. It stars Patton Oswalt as a regular guy who is a huge giants fan. He’s literally the guy people make fun of… the guy who lives in his mother’s basement and calls into sports talk stations and does these elaborately-rehearsed diatribes and really cares about the state of his team. And then one day, he sees the star of his team driving through his neighborhood, and he decides to follow him. Which eventually leads to him being savagely beaten up by the player. So now, he’s torn — this dude put him in the hospital, but he’s also his favorite player. He’s about to be suspended for what he did, which would hurt his team’s chances of making the playoffs. It’s a great little character piece. Oswalt is incredible in it and it’s one of those indies that is just a really good movie that not enough people know about due to it being this tiny movie that was probably made for less than a million dollars.

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Tier three:

  • 2012
  • Adventureland
  • Away We Go
  • Coraline
  • The Cove
  • District 9
  • Fish Tank
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  • The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
  • Invictus
  • Knowing
  • Me and Orson Welles
  • Nine
  • Precious
  • Public Enemies
  • The Road
  • A Single Man
  • The Secret of Kells
  • This Is It
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Me and Orson Welles is a Richard Linklater movie, of all things. I feel like no one knows that, or even remembers this movie. I was all over it, because I am fascinated whenever someone plays Welles on screen. Which didn’t happen all that often. Vincent D’Onofrio plays him in Ed Wood (though they dubbed him over with Maurice LaMarche, who is famous for his Welles impression), Liev Schreiber plays him in RKO 281, Angus Macfayden plays him in Cradle Will Rock, and then here. That’s it. (I always thought Danny Huston would have made a great Welles about 15 years ago, but that’s another story.) This is a story about a young kid being cast in a play Welles is putting on at his Mercury Theater. So it’s one of those where the Welles character is the supporting part that gets to steal the movie even though Zac Efron’s character is technically the star. Because it’s about him being in the presence of this larger than life guy and also falling in love with one of the actresses in the play and all that stuff. Very traditionally plotted, which makes sense for a film of this time period. It’s also got Claire Danes, Zoe Kazan (in one of her first roles) and Eddie Marsan as John Houseman. It’s a solid movie. Really the highlight of the film is Christian McKay as Welles. He doesn’t particularly look exactly like him, but he does a good job playing him. It feels like Welles. And Linklater, of course, as we know, always makes worthwhile films, so this is one of those that I recommend checking out just because it’s a good piece of work by a great director. Coraline is a Henry Selick animated film based on a Neil Gaiman novel about a girl who feels neglected and travels to magical world where all the parents are much nicer… only they all have buttons for eyes and she can’t figure out why. And the movie is about her exploring this magical world and all the people in it and slowly figuring out that it may not be as magical as it originally seemed. This movie is kind of like The Wizard of Oz for goths. That’s basically the story. It’s really well-made, and oh, did I mention, it’s Laika’s first film.

Away We Go is the one Sam Mendes movie that I feel like nobody knows he made. Because it’s just this nice, unassuming little indie movie, and around it, he made American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. It’s a movie written by Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, clearly about their own experiences, and stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a married couple with their first child on the way who travel around the country looking for the best place to settle down and start their family. So it becomes a series of vignettes of them meeting all sorts of kooky characters and things like that, but really it’s just a movie about what the real meaning of ‘home’ is. It’s really well made. It’ll never be anyone’s favorite Sam Mendes movie (or maybe it will. In which case, good for you), but it’s a really solid piece of work that just proves the man has never made a bad movie. Precious is, as we all know, based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. It stars Gabourey Sidibe, an overweight, illiterate teenager who is pregnant with her second child (both by her father). She lives with her mother (played brilliantly by Monique, who won an Oscar for her performance), who is openly hostile toward her, and the film is about her trying to go to a different school in order to actually learn and possibly get somewhere and do something with her life. It’s a really solid film. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a capitalization off Transformers. “Hey, those toys could work, let’s try these.” And the movie is a giant mess. But you know what? I love this mess. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve never been able to explain it, so I’m just gonna leave it at that.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is famous for being Heath Ledger’s final film. He was in the middle of filming it when he died. That’s always what this movie will be known for. But aside from that, it’s a Terry Gilliam movie. Which should really be the major selling point of it. Though I will say, despite the very unfortunate fact that the lead actor of the film never got to finish it, how they ended up finishing the film ended up being a stroke of brilliance/fortuitousness. Since the film is about a traveling theater troupe who has this magical mirror that takes its audience into a fantasy world. So what they did was say, “Who says it has to be him in the fantasy world?” Since almost all the real world stuff with him was already shot. So what they did was hire Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play him in the three times we go into the fantasy world. Which adds a real bit of magic to the film and makes the best of a terrible situation. The film itself is very fun even despite the troubling off-screen circumstances and holds its own as a fun piece of entertainment and another solid Terry Gilliam film. Adventureland is a coming of age movie that was a real cult favorite from this year. Written and directed by Greg Mottola and based a bit around his childhood, it stars Jesse Eisenberg as a guy just out of college who starts working at the local theme park in his small town. And then he gets involved in the lives of all the other people working there, like Kristen Stewart, who plays the love interest, and Ryan Reynolds, the cool guy everyone looks up to. It’s a fun movie. Some people really love this, and I suspect it’s the kind of movie that will perfectly speak to a particular group of people. And it’s nice that those movies are out there. The Cove is a documentary about dolphin killing. It’s about a group of activists who sneak around to film inside a hidden cove in Japan where they film a mass killing of thousands of dolphins in one of the most horrific scenes you’ll ever see. It’s a really strong film that really stays with you after you see it.

Knowing is one of those weird Nicolas Cage movies that still kinda holds up in a weird way. It’s a sci fi movie directed by Alex Proyas about a guy whose son digs up a time machine left by a student 50 years earlier that contains random numbers and things. So he, an astrophysicist (naturally), takes a look. And he starts finding dates of all sorts of disasters that have happened over the past fifty years as well as what seem to be dates about upcoming disasters. So now he sets out to figure out what’s going on and stop these disasters from happening. It’s… there’s a lot going on here. But there’s a lot to think about and a lot of good stuff in it. There’s a plane crash sequence that’s really well filmed. But, on the other hand… there’s a random shot of a moose on fire that’s so random it’s absolutely hilarious. And then there’s the ending, which I imagine might be controversial for some. Mostly I like that it’s not just some throwaway thriller. There’s a real story here, and it will get you talking about it. You can’t just dismiss this one like you can with a lot of the movies around it. Which is why I like it and why I think it’s worth visiting. The Road is based on a Cormac McCarthy novel (that I think won the Pulitzer) and is about a father protecting his son in a post-apocalyptic world. Film stars Viggo Mortensen as the father, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son, and then Charlize Theron in flashback and Robert Duvall, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams and Guy Pearce in various roles throughout it. It’s solid. Well-made film. Directed by John Hillcoat coming off The Proposition. Fish Tank is an awesome indie directed by Andrea Arnold. It’s about a 15 year old girl whose mother brings home a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). And it’s about the girl’s relationship with him, and how he seems to actually be the first nice one her mother has ever brought home. It’s a really strong film. Character piece with great performances

Invictus is the movie where Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela. It’s one of those things where – it had to happen at some point. It just did. They look so much alike that someone had to finally make the movie. And then Clint Eastwood did. And what he did was not make it a movie about Mandela himself. His time in prison, any of that. This is a movie about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa. So it’s a sport movie. Nelson Mandela just happens to be in it. It’s about a country trying to heal the wounds of Apartheid and them using the national Rugby team to do it. Of course, the team had been dismantled and hadn’t competed since Apartheid ended, so no one expects the team to do well. But that’s the beauty of the film and what happened in real life — magic happened. And it’s a very wonderful, uplifting film. Matt Damon plays the captain of the team (who also earned an Oscar nomination alongside Freeman, who was all but guaranteed one the minute he was playing Mandela), and it’s just a really uplifting sports film. Probably something that will end up going higher for me on this list the next time I watch it. 2012 is a disaster movie after disaster movies were fashionable to make. Roland Emmerich again, finishing off a sort of trilogy with Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. Diminishing returns, the three, but still fun. Disaster movies are almost always fun because they have these cool ensemble casts and don’t give you anything you aren’t expecting. Famous faces, big effects and just popcorn entertainment. This one, though… strains credulity more than most. I mean, it’s got a scene where John Cusack rides a limo away from the apocalypse. So, you know… it’s not as easy to embrace as some others. But hey, it’s got Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover and Amanda Peet. So there’s that. A Single Man is a movie that earned Colin Firth an Oscar nomination. Oh, but I guess I buried the lead… this movie is directed by Tom Ford. Yes, that Tom Ford. He’s directed two movies so far, actually. Both quite good. Firth plays a gay professor in the 60s unable to cope after his younger boyfriend dies. And it’s a really solid performance out of Firth, and a really well-handled piece of work by Ford, who, with this and Nocturnal Animals, has shown that he is a very good filmmaker.

Public Enemies is Michael Mann’s film about John Dillinger. Which, on paper, sounds awesome. Even more awesome when you have Johnny Depp as Dillinger (which is cool. Though admittedly, look up Dillinger and tell me that’s not Mickey Rourke) and you also have Christian Bale as the FBI agent tracking him down, Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd, Jason Clarke, Marion Cotillard, Carey Mulligan, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Graham, David Wenham, Billy Crudup, Bill Camp and John Ortiz in it. Sounds amazing. Then… Michael Mann starts using handheld, digital cameras for part of it even though it takes place in the 30s and you go, “What… are you doing?” It’s just a weird choice that goes along with several weird choices that keep this movie from being great. It’s still good, but it just has elements to it that make you wonder what they were going for. But oh well, it happens. District 9 was the huge sci fi hit of the year. Neil Blomkamp’s first movie, and it got enough love to get nominated for Best Picture in a year where they guaranteed ten nominees. It’s a sci fi action movie with a lot of social overtones. It takes place in South Africa after aliens land and are forced to live in a segregated district (obviously you see the parallels). And the film is about one of the policemen ordered to monitor their area who gets exposed to one of their weapons and slowly begins turning into one of them. So now, of course, he’s no different from them in the minds of his former friends and colleagues, and the film is about him trying to save himself and learning to embrace the other side. It’s fun. I didn’t particularly care for it the first time I saw it, but I came around the second time. It’s a fun movie.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the second one. I’ll always remember it for… well, a lot of things. But mostly because they were shooting this during the writer’s strike, and I remember Bay coming out (even though no one really asked him) to say, “Don’t worry about it, I wrote the story, it’s taken care of.” And right there, that about told you everything you needed to know about this. And the finished product bore that out. It’s got robot balls in it. And a robot humping Megan Fox’s leg. And two characters that can only be described as “super racist.” But it’s Transformers. It’s robots fighting and shit blowing up. As ridiculous as this franchise is, it amuses me. So I’ll always be partial to it, even the shitty ones (which… most of them are pretty shitty). The Secret of Kells is a beautiful Irish animated film that was nominated for Best Animated Feature. You know a movie is great if they nominated it and it’s not from America and not made by Studio Ghibli. It’s about a young boy living at a remote military outpost who meets a man with a magical book. And the boy goes on a journey as he learns about it and its powers. It’s magical. It really is. Do yourself a favor and see this movie immediately. This Is It is the documentary about Michael Jackson’s tour that he was about to embark on before he died. And it’s got a lot of backstage footage but mostly is giving you a look at the man before he died. There are some really great moments in it — I highly recommend the version of “The Way You Make Me Feel” he does with the slowed down doo wop intro — and it’s just a movie for fans of the man who love the music. (All the other stuff is icky, but the music isn’t.)

Nine is a musical based on the film 8½. Rob Marshall directs, and he got Daniel Day-Lewis to star in it. Which is pretty amazing. And also, the rest of the cast is great. It’s mainly about him (a director) and all the women in his life as he struggles to finish his next film. So the women are played by Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, and Fergie. It’s a solid, well-made movie that looks good and is fun to look at. Not sure I particularly love the music. It’s one of those ‘less than the sum of its parts’ kinda deal. Love a lot of things about it, but the film itself is just pretty good to me. Though I will say, my absolute favorite favorite thing about this movie — I remember seeing this for the first time, and there’s a song at the end where Day-Lewis is bemoaning the fact that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to complete the film (the song is appropriately called “I Can’t Make This Movie”). And so I’m watching this, and the song starts, and immediately I’m looking around like, “Is this a joke? Does no one else hear this?” I was in tears laughing so hard at that song… because it’s LITERALLY that Dracula song that Jason Segal sings in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. If you need a refresher on that song, you can do so here. It’s impossible for me to listen to this song and not hear that.

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Tier four:

  • Angels & Demons
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Crank: High Voltage
  • The Damned United
  • Fast & Furious
  • The Girlfriend Experience
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire
  • Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
  • I Love You, Man
  • Julie & Julia
  • The Last Station
  • Law Abiding Citizen
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Mary and Max
  • New York, I Love You
  • The Proposal
  • Sunshine Cleaning
  • Taking Woodstock
  • Tetro
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The Girlfriend Experience is Steven Soderbergh’s movie about a high class call girl, starring former porn star Sasha Grey. It’s a very interesting movie. Soderbergh has three modes: studio mode, experimental mode and ‘trying new things’ mode. Trying new things doesn’t mean experimental so much as it means trying to do genre stuff in a different way. That’s the majority of his stuff, the ‘try new things’. This counts firmly as experimental. Like Bubble or Unsane. It’s him operating with no money and trying to make something as realistic as possible. And honestly, it works. The movie is written by Koppelman and Levien (Rounders, Billions) and plays as a sort of 2000s version of Shampoo, since it’s set in the days leading up to Obama’s election. It’s very short, under 80 minutes, and is a really solid piece of work that I always recommend to people because Soderbergh’s experimental films are often more important than his mainstream stuff in showing what kind of a filmmaker he is. Angels & Demons is the sequel to The Da Vinci Code based on a book that came out before The Da Vinci Code (and if I’m being honest, is better than The Da Vinci Code). It’s Tom Hanks solving a mystery at the Vatican. Which is pretty sweet. Movie’s pretty fun. Not great, but entertaining. Just like Da Vinci Code is. Don’t expect anything more than watchable. Mary and Max is a lovely animated film featuring the voices of Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s about two unlikely pen pals — she an eight-year-old girl and him a forty-seven-year-old man in New York. She has no friends and picks his name out of a phone book and sends him a letter. And then, he responds. And thus begins a correspondence. It’s a sweet little movie. Really, really well made, and one of the best animated movies in a year full of great animated films.

A Christmas Carol is Robert Zemeckis’s closest to achieving the goal he set out to achieve with the run of mo-cap CG movies. The Polar Express looks creepy, Beowulf looks creepy in a different way, and this one largely works. It might be because technology caught up, it might be because it’s a piece of material everyone knows well. I don’t know. But I’m not as creeped out here as I was with the other two. And here, Jim Carrey plays Scrooge (at all ages) as well as all the ghosts, and then you have Gary Oldman as Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, as well as Robin Wright, Cary Elwes and Bob Hoskins. It’s an enjoyable adaptation of a classic. New York, I Love You is a semi-sequel to Paris, je t’aime, with a bunch of filmmakers making shorts about New York. It doesn’t have the cohesiveness that Paris je t’aime has, since that one is based around the different neighborhoods. This one is just shorts. It’s a mixed bag, though admittedly the good outweigh the bad here, which I cannot say about any of the other films in this franchise. The Proposal is a Sandra Bullock rom com that, at the time, I thought was gonna be terrible and then I saw it and went, “Oh, this is actually kinda charming.” It’s her and Ryan Reynolds and is about her forcing him (her assistant) to marry her so she can maintain citizenship status and not be deported. And, well, you know how that stuff goes. Really charming, and it definitely ranks among the worthwhile rom coms of this decade. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is Damien Chazelle’s first movie, and when you see it, it’s clearly him building his way up to La La Land. It’s very similar to that movie. It’s about a jazz trumpet player and woman who he falls in love with. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but for a first film made on zero budget, there’s charm there, and it shows the talent that would obviously blossom with all of his later work. It’s worth seeing.

Law Abiding Citizen is a fun thriller with Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. Butler plays a man whose family is murdered. The men who did it are caught, but evidence is slight and a conviction is not guaranteed. So Jamie Foxx, the D.A., gets one of the men to testify against the other, ensuring the conviction against that guy, but also letting one of them go. Basically get one for sure rather than possibly get none. Butler, of course, is pissed about this. Then, when the one guy gets executed, things go wrong, and it’s painful. And the other guy, who got out of prison early, is brutally murdered. And guess who seems like the prime suspect? It’s a fun movie. F. Gary Gray directs and it’s just the kind of movie that doesn’t ask much of the viewer and just allows you to enjoy yourself for two hours. Tetro is a Francis Ford Coppola movie. He spent the 2000s making small little indies that meant something to him. Youth Without Youth wasn’t great, but this one was pretty good. It’s about a guy who goes to find his older brother who he hasn’t seen in years. It’s a great little character piece that people should seek out. I know people tend to ignore most Coppola stuff post Apocalypse Now, during the work for hire years, but even some of that’s really good too. Taking Woodstock is an Ang Lee movie about Woodstock, but told from the perspective of the farmers and motel owners who lived in the town that helped put the festival on. It’s a different angle with which to tell the story, and it’s fun. Not the greatest movie ever, but there’s a charm to this that comes through.

Crank: High Voltage is the sequel. Which is hilarious when you realize where the first one ended. But also, when we heard it, we all went, “Yeah… makes sense.” This one has, rather than his heart having to stay charged with adrenaline, it literally having to be charged, as they replace his heart with a battery-powered one that needs electricity to keep it running. Which, you can imagine, leads to some interesting situations. It’s much campier than the original, but it’s still fun as hell. I Love You, Man is a fun movie that I feel like people like more than I did. But still, it’s enjoyable. Paul Rudd and Jason Segal star as two guys who go on some man dates and become friends. Just a good old-fashioned male friendship movie. That’s it. It’s fun. Fast & Furious is the return to glory of a franchise that was on life support. Vin Diesel chose to do Chronicles of Riddick instead and decided not to return, so they wrote him out of the sequel, and then no one wanted to come back for the third one, so they went off and did Tokyo Drift. So now, they managed to get the band back together and this was everyone coming back, with enough time having past that everyone was thrilled to see them all return. I remember this making a shit ton of money when it came out. I honestly don’t remember the plot, as no one should really remember the plots of these movies. I remember the oil tanker flipping over their car and I think this is the one with the plot of Michelle Rodriguez having amnesia and being bad, or maybe she’s dead for this one. I forget. It pretty much just brings everyone back and acts as the first acceptable sequel to a franchise everybody enjoys.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the first Wolverine spinoff film, which has a bit of a sordid history, since an unfinished work print leaked online about three weeks before release. Which wouldn’t necessarily destroy a film’s chances at success… only this leaked print showed everyone how not great the movie was, and that helped destroy its chance for success. The choices they made here were so strange that they made multiple jokes in Deadpool and actually had him go back and murder his own character here to undo what was already done. That said, it’s Wolverine, and Wolverine is awesome and Jackman’s performance as Wolverine is one of the five greatest superhero performances ever put to screen. So even if the movie isn’t great by franchise standards, it’s still an entertaining movie, and always worth it to see Jackman playing this character. The Last Station is a drama about the last days of Leo Tolstoy, starring Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife. Also stars James McAvoy as the audience character who is Tolstoy’s secretary, continuing his stretch of playing side character to famous real characters (after Last King of Scotland). It’s a solid movie. Got acting nominations for both Plummer and Mirren. Not for everyone, but worthwhile if it sounds like it’s up your alley. The Girl Who Played with Fire is the sequel to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nowhere near the quality of that film, but still solid. Noomi Rapace returns as Lisbeth Salander and it’s about her trying to investigate (with Blomkvist, of course) a sex trafficking ring but also her being framed and having to go on the run (as sequels often tend to do with these characters). It’s fine, but like I said, doesn’t nearly capture the magic of that first film.

The Damned United is Tom Hooper’s film about the brief tenure of Brian Clogh as the Leeds football coach. Michael Sheen plays Clogh and it’s the story of a guy with talent but too much ego and bravado to make use of it. It’s a really strong film. Tom Hooper makes good movies. He may have made a movie you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean he’s made a bad movie yet. The Lovely Bones is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the YA novel about a young girl who has been murdered. Saoirse Ronan plays the girl, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play her parents, Susan Sarandon plays her grandmother and Stanley Tucci plays the guy who murdered her. He’s the highlight of the film. His performance is tremendous here, and rightly earned him an Oscar nomination. The film is a bit of a mixed bag. Jackson seems more interested in creating the visuals of Heaven than he is in the human drama going on. But the performance by Tucci does a lot to keep that part of the film interesting. Julie & Julia is based on the book written by a woman who decided to make a blog of her attempting to cook all of Julia Childs’ recipes in her first cookbook. And the film is half that and half Child herself. Amy Adams plays the blogger and Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. Honestly, only the Meryl half is really all that interesting, but overall it’s a fun movie. It also got Meryl another one of her “Jesus, again? nominations, proving that they will indeed nominate her for anything. Sunshine Cleaning is a peak indie movie. It practically screams ‘Sundance’. It stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as two sisters who, needing the money, start a business for disposing of hazardous materials. You know, dangerous chemicals, mattresses after people blew their brains out on them, that sort of stuff. And of course it’s really about them getting their own shit together in the meantime. It’s solid. Good cast, good performances.

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