Category Archives: Movies

Favorite Films of 2011

So I know that 2010 was a good year for movies, but looking back, most of that was based on the fact that you had three top-flight films (Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3) and a bunch of really good “second-tier” films. I’m not sure if 2011 has any that will be as memorable as Social Network or Inception, but there’s an insane number of “first-tier” films from this year. As a reminder, this is a list of my favorite films from 2011, not a list of the best.

20. Horrible Bosses
Yeah, I know they didn’t stick the ending with this one, but man, those first 45 minutes were hilarious. Plus, Charlie Day is doing Charlie Dayish things. That’s a winner in my book.

19. The Muppets
It hits everything you’d expect it to, just as well as you’d expect it. How perfect was choosing Brett McKenzie for doing the music? I mean, if you get rid of all the sexual allusions (which, admittedly is 80% of it), Flight of the Conchords songs are essentially Muppet songs. Tell me that “Man or Muppet” didn’t sound like some of the best FOTC songs. Throw in that you get an encore of the original Muppet movie’s Rainbow Connection and you’ve got yourself a near perfect soundtrack.

18. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
This was a great movie. Now, I want to talk about something else. If you were J.K. Rowling do you think you could resist writing another Harry Potter book or twelve? George Lucas couldn’t (twice!). Peter Jackson couldn’t. Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t. I fully expect in ten years or so to see some adult fiction Harry Potter (think Dan Brown meets the Ministry of Magic). Don’t give me that “it’s perfect as is” crap. You know we’ll all be right there in line buying it. Just like were were with the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones 4, the Godfather part III and how we will be for the Hobbit.

17. The Tree of Life
I really struggled with where to put this one. I recognize the achievement and the quality of this film, but it just didn’t resonate with me like it did with some people. The fact that (I think) I get what Malick was doing (if anyone can get Malick was doing…) means I can’t place this higher without that feeling that it was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever seen.

16. Meek’s Cutoff
You’re going to hear a lot about Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as being the gold standard for feminist performances this year. Nothing against Mara (she was incredible and Oscar worthy), but Michelle William’s performance in Meek’s Cutoff is tops in this area for me. The movie itself is how I would imagine it was like to travel the Oregon Trail. Because of that, it has its flaws as a film, but you can’t deny the natural drama and tension that arises from the situation.

15. The Help
Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get every great actress working today and put them in the same movie! Don’t be surprised if you see the Academy Awards for Best Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) come out of this film. Davis has some competition with Meryl Streep, but Spencer’s a shoe in. While the performances are undoubtedly what makes this movie, give credit where credit is due, the material can’t be total fluff for the performances to be as good as they are.

14. The Ides of March
What I liked most about this film is its relativity. Sure, every character does something bad, but each one would tell you that it’s entirely explainable why they did it and why it has to be considered relative to the greater good (whether that be the “real” greater good or the “I want power” greater good). It’s the classic “do the ends justify the means” argument. Take a look at where you are right now in your life and where you want to be. What if someone told you there were two paths for getting there– one slow and good, the other quick and bad? What if you weren’t sure which path you were going to take until you’d already taken it– would you still do it? These are the things that Gosling’s character has to wrestle with (at least earlier on in the movie). Perhaps the most soul crushing occurrence of the entire film is the internalization of the realization that Gosling’s character is going to get to where he wants to go, but not in the way he wanted to do it. What should he do now? What can he do now?

13. The Guard
Who would’ve thought that this year’s greatest action hero would be a 60ish small-town Irish cop that’s defensive of his favorite prostitutes and witnesses a car crash only to hurry over so he can search the victims for drugs he could use? And yet, Brendan Gleeson instills Sgt. Boyle with a human sense and huge amount of humor that turns The Guard into a film everyone will like.

12. Another Earth
It doesn’t happen often, but you know how you can look back at certain choices you make and see how they’ve defined your life? Sure, some of them are big ones (like where you go to school, where you take your first job, who you marry), but some smaller ones have just as profound an impact. What makes Another Earth stand out is that it takes a note from the TV show, Fringe, and literally makes it possible to explore different choices. Though, that begs the question: would you even want to know if “your” life was better elsewhere?

11. Bridesmaids
Remember what I said last year about Jon Hamm being in a movie automatically vaulting it to the top 15 of my list? Well, Jon Hamm is in this movie. You’ve heard over and over at how this is the “female” Hangover, but that doesn’t really do it justice. To me, that says that this movie wouldn’t have been successful without the Hangover, which is ridiculous. There are two things that are important to making a movie like this good: 1) Was it funny? and 2) Does Melissa McCarthy poop in a sink? Yes and Yes.

10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I’ve read a few of John Le Carre’s spy novels, but never this one. Honestly, I would have thought it impossible to fit any of Le Carre’s densely packed novels into a two-hour movie, but here we are with Tomas Alfredson (who you probably remember from the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In) mostly accomplishing it. Yes, you’re lost about half the time, but instead of that discouraging or boring you, it pulls you further into what Alfredson and Gary Oldman are going for: a web of information and deception that could lead to anyone being the mole. If you like your spy thrillers without the hand holding, this is the one for you.

9. Moneyball
It’s a baseball movie… about advanced statistics… that don’t exactly work for a team that had no choice but to rely on them… that somehow turned into the feel-good movie of the year. (Cue the West Wing Theme) Thank you, Aaron Sorkin.

8. The Artist
After finally seeing this, I’m little puzzled by the best-picture buzz it’s getting. The performances (both in front and behind) the camera are top-notch, but you can’t help but feel like it’s missing something that those top movies have every year. Despite all that, it’s supremely enjoyable and takes what basically amounts to a gimmick (for those who don’t know, this is a silent movie) and makes it feel integral to the film. Absolutely one of the year’s best, but a little too slight to be in that top tier. Of course, that’s exactly what I would have said about the King’s Speech last year…

7. Melancholia
If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Lars von Trier film without being completely horrified at everything that’s going on, here’s your chance to see one and only be 80% horrified. There are very few filmmakers who know how to frame the appropriate emotion for the end of the world, (hint: Armageddon’s use of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is not it) but von Trier is one of them. I know this is late, but see this in theaters if you get a chance; I think I lost some of the ending’s effect from watching it at home.

6. Midnight in Paris
I know we’re clearly out of the golden age of Woody Allen movies, but I’ll be damned if this didn’t feel like it could have been stuck right back with Manhattan, Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. That may mean very little to some of the more modern film watchers (I’m firmly in that camp), but it’s a return to Woody Allen’s wheelhouse of emotionally whimsical and endlessly entertaining.

5. Nader und Simin (A Separation)
Isn’t it interesting that despite layers and layers of cultural differences, there’s emotional resonances that we all feel? Calling Nader und Simin (English Title: A Separation) a foreign film is an understatement in some ways and unfair to it in others. Foreign implies a non-native experience, but if that were true how does this film create such an emotional connection? Sure, this film wades through the beginnings of a divorce in Iran; sure, it’s totally in Persian; and yes, it deals with a legal system that’s unfamiliar to westerners, but despite all of that, if this was truly a foreign film, how is that you can be devastated by the consequences of the choices of the characters? Nader und Simin may be foreign in origin, but it’s decidedly native in nature.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This is the third time I’ve consumed this material (book and Swedish version of the film) and needless to say, no one, not even the author, can do this like David Fincher. This is your quintessential book adaptation: it stays true to the source material without feeling the need to be tied down by it; plot points are changed and characters are shuffled around, but the heart of the original story is there. Only then do you have to add on the fact that no one can do suspense like Fincher. This is the guy who made a movie about a nerd making a website come off like Silence of the Lambs. When you give him actual suspenseful source material, you know you’re in for it and it doesn’t disappoint. Go see this and then tell me you weren’t literally uncomfortably wriggling in your seat.

3. Martha Marcy May Marlene
One of the best years for female performances in recent memory may be capped off by one of the Olsen sisters (thankfully, not Mary Kate or Ashley). Maybe what I appreciate most is that it never feels like Elizabeth Olsen is “acting”. While her sanity is clearly in question, it never turns into one of those over-the-top, totally-withdrawn performances. It feels authentic and original. What higher praise could you give? Sean Durkin’s directing and screenplay is light years beyond what you would expect from a first-time effort; some will be upset and find it gimmicky the way he plays with time and attempts to shift reality, but it feels very natural with Olsen’s performance and the flow of the story. As for John Hawkes, he’s doing his normal awesome John Hawkes stuff. One of these years, the Coen brothers or Tarantino will cast him and he’ll win an Academy Award.

2. The Descendants
Thankfully, I have very little experience with grief. That doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it when I see it, but I just have very few personal feelings to pull from. And while the bulk of this movie focuses on the concept of grief and how to deal with it, the ultimate thing I pull from it is what it takes to become a better person. Some people can change with a major event occurring: a loss of job, a loss of a relationship, a loss of someone close to you; while others know themselves well enough to change when they want (think about the people who make New Year’s Resolutions and actually keep them). I think I’m more like George Clooney’s Matt King. Matt wants to take his wife’s accident as a catalyst to be a better father and husband, but over the course of the movie realizes that it’s the fall out that shapes you as a human being. It’s not about becoming a better person in one fell swoop; it’s taking those bits and pieces of wisdom and experience you get over the course of your life and realizing how they all fit together to make you the best person you can be. Sure, that’s cheesy and may be a bit trite, but it doesn’t make it any less true. For my money, this is this 2011’s best picture, though it’s doubtful it’ll beat out the Artist for it.

1. Drive
It’s nearly impossible to tell you why I like this movie so much. But, to save you some rambling about atmosphere, tension and action, I think what it comes down to is style. This movie has it. It’s a nasty world it creates, but somehow I want to live in it. The other piece of this movie is Gosling. I’m not sure there’s anyone else working today who could pull this role off. Maybe Clooney ten years ago. Gosling’s nameless character (The Driver) is the Clint Eastwood of Westerns, the Roland of Gilead of Stephen King’s Dark Tower. What you see is what you get. You get no back story; his entire existence is defined by what you see on screen. Somehow that draws you in even more.

I’m betting that most people who’ve seen this place it at or near the top of films from 2011, whether you’re a critic or just someone who happened to wander into the theater because the name Drive sounded cool. I’m also betting that when I go and read the reviews for this movie, that anyone who’s attempted one finds themselves equally at a loss for words. How good can a movie be if you can’t describe how good it is? If Drive is any indication, pretty damn good.

Apologies to: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 50/50, Contagion, Super 8, War Horse

Still need to see: Hugo, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Shame, J. Edgar

2011 Movie Awards

I’m still about four movies away from feeling comfortable posting my Best of 2011 list. I’m planning on buckling down and seeing them this weekend and early next week, so look for it soon. In the meantime, here’s a list of prestigious awards I gave to movies:

The “Stuck in the Middle with You” award for Best Use of Music in a Torture Scene
Tough field this year, but it goes to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s use of Enya’s Sail Away. Try again next year, Muppet Movie

Best Dancer who Really Can’t Dance, but had to because he was the star of the Muppet Movie
Jason Segel. Really dude, you wrote the script, you should have been able to avoid it.

The Annual, “Damn You, Movie, for Emasculating Me!” award(s) (movies that made me almost or actually cry)
2011 was a fairly manly year for me; only 50/50 caused me to get a little something in my eye. But that’s only because I’m skipping “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. I patently refuse to see movies that are made for the sole reason of making me cry.

The award for somehow screwing up having Indiana Jones and James Bond in the same movie
Cowboys and Aliens

Best Use of CGI Monkeys who take over the world
Hall Pass

Award for having a ton of hot women dressed like school girls and Jon Hamm in your movie and inexplicably and unforgivably sucking a big one
Sucker Punch

Award for movie that could have been subtitled, “Yes, we’re selling out, but we’re going to sell a metric ass ton of toys and we’ve got a good one coming out next year (sponsored by Coca-Cola)”
Cars 2: Yes, We’re Selling Out, but We’re Going to Sell a Metric Ass Ton of Toys and We’ve Got a Good One Coming Out Next Year (sponsored by Coca-Cola)

Award for officially cementing what I’ll be listening to when the world ends
Melancholia’s perfect use of Tristan and Isolde

Award for officially cementing what I’m doing in retirement
The Guard- I’m gonna be a kickass small-town Irish Cop!

Best use of dinosaurs as an allegory for how much familial problems matter
Tree of Life

Worst use of dinosaurs for their main purpose (eating people)
Tree of Life

The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards NOMINATIONS

The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards NOMINATIONS | OFFICIAL WEBSITE of the HFPA and the GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS.

 

If you had to guess which one these were the television comedy Golden Globe nominees…

Enlightened
Episodes
Glee
Modern Family
New Girl

Community
Parks and Recreation
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Happy Endings
30 Rock

…you would be wrong. Also, Boss and American Horror Story instead of Breaking Bad and Justified in the drama category? How can you take yourself seriously?

Academy Builds Surprise Into Best Picture Rules

Academy Builds Surprise Into Best Picture Rules.

You may remember back a couple of months ago when, as an aside, I advocated that the Academy Awards should move to a voting system similar to sports hall of fame voting. Here’s what I said at the time:

“In short, some years are weaker than others in terms of the number of quality films. In those years, the Academy Awards will make bad choices because it has to. (Though, it would be ridiculously awesome to see a system like Sports Hall of Fame voting where if movies or actors don’t reach a certain threshold of votes, there is no best picture/actor/actress from that year)”

Well, they’ve gone and done it. Not for all the categories, but for Best Picture. The link above is to the full press release, but in short, only films that receive at least 5% of first place votes will be included as a Best Picture nominee. There can be no fewer than five, but no more than ten. I’m guessing that means if four or fewer films receive 5% of first place votes, they’ll go with the next highest percentage to round out the field to five.

So, why make this change now?

Most assume that when the field was expanded to ten nominees two years ago, it was done so to ensure that more mainstream films made the cut. (By mainstream, I mean a film that had a wide release and made significant money,which is a good, but not perfect, proxy for the number of people who saw it.) On some level this made sense, five was an arbitrary number and ratings of the telecast were dropping. If the number of nominees increased to ten (still arbitrary), inevitably more mainstream films would be nominated and more people would pay attention to the awards.

So, if that assumption is true, what has happened to change the Academy’s views on this? Not only will this change undoubtedly lead to fewer movies being nominated (there still can be no more than ten), but also it goes back to leaving the less critically acclaimed films out of the field. This is a clear move against the inclusion of mainstream films.

Since the Academy does not release the actual percentage of first place votes a film receives, we’ve got to (at least partly) base our analysis on conjecture. Here’s my guess to where the cut off for the 5% first-place vote would be for each year. The films in parenthesis indicate not making the field under the new voting system.

The 2010 nominees were:

The Hurt Locker

Avatar

Inglourious Basterds

Precious

Up in the Air

(An Education)

(Up)

(A Serious Man)

(District 9)

(The Blind Side)

The 2011 nominees were:

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

Inception

Black Swan

The Fighter

True Grit

Toy Story 3

(Winter’s Bone)

(127 Hours)

(The Kids Are All Right)

Under the new voting system, only one film in 2010 (Avatar) and two (maybe three) films in 2011 (Inception and Toy Story 3, maybe True Grit) would be considered “mainstream.” If my assumptions are correct, the past two years would have only seen three of the twelve Best Picture nominees be mainstream fare. This post isn’t meant to cast judgment on whether or not it’s good to “water down” the field, it’s meant more as a question as to why the Academy is changing it’s stance on this.

The Academy probably sees this as a good compromise between the two previous ways of nominating. This ensures that if there are more than five good films in a year that they’ll be recognized, but it also ensures that less-worthy potential nominees don’t make the cut because of an arbitrary number of films that are required to make the field. I’m torn in my own opinion of this. The only film that I would say has no business being in the ten best of each year is the Blind Side. While I like the idea of getting more exposure for good (but not great) films, I’m not sure giving them the title of “one of the year’s ten best” is the best way of doing that. In the end, I come back to liking the new system because it renews its focus on selecting the best film of the year, not the ten best. So while it may be a slap in the face to the old adage, “it’s an honor to just be nominated,” we will now know that every film in the field is a (relatively) legitimate contender for Best Picture.

Film vs TV, Oscars, and Drive Angry.

Film vs TV, Oscars, and Drive Angry..

My friend, Chris Baldwin, recently posted a note about his feelings on the state of the television/film industry. All his points are excellent and if you get a second, you should read his note and comment on it. The link is above.

I wanted to take the time to fully flesh out some of the areas that I agree with him, but also my disagreements. 

For those lazy people out there that don’t want to read his note, here is a (very, very) simplified version of his questions:
1) Has TV overtaken film as the medium with the highest quality of material?
2) (The age-old argument) Do the Oscars matter? Why do the Oscars suck?
3) Drive Angry: Best movie ever made or BEST MOVIE EVER MADE?

I’ll try to tackle them in that order: 

1) Has TV overtaken film as the medium with the highest quality of material?

This is a question I’ve often thought about. I really think that TV and films are more difficult to compare than is normally assumed. While you can objectively assess both films and TV shows with all six value measurements he mentioned (quality, narrative complexity, characterization, production value, artistic integrity, overall entertainment value), I don’t know if those assessments are directly comparable because of the differences in the mediums.

My hunch is that if you’ve been entertained more by a specific TV show in the past year, it’s because you’ve been able to watch characters and plots grow over the course of 20+ hours rather than because it’s actually been “better”. It’s human nature to want to see characters and plots to their natural conclusion. How many of those episodes are completely out-of-the-park stellar episodes? Half? We’re much more forgiving of a few bad episodes in TV than even one scene in an otherwise incredible film. While I think that’s how it should be, it makes comparisons difficult.

A technology analogy may be that films are like Twitter and TV shows are like Facebook. Films are necessitated to be limited in scope because of time constraints. This often means that there’s less character and plot development than in TV shows, but it also affords them the ability to explore themes that don’t need to or actually cannot be explored in-depth. (e.g. what would a 127 Hours TV show look like?) The way television is produced and aired (in a “season” or “series” format: 10-20 episodes per season/series that air weekly) requires depth. With TV, there’s much, much more information that’s coming out of a specific show, but not all of it is great. We love films because they’re a one-time shot at greatness. We love TV because we know that we’ll get attached to the characters and see plots completely play out.

But, that’s a cop out and all of those things being considered, I think there’s a clear answer here: recently, comedies have been better on TV, but dramas have been better in film.

You’ve got five truly great comedies on the air right now: Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Modern Family and a diminished, but still very good the Office. Curb Your Enthusiasm can be thrown in there when it comes back on. What was the best film comedy you saw last year? For me, it was Easy A. As a 27 year-old, heterosexual male, I should never have to say that. In fact, the only comedy of the past few years that can be mentioned in the same sentence with those shows is the Hangover.

Now think about dramas. How many truly great dramas aired on TV last year? By my count, I’ve got four (and that’s a stretch): Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and maybe Fringe.

(Other possibilities, but reasons they weren’t included:

Walking Dead- Too small of a sample size. Two-thirds of the episodes were very good to great, but 1/3 were kind of ridiculous

Lost- Very good show in its entirety, but the sixth season’s episodes were too inconsistent to be considered. Some of the best episodes of the series were there, but some of the worst were, as well.

Dexter- It’s gotten away from what the core of the show used to be about; the reason it was so good in the first place.

I’m sure I’m leaving some out and I’m also sure I’ll really hear about it)

Now think of the number of quality film dramas from 2010. I’ll stop at six from last year: Inception, Social Network, Toy Story 3, Black Swan, True Grit, the King’s Speech. I could go on for about twenty movies in that list.

My final point here is that I wouldn’t be so quick to say that TV shows are better than movies. I’ve often thought this may be true, but you can’t penalize a film because of it’s length and you can’t reward a TV show for the same reason. They’re two different mediums saying two different things. The amount of enjoyment you get out of one or the other is dependent on how much you want to invest in it.

2) (The age-old argument) Do the Oscars matter? Why do the Oscars suck?

The quality of the Oscars has a causal relationship with the quality of movies that year. The Oscars will kick ass on Sunday. You’ve got a legitimate best picture race between King’s Speech and Social Network. Supporting Actress will be close. Supporting Actor and Best Actress are closer than people think. No matter who they pick, it won’t be a travesty. (The closest thing to it will be King’s Speech beating out Social Network)

But the reason the Academy Awards will be good on Sunday is because of how good the movies were in 2010. Some years the races are this close, but the films suck, so we couldn’t care less. That’s not the fault of the Oscars, it’s the fault of the movies that came out that year. So, taking under consideration that the (assumed) Best Picture runner-up in 2007 (There Will Be Blood) can’t take home the Best Picture award in 2008, I can’t say there’s been an absolute travesty for what they’ve picked for Best Picture over the course of the last several years.

I think everyone can agree that Slumdog Millionaire is one of the worst movies to win Best Picture and that’s coming from someone who immensely enjoyed it. But we’d pretty much be saying that about any movie that won that came out that year. Sure, Dark Knight is an incredible film and my favorite from that year, but is it on the same level as some of the other best picture winners? Absolutely not. If it came out in 2010, it would have only been my seventh favorite movie of the year. It’s arguable whether or not the Dark Knight should have won, but it’s not a clear travesty that Slumdog did. (The same is true for the Hurt Locker/Inglourious Basterds combo in 2009, though I think both of those movies are on a much higher level than Slumdog/Dark Knight)

In short, some years are weaker than others in terms of the number of quality films. In those years, the Academy Awards will make bad choices because it has to. (Though, it would be ridiculously awesome to see a system like Sports Hall of Fame voting where if movies or actors don’t reach a certain threshold of votes, there is no best picture/actor/actress from that year)

To answer the “do the Oscars matter” question: yes and no. Of course they don’t diminish how much you like a movie; I have my favorites from 2010 and my enjoyment of those films will not change relative to what happens on Sunday. But they do matter in two areas. One is micro and the other is macro:

The first (micro) area is validation. Do I want the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pick the exact same movies I do as the best of the year? Hell yes I do! Not because it makes me enjoy the movies any more, but because these so-called “experts” agree with me on the best pictures/performances of the year are and that validates me. Validation is a basic human desire. Anyone who cares about anything wants validation in that area.

The second (macro) area is that they show that these types of movies are worth making in the future. The King’s Speech has been roundly (and, in my opinion, accurately) criticized as being an “Oscar-Bait” type movie; the kind of movie that takes the checklist of what the Academy likes and molded to be that. (Royals? Check! True Story? Check! Period Drama? Check! Colin Firth? Check! Nazis? Check! Overcoming Adversity? Check!) Does that make it a bad movie? No. In fact, on the contrary, it’s ridiculously entertaining and enjoyable. (which is why I’ll be upset when it beats Social Network, but there probably won’t be a 5000-word rant about it).

It was important for movies like Inception to get Academy Award nominations because there are huge inherent risks with making a movie of that type. (non-sequel, brainy and expensive—the three words that scare Hollywood the most) If it had failed at the box office (and there was a legitimate chance of that happening), it needed awards to fall back on to show that these types of movies are worth making. We’ve got years and years of awards precedence as to why movies like The King’s Speech should be made, but there’s very little (as far as awards precedence goes) in the way of why movies like Inception should be made. (In fact, last year’s District 9 is the only one I can think of).

As a quick side note and one that many people may disagree with: I have a (probably untestable) theory that the vast majority of money that Inception made can be directly attributed to the fact that people went to see it because “Hey! It’s the guy who made the Dark Knight!” This means if we lived in a world where Inception existed and the Dark Knight didn’t (which, again, wouldn’t happen—the only reason Warner Bros. let Nolan make Inception was because of how popular the Dark Knight was), Inception probably wouldn’t have made its money back. In short, I’m saying that the general popularity of Inception was, in a large part, based off of the uber-popularity of the Dark Knight. How this ties into the greater point is that if it wasn’t for the Dark Knight, Inception would need awards to fall back on. My biggest fear is that studios have this same theory and will be hesitant to take a chance on unproven directors with original ideas.

3) Drive Angry: Best movie ever made or BEST MOVIE EVER MADE?

I concur that Drive Angry will be enjoyably bad, but here’s why I can’t place it at the same level as Troll 2 or Waterworld: it knows it’s bad and doesn’t try to be anything more than that. The only thing that movie wants to be is Nic Cage blowing shit up and saying kickass one-liners. I place it in the same category as The Expendables from last year (which almost made my top 20). Awesomely bad, but knows it’s bad, so it’s tough to place in that top-tier of train-wreck movies.

That being said: Who’s up for Drive Angry (IN 3-D!!!!!) at some point next week??

Top Twenty Movies of 2010

So, 2010 was a really good year for movies; as of writing this, I’ve seen 46 that came out this year. Because of that, I had trouble narrowing it down to ten, so I did twenty. As in the past, this is not a list of the “best” films of the year, it’s a list of my favorite.

20. The American
The absolute worst-marketed film of the year, which unfortunately led to the ones who would dislike it, seeing it and the ones who would like it, avoiding it. Anton Corbijn (for better or worse) chose to focus on the mundane portions of being a hit man. Some would say that elevated the tension of the (few and far between) action scenes. Others would just say it’s boring. I fell somewhere in the middle.

19. How to Train Your Dragon
If the American was the worst-marketed movie of the year, then here’s the worst-titled; this, no doubt, discouraged a lot of people from seeing it. But add an extremely fun movie that doesn’t try to do too much and then throw in an ending that has actual consequence and you’ve got yourself the best animated movie of the year…if it had come out in 2011 against Cars 2 (i.e. Pixar’s attempt to balance out the genius of Toy Story 3, Up and Wall-E with selling a ton of toys).

18. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Absolutely the most underrated movie of the year. By me and everyone else. I really want to put this higher on my list, but I can’t find a place for it. It’s such an incredible nod to geek culture that it doesn’t matter whether or not you like geek culture to enjoy it. Please go watch this. Edgar Wright needs more work.

17. Never Let Me Go
And here’s the most depressing movie of the year. Unfortunately, some people won’t be able to make it past that emotion to see the great things (both in the film and for film itself) that are being done. It’s a high-concept drama that eschews all of the ‘high’ and the ‘concept’ and focuses on the meaning of being human. Not in a grand way, but in a way that the lives of three “people” explain it. Maybe I should have ranked this higher.

16. Easy A
Go ahead and move on to number 15. Nothing to see here…I absolutely did not rank a teen romantic comedy in my top 20 movies of the year. But if I did, I probably would have said that it may (MAY!) be the funniest movie of the year and that Emma Stone can act (and can carry a film). My only real complaint is the obviously post-script, tacked-on love interest. I guess the studio needed teen girls and not mid-20 year-olds watching their movie.

15. The Town
Ben Affleck can direct. Gone Baby Gone proved this. And while GBG is the superior movie, any movie with Jon Hamm kicking ass deserves to be in the top 15 of end-of-year movie lists.

14. Blue Valentine
I’ve seen this described as a movie detailing the dissolution of a relationship, but really the relationship has already dissolved by the time the movie starts; we just see the consequences of it. What makes it even more painful is that half the movie details how the two got together. Since the film isn’t chronological (you’ll have a scene of “future” Cindy and Dean and then a scene of “past” Cindy and Dean), you get the ups and downs of the relationship at different points in the movie, rather than just the beginning or the end. It makes for interesting contrast. Perhaps my favorite thing about the film is its cloudiness; you’re not really sure why any of it is happening, but it is, and that’s what matters. Sometimes that’s how things really are.

13. Somewhere
Sofia Coppola is one those writers/directors that you can always kind of pick out that it’s her writing/directing. Most of the time in a good way. Somewhere felt like the spiritual successor to Lost in Translation. It also may have won my award for most depressing movie of the year if it wasn’t for Never Let Me Go.

12. The Fighter
I wasn’t as high on this as most people seem to be. Bale and Leo are incredible, but the rest of the film seemed fairly stock. Good stock, but still stock.

11. Winter’s Bone
Another movie I’m not as high on as some people. Obviously I think it’s very, very good (or it wouldn’t be listed this high), but the whole point of this film is to go on the emotional journey with Jennifer Lawrence and I felt like I got left back at the cabin. I’m reserving the right to change this opinion if I get the chance to rewatch it. Lawrence’s performance is one of the best of the year, though.

10. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s most mainstream film I’ve ever seen. It does everything you want a political thriller to do and it does it better than any I’ve seen in a long time.

9. Let Me In
The original adaptation of the novel (the Swedish film, Let the Right One In) is one of my all-time favorite movies, so the American version made me nervous. Fortunately, Matt Reeves stuck close to the source material and put a uniquely American stamp on it. In a good way. No, really.

8. Monsters
I love movies where you go in thinking one thing and then leave thinking another. On first glance, the title seems straightforward, but it’s not so clear when you’re leaving the theater. The acting isn’t great (it’s not horrible, either), but the script and screenplay are incredible. I’m really looking forward to much more from Gareth Edwards in the future. (Especially when he’s given a budget and doesn’t have to do the writing, producing, directing and special effects himself)

7. 127 Hours
127 Hours is like drinking a can of Red Bull: while you’re watching it, you’re thinking this may be the best movie of the year; but, when it’s over, you’re just kind of thirsty.

6. The King’s Speech
Blah blah blah…period drama…blah blah blah…character actors. It’s actually pretty funny and surprisingly entertaining. Don’t write this off as the “boring movie that is required to rack up end-of-the-year awards.” Go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

5. Black Swan
After last year’s Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky makes his triumphant return to simultaneously depressing you and messing with your mind (as opposed to the excellent Wrestler, which just depressed you). There’s very little originality here in the plot and it’s a (surprisingly) straightforward story, but that’s not what you’re coming to see this movie for. It’s Aronofsky’s visual interpretation of Nina slowly and absolutely losing her mind. Most modern directors would rely on an actress as good as Natalie Portman to emote her way through losing her mind. Not Aronfosky. He wants to make sure that there’s no question as to what Nina’s going through. In a less-capable director’s hands, it becomes overly melodramatic and much too literal. With Aronofksy, he’s found a way to balance the actors, the subject matter and the imagery to make an incredible rendition of Swan Lake both in the film and of the film.

4. True Grit
My family always goes to see a movie on Christmas. We’ve done it for the past four or five years. The true testament to True Grit is that everyone in my family who went to see it, loved it; it’s this year’s Blind Side, except it’s actually good. Joel and Ethan Coen are among my favorite writer/directors (yeah, yeah, everyone says that), but not since O Brother, Where Art Thou? have they produced a movie that’s crowd pleasing and legitimately good. There were so many factors against them with this movie and they rise above it with pitch-perfect writing, casting and directing. The fact that you have three outstanding performances with Hailee Standfeld, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon is just icing on the cake. The Coens have consistently proven they can write dark, deep material, but True Grit is proof they’re just as adept at the lighter fare.

3. Toy Story 3
You’ll hear a lot of people say this, I’m sure, but who would have ever thought that the most human movie of the year would be animated? Much like I’ll do with the Social Network, I want to focus on one scene: the one (Spoilers Ahead!) where the toys are sure they’re about to be incinerated. I didn’t think there was any chance this would happen at first (it’s a “children’s” movie, after all), but one by one, they all begin to accept their fate. It wasn’t until Woody, the audience’s proxy and the one that never gives up, accepted it that I really felt like it might happen. And I was genuinely scared. Sure, that seems ridiculous now, but at the time everyone who’s watching that movie felt the same way. Don’t deny it. The funny thing is that, in my opinion, two of the best four scenes in a movie this year came in Toy Story 3. The scene where Andy plays with the toys one more time has an equally big emotional impact. We’ll get to the other two in a second.

2. The Social Network
Here’s the best film of the year. No question. If it doesn’t win the Best Picture Academy Award, it will be a travesty. As much as I simultaneously love and hate to admit it, Facebook is defining my generation. I love and hate it for the exact same reasons: the constant flow of information. Facebook produces ungodly amounts of white noise that sucks up ungodly amounts of time, but it’s keeping us connected and connecting us with (for better or worse) more and more people. Can that be a bad thing? This movie represents our generation in ways that I never would have thought possible: we’re more open-minded, we expect things to get better and better, we think we’re the most intelligent generation. We all have some of those qualities that Mark Zuckerberg has that makes him a hero and an anti-hero at the same time.

Which brings me to the absolute best scene in any film of the year: the final one. (Spoilers Ahead!) It’s nothing but Mark Zuckerberg sitting there and refreshing his ex-girlfriend’s profile every few seconds. What makes this scene so great is that we can very literally and metaphorically apply this to our generation. I’m pretty sure every single one of us has done exactly what Zuckerberg was doing at some point or another. We’ve sat down to Facebook, gone to someone’s profile and done our damnedest to get it to change in a way we want. But also, how accurate of a picture is that of our generation? We know what we want, we feel like it’s within our power to get it, so we do our best to will the vision of how things should be into existence; even if it’s no more than sitting and hoping things change.

Off the top of my head, the only other scene that’s more iconic than this is the final scene in the Graduate: Benjamin has just “saved” Elaine from her wedding, they hop on the bus and his face shows he’s never been happier in his life…until it fully comes over him what he’s done and what that means… and his face falls accordingly. Benjamin’s demeanor ends up somewhere in the middle: not quite exuberantly happy, but content with what’s occurred and what it means for him. I don’t think Zuckerberg reached that same state (he did some truly awful things), but he’s accepted that he’s made his bed and now he has to sleep in it.

1. Inception
When I was a kid, every movie I saw was the best I’d ever seen. Especially the big blockbusters. It gave my kidself something that I could process: things blowing up! The world being saved! The heroes coming out on top! It made me feel big and important because big and important things were happening.

Now that I’m a pseudo-adult and a movie nerd, I usually find that satisfaction in great comedies or dramas, rarely ever the big budget blockbusters. That’s why Inception was so great to me. It’s that intersection of the big blockbuster and the thinking-person’s film. It’s got enough to keep you entertained, but it’s also layered enough to keep the movie snobs happy. Take, for example, the second best scene of the year: the hallway fight in the hotel. This one scene encapsulates everything great about this movie: the action, the way that each of level of dreaming has a direct effect on the previous and next level, the amount of sheer understanding that’s required to get not only what’s going on in this scene, but also why it’s going on. It’s movie-making at it’s very best.

Inception isn’t as deep as the Social Network and it doesn’t have the emotional impact of Toy Story 3, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been as entertained and wonderfully misdirected in a movie. When dream upon dream kept piling up, there was a point where I leaned over to the person next to me and said, “I can’t keep straight what’s real and what’s not.” And that’s what Christopher Nolan wanted. He didn’t want you to be confused about what was going on, but he wanted you to lose your grip on reality in much the same way that Cobb was losing his. Think about that for a second. Nolan was able to write a script where you could keep up with the plot, but lose reality inside of the movie. Isn’t that why we go to the theater?

Apologies to: Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right, Animal Kingdom, Kick-Ass, The Other Guys 

Still need to see: Another Year, Get Low, Secretariat, Hereafter, Paranormal Activity 2, Tangled