First, the bad. As I've moved away from seeing more movies in general in theaters, I've also found a way to simultaneously avoid bad films as well. At least, until they show up to rent. And then, word of mouth be damned, I end up watching some bad ones anyway. Of course, the difference is that I no longer sit through the bad ones, I simply turn them off before I have a chance to get engaged (or revolted) by them. Having said that, I sat through the horribly bad Clash of the Titans and don't have much to say about that, other than it is pretty disturbing that the lead Sam Worthington has ended up on my Worst Movie of the Year list two years running (last year for Terminator Salvation. Runners up in this category? Date Night (great chemistry between the leads, with nothing funny to work with), The Other Guys (a big ol' mess with the oddest end credits sequence of recent memory), and Greenberg (which I know some people loved, but felt like a beautifully shot endurance test for me).
As for the rest? The stuff I loved? Behind the
Before I start, there are a ton of movies I've yet to see, that could knock some of these lower on the list, like The King's Speech, Winter's Bone, White Material, True Grit, Biutiful, Let Me In, and Blue Valentine, among others. That having been said, here's my list.
20) Easy A: An enjoyable romp that owes every second of its' running time to better movies, including most of the John Hughes teen comedies, and "Saved!", all held firmly in place thanks to a great star turn by Emma Stone. Someone on my friends' list made a mention that Emma Stone should be cast in everything in 2011, and I couldn't find fault with that.
19) Iron Man 2: For every wrong turn IM2 makes (namely, the tie-ins to the upcoming Avengers and Thor movies, taking away time from the plot it should have been focusing on, its' own), I couldn't quite end up hating on it, thanks to the cast (excellent additions in Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and even Scarlett Johannsen) and a commitment to popcorn entertainment. Bigger and louder than the original? Yes. Better? Not so much. But still good enough to make the list.
18) Get Him To The Greek: A fun, silly spin-off of sorts of the equally funny (if not as sweet) "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". Jonah Hill and Russell Brand are teamed well together, and the movie is a fun, filthy riff on what it would feel like to party with a rock star. The slightly sentimental third act takes away nothing from everything that precedes it, and, of particular notice, Sean "Puffy/PDiddy/Whatever" Combs is killing it in every scene he's in. Much more fun than I expected.
17) RED: The first half of this Action Comedy For Seniors has Mary-Louise Parker and John Malkovich having a blast, and then Helen Mirren comes in with a machine gun big enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger flinch. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis as usual, and it fits well here. You can't explain the turn-on of some films, you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy them. And at the end of the day, I had a blast with this one.
16) Hot Tub Time Machine: Like "Easy A", HTTM gleefully refers to so many good (and bad) 80s teen comedies, but unlike Easy A, which maintains a certain sweetness, HTTM proudly revels in how vulgar it can be with very little sentiment or schmaltz (to its' credit). Rob Corrdry creates such an unlikeable ass of a character that you will either love or hate the movie based on his presence in it. Me, I loved it.
15) Tron: Legacy: Nerds like me waited 28 years for a sequel to a film we loved as kids. And while it's got its' plot isn't nearly as dynamic as I had hoped, Legacy is visually stunning, absolutely the update I was hoping for, and made me hope for another sequel, hopefully not 28 years later.
14) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: I can't speak to the hoopla around the Millennium Trilogy, as I haven't read any of Stieg Larsson's books. As it turns out, that was the perfect way to see and enjoy this film, unaware of its' twists and turns. A cold, tense, engaging thriller with a star turn by Noomi Rapace that made me look forward to the other parts of the trilogy. As much as I enjoy David Fincher's films (as you'll see later in the list), I'm curious to see if he can top the original (or, more importantly, whether he should try to).
13) The Town: Score 2 for 2 for Ben Affleck's abilities as a director (if you haven't seen Gone Baby Gone, seek it out). While it's obvious Affleck has a gift for directing actors (the cast are all naturals, with Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall standing out), he also knows how to direct great action scenes. The film is perhaps 10 minutes too long, but it's a solid heist film with interesting people and a mood you can only capture when you know the terrain. Affleck knows this place, and his knowledge kept me watching, and glad that I did.
12) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: I haven't really enjoyed the Harry Potter series for some time now. It's not that they aren't well-done films, it's just that they seem to have been more by-the-numbers plots waiting for the series to come to its' conclusion. And maybe that's why I enjoyed this one so much. The plot finally felt like it was going somewhere, and while the movies have been well-done for some time, this is the first one where I actually cared where it was going. And who knew the death of a minor (CGI-animated) character would have such a big dramatic impact? After this installment, I can't wait for the final one next summer.
11) The Kids Are All Right: While I wasn't thrilled with the ending of this film, everything else about it I loved, from the lived-in performances by the entire cast (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore both deserve Best Actress nods, and I'd be ecstatic if Bening finally wins this year, she deserves it) to the way the film doesn't beat it over your head that this is an "alternative" family, it's just a family, with its' own dynamics and problems. It's so well-written and performed, that when it ended, I found myself wanting to spend more time with the characters.
10) Shutter Island: When I saw this early on in the year, I left feeling enormously satisfied by the B-movie pulp noir done with an A-level budget. At the end of the year, particularly after seeing another DiCaprio film higher up on the list, I was reminded by how much I enjoyed all of the ways director Martin Scorsese manages to skew my expectations of what was coming next, even when I had figured out the main conceit of the film (to say any more goes into spoiler territory). Leonardo DiCaprio heads up an awesome cast (Patricia Clarkson really stands out in a too-short sequence). It's a gorgeous potboiler, and I can't wait to see it again.
9) 127 Hours: Director Danny Boyle continues to impress with his ability to tell great stories, this one a true story about how thrill seeker Aron Ralston (expertly played by James Franco), while out mountain climbing, gets his arm caught between two boulders, and the 127 hours he spends trapped in a canyon alone, with no one around or coming to help him, until he finally frees himself by cutting his arm off. With the tight quarters, you'd think that the film would become static and confined, but instead Boyle uses Ralston's imagination to take us inside his head, shows us his life and what he has to live for, and when he finally comes to the point of cutting the arm off, it's a release for the audience as well. Not easy to watch (with some people fainting during the cutting scene), but well worth the journey.
8) How To Train Your Dragon: For me, there were two movies that are tied for the biggest surprises of the year. This one, in the "animated" category, I knew nothing about, and was immediately charmed by the story of a boy and his pet dragon. The flying scenes still stand out as some of the best reasons this year for paying the extra money for 3-D glasses in the theater. See it, see it, see it...it's not just for kids, it's for anyone who loves a well told story.
7) Kick-Ass: Finally, after turning down X-Men 3 (with good reason) and Thor (which I'm still hopeful for), director Matthew Vaughn got to direct his superhero movie, and it's a doozy, working off an ultra-violent comic book by Mark Millar. Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman perfectly managed to ground the comic book a bit, playing off the idea of a comic book fan boy deciding to become a superhero, even though he has no powers or abilities. The original material is fun, but a bit too hip, and overloaded with cheap violence and "gotcha!" moments, with characters you don't really care about. The film changes that, with a winning turn by Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl (another non-superhero) who steals every second of the film, and Nicholas Cage, hamming it up with a Adam West-delivery that completely suits the part. It's a blast, and much better than I could ever hoped.
6) The Fighter: The other big surprise of the year for me was this one, because I'm not a big fan of boxing movies in general. They're often filled with cliches, and you can see the "underdog fighter conquers the big opponent" coming a mile away. The best thing about The Fighter is the big fight at the end of the film really isn't the point, it's the journey getting to that point, as it spends the entire film with the extended family of Micky Ward. The Fighter is all about the acting, and is the only movie this year where nominations should be a lock in every major category (Mark Wahlberg, subtle and great for Best Actor; Amy Adams strong and forceful for Best Actress; Melissa Leo, a dynamo as the mother, for Best Supporting Actress; and, please, hand the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Christian Bale right now as Ward's crack-addicted brother. The film is loaded with great performances, both big and small, and honestly? Blew me away.
5) Toy Story 3: Wow, Pixar. Just. Wow. How many film franchises get a truly successful trilogy, where each film builds upon the other and makes the next one better? I can only think of one before this one (the Lord of the Rings trilogy...even the Star Wars trilogy starts great, gets amazing, and then kind of lets down just a bit towards the end, but I digress). It's a cliche to say Pixar has done it again. What should be said is that this film flat out deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, not just Best Animated Picture. Funny, sharp writing and acting, and an ending that had me sobbing, despite my best efforts. It's a great, great trilogy.
4) Black Swan: I took ballet at a very early age, and there is one distinct, horrifying moment early on in Darren Aronofsky's thrilling fable that resonated with me throughout the entire film. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Barbara Hershey are all wonderful in this scary and thrilling story of the dangers of perfection in a world not traditionally tackled on film. It's hard to describe without spoiling it, but this sensual, raw, completely bonkers film surprised and delighted me through every frame, and I can't wait to see it again.
3) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Having never read the comic books, I was more excited about a new film from director Edgar Wright, as I'm admittedly a fan of his work. And I was not disappointed; in fact, I think this is his best film. While I know the frenetic video-game pacing may not be for everyone, I felt like this movie was tailor-made for me. And while many comic-book films have been done well at this point, this is the first film to really nail the video game film. And if you've ever spent any time with a Nintendo controller, you'll know what I mean. I really don't understand why it didn't do better at the box office, because, next to the next film on my list, it was easily the most entertaining film of the summer. Michael Cera is perfect as the lead, and I couldn't see the film being as good without him.
2) Inception: I just re-watched this the other night, knowing that it was already high on my list. The repeated version was a reminder of how well crafted and smart this big blockbuster is, and only gets better through repeated viewings. The cast is top-notch, the action sequences are incredible, and it just delivers on every level. Christopher Nolan remains one of the most interesting directors working today.
1) The Social Network: Who knew that the best movie of the year would be the one about the creation of Facebook? Aaron Sorkin's whip-smart screenplay matched with pitch-perfect performances (Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, and Armie Hammer) and ace direction by David Fincher got into my head like no other film this year. It's a fascinating portrait (true, partially true, or completely fabricated...I'm thinking it's somewhere in the middle) of a genius who is smarter than everyone else in the room, creating a platform for people to connect with, and yet is completely unable to connect with others (due, in part, to his own personality). It's a great film that I couldn't stop thinking about, and I can't wait to own it on Tuesday.