Top Ten Best Movies of 2012

Here I will collect my thoughts on the creamiest of the cream of the crop. As we plunge further into Awards Season, it’s important to remember the dear-departed films of yesteryear. These are the movies I most enjoyed in 2012. Let me know if you agree or not by tweeting me @shorester.

I liked how the bong was a thermos. Genius!

10. The Cabin in the Woods

Director Drew Goddard surprised me many times in the best Whedon-fueled movie of the year. The Cabin in the Woods starts with the abrasive surreality of Funny Games then dips back toward rote idiocy, only to turn the tropes of the horror genre on their head in way that I wish Scream had. Reminiscent of the equally funny Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this paint-by-numbers slasher picture evolves into a twisted tongue-in-cheek mind-bender. I loved the clever blend of horror and comedy. A movie so esoteric and strange, replete with genre meta-commentary is usually shot down at a scripting stage. Cabin‘s mere existence is proof that sometimes the filmmakers and the filmgoers are on exactly the same wavelength.

Argo Fuck Yourself!

9. Argo

Ben Affleck further proves his filmmaking prowess with Argo, a steeped-in-history yet too-juicy-to-be-true tale of espionage and Hollywood magic. Affleck stars as real life spy and award presenter Tony Mendez, the man behind one of the strangest and most roundabout escapes in history. Mendez enlists a team of Hollywood executives to build hype around a fake movie, a movie that will provide a cover story for the real operation: a rescue mission to save American hostages. The tense direction and wonderful cinematography make this movie more exciting than your average trip to the airport, although security is just as painstaking.


8. The Dark Knight Rises

Nay to ye haters! The Dark Knight Rises closes the Dark Knight trilogy in fine fashion, tying together the first film and the second nicely, while adding enough new elements to provide the necessary drama. As a fan of the franchise, I can’t help but praise the picture for its ability to accurately present a Batman story in the light I’ve always wanted to see: as if the old Animated Series had been brought to life, shot-for-shot. Sure there’s a gritty air of realism to it, but this is a cartoon, complete with the outlandish villains and their equally ridiculous plots to back it up. To those who claim Rises is a travesty in comparison to its predecessors, I will remind you: Batman never intended to be Oscar bait. Ledger raised it to that level. And insulting the follow-up for never matching an uncanny performance by an unmatchable actor is short-sighted. This movie makes no attempts to replace or undermine the power of The Joker’s role in this universe, only to show the next horrifying inevitability. Conquering the psychological torture of a madman was no easy feat, and overcoming the intense physical challenges of Bane is Batman’s final battle. Kudos to this flick for rounding out the Ra’as Al Ghul story line. Now let’s move on to Clayface.

WTF is Happiness Therapy? Also, I wish American movie titles were more honest like this too.

7. Silver Linings Playbook

This movie was a great surprise. The previews made it look like a romantic comedy, or an awkward dramedy, neither of which really fit the bill. This film is a character study with the same vibes and undertones as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There can be no doubt that this is Bradley Cooper’s finest performance to date, and Jennifer Lawrence is unstoppably charming playing opposite him. It’s weirdly nice to see Chris Tucker again, even in a limited role. DeNiro’s father character begins fairly predictably then evolves into one of his gentlest and most nuanced performances. There’s a lot of good acting in this picture. The movie leaves you with a feeling that is far more pleasant than you’d expect from any movie about mental illness, and that includes another movie on this list. I enjoyed the ride throughout, and I hope that David O. Russell continues to innovate.

So Fresh! So Fierce! So UNSTOPPABLE.

6. Zero Dark Thirty

This film was predictable because I watched a lot of news last year. That being said, this movie is something of an upgrade from your standard episode of Homeland. Though it’s hard to say Claire Danes is any less talented than Jessica Chastain, the stakes are higher, and wouldn’t you know it, this all “really happened.” I put that in quotes because the CIA made me. They said if I claimed that Zero Dark Thirty is based on a true story they would do stuff to me that they would never ever admit that they would ever do to anyone. But you know what? They can kiss my {REDACTED}. I loved the emotional roller coaster of Zero Dark Thirty and would gladly compare the experience to a ride at Universal Studios, if the comparison didn’t make me feel so tawdry and cheap. We get it now. Katherine Bigalow knows how to direct a movie. Now can we stop forcing her to film in the desert? Give that poor woman a break!

What a great movie!

5. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is consistently one of my favorite directors, and this movie is nearly perfect. It’s a spirited love story with enough family drama to make it a spiritual prequel to The Royal Tenenbaums. Everything takes place in Anderson’s too-twee universe as usual, but this time the emotions are grounded like in Rushmore. Only the visuals feel pretty but unknowable. We hear two stories of star-crossed love and get funny performances out of wonderful actors. In some ways the whole thing feels like a response to the delightful innocence exhibited by Anderson’s so-called children’s movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the end, we’re left with a charming anecdote of a film that provides as much edgy humor as heart.


4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This film was another surprise. I had not anticipated liking it, but having it recommended to me I gave it a shot. Perks is not only a great film, it’s a boundary pushing one. Sold to me as coming-of-age story with some American version of Hermione, I was shocked to discover that this film had more heart and integrity than most movies about full-grown humans. The hard part is discussing its emotional affect on the viewer without revealing too much of the plot, so I’ll simply say that once you’ve given your heart over to the characters, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Cool Pic Bro

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

I watched this movie with my family, and we all struggled to make heads or tails of it. It’s like a trip through the rabbit hole for people in the upper-middle class, and I think that’s why it’s so effective. Not only is it strange and sometimes wonderful to live with Hushpuppy and her family, it’s also tragic. Beasts is a microcosmic example of life’s beauty. All living things struggle to stay alive, and yet, what of the inherent futility? Beasts suggests that there can be delight in spite of the tragedy, and that the struggle for life can be beautiful in itself.

Let's Go Exploring!

2. Life of Pi

The sheer beauty and spectacle of the journey cannot be overstated. Everything fires on all cylinders, from the acting of the young lead to the special effects work abounding in every frame. Beyond the sheer sensory overload, there’s something magnificent about presenting an audience with a movie about religion that is non-denominational. It forces them to think and to consider the nature of faith without preconceptions. Even when the movie is heavy-handed or worse, intellectually stimulating, there’s something noble and artistic about Pi’s ability to communicate with the viewer visually. Life of Pi is a living work of art.

I guess I can see why he was so desperate to get back to her.

1. Django Unchained

An edgy, exciting movie no matter how you slice it, Django Unchained surpasses Inglorious Basterds in terms of skillful use of revisionist history. Django faces its controversy head on, forcing the viewer to do the same. Rather than shy away from the violence or brutality, Tarantino exemplifies it. But never does Tarantino want you to forget his purpose. This isn’t a Lincoln-like attempt to recreate minutia in detail. This is a character study by way of Kill Bill, a revenge picture with wonderful dialog and fantastic performances. Leonardo DiCaprio succeeds in shaking the dust off his character work, and Christoph Waltz shines as well. Jamie Foxx’s understated, restrained performance may deserve the most credit. Rather than embracing the blacksploitative origins of such a ’70’s-infused premise, Foxx plays Django as realistically as possible, giving a terse and evocative performance that provides the heart of the movie.

I did not see The Master or Cloud Atlas, so let that be known. I plan to, but it’s already February and therefore, far too late to wait on my account.

Top 10 WORST Movies of 2009

Much like my own writing style, the worst kinds of movies are shamelessly self-indulgent.  Maybe it started at an early stage when some greased-up producer fronted the buck for a notoriously shitty sequel, or maybe a loud-mouthed actor signed onto a terrible script because he knew he could get himself some award-season buzz.  Whatever the reason these cinematic abortions came into being, I suggest we toss them into the dumpster of thought and use them as examples of what not to do next time.

Movies are supposed to make us happy.  When they don’t, it makes us mad.  So mad that we secretly plot to kill the projectionist every night before we sleep?  Maybe.  Maybe we dream of slipping a little arsenic into his drinking glass beside the projector, so when he sips it after changing the second reel, he begins to cough and sputter, but because the movie is still a ways from finishing, no one will notice the calamity before it’s too late.  Maybe you plot about doing it quickly, a stab to the back of the skull with a butcher’s knife.  Something the cops would like to identify, you murmur.  Maybe you break into the theater one night to end it all and finally put things to rest, but when you burst into the booth you realize that the theater has switched over to a digital projection method that no longer incorporates employee supervision.  So there you are, standing in a room with a knife gleaming next to a non-sentient projection robot and bunch of boxes of digital film, and you can’t help but smile at the irony of it all.  So you go home and sing yourself to sleep, and you think, ahh, maybe it was all in my head, man- maybe there’s no one to blame for all this.

But you were right.  There is someone to blame.

And it’s these ten filmmakers.  Plus the executives who bought the pitches, the agents who made the deals, and the audience members who paid to see them and enjoyed them and wrote to their Congressmen about how these types of movies should keep getting made.  All of those people are to blame.

But I’m not suggesting you kill anybody.  I’m just saying your feelings may be valid.  Besides, the last thing I’d want to do is upset a psychopathic murderer like you.

Without further ado, the Ten Worst Movies of 2009:

10.  Up in the Air

Up in the Air is a great choice of words, because it perfectly describes the film’s lackluster ending.  Not only is the ending a disappointing bummer, it’s also an ambiguous sucker-punch that fails to resolve any major plot threads or explain what the movie was trying to get at all along.  Are we supposed to sympathize with George Clooney or not?  Is that why they cast George Clooney?  So I could overlook the fact that the character is written as a self-preserving douchebag with no redeemable qualities?  Even when Clooney’s character begins to have his change of heart at the end, it’s apparently too late for redemption in this universe and both he and the audience are rewarded with nothing for their efforts.  This movie suffers from A Beautiful Mind syndrome.  It’s an Oscar vehicle that contains absolutely no entertainment value, but allows dumb simple-minded people to have an easy dramatic choice when it comes time for award season.  That’s not to say that Up in the Air isn’t occasionally funny.  Thanks to the breakout performance by Natalie Keener, there are laughs for about ten minutes at the forty-five minute marker.  It’s nice to see Danny McBride onscreen, albeit poorly.  And the same can be said for Zach Galifianakis, who appears for a ridiculously brief amount of screentime considering his newfound star status.  Jason Bateman reprises his role as the terrible incarnation of a horrible human, the same character he’s been playing in every major skene since Arrested Development ended, while Sam Elliott and J.K. Simmons are pointlessly wasted at various points throughout the film.  How much more cinema can be draped around George Clooney’s smug demeanor?  He already ruined the last Batman franchise with his molded plastic nipples, and now he’s set to do it for the rest of cinema!  I say, no more.  Only allow Clooney to play the voice of animated red foxes instead of these unanimated silver foxes.  Teach him some manners, some dignity.  Maybe then he can give us something better than this dully average line reading.  And kudos to this movie for making talented actress Vera Farmiga a total bitch by this movie’s conclusion.  It’s always great when a character seems multi-faceted and just ends up a cold-hearted shrew.  Great, stellar writing.  I would be more inclined to see her nominated for Orphan, seriously.

9.  The Men Who Stare at Goats

To accurately describe this movie I would first have to remember it.  I think George Clooney’s in this one too, and you can tell he’s serious about the acting because he grew a moustache. He’s a little bit hammier too, so I think he shouts.  I remember Ewan MacGregor tries and fails to nail an American accent.  Maybe he’s a reporter?  I think the guy who played Norm on Cheers is in it.  And it’s about psychic powers.  Kevin Spacey somehow manages to accurately portray an arrogant douchebag, if I recall.  Then there’s Jeff Bridges, killing time while he grows his hair out for Crazy Heart, channeling whoever played The Dude in Big Lebowski.  Yeah, I think that’s everything that happens.  Oh, also you lose two and a half hours of your time and somehow walk out of the theater with less information in your head than at the end of Rush Hour 2.

Click to skim the highlights of my scathing review here.

8.  Observe & Report

When I saw this movie, I was sitting next to Anna Faris at the theater so I made sure to laugh extra hard at the hilarious moment where she is date-raped.  Luckily her husband- the guy who plays Andy on Parks & Rec– was there, so it made it totally less awkward.  Paul Scheer was also there, but I think just because he was lonely.  Anna Faris gave me a Junior Mint and it was delicious.  That was the best part of this movie.  Not only was Observe & Report the final nail in the coffin that Seth Rogen cannot act under any circumstances, it’s also a painfully unfunny character study that spoils all the good will that Jody Hill built through Eastbound & Down.  Danny McBride would have been a much better choice for this character, and it’s clear that Rogen is stretching to fill the shoes of a more competent actor.  I remember he references studying Deniro in some of the interview footage, and I guess that shows, in the say way that Paul Reubens’ performance of Pee Wee Herman shows great restraint.  The movie is only funny in its last few minutes, and that’s an awful long wait for practically nothing.  Similar to Footfist Way, this is the retarded prototype for a much better down-and-out loser story that Hill has already perfected in a sequential half-hour format.  I honestly liked Paul Blart: Mall Cop more than this movie.  You won’t see Paul Blart on this list.

7.  Inglorious Basterds

I made the mistake of reading the script to Inglorious Basterds months before it came out, so I was really setting myself up for a letdown.  I thought that in spite of the narrative flaws, Tarantino’s vision would carve its way through the flawed piece and create something masterful as it often had before.  Not this time.  The monumental flaw with Inglorious Basterds is that there is an unnecessary cognitive disconnect between Tarantino’s representation of classic World War II era cinema and his trademark seventies grit.  As a result, the outdoor shots look beautiful and the indoor shots look like high school theater.  Tarantino has always been a master dialog craftsman, and that shines once again in his writing for Nazi Lt. Hans Landa.  But just about every other bit of dialog in this movie fails, especially the potently unnecessary scene with British captains in a bar that eats up half this movie’s bloated run-time.  And if you can voice to me a compelling reason as to why Mike “Austin Powers 3D” Myers is in this movie, I’d love to hear it.  To me, this movie has more in common with Richard Kelley’s Southland Tales than Reservoir DogsDeath Proof really worked for me because Tarantino was expertly playing to the exploitation tropes that he knows best.  My problem with Basterds is that for mere moments- beautiful breathtaking shots, glimpses of dialog- we see that Tarantino might be capable of something more.  Something more subtle or human than we could have ever imagined.  But just as he shows it to us, he pulls it away.  It’s like that stupid gold briefcase.

I think he really needed to make something better than Kill Bill here.  Tarantino was taking on World War II.  This was supposed to be huge.  Is a dead Hitler gonna change things that much?  Not in the scope of this film.  But what a “funny” ending, right?  Listen, Tarantino is known for taking risks.  He has man-on-man assrape in his Oscar-winning picture.  But killing Hitler isn’t risky.  That’s the safest choice you could possibly make.  I mean, how cathartic. It must be fun to be Jewish and watch this.  “Ahh, finally!”  But beyond that, what intellectual property does Tarantino add to the situation?  In what way is this story not exactly the same as Valkyrie, only sloppier and more violent?  The thing that really kills me is the Kill Bill chapter cards in this movie, like this movie has some sort of narrative.  We start with the best scene in the movie thanks to Christopher Waltz, then see Shoshanna escape.  We’re introduced to the Basterds, who are too many in number to be distinguished individually on a character-to-character basis.  We only meet the Bear Jew (Eli Roth, “The Bear Jew”, has bat [like a bear?])  and that pussy who plays Ryan on The Office.  That’s the best Quentin Tarantino can do in a movie about a team of guys who kill Nazis.  Really?  Have you met the Reservoir Dogs?

For God’s sakes, wasn’t this supposed to be an action movie?  I wanted to see some Nazi-killing adventures, not shitty awkward romance and bad set design!   Next Tarantino will be pitching his “futuristic underwater blaxploitation epic, The Hunt for Black October” and cast the guy who plays Stanley as the Submarine.

I’m tired of this shit.  I want Tarantino to go back to taking risks.  Nothing about this movie seems risky to me.  It just seems like an interesting idea sloppily cut-and-pasted onto Tarantino’s patented exploitation formula.  It’s palatable and watchable but as vapid as a Star Wars prequel.

Click to read my slightly nicer original review here.

6.  Funny People

More like, not so Funny People.  Zing.

Apatow gives really great insight into the world of celebrity and stand-up comedy for about an hour and a half, then gives his wife a really great anniversary gift by letting her star in an unrelated romantic comedy for the next hour.  I did enjoy Adam Sandler’s performance in this movie as himself in ten years.  It takes great comedic insight to foresee the end of your career and then do nothing to prevent it.  Oh, also, did you notice that Seth Rogen can’t act?  Funny, funny guy.  Can’t act.  Green Hornet better be banking on Michel Gondry‘s ability to keep things grounded and not fly off into some cloying fantasy world, because otherwise it’s fucked.  Funny People does feature a great mini-movie in the middle where Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are dudes.  Then there’s a scene where Eminem is angry.  And then there’s a scene where I think that Paul Reiser is dying?  I guess that’s kind of funny, in an Addams Family kind of way. In any case, don’t rent Funny People unless you’re tired of Gods & Generals and suffer from insomnia.  It’s the most disappointing movie with potential this year.

Click to read my original review here.

5.  Whatever Works

It’s at this point in his career that Woody needs to stop and ask himself, “Should I really be legally allowed to direct anything, let alone a major motion-picture?”  Sure, he’s produced some monumental hits over the years, and he’s been a staple of American comedy for decades, but even Groucho died at some point.  I don’t want to seem like I am against creepy narcissistic comedy writers who sleep with then marry their step-daughters, but Woody Allen just isn’t very funny anymore.  Larry David does a decent job in a movie without a story, but Larry is more of a performer than a trained actor.  Without real guidance, Larry flounders in a ponderously agoraphobic and tragically cliche picture about what he and Woody are both best at these days, shows “about nothing.” I think some other people are in this, but only in that vapid pseudo-intellectual way that Bill Murray is in Andy Garcia’s The Lost City, where you’re not really sure if the character exists or if you’re just schizophrenically inventing more interesting characters onscreen to alleviate the boredom.  It’s nice to see Larry in New York again though!  Maybe he should do a Spike Lee movie next, as the man in cape from Seinfeld.

Click to read my original review here.

4.  Night at the Museum:  Battle at the Smithsonian

Terrible.  Just terrible.  And I am a big fan of pretty much everyone involved.  This is one of the absolute worst things ever.  Like Batman & Robin bad and Clooney is nowhere to be found.  I think there are two monkeys in this one.  I don’t know.  I blotted most of this out like a bad train wreck.  There’s got to be something redeemable in here, I kept thinking.  Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart?  No luck there.  Hank Azaria as too many characters?  Nothing lucky about that.  Ben Stiller in a movie?  Yikes, it’s like we’re running on empty. I honestly don’t remember the plot of this movie at all.  All I know is that there’s a magic tablet that looks like a honeycomb, and they spent all their costume money on the needless squid effects.  More like a FRIGHT at the Museum ™!  Am I right, marketing gurus?  I think we should put a third monkey in the third one (in the third dimension).  Look at me, mommy!  I’m a film executive!

3.  Bruno

I was a really big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen before this movie came out.  It was about the point when the penis started talking onscreen that I realized that nothing funny was going to happen.  Rather than taking his satiric gaze (read: gays) and pointing it toward the homophobic backlash in modern American culture, just as he did with the Bruno character on his Ali G Show, and just as he did with post 9/11 xenophobia in Borat, Cohen decided to mock Paris Hilton style media whores with his character, resulting in a shamelessly self-indulgent, mostly gross and barely entertaining mess that never gratifies on an intellectual level.  Cohen failed to realize that the Paris Hiltons of the world exist to be mocked by the public, and they provide their own intrinsic level of irony.  In making fun of vapid socialites and soulless fashionistas, Cohen degrades himself to their level and it’s almost humiliating to bear witness to this pointed waste of your time and his talent.  I would rather watch his performance in Sweeney Todd– honest to God, Sweeney Todd– than this movie.

Click to read my original thoughts here.

2.  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This movie is almost so bad it’s funny, in a good way.  It’s just incredible that any director can be given this much money and just throw it at the screen so clumsily.  Like this is Lady in the Water, Spider-Man 3 level dumbass maneuvering right here.  I mean The Island was bad but at least it was fun.  At least it had jet-bikes and shit.  I’m not even expecting The Rock-level competence from this guy anymore.  He’s just too abysmally dull at this point.  It’s like someone tried to sharpen a stone but the stone just kept getting duller and flatter.  He can’t even throw together competent transitions between shots.  My first Final Cut internship project looks better than this shit.  How can you waste so much money on computer graphics and not know how to display them onscreen?  What the fuck is wrong with you, Michael Bay?  Why?  Just Why?  Is there a soul in there, somewhere, deep down?  Do you remember what a story looks like?  You could at least make shorter movies if they’re going to be this terrible.  If Transformers 2 weren’t six hours long, it might be watchable.  As it stands now, it makes about as much sense as Michael Bay’s success as a director: valid when equated with the hillbilly dollar.

Click to read my original review here.

1.  Synechdoche, NY

Charlie Kaufman used to be my favorite screenwriter, and then this happened.  Bloated, self-indulgent and somehow more masturbatory than the masturbation scenes in Adaptation, Kaufman puts endlessly likable actors in the vacant husks of dying characters and forces them to vaguely interact in terrible, unpleasant ways.  This is the emotional experience of watching The Butterfly Effect without the visual trauma.  You are paraded through a series of horrible dizzying scenarios, but rather being rewarded with some sense of coherent narrative like you might be in say, Eraserhead, you’re berated for existing while the movie takes another introspective turn so it can fondle itself behind a velvet curtain while the audience waits watching in the shadows.  If it was possible to hate Philip Seymour Hoffman, this movie would make a strong case.  Catherine Keener plays the most horrible woman on the planet, as intimately written by a wretched self-loathing man.  Even little moments of surreal bliss like the constantly burning house can’t salvage the fact that this movie doesn’t know what it’s doing, then starts to talk openly about not knowing what it’s doing, then seems to pretend to be self-satisfied with it’s own explanation while the rest of sit wondering, “where has the time gone?”  There’s nothing wrong with meta-experimentation, but it has to mean something.  This isn’t like a shitty painting that you claim is “art for art’s sake.”  You are actively wasting people’s time and money telling a story so needlessly personal that it collapses inward on itself.  If you’re going to have a meta-conversation with the audience, why does it have to be the one about how much you suck?  Don’t you have more interesting things to offer the universe than an admission of your own fatality?  Grow up.  Stop being a simpering nincompoop and use the fucking gift you’ve been granted with to create something better than the human condition, rather than aping it into stupid minutia to the point where watching your movie is indistinguishable from being asleep.  Jesus.  Even the Science of Sleep wasn’t this boring.  You need (1) therapy, and (2) to direct someone else’s writing, Charlie Kaufman.  You’ve got a good eye, but a terrible reflection.

The Top Fifteen Movies of 2009

15.  Star Trek

What a D-Bag! Thanks to its early release and all the hype surrounding Avatar and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Clusterfuck, Star Trek is this year’s forgotten sci-fi blockbuster, a fast-paced rollercoaster ride of big budget fun and special effects mastery.  Sure, there’s that stupid sequence where Simon Pegg’s Scotty is trapped inside a water tube for forty-five minutes.  Sure, there’s all that non-sensical time travel mumbo-jumbo that J.J. Abrams is all too partial to these days.  And sure you have a scenery-chewing, lifeless Eric Bana delivering his first of many terrible performances this year.  But beyond these campy logic missteps (and what Star Trek remake would be reverent without those) this movie is fun and exciting in the same way that my favorite 90s blockbusters were.  Independence Day and Men in Black aren’t the smartest movies of all time, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t some of the most fun to watch, especially on the big screen.  Star Trek is so infused with popcorn-munching madness that it has more in common with The Rock than Michael Bay’s mega-robot crapfests.  Really strong performances from the new Kirk and Spock make this movie one worth watching repeatedly, especially thanks to its Spock-centric story.  The special effects are occasionally so impressive that I would say they stand out to me more than Avatar‘s, but mostly because my personal fetishes dictate an attraction to green space ladies rather than blue ones.

14.  Drag Me to Hell

The Big Book of British Teeth After two half-assed Spider-Man successes and one colossal web-slinging failure, it’s nice to see Raimi getting back to his campy horror roots.  Drag Me to Hell is funny, smart and effectively creepy.  It’s not quite as chilling as my other favorite horror film this year Orphan, but in terms of the gross-out occult genre you can’t really do better than this picture.  Highlights include wisenheimer Justin Long stealing most of the show with abject disbelief of his surroundings, while Alison Lohman tests out her blank-staring B-movie chops.  If that doesn’t get you excited, maybe the talking goat will.  That’s right folks.  Talking goat.  This isn’t some chaos reigns bullshit either.  This is hardcore full-frontal goat conversation.  And if that’s not enough, be prepared for some weird gross liquid squirting into Alison Lohman’s mouth about every fifteen minutes (God knows half the internet just started downloading the movie before they finished reading this sentence). Drag Me to Hell is served best with a bottle of wine and liberal laughter, like the best of Raimi’s films.  It’s slightly more serious than Army of Darkness and slightly less ridiculous than Spider-Man 3.  I think the lack of a dance sequence is a good call on Raimi’s part, although Lohman could probably use one after the sick twisted acts she commits in this film.  (WARNING:  Not PETA’s favorite film this year.)

13.  Avatar

That's money staring you in the eyes I’ve gone back and forth on Avatar a million times since I saw it.  Initially I picked it apart like so many critics, angered by the soulless storytelling and hollow visuals that seemed to ape much of Lucas’s Star Wars prequels for all things spiritual or presentational.  But in truth, there’s more heart here than Lucas has in his whole body, and while this film hardly holds a candle to Cameron’s own past successes- Aliens and Terminator 2 come to mind- there’s a sense that Avatar functions as Cameron’s seminal gift to special effects society, packed with enough technological advancements to last CGI designers a few decades.  Placing spectacle back into cinema is a huge feat, and while 3D technology has been on the rise since early this year, Cameron reinvented the wheel in a major way.  Integrated 3D technology that allows the viewer to experience a rebirthing on Pandora through a new set of eyes is a marvel. In a way this is the anti-Transformers of over-hyped cinema.  Rather than giving in to Michael Bay’s maddening “toss a bunch of crap at other crap” sense of mis-en-scene, Cameron crafted a story with cogent situations and designs where “what am I looking at?” is never a question.  That’s a huge achievement given the sheer amount of computer-animation and motion capture at work in this picture, especially since it’s something that Cameron’s contemporaries like Stephen Sommers and Bay have yet to realize.  The only problem with Avatar is that its story and situations are so typical that they leave little room for questions or imagination.  Rather than the sheer number of possibilities suggested by the Star Wars universe, Avatar has a decidedly myopic view of its own reality, barely giving us a sense of life on earth or anything in the space beyond the CGI paradise that Cameron created.  But in a basic, commercial way, Cameron is simply flipping a switch and providing the world with Titanic for ten-year-old boys.  There is no doubt in my mind how captivated I would have been by this film if I were a child, immersed in the technology and lost in the horizons it offered.  This movie is a masterpiece, if only for its ability to allow kids to dream a little bigger when planning their own movies, those films that will populate our future.

12.  500 Days of Summer

Piercing Blue Eyes, Stoned I’ve heard complaints from detractors that 500 Days of Summer is written from a mopey and immature male perspective that leaves little room for female insight.  I agree completely, but why does that mean we should hate it?  I think the real problem with this movie is that it allows way too much perspective into the male condition, and some people just can’t handle that fact.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a whiny little loser, hung up on the one girl who won’t settle down and commit.  This sounds like the premise of every major Rom-Com I’ve ever seen with the genders reversed.  It’s true, there’s something unattractive about portraying male characters as petulant lovesick puppies.  It’s almost a little too close to home, like we might need movies to portray impossible heroism and unattainable behavior to give us something to reach towards.  But occasionally, I think it’s nice when writers get the chance to reflect on their own lives and share the embarrassing details of their past that made them who they are.  The narrator’s anachronistic memory suggests the writers’ deeply emotional and wholly illogical relationship with their script, hinting that the experiences the protagonist faces are more akin with every bad break-up experience they’ve had rather than a particular one.  Plus Mark Webb’s direction is undeniably pretty, and somehow makes Los Angeles look like a functional American city.  500 Days of Summer is a candid and enjoyable look at crappy post-college relationships, shining a satiric light on the mistakes and missteps that make adult romance more attractive, trickier and all the more engaging.

Check to see my full original review here.

11.  Coraline

Pedolicious! Another movie that slipped under most people’s radar, Coraline tells the story of a neglected only child whose rich imagination leads her to a parallel universe chock full of creepy delights.  This film also utilizes the new 3D technology that everyone in the industry is raving about (mostly because it means they can charge double the ticket price), but does so in a subtler and less obtrusive way than most of its competition.  The sporadic use of 3D in this picture allowed me to immerse myself in the story and character designs more easily than Avatar‘s, where I was often distracted by the bizarre suppository dialog about the importance of sacred rocks and trees. Aside from a few wandering mechs, I was mostly disappointed by Avatar’s character and creature designs, but the same cannot be said about Coraline, a film so ripe with beautiful design and skillful camerawork that it serves as heir apparent to the throne of Nightmare Before Christmas, more so than the lackluster follow-up Corpse Bride. Coraline isn’t a broad sprawling adventure. It’s more a coming-of-age tale told through simple dualities, and as a children’s fairy tale in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, the story and universe are both wonderfully immersive, charming to look at and another exciting example of why animation should not be confined to bright and cheery animal stories.  There is more to be achieved in animated storytelling than most filmmakers are willing to risk, and it’s time Hollywood took that risk and made more films like Coraline possible.

10.  Adventureland

I Used to Have This Job Another coming of age tale (what- is this like a theme with me?), Adventureland features Jesse Eisenberg playing Jesse Eisenberg in a movie with an amusement park and the word -land in the title.  Seem familiar?  That’s because you probably saw a similar situation play out in this year’s epic zom-rom-com Zombieland.  Whereas Zombieland was so jokey and ridiculous that it barely cling to its own story structure for narrative support, Adventureland sticks very closely to teen movie formula but somehow manages to present an intimate and realistic look at what it means to grow up in a small American town and get stuck with a crappy summer job.  It’s mostly a romance featuring Kristen Stewart in a role where it’s finally okay not to like her, but the film also features a broad array of enjoyable side characters like Ryan Reynolds douchebag-mentor and the combined comedic brilliance of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as Adventureland’s married couple in charge of day-to-day operations.  My personal favorite was Martin Starr as the beautifully underplayed Joel, a melancholic but thoughtful geek.  The movie’s approach to sex and drugs suggest that the filmmakers might actually know something about sex and drugs, rather than writing about them through the vacuum of space like on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.  I have a feeling that Adventureland will slowly grow on people like dementia grows within the elderly, until that day when it finally achieves cult movie status, and old farts like future-me can sit and reminisce about it, along with all the sex and drugs we miss so fondly.

09.  Watchmen

Thrillho Deeply flawed, occasionally miscast, corny and uneven are all complaints easily affixed to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, but after multiple re-watches and reconsiderations I’ll tell you why this movie really speaks to me:  Simply put, Watchmen achieved the impossible.  For years, no one in the comic book or film industry thought that Alan Moore’s graphic novel masterwork could ever make it to the big screen.  For good and for bad, Snyder brought us exactly what we asked for and effectively conquered a decades-old battle for the benefit of geeks everywhere. Don’t get me started on the awkward soundtrack choices or the goofy sex scene or Carla Gugino’s high-school theater make-up job.  I know the movie has problems.  But when a movie is almost twelve hours long, it’s got to leave some room for flaws.  (Kidding.)  Watchmen is cinematic history, and it deserves a viewing.  You might be captivated by the universe or just get caught up in an individual moment or character, but there’s something to be marveled at for everyone.  I’m personally wowed by the complete accuracy in which my favorite character Rorschach is portrayed on screen by Jackie Earle Haley, as well as by the skillful storytelling with regards to the big blue-dicked behemoth, Dr. Manhattan.  There’s so much going on in Watchmen that it’s almost impossible to not find something you like, and the more of a chance you give it, the more it will impress you.  Yes, Matthew Goode’s Ozymandius really sucks in this movie, but this is a comic book movie.  You’re already taking some incredible leaps of faith just to be sitting in the seats.  Why not take one more and forgive Matthew Goode’s badness so you can enjoy the sheer spectacle of the events as they unfold.  And what a spectacle it is!  More compositionally beautiful than believable, Watchmen presents some really spectacular imagery and fires into being with the best opening credits sequence this year, and yes, that includes the memorable part of Up.  When you’re not nitpicking it apart, you’ll be surprised to find that Watchmen is actually pretty fun.  With so much hype behind it, it couldn’t help but be a partial letdown.  But within that letdown is a spectacular achievement in perseverance, a skillfully designed recreation of Alan Moore’s creations on the big screen, even if they aren’t always quite the way we remembered them.

08.  District 9

Eyes on the Prize There aren’t a lot of mainstream films where the heroic lead begins his journey with pre-emptive baby murder and ends it as a writhing half-mutant.  The same can be said about movies where the lovable sidekick is a six-foot-tall prawn creature.  And it’s surprising to find a film with major studio backing that contains no famous actors, even in cameo or supporting roles.   Hell, the closest District 9 comes to cliché is its negative portrayal of Nigerians as terrorists, but if Neil Blomkamp had really wanted to make his satire hit home, he should have waited a few months and packed his Nigerians’ diapers with alien weaponry before sending them on an international flight toward infamy.  D9 is a vastly unique, chaotic and unpredictable experience, and it stands to be the only film this year with a narrative arc that I couldn’t see coming from a mile away.  Rather than focusing on individual details of the story, I was so captivated by District 9‘s sheer originality that I didn’t have time to question or complain about the tumultuous madness sprawling before me.  Not only is Blomkamp’s Halo-surrogate a great use of Peter Jackson’s FX team (better than King Kong anyway), it’s a powerfully memorable movie with as many exciting moments as disturbing ones.  Plus it’s a fantastic first showing for Blomkamp as a thinking man’s director of pop entertainment.  Blomkamp may be the Brad Bird of live-action cinema, as he takes outlandish premises and wraps them around intimate character portrayals that tend to highlight the humanity of his scenarios rather than the wafer-thin glitz (and yes, I am aware that my phrasing sounds like a cracker).  I can hardly wait for Blomkamp’s next movie.  Maybe his first big project after District 9 can be a post-Lovely Bones lobotomy on Peter Jackson.

07.  Ponyo

Mermaid in a Bucket It’s easy to fall in love with a Miyazaki movie from a sheer entertainment perpective, but I tend to love his films even more when he bucks storytelling convention to focus on emotionally exploitative visuals and sheer Japanimated weirdness.  Howl’s Moving Castle was my favorite of his films prior to this one, because it didn’t get bogged down in the leaden pro-environment conclusions of Princess MononokeHowl’s decided to tell a strange and off-kilter story about a character who would have traditionally functioned as the love interest rather than a hero.  We see the events of Howl’s life unfold from a generally untold perspective and have a voyeur’s view of the insane action.  That’s risky storytelling, and some people found it less effective than yours truly, but I appreciate any successful filmmaker who is willing to test his audience with something different.  Ponyo is different indeed, from mainstream cinema as well as Miyazaki’s body of work.  Instead of pitting its protagonists against clear obstacles, there is a marked ambiguity throughout Ponyo as if even the characters themselves are so staggered by the absurdity of the world they live in that they can no longer discern absolutes like good or evil.  They simply ramble along through insane scenarios making brash judgment calls about what must be happening or its potential significance.  By allowing only the more psychedelic and ancillary characters to worry about the stakes of the situations, Miyazaki invents a retelling of The Little Mermaid that focuses on the fun of living in a wholly malleable universe.  Ponyo‘s adorably accurate portrayal of childhood love, sibling relationships and the elderly will warm your heart, and its surreal character design is enough to illicit an emotional reaction from even the most cold-hearted filmgoer.  The animation of the water alone is something to be marveled at, and the titular Ponyo is the most adorable amorphous creature since Nintendo’s Kirby.  To describe this film as a narrative would miss the point.  Do not expect a mastery of dramatic storytelling.  Expect the effervescent life and energy of childhood imagination exploding onscreen.

06.  Moon

Duncan Jones’ Moon is much like his Twitter account:  Entirely awesome.  Not only do you have a fantastic Oscar-worthy performance from Sam Rockwell, you have a wonderfully contained vision of technical mastery and human drama.  The fact that Rockwell was snubbed this year is shocking, but the Academy’s reticence to change its perception of cinema is less so.  This year’s Oscar nominations are riskier than usual, in the same way that an elderly man’s painstaking decision to purchase a different brand of bowel loosener at the supermarket is riskier than usual. But my goal here is to exalt Duncan Jones for creating a majestic yet intimate picture, not to insult those ugly old fart-fucks at the Academy.  It is wholly beneath me to waste negative words or time on those hermaphroditic Neo-Nazi cock-gobblers.  Instead, I implore you to give Moon a chance. Its impressiveness lies in its sincerity and presentational abilities, and it should not be dismissed as simple science fiction.  Rockwell owns the show, providing the audience with both protagonist and antagonist in his performance.  And if you’re not a big Sam Rockwell fan, might I entice you with Kevin Spacey as a motherfucking robot?  Spacey plays Rockwell’s medical robot sidekick with a slight inspiration from the HAL-9000 operating system.  I don’t want to spoil this movie for you with too much explanation of the plot, but just know that for every DVD of Moon rented or sold, a member of the Academy grows a pair of balls.  That’s right, even Meryl Streep.  And if you can’t be convinced by Kevin Spacey as a robot or Meryl Streep with big saggy balls, then stop reading this list now.  There’s nothing for you here.

Click here to read my original thoughts on Moon.

05.  Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

FROM BEYOND THE GRAAAAAAVE You don’t understand how much it excited me to see a good Terry Gillam film in theaters.  He’s one of those directors that you hope can pull it out of the trashcan at the last minute, no matter how bad the picture is.  Even during the abysmally somniferous Brothers Grimm, against all sense of reason or dignity, I was pulling for Terry.  He’s a former Python for God’s sakes!  Show some respect!  Lucky for me and the rest of film-going society, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a wholly entertaining movie packed with Gillam’s trademark costume and character designs and a whole lot of unexpected CGI mastery.  Yes, the film does dive into some bizarre, dark places but the picture it paints as a whole is lovely enough that you can gleefully ignore its more obtuse moments.  Dr. Parnassus runs a traveling sideshow with a magic mirror that transports people to a world displaying their ultimate fantasies.  Heath Ledger graciously returns from the grave to provide us with a final performance, as a sly but mysterious salesman for Parnassus’ show.  Also notable is Lily Cole as the most attractive creature in human existence.  I think she plays Dr. Parnassus’s daughter or something, but I honestly couldn’t tell you, because my brain was too ravenous with lust every time she was onscreen.  To fill in for Heath at certain moments when he was too dead to perform, Jude Law, Johnny Depp and that guy who played Bullseye in Daredevil all make cameo appearances.  The real star of the show is the incredible FX work in the third act of the movie.  There’s a moment when Tom Waits, as the Devil- I’ll pause for a moment to let the awesomeness of that sink in- walks off a cliff onto a series of clouds, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.  I guarantee you’ll have story problems with Dr. Parnassus.  I think the movie only really makes sense to Terry Gillam and the retarded kid at the beginning of The Sound and The Fury, but as a spectacle the movie really cannot be topped this year.  If Avatar is special effects porn for ten-year-old me, Parnassus is special effects porn for that creepy European guy I hope to become sometime next decade after my techno album goes platinum.  Float, don’t perambulate to your local theater to be immediately disappointed that Dr. Parnassus is not playing there and never will be.  This is a Terry Gilliam movie after all, straight from God’s mouth to your Netflix queue, with a brief stop at the acid dealer inbetween.

04.  The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Foxy...MAN?! I love Wes Anderson, yadda-yadda-yadda.  He’s the greatest filmmaker of our generation, blah-blah-blah.  It really doesn’t matter which method I choose to pretentiously annotate my adoration for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the truth is that this is best animated film of the year, the best children’s movie this year, and without a doubt one of the finest movies of any genre to be concocted in decades.  The limitations of family-friendly fare confine Anderson to basic human emotions rather than petulant potty-language and ambiguous sexual confusion.  His daddy issues are less whiny and more realistic when they come out of a fox’s mouth, believe it or not.  The more time that passes, the more I cannot wait to get my hands on the Blu-Ray of this little puppy, and I suggest you do the same.  If you’re not interested in the film student’s dissection of why this movie is great, perhaps you and your children will simply be amazed by how charming the characters and the story are.  For that, you can thank both Roald Dahl’s creativity and Wes Anderson’s dialog.  The animation and character designs are both fun and beautiful.  I really cannot rave enough about this picture enough.  See it, now.

To read my original review of Fantastic Mr. Fox click here.

03.  A Serious Man

Sneaking Pies Again, I See I love the Coen Brothers, as well.  A Serious Man may be a black sheep in their long list of brilliant and comedic dramas, but it will stick out to me as a masterpiece because of its incredible sense of narrative and history, incorporated skillfully in an otherwise small story about a modern day Job.  See it, now.

I think I covered my love for this movie extensively in my original review.

02.  Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze presents society with his most perfect film.  Society responds with shortsighted anger about having outgrown the subject material.  People mocked Kevin Smith when he claimed he didn’t make his movies for critics, but I have a feeling Spike Jonze didn’t make this movie for anybody but himself and the kid who played Max.  Not only is this movie a deeply adult story in a children’s book framework, it does the impossible in reminding us that children are often more adult in spirit than we often give them credit for.  This might be our closest shot to having a Calvin & Hobbes film onscreen, completely with melancholic angst, bizarre imagination and interchangeable moments of beauty or sorrow.  Max appears to the Wild Things out of nothingness, a would-be messiah in the body of a child.  Max discovers the difficulty of protecting and loving those he cares about, and that even when you do the best you can for people, sometimes it isn’t enough.  In a totally thematic and underplayed way, Max learns how to be a parent and how to say goodbye to those that he’s created, even though it pains him.  Those who were disappointed with this film had a mistake in their expectations.

Read my original review for the movie here.

01.  In the Loop

TEE-HEE CURSING!!What the hell?  How can this be your favorite movie of the year, Matt?  I’ve never even heard of it, and I’m some prick who reads about movies on the internet!  Validate me!  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I understand your ignorant scorn, believe me.  I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by In the Loop either.  I assumed it would be a quaint political comedy with some genuine British wit thrown in to keep things interesting, and in a way that perfectly describes the picture.  But you have to understand the importance of a movie like this, a movie where there are constant minute-by-minute laughs and not a hint of the sophomoric retardation that permeates American comedy.  I enjoyed the Hangover, I really did, but is it too much to ask for a movie that uses comedy for more than a vehicle for shit, dick, and tit jokes?  South Park is a great example of how the two can be miraculously blended, but aside from the exception that proves the rule, our comedies are getting stupider and stupider.  Judd Apatow can’t be expected to provide society with a funny movie anymore, even when the movie has the word Funny in the title.  Unlike Apatow’s bloated three-hour masturbation session, In the Loop tells the scarily real story of how international war is declared in modern politics, poking fun at both the British and American governments for the bureaucratic and interpersonal ironies that undercut their day-to-day activities.  Endlessly clever and entertaining, In The Loop is packed with great performances by Yanks and Brits alike, like James Gandolfini as a surly American general and Tom Hollander as a politically impotent low-ranking British official.  The standout performance of the movie is Peter Capaldi as the ballsy and charismatic British political adviser with a non-stop sailor’s mouth and the world’s shortest fuse.  The fact that his performance is another Oscar snub shows just how deep the rabbit hole of the committee’s ignorance goes.  Also, if you’re wondering what happened to that cute little girl from the movie My Girl, the answer is that she grew up and became incredibly attractive, as well as impressively funny.  This is the kind of movie with few equivalents.  If you’re looking for a movie as intelligent as it is comedic, I ask you to look no further.