Monday, January 2, 2012
So this isn't about best, it's just about the movies that I look back on as the ones that I enjoyed the most for base level enjoyment mixed with overall quality.
But that's enough of that. On to the list, of which the keyword is "nostalgia," which you can find after the jump.
Note: I still haven't seen a few movies that could easily make this list, so my apologies to War Horse (saw the play - amazing! - and seeing the movie today), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Tree of Life, The Artist, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and a range of other assuredly great movies.
Second Note: I FORGOT TROLL HUNTER! Troll Hunter is amazing! Must watch!
- Drive (mostly for the amazing soundtrack and general vibe)
- 50/50 (mostly for JGL and personal connection)
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes (this movie was surprisingly fantastic)
- Contagion (superstar cast, Soderbergh, scary, just a little on the cold side)
- Warrior (superb performances from the three leads make this better than just an MMA Rocky)
- Cedar Rapids (very funny with a lot of heart thrown in)
This movie was forever in limbo and made, under my estimation, $15. Pretty much no one saw it, which is a shame because man, this movie was amusing as all hell. Was it an Oscar style film in any way shape or form? No way. But good god, this was maybe the best time I had watching a movie in 2011.
With two fantastic leads in the always underrated Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Tyler Labine (Reaper), this movie reversed the traditional ideas of 80's slasher flicks with an incredible amount of heart and humor thrown in there too. It might not have the longest legs of anything you'll see in 2011, but it's an absolute blast of a movie.
This movie comes from a first time writer/director named JC Chandor and is filled with incredible actors like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, and a range of others. What carries this movie for me was a particularly strong performance from the cerebral Zachary Quinto (who generally had a good year, between this and American Horror Story) and a focused, smart script that was paced incredibly well by Chandor.
For some (namely a certain good friend of mine), this movie is a snorefest. But for yours truly, I found it to be a truly gripping office thriller that paints a scary and realistic picture of the current economic crisis at its roots. A fascinating film, and one that came out of nowhere to be that.
Generally speaking, I'm not crazy about Alexander Payne's films. I know that's extremely not cool to say so, but it's the truth. I enjoyed Election, found About Schmidt to be darkly funny, and generally found Sideways to be painfully overrated, but The Descendants was irrefutably great in my mind. For me, the reason why was the infusion of significant heart into his formula, as the story of George Clooney's Matt King and his family was one any dysfunctional family can relate to, as can the themes of heartbreak and loss. Granted, this effort was definitely bolstered by superb performances from Clooney and his kids, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller.
It was a very, very good movie, and one that definitely deserves the significant awards attention it has received to date.
I was out of the country when this movie came out, but I can say I was surprised that it didn't earn a lot more love. It was the type of smart science-fiction that I eat up, which is unsurprising given that it comes from Duncan Jones (Moon). While the plot in itself is pretty inexplicable if you look at it closely at all (so this machine lets you inhabit someone else's body for eight minutes at a time, but in another timeline and at one exact starting point?), that's cool with me because what sci-fi isn't really?
The execution on the other hand is pretty genius, combining multiple levels of time travel theory with a driving thriller of a plot, crafted well by the hands of the very able Jones and highlighted by strong performances from the underrated Jake Gyllenhaal (I'm comfortable in saying that because many still regard him as just a pretty face), the outrageously charming Michelle Monaghan, and the stunning and talented Vera Farmiga. In a year that was a little light in quality sci-fi, this was a joy for me as a viewer.
I read Moneyball when it first came out, and for a person who is a big fan of statistics and baseball, it was a fascinating and occasionally arduous read (it was thin, but it still was kind of boring in parts). True story.
I actually enjoyed the film version of it far more, as director Bennett Miller and writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian managed to turn a book about sabermetrics and Billy Beane being a forward thinker into something that had a ton of heart and charm to its name. Honestly, watching Brad Pitt (as Beane) and Jonah Hill (as Paul DePodesta...I mean, Peter Brand) attempt to trade for Rincardo Rincon (an apple of Beane's eye for most of the movie) was one of the most enjoyable scenes of the entire year. Sure, it was all pretty whiz-bang, only in the movies type storytelling that was sort of revisionist in the way it handled everything, but damn, I absolutely had a smile on my face when I left the theater.
And to those that say it was too The Social Network like for its own good, I say to you this: what movie hasn't been directly influenced by something that preceded it? And wasn't The Social Network a great movie? For a project that had been stymied by a ton of creative changes throughout the years, seeing something like The Social Network likely helped conceive the narrative structure to make this what it was. It was a great movie on its own, regardless of similarities to Fincher's Facebook film.
Writer-director Thomas McCarthy makes movies that I love. That's a fact. I loved The Station Agent to a perhaps unhealthy degree (for those that were all gaga for Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones, please watch The Station Agent) and The Visitor was another splendid movie that highlighted another range of talented character actors.
With Win Win though, he told another great small-town America tale, one with significant ethical questions, family drama and humor from an extremely talented ensemble cast highlighted by Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, talented newcomer Alex Shaffer, and the unparalleled awesomeness of McCarthy favorite Bobby Cannavale. This movie was seen by few and hyped up by even fewer, with only my long-time favorite movie writer Jeffrey Wells really championing it as something that should be an Oscar contender.
More people should see this, and if you haven't yet, I implore you to do so.
I watched this movie three times in theaters, and it was pretty much because I was trying to get anyone who would listen to go see this movie. I've always said I'm a hopeless romantic, and my borderline obsession with this movie confirmed that as it was an unbelievably smart and funny example of how to successfully make a romantic comedy.
It was full of amusing, touching performances from people like my lady love Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, and a slew of others, but really, the best reason to watch this movie is Ryan Gosling. He had a huge year as an actor, making it rain in the superb Drive and the very solid Ides of March, but for my money Crazy, Stupid, Love was his best work of the year. While his character, a chiseled adonis with a lot of hidden depth, easily could have been a complete throwaway character. Instead, he made the character one of the biggest scene stealers of the year.
After I saw this movie with my Facebook wife Joanne, we discussed opening our fictional relationship up to allow Gosling into it. Of course we brought him in (in our minds, at least).
If you missed this movie, I couldn't recommend it highly enough.
Fact: I saw The Goonies literally hundreds of times when I was a little kid. It was my favorite movie growing up, and there was something about that movie that is magical to me still to this day.
Fact: Super 8 is a spiritual descendant of The Goonies, as JJ Abrams crafted an Amblin joint for modern audiences. It combines a fierce love of film and life with an able cast of characters, with the kid leads of Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning standing tall amongst talented character actors like Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich and Ron Eldard. Plus, it's a thrilling science-fiction ride that made me leave the theater with an ear-to-ear smile on my face. What more would I want from a movie, really?
I was completely overjoyed by this magical movie experience. Hugo in 3D is something completely unlike anything you'd ever expect to see from Martin Scorsese, but really just highlights how much the guy loves movies and life and everything in-between. This Paris based ode is a splendid adventure, with kid actors Asa Butterfield and the always charming Chloe Moretz carrying the lead as the duo who are trying to figure out how a little automaton ties into toymaker George Melies (a splendid Ben Kingsley).
The 3D blends perfectly into the stunning imagery Scorsese crafts, and the heart in this film practically leaps off the screen and into your arms as you watch it (literally when a certain key is involved). This is a prime Best Picture contender from what I understand, and I can say wholeheartedly that I am pulling for this to take the win (assuming my number one pick doesn't earn a nomination). A stunning work, and something that goes into my favorite Scoscese films immediately.
I very rarely would use the word "magical" for a movie (well, besides for this movie and the other Paris set one that preceded it), but Midnight in Paris was one of the most joyous and magical times I had watching a movie this year. Woody Allen is not typically the type who would make things like this (in my mind, at least), but this smart, thoughtful and inspiring movie is something built for dreamers. Not just ones who yearn for the days of yesteryear, but for anything really. It's romantic, without really being overtly romantic in the relationship way. It's romantic for another time and place, and for me in the point of transition I'm in and having just returned from my world trip, it was an absolute joy to watch.
Plus, it gets major bonus points for being a tour of one of my favorite cities as well as giving us one of the most fantastic performances of the year (Corey Stoll made an absolutely phenomenal Hemingway).