|The Surprising Best Movie of the Year?|
Level I (the world is worse for this being made)
No movies were quite this life suckingly horrible this year, although a couple came close, like ...
Level II (train wreck)
Season of the Witch This is an awful movie. It has many of the markings of truly dreadful fare like actors who seem to go in and out of accents, accents that they don't need to be using in the first place, and not merely non-sensical plot points but a non-sensical plot where you can't figure out what motivation any of the character really have for anything and everything they do. Still, I got a say, it hurt to put it this low. I'm not sure why, but I just wish I could have put it higher until I remember that this was an absolutely, positively, undeniably bad movie.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood v. Evil Did you like the first Hoodwinked? Yeah, me too. So trust me when I tell you DO NOT WATCH THIS ONE! It is so bad it will make you mad at the first one.
Zookeeper I don't blame Kevin James, I blame Nick Nolte and his obnoxious Ape. In fact I blame all the voice actors. And here is a note to all filmmakers, in no universe is someone as good looking as Rosario Dawson ignored or not noticed by her male co-workers. At least have the good sense not to cast someone who is better looking than the girl the lead is "chasing" as the friend who we all know he will end up with in the end. It's just stupid.
Spy Kids 4: All The Time in the World You know how kids say they liked everything when they see it in a theater? Not even my 7 year old could claim he liked this one, and this is the only "kids" movie I can say that about.
Level III (not sure what it wants to be)
Country Strong Are we supposed to like Gwyneth? Are we supposed to hate the younger girl? How are we supposed to feel about Tim McGraw? Are we to believe Gwyneth is really good? I have no idea.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules I could keep making lists of questions for all the movies on this level as that is the nature of a level III movie, you just aren't sure what they were going for. You would think that would be nearly impossible to do with a Diary of a Wimpy kid movie and yet they accomplished that feat with seeming ease.
Dylan Dog: Dead of the Night This movie's failure to be either funny, scary, sexy or action packed really frustrated me. A good Dylan Dog movie could be made, maybe even a great Dylan Dog movie, but this movie pulled its punches on every level.
Horrible Bosses I love Charlie Day. I like Sedakis and Bateman and Collin Ferrel and Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey and Jamie Fox. Because of the talented cast this movie absolutely made me laugh at times, but never became absurd enough to pull the premise truly off. The bosses were too horrible to be real and not wacky enough (except for Collin Ferrel) to be satire. I'm sure plenty will disagree, but it just got stuck in the middle to me.
Conan the Barbarian My high school economics teacher (and one of the first true cinephiles I have ever known) used to say that the original Conan was either the greatest comedy ever made or the worst movie ever made, he just had to figure out if the filmmakers were in on the joke. These filmmaker seemed to be trying to make a real Conan movie, but didn't have the you know what's to go all the way. They ended up with a movie that had just enough senseless sex and gore to turn away the "Hercules/Xena" crowd and no where near enough to live up the the barbarian in the title (and from the comics).
No Strings Attached Raunchy comedy? Kind of. Romantic comedy? Kind of. Sexy comedy? Kind of. Funny comedy? Not really. Disjointed, convoluted mess that wastes comedic charm that I still believe Natalie Portman has although I concede I am basing that belief solely on one SNL performance. Bingo!
Level IV (missing something)
The Green Hornet So, I read some positive reviews of Green Hornet and based on those convinced my son and wife that we should go see it on a lazy Saturday afternoon. We should have known we were in some trouble when all the previews were for R rated movies. We really should have known we were in trouble after the opening sequence where the crudeness of the language didn't feel like Iron Man but felt more like Knocked Up. We should have left but we didn't. Now, nearly 1 year later, I still hear every day "Dad, Green Hornet really wasn't appropriate, we shouldn't have seen that". This from a kid whose first favorite movie was Jurasic Park because he thought the T-Rex eating the guy while he was on the toilet was hysterical.
Take Me Home Tonight I like Topher Grace and wish he would get more work. Having said that if anyone can tell me why this movie is set in the late 80's I am all ears. All of it would work just as well set today. Let's be honest, the struggles of a recent college grad trying to figure out what he wants to be kind of is the same any time. Also, every 80's thing didn't happen or exist simultaneously. By 1989 Miami Vice was dead and nobody talked about Culture Club (those are not references specific to this film but more a general statement about 80's movies). I'm just sayin'.
Bad Teacher Justin Timberlake is pretty good in this movie and I will say, unlike Horrible Bosses, Cameron Diaz at least flirts with a believable degree of bad. Still, too long, too obvious a resolution and a little too much redemption.
Cars 2 I am sorry Pixar, please forgive me and don't stop making great movies. I have loved every other movie you have made and I really do want to see The Incredibles 2 really badly, so don't hold this against me.
Friends With Benefits I think every review I have seen of this movie kind of said the same thing, its better than No Strings Attached.
Level V (exactly what you expect it to be)
Just Go With It A Sandler romantic comedy, which are generally better than his family comedies, that has moments that work and a plot that is obvious but holds together reasonably well. Are there "Sandler" scenes that some won't like, obviously. But the stuff with the kids is funny and this is the kind of stuff Jennifer Aniston was born to do.
I Am Number Four Much like Percy Jackson or The Sorcerer's Apprentice it is good, maybe not quite good enough to launch a series as it is clearly aiming to do, but still not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. On a weird side note, if Percy Jackson had cast the kid who stars in this I think it would have been good enough to launch the series (the kid playing Percy did not feel like a demigod).
Source Code Fun movie. Definitely worth a rental.
Priest Could have been a little scarier and the plot resolution not quite so obvious, but its paced well and has some cool action sequences.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides While my son would be mad that I did not drown this movie with more praise, the truth is it is a Pirates movie. None are as good as the first one, but they are all fun, silly and an enjoyable waste of time.
Green Lantern What were you expecting? Because this is almost exactly what I was expecting.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon See comments above regarding "Pirates".
Cowboys and Aliens See comments regarding Green Lantern with one additional note, who was the last person that hollywood was determined to make a star as badly as they want to make Olivia Wilde one? I know that sentence was convoluted but I think you know what I mean.
Puss in Boots See Transformers comments.
Battle: Los Angeles Erin Eckhart might be the answer to my Olivia Wilde question now that I think about it.
Level VI (a pleasant surprise)
Rio Not a lot to say. The rating kind of says it all.
Thor Cocky Thor really worked and somehow Asgard never felt too ... otherworldly maybe. I don't know, I just never thought you could make a good Thor movie and they did so hats off to them.
Bridesmaids Want to know when someone saw Bridesmaids? Do they gush and fawn over it like a hidden gem they just discovered? Then they saw it early on in its theatrical release. Do they say it was funny, but they can't really see what all the fuss was about? Then they saw it later in its theatrical run. Do they say, yeah, it was funny? Then they saw it on DVD 6 months after it came out.
Captain America: The First Avenger Marvel studios knows how to make movies. At least when they introduce a new hero they always seem to do it well, even better than you expect them to.
Dolphin Tale So, there are two kinds of animal/boy movies. There are the ones who make you mad at them for the way they tug at your heart strings mercilessly (I'm looking at you Marley and Me). And there are the ones that you are glad that you allowed them there tugs. This definitely falls into the second category.
Real Steel No movie surprised my son more than this one at how much he loved it. Rocky with robots and a nice father/son dynamic. If you have pre-teen and tween boys I can almost guarantee they will love this movie.
Arthur Christmas Here's hoping it can dissipate the number of times The Santa Clause and all of its sequels air from November through December. This is absolutely worth a watch and I think will hold up Christmas after Christmas.
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows A lot of people have been saying stuff like "if you liked the first one you will like this one". I suppose that is true, but I would argue that if you liked the first one you will like this one more. The villain is more clever and the action sequences are unique. This felt more like a Guy Ritchie movie to me, which I believe is a good thing.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol I think it is the best Mission Impossible by a goodly margin mostly because they actually allow the "team" to do stuff, to contribute in the action instead of merely supporting Tom Cruise while he does all the action stuff.
Level VII (ambitious but flawed)
X-Men First Class The ambition of this film is to show us how the X-Men and The Brotherhood of Mutants come into being. It is a fun idea in that it allows us to see an entirely different Charles Xavier and the birth of Magneto. It also, as the best of the X-Men comics have often done, masterfully mixes in historical events and settings that uniquely ground this movie as compared to any other comic book hero adaptations (watching a young Eric aka Magneto as a Nazi hunter is a kick in the pants). The only things that hold it back are its pacing (a little slow at times), and some really blatant problems with continuity with regards to the earlier movies. The last wouldn't be a problem if they didn't make several overt references in the form of cameos to the previous films, adding an a spotlight to some things that just don't make sense (Lucas had a similar problem with the Sequels, hey Ben Kenobi the two droids in front of you fought with you for years in the clone wars and Darth Vader built one of them but still doesn't remember them? I won't even touch the fact the Chewy fought alongside Jedi in the clone wars but still acts like he has never seen such a thing when Luke and Ben come aboard the Falcon).
Super 8 Unlike Take Me Home Tonight, the setting and the time in which the film is set are both crucial to the story (the title alone would tell you one reason why). This is a fun tight mystery with some very good family drama mixed in that harkens back to ET and Close Encounters and that is the problem. This is such an overt omage to Speilberg that you can't help but notice it. I wouldn't say it was distracting, but it does somehow lessen the impact of it all for reasons I can't even put my finger on.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II My favorite review of this was s**t finally happens. This movie had a lot to do and does most of it well. The final battle is fun and varied so that we don't have to just watch Harry. The way Harry wins doesn't seem like a cheat, which in and of itself is no mean feat. Still, there are things that just don't entirely work. I get Snape loved Lilly and all but how exactly was he protecting Harry? If Harry and Jenny are soul mates and all then why does he almost never go to her as the death and destruction subsides? Mostly though you are left feeling like there was no reason that this movie was split in two except for the obvious reason.
Drive This may have been the least accurately promoted movie in the history of cinema. If you saw the trailers and commercials you were thinking you were going to see another Fast and Furious or The Transporter. That is NOT what this movie is. It is a moody, slow, character driven (no pun intended) story about a quiet stuntman/getaway driver who finds himself losing some control of aspects of his life where he has always had absolute control. It boasts a strong performance by Ryan Gossling and a spectacular performance by Albert Brooks. It is very good, but I think most people who went to see it had trouble getting into it because it was nothing like what they advertised it to be.
Level VIII (AWESOME!)
Fast Five I heard someone say that there was no point in reviewing Fast Five. If you like the previous movies you were going to LOVE this one. If you didn't like the previous movies nothing about this one would likely change your mind. As my rating suggests I liked the first ones a lot and this one took them to a whole new and better level in no small part thanks to one man ... THE ROCK!
Dale and Tucker Vs. Evil Most not only never saw this film but probably never heard of it. It was made independently and had a lot of trouble finding distribution mostly because people couldn't figure out how to sell it. How do you sell a story about two Appalachian Mountain good ol' boys who are going on a vacation to their fishing cabin when they are mistaken for serial killers by a bunch of college kids who have gone camping in those same woods. Let me just say this, hilarity and gore ensue. If you like Friday the 13th and other like movies this is a far better spoof and take on them than all the Scream movies combined.
Level IX (perfect, wouldn't change one thing)
Hanna This was a movie that was somehow everything you expected and yet better than anything you could have ever anticipated. Starting with Saoirse Ronan, the lead who is so good that she can scare you, make you laugh and then make you cry all with her eyes and all in the space of 30 seconds, the cast is as perfect as any I have seen. It is a film that is disturbing without being graphic, smart without being self-conscious, action packed without being cliche and at times heart breaking without being schmaltzy. A rare feat and on top of all that it is first and foremost an exciting thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end (or any other trite expression often used to describe good thrillers).
Red State I am a big Kevin Smith fan. I like almost all his earlier films, from Clerks right up through Dogma. Then he made Jay and Silent Bob and he began to loose me. Jersey Girl and Clerks II were thin shadows of previous works, Zack and Miri had moments but didn't entirely work and Cop Out was hard to watch. So, as big a fan as I was, I had kind of given up on Kevin Smith the filmmaker and assumed he was of a number of people who had a couple of good stories, all of a similar tone, and when they were done so was he creatively speaking. Red State proved all of that wrong. You thought he was just about adolescent 20 somethings struggling with moving on, not here. You though high stakes meant nothing more than would a fleeting relationship work, not here. You thought action meant fast talking, not here. This is a great movie about a cult who comes under siege by the ATF in texas. A riveting hostage situation, a compelling social commentary on extremism and at times a very disturbing almost horror movie this is a film that just worked and didn't feel anything like a "Kevin Smith" movie. Violent, profane and disturbing it may not be for everyone, but if you are like me it is one of those films that sticks with you in a good way long after you have seen it.