Archive for the ‘Best of’ Category

2013.  Ah yes.  I’ll always remember you as that year that came between 2012 and 2014.  Truly you were special.  Many things happened within your 365 day span.  Some of them I can actually remember.  Just not right now.  But I do remember your films.  I saw 100 movies with your release date though not everything I wanted.  I haven’t seen Her, Wolf of Wall Street,  All Is Lost or Dallas Buyers Club.  And while I plan on seeing all of those, they won’t count towards this year’s list.  So enough chit-chat.  Lets get to it.

Superman, bearing his traditional red and blue costume, is shown flying towards the viewer, with the city Metropolis below. The film's title, production credits, rating and release date is written underneath.

10.  Man of Steel

Almost certainly my most controversial choice but I put a lot of thought into whether or not I honestly felt this was one of the 10 best movies of the year.  Obviously, I did.  I loved the extended opening on Krypton.  It gave us more detail and feel for the planet then we’d seen in any other Supes flick.  I really appreciated the fresh take on the Pa Kent dynamic.  It felt real.  I love that Lois figures out the truth.  Amy Adams is by far the best Lois to date.  Actually, I liked all the leads.  Henry Cavill is a great Clark, a great Kal-El, a great Superman.  It’ll be fun to see him grow in the role.  The film presented an untested man learning to be a hero at great cost.  It shows how Clark Kent became Superman.  Great acting, great score, great action, great effects.   It’s plain great.

Stoker teaser poster.jpg

9.  Stoker

Director Chan-wook Park, in his American feature debut, delivers a nice mix of Southern Gothic horror and Hitchcockian suspense highlighted by stellar work from Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska.  Nicole Kidman also does a pretty good job with a slightly underwritten role.  The real meat of the flick is in the relationship between Wasikowska’s India and Goode’s Charlie.  She turned 18 on the same day her father died in a car accident.  Charlie’s the uncle she never knew she had who shows up mysteriously for her dad’s funeral.  Kidman’s widowed Evelyn has more than a passing interest in her brother-in-law but he clearly has designs for his niece.  It’s creepy, it’s sexually charged, it’s beautifully shot and composer Clint Mansell supplies a moody score.  Here’s hoping Mr. Park spends some more time stateside.

The Place Beyond the Pines Poster.jpg

8.  The Place Beyond the Pines

The film is a very well done generational tale involving two men, their children and the fall out of one fateful afternoon encounter.  The film opens by focusing on Ryan Gosling’s Luke, a carny stuntman, who has to settle down when he discovers he has an illegitimate son.  His efforts at providing for his family will have dire consequences.  There’s a sudden narrative shift after the first act as the film shifts focus to Bradley Cooper’s Avery, an ambitious street cop who finds himself a hero while mingling with some unsavory elements within his own police force.  The third and most compelling act deals with the sons of these two men as they must deal with the sins of their fathers.  This is pure drama, well acted and well told.

Captain Phillips Poster.jpg

7.  Captain Phillips

The film fell under some scrutiny and was subject to criticism for playing a little fast and loose with the details of the real life event upon which it was based.  But films based on a true story rarely stick 100% to the facts so I’m not sure what people what people are complaining about.  The plot revolves around two men,  Tom Hank’s Phillips, the captain of a cargo ship, and Barkhad Abdi as Muse, a Somali pirate desperate for a big payday.  Hanks is his usual stellar self, shining in material worthy of his attention.  Abdi’s Muse is so much more than a bad guy.  He’s a fully realized character with a conflicted and justified reasons for his actions.  The final ten minutes feature a master class in physical acting from Hanks.  Wonderful stuff.

Only God Forgives poster.jpg

6.  Only God Forgives

The second feature to team director Nicolas Windig Refn with star Ryan Gosling is a highly stylized, minimalist masterpiece.  It’s a very divisive movie probably because it’s so different from the pair’s earlier collaboration, Drive.  And while I prefer that film, I can’t find anything to dislike about this one.  The plot is a simple revenge tale that spirals  out of control and leaves few unaffected.  Gosling, with very little dialogue, is a soulless, emotionless man pressed into service by his domineering mother played to icy cold perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Vithaya Pansringarm is Lt. Chang, a Thai police with a biblical moral code.  Chang is a fascinating, nuanced character.  The film revolves around him and justifiably so.  Refn’s on a roll.  Hope he keeps it up.

Upstream Color poster.jpg

5.  Upstream Color

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is clearly the work of a unique and singular vision.  This is such a film and that vision belongs to director/writer/cinematographer/editor/composer/actor/caterer Shane Carruth.  His previous movie, the trippy time travel tale Primer, is a cult classic but this one should rise above that classification.  It’s almost useless to describe the plot.  It’s non-linear storytelling filled with vivid imagery and an aural landscape that brings to mind the very best of Terrence Mallick’s more esoteric work.  The film is meant to speak to the viewer at a subconscious level, speaking to primal feelings of love and loss.  And in that respect, it’s astoundingly successful.  Carruth has only made 2 films in 10 years but they are obvious passion projects.  If his next is as good as this, I’m willing to wait.

Inside Llewyn Davis Poster.jpg

4.  Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest film from the Coen Brothers was criminally ignored by the Academy Awards voters but I doubt seriously they very much care.  They’re gonna keep doing what they’re doing until they can’t do it anymore.  I’m fine with that.  This tale of a folksy rocker in the early 60’s proves that you don’t have to like the lead character to like the film.  Llewyn is a bit dead inside since the death of his performing partner.  He bounces from gig to gig, couch to couch, woman to woman.  He can’t be bothered to feel anything because doing that would force him to feel everything.  And that would kill him.  He’s stuck in an endless loop of cynicism and apathy and frankly he deserves it.  He makes beautiful music but his soul is as rotten as they come.  This is classic Coen material.

Gravity Poster.jpg

3.  Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron, director of the magnificent Children of Men, delivers a stirring space movie that earned it’s spot on this list by reminding audiences of why they go to the movies in the first place.  It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible surrounded by an invested audience of fellow lovers of cinema.  It features the some of the best use of modern 3D technology and incredible visual effects.  The Oscar-nominated score by Steven Price propels the film as astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney struggle against all odds to survive a space walk gone disastrously wrong.  The action never lets up and yet there’s time for some nice character development amid the spectacle.  This is bold and beautiful film making.

Mud poster.jpg

2.  Mud

This one is as small and as intimate as a film can get.  It’s a Huck Finn for a new millennium, a classic coming of age tale steeped deep in the traditions and culture of the Arkansas riverbanks on which it was filmed.  And it features another in a long string of fantastic performances by Matthew McConaughey.  He is riveting as the swamp shaman exiled on an island waiting for true love to catch up to him and befriending two young boys looking for a hero.  That no single character in this turns out to be exactly as they first appear is a credit to writer/director Jeff Nichols who is quickly emerging as one of America’s finest young filmmakers.  It’s a rich vibrant movie that I’m certain I’ll watch again and again.

12 Years a Slave film poster.jpg

1.  12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northrup was a free black man born in New York during the height of slavery.  In the 1840’s, he is torn from his family (a wife and two children) by two men and sold illegally into slavery in the South.  The film recounts the next decade plus of his life as he is sold from plantation to plantation, master to master, trying to hide his education, trying to blend in, trying to survive.  His ordeals are horrific.  Director Steve McQueen challenges the viewer to look away as Northrup (portrayed brilliantly by Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor)  does what he must to get back to his family.  The film is filled with great performances but none more great than those of Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as Epps, who feels his right to own people is ordained by God.  This is a masterwork of cinema and it’s the best movie of the year.

At one point, most of the following films were sitting in my top 10 only to be pushed out by later films or by second viewings of other films that shuffled them down.  That said, these are the very best of the rest of the movies that didn’t make the cut.

Europa Report Official Poster.jpg

Europa Report

A found footage sci-fi flick about man’s first interstellar trip to the moons of Jupiter.  It paid great respect to the science side of sci-fi by using footage from the International Space Station and space walks as reference for filming.  The found footage aspect is never obtrusive and it tells a very compelling story with interesting characters.

A girl in a red dress, laughing in the rain, alongside a tall red-haired man wearing a suit.

About Time

Unapologetic and bittersweet, the film focuses on a young man who discovers he can travel through time at will.  He uses his gift as I imagine most young men would and manages to secure the woman of his dreams after numerous missteps.  The film is at its best when focusing on the lead’s relationship with his father.

American Hustle 2013 poster.jpg

American Hustle

This is a very clever “semi-true” ensemble comedy/drama, focusing on a colorful cast of characters involved in the Abscam operation in the late 70s, that never takes itself too seriously.  Stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence & Jeremy Renner are clearly having fun playing dress-up for director David O. Russell.

Prisoners2013Poster.jpg

Prisoners

A Thanksgiving Day kidnapping of two young girls triggers a series of events that leaves two families devastated and a dogged police detective facing ultimate evil.  Hugh Jackman & Jake Gyllenhaal deliver award worthy performances as respectively the father forced to grave task and the detective determined to crack the case in this dark, moody film.

If you wanna see what other films I really liked this past year check out the previous installments of The Rest of the Best.

The Rest of the Best Part 3

The Rest of the Best Part 2

The Rest of the Best Part 1

I’ll be unleashing my final and official Top 10 of the year in the next few days.  And after that, I’ll be diving into 2014 and beyond.

Continuing my countdown to the best movies of 2013

Spring Breakers poster.jpg

Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine brings us Disney divas as girls gone wild and it surprisingly works to great effect.  Fueled by a great score featuring Skrillex and Cliff Martinez, the film is a neon-colored, black-light lit fever dream featuring killer performances from the four young leads and an almost unrecognizable turn  by James Franco.

Black-and-white picture of an orca (killer whale) with the title Blackfish and credits underneath

Blackfish

A truly, great documentary can serve to affect social change by shining a light on injustice and inhumanity.  I can honestly say that after seeing the treatment of these beautiful killer whales at the hands of Sea World, I will never step foot into another of their parks.  And in that way, this is truly a great documentary.

The Kings of Summer.jpg

The Kings of Summer

This is yet another film in a great run of coming of age tales.  It’s a crime that it’s rated R simply for featuring young boys talking the way young boys do.  But I guess saying ‘fuck’ a couple times more worthy of the restrictive rating than the buckets of blood and violence seen in PG-13 blockbusters.  That point aside, this is a fun and sweet movie.

Nebraska Poster.jpg

Nebraska

Director Alexander Payne loves to send broken men in fractured relationships out on the open road to discover themselves and to dig deep into their damaged psyches.  His muse on this trip is veteran Bruce Dern who, with his son, sets out to claim a sweepstakes fortune.  At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a wonderful movie.

Continuing my rundown on the great flicks that won’t quite make my Top 10.

The poster shows a flaming starship falling towards Earth, with smoke coming out. At the middle of the poster shows the title "Star Trek Into Darkness" in dark grey letters, while the production credits and the release date being at the bottom of the poster.

Star Trek Into Darkness

It’s not as consistently enjoyable as the first in Abrams’ rebooted universe but it is a lot of damn fun especially when focusing on the characters.  It leans heavily on knowledge of pre-reboot films but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  My biggest complaint was a lack of significant McCoy action.

Catching-Fire poster.jpg

The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire

A superior sequel in every way that truly benefited from an increased budget.  And that’s coming from someone who rather liked the first film.  Jennifer Lawrence is on a roll and it’s a true pleasure to see her playing in big “tentpole” franchise movies as well as smaller awards worthy stuff.

EvilDead2013Poster.jpg

Evil Dead

What can I say?  I liked it.  It’s not as revolutionary as the original nor is it trying to be.  It’s simply trying to tell a fun gory story filled with blood and good jump scares and it does a hell of a job of doing just that.  Jane Levy kills it especially in a crimson soaked final confrontation that would leave even the most jaded horror hound breathless.

Warm Bodies Theatrical Poster.jpg

Warm Bodies

Stronger films pushed this out of my top 10 as the year rolled on but I remained fond of the clever zombie romance tale.  The film is at its best when focusing on ‘R’ and his love for the stunning Teresa Palmer’s Julie but an action-filled clunky third act doesn’t distract too much from the proceedings.  It’s a tasty alternative from typical undead fare.

It’s been a pretty good year for movies.  I’m in the process of watching for a second time some flicks that are jockeying for position in my year-end top 10 but there were plenty of others that came close.  So for the next couple weeks leading up to the unveiling of my favorite movies of 2013 I figured I would share with you, in no particular order, those movies that came oh so close.

File:+1MoviePoster2013.jpg

+1 (Plus One)

This is a little trippy tale of high school kids and time loops.  There’s nothing too terribly original but it does set up a nice moral quandary for the characters with a somewhat disturbing conclusion.  The cast is fun and nice to look at.  It all makes for an engaging and clever flick well worth a genre aficionado’s time.

File:Maniac (2012 film).jpg

Maniac

A slick remake of the 1980 grindhouse classic this time with Elijah Wood as the titular crazy man.  It is to the director’s credit that he somehow makes the murderous sociopath even remotely sympathetic.  Wood performs remarkably considering the 1st person perspective keeps him off-screen the majority of the time.  There’s also a killer soundtrack.

Room 237 (2012 film).jpg

Room 237

In this documentary, very detail oriented people discuss their theories of the underlying message and themes within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, considered by many to be the scariest film of all time.  Many of the theories are straight lunacy but it’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re a fan of the horror classic.

Poster for the film "Byzantium".jpg

Byzantium

A pair of vampires, mother & daughter, have lived a nomadic life for centuries under the ever-present threat of a sect of male vampires that find their very existence an abomination .  Their carefully built life of lies faces its greatest challenge when they settle in a coastal town and the daughter falls in love.  Great stuff from Brit director Neil Jordan.

Because what you need is ANOTHER top 10 list!

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I began this little experiment.  Actually, it’s not quite been a full year but it’s close enough for government work.  I’ve been looking forward to this particular entry in the ole’ blog because it’s where I get to talk about all the movies I really loved over the last 365.  For those who are regular readers, you might be able to guess some of the following films.  For new readers (for all actually,) I can only hope you find something on here that you haven’t seen.  And I hope my brief words will inspire you to seek it out and see if I’m right.

This ‘best of’ only covers movies that opened theatrically in 2012 and that I saw within the calendar year.  Regrettably, there were some stellar flicks I did not get to see that could have possibly earned a spot.  Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty has yet to open in Austin and I’m ashamed to admit I never got around to see PT Anderson’s The Master.  I missed out on foreign films like Holy Motors and Amour.  And I’m looking forward to eventually seeing documentaries like West of Memphis and The Impostor.

Still, I did see a lot and I feel these ten (11 actually) represent what was a great year for movies.

10.  (tie)  Cloud Atlas / Beasts of the Southern Wild

I wished at the time I first saw Cloud Atlas that I loved the movie.  I merely liked it then and while the movie was in danger of falling out of my top ten I ultimately decided that despite some faults it merited inclusion for, among other reasons, daring to be different and bold.  This was a risky film to make for all involved none more so than directors Tom Twyker and The Wachowskis.  They presented a thematically deep, visual feast that I feel will, eventually, become a very important movie to future filmmakers and audiences.  Of all the movies on this list, it is the one I am most looking forward to rewatching.

Beasts of the Southern Wild almost did not make the list but a second viewing on Blu-ray necessitated expanding this top ten into an eleven.  The heart of the movie is in the performances of Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry as six-year old Hushpuppy and her father, Wink.  The fable-like story plays out in the Bathtub, a physically decaying but spiritually vibrant bayou township that is resisting the incursion of forces both modern and ancient.  Wallis shines as the girl who is willing to fight for what she loves and Henry is amazing as the world-weary father who struggles to teach her how to survive.

9.  Looper

I love time travel movies.  I love good time travel movies even more.  And this third feature from writer/director Rian Johnson certainly qualifies as the latter.  Johnson brought a cool vibe to his neo-noir flick Brick and his caper flick The Brothers Bloom was good, light fun.  But with this twisty tale, he goes full tilt boogie.  It’s stylishly shot with great performances from the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Paul Dano.  The love story with the always fetching Emily Blunt is relatively standard but the fresh spins brought to trusty time travel tropes trump any presumed familiarity.

8.  The Raid:  Redemption

The best action movie of the year and quite possibly the last 10 years.  Suffice it to say that once things get kicking on this Indonesian delight it never lets up.  There’s a lot of blood, broken bone and gunplay here as is to be expected in  a siege movie.  The 70’s brought us John Carpenter’s Attack of Precinct 13.  The 80’s & 90’s brought us the wild and wooly adventures of John McClane in the Die Hard franchise.  Director Gareth Evans brings the action movie screaming with thunderous fury into the new millennium and I can’t wait to see what he serves up next.  And yes, there’s going to be a sequel!

7.  Compliance

Compliance is the most disturbing movie of the year.  Hell, it might be one of the most disturbing movies ever.  People get angry when they watch this film that details one fast food restaurant clerk’s horrific day after she is accused of theft.  You know it’s based on a true story but surely it’s been fictionalized to some extent; exaggerated for dramatic effect.  There’s no way this could have happened.  Just keep telling yourself that.  It’ll make you feel better.  At the very least though, watch the movie.  You will most definitely have an opinion.  Then ask yourself what you would have done.  Be honest.

6. The Grey

Joe Carnahan directed Narc, Smokin’ Aces, and that dreadful A-Team movie.  Joe Carnahan also directed this.  So…all is forgiven.  Liam Neeson is a certified bad ass as the oil worker whose survival skills are put to the test trying to preserve his life as well as those of his co-workers that survived a plane crash  into the icy Alaskan wilderness.  A pack of wolves is hunting them and taking them out one by one leading to an epic showdown between the leaders of the two packs.  This is survival horror at it’s finest.  Some folks balked at the somewhat misleading ad campaign but, honestly, those folks ain’t right.

5.  Life of Pi

Never having read Yann Martel’s book I wasn’t sure what, other than a big giant tiger, to expect from this modern-day fairy tale but was pleasantly surprised with what I found.  Director Ang Lee delivered a beautifully shot movie with stunning imagery and some of the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen.  Suraj Sharma in his first feature role as the titular Pi does an incredible job acting against green screens and the empty air where digital animals were later added.  The story can be taken as a straight tale of survival and endurance but those so inclined can delve into the deeper themes of spirituality and faith that are ripe for analysis.

4.  Killer Joe

Take some poor white trash.  Throw in some stone cold cash.  Mix in a murder plot and confused feelings of incestuous love.  Put it in the hands of William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist.  Go balls to the wall and fully embrace your NC-17 rating.  Don’t let off the gas until that beat up jalopy crashes into the wall of that run down corner store and goes up in flames.  The plot of the movie is relatively standard and nothing you haven’t seen before.  No, the performances are what drive this particular vehicle.  Matthew McConaughey is both frightening and oddly charming as a bad cop and Juno Temple is revelatory as his would be star-crossed paramour.

3.  Cabin in the Woods

It’s the best horror movie since Drag Me to Hell and one of the most refreshing in years.  Drew Goddard directs a crackerjack script he co-wrote with ‘uber-geek’ and mentor Joss Whedon.  The pair bring a sharp knowing wit to all those scary movie tropes we’ve come to loathe and love.  The satire provides for a  fun first two acts with clever jabs at the stock characters and scenarios of a backwoods supernatural slasher.  Then the proceedings take a completely unexpected turn with a surprising third act that turns the whole movie on its head.  It was an injustice that this fine film sat on a shelf for several years.  But it certainly was worth the wait.

2.  Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are very pretty people.  Writer/Director David O. Russell was no doubt aware of this simple fact during the production of this darkly comic relationship drama.  That he was able to portray them as such damaged and at times unattractive people is a credit equal in parts to his skill behind the camera and that of the actors in front of it.  Lawrence continues a string of great performances as a brassy widower and Cooper, VERY far removed his Hangover stomping grounds, deftly portrays a manic naiveté as a cuckold, recently released from a mental institution, dealing with rage issues and an ex-wife with no interest in reconciling.

1.  Moonrise Kingdom

Way back in June I declared that this was my favorite movie of the year.  I waited patiently for something to overtake it.  Many films came close but Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale of young love held on for a well-earned spot atop this list.  After what I thought were less than stellar outings with The Darjeeling Limited and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was dubious of Mr. Anderson’s latest effort.  I’ve never been more happy to have my expectations dashed.  Anderson expertly directed a cast mixed with young, first-time actors and Oscar veterans.  Using his trademark visual style, he focuses on the utterly charming ‘first date’ between young Sam and Suzy, played to innocent perfection by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.  Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis fill in the supporting roles and are obviously having a blast playing in Anderson’s backyard.  The movie is void of any pretension and absent any cynicism.  It is, quite simply, a perfect little movie.

And there you have it.  Eleven movies well worth your time.  Eight of them are already available on Blu or DVD with Atlas, Linings & Pi sure to follow in short order.  Maybe you agree with my selections.  Maybe you don’t.  I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on your own favorites.  I hope I’ve maybe turned you on to a movie you hadn’t seen.  And maybe you can do the same for me.

Here’s to a great 2012!  Here’s hoping for a great 2013!  Here’s hoping for many great movies to come!

I  heard somewhere that the average blog entry is viewed by less than 10 people.

I can’t imagine why this one would be any different.  Nevertheless, I’ve been threatening to do a blog for years and of late I’ve done quite a few things I’ve been threatening to do. Though not everything I’ve been threatening to do.  So, you know, most of you are safe.  For now.

As I will primarily be writing about film here, I can think of nothing better to start with than a breakdown of my top 10 flicks from 2011.  While compiling the list, I determined that I’d limit my selections to films that I saw in 2011 that were also, according to their IMDB entry, released in 2011.  This excluded some gems like Miike’s 13 Assassins, the wonderful Nordic Trollhunter and James Gunn’s sublime Super (you’ll never be able to hear the word ‘gooshy’ the same way again) but rules are rules.  Of course, it also excluded some movies I had/have yet to see including Tree of Life, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Artist, Take Shelter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, etc.  I do plan on catching all of those at some point.  I will most likely re-evaluate my policy for next year’s list but with my guidelines in place, we begin.

10.  (tie)  Rise of the Planet of the Apes/Mission Impossible:  Ghost Protocol

9.  Captain America:  The First Avenger

 

Big budget popcorn flicks down right. 

In Apes, Franco is serviceable, Pinto is negligible and Malfoy is all Malfoyish.  Brian Cox (the best Lecter) and John Lithgow, as always, delight albeit in underdeveloped, one-note roles.  However, Andy Serkis, the ace in the hole, delivers the goods anytime he’s being mo-capped on-screen.  A dear friend who is quite difficult to please with modern Hollywood fare who happens to be a huge fan of the original franchise loved this movie as much as he loathed  Burton’s effort.  That’s the only endorsement you need.

MI:GP earns it’s space here because Brad Bird (The Iron Giant ,The Incredibles ) makes me, in his first live action film, forget for 2+ hours just how creepy I think Tom Cruise can be.  The story is pretty typical for this kind of movie and lives only to serve the set pieces but those action sequences are some of the best of their kind in this series or any other.  If you can swing it, view on a true Imax screen.  The Dubai Tower sequence is worth the price of inflated admission. 

I went back and forth on including Cap but ultimately decided that the film was easily the best of the superhero/comic book movies released this past summer and deserved a place on this list.  Granted the competition didn’t amount to much.  Both Thor and Green Lantern were dreadful while X-Men:  First Class suffered from a less than satisfying climax. But, Chris Evans was great casting and the WWII period stuff was spot on.  It was just plain fun and one of the few movies I saw twice in a theater this past year.  I was even able to tolerate the gratuitous, obligatory Sam Jackson cameo necessary to set up Whedon’s Avengers flick.

 

8.  Young Adult

7.  Cedar Rapids

Young Adult didn’t surprise me at all.  Jason Reitman delivers some of the same dark humor on display in Thank You For Smoking.  Diablo Cody shows the more mature wit she brought to United States of Tara.  Patton Oswalt proves Big Fan was not a one-off fluke.  And Charlize Theron?  I’ve never seen Monster.  I know I need to see it, but here she is crass, unlikable, unapologetic and irredeemable.  And I just want to take her home to momma (well, not my momma) and marry her.  Great role for a great actress…who’s hot.  Just saying.

Cedar Rapids on the other hand came as quite the surprise.  Miguel Arteta directs a fantastic ensemble in a slice of life tale.  It’s a small movie about unremarkable people doing unremarkable things.  You know, people like you and me, just living their lives and it hits all the right notes.  If there were one movie on this list that you probably haven’t seen, I’m guessing that it’s this one.  And I think you should rectify that as soon as possible.

6. Hanna

I’ve never seen Joe Wright’s Atonement or his Pride and Prejudice.  I doubt I ever will.  They seem a bit navel-gazey to me.  Doesn’t mean they’re not good but I ain’t getting paid for this so I don’t gots to watch nothing.  But little Miss Hanna here is good,  or rather bad, or rather quite good at being bad.  Saoirse Ronan in the title role portrays, with a talent beyond her years, a child’s innocence mixed with a borderline sociopathy that is both frightening and fascinating.  Eric Bana’s proud papa character will never win Dad of the Year but good looking out on the raising a homicidal maniac front!

5.  The Descendants

I’ve yet to see an Alexander Payne film I didn’t completely enjoy.  I only wish he’d direct more.  George Clooney plays against type as a bit of a schlub.  He’s a dedicated family man but he’s clueless to what’s really happening with that family.  The man can act, he’s proven himself to be a more than capable director, he’s a damn handsome man and always has hot women lined up to date him.  You’d think something would go wrong for him but you kinda hope it doesn’t.  Editorial on the actor aside, Payne tells a pretty simple tale that doesn’t turn out to be quite as simple or as tidy as you thought it might. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 7 years for his next effort.

4. Hobo With a Shotgun

3.  Hugo

Strange cinematic bedfellows to be sure but grouped together here for my purposes because they’re both such…visual films.

Hobo started as a fan-made trailer that won a contest promoting Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature.  The response to the fake trailer encouraged studio backing that led to this nightmare-fueled “technicolor” tribute to trash exploitation cinema that succeeds everywhere Tarantino & Rodrgiuez failed.  Is it bloody?  Yes.  Does it feature over the top acting?  Oh yes.  Does it feature Rutger Hauer in as riveting a performance as his Blade Runner masterpiece?  Yes it does.  Is it for everyone?  Hell no.  Is it for me?  Hell yes!

Hugo was another film that surprised me this year because I wasn’t expecting a lot.  I haven’t honestly been impressed with most of Scorsese’s recent output (certainly not Shutter Island.)  The trailers did a good job of drawing me in and piqued my interest but we’ve all been fooled by trailers so I was still dubious going in to the theater.  But, Scorsese delivers a true loving homage to cinematic history.  I couldn’t help but love a movie that loves movies as much as this one.  Mad bonus points for the most effective use of Ben Kingsley since Sexy Beast and the most creative use of the new 3D technology since Cameron’s Avatar.

2.  Super 8

Some might scoff at the lofty position upon which this bit of 80’s nostalgia fluff has perched.  But hey, it’s my list.  You don’t like it, go mix paint.  Or make your own list, I don’t care.  You don’t know me.  JJ Abrams’ film was maudlin, manipulative, a bit lazy in mining the same material as the films to which it pays homage, and almost completely falls apart in the third act.  And I could care less.  The kid actors were great especially Elle Fanning.  Kyle Chandler as a dad we’d all kill to have reminds me why I liked him so much in Friday Night Lights, Early Edition and all the way back to Homefront (yes, I’ve watched way too much television in my life.)  I’m not the most sentimental person in the world but every once in a while something comes around and hits my sweet spot.  Wattareyagunnado?

1.  Drive

At long last, we arrive at my favorite movie of 2011.  At long last for me.  I started this first blog entry like 2 weeks ago.  All but two of you quit reading at, I’m guessing, Hanna, maybe?  Let me just tell you, my adoration for this film knows no bounds.  Nicolas Winding Refn (I don’t know how to pronounce it either) perfectly captures a mood, a feeling, a vibe.  The film wears it influences proudly on its sleeves (Walter Hill’s The Driver, the cult classic The Stuntman,) but forges an identity of its own with subtle supporting performances from wonderful character actors, a soundtrack that perfectly compliments the film, and a revelatory lead performance from Ryan ‘The Goose’ Gosling.  Albert Brooks makes you wonder where he’s been hiding for the last decade and is single-handedly responsible for one of the most…gentle(?) murders I’ve ever seen in a motion picture.  That the film also includes one of the most brutal killings I’ve seen only cements the fact that this is one of those anything could happen flicks to which you can only hitch your wagon and go along for the ride. If you haven’t seen it (and shame on you if you haven’t,) it hits home video on January 31, 2012.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

All right.  That’s it.  I’m done.  I promise I won’t get this wordy again without good reason but if you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy screed I appreciate it and I hope you found it somewhat enjoyable.  If not, I’ll try harder next time.  Now leave me alone, I gotta go watch a movie.  I hear Haywire is good and that Gina Carano is mighty tasty…