Top Twenty Films of the Year:
NOTABLE FILMS UNSEEN: The Muppets, Shame, Hugo. Tintin, My Week With Marilyn, Carnage, The Iron Lady, The Help, The Ides of March
IN CONTENTION: Friends With Benefits, Source Code, The Tree of Life, Young Adult, The Green Hornet, HP7.2, Paul, Bridesmaids, Midnight In Paris, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Horrible Bosses, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Contagion, Drive, Moneyball, Red State, Take Shelter, The Skin I Live In, Into The Abyss, Margin Call, Puss In Boots, The Descendants, The Artist, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes 2, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
21. Source Code
A solid film that dealt with time travel/deja vu in a new and interesting way from Duncan Jones (“Moon”). Jake Gyllenhaal is solid in the emotionally engaging film, which was written by Ben Ripley.
20. The Tree of Life
Had to crack the top 20. Another arthouse opus by Terence Malick, this film was stunningly beautiful and well-acted but void of most other qualities.
19. Sherlock Holmes 2
A fast-paced, distinctly non-Sherlock Holmes action picture that works due to a well-structured, tight script from Kieran & Michele Mulroney, smart performances by Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, and Rachel McAdams.
18. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
An emotionally-charged, thoroughly engaging look at how the fictional Planet of the Apes came to be. John Lithgow plays James Franco’s father riddled with Alzheimer’s (perfectly, as usual), who inspires him to begin work on a drug that could cure Alzheimer’s…but also lead to a simian uprising led by highly sympathetic ape Caesar (Andy Serkis, in a role that could net him a Best Supporting Actor nomination). Plothole-ridden, if with no other flaws, the Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver-penned script does its job for director Rupert Wyatt, who keeps things moving along quite nicely. Look for a fun villainous part played by Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy himself, doing a solid American accent.
17. Friends With Benefits
A whip-smart rom-com with an ace script by FOUR writers (Harley Peyton, Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, and director Will Gluck, ‘Easy A’), executed with tight, rhythmic precision by director Gluck and stars Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and Richard Jenkins. Look for hilarious cameos from Emma Stone, Andy Samberg and Shaun White.
This is where the films start to get really good. The action-packed postmodern western, featuring Ryan Gosling in a nearly silent lead role, uses a gorgeously synthy 80s throwback soundtrack and beautiful cinematography to create a slow-paced, but highly intriguing film from director Nicolas Winding Refn.
15. The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest I covered in this review. That should give you a heads up on how good it is.
14. Red State
Kevin Smith’s best since Dogma and Chasing Amy, this film uses the thinly-veiled Westboro Baptist Church for the setting of a religiously scary horror-thriller that boasts a terrifically evil lead performance from Michael Parks and some truly thought-provoking scenes. Alas, it never fully clicks, so it sits at number 14.
13. Into The Abyss
Werner Herzog, egotistical as he may be, earns his egotism by being, well, THAT good. His latest film used only nine hours of footage to create a compelling, thought-provoking, at times hilarious narrative regarding rednecks on death row. It was the only film this year that nearly led me to tears in its final moments.
The book is one of my favorites of all time, so it’s probably lower on this list for the reason that it could never possibly live up to my standards as a film. However, screenwriting-hall-of-famers Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), working as a team, going back-and-forth, produced a hilarious, but interesting character study, of both Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the idea of “Moneyball”, discussing the romantic nature of baseball in a way only a true sports fan could love. Jonah Hill also delivers a hilarious and winning supporting performance as Peter Brand, the obvious substitute for Paul DePodesta.
11. Super 8
They didn’t make ‘em like this anymore…until they made this. JJ Abrams knocks it out of the park in his homage to Steven Spielberg that made the inner film nerd in me get a little scared at how close he came to reenacting my first filmmaking experience. Elle Fanning also proved that she can act with the best of ‘em.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
A fitting, if imperfect conclusion to the series that defined our generation. David Yates and Steve Kloves did a great job with a terrific cast (sans Ginny), and made the world magical one last time. On a side note, I’d recommend watching Part I and Part II together. The combo is how they’re meant to be viewed. It makes both films so much better.
The year’s second-best comedy, this raunchy romp from Kristen Wiig and USC alum Paul Feig pushed the limits and redefined ‘female comedy’. This movie ain’t just for girls. And comedy ain’t just for dudes. Melissa McCarthy’s pitch-perfect supporting turn, along with a stellar ensemble cast, breach new territory and do so with a fantastic disregard for class and dignity.
8. The Artist
I never thought I would like a modern-day silent film. But Michel Hazanavinicus, that talented genius, proved me wrong. For the first two acts, the film hums along, does well enough and keeps me intrigued, if it is a little predictable. The third act turns it all on its head and keeps me on the edge of my seat.
7. Margin Call
A harrowing drama about the first 24 hours of the financial crisis, rookie writer-director J.C. Chandor’s magnum opus (if you heard him talk about it, you’d understand) inspires many a-thought and creates a certain atmosphere unique to Wall Street without being too biased. The acting is superb all around, from stalwarts Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey to lesser-known actors like Simon Baker and Penn Badgley.
6. X-Men: First Class
The film that earns the honor of being the most eminently-watchable, mainstream, action-packed, well-written, thought-inducing, ambiguous and stellar film of the year. I’ve seen it four times, each time coming out with a new perspective and a new philosophical interpretation. I’d love to make a movie like this one day: socially conscious, morally ambiguous, sometimes funny, wildly thought-provoking and all-in-all attractive to both mainstream audiences and an arthouse crowd. Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) co-wrote and directed this fantastic, overlooked piece of smart cinema, which stars Michael Fassbender (“Shame”, “Inglorious Basterds”) showing off how fucking good he is, James McAvoy (“Wanted”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”, in a devilishly underplayed warm-up to “The Hunger Games”), Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids”, “Damages”) playing fun and sexy and smart, Kevin Bacon (“Footloose (1984)” as the sinister former Nazi bad guy with a good point, and Nicholas Hoult (“BBC Skins”) as the nerdy scientist Hank McCoy. Written by eight writers over a period of several drafts, two of whom were uncredited: Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Josh Schwartz (“Chuck”, uncredited), Zak Penn (“The Incredible Hulk”, uncredited), Sheldon Turner (“Up In The Air”) and Bryan Singer (“X-Men”). Henry Jackman does a fine job with the score, incorporating distorted electric guitars into an orchestral mix that at one point includes a Gnarls Barkley instrumental.
Though its original title, “I’m With Cancer”, was much more appealing, the overlooked Johnathan Levine film about writer Will Reiser’s semi-autobiographical experience dealing with life-threatening cancer is sweet, but never saccharine, hilarious but never absurd and touching but never cheesy. JoGoLev and Seth Rogen play best friends in Seattle well, without missing a beat, and the always awesome Anna Kendrick aces the role of the awkward therapist. Best of all? Set in SEATTLE. Oh yes.
4. Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen has done it again. This film, which I saw for the first time on a plane returning home from the greatest city on Earth (Paris), inspires wonderful thoughts of nostalgia, but also reveals the drawbacks to living in the past. The ensemble cast, led by Owen Wilson, turns in breathtakingly good work, especially Corey Stoll, playing—no shit—Ernest Hemingway, who Allen milks for the best material in the film.
- Hemingway (trying to pick up a girl): Have you ever shot a charging lion?
- Girl: No.
- Hemingway: Would you like to know how that feels?
3. The Descendants
Alexander Payne is one of the most realistic and darkly comedic writer-directors around, and here he turns in a movie I wish I had written. Co-adapted with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Dean on Community), Payne directs this tale of a family rebirth with grace and beauty and a realism that only he and one other can seem to access this year. George Clooney gives an excellent performance in the lead, but Shailene Woodley (of the godawful “Secret Life of the American Teenager”) has a coming out party as the rebellious, but clever teenage daughter and steals the show. Judy Greer, Nick Krause and Matthew Lillard also deliver fine supporting performances.
2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher is a master. A master, I tell you. Coming off one of the best films ever made (I’m biased, of course, “The Social Network” may just be my all-time favorite movie), Fincher reteams with his core crew, replacing only hall-of-fame screenwriter Aaron Sorkin with Steven Zaillian. Zaillian contributes the best part of the film, changing a key detail from the book that makes the plot flow much more smoothly. However, Rooney Mara deserves Best Actress for her stunning turn as Lisbeth Salander, one of the best new characters seen on film. She bests Noomi Rapace and makes the movie more than an ordinary crime thriller. It’s dark, bleak, sexy and feminist. The best part about this film, though, is the way that the sex is portrayed: “The sex and the way it is portrayed, message-wise, in the film is really good. It’s straight up explicitly empowering women, and illustrating the horrors of bad sex and the perfection of good sex. We have such an aversion to sex that when we portray it on film, it’s usually unrealistic and gives people bad ideas. In short, it’s a movie America needs. End of rant.” (Me, on my Facebook timeline).
1. Young Adult
The conclusion to Jason Reitman’s “Assholes With Interesting Jobs” trilogy is easily the best film of the year. Here’s why:
- 1. If Drive was a monument to 80s synth-y-ness, this is a monument to the deep cuts of early 90s grunge, and it proves that the latter wins out every time. The emotion, the raw power is palpable, tangible in the songs. It fits perfectly with the film.
- 2. Diablo Cody has created the most realistic characters and interactions I may have ever seen on film. This is a far cry from Juno, but that’s not a bad thing. I swear I’ve had some of those conversations, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s a painful, dark, bleak realism that kills me, but in the best way. I’ve never seen something so REAL on film before. And the best part? Every scene is still important. Every moment counts. And nothing is boring.
- 3. Jason Reitman gets it. He understands the characters, and he understands the actors, and he figures out a way for the two to match up. Not to mention the way he structures the film and visualizes everything that needs to be visualized without losing out on Cody’s sharp dialogue (save for one line omission in the end).
- 4. Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson (the latter in a thankless role), deliver pitch-perfect performances. No question, each is at the top of their game.
- 5. Did I mention the darkly comic whip-smart Diablo dialogue?
“Mavis, I’m a married man.” “I know, we can beat this thing, together!”
WINNERS IN BOLD:
- Young Adult
- See Top 10 List for Nominees
- Brad Pitt, Moneyball
- Jean Dujardin, The Artist
- George Clooney, The Descendants/The Ides of March
- Ryan Gosling, Drive/The Ides of March/Crazy, Stupid, Love
- Michael Fassbender, Shame/X-Men: First Class
- Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Charlize Theron, Young Adult
- Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In
- Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
- Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Best Supporting Actor (tie):
- Corey Stoll, Midnight In Paris
- Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
- Albert Brooks, Drive
- Jonah Hill, Moneyball
- Andy Serkis, ROTPOTA
- Kevin Spacey, Margin Call
- Jeremy Irons, Margin Call
Best Supporting Actress:
- Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
- Judy Greer, The Descendants
- Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
- Berenice Bejo, The Artist
- Anna Kendrick, 50/50
- Michel Hazanavinicus, The Artist
- Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
- David Fincher, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
- Jason Reitman, Young Adult
- Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Best Original Screenplay:
- Diablo Cody, Young Adult
- Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
- Will Reiser, 50/50
- Michel Hazanavinicus, The Artist
- J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Best Adapted Screenplay:
- Steven Zaillian, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Aaron Sorkin/Steven Zaillian/Stan Chervin, Moneyball
- Alexander Payne/Nat Faxon/Jim Rash, The Descendants
- Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In
- Matthew Vaughn/Jane Goldman/Zack Stentz/Ashley Edward Miller/Sheldon Turner/Bryan Singer, X-Men: First Class
- Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree Of Life
- Wally Pfister, Moneyball
- Janusz Kaminski, War Horse
- Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Eduardo Serra, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
- Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
- Newton Thomas Sigel, Drive
- Mark Day, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
- Kirk Baxter/Angus Wall, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Alisa Lepselter, Midnight In Paris
- Michel Hazanavicius/Anne-Sophie Bion, The Artist
- Dana E. Glauberman, Young Adult
- Eddie Hamilton/Lee Smith, X-Men: First Class
Best Original Score (tie):
- Henry Jackman, X-Men: First Class
- Michael Giacchino, Super 8
- Cliff Martinez, Drive/Contagion
- Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Alexandre Desplat, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
- Alberto Iglesias, The Skin I Live In
Best Music (Non-Score) In A Film (tie):
- Young Adult
- Midnight In Paris
- The Descendants
- X-Men: First Class
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Puss In Boots