Archive for the ‘Movie Lists’ Category

Best of 2010: The Honorable Mentions

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

These are 10 great movies.  The fact that they didn’t make my top fifteen list doesn’t disguise the fact that every one of the following movies is a must-see.  May I present, in alphabetical order, the best of the rest…

Best Worst Movie.  Director: Michael Stephenson
Biutiful.  Dir.: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Black Swan.  Dir.: Darren Aronofsky
Blue Valentine.  Dir.: Derek Cianfrance
Exit Through the Gift Shop.  Dir.: Banksy
The King’s Speech.  Dir.: Tom Hooper
Mother.  Dir.: Bong Joon-Ho
Rabbit Hole. Dir.: John Cameron Mitchell
Toy Story 3.  Dir.: Lee Unkrich
Winter’s Bone.  Dir.: Debra Granik.

The 15 Best Films of 2010

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Looking over my picks for the best films of 2010, I see that it’s kind of an eclectic bunch: genre films, documentaries, foreign flicks, animated movies, big-budget extravaganzas, independent ventures; it’s quite a hodge-podge.  That’s one thing I loved about the films of 2010, there seemed to such a wealth of variety this last year, and I bet there were still many great movies I still haven’t seen.  Think of this list, then, as a starting off point rather than a definitive “every great movie of 2010” guide.  These are my picks for the 15 best films of 2010, and probably tomorrow I’ll post my 10 “honorable mentions,” ten movies you should definitely check out, that didn’t quite make the top fifteen.  You’ll notice some of the films here were technically 2009 releases, but since most of them have found their way on other critics’ top of 2010 lists, I figured they’re fair game.  In order to build a wee bit of suspense, we’ll be going backward, from number 15 all the way to my pick for the best film of 2010.  Let’s get started, shall we?

#15: A Prophet.  Director: Jacques Audiard.
An epic prison film filled with brutality, humor and grace, it’s a powerful drama that also offers a provoking look at race and class.  Tahar Rahim, in a brilliant, Oscar-caliber performance, stars as Malik, a nineteen year old Arab, who, as the film opens, is beginning his years-long prison sentence.  Thrown in with vicious killers, Malik must survive by his wits, gaining favor from the ruthless Corsican gangster who quietly controls the prison (Niels Arestrup, in one of the best supporting roles this year), and finding himself a pariah to his fellow Arabs.  This is a film one can lose themselves in, and I was drawn into it hook, line and sinker.  A new classic for both the prison and crime movie genres.

#14: The American.  Dir.: Anton Corbijn.
Critics and audiences were divided on this one, some found it an absorbing character study, others saw it as pretentious and slow.  I think it’s an extraordinary film about loneliness and the need for human contact, and a haunting meditation on a man who makes a career out of killing people.  Maybe people wanted more action or something (I have several friends who described the film as “tedious”), but the turmoil in George Clooney’s character is interesting enough.  Clooney in the past has been extraordinary at portraying characters that are outsiders, that seem to need to be isolated and solitary, and that approach fits Jack, his character here, perfectly.  I was especially moved by the cinematography by Martin Ruhe, who makes the beautiful, serene locations seem hostile and threatening.  I hope that this film finds the fan base in its DVD/Blu-Ray life that it never did in the theaters.  One last thing: Paolo Bonacelli is a revelation as Father Benedetto.

#13: A Town Called Panic.  Dir. Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar.
Like Toy Story on a three day binge of cocaine, acid and maple syrup, this French stop-motion animation film simply has to be seen to be believed.  It’s a frantic, non-stop barrage of jokes and lunatic characters, and centers on the misadventures of three roommates: Horse, Cowboy and Indian.  The plot is just an excuse for one crazy thing after another, and it’s an amazing thrill to watch this film.  It’s all energy, all kinetic chaos, and it’s a beautiful thing.  Few movies I saw in 2010 had this ferocious spirit and humor, and few films were as wonderfully critic-proof.  All I can say is it’s a terrific film and it deserves to be seen by anybody who loves cartoons or a great time.

#12:  Inception.  Dir.: Christopher Nolan.
Ok, so it was a dream, right?  Or was it real?  Christopher Nolan’s multiple layered, topsy-turvy mindf*ck of a movie had audiences everywhere scratching their heads.  It’s a complicated movie from a director who specializes in big-budget entertainments that you think.  None of Nolan’s movies should be seen only once, but Inception especially screams multiple viewings.  Leonardo DiCaprio, playing for the second time in 2010 a troubled man mourning the death of his wife, leads a stellar cast that includes Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and Lukas Haas, to name a few.  It’s a twisty, head-scratcher of a movie, but in a good way.  The film is brilliant in the way it navigates through the different layers of dreams within dreams within dreams, and creates its own logic.  As with every really intriguing science fiction film, there were plenty of haters, but to see this film on the big screen was one of the glories of summer movies this year.  And the elevator fight scene was, as they say, wicked cool.

#11: Sweetgrass.  Dir.: Lucien Castaing-Taylor.
Now, we go from one of the biggest blockbusters of 2010 to a documentary about sheep in Montana.  8 years in the making, Sweetgrass is a luminous, beautiful study on the bond between man and beast, and it is unlike any documentary I have ever seen.  There are several scenes of amazing power,  and I was surprised by how deeply I was moved by the sheer beauty of the film (pun intended.)  It’s a film of eye-popping vision, and was robbed both an Oscar nomination for best documentary and best cinematography.  A wondrous achievement.

#10: True Grit.  Dir.: Joel and Ethan Coen.
Film fans can be finicky folk, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when news of The Brothers Coens’ remake of True Grit was met by venomous hostility.  “How dare they remake True Grit!!” was a common enough refrain.  Of course, the film’s detractors couldn’t be more wrong if they tried.  Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is a wonderful creation, and film nerds everywhere were overjoyed that the Dude and the Coens had been reunited once more.  Hailee Steinfeld, however, is the heart of this film, and her Mattie Ross is as stubborn, proud, intelligent and brave as Cogburn (maybe even more so), and their battle of wills, and eventual respect and admiration for each other, is a sight to behold.  There are additional marvels to this film: Roger Deakins’ jaw-dropping cinematography, the pitch-perfect dialogue, the supporting cast that includes Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.  The Coens have created another landmark film.

#9:  The Social Network
.  Dir.: David Fincher.

Speaking of pitch-perfect dialogue…  Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning screenplay is an assault of words, with barbed jabs and verbal fencing worthy of a 30s screwball comedy (Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara’s already-iconic opening conversation indeed could be a lost scene from a Preston Surges’ or Howard Hawks’ film).  Fincher, Sorkin and the amazing cast have taken what is basically a movie about people talking and made it one of the most exciting and interesting films of the year.  The whole film vibrates with a dangerous, pulsating energy.  Yes, it’s about the creation of Facebook, but it’s also about the ethics and morality of a whole new generation.  It’s about how the 21st century is changing our perceptions on, well, everything.  I remember after seeing this film for the first time wishing I could just stay in my seat and watch it again.

#8: Winnebago Man.   Dir.: Ben Steinbauer.

Moving from a fiction film about the Internet to a documentary about the Internet, Ben Steinbauer’s incredible film is about internet celebrities in general and one internet celebrity in particular.  Perhaps you’ve heard of Jack Rebney, the so-called Winnebago Man who, while hosting a Winnebago informercial video from the late 80s, had a breakdown on film and became an internet legend.  It’s a hilarious video, but for Steinbauer, it became an obsession and he seeks out Rebney.  The film becomes the story of Jack Rebney and his possible redemption, and the relationship between Rebney and Steinbauer.  Jack Rebney is quite a character, and he definitely deserves his own movie.  The film is also about the idea of the Internet celebrity, and the possible dark side of that instant fame.  It’s a hell of a great movie, and it’s on DVD, so you have no excuse not to go see it.

#7: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  Dir.: Edgar Wright.

“Okay, so it’s a boy meets girl story/video game homage/kung-fu movie/comic book adaptation with hints of Bollywood musical thrown in for good measure.”  Explaining this movie is quite a mouthful, but this is an over-the-top, indescribable kind of flick.  It’s a movie nerd’s paradise, and you either get its crazy, colorful, wonderfully excessive vibe, or you don’t.  This is one of the brightest, best looking movies of the year, and you robbed yourself of a great experience if you didn’t see it on the big screen (it looks pretty good on Blu-ray, though).  Edgar Wright is as enthusiastic a movie buff as Tarantino, and his directing touch is just as strong.  He also knows how to cast a film, getting terrific performances from a cast that includes Michael Cera, a hilarious Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a star-making turn, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman and Johnny Simmons as Young Neil.

#6:  Another Year.  Dir.: Mike Leigh.

This happens to me very rarely, but when this movie was over, I realized this movie deserves a sequel.  I would love to see another film with these characters.  Mike Leigh is one of the greatest working filmmakers,  and here he crafts a touching, lovely movie that gets darker and digs deeper than most “comedies” tend to go.  But, then again, Leigh tends to go further than many directors go.  The film is divided into seasons, hence the title, and the characters go through the highs and lows that we all go through (in the film as in real life, some more than others).  Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen lead an astounding cast, and Lesley Manville was robbed an Oscar nomination for her performance as Mary.

#5: The Secret in Their Eyes.  Dir.: Juan Jose Campanella.

This film won last year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, but it was released to most American theaters in 2010 and popped up on many critics’ best of 2010 lists too, so I’m counting it.  It starts as a murder mystery, but it slowly reveals itself to be more than that, it’s also an achingly tender love story,  a fascinating look at the creative process (the main character is writing a memoir of the story he’s telling) and offers some intriguing perspective to the Argentine legal system.  Ricardo Darin (Argentina’s De Niro) is perfect in the lead, and the supporting cast is more than his equal.  The film also includes one of the most jaw-dropping tracking shots I’ve ever seen in a movie.

#4: Get Low.  Dir.:Aaron Schneider.

It’s kind of shocking that this is Schneider’s first feature film as director, it’s such a complete, though-provoking, beautiful film.  That nobody saw.  It stars Robert Duvall as a seemingly half-mad hermit living in Tennessee in the thirties, who decides to attend his own funeral, while he’s still alive.  He recruits Bill Murray (in a great supporting turn), the local funeral home director, to put it all together.  Of course, Duvall has his own reasons for wanting to be at his own funeral, and the pieces of the plot clink together in a film that’s haunting and evocative of a specific time and place.  The film is aided by solid supporting turns by Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Gerald McRaney and a tremendous Bill Cobb as Duvall’s reverend friend from long ago.  This is a superb film.

#3: Shutter Island. Dir.: Martin Scorsese.

Only Scott Pilgrim vs. The World could rival Shutter Island for being the film with more movie references from this year, probably because Scorsese is the granddaddy of all film buff/film directors.   Shutter Island is a psychological horror film/murder mystery only Scorsese could make.  Leonardo DiCaprio stars as another troubled young man getting over the death of his wife, but he’s also carrying the horrors he witnessed in World War II.  This film is about horror, terror, fear, pain and secrets.  The film has twists and turns, but some of them are so subtle that the film absolutely deserves a third or fourth viewing.  Scorsese’s love of film, of stories, of acting, his respect for his audience are all on full display here.  The terrific supporting cast includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earl Haley and Emily Mortimer.  Whew.  See it, then see it again

#2: Animal Kingdom Dir.: David Michod.

The best crime film of 2010, Animal Kingdom is a brutal, vicious, terrifying epic about a family of criminals living in Melbourne.  A movie of gritty, tense power, it gets under your skin and stays with you.  Jacki Weaver, as the deceptively sweet Ma Barker-like matriarch of the clan (who deservedly scored an Oscar nomination), and Ben Mendelsohn as the mentally unstable, ruthless eldest son, gave two of the best performances of the year.  David Michod has created a modern day classic.

AND MY CHOICE FOR THE BEST FILM OF 2010 IS…

#1: The Ghost Writer.  Dir.: Roman Polanski.

It’s a thriller, it’s a satire, it’s a mystery, it’s a political drama, yes, it’s all these things and more.  Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer is a brilliant slice of cinema, soaked in paranoia.  Ewan McGregor plays an unnamed ghost writer who gets recruited to ghostwrite the autobiography of a disgraced former Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan, deftly playing a Tony Blair-esque figure).  Then he uncovers a giant conspiracy.  Or does he?  Nobody does paranoid mysteries like Polanski, and this one’s a dozy.  No film in 2010 provoked such a response from me as this did.  In addition to three of the finest performances of the year (McGregor, Brosnan and Olivia Williams as Brosnan’s wife), there are also great turns by the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Kim Cattrall, Eli Wallach, Jim Belushi and Timothy Hutton.  The Ghost Writer is a masterpiece.

The Worst 2 Films of 2010

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Most annual “worst films” wrap-up lists are not this short.  Two movies doesn’t really even count as a list, does it?  The thing is, I didn’t go out of my way to see awful movies this year, there were too many good, very good or great films that usually overshadowed my desire to see something I knew was going to be terrible.  Going to the movie theater is still a treat, and I like to save it for something at least kind of interesting.   There were quite a few mediocre 2010 films, but there were only two movies that I would rank as the “worst” of the films I saw this year.  They were mind-numbingly bad, and for me, that’s saying something because many times bad movies at least have some redeemable feature, or could be called “so bad they’re good.”  The following two movies are just bad.  I’ll go backwards, to leave you in some suspense of what the worst film of 2010 was.

 #2  Grown Ups

Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider attempt a rowdy comedy version of “The Big Chill,” and a nation of film-goers hang their heads in shame.  You get the feeling that there was no script, no story, no attempt to make an interesting or worthwhile film.  You just get a bunch of rich buddies shooting the shit for two hours, with no point in sight.  It’s not even funny.  Dennis Dugan, who directed pretty much every one of Adam Sandler’s least interesting movies, gets another sturdy paycheck by pointing his camera at moving mouths.  I think no film in 2010 better conveyed the need to see independent film than this big-budget studio turd.

And the worst film of 2010 was…

#1 Paranormal Activity 2

The original was a sharp little sleeper, with two believable lead performances and a creepy, evocative feel.  This sequel/prequel/do I really care-quel adds a baby, a dog, a maid and takes away suspense, character development or anything remotely interesting.  In horror films, sometimes less is truly more, but here, less is just, well, less.  This is one of the most butt-numbing, boring, misery-inducing “horror” films I’ve ever had to sit through.  The most horrifying thing about this film is that it has a 60% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Beyond terrible.

The 10 Scariest Muppets

Monday, February 4th, 2008

As you’ll see in a moment, there is such thing as a scary Muppet. Man, is there ever. I reached deep into my pop culture memory for this one, some of the choices are obvious, some, not so much. Though a good deal of the Muppets really did scar me as a child (OK, and as an adult), a few of them are just creepy. And some really aren’t that scary anymore, but they sure did freak me out in my younger days. On with the list.

#10 Count Von Count (from “Sesame Street”)

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As a boy, Count Von Count delighted me with his enthusiasm for counting and his confident, comical manner. That is, until I had a nightmare where I was alone in a house and Count Von Count was walking to the door, intent to kill me. I think I was four. From that moment on, Count Von Count was still one of my favorites, but I was also aware that he had a darker, more sinister side, and he’d get me if I wasn’t careful.

#9 Wander McMooch (from “Fraggle Rock”)

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This villain from the classic show “Fraggle Rock” is an obscure Muppet, to be sure, but a pretty creepy one. There was one episode, in particular, where McMooch, the Great Trash Heap’s arch-nemisis, was especially startling and eerie. This was the only decent photo I could find, and it fails to capture his frightening presence.

#8 Sweetums (from The Muppet Movie, “The Muppet Show,” The Great Muppet Caper)

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Definitely one of the most instantly recognizable of the Muppet Monsters, Sweetums is a big lug with a soft side. That being said, he can still be cruel, intimidating and threatening.
#7 Trollop (From “The Storyteller” episode “The True Bride”)

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Ok, so there were two freaky trolls from this episode of Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller,” but Old Troll’s daughter was by far scarier. She terrified me as a child, and she still freaks me out.

#6 The Ultra-Gorgon (from “The Monster Maker”)

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Ok, this might be the most obscure Muppet on the list. There was this great episode of “The Jim Henson Hour” called “The Monster Maker” that was all about this little boy who wanted to work with this famous monster maker, played by Harry Dean Stanton, and the Ultra-Gorgon was one of the maker’s creations, who was real!!! Ok, it was probably 19 years ago, but man, I remember this one! (this was the only photo I could find.)

#5 Uncle Deadly (from “The Muppet Show”)

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Uncle Deadly (also known as The Phantom) was without a doubt the creepiest regular on “The Muppet Show.” I remember his voice being particularly effective.

#4 Aunt Taminella (from “The Frog Prince”)

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This one goes without saying. Few villains from children’s television shows have stayed in my mind the way Aunt Taminella has. When I was five, and I used to watch this, geez. Every Muppet on this list (so far) has been mixture of terror and camp, but Aunt Taminella just might be the perfect blend.

#3 The Fire Gang (from Labyrinth)

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Ok, as a child, these merry monster pranksters from the classic film Labyrinth were frightening, threatening, but also kind of silly and endearing. They’d kill you, but you’d have fun dying.

#2 The Garthim (from The Dark Crystal)

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The crab-like, monstrous Garthim, the foot soldiers for the foul Skeksis were terrifying, but not in the fun, safe Muppet way. They were really terrifying. In fact, almost nothing from The Dark Crystal was this scary, except for…

#1 The Skeksis (from The Dark Crystal)

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Yeah, like it was going to be anything else. God, these fuckers have haunted my dreams since I was three, where they scared the ever-loving shit out of me, yet fascinated me at the same time. It was from the Skeksis that I learned that movie monsters could be frightening and intriguing, that they could repel and entertaining. The Skeksis, as a toddler, was my introduction to the monster movie, a genre that I have adored ever since. The Skeksis are some of the most grotesque, revolting characters ever put into a movie, and this was a children’s film!