It’s that time where film-goers review the slate of movies they sat through over an entire year to create a list declaring some “best” and others “worst.” While everyone’s list are up for debate, the films mentioned below are the ones this reviewer thought were the best and the worst. Keep in mind this list isn’t complete, there were several movies I missed out on (which is why you’ll notice the glaring omission of The Artist) but it’s a list filled with some fantastic gems, and some heinous dirt clods.
10.Rango Rango was a film I shied away from in theaters. The animation was bizarre and the trailers were an odd mix of quirk and a talking lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp). In discovering it on DVD, Rango may be one of the best animated films that came out this year! The story of a domesticated chameleon yearning to be an actor was funny enough, but once he falls into a town called Dirt and fancies himself a cowboy, the movie plays as a fantastic take on the spaghetti Western. With appearances from God in the form of Clint Eastwood, to in-depth analysis on a character named Bean, the movie was playful enough for children and beyond smart for adults. It’s a film that plays expertly to both audiences and the animation is simply spectacular!
9. My Week with Marilyn
This was hard to come by in my town but boy was it worth it! The film, an adaptation of a memoir written by Colin Clark, tells the dark side of stardom for one of the most iconic celebrities: Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Williams portrayal of the star alone was riveting, vulnerable, sweet, and delicate and worthy of all the accolades being given to her. The film doesn’t present a boozy, gossip-filled view of Marilyn Monroe, but the dark side of celebrity in general. The fear of being past your prime is strong in a film that tells of the waning popularity of stars like Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) alongside the rise of Monroe. The film is at times painful, and painfully funny. A thrilling, honest, look at Hollywood in a year that was filled with returning to our Hollywood past, in order to embrace the future.
8. Margin Call Margin Call is tearing up the awards circuit but not many people know what it is. The film tells of one night in a Lehman Brothers-esque firm before the mortgage collapse. While Oliver Stone tried to tell this story in last year's lackluster Wall Street 2, Margin Call does it in a brutally honest and darkly humorous manner. Following a group of employees from young upstarts played by Zachary Quinto, to world-wearied senior management (Kevin Spacey), the film showcases the acting talent of one of the strongest ensemble casts this year. Performances from Jeremy Irons, Spacey, Paul Bettany, and a host of others were all fantastic. The script is also worthy of awards as the dialogue is fast-paced in the vein of Glengarry Glenross while also specifying the truth that our current economic status is a global effort. This is the film to see about the troubled times we’re living in now, only this film does it with a black heart and a wink.
7. Contagion Contagion came down as the best horror movie we got this year, and I don’t know if it was necessarily meant to be. Telling of a global sickness that rapidly spreads, director Steven Soderberg makes you fear cups, door handles, and the person sitting next to you in the theater! The cast was filled to the gills with A-listers like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Gwyenth Paltrow but even from the trailer you knew none of them were safe and Soderberg delighted in proving that no one was immune. The third act softens the blow to the films detriment but before that it’s a taut, tight thriller that will make you carry hand sanitizer with you wherever you go!
6. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen crafts his finest comedy in years with his time-traveling foray into 1920s Paris. Midnight in Paris may tell a wacky tale of time travel, but it also showcases stellar performances from a diverse cast consisting of Owen Wilson, Marion Cottilard, and Allison Pill. The costumes and locales were stunning and sumptuous and the 1920s are preserved with loving reverence by the director. The movie tells of holding on to one’s love of the past while also using it to move on during the present, the juxtaposition being something we’ve seen in more than a few movies out this year.
5. X-Men: First Class
There were several comic book movies out this year but none were as engaging or thought provoking as Matthew Vaughn’s take on X-Men. The film's 1960 setting and tight story of two emerging views of mutants made the film deeper than being a straight comic book and the complex performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender created a powder keg of tension that ran throughout the whole film. At times X-Men: First Class doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, but a political thriller which makes sense considering its third act climax surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. The story was tight, the action was phenomenal, and the acting was second to none. Sure there were some CGI issues that lessened its potential, but X-Men: First Class is one of the best comic films we saw this year…and there were a lot!
4. Bridesmaids Bridesmaids was recently graced with a couple Golden Globe nominations this year, and who would have believed a chick flick about weddings could score that big? Bridesmaids is one of the strongest female centric films made, especially in the dearth of romantic comedies out there. The film, following a down-on-her luck bridesmaid played by Kristen Wiig, not only showed off Wiig’s chops as an actress but also the world of women itself. Bridesmaids may present women as crazy and manipulative, but in the grander scheme of achieving their dreams and trying to hold on desperately to some semblance of a life. It also dashed typical conventions of falling in love with a man who is gorgeous…this film alone presents an argument against actor Jon Hamm! The script is sharp, the comedy is raunchy for both males and females, and it’s an honest look at the craziness that comes from always being a bridesmaid and never a bride! The fact that The Hangover Part 2 tried to advertise itself as a Bridesmaids hanger-on, shows the strong effect this film had.
3. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Elizabeth Olsen was the name on everyone’s lips this year due to her debut performance in Sean Durkin’s debut. The movie follows a troubled girl escaping from a cult led by a dynamic leader played by John Hawkes. Hawkes’ performance was at times disturbing, chilling, and interesting as you came to fear and enjoy being around his character. Olsen herself is equally up to Hawkes’ level as a girl you want to care for, but who may be more than able to care for herself. The film told a dark tale of falling into a rabbit hole of which there’s no escape, and how entering the real world may not be an escape. Focused on alerting people to how the everyday grind has just as much power on our actions as people, Martha Marcy May Marlene was a thought-provoking and instigating film that didn’t leave us any answers to the myriad of questions that arose.
2. The Descendants The Descendents is the feel-good movie of the year, albeit it’s a tragic dramedy written and directed by Alexander Payne. The Descendants is mostly garnering attention from a spellbinding performance by George Clooney as a man struggling to reconcile his life after the loss of his wife, but the film itself is Best Picture material. The movie is a sad, bittersweet, drama about growing up at any age, and will make you laugh through your tears. The performances from Clooney and young Shailene Woodley are worth a viewing of this film, but also the theme of blame and forgiveness is a powerful one to watch the actors follow through with.
This was tough but I kept coming back to Drive. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Maybe it had to do with the fantastic car chases, stunts, and action that carried one lone driver through the Los Angeles underground. Maybe it was star Ryan Gosling who showed he wasn’t just a pretty face, but a deep, insightful actor who can turn off the charm and hide a world behind his eyes. It could have been the unrelenting violence created by director Nicolas Winding Refn, or maybe it was the enjoyable synthesizer score by Cliff Martinez. Either way Drive wasn’t just a take on the Samurai story, but a movie about the hidden nature of people, the yearning for connection to another, and how Los Angeles isn’t a world of Hollywood and glamour. There’s so much bubbling beneath the surface in Drive and even after seeing it twice, there’s something that always pulls me back.
5. Red Riding Hood Red Riding Hood followed in the footsteps of the Twilight franchise, which wasn’t a surprise considering director Catherine Hardwicke directed the first in the above franchise. Either way Red Riding Hood was a confusing mish-mash of werewolves meets colonial villagers. The performances ranged from the wooden (Amanda Seyfried) to the scenery chewing (Gary Oldman) and it all culminated with a bizarre mountain top love scene, complete with snow, and an allusion to a sequel. The fact that the movie bombed probably ends the question on the latter, but by the end this movie made me yearn for the beauty amidst the confusion of Sucker Punch.
4. Beastly Beastly was another equally atrocious teen fairy-tale revision only this one centered on Beauty and the Beast. Telling of a douche bag teen (Alex Pettyfer) being cursed and needing to find a girl that would see his inner beauty may have worked if they didn’t just slap some tattoos and piercing on the kid and call him ugly…have they not been on Facebook? Add to that a plot that includes kidnapping a girl, because you know that’s the only way to get her to love you, and two side characters composed of an African-American stereotype and a blind person. These two plots had the movie skirting the line on offensive and said that your problems could be solved if you just found an Olsen twin.
3. Like Crazy
There are many critics putting this on their Best Of lists and I have to disagree! This movie was frustrating, stupid, and cliché. It told the story of two lovers (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) from opposite ends of the world trying to make a relationship work. That’s all well and good but both characters are completely unlikable. For various reasons the two characters separate and pick up relationships with other people, yet as soon as they start talking to each other they cast aside said significant others to get back together. I’d be fine with this but they do it to the same people at least twice! What were these other people just waiting around? And as soon as something goes wrong our true lovers are at each others throats and proclaiming the relationship is done! Like Crazy is like watching two people continuously make up and break up for an hour and a half, leaving you to just yearn to shake them and say “Make up your damn mind!”
2. The Darkest Hour
No one out there saw The Darkest Hour but I it seems. It was a typical alien invasion movie that played like a bad television pilot. The acting was bottom of the shelf and the dialogue was on par with CW shows. The entire project looked cheap with aliens that looked like a cross between Pokemon and Windows 97 Word characters and the only one acting seemed to be Emile Hirsch. I knew this film would make the list when a character falls out of a boat, into a river…yet someone ends up about three miles away, on dry land, in a freaking bus! I know movies are on a budget but this seemed to have a budget of six dollars and actors who apparently were blackmailed. The Darkest Hour makes a pretty stupid television pilot and an even worse film.
1. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One
It’s cliché to put a Twilight film on this list but it has to be done. There’s only one more film left in the franchise and at this point the books are just getting crazier and crazier. In this installment you had teens begging for sex, sex that looked like domestic violence, a heavy-handed vampire allegory on abortion, and baby love…I mean that in a literal sense. I know this was all in the books but the screenwriters and director didn’t even try to soften the blow for audiences, instead presenting everything ridiculously as is. The acting is continuing to get worse and the sad thing is there’s one more movie left!