I've been putting off making this list because I consider these types of things so terribly final, when really they're just snapshots in time, as memories evolve. Sometimes you just happen to make up your mind 3 hours before you leave for Sundance, which really kicks off the new year in terms of moviegoing. Without further ado... here goes nothing. Send all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and please excuse the cop-outs.
10. (tie) ATTACK THE BLOCK and SUPER 8
Joe Cornish, come on down! You're the next contestant on MAJOR HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR! I thought this movie was overhyped... and then I saw it. The classic movie it reminded me of? Ghostbusters. John Boyega is a star in the making. The Basement Jaxx score was sick! The monsters were simply designed yet they looked really cool. Just a wildly entertaining alien invasion movie set in a unique location. And it was made on the cheap, not that I think about a movie's budget while I watch.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Super 8, the movie Steven Spielberg probably wishes he directed this year, and I say that as a fan of War Horse. J.J. Abrams is batting .1000 in my book. While this movie had its share of 3rd act problems, everything around it was gold. Just pure cinema. Another movie about filmmaking involving kids, only unlike Hugo, it's actually fun to watch. Joel Courtney is a nice find & Elle Fanning was every bit as good as Shailene Woodley in The Descendants. Loved its opening frames, the train crash, the gas station scene, the projector scene, the love triangle, the friendships, the score. Hell, i even dug the locket device. Only next time J.J., cool it with those lens flares. Seriously.
9. (tie) BELLFLOWER and HESHER
Evan Glodell & Spencer Susser are filmmakers to watch, or rather, listen to, since they each have a unique voice. These movies are a little messy but life's edges are never smooth. Joseph Gordon-Levitt just goes for it in Hesher & Devin Brochu impressed the hell out of me considering how much is asked of him. Plus it featured music by Metallica, which is the quickest way to my heart.
Bellflower also features some bitchin' mood music. I had no idea what I was sitting down to see when I caught this at Sundance with my occasional Twitter sparring partner but eternal idol Drew McWeeny, and I think I can safely say that both of us were blown away. Just raw and real and bat-shit insane. I mean, it's protagonist is named Woodrow for fuck's sake! But I loved it. Long live Medusa!
It played even better on second viewing. Loved the end, when Steven Soderbergh reveals how all the storylines tie together. It made me think, which is more than I can say about most movies. And that prom scene? Touching stuff. This was so much more than a star-studded disaster flick. Let's just pray it's not the future.
7. YOUNG ADULT
I'm not a huge Diablo Cody fan but I'll be damned if this isn't one of the best scripts of the year. I'll put it this way: This is my favorite movie from Jason Reitman, who has improved his storytelling skills with each movie he has made. Charlize Theron gives the best female performance I saw all year. Like she did in Monster, for which she won an Oscar, the South African beauty just goes for it here and plays the character as written, warts and all. Patton Oswalt has never been better and their odd couple relationship was genuinely affecting to watch, perhaps because I have a couple friendships like that, with girls who wouldn't give me the time of day back in high school. I'm glad some things change, even if the characters in this movie don't, which in my opinion, is the whole point.
Steven Soderbergh leaving to go direct like 4 other movies is the best thing that ever happened to this film, because director Bennett Miller knocked it out of the park. Easily my favorite film from a major studio this year. Glad to see Brad Pitt get some recognition for his tricky performance here, because I've long felt that he's an underrated actor overshadowed by his looks, which isn't as bad a problem as it sounds. He works wonders with the subtle nuances in this material and thank God that Jonah Hill was up to the challenge of standing toe-to-toe with him. Both these guys deserve Oscar nominations, and who would've said that 2 years ago? Even the dude who played David Justice was good! And that score is great in a Social Network kind of way.
Not many movies can balance comedy and tragedy as skillfully as this. JGL once again stands out as a kid my age who's diagnosed with some crazy cancer. I was a little underwhelmed emotionally for the first hour as the main character tries to play it cool, but when the gravity of the situation hits him... it's simply devastating. Joe deserves the same Oscar nod Jesse Eisenberf earned last year. He's among the finest actors of his generation. I hear he owes it all to French Stewart. HA! Roger and Bryce are great in supporting roles, and Anna Kendrick is still quite good as Anna Kendrick. Jonathan Levine continues to grow as a filmmaker and this is evidence of his eye-opening evolution. Let's give Will Reiser credit too. Not only did he wrte a script, he beat cancer! I smell awards in his future...
4. I SAW THE DEVIL
Forget The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, this is the best serial killer thriller of the year. It's a long subtitled movie but you never feel the running time. The violence comes fast and furious, but in order for it to have the impact it does, you have to be emotionally invested in the characters. Can't say enough good things about this one, which is crying out for an English-language remake at Warner Bros. with 2 of either Leo, Ben or Matt. Take your pick. Leo was supposed to play Patrick Bateman back in the day and is now developing a movie about H.H. Holmes, so clearly he's open to playing a serial killer. After all, Brad Pitt did it 20 years ago,,,
The coolest movie of the year starring the coolest actor of the year, who counts 3 solid movies and 1 broken-up fight on his 2011 resume. I went as Ryan Gosling's character Driver for Halloween. Albert Brooks was mahvelous playing against type. Oscar Isaac owns the screen during his limited screentime. Perlman has the perfect face to play such a menacing Joombah. Nicolas Winding Refn pulled off 2 of the best scenes of the year in addition to curating its best soundtrack, I've seen it 4 times and I'm already ready for #5. Now the $64,000 question: To sequel or not to sequel?
2. WIN WIN
Saw it at Sundance and it has stayed with me ever since. Tom McCarthy wrote the best screenplay of the year. Paul Giamatti is excellent, as usual (The Ides of March just missed the cut for this list), but Bobby Cannavale steals this movie along with naturalistic newcomer Alex Shaffer, who has a bright future ahead of him. This is a smartly observed slice of modern day life. Financial problems, family turmoil, and good old-fashioned wrestling. How can you not like this movie!
There can only be one champion and this is undoubtedly it. I cried the first time and was still crying the 4th time. Maybe it's because I have 2 brothers but I found this sports story remarkably moving. Sure it's built on some classic cliches, but those exist for a reason. Tom Hardy is a certified star and his scene with a drunk Nick Nolte should be used for the latter's Oscar clip, provided he lands the nomination he deserves. The only problem with this movie are the cutaways to those annoying high school kids. Otherwise, it's an overlooked masterpiece of machismo. A stunning finale, which like Win Win, takes advantage of The National's strange power. Bravo to Gavin O'Connor! Rent it on DVD, since I doubt you caught it in theaters. It's inexplicable that this failed to catch on with mainstream audiences. I loved it.