Time once again for me to offer opinions that nobody cares about. In no particular order, here are the Best and Worst movies of last year.
It’s the best comic book movie ever made. ‘Nuff said.
The Central Park Five
Ken Burns’ documentary is one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen. And it made me damn mad, too. What the State of New York did to those five kids in 1989 is truly horrifying. And the fact that the detectives, reporters and attorneys who perpetrated the outrage continue to stick by their stories is despicable. Shame on them all.
Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel is exactly what good science fiction should be: thoughtful, slick, exciting and well-acted. Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace are fantastic (though Noomi always is: check out The Monitor if you haven’t already). Scott’s direction, as it was on his 1979 classic, is calm and avoids most genre clichés. Prometheus doesn’t have quite the claustrophobic menace as the original, but then it’s a movie with a different scope.
This is, hands down, the best movie I saw this year, and is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work to date. As a meditation on male psychology, and the psychology of a cult and its followers, it resists easy categorization, which is probably why it received so little in the way of advertising, and underperformed at the box office. Philip Seymour Hoffman proves once again that he is one of our finest actors. And Mihai Malaimare’s cinematography is gorgeous.
Zero Dark Thirty
Osama bin-Laden was a very bad guy, but this is not, as some critics have labeled it, a rah-rah, kill-the-bad-guy movie. It’s about as far from that as you can get. Jessica Chastain gives her best performance so far as a CIA operative looking into the abyss. Kathryn Bigelow’s direction is tight. The moral ambiguity of the thing leaves your mind spinning, even as you want to take a long shower.
On the surface, this is a movie about a lie, and a young woman’s attempt to atone for that lie. But it is also a thoughtful, smart examination of a young woman fending for herself in a world she isn’t experienced enough to grapple with. Kenneth Lonergan’s script is intelligent, emotionally complex, and genuine. I wasn’t sure Anna Paquin could pull off a high-school aged character, but she does it with honesty and élan. Mark Ruffalo shines in a small role, and Jeannie Berlin (daughter of Elaine May) is absolutely terrific.
Safety Not Guaranteed
A quirky hermit places an ad in the paper for someone to join him for a trip back in time. A journalistic intern is sent out to cover the story by posing as a candidate to join the expedition. Of course there is a love story involved, a very fun love story, that takes on true emotional resonance when it becomes clear why the man wishes to go back in time. Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza as the hermit and the intern are a joy to watch.
The Beasts of the Southern Wild
Some critics has called it a fantasy set in the real world, but I think it’s more a vision of the real world channeled through the mind of a child. There is something almost other-worldly about Quvenzhané Wallis’ performance as Hushpuppy. She was only five when the movie was filmed, so watching her isn’t like watching an actor, but something more present than that. She’s a thirty-pound force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off of her, or off this fine, fine movie.
This is easily Spielberg’s best work since Saving Private Ryan. His direction is so gentle and so confident. Daniel Day-Lewis gives his usual remarkable performance, but he is aided by marvelous work from Sally Field and James Spader (of all people), both of whom should get some Academy attention. The real star of the movie, though, is Tony Kushner’s screenplay. It’s a marvel of language.
The Cabin in the Woods
I have a weird love for horror movies that are laced with humor, as apparently does writer Joss Whedon, and his team of Sitterson and Hadley, as played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, bring out the demented laughs with gusto. Wonderful, twisted fun, that turns the slasher genre on its head, then makes it breakdance.
You heard it here first. Wes Anderson managed to rid himself, for one movie at least, of his usual middle-class pretensions. A cute, clever little movie.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
A low-key love story where the kids actually feel like kids. Emma Watson knocks it out of the park.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
I love movies that aren’t afraid of big romantic gestures, and nobody does them better than Lasse Hallström.
AND THE WORST…
OK, Tim Burton is officially becoming an embarrassment. To himself and perhaps even to the entire history of film.
Rock of Ages
Is it possible to actually be oppressed by a movie, to be held down and incessantly beaten about the face and throat with awfulness? Yes. It is.
This movie is so bad it actually caused the capillaries in my eyeballs to voluntarily burst in an effort to save themselves, and my brain, from seeing any more of it.
The Hunger Games
Go rent Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale instead. The books and the movie are rip-offs of that much better movie and the much better book by Koushun Takami.
Sam Peckinpah was one of our best directors, and this tepid, badly acted remake of his classic should’ve been put out of its misery before it ever hit the screen. You simply cannot replace Dustin Hoffman with James Marsden and think that anything good will come of it.
This Means War
I like Chris Pine. I really like Tom Hardy. And I really, really like Reese Witherspoon. But this movie really, really, really sucked. Not funny. Not exciting. Not sexy. Not much of anything, really. Really.
Snow White and the Huntsman
Bad acting, tedious direction, and an absurd plot. Kristen Stewart’s performance consists of a painful series of facial tics, intended, apparently, to convey emotion, but instead cause her to look like she has some kind of neurological malady.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
Sweet shit. Are they done with this series yet? And if not, is there a vaccination available?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Tolkien’s book is shitty, and Peter Jackson somehow managed to make it shittier. The movie is a bloated CGI-fest, and commits the one unforgivable sin for an adventure movie: it’s boring.
Morgan Spurlock’s documentaries have all been tiresome exercises in promoting Morgan Spurlock, but this awful thing about male grooming habits hits a new low. He provides no interesting information. He makes no discernible point.
And that’s all she wrote, folks.