* possible objectionable content warning
Beowulf (3D) – The technological achievement of this film bears honoring and it was an incredible sight to see in 3D, but the film itself was simply mediocre. The sooner all films are in 3D the better.
Charlotte’s Web – A faithful and touching retelling of the classic story. Dakota is amazing as always, but the rest of the movie just feels pretty basic. A good single view, but not one I’ll likely watch again.
Children of Men* – One of the most beautiful movies I saw all year and certainly engaging. My only beef with Children of Men is that its pride in post modernism hinders any solid message from taking root. Still worth a look and a follow up discussion with those you see it with.
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Still can’t understand why these movies haven’t caught on more, except that they are possibly a bit too fun for the more in style “serious” superhero movie of today. This movie is by no means great, but I did enjoy it and I like these characters quite a bit.
Little Miss Sunshine* – I had so many people telling me I had to see this that I finally broke down and rented it. Is it a well made, cohesive, and compelling film? Absolutely yes. The problem I have (that relegates it to only honorable mention) is that the overall message of this movie is hideous. It is rebellion couched in a family first disguise. It’s hard to explain how mixed my feelings are on this one, but it was worth watching if for no other reason then the scene (pictured above) where the son breaks down and is comforted by his younger sister. Incredible stuff.
Pride – You can read more of my thoughts on this one here, but this movie really surprised me. Not quite great enough to make the official list, but worth picking up none the less.
The Number 23 – This is one of those movies that almost works. It strains so hard to make all the plot points and logic fall into place and it feels really close. It’s like that puzzle piece that has all the right shapes in the right places but somehow just doesn’t quite fit. Having said that, I still liked this movie. Most likely this is because Jim Carey is always a marvel to watch and I like movies that try to do the brain puzzler thing, even if it just… doesn’t… quite… fit.
The Top 25:
25. Transformers – This is the kind of movie I usually swoon over for it’s big budget effects and explosions only to realize a year down the road that it’s not as good as I thought. However, even with a pretty great performance from man of the moment Shia, I only liked this one in bits and pieces. The main problem is that the new Transformers are over designed, too complicated when simple would have done the trick. It makes the plot difficult to follow even if some of the scenes are jaw dropping. Also, Bay revels way too much in the Jr. High sense of what’s funny. Still I almost bought it in HD pay per view just to see the visuals again, so it gets the last spot on the list.
24. Invincible – This is literally Rocky morphed to football. There are a lot of things to love about this movie including Mark Wahlberg’s understated genius. Also love the themes about friendship and heart, even if it does get a bit sappy at times.
23. Zodiac* – Probably the most deserving of the asterisk on the list. The content (mostly violence and language) makes this one hard to recommend except that it is one of the most engaging true stories I have ever seen on film. I can’t believe I had never heard of this case before, but I certainly will never forget about it now. Brilliantly written, directed, and acted as well.
22. Breach – This one caught me by complete surprise. I didn’t even add it immediately to my Netflix because it didn’t look like something I would care for. When a friend recommended it I gave it a look and loved it. Similar to Zodiac, it’s is a very compelling true story. It’s that kind of movie that you immediately google after watching to see more info on the real events it is based on. Chris Cooper is so good in this that he makes it appear effortless.
21. Stomp the Yard – OK fine, there’s always at least one guilty pleasure that sneaks onto my list (There are more coming, I promise). But this is my list and I know it sounds silly but I loved this movie. The critic in me can see that it’s fairly paint by numbers with some over the top dance movie cliches, but there is something so earnest about these performances that I was drawn in. I promise if they make Stompin’ 2:Electric Boogaloo I’ll have the good sense not to like it so much, but as it stands now, this stays on the list.
20. Flushed Away – Toilet humor. My mom hates it, my boys think it’s the only kind of humor. Whichever side of the sanitation plant you stand on this one you still might love this movie. Of course there are the prerequisite bathroom puns, but beyond that is a very thoughtful movie with well drawn characters and some very fun action. Sure this movie will have you groaning at times but when you’re done you’ll be admiring the results. Kind of like every good trip to the bathroom. (Sorry Mom.)
19. Flags of Our Fathers* – I posted some previous comments about this one in this post, and my opinion hasn’t changed much. I have since seen the other Eastwood war movie (Letters from Iwo Jima) and this is definitely the better of the two.
18. The Lookout* – Yes that’s the kid from 3rd Rock (the old TV show about aliens with John Lithgow, not 30 Rock the new TV show about comedy writers with Tina Fey) and yes that’s a bearded, blind Jeff Daniels, and yes they are both incredible in this movie. It’s the story of a young man who suffers mental issues after a car accident and the difference between friends that love you and friends who use you. It’s also a very intense bank heist flic that will have you locked in from start to finish. This one qualifies as a hidden gem.
17. The Host – The blueprint for the monster movie for a new generation starts with this South Korean film (and yes that means you will be reading subtitles). What is amazing about this film is the heart and humor that is incorporated into this basic story of family survival amidst the tragedy of the destructive behemoth that ravages there town. Despite a fairly trite set up the movie is genuinely caring and funny and if JJ Abrahms’ Cloverfield doesn’t borrow heavily from the tone this movie sets he’s missed the point. The monster doesn’t mean anything if we don’t care about the people it attacks and this movie understands that fully.
16. The Guardian – I briefly reviewed this in this post, but I will repeat for your sake, Nobody is more surprised than me that I really liked a movie staring Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner. Maybe I’ve been punked. Consider this guilty pleasure number 2.
15. The Illusionist – I can’t decide which is more amazing, that two separate magician movies came out so close or that they both were so good. Obviously I consider The Prestige the better movie (as confirmed here and here) but this one is still worth watching. More thoughts on it in this post.
14. Bridge to Terabithia – One of my favorite childhood memories is reading this and I’m so glad they stayed faithful to the plot and tone in this film. The performances are really good here, but it is the heartbreaking final act that will always impact me the most.
13. Rocky Balboa – You may notice in my original post on this film that I originally graded it lower than The Illusionist. So why has it leapfrogged it in the countdown? Perspective. Both the perspective of 8 months of lingering impact but also the perspective of watching a few more Rocky movies. Seeing this movie without having seen the original Rocky is like only seeing the top few floors of the Sears tower. Sure it looks cool, but you lack the context to see the real impact. This film, it turns out, is the perfect bookend to the Rocky franchise and I’m glad too have a bit more understanding. (More thoughts here)
12. The World’s Fastest Indian – I said pretty much everything I wanted to say in the full review. But it’s such a pleasure to find a movie you missed and love it. I’m glad for every opportunity to see that Anthony Hopkins is still a genius.
11. Dreamgirls – Without Jennifer Hudson this movie may not even make my top 25. Standing a year out from seeing this you get the distinct feeling that this may not only be her career making role, but maybe the ONLY role of her career. It’s Anthony Perkins/Psycho good (obviously different films but the concept works) in that she will be stuck in that role for her whole life. Lesson to upcoming actors and actresses, don’t be this good in your first role you will regret it. Having said that I’m always up for a good musical and this was a good musical, made even more accessible by the fact that these people were actually supposed to be singing (unlike a certain group of snapping New York gang members I could mention).
10. Disturbia – You’ld think with my love for all things Hitchcock this two bit ripoff of Rear Window would irk me more than perk me. Just one problem; it turned out to not be a two bit ripoff. It’s actually a finely crafted homage to one of Hitchcock’s greatest films that manages to both add something new and maintain the intensity of the original. Shia is no Jimmy Stewart but he plays the role in his own manic style that is both endearing and compelling.
9. Deja Vu – Another Hitchcockian premise that delivers in twist and thrills even if the logic of the thing collapses in on it’s own weight late in the movie. The real reason the movie is so good is likely Denzel, who is what I call an “exponential actor” in that he takes over a film and makes it so much more than it probably is. As in, “Deja Vu is just Timecop to the power of Denzel”. Whatever the case, watch it…. twice.
8. Meet the Robinsons (3D) – MTR is the first non Pixar CG movie to impress me to this level in both style and substance, you can read more of why that is at this link in my full review.
7. Night at the Museum – They just don’t make great family movies much anymore that aren’t animated (which makes them seem more like kid’s movies) which is why it’s always a treat when something like this comes along. Ben Stiller is surely great in this, but for me it’s the three old guys that steal the show, led by a still amazing Dick Van Dyke. Hopefully those guys will live long enough to do the inevitable sequel.
6. Spiderman 3 – The Spiderman movies continue to get better (though 2 still has a sleight edge on 3 I think) and it’s the message in this one that gets it so high on my list. Yeah, these movies are flat out fun to watch but it’s what is hidden underneath the spectacular action scenes that did it for me. A well thought out morality play for a 21st century audience. You can read my full review here.
5. Stranger Than Fiction – You can read some more thoughts in this post, but this movie pushed all the right buttons for me. Well acted, well written, great symbolism, and very smart. All of this plus an overall theme on the beauty of self sacrifice. Stellar.
4. The Simpsons Movie – I have yet to talk to someone who has seen this movie that didn’t enjoy it. Which is saying something for such a polarizing show. I saw this with a Simpsons fan like myself and a non Simpsons guy who has never really gotten the show and all three of us came out smiling. This feature length Simpson’s episode has all the earmarks of what makes the Simpsons an American standard. Absurdest humor, piercing satire, and a underlying heart that is as warm and inviting as some of Flander’s Hot Cocoa. An instant classic.
3. The Bourne Ultimatum – I tried to encapsulate why I think Bourne is so incredible in this post. But it’s been since M. Night’s early work that I remember a director owning an audience like this in a darkened theater. Paul Greengrass is one of the most talented directors working today and it’s a shame he isn’t more of a household name. It’s also amazing to me that of all of the threequels that came out this year this one ended up being my favorite.
2. Apocalypto – My feelings are rightly summed up in a previous post, but I think it bears stopping for a moment and considering what Gibson has done in his last two movies. He’s showed us that sacrifice and love are so powerful and compelling that you don’t even need to know the spoken language to understand their depth. This movie is not for the faint hearted but if you can stomach it you will be moved.
1. Ratatouille – The last time Pixar hooked up with Director Brad Bird, “The Incredibles” was born and a pretty high bar was set. This time Bird and the Pixar crew cooked up an amazing tale of a chef rat and his quest to use his gift honestly in a world that’s not exactly keen on rats and food even being mentioned together. So do they clear the incredible bar set before them? Well, I’ll need a few more views before my true Pixar order of greatness can be set, but it’s safe to say they made the best movie I saw all year. Forget the technical achievements, how beautiful it was, how amazing the performances were, and even how much fun it was. The thing that makes this movie so wonderful is that it dares to say something true in a fresh way. “Anyone Can Cook” seems at first to be more of the same “You can do anything you set your mind too” tripe that is shoved down our kids throats by this Stuart Smalley culture. But by the end Mr. Bird and company have made clear that Ratatouille isn’t about being good enough, smart enough, and doggonit people liking you, its about finding purpose through gifts and passion. “Anyone Can Cook” doesn’t mean that everyone can cook, it means that a great cook can come from anywhere. And as someone who doesn’t always “look the part” it’s a message that resonated deeply with me.