I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have time to see all the arty, critically acclaimed and popular movies that come out each year—for instance, I heard Drive was really good, and I still intend to see it when it comes out on video—but there were 10 films that struck me this year, and here they are!
10. Attack the Block – This UK comedy asks the question, what would happen if aliens landed in the projects? A funny concept and one that is executed well, with a young cast that does a great job kicking alien ass while speaking in largely unintelligible (to me) British accents. Seriously, I had to rewind this movie so many times to attempt to hear what was being said, but at least I learned some cool new slang words, like “bare” and “merked.” I wish I’d seen this page before watching the movie. All in all, as alien movies starring kids go, I preferred this one over Super 8, if only because Super 8 had a noted lack of Nick Frost.
9. The Tree of Life – Okay, it was super pretentious and overly long, but this movie was still pretty interesting, and certainly ambitious. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain both do good work as suburban parents here, but the real star is the camerawork, which captures beautiful moments of all sorts, many from the point of view of a child. This innocent approach to the world makes you see it in a new light, and that’s not easy. I still say that Adaptation did the whole “origins of the universe” thing first, but it’s hard to argue with dinosaurs. I just wish there’d been more of them and less Sean Penn walking around a damn desert.
8. The Muppets – It’s so good to see the Muppets back on screen doing what they do best, and for once it doesn’t seem like kids are even invited to the party. There are really no children in the film, in typical Muppet fashion, and most of the jokes and references are aimed at adults who grew up watching The Muppet Show and the original movies. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s sweet and funny script makes this a Muppet movie worth watching, and Bret McKenzie’s songs (while sometimes a little too reminiscent of songs from Flight of the Conchords) are ideally suited to the movie’s sense of humor. Amy Adams was my least favorite part, but she did her best with a boring role. And with “Man or Muppet” nominated for an Oscar, I’m really hoping to see Bret up there on stage (while Jemaine kicks himself for not helping out).
7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Sure, it was an unnecessary American remake, and Rooney Mara may not be the best choice for the title role, but damn if I didn’t have a good time at this movie. David Fincher does a good job directing, and Daniel Craig is both sexy and believable as Mikael Blomkvist. And after seeing this and Melancholia, I’m convinced that nobody can play a rich asshole quite like Stellan Skarsgård.
6. Bridesmaids – Kristen Wiig does a terrific job leading this ensemble comedy, which features perhaps the funniest poop-related scene ever put on film. Melissa McCarthy is a standout and deserves every accolade she’s received, while Chris O’Dowd from The IT Crowd makes a suitably adorable love interest. But what really got my attention in this movie was the unusually dark and realistic tone with which it approached the subjects of jealousy, failure and disappointment. We can all relate to these feelings, and Wiig demonstrates them without being too heavy-handed. Oh yeah, and Jon Hamm is in it.
5. Young Adult – Pretty much everyone hated Jennifer’s Body except me, and I can understand that, but otherwise Diablo Cody has been a pretty reliable voice in movies and TV. Charlize Theron does an amazing job in this bitter dark comedy, making me wonder why she doesn’t get cast in more funny roles. Those who liked United States of Tara will be glad to see Cody working with Patton Oswalt again, this time playing a home distillery running, sarcastic, disabled-since-high-school hate crime victim who bonds with Theron’s washed up writer character. As someone who recently moved home for a while, not to mention someone who drinks too much at night and chugs Diet Coke out of the bottle in the morning, I can definitely relate to Theron’s character, which is kind of scary actually.
4. The Descendants – George Clooney looks totally ordinary and not like a sexy movie star in this movie, which helps to ground the plot and makes you remember what a good actor he can be when he’s given the right material. All of Alexander Payne’s movies have been great in my opinion, and this is no exception. Quirky characters, witty writing, a thoughtful tone and solid performances (even from Matthew Lillard!) give this movie a life of its own, and the Hawaiian setting is just lovely.
3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – In this thriller which I’m sure everyone is calling densely plotted, but is in fact rather airy and atmospheric rather than totally plot-driven, features all kinds of recognizable British actors, from reliable standbys like Colin Firth and John Hurt to young hotties like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. They come together to do some cool spy stuff in the 60s, but it’s less James Bond and more Mad Men, with a hefty dose of “What the hell is going on?” interwoven throughout.
2. Midnight in Paris – You don’t have to be a fan of 1920s literature to love this movie, but it certainly helps. From Fitzgerald to Hemingway, all of your favorites are brought to life in this delightful fantasy, where Owen Wilson plays the Woody Allen character to neurotic perfection. Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen play his fiancée and his snobby nemesis, and they totally hooked up off screen, which is cute. And Marion Cotillard is gorgeous as the mistress of various famous artists in the past. What a great idea for a movie!
1. Melancholia – (pictured above) Beautiful, haunting, wonderfully acted (especially by Charlotte Gainsburg), cool end of the world themes—oh yeah, and it features sexy Eric from True Blood. What more could you want from a movie? Unlike all those big budget Hollywood apocalypse movies, which are fun in their own right, this one tells the story of the end of humanity in a personal and intimate way, which makes it all the more scary and devastating. But somehow it feels uplifting, at least for Von Trier, whose movies are usually a lot more bleak (which is funny to say when you’re talking about a movie about the destruction of humanity). See it on the big screen if it’s still out, or watch it on a big screen TV at home, because the visual effects are pretty damn cool.