But first, a special shoutout to Amazon’s recommendation engine, which sent me an e-mail suggesting I might want to check out Wrong Side of Town.  Which, you no doubt recall, was my least favorite movie of the year.

124. Piranha 

I saw this film in 2D, so presumably I lost out on some of the camp.  But I think this film tried to so hard to let everyone know it was laughing at itself that it never adequately established anything to actually laugh at.  Don’t get me wrong, piranha chomping down on spring breakers is a great start for a film, but I’m going to need something more to keep me entertained for an hour and a half.  And yes, I suppose one could argue that something more should have been busty British model Kelly Brook in a bikini, out of a bikini, engaged in Sapphic tendencies, and generally indulging any number of frat boy fantasies.  That was too on the nose, for me.  I was more interested in girl next door Jessica Szohr (who was fantastic in What About Brian?), but that storyline never got off the ground.  Neither did the one with Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott, sadly.  Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ving Rhames were all good in cameos, though.

123. The Square

Reviews of this film often describe it as an Austalian Coen Bros. noir.  I’d have to disagree.  Not with the Australian part, that’d be pretty presumptuous of me.  No, the plot wasn’t noir so much as darkly shot and with a lack of twists.  And given the diverse work of the brothers Coen, I’m not entirely certain what would prompt someone to compare a filmmaker to them.  To be fair, I have the same problems with No Country for Old Men that I do with this film, or at least I didn’t really get either.  The story focuses on a shady construction manager cheating on his wife and skimming profits off the construction job.  Extortion, arson, and murder soon follow.  I did like the main character (played by David Roberts), or at least the idea of him, as he got less and less sympathetic as the movie progressed and actually turned rather pathetic.  Also, the doggies were pretty great.

122. After.Life

Imdb claims this film was directed and co-written by someone named Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo.  I humbly submit that maybe imdb should lay off the bottle during work hours.  At first blush, it is a little confusing why After.Life didn’t make a bigger impact.  It stars Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long, and is listed as a horror film, which seems like it should have been good for a least a few million at the box office.  But the story, while interesting, is far from your typical slasher fare.  Liam Neeson plays a mortician who seemingly has the ability to communicate with the dead and help them on their way.  We’re big Liam Neeson fans on this here blog (or at least Adam and I are, don’t know about the others), and even in a disposable flick no one ever saw, he’s still nothing short of awesome, playing creepy as all get out.  Anyway, Christina Ricci’s character dies in a freak accident, and the film is about her refusing to believe it and trying to escape Neeson’s prep room, while Justin Long (her boyfriend) also refuses to come to grips with her death.  There’s an undercurrent of is she really dead that is kinda neat, but it can’t carry the movie, as it is seemingly expected to.

121. Shutter Island

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Fun fact: Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese’s second-highest grossing film, and it only misses The Departed by $4 million.  Another fun fact: Shutter Island is a bloated mess of a movie and I cannot believe people are too mesmerized by Scorsese’s name to see that.  I normally run through casts in these recaps, but there are nine really awesome people in Shutter Island, so I probably can’t get to them all.  Oddly enough, that count doesn’t include Sir Ben Kingsley, who I never really liked and Leo DiCaprio, who is OK, but overrated (in my humble opinion).  But yeah, this film was a psychological thriller for people who don’t like psychological thrillers, but want to say they do.  I honestly think that if the movie were attributed to M. Night Shyamalan, people would a) believe it because so much of the movie is keyed off a twist; b) not have seen the movie; and c) grumbled about the continued declined of the helmer of The Sixth Sense.

120. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I made the mistake of watching this movie a week after I read the book.  It was a mistake because I had the story fresh in my mind, and I’m skeptical there was any way for a movie to stay faithful to the six hundred page book.  (Though I guess we’ll see what David Fincher has to say about that.)  Of course, I didn’t really like the book.  I probably would have cut the first hundred pages (and last fifty), I felt it was salacious for no particular reason, and as a fan of locked room mysteries, I thought the mystery was below average.  Also, characters were constantly eating sandwiches.  But hey, people liked the book and the movie, so I suppose I may be the odd duck here.  Nah.  In trying to stay faithful to the story, I think the filmmakers took too many shortcuts and robbed the novel of what charm it did have.  I did really like Michael Nyqvist, and wished Noomi Rapace had a better platform on which to shine.

119. Another Year

We’ve already spent some time talking about this Oscar nominee, so I’ll try not to rehash too much.  Adam and I saw Another Year at E Street.  As soon as the credits started rolling we looked at each other and laughed.  Because we knew that we both disliked it and that we were sure John was going to love it.  John talks about how the movie sacrifices plot for theme, and makes the excellent point that such a substitution isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A conversation can be fascinating to watch.  But so much of this movie is boring conversations.  As John points out, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play a perfectly normal couple, happily in love.  Which…isn’t fascinating to watch.  And yes, Lesley Manville playing against them in fun.  For a little, maybe.  I’m pretty upset at how the Oscar’s Best Original Screenplay nominations went down, in case that isn’t clear by now.

118. Agora

Just because I don’t like a movie doesn’t mean other people won’t.  Good taste isn’t universal, after all.  I’ve recommended Agora to a friend, because I thought he’d be intrigued by the film’s religious themes.  Some (or publicists trying to stir up controversy) have said the film is an indictment of Christianity or read into it something about American politics.  Which, I dunno, seems to me to be seeing what you want to see.  In the film, which takes place in the 4th and 5th century, Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia of Alexandria, a teacher of astronomy and avowed atheist.  Her fascination with the stars and learning leaves her no time or desire for religion, politics, or even boys, though she’s got a couple after her, including her student (Oscar Isaac) who becomes the governor and her slave (Max Minghella).  The problem, for me, is that the stakes were never sufficiently raised.  So we get some decent enough swords and sandals action and some tragedy, but no reason to really care.

117. Tamara Drewe

I so desperately wanted to like Tamara Drewe.  I loved the trailer, the film is directed by Stephen Frears, who did High Fidelity and I’m madly in love with Gemma Arterton.  Plus Dominic Cooper playing, improbably, a bad boy rock star.  The trailer, poster, and title are misleading, though.  While Tamara Drewe may be the catalyst that puts things into action, the film has a sprawling cast of characters.  Most of whom I wanted to smack upside the head.  And then downside the head, were such a thing possible.  Tamara is, if you’ll pardon my French, something of a bitch.  Her neighbors run a writer’s retreat, populated by nitwits.  They are a husband and wife, the husband is a famous author who doesn’t appreciate his wife, sleeps around, etc., the wife is the opposite.  She eventually ends up with one of the writers, who appears to be a poor man’s Bob Balaban.  Which doesn’t make any sense, I know.  The most interesting subplot, probably, involves a couple of schoolgirls who are in love with Cooper and start stalking him and meddling in his affairs.  In most cases like this, I’d suggest a more successful film would have narrowed its focus.  Which is true here.  But also, I think you need at least one character the audience actually wants to spend more time with.

116. I Am Love

I had really low expectations for this Oscar-nominated film, because it was universally described in terms like “sumptuous” and “a visual feast” that maybe made me hungry, but not really want to see a movie.  I get what people are saying, though, and I don’t necessarily disagree.  There are any number of lovely-looking scenes and costumes and whatnot.  So that’s nice.  Also, people who seems to know these things say that Tilda Swinton (who isn’t fluent in Italian or Russian) adopted a flawless Italian accent as spoken by someone from Russia, as her character was.  Which kinda boggles my mind.  After five years of Spanish, I could just about order at Taco Bell, so the idea of somebody being able to speak like that is kind of incredible.  Replaying this movie in my head, a lot of the film plays out like a commercial for a cologne or perfume.  The themes of family and temptation and food do seem very Italian, not that I would know.

115. The Experiment

You’ve most likely heard of the infamous Stanford prison experiment, a study where volunteers were placed in a mock prison, some of who made “prisoners” and others “guards”, with the results that people have a scary ability to adapt to the roles in which they are placed.  This movie, starring Oscar winners Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker, along with Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins, Jr., and David Banner, is a dramatization of the experiment.  Since the conclusion of the experiment is fairly well known, crucial to the execution of the film, in my opinion, is establishing an understanding of why people acted how they did.  And I don’t believe the film ever quite accomplishes that.  It also wastes a little time at the beginning, like the scene with Maggie Grace is completely gratuitous (in that the plot it advances could have been covered in one line of dialogue).  That said, I think there’s still some stigma attached to a film gong direct to video, which The Experiment did, and this film suggests it is unwarranted.  Sure, the film had its fair share of flaws, but while it probably have had some difficult finding traction in theaters, there’s every reason to believe it can find a loyal audience on DVD.

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