84. Splice

Vincenzo Natali’s scifi tale of two scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who create a new life form (against their bosses orders!) then watch as the thing/creature/human? matures.  An interesting enough idea that never quite gets where it wants to, in that it probably should have been thought-provoking but instead it just gets kinda weird.  Brody has had a bizarre post-Oscar career, I’m not convinced anyone (including himself) knows exactly what sort of characters he should be playing.  Polley, let’s not forget, has an Oscar nomination for the screenplay to Away From Her.

83. How Do You Know

This James L. Brooks film famously hit a budget well past $100 million.  The bulk of which went to stars Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Paul Rudd, but still, one does wonder what suit decided it’d be a good bet for this film to make back all that.  Especially with a script that’s rather ordinary.  Mildly funny at times, it never really gets sexy, hilarious, or dramatic.  Everyone does their part: Nicholson chews up scenery for the few scenes he’s in, Witherspoon is the consummate professional, Wilson is wacky and Paul Rudd is Paul Rudd.  But if Nicholson and Witherspoon were replaced with supporting castmates Tony Shalhoub and Kathryn Hahn, I think you could have saved a lot of money without losing too much.  I’m also a little bitter at the decided lack of baseball and DC in the film (Wilson plays a pitcher on the Nationals).

82. Nowhere Boy

Received four BAFTA nominations, but failed to make much of a splash on this side of the pond.  Aaron Johnson plays a teenage John Lennon (showing range, when compared to Kick-Ass, that is quite impressive) who had been raised by his uncle and rather severe aunt (Kristin Scott Thomas).  After his uncle passes, he learns that his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) actually lives fairly close by.  She’s fun-loving, reckless, gets rock and roll, virtually the complete opposite of his aunt.  He does meet Paul and George, but this film is less a Beatles biopic and more a nice little teen angst in post-war Britain film.

81. Devil

Fun fact: This film was first on my radar because I noticed Caroline Dhavernas was in it, though I thought she looked a little weird in the commercials.  Turns out that wasn’t Dhavernas with an awkward makeup job, but Bojana Novakovic.  The star of Wonderfalls is actually only in the movie for a few minutes in a couple of relatively unnecessary scenes.  Whoops!  The other reason I was drawn to Devil was my well-documented love of single room movies.  And while the film wasn’t quite that claustrophobic (e.g. Chris Messina mostly observers the elevator via a camera), the bulk of the movie sees the main characters (which includes Mr. Christina Hendricks) stuck in elevator, being killed off one at a time.  The story comes from M. Night Shymalan, but the script was penned by Brian Nelson, who also scribed Hard Candy.  The toughest part of a film like this one is the resolution, which they couldn’t quite figure out how to make satisfying enough.

80. The Next Three Days

I don’t know if I’m getting soft in my old age, but here’s a Paul Haggis movie I didn’t hate.  I guess it helps that he adapted from a French film, but I can’t even lodge any complaints about the dialogue.  Of course, the film isn’t devoid of Haggis’s trademark heavy-handedness: the movie makes a point of not disclosing whether Elizabeth Banks actually did the crime, save for taking a definite stand at the end.  Russell Crowe does his Russell Crowe thing, though I personally would have preferred that he have the one scene cameo and Liam Neeson the main role, instead of vice versa.  The movie features a great, if wildly underused supporting cast, the best of which (naturally) is Trudie Styler (aka Mrs. Sting).

79. The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Stars the lovely Gemma Arterton as the titular kidnap victim, with Martin Compston and the always great Eddie Marsan as the kidnappers.  The bulk of the movie takes place in two rooms in the apartment where the kidnappers stash Arterton, and the story is largely about the power shifting between the three parties.  Writer/director J Blakeson puts forth a game effort, but his take falls a little short of something special, even with the excellent casting.  Generally good stuff, the ending kinda fizzles out and almost seems like it belongs to a different movie.

78. Mother and Child

Another film we briefly covered in our Spirit Awards chat.  Rodrigo Garcia’s film is one of those intersecting storyline deals.  Naomi Watts received a Spirit nom for playing a cold, calculating lawyer who sleeps with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) and married neighbor (Marc Blucas), at times seemingly because she can.  Jackson also received a nomination, and while I’m glad for the man, not sure the character warranted it here.  I was actually more taken with Annette Bening’s turn as a woman whose inability to escape the guilt from a decades-old decision has turned her cruel.  Thought she was better here than in The Kids Are All Right, but I’m apparently alone in the world there.  Isn’t the first time, won’t be the last.  Kerry Washington was also very good, as was Jimmy Smits, though their characters and storylines weren’t very developed.

77. Saint John of Las Vegas

Dante is given a story credit on this film.  Which…no.  I mean, in the sense that every road trip movie owes something to Inferno, sure.  But I call BS.  The movie, in any case, is somehow bizarre without any one scene ever feeling especially weird.  Well, Tim Blake Nelson leading militant nudists was a little weird, I’ll grant you that.  Steve Buscemi plays an employee at an insurance firm whose ambition to move up in the company (and also to impress Sarah Silverman playing a character with a bizarre smiley face fetish) leads him to take a case investigating insurance fraud with Romany Malco given by their boss (Peter Dinklage in a scene-stealing role).  The problem is that the case is just outside of Las Vegas, and Buscemi has a gambling addiction.  Hijinks involving John Cho, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Danny Trejo then ensue.

76. The Ghost Writer

A lot of people who follow the awards circuit (and thus almost by definition more into cinema as “art” than I am) and whose opinions I otherwise respect, really really liked this Roman Polanski joint.  Leaving me a bit befuddled.  Sure, the cast is top notch, with Olivia Williams seemingly receiving near-universal plaudits, along with Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, and turns by Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach, and Kim Cattrall, among others.  But the story is a third-rate political thriller devoid of any real intrigue save for some faint whiffs of conspiracy, and an ending that feels tacked on and cheap.

75. Burlesque

I’m not the world’s biggest Christina Aguilera fan, after Genie in a Bottle she just seems too obsessed with hitting as many notes as possible.  But if imdb trivia is to be believed, in the role that eventually went to Kristen Bell, Aguilera’s first choice was Emma Stone.  So, if nothing else, she has exquisite taste in women.  Burlesque has a mindless, by the numbers, cliche-ridden  plot .  But musicals are allowed to have mindless, by the numbers cliche-ridden plots.  If the songs are catchy, at least.  Which, sadly, isn’t the case here.  I can’t really remember any of them now.  And by all rights, Cher’s torch song should have been Oscar-worthy, except it is oddly-placed and not a good song.  I would have liked the characters to have had time to be more than one note, though it was fun to see Bell as a drunken bitch all the time.  Stanley Tucci and Cher do a lot with a little, but it isn’t really fair to Julianne Hough or Cam Gigandet to ask the same.