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Eight months ago, Brian made the stupid bold prediction that the final Harry Potter would get a Best Picture nod and be a favorite for the win. Now that Deathly Hallows Part 2 has racked up great reviews and is earning dough at an impressive rate (killing our summer box office predictions), its Best Picture chances is the top topic among the Oscar blogosphere. Lost in the analysis of the Lord of the Rings precedent, its mega box office returns, and the widespread affection for the epic series is an underreported factor that overrides all of that: the movie makes no goddamn sense.

First we dressed up as Helena Bonham Carter, then we haggled over a sword for some reason, then we collected some tears, then we talked to some ghosts, then we went to heaven, then we came back, then we ...

I’ve seen every film exactly once but haven’t read any of the books beyond the third. As the series progressed the plots got more and more unintelligible. I understand the largest audience for the films are those who read and loved the books and want to see how they get adapted for the screen. They are made for an audience that doesn’t leave the theater discussing Harry and Voldemort’s latest exploits but the choices the filmmakers made: which scenes to cut, what subplots to highlight, how to visualize a written description, etc…

I didn't know who this person was but according to the reaction of the girl next to me in the theater I was supposed to be upset he died

But take it from someone who just wants to watch these movies as only movies: they are impossible to follow. If Part 2 was an original story I’d say it smacked of being made up as they went along. It’s not a bad movie – it’s my favorite since number 5 – but I more or less had to stop thinking about who people were and why things were happening and enjoy the visuals and the natural thrill of the series’s big climax.

(On a side note, how disappointing is it that the series builds up all this mythology about the types of spells in the Harry Potter world yet wizard wars devolve into shooting at each other from wands like Star Wars blasters?)

So think about the hurdles that Harry Potter has to overcome to get a Best Picture nomination. As Academy members hear about the film’s buzz and pop in their screener, how many will have read the books? How many will have seen all the movies? If they haven’t, they aren’t going to have any idea what the hell is going on. And that’s not a good thing when you need to rack up a bunch of #1 votes.

The first in an occasional series highlighting films I think more people should know about.

Title: The Allnighter

Writers: Tamar Simon Hoffs, M.L. Kessler

Director: Tamar Simon Hoffs

Stars: Susanna Hoffs, DeDee Pfeiffer, Joan Cusack, John Terlesky, James Shanta

Synopsis: Hoffs (the valedictorian), Pfeiffer (the blonde engaged to an older man), and Cusack (inexplicably taping everything) are college roommates celebrating the last day before graduation.  Terlesky (the normal one, I guess?) and Shanta (Zen) are surfer dude classmates who are always hanging around “the birds.”  Hoffs spends the day complaining about not having had a meaningful relationship, attempting to hook up with a 60s pop star that happened to drop by, and struggling to come to terms with her incredibly poorly hidden feelings for Terlesky, while Pfeiffer and Cusack end up (wrongfully) arrested for prostitution.  I believe hijinks were supposed to ensue, but they apparently were left on the cutting room floor.

Why You Should Know About This Movie: Hopefully you (A) know that Susanna Hoffs is the lead singer of the Bangles and (B) are surprised to learn she starred in a feature film.

Why You Should See This Movie: Honestly, there’s no good reason.  It is a terrible, terrible film.  Perhaps its 3.4 imdb rating, or its 0% (though with just 7 reviews) on Rotten Tomatoes should have been giveaways.  It is a college screwball comedy that is written with the sensibility of a high school film and plotting as conceived by middle schooler.  Nothing personal, Mama Hoffs, but your daughter deserved a better shot at a film career.  However, there are worse ways to spend a few minutes than watch Susanna Hoffs in her underwear gyrating to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”:

Though really, you should have more dignity and indulge your fantasies with the music video to “In Your Room“.

Also Appearing: Pam Grier shows up for a couple of scenes as a tough but fair cop.  Meschach Taylor has a small role as a hotel detective.  If the name isn’t familiar, he’s the Emmy-nominated co-star of Designing Women (Hint: he’s the one who isn’t one of the women).  And there’s Todd Field as a sketchy bellhop.  He may be the only one in this whole shebang actually relevant to the blog as he later received two Oscar nominations for the screenplays to In the Bedroom and Little Children, both of which he also directed.

Fun Facts: As I alluded to above, the film was written and directed by Susanna Hoffs’s mother.  But she’s not the only director in the family.  Hoffs is married to Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers films, the first two Meet the Parents movies, and Recount.

DeDee Pfeiffer is Michelle’s younger sister.

If you are a TV buff, you may be familiar with the work of co-star John Terlesky as he’s directed episodes of Boston Legal, Ugly Betty, Castle, and about a dozen other shows.

The Allnighter was, by all accounts, a box office bomb, ending up making about $2.5 million dollars after opening in just under 1,000 theaters on May 1, 1987, and essentially killing Susanna Hoffs acting career.  But it wasn’t even the biggest flop that month, as Ishtar opened two weeks later.

Quotes: “A babe in the kitchen is worth two on the beach.”

Ugh.  I was halfway through this when my computer crashed and then I was out of town for two weeks.  Apologies for the delay! Thanks so much to everyone who has read these, and for commenting on them publicly or privately.  I’ve spent a good chunk on time on this, not to mention the…well, figure an average of 100 minutes per movie * 154 movies and that’s what, 10.5 days of watching movies?  In any case, it is nice to know someone else is getting at least a little something out of this exercise.  And, of course, thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for watching movies with me, exposing me to new ones, dealing with my travel schedule, and inspiring me to keep going with this. I believe that my favorite movies are the year’s best movies.  As such, if I were filling out an Oscar ballot without any considerations to game theory, this would be my list.

10. Please Give

A few months ago, I wrote up Please Give, suggesting the script was among my favorites of the year.  Seven months later, I still firmly believe that.  Characters in ensemble films can often feel underdeveloped or like stock characters because of how difficult it is to convey a character in such limited amount of words.  Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s characters here are rich and engaging.  They feel like real people, sure, but real people interesting enough to warrant being in a film.  Plus, the dialogue is always sharp and often funny.  In my mind, the Academy seriously missed not nominating this WGA-nominated screenplay.  The film was very well-cast (and thus deserving of its Spirit Award).  I won’t be a bore and list out all the actors and actresses, but they are a lot of fun.

9. My Name is Khan

If I’m not mistaken, no Indian film received a nomination for Foreign Film since the quite excellent Lagaan in 2001.  And if My Name is Khan can’t make the cut, I’m not quite sure what will do the trick.  It has an autistic main character, a love story, deals with a Social Issue (the United States’s response to potential domestic terrorism threats), has heroism in the face of tragedy (there’s a subplot involving a small town being flooded), and is an ultimately hopeful look at one man’s long journey to meet President Obama.  Is it maybe a little melodramatic?  Sure.  But to good effect, I think.  The film stars Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in half the Bollywood movies I’ve seen and is one of my favorite actors.  He’s a leading man in the mold of Harrison Ford or Nathan Fillion — dashing and an action hero, but also self-aware enough to handle comedy.  The story is too long to rehash here, but he has a high-functioning form of autism, ends up marrying a single mother (Kajol), and after a serious tragedy and a comment said in anger, heads off on a Forrest Gump-like road trip to see Obama.

8. Lovely, Still

This Spirit Award nominee actually features some relatively big names: Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, Adam Scott, and Elizabeth Banks.  Landau is a depressed, lonely old man.  He lives pretty much just for his bagging job at a supermarket, where Scott is his almost overbearingly well-meaning boss.  But one day, a little before Christmas, Ellen Burstyn moves next door along with her daughter (Banks) and after a meet cute, they start dating and living life as if they were decades younger.  Writer-director Nicholas Fackler’s film is charming, sweet, and packs an emotional punch.  The resolution won’t satisfy everyone, but I found it hauntingly powerful.  Plus the performances were really solid.  Lovely, Still was clearly in my wheelhouse, I hope it finds its way to other people who feel similarly.  Each year there’s one film I wouldn’t have seen if not for awards and I’m really happy I did.  This year, this is the film.

7. How to Train Your Dragon

Saw this one on a plane.  And then again on one of the movie channels I pay too much for.  The Academy absolutely made a right call putting an animated film in the Best Picture hunt, they just chose the wrong one.  For reasons still unclear to me, Toy Story 3 lapped up all the love this year that should have gone How to Train Your Dragon‘s way.  Not that the film did too shabby, raking in almost $500 million worldwide, two Oscar nominations, and has a sequel on the way.  Many people raved about how effectively the flying scenes used 3-D, I of course can’t speak to that.  I can speak to the heart and wit showcased in the film, though.  The story was both epic and extremely personal.  And sure, the movie espoused the usual themes of togetherness, understanding, and respect, but always in a way that serviced the story.  Like everyone else in the world, I”m a big Pixar fan, but their reign at the top actually ended one year earlier than people think.

6. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

A few years ago, when I was writing for The Playlist, the editor recommended I read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels.  I initially balked, both because I had a fear of the unknown when it came to graphic novels and if you’ve ever read anything over at The Playlist, you know their taste in movies tends to be directly opposite to mine.  I’m very glad I came to my senses.  The first volume of the series is one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read and the following books are all quite good.  And yet even with all those expectations, the film manages to make good on its promise.  There’s a whole other post I could write devoted to the many reasons it “flopped”, but this movie is funny, touching, inventive, charming, and altogether brilliant.  It is so perfectly cast, from the always unintentionally hilarious Brandon Routh as the super vegan to Chris Evans’s skateboarding action star to Kieran Culkin’s hilarious Wallace to the underrated Alison Pill absolutely nailing Kim Pine to the divine Mary Elizabeth Winstead figuring out the elusive Ramona Flowers.  Heck, even blog favorite Clifton Collins, Jr. has a cameo.  It is unfortunate that the country had a collective Michael Cera fatigue because he too really is quite good.

5. Hot Tub Time Machine

I suppose there was a chance I wouldn’t love an 80s throwback film starring John Cusack.  Well, OK, no, not really.  But where Hot Tub shines, is its self-awareness, whether it is Craig Robinson winking into the camera as he delivers the titular line or giving Chevy Chase a role, or all the ridiculous 80s things the film highlights.  This sort of time travel film can be difficult to pull off as it can often devolve into just killing time until the lesson is learned and the heroes just barely make it back to their present.  But Hot Tub is consistently funny and the tub itself is more a relatively minor MacGuffin to facilitate the nonstop humor.  And honestly, any movie that can get me to enjoy a Black Eyed Peas song must be doing something right.  The film was co-written by Sean Anders and John Morris (along with Josh Heald), and as we’ll soon see, I clearly dig their sensibilities.

4. She’s Out of My League

Remember screenwriters Anders and Morris from the last sentence I wrote? Here’s another one they did.  How about that foreshadowing!  I saw a sneak preview of this film with Adam, then watched on a movie network with a friend in a different city who had the DVD, and probably caught bits and pieces again.  So I’m fairly confident in my ranking here.  Broadly speaking, it is framed by many of the conventions of a modern romantic comedy: dorky guy, impossibly hot girl, wacky best friends, and there’s even a scene of people running to an airport.  (As a side note, someday I’ll get around to the post arguing those constructs aren’t really modern at all.  Taking a few liberties, that’s basically the general idea of It Happened One Night).  But She’s Out of My League places so high on my list because it subverts those conventions and does so while being really really funny.  I could spend a long time discussing this movie, but let’s take a look at the running to/in an airport scene as a microcosm of everything that is great about the movie.  We start with T.J. Miller (best friend of Jay Baruchel) calling up Krysten Ritter (best friend of Alice Eve).  This film was my first introduction to T.J. Miller, who is friggin’ hilarious.  And Krysten Ritter is nothing short of fantastic, here’s hoping Apartment 23 blows up huge this year.  Throughout the movie, these two strongly dislike each other.  In a traditional romcom, obviously, that means they’d end up together.  But no, here, they end up continuing to truly just hate each other.  Anyway, Ritter picks up Eve, true feelings are confessed, they rush to the airport where T.J. Miller, who works for TSA (or the airport, at least) hilariously barges her through security and then gets his friend to prevent the plane from taking off.  Meanwhile, Baruchel comes to his own realization, and tells off his whole family and ex-girlfriend, only to be unable to get off the plane in time.  When he eventually does, he has his own run through the airport, on one of those airport golf carts — chased by his maniacal ex-girlfriend (Lindsay Sloane).  Plus, I have a man-crush on Baruchel, and actual crush on Alice Eve.  And the film takes place in Pittsburgh, which is a refreshing change of pace.  Oh, and burying the lede here, but a Hall and Oates cover band may be involved.

3. The King’s Speech

I’m not sure how many people pegged this one correctly.  Plenty of people dismissed its Oscar prowess because the film was about British royalty.  Well, sure, but it was hardly the costume drama one normally thinks of as Oscar bait.  I won’t go so far as to claim the royalty stuff was incidental, but the film is more about the relationship between Firth and Rush than anything else.  Also, if I were angling for a Best Picture win, seems like I’d be sure to cast Guy Pearce in a supporting role.  I’m not sure he’ll be in much this year, but I guess The Wettest County in the World has to be an early front-runner for next year’s Oscar race.

2. Inception

Christopher Nolan is this generation’s defining action filmmaker, I think.  Like most action films, his films don’t really develop characters at all.  Which is certainly a problem in a relationship drama or a character study.  But I think many action films need rapidly-defined types in order for the audience to better appreciate all the explosions/destruction/carnage going on around the characters.

1. The Social Network

So, yeah.  Real original top three, I know.  And it is shocking that I would love an Aaron Sorkin script.  Can we talk for a minute about Jesse Eisenberg’s movies?  He starred in my favorite 2010 film.  He starred in my favorite 2009 film.  I wasn’t ranking movies in 2005, but The Squid and the Whale may have been my favorite movie of the year.  And I just watched Roger Dodger a month or so ago and loved that.  So I suppose you should be expecting plenty of Eisenberg movies high up these here rankings in the years to come.

Okay, okay Film Fest DC has been over for months so let’s get this over. Plus I put a largely anonymous documentary from the Fest on my first half top five list and it’s worth discussing.

This last post will cover the two documentaries I saw at the 2011 Film Fest DC. Conveniently, they are my most and least favorite films of the festival.

Armadillo, Denmark/Sweden, dir: Janus Metz

People may say it’s too reductive, but it’s true: Armadillo is the Danish Restrepo. There’s nothing wrong with that because both are terrific films. Seeing one doesn’t diminish the power of the other. Both follow the tour of duty of a group of soldiers in Afghanistan where the filmmakers get unbelievable access. One battle in Armadillo takes the Danish soldiers into a nearby town, battling Taliban along fences and irrigation ditches. The battle rages all around the camera. The footage is so real and so immersive, if I didn’t know better I might think it was staged.

Several of the soldiers become the stars of the movie, including a leader, a more reserved youngster, and a soldier full of bravado who can’t wait to go and kill some Taliban. The story takes an interesting diversion from Restrepo when the latter man continuously brags about the enemies he killed at close range. When news reaches home about potential atrocities committed by the soldiers, we have an front-and-center view of the reactions of the unit, not to mention our own perspective of what happened since the battle was all caught on film in its full, bloody chaos.

Besides the episode above, Armadillo differentiates itself from its American cousin by more prominently portraying the futility of the Afghan war. The unit fights over the same small area of land, just to have more Taliban come and attack again. The locals are caught in the middle. There’s a certain theatricality to the routine of it all. The soldiers walk through the village. The townspeople file out so the fight can begin. The fight happens. The soldiers return to base. Repeat. The soldiers pondering the point of the war and their involvement are particularly interesting given their nationality.

Director Metz also gives his film a delightfully artistic touch. Beautiful shots of soldiers blowing off steam lit by flares in the dark Afghan night makes for a wonderful segue between chapters.

Armadillo received a brief U.S. theatrical release, but as best I can tell has no DVD release date set. It is available to stream on Amazon. I was entirely engrossed by this film and it’s well worth checking out. A.

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz), France/Germany/Chile, dir: Patricio Guzman

I tried to see it at last year’s Latin American Film Festival, but it withdrew. I was so happy to see it on the Film Fest list this year. Oh, Past John. You poor, misguided fool.

This documentary is set in the harsh Atacama desert of northern Chile. These days it is one of the world’s major copper producers and its clear skies make it a major destination for astronomical observation. During the Pinochet regime it was also the location of slave labor and death camps. Nostalgia for the Light attempts to reconcile the region’s contrasting history, that a place that is a window to the heavens where man contemplates his place in the universe can also be the location of such awful human cruelty. Where the dry desert preserves remains of natives and murdered dissidents while scientists examine waves that have taken millions of years to reach earth.

The result is a ponderous and excruciatingly boring existential meditation. The problem doesn’t lie with the thesis or story, such as it is, but the execution. We do meet interesting people, including astronomers, philosophers, former dissidents, and family members of disappeared prisoners who comb the sand for bone fragments. But Garcia has too light of an editorial touch and too often lets his subjects ramble on into mumbo jumbo instead of focusing on the insightful bits. Whatever points he wants to make get lots in the slog.

The visuals are no better. Many of the voice-overs are accompanied by long shots of unimpressive night sky or barren desert. At least I had the subtitles to read to keep me engaged with the screen. I don’t know how fluent Spanish speakers would survive. Every transition is a quiet shot that lasts many times longer than it needs to. As viewers, we anticipate the rhythm of editing. A landscape shot between scenes should last a couple beats. Here it could go on for 15 or 20 seconds for no apparent purpose.

I have never attended a film with so many walk outs. Unbelievably it had a small commercial release here, though I can’t find box office figures for it. I know it was playing in DC the week after the film fest. Not that it matters; you shouldn’t see it. D-.

This finally concludes our Film Fest DC coverage. The fest was just so great we needed three months to cover it all. See our other coverage here: John’s look at the genre films and the more arty choices, plus Jared’s take on what he saw.

14. Exam

In the year of the single room thriller, here’s my favorite.  The premise is simple: eight job candidates are in a room for a final test.  The invigilator (Colin Salmon) details the few rules: don’t talk to him or the guard, don’t leave the room, don’t spoil the paper in front of them.  He tells the candidates they just need to answer the question.  And that’s it, as the candidates have to figure out what the test is, exactly, and how to use the room and each other to do so.  If you like mysteries, I’d definitely recommend you check out this BAFTA nominee.  If you don’t, you may be a bit put off by the “solution”.

13. City Island

City Island was a moderate success, as far as indie films go, but I remain surprised it couldn’t find a larger audience.  This comedy about a dysfunctional New York family stars Andy Garcia as a corrections officer who harbors secret dreams of being an actor.  He’s a devoted family man, but among the prisoners he comes across the one big mistake of his life: the son (Steven Strait) he had when he was very young.  Telling no one, including the young man, Garcia brings him home under the pretense of a work-release program, a lie that sets forth a rather hilarious farce.  Julianna Margulies plays Garcia’s wife, joyfully bursting out of the cold persona she inhabits on The Good Wife.  They have two kids, the lovely Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy’s actual daughter) who secretly has tossed aside college to work at a strip club and Ezra Miller, who is finding out he has a thing for BBW.  The final piece of the puzzle is Emily Mortimer, a fellow student in Garcia’s acting class.  The film is consistently funny, with a plot always serving to create humor out of the lies and misconceptions.

12. The Trotsky

Awhile back, when the Genie Award (the Canadian Oscars) nominations came out, John sent out a link and pointed to The Trotsky, saying it sounded like my kind of movie.  Oh, John.  I can’t see a possible reason why you’d think I’d be interested in a high school romantic dramedy steeped in history and starring Jay Baruchel.  It is like you don’t know me at all!  (Of course, I’d already seen the film by the time John sent out his e-mail.)  One of those films where I can’t imagine a target audience other than, well, me.  Baruchel stars as Leon Bronstein, a senior in high school who believes he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.  Yup.  He spends the summer unionizing the workers at his dad’s (Saul Rubinek) plant and getting them to strike.  In an effort to straighten Leon out, his dad sends him to a public high school with a strict principal (Colm Feore).  Once there, Leon immediately gets to work organizing the students while wooing an older girl to whom he is preordainly drawn.  The film is funny and charming and filled with historical jokes, most of which I’m sure I didn’t get.

11. The Expendables

I mean, yes, it is a second tier 80s action flick stuffed to the gills with ridiculously awesome actors.  But that’s a good thing.  When did we become so self-important that we looked down at a film with characters named “Hale Caesar” and “Yin Yang” (the Asian one, obviously).  Where the bad guys are unquestionably bad — except when they are being manipulated by people profiting off of drugs in some nonsensical scheme.  Where the women are hot, empowered in the sense that they fight back, but always need saving and are barely relevant.  The explosions are plentiful and completely totally necessary, as are the fights and cameos.  Sometimes you just need to sit back and have some fun.

2011 is halfway done and even though the prestige flicks are still months away, there are still some pretty good first half movies to talk about. Some favorites from Film Fest DC even got US releases, freeing them to appear on our lists. (Actually, if you haven’t heard of the movie there’s a good chance the Fest is where we saw it.)

Jared

1. Paul
2. The Names of Love
3. Kaboom
4. Super 8
5. Just Go With It

John

1. Source Code
2. Armadillo
3. Kung Fu Panda 2
4. The Names of Love
5. Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune

Adam

1. X-Men: First Class
2. Fast Five
3. I Am Number Four
4. Battle: Los Angeles
5. Thor

Brian

Claims to have not seen five movies yet this year.

 

So who is the worst Grouch? Jared for putting Super 8 AND an Adam Sandler comedy on his list? John for being a snob and filling his list with films no one has seen? Adam for listing only loud, big budget action flicks? Or Brian for not even watching movies? Discuss.

24. Going the Distance

I had admittedly high hopes for Going the Distance, so I suppose you could argue there’s some wishcasting going on here.  I did have a lot of trouble figuring out how to rate the film, though.  Writer Geoff LaTulippe’s screenplay made a Black List, and for the first quarter or third of the film, I completely understood why and was clearing out room in my top ten.  The writing was sharp, funny, and sure, slightly more R-rated than your typical romcom, but to good ends.  Thing is, the rest of the movie took a sharp turn for the worse, finishing up a lot more like a traditional romantic comedy, seeming to lose its singular voice.  As is often the case with romantic comedies, the leads (Justin Long and Drew Barrymore) are strong, but the supporting cast (including Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston and small roles by under the radar favorites of mine Natalie Morales and Kelli Garner) is quite stellar.

23. Ondine

Written and directed by Oscar winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), Ondine is an Irish fairy tale of sorts that didn’t really make an impact, unfortunately.  It stars Colin Farrell, who should be more of a star, but can’t seem to line up a good role in widely seen movie where he’s not outshone by a bigger name.  Here he plays a divorced fisherman with a young daughter (Alison Barry) who is confined to a wheelchair.  Out fishing one day, Farrell improbably drags in a beautiful and mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) who seems to mirror everything his daughter has been reading about mermaids.  The third act takes a pretty dark turn that’s somewhat out of the blue, for whatever that’s worth.

22. Predators

I saw Predators in theaters with Adam.  Oddly, someone brought a baby to the screening.  Which…hey, I’m the first one to say ratings are silly, but I’m not entirely certain that was the change for which I was rooting.  The film knows exactly what it is (a fun, contained, sci-fi shoot ’em up), and doesn’t strive for anything more or less.  Which is nice.  Action/adventure flicks can sometimes gets bloated with backstory and philosophy, but this one is rather lean.  And boats an incredibly bizarre cast, including Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, and Alice Braga.

21. Defendor

Along with the rash of superhero films has been a series of regular people inspired by superhero films (elsewhere on this list you’ll find Kick-Ass, and Paper Man probably counts, plus this year’s Super and the South Park crew has done it, off the top of my head).  Here, Woody Harrelson plays a possibly mentally disturbed man who has decided to become Defendor and chase down his nemesis, Captain Industry.  He befriends the lost and abused teen played by Kat Dennings (whose character is named Katerina Debrofkowitz) in a relationship not entirely until that of Jeff Daniels and Emma Stone in the aforementioned Paper Man.  Elias Koteas is a delightfully evil cop, and Sandra Oh’s psychiatrist doesn’t have quite enough of a role.  I liked the film’s ending, it is hopeful in an unexpected way.

20. Rabbit Hole

We’ve obviously written some about this Oscar and Spirit Awards nominee.  I saw it, alone, at the new West End theater.  Which was probably for the best, Rabbit Hole isn’t exactly the type of movie that makes you want to go out and talk about it over ice cream afterwards.  Over an endless stream of whiskey, maybe.  I generally agree with John’s take on the film, though I believe I liked it a little more.  The one exception is that I didn’t really get the awards hype for Dianne Wiest, though maybe I just expecting her character to be a little more meaty.  I’m a big Aaron Eckhart fan and this film only reinforces that.  His performance was absolutely Oscar-worthy.

19. Remember Me

It is impossible to talk about Remember Me without discussing the one controversial twist near the end of the film.  I think the statute of limitations has passed on spoiler alerts, but just in case anyone happens across this post before seeing the movie, I’ll try not to ruin anything.  I believe most people found the twist to be emotionally manipulative at best, and at worst, unnecessary, crass, and insulting.  Which is certainly fair, I wouldn’t presume to suggest otherwise.  However, to me, this relatively mundane approach is actually an honor and a tribute.  Vague enough, I hope?  The film stars Robert Pattinson, and I gotta say, he’s definitely more than just a Twilight heartthrob.  The charming Emilie de Ravin is the love interest, and Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper chew up scenery as their respective dads.

18. Knight and Day

Nothing personal against Knight and Day, but when it is in the top twenty movies of the year, something went wrong.  That said, the film is a fun summer popcorn flick.  And having more of those in the world wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.  The film is rather well-cast.  Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz both excel at action-comedies and can help smooth over any rough spots in the script.  Plus there’s Peter Sarsgaard (being creepy, naturally), Viola Davis, Maggie Grace, and Paul Dano.

17. Iron Man 2

I agree with most of the criticisms of the film: not as good as the first one, too many characters crammed in, not enough story.  Still, there’s lots of fun action.  And when the too-many characters include a crazy Russian Mickey Rourke, a crazy Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, John Slattery, and cameos by Olivia Munn and Kate Mara, well, I’m willing to forgive some sins.  The first one was a refreshing take on the superhero movie.  This one still had some of that voice, but moved in a bad direction toward standard comic book fare, as is too often the case with sequels.

16. Four Lions

Brian absolutely loves this film, he’ll be disappointed I didn’t give it an even better ranking.  If it helps, there’s a definite gap between Four Lions and films that have come before.  The movie is a mockumentary about a group of British jihadists.  Which, I know.  Sounds wrong on a million different levels.  And yet somehow writer-director Christopher Morris (along with his co-writers and the actors) make it work.  The film is funny, often laugh out loud so.  A few subplots maybe don’t work out, but here’s a dark comedy that’s actually manages to be both dark and a comedy.  Ending a movie like this one was always going to be difficult, and I’m not quite sure they stuck the landing.  Which probably explains any difference between Brian and I.

15. Despicable Me

Saw this one on a plane.  And just about couldn’t stop laughing.  A large part of it, I’m sure, were the minions.  Who were, as pretty much everyone agrees, essentially just rabbids from Rayman Raving Rabbids.  Which isn’t a problem, because man, those rabbids are friggin’ hilarious.  One thing I’ve realized is that I’m pretty horrible at guessing who is doing the voice acting for an animated film.  I can’t tell if it is because I’m so engrossed in the film or I’m just bad at identifying voices, but I consistently find myself surprised when going over the credits for animated films.

34. Love and Other Drugs

John eloquently reviewed the film, which we saw together in theaters.  I believe afterward when I thanked him for inviting me, he replied that I was the only person he could think of who would be interested in the film.  Thanks!  Actually, now that I think about it, we might have seen a movie at E St first.  Anyway, I mostly agree with John here, you’ll note he said he could think of a couple dozen movies from the year he’d recommend first, which is pretty much where I place it.

33. Made in Dagenham

Another movie John got to.  And again, I pretty much agree with what he says about the movie and the acting performances.  I think the film had trouble with awards traction because people who would tend to be interested by the concept of a film about female auto workers in 1960s England striking for equal pay probably wouldn’t be expecting a film with a tone quite as light as this one takes.  Which is  a shame, as I think it is a movie a bunch of people could enjoy, so maybe with some nominations on this side of the pond it could have found a wider audience.  Bob Hoskins and Rosamund Pike were also pretty fun in the film.

32. Letters to Juliet

Saw this one on a plane.  It is the one where Amanda Seyfried goes to Verona with her too-busy fiance, Gael Garcia Bernal.  There’s a wall there where people letters written to Shakespeare’s Juliet.  Every day, some ladies in the town collect the letters and respond from Juliet.  For whatever reason, Seyfried happens upon them and helps them respond, and her response to one brings an elderly lady (Vanessa Redgrave) and her handsome British son (Christopher Egan) out to Verona and then on a hunt for Redgrave’s long lost love.  I think the film will deliver exactly what you think it will.

31. Cairo Time

I can’t really figure out a way to describe Cairo Time without making it sound like one of those movies John loves and the rest of us hate.  The plot is very slight: basically Patricia Clarkson comes to Cairo to visit her diplomat husband, who gets busy with an emergency, so she’s squired around town for a few days by her husband’s friend (Alexander Siddig), and within the few days they begin to develop feelings for each other.  Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’d be content watching Patricia Clarkson in nearly anything.

30. 127 Hours

The four Grouches managed to all get together to see the film, you can see our thoughts here.  The film came up lots in our awards talk, of course.  It was actually our choice for Spirits Awards Best Picture, thanks to yours truly, but that was more due to a weak slate of films than anything else.  By the way, guess how many Oscar nominations the film received.  Nope, too low!  127 Hours received six Oscar nominations: Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Score, and Song (winning none of them).  Still not entirely certain how that happened.  I mean, the film was decent, but I think it wouldn’t take you more than a minute or two to build a case that it shouldn’t have received anything but an acting nomination (and while Franco was great, you could certainly make the case for Gosling over him).

29. Ip Man

Streamed this at my brother’s place.  Contrary to what the description might seem to say, it is about the story of Bruce Lee’s teacher, it does not star Bruce Lee’s teacher.  Starring Donnie Yen, Ip Man is a martial arts movie kinda based on real life.  It tells the story of, well, Yip Man, the bestest martial arts master around.  Like most leads in films of this ilk, he doesn’t like to fight until really really pressed, but then he whips butt like nobody’s business.  The film gets a little weird in the second act, which takes places during Japan’s occupation of China, and a lot of interesting facts seem to be crammed in via text after the last shot.

28. The Four-Faced Liar

A New York indie relationship rom-dram, but this one actually seems to work.  Certainly not deserving of its low imdb score, which, I wonder, may be influenced by the fact that one of the characters ends up torn between a hetero relationship and a lesbian one.  Or maybe you just have to be in a certain sort of mood to watch the film, I dunno.  The movie is populated by people without much of a filmography, but I think that rawness comes into play here.  Call it more “natural” or “realistic”, if you’d like, I think it allows for a greater focus on the characters.

27. A Prophet

Actually nominated for an Oscar a year back, but as with many Foreign Oscar nominees, wasn’t really available until 2010, so that’s where I’m counting it.  A lot of people really really liked this movie.  Passionately so.  Which I’m not sure I entirely get, though it was very good.  A lot of praise went to newcomer Tahar Rahim, who plays a young inmate at a prison with sharp lines drawn between the Corsican and Arab inmates.  He was solid, but I was more intrigued by Niels Arestrup, a fellow inmate who is the don of the Corsican gang.  The ending felt a bit rushed to me, odd in a movie that was so long.

26. Get Him to the Greek

I get the feeling Get Him to the Greek is viewed as something of a disappointment.  I’m not entirely certain why.  The film grossed pretty much the same as Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And while Russell Brand was great as Aldous Snow in that one, how many people thought the character would hold up in much larger doses?  The breakout performer from the film, oddly enough, was P. Diddy, who played a delightfully bizarre character.  Rose Byrne was pretty funny, a side of her I hadn’t seen but was glad to.  And, as in most Apatow joints, there were a ton of fun cameos.

25. Nice Guy Johnny

Nice Guy Johnny provides an interesting case study on how to make and distribute a film.  The movie was shot on the most minuscule of budgets in something like a week and a half.  And it didn’t have a release in theaters, instead making its VOD and DVD release on the same day.  Of course, it is a lot easier to make all that happen when you have a film written, directed, and produced by Edward Burns.  In the film, Burns takes a supporting role as a lady-killer who ends up hosting his nephew for the weekend at a summer house.  Matt Bush (Adventureland) takes on the titular role as, well, a nice guy.  His passion is his late night radio sports talk show he hosts, but his fiancee wants him to settle down and find a real job.  So he goes back home for the weekend to stay with family and take an important interview she arranged.  But during the weekend he meets a lovely free spirit of a girl (Kerry Bishe) who changes the way he sees things.

I’m at the Vegas airport, my flight was due out at midnight, but currently delayed until 2 AM, and I’m a little tipsy.  I take no responsibility for anything contained in this post.  If you are looking for a chill bar in Vegas, I recommend The Griffin, on Fremont St., downtown.  And across the street, check out Insert Coin(s), for a bar (with a decent beer selection) that features a number of old school video games.  I got to instruct my co-worker on the cultural importance of The Simpsons and X-Men arcade games.

44. Winter’s Bone

We talked about the film plenty this year, and I reviewed the film way back in October.  As with most of the other Oscar nominees, I’m all talked out here, so let’s just keep it moving.

43. The Town

Another movie we tackled some this year, including a great post pulled together by John.  I think the film ended up a little too high on my list, but 2010 really was a subpar year for film.  Honestly, I’d already forgotten that Jeremy Renner nabbed a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in the movie.  Could we maybe institute a moratorium on Boston movies for a little bit?  The accent is annoying, and there are plenty of underused places in the US that would make for good locales.  Just saying.

42. Red

Red was a good idea, I just wish they fully committed to the absurdity.  Because this movie is, almost by definition, ridiculous.  If you are going to have Dame Helen Mirren machine gunning people, then just embrace that.  There was an undercurrent of seriousness here that I just didn’t get.  Not to say it was a bad movie, it wasn’t.  Just think there was the potential for something really great.

41. Dogtooth

I’m pretty certain Dogtooth is the most messed up movie I’ve ever seen.  It is just so (intentionally) wrong.  Just…wow.  To the point where I hope writer/director Giorgos Lanthimos (along with co-writer Efthymis  Filippou) seeks out therapy.  The fact that it received an Oscar nomination was heralded as a sign that the selection process for Best Foreign films was finally working.  Which may well be true.  But I think all the film’s advocates have some serious issues they need to work out.

40. Toy Story 3

Naturally came up a few times this year for us.  I gotta say, I’m baffled at the love for this film.  I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time bad-mouthing it, so I just want to clarify that I like the movie, but I didn’t love it and don’t see how others do.  It isn’t a bad movie, but not particularly compelling.  Pretty much just two hours of the familiar crew being placed in crappy situation after crappy situation.  Maybe because the characters mean so much from the first two movies that their predicaments felt a lot more meaningful for people?  I dunno.  To me, one great thing about Pixar movies is their heart, and I just didn’t see it here.

39. Salt

Questionable DC geography aside, Salt is a perfectly serviceable action flick.  Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer has come up with a bevy of thinking man’s thrillers, and he comes up with a good premise here.  The third act is a little disappointing, though, it felt like he could have gone a little deeper with the mysteries surrounding Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber (who between this and The Manchurian Candidate has found a rather specific niche for himself).  And hey, that was Smash from FNL as a CIA officer.

38. Date Night

Starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell, with cameos up the wazoo, Date Night should have been a home run, but instead settles for a double.  Which I’m inclined to lay at the feet of screenwriter Josh Klausner, who also wrote Shrek Forever After.  Man, can you imagine if Carell and Fey had co-written this bad boy?  The movie was generally funny, but I wouldn’t call the characters exactly in the respective wheelhouses of the leads.  And it doesn’t seem the film is sure exactly what question about their relationship is trying to be answered over the course of the night.

37. Kick-Ass

I mean, it was decent,  but given the hype, director (Matthew Vaughn), screenwriters (such as Jane Goldman) and cast (Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Mark Strong), I was kinda hoping for more.  I guess it was a little unsettling to see someone as young as Chloe Moretz being shot at by her character’s father, kicking butt, and tossing out curse words, but it takes a little more than that to rile me up.  Johnson does seem to have a promising career in front of him.  Also, I don’t know if it is the lack of vowels in her name or her lack of lines on HIMYM, but I was a little surprised to see that Lyndsy Fonseca is quite the fetching young lass.

36. Machete

Robert Rodriguez does a number of things very very well.  He’s probably got one of the best understandings of the sensibilities of Westerns of any writer or director working today.   Crazy shootout scenes with tons of guys going after each other?  Knocks that out of the park.  He can establish a certain gritty, Robert Rodriguez feel to a film.  He seems to work well with name actor and actresses, turning their roles in ensemble pieces into something memorable.  On the flip side, I’m not convinced he’s yet figured out how to put together a coherent story.

35. Leaves of Grass

In this Tim Blake Nelson film, Ed Norton plays…you may want to sit down for this one…a dual role.  He’s a well-regarded philosophy professor drawn back to his Oklahoma hometown at the request of his drug-dealing twin brother.  The rest of the eclectic cast includes Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Maggie Siff, Keri Russell and (that) Steve Earle.  The film may not be quite as insightful as it thinks it is, and occasionally veers into weird subplots (including one revolving around anti-Semitic graffiti spraypainted on the wall of a synagogue).  But it has a good heart and manages to be funny, interesting, and often insightful

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