My Top 10 Films of 2011

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Most critics seem to be in agreement that 2011 was not an especially great year for film but there were nevertheless gems to be found if you did a little digging. I did a lot of digging last year, more than ever in fact, surpassing my previous benchmark (by about 30 films) by viewing a record 103 films in the theatre in 2011. And that’s not including about a half dozen of those which I saw more than once. Much of this is due to the fact that I took my first trips to the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, and began writing a bit more seriously about film at The Playlist on Indiewire, and consequently here. If you’re like me you have already read 1,000 other Top 10 lists - and you’ve read the films that won’t be appearing here - so let this be the last (and hopefully best). There’s always an instinct when you start reading other lists to start rearranging your own but I tried - this year more than ever - to go with my initial instincts and not be swayed by critical consensus. Here are my favorite films from 2011.

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1. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
The elements are all familar - a man with no name, a woman in trouble, a criminal kingpin, a femme fatale and a heist gone wrong - so how is it that “Drive” feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before? Director Nicolas Winding Refn fuses his gonzo arthouse sensibility onto a Hollywood genre film and the results are riveting. Despite a well traveled plot, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire film with no idea what was going to happen next. The opening establishes an expectation and then the rest of the film proceeds to dismantle that expectation, scene by scene. The opening getaway is thrilling in its quiet precision. Then comes the neon tinged opening credits with “Nightcall” synths blaring and you wonder if this is supposed to be for real. And then about thirty minutes or so into the film comes the first burst of violence - so strong and so unexpected you could see the hands going up all over the theatre - and you realize this is for real.

Then comes the strip club, the elevator, the chinese restaurant and you start to wonder why every movie isn’t this movie? And with your jaw still hanging open you start to get a little angry with other, lesser, filmmakers for being so lazy. Director Refn re-imagines the heist film as a neon noir fairy tale where anything can happen and no one is safe. You might have to go back as far as “Pulp Fiction” to find a filmmaker who fused pop music and images quite as effectively as Refn does here. But unlike Tarantino’s sprawling, verbose scripts, “Drive” is incredibly economic. Scenes that in lesser films would be full of exposition, here have been shaved down to the bone. You get everything you need without a wasted moment. I had such a strong, visceral reaction to the film I have a hard time relating to anyone who doesn’t love it. This was the best film of 2011.

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2. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Despite taking home nearly every critics award, there has been quite a backlash building for “The Artist,” which I could understand if it wasn’t so damn good. Look, I was skeptical too. Snatched up by The Weinstein Co. just before it’s Cannes debut, this seemed like exactly the type of movie that usually gets on my nerves: an exercise in nostalgia aimed squarely at the older Oscar voters that make up the bulk of the Academy. (Otherwise known as Oscar Bait.) And on top of that, it had the added gimmick of being a silent film. At its NYFF premiere I skeptically spent the first few minutes resisting its charms, wondering what purpose other than novelty a silent film could serve in 2011. But within minutes all of that cynicism melted away and I thought, ‘Fuck that. I love this movie.’ I was utterly charmed by stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, dazzled with the way Hazanvicius used the format as a storytelling device while playing with conventions and by the time the film ended I was incredibly moved. Wiping away a few tears I thought, ‘if this wins Best Picture, I’m totally okay with that.’ A great film.

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3. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
In the six months since “Bridesmaids” became a massive box office hit, I’ve been thoroughly baffled by the conversations I’ve had with people about the film. If you thought it “wasn’t that funny” or that it was “just okay,” I don’t know what to tell you other than that you probably don’t deserve a comedy this good. Not every scene is designed for laughs and that’s what makes it brilliant. It’s a film with the confidence, nay balls, to let the audience breathe for a minute and watch star/co-writer Kristen Wiig make a cupcake. Why? Because it’s an important character beat. In any other studio comedy, this would have been the first thing to go. Thank producer Judd Apatow, screenwriters Wiig and Annie Mumolo and director Paul Feig for having the courage to go for humor and pathos, creating some of the most memorably awkward sequences (in a good way) since the U.K. “The Office.” Melissa McCarthy has been deservingly receiving praise for her performance but the entire cast shines here with Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph and Wiig absolutely nailing every scene. I’ve seen the film four times now and I could watch it again right now. The best comedy of the year and one of the best films period.

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4. Attack The Block (Joe Cornish)
Hype can be a killer. And after a raucous almost-legendary Midnight premiere at SXSW, was there any way “Attack The Block” could possibly be as good as it was supposed to be? Yes, it can. Dumped in the middle of summer with a non-existent marketing campaign, it’s already a cult classic in the making. Centering on a group of young teens in South London fighting off an alien invasion, there are nods to the 80s cinema of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg but they feel lived in, genuine, as if they’d been absorbed naturally rather than studied. Like “Shaun of the Dead” or “District 9” before it, the film has a distinct voice - in this case first-time filmmaker Joe Cornish - and you can see his fingerprints all over the film. And Cornish has more on his mind than simply recapturing an era. He’s been inspired in equal part by his experiences growing up there and the issues of race and class that the film hints at make it a lot more substantial than your typical alien invasion flick. And that’s not even mentioning Thomas Townend’s ultra-saturated cinematography, the propulsive score by Basement Jaxx, wonderfully stylized creature design and the ending which is likely to raise your goosebumps as it did mine. Believe.

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5. Young Adult(Jason Reitman)
Speaking of backlash, sometime around the time Diablo Cody collected her Oscar for “Juno” most of the world’s cinephiles collectively decided the screenwriter was a hack. Which is too bad for them because I suspect now they’re going to be eating those words. Hilarious, uncomfortable, sincere and devoid of the stylized dialogue she has long been criticized for, this is the film that should silence any and all of her detractors. Charlize Theron-in a brilliant, monster performance-stars as an author of young adult novels who returns to her hometown to win back her married high-school boyfriend. It’s an uncompromisingly ugly portrayal that movie stars do not give very often if ever, and she does it without prosthetics or distractions. I’ve liked each of director Jason Reitman’s previous films but felt they each received a bit more praise than they were perhaps deserving. Ironically “Young Adult” is his best film to date and it’s being completely ignored principally because he made a film where the lead character is unlikable. She’s not Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” instead resembling a female version of Noah Baumbach’s acidic (and underrated) “Greenberg,” another love-it-or-hate-it proposition dividing viewers who simply didn’t want to spend time with a prick. It’s their loss, the film is a career best for all involved.

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6. Hanna (Joe Wright)
One of my earliest favorites this year, “Hanna” reminded me of a lost Danny Boyle film from the 90’s. Director Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice”), here making his first steps into the action milieu, is an outsider to the material just as Hanna is to the civilized world and the disparity proves galvanizing for the filmmaker. A preternaturally sharp Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character, a young girl raised by her father (Eric Bana) in the woods and trained to be an expert killer until she is no longer content to live in seclusion. On the run, she’s hunted for as-yet unknown reasons by a CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) as she has her first experiences with civilized mankind. Puzzlingly, audiences and certain critics don’t seem to get that it’s a fairy tale. Yes, Blanchett is over-the-top but everything here is amplified. This is the same film that with a straight face introduces a suitcase with a giant blinking red button and sets the finale in an abandoned Hansel & Gretel house. So yeah, the film isn’t wholly concerned with approximating reality. And that’s okay because the reality of the film works and works wonderfully.

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7. Shame (Steve McQueen)
Somehow I was late to the game on British artist-turned director Steve McQueen (no relation). I hadn’t seen his first film until a few weeks before his latest was set to unspool at the Toronto Film Festival. But in a way I’m glad it happened that way because the one-two punch “Hunger” and “Shame” - both with awe-inspiring performances by star Michael Fassbender - have convinced me McQueen is one of the most exciting new filmmakers working today. Fassbender gives arguably the single best performance this year as Brandon, a Manhattan advertising executive whose sex addiction begins to spiral out of control. Carey Mulligan is atypically cast as Cissy, his dramatic younger sister who comes to stay with him. Carefully framed with beautiful, precise, long takes McQueen doesn’t spell anything out for you but doesn’t drag things out either. As it builds to it’s “Requiem For A Dream”-esque climax, his filmmaking demonstrates such confidence you can see why stars like Brad Pitt are dying to work with him.

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8. Like Crazy (Drake Doremus)
After similarly themed films like “(500) Days of Summer” and “Blue Valentine” became successful, I’m surprised that Drake Doremus’ Sundance darling didn’t find a bigger audience. Without the arch stylization of the former and exaggerated melodramatics in the later, “Like Crazy” may be the best of the bunch. On the surface, it’s simple. A boy and a girl fall in love in college and after graduation enter unwittingly into a long distance relationship. From there, things become complicated. But the way the story is told - full of perfectly realized moments, painful and true - as it skips forward in time dispensing with overused cheap dramatic moments like ‘will they or wont they’ and cutting right into the heart of the ‘it’s already done.’ Felicity Jones delivers a breakout performance in the film, whose only real flaw is Anton Yelchin. While he’s not bad in the role, he lacks the necessary charisma for making you fall for his character at the beginning of the film. But if you can suspend disbelief long enough to say “okay, they love each other,” you’ll be helpless to defend yourself from the remainder of the film where it takes your heart and rips it out. Initially my second favorite film at Sundance, “Like Crazy” actually jumped into first position after a second viewing in October rendered it even more impressive 10 months later.

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9. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
Upon seeing the original Swedish version of the international bestseller, I questioned, “How David Fincher will make anything interesting out of this I have no idea.” While still hampered by the whodunit source material, Fincher does everything in his power to turn the procedural potboiler into high art and very nearly succeeds. Keeping the momentum from “The Social Network,” this film retains key members of production (including DP Jeff Cronenweth, composers Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross and editors Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall) who are all firing on all cylinders here. The results are intoxicating. Fincher is aesthetically unsurpassed by almost anyone working today and ‘Dragon Tattoo’ is a visual and aural marvel. Rooney Mara is everything she needs to be to portray the iconic Lisbeth Salander: a complex, mesmerizing human character and Daniel Craig - who hasn’t really found a good role since becoming Bond - is a perfect fit as Blomkvist. If the film is not on the same level with the director’s best work (“Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac”), it’s only because he’s set the bar so high.

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10. Kill List (Ben Wheatley)
A former soldier is pressured by his wife and their grim financial situation to take the occasional job as a contract killer. Against his better judgement he takes on a job - the “kill list” in question containing several seemingly unrelated targets - even after red flags start being raised and things spiral out of control from there. To further describe what makes this film great would be to rob you of the pleasure of seeing it for yourself. Violent without being gratuitous, with turns you would never see coming from the outset, the easy rapport between leads Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley keeps the film alarmingly watchable even as the rug starts to get pulled out from under you and you’re not even quite sure what kind of film you’re watching. Suffice to say this British chiller is one of the most distinctive and indelible genre efforts I’ve seen in some time and I’ll likely be recommending it to friends for years to come. “Kill List” is available OnDemand starting today. Don’t miss it.



Runners Up.

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11. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Rodman Flender)
One of the most overlooked documentaries of the year. Directed by O’Brien’s Harvard classmate Flender, this warts-and-all tour doc gains unfettered access to the self deprecating late night host, revealing sometimes bitter though always hilarious dimensions to his enthusiastic onscreen persona. An illuminating (though not always flattering) portrait of the comedian.

12. Beginners (Mike Mills)
Graphic artist turned filmmaker Mills’ warm, semi-autobiographical account of his father coming out of the closet at 75 (played wonderfully here by Christopher Plummer) has divided critics sharply between those that found it too precious and those that fell head over heels for it. For me, the film has only grown in my estimation upon repeat viewings where the film’s heart-on-a-sleeve construction has really worked its charms.

13. George Harrison: Living In The Material World (Martin Scorsese)
I had the pleasure of seeing Scorsese’s epic 3 1/2 hour doc on the big screen during the NYFF and as many times as I’ve heard The Beatles story told in countless articles, books and other films, Scorsese along with editor David Tedeschi manage to make it feel exciting again. The audio mix for the soundtrack alone deserves an award.

14. Submarine (Richard Ayoade)
Initially my favorite film from Sundance ‘11, this underrated British coming-of-age film suffered from (unavoidable) comparisons to “Rushmore” But unlike many deadpan also-ran’s, Ayoade’s film has the style and heart to pull it off thanks in part to newcomers Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige and the filmmaker’s varied influences. And it’s got a killer soundtrack.

15. Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen)
This comic fantasy casts Owen Wilson stars as Allen surrogate Gil, a frustrated screenwriter who idealizes Paris in the 20’s. The actor brings his laid back delivery to Allen’s usually high-strung dialogue and the contrast is unexpectedly brilliant. While not one of Allen’s great films, it was one of the best times I had watching a movie all year.

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16. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Alex Stapleton)
B-movie king Roger Corman may be responsible for helping to launch the careers of countless Hollywood legends - from Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson to Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard - but has never really gotten his due until now. This lovingly crafted doc traces Corman’s 50+ year career on the outskirts of the industry with insightful interviews from his many protégés.

17. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates)
Despite never having read the books, I’ve enjoyed my annual trips to Hogwarts over the last decade and though I never became a full Potter-phile, something became very clear during the terrific closing chapter of Warner Bros. unshakable franchise: I’m really going to miss these characters.

18. Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo)
A Mexican beauty pageant contestant gets kidnapped by a drug lord and forced to become a runner for his gang. It may sound dire but through Naranjo’s lense, it becomes the framework for a sparse first-person thriller. Shot in incredibly long fluid takes, Naranjo takes potentially bleak subject matter and turns it into invigorating cinema.

19. 50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
A cancer comedy is an extremely risky move so credit director Levine and screenwriter Will Reiser for nailing just the right mix of emotion and laughs with with this inspirational dramedy inspired by Reiser’s own battle with the disease. Features strong turns from an unsung Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Rogen who shines by bringing his comic persona into a more dramatic film.

20. Super (James Gunn)
My pick for the Most Underrated Film of 2011, Gunn’s superhero satire is funny and weird and surprising in ways that can’t easily be summed up. Alright, fine: it’s like a darker, weirder “Kick-Ass” with Rainn Wilson from “The Office” as a depressive wannabe superhero and Ellen Page as his sexy sidekick.

Notable: Arthur Christmas, Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey, Captain America: The First Avenger, Friends With Kids, Horrible Bosses, The Ides Of March, Jane Eyre, Moneyball, Win Win, X-Men: First Class.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 review

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It’s over. Ten years later and I can hardly believe it. I can’t imagine how fans of the books are feeling right about now. As someone who has (taken a lot of shit for having) never read the books, I’ve always been a casual fan of the series. I enjoy each movie for what it is and have respected the series as it’s grown darker and more adult but never quite gotten what the fandomania was all about. Taking each film on its own has always been somewhat disappointing because you always end up feeling like the best bits are still to come. So after seven films of build-up I was excited to finally reach the conclusion of the epic series. Fans of the books may find reasons to nitpick (as is usually the case) but I thought the finale is pretty consistent in quality with the last few films in the series and a fitting final chapter.

The film picks up right where the last film left off and there’s a rather long dialogue scene with a goblin that probably could have been cut down. But once they’re off on the dragon 20 minutes or so later, the film is off and running and doesn’t slow down for long for the remaining 95+ minutes. There is also less room/time for humor in this one as things with Voldemort around have gotten understandably dark. For all the series foreboding there’s never been much danger because there really have only been a few major deaths in the entire series. Additionally, it’s hard to feel worried for any of the characters when there seems to be almost no limit to their magic. (“There’s a spell for that.”) It’s like a little deus ex machina’s every time they bring out their wands. This being the last film you would think they have a chance to add some gravity to the situation by offing some minor characters, but it’s really kept to a minimum. But the fights are cool, the actors have really grown into their roles and I was actually a little moved by the ending.

The best thing about the Harry Potter films is that they convincingly create a world. Hogwarts, muggles, quidditch, not since “Star Wars” has any series been able to integrate so much into the lexicon. And that’s primarily thanks to JK Rowling’s books of which you feel like you’re really only getting a peak at during the films. The most disappointing thing about the films is that they fail to satisfy as standalone installments. Each one is a little mystery that you can’t possible solve because the clues either aren’t given out in time or in some cases probably aren’t given out at all. The films are made to appeal to fans of the books first and win over new fans second. It’s not a bad strategy as one can imagine the series going much further off course trying to appease a larger audience but it’s left some potential fans like myself out in the cold.

The Harry Potter films have stayed incredibly consistent though and have achieved something no other film series in history has managed to do for more than 3 films (which is rare enough). They made 8 quality films where the weakest were actually the first two and they only seemed to get better from there. Looking at 90% of the films that qualify as blockbusters these days it’s even more amazing to see what Warner Bros. has pulled off here. Even with the special effects and action sequences, these films are really unlike anything else that’s ever been attempted. They started adapting the books before they even knew what the ending would be and managed to keep the entire original cast (sans Dumbledore) in tact through all the films. It’s only now at the end that I realize the destination wasn’t as important as the journey. I’ll really miss this world and these characters. It’s probably time to read the books.

13 Films I Am Probably Definitely Going To See This Summer

Summer Movie Season is once again upon us which means for the next 3 months multiplexes will be pummeled with all manner of potential blockbusters. Some of these films I couldn’t be less interested in (“Transformers 3” “Pirates of the Carribbean 4” etc.), some I’m really looking forward to, while some I’m more curious about than anticipating. Alright, May to August here we go!

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1. The Tree Of Life (May 27)
Not exactly what you think of when you think of Summer Movie Season but it could end up being a smart bit of counter programming for Fox Searchlight. Terrence Malick’s long in-the-works drama (it was on my Most Anticipated list in January of 2010) stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and at least one dinosaur. Watch the trailer.

2. Super 8 (June 10)
J.J. Abrams super secretive tribute to Amblin-era Spielberg. All signs are pointing towards this being the one Summer Blockbuster you wont feel guilty about rewatching come fall. Watch the trailer.

3. Bridesmaids (May 13)
Paul Feig (“Freaks & Geeks”) directed, Judd Apatow produced (duh), Kristen Wiig co-scripted/starring comedy that got huge buzz from SXSW. I think this is going to be great. Watch the trailer.

4. Beginners(June 3)
Mike Mills semi-autobiographical indie dramedy about a father (Christopher Plummer) coming out to his adult son (Ewan Mcgregor) picked up rave reviews at TIFF and SXSW film festivals. Watch the trailer.

5. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II (July 15)
The final chapter in the seemingly never-ending Harry Potter series. The films have gotten increasingly interesting as they’ve gotten more adult, and this one should have the one thing all the other installments lacked: a proper ending. Watch the trailer.

6. Haywire (Unknown)
If Steven Soderbergh is true to his word that means he’s only 5 films away from retirement. Regardless of his hits and misses, I always look forward to what he’s doing next and this looks to be something in the fun “Out Of Sight” mode he hasn’t revisited in a while.

7. Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
I wasn’t the world’s biggest “Iron Man” fan but I recognized it as a pretty good superhero film, (the stuff with RDJ was great, everything that happens after he puts on the suit = Zzzzzzz), but I give director Jon Favreau credit for knowing just how to appeal to fanboys. Watch the trailer.

8. X-Men: First Class (June 3)
I wouldn’t have been interested in this film at all were it not for Matthew Vaughn (“Kick Ass”) in the director’s chair. But the films 60s setting, promising cast and offbeat director made me think this could be something different. However, some of the images from the film have made me a bit worried. Watch the trailer.

9. One Day(August 19)
I don’t know what it is about Anne Hathaway but ever since “Rachel Getting Married” I am drawn to her movies. Even when they are “Love & Other Drugs.” This time she stars in a romantic drama from the director of “An Education” that checks in on a couple on the same day every year for 20 years. Bad wigs ensue. Watch the trailer.

10. The Hangover Part II(May 26)
I liked “The Hangover” but I didn’t think it was nearly as funny as most people seemed to think it was. I was thrilled to see Zach Galifianakis get a launching pad but the film itself was a mixed bag. Regardless of if the sequel is any good, it will make a billion dollars. Watch the trailer.

11./12./13. Thor/Green Lantern/Captain America: The First Avenger (May 6/June 17/July 22)
The B-Team. While I’m still skeptical of these films as I’m getting pretty exhausted of the superhero origin story, I need something to tide me over until the main attractions next year: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Man Of Steel,” and “The Avengers.” Now that’s going to be a Summer. (Technically Superman opens in the Fall, whatever.) Watch the trailer(s): [T] [GL] [CA]

Also: 30 Minutes Or Less, Cars 2,Crazy Stupid Love, Horrible Bosses, Midnight In Paris.

My Most Anticipated Films of 2011

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1. Moonrise Kingdom
dir: Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore)
Anderson’s 7th film is set in the 1960’s as 2 twelve year olds fall in love and run away from their New England town.  Cast includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and 2 yet-to-be-named pre-teens.  As much as I’ve been disappointed by his recent films I’m still hoping he’s got another classic in him.  This could be it.

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2. The Tree Of Life
dir: Terrence Malick (The New World, Days Of Heaven, Badlands)
This was in the same spot last year but now we’ve got a trailer and an actual release date.  The film features Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as father and son, (in the 1950’s and present day), and will probably be beautiful (as long as it’s not boring.)  I’m pretty sure the dinosaurs are out, though.

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3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
dir: David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en)
Fresh off his Best Picture win for The Social Network, (you know it’s going to happen), Fincher has turned his attention to an adaptation of the first installment in the incredibly popular Millenium Trilogy.  I saw the Swedish original and had a hard time picturing anyone turning it into something interesting but if anyone can do it, Fincher can.  (Benjamin Button notwithstanding.)

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4. Hugo Cabret
dir: Martin Scorsese (Kundun, The King Of Comedy, Boxcar Bertha)
Martin Scorsese ditches Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time in a decade to adapt this book about an orphan living inside a train station in 1930’s Paris.  The film stars “Hit Girl” Chloe Moretz along with Christopher Lee, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jude Law among others and will be filmed entirely in 3D.  (Not kidding.)

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5. Super 8
dir: JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III)
I’m not sure exactly what this is about and I like it that way.  I do know it stars Kyle "Coach Taylor" Chandler, Elle Fanning (who was amazing in Somewhere) and appears to evoke an 80’s era Spielberg.  JJ Abrams loves "mystery boxes" and next summer I’m going to open one with Super 8 inside.  Watch the teaser.

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6. Contagion
dir: Steven Soderbergh (Che, Traffic, Erin Brockovich)
In case anyone thought Soderbergh was taking it easy this year, (after releasing 4 films in 2009), he’s already got 2 films ready to go for 2011.  The 2nd of which is Contagion, a CDC centered action-thriller with a huge cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cottiard, Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston, etc. etc.  He doesn’t need to retire, he just needs to slow down! 

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7. Haywire
dir: Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!, Solaris, Out Of Sight)
That other Soderbergh film, which will be released first, is Haywire.  A gritty spy thriller described as “if Alfred Hitchock made a Pam Grier movie”, this one stars mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano backed by another sizeable cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael’s Douglas & Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas.  I almost got to see it last month but apparently that was impossible.

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8. Submarine
dir: Richard Ayoade (TV’s ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’)
This one came out of nowhere at the Toronto Film Festival where it got ecstatic reviews and I decided I had to see it as soon as possible.  The quote that got me was: “A coming of age story which is equal parts Rushmore, Election and Squid and the Whale.” and if everything works out that will hopefully be in about 4 weeks at Sundance.  Please let everything work out.

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9. The Descendants
dir: Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election)
Somehow it’s been almost 7 years since Payne’s last film hit theatres.  In that time there’s been a lot of Payne-lite, (The Weather Man, Up In The Air, etc.) but there’s no substitute for the real thing.  George Clooney stars as a man trying to reconnect with his 2 daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.  He will probably find himself in painfully awkward/funny humiliating situations.

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10. The Skin That I Inhabit
dir: Pedro Almodovar (Broken Embraces, Volver, Talk To Her)
This one is going to be dark.  Antonio Banderas reteams with director Almodovar for the first time in 2 decades starring as a plastic surgeon hunting for the men who raped his daughter.  Yikes!  But I’m sure it will still have the directors trademark color palette, a beautiful score and a tone that switches from melodrama to comedy and back again.  I hope.

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11. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Ryan Gosling is a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver.  From the (insane) director of Bronson and also starring Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston.

12. Hanna (Joe Wright)
It looks like a remake of The Professional from the director of Pride & Prejudice.  Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana.  Watch the trailer.

13. Your Highness (David Gordon Green)
Unofficial Pineapple Express sequel, set in medieval times, swaps Seth Rogen for Natalie Portman AND Zooey Deschanel.  Sounds like an upgrade.  (Sorry Seth.)  Watch the trailer.

14. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II (David Yates)
The last last finally last and final Harry Potter film.  I can’t wait.  No spoilers.

15. Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau)
I’m still not sure how much I trust Jon Favreau to direct action, but I do trust Daniel Craig to be a badass.  And it would be great for Harrison Ford to have a role that wasn’t terrible.  Watch the teaser.

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16. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredsen)
A Cold War espionage film starring Thomas Hardy, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth would be exciting.  But that film directed by the guy who did Let The Right One In is a must-see.

17. This Must Be The Place (Paolo Sorrentino)
The insane director of Il Divo brings you Sean Penn, (dressed as Robert Smith from The Cure) stars as an aging rock star who sets out to find his fathers executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal.  

18. X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn)
I had about zero interest in an X-Men reboot until I saw Kick-Ass and they set the film in the 60’s.  Now I have a lot of interest.  They even hired January Jones so I keep picturing Mad Men-era X-Men and I can’t not love that.
 

19. Sucker Punch (Zach Snyder)
While it looks way too CGI heavy for my liking, it also looks insane.  And once every 2 years I kinda look forward to a Zach Snyder film.  Watch the trailer.
 

20. The Muppets (James Bobin)
A brand new Muppets film, from the writers of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the director of Flight Of The Conchords.  It might actually work.

Also released: While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach), Young Adult (Jason Reitman), Source Code (Duncan Jones), Beginners (Mike Mills), War Horse (Steven Spielberg), Paul (Greg Mottola), 30 Minutes Or Less (Ruben Fleischer), The Sitter (David Gordon Green), Wanderlust (David Wain), Bridesmaids (Paul Feig), The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips), Twixt Now and Sunrise (Francis Ford Coppola), The Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard), One Day (Lone Scherfig), We Bought A Zoo (Cameron Crowe), The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg), Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird), Cars 2 (John Lassetter), The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry)

My Top Films of 2010: Runners Up

I saw a lot of movies this year: 65 films in the theatre and at least a dozen more 2010 releases at home.  So because I saw way too many movies to be contained in a Top 10, (and because I couldn’t bear to make that post any longer), here are the rest of my favorite films of 2010.  

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11. Blue Valentine
Emotionally devastating indie with great performances from stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  The film examines the beginning and end of their relationship and the contrast between scenes is heartbreaking.

12. Kick-Ass
Not the spoof you might think, it’s actually a relatively straightforward superhero story peppered with moments of dark comedy and shockingly over-the-top violence.  Features incredibly entertaining performances by Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage.

13. The Fighter
It looks like another bland feel-good boxing movie but it’s not.  The film has a real energy and authenticity that sets it apart from typical sports films.  Christian Bale is a force of nature here and it’s good to see David O. Russell back in the director’s chair.

14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 
The darkest film in the series is entertaining whether you’ve read the books or not.  (I haven’t.)  The cast have all grown into their roles and director David Yates seems to be wrapping up the series on a high note.

15. Never Let Me Go
Beautiful but emotionally distant dystopian sci-fi film from director Mark Romanek.  Cast Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield all do great work but the film’s script is missing that little extra something to make it great.

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16. The Town
Thanks to a great cast including Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall, this is one of the most entertaining films I saw all year.  And with Ben Affleck’s smart direction, (who would have thought?), I didn’t even have to feel guilty about it afterwards.

17. Let Me In
Writer/director Matt Reeves very nearly succeeds in making a film that can stand beside the Let The Right One In as a worthy alternate version.  He creates a few sequences that are superior to the original but stumbles during a few crucial moments and doesn’t quite get there. 

18. Frozen
The only film to make this list that I didn’t see in the theatre.  This thriller will have you on the edge of your seat literally talking back to the screen.  It’s smart, has believable dialogue, great acting and a premise that will make you never want to ski again.  Please watch this one.

19. Animal Kingdom
Australian crime drama features multiple standout roles as each member of the Cody clan appears even more dangerous than the others.  It was a hit at Sundance but, like most Sony Pictures Classics films, got lost in it’s theatrical run.

20. Waking Sleeping Beauty
A great documentary about the dark days of Disney Animation and their resurrection in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  It’s fun to see future titans John Lasseter, Tim Burton and Brad Bird here but it’s even more amazing to see the warts-and-all turmoil from the usually squeaky clean studio.  I have no idea how they were able to release this.

Notable: Best Worst Movie, Catfish, Four Lions, Inside Job, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, Un Prophet, Shutter Island, Somewhere, True Grit.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

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Though I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, I’ve been a fan of pretty much all of the films.  It’s been great getting to see the stories get darker as the audience grows older.  I really have to give Warner Bros. credit for doing such an amazing job with the franchise.  Can you think of any other film in history that was any good after the 3rd or 4th?  And that’s just when the Harry Potter films were beginning to ramp up.  Now we’re on the 7th film, which is the series darkest yet.  I really enjoyed the "sex, drugs and wizardry" of the last film, Half-Blood Prince and those more mature elements are carried over here.  (An awkward dance to Nick Cave’s “O Children” is a definite highlight.) 

It’s also interesting to see the characters on the run, after so many years in the fantastical confines of Hogwarts, it’s even more surreal to see them strolling through London.  (Hey, I’ve been there!)  My only real gripe with the series is that each film feels like a chapter in a larger book.  And never is that more true than in this film which has halved the final book into 2 installments.  Without having read the books it’s hard to say how much there is left to tell, but it’ll be exciting to finally get some closure to the story so it’s individual pieces can be admired more in retrospect. 

Most Anticipated Fall Movies 10

September is here which means the dismal Summer movie season is winding down and it’s time to start looking forward to all the movies coming out between now and the end of the year.  Here we go…

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1. TREE OF LIFE (Unknown) Not much more is known about reclusive director Terrence Malick’s fifth film than it was when I wrote about it at the beginning of this year.  Supposedly it "will change the language of cinema" and (even though there is still no release date) will supposedly open by the end of the year.

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2. BLACK SWAN (December 1) Watch the trailer and tell me this doesn’t look amazing.  You can’t.  Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder star in Darren “Requiem for a Dream” Aronofsky’s psychological thriller about rival ballet dancers. 

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3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (October 1) Yes, “the Facebook movie”.  The trailer is brilliant and early word is that the movie might actually live up to it.  David Fincher shows he isn’t concerned with replicating reality as he magnifies events to near-operatic levels.  It’s a movie about computer nerds but shot like Se7en, what’s not to like?  

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4. SOMEWHERE (December 22) Sofia Coppola returns with a film that looks like it could be a spiritual sequel to her breakout Lost In Translation.  Again, a fantastic teaser gives you glimpses of this story about a bad boy actor and his daughter living in the Chateau Marmont. 

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5. TRUE GRIT
(December 25) The Coen Bros, who seem to be alternating between shit movies (Burn After Reading) and great ones (A Serious Man), can hopefully put one more in the “win” column here. Their first western is about a US Marshall helping a young woman track down her fathers murderer.  It reunites them with “The Dude” himself, as well as Josh Brolin and first-timer Matt Damon.

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6. NEVER LET ME GO (September 15) Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and (future Spider-Man) Andrew Garfield star as kids who grow up in a “seemingly idyllic” boarding school.  Unfortunately the trailer gives away a pretty significant twist in the “seemingly boring” setup, but without spoiling I’ll say it’s vaguely sci-fi and you will probably cry.

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7. THE FIGHTER (December 10) David O. Russell jumpstarts his comeback with this true-life story about boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward.  Stars Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo mean the studio is probably counting on some awards here and luckily Russell is one of 3 directors who can direct Wahlberg to a good performances. 

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8. HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I (November 19) I’ve never read the books but the movies have become consistently entertaining and the trailer for the latest and penultimate Potter film looks like the final installments are going to be EPICI’m probably not the only one excited for this. 

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9. TRON: LEGACY (December 17) I’ve never seen the original but am interested in this one for the art direction alone.  CG Jeff Bridges looks worrisome and I’ve heard that lead Garrett Hedlund’s performance might not be exactly award-worthy but Daft Punk did the score and it looks visually stunning so they’re probably getting my money anyway.

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10. LET ME IN (October 1) On the surface, remaking one of the best horror films of the last decade would be a huge mistake.  But damn if it doesn’t look like they’ve gotten it right.  Cloverfield director Matt Reeves seems to have a lot of reverence for the novel as well as the original film so maybe it’ll be possible to love both?

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11. THE TOWN (September 17) I’m still getting used to the idea of Ben Affleck the director, but Gone Baby Gone was a really good movie.  And he’s assembled an interesting cast for his sophomore effort: Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively star in this heist-gone-wrong film.  I’ve actually avoided the trailer because I heard it was too spoilerful so I’m excited to see this one blind.

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12. 127 HOURS (October 22) I’ve always been a Danny Boyle fan and (barring Sunshine) have enjoyed all his films.  Slumdog Millionaire may have been overrated (certainly it wasn’t Best Picture) but it was cute and enjoyable.  James Franco stars in his latest, about real life mountain climber Aron Ralston’s attempt to save his own life after being trapped for *titular line* 127 hours.

See how last year turned out.

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

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Sex, drugs and wizardry. Half-Blood Prince follows the series maturation into darker, funnier, more hormonally charged material. As someone who hasn’t read any of the books I have enjoyed the movies but never become an obsessive. I liked the first film for introducing the world of Hogwarts and setting up the characters, Prisoner of Azkaban is the series high point (thanks to the magic of director Alfonso Cuarón), and Goblet of Fire & Order of the Phoenix I liked successively a bit less.  My biggest problem with the films has been that they feel like chapters of a larger story with the best stuff is always right around the corner.

For the great first two hours of Half-Blood Prince (it was 2 1/2), it seemed that everything that kept getting put off in earlier films was finally starting to happen. Romances were everywhere, evil forces were gathering, and the stakes just seemed to be higher.  In the final half hour I saw they weren’t going to get to everything I had hoped in this film but hopefully the payoff will be worth it.  If the ending of the film hadn’t been ruined for me I might have enjoyed it even more than I did, which was quite a bit.  Six films down, two to go.

13 Films I Am Probably Definitely Going To See This Summer

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I like summer. As I get older I get less excited about the movies coming out, but there’s usually a few that I eagerly anticipate and a dozen or so more that I see anyway because I am a geek.  Alright, May to August here we go!

1. FUNNY PEOPLE (July 31)
Even though the trailer gives away the entire movie, I am definitely going to see this.  I’m a huge fan of Freaks and Geeks (which Apatow produced), liked The 40 Year Old Virgin, loved Knocked Up and have extremely high hopes for this. While I am really hoping that this trailer does not give away the entire movie, even if it does it will still be the best.
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2. UP (May 29)
I am definitely going to see this.  I don’t think there is anybody that doesn’t know that Pixar is the best.  Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ratatouille.  All classic.  I will pretend Cars never happened if you will. 
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3. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (August 21)
Despite Quentin Tarantinos films having taken a nosedive since Kill Bill Vol.1, and the fact that Brad Pitt’s accent is way over the top, and that they let Hostel director ElI Roth act in what appears to be a substantial role I am still definitely going to see this. Despite all that, I really want this to be good.
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4. BRUNO (July 10)
I am definitely going to see this because all indications are that it will be the funniest movie anyone has ever seen.  Borat was not ruined by the hype and I refuse to be disappointed by this either. 
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5. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (July 17)
I will probably regret openly wanting to see this movie, but for now I actually do want to see this movie.  A lot. If this movie is terrible I’m sure I will edit this post and replace it with Wolverine so we can pretend like this never happened.
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6. STAR TREK (May 7)
I don’t know anything about Star Trek but I am definitely going to see this because JJ Abrams knows how to make a summer movie.  The buzz on this from geeks and critics so far is way positive and that’s good enough for me.
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7. THE HANGOVER (June 5)
I will definitely see this because I think it will be hilarious.  I love Zach Galifianakis and I’m pretty sure by the end of this year, middle America will too.
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8. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (July 15)
I like the Harry Potter movies but I am definitely going to see this because my girlfriend is more excited about it than most people will ever be.  I like the movies and this one looks dark and good.
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9. TERMINATOR SALVATION (May 21)
I will probably see this even though it is a Terminator movie where they replaced James Cameron with McG!  But Christian Bale gives it credibility and the trailer is completely bad ass, so this might actually be fun.
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10. DRAG ME TO HELL (May 29)
I will probably see this even though Sam Raimi doing a PG-13 horror movie scares me.  Will it be the Sam RaimI who made the Evil Dead trilogy or the one who made Spider-man 3?  Fingers crossed for an uncomfortable hybrid.
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11. THE BROTHERS BLOOM
(May 15)
I will probably see this because a year or so of delays and mixed word of mouth can’t completely deter my excitement for this con man caper.  I loved writer/director Rian Johnson’s debut film, Brick and I like Wes Anderson, which this very much seems to resemble.
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12. PUBLIC ENEMIES (July 1)
I will probably see this.  It’s Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale and Michael Mann can be a really good director when he’s not making MiamI Vice. 
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13. TETRO (June 11)
I might see this because I’m interested in Francis Ford Coppola reinventing himself as an independant filmmaker.  If it gets panned at Cannes I will probably say I still want to see it, and add it to my Netflix queue where will remain for over a year unwatched. (Sorry Youth Without Youth!)