I saw 30% of all the movies released theatrically this year. I say this to put this list into context, and to show my complete lack of any expertise. My three blockbusters did not disappoint: The Avengers is probably the most fun I have ever had at the movies (it was my childhood dreams come true), Prometheus was a visual masterpiece (hopefully Scott will make more genre features), and The Dark Knight Rises was a satisfactory conclusion to Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Two other movies that made a ton of money, but got panned by critics were The Amazing Spider-Man, which I think is the second best Spidey movie, and Skyfall, which was so much better than Quantum of Solace, a lot of people dubbed it the greatest Bond movie (it’s actually Casino Royale).
Before I get into the list, I want to drop five comedies that I think you should check out. These movies were not only funny, but had heart and brains:
1. 21 Jump Street – ignore what you think about this from marketing, hilarious.
2. Seven Psychopaths – Absolutely hysterical, plus it has the best cast of any movie this year.
3. Sleepwalk With Me – An unexpected journey into the brilliant mind of Mike Birbiglia.
4. Safety Not Guaranteed – Almost made the Top 5 list. Science Fiction, Comedy, Romance, plus a “wam-bang finish”
5. This is 40 – I love Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Apatow knows how to make an awkward moment super funny.
Now, the list. Remember, these are my favorite. They are not necessarily the best.
5. Looper – Rian Johnson is a magnificent storyteller. This movie was ambitious as it was inventive. It had a very realistic impression that made it easy to ignore some of the plot holes. I am partial to Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. The three of them were great in this movie about choices, time travel, and love. While I did not like it as much as Brick, it made me think and left an impact on me. I am eagerly anticipating revisiting this film and hope that Johnson makes more in the genre.
4. The Cabin in the Woods – This “genre-bender” was so unexpected; I didn’t even get to see it in theaters. Luckily I went in without knowing much about it. That is the way to see this movie. If you don’t like horror, fine, this is not a horror. Just a great movie that is fun, and interesting, and does not fit into any stereotype of any characters or plots. Joss Whedon’s finger prints are all over this. I guarantee this will become a yearly viewing every October.
3. Django Unchained – The older Tarantino gets, the less he embellishes himself in his movies. Both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained are perfectly executed. Django was well-paced, fun, violent, and was a great “western”. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz had a chemistry that oozed off the screen and the show was stolen by Leonardo DiCaprio’s psychotic villain. While I do not believe that Reservoir Dogs has stood the test of time, I believe this movie shows that QT has fully matured and become a completely realized and capable director and writer. I want to see more and more.
2. Cloud Atlas – This is a movie that I ear-marked as “suspicious”. I was interested in seeing the latest from The Matrix creators, The Wachowskis. The first trailers looked kind of cool, and the closer the release date got, the less interested I became. Then I saw the movie and was not immediately moved. It was not until the second viewing that I started analyzing and thinking and feeling what the movie was about. This is a movie to be experienced multiple times, each time learning more about yourself and the story. The visuals were unsurprisingly stunning, the score was fantastic, and the acting was superb. This is one of the most ambitious movies ever made, therefore it has imperfections. But there are so many layers and emotions to be uncovered in this film, that the journey is the most important thing. It delivers beyond hope in that regard. This movie can change the way you look at big budget studio films.
1. Moonrise Kingdom – I have been a vocal supporter of Wes Anderson since I saw Rushmore. I love every one of his movies; this may make me extremely biased. I love The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited more than The Royal Tenenbaums. This may make me a “hipster” and it most definitely makes me a blind supporter. I do not care; Moonrise Kingdom was such an amazing movie! It had that awesome 60s atmosphere with the best cast Anderson has put together yet. It was about children, without watering them down and making them “cute”. It had depth and meaning and if you cannot relate to any of the characters, you probably don’t have a soul. I am not quite ready for this to dethrone Rushmore as my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it is close.
You may be asking where Lincoln and The Master fit. They don’t. I thought Lincoln was really interesting, but we all knew how it was going to end, and it felt like a History Channel special. I had extremely high hopes for The Master; I really liked all of P.T. Anderson’s previous films. I think There Will Be Blood is one of the best movies ever made, it had emotional weight. The Master was interesting, and the actors were phenomenal, but I never felt strong emotions about the characters or the story. This may be a fault of mine and not the director.
I also hated Killing Them Softly. Brad Pitt was good, but the movie was bland and nearly put me to sleep.
Chronicle – out of left field! Great movie.
Dredd – one of the best pure and brutal action movies made in a long time. Inspired by, but not too much like The Raid.
The Comedy – not a true comedy, but Tim and Eric are brilliant.
Other movies I liked:
Zero Dark Thirty, Holy Motors, Argo, Ruby Sparks, Flight, The Grey, Your Sister’s Sister, Lawless, Life of Pi.
5. Synthetica – Metric. I have liked most of what Metric has put out since I first heard “Black Sheep” in Scott Pilgrim. The heavy beats, Emily Haines’ beautiful voice, electronic over lay, etc. is a great package. This album takes a step beyond what was done on Fantasies and other works. It not only has the synthesizers and passion of your typical Metric record, but the song writing is the best yet. Listen to the lyrics and they are not angry or sad or happy, they are introspective with something to say about youth in North America and where these generations are going. Great stuff.
Suggested tracks: Speed the Collapse, Breathing Underwater, Clone.
4. Celebration Rock – Japandroids. I am late to this band. This album is so good; I may not listen to their first one. I loved the feeling of nostalgia mixed with modern awareness, what does that mean? Imagine if Who’s Next was written and came out today. It is heavily influenced by that classic The Who album, but it has a sensibility about current adolescence. Japandroids understand what young people are thinking, but also know that all teenagers are self involved and will get over it. I love the raw love of classic rock that oozes from this album; I will listen to it over and over again.
Suggested tracks: Adrenaline Nightshift, Continuous Thunder, Younger Us.
3. Transcendental Youth – The Mountain Goats. I just discovered TMG this year, it’s an awesome feeling to find a massive backlog of a band that you really enjoy. The vocals and emotion timed with radical swings in music make for some of the best listening in modern music. Transcendental Youth is no exception. It starts out with a song about Amy Winehouse and “all the Amy Winehouse’s in the world”, simple, sweet, and sad all at the same time. They are a little older guys, but they a so connected to the world of music and the culture that every day people come in contact with. They understand your feelings, and they can put words to it. Plus this album has a killer close in title track.
Suggested tracks: Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1, Cry for Judas, Harlem Roulette, Transcendental Youth.
2. Put Your Back N 2 It – Perfume Genius. This is the album I have listened to the most this year. I love it from beginning to end. Mike Hadreas is a breath of fresh air to me. His music is hypnotic and his vocals are haunting. He is so open and honest with his feeling and his being and he is sharing it with everyone who will listen. I listened to this album all the way through twice before looking him up and watching his videos, dude is a pure talent who shows his vulnerability while grabbing you by the hand leading you through the pain. I haven’t really absorbed his other work yet, but this album really connected to me on a deep emotional level. I hope I get to see him live someday.
Suggested tracks: Hood, Dark Parts, No Tear.
1. Attack on Memory – Cloud Nothings. As much as I enjoyed PG, this album was the most fun, rocking, potential classic of anything else I listened to this year. It transported me to younger days and made me want to pull out my guitar and jam. I believe the best albums make you want to take action. This one did that. Shadows of Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, and Zounds are obvious. It just bangs and rises, then floats down. From beginning to end it is steering-wheel-bashing goodness. I look forward to listening to this again, and to what Cloud Nothings will do next.
Suggested tracks: Stay Useless, Wasted Days, No Sentiment, Cut You.
Hands of Glory – Andrew Bird
Reign of Terror – Sleigh Bells
Port of Morrow – The Shins
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II – Earth
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
I know it is almost March, but the last two months have not been noteworthy. This list is based on release date, not excitement level for the film. I will also break the normal routine and add some honorable mentions.
Project X – 3/2
John Carter – 3/9
The Hunger Games- 3/25
The Cabin in the Woods – 4/13
The Avengers – 5/4
The Dictator – 5/11
Brave – 6/22
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – 6/22
G.I. Joe: Retaliation – 6/29
The Amazing Spider-Man – 7/3
The Dark Knight Rises – 7/20
Total Recall – 8/3
The Bourne Legacy – 8/3
Looper – 9/28
Skyfall – 11/9
Gravity – 11/21
Les Miserable – 12/7
World War Z – 12/12
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 12/14
Cosmopolis – TBA
Seven Psychopaths – TBA
5. The Master – TBA – Directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern. Loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and the creation of Scientology
4. Moonrise Kingdom – 5/25 – Directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. Starring Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman. Anderson bias, summer camp, and kids in love.
3. Prometheus – 6/8 – Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Charlize Theron. Ridley Scott doing science fiction in the same universe as “Alien”.
2. The Great Gatsby – 12/25 – Based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgarton and Tobey Maguire. One of my favorite books, a great director, and maybe the best character fit for DiCaprio.
1. Django Unchained – 12/25 – Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz. Tarantino doing a post-Civil War Western.
If only half of these are as good as I am expecting, then it will be a fantastic year in movies!
Over 250 films are released in the average year. I do not get to see even half of them. That being said, I saw a lot of movies this year. Marvel literally exploded, David Fincher continues to put out great products, and Woody Allen won me over again. Some of my favorite filmmakers did not contribute to this year, so for me it was a bit of a down year. Down in that there were only about 20 films that I really liked. Of those 20 or so, these are my favorites:
5. X-Men: First Class – this is what an X-Men movie should look like. Thanks to Bryan Singer’s vision and his involvement in this picture, I believe we have come full circle since the 2000 cinematic super hero explosion. Singer produced and Matthew Vaughn directed this long delayed, much changed, rushed version of the beginning of the X-Men universe. Vaughn’s follow up to Kick-Ass, this film marks his first attempt and big time Hollywood blockbuster. Taking place in the 60s at the height of the Cold War, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr meet, become friends, and introduce the world to mutants. It was executed perfectly, mainly because the casting was so fantastic. Fassbender as Magneto was inspired casting in the class of Patrick Stewart, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger. This movie is cool, historical, fun, and makes you feel something other than just visual stimulation. It makes me excited to see what will happen next with my favorite super hero franchise.
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- This did not originally make the list. It was because I wanted to avoid comparison with the original and the source material, plus I always put Fincher in my Top 5. After a second viewing, I knew that I enjoyed it so much; I could not leave it off the list. This mystery-thriller that takes place in Sweden is a return to form for David Fincher. Think back to his 90s films that were edgy, witty, and unapologetic. Se7en, The Game, Fight Club; these films caused some outcry about desensitization and the current state of movies. This film is dark, depressing, exciting, and has the perfect amount of Fincher charm. A story about a washed up journalist who is trying to solve an old case, then gets mixed up with a girl with a shady past and together they uncover years of deception, hatred, and cruelty. Rooney Mara is someone to watch in the future, I have been cheering since her small role in 2010’s The Social Network, also a David Fincher movie. Though not an original piece of work, this movie was great and, I think, better than the Swedish version. Nice to see that Fincher still has the Indie chops after a decade of Zodiac, Benjamin Button, and The Social Network. Plus the opening credits are really cool.
3. Drive- This was the most unexpected film of the year. Ryan Gosling is usually pretty good, I do not flock to his movies the way some people (read: critics and girls) do. But, this film was masterful on his part. He is a reserved individual with a great talent for driving for whoever offers him work. He has a moral code that keeps him alive. When he breaks that code and falls for a girl, trouble follows. This movie has a great soundtrack, style, atmosphere, acting, etc. etc. Just a great piece of realism and understatement. If you like the grand theft auto games, if you like Gosling, if you like mob movies, or you just like good movies; check it out.
2. Midnight in Paris- A somewhat unexpected addition to the list. I like Woody Allen films, but I don’t typically love them. Annie Hall is good, Scoop is great, and there are a couple in between. Then there are the bad ones too. I will leave my opinions on those as to let you decide how you like your Woody Allen. Midnight in Paris is a great one. Owen Wilson is back to his element of being a little self-deprecating and witty as opposed to boyish and charming. I like Wilson like this, let Luke be the good looking one. Only a few movies make me want to see Paris, 2 are on this list. The more I think about it though; it is not modern Paris, but the pre-WWII France that I desire. Much like Owen Wilson’s character, I love the 1920s. Hemingway, Dali, and probably my favorite, Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby was the start of obsession with the roaring 20s. The cast is great fun and well put together in small and large roles a like. I think Woody Allen is at his best when adding a little fantasy and philosophy to his films, so much as to avoid some of his neurotic overplaying of relationships. This is solid romantic comedy with an original take and lighthearted attitude.
1. Hugo- I was able to avoid seeing this in 3D, I believe that made all the difference. There is so much to say about this film, but I will edit myself. It takes place in 1931 and primarily in a train station. A story of a boy who has lost his father and whose imagination sets him on a journey that is not at all self-serving. That is a great delight in modern cinema, a hero who in the end helps someone else more than he helps himself. Set in Paris after the first war, the depth and atmosphere that Martin Scorsese creates is fantastic and shows his love of film history. I am no scholar of film, but I know the story of Georges Méliès and fell in love with the pictures from A Trip to the Moon in collage. This is the best PG movie I have seen that was not Pixar in a long time. It captures to the wonder of motion pictures and the purity of children who experience them, not just view them. The only other film that I have seen that balances childhood, adventure, and a history of film so well is Cinema Paradiso. Movies do not have to be gimmicks and mindless entertainment; they can mean something and speak to our inner adventurer who we have hidden since we “grew up”. This will be a film that I will revisit throughout the years.
Another year done with movies and I feel I fall further and further behind, I saw what I could and enjoyed myself immensely.
5. Bon Iver- Bon Iver, Bon Iver
This was at the top of a lot of lists. I really liked it; they matured a lot with this album. It breaks from some of their normal tendencies and takes some electronic risks that pay off. Anyone who hasn’t heard them is missing out on a great band with a bright future.
Selected tracks: Holocene, Beth/Rest
4. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
This was one of my most anticipated albums of 2011. It is Woody Guthrie back from the dead. Great folk poetry and lyrical hooks and harmonies that get stuck in your head. Robin Pecknold shines brightest yet on this album, his voice is soothing, while challenging. Great road trip record.
Selected tracks: Helplessness Blues, Grown Ocean
3. Middle Brother- Middle Brother
Yet another folk album. This was the best one in a long time. Best new band, hands down. Comprised of songwriters from Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit. I think they are better than the other 3 bands combined. It is witty, self-deprecating, funny, and soulful. It rocks like the Beatles and then rolls like Dylan. Must listen to for hipsters and folk lovers alike.
Selected tracks: Blue Eyes, Middle Brother
An unexpected wonder that was unequalled last year. Thanks to good friend for suggesting and making me listen to this album. I had given up in this band, but this record renewed my faith. Solidly at that. It is musically their best work, vocally their best work, and lyrically genius and funny. I listened to this album more than anything else in 2011. Go. Buy. It. Now.
Selected tracks: Second Song, You
1. The King of Limbs- Radiohead
There is so much to say about this album. I did as much when it was released. Other than the Beatles, I do not know of a band who consistently raises bar with every single album without fail. While it may not be my favorite Radiohead album ever, it is their best musical work to date. I am not sure why I am writing this. You either like Radiohead and already know all of this, or you don’t and this album can’t change your ignorant opinion. I know, a little harsh.
Selected tracks: Lotus Flower, Codex
Not a GREAT year for music, but a pretty good year. All said and done, I did not have a musical void to fill with billboard top 20, so from that viewpoint, I am pleased.
I am a big fan of animated feature films. I would say that animated films are the reason that I love the medium today. I grew up watching Disney’s Robin Hood, The Hobbit, and An American Tail. These and many others set my on the path to become the film-loving man I am today.
The myths and legends are told through animated films. Modern storytelling to children is done through movies like the Secret of Nimh and Sleeping Beauty. Fortunately cartoon movies have grown and evolved, they have surpassed many of the live action features that come out today. Studios like Disney, Dreamworks, and Studio Ghibli have made a library of continually quality films.
Here are my top five favorites, they may not be the best, but I enjoy them the most.
5. Titan A.E. – A science fiction adventure story in the class of Star Wars, Titan AE tells the story of a reluctant hero who must save what is left of the human race after the destruction of earth. The animation, story, and characters are perfectly positioned for any kid or adult who loves sci-fi epics. The voice cast includes Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, and John Leguizamo. This movie plays out as a heartfelt, action-packed story of love, betrayal, and the human spirit.
4. The Iron Giant – The last great hand-drawn American feature is The Iron Giant. Set in the 1950s amongst beatniks and the red scare, there is a story of an alien robot who crash lands in small town USA. A little boy befriends the robot that has been damaged and is activated as a weapon when attacked by the military. The boy and his family must save the robot and help bring understanding to the community. This story resembles classics like E.T. and Close Encounters, adults do not understand how to interact with aliens, little boys who watch sci-fi television do. The voice talents in this movie include Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Vin Diesel. Brad Bird is the directing force behind this simple wonder.
3. The Incredibles – Another Brad Bird directed film, this one with the power of Pixar behind it, The Incredibles takes everything Stan Lee created with Fantastic Four and improved upon it. The story of a family of superheroes that must fight an egotistical villain, it is perfect. It is funny, exciting, and it’s about protecting the people around you by being honest with yourself. I grew up watching comic book based cartoons and am very familiar with Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the like, this movie is a wonderful depiction of that world. Great for children and adults, The Incredibles is a must see. The voice cast includes Craig T. Nelson, Jason Lee, and Holly Hunter.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle – Myazaki. In my opinion, the greatest animator of all time, he even surpasses Walt Disney. He has created such classics as Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo. This is my favorite of his films. It is about a girl who is transformed into an old hag by an evil witch, the girl then stumbles upon the mysterious wizard Howl and his fire demon Calcifer. They must combine their forces to defeat a growing evil. The thing this movie has more then any other animated feature I have seen is the deep fantasy that expects you to accept everything you see without asking questions. You sit in wonder as this masterpiece unfolds before you. The English dubbed version is voiced by Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Blyth Danner, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer. See this if you have the chance, but at least go add Ponyo to your Netflix instant queue.
1. Toy Story – This is the most sentimental of all the movies on this list. I hold it dear because I was Andy. I had a Wolverine action figure and a Luke Skywalker action figure that were my favorites, they are worn out and heavily used, but I still have them in the attic. I was 8 when I saw Toy Story in theaters and I remember being in awe, not just of the animation and the jokes, but of the entire story and real it felt to me. The journey of rivals becoming friends and discovering themselves in order to return their owner. John Lasseter developed the original story for The Brave Little Toaster and that eventually grew into what would become Toy Story. Pixar blasted onto the scene with a smash hit that set the bar extremely high for animated features to come, they have yet to disappoint. I plan on getting down my box of action figures soon, but for now my son is content wearing his Buzz Lightyear pajamas and being completely obsessed with all three Toy Story movies. The incredible voice cast for Toy Story includes Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, and Jim Varney.
Next Top 5 – Appreciating the Unappreciated: Top 5 Directors who have never won an Academy Award.