Like everything I do, this is about a month late. However, it’s ready, I’m ready, you’re ready. Let’s do it.
Kind of a mess. A beautiful, stark mess. And not the good, Messterpiece kind of a mess. Just horribleness. Convoluted, boring, and dumb. Pretty visuals can’t save the lack of any real emotion or interesting narrative. Even Tom Cruise’s unequivocal movie star nature can’t save this hunk of junk. Time to leave it to the aliens or robots or cans of gray-brown paint that we were fighting in the war here.
26. Spring Breakers
I get it, everybody. I totally understand what Harmony Korine was doing here. So let’s not say that’s the reason for the low grade. Hey, spring break probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! Maybe drugs and violence are bad! I get it, thanks.
But the real crime here isn’t the obvious nature of the film, it’s the intense boringness. That might seem like an oxymoron but it really is an apt description. Everything is so there, so on the nose, so in your face, so over the top, so bright and colorful and yet so very uninteresting. It looks nice, I guess. There were pretty pictures to attempt to distract me as the same dialogue gets played over and over again. They mostly didn’t work. In fact, only two scenes put a smile on my face, one in which James Franco shows off all of his stuff, the other in which he and the girls sing a Brittney Spears song while dancing with guns and stuff, mixed in with a montage of them hijacking a party much like the multitude they attended earlier in the film. It was kind of a funny juxtaposition. And it looked pretty, again. If you thought this movie wasn’t for you, you’re probably right. If you thought this movie was for you, you’re probably right, too. It is trying some different things, it’s just that they’re all so dumb.
25. The Last Stand
Some crazy action. Nothing more, nothing less.
24. Jack the Giant Slayer
Could have been awesome. Was just ok. Ewan McGregor gets almost nothing to do, which is a shame. Needed more humor. Too serious.
Jessica Chastain is always good. Jamie Lannister goes into a coma halfway through. There are scary bits. The end is silly.
22. Oz: The Great and Powerful
Despite a boring James Franco and Sam Raimi’s penchant for women screeching, a surprisingly fun movie. Also, it lasts too long. Everybody not named James Franco or Mila Kunis does good work. Unfortunately, they form the dramatic core of the film. SCREECH!
21. Pain & Gain
Goes on for about half an hour too long. The middle didn’t need to be there. All three of the goofballs at the center of the film are very funny.
20. A Band Called Death
Punk music isn’t one of my favorite genres. I like my music to sound nice and generally not assault me. But whatever, because like most music docs A Band Called Death goes perhaps a little too far in praising the focus of the film. Death consisted of three brothers from Detroit who were making punk music two years before The Ramones. Also, they’re black. Between the proto-punk sound, the color of their skin, and the name of the band they never broke through into any real success. One of the brothers left the band and that was that. Death ended. That brother died years later and then, years after that, Death was discovered thanks to collectors and the internet. The kids of one of the brothers form a kind of neo-Death and perform the Death songs live to a clamoring audience. Death reunites and goes on tour and everybody is happy. It’s pretty standard stuff. Interesting enough but not groundbreaking. It feels like a long 90 minutes, with the history of the band taking up a full half of that running time. I found the discovery process more exciting and seeing how the surviving brothers react to the dead brother’s premonition of the band’s discovery coming true was perhaps the best part of the film. There’s not much going on by way of cool moviemaking either. Searching for Sugar Man is a very similar film but at least that one has the cool music videos interspersed throughout all the talking heads. There’s also the brothers’ enthusiasm to consider. Both seem to be very outgoing and gregarious and their passion is clear and infectious. Maybe fans of the music might find more to this film. For me it was merely good, not great.
19. Fast & Furious 6
I really liked Fast 5. It was big dumb fun. There were funny jokes and even funnier over-the-top action scenes. This is not that movie. The jokes weren’t as funny (and the word “joke” is stretching it a bit), the action was more incomprehensible, and the talky bits were less interesting than Fast 5. If all but one of your car action scenes are going to be at night you really should invest in cars that have different colors or something. It was all a bunch of lights shaking around the screen. I know they can do daylight scenes, I saw them in the last movie. And Lin could learn a thing or two from Sodaberg and how he shot the action scenes in Haywire. I’m sure these guys can pull off the punching parts, lets see it happen. I’m usually a shaky cam apologist but this just didn’t work. There’s a lot of talk about family and it’s fine, it’s just kinda silly at this point. It’s like these guys are a bunch of cultists who are indoctrinated to love, serve, and protect the family. I guess Vin Diesel would be the head of the cult, and every new member would be bathed in motor oil or muscle juice. Still, it’s mostly fun, just not as much fun as the previous entry. The end promises something big for Fast 7, though, so I’ll be there.
18. Man of Steel
A lot of flying and punching combined with Jesus imagery and chins. It’s not nearly as Snyder-y as it needed to be in order to be great. There are moments, including the opening scene and one where Zod goes inside Supe’s head. Some well thought out visuals there but it’s mostly kinda boring looking. Also, there’s not much that happens for a 2.5 hour movie. I’m tired of origin stories, though this one does a good job of chopping it up and giving it to us piecemeal. All the acting is fine to good. Michael Shannon could have had more to do as the one before whom we should kneel. And, like everybody else has said, way too much destruction in the last act (though it looks pretty good).
17. This Is the End
This movie is at once right up my alley and not really my cup of tea. While I love a lot of apocalyptic horror, I haven’t been enamored of the Apatow comedies. Only Superbad is really horrible (of the films I’ve seen) but none of their movies have even come close to a top whatever list of mine. So I approached this film with apprehension. Luckily, taking one of the biggest criticisms aimed at this group of actors is turned delightfully on its head when nearly everybody in the film plays a version of themselves. It’s a movie of cameos short (Michael Cera is maybe the funniest part of the film) and long (the six “friends” at the core of the film). The conceit of the film is the question, “What would happen if the apocalypse was a real thing and the only people left behind were a bunch of self-centered jerks who all just happened to be actors?” Even better, the movie does a good job of probing some semi-deep ideas about how actors think of themselves and what it takes to be a good friend. This is all couched in some genuinely funny setpieces ranging from genital humor to other genital humor. But seriously, there are quite a few funny scenes and the chemistry between everybody on screen is undeniable. Also undeniable: this being a first time directorial job for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They do some wacky fun things and like Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods, I’m impressed that they went as far as they did in terms of insanity-level, but they also show a few signs of not having everything figured out yet. It’s a good but not great movie lifted by the cast and conceit more than amazing directorial work. Oh, also the last five minutes are pretty awesome.
16. We Steel Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Anybody who has spent more than a minute or two on the internet or in front of a TV with the news on in the last few weeks probably knows about the big privacy scandals happening in the US right now. It’s clear we are living in an age of information and right now that information means leaks. This film endeavors to tell the whole story of WikiLeaks, the internet safe haven for people who want to release information that has been hidden from the public. But, similar to how Overnight chronicled how the ego of one man got in the way of his own dreams, the most interesting parts of this documentary are about the men behind the leaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.
15. Monsters University
What hath Pixar wrought? A prequel? 12 years after the first film? Breaking up perhaps the biggest strength of Monsters Inc.? Coming hot on the heels of Cars 2 and the princess movie Brave? This must be the end of the once impeachable studio.
Or it’s, you know, a pretty fun little movie. Adorable, even. It’s still something of a marvel that a world based on monsters that scare little kids for power isn’t actually a scary thing. In the full light of day these monsters are mostly cute. Furry, slimy, you name it, it’s here. The story is a little weak, mostly just a reason to have conflict between the soon-to-be best friends. Sound familiar? Pixar goes back to their first story with the Woody/Buzz relationship transposed onto Mike and Sully here. It works but it isn’t as much fun as watching them as friends rather than rivals. Throw in a few new characters (one, which has two extremely long legs on either side of its head, is nearly constantly hilarious) and you’ve got yourself something to do for an hour and a half. These characters are still strong, but it misses that crucial force of awesome that is Boo. Nothing here is as chaotic or cute as Boo. Still, it’s a good time and technically quite impressive.
14. John Dies at the End
Misses a lot of fun if extraneous stuff from the books. Because of that it’s a little less weird than it could/should have been. Which is saying something, because it’s plenty strange.
13. Behind the Candelabra
Sodaberg does his thing. He’s never made an uninteresting movie that I’ve seen. This is more or less straightforward, certainly not as out there as something like The Limey. Douglas does the best work I’ve seen him do and Damon is typically good. The Sodaberg touches are there in the plastic surgery scenes and the strangely comedic tone in the first third. It’s in the end that he pulls out at least some of the stops. I liked it. I could do without seeing another drugged out scene for a few years, though. Not as good nor as fun as Side Effects, but a worthy addition to his body of work. Let’s just hope it’s not the last.
12. Warm Bodies
Alternate title: Romeo and Juliet and Zombies. Funny and surprisingly touching, just not at all scary.
I’ve always thought that the found footage genre had a lot of potential. As long as each new film tries something different in either the narrative or technical realm (or both!), I’m all in. Last year’s V/H/S was a bit of a mess with too many pacing problems and too much people being idiots or evil in a dumb way. The only segment of the found footage horror anthology that really worked for me was the last. Still, I was anticipating the next entry in the series in hopes that they’d learn the lessons from the previous installment.
And lo! They did! This time around there’s still a dumb framing story but at least I didn’t loathe the people in it. Other than that framing story there are only 4 shorts here and it takes only 95 minutes to get through all of it. This alleviates much of the pacing problems from the previous movie. Also helpful: almost all the segments are really good. Most combine a clever conceit (a zombie mounted GoPro, a digital camera eye implant that acts suspiciously like the one in that Jessica Alba movie, a doc crew gets more than they bargained for when investigating a cult, and a doggy cam captures an alien invasion force) with surprisingly strong stories and scares. The digital eye thing was the only one that I didn’t really care for. It’s the first in the movie and pretty quick, so no worries. Both the zombie and cult shorts escalate in really fun and sometimes terrifying ways. The former has a bit of fun with the different zombie kill methods while the latter goes maybe half a step too far with the ending, but I really loved everything up to that. Maybe the best was the last, a sleepover turned scramble from really scary aliens. That one really uses the low camera angle to great effect, along with some spectacular lighting and sound use. There was still a little bit of squeemishness for me regarding the women of the film, but, again, way way less than the first film managed. A fantastic improvement to the series, I look forward to the next installment.
9. Star Trek Into Darkness
Too much fun to care about the iffy script. The action is fun, the design is great, and the characters are still really great to hang out with for two hours. All the actors are doing good work, Chris Pine and BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH(!) in particular. Yeah, the story is kinda silly and the stakes all but disappear with one crucial mistake in the script but who cares? There will probably be a better summer movie this year and maybe one or two that might be more fun and they might even have better scripts. I’ll still enjoy going back to this on blu.
Really funny. The darkest comedy outside NBC’s Hannibal this year. Does everything God Bless America should have done (being funny and not annoying at the top of the list there).
7. Iron Man 3
Better than the second film. Not as good as The Avengers or the first Iron Man (or Thor). Does enough fun things to cover over some problems in the script. Most importantly, it lets Shane Black work again. 8 years since Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang!
6. The Blue Umbrella
Clever, gorgeous, cute. Maybe it’s time for Pixar to do an anthology movie.
5. Side Effects
If this is the last theatrical movie for Soderbergh he went out as he spent most of his career, making a really interesting, slightly silly, technically proficient movie. Twists and turns keep the interest level high and Jude Law continues to be great.
Weird seems to be the go-to mode for Chan-wook Park. Whether it’s his internt-beloved Oldboy or his much better vampire-melodrama-comedy Thirst or this, his first English language movie. He’s always right on that edge between me buying completely into his films and throwing my hands up and walking away. Thankfully this one falls a little closer to the Thirst side of things in which everything is over the top and still restrained. It makes me feel like he was sitting behind the camera with a little sly smile on his face. There’s a bunch of weirdness in not only the characters and story but also the camera and sound work. Things just don’t feel right, nor should they given all the happenings of the film. A girl’s father dies mysteriously on her eighteenth birthday and at his funeral her uncle shows up for the first time in her life and moves himself in with her and her mother. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode are all excellent as the girl, mother, and uncle respectively. Mia can hear things normal people can’t, so the soundtrack is full of little things that would get left out of the mix in normal films (spiders walking, hairs getting brushed, the scraping of glasses on the table at dinner). And then there’s the actual drama of the movie, the dashing and charismatic uncle slowly seducing both women and unraveling his true nature. It’s a movie that grows into itself. At first you’re watching, confused as to why the camera is acting so strangely and why these characters seem to all be weirdos. Then as things get revealed it all falls into place. The last act is among the best of the year so far as things go crazy. I like crazy. If you’re going to do something, do it all the way. Stoker goes all the way and maybe even farther. And that’s why I like it so much.
3. Upstream Color
I really don’t like Primer. Some of you know this. I hate how boring it is, and how little emotional content Shane Carruth deigned to give us. Fear not! In his second film, Upstream Color, he goes in the other direction and makes a movie that has little actual plot and much feeling and pathos. It’s a movie about connections and romance and pigs. Led by a very strong Amy Seimetz and let down a tiny by by Carruth’s own acting, it’s a movie that is certainly more assured than its predecessor, with a strong visual and aural style that does more than exist. They work together to enrich the experience of watching the film (and what an experience it is, totally mesmerizing) where Primer’s visuals followed its characters lead: straightforward and to the (dull) point. Everybody says its Malick does sci-fi. They ain’t wrong, for all the good and the little ill that implies.
2. Evil Dead
Yet another horror remake. Or reboot. Or reimagining. Re-something. This time I didn’t have much fondness for the original film(s) with their propensity to mistake loud noises for scares and near-complete lack of acting skill on display. This film takes what works about those, the premise and creativity with the camera, and adds in some great actors, a story with at least a little bit of depth, and buckets and buckets and buckets of blood. The cabin is now the location for a young girl’s cold turkey drug withdrawal for which her friends and estranged brother tag along. In the basement they find a book and, as they must, read it. Demons come, people die and get dismembered, not necessarily in that order. The drama of the first third is actually important to the rest of the movie, a rarity among horror films these days. The possession-as-addiction metaphor really works and makes the third act more than just over-the-top wackiness. Not that the over-the-top wackiness is bad. It’s great, actually, and launched the film up to my second favorite of the year so far. Crazy, good, crazy-good.
1. Pacific Rim
This movie needed to do one thing for it to be a success for me: I needed to have a big dumb smile on my face throughout most of the film. Well, Mission Accomplished. The creature design, the mecha design, the sets, the sounds, the props, the jokes, the Elba, the shoes. Everything is so right. It’s just so great to have a skilled director steering a movie like this. del Toro understands that movies like these are supposed to be fun. In a world where Superman is full of grays and seriousness Pacific Rim wears all of its colors on its sleeve and they’re all neons. It’s the most psychedelic movie since Speed Racer and Guillermo Navarro lights the heck out of the movie. So we’ve established that it looks great, how about the sound? That’s great, too. Roars and punches and crunches and metals. See this movie as loud and big as you can. The story does what it does. The central character is probably the least interesting part of the movie and once or twice they stray from the core of the film for a hair too long. Still, Idris Elba plays a fantastic old, worn down sheriff of an old west (well, Hong Kong) outpost with giant mechs at his disposal and Ron Pearlman makes the most out of a little part. Charlie Day’s enthusiastic monster nerd is basically just a younger, less accented del Toro, marveling at the creatures’ grandeur just like del Toro’s inner child would.
But those elements alone wouldn’t make me smile. No, it takes something more than looking and sounding and moving good. It takes that wonder, that special thing that only the movies can give you. Not since Jurassic Park has there been a wonder movie like this one. One fight in particular between two monsters and one robot is probably the best thing since sliced bread. Hell, unsliced bread. So big, so well shot, so wonderful.