This was a bad year for movies, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t see at least 25 good ones. It bothers me that my list consists of a few foreign films and documentaries, since most people won’t even know what those were. That should be an incentive to go find them. Since the last of the Blockbusters went out of business this year, it’ll mean a trip to some of those obscure video stores that are still standing (Kennsington Video on Adams Avenue, for one)…or use your Netflix, On Demand, or whatever avenue you use for movies you missed during their theatrical release.
Critics always release their best/worst lists in December. It’s amusing how the movies on critics’ worst lists are the ones that audiences usually flock to. A perfect example to illustrate this – I just added up the domestic box office grosses for my Top 10 list. Those 10 movies combined made around $98 million. Just one movie on my worst list, Hangover 3, made just over $112 million.
As Ray Walston said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “What are you people, on dope?!”
10. Side Effects. Supposedly director Steven Soderbergh’s last movie. I’m hit-and-miss with his work, but this story has Jude Law as a psychiatrist prescribing a new drug to dragon tattoo girl Rooney Mara. Everyone’s world ends up unraveling. A few minor flaws, but a lot of fun.
9. The Short Game. Justin Timberlake was fun as a folk singer in Inside Llewyn Davis (a movie that made most critics list of best films). Timberlake produced this documentary about the best child golfers in the world. Stage mom, meet sports dad.
8. Philomena. Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. What more do you need? It’s the true story of a woman in Ireland that had her baby taken from her by nuns. With a premise like that, you’ll be surprised to find out – you actually laugh. A lot.
7. The Broken Circle Breakdown. There were some good foreign films this year, and this one has the bizarre premise of being a musical about a bluegrass band in Belgium, and a young girl dying of cancer. You’ll never again be as depressed as you are, while simultaneously tapping your toes.
6. Rush. Ron Howard’s take on the real life rivalry of 70s Formula 1 racers. It’s great to see Thor put down the hammer and put his hands around a steering wheel (and a lot of ladies).
5. What Maise Knew. Another Steve Coogan movie making the list. He’s a charming, but horrible father. Julianne Moore is a lot less charming, but an equally horrible parent. They’re getting divorced, and the young lovers they have end up on babysitting duty. It’s heartbreaking (note to self: you’ll never have a job writing movie poster tag lines).
4. 20 Feet From Stardom. The engrossing documentary that follows the lives of various back-up singers. You’ll know all the songs. They sing the parts you sing along to when it comes on the radio.
3. The World’s End. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can do no wrong. I saw this wacky comedy four times in the theatre, and laughed just as hard each time. It’s fun to see Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) with a mug of beer in his hand, trying to tolerate guys he could barely stand in school, as they try to complete a pub crawl and deal with things like bad marriages, midlife crisis, and weird townsfolk.
2. The Hunt. This foreign film won awards at Cannes Film Festival, and in our voting at the San Diego Film Critics Society, it was tough for me to choose between this and Broken Circle Breakdown for best foreign film. Unfortunately, it was Drug War that won. Well, you can be the winner if you seek out this and The Broken Circle Breakdown.
1. The Way, Way Back. Every year I get other critics making fun of me for something I liked. They did it when Step Brothers came out. They did it when I put Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on my Top 10 list. This is the movie I’m getting heat for loving this year. I brought eight different friends to see it, which meant I saw it five different times. I adored it each and every time. It’s a great coming-of-age story, with stand-out performances from the kids – and performances from veterans Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell that should, but won’t, get award nominations.
Honorable mention goes to: The Act of Killing (voted “best documentary” in the San Diego Film Critics Society and everywhere else), The East (the latest from Brit Marling), documentaries aka Doc Pomus, Cutie and the Boxer; Seth Rogen’s hysterical This is the End, and In a World…a great debut from writer, director, and actress Lake Bell about the world of voice-overs.
Unfortunately for movie critics, it’s always easy to compile a list of the worst movies. Here’s my Top 10.
10. Stoker. Director Chan Wook Park can certainly shoot a scene (no pun intended), yet he wastes a talented cast (Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver) to make artsy-fartsy garbage.
9. The Hangover Part III. The second movie recycled jokes from the first movie. This doesn’t recycle jokes. In fact, it has no jokes. Now, I commended comedian Zach Galifianakis for rallying the cast to get behind kicking Mel Gibson out of the second movie. Why couldn’t he have gotten them together again, and demanded they fire the screenwriter?
8. After Earth. Everyone loves Will Smith on screen. Even in bad movies, he brings a charm and sense of humor. This is easily his worst performance, as the miserable father of his real life son, who for some reason, he seems intent on forcing down our throats. Well…his kid was awful in this, too. I was rooting for the creatures to win. How about Will send him to high school and let him have a normal childhood. Does he really want his boy ending up like one of the Drummond kids from Diff’rent Strokes?
7. The Terrible Two’s: Kick-Ass 2, Red 2, Anchorman 2, Grown-Ups 2. Truth be told, didn’t care much for the first of these films, but all had a touch of originality. The second ones recycled jokes that were barely funny the first time.
6. Battle of the Year. It’s weird, Chris Brown and Terrance Howard can beat up women and still get cast in movies. Brown is horrible in this story about an alcoholic dancer who gets “one last chance” to turn his life around. He puts down the bottle, picks up a whistle, and coaches a bunch of inner city kids in a world wide dance competition. The dance sequences were repetitive, the story sophomoric, and my only good memory from it was critic Scott Marks buying me a large popcorn.
5. An Animated Tie: Monsters University and Planes. We liked Planes when it was Cars. We hated when it was Cars 2. This trend of making weak sequels to animated films that were successful the first time, really needs to stop. Studios know you’ll all bring your kids, no matter how bad the scripts are. Despicable Me 2 had a handful of clever scenes that just barely keep it off this list.
4. The Last Stand. Arnold Scharzenegger makes a return to the type of pictures that made him famous. He’s a small-town sheriff that has big time bad guys arriving. Jackass Johnny Knoxville plays the sidekick. And, I never thought I’d utter the following phrase, but here it goes: I liked him better with the 18 inch testicles (Bad Grandpa).
3. De Niro Double-Feature: The Family and The Big Wedding. We’ve all joked about how talented Robert De Niro is, and how awful it is that he keeps doing crap and collecting paychecks. The Family is an idiotic story about a mob family in the witness protection program. The Big Wedding is the big disaster that wastes a lot of talent, in that old story about a wedding where everything goes wrong and everyone hates each other. After watching this, I hated every one of them (and you know how hard it is to hate Diane Keaton? She’s friggin’ Annie Hall!)
2. Ginger & Rosa. This movie really wasn’t bad enough to make my Top 10 of the worst, but so many critics praised it – I felt the need to offset that. It has a few talented actors – Oliver Platt and Annette Benning – it has a Fanning kid, and it tries to go deep with this early ‘60s story about art, poetry, protests. It’s boring, pretentious garbage.
1. Evil Dead. An unnecessary remake that I walked out of. It’s a horror movie that is never scary, just gory. Watch it at your own risk.
Honorable mention: Fill the Void (foreign film about Hassidic Jews in Tel Aviv), Admissions (Tina Fey/Paul Rudd), August: Osage County (Meryl Streep overacting), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Peeples (with one of the funniest guys, David Alan Grier, not being funny).