BEST ONSCREEN TREND
Depressing dramas hidden inside movies advertised as crowd-pleasers
Denzel, Liam Neeson, Batman and Bruce Willis all had movies this year that you thought would give you an adrenaline fix. Psych! Sneaky marketers advertised exactly what you wanted, then pulled a switcheroo, giving you lessons on existentialism, economic philosophy, lies serving a greater good and the ripple effect of your seemingly insignificant choices. Those grim realities might have turned some audiences off, but for me, all four movies (Flight, The Grey, The Dark Knight Rises and Looper) were all gifts to smart moviegoers.
MOVIE THAT WOULD HAVE MADE AN AMAZING PLAY
The acting on display in Steven Spielberg’s likely Best Picture winner is too good for me not to put it in my honorable mentions, but I surely would not say it’s one of the more enjoyable films of the year. Whether that means you can’t take me seriously is up to you. But Tony Kushner’s script, which is quite remarkable, feels incredibly stage-bound. Were Lincoln a play with this same cast, one I would have been fortunate enough to see on Broadway, I would have bawled my eyes out and declared it the greatest play of the last 50 years. But as a movie, featuring rather uninspired cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, it’s pretty dull. Sorry, everyone.
When you direct one of the 10 best movies of the last decade, you have a lot to live up to. When you wait this long to deliver something else, the expectation is that you at least waited for the right project. But Ruby Sparks is a colossal misfire. Unbearably twee, its preciousness is overbearing. It adds nothing new to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie and wastes a talented cast so we can spend more time with an asshole writer and the literal girl of his dreams, whom he mistreats the entire time just so he can feel a little better.
COMEDY THAT NEEDS TO BE REDISCOVERED
Not only were there too many good movies this year, there were too many movies period. Sacha Baron Cohen’s return after the disastrous Bruno was a scripted affair, and it was a good change of pace for a man who is far too recognizable to pull off his guerilla comedy. It features the single funniest moment of the year, one that has to be appreciated in the context of this frequently hilarious film. And unlike, say, This is 40, The Dictator clocks in at under 90 minutes. (Video NSFW)
BEST ROCK DOC
Shut Up and Play the Hits
A beautiful visual document of LCD Soundsystem’s last hurrah and the hand-wringing that went into it, courtesy of a piercing interview led by Chuck Klosterman.
MOST UNFAIRLY MALIGNED (tie)
The Amazing Spider-Man and The Bourne Legacy
These fourth entries/reboots were both terrific entertainment on their own merits, but got kicked repeatedly by critics. Dubbed “shameless cash-grabs” more than once, they were unfairly dissed. If neither film was of quality, those claims would be deserved. But both were great times at the movies and worth watching again.
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE
I can hear the chorus of haters now. But they’re missing out on one genuinely funny movie with great music. These players are talented and Rebel Wilson is the queen of one-liners. I seriously think she deserves as much recognition as Melissa McCarthy did last year for Bridesmaids. It’s worth seeing for her alone, but the whole ensemble is solid and the musical numbers are rousing. To quote another pleasant surprise (21 Jump Street): “F— Glee.” This is way better.
BEST TRAILER SONG
M83 – “Outro”
You could put this song to a Kevin James trailer and it would still make me cry.
BIGGEST WASTE OF TALENT
It can’t make my worst list, because I didn’t actually finish it. But what I saw was a complete waste of very talented black actors, who have trouble finding work outside Tyler Perry’s House of Crap. That’s the system’s fault, not theirs. So it’s incredibly disappointing to see this George Lucas-produced mess that feels like a pretty good flight simulator at best. The vast ensemble, and the Tuskegee Airmen, deserve much better.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD AWARD FOR FEEL-BAD MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Every year since the eviscerating Revolutionary Road came out in 2008, one movie has set out to depress audiences like no other. In 2009, it was Precious. Then Never Let Me Go in 2010. Last year, it was Shame. Usually, audiences shy away and I can’t blame them. This year, Michael Winterbottom’s Indian version of Tess of the d’Urbervilles held the title. Basically, Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) has a pretty horrible farm life until a charming rich guy essentially buys her and has her work at his hotel, then in the matter of about a week, becomes the Worst Boyfriend Ever. It ends in a murder-suicide. Huzzah.
Special Bonus Award: Recognition for a terrible thing that technically came out last year
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Gawd, what a nightmare. Aside from Max von Sydow’s terrific performance, this movie was a complete horror show. And I know this sounds mean, but that kid was really annoying. I wasn’t moved by his journey, just bored. And offended when Sandra Bullock revealed she did the entire thing herself. I’m calling B.S. on that.