Category Archives: Top 10

The Top 10 Movies of 2013

Year-end lists sometimes seem self-defeating. Taste and opinions change over time. What I liked this year might fall out of favor a year later. I can already tell from lists I’ve made in the past. For example, in 2010, I said that “127 Hours” was better than “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” However, I would re-watch “Scott Pilgrim” over “127 Hours” any day. Part of making a good end of the year list is to try and predict what will also be good five years down the road while also living in the spectacular now (SORRY I HAD TO). 

Making this list drives me crazy, but it is also one of my favorite posts to write. Thinking back helps to put the entire year into perspective. For instance, I found that some of the best films of 2013 had much in common. 2013 in film meant economic woes, nostalgia gone wrong, and exploration of what it means to be a success. Along the way, there were some great laughs, songs, and explosions. 

Here is my list of the top 10 films of 2013:

10. The Kings of Summer
Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ stellar directorial debut is a modern “Stand By Me.” “The Kings of Summer” is a coming-of-age story that is equal parts moving and hilarious. It is the rare high school comedy that doesn’t resort to exploiting awkwardness for laughs (“Superbad” and “Dazed and Confused” are about the only ones that ever did that right). Some great actors (Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally) and some very brief cameos (Kumail Nanjiani, Hannibal Buress) bring the banter to life. Keep an eye out for young Moises Arias, who plays Biaggio, who is no doubt one of the weirdest and most memorable characters in any film that came out this year. 

9. Frances Ha
With the help of star and writer Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach turns out his best film to date. It’s earnest, funny, and never pretentious. Many of the confused twentysomethings seem startlingly like people I have met, and personalities I have embodied. It is light on its feet, serious when it needs to be, and fearless enough to take big detours and let its awesome soundtrack blare. “Frances Ha” is ultimately a redemption story, and the kind of film I hope that Noah Baumbach (and others like him) keep making. 

8. This Is The End

The best blockbuster of the summer was not a movie about robots fighting monsters, but rather a comedy about a bunch of actors living through the rapture. “This Is The End” might be the smartest, most complex movie ever to come out of the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. This is the dick-joke laced send-up of a bizarro Hollywood that I didn’t realize I was waiting for. “This Is The End” uses long back-and-forths as action set pieces. It wears its influences (such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist”) on its sleeves, and it gives us Michael Cera snorting cocaine. For that alone it more than deserves a spot on this list. 

7. The World’s End

“The World’s End” is the fitting conclusion to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. “The World’s End” shows Wright is a visual storytelling prodigy. He is undeniably skilled as both a satirist and action director; everything that he spoofs is out of love. Plus, “The World’s End” contains a performance from Simon Pegg that would be getting more awards buzz if the world wasn’t such a cruel place. During a time when many people seem to think that “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was the best show ever invented (because nostalgia), the partial message of “The World’s End” is that the past is never as perfect as we remember. This seems like the perfect theme for the year 2013 in general as well as years to come, as “The World’s End” only gets better on repeat viewings. 

6. Nebraska

Alexander Payne has been working with comedy, dramas, and comedy-dramas for his entire career. “Nebraska” is not his best film, but it feels like everything he has done has led him here. “Nebraska” resembles a bleak painting of the landscape of Middle America, sprinkled with some of the funniest characters you can imagine. Here is a road trip movie that takes its time, but somehow never meanders. It earns its big emotional ending that will make you want to go buy something nice for your father.

5. Gravity

Watching “Gravity” in IMAX 3D is the closest I have ever felt to how people must have responded when they first saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” in theaters. “Gravity” imitated both the physical feeling of being in space (there were several points where I was literally struggling to breath) and the frightening isolation of being lost in space. It is basically a one-woman show for Sandra Bullock, and boy does she deliver. You know how “Gravity” will end, yet this is the rare film that transcends story structure. With both “Gravity” and “Children of Men” under his belt, Alfonso Cuaron is now the only person who should be allowed to direct science fiction films.

4. Blue Jasmine

Every time Woody Allen seems to have made a comeback (“Midnight in Paris”), he will find himself knocked down a peg (“To Rome With Love”). I guess that’s just what happens when you put out something every single year. Yet, “Blue Jasmine” is the kind of film Woody Allen has not made in a long time, and one I frankly didn’t know he was still capable of making. This is the darkest film he has made since “Match Point.” It is also one of his most haunting and mesmerizing. Out of “Blue Jasmine,” Allen constructs a broken woman who is strong because it is impossible to know what exactly she is capable of doing. It is bizarre to watch her talk to herself, because it is the only way she can connect with anyone. “Blue Jasmine” is the most provocative character study of the year. 

3. American Hustle

I am getting kind of sick of heist movies as well as films that pretend to accurately portray the past. This is exactly why I am thankful for “American Hustle,” a film about one of the weirdest scandals in American history that doesn’t even bother to be faithful to the facts. The fun part is trying to figure out what is real and what is not. “American Hustle” has the most dynamic ensemble of the year, and some extremely catchy dialogue (“don’t put metal in the science oven”). Like its schlubby lead character, “American Hustle” can be messy and sometimes hard to understand, but its utter confidence in itself makes it so appealing.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

For those who dismiss “The Wolf of Wall Street” as a merely entertaining film with no substance, just look at all of the controversy it has caused in the past few days. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an epic about the pursuit of happiness gone too far. It is really about the pursuit of excess. During its three hour run time, “The Wolf of Wall Street” contains some scenes that work on such an amazingly high level because they are allowed lots of time to breath (the best among these: Belfort’s meeting with an FBI agent on his yacht; the hilarious Quaalude tripping scene). At its best, “The Wolf of Wall Street” doesn’t feel like its pushing the three hour mark. Most importantly, this film shows why Martin Scorsese makes crime stories better than any other American director: he understands that sometimes the criminals are much more fascinating than the cops.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

It is easy to tell when a film is directed by the Coen Brothers. However, they also never make the same film twice. “Inside Llewyn Davis” shows that the Coen Brothers don’t lack compassion, it is just that they are not afraid to show that shitty actions have even shittier consequences. This is a meaningful film for anybody who has ever wanted to create anything, and the way that Llewyn’s artistic integrity becomes his undoing is both sad and meaningful. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is nihilism transformed into something beautiful. But enough about that. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the best directed and most unpredictable script of the year. Its soundtrack is as good as any you will ever hear. Characters do things that make no sense, and you will spend all of your time weeks later trying to figure out why. Most films fade from the memory quickly. “Inside Llewyn Davis” just won’t go away from mine. Even if their films are cynical, the Coen Brothers are the rare directors who don’t pander to their audience. “Inside Llewyn Davis” doesn’t provide any easy answers. It asks questions that I want to think about. I know it will grow even more on me in the years to come until it shapes into something that everyone considers to be a timeless classic. For all of these reasons and more, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the best film of the year.

Honorable Mentions: 12 Years a Slave, Blackfish, Side Effects, The Spectacular Now, Captain Phillips, Evil Dead

Still Need To See: Her, Spring Breakers, Short Term 12, The Act of Killing, Frozen, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Dallas Buyers Club

Still Not Sure If This Counts: The Hunt- I saw it at Cannes in 2012, but it didn’t come out in America until this year. Either way, this incredible film deserves a list of its own.

Top 10: Movies That I Shamefully Haven’t Seen Yet

There’s only so many hours in a day, and my potion that can help you survive without sleep has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Having said that, I can’t see every movie ever made. This is a fact that has driven me crazy for my entire life. That might also be because I don’t have many actual problems to deal with. Who knows.

Anyway, I try to watch every movie that I think is important to see, but I also just want to see ones that interest me personally. That means that a lot of classics get missed. The point here is this: I am not perfect. I still have a lot of movie watching to go.

I decided to compile a list of ten movies that I also can’t believe I haven’t seen yet. Many of them are Oscar winners and AFI list toppers. Mainly though, they are movies that people walking down the street yell at me for not seeing.

City Lights (1931)

Silent film is one of the greatest gaps in my cinematic knowledge. I have seen bits and pieces of Chaplin in the past, but never the full thing. Film buffs, feel free to discredit me until I at least watch “City Lights.”

This looks like a poster that a rich family would have framed and put in their basement.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Does it count that I can whistle the entire famous tune? I guess anyone can. It’s catchy, and definitely much less creepy to whistle than the “Deliverance” banjo song.


West Side Story (1961)

I might be even less knowledgable about musicals than I am about horror movies. I’ve been under the terrible assumption my whole life that every musical is “High School Musical,” in which everyone’s problems are suddenly solved through spontaneous song and dance. But then I saw “The Book of Mormon” this past summer, and I decided to lift the embargo. So I will have to venture over to “West Side Story” soon. For the record, I know that “I Feel Pretty” isn’t originally from “Anger Management.”

I wonder if this is like the basketball scene from “Catwoman.”

Sixteen Candles (1984)

I’ve seen up to the scene involving Molly Ringwald’s underwear, if that counts for anything. For some reason, I just never finished “Sixteen Candles.” However, I will always worship at the feet of John Hughes, as should anybody else who has ever been in high school. Also, if I was alive in the 80s, I totally would have married Molly Ringwald.

Top Gun (1986)

There’s a lot of jokes out there about gay volleyball scenes in “Top Gun.” I think. I wouldn’t know, because I still haven’t seen this modern classic. I wish I already had at this point. For some reason, the idea of Tom Cruise playing volleyball just seems so implausible.

I just found out Val Kilmer is in Top Gun.

The Princess Bride (1987)

Recently, I found out that the fact that I haven’t seen “The Princess Bride” is a crime against every twentysomething’s childhood. It is not out of lack of interest, but rather because my years as a kid was spent with too many repeat viewings of “Heavyweights,” “Kindergarten Cop,” and “3 Ninjas.” I look forward to watching “The Princess Bride” to see what I have been missing out on. Mainly though, I just want to see what Jewish Santa looked like when he was younger.

Swords would make “Homeland” much better.
Batman (1989)

I grew up on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and for a long time I thought that was all I needed. False. I’ve got to see Jack Nicholson as the joker. Not to mention, “Batman” was Tim Burton in his prime, before Tim Burton became a parody of Tim Burton. 
Eight more years until Clooney’s nipple suit set Batman back about ten years.
Dances with Wolves (1990)

I sincerely have very little desire to see what I perceive to be a four hour epic about white guilt. I just think that I should watch it because I am honestly curious to see what the Academy possibly saw in it when they awarded “Dances with Wolves” Best Picture over “Goodfellas.” “Dances with Wolves” might be a good movie, but it will never be “Goodfellas.” For now, I will just continue to blame its snub on the whore living in 2R.
I’m already bored.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

“Judgment Day” is supposedly one of the best sequels ever made. I guess I wouldn’t know. I liked the first “Terminator” movie as much as anyone is supposed to (even though it does look a little dated today), and it’s probably the best performance that Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever given. I probably should have seen “Judgment Day” a long time ago. Once again, I blame “Kindergarten Cop” always playing on cable.
Okay, this looks awesome.

The Bourne Series (2002/2004/2007)

This is probably completely inexcusable. Quick cuts in action movies bother me, but Paul Greengrass won me over with “Captain Phillips.” Also, any action movie starring Matt Damon has to be better than “Elysium.”
“Look how much they’re gonna pay me for The Adjustment Bureau 2!”

A Beginners’ Guide to Horror as Written by a Beginner

Image via Villains Wiki

Well, it’s Halloween. You know what that means: time for people to pretend they care about horror movies for one month!

And it’s really a shame that this obsession will go on for only a month: Horror movies do not get all of the respect they deserve (I blame found footage). Sure, horror is starting to get attention on TV (“The Walking Dead,” “Hannibal,” “Bates Motel,” fifty new witch shows all premiering on Lifetime), but cinema is really where the genre began, and where it is at its best.

Unfortunately, horror has been one of my pop culture blind spots for years. I have been lucky enough to take a class about the genre and explore it more on my own and have a newfound appreciation for it. Maybe it’s my fault for thinking that “Saw V” represented every horror movie ever.

What I am trying to say is that I am a relatively new horror fan. Unfortunately, I cannot dig up any obscure examples to show how savvy I am, as I’ve only seen one movie made by George A. Romero. However, I can be your Introductory Horror Spirit Guide, and lay out the basics. In my opinion, these are ten essential horror movies to kick off your love of horror movies with. Let me remind you that you can watch horror movies after Halloween ends:

NOTE: This list is not in order from best to worst, or vice versa. It is also not in chronological order. Rather, I put them in the order I think you should watch them in. So watch the first one on the list first and continue down to the bottom. Or don’t, if that’s not what you’re into. And according to most horror movies (especially “The Silence of the Lambs”), people can be into some really weird stuff.

Psycho (1960)

Horror didn’t start with “Psycho,” but this is the point where the genre completely changed. Hitchcock’s masterful directing is years ahead of its time. He shows just the right amount of strength. 50 years later and that shower scene is still terrifying. “Psycho” inspired a new generation of filmmakers and audiences obsessed with slashers who could probably use a few therapy sessions with Freud.

Scariest Moment: The shower scene. No question.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I have never been a huge fan of zombie stories (sorry, “Walking Dead” fans, I’ll watch it one day), but “Night of the Living Dead” is more than just that. For starters, the word “zombie” is never said once, making this the only zombie movie where its plausible that the characters have never heard of zombies before. It came out in 1968, so you can bet that its full of references to Civil Rights and the Cold War. “Night of the Living Dead” is a fine example of how to make a convincing scary movie on a microbudget.

Scariest Moment: An infected young girl stabs her mother to death with a trowel.

Halloween (1978)

Sometimes, it seems like the power of “Halloween” has diminished, thanks to many sequels, a remake, and a vast amount of copycats. Yet, John Carpenter’s classic still holds up as a near-perfect (there’s a bit too many palm trees for Illinois) slasher film about terror in suburbia. While a majority of the tropes that make up most modern horror movies can be traced back to “Halloween,” Michael Myers is still one of horror’s most unique villains. He wears a plain white mask, and most of the killings are seen through his eyes. Sometimes, it feels the viewer is the slasher, and whether you enjoy it or not is up to you.

Scariest Moment: One prominent chase would have been scarier had Jamie Lee Curtis not been screaming about her stupid keys. So I’m going to go with the moment where it SEEMS like Michael Myers is dead…

Jaws (1975)

At age 12, I made the mistake of watching “Jaws” just a few days before getting on a cruise ship. It amazes me how much terror Spielberg was able to pull off with just a PG rating, but “Jaws” elevated Hitchcockian horror to blockbuster status. To this day, it is still the scariest and most entertaining horror movie involving a giant sea creature. Everything from the music to the shark itself are frightening as ever. Like Hitchcock before him, Spielberg shows great restraint in showing the shark sparingly (even if it was partially because of a technical issue).
Scariest Moment: Tough call, but I’m going to go with the opening shark attack. Basically, if you’re a girl in a horror movie and you take your clothes off, then you’re probably about to die.

Carrie (1976)

Like Spielberg, Brian De Palma worships at the feet of Hitchcock. That is one of the reasons why the recent remake of “Carrie” has nothing on the original. “Carrie” is a masterpiece of slow-building horror capped off by two amazing performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. De Palma makes you wait a long time to get to the much anticipated moment when the bucket of pig guts falls. Yet, the wait is never boring; it is agonizing and suspenseful as hell because we’ve been waiting the whole entire movie to witness this tragic moment, and we just didn’t know it.

Scariest Moment: While the prom scene seems like a given, I am going to go with the second to last shot, which I will not spoil for you.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

A very famous movie came out in 1973 that is about demonic possession. While that one seems like the common sense example for this list, parts of it come off as kind of silly today. Meanwhile, “Rosemary’s Baby,” which contains very few scenes with the actual devil, is just as good today as it was in 1968. Roman Polanski might fool you a few times, as “Rosemary’s Baby” often doesn’t even feel like a horror movie. Like “Carrie,” “Rosemary’s Baby” is all about slow-building dread. And oh what an ever watchable display of dread this is.

Scariest Moment: In a hazy dream/nightmare sequence, Rosemary is impregnated by the devil. Brought to you by the sick mind of Roman Polanski.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“The Silence of the Lambs” remains the only horror movie to win Best Picture, and for good reason. This is the first horror movie that must have really connected with voters: there are no vampires or zombies to be found here, just some psychotic humans. Anthony Hopkins and Ted Levine do amazing work creating two of the most haunting villains in cinematic history. The scariest part about “The Silence of the Lambs” is that these monsters could actually exist. Sometimes, they are just lurking in the basement next door to your house.

Scariest Moment: The showdown between Clarice, Buffalo Bill, and a pair of night vision goggles.

The Shining (1980)

“The Shining” is one of the most baffling and memorable psychological horror films ever made. It is one of Stanley Kubrick’s crowning achievements. “The Shining” has become a part of the pop culture lexicon (“all work and no play make Jack a dull boy”), and its influence on audiences has been so great that there is even a documentary about all of the theories it has espoused (“Room 237″). Jack Torrence could only exist in our worst nightmares, but his world is so vivid that it has become a part of our own.

Scariest Moment: Three-Way Tie: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”/”Redrum”/”Come play with us forever and ever and ever.”

The Evil Dead (1981)

“The Evil Dead” might leave you breathless the first time you see it. “The Evil Dead” is filled to the brim with ideas and originality. The screams and geysers of blood are so over-the-top that they are frightening and intentionally hilarious at the same time. It’ll make you question your perception of horror in general. If you are a fan of the genre-bending done in “Community” or any Quentin Tarantino movie, then “The Evil Dead” is necessary viewing. It is also a must-see for every other human in general. Watch as Sam Raimi, at just age 22, proved he knew more about making movies than people twice his age. Heck I’m 21, and now I just feel like an underachiever.

Scariest Moment: “We’re gonna get you. We’re gonna get you.” Also, tree rape.

Funniest Moment: “Shut up Linda!”

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Playing off the genre-bending done by “The Evil Dead” years earlier, “The Cabin in the Woods” breathed new life into horror movies by deconstructing them. It spoofs the cliche group of college kids who go up to a cabin and get killed off one-by-one. Then, through some genius plot devices, “The Cabin in the Woods” explains exactly why all horror movies go the way they go. While it breaks away from formula, “The Cabin in the Woods” also defends it. But never mind that, it’s also as hilarious as it is insane.

Scariest Moment: The moment it gets bat shit crazy. You’ll see.

Other Contenders: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Deliverance, The Bride of Frankenstein, Alien, Se7en, The Birds

Still Need To See: Dawn of the Dead (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), The Omen (1976), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Saw, Scream, Nosferatu, Paranormal Activity, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Poltergeist

Overrated: The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist

Horror pros and all others, what would you add to this list? Did I get it right? How many “Friday the 13th” sequels do I have to watch before I’m considered an expert?

Top 10: Woody Allen Films

10. Match Point

Sure, this is just the serious half of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” stretched out into an entire film. Yet, “Match Point” was a significant moment in Allen’s career. It served as both a career revival, and a rare chance for him to leave New York and find a new footing in Europe. It turns out that he was actually a good match for adulterous English drama. As long as there are neurotic characters with twisted love lives, Woody Allen will be there to write it.

9. Manhattan

“Manhattan” is one of the most influential films Woody Allen ever put out. Its influence can be seen in everything from “Frances Ha” to “Louie.” It displays his talent for balancing comedy and drama. While most of Allen’s films are known for being shot quickly, you’d never be able to tell by the style of “Manhattan.” The black and white is unforgettable. For once, the 59th Street Bridge actually looked beautiful.

Yes, that’s Meryl Streep.

8. Hannah and Her Sisters

While not Allen’s best comedy, “Hannah and Her Sisters” contains the funniest exchange from any of Allen’s movies (hint: it involves the Holocaust and a can opener). “Hannah and Her Sisters” contains a lot of supposedly good people doing bad things, and then doing whatever they can to prove that they’re not bad people. The ending of “Hannah and Her Sisters” is surprisingly life affirming. Allen said this was not intended, but nonetheless, it works so well.

7. Sleeper

There was a time when Allen was known for straight up slapstick. During that time, Allen was in top form with “Sleeper,” a brilliant futuristic farce. Allen’s impersonation of a robot as well as a sex orb (that’s what I call it) are amongst the funniest moments in the film. Some of the jokes might require a little research (you had to be there, man), so hopefully you’re in the mood to do some research on New York in the 1970s.

6. Midnight in Paris

“Midnight in Paris” is perhaps the greatest achievement of the latter part of Allen’s career. It combines the whimsical fantasy of some of his earlier works with the wisdom of somebody much more experienced. Allen mines some great humor out of a pseudo-intellectual (Michael Sheen) as well as some of the most famous authors of the 20th century. “Midnight in Paris” is one of the best concepts Allen has ever come up with, and it is topped with nearly flawless execution. Not to mention, Owen Wilson does a better impression of Woody Allen than any other actor who has attempted it thus far.*

See the rest of the list after the jump

5. Radio Days

Nearly every film that Allen has made feels like it was ripped right out of a page of his life. Yet, “Radio Days” feels the most personal and autobiographical. “Radio Days” chronicles the rise and fall of radio from the perspectives of its stars and its listeners in a way that is equal parts funny and moving.

4. Mighty Aphrodite

This is one of Woody Allen’s most overlooked films. Containing a literal Greek Chorus, “Might Aphrodite” constantly pokes fun at itself all while moving its story along at a flawless pace. “Mighty Aphrodite” is a comedy of missed connections and miscommunications. What isn’t said is way funnier that what is said. And it all leads up to an ending scene brimming with painful, hilarious irony.

3. The Purple Rose of Cairo

“The Purple Rose of Cairo” does for movies what “Radio Days” does for the radio. This is Allen’s original “Midnight in Paris”; it’s a film that deals with one’s longing to be elsewhere. It is whimsical and tragic all at once but in the end, it is a work of escapism that celebrates escapism itself.

2. Crimes and Misdemeanors 

What a strange yet brilliant idea: tell two different stories with similar themes and events, yet make one a comedy and the other a drama. Along with great writing (no surprise here), “Crimes and Misdemeanors” also displays top notch performances from Martin Landau, Alan Alda (in total Alan Alda-ness), and Allen himself. Even at his worst, a Woody Allen joint is always entertaining and deep on some level. But rarely has he looked at faith and morality in such a complex way.

1. Annie Hall

This seems like an obvious choice. However, there’s a good reason that “Annie Hall” remains one of the few comedies (unless you include “Crash”) to have won Best Picture. Unlike most Best Picture winners in general, “Annie Hall” deserved to win. And what a film this is. 36 years later and it’s still as innovative as ever. “Annie Hall” contains so much that it feels like it’s going to just pop out of the screen at any moment a la “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Alvy Singer (Allen) talks directly to the camera. Characters turn into cartoons. Marshall McLuhan pops out from behind a poster to school some pretentious dude. “Annie Hall” is a rare film about relationships that holds nothing back. It’s brutally honest while still being hilarious. In the wide spectrum of romantic comedies, there is nothing like “Annie Hall.” And I don’t think there ever will be again.

*Unless Michael Stuhlbarg’s dentist in “Blue Jasmine” was meant to be an Allen surrogate.

Top 10: Movies of 2012

10. 21 Jump Street

Whoever said comedies, remakes, or buddy cop movies couldn’t be top ten worthy clearly haven’t seen “21 Jump Street.” “21 Jump Street” won me over at the beginning when it mocked its own existence, and then it had me in a state of uncontrollable laughter by the time Channing Tatum was destroying a drum set. This was the funniest purely comedic film of the year, sharp in both wit and slapstick. “21 Jump Street” convinced me of both the power of Channing Tatum’s acting ability and how far one could possibly stretch jokes about drug trips. The answer is very far.

9. Sleepwalk with Me

Anyone already familiar with the standup, book, and This American Life episode of comedian Mike Birbiglia will not find much new in “Sleepwalk with Me.” Nonetheless, it is still a fantastic example of how one great story can be molded and reshaped to be told in a variety of ways. Birbiglia makes a fantastic transition into the roles of director, writer, and actor, one that positions him as a new Woody Allen in the making. “Sleepwalk with Me” is loosely based on the struggles and anxieties that Birbiglia faced in his early days as a comedian, where he was also dealing with a toxic relationship and a sleepwalking disorder. Here, Birbiglia still gets to display his lovably awkward persona. It feels like Birbiglia’s whole career has led to this film, and his one man shows were just a step away from this. “Sleepwalk with Me” will resonate both for anyone trying to become a comedian, or just for anyone with a mind addled by anxiety and over-thinking.

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Based on a book I haven’t read but now feel the need to, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is far and away one of the best films about high school to come out in a long, long time. Written and directed by its author Stephen Chbosky, “Perks” vividly swirls with life and love in every single frame. Even though its about high school outcasts, it is a nostalgic look at the early 1990s. It has one of my favorite soundtracks in recent memory, one that includes a variety of songs by The Smiths that are played without irony. It has fantastic supporting performances from Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as the friends and mentors to the lost wallflower Charlie (Logan Lerman). “Perks” tackles all of its issues honestly and seriously, with first love being taken as seriously as chronic depression. It takes us to a dark place, and then uplifts us on a clear night in a pickup truck going through a tunnel.

7. Silver Linings Playbook

A second viewing greatly improved my opinion of this film. For a film about mental illness, “Silver Linings Playbook” will surprise you by being one of the year’s most uplifting film. It does so by being emotionally honest, and it never begs us to cry. I’d call it a comedy filled with tragic characters. Here, director David O. Russell brings the same amount of care and detail to middle class Philadelphia that he brought to working class Lowell in “The Fighter.” Similarly, “Silver Linings Playbook” is about the power of competition to help people unite and overcome obstacles. Bradley Cooper’s acting career shot into another stratosphere with his role as a bi-polar man while Jennifer Lawrence took sudden command of the screen as the woman who helps him gain control of his life. Most importantly though, Robert De Niro makes a career comeback with a performance that is equal parts tough, earnest, and funny. Also, it has Chris Tucker holding a bunch of remotes. “Silver Linings Playbook” took a bunch of subjects that I could care less about (romantic comedies, the Philadelphia Eagles) and injects them with life. “Silver Linings Playbook” is about finding the good in every bad situation. I think we could all use a silver lining in our lives.

6. Bernie

“Bernie” was something of a comeback for its director and stars that was unfortunately seen by so few. Combining elements of documentary and scripted reenactment, this pitch black comedy tells the story of a bizarre murder and the even more bizarre man behind it. “Bernie” brings director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) back to his beloved homeland of Texas and gives Jack Black the role of a lifetime as an overzealous funeral home operator who treats his job with love. Adding in interviews with people who actually knew Bernie was a fantastic touch, as was Matthew McConaughey as a hotheaded District Attorney.

See the top 5 after the jump:

5. Looper

“Looper” belongs high in the Hollywood pantheon of sci-fi. It’s following will only increase over the years. This dystopian vision’s comparisons to “Blade Runner” are apt, but I will say that I have never seen a story quite like this. Casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger version of Bruce Willis would have been brilliant enough. But then, “Looper” gives us a frightening child who might have supernatural powers and an even more frightening scene where a defiled man’s body totally changes all rules of how time travel works. “Looper” provides a vision of the not-so-distant future that seems convincing at times (especially all of the China stuff) and while it might give you a headache, it thoroughly examines the real life consequences of trying to alter the past. It provides nothing but thrilling and deep entertainment, and reasons to watch again and again.

4. Seven Psychopaths

The prospect of a new Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) film excited me more than few other things this year. “Seven Psychopaths” is an excellent sophomore effort that does not disappoint. “Seven Psychopaths” is an homage and a manifesto both to anyone who loves movies and anyone who has ever thought up a story in their lives. It kills off two main characters before the first credits roll and its attempts at messing with our heads do not slow down from there. “Seven Psychopaths” manages to be funny while blurring the line between fact and fiction. It also includes some fine acting by Colin Farrel and Sam Rockwell as well as the best performance Christopher Walken has given in years. With its colorful dialogue and constant non-linear story lines, “Seven Psychopaths” solidifies Martin McDonagh as the only director who can rip off Quentin Tarantino yet still be as good as Quentin himself.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

Anyone who thinks that Wes Anderson has just become a satire of Wes Anderson is missing the point entirely. Like the best of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, “Moonrise Kingdom” improved on repeat viewings. It’s filled with the kind of tiny details and colorful characters that I look for in a film. “Moonrise” may not have had a Royal Tenenbaum, but it did include two young actors (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who give performances years beyond their wisdom. “Moonrise Kingdom” is about a love for culture, childhood, and adventure. It is one of Anderson’s darkest, yet one of his most fun to watch. 

2. Skyfall

After the failure of “Quantum of Solace,” 007 returned to form with a vengeance. “Skyfall” worked because it combined the darker edge of latest Bond movies (starting with “Casino Royale”) with the pre-technology savvy of the early days of the series. This trip down memory lane is up there with “Goldfinger” as an instant classic. It blew me away with its opening chase followed by its stunning opening credits, with a Bond anthem as good as anything that Nancy Sinatra and Paul McCartney have ever put together. As Bond, Daniel Craig was at the top of his game. A masterful performance from Javier Bardem proved the actor’s skill at playing the world’s creepiest and most startling villains. “Skyfall” impressed me most because it was both one hell of a good blockbuster, and the first time in a very long time that the Bond franchise has truly delved deep into the secret agent’s place in a post-Cold War world.

1. Django Unchained

Call it unfair but Quentin Tarantino still has the power to surprise me with every new film he makes. “Django Unchained” may have been his most gruesome, which is saying a lot, and also his funniest. It is Tarantino’s latest in his long string of vengeance tales, and the second (following “Inglourious Basterds”) in what I’m hoping to be a history bending trilogy. By removing the strains of historical accuracy from his films, Tarantino is stunningly able to find so much more truth than any Hollywood film. “Django Unchained” will probably offend many in its liberal use of a certain racial slur and its love of watching slave owners get what’s coming to them. Tarantino nails both the funny and disturbing aspects of the cruelty of slavery. Every actor rises to the occasion and gives performances of a lifetime. On par with the farce of the very similar “Blazing Saddles,” “Django Unchained” might be all over the place, and it might have gone on about 45 minutes too long, but it is a glorious, intense, mess of images and emotions that only gets better the more chaotic it becomes.

Honorable Mention: The Hunt- I had the privilege of seeing this incredible Danish film at Cannes. Unfortunately, it was not released in America this year, or else it might have nabbed the top spot. I am hoping this comes out very soon, because it has haunted me in a way that no other film ever has. And the beauty of foreign films is that they don’t have to settle for a Hollywood ending.

Others: The Master, Rust and Bone, Your Sister’s Sister, This Is 40, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Safety Not Guaranteed, Argo, Lawless, Killing Them Softly, The Hunger Games

Still Need To See: Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Not Fade Away

Top 10: TV Shows of 2012

10. 30 Rock

“30 Rock” hit a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of 2012. However, it bounced back for its seventh and final season and has turned out some of its best episodes in years. Most notably, this season saw Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) finally tying the knot in a wedding that was both moving and wacky in a way that only “30 Rock” could deliver. “30 Rock” is one of the best heirs to the sitcoms of the 70s with its fearlessness in tackling race, political, and gender issues for huge laughs. In fact, it ended the ridiculous “are women funny?” debate with a monkey wearing a suit. No other show on TV can deliver so many jokes in such a short span of time. “30 Rock” might be winding down, but the many doors it opened for the flood of single-camera comedies that have emerged over the years will always be present.

9. Archer

“Archer” is far and away the best animated show on TV. A spy spoof that puts “Austin Powers” to shame, “Archer” proved that its spectacular first two seasons were just a warmup for how perfect season three would be. Few comedies currently on TV have plots as smart and intricate as “Archer” does, whether the bumbling heroes are trying to get rid of a dead body or fight villains in outer space. What makes “Archer” so unique is the neat little backstories it gives to all of its characters, which expanded in ever satisfying ways this season. For example, Archer’s constant literary references suggest someone much smarter than he acts. “Archer,” however, never has to hide its sophistication. It continues to be one of the sharpest satires currently on TV.

8. Homeland

I was a late convert to “Homeland,” and I am not ashamed to say that I caught up in less than one week. “Homeland” hit a bit of a rough patch this season. However, those who immediately jumped ship need to learn a thing or two about TV history, and that “Homeland” is in the same company as some pretty great shows that have had faulty seasons and then bounced back. Even in the implausibility, there has still been plenty to love about season two. The show made a pretty risky story move early on and then built it up to an interrogation scene that was one of the most finely acted and scripted in TV history. However, this season went through a few big bumps in the road. One was literal (a car accident that was worth it only for allowing actress Morgan Saylor to shine) while others were illogical (see: Skyping with a terrorist on a Blackberry). Yet, I was still compelled to watch “Homeland” from week to week, and discuss with every other fan I knew. Many other shows have gone through rough patches early on, and I have faith in where next season will take us.

7. Happy Endings

The funniest show currently airing on network TV (while another one is still in an overlong hiatus) is also the most underrated. “Happy Endings” took the concept of “twenty/thirty-something friends” in a big city to insane new heights throughout seasons two and three. It does self-referential better than most shows on TV, and it knows when to be over-the-top and when to be human. “Happy Endings” doesn’t just succeed in its endless mocking of sitcom tropes, but also how natural the ensemble feels together. Often, it just feels like a tight-knit improv group going crazy in whatever direction they desire. Plus, it has my favorite married couple on TV (Brad and Jane) and the most hilariously non-stereotypical gay character since “The Sarah Silverman Program.” In the vein of “30 Rock,” “Happy Endings” could probably cram more funny into five minutes than most shows ever could in an entire season.

I think it’s the pronunciation that sold me.

6. Game of Thrones

2012 was the year I got back into fantasy. “Game of Thrones” was one of the many shows this year that helped push the medium forward, as it pushed its own storytelling ambitions in new directions and away from its source material. It truly blurred the difference between film and television with the episode “Blackwater,” which contained a battle as epic as anything in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. What I always liked best about “Game of Thrones” is that even when it travels into the territory of dragons and the undead, it still remains incredibly grounded, as this story is much more of a political allegory than a battle of good versus evil. If “Game of Thrones” has proved anything to me, it’s that moral ambiguity is way more interesting than battles of absolute good against absolute evil. Without it, where the hell else would we get amazing characters like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey) Lannister, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson)? Well, I think I know how everyone feels about Joffrey.

joffrey slap

View the top 5 after the jump

5. Girls

Amidst all of the controversy and unrighteous indignation, “Girls” had the most solid first season of any new show that debuted this year. Virtually overnight, Lena Dunham deservingly became a household name. “Girls” is a mixture of both the trademark edginess of HBO, and the trademark awkwardness of the Apatow brand. This show about Brooklynites in their early twenties treads a lot of new ground and says a lot more about this generation than most other works in any form of entertainment have. Yet, Dunham is too modest to try and become the voice of a generation (a fact that is mocked in the very first episode). “Girls” caught my attention in every episode for its cinematic audacity (scenes of pure dialogue that nearly hit the ten minute mark) and chaotic humor that might take multiple viewings to fully appreciate (“I’ll be your crack spirit guide”). Each episode opens with completely different theme music. In one year, Dunham created an indelible new world and filled it with lively and memorable characters. Many people criticized the show for its lack of diversity. I found this claim to be ridiculous, as it does not acknowledge the world these characters inhabit and it does not at all do justice to the substance of the show. With all of that out of the way, I think it’s easier to appreciate the nearly flawless first season of “Girls.”

4. Breaking Bad

What more can I (or everyone else) say about “Breaking Bad” that I haven’t said already? Probably not much, but I don’t mind reiterating. As it prepares its swan song, “Breaking Bad” has proved itself more brilliant than ever. I’m still waiting for Vince Gilligan to top the season four finale, but for now I can live with a train robbery and a meth-induced montage. “Breaking Bad” has always been excellent at keeping us at the edge of tragedy, and never letting us know when we are going to go off the cliff, and this past season was no exception. The first half of season five found Walter White on top of the world, with no worlds left to conquer. He had gone so far off the edge that at times, it was hard to tell whether or not he wanted to back away. All I know is that any barriers of safety for the audience that once existed have all evaporated. I have no idea where “Breaking Bad” is headed for its last few episodes. All I know is that it still has a lot of ground to cover, and it shows no signs of letting any of us down.

3. Mad Men

“Mad Men” now carries the honor of being one of few shows to peak during its fifth season. When most are winding down, “Mad Men” rediscovered its mojo in new, exciting, and profound ways. It all added up to the best drama of the year. The writers of “Mad Men” are like few others, and they went into the surreal this season, catching Don in the middle of an elaborate dream while Roger experienced an LSD-fueled reality. Supporting actors such as Christina Hendricks and Vincent Kartheiser gave beautifully nuanced performances. Meanwhile, Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) was a welcome new addition to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The ad executives faced unimaginable tragedy even in a season filled with dark humor (one of the best, yet saddest, gags involves a Jaguar that won’t start). Like the world around them, the characters of “Mad Men” have been allowed to change and evolve. Into its fifth season, “Mad Men” still continues down the dark abyss of American Dream, still exploring whether or not America really offers second chances.

2. Community

2012 has been a rough year for “Community.” It got put on hiatus multiple times, it was nearly cancelled, it lost one of its stars (Chevy Chase), and the mastermind behind it all (Dan Harmon) was fired in what can only be seen as a network and a studio out of touch with the times. Even with all of the trouble in the real world, “Community” is like the Dreamtorium: a place to escape from reality and into the mind of one very strange individual. In its season three, “Community” was darker and more inventive than ever. It put the Greendale Seven into a videogame, a heist movie, and an Ed Burns documentary. In each of those, it was a stunningly faithful homage that brought depth to its richly created characters. “Community” is special in that the weirder it gets, the less it forgets about its characters. “Community” might not be made for everyone, but if you are not ever won over by Dean Pelton’s man-crush on Jeff, Troy’s innocence, or Britta’s ability to ruin everything, then you have no heart. “Community” wants fans, but season three seemed to display a show that cared less about getting high Nielsen Ratings (which, with the Internet, will soon be irrelevant) and more about telling good stories. “Community” includes some of the most innovative storytelling that we’ll never see again on network television.

1. Louie

After much thought, I could put no other show in first place. “Louie” is not necessarily an “event” type show, but I found myself eager every Thursday night this summer to watch it live. I knew that every week would provide me with a totally unexpected episode. “Louie” is the most unpredictable show on TV, and with every episode, Louis C.K. manages to break down all sitcom conventions without being snarky or obnoxiously ironic. This season, he proved himself as a master of dramedic storytelling. He nailed the sentimentality of so many moments and steered them away from sappiness. Whether surreal or realistic, each episode felt like a short movie that could only be made with the raw inspiration of New York City. Yet, C.K. took his fictional character to new places this year. In a three part arc that included the best celebrity cameo I’ve ever seen on TV, Louie tried to host the Late Show. Another episode had him at a strip club with Robin Williams. And then another had him involved in a boat chase. The season finale, which brought him on a journey of self-discovery in China, reduced me to tears. Some might call “Louie” gloomy, but its message is so positive: life will never be easy or predictable, so we might as well roll with whatever is thrown at us. The feeling that people in the 70s first got when watching “All in the Family” and “Taxi” and the feeling that people got when first watching “Seinfeld” in the 90s, I got while watching “Louie.”

Not from the show, but this is one of my favorite bits from Louis C.K.

Honorary Mentions: Parks and Recreation, New Girl, Portlandia, Veep

Horrible Decisions: The Ten Best Movies That Weren’t Nominated For Best Picture

As I get older, I feel that I get more and more pessimistic about award ceremonies, especially the Oscars. Unlike sports-related competitions, the Oscars are not about which movie is best, but rather which movie had the most lavish ad campaign. The recent revelation that Academy voters are none too diverse certainly did not help. To think that some of the most revered movies of all time weren’t even nominated. They are the bold outsiders. Some were completely overlooked, others were just too damn “hip.” Many on the proceeding list would be chosen by many, and a few I exclusively would have chosen had I been a voter. I present with you the ten best movies that deserved a Best Picture nomination, arranged by year of release:

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

“Singin’ in the Rain” is more than just an old-fashioned Hollywood musical: it is about the movies themselves. Think of it as “The Artist” without the Act Three problems. As someone who puts musical just slightly above romantic comedies starring Ashton Kutcher, it is hard not to fall under the spell of “Singin’ in the Rain,” from “Good Morning” to the titular musical number. “Singin’ in the Rain” is about why movies needed sound, and it’s also about why we need the movies in general. The Oscars have a reputation for awarding musicals that became stale with time, so why didn’t it nominate one that has become an everlasting part of popular culture?

Rear Window (1954)

Most of Hitchcock’s best movies were dissed by the Oscars. Even “Psycho” and “Vertigo” didn’t make the Best Picture shortlist. His “Rear Window” is his most entertaining, most satisfying movie. “Rear Window” is the master in his absolute element. It crams as many stories as it can into one movie without actually cramming them in. “Rear Window” is suspenseful in any scene, even if it is just a couple seen fighting through a window, and not Grace Kelly running from the murderer. On top of that, it displays Hitchcock’s genius black comedy. In the scene in which a husband and wife have difficulty moving a mattress into their apartment, Hitchcock switched the headsets feeding instructions to the two actors, so they would move in the wrong directions, and create a brief sigh of slapstick relief. Oscar winners should be influential in any year, and I can’t even count the amount of sitcoms who have knocked off this plot.

The Searchers (1956)

It seems unbelievable that John Ford’s greatest movie didn’t get a single Oscar nomination, and the winner for Best Picture that year was “Around the World in 80 Days” (which was later remade into a movie with Jackie Chan). For the time, “The Searchers” was a change of pace from the typical Western, and Oscars are all about tradition and stability rather than change. Monument Valley has never looked this stunning, and John Wayne never felt as racist and as human in any other role of his career. “The Searchers” would not only fo on to inspire future westerns. Without it, there would be no “Taxi Driver,” “Saving Private Ryan,” or even “Star Wars.” “The Searchers” figured out that the western hero (or in this case, anti-hero) can exist in anytime, in any place, but will always remain an outsider.

Touch of Evil (1958)

Yet another masterpiece that went totally unnoticed by the Academy. “Touch of Evil” will leave you in a speechless state of thrill from the moment the camera first pans through a busy street, to a bomb going off. You know it’s going to happen, but the best part is that you don’t know when. “Touch of Evil” contains some of Orson Welles’s best work as both an actor and a director, and it was the last truly great film noir of the classic era. Its greatness cannot be dampened by the fact that it includes Charlton Heston playing a Mexican.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

It is actually understandable why “Once Upon a Time in the West” was a flop when it first came out. Paramount chopped down its epic running time for its US release, and American audiences were not treated to the masterpiece they deserved to see. I will argue that “Once Upon a Time in the West” is better than any western either John Ford or Howard Hawks ever made. Its opening conveys so much without saying a single word. For its regard for silence, sweeping score, and the pure scope of it all, “Once Upon a Time in the West” will be one of the greatest movie viewing experiences you’ll ever have. It even has Henry Fonda, doing a flawless job going against-type, ruthlessly shooting a child in the face. Tom Joad, no more.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Oscar voters had no interest in taking a trip into another dimension. Their loss. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is essential viewing not just for any film buff, but for any human being. Stanley Kubrick probably knew that this movie wouldn’t answer the question of what the meaning of life is in one simple word. I like to think that Kubrick truly knew and hid it in any frame of this movie, and after a certain number of viewings, maybe it can be found. But until that happens, let the jaw dropping visuals unfold before you. After the credits roll and the star baby has faded, you might cry, you might throw a fit, or you could do anything else in between. Best Picture seems to be about the movies with mass appeal. It’s about time to pick a nominee that not everyone can get behind.

Easy Rider (1969)

Understandably, the Academy wasn’t too pleased with a movie about hippies taking over. The motorcycle riding outlaws of “Easy Rider” was the New Wave coming in to save Hollywood from a crumbling studio system. The rednecks, meanwhile, were the cranky old voters, minus the shotguns. “Easy Rider” proved that filmmakers no longer needed the system; all they needed was a story, a camera, and maybe a good weed hookup. This movie broke ground in so many ways, perhaps most memorably for its soundtrack, which started off with Steppenwolf’s attention-grabbing “Born to Be Wild.” The messy, handheld camerawork actually adds to the movie. Never has imperfection seemed so perfect. But most importantly of all, “Easy Rider” includes a very high Jack Nicholson talking about aliens. It is just as good as it sounds.

Animal House (1978)

This might not be the pick you were expecting, but “Animal House” really deserved the love. Unfortunately, Best Picture is never kind to comedy but had this one been nominated, it would have set a great precedent. Think of some of the funniest things in the movie. Could you ever watch them and not laugh? The most important question here may be as to why John Belushi himself didn’t get a nomination. The dining hall scene, in which he takes at least one of every food item (and takes bites of some, and leaves them behind), is the model for quiet, subtle comic brilliance. Comedies suffer when they are over-analyzed, so just watch this clip and you’ll understand:

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Hollywood loves message movies, but for some reason they only enjoy the preachy ones. “Crash” won in 2005 for informing the world that racism is bad, and it makes a few rich white people living in L.A. feel sad. Sixteen years earlier, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” was released amidst a storm of controversy. It earned ecstatic praise from critics, but it barely made a ripple at the Oscars. To this day, it remains the most provocative, daring, and funny movie about racism that I have ever seen. The best part about it is that it is not necessarily about racism, but a movie about situations in which race may or may not have been the ultimate cause of them. Of course, the Oscars want definitive answers, not ambiguous ones. And especially not ones with this much energy pumping through them.

Children of Men (2006)

Some movies that earn respect over time might take over two decades to do so. “Children of Men” elevated itself in just a few years. “Children of Men” is the most realistic portrayal of a dystopian future ever to be put on film. It strikes so many emotional chords and in the end, it is a movie about life, not death. It also has some cinematography that is downright groundbreaking, with the camera moving at the nonstop and unpredictable pace that mankind’s fate is headed in. The world may very likely be approaching the future “Children of Men.” But until now “Children of Men” is your’s for the darkest futuristic road movie you’ll get to see.

And a Few More: Night of the Hunter, Pan’s Labyrinth, Kill Bill (1&2), Rosemary’s Baby, The Wild Bunch, Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, Magnolia, Blade Runner

Horrible Decisions: The Ten Best Movies That Didn’t Win Best Picture

Every once in a while, I ponder why the Oscars even exist, and why I should care. Sure, they have no monumental impact on the world, but for me, the Oscars are a little like Super Bowl, just a little less dramatic. Voters have a bad habit of picking the wrong winner, year after year. Sometimes, the real winner is obvious. Other times, people won’t realize it until 50 years later. Click after the jump for my list of the ten best movies that should have won Best Picture (sorted by year of release):

Citizen Kane (1941)

“Citizen Kane” may not be my favorite movie of all time. However, the claim that it is the greatest movie ever made is completely warranted. There is something about revolutionary movies that causes the Academy to not reward them Best Picture. Instead, “How Green Was My Valley” won that year, giving people the only possible reason to ever hate John Ford. To this day, Orson Welles’s experiments with the camera, and his radically non-linear story-telling, are as fresh today as they were in 1941. Without “Citizen Kane,” the most revered filmmakers of our time would not have made some of their best work. The snub of “Citizen Kane” set the unfortunate precedent for voters to choose safe, comfortable stories over those that actually had an impact on the artform or were actually, well, good. It really is time for the Academy to stop letting old white people choose all of the winners.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

“I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.” It’s hard to believe this classic was passed over for Best Picture, especially when John Huston took the Best Director trophy for this film. “Hamlet” ended up being the winner in 1948. No disrespect to the Bard or Laurence Olivier, but “Hamlet” adaptations seem to come and go every few years. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is something that could never be repeated. Sure, that beheading at the end looks really fake, but Humphrey Bogart gave one of the best, most despicable performances of his career. Maybe the Academy just couldn’t deal with a protagonist this reprehensible. 

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

“The French Connection” took home the gold in 1971. It was certainly a daring choice back then, and the car chase scene still goes pretty unmatched. However, that movie has lost some of its luster in the sea of cop thrillers that have been made ever since. Over 40 years later, “A Clockwork Orange” is as intriguing and audacious as it was the day it first came out. It would still create a stir if it was released today. The Academy never honors movies like “A Clockwork Orange,” but they would be a lot cooler if they did.

Taxi Driver/All the Presiden’t Men/Network (1976)

Some people called 1939 the banner year for movies. The real banner year was 1976. That year’s Best Picture winner, “Rocky,” is a classic in many ways. It’s a nice movie, it’s about the underdog overcoming the odds. I like that idea, I always root for the underdog. However, when the Best Picture category also includes Martin Scorsese’s unflinching masterpiece “Taxi Driver,” the seamless political thriller “All the President’s Men,” and the still relevant to this day satire of “Network,” you’ll realize that you were rooting for the wrong underdog.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

1979 was the rare year that the Academy chose a small, socially aware drama over a big epic for Best Picture. “Kramer vs. Kramer” was the first movie to handle divorce so honestly. The big catch is that it beat “Apocalypse Now.” “Kramer vs. Kramer” is a very good movie, but “Apocalypse Now” is the kind of magnum opus that only comes around every once in a while. Upon its initial release, Francis Ford Coppola’s meditative take on Vietnam was not regarded as the masterpiece it is today. The film was likely still recovering from all of the bad press revolving around its infamously disastrous shoot. Claims of the film’s greatness are undisputed today. With the passing of time always changing perception, perhaps an award like Best Picture is pretty useless. How do we know what will be the true Best Picture years down the road?

Raging Bull (1980)

Hailed by many as one of the greatest movies of all time, “Raging Bull” probably suffered from boxing movie fatigue at the time (thanks for that one, “Rocky”). There is no way that anyone could not admire this movie. Everything from its boxing sequences, which are as violent as they are beautiful, and the performance by Robert De Niro, a monster in everyman’s clothes, is a cinematic achievement. “Ordinary People” might have won the gold, but only “Raging Bull” would end up on most critics’ lists of the best movies ever made.

Goodfellas (1990)

I have not seen “Dances With Wolves,” so I cannot make fun of it as much as I would like to. One day, my cousin described a movie starring Kevin Costner as “reeking of Costner.” I’d like to think “Dances With Wolves” is the same way. But I digress. 1990 saw a safe, politically correct big frontier movie sweep the Oscars while Martin Scorsese’s shocking, hilarious, and radically different “Goodfellas” took a backseat. Scorsese’s mob classic got the last laugh though: when’s the last time you saw someone incessantly quoting “Dances With Wolves”?

Pulp Fiction (1994)

1994 was the year that “Forrest Gump” won basically every award in its path. It is certainly a hard movie to dislike. However, that year also included “Pulp Fiction.” One movie was a heartwarming story about a mentally challenged man overcoming the odds and finding love. The other revived the career of John Travolta, re-wrote every rule of writing a screenplay, and inspired a million knockoffs that could never match it. The battle between “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction” is the classic battle between the safety of traditional Hollywood, and the radical change of New Hollywood. “Forrest Gump” might have won the Oscar, but more people have a “Pulp Fiction” poster hung up on their wall.

Choosing one scene to represent this movie is nearly impossible. This one makes me happiest.

Fargo (1996)

There is no way a movie like “Fargo” could ever win Best Picture. Yet, it could. Sure, its totally snarky. Sure, its intensely violent. Sure, a guy ends up in a wood chipper. But in the end, it has one of the most moving and affirming touches of life you’ll get to see in a movie, shared in such a brief moment. Movies like this should be winning Best Picture more often.

The Social Network (2010)

And the final, most recent, perhaps most infuriating case of Old Hollywood pretending they can stop New Hollywood with a naked golden man. “The King’s Speech” is a fantastic movie that tells a moving story and has some pitch perfect performances. But it wasn’t “The Social Network,” which became the first movie to so accurately pin the Internet Age. “The Social Network” itself is about a group of guys who fought the system and toar down age-old institutions. That is probably what the Academy was so afraid of, and why they passed up another movie that is already being hailed as a modern masterpiece. Hell, many other choices would have been better than “The King’s Speech” that year. Might I remind you that “Black Swan” was also nominated.

And a Few More: L.A. Confidential (beaten by “Titanic”), “Inglourious Basterds” (beaten by “The Hurt Locker”), “Saving Private Ryan” (beaten by “Shakespeare in Love”) 

Ten of ’10: The Best Movies of the Year

It’s that time of year again. No, it’s not time to light the menorah, open gifts from under the Christmas tree, or, do whatever people do on Kwanza. It is time to somehow take every single movie this year, compare them, and somehow rank them against each other. It may be confusing, and it may be extremely unfair, but it’s something every critic must do.
However, I see this as less of a chore and more of a privilege, as every good movie is worth talking about an infinite number of times. While I originally thought this year was not the greatest year for movies, I found I was quite mistaken when looking back. There may not have been an “Inglourious Basterds” this year, but there were many other films that followed very closely in its tracks of greatness.
Still, I had a tough time deciding what film to choose for number one this year, because there actually were many worthy contenders. There were some films that broke out of typical Hollywood cliches and created stunning pieces of entertainment. Others explored the excitement, loneliness, and selfishness brought about by the Digital Age in quirky and unique ways. 2010 was the beginning of a new decade, and therefore the potential for a new era of filmmaking. What will the predominant style be? I cannot say because if the biggest films of this year say anything, it is that ambiguity is in.
I can now safely say I’ve seen enough movies in 2010 to make my list. So here it is, the ten best films of 2010:

1. Black Swan- There are few words that could ever truly do justice to this film. But for a movie this good, it’s worth a try. “Black Swan” is the kind of psychological thriller that has been told so many times. Yet, what sets this one apart is that it actually has something new and effective to say. “Black Swan” is the greatest achievement in cinema in 2010 because it simply made up the best movie experience possible, doing so little and accomplishing so much. Darren Aronofsky’s look behind the scenes of a ballet may not be totally realistic, but it was a perfect metaphor for the artistic process. “Black Swan” also comes with the best female acting of the year. Natalie Portman’s wounding performance constantly oscillates between evil and innocent, yet never lands on just one. “Black Swan” leaves the viewer with so much to chew on with only some closure. It may be ambiguous, it may not make sense, but in the end, this film will never leave your head. It leaves you with something, and it leaves you with nothing.

2. The Social Network- What’s the best way to make a movie about Facebook not seem totally lame and self-indulgent? Hire Aaron Sorkin as a writer and put David Fincher in the director’s seat. “The Social Network” is one of the most polished films of the year. While it has been labeled as factually inaccurate by most, it still remains powerful for a generation raised on the internet. The screenplay, this year’s very best, moves at lightning speed, forcing the viewer to think quickly in order to keep up with the banter. Best of all, “The Social Network” provides one of the best characters in recent memory: Mark Zuckerberg. He spends most of the movie being a cold, stuck-up, and manipulative genius and miraculously ends the film as a haunted, semi-pathetic anti-hero. Even if it isn’t very accurate, “The Social Network” is still the most informative and relevant film of the year.
3. Inception- Now that all the hype and backlash have subsided, it’s time to once again talk about the sheer genius of “Inception.” With “Inception,” Christopher Nolan proved once again that there is a place for intelligence in mainstream cinema. Think about the scene in which the streets of Paris fold over, or the scene in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights the laws of gravity. “Inception” was the most thoughtful, well-crafted, and best of all, original blockbuster to come out in years. It was like a giant breath of fresh air circulating through the summer smut. Still, most people can only think about one thing: did that top fall or not? The real question should be this: if it did or didn’t fall, why would it matter?

4. 127 Hours- Is Aron Ralston a bad person because he decided to go on a dangerous nature expedition by himself, without letting anyone know where he was heading? Maybe not a bad person, but certainly one deserving of his own film. “127 Hours” may be one of the finest achievements in Danny Boyle’s career. Boyle is the rare filmmaker who can make over-directing stylish and meaningful rather than overt and excessive. The film is commanded by an extraordinary performance by James Franco, who gives the phrase “one man show” a whole new meaning. Once that final scene rolls around, if tears aren’t streaming down your face, then you might just be the one who’s a bad person.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World- “Scott Pilgrim” is 2010′s misunderstood masterpiece. People were probably turned off because it looked like a corny video game, or because they now hated star Michael Cera. To truly appreciate “Scott Pilgrim,” one must throw all expectations out the window. “Scott Pilgrim” is mashup satire, covering a wide variety of topics ranging from video games, to comic books, to hipsters and Asian fangirls. It perfectly hits all of its targets, without totally hating on them. Think of the whole thing as “Mortal Kombat” meets “Kick-Ass” meets that dude at the Vampire Weekend concert.

6. Kick-Ass- There was yet another underrated graphic novel adaptation this year. “Kick-Ass” took on the superhero genre by becoming a superhero film itself. In that nature, it succeeded at being both satire and the subject it was satirizing. It’s also hilarious and marvelously shot. If there’s one thing that can’t be forgotten about it, it’s Hit-Girl. In the breakout role of the year, Chloe Moretz manages to be more mature than her superiors. She also drops a c-bomb and slices someone’s legs off. If there is one thing that truly sets “Kick-Ass” apart, it is how absurdly, delightfully over-the-top it is.

7. The Kids Are All Right- This is good, honest, comedic writing at its very finest. “The Kids Are All Right” stars Julianne Moore and Annette Benning as a married couple on the verge of a familial crisis. “The Kids Are All Right” is funny at all the right moments and in the end, surprisingly sweet and unpredictable. The real magic here though is that this is the first film to be popular with mainstream audiences that barely makes a big deal out of homosexuality. It is simply a normal part of society. Good luck even finding if the word “gay” is mentioned once throughout the entire movie.

8. Toy Story 3- Pixar almost always ends up in the top 10 list. Not because it is common courtesy, but because they actually deserve the repeated honor.”Toy Story 3″ is possibly the most emotional personal film Pixar has ever created, even topping the opening sequence of “Up.” “Toy Story 3″ is the rare sequel with an engaging and original story. Most of the jokes will be just as hilarious to adults as they are to kids. But really, nothing “Toy Story 3″ did from a filmmaking perspective overly impressed me. It is the fact that “Toy Story” first came out when I was a child, and ended when I got ready for college, just as it did for the film’s Andy. When the final credits for “Toy Story 3″ rolled, it wasn’t just the end of a great film series: it was the end of my childhood.

9. True Grit- The latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen isn’t a genre-defying mind-bender along the lines of “No Country for Old Men” and “A Serious Man.” It isn’t a flat-out masterpiece like “Fargo” or “Blood Simple.” And it isn’t even in a category of its own like “The Big Lebowski.” “True Grit” is a pure genre film, and it brings out the very best of a great genre clinging for life. It includes a few great performances, mainly Jeff Bridges in full Dude element, and Hailee Steinfeld, this year’s other great breakout performance by a teenage girl. I have always seen The Coen Brothers as directors with mysterious motives. The motive is here is no mystery though. With “True Grit,” the Coen Brothers have created their first piece of pure, mainstream entertainment.

10. MacGruber- “MacGruber” had absolutely no right to be this funny. It is based off a decently funny concept, and stars a decently funny comedian. Yet, here I am, talking about the best comedy of the year. It managed to perfectly satirize the action movie genre without constantly winking at the audience. It contains a lot of random gags (the license plate), and a lot that are just too dirty to ever be funny (those sex scenes), yet they are anyway. “MacGruber” is an example of correct execution. It contains a daring style of comedy that is unfortunately taken for granted.

Other Contenders: The Fighter, Shutter Island, Fish Tank, Cyrus, Greenberg, The King’s Speech, The Town, Hot Tub Time Machine
Still Need to See: Animal Kingdom, Blue Valentine, Exit Through the Gift Shop, How to Train Your Dragon, Rabbit Hole, Somewhere
Worst of the Year: Robin Hood

The Top 10 Movies of 2009

In a recent tweet, Roger Ebert proclaimed 2009 as “one of those magic movie years like 1939 or 1976.” Some might say that’s a bold statement, but I say it’s not too far off. Of all the movie years this decade, 2009 ranks second only to 2007 (the year of “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Michael Clayton,” “Knocked Up,” etc.).
Yes, there was much trash this year. From toy commercials like “Transformers 2″ and “G.I. Joe” to death porn like “The Final Destination” and the ugliness of “The Ugly Truth,” 2009 indeed showed just how low Hollywood was willing to go just to make a buck. But beyond much preposterousness, creativity abounded.
There was something many filmmakers this year, both mainstream and independent, showed that set 2009 apart: bravery. Filmmakers were so willing to be bold that the best films were beyond great. Some of the boldest moves included the changing of history, the willingness to not make simple conclusions, and an inclination to show that the world is unfair and sometimes, the hero just can’t win. Oh, and add some CGI blue cat monkey people to the mix.
This year gave us some amazing new talents (Marc Webb, Neil Blomkamp) and some old pros doing what they do best (Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, James Cameron).
2009 gave us an eclectic mix of Basterds and aliens and corporate a-holes. Here now, are the ten best films of the year 2009:
1. Inglourious Basterds- It’s been almost half a year since “Inglourious Basterds” came out, and I still can’t think of a better movie that has come out since. “Basterds” is a World War II movie that only Quentin Tarantino could ever pull off: philosophical, extremely violent, and funnier than you could ever imagine. Tarantino shows off a rare ability to make vast stretches of dialogue as exciting as epic battle sequences. Brad Pitt, Eli Roth and Diane Kruger give career best performances while Melanie Laurent proves herself as a worthy leading woman. The real scene stealer, though, is Christoph Waltz, who portrays a Nazi as calm and casual as he is sadistic. In the end, “Basterds” amazes me in its audacity to both change history and turn such serious subject matter into a fun B-movie. This is a medium for Tarantino to show us both his love of movies and the insane universe in which he inhabits. It’s a universe that, in a perfect world, would truly exist. Read Review
2. A Serious Man- Some films just grow on you. “A Serious Man” is one of them. “A Serious Man” is both the most mature and the meanest film Joel & Ethan Coen have made to date. It tells the story of the suffering but well intentioned patriarch of a 1960s middle class Jewish family. “A Serious Man” is the most personal film of the Coen Brothers’ career and it shows in the perfection of every little detail of the era and culture. Michael Stuhlbarg is perfect in the role of Larry Gopnik, flawlessly portraying the character’s flawed nature and vulnerability to an almost hilarious effect. The Coen Brothers have created a film that offers no easy conclusions and will keep you talking and talking about it. It will one day be looked as the quintessential film about the Jewish American experience. Read Review ; Extra Analysis
3. Up in the Air- “Up in the Air” is one of those rare films that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy. Jason Reitman managed to create a film about a man so far disconnected from other human beings that is both relevant social commentary and a future classic. “Up in the Air” shows the downside of a corporate life, and that even though flying solo can satisfy some people, nothing compares to the feeling of being (and remaining) connected to others. Read Review
up_in_the_air_1.jpg image by The_Playlist
4. (500) Days of Summer- Far and away the best romantic comedy to come out in years. “(500) Days of Summer” is a standout in its genre for its willingness to bend the rules and be unpredictable. It’s not necessarily a love story, but a story about love between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). It’s told completely out of order because whichever way the story is told, this relationship will inevitably head toward disaster. “(500) Days of Summer” scores on creativity and on having the best use of a Hall & Oates song you’ll ever see. Read Review; Extra Analysis

5. The Hurt Locker- To date, most films about the Iraq War have tried and failed. That is, until “The Hurt Locker” came about, a film that connected quite simply because it offered a truthful, apolitical view of a war nobody quite understands. The film has an eerie documentary feel, and Kathryn Bigelow directs each action sequence with the utmost care and precision missing from most mainstream action films today. “The Hurt Locker” is not so much a film about Iraq, or a film about the hell of war, but rather about why men fight. Read Review
6. Precious- As so many before me have said, “Precious” tells the story of the girl you might walk by on the street and completely ignore. “Precious” is at times one of the toughest films to watch for its raw realism. However, sitting through it is almost a revelation for exactly that reason. Lee Daniels has created a film that will open your eyes to a world you knew existed, but like to pretend it didn’t. Amazingly, “Precious” also provides a bright ray of hope in such a dark world. Gabourey Sidibe gives a fine breakout performance as the titular lead. However, Mo’Nique truly steals the show as Precious’ abusive mother. She gives off the kind of brutal hatred that is at times too painful to watch, but too powerful to ever look away from.
 GET ON THE BUS Gabourey Sidibe delivers a powerful performance in Precious Precious: Based on the Novel \'Push\' by Sapphire, Gabourey \'Gabby\' Sidibe
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox- What kind of world do we live in where a movie made for kids, but is even more suitable for adults, fairs so poorly at the box office? Forget ticket sales, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a marvel, and proof of Wes Anderson’s wide range in directing ability. Anderson opts for old fashion stop-capture animation which quite ironically, makes its animal characters seem even more human. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” shows Anderson as the master of mise-en-scene. While kids won’t get the deeply existential questions Mr. Fox poses, make no mistake, this is the perfect movie for every member of the family. Read Review
8. Avatar- James Cameron, the most ambitious director of this generation, created what is quite possibly the most ambitious sci-fi epic to date. What set this film apart is its landmark special effects and use of motion capture technology which turns the Na’vi into creatures with a tangible, human quality. But what amazes me most about “Avatar” is the new world Cameron created for it. Each detail of Pandora is so vividly realized that it might as well be a real place. This is the kind of imagination missing from blockbusters nowadays, and the reason why I hail “Avatar” the “Star Wars” of our time. Read Review
9. District 9- Watch out, because the moderate-sized country at the southernmost tip of Africa has just given birth to a new filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Neil Blomkamp’s film is a thrilling and sometimes even funny sci-fi mockumentary about aliens landing in Johannesburg, and then being segregated by frightened humans. It works as both social commentary and awesome sci-fi entertainment. This new classic boldly sets an anti-Apartheid theme in a country scarred by Apartheid and uses its aliens to convey the theme. While “Avatar” is the best sci-fi film of the year, “District 9″ is the most original. Read Review
10. The Hangover- I needed one legitimate comedy for my list. After much thinking, I decided I’d go with what was the most hilarious and surprising film of the year. “The Hangover” is a great comedy because nearly every line is funny. The characters are beyond funny, and are enhanced by the believable chemistry between the actors. What makes “The Hangover” worthy of the top 10 is how it manages to be both a gross-out comedy and a mystery at the same time. “The Hangover” at first seems like it’s going to be the typical bachelor party in Vegas flick, but in the end, it’s a perfectly tuned satire of the idea of Vegas and the reality of it. That and tigers. And babies in sunglasses. Read Review
Other Contenders: Up, Adventureland, Invictus, Bruno, Star Trek, I Love You, Man, Dare, We Live in Public
Worst Movie: The Final Destination (3D)
Still Need to See: In the Loop, An Education, Moon, The Blind Side, Paranormal Activity, Big Fan, A Single Man, Observe and Report
Most Underrated: Adventureland
Most Overrated: 2012
Biggest Disappointments: Public Enemies, Where the Wild Things Are