What's this? Another film on my list that doesn't feature Creatures from the abyss, radioactive mutants, or Mons-turds (trust me, it's coming)? This is a slow burn of a film that may leave some viewers cold and unsatisfied. It's a shame because this just might be David Fincher's best film. Robert Downey jr is terrific as are Jake Gyllenhaal (for once), Mark Ruffalo (as the inspiration for Dirty Harry in a role that is very un-Dirty Harry), Anthony Edwards, and John Carroll Lynch as the lead suspect. The movie doesn't really answer many questions but does seem to take a firm stand on the placement of guilt. This is a 70s movie all the way down to the look, feel, and film stock. Needs to be seen more than once.
Finally, a return to smart, serious science fiction that also manages to entertain (sorry Solaris). In the not too distant future, the sun is burning out and, in a last ditch effort, Earth sends a group of scientists into space aboard the ill-named Icarus II in the hopes of reigniting it. What happened to Icarus I? Watch and find out. The plot sounds Armageddon-stupid, but this film is more about what happens during the journey. The cast is first rate with Hiroyuki Sandada, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy leading the way. Several set pieces stand out including one where we find out what really happens to man if he's trapped in space without a suit (hint; he doesn't turn inside out). Alex Garland and Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) provide us with one mis-step, involving Freddy Kreuger, but I forgive them.
7. Eastern Promises
Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg team up, again, to provide us with a perfect counterpoint to History of Violence. In that film, Viggo was essentially a bad guy pretending to be good. Here, he's a good guy pretending to be bad. In both cases, he is entirely convincing. Cronenberg has moved light years beyond the sterile, vaginal horrors of his early days. Here is a film that is not only moving, but beautiful to look at as well. Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassell are terrific, but it's Armin Mueller-Stahl who blows us away as the seemingly benevolent head of the Russian mob, residing in London. Still, the film belongs to Viggo and Cronenberg, who would be well on his way to winning an Oscar, except that he still insists on shocking the viewer (thankfully). In this picture, we are shown the most brutal throat slashing in mainstream film history, as well as a naked Viggo brawling for his life in a shower.
6. Black Book
Speaking of directors that will likely never win an Academy Award due to their tendency towards the shocking, Paul Verhoeven has crafted a stunningly good Dutch language film set during World War II about a Jewish girl (Carice Van Houten) who pretends to be a Nazi to help the resistance. Of course, this being Verhoeven, we are treated to a scene of Van Houten dying her pubic hair AND later having a large bucket of shit dumped on her. These are two things the Academy voters are not too fond of, in my opinion. Van Houten is the real find here. It's a beautiful performance. Sebastian Koch is terrific as well as the slightly sympathetic, stamp collecting Nazi that she pretends to love, but then sorta falls in love with for real. This is likely the only time a subtitled film will ever appear in this blog, so I suggest you revel in it.
5. The Bourne Ultimatum
I'm just going to come right out and say it. The Bourne films blow the Bond films away. It's that simple. Bond is just kinda silly in comparison. Take a look at Casino Royale for proof. They tried to Bourne Bond up in that one and while it was the best Bond film in recent memory, it still doesn't hold a candle to Bourne. Matt Damon was born to play Bourne. Sorry for that. These films are exceedingly smart. Jason Bourne never does something that isn't absolutely necessary. The films get a little too shaky-cam happy at times, but that simply serves to place the viewer in the midst of the action. The director of the best two films in the series (Supremacy and this one) is Paul Greengrass and he's done more than a bang up job. It's very rare that the ending of an action movie gives me chills. This one did.
And you guys thought I didn't like comedies! The award for the funniest film of the year goes to Superbad. Michael Cera (Arrested Development) has teenage awkwardness down to a science. Jonah Hill as his best friend Seth isn't funny just because he's large. The funniest character is probably Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the "25 year old organ donor McLovin". Something tells me the actor will fade into obscurity as his lack of any range whatsoever is discovered. If only that had happened to Jon Heder. Basically, it's a night in the life of two High School students trying to get boozed up and laid. Seth Rogan and Bill Hader are hilarious as two cops that have yet to grow up. I won't say it's as good as Dazed & Confused, but I definitely laughed more.
Perhaps the greatest crowd-pleaser I saw this year, 300 is a terrifically entertaining underdog story. Much better than recent Underdog stories such as Underdog or Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. Gerard Butler gladiators up as King Leonidas. Let's face it though. We didn't come here for the acting. The visuals are spectacular. 90% of what we see was generated inside of a computer. All of the landscapes, most of the beasts, and I think the majority of those androgynous Persians as well. The battle scenes are incredible, the deaths are brutal, and the testosterone is pumped to ridiculous levels. They tried to offset it a little by including a side plot involving Leonidas's wife, Queen Gorgo, but the ladies weren't buying it. Zach Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) continues to make his name as a visual stylist beyond compare. I can't wait to see what he does next.
2. The Mist
And the award for the film with the most fucked up, nihilistic ending that I loved this year goes to Frank Darabont's The Mist. Based on the Stephen King story of the same name, The Mist is the story of what happens after the military accidentaly opens a gateway to another dimension. It's an interesting, and not particularly original premise. In fact, the idea owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft. Where the picture excels, however, is depicting the terrors that occur amongst a group of survivors holed up inside a super market. Marcia Gay Harden is terrifying as the sinister religious zealot Mrs. Carmody, while Thomas Jane and Toby Jones (a fantastic performance) believe that this is something other than the "end of times". The gore is abundant and the creatures will have your skin crawling. It's been weeks since I've seen it and I still can't shake that ending.
1. No Country For Old Men
I hesitated before proclaiming this #1 because I knew everyone else would. Then I thought to myself that if it looks like shit, feels like shit, and smells like shit than it must be shit. That's the case here only if we replace "shit" with best picture of the year. Enough has already been said about Bardem's Chigurh, the scariest badman of the last ten years or so. Only Chigurh wouldn't consider himself bad at all. Josh Brolin channels a younger Nick Nolte (was Nolte ever really young?) in his portrayal of Llewelyn Moss, the unfortunate soul that picks up the satchel of money from a drug deal gone horrificaly wrong. My favorite character moment was when Moss, feeling a pang of guilt, decides to bring a jug of water back to the scene of the crime, where a dying mexican was begging for "agua" hours before. The picture is excuciatingly suspenseful at times. At others, darkly funny. Roger Deakins provides beautiful, desolate photography. Tommy Lee Jones, as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, plays a guy he's made a career out of playing, only this time he's even sadder (if that's possible). Carter Burwell's non-score suits the picture perfectly. Every character is note perfect, from Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss to Garrett Dillahunt as Deputy Wendell. Perhaps my favorite was the great Barry Corbin as Sheriff Bell's mentor, Ellis, who delivers one of the film's stirring monologues; "This country is hard on people...You can't stop what's coming. Ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity." The ending is considered by most as unsatisfying, but I thought it was perfect AND incredibly moving. The stuff of myths. Oh yeah, and I think it was made by the Coen brothers in case that means anything to you.
Minor complaints: No nudity. No aliens.
Coming shortly, my bottom five.