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Movie Count 2011 (only in theaters!)

by Scott Lucas
Movie Count 2011 (only in theaters!) by Scott Lucas
It started with a bang (Manhattan) and ended with a whimper (The Artist). Last year, I went to see 155 movies. A personal best for me. Or worst – take your pick. I sat in a lot of dark rooms with a lot of strangers, and if there’s one thing I learned it’s this: It doesn’t matter if you’re young, it doesn’t matter if you’re old – I hate you and I want you to quit chomping on your popcorn and shut the fuck up. Movies are often celebrated for bringing together diverse groups of people and uniting them in their common love of cinema. But after a year of listening to their stupid comments, being kicked in the back of my seat by their stupid feet,… Read more

It started with a bang (Manhattan) and ended with a whimper (The Artist). Last year, I went to see 155 movies. A personal best for me. Or worst – take your pick. I sat in a lot of dark rooms with a lot of strangers, and if there’s one thing I learned it’s this: It doesn’t matter if you’re young, it doesn’t matter if you’re old – I hate you and I want you to quit chomping on your popcorn and shut the fuck up.

Movies are often celebrated for bringing together diverse groups of people and uniting them in their common love of cinema. But after a year of listening to their stupid comments, being kicked in the back of my seat by their stupid feet, and one woman coughing for a full 45 minutes during “Senna” – I’ve come to realize that I don’t particularly care for people. The sound of forced laughter fills me with a dizzying urge to murder that is so strong it makes me feel as if I might pass out. And popcorn? Jesus Christ! My arch-nemesis popcorn! Who decided that popcorn should be the movie snack of choice? Exactly how long has this country been under control of the evil corn lobby empire?

None of which is enough to keep me away. When the conditions are right, going to a movie is still one of my favorite things to do. I don’t care how big your TV is. It simply will not do the trick. That’s not to say watching movies at home can’t be great too. One of the best movies I saw all year was at home (“Fish Tank”), and I recently sprung for a projector which, I gotta admit, comes very close to the theater experience. But the feeling brought on by sitting in that front row (one that’s not TOO close – the Music Box or the Gene Siskel Film Center, for example, have the perfect front rows) and being swallowed up by that big screen is unbeatable. If it’s a great print of an old black and white movie like “Notorious” or a technicolor marvel like “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – even better. As long as you don’t see the glow of any iPhone screens, it can be the closest thing to time travel. It can even be a shitty print. I don’t care. It only adds to the charm.

Which brings me to the most dismaying development in film exhibition – digital projection. It is everywhere and I hate it. It’s like going to the theater to watch somebody’s big TV with some asshole who charges you for parking and forces you to drink soda out of containers with an undertow. I’ll admit, over the course of the year it’s gotten so much better and there may come a day when I won’t even notice it much less mind it, but I will miss those little “cigarette burns” telling me (and the projectionist) that it’s time to change the reel. At least digital gets the framing right and always hits the focus – so there’s that.

So how does someone see 155 movies in a year? Someone who supposedly has a job? Someone who’s not retired? And how does that person afford it? Well I go to a lot of matinees, I belong to a lot of film societies, and I’m not above using a system author Dan Zamudio has dubbed “Pay For One – Stay For More”. Sneaking in, you say? Stealing, you say? Hardly. When Hollywood charges 12 bucks for shit like “The Sitter”, am I supposed to feel bad for helping myself to a second, hopefully, better movie? Hey, suit! It’s called a double feature and you used to charge a quarter for it. (For the record: You may think I’m down with bootlegs, but I am not. Now THAT is wrong. At least until they stop looking like crap.)

And since I live in Chicago, I don’t necessarily HAVE to go out and see “The Sitter” if I don’t want to. I would say about half of the movies I go to see are “old” movies – whether it’s part of a lecture series, a touring revival, or a 24 hour cinematic bloodbath like the Music Box Massacre. (I logged eight movies at that one alone. Of course, there IS a price to be paid.) There always seems to be a great movie playing SOMEwhere. And it stands to reason that these are usually the films that I learn the most from, so it always galls me to no end when I hear people say “I’ve seen everything. Been there, done that.” Really?!? Over a hundred years of film history spread out across six continents and you’ve seen everything? When people say things like that it usually means they’ve seen “The Help”. (I haven’t seen “The Help”.)

The truth is you’ll never catch up. Not even if you stick to American films – which you totally should NOT do. (I completely failed in my foreign film duty this year.) So while 155 films might seem like a lot, it’s really not. There are so many movies I didn’t get a chance to see, and since I don’t live in New York or L.A., so many movies that I wasn’t ALLOWED to see, at least not until their Oscar campaigns got rolling nationwide.

And speaking of the Oscars – this morning’s “Nominations Announcement”™ has spurred me to look back at the last year and compile the movies I saw into groups and lists. I’ve decided to screw that new-fangled 5 star Netflix system and go old-school with the 4 star-style (Ebert, yo!). Here’s the full list grouped by star ratings:

4 stars (27)

Hannah And Her Sisters
Black Swan
Another Year
The Grapes Of Wrath
The Birds
Blue Velvet
13 Assassins
Big Trouble In Little China
Gentleman Prefer Blondes
The Tree Of Life
Taxi Driver
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Rear Window
Pillow Talk
The Apartment
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Thing (1982)
Rosemary’s Baby
Raiders Of The Lost Ark
It’s A Wonderful Life

3 1/2 stars (27)

The Illusionist
Blue Valentine
True Grit
Eyes Without A Face
Cedar Rapids
The Soft Skin
The Trip
Road House
The Misfits
Soul Train
The Wizard Of Gore
Young Adult
The Tenant
Last Tango In Paris
The Interrupters
A Dangerous Method
Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol

3 stars (38)

The Fighter
My Dog Tulip
Every Man For Himself
127 Hours
Play Misty For Me
And Everything Is Going Fine
Inside Job
Open Water
Source Code
Jane Eyre
Captain America : The First Avenger
Attack The Block
The Double Hour
The Future
Viva Riva
Fright Night
Our Idiot Brother
Tucker & Dale VS Evil
Wait Until Dark
Juan Of The Dead
The Vampire Lovers
From Dusk Till Dawn
Stand By Me
Murders In The Rue Morgue
Take Shelter
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
The Descendants
The Skin I Live In
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

2 1/2 stars (27)

Great Directors
The Dilemna
Rolling Thunder
Fast Five
Stake Land
Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Midnight In Paris
Cave Of Forgotten Dreams
X – Men : First Class
Page One : A Year Inside The New York Times
Road To Nowhere
Point Blank
30 Minutes Or Less
Another Earth
Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame
Miss Bala
The Ides Of March
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
Creature From The Black Lagoon
Paranormal Activity 3
The Landlord
J. Edgar
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Artist

2 stars (20)

The King’s Speech
Winston Churchill : Walking With Destiny
Rabbit Hole
Meek’s Cutoff
The Beaver
Super 8
Beautiful Boy
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The Devil’s Double
Cowboys And Aliens
Night Of The Creeps
The Thing (2011)
In Time
Antonio Guadi
The Adventures of Tintin

1 1/2 stars (11)

Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale
No Strings Attached
Sucker Punch
Your Highness
Transformers : Dark Of The Moon
Horrible Bosses
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
Final Destination 5
The Guard
City Of The Living Dead
My Week With Marilyn

1 star (4)

Hall Pass
Shark Night 3-D
The Sentinel
The Sitter

Looks pretty good, right? Twenty-seven 4 star movies vs. four 1 star movies. Well, I don’t actively seek out bad movies. I’m not a masochist – so why punish myself with “The Hangover 2”? So unless there’s a ghost of a chance that I’ll enjoy it – I won’t bother. (And yeah – I thought there might be SOME chance that I would enjoy “Transformers” – a very slim one, granted, but a chance.) What should come as no surprise, however, is that the bulk of the of the films wind up in that juicy 3 star middle curve. They range from movies that were a pleasant surprise (“Fright Night”) to movies that were very entertaining if just a tad too workmanlike (“Contagion”). It’s that latter category – the movies that are really good, not great, but totally worth seeing – that are the movies that tend to get the Oscar nods. Why award a movie for aspiring to greatness? Let’s nominate a movie like “Moneyball” for best picture instead. A movie that most commonly inspires the reaction “Gee, I don’t usually like baseball movies – but that wasn’t bad.” (For the record, “Moneyball” IS a baseball movie. People hit balls with bats, there’s a world weary manager, and the team is a group of scruffy underdogs. Sounds like “Bull Durham” to me.) In this country, the middle class may be shrinking – but when it come to movies, it’s just as healthy as ever.

I’ve got a lot more to say about some of these movies – so I’ll roll out my lists of best, worst, etc. Just like a real guy who pretends to be a critic (and to convince myself that my time watching “No Strings Attached” wasn’t TOTALLY wasted).


About half of the films I saw last year were what you would call “old” or “classic” movies. Whatever. Most of them were awesome. Many people asked where I would see these movies, and the answer is usually at the Music Box or the Gene Siskel Film Center (I love the Film Center – but a bigger group of weirdos, you will never see.), but they can pop up anywhere. So, look out for them.

Favorite Revival Screenings of 2011 (that were not the Music Box’s Christmas Eve showing of “It’s A Wonderful Life”) :

1. Raiders Of The Lost Ark – a key movie in my development that’s almost single-handedly responsible for turning me into a hopeless movie freak. I originally saw it with my friend Steve when it came out in the summer of ‘81 – and I would go on to see it 12 more times in that summer alone. Totally hooked. The restoration that played at the Music Box this year was pretty great – the colors, the clarity; I don’t think it looked this good even 30 years ago. But the best part was watching my buddy Jeff’s son Jameson’s reaction during the melting Nazi sequence. Awesome. (almost as good? Watching Jeff during the propellor to the face part – I think we forgot how violent this movie actually is. Ahhhh – the pre-PG -13 glory days.)

2. Manhattan – this movie helped teach me what widescreen is. With flatscreen TV’s in every home and bar, virtually every movie seems to be made in the widescreen format (here’s a “Dilemma” : does Ron Howard really need a 2.35:1aspect ratio to frame Kevin Smith and Vince Vaughn? On second thought – maybe he does). But it didn’t use to be that way. Woody Allen refused to let this film, his second masterpiece after “Annie Hall”, be shown on video in any format other than the widescreen ‘Scope framing it was shot in, which led to my introduction to letter-boxing. Before that, I don’t even think I realized there was such a thing as widescreen. After that? I couldn’t watch a widescreen movie that had been marred by pan and scan without wanting to vomit (okay. Not really. But have you ever seen a pan and scan version of “The Graduate”? It suuuuucks.) That’s all well and good – but it also means that since I was already watching this movie on a tiny black and white tube (?) television, the letter-boxing just made it that much smaller. Not at the Music Box last January. There I was free to sit in the front row and revel in all the high contrast landscapes and negative spacing that I could handle. It was worth the wait. And soooo much better than “Midnight In Paris”.

3. The Grapes Of Wrath – I’d never seen John Ford’s version of Steinback’s novel before, and it was a revelation. Not just because of how great Greg Toland’s stunning cinematography looked at the Gene Siskel Film Center – but I was really struck by how much I was entertained and sucked in by the sheer power of the storytelling. Considering the sources, I guess I shouldn’t have been. But I was anyway.

4. Big Trouble In Little China – this year I got to see not one – not two – but THREE John Carpenter movies on the big, wide screen for the first time. Carpenter has long been a hero of mine, and I really do think his skill at widescreen composition is nearly unparalleled (totally not forgetting the brilliant cinematographer, Dean Cundey, and his hand in these particular pies). So seeing “The Thing” and especially “Halloween” on the big screen is essential to understanding their impact. And even though I adore “Halloween” as much as anything – I don’t think I’ve had more fun at a movie all year than this midnight showing of “Big Trouble” at the Music Box. Plus – that print of “Halloween” really sucked.

5. The Wizard Of Gore – this is the second time I’ve seen a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie at the Music Box Massacre (yeah – that’s right. 24 hours of horror movies). “Blood Feast” was showing at my first Massacre which I attended a few years back. And as great as that movie was – this tops it (plus – Lewis was actually there singing songs for us!). Sure his movies are tasteless, amateurish, and the acting is beyond incompetent – but his movies are full of more crackpot energy and entertainment than a million Michael Bays (at a fraction of the price, too). If you haven’t seen one of his movies – you have GOT to do yourself a favor and see this one. Or don’t. I don’t care.

6. The Tenant – this was part of a film series at the Film Center about movies where the action is predominately set in and around apartments. This was one of three Polanski movies I saw this year that fit that description (“Repulsion” and the great “Rosemary’s Baby” were the others) – and this is also the one of those three that I had never seen before. I’m glad I waited. Polanski plays the central character and that only seems to underscore how personal this film seems to be for him. Not only in the way it alludes to his then recent legal troubles, but also to his holocaust experiences (it seems to anticipate many themes laid out in “The Pianist”). But that’s just one layer in this particularly dense onion. There’s a lot going on here – and most of it is (not surprisingly) pretty evil.

7. Taxi Driver – seems like I see this once every couple of years or so. Brand new restoration – so those lurid reds have gotten even more lurid-y. Yeah, I know this movie is disturbing and all that – but how funny is Albert Brooks? (and to the Acadamy, a different question : Where the HELL was Albert Brooks?!? Dudes – you effed up. Seriously.)

8. Eyes Without A Face – part of a series on psychological horror at the Film Center, this unusually grim classic (graphic face peeling in the 50s?) is also unusually beautiful. I’d seen it before, but not like this.

9. Claudine – also a part of the apartment series, I’d never even heard of this – but I’m grateful to film series organizer and lecturer, Pamela Wojcik for programming it. It was terrific. With Dihann Carroll, this all but forgotten movie from 1974 features the funniest and most honest mother/child relationships this side of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”. But what really had me laughing like a crazy person was when I realized why all of James Earl Jones’ dialogue sounded so familiar (go to YouTube and type in “Vader Sessions”. You’re welcome).

10. The Apartment – guess what film series this was a part of. I had seen this plenty of times before – but thanks to Ms. Wojcik, I was finally able to appreciate the complex visual rhymes and motifs that proved to be every bit as witty as its celebrated screenplay. Who knew that Wilder was such a stylist? Probably everybody but me. But that’s why it’s never a waste of time to go these revival screenings. You can approach a movie from a different perspective and see it in a way you never had before – and you don’t need some bullshit 3-D conversion to do it. (of course, it works the other way, too – “Labyrinth”, anyone?)


Alright, let’s talk about some new movies. Like it or not, outside influences have a lot to do with how we react to a movie, especially the first time we see it. I try to block out reviews, trailers, and friend’s opinions – but sometimes shit gets through. On top of that, my own biases and expectations certainly don’t help matters. It’s nearly impossible to experience a movie without something getting in the way of you and the screen. This can make you walk out of the theater completely baffled by your fellow man. Like, how can your opinion of something be so completely different than everyone else’s? The answer, of course, is that your fellow man is a nut-job.

Most Overrated and/or Biggest Disappointments :
You know what? I was really excited to see all three of these movies. And it’s not like any of them are necessarily BAD – in fact, I would say they’re all worth seeing. But holy shit – did they underwhelm me. I’m not mad at these movies……I’m just disappointed.

3. Melancholia – They’ll tell you that this was a big comeback for Lars Von Trier, but it was the first time I’d actually been bored by one of his movies in quite a long time. “Antichrist” was excruciating to sit through – but at least I wasn’t BORED by it. And Kiefer Sutherland turns in the worst performance of the year. The first ten minutes are awesome, though.

2. The Artist – Omigod, “The Artist”. There may come a day when I grow to love this movie as much as everyone else seems to – but for now, I just see (hear) myself making gagging noises when it wins Best Picture. The leads are both appealing, but this one note joke of a movie has nothing more to say about silent movies than Mel Brooks did in the 70s. Except back then, we didn’t have to pretend that what we were watching was high art. (and for another record : “The Artist” is NOT a silent movie. There is spoken dialogue and synched sound – including musical cues lifted from “Vertigo”. It is no more a silent movie than “Eraserhead”.)

1. Midnight In Paris – Like “The Artist”, Woody Allen’s latest seems designed to let us pretend that we’ve stepped off the beaten path to choose the less traveled road of enrichment and culture. Like we’ve just sat through the goddamn ballet or something. And honestly – why go see an old silent movie when we can go see a new movie pretending to be a silent movie? And why go to a museum when Woody can make us feel like we did? All smart and erudite and shit? It’s right there on the poster, right? Van Gogh. Except this Van Gogh has Owen Wilson on it. Awesome. Actually, Wilson is a pretty good Allen stand in – much better than Larry David – and I love Woody and am always pulling for him, so it’s nice that this was such a big hit. But his biggest hit EVER? Come on, man. This movie is little more than a rewrite of his own “The Purple Rose of Cairo” from 1985 – just not as clever OR honest. And when you see how much deeper and hard earned that earlier film’s insights and epiphanies are – well, you begin to realize what weak sauce “Midnight In Paris” really is. Whatever. I’m a crank.

Biggest Surprises (that were not “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”):
Once again – this cuts both ways.

3. Fright Night – I could not have had lower expectations. But unlike that completely useless carbon copy of Carpenter’s “The Thing” (prequel, my ass) – this is that rare remake who’s existence seems wholly justified. It assumes that you’ve seen the original but doesn’t seem to care. It doesn’t try to up the torture porn ante that most horror remakes seem to be doing – but it also doesn’t spend a lot of time mired in cheese and winking at 80s fanboys. There’s nothing retro about Colin Farrell’s take on the vampire – he’s great and his scenes are truly frightening, including a great rescue attempt from inside the vampire’s house – and each of the familiar elements are given their own completely agreeable spin. Not great, of course – and I’m not even going to get into which version is better – but this was soooo much better than it had to be.

2. 50/50 and Cedar Rapids – I had no interest in seeing Seth Rogan be best friends with another cancer patient in “50/50”, and the awful ad campaign for “Cedar Rapids” made it look like “The Hangover 1.5” – but I wasn’t prepared for how moving (the former) and, well, sweet (the latter) these movies would be. There have been a lot of shitty comedies this year (we’ll get to that), but they’ve been balanced by the ones that are smart, human, and disarmingly nonjudgmental. These are two of the best and most unexpected.

1. Warrior – Now here’s an ad campaign I wasn’t buying. And judging by how many people saw this, nobody else was, either. Did we really need another “The Fighter”? “No”, right? But dude – this is so much better than “The Fighter”. You don’t have to believe me now – wait’ll you’re bawling your eyes out after the fiftieth time you see it on cable. The brother against brother stuff is, admittedly, familiar – but the choice of archetypes makes it current and vital while also making it difficult to know who to root for : One brother is a scarred Iraqi war vet – the other is an out of work teacher trying to make the payments on his shitty mortgage and protect his family. Who should we value more? Soldiers or teachers? Of course, with all the bad-ass UFC shit going on, and more emotional uplift than a night full of "Rocky"s on AMC – you won’t even have to think about that if you don’t want to. I’m just saying : you and TNT needed this movie.


The Oscars are this week, so now would be the perfect (and last) time to wrap all this up and get to the best new movies of the year. But first, since it contains just as many Oscar winners and nominees as the best list, let’s start with the worst. (and just like my other lists, I reserve the right to change my mind about these movies once they start showing on cable)

The worst of 2011 :

10. Sucker Punch – Zack Snyder has never been what you’d call a great artist, but his terrific “Dawn Of The Dead” remake was enough to suggest that we could expect more from him than, say, Michael Bay. But now, I’m not so sure. “Sucker Punch” starts out with a seemingly shot-for-shot remake of the “Jamie’s Got A Gun” video (seriously), and then turns into….well, I was TOLD that it was like a combination of “300” and “Showgirls” – and while that was more than enough to get me into the theater- no such luck. I think this movie is probably more like a virtual reality version of what goes on in Snyder’s mind when he used(?) to play “Dungeons and Dragons”.

9. My Weekend With Marilyn – What separates this from a Lifetime movie? Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe? Kenneth Branagh as Olivier? Harvey Weinstein’s big mouth? Well, it’s not enough.

8. No Strings Attached – This was that OTHER movie about platonic friends who just want to have sex. The one that made “Friends With Benefits” seem like a goddamn masterpiece. Come on, man – why did this have to happen? Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis were in “Black Swan” together. Wouldn’t you have thought they would just happen to glance at one another’s script in between shooting lesbian scenes and realize they were about to make the same movie? Movies like this are why Meryl Streep should win Best Actress every year. And speaking of Natalie Portman…..

7. Your Highness – …….she’s in this one, too. Forget Michelle Williams as Marilyn. You want a truly heroic performance that threatens to prop up a limp tent of a movie? Check out Danny McBride in this awful medieval stoner comedy by the once great David Gordon Green. McBride tries his damnedest to make up for the lack of anything (or anyone) even remotely funny happening here. And for a few thrilling moments, you think he might actually succeed. But, no. This movie drags him down like shitty lions descending on a curly mullet-ed zebra of hilarity. Really wanted to like this one.

6. The Guard – This movie just made me angry. What was everyone laughing at? Is lame, recycled Tarantino dialogue just supposed to be automatically funnier when it’s spoken with an Irish brogue? Now to be fair, it is certainly possible that someday I will change my mind about “The Guard”. Director, John Michael McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who directed “In Bruges” – and I didn’t like THAT movie the first time I saw it, either. But to be even fairer – I still don’t like “In Bruges” and I still think it’s highly overrated. So, there’s that.

5. Horrible Bosses – Jason Sudeikis sucks. He’s the worst thing about “Saturday Night Live”, and now he’s the worst thing about movies. Considering the never ending stream of crap that he appears in, I have no idea why he seems so pleased with himself. Who knows? Maybe he really thinks his movies are good? Or maybe he’s just an unrepentant jack-ass. On the other hand – Jason Bateman does NOT suck. But even if he were bringing his A-game to “Horrible Bosses” (and rest assured, he most certainly is not), that would not be enough to save a movie that just isn’t very funny. Charlie Day certainly tries his best – his “best” being his usual high pitched screaming routine – but again : not very funny. Even the all-star trio of Horrible Bosses (Aniston, Farrell, and – best of all – Spacey) is not enough to save this from the vortex of Sudeikis suck-itude. It’s a plague, folks – but we’ll get back to that later (oh, YEAH – Jason Sudeikis WILL return).

4. Transformers : Dark Of The Moon – I know, I know. What did I expect?

3. Shark Night 3-D – See #4.

2. The Sitter – What happened to David Gordon Green? With films like “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls”, he started out being the heir apparent to no less than Terrence fucking Malick. Then in 2008 he made a total left turn and made a stupid stoner comedy, “Pineapple Express” - and guess what? It was GREAT! After directing various episodes of the brilliant “Eastbound And Down” for HBO, it seemed as if Green had a new career as a comedy auteur on his hands. Let’s hope not. Based on the evidence of this movie and “Your Highness”, I would think that a sequel to “Snow Angels”( his downer-fest from 2007) would be funnier. Even Jonah Hill, while doing press for “The Sitter”, seemed to shy away from talking about this movie – instead, focusing on “Moneyball” and his increasingly grating Oscar groveling (and let’s talk about that for a second : Jonah Hill, please stop with the Oscar shit. When did you get so smarmy?).

1. Hall Pass – Jason Sudeikis still sucks. And this time, there’s no one here to try and stop him. Certainly not a pre-“Midnight In Paris” Owen Wilson, looking sapped-out and lost and wondering he got from “Bottle Rocket” to here. And definitely not the Farrelly bros – who turn in a lame “I love my wife” comedy that feels curiously out of date and completely unnecessary to anyone who’s watched a CBS sitcom. A soul sucking experience. (and for the record : Sudeikis made another “comedy” last year, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy”, but I passed. Fool me thrice? I have DONE my time with that smirking tool.)


Yuck. That made ME feel smarmy. Let’s count down the good ones.

The best of 2011 :

10. Young Adult – A career best for everyone involved. Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, and Charlize Theron all pretty much nail it – and, of course, are all conspicuously absent from this year’s Oscars. If Patton Oswalt had been just HALF as pandering and obsequious on the talk show circuit as Jonah Hill, that best supporting Oscar nom would have been his for the taking. But a quiet refusal to pander is part of what makes “Young Adult” so terrific. That and an excellent use of Teenage Fanclub.

9. Tyrannosaur – The great UK actor, Paddy Considine, makes his directorial debut with this excellent piece of British drinking class miserablism. Powerful and scary, the entire movie is a clenched fist – until it opens up in unexpected ways. And even then it packs a punch.

8. The Trip – More Brits. Rob Brydon (having a ball) and Steve Coogan (pretending not to) talk all over the English country side in this movie cobbled together from the Michael Winterbottom BBC mini-series. The best dialogue of the year – and it’s all improvised. Take that, Aaron Sorkin.

7. Senna – This documentary about Brazilian Formula One race car driver, Ayrton Senna, may be the most exciting movie of the year. I still have scars from where I was unconsciously digging my nails into my wrist. Seriously.

6. 13 Assassins – Or maybe this is. This Japanese samurai flick approaches no less than “The Seven Samurai” in its greatness. Takeshi Miike quietly builds up the first hour by assembling his band of assassins, and then lets them run riot all over the second hour. That last hour is non-stop hell breaking loose – and by “non-stop hell” I mean, “flaming bulls”.

5. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – Or maybe THIS is. I had heard it was good, but I had no idea it would be this good. Sort of a prequel and kind of a remake of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, “Rise” separates itself into three distinct genres and acts : act 1 is a medical science gone wrong parable, act 2 is a prison movie, and act 3 is a King Kong-style disaster spectacle. The fusing of these elements totally works, the story momentum never lets up, and even the CGI monkey effects are uniformly great. Fully satisfying and Andy Serkis really deserves some recognition from the Academy, for chrissakes.

4. Hugo – Martin Scorsese turns in another classic. No surprise. The big surprise is how personal and emotional “Hugo” is. On paper, Scorsese doing a 3-D movie children’s movie looks like something just short of a paycheck. On the screen, he is fully invested and transforms the “3-D kid’s movie” into something completely unexpected : a movie full of life and devoid of an ounce of cynicism. And it’s not just a technical marvel. It’s not just the best use of 3-D ever. It’s as if he’s using every tool in the toolbox to wow us, and then (selflessly and without ego) goes back to the beginning of film to show us where it all came from. Amazing. But again, it’s Scorsese. Why should I be surprised?

3. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Impossible to shake. John Hawkes is amazing, and where the hell have the Olsen twins been hiding Elizabeth? She’s great – and another of this year’s many shocking Oscar snubs/crimes. And that ending? Whoa.

2. Drive – Speaking of Oscar snubs. Who’s head does a guy have to bash in to get some Academy Award nominations around here? Would there have even BEEN an American film industry this year without Ryan Gosling? And no Albert Brooks? Even Hitler was pissed about that (but isn’t Hitler pissed about everything these days?). You actually think that dude from “The Artist” is a better director than Nicolas Winding Refn? Or that fucking “Moneyball” has better editing? Have you guys even SEEN the opening sequence? I saw that opening again recently on a goddamn airplane, and it was STILL heart-stopping. Bryan Cranston? Ron Perlman? And Christina Hendricks gets her head blown off? Come on! Plus – the year’s coolest soundtrack, but whatever.

1. The Tree Of Life – No contest. Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of LIfe” is a full-on masterpiece and the best new movie I saw all year. The way it blends the macro and the micro – focusing in on a Waco, Texas family in the 1950’s and then pulling back to consider the origin of the cosmos – there’s nothing quite like it. It’s scope. It’s ambition. The only movie I could compare it to would be Kubrick’s “2001”. “Tree of Life” feels like the movie Malick has been working towards his entire life, and unlike “The New World”, there’s far more going on here than mere “pretty pictures”. It’s almost less of a movie than it is a sculpture – but there is real emotion, great performances (this, not “Moneyball”, is Brad Pitt’s best performance of this year), and major ideas going on at the heart of this amazing movie that, I suspect, will live on and be scrutinized long after most of this year’s other Oscar contenders will have faded from memory.

That’s it. I’ll step off my soap box. Now let’s see what you got 2012. “The Grey”? Here I come.


The list of every movie I’ve seen in a theater this year (listed in the order that they were seen) is below :

  • (#08 should actually be the Churchill documentary “Winston Churchill : Walking With Destiny”, but I couldn’t find it on MUBI. So instead it shows up as a Soderbergh movie.)
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