#1 Midnight in Paris
Paris and literature taken to golden heights of intelligence and humour.
|Have you ever wanted to see Owen Wilson play a modern day Alvy Singer and then transport him into the 1920s? I'm assuming that nobody other than Woody Allen has even thought about doing that. But trust me, now you'll want to see it. "Midnight in Paris" pairs ingenious casting with Allen's usual parade of characters (a neurotic writer, a right-wing Republican ignoramus, and a pedantic know-it-all) and places them in Paris.
Directed by: Woody Allen
Screenplay by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams
|See full review of Midnight in Paris
#2 I Love You Phillip Morris
Unabashedly hilarious, wildly inventive and real - in more ways than one.
|Steven (Jim Carrey) wants to be the best person he can be. But then petty things like morality and understanding the differences between right and wrong would get in the way. And then frequently land him in the hospital and jail. He also said the he wanted to be the best person he could be back when he was an upstanding Christian citizen who loved his wife and daughter. Sometimes he would forget that he was a homosexual. Or at least forget to tell us.
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Screenplay by: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra
Based on the book by Steven McVicker
Starring: Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor
|See full review of I Love You Phillip Morris
#3 J. Edgar
Presenting a hero but not defining hero versus villain.
|“J. Edgar” is worth the hype, the fuss and the wait. I was particularly intrigued by the prospect that it was directed by the older, masculine Clint Eastwood and written by the younger, out-and-proud Dustin Lance Black. I got the biographical story of the FBI leader and I also got the deeply-touching love story of a closeted gay man. Both were woven together seamlessly.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer
|See full review of J. Edgar
The carnage left over after a verbal battle of wits.
|“Carnage” is about the carnage that is left over as two couples get together to discuss their sons’ recent altercation. It’s a play. Not just based on a play, but I’m pretty sure it is the play, word-for-word, scene-for-scene. But make that just one scene. One room, one afternoon, four characters. What makes it even more unique, is that it’s a comedy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy this simplistic in its setting.
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Screenplay by: Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz
|See full review of Carnage
#5 The Conspirator
Guilty or innocent, "The Conspirator" gets everything right.
|"The Conspirator" is an impossible trial to win, but it's tried by the best cast in the best manner possible. Heroes returned home from the Civil War to be greeted by the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) and other high-profile members of the War Department. President Abraham Lincoln was occupied elsewhere.
Directed by: Robert Redford
Screenplay by: James D. Solomon
Starring: James McAvoy and Robin Wright
|See full review of The Conspirator
More than a game of numbers.
|It has long been said that professional sports are more a game of politics than an actual game. The MLB is not just a game of money, but here, it’s a game of numbers versus a game of people. It's callousness at its highest when general managers trade away people as objects with little regard for them or their family. Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland As, seems to take that even further, treating people as if they are only numbers, and yet there was something refreshing and humanistic about the whole thing.
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
Based on the book by Michael Lewis
Starring: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill
|See full review of Moneyball
Feelings of melancholia bursting through the brilliant colours of the Earth.
|Justine (Kirsten Dunst) suffers from severe depression. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) drives herself crazy with paranoia over fear of the end of the world. “Melancholia” just might prove to be the end of the world. This film just might prove to be an example of some of the best filmmaking in the world.
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Screenplay by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg
|See full review of Melancholia
#8 The Artist
The golden hue of black and white silence and old-school charm.
|“The Artist” is an artist’s film; a tribute to the golden age of movies. In 1927, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent film star at the height of success. When the studios turn their attention to talkies, George isn’t ready to make the transition. He continues to watch the world in black & white and listen in silence.
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Screenplay by: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin
|See full review of The Artist
#9 Certified Copy
"Certified Copy" is an original work of art.
|Discussions on art, on the interpretations of art, and on the value of copies of original art. Discussions on relationships, marriage, and on the types of individuals it takes to enter into one. Discussions on what is truth, what can be left up to the viewer's imagination, and what really matters. "Certified Copy" is all of that.
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Screenplay by: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell
|See full review of Certified Copy
The romantic desperation of flawed characters with humour, love and understanding.
|Sam (Michael Angarano) is going to take his friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) on an adventure. It starts with Sam referring to liking a book in his “younger and more vulnerable years.” Sam used to think it was written about him; Marshall thinks it is written about him. And if you already know which book they are referring to, the characteristics of Sam and Marshall, and the adventure they are about to go on, instantly fall into place.
Directed by: Max Winkler
Screenplay by: Max Winkler
Starring: Michael Angarano, Reece Thompson, Uma Thurman and Lee Pace
|See full review of Ceremony
#11 Daydream Nation
An edge-of-your-seat coming-of-age drama.
|In a small town where teachers sit in front of apathetic kids in the classroom and teenagers have nothing better to do than find household items that might get them high, "Daydream Nation" sneaks in and takes everything by storm. Caroline (Kat Dennings) is new in town and it's not that she loves to cause strife or turmoil, but she's smarter than her fellow classmates and she's looking to define herself just as any smart, lonely teenager would do. This is the year that everything happens.
Directed by: Michael Goldbach
Screenplay by: Michael Goldbach
Starring: Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell and Reece Thompson
|See full review of Daydream Nation
Strong female independence, great action, and impressive filmmaking.
|In her words, Hanna is trained to be independent. In our words, Hanna is trained to be something like a super killer. Wild animals, humans, it doesn't matter. She knows all the techniques. With intense action, character development, and inventive filmmaking, "Hanna" is super cool.
Directed by: Joe Wright
Screenplay by: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Starring: Saoise Ronan
|See full review of Hanna
"Jolene" is an unforgettable journey.
|"Jolene" is quite a film. It's about the journey of life for Jolene (Jessica Chastain), who is quite a character. A girl who was left to be raised by the authorities, she is itching to experience more of the world and be happy—the type of girl who could get hurt. But Jolene has an indescribable quality that makes people fall in love with her, lust after her, commit crimes for her and then go crazy, and generally in that order. Likelihood is they’ll get hurt instead of Jolene.
|2008 (with 2011 DVD release)
Directed by: Dan Ireland
Screenplay by: Dennis Yares
Based on the short story "Jolene: A Life" by E.L. Doctorow
Starring: Jessica Chastain
|See full review of Jolene
#14 Red State
This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.
|“Red State” is a horror the way “Jesus Camp” (the 2006 documentary) is a horror; not in the way Hollywood makes horror movies. It’s actually scary. It’s scary because these people exist and events like the fictional ones portrayed here have occurred and there’s no reason they won’t occur again. I’m assuming Kevin Smith had nightmares for years and to try and right his world, he had to tell this story.
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Screenplay by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks and John Goodman
|See full review of Red State
#15 Take Shelter
Shelter in the face of insanity versus reality.
|Curtis (Michael Shannon) is having bad dreams and hallucinations. He’s likely just going crazy, but if he is in fact having visions of the future end of the world, then he might as well “Take Shelter”. With Curtis’s dreams turning into nightmares turning into a possible reality, he needs to keep himself safe and his wife (Jessica Chastain) and their young, deaf daughter.
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Screenplay by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
|See full review of Take Shelter
The relationships of life told with drama, humour, subtlety, and thoughtfulness.
|“Beginners” is one of those life dramas where Oliver (Ewan McGregor) has to take care of his dying father, Hal (Christopher Plummer). Except Hal has just announced that he’s gay and has hooked up with a much younger man, Andy. Oliver hasn’t been able to carry on any relationship but meets the mysterious Anna (Mélanie Laurent) just as he’s grieving over the loss of his father. Oh, and there’s a talking dog.
Directed by: Mike Mills
Screenplay by: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer
|See full review of Beginners
Driving a slow and thoughtful character study into a full-on violent crime thriller.
|Ryan Gosling is a driver. During the day, he’s a part-time Hollywood stunt man and a part-time car mechanic. During the night, he seems to spend most of his time helping out with criminal activities. All of the time, he’s a leading man. He has a quiet and unassuming charm about him that can drive girls wild, and grateful bosses (like Bryan Cranston) since he’s so trustworthy and capable.
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay by: Hossein Amin
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston
|See full review of Drive
#18 The Ides of March
The games people play to get ahead, not necessarily in politics, but within themselves.
|George Clooney is running for President. Well, I mean, in “The Ides of March,” as Governor Mike Morris, he’s running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. He’s the good guy and his opponent is the bad guy. Because that’s how it is supposed to be, right? The opponent’s campaign manager is played by the ever shady Paul Giamatti, while Morris’ campaign is run by the young, handsome idealist Stephen (Ryan Gosling).
Directed by: George Clooney
Screenplay by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon
Based on the play by Beau Willimon
Starring: George Clooney and Ryan Gosling
|See full review of The Ides of March
#19 The Descendants
Scaling the Hawaiian country-side with tears and laughter.
|"The Descendants" is set in Hawaii but Matt King (George Clooney) and his family are not on vacation. Far from it. King is actually in a line descended down from an old Hawaiian princess and has inherited a wealth of land. That's only the secondary plot. The primary plot is that his wife is in a coma and he has to learn how to be a parent to his two unruly daughters. Cue the laugh track.
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Screenplay by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller
|See full review of The Descendants
#20 Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene all caught between truth, sanity and madness.
|Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a character who has forgotten what it means to be normal. Marcy May is a character who has been taught to ignore social values and any definition of “normal.” Martha and Marcy May is the same person and that’s where the conflict lies. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a dramatic character study which edges towards psychological thriller.
Directed by: Sean Durkin
Screenplay by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen
|See full review of Martha Marcy May Marlene
#21 Meek's Cutoff
A journey not about the destination but which prejudices to fight to stay alive.
|As bleak as the 1845 Oregon landscape they are traversing, “Meek’s Cutoff” is about the arduous journey three wayward families are taking. Their trip is at first to get to a better life, but later it becomes just about finding water. Although the film is less about their voyage and more about the characters and their decisions.
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay by: Jon Raymond
Starring: Michelle Williams and Will Patton
|See full review of Meek's Cutoff
#22 Beautiful Boy
The beauty of love and the beast of life's realities.
|“Beautiful Boy” is about people. Husband Bill (Michael Sheen) and wife Kate (Maria Bello) and their son who is in his first year of college. They have an emotionless marriage, one where things are done logically rather than with feeling. They’re separated, just not physically. Bill is going to save up money, then find an apartment, then put a down payment on it, and then move out. But then comes the news of a mass shooting at their son’s school. The police arrive at their door and the tears start flowing. But, wait, as the cops say, “There’s more.”
Directed by: Shawn Ku
Screenplay by: Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku
Starring: Maria Bello and Michael Sheen
|See full review of Beautiful Boy
#23 Young Adult
An almost brilliant look at the world of a darkly troubled young adult.
|“Young Adult” takes place in that thirty-something world where young college student ready to take over the world meets experienced cynic (see my review of “The Ides of March”). Both halves exist in troubled Mavis (Charlize Theron) and not sure what to do about it she sets her sights on her high school flame (Patrick Wilson) who is now married with a newborn.
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Screenplay by: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt
|See full review of Young Adult
#24 My Week with Marilyn
An affair with Marilyn Monroe, but who is she?
|“My Week with Marilyn” is the week-long affair with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for young film enthusiast Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). It’s also a week from hell for great actor Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) as he tries to make a movie with Ms. Marilyn Monroe. It’s also a week-long glimpse into the beautiful / tragic life of the starlet-turned-starlet.
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Screenplay by: Adrian Hodges
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh
|See full review of My Week with Marilyn
#25 The Lincoln Lawyer
A thoughtful ride with characters and intriguing conflicts of innocence and guilt.
|The titular Lincoln lawyer is smooth Mick Haller who is just as smooth as Matthew McConaughey. His sleaziness is entertaining, but his lawyering is smart and intriguing. This film has pretty much the perfect mix of a smart plot, with inventive twists, amusing one-liners, and captivating thought-out characters.
Directed by: Brad Furman
Screenplay by: John Romano
Starring: Matthew McConaughey
|See full review of The Lincoln Lawyer
Poetry and its education brought to life.
|Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl brought to life with a mix of adult animation, court-room drama and the beliefs of a young hero of sorts. Ginsberg represented the new generation of the young, confused nonconformists and he wrote poetry that ignited the wrath of the older generation that rejected their freethinking ways. The great thing about "Howl" is that I didn't know any of that before the film, it was able to educate me about a remarkable young man and literary voice.
Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Screenplay by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: James Franco
|See full review of Howl
#27 Horrible Bosses
Adding coarse and sexual content to make a plot-rich story funny.
|In the vein of "The Hangover" (2009), "Horrible Bosses" has three friends taking a wild trip to—well, jail, most likely. They mean well, but when you spend your free time drinking at a bar complaining about your bosses, reckless plans are bound to be hatched. But I'm glad they do. It's a premise with lots of possibilities, never quite knowing which turns they would take, and they were all hilarious.
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Screenplay by: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis
|See full review of Horrible Bosses
#28 Little Fish, Strange Pond
Perfect mix of intrigue, danger, tragedy, love, sex, violence and plain old American fun.
|I saw this titled as "Frenemy" but the original "Little Fish, Strange Pond" is a much better title. It's not just that Mr. Jack (Matthew Modine) and Sweet Stephan (Callum Blue) are small players in the grand schemes of the world, but that the world is a strange place.
Directed by: Gregory Dark
Screenplay by: Robert Dean Klein
Starring: Matthew Modine and Callum Blue
|See full review of Little Fish, Strange Pond
|There’s a lot to be ashamed of in “Shame”. But are the characters actually ashamed of their actions? That’s an interesting question which the film attempts to answer. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict; Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is Brandon’s wayward sister and is a needy drama queen; David (James Badge Dale) is Brandon’s boss and is an offensive womanizer. These aren’t easy characters to like or even necessarily care about, but they certainly are compelling.
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Screenplay by: Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan
|See full review of Shame
#30 Margin Call
The buying and selling of protagonists and antagonists in a profanely straight film.
|Set during the recent financial crisis, “Margin Call” does something that most of these sobering dramas do not. It’s not about the characters reactions but their expected actions and takes place primarily in board rooms. A large number of rich and even richer guys work for a financial company that buys and sells. Buys and sells what is blurry, likely on purpose.
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Screenplay by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany
|See full review of Margin Call