By far the boldest movie of the year. The wordless first half-hour is delectably good and a bit subversive too. The plot sags once the robots leave Earth, but it remains a beauty to behold. I was surprised at how emotionally invested I was in those cute little robots. It’s certainly a better love story than anything I’ve seen humans try to pull off in a long time.
Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, an indelibly optimistic teacher who finds the good in everything around her-her stolen bicycle, her siblings’ rivalry, and even her racist driving instructor. She talks a mile a minute but it’s never overbearing and she’s always funny. This purely happy indie makes the perfect antidote for the depressing year we’ve had.
3. Man on Wire
What a thrill it was to watch this movie. A documentary about French acrobat Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center, Man on Wire shows through dramatic reenactments how Petit and his crew snuck to the top of the towers and accomplished a daring feat unlike any other. It gave me something good to think about whenever I see pictures of the Twin Towers.
4. In Bruges
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hit men sent to the scenic Belgian city of Bruges to hide out after a murder. Farrell’s character hates Bruges, while Gleeson’s loves it. They’re the funniest hit men since Pulp Fiction. The movie blends humor, action, and tragedy perfectly. No one saw this February release when it came out, but you have to see it now.
5. Rachel Getting Married
A good ol’ dysfunctional family flick. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a narcissistic addict who leaves rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding. Tensions rise to the surface as old wounds within the family are ripped open. The film honestly and perfectly shows the love/hate dynamic that binds every family together, for better or for worse.
6. Shotgun Stories
Roger Ebert recommended this unknown indie about two sets of half-brothers engage in a deadly civil war in rural Arkansas after their common father dies. The father’s first family, the one he abandoned, takes their hate for their father out on his other sons, and vice versa. It’s a quietly menacing yet ultimately uplifting story that rings true.
7. The Dark Knight
A blockbuster that actually earned its acclaim. Heath Ledger certainly deserves at least an Oscar nod for his role-the best villain in a long time. Repeated viewings revealed the film’s biggest flaw; without the Joker, The Dark Knight would be pretty standard superhero movie fare. Nevertheless, it’s a thrill to watch.
8. Tell No One
A great French thriller about a man who goes on the run after being wrongly accused of his wife’s murder. Simply yet beautifully shot, it seems like any other standard spy movie until the twist-fest of an ending, when things unfold little by little with new reveals one after another. But what won me was the incredible amount of heart and love underneath it all.
9. Encounters at the End of the World
A religious experience. The famed enigmatic German director Werner Herzog tops his last documentary (2005’s Grizzly Man) with this meditative look at Antarctica and the stories of those who brave the elements down South, from the iceberg geologists to the pinniped seals. It’s a beautiful and haunting ode to the great unknown.
Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in America in 1970s San Francisco. While it follows similar guidelines for the standard biopic, Milk is enthralling, educational, and very moving. It’s also very topical, with California having recently passed a ban on gay marriage. Sean Penn is deservedly bound for another Oscar nod.
Worst of the Year: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Remember when Indiana Jones and his crew were on the quest for the skulls and they were balancing on that gigantic plate in an underground cave? That scene was ripped-off from National Treasure: Book of Secrets. When you’re stealing from a movie that stole its entire style from the original Indiana Jones movies, you’ve got a problem. Add that to the laughable jungle chase scene and ridiculous “it was aliens!” ending and you’re left with a hideous shell of a movie.
Most Underrated Film: W.
While it didn’t make the impact Oliver Stone wish it had, W. manages to make some sense out of our soon-to-be-ex-President; his Oedipal complex, conversion to Christianity, and rational for going to war are all treated fairly and make Dubya a sympathetic character. The political junkie in me loved the parts about his presidency, but I also liked seeing an idea of what it was like growing up beneath the daunting shadow of his father. Here’s hoping for a sequel.
Most Overrated Film: Slumdog Millionaire
In Mumbai, India, a boy from the slums grows up and goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film tells his life story through each of the questions he answers. I grew tired of that stagey and predictable framing device early on, and the film’s inexcusable glamorization of the Mumbai slums just wrecked this one for me. Speaking of predictable: guy chases childhood sweetheart? Please.
Guilty Pleasure: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A pleasant early-in-the-year surprise. I loved the 1930s sets, costumes, and music. Amy Adams shines in any role she takes. The first 20 minutes-a rapid-fire slapstick comedy scenario-were highly engaging. The rest of the movie slows down and falls into a Great Gatsby groove, but it ends up with great depth and heart. Hopefully it will at least pick up a few nominations for costumes and set design, though it definitely deserves more.