Sunday, March 30, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 2010's...So Far: Part I

100. Scream 4 (2011) - Scream 4 did predictably well at the box office when it premiered in April of 2011. In contrast, its critical response was mixed at best, and it is not hard to see why. Let's face it, Scream 3 was a complete disaster, mostly because Kevin Williamson didn't write the screenplay, and the franchise lost all of its humor, becoming the lame slasher film that it so mercilessly and beautifully mocked in the first two sequences. Scream 4 still has its problems, and it is kind of bad when you can tell the parts that Williamson
wrote, and the parts he wasn't able to. But something about Scream 4 has always stuck with me. First, I need to put out a disclaimer that I am not a big fan of horror movies. I like the old classics, and a good Hitchcock thriller is always in the cards, but in general, I avoid them like the plague. So it says something that with the exception of the third installment, I have always loved the Scream movies. For me, Scream 4 managed to capture a huge chunk of the meta-humor and gleefully ridiculous over-the-top kills of the first two installments. Its opening sequence of excessive sequels re-establishes the tradition of great opening scenes, while always managing to make fun of itself. Our old favorites all returned, and the reunion was certainty worth it. But newer, fresh faces, particularly Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere brought wicked humor and a fresh crop of characters to revive the story line. And let's not forget that whole final sequence at the house was scary as hell, ridiculous, and classic Scream with the volume turned up. Scream 4 is not a perfect movie by any means, and I'm sure many readers will question its place on this list. But despite its haters and its flaws, it turned out to be an entertaining thrill ride and a great chapter in a fantastic movie franchise.

99. The Muppets (2011) - Over the last couple of decades, The Muppets have had their share of successes and failures on the big screen. When the announcement came that a new Muppets film was going to hit theaters for the first time in over a decade, most of us were probably more than a bit nervous. Especially when the last effort was Muppets From Space. But luckily for those of us who have always found
the fuzzy bunch adorable, not only was it worth the wait, but it felt like all that time allowed for a creative rebirth. This time around, the writing was just sharp enough to help avoid the pitfalls that had doomed some of the previous efforts, and Jason Segal and Amy Adams provided some human energy and spirit in leading roles that continued to bring the cheer, while also bringing The Muppets to a new generation. But the real reason that this film really worked was because it never shied away from what made them so great in the first place. They re-channeled the energy of the late Jim Henson, and once again found the perfect balance of edgy humor, and family-friendly gags. It was modern enough to appeal to new audiences, but by recapturing that energy that many fell was long gone, it nostalgically reached to the children and teens who grew up in the 70's and made them feel like they were coming home. But above all else, what made this round of The Muppets so great was that it was just so much damn fun. It was pure joy and uproariously entertaining. As critics/pundits/bloggers, especially those that follow the Oscars, we seemed to get so bogged down that we forget to just sit back and have fun. The Muppets wasn't made to be a critical favorite or an Oscar contender (although it ended up being both). It was made to make kids of all ages, from one to 92, feel joy and be incredibly entertained, and boy did it knock it out of the park.

98. Solitary Man (2010) - Since his on-screen successes of the 80's and 90's, Michael Douglas has made some regrettable casting choices in his older age. But in 2010, he bravely dived into the independent scene with a film and a role that seemed to be mirroring his own life in some ways. He embraced the role and the film, and the result was the underrated comedy gem Solitary Man. The story line revolves around an incredibly unpleasant man, who despite his professional and personal failures, all of which were his fault, has yet to get it. He still walks around with a certain air of cockiness, ignorance, and delusion. Even at the end,
after multiple opportunities have passed right in front him for him to better himself and learn from his mistakes, he stands up with that same old swagger and his audience doesn't know if any of it has had any effect on him at all. This is not the kind of character that audiences embrace, and in fact, many of them as well as critics, shied away from the film, which seems to glorify his behavior. But despite its cynical tone, Solitary Man works, and deep beneath the surface is an interesting and convincing look at a man lost in his own delusions. Its witty script, which definitely has a bite, beautifully constructs Douglas' character, and surrounds him with quirky and equally flawed characters, wonderfully played by a great cast led by Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise-Parker, Jesse Eisenberg, and Imogen Poots. But at the center, the reason that this film found success, and doesn't bog down too much in its own cynicism is the delicious performance by Michael Douglas. He has always been better when playing bad, and Ben Kalmen is one of his finest creations, and a breath of fresh air to a remarkable film career that had hit one too many speed bumps. It is Douglas' energy and embracing of the role that made, and still makes, Solitary Man a work worth revisiting.

97. This is 40 (2012) - When it premiered in 2012, This is 40 did not receive as much attention as some of Judd Apatow's previous works such as Knocked Up or The 40-Year Old Virgin. After seeing the film, this was not surprising to me. Like every Apatow production, the film is about thirty minutes too long, and sometimes feels like it is trying just a bit too hard to find your funny bone. But like his previous efforts, and despite his flaws, Apatow always manages to find nuggets of human truth buried beneath the obvious
comedy on its surface. And I think that the critics were either too blinded or too cynical to see the underlying brilliance that made the film succeed despite its obvious flaws. This is 40, at its center is about growing old. It is about trying to embrace that last grasp of youth before it slips away. It is about how a marriage or a career that seems to be humming along just fine, has actually been fraying and pulling at the seams. It is about what happens when you hit the big 4-0, and the seams finally begin to show. No, from its surface none of this apparent. From the surface, it is another stale mid-life crisis comedy, with some raunchy moments to appeal to the younger demographic. The emotional effect, and the depth of the film reveal itself through a subtle, almost sly script from Apatow, that creates and expands these characters from their sidekick origin of Knocked Up, and gives us a real look at a long-term marriage. But the real sell of the film is the chemistry and performances of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. They both manage to balance subtlety, and outbursts of emotion as their personal and professional lives start to fall apart. Mann in particular is fantastic, an under-appreciated comedienne and her emotional and funny work here in This is 40 is pitch-perfect. Take my advice, go back and give this one another try, you may find out that you liked it better than you thought.

96. X-Men: First Class (2011) - The first two X-Men films were some of the best science fiction/comic book movies every put on screen, particularly X2 which was emotionally brilliant. Then the franchise hit a few speed bumps. The third film of the original trilogy was a big, loud mess, and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is not even worth discussing. So going into First Class, I did not have much hope. But alas, a new vision from Matthew Vaughn, a tense, well-written Cold War-era script, and a fresh talented cast of young
actors revived a once fantastic film franchise, and has set us up for what I hope is a bright future as this new trilogy unfolds. The film sets itself up as a prequel, and the first chapter in the saga of how Professor X and Magneto went from being best friends to enemies. Probably the most brilliant casting move was the duo of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Both Oscar-worthy actors with extensive training, they bring a certain gravitas and intensity to the roles that truly does match their older counterparts Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Among the younger generation, it is Jennifer Lawrence, whose bright shining star continues to brighten every film she is in, and Nicholas Hoult, whose geeky sweetness is simply endearing that truly stand out as incredible film presences. Most importantly, we get an important connection in a story spanning decades, and the set up of the incredible battle that was to come. It doesn't overstay its welcome, and it doesn't feel like another lazy sequel/prequel that was made just to make money. Instead we get a well thought out and vital piece of the X-Men saga that brought new life and new energy to a classic comic book story. Can't wait to see what is in store for the X-Men next.

95. Crazy, Stupid Love (2011) - There are so many romantic comedies produced every year, that it is usually incredibly hard to discern or distinguish one from the other. They usually follow a tremendously well-worn formula that has long ago played itself out. But in the summer of 2011, a bright, fresh new look at the romantic comedy genre was brought to the screen in the form of Crazy, Stupid Love. The biggest difference,
and the most immediate one was the casting. Bringing in the likes of Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, and particularly the splendid pair of Julianne Moore and the infectious Emma Stone, was truly a struck of brilliant casting work, and the results were immeasurably improved simply because of the talent on screen. They spark and pop with the material, and create an undeniable chemistry that lights up the screen. But what really sets it apart, for me, was the fresh look at love through a well-written, surprisingly deep and dramatic story. It probably would have been a lot higher on the list if its final act weren't so filled with too many twists and turns, but despite a soft landing, its journey throughout was a refreshingly unique look at love. It starts with a messy divorce and the dissolution of a happy marriage, and leads us to unexpected places. The main story line revolves around Carell's character learning out to pick up women from a suave charmer played with a lot of charisma by Ryan Gosling. But its not the main story or even the side ones that set this romantic comedy apart. It is the small moments. The dichotomy of Gosling's confidence and Carell's vulnerability, the complicated and still smartly viable marriage between Carell and Moore, and the sparkling chemistry between Gosling and Stone. Crazy, Stupid Love proves that one of the most endearing genres, romance, is still alive and well, and makes up easily for small missteps with a lot of passion, a great cast, and new look at love that still manages to bring the charm.

94. City Island (2010) - Every year there seems to be a slew of well-made indie comedies that get swept under the rug and too-quickly forgotten about. City Island was one of those films, as most people out there have never heard of it. It actually has a plethora of bankable stars including Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Emily Mortimer, and Oscar-Winner Alan Arkin. But that didn't seem to help it avoid its relegation to forgotten film. All of this is to say that it is an unfortunate turn of events, and that if you are willing you should
take a trip to City Island with its cast of wacky characters. City Island is set in a small fishing island in New York where the locals and the non-locals all have nicknames and where tradition and family are the most important thing. And of course anytime families protect their traditions and their history, secrets are kept to avoid messing with the shiny exterior. The film, at its core, is about the secrets we keep, even from the ones we love, because we are afraid of the consequences. And when the secrets are finally revealed, what you get is a wickedly, ridiculously funny climax perfectly foreshadowed by its intertwined, and deep exposition. The cast also includes the young talent Ezra Miller and all of them are on top of their game, and tackle the material with energy. It doesn't hurt that writer/director Raymond Felitta has created a cast of characters, and wonderfully funny story of dysfunction that, despite its sometimes unbelievable twists and turns, is actually an incredibly real and touching story about the problems of modern families, and the consequences of not being honest with the ones you love. It is the indie comedy genre at its best, and truly is that undiscovered gem that is worth digging through the masses to discover.

93. This is the End (2013) - There is nothing about This is the End that on paper should work. Its premise is ridiculous, its cast, while talented, are playing themselves, and its many different threads could have easily turned into the disastrous embarrassment Movie 43. But, surprisingly it didn't. In fact, it was the exact opposite. It balanced its actors with ease, it was uproariously funny, and its cast was so game for whatever shenanigans Seth Rogen and his team threw at them, that you couldn't help but be wrapped up in the hardcore, graphic story line that commences. In the years to come, This is the End will probably not be
remembered as a great film, so much as a great experiment. Either way, I don't think it actually matters. What Rogen and his cast of top-notch actors and comedians including James Franco, Emma Stone, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Mindy Kaling, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, and Channing Tatum (knowing I have forgotten plenty along the way), wanted to do was create a story that was absolutely ridiculous, surprisingly fresh and inventive, and make its audiences literally laugh their asses off with a raunchy, embarrassingly funny riot. And in that respect they were incredibly successful. Some films are made to attract audiences with big special effects or a premiere summer release date. Some films are prestigious projects angling for high critical scores and butt loads of shiny Oscars, Golden Globes, and other awards. Then there are films that are made for the people, there are the films that are made for one reason only: to be incredibly entertaining. While I enjoy all three categories, I am starting to gain a hell of a lot more respect for the films in that final category. It is nice to every once in a while sit back and enjoy a film, knowing that it is not going to impact the Oscar race. This is the End is one of those films that should not be thought about too much, although it does have surprising depth, but instead should simply be enjoyed for what it is: a hell of a good time.

92. The Way Way Back (2013) - As I have said before, each new film year produces a set of indie comedies that are often criminally ignored. Last year, one of those films was Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's The Way Way Back. I knew it was going to be hard to top their work in The Descendants, and this time they did not have the keen eye of Alexander Payne behind the camera. In the end, it was not as prestigious as The Descendants, and at times could be a bit messier than Payne probably would have allowed. But like their previous script, The Way, Way Back was a emotionally satisfying comedy that uses its talent wisely and
captures the hearts of its viewers. The story revolves around the awkward teenager Duncan (Liam James), who is traveling with his Mom (Toni Collette) and her asshole boyfriend (Steve Carell), who are spending the summer at the beach with his wacky group of friends (including Amanda Peet, and the always fantastic Allison Janney). While trying to escape from this new world of his mom's, which makes him incredibly unhappy, he stumbles on to young love, and stumbles into an old water park run by the fascinating and washed-up Owen, and his on-again, off-again love interest Caitlan (Maya Rudolph). Sam Rockwell's Owen is yet another great role for the underrated actor, who is constantly overlooked despite his impeccable talent, and the whole cast has a brimming chemistry that perfectly captures both the dramatic and awkward moments, as well as the sweet and funny ones. The Way Way Back is wonderfully funny nostalgia trip about the perils of growing up, and the consequences for those that refuse to. It is a wonderful ensemble piece and proves that Faxon and Rash (both of whom have great supporting roles in the film), are not one-trick ponies, but instead, great young talents to watch out for in the future.

91. August: Osage County (2013) - Many thought at the beginning of 2013 that August: Osage County would be the one to beat come Oscar time. But then it premiered to mixed reviews, medium box-office despite its star power, and walked away with only two nominations for its stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. I am not trying to argue that one of the nine Best Picture nominees should have been replaced by August: Osage County, or that it wasn't a bit of a disappointment considering the power and history behind the source material, but in the end, I also feel like the film got beat down a lot more than it deserved, and upon a second viewing, I realized that there was a lot to like about the film. It doesn't quite have the bite of
its Pulitzer-Prize winning play, but it also doesn't go on for its incredible length either. But that doesn't mean that it still doesn't pack an emotional punch. It manages its emotional outbursts and dark comedy well, and deftly combines its massive cast, and interweaves its characters relatively well, despite popular belief. But the real reason to see this is the absolutely jaw-dropping cast. The men don't have much play here, but the women really shine, and it gives tasty material to some of the finest actresses working today. Character actors like Margo Martindale get a place to shine along stars, and the always underrated Juliette Lewis proves again why she deserves more roles like this. But the main attraction is the combination of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. I still think Streep may have overdone it a bit, but I give her tremendous credit for taking on the role with gusto, and bringing so much passion to an iconic role. For me, the real star here is Roberts. She has always been America's Sweetheart, and, despite popular belief is an incredible actress and screen presence. But it has been a while since she has had a role has juicy as this. She tackled it with an emotional ferocity, and proved once again that she is truly a star, and an incredible talent. Go back and take a second look at August: Osage County, I think you will find it is worth the trip.

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