Forty-two movies this year. Around 10 less than I wanted to and 10 more than I needed. (I mean, “The Ring Two?”) I missed some big ones (Kong), and likely Oscar nominees (Munich) which I may catch next week, but I lost my mojo for going to the theatre in the last month. The high point, when I moved into my new apartment and did double-features every weekend, is responsible for the record-setting size of this list.
Not a terrible movie, like last year’s bottom-dweller “Van Helsing.” Just a pedestrian, hammy, and low-IQ romantic comedy. The a-plot, involving Will Smith’s lunkish courting of Eva Mendes, was just stupid, but Kevin James’ b-plot was cute.
41. The Ring Two
Mostly unscary horror movie which failed to recapture almost anything that made the first film work.
40. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
There are far, far worse chick flicks for the *NSYNC set. “Now And Then,” for example. But the four plotlines here are as disparite in quality as the three bears’ porridge. America Ferrara’s story, wherein her father is marrying into a distaff, waspish family, is quite moving. Blake Lively’s plot (she’s recently lost her mother and is coping by pursuing a cute boy at soccer camp) is occasionally touching, occasionally just dumb. Alexis Bledel’s Greek romance is silly; Amber Tamblyn’s friendship with a cancer patient is mawkish.
39. Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Enjoyably unclassifiable. Star/writer Tyler Perry (who was inspired to write plays by an episode of Oprah) mashes a cursin’, sexin’, stereotypin’ Chitlin comedy with a glacial marital drama. I liked the comedy, and not the rest.
38. Margaret Cho: Assassin
Not as bad as its reputation. Cho doesn’t actually spend the whole show whining about George Bush and lecturing us on politics. She tells jokes. Unfortunately, most of them fall flat.
37. The Dukes of Hazzard
One of the stranger TV adaptations to come down the pike. Given a very marketable, red state-friendly property, producers recruited the Vermont comedy troupe Broken Lizard (makers of “Super Troopers” and “Club Dread”) to Yankify and yuppify the humor. Thus, we get jabs at the confederate flag and Jeb Bush (one joke: “Fix it? You couldn’t fix an election if your brother was the governor!”) mashed together with a plot about moonshine and drag racing. Some funny moments, though.
36. Fantastic Four
Not as bad as it could have been (see the unreleased 1990s Roger Corman treatment if you want “bad”), but a lot stupider than it needed to be. Jessica Alba is a genetics expert! Dr. Doom is made out of medal! Product placements fly faster than the Human Torch!
35. Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
An hour of 90%-bullseye standup lengthened by 50%-effective skits. I liked the musical segments, but what was with [SPOILER] the stagehand using Silverman’s tear as hand lubricant?
34. Four Brothers
A funny, fast-moving B-movie. I wasn’t bored, nor was I surprised by a single plot twist.
Strange, detached coming-of-age story notable for its spirited defense of Ritalin and marijuana.
Visually and conceptually thrilling horror-actioner that contains two of the year’s most memorable performances: Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel and Peter Stormare as Satan. The plot’s no great shakes … but seriously, those two performances will haunt you. I am seriously looking forward to director Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of “I Am Legend” (the classic vampire storie mediocrely adapted for Charlton Heston as “Omega Man”.)
Pretentious but well-acted morality play set in Racial Powder Keg, USA (aka Los Angeles). Don Cheadle seems bored and Thandie Newton couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag, but the rest of the cast is fantastic, and the script has real moments of wit.
30. Cinderella Man
Workmanlike, heartwarming boxing story. Russell Crowe’s botched accent and Rene Zellweger’s general unpleasantness (Why did she lose her “Bridge Jones II” weight for this? Were all 1930s housewives size 0s?) are outmatched by a great story and Craig Bierko as Max Baer. Any producers wondering why the movie failed at the box office: It’s called Cinderella Man. Men don’t want to see a boxing movie with “Cinderella” in the title. Come on – “Brokeback Mountain” had a more hetero title.
29. Kung Fu Hustle (Gong Fu)
Amusingly crazy karate/comedy with some looong boring bits and some looonger tears-of-laughter bits.
28. Sin City
Three (well, 3.5) fun, cheesy noir stories filmed like a series of nightmarish paintings. I mean, it was very good, but I don’t find myself reminiscing about it.
Beautiful, laconic anti-love story written and acted by Steve Martin. There are long stretches of minimal or no dialogue, which is too bad, because Martin can write great lines (see: any scene with Jason Schwartzman) and I got tired of seeing him grope Claire Danes in slow motion. But I must say, as someone who’s lamented Danes’ flirtation with anorexia (she’s a size 2 here, and you could cut glass with her cheekbones), she’s gripping, identifiable, subtle, and radiant. A stupid late scene with Schwartzman and a sleazy golddigger drags it down.
26. Wedding Crashers
Hilarious comedy dragged down by the longest third act ’til they went to the same goddamn cave twice in “Pirates of the Carribean.” But what’s funny is very, very funny. You could publish fat volumes of Vince Vaughn’s ad-libs.
25. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The best of a series I really can’t get into. For reasons I can elucidate in my “Narnia” entry, I simply don’t care about the Potter characters or the situations they find themselves in. Now, with that said, this is a thrilling little movie that amused me more than I expected going in.
24. The Brothers Grimm
Terry Gilliam’s worst movie since “Baron Munchausen” (suck it up, geeks) is still a witty and visually delicious mishmash of satire, low comedy, and comic book action. Peter Stormare, so good in “Constantine,” is unwatchable, but the rest of the cast manages to translate their fun into our fun.
23. Bad News Bears
Fitfully funny remake of the Walter Matthau classic. Entertaining in the way MTV’s “Jackass” is entertaining.
22. Good Night, and Good Luck
Lazily put-together dramatization of the Ed Murrow/Joe McCarthy wars. Still, I’d like to see this and “Munich” win all the Oscars to make John Podhoretz into a heap of bile and back hair.
Dumb-as-hell kung fu drama with the best fight scenes of the year. Bob Hoskins was born to play two roles: insane British mobster and Super Mario. Here he’s the former.
20. Lords of Dogtown
Long as hell dramatization of the birth of modern skateboarding in 1970s Los Angeles. Some of the drama is hamhanded, but the young cast is scarily good.
19. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
A Christian horror movie that doesn’t blow. I know – it’s amazing. Despite some clunky dialogue and predictable scenes of horror (most everything in an exorcism movie is predictable, thanks to William Friedkin’s pre-“Sorcerer” masterpiece), this is often very terrifying. Jennifer Carpenter, a bit of an ugly duckling teen movie actress, is perfect as the title victim.
Snail-paced but affecting dramatization of the writing of “In Cold Blood.”
17. War of the Worlds
Nine-tenths of a Great (capital G) movie, almost ruined by a corny action and stupid, stupid, mawkish ending. But the parts that work – Jesus, they really work. The first alien attack and the many scenes of fleeing humanity can haunt your dreams, if you often dream about aliens or, uh, fleeing.
16. Hustle and Flow
Terrifically lazy (as opposed to “Good Night and Good Luck,” which is ostentatiously lazy) Rocky story about a terrible pimp who wants to become a mediocre rapper. I don’t buy into hype too often, but seriously, Terrance Howard as the pimp (DJay) is just terrific. Anthony Anderson, as his unhappily settled-down producer, is almost as good.
A fantastic sci-fi TV series becomes a very good sci-fi B-movie. Witty dialogue, lovable characters (except for the guy from “Barney Miller”), servicable plot.
14. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Goofy, half-assed adaptation of the unadaptable book. Enjoyable apart from the weird sequence on John Malkovich’s home planet, and I think Sam Rockwell’s performance as the president of the universe is going to date badly.
13. Walk the Line
Watchable drama about Johnny and June Carter Cash lifted by masterful performance by its stars, who look and sing better than their inspirations.
12. The Aristocrats
Messy but pants-shittingly funny (And the kids play around in the shit! And then the grandma pulls a violin out of the shit and plays it with her … I suppose you need to hear the joke) documentary about comedians. I’d be interested in seeing all the comedian’s segments on their own, instead of cut together the way they are here. Also, the final joke sucks.
11. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
Adorable, faithful, thrilling adaptation of the classic children’s novel. Seriously, everyone: Tilda Swinton is incredible. I know half of her perfomances depend on her looking like an elf from the ninth circle of hell, but the other half depends on her being a talented actress. Oscar her up already. I mean, you’re going to nominate Reese Witherspoon and … who else? That woman from “Transamerica”?
10. The Producers
Cryingly funny adaptation of the stage musical (which was inspired by the cryingly funny 1968 movie). Did Ethan Hawke really cheat on Uma Thurman? Really? What an incredible dumbass.
I’ll recycle my summary from the night I saw this. “Finally, a movie where you can root against some real villians: Polio victims and Canadians.”
Bleak and bitter war movie, with one unbelievable scene (the barb wire training) and many more sadly believable ones.
7. Downfall (Der Untergang)
See Hitler kiss Eva Braun! See Goebbels kill his children! See this not win the Oscar for some reason! (Maybe because they didn’t superimpose “REMEMBER 6 MILLION” in red letters on the screen at all times?)
6. Star Wars: Episode III â€“ Revenge of the Sith
Honestly not that good of a movie, but I grew up on Star Wars and can’t be objective about this.
5. Batman Begins
Dubbed “Batman Boringly Begins” by Rich Bunnell, but I loved it. And I honestly didn’t see the villainous plot twist coming.
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The best adaptation ever filmed from the best childrens’ author of the 20th century, Roald Dahl. I’m frankly stunned that Tim Burton’s extra subplot about Wonka’s father meshes perfectly.
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Ironically, the wonderful writer/producer Judd Apatow, who crafted such careful, tightrope pieces of comedy as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” finally got a hit out of his delightful mess. Seemingly every other line is improv, the leading man is a 42-year old “Daily Show” castoff, and it’s pretty much a masterpiece.
2. Land of the Dead
Again, I can’t be objective about this. There are silly and stupid moments throughout the probably final George Romero zombine film. (The kid staking out zombies in the dark? With a walkman on? What?) I. Don’t. Care. Hideous violence, hilarious characters, and bludgeon-soft social commentary – I’m in heaven.
… and the number one movie of the year …
1. Grizzly Man
It’s hard to believe this is a true story. A Florida teen throws out his back, loses his college scholarship, and moves to LA to become an actor. He invents a fake Australian accent and a new name, he gets occasional work, he muddles through terrible restaurant jobs, he wrestles with drug addiction. At age 34, with no training in ecology or zoology, he goes to Alaska and decides he’ll become the “protector” of grizzly bears on a remote part of the peninsula. He spends twelve years at this, summers in Alaska and the rest of the year “educating” children and media about his work, until in his final expedition he stays too long and is mauled, along with his girlfriend, by a wild, unfamiliar bear.
Werner Herzog, the director of “Fitzcarraldo,” “Strozek,” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” takes five years of Timothy Treadwell’s footage, complements it with his own interviews and research, and cuts it together with his own ominous narration and eye for the fraying of sanity. (Treadwell is technically sane, but he becomes increasingly meglomaniacal and erratic as he spends time in Alaska.) The result is unforgettable and, again, hard to take in. It’s hard to believe that on Treadwell’s final tape, he stands in front of his eventual murder site and discusses how dangerous his job is as flies crawl over the camera. It’s just as amazing that, in his very final shot, he looks scared and hesitant to leave the frame and turn off the camera. This is a phenomenal movie about a subject that looks small and quirky, but encompasses everything.