Tuesday, January 31, 2012

REVIEW: Man on a Ledge

man-on-a-ledgePerhaps MAN ON A LEDGE would have have been a success if it had been a full-on parody of the recent “man stuck in a tight spot” sub-genre (think 127 HOURS and BURIED) -- just put a man on a ledge and keep him there by himself for 90 minutes and see what happens. As it stands, it plays things as a straight action/heist thriller, which is a big mistake, as neither the script, nor the director, nor the actors are up to the task.

Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, an ex-con who climbs onto the ledge of a Manhattan hotel and threatens to jump. Elizabeth Banks is Lydia Mercer, the police negotiator who tries to talk him down -- and during the course of their interactions, comes to realize that there may be more to the situation than meets the eye. Which is true on three levels: First, we learn that the reason Nick was in jail was because he was found guilty of stealing a rare diamond from millionaire businessman David Englander (Ed Harris). Second, we learn that Nick swears his innocence, claiming that Englander, who had lost much of his fortune in the stock market, framed Nick in order to get the insurance money for the diamond. Third, we learn that the business on the ledge is nothing but a diversion, because across the street, Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are breaking into Englander’s fortress-like office to really steal the diamond, thus proving Nick’s innocence.

At first glance, it actually doesn’t sound like a terrible plot. Some potential for twists and intrigue is there. But writer Pablo F. Fenjves and director Asger Leth practically scotch-tape the proceedings together with not just every thriller cliché, but every heist cliché, too. Dialogue and acting are a mess -- a death knell for a film like this, which requires a man-on-a-ledge-2dose of humanity and tension during the mano-a-mano scenes on the ledge. I like Elizabeth Banks, but she is woefully miscast as the negotiator, and Worthington is bland as ever and speaks with the worst Australian-New York accent you’ve ever heard. But the heist scenes are even worse: If FAST FIVE was OCEAN’S 11 for dummies, then MAN ON A LEDGE, with Bell and Rodriguez bumbling along with zero humor and even less chemistry, is FAST FIVE for idiots. If the film has a single saving grace, it’s Ed Harris, whose presence is always welcome -- but he is clearly wasted here.

Back to Worthington: Hollywood been pushing him as one of the next big action stars for a few years now, but it’s time to face facts: He is not good. His lack of personality and inability to emote may have been okay in a movie like AVATAR, where he was mostly required to serve as a vessel for the special effects and mythology, but any time he has been required to display some actual acting ability, it has been a cringe-inducing affair. He makes shitty films like CLASH OF THE TITANS even more dull than they might otherwise be and he is unquestionably the weak link in potentially-interesting films like THE DEBT. Make it stop!

MAN ON A LEDGE is a perfect example of a high-concept film that is handled ineptly and fails miserably. My biggest wish is that Samuel L. Jackson had shown up halfway through and screamed, “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKING MAN ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING LEDGE!” Because that’s how I felt.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ben's Oscar Picks & Predictions

oscarsIt’s the most wonderful time of the yeeeearrrr! That’s right -- it’s Oscar time! The nominations have been announced and apparently the Academy has kind of gone off the deep end. There are some very questionable picks and mind-boggling snubs -- but also some really good picks that make me very happy -- and also some flat-out weirdness. But I guess that’s fitting since it was a weird year for movies. With that in mind, let's take a look at each category and try to figure out what the Academy has been smoking. As always, I will also provide my predictions based on who I WANT to win and who I think WILL win. Ready? LET'S GO!


hugo-posterFun fact: my #1 movie of the year hasn’t won Best Picture since RETURN OF THE KING in 2004, and here we have HUGO with a total of 11 nods, which suddenly thrusts it into the discussion. Could it happen?? God, I hope so! As of now, THE ARTIST and THE DESCENDANTS are probably the two frontrunners, so here’s hoping they cancel each other out, thus allowing HUGO to swoop in. I also love that MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (my #2 movie of the year) is getting some major recognition. Wasn’t sure if THE HELP would sustain its buzz but apparently it has; that's fine. MONEYBALL is a good movie; never thought of it as a Best Picture contender, but here we are. WAR HORSE is this year’s SEABISCUIT, I guess; I liked it, and it IS the kind of movie that makes Oscar cry. The Academy probably included THE TREE OF LIFE to make itself feel smart. And then there’s EXTREMELY LOUD, which I also liked, but come on! One of the most baffling Best Picture choices ever, especially considering it is neither a critical nor commercial success. I reeeeally wish they’d just go back to five nominees -- nine is better than ten, but still way too many, especially since, let’s face it, this is a three-horse race at most. And while it would give me great pleasure to see HUGO win, I can’t argue with the silent film (which also made my Top 10) and the Clooney picture (which just missed).


Demián Bichir, A BETTER LIFE
Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST

First of all, let’s talk about who WASN’T nominated -- namely, Michael Shannon for TAKE SHELTER (best overall performance of the year, in my opinion), Ryan Gosling for DRIVE and Michael Fassbender for SHAME. Utterly senseless (unless maybe Fassbender also got votes for some of his other films and cancelled himself out?). One of these guys should absolutely be garyoldmanthere instead of Bichir, whose nomination makes no sense to me. A BETTER LIFE had a strong story but, frankly, the acting was just not very good -- yet Bichir has had buzz swirling around him for a while and I guess it worked out. A wasted nomination. On the other hand, it is SUPREMELY AWESOME that Gary Oldman has finally gotten his first nod! I think he will take the gold -- one of those “career” wins, plus his performance in TINKER TAILOR was one for the ages -- despite the frontrunner status of both Clooney and Dujardin (either of whom would also be deserving). Pitt, meanwhile, was excellent in MONEYBALL but doesn’t stand a chance.


Viola Davis, THE HELP
Meryl Streep, THE IRON LADY
Michelle Williams, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

michellewilliamsMore massive snubs here: It’s an absolute travesty that Tilda Swinton and Elizabeth Olsen were not nominated for their work in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, respectively -- easily two of the best performances of the year. I also would have loved to see Kirsten Dunst get a nod for MELANCHOLIA, but it seems that film has been blacklisted across the board, perhaps due to Lars von Trier’s Nazi comments at Cannes. Too bad. Anyway, I still think Michelle Williams’ magical performance as Marilyn Monroe is the one to beat, and rightly so. But don’t count out Viola Davis, who could win if the Academy decides to make a statement by honoring THE HELP. Streep is nominated for the 17th time, but will likely lose for the 15th time because THE IRON LADY is simply not very good in spite her efforts (unless of course the Academy decides that this is the year to finally honor her -- who could argue with that?). Sorry, Glenn Close, but your nomination is a joke. Lastly, I’ve heard some buzz brewing for Rooney Mara -- I guess that makes her the dark horse, but she’s not even the best Lisbeth Salander that we’ve seen recently, so it’d be silly if she won.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: Williams, but maybe Davis

Nick Nolte, WARRIOR
Christopher Plummer, BEGINNERS

Bizarreness abound here. First of all, how weird is it that Jonah Hill is an Oscar nominee?? Dude loses a bunch of weight, doesn’t die, and look what happens! Makes you wonder what might’ve been if Farley had cleaned up his chrisplummeract... sigh. I seriously don’t get the love for Nick Nolte in WARRIOR -- the movie was surprisingly good because of the way it wore its heart on its sleeve, but the acting was pretty mediocre across the board. Branagh was very good as Sir Lawrence Olivier; a worthy nod. Max von Sydow seems like a gimmick nod for two reasons: (1) Because he didn’t speak a word in the film, and (2) so they could have two octogenarians going against each other. Speaking of which, might as well give Plummer the gold right now -- he was fantastic in BEGINNERS, a movie I would’ve liked to see get even more love!


Bérénice Bejo, THE ARTIST
Jessica Chastain, THE HELP
Melissa McCarthy, BRIDESMAIDS
Octavia Spencer, THE HELP

octaviaspencerKind of surprised that Shailene Woodley from THE DESCENDANTS didn’t get a nod here, especially since the film got so much love from the Academy. She DEFINITELY should have gotten the spot over McCarthy, whose nod is just ridiculous. BRIDESMAIDS is now officially the most overrated movie of 2011. It was funny and all, but NO WAY IN HELL does it deserve Oscar attention! Hell, if THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRIGIN isn’t Oscar-worthy, then BRIDESMAIDS sure the hell isn’t. Ridiculous. Meanwhile, law of averages said that Chastain would get nominated for something -- the girl was in SEVEN movies last year (THE HELP being her best work). Bejo was enchanting in THE ARTIST and could surprise if the film sweeps. McTeer was by far the best thing about the otherwise-lame ALBERT NOBBS -- in fact she breathed legit life into the proceedings to the point where I may actually be rooting for her on some level. But I think Spencer will win this one -- she was the clear standout of THE HELP’s very solid ensemble.

I’M ROOTING FOR: McTeer or Spencer 

Michel Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE
Alexander Payne, THE DESCENDANTS
Martin Scorcese, HUGO

scorceseCall me crazy, but I have a feeling that Scorcese could pull this one out regardless of how HUGO fares the rest of the night. Academy could choose to honor him for the “pro-cinema” message that HUGO conveys, not to mention that probably no one else could have made the film work quite so well. I hope that happens. But Hazanavicius or Payne could pull it out if either of those films sweeps. I love PARIS but it’s more a testament to Allen’s writing. As for Malick... meh.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: Scorcese, Hazanavicius or Payne... who knows?


MidnightinParisPARIS! PARIS PARIS! If Woody Allen wins this, for what is easily his best movie in decades, and possibly of all time (yeah, I said it), I will be deliriously happy. It could face stiff competition from A SEPARATION, which featured a ridiculously taut and compelling script. THE ARTIST is probably the favorite by default, but even if it sweeps elsewhere, I hope the Academy spreads the wealth here. MARGIN CALL is the only major Oscar nominee I haven’t seen -- which pisses me off, since I saw 155 movies last year -- but I will rectify that soon and you can’t rule out films with timely topics. And BRIDESMAIDS... gimme a break. Probably the first time an Oscar-nominated screenplay features an extended scene about diarrhea -- which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing if the scene was actually funny.



Hugo1Obviously I’ll be rooting for Scorcese’s magical ode to cinema, HUGO, and I guess it could win if it wins everything (which would be awesome). That said, I think Alexander Payne and THE DESCENDANTS will win this one regardless of what it does elsewhere. Or maybe TINKER TAILOR’s dense but gripping story will pull it off. THE IDES OF MARCH isn’t really eye-opening as far as political revelations are concerned, but it was entertainingly cynical. MONEYBALL, again, is just along for the ride, but always nice to see a baseball movie get some love (actually, when’s the last time that has happened?).

WILL PROBABLY WIN: The Descendants


Wow... let’s just take a moment and contemplate the fact that, for the first time ever, Pixar is NOT nominated in a year they’ve released an eligible film. That’s just... wow. But hey, nice of them to phone it in this year to open up the field for a change (they had won FOUR years in a row, and six overall). I will tell you right now, I had not heard of A CAT IN PARIS and CHICO & RITA before the nominations were released, but I now can’t wait rangoto se them -- kudos to the Academy for thinking outside the box when it comes to animation, at least! Since THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN didn’t get a nod for some reason (does the Academy consider motion-capture to be cheating?), as of now, RANGO is my pick to win -- it is a great film, and another testament to movie-lovers, which seems to be a theme this year. I actually would have nominated CARS 2 over KUNG FU PANDA 2, but no matter -- neither it nor PUSS IN BOOTS will win.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Rango, for now
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Rango, for now

BULLHEAD (Belgium)

aseparationWell, the only one of these I’ve seen is A SEPARATION, the clear frontrunner, and one of the best movies of the year, foreign or otherwise. If one of these other titles is going to win, it will have to be REALLY freaking good (though a quick perusal of plot summaries informs me that IN DARKNESS is about the Holocaust, so it can’t be counted out). Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see some of them before the big show. Come on, Netflix and IFC Center, don’t let me down!

I’M ROOTING FOR: A Separation


Hugo2I’m gonna stick with HUGO across the board here -- Scorcese’s films are always visually interesting, but this one is a veritable feast for the eyes, and he made 3D glasses a necessary part of the movie-watching experience for the first time ever. It should win for breathing new life into a technology that had very nearly worn out its welcome. THE ARTIST, of course, has the whole black-and-white, old-Hollywood thing going for it. WAR HORSE has an epic, GONE WITH THE WIND-esque look that we rarely see anymore. DRAGON TATTOO looks like it could be set within David Fincher’s crazy universe, which is always interesting. But I can see the Academy throwing THE TREE OF LIFE a bone here -- it might be overwrought, but it sure is pretty.



Hugo5What’s the rule of thumb? The Best Picture winner almost always wins Best Editing? Or at least, they’re always nominated for both... which rules out DRAGON TATTOO (which is ironic because it was extremely well-crafted). Not really sure what will happen here, to be honest. I’m rooting for HUGO because I love it, but THE ARTIST and THE DESCENDANTS could easily scoop it up. All I know for sure is that MONEYBALL ain’t winnin’ nothin’. Actually, the movie that should probably be here is DRIVE, but that movie got snubbed something fierce... damn shame.



Hugo3No way THE ARTIST doesn’t win this one, since it is such a perfect recreation of a classic-era silent film. But lest we forget, HUGO captured that same time period from another perspective (and set in Paris, which is innately prettier than Hollywood). Come to think of it, so did MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, much of which was set in 1920’s Paris -- I’d have no problem seeing that win. I also love the aesthetics and locations of WAR HORSE and POTTER, so really, I’d be okay with any of these.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Hugo or Potter or Paris 


HUGOPeriod pieces abound here. Haven’t seen ANONYMOUS yet, but I’m guessing it has the Shakespearean thing going for it. JANE EYRE has the 19th century England thing going for it. W.E., also, surely looks ever-so-British (damn you, Madonna). It’s probably between HUGO and THE ARTIST for their recreations of the golden age of cinema in Paris and Hollywood, respectively. Could go either way! (P.S., you guys getting tired of all the HUGO pics? Well, too bad! SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!)



potterWhew, thank God J. EDGAR wasn’t nominated here -- worst old-age makeup ever (in fact, I’m glad that shitty movie got snubbed across the board). Forget about MRS. DOUBTFIRE, er, I mean, ALBERT NOBBS (seriously, don’t they look similar?). Meryl Streep’s transformation into Margaret Thatcher was impressive so IRON LADY is a possibility. But I think POTTER, with all its creatures and characters and things, has to win here. Hell, in a perfect world, POTTER would get an honorary Oscar to pay tribute to the series as a whole, since it is collectively one of the great cinematic achievements of our time. A measly makeup award is the least the Academy can do!



Bah, none of my favorite scores of the year are here, so one of my favorite categories is ruined. EXTREMELY LOUD is not Best Picture-worthy, but I would have liked to see Alexandre Desplat’s score get some recognition (not to mention his POTTER score, which tied the saga together nicely). I really liked the score for BEGINNERS, too. Also, what does the Academy have against electronica? No Daft Punk / TRON: LEGACY last year (a travesty that still sticks in my craw) and no Chemical theartistBrothers for HANNA this year. (Just realized that Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ DRAGON TATTOO score was snubbed, too -- guess the Academy was also freaked out after seeing Trent in a tux last year.) Anyway... can’t argue with a double-dose of John Williams, though neither TINTIN nor WAR HORSE were particularly memorable (still, I’d cheer loudly if he won). Loved everything about HUGO. Don’t remember TINKER TAILOR. I think I’ll actually pick THE ARTIST since the score is so vital to a silent film and it works wonders -- though I understand one of the more prominent cues is actually lifted from the score to VERTIGO, so that’s kinda cheating, maybe. I dunno. It’s still good.

I’M ROOTING FOR: The Artist 

"Man or Muppet" from THE MUPPETS
"Real in Rio" from RIO

Man-or-MuppetLadies and gentlemen, we live in a world in which THE MUPPETS are nominated for an Oscar! This is awesome because it means they will probably be there... and Jason Segel & Walter will probably perform the song, which is almost guaranteed to win because who gives a crap about RIO. Kind of funny that people always complain about the Best Song performances taking up too much time during the telecast, so this year they whittled it down to two. This is a good thing because it means we won’t have to suffer through crap from Madonna and Sinead O’Connor and whoever else. Instead, we get MUPPETS!!!



Just to recap (mostly for my own benefit), sound mixing refers to the way the various sounds, effects, dialogue, etc., of a film are mixed together to create the glorious euphonies that fill our ears when we watch a film. Or in war-horsethe case of TRANSFORMERS, cacophonies -- the sound mix is crazy in that film, but not necessarily in a good way. MONEYBALL seems like an odd choice, and DRAGON TATTOO probably featured a good sound mix but damned if it sticks out in my head. HUGO is a perfect film through-and-through, but you know what? I’m gonna go with WAR HORSE here just to mix things up (pun very much intended). Lots of stuff going on in that epic, with the sounds of war and the horse itself and the sweeping score and everything in between.

I’M ROOTING FOR: War Horse or Hugo


transformers3Sound editing, meanwhile, is related to sound design, the creation of sound effects, etc. Maybe DRIVE will get a pity award here. Or TRANSFORMERS -- I bet if you break down the aforementioned cacophony of those mind-blowing action sequences, the individual sound effects are pretty impressive. I feel like HUGO and DRAGON TATTOO both utilized some interesting sound effects. And WAR HORSE, again, with the war and the horse and etc. -- I bet it wins both categories. But really, this is another crapshoot.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Transformers or Hugo


apesSome good-looking stuff across the board here -- but it’s a moot point because this award belongs to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES primarily for the unbelievable motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis. I mean, he could have conceivably gotten an ACTING nomination if the Academy had any balls. As it stands, this award will be the only way to honor the reigning King of Motion Capture. Hopefully the special effects guys will bring Serkis on stage with them when they win!



pinaAgain, I’ve only seen one of these -- Wim Wenders’ PINA -- and it was absolutely outstanding, from the jaw-dropping 3D visuals to the genuine emotional punch. As with the foreign films, the other nominees will have to be REALLY damn good to beat it. Looking forward to seeing as many of them as possible before the big show. (HELL and TREE are both available on Instant Netflix, so that’s a good start!)

I’M ROOTING FOR: Pina, for now

Of course, I also fully intend to see the Oscar-nominated short films, which open at the IFC Center on Feb. 10th. (This year, I even hope to squeeze in the documentary shorts for the first time ever!) Oscar night is Sunday, Feb. 26th and you can bet that I will be right here at BenLikesMovies.com with my 7th ANNUAL LIVE MOMENT-BY-MOMENT OSCAR COMMENTARY! Seriously... it is always epic and entertaining and insightful and a damn good time, so be sure to check in throughout the telecast. Until then... who do YOU want to / think will win Oscar gold? Discuss!

Monday, January 23, 2012

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast 3D


If you’re a cynical bastard, you might argue that the decisions by major studios to convert some of their biggest hits to 3D and re-release them in theatres is nothing more than a quick money grab. And yes, there is plenty of truth to that. But frankly, it’s a money grab I can get behind because sometimes it is just awesome to see our favorite movies the way they were meant to be seen -- on the big screen. I love STAR WARS and TITANIC and will eat up those upcoming re-releases with giddy abandon. But there’s a special kind of joy that comes from seeing classic Disney on the big screen, and that is why their re-releases will likely succeed even if other studios fail.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, you may recall, was released in 1991 and epitomizes Disney’s Second Golden Age, which began with THE LITTLE MERMAID in 1989 and ended with POCAHONTAS in 1995. It was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, and over two decades later, it remains a truly magical movie-watching experience. It still looks beautiful, has some of Disney’s most memorable characters -- and possibly the best collection of songs in ANY Disney movie.

Actually, is that true? Let’s take a look at how the “Big Four” songs in BEAUTY stack up against its closest competitors from the Second Golden Age, THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE LION KING:

  • BEAUTY: “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast”
  • MERMAID: “Part of Your World,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl”
  • LION KING: “Circle of Life,” “Be Prepared,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”

Well, when it’s all laid out like that, it’s not as cut-and-dry as I initially thought. In fact, if someone put a gun to my head, I might go with MERMAID, my personal favorite movie of the Second Golden Age (which sort of renders this whole exercise irrelevant). Nevertheless... re-watch BEAUTY and I defy you not to react with rapturous glee when “Belle” kicks in. Or laugh at the hilarious arrogance of “Gaston,” one of Disney’s greatest villains. Or become filled with happy energy as “Be Our Guest” builds to a crescendo. Or get choked up during that sweeping overhead shot of Belle and the Beast dancing as Mrs. Potts sings the title song. Pound for pound, these songs may elicit the purest emotional beourguestreactions of any modern Disney film, and for that reason alone, the film will always be worth the price of admission.

The 3D conversion, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Not sure what happened here, as Disney usually has a pretty good handle on the technology, but it is almost as if they went overboard and infused TOO MUCH 3D this time. Backgrounds and scenery look very nice and layered on occasion, but characters in the foreground just look terrible. The 3D often makes them look unnaturally bulgy and “cut-and-pasted” into the picture. (Compare this to the LION KING re-release, in which the 3D didn’t really add anything to the film, but was more or less unobtrusive.) This is unfortunate because BEAUTY features some of the loveliest traditional Disney animation ever, and the 3D definitely detracts from that.

It does not, however, detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. Watching these classic Disney movies on the big screen remains a joyous, nostalgia-inducing movie-watching experience, and as long as they keep releasing ‘em, I’ll keep seeing ‘em (though, perhaps in 2D). Hail Disney!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ben’s 2011 Movies By the Numbers


My friends, the time has come to dig into my vast, detailed records -- which are comprised of Excel spreadsheets, my daily planner, and most impressively/obsessive-compulsively, ticket stub scrapbooks that date back to 1994 -- and explore the ins-and-outs of my record-breaking movie-going year! Why, you may ask, would we want to do this? Because, quite simply, this is the kind of shit I do.

I went to the movies 155 times in 2011, which includes 154 different movies, as I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 twice. This, of course, was a NEW PERSONAL RECORD, shattering the old mark of 141. After reaching that total in 2010, I remarked, "My guess? This record is unbreakable." Well, I stand corrected!

This also marks the 11th consecutive year that I saw 100+ movies on the big screen. I am nothing if not consistent (and insane). But clearly we've entered a golden age of movie-going, thanks to a variety of factors that we will now discuss further.



January: 10
February: 12
March: 13
April: 11
May: 14
June: 12
July: 7
August: 14
September: 13
October: 19
November: 12
December: 18

I saw my first movie of 2011 on January 6th (COUNTRY STRONG, ugh) and didn't let up for a moment. I was on par with 2010's pace (actually slightly ahead) for the first three months, before kicking it into overdrive in April, May and June -- ten more movies in those months than in '10, primarily due to an influx of pre-summer advance screenings. July was the one slow month, due to two major factors: I got really sick for a week, and then went on vacation the following week, and only saw one movie during that span. But business picked back up in August and September. I saw my 100th movie of the year on Sept. 13th -- a French thriller called LOVE CRIME -- which is the earliest I’ve ever hit the century mark. Then I absolutely exploded in October with an incredible 19 movies -- a record for a single month (the previous mark was 17). November was relatively laid-back, quantity-wise, but rife with quality: I saw FOUR of my Top 10 films that month (HUGO, THE ARTIST, TAKE SHELTER and MELANCHOLIA). And then I finished the year with a flurry as the Oscar bait was unleashed. The record-breaking 142nd movie occurred on Dec. 9th (THE SITTER, not exactly worthy of the occasion), and I saw my final movie on Dec. 31st (the Iranian masterpiece, A SEPARATION). Done and done!

Now, never say never, but I’m fairly certain THIS record will not be broken so quickly. For one thing, I will likely make a conscious effort to cut down a bit in 2012. Don’t worry -- I will still see a TON of movies. But the fact is, seeing 155 movies actually got kind of draining towards the end! So my plan this year is to see slightly fewer movies BUT write about them more frequently and promptly (as opposed to the end-of-month recaps I did last year). So it should be a good trade-off. We’ll see if I stick to that!



• Full price admissions: 69
• Free advance screenings: 53
• Free passes/awards programs/gift cards/etc.: 33

Every year I hear the age-old question: "Ben, how in the name of all that which is good and sacred in this crazy, mixed-up world do you manage to see so many movies, especially since regular admission is $13 at most NYC theatres?!" Well, the answer is two-fold. First, going to the movies is my favorite hobby & passion, and while I certainly find time to do other things (eat, drink, travel, go to ballgames & concerts, visit my niece, laze around, etc.), I am always IMG_5185ready and willing to go to the movies. Even if it’s a shitty movie (and this year had more than its share of those), I’m game for the big-screen experience, for better or worse.

Secondly, as you can see, I either did not pay a cent, or paid a discounted price, for the vast majority of the movies I saw. Yes, 69 full-price admissions still amounts to around $900. But, hey, it could’ve been worse. It helped that I scored lots of free AMC Gold & Silver passes from work (not to mention discounted Groupon-type deals). But the real kicker is that my wanna-be-film-critic ass saw 53 free advance screenings, which was also a NEW PERSONAL RECORD, way up from 41 in 2010. These included press screenings, word-of-mouth screenings, early test screenings, a couple of Tribeca Film Festival screenings, Q&A’s and more. (Only one red carpet premiere, though, for MEET MONICA VELOUR, where I caught glimpses of Kim Cattrall and, of all people, Liza Minnelli.) Now, a magician can't give away ALL of his secrets, but my biggest resource for such screenings is Cinemit.com, a site that has grown by leaps & bounds over the past year and offers screening opportunities in a number of cities. If you're interested in participating, you cinemitcan sign up, enter the drawings and check out the message boards... just don't take my spot in line or we’ll have a problem.

Speaking of which, it's worth noting that 53 advance screenings means at least 53 hours spent waiting in line just to get into the screenings (not including the few times I didn't make it in). Not a total waste of time, because I got lots of reading done and played lots of Words With Friends -- but it sure would be nice to get press credentials someday and bypass that process! Anybody wanna hook up a humble blogger up? :)



Monday: 11
Tuesday: 22
Wednesday: 19
Thursday: 27
Friday: 53
Saturday: 14
Sunday: 9

No huge surprises here. Friday is obviously the biggest movie-going day of week -- though, oddly, I saw one FEWER Friday movie this year than in 2010. Monday was probably a slow day because I needed to come home and watch HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Tuesday and Thursday are big nights for advance screenings, hence the big numbers there. Wednesday is down from last year, probably because AMC did away with their “Free Popcorn Wednesdays.” Too bad about that, though I more than got my money’s worth from the new AMC Stubs program, so it balances out. I actually saw TEN more movies on Saturday this year than in ‘10 -- the reason for this is that I would often go to the movies on those nights with my lovely girlfriend, Rachel, after she got out of work. (Aww!) And Sunday, of course, is usually a day of rest. Can I get an amen?



AMC Empire 25 - 44
Loews Lincoln Square - 23
Regal 42nd St. E-Walk - 19
Lincoln Plaza Cinema - 11
Loews 34th Street - 10
Clearview Chelsea - 5
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center - 4
IFC Center - 4
Loews Lincoln Square IMAX - 3
Ziegfeld Theatre - 3
Tribeca Grand Hotel Screening Room - 3
Coliseum Theatre - 3
Loews Village 7 - 3
Sunshine Cinema - 2
Regal Union Square - 2
Loews 84th Street - 2
Cinema Village - 2
Angelika Theatre - 2
Regal Hadley Center (NJ) - 2
Loews Kip's Bay - 1
Loews Orpheum - 1
Disney Park Ave. Screening Room - 1
Sony Wonder Technology Lab - 1
Lighthouse International Screening Room - 1
92nd St. Y - 1
Montgomery Cinema (NJ) - 1
Loews New Brunswick (NJ) - 1

amcempireFun stuff here. The AMC Empire dominated, mainly because I work five minutes away and would often hustle over there to catch the convenient after-work showtimes. (This is also why the E-Walk and 34th Street theatres are high up there.) Surprised that I didn’t see more movies at Lincoln Square, since it is the best overall multiplex in NYC and offers one of the best movie-going experiences. Even more surprised that I only saw THREE in glorious IMAX (SUCKER PUNCH, TRANSFORMERS 3 and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 4); this is down from the prior year, too, so I guess I was more selective or something. Lots of movies at Lincoln Plaza, my indie theatre of choice. And then there’s an eclectic mix: Glad I saw a few screenings at the Tribeca Grand, one of the city’s hidden cinema jewels. Of course, the Ziegfeld is always a magical experience. Only four movies at the IFC Center?! That will change in 2012 because I am now a card-carrying member (thanks to Rachel!) and I need to see at least 16 movies there to make it worthwhile. I also saw four at the shiny new Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, which is a tremendous addition to the NYC film scene. Couple of movies at the quaint Cinema Village, which is cool. Couple of movies at the Angelika, which is a couple too many. One apiece at Kip’s Bay and the Orpheum, which is random. ZERO movies at the Paris Theatre, which is a damn shame -- not sure how that happened (or didn’t happen). A smattering in lighthousemy old New Jersey stomping grounds (though one of them was my #1 movie of the year, HUGO, which somehow seems appropriate). I was even granted access to some interesting screening rooms, particularly Lighthouse International, which is an official screening room of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (I saw MY WEEK WITH MARILYN there). Lastly, everyone please pour one out for my local Washington Heights neighborhood theatre, the old Coliseum on 181st Street, which has apparently closed its doors. Here’s hoping this is just temporary and it is reborn soon, because even though it was a shithole, it was also the oldest-running movie theatre in NYC and should be preserved!



Oddly, double-features were down this year. I saw 20 of them in 2010, and only 13 this year (plus two triple-features). What that means is that I saw multiple movies on 15 different days... and I saw a single movie on 123 different days... so altogether, I went to the movies on 138 of the 365 days in the year. Wild. Anyway, here is the list of double-features. Most were formed out of pure convenience -- but some funny combinations resulted nonetheless:

  • ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN (Saw these at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. Swanky.)
  • MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL and SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Longest double-feature title combo ever!)

And the triple-features:

  • THE IDES OF MARCH and MACHINE GUN PREACHER and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FULL SEQUENCE (Note: These three were collectively known as “The Cinematic Centipede,” the review of which can be found HERE.)
  • PUSS IN BOOTS and GHOSTBUSTERS and TOWER HEIST (Note: this was my first-ever free triple-feature -- all three were free! I also had to schlep from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side and back to Times Square to complete it. Whew!)

It’s also worth noting that out of 155 movies, I saw an astounding 127 of them by myself. I’m a loner, Dottie... a rebel. But it’s okay... I enjoy going to the movies by myself; it allows me to get truly lost in the experience. I’ve never understood why some people have such an aversion to it, or even think it’s pathetic; hell, if you’re with someone, it’s not like you’re sitting there talking to each other -- and if you are talking to each other, please do us all a favor and shoot yourselves in the face. But I digress, and I did have a few movie-going companions here and there. My oft-mentioned lovely girlfriend, Rachel, accompanied me 23 times, which was actually way down from 2010 when we saw 36 movies together (she was a busy bee). I was also joined on occasion by my friends Jill and Alex in NJ (we kept the Christmas Night Movie tradition alive for the 14th year in a row!) and Tara in NYC. Thanks, gang!

I would also be remiss if I didn’t give a special thanks to my Twitter friend, @LilEsBella, who put together this amazing homage on her own blog after I saw my 142nd movie, thus breaking my personal record, in early December. Thanks again, Lili -- I am still honored! :)

Lastly, here are a few superlatives honoring my movie-going experiences of the past year, off the top of my head... because, why not:

  • mi4MOST AWE-INSPIRING EXPERIENCE: Definitely TRANSFORMERS 3 and M:I-4, both of which I saw in glorious 80' x 100' IMAX at Lincoln Square. My eyeballs may never be the same again.
  • MOST ENTERTAINING CROWD: The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 crowd at the Regal E-Walk was game for anything, and it was hilarious hearing the squeals of fright, not only when the scares occurred, but as the tension built. It wasn’t people being intentionally obnoxious or annoying -- it was a legit reaction to the film. And that is why these movies rule.
  • MOST ANNOYING NEIGHBOR: I usually try not to make a big deal if I'm sitting next to a talker, even though I am likely seething on the inside. But when I saw UNKNOWN at Lincoln Square, the two women next to me just... wouldn't.... stop. So I snapped at them and they finally shut up. Plus they actually apologized after the movie ended. Apology accepted -- just don't let it happen again!
  • MOST MAGICAL EXPERIENCE: Seeing HUGO at Loews New Brunswick, NJ, and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS at Lincoln Plaza both filled me with whimsy & joy and sit atop my Top 10 of 2011. But seeing THE LION KING on the big screen for the first time -- at the Ziegfeld, no less -- was pure, unadulterated Disney magic.
  • WEIRDEST PRE-SHOW MOMENT: When I saw THE SKIN I LIVE IN at the AMC Empire, I'm pretty sure there was a criminal mastermind sitting in front of me. At first he was cackling to himself and rubbing his hands together diabolically -- but then when his friend arrived, he instantly started acting & talking totally normal. Considering the film's subject matter, I was fairly alarmed.
  • BEST PRE- OR POST-MOVIE MEAL: The pizza place across the street from Lincoln Square (my fav in the city). Or my & Rachel’s awesome super-secret Thai place (sorry, it’s a secret)!
  • BEST MOVIE EVENT: Nope, not any of the big summer superhero hc2movies. And sadly, I missed the midnight show of HP7.2 because I was sick. So for me, this award goes to the opening night midnight show of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 -- a raucous, sold-out affair at the IFC Center, at which I received the greatest movie swag ever: An official Human Centipede staple remover!

Okay, that’s enough of this madness for one year. Unless of course anybody has any questions about my movie-going prowess! Or perhaps there are more superlatives you'd like to hear about? Ask and ye shall receive!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


pinaJust when we thought that the 3D trend was on the verge of completely jumping the shark, along come some master filmmakers to prove that, when used properly, it can not only be effective and cool-looking, but actually drive a picture and enhance both the narrative and visual experience. In THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, Spielberg clearly had a blast exploring some new techniques and his enthusiasm shows. Scorcese’s HUGO (my #1 movie of 2011) is the first instance in which 3D is actually vital to the intended viewing experience. I didn’t see Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in theatres, but I hear that the 3D was exceptional and well-suited to the material. And now there’s PINA, Wim Wenders’ tribute to famed German choreographer Pina Bausch, which takes the technology to new heights, infusing the film with a level of visual depth and immersion that we’ve never seen before.

As a documentary, the film doesn’t delve too deeply into Bausch’s life; it is more of a showcase for her work and a loving tribute from Wenders and the many dancers that have worked with her over the years. Each troupe member gets a private moment of reflection, accompanied by a close-up of his or her face against a dark backdrop, as they share a memory, quote or anecdote about Bausch. These moments are interspersed among pina1dance routines that visually expand what one would see in a performance, while still retaining an intimate, almost visceral feel, complete with the sounds of dancers moving and breathing.

I was not familiar with Pina Bausch before seeing this movie, nor am I the least bit knowledgeable about the intricacies of contemporary dance -- but her themes of loneliness, sex and interpersonal relationships are universal. The dance routines are vibrant and surreal (hell, at times, off-the-wall bizarre), filled with humor, intensity and raw human emotion. The way the dancers’ bodies move, combined with the way they utilize space and depth of field, is such that filming in 3D must have been a no-brainer. The third dimension allows us to watch the routines with the same perspective as if we were watching them on stage. It is an astonishing visual experience and it’s hard to imagine enjoying the film in 2D in quite the same way.

It’s unlikely that having watched and enjoyed PINA will suddenly turn me into a die-hard fan of dance (though I did come home and immediately download the soundtrack, which contains some damn catchy stuff). But it is nevertheless a visually-stimulating, touching tribute to a talented and influential woman, and one of the few truly must-see 3D films that have been released so far.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ben’s Top 10 Movies of 2011

11Happy New Year, my friends! The year 2011 is in the books and while it was an excellent year in many respects (awesome vacations to New Orleans and Florida, lots of bonding time with my two-year-old niece, plus we got a new kitten!), to say that it was an odd year for movies would be an understatement. It was the kind of year in which the cinematic crop looks great on paper, but in practice left much to be desired. We saw a lot of great performances that were wasted in otherwise-mediocre films. We saw a larger-than-usual influx of excellent indie/low-key films, while, for the most part, the big-budget Hollywood spectacles fizzled. 3D technology, for all its faults, seems to be here to stay, especially now that some big-name filmmakers may have actually started to figure out what to do with it. We saw triumphant returns (hail the Muppets!) and death knells (RIP, funny Sandler). Indeed, as a whole, 2011 was one of the least-memorable years in some time. Yet somehow, I still parked my ass in a movie theatre an astonishing 155 times, obliterating the personal record that I set just last year. That, my friends, is a LOT of movies. Maybe TOO many -- there were plenty of titles that I’d forgotten about when looking back over my list. The crème de la crème, however, is a somewhat bizarre, art house-centric mix of bleakness and hope. Let’s take a look, shall we?

a-separation10. A SEPARATION -- I had a difficult time deciding what to put in this spot (I’ll discuss the near-misses in a bit), but in the end, for the second straight year, the last film I saw, a few hours before the ball dropped, claimed the spot at the eleventh hour. A seemingly-unremarkable situation involving a failing marriage practically becomes a gripping thriller as events snowball into something completely different. It’s a powerful, impeccably-acted and expertly-crafted Iranian family drama / murder mystery / socio-religious commentary that will keep you on the edge of your seat, teach you a few things AND make your head spin for days afterward. If this isn’t the frontrunner for Best Foreign Film, then I really need to see more foreign films -- actually, I need to do that anyway. (Fun fact: This is the first foreign film to make my Top 10 since PAN’S LABYRINTH claimed the top spot in 2006.)

theartist9. THE ARTIST -- A black-and-white silent film that is, in turn, a loving tribute to the silent era. Not only is it hugely enjoyable, uplifting, superbly acted, beautifully-shot and featuring a wonderful musical score, but it actually inspired me to go on a silent film-watching spree, which was a genre I had never really explored. Oscar nominations haven’t even been announced yet, but I’m surprised that we’re already seeing some backlash against this movie, seemingly from a bunch of jaded Debbie Downers. Listen, I love a good, dark, soul-sucking movie-watching experience as much as the next guy (as you will soon see), but sometimes I just want to be filled with joy and wonder. THE ARTIST fits that bill nicely.

the_trip8. THE TRIP -- The funniest movie of the year follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they travel around England, eating food, bickering and trying to outdo each other with their celebrity impressions and other funny accents. But Coogan’s battles with his own ego and burgeoning mid-life crisis, paired with a distinct commentary on the dynamic of male friendships, make it one of the most stealthily poignant films of the year, too. And on top of all that, it’s easily the most quotable. Since I saw the movie in June, I haven’t stopped reciting the bit where they go back and forth spoofing the costume drama inspirational speech: “Gentlemen, to bed! For we leave at 9:30...ish.” Be sure to rent the DVD, which contains nearly 100 minutes of additional/extended footage, which are just as watchable and hilarious as the finished movie.

Beginners7. BEGINNERS -- I’m really glad to see this movie getting some props during awards season, because it is so deserving. Ewan McGregor is at his best as Oliver, a lost soul who has never really had a meaningful relationship. But that sad, lonely life is thrown for a loop when he hits it off with a woman named Anna (Melanie Laurent, absolutely luminous). This story is contrasted with Oliver’s memories of his recently-deceased father (Christopher Plummer in an Oscar-worthy performance), who came out of the closet at the age of 75 and rediscovered the will to live. A funny, poignant, multi-generational story of life, love, family and identity that wears its heart on its sleeve and features the kind of whimsy, depth, sincerity and underlying optimism that gets me every time. (Best performance by a Jack Russell Terrier in a movie this year, too -- Arthur rules!)

Melancholia6. MELANCHOLIA -- Lars von Trier gives us the most bizarre disaster flick ever, also a metaphor for the destructive power of depression. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is not happy... and her troubled mindset is paralleled by the troubling appearance of a rogue planet in Earth’s orbit. While at first the phenomenon is captivating, it slowly becomes clear that the end of the world is at hand. At this point, Justine begins to take control of her sanity while others unravel around her. The film features outstanding performances from an eclectic cast including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård and the great Charlotte Rampling -- but really, it belongs to Dunst, who has risen to new heights with by far the best performance of her career. With its beautiful, dreamlike cinematography and an ending that will knock the wind out of you, this is one of the year’s most vivid and affecting films.

take-shelter5. TAKE SHELTER -- Michael Shannon gives arguably the best overall performance of the year in this startling film that is part psycho-thriller, part metaphor for the mindset of America in this age of economic uncertainty. Shannon plays Curtis, a family man who starts having weird nightmares and ominous hallucinations and can’t quite figure out if he’s having a stress-induced mental breakdown or experiencing legit, prophetic, apocalyptic visions. In the end he decides that the only thing that makes sense is to build a bomb shelter in his yard to save his family from whatever storm may or may not be coming. Masterfully crafted by writer/director Jeff Nichols, the film begins with a nightmare, maintains an ethereal feel as tensions mount and Curtis’ sanity frays, and culminates with another wallop of an ending that will make your head spin.

drive4. DRIVE -- With its '80s noir vibe, pulsing soundtrack, fantastic cast, slow-burning plot punctuated by moments of incredible violence and intense car chases, this is the flat-out coolest movie of the year. Ryan Gosling, in turn, gives the year's flat-out coolest performance, as he infuses his enigmatic Driver (a movie stuntman who moonlights as a wheelman for armed heists) with a mixture of McQueen, Dean, Eastwood and Brando with electric results. He received Golden Globe nods for his more-accessible roles in THE IDES OF MARCH and CRAZY STUPID LOVE, but this is the one that could define his career. There was a ton of hyperbole swirling around this movie up to and following its release, but it is a rare case where it actually lives up to the hype. An intense cinematic experience from intriguing director Nicolas Winding Refn.

martha_marcy_may_marlene3. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE -- In a year chock full of films that have messed with my mind (two of which we’ve already discussed), here we have the most unsettling of them all. Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, a girl who tries to regain some semblance of a normal life after escaping from a cult where she spent two years being brainwashed by its charming leader. But her psyche has been so deeply damaged that she suffers from paranoid delusions that blur the line between nightmare and reality in her mind. The film exists in a shroud of tension and unfolds like a dream, slowly peeling back layers of Martha’s experiences, culminating in yet another astonishing ending that feels like a kick to the gut. Olsen -- yes, Mary Kate & Ashley’s younger sister -- gives what may be the year’s most nuanced, vulnerable and, frankly, all-around best female performance. An absolutely mesmerizing film (and pretty awesome poster that I kind of want to hang on my wall).

midnight-in-paris2. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS -- Just when you thought that this top 10 would never recover from the dark turn it took a few spots ago, here comes Woody Allen to lighten the mood. Owen Wilson (perfectly cast in the “Woody Allen” role) plays Gil, a struggling writer who visits Paris with his fiancée and can’t help but get swept up in his preconceived notions about the city’s romance and beauty. One night, while out for a walk, the clock strikes midnight and he finds himself magically transported to the 1920s, hobnobbing in French cafés and parties with such luminaries as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso and experiencing his own creative and emotional rebirth. The motley crew of literary and artistic figures are hilarious and impeccably cast (Adrien Brody as Dali... genius!). It’s a story of pure whimsy and fantasy and I loved every minute of it. And I could also relate to Gil’s mindset: Five years ago, I went to Paris with a girl as part of a whirlwind romance. I, too, got caught up in the city’s splendor and at times felt frustrated when the reality of my situation didn’t quite match up with the fantasy in my head. So, on top of everything else, thank you, Woody, for the catharsis!

...and finally....

hugo1. HUGO -- When I heard that Martin Scorcese was making a 3D kids’ film, I figured it would be interesting, because it’s Scorcese and his films always are. But I had no idea it would be quite THIS good. It is, all at once, an epic fantasy adventure, an intimate ode to family & friendship, a postcard of old Paris, a love letter to cinema, a crash course in the history of motion pictures, a propaganda piece about the importance of film preservation AND a game-changer in the advancement of 3D technology. It works perfectly on every one of those levels and should affect different people in different ways, depending upon which aspects they latch onto. For me, it had several effects. I loved the friendship (budding romance?) between Hugo and Isabelle, which was heartwarming and real. I loved the visuals and the use of 3D -- first time the technology has ever really been NECESSARY to achieve the full intended experience. I loved the history lesson, which particularly appealed to me because I had literally just gotten into watching old silent films on Netflix. So when I saw a clip from Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL during HUGO, I had a nice geek-out moment, as if all my cinematic stars were suddenly aligned. For me, Scorcese’s ode to movies and the people who love them was a definitive case of the elusive “cinematic thunderbolt” -- a rapturous movie-watching experience and unquestionably my #1 movie of 2011.


Other Noteworthy Titles (in no particular order):

The Muppets. Shame. Pariah. Trollhunter. Captain America: First Avenger. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Higher Ground. The Skin I Live In. The Descendants. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Source Code. Moneyball. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. A Dangerous Method. Attack the Block. The Double Hour. The Woman. X-Men: First Class. Rango. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Contagion. The Swell Season. The Adjustment Bureau. Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Sucker Punch. Hanna. Win Win. The Adventures of Tintin. War Horse. The Hangover: Part II. Our Idiot Brother. Paranormal Activity 3. 50/50. Cedar Rapids. Beautiful Boy. Real Steel. We Bought a Zoo. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The Help. My Week With Marilyn.


And now... The Ten WORST Films of 2011:

10. MEET MONICA VELOUR -- Kim Cattrall plays an aging, downtrodden ‘80s porn icon who befriends a young fan. My guess is that Cattrall was trying to shed her glamorous SEX AND THE CITY persona, but just ends up embarrassing herself. And us.
9. SEASON OF THE WITCH -- Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as knights of the Crusades who battle a witch that may be the source of the black plague. The movie should have gone crazier to achieve so-bad-it’s-good status; as it stands, it’s just plain bad.
8. THE DILEMMA -- Vince Vaughn thinks that best friend Kevin James’ wife is cheating and lameness ensue. The statute of limitations on Vaughn milking his SWINGERS persona is nearly up. And James is just useless.
7. LARRY CROWNE -- No idea what the hell happened here, but this collaboration of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts is a gargantuan trainwreck. They tried to make a feel-good story about the current state of society and ended up with arguably the worst film of Hanks’ career.
6. DREAM HOUSE -- You’d think that a haunted house story directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz would be great. And it might have been -- but production problems and studio re-cuts thwarted that plan and left a gigantic turd floating in the cinematic toilet.
5. KILLER ELITE -- It’s been a while since Robert DeNiro was the best part of a movie; unfortunately it’s this awful, convoluted mess of an action film starring Jason Statham and Clive Owen, both of whose shticks are now officially boring.
4. JACK & JILL -- It’s been a while since Al Pacino was the best part of a movie; unfortunately it’s this awful Adam Sandler dreck. Remember when you saw the trailer and thought, “Holy shit, this looks terrible.” Well, it is exactly as terrible as it looked. I’d say this was the final nail in Sandler’s coffin, but God help us, I’m sure Awesom-O will keep churning out ideas (South Park fans know what I'm talkin' about).
3. APOLLO 18 -- A prime example of a cool concept -- the explanation as to why we never sent man back to the Moon after the last official mission in 1972 -- ruined by awful execution. The result is poorly written, not at all scary and quite possibly the worst found-footage flick to date.
2. HALL PASS -- This dismal schlock is so wretchedly bad that it makes me rethink whether or not the Farrelly Brothers have EVER been good. It brings dick and poop jokes to new lows and is an embarrassment to all involved. A shameful waste of some good talent and Nicky Whelan’s boobs.
1. JUST GO WITH IT -- As bad as JACK & JILL was, it wasn’t the worst Adam Sandler movie of the year. This one, starring Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, is even more profoundly unfunny and a sure sign of Sandler’s demise. It is just painful to watch. Not even Brooklyn Decker’s ample, glistening bikini cleavage can save it. When you take into account the shitty attempt at a laid-back, ad-libbed vibe, lack of laughs AND the extent to which it made me (a former Sandler worshipper) die inside, this is an easy choice for the absolute worst movie of 2011.


And now... Some Random Movie Thoughts!

the-muppetsSome Titles That Just Missed the Top 10: I can be very wishy-washy when compiling these lists and I often write several different titles in the #10 slot before changing my mind. THE MUPPETS is possibly the single most enjoyable movie-watching experience of the year, but it’s still not as good as the original Muppet movies, so I didn’t think it would be appropriate. SHAME is a devastating film but it has some climactic flaws (pun intended). I briefly flirted with the idea of including CAPTAIN AMERICA (the best superhero film of the year) or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 4 (the best pure action film), but nah. I also loved TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and THE DESCENDANTS, but I loved other movies more. And a tip of the hat to the Norwegian faux-documentary TROLLHUNTER, which hung around the Top 10 until, like, mid-November before getting bumped. Awesome movie, though!

sucker-punchBiggest Guilty Pleasure: As was the case with the first two films, I unabashedly love the glorious spectacle that is TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. I don’t care what anybody says -- Transformers are awesome and these movies are awesome and if they keep making ‘em, I’ll keep seeing ‘em in glorious IMAX. Speaking of which, can you guess which filmmakers’ work I’ve seen in that large-screen format more than any other? Nope, you’re all wrong -- the answer is Zack Snyder! In the past, I've seen 300 and WATCHMEN in their 80’ x 100’ glory, and this year, I saw SUCKER PUNCH, which I quite enjoyed and have re-watched it on Blu-Ray and will probably continue to do so. It has its flaws, but it is a rollicking visual feast and not nearly as awful as most people & critics seem to believe.

real-steelPleasant Surprises: When I first saw the trailer for REAL STEEL, I seriously thought we were getting “Rock’em, Sock’em Robots: The Movie” and the end of the world was nigh. But it turned out to be more of a cross between ROCKY and THE IRON GIANT -- stunningly entertaining and filled with heart. Likewise, WARRIOR rose above its conventional story (and stupid sport) with great performances and intense fight scenes. FAST FIVE revitalized one of the world’s dumbest franchises by merging all its various characters and storylines and transforming it into sort of a poor man’s OCEAN’S 11. I also never expected RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to be as good as it turned out to be, thanks in no small part to motion-capture master Andy Serkis.

cowboys-aliensDisappointments: After seeing the trailer for LIKE CRAZY, I fully expected it to be this year’s great heartbreaking indie romance, a la ONCE, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and BLUE VALENTINE... but it did not turn out that way. COWBOYS & ALIENS was not a BAD movie, necessarily... just completely unmemorable. After the greatness of IRON MAN, I expected more from Jon Favreau (not to mention a cast including Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford). PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN 4 is not quite the failure it’s been made out to be by some, but it’s certainly a step down from the first three. Hard to believe that CARNAGE, with its dream cast, wasn’t more memorable. But the biggest disappointment of all, in terms of sheer expectation, may be be HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2. I fully expected it to be my #1 movie of the year, and it didn’t even make the Top 10 thanks to some serious flaws that I just couldn’t overlook. Frustrating. But that being said....

hp72Mischief Managed: I mean, it’s not that the eighth and final Potter film is bad by any means. It is epic and action-packed and hugely emotional and ultimately a satisfying conclusion to one of the all-time great cinematic achievements. But... it kills me that they botched the final act so badly. [Beware of spoilers over the next few sentences.] Not just the fact that they dropped the ball by not showing more of the emotionally-charged aspects of the Battle of Hogwarts, but the fact that Voldemort’s on-screen death completely undermines J.K. Rowling’s message that in the end, he was only human. David Yates & Co. showed tremendous skill when it came to thinking outside the box in films 5 thru 7.1 -- but in the end, they should’ve gone by the book. [End spoilers.] For those reasons, I couldn’t in good conscience give HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 a spot in the Top 10 -- but I still love it and the rest of the series very much. Now that it’s over, it officially means that all of my favorite franchises are complete. No more Star Wars... no more Lord of the Rings (The Hobbit doesn’t count)... no more Potter. Sure, I will still get excited about movies in the future, but not with the same fervor that I felt for these series. It’s truly the end of an era. (At least until something really happens with Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER.…)

higher_groundMost Underrated: I’m going to stick with SUCKER PUNCH here, because I really think that the movie has been unjustly panned and is misunderstood. Only 23% on RottenTomatoes, plus widespread derision in the Twitterverse -- it’s a damn shame. It’s not perfect and has plot holes and whatever. But it also contains an interesting conglomeration of ideas -- admittedly, some better-realized than others -- and on a pure entertainment level, it’s visually spectacular and fun and that’s good enough for me. (Or maybe my crush on Emily Browning is deeper than I even realize). Meanwhile, the lovely Vera Farmiga wrote, directed & starred in a movie called HIGHER GROUND -- a wonderfully-acted and refreshingly non-judgmental take on organized religion (and this is coming from a borderline atheist) that I really would have loved to see get more widespread praise. Haven’t seen nearly enough love for two excellent slices of sci-fi, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU and SOURCE CODE (especially since the latter was directed by one of the genre’s most intriguing minds, Duncan Jones). I thought there was a certain level of absurd genius in having the exact same thing happen to the Wolf Pack in THE HANGOVER PART II. I also enjoyed Joe Wright’s HANNA, a stylized action fairy tale in which Cate Blanchett passes the torch to her young doppelgänger, Saoirse Ronan. Did people like CONTAGION? It sort of came & went, but I liked it. Lastly, WAR HORSE, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE and WE BOUGHT A ZOO all tugged on all the right heartstrings -- there’s no shame in admitting that, so no need to bash them!

the_tree_of_lifeMost Overrated: I thought THE TREE OF LIFE was beautiful and well-crafted, as all Terrence Malick films are... but I have to wonder if the only reason it is making so many best-of lists is because people think it makes them sound smarter or something. Likewise, everyone who is touting BRIDESMAIDS as the funniest thing since sliced bread... come on. It is funny, yes, and Kristen Wiig rules and it's great to see these funny ladies get some much-deserved kudos. But realistically speaking, it’s nowhere near the level of THE HANGOVER, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN or other such films... and is certainly not Oscar-worthy, for God’s sake! Meanwhile, Jason Reitman’s last two films (JUNO and UP IN THE AIR) both finished in my Top 5, but I didn’t love YOUNG ADULT, which seems to be a minority position. And it seems like lots of people enjoyed SUPER 8, but all it accomplished was make me want to have an old-school Spielberg marathon as soon as possible.

rangoAnimation Stagnation: Not a great year for the medium, exemplified by the fact that we saw Pixar’s first perceived “flop.” I actually kind of liked CARS 2 better than the first one -- but if I were to rank all the Pixar films, they would both sit at the very bottom. PUSS IN BOOTS and KUNG FU PANDA 2 were pretty to look at but ultimately unmemorable. I didn’t even bother with HAPPY FEET 2, which is significant since the first one actually made my Top 10 of 2005. I also skipped THE SMURFS, MARS NEEDS MOMS and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (though I understand the latter isn’t so bad). But the year wasn’t a total loss: RANGO was a hilarious homage to spaghetti westerns, movie geekdom and Hunter S. Thompson, while THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN was a rollicking motion-capture adventure that allowed Spielberg to tap back into his RAIDERS roots.

human-centipede-2Horror Movie Horror Show: We saw a variety of horror offerings this year. You’ve got dumping-ground bullshit like THE RITE, THE ROOMMATE and INSIDIOUS -- all of which sucked. Then you’ve got big franchise sequels like SCREAM 4, FINAL DESTINATION 5 and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 -- all of which were quite entertaining. Then there were a few remakes, like STRAW DOGS, THE THING and DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK -- all of which were mixed bags. Then you’ve got genre-bending art house fare, like TAKE SHELTER, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and THE SKIN I LIVE IN -- all of which were amazing. Lucky McKee & Jack Ketchum's THE WOMAN was quite the eye-opener. And last but not least, there was THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FULL SEQUENCE. Ugh. Yet I can’t wait to see what that madman Tom Six has in store for us next.

the-skin-i-live-inForeign Films & Docs: I actually saw a few of these this year! Very slowly but surely, my ass is gaining some culture. I obviously loved A SEPARATION. THE DOUBLE HOUR was a twisty-turny Italian mystery/thriller that will make your head spin (in a good way). I very much enjoyed THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Almodóvar’s answer to THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (think about it). And my 100th movie of the year was an intriguing French film starring Ludivine Sagnier and Kristen Scott Thomas called LOVE CRIME. As for docs... Morgan Spurlock’s POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD was pretty fun, and THE PEOPLE vs. GEORGE LUCAS drummed up all sorts of anti-Lucas rage that I thought I’d put behind me. THE SWELL SEASON was the sequel to ONCE that we’ve always wanted. And for what feels like the umpteenth year in a row, I honored Earth Day with the latest DisneyNature film, AFRICAN CATS. Rawr.

captain_americaSuperhero Orgy: We saw a glut of these kinds of films as Marvel gears up for THE AVENGERS later in 2012. The best of the bunch was CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, an awesome movie that made me more excited for the superhero supergroup than any of the other related films since IRON MAN. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was also exceptional -- probably the best X-Men film so far. On the other side of the coin, there were two epic failures, THOR and GREEN LANTERN, both of which fell victim to their own vast, complicated backstories that make no sense if you aren’t already seasoned in the comics. Outside of the Marvel universe, I mildly enjoyed THE GREEN HORNET and hated PRIEST, if that even counts. Actually, the best superhero film of them all may have been the aforementioned story of a burly Norwegian dude who hunts trolls in the dead of the night -- TROLLHUNTER kicks ass!

attack_the_blockSci-Fi Shenanigans: I’ve already mentioned THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU and SOURCE CODE, both of which were smart and well-crafted and I liked them a lot. ATTACK THE BLOCK was a brilliant film and veritable geek’s paradise about a London street gang that must defend their ‘hood from an alien invasion. IN TIME was flawed but timely with its rich vs. poor morals -- they should have set up an inflatable screen and shown it in Zuccotti Park to fire the Occupiers. LIMITLESS had a cool concept but, ironically, didn’t quite take it far enough. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES tried to be this generation’s INDEPENDENCE DAY, while SUPER 8 tried to capitalize on the past generation’s nostalgia -- both failed. And then there was PAUL, an alien-encounter flick made by sci-fi geeks, for sci-fi geeks, starring Simon Pegg & Nick Frost -- need I say more?

our_idiot_brotherRaunchy Comedies Galore: Holy shit, there were a lot of raunchy comedies this year. Couldn't possibly mention them all here, but briefly: BRIDESMAIDS, while not perfect, did indeed prove that ladies can bring the raunch. CEDAR RAPIDS flew under the radar but was very funny. A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY hit the spot for thirtysomethings caught in the throes of the aging process (like yours truly). 30 MINUTES OR LESS was well-cast and fun in the moment. BAD TEACHER served as a reminder that Cameron Diaz is still sexy. A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS helped put me in the holiday spirit. HORRIBLE BOSSES was not horrible but not particularly good, either. YOUR HIGHNESS was the year’s best filthy, violent, medieval fantasy epic stoner sex comedy. WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? made me yearn for the day that Anna Farris finally gets to show her stuff in a project worthy of her comedic talents. THE SITTER was an unfortunate swan song for Fat Jonah Hill. FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS had the edge over NO STRINGS ATTACHED in the battle of the “fuck buddy” flicks because JT and Mila are better than Ashton and Natalie -- but both movies sucked. And lastly, I kind of loved OUR IDIOT BROTHER, a funny & heartfelt comedy starring my boy Paul Rudd in one of his most lovable roles ever, which is saying something.

like-crazyTwee Romances: I like these kinds of movies because I'm an old softie, but this was a bad year for the genre (unless you count MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but I think Woody Allen transcends such generalizations). The aforementioned LIKE CRAZY could have been great but let me down because I just didn’t believe in the power of its love story. The gimmicky ONE DAY managed to shock me with a plot twist that I totally didn’t see coming. Gus van Sant’s RESTLESS was morbid & sweet but perhaps too quirky for its own good, while THE ART OF GETTING BY had its moments but also rips off everything from Woody Allen to J.D. Salinger to BILLY MADISON. Josh Radnor’s HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE felt like exactly the kind of douchey movie that Ted Mosby would make to impress a girl. And then there’s STUCK BETWEEN STATIONS, which is noteworthy for being the first movie screening I saw with a press pass, handed to me by the director (on the night Osama bin Laden was killed, no less); unfortunately, it turned out to be yet another mediocre BEFORE SUNRISE clone.

Super-8We Love the ‘80s: The ‘80s just won’t go away! This year we saw remakes of FOOTLOOSE, FRIGHT NIGHT and ARTHUR -- none of which were necessary but the first two of which ended up being surprisingly effective (the latter, not so much). TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT was not very good but it did mostly succeed in capturing the look and feel of a typical '80s sex/party/coming-of-age comedy. SUPER 8 was J.J. Abrams’ homage to vintage ‘80s Spielberg, which, as I’ve mentioned, just makes you want to watch those movies instead. THE LINCOLN LAWYER and TEXAS KILLING FIELDS both had the feel of ‘80s genre pieces (respectively, the old-fashioned courtroom drama and the gritty Michael Mann mystery). And of course, DRIVE invokes the decade with its COCKTAIL-style title font and retro soundtrack.

ShameRising Stars – Fassender vs. Chastain: It was a breakout year for both of these great actors. Fassbender kicked ass as young Magneto in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, a well-endowed sex addict in SHAME, a smoldering love interest in JANE EYRE and one of the fathers of psychoanalysis in DANGEROUS METHOD. Chastain, meanwhile, was even more ubiquitous, showing up as an outcast socialite in THE HELP, a concerned wife in TAKE SHELTER, a Nazi-hunting Mossad agent in THE DEBT, another concerned wife in THE TREE OF LIFE and a detective in TEXAS KILLING FIELDS (plus she was in movies called WILDE SALOME and CORIOLANUS, which I did not see). Whew! I think the edge goes to Fassbender this year, but I, for one, will be watching both of their careers with great interest.

hannaHummable Scores (or the Lack Thereof): Whereas last year we had tons of amazing scores that I still listen to all the time (especially INCEPTION and TRON: LEGACY), this year was kind of lacking in that department. In fact, if it wasn’t for Alexandre Desplat, it’d be downright dreadful -- he scored SIX films (look ‘em up), including really good stuff for HARRY POTTER 7.2 and EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE. DRIVE had that pulsing, retro soundtrack that I’ve already mentioned. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross once again combined their talents for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and it was cool. I liked the Chemical Brothers’ score that drove the underrated HANNA forward. THE ARTIST had a brilliant score that, of course, is as much a part of the film as the actors themselves. And then there was a double-dose of the man, John Williams: His scores for THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and WAR HORSE will not rank among his all-time best, but it’s always a pleasure to hear his unmistakable sound.

tintin3-D Overload: Like it or not, it looks like 3D technology is here to stay, though the results are still mixed and it’s important to do your homework to determine when to pay the extra money. Of course, I’ve already discussed Scorcese’s brilliant HUGO. I’d also recommend seeing Spielberg’s TINTIN in 3D -- it’s not a requirement but it looks fantastic. On the other side of the coin, 3D added very little to HARRY POTTER 7.2 -- I saw it both ways and preferred the 2D version. I stuck with 2D for PIRATES 4, THOR, GREEN LANTERN and THE GREEN HORNET and do not regret those decisions. Gimmicky films fared well: The spelunking adventure, SANCTUM, used James Cameron’s AVATAR cameras to make a bad movie look cool. HAROLD & KUMAR made great advances in the area of 3D stoner effects. DRIVE ANGRY brought 3D back to the grindhouse. As usual, 3D worked extremely well for animated films: PUSS IN BOOTS, KUNG FU PANDA 2, CARS 2 and RANGO all featured some nice visuals. And THE LION KING set the stage for what will soon be a huge influx of 3D re-releases of classic films -- yay.

we-need-to-talk-about-kevinBelieve It Or Not, There’s Some Stuff I DIDN’T See: Quite a few titles, actually, some of which may come as a surprise (and others as a relief). One big one was WINNIE THE POOH -- the first major Disney release I didn’t see on the big screen in God knows how long. I resisted my morbid curiosity and avoided NEW YEAR’S EVE. I had hoped to score an advance screening pass for TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN -- what can I say, I wanna know what happens -- but I didn’t, and no way was I gonna pay for that crap. I actually skipped FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS in theatres (watched it on Blu-Ray a few days ago). Didn’t bother with THE THREE MUSKETEERS despite the debut of THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D trailer before it (times have changed since 1998). Kind of surprising that I skipped THE RUM DIARY -- perhaps, deep down, I didn’t want to sully my existing memories of Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. Somehow, out of 155 trips to the movies, I failed to see not one but TWO Werner Herzog documentaries, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and INTO THE ABYSS -- yes, I am ashamed of this. Really sorry I missed CERTIFIED COPY, about which I have heard great things (it is now on Netflix, so I’ll rectify that situation shortly). But my biggest regret was missing WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN during its very brief run at the Angelika in NYC. It will be back in theatres next weekend, but obviously too late to be considered for my Top 10. Would it have made a difference? We'll never know.

rotkBig-Screen Classics: On top everything else, I even managed to see some classic films in the way they were meant to be seen. I caught ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN as a free double-feature at the Tribeca Grand Hotel screening room. I would have liked to see the theatrical release of all three LORD OF THE RINGS Extended Editions, but due to vacations and stuff, I had to settle for THE RETURN OF THE KING and it was four-plus hours of supreme awesomeness. THE LION KING was majestic as ever on the big screen (the 3D was okay); looking forward to more classic Disney re-releases. Lastly, I saw GHOSTBUSTERS at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab screening room -- a pretty cool place --you can find their weekly FREE screening schedule HERE.

Aaaaaaaaaand there you have it. Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Death threats? What are YOUR picks for the best and worst movies of 2011? Let’s discuss!