I’ve seen twenty movies so far this year (first ten) — here’s a brief update (new additions are in bold):
1. Beginners — This movie is fantastic. A remarkably sincere and heartbreakingly specific work. My favorite quality in a movie is the feeling that what I’m watching is somehow personal — that it could only have been made by this person at this time. A movie doesn’t have to be semi-autobiographical like this one is in order to have that essence, but Beginners is so full of well-observed details and moments, it makes other movies seem fake.
2. Bridesmaids — I was recently asked by someone if I genuinely loved this movie or if I was just one of those people who felt like I should love it, because of Feminism. The answer is that this movie is great and I loved it. I want to see more female-driven comedies that aren’t just about how hard it is for gorgeous Katherine Heigl to find a decent man until she learns to settle for a grotesque muppet-slob like Rogen or Butler, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to automatically love every, say, Bad Teacher.
3. Another Earth — This movie is kind of the opposite of Bad Teacher (see below; far, far below). A lot of things about it don’t work for me, but Brit Marling’s star performance is so fantastic it elevates the whole thing. I really enjoy this kind of feelings-based low-budget science fiction (see also: Moon); I hope there’s a market for it, because I’d love to see more.
4. X-Men: First Class — Oh man, I was not prepared for how much I would love this. I had such a blast, you guys. This was a comic book movie done right, brilliantly capturing the perfect blend of silliness and pathos, but it was also a franchise film done right — a strong piece on its own, not relying on an elaborate knowledge of the previous entries in the series (*cough* Superman Returns) or weighed down by teasing future installments (looking in your direction, Iron Man 2), but also using what the audience knows about the characters in exciting and interesting ways that you can’t with a one-off. This movie made me feel like a little kid again, poring over the comics for the first time, in a way a superhero movie hasn’t since Spider-Man 1 and 2. The X-Men movies always felt so crowded and muddy to me, but there’s a clarity and focus here that really allows the material to soar. I think the period detail really helped in this regard (as it did in Captain America), along with the whole team-coming-together-for-the-first-time thing. More than any movie in recent memory, X-Men: First Class really captures the wonder and danger of living in a world with super powers. Excelsior! (Oh, yeah, and also: a lot of problematic race/gender stuff, ESPECIALLY for a series that mines its drama from the oppression of a disenfranchised minority, so, uh, points off for that.)
5. Cedar Rapids — Not much to say about this movie that I didn’t already say last time, but I will add that I am always a fan of movies that explore a low-rent version of something, like this movie’s treatment of Cedar Rapids as a low-rent Dubai.
6. Midnight in Paris — This is Woody Allen’s highest-grossing movie ever? Okay, whatever. Midnight in Paris is slight, but delightful. It could’ve used more Rachel McAdams, like all movies.
7. Source Code — This movie also could’ve used more Rachel McAdams, but if you can’t get Rachel McAdams, I guess Michelle Monaghan is an adequate substitute.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger — This movie was a lot a lot of fun, but they kind of botched the ending. And when I say “ending,” I’m not referring to the part after the credits, because I saw a late showing of this with Margaret and by the end of it, we were both pretty tired and she said, “Let’s go,” and I said, “Really? Don’t you want to see what’s after the credits?” and she said, “Movies like this never have anything after the credits,” and I said, “But Thor did! And so did Iron Man, and Iron Man 2!” and she said, “I’m tired; let’s go,” so we left, and I didn’t get to see what happened after the credits. I’m sure it was nothing, Margaret.
9. Tree of Life — Ever since seeing this movie, sometimes for no reason or if I’m bored I’ll just start shout-whispering: “MOTHER… FATHER… BROTHER… MOTHER… YOU ARE MY FATHER, MOTHER… ALWAYS WILL MY MOTHER BE MY BROTHER…”
10. No Strings Attached — If you can’t get Rachel McAdams or Michelle Monaghan, Greta Gerwig will do in a pinch.
11. Super 8 — This movie was super well-cast — all the stuff between the kids was really great — but I feel like the monster stuff was just kind of shoehorned in. It was like J. J. Abrams said, “Okay, guys, I want to make this really delicate coming of age story set in the eighties,” and the studio was like, “With a monster?” And Abrams was like, “It’ll be a throwback to Spielberg’s early work,” and the studio was like, “His early monster work?” And Abrams was like, “It’ll be about young artists dealing with grief and regret—” and the studio was like “And a monster, right?” And Abrams was like, “Fine, whatever, there will be a monster.”
12. Thor — or as the teenagers sitting behind me called it, “Thor Hours Long” AKA “It Was So Long My Butt Is Thor”
13. Horrible Bosses — Surprisingly not terrible! Jason Bateman, your movies are consistently among my least favorite of the year (Extract, The Switch), but not this year! Looking forward to The Change-Up!
14. Submarine — I was in a really bad mood when I saw this quirky Welsh coming of age story and I was hoping it would make me feel better. It didn’t. Sorry, Submarine, maybe I would have liked you more if I wasn’t already feeling shitty about things, or if you were just a little bit better. Hard to say.
15. Make Believe — If you can’t get Rachel McAdams or Michelle Monaghan or Greta Gerwig, at least get a bunch of teenagers who like magic and are really intense about it.
16. Crazy, Stupid, Love — MIIIIDDLLLLEEEBRROOOOOOOOW. This movie is so middlebrow, it should be called Middlebrow, Stupid, Middlebrow. If you don’t know what I mean by “middlebrow,” don’t bother looking it up, because no wikipedia entry could properly describe the elaborate middlebrowishness of this crunchy-on-the-outside gooey-on-the-inside Hitch-for-white-people. The very idea of something being in-the-middle-of-brow was made for movies like this one (in which Steve Carell is stuck with a bill for eight hundred dollars and sees it as a mild annoyance, in which a grand romantic gesture takes place during a middle school graduation speech, and in which women are either sexual objects or somebody’s daughter and not, you know, both), so whatever the connotations the word had before don’t matter — the new definition of middlebrow is: Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not at all terrible, and that’s what makes it so bad. Crazy, Stupid, Love has just enough good-to-great moments to make it incredibly frustrating that the whole thing isn’t better. The best sequences make use of the four main actors’ not inconsiderable charisma and infectious chemistry (as well as charming supporting turns from Bacon and Tomei [side note: If The Bacon and Tomei isn’t the name of an omelet at some diner in West Hollywood, then you’re not trying hard enough, West Hollywood]), but the bad parts (mostly involving a precocious adolescent who has a lot of romantic ideas about soul mates) are like a black hole of obviousness, sucking the specificity out of the room with barf-inducing cuteness and eye-rolling broadness and taking what could have been a sophisticated and deeply felt comedy-drama for grown-ups and Love-Actually-izing it into bullseye-direct-center-of-the-brow slop.
17. The Hangover Part II — Both Hangover movies, by design, peak early. The best sequence in each is when the characters wake up in a seemingly inexplicable world of chaos — the terrifying remnants of a night of debauchery. The following hour-long explanation of that chaos then can’t help but be anti-climactic. Also, hey, we got a Paul Giamatti club going on over here, down at the bottom of this list. Yo, what up, Win Win?
18. Win Win — Not much, Hangover 2, just chillin’.
19. Bad Teacher — this movie is filled with hilarious actors giving great performances. Too bad the star is Cameron Diaz.
20. [SECRET MOVIE] — I saw an early advance screening of this so-bad-it-could-make-an-atheist-think-God-is-punishing-him movie and signed a thing saying I wouldn’t talk shit about it on the internet. Honestly, I’m not sure this pungent fart of a film will ever see release, in which case I will drop it from this list. I kept it on this go-round just because I didn’t want people to think the secret movie I hated last time was Bad Teacher. This movie was so much worse than Bad Teacher, guys.