Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Year in Film, 2016

THE HANDMAIDEN: A twisty tale of two women.

The best movies of the year:

1. The Handmaiden: Seeing Park Chan-wook's stunning erotic thriller at the Busan Film Festival last October was my favorite moviegoing experience of the year. After nearly 2.5 hours of shifting perspectives, shocking plot twists, sliced fingers, and bells used in ways that will make you blush, I wasn't completely sure I understood everything. I just knew I never wanted the camera to stop exploring the many rooms of Lady Hideko's house, where a pickpocket named Sook-hee arrives to pull off a con game. This is by the same director who gave us the Vengeance Trilogy, and so of course Sook-hee enters a veritable house of horrors. Hangings, a monster in the basement, and the world's most perverse book club — Lady Hideko's house has it all. Ultimately, though, the movie is a touching and lushly romantic celebration of women. It just might be Park's lurid masterpiece.

2. Silence: Audiences and Oscar voters may have given it the silent treatment, but I am in complete awe of Martin Scorsese's 25th feature film. Inspired by real events, it tells a remarkable story about Jesuit priests in Japan when that country had outlawed Christianity. Silence addresses questions of faith and the possibility of transcendence in a way that affected me deeply, more than any other Scoresese picture except for maybe The Last Temptation of Christ and George Harrison: Living in the Material World.

3. Arrival: Grandly ambitious, touching and humanistic sci-fi in the tradition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact.

4. The Nice Guys: From director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), this is a wildly entertaining L.A. crime film / buddy comedy. We need at least 10 more cases for Healy (Russell Crowe) and March (Ryan Gosling) to solve.

Under the same moon: Alex Hibbert in MOONLIGHT.
5. Moonlight: Feels as vital and distinctive as the works of Oscar Micheaux and Charles Burnett. At first I thought the movie had peaked early with the really wonderful performance by Mahershala Ali as Little's mentor, but then the diner scene at the end blew me away. 

6. Midnight Special: For my money, a subtler, more magical homage to vintage Spielberg than Super 8.

7. Allied: The best wartime romance set in Casablanca since... well, you know.

8. The Childhood of a Leader: Best new director goes to Brady Corbet for his eerie portrait of a psychotic brat turned fascist leader.

9. Fences: Powerfully acted adaptation of August Wilson's play about an African American family in post-war Pittsburgh. The final moment of grace has stayed with me.

No escape: Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: Not quite a prequel or sequel to Cloverfield, but it's definitely part of the same universe. It manages that neat trick within a tightly written suspense picture about a determined young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her mysterious captor (John Goodman, the movie's volatile MVP).

11. Hail, Caesar!: A lark by the Coen brothers. Their recreation of the Golden Age of Hollywood (Westerns, Biblical epics, musicals and more) gave us several of the year's most delightful movie scenes.

12. The Wailing: Reminiscent of Angel Heart and The Exorcist, but really you've never seen anything quite like this 2.5 hour, hallucinatory Korean horror film. It ends with a demonic encounter you won't soon forget.

13. American Honey: Writer-director Andrea Arnold's first American movie is a long and loosely plotted road picture about a "mag crew." It's sometimes sad, often very funny and almost always beautiful to look at. All is forgiven, Shia.

14. The Witch: Best villain goes to Black Phillip, horned prince of darkness. "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?"

Samantha Robinson casts a seductive spell in THE LOVE WITCH.
15. The Love Witch: How to describe this cinematic oddity, which has the makings of a cult classic? It was shot in Technicolor on 35mm film, which is almost unheard of for a low-budget horror movie these days. It's a master class in interior decorating, and it apes the style of earlier "bad" movies it clearly has a lot of affection for. The closest comparison I can think of is Psycho Beach Party. Just watch it and be amazed by all of the gloriously deadpan performances and striking color schemes.

GREEN ROOM, which features one of Anton Yelchin's final performances.

Honorable Mentions:

Love & Friendship, Louder Than Bombs, Other People, Knight of Cups, Green Room, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush, The Shallows, Café Society, Train to Busan, Hell or High Water, Florence Foster Jenkins, Demolition, Hidden Figures, The Invitation, Don't Breathe, Doctor Strange, Tale of Tales, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best musical: La La Land. Much better the second time.

Concert film: Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

Family films: Zootopia, Pete's Dragon, Kubo and the Two Strings

Using archival footage, eyewitness accounts and rotoscopic animation, TOWER is a masterpiece about the mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
Documentaries: Tower, 13th, De Palma, Where to Invade Next

Guilty Pleasures: Gods of Egypt, Sausage Party, Yoga Hosers

Underrated: Blair Witch, Snowden, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Stars-and-bars bikini: Riley Keough gives a standout performance in AMERICAN HONEY.
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress: Riley Keough, American Honey

California dreamin': The dazzling opening scene in LA LA LAND.

Favorite scenes:

Hail, Caesar!
"No Dames" and "Would that it were so simple?"

The Handmaiden
Lady Hideko takes a bath; even dental work is sexy in this movie.

La La Land
"Another Day of Sun"

The diner scene.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The best movies of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Remember when the trailers made this look like it was going to be the coolest thing ever? And then it came out on May 15th, and it actually was the coolest thing ever? What a lovely day!

2. It Follows: Indie director David Robert Mitchell follows up The Myth of the American Sleepover with another sensitive, curiously timeless portrait of suburban teens, except this time it's in the context of a remarkably poised and ferocious horror movie. After sleeping with the wrong guy, a college student (Maika Monroe) finds herself hunted by a relentless, shape-shifting killer. More than just a clever allegory, it's an instant genre classic. The spooky, stylized score by Disasterpeace was easily the year's coolest.

3. The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino's 8th feature film divided critics and fans alike, but for my money it's the auteur's greatest achievement since Kill Bill. Just as Kill Bill was a pastiche of samurai films (Vol. 1) and spaghetti westerns (Vol. 2), The Hateful Eight is really two or even three movies in one. First, Tarantino touches down in John Ford country, then we're drawn into a tense locked-room murder mystery, which gives way to... well, something entirely sadistic. The change-up left many an unsuspecting viewer feeling betrayed, but I think it's the source of the film's bleak power. Shocking and howlingly funny in the best Tarantino fashion, it's a strikingly pessimistic piece of work that's obviously not for everyone. Even if it's not your cup of poisoned coffee, you've gotta love the cast Tarantino has assembled to play some of his most vivid characters ever.

4. Love & Mercy:

5. Ex Machina: Alex Garland published a generation defining novel (The Beach) in his twenties, wrote a groundbreaking fast-zombie movie (28 Days Later) in his early thirties, and now he's written and directed a mind-blowing A.I. thriller (Ex Machina) in his forties. I think it's safe to say this guy has my dream career.

6. Spotlight: Tom McCarthy's quietly devastating drama is not only about the Boston Globe reporters who exposed rampant child sex abuse by Catholic priests; it's also about how our entire society failed to put a stop to it. Such acting heavyweights as Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams do more than right by the story's real-life investigative heroes. If Fury Road isn't "respectable" enough to win, then this absolutely deserves to beat The Revenant in the Oscar race for best picture.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Considering all of the hype surrounding this project, director J.J. Abrams has pulled off the near miraculous: a spectacularly good Star Wars movie, with fresh-faced heroes and a memorable villain (not to mention Leia, Luke and Han) in a rip-roaring adventure story. To the fans who complained Abrams outright stole scenes from the holy trilogy, I offer the following rebuttal. Yes, I was often reminded of episodes IV, V and VI while watching The Force Awakens, especially near the end when a beloved character gets killed off. You know what I was never reminded of? This:

8. Bone Tomahawk: The Hateful Eight wasn't the only horror western starring Kurt Russell to be released in 2015. "Barely released" in the case of Bone Tomahawk, but no matter: this thrilling mash-up from first-time director S. Craig Zahler will find its audience in due course. Working from Zahler's literate screenplay, Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox brought true grit to the members of a rescue party who walk willingly into hell on earth. Imagine The Searchers crossed with The Green Inferno and you're not far off.

9. Brooklyn / Room (tie): What do these two Oscar nominees for best picture have in common? You mean, besides a bucket of my tears? ;) Well, for starters, each offers a textbook case of how to adapt a book to the screen. With a radiant lead performance by Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (those eyes^ were the the best special effect the movies had to offer this year), Brooklyn is both a compassionate Irish immigrant story and a valentine to an earlier era of New York City a la A Bronx Tale. With its child's-eye POV, Room is a profound subjective experience from the very beginning ("Good morning, sink"). As the film's indomitable mother-son duo, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay got me caught up in the emotional lives of their characters in a way no other movie this year could.

10. The Big Short: How did Adam McKay, the guy behind Anchorman and Step Brothers, make one of the year's best and most important movies? He assembled an A-list cast (including Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell, all of whom are clearly having a field day). Also, he approached the 2008 collapse of the world economy the same way one of the masters of cinema approached mutually assured destruction...

"My idea of doing [Dr. Strangelove] as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny." – Stanley Kubrick

11. Wild Tales: I've never forgotten one of the standalone sequences (there are six total) of Damián Szifron's wild, Oscar-nominated dark comedy. A driver refuses to let another man pass him on an isolated mountain road. One of them flips the bird, and somehow this escalates to the point where we're looking at two charred skeletons under a bridge. Each sick-comic episode intensifies to such an insane degree that by the time we get to the finale at a wedding, we're left giggling nervously at the possibilities. Believe me, that sequence doesn't disappoint; it's the most hilariously awful wedding since Melancholia. Wild Tales reminded me of Amores Perros, another Spanish-language anthology film, which was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu went on to make 2014's best picture winner and this year's frontrunner, and I think we'll see similarly great things from Szifron in the years to come.

12. Creed: Sure, Rocky 7 followed a decades-old formula, but in the hands of the gifted young African-American filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), everything old was made fresh and rousing. As a fighter with a famous last name and the singer he courts outside of the ring, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson formed what was arguably the film's most dynamic match-up.

13. Grandma: It sounds provocative on paper: an aging lesbian author helps her granddaughter find the money the teen needs for an abortion. Running a near-perfect 75 minutes, the movie handles its plot in a practical way, putting family ties front and center. Lily Tomlin (who hasn't been this wryly funny since Flirting with Disaster) has wonderful screen chemistry with Julia Garner (who played Joseph Gordon-Levitt's baby-doll girlfriend in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For). Written and directed with disarming emotional authenticity by Paul Weitz.

14. Tangerine: When Sin-Dee finds out her boyfriend/pimp has been cheating on her, she spends Christmas Eve looking for him and the cisgender girl he had an affair with. A gorgeous, energetic and hilaaarious West Hollywood comedy, Tangerine works up a level of pop music-powered excitement comparable to Run Lola Run. In the final scene, we realize we've been watching the year's most touching platonic love story.

15. The Visit: After a string of big-budget disasters, M. Night Shyamalan switched modes by teaming up with Blumhouse Productions and going low-budget horror. The result: his best movie in years and the creepiest grandparents since Weird Science. "Yahtzee!"

Runners-up: Crimson Peak, Unfriended, The Jinx, Mississippi Grind, Far from the Madding Crowd, Slow West, The End of the Tour, Goodnight Mommy, Maps to the Stars, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Blackhat, The Duke of Burgundy, The Final Girls, World of Tomorrow, The Walk

Family films: Paddington, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie

Best Actor: Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Best Actress: Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Supporting Actor: Walter Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

A few other acting favorites: Teyonah Parris, tearing through Chi-Raq as the leader of a "no peace, no piece" movement; Jason Statham, who had great fun sending up his stern tough guy persona in Spy; Al Pacino, who gave a ridiculously entertaining late-career performance as a Neil Diamond-type singer in Danny Collins; Sean Harris, lowering the room temperature about 20 degrees every time he appears in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Bel Powley as a young cartoonist exploring her sexuality in the frank and honest The Diary of a Teenage Girl; in The Gift, Jason Bateman added the mean streak of a bully to the exasperated nice guy we're used to seeing him play; and, as much as I enjoyed Johnny Depp's Nosferatu take on Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, he was no match for Peter Sarsgaard, who was on a whole different level in his brief appearance as a sweaty, nervous, homicidal gangster.

That's entertainment! American Ultra, Knock Knock, San Andreas, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter Ascending, Terminator: Genesys, Krampus

Movies I haven't seen yet but want to: Carol, Son of Saul, 45 Years, Anomalisa, Mustang, The Look of Silence, Listen to Me Marlon

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best animated movies of 2012

If I had to make a guess, I'd say Pixar's Brave will win this year's Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I like that movie a lot, almost as much as I like Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, which has a good chance of upsetting Brave at the Oscars. It's a testament to what a great year this was for animation that neither of those movies made my list of favorites, which I wrote about for the Augusta Gazette. You can read it by clicking here. Consider the images below a sneak preview.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Here Comes the Boom"

Last week I reviewed Here Comes the Honey Boo Boo (or some such thing) for the Augusta Gazette. You can read it by clicking here. I'll be taking this week off to catch up on all the Twilight movies in preparation for my Breaking Dawn - Part 2 review. I could read the books, but is one review worth that much pain? The answer is no.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Last month I started writing reviews for my hometown paper, the Augusta Gazette. The local theatre plays a different first-run movie almost every week, and I'll be reviewing each of those. This week's feature presentation: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. It was originally a 30-minute short, starring Barret Oliver from The Neverending Story and directed by Burton the year before he made his feature directorial debut, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (one of my all-time favorites). I highly recommend you check out the short, which is included as a special feature on the 2010 blu-ray of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The new Frankenweenie is in some ways an improvement, which I discuss in my review for the Gazette. You can read it by clicking here. Below you can listen to the rather delightful song that plays over the end credits.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's That From? Memorable Movie Quotes, 2009-2012

Love me some movie quotes. If I were to make a conservative estimate, I’d say I speak in movie quotes (and, to a greater extent recently, TV quotes) 15 percent of the time when I’m around friends. They’re great for people like me who are introverted and basically inept at small talk. Of course, there’s always the risk of getting carried away; see the episode of Undeclared where Rachel become enamored with and then quickly annoyed by a drama major who constantly speaks in celebrity impersonations. But mostly I think speaking in movie and TV quotes is a positive thing, giving people a quick and easy way to reference shared experiences and crack each other up with memorable lines.

You’ll find plenty of those in the scene pictured above, the opening of The Social Network, which is one of the best dialogue movies in recent years. I had a hard time picking out just one line from Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay to include here. The same issue came up when choosing a quote from 21 Jump Street. Virtually the whole movie is quotable. This is one of those comedies, like Major League and Wayne’s World, that people will memorize and recite all the lines while watching with their friends. I simply picked one that seems particularly amusing to me at the moment. It’s absurd to quote just one line from a Quentin Tarantino movie. For Inglourious Basterds, I chose Lt. Archie Hicox’s death scene because it illustrates how important language is in that movie. In this scene, as well as in the opening scene where Col. Hans Landa speaks in English so as to hide the fact he’s about to murder the Dreyfus family, Tarantino shows how words can be lethal.

Here are ten scenes that I think could be used in an AFI montage of the most memorable movie quotes of recent years. As a bonus, I’ve also included the final lines in Poetry. This is my favorite movie ending in quite awhile. The film delivers its emotional knockout punch when it switches from the perspective of Mija, an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, to that of Heejin, a dead girl who suffered greatly at the hands of Mija’s grandson.

Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010)
Dearest Mother, I am about to embark on a great
adventure. I have learned that Tom Chaney has fled into
the wild, and I shall assist the authorities in pursuit. You
know that Papa would want me to be firm in the right as
he always was, so do not fear on my account. Though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall
fear no evil. The author of all things watches over me
and I have a fine horse. Kiss little Frankie for me and
pinch Violet's cheek. My papa's death will soon be
avenged. I am off for the Choctaw Nation.

Sean Parker in The Social Network (2010)
We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now
we're going to live on the Internet!

Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go
out speaking the King's.
By all means, Captain.
(picks up glass of scotch)
There's a special rung in hell reserved for people who
waste good scotch. Seeing as how I may be rapping
on the door momentarily...
(drinks scotch)
I must say, damn good stuff, Sir.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
We're all different.
(indicates Mr. Fox)
Especially him. But there's something kind of
fantastic about that, isn't there?

Teddy Daniels and the warden in Shutter Island (2010)
When I came downstairs in my home, and I saw that tree
in my living room, it reached out for me... a divine hand.
God loves violence.
I... I hadn't noticed.
Sure you have. Why else would there be so much of it?
It's in us. It's what we are. We wage war, we burn
sacrifices, and pillage and plunder and tear at the flesh
of our brothers. And why? Because God gave us
violence to wage in his honor.
I thought God gave us moral order.
There's no moral order as pure as this storm. There's
no moral order at all. There's just this: can my
violence conquer yours?

General Aladeen in The Dictator (2012)
Why are you guys so anti-dictators? Imagine if America
was a dictatorship. You could let 1% of the people have
all the nation's wealth. You could help your rich friends
get richer by cutting their taxes. And bailing them out
when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs
of the poor for health care and education. Your media
would appear free, but would secretly be controlled
by one person and his family. You could wiretap
phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You
could have rigged elections. You could lie about why
you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one
particular racial group, and no one would complain.
You could use the media to scare the people into
supporting policies that are against their interests.
Jenko in 21 Jump Street (2012)
Where do we report to?
Down on Jump Street. 37 Jump Street... wait,
that doesn't sound right.

Mark Wiener in Life During Wartime (2009)
So, Mark, what do you do?
Systems analysis.
That sounds interesting.
It is to me. Moderately. Like intermediate-level Sudoku.
But I have no illusions that what I do is of any interest
to anyone else, even amongst specialists. I'm something
of a functionary, but without ambition. Or even hope of
ambition. I plateau'd in grad school then lost interest
except in maintaining a base salary adequate for
financing a low-overhead subsistence.
Are you seeing anyone?
No, I'm more focused on China. Everything else
is history. It's a just a question of time.
Abe in Looper (2012)
Go to China.
I'm going to France.
Go to China, trust me.
I'm going to France!
I'm from the FUTURE, go to China!

Lancaster Dodd in The Master (2012)
If you figure out a way to live without a master,
any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for
you would be the first in the history of the world.

Mija in Poetry (2010)
How is it over there?
How lonely is it?
Is it still glowing red at sunset?
Are the birds still singing on the way to the forest?
Can you receive the letter I dared not send?
Can I convey…
the confession I dared not make?
Will time pass and roses fade?
Now it's time to say goodbye
Like the wind that lingers and then goes,
just like shadows
To promises that never came,
to the love sealed till the end.

To the grass kissing my weary ankles
And to the tiny footsteps following me
It's time to say goodbye
Now as darkness falls
Will a candle be lit again?
Here I pray…
nobody shall cry…
and for you to know…
how deeply I loved you
The long wait in the middle of a hot summer day
An old path resembling my father's face
Even the lonesome wild flower shyly turning away
How deeply I loved
How my heart fluttered at hearing faint song
I bless you
Before crossing the black river
With my soul's last breath
I am beginning to dream…
a bright sunny morning…
again I awake blinded by the light…
and meet you…
standing by me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My favorite movies of 2012 (so far)

1. Bernie

Director Richard Linklater has done the seemingly impossible: he's made a true crime comedy that's equal parts funny and tragic, filmed in a completely original docudrama style with some of the actual participants. Jack Black stars as the nicest guy in the town of Carthage, Texas who also happens to be guilty of murdering a little old lady. An effeminate undertaker who loves singing gospel music, Bernie Tiede is equal parts Stuart Smalley and Tenacious D. Black's performance is a high-wire act, and he pulls it off miraculously. Bernie is a folksy modern parable that has a lot to say about our justice system and how sometimes you have to lie and steal to do the most good. It's a great American movie.

2. The Cabin in the Woods

Marvel's The Avengers is the Joss Whedon film everyone has been talking about this year, but except for Mark Ruffalo's performance, I was less than blown away by the summer's undisputed box office champ. I have no reservations about The Cabin in the Woods, which is my favorite horror-comedy since the original Scream. Read my full review here.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

This is the year's biggest arthouse smash, and it's easy to see why: never before has Wes Anderson made such a warm, relatable film. That doesn't mean he's broken new ground here. The movie offers a lot of what you'd expect from Anderson, the quirky details that make his work so recognizable. All of the books featured in the film have covers that were created from scratch (one of them pays homage to the movie poster for Bonjour tristesse), and, of course, all of the songs are wonderful. (Moonrise is the first soundtrack I've purchased since, well, The Darjeeling Limited.) The difference between this and The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling, both of which I found kind of alienating, is we understand where the filmmaker is coming from. Anderson has said the film was inspired by a childhood crush, a fantasy that never became real, and it's nice to think of Moonrise as the most elaborately constructed love letter ever.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

I had my doubts going in, but Bane won me over from the very first scene, and the "Occupy Gotham" sentiments expressed by Catwoman helped make this Christopher Nolan's timeliest and also one of his most compelling action-adventures. I was worried the death of Heath Ledger had left a hole in this series that couldn't be filled, but Nolan has given us a seamless trilogy, making this more of a sequel to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight. TDKR is funnier than the previous entries (Cillian Murphy has never been more hilariously cracked in the role of Judge Crane/Scarecrow), and the brilliant way the director and his screenwriting partner/brother Jonathan handle characterization (especially Catwoman and - spoiler alert! - Robin) suggests this series could go on in the form of spin-offs that meet the Nolan standard of excellence.

5. Chronicle

Not only a terrific original superhero movie (the best of its kind since M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable), Josh Trank's sleeper hit is also a fresh take on the "found-footage" genre. Dane DeHaan delivers one of the year's breakout performances as Andrew, an angry young man who chooses to be an apex predator instead of a Jedi knight.

6. Prometheus

The script for Ridley Scott's unofficial Alien prequel has been widely mocked by fans, but I'm willing to bet many of the film's unanswered questions (explored in detail by Mike and Jay at Half in the Bag) will be addressed in the Prometheus sequel. We haven't seen this level of spectacle in a science-fiction movie since Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, and that counts for quite a lot in my book.

7. Damsels in Distress

Even though it tackles unpleasant issues like suicide prevention and the general smelliness of an all-male dormitory, Damsels is an absolute delight. This is the college Clueless, a hilarious and super-stylized portrait of campus life from one of cinema's least prolific poets, Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco). As the brightest ray of sunshine in a very sunny film, Greta Gerwig reaffirms her status as the most lovely specimen appearing on movie screens these days.

8. The Hunger Games

In the tradition of Battle Royale and Stephen King's novella The Long Walk, Suzanne Collins' dystopian tale of teens playing the most dangerous game for the amusement of the masses has been given the royal Hollywood treatment, with a riveting lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

9. The Loved Ones

Boy rejects girl, and what follows is by the far the most terrifying prom night since Carrie White got soaked with a bucketful of pig's blood. It's an understatement to say Sean Byrne's feature directorial debut is not for the faint of heart, as it comes very close to Saw levels of grisliness. But The Loved Ones is to be commended for its startling unpredictability, its original father-daughter team of psychos, and Robin McLeavy's squirm-inducing portrayal of the ultimate prom date from hell.

10. Savages

Once upon a time, Oliver Stone was my favorite filmmaker. He made his best movies when I was at an impressionable age, and they were loud and passionate and violent as hell. In other words, they were perfect for a teenager. Savages represents a welcome return to form after years spent in the wilderness. (I'll defend W. and a few of his documentaries, but basically everything after U Turn is a no-go.) Based on Don Winslow's 2010 novel, Savages is a heady mix of sex, drugs, violence and postcard images of Laguna Beach. For the first time since the glory days of JFK and Natural Born Killers, Stone has worked wonders with an ensemble cast, including John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro.

11. 21 Jump Street

"You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice."

 12. The Secret World of Arrietty

This is a Studio Ghibli film based on The Borrowers, so needless to say it has images you'd like to crawl inside of and explore, much like the little people in Mary Norton’s fantasy novel sneak inside houses and lift valuables.

13. God Bless America

A daring, acidly funny comedy directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the sarcastically titled God Bless America updates Bonnie and Clyde while taking aim at a society that rewards "the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest" among us.

14. The Woman in Black

I'm happy there seems to be life after Harry Potter for the talented Mr. Radcliffe, but is this beautiful, gloomy, often very scary Gothic horror tale really a change of pace? The last few Potter sequels were horror films, weren't they?

 15. Goon

In addition to this bloody hockey comedy (starring Seann William Scott in his most likable performance to date), I'd also include John Carter, Wanderlust and The Dictator. It's been been a solid year so far.