Best Movies of the Century, year by year
Looking back over my ten-best lists for the past decade, I see that my tastes are slightly out of the mainstream, at least as far as my fellow reviewers and the number ten itself are concerned.
Best Movies of 2012
Technological changes finally caught up with the movie business in 2012. Several of the best films actually made their debut on DVD and pay-per-view. After minimal theatrical releases, they went directly to cable pay-per-view, DVD and other formats. I downloaded one of the year’s best, Bernie, to a handheld device, and I suspect that trend is going to become increasingly more important.
Seven Top-Ten Theatrical releases of 2012:
Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are unlikely lovers in the year’s most unusual romantic-comedy/drama.
Lincoln – Steven Spielberg’s look at the last months of the President’s life is the front-runner for all of the major awards.
End of Watch – Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are uniformed LAPD cops and best friends. Perks of Being a Wallflower – A high school freshman falls in with a senior clique and is smitten by Emma Watson, and who could blame him?
Flight – Denzel Washington is brilliant as an alcoholic pilot.
Argo – Ben Affleck directs and stars in the fact-based story of the rescue of American embassy personnel from the home of the Canadian ambassador in Iran.
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western/comedy is set in the antebellum South.
Eight Top-Ten DVDs of 2012:
Bernie – Jack Black deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a funeral director who murders the meanest woman (Shirley MacLaine) in a small Texas town.
Ted – Mark Wahlberg and his best friend, a live stuffed bear (voice of director Seth MacFarlane) can’t quite seem to grow up.
The Campaign – Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis compete for a North Carolina House seat. Funny and nasty in all the right ways.
Arbitrage – Richard Gere is excellent as a New York financier who finds his life crumbling as he tries to put together a deal that will save his company.
The Artist – Last year’s big Oscar-winner loses nothing on DVD.
Hugo – Audiences missed Martin Scorsese’s valentine to silent French movies in theaters, and if it’s not as impressive on DVD, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable and moving.
American Horror Story, Season One – A fiercely original, challenging and frightening story of a troubled family that moves into a haunted Los Angeles house.
The Muppets – One of 2011’s best brings Kermit and company out of retirement. Grand fun for audiences of all ages.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten movies of 2011 (in no particular order)
The Artist – Jean Dujardin channels Peter Sellers as a silent film star facing the introduction of sound.
The Muppets – Kermit and company attempt a comeback. Terrific humor and songs.
Super 8 – Kids making movies and a monster on the loose in 1978. The summer’s best popcorn movie.
The Descendants – George Clooney deals with the death of his wife and other family problems.
Win Win – Paul Giamatti is a small town lawyer dealing with economic problems and a troubled teenager. Thoroughly engaging and smart.
Moneyball – Brad Pitt tries to turn the Oakland A’s into a winning team using unorthodox methods. Fascinating even if you don’t care about baseball.
Hugo – Martin Scorsese spins a fairy tale about movies and a boy who lives within the walls of a train station in 1920s Paris. Perhaps the year’s most entertaining release.
Honorable Mentions: Crazy Stupid Love, Bridesmaids, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Debt, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, My Week with Marilyn
Mike Mayo’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2010
Inception. Thoughtful, ambitious, challenging, entertaining, and, most important, original—not a sequel, not a remake. This is what big‐budget Hollywood escapism can be.
The King’s Speech. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Colin Firth, and in the end, a story that is surprisingly moving.
True Grit. The Coen brothers’ Western has a rougher, more realistic quality than the 1968 film, and better performances from a more talented cast. O.K., Jeff Bridges isn’t John Wayne, and he doesn’t try to be.
127 Hours. James Franco turns in another remarkable performance and director Danny Boyle manages to make the bizarre true story completely involving, and surprising all the way through.
How To Train Your Dragon. Superb animation, goofy characters, and, again, it’s original.
The Illusionist. Old-fashioned hand-drawn animation with a wry sense of humor and genuine warmth.
The Complete Metropolis. Finally, years after I saw this one in grad school, the plot actually makes sense, and it’s still impressive.
Honorable Mentions: Easy A, The Town, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island, Toy Story 3, Black Swan.
Mike’s Eight Top‐Ten films of 2009
Inglorious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino’s audacious approach to the war film refuses to follow any rules and ends up being thoroughly engrossing and original.
Avatar. Despite its flaws, James Cameron’s s‐f adventure creates a beautiful, richly detailed world that’s a joy to discover. Along with Tarantino, he reminds us what big‐screen movies are all about.
An Education. The year’s best coming‐of‐age story. Carey Mulligan’s performance is remarkably mature and Peter Sarsgaard is equally seductive.
The Informant! The forgotten comic drama of the year with Matt Damon’s best performance. One of those stories that would make no sense unless it were true.
Up. Pixar continues to make the most imaginative, surprising and moving stories, CGI or live action.
The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow’s emotionally cool look at a slice of the Iraq war is as understated as Tarantino’s war film is operatic.
Star Trek. J.J. Abrams’ take on a familiar franchise is fast‐paced and thoroughly entertaining.
Harry Potter and the Half‐Blood Prince. The latest entry in the series is darker and more complicated and still engrossing.
Honorable Mentions: The Hangover; (500) Days of Summer; Adventureland; A Single Man; District 9; Anvil, the Story of Anvil; It Might Get Loud; Up in the Air; Sherlock Holmes.
Mike’s Eight Top Ten Movies of 2008
Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle’s Dickensian epic about a kid who grows up in the slums of Mumbai and competes on the Indian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is the year’s best pure crowd‐pleaser.
Iron Man. Everything I want to see in a big summer special effects movie: Good effects, solid story, excellent acting and humor.
Bank Job. Based‐on‐fact heist movie with smarts, humor, grand plot twists and a solid performance by Jason Statham. The year’s sleeper.
Burn After Reading. The Coen brothers at their best with the wicked story of half a dozen characters who are in way over their heads. Terrific ensemble led by George Clooney, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt.
Frost/Nixon. Frank Langella is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Richard Nixon during his first public interrogation after Watergate.
Milk. Sean Penn is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official who was murdered in office. Excellent political biopic.
The Visitor. Richard Jenkins ought to get an Oscar nomination (and he ought to win) for his interpretation of a widower who finds himself after he meets two immigrants.
Wall‐E. Admittedly the first half is better than the second, but Wall‐E is the animated equivalent of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, a hard‐working little guy who falls for a glamorous babe and wins her.
Mike’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2007
Michael Clayton. A multi‐million dollar product liability case drives one lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) insane and forces another (George Clooney) to question everything about his life. Complicated in all the right ways with brilliant dialog, legitimate surprises and great characters. Best film of the year.
Hairspray. Pound for pound, to use an apt metaphor, the adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ original is the most enjoyable movie I saw all year. I smiled a lot. Watching John Travolta and Christopher Walken dance together is worth the price of a ticket or a DVD all by itself.
Zodiac. O.K., after Fight Club, I’m now convinced that David Fincher is the real deal. Instead of focusing on the bloody details of the famous San Francisco murders, he’s interested in the way that people become obsessed and what that obsession does to them. He sticks closely to the facts and arrives at exactly the right ending.
Juno. The stars are perfectly aligned for young Ellen Page, writer Cody Diablo and director Jason Reitman in an intelligent, funny story of a pregnant teen, her family and an adoptive couple. What could have been an exercise in stereotypes is bracingly original all the way through.
Lars and the Real Girl. The premise—shy guy buys an anatomically correct sex doll and calls her his girlfriend—sounds creepy, but the filmmakers turn it into a genuinely sweet, slightly Woebegonian story with superb performances from Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer as his understanding sister‐in‐law.
Charlie Wilson’s War. Three stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman—at the top of their game ought to be enough to separate this comedy from the pool of contemporary war movies that nobody’s going to see. It’s bright, sharp, sexy and the office scene is a brilliant set‐piece.
Lust, Caution. The intense sexual scenes have earned Ang Lee’s film an NC-17 rating, but at heart, it’s a carefully wrought spy tale in the John LeCarré mold. Stars Tony Leung and Tang Wei are letter perfect as lovers in occupied China during World War II.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Movies of 2006
Children of Men. An adventure with an unheroic hero (Clive Owen) and a grim look at a possible near future, this one has stayed with me more than any other movie of the year.
United 93.Perhaps the most unconventional film of the year is also the best, to date, on the events of 9/11. It’s good to see that Paul Greengrass has been nominated as Best Director.
The Departed. Wildly violent, complicated and funny, this is the most entertaining movie Martin Scorsese has made in years. “And Oscar goes to…”
The Devil Wears Prada. Who knew that Meryl Streep could turn in such a brilliantly understated comic performance? Well, we all should have known. One of my favorite comedies of the year.
Little Miss Sunshine. A terrific ensemble cast (don’t forget Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette), a sharp script, and, a tone that’s never too cute. Sleeper of the year.
Letters from Iwo Jima.Clint Eastwood’s view of the battle from the Japanese point of view is a more straightforward war film than Flags of Our Fathers, and more moving.
The Illusionist. For sheer old-fashioned, what’s-going-to-happen-next story telling this one is hard to beat. And then there’s Paul Giamatti’s supporting work which deserved an Oscar nod.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Films of 2005
King Kong. An impressive, if overlong remake of a masterpiece.
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Tommy Lee Jones tells a fine complicated story of contemporary western violence.
Good Night and Good Luck. Nicely nuanced view of a complicated piece of history and superb black and white cinematography.
Capote. Phillip Seymour Hoffman at his best as the troubled writer creating his masterpiece.
Jarhead. Nightmarish view of the first Iraq war.
The Squid and the Whale. Excellent examination of a very troubled family.
Munich. Suspenseful, complicated, morally complex—simply the year’s best.
Honorable Mentions: Match Point, Walk the Line, Upside of Anger, Crash, Batman Begins, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Lord of War, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, Syriana, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Mike’s 9 Top-Ten of 2004
Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank resurrect the boxing movie.
Kill Bill, v.2. Quentin Tarantino’s conclusion is one of the great action films.
Sideways. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church turn the tale of two losers into a wonderful adventure.
A Very Long Engagement. Audrey Tatou in an epic World War I romance
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Romantic comedy/drama told with fractured time. Fine performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.
Hero. Jet Li leads a fine ensemble in a grand historic epic of China.
Shrek 2. A sequel that’s almost as good as the wonderful original.
The Incredibles. Animated superheroes with family problems.
Garden State. Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in a tricky tale of a guy who tries to go home again.
Mike’s 11 Top Ten movies of 2003
The Swimming Pool. Enigmatic, erotic, and very very French.
School of Rock. Wry, smart comedy with heart.
Capturing the Friedmans. Unsettling documentary leaves you wondering exactly what you just saw.
The Cooler. William Macy’s is a loser who gets one last shot. The gritty side of Vegas has seldom been shown so well.
In America. A family of illegal Irish immigrants finds a beautiful new life in a squalid enchanting New York.
Seabiscuit. A horse racing tale with heart and a fine evocation of Depression-era America.
Mystic River. Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Dennis Lahane’s novel is complex and serious with a first-rate ensemble.
American Splendor. Paul Giamatti is writer Harvey Pekar in a defiantly quirky biopic.
Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. One of the best seafaring adventures ever, with another strong performance by Russell Crowe.
House of Sand and Fog. A truly tragic drama about willful people and a house. Fine work from Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
The Station Agent. Peter Dinklage inherits a railroad stationhouse and deals with his own loneliness. With Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale.
Mike’s 13 top ten of 2002
About a Boy. Hugh Grant proves that he really can act in a remarkably moving comedy/drama.
Insomnia. The 2nd best Robin Williams movie of the year. Director Christopher Nolan proves that he’s for real.
Frailty. Bill Paxton’s brilliant directorial debut is the year’s best horror.
Undisputed. Walter Hill/Ving Rhames/Wesley Snipes boxing/prison drama. Sleeper of the year.
One-Hour Photo. The finest acting Robin Williams has done; superb work manipulating a familiar formula.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Terrific documentary about the Funk Bros., the backup band that contributed so much to the music of the 1960s.
Spirited Away. Hands down, the year’s best animation from Japan. Worthy of comparison to Pinocchio & The Wizard of Oz.
Gangs of New York. Martin Scorsese’s historical epic is likely to win him Oscar. (Oops, got that wrong.)
Brotherhood of the Wolf. Your basic 18th century French political-conspiracy martial-arts horror special effects epic, with a spaghetti Western sensibility.
Y tu Mama Tambien. Striking Mexican road/sex/political comedy/drama.
24 Hour Party People. Curious reworking of Citizen Kane (sort of) set in the world of British music & clubs.
Barbershop.The year’s funniest comedy marks the arrival of producer/star Ice-Cube as a force to be reckoned with.
Road to Perdition. The year’s best film is far more ambitious, controlled and moving than anything else released in 2002.
Mike’s 11 Top-ten of 2001
Enemy at the Gates. Superb war movie about the siege of Stalingrad.
Memento. Christopher Nolan’s stylish thriller is more than a memory-loss gimmick.
Amores Perros. Brilliantly constructed drama of contemporary Mexico.
With a Friend Like Harry. French thriller with a strong, dark sense of humor.
Shrek. Wit, romance, great animation. One of the all-time best.
Ghost World. Off-beat comic book adaptation.
Deep End. Unpredictable mystery about mom Tilda Swinton protecting her son.
Go Tigers! Wonderful documentary about high school football in Massillon, Ohio.
Training Day. Oscar winning vehicle for Denzel Washington as charismatic corrupt cop.
Donnie Darko. Is it s-f? Fantasy? A journey into the disturbed psyche of teen Jake Gyllenhaal?
Ocean’s 11. First rate caper flick with top drawer ensemble cast.