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Movie Ratings and Reviews

Boyhood (2014)

A masterpiece, hands down. Writer-director Richard Linklater created a film that's as close to experiencing life passing by as you can get in the medium. Watching the cast age twelve years in front of you is not only an emotionally effective and intimate experience, but a reminder of how treacherous and fleeting time is. "Boyhood" chronicles the pain and joy of growing into adulthood, as we watch Mason struggle his way through school, family tragedies, peer pressure and, ultimately, as he struggles to find his way in the world as a recent high school grad. His parents, beautifully portrayed by Arquette and Hawke, take us into the world of adulthood to close off the circle of life and to reveal that the uncertainty and apprehension about his place in the world that Mason feels in his late adolescence never fully dissipates. In its portrayal of how ephemeral and unknowable is the human condition, "Boyhood" reminded me greatly of "Synecdoche, New York"-two films that bear great comparison in theme and scale, and that will be remembered among the best of the new century. "Boyhood" is a great cinematic achievement thanks to its innovative, epic conceit and its execution. And despite its almost three-hours running time, the film flies by and demands repeated viewing. I certainly look forward to seeing it again and again.

Wish I Was Here

"Wish I Was Here" clearly aspires to the cathartic, inspirational climax of writer-director first feature, "Garden State." Unfortunately, the ten-year wait is not quite worth it. This time around, the problems that plague Braff's protagonist seem a little too privileged (e.g. not affording private for his children, being an out-of-work actor who refuses to take on a second job) to make him sympathetic to audiences. It is perhaps because so many of his obstacles seem so easily surmountable that the action never seems to escalate in the film, and why Braff's character never seems to reach the necessary breaking point before the climax. The script is a bit ill-paced, and the editing and cinematography a bit choppy. Yet, the cast, primarily the young children, are undeniably charming and make the film an enjoyable experience, ultimately.

Lucy (2014)

"Lucy" is either a 5-star or 0-star film, all depending how willing and able you are to turn off your brain while watching it (which is especially ironic, considering the premise of the movie). It is without a doubt the dumbest, most poorly plotted major release I have seen in a while (and that's saying something!), yet I has thoroughly entertained throughout. I don't imagine that writer-director Luc Besson hoped the movie would make any sense, and it's all for the best. Seeing him and star Johansson take ownership of LUCY's inherent silliness is what makes the film so ridiculously enjoyable. This is certainly in my pantheon of movies so bad that they are fun to watch.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I must admit, I'm writing this review, less than an hour after the movie ended, so I'm still ridding on the sheer joy that it brought to this often cynical, though enthusiastic movie-goer. And granted, I'm a huge fanboy that goes crazy over anything that resembles "Star War," so my judgment may be a tiny bit clouded. Having said that, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is so gooooooood! An instant new sci-fi classic. It's so entertaining, funny, captivating, imaginative at every turn-more so than most other Marvel films to date. It never takes itself too seriously, always making light of the ridiculous situations its characters find themselves in. Whenever a character gets too self-righteous, the moment is interrupted with an anachronistic 80s song, or a curse word, or an untimely gunshot, as if the filmmakers were keeping themselves in check. The cast is superb: Chris Pratt is a true leading man, yet Bradley Cooper almost steals the show from him as a snarky, bitter, gun-toting raccoon. Oh, and Vin Diesel should never have to say more than three words in a movie-he had never made me laugh so much! Yeah, the villain and his plan to destroy the galaxy are generic, and the plot is a bit convoluted as the studio needs to set up future installments. But writer-director James Gunn understands this is a *comic* book adaptation, and doesn't aspire for nuance in his storytelling-simply to deliver a logically developed, convoluted space opera. And whatever dramaturgical finesse the movie lacks, it makes up with its beautifully designed and elaborately rendered alien worlds, beings and spaceships. Watching this film, I felt as excited as when I first saw "Firefly," and imagine this is what folks felt when they saw "Star Wars" back in the day. The Guardians can't return to the big screen soon enough... (Also, can James Gunn direct Episode IX?)

Chef (2014)

"Chef" is follows a familiar feel-good formula, but it's so well executed-in its writing and performances-that it will greatly satisfy even the most cynic of spectators. Favreau takes true delight in this impeccably cast, wittily scripted, charming film. Like the film's protagonist, Favreau takes a welcome break from commercial projects, and his return to the indie scene is truly delectable. If "Cowboys Vs. Aliens" seemed like an uninspired, pandering mess, fans of the director won't leave theater with a sour taste in their mouths after seeing this his latest project.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Like its predecessor, what proves most impressive and memorable about "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is ultimately the artistry of the visual effects. How the production team brought to life an army of super-inteligent apes to the extent that they don't look any more CGI than their human counterparts is astonishing. This cinematic achievement should not overshadow, however, that director Matt Reeves and his team of writers, once again, wrote a well-structure and intelligent sci-fi movie with deeply human moral and ethical questions, despite its simian protagonists. Moreover, they again crafted a compelling prequel that sets the characters on such a ill-fated journey that one in the audience can't imagine how they'll survive, even though it's well known they live to appear in another sequel. "Dawn" has a very different look and feel to the first film, however-it's darker, more action-driven and deeply more terrifying. The difference in tone and style is so stark that it's difficult to determine which of the two installments is superior. What is clear is that the third chapter in this inevitable trilogy can't come soon enough!

Snowpiercer (2014)

"Snowpiercer" is what every Hollywood summer blockbuster should be-wildly imaginative both in story and design, and masterfully acted and written. Director Bong Joon Ho delivers an engrossing, yet grotesque vision of a post-apocaliptic future that's grim and violent, but also surprisingly colorful and humorous. He never sacrifices narrative and character development for stylized action sequences-the latter of which are, nonetheless, quite prevalent in the film and truly spellbinding. "Snowpiercer" is great English-language debut for a new master of cinema, and one of the very best films to have come out all year long.

Tammy (2014)

"Tammy" seems caught between McCarthy's desire to film an introspective character study of an outlandish protagonist, and the studios demands of her churning out another laugh-out-loud, ludicrous romp. In the end, the film is neither, as it uncomfortably navigates a very thin line between compassion and mockery of its aimless protagonist. And despite solid performances by an all-star veteran cast (Sarandon, Bates, Collette, Janney), the film never lifts off.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Another exciting, touching and funny adventure that will surely please fans of the first installment. "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is gorgeously animated, making the flight sequences truly awe-inspiring. While there are some obvious narrative gaps, the film compensates by developing its engaging protagonists and landing them in situations that are at once heartfelt and exhilarating.

22 Jump Street

The chemistry between Hill and Tatum is undeniable, and the extreme self-referentiality of the film separates it from similar comedies. But the funniest gags are featured in the trailer and the plot is flimsy, even for a movie of its genre. Still, "22 Jump Street" is a fun time at the movies, and it was great to see the climactic scenes shot in Puerto Rico.

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

The best summer blockbuster to have come out so far this season! "Edge of Tomorrow" packs all the thrills and spectacle one would expect from a sic-fi action flick like this, but it's also very well structured, cleverly scripted, and beautifully shot. Cruise and Blunt are phenomenal in the film-and director Liman builds an inventive landscape for his impressive set pieces to unfold. A thoroughly fun time at the movies! If a fan of the genre, you'll want to see this movie again and again!

The Fault In Our Stars

Sweet and heartfelt, "The Fault in Our Stars" delivers the adorable, yet heartbreaking story its advertisements and source material promised to audiences. The characters seem to accomplish their goal before the final act beings, which makes the film feel a bit long and aimless as it reaches its conclusion. Yet, Woodley and Elgort are charismatic enough to keep audiences engaged. And it's got a minor performance by Mike Birbiglia, which provided some of the funniest moments in the film!

A Million Ways to Die in the West

With the best gags revealed in the overplayed trailers, "Million Ways" is bound to disappoint. As a fan of MacFarlane, I hoped he'd make better use of a fantastic premise, but his sophomore feature film directorial effort lacks cinematic grace and wit. It's entertaining enough, but sadly, just as forgettable as well.

Maleficent (2014)

Derivative and uninspired, "Maleficent" can't even be rescued by Jolie's pompous comeback to the big screen. With a contrived script and an ill-paced sequencing, this movie make it clear that Disney was only interested in churning out another obvious cash-grab that capitalizes on the trend of turning beloved classic fairy tales into vacuous live-action CGI spectacles.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

An exhilarating summer blockbuster that doesn't rely on leveling entire cities to raise the stakes of its story. "Days of Future Past" has a lot of plot, but it does well in anchoring its central story in the 1970s and younger, hipper cast, while the future and older cast serve as a framing device. The characters have cohesive motivations and goals, and the all-star cast elevates this film from the mediocrity often seen from the genre. Taken on its own, It's one of the best installments of the franchise. Seen in connection to the other chapters in this story, there are a lot of continuity issues, now further complicated by the time-travelling premise of this flick that open a lot of questions as to the future of the series.

Godzilla (2014)

Gorgeously shot, with lots of attention to mood and environment development, "Godzilla" is an aesthetically pleasing disaster movie. Director Gareth Edwards does a great job at clouding the titular monster in mystery-offering a tail here, and a claw there-until fully revealing and unleashing the creature during the climactic third act. Yet, the movie is bogged down by poor character development. When you kill your presumed protagonist twenty minutes into the film only to replace him with a bland hero, it's inevitable that the human element in your film will leave your audience waning more.

Neighbors (2014)

While not the laugh-out-loud riot the trailers set up, "Neighbors" certainly doesn't disappoint, however. Seth Rogen does well in playing up the family appeal in this flick, while staying true to his sophomoric sense of humor. The film, surprisingly, is shot beautifully and the performers are at the top of their game. This won't be a new comedy classic, but it certainly prove a satisfying and entertaining two hours at the movies.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

A subpar superhero film that falls in the shadow of the mediocre first installment of the rebooted franchise. Sony insistence on expanding the "Spiderman" universe only succeeds in producing an overstuffed, aimless summer blockbuster. I'm not sure who's clamoring for spinoff movies from this franchise, but seeing what a contrived and cynical cad-grab this film turned out to be, I've lost the little interest I had in this comic book character.

Under the Skin

A visually stunning sic-fi enigma that will undoubtedly alienate viewers looking for straightforward answers. Johansson delivers one of her best performances yet as an extraterrestrial preying on lonely men for survival. But while her character begins as a heartless predator from outer space, it's when compassion strikes and she begins to inquire what it means to be human that she suddenly finds herself the prey. Glazer makes incredibly inventive use of cinematic space and minimalistic dialogue to tell a story of loneliness, compassion, and alienation.

Enough Said
Enough Said (2013)

A near perfect romantic comedy! Dreyfus and Gandolfini are amazing together-such chemistry between them, and such candid performances. A truly historical comedy, with lots of heart and honesty to it. One of 2013's very best!

Fruitvale Station

An astonishing look at the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant's life. Michael B. Jordan commands the screen, casting the unjustly murdered young man as a fraught, yet loving individual. Even knowing how this tale will unfold doesn't deter from the power of the film. The tragedy of it lies in how this man's life was cut short the moment he was trying to overcome his limitations.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

A very inventive story, though following a bit slow and predicable first act. Once Pegg's character leaves his apartment (and I'm not spoiling anything in saying that), the action, comedy and twisted surprises pick up. The director effectively establishes a claustrophobic, yet amusing environment throughout. Not Pegg's best, but a decent watch on Netflix Instant.

The Grandmaster

The plot of the film is strangely, arguably ineffectively constructed, following two protagonists in two diverging journeys. Telling their stories consecutively only exacerbates the disjointed nature of the script. Yet, Wong Kar Wai dazzles with the beautiful cinematography and choreography of the set pieces. This is a worthy heir to "Crouching Tiger" and a beautiful meditation on tradition, loneliness and segregation. Despite it's narrative flaws, it's a deeply gorgeous and deeply engaging film.

Jobs (2013)

One of the worst films I've seen in years. Poorly scripted, terribly acted, and incredibly manipulative and biased. I don't know what kind of man Steve Jobs was in his private life, but this is an ungenerous portrayal of the man. Overlong and over-acted, JOBS is an embarrassing attempt to capitalize on the recent death on a man, great or petty, that had a profound effect on our culture.

The Raid 2
The Raid 2 (2014)

This film marks the first time I've willingly walked out of a movie theater. The film is gorgeously shot, carefully paced, and impeccably choreographed-hence not the absolute zero stars. But its obsession with excessive, graphic violence was too much for me to sit through. In the first film, the over-the-top violence worked as an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome in his thinly plotted and transparent battle agains an archetypal villain. But in this sequel, violence merely serves as a nihilistic and sadistic tool for the director to shock his audience. The first "Raid" may have been all flash and no substance, but in this second outing, the spectacle is replaced flat-out by senseless butchery.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Marvel Universe, as if directed by Paul Greengrass. While not the sophisticated espionage thriller it portends to be, "Cap 2" is indisputably a joyride, with a great sense of humor, an extraordinary supporting cast, and an awesome villain. It's the best Marvel sequel to come out since the release of "The Avengers."

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A film of beautiful symmetry with an ensemble of quirky characters that will win you over. Ralph Fiennes is perfect for Anderson's material-he gets the director's penchant for eccentric comedy. While it's not as tender as "Mooonrise Kingdom," "Grand Budapest" still has a lot of heart. The first great film of 2014.

Noah (2014)

It's features stylistic flourishes distinctive of it's idiosyncratic director-rock monsters!-but the pressures of the studio are palpable in the film. Aronofsky doesn't betray his artistic integrity, delivering a film that is gorgeous to watch and driven by compelling characters. But it's his least visionary project to date, even if his most massive.

300: Rise of an Empire

Even worse than the first installment-and that's saying something! A superficial, overlong and boring narrative mess that should have gone straight to video.

Muppets Most Wanted

While not as magical as the first film, still a charming and entertaining adventure. Tina Fey is delightful as ever, and Ricky Gervais does well in playing second fiddle to the Muppets. Some of the musical numbers are not as clever as its composers think, and the ending is undone by some shoddy CGI. Still, this is a guaranteed fun time for all ages.

Need For Speed

Dumb, but fun. Its plot doesn't stand any kind of scrutiny, but the flashy car races distract from the film's narrative incompetence. I wish that Aaron Paul had been more selective with his first post-"Breaking Bad" role, but this popcorn film doesn't fail to entertain.

Philomena (2013)

A sweet tearjerker that compensates for its emotional manipulations with a strong script and solid performances (especially on the part of Steve Coogan). I enjoyed it much more that I expected it, but still can't believe this was nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars.

3 Days To Kill

A disaster. A lame ripoff of "Taken" that can't decide if it's an action film or a father-daughter drama.

Machete Kills

One of the main issues plaguing "Machete Kills" is that the fake trailer for "Machete Kills Again... In Space," which precedes the feature film, promises a much better movie than the one followed by it. Throughout this far less humorous and often tedious, I kept wishing that I was watching the titular character on board a spaceship fighting with a lightsaber-esque machete. Worst off, as the climax of the movie approached, I began to fear that it would not have a true ending, in order to leave the door open for the follow-up. Sadly, it turns out that "Machete Kills" is a two-hour prelude to a much cooler film that most likely will never be made.

In a World...

A clever and original indie comedy. Lake Bell tames her usually zany comedy style to make a fairly more accessible popular film that's still witty and full of vibrant, idiosyncratic characters. The movie follows a fun premise, but it would have been even more enjoyable had Bell taken a few more risks and avoided some familiar tropes and formulas.

RoboCop (2014)

An unnecessary remake, but an entertaining one, nonetheless. José Padilha and his screenwriters do a decent job of prioritizing narrative and character development over action and spectacle, which is rare and appreciated. Nonetheless, certain characters' motivations are somewhat unjustified, and the climax and resolution are quite hasty. And while this reinvented "RoboCop" is sufficiently different from the original, it still doesn't justify its own existence.

The Act Of Killing

A terrifying examination of how the human mind can make peace with cruelty and sadism, and of the consequences of reliving one's past crimes. By having Indonesian paramilitary gangsters (or "free men," as they chillingly insisted on calling themselves) recreate through cinematic tools past acts of genocide, director Joshua Oppenheimer showcases both the malleability and fragility of human consciousness, as well as the power of film to access and capture human experience. While the inhumane acts perpetrated by the murderers interviewed in this film make "The Act of Killing" one of the most traumatizing films of 2014, the sincerity of those disturbing and conflicted testimonials (wondrous that Oppenheimer caught them onscreen!) also make this documentary one of the most human and emotionally affecting films of last year.

The LEGO Movie

This movie is AWESOME! Just so much fun to see so many different worlds (and franchises) coming together. "The Lego Movie" is visually and verbally witty, packed with jokes for young and older audiences alike. The animation is gorgeous to look at, and despite its frenzied, action-packed plot, the visuals never become overwhelming. The cast was perfectly chosen-Chris Pratt is well on his way to being a charismatic leading man! After a disappointing year in animation, this is a great start to 2014!

The Monuments Men

An impressive waste of too much talent. "The Monuments Men" would not be such an embarrassment, if so many competent filmmakers were not involved in the project. This revisionist look at WWII, is emotionally manipulative and narratively contrived. The characters are fairly two-dimensional and the script decidedly unfunny, predictable and episodic. No wonder its release was pushed back and out of Oscar season!

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

The film drags in the first half hour due to its overlong exposition. And while it never really surprises, once the action kicks in "Jack Ryan" proves a reasonably entertaining and suspenseful thriller. Full of archetypal characters and predictable plot twists, this is not the best outing for its titular character, but by most popcorn-movie standards, it's well-made enough.

Inside Llewyn Davis

A delectably bleak look at artistic integrity in the face of financial adversity, social rejection and commercialism. The Coen Brothers craft yet another masterful dark comedy about what it feels like to live on the fringe. Oscar Isaac succeeds in making compelling a character that only succeeds in alienating anybody and everybody in his life. Shame on the Academy of shunning this film during this year's Oscar race.

Her (2013)

Tender beyond description, this quasi-sci-fi romance is perhaps this year's most earnest depiction of the socially acceptable form of insanity we call love, to paraphrase one of the film's most quotable lines. The film's art direction stands out, as Spike Jonze creates a futuristic landscape and society that one can imagine naturally evolving from our own world. Phoenix's understated performance is an affecting portrayal of loneliness and the unbearable desire to connect with another human being. "Her" is one of the most nuanced artistic representations of how technological advancements have simultaneously improved and impeded human communication. It's a heart-wrenching look at how real are our emotions and how accurate are the stories we tell about our past. It's a cinematic achievement, a delight to watch, an oddball date movie, an entrancing drama, a poignant comedy, and perhaps my favorite movie of 2013.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

While "Anchorman 2" is almost as funny as it's predecessor, they hype leading to it and the decade-long wait for the sequel make it feel a bit inconsequential. Some of the clear allusions to jokes from the first film fall flat-only funny by reference. And the third act of the film is quite uneven and overstays its welcome-which is saying something considering the loose structure of the first film! Yet, despite the film's flaws, it's good to spend more time with these characters once again.

The Wolf of Wall Street

A depraved and irreverent look at depravity and irreverence in America today. Scorsese is as extravagant, offensive, and indulgent as he's ever been, while not straying far from form. "The Wolf of Wall Street" harkens back to classics like "Goodfellas" and "Casino," with a distinct 21st century flavor and style. DiCaprio and Hill deliver powerhouse performances that make the film's three-hour running time fly by. And for the ten minutes he's on screen, McConaughey delivers one of the best performances of the year.

Frances Ha
Frances Ha (2013)

This film reminded me a lot of "Tiny Furniture": a finely crafted, art-house, coming-of-age story about a woman in her mid- to late 20s that I couldn't connect with because I simply didn't sympathize with the protagonist's plight. It's very narratively inventive and Greta Gerwig is impossibly adorable and charming, but those attributes only made the film bearable during the parts I managed to stay awake.

American Hustle

The cast is electrifying-especially the ladies, who steal every scene from the extraordinary male ensemble. The art direction is top-notch-especially the costume design with its cleavage-laden dresses. And the direction is finely crafted, as David O. Russell's deals with the flaws in the script with so much joy, he forces us to overlook them. Yet, I fear "American Hustle" will be this year's "Argo": the very good movie I learn to hate as it is undeservedly lauded as the best of the year during award season. This is a fun, intriguing and hilarious cop caper, but not a work of great nuance or cinematic invention. Sure, it deserves to be on may "Top 10 Movies of the Year" lists, but certainly in the bottom half.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

"The Desolation of Smaug" suffers of the same flaws as its predecessor: Jackson & co. stretch a simple narrative into too epic of a structure. But this one has dwarves in barrels! How much more can you ask for?! "The Hobbit" trilogy will never be as legendary as the LOTR, but it's still amusing enough. Freeman and Cumberbatch steal the show. I hope that once he's done with "There and Back Again," Jackson tackles a smaller-scale project, and starts shooting in 24fps again.

Monsters University

Simply adorable. The rare prequel that actually works. Pixar's best film in several years, and the best animated film I've seen this year.

Blackfish (2013)

An alarming and impassioned documentary, even if cinematically conventional.

Upstream Color

A cinematically stunning second feature from a promising director. "Upstream Color" is as thematically profound as it is visually poetic in its exploration of how individuals grapple with their self-identity when the world around them collapses. Think Terrence Malik meets David Lynch.

Red 2
Red 2 (2013)

The plot is unclear, the performances soulless, and the action sequences uninspired... and I'm only halfway through the movie!

Nebraska (2013)

I'm a fan of Payne's early films (e.g. "Election" and "Sideways") and always hope I love his latest film when I go see it. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case with his last two projects: "The Descendants" and "Nebraska." They are not bad films, and I've certainly enjoyed them, but they have not lived up to the high standards I've come to expect from their director. "Nebraska" is Payne's bleakest, most off-putting project to date, though purposefully and effectively so. While the tone of the film didn't prove my cup of tea, the beautiful performances by the entire cast made this a delightful watch. Bruce Dern delivers one of best leading performances of the year, while Will Forte proves he's got some acting chops for sure. All in all, "Nebraska" is a funny, tender, and earnestly acted father-and-son dramedy that is, nonetheless, overshadowed by its stark mood and aesthetic, and the overly familiar themes it explores.

Lovelace (2013)

Not a particularly nuanced or surprising look at the life of Linda Lovelace, but certainly competently made. Seyfried delivers a compelling performance as the eponymous character, even though Sarsgaard commands every scene his in. The one thing I truly hated in this movie: James Franco as Hugh Hefner. An unnecessary role in the film, and a hammy cameo.

Europa Report

While the filmmakers do their best to create a claustrophobic, tense environment with a very limited budget, the script is weak on character development and plagued with continuity issues. "Europa Report" sets up an interesting premise, though it doesn't truly justify its found-footage conceit.

Frozen (2013)

A narrative mess. The muddled and convoluted exposition only sets up a obviously calculated and contrived plot. The lyrics are often pathetic ("The windows are open / And so is the door!" Um...) and the music largely lackluster. If this is Disney Animation Studio's attempt to challenge Pixar, they still have a long way to go-event taking into consideration the latter's fall from grace in the past couple of years.

The Croods
The Croods (2013)

Not terrifically nuanced and fairly narratively conventional, but the "The Croods" packs enough laughs and thrills to keep audiences, young and old, entertained. The animation itself is the most outstanding feature of the film-beautiful, imaginative and expertly executed.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The superior Hollywood blockbuster! Tons of fun, and so well executed. "Catching Fire" improves greatly on the formula set by its predecessor. The storytelling is neater (despite some trite bits of dialogue), the world-building is more detailed and attractive, the rhythm is much smoother, and the visual effects are better realized. The acting is top-notch-kudos to the always wonderful Jennifer Garner for doing so much of the heavy-lifting in the film! The change of directors certainly paid off. Looking forward to the next two installments!

Dallas Buyers Club

While stylistically and narratively conventional-not to say somewhat predictable and manipulative-"Dallas Buyers Club" strives on account of its poignant story and outstanding performances. McConaughey transforms himself fully in body, voice and persona, instantly becoming my frontrunner in the "best actor" race this year, as well as one of my favorite actors working in Hollywood today. His rendition of Ron Woodroof is full of charm and swagger. While he wins audiences over, he never allows us to see his character for more than what it is: an opportunistic entrepreneur. Jared Leto is just as captivating onscreen, showing the glamour and flaws of the transvestite AIDS patient he portrays. Too bad his part was poorly developed in the script. That scene with his father would've been so much more touching otherwise! They should've cut the Jennifer Garner storyline-it's besides the point, and she's awful.

All Is Lost
All Is Lost (2013)

Beautiful and touching, both on account of its story of survival, and the grandeur of the visuals the filmmakers achieved on a limited budget. Redford delivers one of the most effective performances of the years, all with only three lines of monologue (I may be off by one or two on that estimate... literally.) He's as economical and rigorous in the emotions he displays, as the director and screenwriter are with their storytelling. A superb work of cinema that will certainly crack my Top 10.

After Earth
After Earth (2013)

A supreme embarrassment. Its arbitrary plot and emotionless performances are only outdone by its dull pacing. So boring it's not even good for hate-watching. Only further proof that Shyamalan should stop making movies.

The Hangover Part III

Unnecessary, derivative and not very funny. And yet, still an improvement on the abysmal second installment. Not as dark or nihilistic as it was made out to be by so many reviewers when it was released in theaters, even if it's entirely pointless. Se deja ver, pero realmente, ¿quien quiere ver más de lo mismo?

Quarantine 2: Terminal

The rare direct-to-video sequel that's actually competently made. It's pretty thin on character development, but the scares are good and it builds a pretty creepy environment.

Creepshow 2
Creepshow 2 (1987)

Campy horror deliciousness! Loved the animated transitions in between each chapter-and the second story, "The Raft," is just superb.

Blue Is The Warmest Color

In spite of the controversy surrounding its making, "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is a perfectly chiseled work of naturalism. Each shot scrutinizes with utmost precision, intimacy and tenderness all the skin imperfections, secretions, and behavioral ticks that make its two female leads so profoundly human. While this coming-of-age, coming-out story focuses on the first lesbian encounter of its main character, Adele, the social ramifications of that relationship prove the most nuanced and compelling. Seeing the permanently unruly-haired, working class Adele gravitate toward the artsy, well-educated, somewhat pretentious Emma gives way to a raw, passionate romance. It also raises profound questions about how we (re)present ourselves in society. Regardless of her feelings toward the film or its director, actress Exarchopoulos delivers a commanding, emotionally truthful performance that beautifully conflicts with her onscreen romance, who is all pretense.

This Is the End

It doesn't stand close scrutiny and its middle act is a bit too long, but "This Is the End" is ludicrous enough to earn lots of laughs. It's not a new comedy classic, but it's certainly a wildly entertaining, laugh-out-loud romp.

The Purge
The Purge (2013)

"The Purge" triumphs tanks to its original, depraved premise and its tense, tight pacing. Its plot, nonetheless, is too utilitarian, rendering the film a vessel for cheap thrills and mindless violence, rather than an instrument for social commentary. And were it not for its clear allegorical overtones, that much could be forgiven. But the script fails to believable set up the characters' situation, raising more questions about why they make such stupid decisions than it cares to answer. Also, for such a contained setting (a mansion), characters inexplicably disappear, only to come back to the rescue just in the nick of time. (I spent half the movie wondering where the heck was the daughter!)

Thor: The Dark World

While the first "Thor" movie aimed for character development in a small, quaint location, the sequel shoots for sprawling action in an ever-expanding universe. The action sequences are quite epic and inventive, and the design of the different realms is truly spectacular. But "Thor: The Dark World" suffers of a muddled and clunky exposition, and is plagued by several major plot holes. All in all, this is a fun ride and a competent addition to the Marvel Universe, even if not the studio's best. (Heck, at least it's an improvement over "Iron Man 3"!)

Only God Forgives

Beautifully perverse and stylishly violent, yet utterly vacuous and pretentious. Director Winding Refn tries as hard as he can to make long shots of empty hallways look compelling and profound, but without the necessary narrative oomph, the meditative rhythm of "Only God Forgives" makes the film appear shallow. Kristin Scott Thomas is stunning as the sharp-toungued matriarch. Too bad the movie doesn't have anything to say.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game (2013)

Mediocre and flat. The movie's rushed pacing keeps it from clearly establishing major plot points and developing its major characters. And yet, at two hours long, it overstays it welcome.

Olympus Has Fallen

Senselessly violent, humorless and ludicrous. Even the visual effects are pathetic! At least "White House Down" knew how silly it was.

Kon Tiki
Kon Tiki (2013)

A beautifully shot, exciting adventure. It's "Fitzcarraldo" meets "Life of Pi." It succeeds from a technical point of view, but falters in the storytelling, as its conventional plot and archetypal characters are too simplistic. Its two directors are certainly talents to watch, nonetheless. Too bad they'll be busy with the next "Pirates" installment for the next several years.

12 Years a Slave

"12 Years a Slave" claims its place in film history as one of the few and most honest representations of slavery in America, but also as a nearly impeccable cinematic work. It's not only a socially and historically important movie to watch, but it is also dramatically compelling. While the scenes of torture are the most troubling to watch, I found it more emotionally devastating to witness how one of the most dehumanizing effects of slavery was how it forced enslaved individuals to sacrifice compassion for the sake of survival. Chiwetel Ejiofor, present in every scene of the movie. delivers a commanding performance. But it is Michael Fassbender, with his crazed eyes and demeanor, who steals the show whenever he's on screen.

Tabloid (2011)

What do beauty pageant winners, Mormons, animal attacks and cloning have in common? This movie. This documentary is absolutely bonkers. The story just keeps getting crazier and crazier as the film progresses. A definite must-see. Sad I waited this long to check it out.

Headhunters (2012)

A somewhat familiar thriller that is yet gripping, tense, and darkly funny. It probably doesn't stand close scrutiny, but it's so fast-paced that you'll happily overlook its flaws.

Captain Phillips

A fast-paced, tense thriller. Tom Hanks is the best he's been in many years, which kinda makes up for the dizzying shaky cam.

Gravity (2013)

An instant sci-fi classic. A truly sublime cinematic experience that will take you as close to outer space as you'll ever be while inside a movie theater. Cuarón directs a magnificent thriller of immense beauty that is both technologically revolutionary and narratively compelling. My favorite movie of 2013 so far, and one of my favorites of all time.

Sharknado (2013)

Excellently terrible. One of the best worst movies ever made-maybe only behind "The Room" and "Birdemic: Shock and Terror." The difference with those movies is that "Sharknado" doesn't feel as earnest in its awfulness. It just feels lazy and ludicrous. Can't wait for "The Second One"!

Rush (2013)

While it suffers from Ron Howard's heavy-handed direction and a confusing denouement, "Rush" is still a fun sports movie that is beautiful to look at. "Rush" shines for all its technical achievements-its sound, editing and cinematography are superb. And while Hemsworth shows he's matured a lot as an actor, it's Brühl that proves a force to watch onscreen.

Shut Up and Play the Hits

At times touching, this concert documentary proves too pretentious in the end. I love James Murphy and his playful, self-conscious attention to artifice in his music and work, but it was a bit unbearable how full of himself he often came across in the film. Still, the music is excellent and the live performance was gorgeously shot, so there's still plenty to admire.

Don Jon
Don Jon (2013)

It starts off strongly, with lots of laughs, a quirky premise, and a stellar performance by Scarlett Johansson. But halfway through, the central conflict is solved and the movie struggles to figure out how to keep the action going and becomes repetitive, consequently. Yet, despite its troubled script, "Don Jon" is a strong directorial debut by JGL. He just needed a dramaturg to make sense of his script!

Short Term 12

A near perfect film-flawlessly acted, beautifully scripted and intimately shot. Without ever being manipulative or trite, "Short Term 12" will make you laugh and cry, reexamine your values, and appreciate everything that's good in your life. It's one of the most touching portrayals of adolescence I've ever seen. This will be this year's indie darling come award season. Go watch this movie immediately.

Prisoners (2013)

A tense and bleak procedural drama that shines thanks to its beautiful cinematography strong performances-especially Gyllenhall's. While not as thought-provoking as it wants to be, "Prisoners" is still an edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing until the bitter end.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

A little better than the first in the series (though that's hardly a compliment). The Rock and Channing Tatum have pretty decent chemistry together, so I was disappointed when (spoiler alert!) the latter gets killed halfway through the film. The story is straightforward enough that for the most part it holds its own weight. But halfway through the movie, around the point that Storm Shadow switches sides, it surprisingly loses track of itself. Bottom line: it's a stupid movie, but it's at peace with that, and so, it entertained me without irritating me.

Oz the Great and Powerful

For a film about a wizard, there's little magic here. The first 20 minutes-shot in black and white and mono to evoke the original film-are the most enchanting portion of the movie. Once James Franco, in easily the worst performance of his career lands at Oz, it's all downhill from there. The story is confusing, arbitrary, humorless, and disengaging.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Bland beyond belief. The entire design is painfully generic, the story absurdly arbitrary, and the visual effects embarrassingly terrible. Bryan Singer had no idea to whom he was addressing this movie: his fan-base of his X-Men films, or the kids who made Burton's "Alice" a blockbuster. As a result, the movie is so inconsistent in tone that I can't imagine it pleasing any type of audience.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead (2013)

It's relentless and unflinching in its violence, and yet it failed to shock or scare me. Many elements of the story improve upon the original, but the remake obscures the mythology of the series. I was never quite sure what was haunting the characters, or what the rules of the game were, so to speak. And as the film switches from one protagonist to another, it's very difficult to develop an attachment to any one character, which in a world this bleak, made "Evil Dead" a more unrewarding experience for me.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Well, it certainly doesn't disappoint: "RE: Retribution" is exceedingly awful. I was less troubled by the abundance of brainless action sequences, since that's what one might expect from a movie of this caliber. But I was taken aback by the utter incoherence of the script. Not only does it pit the characters in unnecessarily convoluted situations, but it resurrects dead characters from the previous installments in the franchise without an explanation. At this point, the storyline in the series is incomprehensible and the characters so lifeless, it's difficult to distinguish them from the hordes of zombies. One wonders why Alice keeps fighting against the impending apocalypse. (Wait, wasn't that the title of one of the sequels? I'm so confused!)

Seven Psychopaths

I wish I had liked it better. The performances are all great (especially Sam Rockwell, who continues to be an underrated lead) and the script has moments of genius dialogue. But I never felt the story take off-it spent too much time establishing its inner narratives and not the outer plot. Moreover, it felt very nihilistic at times, perhaps something I should've expected, considering the title.

ParaNorman (2012)

Everything that an animated movie should be! Funny, endearing and innovative. "ParaNorman" is a unique mash-up of horror b-movie conventions and family film adventure. It's got plenty of laughs for adults and lots of thrills for children. The script is very astute and witty, with well-rounded and lively characters, and a strong narrative structure. The animation, most importantly, is superb. It avoids the photorealistic style that has distinguished Pixar and all their imitators, and instead creates an idiosyncratic landscape that seems to be stuck in a permanent Halloween-everything is a little bit askew and misshapen, creating a rich visual experience. The 3D stop-motion technology the studio developed for the project is so seamless that you forget that it's not computer generated and the painstaking process that went into its production.


In a single word: bland. In two: Tim Burton. The film repeats all the tried and tired tropes, visual and narrative, that Burton has been employing for over 20 years now and which over the past 5-10 have just become an obstacle to his craft. The characters are dull, the dramaturgy messy, and the animation uninventive. Had the film focused on its basic premise-a boy brings his dog back to life-it would have had plenty of funny situations and endearing storylines to explore. Instead, it decides to be an action film halfway through, and a predictable one at that.

Searching for Sugar Man

A mysterious and intriguing look at a man who could've been one of the greatest American singer-songwriters of all time, if he had only sold more copies of his records. This is a documentary with a sweet, surprising twist halfway through-if you aren't already sold on the movie's magic 40mins in (which is doubtful), just wait for it. The use of Rodriguez's music to score the film will win over many new fans (I'm already one!), and more importantly, it informs the rhythm of the movie-cool, relaxed and delightful. A must-watch for all music fans.

The Invisible War

The film exposes a huge crisis in the US military and should be required viewing for every congressperson and DoD officer. The importance of its subject matter cannot be overstated, but as a piece of cinema, it left me wanting more. The director doesn't seem to have much interest in style or filmic composition. The film takes a sentimental approach to the subject, and with so many back-to-back rape stories, it takes a huge emotional toll on the audience. I would've wanted to see more facts, more detailed information on procedures, more interviews with DoD personnel, instead.

5 Broken Cameras

A pro-Palestinian, first-person amateur documentary with humanistic and professional aspirations. "5 Broken Cameras" is deeply touching and traumatizing. A true feat for the director to have remained alive through so many protests, peaceful as they were, and a testament to his tenacity as a filmmaker that his footage survived with him. My only qualm with the film is that the numerous scenes at the border often felt repetitive and tiresome, but there's hardly a way around that, since therein lies the heart of the movie.

Amour (2012)

For a film about compassion, "Amour" is terribly violent and devastating to watch. Michael Haneke draws an unflinching portrait of illness and death, forcing audiences to confront the agony and humiliation of hospice care. Despite the clinical and detached technique that characterizes the auteur's work, the film evokes great sentimentality and humanism, in great part thanks to the affecting performance of Emmanuelle Riva. The justaposition of Haneke's brutal filmmaking and the fragile story he narrates help audiences turn a critical eye on the effects of disease and isolation on a lifelong love. Death looms large over the lonely protagonists of this modern tragedy, as well as us in the audience. The firemen blasting through the apartment's front door, the fear of an intruder breaking into the unit moments later produce an ominous atmosphere in the opening scenes that lasts for the entire film. Perhaps Haneke's use of cold, precise violence in movies like Caché and Funny Games was still too fresh in my memory, but I could not shake off the feeling that something awful was about to happen at any point. My anxiety made me feel in closer proximity to the characters, as if I was also trapped in the oppressive world of their apartment... as if I was also sharing a room with death. "Amour" is the best film of the year, but I'm not sure how soon I'll be able to revisit it.

Dredd (2012)

"Dredd" is a surprisingly good reboot and the adaptation the comic book deserves. The script develops a clear, simple and well-structured narrative, with truly dynamic characters (a challenge especially when your protagonist wears a helmet the entire time!) and believable dialogue that avoids cliches, though not at the expense of genre conventions. It never takes itself too seriously, but it knows it's debt to b-movies and while it won't parody itself, it also doesn't condescend audiences. It's ultra violent and extremely stylized, yet it offers lots of genuinely innovative and eye catching visuals. This is the rare film that I wish I had seen in 3D, as I the technology would've contributed to the claustrophobic environment. But for all this praise, here's what I like the best about the movie: it depicts a future that, despite all its next-gen technology, feels real and tangible. Yeah, we've visited this future in several films before, but it had been a while since a movie had made it look this gritty and possible. I wish this had been a bigger box office success because I totally want to see the sequel.

De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone)

"Rust and Bone" is an exercise in dysfunction-and I mean that as the highest of praise. Stephanie's disfigured body, Ali's inability to connect emotionally with anyone or anything, and their unlikely and unorthodox romance all demonstrate the human need for certainty in an impermanent world. Director Audiard works the camera like a surgeon, closing in on Sephanie's deformities and Ali's wounds with intimate precision. And the ethereal score helps underline the film's majestic cinematography. Best of all: Marion Cotillard, whose performances is just as virtuosic as it is haunting.

Zero Dark Thirty

Impeccably directed, "Zero Dark Thirty" is a gripping, intelligent and unsetting thriller, so entertaining and briskly paced that, even at close to three hours, time just breezes by. Jessica Chastain delivers one of the best, though muted and understated, performances of the year, as the ballsy, obsessive and morally troubled CIA agent that brought down UBL. Regardless of the controversy that has surrounded its depiction of torture, the film poses an important question: how far are we willing to go protect the homeland? In its opening caption, the film emphasizes that it's "based on fist-hand accounts" and it goes to great extents to prove its historical accuracy. Yet, as audiences, we cannot forget that this is a dramatization of real events, and no matter how true to real life Bigelow and Boal may be, we're still witnessing this decade-long manhunt through the eyes of two storytellers. While it forces us to confront some of the darkest moments of recent American history, what's most remarkable about "Zero Dark Thirty" is not the timeliness of its story, but the nuance, insight and sensibility its filmmakers demonstrate in its telling.

The Kid with a Bike

"The Kid with a Bike" is a strangely optimistic and uplifting fable from the Dardenne brothers. I'm not a huge fan of straight-up neorealism, but in the case of this directing duo, it's so deftly executed that instead of producing mundane pictures of daily life, it weaves together a story of hope and redemption, stripped of any pretension and cynicism. It's a beautiful film to look at, as much as an inspiring account to experience. The leading boy is a true revelation-one of the best child performances I've seen in my many years as a cinephile.

Dr Seuss' The Lorax

It's difficult to engage with the characters and plot lines when the movie focuses as much on it's framing and central narratives, yet doesn't dedicate enough attention to either. The little that transpired about the protagonist(s)(?) motivations proved unbelievable and lazy. The script is a dramaturgical mess. And it's environmentalist agenda was so obvious that it was incredibly off-putting to me. Moreover, the zany humor and cutesy animation proved far too generic to redeem this project.

Bedeviled (Kim-bok-nam Sal-in-sa-eui Jeon-mal)

As far as Korean revenge stories go, there are far better ones. While the juxtaposition of two childhood friends with very different upbringings sets up an interesting comparison between modern and traditional values, dramaturgically, it doesn't work. The movie spends too much time early on developing the story of the beautiful metropolitan professional that by the time it switches its focus to the abused farmer housewife, it just seems unrelated and inconsistent.

How to Survive a Plague

As much an emotionally-stirring documentary about the AIDS epidemic, as a testament of the power of grassroots activism. That the footage used in the film so seamlessly weaves together the story of Act Up and later TAG is nothing short of extraordinary. My only qualm with the movie is that in its attempt to heap praise on these two organizations, it neglects to acknowledge the work of others in the fight against AIDS.

Hotel Transylvania

Well, this is the best movie Adam Sandler has made in many years, though that's hardly a compliment. The scatological and sophomoric humor of the film most likely will keep the young ones entertained, but the predictable script, unoriginal characters and uninspired animation are sure to bore anyone past puberty.

The Sessions
The Sessions (2012)

Perhaps the most unusual story to hit the screen this past year, "The Sessions" is a tender and thought-provoking movie that will disarm prejudices and break taboos with great humor and sincerity. The performances are great, especially John Hawkes, who can only move his head, but is still astonishingly dynamic onscreen. I only wish that a more capable director had helmed this project to contribute a visual style that matches the movie's unorthodox narrative.

Safety Not Guaranteed

"Safety Not Guaranteed" doesn't break many indie film conventions, except for its unexpected ending, but its brisk pace and witty dialogue make of the movie a delightful experience. The script weaves several stories of characters leaping into the unknown-domestic life, romance, time travel and one's own imagination-and while very accessible, it's never too obvious about the lessons it wants to impart on its audience. Aubrey Plaza, best of all, proves that her idiosyncratic performances can make phenomenal leading lady material.

The Loneliest Planet

An intriguing and noble effort, but ultimately, it's neither dramatically or visually entertaining or engaging enough. The film is overburdened with repetitive nature shots that don't propel the narrative forward and, instead, make the whole endeavor feel static. It's great to let the subtext do the talking every once in a while, but I expected a bit more substance from this exercise.

Dark Horse
Dark Horse (2012)

Solondz delivers another uncomfortable and morbidly funny critique of the American bourgeoise. Yet, this time around, his characteristic cynicism is accompanied by sincere humanism. Abe, the protagonist of this story of arrested developmentâ"a middle-aged man living with his parents, surrounded by images of his adolescenceâ"is the emblem of failure, loneliness and self-delusion, but the film captures his life with as much ridicule as compassion. Focusing on Abe's longings and disillusions, "Dark Horse" ultimately reveals how society often serves as a cruel and arbitrary system of labeling winners and losers.

The Queen of Versailles

It's almost impossible not to look at the Siegel family with disgust, contempt and mockery. As a viewer, I could not wait for the residents of this American Versailles to lose their oh, so humble abode, much as their French counterparts were kicked out of theirs back in the eighteenth century. Yet, what's most extraordinary about this documentary is how it forces us to come to terms with our own tacit jealousy of the Siegel's. The version of the American Dream that the film portrays may be extravagant and vapid, yet it is equally impossible to deny that it is enticing. Who wouldn't want to live in such luxury and comfort?! "The Queen of Versailles," therefore, looks at the Seigel's with as much derision and judgment as pity and understanding, at times portraying them selfish entrepreneurs, and moments later as innocent victims of the housing bubble of 2008, and more so, of their own ambition and culture. It's an insightful and timely piece of Americana that comes once in a lifetime, for had director Greenfield not been in the right place at the right time, she would've missed the opportunity to document the epic rise and fall of its royal protagonists.

Les Misérables

I'll admit right off the bat that "Les Mis" packs three things I hate: musicals, Tim Hooper, and Russell Crowe. But I can objectively say that all three were AWFUL in this movie. My main problem with "Les Mis" is that it's only emotive by reference: you're supposed to pity the characters because it's universally sad to be hungry and lonely, not because the movie offers any narrative reason for it. To that, add Tim Hooper's inept directing, and you get a bombastic and uninventive film adaptation. I do not understand why Hooper insisted on shooting almost the entire film in close-ups. Not only did it not make good use of the phenomenal sets and locations in the film, but it made the movie incredibly claustrophobic. And while most of the cast was fine (with the exception of Jackman and Hathaway, who were exceptional), Crowe bombed: he has a terrible singing voice, and his performance was incredibly monotoneâ"as if he didn't care to be int he movie at all. This may easily be the most overrated film of 2012, in my opinion.

Anna Karenina

"Anna Karenina" has visual style to spare, but it's not always in support of its narrative. The theatrical frame is superbly orchestrated during the first half hour of the film, but then it dissipates, becoming inconsistent and arbitrary. I'm not familiar with the novel, so there may be some explanation in it, but I was never clear as to why the that frame was implemented in the first place. The only two reasons I can think of are too painfully obvious: Tom Stoppard is principally a playwright (maybe he conceived this adaptation to be a play originally?) and/or Joe Wright is trying to highlight the falseness of Russian aristocracy through the artifice of theater (which is too on-the-nose as a conceit). Furthermore, the titular character proved entirely unsympathetic to me: the film portrays her not as a victim of the repressive society she lived in, but as an unfaithful spouse facing the consequences of her own choices. Perhaps this character works on the page, where you can read every thought behind her unraveling, but on screen, her story proved unappealing and inevitable. Yet, Wright deserves much credit for his bold stylistic choices, which made this film a more interesting adaptation than his tame previous ones (i.e. "Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement").

Total Recall
Total Recall (2012)

The stylized and sleek finish of this remake strips it of the delightful bombast of the original, rendering it dry and humorless. The characters and plot are so by-the-numbers that they never earned my sympathy or even my interestâ"and Colin Farrell seems checked out of the movie from beginning to end. Yet, "Total Recall" packs many impressive action sequences and stunning special effects that kept me thoroughly entertained.

This is 40
This is 40 (2012)

Despite some great laughs and endearing moments, overall, "This is 40" is an overlong, episodic, often uncomfortable and whinny case study of how tough it is to be an upper middle class, white American. Uncertain of the message it wants to convey after its 2hrs 15min runtime, the movie reads like a series of self-evident and trite reflections on being a middle-aged spouse and parent. Judd Apatow is a talented comedian, but for his next project, he needs to find himself a dramaturg and a better editor.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Perhaps all the reviews I had read beforehand prepared me for it, but unlike most critics, I did not feel that "The Hobbit" was overwritten. Yes, there is A LOT of exposition in the first forty minutes of the film, but all those preludes are necessary for the story that follows. In fact, I found that Jackson & co. made some of the same dramaturgical choices I would've made in my adaptation. And the choice to shoot in 48fpm did not bother me (though I saw it in 2D). Martin Freeman was great, the jokes landed, the action sequences were not overbearing, and I was thoroughly entertained all three hours. Much more excited for the sequels now!

Django Unchained

As relentless funny as it is uncomfortably violent, "Django" further fuels my suspicions that Tarantino is incapable of making a bad movie. And while irreverent and cartoony, the film proves an insightful case study of race (and racism) in America, and a provocative take on the nation's darkest period.

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas (2012)

Magnificently theatrical and gorgeously epic, "Cloud Atlas" is a bit on-the-nose as far as its theme is concerned, but it's a challenging and engrossing narrative treat for anyone willing to pay close attention.

Holy Motors
Holy Motors (2012)

An tour-de-force that earns all its art house pretensions. A haunting and imaginative test of the boundaries of what film can do. This is the best movie of the year that is just too strange for Academy voters and critic circles to recognize.

Take This Waltz

I don't have to like the characters in a movie to enjoy it, but I feel this movie wanted me to feel sympathetic towards someoneâ"I'm just not sure who and I hated everyone in it. Also, Sarah Silverman's character is completely superfluous.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi (2012)

Gorgeous and spectacular. I didn't leave the theater believing in god, but I'm certainly more convinced of the power of 3D technology in the hands of a talented filmmaker.

Men in Black III

Somewhat unnecessary as a sequel, but entertaining nonetheless. Packs many well-earned laughs, the charm of the first film, and a great performance by Josh Brolin.

Lincoln (2012)

"Lincoln" is the stuff Oscars are made of. I can think of at least ten categories for which this film is a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination. Most importantly, it deserves them all.

The Grey
The Grey (2012)

Not bad, though the attempts at being philosophical distract from what is otherwise an exciting and well-executed action film.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Yeah, the movie takes itself too seriously for such a silly premise. But more importantly, is this the first vampire movie in which not a single vampire dies from a stake through the heart?

Silver Linings Playbook

It opens as a genuine, if often uncomfortable, depiction of bipolarity, and ends as a heartwarming, though traditional rom-com. The performances are good and Russell's direction is very effective. Just not convinced about the Oscar hype...

Skyfall (2012)

A stylish, funny and energetic throwback to the classic films in the franchise that supersedes all the rest thanks to its gorgeous cinematography and Mendes' confident direction. Also, Bardem is unnervingly amazing.

Wreck-it Ralph

It aspires to the fun and nostalgia of Pixar films like "Toy Story," but that dissipates after the first act, when Ralph lands on candy land and the movie forgets its video game theme. Plus, it packs too many tiresome action sequences and bad puns.

Juan of the Dead

Irreverent, bloody, laugh-out-loud fun. "Juan de los muertos" overcomes its derivative premise and shoddy visual effects thanks to its incisive political satire and clever camera work. The third act is murky, but at that point, you won't care.

Argo (2012)

Smart, tight and tense. I never thought I'd say this, but Ben Affleck has redeemed himself as an artist and has my full attention as a director. (I'm sure he'd be delighted to hear that I approve of him now.)

The Innkeepers

Ti West smartly plays up the conventions of the genre to provide some great scares. Very suspenseful, even if a bit slow at first.

Taken 2
Taken 2 (2012)

Maybe the laziest and most shameless cash-grab released this year. Though I was amused by its laughable script.

Looper (2012)

"Looper" packs haunting visuals and thrilling action sequences that support an original, smart and cohesive narrative. It avoids the usual pitfalls of time travel and keeps you guessing at every turn.

The Future
The Future (2011)

So annoying I had to stop watching. Reminded me of "Tiny Furniture" and how little I cared for the characters' privileged problems.

End of Watch
End of Watch (2012)

The handheld format adds a lot of urgency to the film, but the attempt to justify it as "found footage" is gimmicky and compositionally inconsistent. Still, the chemistry between the two leads and a solid script hold this film together.

The Master
The Master (2012)

Impecable. Joaquin Phoenix is feral. Rarely are discipline and anarchy so majestically entangled as they are in this film's performances, narrative and composition.

House at the End of the Street

A bloodless and gutless teen horror flick with "Psycho" aspirations that not even the usually brilliant Jennifer Lawrence can save.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows (2012)

Aimless and vapid, "Dark Shadows" is further proof that Tim Burton's directorial skills have dwindled to pandering to audiences with gratuitous eye-popping visuals with no regard to story, character or wit.

Submarine (2011)

The coming-of-age story is quirky and endearing, but the characters were often a bit off-putting.

Bernie (2012)

An intriguing blend of documentary accounts and a comic fictionalization of a true crime. Jack Black delivers his best performance yetâ"which may not be saying much, except that he's really phenomenal in this film.

Sleepwalk With Me

Honest, funny, and warm, despite its flaws. As delicious as pizza-flavored ice cream.

Lawless (2012)

Further confirming my suspicion that Tom Hardy is indestructible.

Hostel: Part III

"It's like 'Eyes Wide Shut,' but without the class."â"BV

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Rashida Jones is great, but her character proved too whiny and unsympathetic for me to care about her after twenty minutes into the movie. Not enough laughs, and too much wallowing in self-pity.

Goon (2012)

Funny, violent and strangely endearing. This may be the best that I've ever seen Sean William Scott.

The Campaign
The Campaign (2012)

Not particularly incisive, though fairly entertaining. It has its moments, even if the best ones are given away in the trailer.

The Expendables 2

Dumb, but fun. Van Damme plays a villain called Vilain and Arnold makes bad "Terminator" jokesâ"how can you take this movie seriously? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the loud, violent ride.

The Raid: Redemption

A brutal, inventive, nonstop action flick. It has no story or character development, but "The Raid" boasts of some of the most impressive and intense fight sequences I have ever seen.

Everything Must Go

A little slow at parts and very melancholic throughout, but an affecting and often humorous film nonetheless. It was great to see Ferrell playing a more dramatic role, but that little kid steals every scene he's in.

The Bourne Legacy

Not the obvious cash grab I feared it would be, but not nearly as good as the previous installments. The twits and turns are too many and too convenient, and the action sequences, too scant and somewhat unsatisfying.

Warrior (2011)

Despite its familiar and often manipulative story, "Warrior" is surprisingly thrilling and rewarding. Don't think I was meant to root for Tom Hardy, but his performance was so imposing that I couldn't help it.

Friends With Kids

A sharp and funny spin on romantic comedies with great performances by the entire cast. It only falters in its final twenty minutes, when the filmmakers struggle to bring the story to its inevitable conclusion.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I was hoping that the movie would delve more into fantasy and the shaky handheld camera was a bit too much for me to handle, but "Beasts' surely compensates with an euphoric and endearing narrative.

The Dark Knight Rises

While it may not be remembered as fondly as its predecessor in the long run, TDKR is a brooding, monumental and violently satisfying conclusion to Nolan's superhero epic.

Savages (2012)

I was excited to see Oliver Stone helming another slick, ultra-violent flick, but "Savages" is so painfully plot-driven that it forgets to develop its characters or themes. Also, why does Taylor Kitsch keep getting cast? He's just awful.

Ted (2012)

"Ted" finds Seth MacFarlane doing what he does best: writing politically incorrect jokes laden with pop culture references, and voicing lewd animated characters. A treat for any fan of his TV series, or this brand of humor.

The Rum Diary

So lifeless that I decided to stop watching halfway through in favor of a sitcom rerun. Its exoticization of Puerto Rican culture is only outdone by its incomprehensible, rambling plot.

Moonrise Kingdom

Like its young protagonists, "Moonrise Kingdom" is so earnest about how seriously it takes itself that it's impossible to resist its charm and humor. The best release so far this year and the first of Anderson's films that I thoroughly enjoy.

Brave (2012)

It's just a traditional fairly tale, full of Disney clichà (C)s and terribly formulaic. The animation is gorgeousâ"especially Merida's hair. Coming from any other studio, it would be worthy of admiration. But for Pixar, it's forgettable and disappointing.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Much better than any of the Raimi-directed movies, largely thanks to the charming performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Yet, it feels a bit burdened by repetitive plot points generated by its retelling of the origin story.

Mother (Madeo)

Thrilling, funny, sincere and grotesque. Lots of genres crossing paths here, and one heck of a performance by the leading lady.

The Man From Nowhere

Not the best of revenge action flick out there, but certainly an entertaining one. The epic battle at the end certainly pays off for the slow first half of the film.

John Carter
John Carter (2012)

So, that's how you waste a $250 million budget, huh? It's like "Star Wars: Episode I" meets "Prince of Persia," but even more bloated and with less heart. I wonder if director Andrew Stanton saw those movieâ"or worse, actually liked them.

Chronicle (2012)

The found-footage gimmick is often too distracting and constricting, but thanks to a strong script and an engaging cast, "Chronicle" proves fun enough. And at just over 80 minutes, the director wisely keeps things light and quick.

Prometheus (2012)

While not entirely avoiding the formulaic narrative pitfalls and unbelievable stunts characteristic of the genre, Ridley Scott directs the smartest sci-fi flick since Duncan Jones' "Moon." The horror sequences echo back to the original "Alien," and should prove just as haunting and morbidly satisfying to contemporary audiences as when that reptilian extraterrestrial first burst out of a human chest in 1979. If there is any justice in Hollywood, Michael Fassbender will score his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the emotionally void, amoral android David.

Coriolanus (2011)

Why this movie was left out of every single award ceremony earlier this year is beyond me. Fiennes and Redgrave give two brutally visceral performances. And the film features the best combat scenes of any Shakespeare film adaptationâ"and I'm not overstating that.

Y Tu Mamá También

Why hadn't I seen this before?!?!? And why hasn't Cuarón made a feature-length film in half a decade?!?

Tiny Furniture

I very much enjoyed Dunham's compositional technique, but the discontented character she plays became excruciatingly irritating not twenty minutes into the film. Yeah, leaving college and "trying to figure yourself out" can be difficult, but it doesn't necessarily make for an engaging film plot.

Killer Elite
Killer Elite (2011)

As a gauge of De Niro's career, it's pretty disappointingâ"continuing the trend of his recent films. But the source material is fairly engaging and the production is decently put together, so as a Statham actioner, it's better than average. Had the director challenged himself a bit more, this could've actually turned out to be a satisfying spy thriller. As it is, it's entertaining, although forgettable.

This Means War

"This Means War" is so terribly scripted, edited and scored that it makes McG's other films look like masterpieces.

The Dictator
The Dictator (2012)

Not as outrageous as his unscripted films, but still very entertaining and offensively funny.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

The only thing you should be afraid of when it comes to this movie is having to sit through it. Lamest movie monster(s) in recent memory.

Marvel's The Avengers

Suffice it to say that if you've followed the Marvel films leading up to "The Avengers," you won't be disappointed. Kudos to Joss Whedon for striking a perfect balance between character & story development and explosive action sequences. Though be aware, the film picks up right where "Thor" and "Captain America" left off. You may want to check those out, or read their Wikipedia summaries at least, if you don't want to be totally lost. (And stay all the way through the credits! There's a mid- and post-credit scene!)

The Five-Year Engagement

While 20 mins too long and with a few bits that are too overworked, "Five-Year Engagement" surely delivers many laughs thanks to Jason Segel's witty screenwriting and his leadership of a dynamic ensemble. It may make a better rental than anything else, but it's surely is worth checking out.

Haywire (2012)

Gina Carano sure can't act, but she provides the best fight sequences since the Bourne trilogy. Soderbergh sure owes a lot to that Matt Damon franchise, but he gives this flick his own spin thanks to great camera action, clever editing and a heck of a score. He doesn't always produce a masterpiece, but you gotta admire how he always ventures into so many different genres and does it well.

The Lucky One

I guess that the title of the film wasn't referring to anyone in the audience...

The Cabin in the Woods

It packs all the conventions, clichà (C)s and stereotypes of a horror film only to subvert them. A very well constructed meta-narrative that simultaneously sends-up and smartly comments on its own genreâ"spilling lots of blood & guts in the process, and sharing just as many laughs.

American Reunion

The movie barely has a plotâ"it's a collection of loosely connected comic situations that bring the characters together. Most conflicts are easily solvable (spoiler alert: a simple conversation resolves most of the confrontations) and the stakes are fairly low, since these kids are now adults and their parents no longer authority figures. But the movie surely provides many raunchy laughs and serves as a delightful trip down memory laneâ"which is probably all its makers set out to do anyway.

Mirror Mirror

A shallow reimagining of this classic fable, full of trite lines and lame jokes. Tarsem's lavish design can often look beautiful, but more often they are so overdone that they hurt the eye (and other times, the soundstage is so noticeable, that it takes away the magic). And what was up with the unexpected attempt to turn this into a feminist tale, only minutes before the ending? Or that bizarre Bollywood musical finale?

The Muppets
The Muppets (2011)

Perfectly funny, sweet and tenderâ"even a second time around! One of the few musicals that I could watch over and over again... even if the ending fizzles out a bit.

Young Adult
Young Adult (2011)

Perhaps it's Jason Reitman's run-of-the-mill directorial style, but I found the movie to be fairly predictable and unassumingly dour. It's saving grace are the humorous performances by Theron and Oswalt, the latter who's becoming my favorite go-to actor to play the stereotypical geek.

21 Jump Street

A surprisingly funny and clever send-up of teen movies. Jonah Hill proves to be a good leading man (making up for "The Sitter") and Channing Tatum finally makes a good movie.

Battle Royale 3D

An ultra-violent, dystopian melodrama with lots of classical music, blood and guns. Think "Clockwork Orange" meets "Kill Bill." (I like to think that Kubrick would've enjoyed this film as much as Tarantino did.) Predating "Hunger Games" by over a decade, this Japanese film focuses on the interpersonal relationships of students from the same graduating class, rather than on the system that produced such a brutal and vicious game. Disturbing and unrestrained, nonetheless, "Battle Royale" is meticulously composed, even at its most overdramatic moments.

The Adventures of Tintin

Bland and gimmicky, though technically outstanding. The titular character is boring an annoyingâ"and I never understood what his motivation was, other than a vague quest for adventure. This is the best that motion-capture animation has looked, but I still can't get over how uncanny it makes humans look.

The Hunger Games

A good adaptation of the novel that effectively replaces the loss of Katniss' first-hand account with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Games. Loved Gary Ross' extreme close-ups and hand-held camera actionâ"gave the film a gritty look, suitable for the story. The cast is superb, especially Woody Harrelson, as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

An extraordinary film. At its core, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a drama about a mother haunted by her eerie child, but it's structured like a psychological thriller and paced like a horror film. Beautifully shot, seamlessly edited and playfully scored. Yet, this a wondrously excruciating film to sit through, thanks to Tilda Swinton's poised and harrowing performance, and the film's unsettling portrayal of the troubled youth.

A Separation
A Separation (2011)

Well, I have to revise my Top 10 of the year! "A Separation" is a brutally sincere and morally complex family drama with a tight script that works like a thriller. This portrait of the rifts caused by class, gender, age, religion and secrets & lies will keep you at the edge of your seat until its final moments. Plus, it's beautifully photographed and superbly acted. Very deserving of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film!

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

As a Herzog and Lynch fan, I'm not sure how this escaped my radar when it was released two years ago. The film doesn't entirely live up to the expectations one may have for a collaboration between these two cinematic forces, but like most of their movies, there's plenty here to marvel at. Herzog offers a crime drama without the dramaâ"instead, it delves into the fractured psyche of a criminal trying to find his role (literally so) in the world. Michael Shannon is hypnotic and unsettling as a disturbed murderer trapped inside his own Sophoclean tragedy.

Bad Teacher
Bad Teacher (2011)

Let the title of the movie serve as a warning. The plot is thin, the characters' motives contrived and the laughs scarce. It has some moments, most courtesy of Jason Segel, but not even he can save this supposed comedy.

Fright Night
Fright Night (2011)

This version of "Fright Night" truly remakes the original film, taking many detours in its plot that justify a modernized take on the premise. The performances are good, the script fresh and funny, and the scares abundant without being excessively gory. One of the better horror movies I've seen in a while.

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malickâ(TM)s experimental, non-linear, and sprawling directorial style doesnâ(TM)t aim to please the average movie-goer, but surely makes up for a sublime cinematic experience for those willing to embrace it. It takes you from the Big Bang, to the beginning of life on Earth and well into the afterlife to demonstrate the difficulty man has in justifying his miniscule existence in the great expanse of creation. Gorgeous cinematography, graceful editing and stunning performances make The Tree of Life a perfectly chiseled film.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A taut, dense, edge-of-your-seat thriller that is unabashedly old-fashioned and surprisingly stylish. Gary Oldman is at his very best as the restrained, weathered, yet inquisitive and astute George Smiley. The plot is elaborate and you'll have to pay close attention for the entire two hours, but the clues are pieced together in an incredibly satisfying conclusion. With this and "Let the Right One In," director Tomas Alfredson cements his place on my artists-to-watch list.

The Artist
The Artist (2011)

"The Artist" has plenty of charm and style to captivate any theater-goer despite the lack of spoken dialogue, and its two leading actors deliver truly virtuosic performances, especially Berenice Bejo. It's a delightful trip down memory lane and an adorable experiment in form that reminds us what film is capable of and how magical it is to watch a movie. Yet, the film lacks depth. At a time when many filmmakers debate the the value of digital, 3D and IMAX technologies, "The Artist" misses a great opportunity to comment on how new developments in media can transform an art form and how an artist can struggle to adapt to these changes. Instead, the film is satisfied with a discussion of the commercial repercussions of these changes. Yet, "The Artist" offers a lovely and joyful cinematic experience, even if it's not too substantive.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Well, the entire film is essentially given away in the trailer, but it still proves extremely entertaining. Nothing out of the ordinary here, but it's a very well-made Hollywood blockbuster with truly impressive visual effects that don't get old, even after two hours.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

A comedy of errors with bloody, bloody repercussions! Cleverly toys with the conventions of the horror genre to produce a surprisingly heartfelt, yet brutally gory flick. Totally deserves cult status!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I heard so many complaints that it was so unnecessary to "remake" this film, only a year after the Swedish version. Yet, Fincher's take on the novel improves upon the so-called original. (Is an artist not allowed to revisit a source material simply because someone else adapted it before him?) Rooney Mara is hypnotizing as Lisbeth Salander, and Skarsgard steals the show in the final act of the film. Plus, Reznor yet again proves he can score one heck of a suspense film. (Loved that they included his cover of "Immigrant Song" with the stunning opening credits clip!)

Melancholia (2011)

After watching this again, I am even more confident that this is one of the year's best films. Dunst, Gainsbourg, and Trier were robbed this year of their Oscar nominations. I love the opening overture, the operatic film structure, the use of Wagner to score the whole film, the shift in tone going into the second part of the film... An almost flawless film that, despite its apocalyptic outlook, proves LvT's most accessible movie.

Real Steel
Real Steel (2011)

This Oscar-nominated action flick only shines for its visual effects. Other than that, I found the protagonist absolutely unsympathetic, the premise of the film uninteresting, the writing trite, and the acting mediocre. Saw it on a plane; otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered.

We Bought a Zoo

It's kinda surprising that Cameron Crowe decided to commit to this project, but the film is so charming and tender that it will inevitably win you over. It's shamelessly formulaic and sappy, and the final five minutes are full of too many cliches. But Matt Damon's earnest performance, as well as those of the two kids who play his children, make for a fun and sweet time at the movies.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The plot is fairly muddled and confusing at the beginning of the film, and this sequel lacks much of the witty banter between Downey Jr. and Law that made the original a success. Yet, the stylized action sequences, despite Ritchie's abuse of slo-mo, make this a thrilling movie to watch.

Friends With Benefits

It's the traditional boy-meets-girl rom-com with a cute and clever twist, lots of laughs, and great chemistry from the unusual coupling of Timberlake and Kunis. With this film and "Easy A," director Will Gluck seems to have refined his recipe for witty, fast, and amusing comedies.

Our Idiot Brother

The movie follows too many stories and, consequently, the plot feels a little aimless, but the ensemble's charisma, especially Paul Rudd's, turn this into a surprisingly charming film.

Hugo (2011)

A love letter to cinema! Considering its director, "Hugo" is surprisingly tender, charming and romantic! Scorsese's passion for the magic of the art form he has perfected is evident both in the film's theme and plot, as well as in its execution. One of the year's bestâ"top five on my list! And it features the best child actors caught on screen in a while! (Probably since those creepy kids in "The White Ribbon"!)

J. Edgar
J. Edgar (2011)

I hadn't seen a Clint Eastwood film since the over-rated and forgettable "Million Dollar Baby," and "J. Edgar" proves I hadn't missed much. Terrible lighting, nauseating color grading and a confusing narrative structure make up for a dull movie-watching experience. DiCaprio is brilliant (as expected), but his performance is not enough to save this boringly conventional film.

My Week with Marilyn

Not the sappy romance the trailers make it out to be, but a charming behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood industry and stardom. Kenneth Branagh dominates the first half of the film as a joyfully pompous Olivier, but Michelle Williams steals the show as a frail yet sultry Monroe. Both are deserving of much attention during award season. Clever, fast-paced editing saves the movie from being another boring period piece. (But I could've done have done without the tackiness of the narrative voiceovers.)

War Horse
War Horse (2011)

The film is exquisite from a technical point of view: superb editing, beautiful cinematography, sharp screenwriting, and extraordinary ensemble acting. But what begins as an old-fashioned movie epic gets bogged down by sentimentality, predictability and cliches. The film is perfect Oscar baitâ"it has Spielberg, a World War, tearjerking scenes and British accents. But other than that, odds are you've seen this movie before in some other cheesy incarnation.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Brad Bird stuns with his first live-action film! The best action sequences I have seen all year, plus an intriguing espionage story and lots of laughs courtesy of Simon Pegg. Go watch Tom Cruise run! (Really, he's running in basically every scene.)

Rammbock: Berlin Undead

I was afraid that after "The Walking Dead" no zombie movie would seem satisfying, but this incredibly short and low-budget flick has lots of scares and (surprisingly) heart. The gross factor is kept to a minimum, but thanks to its tight plot and tense action sequences, "Berlin Undead" has what it takes to become a cult classic.

Margin Call
Margin Call (2011)

The correspondents at "Planet Money" could've written a script with more heart than this. Despite its topicality, the film feels terribly unclear, frigid and often redundant. Its saving grace are the strong performances by an all-star cast, especially Kevin Spacey (albeit in the role of the executive officer he has perfected by now) and Jeremy Irons in one of the most impressive supporting roles of the year.

Take Shelter
Take Shelter (2011)

While Malick provides audiences an optimistic outlook on the afterlife in his masterful "Tree of Life," Jeff Nichols presents a frightening and despairing portrayal of a man facing his own fears about death and consequently losing hold of his sanity. Much like LvT's "Melancholia," "Take Shelter" uncannily captures the apocalyptic anxiety an individual must endure when confronting the insignificance of his existence against the whole of creation. These three films are perfect companion pieces to each other, and they top my year-end list so far. Michael Shannon delivers the best leading performance I've seen all year.

The Descendants

By far, the most underwhelming film by Alexander Payne. It's cinematically uninventive and blandâ"the cinematographer was apparently satisfied with panning shots of the Hawaiian landscape. The story is unusual enough to keep you curious, but ultimately, the film boils down to yet another predictable dramedy about a family overcoming a crisis. Shailene Woodley was stellar, nonetheless, stealing the scene from Clooney whenever she had the chance.

New Year's Eve

This feel-good romcom delivers exactly what it promises: lots of gleeful kitsch, cheerful romance, and zany humor. Sofia Vergara, while copying her character in "Modern Family," earns the most laughs and overshadows the rest of the star-studded cast. A cute film for the holidays!

Trollhunter (2011)

While the special effects are quite impressive for such a low-budget movie, the movie suffers from a slow plot, and inconsistent thrills and chills. Not altogether as campy as the ads promise it will be, "Trollhunter" uninventively toys with the found-footage mockumentary conceit that has become trite by now. And yet, the inevitable US remake will soon be upon us.

The Sitter
The Sitter (2011)

Jonah Hill sadly disappoints in his debut as a leading man. The kids are the only ones to deliver some laughs in this otherwise formulaic and predictable movie. (And why was Sam Rockwell in this!? He's so much better than that!)

The Last Circus

Absolutely disappointing. A film of half-baked measures that can't decide what it wants to be. It tries to replicate the stylized violence, high camp and revisionist history of Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," but only succeeds as a sadistic and aberrant political allegory. A promising concept lead astray by a choppy script and mediocre acting.