The best and worst of the year in movies
THE BEST (in no particular order):
This is one movie where knowing the endgame makes the story all the more harrowing. Thanks to Danny Boyle’s dynamic camerawork and James Franco’s convincing performance, this cautionary adventure tale is one of the most thrilling flicks of the year.
The King’s Speech
Colin Firth puts on the best performance of his career as King George VI, who overcame a stammer with the help of a speech therapist. Geoffrey Rush, as the therapist, isn’t too shabby, either. See it with your grandma, boyfriend, wife — it’s an all-around crowd-pleaser.
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington embedded themselves with troops in one of the most besieged regions of Afghanistan. As the camera rolls amid gunfire and felled soldiers, all you can think is how your own dread is only a fraction of what those on-screen must have felt.
The Social Network
David Fincher tracks the birth of Facebook — and the rise of its founder’s ego — at a relentless pace, with some of the wittiest dialogue of the year. Whether the biographical details are correct or not, “The Social Network” offers keen insights into the politics of building a corporation from scratch.
When a law-embattled father disappears from a small Ozark community, the daughter is forced to track him down — mentally preparing herself for the likelihood of an impossibly grim fate. “Winter’s Bone” is so real and raw, you’d think director Debra Granik had lived the entire story herself.
The Secret of Kells
This beautifully animated tale from Tomm Moore and Nora Tworney recounts the Celtic legend behind the Book of Kells, a national Irish treasure. The drawing style, which is both magical and vibrant, takes your breath away.
Casino Jack and The United States of Money
Alex Gibney directed two noteworthy documentaries this year (the other one being “Client 9,” about Eliot Spitzer’s downfall), but this documentary about lobbyist Jack Abramoff is such an enthralling, wild knot of politics, ego and noir intrigue. Rent it if you missed it.
This understated film from Mike Leigh revolves around a happily aging couple and the wonderfully human characters that populate their life. Lesley Manville deserves an Oscar for her searing portrayal of a lonely divorcee.
Toy Story 3
Pixar has outdone itself yet again, following Woody and company as they fall ever deeper into disuse. Funny and smart, “Toy Story 3,” as per usual for Pixar, deftly handles adult emotions within the framework of a kid-friendly story.
Red Riding Trilogy
Technically these are three movies, but they’re all interwoven and, when viewed as a whole, make for one atmospheric crime thriller. Originally aired on British television, the trilogy delves into the underbelly of a corrupt police force that’s been tasked with investigating a spree of murders.
Packed with stars including Jennifer Garner, Bradley Cooper and even Julia Roberts, “Valentine’s Day” is a terrible waste of A-list talent. The intertwined vignettes are so dull, this doesn’t even quality as a guilty pleasure.
Imagine the worst of the worst “Saturday Night Live” sketches — the ones that air at 12:55 a.m. — gear them towards a 50-and-up set, and you’ve got “Grown Ups.” You can only hope Adam Sandler and his comedy pals had more fun making it than you did watching it.
In some parallel universe, “Jonah Hex” might be a passable movie born out of a chain of better decisions. In this universe, though, the movie reeks of so many unfortunate choices. It’s certainly a blight on Josh Brolin’s post-“No Country for Old Men” career.
The Back-Up Plan
This Jennifer Lopez movie was filled with clichés of every variety — dating clichés, pregnancy clichés, single mom clichés. To top it all off, Lopez played her character with such one-note cuteness, you’re pretty much sick of her after five minutes.
Hot Tub Time Machine
With a title like this, “Hot Tub Time Machine” clearly isn’t a movie that’s meant to be taken seriously. Even so, there are some basic building blocks that you just can’t ignore in moviemaking. The nostalgia factor is fun, but “Hot Tub” just feels like a formless heap of bad jokes.