Honorable mention for Another Earth, an astounding debut by writer/star Brit Marling, showing enormous promise for her future. Also Rampart, another solid drama from Oren Moverman, but not quite as deep as The Messenger. The Artist deserves all the praise it’s getting. The Myth of the American Sleepover was a great indie, a gentle drama. But it was such a great year for indies all of the above got edged off. The rest, with a few ties, keeps my list at 10. Follow me on Twitter @FredTopel to discuss further, but keep it civil.
10. SUCKER PUNCH
That’s right, I liked Sucker Punch. And not for any guilty pleasure reason. I think it totally works and does exactly what the director set out to do: question our acceptance of narrative causality. We assume if there are these layers that things are supposed to affect other things? But why should they? That’s just a device of film that’s been reiterated for decades. Art can be vague and disconnected, an experience rather than a story.
9. THAT’S WHAT I AM
WWE films delivers a coming of age story for kids with empowering values and an anti-homophobia message! Seriously, it’s really good.
9. NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Wow, this is a really good rom-com. Actual jokes (four in the first six minutes!) and characters who make smart choices and speak up for themselves. I want to do Ashton Kutcher now. He’s so lovable.
7. WINNIE THE POOH
What a smart, classy and completely wonderful film.
6. (Tie) – RED STATE and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
I’m really impressed by what Kevin Smith did here. It’s intense and thrilling, yet I can tell it comes from the same voice who wrote Dogma. And Hobo just delivered the goods, with both a hobo and a shotgun. And loved Molly Dunsworth as the teacher with a heart of gold. I’m pitching the sequel: Teacher with a Lawnmower.
5. AMERICAN ANIMAL
My only unreleased pick because it has no distribution yet and including on this list might help. This is either a brilliant satire of art movies or the greatest art movie ever made. Look for it.
4. (Tie) – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
The two best popcorn movies of the year. Mission: Impossible is really the best action with sequences like the sticky gloves, the sandstorm and the car park. First Class is a Dark Knight-level superhero story.
3. LIKE CRAZY
I called this my favorite non-hobo movie of Sundance, but I guess I have to admit now that it was my full on favorite. There are many amazing things about this movie. 1) Drama with no villain. There’s no unlikable character in this, no A-hole standing in the way who’ll finally get his comeuppance. Everyone is a good person and still has to make hard choices. 2) Characters strong enough to make hard choices. 3) A profound portrait of human behavior. It would be profound for a veteran filmmaker, let alone a 20-something director. 4) The Rorschach test for every audience member’s relationship baggage. You either think it’s a painful tragedy, a triumphant story, a bittersweet one or a cautionary tale, and we’re all right.
2. THE MUPPETS
I say this with no nostalgia for The Muppets whatsoever. It is just really great comedy. The Muppets are experts at satirizing whatever medium they’re in. Even more profoundly, they use satire without being mean. I love vicious satire too but kind satire is a monumental feat.
The premise along would have secured this the number one spot. If it had just been a movie about a tire that kills people, that would have been awesome enough. But it’s about a tire that kills people and it’s a postmodern reflection on how we watch movies. I certainly got my meta fix this year.