Rare gems

Our film reviewer picks out the few diamonds in this rough movie year

So far, the movie year has been a bit of a slog. Sure, a couple of films got the orgasmic popcorn carton, but that’s it. Just two. Some of the films you will see listed in this, my annual half-year report, haven’t played in Reno yet, and they probably won’t. Take out a pink highlighter (or yellow, if that’s how you roll) and mark the unfamiliar ones for future rental. Or don’t … it’s entirely up to you.

Best So Far

1. Toy Story 3: Pixar’s crown jewel gets a beautiful, probable sendoff with a film that proves the third movie in a franchise doesn’t have to blow. This one is among the best of Pixar, along with the first two chapters in the Toy Story franchise. Full of great emotion and surprisingly effective high-octane action, I honestly wonder if there will ever again be an animation studio as strong and consistent as Pixar.

2. Shutter Island: I’ve heard some people gripe that they were able to guess the ending. Well, a good percentage of the ending is quite guessable, but you can’t tell me you got all the details spot on. If you attempt to tell me so, I will laugh at you and throw coffee in your face. (It will be iced coffee, and I will provide you with a protective tarp first … don’t need no lawsuits here.) Leonardo DiCaprio, once again, deserves Oscar consideration.

3. How to Train Your Dragon: Two of the top three movies are animated fare, and this one stands as one of the year’s biggest surprises. When I first heard of this film and saw the preview trailers, it struck me as a potential throwaway cartoon. Well, damn the marketing team because this is solid stuff. And it has a Jónsi Birgisson song in it to boot!

4. Kick-Ass: I haven’t laughed harder this year than the moment when dad and daughter Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz were introduced in this superhero dark comedy. It contains one of my all-time favorite death scenes.

5. Fish Tank: Newcomer Katie Jarvis is outstanding as Mia, a 15-year-old girl who is pissed off, for many reasons. When her mother brings home a new boyfriend, her already troubled home life is further complicated. Michael Fassbender, as the mother’s boyfriend, is the worst kind of movie monster, a person who appears admirable but is nothing but human garbage. Jarvis and Fassbender deliver two of the year’s best performances so far, and director Andrea Arnold delivers her best work yet.

6. Hot Tub Time Machine: This Back to the Future for the new millennium sent John Cusack back to the ’80s, when he was a teen god. The results are funny and just a little disturbing for me because I went to high school and college in the ’80s. I recall often hiding in the corner, repelled by the sounds of Bon Jovi and Warrant and praying to God that I might age rapidly and put the decade behind me. And this is where I lost my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because that decade dragged on forever.

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Noomi Rapace is one of the year’s breakout stars. She just burns up the screen as Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker who gets mixed up in a missing person’s case. There are already two sequels in the can, so there’s more to come.

8. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage: This one just came out on DVD, and it’s one of the better rock documentaries I’ve ever seen. Directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, with massive help from the band, tell the story of Canada’s epic power trio. Even if you are not a fan of the band (I am!), watching Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and the almighty Neil Peart talk about their career ups and downs is a pleasure and a revelation. I never would’ve guessed these prog rock pioneers were such wonderful goofballs. The likes of Jack Black, Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor offer engaging fan worship through interviews. A must-see for music fans and anybody in a band.

9. A Town Called Panic: This totally insane stop-motion-animation film comes off as sort of a French Robot Chicken but without the pop-culture references. The story involves a horse, a cowboy and an Indian who live in a house together. They eventually travel through the Earth’s core, arriving in a winter wasteland, where they commandeer a giant mechanical penguin. Oh, and their house has been stolen by fish people. This film is nuts.

10. Mother: From director Joon-ho Bong, maker of the incredible The Host, comes one of the strangest detective movies you will ever see. Hye-ja Kim is excellent as a mother who takes matters into her own hands when her simple son (Bin Won) is accused of murder. The director has a gift for inserting awkward humor into serious matters, and the mother-and-son relationship at the core of the film is a stomach-turner. Bong delivers again; he’s one of current cinema’s more interesting directors.

Worst So Far

1. Sex and the City 2: I just feel sorry for all of the women who got all excited for this turd. They put on their cutest dresses, made plans with all of their pals, and headed out for a night of chick flick bliss. What they got was the sad remainders of a once great franchise that has now taken to embarrassing itself and the actors who take part in it. Kim Cattrall is an unintentionally malevolent force in this film. I think I developed a thyroid disorder due to my prolonged exposure to Kim Cattrall in this thing. I also think my sperm count dropped. Thanks a lot, Kim Cattrall!

2. Robin Hood: Russell Crowe, badly in need of a hit, got back with director Ridley Scott, got all retro with his Gladiator haircut and delivered the most joyless Robin Hood in the history of cinema. This is an origin story, so Robin doesn’t do any of his robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. My guess is if Crowe’s Robin tried to rob the rich, they’d gladly hand over their wallets and purses to make the sullen bastard go away and depress somebody else.

3. Clash of the Titans: After Avatar hypnotized America, Warner Brothers decided their big budget remake needed to be in 3-D. They put the 3-D effects into the film during post-production, and they suck hard. While I’m at it, Alice in Wonderland kind of sucked, too.

4. Furry Vengeance: Master thespian Brendan Fraser goes head to head with a raccoon and some skunks. I don’t remember too many details other than that, but I’m pretty sure the film contained some farting and Fraser getting all bug-eyed crazy.

5. Survival of the Dead: Director George Romero visits the land of the zombies once again. This one isn’t as awful as Diary of the Dead, but it comes close. This time, feuding families on some island can’t decide whether zombies should be executed or kept alive for a possible cure.

Nobody cares, George! Knock it off trying to get all high concept with your stupid ghouls. Your zombie films started going downhill when Bub operated the Walkman in Day of the Dead. It’s a zombie film! Tear some guts out, bite a few heads off, and stop trying to be so damned clever.