I thought, with the year about half over, it might be time to sum up what's happened so far in the world of movies. Pretty soon now the DVDs of the films of the spring will start showing up, so it's wise to keep an eye on what's been solid and what's been rubbish.
The problem is that I've only seen, y'know, a dozen or so of the movies that've come out so far. And I think 12, 13 is a lot of films for... 26 weeks. That's just new releases. That's a lot of theatre time.
So, this isn't a real top ten for the year so far, some films won't be listed but warrant mentioning as being legitimate candidates for ten best. I don't want to discredit them, but I haven't seen them, so the following films are given a nod of approval and are exempt: Cars, The Heart of the Game, Over The Hedge, Inside Man, The Devil Wears Prada, Lucky Number Slevin, A Prarie Home Companion, Brick, The Notorious Bettie Page, Hard Candy, and above all, United 93.
The following films are unviewed but by no means getting a free pass: Waist Deep, The Pink Panther, Eight Below, Big Momma's House 2, Final Destination 3, The Shaggy Dog, When A Stranger Calls, Aquamarine, Phat Girlz, Keeping Up With the Steins, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, and above all, Bloodrayne.
1. Superman Returns
I'm taking a lot of heat for this one, but I stand by this. I don't like Superman, I don't know anyone who really does. He's a everyman superhero that no one wants to get behind, someone so vanilla that he's to nobody's taste. But Brian Singer loves Superman, loves what he stands for, loves the tragedy of his outsider status (why do you think Wolverine works so well as a character in Singer's hands?) - desperately in love with a girl he can't have because she doesn't want Clark Kent, she only wants Superman. And she can't ever have Superman.
This is one of the few instance where I don't pick on the acting in any way, because it's truly the story that carries this film. I've heard harsh criticisms of Brandon Routh as Superman (poor guy, this is his first film), Kate Bosworth as Lois, even Parker Posey's Kitty Kowalski. But that's not what this film is about. This film is our modern day Odyssey - our hero has returned home to discover nobody is sure if they want him around anymore. That's a hard lot for even the most vanilla of superheroes.
2. Thank You For Smoking
This is one of the sharpest indie comedies I've seen - in fact, it may be the all-time sharpest. A wicked and surprisingly fast-pased satire based on the not quite as fast-paced Christopher Buckley's book by the same name, the cast features Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, J.K. Simmons, Adam Brody, Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, and Rob Lowe... and the final product is better than the sum of its parts. That's saying something.
3.V For Vendetta
The Wachowski brothers finally live up their potential and create a philosophy-heavy flick that people actually want to see. Colorful, adventurous, somewhat thought-provoking and bombastically emotional, the bros. give fan favorites Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman a Shakespearean-type script and proceed to blow everything else up.
It's time someone says it - if Jared Hess is willing to let his films get a little weightier, to really give his actors some space to give out a little more emotion, then soon we won't be able to tell the difference between him and Wes Anderson. They're really just not that far apart anymore. There, I said it.
5.Pirates Of The Caribbean
Expectations got way, way, way too high, and this week is bound to be ripe with Pirates-bashing. But the new Pirates is rollicking good fun, packed with sight gags, great lines, and special effects twice as good as last time. I'm willing to suffer through a fake-and-baked Keira Knightley throwing confused coquettish glances at Johnny Depp (I'm convinced that she was thinking the same thing I was while shooting it - "this makes no logical sense in any respect."), as long as we still get to see swarms of pirates swinging across whatever rigging happens to be at hand, and slashing cutlasses at mythical sea-beasts. I'll pay pretty much any admission for the privilege.
By the way, did anyone else think that Kevin McNally has pretty much handed in his acting credentials and is just chewing scenery at this point? I've never seen anything so brilliantly hammy.
Tom Cruise has gone absolutely crazy, yes, I know. I don't defend it any more than you do. But there's a certain type of role for which Cruise is perfectly suited, a cocksure everyman who can't help but wear his heart on his sleeve. And that is what Cruise was, the whole film, clearly giving his all in a role where most actors would just be phoning it in by this point. Sure, things broke down a little towards the end, and J.J. Abrams used literally every trick he learned on Lost. But I'll never not love the idea of the MI team, driving frantically through Hong Kong with the most advanced technological weapon ever invented in their hands, firing shots back at their pursuers, and they can't let the villain know about they've got his ransom because they can't get any bars on their cell phone. It's just the most brilliant bit of irony I've seen on screen this year.
A strange, haunting special effects spectacular, Mirrormask follows a loose plotline about a girl trapped into a dreamworld that she herself doodled, looking to restore balance to a world haunted by evil. Full of clever visual twists and wild imagination, it was the darkest kid's film I'd ever seen and hope to ever see again. It also marked the major film introduction of the excellent Stephanie Leonidas. We'll see her again.
You've already heard my thoughts on the movie once before, but I should say that I'm starting to feel a little bad for Brett Ratner. Sure, X3 wasn't 8 1/2, but it was a lot better than most people gave it credit for, and I certainly enjoyed it. I do have to point out that he sometimes lack creativity: have you ever seen a group of more pathetic mutant powers? Ratner added about 150 extra mutants, about 3 of which actually had visible powers. The rest just looked ratty and grimaced a lot. Boo.
I think this movie is fascinating. Vince Vaughn came up with the story, got some friends of his to write the screenplay, produced it and shot it in his native Chicago, and still deliberately makes himself look like a total lout throughout the movie. He lazes around the apartment in old tee-shirts and gives Aniston's character all the heavy emotional lifting, which is fine because she's such a solid actress, but this means the movie ends up being primarily focused on her. Which is a bad idea, because it's supposed to be a comedy. And Aniston's not funny.
Still, I loved the Vaughn-Jon Favreau best friend vibe, as I always do, and I loved the idea of a movie where one of the romantic leads literally does nothing almost the entire movie to try and win the affections of the other lead. The Break-Up: emotions are for sissies.
10. Looking For Comedy In the Muslim World
Sure, this movie was fun, but this flick is mainly here because I didn't want to give put The Da Vinci Code, RV, or Nightwatch in this list. It's the story of comedian Albert Brooks (played convincingly by Albert Brooks), who is sent by the President to explore the Muslim world and find out what makes Muslims laugh. What makes Muslims laugh, it turns out, is not the comedy of Albert Brooks.
It's worth it just to hear Brooks constantly trying to explain to people, through interpreters, that he was the fish in Finding Nemo. This does not win him the hearts and minds of the Muslim people, but it did win him mine. Why are so many actors writing scripts these days that star themselves and make themselves out to be complete putzes?