Continuing on, here is a list of the top movies I watched this year (list includes 9 that came out this year and 1 that I watched on DVD but was so moving as to be included on the list). Interestingly only two of these I saw in the theater (42 and Bling). I go to the theater a lot but mostly for sentimental reasons (which apply to 42 and Bling) or because I see them as a spectacle which must be seen on the large screen. However I prefer to see smaller films in privacy where I can enter in and lose myself (without the distractions of a theater).
Editors Note: This part 2 of a series. See Part 1 (BOOKS) here. I have noted as I would grade the film as passing the Bechdel Test. Of the 3 I didn’t both Mud and Seeking contain a strong female lead (but no others); while Pain does neither (yet shows us the danger of too much testosterone).
Admission: This touchingly funny movie starring eternal favorites Paul Rudd and Tina Fey follows an admissions counselor who thinks one of her applicants may be the boy she gave up for adoption. Rudd plays the quirky teacher of the boy. Sparks ensue. The movie is funny and real and a moving tribute to the power of grace. PASSES BT.
Warm Bodies: Both the book and movie touched me in private places (no, not those). As heart-warming as a movie about zombies can get. The only distraction was the filmmakers insistence on making the female lead look as close to Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as possible. The good news was that unlike her look-a-like Theresa Palmer could act and well. Additionally, this film showed that Nicholas Hoult, previously known best as Tony on the British Skins, deserves to be a leading man. PASSES BT.
42: This biopic follows three years in the life of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball. Chadwick Boseman is a revelation as Jackie. Harrison Ford and Alan Tudyk have memorable roles as well. I am not lying when I say this movie had me balling in the theater. Yes baseball movies always get me misty, but still I dare you not to choke up at the scene with Robinson and his team captain hugging on the Cincinnati field. PASSES BT.
Mud: It was great to see Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon doing real acting; not just mailing in another vapid rom-com. Sure Matt was shirtless but it was plot-friendly shirtlessness. This Southern Gothic / Coming of Age tale was powerful as the Mississippi waters which provide the backdrop for much of the film.
Frances Ha: I was excited to see the incomparable Greta Grewig back in action as my crush on her continues to bloom. I stayed for deft performances by Mickey Sumner and Girls’ Adam Driver. Not just another iteration on the coming of age tale; this is definitely one for the twenty-first century. It follows 28 year old dancer (not that type of dancer) Frances as she grows up, and finds the life she has been missing. A moving tale of friendship that subverts rom-com tropes by using them for a non-romantic couple; this movie deftly explores the powers and struggles of being friends. PASSES BT.
Perks of Being a Wallflower: This movie had me a blubbering mess by its end. I had multiple tears streaming down the cheeks moments in this sadly, hopeful tale of the struggles of a Freshman Wallflower and the Seniors that help him bloom (a little). Emma Watson was a stand-out here in a mature and heady role (just the opposite of her ring one). Meanwhile Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller dominate every scene they have. PASSES BT.
Black Rock: This independent horror flick was an entertaining take on the back woods killer trope. Yet instead of mindless simpletons, the film gives us believable relatable leads in both the killers and hunted camps. It also gives us three strong, brave, flawed heroines of the kind Hollywood rarely provides. Written, directed, and starring my favorite fantasy football moxie Katie Aselton, this is a wicked good romp. PASSES BT (this would in some sense be the most female friendly).
Pain & Gain: This was my favorite comedy in a year that brought some great comedies from some of the masters of comedy (This Is the End, The World’s End, This is 40 – each of these might be worth an inclusion on this list). This black comedy never stops bringing surprised guffaws at the wackiness brought by Dewayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg’s juiced kidnappers. Based on a true story, a group of roided-out bodybuilders decide to kidnap one of their clients played by Monk’s Tony Shalhoub. It is the story of the crime that never went well; but defying logic came ‘this-close’ to actually working. But for a loose board or two, and a bored retiree, no one would have known about this comic misadventure; but thank God we do.
The Bling Ring: This is not a coming of age tale. It is a look at the immaturity of our modern wasteland. It stands (for me anyway) as a searing indictment at our soporific consumerist culture and the shallow, unapologetic, and blindingly un-self-aware creatures it has created. The acting talent amazes: Emma Watson stars as a young hooligan to dumb not to know the world is not her very own reality show; Israel Broussard deftly steals every scene he is in; while Taissa Farmiga and Leslie Mann continue to rack up superb supporting character roles. This is the most female-centric cast of the list. PASSES BT.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: What looked to be just another black comedy about the apocalypse in a year teeming with them vaulted to the top of the stack with something that Simon Pegg et al never quite managed to give their films: a big heart and characters you cared about. If you were to see only one comedy about the apocalypse, this is the one I would recommend seeing (but hey why not see them all, I did… well except for the one about the rapture). Say what you will about Pegg and Co, or Seth Rogen and his gang, I never really cared about any of the guys in their films. They were funny, and I laughed; but no I really never worried or cared for their characters. On the other hand Steve Carell (who knows something about creating loveable misanthropes) and Kiera Knightley provided real people who I fretted for and with. Not only that both the two had a palpable chemistry which translated to film. To quote Carrell’s character: “no matter how long we had [with the film], it never would have been enough.”
Pitch Perfect: This musical dramedy was both moving and fun to watch. PASSES BECHDEL.
Much Ado About Nothing: Good little film from Joss Whedon, written by some guy named Shakespeare.
Day of the Doctor: This was a TV special which was shown for one day at one time in the theaters and deserved it. An amazing episode celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.
Gideon’s Army: This HBO documentary has been traveling the country as a fundraiser / opportunity for people to become aware of the work of Gideon’s Promise. The doc follows 3 public defenders and shows the struggles of the modern poor who find themselves (deservingly or not) charged with a crime. I was honored and inspired by attending a viewing party of this doc in one of my locals.