Eastern Promises: a great masterpiece. Evocative, ruthless, dark and mesmerizing, it all applies to this powerful movie, which lingers long after it ends. Viggo Mortensen gives a phenomenal performance while Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel and Naomi Watts also make very strong impressions. This is one of those films you find even better every time you replay key moments and bits of dialogue in your head. The sharp script has a great moral complexity, which director David Cronenberg augments with a sustained formal mastery, creating a film whose tone, mood and exploration of human nature is much richer than your average crime drama. (1st).
The Jane Austen Book Club: what a wonderful treat. Maria Bello has long shown that her talent matches her considerable beauty, and she’s sensational here – rarely has guarded eagerness been better portrayed. Her pairing with the steadily surprising Hugh Dancy creates the most romantic screen couple of the year; you really want these two to end up together, and they do. This is a great example of why pigeonholing films as “chick flicks” is stupid, unless you consider the term to mean a superior film in thoughtfulness, writing, characters and performances. Anybody that overlooks this Club is missing out on a great movie. (2nd)
Evening: exceptional filmmaking, intricate and touching. Powerful emotions are bursting at the seams in this wonderful film by director Lajos Koltai, who tells us an engaging, heartfelt story about embracing the past, the present and the future. It’s as women-centric as can be, but guys should not dismiss this gem on such grounds: the ability to be moved is universal. The beautiful Claire Danes gives a tremendous performance. Toni Collette is simply exquisite, while Hugh Dancy and Patrick Wilson also shine in supporting roles. (3rd)
300: among the many highlights in this movie, an emissary is kicked down a bottomless pit, a warlord threatens of arrows so plentiful they’ll blot out the sun, a hunchback driven mad by resentment is lured to the dark side with promises of all that he’s never had, and a beautiful queen exerts deadly retribution on the lying slimeball who violated her honour. What more do you want? 300 is a striking visual spectacle full of lush, painterly images, ones that steadily and brazenly embrace its “freedom isn’t free” ethos. (4th)
Dan in Real Life: quite simply one of the best movies about family in the past several years. Peter Hedges gives us a film that’s witty, affecting, moving and also funny in small, simple measures. The score is a sweet melody and there’s a memorable rendition of “Let my Love open the Door”. Steve Carell is perfect and Juliette Binoche is truly charming. (5th)
L’âge des ténèbres: Sharp, biting satire of the highest order, turning an only slightly magnified mirror on many of our societal ills. Sometimes we laugh so that we may not cry, and there are many good laughs in this tremendously accomplished and relevant film from Denys Arcand. The fantasy scenes are amusing and sexy while the medieval interlude, if you will, reveals both the delectable pleasure and the profound absurdity of escaping into fantasy worlds, whatever they are. The first scene, with Rufus Wainwright, is a musically sublime piece of opera, a hypnotizing entrée en matière. Marc Labrèche is remarkable as Jean-Marc, always hitting the right notes. (6th)
Music and Lyrics: this delightful romantic comedy starts with a deliriously enjoyable parody of a 80s pop music video, an unusual but brilliant start that put a huge smile on my face for the whole movie. The pairing of the charismatic Hugh Grant and the adorable Drew Barrymore, who have fantastic chemistry, creates a tremendously appealing film. (7th)
Surf’s Up: the film’s mockumentary approach (I loved the footage of penguins inventing surfing) is part of the reason why it’s as good as it is. Too many animated films these days overstay their welcome and become irritating one way or another, but not this one. Surf’s Up is perfectly content being a well-spun, simple story with cool characters, lots of humour, an easygoing charm and a great message, gently told, about what’s really important in life. (8th)
Dead Silence: underrated and quickly dismissed, as is often the case with genre efforts. This was the most stylish horror film of the year, with impressive sound work, a really well-done gothic look and a gripping tale about a spooky dummy and the vengeful ghost of a chilling ventriloquist. (9th)
The Mist: It’s the Twilight Zone meets “Lord of the Flies” in this exceptionally well done adaptation of the Stephen King story, where ordinary people are trapped in a quickly worsening nightmare. While carrying intimations of class conflict and a political subtext, the film also shows the disastrous divide that can develop out of religious extremism. The mist and its deadly creatures from another world bring a creepy feeling of desperation and fatality – and then the cavalry’s too late, leading to an extremely bleak ending. (10th)
Vacancy: the couple’s bickering is incredibly annoying, the plot is dumb, the execution is boring and the villains are beyond ridiculous.
Nitro: rarely have I seen something so profoundly bad, so disarmingly ludicrous.
Les 3 petits cochons: I’ve had my fill of this brand of dishonesty, vulgarity and tired bickering. The fact that this vacuous project was not roundly trashed as a disgrace but instead considered relevant, funny and realistic was almost as disheartening as the film itself.
Halloween: Rob Zombie’s latest is boring and uninspired, all mechanical murders and no tension. An ill-considered attempt to reinvent an all-time horror classic.
Saw IV: this once promising franchise, which in hindsight peaked with Saw II, gets even more convoluted, while going even further down the gutter. Simply abysmal.