OK, more ground rules: I didn’t see (yet, if ever): Atonement (but I have read the book), The Savages, Sweeney Todd, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James By An Extremely Long Title, Michael Clayton, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and god knows what others I might have liked.
So, here’s the list:
10a. The Simpsons Movie
I’m such a fanboy that I have to include it. It’s worth seeing more for all the throwaway gags in the periphery, which is generally true of all great Simpsons episodes. Best line: Ralph Wiggum, upon seeing a naked Bart Simpson riding through the streets of Springfield, saying “I like men now.”
10. 28 Weeks Later
I assumed this would suck, but was pleasantly surprised. It works as a straight horror thriller, or as a story about betrayal. It’s brought down a bit by the super zombie dad, but its opening setpiece is even better than the one in the Dawn of the Dead remake.
9. Hot Fuzz
Less of a straight comedy than Shaun of the Dead, this homage/parody of every action movie is half funny/half really, really funny. And the ending just pushes past stupid into cool.
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
It loses the plot a bit, er, plot-wise compared to its predecessors, but it still delivers the thrills, chills, and spills. People can bitch all they want about Paul Greengrass’s spastic camera, but when you see others try to emulate it, you’re reminded how hard it is to shoot this way and maintain any sort of visual coherence.
7. Knocked Up
While Katherine Heigl’s character is underwritten and too gorgeous for Seth Rogen, I still bought the romance. It’s a slovenly guy fantasy movie—hey, I can be an immature goofball and still get the chick!—but I liked the point about how much of that is the blame of our parents. (Take that.) And I want to see a movie with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters.
We’d all like to think we’re as clever as the lead character, rattling off bon mots and pop-culture allusions at will, well… we weren’t, especially at 16. But Ellen Page’s winning performance sells the movie, and once again, Michael Cera is amazing. With this and Superbad, it’s obvious he owns that particular type of character, the fumbling, bumbling, nice kid who gets in over his head.
It’s lighter than air. It cost something like $10 to make. The plot is literally, “Boy meets girl. Boy makes music with girl. Boy leaves town without girl.” But the boy and girl have an amazing, off-handed, realistic chemistry together. And the music they make together is fantastic. And the fact their relationship is unconsummated just gives the movie a romanticism that a more obvious “and they lived happily ever after together” would never have accomplished.
The genius of Brad Bird is that he made a movie I loved despite having almost zero interest in its premise. (I didn’t even see it in a theater.) It’s not quite on the level of The Incredibles, but its simple tale of finding your place in the world still resonates. And the scene at the end with Anton eating his meal and instantly being transported to his youth (voiced to perfection by Peter O’Toole) is phenomenal.
3. There Will Be Blood
Now this is a horror movie. One man’s descent into madness… well, he was clearly on the way, but oil gives him a nice catalyst. And it’s about power, focusing on capitalism and religion. It says more about humanity than any other movie on this list, but it’s long, slow, and ponderous. But I’m not sure what I would’ve cut. Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for his savage performance—listen as the cadence of his speech never changes, but see his body start falling apart as he descends further into the abyss of his own creation—and Paul Dano should probably receive a nomination too. If Boogie Nights and Magnolia were Paul Thomas Anderson’s Altman movies, this is his Kubrick movie. It’s beautifully shot, the phenomenal score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is positively frightening, but it’s nasty and cold.
The funniest movie of the year is a love letter to the penis. As with other Judd Apatow joints, there’s a lot of heart underneath the dick jokes. Michael Cera delivers another understated performance of pure hilarity, and while Jonah Hill pretty much just yells the entire movie, he still manages to be believable. If every douchebag didn’t end up saying, “I’m McLovin,” it would be the year’s catchphrase.
1. No Country for Old Men
People are getting hung up on the ending, which is really fairly straightforward: The movie was never about Llewellyn Moss, which the specifics of his fate (and the controversy about what happens to him) mostly irrelevant. It was always about Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and his perception of how things were getting worse, and he needed to get the hell out of Dodge. (It is, after all, “no country for old men.”) And Barry Corbin shatters that particular myth for the sheriff, pointing out how evil has always existed, and evil will always exist, and all you can do is try to survive.
But there’s a lot more fun stuff in there, about luck, fate, the corruption of money, random violence, etc. And it has Javier Bardem in the year’s most chilling performance (though Daniel Day-Lewis decided to screw that up a bit) and Kelly Macdonald breaking your heart at the end when she fucks with Chigurh’s logic. And Tommy Lee Jones. And Josh Brolin. And perfect cinematography, sound design, and direction and writing from the Coen Brothers.