#10 The Secret World of Arrietty
Based on The Borrowers, this is a film by Hiromasa Youebayashi (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke). Although this has a more straight-forward story, it has much of the style and pace of his earlier films. It’s hard to find a G-rated movie of any significance and this one does the trick.
A found-footage film that actually presents a new angle on the style. This is the story of Andrew, a social outcast who suffers at home with an abusive father and a dying mother. He and his cousin Matt, along with a popular student named Steve find a strange object underground that gives all three of them superhuman powers. The powers surface on a subtle level, but quickly grow as the three young men use their new abilities more and more. At first, it is all for fun, but the corruption of power begins to take them down a darker path.
If you loved the movie Psycho, you might love the story of how it came to be. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma are basking in the success of North by Northwest, but Hitchcock’s new project is considered too risky. This film focuses on their relationship as husband and wife, but also as director and producer. For any movie buff, this is an intriguing story of what happened behind the scenes of one of the most famous movies ever made.
Casino Royale rebooted 007 in a big way, then the effort kind of dozed off in Quantum of Solace (still a pretty good movie, but not great). With the third Daniel Craig as James Bond film, they’re back on track. Action, action, plus some more action. There are plenty of inside jokes for the old-school fans and plenty of fresh new angles for the newer fans. The title alone has an unexpected depth that suggests the series may still be going strong.
#6 Les Miserables
Beautiful story, incredible music, amazing performers. Finally, someone has captured the musical for the screen and did an amazing job. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Siegfried can really sing. Russell Crowe got some flack for his singing, but I thought he did a really good job. Highlights included “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.” The standard crowd will find this solid musical awkward, but fans of this tale will be almost relieved that Hollywood pulled this off without embarrassing anybody.
#5 The Hobbit
As the little brother of The Lord of the Rings, this story has some big shoes to fill, but this little brother of a film turned out to be relatively disappointing in spots and downright silly in others. It’s as if George Lucas wandered onto the set. Some of the low points were clearly intended to capture the giggles of younger audience members. For the rest of us, we merely cringed. But even with these flaws, it was fun to see the story on the big screen. Martin Freeman is excellent. I still have hope that the other two films will grow up a little.
#4 The Hunger Games
Based on a novel that would automatically draw big crowds, it would be tempting to present a second-rate film—since you know that people will buy tickets either way. But this was surprisingly well-done. One of the moments that indicated this was a film with some sophistication was when the players were running for the cornucopia. In the hands of most directors, this would have been drenched in music, but it was virtually silent. This indicated the story had its own intensity and stood alone without orchestral boosts. The acting was far more than to be expected from a teen-flick. The producers of this movie seem to be paying attention to the embarrassing procession of Twilight movies—and learning from those mistakes. Hopefully, Catching Fire will hold to the same caliber.
#3 Ip Man
I found this movie by accident. It is the true story of Yip Man who ended up being Bruce Lee’s teacher. A quiet family man, he becomes inevitably drawn into situations where he must fight. Virtually no one is able to defeat him. The ultimate conflict arises from the Japanese occupation and the leader who is intent on making an example of Ip Man. Some incredible fight sequences, but it’s a story with heart. Prepare for multiple fist pumps.
#2 The Dark Knight Rises
The final film in the Batman trilogy by the Nolan brothers is classy and superb. Bane is no Joker, but he was a unique villain in his own right. The Cat Woman subplot worked as well. But the primary reason this movie worked is that it was Batman and Christopher Nolan knows how to make a good movie. I’m anxiously waiting to hear what the Nolan brothers will be up to next.
It’s hard to beat a Nolan production, but if anyone can do it, Joss Wheadon can. What could have been a CGI fiasco was a great film that lifted the story to new heights instead of asking the audience to stoop to cartoon level. Wheadon lovingly gave each character solid back story and endearing moments. The action of course was stellar. But most of all, right in the middle of all the tension, there were classically hilarious moments. If Hollywood lets Wheadon loose with the sequel, I wouldn’t be surprised if the second film is even better.