10-Cabin in the Woods-This is a special kind of horror film that seems to come along only once every couple of years. The last time I was so entertained was when Sam Raimi came back to the horror genre with Drag me to Hell. In essence, Cabin in the Woods is a movie that deconstructs the horror genre and creates a theory as to why we need horror films in the first place. This has been done well before in films like Scream and Tucker and Dale versus Evil, but this effort surpasses them all. The first two thirds of the film alternate between a group of teenagers in a cabin being stalked by a family of zombies, and a workplace environment of white-collar workers who are watching the proceedings with a mixture of amusement, boredom, and worry. The action is gory, funny, inventive, and a great deal of fun for the initiated. It effortlessly moves from moments of pure horror to moments of laugh out loud humor. However, it is in the final act that Cabin in the Woods truly soars to new heights. The final half-hour is easily the most bonkers out of this world climax this side of Evil Dead Two. It should also satisfy even the most demanding horror freak’s dreams with regards to monsters and gore. I’ve already seen this film three times, and I predict many more viewings in my future.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (186-19)
9-Marvel’s Avengers- The Avengers is everything comic book fans were hoping for, a thrilling adventure that starts to explore the Marvel universe on a cosmic scale. The film is a major triumph for director Joss Whedon who handles the multitude of challenges the film presents with skill and confidence. In the end, we are really treated to the best of everything. There are two extraordinary action sequences, one aboard the flying Shield airstrip, and the other the out of this world climax in Manhattan against a race of aliens. That one in particular puts viewers right in the center of a battle royale with their favorite heroes. Even more impressive than the action is the way the script gives all the members of the avengers signature moments where they get to shine through. Even Black Widow, who was pretty insignificant in the Iron Man sequel, is given a fabulous sequence in the Loki interrogation scene. One of my favorite moments is the way all the characters deferred to Capt. America’s wisdom in the climactic showdown. Even Tony Stark is able to put his ego aside and let the more experienced warrior set the strategy. The Avengers is a giant movie and the set pieces are monumental successes, but it is the small touches that make it a classic film on par with the best Marvel superhero movies such as Spiderman Two and X2.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (268-22)
8-The Hunger Games- When I went to see the Hunger Games, I was aware of the novel but had never read it and had no idea what exactly I would be seeing. I was anticipating it mainly because of the presence of director Gary Ross whose two previous films Pleasantville and Seabiscuit are among my favorites. Going in with no expectations other than that, I was blown away by the nightmare future world, the impressive young heroine, the uncompromising action sequences, and the amusing secondary characters. The choice to cast a top-notch actress (Jennifer Lawrence) in the lead was inspired, and by the time she volunteers to step in for her little sister 10 minutes into the movie I was ready to follow her character anywhere. The one-hour lead-in to the actual competition was nothing short of brilliant, deftly introducing me to this fully formed futuristic society based on control and conformity. The games themselves are rendered in a realistic manner that puts you in the center of all the action so you can really feel the terror of such an experience where murder is all around you. I thought the film finished at just the right time on just the right note and I look forward to seeing how the rest of this series turns out.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% (225-41)
7-Frankenweenie- Director Tim Burton has come full circle with this beautiful stop motion film that is my favorite animated film of the year. It is based on a half-hour long live action short that he made for Disney way back in the early 80s. The company shelved it because they felt it was too strange and only began to show it when he left the studio and became a top director. Now he has taken that material and made a magical movie that celebrates not only Frankenstein but the entire world of film monsters. There is so much to admire here from the gorgeous black and white images to the characters of the offbeat children and the spectacle of the many creatures that parade around for the finale that it will take multiple viewings to appreciate everything fully. I’ll mention a few standouts. Winona Ryder is excellent as the girl who lives next door. It is great to see her back with Tim Burton after being parted for nearly 2 decades. The voice standout might be Martin Landau, who gives a funny and poignant performance as the science teacher who wishes to inspire his students but who takes all the blame when things go wrong. His scene at the town meeting when he tells the parents that they are ignorant is hilarious but is also a wonderful blow at the beliefs of the religious right sent with great good humor. The heart of the film is Victor’s simple relationship with his dog which provides the reasoning behind all the crazy events that take place. The finale is Cabin in the Woods for kids and is a must for monster fans of all ages, playing homage to tons of films and even short animated films such as Bambi versus Godzilla. If you’ve seen the short subject, you’ll know the exact moment I’m talking about. The film was not a box office success but I think time will give it the last laugh in the end. I don’t care much about the Oscars, but I must confess that I really hope Tim Burton gets to walk away with a statue for this wonderful treat.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (163-21)
6-The Hobbit-The only explanation I can give for the somewhat mixed reviews that this film has received to date is to believe that the Lord of the Rings films raised the bar so high on this project that it was just impossible to live up to expectations. Many of the reviews, however, seem to be written by people who had no interest in returning to middle earth. I’m certainly not one of those people and I was thrilled to be back in the presence of all the characters I loved in the previous trilogy and to have them joined by new ones. Just as in the other films, this film takes its time and lets us revel in the scenery as well as the little nuances of the characters. Not every fantasy and action film needs to proceed at a breakneck pace. I love the opening extended dinner scene when the dwarfs come to visit and give us moments of comedy as well as a couple of songs. I enjoyed spending time in Rivendell and witnessing the conference between the most powerful wizards and elves in middle earth. This is not to say that The Hobbit is lacking in thrills and action. There are an abundance of remarkable set pieces including an encounter with trolls, an epic battle between stone giants, an ambush by orcs and goblins, and a contest of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum which is suspenseful and funny at the same time. Martin Freeman also makes a picture-perfect Bilbo Baggins. Is this film is good as the Rings trilogy? No, but I think that the Rings trilogy is the greatest accomplishment in film history. Is the hobbit one of my favorite films of the year? Absolutely! And I can’t wait for the next installment.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (158-86)