15-Dark Shadows-Before I say a few words about this film I have to confess it. I love each and every one of Tim Burton’s films from his most revered to his most reviled. Dark Shadows was a critical and commercial flop and I loved every single minute of it. As with all of Burton’s work, the movie looks great, has an incredible ensemble cast, and exists in its very own special universe. The five-minute prologue alone establishing the origin of Barnabas Collins was worth the price of admission alone. For those who don’t know, Dark Shadows is based on an old soap opera where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the undead show up all around. Burton understands these roots and gives us a comic take on the soap opera formula without sacrificing the dignity of the characters. Depp’s vampire is sympathetic but also totally devoid of pity when he needs to feed. The rest of the cast is made up of amusing grotesques. A real discovery is newcomer Bella Heathcote who plays a mysterious girl named Victoria who comes to the Collins family to work as a nanny. I also can’t help a twilight comparison. The issue of whether to become a vampire takes up about 10 hours of screen time in those films. The same issue is settled in 10 seconds of screen time in Dark Shadows. The ending (mistakenly seen as setting up a sequel by some critics) follows the soap opera model perfectly, setting up a new dilemma for the characters just as other problems are solved. Weird, witty, and wonderful, Tim Burton hit all the right notes for me (if no one else) once again.
Rotten Tomatoes: 38% (86-139)
14-Seven Psychopaths– I have to start by telling you how this movie begins. A couple of hitman are in a park talking about murder and the upcoming assassination they are about to perform. I’m thinking to myself that I am looking at two of the seven psychopaths we’ve been promised. However, as they speak a man in a ski mask comes up behind them and shoots them dead and leaves a couple of playing cards on the corpses. A sign pops up on the screen announcing “psychopath number one”. Right then, I knew I was in for a wild, joyous, entertaining ride. In this regard I was not let down, because each introduction to each new psychopath was filled with the same kind of energy and imagination promised by the extraordinary opening sequence. This was flat-out the most fun I had at the movies in 2012, and it’s easy to see why this kind of film won the midnight madness award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. The movie invokes comparisons with Spike Jonze’s Adaptation but quite honestly doesn’t have the same serious issues on its mind as that film. For some critics, that seemed to be a problem. For my part, when I am as entertained as this, I don’t need depth. The fantastic ensemble cast is perfectly suited to this material, particularly Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken. For every sequence that doesn’t work, there are five that do. My favorite moments: The origin story of the Amish psychopath and Sam Rockwell’s script revision for the finale of the movie. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m talking about. If you like crazy material, you won’t regret it.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (132-26)
13-Looper- With Looper,I can finally climb on the bandwagon of director Riann Johnson. His first feature Brick left me cold, and his second The Brothers Bloom seemed like a Wes Anderson knockoff to me. I really wanted to embrace them both but found I just couldn’t so I went in to see this time travel fantasy with a great deal of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Looper is a complex, thrilling roller coaster ride filled with inventive touches and unpredictable twists. Despite that, it is always perfectly clear what is going on and where we are in the story and it manages to avoid the plot holes which sink many fantasy films that deal with time travel. It’s the kind of movie that has so much to offer that it practically demands multiple viewings. The two leads are pitch perfect. Time travel films (think 12 Monkeys) seem to be good look for Bruce Willis as he gives his best performance in a long time while Joseph Gordon Levitt shows once again why he is on his way to being a major star. All the technical areas are top-notch, the pacing is superb, the action sequences are well executed, and the result is a near-perfect sci-fi effort. To Riann Johnson, all I can say is that you can now consider me a convert. I look forward to whatever you come up with next.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (216-15)
12-Lincoln-Lincoln is a collaboration of two of the most important figures in modern cinema, director Steven Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Uniting for the first time, they are both in top form. There is nothing more difficult than trying to win a third Academy award for best actor, but even with stellar competition this year it’s hard to see anyone beating out Day-Lewis after knocking his interpretation of the 16th president out of the park. Spielberg is shooting for his third Oscar as well, and this examination of the difficult effort to pass the amendment to ban slavery certainly puts him in the running. The film is really about the political process as much as anything, and the most fascinating thing when observing the machinations that Lincoln must undergo to achieve his goal is how little things have really changed. There was the same greed and compromise on every issue that seems to permeate both houses of Congress today. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner deserve a great deal of credit for taking the minutiae of trying to get a bill passed and turning it into a fascinating filmgoing experience. The rest of the credit goes to Day-Lewis who really gets to the beating heart of what made Lincoln the near legend he is today while still showing all the foibles of an ordinary man. A history lesson and a great entertainment all wrapped into one perfect package.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (158-17)
11-Skyfall- When Casino Royale came out in 2006, I put it in the same class as my favorite three Bond films, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. After the disappointing follow-up Quantum of Solace which resembled an attempt to rip off the fast-paced editing of the Jason Bourne films, Skyfall puts the series back on track with an installment worthy of being classified with the four classics mentioned above. There is much to admire here. Each major set piece is different so that they don’t blend into one another as is the case in many of the lesser Bond films. The brilliant Javier Bardem gives us perhaps the most unusual Bond villain ever, both in regards to his attitude and motivations. His conversation with Bond when he has him tied up certainly is something we have never seen before from this franchise. Bond also goes back to his roots here which is something I felt was lacking in the last few entries. There is a nod given to old characters and even the crazy contraptions from the older Bond films. I really like to see movies embrace their roots. Best of all, this movie is effective because despite its global scale it deals with the pasts of M and Bond, giving all the proceedings added depth. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the title Skyfall actually has important meaning to the overall film and to Bond himself. I credit director Sam Mendes with really focusing on bringing the lives and pasts of the main characters more into the forefront. I hope this approach continues and that the franchise gives us more installments that provide sheer entertainment while growing the characters. Oh, by the way, Daniel Craig is superb as always.
Rotten Tomatoes: 925 (253-23)