1) NIGHT WARNING (1982)

A fun, batshit little movie that is remarkable mostly because of two people: Bo Svenson and Susan Tyrrell. Bo plays Detective Joe Carlson, a homophobic cop in some anonymous town; Tyrrell plays Aunt Cheryl, a Crazy Old Lady of the highest order. It is a genuine cinematic thrill to watch her gaze at something (a picture of her lost love, her own reflection, a steak…) with that absent-yet-palpable mania filling her eyes. Her performance is at once over-the-top and completely note-perfect – I genuinely cannot think of another way to play that character, and certainly no better way. And in the end, when shit has gotten real and characters are starting to drop like flies, in walks Det. Carlson to dismiss everything his eyes — as well as eyewitnesses — tell him, because he knows in his gut that the real culprit here is homosexuality. And then the ending happens. It’s weird to say, but elements of NIGHT WARNING kind of make it a film very, very ahead of its time.

2) COCKFIGHTER (1974)

This was my first Monte Hellman movie – it will not be my last. I love Warren Oates. I love Harry Dean Stanton. I want them in every movie ever. And man, that ending line, that ending moment…I love it. Can’t wait to see TWO LANE BLACKTOP.

3) TRAINED TO KILL * USA, aka THE NO MERCY MAN (1973)

I don’t know if the theme song is online anywhere, but hot damn I need to find it. Don Vincent singing about…actually, I won’t ruin that for you. You can find this little exploitation movie on YouTube, if so inclined.

4) DEATH SHIP (1980)

Nazi ghosts take over George Kennedy, lay some smack down on Richard Crenna and his movie wife & kids. Not bad, not great…just kinda boring.

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5) CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

The first time I saw this film, I was alone. The second time, I was on a date.

The first time, the film washed over me and I let myself go with it wherever it wanted to take me. I’d heard of people for whom the cadre-of-actors-all-playing-various-roles device was an obstacle. White people in blackface, black people in whiteface, black and white people in asianface, it was all too much for some folks. That a film in 2012 would be so grand in scope and yet so earnest in concept was also a stumbling block. The message of the film is “humanity, in the end, is all we have, and that’s beautiful.” If you think that’s a dumb thing for a movie to be about, I don’t think you and I can be friends. I just know that a film that runs just shy of three hours flew by, and when I walked into the light of day, I felt reborn, charged with a noble and beautiful purpose.

The second time, on said date, I was swept in it all over again. And when it ended, Grace and I turned to each other and she said “I feel like I just lived a few lifetimes.” I love this reaction.

6) LINCOLN (2012)

Not a flawless film, but certainly an excellent one. Everyone else has gone on about how great it is to see a figure as towering as Spielberg exercise restraint…and they’re right. The screenplay by Tony Kushner would have made a wonderful film in many hands, but that shouldn’t take away from the stellar work Spielberg turned in here. Everyone else is also talking about how obviously Daniel Day-Lewis is assured his next Oscar for this, though I take a bit of issue with that. My vote remains with Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. Also, I want to see David Costabile in everything. That dude’s face is so open and expressive – if you’re making a movie, he’s a great card to have up your sleeve.

7) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

I was talking with my friend, John, about people we felt should have been nominated for Best Director, and I asked who he would bump for Ben Affleck. He responded “Benh Zeitlin,” the director of Beasts of the Southern Wild. I could not disagree more. This was the Little Indie That Could, 2013 Edition, and Zeitlin is the reason it works.

The first thing that struck me when I watched this was that he’d created a world impeccably well – so well that when the story leaves that world and comes to the real world, something as banal as a hospital seems like alien terrain to our eyes. Also, people are fawning over the performance of 6-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallis, which I think is also on him. You know why more films don’t feature 6-year-old leads? Because 6-year-olds aren’t interesting. A 6-year-old is still figuring out how to be a person in a fundamental way. However, by structuring the performance so that most of her lines were delivered in voiceover, he freed her up to focus on one aspect of performance at a time.

Also, I think this film has the most amazing sound design of the year. And the score is FANTASTIC (Zeitlin co-scored the film, by the way).

8) GANGSTER SQUAD (2013)

I hated this movie. The script seems to want to trot out every single cliché it could find in the gangster movie and cop movie genres, but the direction seemingly wanted to eschew the idea that films had been made before 1999. Dizzying – and anachronistic – camerawork could not cover the stench of this thing, however. The story and “characters” are well-worn, which perhaps was the point: People go to the movies to be entertained, to get lost in a story. Perhaps the producers of Gangster Squad thought that by sanding all the edges, they were offering a safe haven from the worries of the world. Remember, this was the movie that was recut after the Aurora, CO, attack, so as to remove a scene wherein some men shot up a movie house. Also, I saw this at a promo screening; I was surrounded by people, and many of them loved this movie. So what the hell do I know?

9) ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

So yeah, the movie is propaganda in a very fundamental way. It’s about a manhunt, the details of which were provided by the CIA after careful deliberation as to what the narrative it would release. This is actually public record, and the CIA, normally secretive, is very upfront about the control it exerts over films which recount its operations. So, in a very definition-of-the-word sense, yes, this film is propaganda.

All that said, it doesn’t matter. The filmmakers have no interest in pursuing a political agenda, or creating a narrative that services a nationalistic attitude. They may be hemmed in by what the agency was willing to share with them, but they took what they were given and made something remarkable. ZDT is pure story. Maya has one goal. Nothing is going to come between her and that goal, and nothing else stands a chance of getting anywhere near the attention she pays that goal. She will find Osama Bin Laden, and she will make sure he is killed.

I confess, the night it was announced that Seal Team Six had found and killed UBL, I had very mixed feelings. I have no fondness towards the man, but watching people take such relish in the murder of a fellow human being was ugly. His death doesn’t undo what he did, what he oversaw. I couldn’t talk to people about it, because there didn’t seem to be any in-between. It was all lesser angels, all the time.

And yet, I will say that in the course of this film, watching the bureaucratic detective story unfold, I was utterly spellbound. It’s common, re: films based on major real-life events, to say “But I already know the ending.” (Is this meant to be a joke? It doesn’t always sound like a joke, but I am incapable of someone saying it seriously.) This film doles out recent history in a way that pulls that knot in your stomach and doesn’t let go, even after it’s over. Yeah, torture produced some information; it also produced a whole lot of misinformation. And we found him after we’d stopped torturing. But the information that led us to his doorstep was built upon some of that torture-produced info, and also on dumb luck. The film wouldn’t dare say which is more important.

10) IN BRUGES (2008)

I watch this movie whenever I’m sick (as was the case this time). Or heartbroken. Or just in the mood to watch it. I saw In Bruges for the first time on my first trip to Los Angeles, on my first trip to the Arclight on Sunset Blvd, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2008. That was also the first time I ever hung out with my friend, and sometime writing partner, Nick Thurkettle. It makes it so, so, so much easier to have so many awesome memories attached to a movie that I genuinely, objectively love. Thanks, Martin McDonagh, for being part of one of the greatest days in my life.

11) COSMOPOLIS (2012)

David Cronenberg is a genius, and I will fight you with my fists if you say different. I’d seen Cronenberg films before A History of Violence, but that was the film that made me sit up and realize I was watching the work of someone remarkable. I know some people who write Cosmopolis off as a glorified late-night rant by a bong-addled Philosophy major. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to make a film that is people just talking endlessly about Big Ideas AND make it visually compelling AND make Robert Pattinson completely frakking awesome. This is David Cronenberg’s world, son…you best respect that.

12) YOUR SISTER’S SISTER (2012)

This movie was sort of my anti-Silver Linings Playbook, where I genuinely like everyone involved, but didn’t care for the movie that much. I think Lynn Shelton has proven herself time-and-again to be an interesting filmmaker, and I couldn’t love Mark Duplass/Emily Blunt/Rosemary DeWitt more. I thought Your Sister’s Sister started interestingly – I also love Mike Birbiglia – but ultimately ended on a rather pat note, which actually reinforces the SLP comparison.

13) JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012)

So. Much. Fun. I had no idea what to expect from this movie. Hell, I’ve seen the movie, and I’m still not sure what to expect. I just know that is was so. much. fun. Also, I don’t know if people were ever thinking about developing a Supernatural film, but clearly that need not happen now.

14) LIFE OF PI (2012)

The very first thing I heard about this film was “I’m an atheist and I liked it.” This piqued my curiosity, as it seemed a very strange reaction to a film. I grew up in a church, even studied to be a minister at one point. Faith and religion constitute one of the prisms through which I fire most things. So, again, piqued.

Yes, the film is visually striking. In addition to it being an exquisitely bittersweet moment given their recent bankruptcy, I would like to see Rhythm & Hues win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects as this movie pretty much lives or dies by its visual effects.

I can see why people like the film so much. It’s a decent discussion of something that matters to a whole mess of people. And it does this without judging anyone, saying that faith in and of itself is enough, and as long as you have faith in something bigger than yourself, you’re doing okay. I can get behind that. But you know, there were movies this year that left me dizzy with inspiration and awe. This was not one of them. I liked it, I did not love it.

I liked the sequence wherein Pi asserts himself and takes control of his nickname.

15) LIBERAL ARTS (2012)

“You think it’s cool to hate things, but it’s not. It’s boring.” Sometimes a movie is worth watching for one single, simple idea. Josh Radnor still has a way to go before I’d call him an interesting filmmaker, but his treatment of our relationship to culture and how we use it to define ourselves is worthwhile.

16) THE TENANT (1976)

Back in 2009, I went to a screening of Antichrist because I would be interviewing Lars von Trier for Creative Screenwriting Magazine. This was the first von Trier film I saw in its entirety. As soon as it was over, I thought “I need something else this guy has done.” Netflix sent me Dogville, and immediately upon finishing it I thought “I need to see EVERYTHING this guy has made.”

Before last November, I’d seen the major, mainstream Polanski films: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist. My brother-in-law is a huge fan, and when we found that Film Forum was showing Repulsion in 35mm while I was in NYC, he told me that he would never forgive me if I didn’t go see it. I arrived in NYC at the same time as a big ol’ snowstorm – and as I had packed for this trip weeks ago and was continuing on to NYC from a prior stop on this Atlantic voyage, I had not packed for snow at all. So I shuffled down 7th Ave, clutching my suit jacket to me and trying not to slip and fall. When I finally got to Film Forum, I bought my ticket and took a seat down front away from the other people in the audience. I loosened my shoes and draped my jacket over the seat next to me; finally, I was the crazy guy in the theater! So Repulsion was amazing and I told my brother-in-law that I wanted to see more of Polanski’s early work.

For Christmas, he gave me three of Polanski’s early films that I hadn’t seen. I threw in The Tenant first, because I wanted to finish the Apartment Trilogy. And immediately upon finishing it, I thought “I need to see EVERYTHING he’s ever made.”

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17) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

I did not expect to like this movie. David O. Russell and I have a mutual friend, and I have heard entirely too many awful things about the man to be anything near fond of him. That, coupled with people losing their shit over it at the Toronto International Film Festival and said things like “a real crowd-pleaser” and “you will stand up and cheer” which for some reason make me think things like “ugh” and “this will be insufferable.” But I was in Louisville working on a feature and one of actresses wanted to treat me to a movie for uploading an audition reel for her, and Silver Linings Playbook was playing down the street and Jennifer Lawrence is from Louisville so it just felt right to go see it. And then, well, it ended, and, well, I was speechless. No, not speechless. I was inspired. I wanted to run a few miles to the house of a friend I’d just met and sit and talk with her all night and be present and honest and talk about EVERYTHING. But the actress and I had plans to join some of the cast and crew for karaoke, so we did that. I mean, I wanted to be in the moment, but I also knew my new friend needed to work in the morning and it would be disrespectful to keep her awake all night or something DON’T JUDGE MY RATIONALIZATIONS.

Anyway, yeah, I really dug the movie. I’ve seen it three times now, and I feel confident in saying that the movie works for one simple reason: David O. Russell. Yeah, it’s a romantic comedy. Yeah, it builds to a pretty pat romantic comedy ending. Yeah, the “crazy” people in it are “Hollywood crazy” in that their mental illness is there for the plot, but ultimately not the hugest obstacle. But it works, because a broken person is writing broken people. I believed the stakes in this movie, mostly because it feels like Russell is bleeding onscreen for us. We want to believe that all of us, even the most thoroughly broken, are capable of giving and receiving love, and he presents that in a way that only he could have done. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Fighter, and I have the aforementioned issue with him as a man, but if he wins Best Director this year, I wouldn’t begrudge him that in the least.

18) ADAPTATION (2002)

The New England Patriots had just lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship, so I needed to watch something that would lift my spirits.

19) BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)

I love this movie. Love-Love-Love this movie. Top Ten Movies Of All Time Love this movie. I will jump at any chance to watch it. At dinner one night, my friend Amber revealed that she had never seen Boogie Nights. Now she has.

20) SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

My friend John makes it a point to watch every movie nominated for an Academy Award each year. So, I grabbed some screeners and joined John and his wife, Stephanie, for an Oscar Movie Day. We began with this, because one should always start at the bottom. We had a blast though, as we realized that the titular protagonists seemed to be literally in search of a second act, and then the dwarves were introduced and we didn’t know their names we named them ourselves. This led to the ginger dwarf being named Rapey, for reasons I believe are obvious. Spoiler Alert: Rapey is killed. After this, John and I made up “The Ballad of Rapey” and sang it as Stephanie tried to finish up some homework for an online nursing class or something.

21) MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)

The second film in our Oscar Movie Day. The first time I saw this movie, I really didn’t care for it. It seemed less like a story and more an assemblage of films Wes Anderson really likes and thinks you should check out. The main boy seems like if Fellini made The 400 Blows, and the main girl is like if Jean-Luc Godard made Matilda. It struck me as Criterion Collection: The Movie. Upon rewatching it, my opinion of it definitely increased. The adults are all fantastic, especially Bruce Willis. I still struggle to connect, as I think the hyper-stylization keeps things from feeling consequential, which especially stuck in my crawl when the SPOILER ALERT dog is killed. It’s like Wes Anderson got some people together to play war in his backyard, where everyone is safe, and because of this the death of the dog felt too close to a joke. But pretty much everyone I know and respect disagrees with me, so maybe I’m just wrong.

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22) SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)

The third and final film of our Oscar Movie Day. Easily one of my favorite films of 2012.

I’ve started writing this paragraph three times now, and every time it just seems inadequate. Martin McDonagh made something truly, utterly brilliant: An action buddy comedy about storytelling. In fact, why should I say anything when I can just let his film speak for itself?

“Yeah, I’m sick of all these stereotypical Hollywood murderer scumbag type psychopath movies. I don’t want it to be one more film about guys with guns in their hands. I want it… overall… to be about love… and peace. But it still has to be about these seven psychopaths, so this Buddhist psychopath, he… he doesn’t believe in violence. I don’t know what the fuck he’s going to do in the movie.”

23) WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

Funny, charming, definitely more Pixary-feeling than Brave. I have no problem putting this aside ParaNorman as the best animated films I saw this year. Both use worlds that their creators clearly love unabashedly, and have a heart beating within them that rang true to me. Plus, I love any movie that can make me think of The Iron Giant.

24) SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012)

Pirate this film and know shame.

Or don’t pirate it, and simply enjoy the story of a man who made music because that’s what he burned-burned-burned to do. And then buy the soundtrack.

25) END OF WATCH (2012)

Yeah, the guys are great in this movie and the atmosphere is fantastic and holy crap David Ayers made a movie that actually feels lived-in, but mostly I just love Anna Kendrick in everything and this is no exception. She’s adorable. I love her. I’ll stop, lest this get weird.

26) THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN (2012)

A minor-key romantic comedy, which I mean as a major compliment (this wordplay became obvious once I realized how best to describe this film). I love Jenna Fisher. Have forever, by which I mean for as long as I’ve been aware of her. Obviously most people know her from The Office, but she seems to be having a blast making movies that I and three other people see. Back in 2010, she did a movie called A Little Help that no one saw but I programmed in the film festival I was, um, programming. This isn’t about that, though. My only real qualm with the film is that Lee Kirk seems a stronger writer than director, but even that is a qualm I don’t totally stand behind. He clearly has an affinity for romantic comedies, and took the time to make one that never insults its audience’s intelligence or experience as human people. If you like romantic comedies, see this movie.

27) NO DISTANCE LEFT TO RUN (2010)

I watched this because a) I like Blur, and b) I saw it was made by the same guys that made the LCD Soundsystem documentary, which was one of my favorite films of last year. As stated, I like Blur, but wasn’t overly familiar with their history. This film tells the story in a way that feels complete and not overly edited by the band. They don’t shy away from discussing the impact their myriad addictions/romantic failures/egos had on the band and its prolonged hiatus. And of course, the moment it was over, I wanted to listen to nothing but Blur.

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28) RUST AND BONE (2012)

This movie was so good, I was late to a date because I had been misinformed as to when the film ended, and when I arrived at the restaurant my date had placed her to-go order and had absolutely no desire to see me in that moment, and yet still I wasn’t too upset because DAMN that movie was good. I should confess, I’m a pretty easy mark when it comes to stories of broken people connecting, so this was right up my alley. Also, I loved the way it portrays sex as something that can be casual until it isn’t. There is a moment towards the end when I worried about the film, thinking it wanted to suddenly play a card it really had not earned, but it pulled back and righted the ship and the final moment played and faded out and I turned my phone back on and saw the time and ran out of the theater and down the street to the Indian restaurant thinking simultaneously “Shit, I really hope she isn’t livid with me” and “Shit, that movie was REALLY good.”

29) DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY (2005)

Another movie I watch when sick, or heartbroken, or just in the mood. Personally, I’m not sure there’s a greater cinematic ode to joy than this film. The moment when the marching band is told that their weekend plans have been altered is transcendent, and that’s before the GREATEST CONCERT EVER STAGED happens.

30) THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2012)

I hated this movie. I had heard Rachel Weisz gives a time capsule performance in it, and I’d say that’s fair. And I suppose it’s possible that the people around her aren’t horrible, but I think the direction of the piece might be the worst I saw of the year. The film is adapted from a stage play, and it never feels like they did anything to adapt from one medium to another – aside from one brief sequence that, as it happens, is my favorite piece of the film. The story is has a Proustian construction, where the main thrust happens all in one day, yet is constantly going off into tangents of memory. Yet, when the moment comes in the last act, when you’re reminded that this has all been one day, it felt completely inconsistent with what I’d been watching. But yes, Weisz is excellent.

31) CASINO ROYALE (2006)

There was no way I was ending my night with The Deep Blue Sea, so I needed to throw something in that would wash the taste out of my mouth. I remember watching this movie in the theater with my Dad. Dad has always been a big Bond fan, as are most men of the Baby Boomer generation. When I was little, I would take VHS copies of Bond movies to the babysitter’s house and watch them in the hope that I would love them as much as he did and we’d share that. But I didn’t. At all. I never understood why people would go nuts over these movies. And then there’s the moment in Casino Royale where the dude jumps through the little hole at the top of the wall and then Bond just crashes through the wall in pursuit, I sat up in my seat and leaned forward: I suddenly cared about James Bond.

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