2000s

2000

102 Dalmatians — I know that I saw this. I think I saw this in theaters, actually. I don’t remember anything about it. Somehow, I suspect that’s for the best.

Almost Famous — Argh, mixed feelings. There’s definitely a basic effectiveness to the movie, so it’d probably be wrong to say that I don’t like it. I mean, I wasn’t bored, and I felt pretty good when the credits rolled, so there’s that. Simultaneously, it’s…kind of cheesy, right? I can’t be alone in that assessment. It exists in that middle ground where it’s sometimes sincere and sometimes comically sincere; in its best scenes, you can clearly see where the line is, but there are a lot of moments when it gets fuzzier and you don’t know if you should laugh or not. Ultimately, I have to be somewhere in the middle on this one; it entertained me but also confused me pretty thoroughly.

American Psycho — Hmmm. I definitely see what it’s trying to do, and the fact that I can see that without reading a thousand different interpretations suggests that, one way or another, American Psycho does what it set out to do. But I can’t say that it always dramatizes that very well or that it digs deeply enough for me to feel that it’s justified in invoking all the depravity on display here. It’s never boring, but it can be uncomfortable in a way that doesn’t end up as rewarding as you’d hope.

Amores Perros — It reminded me a bit of City of God (yes, I know it came out a few years after this, but I saw it first, so there) in that it generally tells its story pretty well, and I mostly knew exactly where the characters stood in relationship to one another and their own wants and needs. I have trouble making something larger out of it though — perhaps it’s a picture of the way our bad decisions spread the disease around? Then again, that’s not consistent with every step this movie takes. The only real message I took from it was “be nice to your dog.” Seriously, dog people — stay far, far away. It took me, like, four hours to watch this, because I had to take breaks to throw a ball to my dog a couple of times.

Battle Royale — I don’t know what it says about me as a human being that I liked this movie…but honesty compels me to inform you that I did. It’s weird because not only is this movie extraordinarily violent and not terribly redemptive in any immediately noticeable way, I’m also not sure it’s actually that good. The characters are thinly sketched, the plot mostly a string of violent death scenes. The only thing it’s really good at is managing its tone. I don’t know; it kind of reads as a really, really, really dark comedy to me, which is possibly why I don’t hate it. It’s so shrieky and melodramatic and over-the-top, but then again, so is most of the Japanese cinema I’ve seen, up to and including Kurosawa. I’ll say this — I wouldn’t watch it again, because I’m not going to subject myself that kind of violence unless I’m going to get something thematically worthwhile out of it. But I kind of liked it just the once. Is that okay?

Best in Show — This kind of subtle, dry humor is exactly the kind of thing I love most in comedies. This movie achieves an inspired level of stupidity. It’s mostly the performances and how tight they are; so many of these scenes aren’t so funny on the writing level as they are for the little reactions the characters have to one another (Jim Piddock becomes the reigning master of this by the end of the film). It’s played exactly as straight as it needs to be. It’s silly and weird, but it never goes out of its way to make sure you know it’s in on the joke. These characters truly do inhabit a world that makes sense to them, however bizarre their perspectives may be. And on top of that, you get a parade of adorable dogs, so thumbs up.

Cast Away — I think it has a couple of maudlin tendencies, and I might have paced it differently, but outside of that, it’s a really good movie. Visually, it’s some of the most evocative stuff Robert Zemeckis has ever done.

Chicken Run — It holds a special place in my heart, because when a friend of mine became the first kid in the neighborhood to own a DVD player, he got a copy of this, and we watched it pretty much all the time and were fascinated by the concept of scenes and menus and bonus features. Fortunately, it’s also a fun movie, well done in just about every respect, so long as you can get past its overly typical emotional through-line. It’s such a weird idea for a movie, but it never takes itself too seriously. At the end of the day, it’s still about hyper-intelligent chickens building complex machinery in an attempt to escape from a farm. And I love it.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — This was my introduction to wuxia. I haven’t seen many films in the genre since, but I plan to dig into those later on, because I really liked what I saw here. It takes a bit of time to get going; at the end of the day, the story and characters are both extremely simple. But that simplicity takes on its own charm. And the film is broad and straightforward and fantastical without being winking or ironic about it. And of course, Ang Lee is one of our great visual directors, and this movie is no exception. The action is absolutely brilliant.

Dinosaur — Okay. I was nine years old when this came out. You really don’t need to know anything other than that. When I saw Toy Story 2 in theaters, one of the trailers before the movie was for Dinosaur. And my parents will happily tell you that was my favorite part of the entire experience for that day. So, I rapidly became obsessed with Dinosaur, and if I hadn’t discovered Star Wars two years later, heaven only knows how long that obsession would’ve lasted. I think I watched this movie close to two or three times a week. So, I’m not sure how easily I’d be able to criticize this one. I did watch it again recently, and admittedly, it isn’t great. Kind of cheesy in places, and the effects, while revolutionary at the time, haven’t aged well (the decision to have the dinosaurs talk doesn’t help in this regard). But after it being that formative, I don’t think I could ever possibly dislike this.

The Emperor’s New GrooveWhyyyyyyyyyyy is this not a beloved Disney classic? It’s not the greatest of their animated films, but it’s the funniest by far. Warner Bros. kept trying to get the whole Looney Tunes movie thing down, but all they needed to do was adopt this as a reference point. It’s not really trying to tell a story; it’s an hour and a half of complete insanity, and every character contributes to the comedy in one way or another. That brief stretch toward the end where it starts to get kind of serious and emotional is definitely its weakest point, but outside of that, every second of this movie is completely hilarious.

Erin Brockovich — I loved the characters in this. I think it’s fitting that a movie about ordinary people taking on The Man introduces its cast as a series of stereotypes and then has every member defy them — to turn out to be complex people worth caring about. I just wish the story didn’t go into the usual “overworked parent not paying enough attention to family” zone; it’s so overdone, and it isn’t all that compelling in light of trying to stop a power company from poisoning people. I still thoroughly enjoyed it. 2000 was a good year for Soderbergh.

An Extremely Goofy Movie — I don’t know. It’s been a few years, so maybe I need to give it another whirl, but if I’m honest…I’m pretty sure I actually like this. I might like it even more than the original. I mean, neither’s a classic, but they’re both unpretentious fun. And for a direct to video animated movie, the visuals are actually pretty decent.

Fantasia 2000 — It probably has more to do with my preference for narrative over just about anything else, but I think I might be the one person alive who prefers this to the original. As always, some of the segments are better than others, but a few of the shorts here are outright excellent. I think it does a good job updating the premise with modern technology and techniques. I also love the way it varies the animation style so drastically — from CG to traditional to the classic Disney look to the anime-esque finale. There are some absurdly beautiful moments in this film, and for them, I’ll gladly forgive the considerably more juvenile and awkward host segments.

Gladiator — I have pretty mixed feelings about this one. I think it’s basically almost kind of sort of functional as a story, but only in a really loose sense. It’s enough that I think the big, easy moments hit the way they’re supposed to, but the slower bits had me more interested in the ceiling. Thematically, it’s all over the place, simultaneously condemning its subject matter and thriving off of it, too. It’s like a reverse Hunger Games where people use mass media not to inspire hope but to be better at redirecting brutality than the other guy. It might help if we got a sense of how Emperor Commodus’s rule is affecting anyone other than Maximus. It should be really complex, but it plays out as really simple. Still, I’ll always admire productions this ambitious where they manage to physically recreate other times and places in this really seamless way. So, I don’t know. You win some and lose some.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Great production design and costuming, terrible everything else.

In the Mood for Love — Very, very good. It taps into something very nuanced and interesting, even as it sometimes plays at the boundary of true naturalism. I like that the central relationship has an element of challenge to it; both protagonists feel complicit in their spouses’ cheating, so they engage with one another in part to prove to themselves that they wouldn’t do the same thing if they had been given the chance. And that leads the film to a very interesting place, where what you want for the characters isn’t unambiguously the right thing for them to do — or is it? The ending is crushing.

Meet the Parents — I saw this a couple of times when I was a teenager, but I don’t really remember it very well.

Memento — I think it might surprise people to hear this, given that I’m a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work, but I don’t love this movie. I like it, but I never felt compelled to see it a second time. I find that I like its premise for one reason only, and that’s the way the film takes what seems to be a simple situation with limited explanations and completely turns it on its head by the end (or rather, the beginning). Outside of that, though, I think it’s just a competent thriller that just so happens to be told in reverse.

Mission: Impossible II — I think I would like this movie if it was an hour shorter. It’s pretty satisfying through what feels to a first-time viewer like the climax, but then, it continues for another hour with action sequence after action sequence, all bigger than the last one but less and less emotionally involving. Finally, you just give up on it. This one’s in dire need of a little trimming.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? — I don’t know whether I’m alone in this or not, but comedy Coen is by far my favorite Coen.

Pitch Black — I changed the channel to this one night when I was bored, expecting a brainless horror movie. I was surprised to find that it actually entertained a few big ideas on a handful of philosophical concepts. Despite that, I still don’t really care for it. The story and characters are both average at best, and the visuals are static and lifeless. The creature design is pretty bad, too; the monsters just plain aren’t scary.

Remember the Titans — As cheesy, uplifting family sports movies go, this one’s all right. It’s a little more balanced than movies of this type tend to be, particularly those involving race. They assembled a pretty decent cast, too, which helps (even though all the actors playing teenagers look 30). All in all, it’s entertaining enough.

Requiem for a Dream — Harrowing, hallucinatory, disgusting, emotionally intense, no holds barred — basically what I suppose you’d want out of a movie about drug addiction. It’s an extremely distressing watch — but intentionally, and justified in the effort. I can’t say I’m apt to return to it particularly often, but it’s definitely a very good film all the same.

The Road to El Dorado — Even as a kid, I wasn’t really into this. Never felt the urge to give it another go.

Scream 3 — There really isn’t a rule of horror trilogies, so Scream 3 just decided to parody things that barely even exist to begin with. Which…okay, whatever. It’s really starting to tread that line between horror and comedy somewhat awkwardly, too. Still, I think that, as of this installment, the characters and the dopey universe started to grow on me, so I might not care for it overmuch, but I don’t hate it.

Snatch — It’s almost the exact same movie as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels — a darkly comic crime caper that weaves a dozen disparate subplots together in an intentionally coincidental game of cause and effect — to the point that I kind of wonder why Guy Ritchie even made it. At the same time, I think it might be even better constructed than LSATSB, so there’s that. It’s fun, if overly familiar.

Snow Day — Periodically amusing, but not particularly good on the whole.

The Tigger Movie — I definitely saw it, but if I thought I was too old for Winnie the Pooh years before this, I was set in those ways by this age. So, I couldn’t tell you if it’s good or not.

Titan A.E. — I wanted to like this, and it seemed like it’d be up my alley, but the characters were boring, and it seemed like very little imagination went into the designs of the aliens and worlds. There’s some pretty great animation on display, but that’s about all it has going for it.

Traffic — I’m still not a fan of Steven Soderbergh’s “exaggerated low-budget” style, though he otherwise directed this movie wonderfully. What’s more is the rock-solid script that somehow says everything you’d ever want to say about the war on drugs without sacrificing character and story or beating you over the head with things. You could make a really good argument that Traffic is the definitive movie about this subject.

Unbreakable — I like this at least as much as The Sixth Sense and might actually like it even more. Aside from the somewhat pretentious dialogue, I feel like this is as realistic a take on the superhero mythos as we’re ever going to get. It even finds a good use for Sleepy Bruce Willis. And this is the weirdest part Samuel L. Jackson has ever played. I’m still not sure if I even like him in it, but I am at least intrigued by him. I’m not a fan of the ending, of course; at least, if that was the route they were going to go, they should’ve dropped that reveal somewhere around the midway point. But I think this is a great, moody, atmospheric drama with a strong protagonist and decent questions at its core.

X-Men — I guess we can call it significant for successfully reviving the comic book movie. Honestly, I don’t care for it myself, and I never really did. I don’t think it balances all its characters well, and I’m always going to think that Wolverine is a boring protagonist who can’t carry a film on his own. The story feels like it just wanders in circles forever and then suddenly involves the heroes at the last possible second for a big climax that it doesn’t really earn. I’m just not a fan, I suppose.

2001

Amelie — It won me over somewhat late in the game, but it won me over nonetheless. It’s charming and sweet enough, and it certainly looks very nice. A lot of it left me cold for one reason or another. It’s slowly becoming clear to me that there are all sorts of varieties of weirdness that I’m perfectly fine with, but dry, quirky whimsicality seems not to be one of them, totally subjectively. But like I said, it did basically get me when it counted, so points for that.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire — Okay, it’s pretty explicitly made for 10-year-old boys, but would you look at that? I was exactly 10 when it came out. This and Dinosaur were the two movies in my rotation during this time period. I have revisited this a few times, and I keep expecting to find myself starting to dislike it, but honestly…I don’t. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I actually think this is a pretty good movie that was unfairly overlooked in its time. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling or anything, but it’s got a really likable cast, a fun tone, some great designs, decent action, an interesting world, and a unique visual style among the rest of its Disney counterparts. I would love to see this develop a following in the future.

A Beautiful Mind — It’s fine. It’s an Oscar drama. It plays out largely the way you’d expect. I’m not sure I’d like it except for the fact that I really, really love the way it reveals Nash’s schizophrenia. It’s not poking you in the eye with it for the first hour or so; you’re oriented entirely in his perspective, so you experience his “reality” in exactly the same way he does. So, when he learns that his government work and his best friend are hallucinations, the movie pulls the rug out from under you at the same time as life pulls the rug out from under the protagonist. That’s really clever, and it makes it much easier to empathize with Nash’s situation; you experience it alongside him. Also, this is some of the best work I’ve ever seen from Russell Crowe; it’s one of those capital-A ACTING performances, but it’s a rare one that feels totally natural in the moment. Crowe is affecting an accent, using odd facial expressions, and changing his gait, but it all feels like a part of the character. The makeup used to portray him as an old man is pretty impressive, too (less so for Jennifer Connelly, but it’s the thought that counts). The rest of the movie is really okay.

Black Hawk Down —  It’s difficult to say by what alchemy this film works. The characters are thinly sketched (and I generally have difficulty telling the main cast apart in these giant, cast-of-dozens war movies anyway). The entire film is one prolonged action sequence. There isn’t any real character development and little propping up the story emotionally. And it presses a lot of my worst war movie buttons, in that it’s too much of an action movie with calculated emotional beats. I’m not the sort of person who demands that war movies establish moral equivalence on all sides; there are some wars where that’s appropriate and others where it’s less so. I do, however, demand that war movies show a certain respect for the humanity of all involved; for a variety of reasons, I don’t think “Black Hawk Down” quite crosses that line. And yet, somehow, it’s engaging. I think that’s mainly because of Ridley Scott’s direction and his control over the tone and atmosphere. Other than that, I have no idea.

Dil Chahta Hai — India appears to wield some totally unsupervised control over the IMDB Top 250; my journey through that list has required me to view a few too many mediocre Bollywood hits. I don’t think this movie is terrible. It has its moments, but the majority of it is on the level of a soap opera. It’s extraordinarily cheesy, and even the bombastic musical numbers you see a movie like this for are lacking — really basic choreography, and they haven’t put any effort into making it at least look like the music is occurring in the scene and not just being dubbed over everything. Also, it’s three hours long.

Donnie Darko — A compelling sci-fi drama with an interesting premise. However, while I may disagree with the severity of it, I think I would agree with Roger Ebert that it builds for a payoff that never really comes. And it can indulge in some cheesy teen angst here and there. It’s one of those movies that makes for a very understandable cult classic, as it seems specifically designed to appeal to sullen teenage outsiders. So, I obviously don’t hold it up to classic status the way others do, but there’s enough of interest going on for me to recommend it.

The Fast and the Furious — There are a few fun moments, but it spends too much of its time fixated on its poorly-aged early 2000s cool. The script isn’t really there, and the performances are even less there.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius — Was this a cultural phenomenon for a few years? I have a memory from this age of this property turning into this massive thing that was pretty much everywhere. Between theaters, rentals, and TV showings, I definitely saw this movie a few times, but I pretty much abandoned it later in life. I’m not sure if it’s worth a revisit to see how it holds up.

Jurassic Park III — Frustratingly competent. It’s just so…empty. There’s more wrong with the second film on the most noticeable surface level, but at least there are sometimes awkward but still hopeful attempts at soul scattered in there. The same combination of magic and terror is just plain missing from this one. All it can hope to be is fun, and it isn’t really even that — it’s not actively awful, but every single one of its beats has been done better in one of its predecessors. The weakest of the original trilogy.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — A few years ago, I would’ve called the Chris Columbus Harry Potter movies the worst of the bunch. Now, I’m not so sure. I mean, I’ll admit up front that this thing is cheesy something fierce, and despite being two and a half hours long, the story only takes up, like, a fourth of that. But now that I’m older, I find there’s something wonderfully nostalgic about it. It’s childlike and innocent and feels like one of the last family films that really captured a sense of magic and wonder, just before the rest of the industry starting making family films loud, manic affairs stuffed to the gills with fart humor and pop culture references. There’s a lot that I don’t like about it, but its tone keeps me coming back for more.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring — The Lord of the Rings trilogy ranks highly on my list of all-time favorites, and I nearly always rank it in my Top 10. At the end of the day, they all tell the same story, so I don’t really see them as individual films so much as one film in three installments. As such, I don’t really have a favorite; each of them needs the others. But if I had to pick one, it’s probably this. It has the same strengths and weaknesses as the films that followed it, but the strengths — its characters, its visuals, its world-building, its masterful sense of tone and atmosphere — are augmented, and the weaknesses — bloat, bloat, and more bloat — aren’t as glaring.

Max Keeble’s Big Move — For some reason, there was a brief period in my life when this movie was very important to me. That lasted a few months, maybe, and then, I never saw it again. Don’t know if I should fix that or not.

Monsters Inc. — Not one of Pixar’s greatest, as it doesn’t reach the same emotional depths as the studio’s other films. But as a piece of pure fun, it’s tough to beat. I really, really admire the premise of this movie and the imagination that went into developing a world around it. Plus, the humor is basically 100 percent effective, and a lot of that comes out of a particularly memorable and absurd cast of characters.

Mulholland Drive — Usually, I either thoroughly enjoy films like this or stare at them in complete bafflement. Mulholland Drive marks the first time I’ve been in both states simultaneously for the length of an entire movie. I regularly had no clue what was going on, and yet, with the exception of some of the scenes with Justin Theroux early on, I was thoroughly engrossed. I think I side with those who say most of the film is a dream/fantasy, and the climax and the scenes preceding it are mostly literal. But there’s still a lot that doesn’t make a bit of sense to me. And yet I loved it. Go figure.

Ocean’s Eleven — I know the cardinal sin among film snobs is naming the remake superior to the original, but there really is no comparison here. The heist is actually interesting and takes up more than fifteen minutes of the movie’s run-time; the plot doesn’t spend over an hour going absolutely nowhere; and it’s possible to tell the characters apart and know what their role in the plan is. It’s fun, but it’s still kind of shallow. It isn’t very interested in making you feel a thing for any of these characters. Only Ocean himself gets any kind of relatable motivation, and even that suffers from some confused messaging (basically, he wrecked his marriage because he’s a thief, so he’s decided to save it by continuing to be a thief while also proving that his ex’s new man doesn’t care about her, because clearly these two men are her only choices in this world). I nitpick. I had a decent time.

Osmosis Jones — Again, as I said about Antz — movie studios need to realize that children internalize what they see on the screen and, in their own way, view it all as real. So, it should’ve been obvious to everyone at Warner Bros. that Osmosis Jones has huge “traumatize for life” potential. Yeah, they’re white blood cells, but they otherwise look exactly like people, so to see them getting slashed into gooey messes and exploded with heat while they scream and writhe and their freaking eyeballs pop out of their sockets…that’s pretty messed up. Again, I haven’t seen this in forever, but I remember all of that in detail. But I was old enough to know that this movie is mostly just disgusting, and it’s not particularly funny.

The Others — This is a really good horror movie. Or maybe it would be better to call it a suspense thriller. It’s more dark and atmospheric than it is scary. But I love this creepy house and these creepy sets and the way everything feels so dark and hollow. You can hear the creaks in the floorboards; the whole tone is naturally ominous without stretching. And this is another one of those twist endings that I just love. It’s hard to talk about it without spoiling it, but it’s definitely a new and interesting take on the old-fashioned ghost story.

Planet of the Apes — I also have to make an exception for this. I haven’t seen the whole thing, but I have tried. As with Godzilla, I just got so bored watching it that I decided I had better things to be doing with my time. For being such a distinct director, Tim Burton didn’t really bring anything particularly interesting to this story. It’s just a generic action movie.

Recess: School’s OutRecess was the show I watched every morning before catching the bus to school, but it’s one of those relics of my childhood that I haven’t had the opportunity to return to. I remember a lot about the theatrical movie but not enough to make a definitive statement on it. Maybe I’ll get around to it someday.

Shrek — I don’t know whether or not it should be considered surprising that this wound up being one of the most culturally iconic films of its decade. I don’t think it’s good enough to deserve that; it’s still got that overdone plotline where everyone misunderstands everyone else and decides to sulk instead of communicating like a person and all that. But for what it’s worth, it is a fun movie and a relatively funny one as well, and Shrek is a lovably unusual protagonist.

Spirited Away — Just absurdly beautiful. I regret so much that I wasn’t raised on Hayao Miyazaki. Not that there’s anything wrong with Disney Renaissance movies, but still. Both visually and emotionally, Spirited Away is absolutely resplendent. And that’s unusual, given what a brazenly weird and, frankly, kind of disgusting movie it is. On paper, it’s not the sort of thing I should like at all; in practice, it’s jaw-dropping in its creativity and detail.

Spy Kids — It still sometimes blows my mind exactly how critically acclaimed this movie is. I was in the target audience, and even then, I thought it was dumb. I saw it again a few years later, and I still thought it was dumb. I don’t feel the need to return to it anytime soon.

Training Day — Functional. Mostly entertaining. Kind of stupid in a way it has absolutely no clue about.

Waking Life — I enjoyed this more than I was expecting to. While it’s true that I’m a fan of Richard Linklater’s work, the idea of a really abstract, bizarre, animated film that’s just one scene of philosophical discussion after another was off-putting to me. But I found I was interested in a lot of those conversations. It strikes me as a film that’s better viewed in segments than as a whole; it asks so much mental heavy-lifting of you that trying to comprehend everything in one sitting is exhausting. By the end, I was drifting away during some of the philosophical bits and not attending to them the way they deserved. But yeah, even though there are a couple of segments of what I can only describe as stoner nonsense tossed in there, I mostly found this interesting. However, I did, admittedly, hate the animation.

Y tu mama tambien — I’ve decided not to have an opinion on this one. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it.

Zoolander — Apparently, my taste in comedy is totally apart from most other people’s. There are so many comedy cult classics that don’t really do anything for me. This is one of them. One or two moments got a chuckle out of me, most of them courtesy of Will Ferrell. But mostly…I don’t know. I didn’t get it.

2002

28 Days Later — I tried, but I’m just not a fan. There’s a lot about it that’s good but nothing that crosses the line into greatness. There are characters and arcs and themes there, but all of them seem either loosely connected or poorly executed. Visually, it’s just bad, the last thing you’d expect from a director like Danny Boyle. I understand that the raw, in-your-face, low-budget approach is deliberate, but it just doesn’t work one bit. It’s colored in eye-splitting yellow-green, and there are too many Dutch angles and claustrophobic close-ups and disruptive edits. The geography is really poor — not just in chase scenes (though especially there) but even in scenes where characters are just talking to each other. I guess it’s supposed to be an uncomfortable, unpleasant movie, but it expressed both of those things in such a way that just left me cold, the way I feel after I watch a bad exploitation movie. Sorry.

Adaptation. — This movie’s like one of those pictures where someone holds up a mirror in front of another mirror and the image becomes infinite. No one could possibly say it lacks originality. What a weird, insane, twisted piece of work. Watching it was like having an out-of-body experience; it’s about ITSELF, and when the story catches up to reality, it’s like watching a movie that’s being made in real time, right in front of you. The feeling of it is indescribable. Also, Charlie Kaufman is in my brain, having my thoughts — I relate so, so much to his character’s nervous tics, social anxieties, and crippling self-doubt. It’s exaggerated for comic effect, but Kaufman describes it perfectly. I’m very curious how much of this is true, particularly the extent to which his self-insert is accurate — he’s quite brave if it is. I’m now told that he never pitched this, just wrote it and turned it in — to have been a fly on the wall when he handed this madness to a bunch of unsuspecting suits. Susan Orlean must be a heck of a good sport to sign off on this.

Analyze That — This seems to put me somewhat in the minority, but I don’t think it’s substantially better or worse than the first one. They’re both okay. This one is broader and a touch dumber, but it also does a better job remembering that comedies are supposed to have jokes sometimes. Neither one is particularly well plotted. It’s basically amusing.

Big Fat Liar — I have seen it and forgotten about it almost entirely.

The Bourne Identity — I like this movie, as well as the other Bourne movies (sans, ahem, a certain, more recent installment). But I’ve never really been on board with their status as some of the great modern action movies. They’re compelling enough, but none of them have ever really transported me.

Catch Me if You Can — I don’t think it qualifies as vital Spielberg, but it’s still pretty fun. It strikes exactly the right tone — light enough to stay spirited and entertaining and grounded enough that the emotional beats land. The father/son themes go a long way to get it around the fact that it’s kind of a movie about a criminal who gets away with it and becomes a millionaire. It could easily have been obnoxious, but it isn’t — mostly because Leonardo DiCaprio plays the part more as a misguided teen having fun trolling the highest levels of society than a selfish criminal mastermind. Tom Hanks is good, too, mixing his trademark American decency into a character who’s kind of an ineffectual loser. They play well off one another, and I buy that the characters stayed friends after they finally got on the same side of the law.

Chicago — I’m not the best person to critique this sort of thing. I really enjoy the idea of musicals, but my experience is almost always underwhelming in practice. I really love some of the individual sequences, but on the whole, I find them exhausting — they basically shout their feelings at you, and by the end, my emotional reservoir is fully depleted. This one is all right. Story’s simple but okay; performances vary in quality. I like the idea of the musical numbers mainly occurring in the protagonist’s head but wish the movie had done more with that — given us a more interesting line into her perspective. Some of the numbers are excellent (“Cell Block Tango” is badass), but the movie definitely exhausted the full variety of show tunes somewhere around the two-thirds mark. Mixed bag; I enjoyed parts of it but don’t feel like I’ll ever need to see it again except for a scene or two.

City of God — This is one of those movies that covers so much territory that even though it left such a striking impact on me, it’s difficult for me to say much about it. Its effects are elusive. But it’s passionate and relentless and admirably apolitical. It seems interested in capturing only the reality. And that reality is grim and astonishingly disturbing, but the film isn’t cynical, and I appreciate that about it.

The Country Bears — You all really will have to forgive me for the ridiculous number of bad movies I saw in the early 2000s, especially when compared to the great ones I haven’t seen. I was still a preteen at this point, if you’ll recall, and even when I started getting a little bit smarter, I still had three younger siblings and had to see a lot of terrible family films. That said, I remember nothing about this. I am familiar with its reputation, though.

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course — I was just the biggest Steve Irwin fan when I was a kid. Just loved the guy. And I love that I live in a world where some guy who manhandles venomous snakes for a living got a theatrical film that was scripted as an action movie…but where the main character was basically just making another episode of his TV show while the plot happened entirely in the background. I remember a lot about this in terms of images and what it was about, but not enough to comment on its quality. I actually feel like I need to see this movie again if only to appreciate the strangeness of the whole affair.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — I like it, too, for a lot of the same reasons I like The Sorcerer’s Stone. They were some of the last truly innocent, magical family adventures, no pretense or subversiveness. This one might be better, actually, considering that it has an actual plot that’s happening from the beginning of the film until the end of it instead of 45 minutes of plot wedged between sequences of unrelated whimsy. It’s still hard to understand how not a one of these films is less than two hours long, and most are substantially longer, but this is still highly enjoyable.

Hero — Reviewing Zhang Yimou movies is almost pointless. Everything is secondary to how absurdly gorgeous they are. I get so lost in their visuals that I halfway lose my ability to tell whether or not I’m responding to the story. I’m kind of curious how bad one of his movies would have to be for his direction not to save it. Here, the visuals so overpower the rest of the film that I almost forgot that it ends on a lukewarm embrace of nationalistic violence as the only path to peace. I’ll confess that “Hero” can be a bit repetitive at times and sometimes loses its emotional continuity as it reframes its story, but OOH PRETTY COLORS SO SHINY.

Ice Age — It’s a pretty enjoyable movie with a solid sense of humor and good intentions with its storytelling, even if not all of them pay off. It’s a fun watch. It’s just not quite fun enough to justify the fact that children the same age I was when this originally came out are currently anticipating its latest sequel.

Infernal Affairs — Compared to its loose American remake, The Departed, this is the leaner, slicker version, definitely made with more of an eye on entertainment than anything larger. It has the advantages and disadvantages you’d expect based on that. It’s a pretty involving film, despite skirting around some of the extra development and grit The Departed brings to the scenario. And also despite the fact that it can occasionally hit its emotional beats hard enough to tread into unintentional comedy (the death scenes — just…the death scenes). Still, solid action flick.

Insomnia — A morally complicated and consistently interesting detective story, featuring some fine work from Al Pacino and Robin Williams.

Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie — I grew up on VeggieTales. It occurs to me that based on much of what I’ve said in my reviews that this is likely to garner a reaction along the lines of, “Okay, that explains a lot.” Whatever. Otherwise, I’ve seen it and remember bits and pieces (occasionally, I will seize the opportunity to throw the phrase “THEY SLAP PEOPLE WITH FISHES” into everyday conversation), but I’ve forgotten the majority of it.

Ju-on: The Grudge — The longer I live, the more I suspect that maybe I just don’t like horror movies that much. Anyway, there’s definitely something of note happening here. It’s very different from its American remake in that it heavily favors imagery and atmosphere over jump scares, and it’s actually kind of decent at it. A few of the scares don’t quite work, but plenty more are appropriately unsettling. And I like the uniqueness of its story being more a series of loosely connected vignettes than a single, continuous narrative. But at the end of the day, for me, none of that did enough to disguise the fact that it’s just 90 minutes of different people being haunted in repetitive ways in a series of stories with no obvious overarching point. This could be half an hour longer or shorter without changing a thing.

Like Mike  — I had to have seen this dozens of times when I was a kid (my brother was determined that he was going to be in the NBA when he grew up, so this was a great piece of wish fulfillment for him). I don’t understand how it’s possible, because we never owned a copy. Was it really just on TV that often? Whatever. Either way, I don’t remember this.

Lilo & Stitch — As Disney movies go, this one’s pretty far out of the company’s usual wheelhouse. It has a really strange science fiction setting mixed with, of all things, the most kitschy version of Hawaii it could cook up. There’s definitely some crazy genre-mixing going on here, but surprisingly, it all works really well. The two leads are adorable and hard not to like; the side characters are amusing; and there’s something actually quite involving in the relationship between the two sisters. And you get all that in addition to some cool ship chases and laser battles, so all’s well.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — Again, gun to my head, this is probably my least favorite of the trilogy. It picks up where the first one left off and sets pieces in place for the third installment, and it doesn’t get to be its own entity to the same extent. The Fellowship of the Ring tackles the weight of responsibility as the heroes begin their journey, and The Return of the King is the epic, majestic conclusion to that arduous quest. The Two Towers is the one where…everyone just keeps journeying. But it’s a testament to the power of this incredible trilogy that it’s still a fantastic film that develops its characters as well as it can, keeps building the world (always going the extra mile with sets and costuming), and raises the stakes. And of course, the Helm’s Deep sequence is one of the great movie battles. This is still an important part of the overall story.

The Master of Disguise — …Yes, I saw this when I was a child. Yes, I have forgotten everything about it. No, I do not intend to ever see it again. Yes, it is time to stop talking about it. Next.

Men in Black II — What a mess. It’s a house of cards of emotionally hollow relationships that don’t add up to anything, and nothing builds at all. Plus, it tries to tell two or three different stories only to immediately get bored with them and forget them entirely within two scenes. And the characters don’t act in a way that’s recognizably human and consistent with the psychologies the series has established for them. It’s all over the place.

Minority Report — I don’t know that there are a whole lot of people who would argue this is one of Spielberg’s best movies, but not a lot of people would argue against its quality either. This is really solid science fiction with a unique premise, and the story lives up to that promise, exploring the implications of its world to the best of its ability. As seems to be a problem, for me, with pretty much every movie Tom Cruise appears in, this doesn’t have as interesting a cast of characters as you’d expect from a Spielberg movie. But it more than makes up for it with the mystery and sheer power of its narrative, as well as the interesting details of the world it creates.

Panic Room — A mediocre script saved and even elevated by David Fincher’s tense and fluid direction and a strong cast all around.

The Pianist — I think this is kind of the movie Schindler’s List wanted to be, or at least one of the movies Schindler’s List wanted to be. Schindler’s List is telling two stories; one is the story of Oskar Schindler’s heroism, and the other is essentially a comprehensive overview of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. In telling both, it begins to lose the Jewish voice in the latter. The Pianist is considerably less comprehensive; it never even gets to the concentration camps. But the more richly established humanity of the scant few characters involved makes the tragedy that much more real and gut-wrenching. I think of this as very much the superior film.

Punch-Drunk Love — I would say that I generally like this movie, if only because I respect what it’s doing and how it accomplishes that in places. Mostly, though, I just find this movie incredibly strange, to a degree that it becomes a little off-putting.

Reign of Fire — I don’t know how a movie about guys fighting dragons with machine guns and heavy explosives could be boring, but there you have it. This movie finds a way.

Return to Never Land — You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unnecessary and half-hearted sequel.

The Ring — It isn’t bad, exactly; in some ways, it’s an improvement over its predecessor (yes, I know declaring an American remake better than its foreign original is blasphemous in cinephile circles) — the imagery is much stronger, the atmosphere much heavier, and things actually happen between the major plot points. I just don’t find the story or characters very interesting. I can’t think of many movies that explored the ghost/demon’s backstory and emerged with something that was actually compelling. The Ring is no different.

Road to Perdition — Nice-looking, and Thomas Newman’s score is beautiful. I was just expecting more from it. It opens with the little boy’s voiceover about how people debate whether Michael Sullivan was a decent man; he says he was on the road with him and “this is our story.” Okay, I thought — this is going to be a character study probing a complicated character; these two will go on a journey and we’ll glean some sort of insight from their interactions together. And then the little boy mostly doesn’t matter and the plot is pretty straightforward crime/revenge stuff, and we don’t learn much of anything about Sullivan other than a handful of mob movie cliches. It feels like it’s just going through the motions, in spite of a scattered handful of powerful moments. Entertaining, but very surface-level overall.

The Rookie — I saw this when it came out, but I’ve forgotten it.

The Santa Clause 2 — I’ve seen this, but I remember absolutely nothing about it. This was the one where he got married, right? I can’t even remember who played the wife. It’s been a while.

Scooby-Doo — I suppose loathing your source material is an option for an adaptation, even if it’s not my personal favorite one. I’d rather you like it in some way. This movie just can’t make up its mind, though. It coasts on the characters and iconography and then ruthlessly mocks them and the tropes of the show and whatnot. And I’m definitely glad we eventually got over this thing where all of our PG-rated family flicks were determined to be as risque as possible. People who say the MPAA isn’t strict enough — you’re aware that just over a decade ago, a guy could switch bodies with a girl and make jokes about looking at himself naked in a PG movie, right?

Signs — The plot makes absolutely no sense however you dissect it. But there was a time when M. Night Shyamalan was capable of turning simple and innocuous things into endless sources of tension and suspense. Signs is a masterwork of atmosphere, enrapturing its audience. It may fall apart in the mind afterward, but it’s a great ride up until then.

Snow Dogs — I think we all have that weird movie from when we were kids where it was largely regarded as terrible and no one really saw it, but we became weirdly obsessed with it anyway. This was mine. It probably sucks. I haven’t revisited it. I don’t know that I particularly plan on it.

Spider-Man — As I’ve said in the past, I don’t seem to enjoy these movies as much as everyone else, but I’m coming retroactively to appreciate them a little more. I don’t know that their mixture of sincere drama and cheesy comic book stuff always gels, but I respect them for the extent to which those two things at least work independently. Plus, at least these early comic book movies had the decency not to take themselves too seriously. They were all right with being silly, even if it was a somewhat dark variety of silliness here and there.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron — I liked it when I was a kid, but I’d need to see it again to really commentate on its quality.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams — I have the same feelings toward this as to the first one. I just don’t understand the critical acclaim these movies received.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones — You’ll have to see my 1900s page for a fuller explanation of my minority thoughts on the prequels. This movie is kind of close to my heart, because it was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw. (It was also my first drive-in movie.) So, in May of 2002, the obsession began. I think in retrospect, though, I’ve actually come to view this as the worst of the Star Wars prequels. Everybody hates on The Phantom Menace, but at least it’s breezy and fun and not particularly ponderous. This one hinges on a romance that doesn’t even start working, on any level whatsoever. Still, I don’t know. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but there are plenty of wonders to behold, mixed in with the always lovable and strange universe these movies inhabit, plus some cool action and a suitably epic climax.

Stuart Little 2 — It’s been a while. I saw it a few times in my preteens/early teens. I don’t remember ever disliking it, but I’d have to see it again.

Treasure Planet — This is the most underrated entry in the entire Disney animated canon, as far as I’m concerned. The world it creates could not possibly be cooler, the animation is just gorgeous, the characters are simple but a lot of fun, the alien designs are completely insane, and everything is nicely fast-paced and adventurous. I really like it. I wish everyone else did, too.

Whale Rider — It’s all right. INCREDIBLE THOUGHTS INCREDIBLE MINDS SO MANY GREAT IDEAS INSIDE IT’S A MIRACLE MY HEAD CAN CONTAAAAAIN THEEEEEEEEM

2003

2 Fast 2 Furious — Dumber than the first one, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. Some of the action sequences are enjoyably over-the-top, and it’s nice that the supporting cast actually contributes in some way this time around. But I couldn’t possibly have cared less about the story and characters. There’s no life in this movie when cars aren’t driving fast.

Agent Cody Banks — This was one of those movies where I was scrolling through Wikipedia’s list and thought, “Oh, wow, that was a thing that existed.” Culture just kind of forgot about this thing, didn’t it? And…so did I.

Anger Management — Sucks. Not funny. Next.

Big Fish — This is probably Tim Burton’s weirdest movie. And that is saying a lot. It’s so weird that I’m not even entirely sure what I think about it. I mean, at the end of the day, I always give these movies a pass for at least daring to be different and have actual ambitions. There’s a lot of great visual stuff throughout, and this series of fantastical adventures is periodically amusing, depending on the subplot. I think my main issue is that in the central father/son conflict, I sided with the son more than it seems the movie wanted me to. Plus, I’m sure everything in this movie was symbolic of something, not that it ever helped sort that out. But I admire what it’s trying to do. Whatever that may be.

Bruce Almighty — It’s entertaining a few more big ideas than your average comedy, or even your above-average comedy. Still, I don’t care for Jim Carrey, I don’t find it all that funny, and I don’t think the big emotions always stick. I give it credit for trying, though.

Cheaper by the Dozen — I have seen it and forgotten it.

Cold Mountain — Kind of feels like one of those fake trailers you see in comedies for a movie that’s designed to win a ton of Oscars. The stereotypical bland period romance. It gets somewhat better as it goes and becomes more and more detached from the romantic plot, which takes the “love at first sight” angle but manages to infuse exactly no passion whatsoever into it. The cinematography is consistently lovely; I’ll give it that. And then there’s…wait, what, is that Jack White, why is Jack White in this movie?

Daredevil — I don’t remember the specific senses in which this was bad, because it’s been a few years. I only remember repeatedly thinking, “Hey, this is bad.”

Darkness Falls — Caught it on cable once back when I was still in college and had enough free time in my life to actually be bored enough to watch TV. It was awful, of course.

Elf — About the only Will Ferrell performance I love with my whole heart. This movie is hilarious. I mean, yeah, it’s childish, but that’s part of its charm. Its only real weak point for me is that moment during the climax where it tries to have real emotions and to tap into the true meaning of Christmas or whatever. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is pure silliness, and it’s pretty great.

Finding Nemo — If I loved Finding Nemo any more…Actually, I don’t even know what that would look like. Because I could not love Finding Nemo any more than I currently do. There really isn’t any aspect of this movie that isn’t great — its characters, its central relationships, its humor, its sense of adventure, its rich emotion, and, of course, THAT ANIMATION. So pretty.

Freaky Friday — This movie really shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s definitely surprising that it actually works on some level. This is mainly because the leads are actually well cast; when the movie calls for them to start playing each other, they sink into that pretty effortlessly. It’s not genius or anything, but it’s pretty funny and largely works in the way it intends.

The Haunted Mansion — I don’t hate this as much as everyone else. On a narrative level, as well as a comedic one, it doesn’t really work at all, but I wouldn’t call it actively awful, just…kind of bad. And to its credit, there is some really fantastic production design going on in this thing.

Holes — One of the better Disney live action movies, maybe even one of the best. I’m surprised this didn’t take the world completely by storm when it came out. It’s surprisingly intelligent and has some insight into its characters, and it knows how to strike a tone that is both serious and emotionally involving while still playful enough to entertain a couple of hammy performances and silly storytelling moments. It’s a really balanced and varied film that covers a lot of ground in terms of its genre and style, and yet, it doesn’t have any major outstanding weaknesses. Good film.

Hulk — I appreciate its ambition and some of what it’s trying to do, but I think it’s a huge mess on the whole — confusing, disjointed, flat, trying much too hard visually.

Johnny English — Eh. I’d love to say something more interesting than that, but that’s about all I’ve got. Occasionally amusing. Never laugh out loud funny. Eh.

The Jungle Book 2 — Man, Disney was fond of short, unnecessary, effortless sequels to their classic animated films around this time period, wasn’t it?

Kill Bill: Volume 1 — Ah, mixed feelings, thy names art Quentin Tarantino. As with anything he directs, I liked this more than I wanted to, and I felt extremely guilty for it afterward, because I’m pretty sure enjoying this even a little bit makes me a bad person. And yet, as with anything he directs, it’s morbidly compelling in a way I can’t even describe. He directs like a rock band in the throes of its greatest drum solo ever. Still, eventually, somebody’s got to point out the senses in which the emperor’s got no clothes — his insistence on telling almost every story he commits to film out of order has nothing to do with anything other than some inexplicable personal preference; his films exist largely to expound upon his encyclopedia-like knowledge of cinematic trash throughout history; and anybody who thinks his use of violence is some sly commentary needs to get disabused of that notion, like, right now, preferably by watching literally any of his interviews. This isn’t even a story; every motivation lacks so completely in psychological depth that the whole thing is a complete mystery. But not a single second of it is boring. Extremely uncomfortable in ways the movie probably doesn’t intend, sure. But definitely not boring. Either way, I kind of want the guy to start making bad movies so I don’t have to deal with exploring the dark parts of me that enjoy them. Because this is really good, and I kind of hate that about it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — How in the world did they make a boring movie out of this premise? Just…how?

Looney Tunes: Back in Action — I don’t remember this very well. There seems to be some general consensus that it got a little closer than Space Jam, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly well regarded either. I don’t know if I’ll see it again to revise my opinion.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — What can I say? The epic conclusion to one of my favorite film sagas of all time. Like I said, I see all three of these as being important pieces of the same story, so picking a favorite is kind of pointless. If I had to, it would be The Fellowship of the Ring, but The Return of the King is a close second. It’s a pretty great piece of spectacle and visual wonderment, but with a beating heart underneath it all. Its main flaw is that out of the whole trilogy, this one suffers the most from bloat and excess. The Battle of Minas Tirith is practically the climax of this film for all that goes into it in scale and emotion. And then, the film reminds you that we’ve actually gone something like 45 minutes without sight or sound of the trilogy’s hero, and we get an extra half hour of that with an additional battle on top of it. There’s definitely some weariness setting in by the time it gets to its seventh or eighth ending. But it’s still a spectacular work and has thoroughly earned its reputation.

Lost in Translation — A very sweet, detailed, and well-performed portrait of two lost souls discovering one another and finding there a place where they belong. Sophia Coppola is such a delicate hand behind the camera. It moves smoothly, gently, and unobtrusively. She finds the best-looking shots in the most ordinary situations. Both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson do excellent work here — emphasis on the former, who’s walking a really difficult tightrope. In a lot of ways, he’s playing his usual comic persona, but it’s one that’s been transplanted into reality; he has to play it with a sense of real-world complexity and consequence. And he does it really well. I guess if I have a complaint, it’s that the film maybe doesn’t use its time as well as it could. It spends way too long on every emotional beat; I mean, how many times do we see Scarlett staring off into space before she and Bill Murray even meet? There were times when I wanted to tell the movie that I got the idea and wanted to move on. Nevertheless, there’s something quite beautiful on display here.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — For me, a bit on the slow side in places but otherwise an entertaining and extremely well-crafted film with tons of scale and clear ambitions to greatness.

The Matrix Reloaded — It didn’t strike me as being quite as bad as its reputation, but that’s possibly because of the fact that I don’t care for the first movie all that much and therefore had no stake in this. It strikes me mainly as an expansion of the flaws in the first — mainly its flat, unexpressive characters and its leaden dialogue, composed of 50 percent exposition and 50 percent indecipherable philosophy, all of it as wooden and boring as possible. And it’s much, much too action-heavy. The first movie had a good balance, but there isn’t a single action beat in this movie that doesn’t go on at least five minutes too long. The last two-thirds of this movie consist almost entirely of overstretched martial arts sequences.

The Matrix Revolutions — It seems like I’m in the minority here, but I actually prefer this to Reloaded. It isn’t any better in terms of characterization or themes, but it’s a lot simpler with far less droning expository dialogue, the action is a lot more varied and interesting, and it doesn’t feel nearly as overstretched. Unfortunately, it’s still a Matrix sequel.

Memories of Murder — More plot- than character-driven, so it isn’t quite my taste, but it’s got enough of both that I still really liked it. It knows how to send a message without judging its characters; it puts you in their position well enough that their mistakes and wrongdoings are relatable on some level. The weird comic tone lends an interesting life to what is ultimately a tragic, sobering story. Very well done overall.

Mystic River — It wobbles right on the edge of greatness without really falling definitively on either side. I actually think I’d like it better if it were more grounded — I don’t like the way it amps up the mystery element and turns into this organized crime story where everyone’s bearing these really dramatic secrets. The parts of it that are about an ordinary family dealing with a horrible loss find the movie at its best. I think that within that context, it works just as well as a blanket condemnation of rash behavior, violence, and revenge. Also, Tim Robbins is pretty much at his career best here; his character is so well-realized in his tragedy as to make you sick to your stomach. There’s excellence in it, even if I would stop short of calling the film itself excellent.

Oldboy — I went into this film knowing it was going to be extraordinarily screwed up, and I left it feeling like no amount of foreknowledge could’ve spared me the shock of exactly how screwed up it is. Man, this thing is twisted. It’s definitely got that “artsy grindhouse” thing going on, and I’m not ordinarily fond of it. I don’t mind it so much in Oldboy, though, because other than maybe the one-shot corridor fight, it’s hard for me to believe that most of the violence in this is supposed to be fun. I don’t think it glorifies it. I mean, it’s not the most interesting film that’s ever told the story of people driving themselves to madness out of a desire for vengeance, but it follows the formula pretty well. Of course, the storyline here could not possibly be more far-fetched or overly convoluted, and when all is said and done, the choice that set it in motion is kind of a silly one. Depending on who you are, that’s either going to be part of the fun, or it’s going to be the movie’s Achilles heel. For me, it’s a bit of both. I think the movie arbitrarily works a little bit too hard to be twisted solely for the sake of impressing people with how twisted it is, but it’s hard to deny that there’s something morbidly compelling going on underneath.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — As far as I’m concerned, the last great adventure movie of its era. After this, we segued into dark, gritty action and ponderousness. And to date, I still revisit it for a breath of joyous, spirited, boyish, adventurous air in a climate that’s only just now beginning to tolerate that again. Everything about this movie is just fun. Oh, there are plot holes galore, and themes aren’t what you might call rich, but this is such a fun cast and such an absurd — yet grounded — world and such a glowing, unpretentious story. And every member of the cast is having a blast every time they’re on-screen. It’s a really hard movie to dislike.

Radio — I saw this a while ago, but I don’t remember it well enough to have an opinion on it.

School of Rock — Everyone has that one kind of unconventional movie on their all-time favorites list, and this is mine. I remember a number of years ago that this was on TV, and I watched it because I didn’t have anything better to do. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed it — it wasn’t just an amusing diversion, I was genuinely invested in it. So, I went online to read some reviews and was even more stunned that it had higher acclaim than your average awards nominees. Keep in mind that I came to be familiar with Jack Black through his terrible stuff first. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could love a movie of his this much, nor that I would specifically love him in it. But this is great. I mean, as a comedy, it does what it needs to — it’s funny, if not hilarious. But there’s surprising intelligence in this script. Despite the comedy, it actually works as a story. Moreover, it works as an ode to music and everything that makes it awesome, and the final rock show at the climax rivals some of the greatest movie action sequences of all time for its sheer entertainment value. I really, really like this movie.

Secondhand Lions — A charming family film. Half adventure, half family drama you watch at your grandparents’ house, it might be a touch on the “overdone” side of the spectrum, but it’s sweet and likable and big-hearted and quite funny, and if you haven’t seen it, you might find it’s worth checking out.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring — On paper, very much not my thing and a stop on my nearly-complete tour of the IMDB Top 250 I was somewhat dreading. In practice… Enchanting, beautiful, heartbreaking, in a way I can’t quite describe. Where has this movie been all my life, and why am I only just now seeing it?

Spy Kids 3D: Game Over — It was really vindicating for me to finally not be the only person who thought the latest Spy Kids movie was stupid.

The Station Agent — This is such a sweet and likable movie. For a really long stretch, it isn’t particularly about anything, but it’s intentions become clear once it hits fever pitch — it’s a movie about how the true joys in our lives are our relationships with one another. Its protagonist isn’t truly happy when he decides to become something of a hermit, and it’s even worse after he gets a taste of what he’s missing. It’s hard not to love this oddball trio of misfits who befriend one another and find some happiness together, and it’s hard to leave the film without a smile.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines  — Boooooooooooorrrrrrrriiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnng.

The Triplets of Belleville — I saw The Illusionist before this, and since that’s probably one of my favorite animated films ever, I was expecting that this would be right up my alley. But honestly, it left me a touch cold. Firstly, I think Sylvain Chomet was wise in pulling back on the exaggerations to the human characters in The Illusionist. Everyone in this movie looks like an abomination of nature, and there are parts of it that actually creep me out a bit. It’s also weirdly crass and disturbing and is constantly following these grotesque and disgusting tangents for way longer than necessary and for no particular reason. And even the story doesn’t do a whole lot for me, which is weird, because The Illusionist is, like, Feelings: The Motion Picture. Triplets, again, just spends too much time chasing after tangents, and it’s weird how Souza seems to temporarily forget about her grandson when she gets to Belleville. Also, for being the film’s namesake, I was somewhat befuddled by the significance of the Triplets themselves. They’re not deeply interwoven into anything in particular, it seems. I mean, Chomet’s animation is still detailed and resplendent, and his talent for establishing characters through incredibly tiny details is strong throughout, but I don’t know. The movie’s just kind of weird for no reason.

X2: X-Men United — I like it better than the first one, which is to say I like it a little. At least it has a consistent narrative. At the same time, it’s really cheesy and straining to avoid being that way, and the “mutants as real-life minorities” metaphor is clumsy.

2004

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London — Hey, this existed, too! Whaddya know? Yeah, I don’t remember this at all. Also, did Frankie Muniz fall off the face of the Earth or what? That guy could be dead for all I know at this point.

Alien vs. Predator — Sucks.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — I talked about this enough in my Anchorman 2 review that I won’t go into detail here. I hated it when I first saw it. When I gave it another chance, I found I appreciated it a little more, namely because Steve Carell is hilarious, and some of the satire actually is decent. I don’t think I need to see it a third time, though. It’s okay, I guess.

Around the World in 80 Days — I’ve definitely seen it, but I hardly remember it at all.

The Aviator — More a film about mental illness than a historical figure, but it’s a skin-crawling good one. Reminded me a lot of the short story The Yellow Wallpaper in the way it gets inside its protagonist’s head and makes the audience get sicker and sicker as he does. The movie does an excellent job of making that extremely internal conflict visible; it follows an extremely natural progression from his largely innocuous compulsions early on to the frightening meltdown near the end. I like its balanced portrayal of that sort of condition as well — you see how someone can live with and even thrive under it, but you also see how it never completely leaves you. Nice to see a more overtly stylish Scorsese film as well; he’s using light and color in very interesting and unusual ways here.

Before Sunset — This was where the Before movies really picked up for me. I liked Before Sunrise, but parts of it rang false to me, which kept me from loving it. This is even more grounded, and while Jesse and Celine’s conversations do get philosophical in this movie, their dialogue builds up to that point, and they articulate their grand ideas in the stuttering, uncertain way most of us would. There’s also an urgency to the relationship here, and a moral dilemma hovering just beneath it, that lends the movie a little more thrust. Ultimately, this was the installment where I learned to love these movies.

The Bourne Supremacy — If I can be honest, it’s been long enough since I’ve watched the Bourne movies that the original three have kind of blurred together in my memory. I have difficulty remembered what happened in which one, other than the most significant events. Fortunately, my opinion of all of them hovers around the same place, that opinion being that I enjoy them but think their greatness has been overstated a little.

Christmas with the Kranks Nope.

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America — I didn’t really plan on watching this. I just clicked on it on YouTube and was interested enough to see where it was going that I made it through the whole thing. I have really mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is darkly, bleakly, offensively funny in any number of scenes — it’s so dry and ironic that you halfway expect the director’s face is stuck in a permanent smirk now. It’s not necessarily a great alternate history, but I don’t think it’s trying to propose a reasonable chain of events had the South won the Civil War. It’s too goofy for that. Even so, I’d say there’s something intelligent in the way the movie connects racism to misogyny, religiosity, materialism, and even homophobia; there’s a relation there that we resist even now. Still, this is very low-budget, and that shows, often in a bad way. The acting feels like exactly that — you’ve got the interviewees, who are clearly reciting lines; you’ve also got the parody bits, which could be fun but are so excessive that they break the movie’s straight face. The film’s lack of resources undermine it at every turn; moreover, the satire is kind of aimless. I don’t think it connects to anything particularly potent in modern race relations. (I do think there’s something interesting to the way it parodies the way these specials propagandize history, though.) Eh…there’s some good stuff, some bad stuff, plenty of weird stuff.

The Day After Tomorrow — Again, the build-up is decent, but even by Roland Emmerich standards, it’s not that great. But the movie that follows it is so unrelentingly boring.

Downfall — It’s maybe a bit more interested in recreating historical events than it is in doing anything with them — anything cohesive, anyway. And the attempt to make Traudl Junge the point of view character since it’s based on her account comes off as clumsy. Nevertheless, this is the most human telling we have of these events — probably the only one. I’m fascinated by the bravery of those choices. It’s a hard film to deal with. It’s hard to adjust your worldview around the fact that when they weren’t being horrific monsters, Nazis and even Hitler himself were human beings just like us. The performances are all stellar, and the film itself is haunting and deeply atmospheric in its portrait of the desolation of war in the middle of a once-great city.

Ella Enchanted — Seen it, have forgotten it.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — I don’t love this as much as everyone else. But given what movie we’re talking about, all that really means is that most people give this a 10/10, and I give it, like, a 9. It’s still pretty dang great. And I probably like Jim Carrey more in this than in anything else he’s been in (even if there are still other actors I could see doing the part better). I think I’m that rare person who prefers The Truman Show to this, but all that statement does is testify to exactly how much I love The Truman Show. This is such a unique and well written film. I love that the story is able to turn itself on its head midway through, screwing with the whole chronology of what we’ve seen, showing us this relationship almost exclusively through the protagonist’s hazy and unordered memories, and still connect emotionally.

Garfield: The Movie — For some reason, the Garfield comic strips, of all the ones out there, were important in my childhood. So, I was pretty excited for this. It’s probably terrible, though. Not sure if I’ll ever revisit it to have a full opinion.

The Grudge — Pretty bad. Almost no plot, yet somehow confusing. The characters are bland and have no relationship with the events of the story — it could have replaced them with anyone and changed almost nothing. Far, far, far too much wandering around in creepy houses listening to sounds. Even when the scene isn’t scary, it seems like the characters take 10 minutes to do anything. There are one or two scares that are well-constructed, but not nearly enough to make up for everything else.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — You could make a really good argument for this being the best Harry Potter movie, and I might do that if not for the fact that the final installment comes really close. Alfonso Cuaron, obviously, is a really great director, and he was the first person at the helm of the Harry Potter franchise to really start giving it its own distinct look and feel. He’s a better storyteller than a lot of the others, too, trimming where necessary and making the first film in the series that really feels like a focused whole. The ending is probably too much, seeing as how we get to watch the climax two different times. But outside of that, it’s really good.

Hellboy — I kind of sit on the fence with this one. I guess I’d say that I like it, but only just. The visuals are great, obviously — come on, it’s directed by Guillermo del Toro — and it really pleases me how many practical effects were employed in achieving that. And the characters have a lot of potential, even if it’s largely unused here. I guess my main issue is that the story is a bit of a non-starter. There’s the outline of a good movie here, but it needs to fill in the middle a little better. Still, it’s enough of a visual spectacle to give a pass.

Home on the Range — I was pretty young when this came out, but I was still old enough to recognize it as a dumb movie with a paper-thin story and characters. Disney was in full decline at this point.

Hotel Rwanda — Haunting and powerful, though one wishes it had something more worthwhile to say about the tragic events it depicts.

House of Flying Daggers — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie like this, where the fact that the story wasn’t really working hardly bothered me at all. This movie is insanely, absurdly, unbelievably beautiful — such lush colors, such fluid choreography, such incredible design, such ornate costumes. This is a visual marvel. I actually found myself coming close to loving this movie. If the story was up to par, there’s no doubt in my mind I’d classify it as an all-time favorite. Even without that…it’s still easily one of the best of 2004.

Howl’s Moving Castle — As Miyazaki films go, this is definitely one of his messier… Story-wise, it’s balancing a whole lot of different things, and there are multiple key relationships that never take on the dimensions they need or develop as fluidly as they ought to. It also establishes the rules of its universe pretty loosely — the weird portal thing becomes pretty important to the plot, and I had trouble getting a sense of how it worked. Simultaneously, this is one of Miyazaki’s most singular visions; it’s such a unique, incredible, and emotionally rich world. I love the cast; it’s one of his weirdest and most lively. Moreover, even by Studio Ghibli standards, this movie looks amazing. So its till comes highly recommended as far as I’m concerned.

I, Robot — It’s not awful, but for the most part, I find it a little boring.

The Incredibles — This sits on my DVD shelf, so thinking it over, it actually surprises me a little how long it’s been since I’ve seen it. I love it, obviously; I just don’t remember it quite well enough to say specifically why I love it, other than the staples, those being strong characters, strong writing, strong storytelling, and strong visuals. Someone recently pointed out to me that the story is inescapably Objectivist, and I’m trying to ignore that disheartening realization. Because it’s a fun film otherwise.

Kill Bill: Volume 2 — This is a really weird movie. I like it…I think? It’s startlingly unlike its predecessor, which is even stranger when you consider that they were originally one film. There’s still a bit of grindhouse in this, but way less, and the extent of its violence isn’t nearly as uncomfortable. It’s weirdly talky; 95 percent of it is conversation. And I’m fine with that, because it’s Tarantino dialogue. And it gets to this place that’s strangely uncomfortable but in a much more intentional way, exploring the bizarre love-hate relationship The Bride has with Bill, not to mention the conflict his big reveal inserts into the whole thing. That part of it is so interesting it’s easy to forget that the first two-thirds of the movie finds The Bride axing off the remaining two targets on her list, neither of whom are terribly engrossing. Though the graveyard scene is…harrowing, speaking as someone who’s a touch claustrophobic.

The Ladykillers — Kind of too weird to dislike, but also kind of too weird to love, if that makes any sense at all. Definitely lesser Coen — I think this may be the only movie of theirs where the casting isn’t perfectly. It’s unusually slapsticky and broad for them. It’s also kind of funny and charmingly stupid in its own way.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events — I only ever saw this once, shortly after it came out, and I never read the book, so I don’t remember this well enough to comment.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — I’m only just now figuring out how to like Wes Anderson movies. This being one of his least acclaimed, I feel less equipped than usual to actually review it — most of the things I didn’t like about it strike me as things I don’t like about most of his work. He’s just one of those directors for me; I’ve learned to admire his movies distantly but only rarely actually like them (and even then, usually not a whole lot). This was fine, possibly a bit overlong. I loved Henry Selick’s contributions to the visuals; it feels like a old Harryhausen sort of thing, combined with Anderson’s immediately recognizable style. It made me laugh a couple of times. I was surprised how emotional the ending made me. But mostly, I didn’t completely get it.

The Machinist — A haunting, creepy, effectively psychological thriller that doubles as an emotional meditation on the personal demons that weigh us down. Pretty good.

Mean Creek — Successfully recreates the feelings and experiences of being this age — albeit exclusively the worst parts. If you’re like me and get vicariously embarrassed at the awkward social behavior of others, you’ll be unable to watch significant portions of this movie. It’s surprisingly effective when it suddenly turns the dial from indie drama as made by Amblin to gut-wrenching tragedy. Part of me thinks the movie gets a little too obvious here and there — and it definitely feels like a relic of indie cinema in this day and age — but then again, kids this age are anything but subtle. It’s very sobering on the whole.

Mean Girls — File this under “way, way better than it ought to be.” This is the sort of thing that would’ve gotten a stunt Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay if it had been released in the 80s. Because Tina Fey’s writing here is really, really sharp — showing not only her comic chops (she’s one of my favorite comedy writers ever) but an ability to actually tell a story. I would love to see her bring her talents to the big screen again — the limited timeframe actually seems to benefit her. For a high school comedy, the characters have surprisingly well-defined psychologies, and everything is paced and structured unusually well. Honestly, the only reason this isn’t a great movie is that it needs a director more in tune with Fey’s sensibilities — her script is sharp, bitter, and absurd, but the direction is largely straightforward and plays the sentimental moments much too earnestly. The stuff that’s good, however, is surprisingly very good.

Million Dollar Baby — Just a really good movie all around. It’s not without problems — chief among them some comic relief and antagonist characters who border on being outright cartoons — but this is one of those movies that keeps turning up new layers as it goes. The ending provoked a lot of debate, and it’s the sort of movie that feels as though it’s earned that — allowing you to understand the characters well enough to know why they do what they do. It may be quite a lot more critical of violent sports than it lets on, too. Lots to love here.

Napoleon Dynamite — I have absolutely no idea what I think about this movie. I’ve said before that with major “love it or hate it” films, my moderate personality usually makes me that rare outlier who’s somewhere in the middle. With Napoleon Dynamite, that’s both true and false. Because I love it. And I hate it. And which one it is seems to depend entirely on the day of the week that I happen to see it. One day, I’ll watch it, and I’ll think, “Wow, this is completely hilarious; how can anyone hate this?” The next time I see it, I’ll think, “Wow, this is really just stupid as all get out, and I have no idea why I remembered it fondly.” I have not yet managed to overcome this, so I guess the jury’s just going to be out forever.

National Treasure — I think everyone has that bad director for whom they have a weird affinity, and I guess Jon Turteltaub is mine. He’s never made anything that critics like, and he’s also never made anything I dislike. (I haven’t seen his weird kid ninja movies, though.) It’s not like this is great, but… I don’t know. It’s fun. I like the characters; the humor mostly works. Watching them piece together the moronic clues in moronic ways is kind of entertaining. I don’t love it, but I can’t dislike it either.

The Passion of the Christ — It’s undeniably arresting, but I wonder how much of that is pure subject matter? Of course I’m flinching, of course I’m appalled, of course I’m compassionate; how couldn’t you be? In some ways, I admire how the film paints between the lines and works by implication where the remainder of the story is concerned; I nevertheless think that too much of the story is missing. This film is so heavily fixated upon the violence; the story and themes feel obligatory rather than vital. And prolonging that violence and giving us close-up looks at absolutely all of it may have effect opposite of what it intends — by the end, I was numb, unable to feel anything, no longer able to react to the increasing horrors on screen. It is nevertheless compelling in moments, when all the cards fall just right. It’s an undeniably handsome production, filled with powerful images. On the whole, I really don’t know what I think about it.

The Polar Express — SCARY CGI PEOPLE YOU GUYS THEY WANT TO EAT MY SOOOUUUUULLLLLL

Primer — I don’t know. I mean, I literally don’t know. This is the most un-followable movie of all time. I can’t even make heads or tails of the extensive diagrams on the Internet attempting to establish what the plot is. We get it: Time travel is complicated. I’m middling. I respect the big idea and the amount of effort that went into it. But everything here is so complex, and coupled with Shane Carruth’s philosophy of “imply, don’t show or tell,” it is nearly impossible to work out character and motivations and events and chronology. I don’t really know what to think of it, honestly.

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed — It’s probably better than the first one, if only because this installment decided it no longer hated its source material and tried to do something with a little more heart. It’s still crass and dumb with really questionable effects, though.

Shark Tale — The worst DreamWorks Animation production by far.

Shaun of the Dead — This movie is hilarious. And simultaneously, it’s also really good, detailed, insightful storytelling. Edgar Wright has the most masterful control over tone of any director working, as far as I’m concerned. He walks so many impossible tightropes and always comes out the other side unharmed. This is probably my favorite film of his. Again, it’s genuinely funny throughout, but it’s also emotionally involving, and it’s really tight in the way it evolves its manchild protagonist into an actual, functioning adult. While also providing plenty of zombie action.

Shrek 2 — I feel toward this more or less the way I feel toward the first one. I might like it a little better actually; it’s less formulaic and more its own thing. It’s also that rare kids’ movie where I don’t really mind the excessive adult jokes that sneaked in there, mostly because they’re all pretty funny. I still don’t think it’s great, though.

Sideways — We don’t give Paul Giamatti enough lead roles. The performances are generally outstanding, for that matter, and the two leads are very easy to understand as people. I’ve said that the mark of good character development is that you reach a point where you can guess how a character will react to something the moment the movie introduces the situation; Sideways got me to that point. Imperfect, particularly in that the Virginia Madsen character strikes me as a little too good to be true, and I don’t think either of the protagonists is ever held to proper account for the extent of his douchebaggery. Still, it was an enjoyably breezy experience.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — It’s more successful at being a visual homage than any other flavor, but it’s still a lot of fun if you’re willing to go along for the ride. I wish it had been a bigger hit; I’d like to see Hollywood making more movies like it. Again, the fun family adventure movie is pretty much dead right now. It could use a resurgence.

Spider-Man 2 — It’s better than the first one. Otherwise, my feelings about it are largely the same. I like it for being openly campy and telling a decent story on the dramatic end, but it struggles with the place where those two approaches have to meet. But this installment is tighter and less dated, and despite a few moments that are think are much too dark for a movie like this (I have seen Platoon, but the hospital scene in this still makes me shiver like nothing else), it’s mostly entertaining on the whole.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie — I feel toward it the same way I feel toward the TV show, which is to say that I pretend I think it’s stupid in order to keep up appearances, but I secretly think it’s kind of funny. Okay, and stupid, too. But in a good way. Mostly.

Team America: World Police — There’s a little too much “lol I just said penis” for my taste, but for the most part, I am begrudgingly amused by it.

Two Brothers — This is another movie that got jogged out of the back of my memory when I was going through the Wikipedia list. I remember parts of it, but I only ever saw it once, and that was the year it came out.

The Village — I don’t care what everybody thinks; I really like this. Like I’ve said in the past, I stayed on the M. Night Shyamalan Train waaaaay longer than most rational people. Sure, say what you will about the twist ending — and honestly, I’m not convinced it’s that asinine. Shyamalan was still, at this point, one of our greatest directors of tension, and he created a great, old-fashioned haunting feel with this; the whole movie is thick with atmosphere. The dialogue isn’t “real,” but it’s loaded with the poetry of high fantasy. Even if you hate the ending, I’d still argue that the first 90 percent of the movie more than makes up for it. Extremely underrated.

2005

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl in 3-D — I haven’t seen this in years, so it says something that I still remember with some clarity exactly what an awful, plotless, stupid, lumbering, unfunny, visually glaring mess it was.

Batman Begins — I’ve come, over the years, to appreciate it a touch less than I did on my first viewing — it was, at that time, the first superhero movie I saw that made me think you could really do things with the genre. I still like it a lot, though. It understands how to make Batman an interesting character, and while its dark, realistic take ended up starting a trend that I hope dies forever any second now, it worked in this movie. Some of the updates are clever; others less so. At the end of the day, it still manages to get you emotionally invested in a billionaire who works out his parental issues by dressing up in a bat costume and beating the crap out of poor people without once having it occur to you that the whole thing is a bit silly. That represents some kind of achievement.

Brick — Not really my thing, but one of those rare instances where, in spite of that, I can still see the craftsmanship and skill behind everything. Basically, if you’re into cheesily self-serious film noir, this comes highly recommended. My personal take on it is that it’s a parody of college film student projects; it takes everything they do to its logical extreme. I also like that it only lets down the facade and winks at the audience for that one scene with the villain’s mom.

Brokeback Mountain — It kind of takes a bit to get going — early on, I think it struggles to make the central relationship ring as something deeper than physical passion — but once the characters set in and their relationship starts to matter on an emotional level, the whole thing just soars. Ang Lee is a really transparently visual filmmaker, so I was surprised at how deliberately unstylish this is, and I think that’s the perfect direction for it. He doesn’t smother everything in light and rainbows in order to strengthen his message. Nor does he saint his characters or condone some of the pain they put their families through. He simply decides not to judge them. The film shows the circumstances that drove them to their failings. It’s ultimately a film about identity and the importance of people being able to realize their whole selves to their fullest potential; it shows how it weighs upon them and destroys both them and the people they love when they can’t do that. It’s a message movie, sure, but it’s a passionate and intelligently-argued one.

Capote — Love. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one of our greatest actors, and I still have not recovered from his demise. It’s a surprisingly moody and atmospheric film, but it doesn’t feel overly dour. It gets under its characters’ skin very easily and exposes all of their hypocrisy and exploitative characteristics while still making them almost universally sympathetic. This is rock-solid filmmaking. I hope it stands the test of time.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — I don’t really like it much more or less than the original. Tim Burton’s a pretty good fit for it; the creepy stuff is a little less unnecessarily creepy in this one since everything Tim Burton does is creepy. The stuff outside of the chocolate factory is pretty good-looking in this installment, too. But it doesn’t particularly go the extra mile in justifying its existence. And I really, really don’t like Johnny Depp’s take on Willy Wonka.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 — Have seen it. Have forgotten it. Should probably be grateful for that.

Chicken Little — Eh. That’s about all I’ve got. Eh.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — Overall, it’s a pretty solid adaptation of the book. It goes overboard here and there, but mostly, it’s faithful to the tone, characters, and themes. And it’s a fun, visually impressive, and suitably imaginative fantasy adventure.

Corpse Bride — Nobody seems to dislike this, but unlike a lot of other people, I just plain love it. I think it’s almost as good as The Nightmare Before Christmas. Catch me on the wrong day, and I might tell you I like it even more. It’s not particularly new ground for Tim Burton in any sense of the word, but he’s at the top of his game in every aspect of it. I love that his films are so often simultaneously whimsical, dark, and kind of macabre. I don’t know how he does it, but I love a successful genre/tonal mash-up when I see it. And this is a really successful one. It’s a good story with good characters, and the visuals, as always are spectacular.

Crash — The only reason I don’t consider this to be the worst Best Picture winner of all time is that I really can’t overstate how deeply I despise Braveheart. Seriously, Crash is confusingly, almost fascinatingly awful. It actually started to make me laugh past a certain point. It seems almost willfully to do everything wrong. I could go on forever. It’s just terrible.

The Descent — Appropriately nerve-wracking, though I’m not sure it offers much of substance beyond that. Granted that this movie had me in its grip from the word go; caves really, really, really upset me. I think I spent more time covering my eyes in the beginning, when all they’re doing is crawling along tunnels just barely big enough to fit them. The monsters are almost superfluous. They work, though; they look and sound creepy enough, even though the movie treats them too much like zombies that are easily killed in small numbers. It’s mostly the script I don’t like. I just don’t think there’s a whole lot to it, and it gives most of the characters little to do other than die. Also, it cheats a bit with the monsters sometimes, a likely side effect of having made them too easy to kill. Still a pretty unsettling ride.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose — It’s not unenjoyable; it just consistently hovered beneath the level of genuine engagement. At the very least, I think it’s Scott Derrickson’s best-looking film, and he uses his style to capture a handful of memorably spooky images. The script is a mess, though — the thematic setups and the thematic resolutions aren’t as connected as the film thinks they are, and it’s weird that it decides to sketch the main character so broadly, hardly showing us a full minute of her when she’s not under demonic possession. You could also argue that the film’s message, ultimately, is that we should just let faith healers do their thing. There’s some good stuff here, but some bad stuff as well.

Fantastic Four — It’s clearly supposed to be a little bit goofy, and for that reason, I don’t hate it as much as everyone else. It’s still pretty bad, though. Again, there’s a way to do camp right and a way to do camp wrong. And this is what it looks like when it’s done wrong. The biggest issue is the way the movie tries to differentiate between the serious bits and the campy bits, like there are two different movies going on at the same time. It just doesn’t work.

Flightplan — I don’t know what to think of this one. It’s fairly tense and engaging, but the script is the sort where it’s clear that absolutely no one thought about it at all at any point during the production. If you’re going to do a mystery like this, you’d better have a more interesting payoff than “standard crime, except everybody got stupidly lucky and accidentally made it look supernatural.”

Fun with Dick and Jane — Not actively awful but not particularly funny or engaging on a dramatic level.

Good Night, and Good Luck. — I’m not the most objective person here; as someone who works in the news media, movies about good reporters using the truth to fight injustice, oppression, and corruption are basically candy to me. At any rate, I still think this stands on its own as a really good movie. It’s not perfect (the utility of the Robert Downey Jr./Patricia Clarkson subplot is somewhat lost on me), but the good stuff is great — particularly David Strathairn’s performance.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — This has some really great moments — some of the better ones in the series, actually. It would, of course; this was the installment where the overarching story started to kick in. It’s less whimsical than the previous films, but as a more serious work of fantasy, it’s pretty good. At the same time, there are some stupid, stupid scenes in this that I don’t think any director could’ve worked out. Of course, I’m talking about the dance scene. What else would I be talking about? On an intellectual level, I’m aware that the series takes place somewhere in the 90s. But with its Lord of the Rings lite tone, it’s kind of…jarring to see that wizards apparently like rocking out to glam rock bands. It’s fortunate that’s only one scene, because the rest of the movie is solid.

Hide and Seek — Man, this is some all-time record holder in the category of “dumb, dumb twist endings that exist entirely for their own sake.”

A History of Violence — It’s a little straightforward for Cronenberg, but I don’t mind that so much. What’s strange about it is how broad it can be sometimes — there’s a cheesiness right under the surface of how it portrays the family dynamic and how it handles the high school bullying subplot. That said, if it’s going to be cheesy and barely off reality, at least it’s functional in its storytelling and more or less thematically complete. I liked it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — I haven’t really seen it since it came out, but I remember finding it funny, but not as funny as the book. Of course, nothing is as funny as the book. Nothing.

Kicking and Screaming — Saw it. Forgot it.

King Kong — I actually quite enjoy this movie. I find that I don’t like it, necessarily, when a film is bloated, but I tolerate it better than most, particularly if I like the characters and the world. With this movie, I did, with more emphasis on the latter than the former. Part of me thinks it’s too dark and violent, but another part of me thinks that fits in well with the solemn fantasy/adventure/horror film that Peter Jackson seems to be aiming for here. The special effects are a mixed bag; Kong himself looks spectacular, but it’s clear there were a few scenes where they had to compromise a bit budget-wise in order to obtain that effect. (The actors in the stampede sequence are so pasted onto the screen that it gets completely sapped of all tension.) And yeah, it is too long, and Jackson could easily have sliced out any one of the dozens of unnecessary action sequences to trim it down to something a bit more functional. But there’s some high-quality adventuring on display, and I really enjoy the overall feel of the film, so it gets my seal of approval.

Madagascar — I will never understand the popularity of these movies. I mean, it’s not bad; it’s just sort of…absent of good. I guess there are some decent jokes here and there. But it’s not hilarious, and the story and characters aren’t all that interesting. And the look of it sometimes seems to me to be less “art style” and more “textures and details take, like, work, man.”

Munich — It’s a bit wobbly and uneven, but I think it’s worthwhile on the whole. There are scenes that work and scenes that don’t (that scene at the end, you know the one — yeah, I thought that was kind of silly). As a cohesive whole, there are parts that stick and parts that don’t. Steven Spielberg usually imbues his characters with such life and personality, even when he’s not at the top of his game, so it’s weird to see one of his films have such a blank slate of a protagonist and such broad supporting players. It takes a while for them to come into their own, and even when they do, they only get simple traits, usually aligning with the extent to which they’re supposed to be moral compasses. However, in its examination of counter-terrorism and assassination, it achieves a sense of inevitability that’s really important to a morally complicated work like this, in that it makes it hard to see how certain actions aren’t inherently corrupting regardless of the framework of rules you place around them. In that sense, there’s enough food for thought that it’s worth seeing.

The Pacifier — HA HA HA VIN DIESEL IS A MANLY MAN BUT HE’S DOING HOUSE WORK STUFF LIKE A WOMANFOLK HA HA HA

Racing Stripes — I haven’t seen this since it came out, because it rightfully disappeared into the annals of history. I was 13 at this point, though, so I could generally identify a dumb kids’ movie when I saw it. This was just another installment of the increasingly popular “hey, kids like farting and pooping right let’s make our movie only that” genre.

Robots — I haven’t seen this in a while either. I remember it being kind of middling — not really all that good, not really all that bad, just kind of…there.

Serenity — I’m a Star Wars diehard, but I cheat on it sometimes with Firefly. It makes me sad that this didn’t kickstart a show that *insert standard nerd rant on the stupidity of Fox in getting this cancelled* or at least generate more interest in it. It also makes me sad that JOSS WHEDON DID THAT THING IN THE END LIKE THE JERK HE IS AND I HATE HIM BUT PLEASE KEEP MAKING MOVIES ANYWAY. But yeah, on the whole, this is a good movie. I wish I had a sendoff for this story that brought a little more resolution to it, but hey, you work with what you’ve got. This is an engaging piece of science fiction.

Sin City — At this point, you all probably know my spiel about stylized grindhouse-type things — not my deal, yada yada, etc. etc. I ultimately have extremely mixed feelings about this. I don’t really find it as offensive as you’d think; the movie is so dramatically intense all the time that it’s impossible to take seriously, which mutes most of the awfulness it levels at you. I also think Robert Rodriguez occasionally tips the tone just a bit toward horror, so you know he doesn’t approve of all this — the shootout in the alley is a standout example of this. I’ll also admit that I genuinely do like the way it looks. However, I don’t detect any commentary whatsoever surrounding the fact that every single woman in this movie is presented first and foremost as a sex object and secondly as a prize to be won or thing to be saved. Every last one. There’s something functional at its core, but I don’t know that I have it in me to forgive the things it does wrong.

Sky High — Actually, Fantastic Four, scroll down. I had forgotten that there was another superhero movie that came out the same year as you and schooled you on how to do camp right. Sky High was no piece of genius, but it was a superhero movie that knew exactly what it was and didn’t deviate from that. It was pretty silly, but it still had a functional story. Of course, there were cool effects and concepts and characters to go around. It owns that superheroes are guys in bright costumes with cheesy senses of humor and a tendency toward puns, and it has all the fun it can with that.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith — And we complete my circle of prequel embarrassment. I mean, obviously, if I can tolerate the other two, I can tolerate this, too. It’s a darker film, but it, too, has this operatic darkness; it’s dark, but not grim, and I like movies that can pull that off. And as I’ve said repeatedly, there’s never going to be a day when I don’t enjoy these films’ universe. Other than that, I can’t explain why I enjoy this or any other Star Wars prequel, and I’m losing my desire to keep trying.

Syriana — For the most part, I like what it’s saying and how it says it. As a movie, it’s only okay. None of the characters were ever very interesting to me — they’re all fairly simple constructs designed to keep the plot moving. A film like this needs human consequences, though. It understands that well enough to make the effort but needed to go further.

V for Vendetta — One of those movies where I’m caught between its qualities as a film and my perception of its morality. In the end, it kind of reneges on its embrace of V’s terrorism by suggesting that he is a monster and needs to be destroyed, but it follows that up with the movie’s slickest action sequence. And it’s hard to deny that the central themes are advanced a long way by V’s misdeeds. The picture of fomenting revolution is a compelling one, and I’m naturally drawn to stories about people freeing themselves from oppression; the movie works in that regard. But violence and terrorism are such an integral part of it that the noises the movie makes to the contrary feel like pure lip service. It can still be highly entertaining in its own way, but it definitely causes a lot of discomfort as well.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit — I saw it when it came out and thought it was funny and charming, but I haven’t seen it since then, so I can’t say anything in-depth about it.

War of the Worlds — I don’t really know what to do with this. This movie proves that the difference between PG-13 and R is basically meaningless. I’ve seen a lot of R-rated movies in my time, and very few of them hit a level of violence quite as disturbing as what you see in this film. This is incredibly hard to watch, and that’s not necessarily a flaw. Some movies do that intentionally and do it well. But if I’m going to be disturbed by a film, I’d like for there to be a thematic reason for it, something that cuts to the heart of some moral truth. This, on the other hand, is a science fiction film about an alien invasion. And while the H.G. Wells story could at least partially be classified as a work of horror, I don’t know what this gains by being so violent and gruesome.

Yours, Mine and Ours — Saw it. Forgot it. Don’t plan to revisit.

Zathura — Overall, a fun sci-fi twist on the Jumanji concept. Not genius, but it’s a pretty good time.

2006

Amazing Grace — I haven’t seen this in a while, but I remember thinking it was decent, if not great, when I first viewed it.

Babel — Sort of the quintessential Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu film, in that it’s well-made, quite compelling, and deeply pretentious all at once. Here’s the condensed version — the film works, if nothing else. I felt for nearly all of these characters and cared deeply about what happened to them. For that reason alone, every second of the film is engaging. As a whole, though, this is sheer fiction masquerading as realism, a storyline that hinges on coincidence and on every imaginable thing going wrong constantly. It’s an almost comical parade of frustration that actually gets annoying for the sheer amount of tragedy it puts its characters through while treating all of this as natural, real-world consequence. And the message it’s trying to send? That language barriers exist. Get out of here with that, for crying out… I’ve said enough. It’s a good movie, I’m glad I saw it, I wouldn’t object to seeing it again, don’t think too hard about it.

Blood Diamond — It’s solid. Structure’s all right, it’s generally well-paced (it’s quite long but didn’t feel it), I enjoyed the characters and performances. I don’t think it has its tone nailed down; it has too much interest in being a thriller as well as brutal, in-your-face social commentary. There are too many scenes where we cut from child soldiers mowing innocent people down in the street to the heroes running from explosions and dodging bullets and skillfully shooting down every bad guy they encounter. Plus, it’s one of those “bad guy becomes good guy” stories where the arc seems to happen by pure osmosis; he just hangs out with good people until he magically becomes one. I digress — it’s a decent movie, it engaged me, I’d see it again.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan — Is it funny sometimes? Sure, even very funny on occasion. And very rarely, it stumbles into the cultural revelations it wants to find. Mostly, it’s a pointless exercise revealing that, yes, when you make a public spectacle of yourself, other people will behave strangely around you. I’d have a more favorable opinion of if I didn’t think a lot of the process behind it was really unethical.

Cars — The worst pre-corporate-domination Pixar movie. Most of their output was great or at least fun enough that you didn’t mind. This was the first one that seemed to strike everyone with its mediocrity. For what it’s worth, I think it’s funny and charming enough to be worth a watch. I own it because it was part of a big Pixar box set that I picked up. And I find I don’t watch it much. Repeat viewings don’t help its situation. But it has little bits of merit here and there.

Casino Royale — A solid return to form for James Bond. Or at least, that’s what I’d say if I’d ever seen any James Bond movies other than the Daniel Craig ones. I’ve just never had any interest, and catching up on all quintillion of them is a really tall order. Either way, this is slick, stylish, and entertaining, and it works out a pretty solid study on a character we don’t ordinarily psychologize all that much. It’s a Bond movie that’s pretty clear on the fact that Bond is a bit of a terrible person and also that it would suck to be him.

Children of Men — Great movie about the power of hope and the potential of humanity, with enough ambiguity and honesty to ground it in something that feels real. As far as I’m concerned, Alfonso Cuaron really can’t do any wrong. This one combines the visual prowess for which he’s famous with a story that, from beginning to end, is truly worth telling. It’s a tragic and moving but ultimately life-affirming tale.

The Departed — Martin Scorsese sure can direct himself one heck of an intense cat and mouse game. Once it finally gets its pieces in place, The Departed is relentless — the type of film that’s extremely complex in terms of how much information is at play but manages to distill all of that down to something simple and not too difficult to follow. Every character in this movie is trapped between a rock and a hard place, and slowly, that’s driving all of them insane. I’ve got to admit, though, that there are one or two things with the script that don’t sit well with me, not 100 percent. Namely, I feel like this story is lacking in detailed motive — for the most part, we meet our characters when their respective deceptions have already begun and have to pick up, piecemeal, who they were before. I just want to know what all of this means to everyone instead of just surmising. Still, it’s hard to argue with a movie that’s otherwise as good as this one is.

Eight Below — I remember seeing it, but not much else.

Eragon — It’s…Star Wars. Except with dragons. I don’t really know what else to say. There isn’t an ounce of originality in it.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift — I’m not a fan of either of the previous two movies, but this is the first entry in the series that’s dull and uninspired from beginning to end. Ridiculous enough to be stupid but not ridiculous enough to be fun.

Flags of Our Fathers — I think it’s more ambitious but less successful than its counterpart, Letters from Iwo Jima, if that makes sense. I think it’s diving into something a lot more interesting thematically — the media/public relations component of war and how it twists the experience into something simple and motivational for the masses. I also think that, for the most part, it does that pretty well. However, while the non-linear structure of the story strikes me as being the right track, allowing the film to contrast the reality with the public’s perception, the timing of it seems all wrong. It starts too early, leaps in at the wrong moments, allows far too much to happen in the present day before the iconic image even takes place, and walks the characters through their arcs almost entirely before we even get the setup. It needs tweaking, but I think what’s there is still pretty good.

Flushed Away — I only saw this once when it came out on DVD, and I don’t even remember if I enjoyed it or not.

The Fountain — Ambitious almost to a fault, but like I’ve said, I always applaud films for treading new ground. Despite not always making perfect sense and despite the fact that everything is suffocated in indecipherable symbolism, this movie ends up making a certain intuitive, emotional sense, and it becomes something beautiful — both visually and otherwise. There are thematic concerns I have as I’ve tried to sort out what it all means, but a lot of that’s more personal than a specific problem with the film itself. It’s uneven, but it’s a rapturous sort of uneven.

Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties — I remember this even less than its predecessor. Honestly, just scroll up and read my take on that one; it’s exactly the same as with this one.

Glory Road — I saw it, but I don’t remember it.

Happy Feet — Honestly, this movie was lucky Pixar had an off year. I don’t particularly care for this movie. It’s a heavy-handed Message Movie, for one thing. Plus, the characters aren’t all that interesting, and the story plods along. And the premise is just…silly. Even for an animated film. And it makes it too easy for this to become a festival of pop culture references.

The Host — A pretty cool creature feature, all told. I’ll admit — and I might be alone in this — that I think it’s a little directionless, doesn’t pay off all its setups, and seems kind of arbitrary even in the admirable (and occasionally huge) risks it takes. But still, they don’t make ’em like this anymore, and I appreciate it for that.

Ice Age: The Meltdown — My memory of it is that it’s entertaining enough to be worth a viewing or two, not much better or worse than the first film. I haven’t seen it in a while, though.

Idiocracy — It’s funny. I laughed. I don’t think it has a lot going for it other than some well-structured jokes and one-liners, though. It’s flat visually, and the satire isn’t all that pointed. I think there are a number of ways it could better get at the heart of the problems it’s addressing. Instead, it goes from Point A to the most obvious Point B and doesn’t stop to really explore anything along the way. I mean, whatever, it’s a comedy, and it made me laugh. I just wanted more out of it as a satire.

The Illusionist — This was the year of the dueling magician movies, and for me, The Prestige won handily. I have really mixed feelings about The Illusionist. Most of those feelings center on the twist ending, which the film whisks away as a happy and uplifting one, as its makers seem not to have thought about it hard enough to realize that the twist renders the villain a harmless jerk and the hero a murderer. There are bright spots throughout, but it’s another one of those movies that, for me, seems to exist solely to land that big surprise at the end. And it really doesn’t stick that landing.

Inside Man — An energetic, propulsive thriller like only Spike Lee can make. It wasn’t always as emotionally involving as I would’ve liked, but it keeps you guessing and is admirably non-violent by the standards of this sort of thing. It’s quite a lot of fun if you let loose and go along for the ride.

Lady in the Water — This movie isn’t really that bad; it’s more of a non-starter for me. There are good things in it. My main issue, of course, is that this is a vanity project that borders on childishness. M. Night Shyamalan had only made one film at this point that received negative reviews, and its reviews weren’t that negative. But that didn’t stop him from making a movie where he cast himself as a great writer whose brilliant ideas are fated to get him martyred and putting ponderous dialogue in the mouths of his characters, and all of its about the purity of his vision and how nobody else understands him or whatever. And there’s a film critic character with no positive personality traits who gets treated horribly throughout. This is a sobbing meltdown of a motion picture.

The Last King of Scotland — Forest Whittaker knocks it straight out of the park. He’s totally unrecognizable and finds the perfect middle ground for Idi Amin — amiable and charismatic enough to justify his popularity and leave it ambiguous whether he’s addicted to power or genuinely thinks he’s somehow doing the right thing, but unhinged, paranoid, and scary enough to put you on edge at the drop of the hat. The film can’t hope to match his work here, but I admire it for getting as close as it does. It’s tense and involving and approaches the subject matter from an interesting angle.

Letters from Iwo Jima — Tore me straight in two. When I first watched Clint Eastwoods Battle of Iwo Jima films, it was as an immediate double feature, and I think that’s the best way to experience them. Getting both sides of the war at once really heightens the futility of the whole enterprise. More than any other war movie, Letters from Iwo Jima really captures the idea of soldiers being largely the same from one side to the next, with the true villains being the ones pulling the strings — the ones who risk nothing and stand to gain everything. At the end of the day, the guys on both sides just want to return to their families, and Letters leaves you begging the characters to collectively lay down their arms and allow that to happen. I think the message comes across even stronger from the Japanese perspective — not only is their enterprise utterly doomed, but their culture of honor inflicts even more inescapable death upon the soldiers. It’s not a perfect film; it’s subtle as a jackhammer, and holy desaturated colors Batman, but the stuff that works is pretty incredible.

Little Miss Sunshine — It strikes a balance between funny and heartfelt in a way that’s difficult to do right, and I have to admire it for that. It’s weird how quickly, yet gracefully, this movie can vacillate from absurd comedy to real emotion. It’s a pretty great feel-good movie.

The Lives of Others — It can be just a touch manipulative at times, which is a shame — it needs to have more faith in itself. Because the things it does well, it does excellently. There’s a strange sort of meta-storytelling going on here: The protagonist isn’t, for the most part, actively involved in the actual story but an observer to it, being changed by what he sees. Essentially, you’re watching a guy watching a “movie.” That’s a lot of layers to pull off. On its most basic level, the story within the story, of the couple the protagonist is spying on, needs to work, and it does — well if not quite brilliantly. And that story needs to feed directly into the main character in a way that’s clear and just as emotional — and the film does that almost absurdly well. The guy changes right before your eyes, and it’s almost all acting. He sits in a room, watches, and learns. He realizes that his system is broken and can’t ever be fixed. And, eventually, he acts upon that. It’s a really fascinating exercise. And for the most part, this is a really great movie.

Monster House — I saw it recently enough to have images still in my head, and I can remember the basic plot, but I’ve forgotten it enough that I don’t really want to discuss its quality in any kind of depth.

Mission: Impossible III — Basically a solid film. Better than the second one, at any rate. Obviously, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a welcome addition to any cast. So is Simon Pegg, actually. I think this is too dark for its own good, though. The previous installments had a certain whiz-bang glee to them. This one’s too grim and violent, but it still wants to be fun. I think it’s basically compelling, but kind of all over the place.

Nacho Libre — This is pretty much the same exact thing as Napoleon Dynamite for me. I think my feelings might slip a little more firmly into “dislike” territory here. There are some parts of it that never improve for me, namely its tendency to say, “Hey, we haven’t had a joke in a while; what if he just, like, farted or something?” But at the same time, this movie has at least a few moments that one might call…enjoyably absurd. And I don’t necessarily hate the tendency of these films to underplay everything to the point of surrealism. But I don’t know.

The Nativity Story — I’m running out of original ways to say that I’ve seen something but don’t remember it well.

Night at the Museum — Maybe I need to see it again with fresh eyes, but my memory of this film is a warm one. It’s not brilliant or anything, but I think there’s an innocent sense of magic to it that makes it a perfectly decent family adventure film. Plus, a lot of the supporting characters are fun — how many movies feature a T-rex skeleton as a member of the core heroic cast? The humor can be kind of dumb and crude in places, but I still think there’s plenty to like here.

The Omen — I have absolutely no idea what this movie intended to offer audiences that they couldn’t find in the original. It’s almost exactly the same movie, just with a shiny new wrapping. And not as good.

One Night with the King — Yup, sure am running out of ways to say that I’ve seen something but don’t remember it well.

Once — Absurdly beautiful. The music is incredibly moving, and it’s paired so well with the story — not even paired, really. The story is primarily told through the songs; we learn more about the characters and their relationships through those than we do the handful of dialogue scenes. I think the movie could stand to have a little more subtext, but as an exercise in connecting human emotions with music, it’s a powerful piece of work. I love it.

Open Season — A dumb, crass, annoying, gross, visually ugly kids’ movie that is very much a product of its time.

Over the Hedge — Eh…I have some memory of this, but it isn’t super detailed. I remember finding it amusing here and there, but maybe a little bland on the whole. I think? I don’t know. Okay, it’s been a while.

Pan’s Labyrinth — I think it’s possible I don’t like this as much as everyone else. I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I wanted to be, and a lot of the movie struck me as undefined symbolism that means, like, whatever it means to you, man. Nevertheless, there’s a lot that works here in terms of the story and even more that works in the world and the visuals. Guillermo del Toro seems to be one of our last great champions of practical effects, and I love him for that. He uses them to load this movie with texture and atmosphere.

The Pink Panther — This movie could not possibly have drained out any more of the intelligence of the original. This is dumb. Just dumb.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest — I’ve gone on the record as being one of the defenders of this movie. Movies like this are why I don’t really believe in this objective distinction between good and bad movies that other movie buffs insist exists. Because I think it’s possible for a flaw to actually improve a film — even when the film is almost entirely flaws. Which this is. But everything people say about this — that it’s insane, that it’s narratively incoherent, that it indulges thousands of unrelated tangents, etc. — those are the reasons I love it. This movie is insane on its own invention and clearly making it up as it goes along, and honestly, I think it’s just a ton of fun for precisely that reason.

The Prestige — Possibly Christopher Nolan’s best movie. There’s a lot of interest going on here — the nature of obsession, the nature of performance, etc. And it happens within the context of a story that pits two great actors in conflict with another over the course of a twisted narrative that gradually unfolds plot twist after plot twist and somehow never collapses on itself. This is absorbing filmmaking right here.

The Pursuit of Happyness — Perfectly serviceable Oscar bait, even if it’s still Oscar bait.

The Queen — I haven’t seen it in a while. I liked it but didn’t love it.

Rang De Basanti — This was another confusing stop on my epic tour of the IMDB Top 250, in that it seems I’m only one of, like, 10 Americans who’s actually seen it. I guess India wields more power over those ratings than I realized. Apparently, this was a huge sensation over there, to the point that sociologists actually study its effect on the culture. Anyway. I don’t think I’m particularly difficult to please at least in a basic sense — if you make me care about what happens to the characters, I’ll be on board for just about everything. So, in that sense, I enjoyed Rang De Basanti, even though it’s kind of clumsy and vague and feels like a 90s special issues movie for teenagers. Also, 90 percent of it is unchoreographed dance scenes, which is probably overdoing it. I guess my biggest issue with the movie is that I can’t really come up with an interpretation of it that is not endorsing violent revolution. But otherwise, decent flick.

Rocky Balboa — A solid modern update on the characters of the Rocky series. It expands on the story well and makes for a compelling, if formulaic, sports drama.

RV — Another in the ongoing series of crude, disgusting kids’ movies with an adult edge that belies a sense of insecurity.

Snakes on a Plane — I could pretend to hate this just to look like a smart critic or whatever. But you’ve got to respect a movie with the courage to be exactly what it says on the tin and to have a tone and approach that matches that pretty perfectly. As far as I’m concerned, though, the TV edit is the definitive version of this film. Those profanity editors had way too much fun cleaning this up.

Superman Returns — I actually don’t hate this. I can’t disagree that it’s a little boring here and there, but I think its solemnity is actually a decent take on the character and what he means in American culture. And when it has to go for the big beats and the large spectacle, it delivers with a fairly steady hand. It’s not great, but I think there are enough praiseworthy things happening under the surface to make it stick out.

United 93 — It’s really hard to approach something like this critically. At the end of the day, we’re talking about an event that happened with exactly the right timing to make it the defining moment in the childhoods of my generation. United 93 seems more interested in recreating the events than it is in storytelling, and it does that well. It gives its viewers a real sense of what this tragedy looked like from the ground, and to those in the air. I still think Paul Greengrass could stand to steady his camera, but that’s the only complaint I’m objective enough to have about this movie. Other than that, I simply can’t look into it too deeply.

We Are Marshall — I’ve seen it and forgotten it.

The Wild — And here, we have kind of the opposite problem of Madagascar, which this movie is transparently ripping off. Here, everything is so textured that it almost becomes kind of creepy, because its overall design is still cartoony. Otherwise, there is no interesting story whatsoever being told here, and the characters are all wooden.

World Trade Center — Every time I watch a movie like this, I go in thinking I must be “over it” enough by now to approach it objectively. I never am. I suspect it isn’t very good; in the moments where I had presence of mind, it struck me that it didn’t know what story it was telling. But it’s all too real; it doesn’t have to earn a thing. Should it? I don’t know. I kind of wonder whether we’re even ready to make movies about 9/11 yet. In a lot of ways, 9/11 never ended; the historical shape of it remains incredibly unclear, especially in these uncertain times. But the second I start picking apart a movie like this, I feel like an ass. I should just end it there, I guess.

X-Men: The Last Stand — I think I’d dislike it more if I actually cared for the other two films in any meaningful sense. As it stands, my feelings toward this movie are more ambivalent than anything else. There’s some decent spectacle. The story’s not particularly engaging, but it could be worse. There’s some okay character stuff, and there are also moments where it randomly drops Earth-shattering events that ultimately don’t affect anything. It’s kind of mediocre, I guess.

2007

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem — Horribly made, amoral garbage.

Alvin and the Chipmunks — Just stupid. I think we were finally transitioning out of the phase where all kids’ films were relentlessly crude and packed to bursting with adult humor — though there are plenty of bodily function gags to go around in this one — but we were still making all of them loud and irritating. As of this writing, we have yet to exit that phase.

American Gangster — Good. A bit stolid and convoluted in the way movies like this tend to be. Good acting. Loved the score. I don’t have interesting thoughts.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — I talked about this a bit in my review of Killing Them Softly. This is a great movie — really great. It’s slow-moving but loaded with atmosphere, and there’s not an actor in this doing less than his or her best. These characters become so real despite the film’s avoidance of really exploring the literal details of their lives. And it becomes a tragic look at the admiration of fame for its own sake and our need to become someone even if that someone contributed nothing to society and in fact, left only destruction. And once we topple the pyramid, there’s a new foundation waiting to come after us, because of the world we’ve created in our pursuit.

Atonement — A bit of an arbitrary tearjerker, but an effective one nonetheless, boosted by Joe Wright’s typically confident and distinctive direction. It feels like several different movies wrapped up into one, and some of them work better than others. Fortunately, it offers its best right off the bat and saves the rest of it for the end, so it’s engrossing when it matters most, even if that middle section is a bit on the slow side. Largely, I think it’s pretty good.

Bee Movie — As kids’ movies went, particularly kids’ movies from this time period, this was surprisingly laid-back and reserved — so much so that it began to approach apathy. It really is an animated Seinfeld. As such, frankly, it’s a little boring. But I do think it’s amusing enough in places to be worth it.

The Bourne Ultimatum — Again, all three of these movies have blurred together in my memory over time, but the principle is the same — I don’t dislike them, but I don’t find them to be some of the greatest action movies ever made.

Bridge to Terabithia — This movie lays its emotions on really thick, and it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what its point is. But as emotionally manipulative as it is, well, at least it’s pretty good at being emotionally manipulative. It gets you. You might not want it to get you, but it does. Its main problem, I suppose, is that it’s sillier than it realizes.

The Bucket List — I saw this, but I don’t remember it very well.

Charlie Wilson’s War — I watched this without knowing who wrote it and who directed. When it ended and I saw the “written by Aaron Sorkin” credit, I immediately thought, “Oh, so that’s why every line of dialogue was pure gold.” It isn’t the best movie in either Sorkin’s or Nichols’ body of work — it negotiates somewhat awkwardly with its historical context, wanting to be a story about a classical American rogue fighting the political system tooth and claw to rescue the plucky underdogs but struggling to incorporate the less-than-ideal ending the story had in real life — but it gets the job done for the most part.

Dead Silence — Modern horror has such a formula, and it’s one that doesn’t often accommodate character or theme. Very little of this felt particularly new to me. Subpar acting, predictable twists. Looks decent, at least. The big scares are pretty easy to call in advance. James Wan has definitely improved his craft since this.

Disturbia — Well, we certainly did try to make this Shia LeBeouf thing work. I’m not sure why we tried, but we did. As thrillers go, this one is ugly but not particularly scary. It’s also annoying and tries too hard to be cool and sexy. And just in case we didn’t realize how bad it was, it decided to draw regular parallels to Rear Window, which would be like Nickelback sampling an Arcade Fire song.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — The sort of great film that’s almost specifically designed to only be viewed once. I think it’s the closest a film could possibly get to putting its viewer in the shoes of someone suffering from locked-in syndrome. You get a real sense of what that affliction might feel like. Inevitably, it’s also a touch boring — and weirdly, that seems intentional on the film’s part and is certainly part of the point. It knows what it’s trying to do, and I can find a method behind every last bit of its madness. Even the visual approach, as tough as it can be to watch, is extremely purposeful and used quite well — it keeps you anchored in its protagonist’s tight, claustrophobic perspective until his spirits begin to left; then, the camera is turned loose. None of this is to suggest that the film is perfect; I think it often struggles to find the story behind all of this. But it’s still quite good and definitely worth seeing once.

Eastern Promises — Solid, if uninspiring. I’m not entirely sure what the point is. It’s an effective but mostly routine crime drama, entertaining but nothing earth-shaking. It’s weirdly mundane for a Cronenberg movie.

Enchanted — I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but this is actually pretty fun and a decent send-up of Disney’s old movies — made by Disney itself — that also exudes plenty of love for them.

Evan AlmightyBruce Almighty might not have grabbed my interest, but at least it had some ideas and ambitions. Evan Almighty is just a dumb kids movie, and all that implies.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — It really hasn’t been that long since I last saw it, but I don’t remember much of anything about it. In this case, I’m going to consider that a product of the movie’s awfulness rather than the time that passed in the interim.

The Game Plan — Scroll up and see The Pacifier.

Ghost Rider — It’s Ghost Rider. Are you expecting me to say that I love it? It should be so difficult to make a boring movie based on this character. But this movie refuses to have any fun whatsoever with this ridiculous premise and ridiculous hero. The script isn’t there, obviously, and what’s even more baffling is how bad the action is — it sets up all these great moments and then has Ghost Rider mop up in seconds, without the slightest struggle. Or the scene with the original Ghost Rider where he just shows up and then leaves. It’s like this movie is actively trying not to be fun.

The Golden Compass — Again, I saw this fairly recently but don’t remember it particularly well. I just didn’t find it interesting. I believe I’ve seen it about one and a half times, actually — the first time, I watched the beginning, got bored, and left. The second time, I forced myself to stick through to the end. It never once grabbed my attention.

Gone Baby Gone — A satisfying, if far-fetched, thriller/mystery. One of those movies where everything is done very, very well, but nothing is quite great. It’s highly enjoyable in the moment, but most of it didn’t stick with me. And yet, I feel as though I could watch it again and still find it very engaging. Flawed but interesting.

Grindhouse — I was into it for a little while. Then the joke got old. The appeal is lost on me. Grindhouse movies didn’t die because of genre trends or a shifting culture; stylistically similar movies are still around. They died because they were terrible. And so, here we have two movies that are intentionally bad; the picture is grainy, the editing is wonky, the dialogue and acting are corny but not in the fun way, and there are built-in missing reels that aren’t nearly funny enough to justify the way they completely upend the narrative momentum. There’s the structureless, unfocused Planet Terror, and then Death Proof, which is one hour of people talking about nothing followed by an interminable car chase. It takes a certain talent of observation to recreate the experience this accurately, but why would you want to recreate this experience accurately? I just don’t see the point. If it isn’t a complete loss, it’s only because parts of Planet Terror were nutty enough to amuse me.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — I don’t know what the general consensus is on this, but I think this might be my least favorite Harry Potter movie. It never really goes anywhere, and the major death at the end doesn’t land on account of how rarely we see that character interacting with our protagonist and how those scenes end up being as dry as they are. Fortunately, there’s still a lot happening visually, and it does introduce Luna Lovegood, who is seriously just the heart and soul of this entire franchise for me.

Hot Fuzz — The first time I watched this, I thought it was only okay — enjoyable mainly because of its bug nuts climax but probably the weak link in the Cornetto trilogy. I don’t know what changed on the second viewing, but somehow, it just clicked. Now, I think it’s almost as good as my faraway favorite of the trilogy, Shaun of the Dead. Something about this movie’s madcap energy and clever subversion just gets right to the heart of my sense of humor. I don’t know why I didn’t find this hilarious the first time, but I sure am glad I gave it another chance.

Hot Rod — There is precisely one funny scene in this, and that is the one where Andy Samberg is singing on his bike. The rest of it is weird, stupid, and unfunny.

I Am Legend — Meh. It’s entertaining enough to be worth one viewing, I suppose. Mostly, though, it’s wasted potential. The alternate ending is so much better, and even that’s a step down from the book it’s based on. I’ve never read it, but I know how it ends, and that’s the kind of fascinating moral ambiguity this movie direly needs.

In the Valley of Elah — Much better than Crash, but then again, what isn’t? It isn’t much subtler, but at least it isn’t obviously stupid in almost every regard. Which is my way of saying that at least you can take In the Valley of Elah seriously on a dramatic level. That’s what makes it work, for the most part — it’s engaging on the emotional level, if not the intellectual level. As for the heavy-handed messaging, the movie doesn’t want to dig much deeper than “war is bad” — it’s disinterested in the politics and the ways in which the system has failed the men returning to the homefront. It just digs up a little movie sadness and then steers clear of significant insight. Still pretty watchable, with Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron both absolutely killing it.

Into the Wild — I feel as though I’m not even prepared to say anything about this, beyond the most tepid observations. I’ve only seen it once. There’s definitely something extraordinarily interesting going on here, so much so that it’s hard to immediately put your finger on it, except in vague terms. It’s a journey in learning that life is both experiences and relationships, that you are the master of your own fate but that locking others out from that world makes whatever success you achieve fleeting and worthless. How much deeper it goes into that would require additional viewings. Based on the one, though, I’m pretty comfortable in saying that, yeah, I love this. This movie is fascinating and possibly very beautiful, despite being simultaneously an absolutely brutal gut punch. Highly recommended.

Juno — I can see how this might grate on people. It definitely would’ve been more interesting viewing in 2007 when the mumblecore invasion hadn’t quite set in yet. Sometimes, the line between dry self-parody and sincerity gets a bit fuzzy. And it certainly can’t be said that it wants for personality. Personally, its quirkiness was tongue-in-cheek enough that I was able to get past it, especially since Ellen Page is absolutely hilarious in this.

Live Free or Die Hard — Most people seem to agree that it’s a bad Die Hard movie but a decent enough action movie. I don’t even go that far. It’s way too long, the set pieces aren’t nearly good enough to justify that, and there’s almost nothing whatsoever connecting the plot emotionally.

Martian Child — I saw this, but I don’t remember it.

Meet the Robinsons — I don’t care for it. It means well enough, but it just never connects.

Michael Clayton — Man, I love this kind of thing. The plot can be a little contrived from time to time, but it’s just so damn compelling. It almost seems to be deliberately challenging itself; most films of this type would have framed the conspiracy as a mystery you’re unraveling alongside the main character, but Michael Clayton gives up the game right off the bat. And yet, it’s no less engrossing for it. It’s now a dream of mine to someday be able to say “I’m Shiva, the god of death” in a situation where it sounds this badass.

The Mist — A decent horror movie, if not necessarily a great one. The direction’s pretty good, the action could be worse, there’s…stuff going on thematically, even if it isn’t always interesting stuff. I’m on the side that thinks the ending is bad, though.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — I saw it, but I don’t remember it.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets — It’s a transparent retread of the first installment, but once it gets into adventuring mode and everyone starts furiously solving asinine clues, it’s fun enough. Like I said, I just have some sort of weird soft spot for Jon Turteltaub.

No Country for Old Men — Just about the bleakest thing to ever play on theater screens nationwide, but it’s just so good. It may be bleak, but it’s tuned into the big questions in a way few movies are. It may leave you without the answers you want, but it’ll at least offer a kindred spirit. It’s the sort of movie that makes you feel like you’re not alone — that other people worry about this, too, and have no idea how to make sense of it. Violence, morality (or lack thereof), death — what does any of it mean? “What you got ain’t nothing new.” Indeed.

Persepolis — It sometimes plays a little too much like a history lesson, and I’m not wild about the animation, but underneath it is a truly powerful story about navigating systems of oppression and finding your place in a world that doesn’t readily offer you one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End — This is where the Pirates movies started going wrong for me. This movie is no less wild and insane than its predecessor, but it’s having considerably less fun with it. Overall, it makes a big mistake in shooting for Lord of the Rings-esque epic rather than goofy pirate adventure, which had been its aim for the previous two films. It just doesn’t earn the scale its forcing onto the story. And the story itself… Like I said, I enjoy the insanity of these films, but this is the leap too far. There’s one scene in this that contains something like a six-way double cross. It is so convoluted and all over the place that you completely lose track of the characters’ motivations and stop caring anyway. It’s not completely terrible, largely because there’s still some solid humor and Gore Verbinski is a good director from a technical perspective. But it is a pretty big mess.

Ratatouille — A joyful ode to creation and discovery, matched with likable characters, nicely detailed animation, and an inescapable sense of fun and creativity. It’s not one of my favorite Pixar movies, but I still like it a lot.

The Simpsons Movie — I’ve never really watched the TV show in any significant capacity, but I still found this to be pretty funny.

Shotgun Stories — Jeff Nichols is well on his way to becoming one of my all-time favorite directors. He’s made only three films, and I would describe them as great, brilliant, and so close to great that it doesn’t matter. This is the one that’s great. Take Shelter, his second film, took me completely by storm, and Shotgun Stories has nothing on it, but it’s still a really good film in its own right. As I’ve said in my reviews of his work, no one in the film industry right now writes character development as well as Nichols. He never compromises on the need for subtlety, and yet, you can see the characters’ mindsets changing right before your eyes. In a movie about a complex and increasingly heated feud between members of a ruined family, that goes a long way. A long way.

Shrek the Third — Where the Shrek movies went from “enjoyable diversion” to “okay, guys, enough Shrek movies already.”

Spider-Man 3 — It’s definitely overly busy and convoluted, and, oh, to be a fly on the wall of this movie’s set when everything surrounding Emo Peter was committed to film. Maybe it’s that I don’t absolutely love any of these movies, but I otherwise don’t think this is quite that bad. Mostly, that’s its spirit; it still has the decency to be mostly light and fun. But yeah, you’ll never catch me arguing that this is a great movie.

Stardust — It’s pretty okay. It looks all right, the tone’s about what it should be, most of the humor works. As you can see, I can’t muster much enthusiasm over it, but it’s mostly decent anyway.

SunshineSunshine is amazing. Danny Boyle loves to make things very pretty. And this movie is very pretty. And it’s also intellectually involving, and the ending could not possibly be more resonant than it is. Here, we have a sci-fi action movie that’s also wrestling with high-scale theological concepts and actually doing it pretty well. And did I say it was pretty? Because it’s really pretty. It’s really, really, really pretty.

Superbad — Eh… I get that it was more or less the first of its kind and did a lot to set the tone for modern comedy. I just think that tone broke comedy more than revitalized it. Watching it now, after sitting through a hundred imitators, it doesn’t pack half as much punch as it did for audiences in 2007 (I was sixteen, and my parents weren’t cool with me watching this sort of thing). I still think a lot of this humor is fundamentally jokeless, just actors constantly searching for new ways to rearrange the words “dick” and “pussy” in a sentence. I kind of hated these characters. They reminded me of all the most annoying people I knew when I was in high school. I don’t know whether that was the intent. It has some good laughs now and then, enough for me to have mixed feelings about it, but you have to fight through so much nonsense to get there.

Surf’s Up — I remember this being mostly ho-hum. My memory of it isn’t too detailed.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — Benefits primarily from being one of the most perfect marriages of director and material in Hollywood history. The tone Tim Burton wrangles this thing into is amazing in its complexity and sheer weirdness, how it can escalate from dark comedy to gut-wrenching brutality on a dime. It’s nearly enough to cover for its narrative shortcomings (namely the way the characters stay the same until the plot decides they need to change and forces it on them all at once). Also, it’s a musical, and I actually liked most of the songs, which is a rare achievement indeed. The scene where Todd decides he’s going to take his vengeance on all of mankind is tremendous, one of the best combinations of visuals, music, and performance I can remember seeing in a movie.

There Will Be Blood — Yeah, I kind of love There Will Be Blood. It’s a fascinating character study and an appropriately dark expose on a man whose evil is driving him to ruin, a man who has no idea what he wants or needs but figures more money will get him there. It’s also a frequently intriguing look at the dark side of when religion and big business get mixed up in one another’s affairs. Yes, it’s full of very loud method acting, but I see that as just being a part of the character of the whole thing. And it’s fun to watch these extremely talented actors get in shouting fests with each other. And that fun is needed, because this is otherwise a very distressing watch, but an extremely worthwhile one.

TMNT — I enjoy the way it looks, and I hoped to end up liking more than that, but I didn’t. The story just didn’t connect for me.

Transformers — …I should probably limit the amount of time I spend talking about this. If you guys have read my reviews on its sequels, you know where I stand with this. And this is just…not the forum for an extended rant on why I believe this is probably the worst trilogy of films ever made. I hated this when it came out. I still hate it, but that hatred has taken on the perspective of hindsight. Which is to say that I now know it gets so, so, so much worse than this movie. It gets so much worse.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep — It’s okay. But it’s one of those movies that is so…resounding in its okayness that you actually get a little upset with it for putting forth so little effort to be better than okay. As far as the general outline, this story has been told before. And this movie follows it beat for beat to the point that a sense of obligation overtakes it, and it just isn’t fun. Watch The Iron Giant or E.T. instead.

Zodiac — There aren’t a whole lot of David Fincher films that don’t feel like David Fincher films. This is one of them, and admirably so; it’s an unusually reserved movie by his standards. As others have said, it’s clinical, a true crime story that couldn’t be more so. To that effect, it seems to maintain its distance from the events it portrays, which maybe held me at bay from loving it. But it’s still very good. It’s a film about the ways in which such tragedies affect culture. You see how the mass media blows things out of proportion or makes life more difficult for the investigators; you see the way people take it for more than it is when it’s hardly the worst problem they’re dealing with; you see, ultimately, the way they forget and move on. You see how the desperate few cling to it and try to make sense out of the madness. They find none. They search for clues and patterns, and it becomes some sort of insane cultural fascination. But there’s nothing there. I’ve heard it said that this movie doesn’t have a protagonist, and I agree. It’s about the one character whose face we never see: the Zodiac Killer himself.

2008

21 — This was the only thing that was ever on when my family switched satellite providers, and we got access to a bunch of new-release movie channels for a month trial or something. This was my late teens. I watched this a few times, but I don’t remember it very well anymore.

Bedtime Stories — I don’t know if I’ve ever officially gone on the record as saying this, but taking it as an equation including longevity, ubiquity, and irritation, I don’t think there’s any movie comedian I find less funny than Adam Sandler.

Bolt — Fun and funny with some pretty great animation here and there. Goes south a bit when it tries to be all emotional and whatnot, but the stuff prior to that is quite enjoyable. 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas — Mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s schmaltzy and cute and Oscar-baity. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel quite exploitative; you could hand-wave most of its tonal decisions with the fact that it’s telling the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a child. And it’s hard to call it a dumb, inspiring stuffy old people drama when it has that seriously gutsy ending. I’m not sure what thematic purpose it serves in the end, but I have a weird sort of admiration for the fact that the movie even goes there. But like I said, I’m middling on the whole.

The Brothers Bloom — This is criminally underrated. I have no idea how something this fun and well-made received such lukewarm reviews. Maybe now that Rian Johnson is a bigger name, people need to revisit this. Or maybe I just have a minority opinion and have to live with it. Either way, I think this is not only a great movie but genuinely one of the best of its year. Rian Johnson has such a diverse output, and this fits so bizarrely into it. You can see his signature touches, but they’re set in the service of something entirely different. This is his funniest film by far, and he shows an Edgar Wright-esque aptitude for visual comedy. The film is hilarious. It’s also smart and a ton of fun and works in the scarce moments where it goes for the emotions. I absolutely love it.

Burn After Reading — Darkly funny in that way that makes you question your moral compass with each laugh. This movie feels like the Coen brothers openly mocking the critics who accuse them of groundless cynicism; they responded with a movie that’s not only cynical but nonsensical. It’s hilarious to me that the final scene has the characters coming up right to the edge of the fourth wall and asking, “What was the moral of this story?” And everyone’s like, “I dunno.”

Changeling — This is really good. And I’m saying that as someone who is typically unmoved by Clint Eastwood movies. Am I insane? Angelina Jolie is better than I’ve ever seen her, the true story is incredibly gripping, it does an excellent job weaving the politics of the time into the plot and using it to reflect larger ideas without blowing up the story into something it isn’t. I feel like I just watched a completely different movie than everyone else.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — I’m torn on this movie. As a film, taken on its own, it’s decent. As an adaptation, it’s awful. It excises a lot of great themes and ideas and scenes from the book and changes the character development into some childish power struggle between Peter and Caspian. And you could say they’re trying to streamline it or whatever, and I’d believe you if it didn’t find time to completely make up an arbitrary action sequence midway through, and to once again blow the climax up into insanity. Like I said, if it was its own movie, not based on anything, I’d say that I like it, but honestly, it’s kind of a disgrace to the book.

Cloverfield — I don’t know that I’ve ever been more baffled to see a movie receive positive reviews. This seems like the sort of thing that would normally inspire a ton of hilarious, acidic reviews from the critical elite. For starters, everything that precedes the giant monster attack is completely unwatchable. And secondly, everything that follows it is a camera shaking around in the dark while people run screaming from a giant thing that we can’t see. And there really isn’t a lot of variation on that premise.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — I may need to give this another chance, but the first time I saw it, back the year it came out, I found it a bit boring and over-long, though not bad, exactly.

The Dark Knight — Once again, certain people on the Internet read some troubling political ramifications into this, and I am trying to make my brain unsee those words. Because otherwise, this is pretty awesome. I’m still pretty content in saying that I think this was the greatest superhero movie ever made at the time of its release. At the time of this writing, I still don’t think it’s been topped, but with the roll Marvel’s been on, it wouldn’t surprise me if it gets beat eventually. I mean, once again, this movie helped start a really obnoxious trend where everything got dark, violent, and ponderous. But then, the only reason that happened in the first place is that The Dark Knight is really good at it. It’s not really a character piece or even quite a storytelling piece (there are some massive leaps in this). But it is an extremely engaging conflict of ideologies that essentially has Batman and the Joker standing in for philosophical concepts and going to battle with one another. And it’s quite gripping and frequently quite frightening, and loaded with atmosphere at the hands of Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister. It just plain knows what it’s doing and mostly knows exactly how to get there. (But, yes, because any discussion of this movie requires me to include this disclaimer, it’s way overrated and not anywhere near being the greatest movie of all time. It’s pretty great. But it’s not that great.)

Departures — I actually think there’s something quite lovely going on here. It’s a moving and well-made film, and it bravely dives into some pretty heavy thematic material with grace if not necessarily with an incredible amount of intelligence. A handful of issues aside, I think it’s wonderful filmmaking.

Doubt — I thought this was absolutely riveting. Am I nuts? I’m a bit of a sucker for religious themes of any kind, but I still thought this was very good. It has its flaws (I’m not sure who the protagonist is or the exact shape of its arc, and the Amy Adams character seems to become whatever person the script needs here to be at the moment), but the great stuff is absolutely brilliant. Even if the rest of the movie was terrible, it would be worth it for the final confrontation between Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman alone. And Viola Davis owning the entire movie in one scene. The morality is so twisted and complex and difficult, and the movie’s refusal to confirm or deny the allegations against Hoffman’s character is infuriating in the best way. I loved it.

The Forbidden Kingdom — Enjoyably stupid.

Fly Me to the Moon — I did not see it because I wanted to. It was family movie night, and this was the sort of thing that just happened sometimes. I don’t think I’ve ever been more bored by a movie of this length.

Get Smart — It kind of starts to wear thin on the third or fourth viewing, once you know all the jokes, but for the second and first, it is pretty funny, so I’d say it’s worth seeing.

Gran Torino — The main advantage it has over other Clint Eastwood movies is its sense of humor, in that it has one. It’s still a fairly dark movie, all told, but I was surprised how often I laughed. It’s got a sharp wit. I’m also pretty impressed with how the film approaches the Eastwood character. It’s a complicated balance — a grouchy, mean, extremely racist old man who is still likable. The movie pulls it off somehow; Walt is weirdly endearing despite being thoroughly unpleasant. I love how his eventual warming to his Hmong neighbors is still couched in hate, condescension, and near-constant insults. His relationship with Sue is my favorite in the film, because she goes toe to toe with him and they’re still friends, in a weird way. I still can’t call it a great movie, largely because it’s just thunderously obvious; it doesn’t have a subtle bone in its body. But I really enjoy what it does well.

Hancock — Messy, messy, messy. So many different tones, so many different mythologies, so many different approaches. I have no idea what this movie wants to be. I don’t think it does either. It’s nearly unwatchable; I can’t even bear to watch a few minutes of it when it’s on TV. It’s so messy that it approaches being kind of uncomfortable.

The Happening — Not M. Night Shyamalan’s first bad movie, but in my estimation, the first one that was bad enough to make us seriously question what was going on. This one is almost comically bad. Scratch that — it is comically bad. And oh, had it been as low as the bar was going to get.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army — You know, script-wise, it’s actually probably a bit worse than its predecessor, and my main problem with that film was its script. Nevertheless, I like this one a lot more and really enjoy it just in general. I mean, Guillermo del Toro’s visual approach is still intact, so it’s got that going for it. I think it’s that the characters finally connect here, and even though there are some big, movie-ruining plot holes on display, their relationships are important enough to viewers that the story feels more coherent, like it’s finally going somewhere. It’s not genius, but it’s a pretty good time.

Horton Hears a Who — This movie’s lame. Come at me, Internet.

Igor — I saw this, but I’ve largely forgotten it. I remember disliking it, and I was smart enough at the time it came out that I largely trust that initial assessment.

In Bruges — This is such a strange movie, but I love it. Comedy, tragedy, gritty crime film with grindhouse levels of blood and gore. It’s weirdly funny in the strange sense of honor and moral code these awful characters have and kind of sad in the way that it portrays their dark and wasted lives.

The Incredible Hulk — This is one of those movies that I liked the first time I saw it, then saw it a second time and wondered what in the world was wrong with me. I’m honestly not even remotely sure what I saw in this on the first viewing. My repeat viewing wasn’t even that far displaced. I mean, there are some good things going on, but mostly…No.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — It should be said that this movie wouldn’t even come to mind when people are talking about the worst movies ever made if it didn’t have the name Indiana Jones attached to its title. Its worst crime is that it’s only okay, in a franchise that has consistently been better than that. There are several issues with it, but for me, the worst of them is that the core cast isn’t as fun as it used to be. The dynamic there isn’t as funny or likable; they’re just a couple of guys who happen to be stuck in this situation together. But at the same time, it’s still got plenty of unpretentious Indiana Jones action/adventuring, and I can’t say it’s not at least a little bit fun. It’s just nowhere near the level of its predecessors.

Iron Man — This is another one of those movies that keeps turning up…discomfiting thematic material the more I examine it under a microscope. And once again, I’m trying not to focus on that, because it’s fun otherwise. Tony Stark is one of our better, more entertaining superheroes, and there’s more you can do with him emotionally as well. And for what it’s worth, there are positive things to be found in his reassessment of his life and his decision to turn it around. I think my biggest issue is the one most superhero origin stories have — the origin story is really good, and the emotionally disconnected first villain fight is just there because that’s what these movies are supposed to do for a climax.

Journey to the Center of the Earth — Viewed apart from the extremely gimmicky 3-D, this movie has absolutely nothing going for it.

Kung Fu PandaVery high on the “should not be good, is anyway” list that I keep filed away in my brain. More surprising here is exactly how good it is, in that it’s not only a pretty funny comedy, it actually…kind of works on a storytelling level. And of course, it looks very good. It seems the DreamWorks team went the extra mile on this one. It was a weird movie for them to start doing that, but I’m glad they did.

Lakeview Terrace — Dark and ugly and not in a good way.

Let the Right One In — There’s something strangely enchanting about it. Also incredibly messed up. Hey, a movie can be two different things at once, right? I like that it’s not self-conscious as a genre film and defies expectations of structure and tone and style. I also like some of the strange but interesting thematic ground it treads. If I have an objection to it, it’s that I’m kind of on the fence about the young leads — they’re all right, but there’s something far too reserved about them for my taste. I’ve known some sullen kids — heck, I’ve been a sullen kid — but I’ve never seen one quite like these. Still, it’s a fascinating exercise.

Marley & Me — It’s a dog movie. It is what it is. And you know what it is. And don’t act like you don’t.

Milk — It can’t help but feel like a bit of a Harvey Milk highlights reel, which is a problem I have with quite a lot of biopics. Still, I can’t think of any other movie that really captures the political dimensions and progress of civil rights movements like this one.

Nim’s Island — I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie. It has three separate stories that seem like they’re going to connect. Then, they do. And then, it ends. I’m not really sure what the point was supposed to be. Everybody just travels, and whimsical, somewhat comedic things happen. I’m not sure what the connection was.

Pineapple Express — Stoner comedies are a pretty distinct breed, and they’re hard to pick apart specifically because of their unfocused, free-floating, hazy personalities. Comes down to whether it’s funny in the end, and Pineapple Express is. Like most movies of its type, it doesn’t have much appeal outside its target audience, but it’s solid for what it is. David Gordon Green has always had more of a vision than most comedy directors; it isn’t too surprising that he’s had a fairly successful run of it on the indie circuit as well.

The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie — Like I said, I grew up on VeggieTales, so there’s some nostalgia here for me. Nevertheless, at the time this came out, I was 16 or 17 and old enough to have developed some critical faculties. And while this isn’t terrible, it mostly fell flat for me. It seems like it should be a lot more manic and absurd than it actually is.

Pontypool — My siblings keep asking me why I won’t watch horror movies with them if I haven’t heard of the movie under consideration. This is why. I’m surprised at the enthusiastic critical reception. It’s one of the rare situations where I can’t even begin to understand it. Boring characters have feverish phone calls for an hour, the acting isn’t tremendous, and when stuff finally happens, it gets so stupid in such a big hurry that I started wondering if I was being had. Do not get it. Not one bit.

Quantum of Solace — This seems to be considered one of the “meh” entries in the James Bond canon, and that must be the case — I last saw it rather recently, and I remember very little about it in terms of the details of my reaction. Basically, I thought it was okay. And that was it.

The Reader — I think people would find this majorly creepy if you gender-swapped the leads. There’s something about it that’s distantly compelling early on, but it becomes an icky, uncomfortable slog after a while. On top of that, it’s about as stereotypically Oscar-y as they come, full of meaningful pauses and goofy symbolic gestures and faux sweetness.

Seven Pounds — This is such a weird movie. But it doesn’t know it’s weird. Which makes it difficult to go along with its insistence that it’s a super powerful and emotionally gripping drama with big, important things to say. It doesn’t help that it gives you absolutely no clues into what’s going on until you’re well past able to care about any of it. This had good intentions, I’m sure, but man does that execution ever not play out.

Slumdog Millionaire — I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Don’t get me wrong — it’s pretty good, and I enjoyed it. The plot shakes a little on the level of its believability, but it’s still a neat idea. And of course, anything Danny Boyle directs is at least going to look great. I think my big issue was that I found both of the leading characters to be a bit boring.

Space Chimps — I still had younger siblings at this point; that’s why. I remember finding it absolutely terrible. I have never revisited it since then, and somebody’s going to have to say something pretty interesting to advance me to that point.

Speed Racer — I didn’t like this when I saw it — I thought the tone was all over the place and the visuals were upsetting — but there has emerged a very vocal group of defenders, some of whom I respect greatly, so I’m starting to think I need to give this another chance before passing judgment.

The Spiderwick Chronicles — I’m finding that this one has become something of a blank space in my memory. Mostly, I remember thinking it was too weird. If someone says something interesting about it, maybe I’ll give it another shot.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars — I own it on DVD. Because I am a completist. I think this is the movie that finally jolted me out of that, though. Because it is terrible. Just terrible. Terrible enough to overpower my ridiculous nostalgia for this series, a feat not even the prequels accomplished. It is nothing more than three episodes of the TV series strapped back-to-back and released as a movie, without even an upgrade to the stiff, low-budget animation. You can even tell where they begin and end. It’s a short movie, but it feels like it goes on forever. It’s just awful.

Step Brothers — I saw this on TV recently and have already forgotten most of it. It has some amusing moments here and there, but mostly, I didn’t think it was particularly funny.

Swing Vote — I saw this years ago. I don’t remember it well enough to talk about its quality.

Tropic Thunder — Modern Hollywood is total “fish in a barrel” satire, but Tropic Thunder attacks it in such a loopy, backward way. It doesn’t make any new points, but it makes them in ways few other films have attempted. The cast is universally great, with particular emphasis on Tom Cruise and, of course, Robert Downey Jr. This movie is a laugh riot.

Twilight — My brother and I watched this recently to see what would happen to us. It’s bad enough to be funny for, like, an hour or so, but after that, it turns into pure suffering. I try not to be judgmental, but I seriously have no idea how anyone enjoys this. It’s boring and self-serious and monochromatic and dull and badly acted and wooden.

W. — It’s a bit weird that this was so controversial when it came out, because if anything, it handles the Bush administration with kid gloves. You could make a pretty hateful and condescending movie about that presidency without bending the facts overmuch. Honestly, the only sign that the film is taking a negative stance on George W. Bush is the way it awkwardly incorporates all his most famous Bush-isms into the script and the fact that it definitely frames the Iraq War as a bad idea from the beginning — though it’s even comparatively gentle there, portraying it as good intentions and bad information. I mostly think the movie proves that you shouldn’t make a movie about a president who’s still in office. Historical context affects the story so much, and this movie is badly dated nowadays — there’s no way it happened as the film suggests it did, based on what we know now. At any rate, I don’t think it’s a great film on its own terms — it has its moments, but it’s about as subtle as a jackhammer, hews too closely to the standard biopic format, and is cast like an SNL sketch.

WALL-E — This is easily my favorite animated movie of all time. Beyond that, it’s probably in my top ten favorite movies period. There is nothing I don’t love about WALL-E. It was such a big risk for a studio that had always made quality films but had produced them within the context of something they could reasonably expect not to intimidate mass audiences. Here, they made a movie that has almost no dialogue whatsoever — and it’s brilliant. The atmosphere and tone are absolutely perfect — playful and sweet but strangely morose. The characters should be on the all-time list, particularly WALL-E, one of the most purely likable protagonists in the history of film. And despite his simplicity and the lack of dialogue and the fact that he’s, you know, a trash robot, the movie manages to craft a sweetly innocent relationship between him and EVE, one that really starts to matter to you as the viewer. Of course, as tends to be the case with every Pixar movie, it was their best-looking production at the time of its release, and it’s still filled with plenty of wonders to behold. And that score is just amazing; I could listen to “Define Dancing” all day. It’s a beautiful and unique and incredible film. 2008 was the year a lot of people picked a fight with the Academy. Most did it for The Dark Knight. I did it for WALL-E.

The Wrestler — You’d consider it a formula sports (so to speak) movie if it weren’t for how it ultimately ends. Fortunately, it’s an example of what happens when you put veteran talent in charge of something familiar. For Darren Aronofsky, this movie is downright straightforward — it’s grounded, down to earth, fairly easy to understand. It’s also absolutely excellent. The film plays your emotions like a fiddle, and it makes its simple point — the times are changing, you have to change with them, and remember what’s really important throughout — as well as it possibly could. Great movie.

2009 (This is where my reviewing career, or whatever you want to call it, started, so I’m not going to write short blurbs on these unless they’re titles I never reviewed. If you want to know what I thought, head over to the archive and click on the link. Just…just remember that I was only 17 or 18 when I wrote most of these. So, they’re awful. Really awful.)

2012

9

Aliens in the Attic

Astro Boy

Avatar

Battle for Terra

The Blind Side

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Coraline

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

District 9

Drag Me to Hell — Somewhere, there’s a hilarious version of this movie where the old woman, the fortune teller, and the medium are partners in an overcomplicated scheme to fake hauntings and bilk people out of all their money. It’s definitely a strong horror movie, with that distinctive Sam Raimi twist. It also triggered all the wrong parts of my conservative religious upbringing and is, therefore, going straight to the “good movies I will never watch again” pile.

Dragonball: Evolution

An Education — I don’t think I successfully maintained interest in this for longer than a few minutes at a time. It’s weirdly edgeless for a movie with this subject matter. Very little of it is at all surprising, and none of the character growth feels earned. The characters are drawn somewhat broadly, and there’s nothing interesting in any of their relationships. For the most part, it struck me as pure Oscar cinema.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fish Tank — It’s subtle and reserved enough to keep you somewhat at arm’s length from it throughout, but deliberately so — it builds into something powerful, a nuanced portrait of a lot of things but particularly the need young people have for someone to look up to, something to aspire to, and how urgent it is that we all be prepared to accept that responsibility. I like its quiet, un-showy ambiguity; it understands the gravity of the cycle its characters are locked in without completely closing the door for them to escape. It’s sometimes predictable in a way I didn’t appreciate, but on the whole, it’s moving stuff.

G-Force

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale — I discovered this when I set off on a campaign to watch everything in the IMDB Top 250 that I hadn’t seen and that was available for streaming on Netflix. To date, no movie in the Top 250 has baffled me more. Oh, yes, there are worse films on that list, but I still understand how they got there, generally through one fandom or another. This, on the other hand…I just have no clue. It isn’t terrible, but it’s a dog movie like any other dog movie. You know the one. I think it’s supposed to be an inspiring tale of loyalty or whatever, but mostly, I just found it to be an exercise in psychologically shattering an innocent dog and then pretending like that’s not completely heartbreaking, somehow.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The House of the Devil — The retro aesthetic; Ti West’s immaculate direction; the creepy, geographical house; a handful of good performances; it’s all there. I just kind of wonder what the point of any of it is. Girl goes to house, nothing much happens for a while, residents suddenly attempt to use her in a satanic ritual, the end. Half of me admires the simplicity, while the other half doesn’t see even a hint of an interesting idea here — just a totally formulaic satanic panic movie all dressed up and repackaged. I liked it; I just can’t see myself wanting to revisit it.

The Hurt Locker

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Imagine That

In the Loop — Frequently quite funny. Peter Capaldi runs away with the whole thing; it’s one of the greatest comic performances of all time. Admittedly, however, I found that the experience as a whole wasn’t quite as memorable as I wanted it to be. Still — “difficult difficult lemon difficult.”

Inglourious Basterds — I think that, to date (May 2015), it’s the best Quentin Tarantino movie by a considerable mile. I was actually surprised at how much I loved it; on paper, everything about it seems poised to aggravate me, especially since I’m generally not a huge Tarantino fan and mostly don’t find any subversive message in his use of violence. In a lot of ways, Inglourious Basterds seems to hit the apex of all those things. And it feels a lot like a trademark Tarantino movie. But it also doesn’t. The violence has an undercurrent of discomfort that feels deliberate this time around — something Tarantino put there on purpose rather than something I’m bringing to the table. It’s the same excessive, over-the-top violence as ever, but there are odd human touches throughout, and the dissonance between the two feels intentional. It’s like a black comedy highlighting the madness of war. Its style is Tarantino at his most Tarantino-est, but its thematic content feels like nothing else he’s made. And beyond that, I think his usual talents are just plain in top form here — the writing, the acting, the characterizations, the way almost every scene is one long, drawn-out piece of unspooling tension. Everything about it really, really works. It’s the one Tarantino movie that allowed me to experience what it’s otherwise like to be a big fan of his work.

Inkheart

Invictus

Knowing — I saw this shortly before I began reviewing but never got around to writing about it for some reason. In the interim, I forgot its existence entirely until I saw, like, five minutes of it on TV. I remember almost nothing whatsoever about it.

The Lovely Bones

Mary and Max — This is extraordinarily weird, and at first, I found it off-putting. To some extent, I still kind of do, but I’ve come to appreciate what the film does with its weirdness. It’s an extremely adult tale told in an extremely childlike way. As such, the wide-eyed and goofy way that it approaches things like depression and abuse and mental illness actually serves to highlight them in a rather unique manner, and I appreciate that it does that.

Monsters vs. Aliens

Moon — Engaging, thoughtful, smart science fiction with some big ideas, solid direction, and a stellar performance from Sam Rockwell. No complaints here.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Old Dogs

Paranormal Activity — There are moments, especially toward the end, where I can sort of see the appeal — the way the camera sits there, unmoving and without empathy, as characters are suddenly dragged screaming from bed is chilly and leaves an impression. But I still have inherently mixed feelings about the genre and its ability to deliver a satisfying feature-length experience. It gets good toward the end, but you have to sit through so much nothing — and so, so, SO many arguments about whether filming this is antagonizing the demon — to get there.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop — I don’t recall the specifics of my dislike for this film, only that I found it unpleasant.

The Pink Panther 2 — This is the same story as the above. I didn’t like it, but I don’t recall my specific reasoning.

Planet 51

Precious — Still not completely sure what I think about this. Lee Daniels is a very strange filmmaker, and not always in a good way; his instincts are weird and his tangents difficult to understand. And on the more ordinary level, Precious definitely flirts with becoming “misery porn.” I hesitate because I know there are people out there who’ve lived this and worse — abuse begets more abuse, and poverty often connects with it, so it’s likely the protagonist’s circumstances aren’t as rare as we’d like to believe they are. It’s hard to say exactly when it crosses the line; I’d say it’s probably the HIV diagnosis, mostly because it has no effect on the story or themes and is barely referenced afterward, existing almost entirely to give the ending that bittersweet flavor it otherwise would lack. I’m not sure why this couldn’t have been a story of a young girl finding herself and building a life beyond her abusers; that’s what it is, for the most part, and I liked that section of the film. There are some interesting things going on here, not the least of which are the performances.

The Princess and the Frog

Race to Witch Mountain

The Road — I think the ending is kind of a cheat, but what precedes it is mesmerizing, atmospheric, and difficult to watch in the best way.

The Secret in Their Eyes — “How do you live a life full of nothing?” Despite the occasional contrivance that comes with the territory as detective movies go, The Secret in Their Eyes, for the most part, offers a strong and frequently haunting answer to that question.

The Secret of Kells

A Serious Man — How is every Coen Brothers movie simultaneously exactly what you expect from a Coen Brothers movie and completely unlike anything that has ever existed? This could be their weirdest movie apart from The Big Lebowski, which, even then, is weird in a more recognizable way, being an over-the-top farce. A huge part of me doesn’t know what to make of A Serious Man, and yet I don’t enjoy it any less because of it. As with most other Coen Brothers comedies, it has my exact sense of humor, and every awkward social interaction, every bewildered silence, every compounding factor added to the otherworldly catastrophe that is the life of Larry Gopnik, is hilarious. I usually dislike when a movie about family dysfunction (at least partially) presents its protagonist as mostly blameless, but it works for A Serious Man — Larry is decent enough that you can’t help but marvel at the way the universe seems to have specifically targeted him for punishment. There’s a point in every comedy where the excessive abuse of a relative innocent crosses the line from sad into kind of funny. Mirthless Laughter: The Motion Picture.

Sherlock Holmes

A Single Man — Worth it for Colin Firth, whose performance is typically detailed and subtle and creates a fully realized character with whom I immediately empathized. The movie surrounding is okay — I think it’s more obvious than it realizes, and its stylistic flourishes to that effect mostly annoyed me. At the moment, not a fan of the ending either.

Star Trek

Surrogates

Taken — A dark, ugly, violent, macho revenge fantasy that has met with almost unanimous approval in some…surprising circles. But I can’t even begin to approve of this.

Terminator Salvation

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The Twilight Saga: New Moon — Blargh. Dumber than the first one, somehow, but it manages to be fun dumb in places. But whereas the first one was a bit more innocently stupid, this is where the “sending really bad messages to young people” started to kick in.

Up

Up in the Air — Charming, well acted, decently written, dryly amusing, and also frequently very obvious.

Watchmen — I don’t really know how I feel about it yet. Best-case scenario, it’s still a jumbled mess shot through with leaden obviousness and tonal disconnect. But it’s also ambitious in a really compelling way. I still can’t make heads or tails of what it’s trying to say.

Where the Wild Things Are

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Zombieland — (WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS) It’s funny, which I suppose is all it strictly needs to be. And it can be fun when it really lets its freak flag fly. I’m just disappointed that it doesn’t really work on any other levels. It’s hard not to to compare it to Shaun of the Dead. I think of how well-integrated that movie’s emotional subtext was. In Zombieland, when we get the reveal that Tallahassee lost his young son, not his dog, the movie just plain hasn’t earned that moment. I don’t think Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone have enough chemistry to make the central romance work either. It’s still a good time; it’s just a bit too resolute in its refusal to become anything more than that.

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