Sunday, December 26, 2010

My picks for films of 2010


THE RUNAWAYS - Great music, exhilarating performances (Shannon deserves a supporting actor nod), great 70s atmosphere and delightfully obscene. Easily my favorite film of the year. I'm blindly in love with each and every frame.

INCEPTION - Nolan's visuals and unique spin on the heist film combined with some fine performances (Cotillard in particular) elevate Inception from a b-genre experiment to the stuff dreams are made of.

TOY STORY 3 - Pixar never ceases to impress, packing Toy Story 3 with more laughs and tears than you would think Woody Buzz and the gang were capable of. They even utilize tacked-on 3D to immerse an audience in their world more effectively than Avatar.

THE GHOST WRITER - Polanski's best mystery since Chinatown reminds you why he's one of the masters of uneasy tension and the mystery that seems just out of reach.

WINTER'S BONE - A family drama epic in scope, but with a powerful emotional core in Jennifer Lawrence (I'm betting n her to win Best Actress) and an Oscar-worthy supporting turn in John Hawkes.

THE KILLER INSIDE ME - One of the most visually astonishing and harrowing films of the year, both exhilarating and sickening.

TRUE GRIT - The Coen's latest is at once a bleakly beautiful love letter to westerns and a hilarious dark comedy. It's their fifth attempt at something that didn't spring directly from their heads, but it has the uniquely Coen feel of a Fargo or Miller's Crossing.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP - Banksy makes his directorial debut - or does he? - with this witty, fast and fascinating documentary on the graffiti art movement.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD - Edgar Wright's most energetic, inventive and fun film mixes high-energy video game and comic book aesthetics within the purely visual world of film masterfully. The most aesthetically astonishing film this year.

KICK-ASS - Matthew Vaughn's comic-book film isn't afraid to draw blood. At once a satire of the modern superhero movie and it's real-world implications, while also basically wish-fulfillment for bloodthirsty would-be vigilantes, Kick-Ass is fun, dark and pervasive. It may not be a great film, but it's easily one of the year's most entertaining. Chloe Moretz gives one of the year's most memorable performances as Hit-Girl.

SPLICE- This odd science fiction horror bends more than just genres and feels like an early Cronenberg film with a higher budget. This one is best left unspoiled.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK - Fincher and Sorkin's collaboration will probably win this year's Best Picture. It's an excellent film, perfectly capturing the fleeting feelings and friendships in the age of Facebook, and Jessie Eisenberg deserves the Oscar for his outstanding performance. Both Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield deserve nominations as well. Also contains one of the year's best quotes: "You know what's cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars."

CARBON NATION - The natural and much-needed follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth. Carbon Nation recognizes the seriousness of climate change, but realizes somber voice-overs and pretty penguins isn't as effective as good-natured humor and informative investigation when prompting people to change their ways. This one I can guarantee you didn't see, but check it out here:

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - Dreamworks' surprise hit deserved it's success for delivering a real emotional and visceral thrill with stunning 3D, achieved not only through the technology's visual pop, but well done traditional storytelling.

PIRANHA 3D - The most unabashedly fun exploitation film this side of Grindhouse. It isn't half as good as that film, but that's the point; it's closer to real exploitation.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I - Harry Potter 7.0 managed to improve upon the book (for me at least), making it more urgent and engaging. This series is fantastic, and although I wish Yates hadn't been tapped for the last 3 books/4 movies, if Part I is any indication, Part II will be a brilliant finale.

Ones I reeeally enjoyed but didn't feel like writing a ton about for you:

BLACK SWAN - maybe not emotionally captivating, but an exquisitely paranoid journey

BURIED - the year's most inventive thriller

CITY ISLAND - a quiet and funny family dramady

THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION - surprisingly not the latest installment in the Final Destination franchise

EASY A - a surprise comic gem a la Mean Girls, Easy A turned Emma Stone into a leading lady

THE FIGHTER - contains some of the year's most electrifying performances

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE - Ok, NOT a good film, but the best time travel movie this year, hands down

I AM LOVE - fantastic filmmaking, if not the most emotionally compelling

JACK GOES BOATING - cute and touching romance with the perfect pop-soundtrack

THE KING'S SPEECH - thrilling and funny, the best kind of Oscar-bait

NOWHERE BOY - Aaron Johnson is breathtaking as a young John Lennon

SALT - this Bourne-esque action pick was a welcome escape from disappointing summer releases

SHUTTER ISLAND - Scorsese's love for Val Lewton shows throughout each frame

127 HOURS - Boyle's energy bursts through the screen, and James Franco's arm

YOUTH IN REVOLT - Michael Cera's other film was also a commercial failure, even though it's hilarious


ALICE IN WONDERLAND - Tim Burton's abortion of a film failed to leave an impression with it's tired visuals, poor 3D and unnecessary "re-imagining" of an already captivating story.

SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE - This cheap Judd Apatow knock-off simply didn't provide any laughs.

MY SOUL TO TAKE - Wes Craven's newest felt like a bad '90s teen horror rip-off of a '90s Wes Craven horror flick. This one was at least hilariously bad, at least until the last 15 minutes, which were just dull.

JONAH HEX - This awkward semi-steampunk western failed to deliver fun action or memorably campy laughs. It's a shame, because the original script, from the creators of CRANK, was apparently pretty badass.

Overall there were a ton of excellent films this year. There were also a bunch that sort of just... happened (Iron Man 2, Hereafter, Robin Hood, The A-Team, Despicable Me, Devil, etc). Some of those were pretty decent (Iron Man's cast was inspired and The A-Team was a guilty summer pleasure), but overall a lot of the major releases this year felt lackluster. This note may feel more like an assessment of all the films I've seen this year than a "best of" list, but trust me, I've left a lot out.

So, there you have it. I didn't see everything that came out, and there are a ton I missed out on and mean to watch. Meanwhile, feel free to rip apart, comment on, or agree with my opinions. What was your favorite film this year? Least favorite?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The IFC News Podcast - And Me!

For anyone who doesn't already, you should start listening to the IFC News Podcast. Allison Willmore and Matt Singer do a really good job talking about interesting film-related topics for 45-60 minutes each week. By the way, this week's episode (The Great 2010 Oscar Queso Challenge) features some of my email in response to the last week's episode, not that that should keep you from listening to it (it starts at the 41:12 mark).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoughts on Oscar Nominations

For this post I’m stealing something from Emma over at All About My Movies: My take on some of the 2010 Academy Awards nominations. I’ve left out the short films categories because I haven’t seen any of them, but if that changes I’ll be sure to post about those as well.

Best picture

Avatar (James Cameron and Jon Landau)

The Blind Side (Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson)

District 9 (Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham)

An Education (Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey)

The Hurt Locker (Katheryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicholas Chartier and Greg Shapiro)

Inglourious Basterds (Lawrence Bender)

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness)

A Serious Man (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

Up in the Air (Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman)

Up (Jonas Rivera)

I’m looking forward to what the expanded nomination list for Best Picture brings us in the future, but I have to say I cannot imagine why something as obvious and overrated as District 9 got a Best Picture nom over the far more entertaining sci-fi blockbuster of the year: Star Trek. Also: The Blindside? Really? I know its got old-school Hollywood behind it, but it really looks like nothing more than a Lifetime original movie with Sandra Bullock in the lead (I’ll admit I haven’t seen it, but it is the only Best Picture nominated film I have yet to watch). Everything else here is pretty much as expected. I’m rooting for Up, my favorite of the year, but it’s looking like Avatar and The Hurt Locker are the favorites (although I wouldn’t count Precious out of the running). Personally I feel that Up, The Hurt Locker and Up In the Air are the best films on the list, in that order.


Avatar (James Cameron)

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)

Precious (Lee Daniels)

Kathryn Bigelow is easily the best choice for Directing in my opinion. Rietman and Tarantino both pulled off some fine films, and Cameron brought us some stunning technological innovations and thrilling spectacle, but I wouldn’t give him another statue for it. Also, Lee Daniels? Wasn’t his direction one of the problems even critics who loved Precious have with that film?

Actor in a leading role

Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart

George Clooney in Up in the Air

Colin Firth in A Single Man

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

I’ve seen every performance here save for Freeman’s in Invictus. Bridges gets my vote, with Firth and Renner coming in at a close second. I love George Clooney in Up In the Air as well. Everything here seems quality, although Invictus looks suspiciously like filler, especially with this year’s performances from the likes of Nicolas Cage (Bad Lieutenant) or William Dafoe (Antichrist).

Actress in a leading role

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Helen Mirren in The Last Station

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious

Carey Mulligan in An Education

This is one of the weakest categories unfortunately. I know I’m not the only person the feel that Bullock’s nomination is a sure sign of the apocalypse, but the sheer lack of quality leading roles for women this year was depressing. I haven’t seen The Last Station and although Mirren’s precsence here feels like filler, I can’t help but feel it must be better than Bullock and at least on a par with Streep in Julie & Julia. Mulligan was exquisite in An Education but that doesn’t mean that film wasn’t one of 2009’s most overrated. I have a feeling this one will come down the Gabourey Sidibe and Oscar darling Streep. I love Streep, but I don’t think Julia Childs is one of her best performances, so I suppose I’ll go with Sidibe, who rally came from out of nowhere to deliver a quality performance.

Actress in a supporting role

Mo'Nique in Precious

Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air

Penélope Cruz in Nine

Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

Mo’Nique has this one in the bag, no question. Gyllenhaal was excellent alongside Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart though and has been deserving Oscar attention for years now. Both Farmiga and Kendrick were delightful semi-surprises this year, and it looks like Cruz was actually filler this year, seeing as Nine was pretty much panned for being a kitschy remake of 8 ½/Broadway adaptation.

Actor in a supporting role

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Christopher Plummer in The Last Station

Matt Damon in Invictus

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones

Woody Harrelson in The Messenger

Alright, here I’ve only seen Inglourious Basterds but I think it’s safe to say Waltz is just as safe, if not more so, than Mo’Nique. Out of the other nominations I have a feeling Harrelson’s is the next best and, although this is his first nomination in a career that more than deserves Oscar attention, I doubt Tucci in The Lovely Bones will bring him any gold.

Animated feature film

Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)

The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker)

Coraline (Henry Selick)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)

The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore)

This category is one of the more interesting. Obviously I feel that Up would deserve the Best Animated Feature award the most, but I would rather see it win Best Picture and give Fantastic Mr Fox the animation award. Both Coraline and The Princess and the Frog had their unique charms, although I think Coraline would deserve the Oscar for it’s originality and dark tone over Disney’s return to 2D. As for The Secret of Kells, which I had never heard of before the nominations announcements, I can only go by the trailer, which looks a little underwhelming.

Foreign language film

Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Israel)

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)

The Secret of Her Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina)

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, Germany)

The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, Peru)

Documentary (feature)

Burma VJ (Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller)

The Cove (Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens)

Food, Inc (Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein)

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith)

Which Way Home (Rebecca Cammisa)

Here I’ve only seen Food, Inc which I was pleased to see get nominated. I’ve only heard excellent things about The Cove and consider it the frontrunner since I’ve heard little to nothing about the other titles. Glaring omissions: Anvil! The Story of Anvil and Capitalism: A Love Story

Writing (adapted screenplay)

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)

An Education (Nick Hornby)

Precious (Geoffrey Fletcher)

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner)

In the Loop (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche)

Having seen all of these films I would pick In the Loop for it’s Strangelove-esque portrayal of world politics and razor-sharp expletive filled dialog. Up In the Air had a nice Capra-esque tone to it, and although An Education has Nick Hornby going for it, I see Precious as the favorite in this category. Shame on District 9 for wasting more than one important nomination.

Writing (original screenplay)

The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)

A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Up (Pete Docter and Bob Petersen)

The Messenger (Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman)

This group is a closer one to call. Both the Coens and Tarantino are personal and Academy favorites, but Pixar’s delicately scripted Up deserves the gold here. Tarantino’s Basterds was fun, but Christoph Waltz was the best thing about it. Surprisingly, this is one year where I don’t think the Coen brothers are the obvious choice.


Avatar (Mauro Fiore)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Bruno Delbonnel)

The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)

Inglourious Basterds (Robert Richardson)

The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

I have yet to see The White Ribbon, but these nominees look disappointingly drab. Sure all the films look good, but Avatar for Cinematography? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was good, but a few steps behind Prisoner of Azkaban both visually and emotionally. The Hurt Locker is the best choice here, capturing some frighteningly realistic and action-packed visuals while maintaining visual continuity and emotional connection.

Music (original score)

Avatar (James Horner)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Alexandre Desplat)

Up (Michael Giacchino)

The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders)

Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer)

With the exception of Horner’s fairly standard adventure score this is another diverse but deserving selection of nominees. Fantastic Mr Fox carried some typical Wes Anderson charm with it, although when considering the soundtrack to an Anderson film I tend to think less about the score than the sumptuous pop selections. Beltrami and Sanders’ score to The Hurt Locker worked perfectly alongside Bob Murawski and Chris Innis’ editing to really get audiences’ adrenaline pumping. Sherlock Holmes managed to both get the job done as an action/adventure blockbuster and create a 21st Century updated Victorian atmosphere that, alongside Downey Jr.’s performance felt right at home with the character. But Michael Giacchino’s score for Up is surely the best of the lot, just watch that dialog-free opening montage without the sound and tell me if it has half the impact as it should with Giacchino’s score.

Music (original song)

Almost There”, from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman

Down in New Orleans”, from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman

Loin de Paname”, from Paris 36 by Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas

Take it All”, from Nine by Maury Yeston

The Weary Kind”, from Crazy Heart by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

I haven’t seen Nine or Paris 36 but I have listened to “Take It All” and “Loin de Paname” thanks to the wonder of YouTube. Still, I think “The Weary Kind” deserves this one. The only omission I can think of would be the hilarious “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover, which would been a welcome replacement for one of the two adequate songs from The Princess and the Frog.

Visual effects

Avatar (Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R Jones)

District 9 (Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken)

Star Trek (Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton)

Alongside Supporting Actor and Actress I think this is the category that already has a winner. Unless the Academy has some bizarre take on what constitutes visual effects Avatar has this one down.

Art direction

Avatar (Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dave Warren, Anastasia Masaro and Caroline Smith)

Nine (John Myhre and Gordon Sim)

Sherlock Holmes (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer)

The Young Victoria (Patrice Vermette and Maggie Gray)

In this category I’ve only seen Avatar and Sherlock Holmes. All the films look exquisite from the stills and trailers I’ve seen. However, I have a feeling Avatar will win IF the Academy considers computer generated sets art direction. Avatar does boast possibly the most immersive and impressively crafted digital worlds ever put on film.

Costume design

Bright Star (Janet Patterson)

Coco Before Chanel (Catherine Leterrier)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Monique Prudhomme)

Nine (Colleen Atwood)

The Young Victoria (Sandy Powell)

Both Bright Star and Coco Before Chanel are about clothes and both has some beautiful costumes, but having only seen those two films I can’t really form a strong opinion on this. I will say Nine has the lavish Broadway costumes that the Academy has shown love for in the past, but The Young Victoria has the lavish period costumes the Academy also seems to adore.

Film editing

Avatar (Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron)

District 9 (Julian Clarke)

The Hurt Locker (Bob Murawski and Chris Innis)

Inglourious Basterds (Sally Menke)

Precious (Joe Klotz)

Out of all these only Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker really deserve and Editing award, The Hurt Locker being my choice, for reason that run alongside both the Best Directing and Music categories.


Il Divo (Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano)

The Young Victoria (Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore)

Star Trek (Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow)

Sound editing

Avatar (Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle)

The Hurt Locker (Paul NJ Ottosson)

Inglourious Basterds (Wylie Stateman)

Star Trek (Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin)

Up (Michael Silvers and Tom Myers)

I don’t know much about sound editing or sound mixing, but if I had to choose among these films I would say it’d be a toss-up between Up’s rich mixture of sounds, ranging from talking dogs and thousands of balloons to old men dueling and old fashioned newsreels and The Hurt Locker’s tight yet encompassing sounds of warfare.

Sound mixing

Avatar (Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson)

The Hurt Locker (Paul NJ Ottosson and Ray Beckett)

Inglourious Basterds (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano)

Star Trek (Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J Devlin)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Greg P Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson)

Again, I don’t know much here, but I would say Avatar, Star Trek and Inglourious Basterds sport the most impressive soundtracks.

So, other omissions? Well, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Ponyo and Coco Before Chanel deserved Best Picture nominations, not to mention the Best Documentary Feature/Best Animated Feature/Best Foreign Film categories. World’s Greatest Dad would have made an awesome dark horse for Best Picture although a Best Original Screenplay would probably be more likely. Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated got some early buzz for Supporting Actor, and even though he doesn’t compare to Chistoph Waltz it would have added an interesting element to the show come March 7. The Brothers Bloom, Adventureland and Where the Wild Things Are were all deserving of screenplay noms, Watchmen had some amazing visual effects, Public Enemies’ editing was superb, and from what I’ve heard Two Lovers got shut out unjustly.

So, what do you think of the 82nd annual Oscar nominations? Any films you think got snubbed? Any films you think got some undeserved attention?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why James Cameron is Still the King of the World

Well, Avatar has now passed the $2 billion mark, officially surpassing Titanic’s worldwide gross of around $1.8 billion (according to Box Office Mojo). This makes Avatar the highest grossing movie of all time, not adjusting for inflation of course. Because if you did adjust the numbers, Gone With the Wind would be the highest grossing film of all time with a whopping $1,507,252,900.

Still, $2 billionis no small feat. After reports of being the most expensive movie ever made, a teaser trailer that looked – let’s be honest – less than stellar, and not only a shoddy economy, but higher ticket prices to see a 3D/IMAX show, Cameron’s space epic has spent seven weeks at the number one spot in the U.S. and won two Golden Globes (Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama respectively) and its chances of doing well at the Oscars are looking better every day.

For sure, the film is a marvel; it’s fun, thrilling, spectacular entertainment and an astonishing technical achievement. The plot may be reminiscent of films such as Dances With Wolves (an Academy Award winner for Best Picture I might add) or The Last Samurai, and it may have an obvious political stance and minor character development, but damn if it isn’t fun. With films such as The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic, Cameron knows how to deliver thrilling spectacles that appeal to, seemingly, everyone on the planet with access to a movie theater.

However, Titanic and Avatar are not the only two films to have crossed the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office gross. Again, according to Box Office Mojo, The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest and The Dark Knight have all made over a billion dollars, and they were all released within five years of one another. So what makes Cameron so special? Why does he deserve the title of “King of the World”? Well, it’s simple really: he’s done it twice, and you know what? He could do it again. The promise of an Avatar sequel means upping the ante, which these days necessitates a higher gross at the box office as well as grander spectacle on the big screen.

Back in Hollywood’s golden age, films like Gone With the Wind or Ben-Hur sold themselves as the biggest, greatest movies ever made and audiences flocked to them to share a global cultural experience. Today the emphasis is mostly on the biggest, but that doesn’t mean some of today’s big films aren’t excellent ones as well.

It doesn’t look like Avatar is done setting box office records just yet, and some may still consider it a 3D cross between Fern Gully and Dances With Wolves, but I can’t help but think of it as one of the few global cinematic cultural experiences since Titanic that I’ve experienced for myself. And frankly, after Jake Sully and Neytiri (along with all those other ten-foot tall blue Na’vi) win their battle against the greedy humans to save Pandora, and those big CGI eyes open up, I did give a damn.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Underrated films of the decade

The Baudelaire orphans, Klaus, Sunny and Violet from "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"

These are just some films I've seen and enjoyed that I don't think got enough credit or were seen by enough people. Some of these films are hidden greats, some get the job done really well, and some just have that niche that makes them stick out to me. Comment if you've got suggestions because there are films out there that I haven't gotten around to yet.

The Baxter - Michael Showalter
Overlooked as another lifeless romanic comedy, The Baxter is a lighter 40-Year-Old Virgin with a fresh premise and a delightful supporting performance from Michelle Williams.

Conversations With Other Women - Hans Canosa
A little-seen minor masterpiece that uses its split-screen technique as metaphor for the difficulty of relationships.

Crank - Neveldine/Taylor
Looked at as just another loud, dumb action vehicle for Jason Statham, Crank is brimming with outrageous humor and cinematic invention.

Down in the Valley - David Jacobson
This small Edward Norton film draws inspiration from Taxi Driver, yet is entirely self-assured as its own film. One of Evan Rachel Wood's breakthrough roles.

Dr. T & The Women - Robert Altman
Widley considered one of Altman's weaker comedies and criticized for being masochistic, Dr. T & the Women is a fascinating look at how one man surrounded by women is driven to the edge. Stands alongside the Coen's A Serious Man as one of the best film versions of the story of Job.

Film Geek - James Westby
You can feel the love for film oozing out of Melik Malkasian's performance as Scotty Pelk, the awkward main character of this micro-budget festival film.

The Final Cut - Omar Naim
Echoes of similar futuristic dystopias don't falter this well-made arty genre picture because it proudly stands alongside some of the best as a worthy companion piece.

The Good German - Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh's experiment with old equipment and moviemaking style may be a bit messy and very flawed, but it is fascinating and stunning to look at.

The Good Girl - Miguel Arteta
Who knows why this minor masterpiece hasn't been seen by more people? Not only does is star Jennifer Aniston, but it's got Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson and Zooey Deschanel as well as one of the most poignant and beautiful moments on film this decade.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad - Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti
This basically homemade doc is a fascinating and compelling look at the effects of war in the Middle East on regular people.

In Good Company - Paul Weitz
Brushed aside as another generic mainstream drama, In Good Company doesn't blow you away, but it hits the right notes consistently and ends in a satisfyingly off-kilter way.

Lady Vengeance - Chan-wook Park
Everyone seems too busy loving Oldboy to pay much attention Chan-wook Park's less flashy final chapter in his Vengeance Trilogy.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - Brad Silberling
Unfavorable comparisons to Tim Burton were numerous upon its release, but Lemony Snicket's... has some amazing visuals, creative quirk, fun performances and the perfect Thomas Newman score to accompany it. Also perhaps the best end credits sequence this decade.

Lucky Number Slevin - Paul McGuigan
McGuigan's stylish thriller was criticized as style over substance, but when the style is this good and the story is this fun, does it matter?

MirrorMask - Dave McKean
How many people saw this masterpiece? In the vein of Labyrinth except more surreal, dark and polished.

Mostly Martha - Sandra Nettelbeck
This German romance was remade as No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Do yourself a favor and watch the near-perfect original instead.

Ocean's Twelve - Steven Soderbergh
After the highly successful Ocean's Eleven in 2001, Soderbergh went and made this sequel in a radically different style and piled on the Hollywood in-jokes so heavy that the only people who probably get all the jokes are the people who made the thing. Still, repeat viewings reveal lots of hidden gems such as the phenomenal soundtrack, groovy neo-retro-new-wave style or the totally unnecessarily elaborate intricacies of the plot.

Pontypool - Bruce McDonald
One of the best zombie movies. Stands alongside Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later...

Primer - Shane Carruth
Primer won the Grad Prize at Sundance when it came out, but was overshadowed by Zach Braff's Garden State.

Quid Pro Quo - Carlos Brooks
Vera Farmiga proved she can do better than her performance in The Departed in this odd mystery/drama that stars the very talented Nick Stahl.

Scoop - Woody Allen
After Match Point, almost anything Woody came out with would have paled in comparison, but Scoop is genuinely funny and cute.

Sex and Death 101 - Daniel Waters
Bizarre and messy, Sex and Death 101 has some very interesting stuff underneath what may look like a lame sex comedy.

Shopgirl - Anand Tucker
Aside from one embarrassing scene, this Steve Martin-penned drama hits the perfect note.

S1m0ne - Andrew Niccol
It settles for some issues we've seen before, and it isn't without some messy flaws, but S1m0ne is a thoroughly funny and telling critique of our culture's fascination with celebrity.

The Skeleton Key - Iain Softley
An absolutely first-rate thriller that employs classic Hollywood style to keep you riveted even when you know it's just a movie.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - Kerry Conran
Sky Captain pre-dates Sin City in my mind at least. Here green-screen immersion is used to bring director Conran's imagination to the screen unfettered.

Smiley Face - Gregg Araki
Stoner comedies have never been this arty (in that indie way). Or maybe indie films have never been this purposefully stupid? Either way Anna Faris shines and Araki brings an odd sense of meaning to a film about getting high and being stupid all day.

The Station Agent - Thomas McCarthy
A breakout mini-hit on release and one of the films that brought Peter Dinklage into our (ever so grateful) lives.

Teeth - Mitchell Lichtenstein
People hear "vagina dentate" or "it's about a girl with teeth in her vagina" and automatically turn around. But they're missing one of the most entertaining and offbeat cult films about female revenge this decade.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
T3 doesn't have the series' best villain, and people complain that it negates T2's message that the future is unwritten. However, the threequel boats some fine action set pieces as well as still-impressive effects. The inspired casting of Nick Stahl and Claire Danes pays off and who doesn't love Schwarzenegger in his signature role? (I also personally kind of prefer the whole "you can't change fate, only postpone it" aspect)

Trick 'r Treat - Michael Dougherty
Delayed for no logical reason for three years, X2 screenwriter Michael Dougherty's directorial debut got a dvd release in late 2009. Those who have seen it have experienced one of the most entertaining horror anthologies since Romero's Creepshow.

Wet Hot American Summer - David Wain
The State got together and made a movie. One of the funniest movies ever.

Willard - Glen Morgan
This remake of the 1971 original (which featured Michael Jackson's "Ben") is an intentionally campy, sometimes quite frightening horror film which features some of Crispen Glover's best work since Back to the Future.

World's Greatest Dad - Bobcat Goldthwait
A limited release and some awkward subject matter may have frightened or disgusted would-be audiences away from this hilarious and refreshing dark comedy.

Young People Fucking - Martin Gero
Don't let the title scare you away! This is a surprisingly hilarious and even endearing little comedy that is a bit dirty, but not half as explicit as you would think.

Mario, Lea, Lina and Martha from "Mostly Martha"