As I always remind EW readers, my 10-best list covers (roughly) the months from November to November. I like to be early because I know mainstream critics depend on my list for guidance, recognizing my impeccable taste. I should also remind you guys that I’m an entertainment writer, not a movie critic. Like Charlie in the old StarKist commercials, I’m not interested in tuna with good taste; I want tuna that tastes good. And so, without further ado, here are the Ten.
10. Green Zone
Matt Damon is at his decent-Everyman best as a U.S. Army chief warrant officer who discovers that the Iraqi WMD thing — and, hence, our reason for going to war — is a hoax. Greg Kinnear is nearly as good, playing a smarmy State Department type anxious to perpetuate the cover-up. Here’s one Iraq-war movie that puts story and suspense above shrill outrage.
9. Jackass 3D
I actually saw it in 2-D, but humor this low hardly needs an extra dimension. Few of the gags can be described in a family magazine, so let’s leave it at this: If you find the idea of grown men in their underpants playing tetherball with a hive of pissed-off Africanized bees as hilarious as I do, you loved Jackass. If not…go rent a Woody Allen movie.
The United States has built a wall between Texas and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out — only these illegals are 60 feet high and have tentacles. Director Gareth Edwards created the special effects on a laptop, and they’re amazingly good. The story — newspaper photographer is tasked with bringing his boss’ wayward daughter out of the infested zone — is simple, but sturdy and resonant. Think Heart of Darkness crossed with District 9.
Two scientists use gene-splicing technology to create a freakish, fast-growing baby that is as pathetic as it is terrifying. What lifts this film far above average are talented actors — Adrien Brody and the divine Sarah Polley — who take the material seriously, and the guiding hand of producer Guillermo del Toro, who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth.
An ordinary kid named Dave (Aaron Johnson) learns that being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The performances of Chloë Grace Moretz as the petite, bloodthirsty Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage at his balls-to-the-wall craziest as her father are what make the movie shine. Kick-Ass also contains the second-best line of the year: “Now switch to kryptoniiiiite!”
This satisfyingly complex cops-‘n’-robbers movie features great performances from Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, and — surprising but true — Hayden Christensen. The climax strains credulity, but the characters feel real, and the armored-car heist is the best action sequence I’ve seen this year.
4. The Social Network
Jesse Eisenberg is a revelation as the fast-talking, corner-cutting, terminally insecure compu-geek Mark Zuckerberg. Meaty and character-driven, full of too-smart-for-their-own-good kids who talk with the rat-a-tat speed of gunsels in a James Cagney movie, The Social Network succeeds where Michael Douglas’ Wall Street sequel fails. It’s a nasty-business classic.
Did I fully understand the dream-within-a-dream concept? I did not. Nor did I care. Christopher Nolan’s delirious dreamscapes filled me with delight and wonder, and that was enough. TV is often great at what it does, but sometimes only the big screen will do. For long stretches of Inception, I was literally unable to look away.
2. The Town
Bad title, fantastic movie. I’d be the first to admit that Martin Scorsese is a more innovative and imaginative director than Ben Affleck (at least so far), but Affleck understands the sad and seedy underclass of Boston’s Charlestown — known just as the Town to its scuffling inhabitants — in a special way. For a movie that ends with a gaudy blast of gunfire, it’s a strangely intimate film, and the situation that drives the plot (professional bank thief falls in love with hostage) is simultaneously sweet and weirdly kinky.
1. Let Me In
Moving and bloodthirsty, tender and horrifying, sweet and gruesome. These beautifully drawn contrasts — plus the bleak snowscape of Los Alamos, N.M. — make Let Me In the best remake (from the Swedish film Let the Right One In) of the year, and the best horror film of the decade. It’s a story of teenage love and loss that makes the Twilight films look pallid by comparison.
That’s my list, but it wouldn’t be right to close without mentioning the best line of the year: “Machete don’t text.” But you knew that.