A look at the good, the bad and the complicated from our film writers
Published: January 2, 2013
Promised Land | B
1) Silver Linings Playbook
A perfect romantic comedy cleverly embedded in a dysfunctional family drama, somehow managing to subvert both genres while delivering sheer moviegoing bliss.
2) The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's incredibly vivid exploration of the hidden desires, depravity, faith, trauma and ambition of the "Greatest Generation," manifested in the twisted grimace of Joaquin Phoenix's shell-shocked, self-medicating survivor.
3) Turn Me On, Dammit!
A hilarious, squirmy, moving and bluntly honest comedy about teen female sexual awakening that comes from Norway, of all places, yet manages to be more immediately relatable than just about any domestic product.
4) Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow's morally dubious, shrewdly calculated procedural about the long hunt for Osama bin Laden pulls off the magic trick of simultaneously engaging and indicting the viewers for rooting on the devious tactics of their CIA anti-heroes. The eventual Seal Team Six raid on the terrorist's compound is no less mesmerizing for being ripped from recent headlines.
Ben Affleck's express pass to the directing A-list is a deftly crafted espionage thriller cannily spot-welded to a savvy showbiz satire that never relents or winks, and miraculously maintains nail-biting tension with real world events that happened three decades ago. Most amazingly, it makes polyester Jimmy Carter, me-generation malaise and inside-the-beltway cynicism seem somehow appealing.
6) Django Unchained
Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz exterminate vicious slave traders with extreme prejudice in Tarantino's giddily offensive, obscenely excessive "spaghetti Southern" — part action homage, part pointed civics lesson, it drops more N-bombs than Katt Williams in a full-on meltdown.
7) The Avengers
It only took 49 years and a half-dozen "prequel" movies to assemble a team of Marvel Comics' super-duper heavyweights into one flick, but the wait was nearly worth it, as fanboy savior Joss Whedon delivered the year's most purely enjoyable popcorn picture, one that was actually worthy of the hype, the budget and the extra bucks for a 3-D ticket. Hulk, smash!
A trippy time-travel caper that turns its own pretzel loop structure into a snarky commentary on genre tropes, all while providing edgy thrills, humor and a genuine emotional wallop.
Out of the dingy, smut-soaked soil of the San Fernando Valley emerges a beautifully sweet inter-generational friendship between a budding porn actress (Dree Hemingway) and lonely, yet feisty widow (Besedka Johnson ). A startlingly fresh and achingly real indie from under-the-radar but quickly rising director Sean Baker.
10) The Queen of Versailles
An utterly captivating and oddly sad documentary about a repellent train wreck of a family of real estate hucksters caught up in their own avarice and the collapsing paper castle of a fragile economy as they attempt to build the nation's most extravagant private home, all while their professional and personal worlds crumble into the Florida sand.
1) Rock of Ages
Watching Tom Cruise parade around in a fur coat and leather cowboy hat is an embarrassment to hair metal, which was already the most shameful cultural chapter of the last half of the 20th century.
2) John Carter
A nearly forgotten pulp novel icon is made even less relevant by sheer Hollywood incompetence, as shirtless himbo Taylor Kitsch bounces around the surface of Mars like a Super Ball, and gives an even more lifeless performance than the wonky CGI critters he grapples with.
3) Alex Cross
Tyler Perry tries really, really hard to look macho as the ass-kicking criminologist formerly played by Morgan Freeman, but the schlock mogul was more threatening in a muumuu.
4) The Dark Knight Rises
After reinvigorating the Caped Crusader's franchise with two brilliant entries, director Christopher Nolan huffs his own exhaust and turns in a plodding, poorly motivated, inexplicably plotted, grandiose and faux deep rumination on modern living in superhero drag. With a mopey Bruce Wayne, a drippy supporting cast, excess gloom, plot holes you could drive a bat tank through, and a goofy villain that sounds like Sean Connery on a cough syrup bender.
5) Hit and Run
Dax Shepard cast his real-life fiancee and yet displays no discernible chemistry.
6) A Thousand Words
A wasted ghoul faintly resembling Eddie Murphy shambled his way through this painfully unfunny comedy about a soulless yuppie forced to shut his flapping gums until he learns his lesson.
> Email Jeff Meyers & Corey Hall