Even so, I was able to fill out the following categories for movies that were
Craptastic: Step Up 3D. I am in love with the entire Step Up franchise, although, for me personally, nothing will ever beat the joy of going up to the ticket booth and saying, "I'd like two tickets for Step Up 2 colon The Streets, please." Those, my friends, were happier days. Still, this one was especially wonderful, in that no one felt obligated, really, to create a character or whatever. Characters are for actors who can't dance. Seriously, if there were more than, like, a dozen lines of dialogue, it was totally time for a dance. And this time, the dancers reached out to grab you by the throat or smack you upside the head, i.e., because there was 3D. Good times!
Animated. I could also include in this category Howl, but the animations were not the most wonderful part of that movie. This year, I loved How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, and Toy Story 3. All of these were quite wonderful, and even though I think Toy Story 3 wins on points, I loved Despicable Me more. It just cracked me up.
Starring Michael Cera. We saw both Youth in Revolt and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this year. You know what? I have had the same conversation with several people in which the question is posed to me: are we sick of Michael Cera yet? For me, the evidence is in: No. I found Youth in Revolt to be charming, and the bad boy Michael Cera was hilarious. But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was as funny as hell, so amazingly inventive, with MC sending up his own MC persona so beautifully that it kind of seemed like we were at a whole new MetaMichael level. Bring it on, I say.
Featuring mind-blowing visuals, both good and bad. Let's start with the bad: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Blah. That is all. Good: Inception. Whatever else you might say about it, it looked cool as all get out, including some truly inspired stuff when the sleepers in the van were falling in slow motion and it looked like they were doing a super-soporific underwater ballet. Magical. Killer. Also, Joseph Gordon Leavitt is kind of a mind-blowing visual all on his own.
Policiers. In this category, the items to beat are the three films in the Red Riding trilogy, and for my money, none of the following beat RR, even though they were all pretty good: Police, Adjective, The Girl with (tattoo, etc.) movies, and The Secret in Their Eyes. The Police, Adjective movie is Romanian, and is one of those movies that you're not sure is actually a movie, because it is so still and therefore so much like the kind of tedious parts of life. It rewards you if you stick with it, I swear. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/Who Played With Fire was just like the books: lurid, violent, dark, gripping. I suppose there were police in these movies. But they're full of mysteries that need to be solved, so they belong in this category (she argues). The last, The Secret in Their Eyes, features the soulful Ricardo Darin, also of The Aura. He is splendid and so is everyone else, and its setting in post-Peronist (and ff) Argentina is of great interest, the more so because it's not hammered upon. But the Red Riding movies: now those get under your skin and don't fade. Seeing the three films over the course of less than a week added up to an extremely rewarding movie-going experience. Violent, violent, violent. Dark, very dark.
Thrillers of the non-police variety. (artificial category distinction) Both The Ghost Writer and Animal Kingdom were very good. Of the two, I liked Animal Kingdom better, though The Ghost Writer was an extremely suave and polished accomplishment. I liked the rawness of Animal Kingdom, and seeing Guy Pearce, even for a few minutes, is a real treasure.
Documentary. Huh, apparently, I saw only one: The Beaches of Agnes, Agnes Varda's retrospective on her own career. Lovely in all the ways that she is lovely. Sharp, witty, beautiful. A must-see.
Notable for a great performance. The Maid which was, I believe, Chilean, featuring a muscular and startling performance by Catalina Saavedra; Shutter Island, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a great performance, I thought, though plenty of people didn't like the film (I did); The Yellow Handkerchief, indie and possibly full of indie cheese, but with the always-excellent Maria Bello and the seldom-seen William Hurt--why? why so seldom, William Hurt?; Ben Stiller showing us why God made him that way in Greenberg, also with Greta Gerwig, not too shabby; Jonah Hill creeping us out and also making us a little sad in Cyrus; and Russell Brand not ever to be forgotten as a fully persuasive narcissist, reprising his role as Aldous Snow, both hilariously and chillingly, in Get Him to the Greek. Also, and most recently: James Franco in Howl. Beautiful and moving.
Comic. I saw a lot of movies that were nominally comedies, but they are not coming to mind at the moment. On the other hand: I laughed at The Other Guys (I have been admonished for this, but I did--I laughed), Scott Pilgrim (both Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman were beyond hilarious, and that's not all--the funny keeps on going in that movie), and Get him to the Greek (the afore-mentioned R. Brand, in a towering performance). Why weren't there more funny movies? Did anyone see something that I missed? Surely the apocalypse must be nigh.
Freaking odd. I like to see the odd French movie now and then. This year, Wild Grass was that movie, but whoa, weird. And with one of those stupid non-ending endings. It wasn't ambiguous, it was just . . . not an ending. I object. Also, j'accuse.
Dramatic. Ben Affleck gets my vote for Boy Makes Good because of Gone Baby Gone and now this, The Town. It isn't quite what GBG was, but it was very good. Sharply directed and well-performed. The chase scenes, for instance, made sense visually, and also were integral to the plot: no tearing around town for the sake of a tear around town. Jeremy Renner proves that he's the real deal in this movie. The REAL DEAL, the people. I would add Winter's Bone to this category. Sharp and unhappy and dark. Very good.
Underwhelming. Some critic, trying to be provocative, said that the Coen brothers (of their Blood Simple era) ought to see the Australian The Square as giving them a run for their money. Not even. Not remotely. Also, and it doesn't make me happy to say this, Drew Barrymore's latest (Going the Distance) was kind of wan. Maybe it's her or maybe it's that Justin whatsisname, her once-boyfriend? Not super compelling. Not really worth our Drew, whom I love and only wish that she be paired with an excellent leading man so that she can make the romantic comedies that are a part of God's great plan for our happiness. PLEASE.
Long. Justin Long.
Too dark. I love a dark comedy, I really do. But I do not love a movie that kind of makes me feel a little sick inside because I laughed. Into this category falls Terribly Happy. Tis sharp, tis passing sharp, and well written and well acted. But a significant part of the plot falls upon whether a wife is being beaten by her husband, and whether their little daughter will be better off with the dad when the mom is gone. Material for a comedy? I say: NO.
Just plain good. This year I admired Please Give from Nicole Holofcener, featuring the always amazing Catherine Keener; the Red Riding movies; Scott Pilgrim vs. The World; The Kids Are All Right--it only looks formulaic; Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray impeccable in Get Low; and what has, so far, been maybe the movie event of the year, the absorbing, intelligent, not-at-all-like-anything-else The Social Network. Really, really, really good.
I am hoping that there will be a pile of movies that make me laugh before Christmas, because, the people, I love/need to laugh. A lot. Let us all pray for that.