1. MESRINE: Biopic detailing the rise and fall of notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. An unabashed exploration of vicious, vainglorious criminality that merits a place among perennial gangster greats. Vincent Cassel boldly brings into being one of the most badass characters in cinema history.
4. ANIMAL KINGDOM: When 17-year-old J loses his mother to a drug overdose, he’s sent to live with his grandmother and felonious uncles. A moody first effort from novice director David Michod, Animal Kingdom effectively forces viewers to wear the shoes of its central character and substitutionally bear the tremulous fear he endures.
10. CATFISH: Nightmarish documentary about the dangers of online socializing and the illusion of companionship offered via networking sites.
NIGHT CATCHES US: When ex-activist Marcus Washington left the race-torn Philadelphia town of his birth, it raised a lot of questions. Now, years later, he’s returned to answer them. Low key direction and strong performances allow for powerful moments of drama in this refreshing debut from Tanya Hamilton. Her ability to dodge the period aspects of this story on such a miniscule budget is nothing short of brilliant. Despite a rushed ending, this provocative snapshot into the post-Black Power movement era left me mulling over the decisions of its characters for days.
I AM LOVE: Features chillingly beautiful cinematography and a masterful performance by Tilda Swinton as Emma, a Russian woman who marries into a wealthy Milanese family but is never truly accepted.
THE TOWN: A gripping thriller and Ben Affleck’s second go-round as director proves he just may be the real deal behind the camera.
HEREAFTER: Master storyteller Clint Eastwood’s unusual and sensitive examination of sorrow and loneliness offers a potential glimpse into the afterlife.
KICK-ASS: Wildly entertaining actioner that boasts such explicit displays of blood and gore that they come off as cartoony.
And don't forget to check out FISH TANK, my #1 film last year available on criterion disc later this month.
MY TAKE ON OTHER FILMS THAT HAVE GARNERED A GERNOUS LEVEL OF BUZZ
127 HOURS: Am I the only one that finds Danny Boyle’s style to be goofy? James Franco’s performance was okay, but was it really that much better than Ryan Reynolds’s depiction of the trapped Paul Conroy in Buried? Overrated.
BLACK SWAN: Aronofsky’s Oscar candidate is at times chilling, at others it tries a bit too hard. A tad overrated.
CENTURION: Kick-ass epic of violence and mayhem that treats gore like aesthetic beauty.
CONVICTION: True story of a man wrongly accused of murder features okay performances that are never as dramatic or affecting as they should be.
EASY A: Surprisingly good of its type, Easy A is at times charming and at others funny.
THE FIGHTER: At points clumsily directed, the film pales in comparison to great sports movies. Mark Wahlberg is outclassed by co-stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Way overrated.
GET LOW: Never as funny as it should be. Robert Duvall plays an archetypical movie hermit whose story is rather anticlimactic.
GHOST WRITER: Roman Polanski returns to form in this thriller about a ghost writer who discovers unsettling lies about the former British Prime Minister when he’s hired to write his autobiography.
GREENBERG: Greenberg the character is somewhat interesting; Greenberg the film is predictable and a bit boring.
INCEPTION: The concept of entering someone’s dream to implant an idea in their head is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan builds on the premise with little restraint until it becomes a convoluted, loophole-laden mess.
THE KING’S SPEECH: Cute feel-good film that is well acted and beautifully shot but ultimately, rather thin.
RABBIT HOLE: The film consists of one emotional note throughout, but Nicole Kidman is near flawless as a mother who lost her son.
TRUE GRIT: Good Coen brother’s film; not a great Coen brother’s film. Their classic trademarks are a bit blatant. And why do the characters spend the picture’s running time tracking one ruthless cowboy only to have a showdown with a subordinate one?