In this guy's opinion, the year so far has been full of disappointments ("The Great Gatsby" and "Man of Steel") and a lot middle-of-the-road fare. And yet, there has been over a dozen "very good" qualifiers and one great.
The Best So Far
10) "Mud" - The overrated "Beasts of the Southern Wild" may have captured a sense of place with authenticity, but "Mud" does that and tells a story. What's more, Matthew McConaughey is best when he's playing slippery characters.
9) "Stoker" - An elegant, stylish, disturbing psychological coming-of-age horror film. Park Chan-wook would have made Hitchcock proud and will make Brian De Palma green with envy.
8) "Evil Dead" - Yeah, yeah, it's a horror remake, but what a blast (it was between this and V/H/S/2). "Suburgatory's" Jane Levy is empathetic and then deliciously evil. While it's not the game-changer that "The Cabin in the Woods" is, this is a stylish, gnarly, splatterific ride that makes you feel it in your gut. It's gory and scary.
7) "Star Trek Into Darkness" - This is how you do a summer tentpole. Thrilling but still character-driven and self-referentially funny but still dramatically moving, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is as much of a summer ride as it is a pretty great film.
6) "Trance" - Try solving this cool puzzle. Danny Boyle teases our brains with a film so deliciously convoluted that you'll love it all the more when you find out what's really going on. Not merely a machine but a film dripping with emotion, "Trance" is a visual, sonic trip.
5) "The Place Beyond the Pines" - A three-section tragedy with hope, "The Place Beyond the Pines" moves in surprising and surprisingly authentic directions, even as you see the pieces moving on the board. It has something to say about fathers and sons. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, as well as Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, are all terrific in their own way.
4) "Disconnect" - No, this isn't another "Crash." In fact, it's a bit better than that Best Picture winner. Without feeling contrived or preachy, "Disconnect" will seriously make you think about social media and technology in general. Great ensemble; unforgettable film.
3) "Frances Ha" - What a charmer. Director Noah Baumbach and mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig make a wonderful team in "Frances Ha," which never skimps on the director's typical observations and quirks but might be his most generous and compassionate film. Witty, delightful, endearing, this is a smart indie about restless New York youth.
2) "The Bling Ring" - Sofia Coppola's observant, entertainingly barbed docudrama about a celeb-obsessed culture will make a great double-bill my #1. Emma Watson is an MVP, but there is plenty of promising up-and-coming talent here as well. Coppola has quite the ear for music and a sharp eye for visual style, both greatly contributing to the lingering themes of this film.
1) "Spring Breakers" - Previously, I was not a fan of Harmony Korine's work; I hated "Gummo" and found it to be an artless freakshow. "Spring Breakers," on the other hand, affected me so greatly that it's hard to put into words. Korine creates his own filmic language with mesmerizingly neon-colored imagery and a pulsing, addictive soundtrack. There's a lot more under the surface than bikinis and beer bongs. This is a fever dream in the truest sense of the term.
Honorable Mentions: I adored "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," and really liked "Before Midnight." Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy's effortless chemistry is lovely to watch in its evolution from the previous films. "Iron Man 3" benefited greatly from Shane Black's snappy writing paired with Robert Downey Jr. Steven Soderbergh's "Side Effects" is another very good thriller with addictively compelling storytelling and good performances all around. I laughed A LOT during "This Is the End," and I squirmed and jumped consistently during "V/H/S/2." "Upside Down," "Sightseers," and "I Give It a Year" are also going to be underseen gems.
The Worst So Far
5) "Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" - A battered-woman soaper with some crazy-pants camp, but it's mostly just melodramatic and insultingly stupid.
4) "Movie 43" - A sketch comedy that thinks Hugh Jackman having chin balls is a hilarious visual gag…are you laughing yet?
3) "A Haunted House" - I laughed once more here than in "Scary Movie 5," but it's still bad. And to think people put money and time into making "A Haunted House"…
2) "Maniac" - I'm all about artistic integrity, but it's Elijah Wood stalking and stabbing young women for 90 minutes. There, I spared you the torture.
1) "Scary Movie 5" - All it had to do was be funny. I giggled twice and wished I was somewhere else the rest of the time.
Since "The Heat" was Melissa McCarthy's redemption, I couldn't put "Identity Thief" on this list quite yet, but it's never the laugh riot it should have been. "Aftershock" is about terrible people dying in an earthquake and then fending off rapist murderers; it's not fun. "The Last Exorcism Part II" and "The Hangover Part III" just couldn't recapture the magic (scares/laughs) of its predecessors.