You can never get complete agreement on lists of movies. In this annual feature, we try to select films which are worthwhile, entertaining and reasonably family-friendly. If you would like to nominate others, please make a comment.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
107 minutes, performance capture 3D
The characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé come alive in this rollicking 3D film. Tintin, a young reporter from Brussels and his dog Snowy are off chasing pirates guided by mysterious old maps and and the boozing Captain Haddock. Great fun, but don’t expect too much in the way of character development.
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo
100 minutes; B&W; in French, but mostly silent
This French romantic comedy is a homage to the early days of Hollywood. George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies sounds a death knell for his career and sees him fall into oblivion. But for young extra Peppy Miller, a whole new world opens up. The critics declared that it was “utterly beguiling”.
A Better Life
Directed by Chris Weitz
Starring Demian Bichir, José Julián
94 minutes; English/Spanish
This film is a portrait of the underside of Los Angeles – a world of undocumented workers and gangs. Carlos is a illegal who is raising his teenage son Luis by himself. Luis doesn’t respect his dad and is thinking of joining a gang, when someone steals Carlos’s truck. A touching story much like the Italian classic, The Bicycle Thief.
Directed by Robert Redford
Starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Huston, Justin Long, Tom Wilkinson
In the very last days of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The conspirators were quickly rounded up and tried before a military tribunal. One of the defendants was a woman, Mary Surratt, the owner of the boarding house where the plot was hatched. Her son was involved but she claimed to be innocent. Eventually she was hanged, but Robert Redford’s thought-provoking film shows how her young lawyer battles for justice against the government’s thirst for revenge. There are subtle parallels with the plight of the Guantanamo detainees.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet
A realistic bio-thriller paints a terrifying picture of a new disease with a 20 percent mortality rate, as scientists race to find a vaccine. Looting, robbery and mayhem spread in cities full of terrified people. Sonderburgh weaves together the fates of several characters in a clinical presentation that avoids getting emotionally involved. Not many films feature government bureaucrats as heroes – so if you are a faceless bureaucrat, this is your film.
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain
The Help was a massive box-office success in the US. It tells the story of a young white woman, “Skeeter”, and her relationship with two black maids in the early 1960s as the civil rights movement shakes Mississippi. After college, Skeeter returns home with greater sensitivity to the racism faced by the maids who work for the women she knows. With the help of two of the maids, she writes a scathing book which changes the lives of all of them.
The Inside Job
Directed by Charles Ferguson
Narrated by Matt Damon
This is an indignant documentary about the moral corruption at the root of the 2008 global financial crisis. As a sermon, it’s terrific: there are clear answers (failure to regulate, greedy bosses), and clear villains (Alan Greenspan and Tim Geithner with a very large supporting cast), and clear heroes (Nouriel Roubini, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (yes, that Dominic)). It’s not surprising that it won an Oscar as the best documentary. The anger is bipartisan – both the Bush and Obama Administrations come in for bitter criticism. The analysis is terribly simplistic, but the call for fairness, thrift and caution is well-worth hearing.
The Kid with a Bike
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Starring Cécile de France, Thomas Doret, Jérémie Renier
87 minutes, in French with sub-titles
The critics were ecstatic about this tightly scripted, social-realist Belgian film about a boy with a bike but no dad. Cyril, almost 12, has only one plan: to find the father who dumped him in a children’s home. By chance he meets hairdresser Samantha, who agrees to let him stay with her at weekends. The boy, who is full of frenzied energy, doesn’t recognize the love Samantha feels for him, a love he desperately needs to calm his rage.
Midnight in Paris
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Paris, Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen
Woody Allen’s 41st film is a treasure of whimsy and imagination. Gil, an aspiring American writer, is spending an unhappy holiday in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. He is fascinated by the nostalgic cafés; she by the shopping. Late one night, he is picked up by revellers in an antique car who turn out to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda, and Cole Porter. They introduce him to Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and other greats who lived in Paris in the 1920s. (It helps if you did a degree in American Lit.) Every night he returns, and as you would expect, there are romantic complications. A charming script and wonderful acting.
Of Gods and Men
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Adel Bencherif, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin
120 minutes, French and Arabic with sub-titles
Eight French Cistercian monks live prayerfully and peacefully in the remote mountains of Algeria in the 1990s. When foreign workers working nearby are massacred by Islamic terrorists, the army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave their monastery? They slowly realize that they must decide whether to leave or stay and await martyrdom. One night the terrorists arrive and kidnap seven of the monks. They were never seen alive again. A serene and moving story about men who are truly in love with God.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis
105 minutes, in English and American Sign Language
The Planet of the Apes continues to fascinate viewers. In the latest reboot, a young scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s discovers a drug which may help his father, but also turns the baby chimp Caesar into a towering intellect who leads a revolt against human tyranny. Utterly preposterous and thoroughly enjoyable.
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
On a 1-10 scale of plausibility, the science in this pulse-racing thriller rates about 1, but you don’t go to the movies for realism. An Army helicopter pilot wakes up on a Chicago commuter train and discovers that he is living in another man’s body. Suddenly the train explodes, killing him and everyone else. Then he wakes up from his dream and the staff of a mysterious defence project tell him to return to the train and find the saboteur. This dream keeps recurring, à la Groundhog Day, until he finds the criminal and wins the girl sitting with him in the train.
The Way Back
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Dragoş Bucur, Gustaf Skarsgård
133 minutes, English, Russian, Polish with subtitles
Whether or not the extraordinary adventure narrated in this film is based upon fact, it’s a magnificent tale of endurance and heroism by one of Australia’s best directors. A Polish officer, Janusz, lands in Siberia during World War II after having been betrayed by his wife under torture. With several companions, he escapes from his camp during a blinding snowstorm. Some perish along the way, but eventually they make it to India – a trek of some 4,000 miles.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.