15 personal favorites (the YMMV list)

Posted December 21st, 2009. Filed under Movies

15 -Sunshine (pictured above)

Directed by Danny Boyle, 2007

If their movie doesn’t float your boat as a work of science-fiction, action, philosophy, heliocentrism, or staggering visual spectacle (although, it really should), then it certainly succeeds as a parable for cinematic ambition.

Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe

Why your mileage may vary: the final plot-twist (and the resulting final 20 minutes of the movie) is about as ludicrous as any movie I’ve seen.

Why I loved it anyway: truly beautiful imagery (watching Mercury drift across the face of the sun? amazing!), also I’m a sucker for science fiction.

14 - Cadillac Records

Directed by Darnell Martin, 2008

The movie’s biopic aspect is multiplied by the sheer number of players who made Chess the first family of Chicago blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll…That all of them were later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame attests to their enormous influence on popular music and culture.

Gene Stout of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Why your mileage may vary: the story is littered with omissions and half-truths and embellishments - three things all problematic for a biopic. Also, Beyonce isn’t a very good actress.

Why I loved it anyway: I loved the music, much overdue exposure for three of the greatest and most influential musicians ever (Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Etta James).

13 - The Brothers Bloom

Directed by Rian Johnson, 2008

The Brothers Bloom has it all: charming romance, jaunty adventure story, witty dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and superb performances.

Claudia Pulg of USA Today

Why your mileage my vary: the ending rambles a bit and there are, perhaps, one (or two) too many twists.

Why I loved it anyway: Rachel Weisz.

12 - Talk To Me

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 2007

Someone like Petey Greene made a difference and made a mark, and broadcasting is better because of his transparent honesty. He helped transform African-American stations more, probably, than their mostly white owners desired. And talk talents like Howard Stern, whether they know who he was, owe him something.

Roger Ebert

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a simplified biopic about a pretty obscure radio personality.

Why I loved it anyway: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Taraji P. Henson are stellar (as usual for all three).

11 - The Great Debaters (pictured above)

Directed by Denzel Washington, 2007

Tailor-made for maximum inspirational, historical and educational impact, The Great Debaters shines a bright spotlight on a remarkable example of black achievement long forgotten in the sorry history of the Jim Crow South.

Todd McCarthy of  Variety

Why your mileage may vary: it’s often cliche and deviates significantly at the end  from the true story on which it’s based.

Why I loved it anyway: Jurnee Smollett is incredible, Denzel Washington and Forest Whittaker are  a powerful presence.  I don’t think it’s possible to watch this movie without your throat lumping up.

10 - Snatch

Directed by Guy Ritchie, 2000

If the film is too similar to Ritchie’s first movie, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” with its multiple story lines, complex plotting, and double-crossing antics, it’s at least colorfully told with dialogue that shines with the inventive slang of Ritchie’s screenplay.

David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor

Why your mileage may vary: you’ll probably need subtitles to follow the (English) dialog.

Why I loved it anyway: it’s my favorite of the British cockney gangster flicks and Brad Pitt’s performance is at least as enjoyable as in Fight Club.

09 - Stranger Than Fiction

Directed by Marc Forster, 2006

This is a Ferrell you’ve never seen before, nailing a role that calls for breakneck humor in the final race against the clock and touching gravity in the love scenes with Gyllenhaal.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone

Why your mileage may vary: you might be expecting a Will Ferrell movie and find yourself disappointed.

Why I loved it anyway: this is easily and by far my favorite Will Ferrell movie.  Also, Emma Thompson is a great, great actress.

08 - Akeelah and the Bee

Directed by Doug Atchison, 2006

The innate suspense and charm of the spelling bee, along with a trio of crack performances, turn what is in essence a formulaic sports picture into something more satisfying: an underdog tale that manages to inspire without being sappy.

Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a family-friendly Disney Channel ready feel-good movie.

Why I loved it anyway: It’s feel-goodness really does feels good.  Keke Palmer’s performance outshines those of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett - that’s saying alot.

07 - American Gangster (pictured above)

Directed by Ridley Scott, 2007

Meticulous and detailed, a drug-world epic that holds you from moment to moment, immersing you in the intricate and sleazy logistics of crime. Yet the movie isn’t quite enthralling; it’s more like the ghost version of a ’70s classic.

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly

Why your mileage may vary: this movie is lengthy and if the drama of the drug trade isn’t your thing, you’ll be watching the clock in pretty short order.  Also, RZA probably shouldn’t be acting.

Why I loved it anyway: watching Frank Lucas as portrayed by Denzel Washington exert a stranglehold on the streets of Harlem and then watching it all fall apart is interesting from beginning to end.

06 - V for Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue, 2005

Portman doesn’t catch fire until the second half, then heaves herself into emotional action; this suits her initially passive, mostly unthinking character. Weaving, who acts entirely with his voice, is V’s ideal embodiment: witty, rueful, pitiless, visionary and mad.

Lawrence Toppman of the Charlotte Observer

Why your mileage may vary: it’s on the long side and too philosophical for it’s own good.

Why I loved it anyway: when Natalie Portman turns it on, her performance is enthralling.

05 - A Beautiful Mind

Directed by Ron Howard, 2001

As Nash gets closer to Crowe’s own age (and level of dissipation), the performance settles down and becomes first credible and then overwhelming. This is a stupendous piece of acting.

David Edelstein of Slate

Why your mileage may vary:  the plot and pacing jumps around a lot and the idea that you can conquer serious mental illness with the love of a good woman might end up feeling ridiculous.

Why I loved it anyway:  great performances from open to close, especially from Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, the leads.  Also, it’s fascinating for me to watch a biopic about someone I’ve actually met.

04 - Serenity (pictured above)

Directed by Joss Whedon, 2005

If you’re a novice, this is a plucky introduction to Whedon’s world and the most fun sci-fi of the year. If you’re a devotee, this is the magnificent return you’ve been praying for.

Olly Richards of Empire

Why your mileage may vary: if you haven’t watched the television series Firefly, you’ll be disoriented for the first half of the movie and you’ll lack the connection to the characters necessary to really appreciate the second half of the movie.

Why I loved it anyway: I watched and loved every episode of Firefly; I know and love every one of these characters.

03 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Directed by David Fincher, 2008

There’s no denying the film’s power of compulsion and the sense that, when it’s all over, it means something. Most viewers will be entertained and moved, and some will find their intellect aroused.

James Berardinelli of ReelReviews

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a really long movie and it basically rehashes the Forrest Gump story.

Why I loved it anyway: the visual effects are ground breaking and game changing - so much so that you never realize you are watching an effect.

02 - Little Children

Directed by Todd Field, 2006

Unnervingly good, Little Children is one of the rare American films about adultery that feels right — dangerous, hushed, immediate.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune

Why your mileage may vary: Again, a rehash - this time of American Beauty.

Why I loved it anyway: I saw it as honest and believable and more of a complement to American Beauty than a rehash.

01 - Finding Neverland (pictured above)

Directed by Marc Forster, 2004

The film rests on Depp’s evocation of Barrie’s gentle, playfulness and deeply buried sorrows; it’s difficult to imagine another actor so gracefully evoking Barrie’s childlike qualities without seeming creepy or emotionally malformed, and only the hard of heart will come away dry-eyed.

Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide

Why your mileage may vary: it’s sappy and glossed over.

Why I loved it anyway: I think it’s more touching than sappy, and Kate Winslet’s performance is moving.

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