By Miles X. Logan
(click for larger version)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel When the pros from Dover . . . umm, make that England, head the cast the resulting film is usually a winner. In this case Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith et al light up the screen and bring the novel by Deborah Maggach to life.
The plot centers on a group of proper Brits who, because of one reason or another, need to find a new place to retire. It turns out to be a not so exotic hotel in India. But the owner, the wonderful Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) has big dreams, and the cast, particularly Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, deliver big time. An underrated gem.
2. Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) is in the thick of the Oscar race again with this riveting film about the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. The academy may not be so quick to reward her this time around, and the star (Jessica Chastain) is somehow a female in a world of macho Navy SEALs. She's good, though, and it's a must see to be sure.
3. Django Unchained Even with all his excesses Quentin Tarantino remains one of our great filmmakers. He strikes gold with this pre-Civil War saga about slavery. Jamie Foxx is excellent as a freed slave ostensibly working for a bounty hunter but in reality searching for his wife. Leonardo DiCaprio, an evil slave owner, should get the Oscar he covets as Best Supporting Actor. Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, James Remar, and many more stars turn in sterling performances. Is it over the top? Of course. Is it ridiculously violent? It sure is. Hey, it's Tarantino.
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey No, it's not The Lord Of The Rings, and yes, Peter Jackson should not have stretched it out into three different films, but there is enough visual magic here to captivate viewers. Add a star if you are a Tolkien buff.
5. Life Of Pi The mega-popular novel comes to the screen. Like the book, it's hard to fathom, but is a magical ride for those who believe.
6. The Cabin In The Woods You think you know the plot – five (attractive, of course) young people go to a remote cabin in the woods for some down time and horrible things happen. But the writers, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who also directs, have created a delicious plate of surprises for those whose tastes run bloody.
7. Beasts Of The Southern Wild First time director Benh Zeitlin dazzles with this fantastical tale of a six year old girl (the wonderful Quvebzhané Wallis) whose world explodes when her abusive father abruptly dies and her Bayou home floods.
8. Looper Bruce Willis turns in a stunning performance as a time-traveling hit man. It sounds implausible, but writer-director Rian Johnson makes it all work.
9. Lincoln Steven Spielberg has crafted a historic masterpiece, an understated drama that zeroes in on President Lincoln's last month in office. Daniel Day-Lewis is a mortal lock for the Best Actor Oscar but Sally Field damn near steals the show as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. David Strathairn and James Spader co-star. Spielberg has made a movie with deep historical significance, but it's a bit wordy, and some viewers think it dragged a bit.
10. 21 Jump Street Yes, it's incredibly stupid, but that's what makes it so funny. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as undercover cops sent back to high school make for the best buddy movie since 48 Hours. Rob Riggle dumbs-down to a new low. It's a blast.