My views on movies that made the lists of others but did not make it onto my list:
Some extremely impressive elements, but even these somehow feed into the kitschiness of the single-minded Romantic preoccupations, whatever ironic compensations may be peppered throughout. In short, I think I tend to agree with the director's own reservations; his candour in expressing these doubts so publicly may be revealing of the film's weaknesses, but more especially indicates something remarkable about von Trier himself.
Midnight in Paris (70)
To some extent a re-run of "Purple Rose of Cairo" that does perhaps display a little clunkiness at times, but still an enjoyable piece of Alleniana (I made that word up).
True Grit (70)
Excellent dialogue, performances and photography do not entirely compensate for a generic tale that stoops to one or two contrivances along the way to its primary goal of playing out the relationships between the principal characters in a manner that is, in the end, fairly conventional. But what compensations there are certainly suffice to make this cinematic experience always watchable and mostly interesting.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (70)
Effective horror that mostly suggests Kevin's psychopathy is innate, while leaving doubt by emphasising the first-person focus on the mother and by not showing certain events she did not herself witness. Some scenes were not as well-judged as others, some aspects of the story did not quite make sense, the incessant focus on the mother's suffering was perhaps a little overdone, and the tension was slightly dissipated prior to the conclusion, but overall quite interesting and thought-provoking.
The Fighter (65)
Elements of "Raging Bull" and "Fat City," but in terms of narrative this more than anything else conforms to the predictable genre conventions of "Rocky." Nevertheless, the somewhat low-key approach, the gritty-but-wry presentation of the familial milieu, and the enjoyable performance by Bale, raise this a few notches above the average.
The Town (65)
Although lumbered with cliché (the nice-guy-robber; the victim-who-falls-for-the-crim; the wise-cracking-but-essentially-bland-cop; the-crime-world-girl-who-suddenly-goes-to pieces-and-betrays-all-because-a-policeman-says-her-child's-life-will-be-better; and a disappointingly dull formula ending), the film benefits from good performances (especially Renner), some above-average (mostly) dialogue, and well-executed action set-pieces. Watched the extended version, so score based on that.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (60)
Focusing on the ape characters more than the humans was quite a clever and interesting idea, if not indeed courageous, given the longish portions without dialogue. The narrative, if very predictable in its overall thrust, was nevertheless well put-together. Contained several impressive long takes making very good use of computer animation technology.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (60)
Seems to be utilising or inventing a cinematic language unfamiliar to Western cinema-goers, and to be conveying a rather animistic idea of nature equally unfamiliar. At the same time, there are political and allegorical aspects that seem to presume a fair degree of local knowledge. More than anything, a reflection on mortality, where this is not quite the opposite of immortality. Sound design helped; 16mm less so. My feeling is there is something genuine going on, but not entirely successfully.
The Adjustment Bureau (55)
Watchable and interesting for a while, but the Hollywoodized narrative gradually de-emphasizes the paranoia in favour of ho-hum romance/theology. This problem is especially acute for the underwhelming and hokey conclusion, which is at least kept very brief, as though the producers were aware the ending was less than satisfactory but felt they had little alternative (or realised, in other words, that any free will they may have counted on in relation to ending the movie was largely illusory).
Undoubtedly well-executed in many respects, but at its core this is a very conventional, not to say formulaic, genre movie. And even as an exercise in style, and despite numerous nicely-composed images, this film is disappointingly in the thrall of the current fashion for orange-and-teal colour filtering. Heavily influenced by several precursors ("Le Samouraï," "Two-Lane Blacktop," "Wild at Heart," and so on), some weak performances, and, in the end, overall it is less than meets the eye.
Winter’s Bone (55)
Generally well-done and nicely photographed low-key, low-budget drama. On the other hand, the characters are still infused with some Hollywood folksiness, the narrative is a bit more conventionally manipulative than it wishes to admit, the sensibility is a bit too attuned toward garnering approval from critics and audiences, the protagonist is a little too heroic, and the denouement is rather underwhelming.
Somewhat oddly, perhaps, the word that comes to mind is "sterile." Another of the globalised, decentralised examinations popular at present with directors such as Soderbergh, Gaghan and Winterbottom, usually filmed in a refined digital format and evincing a clean, cool aesthetic. In this case, the clinical approach is not ineffective (although it is all rather too predictable). This viewer, however, cannot help comparing it unfavourably with von Trier's far wilder and more horrifying "Epidemic."
The Ghost Writer (50)
A few wry moments are not enough to overcome a bland and rather old-fashioned script (that is also quite silly). The strange quasi-America that Polanski is forced to create, and the odd absence of extras, do not help either, and give the movie the feeling of inhabiting an eerie alternative universe, but not an especially interesting one.
Green Zone (50)
Not merely a picaresque, but an almost quaintly Candide-ish parable, in which we follow a naïve adventurer's sojourn through a corrupt world. The movie arrived a few years too late, and is too devoted to Greengrass's simple-minded universe of (shall we say?) "action (pseudo-)realism," to really constitute any kind of effective critique, yet is still superior to and more interesting than Bigelow's abominable Oscar-winning effort. Seems to build up to the climactic title card: "Directed by P.G."
Meek’s Cutoff (45)
Somehow anachronistic: moments of the dialogue, performances, as well as themes, seem rather present-day, as though the parable being hung on the Western backdrop is intended to spark high school debates. As a consequence, the alien, strangers in a strange land, "metaphysically" atmospheric quality that is admirably striven for is undermined by the viewer's perception that the filmmakers were animated by some rather more conventional and predictable preoccupations, however "inverted" the genre.
Shutter Island (45)
Contrived, heavy-handed, and uninvolving. Whatever cinematic virtues it may possess, and whatever ideas may have animated the filmmakers (say about 1950s craziness), the conclusions are trite and the punches telegraphed. Even in terms of the more or less generic entertainment it is clearly intended to be, it is less than satisfying. As with Lehane's "Mystic River," an overwrought script was the major flaw. Scorsese's least successful feature: hopefully he will aim higher with subsequent efforts.
Source Code (45)
Somewhat interesting if preposterous premise undermined by weak characterization and too much half-hearted cheap sentiment as the narrative unfolds. The political message about technology and the war on terror was also a little half-baked. So, plot-wise (spoiler follows): if he succeeded in "creating another world," what happened to the Sean Fentress from that world? And whose identity will he adopt from that point on: his own or Fentress's?
Super 8 (45)
"E.T." meets "Close Encounters" with touches of "Stand By Me" and "Godzilla." The young cast does a good job, but the warmheartedness too often turns to Spielbergian schmaltz, and at each step the whole thing seems very formulaic. The conclusion comes a little too perfunctorily, and fails to connect the creature to the child protagonists in a satisfying way. Does not quite work as either nostalgia or a monster movie, but does not make for unpleasant viewing either. A reasonably OK kids movie.
Never Let Me Go (35)
Perhaps it says more about me than anything else that I become impatient with movies that seem overly preoccupied with the "delicacy" of human emotion. However original the idea, the execution was all too by-the-numbers, and the actors seemed to have been directed to give mannered performances with much pausing between words and phrases. The longer it went on, the slighter its virtues seemed. The conclusion was simply trite. Yet another film in the thrall of orange-and-teal colour filtering.
The Thing (35)
Follows Carpenter's template (except for the predictable addition of computer animation) but each of the elements is inferior to the original (cast, characters, dialogue, narrative, music, atmosphere). Even seems to include a scene with a man-in-a-suit, which Carpenter was so insistent about avoiding. The 1982 movie made what happened to the Norwegians seem frighteningly apocalyptic, and thus what we are given here is less an unnecessary appendage than a wasted opportunity. Needed more insanity.
Valhalla Rising (35)
Men (only men) wander about the countryside, interspersing their perambulations with occasional gruesome violence. Some heavily-filtered landscape photography and some jabs at crusading Christians were not capable of convincing this viewer that behind the butchery and strolling around there lies much of significance. The addition of a boy who speaks often of wanting to "go home" fails to add any emotion to this monotonous affair.
The American (30)
Humdrum, plodding "thriller" that is far more predictable and conventional than it seems to believe, the movie in fact does nothing whatsoever that is not completely predetermined by generic rules. Pretty scenery, but the extreme devotion to laying an artificial "orange-and-teal" palette over nearly every shot detracts greatly from even the visual pleasures of the Abruzzo region. The scenes with the priest were awfully heavy-handed. Presumably the star wished to spend some time in Italy.