1. Crank – Generally, what falls into this category are movies that had no business being good, the ones that far too many scoff at despite the fact that they’d never consider giving it a chance. It’s the tiny rewards I get throughout the year for seeing anything and everything. But this isn’t one of those. The Transporter movies are terrible, sure, but there’s something exciting about the idea that the kind of one-man action movies I was weaned on are still in some small way, viable. And so I was drawn to Crank in the same way. But it’s barely an action movie. Jason Statham doesn’t get to jump through doors or drive out the side of buildings or beat anyone with a steering wheel he has handcuffed to his wrist. In fact, the only time he really gets into a fight, a fight he starts entirely on purpose, you don’t see it. What you see is the outside of the building in which it is taking place, its exterior walls (literally) bulging from the violence you can only imagine taking place inside. And that’s the sort of thing you have to quickly get used to in Crank. Flashbacks projected onto walls beside characters as they think of them, warped cell phone ring tones, and seeing subtitles from the wrong side. Gimmicks that could have gone horribly awry. In fact, I thought they were doing just that when the aforementioned walls started bulging. I thought, “Oh, please no.” But I was wrong. So wrong. Nothing is justified really, and it still doesn’t make any sense that the guy who wants Jason Statham dead sneaks into his house and poisons him while he’s sleeping instead of just shooting him, but it doesn’t matter because the rest of the movie doesn’t give you a chance to look back. It’s going too fast.
2. The Descent – So many of these unsuspecting vacationing groups attacked by mysterious creatures/people movies come out nowadays that one of them is bound to be good. But The Descent goes way beyond that. If it wasn’t for one major and totally unnecessary flaw, this would be one of the best movies of the year. For the first half, there’s no indication this even is a horror movie and I was worried for it because it was great as a simple interpersonal drama. With the most minimal of backstory, you know this group of women well enough to just watch them climb through this labyrinth together. When the creatures of the cave show up, you wait for it to devolve from there into a stupid gory mess. But it only gets better.
3. Stick It – It’s getting predictable. In the deluge of teen comedies, one always seems to have been made by people who aren’t just churning it out according to the formula, but rather thriving with it. (This year had two, with She’s The Man which was only slightly less surprisingly good.) Stick It is the one that isn’t what its trailers make it look like it is. Stick It is the one where the main character isn’t the only one who learns teamwork and selflessness. Stick It is the only one that doesn’t need to resort to idiotic set pieces and supposedly disgusting antics to get you to laugh. And Stick It is the only one that doesn’t have to end well to end happy.
4. Find Me Guilty – It’s entirely depressing to have a movie made by one of my favorite directors of all time on this list. But Sidney Lumet hasn’t had a movie in theaters since 1999’s Gloria, and hasn’t made one that was more than mediocre since 1990’s Q & A. But in a year when almost all of our supposed modern masters tried and failed, Sidney Lumet went and made a Vin Diesel movie. At least, that’s how it’s thought of. But really, Find Me Guilty is a courtroom comedy. A true one even, where 80% of the dialogue is actual court transcript. And it’s more ridiculous than I could ever describe here. Vin Diesel is one of the most affable, corny and completely unaware characters you’ve ever seen and even when he says these ridiculous things, you believe it. And not just because you know that it really happened.
5. RV – In general, Robin Williams has two settings. The one relentlessly wacky one we got to see (hear) in Happy Feet and the dull mumbly one we got to see in The Night Listener. But in RV, somehow, he found a third setting, one we haven’t seen in a long time. One where’s he genuinely funny, without having to do any funny voices (okay, he does one, but it’s played as embarrassing to his son, and not a comedic triumph.) I suppose we can thank Barry Sonnenfeld, who again, seems wrong to have on this list, but come on, you didn’t think RV would be funny, right? You probably still don’t.
(She’s The Man, One Last Thing…, Freedomland, Accepted, Step Up)