Counting Down from 26 to 1
26. ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> The crew of animals — lions, penguins, lemurs, oh my! — want to go back to their home in the Central Park Zoo, but they’re trapped halfway around the world and on the run from animal control. Their only hope is hiding out in a traveling circus, touring the European countryside. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Extra credit goes to the threequel’s screenwriter Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) who gave the story heart beyond the obvious cash-in bid, and allowed the animators to have fun with some genuinely madcap cartoon lunacy.
25. ‘Take This Waltz’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>Michelle Williams stars as a young married woman who is torn between her sweet loving husband (Seth Rogen) and a suave new neighbor (Luke Kirby), who understands her on a passionate level that her spouse can’t. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> It’s a romance full of messy, complicated emotions. Williams adds another great performance to her growing resume, Rogen surprises audiences with his on-screen tenderness, and the movie is filled with beautifully shot sequences full of summer sensuality.
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>A startlingly frank documentary looks into the lives of several small-town teenagers and the daily harassment they receive from school tormentors. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Unfortunately, <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/04/14/bully-movie-family-review_n_1425515.html” target=”_hplink”>so much media uproar was made about the movie’s potential R-rating</a>, that the actual content of the film became an afterthought. While “Bully” doesn’t answer a lot of the big social and psychological questions regarding bullying, the footage of actual harassment is so shockingly raw, that it’s impossible to not feel emotionally affected.
23. ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> In a mini-twist on the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, the fairest of them all is pursued by the evil Queen, who’s possessed by jealousy over the young woman’s beauty. <strong>Why We Love It: </strong> Besides the beautiful cinematography (which it’s worth seeing for alone), it was a treat to watch Kristen Stewart in a non-“Twilight” role. Also, Charlize Theron kills it as the diabolical queen, who’s set on conquering Snow White.
22. ‘The Raid: Redemption’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>When his squad is caught in a high-rise apartment filled with all sorts of criminal scum, a rookie officer on an elite special-forces team has to step up and lead. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> As a story, it’s fairly simplistic, but as an action spectacle, it’s mind-blowingly insane. The showcase of Indonesian martial arts is so frantic, brutal and impossible-looking, that “Raid” has set the bar high for all future fight scenes.
21. ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, a lovable loser and the leader of a ship full of swashbuckling outcasts. The Captain’s quest to win the coveted “Pirate of the Year” award sets him on a slapstick journey involving a desperate-for-ladies Charles Darwin, a too-smart-for-humans chimpanzee and a gluttonous, murderous Queen Victoria. <strong>Why We Love It: </strong> Aardman Animation, the studio behind “Wallace & Gromit” and “Chicken Run,” <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/04/27/peter-lord-pirates-band-of-misfits-aardman-interview_n_1458949.html” target=”_hplink”>return with a stop-motion adventure bursting with never-ending slapstick and sly English witticisms</a>; it’s a great British riff on “Looney Tunes” and you’ll need more than one viewing to catch all the jokes.
20. ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> England’s finest — Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson — play a gaggle of retirees who want to spend their twilight years in India. The group was lured in with the promise of a cheaper and more lavish retirement at the “newly restored” Marigold Hotel, but they end up with less than they bargained for. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Ever wanted to see your favorite British actors with a tan? Well, now you can! With a stellar cast and a veteran director (John Madden, “Shakespeare in Love”), “Marigold Hotel” has been charming viewers since it hit theaters, with its light tale of spending your twilight years abroad.
19. ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> The titular Arrietty, a spunky and resourceful girl — and member of a magical race of miniature people — breaks the rules of her society by befriending a sick boy named Shawn, who is resting at his aunt’s country home. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation house behind “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” have already set a standard for heart-warming fantasies. They continue that trend with “Arrietty,” as the movie’s lush hand-drawn animation and lyrical simplicity turn the film into a modern fairy tale.
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> Jack Black re-teams with “School of Rock” director Richard Linklater for a twisted dark comedy about the true story of Bernie Tiede, an eccentric Texas community leader who murdered the town’s rich widow Marjorie Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine). <strong>Why We Love It: </strong> Linklater has always been a great actor’s director. In addition to a hilariously icy MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey (who plays a big-headed DA), the director populates the film with eccentric personalities, including real neighbors of the actual Tiede. But this is Black’s movie: his disappearance into the unique and flamboyant Bernie reminds you that beneath his trademark schtick is a gifted comedic actor.
17. ‘Think Like a Man’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> Steve Harvey’s best-selling relationship guide gets adapted into a sleek romantic-comedy about a battle of wits between the sexes, when a group of girlfriends uses the book’s advice to whip their commitment-phobic boyfriends into shape. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> “Think Like a Man” was the spring’s surprise box-office hit and a huge crowd-pleaser (<a href=”http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-screen-gems-moving-ahead-with-think-like-a-man-sequel-20120628,0,7496262.story” target=”_hplink”>a sequel has already been announced</a>). While hyper stand-up comic Kevin Hart stole the show, he was surrounded by a crew of talented actors, including Romany Malco, Megan Good and Taraji P. Henson.
16. ‘Friends With Kids’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> A bird’s eye look at the pitfalls of love, relationships and kids. The film follows six friends whose lives all change — for better and worse — when they decide to have children. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Jennifer Westfeltd’s long-awaited return to romcoms did not disappoint. Her film was funny, heartfelt and — impressively — avoided any hackneyed pitfalls. Also, Jon Hamm!
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> A cattle farmer’s secret past catches up with him <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Two words: Matthias Schoenaerts. <a href=”a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/02/16/bullhead-matthias-schoenaerts-oscars_n_1281447.html” target=_hplink” target=”_hplink”>While the movie’s twisted storyline stands on it’s own,</a> the Belgian actor steals the show as the complicated Jacky Vanmarsenille, a cattle farmer attempting to overcome a horrific childhood accident. “Bullhead” is unbelievably difficult to watch, and by the end you may need to walk around the block just to clear your head, but witnessing Jacky’s transformation, from scared little boy to hormone-injecting loose cannon, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
14. ‘The Grey’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>After their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, a group of oil drillers is forced to contend with a pack of wolves. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Despite the misleading marketing campaign (unfortunately, this film is <em>not</em> about Liam Neeson fighting wolves with his bare hands), “The Grey” ended up being one of the more harrowing film experiences of the year — a mix of “Jaws” and “Alive.” Sure, you could categorize it as tale of survival, but it’s more than that: “The Grey” shows what happens when a group of humans are pushed to the edge, forced to contend, not just with the elements, but with each other and with themselves.
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> “Last King of Scotland” director Kevin Macdonald delivers a comprehensive documentary look at the life of global music icon, Bob Marley. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> By tackling everything in between his birth and death — including his Jamaican upbringing, his early recordings and his enigmatic personality — Maconald, along with Marley’s family and bandmates, offers perhaps the best, most thorough account of Bob’s life that we’ll ever receive.
12. ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> A stuffy fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) is sent on the bizarre mission to bring the sport of fly-fishing to Yemen, all paid for by a sheik. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> This is about as far from your typical rom-com as you can get. A pleasant surprise from beginning to end, the movie is funny, charming and not derivative at all. We also reveled in the comedic performances of Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas.
11. ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>Aubrey Plaza plays a toilet-cleaning magazine intern who ends up on assignment trying to track down a man who took out a time travel ad. <strong> Why We Love It:</strong> It’s an indie-lover’s dream come true: Aubrey Plaza in a sci-fi flick, which was based on a quirky time-travel meme. Showing genuine emotion, the “Parks and Rec” star proved that she can do a whole lot more than eye roll — <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/05/29/aubrey-plaza-safety-not-guaranteed-bill-murray_n_1554271.html” target=”_hplink”>as if there wasn’t more of a reason to like her</a>.
10. ‘Magic Mike’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>Featuring a bevy of hotties, and based on Channing Tatum’s real-life experience as an exotic dancer, the movie delves into the colorful world of male strippers. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Ignoring the fact that Hollywood’s hunkiest dress down for two hours, “Magic Mike” boasts entertaining spectacles and one of the best performances of Matthew McConaughey’s career.
9. ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> A lyrical fairy-tale-like story of Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl who lives in an impoverished part of Louisiana known as “the Bathtub.” When a great storm floods her community and her father falls ill, Hushpuppy must go on a journey to find her place in the world. <strong>Why We Love It: </strong> You can’t help but see the movie as a parable to Hurricane Katrina, the threat of climate change or a handful of other socio-economic issues affecting our country. But ultimately, “Beasts” is a modern folktale that celebrates the Delta culture through remarkable imagery. Most impressive is the young actress who plays Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), anchoring a complex film about a little girl facing her own personal apocalypse.
8. ’21 Jump Street’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> Two undercover police officers go back to high school to bust a drug ring. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> The initial reaction to this film being made was somewhere between “Really?” and “Who cares?” My, how wrong we were. Instead of a bloated ’80s adaptation, audiences got a completely self-aware buddy cop comedy — one that didn’t take itself too seriously. While Jonah Hill was his usual funny self, the true gem of “Jump Street” was Channing Tatum and his impeccable comedic timing (hey, who would have thought?). Also, let’s not forget <strong>(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT)</strong> the brilliant Johnny Depp cameo during the film’s climax.
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> Three teenage boys develop superpowers after stumbling on a huge glowing mass. However, each of the teens react differently to the powers, as things start to spiral out of control. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> This movie could have been predictable and gone the traditional routes: human gains superpowers, does nice things for everyone. Instead, viewers get a more realistic tale of what would happen if three teenagers had the ability to do anything.
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> Pixar’s latest feature tells the story of Princess Merida, a headstrong- archery-loving teenager, living in feudal Scotland, whose desire to carve out her own fate and go against her parent’s wishes for betrothal sets her on a magic adventure. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> “Brave” is rich in both visual splendor and charming characters. And despite it being a completely new story, it sits perfectly alongside other timeless childhood fairy tales. Merida <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/06/21/princess-merida-disney-role-model_n_1616789.html” target=”_hplink”>is an adorable and plucky heroine for young audiences</a>, and the movie’s simple message of responsibility makes this a great viewing experience for the entire family (but especially mothers and daughters).
5. ‘The Hunger Games’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> In a harsh post-apocalyptic world, the governmental powers-that-be select two kids (one male, one female) from each District of the city to compete in a fight to the death. When Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 is chosen, she becomes the figurehead for the impoverished Districts. <strong> Why We Love It:</strong> Despite ridiculously high expectations, “The Hunger Games” managed to live up to the hype, by balancing ass-kicking action (see: Lawrence with a bow-and-arrow) with real emotion. Also, the supporting cast was also terrific, with Woody Harrelson as the washed-up Haymitch Abernathy and Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket.
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> Ridley Scott returns to the world of “Alien,” with an epic prequel about mankind’s first contact with a mysterious alien race who may or may not be our makers, and may or may not have sinister purposes. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> “Prometheus” pulled off a rare feat, adding a new layer of intrigue to the rich mythology of the “Alien” series. Not since “Inception” has a summer blockbuster come along with such audacious head-scratching concepts. And despite being filled with plot holes, <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/06/11/prometheus-plot-explained-spoilers_n_1585990.html” target=”_hplink”>it was still fun to argue about the film’s big questions</a>. Also, the always brilliant Michael Fassbender was terrific as David, an android servant with T.E. Lawrence-sized dreams of exploration.
3. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong>Two star-crossed tweens (Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman) run away together, while their New England town bands together to try and find them. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> Wes Anderson’s ode to young love plays to his sense of impossible whimsy. Featuring some old friends — Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman — <a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2012/05/21/moonrise-kingdom-kara-hayward-jared-gilman-interview_n_1533740.html” target=”_hplink”>and new faces</a>, “Moonrise Kingdom” is everything you could ever want out of an Anderson flick, while also managing to do the impossible: tell a realistic story of what it’s like to be a kid in love.
2. ‘The Cabin in the Woods’
<strong>What’s It About?</strong> Five friends vacation at a remote cabin in the woods (duh). Terrible things go down. Lots of people die. <strong>Why We Love It:</strong> At first glance, the Joss Whedon-written, Drew Goddard-directed movie feels like your typical slasher flick, complete with dumb horror movie tropes — let’s split up! — and stereotypical characters — the sorority girl, the geek, the jock, etc. But that’s the point: “Cabin” is <em>supposed</em> to ease you into familiar territory, then, when you least expect it, rip it out from underneath you. So what’s left after that? Well, if you haven’t seen the film, we won’t spoil it for you, but the last thirty minutes of “Cabin in the Woods” is one of the most surprising, exhilarating and adrenaline-filled sequences in recent memory. Seriously, go see it. You won’t be disappointed.
1. ‘The Avengers’
<strong>What’s It About? </strong> Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye assemble to combat the super-villain threat Loki and his intergalactic army. <strong>Why We Love It: </strong> If it failed, it might have been one of film history’s biggest blunders ever. To take one of the densest, longest-running superhero adventures ever, and translate the comic-book wackiness to the big-screen was a huge gamble. Somehow, they pulled it off. “The Avengers” isn’t just the culmination of a lofty Hollywood gameplan, but every kid’s playground fantasy. Buoyed by fantastic performances — particularly Tom Hiddleston as Loki — “The Avengers” is big, loud, awesome-looking theatrical fun. Director Joss Whedon (there he is again) deserves all the credit in the world for orchestrating a movie experience that seemed impossible a mere five years ago.