After what seems like an endless quagmire of mediocre or sub-par movies that I've been seeing lately, these are some of the best movie options of the year. There are two animated movies, both of which are wonderful for both kids and adults alike, and a movie that I may end up considering one of my personal favorites. I can tell you right now that I recommend that you check out all three of these movies. So, before I go ahead and make the actual reviews superfluous, I better just stop typing...
Inception - (5 Stars)
First thing I will say: this is the best movie I have seen all year. Second thing: This may be the best movie I have seen in a while. I am and have always been a huge fan of all of Christopher Nolan's movies. As soon as I see his most recent movie, I'm looking ahead to see what he has coming up. Memento was the first of his movies that I saw, and it blew me away. His takes on Batman have been equally brilliant (with the Dark Knight considered by many to be the best comic book movie out there) and The Prestige is one of my favorite movies of all time.
So what did I expect going in to Inception? Nothing short of brilliance again. I don't really want to go into what happens in the movie as it is definitely one that needs to be watched for oneself, but I will say that despite my really high expectations, it delivered way beyond what I had hoped for. The story is smart, engaging and a little bit puzzling (in a good way). The scenery/imagery is fantastic. There were several scenes in the movie where I was blown away. They were the kind of scenes that are iconic (some of which have, unfortunately, been in the trailers). Hans Zimmer also delivers a haunting, reverberating (literally) score that pairs wonderfully with Nolan's vision. Perhaps the aspect that works the best about this movie is its phenomenal ensemble cast. Every person, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Tom Hardy to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, fit perfectly into the puzzle without a piece missing or out of place.
I realize that I haven't really explained what the movie is about and for the sake of those of you who may be on the fence about seeing it, think of it as a con/heist movie that takes place within the mind. There's action, suspense, some funny parts and some real emotional moments as well. Definitely worth seeing (several times).
(148 minutes - Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout - 2010) (Netflix - Dec. 7)
How to Train Your Dragon - (4 Stars)
When it comes to animated movies, I'll admit that sometimes I'm a little biased towards Pixar movies. That's not to say that I'll only watch their movies or that I turn my nose up at Dreamworks or other studios movies, it's just that when your track record is as good as Pixar's it's hard not to be jaded towards the competition. That being said, 'How to Train Your Dragon" is by far the best movie Dreamworks Animation has put out.
Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, "How to Train Your Dragon" follows a young viking by the name of Hiccup. He lives in a world where vikings and dragons are engaged in a constant battle against each other for existence. The vikings believe that all dragons should be killed on sight and the dragons, well...what would you do if you saw a big, hairy guy swinging an ax? However, when Hiccup encounters a young, injured dragon he begins to learn that things aren't so black and white when it comes to the scaly beasts.
"Dragon" has a pretty decent voice cast, smooth animation and a good story that makes Madagascar look even more like it was written by a group of chimpanzees (sorry, sorry...but it's true...Madagascar is a mess). It's also reinforces that not everything is always as it seems (or don't judge a book by its cover). Hopefully, though, it doesn't also give kids the idea to walk up to the nearest scaly reptile and attempt to pet it. Overall, "Dragon" is a solidly entertaining movie that both kids and adults should enjoy. It's not as funny as I thought it would be, but it's still a great time.
(98 minutes - Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language - 2010) (Netflix)
Toy Story 3 - (4 1/2 Stars)
Inception's challenge was all about whether or not Christopher Nolan could top his previous movies and How to Train Your Dragon's was whether or not Dreamworks could put out something decent and on almost on par with Pixar. Toy Story 3 probably has the biggest challenge of the three: How do you create a sequel, more than ten years later, to one of the most beloved franchises of all time? The movie itself is the answer to that question. Pixar has outdone themselves with Toy Story 3 by creating a movie that is both fresh and nostalgic and is a sequel that doesn't just retread old territory but provides a proper send-off for some of animation's most beloved characters.
Toy Story 3 picks up about 10 years after the last Toy Story (so, just about as long as it was in real life). Andy is getting ready to head off to college, and his favorite toys are starting to get nervous because they haven't been played with in a long time. Eventually, due to a mix up, the gang ends up in a daycare center. This provides the opportunity for a lot of new characters to be introduced. However, at no point does the amount of toys get confusing or detract from the main story.
Once again, sticking with my usual stance, I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't like spoiling what happens (hopefully my explanation above only covers what was in the previews). I will say that there were parts that I did feel where a bit rehashed or tired (although, I will admit that when I watched the movie I was in the midst of an annoying cold and was a bit more irritable about stupid stuff) but by the end of the movie I completely forgot about them and was fully engaged and emotionally invested in the story. Pixar shows that, once again, they are the masters of animated storytelling and that they know how to properly end a story as cherished as Toy Story.
(103 minutes - Rated G - 2010) (Netflix)