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The Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade (2010-2014)
Page 5: #25-11

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In #25, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", Caesar (Andy Serkis), the stunning result of motion capture performance and computer animation, quickly emerges as one of the most poignant animals in cinema history.

25. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2011, 105 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Rupert Wyatt / Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver / Stars: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis
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After a series of campy, progressively ludicrous sequels and Tim Burton's high-profile misfire remake, it was difficult to summon any hope for this reboot of Fox's Planet of the Apes franchise. But there is a reason why the original movie is held up as an enduring achievement in science fiction. It's not the ape make-up that won it an honorary Oscar, but the ideas regarding civilization, evolution, our place in the world and the universe. Instead of regurgitating those ideas, this surprising prequel builds on them to tell an original story that plants the seeds for the story of how apes will rise to the dominance we know they'll someday enjoy. What could have been a purely technical exercise wowing us with the things that films can do with visual effects ends up being much more than that: a fascinating beginning that hooks you whether you know the series or are entering blindly. Those visual effects do warrant notice; they may be the most remarkable ones to lose the designated Oscar. The film advances the field, appropriately enough, with another dynamite performance from the patron saint of motion capture, Andy Serkis. The eclectic human cast assembled around him also serves the material well, helping to elevate the proceedings from potential summer popcorn movie into genuine work of art. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

24. X-Men: Days of Future Past
2014, 134 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Bryan Singer / Writers: Simon Kinberg; Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman / Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage
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Some may have feared the X-Men franchise taking a step back after the inventive X-Men: First Class with the return of X-Men and X2's Bryan Singer to the director's chair. But First Class helmer Matthew Vaughn and his creative partner Jane Goldman stay on as writers and Singer (who took story credit on First Class) proves to be the perfect filmmaker for the task of bridging the two different eras of this Marvel mutant franchise that remains off-limits to Marvel Studios. Using time travel to draw from the best of both series, Days of Future Past entertains to the utmost degree. An improvement over its immediate predecessor, this sequel deepens the divide between the two factions of X-Men, while assuming the air of a paranoid thriller befitting its primary setting of 1973. The success of this film raises the bar awfully high for the next chapter, May 2016's X-Men Apocalypse, to try to clear. But then this series has already defied fatigue and surpassed high expectations, so anything's possible. Full Film Review

23. Mud
2013, 130 minutes, PG-13 / Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols / Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker
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Matthew McConaughey's makeover from oft-shirtless star of mindless romantic comedies to serious actor worth celebrating was the winning storyline of last year's Oscar season. More than twenty years in the telling, the story restored luster to the early McConaughey performances that showed promise (e.g. A Time to Kill, Contact).
It forgave him for all those dumb movies with Kate Hudson that he made where he'd always be leaning on the poster. It capped off a few years of him being productive and choosy in agreeable films like Bernie and The Lincoln Lawyer. It paved the way for him to fill leading roles in the most buzzed-about film and television series of 2014. And yet, the film that achieved all this by winning McConaughey the Oscar -- Dallas Buyers Club -- was only his third-best film of 2013. The second was The Wolf of Wall Street, which made this list at #87. Much better still was Mud, a drama that opened to universal critical acclaim in April and went on to do some really good business in under 1,000 theaters. The Academy may have forgotten the film over the remaining months of the year, but I'm glad the Online Film Critics Society did not, giving McConaughey a Supporting Actor nomination. The less you know and expect from Mud, the more it will surprise and delight you. So, I'll leave you to discover this story of a fugitive laying low on a small island and to understand why it ranks so high here (sadly, the agency that didn't send They Came Together also stiffed us on this, so there is no full review for you to read). Nonetheless, the big takeaway from this, the second film from writer-director Jeff Nichols to grace this list, is that Nichols seems to have taken a page from McConaughey's playbook, with his next effort, Midnight Special being a big, secretive, highly-anticipated science fiction project that will open in November. Will that movie push Nichols towards the mainstream genius status of Christopher Nolan? We shall see.

22. Whiplash
2014, 107 minutes, R / Writer/Director: Damien Chazelle / Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
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One sign you're watching a great movie is if it manages to captivate you despite subject matter that held no particular interest to you coming in. Though most of us are not called to drumming, Whiplash does not discriminate. Its story is relatable for anyone wanting to achieve success in any field. If any passion features in your life, then its protagonist's journey will stir and move. The taut presentation gets so that the movie communicates as much through musical performance as by dialogue. This is a film that only a newcomer could make. Writer-director Damien Chazelle brings enthusiasm and energy to the project which rubs off on the actors playing the two musicians at odds, each brought to life with command performances likely to stand long from now as career bests. While 2014's Oscar crop did less for me than any other in recent memory, this film stands out as the worthiest of the nominees, a decidedly non awards bait venture that is certain to win one statuette and could conceivably win as many as four. Whatever the tally, this film deserves it for its ability to excite and arrest in a way that too few films do.

In #21, "The Lego Movie", Unikitty welcomes Batman, Wyldstyle, Emmet, and Vitruvius to the colorful and cheerful Cloud Cuckoo Land.

21. The Lego Movie
2014, 101 minutes, PG / Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller / Writers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman / Stars: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman
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The emotion that defines The Lego Movie is surprise. The best and biggest surprise was that something called The Lego Movie opening in theaters during the winter doldrums from the directors of the good but not great Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street could end up being one of the best animated films ever made. There was the surprise that a movie full of pop culture jokes and famous character cameos could be funny, smart, original, and incredibly creative, not just an ad for interlocking bricks. There was the surprise of that medium change, unexpected by most viewers, which unearths an entire new level of meaning to what you've been watching. The more recent and disheartening surprise is that this widely beloved blockbuster, expected to run away with the Best Animated Feature Oscar that serves as a consolation prize for animation, could somehow not even get nominated. That snub is basically indefensible, even if two of the nominees have shown up earlier in this countdown. I'm proud to be a voting member of an organization that awarded Lego Movie Best Animated Feature...and nominated it for Best Picture as well. (For those keeping score, that's OFCS 2, Academy 0 on this page alone.) The good thing is that this film joins a long list of films underrepresented at the Academy Awards. Its status as merely an Original Song nominee (and probable loser) should do nothing to keep people from watching and enjoying this sunburst of imagination and joy for half-decades and whole decades to come. Full Blu-ray 3D Combo Review

20. Shutter Island
2010, 138 minutes, R / Director: Martin Scorsese / Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane / Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley
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It is unusual for a thriller opening in February to make a lasting impression, but all bets are off when Martin Scorsese is directing. In his fourth of thus far five collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese puts on film a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane. Though Lehane has described his book as an homage to B-movies and pulp fiction and it departs from the contemporary crime tales for which he's best known, he has a true gift for storytelling, which has now lent to four really good movies (two on this list and two that predate it). Shutter Island is arguably the best film adapted from Lehane yet and though some credit for that should go to screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, who more frequently produces than writes, inevitably it is Scorsese deserving the lion's share for this atmospheric, psychological mystery. There's a huge Sixth Sense-sized twist that could hinder your enjoyment if you see it coming, but even if you do, there is much to appreciate about the period flavor and, typical for the director, the sharp, compelling cast. Getting bumped from its scheduled October 2009 debut to the following winter probably cost it some Academy Awards recognition, especially in the technical categories it should have competed. But it also narrowly qualified it for this countdown and can stand as my strongest recommendation for this film, which I've not reviewed in full.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) reconnects with deceased Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) inside his head, for real.

19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
2011, 130 minutes, PG-13 / Director: David Yates / Writers: J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves / Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Kelly Macdonald, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, David Bradley, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ciarแn Hinds
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Many in the industry are still giddy about what Richard Linklater did on presumed Oscar Best Picture frontrunner Boyhood, capturing a boy's journey to adulthood over the course of twelve years. It's never been done before, they say. Clearly, the Harry Potter saga is not the same as Boyhood, having seven of the best-selling books of all time as its source texts and a guaranteed audience keeping the big budgets of Warner Bros. Pictures flowing. Still, we can't allow the nearly $8 billion in worldwide grosses to blind us to the tremendous and unprecedented achievements
of this fantasy franchise. Eight epic films released within a stretch of ten years and not a single stinker among them. True, some are better than others and all of them suffer to some degree for trying to condense rich, giant texts into reasonable runtimes. It's more than a little bizarre that the Academy could marginalize this series, extending it only twelve minor technical nominations and not a single win, but that reflects worse on the Academy than on this tasteful undertaking. There was obviously plenty of financial incentive for all involved to keep this on track. But they did it, staying true to J.K. Rowling's somewhat rigid specifications, keeping cast changes to an absolute minimum, maintaining an audience that grew up alongside Harry, and managing to find consistency in the somewhat varied visions of an assortment of talented filmmakers. David Yates, the least accomplished director of the bunch, wound up directing the last four of these with complete competence and evident respect for the novels and their fans. Splitting the finale into two parts instead of one five-hour epic was probably necessary (and much more so than other blockbuster series that have shrewdly copied that design) and though it resulted in a slow, largely uneventful Part 1, Part 2 packs enough action for the both of them. It also satisfactorily answers lingering questions and provides the closure that is owed after all these wizarding adventures. The sky-high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb slightly overstate the film's superiority to its predecessors, but it is impossible (for everyone but the Academy, anyway) not to treat this as a culmination of something as grand, wondrous, and widely appealing as any 21st century film series. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

In #18, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire", Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) has nothing to lose while competing against fellow past victors in the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games.

18. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
2013, 146 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins, Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt / Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer
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Yes, it does feel a little disrespectful to rank a second installment of a much shorter, less epic, ongoing YA film franchise directly above the adored finale of an even more beloved series, but as you can imagine with ranked lists, there is practically nothing separating a film from the one right below it. Forget the comparable box office numbers, source material, and passionate teen-and-beyond fanbases. The Hunger Games is like Harry Potter in the sense that its story, characters, and imaginative lore all have enormous appeal that translates to exciting, practically all-ages entertainment we too rarely encounter in film. Most of what you could say about the Harry Potter films could also apply to Catching Fire. There is a great cast mixing young talents and seasoned veterans, a largely unknown director more interested in doing the source material justice than making a name for himself, a compelling story building on what's been established without repeating it, and a compelling universe you appreciate being part of. This second film in the post-apocalyptic Suzanne Collins series is just as good as the first in basically every way, which of course is quite rare in the world of storytelling. Picking one over the other is one of the more difficult challenges of this countdown. Let's hope Mockingjay, Part 2, due in November, can return us to these same lofty heights. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

Woody (Bruce Dern) and David (Will Forte) look to claim Woody's million dollars at an office in Lincoln, Nebraska.

17. Nebraska
2013, 115 minutes, R / Director: Alexander Payne / Writer: Bob Nelson / Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
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We interrupt this celebration of blockbuster YA franchises to bring you Nebraska, a black and white father-son road trip dramedy. Alexander Payne's latest -- the first whose screenplay he didn't personally write -- is also his greatest. At first glance, Nebraska may seem slow or obvious. Its colorless cinematography may give it an air of pretension. But give it a chance and you'll find a remarkable story told exquisitely with the warmth, humor, and abundant humanity we've come to expect from the director. When announced, the cast list was puzzling. Now, you can't imagine a finer collection of actors to portray these Middle American folks. Bruce Dern gives the performance of a lifetime and would have made a fine Best Actor Oscar winner. Will Forte is great as his son, the unlikely straight man given Forte's comic past. A certain familiarity with the region depicted (it doesn't have to be Payne's home state) goes a long way in making you appreciate the funny yet sincere portrait of life away from the coasts, where people are fine sitting in silence when not talking about driving times. So many filmmakers approach the central states with disdain and satire, but Payne, first-time screenwriter Bob Nelson, and director of photography Phedon Papamichael find the beauty in rural small towns, homecomings, gossip, and old grudges. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

Teenaged archer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) competes in The Hunger Games, a 24-contestant fight to the death.

16. The Hunger Games
2012, 143 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Gary Ross / Writers: Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray / Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amanda Stenberg
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You had to know this one was coming. Mere months after the Harry Potter film series concluded, this franchise filled the void it left. That it would go on to even greater domestic box office success than any of the Potter films may simply reflect this being an American, not British, production. The film's massive earnings likened it not only to hit recent YA adaptations like Potter and Twilight but to the kinds of universally entertaining movies that Steven Spielberg used to direct and produce. For a film this popular to wield actual relevance rather than just flashy escapism is meaningful. This story of youths killing one another for survival/sport in a dystopian future resonates in the age of reality television. It makes the film an invitation to critical thinking, a valuable tool for teenagers who might otherwise have spent their time and money on something as vapid as Transformers. Cementing Jennifer Lawrence as a star, Gary Ross as someone who should direct more often, and unromantic, unmagical, intelligent fiction as potential blockbuster fare, The Hunger Games did a world of good for film. Full Blu-ray Review

Depressed bad guy Wreck-It Ralph and glitchy wannabe go-kart racer Vanellope von Schweetz form an unlikely alliance in #15, "Wreck-It Ralph."

15. Wreck-It Ralph
2012, 101 minutes, PG / Director: Rich Moore / Writers: Phil Johnston; Jennifer Lee, Rich Moore, Jim Reardon, Sam J. Levine, John C. Reilly, Jared Stern / Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling
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Walt Disney Animation Studios' first foray into all-CG filmmaking was 2005's unfortunate Chicken Little, a comedy unmistakably modeled after the hit films DreamWorks was then making. At the time, there was genuine concern among Disney fans that the company's long legacy in animation was doomed. Traditional animators had been laid off and their desks sold. There was also the looming threat that Pixar would sever ties after their distribution deal with Disney was fulfilled. Instead, Disney bought Pixar and put John Lasseter in charge of both divisions as well as in a creative role at Disney Imagineering. While it seemed like an awful lot for one person to handle (even the one who directed the brilliant Toy Story and the criminally underrated A Bug's Life), it's worked out pretty darn well. Disney's next in-house 'toon, Meet the Robinsons, showed improvement and though Bolt was kind of mediocre and derivative of Pixar, it marked a relatively small step back soon forgotten as the studio went on to embrace its traditions of musical fairy tales and hand-drawn animation in The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Winnie the Pooh. Next came Wreck-It Ralph, an original film not much like any before it. Rivaling Pixar's best in creative storytelling and universe construction, this comedy set inside arcade video games is visually stunning, rich in ideas, and consistently funny. It displays an obvious love for a variety of video games from different generations, several of which it emulates fondly and knowingly. This geeky affinity never produces the tangents and belabored action detours you might fear; the focus always remains on a compelling story that delves into the psychology of villains and entertains thoroughly in doing so. Full Blu-ray 3D Combo Review

Aron Ralston (James Franco) looks and shouts up for help, to no avail, in #14, "127 Hours."

14. 127 Hours
2010, 94 minutes, R / Director: Danny Boyle / Writers: Aron Ralston, Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy / Stars: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Cl้mence Po้sy, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams
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Danny Boyle had achieved everything a filmmaker could hope for on 2008's Slumdog Millionaire. That little $15 million movie set and shot in India was originally expected to go direct to video. Instead, it went to theaters and become a global sensation, grossing nearly $400 M worldwide and winning eight Oscars including Best Picture and Director. The accolades were a new phenomenon for the versatile Boyle, who was discovered by America in 1996 for Trainspotting, but hadn't really been honored (or widely appreciated) outside his native UK. One could easily understand, after the universal validation that Slumdog provided, if Boyle needed some kind of sabbatical after it. Instead, he stayed in America to direct 127 Hours, the true story of a thrill-seeking adventurer who spent the titular time period trapped by a boulder. That barely sounds like an anecdote, let alone a movie. But Boyle and his co-writer, Slumdog adapter Simon Beaufoy, find a movie in the facts, fearless of the practical limitations demanded. What a movie it is, as the life-threatening circumstances prompt Aron Ralston (James Franco in easily the most spectacular performance to date of his productive career) to take stock of his existence and reflect on the living he wishes desperately to get back to. Harrowing, powerful, and life-affirming, this unforgettable survival drama benefits greatly from Boyle's signature flair and inventive vision. If you're among those who have been putting off seeing this film, delay no longer! Full DVD Review

Batman is back, though he has a false reputation to live down, as Gotham's police pursue him.

13. The Dark Knight Rises
2012, 165 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Christopher Nolan / Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer / Stars: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine
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Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy began with Batman Begins, an unconventional origin story that seemed determined to make you forget the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies that had come before it. Handily outperformed by that year's installments to the Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Chronicles of Narnia sagas, the 2005 reboot was a little bit of a box office disappointment. But it improved with a second viewing, something many discovered after the film found new life on home video. By the time The Dark Knight arrived in 2008, the series had evolved into something different: bigger, better, and, after the death of Heath Ledger, sadder and more significant. That sequel surpassed every expectation and was so excellent that its under-recognition drove the Academy Awards to re-evaluate their meaning (their decision to expand the Best Picture field to accommodate more nominees was basically a direct response to Dark Knight's snub). Proof of its universal appreciation shows that film fourth on the IMDb's all-time list, behind The Shawshank Redemption and the first two Godfather films. Thus, expectations were raised even higher for this final film. Though it gets a bad rap from some (mostly in comparison to its practically perfect predecessor), their complaints do nothing to diminish this closer's impact for me. What a treat it is to spend one last time in this fascinating Gotham, whose immense intrigue surpasses that of any other live-action superhero universe. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

12. Gone Girl
2014, 149 minutes, R / Director: David Fincher / Writer: Gillian Flynn / Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit
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David Fincher's name isn't often emphasized in the marketing campaigns of his movies, but people know who he is. How could they not? Fincher has been directing motion pictures for nearly twenty-five years. The past twenty since Seven was released, Fincher has reliably making some of the best movies of our time. Fincher may be the closest thing we have to Alfred Hitchcock. His dark thrillers are big on craft, showcasing stylized visuals, inventive camera moves, and first class editing. But if you are a film viewer and not a filmmaker, technique probably doesn't burrow into your mind and stay with you, except when that technique is used to tell a story worth thinking and caring about. Adapted from a best-selling page-turner, Gone Girl has got both of these things going for: a complex, layered story that is enhanced by its maker's complete mastery of the medium. Some of these characters, particularly the lead couple whose troubled marriage draws national attention after the wife goes missing, rank up there with the best of their contemporaries. Fincher, who's never written a feature, cannot take credit for them; they are the creations of author Gillian Flynn, who does an exceptional job of turning her widely-read book into an arresting screenplay. It's tough to imagine another director, however, delivering the performances and atmosphere that keep you hooked for a riveting ride you won't believe is 2ฝ hours long. Full Film Review

Three levels of airport security pose a serious challenge to the American diplomats posing as a Canadian sci-fi film crew in #11, "Argo."

11. Argo
2012, 120 minutes, R / Director: Ben Affleck / Writers: Aron Ralston, Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy / Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scott McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bish้, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina
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After Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck assumed leading man status. It was a logical next step for someone who had been acting for nearly twenty years. But maybe he wasn't meant to be in front of the camera. After all, he and Matt Damon won their Good Will Hunting Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Affleck wasn't even nominated for his supporting role. Of course, these days, Affleck continues to act and for some of the best directors in the business: David Fincher, Terrence Malick, and Ben Affleck. That's right -- though he remains a zero-time acting Oscar nominee, Affleck now produces fine work in front of the camera and even better work behind it. Each of his three outings as director has impressed, Argo most of all. This 2012 drama has been subjected to some backlash after winning the industry's highest honor, the Best Picture Oscar, but it really is a terrific piece of entertainment. Sure, it is Hollywood celebrating Hollywood and dramatic license is clearly taken, most noticeably on the conventionally suspenseful climax. Still, it's a fun story hardly anyone knew before and one which benefits from Affleck's dramatic instincts. Never mind that Affleck was robbed a Best Director nomination (becoming the first helmer of a Best Picture winner since Driving Miss Daisy's Bruce Beresford -- who? -- to do so). Many now see that snub as helping Argo beat the stiff competition for the big win. The film didn't direct itself; Affleck brings a steady hand to the story of diplomats escaping Iran under the guise of a fake sci-fi movie. There are some scene-stealing moments from John Goodman and Alan Arkin, but the cast is uniformly good, including Affleck in the heroic lead role of Tony Mendez. This tense thriller is no acquired taste and its broad, mainstream appeal may breed some resentment. But it's one of the Best Picture winners that people should enjoy watching for a long time to come. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

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