Iron Man 3

As far as comic-book movie second sequels go, this is the most solidly built to date. That said, the plot takes some extremely questionable turns, the small attempts at new character development add little, and the bad guy is the least memorable of the trilogy, as are his henchmen. (Certainly there are some good action sequences, but seeing Iron Man battle incandescent street thugs just isn’t the same as seeing him bust some metal.)

Less silly than the second Iron Man but at the same time less fun, and well short of that almost perfect mix of drama, spectacle and Tony Stark attitude in the first. The next time around they need to shake things up.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Has all the qualities of the fantastic first reboot – the great cast of characters, the fan and non-fan friendly balance of sci-fi story and action, the uber-polished look, and the generous sprinklings of humor. The action may go overboard on occasion (not uncommon in movies these days), and a couple of favorite supporting characters feel like they’re on auto-pilot, but still I was happily entertained.

Silver Linings Playbook

Impressive that a movie about such dysfunctional personalities can have you so invested in them. Even with all the shouting and awkward interactions, it’s plausible enough to be believable and clever enough to be entertaining. Only when the silver linings do appear does the movie briefly feel contrived, but one of the better “I love you” lines from a movie makes up for it nicely.

Shame

The NC-17 movie about sex addiction featuring rising star Michael Fassbender. ALL of Michael Fassbender. Aside from that it’s a fairly average movie. Unusual framing and long, lingering shots abound, but for every scene that makes an impact there are another two are three that feel plain or strangely domestic. At its end the film leaves some intriguing, ambiguous hints about the character’s affliction, and like any such decadent affair it certainly draws you in when events reach their gruelling climax, but unlike the best of them it doesn’t leave you with anything substantial when it’s done.

Django Unchained

Everything great about a Quentin Tarantino movie – the cinematography, the wit, the irreverence, and that scene or two of crazy high tension – without as much of the excess as some of his other films. Even the ’70s meets spaghetti western meets hip-hop soundtrack somehow works.

Life of Pi was beautiful and Argo was extremely solid filmmaking, but this is where we’re talking movie of the year.

Hugo

Martin Scorsese shows in Hugo what a true artist can do with 3D, with one gorgeous panning, zooming, multi-layered shot after another. Now cue favorite pun about the 3D visuals having more depth than the plot, because that is definitely the case here. The film takes a turn midway through from childhood adventure to loving tribute to classic cinema, but the almost documentary style of storytelling in that latter section does little favors for a movie that was slow to begin with.

The same awkward combination of mediocre child acting, slow pacing and seemingly irrelevant story events can be found in the first couple Harry Potter films and they have their share of fans, so perhaps people who enjoyed those movies will find some similar hidden charm in Hugo.

Life of Pi

Paint beautiful 3D oceanic art upon a 30-foot screen, set it in motion, add an enchanting soundtrack for good measure and you have Life of Pi. The pacing is a bit uneven, and it doesn’t make the powerful statement about religion I thought it might, but still it’s a lovely film that really should be seen in the cinema.

Looper

Dark, dystopian and a bit disturbing in places, but easily one of the best sci-fi movies of recent years. The visuals are fantastic and the performances great across the board (not the least of which is Joseph Gordon-Levitt channeling Bruce Willis). A significant switch in story and setting halfway through makes it almost feel like two separate movies, but it’s two very good movies if so.

This Means War

Though billed as a spy-action comedy, the focus is almost entirely on the comedy. Which is fortunate because the action leaves much to be desired, with both the opening and closing sequences shot too closely and amateurishly to be exciting at all. Even some normal dialog scenes have a look of cheap TV about them.

Once the romantic rivalry kicks in, it gets easier to overlook the movie’s flaws. Though Reese Witherspoon surprisingly is dispensable, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy both have modest amounts of charm, and the supporting performances from their spy colleagues have a few funny scenarios going for them. If you’re not too highbrow to enjoy the premise and overlook some shoddy direction, as a completely unserious romantic comedy it’s entertaining enough.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Despite the familiar scenery and familiar faces, a clear step below the Lord of the Rings films, closer to the level of the first Narnia movie, and on occasion even reminiscent of such genre trap as The Golden Compass.

It’s interesting how the downward turn here is similar to that of another genre-defining series’ prequel trilogy – more frequent and noticeable CG, overindulgent action, excessive exposition, and less focused storytelling. Even the lead protagonist is almost as much a stick in the mud as an angsty adolescent Jedi.

To be fair it’s not quite an Episode-I-level fiasco. The action when it doesn’t go over the top can be pretty great, the visuals when free of sketchy CG look fantastic, and the cast of dwarves for such a large number make a decent impression.

Still it feels like one long but not really meaningful quest, a deluge of random action scenes, set pieces and characters strung together that don’t seem to be going anywhere. Or at least not in any hurry.

The Amazing Spider-Man

A remake of an iconic movie should be better than the original, or at least different.  This is neither. Aside from a less innocent, more brooding Peter Parker, it’s surprising how similarly this reboot plays out to the original of only ten years earlier. That includes both the good (sweeping, dynamic action, though little we haven’t seen already) and the bad (a shockingly silly-looking villain and a fair bit of the cheesiness of the later installments).

The one area this new version possibly wins out is in Emma Stone’s turn as the love interest, but even with her mesmerizing eyes and believability at work, the original has a better love story. And far more charm.

Super 8

As everyone including director JJ Abrams himself has mentioned, this is a film very much in the ’80s Spielberg vein (and produced by the man himself). Between the childhood romance, the domestic drama, the military conspiracy and the ominous supernatural occurrences there’s a lot going on, and all are portrayed well, though not without room for improvement. Come the end the film felt a bit empty, but it’s a fun ride for its duration – and with one of the best ending-credit treats in a movie to date.