Sherlock Holmes is a self-righteous, dirty, socially inept alcoholic who is destructive to himself and everyone around him. But you just can’t help but cheer for the filthy braggart. For one, he’s utterly brilliant, always 12 steps ahead and armed with a salty retort. Even while throwing his best friend’s wife off a train, he has everyone’s best interests at heart (“I timed it perfectly”). His thirst for alcohol (“You’re drinking embalming fluid?”) is rivaled only by his thirst for deduction, and in “Game of Shadows” he’s back on the case, aiming to bring down the criminal mastermind, Moriarty. Holmes is smart and tough, a lethal combination. His intricate thought process, wit and physicality interplay like a dance, and it’s fascinating to watch. He always manages to checkmate his adversary, often with Watson’s last-minute help. Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest literary characters, and Robert Downey Jr. brings him to life onscreen as a complicated antihero who might not be an upstanding gentleman, but one who has a beautiful mind.
The X-Men film franchise has had its ups and downs, but Magneto — the mutant villain graced with the ability to manipulate magnetism — has always been one of the series’s strengths. In “X-Men: First Class” we get to see him before he was Magneto. “First Class” introduces us to Erik Lensherr, a Holocaust survivor who becomes a friend of mutant expert Professor Charles Xavier. Erik is full of anger, but he hardly seems like the villain we know he eventually becomes. Like Charles, he wishes to protect fellow mutants, but he’s willing to simultaneously destroy humankind. His origin story is complex and emotional, but “First Class” tackles it with finesse. While there were changes made to other mutants’s origins that were hard for any X-Men purists to forgive, the film managed to stay true to Magneto’s story. Michael Fassbender perfectly captures Erik’s inner struggles, and his chemistry with James McAvoy makes the relationship between Erik and Charles one of the best parts of the film.
In revitalizing the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, director Rupert Wyatt and the team behind 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” turned to an emergent technology that previous installments couldn’t benefit from. The motion-capture CGI innovations of films like “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Avatar” used the mannerisms and likenesses of live actors, a trend advanced in “Rise” by placing motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis in the central role of Caesar, the protagonist ape. In a year when films wowed with their specific visual innovations, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” stood out for its creation of possibly the most human-like CGI character of all time. That the character in question is not simply a humanized animal, but is rather an ape whose humanity is itself the subject of the film’s arc, makes Caesar all the more important of an achievement.
Brandon is a-“Shame”d of his sex addiction. This much is for certain, as visualized by the utter agony his face assumes when engaging in a threesome, smooching at a gay bar or preying on married ladies on the subway. When his sister, Sissy, explodes onto the scene — glittering, poisonous, intoxicatingly innocent — he can’t keep his personal life to himself anymore. Whether droning on Brrrrrrrrrandonnnnn’s answering machine minute after minute or wailing “New York, New York” in a woozy Manhattan nightclub, her heart-shaped lips moistened with red, Sissy is a catalyst for disaster, a hurricane to anything she touches. Sissy has presence, blood and choler to her brother’s melancholy. When she’s there, Brandon can’t take his eyes off her, and we’ve gotta say — we can’t either.
In a finale featuring some of the bravest men we’ve ever known, the unflinching heroism of Neville Longbottom emerges triumphant in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” Always straying from the spotlight, Neville’s relegation to comic-relief buffoonery in years past was just a precursor to the unbridled beast mode he unleashes in the Battle for Hogwarts.
Once a darling little bucktoothed chubster, Neville stares down thousands of Death Eaters and blows them all to holy hell like it’s a Herbology O.W.L. Then, bloody, beaten and in need of a hug from his Gran, Neville alone stands up to Voldemort after Harry’s apparent demise and tells the Dark Lord to shove it. Yet even a spell from Voldemort can’t stop the progeny of Frank and Alice, who leaps back on his feet and slays the infernal serpent Nagini. If only Dumbledore were alive to proclaim: “Neville Longbottom wins all the points for Gryffindor.”
-KAVI SHEKHAR PANDEY