4. Zombieland (2009; dir. Ruben Fleischer) – With Diary of the Dead, Romero tried to provide a metafictive commentary on the zombie movie in addition to his usual commentary on the state of society, but it off more like metafictive complaining. George didn’t like the fast-moving zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake and he took the opportunity to say so. Though I like Diary well enough to own it, the main problem with the film is that it seems like the man who defined the genre in the first place was playing catch-up with a generation of filmmakers. Since Diary was shot on DV in a handheld first-person style, it seemed he was integrating ideas from Blair Witch Project to lesser effect, since he had the film’s narrator offer a rather contrived explanation about it being cut together, edited and scored for effect after the found footage was shot. Some people could argue that Zombieland is too high on this list, since it was just released last year. Some people may have problems because it strives to be witty and clever, but with all due respect to Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland is the best straight-up zombie comedy out there, and it’s certainly superior to Diary of the Dead in its wink-wink-nudge-nudge send-up of zombie tropes. Sure, there are a few spots where it tries too hard to be hip and fails, but unlike Kick-Ass, which tried real hard to be hip and fell flat on its suck-ass face, there’s an emotional core to this one that holds up well on repeated viewing. Plus there’s Bill Murray. And you can’t mess with the big BM.

But let’s start of with the film’s initial strength: the zombie rule-book that Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) provides. By now, we’ve seen enough zombie movies that the characters in them can’t really go: “Oh my lord! What’s happening? Is that a zombie? I don’t know what’s going on!” There are zombie survival guides in book stores; Jane Austen has been revised to include zombies. We kind of know the deal. To begin with a list of rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse here seems as natural as Scream beginning with a list of rules for surviving a slasher film. Maintain good cardiovascular fitness, buckle your safety belt, don’t back yourself into enclosed spaces. Sounds obvious, but we’ve seen plenty of characters offed in these ways in similar films, and it’s refreshing to know from the outset that they won’t be repeated here, or if they’re repeated, that we’re going to get some kind of twist on them.

But all this wouldn’t work if the cast didn’t have such fantastic chemistry with each other. I’m not really an Eisenberg fan. To me, he’s a poor man’s Michael Cera, and honestly, aside from Arrested Development, I don’t really like Michael Cera, since that whole nervous hipster thing really gets on my nerves. But Eisenberg was good in both of his 2009 “Land” roles, Adventureland and Zombieland, and here in particular he plays well comedically off Woody Harrleson and romantically with Emma Stone (Abagail Benson is the weak link and could maybe use some time in acting school, though for the time being she’s still coasting off her Little Miss Sunshine enthusiasm and cuteness). The cast manages to bring a script that could have come off lame-duck like…well, Kick-Ass (yes, it’s my whipping boy here) to life for some big laughs. If they do a sequel, we’ll have to see if they can keep it up. From what I’ve read it sound like the cast is enthusiastic and willing to return. I’m skeptical that they’ll find fresh terrain to cover, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Hell, Romero’s been doing it for well over 40 years now.