Ah, the first post. By my estimation I watched somewhere upwards of 350 movies last year. A combination of Old favorites, New Discoveries and New Releases. My hope for this blog is to bring you a little bit of each but I thought that the best way to start off would be to give an overview of what I considered the Very Best New Releases of 2011 with an emphasis on the Top 20 just to give you an idea of my cinematic tastes. So without further ado...
1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS- Magical. That is the word that best describes Woody Allen’s latest film, a time traveling romp through Paris. I fell in love with Midnight in Paris INSTANTLY. By focusing on the Theme of disillusionment with the time in which we live, Allen spins a film that is at once a Jazz Age Parable and a Love Letter to the City of Light. This has remained my favorite film of the year since I first saw it this Summer. This is the film I personally connected with the most.
2. SHAME- Every so often a film comes along and blindsides me. I don’t know what my expectations were from Shame but it far exceeded them. Two of the most brilliant performances of the year come from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan who were both robbed of Oscar Nominations. Fassbender gives, in my opinion, the very best performance of the year. Not since Requiem for a Dream has addiction been portrayed so well onscreen. In many ways I consider that statement a disservice to Shame because it is SUCH a better film than the former. The last 20 minutes of this film will leave you shaken. Director Steve McQueen is going places. Due to the NC-17 rating it’s doubtful you’ll get a chance to see this before it hits DVD but when it does don’t miss it. Incredibly well made and acted.
3. THE ARTIST- Jean Dujardin dazzles in The Artist- A love letter to Cinema with something for everyone. Comedy, Drama, Music. What’s not to love?! How much do I love it? Well I’ve seen it twice already. Don’t be turned off by the fact that this is a silent film shot in black and white. I guarantee that you’ll love it. A real crowd pleaser and my pick for Best Picture. Just go see it. NOW.
4. THE DESCENDANTS- George Clooney is at the top of his game in this film. Wonderfully directed by Alexander Payne, Clooney and newcomer Shailene Woodley (a revelation as Clooney’s daughter in the film) play off each other perfectly and create one of the most memorable onscreen duos I’ve seen in years. The Descendants is an incredibly moving film and in any year other than this would win Best Picture. Alas it’s destined play Bridesmaid to The Artist.
5. WAR HORSE- Say what you will about War Horse. Is it emotionally manipulative? At times. Are some of the situations implausibly impossible. Yes. But for all those reasons and more I love it. To me this is Spielberg’s Gone With The Wind. His Sweeping, Beautiful, Romanticized War Epic. We’ve all seen his gritty side with Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List (Both Excellent) but here the feeling is different. There is a grandeur to it. As a lover of classic Epics like Doctor Zhivago and Gone With The Wind this was right up my alley. I could sit with a box of Kleenex and watch it over and over again.
6. HUGO- Martin Scorsese knocks this love letter to the movies out of the park. You can tell what a personal film it is to him and his passion only increased my viewing pleasure. Scorsese’s 3D is the best use of the technology I’ve seen since Avatar, drawing you into the story and action instead of assaulting you with cheap tricks. In Hugo Scorsese proves he is a master in ANY genre. Studio Heads take note- This is how you make a family film. Enough of that Alvin & The Chipmunks rubbish.
7. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE- Elizabeth Olsen pops out of the woodwork and *WHAM* gives this INSANELY good performance as Martha, a former cult member living in constant paranoia and trying to adjust to life outside of the cult. John Hawkes is also great as the Cult Leader, Patrick. Equal parts Psychological Thriller, Drama and Horror Film- This film stuck with me and put me in a funk for days. I say that in the best possible way.
8. SUPER 8- A new take on an old classic. Well sort of… Super 8 plays out like an homage to all things Spielberg yet with JJ Abrams’ unique stamp. It’s not so much about an alien invasion as it is about this group of outcasts coming of age. Don’t get me wrong- Super 8 is heavy on the Sci-Fi but those fantasy elements would be nothing without the heart and relationships of the film. This is THE quintessential Summer Movie. I think I saw it something like 4 times in the theatre. I love the Hell out of this movie.
9. BRIDESMAIDS- Perfect Script. Perfect Cast. Perfect Director. The stars aligned on Bridesmaids. I’ve never laughed so hard in a movie. So many great moments of humor and heart. As great as the ensemble is I think anyone who’s seen the movie can admit that Melissa McCarthy steals the show and earned that Oscar Nomination. Bridesmaids tears down the chick flick stereotype and stomps all over it and in doing so proves that girls can have just as much fun (if not more) as the boys.
10. TREE OF LIFE- The most ambitious film of the year. It takes a concept as broad as existence itself and instead of going completely broad (although it does at times: Dinosaurs anyone?) pinpoints on an American Family in the 1950s. Symbolism and the opportunity for personal interpretation abound in this wonderful poem of a film. That’s one of the reasons I love it. Nothing is truly straightforward and it’s open to limitless possibilities to discover with each viewing.
11. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY- PAY ATTENTION. That is my advice to anyone who sees TTSP. If you’re looking for a light spy action adventure turn the other way and keep walking. This is not your average James Bond flick. It’s as tightly wound as a Swiss Watch and what it “lacks” in action it more than makes up for in a finely crafted story and across the board strong performances by some of Britain’s best actors especially Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I had to watch it twice just to see how it was pulled off and plan on watching it more on DVD so I can pick up on all the subtleties.
12. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN- Tilda Swinton as the mother of a boy who goes on a Columbine-esque killing spree in his school. Ezra Miller is excellent as Kevin but this show belongs to Tilda who knocks it out of the park with her multifaceted portrayal. What she does with the final 15 minutes or so of this film- Just awesome. HOW WAS SHE NOT NOMINATED?!?! COME ON AAMPAS!!!
13. WEEKEND- The best portrayal of the gay experience I’ve ever seen onscreen. Gracefully handled and beautifully acted by newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New. Reminded me a LOT of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and THAT is a great thing.
14. DRIVE- The first movie I’ve seen that I would put in the genre of “art-house action” Ryan Gosling gives a memorable turn as a stuntman by day/ getaway driver by night known only as “Driver”. Albert Brooks also does a wonderful job as a movie producer who dabbles in the criminal underworld. Drive plays out like a gorgeously filmed Pulpy B-Movie and I love it.
15. MONEYBALL- As a self-professed hater of Sports and therefore Sports Movies in general I went into Moneyball ready to dislike it. Luckily this movie shakes off all the Hoosiers and Rudy sports movie clichés thanks in large part to the masterful script by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. There’s a lot of information and math to digest here and yet it never feels like Moneyball’s beating you over the head with figures. Brad Pitt is wonderful as Billy Beane, Manager of the Oakland A’s but the most surprising performance in this movie comes from Jonah Hill as Peter Brand an Ivy League Graduate with some tricks up his sleeve that will change the way the game is played forever. In many ways Moneyball is The Social Network of sports movies. Not surprising considering Sorkin’s involvement in both.
16. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO- I’m pretty much guaranteed to love anything David Fincher touches. He has a style and coolness all his own and Dragon Tattoo definitely bears his unique stamp. Great Performance from Rooney Mara as Lisbeth and Stellan Skarsgard is perfectly creepy.
17. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II- The perfect ending to the decade-long film saga. It expertly balances the drama and magic that the source material demands and brings the story to a very satisfying conclusion. Everything you could want in a “Potter” movie and for my money, the best entry in the series.
18. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL- Now THIS is how you make an action movie. Gut-wrenching set pieces that have your palms sweating and jaw dropped, Characters you‘ll love spending two hours with and most important in any good popcorn action flick, it doesn‘t take itself too seriously. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Brad Bird’s work on animated films such as The Iron Giant, Ratatouille and The Incredibles that he brings his game and then some. He brings a Pixar sensibility to live-action and in doing so makes the impossible possible.
19. THE HELP- I didn’t love this film so much as I LOVED the performances within it. Three of the performances especially- Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. Powerhouses all. Expect Davis and Spencer to have matching gold statuettes by Oscar Night’s end.
20. THE MUPPETS- Jason Segal wrote a film for everyone who has fond childhood memories of seeing a Muppet Movie. For me it was The Muppet’s Christmas Carol- My earliest movie-going memory. This might be my favorite of the Muppet films if only because it takes all of the elements that you love from the previous films and bundles them up into one felt covered package of joy. With its peppy optimism, toe-tapping musical numbers and the signature brand of humor only the Muppets can provide it’s hard not to love this movie.
21. PROJECT NIM
23. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
25. RED STATE
26. TAKE SHELTER
27. BEING ELMO
28. ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN
30. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
34. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
35. MARGIN CALL
37. ATTACK THE BLOCK
38. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
39. WINNIE THE POOH
40. BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
41. THE IDES OF MARCH
42. THE MILL AND THE CROSS
43. A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS
44. 13 ASSASSINS
45. A BETTER LIFE
46. YOUNG ADULT
47. WIN WIN
49. CRAZY STUPID LOVE
50. THE TRIP
WORST OF THE YEAR: TIE- LARRY CROWNE, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE- Tom Hanks had quite the year. First came the “Comedy” Larry Crowne. This movie is sooo bad I don’t even know where to start. From the terrible screenplay that must have been written from cobbling together pieces from “The Big Book of Movie Clichés” to the God-awful lead performances from Academy Award winning actors Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts this film just frustrated me. How could a film written, acted and directed by such a talent be so preposterous? Little did I know that was just the appetizer for things to come…
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close took me from frustrated to downright angry. I HATE this movie with every fiber of my being. The fact that it was nominated for Best Picture tells me that Hollywood has more than it’s fair share of morons running around. This film is an exercise in bad taste. I don’t know where to begin so I’ll just say this- The film uses Tom Hanks falling from a burning WTC as a motif. I’m sorry to say that is only the tip of the iceberg. Trying to simplify a horrible event like 9/11 into such a heartwarmingly precious film disgusted me. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.