A ten best list with more than a few left over:
1. The Descendants—George Clooney and cast so great and surprising in this family drama.
2. The Help—Tells the truth about the pre Civil Rights South with wonderful award caliber performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
3. The Artist—So creative and without dialog.
4. Drive—Ryan Goslin so cool as a stunt driver/part time getaway man. Albert Brooks rocks.
5. Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene—the most disturbing movie in years and a great debut for Elizabeth Olsen.
6. Moneyball—Brad Pitt and sidekick Jonah Hill and a new way of thinking.
7. Bridesmaids—the year’s funniest and a break out role for Melissa McCarthy.
8. Midnight in Paris—Woody Allen’s funniest years and a grand cast recreating Paris in the 20′s.
9. My Week with Marilyn—Michelle Williams gets us past her to the essence of Marilyn Monroe.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2—a grand finale to a grand series.
Plus—The Debt, The Muppets, The Ides of March, Hugo, Margin Call, Beginners, The Lincoln Lawyer, Crazy Stupid Love—and coming in 2012—The Iron Lady and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Based on a children’s book that produced one of Broadway’s most imaginative plays, “War Horse” gives Steven Spielberg the kind of story he loves—a heart tugging tale of boy and his horse and the war that tries to come between them. Set in North England in the days before World War One, a prideful somewhat drunk Peter Mullan buys an amazing horse bred for racing rather than farm work. Handsome young Jeremy Irvine bonds with the horse setting up several stirring scenes—including coaxing the animal to plow an impossibly rocky field in order to win a bet and keep the animal. World War One breaks out, and the kid’s father sells the horse to the British. They think the cavalry will win the war. The Germans, however, have invented something that will change everything—the machine gun. One stirring scene begins as the British charge an encampment only to ride into the woods and certain death by machine gun. The horse experiences the horror of war on both sides, and winds up in “No man’s land” tangled in a web of barbed wire. His plight brings out the best from both sides. “War Horse” has the feel of the great family movies of yesterday—a lovely holiday present from the great Spielberg. Does it deliver what it promises? Heart warming story of a boy and his horse. Is it entertaining? A great story. Is it worth the price of admission? Good holiday fare.
The Artist pays tribute to everything we love about movies. Shot in black and white, without dialog but with music and sound effects, it uses silent film techniques to tell a story that combines “A Star is Born” with “Singing in the Rain.” Great looking Jean Dujardin opens the film as a silent star drinking in the applause after the premiere of his latest adventure. After the program he literally runs into Berenice Bejo, an ambitious extra. Sparks fly. And as silent film gives way to sound, her career ascends while his descends. “The Artist” fills its story with subtle tributes to the great films of the last century—”Citizen Kane” “Sunset Boulevard” “Vertigo” — it uses the original more square ratio of early film and tells its story without computer aid. Great cast includes John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell. Does it deliver what it promises? Old fashioned storytelling in the best sense of the word. Is it entertaining? Stays with you. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes.
Matt Damon stars as a husband grieving the death of his wife who buys a broken down animal park and moves his family to these unfamiliar surroundings. Cameron Crowe (best known for “Jerry mcGuire” and “Almost Famous” two of my favorites) directs this story and adds an extra dimension. Scarlett Johansson plays the chief gamekeeper worried about the animals and the park’s future. Of course you can guess the gang has a hard time at first but bonds and ultimately work together. The trailer makes this look like a cheesy Disney style story, but the movie rises above that. Scenes during the story and toward the end as Damon explains to his children his love for their deparated mother have a turthfulness that I found moving. Does it deliver what it promises? Family story better than expected. Is it entertaining? Surprisingly so. Is it worth the price of admission? Nice PG rated family fare.
Based on a successful series of comics from the 1930′s “The Adventures of Tin Tin” feels a lot like an animated version of “Indiana Jones.” Steven Speilberg directed this computer graphic animated adventure. It begins with our hero buying a model ship holding a clue to a treasure which requires a frenetic adventure to uncover. They position “Tin Tin” as a children’s movie, but I have a feeling a lot of children will be asking to go home about mid way through. “Tin Tin” runs full throttle and almost feels manic. The cg backgrounds look great but give the movie a flatness and makes it feel distant. AT times it gets some overdriven that I had a headache. I wonder if a live action version might have worked better? Featuring the voices of Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis. Does it deliver what it promises? Computer animated adventure. Is it entertaining? A little too over the top for most. Is it worth the price of admission? You’ll leave exhausted.
David Fincher’s American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” launches the career of Rooney Mara—whom many noticed in the opening scenes of “The Social Network.” As the spike haired pierced computer genius center of the popular Swedish crime novels, she makes the central character of this story completely her own. Mara’s performance gives the best reason to see this remake of the already well made Swedish films. Unfortunately if, like me, you already read the book and saw the Swedish films, this new American version doesn’t add much new or interesting. Daniel Craig does fine as the writer who begins the story losing a libel suit thanks to a trap set by a crooked financial guru. Hired by a prominent family to solve the 40 year old mystery of a young girl’s disappearance, Craig takes the job on the promise of new information which could clear his name. The girl in the story comes on as a researcher/investigator/computer genius. While this plot develops, we learn her back story, which includes brutal rape and harassment by those appointed to protect her. The American remake features scenes even harsher than the Swedish version and feels exploitative. The plot, coming the third time around if you read the book and saw the original movie, feels clunky and rushed. Two more films follow this story with high expectations that I imagine will be hard to meet. Does it deliver what it promises? The same thing in English. Is it entertaining? Long and dark. Is it worth the price of admission? A great performance, but otherwise disappointing.
Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman famously collaborated on “Juno”—they reunite for “Young Adult”—yet another laugh out loud edgy comedy. 30 something divorced not quite successful Charlize Theron flips when she discovers her high school boyfriend happily married and about to become a father. So she drops everything and returns to her home town to reclaim him. In a bar (she drinks–a lot) she runs into Patton Oswalt—a fellow graduate whom she barely noticed in high school except for the time the school jocks dragged him into the woods and beat him senseless, sentencing him to the life of a broken adult. Oswalt — the great angry stand up comic — turns into this story’s voice of reason — reminding Charlize that she really doesn’t have a good plan working and that maybe a terapist might be in order. “Young Adult” really captures the way people talk and sometimes think and comes to an outrageous comic pain filled conclusion. Not the usual stuff and for that we should thanks. Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy with edge. It is entertaining? Painful and very funny. Is it worth the price of admission? Absolutely.
Gary Oldman stars as John LeClarre’s George Smiley, recalled by the British secret service to investigate a mole—that is, a double agent—in the home office. The story unfolds slowly in a dense hard to follow manner. The plot doesn’t care about the actual secrets bought and sold but rather about the institution and the men who work for it and in one case against it. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” goes long on atmosphere and short on explanations. Gary Oldman makes a great George Smiley. A fine cast includes Colin Firth (last year’s Oscar winner for “The King’s Speech”), Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, and Ciaran Hinds. Some will remember Alec Guinness in the PBS series of this work. But that series lasted for seven or eight hour episodes. I think this boiled down movie version captures the essence. Does it deliver what it promises? Spy mystery at the home office. Is it entertaining? Hard to follow but long on atmosphere. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans of the books.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Sherlock as action hero genius. Jude Law plays his sidekick Watson, rolling his eyes over his friend’s exploits. The two encounter Professor Moriarty as played by the excellent Jared Harris. The plot’s ok—basically Sherlock hopes to prevent Moriarity from starting World War One. The style’s so slam bang that sometimes it exhausts the viewer. But the ending goes back to the series roots, with Holmes and Moriarity tusseling over the Reichenbach falls. Fans of course remember Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ended his detective’s life at these falls, but the public demanded his return. So you can look for another Sherlock movie just as Doyle had to write more Sherlock stories. Does it deliver what it promises? Action adventure in Victorian times. Is it entertaining? Fun but sometimes goes overboard. Is it worth the price of admission? Has a great ending.
Keira Knightley grabs your attention in the first frame as a woman in hysterics sent to Carl Jung’s clinic for treatment. Jung—as played by Michael Fassbender—employes his talking treatment—the treatment we come to know as psychoanalysis. Knightley recovers, and becomes an imminent psychiatrist in her own right. She also begins a passionate affair with Jung. Enter Sigmund Freud, as played by Viggo Mortensen, who begins an intellectual bromance with Jung. All of these bonds and triangles seem to bring about the birth of psychoanalysis. “A Dangerous Method” looks gorgeous and takes some interesting twists and turns. So many triangles, alliances, and realliances bring about the psychoanalytical method. The movie concludes with the rest of the story—a historical record that will leave you gasping. Does it deliver what it promises? Interesting and fascinating true story. Is it entertaining? Very interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? A movie for the smart set.