Friday, December 30, 2011

The year in movies, 2011.

This year, I saw the following movies, not in order (notes on each, with "!"s where I particularly liked the film):

hangover two: if I laughed at the first hangover and was a little ashamed at myself, I can at least congratulate myself that this movie was (a) no hangover part 1, and (b) crappy in its own right. sequels can go to hell, based on this evidence. my only defense is that I saw this with friends.

pirates of the caribbean: on stranger tides: for heaven's sake. a waste of whatever it was that they made this out of--those little paper umbrellas, plastic sword fruit skewers, and recycled soda pop bottles, I guess.

bridesmaids: !!! one of my favorite movies of the year, and also one of my all-time favorite comedies. if for whatever reason you have not yet seen it, rectify that situation asap.

something borrowed: another wedding themed movie, not nearly so good as bridesmaids. kate hudson was amusing as the narcissistic, bitchy friend. whatsisname was pretty as the love object. blah blah blah they did a lipsynch. it's not that I didn't enjoy this. I saw it with my daughter, and we had fun. moving on.

hanna: !! I really, really liked this movie. there are certain types of movies that I wish they could make again and again, and this--spy thriller action with excellent young actress, not horrifyingly violent--is one of them. that saoirse ronan--she is good. with an excellent eric bana as well.

source code: my son got it right about this movie--it was pretty good, but for heaven's sake, why wouldn't the vera farmiga character just tell the jake gyllenhaal character what was what? why not? head-smackingly obvious. but, you know, if that kind of thing doesn't bother you, then you might like this movie. it was actually pretty affecting.

the adjustment bureau: coupla cute kids try to hook up but the eponymous adjustment bureau, bosses of your fate wearing trench coats and fedoras, won't let them, because it's supposedly a bad thing. for both of them and maybe the whole world? I don't know. all I know is, matt damon is cute and so is emily blunt, and terence stamp can be purty menacing. diverting and that is all.

rango: ! I thought this was pretty imaginative and visually arresting, and I dug it. we took some grandchildren--I'm not sure they felt the same way. johnny depp's performance as a lizard was way better than any other johnny depp performance I saw this year (jack sparrow and whatsis hunter s. thompson standin, I'm looking at you).

cave of forgotten dreams:  !!  I read a bunch of stuff about this film--some people hated the sound track and called it new age-y; others thought the filming didn't do justice to the cave paintings. I really loved the experience of this movie, with technique and so forth being sort of beside the point, since I was seeing something that, literally, I had never seen before. highly recommended.

jane eyre: !! I loved this, full stop. some of my friends thought it was florid. I did not. I loved fassbender as rochester and mia wasikowska is swell. judi dench, as always perfection. I loved its gothicism along with its stringency. 

the music never stopped: ! this movie is sentimental, sure, and so on. but I loved it all the same. the grateful dead as redemption--not a fan, really, of the dead, but I was persuaded that it could be so.

certified copy: ! odd and interesting. what is the nature of the relationship between juliette binoche and william shimell? what is the nature of any intimate relationship? ambiguous and a little unsettling.

blue valentine: ! the disintegration of a marriage. really, really sad. but also very, very good.

the dilemma:  remember when vince vaughn was in into the wild? and how good he was? I think he is actually an actor, but he needs to pick better movies and parts. this isn't awful, but it's not really good either. with winona ryder, quite good, and that's something. also kevin james. who can resist him? (well, maybe me, in that one zookeeper movie. but otherwise.)

i love you phillip morris: ! quite enjoyed this movie, which was predictably hammed up by jim carrey (I actually don't have a big problem with that), but made sweeter by the adorable and versatile ewan macgregor (see also beginners below).

somewhere: !! my daughter thought this was a terrible, terrible bore. I thought it was lovely, beautifully composed and acted, a poem of a movie. set at the chateau marmont. not, however, as good as s. coppola's first two movies. I still haven't seen marie antoinette. shall I netflix it?

morning glory: ordinarily this kind of thing is right up my alley, and mostly it was. diane keaton was awesome and hilarious, and harrison ford was harrison fordian, in the best sense of this term, which I just made up right now. the movie lost me when the ever adorable rachel mcadams runs down the street for a big-network job interview wearing a floaty sundress and strappy, perilous high heels. bull shit, I say. give me a break. that's right: I lost faith in the movie because she wore an inappropriate outfit. this, however, didn't stop me from seeing it a second time with my daughter. because I like to give a movie a second chance, when I can.

fair game: based on the valerie plame affair. let me say two things: (a) I pretty much straight up love Sean Penn, can't help myself. (b) naomi watts may or may not be a good actress. based on this movie, I say: not. you be the judge.

the switch: ! here's an example of how a romantic comedy, almost any romantic comedy, will do in a pinch. that said, jason bateman plays such an unlikely romantic lead that it's kind of awesome, in a small way, how unromantic this romantic comedy was. jennifer aniston is reliable and charming. I am still on her team (but see tree of life and moneyball below, for evidence that I am also on brad's team).

barney's version: ! freaking good. well, pretty good. too saga-ish. a paul giamatti performance is still to be treasured. whatsername, rosamund pilch, is beautiful and swell as his wife. good enough.

the company men: ! square and good. it has chris cooper, tommy lee jones, and a slightly less smirky-than-usual ben affleck. go team! (also: kevin costner, whom I am cherishing in his paunchy middle age.)

cedar rapids: !! good good good. john c. reilly with big fish/small pond swagger is great, and Ed Helms--funny, sweet, hilarious. anne heche--very nice. also, alia shawcat, aka maybe funke, does well.

red riding hood: as I said earlier this year: "a fantastic hot mess of a movie, much in the vein of the first Twilight, and what do you know? The wolf is no wolf. No, the wolf is a WEREwolf. Of course. Amanda Seyfried looked very fetching in her cloak. Julie Christie was beautiful and a little scary as the grandmother."

win win: !! good good. again with the great paul giamatti performance. this one is rather superb, and also features the perfection that is amy ryan. wonderful.

the lincoln lawyer: ! why not? perhaps an only serviceable michael connelly novel gives rise to a swell matthew mcconaughey movie. yay! even better, there's marisa tomei and possibly dastardly rich people. fun for everyone!

midnight in paris: ! people raved about this, and I did see it twice, once with my oldest friend, once with the historian and some friends. here's what I liked about it: owen wilson made a graceful and beneficent fill-in for the woody allen figure. adrien brody was hilarious as dali. the guy who played hemingway--funny. and darling alison pill was perfection as zelda fitzgerald. what I did not like about it: why did the rachel mcadams character need to be such a bitch? it was entirely unnecessary and added a sourness to the whole affair.

kung fu panda 2: !! 'swonderful, 'smarvelous, 'sgo right away if you haven't already!

the tree of life: !! well, I pretty much think brad pitt is a great movie actor. yeah, he's pretty, but he's no longer at the prettiest phase of his career, and he is absolutely mesmerizing to watch, and revelatory too. the historian said of this movie that he didn't think he had ever seen a better portrayal of a boy's childhood--the pleasures and dangers of it. I forgive this movie, pretty much, its weirdnesses, if forgiveness is even called for. it was an entirely original and beautiful thing, weirdness and all. (jessica chastain also gives one of her several gorgeous performances this year.)

beginners: !! loved. christopher plummer was and is almost always great. ewan macgregor was lovely. the story of a boy coming to terms with his father late in life--very moving. and a special pleasure: goran visznjic, who is just wonderful. beautiful and wonderful. also featuring a soulful dog.

X-Men First Class: ! loved. my favorite by far of the x-men franchise. snappy pacing and soulfulness on the part of both the leads. kevin bacon as a bad, bad bad guy.

Super 8: ! charming. perfect for a summer movie. add to your list of movies about kids who make movies (son of rambow) or maybe just good movies about kids.

The Trip: !! an odd, rambly little movie with steve coogan and rob brydon, taking (wait for it!) a trip around England to visit odd little inns and restaurants, then write about it. the actors play versions of themselves, and there are parts of it that are sublimely funny, and parts that are curiously melancholy. worthwhile.

Buck !!  lovely and moving. here are some things I learned: horses are amazing. this guy knows his way around a horse. it's possible for a person to emerge from a childhood of suffering to become an adult with great intelligence and gentleness, but it is nonetheless a heartbreaking story. some people don't know what to do with a horse. robert redford can be fairly inarticulate, if also kind of a riot to listen to. in conclusion, this was a very good movie, and you should see it if you love horses or people or life itself.

Larry Crowne: well, I hate to say it, but this movie is kind of a trifle, and probably not worth your time. tom hanks should not be making this movie, and neither should julia roberts. yet we saw it. well, some things just defy explanation.

Horrible Bosses: ! funny, and as I have gone on record many a time saying, all I require in a comedy is that it make me laugh, and this did, plenty. it was no bridesmaids, don't get me wrong, but it was funny, and charlie day, from the inexplicable it's always sunny in philadelphiaso funny.

Tabloid: weird. weird, sad, funny. the story of joyce mckinney, who went to England to "rescue" her Mormon missionary boyfriend from the clutches of missionary-dom and tied him to a bed for the weekend. there are more oddities to this story than can possibly be summarized. it's errol morris, it's an original, you should probably see it. but first put the kids to bed, it'll weird them out.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows !! like everyone else in the world, I saw this last summer. I made this note: "In July, a bunch of people, including my daughters and me, went to see the most recent Harry Potter, I pretty much full-on sobbed when (seriously? you haven't seen/read it yet? what is wrong with you? spoiler alert) Snape died. After the movie ended, my daughter with the wicked wit said, "Are you okay?"."  yes, I was. I thought the movie was a fitting end to the franchise. I am, I confess it, a little sad that there is no more harry potter, neither book nor movie.

Friends with Benefits ! surprisingly funny. perhaps you are of the camp that finds justin timberlake a little smug. I have heard this may be true. however: I am more of the camp that finds him funny and attractive, the camp that is grateful to him for bringing sexy back. mila kunis is, of course, terrific. I add this to the "happy surprise" category of romantic comedies, and I am always grateful for an addition to that short list.

Sarah's Key: both this and incendies have a similar problem: each is a movie about a horrific crime of a past war, with a parallel in the present-day. each, therefore, finds itself with a problem of allegory: the present-day dilemmas of the characters who investigate the past cannot bear the weight of the comparison. that said, I found this film moving and sorrowful. your mileage may vary.

Incendies ! see above. this was a better film than sarah's key. based on a play of the same name. very good performances.

the future ! the vexing Miranda July. a striking and disquieting film. good. not like anything else I've seen, quite.

Crazy, Stupid, Love oh crazy, stupid, love, with your excessive commas and one romantic subplot too many: you had a lot going for you, so it was annoying when the surplus love story kept coming back up. where was your discretion, your aesthetic sense, your narrative balance? why squander the two compelling love stories by throwing another into the hopper? where was your restraint, your judgement, your modesty? why do I have so many questions for you? weren't your excellent leads (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling) enough? well weren't they?

The Guard !! a little thing, but a pleasure. I have quibbles about it (call me a prude, but I am mostly not interested in hilarious call girl scenarios), but mostly I just loved this. brendan gleason and don cheadle, so very good. one of my favorites. on the strength of my enjoyment of this movie, my youngest son finally got me to watch in bruges, which was also pretty darn good.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes ! so much better than I thought it would be. andy serkis's chimp = perfect.

The Change-Up: one small piece of evidence that Jason Bateman can do wrong. ick.

The Help ! : I liked this. Its great, great strengths are the wonderful performances given by viola davis and octavia spencer. everyone acquits herself quite beautifully, including Allison Janney and Jessica Chastain.

One Day: in an open letter to the movie studios of america, I wrote the following regarding one day:
It was certainly our own fault that we chose One Day as our Friday night movie option. However, having now viewed this film, we have the following constructive criticisms to make, in the spirit of better movies for everyone: 1. You should hire somebody who can tell you how to make a movie better, because pretty much any fool could have told you what you should have done to make One Day a better movie.  2. No amount of bad haircuts, Doc Martens, and wire-rimmed glasses will make Anne Hathaway the "plain" girl. Also, sorry and no offense, but Anne Hathaway's accent sucked. Shoulda hired a British actress. Sincerely, htms.

Brighton Rock: I literally could not believe that there were characters this stupid in literature or in life. featuring the incomparable helen mirren wearing excellent lipstick and convincingly embodying worldliness and common sense, in exceedingly short supply in this story.

Higher Ground !!  loved. the splendid vera farmiga in a movie about belonging and not belonging to a fundamentalist religious group. one of my favorite movies of the year.

Our idiot Brother ! gentle and sweet. paul rudd could not be more appealing or cuddly, and all the women who played his sisters--perfect. a slimy steve coogan, very funny. and the darling adam scott as rachel mcadams's love interest. what could be better? hardly anything, that's what.

The Debt: oh, fine, but this is not all that great, is it? just because it has helen mirren (always perfect, I admit it). get over yourself, I mean it. (but jessica chastain--in every movie possible this year--is always very very good.)

Contagion ! chilly and chilling. scary. I liked how many movie stars there were in it, and how no one, not a single person, seemed movie star-ish. matt damon, who keeps getting better and better, is very good. laurence fishburne. kate winslet. jude law. jennifer ehle. all superb.

Moneyball !! I looked forward to this and was not disappointed. so much fun. who loves seeing brad pitt's big face on a big screen? I know I do.

50/50: good, if a little conventional. I guess it's possible to have too many movies where people learn life lessons because they get really really sick. but if they are well-acted movies this story can still work, and I thought this was good. I loved anjelica huston as the problematic mom. I love love love joseph gordon leavitt, and seth rogen was quite good. but you can decide for yourself if you are allergic to this kind of uplift.

The Ides of March:  I liked this, but it felt a little smug to me. I don't like it when I have to say that about george clooney, but I feel I have to say it: his performance was a little smug. boo to that. (but see the descendants below--george redeems himself.)

Take Shelter !!:  this movie was the best one of the year, in my book. gorgeous, unpredictable, extremely well-acted, full of dread--great, great, great. I loved this movie.

Footloosesaw this with friends--good dancing, not that great acting. but good dancing. so there's that.

Margin Call ! sharp little financial thriller (if you never saw the boiler room, I recommend it as well in this category). a fairly lucid dramatization of how the financial crisis of 2008 went down. smart and well-executed.

Martha Marcy May Marlene ! creepy and slightly mesmerizing nonetheless. must note that john hawkes gives a great performance as the patriarch of a cult.

The Rum Diary:  gaaa why? johnny depp: stop this crap.

Melancholia !! ponderous and still pretty amazing. gorgeous film, a wedding fallen apart, and then the end of the world. also unlike anything else I have ever seen. a splendid kiefer sutherland and charlotte gainsbourg...well, there's no one who isn't fantastic.

The Descendants !! thought this was just great. a special note for a nice beau bridges performance thrown in there. also: matthew lillard from slc punk and, let us not forget, she's all that.  george c. is all that he should be and more. really good. one of my faves from this year.

The Muppets ! YES. the true question of the year: are you man? or are you a muppet of a man?

Hugo !! some people thought this was overwrought, but I did not. I thought it was magical. so there.

My Week With Marilyn ! good for the performances: a lovely michelle williams, and an hilarious kenneth branagh as olivier. there is one delicious moment when branagh bestows his benediction on the script readthrough with an invocation to "motion pictures," where he pronounces "motion" with a soft "s"--it is priceless. if you're the kind of moviegoer who treasures this sort of thing, well, there's plenty to be had in my week with marilyn.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows ! a.o. scott says that this is the latest installment in the decline of sherlock holmes into action picture territory, courtesy of guy ritchie and robert downey, jr. oh, boo, a.o. loosen up your cravat a little and have some fun. which I did at sherlock holmes: game of shadows. kudos especially to jared harris as professor moriarty. I so enjoy him.

Young Adult ! I thought this movie was good, but it bummed me out. best part: patton oswalt. a beautiful, funny, and fully human performance.

Le Havre ! a working class comedy, I guess, of manners, or something like that. quite lovely and idiosyncratic.

We Bought a Zoo is this your thing--a family movie, by which I mean a movie about a family, who (you'll never guess!) buys a zoo? I weighed it in the balance: it's cameron crowe; but it could be so sentimental!; but I am kind of a sentimental gal; it's about a zoo, for heaven's sake!; so...there might be lions? etc. in the end, I went with my daughter, and loved it. pluses: there are lions and tigers and bears. matt damon. scarlett johanssen, very good. a cute child actress. patrick fugit. minuses: oh, I don't know--were there any, really?

New Year's Eve: I saw this with my daughters. we enjoyed ourselves and had popcorn. none of us deluded ourselves that it was anything but a product. the end.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo !: the last, or next-to-last, movie of our movie-going year. I have quite looked forward to seeing it, and it's a better-made movie than the swedish ones. I liked noomi rapace a lot as lisbeth salander in the swedish ones; I very much liked rooney mara in this one. and yet, this movie was not the grand improvement on the serviceable swedish films that I thought it would be. some reviewers said that in the end, fincher couldn't triumph over the source material--but the source material is lurid, pulpy, sensational, and gripping--this movie didn't quite grip. it was good but not great. let me add that I think daniel craig makes a very good mikvael blomquist, and stellan skarsgaard is splendid almost always. but rooney mara: she is just terrific.

That is all.


  1. Thanks for posting this. Now I know what to watch in the coming year!

  2. OMG you have to get Marie Antoinette. I really think you would <3 it.

  3. Another suggestion, and perhaps this is going to be in the 2012 list, but if you haven't seen Another Earth you must!



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