Friday, December 28, 2012

My year at the movies.

Not in order. See "*" indicators for movies I especially liked or valued.

A Dangerous Method: ** Against all the tides of opinion, I loved this film. I'm not quite sure I should have, but maybe that's why I did. Viggo Mortensen is Freud, Michael Fassbender is Jung, and Keira Knightly is Sabina Spielrein. It's about the systems of psychotherapeutic thought, and the uses to which psychotherapy may be put. It's vivid and sexual and heartbreaking.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: * I also thoroughly enjoyed this. When I say this in knowing company, they always point out that the third MI is the good one. I'll take your word for it, knowing company. But I still had a good time, and the shots of the action were incredible. So there. (Maybe a bit long? And: if you didn't see it in the theater, never mind. There's really no point on a small screen.)

Tintin: I think they should have made this into eight little fifteen minute shorts, with cliffhangers at the end of each. As a full length film, it was cool-looking but tedious.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: * We both quite enjoyed this. I thought Gary Oldman as Smiley was splendid. It was a quiet, quiet movie. I found myself literally leaning forward to catch every breath.

Big Miracle: * Here's what I said about this movie when we saw it: "Last night, the historian and I saw Big Miracle because we were in the mood for a movie that would not (a) trouble us with its flaws, (b) make us mad at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or whatever it's actually called, because the movie in question was (1) nominated, and (2) undeserving, or (c) make us feel sad or depressed or downtrodden. I think we can all agree, there are times when the offerings in the theaters all exhibit one or more of these negative traits (Shame, Albert Nobbs, and War Horse, I am looking at you). So we saw the whales in jeopardy movie, and surprise, it was quite a bit better than we thought it would be without beating us over the head by being a Major Work of Art. It had a fair amount to recommend it, though: a good cast, all doing swell work in small roles; a more complex-than-you'd-think take on the whole (mostly true) story; interesting observations about politics and conflicting/coinciding interests; and whales. Entirely satisfying, and that was without popcorn. Just think if I had had popcorn!"

The Vow: Schmaltzy nonsense. Which we saw on our anniversary, so sue me. The leads were appealing. Appealing-ish. Oh whatever. Can't really recommend it at all.

The Secret World of Arrietty: ** Loved. Here's what I said about it when we saw it: "It's not quite Spirited Away, but it was so delicate and beautiful and moving, I just loved it."

Wanderlust: * Enjoyed thoroughly. Everyone was funny and there was a lot to love: Paul Rudd is always great as a handsome-but-not-too-handsome guy. Jennifer Aniston: also charming and funny, reminding me yet again that she deserves many more and much better comedic roles. Justin Theroux as a way chilled out hippie dude on the make--very, very funny. Worth your time if you're looking for a laugh.

Lorax: Fine. Took lots of grandchildren. Loud, as these things are now wont to be.

Friends with kids: I read someone put this on their worst of the year list. Really? I didn't think it was great, but also interesting enough, well-performed, both funny and poignant...? Well, anyway, it wasn't on my worst of the year list.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: This movie is sentimental and improbable and has the excellent good sense to have Emily Blunt and the ever-wonderful Ewan McGregor. See if you like sentimental and improbable movies with very attractive stars and gorgeous scenery, and mostly decent and even very good acting. I liked it, but I won't say I should have.

Footnote: *** One of the very best movies I saw this year. Completely indelible and utterly original. A father and a son, both Israeli Talmudic scholars, are in a mixup as to who is going to be awarded a prestigious prize. There is a scene with one of these two characters arguing with a tiny, crowded roomful of academics that is one of the most riveting scenes I have ever seen. See it, see it!

Jeff Who Lives At Home: *  Purty darn good. Someone put this film on his best of the year list. Nope. Not really. But it was good. The two brothers, played by Ed Helms and Jason Segal, are just great. And Susan Sarandon as their mom--terrific. The movie is small. The ending, ultimately, is improbable. Still, I liked it.

21 Jump Street: Boy, I wanted to like this. My kids all loved it and I read all sorts of reviews that said it was surprisingly funny/sharp/other adjectives that were adjacent to "good." But I did not like it, and that's that. This fact, that I did not like it, has led to an intermittent and ongoing argument with my kids ever since about how wrong I am. Well, take that, my kids: no stars for this movie on my blog.

The Hunger Games: ** I thought this was terrific. Saw it twice, and found it great both times. It had most of the complexity of the book, was visually satisfying as a representation of that world, had terrific acting throughout, and created an emotional experience that mirrored the spectacle-craving of our own culture. Well done, all involved!

Mirror Mirror: Directed by Tarsem Singh, who also directed The Fall, one of my all-time faves. This was jokier and bouncier in its tone, but visually a joy, and plenty of fun.

Damsels in Distress: ** I really, really enjoyed this. One, I love Greta Gerwig, and she was absolutely charming in this. Two, I have enjoyed the films of Whit Stillman, and this did not disappoint. Three, it had hilarious little subplot/jokes, like the vaguely invoked sexual practices of the Cathar religion (?!) that make you think, what now? in the best possible way. Four, it had terrific little cameos by Audrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat. And five, it involved dancing! Including the great ambition of its heroine to start an international dance craze. I saw this movie twice, once at the dollar theater with some kids, and the fact that they found it weirdly enjoyable speaks, I believe, for the sheer enjoyment to be obtained from this little gem.

The Five Year Engagement: Yes. Good. Solid but not masterful. Having the following to recommend it: Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, and a few other fine players. Having the following to somewhat dampen the whole affair: a ridiculous ending. Now, I generally don't hold a happy ending against a film, but this one features a wedding that made me feel grouchy. Just bear it in mind, is all I'm saying.

Bernie: * Odd and good. A treat to see Jack Black mostly play down his outsize self, singing like an angel, being sweet to one and all until things get ugly. Better: Shirley MacLaine as a tough old bird. Better still: Matthew McConaughey as the town sheriff. Most of the other characters are played by townspeople from the actual town wherein the true-life events of the film transpired.

The Avengers: * Thoroughly enjoyed, except for the lethal amount of popcorn I accidentally ate. Here's what I said: "I will eat no more popcorn forever, is what I told my son this afternoon. "Yeah, you will," he said. And he's probably right. Luckily, the popcorn-of-death syndrome did not strike until after the movie, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Mark Ruffalo plays my all-time favorite The Hulk, which heretofore was Bill "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" Bixby, of the television show. Seriously, that was some fine family entertainment."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: * This movie can take all the knocks you'd like to say it has--possible hackneyed plot, sentimental...hmm, I'm not sure I can think of what any more of the knocks should be, since what I mostly remember is a radiant performance by Judi Dench, an agreeably acid Penelope Wilton, and sweet (not cloying) turns by Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. Also, Judi Dench's clothes are what I want to wear when I get old (-er).

Moonrise Kingdom: ** I saw this twice, once with the historian after the Great Avengers Popcorn-Eating Debacle, and once with my daughter later in the summer. The first time, I was not at my best and I may have even dozed off a couple of times. The second time, I loved it. Full of delight and texture and tender humor. I loved the beautiful Benjamin Britten Noye's Fludde that laced through the film. I recommend this film, and it bears rewatching. May I also just note that Jason Schwartzman, of Rushmore fame, almost never disappoints, and his performance in this film is no exception. It is superb.

MIB3: * Not sure why I enjoyed this so much, but I really, really did. Maybe it was the Josh Brolin business--that he made such a perfect young Tommy Lee Jones. Maybe it was the lost father thing. Maybe the bad guy was awesomely, creepily bad. Maybe the little lessons that Will Smith preached before flashing the flashy thingie. Anyway, I did. I enjoyed it.

Snow White and the Huntsman: * Liked quite a bit. I liked all the main players, and I especially enjoyed Charlize Theron as a really really really bad queen. Here's what I said when I saw it: "Today, after my writing, or "writing," as the case may or may not have been today, I put on my red shoes and my red scarf and my sunglasses and went to the movies, by myself. So that was awesome, right from the get-go. Basically, my criterion for the movie was: it had to be on my list of movies I wanted to see (obviously, I guess, but I can't say that all the movies I've ever seen even fit this one, very basic, criterion. That's how crucial it can be to see a movie, is all I'm saying). Okay: it had to be on the list. It had to be a movie that the historian probably wouldn't want to see. And it had to be at a theater near me and at a time when I would have finished my writing/"writing."

This movie fit all those criteria. How was it? It was pretty good, actually. My daughter's friend Hazel says it was "a rental," and that's probably justified. However: this was a movie with plenty of big-screen goodness--color and some effects and whatnot--and Kristen Stewart looked ravishingly lovely a lot of the time, and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) was very hunky as the Huntsman. Charlize Theron fulfilled her destiny in playing an evil queen like a boss.

An aside on Kristen Stewart: what's with all the Kristen Stewart hate? I can name several movies in which I thought she was swell. Hating on Twilight shouldn't mean hating on the K-Stew. She's an all right actress, and sometimes better than that. Don't be unfair, the people. Don't hate.

In conclusion: good vs. evil, ever satisfying, am I right? Right?"

Prometheus: Cool and absurd. Don't bother, though, if you didn't see it on a big screen--films like this exist for their effects and their images, and there's really nothing in here that will translate, I don't think. Except Stringer Bell. He's good on any screen.

Brave: ** Truly loved this. I loved the ferocity of the bears, the fact that the film was about a mother-daughter relationship, and about female power and agency. And I loved that it was set in Scotland. Love loved it.

To Rome with Love: Boo. There was 25% of this movie that was quite good, and 25% of it that was passably good (Judy Davis wore an amazing jacket that I would like to replicate in a dozen different fabrics), and that is all. How does he (Woody Allen) get away with this?

Ted: It was the middle of the summer. It was hot. There was a movie theater called Brewvies, with a film called Ted that had been playing for what seemed like half a year. There were the several weeks prior to this point when we had said, "What about Ted?" and concluded, naaa. And then we gave in. We laughed. That is all.

Magic Mike: I saw this in the summer time, during the day, by myself. I felt like a perv, paying for the movie, because that's the way people represented this film. Well, that's not why I saw it (she says defensively). I saw it because it was Soderbergh. And it was pretty good.

people like us: A weepie, and a completely implausible plot (my daughter insisted, because I usually will give in to implausible plots, when the movie's a weepie). The acting wasn't bad, though, I said, and she would not allow even this. So there. Hammy, implausible plot. Still, neither of us was sorry to have seen it.

the dark knight rises: * Good. My family maintains that this is the best of the Christopher Nolan Batmans. I think the second one, The Dark Knight, is best, but this was pretty good. I am not down with the ending, in which a city is saved because the hydrogen (?) bomb doesn't explode in the city itself, rather in the sea surrounding Gotham. Right. HOWEVER. This movie was engrossing and compelling.

step up revolution: * So awesome, I saw it twice. Wait, let me back up. ONE. Dance movie. TWO. From the thrilling Step Up series. THREE. With an "Occupy X" theme. FOUR. Public dancing as a form of social protest? BAM I even took the historian.

celeste and jesse forever:  Pretty good. Would have loved it to be more amazing. In reviewing the plot on Wikipedia, though, several truly funny scenes came to mind. So, y'know, if you like a romantic comedy with serious undertones and Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, you might like this movie.

hope springs: This is entirely a middle-aged person's movie, and you have to put up with some terrible music in it, i.e. the score. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep have been married a long time and she thinks they need to re-engage with their marriage. Guess what? He doesn't want to. So they go to a couples therapist. In Maine. And try. But for all the reductio ad absurdum of that plot summary, it pretty much works, and is moving. Steve Carell is excellent as their therapist.

cosmopolis: * Had to see this because (a) Don Delillo (author of the novel), and (b) David Cronenberg, that big weirdo. Well, it was weird, just like the book, and quite good, just like the book. Paul Giamatti has an excellent part right at the end.

paranorman: It was this or Frankenweenie. We chose this. Kind of scary for kids. Luckily, we aren't kids. The historian liked but did not love. Actually, same for me. Cool looking, though.

premium rush: * Super fun. Swift and breathtaking. Probably my favorite action movie of the year.

the master: *** Possibly a masterpiece. I think this is the best movie I saw this year. Mysterious and not entirely explicable, but riveting and compelling. Every actor is perfect. I was especially glad to see Joaquin Phoenix back, and in fine, fine form. Go, go go!

the perks of being a wallflower: * I read the book, then we went to see the movie. It was a lovely little thing. The sweet faces of those kids.

looper: * I liked this movie quite a bit, though it was (as nearly everyone I've talked to and read has said) more violent than I expected. But there were so many satisfactions to it--nifty visual turns, exemplifying the plot, a great rural setting plopped in the middle of an urban dystopic movie, terrific performances, including a very good one by Emily Blunt. I will never turn down a great Bruce Willis performance, and there are plenty of them, despite the plenty that aren't great. And Joseph Gordon Leavitt's not bad either. Well, never bad. Well, pretty much always good.

argo: * Sharp and well-made. I did think it was hilarious when there was a gratuitous shirtless shot of Ben Affleck. Nice work out, dude. Still: why does it please me, and plenty of others, so much that B.A. is making a nice career turn in directing? This isn't the best of his three movies, but it's good, and very enjoyable. Alan Arkin and John Goodman give a beautiful little duo-cameo that is entirely worthwhile.

your sister's sister: Another of the implausible plots of the year, in which Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt play sisters who get entangled with the same man. And there's a pregnancy. And so on and so forth, gads. Well, they're all good actors (Mark DuPlassis being the man). I paid to watch this movie in a hotel room--I wasn't sorry, exactly, but I didn't exactly think it was money well spent, either.

safety not guaranteed: ** Loved this little movie about a guy who thinks he's built a machine for time travel. A band of merry/dissolute/rookie journalists go to do a story about him. So it's a story about belief and doubt, essentially, about cynicism and faith, etc. It's all good, full of interesting locations and characters and good writing, and very odd. This will translate well to watching on a small screen, so make sure you see it.

cloud atlas: * What a whacked out movie that I loved. I have not read the novel, so I have nothing to compare it to except other people's descriptions of the novel. But I found it fascinating and thoroughly engrossing and weird and great, especially in great swaths of the movie. I loved the relationship between Ben Whishaw, whom I adore, and James D'Arcy especially, but I found the entire thing, even in its more cracked-out moments, to be ambitious and, for much of it, pretty successful. I would see it again.

flight: Fairly predictable movie with a terrific Denzel Washington performance. John Goodman hamming it up as the fixer/dealer. The whole first twenty or so minutes are riveting and sickeningly thrilling.

skyfall: I haven't seen a James Bond in literally decades, I think, and I quite enjoyed this for what it was. Good stunts and action sequences. The ever-perfect Judi Dench; the spectacularly amusing and menacing Javier Bardem.

red tails: My dad loved this as a piece of aviation history, and for that it was pretty darned interesting. Tells the story of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen as a rousing, broad good-and-evil tale--but with some killer aerial dogfights. One interesting fact: author Aaron McGruder (Boondocks) co-wrote.

rampart: Good, but freaking depressing. For my brief essay on this and other cop movies, go here.

extremely loud and incredible close: I liked this quite a bit more than I thought I would. Here's what I said when I saw it: "Today, I bought eggs from Chad, went to the Roasting Co. to work on a poem (why do I have to go to another place to write a poem? another post for another day), ate lady fingers (but not really--they were actually langues des chats, and they were both darling and delicious), and cried my head off at a movie (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--you will have to decide for yourself if a movie that insists that you cry this much is your poison, but I expected to pity and perhaps despise it [the movie], and did neither, really)."

ruby sparks: Guy--a novelist--finds himself on a roll and writes a true-life girlfriend for himself. Girl of his dreams, more or less. While I thought the film got at some truths about the ways that we project our own desires on those we love, or "love," the whole scenario was creepy and got increasingly so as the movie had to more or less punch its way out of the corner its premises had boxed itself into. (I'll wait while you finish putting that image together.) So...not really.

the intouchables: Reviews of this movie that I read said it was yet another example of how a black guy will bring healing to a white guy. Maybe so. The white guy in this case is a genuine aristocrat with genuine old money and is French and also a quadriplegic. The black guy is hired to be his personal aide. There may or may not be dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire by the black guy. He's from Africa, living with his extended family in Paris. The aristocrat needs to meet the woman with whom he's been exchanging poetic and formal letters of love, but he is afraid. The aide helps him. See? This is where plot summaries get you. They show you what's hackneyed and formulaic, but they don't show the texture and vividness of the details. So I will tell you that the details are what made this formulaic film work, and that if its aims and charms are modest, they are nonetheless there in the film. I liked it.

the kid with the bike: ** This film, on the other hand, was pretty close to brilliant. Starring Cecile de France as a woman who takes in a kid whose father has abandoned him. It's terrible and heartrending and hopeful, which seems miraculous. Directed by those Belgians, the Dardenne brothers, who seem to specialize in terrible and heartrending; the hopeful seems like a bonus.

take this waltz: * At least one of my friends found this film unbearably tedious. I loved it. It did not feel remotely predictable to me. It has Seth Rogen in a serious role--quite good--and the luminous Michelle Williams as a married couple. Then this guy comes on the scene. I loved the way the film made you feel the rough surfaces of every day life.

Sleepwalk with me: Mike Birbiglia half-tells the story of a period of sleepwalking in his life, a story which also takes in a long-term relationship and the growth, or not, of his career as a stand-up comedian. Sometimes pretty interesting, sometimes only mildly so.

beasts of the southern wild: ** Visually glorious. I worried about that little girl for every minute of that movie. Felt entirely original.

the sessions: * Told in a kind of square way, but emotionally very affecting nonetheless. John Hawkes is splendid, as usual, playing a real-life guy, Mark O'Brien, who has lived most of his life in an iron lung and who wants to experience sex. But I was very very pleased to see Helen Hunt and I thought she was wonderful and very moving. I recommend this movie. There is plenty of sex in it and lots of sex talk, because it's a movie about sex. Just so you know, in case you didn't.

silver linings playbook: *** One of my favorites of the year, as you can see. The protagonist, played by Bradley Cooper, is a previously undiagnosed bipolar man who has been in a mental hospital as a part of his plea bargain with the court--he doesn't go to jail for severely beating a man with whom his wife was having an affair. He hopes to win her back, but in the meantime meets a woman in his neighborhood who has lost her husband and is emotionally wounded herself. There is a great dance sequence in this film, and it just felt wonderful, beautifully observed, compassionate, funny, and real all at the same time. I just loved it. I saw it again yesterday with my daughter and loved it again for the second time, where it was just as good as the first time.

wreck it ralph: * I love the conceit of this movie--that the "Wreck It" character gets sick of his bad-guy role and tries to escape it. Lots of fun throughout.

Lincoln: ** There was sap at the beginning and noble sap at the end. There was a perhaps too-eager score. As one friend said, there was an ostentatiously good supporting cast. And yet, I found the film in the middle of the two rather brief sappy parts at the beginning and the end to be absolutely riveting and engaging and very intelligent. Gorgeous visually. And Daniel Day Lewis was really splendid as Lincoln.

Anna Karenina: * Gorgeous again. I loved everything about this movie except: (one) I thought the guy who played Vronsky was too soft, too pretty. No, is what I thought when he came on the scene. No, do not go with him, Anna Karenina! Not worth it!, and (two) I thought the staginess of the narrative frame both worked and didn't work. It made the tacit argument that Russian society, for upper class people, was like a stage, a constant spectacle; but it created too much distance between the viewer and the pathos of the story. I would say the movie was successful on its own terms, despite (one) above; but I longed for it to break my heart, and it did not. Special note that Jude Law was splendid as Karenin, and Keira Knightley was likewise wonderful.

Hitchcock:  Why not? It's Helen Mirren as Alma Hitchcock, and she is perfection, looking dishy in her clothes, and delivering a tart, sharp rebuke to her husband when he needed it. Not sure how consequential it felt. But it was fun. Scarlett Johanssen making a credible Janet Leigh.

Life of Pi: **  Loved the visual splendor of this film. Entrancing. Again, make sure to see it on a big screen, or there will be no point. It would be like moving Star Wars action figures around and acting out the movie script instead of seeing the movie. You want to see the tiger. You probably want to see it in 3D, although we didn't.

Les Miserables:  Okay. I have not read Hugo, nor have I seen the stage musical, nor have I ever listened to the music, except here and there. So, although I was basically familiar with the plot, I was hazy on the particulars, and thus this was effectively my first time with Les Miserables. Yes: I was a Les Miz virgin. So here's what I thought: (a) long. pretty long. (b) so much singing! (c) some of the singing seemed kind of not great. On the other hand, (d) some of the singing was surprisingly good! (e) I'm not sure I even liked the songs all that much, or not all of them. (f) I did cry several times. (g) the spectacle of Russell Crowe in his various uniforms was delicious. (h) Anne Hathaway made me cry on cue--really amazing. (i) the kid singers were great. (j) Eddie Redmayne was great. (k) war is stupid. The end. Did I pass?

This is 40: ** Just the antidote to, well, everything. We saw it this very night! I loved this movie and I laughed and cried through the lot of it. A zillion great things in it--it's loose and shambly, and the structure is ramshackle, but the performances are all vivid and lively and idiosyncratic. I loved Albert Brooks as Paul Rudd's dad, John Lithgow as Leslie Mann's dad, Chris O'Dowd as Paul Rudd's co-worker, Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi as Leslie Mann's employees, and Jason Segal as a personal trainer. AND Melissa McCarthy as a really, really angry mom at the Mann/Rudd kids' school. Raunchy and funny and great.


  1. thanks for the run down, lisa. i have so many movies left to see this year! loved bernie, a dangerous method, and safety not guaranteed. can't wait to see big miracle! i got it twice from netflix but then didn't have time to watch it. taking daughter to life of pi this week.

  2. Pretty sure that 1/3 of these movies did not even come out in this country!

  3. Thoughts:

    *finally heard of/found some peeps who agree with me about Dark Knight Rises--the BEST for me.

    *Really wished I'd gotten to The Master and Footnote when they were at Broadway. Dang.

    *I also liked Marigold more than reviewers

    *In Ruby Sparks Paul Dano's face and their chemistry made-up for said weaknesses

    *EXACTLY how I felt about Arrietty--what a wonderful ride it's been with Studio Ghibli

    Thanks as always.

  4. I also loved Silver Linings. So much? Why? I'm not sure. But I want to see it again.
    Lots of other things I loved too, and so many I missed!
    Want to see Footnote.

  5. btw, this is melissa on will's computer

    Watching Les Miz the other night, I kept thinking "where's the intermission?" way, way too long. but, I usually hate anne hathaway and I thought she was the best part of the movie. I also liked her in Rachel Getting Married. Reading her recent Vogue interview, she indicated that those are the two movies she's really worked on. Duh! work harder!

    Watched Premium Rush for the second time last night, with Will who hadn't seen it yet. He loved it, of course. I just love to imagine how lame that movie would have been with anyone but JGL.

    Step Up 4: "there are rules!" that's my mantra. Still not as good as Step Up 2: The Streets, but definitely second.

    Skyfall: I love Daniel Craig as bond, but disappointed that this one basically set us up for guilt-free mysogyny in the upcoming films: M is dead, the one female agent has been safely installed at her desk as Moneypenny. disappointing.



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