|MATT'S TEN FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2011!
As always, I feel compelled to tell you up front that this is NOT a proclamation of the BEST movies of 2011. I wouldn't presume to state
such a thing, and I wouldn't know where to begin. These are the movies that spoke to me. The unfortunate thing about Top Ten lists is
that you can put only ten things on them. So before I start the countdown, here's an "Honorable Mention" list of ten terrific movies that
might have made the cut in other years:
Cedar Rapids Think of it as the Mid-American version of The Hangover
Margin Call Kevin Spacey and a great cast does a terrific job of explaining what went wrong in the 2008 financial meltdown.
The Ides of March George Clooney directs an insightful look at an Ohio Presidential primary in which Ryan Gosling goes bad.
Drive Speaking of Ryan Gosling, he was great as a Los Angeles grease monkey/stunt driver/getaway driver.
Horrible Bosses The movie that asks the question: Who would be more rapable in prison, Jason Bateman or Jason Sudekis?
Cavern of Lost Dreams Man has been on the planet a lot longer than you might imagine.
The Debt A compelling tale of chickens coming home to roost for a band of Mossad agents in the 1970's.
Hanna Saoirse Ronan, Star of Tomorrow, shines as a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong.
Unknown Liam Neeson, Action Star? You bet. Diane Kruger is equally fine in this tale of people up to no good in Berlin.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo The most disturbing mainstream American movie since Silence of the Lambs.
So here's the countdown!
Yes, 2011 had a also ark side.
I like to think I'm discerning enough to stay away from things I know I'm going to despise or hold in
contempt. (See anything with the hot mess in photo at left.) But there were a couple of missteps along the
way. Here are some of the most obvious examples of movies I REALLY didn't like in 2011.
Immortals Throughout this movie, I kept thinking that I'd seen it before. It may or may not have been
assembled from the out-takes from 300 and Thor. If you liked either of those better than I did, you'll
probably like this one. (11/15/2011)
Bad Teacher I love you, Cameron, but this is sad. (6/24/2011)
Midnight in Paris is 2011's disappointing Woody Allen movie. There seems to be one every year. Woody Allen (there is no one else to
blame) makes some really key bad decisions that make you want to physically hurt him. First and foremost is hiring Owen Wilson to play
the Woody Allen character. Owen Wilson. Really. Owen Wilson is the anti-Woody Allen. I'm sure Mr. Wilson was happy to take on the
challenge of trying to play this role, but someone (yes, I'm talking to you, Woody) should have been smart enough not to hire him.
Water for Elephants Attention, whoever is in charge of picking out scripts for Reese Witherspoon: GET BACK TO WORK! The
woman's career is dying due to really, really poor choices of roles.
Paul It's about a couple of British slackers touring the American West and visiting sites associated with extra-terrestrials. Along the way,
they actually meet one. His name is Paul, and he got the name because the spaceship he crashed in the 50's landed on a dog named Paul.
The slackers and the alien are fairly humorous, but they are surrounded by the most clichéd ensemble you can imagine.
10. The Help As a movie, The Help is kind of a mess. It goes on forever; the plot is all over the place; a lot of
scenes don't seem to go anywhere; and Skeeter (Emma Stone) appears to be about fifteen years younger than
her "best friends" like Bryce Dallas Howard. As a historical reference, it's not much better. Jackson may not
be much of a city, but it is kind of a city. In the movie, the main characters live on a cotton plantation without
telling you why, and girls like Skeeter didn't have trouble getting dates at Ole Miss. And yet, it's one of the
best movies of the year. I say so if for no other reason that it explores race relations in a three-dimensional
manner that is hardly ever done in movies, and almost never in mass entertainment. "Separate but equal" was
a mantra in the Mississippi where I grew up in the 1960's, and The Help shows that the races were neither
separate nor equal. In the movie--as in life--some children (not me, but some) had black women in their lives
who were more than the help, they were the parents they wished they had. In turns, some blacks were still
the Mammies and Prissys from Gone With the Wind that they would have liked to have, oblivious to the notion
that these women might have lives and aspirations of their own. As such, The Help is almost indispensable.
You can bet that there will be Oscar nominations galore. It's a good bet that Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer,
Emma Stone and others are contacting gown designers already about what they'll wear to the ceremonies next
winter. You probably won't want to see it twice, but you should definitely see it once. (8/10/2011)
9. Conan O'Brian Can't Stop The best thing I can think of to say about this movie is that although I don't really
like Mr. O'Brian any better than I did before, I certainly do understand him better. This is a very-well observed
and candid observation of the forty-something city tour that Mr. O'Brian undertook during the six-month period
during which his severance agreement with NBC prohibited him from appearing on television. In addition to
appearing frequently has he does on television as likeable and/or befuddled, he also appears in this movie as
bitter, angry,grieving over losing his job and at times, contemptuous of his fans. It's a great look at a very
interesting time in the life of an interesting guy. (6/29/2011)
8. The Beaver Of course, you pass the time during the ads, the Coming Attractions and the first fifteen minutes
of the movie wondering why director Jodie Foster would ask Mel Gibson to take role and why in the world he
would take it. But as the movie unfolds, you begin to appreciate that both decisions were brilliant. In all the
hoo-haw about the train wreck that has been his personal life over the past five years or so, we've lost sight of
the fact that he has always been one of the most accessible and empathy-inducing actors in the movies. Ms.
Foster apparently remembers this from her Maverick days, and she puts those talents to their highest and best
use in The Beaver. While he has frequently been as good as he is here, he's never been better. The difference
between this movie and almost everything he's b in since The Year of Living Dangerously i that he's
surrounded here by actors who are equally fine. In particular, Anton Yelchin as his son, and Jennifer
Lawrence as the high valedictorian the son has a crush on are outstanding. (We're going to be appreciating
Jennifer Lawrence's talents as an actor for a long, long time.) And of course, there are questions about
whether The Beaver will rehabilitate Mel Gibson's career. Frankly, I think those question is irrelevant.
The Beaver--and the performances in it--deserve to be appreciated for themselves. (6/6/2011)
7. The Descendants The writer and director of Sideways is back with George Clooney and a bunch of great
actors you've never heard of. Clooney is his usual smug self, but for once that works for him. It turns out he
was kind of clueless about his wife as well, as she'd been cheating on him with a real estate broker played by
the guy who played Shaggy in Scooby Doo. This story may be as contrived as anything else you're likely to
see in a theater, but like Sideways, it just feels real. and as if it could be happening to some hideously wealthy-
but otherwise sad sap, even as we speak. I guess I would caution you about the language in the movie, but
as the worst profanities pour out of the mouths of the ten- and seventeen-year-old daughters, I'm not sure
there's a point in telling you to leave the kids at home. (12/18/2011)
6. My Week with Marilyn Don't hate me, but I kind of loved this movie. Michelle Williams has never been my
favorite actress, but she's Oscar-worthy in this story of the months that Monroe spent in Britain filming The
Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. Death and scandal--and most of the drugs--are far in
the future,and it is a time in her life when she is still exploring what it means to be the most famous woman
on the planet. She gets close enough to "the look", but she never goes over the top with it. More importantly,
she gives you insight into the joy and pain of being Marilyn Monroe. Someone in the movie--maybe Kenneth
Branagh as Olivier--says that Monroe's gift is the joy that she provides to others. This movie makes you
understand the truth of that comment, and darn if you don't feel some of that joy coming off of Michelle
Williams as well. The cast is splendid, and while some of the characters --notably Arthur Miller--are thinly
drawn, you don't notice that until later. This may not be a great movie, but it is a wonderful movie that
reminds you why we love the movies in the first place. (12/11/11)
5. Anonymous Oh, for a muse of fire! I always wanted to work that line into one of these review-ettes, and I
figured if I didn't do it now for a movie in which it's actually a relevant line, I never will. Later this month, I'm
going list my favorite movies of the year. Anonymous may or may not be one of them (turns out it is!--Matt),
but Rhys Ifans will definitely be representing the movie as the best actor in a movie this year. For those of
you who don't know Rhys Ifans from Reese Witherspoon, Mr. Ifans was Hugh Grant's daft roommate in
Notting Hill. Here he plays the Duke of Oxford who may or may not have had an affair and a child with
Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, in a wonderful performance) and he may or may not have written the
plays and poems later attributed to an "illiterate" actor named William Shakespeare. I loved practically
everything about this movie, especially Mr. Ifans. I might have been a little confused by the way it jumped
around on the time and space continuum, and I might think that letting Derek Jacobi do the prologue on a
Broadway stage might be ripping off Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, but those are small complaints indeed. I'm
sorry I wasn't able to gush about the movie before it disappeared from most theaters, but if you do get a
chance to see it, I think you'll like it a lot. (12/7/2011)
4. The Way is a film by Emilio Estevez that comes as something of surprise as it covers territory that seems very
personal to him--although it lives at an emotional depth that you probably wouldn't expect from a member of
the Brat Pack. Emilio's dad, Martin Sheen plays a Los Angeles ophthalmologist who, nearing retirement seems
to be pleased with everything in his life--with the exception of his son, who's pushing 40 and seemingly unable
to "find himself." The son's efforts in that regard take him to the Pyrenees in France, where he begins the
traditional Catholic ritual of El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) to the village of Compostela in
Spain. It's an 800 kilometer journey that most people take on foot. The son dies on the first day of the
journey, and when the father comes to France to collect the body, he makes the decision (against the better
judgment of practically everyone) to finish the journey in his son's memory. Along the way, he meets a
Canadian woman who says she's trying to stop smoking, a Dutch glutton and an Irish writer. Individually,
they're all pretty obnoxious, and all they seem to have in common is an inability to escape each other. But
along they way, trust and friendship grows, and by the end, we enjoy their company. As much as I like the
idea of this movie, I recognize that Emilio isn't exactly at the top of his game as a storyteller. For example,
after the Canadian woman lambastes Sheen for being a smug baby boomer who probably loves James Taylor,
sure enough, we cringe at the next frame which is a country road montage set to Taylor's song. Others will
quibble of the unabashed Catholicism on display. Still, I liked it quite a lot and heartily recommend it to
anyone looking for an original story that entertaining and even a little uplifting. (10/29/2011)
3. Crazy Stupid Love I think I may be losing my discerning eye for movies. I think I'm just so grateful for
something that doesn't insult my intelligence that I'm that I'll give a pass to almost anything that looks
competent. Having said all that, I really liked this movie. Because of a plot twist near the end that comes out
of nowhere, it feels like The Sixth Sense of romantic comedies. And maybe it is. What was great about The
Sixth Sense was that it was an incredible display of ensemble acting working with an inspired script. So it is
here. Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are splendid in this tale of love and
marriage in the new millennium. It runs a little long for a rom-com, but I for one don't mind. This is
definitely a case of something taking as long as it takes, and I certainly don't mind be left in the company
of the splendid cast. Try it. I think you'll like it. (7/30/2011)
2. Buck A couple of paragraphs down, you'll see where I state that The Beaver is the best movie of the year so
far. I stand by the comment, but I'll amend it to say that Buck gives it a run for its money. Buck is Buck
Brannaman, a very real Idaho cowboy in his late 40's who could have been the inspiration for The Horse
Whisperer. Indeed, in the course of this documentary, Robert Redford is interviewed and states that Buck was
a consultant on the set of that movie. We are led to believe that Buck's almost supernatural empathy for
horses is somehow linked to his hellish childhood. His mother died when he was young, and his father was a
miserable bastard who beat him and his brother in order to whip them into shape (literally) as the first, only,
and youngest blindfolded rodeo trick ropers. Buck found his way to grace as he and his brother were taken
from the father and put into foster care with a farm couple whom Buck still thinks of as his real parents. Even
if you don't have a bit of interest in learning about the psychology of horses, I strongly urge you to see the
movie because you'll learn plenty about people. (7/5/2011)
1. Hugo Darn that Martin Scorcese. Just when you think his man-crush on Leonardo diCaprio, whom he seems
to want to cast in everything, is going to cost him his ability to make watchable movies, he goes off and makes
a masterpiece. Yes, I said it. And I believe it. It's got Paris. It's got movie history. Hell, it's even got a dog
named Schatzie. How could I resist it--and why would I try? After being beaten about the head and shoulders
with 3D in the last couple of weeks, I made a conscious decision to see this one sans the glasses. And I'm
glad I did. Because even if said glasses do provide a believable 3D experience, they shut out a lot of light.
With a world-class director like Scorcese, why in the world would you want to miss any of the wonders he
puts on the screen? If you LOVE movies, you'll love Hugo. It's that simple. Ben Kingsley is Oscar-worthy.
A couple of fine young actors carry the movie with panache--and re even capable of using the word in a
sentence--and even a couple of hams like Sacha Baron Cohen and Jude Law find a way to be charming. Is
Hugo sentimental? You bet. Is it TOO sentimental? I don't know. Maybe. All I do know is that I think it's
one of the best movies of this or any other year. (12/1/2011)