Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Year at the Movies - 2011

Happy New Year!

The 2011 Year at the Movies is over, and I look forward to the new year in film. I am grateful to all my faithful followers throughout my three years of blogging, and I wish you the best in 2012. In 2011, I went to the movies 91 times to see 83 different movies in theaters, and I had lots of fun seeing just about all of them.

Enjoy this look at the 2011 Movie Year. You may come upon your favorite films of the year; you may encounter films you have totally forgotten or films you had no idea were released this year. If you wish, you are welcome to skip through the year's low-quality beginning and scroll down to the more recent films released.

Each image is followed by a brief reaction to that film OR an excerpt from the post I wrote about the film shortly after its release. Links to full posts follow excerpts. Titles include a date or dates when I viewed the movie.

Once you make it down past movie #83, you will find an image gallery of best performances, followed by my nominees for Best Picture, and my pick for Best Picture of 2011. At the end you will find a list of my Top Twenty Favorite Films of 2011.


1. The Rite (1/28)

Mikael (1408) Håfström’s The Rite is not an overly scary movie about exorcism, but it is a sincere, modest little movie about faith and God.

The Rite never scared me but it kept my interest. Having attended a Catholic grade school back in the 60s when the nuns still told stories about martyred virgin saints raped by Roman legions and priests visited by demonic strangers with cloven feet, I find most movies about demonic obsession fascinating, and this one, with its substantial atmosphere, fascinates to a worthy degree.

Full post here.

2. Sanctum (2/4)

Sanctum is especially marred by elements that detract from the thrilling adventure and the wow-inducing visuals. There’s too much clunking around of equipment and clacking away at computers, as well as moving around of characters too numerous to keep track of, before the storm hits and the nether regions flood. On top of that, the subterranean action is weighed down by silly friction between hard-driven Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the leader of the expedition, and idealistic son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), who feels scarred by Dad’s domineering character. In addition, the action is crippled by silly arguments about who’s staying behind or about the decency of using a dead woman’s dry suit. Jesus! In a life-or-death situation, you use the frickin’ dry suit! Then, of course, the resident gung-ho adventurer, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), turns into a sniveling coward who swims off with the last oxygen tanks and later attacks Frank. Here, Gruffudd’s ravings constitute the worst acting in a film rife with wooden delivery of poorly written lines.

Full post here.

3. The Eagle (2/14)

The Eagle, an earnest adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, offers a solidly engrossing first half as Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), the son of the commander of the “Lost Ninth Legion,” assumes command of an isolated fort in Roman-occupied Britain in the 2nd Century AD. As the stolid by savvy Marcus, Channing Tatum exhibits commendable screen presence as he shapes up his fearful, grumbling Latin grunts like an American officer bolstering reluctant soldiers in a forlorn Vietnam firebase. Marcus senses danger and expertly prepares his men for a nighttime assault. Unfortunately, excessive fast-shutter speed camerawork makes most of the action a blur. Meanwhile, the film’s memorable long shots frame this Roman outpost of progress under brooding skies and establish its very convincing presence.

Full post here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spielberg's War Horse

Echoing the tradition of films like My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, Steven Spielberg’s hugely sentimental War Horse is the story of an extraordinary horse, Joey, and the persevering boy, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who loves him so much he enlists in the hell of World War I to find him. At times the film is so innocently sentimental you’d swear you were watching a feel-good, cookie-cutter, studio release from the 1930s. In a touching speech that would have suited Ronald Colman or Errol Flynn, the kind-hearted Captain Nichols (Tom Hiddleston) sees how much the boy loves the horse, and the horse loves the boy, that he says, well, too damn bad the horse has to go to war, but I will only lease him; I will take good care of him; and I will return him to you after the war. How perfect!


After the good captain’s speech, and the film’s slow start, the pace picks up as Joey endures a series of adventures as he changes hands and is befriended by various characters “over there” on the Western Front. From good captain he goes to good German lads, who bid a farewell to arms and meet a tragic end, and from them he goes to a perfectly sweet, frail French girl named Emilie. Later, Joey is forced to lug a massive cannon up a ridge; after that he ends up in no man’s land, where his experiences are the most horrific and the film is at its best.

While most of War Horse plays like the type of movie that could only come from a more innocent time, or from Steven Spielberg, much drama is provided by a number of finely shot scenes that show Spielberg’s talent for dramatic effect. In sparing a more family-oriented audience the graphic impact of bullets hitting human flesh as in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg cleverly uses poetic framing to provide effect without being explicit. Riderless mounts charge through the German machine guns that are obviously massacring the charging British cavalry. The sail of a windmill blocks out the tragic fate of the two German lads.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mavis Gary: Young Adult

In Juno and Jennifer's Body, Diablo Cody explored some of the life-changing and scary things that can and can't happen to teenagers in high school. This time around Cody explores what it’s like to be thirty-seven, or thereabouts, looking back upon those high school years, an experience that touched some people and caused other people a lot of pain.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a moderately successful writer of a young adult novel series, but she is divorced, lonely, alcoholic, doubting her talents. When she learns that Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), her high school beau, is married and has just had a baby, she embarks on a quest: to go back to her small hometown in Minnesota and wrest her former boyfriend from wife, baby, and home. But now Buddy, the former high school alpha male, is a puffy-faced father who unabashedly pours breast milk into screw-top bags as he talks over the good old days with former flame Mavis Gary. Buddy seems just fine in the small town of Mercury, Minnesota, where the dining options range from Chili's to KFC, and where his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reese), plays the drums for a discordant band of thirty-something moms. Mavis, from the big city, would like to think that Buddy can do better than this and they can "beat this thing together."

Jason Reitman's Young Adult is a surprisingly touching examination of how we feel about the past. What are the moments that touched us? What are the moments that injured us? (Patton Oswalt gives a heartfelt supporting performance as Mavis's locker neighbor in high school, an overweight outcast beaten up and crippled by jocks.) How do we get past those moments and eke out a satisfactory existence for ourselves in the here and now? These questions are ones worth pondering. What's surprising about the film is that Mavis's quest seems so desperate and what she would like to get would destroy a family, yet I found myself identifying with her late-thirties crisis.

Strangely, Matt, the nerdy, crippled reject, emerges as Mavis's best ally. Suffering the complications of his beating, Matt lives with his sister, makes hybrid models out of pieces of superhero action figures, and ages homemade whiskey in his garage. Whereas Mavis never acknowledged Matt's existence in high school, now she seeks his help, his advice, his comforting embrace, and their developing relationship is the film's nice surprise. As a young adult who still needs to figure life out, Mavis sees that Matt copes with what he has. Talking to Matt's sister, Sandra (Collette Wolf), who seems to think that life would be better in the big city, Mavis sees that it might be better to be satisfied with what one has. Diablo Cody's Juno is a clever little comedy-drama; Jennifer's Body is a wild teenage fantasy-horror pic; but Young Adult is Cody's settled, more thoughtful look at the experiences that shape us and how we deal with where we end up.

Although Mavis’s quest seems immature, selfish, and cold, I identified with her bitter edge. As a writer, Mavis seems to know how to persevere in the face of unlikely success, and that edgy strength seems to fuel her futile endeavor. When our current condition doesn’t seem so rosy, we wonder about the choices we made in the past; we wonder if we can get what we lost. Theron plays Mavis’s acidic glare, her icy lies, with convincing precision. I can’t judge Mavis for that cold, self-centered glare. We’ve all had those moments of bitter regret. Mavis takes her bitter obsession to a pathetic extreme, but hers is a voice crying out in the wilderness that we all call home.