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.

4. I Am Number Four (2/18)

It is easy to see that I Am Number Four is based on a best-selling young adult science fiction novel, the first in a proposed series. Its main characters are teenagers. Its setting is the typical small-town public high school replete with outcasts, nerds, and bullies. Its main character, John Smith (very handsome Alex Pettyfer), has paranormal powers, attracts the pretty outsider girl, and saves her from bullies, just like Edward in Twilight. Turns out that John Smith is a Lorien on the lam, one of nine such Loriens endowed with Legacies (special powers), pursued by nasty aliens called Mogadorians, who look like a cross between a piranha and Gary Busey and are determined to kill all the Loriens who stand in the way of their intergalactic conquests – I think. Like most teenage aliens on the run, John wants a normal life, so against the paranoid wishes of his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), he picks the easiest way to a normal life: he enrolls in a high school in Paradise, Ohio.

Full post here.

5. Unknown (2/23)

Yep, there’s nothing new in Unknown, but I have to admit I enjoyed watching it until the ending throws Neeson’s character into a 360 that’s hard to justify. The setting engages, the inevitable car chase has its thrills, and the acting is more than serviceable. Neeson has cast a mold that he repeats with solid presence in numerous films (Unknown resembles Taken (2008) in many ways). Ganz stands out for his textured portrayal of the old Stasi inspector, and Kruger is fun to watch as she bravely helps Martin when all she really wants to do is make enough money so she can get out of "zhis place." As Martin’s wife (or is she?), January Jones is attractive, bland, and affectless, though her soft delivery might remind you of Janet Leigh, which is at least in keeping with the film’s Hitchcockian aspirations.

Full post here.

6. The Adjustment Bureau (3/4)

The Adjustment Bureau was originally slated to be released in September of last year, but many viewers were still on an Inception high, and even though the two films are entirely different, the other-worldly sci-fi nature of the former might have drawn viewers expecting more of the latter, only to discover that The Adjustment Bureau is not an action movie with a lot of shooting about different realms of non-reality. The Adjustment Bureau is a quiet little sci-fi film about true love and free will, and there’s absolutely no shooting in it.

Full post here.

7. Beastly (3/7)

There's no magic in this modern version of the Beauty and the Beast trope.

8. Rango (3/10)

Rango is at its best when Johnny Depp's spindly lizard bungles his way, Chaplin style, through a number of desert hazards. When he roams into town, and the story gets way too Chinatown for its own good, I had less fun. Yeah, I get all the nifty allusions, but kids are watching too!

9. Battle: Los Angeles (3/11)

Well, hell, I was looking forward to a gripping alien-invasion thrill ride, but what you get in Battle Los Angeles is nothing more than standard operating procedure for an action movie that spends more time glorifying the U.S. military in combat than it does establishing any sort of substantial fear or establishing the aliens as a fearsome, formidable foe. In fact, I frequently felt I was watching an extended version of that Citizen Soldiers propaganda music video we were forced to watch countless times before the previews played. Although I kind of dig a good old John Wayne guts and glory shoot-em-up, I had expected this one to serve up a little more science fiction with its battle action. Instead, this is the same old thing, with all the elements you’d expect from a standard war movie.

Full post here.

10. Red Riding Hood (3/11)

I’m not going to spend much time here on the overall silliness of this Twilight-like (girl desired by two handsome guys; girl’s father played by Billy Burke, who plays Bella’s father; werewolves) disappointment that retells the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale without any sort of engaging imagination. I’m not going to address the wooden acting, the very unscary CGI werewolf, how Virginia Madsen looks totally out of place, how most of the characters seem out of place, looking like characters in a Disney Channel teen drama done up in storybook costumes standing around looking shocked to find themselves in a werewolf movie. I’m not going to go on about how Julie Christie as Grandmother is wasted on making sudden appearances and odd exclamations that work, unintentionally or not, as a running joke throughout the movie. I’m only going to address two elements, one a significant plus, another a significant weakness: the eyes of Amanda Seyfried and the ineffective art direction. The former are always enticing; the latter is worse than the decor for a Fantasyland food court.

Full post here.

11. Mars Needs Moms (3/20)

This animated feature of grotesque caricatures and hyperbolic ridiculousness is one of the worst films of the year.

12. Limitless (3/23)

I especially enjoyed the film’s science-fiction elements and the use of creative effects to depict Eddie’s transformation. When Eddie pops his first pill, he is aware of his brain connecting with everything he knows and has observed. He notices part of a book title in landlord’s daughter’s book back, and the complete title floats through the air to his brain. When he decides to get a handle on his wastrel existence and clean up his grungy apartment, multiple Eddie’s zoom around the place, doing dishes and putting things away. I wish I could do that! Then, in the film’s best image, when Eddie sits down at his laptop and pounds out his novel in fast motion, the letters rain down from the ceiling.

Full post here.

13. Sucker Punch (3/25)

Is it all nonsense? Scott Glenn is way silly as the girls’ guru “Wise Man.” “And another thing,” directors need to know when to cut the action. But Emily Browning’s face is hauntingly gorgeous, Abbie Cornish has solid presence, the steam-spewing clockwork krauts are something different, and I have to say that Snyder frames some memorable images – though for some viewers, what’s most memorable won’t be the CGI landscapes.

Full post here.

14. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (3/27)

It's nice that they make totally appropriate little comedies based on kids' books for the tween viewers.

15. Jane Eyre (4/1)

Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre is a beautiful film. Fukunaga’s camera frames expansive shots of the somber moor in contrast with the bright blossoms of Rochester’s gardens. Interior shots of windows and curtains full of light are memorable as well. The film’s colors seem to shift with its mood: from the grays and muted colors of the austere moorland and the foggy woods to the bright greens of Thornfield’s grounds to a brown filter over shots of Jane awakening to her love for Rochester.

Along with the film’s pretty look we get an excellent cast. Michael Fassbender plays a moody, manly, passionate Edward Rochester. Jamie Bell is nicely cast as the fervent missionary, St. John Rivers, and Judi Dench reins in her tendency to overact as she invests Mrs. Fairfax with warmth and humor. But the driving force of Jane Eyre is the remarkable portrayal of Jane by Mia Wasikowska, whose absorbing performance and beautiful presence magnify the film’s visual beauty.

Full post here.

16. Source Code (4/3)

I enjoyed this modest entertainment. Jake Gyllenhaal engages skillfully as he plots how to free himself from a trap within a trap. Or is it a trap within a trap within a trap? I also love science fiction even if nowadays that means scratching your head over perplexing questions. If you die in a dream, do you wake up? Whose dream is this anyway? What the hell is limbo? And, in the case of Source Code, if you send a text message from another dimension, will your cell be able to pick it up?

Full post here.

17. Hanna (4/8)

Part Frankenstein’s monster grappling with identity, part Truffaut’s L’enfant sauvage learning to exist in the civilized world, yet another part Mindy Kick-Ass Macready, a little girl learning to kick butt, Hanna, as played by Saoirse, is a fascinating fairytale outcast trying to find her place in a very alien world. In the wilderness of Finland where she is brought up as a resourceful killer, Hanna is a fair-haired nymph of the snowy forest. But in her first acts of murder, a shocking moment intensified by Agent Marissa’s aghast reaction, she is a blood-splattered assassin. During her peregrinations in the outside world, she wonders about her place in it all: her parentage; the importance of family; how love works; and how the way she has been created may alienate her from normalcy forever.

Full post here.

18. Insidious (4/10 and 4/15)

Director James Wan does a lot of things right. Refreshingly, he keeps the camera steady – no shaky handheld effect; no camcorder point of view; no dependency on CGI-produced gruesomeness. A drawback might be the "I" in the title and the film's cliffhanger ending. I prefer one-off horror movies, but a sequel could succeed if it employs Wan's talent for dark lighting and dark figures placed in the right place at just the right time. As the bedeviled couple, Wilson and Byrne offer invested performances that always draw our sympathies for their plight, and we readily identify with their terror of demons in dark places.

Full post here.

19. Soul Surfer (4/22)

I saw Soul Surfer with my daughter, Jane; it was her second viewing. She loves AnnaSophia Robb (The Bridge to Terebithia) and movies involving teenage girls, and she’s crazy about movies in which a sports team or an individual athlete overcomes a setback to win the big one. For competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton (Robb), that setback is a considerable one: her left arm is bitten off by a shark. (Jane knew just when to cover her eyes.) But Bethany Hamilton has incredible determination, extremely supportive parents (played by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), equally supportive siblings and friends, a lot of ability, and faith in God. Yes, sir, now I understood the title. I never thought that “soul” was meant in religious terms, and I had kept referring to it as Cool Surfer. How lapsed-Catholic of me!

20. The Conspirator (4/22)

Despite its made-for-television formula and its Civil War era stiffness, this movie grows more engrossing as Aiken pumps up his ardent campaign to defy the court’s determination to hang four conspirators as swiftly as possible by proving that John Surratt, Mary’s son, not Mary, knew about the treasonous chatter going on in the boardinghouse. After running into numerous legal dead ends, Aiken's efforts culminate with a nicely done moment in which Aiken argues constitutionality with Lincoln’s friend, a Supreme Court Justice (John Cullum), for a writ of habeas corpus.

With the bad guys played by the grim-faced Yankees who want vengeful closure for the tragic cap on four years of bitter tragedy at the hands of the hated Southerners, there is much old-fashioned courtroom drama to be had. But it’s hard to be transported into this event in history when the writing bombards you with phrases regarding the present state of fear, the need for vengeance, mistreatment of prisoners, prejudice against a hated enemy that has caused a national disaster, and legal gray areas that clearly seem to have a political agenda rooted in the present.

21. Water for Elephants (4/24)

In Water for Elephants, colorful camerawork and a James Newton Howard musical score that borrows heavily from To Kill a Mockingbird and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button conjure a romantic, nostalgic picture of a Depression-era circus as seen through the eyes of a young man named Jacob (Robert Pattinson), an orphaned Polish immigrant who is hired to train a circus elephant and becomes enmeshed in the precarious relationship between the attractive circus star Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her sadistic ringmaster husband, August, suitably played by Christoph Walz who taps into his Hans Landa reservoir for much of his performance as the villain.

Though Walz’s is a compelling performance, despite much overacting, you could close your eyes and swear you were sitting in a showing of Basterds. Open your eyes on one of the numerous close-ups of August’s profile, and you’d swear director Francis Lawrence was imitating shots from Tarantino’s film.

But there are some very entertaining moments in this film, and it does a nice job of contrasting the superficial glamor of the circus against its sordid and shabby underside. Water for Elephants is contrived, melodramatic, predictable, and nicely pat, factors that must have made the novel a bestseller. But the movie is often beautifully filmed, genuinely funny and warm-hearted at times, and full of action. Like the kind of movie produced in great numbers in the 1930s, it is deliberately stocked with enough enjoyable ingredients to make it a worthwhile experience.

22. African Cats (4/24)

Morgan Freeman's rich voice demands your attention, but the life-and-death drama of nature is also extremely compelling, and here the conflicts are fierce and the images are stunning.

23. Prom (5/2)

Most of the seniors in my A.P. English class saw this one, and as teen romances go, it was not ridiculous. Tapping into the rich prep falls in love with long-haired guy from the other side of the tracks scenario, this silly thing was quite touching.

24. Thor (5/8)

Thor was a bore. Unfortunately, he returns in The Avengers.

25. Priest (5/13)

A steampunk The Searchers with vampires. Forgettable.

26. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (5/20)

I consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island a masterpiece of literature, but there ends my interest in pirates. I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but the first two sequels added CGI bloat to the original’s charm. The latest Jack Sparrow adventure, On Stranger Tides, is careful not to overdo the CGI. Instead, it’s bloated with clashing, clattering sword fights that go on and on and on to the point that you forget what the hell they’re fighting about.

Still, I found elements to enjoy. I took my daughter, a Jack Sparrow fan, and I enjoyed her laughter in response to this more lighthearted escapade that starts with Jack impersonating a judge, swinging from a chandelier, leading the Redcoats a merry chase through the streets of London, jumping from coach top to coach top, hijacking a coal wagon that spills burning coals to ward off the cavalry. And although Depp overdoes Jack’s affectations and antics, he still can raise a chuckle with a well-timed one-liner.

As for the story, it’s all about finding the Fountain of Youth on some unidentified island, and by the time said Fountain is found, you forget what everybody’s after, but the journey takes us through some colorful scenery, and in order to make the Fountain’s waters work, you need a mermaid’s tear, and that’s as good an excuse as any to throw in the film’s best sequence in which Jack, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and dastardly Blackbeard (Ian McShane) attempt to capture a mermaid.

I found the mermaids quite fetching and lots of fun. They start out as Victoria’s Secret models posing in fish tails, but they transform into fierce man-killers, providing a startling contrast as they swarm in a shark-like frenzy around a longboat full of potential prey.

27. The Tree of Life (5/28 and 5/29 at the Sunshine Cinema in NYC; 6/20, 6/25)

The first thing that Terrence Malick’s new film did for me was take me back to my childhood in California during the late 50s and early 60s, when a year was an eternity, summer seemed to last forever, and much of my life was spent outside with my two brothers, dressed in t-shirts and blue jeans, playing baseball or “guns,” riding our bicycles to nowhere in particular, or wandering in the hills, finding an old shack, and smashing panes of glass.

In The Tree of Life Malick’s screenplay and direction, as well as Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, masterfully capture the day-after-day cycle in the life of a family. For the story’s memorable setting, the art direction by David Crank takes a residential block and a main street in a small Texas town and sends them back in time to the 1950s. For a film which does not have the luxury of a thousand-page novel, it is always a challenge to capture the passage of time, but in its focus on the O’Brien family, Malick vividly depicts the countless days from marriage to the birth of three boys to the endless days of being ten years old in a collage of vignettes that left me feeling like I had absorbed a thick novel in two hours and eighteen minutes

Full post here.

28. X-Men: First Class (6/3)

Great performances by Fassbender and McAvoy add texture to what is ultimately another forgettable superhero movie.

29. Super 8 (6/10)

What do you get when you combine the production input of Steven Spielberg with the writing and directing of J.J. Abrams? You get overblown silliness and excessive lens flares.

I had hoped for more. I knew I was going into a film whose story seemed to draw from Spielberg’s own Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial as well as films like Independence Day and Alien, but I told myself that I wouldn’t mind the film’s derivative nature if it offered some taut, scary, thrilling, even touching, summer entertainment. What I saw was a big disappointment.

Full post here.

30. Midnight in Paris (6/12)

Owen Wilson is endearing as Woody Allen's stand-in looking for direction in life as he wanders through Paris in the 1920s. There is wonderful atmosphere here, and the appearances of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Stein and Dali, and many more, is an English major's fantasy. It is a pleasant film.

31. Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (6/13)

This quirky movie about a quirky little girl getting oddball enjoyment out of doing oddball things is not an unpleasant experience; better than Mars Meets Moms.

32. Beginners (6/24)

A quiet and very understated film, Beginners is not an entirely happy one. Oliver loses his father. It looks like he might lose Anna as well. But the film is always worth watching for its humor, for the performance of a very talented Jack Russell, as well as for the three main human performances. Christopher Plummer’s subtle performance as Hal, an old man spreading his wings to live out his true sexual identity as his life is ending, is a believable, dignified performance that is definitely worth watching.

Full post here.

33. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (7/1)

Lots of Kaboom! provided by a massive battle for Chicago between good bots and bad bots with puny humans racing around in between. Lots of Vavoom! provided by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in tight jeans.

Full post here.

34. Monte Carlo (7/4)

Delightful performances, beautiful shots of Paris and Monte Carlo, some comical turns by bit French actors as hotel clerks and policemen that reminded me of Peter Sellers movies, and a nice tie-in to To Catch a Thief make this an enjoyable movie. If I hadn’t taken my daughter, I wouldn’t have seen this movie, but I have to say I really enjoyed watching Gomez, Meester, and Cassidy have loads of fun portraying girls having loads of fun on a dream vacation.

35. Cars 2 (7/7)

Too much racing and chasing around. All motion and no emotion. And where’s the singable song like “Life is a Highway”?

36. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (7/16 and 7/21)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two is the raw, thrilling grand finale to the Harry Potter saga, begun by the novels of J. K. Rowling in 1997, visualized by the eight-movie series that began in 2001.

This time the plot is simple and not over-burdened by the machinations and convoluted (often very contrived) hocus-pocus that weigh down the previous films. Harry and friends Hermione and Ron have their work cut out for them. Find a few horcruxes, destroy the pieces of Voldemort’s soul that are hidden in those horcruxes, and do away with “you know who.” Very quickly the forces of evil swoop down upon the forces of good, holed up in beloved Hogwarts, a wizards’ Alamo, and the final battle dominates the film.

Full post here.

37. Captain America: The First Avenger (7/27)

The wonderful art direction and the rousing World War II action are ultimately not enough to save this contribution to the glut of superhero releases from same-old-same-old syndrome.

38. Cowboys & Aliens (7/29)

With all the aliens trundling around, with all the laser blasts and inexplicable mothership machinery, Cowboys & Aliens adheres more to its Western persona than anything else. We get whole bunches of horses galloping across Western terrain and a hell of a lot of shooting at this or that, even the ubiquitous Western target shooting, as typical Western themes are played out. An orphaned boy develops manly John Wayne courage. Doc learns to shoot straight at the right time. Crusty old Woodruff reveals his rough past and shows that he’s got a good heart after all, and the taciturn stranger with the dark past returns to save the innocent townspeople. The sci-fi elements provide interesting visual contrasts and some chuckle-inducing ironies, but the bug-eyed, green-blooded aliens might as well have been the members of a lost Indian tribe or a gang of very ugly outlaws, and the movie could have been what it feels like it wants to be more than anything else: a good old Western.

Full post here.

39. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (8/5, 8/10, and 8/16)

When the final battle comes, a wonderfully suspenseful and entertaining set piece staged on Golden Gate Bridge in an approaching fog, it’s all fun summer entertainment. I found it thrilling, and I enjoyed its surprises. Throughout, I was certainly on the side of the apes; screw you, fellow humans.

Full post here.

40. The Help (8/17)

There are moments of poignant truth in The Help, most of them involving Viola Davis, but these snippets of verisimilitude are swamped by the film’s tendency to deflate the drama with comedy, most of it centered around the type of gag more appropriate to a film like The Hangover, and the plot device of the book that leads to more fantasy than reality. Meanwhile, the whole thing takes place in interiors and exteriors that are so perfectly early 60s: the formica kitchen tables; the archaic television sets; and the diners with booths and counter and egg salad sandwiches with chips. Every prop tells us that this story takes place in the 1960s, but none of it looks lived in. If Disneyland had a 1960s World, this is what it would look like, all bright and clean and plastic. As for the film's tone and content, it's all Disneyland too.

Full post here.

41. One Day (8/21)

Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway are engaging in their roles as college friends who stay in touch every July 15th, during the ups and downs of their lives over a period of many years, and there are some touching moments, but the story is naggingly repetitious, obvious, and predictable.

42. The Debt (8/31)

During the 1960s, three young Mossad special agents (Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas) endeavor to kidnap a Nazi war criminal and smuggled him out of East Berlin, but the mission is beset by many problems. Later, in 1997, it is up to an aged Rachel (Helen Mirren) to reveal the truth about the mission or to carry it out to completion. The film is suspenseful and well-acted, but it fares better when it focuses on the 1960s mission than when it deals with the elderly former agents facing their moral dilemma.

43. Apollo 18 (9/5)

As a big-budget, color film enhanced with elaborate CGI, Apollo 18 could have been a major sci-fi epic, but what the filmmakers achieve here with three actors, a couple of tight interior sets, and murky shots of the lunar wasteland is quite impressive. This is an enjoyable little movie.

44. Contagion (9/10)

Even though Soderbergh provides enough tightly edited vignettes that are genuinely scary and some grim shots of social decay, the bland acting detracts from the whole. Though sometimes over the top, Jude Law establishes the most interesting character: Alan Krumwiede, the paranoid blogger, and sometimes his performance is wonderfully riveting. Meanwhile, the film’s global scope provides visual fascination, but it also abbreviates some very commendable suspense.

What I liked best about this mostly satisfying movie is that its best shots require nothing from its prestigious cast of characters. Soderbergh thrills us when he plots the spread of the disease by focusing the camera on a glass or a handshake or an escalator railing. In fact, the film’s best sequence, its final one, involves a bat and a pig.

Full post here.

45. Straw Dogs (9/17)

In the 1971 original, Dustin Hoffman is more convincing as the math nerd and so that his transformation is more surprising, while Sam Peckinpah's violence is more gut-wrenching, and you can't beat Peckinpah's slow-mo. Still, this remake establishes an eerie, sticky atmosphere in the swampy hinterlands of Louisiana, and some deft editing pumps up the tension.

46. Drive (9/18)

So much of this movie is cool and visually exciting. I love the opening getaway sequence. I love the oasis in the L.A. River. Gosling's cool is reminiscent of Steve McQueen, and his relationship with Irene and her son is touching. Then the film gets hacked up by the dreadful performances of Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman and scenes that echo the mafia-movie hyperbole of Scarface.

47. Moneyball (9/23)

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?” This is what discouraged GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) of the Oakland A’s says when his unlikely assistant manager, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who uses statistics and calculations to find capable undervalued players at the lowest cost, shows him an endearing video in which an overweight player hits a high ball, gets to first base, falls in an attempt to round first, and ends up scrabbling for the base on hands and knees, only to learn that he has hit a homer. Brad Pitt's Beane seems to send the question in three directions: toward his tubby, socially taciturn assistant manager who seems too immersed in numbers to have a passion for the game (even though he watches the games and Beane doesn’t); toward Beane himself, who may have lost a lot of that passion after being drafted as a promising star, only to reveal that he didn’t have the right stuff; and toward the audience, which might include a viewer like me who doesn’t share that passion at all and doesn’t follow baseball to the extent that I had no idea who Billy Beane was or what the Oakland A’s achieved in their 2002 season.

Full post here.

48. Killer Elite (9/23)

A professional assassin, who's hung up his guns and has sworn off killing, is forced into performing three last assassinations, which leads to lots of run-of-the-mill action during which Jason Statham's repentant killer kills reluctantly. This is an insulting load of crap full of sheer fantasy and humdrum action we've seen countless times.

49. The Lion King 3D (9/24)

For a number of weeks this fall, this was the best movie playing on the big screen. Classic! Makes you yearn for the days of hand-drawn animation to return.

50. Dream House (9/30)

Being able to feast your eyes on Rachel Weisz, ever beautiful at any angle, is not enough to give this simplistic, half-hearted ghost story a big enough boost. Dream House is never gripping, never creepy; the preview was spookier.

51. The Ides of March (10/7)

Excellent performances, especially by Evan Rachel Wood as a campaign volunteer embroiled in a relationship that could cause the typical election scandal. Excellent direction, some tense moments. An enjoyable, well-made movie but nothing earth-shattering.

52. The Thing (10/14)

As a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing (2011) does a nice job of building some of the same tension as paranoid scientists in a small Antarctic outpost suspect each other of being infested by an alien life form found frozen in the ice, and all the running around and bursting with alien tentacles and incinerating said tentacles and monstrosities with flamethrowers (Why does an Antarctic research outpost have flamethrowers?) is done in a set that is a faithful replica of the one for the 1982 film. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as paleontologist Kate Llyod, does a very good job of showing fear in tight situations and emerging as the clever survivor, much like Ellen Ripley, blazing away with her flamethrower and wisely refusing to trust anyone. And even though the movie connects the dots niftily with the Carpenter film it precedes in storyline, the end product provides only moderate chills and suspense, and it left me wondering why it essentially remakes the 1982 film when the storyline and premises of Howard Hawks’s 1951 film, The Thing from Another World, would have been much more interesting to revisit.

53. Reel Steel (10/14)

This is nothing much more than a comic book soap opera replete with glitzy robot boxing scenes calling to mind the histrionics of WWF matches and the requisite comic bookish adversaries: Tak Mashido (Karl Yune), Zeus’s anal Japanese designer, and Farra Lemcova (Olga Fonda), the busty Russian ice queen. But there is a warmth that lights up this standard story of the underdog going to the big match, achieved mostly by Goyo’s performance played opposite Atlas, that clanking collection of metallic parts who is doggedly determined to fight for the boy who loves him, and I like how director Levy takes time with lighting and cinematography to capture some idyllic images: Midwestern cornfields; roadside motels; and the open road taking father and son on their quest.

Full post here.

54. Melancholia (11/15)

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia opens with a devastating image. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, stands facing the camera. Under heavy lids, her eyes open halfway. Her limp hair hangs in unwashed strands. Behind her, dead birds fall from the sky. Like Thomas Wolfe’s “God’s lonely man,” Justine peers into the abyss. In this case it is an abyss of depression. What follows this perfect metaphor for depression is a montage of images, some symbolic, some presaging what is yet to unfold, some rendered in such extreme slow-motion that movement is barely perceptible. To the music of Richard Wagner’s brooding prelude for Tristan and Isolde, we see ashes falling over Peter Bruegel’s painting “Hunters in the Snow.” Justine, in her white wedding gown, struggles to run, held back by strands of black yarn. A horse collapses under a black, apocalyptic sky. A woman carrying a young boy moves imperceptibly across a golf course. Planets collide.

Full post here.

55. Footloose (10/19)

A very schmaltzy fantasy but lots of fun! The first part of the "Let's Hear it for the Boy" number is one of the cutest scenes of 2011.

56. The Three Musketeers (10/21)

Oh, very silly. But CGI renders Paris in the 1600s in great detail, and there's the amazingly bizarre image of Mila Jovovich standing at the top of Versailles in bodice and stockings and making a Mission: Impossible-like leap to a window below.

57. In Time (10/28)

It's an intriguing premise. No one ages past twenty-five. Then you have to pay for your time. But at my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near. There is dramatic potential here. There are a couple of dramatic moments that involve a character's life literally running out as she frantically runs to get more time. But the film doesn't go very far with the premise, and it fails to build the kind of dystopian atmosphere we expect from movies like this, as seen in Children of Men and Minority Report. But this aimless story of aimless pursuit takes place in a very empty, toneless world of vacant lots and alleys.

58. The Mill & the Cross (10/29)

Very interesting examination of a very fascinating work of art. As in most Bruegel paintings, everybody goes about their business while Jesus is crucified or Icarus plunges into the sea. Those Old Masters. They understood how suffering takes place/ While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along. (W. H. Auden)

59. Anonymous (11/4)

Panoramic CGI shots of Elizabethan London like the one above constitute the best moments in Roland Emmerich's Anonymous, an often pointless film that toys with the old argument that Will did not pen his famous plays, that it was an educated nobleman with a bent for political messages who indeed wrote the famous plays. But the film doesn't make you believe that Edward de Vere wrote the plays, and the court intrigue is confusing and not very compelling. Now, if a storm surge had swelled up the Thames to inundate the great city, that would have been a worth subject for Emmerich's talent for widescreen visual bedazzlement.

Full post here.

60. The Rum Diary (11/5)

Johnny Depp is at his Hunter S. Thompson best as Paul Kemp, an inebriate journalist, down and out in San Juan, Puerto Rico, trying to take a journalistic stab at the money-mongering "Bastards." Often a victim of circumstances and a bewildered observer, Kemp hobnobs with conniving real estate investors; gets entangled with a rich man's token fiance; attends cock fights; takes LSD; nearly gets killed by angry islanders; and hardly ever stays sober. The film builds rich atmosphere of Puerto Rico in 1960, an atmosphere so tangible you feel like you're drunk on rum with Kemp and his seedy pals.

61. Meek's Cutoff (11/9)

Director Reichardt captures the reality of how time passed on the Oregon Trail. During the opening sequence, silent except for the sound of water and birds, the camera stays on wagons crossing a river and travelers toting belongings to the other side. This goes on until one of the men (Paul Dano) carves the word “Lost” on a log, and the wagon train moves on. Later along the trail, women hang laundry or knead bread or collect firewood, usually without a word. In one scene, Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) must fire a distress signal, and the camera stays on her as long as it takes for her to get the rifle, prime the powder pan, fire the load, stand up the rifle, put a bullet in her mouth, measure in another load of powder, take the bullet out of her mouth and stick it in the muzzle, ram it down, prime the pan again, and fire off the second shot. The real-time realism of this moment is one of the best things I’ve seen on screen all year.

Full post here.

62. Take Shelter (11/9)

Is Curtis seeing signs of an impending apocalyptic storm or is he succumbing to the schizophrenia that put his mother in an institution? The direction of Jeff Nichols and the fine performance of Michael Shannon, as the taciturn, haunted Curtis, leave the answer a mystery as Curtis's paranoia builds, he tears up the back yard to enlarge his storm shelter, and his nightmares of storms and zombies and plagues of birds right out of Hitchcock's The Birds become more horrific.

Throughout all this, Jessica Chastain as Samantha, Curtis's wife, is understanding and compassionate but firmly assertive when Curtis's weird behavior gets Curtis fired and threatens the family's security. While Curtis refuses to believe that his premonitions are not real, Samantha plans how the family can survive financially. Once again Chastain plays the ideal wife and mother, as she did in The Tree of Life, and once again her performance is perfect.

Shannon nicely plays the line between his acknowledgement of the possibility that he is manifesting schizophrenia and his firm conviction that a big storm is coming. Though the stunning ending is up for interpretation, the story delivers satisfying drama and a genuinely creepy atmosphere that strengthens a number of very gripping scenes.

63. J. Edgar (11/11)

Leonardo DiCaprio is passionately invested in the role of J. Edgar Hoover, but Eastwood's movie fairs better in the more distant color-muted past than in the pasty-faced 60s and 70s when old J. Edgar is dictating his dubious memoirs and when he and his colleague Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) look like ready-made parodies for Epic Movie III, especially in the silly race track scene in which pasty-faced Tolson collapses from a stroke.

64. Martha Marcy May Marlene (11/16)

In Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, young Elizabeth Olsen is outstanding as a young woman haunted by her two-year experience with a cult commune in Upstate New York. Martha escapes from the commune, but she can’t escape the brainwashing and the sexual abuse of the cult’s creepy leader, Patrick (John Hawkes). Taken in by her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who is staying at a cozy lakeside rental with her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), Martha quickly demonstrates that she has undergone a disturbing ordeal.

The camera lingers patiently on shots of the commune and on Martha’s troubled eyes, often enclosing her face in a constricted framework. Match cuts transition smoothly between two starkly contrasted worlds: the cult’s shabby farm and Lucy and Ted’s upper-class lakeside rental.

Although the film is clear about how Patrick’s cult ensnares its female members and subjugates them sexually, the story reaches no climax or resolution. The film is driven by Olsen’s touching performance as well as the looming, sinister presence of Patrick and the commune.

65. The Immortals (11/18)

Nothing detracts from the awesomeness of Tarsem’s expansive landscapes that stretch far beyond the limits of a framed image. In the middle of a vast wasteland, a wall and a steampunk gate guard the Titans at Mount Tartarus, and this is the setting for a battle between a vastly outnumbered group of heroes and a prodigious horde that gets channeled into a subway-like passageway.

The violent combat is well staged, and for the most part it is not overbearing and belabored. Unlike 300, which is more about what you see than what you feel, The Immortals gives you characters and conflicts to care about once the action starts. Still, the set design and art direction stand out as the film’s best strengths and make The Immortals a movie to see.

Full post here.

66. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (11/19 and 11/20)

Well, you know, Jacob can howl at the moon all he wants; it was a foregone conclusion. The whole point was for Bella to show her full love and commitment for Edward by marrying the immortal guy and becoming a vampire. This doesn't happen, however, until she endures the ordeal of birthing his supernatural baby, Renesme. Of all names!

This Twilight installment is quite shocking from a medical point of view. Lots of blood; a massive bruised and distended belly while Bella shrinks up like an extreme anorexic; and a bizarre internal metamorphosis when Bella's life's blood, arteries, and heart are taken over by whatever goes on inside a vampire's anatomy.

67. The Muppets (11/23)

It takes much too long for the gang to get back together, but once the Muppet Show within the show gets started, it's chaotic, heartwarming fun.

68. Hugo (11/25)

Hugo is about the power of books and movies to transport readers and viewers to other worlds. It is about a boy’s search for a family. It is about the history of silent films, and the magic of cinema. It is an enjoyable film whose wonderful elements never amounted to a wonderful experience for me.

Especially during the sequences that document the emergence of silent films, from the Lumière brothers’ first cinematic showing and the creations of filmmaker Georges Méliès, I felt on the outside, looking in on a curious, interesting documentary that never made me feel the magic portrayed. As an amateur filmmaker, I found it fun to watch the trickery of filmmaking, how a story can be told with a camera focused on a single set inside a glass studio, and how the special effect of a magical disappearance is done by freezing the action, taking out the character, continuing the action, and then later cutting the film to fit together. Of course, I knew all this already, but the film failed to generate the thrill in response to the magic that I readily identify as thrilling. I felt as though the dramatic story had been pushed aside to allow time for didactic documentation of silent filmmaking, the life of Méliès, and the importance of film preservation. It is always clear that this is a film by a passionate filmmaker. (You can see the delight on Marty’s face in his cameo as a photographer capturing Georges and his glass studio.) But the sense of excitement and dazzle falls a little flat.

Full post here.

69. My Week with Marilyn (12/2)

Michelle Williams is superb as Marilyn Monroe though sometimes she plays the languorous, seductive spiel too much. Remarkably, Kenneth Branagh's imitation of Laurence Olivier's voice and delivery is spot on! Wonderful too is Julia Ormand as an aging Vivien Leigh. The movie plays free with the facts and turns Colin Clark's (Eddie Redmayne) week with Marilyn into sheer wish-fulfillment fantasy, but the week is an entertaining one and it nicely captures the moviemaking industry at Pinewood Studios.

70. The Descendants (12/9)

In Alexander Payne's The Descendants, according to the film's opening voiceover covering a montage of Honolulu traffic and homeless people, the paradise of Hawaii is the real world too where people die of cancer and lose loved ones. But as Matt King (George Clooney), assisted by his teenage daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), moves through his quest to accept his wife's death and come to a decision about a tract of virgin land held in trust for over a century, he quests and suffers and wonders "What did I do wrong?" within a very cushy lifestyle set in a persistently gorgeous environment. The film features some touching moments of sharp vérité performed by Clooney and Woodley, but other moments are poorly written and flatly performed. All in all, this is a poignant look at a father wondering where he went wrong and trying to pull his family together after a crisis, and its silly bits don't mar the overall effect.

71. New Year's Eve (12/11)

Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Biel return in another tribute to the Great American Holiday, and they are joined by Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Halle Barry, Abigail Breslin in her first on-screen kiss, and an MTV/Disney Channel cast of oodles, to portray parallel stories of characters rushing somewhere for some reason in New York City on New Year's Eve, and if you are accompanying your daughter who loves Zac Efron, who is actually quite cool in this movie, then the experience is quite pleasant.

72. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (12/16)

Not much deductive reasoning here. There's a lot of shooting and fisticuffs, and the film has gone into the deep end of steampunk with a colorless palate, all shades of gray. Rachel McAdams disappears quickly. Noomi Rapace does nothing but lead Holmes and Watson to a gypsy came and run the gauntlet of late-1900s Krupp firepower. The not-so-new action look is super-slow motion that nearly approaches a freeze frame and then bursts into normal motion. What do you call that? Seems that Holmes can predict the moves that will take place in an imminent fight, so he knows how the fight will come out, which often means we see Holmes review the fight in his head, and then we get to see it again. Oh, boy! Downey, Jr. and Jude Law engage in much verbal sparring. It's all very clever but not a big part of the slim story. We all know that Holmes and Moriarty went over the Reichenbach Falls together. Conan Doyle planned to end the Sherlock Holmes stories there, but fans protested and Doyle brought Holmes back. But the ending of this movie makes it clear that Holmes survives the fall in the falls, which means Holmes will most likely return. Too bad.

73. Young Adult (12/16)

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.

Full post here.

74. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (12/21)

David Fincher delivers solid, suspenseful entertainment with his slick, moody remake of the Swedish film version of the Swedish worldwide bestselling novel. Daniel Craig is well cast as Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist investigating the disappearance and possible murder of a member of the powerful Sanger family dynasty. Assisting him is Lisbeth Salander, the bitter, psychologically scarred, body-pierced computer hacking researcher, played memorably by Rooney Mara who sinks her acting teeth into one of the most interesting female roles in a long time; she is fascinating to watch.

Fincher does a fine job of keeping up the pace, even as Blomkvist and Lisbeth spend the first half of the film involved in different storylines. They could have come together a little earlier, in my opinion, and Lisbeth's hope for a relationship with Blomqvist doesn't ring true to her disturbed, very bitter character.

One of the best things about this movie is the opening credits: an amazing phantasmagoria of bodies covered with oil, or tattoo ink, exuding winged insects and other bizarre things.

75. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (12/21)

This installment of the Mission Impossible franchise skips from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai to play out a typical tale of nuclear missile codes and imminent nuclear holocaust that must be averted at the last minute. Playing the members of a rogue MI team, Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Paula Patton, with Simon Pegg thrown in to provide some pleasant comic relief, establish some engaging rapport, keep the pace moving, and deliver snappy action. Unfortunately, the film's most gripping sequences in which Ethan Hunt scales Dubai's Burj Khalifa Tower and pursues a bad guy into a sandstorm come in the middle of the film, and the film ends with a chase-of-the-bad-guy-with-the-suitcase-that-could-blow-up-the-world scene that is derivative and tedious. Still, Ghost Protocol is an enjoyable action movie, the kind of secret agent movie that is the polar opposite of this year's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (see below).

76. The Adventures of Tintin (12/21)

This delightful motion-capture animated adventure plays like lost footage from some of the Indiana Jones movies. The action is fun but sometimes stiltedly gimmicky and too rigidly choreographed. The character of Tintin is pleasant enough; we like his plucky courage. Captain Haddock gets a little wearisome. But the dog, Snowy, steals the show, adds a lot of energy, and provides the best humor. Love it when his white paws dangle in front of the bad guys' windshield. Love it when he goes for the sandwich instead of the keys. I loved watching Snowy move through the intricate action sequences.

77. The Artist (12/23)

Michel Hazanavicius's silent film The Artist is clearly a tribute to the artistry of films and filmmaking and film acting. Yeah, yeah, I get the wonderful allusions to Citizen Kane, City Lights, and Vertigo. The use of Bernard Herrmann's music for Vertigo is responsible for the dramatic effect of one of the final scenes. The film also seems to borrow from Herrmann's score for Citizen Kane, with echoes of Taxi Driver, when a defeated George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) leaves the cinema where his flop is playing and looks up at the glowing marquee of his rival's hit movie. In the film's best moment, Valentin stands behind the screen as his hit movie comes to an end, and he waits for the applause, and it comes, but we never hear it because we are watching a silent movie. With Dujardin's fine performance and Uggie the dog and the film's wonderful montages of showing the process of filmmaking, this is a very enjoyable, well-made film.

78. War Horse (12/26 and 12/30)

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!

Full post here.

79. A Dangerous Method (12/27)

Michael Fassbender is, indeed, the male performer of the year, appearing in multiple films, and always delivering an engaging performance. In this one, Fassbender plays Carl Jung, a pioneer of psychoanalysis and a passionate risk-taker who had relationship with Sabina Spielrein, one of his patients. With an entertaining performance by Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, the film provides an interesting look at the two famous psychiatrists and their theories. Keira Knightley as the troubled Sabina ranges from melodramatic to genuine as she portrays a woman battling with disturbing sexual urges and trying to come to grips with them in order to study psychology and follow in Jung’s footsteps. The film is a well-made glimpse at an episode in history, and a colorful depiction of Vienna and Switzerland in the early twentieth century, but the end result is a film full of compelling ideas that is not nearly compelling enough.

80. Shame (12/27)

In Steve McQueen’s Shame, Michael Fassbender demonstrates that he is the year’s best male performer. Playing a loner addicted to sexual gratification, acquired by often sordid means, Fassbender as Brandon reveals the turmoil and shame at the heart of this man’s addiction. Carey Mulligan as Brandon’s rootless sister is also excellent. As an itinerant nightclub singer, she sings a very slow, very melancholy rendition of “New York, New York” that suggests that she, and her brother, are not “a part of it.” They are isolated in an indifferent city teeming with countless fellow humans crammed in noisy subway trains. Like Brandon, she is looking for some connection to soothe her, and the connection she values the most is with her brother. But Brandon’s secret life keeps him separated from his sister and from a normal relationship with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a co-worker. Brandon would like to establish normal human relations, but the film’s wonderfully ambiguous ending suggests this may not be possible. The film does little to explain the cause of Brandon’s turmoil, but it always presents very real moments that make Shame a compelling and memorable film.

81. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (12/27)

While it memorably depicts the world of espionage in England and Europe during the Cold War, Tomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy presents the kind of Cold War spy film that is as distant to us as the Cold War world of spy “moles,” defection from the East, and the threat of World War III. Here, there are no glamorous spies, no high-tech contraptions, no fast cars, no lengthy shootouts and chases. Reminiscent of The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, this film depicts aging members of Britain’s World War II intelligence agency doing tedious jobs in a place where nothing much seems to happen.

While the performances of Gary Oldman, Tom Brady, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong are excellent, the film’s best strength is in its masterful sets and location shots and the very memorable atmosphere they evoke. The “Circus,” the headquarters of MI6, is located in a cold, shabby warehouse with an iron gate tended by an aged, decrepit guard who could do no more than have a heart attack if enemy agents tried to do a commando raid on the place. The offices are shabby, utilitarian, and the files are crammed onto rows and rows of shelves. The fact that the Ministry can't afford to provide money for a safehouse explains why conditions are so dismal. This grim, cold setting could easily double for a production of 1984. Unlike modern spy films, there is little violence; but very striking is the image of an agent’s intestines floating next to his body in a bathtub. Similarly, there is no sexy romance with the stunning beauty played by a super-model. Here, the handsome field agent’s love interest ends up shot in the head, her brains dribbling down a wall. Though the film's slowly paced plot sometimes sags, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is always fascinating for its atmosphere and development of secret agents who are real people.

82. The Darkest Hour (12/28)

This sci-fi movie is not a biggie. When I saw it with my son, we were the only ones in the theater. That worried us. But it was not dreadful. Everyone involved, including Emile Hirsch above, gives a stilted performance; my high school Drama Club students could have done better. But I love the alien invasion genre and this one adds some refreshing elements. First of all, the aliens are shown attacking Moscow, neither Los Angeles nor New York City. Second, and most interestingly, the aliens appear in amorphous swirls of light that send out comet-like tentacles that feed on electric impulses and disintegrate human beings similar to the way they get zapped in Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Basically, these things are beings of electricity, and the beleaguered humans must find inventive ways to stun them with microwaves or guard against them by grounding them. A novelty here is that a knowledge of science is required for comprehending this film.

83. We Bought a Zoo (1/1/12)

And we end with Cameron Crowe’s feel-good movie of the year: We Bought a Zoo in which Matt Damon plays Benjamin Dee, a journalist who has recently lost his wife and must care for his son, Dylan (Colin Ford), and his daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), come to turns with the loss of his wife, and try to reintroduce some happiness into his kids’ lives. This leads Benjamin to buying a property outside L.A. that is a small zoo, and with this zoo he hopes to change their lives. Will Benjamin be able to finance the zoo and get it past inspection so that it can open in July? Will he be able to communicate with his bitterly grieving son? Will he and the zookeepers, led by Kelly (Scarlett Johannson), be able to catch the escaped grizzly bear before it gives their zoo a bad name? Will Dylan be able to tell beautiful young Lily (Elle Fanning) that he loves her? Will the zoo open? Will the people come? Will Scarlett kiss Matt? The answer to all this questions is a most obvious yes, but this very pleasant movie wins you over, despite an overlong middle chapter or two, with idyllic images of countryside; Cameron Crowe’s favorite mellow rock music; and with the performances of Johannson and especially Damon, who carries any movie in which he stars. Throw in a very touching scene in which Dad demonstrates how he met Mom, and you have a very enjoyable movie that is well worth seeing.



Meek's Cutoff



The Tree of Life

War Horse


The Tree of Life


1. The Tree of Life
2. Melancholia
3. Meek's Cutoff
4. War Horse
5. Shame
6. The Artist
7. Insidious
8. Moneyball
9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
10. Jane Eyre
11. Young Adult
12. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
13. Contagion
14. Take Shelter
15. Beginners
16. Limitless
17. The Adjustment Bureau
18. The Descendants
19. Hugo
20. Midnight in Paris

Made it this far? Thanks for reading, now and throughout the year, and enjoy the new movie-going year.

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