Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not Necessarily the Best, but My Best

As the overloaded movie awards draws to its close, i.e., the Oscars, let me chime in with the movies I really enjoyed this year. The test for me is Would I watch this movie again and enjoy it.

10. 50/50. That's a 50/50 chance of a young man's chance of surviving cancer, not the usual stuff for a bromance comedy, but this one's smart, topical, tender, a bit randy, and really funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a standout in 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, joins Seth Rogen for a balance of charm and raunch.

9. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Never thought I'd love an APES movie, but this tense, often tender adventure film has strong writing, good performances from James Franco, John Lithgow, and especially Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leading ape character. The special effects are superb.

8. BRIDESMAIDS. Another unexpected but happy surprise. Kristin Wiig, the best thing about SNL, has co-written and stars in this riotous comedy that makes the HANGOVER movies look tame and unfunny. With a strong supporting cast (especially Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne), BRIDESMAIDS manages to be offensive while also being an endearing treatise on female friendship. And you'll think twice about having some foods before trying on those bridesmaid's dresses.

7. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Great to see master director-writer Woody Allen back in true form with a light-hearted comic fantasy about a guy who steps back into the 1920's to chat with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and a host of those "new thinkers" while avoiding his own nuptials. Whimsical and clever, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was a relief for movie-goers who love Paris or Allen and even those who don't like either.

6. OF GODS AND MEN. If you haven't seen this extraordinary tribute to faith and service, I urge you to rent it. A quiet, thoughtful look at what happens to a French abbey in Algeria once the country falls into the hands of terrorists. Do the monks stay and serve their flock? Powerful and fulfilling story-telling.

5. THE DESCENDANTS. Subtle and heartfelt, Alexander Payne's dramedy gave George Clooney his finest role yet as a wealthy Hawaian lawyer and land owner who discovers his comatose wife has been cheating on him. Now he has to take care of his two daughters and extended family as well as face the "other man." The results are often funny and often touching.

4. MONEYBALL. Brad Pitt as former ball player who mangages a bottom-feeder team to a winning season sounds formulaic, but this baseball story is more about a man who finds himself and a new way to live than it is just about the game. Pitt and the entire cast shine.

3. THE HELP. Based on the immensely popular novel about the lives of maids during the 1960's, THE HELP has been adapted into a strong human drama with touches of humor ahd conflict and an ensemble cast that creates the type of movie that was standard back in the 1940's and early '50's (THE QUIET MAN, ALL ABOUT EVE). Violet Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain lead a superb ensemble cast, mixing humor with social comment and never letting one kill the other.

2. THE TREE OF LIFE. Terence Malick's deeply personal look at a Texas family in the 1950's and his visual counterpart of evolution, the cosmos, and flying dinosaurs put off the literal-minded viewers, but there's no denying the director's truth to vision. This is an amazing film.

1. (yes, a tie for first place) WAR HORSE. Steven Spielberg is a master at controlling his amazing technical skills to create memorable films (RAIDERS, E.T., SCHINDLER'S LIST, et al)that appeal to the heart as well as the mind has done it again with this sweeping epic set during World War I.
The plot is familiar: boy meets horse, boy loves horse, boy loses horse, boy and horse find each other. With John Williams' emotive score and magnificent visuals, WAR HORSE is a film to treasure.

1. HUGO. Another cinematic master, Martin Scorsese, returns to the roots of cinema with HUGO, a family film filmed in 3-D. An orphan boy and his friend discover the wonders of film in Georges Melius' early ground-breaking experiments. The color, art and set direction, and use of 3-D camera are breathtaking. Not to be missed.

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