Friday, February 24, 2012

2011 Mega Movie Review!

Since my last post about a month ago, I've seen two new movies I meant to review.  Due to lack of time/inspiration, I'll post very brief reviews of both of them right now.

Chronicle - 4.5 out of 5 JRs

Yet another "found footage" movie shot almost entirely with a hand-held camera, this film has some amazing special effects considering its small budget.  With no real big name actors (except for Vince Howard - aka Michael B. Jordan from Friday Night Lights) we're forced to get emotionally engaged in the characters and with a solid script and excellent pacing from first-time director Josh Trank, Chronicle ends up being extremely entertaining.  Watching the three young friends gain their magical powers and experiment with them is a fun roller coaster ride.  The climatic scenes set in downtown Seattle have all the polish of a major Hollywood blockbuster.  Go see this in theaters if you can.

The Artist - 3.5 out of 5 JRs

Yes this movie is almost 100% silent, yes it's in black and white, and yes it contains mostly no-name actors, however, The Artist is actually quite entertaining.  Watching the slow-moving beginning of this film, I found myself fighting off sleep and boredom, but once the plot kicks in and we see (Jean Dujardin) struggle incoming to grips with Hollywood's transition to "talkie" films, the movie becomes interesting and enjoyable.  Bérénice Bejo is cute and effective in the female lead role (not sure why she's up for Best SUPPORTING Actress though) but this is Dujardin's film and he gives an excellent and restrained performance.  Is The Artist going to win Best Picture?  Probably.  Does it deserve it?  Not really, but it's still a movie worth seeing (wait for the rental though).

Now with that out of the way, I'd like to switch gears to one of my favorite annual traditions on this blog.  Picking my personal list of the best films of 2011.  Keep in mind that this is a list of the top films among those I saw personally last year (judging by my posting history at least 23 movies in theaters and more than that on Bluray).  Ranked from 10 - 1 below here is the cream of the cinematic crop during a weaker-than-usual year in film.

The Top Ten Movies of 2011

#10 - Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn's visionary take on a Hollywood stuntman and getaway driver, played with restraint and conviction by Ryan Gosling.  This movie is awkward at times and extremely violent towards the end but the uniqueness of the performances (including solid guest turns by Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks) and the excellent film soundtrack combine to make Drive engaging and riveting.  Too bad Gosling (who had three great performances in 2011 including Crazy Stupid Love and Ides of March) got no Academy love at this year's Oscars.  I'm wondering if his career will take the same path that DiCaprio has where he keeps making great movies and misses out on Oscar.

#9 - Moneyball
Brad Pitt plays the role of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane in a true story of the first Major League Baseball executive to use computer-generated analysis to draft his players and run an organization.  This movie is a baseball geek's dream.  Without any flash big-name players or the typical dramatic final championship game scene, this is a movie for baseball purists.  I'm surprised this movie got such universal acclaim as it seems that only people who love baseball could truly enjoy it.  Jonah Hill is great as Pitt's assistant in the film and surprisingly received his first (and probably last) Oscar nod.

#8 - Bridesmaids
The female version of the Hangover (without actually making it to Vegas) was the funniest movie of the year.   Kristen Wiig does a great job in both the writing and acting categories.  The annoying (at least to me) Maya Rudolph is OK but we all know that Academy Award nominated actress Melissa McCarthy steals the show as the overweight and crass Megan.  Bonus points for the killer Wilson Phillips performance towards the end of the movie.

#7 - 50/50
A semi-true take on Seth Rogan's friend Will Reiser and his battle with cancer.  This dramedy has some hilarious scenes but is most memorable for the griping and realistic sequence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt saying goodbye to his family as he goes in for surgery prep.  Anna Kendrick and Rogan provide solid support, but this is Gordon-Levitt's showcase and he proves that he is one of the better young actors working today.

#6 - Source Code
In Duncan Jones' follow-up to the brilliant Moon, Jake Gyllenhaal is a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and must solve the mystery of whom is plotting to blow up a commuter train in Chicago.  With a hint of Groundhog Day mixed in with some sci-fi fantasy, Source Code is a compelling film that keeps the audience engaged throughout.  Jones (who is David Bowie's son by the way) gets some great performances out of Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright (who seems to be in every movie these days).  Much like another young but brilliant director, Neill Blomkamp (District 9), I'm eager to see what Jones attempts in his next film.

#5 - Pearl Jam Twenty
Cameron Crowe's thorough chronicle of my favorite band of all-time is one of the best documentaries I've seen.  I knew most of the back story of Pearl Jam's rise to stardom but had never seen the detailed bask stage footage of Eddie Vedder and company.  With some authentic live performances and telling interviews with the band, this is a must-see for anyone who was into the Seattle grunge music scene.  Obviously for PJ fans, the soundtrack is a must-buy.  Weird note:  I saw this movie for free on Netflix only a few weeks after it was released in theaters (still not sure how this happened).

#4 - Super 8
JJ Abrams continues to entertain me year after year and his offering of Super 8 was no exception.  Kyle Chandler and a cast of talented kid actors band together for a sci-fi mystery movie set in the late 70's.  Abrams borrows a lot of techniques from Speilberg in building a "mash-up" of Goonies and ET.  The quality of acting that all of the kids bring to the table makes their characters very likable and keeps you invested in their adventure.  Unfortunately the ending didn't sit well with me otherwise this movie would have been higher up on my list.

#3 - The Descendants
My selection for Best Picture among the 9 nominees this year, The Descendants is another home run from director Alexander Payne.  The plot focuses on the King family in beautiful Hawaii.  Matt King (George Clooney) has a tough decision of which buyer to sell a large swath of family-owned land to all while he deals with a dying wife who has cheated on him.  Clooney is rock solid in the lead role of the film and gives arguably his best performance to date.  Shailene Woodley as his daughter Alexandra is a revelation and was robbed from a supporting nomination.  If you've ever been to Hawaii you'll appreciate this extremely realistic depiction of the 50th state.

#2 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
A fitting farewell to "The Boy Who Lived" is one of the very best movies of 2011.  In a follow up to the sub-par Deathly Hallows Part I, Part II is everything a Potter fanatic could want in the cinematic conclusion to J K Rowling's epic series.  Daniel Radcliffe gives his strongest performance to-date and his confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is as epic as I imagined when reading the book.  Director David Yates amps up the action in the final hour and ratchets up the tension as war envelops Hogwarts.  It's unfortunate that the Academy never gave any real acknowledgement to one of the best movie franchises in film history.

#1 - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The movie in 2011 that sucked me in the most and remained engaging throughout was David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's beloved novel.  A Swedish version of this film was released two years earlier but I imagine it cannot hold a candle to Fincher's masterpiece.  Rooney Mara (who got a much-deserved Oscar nod thankfully) totally owns the role of Lisbeth Salander and her chemistry with Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist) is the force that drives this film.  A twisting mystery of a plot that is masterfully shot by Fincher helps speed along the 158 minute run time.  Trent Reznor's wonderful minimalist score is a perfect complement to the tension and action of the movie.  I can't wait for the follow-up sequel that hopefully Fincher will be involved with (Craig and Mara are scheduled to reprise their roles)   NOTE:  This movie sits currently as #233 of ALL TIME on IMDB's top 250 list, yet it's not nominated for Best Picture.  Rubbish!

There you have it.  I think the quality of movies overall was a bit better last year and Inception and District 9 sit head and shoulders above all other movies I've seen since I started writing this blog.  Hopefully 2012 brings a deeper quality of film offerings.  I'm most looking forward to Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.  I envision both of those films ending up on my 2012 Top Ten List at the end of the year.

Finally, here are my Oscar picks and predictions for Sunday's awards show.  Listed are who I THINK will win, who I WANT to win and who has no business being nominated at all.  Unfortunately I did not see two of the 9 nominees for Best Picture this year (War Horse and Tree of Life).  Since I hate Terrence Malick, I'm not really broken up about missing his offering.  If you're looking for a full list of nominations, you can find them here.

Best Picture
Will Win - The Artist
Should Win - The Descendants
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Midnight in Paris (AWFUL)

Best Actor
Will Win - George Clooney (narrowly beating Jean Dujardin)
Should Win - George Clooney
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Demian Bichir (Only because I didn't see him)

Best Actress
Will Win -  Meryl Streep (in a close battle with Viola Davis)
Should Win - Rooney Mara
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Glenn Close (I hate her)

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win - Christopher Plummer
Should Win - Max von Sydow
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Jonah Hill

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win - Octavia Spencer
Should Win - Octavia Spencer
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Jessica Chastain (She wasn't ALL THAT in The Help)

Best Director
Will Win - Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist
Should Win - Alexander PayneThe Descendants
Shouldn't Be Nominated - Woody AllenMidnight in Paris (HORRIBLE!!!!)

Enjoy the Oscars on Sunday and look for more reviews soon (The Hunger Games comes out next month!!).