Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Number 1 - 50/50

50/50 is a funny movie about cancer. Good times!

When I wrote about The Descendents, I mentioned that it nicely walked the line between funny and dramatic. 50/50 does it even better.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt came close to making the top of my list before with 500 Days of Summer - it hit number 2. The two movies can sit next to each other in a DVD collection whether grouped by name or by level of awesomeness. I don't think this movie works without him. James McAvoy was originally cast as Adam, and I can't imagine it.

My biggest surprise is how much I enjoyed Seth Rogan as Kyle. He dialed back his performance and took the backseat, yet he never disappears. While 50/50 looks at Adam's relationship with his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), it's Adam and Kyle who grow closer together in a natural way as a result of Adam's cancer. Considering that was the genesis of the script, and the role he played in real life, it works.

50/50 comes out at home later this month. I think it deserves a MUCH wider audience that it received. It came out at a bad time, and it's probably difficult to market a funny cancer movie. See it.I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Number 2 - Midnight in Paris

This became my favorite Woody Allen movie barely halfway through it. I submit that I haven't seen every one of his, but I've seen my fair share. I've actually enjoyed a few movies that he's done in the past few years, including Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point (which hit number 8 on my 2006 list). Of his older stuff, I appreciate some of them, found no enjoyment at all in some of them.

I think that I like the Woody Allen character, but I want the character to do something other to be the whole movie. And that's one of the first ways that Midnight in Paris succeeds. Owen Wilson plays the Allen character, but there is actually a plot that he follows. Yes, I realize that I have said many times that the character arc is the most important thing in a movie. But it's even better when they do something.

And then we have Owen Wilson's performance. I mentioned that he plays the Allen character. But while you recognize it, it feels more like Owen is playing a homage to Allen instead of trying to be him. He moves in his own direction and gives it a light touch that I really liked. This was a guy that you really would like to hang out with for awhile. As he goes on his midnight adventures, you really understand why all of these people would really like him.

I'm being vague with plot details by using the word "adventures" instead of telling anything. I went into this movie knowing little more than the trailer and that it was getting good reviews, so nothing was spoiled for me. What happens after midnight is the big surprise of the movie, and I don't want to be the one to ruin it for you if you haven't seen it yet. However, in some things I have since read about, it has been spoiled. The closer it gets to Oscar season, it will be spoiled even more.

Luckily, it's out on DVD. Even luckier, it's still showing in some theaters around the Bay Area. Yes, a movie that came out at the beginning of last summer is still there in January. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. If you are an English teacher and you still haven't seen it, or if you just plain enjoy reading some good literature, you definitely need to see it.

Also, I love that poster. My favorite of the year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Number 3 - The Descendents

The best script of the year, hands down, belongs to The Descendents. You won't see a movie with more snappy dialogue and smooth lines this year. But the two story lines also weave together nicely.

The first story is of Matt King, played by George Clooney, and his family's attempt to sell their land, which they are required to do for legal reasons. Here's one big reason why this movie and script works. That should be a dull story, and they make it work. It's mostly the backdrop for the second and more import story, but it never gets lost, it never gets forgotten, and it enhances the main story.

The second and main story involves King's wife. She is in a coma, and King finds out that she was having an affair. He, with his daughters, tries to find the guy while they are dealing with the condition of his wife. It's an extremely emotional story that never gets melodramatic. It walks that thin tightrope of trying to be dramatic and funny - and pulls it off effortlessly.

George Clooney always picks great movies. Even him movies that I haven't enjoyed as much, such as Syriana, I appreciate and respect. He's at his best here. And surprisingly, so are the Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley, the girls who play his daughters. I noticed something during the final scene. It's a really simple shot of the family watching TV, with the camera in the place where the TV should be. They didn't feel like they were acting in that shot. None of them. And I recognized that in most movies with little kids (Miller is 10) you tend to notice that their acting is crappy, but they're kids so you often ignore it. Everything felt natural. Woodley plays his 17-year old daughter, thoough she is actually 20. I've read buzz of an Oscar nom for her. She deserves it, and I hope to see Clooney's name as well.

The minor characters are also very nicely written. Early in the movie, you'll meet a character named Sid, who is a friend of King's older daughter. You'll think that you have him figured out in his early scenes. But there's another layer or two revealed, and it works. It makes sense. You'll think he's just there for comic relief, but he also helps to tell the story.

Finally, I have to give a nod to the music. The movie takes place in Hawaii, so you can imagine what you hear, though it's never cheesy or feels like luau.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day Star

Number 4 - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I really liked the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I *sort of* put it on my top 10 last year, though I chose to group it together with all three movies, as they were released in the US in the same year. When I heard about the US remake so soon, I was quite doubtful. Mostly, I thought that there was no way that they could replace Noomi Rapace as the title character Lisbeth Salander. Noomi made the character cool. However, I rewatched parts of the original after watching this version. Seeing in through new eyes, I noticed that her characterization is more flat. She plays Lisbeth as a tortured, moody soul. But that's about it. I also saw Noomi Rapace in a new light when I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. She was pretty bad in that, so I'm afraid she might just be a one trick pony.

As it turns out, the best reason to like the new David Fincher version is Rooney Mara in the same role. She not only exceeds the coolness, but she does something that makes a huge difference. She makes the character interesting. The new Lisbeth has a range of emotions, yet all are quite subtle. You have to pay attention to notice them. Luckily, she's good enough that you can't help but watch her when she's on screen.

After watching this version, I was finally compelled to read the book. The beginning of the book goes into a lot more detail with the business part of the movie - the more dull parts. I think both movies were quite successful in speeding that up. The new movie, however, changes the ending of the mystery. I'm not sure if it's better or as good, though.

Overall, however, the new version ends up being better than the Swedish. It has a better flow. It tells the story cleaner. It brings the characters into a new life. I understand that since box office numbers haven't been as good as they had been hoping, Sony isn't sure if they are going to go ahead with the next two movies. That would be a shame. As I said in my review last year of all three, they work best as a complete story. I need the next two to come out to inspire me to read the other two.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lord Murphy

Number 5 - The Muppets

After watching The Muppets, I spent some time during Winter Break watching lots of Muppets clips. There are plenty of fun songs from the TV show and previous movies. Many of the Jim Henson tributes, especially this one, are really emotional. The movie brought back a lot of great memories.

But it's more than just that. This is definitely the most fun movie of the year. Let's start with Jason Segal. He's just right for this. Did you see Bad Teacher? Not a good movie.The one bright spot was Jason Segal. He delivered the only laughs in that movie. How can you not watch the closing of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and not know that he can excel in a Muppet movie?

In the end, the music has to work. Four words. Flight. Of. The. Conchords. They got Bret McKenzie from FotC. Brilliant. A couple songs, "Party of One" and "Man or Muppet," both feel like they could fit in any episode. And then there's the opening song Life's a Happy Song, which is easy to sing along with. Here's a slightly different (and even more fun) version of the song, featuring Bret and Kermit. Life's a filet o' fish!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Number 6 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This was without a doubt the surprise of the year for me. I'm not a huge Planet of the Apes fan. I watched the original probably around the time that the Tim Burton remake was announced. I remember plenty of cheesy acting from Charlton Heston and a few other things, but it felt really dated. So I was in support of the remake. What I remember most from the remake, other than a severe feeling of being underwhelmed, was Paul Giamatti as one of the apes. And the ending too, I guess.

Had it not been for Rotten Tomatoes, I never would have considered going to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The trailer looked a little cool, but I expected all the best to be in there. So after seeing the tomato meter so high (currently at 83%), I decided to check it out.

The character arc of the ape, Caesar, is actually pretty good. I think the special effects have finally hit the point where my mind is mostly convinced that it's real. I'm not constantly noticing - "Oh, there's CGI." The pace of the movie works really nicely. The action is fun and exciting. There are a few nice Easter Eggs that refer to the original movie. Just all around, I really enjoyed the movie. Is it as high on the list as it is because I had low expectations? Absolutely. But I think that if I were a fan of the original, I still would have enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Number 7 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

To be clear, I didn't accidentally leave off "Part 2" from the title. I mentioned while making the list last year that Part 1 was naturally unsatisfying. Dividing it into two parts was a good idea to be able to tell more of the story, but you need to have them both. So this entry really is for the entire movie, and really for the entire series.

In previous years, movies in the series have takes regular places on my top 10 list.My favorite of the movies is Prisoner of Azkaban. That one was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and was the transition from kids movies to darker movies. It's the movie where the main actors finally became the characters. And it's almost a miracle that those three made it through all three movies still looking good enough to be the correct ages and ending up being pretty good actors.

But at the time I watched that one, the books hadn't yet ended. I was still nervous about how the series would play out. There were little hints and subplots, but would J.K. Rowling remember and tie up all of them in a meaningful way? I had my doubts because of how other series ended. In recent memory, the TV series Lost and Battlestar Galactica ended showing the audience that there was, in fact, no plan. Stephen King's Dark Tower series ended the best and only way it could, but it was (as King even mentioned in the book) frustratingly slightly unsatisfying.

(spoiler alert in this paragraph) I thought Rowling nailed the ending. No, not the tagged on ending, but the showdown between Harry and Voldemort. It ended the only way it could and was still satisfying. It was perfect and filmable. Splitting the movie in two allowed for that, so the movie tied up the series just right. The biggest flaw is that the movie didn't explain Harry's resurrection clearly. It had been too long since I had read the books to remember, and I was confused. The book did a nicer and clearer job of explaining it, and I had to refer back to it when I returned from the theaters. And the aged Harry, Hermione, and Ron at the end was cheesy, but just like it was in the book.

It's a series that I'm going to miss. I enjoyed looking forward to the next episode. But I'm sure we'll go through it again when someone remakes the whole thing in 20-30 years. And I wouldn't put a remake or two on my top 10 list, would I?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Number 8 - Terri

Terri lives with Creed Bratton. If you watch The Office, that's all you really need to know. But Creed has a relatively small role, so there's a lot more to see.

Terri is an oddball kid at school. He's overweight and wears pajamas every day. That should be enough to make him an outcast. This brings him to the attention of the assistant principal, played by John C. Reilly. Reilly plays a slightly more sane Dr. Steve Brule (for your health), and as it turns out, probably the most real school authority figure ever depicted in movies. He wants to do well and has a good heart, but he has no real clue what he's doing. He screws up, Terri calls him on it, and he owns up to it. For me, that's the relationship that works best in this movie.

Terri makes a couple more friends along the way, one a potential odd romance. There's a lot of reality to that as well. Every year, I watch the weird kids find each other. There's one major scene near the end in which the three hang out. It's an uncomfortable scene, and I'm not sure it completely worked, but again, it felt real.

You don't always want a movie to feel real. But being in a school everyday, it's distracting when a movie does something that just doesn't happen in movie. For example, I recently saw something in which a substitute teacher was promoted to full time. Yeah. Not how it works. Or the relationship between kids and teachers or admin just doesn't ring true, I'm pulled out of  it. This movie works, but also you really like the characters.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Number 9- The Artist

I've written before about problems I have with silent movies.I recognize that I've been spoiled not by sound but by actual dialogue. I don't just prefer a good script, I require it. Silent movies rely on the actors mugging for the camera. And this is something that The Artist actually addresses.This is a silent movie for people who don't like silent movies, and probably for those who do, as well.

If you're reading this, I assume you like movies. That means you have seen Singin' in the Rain. If that second assumption is incorrect, fix it now.  The Artist deals with the same issue - talkies disrupting the careers of silent movie actors.

Jean Dujardin stars as silent movie actor George Valentin. What makes this, to me, a more unique silent movie actor role is that you see him on screen doing that silent movie overacting in the face. And then you see him off camera. And while he's still silent, the acting is more modern.

The Artist takes some of the ridiculousness of movies from the 1920s and adds the nuances of modern movies and combines them into a really fun movie. At 100 minutes, it doesn't outlast itself. It's in theaters right now, so take a look. Don't be scared of the silence or the black and white.

Don't be surprised when this gets nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I think it might even get a King's Speech type push over the next month and come out winning the whole thing (though I hope my number 2 and 3 give it a run for it's money)

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Number 10 - Beginners

There are two really good stories here. The first is the relationship between Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). After his his wife (and Oliver's mother) died, Hal came out of the closet. We watch the two of them interact as Hal is dying, with Oliver getting used to his father's new lifestyle.

The second story is between Oliver and his new girlfriend Anna (Mélanie Laurent). While the two stories are told mingled together, he meets her after his father has died. Anna is dealing with issues about her own father.

Ewan McGregor is great, and Christopher Plummer deserved an Oscar nom. The story is well told as it bobs and weaves through time, but not in a way that's too confusing. Oliver is an artist, and his drawings are used effectively to help tell the story and show the emotional condition.

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is that it avoids clichés in the relationships. Oliver and Anna's relationship is strained and difficult. But instead of cheesy romantic comedy misunderstandings, it's because of real issue's they are going through.With Oliver and his father,  it isn't the kid coming out of the closet but the father. Oliver's negative reactions aren't rooted in misguided religious beliefs, hatred, or homophobia, but confusion. And that's the only truly natural reaction as opposed to learned.

2011 Movies - Runners up!

Here's three movies that I liked a lot and you should see, but they barely missed my top 10 list.

For the second time this summer, Marvel released a movie that took place in the characters' original time setting. It worked by setting X-Men: First Class in the 60's, and it worked even better with Captain America: The First Avenger set in World War II. To really tell the story, Cap had to fight the Nazi's. It's a good story.

The skinny Steve Rogers special effect were amazing. I've had arguments with people who refuse to believe that it was actually special effects instead of a different actor.

In the movie, Captain America begins his career not as a soldier or a hero but a promoter of war bonds. That was a change from the original comic book story that actually worked, which is rare. The reason, I think, is that they were able to use this plot line to keep the character true. If they can keep his character and personality in the Avengers movie, that will be a very good thing.

Most of you probably didn't see Attack the Block. Many of you probably didn't even hear about Attack the Block. That's bad. You should see it. Not only is it fun, but I loved the look of the aliens/creatures. I'm positive that the look comes from a lack of a big budget, but that meant that they had to get creative.

While I liked the movie, I think my own enjoyment of the movie came from the lack of any public buzz. I got to feel like part of a secret club. Since I recognize that, I left it off the top 10. Still, check it out, and keep an eye out for future stuff from writer and director Joe Cornish.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold was on my top 10 list until a few days ago, and I'm sorry to see it go. To me, it was the funniest movie of the year.

I recently listened to an interview with Morgan Spurlock. They discussed whether that was a bad thing to have a documentary that is also a comedy. Spurlock explained that he wants people to enjoy watching it. And it isn't like he's discussing the deepest topic here. If Deliver Us From Evil were a comedy, that would be different.

Though I had some logical problems with Super Size Me, I've enjoyed Spurlock's work. This was probably my favorite. It's a good documentary for a general audience.

OK - next post: I start the Top 10 movies of 2011.