Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 movies of 2011

For my top 10 list, I tried to keep in mind how I felt about each movie. There are different ways to review a movie, but ultimately it comes down to how much I enjoyed it, and whether I want to see it again. So if I were going to sit down and watch any movie released in 2010, here are the 10 I would choose:

10 - Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) are basically playing themselves. They are hard core sci-fi geeks who go to Comic-Con for the first time. After Comic-Con, they take a road trip to visit all of the famous alien landing sites in the southwest. They run in to Paul, a little green man voiced by Seth Rogen. What follows is a funny adventure with tons of references and in-jokes that anyone who grew up with Spielberg and Lucas will get.

9 - Buck

Buck Brannaman is the real horse whisperer. This guy can take any wild horse, tame it and ride it within minutes. It's like he and the horse are sharing the same mind. He tours and gives clinics all over the country, and if anyone has a problem with their horse, they bring it to him and he helps them. But as the movie goes on, we learn that he is just as good at healing people as he is horses. This is the feel good movie of the year.

8 - X-Men: First Class

I liked the first X-Men a lot, and I loved the second X-Men. The 3rd one (The Last Stand) was a major disappointment, and the less said about Wolverine, the better. I had very low expectations going into this movie, and I was blown away. I didn't think anyone could play Magneto as well as Ian McKellen, but Michael Fassbender does a great job. James McAvoy has never been better as Charles Xavier, and Kevin Bacon plays a great villain. This movie was very engaging and it actually felt like the first two X-Men movies. Forget Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. This is the best superhero movie of the year.

7 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The English language remake of the 2009 Swedish film is every bit as good as that one was. There is some pretty brutal stuff in this movie, including rape, torture, and animal cruelty, but if you can stomach it, it's an incredible thriller. And Lisbeth Salander is the best movie heroine to come along in a long time.

6 - Incendies

In this French Canadian movie, a woman has just died. Her grown kids are meeting with a lawyer to go over her will. The lawyer produces two letters. The kids are to find their father (who they thought was dead) and deliver one letter. The other letter they are to deliver to their brother (who they never knew existed). So they set out on a journey to discover where their mother came from. This journey takes them to the Middle East and we learn about her life through flashbacks. This is a very powerful movie with some haunting scenes showing the brutality of war. It has been almost a year since I saw this film at Sundance and I am still haunted by it.

5 - Young Adult

Charlize Theron plays Mavis, the former high school beauty queen / most popular girl in school. It's all been downhill since then, and Mavis goes back to her small town to steal her old boyfriend back from his wife and child. It is a very risky move for a movie to make the protagonist so unlikeable. But the movie pulls it off. Mavis is a pathetic character and it is painful to watch what happens to her, but the movie works. It's also very funny (and dark), and Patton Oswalt has never been better as the guy Mavis never noticed in high school, but now is her only friend.

4 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Yes, I know. It's Harry Potter. As a movie by itself, this doesn't really work that well. The only way to really get the emotional impact of this movie is if you have gone through 7 previous movies with these characters. This is the payoff to 7 movies of setup. The scenes with Alan Rickman as Professor Snape are my favorite. His character and his performance make this movie (and the entire series) so special.

3 - Bridesmaids

The funniest movie I have seen since Superbad. Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) have been best friends since they were kids, and when Lillian gets engaged, Annie's world comes apart. Not only is she jealous of her friend's happiness (none of Annie's relationships have worked out), but she is being replaced by Helen (Rose Byrne) as best friend. If you took out all the comedy, this would make a good dramatic movie. It doesn't hurt that the movie is also hilarious from beginning to end.

2 - The Descendants

George Clooney stars as Matt, a lawyer living in Hawaii. His wife has just been injured and is in a coma. He has two young daughters he isn't very close to, and he learns that his wife has been cheating on him. So he decides to take his daughters (and a tagalong stoner named Sid) to find his wife's lover. At the same time, he is also the trustee for his family's inheritance. Along with all his cousins, they own 25,000 acres of land that they are considering selling. The entire island is waiting for his decision about what to do with the land, since the sale will affect everyone.

This is the first movie from Alexander Payne since Sideways. It isn't as good as Sideways, but it is up there. It isn't conventional - it doesn't have the traditional story arc that most movies have. Thanks to that, you never really know where this movie is going.

1 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Based on John le Carre's novel, this is a spy thriller for adults. As much as I love James Bond movies, this is a total opposite. There are no car chases, explosions or gunfights. It's incredibly intelligent, and that will put some people off at first. The movie requires you to pay attention and see it more than once. The first time, you probably won't understand all the details. And the ending is not a climax like you would expect.

Much of the movie is told in flashback, and the flashbacks are out of order so sometimes it's difficult to know where in the story a scene is taking place. But if you stay with it, it is very rewarding. The movie is set in the 70s and it looks perfect. The casting is top notch (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones) and even when I was confused by the plot, I enjoyed the performances. John Hurt steals every scene he is in (not easy considering the calibre of the cast), and Gary Oldman does a great job mimicing Alec Guinness (who played the character in the BBC miniseries) while creating his own character. This is probably the most low key Oldman has every played, and it's pitch perfect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Into the Abyss - 3 stars

This is a documentary about a triple murder that took place in a small Texas town back in 2001. Two young men broke into a house, murdered a woman, her son and his friend, and stole a camaro. Ten years later, the two men are in prison. One is serving a life sentence and the other is on death row.

Herzog interviews everyone connected to this case, and the things they say are fascinating and heartbreaking. The two men came from broken homes, or had no homes at all, and the victim's daughter has not been able to carry on with her life.

This is not a political movie about the death penalty. It isn't trying to persuade you to be for or against the death penalty. It just gives us the facts of the case, and allows the people involved to tell their story.

Young Adult - 3 1/2 stars

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary. Mavis was the prettiest and most popular girl in high school. She left the small town in Minnesota and went to the big city, and now she is a successful author.

When she learns that her old boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife just had a baby, she decides to go and 'rescue' him. She is convinced that he isn't happy and he really wants to get back together with her.

This is a really funny but dark movie. Mavis is a pretty horrible character, and it is a testament to Theron's great acting that we care for her even while she is doing these terrible things.

Patton Oswalt turns in a great supporting performance as Matt, the guy she never noticed in high school. He sees how pathetic she is, but because he is just as lonely as she is, he hangs out with her every night, listening to her go over her plans to ruin Buddy's marriage.

I thought this was a very original movie, and I really liked the ending. There is a point where you think Mavis is going to learn the error of her ways, but that's not where this movie is going. I really liked the way the story stuck to its guns and stayed true to the character, even though the ending is not the happy ending some people may be looking for.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 3 stars

I didn't care for the first Sherlock Holmes movie very much, so I wasn't expecting much going into this one. But this movie is an improvement on the first film in every way. For one thing, it's a lot funnier. Robert Downey, Jr. is hilarious. I think I missed half of his one liners because the audience was still laughing at a previous one.

The villain is better in this one too. Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) plays Professor Moriarty, and he is just as clever as Holmes. Stephen Fry turns up as the other Holmes, and I wish he were in the movie more. He nearly steals the movie from Robert Downey, Jr. with just a few scenes.

I am now excitied for this franchise and look forward to the next installment.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - 3 1/2 stars

This is probably my favorite Mission: Impossible movie since the first, although I may have to re-watch 2 and 3 to be sure. The villain isn't as memorable as Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he wasn't in part 3 nearly enough.

The plot this time around is very familiar. We have seen it in several James Bond movies and in The Sum of All Fears. Someone wants to detonate a nuclear bomb, tricking the United States and Russia into declaring war on each other.

Despite the familiar plot, the movie is very enjoyable. The action set pieces are exciting, especially the sequence where Ethan Hunt has to climb up several floors outside the tallest building in the world. You really should see this movie in IMAX to get the full effect of this sequence. It was so realistic it gave me vertigo.

Another improvement in this movie is Simon Pegg. He appeared in a few scenes in the 3rd movie. This time he has almost as much screen time as Tom Cruise. More Simon Pegg always makes a movie more enjoyable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Melancholia - 2 stars

This is only the second Lars von Trier movie I have seen. The first was Antichrist, and I will never look at foxes or scissors the same way again.

This movie starts with an overture, which is kind of cool. The overture shows slow motion clips of things that will happen later in the movie, including Kirsten Dunst with lightning shooting out of her fingertips and a planet crashing into Earth. The overture goes on a little too long, but it is effective at setting the mood of the film. The operatic music is great, and every one of the scenes could be a painting.

After the overture, the movie is divided into 2 parts. The first is called "Justine" and it takes place during a wedding party. Justine (Dunst) has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and their wedding is taking place in a huge mansion / castle owned by Justine's sister and brother-in-law, Claire and John (Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Kiefer Sutherland). Justine's divorced partents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling) are there, and they fight the whole time. Justine is suffering from some kind of depression, and that's about it for this first section. Not a lot happens, and this hour of the movie could have easily been compressed into 15 minutes.

The second part is called "Claire", and the only characters are Justine, Claire, John, and their son Leo (Cameron Spurr). A new planet called Melancholia has been discovered, and it may be on a collision course with Earth.

The entire movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes, and I would have liked it a lot more if it had been around an hour and a half. A lot of time passes with little to nothing happening. We know from the overture that the planet will crash into Earth, so instead of wondering whether the characters will survive, we are watching to see how they will react.

After seeing movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, it is interesting to see a disaster movie where all the action is contained to one household. I did wish that they would watch the news once in a while, to see how the rest of the world is reacting to this huge planet growing bigger in the sky.

The climax of the movie is pretty intense, but once again it would have been more effective if I wasn't getting so bored waiting for it to happen. It could have been great, but I can't recommend it. It's certainly nice to look at, though.