Saturday, February 23, 2013

Top 12 (and 5 worst) Films of 2012

I know I've neglected my blog recently, but I'm trying to rebuild it. Starting with this post.

There were so many great movies this year that I've expanded the usual Top 10 list to 12. Huge jump, I know.

Honorable Mentions: Celeste and Jesse Forever, Killer Joe, Ted, The Avengers, Chronicle, Haywire, ParaNorman, Pitch Perfect

12. Lincoln - Daniel Day-Lewis aside, maybe I wasn't feeling this movie as much as everyone else seems to be.  I really enjoyed how they focused on one particular story instead of jumping around to other parts of Lincoln's life, but some parts just weren't gelling for me.

11. Bernie - Jack Black's best role to date. Might not be saying much career-wise, but his performance in this movie is outstanding. Bernie is a very funny and somehow compelling dark comedy about the death of a terrible old woman.

10. Silver Linings Playbook - While the film itself might be a little too Hollywood, every performance is unbelievable. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence turned in their best showings of their careers, Jacki Weaver continues to be a great character actress and Robert De Niro returned to form. If he doesn't win the Oscar, I'll be upset.

9. The Cabin in the Woods - What a mindf--k of a movie. I can't say much about this horror movie, but I can say that it's not a conventional horror movie. And Joss Whedon is the man.

8. Flight - This is one of those films that I kept thinking about for a while before coming to a conclusion: It's fantastic. Denzel Washington plays such a flawed person that's hard to root for, even though you know you should. It has the viewer make their own ethical choice.

7. The Dark Knight Rises - The final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy was a fitting end for the Caped Crusader. Sure it dragged a bit, but all of the characters kept me involved throughout. Also, Michael Caine gives a speech to Christian Bale that will go down as one of the best scenes in the series.

6. Django Unchained - Apparently I'm in the minority here, but this isn't better than Inglourious Basterds. That being said, this is a great film. A revenge flick that keeps the jokes comin'. What more can you ask for from Quentin Tarantino?

5. Moonrise Kingdom - Critics' choice for Wes Anderson's best film since Rushmore. Personally, it's his best flick since The Life Aquatic. The unknown kids played the leads to perfection, and Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton are great in their supporting roles.

4. Argo - It still boggles my mind how Ben Affleck was not nominated for Best Director. This thriller has everything from edge-of-your-seat action to laugh-out-loud comedy. Affleck does a serviceable job as the lead, but it's Alan Arkin who steals the show every time he's on screen.

3. Skyfall - Two of Daniel Craig's Bond films are two of my top 3 Bond films of all time. And Skyfall takes the No. 1 spot on that list. Javier Bardem plays a terrific villain, but what I love most about these movies is how we get to learn about who James Bond was before he become 007.

2. Looper - I'm a sucker for time travel movies, and this one took the genre to another level for me. Obviously the theme is that "everything is connected," but how the characters arrive at this moral is fantastic. This should have been nominated for a Screenplay Oscar. Plus, it has one of the creepiest torture scenes on film.

1. Zero Dark Thirty - Kathryn Bigelow is a master at keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Despite knowing how the film ends, she actually makes you wonder "Are they gonna get him?" Even the scenes where Maya is stuck at the office keep you involved and intrigued. Also, Jessica Chastain should be a lock for Best Actress.

Now, the Bottom 5:

5. This Means War - There are no likable characters in this. They are either conniving, narcissistic or just a flat-out terrible person. That being said, I did laugh at this more than I should have.

4. Magic Mike - I love Steven Soderbergh, but this is one of his worst. This film cannot decide what type of movie it wants to be. Is it a light-hearted comedy that's a little risque, or is it a tension-filled drama that borders on tragic? Who knows. More importantly, who cares.

3. American Reunion - The third spot on this list begins a trend of me being horribly disappointed. The trailers for this gave me hope. But all of that was dashed shortly after the opening title sequence. Dull storylines and even duller jokes make you miss the 1999 original. Then again, anything's better than American Wedding.

2. Promised Land - Matt Damon. John Krasinski. Frances McDormand. Controversial subject matter. Political undertones. All the ingredients for a compelling film are there, but this is an all-around disaster. The storyline failed almost immediately, and none of the characters are worth their screen time. This movie should not be on anyone's "Must See" list.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - First things first, this is not the worst movie in my Bottom 5. But it takes the No. 1 spot because it was a massive disappointment. Peter Jackson spent so much time working on the sets and graphics that he forgot character development altogether. I know there are supposed to be a dozen or so dwarves that go with Bilbo on his journey but without character development, don't ask me to care when any of them are in peril.

Thoughts? Feel free to post your favorite films.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 10 Best (and 5 Worst) Films of 2011.

First of all, I know I've been a poor blogger of recent months. I'm still watching plenty of movies, just not giving myself enough time to finish up the reviews. However, beginning with this post, I will make sure I'm more attentive.

Though we are nearly six months into 2012, DVDs have finally let me view all of the films I intended to last year. Here we go:

tie-10) Warrior/The Help
Believe it or not, both of these movies had some things in common. While both films had cheesy and predictable moments throughout, they each had terrific performances that couldn't be ignored. With Warrior, the trailer said everything but Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy gave real gritty performances that kept the audience involved. The Help, on the other hand, didn't have as much cheese but it was there. What put it over the top were the great jobs done by Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. To me, those two made the movie.

9) Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
I went into this movie just expecting a simple documentary about what happened to Conan between his exit from The Tonight Show and his standup tour over the summer of 2010. What I got was a very deep film about what was going on in his head. You got to see the emotion, the disparity, the sadness and the joy he got while on tour. It was the hardest time of his professional life and the viewers got to see all of it. O'Brien didn't hold anything back and the film was better off for it.

8) 50/50
What a great look at how it must feel for a young person to go through the stages of cancer. 50/50 used humor to not only mask, but also reinforce the emotions that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character is going through. This movie got royally shafted in the 2012 Oscar race. It could've easily taken a Best Screenplay nomination, if not a victory.

7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The final film of the Harry Potter series may have been the best one. To this day, I'm still undecided on whether it's better than Prisoner of Azkaban, but this one was damn close. It ended the series perfectly, keeping the characters' stories rich and full while finishing them in a way that satisfies the audience. With my wife having read all the books and me not, I can say that, from both perspectives, this movie was a fitting end.

6) The Artist
The Oscar winner for Best Picture was a niche film. But it was so beautifully done that I have no problem with it claiming the top prize. The Artist, even with no sound and in black and white, easily maintained the feelings and depth that many talkies strive for. Jean Dujardin gave an outstanding performance, but I believe that James Cromwell's role as George's servant went unnoticed. I could've seen him getting a Best Supporting Actor nod.

5) The Muppets
Jason Segel did it. He managed to make the Muppets relevant again in a world that may have forgotten about them. The humor and the music was so upbeat and fresh that it kept me enthralled from the get-go. Nothing was funnier to me than Chris Cooper saying "Maniacal laugh" instead of actually laughing. I can see myself watching this movie for several years to come.

4) Contagion
I love thrillers. If done correctly, they may be my favorite film genre. Contagion took the thriller movie to the realms of the conspiracy theory genre. This film makes you believe that this could happen in real life. The sheer terror and utter chaos that would erupt if a deadly virus took hold of the world. Despite the entire Marion Cotillard storyline, this movie was near-perfection to me. Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet...they all gave outstanding performances within the ensemble cast.

3) Hugo
Martin Scorsese's ode to films was such a magical journey. While I regret not seeing this in 3-D, the 2-D visuals are more than enough to keep me enjoying the movie. Set in a Paris train station, Hugo makes you feel like you're in this vast setting even though you're not. Throw in terrific performances from Ben Kingsley and Chloe Moretz, and you have a movie that will go down as one of Scorsese's best. Even though it has no gangsters or swearing.

2) The Descendents
Alexander Payne made his masterpiece. He managed to direct a terrific movie that combined humor, heart and despair. George Clooney was outstanding as a man who battled the emotions of a wife in a coma and the revelation that she was cheating on him. I would have given this the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actor and even Best Director.

1) Drive
Shades of Tarantino, shades of Kubrick and shades of Scorsese are all brought together in this brilliant piece of cinema. Drive manages to keep the action-movie pace alive while rolling through the plot in a very slow, decisive way. Ryan Gosling barely speaks, but you can see his emotions and rage in his actions. But the real star of the movie was Albert Brooks. His methodical take on a mobster was refreshing. Brooks could have easily taken Jonah Hill's spot in the Best Supporting Actor nominations. Thank God this is now on Netflix, I may never stop watching.

Now, the Bottom Five of 2011:

5) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I won't dog this film for its plot or the incredible annoyance of Thomas Horn. This movie sucks because the filmmakers are trying to make the audience cry. The characters are supposed to make us do that, not the studio heads and suits. Also, Thomas Horn was crazy annoying.

4) Killer Elite
What the hell just happened? Jason Statham is trying to save Robert De Niro from some Arab guy, while Clive Owen is trying to kill Jason Statham for no apparent reason. So, there's the plot. This movie could have been saved a little by the action/fight scenes, but they sucked, too.

3) Hall Pass
What happened to the Farrelly Brothers? Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary. They used to know how to make an adult comedy that worked on many levels. Hall Pass, on the other hand, made Say It Isn't So look like gold. And this is coming from someone who likes Jason Sudeikis.
2) The Green Hornet
A terrific-looking trailer turned into an extremely disappointing movie. While Seth Rogen was wrong for the lead role, he was hardly the real problem. That belonged to Michel Gondry. The once-talented director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a terrible action director. The film was so disjointed and uneven that I lost interest almost immediately. Some of the action scenes were cool, but I actually left this movie feeling like I completely wasted two hours. That doesn't happen often.

1) Battle: Los Angeles
Combine every single alien action movie of the last 20 years and you have this God-awful excuse of a movie. The war scenes sucked, the acting was phoned-in, the plot made no sense and the graphics made it look like I was playing Halo made for Nintendo 64. The filmmakers should consider themselves lucky that I even made it through this movie. I'm happy to see it wasn't a success that would have spawned unnecessary sequels.

There you have it. My long-overdue Best/Worst Of 2011 list.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon of completely ripping this movie apart, because I didn't find this to be abhorrently bad. It wasn't good, that's for sure, but not for the reasons most critics hated it.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a tweenaged student with borderline Asperger's. He is also trying to deal with the death of his father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), who was killed in the 9/11 attacks. He can't even bring himself to say the date again, just referring to it as "the worst day." Oskar physically harms himself in order not to deal with his emotions. Some time after 9/11, Oskar goes into his father's closet and knocks over a vase. Inside is a key with an envelope labeled "Black." Oskar considers this an adventure from his father and sets out to interview every person with the last name Black. Some are inviting, while others simply shut their doors. During the interviews though, he stumbles upon a stranger (Max Von Sydow) renting out his grandmother's spare room. The two of them together continue on Oskar's quest, while also learning they both need to find a better way to deal with their emotions.

I'm going to get in the one positive from this movie: Max Von Sydow. He deserves all the praise he got. Without saying a single word, Von Sydow managed to convey his feelings to the audience in a way that felt genuine. As for the rest, not so much. I don't usually like to bag on child actors, but they couldn't have found a less likeable/more annoying kid. I'm not sure who could've played the role better, but that's what casting departments are for. The film itself almost makes you want to hate it because it practically forces you to cry. I have no problem with using 9/11 as a plot point, but this just didn't do it right. It's quite clear what this movie wanted its audience, so much so that the filmmakers must have knowingly tried to ram it down our throats in order to get an Oscar nod, which it somehow managed to do. Done the way it was, it really is an unnecessary film. Grade: C

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2012 Oscar Picks

It's that time of year again. Tonight is the 84th annual Academy Awards. I will be giving my picks for certain categories, as well as what I think will actually win in said categories. Note: some key movies I haven't seen so far include The Tree of Life, Beginners, Iron Lady, A Separation and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I tried to see as many as I could, but my son Harry was born this year. I'll take him over movies anytime.

Best Picture:
My pick: The Descendants
Prediction: The Artist

Best Director:
My pick and Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius
(The Artist)

Best Actor:
My pick: George Clooney
Prediction: Jean Dujardin

Best Actress:
My pick and Prediction: Viola Davis

Best Supporting Actor:
My pick: Max von Sydow
Prediction: Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress:
My pick and Prediction: Octavia Spencer

Animated Film:
My pick and Prediction:

Best Adapted Screenplay:
My pick and Prediction:
The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay:
My pick and Prediction:
Midnight in Paris

There are just the major categories. I don't feel I've seen enough of the other categories to make an informed decision. Now, here's my ranking for the Best Picture nominees. Only the 8th spot wouldn't get a passing grade from me. I still have a few more movies to watch before I officially name my Top Ten of 2011.

Best Picture (My Rank):
  1. The Descendants
  2. Hugo
  3. The Artist
  4. Moneyball
  5. The Help
  6. Midnight in Paris
  7. War Horse
  8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
There you go. Enjoy the show

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Brace yourselves, I liked a Woody Allen movie. A lot. I haven't been able to say that for a long time. For the longest time, his writing has felt so stilted that I couldn't find myself interested at all. And yes, that goes for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I don't care how many people tell me how good it was.

Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) are vacationing in Paris with Inez's wealthy parents. Gil is distraught with the state of his writing and wants to move to Paris. But Inez is too uptight and well-do-to and refuses to play along. After disheartening dinners with Inez's parents and some of her friends, Gil takes a midnight stroll in the City of Light. While walking, a car pulls up asks Gil to hop in. Because he's drunk, he agrees. He's whisked away to a party that seems odd to him. Gil soon comes to realize he's somehow transported to the 1920s. He's partying with some of his idols. Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter, along with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Every night after, Gil continues the midnight strolls and starts to fall for Adriana (Marion Cotillard). But he has to figure out how that could possibly happen, and what impact it could have on Inez. More to the point, does he really care?

I was surprised by how much I like Midnight in Paris. The screener was just sitting on my table for months, and I was putting it off. I'm really happy I finally watched. Even Owen Wilson worked in this. But my personal favorite parts involved either Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) or Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody). They were both hilarious and kept me waiting for when they'd appear on screen again. As much as I liked this film, one part knocked this down at least half a grade. It was toward the end, when Wilson just blatantly states the moral of the film. Almost like the audience is too slow to figure it out on our own. But I got past that, and so can you. This will surely win an Oscar for screenwriting. Grade: A-

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super 8 (2011)

Who likes lens flares? Ending aside, this may have been the best action movie of 2011. J.J. Abrams is a great director who knows how to keep the story going and the audience involved. And if you have "Friday Night Lights" star Kyle Chandler in one of the leads, I'm in.

Circa 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his father, Deputy Jack Lamb (Chandler) have suffered a tragedy. Jack's wife has died in an accident at the factory where she worked. After some time has past, Joe turns to making films with his friends as a way to cope. While making a low-budget zombie movie, the gang witness a horrific train accident caused by one of their teachers. The teacher briefly survives and tells them to never talk about what they've seen or they will be killed. They all agree, but strange things soon start to occur around town. Animals and people start disappearing, and now Deputy Jack wants answers from the Air Force, who is conducting the "cleanup." Without giving too much away to those who haven't seen this, it's a sci-fi movie. Take what you will from that.

My favorite aspect of Super 8 was that it's equal parts action flick and conspiracy film. The action was well-balanced throughout with the more dramatic scenes involving Joe's family and love interest. For being a sci-fi movie, the scenes felt believable. Like they could happen in real life, if this was at all possible. The last 25-30 minutes or so kind of lost the tone of the movie. It wasn't bad, it just didn't totally fit. I still highly recommend this movie, but the grade for the first half of the film would've been higher than the grade for the full film. Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Muppets (2011)

This is the most feel-good movie of the year. Any audience member can come out of this film with a smile on their face. The Muppets just make people happy.

Walter is a man born a Muppet growing up in Smalltown. His older brother is a human named Gary (Jason Segel). As kids, the two brothers quickly become fans of The Muppet Show and Walter has someone he can look up to. He starts to idolize the Muppets. For his ten-year anniversary with girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), Gary agrees to take Walter along on their trip to California to see the Muppet Studios. On the tour, Walter overhears oilman Tex Richman's (Chris Cooper) plan to destroy the studio and drill for the oil underneath. Distressed, Gary and Walter set out to find the Muppets and tell them Richman's plan. After meeting Kermit, finding the rest of the original Muppets gets easier. Now, they must put together a massive show, with no real funding, to try and raise the money to save the theater from Richman's evil grasp. It's a tall order considering no celebrities will help and the Muppets themselves are no longer thought of as famous. But, come on, it's the Muppets. Of course everything will work out, right?

This was just a fun movie. I can't stress that enough. Any fan of the Muppets or comedies in general should love this film. Not only were the main stories and characters good, but there were so many smaller details that just cracked me up. The main one being whenever Tex Richman wanted to laugh, he'd just say "Maniacal laugh" over and over again. Throw in celebrities from Jack Black to Neil Patrick Harris to Judd Hirsch, and you have the makings of, well, The Muppet Show. Rarely does a flick make me want more, but I could have watched another hour of this and not be upset. Do yourself a favor and watch this. Grade: A-