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2011’s Movies Hit a Home Run

3 Jan

If you haven’t noticed, I see a lot of movies.

As I sit down to write this blog post, this year alone, of the ones that are considered 2011 releases, I’ve seen 50. Last year I saw 60, so I’m a little off my game, I guess.

But there are still a few movies that have yet to open in Boston that I’m sure I’ll see, and that’ll push the number higher.

And yes, I know it’s now a couple days into 2012. That’s alright. Again, we’re talking 2011 releases, the ones that are eligible for Oscars and all the other awards, no matter when they’re in my local theaters.

Okay, enough excuse-making.

2011 was a pretty good year for the movies. Looking back on all the ones I’ve seen, there were a good number of them that I gave high marks to (i.e., a B+ or better).

So what follows are my 10 favorite movies of the year. Continue reading

Perfectly Imperfect

21 Nov

One of my favorite pastimes is reading magazine articles about (and watching interviews with) George Clooney.

The man’s a charmer who just does everything right.

He’s got the life, but he’s not rubbing it in. He’s enjoying where he is now, and he’s comfortable in his own skin.

And why wouldn’t he be? For Clooney, life is just about perfect right now, as the great and highly amusing cover story of the latest issue of Rolling Stone discusses.

In a way, that’s what makes Clooney’s latest film, The Descendants, so nice.

In it, Clooney plays Matt King, a man whose life is decidedly not perfect, despite the fact that he lives in the seemingly perfect state of Hawaii.

For starters, he’s got a troubled relationship with his wife and a barely-there one with his two daughters (Matt even admits that he’s the “backup parent”).

Then, when his wife is in an accident and rendered comatose, he learns (from his eldest daughter of all people) that she was cheating on him.

Oh, and throw in a complicated real estate deal that involves his many cousins and relatives. Continue reading

Clooney for President?

17 Oct

That all in politics is not as it seems is hardly breaking news. Alas, in the film The Ides of March, that’s exactly the theme.

In George Clooney’s latest writing and directing effort, Ryan Gosling plays Stephen, the junior campaign manager for Presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). Over the course of the week leading up to the Ohio primary, Stephen goes from devoted fan and supporter of Morris to, well, let’s just say he gets a reality check.

Young but hardly naive, Stephen is a fast-rising player in the political arena, and his drive to get ahead and protect his candidate leads to some less than ideal decisions. As a result, Stephen’s boss, Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), begins to question whose side Stephen is really on: Morris’ or his own. Continue reading

Italian American

4 Sep

Not much happens in The American, and for a while, that’s alright. George Clooney’s Jack, in Italy to take care of one last job, is a man of few words and even fewer personal connections. We watch as he befriends a priest and a prostitute, and builds a customized weapon for a client, but so little is known about Jack, and about his assignment as a whole, that it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. Thankfully, photographer Anton Corbijn‘s film is gorgeous to look at. There are some striking images, many beautifully composed, and this elevates the film — but doesn’t detract from it, like in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Also impressive is Clooney’s controlled, quiet performance. Pretty much all the film’s action takes place in Jack’s head as he contemplates his life and just what all this violence is for, and while he doesn’t say much in words, he says plenty in his reactions and facial expressions. Unfortunately, what little there is of a plot heads towards its inevitable conclusion in somewhat predictable fashion, and that makes this too subtle film a bit disappointing in the end. I’m giving The American a B.

An Entertaining Year

31 Dec

There was a lot to like this year, entertainment-wise. For example, it was inconsistent and frustrating at times, but when it was great, there were few shows I enjoyed as much as Glee. I didn’t read as many books as I have in years past, but I thought Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age was very good. I picked the winner of American Idol as far back as February. Lily Allen, U2, Jamie Cullum, and John Mayer all released great albums. And of course, there were a bunch of impressive movies too.

As of this writing, I’ve seen 48 of the year’s releases (down from 53 a year ago), and if pressed to rank my favorites (not necessarily the best ones), here are the top 10:
1. Up in the Air
2. In the Loop
3. A Serious Man
4. Up
5. Star Trek
6. Precious
7. The Girlfriend Experience
8. Two Lovers
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. Where the Wild Things Are

What were your favorite movies, albums, TV shows, books, etc.? I’d love to know.

Miles Above the Rest

6 Dec

In the film Love Actually, Hugh Grant says that if you want to see true love, all you have to do is go to the airport.

Well, chances are good Grant’s never met Ryan Bingham, the main character in Up in the Air.

Love doesn’t even begin to describe how Bingham (played by George Clooney) feels about airports and traveling. He’s got the whole thing down to a science: what and how to pack, which line to choose at the security checkpoint, how much time he saves by not checking baggage, how to make the most of his per diem so he earns more frequent flyer miles faster, etc. etc.

If business travelers are considered “road warriors,” then Bingham, who spends around 300 days of his year on the road, is their leader. Continue reading

What the Cuss?

30 Nov

It’s pretty clear early on that Fantastic Mr. Fox is going to be a very special movie.

It’s during the first scene, when Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife, Felicity (Meryl Streep), raid a chicken farm to the sounds of the Beach Boys, that you get your initial taste of director Wes Anderson’s vision.

The characters, with their overly long legs, run and jump, pop up here and there, and speak intelligently, like adults — unlike the characters in most kid-oriented movies.

Yes, the director of such films as Rushmore (one of my all-time faves) and The Darjeeling Limited has not made a typical children’s animated film. Continue reading

The Force Is Not Strong Here

8 Nov

Sometimes, when you set out to make a movie that’s wacky funny, you end up instead with something that’s strange and unfunny. Such is the case with The Men Who Stare at Goats, one of those classic misfires that has almost no redeeming qualities. Starring George Clooney (clearly doing a solid for his friend and producing partner, Grant Heslov, who makes his directorial debut here), Men Who Stare is about a reporter (Ewan McGregor) who tries to impress his wife by going to Iraq. There (or rather, in Kuwait), he meets Clooney’s character, a military man who may or may not be gifted with special psychic powers, who may or may not be retired, and who may or may not still be a part of a top secret military unit that specializes in nonviolent action (such as Jedi mind tricks performed on goats). The film is only sporadically funny, the tone just isn’t right, and Clooney, sadly, seems totally miscast. Just about the only thing worth mentioning positively is Jeff Bridges, who plays the hippie-like leader of the group and seems perfectly cast in his role. Otherwise, Men Who Stare is just weird and unnecessary, and I’m giving it a D.

"Why can’t my hair last?"

19 Mar

George Clooney is vlogging — that’s video blogging for those not hip to interweb lingo — and despite the fact that he’s doing it to raise awareness of the situation in Chad, the quick dispatches are actually kinda funny, including this one here, where George laments how his hairdo, expensive as it is, should have survived the trip to Chad. Enjoy.

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A League of Morons

15 Sep

Oh well. The Coen brothers’ latest, Burn After Reading, is a bit of a disappointment. Their last film, the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, was a brilliant but awfully serious affair, so I don’t blame them for wanting to tackle a trifle like this one. I just wish it had the laughs and charm that a similarly light comedy like, say, the totally underrated Intolerable Cruelty did.

At least those two films have one good thing in common: George Clooney, who here stars as Harry, a womanizing charmer, who gets involved with Linda (Frances McDormand), a woman seeking money for four body-enhancing surgeries, who works at a gym with Chad (Brad Pitt), a dim-witted trainer who happens upon a CD filled with the security secrets of Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), a former CIA analyst who is writing a memoir about his life in the agency, and whose wife (Tilda Swinton) is also involved with Harry. Got all that? It’s a twisty plot that meanders and doesn’t really ever go anywhere (intentionally), mostly because the characters are all basically morons.

There are some good reaction shots, and McDormand and Pitt seem to be having the most fun, but for my money, the best part of the entire movie is the last five minutes, when J. K. Simmons and David Rasche‘s characters try to make sense of it all. I think the Coens needed to put their characters in the film earlier and more often because their deadpan confusion is hysterical and the only thing in the film that really works. Burn wants to be zany, wacky fun, but it’s only mildly amusing. I’ll take Clooney’s Everett McGill or Miles Massey over Harry any day. So rank this one with the Coens’ The Ladykillers remake as a subpar Coen brothers movie. As I said: Oh well. They can’t all be Fargo or O Brother, Where Art Thou? I’m giving Burn a C+.