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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.

A taut political thriller, Ides of March doesn’t tell a completely new story, but its twist on a familiar theme is told well, with a top-notch cast that includes the aforementioned actors, plus the always reliable Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood. To his credit, Clooney (in his acting, writing, and directing) makes Morris a less than perfect candidate, but not a guy you can’t support. (Also notable is the irrelevancy of his political party.) Morris is a complex character, but he is not the focal point of the film. That would be Stephen, and as the real lead of the film, Gosling gives yet another great performance, his third of the year (after Crazy Stupid Love and Drive).

As election season moves into high gear, Ides of March provides an excellent and entertaining complement. It doesn’t make any grand statements about politics, or the people behind the scenes, but no matter. The action moves swiftly and the film overall is engaging. I’m giving the film a B+ … and despite what we see here in the character he plays, I’m also giving Clooney my vote (but then, I’m already biased).

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