I have devoured quite a few movies over the past six weeks or so, yet I've had so little time to write about them. Here are my thoughts on 13 movies I've seen recently:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher, 2011)
I finally got to see this flick, my most-anticipated of the year, last weekend. As soon as I saw the first masterful teaser trailer back over the summer, I was hooked. I jumped on the bandwagon, bought Steig Larrsson's book, read it, actually loved it, saw the original Swedish movie version (which I didn't like at all), and became even more excited to see what Fincher could do with the material. David Fincher is right now at the top of his game as a filmmaker. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which follows on the coattails of his great The Social Network, is a much better adaptation than the Swedish version and seals Fincher's legacy (Seven, The Game, Zodiac) as a great crime-film director. Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig both give great performances and have really great chemistry on-screen. Mara should get an Oscar nomination--she literally disappears into the Lisbeth Salander chracter.
Hugo (Scorsese, 2011)
New Year's Day. I go to see a "family" movie. Perhaps one of the best "family" movies yet made. It is Martin Scorsese's ode to imagination and film history entitled, Hugo. Based on the brilliant "picture novel" by Brian Selznick, it tells the story of the orphan Hugo Cabret, who runs the clocks at and lives within the walls of a 1930s Paris train station. It is a story filled with wild adventures, dazzling visuals, and plenty of imaginative connections to dreams and the history of movie-making. It's no wonder Scorsese wanted to make this timeless and ageless movie. It is a lot of fun, and although I hate wearing 3D glasses in a movie theater, the 3D looks crisp and bright.
Melinda and Melinda (Allen, 2004)
Woody Allen's fairly recent and great literal comedy/tragedy stars Radha Mitchell as the title character of two simultaneous stories, one a light romantic comedy, the other a dark tragedy. Will Ferrell does a great neurotic Allen-esque character in the comedy portion, spouting great one-liners. The darker half features solid performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chloe Sevigny. It is one of Woody Allen's best later movies alongside Match Point and 2011's best (on my list), Midnight in Paris.
Temple Grandin (Jackson, 2010)
The story of real-life Colorado State professor, livestock expert, and autism advocate Temple Grandin. It features an incredible performance by Claire Danes as the title character and great supporting work from David Strathairn, Catherine O'Hara, and Julia Ormond. For my full review, click here.
Horrible Bosses (Gordon, 2011)
Dirty, raunchy comedy at its best. The lead comedic performances by Jason Batemen, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis are brilliantly matched by unexpected villainous performances by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and the most dirty-mouthed Jennifer Aniston there has ever been, no doubt. For my full review, click here.
Get Him to the Greek (Stoller, 2010)
Russell Brand is back from 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall as rock-icon, party boy Aldous Snow. The chemistry between Brand as Snow and Jonah Hill as record-company stooge Aaron Green is remarkable and very fun to watch. The movie quickly glides through a few days of drug and alcohol-feuled binges as Aaron must get Aldous to the Greek Theater for a revival performance as sober as possible.
Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)
Paul Thomas Anderson's magnum opus, an ode to television and a study of how the past sins of parents have a long-lasting effect on their children, still holds up well and is still the smoothest running three-hour movie I've seen. The cast is riddled with early-Anderson regulars. John C. Reilly as the lonely L.A. cop, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the care-giver to a dying TV mogul played by the great Jason Robards, Julianne Moore as Robards' trophy wife struggling with her own sins, and William H. Macy as former Quiz Kid Donnie Smith battling with his own adult failures and sexuality. Magnolia also features Tom Cruise's best performance as a sleazy motivational speaker named Frank T.J. Mackey, who wrote the book on how to get guys laid. The film begins with a genius opening sequence of coincidences and chance narrated by Ricky Jay and closes with one of the most original and mind-boggling weather disasters ever captured on film.
Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)
Tarantino's first feature film is one of those with so many iconic movie moments it's hard to keep count. The dialogue he is now so famous for starts here, and the amount of blood and violence is only out-done by Tarantino's later Kill Bill. With performances from a great ensemble cast, including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, and the evil Michael Madsen, it is essential viewing. So get ready for 90 minutes of severed ears, gun-shot wounds, f-bombs, and K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies and enjoy!
We Bought a Zoo (Crowe, 2011)
Cameron Crowe's first feature since the flopping disaster called Elizabethtown. We Bought a Zoo is based on the true story of Benjamin Mee (played here by Matt Damon), a widower with a middle school aged son and younger daughter who takes a gamble and re-opens a struggling zoo in Southern California. Scarlett Johannson plays the obvious love interest as one of the zookeepers. It is a bit formulaic and apparent, but it's nice to see Matt Damon is role like this. In fact, the acting is solid all around, and this is good movie "family" movie as well with a great soundtrack, which one would expect from a Cameron Crowe film.
Terri (Jacobs, 2011)
Director Azazel Jacobs came out of nowhere with this odd, little slice-of-life about an obese teenager and his struggles with growing-up, dealing with a hard home-life and his first big crush. For my full review, click here.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989)
Maybe Woody Allen's best movie and the direct pre-cursor to the previously discussed Melinda and Melinda and Match Point, Crimes and Misdemeanors follows an ensemble of inter-connected characters through an ingenious plot that deals with crimes and guilt and romantic comedy and life decisions. Martin Landau plays a successful opthamologist, who is forced to "deal" with a love affair gone wrong, while Allen himself plays a down-on-his-luck documentary filmmaker charged with making a puff-piece for PBS about his smooth-talking, arrogant, filthy-rich TV producer brother-in-law played by the great Alan Alda, who both end up vying for the same woman, another TV producer played by Mia Farrow. Crimes and Misdemeanors is funny, tragic, and leaves you with plenty to think about.
The Descendants (Payne, 2011)
This is another one of my favorite movies from 2011. Alexander Payne's first feature since the great 2004 film Sideways, The Descendants follows George Clooney as Matt King, an heir to one of the first white, Hawaiian land-owning families. He must simultaneously manage the selling of a plot of untouched Hawaiian land and his two teenaged daughters as they endure two family crises. Payne has a knack for creating realistic characters, grounded in a real-world of uncomfortable, yet comical situations and harsh truths about the human experience.
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Weide, 2011)
Robert B. Weide's PBS documentary on the life and work of Woody Allen is a must-see for any Allen fan. Through it's nearly 4-hour run time, we see the childhood, coming-of-age, and whole career of Woody Allen. It goes into detail about his transformation from a joke and gag writer for stand-ups and TV acts to stand-up comic himself to slapstick filmmaker to true auteur. It also examines Allen's writing process and directing style with interviews from producers, writers, actors, directors ranging from Diane Keaton to Josh Brolin to Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson to Martin Scorsese. The scandal with Mia Farrow and Allen's struggle with the spotlight are also on display and not at all glossed-over.