From Christmas Day to New Years, this final week of 2011 was spent devouring every last film of the year that I possibly could. I watched a lot. But not everything. I just couldn't find the time to get to Steve McQueen's Shame. But I did finally watch It's A Wondeful Life.
MOVIES OF THE WEEK!
It's A Wonderful Life: Christmas Day 2011 with the In-Laws. It took 32 years before I saw this film. Why? Not sure. Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey struggles to escape the confines of small town America and the family business but his conscience in the face of adversity never lets it happen. This eventually leads to a nearly catastrophic mental breakdown and near suicide, but his Guardian Angel swoops down in time to show him the importance of his life. The film has one of the most ridiculously happy endings ever pressed onto celluloid, but I dare you not to get a lump in your throat at all the climactic good cheer. My Jimmy Stewart will always be the sexually depraved Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo but I can see why most imagine the icon of Frank Capra's film.
Blackthorn: "Damn You, Butch Cassidy!!" Sam Shephard stars as the fabled outlaw who survived his cliffhanger showdown with the Bolivian Army and lived out his years as a prosperous rancher. His criminal past catches up with him after he helps a Spanish thief escape the clutches of a mining posse. Blackthorn will not be remembered as one of the great Westerns, but like 2008's Appaloosa it is an exempleary execution of the genre and Sam Shephard is magnificent as the life-gone-by cowboy. A true shame that this went direct-to-dvd in 2011.
War Horse: A boy and his horse. Steven Spielberg relies heavily on long, preening dolly shots of animals and John Williams' preachy score to convey emotions that don't appear to be present. Your only hope of enjoyment is to keep your hipster irony at home and I found that to be quite difficult when sight gags are being tossed about the terrors of No Man's Land. There are some beautiful bits of cinematography and staging present and the period work is top notch, but this is minor Spielberg at best--put it right up there with Always...yeash.
We Bought A Zoo: Six years after the atrocious too cute, too clever, desperately "quirky" romcom blather Elizabethtown, this latest effort from director Cameron Crowe is an enjoyable enough situational comedy with another charming performance from Matt Damon and a surprisingly acceptable turn from Scarlet Johansson. Wow, that last rambling sentence reads all kinds of passive aggressive--but dammit, I desperately miss the seemingly effortless witty play present in past Crowe vehicles like Almost Famous and Say Anything. Frankly, I wish Crowe would stretch himself outside his comfort zone like his attempt with Vanilla Sky. We Bough A Zoo is just another played-out relationship comedy with an adorable forced setting. It's a fun night at the movies, sure. But it's also easily dismissed.
Burke and Hare: There is a definite glimmer of old John Landis inside Burke & Hare--it's not The Blues Brothers Landis or even The Three Amigos Landis, but! it's almost the Spies LIke Me Landis and that's good enough for me. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis have enough of an allure together and Landis revels in the perverse comedy of the gore, obviously trying to capture some of that dark Ladykillers humor. There are several good laughs to be found and it really is fun to see Tom Wilkenson, Tim Curry, Isla Fisher, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett, etc juggle the grisly absurdity. And, of course, it's got those friendly Landis Face credits that I love so much!
Cave of Fogotten Dreams: Werner Herzog and his tiny crew venture into France's Chauvet Cave to explore the untouched cave paintings of early man (30,000 years ago). The documentary allows for some rather amazing Herzogian blather that is impossible not to enjoy, but I might not have been in the right headspace to undertake some of these heady concepts. Cave of Forgotten Dreams definitely gave me some serious insight into all those iguana shots plopped into The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Albino Mutant Alligators, man.
The Artist: : Believe the hype, The Artist is not just a gimmicky silent film about silent films. Director Michel Hazanavicius revels in the world of the silent filmmaking (geeking-out on all manner of classic cinema), but uses the nearly forgotten genre as a means to show off the power of performance and visual storytelling. Jean Dujardin as the recently irrelevant film star George Valentin is brilliant; the man is all charm when on top, but as his star falls his ability to display failure is heartbreaking. An easy fit into my Top Ten of 2011.
The Trip: Oh man, this is pure Brit comedy. And it's painful. And it's damn funny. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves once again as they travel through the North of England hitting up one bed & breakfast after the other. When they're not having Michael Caine Offs or belittling each other's current level of artistic success, they're discovering the meaning of their lives. Cheers, mates.
Horrible Bosses: Three Stooges Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day hate their bosses. Kevin Spacey does his Swimming With Sharks mega a-hole routine and it's a solid villain role. Colin Farrell chomps large chunks of ham as the comb-overed, kung fu coke fiend. But Jennifer Aniston pretty much steals the show as the sexual predator dentist constantly on the prowl for Charlie Day's engaged man meat. The Strangers on a Train murder plot offers up plenty of shenanigan laughs and I appreciate the minimal use of gross out humor.
Margin Call: Set over the course of 24 hours within the confines of an investment firm just as the 2008 financial implosion set off, Margin Call is a solid bit of performance entertainment in which you can watch solid actors like Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Stanley Tucci go at each other as their lives crumble around them. The film fails to knock your socks off cuz the plot and the outcome is all rather obvious but sometimes its fun just to watch actors act.
Colombiana: Zoe Saldana puts on her oh-so-serious face and marches about with a variety of ridiculously large machine guns in yet another attempt of female badassery from Luc Besson by way of the delightfully named director Olivier Megaton. Colombiana is all standard hit(wo)man a-b-c action and even though it killed a couple of hours relatively painlessly I'm not that greatful. There are plenty of better flicks of this ilk out there. And Michael Vartan needs to keep his pointless ass outta my movies.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron excels as a psychotic bitch YA author on the prowl to steal her old flame from the clutches of his wife and new baby. Attempting to belittle sense into her tiny brain is Patton Oswalt's sad, dumpy cripple who manages to swing for the geek fences with sharp biting wit and plenty of home brew Star Wars Juice. Young Adult is probably my least favorite of the Jason Reitman flicks, but it still manages to be one of the year's best films and another jewel in Theron's crown. Painful, horrendous humor in which lessons should be learned but aren't.