Saturday, February 25, 2012

'The Movies of 2011: The Year of the Female'

'The Movies of 2011: The Year of the Female'

2011 was a typical year for movies, the superhero movie still rules (well at least some of them), all romantic comedies pretty much stink now and the Hollywood Blockbuster is mediocre at best for the most part. It seems as always that the Independent Film is where you find quality but that doesn't mean the Hollywood machine is totally void. My favorite movie of 2011 was a big Hollywood comedy and a few other movies on my list have big budgets. It is still fun to go to the movies and the 3D annoyance actually doesn't bother me anymore. Everything is a matter of opinion and my lists here are not concrete, can change and some of my favorites you will not like and some I don't care for you might like. Heck my pick for worst movie of 2011 has defenders even though I think they are nuts.

2011 though had something a little different, women are starting to make a dent in sexist Hollywood. One of the biggest moneymakers of 2011 was written by two brillant women and had a mostly female cast. This was also a movie that gave the women something the men usually get and that is a vulgar comedy where women get to have all the fun. "Bridesmaids" was the movie and I was happy to see the women get to be vulgar, funny and in charge of a movie. "Bridesmaids" making all that movie can only mean one thing, now Hollywood will greenlight more female centric movies and more women will be encouraged to write and direct more movies. Vera Farmiga with her debut "Higher Ground" joins Kathryn Bigelow and Angelina Jolie at proving women are great directors. We will see what happens because we all know how fads and trends happen all the time and change in Hollywood. Now there are still actresses that get heard from and are given clout in Hollywood but there is still ground to be made up. You still get men over 40 getting to pick and choose any role they want and women over 40 get ignored and pushed aside by younger actresses. There are only a few Meryl Streeps and Sandra Bullocks. The flip side is that there are so many amazing and promising actresses bursting on the scene and maybe they will usher in a new era of female power in film.

'The New Generation'

There seems to be more new wonderful new actresses and actors bursting on to the scene more than any time I can remember. This is actually the most promising group of young actresses I have ever seen and it starts with young actresses that came out a few year ago and are even getting better. I will start with the actresses because this is an awesome group.

1.) Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams is a brilliant actress and there is a vulnerability there that fits her perfectly for her performance as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn". The movie was a little flawed but she was incredible nailing Monroe's insecurities and vulnerability flawlessly. Add to that her other performance this year in "Meek's Cutoff" and one of the best performances I have ever seen in last year's "Blue Valentine" and you have a brave actress that will make smart choices.

2.) Jessica Chastain

I have never before seen a new actress make such a powerful first impression as I have with Jessica Chastain. First you have her flamboyant but funny and charming performance in "The Help". Then there were her two different wife characters in the powerful "Take Shelter" and "The Tree of Life". In "Tree of Life" Jessica broke my heart as a loving mother and wife who is nurturing to her children as her husband is more strict. In "Take Shelter" she suffers a broken heart and struggles with her husband's psychological torture. Then Jessica proved she could handle Shakespeare with Ralph Fiennes's "Corialonus". Even the straight to DVD "Texas Killing Fields" which was a waste of time but when she is on screen she was on a different plane than the movie and the other actors. Jessica just has that beauty and star power in her and I expect big things. It is a testament to her ability that she was in all those movies this year and I am not tired of her and I want to see more.

3.) Kristen Wiig

I am completely in love with Kristen Wiig more than any other actress since Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer. Kristen Wiig is completely brilliant in the badly written "SNL". She amazes me with all her brilliant creations of characters that are miles ahead of the rest of that program. She is now becoming as legendary as Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball and Imogene Coca. I would love to see her get her own sketch comedy on television just like Burnett and she should be the head writer on it. Her performance in "Bridesmaids" is brilliant and it is a travesty that she was not nominated for an Oscar. She was not only funny in that movie but she made her character deep and lovable even when she does so much wrong. Not only did she give an amazing performance but she co wrote one of the funniest comedies I have ever seen. The screenplay was not only funny but touching, honest and delightfully vulgar. Kristen might have just changed the game for aspiring female comedy writers and actresses.

4.) Viola Davis

Viola Davis has been in so many more movies than people realize. I just saw her performance in a movie from the early 90's. Viola emerged big time equalling the great Meryl Streep with her small but powerful role and performance in "Doubt". The mark of a great actress is when that actress is in so much and then people recognize her in every thing she is in. Viola Davis is a strong stage actress and in movies she does what I love the best, not call attention to herself and dissapear into her character. Viola is the front runner for Best Actress at the Oscars. Before she wasn't the front runner and now it would be a travesty if she didn't win. Her performance in "The Help" was the most grounded and subtly powerful performance in the movie and of the year.

5.) Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga started as a captivating supporting actress in a lot of movies. She then burst onto the scene with a small but vital performance in "The Departed". She really got noticed for her Oscar nominated performance in "Up in the Air". She was a perfect match for George Clooney in that movie giving a very sexy and charming performance finally giving her star power. Now Vera has made her directorial debut with "Higher Ground" and her directing is assured and amazing for a first timer. Her performance is equally as great as her directing. She not only has star potential but she proves she can direct and we need more female directors. "Higher Ground" is first and foremost a women's picture and she does an inspiring job.

6.) Elizabeth Olsen

Just like Jessica Chastain, Elizabeth Olsen gave her first big lead performance in a movie and she acted like she had been doing this for years. Her performance in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" was heartbreaking, natural and assured. Her performance came out of left field what with her family ties and all. Now she is proving to be the real deal and I just saw the trailer for her new movie and it looks like she is going to give another wonderful performance.

7.) Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan had already given a performance that was so captivating, charming and graceful that it made me think about Audrey Hepburn. The movie was "An Education" and she now had my full attention after that. She gave one of the strongest but most under rated performances of 2011 in "Shame" equalling the fine work of her co star Michael Fassbender. She can do lead roles and supporting roles and she has a big screen beauty and charm that equals the legendary Hollywood actresses.

8.) Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara had a very tiny part but made such a huge impression in "The Social Network". The one big scene she had in that movie hit me like a ton of bricks making me ask the question "Who was that?". Then she shows up later in the movie and breaks our heart with one shot and one move. We will miss her after that and that is saying something in such an amazing movie. Rooney Mara this year gave a different, brave and challenging performance in David Fincher's version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". She totally dissapeared and buried herself in this non showy role creating a quiet power. I have now seen Mara look graceful and beautiful and I have also seen her dig deep in a painful and tormented character and she does both incredibly well.

9.) Adepero Oduye

I don't know if Adepero will get many more chances to shine in a movie but she should be proud of her shining performance in "Pariah". This is a role we don't see that much, that of a teenage lesbian struggling with her sexuality. Her performance is just as blistering and powerful as Gabourney Sidibe's in "Precious". I know there are many opportunities and roles out there for her because her performance in "Pariah" is a once in a lifetime debut performance.

You will hear about these wonderful new forces in acting a lot in the next decade and I guarantee that with no reservations. I can not forget the men though starting with the flip side of the breathtaking Jessica Chastain.

1.) Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender gave two peformances awhile back that I will never forget and no one has seen them. GO RENT THEM NOW! The first was a powerful performance in "Hunger" as Bobby Sands. Fassbender lost about 50 pounds for this role and it is an extremely brave and powerful performance. Then he gave a captivating supporting performance in the Indie masterpiece "Fish Tank". You might know him better as a German soldier in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds". He had a small role but he made as big as an impression as Brad Pitt did in that movie. In "Shame" Fassbender got a lot of notice for his full frontal nudity but what got lost was a towering, impactful lead performance that reminded me of Brando. He has given so many brave performances and has such a magnetism and star power that he might be the biggest thing in this following decade!

2.) Michael Shannon

The city of Chicago should be proud of their hometown actor, the best actor ever to come out of Chicago in my opinion. Yes Shannon has picked all very dark roles to play but he doesn't get typecast at all. He gave the most under rated and bigger than life performance in "The Runaways" and he should have won the Oscar. He started out on the Chicago stage and there is an intensity and frailty there that is mesmerizing. He has given the most fascinating performance of the whole cast of greats in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire". He also in my opinion has given the best performance by an actor in 2011 with "Take Shelter". I just want to see that movie again and again to study what Shannon does in that role. There is a lot going on there in his eyes and we can see so many different emotions stirring inside him and he never goes over the top. Michael Shannon has given the most intense performance I have seen in ages!

3.) Kyle Chandler

Kyle Chandler should have won the Emmy every year for his heartbreaking and charismatic perfromance in "Friday Night Lights". I see so much star potential in Kyle who has been around for a long time in TV and now it should be in movies. In "Super 8" Chandler gives another touching performance and it is a supporting role but he has to be given a star vehicle based on that. Chandler is just as natural and effective as George Clooney is and he has been working just as long.

4.) Joseph Gordon Levitt

Joseph Gordon Levitt has been amazing for such a long time and I have been touting him as the best actor of his generation. He has done great in many small roles like "Inception" and he is that rare example of a child actor who turned out amazing. He was captivating and charming in "500 Days of Summer" a few years back so he can do romantic comedy. Joseph came out this year with two great performances in such different types of movies. He took a stoner character in the under rated "Hesher" and fleshed him out giving us a deeper character than we would expect. He was also amazing in the surprisingly deep and powerful "50/50". He was funny, vulnerable, heartbreaking and charming in a movie and performance that came out of left field and touched our soul. I still stand by my prediction that Levitt will win many awards and be the best actor of his generation because he is a smart actor that has it all.

5.) John Hawkes

John Hawkes is the best character actor I have ever seen in movies in ages. His scary and quietly powerful performance as a cult leader in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" was effective. Add to that his even scarier and intense performance in "Winter's Bone" and you have a supporting character actor that can do anything. Hawkes did show a lot of intensity and hate in those performances but he also gave them a strange, hypnotic charm as well.

Now it is time to give you the fair, the bad, the good and the absolute greatness of the year in movies:

Worst Movies of 2011

19.) Drive Angry

Ncholas Cage makes another "B" movie that is loud, noisy and obnoxious. Does Cage know that the classic "B" movies of the 70's and 80's were actually competent?

18.) Dream House

This is a confusing horror thriller with Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz that looks like it was ruined in the editing room.

17.) The Sitter

Jonah Hill was great in "Superbad" and he will be given comedies that are copies of that comedy classic and he just has to learn to say no now that he is an Oscar nominee.

16.) The Mechanic

A very ugly, viscious, crummy and unncessary remake that spews a lot of hate towards it's characters and it is not a fun time. There is a way to do an impact action thriller and this is the total opposite way to do it.

15.) I Am Number 4

Thanks "Twilight" movies for starting the new trend of the brooding teenager fantasy film that is cheesy, lifeless and depressing.

14.) Sanctum

Bad dialogue, a lot of screaming, unintentional laughs and an action adventure more boring than watching paint dry.

13.) The Roommate

I have seen this movie before, the crazy roommmate that turns psycho and tries to take over her roommate's life, killing others in the process. Yes, I think the last time I saw this type of movie was 1992!

12.) Jack and Jill

Adam Sandler plays Jack and Jill so we get a double treat of bad, hammy acting! Yay! I love Adam Sandler but he is getting very lazy, he is on this list two times!

11.) The Change-Up

Another body switch movie which was a genre that was over with like in the 80's! I thought I was watching a porno movie but porno movies are funnier and have better acting!

Now here are the 10 Worst Movies of 2011:

10.) Mr. Popper's Penguins Jim Carrey

It was either this or "Zookeeper" and it was close but seeing penguins poop and dance creeped me out big time!

9.) Sucker Punch

Please if you want to give us a movie based on comic strips with amazing visuals and half naked women that is super boring just make the women totally naked next time.

8.) Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood has to be saying to herself why the hell does Alice get Tim Burton and Snow White gets Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron and I get a stupid animated comedy and the dumb asses that wrote this crap!

7.) Immortals

After one pretty cool visual this movie becomes monotonous and garish and unintentionally funny. I felt like they had one scene of a warrior chopping the head off another and repeated that scene over and over for 2 hours. That is all this movie is and I want my head back!

6.) Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Ugh! That is what I said after hearing there is going to be a fourth Transformers movie. The worst movie ever filmed in Chicago gave me a splitting headache and then bored me to tears. How can I be watching an action movie that I can't follow? It is all a jumbled heap of metal smashed together!

5.) Apollo 18

Wow! This is the shoddiest, most amateurish, dullest and laughable movie ever made. A child in first grade could shoot a better movie than this. This is supposed to be scary? It makes "The Blair Witch Project" look like "Citizen Kane".

4.) The Green Hornet

The worst superhero movie ever made and that includes 1984's "Supergirl".

3.) Just Go With It

Adam Sandler is just being arrogant now with this insipid, "Three's Company" rip off. Actually "Three's Company" is Shakespeare compared to this turkey. This is very obnoxious and completely phony and extremely unfunny.

2.) New Year's Eve

I will spare you again my ten reasons why this movie is so bad, just look up my review on this blog. I will tell you that this is the worst romantic comedy ever made until the next one comes out.

1.) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This is why I hate the Academy Awards sometimes, movies like this that shamelessly manipulate us by making a pretentious, phony movie like EL & IC. I knew I was in trouble when we see slow motion shots of people jumping out windows during the 9/11 attacks. At the center of this movie is the fakest portrayl of a child with a mental condition I have ever seen. The story doesn't make any sense, the scenes are jumbled together without any continuity. The New York portrayed in this movie is a fantasy land. When you take a movie about 9/11 and turn it into a manipulative fantasy I get queasy. If this kid was in the real New York City by himself he would have been dead after a half hour. Then you get the strangest and most ridiculous, impossible ending you could ever imagine. This is the worst Best Picture nominee since "Gandhi", "Out of Africa" and "Chariots of Fire". Correct that, this is the worst Best Picture nominee ever and one of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is the way NOT TO MAKE A TEARJERKER! YUCK!

Okay now that I have taken a shower here is my list of fairly good movies that I can't reccomend fully but have some good qualities:

1.) Take Me Home Tonight

This is better than I thought it would be, an 80's throwback, a John Hughes lite.

2.) Battle: Los Angeles

Not as bad as advertised and ten times better than the Transformers crap.

3.) Paul

Goofy Alien comedy with the always entertaining Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

4.) The Music Never Stopped

I love the always wonderful JK Simmons in anything

5.) Insidous

I wanted to really like this Poltergeist type thriller but it has a weak ending but it barely misses the mark.

6.) Arthur

A needless remake but I really like Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig here.

7.) Scream 4

Better than Scream 1 and 3 but not Scream 2

8.) That's What I Am

Yes this WWE produced movie about bullying is actually not half bad thanks to Ed Harris and a wrestler that actually has a future in movies, Randy Orton. Ten times better than EL & IC.

9.) Hobo With a Shotgun

A throwback to over the top, gory horror movies like the old Troma movies and "The Re-Animator" but misses the latter's fun spirit, it needed to be less ugly.

10.) Crazy,Stupid,Love

I didn't like this movie but after thinking about it I can't get Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and the beautiful Emma Stone out of my mind. Star Power!

11.) Ides of March

This fails as a political drama but Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are worth the price of admission.

12.) The Big Year

This movie is way too light and fluffy but Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin make a fun and charming trio.

13.) The Rum Diary

The location work is warm and sunny and Johnny Depp gives one of his old school, quirky performances that works.

14.) Corialonus

A`modern day take on one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays. I like director Ralph Fiennes's gritty attempt but didn't fall in love with it. Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain give great performances.

15.) Young Adult

I was dissapointed in the latest effort by Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. I expected more but Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are awesome.

16.) The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep is amazing but the movie fails her.

Now here are the good movies of 2011:

1.) Barney's Version

Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman are really good here.

2.) Housemaid

Quirky, off beat drama from Japan

3.) Cedar Rapids

Ed Helms headlines this quirky character driven comedy about life in a dead end town. Also you get another superb comic performance by John C Reilly.

4.) Unknown

Liam Neeson is back in middle age man kicks ass mode.

5.) Putty Hill

Smartly improvised indie drama with a young cast that performs flawlessly without a screenplay. These are characters you never see on screen. Set in Baltimore with great location work.

6.) Of Gods and Men

Intersting curio about priests struggling with their stance on peace in war torn Algeria.

7.) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives

Very weird, surreal and strange but like nothing you have ever seen before.

8.) Jane Eyre

Mia Warsikowska and Michael Fassbender give amazing performances here.

9.) Limitless

Bradley Cooper does an admirable job in this fast paced thriller that is fun.

10.) The Lincoln Lawyer

Mattew McConaughey is very effective her in this fun Grisham like legal thriller.

11.) Source Code

Creative and zippy fantasy thriller that is forgettable but really fun to try to figure out when watching.

12.) Queen to Play

A fun and charming battle of wits with Kevin Kline who is a lot of fun to watch here.

13.) Hanna

This weird cult like action thriller has great, crisp action scenes and a wonderful score by The Chemical Brothers. You also get an impressive Soarise Ronan as Hanna and one of the most beautiful women in the World in Cate Blanchett who makes a weird character with weird hair and a thick Southern accent work. Could become a cult classic.

14.) Meek's Cutoff

Strange, surreal Western that gets major points for originality and it has Michelle Williams.

15.) Soul Surfer

Inspiring real life drama that will inspire and get major points from a young female audience. Anna Sophia Robb is charming.

16.) Water For Elephants

Dreamy romance movie with a radiant Reese Witherspoon, a brooding Robert Pattinson and a delightful Christoph Waltz.

17.) 13 Assassins

Violent and gritty Samurai Warrior movie with an intense action packed final 45 minutes. "The Immortals" could take some notes.

18.) Jumping the Broom

A drama with a mostly African American cast and for those that like what Tyler Perry is doing but can't stand his movies and his sense of style.

19.) The Beaver

Mel Gibson bounces back with a great performance in an off putting movie that still works because of the performances and Jodie Foster's sensitive direction.

20.) THOR

A very crowded but charming and fun superhero movie with Natalie Portman and a very charming Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

21.) Hesher

Joseph Gordon Levitt takes your typical drug dealing stoner and gives him something special. This is a surprisingly good, highly original movie.

22.) Kung Fu Panda 2

I like this better than the first one because it has a more pro family focus.

23.) Beginners

The performances are wonderful even if the movie left me wanting more. A very peaceful, effective drama and wonderful for giving the long overdue Christopher Plummer an Oscar nomination.

24.) Submarine

Another well appreciated attempt at originality with a quirky sense of humor. It reminds me of "Harold and Maude" though much darker and twisted.

25.) The Trip

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take a delightful and funny road trip and stop to talk a lot. This is for those people who hate "My Dinner With Andre" like me but love a talky film when it is done right. Coogan and Brydon give a lot of amazing, spot on impersonations.

26.) A Better Life

Damien Bechir is wonderful and touching in this effective drama about immigration but more importantly the love between a father and his son.

27.) Horrible Bosses

This comedy has a lot of big laughs and a huge potential new star in Charlie Day. Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston are wonderful and hilarious here.

28.) Captain America: First Avenger

An old fashioned superhero movie like the old serials of the 40's. Great action, a great villain and a charming superhero.

29.) Friends With Benefits

I love Mila Kunis a lot and she is funny, charming and beautiful here and I also love Justin Timberlake who has surprised me more than any celebrity ever has. Woody Harrelson and Patrica Clarkson give scene stealing performances.

30.) Sarah's Key

This is the movie that "The Reader" should have been instead of being cheap manipulation. Kristin Scott Thomas is beautiful and great in everything she does.

31.) Cowboys & Aliens

A lot of movie goers disliked this movie and were dissapointed by it. I think it should have been much better but deserves major points for originality in my book.

32.) Attack the Block

Great, funny and quickly paced british sleeper about aliens attacking some tough street kids and meeting their match.

33.) Another Earth

A very surreal mind trip that I crave for a lot these days and never get. This is very original and makes you think. Do you sense a trend here on my lists? Originality!

34.) Rise Against the Planet of the Apes

Surprisingly good, fast paced and fun action movie and Andy Serkis gets my special Snavely Acting honor for his ape performances with human like facial expressions.

35.) The Guard

I love Brendan Gleeson and he is one of my favorite actors. He is great in everything and he gives an Oscar caliber performance here. His chemistry with Don Cheadle is priceless in this slyly funny cop movie.

36.) The Whistleblower

An effective and compelling look at child trafficking that will get under your skin. Rachel Weisz is a plucky, effective and unlikely hero here.

37.) Our Idiot Brother

My absolute favorite Paul Rudd is sweet, funny and amazing here and I love the supporting female cast including an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks and the love of my life Zooey Deschanel.

38.) Bellflower

Hmmm what do you know, another highly original indie drama about two guys really into "Mad Max" and who can blame them. You never know where this movie is going and the spirit here is contagious.

39.) Dolphin Tale

If you love dolphins and you like inspiring based on real life movies that don't suck you will dig this.

40.) Real Steel

Call it the "Rock Em' Sock Em' Robot" movie, call it shamelessly sentimental and noisy. I call it a lot of fun and Hugh Jackman is highly entertaining and full of energy.

41.) Puncture

Chris Evans gives a surprisingly deep and effective performance as a drugged out lawyer trying to right a major wrong. Based on a true life court case and it is a solid "Erin Brockovich" lite legal drama.

42.) The Way

The movie has slow spots but if you are religious you will be moved by this spiritual drama. Martin Sheen gives a very solid performance and Emilio Estevez has directed his first solid movie after two tries. A great father/son bonding movie.

43.) Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

This delightful, gory, very funny spoof of slasher movies is highly entertaining and very dumb in a smart way. For those of you who love the "Evil Dead' movies.

44.) The Skin I Live In

A lesser effort from Pedro Almodovar but still effective and creepy with a eerie performance by Antonio Banderas.

45.) Paranormal Activity 3

I am still shocked that these movies still work on me after three of them but they sure do!

46.) Harold & Kumar Save Christmas

So wrong, so stupid but so funny and much better than the last H & K movie.

47.) My Week With Marilyn

The movie barely registers with me for I find the movie is too much fluff and the lead male character is a bore. That being said Michelle Williams is pitch perfect, amazing and incredibly so much like the real Marilyn Monroe!

48.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman gives one of his best performances of his career with his quiet but subtly effective portrayl of John LeCarre's master spy George Smiley. This movie takes it's time but it spins a very solid spy yarn. Great supporting cast of great performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.

The Snavely Awards

These are my acting awards that I give out to the actors who get overlooked like most of us do at our jobs. These are my unstrung heroes of acting and most of them did not receive any award recognition in 2011. There are actors on my list that did get the award recognition and I happy to include them with my under rated actors. Sometimes I don't think there should be one actor who wins the award. I think the Oscars should extend their 5 Best Acting lists to 10 instead of the movies but I guess I am stupid for saying that, who knows. That way comedy can be recognized in the lead acting awards instead of just the supporting roles. Though I don't mean being stupid and splitting it into comedic and then dramatic performance categories. That is the same B. S. as only having five nominees. Oh if I ran the Academy? Without further ado her are the Snavely Award winners. Everyone is a winner to me.

Best Supporting Female Actor

1.) Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
2.) Jessica Chastain in The Help
3.) Emma Stone in Crazy,Stupid,Love
4.) Toni Collete in Fright Night
5.) Dimicka Dodzmarek in Higher Ground
6.) Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
7.) Judy Greer in The Descendants
8.) Berenice Bejo in The Artist
9.) Carey Mulligan in Shame
10.) Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs
11.) Octavia Spencer in The Help
12.) Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses

Hey that is twelve and enough to make a list of ten, what do you know. My personal favorite performances are McCarthy, Bejo, Spencer and Chastain.

'Best Supporting Male Actor

1.) Ned Beatty in Rampart
2.) JK Simmons in The Music Never Stopped
3.) Christopher Plummer in Beginners
4.) Charlie Day in Horrible Bosses
5.) Colin Farrell in Horrible Bosses
6.) John C Reilly in Terri
7.) Woody Harrelson in Friends With Benefits
8.) Ryan Gosling in Crazy,Stupid,Love
9.) William Mapother in Another Earth
10.) Don Cheadle in The Guard
11.) Nick Nolte in Warrior
12.) Albert Brooks in Drive
13.) Jonah Hill in Moneyball
14.) Paul Giamatti in Ides of March
15.) Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Ides of March
16.) John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene
17.) James Cromwell in The Artist
18.) Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method
19.) Patton Oswalt in Young Adult
20.) Stellan Skarsgard in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
21.) Niels Arestrup in War Horse

My personal favorites are Plummer, Nolte, Brooks and Hawkes but Plummer is probably the best but I really loved Brooks in "Drive"..

Best Lead Male Actor

1.) Michael Fassbender in Shame
2.) Mel Gibson in The Beaver
3.) Joseph Gordon Levitt in 50/50 and Hesher
4.) Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris
5.) Brad Pitt in Tree of Life and Moneyball
6.) Michael Sheen in Beautiful Boy
7.) Kyle Chandler in Super 8
8.) Damien Bechir in A Better Life
9.) Colin Ferrell in Fright Night
10.) Woody Harrelson in Rampart
11.) Ryan Gosling in Drive
12.) Brendan Gleeson in The Guard
13.) Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
14.) Kevin Spacey in Margin Call
15.) Leonardo DiCaprio in J Edgar
16.) George Clooney in The Descendants
17.) Jean Dujardin in The Artist
18.) Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
19.) Peyman Maadi in A Separation

My personal favorites are Pitt in both his roles but more for Tree of Life, Shannon, Clooney, Judardin, Harrelson, Fassbender but my hands down winner is actually Michael Shannon with Brad Pitt in Tree of Life a close second followed by Harrelson, Judardin and then Clooney. What a great year for the men!

Best Lead Female Actor

1.) Mia Warsikowska in Jane Eyre and Albert Nobbs
2.) Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids
3.) Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life and Take Shelter
4.) Maria Bello in Beautiful Boy
5.) Viola Davis in The Help
6.) Vera Farmiga in Higher Ground
7.) Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene
8.) Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
9.) Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn
10.) Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin
11.) Charlize Theron in Young Adult
12.) Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
13.) Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
14.) Adepero Oduye in Paraiah
15.) Leila Hatami in A Separation

Wow! This is the first time my female list almost matches my male list. It is official then, women are coming back!

My personal favorites are Wiig, Davis, Olsen, Streep, Swinton, Chastain and Williams though I have a 3 way tie for the best and they are Kristen Wiig, Viola Davis and Tilda Swinton.

Before I start my list of the very best of 2011 I always look at the wonderful documentaries of 2011 because they are so vital to movie making today. When I saw the powerful "Interrupters" at the Music Box theatre in Chicago and listened to Steve James say that now more than any other time in film documentaries these days can cover every genre I couldn't agree more. Here are four documentaries that I found fascinating this past year.

1.) Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog captured nature so beautifully with this awe inspiring 3D journey into mysterious caves and the etchings left on these caves from centruies ago. A visual treat!

2.) Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

A fascinating and funny look at my favorite late night TV show host ever. We get to look at the brilliance of Conan after he was disrespected by NBC and went on his own comedy tour. We get to see the real O'Brien, a little arrogant, a little bit of a workaholic but a very funny man who is supportive and dedicated to his staff. He really can't stop trying to perform and we love him for it.

3.) Project Nim

A fascinating look at chimpanzees and the foolish and wrong headed decision to try to raise a certain chimp as a human being. It is a intriguing look at nature vs. nurture. I love the relationship between Nim and one of the human handlers as a beautiful friendship is developed and tested.

4.) Buck

You will never meet a more decent, caring and loving, sweet man than Buck who was the inspiration for Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer". Buck was raised with an abusive father and instead of channeling that in anger and destructive ways he used his anger to treat others better. His way with horses is beautiful and loving and fascinating.

Now I have my list of 37 movies that are the best of the best from 2011. I do agree with my idol Roger Ebert that lists are silly but I like to do them. These are all a matter of my opinion and lists can change. This is more of a guide for me so I can keep track and revisit each of these movies again and again. No movie on this list is better than the other and all are equally worthy.

37.) Fright Night

Colin Farrell gives a performance that is better than it should be in this surprisingly excellent remake of the 80's cult classic. It is a lot of fun, looks great, is sexy, funny and a bloody great time. One of the best horror movies of 2011.

36.) Incendies

This Canadian powerhouse drama dealing with two Middle Eastern twins looking to uncover family secrets is very touching and powerful in spots and finally heartbreaking.

35.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The final and best entry in the iconic fantasy series is everything we hoped for and a touching and powerful climax. Sort of reminds me of the power of "The Empire Strikes Back". We have seen Harry and Ron and Hermione grow up before our eyes and have embraced them. It has been a wonderful journey ending in appropriate darkness but finally culminating in hope.

34.) Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

This Tsui Hsark film is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous and eye popping fantasies I have ever seen. This movie should have been nominated for and should have won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, how did it slip by everyone?

33.) J Edgar

Clint Eastwood made this cold, intriguing look at J Edgar and I did learn a lot about the man. The movie has slipped in my mind since I saw it beacuse it was hard to embrace but I can't deny Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing as J Edgar and Armie Hammer is equally great.

32.) War Horse

This sumptous and gorgeous looking throwback to the films of John Ford has gained in popularity in my mind lately. It has a touching boy/horse love and friendship story. It has a beautiful score, breathtaking cinematography and a great scene as the horse gets trapped in barb wire. The war material though is old hat and uninteresting when it deals with the humans.

31.) We Bought a Zoo

I fell for this sentimental tearjerker and I shouldn't have but Matt Damon is just so damn great here! This is a nice, family movie and I usually would cringe at that but this one works mainly from it's charm. I like the little girl who is sweet and surprisingly not annoying and too cute. I also like the budding relationship of the father and the son and their significant others.

30.) Win Win

Paul Giamatti is again awesome as the everyman who tries to escape the negativity of his sorroundings by coaching his phenom nephew in wrestling and life. The movie mainly works so well because we can identify with Giamatti because he is so likable and just like us.

29.) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The great David Fincher gets a crack at the popular but ordinary serial killer series of books. Fincher does a better job at adapting the book then the Swedish film did. It is an unoriginal story but Lisbeth Salander is one of the most unique and fascinating characters I have ever witnessed. Rooney Mara is a revelation and perfect but Daniel Craig is just good. That might be because Lisbeth deserves better than the man she gets and no one is more intriguing then her.

28.) Shame

Michael Fassbender gives a star making performance that is one of the best of the year. It is a brave performance dealing with sexual addiction. This movie could of had us snickering and shaking our heads but it actually becomes a powerful and compelling drama. When the sister comes into the picture the movie becomes amazing as Carey Mulligan gives an intense and blistering performance. Acting doesn't get much better than Fassbender and Mulligan here.

27.) Warrior

This movie came out of left field and is the best underdog sports movie since "Miracle", "Rocky" and the original "Karate Kid". It is not as awesome as the best of them all, "Breaking Away" but it will make you cheer. I didn't know much about UFC or MMA but I appreciate it more now. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton give star making performances and Nick Nolte gives his best performance in ages.

26.) Terri

This deadpan comedy and sublime coming of age movie is what is so great about independent film. You wouldn't see this much detail and observance in a commercial movie about teenagers and high school. Terri is an obese kid who wears his pajamas to school because it makes him more comfortable. This is an original and touching comedy with a memorable lead character and a wonderful supporting character. That would be the great John C Reilly as the school principal who is more of a friend to Terri than the kids in school are.

Now here are my Top 25:

25.) Margin Call

This is a spellbinding, fascinating and topical movie about our financial crisis today. Kevin Spacey gives one of the best performances of the year as the head of a corporation who finds out about the impending financial collapse of his company and maybe even more. That leads to wonderful backstage intrigue as the rich executives try to avoid the doom that is staring them in the face. If you love movies about stock markets and finance this is a must see.

24.) Melancholia

Kirsten Dunst gives a powerful performance in Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic drama. The movie is visually breathtaking and has a beautiful score but when it gets dark the movie becomes a devastating drama. This movie haunts you and grabs you with first it's beauty and then with it's bleakness and it is Trier's best movie since "Breaking the Waves".

23.) 50/50

This tasteful tearjerker mixed with a funny and vulgar comedy can have you laughing hard one minute and then crying your eyes out the next. Joseph Gordon Levitt gives a wonderful performances as real life Will Reiser who is diagnosed with cancer. This movie feels real not because it is based on a true story but just because it is honest and truthful. The laughs are honest and not afraid to offend and the human drama is extremely touching.

22.) Trust

Director David Schwimmer's outstanding direction is assured and smart with this brave drama dealing with sexual predators and a young woman's sexual abuse. Liana Liberto gives a brave performance as the young women who has to face her parents after the sexual abuse. There are turly heartbreaking and powerful moments between Liberto and Clive Owen as her father. This is a honest movie that pulls no punches and is very realistic.

21.) The Muppets

I had a huge smile on my face after sitting through the delightful and funny return of my childhood idols and friends. Jason Segal has co written a faithful and respectful homage to the spirit of The Muppets. We laugh with them instead of laughing at them. The movie has great music, big laughs and there is a feeling of care and love that seeps through the screen. Welcome back my friends and remember to come back again very soon!

20.) Super 8

This JJ Abrams directed and Steven Spielberg produced alien invasion movie is a cut above the rest. This brought me back to my childhood when these types of movies were innocent, fun, easy to follow and easy to fall in love with. It really didn't matter to me if the big monster here looks cool. I love the small town characters, kids that are actually likable and moments full of awe and terror. Nowadays movies geared towards young adults are tastelees, cluttered and hard to follow with things popping out at you every second. "Super 8" takes it's time, builds up it's characters and suspense and gives us a fun thrill ride.

19.) Pariah

Adepero Oduye gives a natural and powerful performance as a teenage lesbian who is struggling with her sexuality. This is a thoughtful, strong and touching story that we don't get to see often. There used to be movies about young women of different ethnicities and how they struggle with growing up. Not anymore so what makes "Paraiah" special is that it gives us a peek into a life we don't get to experience at the movies at all. Kim Wayans is a revelation here in her first dramatic role.

18.) Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol

This breathtaking and pulse pounding action movie is the best action movie of this year and in many years. Tom Cruise is back in top form with the best Mission Impossible yet. This has what the latest James Bond movie didn't. It has cool gadgets, car chases, fights, humor and a breathtaking scene on the tallest building in the World that is funny, thrilling and breathtaking all at the same time.

17.) Beautiful Boy

Michael Sheen and Maria Bello give under rated and powerful performances as a married couple dealing with the aftermath of their son's shooting up of his school. This is a hard movie to watch but it contains great power and heartbreak and it is worth experiencing just for the acting alone. The movie is quiet and thoughtful as it builds to individual moments of shattering power.

16.) The Help

I didn't expect much from this movie for the trailer made me think this would be a fluffy comedy. I did not read the book so I didn't expect to find a drama full of characters I will never forget. This is a beautiful recreation of the Old South with two amazing performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as two strong women. You also have a debut performance full of such energy and life from Jessica Chastain that it blew me away, I didn't expect a character like that in this movie. I was surprised by the thoughtfulness of the movie and it's respect for the South and it's characters. This is more than the white woman saving the poor old black folks thanks to the towering performance by Viola Davis.

15.) Rampart

Woody Harrelson turns in a blistering and intense performance as very mean, manipulative and dirty cop Dave Brown in this different type of cop drama. "Rampart" is different because it is more interested in Dave's unconventional family life. This is an original character and an original movie about police corruption with Harrelson's best performance of his career so far.

14.) Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is back in a big way when it comes to his comedies with the sublime and fun "Midnight in Paris". This is Woody's best pure comedy since "Broadway Danny Rose". If you love movies about the arts and creativity this is a must see. It is a perfect blend of fantasy, comedy and romance. I fell in love with all the scenes dealing with the main character experiencing some of our most legendary celebrities and historical figures. The movie is a love letter to the arts and it sweeps you up in it's whimsy.

13.) Higher Ground

Vera Farmiga has directed one of the most astounding movies about faith and struggling with that faith I have seen in a long time. I am not religious but this movie was so powerful and haunting to me. This is the best female character in any movie this year as Farmiga plays Corrine who goes through a spiritual journey I will never forget. Vera Farmiga gives a natural and electrifying performance. This is a movie that I have embraced and I want to buy on DVD. I think watching a movie like this once in a while might be good for my soul. This is one of the best directing debuts by an actor in some time.

12.) Hugo

Martin Scorses's valentine to the birth of cinema is one of the most visually arresting movies I have seen. This is the way to use the 3D device to enhance the visual depth of the movie, not just throw things at you. This is also one of the best movies about a child's journey, not the B.S. of something false like "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". This is a movie for film buffs, kids who want to learn about film and how to stretch their imagination. Martin Scorsese proves he can do any genre and he has made one of the most magical movies about a child and the love of early cinema in a very long time.

11.) The Interrupters

This powerful and engrossing documentary by Steve James is a must see for anyone who lives in Chicago. Heck it is a must see for any parent, gang member, child or political figure in any state and any city in this country. I will never forget some of the most amazing people I met during this life changing experience. The movie follows these incredible Interrupters who go around in the rough areas in the city and try to stop the violence among our kids in areas like Englewood. The movie has two of the most amazing people I have ever encounterd in any film fiction or non fiction in Ameena Matthews, daughter of legendary gang leader Jeff Fort. She is a complete role model and life force who moved me and amazed me. There is also a drug dealer here that we are first scared by then fascinated by and then finally embrace. The movie never loses it's focus and it gives us people we will never forget.

Now here is my Top ten and again this is a list that can change over time as can the other movies in my top 37.

10.) A Separation

Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Actors: Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami

This hard hitting and quietly powerful Iranian drama is heartbreaking and real. It strongly examines a marriage in Iran that is just as real as any marriage in any country. I feel this is an important cultural experience for Americans need to see that we all go through the same things as other cultures do when it comes to a separation. We`also see that Iran's justice system is just as screwed up and faulty as ours. These are real people with real emotions that make mistakes and complicate things when everything should be so simple. The movie has a perfect ending as we see how much the separation of this couple has an effect on their daughter whose heart is breaking. This is a very powerful and complicated human drama.

9.) The Tree of Life

Written and Directed b y Terrence Malick
Actors: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn

Yes this movie has a troubling and frustrating first half and last half hour but the movie's middle affected me in powerful ways. The family depicted in this spiritual and religious film is one I will never forget. The middle of this jumbled beauty of a movie starts to settle things down to give us a powerful and haunting family drama. It starts with Brad Pitt's best performance of his career as a strict but loving father. Then it takes a look at the other parent, the mother who is more loving and nurturing. That mother is played by the breathtaking Jessica Chastain and I have never seen a female character so lovingly photographed as Malick captures Chastain. The scenes of the kids just playing outsude at a time when there were no video games is so natural and beautiful. The movie made me revisit my childhood when things were more innocent. The family scenes here are so haunting and powerful that I forgot that the weaker first and last half hour even existed. Chastain and Pitt have given two of my favorite performances I have ever experienced. The quietness of this movie so that we can experience dialogue and the characters make this something special.


Written by Hossein Amini
Directed by Nicola Winding Refn
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman

This glorious fever dream of a crime thriller is like nothing I have ever seen before. It grabbed a hold of me and never let go for this is an original experience that made me giddy. Ryan Gosling doesn't say much but his performance is masterful in the way he manipulates the silences. You have some breathtaking cinematography, flawlessly filmed car chases and such powerful, creeping suspense that just explodes on you at certain points. You also get a Albert Brooks you have never seen before, a scary, violent and reprehensible Albert Brooks. Refn has made one of the most visually striking "B" films you could imagine. It reminds me of the daring avant garde cinema of the 70's and early Tarantino. This is a one of kind original even when we think we have seen it's kind before.

7.) The Descendants

Written by Jim Rash, Nat Faxon and Alexander Payne based on book by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Directed by Alexander Payne
Actors: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Lee R Ermey, Judy Greer, Mattew Lillard, Beau Bridges

"The Descendants" could have gone down the path of a drama that could of easily turned into a soap opera. Instead you have an honest drama that is very pro family and earns honest laughs and tears. No one is more natural than George Clooney on screen here but I saw a new George Clooney. This is a more mature, grounded performance by Clooney and this is the best I have seen him. I love how this road trip movie veers off course and becomes deeper and more original than we thought it would. By the end we have seen a disfunctional family grow closer leading to an ending shot that is so beautiful and pro family I still can't shake the image out of my head. There is also a wonderful and natural performance by newcomer Shailene Woodley as Clooney's daughter.

6.) Martha Marcy May Marlene

Written and Directed by Sean Durkin
Actors: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes

This is a chilling, creepy, haunting and powerful thriller about one of my favorite subjects, cults. It also has one of the best debut performances by an actress. Elizabeth Olsen is vulnerable and pitch perfect as a naive young woman who gets sucked into a cult. We go back and forth seeing her abusive life in the cult and the not much better life living with her sister after she leaves the cult. This is the most frightening and honest movie I have seen about a cult. John Hawkes is also powerful as a sinister cult leader who is creepy but also eerily charming. I was fascinated by every minute of this and amazed by Olsen's brave and powerful performance.

5.) We Need To Talk About Kevin

Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear based on book by Lionel Shriver
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Actors: Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly

This movie is just as chilling and scary as "Martha" is but in a different way. This deals with the same subject matter as "Beautiful Boy" and it is a sobering and ice cold look at a deranged child and his tortured mother and clueless father. This movie brings up many good questions about parenting and if a child's behavior is affected by how a parent raises their child. Tilda Swinton gives one of the three best performances of the year as a mother struggling to find a reason why her son hates her. There are no easy answers and the scenes bewteen mother and son are haunting and bone chilling. When mother confronts son about why he has done a terrible thing later in the film neither Kevin or the movie gives us the answer. This is why "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is so powerful and scarier than any horror movie could be.

4.) Moneyball

Written by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zailian based on book by Michael Lewis
Directed by Bennett Miller
Actors: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I never thought a baseball movie with very few scenes of baseball being played could be so full of suspense and intrigue. There are two incredibly engrossing scenes that make this one of the best baseball movies ever made. One deals with a series of calls that Billy Beane makes to different General Managers about trades. It is a breathless 10 or 15 minutes full with humor and suspense. There is also a meeting between Beane and some old school scouts that captivated me and taught me so much. This is also a fun movie with a beautifully modulated and natural performance by Brad Pitt. Jonah Hill gives a change of pace performance that is effective and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is subtly hilarious. This is that rare basbeall movie that is really simply about strategy and life and the art of the game.

3.) Take Shelter

Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols
Actors: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigam

This powerful and haunting psychological thriller has the best performance by an actor this year. Michael Shannon draws a lot of power from his performance not through words but from his actions and his face. This original and troubling drama has an ending that will be debated for years possibly making this a movie that will stand the test of time and become a classic. Jessica Chastain is equally effective and strong as a wife that will have her relationship with her husband tested. Is Shannon's character really troubled or does he know something his wife and others really don't know. Is he delusional or depressed just because he is mentally weak or is he seeing something that is very real and not just in his head? There are so many questions and no answers and you will want to see this movie over and over. This movie will stay with you for days and you will want to talk to someone who has seen it.

2.) The Artist

Written and Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Actors: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Uggie

This enchanting and beautiful homage to the silent film era is captivating and a lot of fun. When I first saw it I thought it was just light and fluffy but on a second viewing I fell in love with it all over again. This movie just makes me smile everytime I think about it. Michel has done a flawless job of capturing the magic of silent film but he has done so much more. He has created a well thought out story that is funny, romantic, charming and blissful. Jean Dujardin gives an amazing and effective performance acting with his face and doing it flawlessly. Berenice Bejo is also captivating and makes such an impressive first impression. She is lovely and there is a scene where she wraps herself in a man's suit using the sleeve as an arm to hold her. The movie is so full of energy, charm, fun and magic that it can lift you up on a bad day. If you walked into this movie and didn't know anything about it you would swear you were actually watching a real silent film from the 20's. That describes the magic and perfection that this movie strives for and achieves with great success.

1.) Bridesmaids

Written By Annie Mumalo and Kristen Wiig
Directed by Paul Feig
Actors: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi Mclendon-Lovey, Chris O'Dowd, Ellie Kempler

With a lot of darkness sorrounding a lot of my picks on this list I am happy to say that my two favorite movies of 2011 have made me very happy. I do like a lot of dark material but I love to have a movie make me feel good and alive. I also continue my trend of picking movies that no one else picks as their favorite of the year. I take pride in going against the mainstream so "Bridesmaids" joins "Rushmore", "Adventureland" and "Ghost
World" as a long line of unusual choices for my favorite movie of the year.

"Bridesmaids"is number one because for one thing this movie made me laugh till I literally cried and no comedy has done that in maybe a decade. The second reason is not only do you have one of the funniest, vulgar comedies ever made that will soon be a classic you also have so much more than meets the eye. This brilliant screenplay also gives us a deep and beautiful movie about a friendship between two women that rises above the jokes. You also have one of the best screen romances in years between Wiig and Chris O'Dowd that put the past ten years of romantic comedies to shame. Third you have one of the funniest, smartest and most amazing comedic actresses I have ever seen. Kristen Wiig can not only give a masterful comedic performance, she knows how to write great comedy. She knows that the best comedy comes from characters and how they react to situations instead of jokes just being thrown at them. Kudos also go to Annie Mumalo for co writing a new classic.

"Bridesmaids" also has two more amazing and hilarious performances by two supporting actresses who are just as amazing as Wiig. Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne are fantsastic as two different kind of characters. There is a sweetness to this movie amid the vulgarity. There is also no funnier scene that I can imagine in any comedy lately then when Kristen Wiig goes nuts on an airplane. For about 10 straight minutes I couldn't catch my breath, stop laughing or stop crying tears. I haven't laughed this much in a comedy excluding maybe "Superbad". Kristen Wiig, her co writer Annie Mummalo and her great cast of very funny ladies have done something wonderful here. They have changed the game of selling a female centered movie to the Hollywood system. Now studios will think twice before they turn down a movie with a mostly female cast, female writers or directors.

That is all folks and again this list is not etched in stone and it can change at anytime. Sometimes the passing of time will change the way you look at certain movies. I hope 2012 gives us many nice surprises and more great films.

P.S. I would also like to give a special award to my Film Entertainers of the Year in 2011. They would be Jessica Chastain for her amazing string of performances and making us not grow tired of her. She has come onto the scene with so much future promise. Also Brad Pitt has had a career year with two amazing performances, one intense performance in "Tree of Life" and one beautifully natural performance in "Moneyball".

Friday, February 24, 2012


'Wanderlust' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: David Wain and Ken Marino
Director: David Wain
Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Linda Lavin, Malin Ackerman, Lauren Ambrose, Kathryn Hahn, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Kerry Kinney, Michael Ian Black

"Wanderlust" is not one of those comedies that everyone will like especially those looking for a lot of big laughs. There is a difference between a big joke movie like "Bridesmaids" and a sly comedy like "My Idiot Brother". Both "Wanderlust" and Brother are very much alike and star my favorite go to guy for a sly comedy and that is Paul Rudd. I had some problems with "Wanderlust" and I was on the fence but Rudd is again the difference maker, him and another actor who I predict will be a household name and not just because he is dating Jennifer Aniston in real life. You also have a supporting cast to die for and some clever and smart laughs and I did laugh more than a few times.

"Wanderlust" is written by the team from the old cult TV sketch show "The State". They have also created "Role Models" and the cult classic "Wet Hot American Summer". I appreciate their warped sense of humor and I appreciate that the laughs in "Wanderlust" compliment the characters instead of attack them. Some of the jokes are vulgar but the movie is also strangely sweet at the same time. A lot of the humor here you have to pay attention to because my favorite moments are sly visual and written jokes that are not spelled out. I like all the charcacters in this movie and even the bad guy is appealing and funny. The more upfront and vulgar jokes are the ones that I think are weak, I like the sweetness better.

"Wanderlust" gives us Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as married couple George and Linda who in the very funny opening scenes are trying to buy a condo in New York and it is very hard. George gets fired from his job when the company he works for goes under. They both head to Atlanta and stop by a Bed and Breakfast which they find out is really a commune. After moving to Atlanta and suffering working for his brother both come back to the commune and are convinced by the residents to rough it and stay, starting a new, carefree life. The commune is led by a slick, arrogant but very persuasive leader played by Justin Theroux.

The commune has a lot of residents played by a great cast including a very funny Alan Alda, Kathryn Hahn and the beautiful and funny Malin Ackerman. I liked all these charcaters and I thought all the vulgar jokes seemed old hat and cruel to the supporting characters. I really liked the sweet jokes based on observation and how the commune leader, the residents and George and Linda get along in good and bad ways better. The movie gets my full reccomendation because of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. Both actors are so likable here and Theroux plays a deceiving bad guy.

Paul Rudd is one of my favorite comic actors and he always plays the straight guy it seems but he is always very funny and likable. My favorite performance of his was in the better than good "Role Models". He is very good here and he has a show stopping moment in front of a mirror. I could watch Paul Rudd in anything even if he was just sitting in front of a camera telling us a story for 2 hours. Rudd is so likable he would even get my vote if he ran for the President of the United States. Justin Theroux is also amazing as the commune leader and I was mesmerized by the way he gets laughs without going over the top. Justin is a brilliant writer and a smart actor and his performance here is ingenius. He gets big laughs by underplaying his character.

Jennifer Aniston is also good here and this is much better than some of the comedies she has been in lately. I do have a problem though and that is she is a very dependable actress but here she gives the least interesting performance in the movie. Part of it is some of the writing but she seems buried here and I have advice for her. Her comedic star vehicles have been terrible and I would like her to headline a comedy like Goldie Hawn used to make. I can imagine her doing really well in a "Foul Play" type of comedy. I found her part to be a little thankless here and she doesn't get any big laughs. "Wanderlust" is a hit and miss comedy that misses a lot but I love Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux so much and here they make a fairly good comedy even better and funnier.

P.S. I apologize to Jennifer Aniston. She was different and really funny in last year's "Horrible Bosses" in a change of pace role as an evil, slutty boss who sexually harrasses her employee. I hope she will do more roles like this in the future.

Friday, February 17, 2012

'Rampart' (11)

'Rampart' (R) (11) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: James Ellroy and Oren Moverman
Director: Oren Moverman
Actors: Woody Harrelson, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster, Cynthia Nixon, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube

I love what Woody Harrelson has been doing with his last two serious character studies with director Oren Moverman. They are making quite the compelling duo with their first powerful collaboration "The Messenger" and now "Rampart". Woody Harrelson plays L.A. cop Dave Brown who is quite a piece of work. This is the dirtiest of dirty cops and Harrelson gives another career performance that is subtle and powerful and could have been Oscar caliber.

Harrelson's Dave Brown does something horrible to a suspect and it is caught on camera. The District Attorney's office has been trying to catch him in the act for awhile now and Dave has done a number of dirty things that can't be proven in his past. Dave is an old school cop who is rough, has no moral center and thinks it is only his way even if it is the wrong way. He lives with two ex wives who are sisters and there are two daughters also. Not only is Dave a morally bankrupt cop he is also not a good husband or father obviously. This is a movie that has a lot of police corruption but there are not a lot of impact moments. This is more of a character study of this officer and man and I appreciated that.

I have seen a lot of movies about dirty cops but what makes this movie special and different is Woody Harrelson's pitch perfect performance and that the movie is not just about police work. My favorite scenes are when Dave is at home and interacting with his kids and ex wives. I also love two scenes where Dave smooth talks two women into bed and one he will have a distorted relationship with. The women are played by the beautiful Robin Wright and Audra MacDonald and they are both excellent. Dave also has an interesting relationship with an old mentor played by Ned Beatty.

Dave can't do anything right and his World is closing in on him. Harrelson captures Dave's abrasive personality but also his desperation at the end flawlessly. There are also some nice scenes between Dave and a Internal Affairs agent played by Ice Cube in his most relaxed and assured performance since "Boyz n' the Hood". What I also loved about the movie and Harrelson's performance is how Harrelson actually makes us root for Dave sometimes. As Dave always tells it he has never hurt good people, he just s hurt bad people that deserved it but is he really speaking the truth? You actually feel for Dave when he is with his daughters and you feel he wants to reach out to them. We can see his heart breaking and we feel something for Dave even though he is a jerk and that is thanks to Harrelson's perfect, compelling performance.

Harrelson and Moverman worked together on a haunting and powerful movie called "The Messenger". Harrelson was amazing in that movie and he is even more amazing in "Rampart". They seem to be perfect together and based on these movies they have an assured rapport with each other. I would love to see them make a plethora of movies together and I hope to see them continue. Woody Harrelson, in my opinion, should have been more seriously considered for an Oscar nomination. This is a masterful performance and a lot of people have not seen it yet but if you like Harrelson I guarantee you will be blown away by his performance.

This is not a movie that everyone will embrace because the main character does a lot of bad things. This is also not a movie that is intense every minute but when it hits with intensity in small moments it hits hard. This is a slow moving film and requires patience. To me it could have edited some stuff out but I was mesmerized by Harrelson's performance and would watch the movie again and again just for him. This is a outstanding character study and I found it fascinating at it's look at a complicated cop and warped family man. This movie reminded me of my favorite televison series about police called "The Shield". If you loved that television show, one of the ten best dramas ever on television, you should love "Rampart". This is one of the most compelling and intriguing dramas about police corruption I have seen in awhile.

'This Means War'

'This Means War' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg
Director: McG
Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett, Chelsea Handler

I wasn't surprised that "This Means War" would be lackluster and finally forgettable with the state of romantic comedies these days. Though it is not the disaster that most of the critics say it is. Sometimes you just need The Regular Moviegoer to tell you why the movie is weak but not bad. This movie had me going with it in the first half hour mostly because Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy are so charming and very good here. Then the plot really kicks in and we get a "Three's Company" retread. Sometimes you have to go with the flow because it is a fantasy about spies and the woman they love. Though some of the things that happen in this movie are so unbelievable but then Chelsea Handler comes in and saves it with comic relief, she is funny here.

"This Means War" starts with a fast chase and shootout as two buddy spies FDR and Tuck go after a German baddie. Now at no point do we feel a threat from the bad guy here because this is fluff. The movie really wants to sell us the romance and the actors try and they are good but you can only do so much. Reese Witherspoon plays Lauren the woman of both spies' affection. First she nabs Tuck from a dating site, meets him and then in a "yeah right" moment she meet cutes FDR in a video store right after. Both spies will date her as she tries to pick which one she really wants to be with. Both spies will use surveillance equipment individually to spy on her with the other. Again I understand this is a fantasy but I felt a little creepy when the camera captures one of them having sex with Lauren. So you use taxpayers money to ilegally spy on a unsuspecting woman and then spy on her in very private moments, okay.

Why am i trying to be logical with a movie like this? Well I had a lot of time to think about stuff because everything in this movie you can see in the trailer. There are no surprises and if you think really hard you can guess which man she will pick at the end of the movie and I guessed right. There is also Lauren's friend who gives funhy advice and she is played by Chelsea Handler who has a great future in movies as the wisecracking buddy. The movie has both spies try to sabatoge each other's time with Lauren, Lauren will try to make her choice, the bad guy shows up and the movie ends with a chase and it is over.

This movie is very light, over before you know it and has really sloppy and overdone action scenes but it is not a bad movie like the critics are saying. The director McG directed the bad "Charlie's Angels" reboot (the sequel was much better and he didn't direct it) and he is a journeyman director. He does what is needed and the movie looks glossy and it is forgettable but also watchable. Reese Witherspoon can turn a lump of coal into gold and she is beautiful, charming and without her the movie would sink. Though I think this movie is a waste of her time and you could have cast someone like a second rate actress in her role. It is a role that she can do in her sleep and she should save herself for better parts.

I also liked Tom Hardy who is charming and attractive here and shows star potential. He has a flair for comedy and when you compare it to his blistering performances in "Bronson" and "Warrior" and what he will do as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" he will be able to do anything on screen. I also laughed a lot at Chelsea Handler who gives a rough performance but she is very funny. Chris Pine is okay here but not as good as Hardy and Witherspoon and I hate his character. "This Means War" is not a bad time at the movies but it is nothing to get excited for and rush out to. If you love Witherspoon you can wait till it gets on cable.

P.S. For a better movie than this with the same ideal check out Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". That is not the best movie but if you see it next to "This Means War" you will see why War is inferior.

Friday, February 10, 2012

'Safe House'

'Safe House' (R) (2 STARS)

Written by David Guggenheim
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Actors: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard

"Safe House" has some cool, well directed car chases and shootouts and it has Denzel Washington. What it doesn't have is a soul or any interesting characters or a story I could get into. It also has a plot twist I saw coming in the first five minutes. There are no surprises here and this is a Washington character that he makes appealing with his charisma but a character I expected more fireworks from. The trailer for this movie makes the cooly named Tobin Frost, played by Washington, seem to be a badass but I kept thinking "Training Day". Tobin Frost is supposed to come off as a cold, mean killing machine and he is but ironically I felt no real danger coming off the character.

Tobin Frost is a rogue CIA agent who has a tape that contains incriminating evidence against the agency. Tobin frost is captured and brought to a safe house which is an apartment that is really made up to be like a fortress. The agents bring him into the safe house manned by Matt Weston who is played by Ryan Reynolds. Matt is craving dangerous assignments and hasn't been given any good opportunities. Frost is brought to his safe house to be tortured and something will happen to drag Weston into the case.

The movie seems like one long chase scene and it has a plot I found dull so the car chases and shootouts became repetitive to me and I lost interest half way through. I expected more of an intense battle between Frost and our hero Matt Weston and I felt I didn't get it. Ryan Reynolds is a very good actor and I like him especially in dramatic roles. I just have seen this character before and it comes off one note thanks to the screenplay which is too political for an action movie like this.

The movie makes political speeches and I have seen this story done to death. Denzel Washington deserves a character with more bite but as usual he makes the mundane more intersting so if you like him I say maybe give this movie a chance. It's funny that before this movie I saw the trailer for the new "Bourne Identity" reboot and I think "Safe House" is a dull copy of those movies. The fights and car chases are good in "Safe House" but they are pale copies of the fights and chases of the Bourne movies.

P.S. For better movies than "Safe House" try all the Bourne movies, "Green Zone", "Training Day" and "The Pelican Brief".

'The Vow'

'The Vow' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims
Director: Michael Sucsy
Actors: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Scott Speedman, Jessica Lange, Sam Neil

Romantic comedies have been terrible lately save for the occasional "500 Days of Summer" and now you can add romantic dramas to the list. Ever since "The Notebook" we are getting sappy tearjerkers and there is nothing wrong with that. That is if the movie earns it's tears and our emotional connection to the characters. "The Vow" continues in the tradition of movies like "Dear John" and "The Last Song". Thank you Nicholas Sparks for this onslaught of boring trifles! These are silly, drawn out, so polite, dull movies that have no pulse. "The Vow" is based on a true story but I feel that the real life story probably had let's just say more life to it.

The first half hour of this movie is horrible but actually "The Vow" settles down after that and gets better and then it just lays there.
There are some beautiful uses of the wonderful city of Chicago here and Rachel McAdams outshines everyone, without her I would have walked out half way through. McAdams and Channing Tatum are Paige and Leo who get married after the most lackluster portrayl of wooing I have ever seen in a movie.
We see how they get together after the movie starts out with a tragic accident. A truck plows into their car and Paige flies out the front window in an awful and tasteless slow motion shot. Paige wakes up in the hospital and can't remember her past life and thinks Leo is her doctor, a scene that made me laugh.

The movie then gets a little better as Paige gets out of the hospital and Leo tries to make her fall in love with him all over again. It will be a tough assignment and even though I didn't believe anything the movie told me for a second McAdams makes it work. The second half is tolerable but the movie gets so dull and goes through the motions with plot developments that are so predictable and goofy. They involve Paige's parents played by Jessica Lange and Sam Neil who plays the requisite evil and meddling father. How the parents treat Paige and Leo after the accident is not believable for a second. Oh and there is the old boyfriend of Paige's before her and Leo played by Scott Speedman and boy what a boring character.

Rachel McAdams is actually the only actor pulling her weight and that is because her character seems to be the best written one. Which brings me to Channing Tatum who I like and I think is under rated. The only thing is these movies are not meant for him. He is woefully miscast and it is not his fault. I like Tatum in movies that require action and comedy or romantic movies that have something extra like the surprisingly good "Step Up". He was the best thing about "The Dilemma" and looks great in the new "21 Jump Street" movie which requires action and comedy. With "The Vow" and "Dear John" he just stands there and mopes and whispers and looks all doe eyed. I wanted to wake him up but I had to wake myself up first.

P.S. I do love the opening shot of Paige and Leo exiting The Music Box Theatre on a snowy night though. Better movies than "The Vow" are "The Notebook" and "Step Up".

Thursday, February 9, 2012

'The Innkeepers'

'The Innkeepers' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Ti West
Actors: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle, Lena Dunham, Alison Bartlett

"Halloween", "Rosemary's Baby", "Carrie", "Psycho", the 1974 version of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". These are some of my favorite horror movies of all time. They had one thing in common and that was character development, patience, story telling skills, charisma, character and minimal gore. Even many would be surprised to remember that Tobe Hooper's "Chainsaw Massacre" and John Carpenter's "Halloween" actually are not that gory. In 2009 director Ti West made my favorite horror movie of the last two decades "House of the Devil". It was a flawless throwback to the movies I mentioned above and a perfect recreation of an early 80's horror movie that was better than any horror movie that came out in the 80's. I say all this becuase I have gotten heat for my 4 star review of the wonderful "House of the Devil".

Horror buffs who have seen House should agree on my statements and if you have not seen it and grew up in the 80's a huge smile will spread on your face and stay there throughout as you watch it. Now Ti West has made one of the best ghost stories of the last few decades that is such a huge step up from those horrible Japanese ghost movies and their weak American remakes that have popped up in the last ten years. "The Innkeepers" does take it's time, moves slow and is not as great as "House of the Devil" but it is a lot of goofy fun, actually has a great amount of good scares and will make you smile. I loved it because it takes it's time to develop some good, likable characters and tells a story instead of bludgeoning us to death.

It has what all good ghost stories should have and that is that contagious spirit of huddling around a campfire and having someone telling you a ghost story as your eyes pop out of your head. "The Innkeepers" has a no name cast with a return of an 80's actress in Kelly McGillis (Top Gun). It is set in a dilapidated hotel that is about to be closed down for good. There are two young workers that are working there on the last week. They are Claire and Luke and they love telling and exploring ghost stories and urban legends. There are only a few people staying at the Inn this one night and one is an old TV actress who is now a medium played by McGillis. There is also an old and creepy man who comes in to check in the same room he stayed at when he was a young man even after the Innkeepers tell him the floor the room is on is now closed.

Not much happens in the first 45 minutes and I mean nothing as in the instant gratification gore and scares horror movie goers expect now. Though it is funny to me that the "Paranormal Activity" movies are the same way but they are more popular and people don't mind. The "Saw", "Hostel" crap is now over and movie goers want a story and "The Innkeepers" has a fun one. There is also the classic horror basement in this hotel but it is the best use of a basement in a horror thriller since the 2000 masterpiece "Zodiac".

The first 45 minutes were fun to me and kept my intereste because Sarah and Luke have so much passion, energy, goofiness and are such well written characters. The movie does a great job setting up the story, the atmosphere and finally we care about the characters. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are great in their roles and McGillis is very good and makes a triumphant return.

After setting up the solid story the movie finishes the job like an effective horror movie should. It starts to get spookier, scarier and more fun as the movie comes to it's sensible horror movie ending. I jumped a few times and as everyone makes a visit to the basement I actually got goosebumps. I know what I like and the horror genre is a hard genre to crack and I know I really like this movie and want to see it again. Ti West has done such an incredible job with "House of the Devil" and this movie that I think he will become a major future force in horror movie making. He doesn't belittle the genre with extreme gore, doesn't objectify women and doesn't hammer us with dumb stuff that all the latest horror movies have given us. Wait till he gets his hands on a big budget horror movie, I can't wait!

P.S. Don't get me wrong, I like gory horror movies also and "The Re-Animator" and the 1982 version of "The Thing" are also two of favorite horror movies. I am actually talking about the slasher movie genre that has gotten so incredibly horrible lately and that is not the type of movie "The Innkeepers" and "House of the Devil" are. Amen!

Friday, February 3, 2012


'Chronicle' (R) (3 STARS)

Written by Max Landis
Directed by Josh Tank
Actors: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Ashley Hinshaw

"Chronicle" shouldn't be this good but that is what I love about movies, the ones that come out of left field, surprise you and get the job done. This is one of those lost and found footage movies where a video shows up of events that happened in the past. "Cloverfield" is an example of this but "Chronicle" blows that movie out of the water! The movie also has the device known as the hand held camera that shakes and sometimes that is annoying. Here not so much because the director Josh Tank does a great job controlling the camera more. Also the story is very compelling and effective so you forget about the hand held camera.

"Chronicle" tells the story of Andrew and Alex who are cousins. One day they hook up with popular high school classmate Steve and they all go to a party together. They wander out in the back and find a deep hole in the ground like something big crashed into it. The movie never explains what this thing is but we kind of see it and we can guess from there if we want. What is down there is not the point and that is the first thing I liked about "Chronicle". There are no real answers, just an effective, scary and engrossing thriller.

The movie has touches of "Carrie" in it as the boys discover they can move things with their minds. First they will use it for fun and to mess with people but then there is a moment and incident and things start getting serious. Andrew has some problems at home and he is one of those shy kids who gets picked on a lot at school and always carries around a video camera filming everyone. Andrew's situation will also change things drastically and the movie will turn into a battle of good vs. evil.

"Chronicle" turns into sort of a twisted version of a superhero movie and it is way better than "The Green Lantern", the last Spiderman movie and the last X Men prequel. Then "Chronicle" has some effective chills and thrilling moments with it's telekenisis angle just like "Carrie". I was happily surprised by how good this movie looks in the effects department with it's low budget. It just proves that the lower the budget the better the horror/thriller and superhero movie is. I also think the movie is very well written and the Andrew character is very interesting and I love his friendship and relationship with his cousin Matt that I thought was deep and touching.

"Chronicle" is delightfully dark with some better than expected special effects that are scary. This movie could have been so cheesy and could have stepped so wrong but it is solid and much better than most of the teenage centered movies like this. I had a fun time and I cared about the characters. There is a charming and energetic performance by Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights TV show) as Steve. He deserves to be a star and I found his performance captivating. "Chronicle" has the goods and it delivers them without any cute tricks. It is perfect for what it's trying to be and I think people will be surprised how solid it is and how much they like it.

'The Woman in Black'

'The Woman in Black' (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Writer: Jane Goldman based on the novel by Susan Hill
Director: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Misha Handley, Roger Allam

"The Woman in Black" is a throwback to those old British haunted house/ghost stories that were not particularly scary but very creepy. "The Woman in Black" looks breathtaking and that house is beautiful, the art direction is impeccable. Looking at this bleak, grey movie you can actually feel the cold, damp air hitting you in the face. The scare quotient in this movie isn't high for I really was never scared but I had fun watching it and it held my interest throughout.

Daniel Radcliffe, now done with Harry Potter, is solid as Arhur Kripps who is a young Victorian lawyer. He is sent to a haunted house in North England to settle the affairs and go over some papers belonging to it's now dead occupant. That occupant's children had died in that house thus it is haunted. Arthur stays in town and then winds up staying in the house as many things pop out at him including a woman in black and a plethora of children.

The movie is no great shakes in the scare department for I jumped maybe once and could predict when the scares would come. There is a lot of slow tracking shots over Radcliffe's shoulder and then something will jump out at him. It is like going on a haunted house ride and that is why it is fun. It is definitely an old school British type movie with weird characters and towns people staring at Arthur because he is an intruder don't you know. There is also the creepy house which looks damn great here and and the proper looking but dead little girls who are now ghosts.

Radcliffe is good here and I love the supporting actors here especially the wonderful Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer fresh from her Oscar nominated turn in "Albert Nobbs". They have a delightful and creepy and weird scene when Arthur comes to their house for dinner that was a lot of fun. Again I love the look of this movie and I reccomend it on the big screen to see the house and the creepy outside on the big screen. "The Woman in Black" is not really scary (This week's "Chronicle" is actually scarier) but it is an effective mood piece that will have you creeped out. Oh and I love the just right and perfect ending which fits this kind of movie well.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

'The Grey'

'The Grey' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie based on the story "Ghost Walker"
by Mackenzie
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson

I didn't expect to get a deep meditation on death and what we think about when we confront it in a commercial Hollywood movie like "The Grey". This is actually a heavy movie that is thoughtful but also has great scares and performances. I know one thing, I have a deep respect and new understanding of wolves. I used to think they were pretty and graceful animals but I was dead wrong. The new face of the middle age action star (taking over for Mel Gibson) Liam Neeson is back in prime form in this engrossing movie on nature, death and some bad ass wolves.

Liam Neeson plays John Ottway who is an oil worker and he travels by plane with his co-workers to Alaska. The plane crashes and half of the men die but there are 7 survivors. They will probably not be found because the plane is in pieces, they are in the middle of nowhere and they will have to survive. The men have different personalities and they will have to now watch each other's backs. Oh and I forgot to mention there are a plethora of wolves and they are animals and have no conscious. They will attack without mercy and now the workers need to survive not only the severe weather but also wolves who see these men as dinner.

Tbe wolf attacks will make you jump out of your seat multiple times and Liam Neeson again is a hero we can easily identify with. He is getting really good at his action thing but this is a movie that is a little deeper than "Taken" and "Unknown". There is some good writing here and we get to know a lot about these men. This is not just a thrill ride, each man thoughtfully talks about their lives and loved ones as they face death. The stuff with the wolves is very well done, effective and it will get under your skin. The supporting actors are some of my favorites including the under rated Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts and Frank Grillo. They all have distinct personalities and that is more than I can say for most action movie thrillers these days.

The photography and location work are very effective here and Joe Carnanhan is becoming a very good action director. There is a wonderful scene dealing with a cliff and a steep drop that is very thrilling. "The Grey" is nothing special but I was surprised by it's strong look at death and confronting the end. We have seen plane crash/survivor stories before as in the true life story "Alive". Though there is a somewhat fresh look at survival here with great scares, great acting and Liam Neeson as the quiet hero which he is getting so good at.

P.S. If you see this movie you have to stay until the end of the credits. There is an added scene that is very interesting, let me know what you think about it here or on facebook.

'A Separation' (11)

'A Separation' (PG-13) (11) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hoseini, Sarina Farhadi

Sometimes we forget that other cultures, other religions and other countries go through the same things as our county when dealing with the dissolution of a marriage. "A Separation" is a movie from Iran and it is one of the best movies I have ever seen dealing with a fractured marriage. All the characters are people we can identify with and there are no bad guys here just misunderstandings and deceit based on misscommunication. This is such a rich movie because it is not just about a marriage but it deals with children, the convoluted court system in Iran and morals.

This is an extremely intense movie and there is a lot of dialogue but I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen at any moment. You will not catch your breath because of the drama that is presented in a brisk and dramatic pace. Nader and Simin are a married couple that are drifting apart and they decide to get a divorce. They try to end the marriage in court but it won't allow them to get a divorce. They then decide to have a trial separation and it affects their 11 year old daughter Termeh. Nader has a father with Alzheimers that he has to take care of and Simin is tired of taking care of him. She wants to leave Iran and as she tries to leave Nader hires a woman to take care of his father as a caretaker.

This new caretaker makes a huge mistake and neglects the father for a hour or so. Nader comes back home enraged and tries to push her out the door and what happens next we will not see. The caretaker Hodjat claims she fell down a flight of stairs and now has had a miscarriage because of the fall. Nader claims he did not know she was pregnant and just wanted her out of his house. Hodjat's husband did not know of Hodjat's new job so when he is confronted with this shocking news he becomes enraged. They take the case to a court in Iran as Hodjat's husband Razieh presses charges and Nader might be charged for murder and go to prison.

I really wanted to refrain from spilling out too many details of the plot but I feel it is neccesary. This movie has a lot of levels and it doesn't label anyone good or bad. All the characters have legitimate reasons to be angry and no one person is absolutely correct. All we know is that the daughter Termeh is the one that gets the brunt of all this confusion. Slyly we see her heart breaking and in a final scene we are brought to tears in one of the most perfect endings of a movie I have seen.

People might be frustrated by the ending and not understand why some of the characters do what they do. Please do not skip this because you don't want to visit another culture that is supposed to be our enemy. We as Americans and Iranians go through the same emotions and frustrations in our lives and this movie is very engrossing and powerful. The emotions are similiar and I learned a lot about the court system in Iran. There are many frustrating things about it when pertaining to this story but of course America's court system has the same problems. Justice, I find justice is just as skewered and imperfect in America as it is in Iran.

"A Separation" also has wonderful performances and Peyman Moadi as Nader is incredible, subtle and effective. This is a performance that could have easily been nominated for an Oscar as did Damien Bechir for "A Better Life". It is a complex role and Moadi strikes all the right notes. Also Sarina Farhadi as Termeh is great and she is very good at showing her heart breaking in a natural way. The movie is brilliantly written and tautly directed by Asghar Farhadi. I would love to see his next movie and movie goers who don't frequent Iranian movies and see this will want to check out more movies from this country. "A Separation" deserves it's Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and should have been the 10th movie nominated for Best Picture. It is one of the most powerful and engrossing movies of 2011.