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My Favorite Movies of 2011 (with some hateful comments…

Before the official awards get announced, and between New Year’s Day and the annual January release of a Liam Neeson-against-the-world-action-movie it is time for me to summarize thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours I spent on movies last year with my top 10 favorite movies and assorted other comments.  Per usual, let’s start with the bad news.

The Most Overrated Movies of 2011 (overrated and by coincidence they actually suck as well)

1) Hugo – I fell asleep for five minutes in the middle of this movie (2nd time in my life I have ever fallen asleep in a movie). Critics are gushing over this film that has a plot for children, but a high minded, boredom-inducing style that seems suited for pretentious senior citizens.

2) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – If Colin Firth is involved, being overrated is always a threat (I’m sorry, the “handsome Colin Firth” – this guy is the male Cate Blanchett who is “beautiful”).  But this movie outdoes itself.  The first spy thriller to not have a single thrill.  The conclusion of the film packs the punch of a 4 year old girl.  A major cast, a major disappointment.

3) Drive – We get it ladies Ryan Gosling is wonderful.  He talks like he’s from Brooklyn, despite being Canadian, he looks sleepy and before his abs developed, liking this art house favorite made you feel less shallow than your old feelings for Paul Walker.  And he had a huge year in 2011 (two of his films made the top 10), but Drive was as Adam Carolla so eloquently put it, “a highly stylized piece of sh*t.   The reviews for this film set the bar high.  The opening sequence was so cool it managed to exceed the reviews.  The remaining 90 minutes were a mess of awkward smiles by Gosling (seriously it was a weird performance at best, and an unintentional portrayal of a special needs human being at worst), an awful attempt at a love story and violence that was so gruesome and out of the blue that it seemed to simply be there to evoke a stomach turning reaction.  A weird and dumb movie.

Vacant expression and weird smiles got him a Golden Globe nomination.

4) Meloncholia – This movie about the possible end of the world and the end of a marriage is part two of the highly stylized piece of sh*t triumvirate.  On the plus side Kirsten Dunst looks incredible naked.  On the negative side the movie is odd and relatively plotless.  And I can still never forgive Lars Von Trier for the film Antichrist. And the Dunst love is for her breasts.  They may say her performance was amazing, but it was one note misery – my blog has more nuance of misery than her performance.  They just were impressed by her rack.  That’s it.

5) The Tree of Life – (the third in the stylized piece of sh*t trio) the only reason this is not the most overrated film of the year is because some critics had the good sense to call it nonsense.  Terrence Malick is nothing short of a cinematic villain.  His movies suck.  I made the mistake of thinking “Oh Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are good actors so maybe this movie will be different,” ignoring the fact that Pitt and Penn are incredibly self-important artists of “the craft” and actually heightened the chances that this movie would be pretentious garbage.  No point in describing this movie because it had no point or plot.

Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Terrence Malick have raised the bar of pretentious film-making to new heights

The Movie I Was Most Surprised to Like

Warrior – I actually highlighted this movie’s trailer on my blog as a sure fire crap bucket.  The preview was cheesy and was clearly making a ploy to be the “Rocky of MMA,” which to me is like trying to be “the Rocky of prison rape (see my podcast on January 17th)”  But the movie turned out to be really solid.  Well acted and largely void of sports movie cheese, not to mention it featured the best set of traps in Hollywood history, courtesy of the clearly ‘roided up Tom Hardy.  No movie this year forced me to acknowledge that my pre-conceived notions were wrong more than Warrior.

Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2011

I saw a lot of movies this year and these were my favorites.   I feel no need to justify my choices and I do not care what yours are.  If they are vastly different than mine you are wrong.  So without further adieu:

1) Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Nothing makes me happier than a high-minded, patiently-crafted popcorn movie.

My favorite character from my favorite movie of 2011.

2) The Ides of March – Nothing new in terms of revelations of how scummy politics is, but I thought this was a brisk, tense, extremely well-acted film.

3) War Horse – if you can look past the (intentional) old school, Hollywood cheesiness you should leave the theater with a smile on your face.

4) Crazy Stupid Love – best romantic comedy since 500 Days of Summer

5) 50/50 – All the humor and sadness you’d expect from a cancer movie.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is going to be 2012’s less ripped, more versatile Ryan Gosling – it is his time to break out big time.

6) The Descendants – Another Clooney flick on the list (Ides was the first).  Really enjoyed just about every minute of this movie.

7) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – might have made the list simply for Rooney Mara’s performance (and her acting was good too), but I really enjoyed the movie – shortest 2 hours and 40 minutes I have spent in a theater.  I think David Fincher is the best director working right now not named Christopher Nolan.

The Girl With The Oscar Ambition

8. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – let it be known that I never abandoned my fandom of Tom Cruise and I was rewarded well with this excellent action movie.  See it on IMAX also – some really great shots.

For the 10th time this year I will tell you - TC is the best sprinter in Hollywood history and MI4 uses that skill to the fullest.

9) X Men: First Class – The first comic book movie post-The Dark Knight that I felt brought gravitas and high quality to the comic book genre.

10) The Artist – A silent movie that almost turns silence into a foreign language.  If not for War Horse, this would have been my feel-good movie of the year.

Thanks for reading – I hope to have my movie review show up and running by the end of this month (www.YouTube.com/JLMovieLife) – you can subscribe now if you like.  So my reviews will hopefully be funny videos this year, or at least videos.  Great news for you anti-readers!

Have a nice weekend.

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Movie of the Week: Drive

This week’s movie of the week is another sneak preview provided by the New York Times’ Film Club.  So me and my old, liberal, hardcopy-of-newspaper reading Jewish friends sat down for the Ryan Gosling action vehicle Drive.  The movie co-starred Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Sons of Anarchy’s Ron Perlman and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks so not one, not two, but three television transitions to film depend on Gosling (granted Perlman has already found some success as Hellboy).  To sum up this movie, those three should not quit their day jobs (both because they are great on their television shows and because this movie is not going to make them movie stars).  Like a girl’s first period this movie is bloody, confusing and messy.

First off Ryan Gosling is having a tremendous year.  He has been an indie film darling, but between nailing Eva Mendes, and starring in Crazy Stupid Love this Summer and The Ides of March with George Clooney next month he is officially making the move from indie star to possible A-list Hollywood leading man in 2011.  Drive was meant to be an action vehicle for him to show some versatility I am guessing, though it looks more like it was a relaxing paycheck where he could take a break from actually acting.

This is his expression for 70% of the movie. The other 30% he is smirking awkwardly.

Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway car driver.  Seems like an intriguing character.  Unfortunately none of the character is developed.  He is a mystery man in terms of his origins and what drives him (pun intended), but we simultaneously know so many other facts about him that it feels peculiar to not know why he is the man that he is.  I think they were aiming for man of mystery cool with Gosling’s character, but he ends up just seeming like someone with poor social and verbal skills.  The opening scene of the film is the highlight and raised the bar for what I expected from the movie.  However, it falls short for the next 90 minutes.

Gosling lives next door to a mom whose criminal husband (not a bad guy criminal, but more of a looking-for-a-second-chance criminal) has just been released from prison.  Of course Gosling has a whole week before the husband returns to become a surrogate father figure and a platonic husband figure to the woman, played by Carrie Mulligan.

Well, once the husband returns our hero must help him do a job in order to keep his wife and son safe.  That is when the movie, both for the characters and the audience, goes off the rails.  It becomes an incredibly violent bloodfest.  Gosling is a stone-cold killer, which is never explained how or why he became like this (not even a suggested hint), and every gun shot or stomping if offered in incredibly grotesque visuals.

If I was going to describe the music of the film, as well as the motif, I would say imagine the techno-synth atrocities that made up the songs of Scarface with Al Pacino.  Now imagine Adele were singing those songs.  Pretty interesting.  It is like poetic, terrible sounding music, which is exactly how I would describe the movie in general.  There is definite effort by the director (partly through excessive slow motion) to make an artistic action movie, but it just isn’t as good as it could have been.  Fortunately everyone in the project has other, bigger things to fall back on.

Final Grade – C+