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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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Top 10 Summer Movies – 2011

For anyone who reads my blog because they enjoy my movie reviews here’s my top ten from this Summer.  Sorry fans of Bridesmaids – I gave it a decent review, but I liked these 10 movies better.  So get out to a theater or re-order your Netflix queue for these:

  1. Rise of the Planet of The Apes – Tea Party’s idea of Evolution, which I assume is why they oppose it
  2. Crazy Stupid Love – Best romantic comedy since 500 Days of Summer
  3. X Men: First Class – washed away the stain from X Men 3 and X Men Origins-Wolverine
  4. Warrior – a thoughtful, emotional movie about MMA, which is presumably why MMA fans did not see it
  5. The Help – lesson I took away: White women are horrible racists, except for the white woman with big breasts
  6. The Trip – I may be biased because I am a comedian, but I loved this road tripping movie about two comics
  7. Captain America – Benefited greatly from not being Thor (which was not terrible) or having Ryan Reynolds in it
  8. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 – bye bye Potter.
  9. The Debt (3rd two-word “The” movie on the list) – brought a little high class to the Summer season
  10. Midnight in Paris – I prefer Woody Allen being cynical and depressing, but this fairly positive movie was pleasant

The biggest loser of the Summer – Ryan Reynolds.  Had the worst movie of the Summer, Green Lantern, and received such bad reviews for The Change Up that he actually broke my streak of seeing movies with Jason Bateman.

Not since Dane Cook released Good Luck Chuck and Employee of the Month has a guy had a year like Ryan Reynolds has had in 2011.
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Movie of the Week: Contagion

This week presents several movie of the week options.  One option is Warrior – the Rocky (or possibly jumping right to the Rocky V) of MMA films, whose preview bears the hallmark of a bad movie – 98% of the plot is given away in the preview (all I know is that the two main characters enter a competition and the two of them face off in the finals of that competition – but who wins, besides MMA, which gets a free advertisement for its product, I do not know).  Another option is Bucky Larson, which stars Nick Swardson and is produced by Happy Madison, the production studio of Adam Sandler, that specializes in brain cell-destroying excrement.  However, I am confident that Bucky Larson, which appears to track the adventures of a buck-toothed, borderline special needs young man who inexplicably becomes a small-membered adult film star, will definitely “buck” the Sandler trend and be a classic.

MMA, Small-Penis Porn or Global Killing Disease are your movie options. I chose GKD.

So I settled on Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion.  I had a free ticket thanks to the New York Times’ Film Club.  Part of the membership is that I get tickets to several early screenings of films.  But, as you may guess, any film club based on membership in a print-media based organization with liberal leanings means that it is usually me and a few hundred elderly Jewish people.  In other words when I want to hang out with elderly Catholics I go to Church and then when I need to get some elderly Jewish company I go to NYT film club screenings.

The movie is about a fictional world-wide outbreak of a bat/swine based virus that kills quickly and with minimal contact.  The movie boasts an all star cast, with Lawrence Fishburne and Matt Damon earning the most screen time.   Jude Law is the standout to me as the conspiracy theorist blogging superstar in the movie, but everyone is good.

The movie makes the undoubtedly true point that within a few weeks of an outbreak like the one depicted in the film, humans would revert to becoming animals whose survival instinct trumps all sense of decency.  Unless you are a named star above the title of the film, in which case you will still have your humanity.

The movie is well made and moves briskly, but I still never felt like any of the main characters were in danger and if you want an audience to care about the main characters they need to seem as vulnerable as the cast of extras that are filling up the mass graves.  I haven’t seen it in a while, but I still think I’d take Outbreak over Contagion.

Final Grade – B/B-

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Movie of the Week – Bridesmaids (Plus Two Awful…

Yesterday I went to see Bridesmaids.  Before reading reviews of the film I was convinced that given its all-female cast (including Kristen Wiig, who has managed to be in a record-setting 117% of all Saturday Night Live sketches) and Judd Apatow association, the movie would be unfunny and extremely long.  Allow me to say I was wrong on the first part.  It was solidly funny.  Not great, or classic or even in the class of The Hangover or Old School (for my money the absolute best of the frat-ensemble style comedies of the last decade), but there were plenty of funny moments.  Sadly, many of the funny moments seemed Apatow-ish in the inability to leave the audience wanting more.  Several scenes, including one in which two friends compete in outdoing each other’s engagement party toasts, exhibit an inability to stop at three funny jokes and instead go for nine.  Like microcosms of Apatow movies which always seem to go on about twenty-five minutes too long, the scenes demonstrate that there can be too much of a good thing.  I won’t spoil the film, but I will say that it is a funnier movie than it is a quality movie which, for a summertime comedy, is probably more important.

Not bad. I'd give it a B

But rest assured, just because I was not given enough from Bridesmaids to be angry about doesn’t mean that my movie going experience was a total wash.  I saw two previews at Bridesmaids that represented a new low for Hollywood.  The first was for a new film called Warrior.  Here is the trailer:

Every sport was around for decades before inspirational movies came out about it.  Rocky was 100 years in the making, Hoosiers was 40 years, but MMA gets its Rocky approximately 7 weeks later (rough estimate).  But given its rich tradition of 3 pay-per-view events and some backyard brawls on YouTube they are ready for their close up.  Granted, the movie is a genius marketing strategy (why wait for the sport to earn the movie, we’ll make the movie and bring movie people to the sport), but it is also obvious that the movie has to be a piece of sh*t.  Here’s why:

1) It tells you the entire story. Any movie that tells you the entire plot in the preview is a bad movie.  This is an ironclad rule that has been 100% accurate ever since the preview for Macaulay Culkin’s “Ritchie Rich.”

2) MMA is not inspiring.  Sports that take about ten minutes time to end do not have the requisite time build up for inspiration, no matter how heavy-handed the soaring violin music is in the preview.  Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman doing the soundtrack for Bloodsport would not have made it The Natural.

3) Lights Out Syndrome – The movie looks exactly like someone copied the plot of the FX series Lights Out.  Although I liked Lights Out, copying a series that got cancelled after one season does not seem like a blue print for success.

The other notable movie preview was just flat out insulting.  It was for the new Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake tour de force – “Friends With Benefits.”  Here is the preview:

You may recongize this as a remake of a movie that came out 4 months ago:

Which was inspired by part of a movie that came out two months before that one:

Most geeks thought it absurd when The Hulk was re-made/re-booted a mere five years after the Ang Lee disaster.  Well, apparently the romantic comedy audience appears much more tolerant.  These movies pretend to flip the romantic comedy on its head and make it more modern, but it is the same story over and over again with the same happy ending (the modern exception being 500 Days of Summer, the best romantic comedy I’ve ever seen and the only known antidote for the poison that is the three above films).  I guess my weekly movie advice would be two things I did not expect to write: go see Bridesmaids, but skip the trailers.