A list of what you need to see, of both Oscar nominees and films that should be seen for a potential Best of 2011 list. Broken down in 6 categories: Major nominees in theaters, Minor Nominees in theaters, Major nominees on DVD/Cable/On Demand, Minor nominees on DVD/Cable/On Demand, Others of note in theaters, and Others of note on DVD/Cable/On Demand. Started to do some write-ups for my own blog, but stopped to send this now, and will resume writing later. For the record, major nominations to me are Picture, Director, the 4 Acting Categories, the 2 Screenplay categories, Documentary, Foreign Language, and Animated. Hope this helps.
Major nominees in theaters: THE DESCENDANTS, HUGO, THE ARTIST, TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY, A SEPARATION, ALBERT NOBBS, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, PINA in 3-D,
WAR HORSE- I get the complaints regarding Spielberg being overly sentimental again, but you won't count me among them. It's not like this sentimentality is on the saccharine levels of The Sound of Music. It doesn't make the poor people rich, and it doesn't keep young men from being killed by the hundreds on screen. Done artistically mind you, but still by the hundreds. As a film fan, I appreciate the on-screen acknowledgments of films like Gone With The Wind, The Seven Samurai, Dr Zhivago, and even some John Ford films. There's a line between homage and blatant copying, and Spielberg straddled it nicely here,
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN- Familiar story structure of young man, coming-of-age trying to make his way into the world, mixed with Hollywood-ish biopic. The result is fairly light, fun, with performances that lift it above a typical Masterpiece Theater episode. Thus worth catching on the big screen, but its reputation should jump higher on a TV screen. Michelle Williams makes a wonderful Marilyn (pictures from a recent Q and A I attended above), Kenneth Branagh's Olivier with a semi-permanent stick up his ass is a lot of fun, and you come away wanting more Judi Dench. But the idea of a young man (whose diaries of the making of The Prince and The Showgirl made two books) with no experience or obvious skill, being a mostly beloved and trusted confidant, reeks of B.S. Too false an aspect for me to love this film. I'll just merely like a lot,
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE- I refuse to sit through this, no fucking way,
THE TREE OF LIFE- Best seen on the big screen, unless you have a large TV and/or a HD screen. Currently playing in Cinema Village.
Minor nominees in theaters: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN,
THE MUPPETS- Not dissimilar to the recent Star Trek reboot in terms of re-launching a franchise. Appeases the old school fan in me, except for a few too many fart jokes. C'mon, this isn't some crappy Eddie Murphy comedy. Some humans, especially Chris Cooper, worked really well with the Muppets. A few others, like Rashida Jones and a few who did cameos like Whoopi and Selena, not so well. Loved, loved, LOVED the nominated Man or a Muppet song and will be pissed if it isn't performed at the ceremony. If you're an old school fan who can't stand the original writers or voices aren't attached to this, I can understand the subliminal discomfort and resistance. But I say the following, the same I say to the Trekkies with the J.J. Abrahms reboot: suck it up. Older pop culture stuff like say, Sherlock Holmes and Batman have endured and at times,thrived. So can this,
W.E.- Madonna's film, in part about King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, got an official release on Fri Feb 3. But it received an Oscar qualifying 1 week run back in December in L.A., so yep, it qualifies here.
Major nominees on DVD and/or Cable and/or On Demand:
THE HELP, BEGINNERS, WARRIOR, KUNG FU PANDA 2, BRIDESMAIDS, HELL AND BACK AGAIN,
MONEYBALL- Doesn't exactly speed along, but it needs to get its equations across to non-baseball/sabermetrics people, so sorry it takes time. Plays a little loose with the history for my tastes, but still interesting. Brad Pitt's best lead performance, a pleasant surprise from Jonah Hill, and if Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Art Howe is accurate (which it isn't physically), then the Mets were seriously screwed up to look at this man as manager in 2002,
RANGO- Probably the only way anytime soon that we could believe Johnny Depp as a complete underdog, as an iguana on his first trip out in the world. Not joking, this is some of his best work in years. Think you need an appreciation of Westerns in order to truly enjoy, which luckily for me I have and I do. Also works as an early intro to the kind of story depicted in Chinatown. The stop-motion animation works well; you're not depicting realistic humans, the animals look just fine,
MARGIN CALL- Good film debut from writer-director J.C. Chandor. A depiction of the early days of the financial crisis of 2008, where the collapse is depicted less by technical means, but by human frailties. Big egos, greediness, even a lack of economics in jobs you would think requires them. Good cast, one that can even carry Demi Moore. One where Jeremy Irons' Dracula-esque performance can still fit in naturally,
A BETTER LIFE- A surprise Best Actor nominee,
PUSS IN BOOTS- Comes out on DVD on the Friday before the Oscars,
IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT- A Best Documentary nominee, it's on DVD but easier to find on youtube. For how much longer on youtube is a good question,
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS- The best Woody Allen film since Match Point. But that's no reason for such an overreaction of praise, hosannas and what not. Solid cast, some good dialogue, nice Parisian locales. But Top 10 best? Please. Let's just call it a pleasant time-killer worth catching on DVD or cable. Let's call it a noticeable improvement over say, Hollywood Ending and Anything Goes and move on,
THE IDES OF MARCH- A George Clooney-directed film that's an improvement over the disappointing Leatherheads. Fun support by both Phillip Seymour Hoffman and (especially) Paul Giamatti, backing yet another tip-top Ryan Gosling lead. But whenever Evan Rachel Wood comes on-screen, with the kind of storyline that has both Jailbait and Dead Meat figuratively tattooed on her forehead, oy vey. The film could only become unpredictable if Gosling came into clean things up with a light saber and a blaster. Seriously, if you didn't see this become a paint by numbers film of political disillusionment, then you have to see more movies. At least it wasn't boring,
PARADISE LOST 3- Best Documentary nominee. Available on HBO On Demand and HBO Plus, alongside Paradise Lost 1 and 2
Minor nominees on DVD: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEADLY HALLOWS PART 2, ANONYMOUS, TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON,
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES- The best Planet of the Apes film since the original. Would make an interesting double feature with the documentary Project Nim,
JANE EYRE, RIO, REAL STEEL, DRIVE
Others of note in theaters: SHAME, THE SKIN I LIVE IN, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, PARIAH, LE HAERVE,
CARNAGE- Decent, but you can wait for DVD or cable. Maybe the piece only works on stage. Maybe the piece doesn't work as well if all four actors, while doing respectable jobs, are only believable as adults. All four just didn't pull the depths emotional immaturity. Strange to say after seeing John C. Reilly in Step Brothers, go figure,
YOUNG ADULT- Wonderful pitch-perfect black comedy. I have never been disappointed in a Jason Reitman film before, and the positive streak continues. Nice to see Charlize Theron in a change of pace, but Patton Oswalt is the revelation here,
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE- will be released on DVD the Tuesday before the Oscars,
A DANGEROUS METHOD- The ideas of sexuality, repression, and feelings bubbling up to the surface, makes this fit right along with other David Cronenberg films. Solid acting, even Keira Knightly who has to run the longest outwardly emotional gauntlet and overall does fine. Though I did spoil it for by reading an interview where she talked about how difficult it was to display insanity through her face, as well as making "sex faces". More than a little distracting. But a major reason why this isn't in my top 10 goes to Christopher Hampton's screenplay. Most definitely feels like a Cliffs Note version of the story/real life people. Yeah I get the basics, but not a lot of emotional investment in these people. Came away feel something was left out, mainly in the Freud and Keira storylines. Still a good job overall,
INTO THE ABYSS- The better of the two Werner Herzog documentaries that received a theatrical release, covering a Texas triple homicide from many different angles. From jailhouse interviews, to interviews with relatives of both killed and killers, a sweetheart of one of the killers who was impregnated with "contraband" semen. Even finding out what happened to the object of the killers' desire, a shiny red car that is no longer shiny, hell it has weeds growing through the floorboard. If the chilling interview with killer Micheal Perry, shot days before his execution, doesn't get to you, then nothing will.
Others on DVD or elsewhere: TUESDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, POTICHE, THE NAMES OF LOVE, GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE, TOMBOY- These 5 foreign films all worth catching. Tuesday After Christmas is a good Romanian drama; where the husband leaves his wife for a younger woman, devastating his wife and unaware of what he'll lose until it's too late. Potiche is a fun, biting social satire that fits in well with something like 9 to 5. The Names of Love is another satire, though more successful as a romantic film. Gainsbourg nicely avoids the by-the-numbers biography path of something like Ray or Walk The Line, but works best as an introduction. Tomboy is the best of the 5; a quiet coming of age of a young girl, sure of the gender identity path she wants to take (male), but not entirely sure of the consequences (don't worry, nothing like Boys Don't Cry here),
TABLOID- Entertaining Errol Morris documentary available on both DVD and Showtime On Demand,
WEEKEND, CRAZY STUPID LOVE, COWBOYS AND ALIENS, THE THING (2012), CAPTAIN AMERICA,
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS- Another draft and making sure Lenny Kravitz's daughter was never cast would have improved it. Seriously, there's a lot of story that isn't strong when the Xavier and Magneto characters aren't involved, and Zoe Kravitz isn't much of an actress. But Matthew Vaughn brought a wonderful visual style to this, we have two great leads in McAvoy and Fassbender, and compared to Wolverine and X-Men 3, this is almost a work of art,
CONTAGION- Unnecessary to see it on the IMAX screen, but it would make good double feature/ compare and contrast with the original version of The Andromeda Strain. Believable in and terms it only taking a bug and some internet panic to spread a global pandemic. A bit of mixed bag the varying human stories but it works,
WIN WIN- Another winning slice of life from writer-director Thomas McCarthy. No obvious villains here. At worst we have someone whose addictions are out of control or someone taking a little money for the family by telling a white lie. But since the addict is causing pain for her son, and the white lie forces a man with dementia out of his home, I'm sure they would disagree about there being no villains around them. Paul Giamatti leads a quality cast in this quietly effective, at times funny, morality tale,
MEEK'S CUTOFF, BOBBY FISHER VS. THE WORLD, PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, CERTIFIED COPY, SARAH'S KEY,
EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER- Decent Cliff notes introduction for newbies like me to the Eames, even though I and quite a number of have been influenced by their work without even knowing it. But better to see it now via PBS.org, under The American Experience banner, as opposed to paying the 13 dollars in a theater,
THE BLACK POWER MIX TAPE- This documentary of the Black Power movement, on the short list for Best Documentary yet didn't quite make it, will air on PBS on Thurs Feb 9 at 9PM, under the Independent Lens banner. It will then air on Thirteen.org under Independent Lens 48 hours later,
THE INTERRUPTERS- From director Steve James. This will air on PBS' Frontline on Tuesday, February 14 at 9PM, and will be on PBS.org within 48 hours after that.
PROJECT NIM- A documentary from the director of Man on Wire, that I was stunned about it not getting a nomination. Out on DVD Feb 7, make time for it,
TAKE SHELTER- Comes out on DVD on Feb 14,
50/50- Joseph Gordon-Levitt's work, with as well as without Anna Kendrick, is what makes the film sing. Anjelica Huston as one solid scene and then, not much else to do. Otherwise, the film is only a bit of the quality of a typical Lifetime movie of the week. Should work ok as a rental,
CEDAR RAPIDS- A pleasant surprise of a dramedy. I can see why Alexander Payne was attracted to the material, even if he didn't direct it. Here's where goodwill toward Ed Helms was at its highest, soon to drop after the disappointing Hangover Part 2, as well as the inconsistencies with The Office (which I blame more on the writers than him),
THOR- In terms of quality, in-between the two Iron Man films. The scenes on Asgard and the ice world always kick ass. Most of the scenes on Earth, not so much. And it looks like Natalie Portman slept-walked through the film, especially when compared to Kat Dennings' work,
PAUL, SUPER 8- 2 throwback/tribute to the late 70s/early 80s style of Spielberg. Paul, while slow, has some funny sequences and a winning supporting turn from Kristen Wiig as a religious woman who sees the light. Super 8 starts off well, but falls apart when we're supposed to react to the Godzilla/Cloverfield monster as an E.T. type in the 11th hour. Yeah I don't think so Mr. Abrahms,
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS- fascinating look at some very very old cave drawings. Drawings that are either 90,000 plus years old, or merely 45,000 or so years old. Seeing something this old still intact is incredible, and ol' Werner Herzog is still a fun wackadoodle of a narrator. But not seeing this in 3-D loses a little something,
IN A BETTER WORLD, INCENDIES- The winner of last year's Best Foreign Film and one of the four other nominees, respectively. They both received a 2011 theatrical release here in the states, so yep, it qualifies.
The picture of Oscar by the way is located by the elevators near the entrance of the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International. This was where the screening for My Week with Marilyn and the Williams Q and A took place. Sometimes, three dollar screenings of Oscar winners take place there. I look forward to coming back.