ANOTHER YEAR (***1/2) is a touching character study about a sturdy & loving British couple (Jim Broadbent & Ruth Sheen) and their lovelorn, frazzled friend (Lesley Manville, in the female performance of the year). If you like slow & lovely art-house British films, you'll love this, as it is one of the better ones I've ever seen.
BARNEY'S VERSION (***1/2) stars Paul Giamatti as a schlub (what else?) who meets the love of his life at his 2nd wedding. But this is more than just a situation comedy; it's a tender, true, sweeping life story that is ultimately beautifully human as well as hilarious. Giamatti is on the top of his game.
BIUTIFUL (***) features Javier Bardem as a single father of two who holds a special capacity to communicate with the dead, coping with his relationship with death while dying of cancer. The movie is not as good as most of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's previous outings (such as Babel and 21 Grams)--it's a little slow and not as stimulating--but it's very good and Bardem is magnificent.
BLACK SWAN (***1/2) is the enthralling story of a ballerina (Natalie Portman) battling with with her inner demons as she competes & strives to nail the lead role in Swan Lake. Portman is heartbreaking in the role, and the way director Darren Aronofsky (Reqiuem for a Dream, The Wrestler) uses his craft to theatricalize a cinematographic representation of her inner demon is at times breathtaking.
BLUE VALENTINE (***1/2) cuts back & forth between the honeymoony beginning of a relationship and its bitter potential demise years later. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams light up the screen in this ferociously raw film--the best film out right now.
BURIED (***) stars Ryan Reynolds as an American truck driver in Iraq who gets kidnapped & buried and spends the whole movie underground with a lighter, a pencil and a blackberry, fighting to figure out how to survive. The movie brings you into his claustrophobia--not in a frustrating way but rather in an effective way that left me overall quite impressed, despite a few flaws that had me scratching my head.
THE COMPANY MEN (***) is a window into various household repercussions of corporate lay-offs. It mainly focuses on youngish-couple-of-two Ben Affleck & Rosemarie DeWitt--DeWitt is devine as always, but Affleck can only do so much... (although it's some of his best work, I suppose.) Tommy Lee Jones holds his own in his corner of the spread, while Chris Cooper dazzles in his. Meanwhile Kevin Costner, as the carpenter brother-in-law to Affleck who Ben goes to work for while job-searching, singlehandedly reminds us that we're only watching a mediocre movie, despite the wonderfully observant moments that come close to kicking it above such.
CONVICTION (***), in which Hilary Swank devotes 20 years of her life to freeing her brother (Sam Rockwell) from a life sentence in jail for a murder he did not commit (or did he?), is decent. Knowing that it is based on a true story makes it more moving than it would otherwise be, but Swank's lack of charisma hurts a lot. Rockwell steals the flick and makes it worthwhile.
DUE DATE (**1/2) is basically a 2010 version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but with Robert Downey, Jr. & Zach Galifianakis in the Steve Martin & John Candy roles. Many jokes fall flat and it's far more contrived, but the stars do a great job and enough of it is laugh-out-loud riotous to have made me feel that it was worth my while.
FAIR GAME (***) is based on the true story of a CIA agent (Naomi Watts) whose position in the CIA becomes public as a backfiring on some whistle-blowing on the part of her husband (Sean Penn). It's a little confusing and unexciting, but certainly interesting on many levels, and quite well acted.
THE FIGHTER (***1/2) is the true story of a boxer (Mark Wahlberg) fighting to rise to the top as a boxer, as his family & trainer brother drag his heels with their disfunction. Christian Bale is shockingly good as his coke-addict washed-up-boxer older brother--ruthless in his risk-taking as a performer, and at times outright heartbreaking. I predict he'll win the Supporting Oscar this year. As may Melissa Leo, who is harrowing and sizzling as the mother trying to keep her family together, a family that includes not only two sons but seven attached-at-the-hip daughters. Wahlberg is stronger in off-kilter supporting roles; here he struggles to find his footing as the straight man. But that doesn't keep this film from being one of the year's best.
GET LOW (***) features wonderful work from Robert Duvall as an infamously grumpy old man who decides to stage his own funeral before he dies in order to watch what people have to say about him. Bill Murray entertains as always as the funeral coordinator, but it's Duvall's movie, and his character arc pays off. The movie could have done more though.
THE ILLUSIONIST (***) is an enthralling animated feature from the French director of 2003's The Triplets of Belleville, and is about an aged magician desperately seeking the meaning of his long and winding-down life before it comes to a close. It's no Triplets (which is perhaps the best animated movie ever)--it's a bit slow, uneven, uneventful--but it holds its own and has some great payoff.
INSIDE JOB (***) is a well-organized & effective documentary about the 2008 financial crisis. It will have a larger impact on those who speak business-lingo (not me), but has the power to make a noteworthy impact on anyone.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (**1/2) is a dramedy about a boy who admits himself into a psych ward for a week because he is suicidal, and is changed by the "special" gaggle of characters he gets to know, namely Zach Galifianakis, who is, as always, fun to watch. It has absolutely amazing moments, but overall drags without ever fully popping.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART ONE (***1/2) is in my mind the best Harry Potter flick since the fourth one, The Goblet of Fire. Director David Yates also directed the last two, which I thought were not so hot, so I'm pleasantly surprised with the enthralling work he did this time around! Can't wait for part two.
HEREAFTER (**) stars Matt Damon as a man who is able to mentally connect with the deceased. Given that it is directed by Clint Eastwood, it is naturally quite self-important, slow and anti-climactic.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (***1/2) features some of the divine Annette Bening's best work, and certainly the hit-or-miss Julianne Moore's best work. They play a lesbian couple whose life is turned a bit upside-down when their late-teen children bring the sperm-donor (Mark Ruffalo) into the mix. It's a near-perfect dramedy that is quite sure to entertain if not blow you away (which it probably won't).
THE KING'S SPEECH (***1/2) should win Colin Firth his first Oscar as the stuttering King George VI, struggling to work through his disability so that he can be the inspiring leader he needs to be as England veers towards World War II. He's remarkable, as is Geoffrey Rush (The Fighter's Bale's competition for the supporting trophy) as the outlandish and astute speech pathologist. Their relationship is very well explored, and the movie is a crowd-pleaser.
LET ME IN (****) is the American remake of the Swedish Let the Right One In, about a boy's blossoming but complicated friendship with a vampire girl. It turns what could be a Twilight-esque fluff-fest into a surprisingly touching tale, all with an enthralling filmmaking edge.
MEGAMIND (***) features the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, & Brad Pitt in this animated superhero spoof. Fun times!
MORNING GLORY (***) stars Harrison Ford & Diane Keaton as difficult morning news anchors and Rachel McAdams as the precocious new producer trying to manage them. It was far from the movie it could have been, but is fun enough for those looking for a simple escape.
MY DOG TULIP (*1/2) is the animated tale of an old man and his dog as the canine explores his bowel & sexual development. The reviews were excellent, and I love animated films that explore crafty & textured visuals, but I was boooored off my behind!!!
NEVER LET ME GO (***) is the story of an orphanage of clones who are raised for the express purpose of donating organs until death once 25-30 years of age, in order to increase the survival rate of the rest of the world. Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightly, it handles fascinating ideas in an absolutely heartwrenching way. It could have been cleaner and bolder, but it's worth checking out if you're a romantic (despite the narrative frame, it's really a romance and not a sci-fi film).
127 HOURS (***1/2) is the true story of Aron Ralston, who in April of 2003 spent 127 hours with his arm trapped between a big rock and a bigger rock in a crevasse in Colorado, until he finally jackknifed his forearm off and broke free, surviving. James Franco does impressive work in the role, and the movie is remarkably well-crafted and moving.
RABBIT HOLE (***1/2) is based on a play by the same name, about a couple (Nicole Kidman & Aaron Eckhart) whose 4-year-old child has just died. Its palate feels a little cookie-cutter rather than raw, but Kidman & Eckhart to some of the more open & vulnerable work of their careers.
RED (***) stands for Retired and Extremely Dangerous, and stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman as retired CIA agents who are pushed back into ass-kicking mode. Malkovich in particular has a blast, and Mary Louise Parker is a delight to watch as the desk-job stranger who is dragged along for the ride. It's far from perfect, but it's worth it for the fun.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (***1/2) holds up to the hype pretty well. Nothing revolutionary, but I really enjoyed it and was impressed with the work that went into the storytelling. That said, Oscar shmoscar. I'm rooting against it because it's overrated.
THE TOWN (***). Call me hearing impaired, but the story I lost for the sake of "naturalistic" Bostonion speech cost this suspenseful crime flick potentially a full star on this one (it's hard to say how many stars it would get had I fully experienced it). Good story, good performances. I look forward to watching it on video with subtitles.
TOY STORY 3 (****) is one of Pixar's finest, rising to the level of the previous two just as much as anyone would hope. GO GO GO GO GO!
TRUE GRIT (***1/2) showcases Jeff Bridges in one of his best performances, though I would have appreciated him even better had I been able to understand more than half of what he was saying, through his mumbledy-grumbledy deep mountain-man voice. This lack of clarity, combined with my 11:30am tired viewing in New York, kept me at bay from the story a bit; but it was clear that the Coen Brothers have yet again created an enthralling world, and explored the anti-climax of violence with ironic eyes. I look forward to a subtitled Netflix viewing.
UNSTOPPABLE (***) stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as railroad workers trying to stop an "unstoppable", driver-less, explosive train. Guess what, the train stops! :o But there are efficient thrills along the way in this neat & tidy suspense pic. (Based on a true story, like many other features this fall.)
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (**). Money may never sleep, but I sure did. Solid performances (particularly from the stunning Carey Mulligan) couldn't save this drastically empty script. You'll spend the whole movie wondering "why bother making this sequel?"