Friday, July 01, 2011

so far

The movie year 2011. So far. Not your usual movie year. Which is something I appreciate. In fact, it's been a real grab-bag of oddities.

Which I also appreciate.

Case in point: The following oddball ten - which I consider to be the best of 2011. To date. Be forewarned, however. The choices are a tad eclectic.

1. Hans Petter Moland's “A Somewhat Gentle Man” (“En ganske snill mann”) - A veritable one-man film, showcasing the estimable talents of Stellan Skarsgård, who gives a deft, droll performance as an ex-con/ex-murderer trying to redeem himself in an ugly world. A small, wry film with an amusing supporting cast - the women are especially, well, colorful.

2. Woody Allen's
“Midnight in Paris” - Woody Allen doing Woody Allen, with Owen Wilson also doing Woody Allen. And perfectly. The Paris setting is the whipped cream on this dreamy confection.

3. Dan Rush's “Everything Must Go” - A slip of a Raymond Carver short story has been ever-so-gently molded into a feature-length film about the melancholy - and euphoria - of losing everything. Will Ferrell is our guide through his hero's travails, both witty and sad.

Giuseppe Capotondi's
“The Double Hour” (“La doppia ora”) - At once creepy, sexy, sordid and compulsively watchable, Capotondi's Italian crime drama stars Kseniya Rappoport as a hotel maid and Flippo Timi as an ex-cop turned security guard who meet intially at a speed dating seminar - and elsewhere. Their paths keep crossing, lethally.
5. Dennis Dugan's “Just Go With It” - A genuinely hilarious modern comedy about deception/mistaken identity, an update of Abe Burrows' "Cactus Flower" (by way of a French stage comedy by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy), with Adam Sandler continuing to hone his soulful side and Jennifer Aniston proving, as The New Yorker's Richard Brody so aptly put it, to be "a genre unto herself." She has great comic timing, terrific rapport with Sandler and does a mean Mean Girl duet with good sport Nicole Kidman. This hastily dismissed film "nicely combines Adam Sandler's acerbic sweetness with Aniston's down-to-earth warmth," as critic Mick LaSalle wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle.

6. Tom McCarthy's
“Win Win” - McCarthy (that's him on the left), who seems like Sturges, Wilder and McCarey roled into one, delivers another of his sharp character-driven dramedies, in which nice people do bad things and often - now get this - on purpose. Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young and the magnificent Margo Martindale make fine company here.

7. J.J. Abrams' “Super 8” - Abrams brings the Spielberg oeuvre kicking and screaming into the New Millenium, replete with a knockoff John Williams score by Michael Giacchino.

8. François Ozon's “Potiche” (“Trophy Wife”) - A slight, very slight love letter to Catherine Deneuve, which actually ends with the cast applauding the star. Shameless. (Based on a play by the aforementioned/ubiquitous Barillet and Grédy.)

9. Brad Furman's “The Lincoln Lawyer” - A throwback to the 1970s, an era of filmmaking that Furman nails. Matthew McConaughey channels Burt Reynolds.

10. Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” - Sure it's pretentious and ponderous and ever-so-entitled but it's a Malick, after all. Which also means that it's gorgeous and, more to the point, thoughtful, a rarity in modern movies. Once again, Malick has made a film in which his actors are so muted they're almost irrelevant to his filmic mission statement. And once again, Malick has made a film difficult to ignore.

And the fascinating combos:

“Source Code”/”Unknown”/”Limitless”/”The Adjustment Bureau” - All wannabe Hitchcocks and all fairly effective.

“Twelve Thirty”/”Lebanon, Pa.” - Two genuinely old-fashioned indie films, the kind made before film festivals and studio boutique branches bastardized them.

"Bridesmaids”/”Bad Teacher” - A duo that proves that filthy-mouthed women are more palatable than filthy-mouthed men. There's been no greater guilty pleasure in movies this year than the sight of Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids" - stradlding a sink, sick with diarrhea - ordering Wendi McLendon-Covey (who is busy vomiting in the toilet) to "Look away!" Her reading of that two-word line is perfect.
The dinner that leads to all kinds of intestinal mayhem


John Kaiser said...

"Just Go With It"? Really. Next you'll say that "Transformers 3" was released to late to make the list.

joe baltake said...

John! I said the list was eclectic. But beyond that, I truly think "Just Go With It" is an excellent modern comedy. Aniston's comic timing is pitch-perfect and her chemistry with Sandler is better than you find in most "important" (i.e., acceptable) films.

John Kaiser said...

I just find any movie where Jennifer Aniston needs a makeover in order to be an acceptable mate for Adam Sandler to be unacceptable. On a side note, I saw a trailer for "Jack and Jill" and it actually looks like a fun movie.

Chris Baker said...

"A Somewhat Gentle Man," a movie which deserved a larger audiences, packs enough thematic material for three movies. I loved how the filmmaker tackled all its aspects and used Stellan Skarsgard's brilliant performance to connect all the disparate parts.

jbryant said...

I see that A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN is streaming on Netflix Instant. I'll have to find some time for it.

Haven't seen JUST GO WITH IT, but I wanted to, and eventually will. Sandler can be much better than his critical reputation suggests; I really like YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, and even some of his middling films have good parts (and then, sure, there are the irredeemable ones). His best work is still in other people's films (FUNNY PEOPLE, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE), but I would never dismiss him out of hand.

And Aniston is very talented; the vitriol one often sees against her seems way out of proportion to the sometimes iffy choices she makes. When she's good, she's very good, even if the movie's not much.

Glenn said...

"Tree of Life" - Amazing that this scattered mosaic received so many glowing notices. Malick at his least accessible and, worse, most pretentious.

Mark Halverson said...

Tree of Life: Hi Joe! When you use both pretentious and ponderous and gorgeous and thoughtful to describe the same film I'm thinking it more appropriately belongs on a Nice Try List.

joe baltake said...

Mark! I know what you mean, but as I said, it's difficult to ignore "Tree of Life."

g.l. said...

Joe, this longtime Malick fan was also disappointed in "Tree of Life." Amazing that this scattered mosaic received so many glowing notices. Malick at his least accessible and, worse, most pretentious.

Paul said...

any man who has the courage to criticize Tree of Life in the current climate gets my vote of confidence and approval!

wwolfe said...

I know it was made for HBO, but my favorite of the year so far is "Too Big to Fail." Terrific acting across the board, and smart writing and direction. This was much scarier than most of the blockbuster special effects movies from the past decade or so, even though it was about nothing more than accounting.

p.r. said...

So glad you noticed "Super 8" and "The Lincoln Lawyer" among others. I was knocked out by the chunky actress in "Bridesmaids" whose name I memorized and now can't recall. She was as intense as Gena Rowlands in a completely different way. Wow.

Carrie said...

I’m a huge fan of “Just Go With It.” Aniston is a delight. Prefer her perf to Ingrid Bergman’s in Cactus Flower, though prefer Goldie Hawn to Brooklyn Decker.

Paul said...

Joe, any man who has the courage to criticize Tree of Life in the current climate gets my vote of confidence and approval!

dan said...

After I saw Super 8--which my wife and I thought so bad it nearly put us in a state of stupefaction--I can easily understand those people who are overrating Tree of Life, at least it's about something and I think it's an honorable failure, if failure it is.

Super 8 was so utterly derivative it felt less like a movie than an anthology. After it was over I inquired of my wife about a story point and she asked, "Did you fall asleep?" "No," I replied, "I did not fall asleep--I want to be very clear about this--rather, I was so bored I willed myself into taking a nap!"

Mark Halverson said...

Just watched "A Somewhat Gentle Man" after reading Joe's recommendation. I loved the way the characters gradually crawled under my skin and its treatment of "adult" sex is handled in a stark, frank manner rarely embraced in mainstream American films.

Gerry said...

Re, your Top 10 for 2011. I was surprised to find we agree on...Jennifer Aniston (?!?!)--I love her in film, consistently, and find I' feeling that way. I try to keep it a secret as much as possible. ;-D

Especially enjoyed her in "Management," with Steve Zahn, although I readily admit it's nowhere near perfect--but I just...enjoyed it. Enough to buy a copy.

Will look forward to seeing "Just Go With It," and will look for some of the others that sound intriguing in your list as well. Always interesting to read your take on things.