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27.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The cast of a Coen Bros. movie meets the casts of a studio romantic comedy in a film where the actors don’t really matter at all.  At some point the crashwhizbanginess of Michael Bay’s films have to get old, right?  Seems like there should be diminishing returns.  But so far I’ve found the films continue to be watchable, even as they move away from any semblance of logic and toward a cacophony of lights and sound.

26.  Young Adult

This dark comedy reminded me a little of Rachel Getting Married in its depiction of a unlikable emotionally scarred lead who finds herself in the middle of some pretty uncomfortable to watch situations.  And Charlize Theron is quite good in the role.  It was great that Patton Oswalt was in the Oscar conversation.  I’m not sure he would have made my personal top five, but that’s probably more on the size of the role than his performance.  And, similarly, I think the script overall was good, but not great.

25.  Mysteries of Lisbon

In the interest of full disclosure, I watched this Portuguese epic over the course of two nights, and really, films are meant to be seen in one sitting.  In my defense, this bad boy clocks in at a whopping four and a half hours.  Which is a lot of movie.  As my Dumas books will attest, I’m kind of a sucker for long winding interconnected 19th centuryish tales of adventure and intrigue.  And there were a lot of stories crammed into this one.  But the framing convention and connecting narrative of a sick boy seeking to learn his history was really effectively used to show that maybe all was not as it seemed.  So it is a little bit of a mindf*ck.  In a sense, I thought it tackled a lot of the themes and ideas Tree of Life was going for.  Only, you know, effectively.

24.  Hanna

Whenever you start getting frustrated about the lack of original movies that Holly greenlights, it is nice to think of the less obvious stuff that has managed to come along.  Like this super low-key action movie about an adolescent girl who was trained, from birth, to be an assassin.  The film takes an interesting approach to telling the story and has some well-designed fight sequences.  It is almost like an “indie” action movie, and no comparisons immediately come to mind.

23.  Martha Marcy May Marlene

This indie smash does a fantastic job maintaining tension throughout the whole movie.  I was continually drawn in, trying to figure out exactly what was going on, while never finding the film too opaque.  Enough digital ink has been spilled over Olsen’s coming out party  that I don’t feel obliged to chime in.  Especially because we get it, she’s the Olsen sister we never saw.  Jokes about that stopped being funny a long time ago, if they even ever were.  Good for her for taking them in stride, though.  Actually, she reminds me a little bit of Maggie Gyllenhaal, for whatever that is worth.

22.  Midnight in Paris

Here’s my full take on this movie.  You can tell my knowledge of cinema has a real depth and breadth and couples well with my understanding of nuance, because I compare Midnight in Paris to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

21.  Just Go with It

I firmly believe you can never know how good a movie is before actually watching it.  You can have an educated guess, of course, but if you go into a movie with an open mind, sometimes it is going to surprise you.  I’ll grant the conditions were favorable, I believe I watched this on a plane after getting a lucky upgrade to first class.  And the fact that the soundtrack heavily leaned on Sting and the Police songs certainly didn’t hurt any.  But underneath the, yes, somewhat tired romantic comedy was a genuine warmth.  The kids were cute and Bailee Madison’s intentionally bad British accent slayed me.  Brooklyn Decker is an incredible physical specimen, sure, but she showed a perhaps surprising competence, and her character was given actual depth.  And there was a sly sense of humor, for example the ballyhooed cameos from Nicole Kidman and Dave Matthews that went beyond stunt casting into something oddball and fun.

20.  The Help

Huh.  Thought I had written this one up, but I guess not.  I sorta think people projected their own stuff onto this film.  Which is probably all but inevitable, especially for a film where race issues feature so prominently.  But personally, I viewed it more as a feel good underdog type movie and didn’t really think it tried to “solve” racism or have any sort of deep social message (while i may agree with the idea that racism is stupid, I’d like to think we are living at a point where that’s a particularly complex idea).  I mean, look at Octavia Spencer’s end scene, where she thinks she’s going to be fired, but it turns out Jessica Chastain cooked her a meal.  That’s just heartwarming.  The only real criticism I have is that the film felt a little bloated, I think they could have trimmed the running time down a bit without losing anything.  The cast is top notch.  I’m not sure if I were running things I would have given them three Oscar noms, but I’m certainly not upset about it.  For me, the most questionable one is Jessica Chastain, both because voters probably should have settled on her role in Take Shelter over this one and because I’m not sure what separates her from Bryce Dallas Howard (intended as a compliment to the latter) here.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were both fantastic.  Davis wouldn’t have been my pick for Oscar, I guess, but it is baffling to me why she isn’t getting better roles.  Frankly, I’m surprised Showtime hasn’t nabbed her to lead some series and win Emmys for the next half-decade.  Oh, and as I alluded to, I think the argument that the film is about a young white woman ending racism are silly.  But, if a young white woman were to end racism, let’s just say I wouldn’t be bet against it being Emma Stone.

19.  Super 8

The movie was simply fantastic up until the train crash, but once the film turned into a monster movie, I think the quality leveled off some.  If J.J. Abrams could have toned down the supernatural elements, I think the movie could have been something truly special, instead of simply a solid film.  And I guess while I’m critiquing, I’ll say that I was really hoping this would be a breakout role for Coach, er, Kyle Chandler, but his role just didn’t allow for that.  I do need to go on a little rant about the relative lack of recognition for Elle Fanning’s performance.  Which probably was, for me, the performance of the year.  Certainly the supporting performance of the year.  I’m not sure I can remember being a theater where our collective breath was taken away the way it was during the scene was Fanning was acting out a scene at the train station.  In fact, coming back from Europe, I put on Super 8 and fast forwarded to that scene and then the scene where she does a zombie.  Riveting stuff.

18.  Contagion

Probably one of the scariest movies I’ve seen, in the sense that I didn’t want to touch anything or even really go outside for about a week after seeing this one.  I though director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns did a fantastic job depicting a global epidemic by way of a number of different storylines.  The film lost a little steam about 3/4 of the way, possibly as a result of so many different stories.  And I think the very end was maybe a bit much.  Still, it was a skillfully handled film chock full of talented actors and actresses.  Side note: I distinctly remember the first time I saw the trailer for Contagion in theaters.  When Gwyenth Paltrow died, my theater applauded.  That says something, I think.

August 2012
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