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The Top Five for 2011

The Tree of Life

The Skin I Live In


The Artist

We Need To Talk About Kevin

*The Tree of Life*

Terence Malick has directed a grand total of five films since 1973: *Badlands* (1973: Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek), *Days of Heaven* (1978: Richard Gere, Sam Shepherd), *The Thin Red Line* (a big jump forward to 1998: Jim Calviezel in the lead, with small parts for seemingly every major male American actor who could fly onto the set for two days), *The New World* (2005: Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale).  *The Tree of Life* is ravishingly beautiful to look at, and has a powerful emotional punch.  I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but I will say that Brad Pitt once again proves himself to be a highly skilled actor.  Richard and I, strangely enough, had just watched *The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford* the night before.  Pitt was great in that too, and he produced both these movies.  Clever guy.

There are a couple of abstract sequences that raised the eyebrow.  Peculiar.  But I had the sense that I was in the hands of a master filmmaker, and I trusted him to know what he was doing.

*The Skin I Live In*

The new Almodóvar movie, which I knew would make my Top Five.  Not as good as his best work, but still special.  His movies are so perfectly composed, everything is so carefully thought out - - the screenplay, the performances, the music, the design.  He is a master filmmaker.  This movie brought up more questions than it answered, which is always engaging, but it pushes a few hot buttons, and not in a satisfying way.  I won’t say anything about what happens because giving away any of the plot would put me in Spoiler City.  Antonio Banderas gives a wonderful, quiet, menacing performance, and a stellar performance from the incomparably beautiful Elena Anaya.


A quick note: Almodóvar is one of my four favorite contemporary directors, the others being Quentin Tarantino, Mary Harron, and Sofia Coppola.  How courteous of them to stagger their movies so we sort have one each year.  2008 was the only recent year to not feature a movie by one of them, and 2006 was the mother lode, with *The Notorious Bettie Page* (Harron), *Marie Antoinette* (Copolla), and *Volver* (Almodóvar).  Harron’s *The Moth Diaries* is allegedly being released on April 20th, so we’ll be safe this year.  Maybe next year we’ll have the new Tarantino (see below).



The latest from Lars von Trier, the Danish auteur who brought us *Breaking the Waves*, *Dancing in the Dark*, *Dogville*, other masterpieces of sadism.  This time the whole world has to suffer!  The movie starts with a five-minute prologue, emotionally charged and surreal images played over the prelude to *Tristan und Isolde*.  He went back to this music one or two too many times over the course of the movie, but its use in the prologue, and the images he used, were nothing short of enthralling, a first-rate union of music and film, one for the ages.  The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the promise of the prologue (its pace is a trifle sluggish), but the impact of the whole thing is immense.  The first scene is perhaps the most unbearable wedding reception of all time, capped off by a “I don’t believe in marriage” speech by the mother of the bride, Miss Sourpuss for this year and every year, Charlotte Rampling.  The movie is about her two daughters, Kirsten Dunst (the bride) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (sister of the bride).  I won’t give anything away, but they’re both completely unglued at one point or another over the course of the movie.  As my friend Nanette Fabray once said, “That’s entertainment.”


*The Artist*

Words you don’t often hear to describe a live-action movie these days: sweet, charming, darling, lovely, lyrical.  It’s a treasure.  It uses the conventions of a silent movie in an inventive way.  Wonderful performances by the leads, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, and by supporting actors John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, and especially James Cromwell.  And the dog!  The cutest dog ever.

*We Need To Talk About Kevin*

I was conflicted over whether this would make the Top Five or be the Honorable Mention - - it was between this and the last *Harry Potter* movie.  They really are chalk and cheese.  On the one hand, *HP* was enjoyable and a movie I’d love to see again - - on the other hand, *Kevin* is more distinctive and took bigger risks.  I give the prize to *Kevin*.  Now I want to read the book, which Richard tells me is the most haunting, stick-in-the-brain book he’s read in the last ten years.  Tilda Swinton is of course the bomb, she does understated yet overwrought better than anyone, maybe ever.  The movie is intensely disturbing and unsettling.  Richard and I saw it at dinnertime, and we smuggled in our dinner.  I brought an egg salad wrap, and kept waiting for a moment when I felt like I could eat.  It took about a half hour.


Honorable Mention: *Harry Potter 7.5*

Loved it, knew I would.  A perfect cap to the whole series, Karen used the word “satisfying”.  I saw it with her and Richard on a huge IMAX screen in 3D, and it was a wonder to behold - - but I think it’ll be almost as good in 2D on the ABC Family channel.  I was amazed at how the screenwriter was able to fit so much action into two hours and ten minutes, and yet it never for a second felt rushed.

Other categories


Best Cameo, Female

Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell in *Scream 4*.  I won’t give anything away, I’ll just say it’s hilarious.


Best Cameo, Male

Vincent Cassell in *A Dangerous Method*.  I had high hopes for this movie, it had all the marks of potential greatness.  I enjoyed it while I was watching it, and enjoyed talking about it with my fellow movie-goers afterwards (Richard, Karen, and Herb), but the next morning it was like it had never happened.  It made no impression on me at all.  But the short performance by Cassell was entirely memorable and delicious, maybe because he’s the one person in the movie who isn’t repressed and cranky. The movie made me remember something that a writing teacher said about one of my short stories - - she said, “We’re interested in people who are in trouble, not so much people who are troubled.”

Remembrance of Movies Past

*Laura*.  One of my favorite movies of all time, a priceless jewel, directed by Otto Preminger.  I first saw it at the campus film society in college - - the poster advertising it said it was about a murdered socialite, played by Gene Tierney, and the police detective who falls for her, played by Dana Andrews.  I thought, “You nitwits!  DANA is the girl and GENE is the guy!”  Shows how much I knew.  I could watch this movie over and over, and I have.  One of the best things about it: it’s only 82 minutes long!  Crackling dialogue, elegant performances, and the most outrageous lampshade you’ll ever see.  And the theme song, it just won’t shut up.  Also starring the brittle Clifton Webb, a surprisingly glamorous Judith Anderson, and a young hunky Vincent Price.


Movie That Needs To Be Made

Lana Peters, aka Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, just died in November.  Her NY Times obit was fascinating, she sounds like a real kook!  I see a wacky musical about her, directed by Jane Campion.  Who to play Lana?  Some unknown young actress as the girl Lana (her daddy smooching her, then violently pulling her hair), Sigourney Weaver as the adult Lana (going to India, defecting to the US, giving money to *The National Review*), and Shirley Maclaine as the old lady Lana (dying in, of all places, Richland Center, Wisconsin).  John Goodman as Stalin.

Eagerly Anticipated

This is getting longer and longer…

*Titanic* - - being re-released in 3D, coming out in April.


*The Moth Diaries* - - coming out on April 20th.


*Dark Shadows* - - directed by Tim Burton, with the inevitable Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, also with Michelle Pfeiffer and some other people.  Coming out in May.


*Anna Karenina* - - Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Kelly MacDonald, dir by Joe Wright (*Atonement*, *Pride and Prejudice*), screenplay by Tom Stoppard.


*Gambit* - - remake of the 1966 caper, with Colin Firth in the Michael Caine role, Cameron Diaz in the Shirley Maclaine role, also with Alan Rickman and Stanley Tucci, Gimme a Smoochie.  I showed the original at a birthday double feature a few years ago, and Karen Miller memorably said, “For a caper, the pacing is a bit…sluggish.”  Hopefully the remake will have more zip.


*The Master* - - the new movie by Paul Thomas Anderson (*Magnolia*, *There Will Be Blood*), set in the 50s, with Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern, and the inevitable Philip Seymour Hoffman.


*August Osage County* - - one of the most exciting plays I’ve ever seen, the movie is in pre-production.  Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have been confirmed as the mother and the eldest daughter.  Bring it on!


*Django Unchained* - - the next Quentin Tarantino movie, about a slave-turned-bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) and his mentor (Samuel L. Jackson) pursuing an evil plantation owner (Leonardo di Caprio).  Currently filming.


*The Great Gatsby* - - Baz Lurhmann is hit-or-miss: I loved *Strictly Ballroom*, was annoyed by but liked *Romeo + Juliet*, really hated *Moulin Rouge!* and haven’t yet had the stomach to watch *Australia*.  His *Gatsby* might be worth seeing, with Leo di C as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Isla Fisher as Myrtle, and Tobey Maguire as Nick.  I reserve the right to bypass this if it gets bad reviews.  Lurhmann was interviewed in the NY Times about why the movie is in 3D, he said it gives the drama more impact.  I’m keeping an open mind.


*Oz: the Great and Powerful* - - directed by Sam Raimi (the *Spider-Man* movies, *Evil Dead*, *A Simple Plan*).  It’s a prequel to *The Wizard of Oz*, but instead of going the *Wicked* route by following Glinda and Elphaba, it’s about the wizard as a young man.  With James Franco as Oz, also with Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams.


*A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III* - - did I hear you say, “Huh?”  Yes, hopefully they’ll come up with a new title for this potential dog.  It’s directed by Roman Coppola, son of Francis and brother of Sofia.  His last movie, *CQ*, was cute and expertly made.  *Swan* (my suggestion for the re-title) is starring Charlie Sheen as Swan (a glimpse into his mind would be a horror), also Bill Murray and Coppola cousin Jason Schwartzman.


Follow-up to previous Eagerly Anticipated:



*My Week with Marilyn* - - very well done.  Great performances by everyone.  I was pleasantly surprised by Michelle Williams, I was worried it would be a caricature, but she really got it.  Kenneth Branagh was marvelous as Olivier - - he doesn’t look anything like him, but he totally nailed the voice and the grandeur.  And a special shout-out to Emma Watson, in what I see as her first post-Potter role.  Smart choice on her part.  See below about Judi Dench.

*Cowboys and Aliens* - - I liked this movie a lot, and Richard was CRAZY for it!  Which is the reverse of what I expected.  Lots of fun, knew exactly what it was and what it was doing.



*Atlas Shrugged* - - Part One came out this year and I got it on DVD from the Public Library.  It was so bad, but it was bad in a fresh way, which I guess is some sort of achievement?  It felt like a soap opera taking itself VERY seriously.  This is the projected first third of a trilogy, and was such a flop at the box office that it makes one wonder if Parts Two and Three will make it in front of the cameras.



*Happy Tears* - - directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (the son of artist Roy and director of my 2008 Horrorable Mention *Teeth*), starring Parker Posey and Demi Moore as the daughters of the ageing and addled Rip Torn.  Not a good movie, but a lovely quiet performance by Parker Posey.  Hopefully someone will notice.

Most Deserving of a Comeback

What ever happened to Anne Archer?  She was everywhere in the late 80s, early 90s, and she’s been doing nothing but second- or third-tier TV lately.  I know 65 is a tricky age for an actress, but hasn’t Meryl created an audience for movies about older women?  I’d love to see Archer in a juicy supporting role, she would really deliver.

Horrorable Mention

*Scream 4*.  The first *Scream* movie was brilliant, the perfect balance of satirizing horror movies and being an effective horror movie itself.  The second one was even more exciting, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was in it!  The third was a bit of a disappointment, but was still good (and Parker Posey was in it).  I was intrigued about *Scream 4*, mostly because Kevin Williamson was back as screenwriter - - he skipped Scream 3*, which is probably why it wasn’t as good as the others.  *Scream 4* was fantastic.  I am the perfect audience for a horror movie, because I love to be scared, I love snappy dialogue, I thrive on two-dimensional characters, and I’m stupid enough to be surprised!  This movie was full of surprises, including maybe the biggest most breathtaking surprise I’ve seen in a horror movie.


Viva la Diva

Judi Dench in *My Week with Marilyn*.  Dame Judi has made a specialty of small roles that go POP, and I imagine it was a no-brainer to cast her as Dame Sybil Thorndike.  She is charming, practically the only English person in the movie who is nice to Marilyn.  At one point, when Marilyn is having a terrible time with her lines, Dame Sybil says to her, “May I ask you a tremendous favor.  I wonder if you might come take tea in my dressing room after we’re done, to help me run my lines.  I’d appreciate it ever so.”  Something like that, I’m paraphrasing.


Nice Try

*The Iron Lady*.  Good, but not any better than good.  It was a conventional biopic that was trying to be something better, and failed.  Meryl was extraordinary, of course - - she gets major points for turning in a nuanced performance while pushing through the voice, the wig, and the mask.  The movie has the polish of talent but none of the depth.  And most dangerously, Meryl appears to be repeating herself: the ghost of Julia Child hovers throughout, and her imperious rage in a Cabinet meeting reminded me of Miranda Priestley in *The Devil Wears Prada*.  I’d much rather watch either of those movies again.

This is the second film directed by Phyllida Lloyd.  Her first movie was *Mamma Mia!*, also starring Meryl.  I hope someone does a youtube mashup, with Margaret Thatcher singing “The winner takes it all”.  THAT would be worth seeing.


Horrorable Mention

*Scream 4*.  The first *Scream* movie was brilliant, the perfect balance of satirizing horror movies and being an effective horror movie itself.  The second one was even more exciting, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was in it!  The third was a bit of a disappointment, but was still good (and Parker Posey was in it).  I was intrigued about *Scream 4*, mostly because Kevin Williamson was back as screenwriter - - he skipped Scream 3*, which is probably why it wasn’t as good as the others.  *Scream 4* was fantastic.  I am the perfect audience for a horror movie, because I love to be scared, I love snappy dialogue, I thrive on two-dimensional characters, and I’m stupid enough to be surprised!  This movie was full of surprises, including maybe the biggest most breathtaking surprise I’ve seen in a horror movie.

How Could I Have Missed It?

*Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky*.  A stylish, light little movie about the affair that Chanel allegedly had with Stravinsky.  It was on my radar since I’m such a big Chanel fan, but I never made it.  The movie opens at the infamous first performance of *The Rite of Spring*, it recreates the atmosphere brilliantly (though I don’t think they conveyed how hot it was).  The design of the movie is of primo importance, and they nail it.  Gorgeous to look at.  With Anna Mouglalis as Chanel and Mads Mikkelsen as Stravinsky.  I call it stylish and light, but it’s also damn sexy.

Break Out Performance, Female

Jennifer Ehle in *Contagion*.  Not a great movie, but lots of great performances, and Ehle was among the best.  I loved her in A & E’s *Pride and Prejudice*, onstage in *The Coast of Utopia* (she was one of the elements that made that borefest worth the investment), and as Logue’s wife in *The King’s Speech*.  *The King’s Speech* and *Contagion* were a step forward in visibility for her, I hope she gets a knockout leading role someday soon.


Break Out Performance, Male

Jean Dujardin in *The Artist*.  Such a graceful performance, a real wonder.  I have a creepy fear that he’ll be the Roberto Benigni for the new millennium, but I hope not.


Best Credits

*Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol*.  I was sure that *The Skin I Live In* would get this award, since Almodóvar’s movies always have the most astonishing opening or closing credits - - the closing credits to *The Skin I Live In* were pretty, but not as strong as they should have been.  *MI:GP*, on the other hand, had fabulous opening credits.  They switched back and forth between showing the exciting thing that was happening at that moment in the movie (of course the movie has a cliffhanger opening sequence, like any good James Bond movie) and showing highlights from later in the movie.  Lots of fun.


New Category: Fast Five

Top Five Greatest Camera Movements

  1. Millie getting out of the elevator in *Thoroughly Modern Millie*

  2. Slow pan in on Garbo at the end of *Queen Christina*

  3. Shift in focus from Mrs. Robinson to Elaine Robinson in *The Graduate*

  4. Zipping across the room from person to person in *Tape*

  5. The splice to Jimmy Stewart in *Rope*

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