Friday, January 27, 2012


Hey list is appearing a little later than many others, because I wanted to make sure I had seen most of the promising films that were released right near the end of the year. In putting this list of the top eleven films of 2011 together, my main criteria were twofold:

1.COULD I RELATE TO IT ON A HUMAN LEVEL?  (Meaning it had more substance than just great special effects and all kinds of crap getting blown up every few seconds.)

2. DID IT MAKE ME SMILE?  (Either because it was damn funny, or because it touched my heart in some way--which always makes me smile.)

Yes, I've seen many of the films that appeared on other critic's lists, and most of them received at least a "B" grade from me...but they didn't quite measure up to the one's below. Nevertheless, feel free to argue in favor of anything you feel passionate about, (except the hot date you had last night) as I respond to all comments. 

(Click on the title to see my full review of each film.)

11.  Tuesday,  After Christmas

10.   Cowboys & Aliens

9.  The Adjustment Bureau

8.  Crazy,  Stupid Love

7.  The Names Of  Love

6.  Horrible Bosses

5.  Circumstance

4.  Submarine

3.  The Artist

2.  My Week With Marilyn

1.  Young Adult

Honorable mention: Hugo, I Am Number Four, Cedar Rapids, The Ides of March, The Lincoln Lawyer, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Midnight In Paris, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.



Stars: Mimi Branescu,  Maria Popistasu,  Mirela Oprisor

Director: Radu Mundean

Genre: Romanian/Art House/Drama

It won't be apparent to you at the beginning of Tuesday, After Christmas--which opens straightaway with a nude couple lounging in bed, exchanging playful banter--that the theme of the film is really about whether or not you believe in Santa Claus. But more on that later...

Our full frontal couple consists of Paul (Mimi Branescu) and Raluca (Maria Popistasu). Paul is married, but not to Raluca. Further complicating matters is that Raluca  is acquainted with Paul's wife, Adriana, (Mirela Oprisor).  She's their nine year-old daughter's dentist. 

In any tale about a man and his mistress, the fundamental question that hangs in the air like a cloud of laughing gas has to do with if and when he's found out, and what consequences will ensue.  Don't get too anxious about that, because first you're going to learn about these people in painstakingly mundane real time. That's because mundane is what REAL is, 99% of the time. It's the other one percent that most of us live for--whichever way it goes--because it's then that we feel alive. Maybe that's why happily married men cheat--as much for the risky prospect  of getting caught as anything else. (There's a little glimmer of James Bond in every guy.) 

Director Radu Mundean shows us the everyday-ness of Paul's home life--where indeed he seems to be content. Nice wife. Adorable daughter. That's a lot to lay on the line, Mr. Bond. 

So as the holidays approach, we're off to the department store to discuss--in a lengthy scene--the pros and cons of the snowboard Paul and Adriana are considering as a present for  daughter Mara (Sasa Paul-Szel) from Santa.  Yes, at age nine,  Mara still believes in Santa Claus. A bit old for that by American standards--but her parents seem to think it's fine. Perhaps they enjoy  the hide-and-seek game of it themselves. Maybe they  would like to believe in Santa, or what he represents, too.

Tension builds slowly in Tuesday, After Christmas--but it does build. And there are two superb scenes in this film that make it well worth the wait. The first is when Paul takes his daughter to her dental appointment, not anticipating that Adriana has decided to show up there too.  The two lovers are understandably nervous, as Raluca explains the procedures she wants to perform to the unsuspecting wife. We know what the subtle, walking-on-eggshells emotions displayed on each of their faces mean. 

The other is when push comes to shove and Paul decides to confront Adriana with the truth. These are two amazing actors--a real-life couple, by the way--in a scene that is nothing short of a emotionally draining and REAL as anything you're ever likely to see on film. It can make you feel you're eavesdropping somewhere you shouldn't be. (Which causes me to wonder if they  faced that situation for real,  would their attitude be, like... WHATEVER...having been there, done that with the other thing?)

Maybe what Tuesday, After Christmas  is trying to say is if you believe in Santa,  you're just as likely to believe in happily ever after...and that can be a real letdown when the illusion is dispelled.   
Grade:  A

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Rated: R

Stars:  Craig Roberts,  Yasmine Paige,  Paddy Considine,  Noah Taylor, 
Sally Hawkins

Director: Richard Ayoade

Genre: Comedy/Drama

There's a method to the madness of the films I'm reviewing now. I'm busy preparing my Best Of 2011 list, and have been catching up on a few promising flicks I missed when they came out earlier in the year. All because I want my list to be truly reflective of the best--according to MY impeccable taste, of course! 

So now we have Submarine.

Coming of age films (the good ones) are often funny, as well as poignant. Adolescence is a time of self-discovery; of testing one's wings; of taking those first few puppy love licks of another's face...and tasting her pancake makeup... PTOOEY!

The setting is a small town in Wales during the eighties. Fifteen year-old Oliver Tate has two primary concerns: Saving his parents' marriage, and engineering a successful courtship of classmate, Jordana. 

Oliver (Craig Roberts) and Jordana (Yasmin Paige) are a quirky pair. Oliver lives a lot inside his head as he narrates much of the action for us. Jordana gets off on burning the hair off his leg with a match. They both participate as do-nothing bystanders when a female classmate is bullied. But they don't really see it as bullying--more like good-natured teasing where everyone is cackling and having a good time--except, rather expectedly, the victim. We will see later that Oliver develops a conscience about it. Jordana...not so much.

Craig's parents have fallen into that comfortable rut that befalls many a long married couple. The passion is gone. Oliver knows this because he has a clever way of monitoring their sexual (of lack thereof) activity. Oliver's dad, Lloyd, (Noah Taylor) is depressed. I mean, what would you call it when he shrugs his shoulders when it's obvious to everyone that his wife Jill (Sally Hawkins) is developing a thing for her old flame, Graham Purvis--a flamboyant guru type who lectures to packed houses, espousing his new-age twaddle (not that all new-age ideas are twaddle, but his are). Purvis is played with ego-dripping brilliance by Paddy Considine.

Oliver's parents are so amusingly stiff upper lip, so pseudo-hip, that they come into his room to explain to him that his mother--in a moment of weakness--performed a sexual act on the guru. "It's alright," his father says. "We've discussed it, and we've moved on."

Great stuff, but what captivated me most about Submarine was the interplay between Oliver and his love interest. Jordana subscribes to the tenet that ya gotta be cruel to be kind, and Oliver is game to play her game. But she is holding something inside about her own family that will test the mettle of their fledgling relationship.  

 You'll figure out the metaphorical significance of the title Submarine as you go along.   

 Grade:  A


Friday, January 20, 2012


Rated:  PG

STARS: Jean Dujardin,  Berenice Bejo,  James Cromwell,  John Goodman,  Penelope Ann Miller,  Uggie
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius
GENRE: Silent/Romantic Comedy/Drama

A black and white silent film in the 21st century? A la Monty Python...BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT! 

Suave and "deboner" French actor Jean Dujardin--whom I enjoyed in  OSS 117-Lost In Rio--has parlayed his collaboration there with director Michel Hazanavicius into something totally transcendent in The Artist.

Dujardin is silent film star George Valentin, whose career takes a nose-dive (no pun intended referring to the actor's distinctive honker) in the late twenties with the advent of talking pictures. 

He is still in his heyday when we begin--getting unintentionally paired in a photograph with a young, ambitious film extra named Peppy Miller (the effervescent Berenice Bejo). When the photo hits the papers, it has some repercussions with George's wife (Penelope Ann Miller).  

When the sound era of film began, many silent movie stars were swept out with the tide. The talkies required a new and different type of star--one who could be more expressive with his voice than the flailing of arms type of pantomime that was often required to get the point across in silent film. We follow George as bad turns to worse, and when the great depression hits, his wife dumps him, and he has to auction off most of his belongings just to keep afloat. 

But his faithful Jack Terrier (the irrepressible "Uggie") is at his side through thick and thin--much to our delight. Perhaps the most adorable, expressive, and talented film dog of all time--and yes, like Lassie, he can "save Timmy from the well."  

Meanwhile, Peppy Miller's star is on the rise, thanks to studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) who has taken her under his wing. But she has always had a soft spot in her heart for Valentin, longing wistfully that she could do something for him besides stand by and watch him go under.  

George's fate appears sealed not so much by circumstances beyond his control, but by his staunch refusal to grow with and adapt to the times. But thanks to a hidden talent he possesses--which you'll see briefly on display near the beginning of the film--there may be hope on the horizon for him after all.

I have always been of a mind (as regular readers know) that a soundtrack can make or break a film. And nowhere in the modern movie making era has a film composer had such an opportunity to shine as in The Artist.  I read some reviews of the film that DIDN'T EVEN MENTION the music! (In my book, that's next to criminal, not to mention brain dead.)  Without Mark Isham's brilliant, nearly non-stop, intermittently lilting and dramatic score--which is as much the star of this movie as anything else--we would not be sitting here gushing about The Artist. Not even close.

Dujardin, known primarily as a French actor prior to his triumph here, can now add "international" to his title of film star. And Bejo has the kind of star presence that had me thinking throughout the movie that she was someone I was quite familiar with, but just couldn't come up with the name. Maybe that was just a psychic glimpse into the future.  

Already a hit at The Golden Globes, The Artist is destined for multiple Oscar nominations as well.

Grade:  A

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Rated:  R  ( DVD)

Stars:  Sara Forestier,  Jacques Gamblin
Director: Michel Leclerc
Genre: French/Romantic Comedy/Drama

Normally, in America, when you've got your female star prancing around in her full birthday suit glory for what can seem like most of the movie, you've got yourself a sexploitation film. But in France, sex wasn't invented yesterday, (in the U.S. it never existed till the sixties) and they are quite adept at incorporating it into a serious film--seriously funny, seriously clever, and seriously poignant throughout, as in The Names of Love.

Sara Forestier, a big-eyed French Zooey Deschanel who takes her clothes off, (which Zooey doesn't do, but I still love her) is Baya, a free spirit whose mission in life is to convert conservative-minded men into liberals, which she does by taking them to bed. Miraculously, it doesn't take much for them to see the light...after she's turned it off, and turned them on. 

But Baya, the product of a French mother and an Algerian Muslim father,   meets her match in Arthur Martin, (Jacques Gamblin) a rather straight-laced epidemiologist. Baya initially takes him for a right-winger. He's actually socialist. Too uneasy to reveal that his mother is a Jewish holocaust survivor. Two "half-breeds" on a course for true romance.

The Names of Love handles politics, prejudice, multiculturalism, and historical tragedy with a devilishly playful touch that ferrets out the humor in everything--which we should all know exists if we can just get over ourselves long enough to see it. The dinner party scene where Baya commits one politically incorrect faux pas after another in trying to cozy up to Arthur's mother is pure gold. 

At one point in the film,  Baya says, "The day there's nothing but half-breeds, there will be peace."

I tend to agree. 

Cultural and racial identity creates the rich, beautiful tapestry that currently makes up our world. It's when we allow it to overshadow the COMMONALITY OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE--as I like to call it--is when we get into trouble. We all come here from some unknown place. We all leave here for some unknown destination. In between, we all struggle with the same basic question: UH...WHAT DA HELL DO I DO NOW? That alone should form a bond among all humanity that transcends small- minded divisions.   

The Names of of the best films of 2011!

Grade:  A

Monday, January 2, 2012


Rated:  R

Stars: Nikohl Booshen,  Sarah Kazemy,  Reza Sixo Safai

Director: Maryam  Keshavarz

Genre: Art House/Drama

Iran might be considered one of the more "progressive" states in the middle east, if you count the fact that women can show their faces,  and other TITILLATING patches of skin--such as elbows--in public. But that's misleading. What we in the west consider to be basic human rights--freedom of press, religion, sexual preference--still do not exist. The latter is explored in Circumstance, which I am ranking as one of the best films of 2011.

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheen) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) are two beautiful, sophisticated (by local standards) teenage girls living in Tehran. They wish only to be allowed to explore the mutual attraction they feel for each other without fear of reprisal.

Atafeh comes from a well-to-do family. She is an aspiring singer. She dreams of fame. Shireen is the orphaned daughter of political journalists who met a bad end at the hand of the repressive Islamic revolution--underscoring what's at stake here for the lovers. 

They party at underground clubs, shedding their mandated conservative attire to reveal  miniskirts beneath. Here they can dance, do dope, and explore their emerging sexuality with peers--JUST LIKE REGULAR TEENAGERS IN THE WEST!  

But there's a fly in the ointment. Atafeh's brother, Mehran, (Reza Sixo Safai) has recently returned home from a stint in drug rehab. Now he's embraced Islamic fundamentalism with a zealotry that shows in his eyes. The devious Mehran is the personification of all that is callous and hypocritical about repressive religious and/or governmental systems--he displays an almost too polite smile to his family members, while secretly filming their every move via a system of hidden cameras he has installed in their home--ostensibly to report any "improprieties" to the government's Morality Police.

Kazemy is a young, olive-skinned Angelina Jolie.  Boshen will remind you of a budding Laura Dern. Both are newcomers, but you'd never know it. They pull it  off, including most of their clothes for some tasteful yet convincingly steamy scenes together.  

Circumstance, from Iranian-American director Maryam Kehavarz, illuminates the ideological clash that exists in modern day Iran through the story of Atafeh and Shireen--their young forbidden love and the forces that work to pull them apart. Those same forces that made it impossible to produce or display a film as controversial as Circumstance in Iran.  Kehavarz assembled her cast and did the filming in Beirut, where the authenticity of the milieu remains intact.  

Grade:  A