Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Oscar Nominations

The nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards were announced today (January 24). While I have had some issues with the Oscars over the years like most people, I take the Academy with a grain of salt and just try to have fun with the whole thing. Although I haven't seen all these movies I am going to plow through all the nominations and give my opinions. Let's see where I agree with the Academy and which movies I feel got snubbed!

Motion Picture of the Year nominees:

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

The only movie I've seen out of these nominees is The Tree of Life, which was my pick for best film of 2011. All the other nominees were on my 2011 movies I want to see list except The Help and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I was shocked that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nominated for Best Picture since it was getting mediocre reviews at best. I saw the trailer a couple of weeks ago and simply had no desire to see it. Sadly I think the only reason it was nominated is because it deals with 9/11. Again, I haven't seen this movie so I really can't judge it but there were plenty of other movies that were better received by audiences and critics but did not get nominated for Best Picture.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:

Demian Bichir for A Better Life
George Clooney for The Descendants
Jean Dujardin for The Artist
Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt for Moneyball

I haven't seen any of these movies yet so I'm just going to talk about the actors I am familiar with. Gary Oldman is one of the most versatile actors of our time so I'm glad he got nominated. If he doesn't win an Oscar this year I would love to see him win sometime in the future. I thought Brad Pitt was great in The Tree of Life but I guess the Academy didn't want to nominate him for more than two movies in one year. Brad Pitt has never won an Oscar despite previously being nominated for Twelve Monkeys and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis for The Help
Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady
Michele Williams for My Week with Marilyn

I haven't seen any of these movies and am not too familiar with some of these actresses. This is Meryl Streep's 17th Oscar nomination but she has only won two Oscars and hasn't had a win in almost thirty years. I thought Streep was great in Adaptation (2002) and she certainly deserves to win another Oscar.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill for Moneyball
Nick Nolte for Warrior
Christopher Plummer for Beginners

Max Van Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Yet again I haven't seen any of these movies which makes sense since I only saw eleven movies from 2011 so far.
The nomination for Jonah Hill seems odd; either he put in a great performance or the Academy just loved Moneyball!
As unbelievable as it sounds, Kenneth Branagh, Christopher Plummer, and Max Van Sydow have never won an Oscar. I'd love to see one of these three win it, especially Plummer or Van Sydow since they are both in their early 80s and this could be their last chance to win an Oscar. If you want to see Plummer and Van Sydow acting together check out the 1984 movie Dreamscape!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Berenice Bejo for The Artist
Jessica Chastain for The Help
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer for The Help

I haven't seen any of these films yet, big surprise, right? I thought Jessica Chastain was fantastic as the mother to Brad Pitt's father in The Tree of Life. I just wish that Chastain was nominated for that movie instead. It is interesting that both Chastain and Pitt were in The Tree of Life but got nominated for other films.
I haven't seen Bridesmaids yet but it is strange to see an acting nomination for a straight-up comedy film. I'm not against it, but where were these nominations for actors in comedies in previous years?

Best Achievement in Directing:

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Martin Scorsese for Hugo

I hope Terrence Malick wins, but he has got some amazing competition in Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. I've heard great things about
The Artist and The Descendants so I think this category is wide open and it should be interesting to see who the winner is.

Best Writing, Screenplay written directly for the Screen:
The Artist
Margin Call

Midnight in Paris
A Separation

Here is where things get really interesting. We have a silent film, an R-rated comedy and an Iranian film all nominated for best screenwriting! The Artist has been getting great buzz and I had a feeling the Academy would show it some love so I'm not too surprised to see it here. However, I bet many people will be confused as to why a silent film with no dialogue is being nominated for best screenplay! A story can be told without dialogue and although I haven't seen The Artist yet I think its great to see it nominated here.
I haven't seen Bridesmaids yet but I have no idea what the Academy sees in this. I mean, where were the nominations for The Hangover or other great comedies of the past few decades? Is the Academy changing things up or was this just a weak year? I've heard very good things about A Separation but I'm surprised to see it on the list just because it is a foreign film. Maybe I'm wrong it but it seems unusual for foreign films to be nominated for categories other than Best Foreign Language Film. I think that this is a good thing and would like to see this trend continue. But as I said earlier, is this the Academy changing or was this such a weak year for films that they felt the need to go in a different directions with some of these nominations? I had not even heard of Margin Call until now. I also think that Source Code should have been nominated but I can't say I'm surprised it isn't on this list.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: 
The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

I haven't seen any of these movies before but I have read the book Moneyball was based on. I loved the book so hopefully the movie will be good too. I am curious to see how the material was adapted as the book is non-fiction and takes a look at the business and statistical side of baseball.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year:
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

I am gravely disappointed that Winnie the Pooh was not even nominated for an Oscar in this category. I would love to see an explanation for this. Is it because it was only 63 minutes long? I sure hope not because Winnie the Pooh was a great traditionally animated film and it is a shame to see it snubbed like this.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year:
Bullhead (Belgium)
In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar
A Separation (Iran)

The only film on this list I have even heard of is A Separation. I gotta see more foreign films!

Best Achievement in Cinematography:

The Artist
The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

The Tree of Life
War Horse

I hope that The Tree of Life wins this category. I think that of its three nominations this is the one that it is most likely to win.

Best Achievement in Editing:
The Artist
The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

As you can see the Academy loved these films as they all got multiple nominations. I'm a little surprised and disappointed that The Tree of Life didn't get a nomination here.

Best Achievement in Art Direction:
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Midnight in Paris

War Horse

The Harry Potter series is no stranger to this category as Deathly Hallows: Part I, Goblet of Fire, and Sorcerer's Stone were all nominated for Art Direction. I don't think Harry Potter will be able to win it this year either as it faces some stiff competition.

Best Achievement in Costume Design:
The Artist
Jane Eyre

I had never heard of W.E. before. It turns out that it is a movie directed and co-written by Madonna! Well at least the costumes are good I guess...

Best Achievement in Makeup:

Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Iron Lady

I think that the Harry Potter series will finally have won its first Oscar with a win in this category! And is it too late to make the "Is the Iron Lady part of the Avengers" joke?

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score:
The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
War Horse

I haven't seen any of these movies yet. I'm not surprised since none of the 2011 movies I saw had memorable scores. If I had to choose a favorite score of the movies I saw I guess I would pick Alan Silvestri's score for Captain America.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song:
The Muppets - "Man or a Muppet"
Rio - "Real in Rio"

I figured that the song "Star Spangled Man" from Captain America would not be nominated, but I'm still upset because it not only deserved the nomination but to win outright. "Star Spangled Man" is a great, catchy song in the style of 1940s Irving Berlin tunes. The use of the song to deal with the propaganda side of Captain America was wonderful and I am glad the movie addressed this aspect of the character. The song's lyrics were written by David Zippel (two Oscar nominations) and the music was written by Alan Menken (eight Oscar wins and many more nominations) who both worked on the music of the Disney Renaissance films. The song even has a strong pedigree so what went wrong here? Does the Academy think comic book movies can't have great songs? There were only two songs nominated, would it really have killed the Academy to at least nominate "Star Spangled Man"?
On a more positive note I'm glad to see a song from the The Muppets get an Oscar nomination, especially "Man or a Muppet" as it was my favorite new song in the movie. Since "Star Spangled Man" is out I'm rooting for "Man or a Muppet" all the way!

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

The sound categories tend be to the time when the Academy throws a bone to genre films. That isn't the case here (other than Transformers) and all these films got several nominations. I would have liked to see a little more diversity here.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

This category is the only nomination for Drive. I haven't seen it yet but it only has one nomination while Transformers has three. That doesn't sound fair to me!

Best Achievement in Visual Effects:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

How The Tree of Life did not get nominated here is beyond me. Terrence Malick got Douglass Trumbull to work on visual effects on a movie for the first time since Blade Runner (1982) and the results were magnificent. Adding fuel to the fire is that couple of CGI fests got nominated instead.
I've heard that the special effects for Rise of the Planet of the Apes were groundbreaking. I'll be content as long as Real Steel and Transformers: Dark of the Moon don't win!

Best Short Film, Animated:

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Although I haven't seen any of these shorts, I have seen a short which fits the criteria that I feel should have been nominated. The traditionally animated short film (5 minutes) The Ballad of Nessie was shown in theaters before Winnie the Pooh. The Ballad of Nessie was a nice throw-back to the 1960s style of Disney animation and story telling. It was the perfect appetizer for Winnie the Pooh and it is quite sad to see the Academy ignoring Disney when they make great traditionally animated films.

Best Short Film, Live Action:

The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

I haven't seen any of these short films and I doubt that most people have. Time Freak is a sci-fi/comedy short about time travel, so it sounds like something I would enjoy if I ever get the chance to see it.

Best Documentary, Features:
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

While I am somebody who likes all genres of film, documentaries would probably be the type of film I watch the least. I like documentaries, especially those on historical events, I just don't really seek them out to watch. So like most people out there I didn't know anything about these documentaries until I looked them up now while writing this post. Undefeated is about a high school football team so I would probably like it. Pina was directed by filmmaker Wim Wenders and is a tribute to German dance teacher, performer, and choreographer Pina Bausch.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects:
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

After looking up some information on these documentaries they all sound quite interesting. God is the Bigger Elvis is about actress Dolores Hart who co-starred in some Elvis Presley movies before leaving Hollywood to become a Benedictine nun.

Well there you have it, my first (and hopefully not last!) Oscars post! Overall I don't think the Academy did any worse than usual as there always are snubs. The 84th Academy Awards will take place Sunday February 26th so be I'll make a follow-up to this post in about a month. I also plan on doing a post or two about the Razzie awards!

I still have a lot of catching up to do and I'm not sure when my next post will be as I've gotten busy with my job and grad school work. Don't worry though, future posts will be forthcoming, just at a slower pace until I get back on schedule.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Vacation movies

This is the first of three comedy movie series posts. Today we start with the National Lampoon's Vacation series. I had seen parts of Vacation and Christmas Vacation awhile ago so I re-watched them all the way through. I also saw European Vacation and Vegas Vacation for the first time.

The plot of Vacation is pretty simple. The father, Clark Griswold, wants to spend more time with his family (wife Ellen, son Rusty, and daughter Audrey) so he plans a cross country trip to from Chicago to California to visit Walley World (a fictional version of Disneyland). On the way there they visit some family members and are followed by a mysterious beautiful woman. Will the Griswolds make it to Walley World on time.. and alive?!
Vacation was directed by Harold Ramis. Ramis also made Groundhog Day and has written and acted in several other movies, including a few I have written about on this blog! The screenplay was written by John Hughes and is loosely based on a true story of a vacation his family took when he was a boy.
Not only are Vacation and Christmas Vacation the best two movies of the series, they are also the most accessible. Everybody has been on a crazy family vacation or had to spend a lot of time with their families during the holidays. Not everyone has been to Europe or Las Vegas. I know that not everyone has been on a cross-country trip through America and that not everybody celebrates Christmas, but those movies handled those topics in a more general yet personal way that all audiences can relate to.
Vacation is my favorite of the series and it is one of the best comedies of the last 30 years. The only thing missing is the song "Vacation" by The Go-Gos! That said, the Lindsey Buckingham song "Holiday Road" in the opening credits is awesome. I love it when movies do something interesting with the credits, and the use of colorful postcards from around America is pretty cool.

European Vacation
The hilarious opening scene of European Vacation features the Griswold family in the middle of a humiliating game show. With a lot of luck they manage to beat the other family and win a trip to Europe! The set-up is pretty solid here and they tried to mix things up since something nice happens to the family after all the crazy stuff in the last movie. Don't worry, shenanigans ensue in Europe, but this time Clark's stupidity causes problems for other people and not the Griswolds. While this was a good idea to not simply re-hash the oiginal, the biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn't really have a plot. The Griswolds win a European vacation and have an itinerary to keep up with but that's about it. There is a sub-plot about a sex tape being stolen but its too little, too late. It was set-up with a scene early on so I assumed that this would lead to the Griswolds running around Europe to stop the distribution of the sex tape, but that doesn't happen. John Hughes is given writing credit but the whole thing felt rushed to cash-in on the popularity of the first movie. The movie performed well at the box office so I guess it worked. The kids were re-cast and the new actors were not as good. I am pretty sure the new Rusty only got the role because he looks like the first Rusty, Anthony Michael Hall! This is also the only Vacation movie that doesn't feature Cousin Eddie and his family. To make up for that we have cameos from actors such as John Astin, Eric Idle, and Robbie Coltrane! Although European Vacation has its moments, its still not nearly as good as the original.

Christmas Vacation
The original is still my favorite but Christmas Vacation is very good comedy and a nice Christmas movie. The basic plot is that Clark, the father, wants to host the best Christmas ever for his extended family. While this is not as concrete as the goal in the original, (get the family to Wally World before the two weeks is up!) it works since we see old home videos of Clark's Christmases as a boy which show us how important the holiday and his family are to him. We also have a sub-plot about Clark's boss and a Christmas bonus which has a great pay-off. The kids are played by new actors again, but it doesn't matter since they were never the focus of these movies anyway. Christmas Vacation is quite funny and features another great blow-up by Chevy Chase! This one and Vacation are the only movies in the series you need to watch, so check them out if you haven't already!

Vegas Vacation (1997)
This is the only Vacation movie that John Hughes did not write the screenplay for. His magic touch is missed but to be honest this one just didn't need to be made. The series was running out of steam by this point and it doesn't help that this is the only one of the series to be rated PG! Vegas Vacation came out eight years after Christmas Vacation, the longest gap in the series. The children are re-cast yet again, although Chevy Chase has a great meta-joke about it: "You guys are growing up so fast, I hardly recognize you anymore!" The biggest problem with the movie is that it is not focused. Funny stuff happens in Vegas, but there isn't much of a real story other than the family going to Las Vegas for a vacation. We have a couple of sub-plots like Chevy Chase's character losing all his money or Wayne Newton (played by himself of course!) falling in love with the wife which are humorous, but that's about it. Randy Quaid returns as the wacky Cousin Eddie and even though its totally forced into the movie he and his family are pretty funny. Vegas Vacation is the weakest of the series but I've seen comedies that are a lot worse. It is not necessary viewing but if you liked the others or are a Chevy Chase fan there is some fun to be had here.

I am catching up on my posts but still have a lot more to do before I get back to my regular schedule.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Films I am looking forward to in 2012

2011 is over so its time to look ahead to movies coming out in 2012! This list is in no particular order and I'm sure I'll add films to it as the year goes on.

Ridley Scott finally returns to science fiction after a 30 year absence! Prometheus appears to take place in the Alien universe before Alien although it doesn't seem to be a direct prequel.

The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy concludes this summer. Nolan has a great track record (knock on wood) and it should be interesting to see how his saga ends.

The Avengers
I have enjoyed all the Marvel Studios movies thus far so it should be fun to see all these characters together. I'm a little worried as to how this will work since there are so many characters involved. However, Joss Whedon is the director and he did a great job with Serenity which also had a large and diverse cast of characters so I think he can pull this off.


Before Casino Royale I had never actually watched a James Bond movie in its entirety, only clips of them on TV. However I really liked Casino Royale and enjoyed Quantum of Solace even though it wasn't as good as its predecessor. MGM's financial issues led to delays for the third James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig but I'm glad that has been sorted out now!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I actually haven't finished watching all of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (extended editions of course) but have loved what I have seen. I'll have plenty of time to catch up before this comes out in theaters December 2012.

Although I am not familiar with the previous work of writer and director Rian Johnson, I love time travel movies so I want to see this. The cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt.

Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino makes a Western. 'Nuff said!

David Cronenberg is directing this film which is why it is on this list. To be fair the plot sounds interesting as well. I am curious to see how Robert Pattinson does as the lead. I thought he was fine in Harry Potter as Cedric Diggory but Twilight... Ugh, I still can't believe I actually saw that movie. In my defense it was the Rifftrax version and with a bunch of friends!

The only Alfonso Cuaron movie I have seen so far is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban but I really want to see Children of Men. Gravity is Cuaron's next film and is a sci-fi thriller about the only survivor of a mission to fix the Hubble telescope who desperately wants to come home to reunite with her daughter. Gravity stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.


Director Roland Joffe made two really good films in the 80s:
The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986). These are also the only two Joffe films I have seen. Joffe has struggled since then, most notably with The Scarlet Letter (1995) which was a box office disaster. Hopefully Joffe can get back on track with Singularity, a Sci-Fi/Romance starring Josh Hartnett and Neve Campbell.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is based on a book although I haven't read it yet. The film will be directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis. The movie (and book) consist of six stories set in different times and places that are related to each other.

Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray is Franklin Delano Roosevelt! This film is about the affair between FDR and his distant cousin set during a weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of England visited FDR at his home in upstate New York.


Argo is based on the true story of how the CIA used a fake science fiction movie to rescue Americans from Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. The story is fascinating and could make for a great film. You can read about the actual events here.

Untitled Terrence Malick Project aka The Burial
I loved The Tree of Life so of course I want to see Terrence Malick's next film. I still need to see more of his work though.

While I haven't seen too many Coen Brothers movies I have loved what I have seen so far. Gambit will be directed by Michael Hoffman but the Coen Brothers wrote the screenplay. Gambit is a remake of the 1966 film of the same name starring Michael Caine (which I have yet to see). Will he have a cameo?!

I'm not too familiar with the comics (I want to read them eventually) and haven't seen the Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone. However, this sounds like it could be good and I thought Karl Urban was great as Doctor McCoy in Star Trek (2009) so hopefully he'll knock another one out of the park with Judge Dredd!

Shakespeare + Science Fiction? Count me in! Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi, Ray Winstone, and Gerard Depardieu round out an outstanding cast!

The We and the I

I am not too familiar with the work of Michel Gondry outside of Be Kind Rewind (which I liked), but I really want to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
which he worked on with Charlie Kaufman. The We and the I will come out a year before Gondry's next project, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik.

aka MS One: Maximum Security
The screenplay for this movie is written by Luc Besson, the man behind Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. Judging from the trailer the story feels like something John Carpenter would have made in the 80s with Kurt Russell in the lead. Guy Pearce plays the main character who is a bad-ass.
Lock-Out looks like it could be a fun sci-fi action movie.


Peter Pan gets a dark and gritty update! Pan is basically Peter Pan meets The Silence of the Lambs. In this story Peter Pan is a child kidnapper and murderer while Captain Hook is the good guy. Wendy (AnnaSophia Robb) is the only girl to escape alive from Pan. Hook (Aaron Eckhart) is the police captain trying to stop Pan with help from detective Smee (Sean Bean). Although this sounds like a Robot Chicken sketch, I think this could be really good if done right. Terrence Stamp is also in this movie in a yet to be determined role.

John Dies at the End
This movie is based on the book of the same name written by Jason Pargin aka David Wong. I haven't read the book although a friend did and really liked it. Pargin/Wong is one of the main writers for Cracked, one of my favorite websites. John Dies at the End will be written and directed by Don Coscarelli who also made Bubba Ho-Tep and the Phantasm series.

Araham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
This movie is based on the book (which I haven't read but want to). The title alone says it all!


Here is a movie based on the actual Abraham Lincoln! Lincoln is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe. The cast includes Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, James Spader, and Jackie Earle Haley.

My next several posts will cover movies I have seen in the last month. After I get all caught up (hopefully in the next week or two) I'll be back to my regular schedule of Tales from the Archives posts on Thursday and Weekly Wrap-Up posts on Sundays.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 films I still want to see

Although box office revenues were down in 2011, it seems to have been a good year when it comes down to the quality of films released. So far I have only see eleven 2011 films (how appropriate!) but there are many that I still want to see. Here is my list (in no particular order) with some brief reasons for why I want to see these movies.

Another Earth
An independent science fiction movie that focuses on the characters and story instead of CGI and explosions? Count me in!
Another Earth could be this year's Moon.

A Separation
A Separation is an Iranian film. It has gotten a lot of buzz and could be this year's Oscar winner for best foreign language film.

Attack the Block
Alien invasion films have been popular since the 1950s, but like the recent District 9 this one has a new spin on the genre as it is about a gang of teenagers defending their London home from an extraterrestrial invasion.

As a baseball fan I loved the book this movie is based on. That said, I'm not sure how this story will translate to film since its about the business behind the sport, but it has been well received by audiences and critics.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I never read the books but both the Swedish and American films have gotten a lot of attention.

Tom Hardy warms up for his role as Bane!

The only Soderbergh movie I've seen so far is Ocean's Eleven which I quite liked.
Contagion seems like a good thriller that I'll check out when I get the chance.

This movie came out of nowhere to get critical acclaim and has shown up on tons of 2011 best of lists.

The Future
Although this indie movie hasn't gotten as consistently good reviews as others have this year, I thought the trailer looked interesting and want to give it a shot if/when I get the chance.

The Mill and the Cross
Rutger Hauer and beautiful art, need I say more?

I've never seen a Lars von Trier film before but this one seems interesting and got a solid amount of attention.

A Dangerous Method
I love David Cronenberg but before I see this I should probably see at least one of his newer non-horror/sci-fi movies (starting with Spider).


This movie looked like it could be a funny and well-written comedy-drama. It is loosely based on a true story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the main character, a man in his 20s who gets a rare form of cancer.


Hugo hasn't done well at the box office considering its large budget. However, the film has gotten great reviews and the visuals look stunning. When one thinks of family films Martin Scorsese does not come to mind but it seems like he made a very good film regardless of genre!

Take Shelter

Like The Future, this is another little film which had fascinating trailer that made me want to see it.

The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In
was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival before eventually losing out to The Tree of Life. This Spanish film stars Antonio Banderas and is about a plastic surgeon haunted by his past.

The Descendants
I'm not a big George Clooney fan but this film has gotten a very positive response from critics.

Midnight in Paris
I should probably watch more Woody Allen movies before I get to this one but I heard Midnight in Paris was very good so I'll see it eventually.

The Artist
Some might view a silent film made in 2011 as gimmicky but I thought the trailer was great and it seems to work well here.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I haven't read the book but any movie featuring John Hurt and Gary Oldman is a must-see for me! Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch are also in the cast.

Hobo with a Shotgun

Based on a fake trailer made for a Grindhouse contest, Hobo with a Shotgun stars Rutger Hauer as the title character. I haven't seen Grindhouse yet (other than the fake trailers which are on YouTube) but I really liked similar movies Black Dynamite and Machete.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I was pretty surprised to hear the praise this movie got, not to mention it performed better at the box office than I expected. I want to re-watch the original again before I see this one. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a clunky title (why not Rise of the Apes? People wouldn't think its a Planet of the Apes movie?) but as long as its better than Tim Burton's version I'll be happy!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I enjoyed the first movie of this "reboot" series even though its basically Sherlock Holmes for people who don't like Sherlock Holmes. I didn't like the villain of the first one so I'm glad they went with Moriarty this time around. Plus we get Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes!

In Time

In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the same mastermind behind one of my favorite movies, Gattaca (1997). While this one probably isn't as good as Gattaca, I still want to see it as well as other Andrew Niccol films.

Cowboys and Aliens
I have the comic that this movie is based on but haven't read it yet. Some time after I read it I'll watch the movie. It got mixed reviews and did not do as well as expected at the box office but I gotta see any movie with Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Sam Rockwell together!

Sucker Punch

Even though this movie has gotten negative reviews I want to see it because I really liked director Zack Snyder's work on 300 and Watchmen. This movie is his first not based on pre-existing material. Considering the poor reception Sucker Punch has received Snyder probably won't be allowed to direct original material anymore. I'm kinda curious to see how bad Sucker Punch is. Hopefully Snyder's Superman movie (Man of Steel coming in 2013) will fare better.

Let me know if there are any 2011 movies I should add to this list! Tomorrow's post will be about 2012 films I am looking forward to.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 movie Round-up

I saw 11 new movies in 2011. I have already written about all these films in this blog but I wanted to put my ratings and some brief thoughts for all of them in one post. You can click on the 2011 or individual tags to see more longer reviews of each movie. I will also be doing an Oscars post once the nominations are announced on January 24th. These films are organized from my highest to lowest scores, but I'm not really ranking them against each other.

The Tree of Life
My favorite movie of the year. This is the first Terrence Malick movie I've seen so far. I am ecstatic that special effects genius Douglass Trumbull was involved with this film. The beginning of the world scenes and great cinematography make this an incredibly beautiful film to watch in awe.

Source Code

Director Duncan Jones is now 2 for 2 in my book. Source Code is not as good as Moon but its a great sci-fi thriller.

X-Men: First Class

I was pleasantly surprised at how good this one was. This was pretty much what I wanted out of an X-Men movie as it seems like that took the best parts of the planned Magneto movie and retooled it into this film. I'm looking forward to the sequel, which supposedly will involve the Kennedy assassination!

Captain America: The First Avenger
I wrote a long post on Captain America after I got to see it at an advance screening! I plan on re-watching it (and all the Marvel Studios movies) before The Avengers comes out next year so we'll see if my opinion of it changes.

Winnie the Pooh
Disney can still make great animated features if they try. The running time could have been longer but I'd rather a great short feature than a longer one that is mediocre.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Harry Potter movie series ends with a bang. I still feel it was an unnecessary cash grab to release the final film in two parts though. I have a feeling that this won will win an Oscar simply because no Harry Potter film has done so even though it doesn't really deserve one. How about a special achievement award for making a series of 8 films with (mostly) the same actors and no true clunker?

The Adjustment Bureau
Philip K. Dick goes mainstream (yet again) but unlike some recent adaptations (Next) this different sort of interpretation works. I don't know why they had to change the title of the short story it is based on though. What is wrong with "The Adjustment Team"?

The Muppets
The Muppets are back after a over ten year hiatus! Not one of the best Muppet movies but certainly a good one and a worthy entry in the series. Humor is subjective but I found it quite funny.

Super 8
J.J. Abrams loves his lens flare! Although influenced by early Spielberg I saw more Stand by Me here than E.T. While this wasn't one of my top favorites of the year I quite liked it and would like to see more movies like this being made, just with less CGI.

I liked but didn't love this when I first saw it back in May. It's the worst of the Marvel Studios movies thus far but not bad as there are far worse comic books movies out there.

Stylish directing from Neil Burger and solid acting save a film from its generic plot. I've heard the book this movie is based on is quite different (I haven't read it) so I won't blame the author. Overall Limitless is a mixed bag that manged to be a surprising success. I'm looking forward to Burger's future film projects; at the moment he is attached to direct a movie based on the video game Uncharted.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Three 2011 movies

I got around to seeing three 2011 movies as the year was coming to a close. I saw the first of these in theaters and the last two on Blu-ray. I have now seen 11 movies released in 2011.

The Muppets
The final movie I saw in theaters in 2011 was The Muppets. It was an interesting experience as I watched at the Movie Tavern, which combines a cinema with a restaurant! Although at first I was skeptical of a system in which viewers are served food at their seats and eat during the movie it turned out to work better than I thought as distractions were kept to a minimum and it was quieter than I expected. That said, I don't think dinner during a movie would work for every film. The Muppets is a good choice for this sort of thing, The Tree of Life not so much!
Getting to the actual movie, The Muppets is a return to form for the series. The last theatrically released Muppet movie was 1999's Muppets from Space which received a tepid response from critics and film goers alike. Aside from a few mediocre TV Specials and being featured in the occasional commercial we haven't heard much from the Muppets in the past ten years. It is great that The Muppets is enjoying critical and financial success as I have always loved the Muppets. However, this isn't the best Muppet movie and I wouldn't even put it in my top three. It's still a good Muppet movie as its funny, has catchy songs, and can be enjoyed by all ages. I think there was a little too much emphasis on the human characters played by Jason Segal and Amy Adams. The song by Amy Adams in the restaurant felt like filler. The human characters usually complement the Muppets but it often felt like they were main characters and not the Muppets. To be fair this was partially because of their connection to the newest Muppet, Walter, who has an different type of back-story for a Muppet. But the bottom line is that this is a fun family movie and a good Muppet movie. I just wish Rowlf and Rizzo had more screen time!

X-Men: First Class (2011)
It has been years since I've seen the X-Men movies. I really liked the first two, enjoyed the third, and could have done without the Wolverine movie. I skipped this one when it was in theaters since I didn't have much hope for the series at this point and hoped Marvel Studios would eventually be able to make their own X-Men movie. But after hearing good things I decided to give this one a shot and am glad I did. X-Men: First Class takes place in the early 1960s and documents the formation of the first group of X-Men under the guidance of Professor Charles Xavier, better known as Prof. X. The movie is part prequel and part reboot as it seems to take place in the past of the previous movies but also stands on its own. For example, I liked how the opening was the film was an extended scene of the first film's opener. Some of the continuity may not be perfect, but that is probably because when the first three films were made they didn't think about doing prequels. I was impressed with the acting of the two leads: Michael Fassbender as Magneto and James McAvoy as Prof. X. The two did a good job of portraying characters who are friends, but have beliefs which will eventually drive them apart. Kevin Bacon put in a nice performance as the film's main villain, Sebastian Shaw. The 60s era was a good fit for the setting and there was a James Bond type feel at times. I need to re-watch the others before I rank all the X-Men movies, but this one was surprisingly good and I think fans will be pleased. I'm glad that the producers learned from the mistakes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and made a damn fine X-Men flick!

Super 8 (2011)
I remember seeing Iron Man 2 in theaters and being surprised with the Super 8 teaser. It looked interesting but so little was revealed at the time that it was impossible to make anything of it, especially with the rumors it was a Cloverfield prequel (I still haven't seen that movie). When the full trailer for Super 8 came out I thought looked great, although I was disappointed when I discovered that the music from the trailer was not the film's soundtrack but taken from James Horner's score for Cocoon (1985). I know that this happens all the time with trailers (Robocop trailer is a classic example) but that music fit so well it sounded like it was made for the trailer and not 25 years old!
The director of this movie is J.J.Abrams who also directed Star Trek (2009) which I liked but didn't love.
Super 8 garnered a lot of comparisons to the early work of Steven Spielberg. Part of this is simply because Super 8 takes place in 1979 and not the present. While I think Spielberg's films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T. certainly influenced Super 8, its still its own entity and not a pastiche of those films. The characters are the primary concern here to which the sci-fi plot plays second fiddle. Like in Jaws we don't get a good look at our creature until the end of the film which works well.
If a movie has bad child actors I usually give it a pass since this are kids with limited acting experience. On the other hand when I young actors give good performance I think they should be praised even more than usually, as is the case here. Pretty much all of the kids were solid with realistic portrayals, especially the leads Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (who looks kinda like a young Drew Barrymore, which may have been an intentional nod to E.T.). This is clearly the strongest part of the film as sometimes I actually wished there wasn't a monster out there because the story with our human characters was so interesting! Once we get into the alien part of the story there are more questions than answers. I know that this was done on purpose there is supposed to be an air of mystery around the situation but it goes a bit too far at times. I guess the dogs left town because they sensed an alien threat near them? Or did something in the crash cause them to leave? Why did the alien hang the people up in the hole near the end? I guess I am nitpicking here as it didn't really harm my enjoyment of the film. There is a subplot about Charles liking Alice that is never really explored outside of two short scenes and then forgotten about for the rest of the movie. I wonder if this was originally supposed to be a bigger part of the story or if it was simply added later for more tension. Either way I would have liked to have seen this developed further.
I did love being able to see the zombie movie during the end credits. The zombie movie actually reminded me of Weasels Rip My Flesh, a terrible low budget horror movie also made by kids and filmed on Super 8. Heck, it even was made in 1979, the same year Super 8 takes place! Now I doubt Abrams has seen that movie and the similarities are probably only a coincidence, but who knows!
Despite its flaws I quite liked Super 8 and hope that we get more intelligent character-based family movies like it instead of crap like the Transformers movies.

My next post will be a run-down of all the 2011 movies I have seen. I have already written about all of them in this blog (click on the 2011 tag at the end of this post to see all the reviews) so I'll simply be posting a title, a few final thoughts, and a score.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Three Christmas Movies

I had seen parts of all these movies before, but never watched them all the way through in one sitting. Christmas gave me an excuse to watch them again, and in their entirety!

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Both this and Mickey's Christmas Carol (nominated for an Oscar for best animated short) are the only film versions of A Christmas Carol that I have seen so far. However they are both excellent! While I usually like the Muppets more when they are playing themselves instead of characters like in this movie or Muppet Treasure Island, it works surprisingly well here. The songs are memorable as I remembered most of them while watching this again despite the fact I hadn't seen this film in years. Michael Caine plays Scrooge completely straight and would have put in the same performance without the Muppets. While this is a Muppet movie, it is also an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and a surprisingly faithful one at that. The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie made after Jim Henson's death and it was great that the Muppets were able to continue at a high level of quality after his passing. This one ranks up there with The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper as my three favorite Muppet movies. I saw The Muppets (2011) recently and will be discussing it in my next post.

A Christmas Story
Every year A Christmas Story gets shown on TBS for 24 hours on Christmas Day. Like most people this was how I was introduced to the movie. And like many people I had never seen the whole movie in one sitting before. I decided to change that this year as A Christmas Story is firmly entrenched in popular culture and is even on Roger Ebert's Great Movies list. While the film has been overexposed with the Christmas marathons, a lot of people still tune in to watch it every year. Although I don't think A Christmas Story is the best Christmas movie ever, it is the best to air on a loop. The film contains many vignettes which are loosely related as they all follow Ralphie's family in the days leading up to Christmas. This makes it easy to start or stop watching whenever you want, which doesn't work with a lot of movies. Although I feel that A Christmas Story is overrated, its still an enjoyable Christmas movie. I usually don't like narration in movies but it works perfectly here and was a direct inspiration for The Wonder Years TV show. Darren McGavin, mainly known for his TV work such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker, puts in a nice performance as the father.

Santa with Muscles (1996)
I had seen the first third of this movie several years ago but couldn't bring myself to finish it. What can I say, Santa with Muscles is surprisingly boring for a Hulk Hogan flick. Armed with a group of friends who like to mock bad movies and my own higher tolerance for crappy cinema, I was able to make it all the way through this time! The plot is pretty ridiculous, the Hulkster plays a millionaire who gets amnesia and thinks he is Santa Claus. Some orphans then ask for Santa's help since a mad scientist wants to take over the orphanage for the crystals underneath the building. Mila Kunis plays one of the orphans in an early role. We also have Ed Begley Jr., Clint Howard, and Robin Curtis (Saavik from Star Trek 3 and 4). That '70s Show fans will notice that in addition to Mila Kunis, actor Don Stark (Bob Pinciotti - Donna's father) is in this movie as Lenny, Santa's elf and partner in trying to save the orphanage.
When it comes to Christmas movies, this is one of the worst. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus are pretty damn bad but at least they each have bizarrely amusing moments. Santa with Muscles is probably better than those two but its not as fun to watch. That said, this movie is It's A Wonderful Life compared to The Star Wars Holiday Special or Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Schedule for January 2012

Happy New Year! After an absence of several weeks I have finally returned with a new post! I apologize for the unannounced hiatus. I got off schedule with my posts and it simply snowballed with the holidays. The good news is that I was still watching movies, I just have a lot of catching up to do.

Here are the posts I have planned:

Three Christmas movies
Three 2011 movies
2011 movie Round-up
2011 films I still want to see
Films I am looking forward to in 2012
The Vacation movies
Home Alone 1 and 2
The Wayne's World movies
3 - 5 posts covering all the other movies I have seen

I'm going to try to do one post a day so that I can get back to my regular schedule as soon as possible. I will also be doing an Oscars post once the nominations are announced on January 24th.