I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve touched this blog, and that was after only a brief 4-month run of posting reviews where it quickly got away from me– the number of films I was seeing and wanting to post reviews about far exceeding what I could actually keep up with in terms of writing & publishing reviews. But here I am, back from the dead, with a second attempt.
Seeing as how it’s a brand new year, I’m going to kick things off with a 2011 Top Ten list (although I’m going to publish each short review separately). And then it will be on to the new slate of 2012 releases.
The first official 2012 film I’ll be reviewing will be Haywire. I’ll likely also be doing a review for The Grey, which is really the only other January release I’m excited to check out.
Here’s what I’m excited to see coming in February (and for which you can probably expect reviews):
The Woman in Black
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Secret World of Arrietty
Now, I don’t think all of these will be spectacular films. Ghost Rider, for instance, I’m interested in seeing simply because of the Neveldine/Taylor directing team and how they may take Nic Cage’s forever escalating train wreck of a career to new insane places much like last year’s Drive Angry. And I still haven’t seen the first Nic Cage Ghost Rider film, but this one has me slightly intrigued simply because of the Crank directing team. If I end up seeing something off the list, say This Means War, and have something to say about it beyond “Another lobotomized action movie in the vein of the lobotomized Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” perhaps there will be a few surprise reviews showing up.
Finally, as a tease for the 2011 Top Ten list, here are the honorable mentions:
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
A fun, whimsical tale, perhaps one of Woody’s best in recent years. Though his previous You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was underrated and under-seen and surprisingly solid. Paris doesn’t really have the gravitas to make it into the top ten list, and it loses some of the wind from its sails by the end of the picture. Much like Gil’s late-night wanderings, it’s a pleasant and entertaining diversion that finally doesn’t amount to much more than the joie de vivre of its own enjoyable musings. But it is a lot of fun, and it’s supported by a very game cast making the most of their eclectic and inspired roles. It’s also refreshing to see Wilson back at home in his comedic element after his personal travails of the last few years, yet in something that’s a bit more than simple, brainless mainstream pandering. And he’s a surprisingly good fit as an Allen protagonist, capturing all of the requisite doubt, insecurity, and pathos, yet bringing a good-natured charm and zeal to the archetype that sets it apart and actually strengthens the film as a result.
Moneyball, Bennett Miller
There’s really no criticism you can make about Moneyball. This was originally supposed to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, but he was let go after several years developing it when the studio didn’t like his plan to intersperse documentary footage throughout and to cast some of the real people as themselves in the adapted narrative. It’s true that this choice probably would have made the film slightly less commercial, but it’s also sad that a director like Soderbergh who routinely delivers commercial success and works diligently with the studios to strike a balance between commercialism and artistry isn’t given any leeway these days. It’s largely this development nightmare that’s responsible for him wanting to take a 5-year hiatus from film directing to submerge himself in painting, where he doesn’t have to constantly answer to a board of entertainment executives and bankers to justify every creative choice ad nauseum. And so we’ve ended up with the “safer” Miller version of Moneyball. Billy Beane is a role that Brad Pitt easily slides right into, but it’s not a part that demands anything of him besides him mumbling and spitting his tobacco juice into a styrofoam cup. It’s even a little mind-boggling that he’s being mentioned in the Best Actor race; he’s asked to do so very little in this film that doing it well is certainly no career high. But much like the story behind Moneyball, the film’s success isn’t a result of hitting it out of the park, it’s a measured victory of doing everything right and minimizing any potential errors. The supporting cast, from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright to Jonah Hill and Chris Pratt, are all aces. And the fresh take on the sports film from a card-counting, number crunching perspective is certainly fresh enough to make Moneyball an engrossing watch, even if it doesn’t have a strong enough emotional center to take it from being involving to outright compelling. Still, 2012 featured such a dearth of quality films, specifically wide releases, that Moneyball has little competition while making so few errors. If most of your competition are stillborn remakes and sequels, movies about toy lines from the 80s, and stillborn sequels about toy lines from the 80s, then you don’t have to be great to be the best, you simply need to be solid and not drop the catch. And in the end, Moneyball is an extremely well-crafted film for which Miller deserves much of the kudos, no doubt a welcome coup after having had a project or two of his own stuck in development hell over the last few years, making this his first release since the outstanding Capote. And its success appears to have helped Miller finally get a greenlight for his next film, Foxcatcher, with Steve Carell playing the paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont who murdered Olympic wrestler David Schultz.