Top 10 of 2011


The annual ritual of choosing the movies that thrilled, chilled, affected and otherwise dug into the critical consciousness with hooks of steel during 2011 is upon Cinema365 and while our list is posted a bit later than most others, think of it as being a labor of love rather than a necessary evil, a particularly unliked chore.

This is the part where I mention that like any other list, this one is completely arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis, nothing quantitative that I can point to and say “this movie deserved to be on this list because of this.” No, it’s completely from the gut my friends and like any gut this big change is constant. The list you see here today is not the list I would make tomorrow. That’s why it always takes me so long; I hem, I haw, I prevaricate. At last, I assign.

Generally speaking, this list reflects my tastes as I saw the movie. I take all the movies I gave an 8 or greater score to, put the 10s at the top, the 9s below and so on. The half points I generally don’t take into consideration. Therefore you might see an 8 ranked above an 8.5. See what I mean about arbitrary?

So this is all about whether I liked the movie or not. 2011 didn’t see any real game changers in terms of movies that will rank as all-time bests. It is somewhat telling that perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a silent movie whose style harkened back to the films of that era. Still, even if none of them may end up as classics that withstand the test of time (and I think a few of them will), all ten of these and the honorable mentions as well, should provide at least a good starting point if you want to take a cinematic  year in review viewing party and stock it up with really good movies instead of just really popular ones.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late. There are two films on this list that you may find difficult to find either in home video or theaters. Check your local film festival to see if they will be around, or the websites that I have included with the original reviews – you can access those by clicking on the movie title and you can read what I wrote about them way back when.

This is meant to invite discussion or perhaps a heated argument or two. Feel free to submit your own top ten, or harangue me about mine. My skin is thick and I don’t bruise easily. I welcome hearing why my list is full of crap and yours is so much better. That’s why lists are fun.  

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

In a Better World, Hugo, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Company Men, The Descendants, Margin Call, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I Saw the Devil, Thor, J. Edgar, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Holy Wars, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Double Hour, Win Win, Bridesmaids, Young Goethe in Love, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Happy Poet, The Whistleblower, In Time, Apollo 18, Submarine, Drive.

And with no further ado, let us get on with the countdown:

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Everyone in England. Directed by David Yates

Released July 15, 2011 The end of an era finally came to pass as nearly a decade of Pottermania had its final moments and the series went out with a glorious bang. Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron would take on the forces of evil in an epic battle that would shake the very foundations of magic itself as Harry and Lord Voldemort finally had the face-off that everyone had been waiting for.

WHY IT IS HERE: There are those who proclaimed it the best film in the series and in many ways they weren’t wrong. This was an emotional rollercoaster that had heroism, villainy, pathos and even a hint of comedy here and there. After the first part of the last book seemed to be all exposition and no action, this movie made for a wonderful payoff. Not everyone would survive but this was a more than satisfactory ending to a series many people grew up with. There were a lot of misty eyes in the theater when the final credits rolled, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers accountants who would see their biggest moneymaking series ever fade into history.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Harry prepares for certain death as he goes into the black forest to compose himself. There he meets the shades of his parents as well as those in the series who had passed on. It was remarkably moving and I for one had tears literally streaming down my face when I saw it. In fact, I’m a bit misty right now just writing about it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $381 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $1.3 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on HBO/Cinemax. Download/stream from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Blockbuster.

9. INCENDIES

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villanueve

Released April 22, 2011 This was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar, representing Canada but very little of it was set in the Great White North. It didn’t win but many thought it should have. A woman follows the path of her mother as she makes a search for the man who is her father, starting in the small village her mother came from in the Middle East. The more she looks the deeper the mystery becomes as she discovers her mother was caught in a vicious civil war between Christian and Muslim factions in that country, leading to a shocking revelation that turns her daughter’s life upside down.

WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie on this list that will grab your guts quite as much as this one does. While many explore the depths of man’s cruelty to man, here is a movie that takes that cruelty head-on and exposes the ugliness for all to see. Yet even with all this ugliness, there is still lingering hope that tinges the entire film and makes it ultimately an uplifting experience, despite the horror. Forgiveness trumps hatred every time.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene in which a busload of Muslim women meet a horrible end is one that will stay with you for a very long time.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.1 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $3.6M total.

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Streaming unavailable.

8. BUCK

(Sundance Selects) Buck Brannaman, Mary Brannaman, Reata Brannaman, Betsy Shirley, Robert Redford, Bibb Frazier, Betty Staley, Ali Cornish, Shayne Jackson, Smokie Brannaman, Ray Hunt. Directed by Cindy Meehl

Released June 17, 2011 Buck Brannaman is an archetype, a modern day cowboy who is equal parts Roy Rogers and Dr. Phil. His journey from being a trick roper for an abusive father to one of the top consultants to ranchers about horse behavior and horse training (the character of The Horse Whisperer is largely based on him) is a moving one. One look at the trailer which preceded it convinced me that this was going to be a special film and when I got to see it in San Francisco with Da Queen, I found it to exceed those expectations and Da Queen agreed – if you were to ask her, this would undoubtedly be one of her favorite movies of the year as well.

WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January and it’s easy to see why. Few films – and even fewer documentaries – have as much heart and compassion as this movie does and the reason for it is Brannaman. He is self-effacing, quiet and has a connection to horses that is rare as it is beautiful. He has challenged traditional methods of training for one that is more effective and less traumatic for the horse. These days it can be difficult to be proud to be an American but this movie will allow you to do so, at least for a few hours.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Buck comforts a rancher who realizes that her inexperience and poor decisions regarding her horse have led to the injury of one of her hands and the eventual termination of the horse.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4 million domestic (as of 1/18/12), $4M total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Stream on Netflix. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

(Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

Released April 16, 2010 There are some movies that you will not see outside of a film festival. They are labors of love, made on shoestring budget by filmmakers who are often just learning their craft. Sometimes those movies are learning experiences for the filmmakers; they will go on to bigger and better things eventually but sometimes, you run into quality that stands on its own merit and doesn’t need any sort of qualifier, be it low-budget or inexperience. These films stand proudly with movies that have studio backing and/or indie distribution to be among the year’s best.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Brown’s third feature is an often poignant, generally funny and entirely too human portrayal of a dysfunctional family imploding over the course of a Christmas dinner. On paper it sounds awkward and uncomfortable and there are a few moments where those emotions are present but for the most part you just saw the damage done by years of digging, disappointment and disability. Well-acted (particularly Pixley, Keen and Killingsworth) and droll when it needs to be, this movie should be sent to every studio mogul and director as a primer in how great films can be done on microscopic budgets.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene near the end of the film when Danny’s departure brings down the facade from his mother and shows her to be what she truly is. It’s a marvelous piece of acting by Keen.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:The movie worked the film festival circuit last year, culminating in a brief run at New York’s ReRun Gastropub Theater in December. The film’s website doesn’t mention any plans for the movie to be released on DVD; hopefully someday it will be available in that formula or for digital download somewhere. Check the movie’s website for updates.

6. THE HELP

(DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Released August 10, 2011 Based on a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this movie shot to big box office after its release. The amount of success was a bit of a surprise given the subject matter but the quality wasn’t, given the excellent cast. Spencer has already won a Golden Globe for her performance and has received an Oscar nomination, along with Davis. The movie is also up for Best Picture.

WHY IT IS HERE: Some of the strongest ensemble work of any casts this year, for one thing. The writers and director Taylor could have taken the route in which Emma Stone’s Skeeter character was the brave white girl standing up for the oppressed minority (which has been done in other films) but that isn’t the case here; Stone is portrayed as much a cog in the wheel as the axel turning it. This is clearly Davis’ and Spencer’s movie. It’s funny, heartbreaking in places and insightful throughout.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Hilly discovers the truth about the “terrible awful.”

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $169.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $205.3 million total.

BUDGET: $25 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Rachelle Lefevre, Saul Rubinek, Mark Addy, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Cle Bennett. Directed by Richard J. Lewis

Released January 14, 2011 While it’s true Giamatti would win a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character, it was at last year’s Golden Globes. This Canadian film was based on a Mordechai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. For whatever reason it was released in early January instead of late December, effectively ending any shot it had at Oscar contention.

WHY IT IS HERE: Amazing performances from an amazing cast, to be blunt. Giamatti as I mentioned won a Golden Globe and the rest of the cast, from the irrepressible Dustin Hoffman to the breezy Speedman to the gruff Addy to the lustrous Pike all did bang-up jobs. Barney’s journey isn’t an easy one and at times the movie is so heartbreaking you want to run out of the theater – or as the case may be your living room – but staying until the final credits roll is so very worth your while.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, the last 20 minutes of the movie is something special. I was very, very moved.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $8.5 million worldwide.

BUDGET: $30 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

(Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Released June 10, 2011 We saw this at the Florida Film Festival and have been a huge fan ever since. While this is one of the “found footage” films subgenre that has been getting overused over the past couple years, it may very well be the best of them, better even than the one that started it – The Blair Witch Project.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Irreverent and fun, this is a theme park ride disguised as a movie. The trolls themselves are obviously CGI but they look exactly how you’d expect them to. Definitely the humor is low-key which some might have trouble with. This is one of those hidden treasures that nobody knows about, but when you get a friend to see it they become instant fans.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Hans filling out paperwork after his latest successful troll hunt.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $253,444 domestic (as of 1/25/11), $4.2 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime starting February 23rd. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix. Stream on Amazon/Netflix.

3. THE ARTIST

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Bitsie Tulloch, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, Basil Hoffman. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

Released November 25, 2011 After a good showing at the Golden Globes, The Artist is an odds-on favorite at the Oscars, with ten nominations including Best Picture (which it won at the Globes) and Best Actor for Dujardin (which he also won). This is probably the most critically acclaimed film of the year.

WHY IT IS HERE: This isn’t just an homage to silent cinema but an excellent example of the style of silent films. The humor is a bit broad and the pathos a bit maudlin but the movie works on every level. Even though there is almost no dialogue (there is music on the soundtrack and some sound effects) the acting gets across every nuance of the screenplay without fail. Dujardin, a French comic actor and Bejo, an Argentine actress, make a great team. This is the kind of movie that those who ordinarily wouldn’t choose to go see it are made believers after they’ve given it a shot.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: George’s suicide attempt is a heartbreaker.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $12.4 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $33.4 million total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

Released October 7, 2011 Walking the Camino de Santiago has always held a fascination to me. I’m way too out of shape to do it myself; this is as close as I’m going to come to doing it myself. I wasn’t impressed by the trailer or the concept originally but was blown away when I saw the film. It is insightful, emotionally authentic and yes it will make you laugh and cry.

WHY IT IS HERE: I am not the most Catholic of Catholics, but this movie gave me a nostalgic twinge in my ecumenical muscle. I also must admit that James Michener’s travelogue Iberia is a book that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times in my life; the chapter about the Camino always sung to me. No movie released this year afforded the opportunity for self-discovery as this one did and much of the responsibility for that goes to Martin Sheen’s dignified but realistic performance, making me realize how much I miss President Josiah Bartlett. Movies this powerfully moving should get as much praise as can be heaped on them.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene where Sara confesses to Tom about her abusive background.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/26/12), $4.4 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

(AFFRM) Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Marc Gwamaka, Zaninka Hadidja, Mursari Jean, Cleophas Kabasita, Hassan Kabera, Mazimpaka Kennedy, Assumpta Micho, Kena Onyenjekwe, Edouard B. Uwayo. Directed by Alrick Brown

Released December 2, 2011 Some movies aren’t seen so much as experienced. This film tells several stories about the Rwandan genocide, from a teenager girl who comes home after sneaking out to attend a party to find her parents murdered, to a courageous priest who tries to save as many of his Tutsi flock as he can, to a pair of soldiers who have varying reasons to want to put themselves at risk in Rwanda. Each story has an enormous emotional resonance and is based on a survivor’s actual experiences.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that doesn’t seem like a first feature. Indeed, I have not seen a better film this year. Few films will affect you as deeply as this one; but while it is set during one of the darkest moments in human history, it is not a story of darkness. Rather it is a film about reconciliation and hope, of the extraordinary ability of the human spirit to give the divine gift of forgiveness no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the transgression. If the Tutsi can forgive the Hutu and move to becoming a single nation after what happened in Rwanda, there is hope for us as a species if we can, as the Rwandans are doing, appeal to our own higher natures. When a movie can provide that for its audience, it is an extraordinary film indeed.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where one of the soldiers who committed murder in the genocide realizes what he has participated in and what it has cost his soul – with tragic results.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $21,097 domestic (as of 12/4/11), $21,097 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Kinyarwanda has had a limited release mostly in large cities. It is listed on the Netflix site with an as-yet unscheduled DVD release date, indicating that there are plans to release it in that format.

Margin Call


Margin Call

Kevin Spacey discovers the wonders of Internet porn.

(2011) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Aasif Mandvi, Ashley Williams, Susan Blackwell, Maria Dizzia, Jim Kirk. Directed by J.C. Chandor

Money makes the world go round, and certainly we all need it to get by. There are those, however, who can’t get enough of it and have plundered and pillaged their way into a global economic meltdown. The worst part of it is that there are those who knew what was about to happen but did nothing; they are at least complicit partners in the crime.

At a staid, respected Wall Street firm in 2008, layoffs are underway. A tap on the shoulder is the kiss of death as 80% of the workforce on this particular floor is about to be sent home. One of those being let go is Eric Dale (Tucci), a manager in the risk assessment team. As he is being escorted out, he hands a flash drive to his protégé Peter Sullivan (Quinto) and tells him it’s something he was working on and asks Peter to see if he can finish it. Then, somewhat strangely, he tells him to “Be careful.”

Well, that’s like catnip to a former rocket engineer like Sullivan so while the other survivors are out celebrating their stay of execution, Sullivan is working on the file and when he figures it out, the results are so monstrous that he has to call someone in. That someone is senior trader Will Emerson (Bettany) who in turn calls his boss Sam Rogers (Spacey), the head of trading.

What Sullivan has discovered is that the company has purchased a lot of mortgage-based securities that, if their value were to deteriorate by just 25% would mean that the companies losses would be greater than what the company was worth. That would mean bankruptcy and scandal and the end of the gravy train they’ve all been riding on.

During the course of the night, the findings are pushed up the ladder. The head of Risk Management Sarah Robertson (Moore) and her boss Jared Cohen (Baker) are brought into the loop and it soon becomes apparent they knew  a lot more about the situation than they had let on. It quickly becomes a case of looking out for your own tush as the firm’s British CEO John Tuld (Irons) flies in via helicopter as dawn breaks.

These executives will be making decisions that will have far-reaching economic implications, not to mention a moral dilemma as Tuld’s decision is to sell off the worthless securities before it becomes general knowledge that they’re worthless. Can Rogers order his traders to essentially destroy their own careers to save the firm? Should he?

The story is rather loosely based on that of Lehman Brothers (whose CEO is Richard Fuld) although there are certainly some factual differences. That there are those in the financial industry who played fast and loose with the rules and with morality there is no doubt. That the greed of banks, financial firms and those politicians who helped remove the safeguards and overseers that might have protected us from these rapacious sharks has put our economy down the tubes there is also no doubt.

Chandor, the son of a Merrill Lynch executive, has an insider’s perspective and he helps make a movie that really covers some fairly arcane numbers-based material without going too far over the heads of the average audience member. There’s some good writing here; understanding what happened in 2008 often feels like you need a degree in math just to grasp the basics. Here, it’s shown in fairly plain terms what happened to a lot of firms at the time.

The performances here are universally compelling. Spacey is more or less the focus of the moral dilemma; he alone of most of the executives has a pretty good wrestling match with his conscience. He isn’t possessed of a snowy white soul – he certainly is flawed – but at least his first thought isn’t of his own career but the ramifications on the general public when this gets out.

Irons is also amazing as the reptilian CEO. There is a moment when he’s rattling off the dates of all the crashes and downturns on Wall Street, seemingly not noticing how much closer together those dates are getting as the years go by. Does he really not notice or does he actually not care that each of those dates represent enormous human misery?

This isn’t what you’d call action packed fare; much of it takes place in conference rooms at high level meetings. It gets pretty talky at times. While this is mostly an indictment of the greed and arrogance of Wall Street, it also does put a certain onus on the general public for aiding and abetting, a charge which isn’t entirely unfounded. In that sense, this is as fair and balanced a portrayal of the meltdown as I’ve seen to date.

This movie puts a human face on the greed and how the mentality of CYA and testosterone-fueled “profits first, people second” culture in Wall Street made what happened in 2008 inevitable. This is the dark face of capitalism and that the executives sound uncannily like prison guards at Dachau only makes this movie more compelling.

REASONS TO GO: A very realistic look at what goes on behind the curtain on Wall Street. Terrific performances and a well-written script augment this.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit on the talky side.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed mostly at One Penn Plaza in New York on a floor recently vacated by a trading firm.

HOME OR THEATER: I’d see this in a theater if you can.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: In Time

New Releases for the Week of October 21, 2011


THE THREE MUSKETEERS

(Summit) Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Mads Mikkelsen, Gabriella Wilde, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A hot-headed young man joins forces with three rogue Musketeers to take on the evil Cardinal Richelieu, the sensual assassin Milady DeWinter and Lord Buckingham, prime minister of their sworn enemies Great Britain and prevent a cataclysmic war. There have been screen versions of this Alexandre Dumas classic for decades (my favorite being the Alexander and Ilya Salkind version in the 70s) but this is the first to come out in 3D.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of adventure action violence)

Johnny English Reborn

(Universal) Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike. There is a plot afoot to assassinate a world leader and cause global chaos and only one man can stop it – superspy Johnny English. The trouble is that English is nowhere to be found, and once he finally is located, is woefully out of practice. That’s no matter; what Johnny English does requires no skill or practice whatsoever.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spy Spoof

Rating: PG (for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality)

Margin Call

(Roadside Attractions) Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany. On a single day during the height of the 2008 financial meltdown, the key players at a financial firm cope with the implications of a scandal at their own company that might shutter its doors forever. They will need to wrestle with decisions both moral and ethical that will not only weigh their jobs in the balance but also their very souls.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Mighty Macs

(Freestyle Releasing) Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn. In 1971, a small Catholic women’s college caught the imagination of the sports world when a hard-edged head coach and a spunky nun helped mold the team into a national championship run that defied the odds. They would become a team for the ages.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: G

Paranormal Activity 3

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery. This is the prequel to the enormously popular found footage horror series. It depicts, in the 80s, how the supernatural forces that beset Katie and Kristi came into their lives as young girls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use)

The Way

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wangingen. An American doctor travels to the Pyrenees to recover the remains of his estranged son, killed in a storm while making a pilgrimage along the Way of St. James. In tribute to his son and also as a means to understand him better, he decides to complete the journey his son wanted to make. This was directed by Estevez and filmed along the actual Camino de Santiago in France and Spain.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spiritual Drama

Rating: NR

Four-Warned October 2011


October 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE THING (1.4)
2. THE IDES OF MARCH (1.6)
3. IN TIME (1.7)
4. PUSS IN BOOTS (1.8)
TIE. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1.8)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. HELL AND BACK AGAIN (1.3)
2. FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN (1.4)
3. MARGIN CALL (1.6)
4. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (1.7)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

OCTOBER 5, 2011

HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Docurama) Genre: Documentary. An American soldier copes with civilian life after a brutal tour in Afghanistan. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 14). RATING: 1.3 If the movie is anything like the trailer, this is an amazing and affecting documentary.

OCTOBER 7, 2011

1911 (Well Go USA/Variance) Genre: Period War Drama. The citizens of China rebel against a despotic dowager empress and the 7-year-old son in whose name she rules. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Jackie Chan in an epic war movie? I’m so there…
BLACKTHORN (Magnolia) Genre: Western. Butch Cassidy survives the Bolivian shoot-out to live a quiet life under an assumed name in South America but gets drawn in to one last adventure. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like an awesome Western with Sam Sheppard as Cassidy.
DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A young girl living in Norman, Oklahoma in 1987 persuades a young overweight outcast to drive her to California to find her dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a quirky indie comedy that’s been done to death.
EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE (Pale Griot) Genre: Musical Documentary. One of the most innovative and exciting bands to come out of Los Angeles in the ’80s gets their due here. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 21). RATING: 3.3 Although I never fully got into the band, they definitely had their own unique sound.
THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH (Music Box) Genre: Action Adventure. The heir to a billionaire’s fortune takes over his father’s multinational corporation with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Has almost a video game feel to it.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: (FULL SEQUENCE) (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A sexual deviant obsessed with the previous film in the series decides to create a human centipede of his own, this time utilizing twelve people instead of three. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of the most twisted films of recent years gets an equally twisted sequel.
THE IDES OF MARCH (Columbia) Genre: Thriller. A presidential candidate’s press secretary becomes embroiled in a scandal on the eve of the primary. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 An all-star cast headed by Ryan Gosling and George Clooney make this quite intriguing.
INCENDIARY: THE WILLINGHAM CASE (Truly Indie) Genre: Documentary. An examination into a case of a potentially innocent man executed for a heinous crime with political overtones. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Casts doubt on the death penalty as well as the presidential candidacy of Rick Perry.
REAL STEEL (DreamWorks) Genre: Science Fiction. A down on his luck ex-prizefighter tries to make a comeback in the new sport of robot boxing in order to bond with his estranged son. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.9 Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots from the look of it.
THE SONS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (First Run) Genre: Documentary. The story of the gay Mardi Gras and the earliest attempts to assert gay rights in New Orleans. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 15). RATING: 2.2 A study in courage that is inspiring to gay and straight audiences alike.
THE SWELLSEASON (SeventhArt) Genre: Musical Documentary. A look at the band The Swell Season whose principles won Oscars for Once and whose romance rose and fell through the rigors of touring. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in New York City October 21). RATING: 2.4 We get to see the reality of a terrific band we thought we knew through a movie.
THE WAY (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Drama. After his son dies on a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James, his father decides to complete the journey in memory of his boy and in doing so, gains a greater understanding of who he was. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Emilio Estevez directs his dad Martin Sheen on what looks to be an interesting film from the trailer.
THE WOMAN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (Strand) Genre: Comedy. A Parisian stockbroker circa 1960 has his world turned upside-down by a group of Spanish maids. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A French class comedy; the trailer looks intriguing.

OCTOBER 12, 2011

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL II: THE THIN COMMANDMENTS (PMK*BNC) Genre: Documentary. America’s unhealthy obsession with dieting and body image gets a look under the microscope. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expands on October 21). RATING: 3.8 The forces behind weight loss and body image turn out to be more insidious than you’d think.

OCTOBER 14, 2011

THE BIG YEAR (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. Three men whose lives are in a tailspin decide to make this year their best yet particular in regards to bird watching. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 You’d expect a cast with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson would be intriguing but the trailer left me a bit flat.
BOMBAY BEACH (Boaz Yakin) Genre: Documentary. A former resort community on the Salton Sea becomes a haven for hippies and outsiders. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.3 I’m sure that this is what a lot of people think all of California is like.
CHALET GIRL (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A young skateboarder turned burger flipper gets a chance to cater in an exclusive Alpine resort where she discovers snowboarding and possibly love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer made the movie look like a mediocre rom-com with a British accent and lots of snow.
FATHER OF INVENTION (Anchor Bay) Genre: Comedy. An entrepreneur whose invention turns out to be dangerous gets a second chance at success. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The trailer looked good and the part looks like a good fit for Kevin Spacey.
FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN (FSI) Genre: Drama. A family is torn apart when the mother, the glue who held them together, dies suddenly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 An amazing cast includes Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds and Willem Dafoe.
FOOTLOOSE (Paramount) Genre: Musical. When a small town bans dancing after a tragedy, a lone newcomer challenges the law. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Why did this need to be remade? And why make it look like part of the Step Up franchise?
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A brilliant plastic surgeon tries to create an artificial skin that might have saved his wife, a victim of a horrible car accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Director Pedro Almodovar is known for creating movies that push the boundaries.
TEXAS KILLING FIELDS (Anchor Bay) Genre: Mystery. A pair of small town detectives hunt for a sadistic serial killer who dumps his victim’s bodies in a nearby swamp. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Stars Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan; the trailer looked intriguing.
THE THING (Universal) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. A team of Antarctic researchers find a spacecraft in the ice…and something in it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 A prequel to John Carpenter’s version of the story is the third movie of the same name based on the same material.
TRESPASS (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A wealthy family having their house renovated are the victims of a well-thought out home invasion by a gang of vicious criminals. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Despite a cast that includes Nicole Kidman and Nicolas Cage looks like a retread of movies we’ve seen before.
THE WOMAN (Bloody Disgusting Selects) Genre: Horror. A country lawyer finds a feral woman in the woods and attempts to civilize her, bringing her home to a family that grows more savage as their attempts fail. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 With a graphic rape, this had people walking out on the film at Sundance.

OCTOBER 19, 2011

THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM (IFC) Genre: Comedy. An eccentric pastor is suspended for telling inappropriate parables to his flock; he goes for a bonding fishing trip with his high school friend, a former metal guitarist and the two find things get really weird really fast. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 4). RATING: 3.1 Looks like it could be an acquired taste.
PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. Goodman, one of the counterculture’s most influential thinkers, is profiled as a renaissance man of his time. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Most Americans are unaware of him or his landmark novel “Growing Up Absurd” but he was a crusader for gay rights and pacifism before nearly anyone.

OCTOBER 21, 2011

BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. Kevin Clash creates a beloved icon but starts out as a fan of Jim Henson. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 4). RATING: 3.2 A must-see for Muppet fans.
CARGO (Persona) Genre: Drama. A young Russian woman hoping for a modeling career enters the U.S. illegally, crossing paths with an Egyptian human trafficker. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 A gritty look at the human toll of human trafficking.
JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (Universal) Genre: Spy Spoof. Rowan Atkinson stars as a British superspy brought out of retirement in order to prevent a global catastrophe. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 It wasn’t funny the first time.
KLITSCHKO (Corinth) Genre: Sports Documentary. The story of the Klitschko brothers who rose from the Soviet Union to dominate boxing – and Ukrainian politics. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 A surprisingly interesting boxing documentary.
LE HAVRE (Janus) Genre: Dramedy. A bohemian shoe shiner in the French port city stands up for an immigrant boy about to be deported. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.9 Looks awfully heartwarming in a non-schmaltzy way.
MARGIN CALL (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. Employees at a financial firm in the beginning stages of the 2008 crash grapple with financial, ethical and moral issues. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Great cast and what appears to be a thrilling plotline.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Thriller. A young woman who escaped from a cult has the line between reality and fantasy blurred by her paranoia. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.7 A Sundance sensation that has a fantastic-looking trailer.
THE MIGHTY MACS (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: True Sports Drama. A tiny Catholic girls school becomes an NCAA women’s basketball powerhouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks interesting but I’m a bit burned out on the genre.
NORMAN (AMC Independent) Genre: Drama. A high school senior whose mother recently passed away and whose father is dying starts to exhibit his father’s symptoms in order to maintain the fiction that he is dying himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks very intriguing from the trailer and with the great Richard Jenkins in the cast and Andrew Bird writing the music, color me interested.
ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. A courageous social worker in England discovers the illegal deportation of children to Australia. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 Incredibly, this is based on a true story.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Paramount) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Sisters Kate and Christine have their first encounter with the evil force that plagued them in the first two movies. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 The first two films in the series have been as scary as the first two films in any horror franchise – maybe more so.
RETREAT (Goldwyn) Genre: Thriller. A couple recuperating from a personal tragedy on a remote island retreat find a man washed up on the shore who tells them Europe is in the grip of a plague. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This looks like one of those paranoia-inducing thrillers with a biohazard edge; could be good.
THE REUNION (Goldwyn) Genre: Action. A trio of dysfunctional brothers join forces as bail bondsmen in order to cash in on a large inheritance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Another WWE film that doesn’t look particularly impressive.
REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CARS (WestMidWest/Area23A) Genre: Documentary. Ten years after Who Killed the Electric Cars, the status of four carmakers – including GM – seeking to set the market for electric cars is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The original documentary is a classic; will this one live up to it?
SNOWMEN (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Family Drama. A young boy with cancer wants to set the world record for most snowmen built in 24 hours. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Saw this at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year; read the review here.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Summit) Genre: Adventure. D’Artagnan and the legendary three musketeers must take on wicked Cardinal Richelieu and his killers to prevent a devastating war between England and France. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.8 A little swashbuckling can be good for the soul.

OCTOBER 26, 2011

RA.ONE (Eros International) Genre: Science Fiction. A videogame villain is released into the real world, prompting the game’s creator to become a tech-enhanced superhero. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Sounds a bit like TRON but the trailer looked impressive.

OCTOBER 28, 2011

13 (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. A young handyman assumes a dead man’s identity and enters a deadly game of chance. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.2 A remake of the terrific French film 13 Tzameti with a cast that includes Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham and Ray Winstone.
AND THEY’RE OFF… (Kinobild) Genre: Mockumentary. A racehorse trainer with a perennial losing record in desperation hires an ex-girlfriend as jockey, not understanding she’s only doing it to get back together with him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Despite a decent cast, the trailer did not inspire me to want to see this.
ANONYMOUS (Columbia) Genre: Drama. The question of whether or not William Shakespeare actually authored his own work is examined and a theory presented. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 An intriguing idea and the first movie by director Roland Emmerich to lack an epic scope in quite awhile.
THE DOUBLE (Image) Genre: Spy Thriller. The murder of a U.S. Senator appears to be the work of a Soviet assassin, bringing a CIA operative who knew him best out of retirement to track him down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but with no trailer available as of this writing, can’t really get too excited yet.
IN TIME (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. In the future where time is the currency and nobody ages past 25, a young man tries to right a corrupt system in which the wealthy live forever and the poor live on borrowed time. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 One of the most interesting concepts to come along in awhile; hopefully they’ll do the idea justice.
JANIE JONES (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. An aging rocker trying for one last comeback is forced to bring his 13 year old daughter on the road while her mom is in rehab. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 The trailer looked authentic and the music sounded good and who knew Abigail Breslin could sing?
LIKE CRAZY (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Romance. Two college students meet and fall in love but one is forced to leave the country when she violates the terms of her student visa. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Teen angst taken to the Nth degree.
MY REINCARNATION (Long Shot Factory) Genre: Documentary. The son of a Tibetan Buddhist Master rejects his status as the reincarnation of a renowned Buddhist teacher and embraces the modern world. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 Based on a British movie of the same name.
OKA! (DADA) Genre: Adventure. An ethnomusicologist in the Central African forest studying the music of the Bayaka pygmies fights to protect their land from greedy political interests. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.8 The trailer looks promising.
PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. The fabulous feline from the Shrek series gets a movie of his own. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.8 The last Shrek movie was pretty weak; hopefully the emphasis on Puss will re-energize the franchise.
THE RUM DIARY (FilmDistrict) Genre: Drama. The Hunter S. Thompson novel comes to life with Johnny Depp as a hedonistic reporter in 1950s Puerto Rico. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Depp’s second HST adaptation after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (IFC) Genre: Drama. A reckless university student takes a job as a sex worker, allowing old men to have erotic experiences with her as she sleeps; her work eventually commences to bleed into her waking life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A very sensuous, intriguing trailer.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Ides of March, Real Steel, The Big Year, The Thing, Margin Call, The Three Musketeers, Anonymous, In Time, The Rum Diary