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.

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The old and the new collide in modern Shanghai.

(2011) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Archie Kao, Vivian Wu, Hugh Jackman, Russell Wong, Coco Chiang, Congmeng Guo, Yan Dai, Ying Tang, Chen Tao, Zhong Lu, Mian Mian, Wu Jiang, Feihu Sun. Directed by Wayne Wang

What makes a friendship last? Is it the experiences we share or is it something deeper, a connection that cannot be explained or quantified? Why is it that our friendships sometimes seem far more lasting and deeper than our romantic relationships?

In the early 19th century in China, two young girls – Snow Flower (Jun), born into a family of wealth, and Lily (Li), born into poverty, have their feet bound on the same day (the bones broken then the feet wrapped tightly in silk in order to inhibit growth which made the feet smaller, a prized feature in ancient China) and are made laotong  – which translates to “old sames” and is a deep friendship between two women that is contractual but entered in through mutual choice rather than arrangement.

The two young girls grow up into women and each are married; Lily, whose perfect feet make her a prize, into the wealthiest family in Hunan Province and into a loveless marriage and Snow Flower, whose family fortunes have taken a nosedive when her father blew the fortune on opium, to a butcher (Jiang), the lowest rung on the social ladder in the day. Snow Flower’s marriage has its share of difficulties but at least there is some love there.

In modern Shanghai, Nina (Li) is about to leave for New York City to run the North American office of a prestigious financial firm. However, her plans are interrupted by the news that her estranged friend Sophie (Jun) has been gravely hurt in a bicycle accident, lying in a coma in a Shanghai hospital. Nina discovers that her friend is writing a book about the two laotong from the 19th century, seeing in them a parallel between herself and Nina. The occasion is hastened by an exhibit on laotong at a Shanghai gallery.

Nina decides to dig into Sophie’s life, searching for a missing fan on which Snow Flower and Lily communicated in nu shu, a secret language for women. In the process, she discovers the insignificance of the barriers between them and the importance of friendship, particularly one as deep and lasting as the one they share.

Wang, who has also directed The Joy Luck Club, based this on the bestselling novel by Chinese-American author Lisa See. He and writers Ron Bass, Angela Workman and Michael Ray, added the modern sequences which didn’t appear in the book. The device allows some juxtaposition between modern and ancient China; whether or not that was necessary is a subject of some debate.

To the movie’s credit, it captures both the ancient and modern Chinas beautifully. This is a very good looking film. Also to the movie’s credit, it doesn’t skimp on the ugliness that sometimes rears its ugly head, from the foot binding to the abuse of women and mistreatment, particularly in ancient China when they were little more than property

Jackman, who has a song and dance background from Broadway, gets to show off his singing chops as a singing nightclub owner in the modern sequences in a very small role so if you’re going to see the movie because of his presence, be aware he only appears in a handful of scenes. However the performance of Li, who plays both Lily and Nina, is strong and is one of the reasons I gave the movie a rating this high. She makes a compelling lead and carries most of the movie on her shoulders, which may seem delicate but are much stronger than they appear.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has received some scathing reviews, some of which I can kind of see, but others seem to be more aimed at the involvement of Rupert Murdoch (who personally lobbied to get this film released) and his wife (who is listed as a producer for the film). While I hold no love for Murdoch or his media empire, I can only review the movie, not who made it. The movie is beautifully made on a subject rarely delved into in Hollywood (even Thelma and Louise was a movie that was less about ordinary circumstances as this one is). Sure, it’s flawed – the pace is a little too slow for my tastes and I suspect that focusing on the 19th century story rather than drawing parallels in modern China would have benefitted the film overall. Nonetheless it’s a movie well worth seeing just for the insight into feminine friendships and the cinematography alone.

REASONS TO GO: A compelling look at female friendships, a rare thing in the movies. Beautifully shot in modern Shanghai and ancient China.

REASONS TO STAY: The story moves at a fairly glacial pace.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some violence, a few disturbing images and some depictions of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was scored by Rachel Portman, the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Original Score (for Emma in 1996).

HOME OR THEATER: The beautiful cinematography should be enjoyed on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Cowboys and Aliens

New Releases for the Week of July 29, 2011


Cowboys and Aliens

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

(DreamWorks/Universal) Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera, Walton Goggins, Buck Taylor, Chris Browning. Directed by Jon Favreau

In the dusty Arizona Territory of 1873, a stranger walks into a small town with no memory but a strange shackle on one wrist. The people there seem to know who he is – and that he’s not a particularly nice guy. However when aliens show up, the townsfolk and the local Apache tribe must band together to fight for their survival – and the stranger may be the key.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference)

Crazy, Stupid, Love

(Warner Brothers) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore. A happily married man’s world comes crashing about his ears when his wife informs him that she’s been cheating on him and she wants a divorce. Thrust into the dating pool from which he’s been absent for decades, he leans on a local player who agrees to take him under his wing and teach him how to be attractive to women in the 21st century – only to discover that both player and protégé are equally susceptible to the ravages of love.frseweqweww

See the trailers, interviews, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for coarse humor, sexual content and language)

The Smurfs

(Columbia) Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara. The wee blue creatures of Belgian television lore are chased out of their magical world by the evil wizard Garbage Smell…I mean, Gargamel…and into our own. They are discovered by an expectant couple whose lives are turned around by the Smurfs, who must find a way to escape the evil wizard and make their way home.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

(Fox Searchlight) Hugh Jackman, Li Bingbing, Jeon Ji-Hyun, Archie Kao. A pair of friends in 19th century China is forced to communicate surreptitiously, using a secret language imprinted on paper fans. Their story is told in parallel with the story of their descendants in modern Shanghai.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, violence/disturbing images and drug use)

Four-Warned: July 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. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (1.0)
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (1.1)
3. COWBOYS AND ALIENS (1.4)
4. LARRY CROWNE (1.9)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. ANOTHER EARTH (1.3)
2. SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (1.7)
3. SARAH’S KEY (1.9)
4. RAPT (2.0)

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

JULY 1, 2011

CRIME AFTER CRIME (OWN Documentary Club) Genre: Documentary. The story of Debbie Paigler, a woman who murdered her abusive boyfriend and was railroaded by the legal system – and of the two decade long fight to set her free. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles July 8). RATING: 2.8 Sounds like it could be compelling but trailer didn’t impress.
DELHI BELLY (UTV) Genre: Crime Comedy. A trio of flat mates get in trouble with a vicious crime boss…with comic results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Bollywood is beginning to invade mainstream cinemas about which I couldn’t be happier – although this one didn’t really float my boat based on the trailer.
LARRY CROWNE (Universal) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A recently unemployed man goes back to college to improve his employment chances only to fall for the charms of the teacher. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? Say no more!
LOVE ETC. (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. Love in all its forms shown during the course of a New York City day. Release Strategy: New York City and Los Angeles. RATING: 3.4 The concept doesn’t excite me much; seems a bit talky and over-analytical.
MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) Genre: Preteen Romantic Comedy. A trio of recent high school graduates on tour in Europe gets mistaken for a rich bad girl, changing their vacation – and their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Eccch…
THE PERFECT HOST (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A bank robber masquerades as a guest at a dinner party, unaware that the host has some secret of his own. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 David Hyde Pierce is ideally cast.
SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A cop haunted by his past investigates a small town’s first murder in decades, only to discover his past catching up with him – and entwining with his investigation. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 The trailer looked interesting but not compelling.
TERRI (ATO) Genre: Dramedy. A husky teenage misfit is taken under the wing of a well-meaning but often overly talkative principal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Missed it at the Florida Film Festival, but John C. Reilly stars so it’s gotta be at least half-decent.

JULY 6, 2011

RAPT (Lorber) Genre: Thriller. When a French industrialist is kidnapped, ugly details of his sordid affairs come out, making his family wonder whether the ransom should be paid. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 A very taut-looking suspense film from the trailer.
SEPTIEN (IFC) Genre: Mystery. After an 18-year-disappearance, a former football hero returns to his rural home to find that things have changed – and are not so different either. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Looks a bit Southern gothic – in a good way.

JULY 8, 2011

BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Sony Classics) Genre: Musical Documentary. A documentary that follows one of the most innovative bands in hip-hop from their beginnings until now, more than a decade after their highly publicized break-up. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 I’m just not a rap guy.
THE CHAMELEON (Cinema Epoch) Genre: Thriller. The return of a kidnapped boy to his home brings more questions than answers and opens up a deeper mystery. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A great cast (including Ellen Barkin) and the extra added attraction of a true story.
FADING OF THE CRIES (Eammon) Genre: Fantasy. A young girl is chased by a hideous wizard who wants an ancient necklace. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Looks a little cheesy but I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies.
HORRIBLE BOSSES (New Line) Genre: Comedy. A group of much put-upon cubicle cowboys plot to rid themselves of their nemeses. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 This could be the water cooler comedy of the summer.
IRONCLAD (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Historical Action. King John attempts to retake complete control of England after signing the Magna Carta with one small group of rebels standing in his way. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks good, but Paul Giamatti in a medieval period piece? Not so sure about that one.
JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Horror. A young girl with no memory finds herself in a mental institution in the 60s being stalked by strange and terrifying visions. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Carpenter’s first feature film in more than a decade – reason enough to go see this one.
THE LEDGE (IFC) Genre: Suspense. A cuckolded Evangelical forces his wife’s lover out onto the edge of a high rise and forces him to choose between his love and his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Great cast, terrific concept and a decent trailer.
PROJECT NIM (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Documentary. The attempts to train a chimpanzee in sign language back in the ‘70s are documented. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Missed this at the Florida Film Festival and is wishing I hadn’t.
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH (Self-Released) Genre: Not Sure How to Classify This. The Bard’s classic play, set in modern New York City and told in Yiddish. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 4.0 Oy.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY (Strand) Genre: Fantasy. A French deconstruction of the classic fairy tale that spans several centuries. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Visually inventive and quite erotic judging on the trailer.
ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. The animals of a zoo get together to help their zookeeper get the woman of his dreams when they find out he’s leaving the zoo because his profession gets in the way of getting women. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Blowing hot and cold on this one – I like Kevin James but it does look a little cheesy.

JULY 15, 2011

GIRLFRIEND (Paradigm) Genre: Drama. A romantic triangle between a girl, her abusive ex and a young man with Down’s syndrome turns into a game of cat and mouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Looks dark and sweet all at once.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (Warner Brothers) Genre: Fantasy. The franchise comes to a conclusion here. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 It all comes down to this.
LIFE, ABOVE ALL (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A young South African girl faces fear and suspicion when members of her family die mysteriously. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 The trailer for this didn’t shed a lot of light on the plot, which might be a good thing.
LUCKY (Phase 4) Genre: Comedy. The winner of the Iowa State Lotto is a serial killer. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.2 As Artie Johnson might have said, “Verrrrry interesting…”
SALVATION BOULEVARD (IFC) Genre: Comedy Thriller. When a devout follower of a corrupt televangelist witnesses a sinful act, he goes on the run and into a series of romantic entanglements. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Stunning cast, great premise and a nifty trailer make me eager to check this out.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. Two pairs of women, separated by generations in China, struggle to maintain friendship in a world hostile to it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 The latest from director Wayne Wang explores female friendship, a subject not often tackled by the movies.
TABLOID (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. The 1977 “Case of the Manacled Mormon” is the subject of the latest by master documentarian Errol Morris. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This one has it all – sex, scandal and comedy.
WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. The creatures of the 100-Acre Wood set out to find Eeyore a tail. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Anyone who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh was never a child.

JULY 18, 2011

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (Giant Flick) Genre: Adventure. Sinbad must travel to dangerous distant lands to rescue the sultan’s daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 If it is as imaginative as the old Ray Harryhausen versions, this could be a winner.

JULY 20, 2011

THE WOMAN WITH THE 5 ELEPHANTS (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. A look at the foremost translator of Russian literature into German who survived both Stalinist and Nazi persecution. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 The trailer makes the film look awfully dry.

JULY 22, 2011

A LITTLE HELP (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. A woman whose husband dies suddenly is comforted and aided by her mother and sister – and finds herself being drawn to her sister’s husband. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Sounds a bit soap opera-esque on the surface but the trailer looked pretty interesting.
ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Science Fiction. The discovery of a duplicate Earth sends the lives of those on this Earth into a tizzy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Looks pretty good from the trailer.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (Paramount) Genre: Superhero. A 98-lb. weakling is turned into a super-soldier by a mysterious formula. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.1 Marvel’s movies have been nearly universally high quality.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) Genre: Comedy. Two friends decide to add sex to their mix, with inevitable chaos. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Really? I mean, really?
MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (IFC) Genre: Drama. Four teenagers on the last day of summer try to find some magic before school starts. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.4 Really haven’t seen the trailer, so not sure about this one.
SARAH’S KEY (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. A journalist investigating the Holocaust in France discovers an unexpected personal connection to the story. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Great cast and an interesting background story make for a must-see movie.
THE TREE (Zeitgeist) Genre: Drama. A young family copes with the death of the father while relocated in the Australian outback. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks a little bit maudlin but the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg makes up for it.

JULY 27, 2011

LIFE IN A DAY (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. The results of a worldwide solicitation of home video to document a single day on Planet Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 An interesting concept but I’m not sure it will translate to an entertaining film.

JULY 29, 2011

ALL IN (4th Row) Genre: Documentary. The surge in popularity of poker is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 I don’t find poker to be a particularly interesting film to watch on television; I can’t imagine an hour and a half of it in a theater.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (Screen Gems) Genre: Science Fiction. A teen gang defends a London tower block from an alien attack. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Received rave reviews on the festival circuit.
COWBOYS AND ALIENS (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction Western. A gunslinger without any memory may be the key to defeating an alien invasion in the Old West. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 The trailers look pretty nifty.
CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. A man whose wife asked him for a divorce looks for dating advice from a lady killer friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 It’s Steve Carrell…gotta be good, right?
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE (Lionsgate) Genre: Biographical Drama. A young Iraqi army lieutenant becomes the double of Uday Hussein, entering a world of corruption and debauchery. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks fascinating, a real-life version of a fairy tale turned nightmare.
THE FUTURE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. The adoption of a kitten changes the course of time. No, really. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 One of the Sundance Festival’s marquee films.
GOOD NEIGHBORS (Magnolia) Genre: Crime Thriller. Apartment dwellers bond over a string of vicious murders in their community, never realizing how close to home the killer really is. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 This seems to me like it’s been done before.
THE GUARD (Sony Classics) Genre: Crime Comedy. A by-the-book FBI officer must team up with a diffident Irish cop to nab a vicious cocaine smuggling ring in Ireland. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Teaming up Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle is inspired casting.
POINT BLANK (Magnolia) Genre: Action. A male nurse is forced to get a captured criminal out of police custody in the hospital in order to save his wife and unborn child. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 It looks pretty intense.
THE SMURFS (Columbia) Genre: Family. An evil wizard magically transports the beloved blue-skinned figures to New York City. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Has its nostalgia value and from what I can tell not much more.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, Project Nim, Zookeeper, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Winnie the Pooh, Captain America: The First Avenger, Friends with Benefits, Cowboys and Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love