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2011 Holiday Release Movies – Capsule Reviews January 1, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Movies.

In lieu of full reviews for each of the following films as I have done in past holiday seasons, this year the movies are so well known and so thoroughly reviewed elsewhere that I will merely add capsule review summaries….From the sublime to the terrible:

THE ARTIST, currently front runner for Best Picture, and deservedly so, is a throwback to silent movies of the 20’s, with a modern sensibility. It ends with a three minute tap sequence that is easily one of the movie highlights of the year. I loved this movie top to bottom, and if you enjoy the craft of movie making and story telling, then don’t miss it.

Hand in hand is its modern partner HUGO, Martin Scorsese’s paean to the creation of film making. Based on the children’s book, it faithfully captures the spirit of the novel, while adding a depth of artistic celebration of all things good in films. Highly enjoyable, moreso for adults than children.

WAR HORSE galloped into movie theaters on Christmas Day, and it’s a splendid adaptation of the book by Spielberg and company. Sure, it’s more magical on stage at the Vivian Beaumont theater at Lincoln Center with those gorgeous Handspring Puppet Company horses, but the story shimmers on the big screen. Filmed for family audiences, Spielberg’s violence quotient is toned down, while never eliminating the horrors of the war story beneath. Highly recommended.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4: GHOST PROTOCOL is easily the best of the lot, and easily the best action movie of the holiday season. Jeremy Renner turns in an excellent performance, and Tom Cruise is tolerable. The action sequences are staged with brio and playfulness. You’ll have a great time, and woe-be-to-you if you have a fear of heights, because the centerpiece sequence of the film on the exterior of the world’s tallest building is brilliant – and nausea inducing, especially if seen in IMAX.

George Clooney scores another hit in the drama THE DESCENDANTS, which owes more than half it’s storyline to Terms of Endearment. The acting here is brilliant, and the film is a subtle study of grief, forgiveness, and those coincidences that give life meaning. Look for a Best Picture nomination. But don’t think it’s a fluff piece. This is serious drama, and its well acted and played, and the cinematography transports you to a Hawaii that most of us have never seen.

Also dealing with grief is the woefully misnamed WE BOUGHT A ZOO, which is really more about death, letting go, and moving on, and much less about the “hilarious zoo story” the movie is advertised to be to suck in your 7 year olds. There is little here for them, other than some adorable animals that make cameo appearances. But it’s really a family drama about learning to move on after the death of your spouse. I loved this movie, despite its schmaltz, and continue to admire what Cameron Crowe is able to do with minor material, and how good of an actor Matt Damon is becoming.

If you’ve already seen the Swedish version of GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO you’ve already seen the better of the two versions, although this is a perfectly good adaptation. Mostly you leave thinking that this was only the first third of the trilogy, and it’s a long one at that. The jarring Swedish accents by its international cast are also somewhat offputting. Its worth a viewing, but there are other films I’d see first.

THE MUPPETS is a perfectly awesome work of whimsy, thanks to Jason Segal and those hilarious Jim Henson creations. You’ll most likely find yourself tearing up often during this film if you are old enough to remember the original tv show and movies, and guaranteed during “Rainbow Connection” near the end of the film. Are you a Muppet of a Man, or a Very Manly Muppet? Go see this movie.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS is basically a remake of the first movie, with a slightly more interesting story. Guy Ritchie has created a perfectly entertaining movie, while creating a London that is soul-less and bland. The sequel travels outside the UK for a good portion of the film, and its better for it. A decent evening out, but you won’t remember any of it the next morning.

THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN is mind-numbingly dull…most of us in the US did not grow up with this character, and its evident twenty minutes into the movie when you are on your third chase scene (all brilliantly drawn), when the under-12’s start gabbing, running around the theatre, and heading to the refreshment stands. The movie does nothing to create new fans, and doesn’t do much to keep those who are fans happy either.

Even worse is the mind and eye-numbing NEW YEAR’S EVE — in fact, you’ll want to stick a fork in your eyes by the time the twentieth major actor is introduced about fifteen minutes into the movie. In all honesty I lasted another 15 minutes and walked out at the half-hour mark, right around the time the film begins to get even more gag-bysmal. It’s the second worst reviewed movie of the year for very good reason. You have been warned.

YOUNG ADULT is a perfectly presentable movie if you a) like snarky and borderline psychotic lead characters; b) like Jason Reitman movies (yuck), and c) really have a love of those “go home to find yourself” movies…This is the second most feel-bad movie of the year. You won’t hate yourself for seeing the movie, but you might find yourself going home and deleting lots of old high school acquaintances from your Facebook contacts.

Several smaller films are still hanging around: MELANCHOLIA (the most feel-bad movie of the year) continues to show that Lars Von Trier is one of the best story-tellers around, and that his movies continue to become more depressing as the go on. MARGIN CALL is a brilliant look at the world of finance that most of us would never know about otherwise: it stars an excellent Zachary Quinto and ensemble cast, and views more like a play than a movie. Both Melancholia and Margin Call, while available at movie theaters, are also available on iTunes for rent or purchase, as well as Netflix. Also still hanging around are the less-than-blockbuster J. EDGAR, which has some excellent performances, and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN which seemed like it was a week too long to me.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a decent enough Christmas movie, with creepy CGI-based animation that still hasn’t figured out how to make human faces workable. The story is lightweight and funny, and although it is far from the “instant Christmas classic” that it is advertised to be, it will keep the “Prep and Landing” crowd satisfied.

One more for your consideration — mostly because it will certainly be considered for Acadamy Awards this year….on DVD and download is the August release THE HELP. If you have not seen it yet, rent it or buy it now. You’ll thank yourself for going back to watch this feature. In a similar boat is 50/50, the largely unseen fall release about a young man with cancer that is among my top 5 movies of the year.

And that’s the capsule summary for the holiday season. The only movies I did not go see are any of the horror movies, which I do not go to see, and any movies geared to the under-10 crowd (i.e. the Chipmunks movies).

My choices for the Best 5 Movies of the year?


2. 50/50




and I have to add a sentimental sixth: THE HELP

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