*I’m really happy because I met my goal for the year: I saw 25 new films in 2011!
The Adjustment Bureau. Directed by George Nolfi. I’ll admit it, I’m a fan of Matt Damon. He’s great in Good Will Hunting, True Grit, Contagion and, yes, even Mystic Pizza and EuroTrip. Sadly, he could not save this film from being mediocre. I don’t particularly like Emily Blunt, although it is true that I have not yet seen her acclaimed film The Young Victoria. Her performances in The Adjustment Bureau and this winter’s The Muppets were uninteresting and could have been bettered by a number of other actresses. (If Nolfi needed an actress from the UK, I wish could have gotten “Torchwood” star Eve Myles instead. I know she’s not a star in America, but she’s a much better actress.) The film starts out with a political theme, then turns into a romance, then morphs into a… sci-fi thriller? Apparently the film is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; too bad that that aspect of the film feels completely weird and uncomfortable. Terence Stamp has some nice moments as one of the baddies, but John Slattery was curiously uninvolving as the main bad guy with the fedora. I barely even registered Anthony Mackie, despite the “good” traits of his character. The Adjustment Bureau isn’t bad, but it’s certainly no masterpiece.
The Descendants. Directed by Alexander Payne. Oh, this film is terrific! George Clooney is a shoe-in for a Best Actor Oscar nomination and he absolutely deserves it. This film has the best dramatic performance I have seen from him, moving me to tears by the end. Shailene Woodley, a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, is excellent as Clooney’s older daughter. I would also like to point out Amara Miller as the younger daughter and Nick Krause as Woodley’s goofy but well-meaning friend. Filling out the fine ensemble are Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, Ron Huebel, Mary Birdsong, Laird Hamilton (the famed surfer), Barbara L. Southern, Patricia Hastie and Michael Ontkean. Alexander Payne’s direction and his screenplay, adapted with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, captures a unique beauty that is both distinctly Hawaiian and universal in its discussion of the importance of family and love. The cinematography by Phedon Papamichael (who also shot this year’s The Ides of March) and the soundtrack full of Hawaiian music add to the film’s warmth. If you haven’t yet seen The Descendants, please do – I think it’s my favorite film of the year.
Hugo. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Finally, Scorsese has made a movie I can honestly say I love. (Sorry, folks, I didn’t love Raging Bull. I’m holding out hope for Goodfellas – when I see it.) Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz are great as Hugo and Isabelle, two young children who set out on an adventure to discover the secret behind Hugo’s father’s automaton. The film has a terrific supporting cast, including Ben Kingsley, a surprisingly sweet Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone and Jude Law. The best part of the film, however, is its loving tribute to the history and importance of film itself. I was lucky enough to see Hugo in a preview screening at the Museum of the Moving Image, an event that included a Q&A with Brian Selznick, who wrote the novel on which the film is based (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), and John Logan, who adapted the novel into the film’s screenplay. Hugo is real movie magic.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Directed by Guy Ritchie. It is unfortunate that Ritchie has to have such a fascination with both slow-mo and sped-up fight scenes, otherwise this Sherlock Holmes sequel might have been more enjoyable. Of course, a lot of my annoyance has to do with the theater I saw the film at, including a boisterous audience and my being able to hear pretty much all of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s music and dialogue blaring through the paper-thin wall. Nevertheless, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law each did a commendable job. Their chemistry is what makes the film work. RDJ has always had a magnetic onscreen presence, using his long-lashed, swoon-worthy brown eyes to express his amusement and wonder in any situation; those eyes were made for cinema. Stephen Fry is hilarious as Mycroft Holmes, showing no fear with (ahem) bodily humor. Jared Harris is fun as Moriarty and Kelly Reilly had a better part in this film as Mary Watson, but the other women in the film didn’t fare as well. Noomi Rapace was underused as Sim and Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler character was somehow less likeable than in the first film. And why was Eddie Marsan only in the film for what felt like ten seconds? Anyway, A Game of Shadows is a diverting way to spend two hours.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Among other things, the hugely talented cast in Tinker Tailor keeps the film afloat. Gary Oldman, who has made a career out of playing explosive criminals and weirdos (see: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, True Romance, The Professional, Air Force One), gives a performance that is brilliantly quiet and subdued. His portrayal of George Smiley is worthy of many accolades, although American critics seem to be inexplicably passing him by in favor of Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar. The film also boasts fine work from John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, David Dencik, Kathy Burke, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds. I’m still not sure how I feel about Tom Hardy, though. He was great in an underrated film from earlier this year, Warrior, but I think the world is much more in love with him than I am. New York Magazine’s David Edelstein said that “with his huge lips and tortured beauty, this young actor is among the most compelling of his generation,” but I’m waiting for The Dark Knight Rises before I’m convinced.