It’s A Wonderful Night for Billy!

Wow, friends.  After not blogging for a year, two blog posts in one month?  Could this be the sign of the underemployed?  

Oh, movie-loving friends!  It’s the best time of the year!  Out Here (as the great William Goldman would say) in Los Angeles, it’s Oscar time, it’s Independent Spirit time, it’s spring training time!  And it’s time for my annual motion picture e-mail / blog post, which you may feel free to spam me about with your total disagreements.  (“Wally, you absolute @#$&*%”!)

Hooray for Hollywood! (Even if Hollywood Boulevard has actually been closed all week.)

Before we begin, as ever you’ll find movie thoughts both movies and Oscars (and Spirits) alike, below.  A tip of the hat to a certain movie-going friend this year, as well as a remembrance of my favorite Statler-to-Waldorf movie-debating friend on the beaches of the Island.  (And, btw as the kids say, here’s the 2010 movie post and here’s the 2009 movie post.  You can use both of ’em, perhaps, to prune your Netflix queue.)  And also, this year, isn’t it always, all, forever about Eddie Billy?  (Why don’t I tamper down these expectations people?!)

First of all, and I write this from La-La Land, I still, simply, just love going to the movies.  Settling into your local little theater, or the majestic ArcLight, or the soon-to-return Dreamland, or even VOD or streaming, I love watching a movie.  At its best, it’s magic.  (At its worst, it is, say, New Year’s Eve.  Which to be fair, I didn’t see.  I’m holding out for Arbor Day.)  Okay, grab the popcorn, here we go, friends:

Gary Marshall directs Ashton Kutchner as Charlie Brown.

My Favorite Flicks of 2011 (in no real order)

What the hell is Gandhi doing in Paris?!

 Hugo  Let’s start off with an argument right away, shall we?  I have seen this movie twice, in the theaters, in 3-D, and I love it.  We’ll dismiss some people’s first criticisms right off the bat:  It can be a bit slow.  And kids, it’s not a kid’s movie.  Yet it creates a world, a remarkable and enchanting place that seems glorious to inhabit.  And the story!  About finding your place, being of use–  and so brilliantly told by a master of film, Mr. Martin Scorsese, helming a script by John Logan based on Brian Selznick’s mesmerizing book.  I loved it, and a film to see on the big screen.

Moneyball Okay, so I adore baseball.  And I adore the tomes of one Mr. Michael Lewis.  And I adore the dialogue of one Mr. Aaron Sorkin.  So…  But captivating helmed by Bennett Miller, and (say it with me): “Not just about baseball!”  This should top your queue if you haven’t seen it.

Loved the flick. Still think this cover is weird.

Um, awesome.

 The Muppets  Man, did they do it right.  There were about a thousand ways Messrs. Segal and Stoeller could’a screwed it up, and they didn’t.  The gang’s back together!  Brilliant new songs!  (“Life’s a taco!”)  AND a Muppet named Walter?!  If you weren’t satisfied with this flick, you will remain unsatisfied with life.  (Yup, you read that right.)  And I saw it with one of my best, and Muppet-loving friends.

Beginners  One of my very favorites, and if you haven’t seen this criminally underappreciated Mike Mills gem, please do so now.  What a movie about love!  And it’s a lock to win an Oscar!

Bridesmaids  To me it was nothing short of laugh-out-loud, from the belly hilarious.  It just worked.  And huge kudos to Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumolo for writing their way here.  Executive produced by some unknown named Judd Apatow.  He’s gotta career ahead of him.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows: Part II  Fine, I’ll say it:  It should’a gotten a Best Picture nomination.  The best of what studios can do.  A spectacular film, and I write this having hated the very first one.

Margin Call  J.C. Chandor’s whip-smart, refuse to moralize, surprisingly star-studded cast (which I caught on V.O.D. and which is now up for an Oscar!) was one of the year’s best surprises.

Drive Yup, it’s violent.  But when was the last time you saw a flick with this much style to spare?  It was like watching a kick-ass 1980’s flick, with a shocking Albert Brooks to boot.  And no love from anyone?  Shame.  (Didn’t see that one yet.)

50/50  A cancer buddy-comedy?  Written by a neophyte screenwriter who had cancer?  And featuring Seth Rogen as the buddy?  And Anna Kendrick as the love interest?  I’ve lost you?  Too bad.  Despite its tonal-inconsistency, it just works.  These movies are the reason they invented Netflix.  You’re welcome.

Have I mentioned I was Batman? (Seriously, I was once.)

 The Descendants  A little small in story, maybe.  But a pitch-perfect flick about family, with terrific acting and a sure hand from Payne.  And boy does the ending nail it.  Man, I loved Sideways II:  Hawaiian Vacation.

Honorable Mentions

Best enjoyed with a cocktail and a Michael Caine impression.

 The Trip  Okay, so I’m not sure everyone’s gonna go with me on this one (and maybe it was watching it in a hometown theater, with a dear old friend who’s an actor, sipping jack-‘n-soda) but who wouldn’t want to spend two hours watching Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon drink too much and offer dueling impressions?!

Win-Win  It is really only a testament to how freaking good Mr. Tom McCarthy’s films are (The Station AgentThe Visitor) that this one only rated an honorable mention from me this year.  But how overlooked was Bobby Canavale’s scene-stealing turn?)

Midnight In Paris  As a film, to me it had some problems.  (Not the least of which is the criminal act of misusing the incredible Ms. Rachel McAdams as the shrew.)  But the charms of the movie overcame them.  We’ll always have Paris, Woody.  (Sorry.  That’s why I’m writing a blog post.)

Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close  Some people hate this movie.  (The Times was actually offended.)  Maybe because I had read the novel, so I knew what to expect, but I loved it.  And I went with young Oskar Schnell on his journey, and was glad I did.  But boy did a lot of people hate this flick.


Super 8  When the monster was shown the magic was lost.  But seeing it with my father on Father’s Day, in IMAX, reminded me of Spielberg, and the reasons we all go to the movies.  And it had Coach!

Worst. Poster. Ever.

War Horse  It got me, though maybe it shouldn’t have.  But it’s like catching a movie that you’d find on TCM, at 11 pm, made in the 1950’s.  And some kid named Spielberg made it work.

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol  Maybe the worst title ever.  Certainly the best four-quel ever made.  Why?  Huge tip of the hat to The Incredibles director and Pixar stalwart Brad Bird.  What’s next, sir?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  Didn’t read the book, so to me the source material was nothing but a good Agatha Christie yarn.  But is Fincher the best director working today?  Yes.  Yes, he is.

The Ides of March  Not a great one, unfortunately.  But a good, solid yarn with damn good acting.

Friends With Benefits  Not a surprise that director Will Gluck has another sleeper.  Funny, with heart–  an antidote to most of the year’s rom-com’s.  And an antidote to the one with the ex-Mrs. Demi Moore.

We all have our "Surfer Dudes". Rent the "Lincoln Lawyer".

 Lincoln Lawyer  No, not the kind of flick that gets remembered on Top Ten lists nor at nomination time.  But the stellar, well-told yarn for adults the studios don’t nearly make enough of (and should).  Okay, Michael Clayton-lite.  But so damn enjoyable and well-made, with a great, “Look,-it’s-them!” cast.

Some Under-the-Radar Flicks I Really Liked & You May Have Missed 

The Skin I Live In  How the hell does Almodovar get to sleep at night?  Forget Malick, this is the year’s trippiest movie.  But impeccably well-directed and magnificently designed, as he always does.  Saw it at the Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas with a sea movie-going-friend.

Kay Keely Kristin Kritsa  Marcy Martha May Marlene  Wait, you didn’t catch the crazy-ass inside-a-cult flick with the other Olsen daughter?  With a tremendous– and overlooked–  turn by John Hawkes?  So worth seeing.  And made by a three-person collective based in Brooklyn.  Saw it at the AMC Lincoln Square with the same dear movie-going-friend.

Cedar Rapids  Mis-sold as a Hangover sequel.  No, no, no–  a smart, risqué, funny comedy that nicely showcased Mr. Ed Helms.  Saw it on a plane.  See it, please!  (Not necessarily on a plane.)

Another Earth  What, Brit Marling turns down Godman Sachs to move to Hollywood and co-write a crazy-ass, pretty depressing flick about, literally, the appearance of a second Earth (amongst other things)?!  Awesome.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it does, and I saw it my with folks at the beautifully refurbished Eleanor Bunin theater at Lincoln Center.

The Adjustment Bureau  Some people went for the ride, some people didn’t.  I thought George Nolfi crafted a twisty yarn with style to spare, a sort of throw-back fun popcorn flick that didn’t insult you.  And it had Roger Sterling (a/k/a John Slattery)!  And it mentioned Tenafly!

Source Code  Ludicrous title, not that much better trailer…  but again, a well-made, stellar movie.  Interesting director who’s one to watch (Duncan Jones) and a terrific cast (Vera Farmiga!) and a damn enjoyable flick.

The Debt  My goodness, there were a lot of enjoyable, well-made thrillers / dramas for adults this year that no one else saw!  Yes, this movie isn’t perfect.  But the cast (Dame.  Helen.  Mirren!) and the director (John Madden) elevates the subject matter.

My Week With Marilyn  Yes, a paper-thin story.  But well worth queue-ing for a few reasons:  Michelle William’s spot-on turn as Marilyn;  Branagh’s Olivier;  and the whole Method-verse-the-Brit’s acting debate.

Take Me Home Tonight  Not the greatest of all the enjoyable, somewhat-dumb, “I’ll-catch-it-on-TBS” flicks.  But enjoyable enough (with two actors who should be bigger:  Topher Grace and Anna Farris).  And well, well worth it just for this amazing homage video, which was the year’s coolest studio viral marketing that ultimately meant nothing (love Alf as E.T.!).  How many flicks in there can you name?

Young Adult  There’s no way anyone other than Reitman, Cody and Theron gets this made.  The.  Least.  Emphathetic.  Protagonist.  Ever!  (I mean, Ralph Fiennes’ guard was more empathetic.)  But:  It worked, for what it was.  Funny, daring, with some great moments and a terrific new turn by Patton Oswalt.  A noble swing from the always-worthy Jason Reitman.

The Film That Everyone Loves That I Didn’t

Elvis Mitchell: "What if the Uggy pisses on 'The Tree of Life'?"

Here it is.  Last year it was The King’s Speech (how did it beat The Social Network?) and Black Swan, the year before it was Avatar.  Again, to quote William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.” So here it is:  I didn’t love The Artist.  To me, I would’a loved if it was 15 minutes long.  Or a musical!  So let me have it, folks.  E-mails, tweets, even woofs!  Movie of the year, and I didn’t love it.  Maybe I need to see more flicks.

Three That Disappointed Me

Crazy, Stupid, Love  The most frustrating flick of the year, to me.  The first half:  Amazing!  Hilarious!  Ryan Gosling (he’s not up for anything this year?!) schooling Steve Carrell in the fine art of seduction is brilliant.  The second half:  The kid’s speech, and Emma Stone’s their daughter?!, ruined it for me.  Bummer.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  Great mood.  Great acting (Oldman!  Firth!  Hurt!).  Great style.  Now, what the hell happened?  Couldn’t follow it, kids.  Bummer.

One Day  Loved the book.  Thought this was going to be huge.  Saw the movie.  Should’a been a mini-series.  Totally didn’t work.  But I enjoyed the night at the old Teaneck cinemas with my mother.

A Pair of Show-biz Docs, Kids

Being Elmo  Oh, boy!  The other Muppet movie.  Though it’s somewhat conflict-free, it’s so…  lovable.  Just like Elmo!

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop  A must-watch for all fans of comedy, and Team Coco, and this business of show.  Crazy-town!

Before you start yelling at me, I Haven’t Seen Them Yet:  A Separation; The Help;  Tree of Life;  Melancholia;  Jane Eyre;  Contagion;  Rise of the Planet of the Apes;  J. Edgar;  Bad Teacher;  Tintin;  Take Shelter;  The Iron Lady;  Albert Nobbes 

Keep ‘Em Off The Queue  Larry Crowne  (I love you, Tom.  I love you.  But this is schmaltz-city.  Drama = conflict);  No Strings Attached  (Seriously, go for the Will Gluck-helmed fun one instead);  Arthur  (I really like Greta Gerwig, and hope she becomes a star.  But boy did this not work.  Rent the original);  Footloose (Ditto.  Though the soundtrack’s country-make-over works well)

Well, I can't do worse the France at the Oscars, right? OR: I'm the Billy Crystal of the Spirit Awards!

Okay, for the first-time, some Spirit Award thoughts

Best Feature  Two of ’em are up for Best Picture (The Descendants and The Artist), so let’s focus on the other four:  Take Shelter;  Drive;  Beginners;  50/50.  To me, it’s Beginners, but I don’t know how you predict this, kids.  It’s in a tent!

Best Director  Again, to me it’s the visually, stunning, Mr. Miranda July, Mr. Mike Mills.

Best First Feature  How cool is this?  How about an Oscar for this?  To me it’s J.C. Chandor for Margin Call, with my runner-up to Mike Cahill (and Brit Marling) for Another Earth.

John Cassavetes Award  Haven’t seen any of these films yet, but what a cool category  (Ya gotta make your flick for less than half a mil)!  I’m going to check ’em out; that’ll be my Netflix queue.

Best Screenplay  Hmm…  I’m once gain pulling for Mike Mills’ Beginners. 

Best First Screenplay  My goodness, can we spilt it between Will Reiser (50/50), Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids) and J.C. Chandor (the rent-it-now Margin Call)?

Best Female Lead  To me, it’s Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn.  She’s faded from the Oscar race, and it’s a remarkable, stunning performance (in a slight flick).

Best Male Lead  Focusing on the three who were locked out of the Oscar nominations, to me it’s Ryan Gosling in Drive.  What a hat-trick year he had!

Best Supporting Female  Hmm…  I haven’t seen enough here to choose.  This seemed like a weaker category to me this year.

Best Supporting Male  This is a strong category (Plummer, in Beginners;  Reilly, in Cedar Rapids;  Corey Stoll’s terrific turn as Hemingway in Midnight in Paris) but I would co-tie it with two phenomenal indie performances that were overlooked by the Academy:  Albert Brooks (Oh, Broadcast News!) playing 100% against type in Drive, and John Hawkes’ turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene).

Robert Altman Award for J.C. Chandor’s dazzling ensemble cast for Margin Call.  Too cool.

And now, sing it with me:  “It’s a wonderful night for Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, who will win?

Oscars  (The Will’s are in bold; the Should’s and Overlooked’s Aren’t)

I'm the Ricky Gervaise of the Academy Awards!

Best Picture  (How many are there this year?!)  Will:  The Artist  Should:  I will be the only person typing this but to me, Hugo.  Overlooked:  The final Harry Potter?  Bridesmaids?  Can I say The Muppets?

Director  Will:  Michel Hazanavicius  Should:  Martin Scorsese  Overlooked:  Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive  (What a well-directed flick, though not in, say, the Billy Wilder sense.)

Actor  Will:  Roberto Benigni  Jean Dujardin  Should:  Brad Pitt.  Seriously, hands-down un-showiest complex performance of the year and his career.  Overlooked:  Ryan Gosling, Drive

Actress  I know it seems like we say this every year, but it felt like a tougher year for actresses, no?  Will:  Viola Davis  Should:  Hmm…  To me it’s Michelle Williams, as M.M.  But good to see Rooney Mara get a nomination.  Now, if only she could toss the pigskin.  Overlooked:  Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy…  People, an Olsen can a-c-t!

Supporting Actor  Easily the heartiest category this year.  Will and Should:  Christopher Plummer, for a golden performance in a golden flick.  Rent Beginners!  Overlooked:  Drop-dead easy:  Albert Brooks, Drive.  (And tip of the hat to Jonah Hill for the nomination, which is the award.)

Supporting Actress  Will:  Octavia Spencer  Should:  I can’t answer this!  It was a lacking year to me.  How did Marisa Tomei give two great performances (Lincoln Lawyer and Crazy, Stupid…) and get zero buzz  (And tip of the hat to Melissa McCarthy for the nomination, which is the award.)  Overlooked:  Hmm…  not this year.  Miss Piggy in The Muppets?

Best Screenplay  (Original)  An incredibly strong category, with tips of the hat to Messrs. Chandor and Allen, and Misses Wiig and Mumolo.  Will and Should:  Woody Allen  (By the way, don’t see this movie without a good glass of red wine!)  Overlooked:  Will Reiser, 50/50 and Mike Mills, Beginners and Messrs. Stoller & Segal, The Muppets 

Best Screenplay (Adapted)  Another incredibly strong category, with tips of the hat to Messrs. Zaillian, Sorkin and Logan, amongst others.  Will:  Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, with Alexander Payne, for The Descendants  Should:  John Logan, for Hugo  Overlooked:  Longrime Potter scribe Steve Kloves for absolutely nailing J.K. Rowling’s final book

Best Animated  Chico & Rita  and Cat in Paris and Rango:  Totally want to all these flicks!  But the Oscar money’s on Rango.

Cinematrography  A very strong field, but I’m going with Hugo

Short Film, Animated  Because I saw ’em all out here, at the Nuart!  It’s free on iTunes, it’s a fantastic short flick from MoonBot, check it out:  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore  

Best Original Song  Okay, to be fair I haven’t caught Rio yet, but are you kidding me?!  Man or Muppet is pure genius, including the casting of Jim Parsons.  (Though, to be frank, I probably would’a nominated Life’s A Happy Song, which seems more to be destined of a classic tune.)

Bob Hope eventually won an Oscar, right?!

Well friends, that’s the year in movie-going.  Pure magic.  Enjoy the great Harry Burns Billy Crystal!  Enjoy The Dictator on the red carpet!  Enjoy Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy!  And stay tuned for the flicks of 2012, both studio (Christopher Nolan helming The Dark Knight Rises) and indie (Whit Stillman returns with Damsels In Distress).  Happy movie-going!


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