Award season is in full swing, and movie goers are busy wondering where all these strange, goofy, unseen nominees are coming from. Likw “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Shame” and “Albert Nobbs.”
Well, for most of us, most of the more obscure films have played in larger cities, quietly, for Critics, Indy film fans, and folks in the know, y’know. They’ll eventually get around to us regular people, although some won’t be available until they hit the DVD trail to Award Glory and immediate obscurity.
So now that 2012 is securely upon us, here’s my first list of the (almost) best – well, probably best – movies of last year. And once the films I have a sneaky suspicion are going to be worth seeing (such as “Take Shelter” become available, we’ll revise the list and everything will be hunky dory.
So far, we’ve enjoyed (for a variety of reasons) the following entries in a fair-to-middling 2011:
It was actually a banner year for movies-about-movies, a genre close to my heart. Marty Scorsese’s spectacular “Hugo” is a feast for the eyes, whether or not you’re familiar with the work of Georges Melies. For me, it is the best film of the year, a kid-in-a-candy-store feeling starring Ben Kingsley (even though Scorsese forgot to mention him at the recent Golden Globe win).
Next comes “My Week with Marilyn” the tour de force for Michelle Williams, with her touching portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. And to see Michelle playing an absolutely opposite character, check out “Wendy and Lucy,” a small film from 2008 that will linger in your memory.
Maybe I’m crazy, but wasn’t “Win Win” released last March in the U.S.? And why hasn’t there been any talk of nominating that charming little movie for anything? Ah, how quickly we forget! It was a terrifically funny and even heartwarming little tale starring Paul Giamatti, in the same vein of whimsical humor as “Little Miss Sunshine.” The filmmaker is Tom McCarthy (who also did “The Visitor”), a guy on my must-see list.
In about fourth place is “Midnight in Paris” from Woody Allen. Despite the hokey performance by lead Owen Wilson, Woody proves once again that when he really loves a city, he really loves a city. It pretty much captures for Paree what he originally filmed for Manhattan: charm and humor, with a touch of magic.
“The Help” is on most movie lover’s list because it’s a good film with an important message, luckily told with wit and an excellent cast instead of a somber condemnation of class discrimination. Expect Viola Davis to continue nabbing acting awards, she’s phenomenal.
Beautiful Charlize Theron just adores making herself ugly, either as a monster or ugly inside, as in “Young Adult.” She carries off this small story of a really gorgeous awful person with a masterful job of acting, and even though I’m no fan of comic Patton Oswalt, he adds his best supporting role ever to this electric film.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is as weird a hunk of change as it’s title, but it sticks in your memory as you have to decide what happened at the end. Besides that, Elizabeth Olsen is twice the actress that her sisters are put together. And John Hawkes plays an understated cult leader in a bravura performance.
“Moneyball” is on everybody’s list because it takes two of the most boring subjects on earth (finance and baseball) and actually turns them into an entertaining film.
“Another Earth” is another weird film that sounds like a sci-fi script but turns into an interesting character study and an edge-of-your-seat movie.
I’m tacking “The Iron Lady” onto my list, not because it is such a great film about Margaret Thatcher, but because I’ve finally come to admit that Meryl Streep is nearly as good as people claim she is. I watched her interpretation with jaw hanging open.