We started out with TV serieses and comedies this year, especially a massive Larry Sanders Show binge. But once baseball spring training started, we sprinted through a flurry of movies. There were many excellent late additions to our Zip list, thanks to Roger Ebert. I wish we had discovered his year-end best-of list sooner, and I hope he's with us to write many more.
As you know, every Movie Season wrap-up comes with a different rating system. For past wmtc movie rating schemes: 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08 and 2006-07.
These days I'm spending so much time doing what I must, and not enough time doing the things that make me happy. In keeping with that, this year's wmtc movie ratings are based on places - places that represent both a physical location and I would like (or not like) to be, and my state of mind when I'm in each place.
This year I'm also including blurbs on most movies. I don't want to write full reviews, but since questions always come up in the thread, a bullet-point explanation seems like a good idea.
As always, if it seems that my ratings are overly generous - too many excellents and very goods - that's because we try to select films we are likely to enjoy.
So here is a look at Movie Season 2010-11 at the Kaminker-Wood home.
This year, the top movie category goes to Paris, France, the City of Light. Paris is one of my favourite places in the world. Here, Paris is also a stand-in for my most preferred state of mind: traveling. These movies are the crème de la crème, the absolute best of what we saw this past movie season. And they're not all movies!
The Larry Sanders Show
-- Smart, often poignant, comedy with outstanding writing and acting; one of the best things that's ever been on television. Our lives changed the day we heard this series was finally out on DVD.
Slings and Arrows, seasons 1 and 2
-- Smart, funny, and often poignant and profound, with the added bonus of bits of killer Shakespeare. (There are interesting parallels between this and Larry Sanders.) I thank everyone who insisted I see this Canadian comedy (2003-2006), and that's a lot of people.
Looking for Eric
-- If you have ever experienced the joy and pain of deeply loving a sports team, don't miss this movie by the great team of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. I believe even non-sports fans will appreciate this intelligent, feel-good comedy. Although it's an English film, you might want to watch with English subtitles!
-- A as in the Scarlet Letter. Hilarious, feel-good, sweet but not saccharine, romantic and smart. The best teenage comedy I have seen in years.
-- Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray? It's true. The enduring power of love, the deadly echo of secrets, and the redemptive power of coming clean. This blew me away.
-- A teenage girl struggles to keep her family together against some gruesome adversaries. This is both a quiet portrait of grinding rural poverty and a suspense thriller. Amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
-- Another incredible young female actor, this one plucked off the street to star in this movie. Katie Jarvis plays a beautiful teenage girl who'd be better off alone than with the adults around her. She yearns to get out, and she might be devastated in the struggle. Very sad, and very good.
-- Excellent writing, excellent acting, and a beautifully unfolding story that avoids the easy answers and Hollywood ending. You've all probably seen this one, and thanks for suggesting it.
Second only to traveling, the place in which I feel best is walking in the woods. It's not Paris, but what is? These are all excellent movies, among the best we saw this season.
-- The tar sands, the people whose lives they ruin, and the struggle to put our health and the health of the planet ahead of profit. Chilling and important.
Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)
-- Almodovar creates a noir-ish romantic thriller and pays homage to some of the great noir films of the past. Utterly absorbing, visually intoxicating, and a bit confusing. It's also a film about filmmaking, movies within movies within movies.
-- Parker Posey and Demi Moore are wildly different sisters with different versions of their past; Rip Torn is their bizarre, unstable father. This is a terrific, funny and unlikely movie, and would have been a Paris if Demi Moore was a better actor.
Slings and Arrows, season 3
-- Maintaining the level of excellence of the first two seasons would be nearly impossible. The final season was still brilliant.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
-- This is often referred to as "the Banksy movie," but the real story is not that secretive British street artist - it's the Los Angeles man who wants to cash in on Banksy's fame. The film takes a sudden, sharp turn midway through, and gives new meaning to what you think you're seeing. Fascinating.
Baseball: The Tenth Inning
-- The follow-up to Ken Burns nine-part Baseball documentary. Burns rounds up a cadre of intelligent, articulate, passionate minds to offer a sane view of the steroid era. He also uses the modern-day miracle known as the 2004 Boston Red Sox to illustrate the enduring promise of the greatest game on earth.
-- Michael Fassbender is IRA leader Bobby Sands in this incredibly gripping true story of resistance. (Fassbender also plays a lead role in Fish Tank.) Grueling, heartwrenching, brilliant.
-- This was one of my favourite movies when it came out in 1981, and it turns out it still is. Great acting and writing, a view of history, plus the stirring vision of the IWW, One Big Union.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-- Funny, adorable, sweet, feel-good. An adaptation of the graphic novel by Jeff Kinney. I loved it.
This is our patio, looking out onto our lawn, and our respective wine glasses. I love it here. Whether I have the luxury of an entire afternoon or a quick 15-minute breather, this is where I unwind. (It's also something I longed for and didn't have until moving to Canada.) So even though I'm not in Paris or in the woods, I'm happy and content. This level of happiness is much more attainable. And in that spirit, these are very good movies that won't change your life, but are worth seeing.
-- The inner conflicts of Upper West Side New Yorkers, struggling to break out of their shells and connect. Very funny and very touching. I'm not sure how I missed director Nicole Holofcener's earlier films, but now I'll get caught up.
-- Another terrific teenage movie and a vision of possibility. Borderline Woods/Patio.
-- Crazy, inventive fun with an anti-war message. Visually beautiful, hilarious, chaotic.
In the Loop
-- How do diplomats, bureaucrats and the media start wars? Funny and chilling.
Leaves of Grass
-- Edward Norton playing twin brothers with different life paths. Not a perfect movie but see it for Edward Norton. Almost a Woods.
-- It's been a long time since I agreed that a popular romantic comedy was both romantic and comedic. This was a lovely, happy movie with wonderful acting. My only gripe was wanting to tell Meryl Streep's adult children to grow up.
The City of Your Final Destination
-- A complicated plot and too much backstory gum this up, but it's an interesting, engrossing film about history, biography, writing, and a bunch of other things.
-- A documentary from the PBS "Nova" series about the evolution of hominids, and the sub-sub-specialists who uncover the evidence. Our prehistoric past is so complex! If you enjoy science documentaries and aren't an anthropologist or paleontologist yourself, you'll probably enjoy this.
-- We finally see this legendary film by the legendary Albert and David Maysles. The reclusive mother and daughter it chronicles are interesting, but most interesting are the issues the film raises about performance, voyeurism, filmmaking, biography, the unreliable narrator, and how the lines between these shift and blur.
-- A documentary inspired by the work of the Maysles brothers. Two eccentric, reclusive brothers live together on a dilapidated farm. One of them dies. Was it murder? Euthanasia? Or are the police scapegoating poor Delbert Ward? Interesting film.
South of the Border
-- Oliver Stone documentary about the democratically-supported, bottom-up, leftist revolutions percolating through Latin America, how the US tried to scuttle them, and how the mainstream US media
-- The incredible act of courage and desperation for which this film is famous lasts only a matter of seconds, but anticipating it creates almost unbearable tension. The director made several very strange choices, but the story itself is so inherently suspenseful, the mistakes are neutralized. I highly recommend this movie, even if you have to close your eyes for a few seconds in the middle.
The Other Guys
-- It's not every day a Will Ferrell spoof takes on an anti-capitalist message, but this is a slyly subversive comedy. The spoof is dead-on, and what a great vehicle for the message. Borderline Woods/Patio.
-- More Edward Norton, this time playing a convicted killer; Robert DeNiro is his parole officer moments away from retirement. Tense, suspenseful, full of manipulations and double-crossings. The motivations get a little blurry, but maybe we're being deceived, too.
With A Friend Like Harry...
-- If you can accept a premise or two that doesn't quite wash, this is a very suspenseful movie with multiple twists and multiple murders. (It's not violent; the murders are the kind found in detective or murder mysteries.) Really good, and I did not guess the ending.
-- A strange fantasy comedy about selling your soul - literally. Paul Giamatti makes it worth seeing.
A Serious Man
-- A man's life unravels, and he is helpless to stop events from snowballing, or thinks he is. Maybe if he compromises his ethics just this once, he can fix things up. Or not? Much of this Coen Brothers movie didn't work for me, but I wasn't sorry I saw it.
-- A kind of "House of Games" in outer space. Interesting, thought-provoking and a somewhat suspenseful. Obligatory mention that the director, Duncan Jones, is David Bowie's son. Borderline Patio/Cubicle.
-- Growing up female in 1960s suburban England. Even a white, pretty, smart, talented girl faces limited options, but rebellion can mean losing everything. A nice coming-of-age story.
The Cubicle: the sterile, dehumanized environment in which many of us earn our living. It doesn't kill us, but no one does it by choice. These movies weren't complete wastes, there might have been some redeeming moment or two, but on the whole, thumbs down.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
-- For the first time in decades, I disliked a Woody Allen movie. This film had all the requisite parts, like a paint-by-number Woody Allen Movie Kit. It lacked the lightness - the magical, lyrical quality - that make his movies so special to me. Even masters hit sour notes, even for their biggest fans.
-- Richard E. Grant and Miranda Richardson was irresistible, but didn't pay off. Good acting and some scattered good lines, but on the whole, meh.
-- I wanted to like this movie. In my 20s I would have loved it. But driving around with two brothers who substitute sniping and quipping for meaningful connection was just annoying. The soundtrack needs to get over itself.
-- Surely I'm the only Red Sox fan who didn't like this movie, which is really a TV show with a bigger budget. Cliched, contrived and predictable.
-- This movie was sad - far too sad to be a children's movie - but not much else. Maybe I just don't care about Pixar. I promised friends I'd see the original Toy Story, but after that, I'm done.
C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It's Not Me, I Swear!)
-- A little boy misbehaves as his family disintegrates. It's hard to care about a movie when you don't like any of the characters.
The Ghost Writer
-- A mess of a movie that should be suspenseful but has plot holes you can drive Roman Polanski's ego through.
Flight of the Conchords Season 2
-- How sad! One great season, then crap. The first few episodes are at least watchable, then it's downhill from there.
The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town
-- If this wasn't Kids, you'd never watch it.
-- The subject is interesting: a summer camp for evangelical Christian children, where they train to preach, so they can "take back America for Christ." Unfortunately, we never get below the surface. In one scene, a camp director reveals her sinister motives; outside of that, it's just a curiosity.
-- Coming of age on the steppes of central Asia. This might have been interesting if it wasn't so repetitious.
I love the ocean when the weather is cool and the beach is empty. But a hot, crowded beach in summer is close to my idea of hell. At least in the cubicle I'm earning a living. These movies had no redeeming value.
Our Daily Bread (Unser täglich Brot)
-- This is a nearly silent documentary showing images of the industrial food chain. There's no narration or commentary, so you often don't know what you're seeing. Images without context: I couldn't connect.
-- What a disappointment! This movie should be the companion to the excellent documentary "When We Were Kings," about the 1974 Ali-Fraser fight in Zaire. A huge soul music festival took place at the same time, starring James Brown, Celia Cruz, a very young Miriam Makeba, and many other performers. Sounds great, how could you go wrong? By focusing on minutiae of how the concert was produced and small talk among the roadies instead of showing the music! Horrible.
Days of Darkness (L'Age des Ténèbres)
-- Long ago, we loved Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions," and "The Decline of the American Empire". But this... no. A man's life sucks and it's everybody else's fault. Especially women. Those selfish, greedy, controlling, emasculating women.
The Good Night
-- A man's life sucks, so a man decides to live in his dreams. I could not sit through this.
-- I was expecting a lot of laughs. I got none. Beyond awful.
-- If this movie was funny, the homophobia might be tolerable.
-- This was meant to be funny and profound. It was neither.
The Beales of Grey Gardens
-- Apparently many people are obsessed with "Grey Gardens" (see above) and wanted to see footage that didn't make it into the movie. Apparently some of the people who are obsessed with Grey Gardens talk about the movie and someone thought we might want to see that. Stick with the original.