Movies From 2011 That I Saw And That I Thought Were Good

So I don’t really go to the movies a lot. I know, sort of hypocritical for somebody who claims to write about movies in his blog subhead. It’s expensive, and I have Netflix, and I’m a miner with six children, who would hate me if I didn’t come home until 10:30 because I was out seeing The Descendants. But I must give my opinion regardless! Hence, here are five movies from 2011 that I really enjoyed, even though my popcorn was covered in soot.

Weekend

This is how people actually fall in love. Weekend begins the morning after a one-night stand between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), taking us through the next two days, as they both realize they’ve stumbled across something real. Andrew Haigh (who wrote, directed and edited) lets the compelling chemistry between his two leads do the work, whether they’re goofing off at carnivals, getting coked-up and arguing, or tenderly making up. Filmmaking rarely gets more touching.

Buck

While Cave of Forgotten Dreams deserves all the praise it’s been getting, I was more mesmerized by Buck. This documentary of the real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman would’ve been interesting enough had it just shown footage of Brannaman’s  shaman-like effect on troubled horses – his seminars are beautiful repudiations of corporal punishment. But Buck is generous enough to cast its namesake in three dimensions, venturing to explain why this cowboy genius has so much tenderness and patience to spare.

Insidious

I’d be the first to say that Insidious is not a masterpiece. The ending is underwhelming. The central monster looks like Darth Maul. The mom is impossibly dumb. But this possessed-kid-haunted-house-multiple-universe picture makes this list because its first hour is packed with more well-calibrated scares than a dozen Paranormal Activity sequels. If you’re a horror fan with a wandering eye, always looking in the background for odd movements or distorted faces, director James Wan rewards you kindly here. Sure, it’s a mash-up of Hellraiser and The Exorcist and Poltergeist and other stuff. But it made me feel scared, and then laugh at myself for feeling so scared. Which is exactly what I paid for it to do.

Meek’s Cutoff

Although it features effective, restrained performances from Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, the unforgiving landscape should get top billing in Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist tale about 19th century settlers who make the regrettable decision to leave the Oregon Trail. Paranoia abounds from the first minute, where it becomes clear that the settlers don’t trust their guide, the eccentrically brusque Stephen Meek (played by Sweensryche favorite Bruce Greenwood, who plays against his A Dog Named Christmas type). When a Native American crosses the group’s path and eventually becomes Meek’s unwilling replacement, the gap between cultures is as vast as those stunningly arid landscapes.

Certified Copy

You might wanna save Weekend as a chaser for the bitter shot that is Certified Copy, a cleverly conceived relationship study from writer/director Abbas Kiarostami. The film follows a British author (William Shimell) and French fan/skeptic (Juliette Binoche) as they spend a day exploring the verdant hills and sun-soaked neighborhoods of Tuscany. But what starts off as a Before Sunrise-ish snapshot love story becomes something very different when a friendly café owner starts asking questions. With a script like this, and performances like these, you never want the conversations to stop.

Netflix Recap: Meek’s Cutoff

If you looked at my instant watching activity for the last few days, you would see that I’ve watched several episodes of the BBC show Merlin. Why would I endure this Smallville-ization of the Arthurian legend? Is it possible to be a masochistic Anglophile? Thankfully, I’m not going to answer those questions here. Instead I’m going to talk about something else I watched recently that makes me seem cooler – the haunting Kelly Reichardt movie Meek’s Cutoff.

Although it features effective, restrained performances from stars Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, the unforgiving landscape should get top billing in this minimalist tale about 19th century settlers who make the regrettable decision to leave the Oregon Trail. Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond understand that frightened people clomping through the desert aren’t going to bust out many soliloquies, resulting in a relatively quiet, realistic study of people looking death in the face. And when the visuals are as arresting as they are here, Williams’ stern, heavily bonneted face and Dano’s bug-eyed expressions are all you need. Paranoia abounds from the first minute, where it becomes clear that the settlers don’t trust their guide, the eccentrically brusque Stephen Meek (played by Sweensryche favorite Bruce Greenwood, who plays against his A Dog Named Christmas type, with mixed results). When a Native American crosses the group’s path and eventually becomes Meek’s unwilling replacement, the gap between cultures is as vast as those stunningly arid landscapes.

Reichardt has a thing for the “getting lost” metaphor – Old Joy, her 2006 film about two men attempting to recapture their lost friendship on a camping trip, dealt with the pair losing their way with a mesmerizing sense of patience. Meek’s Cutoff is filmed in a similar style, lulling you with extended shots of the settlers fording rivers and chasing handkerchiefs in the wind. But whereas Old Joy ended with the clear sense that the characters had drifted apart, Meek’s closing shot is harrowingly open-ended. You get the idea that, with paranoia and mistrust worming their way into the settlers’ brains, something bad is on the horizon. Call it American History 101.

Go Greenwood!

Last night, I did what I do most Sunday evenings – eagerly watch The Simpsons, and then sit though an hour-and-a-half’s worth of pointless pop culture references and “shocking” jokes, courtesy of Seth MacFarlane. My appetite for cartoons is that strong, I guess. But that’s beside the point. In the midst of MacFarlane’s uninspired programming block, a commercial aired for the upcoming Paul Rudd/Steve Carell vehicle, Dinner For Schmucks. After a few seconds, it seemed like this was going to be the next stupid slapstick blockbuster du jour, with Carell taking the pratfalls instead of Ben Stiller.

That is, until BRUCE FRICKIN’ GREENWOOD appeared on screen. That’s right, that Bruce Greenwood, the star of the criminally overlooked Hallmark Hall of Fame masterwork, A Dog Named Christmas (that’s him above, circa 1998. I can’t tell which one’s the stallion!). Apparently my man G-Wood plays Paul Rudd’s pompous boss, a role that couldn’t possibly have the depth of ADNC’s George McCray, a father who doesn’t want his son to rent a dog for Christmas because it reminds him of the dog he had in Vietnam, which was killed by a land mine. But once the dog saves everybody from a mountain lion, including a dachshund and her puppies, George has a change of heart, even though his son gives him the rather short-sighted name “Christmas.”

So if you’re a Greenwood buff, Dinner For Schmucks is reason to rejoice. At least until A Ferret Named Thanksgiving gets green-lighted.

Greenwood fans, please post your fav nicknames for our hero here. I got the ball rolling with G-Wood, and I’ll throw a couple more out there: Brucey Juice and Wooder.

A late Christmas gift

Mom and dad,

Sorry it took so long to give you your present this year. I was too busy watching A Dog Named Christmas, and basking in the afterglow of watching A Dog Named Christmas. I hope you’re satisfied with a link to my review of the 2009 Kissmas Bash instead – if you needed any more proof that Kris Allen is horrible, well, here you go.