THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
Sometimes I kind of go against the grain. And sometimes I completely go against the grain, which seems to be the case for this Ben Stiller-directed adaptation of James Thurber's short-story and the subsequent 1940s film which starred Danny Kaye. A movie about a guy going through a mid-life crisis who wishes he could shake up his life? I'm in. Have that guy jump into a helicopter while David Bowie's "Major Tom" digs itself into the best kind of ear-worm? I'm double in. Throw in Kristen Wiig, a stellar soundtrack, Patton Oswalt and Shirley MacClaine and it's a triple. I absolutely loved this movie and so I implore you to give it a chance, despite those "other" critics. Remember, most movie reviewers hated Lawrence of Arabia (RIP Peter O'Toole) and look how wrong they were there. What I just said is possibly a lie, but you get my point. A.
THE WAY, WAY BACK
There is a sweetness to this movie (about a 14 year old boy figuring out his place in the world) that I haven't seen since the original Meatballs. And while there's technically no "Run, Rudy, run" moment, Sam Rockwell gives a layered performance, oscillating between a stunted Peter Pan and a wise, hilarious guru. Steve Carell plays against type as the "prick" and Toni Collette, as usual, is sweet and heartbreaking. A.
Oh Alexander Payne. Thank you for letting me spend two hours relaxing in your strange and quiet world. The previews make this look like the worst NYU student film ever. (Side note: I once sent in a headshot to audition for a USC student film where I was simply supposed to utter the words "chicken" over and over again. And I didn't get the part. And I was actually sad about that. And that student film director today? James Cameron.) The good news is the previews don't do this film justice. This might just be Bruce Dern's Oscar year as a crotchety, old man who simply wants a new truck and will go to great lengths to get it. Will Forte (whom I normally love) was an odd choice, but somehow it all came together. A. (And an A++ for A Chicken in Paradise, the most poignant student film of all time.)
Very few writer/directors can make neuroses so absolutely beautiful. This is one of Woody Allen's best in 20 years and if Cate Blanchett doesn't get a "Best Actress" nomination, I'll eat my hat. Then I'll spit my hat out and eat it again. (I've learned this behavior from my dog.) If you'd have told me a few years ago that Andrew Dice Clay could hold his own in an Allen film, I'd have punched you. Now I've seen it with my own eyes, (and have also enrolled in some anger management courses.)
SHORT TERM 12
The greatest little movie you've never heard of. If I described the plot as it really is - a young couple navigate the wonders and complexities of working at a home for at-risk teenagers - you might tune out. But if I describe the plot as some magical elves team up with some tinier elf-like thingies to fight a cray cray dragon, perhaps you'll tune in? Let's break this down: A) I just said "cray-cray," like it's the year 2000 whatever. B) Dragons really are crazy, if you stop and think about it. C) Short Term 12 is so well written, directed and acted, it's a shame I muddied up this blurb with dragon-talk. Keep your eyes peeled for Brie Larson. She's excellent in the movie's leading role. A.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
I mean. (Sigh.) It's just. (Gasp.) It's like….(Holy Wow.) If watching a lot of unlikable people do cocaine off of prostitutes is not your thing, you should probably stay away. Luckily it's my thing. I mean, not the coke/prostitute part, although I guess never say never. This movie, based on Jordan Belfort's autobiography, is one wallop of a flick, (I'd say if I were reviewing for the Dallas Morning News in 1976.) It's Scorsese at his Scorsese-est and for me as an uber fan, that's a good thing. And can we talk about Leo DiCaprio for a minute? CAN WE TALK ABOUT LEO DICAPRIO? There's a scene where he tries to get into a Lamborghini while on Quaaludes that seems to go on for 45 glorious minutes and that's just the tip of the iceberg, (Titanic reference intended.) The supporting cast including Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and a wonderfully understated Kyle Chandler round out this over-the-top and frankly magnificent frat-boy festival of debauchery. It's three hours long, but the original director's cut had a running time of 79 hours! (When asked for comment, a Paramount spokesman said "Please get out of my office.") A -
Dame Judi Dench! (Said shaking fist at sky.) Is there anything she can't do? Funnily enough, as great as she is in this role as an older woman on the hunt for the son she put up for adoption, it's really Steve Coogan who steals the show. This is a heartwarming (and sometimes even true!) story of friendship and closure. Yes there are moments of manipulation, but when it works, who cares? A -
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks and pirates, arrrrgh!), Gravity, (George Clooney and a jet pack, arrrrrgh!), American Hustle (Bradley Cooper with a perm that makes him look like the tiny baby of Daryl Hall and John Oates, if they could produce a tiny baby!), Frozen (I now love talking snowmen!), Enough Said (Tony Soprano and Elaine finally fall in love!), Her (Come on now, it's Spike Jonze directing Joaquin Phoenix!), Fruitvale Station (Straightforward and tragic, like most of my break-ups), The World's End (A comedy that acts like it's about robot-zombies, but really is about something much darker!) and Anchorman 2 (It's Ron Burgundy, y'all!)
I decided to separate the documentaries from the other films this year, as there are so many of them worth mentioning.
CUTIE AND THE BOXER
Two married aging Japanese artists living in New York. That's what you need to know. And if you're a talented woman who has ever struggled with a less-talented male ego, this will get you in the gut. (I'm of course not saying all women are more talented than men, just that some men don't recognize it when we are. That was a clunky sentence. I'm too lazy to fix it, but for some reason, I'm not too lazy to stop typing this thought.)
STORIES WE TELL
Often, I don't like digging into other people's dysfunctional families because obviously I have my own with whom to contend. (That's such a false statement. I watch 58 hours of Bravo every week and the only reason is for the schadenfreude) So Sarah Polley's investigative peek inside the secrets and rumors of her own family is really quite intriguing. I never anticipated where it was going, which was a nice departure from many typical, modern-day documentaries. A -
Not only will you not be a fan of SeaWorld (and other animal-themed parks) after seeing this, you'll actively want to protest them. I don't say this often and I don't care if this makes me a tree-hugging, hippie-esq, crunchy-granola whale-saver…this movie changed my life. (I do draw the line at wearing patchouli, however.) I not only felt emotions I never thought I had toward sea creatures, I learned so much along the way. This is something everyone should see. A.
There's not much to say about this film, but if you're a fan of Michael Apted's "Up" series, I strongly recommend it. It's a bit on the long side, but watching people just be people through the years, without scripts or an agenda is truly lovely. I especially loved catching up with Neil, for whom I have the softest spot in my heart.