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Damsels in Distress (2011)
One of the all-time worst
I was very much looking forward to this movie, having admired all of Whit Stillman's previous films, especially his latest, the 1998 "The Last Days of Disco." So I was beyond disappointed to discover that "Damsels in Distress" is virtually unwatchable. Is it pretentious? Hard to describe it that way since it doesn't seem to be trying for anything. People sit around or walk around or dance around and chatter in a kind of language that appears to be spawned on an alien planet. Greta Gerwig, whom I have liked in a couple of other movies, is completely lost and inept spouting the idiot dialogue she's given, and the problem extends to the entire cast. I laughed out loud exactly once. Most of the time I cringed and groaned. The movie is absolutely awful and a must to avoid unless you have been losing sleep and need to catch up. No, scratch that. Insomnia is preferable to this debacle.
The Best and the Brightest (2010)
A must to avoid
This is the worst movie of 2011 so far and unlikely to be challenged. The first ten minutes are excellent, setting the stage for a lovely dramedy about a middle-class couple braving the horrors of NYC private kindergarten, with an attractive Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville filling the bill nicely. And there's Amy Sedaris--such a winning comedian. But noooooo. Before you know it, this charming human comedy devolves into one of the unfunniest, loudest, crudest, lewdest movies imaginable. The actors are lost--Sedaris becomes monotonous, Harris a snooze, and all the rest of them unbearable. The very idea that pornographic IMs could be mistaken for poetry by sentient New Yorkers is so unbelievable that the whole premise falls apart, and it just gets worse and worse by the nanosecond. This is one of the most inept films in memory.
In a class by itself
This movie is one of a kind--the only screamingly funny comedy which also makes you really care about its characters. It's one of the best comedies in the history of movies, and certainly the best comedy of the last decade...and beyond.
How often has a movie made you fall out of your chair with laughter and then, not ten seconds later, tugged at your heartstrings? This great film has that effect.
Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy deserve starring and supporting Oscars respectively, and Wiig deserves a writing award to boot. The whole cast, from Rose Byrne to Chris O'Dowd to Maya Rudolph to Jon Hamm, deserves outspoken praise. The movie is quite indescribably wonderful.
To Heal a Nation (1988)
A crime this is not available on DVD
I completely agree that this wonderful film should be available on DVD. Not only does Eric Roberts hit his career peak in a searing and unforgettable performance, but the movie commemorates the monumental achievement Jan Scruggs made in devising and funding the Vietnam memorial. I was a fierce anti-Vietnam War protester, but I was thrilled that the memorial was created. This is an important movie despite certain melodramatic excesses, and deserves to be made viewable by a large audience. It amazes me that so many useless movies are on DVD when essential films like this one gather dust and wait for the very occasional television showing. In any case, here's hoping "To Heal a Nation" survives.
Four Christmases (2008)
Hilarious and just cynical enough
This very funny, very sharp little comedy is fast becoming the underrated cult film of the year. Though a couple of high-profile critics have embraced its sophisticated blend of funny lines, great performances, and occasional forays into dumb-ass slapstick, the majority of folks seem to reject it. It will be a classic in years to come, however. Vaughn and Witherspoon are an odd couple for the ages, and the all-star supporting cast boasts at least two incredibly accomplished performances, Sissy Spacek's and Jon Favreau's. Seth Gordon fulfills the promise of "The King of Kong." I expect fantastic things from him in the future.
The movie is a criminally underrated gem. Not great, but very, very good. And a keeper for sure.
Guest in the House (1944)
Baxter as bad as "Eve"
Anne Baxter is one of the most unsubtle and--why mince words?--worst actresses ever to gain fame in Hollywood. Her performance in "All About Eve" ranks as one of the most overrated on record. An Oscar nomination for making the supposedly convincingly sweet Eve as obviously dangerous as a cobra? The same problem exists in "Guest in the House." The moment Baxter's Evelyn (almost the same name as "Eve") appears, we know she's bad bad bad. Baxter is so transparent as to be laughable.
Add the constant "Liebestraum" on the soundtrack and the fact that Evelyn comes on to Ruth Warrick's husband Ralph Bellamy (read: Bette Davis and Gary Merrill) and you have a perfect trial balloon for "Eve." In many people's opinion, Baxter improved by the time she played Eve in 1950. For me, it's "been there done that" all over again.
Someone else has alluded to the ending being unsatisfying. I'll echo that. Evelyn does rotten things, but she's a very mentally disturbed person. Aline MacMahon's character deliberately drives her to fall off a cliff. This is considered the right thing to do. Huh? We've come a long way since then.
Must add that Warrick and Bellamy are aces. Their relationship--complete with typical 1940's denial of Bellamy's alcoholism--makes the movie almost worth watching.
My favorite moment: Bellamy and Marie McDonald return home after hours of drinking themselves blind. Warrick asks what's been going on. Bellamy answers, "We took a drive to sober up." Warrick doesn't bat an eye. Unbelievable.
Year of the Dog (2007)
The beauty of this film is that for the first time in my movie-going history someone has actually made a case for the possibility of mental disease being channeled into worthwhile activity. At the end of the movie, in an incredibly gutsball move by Mike White, the leading character discovers her bliss and realizes that she doesn't have to live and interact with the normal run of people in order to do some good in this world.
I understand how the completely unique story arc has left some viewers in the dust. But for me this is an absolutely great, unmissable, cataclysmic achievement, one which should (and probably won't) garner Oscar nominations for White and Molly Shannon.
Peggy isn't even someone I'd ever care to know in the real world. But her story is unforgettable--tinged with genius in the writing, and fearlessly, selflessly portrayed by the who-would-have-thought-she-had-it-in-her Shannon.
All My Sons (1948)
Much better than I expected
Since this movie had no particular reputation, I expected a somewhat ho-hum adaptation of Arthur Miller's play. In fact, the movie somewhat improves on the play. It's not afraid to be a little more "superficial" than the play, opting less for profundity than for solid melodrama, and I do mean solid. Robinson is superb, but the real surprise for me was the unshowy, very subtle (for him) performance by Lancaster, never a favorite of mine in his latter-day, hammy period. Here he seems content to be an ensemble player, supporting Robinson and playing a relatively quiet, Gary Cooper sort of role, and therefore he comes off more of a genuine star than usual. When he does finally explode in physical violence, the effect is truly shocking.
Brothers & Sisters (2006)
One of the best!
Jon Robin Baitz has created one of the finest family dramas in the history of network television. This marvelous multi-drama is as well written as "The Sopranos" and "Hill Street Blues." And Sally Field gives a truly transcendent, brilliant performance as the aggravating, lovable, hip, square, completely believable matriarch of a huge family. Field has managed to top her own best--well, maybe not "Norma Rae," but everything else she's ever done. What an actress! She is joined by a superb ensemble including top New York stage actor Ron Rifkin and class actresses Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths. The scripts by Baitz and others are literate, touching, funny, and more, and the direction gives the audience credit for intelligence, a quality in rare supply on network television. This one enters the pantheon!
Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)
I could watch "Over and Over Again" over and over again
This is a genuinely heartfelt and lovely entertainment with a great cast and a marvelous score. Seeing Durante and Raye together is a rare treat, and Stephen Boyd acquits himself quite well in the unfamiliar musical genre. But the crown jewel is the magnificent Doris Day, who is in fine voice and adds grit and gleam to the proceedings.
The high point of the movie is the opening number, "Over and Over Again," whose final shot is a supreme moment among musical movies, when the camera pulls back and reveals simultaneously all the things we've been seeing individually throughout the number. In addition to being a truly beautiful shot, it amounts to a "surprise ending" for the number. Add to that the fact that the song is sung memorably by Day, and you have a classic movie moment.