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The Confirmation (2016)
By far the best of 2016
This wondrous comedy-drama features the directorial debut (at the age of 59!) of Bob Nelson, Oscar-nominated writer of "Nebraska'" and actually tops the earlier movie. The story of an alcoholic, down-on-his-luck carpenter who spends a chaotic but exciting weekend with his eight-year-old son is sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving, sometimes exciting, and always sublime.
Acting by Clive Owen as the father constitutes his screen peak to date, and Jaeden Lieberher as the boy is absolutely astounding, one of the best child performances within memory. Supporting performances are all terrific, with special mention due to Patton Oswalt as a likable meth addict.
Boy Meets Girl (2014)
Groundbreaking and funny too!
This movie accomplishes the rare feat of being sexually groundbreaking, meaningful, romantic, and very, very funny, sometimes all at once. Screen newcomer Michelle Hendley, herself a trans actress, plays a young woman in transition, and the story takes her into several relationships, all interesting, all believable. The movie has a "La Ronde" quality to it and director Eric Schaeffer is able to shift tones seamlessly from comedy to heartfelt and back again. It's a remarkable film, one which has already won myriad awards in LDBTQ festivals but could easily cross over into the mainstream. It has something for everyone to identify with. Truly a marvelous experience.
Enough Said (2013)
One of the best in years
Saw one of the most wonderful movies in years tonight. I've been a huge fan of Nicole Holofcener's ever since her first feature "Walking and Talking," through "Friends with Money," "Lovely and Amazing," and "Please Give." But with "Enough Said" she has outdone herself. Perfect is the only word for it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a divorcée working as a massage therapist and getting ready to send her daughter off from California to Sarah Lawrence College. At a party she meets two people, a man she starts dating (played by the late James Gandolfini) and a poet who becomes her client and her friend (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener). To say more would constitute a spoiler, but nothing seems contrived or manipulative. It's the dialogue, hilarious and touching by turns, and the superb acting that sell the story. Holofcener is an immense talent as both writer and director, and Louis-Dreyfus is marvelous in the lead. But the most memorable thing about the movie is the charming, funny, indelibly poignant last appearance of Gandolfini, who was never this good in any role other than Tony Soprano. A posthumous Oscar is a necessity.
Unique and lovely
"Starlet" is an absolutely lovely, unique film which I recommend without reservation. Masterfully directed by Sean ("Greg the Bunny") Baker, it stars Dee Hemingway, the daughter of Mariel, who plays Jane, a rather aimless but very sweet, very young, very pretty Angeleno who drifts through her life with two somewhat repellent roommates and a cute male Chihuahua named Starlet.
Things change when Jane buys an old thermos bottle at a yard sale and discovers ten grand hidden inside. The rest of the movie has to do with her relationship with Sadie, the old woman who held the yard sale (played by octogenarian Besedka Johnson, making her film debut!), and Jane pursuing her part-time job.
I won't say more, because the journey is worth taking. Hemingway and Johnson are a fantastic team. Jane and Sadie are an odd couple as odd, unexpected, and ultimately moving as any I've ever seen. The film is unpredictable and eye-opening and funny and poignant. I loved it.
Drive Angry (2011)
Fun, fun, fun 'til your daddy takes your Chevelle away!
This goes way beyond "guilty pleasure" all the way to "must-see trash." Does everything that "Grindhouse" failed to do. Dirty, gory, violent, but never unpleasant from start to finish. Patrick Lussier keeps the action efficient and picturesque. Nicolas Cage in one of his only successful forays into the action genre. Amber Heard as a worthy and most attractive sidekick. David Morse and Tom Atkins expertly holding up the "oldster" side of the street. William Fichtner in a performance that would have been a shoo-in for a supporting Oscar nomination if the movie were respectable. But thank goodness--it's thoroughly disreputable. And did I say fun? Let me say it again: fun!
How Do You Know (2010)
Wonderful movie and ridiculously underrated
This is the best performance yet by the wonderful Paul Rudd, a return to form for Owen Wilson, and the first truly sexy turn by Reese Witherspoon, always an excellent actress but never this yummy heretofore. James L. Brooks has a skilled and expert hand with pace and performance, and the movie is funny and unusually thoughtful--too thoughtful, perhaps, for some of the ADD-afflicted people who post here. This is a worthy addition to the very short list of great romantic comedies, and one which will grow in reputation through the years. Jack Nicholson is committed and inventive--perhaps a bit over the top, but that's the only even slightly off-key note in the whole film. Bravo to all involved!
Another Year (2010)
Mike Leigh's best and the best of 2010
This is by far the best of Mike Leigh's sometimes great ("Secrets and Lies," "Naked"), sometimes ineffective ("Vera Drake," "Happy-Go-Lucky") films. The acting is beyond superb, being invisible in its realism. Everybody is marvelous, from leads Broadbent, Manville, and Sheen) to supporting players such as Karina Fernandez as Katie.
The final shot of the movie has been arguably misinterpreted by many. To me it's not necessarily as sad as it may seem. It's equally possible that Mary has undergone a spiritual awakening brought about by the remarkably tough love shown by Gerri in the final sequence. She seems in the final shot to be processing the current situation, and it's very likely she'll seek the therapy Gerri has suggested, which may lead to progress in life and love. This is one of the marks of Leigh's genius; he provides layer upon layer for those willing to seek the layers out.
Until They Sail (1957)
Piper Laurie steals superior soap opera
A solid cast including Paul Newman and Jean Simmons directed by Robert Wise in a screenplay by Robert Anderson (Tea and Sympathy) directed by Robert Wise! Sounds like movie heaven, but not quite. Still, a superior chick flick with a terrific performance by Piper Laurie that all but steals the show. She plays a New Zealand woman in 1945 who can't say no. Her sisters include Joan Fontaine, Sandra Dee (young enough to be Fontaine's daughter), and Simmons. Newman is Simmons's vis-a-vis and he's charismatic as can be. Even Sandra Dee, usually the personification of Styrofoam, is somewhat appealing. Wise directs beautifully, and the black and white cinematography is excellent. It's worth catching--if you can, because it's not on DVD yet as far as I know.
A Christmas Story (1983)
The most initially underrated film of all time
How well I remember attending this movie on the first day of its initial release, loving it, and being shocked that critics savaged it. Yes, not just disliked, but hated this movie. Not every critic, mind you--there is Roger Ebert, after all--but just take a look at The New York Times. That's one of the more positive original reviews (and it's an outright pan itself). My suspicion is that critics just couldn't get their heads around the fact that Bob Clark, director of the loathed "Porky's," could create a work as wonderful as this one. Clark, in fact, has two masterpieces to his credit, this movie and "Black Christmas," the scariest slasher movie of them all. Both have "Christmas" in the title, and both represent the top of their genres--nostalgia in "Story" and horror in "Black." Clark had talent--and here is evidence as clear as a Christmas bell.
Oh, and let's not forget the great Jean Shepherd, Darren McGavin, Melida Dillon, and Peter Billingsley. What a great writer/narrator/cast!
Sita Sings the Blues (2008)
The best animated film I've ever seen
To call this movie "good fun," as someone did, is the ultimate in under-praise. This is one of the supreme achievements in movie history, a bona fide work of genius. Nina Paley has melded, seamlessly, at least four types of animation into one amazingly entertaining combination of history lesson/comedy sketch/woman's picture/musical dramedy. It's better than "Toy Story," "Ratatouille," and "WALL-E" put together. And she did it all on a computer? This movie has the capacity to make you laugh out loud, contemplate mortality, and shed a tear. It's one of the best movies--let alone animated movies--of the past ten years, one of the handful of films since 2000 that I would legitimately call "great."