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February 23rd, 2012

Rodney’s favorite films of 2011 My hair and makeup are in the final stages of completion. My Armani tux is back from the tailor. My driver has brought around the limo (the black one, not either of the other two). My stunning date has been CGI’d. It’s just about time for me to walk the […]

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Rodney’s favorite films of 2011

My hair and makeup are in the final stages of completion. My Armani tux is back from the tailor. My driver has brought around the limo (the black one, not either of the other two). My stunning date has been CGI’d. It’s just about time for me to walk the red carpet.

Or vacuum the carpets; the dog hair has been piling up as I unrealistically fantasize about my life among the glitterati. It’s far easier to spend Oscars night in old sweats, munching popcorn, than in the above scenario hobnobbing with the 1 percenters. Nevertheless, I get to pretend — yet again — that society cares what I think about movies.

Each year I like coming up with a new angle on the awards. One time I even Photoshopped my torso onto an Academy Awards statue and called myself an Oscars Grouch. Thankfully no one has to endure that scene this time around. Since I didn’t feel like there were any clearly dominant films this year, I decided to mirror the Academy and pick my nine favorites. And since there actually are people out there who follow my list and rent the movies I suggest, I came up with another 15 that are DVDable or stream-worthy.

My Top Picks (or Pics):

Joseph Gordon-Levitt shaves his head with Seth Rogen’s clippers that have shaved “other places” in 50/50.50/50
Given my circumstances over the past few years and my love of Seth Rogen, there’s really no other choice I can make for my favorite movie of 2011. Written about a real-life buddy of his who was given a 50/50 shot of overcoming cancer, the film hit all the right subtle notes. While honest dialog was always important and relationships were portrayed without mincing words, the humor was what really won me over. I hope to one day be as creative and funny about my own war. This is one of my wife’s favorites and when my cousin saw it, he said he couldn’t stop thinking about me. High praise indeed. I think the Oscars missed the boat by not nominating it. This comes with a guarantee from me to you: if you don’t like it, I’ll reimburse you all the money you’ve spent reading my blog.

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson spend a wonderful Midnight in Paris, but in which decade of what century?Midnight in Paris
It’s been a while since I’ve been “all-in” for a Woody Allen movie. But he brought me back with this time-traveling literary homage. I have always felt a kinship with Owen Wilson, never more so as he plays a writer searching for better days only to find the people of the past wished for other better days. You’ll like this film and since things like this are situational, it didn’t hurt that I saw it with my eldest daughter who’s a literary savant and could explain some of the more obscure references to me. This is the first of my picks that the Academy picked as well. It just shows they have good taste!

Playing father and daughter, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley are a few of The Descendants of Hawaiian royalty.The Descendants
George Clooney had a great year with this and Ides of March. I’m not sure if it was the bonding process between a dad and two daughters or the slower pace of the movie, but I liked it on different levels. The film doesn’t make Hawaii (a state which could easily be nominated as a best supporting actor) look like, well, our Hollywoodized vision. Instead we see a very real struggle between a man, his family, his heritage and even another man. Like in all good cinematic offerings, his problems become the audience’s. And no matter what happens, you’re there as a player alongside he and his daughters, even if you don’t like the schmaltz.

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe star in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the very last Potter film.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Here, I’m sure, is where many of you will scoff, leave this blog forever and go over to facebook to rip me apart. This, however, was the best of the Harry Potter franchise. The books and movies are an enormous dynasty in world-wide culture. It seems silly to ignore the movies because they are ostensibly for kids (although I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the younger set and, indeed, the earliest Potter fans have grown up just like the characters and are in their 20s now). If the last Lord of the Rings movie won Oscar gold, this film should at least be considered for something other than the technical awards it’s nominated for. Besides, man, it was really good! 20 points for Gryffindor.

Thomas Horn plays around with puzzle-master father Tom Hanks in a scene from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

This is one of those strange movies that is even better than the tremendous book it’s adapted from. There were things I didn’t quite understand when I read it that popped right out while watching it on the big screen. That’s extremely rare and incredibly … okay, sorry. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn are all fantastic in this story about a boy with Asperger’s who goes on a quest for clues to a puzzle he’s sure his father — who died in the 9/11 attacks — left him around the city.
Jean Dujardin is The Artist and Uggie is the Jack Russell Terrier who also appeared in Water for Elephants this year.The Artist
When I saw this at one of my favorite theaters, I didn’t realize it would be their last film before being sold and turned into a commercial venue. That’s so symbolic and too coincidental to ignore. This movie, on an elementary level, is about movies changing from silent to talkies. Adapt or die (hmm, sounds like another industry I’m all-too-familiar with). But there’s far more to the story. What’s the meaning of it all? Why bother? Are dogs really that cute? The big questions. Everyone likes this movie. Even the Academy. The ending is perfect Hollywood, 1920s or 2012.

The Help, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, stake out a grocery store in Civil Rights era Mississippi.The Help
White people were such idiots. Some would argue we still are. Any film that shows the hypocrisy of racism or the cruelty of the Jim Crow south is tough to swallow. Having a group of heroes that you can root for makes this movie more enjoyable. There’s no arguing that Viola Davis rules the screen; she was brilliant in Extremely Loud too. But it was Octavia Spencer who served up the most riveting performance like a fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate pie.

Michelle Williams was stunning as the iconic temptress in My Week with Marilyn.My Week with Marilyn
No, that’s not Norma Jean up in that picture; it’s Michelle Williams channeling the legendary actress. Yes, the movie is fun to watch and yes, it was cool seeing Hermione all grown up, but the real reason to watch this film is to marvel (and drool) over Williams’ performance. She was Marilyn, no ifs ands or, ahem, buts. You can even enjoy the story from the psychological standpoint of a woman teetering on the edge. Other performers seemed to have a blast with their roles too. One of my long-time favorites, Kenneth Branagh, played Sir Laurence Olivier with great reverence and humor.

Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne star in Bridesmaids. Bridesmaids
This film was left at the altar, even though other awards shows walked it right down the aisle. Yuck, I can do better than that. Even though this movie will always be a bridesmaid … nope, I guess I can’t. Regardless, it was fantastic to see it get some serious love this awards season. Melissa McCarthy was painfully perfect and definitely deserves her Supporting Actress nomination. One day soon, though, Kristen Wiig will get all the accolades she has coming to her. Until then, enjoy this girl power movie and say a fond goodbye to the late, great Jill Clayburgh.

These next ones are fine movies to rent on a Friday or Saturday night if you happen to pass by Red Box, you’re able to figure out streaming or if Netflix hasn’t reconfigured its business model again. If you’re like me, God help you. No, if you’re like me, you despise plunking down in front of your favorite flatscreen only to realize ten minutes into the show that there are no redeeming qualities and you have 3/4 of a bowl of popcorn still in front of you.

The movies I’ve listed below are a cut above the ordinary and really deserve your rental dollars. Heck, some of them almost made it to my top picks list. Even if you try them out and they eventually disappoint, you’ll be able to appreciate their merits over something like, say, the incredibly pretentious Tree of Life which I chopped down in an earlier post.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is crazy, stupid good. I love Steve Carell and there are some great twists and turns in this fun, star-filled movie.

Carnage seems to have been shot in one continuous take. Four powerhouse stars show what happens when polite society breaks down completely. Oh, and there’s vomit!

Source Code Can Jake Gyllenhaal get there before it all blows up? It’s a unique premise with enough action and romance to appeal stereotypically to both men and women.

Moneyball Men and women both seemed to enjoy the movie for different reasons. I liked the inside baseball aspect, my wife liked watching the lead actor, whatever his name was.

The Ides of March Supposedly about an Ohio presidential primary, a lot of this was filmed in Michigan. My buddy Neal Rubin makes a cameo and that’s good enough for me.

Cedar Rapids What happens in Iowa, stays in Iowa. Or does it? Comedy with a purpose, even if the purpose is sometimes a bit corny.

Paul Seth Rogen plays a motion-captured alien as two British comedians tour famous UFO hotspots in America. Think Wallace and Gromit meet Close Encounters.

Beginners Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor were fabulous in this very quiet, subtle film about a dying or already deceased father who comes out of the closet after years of marriage.

Super 8 This isn’t your typical suspense, science fiction film. With production by Mr. Steven Spielberg, you’d expect nothing less. It didn’t always hit every note, but it was still worthwhile.

A Better Life Even though you’ve probably never heard of him, Mexican actor Demian Bichir has been in movies since 1983. I hope to see more U.S. roles that showcase his talent.

The Company Men They didn’t release this until 2011 although it technically came out in 2010. The movie resonated with me having lost my job to a dying industry (yeah, just like in The Artist).

One Day Nothing more than a romantic drama, it’s still fun to watch Anne Hathaway do the best she can with a script that seems as though we’ve seen it before. Nothing wonderful, just pleasant.

Win Win Paul Giamatti is a high school wrestling coach who stumbles onto a star athlete. The problem is, he doesn’t want to be a star athlete. Nicely done and easy to sit through.

Limitless Don’t expect a ton; what you see is what you get. My wife and I waited a long time to watch this and were pleasantly surprised. It’s a perfect Bradley Cooper movie.

Horrible Bosses This isn’t for everybody, but the dark comedy was really funny and showcased a strange mix of popular actors. I loved the movie even with its silly boss-killing premise.

That’s about all he wrote. If you’ve made it this far, you’re either my mother or responding to a dare. To see how badly I did last year, you can check out my 2010 reviews here. If you’re still interested in other possible rentals, here’s one I reviewed last Spring. If you want to buy an ostrich, go here.

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