The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

MONEYBALL Review

I'm not a big baseball fan. Sure, I can enjoy the atmosphere of the ballpark and the thrill of actually being present at the game but you will never catch me watching it on TV. I just never found the dynamics of the game as intriguing when sitting on the couch, but you wanna know what I could sit on my couch and watch all day that concerns baseball? "Moneyball". Going in I expected good things, Brad Pitt is a movie star, but more importantly, the man is an honest, gifted actor. As Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A's he is faced with the loss of three key players and a tiny budget as compared to some of the bigger franchise teams. Beane has to make some difficult decisions and chooses the route that goes against everything baseball scouts have done for years. Pitt commands the screen as Beane and is completely deserving of the Oscar talk that has been swirling around the project. This is an underdog story, but one that doesn't take on the sensational aspects of the story most movies would exploit. Like the story it is telling, the film goes against expectation, not relying on set pieces, special effects, or big dramatic scenes. It is a simply told, linear story that chronicles a mans effort to do something he truly believes in when the rest of the world is laughing at him.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill)
check out their newly assembled team.
It is in the pre-season trading game that Beane comes in contact with Peter Brand, a Yale graduate who studied economics. Beane sees the reliance his Cleveland equals place on Brand and in a great scene where Beane approaches Band and intimidates him to the point of confession we see the wheels begin to turn in his head. In what might be the oddest pairing ever, Pitt is aligned with Jonah Hill who shows real promise here as he stretches his comedic chops to a more cut and dry role that asks him to restrain. He plays it right and he plays it well. While Pitt is the anchor of the film, Hill proves to be a worthy wunderkind that is the real reason for Beane's success. Beane was looking for a new way of thinking and Brand was searching for someone to listen. It is a match made in heaven and to watch these two men drool over stats and computer analysis of players that no one wants, that are underrated or simply throw the ball funny creates one of the most intriguing films I have seen this year.This is one of the biggest surprises of "Moneyball".

Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is baffled
by the decisions his manager is making.
You may go in expecting a baseball movie, but in reality the sport itself is serving as a backdrop for a story that boils down to the business that goes on off the field. Don't worry, it's just as entertaining, and for a passive fan such as myself, it is all the more exciting. What this means though is that we are left with a tremendous amount of talking. Lucky for us Steve Zaillian is credited with the screenplay ( Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, American Gangster, and the upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as well as Aaron Sorkin helping out who is known for his quick, witty dialogue. It may seem recognizable if you saw last year's "The Social Network" but both writers are able to draw us in with the logistics of the business and the skills it requires to garner what you need while at the same time defining these characters and what makes them good at what they do. Beane is a man who has been burned by the system of picking individual players on their promise. He was a high school all-star who had everything going his way, who's head was filled with the fact he was good enough by the same scouts and managers he is now surrounded with in Oakland. He knows that Brand is right in his theory, he knows that it will pay off just as much as if he were to try and replace Johnny Damon, the upside is that it could work even better.

Billy shares a rare moment with his daughter
Casey (Kerris Dorsey).
"Moneyball" is a movie about strategy, it shines in brief moments of comedy when sharp conversations are exchanged over the phone in the midst of the trading game and shines even brighter when we feel the tension building as the A's close in on the longest winning streak of all time. The supporting cast is stacked with players like Philip Seymour Hoffman, robin Wright and Chris Pratt who makes all kinds of leaps here with limited screen time. Still, this is Pitt's movie and he owns it, strutting around as the man with everything to prove and even more to lose. His self doubt so big that he can't even watch the games in person. It is this man, and his ideals and dreams that drive this experiment. The desire not only to win, but to change the game completely and the reasons why is summed up perfectly by a late in the film pep talk and job offer from the Red Sox owner. "Moneyball" has a few flaws in that it is a bit longer than it needs to be and features a few scenes with Billy's daughter that feel necessary but underdeveloped and not enough a part of the story that it leaves the mark on his day to day or for that matter the conclusion that the makers claim it to have. But like the players Beane and Brand pick to play on their roster, this movie surprises you over and over again with how good it is and how interesting this odd subject matter can be. It is not just an inspirational sports film, but a movie that is smart and cheer-inducing. You will definitely cheer, but probably not for who you expected to.


MONEYBALL Review

I'm not a big baseball fan. Sure, I can enjoy the atmosphere of the ballpark and the thrill of actually being present at the game but you will never catch me watching it on TV. I just never found the dynamics of the game as intriguing when sitting on the couch, but you wanna know what I could sit on my couch and watch all day that concerns baseball? "Moneyball". Going in I expected good things, Brad Pitt is a movie star, but more importantly, the man is an honest, gifted actor. As Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A's he is faced with the loss of three key players and a tiny budget as compared to some of the bigger franchise teams. Beane has to make some difficult decisions and chooses the route that goes against everything baseball scouts have done for years. Pitt commands the screen as Beane and is completely deserving of the Oscar talk that has been swirling around the project. This is an underdog story, but one that doesn't take on the sensational aspects of the story most movies would exploit. Like the story it is telling, the film goes against expectation, not relying on set pieces, special effects, or big dramatic scenes. It is a simply told, linear story that chronicles a mans effort to do something he truly believes in when the rest of the world is laughing at him.

KILLER ELITE Review

There is always an element of grunge to a Jason Statham film. He is easily the top billed action star of the moment and though he seems to continuously pick roles that are a mirror image of his prior ones it is hard to deny the charisma of the guy. As I said in my review of "The Mechanic", Statham's January release that is very much along the same lines as this, is the fact we can count on the chrome domed actioner to deliver the thrills. What is surprising about "Killer Elite" though is the fact it allows that action to take a back seat to the importance of characters (even if most are rather dismissible archetypes) and story. The plot of the film is "based on a true story" and allows for the film to be set in the 80's which could have easily been updated to modern day, but lucky for us this time tainted element is critical to the essential plot of the film and also adds a visual stamp to the movie that allows the film to feel like an old school guy's flick that doesn't dispute the fact that it is what it is and doesn't care if you like it or not. Rookie director Gary McKendry keeps things moving quick enough we don't notice too many of the unnecessary side stories and the presence of Clive Owen and what is essentially an extended cameo by Robert DeNiro combine with Statham to deliver a solid action flick if not a completely standard one.
Danny (Statham) must rescue Hunter (DeNiro)
after coming out of retirement.
The slightly convoluted storyline revolves around Statham's Danny who, when we are introduced to him, is one of the most elite special ops agents who decides he has had enough of a life filled with death when on assignment with his long time mentor Hunter (DeNiro). A year later when Hunter turns up as being captured Danny is forced back into action with the task of killing three assassins that are responsible for the deaths of a dying leaders three sons. From the beginning we know something isn't right, thus enters the somewhat funny named Spike (Clive Owen) a man who is essentially the attack dog for a secret society within Britian. The story has its moments of promise that peak at what might have been more than just a pure shoot em up and leave with the money story, but in the end, that's what it is. "Killer Elite" positions the audience in a way that we are rooting for Statham's character, but we are never sure if he is in fact doing the right thing. As for Owen's character, he seemed extremely underdeveloped, almost to the point I wondered what about him attracted the actor to the role. We aren't given clear direction as to who is the good guy and who's on the wrong team until about ten minutes or so remain in the movie and at that point it honestly doesn't matter. We are just there to see how awesome Statham is because he can be strapped to a chair and still kick your ass.

Danny and Spike (Owen) duke it out in "Killer Elite".
"Killer Elite" does bring up some good questions though. Mostly, they have to do with how long Statham can go on making these types of movies before they really start to blur together. He has shown hints of good intuition before and has actually attempted branching out, but as of late he has stayed closer to his safe zone than ever. As of right now, looking at his IMDB page he has one film in the can where he again plays an elite agent who has to rescue a 12 year-old girl, he has another that is filming where he plays a thief that lives by the Robin Hood code and then he has "Expendables 2" in pre-production and yet another slated for next year were he plays an SAS agent who is caught between the Russian mafia and western agents who are trying to get their hands on a computer program. He had "Blitz" go straight to rental shelves a few weeks ago and has "13", a thriller that seems to have the most potential out of all of these but has been floating around since last year, and is scheduled for a DVD release in the states later this year. Getting to the point though, besides "Expendables 2" what about these is going to stand out? I have real concern because I genuinely enjoy Statham as an actor. I liked the "Transporter" series for their attention to detail and the two "Crank" films for their recognition and execution of the absurd. But when is Statham going to get down to business and offer up something that is the caliber of say, "The Bank Job"? He can do it, he has proved himself, but now he simply needs to try.

Jason Statham gets his jump on.
Getting back on track, and what that previous paragraph boils down to is the fact that if you enjoy a good action film, one that does indeed offer as much story and effort towards realizing an emotional connection; then "Killer Elite" is actually one of the better choices you will have. It is not a complete wall to wall action flick, but it provides them in good enough stride that we are both intrigued while applauding at the spectacle. I hate to really seem as if I am coming down on this movie in particular because in all honesty it could have been made with much less care and returned just as much money. There is real effort here and as a critical viewer I can see that, but trying doesn't always guarantee success and sadly, that is the case here. It's good, it is satisfactory, but while it doesn't do anything to take away from any of these actors cemented roles in pop culture it also doesn't do anything to push them further. The conclusion of the movie actually begs the question of a sequel and a small part of me hopes that there is one. There is always the possibility this could gain a big following on DVD and warrant enough interest that a sequel will be possible . If so, I hope Statham comes in ready and willing and that director McKendry will have then found his footing well enough that he will indeed be able to guide that film to the standard at which "Killer Elite" could have also reached.


KILLER ELITE Review

There is always an element of grunge to a Jason Statham film. He is easily the top billed action star of the moment and though he seems to continuously pick roles that are a mirror image of his prior ones it is hard to deny the charisma of the guy. As I said in my review of "The Mechanic", Statham's January release that is very much along the same lines as this, is the fact we can count on the chrome domed actioner to deliver the thrills. What is surprising about "Killer Elite" though is the fact it allows that action to take a back seat to the importance of characters (even if most are rather dismissible archetypes) and story. The plot of the film is "based on a true story" and allows for the film to be set in the 80's which could have easily been updated to modern day, but lucky for us this time tainted element is critical to the essential plot of the film and also adds a visual stamp to the movie that allows the film to feel like an old school guy's flick that doesn't dispute the fact that it is what it is and doesn't care if you like it or not. Rookie director Gary McKendry keeps things moving quick enough we don't notice too many of the unnecessary side stories and the presence of Clive Owen and what is essentially an extended cameo by Robert DeNiro combine with Statham to deliver a solid action flick if not a completely standard one.

DRIVE Review

Though you may wander into "Drive" because the trailer makes it look like a top notch action thriller and it stars Ryan Gosling along with a sensational supporting cast, be prepared to get a whole lot more than you bargained for. It is with the utmost encouragement I urge you to stay in your seat when it becomes apparent this isn't exactly what it was made to look like in that trailer. Yes, it is a story centered around a stunt driver who also moonlights as a getaway driver and becomes entangled with the mob after growing affectionate for a woman. What it is not is the conventional Hollywood action flick and it isn't designed for the ADD generation. This is a carefully crafted, greatly directed piece of art with a film noir coating. It is reminiscent of a 70's action film that is glossed over with an electro-pop 80's soundtrack. From the opening chase and neon pink title credits the audience is given a taste of what this movie will feel like to experience. And it is just that, a true experience. This is a film all about tone and director Nicolas Winding Refn pins it perfectly. The story is rather standard gangster fare, but that tone, the composition, and overall direction make this the coolest movie of the year, if not one of the best.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene (Carrie Mulligan) are
roomates who might be something more.
Gosling is having a moment. After finally receiving deserved attention for last years "Blue Valentine" and not enough for what I thought was just as great a performance in "All Good Things" he has jumped to the forefront of the A-list with this summers "Crazy Stupid Love" the up and coming George Clooney directed "Ides of March" and this. "Drive" is almost like icing on the cake for the actor who delivers arguably the best performance of his career here. As the unnamed driver he gives us little to work with in figuring out who this man is. This is true of most of the characters here, we learn very little about them or how they have come to be in their current situations. This causes an extreme degree of engagement in the audience. We don't know these people, but we care for them. The prime example being Gosling's driver who barely utters a word for the first half hour of the film. Instead, Refn focuses his camera on the faces of each character, letting us into the thoughts and dilemmas going through their minds that are most of the time, ignored on film. "Drive" is based on a James Sallis crime novel that I haven't read, but I can imagine this might be one of the better book-to-screen adaptations ever seeing as this film just doesn't deliver the plot of the written word, but it gives us the motivations and the character study that no doubt made the book a hit.

Mobster Bernie Ross (Albert Brooks) becomes entangled
in a nasty crime in "Drive".
As said before though, tone is the key word here. "Drive" is quiet and cold, it pushes us to the limit on keeping us in the dark and then, out of almost nowhere, explodes into brutal action and violence that evokes alien emotions in our central character and us. The low-key performance of Gosling is truly like watching a master at work, he possesses such charisma that we are unable to take our eyes off what he might do next. It only helps that he is surrounded by actors like Bryan Cranston as the mechanic that shares his ambition to be a race car driver. In an attempt to make this dream a reality Cranston's mechanic enlists the help of local mobsters, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. To complicate things, the driver begins to show first signs of any kind of emotion when he meets Irene, a waitress with a young son who is awaiting the release of her husband from prison. The lovely Carrie Mulligan plays Irene and the underrated Oscar Isaac plays her imprisoned husband Standard. It is when Standard is released from jail and forced to do another job to pay back debts from jail that the driver becomes entangled to protect Standards family. The brutal action scenes here are underscored by the fabulous placement of bursts of electronic pop. It not only adds to the tone of this cold, mysterious film, but it makes those silent moments where the driver is alone and cruising the streets of LA even more powerful.

Ryan Gosling means business as
the unnamed driver.
What I like most about "Drive" though is it proves a film can truly be both greatly artistic and fun at the same time. I can't say that I have had a more engaging experience at the theater this year while also admiring the craft on hand. Every element of this film comes together to create a piece of cinema that is in a class all its own. It is a combination of the familiar to make something completely unique. It is a patient movie, it is a rush of adrenaline. And what is most beautiful is that the movie as a whole becomes the idea, an incarnation of our main character. It is cool and collected, stylish to the point of envy and exuding confidence even if everything about it might have been a gamble. Gamble it is not though, as this is one of my favorite movies of the year by far. The minute it was over I wanted to go right back in and see it again. "Drive" is no doubt an unnerving experience and sadly, one some people will not understand if they do in fact go in expecting that full tilt action flick the trailer promises it to be. I'm just glad that it wasn't the standard "Fast and Furious", I am thankful Gosling was wise enough to choose a director for the material who could really turn this into an experiment that at the end of the day is just as thrilling and ten times more artistic than what this could have easily become. Excuse me now, while I go pick up the soundtrack and drive around pretending to be a bad ass.


DRIVE Review

Though you may wander into "Drive" because the trailer makes it look like a top notch action thriller and it stars Ryan Gosling along with a sensational supporting cast, be prepared to get a whole lot more than you bargained for. It is with the utmost encouragement I urge you to stay in your seat when it becomes apparent this isn't exactly what it was made to look like in that trailer. Yes, it is a story centered around a stunt driver who also moonlights as a getaway driver and becomes entangled with the mob after growing affectionate for a woman. What it is not is the conventional Hollywood action flick and it isn't designed for the ADD generation. This is a carefully crafted, greatly directed piece of art with a film noir coating. It is reminiscent of a 70's action film that is glossed over with an electro-pop 80's soundtrack. From the opening chase and neon pink title credits the audience is given a taste of what this movie will feel like to experience. And it is just that, a true experience. This is a film all about tone and director Nicolas Winding Refn pins it perfectly. The story is rather standard gangster fare, but that tone, the composition, and overall direction make this the coolest movie of the year, if not one of the best.

Star Wars: A Recollection

There is no greater an influence on me than the "Star Wars" saga. Throughout jr. high, high school, and college I have always looked at the stories as a place of inspiration. Watching making-of documentaries of the original trilogy and the individual ones we were given on the prequel DVD's over and over. Now, the "Star Wars"  saga is making its way to Blu-ray and in honor of them I decided I might as well rank the films from my favorite down to the black sheep of the series. I was 12 years-old when I was introduced to the world of Jedi's, Droids, and Darth Vader and needless to say, my imagination has never been the same since. It was a transporting experience, a whole new world of planets and galaxies. It was a classic, mythological quest of a boy on a journey to discover who he truly was and I wanted to be along for every minute of the ride. And I was. It may hurt some of you to know "The Phantom Menace" was my introduction to the world of "Star Wars" but at that stage in my life it was mind blowing (and I actually loved that film and the impression it left on me). I immediately went home and begged my mom and dad to get me the orginal trilogy. I officially became a dork at that point, but I didn't really care. It was a fascinating universe that came from the mind of one man. Though now many look at Geroge Lucas as the guy who ruined their childhoods because of his constant tinkering with the films, more specifically the originals, I can't help but appreciate what he did and in a way can't blame him for constantly wanting to improve his life's work. To the point though, here is the list...

6. Attack of the Clones

I can't hardly pretend to even like the second installment of Lucas's saga. This should have been the pivotal chapter, the one where we see Anakin show glimpses of change from innocent child to that of a disturbed young man who can't seem to find a balance between anger and passion. The film is plagued by Lucas's obsession with CGI and ends up making this look like a cheap space opera. Whereas "The Phantom Menace" still felt grounded in a reality even if it was far, far, away, "Attack of the Clones" was like a poorly written afternoon cartoon performed on green screen. The opening chase sequence through Coruscant seemed like a lazy excuse to infuse some excitement and the addition of a young Jango Fett seemed unnecessary. The beginning of the clone wars and the epic final battle between the Jedi and federation droids in a coliseum like setting is the highlight here, but it is all overshadowed by the wooden romance and wedding of Anakin and Amidala. What really brought the prequel trilogy down as a whole though first appeared in "Attack of the Clones": Hayden Christensen. I would take Jar Jar over that guy any day.

5. The Phantom Menace

Like I said in the opening, this was my introduction to the "Star Wars" universe and at the time it was thrilling. In many ways, it still is. I only rank it this low because I did indeed enjoy the other films in the series more than Episode I, but I never understood why there was such a sense of dread around this one. Yea, in hindsight I can see how Jake Lloyd isn't the best child actor and of course, I get how Jar Jar completely takes away from an otherwise very serious movie, but as an introductory course to "Star Wars" this supplied a new generation with inspiration to seek out the history of what they had just experienced. So, if anything give the film credit for referencing countless young ones to the original series. Still, I found much of this film really enjoyable, the pod race was thrilling and to this day I think the lightsaber battle at the end of this one is the best that has ever been put to film. Not to mention, Darth Maul, while limited in screen time was the most threatening of evildoers I had ever seen on screen before. For me, his physical appearance outweighed the intimidation factor Darth Vader carried, plus the guy was sick with a double-edged saber. for me, "Phantom Menace" is a piece of childhood and no matter how many fans will criticize it, I can't help but love it.

4. Return of the Jedi

Upon delving into the original series I initially thought of "Return of the Jedi" as my favorite. It had Luke going all full on Jedi mode and it had Leia in the gold bikini as well as the simple advantage of being the final film in the series. It would connect all the dots, tie up all the loose ends and no doubt offer thrills along the way. Too bad it also had things like Ewoks in it. Like Jar Jar, these furry little creatures offset the tone of the film and detract in a major way. The opening is great as we find Luke back on Tatooine and looking to free Han and Leia from Jabba. We know going in he will again come face to face with his father and they will settle their dispute once and for all. It is by no means a bad movie, and to this day, I still enjoy "Jedi" very much, but you might notice that "Revenge of the Sith" will rank above it. This is done mainly because for the most part, I find them to be equals. It is just that after seeing "Sith" everything in "Jedi" becomes amplified so much more. The underlying emotions of the dynamic between Luke and Vader as well as being able to see how far Anakin has distanced himself from his young jedi he once was and to see returning glimpses of the man he could have been. This is somewhat achieved by "Jedi" as a stand alone film, but I guarantee you if you watch "Sith" just before this one, it will feel all the more epic.

3. Revenge of the Sith

No one will dispute the fact that this is the best of the prequel trilogy. I certainly won't. As much as I don't mind defending "Phantom" I can't deny that the finale is easily the best film of the series. It has an overall darker tone and Lucas doesn't throw in any gags here to take away from it (unless you count Christensen's acting). The film solidifies that Ewan McGregor was the best thing about the prequels as his Obi-Wan Kenobi is the rock of which the original series grows from, McGregor served as a credible talent that makes Lucas's dialogue sound common, whereas everyone else is almost stiff as a board. Even Natalie Portman, who I enjoyed most in "Phantom" isn't able to stir up any real chemistry with Anakin. I had hoped that there awkward relationship would grow and develop between "Clones" and "Sith", but no. It is more stale than ever here. Good thing this too has the advantage of being the final film in the trilogy and answers questions "Star Wars" fans have been wanting to know the answers to since 1983. We get to see the physical transformation of Anakin to Vader as well as great, moody scenes in which Anakin slowly becomes the scariest guy in the universe. The final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin was all we expected and John Williams score is more powerful than ever here. It is a fitting addition to the "Star Wars" canon, too bad the feeling that it could have been better had Lucas cast another actor in the most pivotal role of all time will always remain.

2. A New Hope

Close, but no cigar. The original film, the one that started it all ranks second on my list. Of course, the introduction to this world and the film that changed the landscape of cinema from that point on is a national treasure and is literally one I could watch over and over. The chronicling of seeing Luke, ignorant of his past, yearn to leave Tatooine as he re-connects with Obi-Wan is thrilling and meeting Han Solo now feels like something of legend. The film moves at a perfect pace and connects the different plot points with just the right timing. It is nothing short of magical, and not just because of the stigma that surrounds it now, but because it truly is a great movie. It is an action adventure, a coming of age story. It has something for everyone and more importantly can relate to every young child in the audience. It was the first blockbuster, it was the first film to portray a futuristic world as not being all sleek and shiny. It used old archetypes of fantasy such as knigths, princesses and evil witches and placed them in a different universe. Getting to the bottom of it, "Star Wars" was simply innovative. It is a piece of history and though it is not at the top of the list, I would have no problem saying that if you are to ever only see one "Star Wars" film, then see "A New Hope". It is nothing short of classic.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

With time, and in retrospect, it is easy to see why "The Empire Strikes Back" is the clear winner when it comes to deciding what the best "Star Wars" film is. It is the bridge between "Hope" and "Jedi" that is also the darkest of the first trilogy. "Empire" is segmented into very distinct parts and each section is a distinct achievement in all that is good about this saga. The war between the galactic empire and the rebellion alliance rages on and besides the grand opening battle on the snow covered climate of a planet in the Hoth system, we are introduced to Yoda as Luke travels to Dagobah and Han and Leia visit what is probably my favorite world in all of the Lucas universe: cloud city. "Empire" simply feels like such a complex and interesting film. It is intense to a degree none of the other films could touch. This quality of tone I mainly attribute to the film being under the direction of Irvin Kershner. Following Vader as he becomes more determined to track down Luke and of course the startling revelation that he is indeed Luke's father combine to form the most compelling of this space opera's episode's. It is strange to think that the first installment nor the final one doesn't resonate most with the fans, but instead is this middle tale with an unresolved plot that stands out as the best of the series. It is the gold standard for sequels, and every time you watch it is a guarantee you will be left yearning for more "Star Wars".

Star Wars: A Recollection

There is no greater an influence on me than the "Star Wars" saga. Throughout jr. high, high school, and college I have always looked at the stories as a place of inspiration. Watching making-of documentaries of the original trilogy and the individual ones we were given on the prequel DVD's over and over. Now, the "Star Wars"  saga is making its way to Blu-ray and in honor of them I decided I might as well rank the films from my favorite down to the black sheep of the series. I was 12 years-old when I was introduced to the world of Jedi's, Droids, and Darth Vader and needless to say, my imagination has never been the same since. It was a transporting experience, a whole new world of planets and galaxies. It was a classic, mythological quest of a boy on a journey to discover who he truly was and I wanted to be along for every minute of the ride. And I was. It may hurt some of you to know "The Phantom Menace" was my introduction to the world of "Star Wars" but at that stage in my life it was mind blowing (and I actually loved that film and the impression it left on me). I immediately went home and begged my mom and dad to get me the orginal trilogy. I officially became a dork at that point, but I didn't really care. It was a fascinating universe that came from the mind of one man. Though now many look at Geroge Lucas as the guy who ruined their childhoods because of his constant tinkering with the films, more specifically the originals, I can't help but appreciate what he did and in a way can't blame him for constantly wanting to improve his life's work. To the point though, here is the list...

CONTAGION Review

Having only seen most of Director Steven Soderbergh's more mainstream films and completely adoring his last one, "The Informant" I was happy to see him back on the grid and creating blockbusters with substance. That is exactly what he has done here with "Contagion". A film based around a rapidly spreading disease and the countless avenues with which it affects humanity is chronicled in a way that doesn't result to showing cities of mass hysteria and cliched shots of streets filled with the sick searching for a way out. Instead, it follows several story lines, giving a well rounded view of the epidemic while constantly feeling personal. Soderbergh hits the ground running from the opening sequence and never lets up. His pacing allows each storyline to unfold with a different take on the situation that contrasts the one just prior enough to the point that we never feel as if we know everything about what is going on either, or how deadly this disease might actually be. It is certainly a smart film, but it is one that operates in such a way that we are compelled to pay attention to the details because the frightening aspect of the film is that it is completely plausible. This is a solid film, and engaging thriller, but above anything it is a well made piece of entertainment that is also the most realistic of accounts were something like this to actually occur.

Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) wants to know what
killed his wife. Too bad the doctor doesn't know.
We are only taken out of this reality with the appearance of so many familiar faces. Soderbergh has enlisted many of today's top actors in his overlapping tale of how this airborne virus can take lives just as quick as you might realize you have contracted it. The story begins with Gwyneth Paltrow's Beth Emhoff as she returns from a trip to Hong Kong. She is the first clear case that results in death. She is quickly followed by others in which Soderbergh uses split screens that allow the narrative to effectively illustrate how quickly and how wide the disease can in fact travel. Matt Damon shows up as Beth's husband who seems to be immune to the disease. We also have Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, a major player at the center for disease control who heads the investigation that is looking to put a stop to the virus. He assigns Kate Winslet to Chicago were Emhoff resided to begin looking at where the disease could have originated. At the same time we have Marion Cotillard in Hong Kong looking for the same things. Jude Law is a blogger determined to undermine the big corporations of the world and deliver the truth about the disease and its cure to his loyal followers. Bryan Cranston and the impressive Jennifer Ehle show up in smaller roles, Ehle (who bears a striking resemblance to Meryl Streep) is especially effective here as a researcher who tests a possible cure on herself. In more interesting yet intriguing bits of casting both Demetri Martin and Elliott Gould show up in brief, but critical moments and even John Hawkes appears in a few scenes as a janitor at the CDC.

Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin
Mears (Kate Winslet) discuss a quickly spreading.
deadly new virus.
That may sound all too complicated in such a brief description, but rest assured that under the guiding hand of such a talented filmmaker as Soderbergh we are given a fully developed world that is immensely detailed. More than anything he gives us good reason to never touch a public surface again. It is with each tap, slide, or grasp of a handlebar or door knob, the peanuts at a bar, the hands of another that Soderbergh so closely zeroes in on that it brings the awareness of how easily his subject matter could easily become the pandemic it eventually does. He creates a sense of not fear, but almost panic in the audience that you will no doubt be giving ugly looks to those you hear coughing to close to you from now on. There is no other way to describe it than compelling, carefully crafted cinema. The single detraction of the film is the seemingly distanced relationships we establish with the characters. In the way that having multiple story lines allows us to see several points of view of a global issue it also takes away in some regard as we get to know a few of these characters rather well and sometimes wish for more time to be spent with them rather than leaving to give time to a lesser plot line. This is especially true in terms of Damon's Mitch Emhoff who finds purpose in his daughter from a previous marriage. His sense of immunity to the virus allows him the advantage of doing what is right and not only looking out for himself, but in looking out for his loved one he becomes our focal protagonist. Fishburne is also in fine form here and had it gone back and forth between his and Damon's characters I believe I would have been fine with that. Still, without the numerous plot threads it might not have been as consistent with holding its audience over pins and needles.

Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) protests Dr. Cheever's
efforts to find a cure for the disease.
There are certainly the advantages and disadvantages of going either way with this, but Soderbergh no doubt weighed his options and this was clearly the more effective way to shoot the film, and I can trust that completely. I've read that the screenplay was a collaboration between Scott Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Informant) and several doctors with which he consulted. That the virus in the film is one based on some traits of the Nipah virus from Malaysia in the late 1990s which spread from pigs to farmers. If that doesn't add some credibility and real interest for you to seek out the film and give it a shot, I'm not sure what will. Being part thriller, part procedural drama as well as giving glimpses into the lives and emotional strain this causes on families and co workers, "Contagion" is no doubt one of the smartest blockbusters this year. It won't likely garner much Oscar talk, and never comes off as a film that was made for that purpose but I would think it smart for the Academy to take a closer look at films outside the average oscar bait genres, this certainly deserves the respect and earned the right with its tight screenplay, well acted ensemble and nearly flawless direction. Before the film, we were served a trailer featuring Soderbergh's next feature, "Haywire". Now having seen what he's done with the fast spreading epidemic premise, I can't wait to see what he does with the rogue CIA agent one.


CONTAGION Review

Having only seen most of Director Steven Soderbergh's more mainstream films and completely adoring his last one, "The Informant" I was happy to see him back on the grid and creating blockbusters with substance. That is exactly what he has done here with "Contagion". A film based around a rapidly spreading disease and the countless avenues with which it affects humanity is chronicled in a way that doesn't result to showing cities of mass hysteria and cliched shots of streets filled with the sick searching for a way out. Instead, it follows several story lines, giving a well rounded view of the epidemic while constantly feeling personal. Soderbergh hits the ground running from the opening sequence and never lets up. His pacing allows each storyline to unfold with a different take on the situation that contrasts the one just prior enough to the point that we never feel as if we know everything about what is going on either, or how deadly this disease might actually be. It is certainly a smart film, but it is one that operates in such a way that we are compelled to pay attention to the details because the frightening aspect of the film is that it is completely plausible. This is a solid film, and engaging thriller, but above anything it is a well made piece of entertainment that is also the most realistic of accounts were something like this to actually occur.

RED STATE Review

I like Kevin Smith, why wouldn't I? The guy is an inspired writer and competent filmmaker. No matter the missteps he has had over the years and despite his odd venture into what felt like more mainstream comedy last year with "Cop Out" I still look at the guy as a reliable source of entertainment. It is clear he is still just as much a fan of film himself that he is excited he has the opportunity to create his own. For those of you who are not aware, Mr. Smith mostly dips his toes in the comedy pool only ever so often taking a stab at more dramatic topics as with "Chasing Amy" or even "Jersey Girl". With his latest though Mr. Smith goes in a completely opposite direction and tries his hand at the horror film. Though "Red State" turns out to be more violent than it is scary it is still a rather interesting and entertaining ride even if it only clocks in at a mere hour and twenty-eight minutes. There is much room for exploration and further character development but Smith keeps things brief and to the point except for one extended scene that anchors the most frightening aspect of the film: the religious extremist who is essentially a terrorist operating in our own backyards.

Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) makes some pretty
serious presumptions as to how God thinks.
Smith has always been interested in stirring the religious pot and with "Red State" he does so in the form of taking a Fred Phelps like personality and putting him front and center for both ridicule as well as a sense of showmanship that makes the audience gawk at his actions. The premise is intriguing as anyone who has no doubt seen news reports of the ridiculous actions these types of pastors and their followers take. Whether it be picketing at military funerals or gay pride events one has to wonder what, in the eyes of God, could possibly justify such actions. What train of thought, in any walk of life, makes those actions right? Smith attempts to shed light on this by introducing us to Abin Cooper, a Reverend at the Five Points church whose main theology seems to be that of hating the gays. As played by Michael Parks, he is a charismatic man, but never sways us to understand his point of view. He is a misguided individual whose mind we know will never change. He is indeed the source of most of the scares "Red State" conjures up.

Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun beg for their
lives at the mercy of Abin Cooper's church.
What elevates the film above a simple direct-to-dvd horror flick though is not only its controversial topic but the caliber of talent Smith has gathered for his little experiment. Melissa Leo shows up as a follower of Cooper's, a woman of devotion that Leo is able to make not simply a supporting character, but an anchor for the belief system, a credible example of how the world view can integrate itself into every aspect of these peoples lives. Then we have old pro's such as John Goodman, Kevin Pollak, and Stephen Root who are absent for good chunks of the film do fine work as law officials, Goodman getting most of the screen time here as our main protagonist and the best source of a moral compass this film can offer. While on the other side of things, the film is set up by three young men, Kyle Gallner (A Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)) who is a horror film vet at this point. Michael Angarano who you may recognize from kid flicks like "Sky High" or "The Forbidden Kingdom" as well as Nicholas Braun who co-starred in "Sky High" and has since been in tons of TV shows. The three teenage boys give in to the horrible decision of traveling outside of town for some sexual escapades with a much older woman only to be made an example of by Cooper and his congregation. It is a clean set-up and induces a panic in its audience that is hard to shake in the moment, but once we hit the middle section of the film its as if Smith hit a wall himself and wasn't sure how to execute the story from there.

Joseph Kennan (John Goodman) wakes to a
disturbing phone call.
Needless to say, the payoff is important and instead of delving into the avenues that have caused the church to stay in power or exemplify the ways in which it affects the surrounding community we are given a shoot out and a thesis as to why these kinds of religious nuts don't deserve to live themselves. It is hard for Smith to be subtle when it comes to getting his thoughts across and that becomes evident in the second half of "Red State". Instead of allowing the story to give substance to the reasoning Smith offers in his script he has Goodman make life or death decisions, gives us well executed and manic like chase scenes that look great and gives the audience enough tension to squirm a little, but they never mean anything. That kind of evoked response may work for some horror films, but when one is tackling a subject matter that is as not only controversial, but as interesting as this it is hard not to want more. The film could have easily been a little longer and developed more of a conflict between not only church and state but church and everyone else. The audience wouldn't mind either, because despite Smith's limited dialogue, the actual story deserves to be more fleshed out than it has been. I enjoyed "Red State" at certain points, it drove home its point, but it didn't disturb me in the way I'm sure Smith initially hoped it would.


RED STATE Review

I like Kevin Smith, why wouldn't I? The guy is an inspired writer and competent filmmaker. No matter the missteps he has had over the years and despite his odd venture into what felt like more mainstream comedy last year with "Cop Out" I still look at the guy as a reliable source of entertainment. It is clear he is still just as much a fan of film himself that he is excited he has the opportunity to create his own. For those of you who are not aware, Mr. Smith mostly dips his toes in the comedy pool only ever so often taking a stab at more dramatic topics as with "Chasing Amy" or even "Jersey Girl". With his latest though Mr. Smith goes in a completely opposite direction and tries his hand at the horror film. Though "Red State" turns out to be more violent than it is scary it is still a rather interesting and entertaining ride even if it only clocks in at a mere hour and twenty-eight minutes. There is much room for exploration and further character development but Smith keeps things brief and to the point except for one extended scene that anchors the most frightening aspect of the film: the religious extremist who is essentially a terrorist operating in our own backyards.

WARRIOR Review

I don't hesitate to say that I didn't have much interest in "Warrior" upon seeing its first trailer. It looked to be a somewhat cheesy inspirational story based around the consistently growing in popularity sport that is mixed martial arts. Suffice to say, it is definitely an inspiring film and one that rivals last years "The Fighter" as a down and out great film in the realm of fighting movies. It makes you feel the same way those who saw "Rocky" when it first came out no doubt did. It may not end up being the heavy Oscar contender that "The Fighter" was and no it certainly doesn't have Christian Bale in a whirlwind performance, but Nick Nolte comes pretty close and both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton deliver powerful, while polar opposite performances that not only make this a moving sports film, but a family drama that builds to a point where the sport is simply a metaphor for the struggle and pain that has burdened these brothers for years.

Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) trains with his estranged
father (Nick Nolte) in "Warrior". 
Director Gavin O'Connor who also helped pen the screenplay really puts the emphasis on the characters here rather than the sport at the center of it. This not only allows for the amazing fight scenes he has composed to magnify how strongly the need to win weighs upon both brothers shoulders but it also makes for a film that is just as tough emotionally as it is physically. As Tommy, Tom Hardy is a bruiting, silent monster that has seen nothing but bad times since he fled from his father and brother with his mom when he was younger. After years of not knowing or keeping in touch with either his father or his brother Brendan. Tommy shows up on his old mans doorstep asking for a trainer. His motives are unclear, his intentions even more muddied but the moment we see him enter a Pittsburgh practice ring its obvious the guy has some serious skill. As the recovering alcoholic father who clearly never treated their mother right Nick Nolte is a man on a quest for redemption. He knows he has not led a life to be proud of, but he is trying and he is only looking for a break. Nolte, renders a heartbreaking performance here, seeking only forgiveness from the son he let abandon him and the one that stayed behind to win his approval. That O'Connor develops the relationships with both sons to the point his final shot boils over with redemption is a true testament to both Nolte's performance and the craft of the storyteller.

Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and Brendan Conlon
(Joel Edgerton) face some tough decisions.
On the other side of Tommy and their father we have Brendan, a family man and high school physics teacher who can't make ends meet and is ultimately given no other choice but to return to his old stomping grounds as an MMA fighter. As Brendan, Edgerton is more than able and it is refreshing to see him getting some well deserved attention after years of bit parts and a breakout role in last years "Animal Kingdom". Edgerton is a talented actor and portrays the difficult task of the underdog into a completely believable fighter who deserves to be competing at the level his brother and their opponents have reached. It is with the biggest winner-takes-all MMA tournament in history called "Sparta" and a cash prize of five million that draws the two estranged brothers to the same arena. It never comes off as convoluted as it might sound, in fact it unfolds at such a nice pace the anticipation to see them duke it out and the tension with which relationships are pushed is a true cause for any audience member to be biting at their finger nails. The angles with which the writers use to motivate both characters for winning their respective bouts and the way in which they round out the mysterious Tommy come in perfect stride and are both so selfless it is hard to really root for one brother over the other. It is this special weapon that separates "Warrior" as a standard sports flick.

Tommy and Brendan's troubled history finally
comes to a boiling point.
Going into the final showdown between Tommy and Brendan (which you know happens if you've seen the preview, no spoilers here) I genuinely couldn't decide which way the movie might sway. You won't find the answer here either, but to its credit the film creates such understandable circumstances and reasons you could root for either and down to that last minute you are wondering what the outcome might be. Sure Brendan is pegged as the underdog, the one who wasn't supposed to make it past the first round (and cheers to the writers for not giving him the easiest path to the championship bout either). Then you have Tommy, his motivation is less clear and his attitude has been questionable which at certain times allowed you to feel like he would be easy to root against, but Hardy is such a gifted actor, that he barely speaks a line of dialogue and you can feel his pain, his insecurity, and his remorse. Both of their desire's to win override any sense of brotherhood, they fight to survive not just to claim a title. It is that reasoning, that drive that will make you stick with "Warrior" till the end and then leave you wanting more. It should seriously be noted that Nolte deserves recognition for his role here and as far as figuring out who wins in the end, well, you'll just have to see it to find out. Trust me when I say, it's totally worth it.


WARRIOR Review

I don't hesitate to say that I didn't have much interest in "Warrior" upon seeing its first trailer. It looked to be a somewhat cheesy inspirational story based around the consistently growing in popularity sport that is mixed martial arts. Suffice to say, it is definitely an inspiring film and one that rivals last years "The Fighter" as a down and out great film in the realm of fighting movies. It makes you feel the same way those who saw "Rocky" when it first came out no doubt did. It may not end up being the heavy Oscar contender that "The Fighter" was and no it certainly doesn't have Christian Bale in a whirlwind performance, but Nick Nolte comes pretty close and both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton deliver powerful, while polar opposite performances that not only make this a moving sports film, but a family drama that builds to a point where the sport is simply a metaphor for the struggle and pain that has burdened these brothers for years.

APOLLO 18 Review

The quick, easy way to describe "Apollo 18" is "Paranormal Activity" in space, and for the most part that would be right. This lost in space angle for the lost footage genre isn't as interesting as I had originally hoped it would be, and while it isn't all bad it certainly isn't something to write home about either. What makes the "Paranormal" movies work so well is there grounding in an honest environment from beginning all the way to that slow burning conclusion. With having these kind of happenings occur in a place where it might not be as hard to believe results in a movie we have seen one too many of this year: the alien invasion movie. Sure, there is always going to be films exploring the "what ifs" of space but this honest attempt to turn that premise on its head, while succeeding in a good number of areas, doesn't leave the viewer with a feeling of satisfaction. And so, we are left to wonder about what we weren't told and while that too may sound like a good indication that the film doesn't divulge too much the way most films tend to do, it doesn't mean it leaves us asking questions in a good way. I can applaud the makers of this for trying something interesting with this kind of genre mash up between alien movies and lost video footage horror, but this may have honestly worked better as a full fledged Hollywood production.

Were it to have been given a well rounded story with a definitive beginning and end with more perspective all while keeping its good use of restraint intact this could have been one of the more innovative movies concerning aliens this year. Given this isn't an alien invasion film in its truest sense of the word, it is still a story centered around a secret mission to the moon where the three astronauts at its core come in contact with something not of human origin. That sound intriguing? I agree and that is why despite the lack of critical buzz or promotion for this film period I had hoped it might prove to defy the odds. Where "Apollo 18" goes wrong though is the actual limitations it has placed upon itself. There are certain places, areas of this story that need to be more explored, need to be complete in order for this to actually make an audience feel as if they've been given their money's worth and while I can appreciate the directors commitment to staying as true to his format as he has done, I can't forgive not delivering as good a story as could have been had those limitations not been set. Find a way around them, return to "lost" interviews with officials after the so-called lost footage was discovered. If there is a will there is certainly a way, but there is ultimately no will behind the scenes of "Apollo 18" because it could have easily been so much more.

I know it seems as if I am staying focused on this one glitch of the film failing as a result of trying to capitalize on the "real footage" deal but it honestly is where the problem lies. The movie has fine, unknown actors in its lead roles who we buy as the early seventies cosmonauts without question and it does indeed contain a few jumps even if they do seem a bit too standard for what could have been created with that never-ending environment. The movie even goes as far as to give these astronauts little obituaries at the end while giving a website to where this footage was originally uploaded to. The credits are delayed and the cast is all uncredited. We get it, you are trying to make it as real as possible but for the sake of a great premise and not just that, but great promise, someone adapt this into a feature film rather than making a safe bet with this five million production. There truly isn't much more to say when it comes to "Apollo 18". It is more of a tedious watch than anything, and even when it does find a nice pace in the middle we can't help but know in the back of our minds that this isn't real. That the movie doesn't engulf its audience to the point they are taken out of the hoax should have been sign one this wasn't going to work like they thought it would.


APOLLO 18 Review

The quick, easy way to describe "Apollo 18" is "Paranormal Activity" in space, and for the most part that would be right. This lost in space angle for the lost footage genre isn't as interesting as I had originally hoped it would be, and while it isn't all bad it certainly isn't something to write home about either. What makes the "Paranormal" movies work so well is there grounding in an honest environment from beginning all the way to that slow burning conclusion. With having these kind of happenings occur in a place where it might not be as hard to believe results in a movie we have seen one too many of this year: the alien invasion movie. Sure, there is always going to be films exploring the "what ifs" of space but this honest attempt to turn that premise on its head, while succeeding in a good number of areas, doesn't leave the viewer with a feeling of satisfaction. And so, we are left to wonder about what we weren't told and while that too may sound like a good indication that the film doesn't divulge too much the way most films tend to do, it doesn't mean it leaves us asking questions in a good way. I can applaud the makers of this for trying something interesting with this kind of genre mash up between alien movies and lost video footage horror, but this may have honestly worked better as a full fledged Hollywood production.

My Top 5 of Summer '11

With the end of August we can officially say the 2011 summer movie season has come to an end. I have yet to see a few smaller films that either didn't make it to lil ol' Arkansas or were here for too short a time for me to catch in their theatrical run, most namely "The Tree of Life" that I have no doubt would be on this list if not at the very top of it. There is also the said to be lovely "Beginners" and the very intriguing "Devil's Double" that I may view sooner than later. The Summer movie season is about big, vast, epic movies though that are mainly inspired by comic books or old TV shows. They might be remakes or sequels or even re-boots but while none of the super heroes made my list this year it doesn't mean they weren't any good. Marvel turned out three solid films in "Thor", "X-Men: First Class", and "Captain America" while DC floundered with "The Green Lantern". "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" was better than "Revenge of the Fallen" but it was still a Michael Bay movie while "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" may have been the seasons biggest surprise. The feast of R-rated comedies could be split right down the middle between good and bad. No family movies made the list as Pixar put out its first critical flop in "Cars 2" and live action family films like "Mr. Poppers Penguins", "Zookeeper", and "Spy Kids 4" failed to attract audiences. There was too much 3D, not enough originality, and far too many projects that promised to be so much more than that final product actually delivered (here's lookin at you "Cowboys & Aliens). What follows is a list of my five favorite films this summer that didn't just meet my expectations, but were the exception to the rule when it came to exceeding them.

5. Bridesmaids

There have been plenty of gross out, one-note, raunchy comedies this summer. With "Horrible Bosses" coming in a close second behind my number five pick and the about average "Bad Teacher" and "30 Minutes or Less" paving the way for less successful endeavors like "The Change-Up" this summer has seen a wide variety of funny. And though I rather enjoyed "The Hangover Part II" if not just because I like hanging with those guys, I'll admit ignoring the fact it was a carbon copy of the first films story. After all the laughs (or lack thereof) have settled though, it is clear that "Bridesmaids" is the best comedy of the summer. As Annie, Kristin Wiig is a woman suffering from the effects of the recession. Having invested all her money in a failed bakey, she now works at a jewelry shop. She lives with two weird British siblings, she is nothing but a booty call to a man she really wants to have a relationship with (a hilarious Jon Hamm), and her best friend, Lillian has just asked her to take on all of the responsibility of being her maid of honor. Wiig turns in a star making performance that will make her a box office pull for many years to come, and deservedly so. Wiig is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast as well including a contender for "it" girl of the year Rose Byrne, the always endearing Maya Rudolph, and of course Melissa McCarthy who steals every scene she walks in on. If anything though, "Bridesmaids" was a refreshing break from standard rom coms flooding the cineplexes. You know what I mean if you saw "Something Borrowed" the week before this was released. It was nice to see a comedy with real women that didn't talk down to us and play out in a world where everyone wears white and has plenty of money while working at a job that clearly wouldn't support such habits. Instead, "Bridesmaids" is anything but, its dirty, honest, and rough; all of which lend to making it the best comedy of the summer.

4. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Picking up where we left off with "Bridesmaids", my fourth favorite film of the summer is the best pure romantic comedy that has come out in a long, long time. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" though essentially a story many have compared to Will Smith's "Hitch" is elevated beyond that by the incredible cast and the way in which this looks at the emotion of love as more than an object to be manipulated and one that truly defines how we want to live our lives. Headed up by Steve Carell, an actor I believe is to be truly traesured. His sincerity and understanding of what an audience based in reality wants is all the more reason to love everything about his character. No matter how big a name he becomes, we always feel a relatability to him letting us know that besides the fame, money, and comedic chops he is just like all of us. He makes us feel comfortable and that is something not too many movie stars can claim. With that everyman persona ready and set we are introduced to Cal, a man who has become set in life, relaxed in his setting and a father that exudes love and understanding with his children even if at the moment we are introduced to him we witness the breakdown of his 25-year marriage to his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). That divorce leads to the introduction of Ryan Gosling's Jacob who decides to take on Cal's sorry butt and transform him into a suave ladies man. While Carell anchors the film it is Gosling who is the real revelation here turning in a fine comedic performance that seems to have solidified his star power. Emma Stone is pitch perfect here, not to mention this is only her first of two appearances on this list, as is Marissa Tomei in a brief, but hilarious role. What is most satisfying about this film though is the fact we never feel forced into a situation the way so many romantic comedies seem to do us these days, but most importantly we fall for these characters. With multiple story lines all involving relationships and feelings at drastically different stages we get a full and satisfying picture of what a crazy and stupid emotion love can truly be.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

It was hard for me to not put this at the top of the list. For the simple fact I have loved "Harry Potter" since opening the pages of "The Sorcerer's Stone" so many years ago. Growing up with these characters on screen has only enhanced my love for J.K. Rowlings world and in the summer of 2011 it all came to a crashing end with the final film adaptation finally hitting the silver screen. It was with an almost peaceful sadness I bid farewell to one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Peaceful in that we as an audience and the characters were sent off with a soft, tranquil, almost melancholy feel yet it is with deep sadness we know we will never get to visit those characters again. From the wonderfully executed Gringotts break-in sequence to that final stand-off between Harry and Voldemort, "The Deathly Hallows Part 2" hardly stopped to take a breather, but it never felt overloaded and each large action sequence was filled with more meaning and substance than any cinephile could ask for out of a big budget hollywood film. It was packed to the brim with action, loaded down with emotional punches and we mere muggles should just be happy that such credible and high quality films were made out of what is no doubt one of the best literary works of many generations. I cannot imagine the disappointment I would have felt had these film adaptations been turned into mainstream Hollywood money-grubbers, and can appreciate how lucky we are as an audience to have been given eight films that have truly been cared about enough to justify that source material to the loyal and devoted fans as well as being strong enough to convert others who would never have picked up one of the books. Harry Potter ends just the way it should, our three heroes, still friends and defining the meaning of that friendship in a touching epilogue that tells the audience things will be okay, even if we know we will never catch a glimpse of them on the big screen again.

2. The Help

I was a bit angry at myself for not reading the book on which my number two film is based before seeing the big screen version. Since seeing it though I have purchased the book and intend to read it once the memory of the movie is not as strong in my mind. That way I can hopefully appreciate the book for what it is on its own terms. Problem is, I'm having a hard time forgetting about how greatly "The Help" impacted me. I went into Emma Stone's second film on this list expecting a quality film but I didn't expect to see one of the most moving motion pictures I've seen in years. I can only hope that as we make our way into the crowded fall movie season that all the Oscar hopefuls soon to be hitting screens don't cloud our minds to the point we forget about what a great movie this is and how much it deserves serious recognition. Not just for the craft with which it was made or the skill with which it is performed but the fact of WHY it was made. To tell this story, to recognize our faults, and to feel truly inspired are traits in a movie we don't see very often and "The Help" has all of them. Much of the complaints around this film have concerned it making light of a very serious subject and to be honest with you,I simply don't see where those who think that are getting it from. Being a darker film doesn't make it more true. "The Help" does indeed evoke a lifestyle many in this country never knew existed and to tell that story from the point of view of those having first hand experience with true hatred allows the film to be, in parts, extremely moving and hard to swallow. It might offer just as many laughs as it does moments of harsh reality and moving sentiments but for me, that showed how well-rounded this film truly is. We never feel as if we are being preached to, but instead we are experiencing the strength of a select few individuals and how courage, in the most credible of ways, is something no one is born with but instead is a choice you have to make when the consequences of displaying such a trait are unknown. God, I hope Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer get some statues.

1. Midnight in Paris

I am by no means a big fan of Woody Allen films. In fact, most of the time I try to avoid them due to the stigma they have attached to them lately that is due to the filmmaker getting more attention and not necessarily the particular film he has produced that year. Sure, I will check out the ones that seem more highly praised than others. I saw "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" as well as the under rated "Cassandra's Dream" but to mess with more recent Allen farces like "Scoop" or "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" seem like they might be somewhat of a waste of time. This may be making me out to sound a little ignorant to the ways and the reasons Allen is so beloved as a filmmaker but trust me, I have seen and do understand the significance of his earlier classics like "Manhattan" and most notably "Annie Hall". I will tell you what I do enjoy though and that is a good Owen Wilson movie. The guy cracks me up and I fell in love with "Midnight in Paris" pretty quickly and not just because of Mr. Allen's incredibly fun and creative script, but also because Wilson is pitch perfect as our main character, Gil, and delivers one of the best performances his career will likely ever see. the idea of getting to mingle with your idols in the era you wish you could have been alive is something we have all no doubt considered. For Gil, Paris in the 1920's is a period and a place of artistic freedom, the center of the world for anyone wanting to do anything associated with the arts. Though it may be disillusioned and the characters may be somewhat more creations of myth rather than what they were really like (Hemingway especially) it doesn't matter because this is How Gil sees it, this is what he wants it to have been like and we relish every sweet minute Gil gets to interact with historical figures from the past that feed his need to be a part of something bigger. I love every movie on this list, but this summer I didn't come out of a movie knowing why I indeed love movies so much as I did after "Midnight in Paris". That feeling alone makes this movie my number one summer pick.