6 Thoughts on Jerry Maguire, 26 Years Later

Virginia and I continued on a torrid pace of movie-watching, this time watching Jerry Maguire with friends on New Year’s Night. One couple had never seen it. I hadn’t seen it in more than a decade, maybe closer to two. Anyway, I reacted to it a little differently than I did back in 1996. Some thoughts — and, spoiler alert, I’m giving it all away. The movie is 26 gosh-darn years old …

1. Let’s start with the biggest one. Jerry never changes. The movie’s big emotional payoff comes at the end, after this NFL agent’s only player/client provides a miraculous performance that forces the ownership’s hand and results in a new, big, deserved contract. Jerry comes home from a road trip he didn’t need to make, and then gets credit for returning. He interrupts the divorced women’s support group held at the home Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) shares with her sister to let her know he’d thought of her during this professional success and that “you complete me.” It’s presented as a seismic (and lasting) shift, but I’m not so sure.

  1. Dorothy gave him the line
  2. He had nowhere else to go, and
  3. Jerry never acknowledged, thanked or appeared to learn anything from the people around him.

At best, Jerry is a glib cad with a killer smile, well versed in a caffeinated, bro version of commitment. He’ll kill for you, as he and every one of his competitors claims, but will he listen to you? Even when he has nothing else to do but listen?

At worst, he’s a relational black hole. Late in the movie, when he and Dorothy are struggling to communicate, her son Ray shows up in their bedroom, jumps into bed, and Jerry places Ray between them and pulls the boy toward him. It registers on Dorothy’s face, and in my head, as “drop that kid. He’s not yours.”

Zellweger and Cruise. Did they learn anything?

2. Cuba Gooding and Regina King are prophets. Or Cassandras. Rod Tidwell is a talented football player looking to be compensated fairly for his efforts. The movie keeps making the point that somehow he has an attitude problem. However, we spend a fair amount of time with Rod on the field and around the locker room, and we never see him do anything that could put off his coaches or teammates. He challenges Jerry, but nobody else. It’s as if a black man demanding a modicum of respect is problematic. Marcee and Rod are a couple we’ve seen plenty in the past quarter-century, people of color supporting each other when nobody else will. Jerry’s climactic scene, the one that I think we’re supposed to see as transformative (for Rod), is when he levels with Rod and tells him to stop complaining and perform. But when hasn’t Rod delivered?!? There’s zero evidence in the film for why he shouldn’t deck Jerry for the comment. But he takes it. 

3. The movie punches down on the women’s support group in a pretty awful way. The group is portrayed as a brood of spinster harpies.  Surely they must be ready to poison the water for Dorothy and Jerry at the first opportunity. But quite the contrary — the women never say a bad thing about Jerry, despite the fact that any observant human beings (including the movie audience) are aware he is not living up to his end of his professed commitment. They would be completely justified to murder him behind his back — and to his face. But they never do. Instead, they’re wholly supportive of Dorothy. Also, why in the world are they present in the final scene? They are framed in the scene as if a jury, there to adjudicate the romantic life of Dolores and Jerry. But they know their place, and they stay the heck out of what they probably see as another drama king move by Jerry. They say nothing, they don’t clap, they don’t boo, they just look awkward — until Jerry moves along and  they can get back to their true business of supporting own another. And the woman who speaks up next is right! It is the best women’s support group they’ve ever been a part of.  

4. The gravity of a child. One thing the movie gets right is that a child can birth a family. Ray certainly does in this movie, providing the relational gravity to keep everything together until the adults can create a sustainable ecosystem. This isn’t just a movie thing. I’ve seen it in real life. That said, again, Jerry is pretty creepy in the way he leans into Ray’s affections. Jerry doesn’t seem to get that Ray loves EVERYBODY. The kid makes friends in the baggage claim at the airport, for Christ’s sake. But Jerry, who mistakes attention for affection, immediately takes a shine to him. And like I said about that scene late in the movie, there is certainly a threatening sense that Jerry might try to win Ray over from his mom if push comes to shove.

5. The precarious perch of professional athletes. The movie comes along after North Dallas Forty and Brian’s Song and other films, but one thing the movie adds to the discussion of the vulnerability of pro athletes is that it’s very clear-headed that the point of doing this is more about generational wealth (the life-changing contract) and less about love of the game. That Rod’s hold-your-breath moment is a head injury, given all we’ve learned in the past decade about concussions and CTE, was prescient, as was the hockey-player’s son who gives Jerry the bird for not looking our for his dad. 

6. One question I’m left with is, if the movie didn’t end where it did, how would things be two months later? Did Rod’s loyalty win Jerry new clients? Is he now flying hither and yon because business is booming? Is Ray asking why he hasn’t seen Jerry in three weeks? Has Bonnie Hunt hired somebody to break Jerry’s legs, or worse?

Maybe I’m too cynical or pessimistic. Maybe Jerry has learned his lesson, THE lesson, and has made his young wife a true partner in their life together. But I’m not sure.

What I am sure is that Dorothy is right when she tells Jerry “you had me at hello.” The movie plays that as a good thing. And it’s right — for Jerry. For everyone else, we could use a sequel, or maybe just a YouTube short.

And another movie … ‘Don’t Look Up’

We continued our movie-watching last night and caught Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay. It is ostensibly about what happens when two scientists (Leo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) discover a comet heading straight at earth. The movie starts out playing it for laughs, then downshifts into an increasingly frustrated, incredulous satire and pretty dispiriting critique of media, politics and humanity. Which isn’t hard these days, right? (After this and Power of the Dog in the past few days, I’m ready for a hah-hah or romantic comedy. Do these get made anymore?)

That said, neither take seems exactly right for this movie. It is high-strung throughout, and its first hour IS funny, but it’s really working hard for the laughs, and the focus on the media world obscures the film’s ability to hone in on  our common failure to address climate change, which I think is what the movie is really about. The media/political critique calls out all the pertinent bugaboos: our inability to agree on a common set of facts, the politicization of and profiting from everything, our inexhaustible talent for putting off any worthy thing. Eventually, there comes a time in Don’t Look Up when the piper plays and bills must be paid, relationships repaired, etc. But by then, it’s pretty late. I’ll say this: at least the film has the courage of its (lack of) convictions.

A few other things:

  • It has an amazing cast — DiCaprio, Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance, Timothee Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett, even Ariana Grande shows up … and a lot of ridiculous hair.  
  • Between this movie and Apple’s Morning Show, I have never missed not watching morning TV any less. Is The Daily Rip supposed to be Morning Joe, or is it a mashup of all morning TV? If the former, how good was Blanchett’s Mika Brezwhatshername imitation? Can someone compare it to Kate McKinnon’s SNL version? (And kudos to Blanchett, who is a real chameleon. Took me an hour to realize that was her. And I knew she was in the movie.)
  • McKay directed Vice and The Big Short, so he knows how to make these movies. No doubt BS is the best of the bunch. He really nailed the tone in that one (as M.G. Siegler points out here). Not so much Don’t Look Up, which I think could have used one of those Xanax’s Lawrence keeps stealing from DiCaprio.
  • Too, too long. Easily could have lost half of the movie’s second half.

‘Dog’ Days of Winter

Virginia and I kicked off our quarantine (a nephew we saw over the Christmas weekend tested positive Sunday for covid, so we’re sitting and waiting to see what arises, like so many others) by watching an actual movie, The Power of the Dog, on Netflix. It’s set in mid-1920s Montana, where two brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons) share a prosperous ranch.

Shortest version of the plot is, on a cattle drive, George Burbank (Plemons) meets a woman, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and falls for her, provoking the ire of brother Phil (Cumberbatch), for reasons (choose any) familial, nostalgic, economic, erotic … it’s complicated. Or it isn’t. And something needs to give. Until it doesn’t. It’s a good watch.

Cumberbatch is getting a lot of buzz as the year ends, and he is good here, but I thought Kodi Smit-McPhee, as Dunst’s son Peter, is even better. It’s a fun game trying to figure out what Peter’s up to. And director Jane Campion churns out a beautifully filmed, patient, and palpably menacing movie that saves a nice little twist for the end — one subtle and ambiguous enough that it gives you something to chew on and discuss afterward.

(To that end, the movie’s title comes from Psalm 22, ostensibly spoken by King David. Worth a read after seeing the movie, if not before.)

One last thing on the ending: It brought to mind Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, I guess because they are both western as a genre and a lot goes unsaid as both close. That said, BM goes all in on all the violence that Dog only threatens, and has one of the greatest ambiguous endings ever in American literature. It’s also proven impervious to attempts to film it.

My Favorite Movies of 2018

Here in 2019, I’ve returned to an annual prompt: my favorite movies of the past year. I didn’t see a whole lot, but here they are, in order from least- to best-liked.

13. Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Blount makes a pretty good Poppins and Lin Manuel-Miranda is a treasure ― but his cockney accent wasn’t very convincing, the plot didn’t hold any of my family’s attention in between the song-and-dance scenes, and the whole thing was 20 minutes too long.

12. Vice

One of my biases is, you better have a good reason to make a movie that lasts more than 120 minutes. Vice didn’t clear that hurdle. It was 2 hours, 12 minutes to establish what I already knew ― Dick Cheney is an asshole. Christian Bale gets points for suffering through a stultifying prosthetic experience, but otherwise this was an unsurprising recapitulation of Cheney’s power-hungry career. If it was supposed to make me feel sympathetic to the guy, it didn’t. The weird interludes that felt fresh in The Big Short feel tired here; Adam McKay feels a bit like a one-trick pony, until he comes up with a new trick.

11. Isle of Dogs

My wife loves Wes Anderson and I’ll give Isle of Dogs this ― it was better than The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The eyes on those dogs are piercing, and it’s fun trying to guess who the voices are from Anderson’s galaxy of collaborators. Otherwise, not a whole lot there.

10. The Notorious RBG

It was a very good documentary, but all I can think now is, Forget the weight-training sessions with the personal trainer; we need to wrap Ruth Bader Ginsberg in bubble-wrap or, better yet, cryogenically freeze her till April 2021. Also, seeing this means I don’t need to see the feature film coming out in early 2019.

9. Mary, Queen of Scots

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robie are very good, but watching this movie is to be reminded that men acting badly is not some recent #MeToo development. There apparently wasn’t a decent fella in all of Scotland in the 16th Century. Also, the film’s pacing is hard to follow ― years go by and Ronan never ages a day. In fact, when her 46-year-old neck is stretched out on the chopping block in 1587, on the order of her “sister” Elizabeth, she looks little different from the 18-year-old who returned to Scotland to reclaim her throne in 1561, albeit with far-less-dramatic hair. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has gone through an elaborate transformation from fetching young woman to a bleached, blanched vessel of state power. The difference in their looks and their demeanors (Mary’s inability to subvert her desire and ambitions vs. Elizabeth’s sad mastery of both) put the lie to the trope that they were the only two people in the world who could understand the other, with the final irony that Mary wins the long game despite losing so many along the way.

8. BlacKkKlansman

This is good Spike Lee, and it’s been a while. I loved the Kwame Ture speech at the beginning and the closing, including the footage from the Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, brings it all full circle. But even the movie poster touted this as “based on a crazy, outrageous, incredible true story” and I really struggled to believe the movie through its middle and unruly end. Not the broad point, that a black police officer in the 1970s managed to infiltrate and expose a local KKK chapter in Colorado Springs, but the idea that the KKK folks can’t distinguish between the voice on the phone and the voice in front of them was hard to accept.

Ryan Gosling’s upcoming film First Man about Neil Armstrong

7. First Man

I’m old enough that I remember the Apollo missions. One of the earliest memories that I can place to a time and location is being in my family’s house in Hazlet, N.J., watching astronauts on the moon. For some reason, my dad had out his reel-to-reel audio recording machine. I don’t know why, in the same way I don’t know how Damien Chazelle, fresh off his Oscar for La La Land, let this one get away from him. The story is so stirring, I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. But somehow the end, which should have had me locked in, instead fell a little flat (and not because it didn’t show an American flag on the moonscape). Chazelle got a little indulgent, included a bit too much of the discomfort of space flight, and it went on just a smidge long ― which is a shame. Ryan Gosling was awesome.

6. The Favourite

I like Olivia Colman a lot (she was great in Broadchurch and The Night Manager), but Rachel Weisz owns this movie. Her Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, is Queen Anne’s oldest friend and deft manipulator. But not the deftest. That title goes to Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill. All three have fun in a very, very saucy comedy, but Weisz’s Sarah ― so mean, so able, and so deserving of a comeuppance ― is the one I found myself rooting for at the end of a too-long 135 minutes. Hail, Churchill!

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I’m usually pretty all-or-nothing with the Coen Brothers. It’s either great (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona, True Grit) or bores me (Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, The Ladykillers). Buster Scruggs, though, landed firmly in the middle, with the six mini-episodes running hot and cold, and netting out to something lukewarm. Loved Zoe Kazan as the anxious pioneer who almost has a happily-ever-after in The Gal Who Got Rattled, and the opening bit with Tim Blake Nelson was funny. But Near Algodones, Meal Ticket, All Gold Canyon and the Mortal Remains all dragged some despite being no more than 20 minutes each. It’s a rarity for me: middle-of-the-road-Coens. And for the record, I’m with The Trapper: People are like ferrets.

4. Roma

Alfonso Cuaron’s very personal film about a maid (Yalitza Aparicio, as Cleo, is magnificent) who cares for a privileged family in 1970s-era Mexico is gorgeously black-and-white and has some beautiful tracking shots. I wish I’d seen it on a big screen. But the thing that has surprisingly stuck with me is empathy for the mom (played by Marina de Tavira) ― abandoned by a cad, struggling to stay afloat and keep the kids cared for and, most movingly, telling them the hard truths that the kids deserve to know about their family while on vacation. Her worst-ever driving skills made me laugh, too. Hang in there, Sofia! Things have to look up soon.

3. Free Solo

I don’t know if it would be possible to watch this documentary by Jimmy Chin if I hadn’t known that Alex Honnold was alive and well. That’s how hair-raising this film is. How Alex does what he does, maneuvering up the sheer granite face of Yosemite’s El Capitan for 4 hours and 3,000 vertical feet without any room for error ― and to see the joy in his face as he goes ever-higher ― is so audacious and harrowing that I never want to know what the dude is up to. Like the film crew, which was operating under no assurance that he wouldn’t slip off the rockface at any moment, I don’t think I could bear it.

2. Black Panther

This movie, which inverts so much racist vitriol and posits the people of a resplendent African nation, who are by turns a) technologically amazing, b) stubbornly tribal, c) proudly progressive, d) haunted by loss and abandonment, and e) courageous and ethical, was a deliriously fun ride. And I want a little of whatever Michael B. Jordan is taking ― his muscles’ muscles have muscles.

1. First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s bleak film about a pastor (Ethan Hawke) who falls into despair over the state of the world is very, very good, and the wild, miraculous ending is great. But what I like best is that the movie served as the topic for one of my favorite church messages of the year, by Frank Zinni, who unblinkingly looked at despair with subtlety and courage. As someone who has had a very vulnerable-feeling year, it was a true gift. The line that stays with me, that Frank credits to the poet David Whyte: “Despair is a season.” More from Whyte:

Despair is strangely, the last bastion of hope; the wish being, that if we cannot be found in the old way we cannot ever be touched or hurt in that way again. Despair is the sweet but illusory abstraction of leaving the body while still inhabiting it, so we can stop the body from feeling anymore. Despair is the place we go when we no longer want to make a home in the world and where we feel, with a beautifully cruel form of satisfaction, that we may never have deserved that home in the first place. Despair, strangely, has its own sense of achievement, and despair, even more strangely, needs despair to keep it alive …

We take the first steps out of despair by taking on its full weight and coming fully to ground in our wish not to be here. We let our bodies and we let our world breathe again. In that place, strangely, despair cannot do anything but change into something else, into some other season, as it was meant to do, from the beginning. Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessary, a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us. A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition. 

Refusing to despair about despair itself, we can let despair have its own natural life and take a first step onto the foundational ground of human compassion, the ability to see and understand and touch and even speak, the heartfelt grief of another.

In a hard year, First Reformed was a movie that almost sunk me, but, in the way that art so often does, lifted me instead.

OK, so I haven’t see a lot …

Here are things I haven’t seen but probably should before doing an honest-to-goodness “Best of” list. As I see some, I’ll slot them above.

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Annihilation
  • Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse
  • A Star Is Born
  • A Quiet Place
  • Eighth Grade
  • Fantastic Beasts
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Bird Box
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  • Green Book
  • Ready Player One

My Favorite Movies of 2017

My friend John Gilpatrick was recently asking me about my favorite movies of last year. Thankfully, I had given it some thought. And I’ve caught a few contenders in the past few weeks.

So here goes:

1. Shape of Water. “Lyrical” is the best word I can use for director Guillermo del Torro’s creation. This film captivated me with its magic-realism ethos and faithful-to-the-‘50s frame. Throughout it all, you could feel del Torro’s assured hand. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon were great, so was Richard Jenkins. And it’s cool they found a use for that old wetsuit from Creature from the Black Lagoon.

2. Lady Bird. From first scene till the end—which had my wife and a friend sniffling in the dark—this movie walked a fine line with humor and grace. Saoirse Ronan was so winning, and Laurie Metcalf so channeled a mom that I could understand and appreciate, if not always endorse. I kept waiting for the spell to break, and it never did.

3. Phantom Thread. Daniel Day Lewis was mesmerizing, but Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville were unflinching in taking up the challenge of acting opposite him. Paul Thomas Anderson took care of all the details—the music is gorgeous—and maintained this cool remove that managed to hold my attention. Still not sure what exactly the “Phantom Thread” of the title was—we discussed over drinks with friends afterward—but it was very, very good.

4. Get Out. I have read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates over the past two years, so the idea that white people put black people’s bodies to use as they see fit isn’t foreign, and yet Jordan Peele’s film lands like a gut punch on  my white male privilege. Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener were very good, and Lil Rev Howery was funny, brave, and gave me a new faith in the TSA. I saw this movie recently and it’s been haunting me a bit, like it should in 2018, I think.

5. The Post. Yeah, it is the movie we need right now, and yeah, it had Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. But I liked Bob Odenkirk’s Bob Bagdikian the best. And maybe it’s because I knew how it ends, I didn’t find all the tension all that tense. Lastly, I had to fight the urge to conflate the Pentagon Papers with Watergate. Yeah, I know they’re related only by time and place. Anyway, put it all together and I liked it, but didn’t love it.


6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film, written and directed by Martin McDonough, was a lot to sort through. Frances McDormand was fearless and great. Woody Harrelson was sympathetic. Sam Rockwell was scary and apparently redeemable. But all in all, I just didn’t believe in much anything the movie did or said. It seemed to use the characters it created as tropes for dark jokes, lessons learned too late, or bad consequences, and didn’t seem to care a whole lot for the people hurt or the audience having to watch it. It’s worth a watch, but a day after making it through this dark tale, its redemptions (and the presence of Peter Dinklage) rang false.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It starts fast and ends fast, but the interminable chase in the middle was hard to watch—and even the action that occurs matters little if anything to the plot. Daisy Ridley is pretty bad-ass, and Adam Driver does well as Kylo Ren, but by the end I wasn’t sad to see Mark Hamill go and Carrie Fisher’s real-life passing (and Disney’s insistence it will not digitally re-create her for Episode IX) means we can hand off the franchise to the young’uns. I think that’s for the better. Now a movie that didn’t trip over itself to track back to earlier Star Wars canon would be most welcome of all.

8. Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman has fun playing Churchill, but at this point, who hasn’t or wouldn’t? Sitting through the credits, I ended up fantasizing other actors taking their shot at Winston—Liam Neeson, who hunts Hitler across three continents after he makes a menacing gesture at Churchill’s daughter, before gruesomely killing him with his own hands, for instance. Or Dame Judy Dench, casting cold, blustery shade. The movie was fine, Oldman was terrific, and it took me a while to figure out that Churchill’s nemesis (Stephen Dillane) was indeed Stannis Baratheon in “Game of Thrones.”

9. Loving Vincent. A really creative, animated approach to learning more about Van Gogh and his death. Hard to believe he died without ever selling a painting. That has hung with me more than the who-did-it plotline.

10. Molly’s Game. Mostly her because my son the casino player development exec loved it, but it was also a sexy, pretty-fun watch (if long). And props to Jessica Chastain, who manages to chew through giant piles of Aaron Sorkin dialogue without any signs of indigestion.

I didn’t see Dunkirk, The Big Sick or Call Me By Your Name. I doubt either would have cracked my Top 10, but Call Me stood a better chance.

Worst of 2017. DetroitThis interminable movie from Kathryn Bigalow was so earnest in its rightful, righteous wrath against members of the Detroit police for a truly horrible event during the riots of the ’60s that it completely loses its storytelling bearings. At the end, it does one of those what-happened-to-the-principals montages and I realized those characters were supposed to be the center of the film—except they weren’t, because Bigalow got so caught up in the horrible event that she did more development of the monsters and less of the supposed main characters. It was so hard to watch that my wife got up and left to do some shopping at Target, and I would have joined her except we were there with a friend who wasn’t about to leave, and it would have been rude to leave her there alone. So this movie wins my Stockholm Syndrome Award for 2017.


Oscar Picks 2016, in About 2 Minutes

Putting them down here, so I can’t claim to have been right if I was wrong.

Best Actor: Leo DiCaprio. Overdue and deserved.

Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan. Looking for an upset over Brie Larson here.

Best Picture: The Revenant. I’d like to see Spotlight win, but I think the momentum of Leo and director will pull this overlong, over-somber film along.

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Supporting Actor: Sly Stallone, because it’s an uplifting story. The others were all good, too. Especially liked Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies.

Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara. She was wonderful in Carol.

Animated Feature: Inside Out. The return of Pixar.

Cinematography: The Revenant.

Costume Design: Mad Max.

Documentary: Amy.

Film Editing: Mad Max.

Foreign Language: Mustang. No idea, trusting others here.

Original Score: Carol.

Original Song: Till It Happens to You.

Production Design: Mad Max.

Sound: The Revenant.

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short.

Original Screenplay: Spotlight, with Inside Out close behind.


Some Thoughts on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Caught the movie on Friday night with friends at the pretty swanky Ambler Theater. It’s very good, obviously. That said …

  • The movie was too long (but I always say that). If you could meld several characters into Maya, then you could have telescoped some of the early stuff into a more compact version of the Torture Years.
  • Having the guy from “Parks and Rec” as a Navy SEAL really made me think that becoming a Navy SEAL can’t be THAT hard.
  • The last 45 minutes are as riveting as anything I’ve seen in years.
  • If I don’t see someone tortured for a long while, it’ll still be too soon. I think the charges that the movie justified torture were overblown. But I still find watching it excruciating. I know that’s why it’s done, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
  • All that said, Katherine Bigelow was robbed of a best director nomination (There’s little in Silver Linings Playbook that warranted a top director honor, for example).
  • Best movie? It certainly has to be in the final mix on my list, with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook.
  • I still need to see Life of Pi.

My Favorite Movies of 2012

It’s that time of the year, when everybody lists out their favorite movies. Here’s what I’ve seen this year, in order of how much I enjoyed them, and a list of films I’d like to see at some time.

Moonrise Kingdom. This film set off a Wes Anderson filmfest in my house for the weeks after we saw this: The Royal Tanenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, even (god help us) The Life Aquatic. We couldn’t find Rushmore for rent, which is a shame, because I liked that one best of all. Anyway, from the dollhouse intro to a great turn by Ed Norton as the scout leader (LOVED that tree house), to all that love-among-the-misfits-but-wait-the-misfits-are-us  fun, it was a pure joy. I dread what Anderson does next.

Silver Linings Playbook. Wasn’t a perfect movie and, honestly, this isn’t an Eagles pick, but I found the whole thing very winning. I could watch Jennifer Lawrence all day long (though I have not seen Hunger Games, though I listened to the books) and Bradley Cooper goes from a schlub to a movie star at the end, which Virginia loved. The dance was great, DeNiro was fun, and I didn’t even remember that Chris Tucker used to be, well, Chris Tucker. I’d watch it again.

Beasts of the Southern Wild. If you haven’t seen, you should. Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry are unbelievably compelling as a daughter-and-dad living in the Bathtub of Bayou Louisiana.

Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis basically inhabits the 16th president of the United States in an amazing performance. The movie was OK—I mean, honestly, it was about how to push through legislation nobody thinks possible, but Day-Lewis and Sally Field were great. Recently read John Meacham’s bio of Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson’s unwillingness to tackle a practice he absolutely knew was wrong (and compounded then by enslaving his own children) brought Lincoln’s courage and greatness in sharp relief.

Argo. You go, Ben Affleck. Why he’s playing somebody named Tony Mendez, I don’t get, but he directed a taut, fun political thriller.

Anna Karenina. Keira Knightley is luminous in this re-telling of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. Joe Wright plays up the artifice of 19th century Russian society by staging large parts of this on, well, a stage. It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to get his point, but, hey, it’s his movie, he did it splendidly, and it didn’t take away from Knightley. My one complaint: the cavalry officer she throws it all away for was a rather unattractive mess. Ah, love.

Prometheus. Did it make a lot of sense? No. But people, it’s a horror movie. THEY NEVER MAKE SENSE! Ridley Scott can sure create a world. Dunno if I’ll go catch the sequel, though.

Hitchcock: I liked it, but I also thought the movie missed out on Hitch’s glib humor. What I remember of his old TV show, he was way funnier than Anthony Hopkins. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel were gorgeous, and Johansson did a very credible Janet Leigh. The idea of a lecherous director and Johansson makes me think of … of …

To Rome with Love. Just glad that Woody Allen now lets somebody a half-century younger get the girl. And frankly, you can have Ellen Page.

The Impossible. If Naomi Watts wins an Academy Award for this film, I’m out of the Oscar forecasting business. I thought she was OK, and the effects were amazing, but the film’s (non)treatment of the deaths of 140,000 brown people was pretty appalling. And the dad’s decision to abandon his surviving kids to blindly search for his wife and son was just maddening. By some dumb luck, it all worked out, and I’m thankful—for them. But I pretty much never want to hear a word about this film again.

Jeff Who Lives at Home. It’s been six months and I still have to say, the worst movie I have seen in years. Appallingly, embarrassingly bad. Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Jason Segal should have returned their paychecks and the Duplass brothers should be banned from making movies. I mean, forever.

What I would still like to see:

  • Skyfall
  • Django Unchained
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Dark Knight Also Rises
  • The Master
  • Life of Pi
  • Looper
  • Seven Psychopaths
  • Flight
  • Hitchcock
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Brave

Daniel Day-Lewis Was Lincoln

Lincoln was ungodly long and not a whole hell of a lot happened through the middle portion, but, gosh, Daniel Day-Lewis sure was good and, honestly, who besides a Stephen Spielberg makes a movie about passing a Constitutional amendment anyways. Put DD-L in the best actor mix for his portrait of the 16th president, which he nailed—right down to Abe’s shambling gait. And don’t forget Sally Field, who gave a great performance as Mary Todd Lincoln.

The movie certainly appeared to want to speak to us about our bitterly divided government, but I guess I found it cartoonish. And the Democrat congressman who joined the cause of emancipation, by and large, were moved by pretty base reasons. Maybe that’s how it was, but it certainly felt like a grubby path to a noble goal. And perhaps that’s the lesson here, as we approach our Fiscal Cliff.

Argo—F— Yourself

Ben Affleck can be pretty unbearable, but he can also dial up a decent movie. And Argo is just that—interesting, taut, and fun, as you know walking in to the theater that it all ends up alright. Honestly, though, he should never play a guy named Tony Mendez again. Affleck’s about as ethnic as Pat’s Steaks.

That said, I enjoyed it, and I never thought I’d like to be reminded of the Iranian hostage crisis for even 10 seconds, never mind 2 hours.

Winter’s Bone Was Good


Good movie, the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence was great. Kind of movie that makes you wonder about whether addiction hollows out men, or hollowed-out men are waiting to be filled in by an addiction—be it drugs, alcohol, porn, or adrenaline (see The Hurt Locker).

Also, it was interesting that it was the women who held things together, even when the things being held together were bad.

Really riveting stuff. The audience in our showing stayed put as the credits rolled, all the way to the end. I think it helps that it was just 100 minutes long. I appreciate a movie that tells its story and ends when it should.

See it if you don’t mind a non-feel-good movie. You’ll be hearing about it again come Oscar time, especially with the expanded fields.

Burn After Reading


The boys went to Florida with my parents (thank you, Grandma and Pop-Pop!!!) and Virginia and I enjoyed some quiet time. ONe night we watched this Coen Brothers’ comedy—and we couldn’t stop laughing. Brad Pitt and Frances MacDormand were very funny, Clooney and Malkovich were very good, and we still don’t get Tilda Swinton.

Anyway, highly recommended, especially if you’re like me and enjoy movies of less than 2 hours. Want to know more. Click here.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was great

Virginia and I tried to see this movie a week ago and I almost got into a fistfight with a 75-year-old woman and her ultra-annoying daughter in the last row of the theater. It almost felt like being back in New Jersey 😉

Anyway, we saw it tonight, and it was worth the wait. These kids were great; the actors who played the young adult characters were very good as well, and who doesn’t like a movie about destiny and love, that still somehow had Mumbai versions of poop jokes.  And Regis Philbin need not worry; he’s still the best Who Wants to Be a Millionaire host ever. Reeg would never lead a contestant astray.

Good stuff. Best movie of 2008 that I’ve seen, which isn’t really saying much.

Oscar worthy


Oscar nominees were released today and Virginia and I have a lot of film-watching to do if we’re going to have informed opinions.

But, heck, who needs informed opinions?!?!

As I’ve often said at our neighbor’s Oscars party, seeing the movies only gets in the way of picking the winners.

We’ve seen Atonement, Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men. Hopefully, that won’t screw up my prognosticatin’.

Best Movie: Michael Clayton, Atonement, Juno, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Not enough laughs in Old Men, not enough sweep to Clayton, Atonement had that interminable, showy scene at Dunkirk, the awful little girl and no laughs. Absent a write-in for Simpsons Movie, I’m going with Daniel Day Lewis and There Will Be Blood.

Best actor: George Clooney, to make Virginia happy. (But really, it will be Daniel Day Lewis.)

Best actress: Laura Linney. Didn’t see a one of these movies and, Juno excepted, never hope to.

Supporting actress/actor: Who cares, but Blanchett and the bad ass from No Country …

Atone for this, little girl


This is the most annoying girl in the world. She was in ‘Atonement,’ which Virginia and I saw this week. It was OK, but we deemed it not Oscar-worthy.

We liked ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ better. Tom Hanks has rebounded from that darn ‘Da Vinci Code’ debacle and got his hair back under control.

What movies have you seen? What’s good?

My choice for Best Picture remains … ‘The Simpsons Movie.’

‘No Country’ for fraidy-cats


Virginia and I saw the new Coen Brothers movie, No Country For Old Men, which was a) good, b) humorless and c) really violent. Here’s what our friend Dan Neman, a movie reviewer in Richmond, Va., thought of it. This guy to the right is gonna be up for some award. He was a little TOO good playing a psychopath.

I liked The Simpsons better.

Next up. Atonement. How ’bout you?

What do you want to see?


I love the Coen Bros. movies and I’m looking forward to No Country for Old Men, their latest. What movies do you want to see? What have you seen lately?

Virginia and I saw Michael Clayton. It was a good movie for adults, which are few and far between.

The next-best movie we’ve seen this year was The Simpsons Movie, seen in Edinborough, Scotland, on vacation (and we have to tell you, we laughed at all the parts that the Scots DIDN’T laugh at).

What’s your list of the top five movies this year, not necessarily in the order from best to not-the-best?