Mar 10, 2014
The Best (and the Rest) of 2011
Posted on Jan 6, 2012
“My Week With Marilyn.” It’s a small, rather sly thing—the more or less true story of art historian Kenneth Clark’s son, who gets an entry-level job (read gofer) on “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the 1957 comedy in which Laurence Olivier co-starred with and—attempted to direct—Marilyn Monroe. The kid more or less inherits the companionship of MM—he’s the only person on the set who has nothing at stake with her—and they have a lovely time together.
Michelle Williams is not as voluptuous as Marilyn, but that’s the only thing she lacks. She’s funny, troubled, at odds with everyone but Eddie Redmayne, playing Clark with more shrewdness than you can imagine. Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier with consummate skill—constantly out-of-sorts with his co-star, but reluctantly aware that she has what he never had—true movie stardom. OK, it’s a trifle, but it’s perfectly judged (and the supporting bits—Arthur Miller, Paula Strasberg, et al—are beautifully done). They are all in some way serving Marilyn’s stardom; only Redmayne remembers that for all her troubles, she is still, at this point in her career, a girl who needs, for God’s sake, to have some fun—which he chastely and enthusiastically provides.
Oh, What the Hell. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” came out last spring, an unpromising season for pictures with award hopes. But it has hung on. And hung on. It is still playing widely and it is, reputedly, the biggest hit of his long career. The story of a screenwriter (Owen Wilson) involved with an awful fiancée and her even more dreadful family, it is in Allen’s very agreeable Magic Realist style. A mysterious car appears periodically and whisks the screenwriter backward in time to the Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. At the time, it seemed a pleasant, minor well-made film. But as 2011 wore on its charmless way, it began to seem perhaps more delightful than it first appeared. Expert lightness of being is never to be sneezed at. Perhaps somewhat to Allen’s embarrassment, it is probably going to get some Oscar nominations. And why not? A feathery touch is always welcome. So here it is, shyly peeping up on 10-best lists. And more welcome than one might have thought last spring.
That’s All He Wrote. Pathetic isn’t it? I mean, a whole year of movies and he can come up with only six that he’s more or less confident will stand the test of time—defined as being able to remember their titles a year hence. But that, sometimes—most of the time, if we’re being completely honest about it—is the way it goes. I know people disagree with me. But the fact is, I think, more than usual this year, the more aspiring movies have let us down.
Take, for convenient example, “The Tree of Life.” Terry Malick was once an extraordinarily talented director, but that was back in 1973 when “Badlands,” so rich in irony and high spirits, came out. In the reclusive years since, he has gone from portentous emptiness to the incoherence of this truly wretched film in which a group of unattractive people glumly search for meaning and come up empty.
Then there’s Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” in which a lad searches New York City to find the lock that fits the key his father, a victim of 9/11, left behind. It’s aimless and endless and yields nothing but low moans of pain from entrapped audiences. When our most aspiring movies fail us, we fall back gratefully on the modest and the merely well-made—movies with a sharp point and the means to make that point efficiently and with professional élan. That’s rare enough, as anyone can see by the brevity of this list.
Better luck next year. But don’t count on it.
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