To Live and Ride in LA. Amateur documentary about the fixed gear bike scene in LA. Stumbled upon it one night in iTunes. Great characters and tricks. I enjoy watching the bike messengers in downtown SF, and this gives a little insight on their culture. Fun.
Midnight in Paris. Wow. Thanks again Woody.
Inside Job. Yet another slit-your-wrists documentary about the economic mess. Makes me want to Occupy Wall Street…oh wait, they’re already doing that…
The Fighter. Tremendous. Christian Bale is terrific. Another Mark Walhberg role in which he plays…Mark Walhberg. He’s fun to watch and listen to, but can he act?
Company Men. This movie makes the daily news about unemployment rates and number of jobless people real. Not a great film but worth watching.
The Tourist. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in Venice. What’s not to like?
Arthur. It’s great seeing East Sacramento product Greta Gerwig makin’ it on the big screen.
Inception. Great to watch a sci-fi movie that isn’t based on horror or murder. Reminiscent to me of Bladerunner.
Burlesque. My first opportunity to see Christina Aguilera perform, and she is impressive. But it was painful to watch Cher, and overall the movie was a loser.
180 South. Incredible documentary about a small group that follow in the footsteps of the 1968 trip to Patagonia by Yvon Chouinard (creator of Patagonia sporting goods) and Doug Tompkins (creator of North Face). Their goal was to find the ultimate surfing and mountain climbing. Jeff Johnson seeks to duplicate the trip, which he does with the help of Chouinard and Tompkins, who are now dedicated to saving Patagonia–Doug by buying millions of acres of wild land, restoring it, and giving it back to the Chileans as a national park. So the movie is a montage of 1968 super-8 movies and contemporary scenes of surfing and climbing. It also talks about the efforts to stop the construction of a system of dams in Patagonia, that I was involved in a few years ago, including having dinner with Tompkins in Santiago So the scenes of the “sin represas” campaign in the film were heartwarming to me.
About a Boy. A great Nick Hornby story, good acting, and deep immersion in suburban London.
Exit Through the Gift Shop. Engrossing documentary about a strange LA art dealer who gets into the street art scene, and meets the ultimate street artist, Banksy. The art dealer also has an obsession with video taping everything in his life, so there is a years-long record of his interactions with Banksy and Shepard Fairey. The movie has a real twist at the end, but there are no spoilers here.
Michael Clayton. This was the second time I’d seen this, and it’s still a great film. Striking similarities in style to The American, another Clooney feature.
Unstoppable. Typically implausible thriller. Denzel Washington doesn’t break a sweat in this one. But it did pass the time on a long flight home…
Babies. Must see. Four one-year olds: Mongolia, Namibia, Tokyo and San Francisco. No dialogue. Just facinating candid film of babies in very different environments.
The American. Great thriller, well-acted by George Clooney. Nice to see him act, and not just his radiant smile. And lots of exposure for new actress Violante Placido.
Salt. Angelina Jolie. That is all.
The Black Swan. This is a great film, but it’s a psycho-drama, and I don’t like psycho-dramas at all, so this was an unpleasant movie for me. But it was worth it to see Natalie Portman in a stunning Oscar-winning performance (along with Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel). Beyond that, the movie explores the emotion that goes into art, in addition to technique (A.O. Scott’s review). I’m glad I saw it, but I was entirely uncomfortable throughout.
Wall Street 2. Worst movie of the year. It makes an attempt to be relevant by starting 23 years after the original Wall Street movie now enveloped in the current leveraged debt financial crisis. But the kernel of relevance is overwhelmed by bad script and bad acting (including a token reappearance by Charlie Sheen, ugh). Carey Mulligan must be deeply embarrassed to be associated with this flop.
The King’s Speech. Must see. This will win academy awards. Stunning performances. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are both Oscar winners. The interiors are amazing (check out the wall paper). The exteriors are amazing (London fog, hazy sunlight). And a fascinating story.
14 actors acting. This isn’t a movie, but it’s a collection of amazing performances on the NY Times website. Small scenes that highlight was acting is about.
District 9. Great to see a science fiction movie that isn’t just all overdone computer graphics, and these graphics tell a human story
The Kids are All Right. Mature and funny story about a gay family, with complications.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Documentary about the eccentric and mentally ill artist Daniel Johnston. The film follows him from childhood to present day, and his surprisingly successful music and art career–in the 1980s he was part of the growing music scene in Austin, and he was a kind of new Bob Dylan (good poetry, sketchy vocals and guitar). The movie is a remarkable and quirky documentary because of the encyclopedic recordings and films he and others made of his life over many decades.
Waiting for Superman. Maybe this is a symptom of being the son of a teacher, but this is must see. The decline of our education system is the early indicator of the fate of the U.S.
The Social Network. Fascinating movie. Not sure it’s the Citzen Kane of our time, but it’s a thoughtful observation about our social and business culture. Well-scripted and acted. Reading to go with it: The New Yorker profile of Zuckerberg, and the archive of actual original blog postings that are featured in the movie.
Eat, Pray, Love. Julia Roberts is great to watch. Richard Jenkins puts in an Academy award performance. But it’s too long, and not believable.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, because everyone else was. Not literature, but interesting style, and different because it is set in Sweden with all Swedish references (do Swedes really drink that much coffee?). So I had to see the movie, and get some visuals to go with my imagination. I enjoyed the book more–as usual, the story was trimmed for the movie (which is over two hours as it is). Then there will be the American version to see…
Afghan Star. Amazing story of Afghanistan’s equivalent of “American Idol,” that is, a weekly singing contest with a winner chosen by viewers voting by cell phone. A women is voted off for dancing and showing her hair, and faces threats to her life. But the surprising thing is the view of Afghans enjoying media (TV), using modern communications (mobiles) and enjoying pop culture (singing and music). Nevermind that there votes are heavily influenced by tribal affiliation–it’s still identifiable as 21st Century culture. Surprising, and hopeful.
The Bounty Hunter. Why do people think they can put Jennifer Aniston in a movie with any sweaty, unshaven guy, and that makes a movie (see, The Break Up, another recent infliction, or any of her other films)? Must learn not to watch whatever United Airlines puts up, even if it is just to kill time…
Running on the Sun: the Badwater 135. Documentary about the most improbable ultra marathon–135 miles from Death Valley (below sea level) to Whitney Portal (7,500 feet, half way up Mt. Whitney). I was a marathoner years ago, and was so enthusiastic I ran one ultra marathon–60K (about 36 miles). I enjoyed the challenge, but it is a weird sport. The Badwater 135 is the weirdest of all–I can’t fathom 135 miles in desert conditions.
The Botany of Desire. Michael Pollan is a great writer, and I loved this book. The movie is ok, especially because it adds visuals to the images in the book. But don’t let it be a substitute for the book.
Crazy Heart. Great music does not make up for the formulaic, unbelievable script.
An Education. Great movie that earned it’s Academy Award nominations. As the movie progressed I was creeped out by the story (young girl picked up by an older man), but with Nick Hornby writing the script we’re in safe hands (no spoilers here). Carey Mulligan will be fun to watch over the years ahead…
Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino is now a national treasure.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? Oh, did I say one of the bad things about on-demand movies on cable is that you can see a trailer for a movie that looks interesting, and then the real movie totally totally sucks?
Cousin, cousine. One of the good things about on-demand movies on cable TV is you watch movies you’d otherwise never pick up. This is a 1975 French film of a great story (typically French: infidelity and found love) with great actiing (Marie-Christine Barrault got a best actress nomination). Totally charming.
A Serious Man. Great movie. I’m going to quote the USA Today reviewer: “a wonderfully odd, bleakly comic and thoroughly engrossing film.”
9. Animated science fiction tale about a post-human world. Good story and interesting animation. This is the second animated movie I’ve liked (the other being The Fantastic Mr. Fox), after years of dismissing them. I wonder if my tastes have changed, or the movies are getting better–I think the latter.
The Blind Side. A great story in a good film. I had read about the adoption of Michael Orr in Michael Lewis’ New York Times Magazine article (which became the book the screenplay is based on) about five years ago, and it brought tears to my eyes. I saw the movie on a plane, and had to cover the tears in my eyes. Then they played the same movie on the return trip, and again had to deal with the tears. A story about humans doing kind things for another human is a very emotional story. Sandra Bullock is very good, but I don’t think it’s an Oscar performance.
Taking Woodstock. Entertaining film by Ang Lee.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I never watch animated films or TV shows (I’ve never been able to watch more than two minutes of The Simpsons), unless I’m on a plane, as I was for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’m surprised to say I really enjoyed this movie–the animation is great, and the dialog, enhanced by the great actors that did it, is fun to listen to. I’d like to watch it again on a bigger screen.
The Hangover (uneditted version). Very, very funny. All too many popular comedies are just raunchy, but this is clever and well-acted.
It Might Get Loud. If you’re a rock and roll fan, this is a must see. Jam session with three great guitarists: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, with interesting historical perspectives on their lives. Watch this (turn up the volume), then listen to Jack White in the new super band The Dead Weather.
Valentine’s Day. Kind of like Bud Light: “tastes great, less filling.” Attractive people, no content. But it kept me chuckling.
The Hurt Locker. This simply has to be the most compelling movie of the year. I don’t like scary movies, especially movies that are gratuitously gory, but this is riveting.
The Invention of Lying. Cute, funny movie. Ricky Gervais is wonderful. It’s a challenge for me to see Jennifer Garner playing geeky comedy–I keep flashing back to her sexy role as a spy in Alias.
Whip It. Surprising, and entertaining film. What a scenario: teen age angst meets roller derby in a warehouse in Austin. Ellen Paige is great. Directed by Drew Barrymore, who has herself in the movie providing her great laughter at the right moments.
It’s Complicated. Worst movie of the year, so far. It’s classic movie hype: “see the trailer and you’ve heard all the best lines.” The true low point comes when Meryl Streep, who in the movie has a bakery/restuarant, says “you know I studied cooking in Paris,” which means: “This movie really sucks, but remember I’m in Julie and Julia, so don’t hold this piece of junk against me.” My wife liked the house, but that’s not enough…
Capitalism: A Love Story. Michael Moore is priceless, and his movies are must see’s. He’s always over-the-top, but thought-provoking. This movie reminds us of the human toll of of the economic crash (evictions, and people refusing to go), and the disconnect between the “masters of the universe” on Wall St. and the rest of us who live with the consequences. All the more disturbing because Congress is failing to implement regulations to keep it from happening again.
Machuca. A 2004 story about the 1973 revolution in Chile, that seems both ancient and modern. Looking back on the wars against communism in the 70s looks like old history, but seems eery in light of the right-wing reactionaries in the news today. I’ve made several trips to Chile and it’s very apparent that the recovery from the division and wounds of Pinochet years is still occurring. This look back to what it was like as it happened is gut-wrenching, and worrying in light of growing rhetoric in the US.
The September Issue. This is a great documentary about an issue I could care less about: Vogue magazine and fashion. It’s about the September issue of the Vogue magazine, because that issue kind of kicks off the “model year” for fashion, and consequently is the thickest and heaviest of the year. It is a great insight into a part of life I know nothing about, which is why I like documentaries. While I’m watching the film I’m going back and forth thinking, it’s appalling how much attention and money is spent on clothes, but, what a great movie. But one thing was surprising to me, and that was that the photos are digitally enhanced–I knew Playboy did it, but it didn’t occur to me that fashion photos were also photoshopped. So this cover, as discussed in the movie, is a head from one photo and a body from another. I wish I could do the same for myself…
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Psycho-drama western. I watched for two and a half hours, and still didn’t get to the end of the film. Interesting characters with good acting (Brad Pitt and Casey Afflect) and photography, but too long.
The Informant! Matt Damon is good as an executive who revealed ADM’s international price-fixing scheme in the mid-1990s. I think it’s a good story and a good film, but not to my taste. Not sure what the exclamation point in the title is about.
The Proposal. Ok when you’re trapped in a plane at 37,000 feet.
The Visitor. Great movie. Richard Jenkins earned his best actor nomination. Excellent characters in a tightly-made film.
Man on Wire. I really like surprising documentaries, and this one is wonderful. It’s the story of Philippe Petit’s walk on wire between the World Trade Center towers in August 1974. He was a juggler and wirewalker in France, and had walked between the towers at Notre Dame and a bridge in Sidney. He had been fascinated by the WTC towers as they were built, and the film is about his careful plot to sneak up the towers, stretch a wire between them (not easy), and walk for 45 minutes. It is emotional to see film of the towers being built, knowing their fate, but it is a great story told with both 1970s and contemporary film.
No Country for Old Men. Great movie about evil in the world, but who needs to have evil rubbed in your face. I’m glad I saw it, but glad it’s over.
Atonement. Couldn’t finish it. It’s very BBC-style British melodrama, which I can’t stand.
Taxi to the Dark Side. Part of the unfortunate growing filmography about American atrosities in Iraq. It’s a documentary about prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Should be seen after reading The Torturers’ Manifesto …
Eastern Promises. The new “Godfather.” Instead of Italians in New York it’s Russians in London. Stunning violence (throat-slittings up close). In fact, all knives, no guns. Wierd but apparently authentic Russian criminal tattoos (which I’ve since seen books on, and they are very creepy). Seemed to be filmed in a perpetual night. Viggo Mortensen was notable, and got a best actor nomination.
Once. An almost-love story about two musicians discovering each other and themselves. Ok.
The Kingdom. International crime thriller loosely based on the 2003 bombing of the Kobar housing complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent obsession of the FBI to try to solve the murders. Formulistic, with obvious message. A post 9/11 Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” movie.
Slumdog Millionaire. I thought there was too much emotional munipulation in this film. A little too cute–like all Bollywood movies. But I like the views of India and seeing new actors. Will look forward for more from them.
King Corn. Great documentary about corn. Starts off wierdly, about two guys who go to Iowa to grow an acre (one) of corn. Turns into a great story about how Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture pushed for large increases in food production in 1973 that led to huge increases in corn output. One hundred years ago yield was about 40 bushels per acre, today it’s about 180. And it’s a corn monoculture, as Pollan points out–no longer a farm ecology, but a factory for corn that gets pushed into a food system designed to get us to eat corn…in sodas, oils, everything. Even better, they get to interview Butz at his retirement community, and he sticks by his guns–cheap food is the only important thing–no thought to the fact that corn fructose syrup has ruined the American diet and health. Check out the website.
This American Life. This is the TV version of the radio show that I love. I’ve listened to a lot of NPR and podcasts over years of running, biking and walking. I also like to listen to talks and lectures, but they tend to be annoying if there are long introductions (guest lectures) or visual presentations that obviously aren’t broadcast. So the best audio is from radio (Fresh Air, This American Life) or talks intended for radio (Commonwealth Club, City Arts and Lectures). Presentations designed for visual don’t translate well to audio. The This American Life TV show has the opposite issue for me. I like TAL on the radio. This stories are rich and deep. The TAL on TV looses that aural magic for me. I’ll stick to the radio.
Dexter (season 1). Wierd story about a likable forensics “blood spatter” expert who channels his violent tendencies by killing miscreants who’ve avoided punishment. What’s not to like? (Watch episodes).
Up the Yangtze. Documentary about life in China and the changes imposed on people by the filling of the Three Gorges Dam, as it creeps to the 175 meter level (the water hieght when the reservoir is full). From Kevin Kelly’s True Films: “Everything in China is leaning towards the extremes, including the biggest fastest transformation into modernity. Nowhere is the relentless push toward the extreme felt more than in the mind-boggling, humongous scale of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze. To make China’s gigantic and impersonal change fathomable and personal, this documentary follows two young adults living in poverty along the Yangtze, and shadows them as they sign up to work on a tourist river boat delivering foreign visitors to the dam. Their story is a remarkable and surprisingly intimate portrait of two ordinary citizens doing what hundreds of millions of their Chinese cohorts are doing — getting a job. Neither protagonist in this film is even particularly likeable or heroic, which makes their lives all the more real. Their faults and failures are universal. You get a very clear picture of how wrenching, how abrupt, how enticing these vast changes are. You have only to multiply this exceptional intimacy into two people’s struggles by a billion to see the country.” Movie trailer.
Milk. Oscar winner–best actor and best film. Best antidote to the “victory” of prop 8 in California. I wondered about the absence of gay women in the film, and whether that was a fair depiction of the role of women in the gay movement in the late 1970s. Nit: I was bugged by the opera scene at end of the film in which the fat lady sings, signaling the coming end–was it kitchy, or am I too simple?…
Rachel Getting Married. Definitely Oscar material. Great story and performances, and visually interesting.
WALL-E. Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of animation…
Mad Men (season 1). Stylish story of corporate life in 60s Manhattan. Lots of coktails, smoking, and sexual harassment.
The Other Boyleyn Girl. The back story on Henry VIII and his paternity issues. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson are great.
Vantage Point. An interesting take on the presidential assassination thriller genre.
Flight of the Conchords, season 1. These guys are hysterical, but it’s hard to explain what it’s about…
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Great film. But I saw it on a plane, and I need to see it again…
Bucket List. If there is nothing else to watch on the plane…
Charlie Wilson’s War. Good movie for a long plane flight (Santiago). It’s nice when truth is stranger than fiction.
Wild Hogs. I hate to admit I watched this, but it was on a plane with no sound, so it was ok.
Strange Culture. Unwatchable.
Fool’s Gold. A bad movie for a long plane flight. Even Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey can’t save this.
The Bourne Ultimatum. Another great Bourne movie. Better than Bond, without all the silly sexist stupidity. “Bourne, James Bourne…”
Gone, Baby, Gone. A Dennis Lehane murder mystery, with Ben Affleck directing his brother, Casey Affleck. I tend to not like scary movies, but I liked this.
3:10 to Yuma. Great western. I liked the well-developed characters and story.
Helvetica. Documentary about the font. Sounds crazy, but it’s a great story about design and visual culture.
Sicko. Movie as political theater. Michael Moore is a national treasure.
Born into Brothels. Documentary about kids who are given cameras to take pictures about their lives in the Brothels of Mumbai. Some make it out.
Darwin’s Nightmare. Documentary about how an non-native breed of fish has taken over Lake Victoria in Tanzania (the Darwin part) and how the fishing industry that exports the fish to Europe has ruined the lives of the Tanzanians (the nightmare part).
Volver. I just like Penelope Cruz, and anything about Spain.
Pan’s Labyrinth. Incredible imagination of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Takes place in Spain, so I like it.
Children of Men. Grim future and fantastic photography.
Children of Heaven. Iranian film about children and lost shoes. Great tale.
The Lives of Others. East Berlin, Stasi, drama…
The Battle of Algiers. Should have been a history lesson for Bush and Cheney. Before Vietnam and Iraq there was Algeria for the French, 1954-60.
How to Draw a Bunny. Documentary about pop artist Ray Johnson.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Best movie ever. Plus it has Uma…
Mondovino. Documentary about the globalization of the wine industry and the loss of small regional wineries and their unique flavors.
The War Tapes. The real war. No news filter.
Calle 54. Documentary. Great Latin jazz.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. As someone who lived through the ultra-painful birth and death of electric industry restructuring in California, I take special pleasure in seeing the foibles of the Enron criminals exposed. See Leading the Revolution in books…
I like documentaries, and the best source of reviews and recommendations is Kevin Kelly’s blog, True Films.