A little late this year; I didn’t bother writing this up before the Academy Awards because I saw so little that was Oscar-worthy. In fact, based on the roughly two dozen 2011 releases I’ve seen, it was the worst movie year in the past decade. I saw almost nothing that made me feel anything at all. A few managed to for a few minutes at a time, but that’s about it. I count about ten 2010 films in which I had greater emotional investment than anything released in 2011.
How weak was the field? I haven’t seen a 2011 film that is worthy of winning an Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, or Cinematography. I’d have been happy to see Shailene Woodley or Viola Davis win for Supporting Actress, though neither was nominated, and was quite pleased to see Christopher Plummer take home a Supporting Actor award for Beginners.
A few quick notes: I can’t help thinking Margin Call was snubbed by the Academy (it garnered only one nomination, for Original Screenplay) because of angst over its distribution model. If so, that’s a shame -- both because it was the best 2011 film I saw, and because I’m quite fond of the distribution model. Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s third-best movie of the past six years, well behind Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona. The fact that it is more heavily nominated than the other two combined says something about the weakness of this year’s field, or the Academy’s collective judgement, or both. I didn’t finish The Tree of Life; the 20-minute montage of protozoa turned me off. I didn’t stick with it long enough to feel comfortable rating it. (I stopped watching Just Go WIth It after about six minutes, but that was more than enough to safely conclude that it is a terrible movie.) Finally, the only reason I didn’t give The Help a 2 is that there were a few perfectly good -- though overrated -- acting performances. (Viola Davis should have won Best Supporting Actress; instead, she was nominated for Best Actress despite clearly not being the lead.) It’s a far worse movie than even its worst reviews would suggest.
I haven’t yet watched A Better Life (probably this weekend) or My Week With Marilyn (soon, I hope.) I have moderately high hopes for both. I’m quite eager to see three music documentaries that I believe qualify as 2011 releases: From The Sky Down, Davis Guggenheim’s film about Actung, Baby-era U2, Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements, which is finally being screened in DC … the night I have tickets for a Black Keys concert, and The Swell Season, about the Irish/Czech folk duo of the same name, who you may know from the (excellent) 2006 film Once. If you like things that are absolutely gorgeous, you’ll enjoy this video of The Swell Season with Jake Clemons, covering Bruce Springsteen’s Drive All Night.
Anyway. Movies, rated and (approximately) ranked:
Margin Call: 8
Young Adult: 7.5
Midnight In Paris: 7.5
The Descendants: 7
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: 7
The Artist: 7
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: 6
Captain America: 6
Horrible Bosses: 6
The Adjustment Bureau: 6
Source Code: 5.5
Bad Teacher: 5
Hall Pass: 5
J. Edgar: 4.5
The Dilemma: 4.5
The Help: 4
Just Go With It: 3
The Tree of Life: Not Rated
What the ratings mean:
10: A truly extraordinary, Annie Hall-level film. I don’t see many 10s.
9: An excellent movie that I’m happy to see win major awards. Most years, the 1-3 best films I see will be 9s.
8: A very good film and a legitimate Best Picture nominee (in a 10-nominee field) but not something I think should win
7: Usually a good, well-made movie of modest ambition, or ambitious, generally good movie with significant flaws.
6: An adequately enjoyable time-waster but not worth going out of your way to see.
5: Worth watching on a long flight, but that’s about it.
4: A bad movie, to be avoided even on long flights.
3: An awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. May involve Keanu Reeves or time travel.
2: An awful movie that has pretensions of greatness and depth.
1: Vanilla Sky.