Of the roughly 250 movies that come through Salt Lake City each year, my wife and I see some 60 or 70 together and I see maybe another 20 with friends.
Think that's a lot? Maybe, for those who see only a handful each year, or even more ambitious moviegoers who think 12 to 15 in one year is perhaps overdoing it a bit.
But for me, it marks a dramatic drop from my two-decade tenure as the paper's critic when I saw all 250, plus occasional special engagements and many more entered in the Sundance Film Festival.
As a result, I don't pretend to be on top of everything these days. In fact, I passed on a lot of 2011 movies that are now making top 10 lists, gathering Oscar buzz and have all ready landed Golden Globe nominations.
So I no longer compile end-of-the-year best/worst lists, although I could easily do a lengthy had-no-desire-to-see-it — so I didn't — list. Which, this year, would be led by two of 2011's biggest hits: "The Hangover, Part II" and "Bridesmaids."
But hey, it's Christmas weekend, so let's instead focus on the positive, some of the good movies that came out this year. Yes, there were good movies in 2011. There are always good movies. You just have to search a little harder to find them amid all the pomp and ceremony for big-budget Hollywood blockbusters.
My favorite this year? Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," a summer picture that was released this week on Blu-ray and DVD (Sony Classics, $35.99/$30.99).
I know! It surprised me, too.
Allen's annual writing-directing efforts have been very hit and miss — mostly miss — in the '00s but he struck gold with this one, a romantic fantasy that is charming, funny and completely winning. It has also become his most financially successful film (which probably surprises him, too).
One thing that many of Allen's latter-day movies have in common is a central character who is more or less a stand-in for Allen himself.
Look through his filmography of the past two decades and you'll see a number of popular actors sort of "doing" Allen: John Cusack in "Bullets Over Broadway," Kenneth Branagh in "Celebrity," Will Ferrell in "Melinda and Melinda," Josh Brolin in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," etc.
For "Midnight in Paris" it's Owen Wilson. But with a difference.
As with the films listed above, Wilson's character probably would have been played by Allen himself three decades ago. All the offhand witticisms that Wilson utters would be very comfortable coming from Allen in his familiar nebbish screen persona.
But unlike Allen's other surrogates, Wilson manages to make the character his own. And the result is, arguably, Wilson's least affected, most charming, confident and amusing performance ever.
The story has Wilson playing a screenwriter who is feeling unfulfilled in Hollywood, so he's working on a novel and hoping for an artistic breakthrough — just like his heroes, the community of writer/artist expatriates who lived in 1920s Paris.
And during a Paris vacation, Wilson suddenly finds himself magically whisked away to the past, where he meets such heroes as F. Scott (and Zelda) Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein — and most hilariously, Adrien Brody as a loopy Salvador Dali and especially Corey Stoll as a magnetic but antagonistic Ernest Hemingway.
As one who sometimes feels he was born in the wrong era, I also appreciate the truth in Allen's observation that people often carry a romanticized view of an earlier time before they were born — and, undoubtedly, people who lived in that time period also yearned for a romanticized era 20 or 30 or 70 years earlier.
I'm all in on "Midnight in Paris," which I saw twice in theaters and enjoyed equally on DVD. Hey, I could watch it again tonight!
Truth be told, no other film of 2011 touched me nearly as much as this one — but there were others I greatly enjoyed.
Also on the nostalgia front, and also set in Paris, is Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," a fascinating trip back to the earliest days of filmmaking at the turn of the 20th century. Or, at least it was fascinating once it got going. I found the first half a bit tedious — but the second half more than made up for it.
And for me, "Captain America," with a sharp central performance by Chris Evans, is far and away the best superhero/comic-book film of the year, perhaps once again because of its wistful nostalgia (in this case, for the 1940s).
Hmmm. Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. Am I sensing a trend? (Or a rut, one might argue?)
Other 2011 goodies include "The Help," a gripping story of racism in the South during the burgeoning civil-rights movement of the 1960s; "Point Blank," an edge-of-your-seat French thriller; the based-on-truth family picture "Dolphin Tale"; "Moneyball," with Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Bean, who adopted an experimental computer-analysis strategy; "Warrior," about estranged brothers who find themselves in competition in a mixed martial-arts tournament; the spy story of loyalty and betrayal, "The Debt," starring Helen Mirren; "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a reimagining of the origin story for this durable franchise; and "Soul Surfer," the true tale of a teenage surfer girl who loses an arm to a shark but bounces back big time.
Also enjoyable were two fantasies that came out around the same time, "The Adjustment Bureau," with Matt Damon defying destiny, and "Limitless," with Bradley Cooper learning how to use his brain better than the rest of us.
Others include "The Might Macs," a true underdog story of an unorthodox coach (Carla Gugino) leading a women's Catholic college basketball team to a championship; "My Afternoons With Margueritte," a French film with Gerard Depardieu as a lonely illiterate and his friendship with a well-read elderly woman; "The Way," with Martin Sheen as a father retracing his late son's spiritual journey along a difficult walking path from France to Spain; and "The Big Year," an underrated comedy about birding with Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson.
And it should be said that since I go to the movies with you, instead of early screenings with critics, I have not yet seen several of the end-of-year films. Those I'm looking forward to include "The Artist," "The Adventures of Tintin," "We Bought a Zoo," "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol," "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."
We'll be seeing these over the next few weeks, and like you, we hope each one lives up to its considerable hype.
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