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Showing posts from December, 2011

2011 in Review, Best Films

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I conclude this look back at 2011 with my list of my favorite films of 2011. This is the last day of the year, so it's fitting that this be my final post of the year. Hopefully you'll enjoy this list, and check out some of the films on it. I've also included my picks for the best performances of the year.
If you'd like to get my list of the worst films of the year, best TV shows, and the books I read this year, check out my posts from earlier this week.
2011 was an interesting year for films. There were a lot of films that weren't very good (hence it's own big list this year). In addition, though there were a number of good films, it is hard to pick one that stands out above the crowd. I could make a case for about a half dozen films being my favorite, but I finally settled on the list in this order. As always, the list is in ascending order, and features the top 15 of the year.
15. Hugo — I originally gave this film three stars, but it has been a film I haven'…

2011 in Review, Worst Films

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Today I continue my look back at 2011 with a look at the worst films of the year. Usually, the list of the worst films is a tack on to the end of my picks for the best films of the year. But this year was different. Each year, as I look to do my year-end lists, I start two columns. On the left, I put the year's best films, on the right, I list those contending for the worst. Usually the left column fills up fastest, but this year I realized that I was out of space on the right before I'd even gotten to double digits on the left.
Welcome to 2011. So, in honor of this year's crop of forgettable films, I've decided to give the bottom group their own post and have expanded the list to 15 entries — matching the number on the top end.
Happy watching... or better yet, not.
15. The Change-Up — This is just an awful comedic misfire. I like Ryan Reynolds. I like Jason Bateman. I think both can be very funny. I had high hopes for this film, but it just didn't work. At all. It wa…

Now Playing

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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
The Adventures of Tintin Starring the Voice Talents of: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones Synopsis: This is an animated adventure from director Steven Spielberg. The film uses the best in motion capture technology, a la films like "The Polar Express." Doubtless the technology continues to improve, and that is helping filmmakers to tell better stories with the technology available. "The Adventures of Tintin" is based on the popular comic book series in Belgium created by Herge. And there is plenty to like about this feature. The setting and story structure are reminiscent of "Indiana Jones," and one can't help but think that is by design. The story revolves around Tintin (Bell) and a sailor named Captain Haddock (Serkis) traveling the globe in search of a hidden treasure. Craig does a nice job voicing the primary villain, and Pegg and Frost add a bit to the hu…

2011 in Review, TV Shows

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I continue my look at the 2011 media in review with my list of the best TV series and performances I saw in 2011. The list appears in ascending order.
10. Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO – Larry David has unique comic stylings, and it's definitely an acquired taste. There are elements of the "Seinfeld" model here. This wasn't the best season of the show, but it did have some incredible episodes. The best of the season was "Palestinian Chicken," which I've seen about five times and laughed each time. Unlike traditional comedies, this is a show that moves at it's own rhythm, and it works well. Easily HBO's best comedy.
9. Treme, HBO — This show, from the creators of "The Wire," follows musicians and working professionals in New Orleans trying to rebuild their lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This second season wasn't as good as the first season, but it's still a fascinating and enjoyable watch. The show has good music, some comedy…

American Justice

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"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." — Ancient Chinese and Arabic proverb.
I have enjoyed TNT's drama "The Closer" since it debuted in 2005. It's always been a fascinating procedural that hasn't shied away from the political and social issues that enter the sphere of law enforcement. The acting is solid, there is a splash of humor, and it has some great interrogation scenes.
Last season, the show followed a story line that, while it felt organic to where we are as a country, was tough to watch. Unable to get her man within the bounds of the law, Chief Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), the show's lead, essentially helped the suspects own gang kill him. At the time, it seemed that the show was presenting that as a just ending to the story.
It bothered me greatly. It was a final blow along a progression of quasi-legal things Johnson had done to ensure that people were punished — either via the justice system or other means — for what she knew they had done. That,…

2011 in Review, Books

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Today I'll begin my look back at 2011 with a review of the books I went through in 2011. There weren't as many as there should have been thanks to school work the first half of the year, but below is a catalog of some of the fun stuff I read this year.
Non-Fiction: "Crazy Love," by Francis Chan — This is a challenging book. I went through it as a part of a small group, and it certainly provided plenty to reflect upon. What I like about the book is the reverence and awe that Chan has for God, which is something we don't get a lot of in our society often. What I didn't like is I felt, at times, like the book went a bit far in talking about our response to this world. It's hard to describe why without going into great specifics, and I do think Chan goes a bit more moderate in the closing section of the book, but again, this is just one man's approach to our faith. It was a fascinating and challenging read that, hopefully, pushes you out of your comfort zon…

Coming Soon, January 2012

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Past Christmas, we've seen the last round of wide releases for 2011. Welcome to 2012, where January is an odd mixture of serious contenders and movies that are contenders for the Golden Raspberry awards. Happy Hunting!
Contenders expected in Wide Release: The Artist — This black and white near silent film about a silent film star dealing with the end of the silent film era has been a festival and critical favorite. This could be one of the Best Pictures of the Year.
The Iron Lady (Jan. 13) — This film, starring Meryl Streep, is about Margaret Thatcher. Streep is the most honored American actress, and this could get her more award consideration.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — This film, based on the novel by Jonathan Frazen, is about a father who dies during the 9/11 attacks and the clues he leaves his son. Featuring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Viola Davis, this looks like a warm-hearted film.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Jan. 27) — This indie favorite is earning rave review…

A Christmas Special for Everyone

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"Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know." — Lucy, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
I am a big movie guy, so every year I get asked what my favorite Christmas movie is. Usually I respond with "Die Hard," the 1988 action picture that launched Bruce Willis as an action star. It's only kind of a joke. I love the film, and it is set at Christmas.
There are a handful of movies I think about at Christmas time, "Die Hard" included. I like "Love, Actually," "A Christmas Story," "It's A Wonderful Life," and "Elf." But when I think about what my favorite Christmas movie is, there really is no debate — the funny thing is that it's not really a movie.
In 1965, Charles Schultz gave the world a great Christmas special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I like the Peanuts, and their universal appeal. But this is t…

Spielberg Gets Animated

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There have been many directors that have decided to make a foray into animated films in recent years. The new art of motion capture has directors looking at material in a new way.
Steven Spielberg added his name to that list Wednesday with the release of "Tintin," a motion capture animated feature that aims to challenge for the top animated film in 2011. The film does it through a mixture of technology and good old fashioned storytelling.
Spielberg famously crafted the "Indiana Jones" series, and he brings that sensibility to "Tintin." The property is about a boy reporter who goes on a great adventure. The material lends itself to the familiar formula, and Spielberg brings in all the touches — from locational shots to musical score — to make it feel like a part of the cannon of his work.
For those looking for something different that want to get a glimpse of what is possible with this new style of animated storytelling, "Tintin" is a fascinating wa…

Now Playing

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It's Christmas time, so the films are coming fast and furious! Big releases Christmas Day as well as we build toward the end of the year. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Joely Richardson Synopsis: Director David Fincher brings his vision for Steig Larsson's novel to the big screen with an American version of the Swedish crime drama. I saw the original film, so I was familiar with the story, but it was fascinating to watch the way the Fincher brought it to life. He is a gifted director, particularly in that genre. This is easily his best crime film since "Se7en," and it's equally as rough to watch at times. Those familiar with the story will know already that it's not a family-friendly tale. Fincher stays true to the source material in showing the dark passages of the journey for Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and the rest of t…

In Defense of "Tree of Life"... Sort of

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"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Job 38:4,7
There have been few films in 2011 that have been as polarizing as "Tree of Life." When it showed at the Cannes Film Festival, the report is that half the crowd applauded and half booed and walked out. The film certainly draws a reaction, but it's a very mixed reaction.
When the film won at Cannes, "Entertainment Weekly" offered divergent view points. One critic loved the film, one hated it. One of the critics, in the year end special, named it the best film of the year. One didn't even have it on the list of the 10 best.
It is a polarizing film. People have either loved it or hated it. I guess I'm the exception. I didn't love the film — in fact, I found it somewhat frustrating to watch. But I didn't hate the film — in fact I was intrigued, somewhat, by the way Terrance Malick seemed to be wo…

A History of David Fincher

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David Fincher is a unique and talented director with a diverse body of work. Doubtless his resume will get a boost tonight when his take on the popular "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" story opens nationwide.
The American version of the popular European crime novel — starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara — is one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season. Doubtless it will add to Fincher's impressive body of work, which spans 20 years of making feature films. Below is a little recap of his work on the big screen.
Early Career: Alien 3 (1992) — Fincher's first feature film was the third film in the "Alien" franchise. Doubtless the film isn't as good as the first product from Ridley Scott or the heralded entry from James Cameron, but it does showcase his skills. It's a darker film, including the shocking final frames for Ripley. You can see his talent, even if this wasn't the best vehicle.
Se7en (1995) — Arguably still his best film. It had an …

A Modern Dark Knight

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"Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight." — James Gordon, "The Dark Knight"
Jonathan Nolan might not be as famous as his brother, Christopher, but he's been a part of, arguably, the greatest superhero franchise of all time — the reboot of "Batman." "The Dark Knight," released in 2008, was a transcendent film. It was a genre picture that, in every way, exceeded the constrains of its genre. I still maintain that it was not only the best film of that year, but the best film of the first decade of the 21st Century.
There are reasons for that. I think that, more than anything, the film is reflective of the world the way it is, and the film's tension is that, while the Nolans realize that, they yearn for something better. As I said when I covered this film for Faith i…

Light of the World

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"I don't know much about God or Jesus, but I can promise you His arms are meant for you!" — Jason Stevens, "The Ultimate Gift."
Today we finished our Raising Hope series with a look at the ultimate hope, Jesus. I picked that quote because I think it speaks to the sense of hope that Jesus can bring, even during trying and difficult times.
In the film, which was intended as a Christian fiction novel and film, a little girl is suffering from leukemia and not likely to survive. She is sitting in a chapel thinking about death and how unfair the whole process is. Her friend, Jason, is at a loss for words before he comes up with the quote that I used to start this post. That encouragement is what she needs to move forward and face her situation.
The same is true for us. We all go through tough times, but our hope comes from Jesus, and the knowledge that He is there for us, that He loves us, and that He has a plan for us, even when we can't see it.
The Apostle Paul end…

Quietly Perfect

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This has been an up and down football season in a lot of ways. Many teams that were predicted to get off to a great start have faltered. Many predicted to be champions have fallen by the way side. Then there are the teams that have rallied.
I love the Denver Broncos, but even I have been surprised, in some ways, by how quickly they've risen from an average team to a contender. The league is all about Tim Tebow now because of his incredible run and, for the first time in years, I'm legitimately excited to see my team on Sundays.
There have been other great stories. The 49ers have risen under coach Jim Harbaugh, and the Houston Texans, despite a gaggle of injuries, continue to quietly be among the AFC leaders. The usual suspects — New Orleans, New England, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore — all seem to be in the playoff/title hunt as well.
Meanwhile, teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers have fallen off the map. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New York …

Golden Globe Nominees

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The awards season is in full bloom. On Thursday, the nominees for the Golden Globes were released. Though the Globes pale in comparison to the Academy Awards, they are a fun lead up to the big day. In recent years the Globes haven't been a great predictor of the Academy Awards, but it's still fun to look at the nominees.
Best Picture — Drama One of the unique things about the Globes is that they give away two Best Picture prizes, but only the ones in this category are usually serious contenders. Though "War Horse" has yet to debut, the other five nominees are all solid films that are in contention, at this point, to make my list for the year's best (which will be posted on this site on Saturday, Dec. 31). Right now, I'm leaning toward "The Descendants" as the best film in the group, but we'll see.
Best Picture — Musical/Comedy This is always a tough category to predict, and one that ends up with some less-than-worthy entrants. It doesn't help th…

Now Playing

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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week!
The Descendants Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley. Amara Miller, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, Nick Krause, Robert Forester, and Judy Greer Synopsis: Any discussion of the best actor working today comes up with a short list of the usual suspects. There’s Tom Hanks, a perennial favorite, and veterans like Jeff Bridges, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino. Some may even take a younger route and go with stars like Will Smith, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, or Ryan Gosling. Then there’s George Clooney. He may not be the first actor that leaps to mind in a discussion of the best working actor today. In fact, he’s arguably better known as a sex symbol and philanthropist. But watching his body of work in recent years, one can’t help but be impressed by his range and proficiency. Clooney deftly moves between comedy and drama, demonstrating range and depth of emotion in his characters. Two years ago I thought he offered the best performance wit…

Faith in Film 3, That's A Wrap

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A big, heartfelt thanks to everyone who attended the last 12 weeks (or any of the last 12 weeks). This class has always been a passion of mine, and I feel blessed to be able to share that passion with this group each week.
I hope that you all enjoyed the experience as we looked at some interesting films this time around. As I said last night, I appreciate all your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to provide feedback here, or on Facebook, and feel free to add any questions you have and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
We talked about some of the movies we will cover during the next time — including the Robert Duvall film "Get Low" and "Devil." If you have any other suggestions for films, please let me know!
-Matt

Faith in Film, What Dreams May Come

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What do you think of when you think of Heaven? What do you think of when you think of the end of this life? Those are the questions that must be front and center when you talk about the movie "What Dreams May Come."
The film, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, follows the journey of a man who dies and ends up in the afterlife. The film calls it heaven, but as Christians we should take issue with the depiction offered. It certainly doesn't seem to stack up against Scripture, even though we aren't painted a completely clear picture of the ins-and-outs of heaven in the Bible.
Matheson felt the book, which was intended as a scientific exploration of the afterlife, was the most important work of his career. He wasn't a fan of the movie, which took a more New Age religious view. The film deals with the ideas of Heaven and Hell in a context free of God, it also touches on an idea I believe to be similar to purgatory, which is more of a Catholic interpretation of the af…