Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 (B) delves even deeper into the emo treasure box of this CGI animation universe, with elegiac and nostalgic results. This is the installment of the family franchise that plumbs themes of putting away childish things, playing on the heartstrings without yielding as much fun with the playthings. Woody, Buzz and friends are donated to a daycare when owner Andy is preparing for college, and more melancholy moments and farewells happen than in Return of the King. The farewell tour is about as final as a Cher concert (see Toy Story 4). There’s still plenty of comedy and cleverness, but this entry tries hard to be capital “I” Important.
Rabbit Hole (A) is a tearjerker of the first order with a never-better Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart mining a groundswell of grief after the loss of their son. Director John Cameron Mitchell does an elegant and intimate job at getting to the heart of the story. Miles Teller is superb as the family’s son in flashbacks.
Director Jon Favreau expands his mileu and enhances his aesthetic with an Iron Man 2 (B+) that builds on the giddy spirit of the first and allows Robert Downey Jr. to continue to hold court over gab and gadgetry. It’s a rip-roaring actioner with an even more personal story, higher stakes and an all-star supporting cast including Mickey Rourke as a villain and Scarlett Johannson and Samuel L. Jackson in Avenger roles. Gwyneth Paltrow returns, and Don Cheadle takes over the role originated by Terrence Howard. All in all, it’s a sensational sequel success.
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (B+) is the master director making a popcorn movie, like he did with Cape Fear. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo go to an island asylum ostensibly to solve a crime, but they may soon find themselves prisoners of the mysterious place. This is great escapist entertainment with surprises at every corner.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception (A) is a perfect puzzle of a movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio helping sell the notion of highjacking peoples’ dreams . The high-concept effects and superb supporting cast including Ellen Page and Tom Hardy helps make the multiple parallel timelines work seamlessly. It’s a dazzling and inventive display of derring-do by one of the few directors who could pull thing kind of thing off.
David Fincher’s The Social Network (B) tells the true-life story of the founding of Facebook. Its fairly unlikable hero Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) aside, the film is a glossy and smartly told story about the lengths folks will go to protect their vision and invention and how stone-cold they can be in discarding friends in the process. Andrew Garfield gets a “like” for his performance. Armie Hammer is also good in two performances as twin investors jilted by Zuckerberg. The film is a bit austere, cold and calculating like its subject, which doesn’t take away from its craftsmanship but maybe from its endearment.
Tom Hooper’s The King Speech (A) is an unexpected buddy film about a stuttering king and the speech coach who helps him get his words out right. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are both quite remarkable in those two roles, respectively. Helena Bonham Carter is quite good too as the king’s spouse. The film takes on even more gravitas when the king’s big speech is assuring a country in a time of war. Some folks may think this film standard or staid, but it really is quite a masterpiece for lovers of language and of exquisite acting. It richly deserves any awards crowns.
Tim Burton’s live action take on Alice in Wonderland (B-) is pretty enjoyable, relying, as he does, in style over substance. The visually inventive director has a field day with the 3-D and whimsical characters; it’s a “drink me” dreamscape of oddities to ogle. The film is a pretty fun confection but largely forgettable. Mia Wasikowska is a solid female lead, and Helena Bonham Carter was funny. Johnny Depp may have run out of eccentric ideas.
Matt Damon and ensemble provide an intelligent, nuanced look at the afterlife in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (B+). Three stories “crash” together in a film that is moving while avoiding being sentimental. Deliberately paced but good payoff.
True Grit (A) is another masterpiece from the Coen Brothers with superb acting from the leads and enough adventure to please western film purists. A fun, feisty and rightly acclaimed modern classic.