12.29.2011

The Films of 2011: Summer memories



The last films of the year will be trickling into Boston theaters in the next two months or so, after which point I’ll be compiling my top ten list (I’m still anxiously waiting to see The Artist, A Dangerous Method, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, among a few others).  But I thought I should take a minute to remember—however briefly—three great summer releases that I caught theatrically but didn’t get around to posting about, on the chance that one or two end up making my end-of-the-year cut.

The films of what we might call Woody Allen’s late period—from Match Point (2005) on—have been hit or miss, though altogether they’ve marked a fresh and exciting turn in his career.  This year’s Midnight in Paris, which has become Allen’s highest-grossing film at the box office (it had something like a five-month run here at Cambridge’s Kendall Square Cinema), ranks not only with the better of his European films but also with his best fantasies (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Mighty Aphrodite, etc.).  It’s a lovingly drawn Hischfeld caricature of the 1920s Paris avant-garde scene, governed by a conceit that feels like vintage Woody (a modern-day screenwriter [Owen Wilson] who feels that he’s been born into the wrong era travels back in time every night at the stroke of twelve).  As Match Point returned to the ground Allen covered in 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Midnight in Paris takes up the questions of nostalgia and escapism explored in Purple Rose.  It’s worth seeing for the lovely opening sequence alone, a cosmopolitan echo of the opening of Manhattan set to Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere.” 

Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff (pictured above) is a revisionist Western par excellence, a minimalist curiosity that follows three families as they make a slow, arduous journey by wagon train toward California, guided (or perhaps led off course) first by a garrulous frontiersman (Bruce Greenwood), then by an enigmatic Native American stranger (Rod Rondeaux).  Like Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it re-imagines the details of Western life unconventionally, at times almost surrealistically.  It’s also a great performance from Greenwood, and Michelle Williams is better here than in the film for which she received more attention this year, My Week with Marilyn.

It’s also a shame that Errol Morris’ Tabloid has largely been forgotten and ignored since its release in July, because it’s something of a return to form for the idiosyncratic documentarian whose best films have always turned their gaze on weirdos, quirks, rubes, and obsessives.  (His more recent work has gotten bogged down in more high-minded political matters.)  In Joyce McKinney—former beauty queen, possible kidnapper, dog-cloner, die-hard romantic—he finds a fascinating subject.

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