I know it's the end of March, but I'm finishing this list, dammit! I've watched all the Oscar nominees and aside from Moneyball and The Descendants, I just don't know what all those stuffy old white men were thinking. Oh well, I think 2012 is going to be a great year for big time blockbuster movies, but may be lacking in really serious, Oscar-worthy fare. Although it's really too early to tell what's going to come out in the fall, I'm pretty sure my list next year will be wildly different from the Academy's. But it's always nice to have a surprise come along every once in a while. A movie that was never on your radar, but you gave it a shot and it turned out to be one of your favorites. It's happened with Once Upon a Time in the West for me and it happened last year when I decided to watch Mike Mills' second movie, Beginners.
Beginners (R) - Runtime: 105 minutes
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent
Director: Mike Mills
I really had enjoyed the movie Thumbsucker from Mike Mills, so I thought that Beginners sounded alright. Although I tend to find that "independent" movies that present themselves as comedy/dramas in their trailers are extremely misleading and some of the most pretentious and not-at-all-funny movies I've ever come across. All of Noah Baumbach's films are like this and I will never fall for his use of a happy Death Cab for Cutie song again in a trailer for his upcoming movie to make things seem happy, when in fact, all his movies are about sadness and selfish people. But Beginners is quite different - it's certainly sad, but there's a sweetness at the heart of the whole film. It doesn't hurt that the movie is somewhat autobiographical for Mills - his father came out after his mother died - because it gives the film a sincere look into a very complicated family.
The movie is narrated by McGregor, who's a man named Oliver that has a lot of trouble building lasting relationships. The movie takes place after his father, Hal, has passed away, but shows flashbacks of his time with his dad after he has come out of the closet and begins a relationship with another man. While dealing with all these complicated emotions after his father's battle with cancer ends abruptly, he meets a beautiful French actress named Anna that sweeps him off his feet. It's through this relationship and thinking about his father that he comes to realize how much his mother and father shaped how he approaches his own love life.
It's a really sad movie at times - there's a lot that Oliver has to deal with and he's a naturally sullen and lonely man. But Anna comes along and is a huge bright spot in his otherwise dark world. Their relationship sparks and it seems quite convincing - I too fell in love with Anna (and Laurent for that matter!) - she just was the right kind of charming for this movie. A lot has been said about Christopher Plummer's performance (and it's well-deserved - he's simply spot-on in this movie!) but McGregor and Laurent really carry the movie. There's definite chemistry between the two and they settle into their roles quite nicely. There's also Arthur, Hal's dog that Oliver takes care after his passing. That dog is the best - in fact he's more charming than Uggie from The Artist!
The movie will definitely have you in tears (unless you're a robot), but ultimately it's a really sweet and funny movie that just hits the right notes about life and love. Don't let the hipster exterior cover fool you - this is a great movie and rightfully one of the best in 2011.