Shame – 7.8

This was a minimalist movie, like, say, a Donald Judd sculpture: stark, clean lines, eerily beautiful, solid and ambiguous in meaning. The opening shot established the director’s style – monochromatic (usually blue), intense, with long, slow takes. The epitome was Carey Mulligan singing “New York, New York.” Not only did she sing at half-speed, but the camera let her sing the entire song, something you’ll never see in today’s cinema, geared toward the MTV 2-second-attention-span generation. One felt assaulted by the end, and not from the frequent sexual couplings. Every minute was a challenge to understand Brandon’s emotions, what he was thinking, what his addictive illness was. This Michael Fassbender character would have been an ideal patient for the Michael Fassbender character I saw two movies ago.

Young Adult – 7.5

Charlize Theron was sensational as a case of arrested development, the fast blonde whose life peaked senior year in high school. She was also, I’m advised, a convincing alcoholic. Beyond that, there was not much of a story and only one other interesting character, Matt, the schlubby guy who viewed high school from the opposite end. The movie’s sensibility recalled its precursor, Juno, but whereas that was a tale of affirmation, this was a downer – mildly amusing with lots of good Minnesota touches – but still a downer.

The Dangerous Method – 7

Most interesting as a history lesson in the lives and characters of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, so I hope the screenwriters did their research. Top billing, however, went to Keira Knightley, who certainly did a lot of acting, although I could have done with less jaw-jutting as a sign of repressed tension. Fassbender, Mortenson and Cassel were all exquisite as pioneer psychologists; their own personal hangups and foibles left one as unclear as ever as to the merits of psychoanalysis. The movie itself was such a total talkie that its origin as a stage play was obvious. As a play it might even have been better.

My Week with Marilyn – 7.9

A totally sweet story, conceived in innocence and told as such. There were no villains (just some buffoons), no tension or melodrama; every character was worth the time and every scene was fun to watch. Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench, as Laurence Olivier and Sybil Thorndike, reminded us what great actors the British are, and the less-famous TK in the lead was wholesomely ingenuous and believable in a hard-to-believe role. That leaves Michelle Williams as Marilyn, perhaps an impossible part to play. She conveyed a multi-sided, ambiguous American idol with great skill: was she strong or weak, cunning or naive, practiced or natural? All that was clear was that Marilyn commanded attention, but this is where the simulacrum fell short. Still, without shooting too high – after all, this week was at best a most minor footnote in Marilyn’s life – this film gave us some insights an lots of pleasure.

Hugo – 7

A sumptuously beautiful film, but a beauty that had nothing to do with nature and everything to do with the hermetic world of the cinema. I suspect a true cinephile would have recognized an allusion in every character, every shot of Martin Scorsese’s homage to George Melies, silent film, and the French cinema. For the moderately interested, like me, Hugo commanded respect and admiration, but neither love nor rapture. It was a gorgeous and clever pastiche, but when it was over there was relief in exiting the claustrophobic world of Hugo and Ben Kingsley’s train station and breathing the real air outside.

The Descendants – 7

This George Clooney vehicle started slowly then gradually built to a moderate walk – an apt metaphor since the film had two scenes of Clooney running, something his agent should guard against. There were travelogue scenes of Hawaii and an unconvincing subplot about the disposal of a Hawaiian estate, but the film’s thrust was the coming together, or healing, of Clooney’s initially dysfunctional family. For me, the nugget that made the movie watchable was the maturation of 17-year-old Alexandra, who began as a brat then turned into a young adult when her father started to treat her as one. Her sidekick Sid also grew, from preposterous to understandable. But the movie depended on Clooney, and he never seemed engaqing or terribly realistic as a father, cuckolded husband, lawyer or wearer of Hawaiian shirts.