J’Aime Regarder Les Filles – 6.5

A very French film about the working-class student who is madly in love with the rich beauty until he wakes up to/with the slightly less beautiful girl who has been vainly chasing him. What either girl sees in Primo is a total mystery unless they, like the director, see him as a reincarnation of Jean Pierre Leaud. The total fixation on young love, despite vague socio-economic-political rumblings in the 1981 background, is also very French, if a bit vapid.

Darling Companion – 8

Kevin Kline is the best comedic actor of his generation, Diane Keaton is an unfailingly charming but a little ditsy comedienne, and together they anchor this hilarious but touching Big Chill-at-60 reprise by director Lawrence Kasdan. The plot is ostensibly about a lost dog, Freeway, but I needn’t have worried: Freeway is lost for much of the film, the McMuffin, if you will, for the deeper story about relationships among the three couples. None are easy, all require quite a bit of faith as well as work, and this is what makes the world go ’round. With lots of witty lines thrown in.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – 6

A rather mystifying, unneeded retelling of the classic John le Carre/Alec Guinness spy story. The main characters are represented by chess pieces, and that’s about how much they come to life. Gary Oldman is widely praised for his Smiley, but his expression changed only on the few occasions his ex-wife was mentioned. I found it strangely unimportant that secrets were being stolen, I cared little about which was the spy, and I have no idea why Prideaux was left alive and sent home to England when Karla was through with him. I can’t even remember if this was in black-and-white, but it should’ve been.

The Artist – 5

Like War Horse, this was an hommage to an era of movies past, and, also like War Horse, for me it was devoid of originality or emotional involvement. Unlike the Spielberg film, which actively annoyed me, this one merely left me cold. Featuring a lead character who was vain, proud, mean to his wife and sporting a pencil-thin mustache was not the way to win my sympathy. Having the studio’s meal ticket arrive at the lot only to learn from a janitor that the studio had switched from silent films to talkies overnight did little to win my belief. Yes, making a silent film in 2011 is a cute trick, but the reasons the studios switched back in the day remain just as valid now. I kept thinking how much more I would be enjoying watching – and listening to – Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the category of film-homage movies that are up for awards this season, I will credit Scorsese’s Hugo for creating characters worth caring about.

Girl With a Dragon Tattoo

I can’t think of a book whose plot I remember so well as Girl, which made this relatively faithful adaptation more a checklist for me than a separate cinema experience. I had no objections to the presentation, although neither Daniel Craig nor Rooney Mara matched my imagination; but I have to wonder what someone who hadn’t read the book would think. Whole characters, such as Blomkvist’s lawyer sister, would never have appeared in the film, except to appease viewers familiar with the novel. And the story’s most glaring flaw – why the villain would flee the scene of his crimes (to go where?) instead of returning with one of his many guns to eliminate our heroes – stood out more in the movie.

War Horse – 2

This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen – at least for this year. Attempting an homage to “sincere” movies of the ’40s and ’50s, Steven Spielberg came up with an epic that was not merely corny, but phony. Every scene was absurd, every character a cliche: the dastardly landlord, the dissolute father, the long-suffering mother, the courageous youth, etc., etc. Nor was the story interesting or enlightening: a horse survived four years of brutal treatment by the Huns in great shape. It didn’t save anyone’s life, it wasn’t a beacon of hope that kept the soldiers fighting on. It – unlike most of the soldiers, who were largely glossed over – survived. Every scene, cued by John Williams’ trite orchestration, blatantly aimed for the heartstrings. And missed. Disney would’ve done it better.