Let’s go to the movies

Winter is a perfect time to go to the movies. It’s a warm, indoor activity available pretty much anywhere you live. And many of the Oscar-worthy films are released late in the year, often on the coasts, and meander their way to the Midwest and other small markets as January progresses.

I’ve been on a real movie jag the past few weeks. I had in mind a few weeks ago to try to see three movies in one day at the Fleur in Des Moines. I had all the times planned out, and it would have worked, too. But instead we got a late start and went to just two films — which turned out to be plenty. They were “Young Adult” starring Charlize Theron and “The Descendants” starring George Clooney. Both films were really well done but both depressing in a lot of ways. I was sort of glad we didn’t see my third choice — “Melancholia” — which is about the end of the world. Talk about depressing!

I liked Young Adult very much, mainly for the performances of Theron as Mavis Gary, an author of young adult fiction who lives in the Twin Cities, and Patton Oswalt, her former high school classmate who still lives in her hometown. Mavis is a high school “mean girl” who has never really grown up. She returns to her hometown to go after an old boyfriend because she’s learned he and his wife have just had a baby. Mavis’s delusions make her only somewhat sympathetic — mostly you can’t believe what a horrible person she is. Oswalt’s character provides a balance of humanity. The screenplay is by Juno’s Diablo Cody.

The Descendants is set in Hawaii and features fine acting and a script with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep you interested but never jettisons off into a land of unbelievability. It’s simultaneously sad and funny, depressing and uplifting. The Hawaiian setting makes an interesting backdrop and plays an important role in the film’s storyline.

Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst as a beautiful young woman suffering from depression. While others are in a panic at the impending collision of the earth by another planet, she embraces the fact. The movie is beautifully filmed, with a stunning score featuring music by Richard Wagner. Images of the film stay with you for a long time, and it’s difficult to look up at the sky in the same way again.

The next film I really wanted to see was “My Week with Marilyn” starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. The film is based on the tense interaction between Sir Laurence Olivier and Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Monroe’s vulnerability and the disparity between her true self and her Marilyn Monroe persona is fascinating to watch. A young “third assistant director,” Colin Clark, befriends Miss Monroe and helps her through the difficult film. Of course, he falls in love with her. She’s Marilyn Monroe — how could you not fall in love with her? I loved Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Eddie Redmayne as Colin and really just loved the movie from beginning to end.

I missed “Moneyball” when it was a first-run film but caught it at the dollar show last week. I am not a sports fan but this is not, strictly speaking, a baseball movie. There’s plenty of baseball in it, but it’s much more similar to “The Social Network,” say, than it is to “Bull Durham” or “The Natural.” That should come as no surprise since Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay for both Moneyball and The Social Network. The excellent cast is anchored by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball franchise, and Jonah Hill as a geeky economics graduate who turns the game upside down. I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did. It’s intelligent and thought-provoking, and — I’ll be honest — Brad Pitt is really nice to watch.

That brings us to the last film: “The Artist.” This film was not on my radar screen until last weekend when I watched the Golden Globe awards on television. It was raking in the nominations and seemed to have a very positive buzz in the audience. It opened in Des Moines on Friday, so we went to see it last night. It’s really an amazing film, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I have to wonder how it ever got made — a black and white silent film in 2011? I would have loved to have been in the meeting where the film’s creator pitched that idea to the producers. But I’m so glad it worked out, because the story of silent movie star George Valentin and his long, slow descent into despair after the advent of talking pictures is an absolute joy to behold. It’s sweet and sad and funny and totally lovely from beginning to end. Don’t wait for this one to come out on DVD — it won’t be the same.

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