Due to holiday travel and its attendant obligations/distractions, along with a misguided feeling of obligation toward a gigantic pile of year-end awards screeners, there was just no way I was gonna be able to write up this week's films. Rather than skip them entirely, however, I'll give you a quick Twitter-length rundown. Normal updates will then resume. (Also, donations have slowed to the point where I didn't even hesitate out of guilt to take the week off, so now would be a good time to drop me a couple bucks if you were going through withdrawal.)
• Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese): 48. The magic eludes me, apart from the brief flashback section depicting the creation of Méliès' studio. Entire narrative feels like elaborate yet perfunctory scaffolding for a film-preservation PSA. Still cannot abide Hit Girl (and I never even saw that film). However, I would happily watch an entire movie about Sacha Baron Cohen's emasculated romantic.
• The Collector (1965, William Wyler): 50. Haven't read the novel, but I sense that its virtues have little to do with the abduction plot per se (as was also the case with Stephen King's Misery, a great book about writing turned into a pointless film about a crazy lady). Stamp's performance is all twitchy surface; Eggar fares somewhat better but frequently gets drowned out by Maurice Jarre's overbearing score. Surprised this hasn't been remade.
• Oranges and Sunshine (2010, Jim Loach): W/O. Just curious about Loach Jr., who appears to have inherited Dad's politics but little of his passion. Utterly bereft of even the pretense of artistry—it just proceeds mechanically along the most direct course from point A to point Z, generating the exact same sense of outrage one could get by reading a two-paragraph news summary. Wretched.
• The Muppets (2011, James Bobin): 57. Still have a hard time getting past all the voices being wrong, and some of the pop-culture riffs ("We Built This Fucking City"?) are outright painful. But it's more funny and charming than not, even if sometimes in ways that feel more Conchord-y than Muppety—the "Man or Muppet?" number, for example, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Henson's sensibility, but it still hurt my ribs.
• /To Die For/ (1995, Gus Van Sant): 69. Two brilliant films that unfortunately have nothing much to do with each other. Portrait of a manic careerist draws copious satirical blood (FYRC: Wayne Knight, Supporting Actor) (R = Retroactive), while Phoenix, Affleck and Folland lend startling credibility and poignance to the Pamela Smart angle; where the two are meant to intersect, the going gets implausible, tonally incoherent, or both. Hey look, Kidman's actual face!
• Bellflower (2011, Evan Glodell): 68. Glodell clearly knows these guys are pathetic, in my opinion; that a certain amount of genuine adolescent wish-fulfillment creeps in only lends the film a fascinating tension. Journey from dorky sweetness to epic misogynistic self-pity is abrupt and bracing, beautifully aided by the sulfurous color scheme, ultra-shallow focus and grime-caked lens. Woodrow will now turn into Death Proof's Stuntman Mike.