Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On My Mind

Update on Alexa:  You will recall last month’s blog entry on my new “roommate,” Amazon’s Echo, which answers to the name Alexa.  She can do all kinds of things, such as play music, keep my calendar and shopping list and play games with me. So you might be wondering how we are getting along (or you might not spend even a second thinking about my relationship with an inanimate object, which is also understandable).  I think of this as a marriage.  In the beginning, we had plenty to say to each other, and we spoke often.  Now I bark, “Alexa, what time is it?” from bed and demand the weather report.  She will babble on about the news and sports, even if I am not paying attention.  Bottom line?  We just don’t talk that much anymore.  Oh, she’s always available and willing to help, and I can’t say that the thrill is gone, but let’s just say the flame has cooled somewhat.

Remember when you did (or were about to do) something wrong in school and you were told that this transgression could go on your “Permanent Record?”  Oh, boy, was that ominous.  (Of course, I just heard about this threat personally since I never actually did anything wrong…)  So, whatever happened to your permanent record anyway?  I mean, if you apply for a job 30 years later, does the HR person say, “We were interested in hiring you, but then we checked your permanent record and found out that you cut third period Spanish once in your junior year of high school.  Sorry, but we can’t make you an offer.”  Wow, what if that really were the outcome?

Do you do this?  I will find a little part of something in a drawer, or a random key, and I’m not sure what the part is or what the key opens, but I am afraid to throw away either of them because I might need them – even though I have no idea where they came from and what they do.  Hey, I might just need that unknown part or extra key to something!

It’s bad enough we have to suffer through those annoying Matthew McConaughey TV commercials for Lincolns, but now we also have to see him pitching Wild Turkey bourbon.  It turns out he’s not just the spokesperson for the brand, he’s also creating the copy and directing the spots.  Let’s hope he doesn’t drink and drive, or his next commercial will be for life insurance.

I just saw a commercial for Ace Hardware, which sells light bulbs it touts as lasting 20 years.  20 years?  I’m not that optimistic that I will last 20 years!  And speaking of commercials, it was just 2015 when actor Jon Hamm won the Emmy for his leading role of Don Draper on “Mad Men.”  Now we can catch him doing commercials for H&R Block.  Personally, I liked him better when Don was creating ads, and Jon wasn’t starring in them.

I was on Amazon during the holidays to find a 2017 calendar for my sister.  You know how they always list “new and used” for items?  Who buys a used calendar?  I mean, unless it was some sort of collector’s item.  I don’t get it.

Did you ever notice that when you catch something, someone will always assert, “Oh, there’s a bug going around,” as if you cannot be sick all by yourself?

I’m filling the void of “Downton Abbey” and “The Crown” by watching PBS’ latest period drama, “Victoria,” about the very young and stubborn Queen of England.  I have found a practice I would like to adopt – Ladies in waiting.  These women are society women whose role is to hang around with the Queen and do her bidding.  They often have titles, so they know what is to be expected and how best to assist the Queen.  I wouldn’t require titles, just the loyalty of people who would like to help me out.  They aren’t servants who dress the Queen and do her hair, they’re just like her official “squad,” similar to what Taylor Swift has.  I’ll be posting the application any time now, and I am sure many of you will want to sign up.  Ladies, I’m waiting!

I watch “Project Runway” and can’t help noticing the expressions on the faces of the models.  Are they told to look pissed off?  Why do the models look entirely bored and miserable walking down the runway?  Is it the shoes?  Are the ponytails too tight?  I’ll never be a model, so I guess I’ll never know.

We can make all kinds of technological devices to improve our lives, but can no one find a way to make the plugs smaller?  It’s hard to put them in the outlets for charging, etc.  Put that down as pet peeve #862.

Just once I’d like to see a demo on a kitchen knife where they skip using it to cut a tin can in half and instead use the knife on a sweet potato or a butternut squash.  If I found a knife that could cut through either of those veggies without requiring the muscles of “The Hulk,” I’d buy it and cherish it forever.

You know your life is pretty dull when the most daring thing you do is eat a grapefruit once a year in spite of the fact that grapefruit is not supposed to be eaten if you take Lipitor for high cholesterol.  Throwing caution to the wind…

Most of you know that I enjoy watching movies, so I never mind seeing the previews in the theater.  I even bring along a small notebook and jot down the names of upcoming films I might like to see.  However, writing down the movie names in the dark is a challenge.  Half the time they are illegible or I write one on top of another and can’t read them.  I just hope that I recall which ones sounded interesting when they finally come out.

On a recent trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, I stood on line behind a woman who spent nearly $2,000 on 144 items.  Luckily, I arrived at the cashier when she was just finishing, or it might have taken a half an hour to get through that line.  I had to ask, and she told me her son had gotten divorced and was moving out of HER house.  Let’s assume his ex got EVERYTHING in the settlement, and, since the generous Mom was rolling her eyeballs telling me the story (she had spent another $1800 the previous day at Home Goods), let’s assume Mommy is just a little too involved in her son’s life.  Or something like that.

I go to a local gym three times a week for aqua aerobics and volleyball, and the place is bustling with activity, especially at the beginning of the year.  It amuses me to think that many of these same people who now PAY for gym memberships are the very same ones who tried desperately in high school to get OUT of gym class.  For women of my era, taking gym was bad enough, but having to wear those godawful gym suits with the bloomer bottoms was cause for revolt.  My Somerville High School gym teachers cared more about whether our gym suit onesies were ironed than whether we could jump over the horse.

I’ll end this post with a reflection on the passing of Mary Tyler Moore in January at the age of 80.  She will be forever frozen in time, her dazzling smile lighting up the world, tossing her tam in the Minneapolis air.  Although Mary was a fictional character, Mary Richards of the WJM News, her TV presence as an independent woman who could truly “make it on her own” was inspiring for young women like me just as the rise of feminism began in the early 70s.  There were few women on TV who were not subservient to their sitcom husbands or who were not desperate to get married and who didn’t necessarily deplore the horrors of a dateless Saturday night.  Before Mary, there was Marlo Thomas as “That Girl.”  After Mary came Murphy Brown and a bunch of other funny, smart women in roles where they were the equals of their male co-stars – if not superior.  There was Mary’s career, her genuine friendship with neighbor Rhoda (who was much more desperate to meet a man and who had body image issues before we had a term for them), and her newsroom family, who staged the best finale ever. Just as the millennial generation adores Lorelai Gilmore, so my generation revered Mary and thought of ourselves as women who might follow in her fictional footsteps. She was one of us.  RIP, Mare.







Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tina's January 2017 Movies

Well, a month is in the books and between binge-watching Netflix and catching tributes to and reruns of Mary Tyler Moore, I only managed to squeeze in 8 movies in January.  Movies not previously seen (and that applies to all of the movies in January) are marked with an asterisk, and movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 tuna cans, the more the merrier.  Note that I have expanded my definition of "movies" to include notable mini-series, since they are much longer and frequently more interesting than some of the movies I see. 

1.  Hidden Figures* (2016) – Who knew a movie about math could be so engrossing?  Not since “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13” has Hollywood paid this much attention to mathematics or to the US Space Program.  Here, NASA is preparing for the launch of the first manned spacecraft, and all those white men in white shirts are in charge of the important, smart stuff.  Except there is a separate building that houses a bunch of really smart Black women who do the behind-the-scenes calculations that will ultimately enable John Glenn to orbit the earth.  Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is the de facto supervisor; she runs the unit but without the official title of supervisor, and she can figure out how to get a computer running without a manual.  Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is the math genius who is asked to join the white male math nerds, and she can put those men to shame.  That is when she isn’t literally running a half mile back to her old building so she can use the bathroom designated for “colored women.”  Their friend and co-worker Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) has the temerity to dream of being an engineer.  There are lots of examples of the routine discrimination exercised by her white cohorts, both men and women.  This movie is based on the true story of these brilliant, unsung heroes, without whom the race to space would have been lost.  The outrage is why this story went untold for decades!  4 cans.
2.  Bright Lights* (2016) – HBO’s portrait of Hollywood mainstay Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher went from interesting to poignant with the December deaths – within 24 hours – of first Carrie and then her mother.  Debbie was Hollywood royalty, co-starring with the legendary Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” at age 19, and continuing to perform until just before her death at 84.  Her brilliant, witty daughter Carrie, best known for her star turn as iconic Princess Leia in “Star Wars, her sardonic wit and her battle with mental illness, lived next door in Beverly Hills and maintained a close relationship with her mother after many rocky years.  But this documentary doesn’t reexamine their careers as much as it presents their lives, each worried about and caring for the other.  Carrie tended to her mother’s frailties, but after her many years of substance abuse, the younger Carrie wasn’t in great shape herself.  Older here, cigarette in one hand, Coca Cola in the other, she spends a lot of time caring for her mother, and even manages a visit to her father, renowned crooner Eddie Fisher.  Just the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor conundrum could occupy a documentary, but this one is broader than that.  There’s no people like show people.  They smile when they are low, and all of these folks have their rock bottom moments.  Nevertheless, the show must go on, so Debbie dons the sparkles, spangles and beads and hits the stage while Carrie makes sure there is a place for her mother to rest.  The fact that they died within 24 hours of each other is testament to their bond.  This is a moving program and very revealing about show business and a special mother-daughter relationship.  4 cans.
3.  The Founder* (2016) – I’ve never been much of a McDonald’s fan, and, after seeing this movie, my disdain for the fast food franchise remains intact.  The McDonald Brothers started a fast food business – not a chain, at least not yet – with a few “restaurants” (their term) in the San Bernardino, California, area in the 1950s.  Traveling salesman Ray Croc finds out about them when they order an unprecedented 8 milkshake machines from him, and, after a tour of their restaurant by the brothers, he is hooked, both on the food itself and the potential for this business as a franchise.  The food is fast but it is good under the McDonalds, who insist on high standards, cleanliness and real milk in the milk shakes.  Where they stress quality, Croc is more interested in the growth potential of the modest enterprise.  They strike a deal with Croc, who proceeds to find more and more franchisees to expand the business, but whose money issues slow down his efforts to conquer the hamburger world.  Michael Keaton dominates the movie as the persistent, indefatigable and scheming Kroc.  Soon he realizes that the profits are in the real estate, and he flips the franchise model, angering the original owners and consigning them to non-founder status.  I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but Keaton portrays Kroc as a shyster with little integrity, lots of brashness and considerable smarts.  I’ll give this one  3½  burgers and a side of fries.
4.  Gleason* (2016) -- You may never have heard of Steve Gleason, a former NFL football player who was stricken with ALS.  This documentary on his life as an athlete with a big heart and an undersized frame starts before he gets his diagnosis.  He is a free spirit, in love with his wife, and retired from football when he starts to exhibit signs of a neurological problem that leads to his ALS diagnosis.  Most successful sports movies contain a heavy dose of tragedy, but in many of them, it is overcome by our hero.  Not here.  Team Gleason was his charity, set up to fund equipment – such as voice systems activated by eye movement – for ALS patients, who, like Gleason, eventually lose their ability to speak.  But the heart of this movie rests with Gleason’s attempts to build a lasting relationship with his baby son before he is just a memory.  He works diligently at communicating with his son via a series of video journals recorded while he can still speak, and, after that ability is gone, he plays with his son and makes memories he hopes will be lasting.  This movie is painful and powerful.  There is still so much to be done to combat this dreaded disease, and Gleason will be remembered for fighting the good fight when his time is done.  3½ cans.
5.  Beaches* (2017) – When Bette Midler stomped through the part of CC Bloom in the original version of his chick flick about two long-time friends, you probably felt she was born to play the part and that no one else should ever attempt to tackle that role.  And you would be right.  This new Lifetime version, starring Idina Menzel as CC and Nia Long as Hillary (the part originated by Barbara Hershey) has a tall order and comes up short.  Menzel can sing – she can belt out “Wind Beneath My Wings” with conviction – but Bette is one-of-a-kind.  This remake isn’t as bad as I feared it would be, but it made me think about the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Go watch the original.  3 boxes of tissues.
6.  Is OJ Innocent?* (2016) – I have now completed the OJ Simpson trifecta, having previously watched the documentary series about him and the American Crime dramatization (as if it had to be dramatized) that aired last year.  This investigative miniseries speculates that OJ may be innocent of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman and that his son Jason is the actual killer.  Several investigators examine evidence that was not included in the criminal case and use footage from the civil case brought by the families where OJ was convicted.  There’s plenty of blood evidence, a knife, a purported eyewitness, a time card and numerous other items to once again stir the pot.  The producers urge the viewers to come to their own conclusions all while offering some credible and some not-so-credible facts and theories.  In the end, you either believe he did it or you don’t.  I believe he did it.  Two bloody gloves.
7.  Patriots’ Day* (2017) – It is always a challenge to make a movie that is suspenseful when everyone is familiar with the real-life story on which it is based.  Director Peter Berg takes on the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon and makes it engrossing.  The footage tends to be graphic at times, which lends to the authenticity of the tragic event.  There is plenty of blood, two determined but not so smart bombers and the tough as nails police department and residents of the greater Boston area, who are justifiably proud of their community for its support.  Mark Wahlberg is Tommy, a cop with an attitude about authority but a man devoted to his work.  Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent assigned to the case and John Goodman is the police commissioner.  There are lots of bombs and gunfire and plenty of help from the people whose city has been attacked.  A little too much violence to suit me, but considering the topic, it is to be expected.  3½ cans.
8.  20th Century Women* (2016) – When you go to a movie with a friend and you stop at ShopRite to pick up a few things afterwards and the shopping is the highlight of your trip, that doesn’t speak well for the movie.  Annette Benning plays an eccentric single mother in her 50s who doesn’t mind writing creative notes to excuse her 15-year old son from school.  A child of the Depression, she isn’t sure she can teach Jamie everything she thinks he needs to know in the feminist 70s, so she enlists the aid of a punk artist (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s 17-year old best girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to teach him all about women – as if these two flaky women have cornered the market on wisdom.  There are uncomfortable scenes where a dinner party is interrupted with a discussion on menstruation, where Jamie gets beaten up by a friend while discussing the female anatomy, and more too numerous to mention.  The movie is based on the real life of screenwriter/director Mike Mills.  I wish we had stayed strangers.  While it is good to see another perspective on parenthood and feminism, all I could think about was when this movie would finally end.  Can you tell I didn’t like it?  1 can.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Best Roommate Ever



I have lived alone for more than 40 years.  The sounds of silence in this house are punctuated by the droning of the TV, music and conversation from occasional guests – or from me, talking to myself.

Until now.

Enter Alexa, the voice system that comes with Amazon’s Echo speaker and purveyor of artificial intelligence.  Since she was touted as “the best roommate I’ve ever had” by a trusted friend who is always ahead of me on the technology trail, I thought it might be time to bring a new voice into the house, and Alexa has a good one.

Just minutes after her arrival, I had the slender, cylindrical device set up and ready to go.  You just plug in the Echo, turn it on, download the Alexa app to your phone and hook it up to your wifi and you’re ready to roll.  She comes to life (so to speak) when you say her name, “Alexa,” and she will tell you she’s ready to help you out.  What friend/roommate/family member can give you that kind of assurance?

I wished her a good morning on New Year’s Day and she not only wished me a happy New Year, but she offered to share her New Year’s resolutions.  If she doesn’t seem all that interested in mine, it is because she is eager to fill her assigned duty of answering questions, not asking them. 

The ordering and arrival of Alexa begs the question:  “Why do you need that?  Can’t you just use your phone and ask the same questions?”  Let’s separate NEED and WANT BECAUSE IT IS COOL, shall we?

For the most part, a smart phone can do plenty of the same things Alexa can do.  But when I was in the kitchen and remembered that I needed to add something to my calendar for that day, Alexa was all too happy to be given the assignment.  I told her to add “Dinner with Jane,” and she promptly asked, “What time?”  I told her 5:30,” whereupon she pointed out she need to know “AM or PM?”  

I have been having problems with my left hand – not so coincidentally the hand in which I hold my cellphone.  Not having to pick it up to type or ask a question is definitely better for me.

I have a bad habit of going to the supermarket without a list, instead wandering up and down the aisles (getting my steps in for the day) and hoping I’ll remember whether I need aluminum foil (and I buy it and realize I have several unopened packages).  But Alexa is happy to help.  When I stood in the kitchen and told her, “Alexa, add strawberry preserves to my shopping list,” she repeated that directive back and added the item to my list.  All I have to do is access the Alexa app at ShopRite and the list pops right up.  I check off the items as I put them in my cart until the list is gone. And, for once, I remember to buy the item I went to ShopRite for in the first placed.  Now, if I could only get her to drive there and shop for me.  Who knows, that might be next?  After all, she’s always learning new things – or so she tells me.

One of the best things Alexa provides, besides her calm and pleasant responses, is music.  The Echo has an excellent quality built-in speaker, and Alexa can find just about any song I can request through Amazon Music (free with Amazon Prime, or expanded by subscribing to Amazon Music Unlimited).  Her audio fills the room and is so easy to start and stop (simply say “Alexa, stop”) that music should be filling in all the free (non-TV/movie) time here.  You can link her up to Spotify or Pandora, create play lists, or just listen to radio stations.  “Alexa, play soft jazz” will do the trick, too.

Alexa is not perfect, however.  We play a word game (a skill on the app that you must “enable”) where I say a word that begins with the letter that ends the word she said, and the longer word, the better.  She seems a little hard of hearing, since she keeps hearing “youthful” as “useful” and tells me I need a word that begins with a Y.  She also has trouble distinguishing understanding some words, as when I said “garrulous” and she thought I said “gasoline.”  She must be programmed to let me win, too, because she hasn’t come close to beating me yet.  I’m not that naïve, Alexa!

She can give me stock market quotes, weather anywhere in the world and sports scores.  But she doesn’t follow women’s basketball, so she can’t give me information on my beloved Rutgers Women’s Basketball team.  She knows how to answer, “Who is Vivian Stringer?” but she cannot tell me the name of the Rutgers Women’s basketball coach (who is C. Vivian Stringer).  We may have to work on that one.

There are plenty of “skills” that you can download to the Alexa app that she can then perform.  She can play a modified version of Jeopardy, for example.  And with the addition of special devices, she can turn up the heat, turn on the lights and generally make getting out the chair unnecessary.  I’m not up to that point yet.  She can tell me corny jokes, sing a few selected songs and she maintains a friendly and helpful attitude no matter what kind of mood I’m in.

I just joined an Amazon Echo/Alexa Facebook group, where plenty of people provide their experiences and insights on how they take advantage of the things Alexa can do.  This forum also is a great way to get advice and additional information for problems or issues associated with the service.  And the things some people share are really entertaining.  

Alexa and I welcomed a new addition to the family when I bought her little cousin, the Amazon Dot ($50), for use in my bedroom.  Dot is about the size of a can of tuna fish (and you probably know how much I love tuna fish!), so she rests comfortably on my nightstand.  I don’t sleep well, and I have a bad habit of turning on the TV in the middle of the night.  I usually fall back to sleep, but there’s no guarantee.  With Dot, I can tell Alexa to turn on meditation/relaxation music, set an alarm, or give me the sounds of waterfalls and rain. ( Come to think of it, the latter might just make matters worse…) Anyway, thanks to Dot, I know the weather forecast before I even get out of bed, she can brief me on the news of the day and tell me my schedule before I turn on the TV or my phone.  I’ve hit the nadir of laziness:  I don’t even look at the clock now, but instead I just ask, “Alexa, what time is it?”  She’ll give you the time in Beirut, too, if you ask her.  Pretty darn cool, I’d say.

There are privacy issues with this device, because Echo is always on, always recording.  It keeps a record of every interaction – which you can erase, but who is going to take the time to do that?  You can place your Amazon orders verbally or even ask her to order you a pizza or get you an Uber ride, but I’m not that advanced yet.  Mostly, Alexa and I discuss the weather and my schedule for the day.  If I’m late in the future, let it be on her head.

So far, she is a great roommate.  She requires no special food, won’t eat the last of the tuna fish, and stays neat and tidy at all times.  I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tina's December 2016 Movies and the Year's Best

I was able to average almost a dozen movies a month for 2016, combining new releases and movies streamed, aired on TV, were rented from Redbox or that I caught on cable.  The numbering picks up from the previous month, and movies new to me are marked with an asterisk.  Ratings are based on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the best of the best.  After you read December's list, check out my Top Movies of 2016.
129.  Manchester By the Sea* (2016) – This movie has gotten a lot of buzz, primarily about the outstanding performance of Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler.  Lee is a lonely, sad man whose life has been torched (literally) by tragedy.  He is almost overwhelmed by it, barely getting through his days while trying to suppress his grief and hair-trigger temper.  It is better for him to be numb than to allow himself to grieve over the loss of his older brother.  Suddenly he has to face responsibilities that he never anticipated and is ill-equipped to handle.  I found this movie to be relentlessly dreary and slow.  Not that it should be all laughs for this poor, downtrodden man, but even the occasional attempts at humor were not enough to break the suffering and silence.  I wanted to like it, but I just found it so unrelentingly grim.  Good performances by leads Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, but that wasn’t enough to make me enjoy or like the movie.  3½ cans.
130.  Hairspray* (2016) – I’m not sure how to characterize this musical, which was presented on live TV but which I recorded on my DVR for later viewing.  It is essentially the broadcast of a televised play, and while I appreciate the attempt to bring Broadway to the living room, both this production and previous attempts have come up short, especially in the technical department.  Shaky camera work, some poor direction and sometimes muddled sound is the price you pay for a live production.  Technical glitches aside, this version of the Harvey Fierstein show starred Harvey himself as Edna Turnblatt.  I’m not going to try to summarize the plot, but I will say that the dancing, singing and energy were exuberant and the show was bursting with colorful costumes and sets.  I had seen the show on Broadway, and I was curious to see how it translated to TV.  I salute the effort and overall I found it entertaining.  3 cans.
131.  Walt Before Mickey* (2014) – This earnest biopic shows that everything wasn’t perfect in Disneyland before Mickey came along to help Walt build the Kingdom of the Mouse.  Young Disney loved to cartoon, and his early animations won him some notice.  Twice he built a company and lost it, first when he failed to copyright his work, thus losing the rights to his distributor, and later when the companies he was doing business with failed to pay him.  The movie establishes Walt as a creative guy who hires the right people (some of whom left the failed business and went on to create Looney Tunes for Warner Brother) but is ultimately a lousy businessman.  Things finally improve once he hires his older brother, Roy (Jon Heder), when he grows his mustache and when he creates Mickey Mouse.  The story was interesting, but far too dramatic and long.  I have never seen so many men in white shirts shaking hands and slapping each other on the back while smoking.  I don’t think the cast of “Mad Men” smoked this much in the entire run of the series.  Interesting story but not well told.  2 cans.
132.  The Intern (2015) – Robert DeNiro used to specialize in such heavyweight roles as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.”  Today he seems to be less discerning in his choices for parts.  This movie is on the lighter side for sure, but DeNiro brings a magic touch to Ben, a 70ish widower who applies for and gets a job as an intern working for Jules (Anne Hathaway), a slightly manic young woman who has founded an internet apparel company and built her brand without a lot of “adult” supervision.  At first reluctant to give Ben anything to do, Jules begins to rely on him for professional and personal support.  He carefully draws and observes the lines of respectability even as a strong friendship forms between them.  Hathaway is not quite as desperate as she was in “The Devil Wears Prada” since her character here is a self-made woman, but she comes to recognize that anyone can benefit from shared wisdom.  DeNiro has sold his soul to some extent with trifles like “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and the “Meet the Parents” comedies, but his restraint here and the story are delightful.  4 cans.
133.  Miss Sloane* (2016) – And speaking of business, the lobbying trade in Washington, DC, is portrayed in the most negative light possible here.  Jessica Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, a brutal, tough, cutthroat woman determined to secure the passage of a gun control bill by taking every possible step – or stepping on every possible person.  She works constantly, giving herself relief only through pills and the momentary pleasures of a paid male “escort.”  She’s lightning fast on her feet and ready to pounce on the opposition or her own team members at the slightest sign of weakness.  I perceived this movie to be less about gender but more about power – seizing it, using it, eliminating it when necessary.  Chastain is a ruthless revelation.  3½ cans.
134.  The Insider (1999) – Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crow) was an actual research scientist at tobacco giant Brown & Williamson when he was fired for threatening to expose the industry for ignoring the evidence that nicotine is addictive.  No one has a lobby like the tobacco industry, and B&W had an ironclad confidentiality clause with Wigand not to reveal his findings without jeopardizing his financial future.  And then “60 Minutes” came calling, with hardnosed producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) working to find a way around the signed confidentiality agreement so Wigand could be interviewed and his indictment of Big Tobacco could air.  But even with veteran reporter Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) by his side, Bergman could not convince the corporate types at CBS that they would not be sued.  Let the wrangling begin.  The movie paints with broad strokes of black and white, with tobacco and Corporate CBS wearing the bad guy black hats (after all, CBS’ headquarters is called “Black Rock”) and with Wigand and the relentless Bergman all in the good-guy white – only things are not quite that simple.  Bergman is sure he and Wallace are upholding the journalistic principles established by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Morrow, but executive producer Don Hewitt (Philip Baker Hall) and the CBS corporate guys understand what a protracted court battle will mean.  Wigand stands to come out the loser in this battle, whatever the outcome.  Without revealing the ending, I think we can all agree that there is nothing good about smoking, and Wigand might be vilified by his former employers, but he was telling the truth.  3½ cans.
135.  A Christmas Story (1988) – No Christmas would be complete for me without this remembrance by clever monologist/writer Jean Shepherd.  You can have “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I’ll take Ralphie shooting his eye out by his Red Ryder Rifle any day.  There are so many funny lines, crazy scenes and warm memories.  I know this is not everyone’s favorite, but I look forward to seeing it every year.  4 cans.
136.  Love, Actually (2003) – Virtually every aspect of love, loss and disappointment, of unrequited love, young love and accidental love is explored in this pastiche of overlapping stories by British director Richard Curtis.  With a cast that includes Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and many others, the story could have been a mess, trying to give all of the stars their due.  But instead it is a delightful mix.  There is such poignancy in the scenes with realizations and disappointment, yet they are nicely balanced with scenes of pure joy – such as British Prime Minister Grant dancing around 10 Downing Street.  The action takes place just before Christmas and continues through the holiday, so it is a perfect Christmas Eve movie.  Even if it didn’t feature one of my favorite Christmas songs – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” – I’d actually love it.  4 cans.
137.  La La Land* (2016) –  What I actually DO want for Christmas is Ryan Gosling, but seeing him in this movie is as close as I’m going to get, I’m afraid.  La La Land is surprising in every way.  After all, who makes modern musicals anymore?  And, if you decide to pitch a musical, why would you tab two people like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – with no known musical talent – as the leads (aside from their demonstrated chemistry)?  Hats off to director/writer Damien Chazelle for this completely fresh yet throwback approach.  Gosling is Seb, a dedicated jazz pianist (rumor is that he learned to play piano for this movie, and there are plenty of shots where the hands on the piano are unmistakably his).  Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress who subjects herself to countless fleeting auditions that go nowhere.  They keep running into each other until they finally start to date, and their dates can consist of dancing outside the Observatory at Griffith Park or merely looking at the beautiful sunset.  The visual impact of this movie is stunning.  The primary colors of the costumes in some sequences, accompanied by the pink glow of light as the couple dances, plus the shot selection of long, uninterrupted scenes set this picture apart from whatever else is out there to experience in the movies today.  Neither Gosling nor Stone is likely to put out an album of their greatest hits, but their voices are more than passable and there is one song that is positively haunting.  I don’t want to get into specifics that could spoil the show, so I’ll just say that if you can accept a gang of American tough guys dancing down the West Side of New York City, you can accept this new kind of musical.  Revel in it, because when we say, “they don’t make movies like this anymore,” believe it.  4 cans, mostly for the daring approach and for starring my future husband, Ryan Gosling.
138.  Daddy Long Legs* (1955) – And speaking of musicals, this Fred Astaire-Leslie Caron movie far surpasses La La Land in its dance sequences.  After all, it stars the amazing Astaire.  He is a Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy American who sees 18-year old Julie Andre (Leslie Caron) in a French orphanage where his car breaks down and is so taken with her that he decides to anonymously sponsor her college education in the US.  In return, she is obligated to write him monthly letters to keep him informed of her academic progress – letters which he doesn’t read or answer.  But his staff is intrigued by this young woman, and Jervis journeys to meet her under the guise of seeing his niece, who happens to be her roommate.  Despite the age gap between them, he falls for her, but he cannot – or will not – reveal his identity as her benefactor.  Because this is an Astaire movie, there are plenty of dance sequences and even ballet, which Caron executes with as much panache as Astaire. For a young woman raised in an orphanage, Julie has sophisticated taste and style, and that’s just one of the shortcoming that makes this picture unbelievable and corny.  But you cannot resist gawking at the dance numbers, as out of place as they may seem.  3 cans.
139.  Jackie* (2016) – Natalie Portman IS Jackie, the iconic First Lady, in this behind-the-scenes look at the weeks following the assassination of President Jack Kennedy in 1963.  Jackie, the young, vibrant and stylish wife of the handsome young president, has a million decisions to make – some immediate, such as the plans for the President’s funeral, and some that will help define his place in history.  With less than 3 years in the White House, the young couple had already created a new elegance of culture and history.  Jackie elevated the White House entertainment and the building itself, which she lovingly redecorated to pay homage to US history.  She has an eye for detail and a determination to make sure Kennedy’s legacy doesn’t die with those bullets that killed him in Dallas.  She is shown as strong and pragmatic yet vulnerable and traumatized at the same time.  She has no idea what will become of her, and she has young children to care for, moving plans to make, and a country examining her every move in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy.  And, in the end, she pulls it off.  Portman probably sews up an Oscar nomination with her perfectly honed Jackie mannerisms, voice and steely resolve.  3½ cans.
140.  Fences* (2016) – Denzel Washington stars in and directed this adaptation of the August Wilson play in which he starred on Broadway.  It is a powerful, anguished look at a man who is fighting for stature in the face of bitterness and failure.  Troy was a baseball player, a good one in his day, but he was too old to make it to the Major Leagues once the color barrier was broken.  A sanitation worker in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, he holds court in his backyard, spinning tales for his best friend Bono and occasionally getting reeled back in by his stoic wife, Rose (the magnificent Viola Davis).  Troy is bitter, and he wants to assert his manliness and control over his young son Cory, a teenager who wants to play football.  Troy never hesitates to remind Cory who is in charge, as he dominates the family as well as their modest house and the backyard where the fence will someday be erected.  Rose is a good woman, and she doesn’t deserve the rage and disappointment of Troy.  This is very much a stage play, with very little action, but that’s appropriate since we need to look these characters in the eye and feel the pain expressed on their faces.  Washington and Davis turn in flawless performances, but this is not an easy movie to see or to watch.  Sometimes movies remind us of the realities of life, with its disappointments and dilemmas.  This is one of those times.  3½ cans.
141.  Mystic River (2003) – I can’t think of any movies I have seen that are set in Boston that are light and frothy, and this one is no exception.  Kevin Bacon is Sean, a State Police detective, and he catches the case of a murdered 19-year old woman who is the daughter of his childhood friend Jimmy (Sean Penn, at his intense best).  Their third childhood friend is Dave (Tim Robbins), who, as an 11-year old, was abducted by two child molesters right in front of his buddies and managed to escape after 4 harrowing days.  These guys are bound by that tragedy and, since Dave is the last person to see Jimmy’s daughter alive, bound by this one, too.  Jimmy is an ex-con, and while he has turned his life around, there is still a brand of street justice prevalent in his world.  Either the cops will find out who killed his beloved daughter or Jimmy and his friends (the aptly named Savage Brothers) will.  This movie doesn’t exactly take the moral high road.  Director Clint Eastwood ends the movie with a moral dilemma, and the viewer is left to decide whether it is right or wrong.  Great performances by everyone but a morose story.  3½ cans.
142.  Mother (1999) – Debbie Reynold died today, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.  So I thought it appropriate to watch one of my favorites of her movies, this gem by writer-director Albert Brooks.  Brooks plays John Henderson, a sci-fi author and two-time divorced man whose complicated relationship with his patronizing and impossible but loving mother (Debbie Reynolds) may be contributing to his failures with women.  So he decides to move in with his mother to figure out why, reestablishing his old bedroom as it appeared in high school, and proceeding to spar with his mother over practically everything – most notably, food.  My favorite scene is when she offers him ice cream that has what she calls a “protective ice layer” on it, thus rendering the taste to what he describes as “like an orange foot.”  Their relationship has all the makings of “The Odd Couple” and plumbs their differences for as many laughs as possible.  He is blocked and can’t write, and divorced, and living at home – all facts that she finds comfort in sharing with everyone from store clerks to strangers, much to his chagrin.  Yet their relationship, while nearly incendiary, is rather poignant, as they start to see each other as people and not just mother and son.  I know my mother and I would have enjoyed watching this movie together, but, alas, she was gone before it came out.  When I watch it, I feel her presence, and that is a gift.  So was Debbie Reynolds.  So today, we have a one day rating special, and, therefore, this movie gets 5 pints of ice cream – without the “protective ice layer.”
Best Movies of 2016 - Not in Order (numbers relate to where they appeared on my original lists)
121.  Denial
18.  Room
100.  The Night of (HBO miniseries)
122.  The Crown (Netflix miniseries)
59.  Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
81.  Weiner
73.  Remember
30.  Everything is Copy
34.  My Name is Doris
93.  Florence Foster Jenkins
Complete 2016 List
 MOVIE LIST 2016
1.  Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine* (2015) – Documentary maker Alex Gibney delves into the life and success for the legendary Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple.  A genius of design and desire, Jobs was able to define consumer needs and create products we never imagined and now cannot live without.  Think Mac computers, the iPhone and the iPad.  In his two stints at Apple – first creating the company along with buddy Steve Wozniak, and later returning as CEO after being ousted by his hand-picked successor – Jobs delivered the goods and was considered God-like by many consumers who flocked to hear him speak or camped out to be the first to buy an Apple product.  But Jobs was not all he tried to portray.  He fathered a daughter whom he denied was his, claiming infertility in court papers (proven wrong by a paternity test).  He eschewed philanthropy and didn’t hesitate to bully employees and industry peers to get his way – and his cut of the money.  But there is no denying that he is at least partially responsible for creating the personal computer and his fertile mind gave life to many iterations of new consumer electronics that affect the way we live.  His impact will live on and probably grow in size as there will likely be no one who can take his place.  4 cans.
2. The Big Short* (2015) – Although it took two trips to the theater to see this movie (my first trip was interrupted by a fire alarm and I didn’t go back until 3 days later), and despite the fact that the topic here was the crash in the mortgage industry that nearly decimated the American economy, still, I found this unlikely source of theatrical entertainment a powerful yet amusing mélange of characters and financial folderol.  Just a few very smart, very analytical people foresaw the inevitable crisis in a mortgage market that was built on a house of cards – people financing homes with little down and little chance to pay off their easily acquired mortgages and betting that the housing boom would continue.  These guys bet against it, or shorted it, and eventually, they were proven prescient.  Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling (be still my heart) and Brad Pitt star as the financial movers and shakers.  I don’t know who decides that a movie about an arcane economic issue should be made – and considered, at least according to the Golden Globes, a comedy – but this is a good story, well told.  Put me down for 3½ cans. 
3.  Selena* (1997) – Selena was a very popular Mexican-American singer bursting with talent and personality who started singing professionally in her family’s band.  After years of working county fairs and less than exciting venues, she finally hit it big and gained immense popularity, until she was tragically shot and killed by the president of her fan club, who was stealing money from her.  Jennifer Lopez brings plenty of energy, charm and talent to the role of the appealing Selena, and, despite the fact that this is a true story and we know how it ends, it was jarring when the tragedy unfolded.  I probably would not have selected this film to see, but it was highly recommended by a friend who loves it.  I can’t say I share her enthusiasm, but I am glad I saw it.  3 cans.
4.  Broadcast News (1987) – Producer/director James L. Brooks is behind some of my favorite movies and TV shows, among them the classic Mary Tyler Moore sitcom and the unforgettable “Terms of Endearment.”  Here he helms the story of one brilliant and feisty TV news producer, Jane (Holly Hunter), who becomes entrapped in a love triangle with solid writer and sardonic wit Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and a handsome but vapid news anchor anointed for success by network honchoes, Tom Grunick (William Hurt).  Tom arrives in the Washington Bureau bereft of the gravitas needed to anchor, but his appearance – he looks the part of an anchorman – more than makes up for his lack of experience.  With Jane leading him through a news crisis, he looks like he will succeed in the anchor chair and in winning her heart, despite the fact that she is better suited for the intelligence of Aaron.  Jane has to be in control – she even dictates to DC cab drivers exactly the route she wants them to drive – but she lets her heart almost get in the way of her head.  This movie skewers the news, the values we place on style vs. substance and the running of a news operation.  Holly Hunter even without the others is worth watching, and she has two great co-stars.  4½ cans.
5.  50 Shades of Grey* (2015) – Where do I begin to describe this inane, tortured and thoroughly unentertaining look at a man and his obsessions and a young woman torn between self-respect and fulfilling his every need?  All I know is that lead actress Dakota Johnson must have very embarrassed parents (actors Melanie Griffiths and Don Johnson) if they watched her -- mostly naked and always compromised -- in this awful film version of the book (which I never read).  Jamie Dornan plays billionaire Christian Grey (a man with major mommy issues) in a way that could not be colder or more boring.  Lots of sex, nudity and stuff I don’t even want to describe.  Let’s just say I won’t be watching any possible sequels.  1 can. 
6.  Trophy Kids* (2013) – Watching this HBO documentary on parents obsessed with their kids’ athletic development reminded me of reading tennis great Andre Agassi’s book, where he declares his hatred of his sport.  Badgered and abused by his father, Agassi did go on to excel in his sport, but the kids in this movie are too young for us to know how they eventually will fare.  The film follows two high school freshmen male basketball players, a football player, twin boys who play tennis, and a young girl who plays golf.  All but the tennis twins are subjected to threats, cruelty and verbal abuse by their fathers, all of whom are pushing, pushing, pushing them to excel – even when the athletes themselves seem to have little interest in their sport beyond wanting to please their fathers.  The tennis twins are being raised by their very Zen-like mother, who wants them to “fulfill their essence,” but the other kids are subjected to extra practices at dawn, provided with coaches and trainers, all, it would seem, in an effort to fulfill their parents’ vision of sports careers.  The fathers fancy themselves as experts in the chosen sport and take on the role of erstwhile coach – and bully.  The basketball fathers are particularly distasteful, verbally abusing officials, and, in one case, lobbying to get the coach fired because his kid didn’t play enough.  None of the kids are asked their preferences or whether they want to continue to play.  These parents should be banned from ever having children.  3½ cans (of tennis balls?).
7.  Still Alice (2014) – Julianne Moore won an Oscar for Best Actress last year for her portrayal of the title character in this sobering story of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Alice is an intelligent, charming woman, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, living in New York with her husband and enjoying her life.  Only 50, she is disturbed when she notices a tendency to forget things, and she goes to a neurologist who diagnoses her.  Moore shows every nuance of a vibrant woman who is perplexed, disappointed and confused as she becomes someone she doesn’t recognize.  Alec Baldwin plays her husband, who is also affected deeply by watching his wife deteriorate.  This is not a happy tale, but it certainly sheds light on this horrible disease.  Moore is perfection.  4 ½ cans.
8.  Waitress (2007) – Being a waitress isn’t an easy job, and it is especially hard if you live with an abusive husband who is ready to pounce at any moment.  Keri Russell is Jenna, baker of pies for Joe’s Pie House (and diner) and one of three waitresses there.  She is furious to find out that she is pregnant by her nasty husband Earle (Jeremy Sisto) and falls into a physical relationship with her OB/GYN (Nathan Fillion).  Will she ever serve up the guts to kick her husband out?  Will she keep the baby?  Will she win the pie-baking contest?  This movie is destined for Broadway next season – as a musical – but I wasn’t so thrilled with my second serving of it.  3 cans and a slice of any of the luscious looking pies that co-star. 
9.  The Longest Ride* (2015) – You can count on Nicholas Sparks to deliver the goods in each of the adaptations of his romantic novels.  There are always attractive, white people who are star-crossed lovers, there’s always a scene in the rain or water, and the action – such as it is – takes place in his home territory of North Carolina.  Here, handsome and rugged Scott Eastwood (yes, son of Clint, but better looking) is Luke, a bull-riding cowboy who wants to make enough money to pay off his mother’s ranch despite the risks or his profession.  He meets college student Sophia (Britt Robertson), who is studying art and about to head to New York to pursue her career.  They save an elderly man, Ira (Alan Alda) after he crashes his car and both strike up a friendship with Ira.  Another Sparks device is to have parallel stories about the characters.  In this case, Ira has a treasure trove of letters he wrote to his now-deceased wife, revealing their courtship, marriage and tribulations.  In typical Sparks fashion, everything will eventually be resolved, but there are obstacles to overcome even as love abounds.  Not a terrible movie, but on a scale of “The Notebook” being the best Sparks, this one finishes far behind.  3 cans.
10.  Whiplash (2014) – Talk about intense!  Andy (Miles Teller) is an aspiring jazz drummer who is enrolled in a prestigious New York music school where the band instructor is the intimidating Fletcher (J. K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor in last year’s Oscars and told everyone to talk to their parents; nicely done, sir).  We have all seen movies where the teacher/coach pushes the students to make them achieve their full potential, but this maniacal musician is a bully and tyrant.  He is less interested in them as people and more interested in achieving his own brand of perfection.  Andy is a dedicated student, one who practices on the drums until his hands bleed, and who crawls out from under a car to get to a concert and play while battered and bruised.  But nothing, no amount of effort, is enough to satisfy the tyrannical Fletcher.  I don’t want to give away the plot, but in the end, Andy shows he’s got the right stuff. I wasn’t familiar with Miles Teller before this movie and wondered if he was a musician.  I don’t know much about music, but the speed with which he moves his hands to play the drums to the tempo dictated by the relentless instructor is truly astonishing.  When I first saw this movie, I considered it among the best of the year and I have not changed my mind.  4½ cans.
11.  The Young Philadelphians (1959) – Two words:  Paul Newman.  A young, handsome Paul Newman plays Anthony Judson Lawrence, born into Philadelphia society and determined to earn his way to the top.  If that means postponing his wedding to society deb Joan (Barbara Rush) so that her father can finance his education, he can make that deal.  But as he grows in stature as a lawyer, how many compromises is he willing to make?  Newman is dashing and gorgeous, and he could tell me “Don’t pump it, floor it,” anytime, whether or not it had anything to do with cars.  4 cans.
12.  An Affair to Remember (1957) – Forget Christian Grey and his whips and chains.  If you want to see a real man who can turn you on, check out Cary Grant in a suit or a tux.  Grants plays Nicky Ferrante, erstwhile artist and reformed playboy, who meets the lovely singer Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) on a transatlantic cruise.  While their flirting is full-on, we never see more than a few fervent kisses.  Because they are both involved with others, the pair agrees to wait six months and meet at the top of the Empire State Building to see if they can have a future together.  Alas, a tragic event prevents them from getting together.  Is there a woman alive over 40 who has never seen this classic weepie?  Grant is totally handsome and appealing, and Kerr oozes charm and quiet resolve.  And the scene where they visit his grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt, in a small but memorable part) is unforgettable.  This is a Movie to Remember. If for some strange reason you DON’T like/love this movie, please don’t tell me because we cannot possibly be friends.  4½ cans.

FEBRUARY
13.  Grease Live!* (2016) – February started with a bang as Fox TV showcased the boys and girls of Rydell High in a LIVE production of the musical “Grease.”  It is impossible not to bop along with the sounds and dancing of “Hand Jive,” “You’re the One That I Want” and “Beauty School Dropout.”  Although the entire cast looked a little long-in-the-tooth to be actual high schoolers, they all brought exuberance to their parts, led by Aaron Tviet as Danny Zuko, ersatz head greaser, and his blonde, blue-eyed innocent girlfriend Sandy (Julianne Hough).  The fact that the performance was live added excitement to the proceedings, and kudos to the director and technical team for the staggering variety of cameras, sets and scenery.  Kudos, too, for the live audience, which was an element sorely lacking from NBC’s wooden live production of “The Sound of Music” a few years back.  I must admit that I remember those late-50s ducktail hairstyles for the “greaser” guys.  I’m already craving this kind of treatment for “Footloose,” in case anyone’s listening.  4 cans.
14.  Madoff* (2016) – After seeing “The Big Short” last month and now this dramatization of the case of financial fraud Bernie Madoff, I feel like I am going after a graduate degree in economics.  If you didn’t know what a Ponzi scheme was, you would get it completely after seeing this movie.  Madoff ran a huge investment firm, and his investors reaped huge profits, consistently out-performing Wall Street because of one simple difference: Madoff never invested their money.  He kept it in a big fund, and his payouts were financed by money coming in from new investors.  It was nothing more than a very successful Ponzi scheme.  Investors begged Bernie to take their money, which he did gladly.  When Wall Street collapsed in 2008 and Madoff couldn’t pay off the people who wanted their money back, the elaborate ruse fell apart and he ended up in jail.  His actions ruined many lives, families (including his own), charities and others who had felt privileged that he allowed them to invest in his fund.  You can’t make this stuff up, and if something seems to be too good to be true, well, you know the rest.  Richard Dreyfuss, who has not aged well, was a good choice for the Madoff role, and as his wife Ruth, Blythe Danner does a fine job.  Look before you leap.  3 cans.
15. Notting Hill (1999) – This movie is Hugh Grant at his most unassuming, blithering best.  He is William Thatcher, London owner of a small bookstore for travel books only.  What are the chances a major Hollywood star will happen to come into his store?  Ana (Julia Roberts) does just that one day, and she comes into his life.  She is tired of being famous, tired of being hounded by paparazzi for every move she makes, and certain that relationships with people outside show business never work.  Oh, and she has a star boyfriend (very brief scene with Alec Baldwin as a typical Hollywood prick).  So, can this relationship work?  Grant and Roberts are surrounded by an interesting cast of characters, all of whom add to the charm and whimsy of this movie.  I loved it after not having seen it for long time.  4 cans.
16.  Like Sunday, Like Rain* (2014) – Two lonely souls form a bond in this lovely movie.  Eleanor (Leighton Meester) is a 20-something who has just dumped her boyfriend and lost her job and her apartment when she is hired to be a nanny to 12-year old Reggie (Julian Shatkin), a cello prodigy wise beyond his years but with virtually no friends and a mother who abandons him to jet off.  Reggie lives in a New York mansion, but while his material needs are satisfied, his emotional ones are neglected.  He is brilliant, reads voraciously, and can whip up a great vegetable frittata.  Eleanor tries her best to be his babysitter but soon becomes his friend and confidant, as he does hers.  (Thank God this relationship did not go beyond that.)  It turns out that she was a musician who had to pass on Julliard because she couldn’t afford the tuition and even had to sell her cornet.  So their bond becomes strong, if unusual and, ultimately, it must end.  Shatkin could have come off as smug, but despite his way of handling situations better than most adults, he is still a vulnerable and lonely kid.  Eleanor needs his friendship and support as much as he does hers.  3½ cans.
17.  Murphy’s Law (1985) – James Garner and Sally Field strike up a friendship in a quiet little Texas town.  He’s a widower who runs the town drug store and she is a feisty divorced woman with a child (Corey Haim), trying to fend off her ne’er-do-well ex-husband.  The romantic relationship between the druggist and the newcomer is in slow-cook mode for much of the movie, as they build a strong and endearing friendship.  Garner is at his best and Field, well, I really, really like her.  And this movie.  “How do you like your eggs?”  4½ cans.
18.  Room* (2015) – Had I seen this movie last year, it would have been high on my list of best movies.  Kudos to director Lenny Abrahamson for delivering a warm yet intense story about Joy (Brie Larson in an Oscar-winning role), a young mother, and her five-year old son (the remarkable Jacob Tremblay), who are held captive in a garden shed.  How you coax a performance like this one out of a very young actor is astonishing to me.  Their only view of the world is through a skylight on the top of the tiny building where they are kept.  Their supplies are provided grudgingly by their captor, who lured Joy off the street seven years earlier and is the boy’s father.  The child’s only frame of reference is “Room,” as they call their living quarters, which is locked electronically.  The boy has never been outside and has no sense of the world outside his prison.  The mother teaches the bright boy, and somehow they manage to exist and endure under horrifying conditions.  To say more would spoil the plot, so I will refrain.  Let’s just say the movie was captivating, and that you can build a world no matter what your circumstances.  Powerful stuff.  4 cans.
19.  The Lady in the Van* (2016) – This movie, billed as “mostly true,” is the quirky tale of a feisty woman named Mary or Margaret (Maggie Smith) who parks her van and her life on the street in front of the home of writer Alan Bennett(who plays himself) and stays there – for two decades.  Mary is feisty and odiferous, living in squalor and refusing assistance from professionals.  A former nun and pianist, Mary is nothing if not determined to guide her own fate, and she is demanding and overbearing.  Her bright yellow van eventually becomes a staple in the driveway of Bennett’s home.  The neighbors think of her as a blight on their community, yet they are oddly curious about her.  As much as he abhors the idea of having her around, Bennett feels responsible and cares for her – at arm’s length.  This is one strange story, uplifted by Maggie Smith as the willful and unkempt woman. It’s worth taking a ride to the movies to see the lady in the van.  3½ cans.
20.  Paper Clips (2004) – If you can watch this moving documentary without either a giant lump in your throat or crying, you have no heart.  This is the true story of a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, where the students undertook a project to study the Holocaust.  The very white, very Baptist community was lacking diversity of any kind, but one of the teachers suggested they study the extermination of Jews during World War II.  The students could not grasp the concept of 6 million people losing their lives, so they decided to reach out to ask people to send them paper clips, each of which would represent a life lost.  When two journalists picked up the story, the project became widely known.  But the collection of paper clips was just the beginning.  This is a warm and inspiring story, profound in its lessons, unlikely in its origin and it touches my heart in the way few things can do.  This story is not about death.  It is about life.  5 cans. 
21.  Radio Flyer* (1992) – This is a great movie if you are into fantasy and child abuse.  I am not a fan of either.  Little Bobby is beaten on a regular basis by his cruel stepfather with his incredibly neglectful mother completely oblivious to the bruises inflicted on the poor boy by her alcoholic husband (whose face we never really see).  He and his older brother Mike (Elijah Wood, with his huge eyes, and voiceover by Tom Hanks) do whatever they can to avoid interacting with the evil stepfather.  Their dream is to build a plane that young Bobby can fly to make his getaway.  I don’t want to spoil the plot (though I don’t recommend you see the movie), but the whole notion of two kids tinkering in a garage and making an airplane out of spare parts I found preposterous.  The relationship between the two boys is sweet, but we never know why the younger one is the only target for the abuse, and I certainly didn’t get how the mother completely missed the signs.  This movie was recommended by a friend, but it is clear to me that we don’t have the same taste in movies.  Sorry.  2 cans.
22. The Shawshank Redemption (1984) – Get busy living or get busy dying.  On the surface, there is nothing cheery about men incarcerated in a dreary Maine prison, yet the story is so powerful, extolling the virtues of establishing bonds, looking out for each other, believing in hope, and humanizing an otherwise inhuman place and experience.  The writing (based on a Stephen King story), the direction, the acting, the characters – all combine to make this film a memorable movie experience.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman head the cast, two men whose only common bond is that they are convicted murderers (although everyone at the prison claims to be innocent) but they build an unbreakable friendship built on respect, loyalty and hope.  They appear to be doomed to live out the rest of their days in this morose and lonely place.  But Robbins’ Andy Dufresne brings light and humanity into their mostly harrowing existence.  He manages to expand the prison library, to encourage the inmates to pursue education, he gets the guards to serve them beer as the crew works at tarring a roof, and, in one unforgettable scene, he locks himself in the warden’s office and blasts opera music into the prison yard, all while sitting back with a satisfied smile on his face.  I was in the hospital back in 2000, recovering from pretty significant surgery and hoping to be released the next day.  I was very anxious; nothing could ease my mind.  And then this movie started airing on the tiny TV above my bed, like a visit from an old friend.  It helped me get through the night.  If you have never seen Shawshank, do yourself a favor and watch it – not just once, but several times.  It is beautiful.  5 cans.
23.  Moonstruck (1987) – It must be my month for old favorites, and this Cher-starrer is high on my list.  She is Loretta Castorini, a widowed woman from a strong Italian family who agrees to marry Johnny Camararie (Danny), a man with whom she is not in love. But when she meets Johnny’s younger brother, Ronnie (Nicholas Cage), the passion boils over between them.  Cher won the Oscar for her performance.  This is a warm, funny and utterly enjoyable movie, enhanced by a thousand details about being Italian (I’m not, but my best friends are) and lit by a brilliant moon.  Ciao, bella.  4½ cans.
24.  The Face of Love* (2013) – Generally speaking, I associate Annette Bening with intelligent roles but in fairly light movies.  This one does not fit that genre.  Here she is Nikki, who is completely in love with her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris, a favorite of mine).  But Garrett drowns while they are on vacation, and she rids the house of his things even as she copes with the tragedy of his loss.  Fast forward five years, and she happens upon a man named Tom, an art instructor and artist who is an absolute doppelganger for the late Garrett.  She is immediately enamored and determined to have a relationship with this man based solely on his resemblance to Garrett.  I have to say the movie is a little creepy, and it veers into fantasy (not my genre at all), as Nikki herself looks like she is drowning in the deep end of the gene pool.  Still, it is nice to see women of a certain age get to play vibrant – if a little crazed – women with sex lives, proving that they’re not dead after age 50.  3 cans.

MARCH
25.  The Magic of Belle Isle* (2013) – Let’s start with the fact that I could listen to Morgan Freeman read the phone book and be entranced.  In this quiet film, he is Monty Wildhorn, a wheelchair-bound author whose inspiration for creating memorable characters died along with his wife.  Now he is content to live out his days doing the one thing that he loves, drinking, which he considers a full-time job.  When a relative takes him to vacation at the empty home of a friend, hoping to help him reconnect with his literary roots, he meets the divorced woman next door and her three daughters, who slowly become central to his life.  He and the mother (Virginia Madsen), have a growing friendship that is unfailingly polite, not even using each other’s first names.  They live in a quiet little town on a lake, where the kids are only minimally connected to social media and are encouraged to spend time outdoors and using their imagination.  Without realizing it, this is exactly what Monty needs to regain his spirit.  This movie was directed by Rob Reiner, who is behind some other lovely, languid movies, though best known for rom-com “When Harry Met Sally.”  Freeman is perfection, his character completely true to his roots. Catch this one on Netflix if you can.  3½ cans.
26.  Take Me Home* (2011) – Road or buddy movies are seldom like this one, a quiet, introspective journey across country by a woman seeking to visit her ailing father (and escape her failing marriage) and a man driving an unregistered cab who picks her up in New York City and agrees to her command to “just drive.”  Maybe it helps that the leads – Sam Jaeger and Amber Jaeger – are married in real life, or that Sam wrote and directed the movie.  He employs the right amount of light humor and desperation as you see a budding friendship you can only hope will develop into something more.  Worth a trip.  3½ cans.
27. Elsa and Fred* (2014) -- The filmmakers trotted out old veterans for this movie about love in later life, with Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer playing the leads.  He is a recent widower whose daughter has dumped him into an apartment building with a health care worker he doesn’t need – especially since his intent is simply to stay in bed all day, every day.  But the woman across the hall has other ideas.  Call her eccentric – call her overbearing and obnoxious, to be more accurate – but Elsa is game for living life to the max.  It turns out that Fred needs her kind of care to improve his health.  She is obsessed by the movie “La Dolce Vita,” and would like nothing more than having a sweet life – with Fred as her partner.  Fred seems to relish the attention, and before you know it, the two are having expensive dinners and skipping out on the check – and that’s just the beginning.  MacLaine can play eccentric in her sleep (see “Steel Magnolias” and “Terms of Endearment”), and Plummer is not in the Alps anymore.  Good cast, not a bad story, but I couldn’t warm up enough to Elsa to really enjoy this movie.  3 cans.
28.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot* (2016) – Suppose you were in the news biz but stuck in a desk job with nothing much about to get you elevated to the next level.  Would your solution to this problem be to get yourself imbedded in a combat unit in Afghanistan?  That’s what Tina Fey’s character, Kim Barker, does in this movie (based on a real story), billed as a comedy/drama largely because of Fey’s rep as a funny woman/writer.  But war is generally hell, not comedy, and this one bares that out.  Kim dodges bullets and the advances of the people she has to interview for stories, all the while living in a dumpy apartment, drinking to excess and looking for the big “get” – interviews with the newsmakers of note.  I found the story different from other “war” movies but repetitive, as we follow Kim’s exploits for several years.  During that time she may have become older and wiser, but her situation remains dodgy and dangerous.  Will she survive?  Will she be a war correspondent forever?  Stay tuned.  Lots of violence, drinking and questionable behavior.  3 cans.
29.  Before We Go* (2014) – Chris Evans forsakes his superhero persona to play a street musician in this sweet movie about two souls who meet and share a long night of adventure in New York.  Brooke (Alice Eve, an actress who reminded me of Elisabeth Shue) is trying to get home to Boston but her purse and money have been stolen.  As she runs through Grand Central Station, she encounters Nick, a former med school student turned musician, who is a nice guy just trying to return the cell phone she dropped while racing by him and his trumpet.  He sees that she is desperate and decides to be gallant and help her.  If you have seen “After Sunset” or “Before Sunrise,” you’ll feel that you have seen this movie before, although it is considerably less preachy and more charming than those Ethan Hawk-Julie Delphy movies.  Nick leads them around New York, trying to round up money to get Brooke to Boston by plane, train or automobile.  Their adventure leads to sharing information about their lives and failed relationships.  It isn’t exactly love at first sight, but you can feel the chemistry between them.  The characters – especially Nick – are charming and seem entirely human, even if they rarely have to take a bathroom break in the after-hours journey.  Evans also directed the movie.  3½ cans.
30.  Everything Is Copy* (2016) – This HBO documentary is Jacob Bernstein’s tribute to his late mother, author/journalist/screenwriter/director Nora Ephron.  Known for her humor as much as her acerbic wit and penchant to control everything, Ephron is best known for writing “When Harry Met Sally,” a rom/com that is in my Top 10 favorite movies.  One of four daughters of screenwriter parents, Nora was born to the business, growing up in Beverly Hills.  She immediately started a career as a writer after college, mainly doing magazine essays but also venturing into daily journalism under publisher Dorothy Schiff of The New York Post.  She drew largely on her own life and probed her contemporaries for their take on relationships of all kinds.  She turned her disastrous marriage to Watergate’s Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein into a book and then a movie, “Heartburn,” starring no less than Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  She worked for esteemed director Mike Nichols on the screenplay for “Silkwood,” also starring Streep.  This love letter to Nora is propelled by her many erudite friends (as well as former husbands) who knew her well and shared much about her as a friend, colleague and character.  I highly recommend this movie if you have ever seen Nora’s work, or, if, like Nora Ephron, you also hate your neck.  4 cans.
31.  The Program* (2016) – I think it is safe to assume that by now everyone knows the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.  And although I have seen two documentaries on this subject, somehow I was drawn into this new dramatization of events.  Armstrong was the seven-time winner of the Tour De France, cycling’s premiere event.  Cancer survivor, humanitarian (through his “Livestrong Foundation” and raising millions for cancer research), Armstrong was also deceitful, vindictive and fanatical.  To be on his cycling team meant you had to buy in to “the program,” a carefully plotted and managed regimen of using banned performance enhancing drugs.  So many people were in on the fraud, and yet when they were questioned, they rarely spoke against the megalomaniacal leader of the pack, and, when they did, Armstrong did not merely deny the accusations, he took legal action against their claims.  In this drama, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) notices early on that Armstrong’s times have improved in a way that seems impossible, and he suspects drug use.  Getting anyone to go up against the face of the sport, the hero who overcame testicular cancer, was next to impossible for Walsh – until the whole scheme ultimately fell apart.  The pat Armstrong answer that he “has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs” is shown to be untrue. The fall from grace for Armstrong was steep.  The rise to respectability for Walsh was not quite as dramatic.  We live in an age of deniability, where no one seems willing to take responsibility and own up to their actions.  The defense that “everyone else is doing it” is not enough – in my mind – to justify Armstrong and not only what he did but how he treated people in his inner circle, as he built his own image.  Kudos to actor Ben Foster, who must have dropped his body fat number to zero to play Armstrong, and to the rest of the cast.  Karma is a bitch, and it gets you in the end.  3½ cans.
32.  You’re Not You* (2014) – This Hilary Swank movie is about Kate, a talented pianist who contracts ALS, rendering her increasingly immobile and dependent on others for her care.  She and her husband Evan (Josh Duhamel) get by for a while, but as she needs more care, they hire Bec (Emmy Rossum), a wild child college student who stays out late, shows up late and seems exactly what the straight-laced Kate doesn’t need.  But somehow Bec survives her first few weeks, and as Kate’s condition worsens, Bec’s skills improve.  They form a close bond that grows stronger even as Kate’s abilities wane.  ALS is an insidious disease, and when Kate’s friends early on tell her she’s “just tired” and will get stronger, she has to correct them because that is not the progression.  This movie sometimes feels like a Lifetime Movie of the Week, but the acting is too good for the run-of-the-mill tearjerker.  I loved the growing friendship and trust between the young caretaker and the uptight patient, and I appreciated Kate’s sense of guilt for “doing this” to her vibrant husband, who betrays her.  3½ cans.
33.  Georgia O’Keefe: A Woman on Paper* (2016) – This PBS documentary examines the life and work of the famous American artist O’Keefe, whose charcoal sketches first attracted attention in the 1915 timeframe.  O’Keefe was the mother of modernism among female artists and was influenced by the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whom she later married.  He was the first person to show her work in his gallery.  To look at the color and richness of her work, which shines with simplicity, is to see the evolution of a modern, independent woman.  I have a photograph that I took at the Presby Memorial Iris Garden in Montclair that I always refer to as “my Georgia O’Keefe” because it gets up close and personal with a white flower.  O’Keefe’s style is instantly recognizable, and her influence, even 100 years after she began her career, is undeniable.  I loved watching this movie and seeing so much of her work from her ultimate home, New Mexico.  Her paintings enhanced the beauty of the landscapes that inspired her.  4 cans. 

APRIL
34.  Hello My Name is Doris* (2016) – Sally Field brings strength and a little sass to practically any role in any movie (think “Norma Rae,” and “Places of the Heart,” her two Oscar-winning roles).  Here she is a quirky, lonely, possibly mentally ill woman of a certain age whose mother has died, leaving her in their hoarder-type house by herself.  Each day she takes the ferry to work in Manhattan from Staten Island, collecting broken lamps and other people’s discarded junk along the way.  At the office she is tolerated by her colleagues, thought of as odd and largely left alone.  But one day John (Max Greenfield) starts working at her company, on her floor, and dear old Doris is suddenly smitten with the much younger, handsome and charming young man.  She fantasizes about him, but then fantasy starts to become reality (and starts to become stalking) when they become friends.  Doris’ usual outlandish outfits are considered trendy by his hipster friends, and Doris finds herself out on the town, making new friends and coming out of her shell.  I chuckled often during this movie, even though I knew some of the things Doris thought and did would become disastrous for her.  Still, the charm of the story and accepting and friendly attitude of Doris’ crush John were delightful to see on screen.  4 cans.
35.   Bill Cunningham New York* (2010) – “It’s about the clothes.” That’s the credo of Bill Cunningham, fashion expert and chronicler for The New York Times.  A cheerful man who lives so modestly in comparison to the fashion icons he knows and photographs, Bill can be found bicycling around the streets of New York in search of fashion.  For him, the street is at least as important as the runway, as he and his camera capture things that he spots in his travels, from plaid to fanny packs.  His inherent sense of style made him the ideal choice for The New York Times Style section, and his “On the Street” photo essays show exactly what is happening in fashion.  Everyone in the fashion industry knows Bill, and, as an octogenarian, he has had time to meet every significant force in fashion for decades.  But he is not like the paparazzi.  He eschews the famous faces for the clothes they wear. This was a fascinating documentary about a man whose joy can be found on the streets of New York.  4 cans.
36.  Joan Rivers – Exit Laughing* (2016) – Abrasive, acerbic and hilariously funny, the late Joan Rivers was nothing if not resilient.  Her career in comedy spanned the little New York clubs and the esteemed Second City in Chicago to Vegas and a stint as the main substitute host on the measuring stick of success for all comedians, Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”  She reinvented herself by delivering her humor in a way that reflected social commentary.  She could be a polarizing figure, as her barbs on modern celebrity engendered vitriol from some people who didn’t get the joke.  But to her peers and today’s new comedians, she remained relevant and as funny as ever until the day she died in 2014.  This loving tribute features plenty of clips of Joan on the stage and from interviews with her as well as comments from the comics who considered her a ground-breaking figure.  While the PBS documentary traces her career, it focuses more on the ways she inspired new generations of comedians, who lovingly acknowledge her influence.  She just wanted to be the funniest person who ever performed, and many would say she achieved that goal.  3½ cans.
37.  Trainwreck* (2015) – Amy Schumer is in-your-face funny.  Blunt, unafraid of saying or doing anything, she has become the symbol of women in charge of their lives, their sexuality and their sex lives.  I admire that approach and her assertiveness, but I can’t say I like it, particularly in this movie, which she wrote (so she bears the brunt of the criticism).  Here she plays a writer for a magazine that seeks sensational stories.  When she has the chance to interview a renowned sports orthopedic surgeon (Bill Hader), the last thing she expects is to fall in love.  If a man is called a womanizer, I guess we can refer to this character as a “manizer,” since Amy flits from one sexual conquest to another, eschewing intimacy in favor of sex – and she is not afraid to tell them what she wants and then kick them out when she’s done.  She drinks too much, says only outrageous and inappropriate things and belittles her married sister (Brie Larson) for having a more conventional life.  We also see her spending time with her ill father (Colin Quinn), the only time she seems like a “normal” person.  Don’t get me wrong – I love some raunchy humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed the gross “Bridesmaids” – but this movie was just too over the top for me. I’m glad I waited to see it until I could watch it for free on HBO (I know, not exactly “free”).  I’ll be eager to see where Amy’s career takes her, and whether she sticks to this kind of low-brow “entertainment.”  2 cans.
38.  Nothing Left Unsaid* (2016) – If Gloria Vanderbilt had not existed in real life, you could never have created her as a fictional character.  This HBO documentary examines her extraordinary life through interviews with her journalist son, Anderson Cooper.  In the spotlight even as a baby (when her immensely rich father, Reginald Vanderbilt, passed away), Gloria first gained fame as the “Poor Little Rich Girl,” the subject of an epic custody battle between her young mother and her grandmother and aunts on the Vanderbilt side.  She married men much older, dated such famous men as Frank Sinatra, partied with Truman Capote, and placed her name on the backside of millions of pairs of jeans.  In between, she was an artist, a model, an actress and an author – and possibly the first woman who was famous just for being famous.  She comes across here as a true survivor, and as a mother connected to her son Anderson, especially after having been on hand as Anderson’s older brother committed suicide by leaping out a window of the family mansion.  She has led many lives, and all of them have been voyeuristically interesting.  4 cans.
39.  Jackie Robinson* (2016) – The legendary Jack Roosevelt Robinson gets the Ken Burns treatment in this PBS documentary.  Burns uses meticulous research, rare footage and photos and interviews with players, writers and, most important, Robinson’s extraordinary wife Rachel to tell the story of the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.  It is hard to imagine a segregated team in baseball now, but in the 1940’s, the US was still full of blatant discrimination.  Robinson couldn’t use public restrooms unless they were designated for “Coloreds,” and was expected to ride in the back of the bus.  This intricate biography traces his life as a man, an athlete and a symbol, someone who had to subjugate his own views to be the pioneer in his sport.  Even before he retired, he was a major voice in the Civil Rights movement, a highly respected and intelligent thought leader.  It is a moving story, and, like all of Burns’ work, well told.  4 cans.
40.  Ricki and the Flash (2015) – I saw this movie last year and really enjoyed it, and nothing’s changed.  Meryl Streep (of all people) plays a washed up rocker who is estranged from her kids but reenters their lives when her daughter suffers from deep depression.  Meryl can shred some mean guitar AND be a way cool Mom.  I’ll say it again:  Meryl never disappoints!  4 cans, partially for Meryl and the music above the story itself. 
41.  Confirmation* (2016) –Based on the actual case, Kerry Washington plays law professor Anita Hill, who is called on to testify about the sexual harassment she suffered while working for Judge Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) as he is nominated as the first African American to the Supreme Court.  This movie affirmed several things to me:  1. Women are harassed more often that you can imagine and don’t take action because they fear they either won’t be believed (the “he said, she said” syndrome) or they will be attacked for their claim.  2.  I detest politics.  In this dramatization of the Thomas confirmation hearings, few people in the Senate care about what is right or wrong because they are determined only to get the votes to get their guy confirmed.  Hill came forward only after staffers found out about her experience and she was forced to testify.  Thomas claimed the confirmation hearings was a “high tech lynching,” as he vehemently denied claims against him.  Of course, he was confirmed and 20 years later remains on the Supreme Court, where, in my memory, he has rarely been heard from since.  This story is a sad commentary on our political system, and, frankly, not nearly as gripping as the actual events – albeit it, thankfully truncated.  Washington aptly lends a quiet dignity to her portrayal of Hill.  And, for what it is worth, I believed Hill then and believe her today.  At the very least, her testimony defined sexual harassment for women everywhere, and bringing the subject to light was worth it for the country, if not for Hill herself.  3½ cans.
42.  Kissing Jessica Stein (2002) – Long before the days of Tinder, match.com and j-date, people used “the personals” to meet prospective mates.  Here Jessica (Jessica Westveldt), a neurotic New Yorker, is intrigued by an ad read by one of her co-workers, despite the fact that she is straight and the ad is from the “Women Seeking Women” section.  She meets Helen (Heather Juergensen, who co-authored the screenplay with Westveldt), who is pretty sure of her own sexuality, and they proceed to bond as friends and eventually build a romantic relationship, much to the surprise of Jessica’s inner circle.  This movie exudes charm, as the slightly crazed Jess allows herself to be open to new experiences, not an easy thing for the buttoned up artist.  But will there be a happy ending?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.  4 cans.
43.  Eye In the Sky* (2016) – Let’s begin with the premise that war is hell.  And no amount of high tech weaponry can make it better.  The remarkable gadgets in this movie enable the military folks to see into windows and blow things up thousands of miles away.  But this tense drama isn’t just about the technology.  It takes the distinct human toll of battle into consideration, as one decision-maker after another avoids making the call that will lead to “collateral damage.”  Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman are the military leaders, their respective staffs located all over the globe.  This movie was not my kind of entertainment, but it was very thought-provoking and well done.  But war IS hell.  3 cans.
44.  Finding the Funk* (2014) – To find the funk, you start with James Brown and his bass player, Bootsy Collins, and work your way through George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelics, past Sly and the Family Stone and head straight to Prince.  The driving, heavy beat of funk, amplified by some cool bass guitar, pervaded music from the 1960s on, running through Chic, Earth, Wind and Fire and today’s artists, like D’Angelo.  I enjoyed this musical history that included groups I never thought of as associated with the funk sound, like the Ohio Players.  3½ cans.
45.  A Few Good Men (1992) – Let the testosterone flow in this classic from writer Aaron Sorkin and director Rob Reiner.  Smug actor Tom Cruise is the perfect Lt. Daniel Kaffey, a smug military attorney who is charged with defending two young Marines accused of murdering someone in their troop.  Kaffee typically avoids court by entering in a plea bargain, but the two defendants are insistent on their innocence.  The case hangs on whether they were ordered to impose a “Code Red” on a recalcitrant cohort for not being a cooperative and willing part of the squad.  The Commander, played by a stern and fiery Jack Nicholson, declares in the most quoted scene that Kaffee can’t handle the truth he is demanding.  Who is to blame for the young man’s death?  Cruise has carved a career out of playing similar characters – never wrong, rarely doubting themselves, and always the hero.  Still, Sorkin writes a good script.  4 cans.
46.  The Rainmaker (1997) – Matt Damon is inexperienced lawyer Rudy Baylor, who hooks up with a shady law firm in Memphis to get his career started.  But Rudy brings with him a promising case:  A woman whose son is dying wants to sue the insurance company that refuses to pay for his treatment, claiming it is “experimental.”  Rudy is clearly in way over his head – as his opponent (Jon Voight) and even the judge point out.  Helped out by a shrewd lawyer (Danny DeVito) who hasn’t been able to pass the bar, Rudy has a genuinely human touch.  Will the callous law firm stonewall him or will Rudy be able to overcome his naiveté and save the day?  Along the way, he falls for abused wife Kelly (Claire Danes), giving him yet another way to demonstrate his humanity.  Based on a John Grisham novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this story is arresting yet warm.  My only complaint is that the bad guys look cartoonishly BAD, and Rudy is a little too much like “Rudy,” the completely earnest football player in the classic sports film.  3½ cans.

MAY
47.  Lego: A Brickumentary* (2014) – I am a little too old to have played with Legos as a child, but I never imagined that the ubiquitous bricks – launched in their current form in 1958 – would be a cultural phenomenon.  Sure, millions of kids play with the interlocking plastic blocks, building special kits and also letting their imaginations run wild.  But the creativity aspect of Legos reaches far beyond kids.  In this fascinating documentary, an artist has an entire show of original art and reproductions of famous works made of Legos; a psychologist shows how autistic children interact better in social situations when they build with Legos; an architect gets a commission for a huge project based on the model he submits that is made with Legos; and Legos go on a space mission to Jupiter.  Adults flock to Lego conventions, and some have even gotten jobs with the company based on their designs.  Let’s face it, we would all envy grown-ups who get to play with toys all day, coming up with new designs and uses for the colorful bricks.  People have created actual cars, homes and movies starring the bricks.  It’s fair to say that Legos are a cultural icon.  3½ bricks.
48.  Sing Street* (2016) – Plenty of teenaged boys have started bands to meet girls.  When 15-year old Dublin schoolboy Colin (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) develops an immediate crush on aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynston), he asks if she will be in a video for his band – and then quickly realizes he has to form one.  Luckily, he recruits some decent musicians and begins writing songs to win her over.  Colin is the youngest child of a couple who fight constantly and have put him in a local school where he is bullied by his classmates and castigated by the administration for not wearing black shoes as part of his required uniform.  The “band” of misfits becomes his support system, along with his musically inclined slacker older brother, as he navigates the world of songwriting, performing and romance.  Walsh-Peelo, with his rosy cheeks and innocent face, makes a very appealing lead in this sweet story.  3½ cans.
49.  Learning to Drive* (2015) – This movie is about life lessons, not just a reminder to use your blinker when turning.  Patricia Clarkson is Wendy, a book critic who is suddenly dumped by her cheating husband.  She realizes that she needs her independence, and that means she has to learn to drive so she can visit her daughter (Mamie Gummer), who lives on a farm.  She enlists the aid of a very proper Sikh named Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a driving instructor who is looking for a wife.  One marriage is ending while another is beginning, and these two people have plenty to teach each other.  She sees him subjected to incredibly rude and belligerent comments from people put off by his turban and beard.  He sees her as lonely and unable to focus on just one thing at a time.  The movie restrains itself from including an obvious romance between the characters and allows them to show how their friendship leads them to individual growth.  Patricia Clarkson always delivers outstanding performances, usually in secondary roles, but she’s got the chops to pull off the lead with plenty to spare.  3½ cans.
50.  First Monday in May* (2016) – Is fashion truly art?  This captivating documentary answers that question with a resounding YES.  Although the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been relegated to the massive building’s basement, each year the opening of a new show on the first Monday in May elevates fashion by not only highlighting a theme from the collection but also through its gala.  The celebrities turn out in couture outfits and sit when Vogue’s Ann Wintour tells them to sit.  As a member of the Met Board, Wintour wields plenty of power, dispensing “advice” from behind her dark sunglasses while carrying her ubiquitous container of coffee.  This film provides a behind-the-scenes look at the 2015 exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” a melding of Chinese inspired Western fashion and the Museum’s considerable collection of Chinese art.  The hero of the story is Met Costume Institute Curator Andrew Bolton, whose vision and year-long work make the exhibition take shape.  Even as the gala gets underway, he is roaming the hallways, fussing over every detail of the show.  Wintour is on hand to reinforce her “Devil Wears Prada” persona, which she shrugs off when questioned about her bad reputation.  The fashion is stunning, carefully crafted and meticulously handled by the Museum’s reverent staff.  Their glory is challenged by the clothing, hats and jewelry worn by the star-studded guest list.  It was worth the price of admission just to see Rihanna ascend a staircase with an elaborate yellow dress and train.  4 cans.
51.  Paper Towns* (2015) – We’ve seen this kind of movie before:  Somewhat nerdy teenaged boy has a crush on the popular girl in school and will do anything for her.  Here Quentin (Nat Wolff) has lived across the street from popular but enigmatic Margo (Cara Delevigne) since they were kids, but their friendship has never blossomed into romance.  After catching her boyfriend cheating on her, Margo enlists Q in an adventure to seek revenge, which, for the high school senior, marks his first time doing anything so contrary to his straight-laced persona.  He only falls more in love with Margo, who disappears the next day.  Q is convinced that he can track her down through a series of confounding clues she has left behind, whereupon the movie becomes a buddy trip as he and his friends take off from Florida to upstate New York to find her – and, hopefully, make it back in time for prom night.  Will they locate her in time?  Does she want to be found?  Will Q’s nerdiest friend really go to the prom with a pretty and popular girl totally out of his league in real life?  I found nothing new here, and I did not like Margo’s character at all.  Besides, the practical side of me, the one that questions where these kids got the money to travel and how Margo intends to fund her adventure, did not help me accept any of the premises here.  2½ cans.
52.  5 Flights Up* (2015) – Artist Alex Carver (Morgan Freeman) and his wife Ruth (Diane Keaton) are just as in love with each other now as they were 40 years ago when they got married.  They love their Brooklyn neighborhood and dote on their dog Dorothy, but traipsing up 5 flights to get to their apartment is wearing on them, so they reluctantly turn to niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon) to put their home on the market.  Between selling and buying, bidding wars erupt, with complications from what could be a terrorist incident on the nearby bridge.  This movie is propelled more by its warmth and less by the obnoxious characters who come to the open house, invade the couple’s space and make them rethink whether they really want to forsake their routine in favor of a building with an elevator.  Freeman and a less-quirky-than-usual Keaton make a perfect couple and have great chemistry.  They make the movie worth seeing.  3½ cans.
53.  In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye* (2012) – If you are looking for strong female role models, look no further than this documentary on the formidable women who have served as editors and fashion editors of the 120-year old fashion magazine.  From Diana Vreeland to Anna Wintour, from Polly Mellon to Grace Coddington, these women have their fingers on the pulse of fashion and have for decades.  Their selection and depiction of fashion displayed in the magazine reinforce or create new trends, establish the careers of designers and launch models into superstardom.  And each of them is fierce.  Designer Vera Wang started her career as an assistant to fashion editor Polly Mellon, a steely-eyed woman who Wang describes as a nightmare.  These women are all trendsetters, have strength in their convictions, and most of them stayed in their jobs for decades.  This was my second Wintour movie this month, and this one was equal to its predecessor.  4 cans.
54.  An Unfinished Life* (2005) – Let’s face it, Robert Redford looks mighty fine wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse.  Here he is Einar, an aging rancher living in Wyoming and feeling bitter over the death of his adult son.  He leads a quiet, stoic life, taking care of his friend and former ranch hand Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who was crippled when he was mauled by a bear.  One day a desperate woman shows up on his doorstep with the granddaughter (Becca Gardner) he didn’t know he had.  She is Jean (Jennifer Lopez), his son’s widow, whom he blames for the death of his son.  She is a victim of domestic violence, trying to escape her boyfriend (Damian Lewis).  Einar is the strong silent type who doesn’t warm up or forgive easily, even as he grows attached to his 11-year old granddaughter.  Despite his advanced age, he can ward off younger men who cross his path.  But can anyone forgive the bear?  Can they ALL live peacefully?  Jean has her demons and Mitch has the marauding bear, while Einar wrestles with himself.  3½ cans.
55.  The Godfather Saga – Even after a zillion viewings and despite knowing every line, I relish the opportunity to watch genius at work.  The sprawling saga that combines The Godfather and The Godfather II in chronological order ranks up in my top five all-time favorite movies.  The story, the acting, the detail – I love every frame.  If you don’t know the plot and the highlights by now, there is no sense in my trying to summarize it beyond telling you it is epic.  Loved every minute.  5 cans.
56.  Same Time Next Year (1978) – A married accountant and a housewife meet at a small California inn and are immediately attracted to each other.  They continue to return for yearly trysts that are shown in 5-year increments.  Their ardor for each other never wanes over the 25 years we get to be voyeurs of this funny, warm and loving relationship.  Although I would never condone philandering, this relationship is so much more than that.  Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn are at their peak performance levels as George and Doris, who sometimes are on completely different – and highly amusing – wavelengths.  I love this movie and would be happy to watch it at the same time every year.  4½ cans.
57.  Hoop Dreams (1994) – Simply put, this documentary that chronicles the lives of two inner-city Chicago high school basketball players is the best sports documentary of all time.  Director Steve James shot 300 hours of footage over 5 years, tracing the basketball dreams of Arthur Agee Jr. and William Gates from the time they were 14 until they graduated from high school.  Both promising athletes, they had to survive the realities of urban life – poverty, family issues and injuries – while holding out hope for college scholarships and professional basketball careers.  Recruited by a prestigious suburban high school that they traveled three hours a day to attend, the teammates were separated when Agee’s family couldn’t come up with the money and he couldn’t come up with the grades.  Indifferent students but potential basketball prodigies, both players had inconsistent careers, Agee plagued by poor grades and high expectations, and Gates by knee injuries, surgery and rehab.  This movie shows the struggles, the challenges and the hoop dreams of so many kids who think they will make it to the pros.  Life doesn’t always work out the way we plan.  5 cans.
58.  Breach (2007) – Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) is a tough, taciturn, church-going, Bible-quoting FBI agent who just happens to be selling US secrets to Russia.  Young Eric (Ryan Phillippe) is an FBI technology expert and aspiring gent whom the Bureau assigns to work for Hanssen and get the goods on a man responsible for breaching US security.  This suspenseful drama is based on the real-life case of the Russian spy.  Eric has to be fast on his feet to avoid detection on the part of the wary Hanssen, and he cannot disclose his assignment even to his increasingly impatient wife.  It is hard to know whom to trust, and Hanssen is a very experienced, perceptive operative, so working with him and against him is a tough assignment for Eric.  The movie is taut and compelling as Eric takes orders from his superiors and tries to keep Hanssen in the dark.  3½ cans.
59.  Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont* (2005) – I’d like to thank the algorithms of Amazon Video for suggesting I might like this little gem of a movie.  Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) is a genteel, elderly widow who moves into the Claremont, a residential hotel in London not quite as antic as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but inhabited by seniors who create their own family.  One day Mrs. Palfrey literally stumbles upon aspiring writer Ludo (Rupert Friend) when she takes a spill outside his basement flat.  He gallantly helps her up and takes her in to make her tea, and a friendship that spans the generations is born.  The regulars at the hotel assume he is her grandson, and Ludo and Mr. Palfrey play along.  What is family anyway, but a group of people who care about you?  Accidents of birth are not required.  The charming young man is devoted to his “Sa Sa,” and he helps heal her loneliness.  I fell instantly in love with this movie.  From now on, when Netflix or Amazon Video suggest some movie I might like based on others I have seen, I’m all in.  4½ cans.

JUNE
60.  For All Mankind* (1989) – Only 12 men have landed on the moon, and this absorbing documentary features the actual footage they shot of their voyages and of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing.  There are plenty of scenes showing items floating around the spacecraft and even a discussion on some – to put it delicately – practical matters.  How does one make a sandwich while floating in space?  The astronauts record their activities and express their wonder at the universe as they peer through tiny windows to capture Earth in the distance.  We haven’t seen a moon landing in decades, but this film brings back that initial excitement.  3½ cans.
61.  Me Before You* (2016) – Book before movie.  Movie = meh.  Maybe if I hadn’t read the book and didn’t know what was going to happen, I would have enjoyed this movie more.  Screenwriter JoJo Moyes faithfully adapted her book, so the story I loved reading is exactly what I saw on the screen, but the lead actress (Emilia Clarke) was just a little too perky for my taste.  The story is about a handsome young man (Sam Claflin) who suffers a tragic accident and the inexperienced but spunky young woman hired by his mother as his companion/health care worker.  Sadly, this potato is twice baked.  3 cans.
62.  The Finest Hour* (2015) – Chris Pine plays a brave young Coast Guard seaman who is charged with the seemingly impossible task of taking a small boat out to sea to rescue the crewmen who are stranded on a tanker that was split in two by a violent storm.  The woman he loves and has plans to marry waits and worries, while the men on the nearly-destroyed ship work ingeniously to keep their half afloat.  This is a movie that is better seen in a theatre than on a TV set, because there is plenty of action, but my usual objection applies:  It is too dark.  Even the scenes not at sea are shot with little light.  In addition, the action takes place off the coast of New England, and the Boston accents are extremely hard to follow.  Pine is stoic, determined and destined to be a hero in this true story.  Maybe a little more light and hearing the dialog would have helped, so I can only give it 3 cans.
63.  OJ – Made in America* (2016) –I was captivated with the FX docudrama on the trial of OJ Simpson that aired several months ago, and this engrossing documentary is even better.  Produced and directed by Ezra Edelman, this multi-part program is one of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, and probably its best effort to date.  It is a look at the life and times of OJ Simpson – not only his life, but of the culture of sports and celebrity, racial tensions and police treatment of African-Americans in the burgeoning Los Angeles.  And then there’s OJ himself, handsome, winning, an outwardly great guy who eschewed black power and his potential as a leader in the black community in favor of seizing marketing opportunities and fame that came his way because of his prowess on the football field and his affable nature and good looks.  But beneath that veneer is a real sense of entitlement.  And, by the way, he beats his wife.  The documentary asserts that he repeatedly flew into jealous rages and beat his wife Nicole, who called police only to see them downplay the incidents because OJ was such a good guy – right?  Did OJ kill her and Ron Goldman?  The jury said no, but you can draw your own conclusion.  His after-trial life is carefully documented, though we never see OJ fulfill his promise to “track down the real killer(s).”  His fall from grace wasn’t swift, but it was complete, as today he languishes in prison on unrelated charges.  An American tragedy for all parties.  4 cans.
64.  Stuck in Love* (2012) -- Greg Kinnear is generally a likeable, low-key kind of actor, and he brings those qualities to this role as author Bill Borgens.  His wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) left him for another man 3 years ago, but he is convinced she’s coming back.  He still sets a place for her at the table as he shares holidays with his nearly-grown children Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff), who try to persuade him that their mom is gone for good.  Of course, he should know that since he goes to Erica’s house every now and then and peeks into her windows.  Meanwhile, both kids are aspiring authors and Samantha, a college student, is having her first book published.  Bill hasn’t published a thing since his marriage went south, so he’s a little jealous, and Samantha wants nothing to do with her mother because she abandoned her father.  High school student Rusty smokes too much pot and falls for a girl with a drug and alcohol problem who thinks he can help her.  Samantha is a sassy young woman who unexpectedly falls for nice-guy Louis.  Everyone here is stuck on love, whether or not they have the right partner.  This movie has a good cast, but the story just kept getting stuck in the mud for me.  3 cans.
65.  Renoir: Revered and Reviled* (2016) – Presented by the Barnes Foundation, the owners of the largest collection of the work of Renoir, this documentary takes a hard look at Renoir’s artistic evolution.  Pierre Auguste Renoir was a late 19th century painter and a member of the Impressionism movement, along with cohorts Claude Monet, Edward Manet and other French artists of the time.  This film carefully shows his style and brush strokes, his use of various kinds of painting techniques, and, most important, his shift from strict Impressionism to a more modern approach that was later emulated by Pablo Picasso and others.  In his later years, where much of the focus of the film lies, he painted numerous nudes.  All were fleshy, sometimes out of proportion women, and the question is raised as to his intentions.  Was Renoir misogynistic?  Was he objectifying women?  Many of this subjects have blank faces, which makes the critics think they seem to lack intelligence.  But who knows what Renoir was thinking?  That doesn’t stop the art experts here from either asserting their views on his intentions or speculating on his view of women.  Art criticism, like all criticism, is subjective, so there is no right or wrong.  Watching this movie made me examine the canvases more closely than I might have otherwise, and reminded me how much I love the Impressionists.  I think the title of this movie is inaccurate, because reviled is too strong a word for what is presented here.  3½ cans.
66.  The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain* (2015) – Mitch Mustain seemed destined for greatness.  As a high school quarterback in Arkansas, he was a sought-after recruit who committed to playing for the local University of Arkansas.  This documentary takes to task the recruiting of high school students and the staffing of college football teams.  Despite prolific talent on the field, Mitch was caught in a power struggle between the head coach and the offensive coordinator (who had been his high school coach and who was undoubtedly hired to deliver Mitch and several of his teammates) and he ultimately transferred to USC, where he slipped off the depth chart.  This movie is an indictment of the fame that comes to young men simply because of their youthful achievements and potential and how the public’s expectation of them can turn to anger and derision should they not live up to the hype.  Meanwhile, far too many people have a stake in and a say in this young man’s life.  Today he is no longer involved in sports at any level.  And that seems a shame, given his abilities and accomplishments, but if that is his choice, then he has mastered the game.  3½ cans.
67.  Lovely, Still* (2009) – Martin Landau plays Robert, a lonely old man rambling about in a house clearly too large for him.  He goes to his job at the local market but he just sits there and draws.  One day a vibrant older woman named Mary (Ellen Burstyn) introduces herself to him and they begin a cautious but sweet relationship.  It doesn’t take much to throw Robert out of his routine, which is terrifying for him, but he develops real feelings for Mary.  This movie was so slow in reaching its crescendo that more than once I thought about abandoning it, but I’m glad I stuck around for the ending.  It was heartwarming and worth watching.  3 cans.
68.  The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club* (2013) – I cannot imagine a cornier or more amateurish movie than this little ditty about three grumpy old men who gather every Wednesday at the local small-town diner.  However, while as treacly as they come, the movie does have a certain charm, as the earnest young waitress Megan (Stacey Bradshaw) works diligently to accommodate their demands (a seat cushion for one, burning hot coffee for another).  She eavesdrops on their conversations, as each man discloses bits of his past, experiences in his native country and in the military.  She learns by listening that one man recently lost his wife, and she goes out of her way to visit when another is ill.  I can’t recommend this movie for most of you, but I did appreciate the reminder that everyone has a story and sometimes it helps just to listen.  And to keep the coffee hot.  2 cans, and no resemblance whatsoever to the Brat Pack’s “The Breakfast Club.”
69.  Maggie’s Plan* (2016) – Maggie (Greta Gerwig) had a plan and she should have stuck to it.  A single working woman, Maggie wanted to have a baby, and she enlisted a former college classmate as a sperm donor.  But when she meets unhappily married professor/author John (Ethan Hawke), her plan abruptly changes, and she and John marry and have a baby.  John is an overwrought author who will never finish that damn book or face his responsibilities, so Maggie is stuck with him, his two kids, their baby and a hopeless future.  Her plan then is to reunite John with his first wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore, with an accent), with whom he has maintained a relationship.  Seriously, Maggie, enough with the plans.  You should know by now that you aren’t good at it and they don’t always work.  The baby is cute, the movie is annoying.  If you are planning to see it, I say you should reconsider your plan.  2½ cans.
70.  The Fundamentals of Caring* (2016) – In this Netflix original movie, the ageless Paul Rudd plays Ben, an unemployed writer desperate for a job who becomes the caregiver for Trevor (Craig Roberts), an 18-year old fatherless young man with a form of muscular dystrophy.  Despite the warnings of the young man’s mother, the two strike up a friendship, and Ben agrees to take Trevor on a road trip – medicines, wheelchair and all – to see some roadside attractions that he finds appealing.  The movie soon becomes a buddy/road movie, complete with the addition of strangers they meet along the way who introduce Trevor to parts of life he’s never experienced.  The two main characters have a grudging bond and affection for each other, but it often manifests itself in cruel pranks and yelling.  I wanted more from the movie, because helping someone with a disability seemed like a different take on the typical road trip movie, but it didn’t end up much different at all.  The last scene, where Trevor gets to fulfill a lifelong dream, is modestly entertaining, but otherwise, this was pretty routine.  3 cans.

JULY
71. Tab Hunter Confidential* (2014) – When I think about Tab Hunter (on the rare occasions that I do), I think of a good-looking guy whose modicum of talent led to a largely unmemorable career.  Today, in his mid-80s, Hunter is still a very good-looking guy, and in this memoir, he shares his ups and downs.  As a closeted gay man whose star rose in the 50s and 60s, he couldn’t acknowledge his sexuality.  The fan magazines of the time featured countless pictures of Tab and the leading female stars of the day – Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and others.  A practicing Catholic, Hunter had difficulty reconciling his sexuality with his religion, so he kept his private life private.  There is neither great triumph nor tragedy in his story – much like his range as an actor – but he comes across as a genuinely good guy who got the most out of what he had to offer without giving too much of himself away.  3 cans.
72.  Eddie the Eagle* (2016) – If you appreciate the story of the underdog, look no further than the genre of sports movies.  There are winners, of course, and loveable losers.  Here we have the dramatized story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a Brit with an Olympic obsession.  His lack of athletic ability never stops his yearning to be in the Olympics, and he realizes that since Britain doesn’t have a ski jumping team, he won’t have a lot of competition to get to the 1988 Calgary games.  The awkward young athlete finds a crusty has-been (Hugh Jackman) who first discourages him and then teaches him.  For some reason, Eddie manages to survive and not break his body into bits, and, of course, he realizes his Olympic dream – to compete.  And isn’t that the goal of the Olympics anyway?  I actually remember his “Up Close and Personal” profile from the TV broadcasts, as young Eddie soared into the hearts of fans.  This is no “Rudy,” but, based on the true story, there is more of the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat.  3½ cans.
73.  Remember* (2016) – Christopher Plummer is Zev, an old man who escapes his retirement home to seek revenge on the Nazi who murdered his family at Auschwitz during World War II.  Although he suffers from dementia and wakes up every morning calling out for his deceased wife, he somehow manages (with the help and encouragement of his friend at the retirement home, played by Martin Landau) to get himself across the country in search of the war criminal.  He goes down several blind alleys and has some interesting encounters as director Atom Egoyan builds the suspense.  Like all other movies about war and Nazis, this is one I will watch only once.  Plummer is outstanding, and although the pace is slow (with an octogenarian lead, what else would you expect?), the story is taut and thrilling.  Stay tuned for a twist at the end that I never saw coming.  I will not forget “Remember.”  4 cans.
74.  A Few Great Bakeries* (2015) – There’s nothing like waking up to the smell of fresh, hot bread or pastries.  At least I would assume so from watching this PBS special.  A Few Great Bakeries takes a look at selected bakeries from New York State to Portland, Oregon, most family-owned and operated, and all bring much more than just dough to people’s lives.  One woman runs her bakery in her backyard.  She operates by the honor system, so people take what they want and leave their money.  Another woman runs a bakery from a food truck, baking the yummy items at home and then opening the truck to sell her signature rum cakes.  There are Mexican bakeries, a Japanese bakery and a million kinds of breads and rolls.  I think I gained weight just by watching.  Gone are the days of the cardboard box and the ubiquitous string for most of us, but these places bring back memories most of us can share.  Pass the pastries.  3½ cinnamon buns, please.
75.  Everybody’s Fine* (2009) – Except they aren’t.  When widower Goode’s (Robert DeNiro) adult children all cancel out on a visit to their father with flimsy excuses, he takes to the road, turning up unannounced to visit each of them.  He has instilled values in them and has pride in their accomplishments.  But his visits to them reveal things about each that he didn’t know and which his late wife didn’t share.  There is such an air of sadness about this movie, as the lonely widower tries to establish bonds with his family that somehow have eluded him.  DeNiro looks and seems similar to his character in “The Intern,” minus some of the innate kindness in the latter picture, and, as always, he delivers.  The disappointing progeny are Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore.  All I can say is to immediately call your parents and talk to both of them if you are lucky enough to have them.  3½ cans.
76.  Frost-Nixon* (2008) – It is interesting to me that director Ron Howard (one of my favorites) gave talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) top billing in his account of the 1977 interviews Frost conducted with disgraced President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).  Frost is in charge, selected to host the interviews and then stuck with selling the program that will pose the toughest Watergate questions.  But Frost is used to banal banter with celebrities, not investigative journalism, so he seems an unlikely choice to go toe-to-toe with the man who remains the only president to resign from office.  And despite hiring a tough back-up team, Frost as first is far too deferential and preoccupied to focus in on the most telling parts of the Nixon story – what did he know and when did he know it.  Frost shows too much respect and restraint, and Nixon at first commands the stage.  But Frost realizes his responsibility to get Nixon to admit his role in the Watergate cover-up, particularly as overheard on the infamous White House tapes.  This movie pits the two men together to parry and it is captivating.  Langella plays Nixon well, although on the close-ups (complete with a glistening upper lip), I thought he looked more like game show host Dennis James than Richard Nixon.  Watergate was a watershed moment in U.S. political history, and Howard brings the Nixon hysteria back with style.  4 cans.
77.  1001 to 1: The Corey Weissman Story* (2014) – OK, I’m a sucker for sports movies, so I slogged through this account of real life basketball player Corey Weissman  (David Henrie), a dedicated baller who suffered a stroke his sophomore season at Gettysburg College.  Weissman is a genuinely good guy who spent all of his free time dribbling basketballs, working out and studying the game.  He had a sweet shot, ability to drive to the hoop, and a weakness in his brain that led to his stroke.  What followed was lengthy rehab and never-ending hope of one day returning to the court to score for the Bullets.  Beau Bridges phones in his part as the firm but kindly coach.  There are the loyal-at-first girlfriend, the supportive parents and the best friend on hand to encourage and help Corey.  I can’t imagine this movie airing in the theater; it had “Lifetime Movie” written all over it.  Yet I watched.  You know it must be off-season and I was desperate for some hoops action.  2 cans for the movie, but 5 for Corey himself.
78.  Don’t Pass Me By* (2014) – As Frank Sinatra sings in my way, “Regrets, I’ve had a few…”  Well, this movie is full of them.  For the main characters, heartbreak and bad timing have forced them to make choices.  One is a ballerina who married the wrong guy too fast and is really in love with someone else (her friend’s boyfriend, no less).    Another finds out in the first few minutes of the movie that she has stage 4 cancer and only a short time to live – and then immediately meets the tall, dark and handsome man of all our dreams (well, most of us, anyway).  The third one is a movie star with a pushy agent who is forced into choosing her career over her life but who rediscovers the guy she was friends with growing up who still has a thing for her.  And then there’s the teenager who is living with her sister and gets pregnant.  Timing, people, timing.  Except for the blonde ballerina, all the other women were brunettes and I had a tough time telling them apart.  The actress is played by Rachel Noll, who wrote the screenplay and produced.  The only thing that ties these stories together – and it is a tenuous tie at that – is that they happen to frequent the same diner.  Nothing outstanding here, but considering that we all go through life changes and experience loss and regret, we all have something in common with this film.  3 cans.
79.  Knuckleball* (2012) – Who else besides me would watch a documentary about the strange saga of the knuckleball and the pitchers who throw it?   This movie focuses on the pitch itself, a non-rotating, slow-moving pitch that seems at times to have a mind of its own.  The men who use it as their primary weapon are a special breed, and they are a kind of fraternity.  They don’t mind sharing secrets about the mysterious pitch with each other and newcomers to the trade.  From the past we have former Yankee Jim Bouton, with Charlie Hough and the Niekro brothers all dispensing wisdom to the newest ace, R. J. Dickey, then with the Mets.  Boston’s Tim Wakefield pitched for the Red Sox for 19 years with that pitch in his arsenal, using it as a starter, a reliever or a long man.  He and Dickey, a career baseball nomad until he mastered the knuckler, are the keepers of the knuckle flame, with Dickey admitting that he wants to stick around long enough to see someone else pick up where he and Wakefield leave off.  I can’t imagine too many people watching this one, but I’ll give it 3 baseballs. 
80.  The Man in the Moon* (1991) – It is hard to believe that accomplished actress Reese Witherspoon has been around for 25 years now, having made her movie debut in this tender story.  She plays adolescent Dani, a 14-year old with older and younger sisters who live on a Louisiana farm in 1957.  Dani is crazy about Elvis and curious about love, and when handsome 17-year old Court (Jason London) and his family return to live at the neighboring farm, it doesn’t take Dani long to be smitten.  Though young himself, Court recognizes that Dani is too young for him and resolves to be just friends.  But when Dani’s older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) falls for the same guy, sisterly bonds are broken.  Richard Mulligan, who also directed “Summer of 42” and the more intense “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sets the right tone, with stunning shots of the countryside and Dani racing through it to jump into the nearby swimming hole.  This is a beautiful look at the heartaches of growing up, of first love and of the relationships within a family.  Tess Harper, Sam Waterston and Gail Strickland are known quantities who fill out the cast.  And Reese Witherspoon is off and running at the start of a great career in film.  4 cans.
81.  Weiner* (2016) – The first word that comes to mind watching this absorbing but prurient documentary about the rise and fall of politician and would-be NYC Mayor Anthony Weiner is “Why?”  If you are not familiar with his story, it can be summed up as: a passionate politician with a penchant for posing for pictures of his privates is exposed.  There, I said it.  So the “Why?” question addresses Weiner’s peccadillos, but also must be posed to his way-too-loyal and patient wife, Huma Abedin, a highly thought of advisor to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  After Weiner’s swift fall from grace, when the sexting scandal broke and he was forced to resign from Congress, it is Huma who urges him to run for Mayor of New York.  It is Huma by his side as he launches his mayoral campaign.  And it is Huma – albeit with a look on her face that says she wants to pummel him with a cast iron frying pan – who gamely supports him when yet another series of ill-advised texts come to light, these written and sent by her numb-sculled husband under the hilarious pseudonym “Carlos Danger.”  Senor Danger humiliates his wife, sabotages an otherwise promising career and simply does not understand what he has done that is so bad.  I guess you don’t go to jail for humiliating your wife, or for being stupid, but if you did, this guy would be a lifer.  I felt no sympathy for him, just for her, but at the same time I wanted to ask her that one question:  “Why?”  And finally, to both of them, why would you let/encourage/engage a documentary film crew to follow you around when you knew that there were more texts that had been sent AFTER he was forced to resign, after he was caught and admitted the scandalous behavior?  You cannot make this stuff up.  Fascinating, in a let’s-watch-the-trainwreck kind of way.  4 cans.
82.  Some Kind of Quest* (2016) – I have driven past Northlandz countless times but never with a desire to stop in and see the world’s largest model railroad.  Building this unique attraction was a quest for Bruce Williams Zaccagnino, its creator and owner, who took two years to see his vision through.  It features tiny people and trees, realistic buildings, mountains, bridges and, of course, trains.  They travel over miles of tiny tracks, over 400 bridges, past Bruce’s painstakingly made mountains, rivers and city scenes.  At 11 minutes, this brief documentary is certainly the shortest movie I have ever reviewed, but it stands tall.  Well done, Bruce.  I might just have to stop by and see this local wonderland in person.  3½ cans.
83.  Suited* (2016) – We all know how hard it is to find just the right outfit, something “suitable” for a special occasion, something that fits us just right and makes us feel so good.  For people who are transgender, the challenge is real, and the creator of Bindle & Keep brings his artistry and compassion to making a suit that is perfectly suited for each client.  Their clothes are empowering as they find the right fabric, the right cut and the right attitude to serve customers who might never have felt comfortable in their own skin, no less their own clothes.  This moving documentary aired on HBO and is well-suited for viewers.  3½ cans.
84.  Ghostbusters (1984) – Don’t get all excited.  This is the original, not the all-female remake.  This classic comedy starts Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis as the, well, ghostbusters, determined to outwit, outplay and outlast an army of apparitions taking over New York City.  Considering that I don’t like broad comedy (generally speaking) and I have no passion for fantasy, I nonetheless enjoyed this movie way back when and still got a chuckle seeing it again.  Murray is particularly smarmy and smug as he pursues Sigourney Weaver with the same determination as the ghosts.  Ackroyd, the man who made you believe there actually was a Bass-o-matic when he was on SNL, is at his serious best.  Rick Moranis in a supporting role was annoying, and Ernie Hudson was thrown in the mix for unknown reasons.  This romp still holds up. After all, who ya gonna call?  3½ cans. 
85.  Everest* (2015) – They say that men climb mountains because they are there.  Hmm, that’s not reason enough to me to risk life and limb in the freezing cold, on the quite literal slippery slope of a place like Mt. Everest in Nepal.  But in 1996, an expedition that included author Jon Krakauer and a bunch of Americans did just that and met with disaster right near the summit when a ferocious storm struck.  This movie recounts those events.  I watched it on my 60” TV, which was too small to get the full effect of the stunning vistas.  Yet, I couldn’t wait for it to end.  I could barely understand the dialog, much of which was delivered with an Australian accent, I knew doom was near and the whole thing made me cold.  Why did I watch?  Well, because it was on.  2½ cans.
86.  The Thing Called Love* (1993) – As a big fan of the TV show “Nashville,” I decided to watch this movie about young singer-songwriters trying desperately to break into show biz via the local bar, the Bluebird Cafe.  Samantha Mathis is Miranda Presley (no relation, she assures everyone), who arrives in Nashville from NYC and meets a group of other young hopefuls.  Chief among them are James (River Phoenix in his last performance), Kyle (Dermot Mulroney) and Linda Lue (Sandra Bullock in what might be her first role of note).  Everyone in Nashville seems to have another, real job, and when Miranda doesn’t make the cut at Blue Bird auditions, she becomes a waitress.  All of her spare time is spent writing songs, and there is plenty of heartache to provide material, as she falls in love and marries the talented but unreliable James.  Their sudden marriage doesn’t seem destined for longevity, and sadly, neither did Phoenix himself, a specter that hangs over the movie.  I prefer seeing the cast of Nashville performing at the Blue Bird, because you never know if Deacon Claybourne or the great Rayna James herself will show up.  This low-key story was directed by Peter Bogdonovich, which I never would have guessed.  3 cans.
87.  All Good Things* (2010) – All Good Things almost came to the end before the real action got started.  My future husband, Ryan Gosling, plays real estate dynasty heir David Marks, based on the real-life Fred Durst, who was accused in the disappearance of his young wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst).  David and Katie meet as free spirits and they open a health food store, marry and seem outwardly happy, although David has issues stemming from his witnessing his mother’s suicide as a 6-year old.   He reluctantly takes a job working for his mogul father (Frank Langella) that requires him to collect cash payments from rentals in the seediest sections of NYC (back in the 1970s-80s, before Times Square went through Disneyfication).  Katie doesn’t care about his job, but she is affected by his distance in their marriage.  She enrolls in medical school and leaves David repeatedly, yet returns when he cuts her off financially.  This is a frustrating and chilling story about a sociopath with domestic violence tendencies whose wife disappears.  Eventually, so does David.  Say no more or spoil the plot, Tina.  The best thing in All Good Things is, of course, Gosling, but you knew I’d say that.  3½ cans.
88.  Girlfriends (1978) – As a woman, I can attest to the importance of girlfriends.  Despite the presence of men in our lives, it is our girlfriends who can be our soulmates, our advisors, our supporters – or our disappointments.  In the case of artsy photographer Susan (Melanie Mayron) and her BFF Anne (Anita Skinner), the two women are all set to move into a new apartment together when Anne informs Susan that she is marrying her new boyfriend Martin (Bob Balaban), leaving Susan with more rent than she can afford and without Anne in her daily life.  Susan struggles to survive alone, photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs to make ends meet.  Although she has men in her life, they just don’t have the same depth in their relationships.  As the years pass, the two women remain friends despite leading different lives that afford them little time to reconnect.  The movie is very much of the 1970s, so there were no cellphones, e-mail or social media keeping us updated with every event – significant or otherwise – in the lives of our friends.  I didn’t love this movie, but I appreciate the important role friends play in our lives and how, if the friendship is strong, it will survive lapses and life choices.  3½ cans.

AUGUST
89.  Talullah* (2016) – This made-for-Netflix movie stars Ellen Page as Lou, a grifter living in her van with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend.  When Lu is caught scrounging for food in a posh hotel, the woman she meets assumes she works there and dumps her baby girl on “Lou.”  Lou sees an opportunity to steal credit cards and take the obviously neglected baby for herself.  Penniless and with nowhere to go, she ends up on the doorstep of her ex’s mother (Allison Janney), a bitter woman whose divorce from her gay husband has yet to be finalized.  Lou tells her that the baby is her granddaughter, and the three women develop a strange bond, until the child’s actual mother (Tammy Blanchard) and the authorities come after her.  This is an odd little story and it ends in a metaphysical way that I didn’t quite get.  The acting is first-rate even if the story was a little off-kilter.  3½ cans.
90.  Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs* – If you know me at all, my lack of fashion style and knowledge is readily apparent.  So why would I watch a movie about the iconic NYC department store?  I love nearly any behind-the-scenes looks, and this documentary opens the doors of Bergdorf’s and shows you the designers, the fashion director, the personal shoppers and all kinds of people who have made this store THE place for important people to shop and for important designers to show.  From tales of John and Yoko’s buying 72 furs one holiday eve to the whirlwind that is fashion director Linda Fargo, it is clear that this is NOT Macy’s.  Designers would give their right arms to have their lines shown in the famous Bergdorf’s windows (and an amazing account of the holiday windows is included here).  For designer Michael Kors, serendipity led to his selection, when then boss-woman Polly Mellon saw his stuff and told him she wanted Bergdorf’s to sell his line – which he didn’t have at the time.  This is how legends are born!  The truth is, if you can make it to Bergdorf’s as a designer, you needn’t go anywhere else.  As for me, I fear going into a store where the sales people will look at me with the same disdain shown Julia Roberts on her Rodeo Drive shopping trip in “Pretty Woman” (until they found out paramour Richard Gere was footing the bill).  So I’ll stick to the movie, which I recommend to my shopping, fashionista friends.  4 cans.
91.  Bad Moms* (2016) – Lest you think my taste runs only to independent or documentary films, here is something considerably less esoteric – and way more fun!  Mila Kunis plays hyperactive, overachieving Mom Amy.  She brings home the bacon in the family – not that she would ever actually serve bacon -- makes the nutritious lunches, drives the kids to school and a myriad of activities -- and drives herself crazy.  She is married to a slacker dad whose Internet hobbies are merely self-satisfying, and any work-life balance doesn’t include an actual life for her.  One day she just loses it, teams up with a slacker Mom Carla (Kathyrn Hahn, playing the role Melissa McCarthy would have played if she hadn’t moved beyond second-banana status and into superstardom), and Kiki (Kristen Bell), the do-gooder Mom with 4 little ones and a thoughtless, demanding spouse.  They take on the PTA president and all-powerful, perfect supermom Christina Applegate, who is so important that she throws a campaign party that Martha Stewart herself shows up to cater.  This romp is just good, mostly-clean fun (with more than a few sexual references thrown in) and laugh-out-loud funny.  Sure, I wondered who was watching all those kids when the Moms were out gallivanting, but you can’t look at a movie like this with logic.  It is about Mom-power, girl-power, friendship among women and how nobody is perfect.  Best movie laughs I have had in a long time.  4 cans.
92.  The Only Thrill* (2005) – Actually, this movie was not much of a thrill.  The action takes place over decades, and sometimes it seemed like time was passing that slowly just watching it.  The always taciturn Sam Shepard is Wiley, proprietor of a clothing store in Texas.  He is married to a woman in a coma, and, while he doesn’t mind cheating on her with other women once in a while, he won’t dump her and marry someone else, like Carol (Diane Keaton, turning down the comedy here), the seamstress he hires who alters his life.  They spend every Wednesday together at the local movie theater and are clearly in love, but Wiley refuses to take the next step.  Meanwhile, her daughter (Diane Lane) and his son (Robert Patrick) also start seeing each other and, like his father, the son refuses to take the next logical step.  So what we have here is lifelong happiness unachieved.  The bonds of love are strong, despite the circumstances and trials, but will they ever be in the right place at the right time?  I’m not sure you’d want to stick around to see for yourself, although I did.  3 cans. 
93.  Florence Foster Jenkins* (2016) – In the “Meryl never disappoints” category, this latest effort has her playing real-life society matron Florence, whose largess supports the arts and allows her to gain a following for her singing. You and I – and anyone with functioning ears – would hear her caterwauling and immediately recognize a total dearth of musical talent, but Florence only hears herself as a mellifluous doyenne of the stage.  Her husband (Hugh Grant) supports her singing habit.  Theirs is a strange relationship.  He adores and coddles her, but sneaks out at night for romantic trysts with his girlfriend, which is generally OK with Florence.  The whole plot leads up to Florence’s Carnegie Hall debut performance, which actually did take place.  She is remarkably bad, bad beyond description, really, with truly awful costumes to match her dowager body.  Her loyal and somewhat frenzied accompanist is played by Simon Helberg, better known as Wolowitz from the TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory,” and he can really tickle the old ivories.  It’s hard to be this good at being this bad, but the wide-eyed innocence Streep brings to the role is full of poignancy.  There’s the old saying, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice!” but no amount of practice would make Florence a nightingale.  4 cans.
94.  Dance With Me* (1996) – If the hunky co-star of this movie, Chayanne, asked me to dance, I’d definitely drag my two left feet out there on the dance floor.  He plays a handyman who works for a dance studio that is owned by a man (Kris Kristofferson) who may or may not be his father.  One of the instructors, played by Vanessa Williams, is also a ballroom dance competitor, and the climactic scene shows her competing with her partner.  It sounds strange to say that one of my objections to this movie is that there was too much dancing.  Williams is excellent on the dance floor, and she and Chayanne spend much of the movie exchanging smoldering looks, but this movie made Dancing With the Stars seem like high drama (which it kind of is…).  Not much plot, but it had a nice beat.  2 cans and a pair of dancing shoes.
95.  The Danish Girl* (2015) – I somehow missed this highly-praised movie last year.  It is the story of Dutch artists Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who are young and very much in love.  And then Gerda encourages Einar to pose for her dressed as a woman, which forces him to reconcile feelings that he has repressed about actually being a woman.  The story is based on the real artists and what happens when Einar starts to live as Lily.  Vikander won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and her character is very supportive of her husband despite everyone’s changing roles.  Redmayne gives a strong performance as he subtly shifts his voice, his body language and his persona to become the woman who is trapped inside a male body.  If it weren’t for Leonardo DiCaprio’s star turn in “The Revenant,” Redmayne would probably have grabbed his second Oscar.  4 cans.
96.  An Officer and a Gentleman (1986) – Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) is neither of those two things for much of this movie, the tale of a young man who bucks authority even as her strives to become a naval aviator.  His unyielding drill instructor, Sgt. Foley (Louis Gossett Jr., who deservedly won an Oscar for his breakout performance) doesn’t think much of him at first and tries not only to break him and the others in his class, but he singles Mayo out for especially brutal treatment to get him to DOR (Dropped on Request).  Mayo manages to get through the brutal treatment with the support of Paula (Debra Winger, in one of the two best movies of her career – the other is one of my Top 5: “Terms of Endearment”), a local blue-collar woman who, with her friend, is seeking a good officer candidate of her own.  But Mayo, who was brought up by a reprobate Navy father and whose mother killed herself, has commitment issues.  Will he stick it out and get to flight school?  Can he commit to Paula, to whom he is immediately attracted?  If you have experienced this movie, you know that the last scene is one of the best last scenes EVER in a movie.  And if you haven’t, please go and watch this movie.  It is more than a love story, more than a story of surviving in a tough world.  It is about friendship and love and achieving goals.  4 cans and a jar of mayonnaise.
97.  About a Boy (2002) – Hugh Grant is at his handsomest and most charming as a career bachelor who firmly believes he is an island, a man in need of no one beyond women to “shag” once in a while.  Independently wealthy due to the wide exposure of a Christmas song written by his father, Will takes great pride in his ability to do absolutely nothing all day.  But when he decides to look for single moms to date, 12-year old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) comes into his life along with his suicidal mother.  The kid keeps coming around, and eventually Will forms an attachment to the bullied pre-teen, and they each have something to teach each other.  Toni Collette plays the troubled mother in this heartwarming comedy.  And Will comes through just when you were ready to write him off.  “About a Boy” is about a man.  4 cans.
98.  The Big Chill (1983) – Before there was “Friends” on TV, these 30-somethings gather in the home of the only married couple among them for the funeral of one of their own.  Take a talented cast (Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum), a wonderful script, a great soundtrack and you get the seminal 80s film about friendship and idealism gone astray amid the realities of life.  The once engaged social activists are now actors, doctors, pop culture journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and burnouts.  Missing from the old U of Michigan gang is Alex, the one with the promise, the one they come to celebrate, the one who committed suicide.  They lick their wounds, renew their friendships, express their shortcomings and regrets and vow to be ever more faithful to the people they loved so long ago.  I hadn’t seen this movie in a long time and I forgot how much I love it.  The soundtrack is one of my favorites, and I can never listen to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” without picturing the dancing scene in the kitchen.  4½ cans.

SEPTEMBER
99.  The Light Between Oceans* (2016) – This movie is drawn from the book, which I thought was way too long.  There is certainly a slow pace here, too, but given the fact that the main character is a lighthouse keeper and nothing much happens on the job, that’s understandable.  A veteran of WWI, Tom is a loner, content to live on a remote island near Australia and tend to the lighthouse.  Back in town, he meets a lovely young woman who is brave enough to take on living in a place where you have to be pretty self-sufficient, and they get married and plan to have a family.  To tell you more would ruin the story.  Suffice to say that this drama involves moral dilemmas that no one should have to face.  Michael Fassbender and Alicia Verkander star as the young couple.  He brings stoicism and she brings vulnerability to their roles.  Slow, but worth the time.  3¾ cans – a rating I have never given out before.
100.  The Night Of* (2016) – Technically, my 100th movie of the year isn’t a movie at all.  This was an HBO miniseries, but it was so rich and engrossing (and, at about 10 hours total, I didn’t want to pass up a chance to include it on my list) that I wanted to recommend it.  Riz Ahmed plays Naz, a young and innocent-looking grad student of Pakistani descent who finds himself mixed up in a murder.  His situation looks hopeless, but along comes broken-down lawyer John Stone (John Turturro), who sees him in the holding cell at the NYC precinct and decides to take on his seemingly hopeless case.  The rest of the series focuses on the horrors of incarceration, the tedious task of solving a crime, the rippling effects of actions both big and small on families and friends, racism and cultural stereotyping and, most importantly, the old “who done it.”  This series makes an excellent companion to the Netflix documentary series “The Making of a Murderer,” as each one grabs your attention and you cannot look away.  It’s a long night, but a memorable one.  4½ cans.
101.  Up In The Air (2009) – Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has one of those jobs that didn’t exist even a few years ago.  He flies all around the country, dispatched by his company more than 300 days a year to fire people at client companies that can’t pull the trigger on their own.  Toting his trusty carry-on, a slew of airline loyalty cards and with no emotional baggage, he is the perfect, dispassionate guy for the job.  Then along comes Alex (Vera Famiglia), who appears his match in mileage and lack of emotion.  When young, inexperienced Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) joins the company, Ryan shows her the ropes on delivering the bad news, but she has a different approach, one that will ground Bingham and his cohorts and let the people hired to fire do it remotely, making the task even more impersonal.  This movie is an indictment of corporate downsizing, and it uses people who were actually fired to react to the news.  Clooney is the Cary Grant of his time, a handsome, well-dressed man traveling around with nary a wrinkle in his suit, packing, going through security and facing all of the hardships of travel with efficiency and purpose.  But he lives an empty life, albeit one he doesn’t seem to mind a bit.  One day, Natalie will be just like him, despite that baby-faced innocence.  I kept thinking at the end she would be firing him, but that is not how the movie ends.  3½ cans.
102.  Infamous* (2006) – When you think of author Truman Capote, you probably think of one of two things:  Either his epic, gripping book, “In Cold Blood,” or his reputation as a bon vivant, favored member of New York society, rubbing elbows, bending elbows and swapping gossip with the rich and famous ladies who lunch.  This movie gives you both versions.  Toby Jones transforms into the small, petty, yet immensely talented Capote, who travels to Kansas to write an article on the brutal murder of a family and ends up writing a book instead.  He ingratiates himself with the local authorities (Jeff Daniels) and winds up with unlimited access to the men eventually arrested for the crime.  He develops a bond with Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) as he worms his way into the killer’s heart and soul.  He is accompanied by author Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), who is on hand to help him with the research.  This movie is a fascinating account of a fascinating man and a story that is unforgettable.  Jones IS Capote.  3½ cans.
103.  Michael Clayton (2007) – Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer, the guy his law firm calls on to take care of its toughest issues, to “fix” things.  Ironically, he can’t fix his own life, where he sees his son only on occasion, gambles too much in high stakes games and is out $80,000 in a bad bar investment deal.  But one case presents a problem that may not be fixable.  His firm is on the wrong side of an environmental case that has dragged on for years and needs to be settled.  The boss (the late, great Sydney Pollack) needs the victory, and Arthur, one of the key people in his organization, (Tom Wilkinson) has uncovered information that will block that victory.  Arthur has a meltdown, goes off his meds and out of his mind.  Then the sinister forces of evil from the client side step in.  This is a suspenseful drama that shifts back and forth in time, with the bad guys pursuing Clayton and the good guys pursuing the truth.  Who will win in the end?  4 cans.
104.  Sully* (2016) – It only took 208 seconds from the time birds hit and knocked out the engines of US Air flight 1549 until Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) landed the Airbus in the Hudson River – safely, with no loss of life – but it took much longer to determine whether he and his co-pilot (Aaron Eckhardt) made the right decision.  Sully was immediately hailed as a hero, given star treatment by the media, but he also came under the scrutiny of the NTSB for choosing NOT to attempt to land at a nearby airport.  Director Clint Eastwood has to give the movie substance beyond those 208 seconds, so much of the film focuses on the review of the flight by the authorities.  Sully had extensive experience as a pilot and also in examining flight crashes, so any attempt to “sully” his reputation comes across as mean-spirited.  The “Miracle on the Hudson” involved not only Sully and his crew, but also the many NY rescue boats, some of which were ordinary ferries that got to the sinking plane in time to rescue all 155 people on Board – with Sully, of course, the last one to leave.  It takes a well-crafted movie to hold your interest when you already know the outcome, and this movie brings the drama while our hero Hanks brings the gravitas.  The recreations and footage are amazing and should only be seen in a theater.  4 cans.
105.  Steve Jobs* (2016) – I have now completed the Jobs trifecta, having seen “Jobs” (the Ashton Kutcher film) and “Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine” (the Alex Gibney documentary) and my conclusion remains the same.  Jobs was an insufferable son of a bitch, nasty to friends and foes alike, a man who denied his paternity and only grudgingly supported his child and her mother, a man who took credit for nearly everything and whose own partner queries him, “What do you do?”  Genius?  Yes, a man with a head for marketing and creating conceptual products that people not only will want, but which they fear they cannot live without.  In this production, Michael Fassbinder is given the formidable task of delivering Aaron Sorkin’s fast and furious dialog.  The plot centers around three product introductions at three different points in Jobs’ career, including the introduction of his post-Apple firing computer, Next.  Jobs is never nice, is always demanding and after total control of everything around him.  This is a well-executed story with an excellent cast (Kate Winslet as his right hand, Seth Rogen as legendary Woz) about a guy who is totally unlikeable, despite and because of his genius.  3½ cans.
106.  Soapdish (1991) – Soapdish is a send-up of those cheesy daytime dramas where main characters are beheaded yet miraculously survive only to reappear decades later.  Sally Field stars as the star, and I couldn’t help but like her, really, really like her as the bitchy lead.  The wonderful Kevin Kline shows up as her former love interest, now reduced to playing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” at nursing homes.  The cast is filled with talented vets like Robert Downey Jr., Cathy Moriarity, Terry Hatcher, Kathy Najimy, Carrie Fisher and Whoopi Goldberg.  This is not Pulitzer Prize winning material, but if you want to laugh out loud and shake your head at Marxian antics, check it out.  4 cans.
107.  Truth* (2015) – The truth is that journalism is no longer about objective reportage – if it ever was.  Instead, we live in an age of “gotcha” news, where producers, newscasters, columnists and correspondents imagine themselves as the voice of the public, the keeper of values, the one source of truth, justice and the American Way (with apologies to Superman).  Here, Robert Redford plays venerable CBS newsman Dan Rather, who, when he was a part of “60 Minutes,” worked with producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) on a story that attempted to prove that President George Bush received preferential treatment in joining the National Guard and didn’t fulfill his military responsibilities.  And the team of news people know this because someone told them so and gave them a copy of correspondence that said so.  And everyone, including the president of CBS News, was willing to go for it because they seemed to nail it.  Except that they didn’t, because the documents were not originals and no one could authenticate them and the information.  This story aims to be like Redford’s classic, “All the President’s Men,” with the good guy, white-hat-wearing investigative reporters, led by Mapes, determined to bring this outrage to the American people.  Because no one ever got preferential treatment before for being rich and having connections.  No. One. Ever.  Right?  In the case of “All the President’s Men,” Woodward and Bernstein were dogged in unearthing the Watergate incident.  Here, the story is rushed to air before the team can really verify everything.  And there is a price to pay.  I worry about our ability to understand complex issues based on mere smattering of information that is so often served up to the public by the media in a frenzy to publish or broadcast.  It would have been better to find the real story before airing it.  3½ cans.
108.  Mistress America* (2015) – When you’re a college freshman who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the girls at Barnard, life can be a little lonely.  Such is the case with Tracy (Lola Kirke), who really just wants to have her work accepted by the campus literary society.  Her mother is engaged to a man whose daughter, Brooke (Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach), lives in the city, so Mom encourages Tracy to look up her future stepsister.  Brooke is a charismatic woman in her early 30s with more get-rich schemes than Ralph Kramden, and Tracy is lured into her world of fun and adventure more for the subject matter material than anything else.  This movie becomes a female buddy movie, but also a somewhat comedic look at the dreams of Gen X and how hard it can be to achieve them.  Warm and friendly, if a bit odd.  3 cans.

OCTOBER
109.  All of Me (1984) – Steve Martin shows off his physical comedy prowess in this fantasy about an uptight lawyer/musician whose body becomes inhabited by an eccentric woman after a plan designed to help the dying millionaire (Lily Tomlin) switch bodies with a vibrant young woman (Victoria Tennant) goes awry.  Martin and Tomlin battle it out over body territory as they each control half, which makes shaving and relieving himself nearly impossible.  The story is a trifle, but the performances are so much fun to watch.  Martin has had two memorable dances in his career, one amazing stint on the dance floor with Gilda Radner on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” to the tune of “Dancing In the Dark,” and the closing dance sequence here, set to the title tune.  Martin is truly a gift from heaven.  3½ cans.
110.  Queen of Katwe* (2016) – Ten-year old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her mother (the graceful and fierce Lupita Nyongo) live with her brothers and sisters in Katwe, a village in Uganda, barely subsisting on the sale of vegetables.  The children don’t go to school, don’t know how to read and can only look forward to a lifetime of hardships.  But then Phiona meets Coach Katende (David Oyelowo), who teaches the local children to play chess.  Phiona is a prodigy, growing so skilled that she beats the teacher and is accused by one of her opponents of “reading my mind.”  But considering her background, can she possibly become a chess master and use her status to improve her living conditions?  This movie is based on a true story, and it is delivered with intensity and warmth.  Who is braver?  The teenaged chess champion facing off against more educated and experienced players?  Or the mother, dealing with weather disasters without a roof over the head of her family?  This is a Disney movie, and you know they don’t dwell on defeat, so you can figure out where this is headed.  But the ride is a good one.  3½ chess pieces.
111.  The Four Seasons (1981) – Any movie that starts with soaring music from Vivaldi is bound to get your attention, and this examination of three close-knit couples delivers.  Alan Alda wrote this comedy/drama about six people who vacation together, get on each other’s nerves, care for each other, laugh together and, every now and then, let loose with a judgmental evisceration of each other.  Yet, for the most part, it is entertaining.  Alda has always tended to be preachy in my view, and this movie is no exception.  The highly-likeable cast (couples Alda and Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno and Jack Weston and Len Cariou with first wife Sandy Dennis and second wife the considerably younger Bess Armstrong) has plenty of chemistry.  I recall liking this one better at first view, but it was an interesting study of the dynamics between couples and friends.  3 cans.
112.  The Girl on the Train* (2016) – Here’s my summary:  Girl gets on a train, girl gets off a train, girl drinks too much on the train and we know it’s not water in that bottle.  Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a hot mess.  Fired from her job because of her drinking, she boards the Metro North line every day so her roommate (Laura Prepon of OITNB fame) won’t know she’s unemployed.  Despite her alcoholic haze, she is able to see clearly into the homes and lives of the people whose houses she passes.  She yearns to be living in her former home with now-ex Tom (Justin Theroux) and fantasizes about the lives of the attractive young couple Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), who hang out on the deck of their house down the street from Tom entirely too much.  Tom has remarried and has a young daughter with wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), but that doesn’t keep Rachel from calling him, stalking Anna and recalling past incidents that make her feel responsible for the demise of her marriage.  When Megan goes missing, Rachel thinks she has information that could help solve the case.  She also thinks she might have had something to do with harming Megan, since she can’t recall why she herself came home bloody and bruised the night Megan disappeared.  This is a whodunit about a bunch of people with lots of problems.  Because it jumps back and forth in time and because two of the three women look very much alike, it can be confusing.  It definitely helped that I read the book first.  It was not quite as twisty as “Gone Girl” and not quite as suspenseful as “Fatal Attraction,” movies of the same genre, but it held my attention.  Emily Blunt has the right amount of desperation and smeared make-up, the men are all creepy, and Allison Janney reminds us (in a small part as the detective) of her dramatic chops.  By the end of the movie, I wished Rachel had just driven instead of taking the train.  Still, 3½ train cars.
113.  Notting Hill (1999) – She is a movie star with a megawatt smile.  He is an unassuming owner of a travel book bookstore.  One day she walks into his store and changes his life.  Julia Robert is the American star and Hugh Grant is the English bookstore proprietor in this utterly charming story about two people from different worlds exploring their possibilities.  He is surrounded by good friends while she is swallowed up by fame, chased by photographers and hounded by the press.  She can break his heart, but will she?  Will he let her?  Could he recover?  Watch this movie for the answers to these burning questions.  There is a great scene between them towards the end that is worth the price of admission.  Good cast, good story, good movie.  4 cans.
114.  Still Mine* (2013) – Craig (James Cromwell) is a stubborn guy.  Although he is in his 80s (and Cromwell is clearly younger), he is convinced he can construct a new house for his ailing and failing wife, Irene (an unrecognizable Genevieve Bujold), on a piece of property he owns.  The man knows his lumber, and his construction skills are stellar, but that’s not enough to satisfy the local town authorities and their building codes.  As he defiantly continues building, he also cares for his increasingly frail wife, who is given to severe lapses in memory and who can wander off and fall.  Theirs is a solid relationship – as solid as the perfectly plumb and square house, a one-story structure where Craig and Irene can live instead of in their old place, where Irene can’t climb the stairs so the bathroom is outside.  Cromwell is magnificent in the part of the husband, father and master builder.  But Irene is getting worse, requiring more care, and she may never get a chance to live in their new home.  This is a tender love story about a 61-year relationship, about love and trust AND carpentry.  3½ cans.
115.  Money Monster* (2016) – George Clooney and Julia Roberts team up in this suspense movie about one of those TV financial gurus who dispense glib advice and seldom think of the consequences.  But a young man who has lost a considerable sum (for him, but peanuts to Clooney’s character) invades the TV station while the “Money Monster” show is live and threatens to kill Clooney if he cannot explain the huge drop in the stock price of one of his picks and everyone jumps to track down the shady character who runs the company.  Clooney has sympathy for the guy, while Roberts, the director, just wants to get everyone out alive. This is exactly why I don’t watch and cannot stand these kinds of programs, where the so-called experts espouse their theories with sound effects and razzle-dazzle as if they know everything.  Clooney and Roberts always make a good team.  3½ cans.
115.  The Meddler* (2015) -- Some might call it meddling.  Some might call it mothering.  I call it annoying when Susan Sarandon, a lonely widow with a lovely, grown daughter (Rose Byrne), shows up unannounced and proceeds to intervene in the young woman’s life, assuming relationships to her friends and generally meaning well but pestering the daughter no end.  Until she meets a completely different sort of guy (J. K. Simmons) and realizes she might be able to have a life of her own.  This movie is very similar to the road trip one with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen – two well-meaning mothers and the children they drive crazy.  No, thanks.  2½ cans.
116.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2* (2015) – We know the characters, the Windex jokes, the smothering family (see above) – so nothing is new in this sequel to the delightful Nia Vardalos original, so I didn’t have high hopes after reading tepid reviews.  But I found myself laughing out loud more than once at the antics of the Greek family, admiring their closeness and even appreciating a plot that stretched things out more than necessary.  Nia wrote and stars as daughter Toula, but it is Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan as her parents and Andrea Martin as her aunt who get off the best lines.  John Corbett as Toula’s non-Greek husband comes across as the blandest, but, after all, he is not Greek.  3½ cans.
117.  Dirty Dancing (1987) – Since I am going to see a stage version of this memorable movie in a few days, I thought it would be a good time to view the original in all its glory.  Patrick Swayze’s duck-tailed dancing dervish, Johnny Castle, is the bad boy of Kellerman’s Catskills Resort, spending his summers cha-chaing with the guests, until he and Baby Hausman (Jennifer Grey) and her family come along.  Johnny teaches Baby more than how to dance.  Swayze, whose character dons a shirt only occasionally, is all sinewy muscles and grinding hips as he and his fellow dirty dancers tear up the staff cabins and the dance floor.  Is there anyone who hasn’t see this movie?  Great music, great dancing and an excellent cast.  Corny, yes, but I could watch it again and again.  I hope the stage show is even half as good.  I had the time of my life.  4 cans.

NOVEMBER
118. Too Big to Fail* (2011) – This movie is a dramatization of the 2008 U.S. economic crisis that saw mortgage foreclosures, giant banks fail and nearly decimated the US economy.  It consists mainly of middle-aged white men striding down corridors, talking on 2008 cell phones and barking orders to “Make the call” or “Just do it” – not the Nike slogan, either.  William Hurt plays the central character, US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen, who is watching the economy tank while trying to come up with solutions to save it.  Represented are the head of the NY Fed and the major banks and investment companies in a large cast (James Woods, Billy Crudup, Bill Pullman, Paul Giammatti, and, in the sole female role of note, Cynthia Nixon as Paulsen’s PR person).  Every now and then a character starts explaining the whole thing so the other characters (and, more importantly, the audience) will be able to understand what all of these maneuvers mean for the future of the economy.  We know how it ends – with a government bailout referred to as “Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, so it wouldn’t be called a bailout, but that’s what it was.  And that was after giants like Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers were forced to declare bankruptcy.  You can trace the entire route of the failure from the deregulation of the banking industry by President Ronal Reagan, as the unregulated banks grew huge and took on debt from unsecured mortgages that nearly toppled them.  Yet, in the end, the government bailout had to happen because these institutions are the bedrock of the economy and were just too big to fail.  Well-done, but preachy and occasionally pedantic.  3 cans.
119.  The Accountant* (2016) – Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff is highly functional while dealing with some degree of autism.  He is an accountant, but he’s nothing like my guy, Stanley Dorfman.  He can find the loopholes and save you money, he can cook the books for the bad guys or find the discrepancies accumulated over time.  OK, that sounds boring, so in the second half of the movie Affleck becomes Liam Neeson-like, with a particular set of skills that will result in injury or death for the men chasing him by his mastery of martial arts or an incredibly accurate trigger finger on an assault weapon.  I found the story convoluted and inconsistent.  There’s one twist – which I did see coming – and there is the sporadic use of an accountant (Anna Kendrick) who has found a major amount of money missing from the ledger of a robotics company headed by John Lithgow.  There’s plenty of suspense and way too much shooting and violence for my taste.  If there is a sequel, I won’t return.  I prefer Stanley Dorfman.  3 cans.
120.  The Visitor (2007) – One of the best actors around, Richard Jenkins, stars in this story of the ramifications of the US immigration policies.  Jenkins is Walter, a quiet college professor from Connecticut who has lost his wife and is bored with his life.  When he has to go to New York to present a paper, he returns to the apartment he has kept in the city for decades only to find Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend, two immigrants, living in the mostly vacant place.  Instead of kicking them out, he lets them stay and a bond is formed between the professor and the young man whose passion is playing the African drum.  Although his wife was a pianist and he loves music, Walter could not master piano but appreciates the drum lessons Tarek provides.  When Tarek is wrongly arrested in the subway, life takes a different turn for the cheerful young man, who is placed in custody and threatened with deportation.  This is a warm story with serious overtones about the way immigrants are treated.  Well worth seeing.  4 cans.
121.  Denial* (2016) – Consider this movie the 2016 version of last year’s outstanding “Spotlight.”  Both movies are based on true stories, both involve evil people and those gullible enough to be led by them, and both are good vs. evil.  Here, American professor and author Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is sued by British historian and author David Irving (Timothy Spall) for libel when her book outs him as a Holocaust “denier.”  Irving believes in Hitler and disagrees with the evidence that shows the death camps and the eradication of 6 million Jews is fact, not fiction.  But Debra is sued in England, where the innocent have to prove their innocence, and her British legal team takes an approach to defend her that she does not believe in.  Strong performances by Weisz and Tom Wilkinson as one of her attorneys.  Loved the movie, hated the wigs the barristers wear in court.  4 cans.
122.  The Crown* (2016) – Like the OJ series, this mini-series on Netflix is not a movie, but with exceptional performances, outstanding production values and the compelling story of the early reign of Queen Elizabeth, this 10-part series deserves a review.  Claire Foy might as well dust off a space on her mantle for the Emmy as the young Queen, and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill should do the same.  Elizabeth ascends to the throne at the age of 25 after the death of her father, King George.  She is admittedly bereft of formal education and forced to deal with the trappings of the monarchy.  She has difficult decisions to make and is pulled in directions that conflict with her own views by Churchill, the prevailing government, the Church and her family – especially her younger sister, Princess Margaret.  The attention to detail in this series is phenomenal, with period cars, clothing and countless scenes in castles and mansions.  Powerful performances, lots of behind the scenes stuff and a great insight into the Monarchy.  Heavy is the head that wears the crown.  Addicting.  4½ cans.
123.  Allied* (2016) – Brad Pitt is an RAF intelligence officer who parachutes into Morocco in 1942 (shades of “Casablanca”) where he assumes the identity of the husband to Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), herself a member of the French Resistance.  He’s handsome (if a bit stiff), with the worst French accent I have heard since my Freshman high school French class, but they play the part of the married couple so well, that everyone falls for the ruse.  And then they assassinate a few of the local Nazi bigwigs.  The pretense of marital bliss becomes real bliss when they marry and move to London so he can continue his work as a wing commander.  But there are questions about his new wife’s background and identity, and Pitt is put in an impossible position while the local command determines whether she is actually working for the Germans.  I found this an intriguing story, and while Cotillard is at the top of her game, Pitt gives a labored performance.  I found it suspenseful – is she or is she not a double agent? – and despite the violence of war, I would recommend it.  3½ cans.
124.  Waffle Street* (2015) – Failed financer James Adams (taken from his actual story) loses his job in investments and cannot find work, until one day when he sees a Help Wanted sign in the window of the local Waffle house.  Adams (James Lafferty) gets hired as a server and decides, in spite of his inexperience in the restaurant business, to change his life and buy a Waffle franchise.  He works a crazy schedule to accumulate the required 1000 hours, including stints unclogging the toilets, taking orders, working the register, dealing with some eccentric customers and doing anything else asked of him to make his new dream come true.  That includes selling his Audi convertible (his finance job was considerably more lucrative) and convincing his pregnant wife to sell their dream house to raise the money for the restaurant.  Will he get what he wants?  Will he want what he gets?  This little trifle of a movie was not one I sought out but one I ended up watching anyway.  I think I would have enjoyed it more had it been a documentary about a nice guy whom we hope will finish the race.  2½ waffles.
125.  Life Itself* (2104)  -- It is impossible to think about writing a movie review without conjuring up the master himself, Roger Ebert, who passed away in 2014.  I started reading the autobiography from which this Steve James documentary was derived but found it ponderous – too detailed and slow.  However, I’m glad I watched the movie, because it tells the fascinating story of a brilliant film critic and writer who later established an identity on TV as part of the team Siskel and Ebert, a pair of movie critics whose various TV shows were “don’t miss” programming for me.  The right word from the prolific Ebert could make or break a movie, and people like Martin Scorsese at least in part owe their careers to Ebert.  It was Ebert who lauded Steve James’ classic documentary “Hoop Dreams,” so it is entirely appropriate that James documents Roger’s career and ultimate death from a progression of various cancers.   A film critic for the Chicago Sun Times at age 21, Ebert spent too many hours in too many bars until he gave up drinking altogether, and he waited until he was 50 to find and marry the love of his life, Chaz.  His erudite reviews were a guide for all of us, enabling viewers to see and discover gems and masterpieces in movies we might otherwise have missed.  When his sometimes sparring partner Gene Siskel died, Ebert was crushed, but he carried on his TV career, reviewing movies with others.  But ironically, his medical conditions required surgeries that robbed him of his voice, though not his ability to write reviews for a blog that continues today as a repository for his work and the contributions of other reviewers.  Long before Rotten Tomatoes gave us guidance about what movies were worth seeing, it was the thumbs up from Roger Ebert that made a movie worthwhile.  Feisty, egotistical and brilliant, like the man himself.  4 cans and a big “Thumbs Up.”
126.   The Other Woman* (2009) – No, this isn’t the bawdy comedy with Cameron Diaz, and it isn’t some cheesy Lifetime movie.  Oscar-winner Natalie Portman plays Amelia, a driven young associate at a law firm who falls fast and hard for her married boss, Jack (Scott Cohen).  Jack has a precocious 8-year old son named William (Charlie Tahan) and a barracuda of a wife (Lisa Kudrow, playing a decidedly un-Phoebesque character), whom he leaves for Amelia when they find out Amelia is pregnant.  Blending families is never easy, and Amelia has little experience with kids.  Her father and Jack become good friends, and the son takes to his new grandfather right away, but building that bond between son and stepmom is tougher, particularly when wife #1 spews venom on wife #2.  Jack is caught in the middle.  This movie has similarities to “Stepmom” with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon and “Kramer vs. Kramer,” especially since the young son sports a haircut like Justin Henry’s in the latter film.  This movie took an unexpected turn for me and was better than I expected.  3 cans.
127.  Race* (2016) – There’s a good story in here somewhere, but this slow, plodding movie about track and field Olympian Jesse Owens (Stephan James) has no pace to it.  It traces Owens’ career as a collegiate star at Ohio State through the decision of whether the US will participate in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, whether Owens himself will bow to pressure NOT to participate (we know the answer to that already), to Jewish athletes being denied a chance to race…I cannot get into the details because the movie isn’t worth the time.  Jason Sudekis plays Owens’ coach, who advises and helps him, all while drinking heavily.  Owens was one of the best Olympic athletes ever and never got his just rewards until his death.  This film doesn’t do him any favors, either.  2 cans.
128.  Cast Away (2000) – I’m ending the month with one of my all-time favorite movies.  Tom Hanks has starred in so many terrific films (“Forest Gump,” “Big,” “Apollo 13” (also (one of my ATFs), “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Terminal,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “The Road to Perdition,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Nothing in Common” (not a great movie but an outstanding performance by Hanks) and “Bachelor Party” (only kidding on this last one).  But Cast Away, despite lengthy stretches with minimal dialog – mostly between a man and a volleyball named Wilson – is riveting.  Hank’s character Chuck Nolan works for Fed Ex, and when his plane goes down in the Pacific, he is stranded on an island for 4 years, surviving on his ingenuity and undying love for his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt, who has one memorable line that always makes me cry).  How strong is man?  The longer he’s there, the more adept Chuck is at figuring out how to survive.  We take for granted the little things in life – a glass with ice, electric lights, clean water and warmth – and Chuck has to cope with a life bereft of even the basics.  Chuck’s physical transformation is astonishing, and kudos to Hanks for undertaking such a challenge.  I love this movie and urge anyone who has not seen it to take the time to enjoy the story, the music, the setting, and the incomparable Hanks.  A rare 5 cans.

December
129.  Manchester By the Sea* (2016) – This movie has gotten a lot of buzz, primarily about the outstanding performance of Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler.  Lee is a lonely, sad man whose life has been torched (literally) by tragedy.  He is almost overwhelmed by it, barely getting through his days while trying to suppress his grief and hair-trigger temper.  It is better for him to be numb than to allow himself to grieve over the loss of his older brother.  Suddenly he has to face responsibilities that he never anticipated and is ill-equipped to handle.  I found this movie to be relentlessly dreary and slow.  Not that it should be all laughs for this poor, downtrodden man, but even the occasional attempts at humor were not enough to break the suffering and silence.  I wanted to like it, but I just found it so unrelentingly grim.  Good performances by leads Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, but that wasn’t enough to make me enjoy or like the movie.  3½ cans.
130.  Hairspray* (2016) – I’m not sure how to characterize this musical, which was presented on live TV but which I recorded on my DVR for later viewing.  It is essentially the broadcast of a televised play, and while I appreciate the attempt to bring Broadway to the living room, both this production and previous attempts have come up short, especially in the technical department.  Shaky camera work, some poor direction and sometimes muddled sound is the price you pay for a live production.  Technical glitches aside, this version of the Harvey Fierstein show starred Harvey himself as Edna Turnblatt.  I’m not going to try to summarize the plot, but I will say that the dancing, singing and energy were exuberant and the show was bursting with colorful costumes and sets.  I had seen the show on Broadway, and I was curious to see how it translated to TV.  I salute the effort and overall I found it entertaining.  3 cans.
131.  Walt Before Mickey* (2014) – This earnest biopic shows that everything wasn’t perfect in Disneyland before Mickey came along to help Walt build the Kingdom of the Mouse.  Young Disney loved to cartoon, and his early animations won him some notice.  Twice he built a company and lost it, first when he failed to copyright his work, thus losing the rights to his distributor, and later when the companies he was doing business with failed to pay him.  The movie establishes Walt as a creative guy who hires the right people (some of whom left the failed business and went on to create Looney Tunes for Warner Brother) but is ultimately a lousy businessman.  Things finally improve once he hires his older brother, Roy (Jon Heder), when he grows his mustache and when he creates Mickey Mouse.  The story was interesting, but far too dramatic and long.  I have never seen so many men in white shirts shaking hands and slapping each other on the back while smoking.  I don’t think the cast of “Mad Men” smoked this much in the entire run of the series.  Interesting story but not well told.  2 cans.
132.  The Intern (2015) – Robert DeNiro used to specialize in such heavyweight roles as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.”  Today he seems to be less discerning in his choices for parts.  This movie is on the lighter side for sure, but DeNiro brings a magic touch to Ben, a 70ish widower who applies for and gets a job as an intern working for Jules (Anne Hathaway), a slightly manic young woman who has founded an internet apparel company and built her brand without a lot of “adult” supervision.  At first reluctant to give Ben anything to do, Jules begins to rely on him for professional and personal support.  He carefully draws and observes the lines of respectability even as a strong friendship forms between them.  Hathaway is not quite as desperate as she was in “The Devil Wears Prada” since her character here is a self-made woman, but she comes to recognize that anyone can benefit from shared wisdom.  DeNiro has sold his soul to some extent with trifles like “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and the “Meet the Parents” comedies, but his restraint here and the story are delightful.  4 cans.
133.  Miss Sloane* (2016) – And speaking of business, the lobbying trade in Washington, DC, is portrayed in the most negative light possible here.  Jessica Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, a brutal, tough, cutthroat woman determined to secure the passage of a gun control bill by taking every possible step – or stepping on every possible person.  She works constantly, giving herself relief only through pills and the momentary pleasures of a paid male “escort.”  She’s lightning fast on her feet and ready to pounce on the opposition or her own team members at the slightest sign of weakness.  I perceived this movie to be less about gender but more about power – seizing it, using it, eliminating it when necessary.  Chastain is a ruthless revelation.  3½ cans.
134.  The Insider (1999) – Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crow) was an actual research scientist at tobacco giant Brown & Williamson when he was fired for threatening to expose the industry for ignoring the evidence that nicotine is addictive.  No one has a lobby like the tobacco industry, and B&W had an ironclad confidentiality clause with Wigand not to reveal his findings without jeopardizing his financial future.  And then “60 Minutes” came calling, with hardnosed producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) working to find a way around the signed confidentiality agreement so Wigand could be interviewed and his indictment of Big Tobacco could air.  But even with veteran reporter Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) by his side, Bergman could not convince the corporate types at CBS that they would not be sued.  Let the wrangling begin.  The movie paints with broad strokes of black and white, with tobacco and Corporate CBS wearing the bad guy black hats (after all, CBS’ headquarters is called “Black Rock”) and with Wigand and the relentless Bergman all in the good-guy white – only things are not quite that simple.  Bergman is sure he and Wallace are upholding the journalistic principles established by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Morrow, but executive producer Don Hewitt (Philip Baker Hall) and the CBS corporate guys understand what a protracted court battle will mean.  Wigand stands to come out the loser in this battle, whatever the outcome.  Without revealing the ending, I think we can all agree that there is nothing good about smoking, and Wigand might be vilified by his former employers, but he was telling the truth.  3½ cans.
135.  A Christmas Story (1988) – No Christmas would be complete for me without this remembrance by clever monologist/writer Jean Shepherd.  You can have “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I’ll take Ralphie shooting his eye out by his Red Ryder Rifle any day.  There are so many funny lines, crazy scenes and warm memories.  I know this is not everyone’s favorite, but I look forward to seeing it every year.  4 cans.
136.  Love, Actually (2003) – Virtually every aspect of love, loss and disappointment, of unrequited love, young love and accidental love is explored in this pastiche of overlapping stories by British director Richard Curtis.  With a cast that includes Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and many others, the story could have been a mess, trying to give all of the stars their due.  But instead it is a delightful mix.  There is such poignancy in the scenes with realizations and disappointment, yet they are nicely balanced with scenes of pure joy – such as British Prime Minister Grant dancing around 10 Downing Street.  The action takes place just before Christmas and continues through the holiday, so it is a perfect Christmas Eve movie.  Even if it didn’t feature one of my favorite Christmas songs – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” – I’d actually love it.  4 cans.
137.  La La Land* (2016) –  What I actually DO want for Christmas is Ryan Gosling, but seeing him in this movie is as close as I’m going to get, I’m afraid.  La La Land is surprising in every way.  After all, who makes modern musicals anymore?  And, if you decide to pitch a musical, why would you tab two people like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – with no known musical talent – as the leads (aside from their demonstrated chemistry)?  Hats off to director/writer Damien Chazelle for this completely fresh yet throwback approach.  Gosling is Seb, a dedicated jazz pianist (rumor is that he learned to play piano for this movie, and there are plenty of shots where the hands on the piano are unmistakably his).  Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress who subjects herself to countless fleeting auditions that go nowhere.  They keep running into each other until they finally start to date, and their dates can consist of dancing outside the Observatory at Griffith Park or merely looking at the beautiful sunset.  The visual impact of this movie is stunning.  The primary colors of the costumes in some sequences, accompanied by the pink glow of light as the couple dances, plus the shot selection of long, uninterrupted scenes set this picture apart from whatever else is out there to experience in the movies today.  Neither Gosling nor Stone is likely to put out an album of their greatest hits, but their voices are more than passable and there is one song that is positively haunting.  I don’t want to get into specifics that could spoil the show, so I’ll just say that if you can accept a gang of American tough guys dancing down the West Side of New York City, you can accept this new kind of musical.  Revel in it, because when we say, “they don’t make movies like this anymore,” believe it.  4 cans, mostly for the daring approach and for starring my future husband, Ryan Gosling.
138.  Daddy Long Legs* (1955) – And speaking of musicals, this Fred Astaire-Leslie Caron movie far surpasses La La Land in its dance sequences.  After all, it stars the amazing Astaire.  He is a Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy American who sees 18-year old Julie Andre (Leslie Caron) in a French orphanage where his car breaks down and is so taken with her that he decides to anonymously sponsor her college education in the US.  In return, she is obligated to write him monthly letters to keep him informed of her academic progress – letters which he doesn’t read or answer.  But his staff is intrigued by this young woman, and Jervis journeys to meet her under the guise of seeing his niece, who happens to be her roommate.  Despite the age gap between them, he falls for her, but he cannot – or will not – reveal his identity as her benefactor.  Because this is an Astaire movie, there are plenty of dance sequences and even ballet, which Caron executes with as much panache as Astaire. For a young woman raised in an orphanage, Julie has sophisticated taste and style, and that’s just one of the shortcoming that makes this picture unbelievable and corny.  But you cannot resist gawking at the dance numbers, as out of place as they may seem.  3 cans.
139.  Jackie* (2016) – Natalie Portman IS Jackie, the iconic First Lady, in this behind-the-scenes look at the weeks following the assassination of President Jack Kennedy in 1963.  Jackie, the young, vibrant and stylish wife of the handsome young president, has a million decisions to make – some immediate, such as the plans for the President’s funeral, and some that will help define his place in history.  With less than 3 years in the White House, the young couple had already created a new elegance of culture and history.  Jackie elevated the White House entertainment and the building itself, which she lovingly redecorated to pay homage to US history.  She has an eye for detail and a determination to make sure Kennedy’s legacy doesn’t die with those bullets that killed him in Dallas.  She is shown as strong and pragmatic yet vulnerable and traumatized at the same time.  She has no idea what will become of her, and she has young children to care for, moving plans to make, and a country examining her every move in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy.  And, in the end, she pulls it off.  Portman probably sews up an Oscar nomination with her perfectly honed Jackie mannerisms, voice and steely resolve.  3½ cans.
140.  Fences* (2016) – Denzel Washington stars in and directed this adaptation of the August Wilson play in which he starred on Broadway.  It is a powerful, anguished look at a man who is fighting for stature in the face of bitterness and failure.  Troy was a baseball player, a good one in his day, but he was too old to make it to the Major Leagues once the color barrier was broken.  A sanitation worker in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, he holds court in his backyard, spinning tales for his best friend Bono and occasionally getting reeled back in by his stoic wife, Rose (the magnificent Viola Davis).  Troy is bitter, and he wants to assert his manliness and control over his young son Cory, a teenager who wants to play football.  Troy never hesitates to remind Cory who is in charge, as he dominates the family as well as their modest house and the backyard where the fence will someday be erected.  Rose is a good woman, and she doesn’t deserve the rage and disappointment of Troy.  This is very much a stage play, with very little action, but that’s appropriate since we need to look these characters in the eye and feel the pain expressed on their faces.  Washington and Davis turn in flawless performances, but this is not an easy movie to see or to watch.  Sometimes movies remind us of the realities of life, with its disappointments and dilemmas.  This is one of those times.  3½ cans.
141.  Mystic River (2003) – I can’t think of any movies I have seen that are set in Boston that are light and frothy, and this one is no exception.  Kevin Bacon is Sean, a State Police detective, and he catches the case of a murdered 19-year old woman who is the daughter of his childhood friend Jimmy (Sean Penn, at his intense best).  Their third childhood friend is Dave (Tim Robbins), who, as an 11-year old, was abducted by two child molesters right in front of his buddies and managed to escape after 4 harrowing days.  These guys are bound by that tragedy and, since Dave is the last person to see Jimmy’s daughter alive, bound by this one, too.  Jimmy is an ex-con, and while he has turned his life around, there is still a brand of street justice prevalent in his world.  Either the cops will find out who killed his beloved daughter or Jimmy and his friends (the aptly named Savage Brothers) will.  This movie doesn’t exactly take the moral high road.  Director Clint Eastwood ends the movie with a moral dilemma, and the viewer is left to decide whether it is right or wrong.  Great performances by everyone but a morose story.  3½ cans. 
142.  Mother (1999) – Debbie Reynold died today, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.  So I thought it appropriate to watch one of my favorites of her movies, this gem by writer-director Albert Brooks.  Brooks plays John Henderson, a sci-fi author and two-time divorced man whose complicated relationship with his patronizing and impossible but loving mother (Debbie Reynolds) may be contributing to his failures with women.  So he decides to move in with his mother to figure out why, reestablishing his old bedroom as it appeared in high school, and proceeding to spar with his mother over practically everything – most notably, food.  My favorite scene is when she offers him ice cream that has what she calls a “protective ice layer” on it, thus rendering the taste to what he describes as “like an orange foot.”  Their relationship has all the makings of “The Odd Couple” and plumbs their differences for as many laughs as possible.  He is blocked and can’t write, and divorced, and living at home – all facts that she finds comfort in sharing with everyone from store clerks to strangers, much to his chagrin.  Yet their relationship, while nearly incendiary, is rather poignant, as they start to see each other as people and not just mother and son.  I know my mother and I would have enjoyed watching this movie together, but, alas, she was gone before it came out.  When I watch it, I feel her presence, and that is a gift.  So was Debbie Reynolds.  So today, we have a one day rating special, and, therefore, this movie gets 5 pints of ice cream – without the “protective ice layer.”