18. Return to Me (2000) – I started February with this romantic charmer. Bob (David Duchovny) loses his wife in a car accident at the same time that Grace (Minnie Driver) goes into the hospital to have her failing heart replaced. You’ve already guessed that she ends up with the wife’s heart, right? While he has trouble recovering from the loss of his wife, Grace is mending quite well. One day they meet at the Irish pub run by Grace’s grandfather (Carroll O’Connor) and his buddies, but of course neither of them knows about matters of that particular heart – at first. The relationship between the shy couple is a joy to watch, as each grows in new ways. I won’t spoil the movie but I will encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to rent it, buy it, record it – just watch it. It is a delight. 4 cans.
19. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) – Mr. Chipping (Robert Donat) is the straitlaced new teacher at the Brooking School, a venerable British boys school during the early 1900s. He arrives full of hope and promise and is soon overrun by his energetic young charges. He adopts a strict veneer, which softens over time as he grows close to generations of young students. Helping soften him is the unexpected arrival of Kathy, played by the beautiful and classy Greer Garson, who immediately ingratiates herself at this all-male institution. Donat is perfect as the unsure young teacher and later as the friend and mentor to the boys, as he ages 63 years. If you like action and adventure, don’t even bother to tune into this leisurely tale. But if heartwarming is your cup of tea, you’ll fit right in. 4 cans.
20. Enough Said* (2013) – Sadly, there was not enough said – or the time to say it – for actor James Gandolfini, who plays divorced regular guy Albert in this movie opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva). Albert may not seem attractive at first, but get to know him and he has a lot of wit and charm. He’s a good father and a pretty good boyfriend, but, according to his ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener), he was no bargain as a husband. When Eva starts dating him (unbeknownst to either Eva or Marianne that he is Marianne’s ex), they are both facing the forthcoming departures of their daughters to college. They fall quickly into a comfortable relationship, but, contrary to the title of this movie, there is way too much said by the ex to Eva, her masseuse/friend, who finally realizes Albert is the man they have in common. Gandolfini looks like a tough guy but he’s really a mush, and his vulnerability and comfort in himself is very much on display here. This was the last movie he made before his untimely death, and his performance here makes his loss that much more poignant. 3½ cans.
21. The Gabby Douglas Story* (2014) – You may recall Gabby Douglass as the exuberant and athletically gifted young gymnast who won the Gold Medal as Best All-Around in the last Olympics. End of story, right? Well, this biopic, though as lightweight as young Gabby herself, details the struggles her family – particularly her mother (Regina King) – had to endure and the sacrifices they all made in helping Gabby achieve her dream. Gymnastics is grueling, and aside from all of the training, there are a lot of costs – travel, outfits, coaches, etc. – that are necessary to get to the top level of the sport. Just getting the best coaching required young Gabby to leave her mother and siblings and move to Iowa – her choice, mind you. You already know the end before you see the first frame of this Lifetime biopic, but, particularly in the month of the Winter Olympics, I was impressed with the dazzling talent and sheer determination of this tough and spritely young woman. No gold medal, but I’ll give the movie the bronze. 2½ cans.
22. Missing (1982) – Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek are two actors whose work is almost always outstanding, and this political thriller has them at their finest. Spacek is married to Lemmon’s son Charlie (John Shea) and living in a South American country whose government has just been overthrown. People are getting arrested at random, there are shootings in the street, and leftist-leaning but politically naïve Charlie is caught in the midst of it. One day he just goes missing and Spacek cannot find him by herself. Riding in on his white horse, full of skepticism about his son’s capabilities and politics, comes New York businessman Lemmon, certain that with the contacts he has made he can prevail upon local American officials to solve the mystery and bring Charlie home. The American Consulate there is unfailingly polite but mainly useless, and Lemmon and Spacek are left to do their own investigation. They butt heads, eventually bonding over the inevitable outcome of their efforts. Lemmon, much like his performances in “The China Syndrome” and “The Paper Tiger,” starts out a reasonable, establishment guy, but grows increasingly frustrated with the authorities and with the reality that he may not see his son again. Hats off to Lemmon in particular for the nuances in his performance, and applause for the director (Costa-Gravas) for keeping the situation taut and compelling throughout the movie. 4 cans.
23. Miracle (2004) – It seemed appropriate in the midst of watching the Winter Olympics to take time out for this dramatization of the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team, which won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid. Taciturn coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) picks his players as much for their hearts and minds as their hockey skills. Over a long training period, his “boys” bond together as a family – even if their bond is partly because they are dubious of Brooks’ methods and madness. He isn’t there to be their friend. Having been the last cut on an earlier US Olympic Hockey team, he keeps his eyes firmly on the gold. We all know the outcome, as a bunch of college hockey players (this was before professionals from the NHL dominated the Olympic teams) take on the all-powerful Russians, with sports and politics all playing a role. And though we know who wins, it’s still hard not to feel the thrill of Mike Erruzione’s winning goal, or to tear up as goalie Jim Craig scans the stands to find his father. This movie is one of the best sports films ever in my opinion, as it depicts what might be the defining moment for the US in the Olympics (you cannot nudge Jesse Owens from the top spot). Do you believe in miracles? Yes! 4 cans.
24. The Monuments Men* (2014) – Prior to and during World War II, the Nazi regime stole untold pieces of artwork from private collections of Jews and they raided art museums to compile a collection Hitler intended to put on display in the elaborately planned Fuehrer Museum. “The Rape of Europa” is a documentary that tells the story of the stolen art and the extensive efforts made by art experts, mostly from the US, to find it, authenticate it and get it back to its rightful owners, where possible. This movie is director/star/producer George Clooney’s attempt to make that story entertaining by introducing a cast of characters (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, among others) who served as “The Monuments Men,” working with the Allied Forces so they could locate and preserve some of the world’s most prized pieces of art. The film is earnest and yet has a wry sense of humor as these experts have to peel the layers back on the mystery of what happened to the art. Clooney makes them look like the heroes they were, yet the movie struck me as a bit self-serving, possibly because I have so much admiration for the documentary, which is one of the finest I have ever seen. Still, if you don’t know the story, see it and learn something about the importance of art in our lives and the brave and daring mission of men to create and celebrate it. 3½ cans.
25. The Ides of March (2012) – A better Clooney movie is this scathing look at politics through the eyes of a tough-minded but idealistic young press secretary (Ryan Gosling) who works for a presidential candidate who seems above reproach. So we know where that’s going, eh? Clooney is the candidate, the late and lamented Philip Seymour Hoffman is his campaign manager, whose demand for loyalty among the staff comes into play with one decision made by Gosling’s Steven. I really enjoyed this movie when it first was released, probably because I’m so skeptical of all politicians and expect them to have flaws and because Gosling is just so tasty to see on screen. 4 cans.
26. Crazy. Stupid. Love (2011) – And speaking of how good Gosling looks on screen, here he is Jacob, a slick talking, confident ladies man who befriends sad sack Cal (Steve Carell), cleans him up and gets him ready for love after Cal’s wife (Julianne Moore) tells him she is having an affair with a co-worker and wants to end their marriage. To provide more details would spoil the plot, so I’ll just say that the everyone in the movie is terrific, the comedy is funny and Emma Stone does a sensational job as the young woman who is more than just a one-night stand. Funny, insightful, fresh and with some twists you won’t see coming. 4½ cans.
27. Dallas Buyers Club* (2013) – This Matthew McConaughey film is based on the true story about Ron Wood, a homophobic AIDS patient in Dallas who takes on the disease and the medical establishment to prolong his life. McConaughey gives a strong performance, refusing to give in to the disease or to the doctors who insist on promoting AZT trials for AIDS patients. He builds a business with a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto, who is sensational in the part) importing alternative treatments that he provides for members of his Dallas Buyers Club. Forced to fight the disease and the authorities, Wood withers away right before our eyes. McConaughey is gaunt to the point of being almost unrecognizable here, but his steely resolve gives him strength and courage to fight his battles. Jennifer Garner plays a sympathetic doctor. I always have some hesitation about movies that paint all big business – especially the pharmaceutical business – as evil-doing money grabbers, but, that aside, the real Ron Wood took on a mighty challenge in a battle he was destined to lose. 4 cans.
28. Random Harvest* (1942) – And now for something completely different. Charles Rainier (Ronald Colman) is injured in World War I and loses his memory. He is sent to an asylum, but escapes as the war ends and finds himself in a local bar in Liverpool where he discovers the Beatles – no, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Actually, he discovers Paula (Greer Garson), who takes him in, eventually marrying him, despite his lack of any recollection of his former life. When he leaves town for a job interview, an accident jars him out of amnesia but he can no longer recall her or that part of his life. He returns to his original wealthy family and goes on to fame and fortune without her. Not that the plot is spellbinding, but I don’t want to ruin it. This film was considered one of the best of the year, and, in my opinion, just seeing Greer Garson, a gracious and gorgeous actress, adds value to any movie. If you can rise above the corny, this is a good Oscar-month movie to see. 3½ cans.
29. 12 Years a Slave* (2013) – With its various Oscar nominations, this movie was one I felt I must see. Like the classic TV mini-series “Roots,” the drama – based on a true story – depicts the harrowing lives and inhumane treatment of slaves in the decades leading up to the Civil War. This story focuses on one black man, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor in an Oscar-worthy performance) of Saratoga, NY, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. In addition to the sheer brutality of the men who claim ownership of him, Solomon must hide his education and feign ignorance for fear of being singled out and killed. Just a wrong glance or a word is enough to provoke a severe whipping. Solomon, called Pratt by his masters, must fight to maintain his dignity and hope of reuniting with the family he left behind so abruptly and against his will. He befriends Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o), a young woman who is a particular target of the cruel plantation owner Epps (Michael Fassbender). What the slaves endure here is difficult to watch and unbearable to endure. Brad Pitt, one of the producers, gives himself a small but important role as the one white man who believes all men are created equal. Strong performances and a display of courage make this intense movie worthwhile seeing, though, like Holocaust movies, I know I will never watch it again. 4 cans.
30. Blue Sky* (1994) – Jessica Lange gets to show off her acting chops and her voluptuous body in this drama about a manic-depressive woman and her military husband (Tommy Lee Jones). The story is explosive in several ways: There is the manic Lange, dancing and dressing provocatively as she lusts after the base commander (Powers Boothe) at the post in Alabama where her husband works as an engineer, measuring and determining radiation from nuclear devices. There is the combustible relationship between Lange and Jones, and there are actual detonations and explosions along the way. About three quarters of the way through, the movie turns from the relationship between man and wife to an expose of military cover-ups that Jones has discovered, and the tables turn distinctly. Lange won an Oscar for this showy role in a year when competition was relatively weak (and didn’t include Meryl Streep). 3 cans.