Certainly lots of movies fill comfortable air-conditioned theatres all over the greater Phoenix area, but with so many choices, what are the best films out there right now? Here are my takes on the top five films playing in Phoenix cinemas right now.
5. “Hysteria” 4 / 5 stars (at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale) – A charming and unexpectedly very funny film about a progressive doctor (Hugh Dancy) in 1880 London who stumbles upon work in women’s medicine.
Shortly after his arrival, Dr. Granville’s schedule gets completely booked as this unassuming doctor’s office becomes immensely popular with his lady patients.
A wonderful cast all play along in this racy, whimsical and most unique story, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, and an unrecognizable Rupert Everett.
Ladies, leave your boyfriends or husbands home and take a girlfriend to this fun picture.
4. “Bernie” 4 / 5 stars (at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale) – Writer/director Richard Linklater somehow spins a most unique and outright hilarious take on the oddball, dangerous, disturbing, and true exploits of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) in East Texas during the late 1990s.
Bernie, a strange but popular 30-something mortician, befriends a wealthy elderly woman (Shriley MacLaine), but, unfortunately, sinister deeds are not too far behind.
A Texas native, Linklater captures his vision of the sights, sounds and spirit of East Texas and presents the film as a mockumentary told in flashback.
His choices work very well as Black never breaks from Bernie’s strange persona, and Matthew McConaughey offers an equally memorable performance as a suspicious local district attorney.
3. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 4 / 5 stars (playing everywhere in the Valley) – A star-studded British cast plays a group of 60 and 70-somethings who leave England to spend their golden years in India in a film which feels like “Love Actually” (2003) or, to be more accurate, “Retirement Actually, in South Asia.”
Actually (pardon the pun), the comparisons between the two films isn’t completely fair, as these warm-hearted stories from Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, and Ronald Pickup offer memorable life lessons.
Also, Dev Patel is highly entertaining as the enthusiastic and ever-positive hotel owner.
Enjoy the performances and prepare to cry and laugh.
2. “The Avengers” 4.5 / 5 stars (playing everywhere in the Valley) – Throwing seven superheroes together from six previous films into a supermovie could have proved to be a cinematic disaster.
Aside from writing a cohesive story, providing jaw-dropping special effects, and staying true to the comics, you also need to delicately shoehorn all seven personalities into one movie.
Director Joss Weldon succeeds on all of the above counts in an engaging adventure which includes Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth.
Did I mention the movie is also very funny?
My only quibble is we never learn much about the army of bad guys Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), recruits.
That aside, sign me up for “The Avengers 2.”
1. “Monsieur Lazhar” 5 / 5 stars (at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale) – Nominated for a 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, this welcomed and heartfelt import from Canada is finding its way into American theatres in 2012, and is instantly on my short list as one of 2012’s best films.
In the snowy cold of Montreal, Quebec, a classroom of elementary school students suddenly and tragically loses their teacher, and due to complicated circumstances, no one immediately steps up to fill the void.
Enter Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag).
He volunteers – and is hired – to take over the class, but as an Algerian immigrant and a male teacher in a female environment, runs into cultural and procedural roadblocks in his new role.
We’ve seen similar movies before, but “Monsieur Lazhar” excels in effortlessly capturing subtle moments of humanity and connection.
Writer/director Philippe Falardeau doesn’t try to solve big sweeping problems, but instead expresses intricate relationships in and out of an ordinary classroom.
I found sincere and beautiful performances everywhere in a most touching film.
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