Emma

Emma (2009)
Jane Austen's Emma is either your favorite Austen or the one you can't stand. It is my favorite, and for over ten years I have loved the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version (1996).

Then I saw the 2009 three hour BBC production with Romola Garai as Emma, and my love is pulled two ways. Garai is delightful as the well-meaning but interfering Emma. The set and costumes are beautiful and the pacing is just right. But Jeremy Northam (from the 1996 movie) will always be my favorite Mr. Knightley.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) R
So nice to watch “grown-up movies” without special effects. The stories are character driven.

For more about the movie, check out reviews from the Los Angeles Times and The New York Daily News.

Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, and Naomi Watts.
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Love Finds Andy Hardy

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
Love finds Andy--and does it--three times over! First there is steady girlfriend Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford). Then there is the town flirt (Lana Turner), and last but not least, the sweet new girl next door Betsy Booth (Judy Garland), who has a crush on Andy.

Mickey Rooney is the high energy all-American teenager, getting himself in all sorts of trouble and learning wise lessons from his father Judge Hardy. In this installment, Andy's in hock for a used jalopy and has dates with two girls for the big Christmas Eve dance. A charming and funny look at an idealized bygone era.

Check out TCM.com for more on the film.

Win Win

Win Win (2011) R
If you’re tired of (but still love) violent action movies filled with car chases and computer-generated special effects, cleanse your “movie palate” with this dramedy starring Paul Giamatti, best known for his Oscar nominated performance in 2004’s Sideways (a California wine country picture that won 94 film awards).

Giamatti’s character is a small town attorney and part-time high school wrestling coach without enough business to make a living for his small family. He sees an opportunity for steady income through a shady business decision to control the funds of a client, but he still feels conflicted and wants to do the right thing. When the grandson of his client comes into town to escape a life connected to his drug-rehabbed mother, the worried attorney sees another win/win situation to help a teenager and support the wrestling team at the same time.

This film is not your usual “R” rated comedy and would be suitable for most mature teens. There are subtle messages against smoking, and the film is mostly optimistic about life.

Writer/director Thomas McCarthy has two more character-driven films with good performances—The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2008). Both star individuals defined by their loneliness who are seeking happiness. All three of these films that McCarthy has both written and directed are “certified fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes.

Wild Target

Wild Target (2010) PG-13
Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, the best hitman in the business. The only trouble is that Victor has no friends and no life beyond his profession. When outrageous thief and conman Rose (Emily Blunt) becomes his next target, Victor just cannot manage to get the job done. Soon Victor, Rose and hapless man-in-the-wrong-place-at the wrong-time Tony (Rupert Grint, Ronald Weasley of Harry Potter fame) are all hiding out from the new hitmen hired to wipe them all out.

If you like black comedy, this movie is laugh out loud funny, right up to the last frame. For another sympathetic hitman, see Pierce Brosnan in The Matador (2005).

Yes Man

Yes Man (2008) PG-13
My brother kept recommending this movie, and I finally watched it. Yes Man is a humorous movie about a man in a rut. He attends a “yes seminar” and it opens up new possibilities and opportunities for him. Yes Man is a good light comedic movie with laugh out loud moments.

If you like Jim Carrey, you’ll like the movie. Zooey Deschanel costars; her character is cool and funny. The actress-singer performs a lot of songs in the soundtrack. Her fictional band was in the movie (featuring real group Von Iva), which was also quite humorous.

Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) PG-13
This charming movie is for everyone who ever wanted a fresh start. The viewer wants Frances to be happy. As the movie progresses, we find out exactly what it will take to make her happy. Maybe a man is the icing on the cake instead of the be all and end all? She finds happiness helping others and building a new life (and a new home) for herself. The beautiful scenery in this movie adds to the appeal.

You can also check out the book of the same name by Frances Mayes.

Midnight

Midnight (1939)
Claudette Colbert is down on her luck. She managed to arrive in London from Monte Carlo with only an evening dress. Unable to find a job to make enough money for a room, she crashes a society party and meets John Barrymore, who turns out to be her own fairy godfather. Disturbed that his wife, Mary Astor, is more interested in a charming man about town than in himself, Barrymore hires Colbert to seduce said man away from his wife. However, a certain Paris cab driver, Don Ameche, has different plans for Colbert.

This funny and fast paced screwball comedy from the golden era of the genre has snappy dialogue and ridiculous situations. It also showcases the Colbert persona personality perfectly: when caught in a lie tell a bigger lie.

Check out the original New York Times review from 1939.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) PG-13
Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno and Superbad) plays bass guitar in a Toronto garage band. He’s dating a high school girl, but meets his dream girl, Ramona Flowers, a punky American girl closer to his own age. The story is told as an allegory of life as a video game, complete with extra lives and the need to out-fight one’s enemies. Scott soon finds out he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes before they can date. Not just another teen movie, the movie appeals to a much wider range of fans. Watch for an uncredited appearance by Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as one of the Vegan Police.

One of the writers of this film (Edgar Wright) also co-wrote the clever zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004). Bryan Lee O'Malley wrote the graphic novels the movie was based on.

Easy A

Easy A (2010) PG-13
Don’t miss this Golden Globe-nominated performance by Emma Stone as Olive, a high school student who uses rumors to enhance her popularity, to help a friend, and to make a little money on the side. Olive’s life begins to resemble the story she is studying in class, The Scarlet Letter, and she even sews a scarlet “A” to her school outfits. This teen comedy/romance includes Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive’s impossibly wonderful parents and Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor who has a lot to learn from Olive about how to do the right thing.

Check out reviews in TIME Magazine and Salon.com.

Beauty Shop

Beauty Shop (2005) PG-13
In this feel good girlfriend movie, Queen Latifah is Gina, a hairstylist at a trendy Atlanta salon. When her arrogant domineering boss goes too far, Gina pulls out, starts her own shop, and takes newly-trained stylist Lynn (Alicia Silverstone) with her. Problems with her new employees, her old building, and her conniving ex-boss add to Gina’s woes. But of course good friends, a couple of great guys and a well deserved comeuppance puts everything to right. Of course, Kevin Baker is over the top as Gina’s ex-boss, and of course every repairman who comes in is one great-looking hunk, and of course it is all a bit predictable, but who cares when it is all great feel-good fun.

Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2 (2010) R
Although not quite as good as the first movie, I loved revisiting the girls. You see a different side of Big. Suspend disbelief and you’ll enjoy the Dubai sequence.

Have Carrie and Big settled into domestic bliss? Is Samantha as outrageous as ever? Fans of the series will still love it. Look for cameos featuring Liza Minnelli and Penelope Cruz.

Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a successful food writer for Smart Housekeeping (a popular magazine such as Family Circle), writes about her idyllic life on a farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. Her readers and her publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) love her columns and believe them to be true.

The truth is Elizabeth is unmarried, has no child, lives in a New York City apartment, has never lived on a farm, and can't cook. Elizabeth is well paid and loves living in New York. But both her position and her lifestyle are threatened when Yardley decides it would make wonderful publicity for Elizabeth to invite Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) into her home at Christmas. Jones is a war hero who had spent weeks at sea in a lifeboat after his ship had been sunk. To complicate matters even further, after Yardley is put on an extremely restrictive diet, he decides to invite himself to Elizabeth's farm.

How Elizabeth copes with her dilemma leads to very funny film. You'll roar with laughter at times and the romance that develops between Elizabeth and Jones is both comic and heartwarming. This is one of my favorite Christmas films.

Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet (2010) PG
A sweet story starring Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia) and Vanessa Redgrave, Letters to Juliet features beautiful shots of the Italian countryside. Women with romantic dilemmas write letters to Juliet and leave them in a wall in Verona. Juliet’s “secretaries” diligently answer all of the letters. When Sophie (Seyfriend) discovers a 50 year old letter from Claire (Redgrave), she embarks on a journey in search of Lorenzo and in the process she re-evaluates her life.

Visit IMDb.com for interviews with the cast and trailers and clips from the film. To learn about the real story of letters, ladies, and Verona, check out Letters to Juliet by Lise Friedman (2010).

How About You

How About You (2007)
Ellie, a young Irish woman, is rather selfish and lazy when she asks her sister Kate for a job at the retirement home that Kate runs in a small Irish town. The home is full of irascible old timers who seem set on making Ellie's life hell. When Kate and Ellie's mother becomes ill over Christmas, Ellie is left to care for the four worst residents. Over the few days Ellie creates a family, a rather dysfunctional family, but a family out of the four mismatched residents. Vanessa Redgrave plays Georgia Platts, one of the irascibles in this charming little movie.

The film is based on a short story by Maeve Binchy. Check out a 2009 San Francisco Gate article for an interview with the author.