The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden, 2011). A variety of events, almost all good, have mostly kept me away from movies lately. I doubt I would have chosen this one to welcome my return, but the Netflix Blu-ray sat at my house for almost a month, so I finally dove in. You can learn all you need to know about this one via a brief description: several venerable British actors find themselves in a hotel in India, stuff happens, we learn a few nice lessons, and it’s bedtime. The actors are indeed the cream of the crop: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy (a personal fave), Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith (for all the Downton Abbey fans), Ronald Pickup, and Celia Imrie. All of them do fine jobs … Wilton has the misfortune to play the one unlikeable character, but otherwise, a fine time is had by all. It’s like one of those Agatha Christie movies from the 70s, without the mystery. It should go without saying that it’s nice to see so many actors in their 60s and 70s getting substantial parts in a movie that made money. I’d rate it a lot higher, though, if there was some bite to it. 7/10.
Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012). It’s a Judi Dench film festival! I’d like to rank her films from favorite to not-so-favorite, but the truth is, most of the Judi Dench movies I’ve seen are Bonds. Skyfall maintains Daniel Craig’s winning streak as Bond (I know lots of people dismiss Quantum of Solace, but I thought it was OK). It’s as good as Casino Royale, if not quite as surprising, since by this point, we know Craig can deliver. Skyfall even works on the level of a movie-movie … you don’t have to like James Bond movies to appreciate this one, although long-time fans are rewarded on several occasions. There is room for some real emotion, which is unusual for the series, there are plenty of the action scenes we expect, and Dench does well in her biggest part yet in a Bond film. Javier Bardem plays a different kind of villain: he’s not different from a standard villain, he’s different from the usual Bond villains. He doesn’t intend to take over the world; his complaints are personal. Skyfall is a Bond movie for non-fans, which means it will never be the favorite of the true aficionados. The best of the Craig Bonds (Casino Royale and Skyfall) are better than anything with Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, or Roger Moore … heck they’re as good as any with Sean Connery outside of From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. 8/10.