This hasn't been a great year for movies

Let’s just gently say the really fine movies of the year have been slow to roll out, even as Oscar season is upon us.

That’s another way of saying there’s just not that much out there. I’ve seen plenty this fall that are OK – a couple that are better than OK – but none that have brought a “wow” or sent me running out to tell all my friends they simply must see it now.

There are still about a dozen movies I’m still greatly looking forward to – including “War Horse,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “We Bought a Zoo” – but right now I’d have to say the best 2011 movie I’ve seen is “The Descendants.” It’s still around and is worth seeing. And this being Kansas City, many likely Oscar contenders – “A Dangerous Method,” “A Separation,” “The Iron Lady” won’t get to an art house halfway across the metro until well after New Year’s Day.

I guess that’s OK. We can take them in during the less hectic six weeks or so after the holidays. In the mean time, there’s some good stuff here now. In addition to “The Descendants” (George Clooney and others in a funny, sad, maddening, life-affirming movie by “Sideways” director Alexander Payne), there’s the surprising good “My Week with Marilyn.” You figured Michelle Williams would be great, but so is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Lawrence Olivier. “J. Edgar” is solid, and “Tower Heist” is just entertaining and fun.

After that, watch your step.

“Young Adult” is emblematic of the whole year. Charlize Theron has made enough first-rate movies that everything she does is worth checking out, comic Patton Oswalt – who knew? – is very strong in a supporting role, Jason Reitman has shown great promise as a director, Diablo Cody (“Juno”) wrote the script, and, heck, throw in Elizabeth Reasor from one of my favorite underrated movies of recent years, “Sweet Land.” (Oh, she’s in those “Twilight” things, too.) So my hopes were up.

And what could go wrong?

Well, that’s just it. Nothing goes terribly wrong, but not a whole lot clicks either. The scenes with Theron and Oswalt are good and make the movie worth sitting through, but a couple of implausible plot turns leave you feeling you just watched something that’s less than the sum of its parts. The same holds for “Margin Call” and, to a lesser degree, “The Ides of March.” That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth seeing, but you’re left wanting something more.

It’s been a year full of those kinds of movies. For every funny and sweet “Midnight in Paris” or surprisingly good “The Lincoln Lawyer,” there are two or three like “Melanchia” (overwrought), “The Conspirator” (solid but underwhelming) or “The Debt” (really, we waited like a whole year for this, and that’s all we get from Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson?).
Maybe it’ll pick up in the coming weeks. It usually does at this time of year. But it’s not looking like a stellar year.