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Best Imaginary Friends

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Some fictional characters are more fictional than others. Take imaginary friends, for instance. In movies, TV, books and comic strips, they’re one step removed from the action – but they provide key insights into the minds of other characters. Here are some great ones.


Hobbes is an awesome, witty, slightly moody tiger who roars to life in the mind of a young boy named Calvin. Their comic strip adventures together – snowball fights, wagon rides and the like – are rivaled only by their hilarious banter. Calvin is all about impulse and action; Hobbes is a calmer, more playful influence.


Mrs. Beasley, the doll carried around by Buffy (Anissa Jones) on TV’s “Family Affair,” hewed pretty closely to the classic, imaginary friend. She was part security blanket, part confidant, to a little girl who had lost her parents.


Here was a great role for Brad Pitt. In the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” he got to combine his penchant for bug-eyed comedy with some macho coolness as Durden, a guy who liked to punch and be punched. This film’s cult popularity has taken on a life of its own, and Pitt is the big reason why.


A fictional, imaginary version of Bogie is the gimmick in Woody Allen’s Broadway play and 1972 film, “Play It Again, Sam.” Bogart appears periodically to give Woody dating advice, usually with comic results.


Aw, who doesn’t like Snuffy? Here’s the thing, though: Initially, Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. No one else around “Sesame Street” could see him. But then the TV show’s producers had a change of heart and made Snuffy a character who interacted with everyone.


Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film “The Shining,” based on the Stephen King novel, has one of the great imaginary friends ever. It’s “Tony,” and he exists only as the bent index finger of a little boy. Tony speaks through young Danny in a croaky voice; he knows there are evil spirits at the deserted mountain resort where Danny’s parents (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) are working. In a freaky sort of way, Tony is the only rational character in the whole affair.


Likewise, the audience doesn’t really get to see Harvey, the giant rabbit friend of Jimmy Stewart in the popular 1950 movie, “Harvey.” Although mental illness is certainly brought up in the movie (and stage play version), the central message seems to be that imagination and pleasantness are preferable to conformity and rational intelligence.


In “A Beautiful Mind,” imaginary friends (and enemies) hold the protagonist back rather than help him. Paul Bettany played one such friend, Charles, in this acclaimed 2001 movie biography of Nobel prize winner John Nash.


Pooh Bear, as everyone knows, headed up a stable of stuffed animal friends for young Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood. His lumbering, good-natured manner made him all the more endearing.


In the little-seen 2007 movie, “Lars and the Real Girl,” Ryan Gosling plays a disturbed man who pretends a sex doll, Bianca, is his girlfriend. Even more amazing, various relatives and townspeople decide to go along with the idea. Gosling is very good here.


Really, has there ever been a ball that sparked so much emotion, outside of the World Cup? Wilson, Tom Hanks’ silent companion in “Cast Away,” was a brilliant construct. Without him, the audience would have been adrift about Hanks’ inner thoughts and gradual descent into madness. WILSON!!!

But those are only MY favorites. Now tell me YOURS.

Jimbo’s Film Faves of 2011

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The Jimbo List would never presume to pick the best films of the year. That’s a job for a film critic. Instead, here are 10 movies from 2011 I personally loved. Maybe you liked them, too.


I know people are more likely to talk about Brad Pitt’s work in “Tree of Life,” but I thought this one was better. He made audiences care about a baseball executive trying to rethink everything about his sport. It’s both a story about the way metrics are reshaping our society and a story about the personal calculations we all make in our lives.


Paul Giamatti continues to astound me. Here he modulates his intensity to play a good, decent family man struggling with the boatload of crap we all face. Sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he doesn’t. The wonderful Amy Ryan is here, as well.


Much like Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig slips into this zone where she can be outrageous while also being low key in the same performance. Quite remarkable. Add in a powerhouse comedy performance by Melissa McCarthy and you’ve struck gold, Jerry, gold!


This movie about a distant dad dealing with a family crisis is far from perfect. Yet it has so much interesting stuff to say, and so many worthwhile moments, that it stayed with me. Director Alexander Payne’s movies always have a way of making life seem like a ride in a fast-moving vehicle over which you have only partial control.


Speaking of fast moving vehicles, here was a perfect role for Matthew McConaughey. He’s an ultra slick defense attorney who deals with clients ranging from biker gangs to wealthy children of privilege. The film is slick, too, but in a good way. Plenty of twists, turns, thrills and even charm.


I’m a big Paul Rudd fan, but I’ve been disappointed sometimes when he plays the lead role in a film. He’s best when he has an odd edge to his characters. In “Our Idiot Brother” he gets to do both. Although it’s highly contrived, the film is hilariously on point in its relationships between siblings and other family members. And it offers Rudd a great, cathartic scene toward the end.


This romantic comedy is not of my generation, but it has something timeless: witty banter. Not only that, there’s actual chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. I wouldn’t be surprised if this developed a larger following later on, the way “When Harry Met Sally” did after its first release.


For my money, “Margin Call” had the best ensemble cast of the year: Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto. The movie is riveting, set at a Wall Street brokerage house just before the 2008 economic collapse. Fair warning, though – it will make you angry all over again.


The title refers not only to the main character’s chances of surviving cancer, but also, I’d say, to the excellent balance between tragedy and comedy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen are top notch here. With tons of humor, they show how personal ordeals may be solitary journeys, but they’re a hell of a lot easier with loving friends and family sharing parts of the trip.


Just terrific in so many ways. The performances by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent are winning; the talking pooch is inspired. And beyond the central plot of a guy whose elderly father comes out of the closet, there’s a visual sensibility to this movie that is inventive and fresh. When McGregor’s sad character goes to a party and meets an intriguing woman, it feels both clever and real. Great stuff.

So what are the movies that moved YOU this year?