2011

November 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

Here is my list of all the films I saw in 2011.  I cannot remember when I saw each of them, so I have listed them in order from highest to lowest rated.  I saw 73 films this year, which was way up from the 57 of last year and was the second highest year (I saw 79 in 2006).  Overall, this was a fantastic year for film.   Enjoy.

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Take Shelter

November 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment
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The more this film sits with me, the more I love it.  On the surface, it is about a man’s first schizophrenic break at 35 years old.  As just that, it is a brilliant film.  Every step of his journey into madness is so authentic and heartbreaking.  The acting is as good as it gets, particularly from the two leads: the little known Michael Shannon and the ridiculously ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (without a doubt, she is 2011’s actor of the year).  There are moments between the two of them that are breathtaking.  So much anguish, fear, strength and courage is caught just in their faces.  However, that is not all the film is about.  It is an allegorical look at the battered American psyche: our loss of confidence and our uncertainty about the future.  Amazing.  And that ending!  Some will hate it but it is the most compelling one I’ve seen since “A Serious Man.”

Drive

November 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

“Drive” is a visual feast and a masterpiece of restrained film making (restrained, you ask incredulous.  But we’ll get to that).  Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist: a good guy with a bad side, who is forced to get violent to save an innocent woman and her child.  How cliché is that?  This is the stuff that truly terrible movies are made out of.  Yet, Nicolas Winding Refn (the Danish director who is virtually unknown in the U.S.) manages to build something close to brilliance.  The strength of the film lies in its use of negative space; it is the unseen and the unsaid that matter most.  Refn uses his sparse dialogue beautifully, allowing huge gaps before responses are given (if given at all).  What is said is most often unsubstantial; it is what is not said in return or what happens before the response that is packed with emotion and tension.  Often the speaker is off screen and we’re forced to focus on the listener.  Everything you need to know is in that face; so little needs to be said verbally because so much is said physically.  And Refn likes to play with those faces and how they speak to the audience.  Joy is expressed with sad eyes.  Sadness is expressed with laughter.  And one of the most intensely dangerous scenes of the film is created by a beautifully romantic kiss.  For most of the movie, the violence all occurs off screen, just beyond where you can see it.  This is its own sort of negative space that makes the final presence of violence (when it literally explodes on screen) that much more shocking.  I was also reminded of Michael Mann’s “Collateral” throughout this film.  The use of lighting, particularly in the night scenes, was very much like Mann, full of mood and texture.  However, unlike Mann’s bluer, cooler palette, Refn painted most of these scenes in shades of red.   In fact, red is a common color, showing up in the background throughout the film and covering the foreground in some later scenes.   However, as shockingly graphic as a couple of scenes are, Refn resists the urge to sink into parody; he is not Tarantino.  The two main acts of vengeance return to his earlier formula and occur just off screen or beyond our view, forcing us outside of these strangely intimate moments.  By doing this, he upends the Hollywood tradition and refuses the audience the final blood letting (the revenge fantasy) it craves.  The subtlety of this and decisions made throughout the film are what lift “Drive” beyond the typical action movie drivel.

The Tree of Life

November 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This is the type of film I go to the movies to see; from start to finish, I did not know what to expect.  It is a challenge, for sure.  There is no real narrative to speak of, and there is very little dialogue.  The film also has strange, sometimes inexplicable, asides.  But Malik is taking on bigger things and is attempting to ask fundamental questions about human nature, creation, and how do we reconcile our fragile existence with the notion of a god.  Every scene is visually stunning.  Malik is known for bringing out naturalistic performances from actors, even inexperienced ones, and the film is full of magical, understated and often moving moments.  While I don’t find the essential questions of the film difficult to answer, I know that they are the core struggle of many people’s faith.  As such, this was a big movie trying to say big things in a very quiet way.  I don’t get to see that in film very often.

The Artist

November 18, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This was the best silent film I have ever seen!  Well, the only one, actually.  But, I have to say I found it to be a pleasure from start to finish.  Using a silent film to tell the story of a movie star who cannot make the transition to talkies is a brilliant idea.  The two French leads, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Beju, were wonderfully expressive and radiated in every scene. I think they both deserve Oscar nominations (if we are lucky, one of them will get one). While the story itself was a fairly typical love story, I enjoyed every scene along that journey.  I found it very funny and charming but was not at all moved by displays of negative emotions, such as love, anger, sadness, and despair.  I thought they were expressed beautifully and often in a nuanced way but they did not evoke emotion in me.  To me, that is a small criticism for one of the most original films I have seen in years.

Weekend

November 18, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I have to admit a particular weakness for the cinéma vérité style of film-making and if you are not a fan, you should probably skip this one.  Admittedly, this film is not strictly vérité; it might more accurately be called naturalism or realism but vérité sounds Frenchier and it certainly has vérité characteristics: the lack of a musical score, use of natural light, single camera shots, seemingly improvised dialogue, and (most importantly) a sense of the truth of what you are seeing.  It covers three days in the life of two young gay men who meet at a club.  The director draws out beautiful, nuanced and naturalistic performances from the two guys.  The film explores the difficulties of trying to form a relationship in today’s world.  Some of the issues are universal but some are uniquely gay and all are handled with maturity, sincerity and insight.  Not since “Shortbus” have I seen a film that handled sexuality in such a comfortable way.  Hollywood either turns sex into adolescent humor or makes it an idealized conquest that is over after a brief montage of tits and a man’s ass.  Although there were no graphic scenes, “Weekend” was able to deal frankly with the realities of gay sex and the insecurities that surround sex, love, honesty and self disclosure for everyone trying to find (or resist) intimacy.  From start to finish, this was a lovely, honest film.

Shame

November 18, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This was my first Steve McQueen film (the director, not the late actor).  I have not seen his first film, “Hunger,” though I want to now.  This was a harrowing story of a deeply broken man who is acting out sexually.  He has no ability to connect with anyone emotionally, even his own family.  He dreads intimacy but needs sex and seeks orgasms constantly throughout the day: by himself, with prostitutes, co-workers, strangers, anyone…  Though not ever stated, it is broadly hinted at that he and his sister, played by Carrie Mulligan (“An Education”), have had a sexual relationship at some point in the past.  Their boundaries are frighteningly bad and frighteningly real.  At one point, she makes reference to their childhoods; these are people shaped by trauma.  I suspect we are meant to assume that they experienced some level of sexual abuse, though this is never stated.  The main character is played with a brave intensity by Michael Fassbender.  I first saw him in the little seen British film, “Fish Tank,” but he came to international attention with his role of the American captain in “Inglorious Basterds.”  His rage, pain and self-loathing are in every moment that he is on screen.  He must have been exhausted by the process of this film.  There is also a scene in a restaurant, as perfect as any I have seen this year, where he meets with a woman on a “date.”  She is going about trying her best to make “first date” conversation and he is not even capable of that level of intimacy.  The actress, Nicole Beharie (who I have never heard of), did a stunning job of displaying all the woman’s emotions (hope, nervousness, discomfort, uncertainty) as their date progressed.  Watching her trying to stay optimistic despite growing evidence that this man was off-kilter somehow, was a film lover’s joy; every moment of that date felt completely real to me.  I read a rumor that they will offer Fassbender a nomination for “A Dangerous Method” because he deserves it for this movie but they cannot acknowledge an NC-17 film.  I can tell you, he deserves it more than Clooney or Pitt or most of those who will likely be nominated.

Midnight in Paris

November 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

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This was the first movie this year that I loved.  From the first scene to the last, it was visually lush, creative and ponderous.  It would not surprise me if Woody Allen got an Oscar nomination or two for this, his best film since “Bullets Over Broadway.”  The images of Paris and the costumes were beautiful in every scene.  Though the romantic elements were completely predictable, the rest of the story was creative enough that I never knew what to expect.  This film is an excellent example of how magical realism can work well to create depth and foster insight in characters (or directors): I felt like Allen was working out some of his own issues with nostalgia through this film.  My biggest complaint (and it’s a fairly small one) lies with Allen’s tendency to make caricatures of others in order to highlight his own character (played well by Owen Wilson, acting exactly like Woody Allen).  Most of the caricatures in this film worked because they were larger than life, loving caricatures of real people.  However, the fiancé and her parents were shallow, mean-spirited characters who existed only for cheap laughs and to generate sympathy for Wilson.  As good as this film was, it would have been better without them.

The Trip

November 18, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

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I laughed more at this film than any other I saw this year.  It was Steve Coogan at his best: playing the painfully insecure, grandiose, self involved Steve Coogan who has surfaced in other films (“Coffee & Cigarettes” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”).  But what really made the film work was less Steve and more of Rob Brydon’s performance (also as himself).  Steve would get Rob wound up and he had the audience in stitches.  The plot (Steve and Rob tour Northern England tasting food for an upcoming article Steve is writing) is really irrelevant.  It’s just an excuse to put these two together (in a car, at a table, in a bedroom) and watch the absurd one-upmanship.

The Interrupters

November 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

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Far and away the best documentary I have seen this year.  The film covers one year in the life of poor African Americans and Latinos on the Chicago streets.  Specifically, it looks at a program called CeaseFire and their use of “interrupters.”  They perceive violence as an infection that must be stopped at the moment of transition.  So, they hired men and women who had been in gangs, who had sold drugs, violently attacked others and (in some cases) been murderers.  These folks, with all of their street cred., go out into dangerous neighborhoods and interrupt violence just before it is going to happen by literally getting between people and talking them down.  They put themselves at serious risk but really believe in what they are doing.   The film follows three of them closely and we get to know about them and about some of the people they intervene with.  The film is thought provoking and I had a longer conversation after this movie than I have any film in a while.  It is made by the folks who made “Hoop Dreams.”  It is much more intense than that film (you will find yourself moved deeply in parts) but I did not find it as upsetting, nor did it make me as emotionally exhausted or hopeless, as last years “Waiting for Superman.”

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