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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Top 10 of 2011

Although we're several months into 2012, I've continued to catch up with prominent movies from 2012.  At last count, I've seen 46  movies from 2011.  While I started out feeling it was a more lackluster year, I actually had a hard time making some of my choices and think I have a pretty solid list.  Some movies on my list are crowd-pleasers, while others are highly divisive.  Here are the movies from 2011 that most moved me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think.

Runners-Up (Or, I wish I had room):

Bridesmaids:   Amazing comic performances from the hilarious women and easily the most laughs from any movie this year.  If it hadn't gone on quite so long and added on a subplot or two too many, it easily would have made my top 10.

Higher Ground: The great Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) directs and stas in this film about a woman finding and questioning her faith.  It's the rare modern film that treats faith and doubt seriously.

Hugo: Martin Scorsese makes a charming film for the whole family light-years away from his usually gangsters and violence.  While I definitely thought some sections were weaker than others, the last third, a celebration of filmmaking, is simply stunning.

Midnight in Paris: A lovely and charming movie from Woody Allen.  I recently had the trip of a lifetime to Paris, so I certainly buy the nostalgia.

Poetry: A quiet and haunting South Korean movie about a woman with Alzheimer's finding joy in a poetry class and dealing with her grandson who is in trouble with the law.

Without further ado.......

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Sure its confusing, but compellingly so.  Director Thomas Alfredson gets the tweedy atmosphere of 1970s England so right in movie about an intelligence officer finding a mole.  Gary Oldman commands a great cast, and I can't wait to see it again (and understand it more this time).

9. Young Adult: My vote for the most underrated movie of the year.  This movie is in turns completely hilarious and utterly painful to watch.  Writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron  refuse to pull any punches in their caustic portrayal of a self-deluding woman returning to her small-town life.


Young Adult


8. Drive: The year's coolest movie.  I absolutely loved the first half of this movie, as we were introduced to Ryan Gosling's mysterious (and nameless) character who is a stunt-movie driver by day, hired driver for crooks at night.  While I think the movie revels in the violence of its second half a bit too much, the movie is filled to the brim with filmmaking bravado.

A Ride with Irene



7. The Artist: This Best Picture winner is pure entertainment.  Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo fit right into the silent-film world and the movie is filled with humor and pathos.

Accidental Photo-Op

The Artist


6. Shame: Director Steve McQueen (different from the actor) is a masterful director.  This movie is probably best-known for its graphic sexuality.  It does have that, and yet its never feels sensationalistic.  All the elements comes together to tell a compelling and disturbing story of addiction and emotional alienation. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give two of the best performances of the year.

The Subway



5. The Interrupters:  It's about former gang members who now intervene to help settle violent street feuds in Chicago.  Watching these brave men and women (especially the astounding Ameena) give back to their communities will make you a better person.  The same directors made the brilliant Hoop Dreams in 1994, and once again the Academy ignored the Best Documentary of the year.

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene: Debut writer/director Sean Durkin made a masterful movie with a great debut performance by Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the sister of the Olsen twins).  The movie sucks you in with its mixture of dread of and mystery that will haunt you for a long time to come.  I loved the great ambiguous ending.


Martha Marcy May Marlene


3. Moneyball: Moneyball is just about perfectly made.  Moving but never sentimental, funny but never trying too hard, and so realistic every moment feels true.  It's a story of statistics, reinvention, and redemption in the baseball stadium.  Writer Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network script with more pitch-perfect dialogue, and its delivered by a great cast headed by Brad Pitt.

My Biggest Fear



2. A Separation: This Iranian movie is so many things at once: a portrait of a marriage, a legal thriller, a mystery, a study of the secular/religious divide, and a probing search into modern Iran.  Most prominently, though, its about human beings with all their complicated emotions.  It blew me away.  See it now.

1. The Tree of Life: I'm quite aware that some people couldn't stand this movie.  Terrence Malick's drama is mostly about a boy growing up in Texas, but it also includes the beginnings of the universe, dinosaurs, the afterlife, and lots of whispered voiceover.  For me, it all worked beautifully.  Watching this movie in the theater, I was transported to a place where I was so engrossed in Malick's cosmic vision, I never once thought about the time.  As a bonus, it's easily one of the most beautifully shot movies of all time.  A divisive masterpiece, and my favorite of the year.

Dad's Gone

The Tree of Life


So there it is, another year in film and lots of movies to see.  What were your favorites of 2011?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Best Performances of 2011: Best Actor and Best Actress

As 2012 chugs along, I'm still getting caught up with my 2011 year-in-review.  On the bright side, most of the movies I mention can now be found on DVD!

Here are my favorite lead performances of the year.

Best Actor

Jean DuJardin, The Artist
This Oscar-winning performance is a lesson in pure charm.  This movie would have flopped without a dynamic and engaging leading man.  As George Valentin, DuJardin hits it out of the park and more.  He effortlessly blends the comedy and pathos of the story and, in a silent performance, says more than most other actors say in dozens of movies put together.

The Breakfast Table

The Artist


Michael Fassbender, Shame
If you've heard of this performance, its probably for its notorious nudity.  What's really remarkable about Fassbender's performance as sex-addict Brandon, though, is how Fassbender can make a character with such repellent behavior so endlessly fascinating and even sympathetic.  Shame is a movie that focuses on present behavior, rather than backstory.  Fassbender digs so deep into his character, the viewer can't help but wonder and puzzle over the origins of his character's actions.  With other very strong 2011 performances in Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method, Fassbender is one of the most dynamic modern actors.

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was so glad (and frankly surprised) when Oldman received an Oscar nomination.  This quiet and inward performance of a British intelligence officer is the type of role that so often gets overlooked.  Like Fassbender, so much of Oldman's backstory and motivations are left to the viewer to decipher.  When I finished Tinker Tailor, I immediately wanted to watch it again, partly to decipher the plot and partly to just watch Oldman make great acting look so easy.

Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Speaking of actors who make it look easy, here's the superstar Brad Pitt playing down-to-earth baseball manager Billy Beane.  It's rare that a major star can disappear into his character so easily, but I always felt I was watching Billy rather than Brad.  A little abrasive, a little scarred, and with a lot of love for the game, Billy Beane is a great character destined to be remembered for a long time to come.

Polite Negotiations



Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Michael Shannon received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in 2008 for stealing all his scenes as a schizophrenic visitor in Revolutionary Road.  Now here he is in Take Shelter playing....what is arguably a schizophrenic man. This time the movie belongs to him, and he does such a great job of showing us the slow  descent and obsession of mental illness.  One of the best portrayals of breakdown I've seen.

My pick: Michael Fassbender
Runner-Up: Brad Pitt

Matches with Oscar: 3/5.  Oscar did pretty well rewarding Pitt, DuJardin, and Oldman.  While I thought both George Clooney (The Descendants) and Demian Bechir (A Better Life) were quite good in movies I didn't love, the snub of Fassbender in particular really hurts.

Best Actress

Viola Davis, The Help
I recently rewatched The Help on a plane, and Viola Davis blew me away even more the second time.  Despite the flaws of the movie, I was reduced to a blubbery mess once again by the strength and depth of Aibileen as portrayed by Davis.  Simply by fully embodying this brave woman, body and soul, Davis commands the screen every time she is in the stage.  Her Oscar loss to Meryl Streep is nothing short of egregious.

They Killed My Son

The Help


Yoon Joong-Hee, Poetry
Poetry is a South Korean drama about a woman coping with Alzhimer's who takes a poetry class and is also dealing with the reprecussions of acts by her grandson.  Joong-Hee takes us through the stages of grief, renewal, and redemption and shows the remarkable grace that can come even in (or maybe especially in) the last years of a life.

Trailer #1



Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Surprised to see a sister of the infamous Olsen twins on my list?  I was surprised to see her maturity, depth, and incredible screen presence. MMMM flashes between Martha's time in an abusive cult and her attempt to put it behind her as she spends time with her sister and brother-in-law.  Olsen has a voice and a face to remember, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Mavis Gary, a YA-fiction writer who returns to her small town, is one of the most pathetic and self-deluding characters to grace the screen in quite a while.  Theron goes all out in portraying her, never taking the easy route of showing a softer side.  In the end, its Theron's air of self-delusion that makes the movie so intriguingly disturbing.

Kristen Wigg, Bridesmaids
Because she was freaking hilarious and part of many of the best scenes of the year.  The most awkward party toast ever..... trying to hold in food at the bridal fitting...... tranquilizers on the plane.  Unlike Mavis Gary, this is a pathetic character with the inner strength to do something else.  It's both hilarious and occasionally moving to see her stumble through her big moments.  A great comedian and the main reason Bridesmaids was a smash hit.

Awkward Introductions



My Favorite: Viola Davis
Runner-Up: Charlize Theron

Matches with Oscar: Oscar and I only overlapped with Viola.  I missed Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs.  I thought Michelle Williams was good in My Week With Marilyn, but she's definitely been better.  Rooney Mara was great in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and easily on my runner-up list. As for Meryl, one of my favorite actresses..... I hate to say it but The Iron Lady is one of her weaker performances, more mimicry than artistry.

Coming Soon...... My Favorite Movies of 2011