Quick Informal Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

OK some brief Oscar thoughts. Every year expectations are set up. This year, those expectations were particularly low. None of my favorites of the year really stood a shot at much. So it is not surprising to see that Young Adult, Take Shelter, Shame, Drive (outside of Sound Editing, wee!), Certified Copy, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Melancholia have literally 1 nomination between all of them. Still, there are certain things that one would grows to expect once those expectations are set. It managed to pleasantly surprise, but also to enrage (at least as much as I let myself be enraged over something like this).

THE GOOD: (and by Good, I mean pleasant semi-surprises/surprises. Moneyball getting in for Picture is obviously good, but entirely expected so it won’t appear here)
– The Tree of Life getting in for Picture and Malick for Director.
– Bichir and Oldman in for Actor. I love Demian Bichir and I love him particularly in this film.
– Rooney Mara for Actress
– Max von Sydow for Supporting Actor. Nobody expected it. I haven’t seen the film and I doubt I will in theaters, but the man is a legend. I don’t care what he’s being nominated for, but he’s being nominated is all that matters. Bergman/Von Sydow forever. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about no Albert Brooks (see below). I would have taken out Hill and particularly Branagh who in no way, shape or form should be getting awards attention this year. Although I would have taken Hill out, I’m still very happy for him. It’s a great performance and one of my favorite characters from last year in film.
– Nick Nolte for Warrior. You’d have to be a moron to see that film and not put his name down.
– Kung Fu Panda 2!!!!
– Harry Potter for Art Direction
– No Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for Score, Director, or Pic. It’s a solid film, but entirely undeserving  in all of those categories. I’ve gotten used to films like The Help being sure bets. But when something that should not be there is hovering, I become more passionate about ‘Dragon’ not getting in than The Help despite enjoying the former more. If only Extremely Loud hadn’t been a replacement.
– Jane Eyre for Costumes
A Separation getting in for Original Screenplay, the first Foreign Language nominee since the also fabulous Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I predicted it. A Separation has stuck with me in a big way, and the screenplay is uniformly intricate and complex.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy getting in for Adapted Screenplay and Original Score, two of my favorite nominees this year. If only it could have squeezed in for Pic.
– Moneyball for Editing. Expected, but it’s the only film on there from my Dream Ballot.
– “Man or Muppet” for Song

– Extremely Loud taking a coveted Best Pic slot where there could have been something actually good to offset the mediocre (The Artist, The Help, War Horse).
– Which brings me to War Horse. War Horse? Really? That forgettable sentimental slop? The cast is great (outside of Joey who annoyed me more than I can say), and it’s certainly moving at times, but it’s so self-consciously by-the-book. It’s completely outdated, and while I cared about the horse (because it’s a horse, but because of the film’s skillful storytelling), I found myself restless during most of it. This wasn’t unexpected, but it was hovering, hence my aggravation. The things I get excited or upset about are ‘hoverers’ aka things that may or may not have a shot, allowing for hope for surprises or snubs to become more passionate for these particulars.
– No Fassbender for Actor. I would have taken out Clooney of those 5. He was good, but he’s too charming to play up the character’s flaws the way they needed to be. I’d say Michael Shannon for Take Shelter, but did he ever have a shot? Likely no.
– No Tilda Swinton. Leading performances by actresses have been beyond incredible this year. And yet I would completely dump 4 of those performances for other choices. Thrilled Mara got in, but I was hoping for a Glenn Close snub. The film sucks and she isn’t even very good in it.
– No Brooks for Supporting. I thought this would happen, but I didn’t predict it because I wasn’t sure who to put in.
– No Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Art Direction or Costumes. These should have been no-brainers.
– Was hoping Young Adult could pull a Screenplay nod but nope, not even that.
– Last but not least. In fact, last but most offensive omission……
– NO NOMINATION FOR PROJECT NIM IN BEST DOCUMENTARY. It made the shortlist. Yet…..really? It’s amazing. Man on Wire is overrated and this is beyond incredible but…..wait Katie. Calm down. Who cares? OK. I’ll get over it.

I could nitpick a lot of these but I won’t. Those are the major ‘absences that had a shot’ that sadden me. Look at my Dream Ballot to see my own Personal Oscar slate.

2012 Academy Awards Nomination Predictions

It’s that time of year again. I made a point not to follow the awards season here on the blog. I certainly enjoy and follow the awards season, and am aware of where the various films stand in their chances, but I don’t invest in it more than I feel I should. I don’t like to limit what I see to only checking off the awards contenders. And I don’t want this blog to be about tracking the long and windy road to the Academy Awards. But I do like to indulge in posting Oscar Predictions, because why the hell not? Earlier this afternoon I posted my Dream Ballot. Now here are my predictions for tomorrow’s announcements. My strategy is usually to play it safe. So I won’t be throwing anything too out of the ordinary here outside of a few of my choices for the alternate. I’ll do a brief explanation for each category. I did very little research on others picks, taking maybe four groups of predictions into consideration. If I spend more than a couple of hours deciding these I tend to get a little annoyed with myself. And it I ever find myself trying to ‘get into the head of the AMPAS groupthink’, as if there was such a thing for God’s sake, that’s my sign to finish as quickly as possible.

Best Picture:
The Artist
The Descendants
The Help

6. Midnight in Paris
7. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
8. Bridesmaids
9. The Tree of Life
10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Those last five are in order. So for example, if eight nominees are announced tomorrow, I think it will be the top five and then my numbers six, seven and eight. Those first five are incredibly safe bets and all of them will appear tomorrow. I am not as sold on Dragon Tattoo’s supposed presence tomorrow, but there is nothing else that is particularly sticking out to me. I do have ‘Tattoo’ getting in a number of places because people are putting it for a number of different categories. I really just do not buy War Horse showing up here. It boggles my mind how people would feel passionate enough for Spielberg’s output this year to actually put that on their ballots. I think The Tree of Life stands a chance because it the people who are advocates for the film will likely be placing it in their top slot, allowing it a much larger shot.

Best Director:
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
Alternate: David Fincher – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Taylor and Miller getting in for The Help and Moneyball seem like outside shots, although Miller could very well come into play. I have Fincher as my alternate because everyone else seems to think he stands a shot, so I feel I should put him. But for as well directed as Dragon Tattoo is, it feels somewhat ridiculous for him to pop up. And if he does, it won’t be a pity vote for last year’s Hooper preference. I can guarantee that zero individuals of this organization have this mindset. That line of thinking is entirely thanks to awards pundits who put infinitely more time into this than anyone who actually votes.

Best Actor:
George Clooney – The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
Alternate: Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

Apparently the AMPAS don’t like Shame. Again, I do not buy into this collective groupthink. I’m sure the word around town is that the members who have seen it, at least the ones who have been vocal about it, have done so negatively. However, while I doubt Shame will show up tomorrow in almost all categories, I still think Michael Fassbender has the power to impress voters enough for them to recognize the performance without it being an endorsement for the film. The man has risen to the A-list in one year and, if the nomination happens, it will feel like a rite of passage for him into the Hollywood elite. Because the man is a star now. I see Oldman continuing his lifelong streak of being ignored for these awards. I could see DiCaprio being snubbed, but I don’t think it’ll happen. He is playing a historical figure across decades and the technicality of the performance I see being undeservedly recognized.

Best Actress:
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn
Alternate: Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Four of these nominations are all locks as far as I am concerned. Close will get in more for the decades in the making passion project aspect of Albert Nobbs. The reason I choose Mara over Swinton is because is feels logical. ‘Kevin’ will not show up anywhere else tomorrow. ‘Dragon Tattoo’ will. And it would make no sense if Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows up in several other categories when the one thing that should be recognized, Mara, is absent.

Best Supporting Actor:
Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks – Drive
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Viggo Mortensen – A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Alternate: Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Of all the acting categories, this one is the flimsiest. I’m unsure about everything here outside of Plummer. People are prepared for a Brooks snub and it very well could happen. Young Adult being largely ignored by all precursors everyone took Oswalt out of the running. I have doubts enough voters will have seen Warrior to put Nolte, but the idea of seeing the film and not putting Nolte on the ballot is unthinkable. Mortensen is someone I am taking a chance on and it is mostly wishful thinking. If I picked the nominations and winners, he would take the award home.

Best Supporting Actress:
Berenice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Alternate: Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Considering that Janet McTeer is the only reason to see Albert Nobbs, I chose to put her in. The Help will make two showings here, unless Chastain splits votes over her different eligible performances. I think McCarthy has more than enough momentum to get in here.

Best Original Screenplay:
The Artist
Midnight in Paris
A Separation
Alternate: Young Adult

There is a lot of love and affection for Beginners out there, and that likely transfers to the AMPAS voters who have seen it (and if they put Plummer, they probably have) making it feel right to me. A Separation has a ton of momentum, making it likely to break out of the Foreign Language category.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Alternate: The Ides of March

These feel fairly set to me. I don’t have anything to add. They are all major contenders for the Oscars this year and they succinctly fill out the five slots. But I desperately want Tinker, Tailor in here.

Best Editing:
The Artist
The Descendants
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
Alternate: Moneyball

Not really much to say here either, except that I really hope Moneyball makes it in tomorrow. It’s the only possible nominee that made my Dream Ballot. It has a wonderfully lively and entirely seamless pace that keeps up with the back-and-forth energy the dialogue generates.

Best Cinematography:
The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Alternate: War Horse

War Horse could really get in here for it’s very vocal use of old-school celluloid. I feel if Tinker, Tailor shows up in technical categories, it will show up in several or none. I don’t see it randomly popping up in two categories (hypocrite that I am, I only have it in for 3). This could be a category where something shows up that only shows up in one other place. For the sake of safety, I’m sticking with these choices.

Best Art Direction:
Midnight in Paris
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
War Horse
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Alt. The Artist

The Harry Potter series always boasts top-notch art direction. Tinker, Tailor and Hugo are best in show from the possibles this year. War Horse and Midnight in Paris seem likely.

Sound Mixing:
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Super 8
Mission Impossible
Alternate: Hanna

Sound Editing:
The Artist
Harry Potter
Super 8
Mission Impossible
War Horse
Alternate: Hugo

One of these years I will gain enough of a basic understanding of these categories to make predictions that feel somewhat knowledge-based.

Costume Design:
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Jane Eyre
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Alternate: Hugo

Impeccably dressed men in 1970’s period costume must go rewarded. I demand it! Anonymous is seemingly sure to pop up in a couple of categories for its period lavishness.

The Artist
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Jane Eyre
War Horse
Alternate: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Anything John Williams is a sure bet, even if it is for the obnoxiously distracting score that was War Horse. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are building a good track record, even if I don’t get the big deal over their contribution this year. Hugo hits all the notes it needed to with the quality we expect from Howard Shore. The Artist is a total lock. Jane Eyre feels fairly certain, but I really hope that Alberto Iglesias is recognized for his stellar work in Tinker, Tailor.

Foreign Language
A Separation
In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar
Altnerate: Bullhead

No idea what to do here outside of A Separation, so I went with the films I know about, even though the AMPAS never ‘works’ that way.

Bill Cunningham, New York
Paradise Lost 3
Project Nim
We Were Here
Alternate: Pina

There is no rhyme or reason here. I chose to have Pina get in for Foreign Language as opposed to Documentary, but it could split votes and get in for neither or both. If Project Nim does not get in….I shouldn’t be surprised but I really will be. And if Buck does get in…how sad. I think it’s got a real shot, but I spitefully snubbed it here.

Animated Feature:
Adventures of Tintin
Cars 2

4. Chico and Rita
5. Puss in Boots

Tintin has Spielberg, Cars 2 has Pixar and Rango is just too damn good to ignore in an otherwise completely lackluster year for animation.

Visual Effects:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Captain America
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Tree of Life
Alternate: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Hugo has 3D, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has motion-capture, The Tree of Life has the cosmos, Captain America has a digitally wimpy Chris Evans and Harry Potter has quantity.

The Iron Lady
Alt. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

People seem to be putting Gainsbourg, and if one thing for Makeup is certain, it’s that the most random films possible show up here. We are working with a small finalist list, greatly narrowing the field. Gainsbourg being the most obscure and otherwise absent film on the list means it will probably make it. The Iron Lady is a sure thing. Anonymous feels right.

Best Original Song:
Albert Nobbs
The Help
Muppets – Life’s a Happy Song
Muppets – Man or Muppet
Muppets – Pictures in My Head
Alternate: Star-Spangled Man – Captain America: The First Avenger

I decided to go with 3 Muppets songs, because I feel confident that the AMPAS will overall be more receptive to The Muppets than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was. If there is one place to reward the film it would be here and only here. Will 3 songs be nominated? Hell no. But I want them there and there they shall stay.

No Guts, No Glory:

Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain – Take Shelter
Actress: Charlize Theron – Young Adult
Score: The Chemical Brothers – Hanna

The Artist – 11 nominations
Hugo – 10 nominations
The Help – 6 nominations
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – 6 nominations
The Descendants – 5 nominations
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – 5 nominations
Midnight in Paris – 4 nominations
The Tree of Life – 4 nominations
Moneyball – 4 nominations

2012 Academy Award Dream Ballot

This being a Dream Ballot, I count everything that received a 2011 release in the US. I do not restrict this ballot to the films eligible for the Oscars, or to the official submissions for the Oscars. This is my ballot with the imagined scenario of every single film with a 2011 release being eligible for all categories. The only categories I chose not to include were Original Song, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

Best Picture:
Certified Copy
A Separation
Take Shelter
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Tree of Life
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Young Adult

Best Director:
Tomas Alfredson – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Abbas Kiarostami – Certified Copy
Lee Chang-dong – Poetry
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Nicolas Winding Refn – Drive

Best Actor:
Carlos Areces – The Last Circus
Demian Bichir – A Better Life
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Ryan Gosling – Drive
Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

Best Actress:
Juliette Binoche – Certified Copy
Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur
Rooney Mara – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Charlize Theron – Young Adult

Best Supporting Actor:
Albert Brooks – Drive
Tom Hollander – Hanna
Viggo Mortensen – A Dangerous Method
Nick Nolte – Warrior
John C. Reilly – Terri

Best Supporting Actress:
Sareh Bayet – A Separation
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Sarina Farhadi – A Separation
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Melancholia
Carey Mulligan – Shame

Best Original Screenplay:
Diablo Cody – Young Adult
Abbas Kiarostami – Certified Copy
Asghar Farhadi – A Separation
Jeff Nichols – Take Shelter
Lars von Trier – Melancholia

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hossein Amini, Drive
Moira Buffini – Jane Eyre
Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Steve Zaillan and Aaron Sorkin – Moneyball

Best Editing:
Zachary Stuart-Pontier, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Molly Malene Stensgaard – Melancholia
Christopher Tellefson – Moneyball
Chris King and Gregers Sall – Senna
Joe Bini – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Cinematography:
Jody Lee Lipes – Martha Marcy May Marlene
Emmanuel Lubezki – The Tree of Life
Christopher Blauvelt – Meek’s Cutoff
Hoyt van Hoytema – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Manuel Albert Caro – Melancholia

Best Art Direction:
Antxón Gómez – The Skin I Live In
Dante Ferretti – Hugo
Maria Djurkovic – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Chi Pang Terrance Chung – Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Bo Welch – Thor

Best Costume Design:
Alison Byrne – Cracks
Paco Delgado – The Last Circus
Jacqueline Durran – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Michael O’ Connor – Jane Eyre
Bruce Yu – Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Best Original Score:
Dario Marianelli – Jane Eyre
Alberto Iglesias – The Skin I Live In
Alberto Iglesias – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Chemical Brothers – Hanna
Antonio Pinto – Senna

Best Foreign Language Film:
A Separation
I Saw the Devil
The Last Circus
Le Quattro Volte

Best Documentary:
Project Nim
The Arbor
Bobby Fischer Against the World

Best Animated Feature:
Kung Fu Panda 2
Winnie the Pooh

Best Makeup:
The Artist
Jane Eyre
The Last Circus

Best Visual Effects:
The Adventures of Tintin
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Tree of Life

7 Nominations – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
5 Nominations – A Separation
5 Nominations – Drive
5 Nominations – Melancholia
4 Nominations – We Need to Talk About Kevin
4 Nominations – Certified Copy
4 Nominations – Jane Eyre
4 Nominations – The Last Circus
4 Nominations – The Tree of Life
3 Nominations – Young Adult
3 Nominations – Senna
3 Nominations – Hugo
3 Nominations – Take Shelter
2 Nominations – Hanna
2 Nominations – Moneyball
2 Nominations – The Skin I Live In
2 Nominations – Poetry
2 Nominations – Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
2 Nominations – Shame
2 Nominations – Martha Marcy Marlene

List: Top 30 Films of 2011 #15-1

Here you are, at long last, the final 15. I realize that the pictures for the 30-16 entry were a bit wonky. Hopefully it will look better for this entry. Again, this is a ‘favorite’ list, not a ‘best’. What were your favorites of the year?

15.  A Separation  (Farhadi)

Disputes become complicated very quickly, especially when the self-deception of individuals comes into play. Asghar Farhadi, who wrote and directed this masterful work, looks at the complex inner workings of individual desperation and pride. These motivations are presented through characters that are not malicious but are just trying to get by. Furthermore, Farhadi casts no judgment onto the various imperfect players involved, seeming to understand that situations get complicated fast. The truth becomes muddled beyond the comprehension of the law officers, immediate family members and even the two characters directly involved with the incident.

Farhadi presents this as a fact-of-life, combining universality and the specificity of Iranian culture. Every character is complex as the central incident and its aftermath unfolds at the same time as the breakdown of a marriage. There are no easy answers, no saints and no malevolence for malevolence sake. A Separation is heated from start-to-finish and it is impossible not to get caught up in all its sprawling glory as our sympathies shift and hover, grow and lessen. Reveals are slowly doled out with the skill of a deft thriller without getting caught up in any genre trappings. A Separation captures life in all its messiness.

14. Certified Copy (Kiarostami)

A film of halves; entirely based in conversation, simultaneously light and heavy. Certified Copy is about the burgeoning passion of a new love and companion, but also about the disintegration of a romance weighted down by history. It is a mysterious and ambiguous experience and the definition of transfixing. It is less about spending your time trying to decipher the exact nature of the central relationship and more about soaking in its essence, the conversation and the performances. It is about appreciating the ever-shifting but always simultaneous presence of the multiple phases of a dense relationship.

However one chooses to interpret or not interpret Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, it ensures that it can be experienced in a multitude of contexts, forming its own unique relationship with the viewer that is all their own. While this is something that always occurs with film and is something we often take for granted, Certified Copy seems to exist for this purpose, and what a gift it is.

13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Yates)

It is at this point where the numbers become even more arbitrary than they already are. Honestly, I love this film as much as my number 1. So think of these next 13 films as essentially being equal with each other in my mind.

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 represented the end of an era for me and the countless others that grew up a Harry Potter fan. I grew with this series; the first film came out when I was fourteen. I may not have been a child as the franchise started (it was through the films that I became a fan of the books, not the other way around) but I threw myself whole-heartedly into the books and films, and my adolescence was positively littered with Potter-dom. I still believe it is somewhat taken for granted that we were able to experience a franchise that ran this long and that stayed this arguably consistent in quality. The Potter series means more than words to me, so to find that the final film met my expectations to the utmost was in certain regards more rewarding than anything else I saw this year.

Nothing impressed me more than Snape’s swan song; an appropriate tribute to the character, heartbreakingly played by Alan Rickman. The battles and buildup are as successfully epic as the seven films of buildup have sustained. The entire picture is wall-to-wall dazzling, enhancing Part 1 and striving boldly and confidently forth to its capstone conclusion. While nothing can quite match my first experience of it, it ranks in the top three of the franchise for me. This series will be a part of me the rest of my life and I cherish my ability to revisit it at any time I please.

12. Hugo (Scorsese)

I thought it wise to pair my two favorite ‘children’s’ films together. Even more than Harry Potter (where adults represent a large portion of its legions of fans), Hugo feels made more for adult appreciation than for kids. This is not to say that children will not enjoy it as it does contain more than enough of the magic and intrigue that comes with children’s fantasy. Indeed, it has the unmatchable splendor of its own contained world; a train station in 1920’s Paris. It has a central mystery, a mysterious key, automatons, a colorful cast of inhabitants and the rediscovery of a forgotten legend.

Martin Scorsese makes Hugo a singular film experience for several reasons, entirely making up for any uneven pacing or eventual anti-mystery. The first is the 3D; it will be interesting to see how the film fares without it. It functions almost as a physical argument for the form. It does not have to be a gimmick; when someone with legitimate drive to make use of the form, to mold it to support and enhance the world within, it can be unforgettable.

The second is the sense of wonder it contains which is infectious and addictive. Scorsese makes you want to stay in that station. Amidst the darker plot appendages, there is an exuberance, the uniqueness of fantastical discovery that brings one back to childhood. The third is the heart of Hugo, as it reveals itself to be a tribute to the magic of film through its love for central character George Melies.

There is an understanding of what we all see in film that makes us love it so, that brings about an instantly deep connection with Hugo. This aspect of it is what comes straight from the director’s heart, whose passionate work for film preservation is constant and incredibly important. Hugo left me in a drunken haze of film appreciation and an unparalleled respect for the origins of an art form.

11. The Tree of Life (Malick)

I suppose many think this should be much higher on this list. Love it though I do, there is a connection with certain films that I make that results in thinking of said film as ‘one of mine’. It is a relatable feeling to see something and to form a connection with it that allows it to be hoarded amongst a collection of personal favorites. I have this connection with The Thin Red Line and with Badlands and with large chunks of The Tree of Life. Most of the film, starting with the formation of the universe and leading almost through to the end is a transcendent voyage unlike any other. For some reason though, the Sean Penn bookends and the somewhat problematic portrayal of Jessica Chastain (the character, not the performance; she is wonderful) as an all-too angelic saintly mother struck a wrong chord for me. I also question the film’s depth, mainly because The Tree of Life seems more like a record of the memory and singular experience of childhood and a pondering drift through life’s big questions and origins as opposed to something that is particularly complicated in essence. It’s technical achievement, construction and execution is more complicated and ingenious than words can describe, but the finished product, to me at least, does not feel like it is meant to anything but a gloriously complex (in form) but ultimately abstract expression.

More than anything, I do not want this interpretation of abstraction to be taken as a knock; this is what I love about it. I feel lucky to have experienced something this beautiful, poetic, enchanting and moving. I felt brought back to childhood despite watching an individual depiction of it, and the strange and elemental feelings I experienced while watching is something I will never forget. And its drifting ponderous nature; this is also what I love about The Tree of Life. It considers the big and the small and asks us to glide along with it as it moves in and out of its many facets. Terrence Malick has so much skill that he is able to take us through his thoughts and Jack’s memories with the kind of ambition that results in something new and special. Parts of it feel like a continuation on what Walt Disney was getting at with his ‘Rite of Spring’ segment of Fantasia. Other parts feel like a journey of growing up, of the realization that parents expect things of you and that innocence can no longer be maintained. No film this year or in the past several years has been discussed and delved into more than The Tree of Life. While I feel that the film is more of an experience, something that to a degree defies analyzing, it is justifiably worshipped by many in the kind of passionate way that only Malick can incite.

10. I Saw the Devil (Kim)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/review-i-saw-the-devil-2011-kim/ 

I Saw the Devil is an example of a film I hoard as ‘one of mine’. I perk up when I hear its name, I want to shove it into people’s eyes and praise it to the high heavens. Because I Saw the Devil does something extremely clever with the revenge genre; it sets out to be the end-all be-all, to distill its cliches into an essence of basic emotions, using repetition and pure brutality to really get at what this genre is all about.

What others may see as one-note is actually a very purposeful execution complete with uncomplicated character types and uncomplicated motivations. It uses what may be considered weaknesses in other films and turns them around, using it to an advantage. I Saw the Devil takes revenge as far as it can go, thereby making it automatically relevant. The film excels, because noted South Korean director Kim Ji-woon knows how to tell a story with effectiveness and panache, unlike many others who venture down extremist territory.

The idea that one must become a monster to destroy a monster is familiar. The really wonderful study that takes place in the film are Soo-hyun’s craving to prolong the satisfying feeling revenge gives him, and the idea of revenge as a functioning stopgap between the actual mourning process.

Kim Ji-Woon is a filmmaker who knows how and when to use style. He chooses his moments carefully and infuses them with a trendy sensibility without allowing style to overwhelm his film. His always impeccably choreographed fight scenes are on display, riveting as ever. A confrontation in a greenhouse as well as a rather incredible scene that takes place in a taxi cab are two examples where Kim’s penchant for building up tension and delivering action heavy scenes are on display.

The pacing here is among the most accomplished of 2011. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, the film flies by, yet it never feels rushed. Kim takes his time letting the story unfold and allowing atmosphere and mood to sink in, without the running time ever imposing itself. It is fully engrossing throughout which is not an easy feat.

I have seen this film twice and it strengthened for me the second time; it is and exhausting roller-coaster that is well worth the ride.

9. Hanna (Wright)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/review-hanna-2011-wright/ 

I will be the first to admit that Hanna is not entirely strong. The father-daughter relationship falters, and Wright’s attempts to create a layered fairy tale do not pan out with quite the success he clearly wants it to. But for a multitude of reasons, Hanna is a stylized dream come true for me.

Joe Wright takes himself completely out of his comfort zone with an entirely new type of project. The resulting visual experimentation from Wright’s involvement is invigorating to the extreme; a feast on the eyes and ears that overcomes the script’s shortcomings. His use of tracking shots, extreme close-ups, extreme long shots, handheld camera work and much more all contribute to Hanna’s singularly high-powered style. He also keeps a lot of the action in camera, making the choreography stand out. Whether creating an engaging hyper-stylistic action set piece or subjectively aligning the audience with Hanna’s experiences, Wright always has motivations for his choices and it is a delight to work through them while watching the film.

Along with Wright and Ronan, the third irreplaceable element of Hanna is the score provided by The Chemical Brothers. As opposed to using music to manipulate the audience into certain emotions, Wright creates several different effects with the sound of hypnotic bass-heavy electronica. The score is first introduced at a very precisely chosen moment. Throughout, the music forms a cohesive relationship with the diegetic sound, with both influencing and informing each other. It is also used to crucially represent and accompany each of the action set-pieces. The music The Chemical Brothers have created here is addictive and is as important anything in Hanna.

When all is said and done, Hanna had me entirely at “I just missed your heart”.

8. Melancholia (von Trier)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/review-melancholia-2011-von-trier/

It may seem contradictory to say that Lars von Trier’s end-of-the world opus is the director as his most peaceful and life-affirming; but it is. This isn’t to say that Melancholia is sunshine and rainbows; just look at the title and basic plot synopsis. But this is the Danish auteur reaching out and making a human connection with his audience as much as he likely ever will. It is a meditative exploration of the unexpectedly dichotomous nature (and the ways the two converge) between depression that renders one immobile in life, and having to face that which we will all eventually come to meet; death.

Dunst and von Trier, both having first-hand experience with depression, make painstaking connections with Justine that culminate in an uncompromising understanding and loyalty to her. They are unwilling to cater to standard cause-and-effect rules of characterization or to apologize for the frustration and lack of sympathy she can elicit.  For those of us who know what bouts of depression are like, this reveals it in all of its extreme truths and ugliness. Von Trier’s previous film Antichrist was made as he went through a severe depression, and no matter what one thinks of that work, looking at Melancholia in the context of a follow-up to his previous film will make for worthwhile discourse someday. In fact, it seems like an entirely essential context to have going into the film.

Melancholia is one of those films that successfully fulfill their ambitions in dealing with profound and fundamental subject matter on a grand level of intellectually-based intuition. You come away with, yes lots to talk about, but just as importantly, a feeling that a filmmaker has come upon something almost indescribable that gets at how we experience life, death and what it all means (or ultimately doesn’t mean). Synecdoche, New York is one of these films (an example that goes about it in an infinitely complex fashion, whereas Melancholia and The Tree of Life is based in abstraction and how the writers’directors have experienced life.) The Tree of Life is another. Some might call these films pretentious but this is reductive and dismissive. Lars von Trier’s latest film is his most accessible, but is no less thought-provoking. In fact, if there is one film that will temporarily win over his detractors, it would be this one. It takes us through the cathartic process of grieving mankind with a scrutinizing look at depression, death, acceptance and world annihilation with an uncharacteristically humanistic eye.

7. The Arbor (Bernard)

Speaking of Synecdoche, New York, here is a film that gets at truth through conceptual reenactment and fiction. What could have been a disastrous execution (the film consists of interviews lip-synched by actors who address the camera) is just the opposite. The past comes to life, going beyond narrative and documentary films, achieving something that exists in between.

The actors become a vessel for the voices and the people behind them. The actors are literal messengers, and having them address the camera, and in turn the audience, creates an intimate connection between the documentaries subject and those who knew her, and us. We also get to know subject Andrea Dunbar through watching segments of her plays performed by actors in the actual slums of Bradford, West Yorkshire where she grew up and lived.

The Arbor is about as deeply depressing as it gets, and director Clio Bernard keeps the frames uncluttered, letting the format and interview material speak for itself by presenting it in a progressive but simple way.

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay)

Here we go with the word abstract again; I tend to love films presented in such a way. The visual representation of an emotional state and a literal materialization of the fearful apathy of motherhood are what We Need to Talk About Kevin is getting at. I may love this film partly because Lionel Shriver’s novel is one of my absolute favorites, and I was able to see Eva and immediately heap upon her 450 pages of the author’s anything but abstract contextualization. The symbolism may be is in-your-face with splattered reds everywhere (for a start), but it represents a state of being and a constant reminder of the guilt and loss Eva feels that cannot be expunged. Kevin exists as the embodiment of a worst-case scenario, a being whose chief understanding of the world is borne out of his instinctual knowledge of Eva’s motherly indifference.

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Alfredson)

When Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ended, I immediately wanted to revisit it, getting the sense that my love and appreciation for it would only grow over time. Above all other films from this past year, I became the most attached to Tinker’s feel and atmosphere above any other. Tomas Alfredson’s second feature (his first being Let the Right One In), is another adaptation. Everything from the cinematography to Alberto Iglesias’ fabulously wistful jazz score is in a lurking state of mourning.

The film mourns for an era fading before the characters eyes with its air of grey repression amidst the period world of Britain’s M-16 intelligence. It boils down the plot density of the novel into its essentials, without ever having narrative clarity as its priority. Reading the novel before seeing the film did allow me a basic understanding of what happens (which was a task in itself as I find myself easily lost within these types of stories), but the film is not about that. With the ensemble cast of the year, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a treasure trove of intrigue.

4. Drive (Refn)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/review-drive-2011-refn/

It is an all too uncommon feeling when a film ends and you realize you are not yet ready to leave its world. This is the feeling I had when Drive ended. It is a slick retro ride, filled with homage and influence, operating as a nostalgic demonstration of American genre filmmaking and oozing European sensibilities, complete with existentialist sleaze and minimalist touches. It is a hybrid creature that dabbles in a number of genres that are all in harmony through Nicolas Winding Refn’s infectious appreciation for using cinema to create mood and atmosphere.

It is clear that Refn has been influenced at every turn. But it is not a hollow experience; far from it. Perhaps what impressed me the most about Drive is the smoothness with which Refn blends what is a clear unabashed love for both high and low art. He lets them bleed together in what can be succinctly described as effortless cool. There is a stable assuredness in every shot, every movement and every creative choice made here. One cannot help but want to revisit Drive and explore those choices, the motivations behind them and why they work as well as they do. This is confident filmmaking on display. The mere construction of it is something to behold.

The thankless female characters may be a slight misstep, but it is a minor quibble. With Drive, Refn represents cinema at its most assured, plowing directly into the heart of genre filmmaking.

3. Take Shelter (Nichols)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/review-take-shelter-2011-nichols/

Jeff Nichols does not play the ‘is he or isn’t he’ game with his audience; Curtis (Michael Shannon) is succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia. We are invited to simultaneously experience events as the protagonist does, and to see the reality of the situation at the same time. Take Shelter is an astonishing second feature by director Nichols whose first feature Shotgun Stories, plays out as pre-destined Greek tragedy. The interplay between conscious choice and being pulled further and further into something that was, on some level, always going to happen is present in both films. In Take Shelter, poor conscious decisions are made by Curtis, but he is also being helplessly dragged down by family legacies and a general feeling of doom.

Take Shelter affected me quite heavily, mainly because it preyed on my fears and depicted them in ways that service the sad reality of the situation as opposed to the heightened subjective journey. After death, going insane might be my biggest fear. It is the suddenness of certain disorders existence that strikes me. Some of the heavier psychological disorders don’t creep their way into you; they make sudden and grandiose entrances.

Curtis’ psychological descent clearly represents the current state of America, and the film never tries to hide this. Nichols wants you to know what he is really getting at. There are a couple of reasons it works. One is that the film does not feel preachy even in its openness; in fact, its message feels necessary. No matter what your political inclinations are, it is difficult not to feel the growing sense of dread all around us. Nichols takes that familiarized feeling and translates it into a different filmic context. In that sense, Take Shelter is frightening in its resonance. It may manifest itself openly, but Take Shelter works hauntingly well because of Nichols’ precision and ability to have his film make its mark in more ways than one.

2. Project Nim (Marsh)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/review-project-nim-2011-marsh-iffboston-2011/

When discussing Project Nim, it becomes tempting to immediately spring into all-out praise mode. James Marsh approaches stories from different angles. 2008’s Man on Wire functions as a heist narrative. Project Nim is a chimpanzee biopic. Herb Terrace’s experiment was amateurish and botched from the start. By default, this allows Marsh to focus all his energies on telling Nim’s heartbreaking story, using archival footage and some very honest and candid interviews by the many people who came in and out of Nim’s life.

Project Nim is structured as a biopic that allows us to be acquainted with Nim as well as understand our incapacity to truly know a wild animal. All of the action is focused around the chimp, but the film says so much more through the story it tells. It is about humanity and our need to control and manipulate everything to be more like us. It is about the incompetence of man. It is about the well-meaning individuals like Joyce Butler, who care so deeply but are powerless in the bigger picture, and those like Bob Ingersol and Dr. James Mahoney, who never give up on making a difference.

Those who see Project Nim will be heartbroken. It works on many different levels, but people will remember first and foremost the story of Nim’s unstable life. James Marsh has told an unforgettable story and Project Nim is a true accomplishment.

1. Young Adult (Reitman)

Young Adult sadly did not connect with audiences based on box-office numbers and divided the people who did take the time to go see it. My number one was not clear this year; over the last few weeks, I have had about five different films in the top slot. So many character types have had countless films of their own, but to tread new ground and focus with someone like Mavis Gary offers something fresh and new; it took me in entirely. The film would not have succeeded if some did not walk away annoyed and frustrated; this only enhances how uncompromising and ugly its honesty can be.

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have created something that feels completely organic; effortless and seemingly simple when it is actually incredibly layered and intricate. Cody knows Mavis Gary in-and-out and pulls no punches when presenting her to us. She is delusional and ruthless; a total basket case who lives either in one extreme lazy sweats and reality TV consumption or another extreme of all-day primping as she presents herself to her old town with unrelenting purpose.

Theron fully inhabits Mavis as someone who cannot see past her own perspective or selfishness. She seems genuinely confused by the existence of certain emotions, and seeing her try to fake her way through them when she needs to is truly something else. This is also the first film I have seen to depict Trichotillomania and I have a special appreciation of the film for this reason. It is a compulsive disorder I have lived with since a young age, only with me the eyelashes are victimized and not the hair as with Mavis.

Young Adult turns expectations on its head with its kitchen scene that denies the audience the expected character turnaround, except that Cody dangles the possibility in front of our face first, making it all the more fascinating. Mavis’ relationship with Patton Oswalt’s Matt is one of the more distinctive interactions between two characters I have seen as he brings a self-aware sadness and longing to the proceedings. He is filled with the same emotions as Mavis but one is delusional while the other is not.

Young Adult is a film I felt an instant connection with; I laughed a lot, I cringed a lot, but mostly I admired the delicate craftsmanship at work from the spot-on writing and directing to the perfect acting. It is a blistering piece that is on the one hand an awkward comedy about emotionally stunted growth. On the other, it is a frighteningly candid character study about how sad it is to be so constricted by a superiority complex and perception of the world including where one places oneself within it.

Complete List of Films Seen in 201113 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, A Separation, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou

List: Top 30 Films of 2011 (#30-16)

More than halfway through January, I give you my 30 favorite films of the year. The final 15 will be up on Thursday. These are my favorites; not a list of the ‘best’ of the year, although it goes without saying I believe these are all excellent films. The idea of a restricting Top 10 sort of irritates me; I’ve always been someone who likes to broaden the field and point out a variety of different films that stuck out to me. Margaret, Into the Abyss, Love Exposure and The Mysteries of Lisbon are examples of gaping holes in my film viewing for this year. But I did get to a total of 136 films seen from 2011 and I feel like I saw the vast majority of what I had meant to. I’m thrilled with the group of films that stuck out for me this year. The films that just missed out on a spot were Super 8, The Sleeping Beauty, Tabloid, Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Descendants, Love Crime, Weekend, 50/50, 13 Assassins, Meek’s Cutoff and Crazy, Stupid, Love. I’d love to come up with an introduction to this list that covered the year in film but so much has already been written in ways that go far beyond what I would have been capable to coming up with. I took snippets from my reviews for the films I reviewed here at some point this year, with links provided for the full reviews if anyone is interested. Without further ado…30-16!

30. Bridesmaids (Feig)

It looks like Bridesmaids actually has a semblance of chance for a slot in the Best Picture race this year. Whether it happens or not is almost irrelevant; it is the mere chance that surprises. This notion brings with it much backlash. Between that and the constant references to the shitting in the sink scene (which at this point feels like it is the only scene in the film based on how often it gets brought up), it is easy to forget just how funny and surprisingly layered the film really is.

That the film is only ever put into the context of ‘see, women can be funny too’ proves just how sad the state of female-driven comedies is. Wiig and Annie Mumolo did not set out to prove anything here, but everyone acts as if they did. We should be past the point where an ensemble female comedy is a revelation, but based on the constant contextual discussions of Bridesmaids, it is clear we are not. It does not help that it was advertised using the idea of females doing comedy essentially as a gimmick.

After all is said and done though, it is about the flawed Annie (Kristen Wiig) who has reached a point in her life where nothing has worked out the way she planned. Her only stable focal point is her friendship with Lillian (Maya Rudolph). When Lillian’s wedding plans are taken over by Rose Byrne’s wealthy stylish woman who threatens to replace her as best friend (in Annie’s insecure eyes), she fights fire with fire by being petty and selfish, much to the amusement of the audience. But the film is about her realizing how she handles those situations, seeing her come to terms with that and being ready to rebuild her life. Annie’s character struck a chord with me;  this along with Wiig’s performance is why I was so impressed with Bridesmaids as a whole. Is it too long? Yes. Does every joke hit its mark? No. Yet this is one of my favorite comedies to come along in a good long while. Really truly good comedies are infrequent these days (case in point; only three comedies are on this list). This is one of the good ones.

29. Moneyball (Miller)

There are going to be several films on this list that really took me by surprise and the first is Moneyball. I had really no interest in seeing this; in fact it took about 3 months and a rerelease for me to drag myself to the theater to see it. Sports films are generally not a genre I gravitate towards. What is so striking about 2011 is that four sports films made my list of favorites this year; an unprecedented number. Moneyball is mostly a behind-the-scenes look at baseball and how one person tries to change the deeply embedded system using unheard of strategies. It is the classic underdog tale, told with soul, drive, and a spirit of infectious perseverance headlined by Brad Pitt’s performance, which highlights Beane’s hasty insistence and inner detachment when he seals himself off from others. We know how the story ends, but the film earns the audience’s reservations as to how triumph could possibly reign supreme. Moneyball lifted me up and left me feeling roused and inspired.

28. The Trip (Winterbottom)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/review-the-trip-winterbottom-2011-iffboston2011/

The Trip boasts an unusual combination of dialogue-heavy comedy, of scenic travelogue complete with a focus on high-end food and finally a somber self-reflexive experiment. While these are occasionally at odds with each other, The Trip is hilarious from start-to-finish and ultimately insightful because of the persistent and atypical way it goes about making its point.

Their conversations are thoroughly escapist, with a strong air of competition. They throw themselves into moments, songs, melodies and impressions. They are constantly trying to one-up each other, whether by seeing who does the better Michael Caine impression or by testing how many octaves each can sing in.  Steve may say to others on the phone that Rob is a ‘pain in the ass’, but he clearly gets something out of his hesitant friendship with Rob; the irreverence between the two and their conversations. Each knows what to expect from the other. Steve knows he can vent his frustrations by taking jabs at Rob’s career. He knows their friendship is based on nonsensical conversations. This allows a safety net of irreverence to form for Steve.

Underneath all of the improvised hilarity, The Trip is about understanding Steve and Rob’s friendship, where it comes from, how the film is using their repeatedly competitive conversations and what it all means. Some will see it as a film that goes nowhere. This is precisely the point; it is a story about fame and emptiness, which has been addressed in many recent films, but told in an uproarious, refreshing and unconventional way.

27. Win Win (McCarthy)

As I began watching Win Win on a plane destined for Korea (the TV’s reset themselves several times, forcing me to watch this over the course of four hours), at first I was not enjoying it. It felt like the kind of middle-of-the-road indie that tries really hard to garner some chuckles with some predictable music that evokes that delightfully amused small-town sound that so many films have. Once Alex Shaffer’s Kyle entered and got the story rolling, I found myself increasingly involved. By the last half hour I was glued to the screen, only several inches away from the small TV on the backseat. All of the characters feel dimensional by the end, and it sets up a complicated dilemma that has no easy answers. It is sweet and endearing without ever feeling slight. Tom McCarthy’s writing underlines the place that wrestling has in the characters’ lives, so that when it falls to the wayside for a domestically dramatic scenario to settle in, the sport always feels thematically front and center. Not to mention that Alex Shaffer’s real-life wrestling skills which make his sport-centered scenes a treat.

26. Warrior (O’Connor)
Short Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/short-review-warrior-2011-oconnor/

Sometimes it is the films that surprise us that become the most rewarding film experiences. They make us realize that so many films come with high expectations impossible to meet. What a breath of fresh air it is to go into a film with very low expectations, with no sign of the dreaded hype machine in tow, and to be completely won over to the point where my emotions were running as high as they could.

Steeped in the throes of Greek tragedy, Warrior takes chamber-piece family drama to the arena of MMA. Knowingly playing with clichés and being able to deliver on familiar grounds can be just as difficult to execute properly. It is no small task, but the film is able to deliver. The first hour is a lot of set-up. It is transparent where almost all of these scenes are going, but it conveys them with an unexpectedly quiet meditation. This gives the actors and the circumstances they have to play a refreshing amount of room to breathe. By the end, proportions of such raw physical intensity are reached that you can actually feel the decades of family dynamics being brought into the arena. The result is a well-earned cathartic finale as powerful as anything I have seen this year.

P.S – Make this a double bill with South Korea’s equally impressive 2005 boxing drama Crying Fist; you will not be sorry.

25. Jane Eyre (Fukunaga)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/review-jane-eyre-2011-fukunaga/

Jane Eyre succeeds because what it does take on is executed with memorable specificity as well as containing some of the best chemistry between two romantic leads in years. For those who are sick of the kinds of romance films that come put today, whether comedy, drama or fantasy, Jane Eyre provides an opportunity to revisit a classic.

Many period films, especially those depicting the Victorian era, unsurprisingly and understandably tend to have the same look and feel. Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman create a very precise atmosphere, making full use of the many conventions of the Gothic romance. The film feels naturally lit throughout, creating an often dark and gloomy look with muted grey and brown tones. The barren landscapes, wind and rain and foreboding manors are just a few conventions employed here with stunning effect. Dario Marianelli’s score fills the soundtrack with emotive violins that express the suppressed passion that Jane and Rochester keep below the surface.

Mia Wasikowska, destined for an exciting lifetime of impressive performances, captures the essence of Jane Eyre. Her dignity, guardedness and centered unwavering morals are all perfectly portrayed. She is understated and powerful, conveying subtle transitions in her face at every turn. It might just be the perfect incarnation of the heroine.

It is a rare thing when the two romantic leads have the chemistry the story demands them to have; these two do. The film is most engaging when the two are onscreen together, not just from of the power their scenes have, but because of the way they portray the evolution of their relationship. Buffini makes sure that different circumstances surround each scene they have together, making every single interaction between the two unique.

The film may heavily dilute several themes from the book in a disappointing way, but Wasikowska infuses her performance with what is missing. Was yet another adaptation necessary? Probably not, but it is hard to imagine anyone complaining about it after seeing Fukunaga and Buffini’s splendid interpretation.

24. The Last Circus (Iglesia)

The most utterly berserk and unbridled film from this year, The Last Circus is a nutzoid accomplishment plagued with political undertones (and in-your-face purpose; hello opening credits) from the Franco regime of the 1970’s. A love triangle between two clowns and an acrobat (who is the definition of the self-destructive male fantasy woman), the film inhabits a heightened predicament where love, suffering, violence and insanity all inhabit the same space and become interchangeable. Most films have a set trajectory, where you have some sense of where it will go, even if you do not know how it will get there. The Last Circus reaches what I assumed would be its climactic scene before the halfway point and I realized I had absolutely no idea where it was headed next. It was an unfamiliar and exhilarating realization and I watched as the film darted off into entirely wacky and surreal territory. The last scene which gives off a feeling of finality, hopelessness and defeat is a singular moment in the film. The Last Circus is unforgettable.

23. Midnight in Paris (Allen)

Had it not been for Rachel McAdams’ increasingly shrill caricature, this would be even higher on my list. Considering how much love I have for this film, and seeing it in the 23 slot, it becomes clear just how necessary I feel it is to move beyond the idea of a Top 10. Indeed, this is one of my favorites from Allen, carrying that same magical air as The Purple Rose of Cairo (my absolute favorite from him). Leaving the theater with a giant gleaming smile on my face, Midnight in Paris wins people over for its literalized and fantastical look at the idea of nostalgia and yearning for a time past. And using 1920’s Paris for that is probably the most idealized time and place there is.  Owen Wilson proves to be the perfect Allen avatar, neurosis and rationalizing take precedence with him. To see him this enthralled with all the artistic figures of the past is contagious. The romantic and rational sides of Allen interact here and come to several different conclusions. It’s a vicarious dream come true.

22. Shame (McQueen)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/review-shame-2011-mcqueen/

McQueen has the confidence of a veteran; his vision is clear and he presents it with poise. Between this and Hunger, it is obvious that long takes are his strong suit. One more film from him and they will be a fully-fledged trademark. He risks distracting the audience but he does not; his lengthy observations make us more attentive, more aware of the physical space and of body language. They allow us to get a fuller sense of the performances and they enhance the notion of the audience observing Brandon through the glass-plate walls; he is a test subject. McQueen distances us with the sterile environment and cagey glass. He puts us up close when it counts, and when it becomes important to unsettle the audience. Fassbender and Mulligan are astounding.

McQueen uses Brandon as cornerstone representative for addiction with a sibling dynamic ripe for rich exploration. Brandon’s surprisingly conventional, but no less powerful, arc towards disintegration is tinted with more hope than one would expect. Shame is arresting cinema that loyally follows its self-loathing protagonist wherever he may go.

21. Senna (Kapadia)
Full Review Link: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/review-senna-2011-kapadia/

Senna plays more like a narrative feature than any documentary in recent memory. Gripping from the start and refusing to let go, this immersive story will enthrall the viewer regardless of their ignorance of Formula One racing and/or three time Grand Prix world champion, Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna. Entirely comprised of archival footage, Senna offers a rare privilege of access for a documentary, resulting in a wholly distinct experience. It does not feel like you are watching something that has already happened; instead it largely unfolds as if for the first time.

I was the only one in my theater when I saw Senna, and I was allowed to have an emotional reaction with a freedom rarely afforded within the theater-going experience. By the end, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. Interestingly enough, the two documentaries on this list spurred a stronger emotive response than anything else I saw this year.

20. Poetry (Lee)

Lee Chang-dong has a knack for staying a couple of steps away from melodrama with his unadorned camera and plots that never feel like plots. In some ways, he is the opposite of melodrama, but he somehow always gives off a sense of it without it defining or even distracting from his pictures. On the one hand, the film is a gentle tale of an elderly woman creeping up on Alzheimer’s who strives to understand how poetry works, looking everywhere for inspiration in order to write a poem. If this sounds nauseating, do not make the mistake of judging Poetry; it has none of the sentiment or predictability the story suggests.On the other hand, there is the tale of a horrific family crime committed, how Mi-ja copes with it as she deals with the aftermath of forced interaction for all parties involved and their differing motivations.

Lee mixes plot elements in ways that are unfamiliar and new, without ever having it feel like something is conventionally unfolding. His two films made after his time as Korea’s Minister of Culture and Tourism heavily deal with coping, the unforeseen circumstances surrounding tragedy and the various ways people try to coexist with their personal tragedies. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting.

19. Tyrannosaur (Considine)

Actor Paddy Considine’s directorial debut sticks us with some pretty miserable folk. That Peter Mullan’s train-wreck of a protagonist, unable to keep himself contained for a moment, is the one that comes to be Hannah’s (Olivia Colman) only support system says it all. Tyrannosaur works because of the central relationship where mutually affectionate moments are able to burst through the defense mechanisms, secrets and stubbornness of the characters and the relentlessly bleak and violent nature of the film.

This is one of those ‘what do I do with myself now’ films that send one off into the world with a fuzzy haze of hopelessness. Some may not think it is worth it or that it does not justify being this depressing. But I appreciate Considine’s insistence on showing us two complicated people with no easy explanations to their predicaments or personalities. It is the matter-of-factness of it that I admire. Mullan has more rage than all the ‘angry young men’ characters of British cinema combined. He’s like the middle-aged present day result of those guys. Colman is in the most horrifically abusive marriage imaginable and has reached the point where excuses and suffering have seemingly buried escape.

18. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin)

That Martha Marcy May Marlene held my spot at number 1 for a time after I saw it indicates that we have approached an even more intense level of appreciation for the films left on this list. Martha Marcy May Marlene disturbingly displays the susceptible nature of the mind and what mankind is capable of subverting through mutual groupthink. It is a complicated character study about a young woman unable to assimilate herself in any environment, and is left with heaps of traumas, sadly stubborn lingering ideologies and zero sense of self. She is a nearly broken being. Sean Durkin wrote and executed this story with staggering maturity. Some broad supporting characterization and some overstated dialogue only mildly hinder the experience. The complex characterization headlined by Olsen and the tension that instills the audience makes for a fearless film from a debut filmmaker.

17. Incendies (Villeneuve)

It has been many many months since I watched Incendies; almost a year. If I saw it again, it may even garner a higher spot on this list.  After Biutiful and In a Better World left me underwhelmed (and with the former, downright annoyed), this is the other foreign language film nominee from last year’s Oscars that left an impact on me (the other is Dogtooth, which was my third favorite film of 2010, only to become my favorite after a rewatch taking over from Black Swan). It seems redundant to say that Incendies is involving, especially since I have been describing a number of films on this list as such. However, where some films involve me so much because I did not expect them to, for its thematic content or for filmmaking aspects more than anything else visceral or otherwise, Incendies involved me on a level of pure storytelling. There is no other film that involved me more this year (although several match it) on a storytelling level.

Remarkably devastating, the film balances political strife with the intensely personal and wraps it up in a disturbing familial central mystery. Several sequences are riveting, led by the wonderful Lubna Azabal. The film never feels small, with all of its war-torn setting, the unstoppable presence of politics and war and the linking of past and present using a flashback structure. Incendies leaves an indelible and powerful mark.

16. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Bird)

This is the most fun I had at the movies this year; by far the most satisfying action film I have seen since 2006’s Casino Royale. Brad Bird’s live-action debut proves that he has a knack for creating increasingly complicated set-pieces, never losing the high levels of energy, fun and genuine excitement he sets up for himself. There is literally no depth to this film at all and we are all the better for it.

This is what escapist cinema is all about. Seeing Tom Cruise reliably bringing his irreplaceable screen presence to the non-character that is Ethan Hunt is all we need. His penchant for doing as much of his own stunts as he can culminates in the stunning sequence atop the tallest skyscraper in the world; Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. There are no green-screen effects here; the cameras are filming onsite and Cruise really is leaping around and climbing on the outside. It is indescribably thrilling and revitalizing to see an action film pull out all the stops and give us onsite set-pieces that are a much-needed antidote to the typical green-screen action scene. Filmed in IMAX, it feels like we are up there with him; and this is only one scene. Each sequence would be a memorable standout of any other film; Ghost Protocol just gives us one after the other, constantly matching itself. The entire film keeps up this level of entertainment. To put it simply; I did not want this film to end.

Complete List of Films Seen in 2011: 13 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, A Separation, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou

Screening Log: January 1st – January 15th, 2012

Welcome to the new year!!! I hope to see lots of interesting films this year from the past, recent past and present. I’ve already seen a couple of films that I would count among my favorites so I would say I am off to a good start! I have decided not to post a Top Scenes in 2011 Film this year. This is only because my list would be very inaccurate as I did a shamefully terrible job of keeping track what stuck out to me. While I could certainly point out scenes I would list as my favorites of the year, they would come largely from the song usage list or would be more moments than scenes. So on keeping track this year so that I do not run into this problem again, in order to bring this really fun list to everyone next year.I will however be posting my Top 30 Favorite Films of the Year very soon. I just need to see A Separation and Love Exposure.

I have started out the new year on three wildly different kicks. The first is Charles Laughton whose transformative talents have me salivating to see everything I can with him. The second is Benedict Cumberbatch whose vibrancy and beautiful voice fills me with joy and passion. The third is reading George R.R Martin’s A Clash of Kings which has me itching to get to April 1st as I manically anticipate seeing all of this transferred to the screen. In particular, Peter Dinklage and his hugely and rightfully acclaimed performance is what I look forward to most. I’m rather absurdly attracted to all three of these men for wildly different reasons and from time to time I find myself more taken by these superficial pulls than the actual content of what I see. Looks like this is one of those months in regard to my current interests.

1. Carnage (2011, Polanski): B-

2. Weekend (2011, Haigh): B+

3. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933, Korda): A-

4. The Odd Couple (1968, Saks): A-

5. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Mankiewicz): B-

6. Goldfinger (1964, Hamilton): D+

7. Dirty Harry (1971, Siegel): B

8. The Sign of the Cross (1932, DeMille): C-

9. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, Wellman): A

10. Safety Last (1923, Newmeyer & Taylor): B

11. How Green was My Valley (1942, Ford): D+

12. The Conformist (1970, Bertolucci): A

13. This Land is Mine (1943, Renoir): B+

List: Top 25 Performances in 2011 Film

I’ll list 10-25 alphabetically and then list the top 10 alphabetically. It seems odd to rank performances to such the extreme degree of “I liked this performance better than this and I liked this better than those two”. What do you think were the most memorable performances of the year?

10-25 (in alphabetical order)

Carla Besnainou – Anastasia – The Sleeping Beauty

Catherine Breillat knows how to get some of the most natural, seemingly effortless performances out of children. Here, Besnainou entirely holds this film with her unyielding curiosity and determination. She is quick on her feet, priding herself on her independence. The film dovetails once she leaves the screen and most of the reason I found myself glued during Breillat’s latest was because of this precocious child. Talented as the child is, the director should get most credit for this kind of performance for finding her (not an actress), capturing her on film and being able to assemble together her performance.

Demian Bichir – Carlos Galindo – A Better Life

An earnest and heartbreaking performance of the first degree, Bichir is emotional and gripping as a man who just wants to do well by his son. He lifts the on-the-nose material with his nuanced and extremely involving work.

Asa Butterfield – Hugo Cabret – Hugo

It was more than a little surprising to see several complaints about Butterfield’s work as the title character in Scorsese’s ode to cinema. Additionally, Butterfield is simply not getting the credit he deserves even from those who found him delightful. This did not feel like acting; it felt like I was watching a child who really had spent months living inside of a Parisian train station. I never felt he was playing a character; he was Hugo Cabret. Unlike Besnainou where you get the sense her charisma was caught by the camera, there are no accidents with Butterfield. This is a fully realized performance where the adolescent knows exactly what he is doing and is fully committed to his character and his motivations and emotions.

Dominic Cooper – Latif Yahia/Uday Hussein – The Devil’s Double

The Devil’s Double has only one ‘see it for this card’ and it is Dominic Cooper. Being called upon to play two roles entirely outside anything I have seen him in, he undergoes a complete transformation as both Latif and Uday (not to mention Latif’s impersonations of Uday). The film itself is too obsessed with its own sleaze to rise above it or be compelling, but Cooper is electric having to act out scenes with himself (with Uday being the most depraved son-of-a-bitch to grace the screen all year). Between the dual roles and the extremity of Uday, it could have gone wrong, but Cooper’s capability and commitment enable him to soar.

Kirsten Dunst – Justine – Melancholia

Dunst, having first-hand experience with depression, makes painstaking connections with Justine that culminate in an uncompromising understanding and loyalty to her. She is unwilling to cater to standard cause-and-effect rules of characterization or to apologize for the frustration and lack of sympathy she can elicit.  For those of us who know what bouts of depression are like, this reveals it in all of its extreme truths and ugliness.

Michael Fassbender – Brandon – Shame

Watching Brandon dissolve right in front of us is quite the spectacle. This has been the year of Fassbender and we are all the better for it. He is an explosive force to be reckoned with, completely giving himself over to the camera for observational purposes.

Tom Hardy – Tommy Conlon – Warrior

This is another performance that never felt like acting to me. I could not take my eyes off of Hardy in Warrior; this is entirely due to his ability to fully transcend the hardened character type he is asked to play. It helps that the screenwriters stay refreshingly true to him, and thankfully do not give him any sort of arc that allows his basic emotional trajectory to change. This is who he is, and his more revealing moments of character shading feels real and honest; in no way forced.  He achieves a kind of introspective intensity that is something to behold. Decades of estrangement and past dynamics have been so clearly defined in his head, that his dialogue evokes a perspective of factual simplicity reminiscent of a child.

Woody Harrelson – Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown – Rampart

Dave Brown is a ticking time bomb in vastly changing times. Harrelson plays him as a brute past his prime in the shifting cityscape. An outcast on all counts, his cruelty covers all possible ground whether he means it or not. He’s like a wild animal trying to feign the practice of civilization.

Viggo Mortensen – Sigmund Freud – A Dangerous Method

Unrecognizable with the ever-present cigar and unwavering dignity, Mortensen gets my vote for best in show in Cronenberg’s latest. He is methodical and precise in his words, always needing to balance maintaining the intellectual upper-hand without losing the insight of discourse. He needs discussion more to keep his own ideas going and to reassert his theoretical leanings. But at the same time, Mortensen’s Freud genuinely connects with others through discussion; seeing how he wades through his thoughts towards Jung throughout is something else.

Carey Mulligan – Sissy – Shame

Here is an unhinged and unpredictable performance that ignites the screen. Mulligan elicits unbridled frenzy as Sissy who is much farther along the path to futility than Brandon is, or rather, is farther along the path precisely because she is aware of it. She deserves as much praise as her costar, hurtling off the screen with abandon.

Nick Nolte – Paddy Conlon –Warrior

He is devastating as the haggard father trying to shake his previous actions that all but define him far too late in life. His eyes desperately cling onto his sons for any semblance of forgiveness.

Gary Oldman – George Smiley – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Seeing Oldman in a role like this is a rarity. He is a stoic centerpiece to the crumbling status quo around him. The frequently loud and bombastic actor (not a knock) goes to the opposite extreme here, with a quiet and largely observational iconic character. He is unwavering in his procedures, requests and investigation, speaking only when he has to.

Kseniya Rappaport – Sonya – The Double Hour

The only truly palpable reason to see The Double Hour, despite it being engaging enough to merit a look, is for Kseniya Rappoport’s performance. She makes the film almost single-handedly gripping. She is morose, racked with guilt, has hidden agendas and is appropriately vague in her emotions.

Ludivine Sagnier – Isabelle Guerin – Love Crime

There is a lot more complexity to Sagnier’s performance and character than she has been given credit for in the underrated Love Crime. She is headstrong in her work, extremely intelligent but also inexperienced, insecure, desperate and a bit of a weakling. The harsh unpleasantness and humiliation she is put through by Kristen Scott Thomas becomes too much and she hatches a complex plan to get away with the perfect crime. Watching Sagnier play all the facets of her character (the willingly seduced, the tantrums that come with heartbreak, the stool pigeon, the mastermind and the nervous criminal) is a fabulous display of range all within a layered character study that she more than follows through on.

Kristen Wiig – Annie Walker – Bridesmaids  

A comedic feat in the extreme, Wiig had me howling with laughter with her perfect timing and teased out awkwardness. At the same time, she creates a layered character who has to overcome her own selfishness and failings, starting with salvaging her cherished friendship with Maya Rudolph’s Lillian. One of the best comedic performances in years; she will be on my Oscar dream ballot without a doubt.

10-1 (in alphabetical order)

Carlos Areces – Javier – The Last Circus

The most fearless, reckless, no-holds barred performance of the year, there is nothing else in 2011 film quite like seeing Areces go from the bespectacled sad sack man to the maniacal gun-wielding clown along with an unhealthy detour into primal beast mid-film. Javier allows himself to be carried away by the unlikely fulfillment of love and the result is an unhinged courageous performance that holds immense confidence and skill. You will not forget Javier the Clown.

Juliette Binoche – She – Certified Copy

Can anybody hold the screen like the great Binoche? She is asked to display a wild but subtle range, always just out of reach but never out of intrigue. She moodily shifts in and out of various emotions, never overplaying and often extremely pleasant. Like the film, rich treasures are likely to be discovered from her work each time it is watched.

Olivia Colman – Hannah – Tyrannosaur

In a word, Colman is devastating. She bears all as a woman who has turned to faith to cover up her miserable existence that hinges on a torturous marriage. Her fragile connection with Peter Mullan’s Joseph becomes a welcome escape. It is the only performance this year that was painful for me to watch. She is an incomprehensible victim and she will stick with you indefinitely.

Ryan Gosling – The Driver – Drive

As much as Refn creates something evocative from a directorial point of view, I would argue that Gosling’s anchoring of the material provides an almost equally satisfying and necessary contribution. The Driver may belong to an archetype, but like many of his previous incarnations, Gosling (with the help of Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini) makes his version singular. His ability to emote layers through silence is not only impressive but transfixing. Gone is the hard masculinity one expects to find with this type of role. Even when taking into account the brutal acts of violence he commits, in large part he is seen as a child.

Rooney Mara – Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’ve thrown around the word transformative several time here so far and I’m going to use is again, because if ever there was one performance of that nature this year, it is this one. Mara is a revelation as the iconic Lisbeth Salander. She plays up the more sensitive aspects of the character, making her a fierce push and pull between hard and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it soft. It is impossible to take your eyes off her and it feels like Mara lived this part through and through while filming. She is incendiary and a force to be reckoned with.

Elisabeth Olsen – Martha – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Olsen carries this film into another realm. In her cult scenes she plays a woman eager to be a part of something, so much so that she discards common sense and allows herself to take part in some truly unsettling activities. Olsen shows layers of conviction, susceptibility and hesitancy through an additional heavy layer of necessary ambiguity. Post-cult Olsen displays societal disconnect beautifully with her bluntness, immaturity and more importantly her train wreck of a mental state. We are inside of her head and yet she remains distant from the audience. We feel her paranoia but cannot break through. It is a performance that has been rightly hailed across the board; simply put, she nails it.

Michael Shannon – Curtis LaForche – Take Shelter

Michael Shannon gets to be front and center in Take Shelter as a man who knows what is happening to him but cannot stop it. His paranoia initiates a series of poor decisions that damage everyone around him. Shannon makes us understand why he makes these decisions, and while we cannot stop him from doing so, we sure as hell wish we could.

Tilda Swinton – Eva – We Need to Talk About Kevin

The incomparable Tilda Swinton transfers the fear of apathetic motherhood to the screen through Lynne Ramsay’s abstract spell of a film. She has a difficult job. Her character is icy and disconnected from familial tendencies. She is a free-spirit, a travelogue writer who entertains the possibility of a happy family life even though in her gut she repels against it. Her fears materialize, projected onto the demonic Kevin. She tries so hard to care, to love, and to cherish but that forced effort just builds and builds onto Kevin until he is a monster. Swinton has to play indifference, forced enthusiasm, a woman barely holding herself together with rightfully increasing paranoia. She is so desperate to hold off the inevitable realization of her suspicions. Finally, our starting point sees her as a woman who has nothing left and is a zombie-like shell forced to go on. As you can imagine, Swinton kills it.

Charlize Theron – Mavis Gary – Young Adult

I’m not sure there is enough praise for me to heap onto Theron and her work in Young Adult. She plays a layered nasty piece of work, and it’s a role that is individualistic in film as Diablo Cody has given her unexplored character territory rich for innovation. As sterling as her line deliveries are, I am most enthralled with her as she listens to others and reacts to the situations around her. She is unhinged in her arrogance and delusions. Her best years are long past her and her clinging onto Buddy is a really wretched last-ditch effort to hold onto the popular glory of her teenage years. Her snarly stare when she turns against you would have any sane person running for the hills. It may just be the film performance of 2011 in my eyes.

Yun Jung-hee – Mi-ja – Poetry

Mi-ja is serenely open to life and what it has to offer in her golden years. She daintily goes about her business, wondering aloud why it is she cannot write poetry. She innocently asks others how they come up with the words to describe what they see. Her mind is slowly slipping away from her. She is becoming flighty and vague. Yun is restrained and full of complexity in Lee Chang-dong’s latest.

Complete List of Films Seen in 2011: 13 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou

List: The 10 Worst Films of 2011 (that I saw)

I suppose it would be more interesting for me to call out well-received films as my ‘worst’ of the year. Unfortunately my least favorite films of 2011 are, for the most part, releases that were largely or entirely panned. There are a ton of releases that would likely qualify here that I did not get a chance to see (probably for the better). While they won’t make the bottom ten, the films that received some kind of critical/awards attention that I have a fervent dislike for were Biutiful, Cold Weather, Another Earth, My Week with Marilyn and Albert Nobbs. Technically, this is a list of my ten least favorite releases. But let’s face it; nobody is going to search for a ‘least favorite list’ and these are films that I do believe to be bad. My eleven would have been Sucker Punch, a film that in most regards rightfully became a punching bag, but I found it to be just entertaining enough in its awfulness to give it a pass here. But yes, it would have been my eleven. Interestingly enough, half of my choices begin with the letter ‘R’.

10. J. Edgar (Eastwood)

From my review: This is an out-and-out turkey that fails to establish a modicum of interest, with some of the most amateurish filmic devices on display in recent memory. It is a bloated, empty, hollow bullet-point presentation with nothing to offer. It is a total failure to the point where is offends me for existing. Likely too harsh for some, I just could not abide by its inflated self-importance and unashamed bastardization of history. It was at times embarrassing to watch.

9. Red State (Smith)

I still maintain my appreciation that Smith tried to do something outside of his previous oeuvre. But Red State is a misfire on all counts, feeling like a fuzzy manifestation of one of his rants. It comes complete with a ten-minute monologue scene with clear intent to be iconic that instead is dead on arrival. There is no suspense or scares; only broad caricatures and pontificating. It shifts gears in each third, an idea with potential in theory, but the material and execution ensure the landing does not stick. Finally, a last-minute effort in satire falls flat on its face and is unearned. It feels like a first draft that could have gone somewhere had everything about it been reworked from the ground up.

8. In Time (Niccol)

Did you know that our time on this Earth is limited? That time is precious? That time eventually runs out? Well, in case you forgot, In Time is going to spend two hours (that I want back) smacking you in the face with metaphorical mortality. A film that starts out preposterous and only becomes increasingly so; it feels like a CW show playing with sci-fi. That this comes from the mind of Andrew Niccol is a disappointment in the extreme. Justin Timberlake is painfully flat and ineffective as the leading man, Amanda Seyfried is a gorgeous empty shell, while Vincent Kartheiser and Cillian Murphy are schlepped around and asked to take part in this charade in exchange for a likely reasonable check. Poor Olivia Wilde is the only one who manages to make any impact in her early death scene (she plays Timberlake’s mother; seriously). But by the time I cared, she was gone. It was all downhill from there.

7. Red Riding Hood (Hardwicke)

Two Amanda Seyfried films in a row. This should not be taken as a reflection on my feelings towards her; I like her quite a bit but she often appears in really weak projects. The only think I did like about Red Riding Hood (and it wasn’t Seyfried, who exits unscathed but none the better) was the art direction. It received some criticism for its stagy and artificial feel, but that is exactly what I liked about it. That’s all the praise I can muster for this one. Let us take a second to lament that Catherine Hardwicke directed this, making Twilight look imminently watchable by comparison. There is no effort to create suspense, intrigue or scares; even the central romance which should at least be terrible but reasonably sexy fodder for teens registers a big fat nothing. It tries to capitalize on the Twilight craze via revisionist fairy tale with the same director, love triangle, wolves, unnecessary voiceover, modernized score complete with feedback and Billy Burke’s brooding. It is hell bent on being a pretty film but the efforts are futile. Seeing Gary Oldman ham it up through mannerisms, speech patterns and dialects without material to back him up becomes empty gravitas. It has nothing going for it even as a fairy tale romance haphazardly trying to hitch a ride on a young adult trend.

6. Your Highness (Green)

Your Highness is surreal when looking at David Gordon Green’s career ten years ago, the money that was poured into realizing this script, and the cast that signed on to help bring this film to its monotonous and embarrassing life. The people involved make this product even more disheartening than anything else. Danny McBride and Ben Best must have been two determined ten-year olds when they wrote this because I cannot believe that any grown men sat down and worked this thing out onto a document. Vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake repeated ad nauseum, Your Highness had me shaking my head in shame for most of its runtime. You will wonder where the world is headed when a director as gifted as Green thinks that spending his time making this puerile garbage is somehow worth it.

5. Beastly (Barnz)

Here we have another film trying to haphazardly hitch itself onto the revisionist fairy tale craze; ladies and gentlemen, Beastly! I so deeply wish this had just stayed on the young adult shelf in bookstores. I have no idea who made all the decisions involved here, but the makeup department in particular should be ashamed. Alex Pettyfer (also in In Time) is cartoonish in his characterization and his makeup is impossible to take seriously (monster = tattoos and piercings apparently????). The second film here  that makes Twilight look excellent by comparison, it deeply struggles to adapt the tale to the modern day. The editing and music choices are shoddily slapped together and the performances are akin to bad daytime soap acting (outside of Mary-Kate Olsen who I legitimately enjoyed seeing inject her role with relish as if she were in The Craft). The script is bottom of the barrel bad. Every character is written like a smack in the face. Example; in the beginning, Pettyfer is an arrogant asshole who thinks he is better than anyone else because of his looks and popularity. Instead of showing us how he thinks, he literally says at one point that he is better than everyone because of his looks and popularity. This is about as subtle as Beastly gets.

4. Rubber (Dupieux)

This one I expect to get some slack for as it has built up a following. Is it worse than Your Highness, Beastly and others on this list? No, I guess not. Did it manage to provide me with the most insufferable film viewing experience of 2011? Yes, it certainly did. This thing is begging to be loved and worshiped (amongst the 20-30 age groups in particular). Had it been five minutes, Rubber would have been unforgettable. That initial segment that establishes the tire as an animate object is tops. Also, unsurprisingly given the director, it has a great soundtrack. Outside the two aforementioned elements, it is the most self-satisfied nonsense to come around in quite some time, with Dupieux dead set on calling out his own audience for even taking the time to watch his creation. For the record; meta does not automatically equal good. Rubber is more deconstructive than anything else, with each element cancelling out the next until nothing is left. It is supposed to be asking questions about the nature of the viewer and how we, as an audience both individually and collectively, engage in films. All of it is painfully, and I mean painfully full of itself as well as obnoxiously obvious. Rubber needs to get over itself.

3. The Roommate (Christiansen)

I feel kind of bad for Leighton Meester when it comes to The Roommate. Because she really commits to her role and I assert that she doesn’t do a terrible job. What makes her look ridiculous is that it is impossible to break through this barebones derivative of Single White Female. It is actively offensive for feeling like it was written by someone with a middle-school attendee’s understanding of cliques. The cool people are normal here and Meester likes art and draws and takes medication and is broody and clingy and off-putting and this must mean she’s a psychopath!!! It takes the kind of judgmental assertions that a presumptuous adolescent would make and turns it into a slasher-lite version of reality. The film is never interested in taking anything further than a surface level of plot point beats and caricatures. The film is so overpopulated with morons that you want Meester to off everybody. The Roommate may provide a fun bad-movie night with friends but it’s mostly so lifeless that it hurts.

2. The Rite (Hafstrom)

If there was one film that was a drudge to get through in 2011 it was The Rite. I cannot even remember anything about this film to write about. Here is all I recall; it felt like it took the entire day to watch, that it would never end, that the lead actor bland personified and that it contains zero scares. There were other films that are gloriously bad, fascinatingly bad or at least bad enough to keep ones thoughts about how bad it is going for the length of the film. But The Rite has nothing going for it. It is so boring that it overtakes these other films because nothing is worse than being this dreadfully boring.

1. Passion Play (Glazer)

Conversations begin with lines like “Have you ever seen the ocean?” Passion Play is as bad as you have heard. It is a dud to end all duds that luckily contains enough unintentional laugh-out-loud moments to hurdle itself into turkey infamy. It’s bogged down in painful noir clichés, rote sentimentality and blatant awkwardness on all fronts (except Christopher Doyle’s cinematography), including staging, acting, directing and editing. It feels like we are watching an underworked rehearsal of already hopeless material. Mitch Glazer takes his project so seriously it hurts. He is unable to execute simple scenes. Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke are sleepwalking. Megan Fox is not terrible here, but she certainly isn’t good and it is sad that she is the only one onscreen who actually seems determined to give a performance. There are parts of Passion Play that need to be seen to be believed. Hint; flying is involved.

Complete List of Films Seen in 2011: 13 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou

List: Top 10 Song Usages in 2011 Film

The criteria is that as long as the song was not composed and/or written specifically for the film, it was eligible.

Honorable Mention: “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” – Tiny Tim – Insidious

Tiny Tim is inherently creepy, but this isn’t a knock; it’s part of what makes him strangely compelling. He is a total oddity. Insidious teases out just how bizarre his rendition of ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ is by using it as a source of diegetic atmosphere not once but twice. The warbling of the song seamlessly illustrates the strange happenings going on in the house. By the time it is used twice, the film had already jumped the shark for me, but I love the idea of the song existing as a recurring staple of ‘The Further’. Inspired song choices like this are rewarding in so many ways.

Honorable Mention: “The Concept” – Teenage Fanclub – Young Adult (I could not find a picture of from the opening credits, so I used a picture from the scene featuring Nipple Confusion’s cover)

As we listen to ‘The Concept’ at the start of Young Adult, Mavis’ song of choice feels fitting; a trip back to 90’s nostalgia with a tune that clearly meant something to her and former flame Buddy when they were together way back when. Then the tape rewinds and the song starts again. And again. And again. Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody use the opening credits to start immediately peeling back the superficial layers of Mavis Gary. When we hear that obsessive repetition of Teenage Fanclub, we realize something is a little off with our protagonist. The song is used so the audience can start to sense those cracks right away; a hint of what is to come.

10. The Rainbow Connection – The Muppets – The Muppets

This year, my list is bookended with pieces of music that can guarantees my tears when I hear them. Going into The Muppets, I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of “The Rainbow Connection” being used. I just assumed it would use the original songs written for the film. When the song started, I immediately realized I was not emotionally prepared for the genius work of Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher; sure enough, within seconds my eyes were welling up. It is and always will be a perfect composition. The Muppets uses it, at first as a duet between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, and eventually as a rousingly sweet self-tribute with all of the gang.

9. “You and Whose Army?” – Radiohead – Incendies

The first scene that Denis Vellineuve wrote for Incendies was the opening,, with Radiohead’s lingering pull of a song in hopeful tow since day one.  It feels not unlike a memorable music video in that it fuses music and imagery in a way that burns itself into the brain. It works because as our introduction to the film, it is allows the singularity of the music video feel because there is no other story or context as of yet. Having the next two hours gives additional meaning to the image, as opposed to having something this individually powerful somewhere in the middle where it would only then distract. It is a hell of a way to start out your film, and thankfully Villenuve’s long-standing wish for Incendies’ initial moments were realized.

8. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” – Dean Martin – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol may have been the most unadulterated fun I had at the movies all year.  You know you’re in for a treat when the film starts out with an elaborately staged prison breakout with Dean Martin’s classic actually functioning as diegetic music in the scene! Yes my friends, the song acts as a timer so Ethan Hunt and his breakout crew know where they have to be by the time the song ends. Furthermore, by the time the song starts, all hell has already broken loose with Cruise rushing to bring a fellow inmate with him. We marvel while he makes his way through the chaotic brawl that has imploded within the prison walls as he dodges, punches, drags and runs his way through the halls. It is about as exciting as an action film gets and once it is over you think ‘Surely, this film has already peaked’. And then it has the confidence to rise up to the occasion to create set-piece after set-piece that exhilarates, all of them without the additional help of that legendary crooner Dean Martin.

7. “Nightcall” – Kavinsky – Drive

There were other song uses I could have chosen for Drive, but in all honesty I found myself much more attached to Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” than anything else (College’s ‘A Real Hero’ admittedly kind of grates on me) Being the opening title sequence whore that I am, this combination of the song’s sexy sleaze with hot pink lettering creates one of the most memorable opening credits in my recent cinematic memory.

6. “New York, New York” – Carey Mulligan – Shame

What hasn’t been said about this scene? Carey Mulligan wears her damaged heart on her sleeve here as Sissy in a haunting rendition that single-handedly makes the case for Shame’s ambiguity. What could be more intriguingly revealing than the way Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan use Sinatra’s song, the way Mulligan performs it, and the strategic cuts to Michael Fassbender’s tenderly subtle emotional response that he is so desperate to keep at bay? These are the kinds of scenes that radiate imaginative complexity, that get us thinking, interpreting and wondering.

5. “Prelude: Tristan und Isolde” – Richard Wagner – Melancholia

Melancholia opens with a greatest hits montage of what is to come. It shows us moments we will see, moments that are referred to but will not see, and moments that do not happen but are relevant character representations. They are slow moving paintings and are set to Wagner’s Prelude to :Tristan and Isolde”. From my review of the film; “It gives everything an appropriately pastoral quality and a peripheral imprint of something coming that cannot be pushed back. It is not overly present, but it is a quality in the music that is just enough for the pastoral purity to be ruffled.”

4. “About Today” – The National – Warrior

I’ll be talking a bit about Warrior in the week ahead, as it will pop up on my other year-end lists. Suffice it to say, if one film took me by surprise this year it was this. By the time Warrior reaches its showdown, we have seen each brother fight their way to the finals, interfamily drama has been milked for all its worth and the film has built itself up to epic proportions leading up to this moment. The catharsis that comes as a result is an emotional overflow, both for the characters and me as a viewer. I am still shocked that Warrior got me as passionately riled up as it did, and The National’s “About Today” anchors all of this, functioning as the perfect culmination of the hard worked payoff that Warrior unequivocally earns.

3. “Master of None” – Beach House – The Future

The Future is often frustrating but hit on something every once and a while that struck me in a way approaching profundity. Miranda July’s interpretative dance inside of her character’s childhood shirt was a moment that has stuck with me all year. It is clear this was a long-existing piece of performance art by July. It resonated because it entranced me, bringing me to a rare hypnotized place in my own mind. This is on no small part because of the song, my favorite by Beach House, has the power to lull me into a trance-like state, (driving with the song on is not an option for me). In a film about people emotionally stunted people unable to make the transformation from childhood into responsible adulthood, this scene demonstrates this literally. The way July performs the organic choreography makes it feel like we are looking in on an intimately personal moment, yet it still appears and feels appropriately like a performance.

2. “Marcy’s Song” – John Hawkes – Martha Marcy May Marlene

“Marcy’s Song” is used to show a disturbing dichotomy. First, we hear just how John Hawkes’ Patrick sees Martha (“just a picture hanging on my wall”). Second, it shows how Martha does not grasp this, taking his serenade as a devoted love letter, effectively sealing her commitment to him. The song itself, by Jackson C. Frank, is a stunner; exactly the kind of raw folk I tend to fall hard for. Hawkes supports the deceptive calm of the music with his ruggedly comforting but slightly unsettling vocals. It is the highlight of the film; a scene I want and plan to revisit time and time again.

1. “The Moldau” – Bedrich Smetana – The Tree of Life

I have a long history with “The Moldau”. It is my favorite piece of instrumental music. I first heard it back in 5th grade Music Class. I asked my Music Teacher for a copy of it so I could listen to it on my own time. She gave it to me on a cassette tape. For months I would lie up in my bunk bed while I was supposed to be sleeping, and would play the first three minutes on my tape player over and over right next to my ear as it lulled me to sleep.Years and years pass.

Then last year, Don Hertzfeldt used it in his 2006 masterpiece animated short Everything Will Be OK. My reaction was immediate, like greeting a long lost family member. When The Tree of Life trailer was released, and this song was played, it was like a dream come true. I hoped and hoped leading up to the film’s release that it would be played in the actual film. To my delight it was, and this piece of music about the Czech river is divinely used to depict emerging childhood, the innocence of it when wonders and fanciful merriment are all that matters; when everything is a discovery. It is an overwhelming few minutes of film, with so many memories and exuberance bursting from the screen. I honestly feel like this song has somehow become a part of me over the years, or at the very least has become so important to me that it feels that way. The way Malick has used “The Moldau” goes beyond my wildest expectations with the images further bringing the music to life and vice versa.

Lists: The Top Fives of 2011 Film

Everyone has pretty much already posted their Top Ten’s for the year. I like to go list crazy in summing up the year in film and go beyond the standard 10 ‘best’. I go over this again and again, but it’s all about subjectivity for me and what I considered my favorites. And in going through the year in film, there are a lot of different facets I like to recognize. Everyone comes away with a new batch of films to hold near and dear to their hearts, myself certainly included. This particular post will recognize things like types of performances, characters, beginnings, endings, character dynamics and more. For my attempts at judging technical aspects of film, my eventual Dream Oscar Ballot will cover that particular ground. The two films I will be seeing before posting my final Top 30 of the year (yes, I do Top 30, not 10; I am in no way, shape or form a Top Ten purist) are A Separation and Love Exposure. By the time I see Mysteries of Lisbon, Margaret, Into the Abyss, The Interrupters and others, my lists will be posted.

Like last year, the upcoming posts that will get more time dedicated to them (and will be posted within the next week and a half) are:
Top 10 Worst Films of the Year (which will really be Least Favorite, but nobody will search for a ‘Least Favorite’ list, so I will conveniently name it ‘Worst’.
Top 10 Song Usages
Top 20 Scenes in 2011 Film
Top 20 Performances in 2011 Film
Top 30 Films of 2011

This first post is supposed to be pure harmless superficial fun. I have seen 133 films from 2011. I will list them at the bottom so readers will know what was considered. Beware of spoilers in the Top 5 Romances regarding Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for those who have not seen it. These preliminary posts will give some hints as to my favorite films of the year, a group that may not be particularly original, but that I am nonetheless proud of and happy with. The year in film has already been picked apart with collective themes of identity, nostalgia and more running deep. There are many who think this was a weak year for film. From an awards standpoint I would agree. But from an overall standpoint, I wholeheartedly disagree.

On to the 1st Annual Cinema Enthusiast Awards! Being a huge fan of The Film Experience’s Film Bitch Awards, I borrowed a few categories from there.

Top 5 Beginnings:
1. Melancholia
2. Incendies
3. Kung Fu Panda 2
4. Contagion
5. Drive (The Driver’s opening speech)

Top 5 Use of Title Card/Opening Credits
1. Drive (Title Card/Opening Credits)
2. Hanna (Title Card only)
3. Insidious (Title Card Only)
4. Outrage (Title Card Only)
5. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Title Card/Opening Credits)
Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Tintin (Title Card/Opening Credits)

Top 5 Endings:
1. Hanna
2. Melancholia
3. Warrior
3. The Housemaid
4. Take Shelter
Honorable Mention: The Skin I Live In, Moneyball, The Trip, Of Gods and Men

Top 5 Ensembles:
1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
2. Midnight in Paris
3. Melancholia
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
5. Hugo
Honorable Mention: Margin Call

Top 5 Underrated Films in 2011:
1. The Sleeping Beauty (that other Sleeping Beauty film not directed by Julia Leigh, but by Catherine Breillat)
2. Bobby Fischer Against the World
3. Black Death
4. Terri
5. The Green Hornet
Note: Underrated could mean anything. But seeing what films get attention in the blogosphere, with critics, from a box office standpoint and from a year-end list perspective, these are the films I felt did not get enough attention from at least two of the aforementioned considerations.

Films That Started Strong But….
1. Source Code
2. Insidious
3. The Double Hour
4. Cold Fish
5. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Where the other films are on this for their final thirds, my last choice appears only for that final speech. It did not entirely dampen the experience and is still ranks among the better films I saw this year)

Top 5 Newcomers:

1. Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2. Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help, The Debt (the ones I’ve seen her in)
3. Elisabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene
4. John Boyega – Attack the Block
5. Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Honorable Mentions: Oscar Issac (Drive, Sucker Punch), Asa Butterfield (Hugo)
Note: I realize this is not the first year some of these actors have been in significant parts. But I’d call all of these actors newcomers this year relatively speaking.

Top 5 Underrated Performances
1. Ludivine Sagnier – Love Crime
2. Eva Green – Cracks
3. Melanie Lynskey – Win Win
4. John C. Reilly – Terri
5. Brie Larson – Rampart

Top 5 Film 2011 Limited Performances (characters with only a few scenes/a limited role)

1. Oscar Issac as Standard – Drive
2. Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway – Midnight in Paris
3. Michael Stuhlbarg as Rene Tabard – Hugo
4. Collette Wolfe as Sandra – Young Adult
5. Kathy Baker as Sarah – Take Shelter

Top 5 Worst Performances:
1. Lauren Petre as Miss Hindle – The Woman
2. Sean Bridgers as Chris Cleek – The Woman
3. January Jones as Emma Frost– X-Men: First Class
4. Mickey Rourke as Nate Poole– Passion Play
5. Vanessa Hudgens as Linda – Beastly

Top 5 2011 Film Scores:
1. Hanna – The Chemical Brothers
2. Senna – Antonio Pinto
3. The Skin I Live In – Alberto Iglesias
3. Jane Eyre – Dario Marianelli
5. Take Shelter – David Wingo
Honorable Mentions – Contagion, Moneyball, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Attack the Block

Top 5 Film 2011 Characters:

1. Charlize Theron – Mavis Gary – Young Adult
2. Kristen Wiig – Annie Walker – Bridesmaids
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman – Paul Zara – The Ides of March
4. Eva Green – Miss G – Cracks
5. Ryan Gosling – The Driver – Drive
Honorable Mention – Michael Shannon in Take Shelter and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

Top 5 Character Dynamics:
(this could be any kind of dynamic between 2 or more characters whether adversarial, based in friendship, etc.)
1. Juliette Binoche and William Shimell – Certified Copy
2. Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender – Shame
3. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur
4. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon – The Trip
5. Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt – Young Adult
Honorable Mentions: Choi Min-sik and Lee Byung-hun – I Saw the Devil, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph – Bridesmaids, William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen and Markus Rygaard – In a Better World

Top 5 2011 Film Villains:
1. Tom Hollander as Issacs – Hanna
2. Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose – Drive
3. Choi Min-sik as Kyung-chul – I Saw the Devil
4. Gary Oldman as Lord Shen – Kung Fu Panda 2
5. Ezra Miller as Kevin – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Honorable Mention – Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Top 5 Film 2011
1. Kristen Wiig and Chris Dowd – Bridesmaids
2. Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender – Jane Eyre
3. Tom Cullen and Chris New –Weekend
4. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent – Beginners (less for the material the two are given and more for the chemistry between McGregor and Laurent which, for my money, was the strongest of perhaps the last few years)
5. Mark Strong and Colin Firth – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Honorable Mention: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – Crazy, Stupid, Love

List of 2011 Films Seen: 13 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou