Arleigh’s 13 Favorite Films of 2011


2011 was a year that wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. From January right up to December there were not many films which I would consider event films. This is surprising considering all the superhero blockbusters which arrived during the summer and the final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Even the prestige films which came out during the holidays never truly captured everyone’s imagination (though one film was very close to achieving it due to one Michael Fassbender).

What 2011 did have was a solid slate of titles which ranged from the pulpy to the cerebral. We even got films which were able to combine the two to come up with something very special. Not every film resonated with everyone and some even split audiences down the extreme middle with half hating it and the other half loving it.

The list below catalogs the films which I consider my favorites of 2011. Some titles on this list I consider some of the best of 2011 while some didn’t make that particular list but were entertaining enough for me to make this favorite list. Once again, the list is not ranked from top to bottom, but only numbered to keep things organized….

  1. Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen) – This character-driven film starring Michael Fassbender and Cary Mulligan was one of those film which got close to becoming the one film everyone ended up talking about as the year wound down. It’s an exercise in minimalist filmmaking as Steve McQueen doesn’t allow too much dialogue to get in the way of telling the visual story of sex-addict Brandon and his downward spiral from addiction to self-hate. Much have been said of how much Fassbender’s penis in full display was a reason why people flocked to see this little existential film, but I rather thought that was probably just a bonus for some and instead it was Fassbender’s uncompromising performance in the role of Brandon which made Shame one of my favorites for 2011.
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt) – this film was one which didn’t garner too much high-anticipation from genre fans leading up to it’s release. People had been burned by Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise and saw this second attempt to reboot the series as a failure in the making. So, it was to o everyone’s surprise that Rupert Wyatt’s film managed to not just bring new life to a stagnating franchise but do so in such a way that it became one of the best films of 2011. Sure, there was some flaws in how the human character were written, but in the end it was the performance-capture work by Andy Serkis and the digital wizardry of WETA Digital which made Rise of the Planet of the Apes not just a wonderful and fun film this past summer, but also one which laid the groundwork for more stories in what is a franchise reborn with fresh blood and life.
  3. I Saw the Devil (dir. by Kim Ji-woon) – this little revenge thriller from South Korea was one which I happened to catch just before it left the theaters this part spring. It had played in one of the few arthouse theaters in the Bay Area that hadn’t closed down. I was glad to have seen this film on the big screen instead of on Netflix Instant the way most have seen it. It’s a brutal cat-and-mouse story of a South Korean secret agent who stalks and hunts the serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his fiancee. The film is not for the timid and weak of stomach as we see through the eyes of not just Agent Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) but that of serial killer Kyung-chul the dark corners of South Korea where hunter has become prey and vice versa.  South Korea has always been good for one great film that I feel personally attached to and for 2011 it was this film.
  4. Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (dir. by Werner Herzog) – I don’t think I could ever make a year’s favorite list of any year that had a Herzog release and not have it as a favorite of mine for the year. It happens that Herzog had two films come out in 2011 and both of them excellent documentaries. It would be his earlier documentary for 2011 that became a favorite of mine. It also happened to be his first (and according to him the only time) foray into 3D-filmmaking. Herzog makes great use of 3D filmmaking’s added epth of field to make the cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave come to life. If this was going to be Herzog’s only film shot in 3D then he made one for the ages and it’s a travesty that those who vote for documentaries to be nominated for the Academy Awards failed to even list this film.
  5. Attack the Block (dir. by Joe Cornish) – this scifi-action film from the UK became the darling for genre fans everywhere. It had everything which bigger-budgeted films of the same stripe failed to accomplish. It was fun, thrilling and, most important of all, had characters which the audience would get to know and care for. John Boyega as the gang leader and, ultimately, the reluctant savior of the block which has become under siege by an alien force is just one of the highlights of the film which boasts one of the best screenplays of 2011. Joe Cornish joins the likes of Neill Blomkamp as a filmmaker whose first feature-length film hits on all cylinders.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston) – this film was to be the last leg of the Marvel Films before 2012’s highly-anticipated The Avengers film. It introduced the film’s title character and his origins for those not familiar with the name Captain America. This film could easily have been a throwaway one. A film to set-up this year’s The Avengers. Instead what we got was one of the most fun blockbusters in the summer of 2011. Joe Johnston goes back to his Rocketeer days and creates an action film that’s full of genuine nostalgia but not burdened by it. Any doubts fans might have had of Chris Evans in the role as Captain America had them wiped clean with his pitch-perfect performance as the title character. The film also had one of the most romantic relationships on-screen in quite awhile with Evan’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
  7. Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn) – In my opinion, Refn’s existential take on the pulp genre with Drive is also one of the best films of 2011, if not the best of them all. Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the role of  the Driver, has created a film that mashes up so many different genres and does it so well that it’s hard to be sympathetic to those who felt they were misled by the fim’s trailer that it would be a nonstop action film similar to Fast Five. The film is not an action film, but a film which just happens to have some action in it. Action that comes sudden and brutal and none of the whiz-bangs other action films rely heavily on. It’s another film where Refn explores duality of the male persona. It helps Refn’s film that Gosling is so great as the Driver that the film never slows down too much before things revs up once more. The rest of the ensemble cast also does stand-out work with Albert Brooks as an aging, cynical Hollywood gangster leading the pack.
  8. Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin) – Speaking of Fast Five…this was a film that surprised me in so many ways. It’s the fifth installment in a series that seemed to have evolved from being an action series whose main goal was to highlight the street-racing community and the ridiculous lengths people in it would go to in order to trick out their cars. This latest installment in the franchise has put the street-racing aspect of the series on the back burner and instead has remade the franchise into an action-heist series that just happens to have fast cars in it. This film was loud, fast and fun and despite some major leaps in logic in the storyline it never stopped being entertaining. It also brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an action film role that he had stopped doing these past five or so years.
  9. Hanna (dir. by Tom Hooper) – If someone had come to me and said that little Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) would turn out to be kickass action-hero directed by a British filmmaker not known for action films then I would dismiss such a thing as crazy talk. But crazy talk it wasn’t and all that came to pass with Tom Hopper’s excellent modern fairy tale in Hanna. Ronan as the title character was asuch a find in a role that didn’t just need for her to act like the little lost babe in the woods, but to also turn on a dime and kick ass with the best of action heroes past. It helped that everyone else around her were up to the task of supporting her performance whether it was Eric Bana in the role father (huntsman in fable lore) to Cate Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA chief (evil queen) whose connection to Hanna drives the film’s narrative from beginning to end.
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) – in a year where Pixar had one of it’s rare misses (Cars 2 really was awful and such a blatant cash grab for the studio) it was there for the taking for top animated film of the year for everyone else to fight over. There was Rango and there was The Adventures of TinTin, but my favorite animated film of 2011 has to be Kung Fu Panda 2. It continues to adventures of the Dragon Warrior and panda kung master Po and his compatriots, the Furious Five. With the first film having done with him becoming the Dragon Warrior, this sequel was free to explore more aspects of Po’s life and personality such as his true origins and the tragic circumstances which led him to be adopted by his noddle-making goose of a father. The film is much darker than the previous one with it’s storyline exploring such themes as genocide and the destructive march of technology over nature’s harmony. It also had one of the best villains to come out in 2011 with Gary Oldman as the evil peacock, Lord Shen. Plus, it had scenes of Po as a baby Panda…A BABY PANDA.
  11. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. by Tomas Alfredson) – a feature-length film remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (adapted from a John LeCarre novel), this spy thriller/procedural was Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his coming-of-age vampire film, Let the Right One In. Once again he has taken a well-worn genre and infused it with his own unique style of storytelling which valued characters and how they all interacted with each other over action and thrilling sequences. With a cast that’s a who’s who of British cinema the film was able to condense many hours of the miniseries into just a couple and still not lose the complex and layered plot involving political intrigue and betrayal. This film also had one of the best performances by any male actor for 2011 with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. With Fassbender being passed over and not nominated for Best Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards I would be very perturbed if anyone else other than Oldman took home the statue.
  12. Kill List (dir. by Ben Wheatley) – I’m not well-versed on the work by Ben Wheatley so I saw this film on the recommendation of many whose opinions I trust when it comes to genre films. To say that I was thoroughly surprised by just how well this filmed turned out would be an understatement. Kill List is one of those films which turns so many horror and thriller conventions right on its head, but do so to serve the film’s narrative instead of a filmmaker trying to show his/her audience just how clever they can be. The film moves at a gradual pace that leads to a surprising ending that has split audiences down the middle. Some have loved the ending and other have hated it. I, for one, thought the ending was the only way the film could end. This was a film that was able to balance the different aspects of what makes a thriller and what makes a horror film. The moment when the film transitions from the former to the latter was so seamless that it takes several viewings to find just where it occurred. The best horror film of 2011, bar none.
  13. 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi) – many will be saying that I’m cheating with this final entry since the film was released in 2010. I would agree with them, but then again this film wasn’t released in the US until early 2011 so in my own honest opinion it qualifies as a 2011 film. This latest from Japan’s eclectic and prolific filmmaker, Miike Takashi, is his own take on the Japanese jidaigeki and a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. If there was ever a best action film of 2011 then this film would be it. Miike would pull back from his more over-the-top visuals (though he still manages to insert some very disturbing imagery early on in the film) for a much more linear and traditional action filmmaking. It’s a men-on-a-mission film that pits the 13 assassins of the title against 200 or more bodyguards of a sadistic lord who must be killed for the sake of the country. The first 45 minutes or so of the film shows the film gathering the assassins and planning their ambush. It’s that final hour or so of the film with it’s nonstop action which qualified this film not just one of my favorite for 2011, but that year’s best action film. No other film could even get to it’s level.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior, Super 8, Batman: Year One, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Sucker Punch, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of TinTin, The Skin I Live In, Bunraku, The Guard, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Hugo, Tyrannosaur, Thor, The Interrupters, X-Men: First Class, Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Project Nim

If Lisa Marie Determined The Oscar Nominees….


The Oscar nominations are due to be announced on Tuesday morning so I figured now would be a good time to play a little game that I like to call: “What if Lisa had all the power?”  Below, you will find my personal Oscar nominations.  These are the films and the performers that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for selecting the nominees and the winners. 

For those who are interested, you can check out my picks for last year by clicking on this sentence.

Please understand, as you look over this lengthy list of deserving films and performers, that these are not necessarily the films I expect to see nominated on Tuesday morning.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of a year in which I have disagreed more with the critical establishment than I have this year.  For whatever reason, the films that truly touched and moved me in 2011 appear to be the films that are totally and completely off the Academy’s radar.  These are not my predictions.  Instead, they are my personal choices and they should not be interpreted as representing the opinion on anyone else affiliated with this site.  So, if you’re angry that David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo didn’t receive a single imaginary nomination, direct your anger at me and me alone. 

Best Picture

The Artist

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Higher Ground

Hugo

Shame

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Young Adult

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender for Shame

Brendan Gleeson for The Guard

Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Michael Shannon for Take Shelter

Rainn Wilson for Super

Best Actress

Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia

Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground

Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Saoirse Ronan for Hanna

Charlize Theron for Young Adult

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks for Drive

Bobby Cannivale for Win Win

Jonah Hill for Moneyball

Patton Oswalt for Young Adult

Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Actress

Anna Kendrick for 50/50

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids

Carey Mulligan for Shame

Ellen Page for Super

Amy Ryan for Win Win

Best Director

Vera Farminga for Higher Ground

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Steve McQueen for Shame

Martin Scorsese for Hugo

Joe Wright for Hanna

Best Original Sreenplay

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Shame

Young Adult

Best Adapted Screenplay

Higher Ground

Hugo

Incendies

One Day

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Animated Feature

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Rio

Winnie the Pooh

Best Foreign Language Film

(Please note that I do this category a bit differently than the Academy.  Whereas the Academy asks nations across the world to submit a nominee, I’m simply nominating the best foreign language films that I saw in a theater last year.  Those who follow the Oscars will note that I’ve both nominated and awarded the brilliant Canadian films Incendies, which actually was nominated for a real Oscar in this same category last year.)

The Double Hour

Incendies

Of Gods and Men

The Skin I Live In

13 Assassins

Best Documentary Feature

Bill Cunningham New York

Buck

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Jig

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Best Original Score

The Artist

A Better Life

The Guard

Hanna

The Tree Of Life

Best Original Song

“The Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger

“Mujhe Chod Ke” from DAM999

“The Keeper” from Machine Gun Preacher

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

“Pop” from White Irish Drinkers

Best Sound Editing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Sound Mixing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Art Direction

Bunraku

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Cinematography

The Artist

Hugo

Melancholia

Shame

The Tree of Life

Best Makeup

Beastly

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Insidious

Sucker Punch

X-Men: First Class

Best Costume Design

Bunraku

The Help

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Editing

The Artist

The Guard

Hanna

Hugo

Shame

Best Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

List of Films By Number of Nominations:

10 Nominations – Hugo

7 Nominations – Shame, Sucker Punch

6 Nominations – Hanna

5 Nominations – The Artist; The Guard; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy; The Tree of Life

4 Nominations – Higher Ground, Young Adult

3 Nominations – Bridesmaids, Drive

2 Nominations – Bunraku, Incendies, Melancholia, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Win Win

1 Nomination – Beastly, A Better Life, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, DAM999, The Double Hour, 50/50, The Help, Insidious, Jig, Kung Fu Panda 2, Machine Gun Preacher, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Moneyball, The Muppets, Of Gods and Men, One Day, Puss in Boots, Rango, Ressurect Dead, Rio, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, 13 Assassins, X-Men: First Class, White Irish Drinkers, Winnie the Pooh

List of Films By Number of Oscars Won:

3 Oscars – Hanna

2 Oscars – Bunraku, Shame, Sucker Punch

1 Oscar – Beastly, Bridesmaids, The Cave of Forgotten Deams, Dam999, Higher Ground, Hugo Incendies, Melancholia, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Young Adult

So, will the Academy agree with my picks?  Well, probably not.  Indeed, it’s probable that they won’t agree at all.  And to that, I say, “Oh well.” 

The Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday morning.

Review: 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi)


“…being a samurai is a burden.” – Shimada Shinzaemon

Miike Takashi (Takashi Miike to those in the West) has always been one of my favorite filmmakers and I consider him one of the most unique directors working. To say that he has an extensive body of work would be an understatement. This is a man who is quite at home at releasing 2-3 films a year. He has dabbled in all sorts of genres from drama, thrillers, horror, scifi, musicals and even children’s stories. Those who discovered him in the West mostly remember him for his more extreme films such as Audition, Ichi the Killer and his Dead or Alive epic. He’s taken extreme film-making to some unpredictable plac. While some of his films never work one could never say that they were ever boring or uninteresting.

In 2010, Miike released what I can only say is one of his best films to date with his remake of Tengan Daisuke’s 1963 film of the same name. 13 Assassins is Miike’s take on the classic jidaigeki (Japanese Edo period pieces…think of it as similar in idea to Merchant-Ivory period pieces) which incudes such great films as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Yojimbo to name a few. This film also shares some similarities to the “men on a mission” war films which were quite popular during the early 60’s which included one of my other top action films in The Dirty Dozen.

The film is loosely based on some historical characters from the Tokugawa Shogunate era mainly that of Lord Naritsugu of the Akashi clan. In this film he’s portrayed as a sadistic young noble whose familial ties to the ruling Shogun allows him to kill and rape both commoners and nobles alike with impunity. When a high government official fears for the government and the country should Naritsugo ever ascends to a higher position in the Shogunate he takes it upon himself to hire a trusted friend and veteran samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho), to plan and pull off the assassination of Lord Naritsugo.

From this moment on the film takes it’s time in introducing the men who would form the film’s title. It doesn’t linger or take too long with each man, but we learn enough of these 13 assassins to form some sort of attachment to each and everyone that the loss of each man, once the battle begins between Shinzaemon’s assassins and Naritsugu’s 200 bodyguards, has emotional impact and meaning. Even knowing that this mission ultimately becomes a suicide task still doesn’t stop the surprise when one of these men falls to the blades of their enemies.

The assassins themselves were quite a diverse group of characters that could’ve been lifted off your typical “men on a mission” film. We have the goofballs with the talent for explosives, younger samurai eager to prove themselves in battle and to their masters, veteran samurai looking to do one more last job before they retire from the life right up to the last-minute addition of a fool whose unique skill sets becomes integral to the missions success.

13 Assassins begins the final 45 minutes of its running time with a non-stop battle which rivals anything we’ve seen put out by Hollywood in the past ten years. Unlike the sturm und drang actionfests from Michael Bay and those who seem to emulate his style of action film-making, Miike takes a much more restrained approach to the proceedings. This is not to say that the action in this film was boring. He allows the audience to know exactly what’s going on with long takes and minimal amount of edits. I don’t think he ever used too many quick cuts to help simulate chaos during the fight. Instead he lets the practical stunt choreography and the inventive set design of the village turned killing field to dictate the flow of the action. It’s quite interesting to note how a filmmaker such as Miike whose reputation in the West has been built on his style of extreme visuals and imagery on film would be quite adept at such a thing as traditional filmmaking that eschews heavy-usage of CGI, quick-cut editing and unnecessary montages to help propel not just the action but the film’s narrative.

Again, unlike the Bay-fest the West has been flooded with the last decade or so this film also has as one of it’s strength’s the story all the action revolves around. The story itself is quite simple when one really boils it down to it’s most basic premise. Evil lord sows chaos around the countryside and a group of honor-bound fighting men band together for one reason or another to stop this evil. It’s a story as old as Beowulf and as recent as 2010’s trio of such films with The Losers, The A-Team and the Expendables. What this film does with it’s characters which helps it stand out from that trio is how well Miike was able to balance not just the action with the story but how to make each character in the film seem unique despite being so stereotypical of such films at first glance.

The acting by the ensemble cast (a who’s-who of performers in Japanese, but mostly unknown to Western audiences) adds just the right mix of melancholy and dark humor not to mention some rock star-like work from it’s lead antagonist. Gorô Inagaki (himself not just a talented actor but one of Japan’s more popular pop star singers) as Lord Naritsugu brings energy as the evil lord to every scene he’s in not because of being so over-the-top but the opposite. He plays this villain as a noble bored with the peaceful days enjoyed by everyone and could only enjoy what life has to offer when he brings chaos to the proceedings. The fact that this involves him raping the women of a fellow noble and cutting off the limbs of a nameless young girl just shows how much out of touch he is with reality and at the same time romanticizes the age of war hundreds of years in the past. The rest of the cast does an admirable job in their own roles. To say that it was difficult to see one of them die on-screen would be an understatement.

13 Assassins was released in 2010, but really got it’s major showing in the United States in early 2011. Despite all of that and with the eclectic group of films I was fortunate enough to have seen in 2011 that made my “best of” list it would be this film that ranks as one of the best of 2011 and also one of my favorite films of recent times. Miike Takashi has shown himself to be now just a filmmaker provocateur whose reputation for shocking audiences have bee well-earned, but also cemented the true fact that he is a filmmaker (both in and out of Hollywood) who has the skills and know-how to escape being labeled as only a filmmaker of a particular genre. His restraint and decision to remake a classic film in the jidaigeki genre shows that while he hasn’t lost his panache for extreme brutality (and this film has them to satiate action and gore fans everywhere) he can also create a film using the subtle brushstrokes of traditional, old-school filmmaking. With this film he has made one of finest and cements his place in the roll call of best filmmakers of the last quarter-century.

The WAFCA Has Spoken


I don’t know much about the Washington Area Film Critics Association but, just judging from the films that they chose to nominate for being the best of 2011, they would appear to have better taste than most film critics. 

(Seriously, film critics are the worst.)

They announced their picks for the best of 2011 earlier today and here’s a complete list of their nominees and winners.  If nothing else, this year’s Oscar race is certainly shaping up to be a bit more interesting than last years. 

Best Film:
*The Artist
The Descendants
Drive
Hugo
Win Win

Best Director:
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
*Martin Scorsese (Hugo)

Best Actor:
*George Clooney (The Descendants)
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

Best Actress:
Viola Davis (The Help)
Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
*Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Best Supporting Actor:
Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
*Albert Brooks (Drive)
John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Best Supporting Actress:
Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Carey Mulligan (Shame)
*Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

Best Acting Ensemble:
*Bridesmaids
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Help
Hugo
Margin Call

Best Adapted Screenplay:
*Alexander Payne and Nate Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants)
Tate Taylor (The Help)
John Logan (Hugo)
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball)
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)

Best Original Screenplay:

Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Tom McCarthy (Win Win)
Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
*Will Reiser (50/50)

Best Animated Feature:
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Puss in Boots
*Rango
Winnie the Pooh

Best Documentary:
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Buck
*Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life
Project Nim

Best Foreign Language Film:
13 Assassins
Certified Copy
I Saw the Devil
Pina
*The Skin I Live In

Best Art Direction:
Lawrence Bennett, Production Designer, and Gregory S. Hooper, Art Director (The Artist)
Stuart Craig, Production Designer, and Stephenie McMillan, Set Decorator (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)
*Dante Ferretti, Production Designer, and Francesca Lo Schiavo, Set Decorator (Hugo)
Jack Fisk, Production Designer, and Jeanette Scott, Set Decorator (The Tree of Life)
Rick Carter, Production Designer, and Lee Sandales, Set Decorator (War Horse)

Best Cinematography:
Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist)
Robert Richardson (Hugo)
Manuel Alberto Claro (Melancholia)
*Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
Janusz Kaminski (War Horse)

Best Score:
*Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
Cliff Martinez (Drive)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Howard Shore (Hugo)
John Williams (War Horse)

The National Board of Review Gives It Up For “Hugo”


 

It took them a while but, earlier today, the folks who made up the National Board of Review (nobody’s quite sure who they are) finally announced their picks for the best of 2011.  And the winner is — Martin Scorsese’s Hugo!  As anyone who was on twitter earlier today knows, this was something of a surprising result and most of the self-appointed film experts out there seemed to be convinced that the NBR would honor either War Horse or The Artist.  Seeing as it took the NBR longer than usual to announce the winners, I’m assuming that the voting was fairly close.  The NBR is usually considered to be a precursor to the Academy Awards so, if nothing else, this result would seem to bode well for Hugo‘s chances to pick up a best picture nomination.  Here are the winners with the occasional editorial comment from me:

Best Film:
Hugo

(I loved Hugo, though my favorite film of the year remains, at this point, Hanna)

Best Director:
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actor:
George Clooney, The Descendants

(I may be the only person in America who thinks that The Descendants is overratedCertainly, the members of the NBR disagree with me on that point.)

Best Actress:
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

(This was kind of surprising since I think the conventional wisdom was that Meryl Streep would win everything for The Irony Lady.)

Best Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

(I have a feeling that Plummer’s going to be the sentimental favorite at the Oscars.)
Best Supporting Actress:
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay:
Will Reiser, 50/50

(Yay!  This film has been strangely underrated as an awards contender but it deserves a lot more attention.)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Animated Feature:
Rango

(Another yay!)
Breakthrough Performance:
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance
:
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Bleh.  On twitter, I already went into a rant about how too many of my fellow film bloggers have allowed themselves to be co-opted into a conspiracy to both  force The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake down our throats and to try to make us forget about the original trilogy and the fact that Noomi Rapace gave a brilliant performance as Lisbeth.  I’ll hold off on going into that again until it’s time to review the remake but seriously, people — the Hollywood establishment is not going to give you a promise ring, I don’t care how much you kiss their ass.)

Debut Director:
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Best Ensemble:
The Help

(Believe it or not, I still need to see this one.)

Spotlight Award
:
Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

(Oh. My. God.  So.  Hot.)

NBR Freedom of Expression
:
Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression:
Pariah

Best Foreign Language Film:
A Separation

Best Documentary:
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Special Achievement in Filmmaking:
The Harry Potter Franchise – A Distinguished Translation from Book
to Film

(This is probably my favorite award to be given out by NBR.  Seriously, the Harry Potter franchise provided me — and so many others — such a blessed escape whenever life seemed overwhelming.)

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

The Artist (Can’t Wait To See It)
The Descendants
(Overrated)
Drive (Yay!)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Bleh)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Yay!)
The Ides of March (One of the worst films of the year)
J. Edgar (Bland and forgettable but well-made)
Tree of Life
(Yay!)
War Horse
(Going to see it but I feel obligated to do so and I resent it, to be honest)

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)

13 Assassins
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Footnote
Le Havre
Point Blank

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

Born to be Wild
Buck
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Project Nim
Senna

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)

50/50 (Yay!)
Another Earth
(Whatever, this was a terrible movie)
Beginners (A good film that deserves to be seen)
A Better Life
(Overrated)
Cedar Rapids (Likable but nothing spectacular)
Margin Call
(Need to see it)
Shame
(Fassbender!)
Take Shelter
(Yay!)
We Need To Talk About Kevin
(Looking forward to it)
Win Win
(Yay!)

8 Quickies With Lisa Marie: 13 Assassins, Bunraku, The Double Hour, Jig, Meek’s Cutoff, Of Gods and Men, One Day, and There Be Dragons


As part of my continuing effort to offer up a review of every 2011 release that I’ve seen so far this year, here’s 8 more quickie reviews of some of the films that I’ve seen over the past year.

1) 13 Assassins (dir. by Takashi Miike)

The 13 Assassins are a group of samurai who are gathered together to assassinate a sociopathic nobleman in 19th Century Japan.  As directed by Takashi Miike, this is a visually stunning film full of nonstop, brutal action and Miike powerfully contrasts the old school honor of the 13 Assassins with the soulless evil of their target. 

2) Bunraku (dir. by Guy Moshe)

There are some films that simply have to be seen to believed and Bunraku is one of those films.  In the aftermath of a global war, guns have been outlawed but this attempt at social engineering has just resulted in greater societal collapse.  Nicola (Ron Perlman) is the most powerful man on the East Coast but he lives life in paranoid seclusion and instead sends out nine assassins to enforce his will (his main assassin being Killer No. 2, played by a super stylish Kevin McKidd).  Two strangers ( a drifter played by Josh Hartnett and a samurai played by Gackt) arrive in town and, with the help of a bartender played by Woody Harrelson, they team up to destroy the nine assassins and ultimately Nicola himself.  Bunraku, which comes complete with an ominous narrator and sets that look like they belong in a Lars Von Trier film, is a glorious and fast-paced triumph of style over substance, an exciting and fun celebration of the grindhouse films of the past.  With the exception of a miscast Demi Moore (playing Perlman’s mistress), the film is very well-acted but it’s completely stolen and dominated by Kevin McKidd, who can poke me with his sword any time he wants.

3) The Double Hour (dir. by Giuseppe Capotondi)

It took The Double Hour about two years to make it over here from Italy and when it did finally play in American arthouse theaters, it really didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.  That’s a shame because the Double Hour is a pretty entertaining mystery-thriller that’s full of twists and turns and which features an excellent performance by Kseniya Rappoport as an enigmatic hotel maid.  It hasn’t been released on region 1 DVD or blu-ray yet but apparently, there’s some interest in doing an American remake which will probably suck.

4) Jig (dir. by Sue Bourne)

Jig is a documentary that follows several competitors at the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships held in Glasgow in 2010.  I always try to be honest about my personal biases and I have to admit that one reason why I absolutely loved this film is because I not only love to dance but I love Irish stepdancing in specific and, as much as I love ballet, stepdance will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’m not quite sure how to put it into words other then to say that it just makes me incredibly happy as both a participant and a  watcher.  For me, Jig captured that joy as well as showing just how much dedication and sacrifice it takes to truly become proficient at it.  This film — much like Black Swan — made me dance.

5) Meek’s Cutoff (dir. by Kelly Reichardt)

I’ll never forget going to the Cinemark West Plano and seeing Meek’s Cutoff last May.  The theater was nearly deserted except for me, Jeff, an elderly couple, and two women who were, in their appearance and manner, almost stereotypically upper middle class suburban.  As the film’s frustratingly ambiguous conclusion played out on-screen and the end credits started to roll, one of the women angrily exclaimed, “WHAT!?  Well, that won’t win any Academy Awards!”  In many ways, Meek’s Cutoff is a frustrating film.  Based on a true story, it follows a group of 19th century settlers as they try to cross the Oregon Trail while following a guide (Bruce Greenwood) who might be totally incompetent.  Plotwise, not much happens: the settlers kidnap an Indian and demand that he lead them to water, Michelle Williams plays a settler who doubts that any of the men in the party know what they’re doing, and everyone continues to keep moving in search of … something.  The film is, at times, really frustrating and I think it’s been overrated by most critics but, at the same time, it remains an oddly fascinating meditation on life and fate.  Add to that, both Greenwood and Williams give good performances and the film’s cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and desolate at the same time.

6) Of Gods and Men(dir. by Xavier Beauvois)

Of Gods and Men is a quietly powerful and visually stunning French film that’s based on the true story of 7 Trappist monks who were kidnapped from their monastery and murdered by muslim rebels during the Algerian Civil War.  The film imagines the final days of the monks and attempts to answer the question of why they didn’t flee their monastery when they had the opportunity to do so, but instead remained and chose to accept their fate as martyrs.  This meditative film also features excellent performances from Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale and avoids the trap of both easy idealization and easy villainy. 

7) One Day (dir. by Lone Scherfig)

This is another one of those films that was dismissed by almost every critic except for Roger Ebert and you know what?  For once, I’m going to agree with Roger.  I absolutely loved One Day and I think that all the haters out there need to take a chance on romance and stop coasting on the easy cynicism.  One Day follows the love affair of a writer (Anne Hathaway) and a TV personality (Jim Sturgess), visiting them repeatedly on the same day over the course of 20 years.  The film starts with them as college students having a wonderfully awkward one night stand and it ends with Sturgess and their son walking up a beautiful green hill and it made me cry and cry.  Hathaway and Sturgess have a wonderful chemistry together and the film also features some good supporting performances from Patricia Clarkson (as Sturgess’ dying mother) and Rafe Spall (bringing humanity to the thankless role of being the “other guy.”) This is one of the most deliriously romantic films that I’ve ever seen and I loved it.  So there.

8 ) There Be Dragons (dir. by Roland Joffe)

There Be Dragons came out in May and it didn’t get much respect from the critics.  I’ve also read that it was considered to be a box office failure, which is odd because I seem to remember that it was actually in theaters for quite some time.  Anyway, There Be Dragons is an oddly old-fashioned war epic that attempts to mix the fictional story of a Spanish revolutionary (played by Wes Bentley) with an admiring biopic of the founder of Orpus Dei, St. Josemarie Escriva (played by Charlie Cox).  The two stories never really seem mix and instead, they just coexist uncomfortably beside each other.  It doesn’t help that Wes Bentley gives one of the worst performance of 2011.  On the plus side, Charlie Cox gives a good and believable performance as Escriva and the film looks great.  The film is so sincere in its desire to make the world a better place that its hard not to regret that it doesn’t succeed.

2011: The Year In Film So Far


Greetings from the former home of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Crossville, Tennessee!  Yes, Jeff and I are on our way back to Texas.  It’s been a wonderful vacation but I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing a movie at the Plano (or Dallas) Angelika on Sunday.  I’m not sure which movie but, as long as it’s a movie, I’ll be a happy girl.

That’s because I love movies.  Movies are what I schedule my life around.  My birth certificate says I was born in 1985 but I know that I was born in the year of Brazil, Prizzi’s Honor, Blood Simple, and After Hours.  If each year can be judged by the quality of the films then how is 2011 looking now that we’ve reached (and passed) the halfway mark?

Right now, as I sit here in this hotel room in my panties and my beloved Pirates shirt, I’d say 2011 is shaping up to be an average year.  There’s been a few films that I loved and there’s been a few that I’ve absolutely despised but for the most part, this year is shaping up to be comfortable and rather bland. 

Much as I did last year at this time, I’m going to take a few minutes to mention a few high points (and low points) of 2011 so far.  Agree?  Disagree?  Make your opinion known.

Best Film (So Far): Hanna, without a doubt.  Joe Wright’s stylish thriller hasn’t gotten half the acclaim that it deserves.  Runners-ups: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Incendies, Jane Eyre, Kill The Irishman, Of Gods and Men, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch, The Source Code, Super, 13 Assassins, The Tree of Life, Win Win, X-Men: First Class

Best Male Performance of the Year (so far): Paul Giamatti in Win Win.  Runners up: Bobby Cannavale in Win Win, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher, Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, and Rainn Wilson in Super.

Best Female Performance Of The Year (so far): Sairose Ronan in Hanna. Runners up: Lubna Azabal for Incendies, Ellen Page for Super, Amy Ryan for Win Win, and Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre.

Best Ending (so far): The charmingly low budget zombie film that runs over the end credits of Super 8.

Best Horror Film (so far): Insidious.

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (so far): A tie, between Sucker Punch and Red Riding HoodRed Riding Hood, as a matter of fact, was so underrated that I had to see it a second time before I really appreciated it.

Best Bad Film: Beastly.  Silly but kinda fun in a really, really odd sort of way.

Worst Film of The Year (so far): The Conspirator, a bore of a movie that was apparently filmed through a filter of grime.  Runners up: Priest, The Beaver, Battle L.A. (sorry Arleigh, Leonard, and Erin), Season of the Witch, Your Highness, and The Green Lantern.

Biggest Example of A Missed Opportunity This Year (So Far): The Adjustment Bureau, which could have been a great Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-type of film but instead, turned out to be just another predictable and shallow example of new age triteness.

The Get-Over-It Award For The First Half Of 2011: The Conspirator, a film that attempts to be relavent by using the 19th Century to comment on political issues from 2006.

My Prediction For Which Film Will Be The Most Overrated Of 2011: Last year, I predicted The Social Network and, surprise surprise, I was right.  In fact, the folks at AwardsDaily.com are still bitching about how The Social Network lost best picture to The King’s Speech.  (By the way, a few other choice pieces of wisdom from Awards Daily: The Beaver is Jodie Foster’s best film ever and only elitists should be allowed to comment on film.)  This year, I’m going to predict that the most overrated film of 2011 will be the unnecessary remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

My Prediction For What Will Be The Worst Film Of 2011: The winner here is another remake — Rod Lurie is remaking Straw Dogs and this time, he’s setting it in the South.  You know what?  Go back to Vermont and fuck yourself ragged, you dumbass, blue state elitist.  

So, that’s 2011 so far.  There’s still quite a few films that I’m looking forward to seeing: Another Earth, The Debt, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Hugo, and most of all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.