Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Ten Films Of 2011!

Well as 2011 comes to an end we look back to celebrate the best films of the year.

Movies, in my opinion, are a reflection of society. Movies can comfort us, scare us, show us other countries and bring into focus the world around us. This year though the movies did this for me more so than other years.

This year has been a tough one for me on a personal level. The two biggest events of the year for me centered on a romantic relationship ending, with a person I thought would be the one and the death of my grandmother, the woman who shared her love of movies with me and turned me into a devoted film buff.

So for me 2011 was a year filled with death, loss, longing for the past and the hope of second chances. And so, in my despair I turned to the movies and wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what the films of 2011 were all about! All of the films which touched me on a personal level, which struck an emotional cord with me dealt with the very issues I was going through.

Death reared its ugly head in films such as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.2", where either Harry or Lord Voldemort was going to die. The French film "Sarah's Key" dealt with the Vel d' Hiv round-up in 1942. Another French film "The Princess of Montpensier" centered on the Catholic/ Protestant wars of the 16th Century. The indie film "Another Earth" not only dealt with death but second chances. Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", another look back at the past had a young boy who loses his father. The charming Mexican film "Nora's Will" focuses on death and memories of the past. And I could go on and on with films such as "Beginners","13 Assassins","Dream House","Contagion", "50/50", "Midnight In Paris", "The Artist" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". All of these movies were about death and the past, characters which hoped for second chances.

I wouldn't call 2011 a bad year for movies, it wasn't. I don't think it was as good as last year but certainly it was better than 2008 or 2009. Absolute low-points for cinema. Years which I was barely able to make a list of ten films I liked. This year I saw roughly 90 movies and 12 of them I gave four stars. I still have some catch up to do so that number could go higher or remain the same. Either way, 2011 gave us a lot of good movies even if our personal lives didn't always leave us with the best memories.

Here now is my list of the ten best films of 2011 and a runner's up list.

1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen; U.S.) - In a year where nostalgia ruled at the box-office with movies like "Hugo", "The Artist" and "The Adventures of Tintin" to name a few, here is a movie which I feel best represents the year.

In many ways I am like the main character in Woody Allen's charming, insightful comedy. Owen Wilson plays a man with a great affection for the past. A man who wishes he could live in Paris in the 1920s, where he could chat with his heroes; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali and Cole Porter. Through the magic of movies, he gets his chance or does he really?

I too have a great fondness for the past. I grew up with the films of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I wish I was around then instead of now.

But one of the real reasons "Midnight in Paris" is so special for me, is because it was the last movie I saw with my ex. And how fitting. Here is a movie about longing for the past. A time when things made sense. A time when we feel we had it better. Such a theme resonates with me. It's not so much that "Midnight in Paris" was as emotionally hard-hitting as some of my past choices for "best film of the year" like "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), "United 93" (2006) or "Hunger" (2009) but it was what the movie represents, it's ideas which touched me.

2. THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius; France) - Since 2011 was a year for celebrating the past, I'd have to include this brilliant film directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin. It is a modern day silent film about the early days of talking pictures and what that meant to silent movie stars.

Last year, at the top of my best of the year list, I placed the restored version of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"(1927). Here is a movie which could have also been made in 1927. "The Artist" has the look and feel of most classic silent films. It is not a gimmick picture to me. It presents itself in a straightforward way. This is a lovely tribute to the early days of cinema. I hope the film wins a lot of Oscar nominations.

3. THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (Dir. Bertrand Tavernier; France) - Here is a movie which might have went under the radar for most movie goers but this Bertrand Tavernier (director of such films as "Life and Nothing But" (1990) which I also placed on my top ten list and "Daddy Nostalgia" (1991) is one of the best of his career.

4. SARAH'S KEY (Dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner; France) - One of the more emotionally draining films of the year. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a reporter trying to uncover unpleasant truths about the Vel d' Hiv round-up in France. She hopes her actions will bring some clarity to the past and give a family a second chance to move on.

5. CERTIFIED COPY (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami; France/ Italy) - I saw this film back at last year's Chicago International Film Festival where it quickly became my favorite at the fest. I've long been a fan of Iranian filmmaker Kiarostami. This is one of his best films.

6. POINT BLANK (Dir. Fred Cavaye; France) - A roller coaster of a movie. I haven't been on the end of my seat watching a movie this much since I saw "Just Another Love Story" (2009). This is a fast-paced exciting action/thriller movie.

7. THE DESCENDANTS (Dir. Alexander Payne; U.S.) - Here we have a movie about family honor, loyalty and yes, death and second chances. George Clooney has rarely been better. The entire cast shines. Alexander Payne, one of my favorite modern filmmakers, has given us a rich movie. A movie filled with smart characters with distinct personalities. We believe in these people and their problems.

8. 50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine; U.S.) - A young boy is told he has cancer and is given a 50/50 chance of living. What to do?

A movie such as this could have go wrong. It could have become a predictable, trite, sentimental weeper. But instead the movie is alive. It deals with its topic with respect. Like "The Descendants" we believe in what we see on-screen. The movie has a wonderful way of balancing comedy and drama.

9. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (Dir. David Yates; UK/U.S.) - I haven't enjoyed a "Harry Potter" movie this much since the first one. Here is a movie which takes us to another world. It is endlessly creative and magical. I was delighted the entire time watching this movie. Taking every step with Harry.

10. (TIE) CARS 2 (Dir. John Lasseter; U.S.) / RANGO (Dir. Gore Verbinski; U.S.) - Two of the best animated movies of the year. I'm deeply shocked critics are not placing this wonderful Pixar film on their top ten list. Many critics liked "Cars" (2006) also directed by Lasseter, but they were pretty harsh on this one. In all fairness a sequel wasn't really needed. And this story could have been told with different characters, allowing Pixar the chance to create something entirely new. Still I had a great time watching this.

"Rango" on the other hand, is a funny, creative spoof on western which just left me giddy watching it. I love all the movie references and the edge it has. Much different kind of entertainment when compared to "Cars 2" but still entertaining all the way.


1. HUGO (Dir. Martin Scorsese; U.S.)

2. TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (Marti, Dupa Craciun, Dir. Radu Muntean; Romania)

3. CHILDREN OF GLORY (Szabadsag, Szerelem, Dir. Krisztina Goda; Hungary)

4. EVEN THE RAIN (Dir. Iciar Bollain; Mexico)

5. MARGIN CALL (Dir. J.C. Chandor; U.S.)

6. THE CONSPIRATOR (Dir. Robert Redford; U.S.)

7. MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Dir. Raoul Ruiz; Portugal)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Film Reviews: The Artist & The Adventures of Tintin

"The Artist" **** (out of ****)

First of all, my apologizes to my dear readers. I have neglected writing for a while. To make up for lost time, I'm going to write about two movies I've recently seen. The wonderful, silent French film "The Artist" (2011) and Steven Spielberg's animated adventure "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011).

Lets be honest, there are people who, after hearing "The Artist" is a silent film will simply not want to see it. And, who can blame modern audiences for not wanting to? This is, unfortunately, the modern age and people like movies where people talk. But, I would imagine there are those who will see this movie precisely because it is silent. This is after all 2011. How often will audiences get to see a silent film in theatres?

The problem I think with the second group is they might expect a gimmick movie. "The Artist" is not a gimmick movie. It is a straight forward silent film. It could have been made in 1927 (the year the movie takes place) and outside of a few minor changes, it is no different then any other film of that time.

The movie has the look and feel of silent cinema. The music is perfect, the cinematography beautiful, and the acting, impeccable. And let us not forget the production and costume design. All of these elements added together give the film the immense amount of charm which it has.

The story is really no different than any other silent film where a young nobody wants to become a celebrity, think of "The Extra Girl" (1923) or "Exit Smiling" (1926) or even "Kiki" (1926). Some audience members may even draw comparisons to the musical "Singin' in the Rain" (1952).

"The Artist" tells duel stories. One is of a young woman, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, an unknown actress to me, who managed to steal my heart). She wants to become a famous actress and after a chance encounter, she accidentally bumps into major motion picture star George Valentin (a name I suppose is might to remind us of Rudolph Valentino. Played by Jean Dujardin). He is kind of a ham actor, whom, as posing for photographers, meets Peppy and is taken by her beauty, despite being a married man.

The newspapers start buzzing about who is this young woman who bumped into Valentin. Her photo is even on the front page of Variety.

Now, as any film lover or film student will tell you, 1927 is the year the first film with sound, "The Jazz Singer", was released (some people, whom have never seen the movie, mistakenly believe the film is a complete "talkie", it isn't. It is largely a silent film but with musical numbers.) Valentin soon discovers that the head producer at Kinograph Studios (I guess a reference to Biograph Studios, where D.W. Griffith worked) wants to make only sound pictures (he is played by John Goodman). Valentin, like many people at the time, thought sound pictures would be a fade. Talking would turn films into a gimmick. It would de-legitimize cinema as an art form. Valentin laughs at the producer and as a result, is released from his contract. Ironically though, Peppy Miller is signed and becomes a big star.

The film was directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is the third film he has worked on with Dujardin, which I know of. Their previous collaborations were for the spy spoof, OSS 117 films; "Cairo, Nest of Spies" (2006) and "Lost in Rio" (2009) which had a 1960s, "Pink Panther" feel to them. Hazanavicius seems to draw on the past for inspiration. Not a bad idea.

I am however a bit surprised to find him as the director and Dujardin as the star. When I first heard about this film I thought it was going to be a drama. It has serious moments, but there are tongue-in-cheek moments as well. Dujardin has a lot of fun with the character, which is suppose to be an Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks sort but with an ego problem.

Dujardin is perfect in the role. He managed to express all the emotions required for the role. After seeing him in this I cannot think of anyone else doing it. There are elements of pathos here in the character contrasted with a bit of coolness. Dujardin balances things quite well. He won the "Best Actor" award at Cannes for his performance and there is talk he may win an Oscar as well. At the very least, he will be nominated.

I can't kid myself or readers. A movie like "The Artist" is made for people like myself. Old timers who actually watch silent cinema. Someone who yearns for the past. Has a growing interest in the history of cinema. Someone who has actually seen movies with actors like Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel, Valentino, Louise Brooks and John Barrymore.

"The Artist" is one of the year's best films. It should not be missed!

"The Adventures of Tintin" *** (out of ****)

For some reason the idea of Steven Spielberg directing an animated film seemed a bit odd to me. Better to leave this sort of thing to Pixar or Dreamworks. But then as I watched the opening minutes of "Tintin" a thought occured to me. Why the heck shouldn't Spielberg direct an animated film?! He's a filmmaker who has never lost touch with his inner child. He should have made an animated film a long time ago. Remember, this is the man who made films such as "E.T." (1982), "Raiders of the Lost Arc" (1981) and "Hook" (1991).

Much like other films released this year, "The Artist" or Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" (2011), "The Adventures of Tintin" is a nostalgic throw-back to an earlier time. The film, based on a comic book series by Herge, recalls 1930s serials. Much like "Indiana Jones".

Tintin (voices by Jamie Bell) is a famous reporter who stumbles upon a great mystery after buying a miniature boat. The actual boat which the model was based on, has a long history Tintin discovers. A great secret is hidden somewhere in the model and only one man can help Tintin solve the mystery, Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis) a descendant of the original captain of the boat in question.

Tintin and Haddock find themselves on the run from Rackham (Daniel Craig) who knows all about the boat's history and has his own sinister motives.

The film was written by Steven Moffat, whom I know as the creator of one of my favorite TV shows, the BBC comedy "Coupling". And was co-written by Edgar Wright, director of the endlessly creative "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" (2010) and Joe Cornish.

The most amazing thing about "The Adventures of Tintin" was how involved I was. I was actually caught up in the adventure. I found a lot of it suspenseful. I could see how this could have been made into a live-action film (Spielberg's original intention). The film has moments of action, comedy and lite-seriousness.

I really enjoyed the look of the film as well. It is much different, to my eye at least, than what Pixar releases. This looked more "real". I found the animation quite impressive. Still I preferred animated films like "Cars 2" (2011) and "Rango" (2011) over this one. Those movies had a bit more heart. Which is normally something a Spielberg film doesn't lack.

Still, Spielberg puts on a good show for us. I think this makes for a pretty good family film. Most audiences should enjoy it.