Tag: 2011

2011 Film Awards: Part 1

It’s the beginning of the new year which means it’s the end of the film year. With the Oscar nominations soon to be announced I figured it was time to give out my own awards. These are kind of my top five in each category along with some other fun categories. I’ll write a little bit after each section just for fun. Enjoy.

Best Picture

  1. War Horse
  2. The Adventures of Tintin
  3. Hanna
  4. Drive
  5. The Tree of Life
War Horse

That’s two Spielberg films at the top. I wouldn’t consider him one of my favorite directors but I guess he’s pretty ok. Hanna is just a lot of fun. Drive is stylistic as hell and a great time. And The Tree of Life is beautiful and meaningful. A good year.

Best Director

  1. War Horse – Steven Spielberg
  2. Hugo – Martin Scorsese
  3. I Saw the Devil – Kim Jee-woon
  4. Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Tomas Alfredson

War Horse perfectly captures the classic Hollywood style of John Ford and Frank Borzage and feels perfect throughout. Scorsese’s film is old and new at the same time, with wonderful 3D. I Saw the Devil is a film I don’t wholly love, but it moves like a rocket and works so well. Drive, like I said before, is super stylized, but the mood is perfect. And Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the most packed movie I’ve seen this year, both visually and thematically. It’s subtle and intense without any action.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Attack the Block – Joe Cornish
  2. The Guard – John Michael McDonagh
  3. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick
  4. Rango – John Logan
  5. Submarine – Richard Ayoade
Attack the Block

Four of these guys also directed their films (Rango’s John Logan is the only outlier) and three of them are debut films (only The Tree of Life and Rango, again). Each of these films are the very definition of original, whether it be the plot or the style of the writing or both.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Adventures of Tintin – Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish
  2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
  3. Drive – Hossein Amini
  4. Winnie the Pooh – Stephen J. Anderson and company
  5. War Horse – Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
The Adventures of Tintin

Are you starting to see a trend here? War Horse just keeps showing up. It is that good, though. For real. Also, Tintin has three of the best screenwriters going and Winnie the Pooh captured the feel of the original stories perfectly. It doesn’t shy away from the meta aspects and the songs are great.

Best Actor

  1. Brendan Gleeson – The Guard
  2. Andy Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  3. Michael Fassbender – X-Men: First Class
  4. Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  5. Hunter McCracken – The Tree of Life
Brendan Gleeson in The Guard

I’ve always liked Gleeson and his role in The Guard is genius. Andy Serkis (and the animation crew) somehow made a chimp an effective and emotional character. Fassbender is Fassbender (and might get replaced by the Shame version of himself if it ever shows up around me). Oldman is quiet and very real. Hunter McCracken is a talented young actor with a big role that he played very well.

Best Actress

  1. Saoirse Ronan – Hanna
  2. Viola Davis – The Help
  3. Elena Anaya – The Skin I Live In
  4. Brit Marling – Another Earth
  5. Sally Hawkins – Made in Dagenham
Viola Davis in The Help

Hanna continues Ronan’s work with Joe Wright and she’s just as good as she was in Atonement, if not better. Viola Davis first broke my heart in Doubt and she continued to do so in The Help, a surprisingly ok movie. Elena Anaya does very well for herself playing a complicated and difficult role. Sally Hawkins makes her character real and powerful.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Alan Rickman – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  2. Michael Fassbender – Jane Eyre
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  4. David Tennant – Fright Night
  5. Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life
Benedict Cumberbatch in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Alan Rickman started his movie career with one of the best villains of all time (Hans Gruber) and has now brought to life one of the best conflicted characters in modern cinema. Fassbender is, again, Fassbender. Both Cumberbatch and Tennant proved that they can play roles other than the ones that they played on BBC shows. And Brad Pitt fully embodies his stern father role. I lost him in the performance, which is a pretty great feat for such a movie star.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Cate Blanchett – Hanna
  2. Elle Fanning – Super 8
  3. Jessica Chastain – The Help
  4. Sally Hawkins – Submarine
  5. Emily Blunt – The Adjustment Bureau
Cate Blanchett in Hanna

I know a lot of people hated Blanchett in Hanna but I loved how arch she was. She played a great fairy tale evil queen. Elle Fanning is a new talent, just watch the acting scene in this film for definitive proof. I know most will probably go with Chastain in The Tree of Life for this category but I really liked what she did with her role in The Help. Sally Hawkins was basically the opposite of her role in Made in Dagenham and wonderfully weird. Emily Blunt’s chemistry with Matt Damon was the best part of The Adjustment Bureau, outside of the hats.

Best Ensemble Cast

  1. War Horse
  2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  3. Super 8
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. Midnight in Paris
Super 8

I love everybody in War Horse, especially Hiddleston and Cumberbatch and Emily Watson. All of those sad men in TTSS were great (again, Cumberbatch). Super 8’s kids were wonderful, along with a few key adult roles. The Tree of Life, too, mixed great kid and adult roles. Midnight in Paris magically combines modern day elites and old-timey artists, all played to perfection (if exaggeratedly).

Best Non-English Language Film

  1. The Skin I Live In
  2. I Saw the Devil
  3. Trollhunter
The Skin I Live In

These are the only foreign language films I’ve seen. I am ashamed. They’re all good, though. The Skin I Live In is melodrama and horror mashed up into one glorious concoction. I Saw the Devil is a violent revenge tale, superbly directed. And Trollhunter takes the found footage horror film and amps it up a bit. Also, trolls.

Best Animated Film

  1. The Adventures of Tintin
  2. Winnie the Pooh
  3. Rango
  4. Batman: Year One
Winnie the Pooh

This was not a great year for animated films. Tintin is a whole lot of fun. Winnie the Pooh felt like an instant classic. Rango is a spaghetti western pastiche that works as a kids movie. Batman: Year One is basically Batman: The Animated Series, so it is great.

Best Documentary

  1. Bill Cunningham, New York
  2. Tabloid
  3. African Cats
  4. Cropsey
  5. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
African Cats

Bill Cunningham, New York is a pretty straightforward doc about a fascinating person (a fashion page photographer for the New York Times) but there’s a scene at the end that is truly amazing. Tabloid looks at an interesting case through the lens of the British tabloid system. African Cats is a movie about baby lions and cheetahs, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, so it is awesome. Cropsey examines an urban legend and takes a bit of time to talk about the horrible way the mentally ill were treated at one time in our recent history. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold takes a Super Size Me-esque look at the product placement industry. It’s fun and informative, even if I don’t think that product placement is the most evil thing in the world.

Sometime next week I’ll make the next post in this two part series. Exciting categories like Best Editing and boring ones like Best Comedic Scene and Best Line. Join me! Tell me what I missed!

Make Mine Music: 2011 Albums

Yes, it’s getting towards the end of the year. That means it’s time for lists to start coming. O! Those Glorious Lists! But here’s the thing, I don’t have extensive music lists like I do for movies. I can tell you what movies I’ve watch this year and I think I’ve done a pretty ok job keeping up with all the good ones (I’m gonna watch you one of these days, Uncle Boonmee) but I have no idea if I’m doing the same with music. I’m just not as immersed in that as I am with film. So here’s where you come in. I’m gonna give you a collection of the music that I’ve really gotten into this year and you tell me what I’m missing. Drop me a comment with your suggestions. There will be a follow-up post with mini-reviews of your suggestions. Here we go, in alphabetical order!

Adele – 21

I don’t know if there’s a better song this year than Someone Like You. That song is amazing. Adele’s got the powerful vocals I like to see in my soul singers. Anything with that kind of voice is going to catch my attention. And if the songs are as well written as Someone Like You they pretty much can’t do any better.

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out is a hell of a song. This band mostly does the somber thing. They’re my placeholder for The National this year, I think. I do like the starkness of this album, and there are some killer guitar parts.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Scandalous

Like The Black Keys but funkier. The horns really kick this band into high gear. Won’t you take me to Booty City?

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

I like the sax solo at the end of Beth/Rest, though I seem to be the only one. This year seems to be the year of the sax solo, which is fine by me. Look for two more to pop up later in this list.

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

I was nervous when I heard that this album was going to skew towards the country sound, and it surely does, but it works with the Decemberists writing. Rox in the Box is a kicker.

Foster the People – Torches

I started listening to this album about a week before Pumped Up Kicks took off. The rest of the album is just as good as that song. This is the closest I’ve heard to a successor for Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Pop delight.

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I listened to this album’s predecessor a bit and it didn’t hook me at all. After loving this album to pieces I went back to see if I was wrong. I wasn’t. There’s just something off about that one that isn’t off about this one. It does the kind of in-vogue americana thing with the surf and all that jazz, and it does it very well.

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Here’s the next sax solo in Big Burned Hand. Iron & Wine have continued to grow his/their sound and this album is really cool. Sax solos!

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

This is my first M83 album and it is glorious. Midnight City is super great. When I heard it on a Victoria’s Secret commercial last week I was impressed but not surprised that it had caught on so quickly. That song is a beast. I’m going to have to keep listening to pick out more excellent songs but it won’t be a chore. SAX SOLO!

Middle Brother – Middle Brother

Indie-folk-rock super-group comprised of the lead singers of Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit, this has a good chance of being my album of the year. The three distinct vocal styles work well together and album-closer Million Dollar Bill highlights each of them excellently. Someday is the best song on the album.

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Here’s another guy that continues to grow his sound. If you can dig his voice there’s a good chance you’ll love this album. These are some of the best written songs I’ve heard in a long time.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

The only artist I’ve seen in concert multiple times, St. Vincent is just amazing. Cruel is one of the catchiest songs of the year, and the video is totally great, too.

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

It’s not as good as the previous TVotR album, Dear Science. It is still pretty great, though. Will Do is good stuff.

Wilco – The Whole Love

A bunch of different kinds of songs here. The 7 minute opener is great. A return to some of the more experimental aspects of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

So that’s it. Tell me what I’ve missed. I’ve left of a few albums that I haven’t given full attention to yet, so if you’re recommending something give me a good reason to listen to it. To the comments!

Movie Review: Drive


Drive is a strange movie. As an action film it’s too slow. As a character piece it’s character isn’t super compelling. As a crime movie it focuses very little on the crimes. However, as a movie it’s really great. It is like Hanna in that the style propels the film more than any other element. It is like Hanna in that it does some things that you wouldn’t expect from a movie about a guy that drives really well. It is like Hanna in that it’s one of the best films of the year so far. In fact, only Hanna is better than this, from what I’ve seen.

Nicolas Winding Refn‘s first “American” movie is about Ryan Gosling‘s Driver, a guy that drives really well. Sometimes he does it on the racetrack, other times he does it on Hollywood sets, but he gets the real bucks being a getaway driver for various criminals as they crime their way through Los Angeles. As I looked through Gosling’s IMDb sheet I was shocked to find I’d only seen him in two other things: Remember the Titans and an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. And I don’t remember him in either. I don’t know how I missed most of his career, but he’s really good here. He doesn’t have much to say in terms of dialogue but the way he inhabits the Driver character is pretty great. You can tell all you need to know from the movement of his eyes or the way he puts on his driving gloves.

And the movie gives you enough time to study those performance elements. It’s not the crazy, non-stop, kinetic wonderland that Hanna is. It’s a slow, deliberate, methodical film. As you might expect from a movie called Drive, there’s a lot of time spent going from place to place. But this isn’t wasted time. It’s time for the Driver to think, and time for us to watch him process the world. The actual car chase scenes are few and far between, though done very well and in a way that I haven’t seen before. In an early scene we see the Driver lose the cops, then get spotted again, then lost, then spotted. It makes sense in a way that I haven’t seen on film before. He doesn’t go around destroying the police cars or anything, he just knows exactly what he’s doing and in doing so evades the cops eventually.

There’s also a few other people in the movie. I’ve always liked Carey Mulligan and she’s charming as ever in this film. She doesn’t have much to do other than fall in love and then find out who the Driver really is, but she plays those moments well. You understand what’s going on with her at all times, just like you do with the Driver. The other important character is the main crime boss, played by Albert Brooks. This isn’t the typical role for Brooks, a mostly serious and seriously screwed up bad guy. He does the role well, though, and it’s easy to see how he became such a big guy in the LA underworld.

The direction is phenomenal. The movie is very stylish, from the way the camera moves to the intensity of the lighting and the use of slo-mo everything is working overtime to bring you into the Driver’s world. There are a few scenes of violence that top most of movie-dom in terms of what you see and hear, though it’s interesting to note that after somebody gets their head blown off in all of it’s gory glory, the camera declines to show the next person’s death. It’s an interesting choice to stay on the Driver instead of cutting to his opponent’s bloody body and an effective one. Nothing would top the explosion of blood and brains so instead we see how the Driver deals with his first bloody act. The score, too, errs on the obvious side. Besides the pulsing electronic score by Cliff Martinez there are some songs that get right to the point of what the Driver is feeling at the moment. The lyrics can be a bit on the nose but in a movie called Drive which plays everything in an up-front and stylish way they fit right in.

Drive is a movie that only a few will truly love. People will be turned off by the pace or the violence or the style or the minimalist acting. If all of those things work for you, though, Drive will end up among your favorites of the year, as it does for me.

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris

No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.

There is something in a person that will yearn for the golden days. You know the ones. Before. When everything was better. The art was better, the culture was better, the people were better, the world was better. It was always better, back then. There weren’t the social, political, cultural problems that we have today. Everybody was happy and awesome. Owen Wilson‘s Gil feels this was about the 1920’s in Paris. That’s when all the great writers lived and Gil, a neurotic Hollywood screenwriter, wants to be there – or then – instead of here and now. And it’s an alluring proposition. What writer wouldn’t want to hang out with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway? Who wouldn’t want to commiserate with Dali and Picasso about your love problems? There’s no denying that the 1920’s in Paris were a happening time. But would you want to live there?

It’s an idea we’ve all had. Woody Allen (in the first of his that I’ve seen, shamefully) explores it by giving Gil the opportunity to live life in the 20’s. After a quick car ride through the magical streets of Paris he finds himself at a party where Cole Porter is the musical accompaniment. The real Cole Porter. He gives his novel to Gertrude Stein for criticism and inspires Luis Buñuel‘s The Exterminating Angel. He drinks with Fitzgerald and Hemingway and takes an art history lesson from Picasso which he later regurgitates during a modern segment. It’s a fun time. As his late night visits to late years go on he meets an enchanting young Parisian woman, Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard. These two begin to meet up more and more and their attraction grows. It gets to the point where Gil wonders whether it’s cheating on his wife, the beautiful Rachel McAdams, to be with a girl from the 1920’s. It’s kind of slight but also kind of important.

That really describes the film. Kind of slight but also kind of important. I don’t mean important like it will change the way the world works or have and deep cultural impact, but its viewers should find themselves thinking about some of the ideas in the film. See, Adriana thinks that the glory days were the Belle Époque, some 50 years earlier. She, too, is trapped in thinking that the present is just not good enough and that yesteryear was better in some ephemeral way. And when those magical Paris streets give Gil and Adriana the chance to go to the Moulin Rouge during it’s heyday they gladly do so. But it’s here that Gil realizes the key point of the film and the thing that makes it important. This kind of idealism is just a combination of foggy memories and insecurity with the present. The toils of today is what makes living worth it. We are a product of our times and as much as we’d like to be elsewhen we have to come to grips with the fact that we are built to live today. Olden days might seem better but things were just as bad then, if not worse. Yeah, the 1920’s seem like a cool time to be but we know that it was a hard time for a lot of people, too. Hell, Hemingway was probably only as good as he was because he went through a lot of crap in WWI. There’s something about the struggles that make the highs better. And it’s fine to look back and identify what might have been better if only to apply it to your modern life.

That’s not to say this film is a serious treatise on the perils of nostalgia. It is a Woody Allen movie, after all, and the jokes are hilarious. Tom Hiddleston‘s Fitzgerald, Alison Pill’s Zelda Fizgerald, Corey Stoll‘s Hemingway, and Adrien Brody‘s Dali were highlights, each playing the myth and the person in small amounts of screen time while highlighting Allen’s superb screenplay. I’d watch a movie with Brody’s Dali and Stoll’s Hemingway saying things at each other for 90 minutes. There’d be talk of rhinocerous confrontations and war wounds. It’d be great. The film remains funny throughout, though the modern day stuff is a little less interesting. I get that it’s supposed to be a bit on the boring side so we’ll see what Gil sees in the 1920’s section but purposefully lifeless is still lifeless. Only Michael Sheen‘s pompous professor character brings the consistent funny in the early goings, establishing Gil as a lowly writer-for-hire trying his hand at “real literature”. Here is where the slight criticism comes in. The revelation is not earth shattering. The perils are not all that perilous. The jokes are not side-splitting. There’s some romantic drama but even that doesn’t seem to matter all that much. This isn’t a knock, really. I’m the guy calling Winnie the Pooh the best film of the year so far and that has little to nothing going on in terms of drama or deep meaning. It just makes for a movie that could slip out of your mind if you’re not careful. Midnight in Paris is a quick, fun, thoughtful movie that is worth seeing and worth taking the lesson from but ends up being a just little too minor for its own good.

Midnight in Paris – Written and directed by Woody Allen

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I have a confession. I love movies where animals attack humans. I’ve seen Anaconda and several of its sequels. Deep Blue Sea has become one of my most viewed movies through its seemingly constant play on the SyFy channel. There’s just something about seeing dumb people get eaten by an animal, scientifically screwed-around-with or not, that appeals to me. It’s like the animals are getting back at the humans for having such better resources and doing absolutely nothing with them. And the cool death scenes help, too. When the trailers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel to the 1968 classic combo of cheesy acting and cheesier makeup, came out I got a bit excited. There’s a cool story to tell detailing how the apes went from our science test subject to ruling the world. Unlike some prequels and origin stories, this one had the potential to give us some new ideas within the universe. Whether director Rupert Wyatt was up to telling it, though, remained to be seen.

It doesn’t take a genetically modified ape to tell you that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good movie. It’s fun, exciting, and even surprisingly moving. As the title implies, this is a movie about the genesis of the new world order where apes are the ruling species, not humans. The movie begins by focusing on James Franco‘s scientist character as he tries to develop a cure to Alzheimer’s (a well worn trope in the animals-killing-people genre; see: Deep Blue Sea) by testing his cure on chimps in a lab. He grows attached to one baby chimp whom he takes home and begins to raise as if he were a human child. The home life stuff sets up an interesting father-son relationship triangle as Franco’s dad – admirably played by John Lithgow – suffers from the very disease his son is trying to find a cure for and Franco must take care of him along with his adopted son, Caesar the chimp. The first section of the movie is a kind of coming of age story for Caesar and it is done quite well as he struggles to reconcile his super-powered chimp mind with the animal instincts he possesses. Of course, none of this emotional storytelling would be possible were it not for the performance capture technology and Andy Serkis‘ fantastic ability to be physically expressive. This is a movie that relies upon a wordless performance by an actor who is replaced digitally by a chimpanzee. If the effects didn’t work it would be laughable. But the technology is there and Serkis gives one hell of a show. If there is any justice in the world he will be recognized come award season for the nuance with which he plays Caesar. There’s a shot at the end of the first act as we see Caesar rising through the Redwoods at Muir Woods and as he does so time moves on, season to season, as Caesar ages and grows up. It’s an astounding shot, fluid and beautiful, one that would feel right at home in The Tree of Life if The Tree of Life were about an ape uprising.

Of course, everything is not fine and dandy at home for Caesar and company. After an incident with a neighbor Caesar is sent to an ape preserve on the outskirts of San Francisco and is tortured by the people running it. There’s a small problem with the movie here because these people, lead by Brian Cox and Tom Felton, are purely evil. There’s no effort to make them anything other than a glorified plot device, the thing which provokes Caesar to begin the revolution which gives the film its title. Felton, particularly, just gives his constant Malfoy sneer and when he is called to give perhaps the defining line of the franchise it is powerful only because of the baggage the audience carries into the movie, not the performance itself. This section, however, also gives us more time with Caesar. It’s here where we realize he is the true main character of the film and his journey from abandoned kid to leader of the ape rebellion is fun to see. The two non-chimp apes trapped in the preserve are fun, too. The orangutan and gorilla give the film a bit of diversity and the gorilla in particular is kind of horrifying. The apes soon escape and begin a pilgrimage to Muir Woods. This leads to the only real big action scene in the film. There are a lot of fun little details in this section, from Caesar riding a police horse to the too-often-spoiled-in-commercials shot of a gorilla jumping towards a helicopter. This is the kind of destruction I wanted to see and it mostly delivers. My only problem is that the apes are generally pacifists. The film comes up with other ways to get all the humans to die but the apes do very little killing of their own. Only the truly evil people meet their ends at the hands of the apes. I guess this has something to do with the fact that the movie is rated PG-13 and that we’re supposed to be identifying with the apes as heroes at this point but I was still a little disappointed. That said, what happens in the big fight scene is really cool to see. The CGI is, once again, stunning.

The script has a few key shoutouts to the original film and most of them are done well and integrated well enough to not distract from the film too much. There is one element of the original films which is shown here and executed very well. It’s satisfying on both the plot and emotional levels of the movie but I won’t spoil it for you as most of the delight is in the telling. The original film makes some political allegories, as science fiction stories are wont to do, and this one follows suit, to some degree. The idea of being cautious with animal testing is not wholly original or even all that compelling in the course of this movie. What is compelling, though, is the story of Caesar. It’s more of a character piece, really, than a wide ranging metaphor and it is better for it. The rise of Caesar is well told and the real heart of the film. It’s not going to be one of my favorite movies of all time but it is really good. It’s a well-directed, smart, fun sci-fi movie and that’s all you can ask for.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Directed by Rupert Wyatt, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver