Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Favorite Films 2011

1. The Tree of Life

Another great film with Brad Pitt in it? I guess he is becoming a good actor. A definite winner at Cannes this year, Terence Malilck’s piece is indeed a great film. The film starts in a strange sequence, then it goes into aspects of evolution, biology, a sort of cosmic vision, non-narrative spectacle, scenes with prehistoric reptiles, deserts, galaxies and spiral DNA shapes, complete excess challenging notions of realism, a meditation on memory, time, and the look at love and loss.

The character Jack played by Sean Penn, an architect, is taken back to his 1950s childhood in a small town in Texas. He remembers his relationship with his overwhelming, demanding, disciplinarian father, played by Brad Pitt, His loving mother, the father’s opposite, his two brothers and the one brother who died at the age of 19, presumably for being part of the military.

As a young boy Jack has to face his father, a God-fearing family man, he is angry with him and his brothers; he respects the severity of traditional religious beliefs, but aspires to riches and worldliness, negotiating with patents and spending the family's means.
He is very tough, for example, he challenges his boys to hit him, to toughen them up, to become men. He is a frustrated musician; his frustration and rage simmer from every pore. His boys feel fear as well as love him. They seem to have fused both into the same complex emotion.

Jack realizes that time, far from healing the wounds of loss, only makes them more painful. The dream-like scenes from his childhood, in a sense, the purpose of these gigantic visions is to obliterate the pain of living and not comprehending their purpose.
Lot of people has made the comment that they found the film boring. This film is not for everyone. The final sequence could be interpreted as “religious” in Western Metaphysical way, suggesting closure and redemption. The film asks several questions about the reason for redemption, healing, survival and existence. A must see.

2. Moneyball

I have to say I really loved this movie. It was very inspiring to me. At first, I was a bit skeptical about Brad Pitt. After I saw it my opinion changed, he was really good, this was a role made for him.
Inevitably, I had to make the comparison to the world of architecture, this parallel dialogue with a discipline like architecture makes a lot of sense, and it was sad to realize that baseball is far advance in so many ways that architecture is and should be. The story of a guy that has the vision of change, understands the game, but comes to the understanding that the old standards have to be questions. The main character has to negotiate with old guys that understand the “classic ways” of making choices, qualifying people and understanding the game.
Billy Beane, the character’s name, is the provocative general manager of the Oakland Athletics whose unconventional ideas about what a team with limited resources could do to compete with profligate powerhouses like the New York Yankees continue to infuriate the sport's traditionalists. Billy finds a young guy that uses technology as a way qualify a player based on parametric statistics. He begins to trust this criteria and this takes him to challenge everything he has known so far and is familiar with, but knows that there is something there. He goes after in a strong way. The fantastic combination of experience, intuition and technology, this sounds very familiar. The film is inspiring in a way that we have to understands that thing need to change if we want to continue being relevant. I find myself just like Billy dealing with “young-old guys” that believe things can’t change.
I highly recommend this film.

3. Midnight in Paris

4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The history of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'” takes us to 70’s. The failure of a space mission in Hungary triggers a change in the commander's control dome of the British services. One of the uncontrolled ones is agent George Smiley. When Smiley already has come to terms with the idea of retirement, he is put in charge of a special mission. There are suspicions that a “mole” has been infiltrated between the high instances of the Service and only somebody from outside can discover it. With the help of other retired officers and one faithful agent, Smiley will be successfully obtaining information and fitting the pieces that will take to the traitor. During this process he will find treason histories, ambition and lies.

At its narrative, the film is an old-fashioned whodunit; yet it’s the thematic circumference that dominates loyalties betrayed and the betrayals compounded. As the narrative develops, the scenes grow thicker in sinister subtext, until the flashback becomes about: The past is never simple and not even past, it always sows the seeds of the present.

Nearly 40 years later, this superb remake has the inevitable look of a period piece, a smoke-filled rendering of things past. John le CarrĂ© wrote the novel in the early seventies and the BBC adapted it. However, thanks to Tomas Alfredson’s great direction and a brilliant cast, with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy among others, the film also retains its contemporary relevance, as a reminder that the ethical ambiguities of today’s geo-political climate are hardly new, that there was never anything simple about the simple dialectic of the Cold War. A greatly acted film; go check it out.

5. Beginners

6. The Ides of March

The last work of George Clooney as director. This was the opening film at the “Mostra” of Venice. The film is also acted by the Clooney that apparently has been very pleased by the result, also in the film is perhaps the best American young actor, Ryan Gosling, This is a plot of suspense with political background. “The Ides of March” has been co-written by Clooney as well, demonstrating its faith on the story adapting the Willimon’s work “Farragut North”. The story takes us to the last days of primary elections in Ohio. The cast is completed with other stars that put a heavy weight to the film, including Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella and Jeffrey Wright, besides the always stimulating Philip Seymour Hoffman, plus another great performance by Gosling this year, hard to tell which performance was his best this year out of this one, “Drive” and “Crazy, Stupid Love”. A super cast!

This movie is about politics and of course that means that it is filled with lies and deceptions and all sorts of interesting stuff. People are tempted onto the other side, forced to indulge in cover ups that will prevent the competition from finding out their hidden secrets, and brought into all sorts of betrayals. This movie will keep you drawn to the screen in order to find out exactly what the truth is and what the lies are. But don’t be surprised if you aren’t sure which is which until the very end. You’ll love this movie.

7. Shame

This is the new film from director Steve McQueen. The main character played by Irish actor Michael Fassbender. Brandon is the main character of the movie and he’s got a horrible sexual addiction. All he really wants to do is connect with someone in a real and genuine way but it just never seems to happen. His sexual escapades are raw but you can see that he is searching for more, something else. When his wayward younger sister, Sissy, (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment shaking memories of their shared painful past, Brandon's insular life spirals out of control. Sissy is a cutter and equally damaged character comes to stay with him and he tries to protect her from life but it isn’t always possible.

Brandon is isolated by his addiction. He takes regular masturbation breaks in his workplace restroom. He orders prostitutes at night, sometimes several. His laptop at home has by pay-per-minute cam-girls who know him by name; his desktop at work is so rotten with porn that IT support takes it away. Brandon has sex compulsively, indiscriminately, and for the sake of release rather than for intimacy or even pleasure.

The movie is extremely slow-paced, Director Steve McQueen lingers on scenes until they reach, and surpass, emotional breaking point. Shame is not exactly a sexy date movie, but it is not disgusting either. Brandon doesn't have sex like normal people, his entire sexuality seems to be rooted in self-hatred.

The film ends with Brandon on the moment of a decision, but we don't know whether he's going to take the one that could actually help him. There is little indication in the movie that there is hope. This is one of the best movies you’ll see this year and you will not be able to stop thinking about these characters.

8. The Artist

I was a bit apprehensive before I saw the film. I was questioning the idea of the remake of a silent film. I quickly changed my mind. This is a French, silent movie in black and white, however “The Artist” will make you feel the love for cinema. 

Set in 1927, Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin, the biggest movie star in the whole world.  He's riding high in the time of the silent pictures, but those times are coming to an end.  The head of the studio, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), is ready to embrace the talkies, and he wants to bring in a new stable of stars. 

Of course, George is too proud and stubborn to embrace the future, so he leaves the studio determined to continue his silent stardom.  Along the way, he meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) an Argentinian born actress, she plays a young lady looking to become a Hollywood star.  As her fortunes rise and she becomes the biggest star of the talkies, George's fall, but the attraction between them only seems to grow, especially as Peppy tries to help. The question emerge whether he will have a comeback, will they fall in love, will he be in a talkie film? 

The Artist is in the list this year because of the great job they did, great artistry and skill needed to recreate a silent movie, but, also, because it has a story and acting that excites your emotions.  Director Michel Hazanavicius and his team relentlessly adhered to the silent movie formulas and characteristics in ways that cinema experts will be raging, and the less experienced movie fans will find entertaining. 

The Artist is a great movie, whether it is silent or not.  Bejo is the girl all guys hope to fall in love with as she bats her eyelashes, sings, dances and performs one of the most brilliant pantomime scenes since the golden days silent film when she is in George's dressing room, Peppy plays around, pretending to have a romantic, flirty encounter with the man of her dreams.

A silent movie needs to be broad to express the story to the audience, but George (Dujardin) also brings in some more subtle moments and steadily shows the dissatisfaction, disappointment and growing depression in George to make the fall of the movie idol so poignant.   

Dog lovers will love this film after the great dog’s performance, Uggie charms his way, for sure. It is a great cinema lesson. Go check it out. You might like it. 

9. The Descendants

Based on a novel of Kaui Hart Hemmings, this film “the descendants” tells the history of Matt King (George Clooney) who is not exactly a good father or a good husband. Matt King has to give the decisive vote to sell his family land in Hawaii. It is in fact a terrible moment, because his wife Elizabeh has been in a comma for 23 days after an accident. It is another tremendous decision to disconnect her from the vital tubes. Matt (George Clooney) finds out that the paralyzed Liz was planning to leave him and divorce him for her lover (Matthew Lillard) whom the betrayed wishes to know.This ignored adultery is revealed by Alex (Shailene Woodley), his 17 year old sarcastic daughter, whom he never took the time to understand.
In summary with so many marriage and paternal complications, it is surprise to see how the director, Alexander Payne, maintains lightness of this astute comedy with an argument that another director would have intensified with almost tragic narrative.

Matt King is terrified to become responsible of Alex and her 10 year old sister (Amara Miller), but with their help he undertakes the search of the elusive Lillard. Irony is vital to observe in proximity as well as from a distance this cornucopia of Cuckolds this offers Clooney the most ambivalent character in his career, at moments with almost perverse temptation to cry with outbursts of laughter in a moment where Payne has the supreme tact to do a take where Matt is facing backwards.

Matt creates believes he has control of his life or at least of its family. The supposed descendants assume ascendant dominion in a future where tha contradictions abound. Alexandra cruelly removes her content father’s blindfolds, as she shows him that to live on a lie it is the equivalent to die on installments.

In Alexander Payne’s filmography, The Descendants surpasses “Election” and “Sideways”, by its absolute control of the cast. Woodley, the young boyfriend (Nick Krause) and the grouchy grandfather played by Robert Forster steal scenes from Clooney, adding spice to the situations. In the sunny places of Hawaii, we are allowed to turn this story around and turn it into an almost mocking melodrama. 

10. Melancholia

I have never been a fan of Kirsten Dunst; although I loved Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, for this film she won best actress at Cannes, which I don’t think this performance was particularly great. The movie has an interesting premise; the rich behaving badly can be entertaining. Lars von Trier's latest apocalyptic drama, "Melancholia," takes a similar route, but at the risk of overplaying the apocalyptic narrative.

Melancholia is the name of a planet that's on a collision course with Earth, just in time to spoil the extravagant wedding party of hedonistic rich girl Justine (Kirsten Dunst), whose marriage to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) gets off to a rocky start. At first the bride and groom seem intoxicated with each other, but soon she's ripping her clothes, urinating on the grass and raping a guy named Tim.

"Melancholia" tells us the tale of two sisters who are polar opposites in every respect. Justine (Dunst) is a free-spirited career woman who's blond, attractive and just about to have it all marrying a perfect man, and by her nature, rejects it all.   Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire, a dark-haired, extremely thin in appearance and has given her life over to her very successful husband and perfect son, and yearns for Justine's life. This is literally set against the backdrop of the discovery of a new planet named Melancholia that's careening through space, supposedly only going to pass by Earth.
It's the end of the world as von Trier knows it, and he seems to dig it.

Their portrayal can be seen as both sensitive and pretentious and that can certainly come at odds for how you'll feel about them by the end. I've come to embrace the pretentiousness of von Trier's work simply because he knows how to balance it all with effective technical proficiency and leaves it all open to discussion, however as is the case with all of von Trier's movies, he invites you to bring your agendas and make your own interpretation.
It's an absolutely beautiful looking movie that brings to play all of von Trier's visual tricks. Pristine composed shots that work in combination with intentionally jittery handheld camera moments all designed to provoke and force the viewer to put together the pieces. Von Trier uses excerpts from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde to punctuate his scenes and furthers the haunting beauty of his film.

Perhaps "Melancholia" sounds less ponderous than it is. Certainly it's easier to grasp than Von Trier's previous epic, "Antichrist," thanks in part to the casting. Hurt and Rampling make an especially volatile ex-couple, though the wildly eclectic soundtrack sometimes seems to be fighting them. I'm a fan of Lars von Trier and any new movie from him is worth going to see. I found "Melancholia" to be mesmerizing.