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2011-in-Review-film

My 2011 in Film: Favorite 2011 Films

My Top Ten has already appeared over on Row Three, along with all the other contributors’ lists. It’s a good mix, you should check it out. Or, you could just read mine below, copied essentially verbatim, but with added pictures. Below the top ten are a loosely ordered (favorite to less favorite) assortment of other films from 2011 that I think are worth mentioning. Still to come: A post listing my favorite things I saw in 2011, but weren’t released in 2011.

 

TOP TEN

10. Winnie the Pooh

I hoped against hope that Disney would do right by the beloved Pooh bear, and they surpassed all my expectations. With a simple but charming story pulled together from a few of A.A. Milne’s most beloved entries in the series, lovely hand-drawn animation, and a sense of wonder and childlikeness that’s missing from most overly hip children’s films these days, Winnie the Pooh is like a breath of admittedly nostalgic fresh air. Little bits of cleverness like the integration of physical text and the animation style shift for the Backson song just add to the joy of this unpretentious delight. Full review on Row Three

9. Hanna

Joe Wright, of high-quality but relatively staid literary adaptations like Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, is doing an action movie about a teenage assassin? O…kay… But Wright pulls it off in spades, crafting one of the finest genre mashups of the year. With influences from James Bond to La femme nikita and from Run Lola Run to M (okay, it’s a stretch, but it’s there), plus a healthy dose of well-played coming-of-age story, it’s easy to accuse Hanna of not knowing what it wants to be, but on the contrary, it knows exactly what it wants to be – everything. And it manages all that with panache and an exhilarating sense of cinematic space in the action sequences. Great performances, action, editing, music, and immensely entertaining to boot.

8. The Artist

It’s no secret I’m a fan (an emerging one, anyway) of silent cinema, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating 2011′s B&W silent throwback since I heard about it. But films that attempt imitation like this can fail in so many ways, either getting things subtly wrong or failing to capture the thing that made the original so pleasing. Thankfully, The Artist comes through with flying colors (or lack of color, heh), pairing its simple romance and tale of silent cinema’s demise with a charm and vivacity that approximates the joys of silent films quite well. The acting is stylistically believable without feeling forced, the film tone-switches like a pro (as many silent films do), and the bits of gimmickry related to sound end up working better than I feared. It’s ultimately a breezy film, though not without its bits of melodrama, but there hasn’t been as charming a celebration of 1920s Hollywood since Singin’ in the Rain. Scorecard review

7. The Innkeepers

If you want to know what kind of horror hits all my buttons, look no further than Ti West’s supremely enjoyable haunted hotel film. Not only does it succeed with jump and reveal scares as the two ghost-hunting hotel employees spend the inn’s final days investigating the potential presence of the rumored ghost, but it’s just as solid in the more comedic sections of the film, bringing these two characters to life so when shit starts going down, it matters. In addition, West proves a wonderful understanding of cinematic space, using the character and location set-up in the beginning for some fantastic payoffs in the rest of the film. I don’t outright love very many horror films, but I loved this one. Full review on Row Three

6. Attack the Block

By the time I finally saw this, it had been so hyped by bloggers around the country that I was sure I would be in for disappointment. Not this time, though; the hype is pretty much deserved. From the gutsy move of having our heroes be South London thugs who start the film by mugging a young woman to the fantastic creature design of the monsters, Attack the Block succeeds on all levels. The character arcs work, thanks to solid writing and performances from the mostly unknown cast, the social commentary works even when it’s a bit on the nose, the thrills and chills work, and the comic relief works as well, for the most part. Sure to be a staple for genre-lovers for some time to come. Scorecard review

5. Melancholia

Leave it to Lars von Trier to somehow make a film about depression that is gloomy as hell, but actually NOT that depressing, when it comes right down to it. In a role that finally showcases that talent that she’s shown so fleetingly throughout her career (how’s that for a backhanded compliment!), Kirsten Dunst plays Justine first as flighty and fun, but that’s just a veneer shallowly covering her deep depression, which is soon paralleled (manifested?) in the approaching blue planet dubbed Melancholia. Yet it is she, in the second half, who is far better equipped to deal with the end of the world, an eventuality that formerly stable Charlotte Gainsbourg is unprepared to face. It’s self-consciously arty, but that’s part and parcel of the von Trier experience, and this is probably his most accessible and overwhelming film to date. Scorecard review

4. Drive

One of the most stylish films of the year for sure, and maybe it’s a case of style over substance, but I don’t really care. From the hot pink title lettering to the movie-LA locations to the mishmash of genre film references to the laconic main character himself, I was totally enthralled with this film. Ryan Gosling cements himself as an actor to be reckoned with, doing a lot with a very subtle role, and managing to stand out against a stellar supporting cast of more over the top supporting characters. Already an arthouse favorite thanks to his earlier films, Nicholas Winding Refn delivers a slam-dunk calling card to Hollywood without losing the personal aesthetic that he’s known for. I’ve seen this twice in theatres, and that wasn’t enough. Full review on Row Three

3. Certified Copy

A heady yet emotionally grounded inquiry from Abbas Kiarostami into the nature and value of originals and copies played out in a most unusual way – a couple of strangers (or are they) who have been discussing the ramifications of copies in an academic fashion suddenly begin acting as if they’ve been married for years (and perhaps they have). How does a simulcra of a marriage related to a real marriage, and if the fake becomes real, what is real? The film is thoughtful, cerebral, and academic, yes, like its male protagonist. But it’s also warm, heartfelt, and resonant, like its “Elle” (a wonderful performance from Juliette Binoche) – though these roles are no more set in stone than their relationship. I’ve still only seen it once, but I’ve pondered it perhaps more than any other film I saw in 2011, unable to get it out of my head. Full review on Row Three

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

My first Lynne Ramsay film, but certainly not my last, and hopefully not hers, either. (One worries when filmmakers take 9-year breaks in between films.) One of the most disturbing and terrifying films of the year, yet with essentially no on-screen violence or gore – Ramsay conveys everything through unsettling sound design, jarring structural juxtapositions as she tells the story out of chronological order yet with a perfect thematic flow, and the wonderful central performance of Tilda Swinton as a woman who embodies the worst fears of parenthood in one tightly wound little ball. The film is assaultive in many ways, and one thing’s for sure – whether the parents who need to talk about Kevin do so or not, audiences certainly are and will be. Scorecard review

1. The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an intensely personal film, despite its ambitious scope. It depicts the whole history of the universe, yet affirms the importance of humanity even when faced with the enormity of the cosmos – we are tiny, but an endless summer in small-town Texas can be all-important. The film is clearly a passion project for Terrence Malick (as all his films are, really), and much of its pleasure is in how much it resonates personally with the viewer – it hit me dead-on, to the extent that I drank it all in and couldn’t really process anything else for several hours or even days. It was one of the great cinematic experiences of the year for me (and that’s really what it is, an experience, privileging associative resonance over narrative drive), and that’s why it’s remained at the top of my list all year.

 

OTHERS WORTH MENTIONING

The idea that only ten films a year are worth mentioning seems pretty ridiculous to me, so even though I go along with it for list posts and such just to conform to some sort of standard, I really feel like end of the year posts should highlight other worthwhile films of the year as well. So this is a non-numbered listing of other films I really really liked this year. Largely ones I like better are toward the top, ones I like less well toward the bottom, but this is pretty much every film from 2011 (or 2010 in a few cases, like Attenberg, which released in Greece in 2010 but still hasn’t hit the US outside of festival screenings) that I really liked/loved. They all deserve recognition.

Attenberg

My first exposure to the current wave of Greek cinema was a very good one, with just enough oddness in its coming-of-age and dealing-with-death story and stunted-growth characters to go along with its stark Czech New Wave stylistics, without falling over the deep end of weirdness. Austere but also quite relatable. Full review on Row Three

Café de Flore

An absolute marvel in terms of using music and editing for maximum emotional impact, the last section of Café de Flore floored me (no pun intended). The French Canadian film parallels two stories of love and potential loss, one of a modern-day Montreal DJ torn between his ex-wife and his new, younger lover, the other of a mother in 1960s Paris raising her Downs Syndrome son. How they come together will make or break the film for you; it totally made it for me. Scorecard review

The Dynamiter

A tiny film from an indie director out of Mississippi, starring all unknown actors. Checking these types of films out at festivals is always a risky proposition, but this one paid off for me like crazy, with its tender but unsentimental coming of age story balanced by some charming performances from the young actors, not to mention some gorgeous cinematography. Full review on Row Three

Meek’s Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt’s prickly Western gets across the hellish nature of cross-country pioneering with devastating claustrophobia. Potentially lost, nearing the end of their supplies and sanity, trusting themselves to a guide who may not know anything more than they do – yet no other choices are better. A hard film to get close to, and yet a hard one to get out of your head, with an evocative metaphysical layer as well.

The Adventures of Tintin

I don’t like 3D and I don’t like motion capture. Yet I really, really enjoyed this film. It’s a whiz-bang adventure film in the style of 1930s serials, with a breathlessly gung-ho young hero, his adorable dog, and great comic relief from all the supporting characters. The one-take motorcycle chase at the end is the obvious highlight, but the camerawork is great throughout, as is the use of space within the frame. Scorecard review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

After loving the Swedish version of this, I was a little wary of this one, but trusted Fincher to come through, and come through he did. A bit edgier, a bit slicker, a bit tighter, and a bit more expansive, his version of Dragon Tattoo stands on its own as a solid and hard-hitting thriller. Scorecard review

Kill List

On a purely visceral level, this film is one of the best experiences I had all year – a slow-burn opening following a former hitman trying to get back into the game to support his family turns into something much more sinister, with some heart-pumping scenes that’ll keep your heart racing long after the movie is over. There are some large plot holes, but the film is remarkably effective anyway. Scorecard review

Jane Eyre

Yet another version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic gothic novel? Yes, and one that does a remarkable job of getting those moody gothic elements onscreen. Switching the narrative around a bit works to escalate cinematic tension, and Mia Wasikowska cements the promise she showed in Alice in Wonderland (being in a much better film helped) with a performance that captures both Jane’s willfulness and her reticence.

This is Not a Film

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been placed under house arrest and banned from making films by the Iranian government. So he calls a friend over to film him talking about the film he was intending to make before the ban. From there we get not only a surprisingly humorous yet desperate documentary about Panahi’s situation, but a treatise on filmmaking itself – what a film is and isn’t, and how artists find ways to express themselves even under suppression. Full review on Row Three

Extraterrestrial

Waking up from an awkward one-night stand, a pair of near-strangers realize that an alien ship has taken up residence above their city. But the threat of her boyfriend finding out about them and the annoyance of a next-door neighbor are more immediate in this hilarious and original film from the writer/director of Timecrimes. Full review on Row Three

Rango

One of the most uniquely-designed and entertaining animated films of the year, with a Johnny Depp-voiced chameleon setting himself up as a gunslinger to a thirsty town, but then he’s expected to follow through to save the town. Loads of sly, well-placed references to cinema history just add to the fun.

Midnight in Paris

With lovely Parisian locations and a charming story both playing on and debunking nostalgia, it’s really hard to dislike Midnight in Paris – obviously so, as it’s become Woody Allen’s highest grossing film ever. It doesn’t totally all work for me, especially in the modern-set scenes, but the travels back in time are fantastic.

The Guard

Both a hilarious caper of an old-school Irish policeman forced to partner with a black American FBI agent to take down a group of drug smugglers, and a sober and insightful character study, and better than both those bald-faced descriptions would suggest. The combination pays off just as well or better here for John Michael McDonagh as it did for his brother Martin McDonagh in In Bruges. Both have the advantage of a terrific Brendan Gleeson. Full review on Row Three

Contagion

Steven Soderbergh tries a lot of different things, and I don’t always think they’re successful, but this time he takes on an ensemble drama following the spread and attempted treatment of a deadly disease and pulls it off wonderfully – even if the frequent criticism that the film makes it a bit hard to connect emotionally with the many different people involved is probably accurate, as a thriller showing what could be a very real event in a detached way, it works like gangbusters. Full review on Row Three

Familiar Ground

This is a comedy, though it’s so extremely dry that sometimes it’s hard to tell. It took me a little while to get used to the particular brand of awkward and slow-to-pay off humor, but it was well worth it in this French Canadian dysfunctional family tale. Capsule review on Row Three

Super 8

Super 8 does an awful lot of things right, especially the casting of the kids, who are all simply fantastic. Getting the sense of nostalgia and childhood wonder right is essential for this kind of film, and it does a great job of it until the very end, when J.J. Abrams can’t resist going a little too bombastic and a little too CGI with the fight against the monster. Still, there are shadows of greatness here.

The Future

Miranda July’s films (she’s only made two features, including this one) leave me feeling a bit uneasy, but in this case, I think that’s utterly intentional. A couple faced with their own mortality give up their work-a-day jobs to follow their creative dreams, but that just reveals a lot of their personal insecurities and drives a wedge between them. A bit of a downer, perhaps, but one that certainly speaks to thirty-somethings, especially creatives, who feel like they’re drifting. Full review on Row Three

Take Shelter

A tour-de-force for Michael Shannon (though Jessica Chastain holds her own against him) as a loving husband and father tormented by recurring dreams of an impending storm. Real portents of the future, or the sign of a troubled mind? Either way, the lengths he goes to try to protect his family actually threaten to tear it apart. Scorecard review

The Bad Intentions

Ten-year-old Cayetana is firmly convinced that when her announced baby brother is born, she will die, a cynical fantasy she uses to cope with her aloof parents and the raging of terrorist activity surrounding her home in Peru. Perhaps a spiritual cousin to Pan’s Labyrinth – nowhere near as visionary and breathtaking as that film, especially in its overly-meandering third act, but solid and often quite funny. Capsule review on Row Three

Captain America: The First Avenger

I totally wasn’t expecting to enjoy Captain America as much as I did, but maybe that’s why I did. This is the sort of whiz-bang wide-eyed fun I want from a comic book movie, with gorgeous BioShock-infused set design, a hero who’s earnest in all the right ways, and a treatment of alternate history that pleased me very much.

The Adjustment Bureau

This, to me, is what the average Hollywood wide release film should be – not necessarily in story, though I did quite like its combination of thoughtful sci-fi and chemistry-laden romance, but it’s a solid, adult-aimed film that knows how to use its stars (Emily Blunt in particular makes great use of a character that could’ve been really flat), knows how to blend its genres together, and comes out with a satisfying whole that still gives you something to think about when it’s over.

Headhunters

An extremely solid genre thriller with a nice bait-and-switch plot as an art thief ends up embroiled in a corporate plot much bigger than he is, having to overcome his innate cowardice to survive and get his life back. Lots of OMG and WTF moments punctuate a well-written character arc. Scorecard review

le-cercle-rouge

Scorecard: November 2011

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

Even though I just finished recapping all the AFI films in their own posts, I went ahead and included them here as well, just because I like seeing how they all came out in relation to each other. All the capsule text is exactly the same as in the other posts, so if you read them in one of the AFI posts, don’t bother looking at them again here, but I figured, hey, nice to have them all in one place and be able to see they all compared in my overall rankings, plus if anyone happened to miss any of the previous posts, here you go. There are also a few non-AFI film capsules crossposted from the Movies We Watched series on Row Three. Hey, I’m just reusing and recycling, doing my part for the environment. You may notice I included my Flickchart rankings for each film this time – I’m going to start doing that for the monthly recap posts from now on, I think. Flickchart is a great site built around a deceptively simple premise – it presents you with two films and asks you to choose which one you like better. Do that enough (I’ve done it over 45,800 times as of this second) and it builds your list of films from favorites to least favorites. Take these with a grain of salt, though – I think these are roughly accurate, but my Flickchart changes every day.

What I Loved

Le cercle rouge

My one repertory screening of AFI Fest, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 76 out of 2828

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Now here’s one that will DEFINITELY be on my top ten list this year – I was expecting a lot from this film based on the buzz from other festivals and advance screenings, and it delivered even more than I could’ve hoped. Almost a psychological horror film, delving into the disturbed psyche of a mom whose son seems to be a child of the devil. But whether the boy really is astoundingly fiendish or whether she’s an incapable mother (or more likely, somewhere between those two extremes, as they both bring out the worst in each other) is left ambiguous, as Lynne Ramsay builds a portrait of a woman who’s lost everything and vascillates between blaming everyone else and assuming blame herself. The film is structured with a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, keeping the audience in doubt as to the exact chain of events until a chronology starts building up to a terrible end – this structure, standout performances from everyone involved, and an enormously effective soundscape combine to make this one of the most terrifying pictures about parenthood ever made.
2011 UK. Director: Lynne Ramsay. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 78 out of 2828

Melancholia

It stands to reason that Lars von Trier would be a stellar director for a film with the end of the world as a metaphor for depression. It isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it’s nonetheless a perfect depiction of “melancholia” in both metaphorical and literal terms, as Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible performance as a woman struggling with depression, seemingly the only person who truly understands the import of the planet hurtling toward earth (dubbed “Melancholia”). Her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, tries to help her through the depression, but when it becomes clear that Melancholia is not going to miss Earth as predicted, she falls apart – the shifting roles of the two sisters brings a dynamism to a film that can get downright stately (in a good way). No one but von Trier could make this film, but it is probably his most accessible in years.
2011 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Stellan Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 223 out of 2828

Attenberg

My first foray into the new wave of Greek cinema emerging over the past couple of years was an unmitigated success, at least for me. I have yet to see either of Yanthos Lorgimos’s films (which I need to do, especially Dogtooth, as it’s a frontrunner in current Greek cinema), but I pretty much loved Attenberg, from his friend and collaborator Athina Rachel Tsangari, from start to finish. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got is something very similar to a Czech New Wave film, closely focused on a single twenty-something character and her struggle to come to terms with her father’s impending death and the way that’s all tied up her late-blooming sexuality. On the surface, not a whole lot happens here, but there’s a lot underneath, and that’s what I like to see. Right now this is in my top ten for the year. We’ll see if it can hang on through the final month of big-name releases. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Greece. Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari. Starring: Ariane Labed, Yorgos Lanthimos, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 246 out of 2828

Cafe de Flore

Parallel stories seemingly connected only by the importance of the title song in each take place in 1969 Paris and present-day Montreal. In 1969, a mother devotes herself to her Downs Syndrome son, their close bond threatened only when the boy becomes attached to a Downs girl he meets a school. In present-day, a DJ leaves his wife of many years for a young beauty. Both stories are concerned with multiple loves, lost love, new love, and letting go, and they may be connected even closer than that. This film will sneak up on you with how good it is, rising to an amazingly edited and scored crescendo. There currently isn’t US distribution for it that I’m aware of, and that’s a crying shame. This is one of the best films of the year.
2011 Canada. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 326 out of 2828

This is Not a Film

This is not a film because Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years by the Iranian government, because his films are seen as subversive and politically dangerous. This is not a film also because what he’s doing instead of making a film is having a friend record him telling his next screenplay, and a description of a screenplay is not a film. But this is a very real, very heartbreaking, very frustrating, and surprisingly very funny documentary about a man denied the ability to do what he does. It’s fantastic, and the knowledge that Panahi’s appeal was denied in the middle of October only makes it more poignant. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Iran. Directors: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi. Starring: Jafar Panahi.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 342 out of 2828

Extraterrestrial

I’m a big fan of Nacho Vigalondo’s time travel film Timecrimes, so when I saw his new alien invasion film was coming to AFI Fest, it was an immediate must on my schedule. I’m not as big on alien invasion films as I am on time travel films, but that’s okay, because this is far from your typical alien invasion film, focusing on a quartet of characters left behind the evacuation when an alien ship appears. Their biggest fears, though, are the secrets they’re keeping from each other and the theories they hatch about each other. Great script and performances to match from the young cast make this a hugely fun time from start to finish. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Spain. Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Starring: Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Carlos Areces, Raúl Cimas.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 343 out of 2828

Kill List

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 612 out of 2828

Headhunters

A downright fun thriller with a heavy dose of dark comedy, as a mousy headhunter who uses his contacts as a way to find potential targets for his side business as an art thief ends up embroiled in a scheme way over his head and has to overcome his many character weaknesses just to survive. The plotting is intricate, but rarely confusing, and the cast (including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known in the US for his villainous Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones) carries off all manner of ridiculous situations with believable aplomb.
2011 Norway. Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aksel Hennie, Julie R. Ølgaard, Synnøve Macody Lund.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 617 out of 2828

What I Liked

Born to Kill

I hadn’t heard of this noir film until a friend of mine mentioned that he’d bought it and offered to lend it to me, and I ended up really liking it. But then, I like most noir, so that’s not really surprising. This one has a few intriguing twists on the genre, though, and two of the most watchably despicable characters I’ve seen for a while. Trevor’s next-door-neighbor gets killed by her jealous boyfriend (Tierney) when he catches her with another man (whom he also kills), but he escapes being noticed by Trevor, who discovers the bodies but then skips town rather than involve herself by, like, calling the police. She and Tierney end up on the same train, neither knowing who the other is, and their lives continue to be intertwined after that. Tierney is almost an homme fatale, the guy who simply won’t scram out of Trevor’s life and entrances her with his bravado and charisma, even though she knows he’s bad for her. But at the same time, she turns out to be hardly a straight-and-narrow kind of person herself, pulling double-cross after double-cross as she realizes who Tierney is (while Tierney interestingly stays pretty true to his admittedly amoral ideals). And of course, there’s the obligatory supporting turn from Elisha Cook, Jr., the staple of so many great noir films, and he’s just as great here as ever as Tierney’s mousy friend who has to do most of his dirty work. In fact, there’s great supporting work from everyone involved, especially Walter Slezak as a mostly kind but also kinda sleazy detective, and Esther Howard as a well-past-her-prime matron who doggedly pursues her friend’s killer – her performance and appearance may well bring new definition to the word “camp.”
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Jr.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 684 out of 2828

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is one I went into with really no quality expectations whatsoever. I chose it because I’d never seen a Turkish film, and because I like slow burn procedural films – to a point. I was a bit concerned that this would go past that point, because it is very long and I was perfectly prepared to be bored stiff. But even though it is very slow, it is never boring, and I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would. A caravan of police and army officers are escorting a pair of suspects in the middle of nowhere, trying to find a body that one suspect says is out there, but can’t remember exactly where. This odyssey takes all night, and along the way, different groupings of the police and suspects talk. The topics of conversation are as mundane as anything, but over time, this mundanity becomes the real focus, and takes on in importance even greater than the body they seek. It’s a narrative subversion that only works because of a really solid script and believable acting turns by the whole cast, and it’s a welcome one – by the end, you care more about these people’s individual lives than the mystery itself. There’s a lot more dry humor in it than I expected, too, which actually made the nearly three-hour runtime go by rather quickly.
2011 Turkey. Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 859 out of 2828

Snowtown

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 860 out of 2828

The Dish and the Spoon

Greta Gerwig is an indie goddess for a reason, and this little film proves why. Taking a simple story of a woman angry at her husband’s infidelity and throwing in some adventures with a young unmoored British man, Gerwig finds a character arc and runs with it, alternating funny, awkward, raw, and quirky as needed. The film is something of a collaboration between director, writer, and stars, and though things like this can get loose and uncontrolled very quickly, that doesn’t happen here, and the film remains charming and cohesive. Full review on Row Three.
2011 USA. Director: Alison Bagnall. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 867 out of 2828

The Kid with a Bike

I’ve never seen a film from the Dardenne brothers before, but I know them by reputation, and they seem to often do stories that deal with unwanted or unwelcome children. In this case, the main character is an eleven-year-old kid whose dad puts him in an orphanage (“temporarily”) but then ends up abandoning him totally. A kind neighbor takes him in, despite a rather inauspicious meeting, but they’ve got several bumps in the road left to go, not least of them the kid’s temptation to fall in with a bad crowd. It’s a bit on the sweet side, but doesn’t stray too far into saccharine territory – really good turns from Doret and De France help a lot, making an unlikely relationship realistic and meaningful. There’s not enough in the film to really push it over the edge into “loved” territory for me, but it’s solid for what it is.
2011 Belgium. Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 972 out of 2828

Buried

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
2010 USA. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Seen November 24 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1113 out of 2828

The Day He Arrives

This one has been at the top of my must-see list for the festival since it was announced, since Hong Sang-soo’s film HaHaHa was my favorite film of last year’s AFIFest. And I did see it, but I’m disappointed to say that I was exhausted and zoning in and out throughout it. As such, I can’t really justify reviewing it fully, but here’s a few bits about it from my half-remembered daze. It’s got a lot less story than HaHaHa did, but similar to that film (and other Hong films, from what I’ve heard), a lot of it involves people conversing over drinks. In fact, that’s mostly what this film is, but Hong is so good at sussing out great little moments and character interactions in social situations like this that it remains enjoyable to watch, and I expect would be really good if I had been awake enough to catch more nuances. The main character is a filmmaker who arrives in a small town, intending to meet up with a friend, but he gets waylaid by a fan first, then a bunch of film students, then visits a former girlfriend (awesome awkward conversation there), then ends up killing some time with a friend of his friend, since his friend isn’t home. Eventually there are four of them, hanging out over drinks and chatting – this stuff is great, and seems to come really easily to Hong. This basically feels like a recharge film, a quickly produced affair maybe as he’s working on something more complicated. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are some really interesting conversational tacks, all carried out with aplomb by the charismatic cast. There’s also some timey-wimey stuff going on – one section of the film is repeated almost verbatim twice, but with slight differences, and the end is basically the beginning, except his friend turns out to be home. I’m dying to see it again to connect that stuff up properly, but I can’t, having dozed off enough to make deciphering timey-wimey stuff impossible. The worst part is I have no idea when, if ever, I’ll get a chance to rewatch this – Hong’s stuff is not easy to find in the US.
2011 South Korea. Director: Hong Sang-soo. Starring: Jun-Sang Yu, Sang Jung Kim, Bo-kyung Kim, Seon-mi Song.
Seen November 8 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1252 out of 2828

Bonsái

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1265 out of 2828

Pina

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1267 out of 2828

Dementia, aka Daughter of Horror

What a bizarre and intriguing little curiosity of a film. Shot in 1953 completely silent, but released in 1955 with an added voiceover narration, the film screened at Cinefamily with live narration from a local comedian, who read the voiceover script when called for, but filled in the many non-voiced parts with MST3K-style joking around. So it’s not an experience that’s likely to be repeatable, but it was certainly memorable and hilarious to see it that way. The film itself is a nightmare-scape, with a woman waking in the middle of the night and taking a noirish odyssey through the dark streets of a city populated with winos, pimps, and scumbags. Is it really happening, or is she dreaming? Who knows? It’s rather surreal, and filled with memorable details like a midget newspaper seller, a graveyard flashback with images of fatherly abuse, a swinging jazz club, a gluttonous lech, and a crisscross of legs blocking a vital piece of evidence – all rendered in high contrast black and white with long shadows and striking angles. The pacing is often disjointed, and the acting often simply bad, but there’s something mesmerizing about the film that I think exists apart from the amusing commentary we got that both enhanced and diffused the film’s nightmarish impact. I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I hesitate to say the film would be unwatchable without it (as most MST3K films are). There’s more inherent interest in it than that.
1955 USA. Director: John Parker. Starring: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman.
Seen November 16 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1421 out of 2828

The Loneliest Planet

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this film, even after having had a few weeks to think about it. It’s an extremely slowly-paced film, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – unless it’s 10pm the last day of an exhausting festival, which, oh wait, it was. It was difficult to stay awake in the film, but again, that’s not the film’s fault, and though I struggled while watching it, thinking back about it has made me appreciate a lot of what it was doing more. Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal play a couple about to be married who are vacationing in the mountains of Georgia (the country, not the state), backpacking and camping along with a mountain guide. A lot of the film is just them walking around, maybe taking a few minutes to wander around an abandoned house or interacting with village locals before heading out into the wilds. They converse some, trying to learn about their guide (who is actually played by one of the premier mountaineers in the world) and practicing bits of Spanish, but a lot of it is also wordless. Somewhere in the middle a traumatizing event causes Furstenberg’s character to start distrusting Bernal’s, which leads to some darker places in the rest of the film. A lot of this is pretty subtle, and I was frankly too sleepy to catch all the acting nuances all the time, but the Q&A and thinking over the film in the subsequent days has definitely made me want a rewatch at some point.
2011 Germany/USA. Director: Julia Loktev. Starring: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1753 out of 2828

The Last Command

I’m consciously trying to watch more Josef von Sternberg films, just because he’s got a healthy reputation among early Hollywood film directors – especially for his work with Marlene Dietrich, but also for late silents like Underworld and The Docks of New York, and this film, which is especially notable for being one of two films to bring Emil Jannings the very first Best Actor Academy Award ever. (They gave awards based on all films an actor appeared in that year; in this case, the other is The Way of All Flesh, which exists now only in fragments.) But I don’t quite get the von Sternberg thing. All three films of his I’ve seen, including this one, are fine, but I haven’t loved any of them, and none of them seem that distinctive to me. In this one, I liked the framing narrative that puts Jannings as a Hollywood extra who claims to have once been a general for the Czar – most everyone laughs him off, but the majority of the film is a flashback showing him leading the Czar’s army in 1917 and how he escaped Russia penniless during the Revolution. Jannings is really strong, especially in the current-time period (the flashback gets a little long and dull), and it’s fun seeing a really young William Powell as the revolutionary-turned-director who recognizes him in Hollywood. The ending goes for emotional resonance over logic, which didn’t quite work for me, either. But back to von Sternberg. I liked how he shot Brent as the lone female character, clearly gearing up for his work with Dietrich, but aside from that and Jannings’ performance, the film is honestly pretty flat. I guess I need to see more von Sternberg to get the hoopla.
1927 USA. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Emil Jannings, Evelyn Brent, William Powell.
Seen November 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 2447 out of 2828

What I Thought Was All Right

Beyond the Black Rainbow

I had no expectations at all of this, other than a recommendation from one friend who likes weird genre stuff and random Internet reviews that hated it. The trailer’s pretty trippy, so I was expecting that. Turns out there is a sci-fi story of sorts involving a happiness clinic, a girl held there against her will, a creepy psychologist-type guy, a bunch of androids or something, and…other stuff. The best part is the almost fully abstract flashback that sort of (but not really) explains the girl’s background; the parts that try to be story-led are just kind of off putting.
2010 USA. Director: Panos Cosmatos. Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands.
Seen November 2 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2461 out of 2828

Coriolanus

This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays boasts a strong cast including Ralph Fiennes (who also makes his directing debut), Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and James Nesbit. But there’s a reason that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It’s frankly not that interesting, even transposing its story of a military hero double-crossed and banished into a modern setting. The acting veers from classical overblown Shakespearean antics to more minimalist approaches, giving the film a very uneven feel – only Redgrave and Cox seem to know how to navigate switching between these two as the material calls for it. Chastain is really underused. There are some great moments, particularly Redgrave’s tour-de-force scenes as Coriolanus’ mother, but the whole thing is unwieldy and uneven. Full review on Row Three.
2011 UK. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2462 out of 2828

Faust

I quite liked Alexander Sukorov’s one-shot odyssey through Russian history in Russian Ark, but this film is nothing like that. It does have the framework of the Faust story, but a whole lot of the film is taken up by angsty philosophy (“where does the soul reside”) that might’ve intrigued me a little more if I knew more German and Russian philosophy, and a bunch of random running around as the devil and Faust hang out, crash parties full of women, wander through a city and the woods, etc. There’s some pretty cool imagery here and there, and after Faust actually signs his soul away, the rest of the film is good. But everything up to that (which is a LONG TIME) is really dull. Really.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Sukorov. Starring: Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinsky, Isolda Dychauk.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2463 out of 2828

What I Didn’t Like

Target

I so wanted this to be good – a Russian sci-fi film about a group of people who seek out this target-shaped area in Thailand with a well at the center of it that supposedly grants eternal youth. Seems like a good deal, but all is bound to go wrong. That much I figured, but it goes wrong in really offputting, cruel, and pointless ways. By the end of its two and a half hour runtime, I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted it to end. There are some great visuals spread throughout, and it’s shot and acted quite well, but it’s just…punishing to watch.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Zeldovich. Starring: Vitaly Kishchenko, Danila Kozlovskiy, Nina Loshchinina.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2643 out of 2828

Rewatches – Love

The Thin Man

As you can see by my Flickchart ranking below, this is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been really excited to show it to Jonathan for quite a while, so I was glad he picked it out of my collection to watch. It’s a decent little mystery that keeps you guessing all the way up until the Agatha-Christie-spoofing “gather all the suspects for dinner” finale, but the real joy is watching William Powell and Myrna Loy play off each other as Nick and Nora Charles. I’ve said many times, and I hold it to be absolute truth, that the Charleses are the best example of a married couple in all of cinema history. They have a depth of knowledge about each other and trust of each other that doesn’t even need to be verbalized – you can see it right there on the screen in the way she responds to his story about another girl being his long-lost love child, and the way he teases her about how she spends her money. They’re helped, of course, by some of the most sparkling dialogue in any movie ever (by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich), and a wide range of excellent supporting characters right down to the gangster and his moll who have about five lines of dialogue each but are utterly unforgettable. Thirties movies excelled at using character actors to good effect, and The Thin Man is right up there with the best of them. I could gush forever about this film, but I won’t.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 21 out of 2828

Totals

Films seen for the first time: 25
Rewatches: 1
Films seen in theatres: 23
List of Shame films: 0
2011 films: 19
2010 films: 2
1970s films: 1
1950s films: 1
1940s films: 1
1930s films: 1 (1 rewatch)
1920s films: 1
American films: 8 (1 rewatch)
British films: 3
Canadian films: 1
French films: 1
Belgian films: 1
Danish films: 1
Norwegian films: 1
Spanish films: 1
German films: 1
Russian films: 2
Greek films: 1
Iranian films: 1
Turkish films: 1
South Korean films: 1
Australian films: 1
Chilean films: 1

Melancholia

AFI Film Festival: Day Three (Sunday)

I am determined to get all these AFI films capsuled up, even if we are getting further and further away from the festival itself. Sunday would’ve been another five-film day like Saturday, except that I knew the Melancholia screening was going to be packed and decided to get in line super-early instead of seeing something in the slot just before it. That turned out to be the right decision, since being at the front of the pass-holder’s line only got us seats way over on the side. They turned away a whole bunch of people from that screening. But it was worth it. Great film, definitely one to see whether you’re a fan of von Trier or not, really.

The Dish and the Spoon

Greta Gerwig is an indie goddess for a reason, and this little film proves why. Taking a simple story of a woman angry at her husband’s infidelity and throwing in some adventures with a young unmoored British man, Gerwig finds a character arc and runs with it, alternating funny, awkward, raw, and quirky as needed. The film is something of a collaboration between director, writer, and stars, and though things like this can get loose and uncontrolled very quickly, that doesn’t happen here, and the film remains charming and cohesive. Reaction: LIKED. Full review on Row Three.
2011 USA. Director: Alison Bagnall. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander.

Cafe de Flore

Parallel stories seemingly connected only by the importance of the title song in each take place in 1969 Paris and present-day Montreal. In 1969, a mother devotes herself to her Downs Syndrome son, their close bond threatened only when the boy becomes attached to a Downs girl he meets a school. In present-day, a DJ leaves his wife of many years for a young beauty. Both stories are concerned with multiple loves, lost love, new love, and letting go, and they may be connected even closer than that. This film will sneak up on you with how good it is, rising to an amazingly edited and scored crescendo. There currently isn’t US distribution for it that I’m aware of, and that’s a crying shame. This is one of the best films of the year. Reaction: LOVED.
2011 Canada. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu.

Melancholia

It stands to reason that Lars von Trier would be a stellar director for a film with the end of the world as a metaphor for depression. It isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it’s nonetheless a perfect depiction of “melancholia” in both metaphorical and literal terms, as Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible performance as a woman struggling with depression, seemingly the only person who truly understands the import of the planet hurtling toward earth (dubbed “Melancholia”). Her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, tries to help her through the depression, but when it becomes clear that Melancholia is not going to miss Earth as predicted, she falls apart – the shifting roles of the two sisters brings a dynamism to a film that can get downright stately (in a good way). No one but von Trier could make this film, but it is probably his most accessible in years. Reaction: LOVED.
2011 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Stellan Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling.

Headhunters

A downright fun thriller with a heavy dose of dark comedy, as a mousy headhunter who uses his contacts as a way to find potential targets for his side business as an art thief ends up embroiled in a scheme way over his head and has to overcome his many character weaknesses just to survive. The plotting is intricate, but rarely confusing, and the cast (including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known in the US for his villainous Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones) carries off all manner of ridiculous situations with believable aplomb. Reaction: LOVED.
2011 Norway. Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aksel Hennie, Julie R. Ølgaard, Synnøve Macody Lund.

Melancholia

Heading to the AFI Film Festival 2011

One of my three big festivals of the year starts today (for me; the opening night premiere was J. Edgar last night, but I didn’t go to that), and there are a boat-load of fantastic films at AFI Fest 2001 Presented by Audi. Thanks to Audi’s sponsorship (among others), tickets are again free for all screenings this year, and if you’re in the LA area, there’s still time to reserve tickets to various screenings at the AFI Fest website. A lot of things are still available, other things aren’t right now, but they always release more tickets the day before the screening online, or at the box office the day of, or you can wait in the rush line and there’s a good chance you’ll make it in. The fest gathers the best of the other festivals throughout the year, with high-profile films from TIFF, Venice, Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and others showing up. Here’s the list of what I’ll likely be seeing (getting some major things I won’t be out of the way first). My main reviews will be going up on Row Three, but I’ll try to get festival impressions and capsules up over here as well.

All the trailer links open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to leave the site to watch them.

Big-Name Films I Won’t Be Seeing

Some of these are gala screenings I’d hoped to see but ended up not being able to get tickets, a few others are ones that fell to the vagaries of scheduling because as much as I wanted to see them, they were against ones I wanted to see more. The good news is most of these are going to be easily available in regular release within a few weeks, so it’s no great loss.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Béjo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
Country: USA/France
Synopsis:Silence is golden in director Michel Hazanavicius’ delightful and dialogue-less black-and-white feature about Hollywood’s bumpy transition from silent films to “talkies.”
My take: Let’s see, a B&W silent film made in 2011 set in Hollywood during the late 1920s? HELL YES. This movie was friggin’ MADE for me, and the fact that it’s gotten raves at every festival so far this year doesn’t hurt, either. Most anticipated not just of the festival, but of the year.

Carnage

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Country: France/Germany/Poland/Spain
Synopsis:Razor-sharp and acidly funny, CARNAGE strips away the thin veneer of civilization to find the savage heart beating just below the surface. Adapting Yasmina Reza’s smash comedy play “God of Carnage” to the screen, Roman Polanski assembles a dream cast to portray two sets of New York City parents locked in a showdown after their children clash on a playground.
My take: Polanski plus these four actors piqued my interest already (as well as hearing very positive feedback from the play), but seeing the trailer sealed the deal. This looks HILARIOUS in the best way.

Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: A searing examination of sexual compulsion, the film features two extraordinary performances. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a seemingly normal New Yorker trapped by his erotic compulsions. Carey Mulligan pivots 180 degrees from her sweet and vulnerable performance in AN EDUCATION as Sissy, Brandon’s needy, neurotic sister.
My take: This sounds both incredible and really hard to watch, at least it would be for me. I want to see it eventually, though, for sure, if only to see what is almost sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance from Fassbender.

My Week With Marilyn

Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Michelle Williams gives a luminous performance as Marilyn Monroe, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in this intimate portrait of the tragic Hollywood icon.
My take: Advance reviews from people I trust take the film down a few notches for being pretty much your standard biopic, reinforcing the legend more than looking at the actress, but have had nothing but praise for Williams’ performance. As a huge fan of both Williams and Monroe, that’s enough for me.

A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Merila Zarei
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, this drama is a complex portrait of an Iranian family torn apart by a divorce and an escalating feud.
My take: This is Iran’s official Oscar entry, and everything I’ve heard about it has been great. As I said above, I’m into Iranian film lately, but I’ve mostly seen the underground variety; I bet this is not one of those, what with the country choosing it to represent them at the Oscars and all.

My Planned Screenings

I likely won’t make it to quite all of these, because some of my schedule for later days is still a bit in flux. But they’re all at least tentatively on there for now. I’m also planning on hitting two or three of the short programs, but I don’t usually research those in advance, just fit them into my schedule as possible. I will recommend Shorts Program 1 if you’re attending the fest because it has The Eagleman Stag in it, which was easily the best short I saw at LAFF – it won the best short subject award at that fest, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come up for an animated short nomination at the Oscars.

Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland
Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy
Synopsis: Denmark’s most celebrated and notorious filmmaker returns with a drama about depression, severely dysfunctional families, and the end of the world.
My take: I’m generally a fan of von Trier, provocateur that he is, and if anything, this looks like his most accessible, most lyrical film in…ever, really. It’s getting praise even from people who don’t like him, while not losing the support of those that do. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

The Day He Arrives

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Yu Jun-sang, Kim Sang-joong, Song Sun-mi, Kim Bok-yung
Country: South Korea
Synopsis: In director Hong Sang-soo’s sublime black-and-white vision of Seoul in winter, a filmmaker’s visit to an old friend reverberates with déjà vu-inducing parallels and repetitions.
My take: Hong Sang-soo’s HaHaHa was one of my favorite films of last year’s AFI Fest, so I was excited about this as soon as I heard about it a few months ago and was really hoping AFI would program it.

This is Not a Film

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Starring: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Banned by Iran from filmmaking for 20 years and threatened with imprisonment, Jafar Panahi offers a remarkable portrait of an artist at the crossroads.
My take: I’m slowly gaining a thing for Iranian film, especially underground Iranian film (I’ve seen and enjoyed one at every festival I’ve been to so far), and though I haven’t seen any of Jafar Panahi’s films, I’ve certainly heard of some – The Circle and Offside are both well-known in world cinema circles. Filmmaking is risky in Iran, though, requiring permits and government approval – Panahi’s personal account of running afoul of the government is sure to be amazing.

Pina

Director: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany/France
Synopsis: Wim Wenders captures the world of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company in spectacular 3D with thrilling performances of many of her most famous works.
My take: I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but my best experience with it was Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year, and I think Wenders’ use of it in a dance performance piece could be amazing as well. Even the 2D clips in the trailer are pretty exhilarating.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Tilda Swinton gives a remarkable performance as Eva, a reluctant mother whose life is shattered beyond repair by her son’s Columbine-like atrocity.
My take: Personally, I don’t gravitate toward school-shooting movies, but everything I’ve heard about this one says that it’s far from your typical take on the genre, instead focusing on the parents in a way that almost turns the film into psychological horror.

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