Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Oscars nominations have been announced so… um, yay! If you know one thing about me, it's that I enjoy all things film/TV award show goodness. If you know two other things about me, it’s that I hardly agree with the nominations/winners and I have plenty of opinions myself. 

I have seen quite a few of the nominees so far and it’s not that they’re terrible, per se. More so, the Academy likes to play it safe with picks that are, appropriately deemed, Oscar bait. I personally look for edgier, more original fare. Without further ado, please find my picks for the top 10 films of 2011 below.*

10) The Artist/Midnight in Paris
What?! Two choices already for one slot?! Already breaking rules...

Both of the these films kinda had a lot in common for me which is why they tied for number 10. I liked both. They both definitely got some Academy love. They both had a classic movie magic quality to them. They both were ambitious ideas to get funded. In fact, I can hear how the pitches went right now... 

*in my best Woody Allen font, complete with the occasional touch of my glasses* "So, uh, whenever the main character gets into this, um, old car at midnight, he's traveled back to the Parisian 1920s. And, uh, well, he meets all sorts of famous people from then. But not just any famous people, but, uh, literary famous types. Like Gertrude Stein and Ernest Heminway. And painters too, like Dali and Luis Brunuel. The kids just love Luis Brunuel!"

*in my best French font, complete with black/white striped shirt and beret* "So oui will have, um, how do you say? No talking. Oui, no talking for zee entire film. Also, zere will be no colour. But oui will have Jacques Cromwell. Zee kids just love Jacques Cromwell!!"

Despite the difficulty quite accurately described above for selling these movies, both of these films kept true to their grand premises and achieved high levels of smarts and originality. Berenice Bejo shined in The Artist while Midnight in Paris had several great supporting performances/cameos (Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Allison Pill, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates).

I was also quite thrilled to see Woody Allen inject a non-sensical fantastical element like many of his earlier films, while The Artist proved that silence can, in fact, be golden. (Ok, that last part about The Artist might be going too far, but it was just such a good turn of phrase to end the review, I allowed the hyperbole.)

9) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The incredible teaser trailer, which might look slightly familiar in about 4 minutes:


David Fincher’s US adaptation of the worldwide popular book series basically won me over with the teaser trailer (found above) declaring it ‘the feel bad movie of Christmas’ along with Karen O’s ‘Immigrant Song’ cover.

The incredibly dark mystery pretty much lives up to the greatness of the teaser, as you feel plenty ‘bad’ afterwards. Glad Hollywood (or Sony, in this case) allowed Fincher to do what he does best: make an extremely well developed film where bad things happen to both good and questionably good people.

The many intense moments of the film are palpable but filmed in an almost quiet vacuum, making them feel more real.

In short, I am quite pleased that Sony has greenlighted (it bothers me that it's not greenlit, too) a sequel so we can look forward to more of Rooney Mara kicking some ass and eventually that dreaded hornets' nest. 

8) The Muppets
The trailer campaign for The Muppets practically deserves a nomination alone, so please find my favorite of the spoof trailers *spoiler alert* it spoofs my number 9 pick below:

It was about darn time to once again play the music, light the lights, and meet the muppets on the Muppet Show. Jason Segel knew this for a while now, prompting him to co-write with Nicholas Stoller a slightly updated take of the Muppets while very much keeping in touch with the past films and many Muppet appearances throughout the years.

Also, Bret McKenzie deserves massive kudos for the wildly infectious original songs ('Life’s a Happy Song,' which you can find him duet-ing with Kermit below) that also have huge heart (‘Pictures in My Head’) and even beg an age-old, albeit unasked till now, question: Are You a Man or a Muppet?

If you didn’t like The Muppets, I may have to reevaluate your taste in film. Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh!!

7) Young Adult
Check out the trailer for the film featuring Charlize's ugliest role (Monster included) to date:

The underlooked Young Adult succeeds in taking Hollywood/Oscar acclaimed talent (Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody) and then bucks many of the traditional Hollywood film trends. Namely, there is a complicated, surface-ly unlikable female lead *feigned gasp* in a plot (the stuck-up, popular girl from high school comes back to her small hometown to get back together with her happily married/fathered ex-boyfriend) that most moviegoers would find themselves uncomfortable to root for.

Well, at least Mavis realizes all of her wrongs in addition to beauty being on the inside and that you should always eat your veggies and stay in school, blah blah blah…. Oh, wait. That’s not this movie at all.

Instead, this laugh-out-loud (I found it even funnier than Cody’s and Reitman’s previous movie, Juno) film sticks to its guns and examines that being popular and pretty hurts too.

Young Adult even discounts the saying, ‘you can never go home again,’ but makes a strong case for maybe why one shouldn’t. 

6) Bridesmaids
I realize that there is no real need to include the trailer since you’ve all seen Bridesmaids by now, so instead I’m going to include a link to the laugh-until-you-cry snippet of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph promoting their current film and a potential future collaboration with a French journalist *spoiler alert* you may need to be a 5-year old to truly enjoy:

Did I overhype this movie slightly for myself? Admittedly, yes. A movie written by the incredibly talented SNL-er Kristin Wiig, featuring a bunch of hilarious performers (Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Wendy McLendon-Covery) directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) about an individual coming to terms with her place in the world amidst her friend’s impending wedding sort of was asking me to overhype it.

Having said that, Bridesmaids was hands-down the most quotable, side-splitting films in recent memory. There was plenty of real emotion (namely, the heart-to-heart between Wiig and McCarthy, which gave the otherwise funny cartoon of Megan three dimensions). The frank conversations of sex (best impression of a phallus in moviemaking ever) and how to navigate life when you’re a little adrift mixed in with some cover-your-eyes humor and Wilson Phillips’ anthem, ‘Hold On,’ made Bridesmaids an instant classic.

5) Hanna
*Spoiler alert* You will want to kick some ass after watching this trailer:

With Hanna, Joe Wright proves that he is not only wildly adept at directing Keira Knightley in sweeping British literary adaptations (Pride & PrejudiceAtonement), but that he can knock it out of the park in the action-packed, ass-kicking female genre as well. The brilliant Saoirse Ronan carries her own next to the wonderfully evil Cate Blanchett (think her Indy villain, but grounded and not in a terrible film) and the strong supporting cast (Eric Bana, Olivia Williams, and charming newcomer, Jessica Barden).

The beautifully shot film traces the globe from Finland to Morocco to Germany with ease, as Hanna takes on a secret mission enacted with her ex-CIA father. Mix in an intoxicating score by The Chemical Brothers with wonderfully choreographed fight sequences set against great performances and hauntingly stunning backdrops (the German dilapidated amusement park complete with a big, bad wolf’s head roller coaster comes to mind) and you’ve got a stand-out film.

4) Drive
*Spoiler alert: sarcasm upcoming* I think I might be he first person on the internet to post something on the dreaminess of Ryan Gosling, but here it is:

This taught, smart thriller has very little dialogue, plenty of action, and Ryan Gosling’s best performance out of his three movies in 2011. 

For seemingly no reason, the film chronicling a Los Angeleno stunt driver who falls for the sweet but trouble-surrounding girl (Carey Mulligan) has an ‘80s retro feel to it, including everything from the opening credit font to the awesome soundtrack to the wardrobe (who didn’t want that scorpion satin jacket after watching the movie?) to the unbelievably violent, gritty tone, but yet it all worked for me.

Also, Albert Brooks’ mob boss character rivals Sweeney Todd in most bad-ass way to brandish a straight-edge razor.

3) Contagion
I truly don’t know why this movie isn’t nominated for anything this year.

Was it because it featured D-list names such as Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet?
Was it because it was directed by the clearly no-talent hack, Steven Soderbergh (TrafficErin BrockovichThe Informant!)?
Was it because the engaging plot wasn’t a fairly accurate portrayal of what would happen if an unknown lethal airborne virus inexplicably began killing people all over the world?

The answer to all the sarcasm above is, of course, ‘No,’ as you can start to witness in the trailer: 

By far, the scariest film of the year (A close second, the other film produced by Soderbergh this year: We Need to Talk About Kevin aka the most convincing pro-abortion film since Rosemary’s Baby.) The film is frightening in a way reminiscent of a good zombie movie/TV show can be, which is that the truly scary aspects of any worldwide crises can be the desperate people you once called neighbor.

The pulse-pounding score and the opening shot, declaring ‘Day 2’ in practically blood red kept me on the edge of my seat until the final chilling moments. I could tell that after the end credits, everyone in the theatre was quite careful not to touch/bump into anyone as they went searching for their Purell.

Hopefully, you will muster the courage to type on your disease-ridden keyboards and add Contagion to your queue.

2) Martha Marcy May Marlene
Watch the trailer and discover why *spoiler alert: not real plot joke upcoming* no parent should ever give their child four first names:

Don’t let this tongue twister of a title (plus it can be fun to say aka the only fun part of the movie) dissuade you, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a truly original film which chronicles the fallout of a young lost woman, Martha, leaving a commune/cult/culty commune.

The movie juxtaposes Martha’s time spent on the increasingly creepy commune between the week after she escapes to her sister’s for the sometimes equally creepy depiction of suburban life.
This striking film from debut feature filmmaker, Sean Durkin, features the Olsen who can act (Elizabeth), the impeccable Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy, the always terrifying John Hawkes and Brady Corbett, and the scariest sister wife (Maria Dizzia) this side of TLC.

This movie easily could have faded into Lifetime Movie of the Week territory, but the focused tone that Durkin and the cast set ends up quite specific and real.

1) Beginners
Seriously, try not to smile even at the trailer:

This wonderfully charming film has strongly stayed with me from when it was released in early June. (Early June roughly translates to the era just before filmmaking began for most Academy Awards voters.) 

It is somewhat reminiscent to another Focus Feature and one of my favorite movies of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way that Beginners accurately portrays honest, flawed relationships and plays with the notion of how sometimes the way we remember things isn't always correct. Beginners is *spoiler alert: oxymoron coming up* quite conscious in its' subtly of showcasing how our past relationships (whether they be lover, friend, or parent) greatly impact the patterns we repeat or even mimic in our new relationships.

Christopher Plummer is getting much well-deserved praise for his role as the father who comes out to his son towards the end of his life, but director/screenwriter, Mike Mills, gets incredible performances from Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, Mary Page Keller, and the best Jack Russell performance of the year, Cosmo as Arthur (Sniff that, Uggie from The Artisit!)

This movie will make you want to call your parents, fall in love with a mute Charlie Chaplin, roller skate through the halls of your hotel, and grin from ear to ear. (See? Despite the predominantly dark choices above, I ended on a very positive note.)

*Keeping in mind, there are three films that I have a strong desire to see but have not yet:
- Shame
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- Rango