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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Adventures in Movie Watching 2011

Right so, better late than never, I hope, here is my pick of the movies-what-I-saw that were made in 2011 or at least released in Irish cinemas in 2011 (so that's bloody 117 films then, roughly...)

Before I begin here's the previous winners of the prestigious "amawaster's film of the year award":
2010 - Inception - dir. Christopher Nolan
2009 - A Serious Man - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
2008 - The Dark Knight - dir. Christopher Nolan
2007 - The Darjeeling Limited - dir. Wes Anderson

21 - Red State - dir. Kevin Smith
Okay, I'll admit I was worried when the guy I love because he bases entire movies around dick jokes decided to make a horror movie based around Christian extremists, but in the end my doubts were proved unjustified. The movie is, unusually for Smith, frenetically paced and shot, the only breaks in the action come in the shape of sermons from Michael Parks character, Parks really delivers a virtuoso performance by the way, and every plot point managed to surprise and unsettle the audience I was with anyway, the ending will piss off some people though.

- dir. Luc Besson
Luc Besson returned with an adaptation of a comic book series created by Jacques Tardi. Set in France in the early part of the twentieth century, Adèle Blanc-Sec, played by Louise Bourgoin, is a famous journalist and author who sets off to Egypt to find a mummy who can help her save her sister while also having to take care of a recently hatched pterodactyl that's rampaging around Paris, standard art house fare you'll agree, it's not perfect by any shape or means, some of the FX look a bit cheap, but it's great fun and Bourgoin is charming, sexy and funny throughout thankfully. Also that's Mathieu Almaric with the glasses on in that picture, believe it or not!

19 - Animal Kingdom - dir. David Michod
An absorbing film that deals with a 17 year old, Josh, played by James Frechville, being forced to deal with his extended family's criminal activity that also never manages to go where you expect it to. Guy Pearce is great as the cop who tries to help Josh, Ben Mendelsohn is also great as the extremely unstable eldest son but the film is undoubtedly stolen by Jacki Weaver, who deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for her role as the matriarch of the family who tries to keep everything and everyone together.

18 - True Grit - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Remaking an iconic John Wayne classic (okay I know they were working from the book) was a surprise but otherwise this is everything you'd expect from the Coens, looks and sounds amazing, the actors all having a blast. But I will say this film has absolutely no right being as funny as it actually is.



17 - 13 Assassins - dir. Takashi Miike
I must admit I've never seen a Takashi Miike film before so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, shame on me, so I felt I should put it right. 13 Assassins is quite simply a brilliant film that deals with the twisted samurai honour system at the time and has some spectacular set pieces, and plenty violent and disturbing scenes along the way mixed with some lighter moments.

16 - We Need To Talk About Kevin - dir. Lynne Ramsey
A really unsettling film that is visually stunning and deals with a mother to a killer, Kevin who goes on a killing spree in his high school. The films works mainly because of its fluid structure where the movie shows an emotionally beaten and scarred mother struggling to cope with her life and her guilt after the events, interspersed with flashbacks to Kevin's birth and childhood and all the signs that she may or may not have picked up on at the time. A tough watch but definitely worth it.

15 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - dir. Tomas Alfredson
The cream of British acting talent is utilised in the latest version of John LeCarre's book. Gary Oldman leads the way as George Smiley Bolger, an agent who is given the task to weed out a Soviet double agent high up in "the Circus" of the British Secret Service, but who is it, could it be Smiley himself or is it all a misunderstanding or a ploy to turn the service in on itself. The pace of the film may bore some and put people off, but it's high calibre filmmaking.

14 - Warrior - dir. Gavin O'Connor
This film should be crap, really it should, but it's fantastic. A story of two estranged brothers who both end up fighting in and trying to win a massive mixed martial arts contest for very different reasons. Their relationship is complicated further with their own individual relationship with their father played by Nick Nolte, a former alcoholic who both of them gave up on. It's a film that has many a sports movie cliché but manages to keep everything seeming fresh, real and emotionally true.

13 - Attack The Block - dir. Joe Cornish
Hoodies vs aliens turns out is a hundred times more entertaining than Cowboys vs Aliens. Directed by Joe Cornish and produced by Edgar Wright, this Brit sci-fi/horror/comedy may not be as scary as it could be but that's made up by some good characterisation and also some ballsy decisions when it comes to keeping the stakes high and the viewer enthralled in the plot.

12 - The Fighter - dir. David O Russell
A plot that's been done a million times over, a boxer overcomes the odds and obstacles to become an unlikely champion, is made fresh again mainly because the boxing is the least interesting thing about the film, it's a film that is overflowing with beautifully well rounded and crafted characters, even the sisters, and also manages to be ridiculously funny.

11 - Point Blank (A Bout Portant) - dir. Fred Cavaye
A French action movie that deals with a male nurse whose wife is kidnapped in front of his very eyes and is then forced to deliver a hospitalised criminal for her safe return. It's a plot that Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis or Jason Statham would love, but what could be mundane in their hands is made electrifying by the intensity that Gilles Lellouche brings to the protagonist, who realises he can't trust the people who are telling him what to do and must decide if he's better off trusting the man he is meant to deliver, played by Roschdy Zem. The pace throughout is intense and there really is not one moment or even shot that feels extraneous. Also there's a little bit of realism that you don't normally see after a huge foot-chase scene which you'll know when you see it, beautiful touch if you ask me.

10 - Take Shelter - dir. Jeff Nichols
Here's a film that could have possibly been higher up the list were it not for an annoying git with his phone going off three times during the first twenty minutes of the film sitting behind me in the cinema, took me a while to get back into it. It's a haunting study of a man struggling with apocalyptic visions, a history of mental illness in his family and small town attitudes and his need always protect his family. Michael Shannon is brilliant, of course he is, he can't be anything else but thankfully Jessica Chastain and Shea Wigham do their best as well and make sure he's not left carrying the film on his own.

9 - The Skin I Live In - dir. Pedro Almodovar
"F*cked up" would be my two word review, my longer one would be an amazing and crazy blend of melodrama, science fiction, horror and, believe it or not, even comedy. Banderas plays a skilled plastic surgeon who seems to be holding a patient against their will, for reasons which slowly become clear. Almodovar skillfully makes this movie look so beautiful to look at, which really helps when you suddenly realise what the hell is going on.

8 - Tyrannosaur - dir. Paddy Considine
A gut wrenching drama that begins with Peter Mullan's character kicking his dog to death, and gets darker from there. Mullan excels as an alcoholic with a rage problem who ends up getting to know Olivia Colman's character who works in a charity shop and whose life seems enviable by comparison but not everything is as it seems. The film has some of the most uncomfortable scenes I've ever sat through in a crowded theatre but still manages to find humanity in the darkest of places and make you feel glad you watched it.

7 - The Hedgehog (Lé hérrison) - dir. Mona Achache
From France, comes the tale of a 12 year old girl who decides that her upper middle class existence is not worth living and that if she doesn't find some beauty or meaning in life she's going to kill herself on her 13th birthday, light hearted stuff so far you'll agree, she strikes up a friendship with the building's concierge, played by Josiane Balasko, a bookworm whose life is turned upside down by the little girl and the new Asian tenant who lives upstairs. A film that sounds dark and with a central mentor relationship that could so easily feel clichéd, ends up being life affirming and a joy to watch.

6 - Moneyball - dir. Bennett Miller
From the director of Capote, comes the story of Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and his attempt to revolutionise how baseball teams bought and selected players, especially as his Oakland A's team couldn't compete with the finances of bigger teams who were seen to be buying success. Jonah Hill plays the stats man, who first plants the seed of this new way of thinking, skillfully and with little fuss. What you presume would be a bog standard sports movie is actually an intriguing character study of a man determined to see the experiment he put in place succeed.

5 - The Messenger - dir. Oren Moverman
Made in 2009, but finally getting a limited release over here during this summer, this film earned Woody Harrelson an Oscar nom way back when. The film centres around Ben Foster's character who has been reassigned, after returning home from action a war hero, to work with Harrleson, their job is to let people know that their loved ones have been killed in combat (and you thought your job was tough!). The film excels in dealing with the emotional mess that comes with and is caused by such a job head on and not shirking anything that could be uncomfortable for its audience. Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi and Jena Malone also do outstanding supporting work.


4 - Submarine - dir. Richard Ayaode
An absolute joy and pleasure to watch, this film opened the JDIFF last year and I was delighted to be there. Ayaode has directed before, music videos for the Arctic Monkeys and Super Furry Animals among others and one of the greatest TV shows ever in "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" but this is his first feature length film. The film deals with a very self aware awkward Welsh teen who tries to deal with his first romance while also dealing with what he thinks are his parents about to split up. At times it's equally hilarious, tender, heartfelt and stylish, which is some feat by anyone's standards.

3 - Drive - dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Okay this is where this starts to get tough, what could be the film of the year I've only slipped it into third place. A modern day "Shane", which grabs you within minutes of the opening scene, is packed many surprises, Albert Brooks being a hard ass, a cute romance followed by extreme hardcore violence that seems to come from nowhere and an outstanding soundtrack, it's a film that I'll watch and watch again and again.

2 - Senna - dir. Asif Kapidia
A spellbinding view of a sporting legend who was also a slight contradiction, a deeply spiritual and religious man who wanted to fight poverty in his homeland Brazil, but was also a fast living Formula 1 driver who enjoyed the trappings of fame and fortune only slightly less than winning races. The film illustrates his hatred of the politics within the sport and his mistrust of the people who ran it, and also their inability to deal with a maverick spirit who wanted to win every race at all costs. The film is also remarkable because it consists mainly of archive footage. The final part of the film is massively emotional and heartbreaking where it deals with the final weekend of his life where he was tragically killed in the Imola Grand Prix of 1994, and will make you cry.

1 - Blue Valentine - dir. Derek Cianfrance
If you told me at the start of the year I would be saying a film with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams was my favourite film of the year, I probably would have called you a very rude word and we might have fallen out, let's be honest, but this was hands down the toughest watch of the year for me and it's the film that stuck in my head the longest, I'm still thinking about it months later.

I really wasn't prepared for this film when I sat down to watch it, I knew very little of the plot. Straight away you're treated to ugly scenes of a marriage in decline which are then intercut with scenes of courtship and love blossoming and every time you think you've got the emotional core or the reasoning of a character, another scene comes into make to make you question what you just thought, so its another film that uses a fast and loose narrative and structure for everything it's worth, which seems to be something I've seemed to particularly have enjoyed this year. By the end of the film I felt like I had been through this marriage and also couldn't cope with the toxic emotions each of them were throwing at each other, thankfully the end credit sequence was beautifully made and helped me get somewhat ready for getting out of my seat.

Gosling gives his best performance (seriously people, better than Drive, Crazy Stupid Love and the other 50 films he seemed to be in this year), at times seeming like the biggest asshole on the planet, then being this charming young rogue the next, it's enthralling. Williams is also outstanding seeing her both as a young woman not really sure of herself, and then as a tough take no shit cookie.

All in all, a perfect date movie.