to let you in on a little secret that helps me to define just how
special a year in film has been. If a narrative or thematic thread
emerges, in particular one that laces through the films that end up
earning the top spots on my Top 10, then I have to rank the year in
question as one of the greats.
It irks me to go into a video store that
has separate sections for “dramas,” “comedies,” “action” and then,
somewhere way in the back, “documentaries.” (Blockbuster calls them
“special interest.”) A good documentary can have every bit the drama,
comedy, action, romance, etc., of a fictional film. Often, more.
The Swedish translation of the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is Men Who Hate Women,
and the 2009 Niels Arden Oplev adaptation made sure to lay that hatred
bare, introducing audiences to the Vanger clan, a Swedish industrial
family of the first order with deep and long ties to the Nazis and
unhealthy animosity for any with sympathies aligned alongside the better
nature of man or God.
One of the most frustrating things about
movies — good movies, with quality actors playing interesting characters
— is that they too often resort to clichéd endings to wrap up their
stories. That’s why it’s refreshing to see that 2011 brought us a spate
of movies with quizzical, ambiguous endings.
Several performers were working overtime in 2011. Brad Pitt planted The Tree of Life, then scored with Moneyball and even had time to lend vocal support to Happy Feet 2. George Clooney multi-hyphenated himself as co-writer/director/co-star of The Ides of March and then vacationed as a mere performer in The Descendants.
I get a bit jittery come December. A nervous tick sets in. An anxiety rests deep in the gut. It’s time to pick the best DVD releases of the year. And I have no idea what to choose. Not for lack of selections, of course.
It is an oft-repeated refrain that the
movie industry has settled into what many in the critical circles have
deemed lazy practices and thinking, returning to proven ground with a
flood of remakes from the (not always so distant) past. The thought
process behind remakes is obvious and full of appeal because it is about
embracing that feeling of nostalgia.
long-anticipated return to the filmmaking scene is another slanted,
deadpan comedy about the ways in which a relatively ordinary man’s life
can go terribly off course. CityBeat recently phoned the 20-year-old actress Shailene Woodley, who plays 17-year-old Alexandra in the film, to discuss the experience of
making The Descendants.
Hugo, Scorsese has completely indulged his inner child, the
wildly imaginative free spirit in love with the dawn of the age of
moving pictures, that initial time of wonder and magic, when children
and adults found themselves ensorcelled by the spells and tricks of
showmen like George Melies (Ben Kingsley) who dreamed of life under
the sea and rocket ships blasting off and landing in the eye of the
man on the moon.
The old cynic in me, the
one never raised to believe in the commercial or the elfin hokum of
the season, fought valiantly, but thanks to the fantastically lively
British voices and the rollicking international incident caused by a
team of flying reindeer, I found myself glad that Arthur Christmas
cared enough to make this early delivery.
Hard as it is to pick one scene that captures everything that is so delightful about the endlessly entertaining The Muppets,
let me go with this one: During the climactic live Muppet Show revival
at the end, Camilla — beloved chicken of Gonzo the Great — and several
poultry friends perform a version of a certain recent, ubiquitous Cee Lo
Green hit. The tune is sung entirely in “buck buck” noises, without
King (George Clooney) comes from a distinct lineage. In terms of his
own narrative, that of the new Alexander Payne film The
Descendants, he is a modern-day land baron,
the trustee of a family that owns the last and largest untapped
acreage in Hawaii. But King is a simple man with a wife (Patricia
Hastie) in a coma and two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and
Scottie (Amara Miller), who knows that paradise is a dream world for
fools. Grade: A.
Williams delivers an Oscar-worthy performance playing screen siren
Marilyn Monroe. The vehicle is director Simon Curtis' thoughtful
adaptation of Colin Clark's diaries. At the age of 23 Clark worked as
third assistant director to Laurence Olivier for his 1956 romantic
comedy The Prince and the Showgirl.
2006 Happy Feet incorporated live-action actors to surreal effect and presented a
hard-to-miss allegory for tolerance of “alternative lifestyles”
that inspired outrage from the likes of Glenn Beck and Michael
Medved. Happy Feet Two is, in its way, also utterly distinctive
from the great mass of contemporary animated fare — yet it’s also
far too frantic and muddled to work as simple storytelling.