Thursday, January 26, 2012

If I Ruled the World: My Picks of the Year

I think you meant Carey Mulligan...
          Yes, it's the week of Oscar nominees and Oscar gripes. Nobody got what they deserved (besides Moneyball and Rooney Mara) and, yes, it's all political and self-congratulatory. What did we expect? This is the 84th time we've gotten nominations. After 84 times of being burned, who should we even be mad at? If film awards were really for the most artistically daring and skillfully presented works, what would this year really look like?

        Well, have no fear. I'm taking this awards season into my own hands. These are the real winners, here (In my opinion, obviously.) I ain't got the politics. 

       Also, before we start, I should note that I have not yet seen The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, A Separation, Shame, and Albert Nobbs

Let's get this show on the road. 

Best Female Supporting Performance
          Jessica Chastain has had an incredible year in film. She was the embodiment of grace in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, a woman trying her best to be the embodiment of grace in The Help, and the best supporting performance of the year in Take Shelter. While Chastain's many performances could have all ended up on this list, I choose Take Shelter for its high demands. Chastain had to act against the mighty tower of superhuman skill that is Michael Shannon. And she completely stole the show. Her performance is powerful and honest, and by far the best supporting performance of the year. 

Other Nominees:
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia
Carey Mulligan in Drive
Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
Chloe Moretz in Hugo

Best Male Supporting Performance

          John Hawkes terrified audiences everywhere in last year's Winter's Bone, and I was eager to see what came next. And boy, did he deliver. Hawkes is mesmerizing in Martha Marcy May Marlene. I believe everything he says as if I'm one of his devotees in the film's cult. Hawkes is one of those rare performers that can say everything he needs to say with a look. Here's hoping he continues down this line of terrific script choices. 

Other Nominees: 
Patton Oswalt in Young Adult
Jonah Hill in Moneyball
Albert Brooks in Drive
Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love

Best Screenplay

          Say what you will about Diablo Cody's other endeavors, Juno and Jennifer's Body. Talk about her sentimentality, or her reluctance to break free of a certain style over substance, or her "quirky" dialogue. But when you see Young Adult, I promise that you will be blown away. This is some of the most mature and confident writing I've seen in a very long time. Cody's film, inexplicably marketed as a comedy, is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen in my life. Stripped from the screenplay is any of the charm, the quirk, the smugness of her previous work. All we are left with is a lonely, depressed alcoholic trying to come to terms with her meaninglessness. The work is dark, haunting, melancholy, and excellent. One of the best screenplays in a long time. And absolutely what Sofia Coppola wishes she could do, but clearly can't. 

Other Nominees: 
Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, Moneyball
Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Lars Von Trier, Melancholia
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Dan Fogelman, Crazy Stupid Love

Best Cinematography
          Call it boring, pretentious, endless, rambling, or silly. On some days I'd agree with you. But take one look at any frame of this fantastic film, and you'll see that Emmanuel Lubezki's work in The Tree of Life is nothing short of miraculous. This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen. Any screenshot of this movie could be framed on my wall as a perfect piece of art. Seeing this movie in the theater was one of the greatest movie experiences of my life, if only for those amazing creation shots. 

Other Nominees:
Manuel Alberto Caro, Melancholia
Jody Lee Lipes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Janusz Kaminski, The Adventures of TinTin
Newton Thomas Sigel, Drive
Wally Pfister, Moneyball
Bob Richardson, Hugo
Alwin H. Kuchler, Hanna

Best Leading Female Performance
          Kirsten Dunst blew me away in Lars Von Trier's elegant, devastating Melancholia. Every second with her on screen is electric, dynamic, fascinating. Dunst, who I've never really thought much of as an actor before this film, has officially solidified herself as one of my favorites. With just one movie. She's that good, here. Dunst takes great material and makes it excellent. I love her performance in this movie. 

Other Nominees: 
Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene
Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Charlize Theron in Young Adult
Viola Davis in The Help

Best Leading Male Performance 
           Michael Shannon's performance in Take Shelter is not only my favorite performance, of any kind, all year, but it is one of my favorite performances of all time. He is so convincing, so scary, so effortlessly terrifying in this role that I will have a hard time seeing him as anything else. Shannon works with his eyes, his body language, and silence to craft an intense and emotional performance that is unlike anything I have ever seen. Go see this movie. Now. Michael Shannon is unbelievable. 

Other Nominees:
Ryan Gosling in Drive
Brad Pitt in Moneyball
George Clooney in The Descendants
Asa Butterfield in Hugo

Best Director
          Nicolas Winding Refn had already made a name for himself with Bronson, the Pusher trilogy, and Valhalla Rising before his outstanding Drive, but nothing could have prepared me for what he did with the film. The material itself is quite barebones and minimalistic -- the screenplay based on a novella of the same name that consists mostly of interior monologue. But Reft, after meeting with Ryan Gosling and listing to REO Speedwagon, found a way to make the film something more. With impressionistic cinematography, long takes of silence punctuated by unspeakable violence, and performances from some of the best actors working today, Refn turned Drive into the must see movie of the year. The style, the performances, the soundtrack, the story. Everything works, here. And it's because of Refn's skill as a filmmaker that it all came together so well. 

Other Nominees:
Lars Von Trier, Melancholia
Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Steven Spielberg, The Adventures of TinTin
Kelly Reichardt, Meek's Cutoff
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Joe Wright, Hanna

Best Film of the Year
          Despite his insistence that he's a Naze. Despite his inability to have a charming persona in public, Lars Von Trier really is one of the great living directors. Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves, Antichrist, Dogville, and Europa are all masterpieces. And then, even further up the spectrum, there is Melancholia. This is the movie Trier has been trying to make for over twenty years, and he has finally done it. It has his dark humor, his knack for pulling incredible performances from his female stars, his gorgeous cinematography, his ever-present need for some kind of gimmick (another planet in the sky!), and signs of his devastating depression. Melancholia is a near-perfect movie. The best film of the year. 

Other Nominees: 
Young Adult 
The Tree of Life
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Take Shelter
The Adventures of TinTin
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Descendants
Crazy Stupid Love

Who are some of your picks for the year? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top 10 Most Entertaining Entertainments of 2011 (That I saw/heard)

          2011 was a good sport. There were threats of apocalypse, boy band reunions, singing film directors, and strange "NOOOOO!!!!" inclusions into Star Wars movies. And, despite all of that, 2011 still offered some fantastic entertainments. While we certainly got some important works of art delivered to us this year (there will be a blog on my favorite films of the year around Oscar time), I'm going to, in this blog, list the most fun entertainments I encountered this year. So, without further ado, and without categories, I give you my ten favorite entertainments of 2011.

10. Parks and Recreation 
          Parks and Recreation's first season was not very good. It was eerily similar to The Office and the jokes were stale. I kept with it, and in the second season I could see glimmers of excellence shining through. Now, after the near-perfect third season, I can't think of another show this consistently fun to watch. Each character brings something fresh and interesting to the show, and the addition of Rob Lowe might be the single most brilliant creative decision all year. Parks and Rec might be a show that takes some time to get in to, but you'll be so glad you stuck with it. Ron Swanson. Ron Swanson. Ron Swanson. Ron Swanson.

9. Horrible Bosses 
          For those of you who saw Horrible Bosses with me in the theater, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you couldn't hear anything anybody was saying because I was laughing so hard. I couldn't help it. I was so surprised by the unbelievable comic timing, the hilarious, brilliantly engineered gags, the fantastic supporting turn by Colin Ferrel, that it didn't occur to me that there were other people around me. But don't worry, I'll probably never laugh that hard again. It was a once in a lifetime moment. Something magical happened to me when I saw that movie for the first time. It is one of the most fun and engaging movie theater experiences I've ever had.

8. Middle Brother - "Middle Brother"
          Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit merged into one this year, and it was glorious. It has been a long time since an album has so completely absorbed me. From the melancholy, Sunday afternoon drawl of the opening track, "Daydreaming," to that Buddy Holly-esque title track, I can't even come up with enough positive adjectives to compile an accurate description. Deer Tick's James McCauley is the standout vocalist on the album, and his verse in the Dawes cover, "Million Dollar Bill," is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. I have listened to this album over fifty times since November, and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. It is absolutely a blast to listen to.

7. Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol
         Brad Bird, the master director behind The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, thought he'd make his leap to live action filmmaking with a high budget blockbuster sequel. The Mission Impossible franchise is one of the more uneven movie franchises I can think of, with the quality ranging from the passable original film, the deplorable second film, and the fun and exciting third film. However, Bird's film is a horse of a different color. With the additions of Jeremy Renner (adding much-needed credibility to the ensemble) and a plot that actually makes sense, Ghost Protocol succeeds in almost every way possible. From the perfectly conceived prison-break that opens the film to the much publicized skyscraper scene, this film works remarkably well. The direction, the effects, the performances (yes, Tom Cruise is good), and the plot all work together in a way that few action movies can duplicate. This is popcorn entertainment at its very best.

6. tUnE-YaRdS - "W H O K I L L"
          Merrill Garbus's sound perfectly replicates that feeling you have when you get off work, or eat a good meal, or take an extremely refreshing dip in a hot tub. Her music makes you warm, giddy, excited. The beats are electric, interesting, innovative. "W H O K I L L" is one of those rare albums evolves with each listen. It shows you something new with each play through. The real standout song on this album is the opener, "Bizness," which might be the grooviest thing produced all year.

5. Louie
          Breaking Bad may be the "best" show on television, but Louie is by far the most entertaining. Louis C.K.'s tour de force of awkward, gritty, dark, hysterical, and poignant subject matter is one of the most rare and pure examples of storytelling I've ever seen on television. He writes, directs, produces, edits, and stars in every episode, and with that kind of creative control, C.K. has done remarkably well. This year, we were treated to one of the most awesome moments in television history because of this show. I think that's something we can all be thankful for.

4. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
          You wanted to be Indiana Jones when you were younger. You wanted to kill bad guys, get the girl, find treasure, solve centuries old puzzles, climb tall buildings, and make hilarious one-liners whenever you did something amazing. You wanted to walk away from explosions that you caused. Well, you never will. You will never do any of those things. So the next best thing is picking up this game. It is the single most fun experience I've ever had playing a video game. It's like the best Indiana Jones movie you never saw. Don't act like you're not interested because you're "not into video games." This isn't a video game. It's THE video game.

3. Hugo
          I've already written a review of Hugo, so I'll just say this. If you've ever said that 3-D has no place in the movies, or that it's nothing but a gimmick that is used primarily to steal our money, then I highly recommend you go see this movie at once. If you've ever wondered what makes the silent-era films so magical, but you're afraid you'll be too bored to sit through them, then go see this movie. If you want to see one of the most inspiring, beautiful, and touching love letters to film ever made, go see this movie. Go see this movie. Now.

2. The Felice Brothers - "Celebration, Florida"
          For their newest album, The Felice Brothers have constructed an angry, strange, atmospheric, and terrifying series of songs that entertain like few can. After honing their almost Dylan sound for years, the brothers have changed things up a bit by adding electronic drum kits, noise machines, group harmonies, and other surprises. The album is loud and mean and it knows exactly what it wants. It wants you to dance, to sing, and to nod your head in agreement. "Yeah," the album makes you say, "the world really is a strange place." We all need to be reminded of that every now and again.

1. Hanna
          When I began making this list, I immediately knew what would take the top spot. Hanna absolutely blew me away in every regard. Joe Wright, the director of Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist, had never really impressed me all the much in his previous outings. So much so, in fact, that I didn't even bother to see this movie in the theater. I figured it would be another middling success from a director whose promising talents seemed to be hiding behind a very stiff upper lip. But, lo and behold, by the time I actually got around to watching this movie, I instantly fell in love. The action is perfect, the dialogue is snappy, the performances are outstanding, and the soundtrack is gorgeous and groovy. I can't say enough good things about this film. It is absolutely entertaining in every sense of the word, and it is the most fun I had all year.

Some of the least entertaining entertainments this year

  • David Lynch - "Crazy Clown Time"
  • Your Highness
  • Sucker Punch
  • Jack and Jill
  • Lou Reed and Metallica - "LuLu"
  • Owl City - "All Things Bright and Beautiful"
  • The Green Lantern