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Top 10 Films of 2011!

It had to be done. My list of 10 favourite films of 2011. Actually, I cheated. It’s really 11 films because I didn’t feel it was right to leave one of them out, so I made them both equal 10th.

In the end, after going through all 110 films I watched from that year, I came to the conclusion that 2011 was a fairly decent year in cinema. Not necessarily a lot of extraordinary “all-time “films but a fair number of very very good ones. Also a lot of 4-star films and a couple of films higher than 4 stars that unfortunately couldn’t make the cut.

Again, this list is based on the ratings I gave when I initially reviewed the movies. It is also a list based on the films I liked the most as a casual filmgoer, rather than a list of films judged the best by some sort of objective standard.

Without further ado, here goes. (Click on the titles for the full review)

10 (tied). The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

We're in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let's celebrate!
We’re in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let’s celebrate!

I felt compelled to include this one in the top 10 because it’s one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. I know cartoons can do cute and comedy, but this is the first time I found an animated film so exhilarating to watch. A bit long, of course, but a remarkable and landmark achievement in motion capture animation features.

10 (tied). Moneyball (2011)

Our movie's pretty awesome, chubby!
Our movie’s pretty awesome, chubby!

I don’t think you need to love baseball to love this film, which I found insightful, amusing and moving in a strange kind of way. It might have moved a little slow for some but the pace was just right for me. And kudos to Kerris Dorsey for stealing the show as Brad Pitt’s daughter, especially for her sweet rendition of Lenka’s “The Show.”

9. The Ides of March (2011)

Vote for me or I'll stomp your head in
Vote for me or I’ll stomp your head in

I’m a sucker for political dramas/thrillers and this was another one brilliant one that just happens to star three of the best actors in Hollywood — George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymore Hoffman. Far from perfect but in many ways it comes across as a more stylish version of Primary Colors, still one of my faves from the 20th century.

8. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

I'm on a date with Robin Thicke's wife!
I’m on a date with Robin Thicke’s wife!

Just when you thought Tom Cruise’s career was on the rapid decline path he churns out one of the best, if not the best, action movie of 2011 with fourth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise, in my humble opinion the best one yet. Its simplified but intelligent plot and ridiculous action sequences provided a non-stop adrenaline rush and almost had me jumping on the seats like Cruise on Oprah.

7. Warrior (2011)

Bain vs Tom Buchanan
Bain vs Tom Buchanan

Take note, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown — this is how you do an MMA movie. Actually, by infusing the narrative with a touching storyline and characters we can root for, Warrior is by far the best MMA movie of all time, and leaped onto my top 10 list of 2011 the moment the credits started rolling.

6. Super 8 (2011)

Look, it's E.T.!
Look, it’s E.T.!

My appreciation for Super 8 has perhaps waned a little since watching it more than a year ago,  but at the time I watched it I thought it was potentially this generation’s E.T. — the nostalgia it created was as powerful as anything I had seen in years. Even without it, the film was still highly entertaining and a lot of fun. A great family film.

5. Hugo (2011)

I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi...
I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi…

I can’t believe there are so many family films on my list, but there’s no way I could leave Hugo off this list. This remarkable Martin Scorsese film is rich and enriching, magical and emotionally rewarding. On top of that I found it incredibly impressive from a visual perspective and it’s also one of those rare films where the 3D was not detrimental to the overall experience.

4. Midnight in Paris (2011)

I wanna hug this movie too
I wanna hug this movie too (and Rachel McAdams)

If Hugo is for cinema lovers then Midnight in Paris is for lovers of literature. I had no idea what the film was about (thanks to the spoiler-free trailers) but was blown away by the clever script and the perfect tone created by Woody Allen in what must be his best film in years. Sweet, engaging and charming, it’s the best lighthearted movie of the year.

3. Drive (2011)

Yep. I'm Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.
Yep. I’m Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.

Drive might become my favourite 2011 movie when I look back years down the track, but for now, it’s no. 3. This stylish, ultra-violent neo-noir crime drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it simply has the X factor. I was captivated by this film from its brilliant start (one of the best intros ever) all the way through to its powerful conclusion. I don’t really care if the movie has an underlying message — I just thought it was awesome to watch.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Stop freaking me out!
Stop freaking me out!

Based on the acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin haunted me when I watched it and still gives me the chills whenever I think about it. As a new father, this film, which is really a “horror” more than anything else, resonated with me in a way few films do and much of that has to do with the spectacular performance of Tilda Swinton, who absolutely should have at least had an Oscar nomination. The recent tragedy at Newtown has had me thinking about the movie a lot lately, which could be why it topped Drive for the no. 2 spot.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!
Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!

That’s right. My favourite film of 2011 is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And if you don’t like it you can bite me! What can I say? I love those monkeys. Seriously, it may be an unconventional choice, but to me this was the best film of the Apes franchise (yes, including the iconic original) and may possibly be one of the best popcorn movies of all-time and one of the most entertaining movies ever. I’ve seen it more than twice and I still think its awesomeness is unparalleled. A cool premise, mindblowing special effects and the most epic action sequences of the year — who cares how much sense it made when it’s so much fun to watch?

Well, that just about does it. With less than two days to go in the year, it looks like this 2011 list will only be one year late instead of two. I promise my 2012 list will be posted during the first half of 2013! Promise!

Honourable mentions: 50/50, X-Men: First Class, Shame, The Descendants, Crazy Stupid Love, Snowtown, Limitless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

PS: I just realized I never reviewed the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on this blog. I have no idea why, but from memory I gave it 4 stars and it would have missed out anyway, though it probably would have made the honourable mentions list.

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 2)

Let’s get straight down to it. Part 1 is here.

The Awakening (2011)

This one’s not bad for a British ghost movie. Set in the 1920s, the lovely Rebecca Hall plays a supernatural debunker who has been called to boarding school to investigate a ghost sighting related to the death of a student.

As you would expect, The Awakening has an abundance of chills – nothing new or innovative but there are so few well-executed ghost movies these days that it was actually refreshing to see some old-fashioned scares. The setting of a spooky boarding school full of pale English boys helped a lot, especially when most of them head home for the holidays and there’s nothing but a whole bunch of echoes.

The gradual change of Hall’s character from sceptic to believer was done very well, and both Dominic West and Imelda Staunton do great jobs in supporting roles. The ending was a little out there even for me but on the whole it’s certainly a worthwhile movie to get on a DVD night.

3.5 stars out of 5

ATM (2012)

Slasher film starring Alive Eve and two blokes set in an ATM room in some random parking lot. If that sounds stupid to you it’s because it is.

The three co-workers leave a function together and one of them has to go get some cash from an ATM in one of those isolated little glass rooms. A crazy dude dressed like Kenny from South Park starts terrorizing them and killing people who may be able to help them. Why? Who knows and who cares?

This is one of those films where the main characters deserve to die for continuously doing really stupid things that make no sense whatsoever. The premise is so preposterous that it drains all the fun out of the film – which is mainly just a lot of panicking and screaming and ending up back in the same place. Instead of being scared by their predicament I was more annoyed by how moronic they were being.

Interesting idea to try and make a slasher film in such a confined space but they really should have put a little more effort into the script and the execution. And a scarier antagonist with a little bit of personality wouldn’t have hurt either.

1.25 stars out of 5

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

My sister kept raving on about what a great movie Matt Damon’s We Bought a Zoo was, so I had to check it out, even though I’m not ordinarily a fan of family films. It’s supposedly based on a true story (albeit set in the UK, not the US, but I supposed it worked just as well) about a grieving widower who decides to start over and buys a zoo. Not a tank of fish, but a full-blown zoo with lions and everything.

The movie focuses on Damon’s character and a bunch of zookeepers, led by Scarlett Johansson, who are trying to keep the animals alive and the zoo licensed on very little money. Meanwhile, Damon has to deal with the rebellious activities of his son, who is still struggling to cope (his cute younger daughter loves it though).

I think that gives a fairly complete picture of what to expect from this film. Kids and people who like animals will probably enjoy this feel-good film. I’m not saying I don’t like animals or that I didn’t enjoy it, but I simply didn’t think it was anything special. Part of it is because it felt too much like a kids’ movie – everything was predictable and flowed too smoothly; even when there was conflict you knew it would all turn out rosy in the end. On the other hand, I did find parts of it quite uplifting, and it’s always a pleasure to see Thomas Haden Church (whom I’ve been a fan of since the Ned and Stacey days) and John Michael Higgins (my third favourite lawyer from Arrested Development), two of the best three-named actors around.

3 stars out of 5!

The Darkest Hour (2011)

I remember when I saw the trailer for The Darkest Hour and I thought to myself – this looks pretty interesting. Plus it had Emile Hirsch, who I’ve been a massive fan of ever since Into the Wild, one of my favourite movies of all time. Instead, The Darkest Hour should have been called The Darkest Hour and a Half, because that’s what it felt like watching this piece of trash.

The story is about two young Americans who travel to Russia to pitch a social network idea and find out they’ve been screwed over — this was the best joke of the movie because one of the Americans is Max Minghella, who was the non-Winklevii dude from The Social Network.

They go to some Russian nightclub to drown their sorrows, meeting a couple of girls (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor), and then some invisible aliens attack, turning humans into dust everywhere.

Now, when I first saw the trailer, I thought the idea of an invisible enemy was kinda cool, and certainly very scary. I was wrong. The invisible alien thing sucked badly precisely because you couldn’t see it. It became just a bunch of losers running around screaming. The worst part of it is that when you finally see how lame the alien is you wish you never saw it in the first place.

For a sci-fi thriller I found The Darkest Hour inexplicably boring and completely lacking in excitement. This probably could have worked with a better script and better direction (it’s directed by Chris Gorak, a former art director who had only previously been at the helm of one other film), but unfortunately it ended up being one of the most disappointing films of the year.

1.25 stars out of 5!

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part I

As documented on this blog, I visited China a couple of months ago.  Apart from the Great Wall, China is also very well known for its DVD stores.  I visited a couple of these while I was there, and they are amazing.  For some reason, these stores stocked all the latest movies and TV shows some that weren’t even out at the cinemas yet!  And they were all perfectly packaged.  No wonder they say the future of the world lays in China’s hands.

I bought a few to sample and they were the real deal.  Here are my reviews.

The Warrior’s Way (2010)

I saw the trailer for this on the Internets and was intrigued because it was one of those Asian martial arts fantasy films with a Western backdrop.  Led by Korean ‘superstar’ Jang Dong-gun, the film also featured the likes of Hollywood stars such as Kate Bosworth (whom I hadn’t seen since Superman Returns), Geoffrey Rush (talk about a man willing to be in absolutely anything) and Danny Huston.

I can’t really remember much except that the Korean dude was some super swordsman that went to America with a baby, and there were lots of sword/gun fights.  I didn’t expect much from it but I did expect it to be slightly more fun than it was.  Visually it was impressive, even more fantastical than films such as House of Flying Daggers, The Promise and Hero, but like those films the engagement factor was pretty low.

2.5 stars out of 5

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

This was an interesting documentary about the crippled education system in America.  It was expectedly scathing when it came to public education and the quality of teachers, but for me the most compelling part was watching how various families pinned all their hopes on their child getting into a particular charter school through a student lottery.

I had no idea what charter schools were (basically an alternative to public schools and can have their own system of rules and regulations that hold both students and teachers more accountable for their performance) and I was fascinated by this idea of a child’s entire future riding on luck.  If they get into a charter school, their future looks bright.  If they don’t, they’re stuffed.  That was how the film conveyed it anyway.  As a result, he lottery scenes towards the end of the film had me riveted.

It’s not an exceptional documentary (too many numbers and slow bits) but it’s an important one.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

I’m trying to think of a good feature film with Jessica Alba (in a significant role) that was any good.  If Sin City doesn’t count (because she was hardly in it) then I can’t think of any.

The Killer Inside Me was barely okay.  It stars Casey Affleck as some sick psycho and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the women in his life.  It’s a stylishly shot film set in the 1950s (I think) and has some confronting moments that are brutally violent, but I didn’t get a connection with any of the characters. It was 109 minutes but felt like 3 hours.

PS (SPOILERS): I read somewhere that the film was criticised for being misogynistic, which is stupid.  Watching Alba and Hudson getting the crap beaten out of them was one of the less boring parts of the film.

2 stars out of 5

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

I always wondered why Odette Yustman (star of Cloverfield and The Unborn) was not a bigger star.  Unfortunately, And Soon the Darkness will definitely not make her a bigger star.

Yustman and Amber Heard are two young American girls backpacking in Argentina, in an area where young women have gone missing.  Yada, yada, yada, they get in trouble, stuff happens and people die.

I suppose there were a few entertaining moments in this film (which also stars Karl Urban as the ‘is he the bad guy or not?’ guy) but it was impossible to like either of the annoying girls whose stupidity and lack of common sense made me want to see something bad happen to them.  But then again, if they weren’t so moronic none of the things in this film would have happened.

2 stars out of 5

Lolita: Novel, 1962 Film and 1997 Film

Recently for class I had to experience Lolita in its three most popular forms — the original 1958 novel by Vladimir Nabokov and the two film adaptations, the 1962 version directed by Stanley Kubrick and the 1997 version directed by Adrian Lyne.

Novel

The 1958 novel doesn’t really need any introduction from me.  It’s considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, with one of the most controversial characters and storylines in literary history. I read it for the first time last year (review found here) and wasn’t surprised that Robertson Davies once wrote that the ‘them is not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child.’

The protagonist and narrator, the pathetic Humbert Humbert, is so clever and funny that you’re momentarily willing to put his transgressions in the background and go along for the ride.  Momentarily, of course.

1962 Film

The 1962 film by Kubrick was an interesting one.  It starred James Mason as Humbert, Sue Luon as Lolita, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze and Peter Sellers as Claire Quilty.  The screenplay was attributed to Nabokov (and he actually got an Oscar nomination for it), but in reality it was mostly re-written by Kubrick and James Harris.  Nabokov published his version of the script separately in 1974.

The 1962 Lolita was a product of its time, unfortunately, meaning it was heavily held back by censors.  Needless to say, Kubrick is no prude (one only has to watch Eyes Wide Shut) to know that, but his version of Lolita was very tame, with almost none of the sexual innuendos littered throughout the novel — in fact, there was very little physical contact between Lolita and Humbert, the scenes often fading to black before anything happens.

Kubrick in fact said that if he could have done it again he would have emphasised the erotic aspect of the novel with the same weight Nabokov did, and that if he knew censors were going to be so tight he might not have made the film at all.

I liked the 1962 film a lot.  I wouldn’t say it’s one of Kubrick’s best efforts but considering what he had to work with I think it was a splendid effort.  The film managed to capture both the tortured soul of Humbert and his cunning.  Obviously, it was impossible to replicate nuances of the book, but Kubrick came closer than I could have imagined.

I don’t know if this is a complaint, but Quilty was given a much bigger role in the film than the novel, which threw me off a bit.  He didn’t really feel like a character that deserved more screen time in the book, but I guess because Sellers played him Kubrick decided to give him free reign to do his impersonations.

The other thing was Sue Lyon’s Lolita.  It was a good performance but she looked too old to be the target of a paedophile.  I thought she could have easily passed for 18, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

1997 Film

This one, directed by Adrian Lyne (who was at the helm of 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and later, Unfaithful) was made at a much more liberal time, so it was more explicit in the eroticism.  It was also more faithful to the original as Stephen Schiff, the first time screenwriter who penned the script, lifted a lot more dialogue directly from the book and had more voiceovers from Jeremy Irons (who interestingly also voiced the audio book version of the novel).

On the other hand, this was a completely different film that didn’t capture any of the black comedy of the novel.  It’s beautifully shot, with long, sweeping scenes and this tender, moody tone.  As some critics pointed out, Lyne seemed to have missed the point of the novel, creating a pure tragedy that’s all emotional torture and no fun.

I think it’s unfortunate that people will always inevitably compare adaptations and ‘remakes’ with what has come before it.  It’s human nature, I suppose, but is it entirely fair?  Why can’t we judge them as separate and distinct works of art?

I didn’t really enjoy the 1997 version, but I could definitely appreciate the aesthetics of it.  Jeremy Irons is always good to watch on screen, and Dominique Swain showed so much promise in her first role — what ever became of her?

But anyway, I found it interesting that a lot of my classmates found the subject matter difficult to digest.  They weren’t able to read and enjoy the book because mentally they could not separate the fiction from the reality and repulsion of paedophila.  Stylistically, many also thought Nabokov was overrated, too clever for his own good and a bit of a one trick pony (at least in this book).  They thought maybe, and there’s probably sliver of truth in this, that the book has done so well because of the subject matter as opposed to the masterful writing.  I dunno.  I’m still mightily impressed by the man’s wordplay and the confidence with which he can weave sentences in a language that’s not his first.

Will Lolita ever be remade again?  I assume it will be, eventually.  Maybe someone like Roman Polanski or Woody Allen would be a good choice to direct a movie about paedophila?

Top 10 Films of 2010!

Okay.  Finally.  About time.  Of the 110+ movies I watched that were released in Australia in 2010, here is my top 10.

A couple of things to note up front.  First, a movie is only eligible if it was released to the public in Australia (whether at the cinema or DVD) in 2010, which rules out films such as The Fighter and Black Swan (films I’ve seen advanced screenings of but are not yet released here).  I was tossing up whether The Next Three Days or Unstoppable ought to be included because they’re technically not eligible (but I watched them overseas), but neither made the top 10 so the point is moot.  Secondly, I didn’t just go with the star ratings from my initial reviews on this blog — with more time for reflection, my opinions and thought processes may have changed.

So here goes!  My Top 10 Films of 2010!

(to see the list click on ‘more…’)

Continue reading Top 10 Films of 2010!

Is it worth paying extra for 3D?

One thing that’s really been annoying me lately is the extra price movie-goers have to pay to enjoy a film in 3D.  Where I’m from, there’s the “normal” price of the ticket, and on top of that there is the arbitrary price for the 3D, and then there’s the additional cost of the 3D glasses.  Some theatres allow 3D glasses to be reused, but others require you to purchase a new pair each time.  When you add it all up, the movies are getting ridiculously expensive these days.

Now if it is a genuine 3D film, like say Avatar (or even The Final Destination), where the experience is truly enhanced because of the 3D effects, I don’t have a huge problem with that.  You pay for it with extra cash and discomfort from wearing the glasses for the entire duration of the film, but it’s ultimately worth the trouble.

But the last two “3D” films I watched, Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, both felt like they were riding the 3D tidal wave for a bit of extra box office income.  I was appalled by how little the so-called 3D effects added to the films.  Arguably, I would have enjoyed them more had I watched in ordinary 2D, without the irritating glasses frames, the darker tint of the lenses, and me taking taking them off constantly wondering whether I had accidentally walked into the 2D version.

So from now on, I’m going to be a 3D sceptic.  No more watching films in 3D if those effects have been added in post-production in order to ride the 3D bandwagon — unless, of course, someone tells me I’d be missing out on something amazing.

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

 

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

 

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

 

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

 

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!