Smizz’s top 10 movies from 2011

You know it’s that time of the year, where I share with you my contradictory taste in movies: Some are high-brow, whilst others have amazing elements but with bland under-tones and some are well – just classic-cheese-fests!

Wasting no more time with over-baring introductions:

Number 10:

Submarine

If you’re an Arctic Monkey’s Fan, then you most certainly would love the soundtrack. A not-as-enjoyable-dark-british-remenaistant version of 500 Days of Summer. Loosey based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel, Submarine tells the story of Oliver Tate who is caught at the junction between childhood and adulthood as he struggles with his first feelings of love, desire, heartbreak and must choose what path he wishes to take that’ll define who he is for the rest of his life.

but what makes Submarine so special is Richard Ayoade’s ability to capture the essence of growing up; the joy, the optimism and the tenderness alongside all the angst, confusion and depression too. The ups and downs of this British comedy are mainly due to Ayoade’s wonderful screenplay and direction that are touching yet never slip into sentimentality – he often playfully pokes fun at it in many cases – but what also deserves credit are the poignant score by Arctic Monkey’s singer Alex Turner, the cinematography that effortlessly shifts between comic framing and beautiful imagery and the note-perfect performances by the entire cast.

Rock-on-for independent indie brit movies!  You’ll like it if you like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze directed movies.

Number 9:

Win Win

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a sucker for a movie where a kid with no direction who comes from a horrible upbringing, gets sort of ‘saved’ by a stranger.  The difference with this movie compared to the whole archive of Hollywood ‘diamond in the rough’ stories is the plot and characters themselves.

It’s a tragic comedy that comes out on top: like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. We love those movies because they’re about eccentric, witty people whose foibles are made less than tragic, their dialogue hypnotizes, and their personas seduce. Then comes Win Win, not as ingenious or innovative as those films but a winner in its own right because it embellishes little while it stays real and lovingly humane.

Mike (Paul Giamatti) is approaching a mid-life crisis; the monotony of daily life and money troubles colliding. But this is a well written film and it doesn’t look or feel like a mid-life crisis. Mike starts acting like a sleazy lawyer just to make some easy money, even though he’s anything but a sleazy lawyer. Because he’s a good guy, realities quickly catch up, and he starts taking responsibility for a troubled kid. Mostly trying to assuage his guilt of wrong-doing, but this kid happens to be a wrestling phenom and Mike is a struggling high school wrestling coach. But like i said, the movie is well-written. Producing less of a Underdog Sports kid story, but more  of a movie that reminds us that family goes well beyond blood relatives; family is the constantly evolving circle of people that we love and care about-in a less-cliche way.

Win Win is one of those few comedy’s that actually make sense and has a barbaric touch of honesty, but leaves you feeling better and happier at the end of the movie than when you first started watching!

Number 8:

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Extra, Extra! Tweet all about it!  Was that just a cruel joke i just made? Sure was. As a person who loves journalism of the high-est calibre, real – raw – important in all aspects, thought-provoking and new and old, I was immediately impressed to see that this was showing at Sheffield Doc/Fest this early summer.

Let me start by saying that you need not be a newspaper expert, reporter or reader to appreciate the points discussed in this documentary from Andrew Rossi. These key points include the battle of print vs social media, the need for true reporting, and the sustainability of the venerable institution that is The New York Times.

There is some argument given towards what constitutes journalism, but for me the real guts of the matter boils down to our absolute NEED for investigative reporting. I have always given value to bulldog reporting as a checks and balances for our system. Maybe, just maybe, our public officials and corporate leaders will toe the line if they are being watched. Sure, we can all rattle off a long list of when that hasn’t been the case, but I truly believe, having reporters following and snooping does make a difference in the actions of those in charge … and even if it doesn’t, it certainly makes a difference in the accuracy and depth with which their actions are written about.

The filmmaker has been given substantial access to the media desk inside the newsroom. We even get to sit on a portion of the morning meeting where the senior editors decide what the lead stories will be. Personally, I would have loved a couple more hours of just that! But just as fascinating is how Bruce Headlam manages the media news, and in particular, star reporter David Carr. Mr. Carr is a hardened reporter with the spectacular ability to cut directly through to the important point and focus on the details, verify those details, and then summarize in a concise, understandable manner. We see this in full beauty with his handling of the crisis and scandal at the Chicago Tribune under Sam Zell’s banner.

The bankruptcy trail of so many newspapers is discussed, along with the possibility of this happening at The Times. Personally I wish more detail had been provided on the survival strategy of this institution. Since the release of the film, there has been a change in the Executive Editor position. Bill Keller, who is featured prominently in the morning meetings, has stepped down and been replaced by Jill Abramson.

Gritty, indepth, emotional, relevant and exciting: everything you need from a cool documentary about one of the most iconic newspapers in the world.  It’s not often that one will actively seek out and pay to see a documentary TWICE within one month.  A must see, and documents the feel of 2011 very well. It will make you champion your local/national/international journalists (but not the ones who work for murdock – obvz)!

Number 7:

Bridesmaids

Number 7?! Really? Yeah! Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Judd Apatow Fan, quite the contrary. I know that this movie was a love-hate thing with critics and audiences, but I think a part of it is that people are just stuck up their own ass.

Bridesmaids proves that women can be as raunchy as men releasing the ridiculous upon audiences in original fashion backed by heart. Kristen Wiig has finally proved that she is much more than the goof seen on Saturday Night Live jumping to the top of the comedy genre brining the buddy comedy to the feminine arena.

Bridesmaids differentiates itself from the rom-com stereotype with the clever cliché-free scriptwriting of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. No matter how outrageous the jokes become, they are smart, fun and unbelievably believable. Consequently, the film controls the outrage allowing the humor to improve the story and support the almost perfect Apatow cast. For example, Melissa McCarthy acts like a complete idiot racking up the laughs giving male raunch a run for its money. However, the stand out performance and the best performance of an actress this year so far comes from Kristen Wiig’s multidimensional melding of comedy and drama.

How do you complain about a movie as unique as Bridesmaids? Well first audiences expecting to see a chick flick have no idea what they are getting themselves into and if they cannot take the raunch it is going to be a painful two hours. Also, while the film is titled Bridesmaids, viewers may expect a story based around more than one woman, when in actuality it is not. Even so, the only real problem with the film is its song and dance happy ending, undermining what could have been a great finale. But you know. Whatever. Give yourself a  real laugh!

Number 6:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

Is it too obvious? Yes. Does it deserve a place on ANYONE’s top 10 movies? Probably not, except perhaps a kids? Despite this, we can not allow this moment to pass: An incredible journey that began a decade ago (boy do I feel old!) finally arrives at its close with David Yates’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II”, as ‘The Boy Who Lived’ comes face to face with ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’ in an epic showdown between good and evil. And what a showdown it is- tense, thrilling, breathtaking, and fitting of just about any superlative you can think of.

It’s by far the best in the series (with the exception of Chamber of Secrets), the art-direction superbly done and Daniel Radcliffe has finally sort of learnt how to act so that he is finally likeable! (too late daniel! too late!).

Whereas the first instalment of the ‘Deathly Hallows’ emphasised the profound sense of loss and isolation among Harry, Ron and Hermoine, screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Yates leaves behind the moody atmosphere of the previous movie for newfound immediacy and urgency. This is all about that final battle where only one can live, and from start to finish- for once in a Harry Potter movie- the action is swift and relentless.

Unbelievably there are some scenes that work better than the book (really!) One of course is the horrendous but poetically done angle of Snape’s death. It almost feels like all the good ideas from the series were reserved for  the most emotional moment in the film for Severus Snape’s (Alan Rickman) vindication, long thought to be the Judas Iscariot-equivalent in the Order and the one who pushed Dumbledore to his death. Yates delivers a truly poignant and deeply heartfelt revelation of Snape’s true colours, and it is a farewell that even those who have read the book and can expect what is to come will be overwhelmed by its sheer emotional muscle. While Part II was always meant to be an action-packed spectacle, it is to Yates’ credit that there is still as much heart as before in the storytelling.

We all know how the story ends, and lets face it, we all love that in the last scene – 10 – or however many years later – the way they have made the characters look old is bad stubble, and comb-overs. LOLz!  If Harry Potter – a book and movie series that has grown with me for almost 14 years (I’M OLD!) can’t have a place in the top 10 for its significance than what else can?!

Number 5:

50/50

There seems to be a theme building up here. Tragic-dark-comedies with uplifting outcomes. Also, I’m not saying I love this movie just because I HEART Gordon-Levitt, but it was certainly a factor within.

“50/50” puts an end to all those X-Factor sob-story style half unknowing movies about Cancer. Written semi-autobiographically by cancer survivor Will Reiser, it would seem it takes one to write one. Although cancer drives the entire story, the story doesn’t fixate on cancer or melodramatize the terrible truths we already know about potentially fatal illness.

The acting is superb by both leads, the parents of Adam played by Angelica Houston and Serge Houde are portrayed effectively and in a loving way, and the screenplay and Johnathan Levine’s direction never fails or works against this film in any way. Three years prior he was creating good chemistry between Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck in The Wackness. Now, he’s finally mastered in creating two characters that do nothing but sparkle when on screen together. You can’t really call this a Seth Rogen film because while his comedy is here, his underlying sweetness shows through the cloth of this film more than it has ever done before.

Thanks to a wonderful third act in terms of direction and screenplay, you get an all out emotional breakdown from the characters and yourself. 50/50 has a way with making emotional moments not seemed contrived, but welcomed. A potentially disastrous idea turns out to be both hilarious and poignant.

It turns out, the secret to fantastic film making is, a good script, great actors and balancing act that doesn’t take advantage of an audiences emotional vulnerability. One more thing, did I say  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in it? 😉

Number 4:

Arthur Christmas

I sort of feel like I’m wasting such a high position to a kids christmas movie: but then I remember that Arthur Christmas deserves this!

There have been many movies over the years where Christmas must be saved from disaster, but Arthur Christmas has a very creative take on it. From the opening scene where it’s established that Santa is really a dynasty through the centuries, a title handed down from father to son, to the paramilitary operation to get millions of presents delivered in one night, to the misadventures of Arthur and his grandsanta as they try to make sure one little girl is not disappointed, Arthur Christmas is fun, creative, and original. Produced by Aardman Animations in association with Sony Pictures Animation, this CGI animated film delivers Aardman’s distinct brand of quirky humor and style.

The moral message may be gooier than the centre of a toasted marshmallow, but the gag rate is high, the animation is perfect and the voice cast of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton are splendid. Mix in a plethora of hidden jokes for the adults and you couldn’t ask for a nicer movie to get the whole family into the Christmas spirit.

Aardman productions totally go nose-to-nose in my mind, and this movie with it’s great brit sense-of-humor is watchable outside of the christmas period!

Number 3:

The Help

So, it turns out that some of this years best movies are adaptions from books. And like every adaption (most recent notably – One Day – it’s hard not to compare against – so I’m not).

Oscar Oscar Oscar – Kathryn Stockett’s beautiful book is Oscar worthy in this film — for editing, screenplay, supporting actress (several deserving) – Emma Stone just shines – at just 22 years old, this film proves she is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. There are so few roles written for black women and I was thrilled to see such great roles filled by Viola Davis (Abigail) and Octavia Spencer (Minnie) – both should be nominated for supporting roles although in my opinion, along with Emma Stone, all three share top billing.

The character development in this movie is really outstanding (thanks to the book!) – I hate movies with flat single dimension characters and these from the lowest to those with the most screen time are just remarkably developed – even the newspaper editor, the lines they chose for him to keep gave you enough information that even he is a memorable character with only three scenes, maybe 4 in the entire movie. Same for Stuart, Skeeter’s love interest – you actually like him then hate him and he only has maybe 3 minutes of air time. Great great job.

This movie sets out beautifully a terrible time in our history that unfortunately is not over – it is better, but not over by a long shot. You FEEL the heat, the tension, the pain, the injustice of the time but still you laugh with them even as you cry for them – both races – ignorance is to be wept over. Never dragged once for  a 2.5 hour movie, your last thoughts, there’s a book? I DEFO want to read it now if the movie is THIS good!

Number 2:

The Artist

I got  a chance to see this on one of those SHOWFILMFIRST screenings.  I was tempted by the title – oh The Artist! And remembered that I had heard some talk of it from Cannes. I had no idea it was indeed Black & White AND silent! What a treat to have! A real new black & white movie!

Jean Dujardin deserved his Palme D’or for his captivating and wonderful performance. Where to start…this film is so clever, so beautifully crafted, so mesmerising. The lost art of the silent film is once again brought to life and that era is impressively recreated, whether it be the acting style, the sets, the locations (shot in Hollywood), the shimmering black and white photography. It is obvious to see that the people behind L’artiste respected that era of film making and wanted to recreate the magic with some modern touches ( I won’t spoil them) and totally succeeded.

The Artist asks the question – how does one make that transition from silent to talkie? And then proceeds to answer using the silent/black and white techniques of those first pictures…absolutely brilliantly.

Number 1:

 The Tree of Life

It’s a tough decision. I’m left with the guilt of not putting other movies: worthy of a top 10 place, such as Drive or Super 8 or more independent foreign movies.  But it came down to this:  The Tree of Life.

writer/director Terrence Malick does not play fair. First of all, what director makes five films in 40 years? Who makes a film about CREATION, life, evolution, spirituality, death and existence? What director seems to thrive when no real story is needed to make his points? How can one director so mess with the viewer’s head through visual artistry never before seen on screen? The answer to these questions, of course, is Terrence Malick.

Any attempt to explain this film would be futile. It is so open to interpretation and quite a personal, intimate journey for any viewer who will free themselves for the experience. What I can tell you is that much of the film is focused on a typical family living in small town rural Texas in the early 1950’s. Brad Pitt plays Mr. O’Brien, the stern disciplinarian father and husband to Jessica Chastain’s much softer Mrs. O’Brien.

It really sweeps over and through you, and takes you on a trip of introspection. So many human emotions are touched – the need to be loved, appreciated and respected. It’s a contemplative journey that you can either take part in or fight. My advice is to open up and let this beautiful impression of all life take your mind places it may have never been before.

 

 

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