The Best Movie of 2011: 1. The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg)

January 20, 2012

Tintin is without a doubt (and I know this is cliché) the most fun I’ve had at a movie theater in years. Tintin, which is directed by Steven Spielberg, shows that the master still can make an incredible movie. It harkens back to the old Indiana Jones movies with it’s globe trotting adventures and amazing action sequences. Tintin is of course about, Tintin, an investigative journalist who has solved many mysteries in the past and engages in one of the biggest mysteries of his career when he tries to solve the secret of the unicorn. The mystery takes Tintin, his dog Snowy, and Captain Haddock around the world as they race to discover clues to where a secret treasure is hidden. The animation is absolutely stunning and, at times, it’s almost impossible to tell it’s an animated film. The technology used to animate it is called motion capture which allows actors to act out their roles and give much more emotion to their characters. This is by far the best this type of animation has ever looked and the cast does an amazing job with their roles. We have Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones all delivering fantastic performances throughout the film. What makes this movie so great is that nothing bogs it down. The action hardly ever relents, but by the end of the film we still have a good idea of who our characters are and what they believe in. This works because the character of Tintin is such a fun character. We are never given much information about him, but at the same time we don’t really need it. A character in the film, when asked about Tintin says, “Oh that’s Tintin. Everyone knows Tintin.” While at once a joke for readers of the books it also works for those who haven’t read them. We do feel like we know Tintin because he’s a character with simple values and ideals. He’s instantly likeable and easily identifiable. The action sequences also rival any action movie I’ve seen all year. There is even a scene on a pirate ship that is as good as, and might be better, than any action sequence in all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. At the end of the day Tintin is what going to the movies is all about. It’s big budget filmmaking with heart. You can tell that these characters mean a lot to the filmmakers and it shows through the screen. They don’t make movies like this anymore and it’s a shame. Tintin tells a timeless tale with timeless characters. It’s the type of movie that will never get old.


Top Ten of 2011: 2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

January 20, 2012

This is probably the most engaging film I’ve seen all year even though it doesn’t try to command your attention at all. Everything is grey and washed out in this British spy movie that stars Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch amongst others. The above actors are what make the movie and they’re what glue your eyes to the screen. Gary Oldman definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for this role as he is perfect as a retired spy (George Smiley) doing one last mission for the prime minister. What is his mission? There are four men who sit atop the British Intelligence and one of them is a mole for the Russians. What follows is a plot that twists and turns just enough to always be a step ahead of you, but the journey is well worth it. This is not your typical spy movie. There are no epic shootouts, no great heist scenes, and no over-the-top performances. This is a movie about a cast of players who are all trying to deceive one another and hide their true intentions. Oldman is riveting as he brings incredible depth and life to his character just through simple facial expressions and movement. Adding to this already amazing cast is filmmaker Tomas Alfredson, director of one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen (Let the Right In). He too is incredibly subtle in this movie (no CGI cats in this one). It’s almost as if the entire cast are wearing invisible masks and every twitch and smile could be revealing their true intentions. This movie does require your full attention, if you skip even just a couple of minutes you could be totally lost when you come back to it. However, if you’re patient enough to let the story unfold at it’s own pace you’ll be in for one of the best movies of the year.


Top Ten of 2011: 3. Drive (Nicholas Winding-Refn)

January 18, 2012

Ryan Gosling’s character is never even given a name in Drive. He is simply referred to as, “Driver”. This name works quite well for the character given that all he seems to care about is driving. In Nicholas Winding-Refn’s newest film Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt car driver who moonlights as an illegal getaway driver. He doesn’t carry a gun and he gives you 5 minutes, after that you’re on your own. However, Drive is so much more than a simple action film, it goes way beyond that. Driver is a character that may or may not have serious psychological issues and every time he’s on screen we have no idea what he’s going to do. He rarely speaks and when he does he only says short and simple sentences. The film’s main story arch clicks in when Driver meets a single mom named Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives in his apartment building. Together they slowly develop a strange and oddly touching relationship. It seems like this is the first time in his life where Driver has actually cared for people besides himself. Everything goes to hell when Driver and Irene’s ex-husband get mixed up with some mobsters (Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman) and the film ends as you might expect, with a lot of violence. The cast all do an incredible job in this movie, especially Gosling, Brooks, and Perlman. Again, I wouldn’t complain if just about the entire cast for Drive got nominated for acting awards. Winding-Refn also blew me away with this movie. He does a great job building tension from scene to scene and utilizes an amazing score to get the most out of what’s happening on-screen. I’ve been a huge fan of his work (Valhalla Rising, Bronson) and he doesn’t disappoint here. Drive is just a great story about a wonderful (well no so wonderful) character who is incredibly complex and makes an always interesting movie.


Top Ten of 2011: 4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)

January 18, 2012

In the past year or so Lisbeth Salander has become one of the most compelling characters of cinema history for me. When I first saw the Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo I fell in love with Noomi Rapace as Salander. Salander is someone who defies description. She is someone who has commited atrocious acts of violence and been the victim of atrocious acts of violence. She seems to be mentally disturbed, but she is an absolute genius with a photographic memory. Rapace absolutely nailed the character and the chemistry she developed with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) carried the entire movie. Naturally I was anxious to see what someone like David Fincher would do with the re-make and as much as I hate American re-makes I gotta give the man credit. The movie works really well. However, I will say that I feel this rests squarely on the shoulders of Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and Stellan Skarsgard more so than Fincher. This version of the widely popular novel takes a more meandering approach than the original and is slow to get started. If you aren’t familiar with the tale Tattoo follows Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they try to unravel a murder that happened over 40 years ago on a small island in Sweden. Part of the problem with the beginning is that the film cuts way to quickly back and forth from Mara and Craig leaving the audience little time to spend with the characters and allotting too much time for boring debate amongst the members of the journal group Millenium. However, magic happens as soon as Craig gets on the island with Mara. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth seems much more grounded than Rapace’s. Where Rapace brought an edge of unhinged violence to the role Mara brings a dark confidence that oozes out of the screen. She is cold and calculating. The mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger is a great one. It’s pulpy and might not be the most original tale in the world, but the characters of Lisbeth and Mikael firmly ground it in reality. The one thing I did like more than the original was that their relationship got a bit more attention in this version. We have more scenes of them interacting together which makes the movie thrive. One of the greatest scenes in the movie comes towards the very end when Craig simply says to Mara, “You look pretty”. Mara looks up at him and her eyes say how happy she is and show that no one has ever told her that before without her saying a single word. Another huge piece to the puzzle is Skarsgard who plays Martin Vanger perfectly. I seriously would not be upset at all if all three of these actors got Oscar nominations. The movie does have it’s faults though. The end drags on way too long and I was disappointed they cut out a lot of Salander’s backstory that the original film had. In the end this version may not quite live up to the original, but it does enough differently and has an amazing enough of a cast to justify it’s existence. If you haven’t seen the original you might like this even more than me because I am admittedly biased towards it. I’m not trying to sell this movie short though, it’s a fantastic piece of work. Oh and check out the opening titles of the film below if you haven’t seen it. It’s…something.


Top Ten of 2011: 5. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

January 17, 2012

I literally watched this entire movie with a huge grin on my face. Woody Allen’s 40th feature film is an incredible fable that stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, and Allison Pill. Wilson plays Gil Pender, a “hack” Hollywood writer who goes on a trip to Paris with his fiance (McAdams) wanting to write a real novel. Pender is a man who lives in the past as he often talks about how amazing it would be to be alive in the 1920’s in Paris. Throughout the opening of the film we are given a visual tour of Paris and it’s many beautiful landmarks. We too fall in love with the city and as the film goes on we realize why Wilson’s character is finding it so hard to leave. What makes this a fable and not just an ordinary romantic comedy is that at midnight Wilson’s character is transported to the 1920’s. He comes face to face with many of histories greatest authors including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is when the film truly comes to life as Allen takes us into clubs, theaters, and art houses where the twenties come to life. This is also where the story gets interesting as Pender meets a girl named Adrianna (Cotillard) and begins to re-think his engagement to Inez. It’s impossible not to smile in awe at everything that is happening on-screen during these periods. All the cast do a phenomenal job in their respective roles, especially the members who re-create the famous writers of the 20th century (Adrien Brody is especially hilarious in a cameo as Salvador Dali). I also have to mention Marion Cotillard who plays a mistress of Picasso in the film. She is absolutely mesmerizing in her role and really sells the idea that Pender could fall in love with someone like her in only a few nights. Midnight in Paris is just a truly wonderful experience. Everything just works perfectly, there isn’t a single scene in the movie where I was bored or uninterested. The film ends with Wilson and a girl walking together through the streets of Paris and as the credits rolled I was still smiling. Absolutely genius movie from Woody Allen.


Top Ten of 2011: 6. Shame (Steve McQueen)

January 17, 2012

Michael Fassbender is one of the greatest actors of our generation. In Shame he completely brings to life the character of a sex addict (Brandon) trying to maintain his life in the midst of a crisis. What is the crisis? His little sister (Carey Mulligan) moves in with him and begins to upset his highly routine lifestyle. Shame slowly and methodically chronicles Brandon’s life and what first appears as harmless sexual activity soon becomes horrific. Brandon is a character that is unable to go through his daily life without having sex dominate it. From casual encounters, pornography, and even hookers Brandon is never satisfied. If this is all Shame had to offer it wouldn’t make for much of a film. However, Fassbender gives the performance of the year and truly makes you feel for Brandon. Director Steve McQueen (director of the amazing Hunger) brilliantly captures the empty moments of Brandon’s life. For all his success and wealth Brandon is exceedingly unhappy and seemingly incapable of nurturing real, meaningful relationships with anyone. What makes him such a tragic character is that he truly wants to change. In one of the best scenes I’ve seen all year we see Brandon take a co-worker out on a date and we actually see him coming out of his shell and really expressing himself. The scene itself is one, continuous take that must last at least 15 minutes. This allows us to really get involved with the characters as we see all their quirks and awkward pauses as they talk, order from the menu, and drink with each other. Another key part to shame is Brandon’s relationship with his sister. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as a brash, New York singer who just wants to have a relationship with her brother. Their relationship also offers hints into their past. They both clearly have psychological problems and they never talk of their parents. We also discover they grew up in New Jersey before moving to New York. It would make sense if they were both abused as children. The scene that really sold the movie to me is a scene in a club where Carey Mulligan sings New York, New York. Brandon begins to cry as she sings, “if I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere” and you get the sense that the dream of New York is dead for both of them. The city that was supposed to save them from their old lives in New Jersey hasn’t done anything for either of them. If you can stomach the movie’s NC-17 rating you’ll find an incredibly deep and moving film that gives us two of the best performances of the year and another near masterpiece from director Steve McQueen.


Top Ten of 2011: 7. The Descendants (Alexander Payne)

January 17, 2012

The Descendents is one of the most moving films I’ve seen all year. I’m a sucker for character driven pieces and Descendents is all about the character of Matt King (George Clooney). The story begins with King telling us via voiceover about his life. It’s a depressing one. His wife was in a boating accident and is in a coma. King, the self-proclaimed backup parent, has to care for their young daughter by himself while his eldest daughter is off at a boarding school on a different island (it’s set in Hawaii). Keep in mind this is all before King finds out his wife was cheating on him and was going to file for divorce. Now a movie with a premise like that has the chance to go overboard with it. I was really scared that this movie was going to be artificial and melodramatic. Thankfully director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) knows exactly how to tell this story. There is never anything in here that rings false, or contrite (well aside from one character, but thankfully he’s very minor) and George Clooney absolutely delivers the performance of his career as Matt King. He is in every single scene of the film and he carries the movie single handedly. He is at once defeated and optimistic, hopeful for the future and his children, and stunned at the loss of his wife and her infidelities. At the core of the film is the relationship between King and his eldest daughter Alexandra (a fantastic performance by Shailene Woodley). As the film progresses the loner Alexandra becomes closer and closer to her father and sister and by the end of the film we really feel for the King family. The title of the film comes from a huge land deal that the King family tree is trying to pull off. They (cousins, uncles, aunts) own hundreds of acres of pristine land and Matt is the one who gets to decide to sell it, and make millions, or keep it and leave the natural beauty untouched. The Descendents is just great movie making. The characters all progress naturally and seem real, nothing feels forced. There are some scenes in here that’ll make you laugh and other scenes where you’ll nearly cry. It’s another great character piece from Alexander Payne.