Saturday, January 14, 2012

No Future in the Past: Hawk's 2011 Retrospect Pt 1: Film

I was trying to work on my music top 10 just couldn't seem to get it done, so while looking over and seeing my film-10 being finished and lonely, I've decided in the meantime to go ahead and post that. There's some similarities and major differences to both Manny's and Bence's respective lists, but that's the beauty of film as with all art, it's all opinion. All in all I think it was sometime during the summer, sitting in a drive-in theater and being entertained by a rather simple low-brow action film I realized something. I didn't want to be that movie snob anymore, the one that just talks about films that get Criterion releases and films that are just trying to be art. Film is entertainment, and built for mass appeal. Though I still love those artsy films, I four myself watching a lot more popcorn films this year, and enjoying more than I had than since I first sat down on an Avid and the magic of moviemaking took he shroud off the magic of movie watching for what seemed like forever. Anyhow...

10. - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The most DISAPPOINTING film of the year. Why is it here? Well, for one, I still haven't seen films like Tree of Life or Submarine, and two, my runners up were films like Source Code and The Rum Diary. The bottom line for the film on a positive note is the acting is superb, from Oldman through Cumberbatch and Firth to John Hurt and Toby Jones, they're all great, the production design is spot on, the score is perfectly reserved. However, you can't cram this much story into a two hour film without some major problems. No matter how good the acting is, you have characters who have no depth, why should we care about a characters loved one cheating on them, or leaving them, or feel for a character being pushed out of their career when we have no attachment to them? There was no connection with the characters and the editing on this film was convoluting and handled the multiple story lines rather poorly, though the flashbacks built on voice over were fairly well done. All in all, the entire theater I saw this thing with had two different reactions: they were either asleep by the midway point or at the end going "Well, I'm sorry, but I just didn't care what happened to any of the characters." You can blame it on a slow burn of a movie, but I'm sorry, when person A has the same reaction as person B as person C as person D and so on, it's a problem. I understand the need and want for a slow moving spy picture, but being devoid of action doesn't mean you can't build up more suspense. Great acting, poor film, however the acting was obviously great enough to take it in to the top 10. Read the book or catch the original BBC series with Alec Guinness, both do a better job with the material.
9. - Rango
The best animated picture of the year for me. Wonderful animation and voice acting, a clever script full of references to all things Western (from Leone references to Hank Williams SR tuns) and all things not (such as Hunter S. Thompson and Nopalea). Oh, and as Manny pointed out, nothing wrong with Olyphant doing Eastwood.

8. Moneyball
I love baseball, at this point in my life, it's about the only sport I take the time to watch. On the other hand, I'm just as much, if not, more-so into the business side of the game, and that's where this film shines. Showing baseball for the game of number and mathematical chess-like genius it truly is. Pitt has never been better, and even Jonah Hill didn't make me kill myself. The only shame is that the originally planned recreation of Billy Beane attending Paul Westerberg's live in-store Amoeba performance from 2002 didn't get filmed.

7. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The best "entertainment" film of the second half of the year by far, putting other Winter-time action fodder like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to utter shame. Unlike Bence and Manny, I (despite not liking Brian De Palma) actually enjoy the first Mission: Impossible, it was a slow-burning cloak and dagger spy film that was well done (even if the tech is now dated) before M:I-2 tried and failed miserably at turning the franchise into America's Bond. The second film was what you get when you try to write a screenplay around action sequences already designed. M:I-III got the series back on track by mixing more of the spy and team aspect of the first film (and original respective Peter Graves) 60's and 80's series) while bringing some more inspired action into the mix. This live-action debut of Brad Bird may be the best yet. One thing is for sure, if you have an Imax (a real Imax) near you, the most fun you'll have at the movies this year is watching Cruise climbing what seems to be a mile up on a building in Dubai on those huge screens. I have to say, compared the dimness of the image and false cookie cutter depth 3D adds, I'm certainly more into the 18K huge canvas resolution Imax cameras provide. The film is also crisply edited by Paul Hirsch (who also edited the first M:I film) and the film provides the ensemble type cast that M:I should be known for, not a Cruise-only vehicle.
6. Warrior
Basically it's The Fighter for 2011, a film that uses fighting as a simple tool to bring to light a story of broken families and ultimate forgiveness. Tom Hardy's star continues to shine brighter and brighter, as he was also excellent in his small part in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Not a perfect film, but overall, it succeeds where it needs to.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I've said before I'm a sucker for this franchise, at least the original films, and this film brings that back full circle. A well done summer picture that understands you don't have to leave out story or character depth while amidst throwing in some rather well done CGI and fun thrills. Serkis' motion capture performance is most certainly his best yet, and Franco and company add the right amount of human imperfection element to these films that creates their core. The 1968 original always grabbed my imagination as a kid with it's well-done mixture of so many genres - sci-fi, horror, mystery, drama, action - and this film also is reminiscent of that,w file also providing a myriad of references to the older films ("Bright Eyes" nickname, "lost in space" newspaper, the water hose, act) while also putting a number of potential sequels that can be built right from this picture in a few different ways.

4. The Music Never Stopped
A movie for music fans. The true music fans who understand the feeling they get when hearing just about any song, the memory (often from when we first hear the song) that attaches itself to the chords in the song and won't let go. Kissing the girl, the girl breaking our hearts, teen angst, the laughs, the smells, it's all there when we hear the song. This film, partially based on a real story, builds itself on that element as well as the age-old battle of father vs son and the gap of generations and the way music can heal all wounds. JK Simmons gives possibly the performance of his career and the soundtrack is the best you'll hear all year. It's low budget and basic story call for cinematography and set design to be a bit uninspired, but it's the story and acting and especially the music that is the heart of this film, and that's where this film ultimately succeeds better than just about any film this year - heart.
3. Shame
I found myself attached to this film as it's similar to a lot of the dramatic stuff I've been writing this past year, built around themes of obsession, addiction, loneliness. This is NOT a film for everyone, and it doesn't hide itself from true human nature or the darkness that creeps around all peoples souls, or the good that we can pretend isn't there. Wonderfully cold cinematography caked in blues and greens, a great performance by Fassbender and Casey Mulligan. I loved it.

2. Drive
It's Taxi Driver for the 1980's set in modern day, what's not to love? While it was EXTREMELY POORLY mis-marketed, the film is the rare type that has enough violence and what I would call potential romance that most females or males, as long as not prude to either blood or films that can take their time, should enjoy. This celluloid Los Angeles is Michael Mann's Los Angeles on steroids, and the locales and lighting of said locales works perfectly, as the does the rather inspired choice of musical synth tracks for the film. Tarantino recently labeled Drive as "a nice try," which to me speaks of his jealousy of this film being more inspired and original than any of his films for the past decade. Gosling brings it full force here and Albert Brooks somehow puts away the comedic touch long enough to pull off a character Joe Pesci would be proud of. Plus, Newton Thomas Sigel continues to go almost under the radar as a great cinemogtapher and then we have Christina Hendricks' curves in a small role? Nothing to complain about with this film.
1. Hugo
It's rare the magic of a film reminds me of why I fell in love with the medium in the first place. It's also been a while since my favorite director did a film that topped me yearly list, but he did both in the unlikeliest of places, with a film that was marketed as a children's film. This is the type of film Spielberg WISHES he could still make, one that has a heart but doesn't fall into the trap of overt cheese. In truth, it's possibly too slow moving and intricate at times for some kids, but it's a near perfect film. Scorsese's love of film and it's history and preservation are the background heart of the film which is filled with a multitude of characters who are built on themes of abandonment, obsession and loneliness. Those are normal for a Scorsese film, but he adds in the heart of the film: the idea that we're all, no matter how big or small, a part of something, meant for something. I'm not a fan of 3D, but Scorsese (with a love for the 3D horror films he saw as a youngster) builds the films added dimension as not a gimmick, but as almost another character in the film, it works better than any 3D film I've seen since, and possibly more-so than, Avatar. The color correction on the cinematography is some of the best seen this year and adds a fantastically shining finishing touch for the film. Plus, it's a film that gives credit to the great and forgotten filmmaker of yesteryear, Georges Méliès, what's not to love about that?


  1. Nothing wrong with the popcorn films. I am with you though, it was surprising how many of those films I saw this year. Good times.

  2. It was overall a good year for the popcorn flicks. Always a lot of trash in that category, but this year had some good ones that reminded us these summer popcorn movies basically started with "Jaws," a film that had all the fun and thrills but didn't lack in story or character development. Just because it's fun doesn't mean it has to be dumb...yes, I'm looking at you Michael Bay.