Monday, January 2, 2012

Faves of 2011: Film Edition

Favorite Films of 2011:

"Hugo" - Dir: Martin Scorsese

In general, I haven't been a huge fan of the Dicaprio-era of Marty Scorsese's career, but there have been exceptions of course ("The Departed" & the underrated "Shutter Island)". "Hugo" is a film that, for better or worse, is a love letter to cinephiles. It's practically a memorial to the traditional magic of the cinema, crafted in the digital 3D aesthetic of our time. I'm curious to see what the future holds for this Martin Scorcese character.

"Drive" - Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Much was made of the sparse dialogue, odd musical selection, and lack of car chases in "Drive," but the reality of it is that those same criticisms are what sets it apart from every other movie. There's not much new in "Drive," if anything, but it's unique style and execution stuck with me after I saw it. The romantic plot-line was stripped down to it's barest bones, quietly punctuating how unnecessary dialogue really is when your story is made up of familiar scenarios like these. It works though, in the same way the violence does; the minimalism creates a maximum effect. Also, Albert Brooks is amazing in this.

"Super 8" - Dir: J.J. Abrams

We live in a world with ever-shortening attention spans. It used to seem as if it wasn't made in the last 5 years it wasn't worth remembering, but sadly it seems as if that unfortunate rule-of-thumb is shrinking. Out of date films & music are becoming more obsolete to the average viewer at a faster pace than ever. With that in mind, 2011 was a good year for appreciating "old things," you know, like, the 80's. Just like "Hugo," the main story of "Super 8" is underscored by a fond affection for old school movie magic. Abrams' Spielberg homage to the days where monsters were less seen than heard manages to succeed on the shoulders of it's young, mostly unknown cast. Though they are sparse, there are plenty of loud clanks and explosions in "Super 8," but it's the quiet tender moments (Joe falling in love with Alice as she pretends to be a zombie) that are truly exhilarating.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" - Dir: Sean Dirken

The feature length debut of Dirken features a fascinating breakthrough performance by the least known Olsen Sister, Elizabeth, as Martha, a woman who escapes a dangerous hippie cult (or does she). John Hawkes is once again perfectly cast as a Charles Manson-type ringleader, but so too is Sarah Paulson, in the under-appreciated role of Lucy, Martha's (and really, everyone's) concerned, more successful sister. The genius of "MMMM" is that it consistently leads the audience in one direction and then wisely shifts away from their most obvious expectations of any given scene. This narrative strategy works all the to the final, gut-punching shot of the film. When the credits role, you'll hear a loud audible grown from the audience, but what you'll feel is the same frustration of Martha, the anxiety of the unknown.

"The Artist" - Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

The most overrated movie of the year? Perhaps, but it's still one of the best. More than a gimmick, "The Artist" is a tough sell, a mostly silent, black & white film, presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and featuring two unfamiliar stars. The fact that it's been well received by audiences, much less critics is a true testament to it's special brand of nostalgia. Like I said, it was a good year for appreciating the past, even the Great Depression. Like "Hugo," "The Artist" is about the history of cinema, but it's specifically about technological change (a topic explored before in "Sunset Blvd."), and the difficultly that people sometimes face while adjusting. As a guy who loves 35mm film and doesn't want to see it go away, these days are hard for me as every multiplex is seemingly working hand-in-hand with the studios & projector companies to force Independent, 35mm screening theaters out of business. In that regard, "The Artist" spoke to me as a someone who is finding technological change difficult.

Favorite Films DISCOVERED in 2011:

"White Dog" (1982) - Dir: Samuel Fuller

Caught this bad boy for FREE thanks to Austin Cinemateque. Co-written by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") who got the job based on his script for one of my absolute favorite films, "The Silent Partner," "White Dog" famously fell victim to a timid studio and a fear-induced frenzy of unfounded racial outrage over the subject matter. As a result, the allegorical tale of an attack dog taught to hate black people, and the fight that ensues to save it's life by reteaching it, did not get a theatrical release until 1992 (not sure what exactly changed in that 10 years). "White Dog" is film filled with blood-fueled passion and gladiatorial intensity, crafted by an American master of matter-of-fact film-making.

"Road to Salina" (1970) - Georges Lautner

The strange and beautiful tale of rail-thin Jonas (Robert Walker Jr.), a drifter who finds himself taken in by gas station owner, Mara (Rita Hayworth!!), a woman who believes him to be her dead son. Playing the role to take advantage of her hospitality, Jonas' situation is complicated by the arrival of his "sister," Billie (played by the always hot Mimsy Farmer). He enters into a seemingly natural sexual relationship with her and that is just the beginning of the awkward uncomfortableness of "Road to Salina." The beautiful cinematography and excellent SOUNDTRACK only add to this dazzling, under-seen gem.

"Trouble Man" (1972) - Dir: Ivan Dixon

Robert Hooks plays a force of nature named Mr. T, a man of means, intelligence, and most of all, coolness. His role as a "fixer" lands him right in the middle of warring gangs and police. With all sides closing in, T is the man who must fight to clear his name. Fortunately for him, his smooth demeanor is his best weapon. Stylistically "Trouble Man" has more in common with something like John Boorman's "Point Blank" than a typical Blaxploitation outing. A sleek production though doesn't detract from the authenticity of the characters and feel of the film, in part due to the amazing Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

"Metropolitan" (1990) - Whit Stillman

I love the look, feel, score, and clothing of this film. It's hard to sell the idea of yuppies hanging out being interesting, but it's just a very clever and charming collection of episodic parties, played out night after night. Just when the formula wears out it's welcome, the third act hits and leaves you with a feeling whimsy and a strange absurdity. So Great.

"Chameleon Street" (1989) - Wendell B. Harris Jr.

The reputation of the Sundance Film Festival is that unless you win the Grand Jury Prize, you're pretty much screwed with regards to distribution. So what do you do when you actually win and still can't get distribution? If you're Wendell B. Harris Jr., you fight a 20 year war to get your film seen by the masses. "Chameleon Street" won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1990, but has had a difficult road since, which is beyond unfortunate considering how incredibly good it is. Based on the true story of Douglas Street, a con artist who consistently exploited other's expectations of him, faked being a reporter, a lawyer, and even a doctor, successfully performing surgery. Harris both directs and stars in the film, which is appropriate because although it is based on the life of someone else, Harris re-invents himself as Douglas Street and the film says as much about him as it is Street.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
before..." Film Threat
"A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
"Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
version of David Lynch. " IFC News
"Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque