DID YOU READ

The best genre movies of 2011, part 1

lincoln-lawyer-12262011

Posted by on

You’ve already got my list of the top ten films of 2011, but there were a lot more than just ten good movies this year. It’s time to highlight the genre standouts, the silly, scary, exciting, emotional stuff that doesn’t get the critical praise it deserves, especially at this time of the year when it’s all about gloss, and prestige, and actors eating half their body weight in ice cream and calling it “artistic commitment.” (Don’t you wish you had a job that let you call your obsession with Coffee Heath Bar Crunch art? Me too.)

This is part one of my list of the best genre movies of 2011. I’ve picked out a whole bunch of genres, from Western, to romance, to horror, and selected one exemplary entry for each. Be sure to come back tomorrow for 2011’s best buddy cop movie, best comedy, best sports movie, and more. Until then, here are our first five genre standouts.

The Best Western of the Year
“Blackthorn”
Directed by Mateo Gil

“Meek’s Cutoff” was the critical darling of the Western genre this year, but Kelly Reichardt’s bleak account of a doomed wagon train was too often an exercise in frustration to my taste. For a more satisfying frontier throwback, seek out “Blackthorn,” a sort-of-sequel to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” starring the wonderfully dyspeptic Sam Shepard as an aging Cassidy who sets out for the United States after decades in hiding in Bolivia. Along the way he encounters a man with some stolen money, which leads to plenty of double-crosses, chases, and shootouts, a new partnership to mirror the one he had with Sundance, and the occasional masculine contemplation of the meaning of life over a plate of campfire beans. “Blackthorn”‘s ending is almost as disappointing as “Meek’s Cutoff”‘s but you know what they say about focusing on the journey rather than the destination. This is a really interesting journey. Read my full review here.


The Best Horror Film of the Year
“Insidious”
Directed by James Wan

Speaking of disappointing endings, I wouldn’t for one minute pretend that the last fifteen minutes of “Insidious” — a haunted house movie from the writer and director of “Saw” — doesn’t completely fall apart after one too many predictable plot twists and a little too much unpredictable silliness. Until then, though, this story of troubled married couple and their spooky encounters in their new home on the corner of Hellmouth Drive and You Guys Are Totally Fucked Boulevard is absolutely terrifying. Every scene with Lin Shaye as the paranormal investigator called to cure the couple’s comatose son is killer. Not to be watched in a house with creaky floorboards or oversized grandfather clocks. Read my full review here.


The Best Legal Thriller of the Year
“The Lincoln Lawyer”
Directed by Brad Furman

Is “The Lincoln Lawyer” the most accurate legal thriller of the year? My night school law degree hasn’t come in the mail yet, I’m guessing probably not. But who cares? The broadcast television airwaves are littered with dozens of weekly hours of dry, by-the-books law shows; if you want pedestrian legal thrills, go there. If you want a batshit crazy story with big, fun plot twists and a deliciously evil villain, check out this sturdy adaptation of the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly. I can’t tell you who you the villain is because that would spoil some of the surprise, but I can say that Matthew McConaughey is in excellent form as Mickey Haller, a slick, smart Los Angeles attorney hired to defend a real estate magnate’s son from charges of rape. I walked into this movie almost at random on a day when I was stranded in Manhattan with several hours to kill. I walked out two hours later absolutely delighted by one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw all year.


The Best Romance of the Year
“Weekend”
Directed by Andrew Haigh

Two men meet in the bar on a Friday night and have a one night stand. The next morning, they discover a connection deeper than physical attraction but for reasons best left unexplained, their relationship has to end when the weekend does. This sweet, sad, and painfully accurate film about fleeting love evokes memories of David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” Director Andrew Haigh shot the film in practical locations with long, uncut takes because, he told me, he wanted “Weekend” “to feel almost like a documentary…you, as the audience, were almost sitting in the corner of the room just watching this relationship unfold.” He succeeded. Good luck trying not to cry as you watch this relationship unfold during the big climactic scene in the train station. You’ll need it. Read my full interview with Haigh here. “Weekend” is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkC7xHAfxm4


The Best Comic Book Movie of the Year
“X-Men: First Class”
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Technically “The Adventures of Tintin” would probably get my vote for the most accomplished comic book adaptation of the year. But I’ve never read any “Tintin” comics, and neither have most of the people who’ll be seeing it in the United States, which means Steven Spielberg didn’t have to contend with angry, judgmental fanboys freaking out over his every creative decision. Matthew Vaughn, on the other hand, had plenty of nerds looking over his shoulder as he made the fifth film in the X-Men franchise. He also had to retrofit a new story to fit within the framework of old comics and movies, deal with the fact that the previous “X-Men” prequel, “Wolverine,” was one of the worst comic book movies ever, and crank out the entire project from start to finish in less than a year. Somehow, he made it work. Michael Fassbender was such a badass antihero as the young, Nazi-hunting Magneto he suggested an avenue for a prequel to this prequel. Listen to my full review here.


On to PART 2 of The Best Genre Movies of 2011.

Got different picks for the best Western, horror film, legal thriller, romance, and comic book movie of the year? Let us know in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

The best movies of 2011

DF-23882rv2.psd

Posted by on

The Mayans might have predicted the world would come to an end in 2012, but it’s hard to imagine a more apocalyptic year at the movies, both on and off-screen, than 2011.  This was the year that theater attendance dipped to its lowest level since 1995 and critics played the role of coroners, declaring the film camera — and even film itself — officially dead.  2011 was the year that digital became the dominant medium of the movies, both in terms of recording and distribution.  We still sometimes call them films, but we sure don’t watch them that way anymore, thanks to television, Blu-ray, HD digital projectors, and online streaming.

While pundits eulogized the death of film, a few directors celebrated its birth.  Michel Hazanavicius made “The Artist,” about the forgotten magic of early silent cinema; Martin Scorsese made “Hugo,” an impassioned plea about the importance of film preservation masquerading as a children’s film about an orphan who lives in a train station.  Both became critical darlings, maybe because in a time of great technological upheaval it felt appropriate to look back, with awe and admiration.

Looking ahead with anxiety, though, was a far more popular theme.   In 2011, filmmakers envisioned the start of our investment banker-led economic collapse (“Margin Call”) and imagined the start of an ape-led social collapse (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”).  They put big name movie stars up against cataclysmic viruses (“Contagion”) and cataclysmically shitty employers (“Horrible Bosses”).  As more and more movies foretold the end of everything, more and more treated the end like a foregone conclusion rather than a point of suspense; in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” Earth didn’t even survive past the opening credits.  My own list of the best films of 2011 is bracketed by two movies about men haunted by dreams of impending Armageddon.

Ah, top ten lists. So fun to read, so excruciating to make, so contentious to discuss. “These are the greatest movies of the year.” “No, these are the most important movies of the year.” I’ve never been good at drawing those kinds of distinctions. All I can do is tell you honestly which movies affected me the most and try to explain why.  That’s what I’m going to do here. Film may be dead, but cinema is alive and well.  And here is the proof.

10. “Bellflower”
Directed by Evan Glodell

“DIY” doesn’t feel like a strong enough term to describe Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower” so I’m going to call it “DIAY” — do it all yourself. Glodell had a hand in editing, producing, writing, and directing this film; he also played the lead role of Woodrow and actually built all the gadgets and weapons his character uses in movie, including a flamethrowing muscle car called The Medusa. It’s an impressive accomplishment — and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that he also designed the custom camera he shot the movie with yet — but “Bellflower” is a lot more than a hollow technical exercise; it’s also a beautiful and tragic account of what it feels like to fall in and out of love (plus flamethrowers). It’s the best directorial debut of the year and the subject of my favorite movie trailer of the year to boot.


9. “Margaret”
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Is this movie a mess? Yeah, kind of. But that’s also kind of the point. “Margaret” is about a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) who accidentally causes a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) to run over and kill a woman (Allison Janney, devastating and unforgettable in just one scene). Afterwards she’s left searching for answers; the only one she ever finds is that life is messy and rarely makes any sense. Neither does this film’s tortured backstory, which involves untold numbers of cuts and lawsuits spread out over half a decade. It sounded like a disaster on paper, but it’s actually a magnificent film about people living in the aftermath of a disaster, and scene after scene hit with the impact of an oncoming city bus. Playing “Margaret”‘s spoiled, confused, angry protagonist, Anna Paquin gives the performance of 2011, creating one of the most fully and complexly realized teenagers in movie history.


8. “Win Win”
Directed by Thomas McCarthy

Our perpetually recessed economy has a lot of people asking themselves how far they would go to provide for their family. Thomas McCarthy’s “Win Win” is not only one of the best recent films about the search for the answer to that question, it’s also also one the smartest and most unusual underdog sports movies in ages. New Jersey lawyer and high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti, as good as he’s ever been) is in danger of losing his feeble legal practice when he makes a sensible but morally indefensible choice: he has himself declared the guardian of one of his elderly clients, dumps him in a nursing home, and pockets the monthly $1500 stipend that comes with the guardianship. Mike’s decision bears unexpected consequences for his family and his wrestling team, all portrayed wonderfully by a cast that includes Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, and newcomer Alex Shaffer as Mike’s client’s grandson, a troubled teenager and wrestling savant. McCarthy’s film is full of astute, unsentimental observations about life in modern America and features an ending that is just about perfect.


7. “Poetry”
Directed by Lee Chang-dong

An elderly woman named Mija (Yun Jung-hee) learns she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and tries to keep her memory sharp by taking a poetry class in this heartbreaking film from Korean director Lee Chang-dong.  Inspiration proves elusive, and only comes along eventually at great personal cost, one involving her grandson Wook (Lee David) and his role in the death of a girl at his school. Lee’s “Poetry” is about the connection between pain and beauty, and how the worst experiences sometimes spur the greatest works of art.  Or, as Mija’s poetry teacher puts it, “It’s not difficult to write a poem, but to have the heart to write one.” It’s not hard to make a movie, either. Making one with this much heart is the real challenge.


6. “A Separation”
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Like “Win Win,” this is another movie set in a universe of fascinating moral complexity. Like “Win Win” it’s a bit of a genre hybrid: part legal thriller, part family drama. It begins when an Iranian couple requests a divorce. The wife (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country in order to keep their young daughter from growing up in the oppressive atmosphere of Tehran; the husband (Peyman Moaadi) can’t leave behind his father, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s and requires constant care. After the wife moves out, a situation arises that explains her concerns. To watch the father while he’s at work, the husband hires a pregnant woman as a housekeeper, but after a few days on the job, there is an incident in the house, and the father blames the housekeeper. Who is legally at fault? Who is morally at fault? Farhadi’s outstanding film explores how hard — or sometimes impossible — those questions are to answer, with subtle writing and brilliant performances.

Will Ferrell’s “Casa De Mi Padre” has an official teaser and release date

casa-de-mi-padre-12162011

Posted by on

Back in April, we shared the first, vaguely bootleg-y trailer for “Casa De Mi Padre,” the upcoming Will Ferrell project notable for the fact that the entire film was made in Spanish (yes, that includes Ferrell’s parts too). And then, for months and months, nada. We didn’t even have an official release date.

The film was finally acquired for American distribution last month by Pantelion Films, who’ve scheduled “Casa De Mi Padre” for a March 16, 2012 release. Now, we’ve also got an official teaser. As you’ll see below, the film, directed by former “SNL” writer Matt Piedmont, is an homage to overheated Spanish language telenovelas. Take a look:

Here’s the official synopsis from Apple Trailers:

“Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) has lived and worked on his father’s ranch in Mexico his entire life. As the ranch faces financial strains, Armando’s younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) shows up with his new fiancee, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) and pledges to settle all his father’s debts. It seems that Raul’s success as an international businessman means the ranch’s troubles are over, but when Armando falls for Sonia, and Raul’s business dealings turn out to be less than legit, the Alvarez family finds themselves in a full-out war with Mexico’s most feared drug lord, the mighty Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).”

Dios mio, this thing looks and sounds amazing. It’s it March 16 yet?

What do you think of Will Ferrell as Armando Alvarez? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

“Corman’s World,” reviewed

“Corman’s World,” reviewed (photo)

Posted by on

Producer/director/schlockmeister Roger Corman famously made over a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime, in part because he never financed stuff like “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.” That’s not to say this documentary about the maverick drive-in movie maven’s life is bad; on the contrary, it’s a breezy, informative ninety minutes with great archival footage and superb new interviews with Corman, his collaborators, and protégés. But c’mon: 90 minutes of people talking about some old guy who made a bunch of movies? That’s not the Corman way. Where’s the sex? Where’s the violence? Where’re the crazy, LSD-dropping hippie biker gangs?

Actually, all that stuff’s in there too, thanks to a heap of clips from Corman’s lengthy career. In a sneakily savvy way, director Alex Stapleton has structured “Corman’s World” to work like Corman movie: you come to satisfy your baser urges, and inadvertently learn a thing or two along the way. In between the shots of Pam Grier shooting her way out of a women’s prison and man-eating piranhas feasting on human flesh, there are legitimately powerful moments here about following your dreams and fighting for your independence.

The world that Corman built was more than the sum of the pictures he cranked out for American International Pictures and later his own New World and New Horizons Pictures. It was also a network of younger artists he mentored and encouraged, and who went on to reshape Hollywood in Corman’s DIY, youth-oriented image — guys like Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jack Nicholson, all of whom appear at length in the film to express their heartfelt admiration and appreciation for the man who gave them the first profesional jobs in the film business. The interview with Nicholson — who doesn’t sit down for this kind of thing very often, especially not in a way that’s this emotionally unguarded — is especially memorable.

If, like me, you already know a little about Corman — if you’ve read biographies about him like Beverly Gray’s “Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life,” for example — there won’t be a ton of surprises for you in “Corman’s World.” During a couple stretches, the film does feel the documentary version of an greatest hits CD: you get all the hits, but you don’t really have the chance to appreciate the deeper cuts. For that, you have to go to the albums — or, in this case, the movies. I’d recommend starting with “A Bucket of Blood,” the Corman-produced “Death Race 2000,” and a couple of the Poe adaptations like “The Tomb of Ligeia.”

Stapleton probably could have — and maybe should have — probed a little deeper into his subject’s life and motivations. Why, for example, did a guy fight so hard and so long for artistic freedom only to use it to release so much empty-headed schlock? Still, it’s nice to see the greatest hits, and to listen to Corman’s refined paternal baritone as he talks about his work. He even allows Stapleton to film him at work on the set of his latest project, the SyFy Channel’s “Dinoshark.” When he doesn’t like the way the young guys on the crew are doing something, he just steps in and does it himself. Now that’s the real Corman way.

“Corman’s World opens today in limited release. If you see it, let us know what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Powered by ZergNet