DID YOU READ

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.

Trump Funny or Die

Art of the Spoof

Watch Johnny Depp, Jack McBrayer, Patton Oswalt and More in Funny or Die’s Donald Trump Biopic

Johnny Depp just got very classy.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Funny or Die

We’re barely halfway through February, but this year’s Too Many Cooks Award for the most bizarre comedy project is already a lock. Blindsiding the world with greatness without any warning, Funny or Die released a 50-minute Donald Trump parody starring an unrecognizable Johnny Depp as Donny.

Ron Howard introduces this “lost” 1988 TV movie adaptation of Trump’s how-to manual The Art of the Deal produced with the retro quality of a Wendy’s training video. Along for the big hair and shoulder pads flashback are Patton Oswalt, Alfred Molina, Todd Margaret‘s Jack McBrayer, Andy Richter, Rob Huebel, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and Michaela Watkins as Ivana — as well as many Reagan-era surprises like a cameo from that loveable cat eater ALF and a theme song by Kenny Loggins.

Much like Eric Jonrosh of The Spoils Before Dying and The Spoils of Babylon fame, “Trump” writes, directs, and narrates his own epic tale of real estate wheelings-and-dealings. Check out the trailer below, and head over to Funny or Die to watch the full Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal movie before the real Donald sics his army of lawyers on Will Ferrell and company. (For more bizarro Johnny Depp characters, be sure to catch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this month on IFC.)

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