Our Favorite Movies of 2011

1. The Tree of Life– Terrence Malick’s epic tone poem weaves in and out of the life of a typical American family in 1950s Texas, zig-zagging between the creation of the universe and the afterlife in the process.  By placing the location of his own childhood at the center of these celestial events, he puts a very personal spin on his warring perceptions of creation; the way of nature and the way of grace.  As his camera weaves in and out of the O’Brien family’s lives (a three son household run by Brad Pitt’s nature and Jessica Chastain’s grace), the element of visual improvisation makes their everyday life and afterlife beautiful.  Even if you hated it, you’ll never forget it. Read our review.

2. Certified Copy- Unexpected in every way, the romance film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami follows two strangers as they meet up in Tuscany one afternoon and divulge into their passionate opinions on art, originality, philosophy and love. Over the course of a single afternoon, their relationship takes twists and turns, leaving the audience in awe of the puzzle laid out before them and clinging to the aesthetic beauty of its settings and characters to reveal clues. Sophisticated filmmaking technique brilliantly interlaces heavy academic, multilingual conversation with a flowing narrative to sculpt this as one of the most unique and thought-provoking films of the year. Read our review.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2011

1. Kirsten DunstMelancholia– In Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic new film, Dunst creates one of cinema’s most fully realized portraits of numbing depression.  In all of her performances, Dunst has shown a skill sometimes greater than the films she is in.  Here, she takes the role of Justine, a woman who self-destructs on her wedding night and takes shelter with her sister as the planet Melancholia goes on a collision course with Earth.  Key Scene: In the deepest part of her depression, Justine even needs help getting down to the dinner table.  Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) made meatloaf, her favorite dish.  When Justine tastes it, her face crumbles, and she says it tastes like ash.  That’s all that will be left of the planet in a couple days, and she can’t wait.

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REVIEW: Certified Copy

Certified Copy
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami (screenplay)
Starring: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell

Romance in the movies typically unfolds or unravels before us; there are Meet Cutes and ugly break-ups.  Certified Copy, a masterful film from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is both of those things, and then inevitably neither of them.

The film chronicles the relationship between Elle (Juliette Binoche) and James (William Shimell), two people who seem to meet in Tuscany for some kind of gathering while James is on a book tour, and then as the movie progresses, you realize the true depth of their relationship.  At first it shares much in common with Richard Linkletter’s Before Sunset, but the true challenge of this film is filling in the back story, whereas Linkletter’s film was a sequel of sorts.

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REVIEW: Young Adult

Young Adult
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody (screenplay)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Collette Wolf

Mavis Gary is one of the most fully realized movie characters in recent memory, and certainly of 2011.  In the span of Young Adult’s 90 minutes, Diablo Cody’s writing, Jason Reitman’s directing and Charlize Theron’s acting fuse together seamlessly to show us her demented, delusional inner workings.

In an early scene, Mavis is going to meet up with an old flame from high school named Buddy (Patrick Wilson).  She enters this small town bar with a tight, skimpy black outfit.  As she looks around the bar, judging every other patron there, the camera shifts to a POV shot as if asking us to judge them too.  When the waiter comes to her table, she rudely tells him to take back the silverware and bring her a drink. Buddy enters, and she lights up with a grotesque fakeness that she dons almost as often as her snide glare.

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REVIEW: Higher Ground

Higher Ground
Directed by: Vera Farmiga
Written by: Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe (screenplay), Carolyn S. Briggs (novel)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, John Hawkes and Taissa Farmiga

Vera Farmiga often has such a calming presence on a movie, which makes those times when emotions pour out of her all the more affecting.  In Higher Ground, she brings that talent not only as the movie’s star but as its director.  It is the story of the devout Christian woman Corinne and her lifelong grappling with faith.

Adapted by Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe from Briggs’ book This Dark World, Higher Ground transcends preaching to either side of the issue because nobody involved in its construction is laying judgment.  Corinne may be seen as a rebel by her congregation when she asks probing questions about the teachings of the Bible, but to an outsider in the audience they seem perfectly fine.

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REVIEW: A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Christopher Hampton (screenplay & play), John Kerr (book)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel

David Cronenberg is a director obsessed with the crossroads of violence and sex.  His films vary greatly in both tone and narrative structure.  For proof (since we are soon talking about science) lay down the science fiction horror show Videodrome next to his more recent pulpy small-town thriller A History of Violence.

It makes since, then, that a film about the birth of psychoanalysis, revolving around the violent sexual relationship between Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient Sabina Spielren (Keira Knightley), would be a work best fit for someone like Cronenberg.  A Dangerous Method is not a straight-forward exercise in period filmmaking like its costumes and curiously English-speaking Europeans suggest, though.  The film begins intent on dispelling that rumor, as Spielren howls with bursts of rage and laughter in the claustrophobic confines of a horse carriage.  She is dragged out by a group of men and taken into Dr. Jung’s care in Switzerland.

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