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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Next to Normal: When are we OK with weird movies?

By looking at the title of this post and choosing to read on, you are, at the very least, open to the idea of a weird movie.  This is an important step, I think.  “Weird” is an abstract concept, one that for the purposes of this post means where what you’re seeing collides with your perception of reality.  Think of the final minutes of 2001: A Spacey Odyssey or, more recently, the beginning and the end of The Tree of Life.

What makes us associate the weirdness with those examples more than, say, traditional Hollywood comedy?  Comedy is rooted in expectation.  When a situation defies our expectation of what we think should happen, we laugh.  You don’t expect Brad Pitt to bite the bullet in Burn After Reading so quickly and brutally, so when he does it comes off as comical, but him walking on a beach with other lost souls in Tree of Life is just out there.

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Summer Movie Awards 2011

The Most Ambitious: The Tree of Life The goal of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is no less than to funnel the creation of the universe through a child.  That that child and his family closely resembles the director’s own makes this his most personal film to date as well.  With some of the most stunning cinematography you’ll ever see in a movie, Malick captures something elemental in this movie.  You may not have liked it, but you’ll never forget it.

The Most Laughs: Bridesmaids With one of the best comedic ensembles in recent memory, writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumalo paired up with director Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow to create this hilarious, raunchy comedy about the bond among women.  Bridesmaids proves that an ensemble of females can spit vomit and shit just as well as men, which is something Hollywood needed to be force-fed.

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REVIEW: Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, and Justin Timberlake

Who knew that the winds of change would start blowing in formulaic summer comedies?  Last summer, Bad Teacher may have been a sequel to Bad Santa that had Billy Bob Thornton reprising one of his most infamous roles.  Instead, it’s become a female-driven vehicle for Cameron Diaz.

Paired with Bridesmaids, it’s hard to not observe the raunchy tone these women have used to start embedding themselves into the mainstream.  It is worth mentioning that this film was written by men while Bridesmaids was written by women, and it doesn’t really delve into the pathos of any of the women.

The issue of gender is not brought up in either film, which is why it makes them relevant.  Bad Teacher is fairly weak, though; typical hallow summer fare chock-full of some great gags and biting one-liners.  As part of a larger case study, though, it merits mention.

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REVIEW: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (screenplay)
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy

Behold something new in Bridesmaids.  It’s possible that such an innovation, which is buried beneath a mound of plot cliches and character types, will go unnoticed by the masses.  It is simply this: Bridesmaids takes pieces of the old genres and makes them new.  It is the successful merging of the male-targeted buddy comedy with the female-targeted romantic comedy.

When two genres merge, the film either tends to lean hard on one element or another, but Bridesmaids carefully walks the tightrope between both in an effective, hilarious mix.

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