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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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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ARCHIVE REVIEW: A Touch of Spice

A Touch of Spice
Directed by: Tassos Boulmetis
Written by: Tassos Boulmetis
Starring: Georges Corraface, Ieroklis Michaeldis and Renia Louizdou

With its delayed arrival to the United States, the Greek made film, A Touch of Spice, comes off as a half-baked concoction ready for the Sunday late night line-up on the Lifetime network instead of the hungry mouths for creative, cultural cinema. Even if one can overlook the cheesy puns that might ensue in this review, they probably can’t stomach the over-cooked, nonstop food aphorisms stuffed in this snorer of a foreign film.

A Touch of Spice is the semi-autobiographical tale of Greek writer/director Boulmetis, following his vision for the mix of life lessons and cooking.  He is certainly no Julia Childs; so don’t be fooled there. His story focuses on Fanis, a young boy who grows up in his grandfather’s spice shop in Istanbul during the Turkey-Greece turmoil over the Island of Cyprus. In his grandfathers spice shop, he learns many things, like how different spices in cooking convey certain moods, tones and feelings, how they are symbolic for different planets or how they can bring together or tear apart family, neighbors and nations. Yes, all from spices.

As clever and endearing as that may sound, it is all overbearing. Cooking scene after cooking scene and aphorism after aphorism, there are no breaks to the overbearing advice. Fanis’ grandfather tells him Venus is like cinnamon, because both are bitter and sweet like all woman. Even if this is a bogus eye roller, it might be representative of Greek culture at the time, but the film doesn’t let it do that. Instead it preaches… and preaches. Relentlessly.

Divided into three segments, you guessed it, appetizers, main course and desserts, Fanis and his family are moved to round two after being deported by the Turkish government for being Greek citizens, leaving his grandfather and childhood crush behind. During the entre, Fanis takes strongly to cooking, worrying his family. Years later, after going from army chef to astronomy professor somewhat miraculously, Fanis revists his ailing grandfather and child love, contemplating the life lessons he learned growing up through food.

Beyond flavor, food may have rich cultural context, but linking it to political, historical and social issues is a new approach. It is interesting, indeed, but perhaps if it wasn’t so… I don’t know… overcooked, one might be able to overlook the deathly sappy and dull score, the cardboard characters, the made for TV aesthetics and find the wisdom to be as touching as intended.

Grade: D-