1. Beasts of the Southern Wild– No matter how skilled a filmmaker is, rarely does a movie come along that creates a cinematic world that is seething with a new kind of life, a world or vision that movies haven’t seen before. Director Benh Zeitlin, working with a do-it-yourself low budget commune of filmmaking talent and some extraordinary “non-professional” performers, does that with Beasts of the Southern Wild. The ferocious story of Hushpuppy (the amazingly talented child actress Quvenzhané Wallis) and her small, increasingly hopeless village on the other side of a Louisiana levee is filled with fantastical, visually stunning sequences as well as low budget narrative economy. It is this year’s biggest contradiction, and its biggest success.
2. Amour– Michael Haneke’s second movie in a row to win the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor (the Palme D’or) is the director’s most empathetic and devastating work to date. As the camera lingers in the apartment of Georges and Anne (legendary French performers Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva in devastatingly good form), we become privy to the elderly Parisian couple’s tender, haunting final moments together. It is a slow crawl toward death, absent plot twists or Haneke’s sadism. Watching it yields no pleasure, but everything from the incredible performances to the wonderfully precise camera movement lingers long after the movie ends.
The Dark KnightRises Directed by: Christopher Nolan Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters) Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
It’s often impossible for a highly anticipated movie to live up to expectations, though Christopher Nolan certainly gives it his all in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is as large-scale a production as almost anything that Hollywood cranks out on James Cameron’s down time, a pitch black morality play on the grandest scale imaginable.
Nolan is one of the premiere modern directorial maximalists, able to sustain brooding tone and narrative complexity while also delivering spectacle on a blockbuster scale. His movies, however uneven in quality, are always eye-popping and visually inventive. The Dark Knight Rises is not the near-masterpiece that its predecessor was, though like the first film in the trilogy it is still a highly admirable, disturbingly relevant vision.
The Dark Knight Directed by: Christopher Nolan Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters) Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman
The Dark Knight changed the landscape of comic book movies by taking the super out of “super hero.” The caped crusader at its center is a man tasked with an evil so great, so uncompromisingly senseless and terrifying, that he must sacrifice his moral superiority in order to fight it.
To me, this is not only Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievement as a director (so far), but also one of the best summer blockbusters ever made. Just as Batman (Christian Bale) is brought toward the moral center, the movie’s heavy-handed post-9/11 politics and its gloriously conceived action sequences must also meet in the middle.
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