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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The 11 Best Movie Posters of 2011

After reading a few eye-rolling best movie posters of 2011 lists and questioning the rationalities behind fans and writers picking their favorite posters, I took the time to compile our own own list, putting two years of ad school skills with a fellow designer / colleague to practice. Here is a look at some of the best that came to mind. Honorable mentions: Bridesmaids, Scream 4, The Dark Knight Rises, Shame and Weekend.

11. The Run Diary: Commercially the long-awaited Johnny Depp film was a flop and critically it still disappointed. Most of the blame goes to marketing execs, who didn’t quite know how to sell the film despite a mildly attractive trailer and this copy clever typographical poster.

10. J. Edgar: Most might argue the other way on this, claiming Leo in an unflattering, oddly cropped portrait missed the mark, however, the still demands much attention and captures the character brilliantly. The hand-written signature title at the top quiets the image to match the tone of Eastwood’s film. Continue reading

ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Directed by: Daniel Alfredson
Written by: Jonas Frykberg (screenplay), Sieg Larsson (book)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Georgi Staykov, and Lena Endre

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is one with her computer, an ideal that this Swedish adaptation of the Swedish bestseller makes all too clear by framing a close-up of her eyes and projecting the screen she sees over them.  It’s an indelible, near-iconic image, and the film’s sole upstaging of the book.

The weak link in the adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s first book in The Millennium Trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was that it broke the suspense of the serial killer investigation by becoming almost as emotionally detached as its troubled heroine.  Salander is the undeniable strength of both the books and the movies.  Larsson has noticeably more invested in penning her part of the story, and both directors (Daniel Alfredson in this movie) have clearly had a ball unraveling her tale.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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If they were in television… David Fincher

Notable films: The Social Network, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club, and Se7en.

Famous for: Dark, beautiful visuals, perfectionism, masculine codes of honor, violence as a part of human DNA, social outcasts, and using famous actors in unexpected ways.

Hypothetical title: Blackout

Hypothetical premise: The show follows a career man plagued by boredom.  On his routine walk home from work one day, he stumbles on the aftermath of a brutal assault against a woman.  He becomes weirdly obsessed with the case when the police shove it aside, and as she lays in a coma in the hospital, he takes it upon himself to uncover what happened to her.  After discovering she was a journalist hot on the trail of a violent secret society that has infiltrated every crack of the local government, he begins to realize that he’ll need her help to uncover all the intricacies of the plot.  The woman wakes up from her coma, only to be abducted 20 minutes after being back on the streets.  As the season reaches its conclusion, the man tracks down the woman, only to discover that she leads the society, and that the assault was an attempt by a vigilante to remove her from power.

Cross between: Zodiac, Fight Club, Blue Velvet, and Sin City.

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REVIEW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay), Sieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Peter Haber, and Sven-Bertil Taube

No matter how many times it happens, it is always a disappointment when a movie adapted from a book doesn’t live up to its source material.  It happens too often, usually because it’s trying to please the fans or just doesn’t translate well as a movie.  Neither of these are the problem with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it’s that the wrong things were cut and not enough was condensed from the 600 page novel to keep a film viewer engaged.

For all of its narrative bumps, the chief success of this movie is capturing the grotesque and demented sense of discovery you get reading Stieg Larsson’s best-seller.  It follows Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced Swedish journalist who leaves his self-financed magazine Millennium to help it survive his blighted reputation.  He is contacted by Henrik Vanger, an aging business tycoon  looking to tie up his loose ends.  He wants Blomkvist to help solve the 40 year old murder of his niece Harriet.  Blomkvist retreats to the island where the murder takes place, and where all the bitter Vanger family/suspects still reside.  Aided by the hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace),  Blomkvist embarks on a treacherous investigation that puts them on the tail of a serial killer that may or may not have killed Harriet.

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