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.
Life During Wartime Directed by: Todd Solondz Written by: Todd Solondz (screenplay) Starring: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Dylan Riley Snyder, and Michael Lerner
Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime is not as vulgar as his 1998 film Happiness, though this will be little consolation to anyone who sees it. Embedded in this painfully funny movie are unspeakably awful events, and part of what gives the movie its edge and its comedy is how callously these characters seem to treat them.
Solondz has made a sequel to Happiness in his own way. The characters are the same, though all the actors are different. You will be able to understand this movie without seeing its predecessor. We’re revisiting these people as if we were dropping in on a random episode of Seinfeld; if you’re familiar with the characters you’ll get more out of it.