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(Belated) 2011 Best Of

This is very overdue, one month to be precise, but hey, seeing as 2012 continues to disappoint, why not take a look at last year’s best. Here is my amended and shortened Top 10 of 2011, which was originally part of the MK News Year in Review:

The Future

Miranda July’s second film may have lacked the saccharine charm of her debut, but there was something much more carefully considered and somber behind The Future, which definitely deserves a second viewing. 

Drive

A heady mix of romance, violence, neon lights and a sublime soundtrack made Drive one of the films of late summer. 

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Jane Eyre

Cary Fukunaga blew the dust off of the Bronte tome, creating an ethereal and gripping retelling. Michael Fassbender was as beautiful and intense as the northern landscape.

True Grit

It feels like a long way back now, but one of the first blockbusters of the year still stands out as a triumph. This remake of the John Wayne original was mostly faithful, but not without its dark Coen twists. 

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Bridesmaids 

Bridesmaids proved that the girls can give as good as they get, in this outrageously lewd comedy from SNL‘s Kristen Wiig. 

Snowtown

Snowtown is based on the real-life mass-murder in a small town in South Australia. The events unfold in unflinching detail, with Daniel Henshall portraying ringleader John in a terrifying fashion. The film joins a growing list of new and impressive Australian film, including the powerful Animal Kingdom earlier this year. 

Kill List

Truly one of the most original films from an up and coming British directors in years, Ben Wheatley takes his cues from The Wicker Man to create a suburban nightmare. What begins as an intense crime thriller tracking two friends in need of cash, and fast, it very quickly turns into a psychological horror. Gory, shocking, and will leave you in complete disbelief. 

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Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine (star of Dead Man’s Shoes and the Bourne films) steps behind the camera with impressive and touching results. The chance meeting of a violent alcoholic and a battered charity shop worker sparks an unlikely friendship, where both of their lives clash at a time of tragedy. Deeply moving and brave, Considine’s debut is mightily impressive.

Melancholia

Probably better known this year for his Nazi-themed outburst at Cannes, and for becoming persona non grata as a result, but Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia really did deserve the attention. A powerful portrait of a mentally ill woman and her sister as they face the end of the world, with interesting asides on masculinity and science. 

Pina 3D

Sadly only treated to a one-off screening in MK, this documentary is well worth seeking out on DVD or iTunes. Wim Wenders, ever re-inventing himself, presented this 3D doc on Pina Bausch, the contemporary dance instructor. Bausch passed away during filming, so never got the chance to see this sublime experimental work. It will move you in a way you wouldn’t expect, and you’ll be mesmerized by the hypnotic style of dance. All documentary talk this year focused on Senna, but truly groundbreaking work can be found in Pina

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I really struggled with not including The Tree of Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Last Winter. Then again, I did bump Melancholia from 10 to 2, so who knows how my mind will change in the future!

A fantastic year of film and cinema going, I will greatly miss having the time to go as often. 

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Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss

The second part of the rather clumsily coloned title of Herzog’s latest documentary, A Tale of Life, a Tale of Death, builds a vast and vague picture of what the film holds in store. But vast and vague it is. Taking the specific case of a chilling crime and its aftermath, Herzog manages to capture humans in their most vulnerable and powerful moments. He chooses to look deep into the characters on the periphery of the crime rather than linger on superfluous details, rarely breaking from the verbal to-camera accounts which function as a form of penance.

Into the Abyss is divided into five parts, a device used to theme the flow from crime to punishment. Following on from the prologue (which involves the Herzogian prompt ‘describe your encounter with a squirrel’) the crime is laid out in a languorous fashion. The messy and seemingly spontaneous triple homicide of two members of the Stotler family and a friend leads us to the ‘protagonists’ of the film – death row dwelling Michael Perry and accomplice Jason Burkett, serving a life sentence. The two men are alarmingly articulate, more so in some instances than the incidental characters, accepting gracefully their situation. Frustratingly, though, Herzog chooses not to penetrate their professed innocence, in light of the hard evidence against them.

The film is unselective in who it awards the most compassion, switching from Perry and Burkett’s plight to the astounding grief and misfortune of the victims. Herzog must have thought he’d struck gold though when he scraped the surface of the individuals involved. The unmitigating tragedy which has not just touched but suffocated the lives of Lisa Stotler Balloun and Charles Richardson (relatives of the victims) is unbearably moving, letting their stories be slowly drawn out by a sensitive Herzog. Just when you think all of the bombshells have been dropped, Herzog pulls Burkett’s wife out of the bag, an attractive, mild and slightly crackers woman who tops off the film’s incongruity.

With the look of a Lise Sarfati monograph, Into the Abyss is filmed in a simple photogenic style. The film proves Herzog still has a knack for capturing the best and worst in human thought and behaviour. It could have been more confrontational in both the interview style and political motive, but it is still a documentary which is as bizarre and comic as it is affecting, a blend which Herzog still has the audacity to mix.

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Where Am I?

You can now find me reviewing and commenting weekly over here, as MK News’ Film Columnist! 

My latest review looks at Crazy, Stupid, Love, which is not particularly crazy, but fairly lovely.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Of all of the superhero films of the past decade, the Nolan-directed Batman films have got to be the best. Probably because, from a warped psychoanalytical view, Batman has got Mummy and Daddy issues. Come to think of it, all of the better Superhero blockbusters entail some kind of familial dysfunction. Even in the more recent X-Men: First Class, we learn of the violent nature in which Magneto’s mother was killed at the hands of the Nazis. The loss of Spiderman and Superman’s respective father’s (or surrogate father’s) are referenced as catalysts in their superhero development. For Captain America, however, his inspiration to defeat evil in the world around him comes not from a traumatic or life-changing occurrence, but rather due to the less harrowing experience of being small.

The latest in Marvel agit-prop is more Dad’s Army than US Army recruitment drive, and at times the set looks as if it’s been recycled from cheap sci-fi films of the fifties. Chris Evans has no star presence, and neither does anyone else for that matter. Tommy Lee Jones drawls his way through another pissed-off public serviceman role (No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, In the Electric Mist) whilst Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones are undeservedly void of any consequence to the wider plot. The Captain’s stars and stripes shield might be enough to impress Uncle Sam, but it will hardly keep Batman’s Lucius Fox up at night. When you crave a shamelessly indulgent action sequence alongside the vanilla romance and drama, you realize Captain America has gone wrong somewhere along the star spangled way. Although more muscular in its direction than The Green Lantern and Thor, Captain America is considerably lacking in stature. He even had two dead parents…

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Cutting Room Floor: 6 June

The film that I think was about not trusting men      

Julia's Eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film collaboration that dreams are made of

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

The calibre of film Keanu Reeves probably wishes he was still making        

My Own Private Idaho

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Priest – Pious 3D Vampire Atrocity


Priest uses and abuses the concept of a hybrid genre to an excruciating degree, in a post-apocalyptic fantasy western horror which follows an avenging exiled Priest on the hunt for his niece’s kidnapper. A well-developed storyline is bypassed in favor of sleek bullet-time action sequences and unneccesary monsters, seemingly recycled from The Lord of the Rings. The film, which races through a bewilderingly overblown story, insists that cowboys vs vampires provide enough mindless entertainment to paper over gaping structural cracks in a frankly weird idea. Priest proves that graphic novel adaptations aren’t inherently lined with gold, and simply leaves you asking, ‘Paul Bettany, what happened’?

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