Meryl Streep

Top 10 of 2012 So Far: Part 1 of 2 (10-6)

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It’s rolling around again; that time of year I’m forced to see Oscar-baity emotional low-blows by myself at the local art theater, weakness tissues in-hand, ready to cry my little heart out as strangers stare in judgment; the time of year that makes cinephiles, fashionistas, and Meryl Streep wet with anticipation. Although the latter has nothing to really look forward to this Oscar season (sorry, Hope Springs, no Academy “due wins” coming your way this year), it’s a joyous time to celebrate nonetheless. With major film festivals winding down (Cannes, Telluride) and a few others yet to come (Toronto), 2012 has thus far spoon-fed us heapings of potential. Already, offerings from Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Woody Allen earlier served only to wet our appetites for what the next few auteur-saturated months have in store. We’ll see films from the likes of Haneke, Tarantino, Spielberg (sit down, haters), and Bigelow (I’m still pissed about 2009, though), all before the year’s end. But the real surprises have come in the form of the art film, as beautiful pieces like Damsels in Distress, Magic Mike, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Celeste & Jesse Forever have already made their marks on the hearts of millions.

It’s still too early to pinpoint frontrunners in any major categories and this list will undoubtedly change in a month’s time, but let’s take a look back at what, in my opinion, stands out from the rest of 2012’s early releases.

My Top 10 of 2012 So Far: Part 1 of 2 (#s 10-6)

Close Call: #11Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)

To challenge the very notion of what a film “is” or “should be;” that, I believe, is the intent of writer/director Whit Stillman with his latest, “Damsels in Distress.” Stillman exacts his revenge on conditioned filmgoers as a Dada mastermind, using actresses and a self-aware pretentious vocabulary in place of recontexualized urinals and hat racks. We’re plopped smack dab in the center of a prestigious east coast university, following the trials and tribulations of its most elite (at least they think so) group of well-to-do girls, headed by the self-important-but-with-a-tinge-of-pitying-empathy Violet (Greta Gerwig), who takes it upon herself to bestow the gift of social relevancy upon new student Lily (Analeigh Tipton, of “America’s Next Top Model” fame). We see the gaggle of girls interact with other students, flirt with boys, juggle relationships, and ultimately forcibly insert themselves into a young peoples’ generation that’s forgotten the value of pomp and circumstance, although the girls aren’t free from various social trappings themselves. Violet is self-destructive, like June Cleaver and The Joker birthed a baby with a time bomb inside, hoping to correct in college society what she fears about herself. The “plot” doesn’t evolve much beyond that, the film mainly functioning as a showcase for Stillman’s (often ironic) construction of verbal exchanges that function more as exertions of existential musings than actual conversations. The results are often hilarious only because we, as an audience, are fully capable of recognizing the ludicrous outlook of the group, which involves giving away a free box of donuts at a self-help and suicide group meeting; perhaps the other students don’t care, or maybe their blind-eyed aloofness to the hilarity going on around them is what makes Stillman’s mirror to youth so infectiously amusing.

#10Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)

Whether it’s global politics or a simple conversation with your neighbor about how they were able to afford their new car, skepticism runs rampant everywhere you look. “Safety Not Guaranteed,” earlier this year a Sundance hit, forces the audience into a skeptic’s nightmare  as we follow pessimist Darius (Aubrey Plaza) as she investigates a local man for a magazine article. This is no ordinary man, mind you; he’s got a reputation as the local whackjob, claiming he can travel back in time. He seeks a partner to do help him, places an ad in a newspaper, and Darius responds. She’s had a rough life of her own, losing her mother at a young age, fumbling internships and asshole bosses, and a stagnant love life; all the trappings our increasingly glum outlook on life as young adults has afforded us. We’re set up for failure, and our attitudes certainly reflect that. However, the big question that looms over the audience’s head (can he really do it?) becomes more satisfying as the film progresses, giving us (and Darius) something to actually look forward to, a blinding light on the other side of the everyday murk and grime. The film successfully builds a sweetly subdued (thanks in part to Plaza’s wonderfully placid demeanor) romantic relationship between the non-believer and the champion. The payoff isn’t quite as satisfying as I would have hoped, ending a bit too abruptly, but the film is charming nonetheless, with characters and relationships standing in for the audience’s growing affections for the alluring fantasy of the impossible.

#9 – To Rome, With Love (Woody Allen)

If it’s a love letter he wants to write, it’s a love letter I will accept. Woody Allen’s latest euro-indulgence comes in the form of the aptly-titled “To Rome, With Love,” a fairly seductive portrait of a city he’s very much in love with, albeit characters that are often forgotten in the wake of his affections. Allen’s one-a-year film philosophy fails more often than not (the success of last year’s “Midnight in Paris” likely won’t be repeated), but there’s always something of value to be gleaned from even the most lukewarm of exercises. Here, we’re given the standard Allen treatment; numerous vignettes unfold, the most satisfying of which involving an aging, pessimistic, neurotic American opera director musing on life and death (and the apprehensions that come with both) amidst his daughter’s budding engagement to an Italian man. Other characters include an average Italian Joe (Roberto Benigni) who wakes up one day only to find that he’s literally become an overnight superstar, and a middle-aged American architect (Alec Baldwin) revisiting his past experiences of love and loss in Rome. The locales are beautifully shot, with Darius Khondji’s gorgeous cinematography lapping up the beauty of Rome more effectively than Allen’s writing captures the spirit of his subjects. It can’t be denied, however, that the earnest intent of Allen’s latest is altogether charming, begging us to indulge in a ninety-minute cinematic vacation with one of the most prolific auteurs in history.

#8The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)

“The Cabin in the Woods,” simply put, is a film buff’s wet dream. If the words self-reflexivity, the male excessively campy assault on the decades of research by film scholars like Carol Clover and Laura Mulvey, who dissected horror films, in short, as exploitations of the female entity for the sexually insatiable gaze of the male spectator. The film systematically deconstructs all notions even casual moviegoers have regarding the horror genre; if you go to X place, Y monster will kill you. If you fit X personality or racial profile, you’ll die in Y order. “The Cabin in the Woods” functions as a satisfyingly critical (and altogether hilarious) vision of the horror genre, playing on elements we know and expect from horror films but recontextualizing them to mean something much greater about the social, sexual, corporate, and ethical norms that most often find their outlets in a medium that’s meant to be pure entertainment; film.

#7Prometheus (Ridley Scott)

This mid-year delight’s greatness comes as no surprise, as anything Ridley Scott touches generally turns to gold (Robin Hood and G.I. Jane, you’re obviously not invited to this party). Prometheus sees the 74-year old mastermind behind Alien and Blade Runner return to his sci-fi roots after a string of lukewarm dramatic releases during the latter half of the 2000s, proving that while his edge as a maestro of “shock” has worn dull, the visionary’s flair for grandiose fantasy has only sharpened with age. The film (is it an Alien prequel or not?) functions as part space-opera thriller, part existential babbler. While the ideas posed by characters in search of the race of superbeings that supposedly created humans stimulate our curiosity and probe the deepest corners of our miniscule human brains, the film finds its footing as it couples such existential ennui with an intense pulse bursting classic sci-fi action. Prometheus’ scope is far too encompassing for one film, so let’s hope the planned sequel(s) allow this would-be series to forge a path of its own amidst the constant onslaught of contemporary space-horror dreck.

#6The Hunger Games (Gary Ross)

The line between pop culture trash and legitimate art is growing increasingly thick, what with reality shows, media sensationalizing, and a growing audience’s insatiable desire for subjects that bear only superficial traces of originating from the human race. While “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” are contributing to the intellect-ocalypse, Suzanne Collins managed to channel inspiration from such programs into a powerful comment on our society’s willingness to abandon our own reality and indulge in a fabricated one, with her “Hunger Games” book series chronicling the fictional nation of Panem as it hosts an annual competition which pits children against each other in a televised fight to the death. The novels are refreshing and cleverly written, with Collins crafting a powerful parable for our times that criticizes at once the rift between bourgeois sense of entitlement and daily lower class struggles, and further the prevalence of “reality”-based media and its damaging consequences for our society. A film based on a written critique of visual arts sounds like a no-brainer; alas, it’s of utmost importance to judge an adaptation and its source material as two separate texts, and thankfully Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games makes a substantial claim as a fantastic film in its own right. As we’ve seen with the Twilight film series, an adaptation can be mere cut-and-paste moving images merely lifted from a young adult novel, but Ross’ film takes full advantage of the cinematic medium to craft an uber-coherent (surprisingly) film that takes inspiration from Collins’ series and rebirths it into something fresh and tangible for the big screen. Lush cinematography, symbolic juxtapositions, and meaty socio-political commentary make The Hunger Games the first film in a (as of this publication) four-part series that was entirely dependent on its freshman release to build credibility as more than just a teeny-bopper distraction.

Part 2 (#s 5-1) coming soon!

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Predicting the 84th Annual Academy Awards

It’s here. It’s finally here. The night when the elite portion of the populace gather round the television set amidst plates of fine Sam’s Club cheese trays and $6 Fish Eye to celebrate fashion, fantasy and of course, most importantly, film (ooh, that had a nice ring to it, didn’t it?). We’re like the classier version of the unified blue collar America that swarmed TV’s across the country to watch those really big dudes in tight pants toss around that tiny brown thing at that really big Madonna concert a few weeks ago. Alas, we don’t fux with no men in tight pants; We are the cinephiles, and our time has come to cast shade on Hollywood’s biggest night once again.

2011 brought us many a cinematic masterpiece, from Terrence Malick’s wondrous The Tree of Life to Lars von Trier’s disturbingly beautiful Melancholia, the past year ushered in some of the most monumentally atmospheric filmmaking I’ve ever seen. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences chose to recognize only some of the past year’s filmic feats (I’m casting shade again for the ignoring of Martha Marcy May Marlene and von Trier’s aforementioned gem), a much welcomed inclusion of some of 2011’s lesser-seen art films situates the Academy in tip top form, what with surprise nominations announced last month for the likes of The Tree of Life, A Better Life, etc. in multiple categories.

But I’m not here to inflate the egos of the AMPAS any larger than they already are. No, I’m here to scope out their plan of attack. I’ll be your cinematic equivalent to the Indigo Girls; yes, I will be getting out the map for you. It’s time to get all Ms. Cleo (or Raven, if you’re of a “fresher” generation) and predict the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

Note: Because my talents in the art of awards season prediction only function to a certain extent, I won’t be predicting every category. Until there are six precursor award shows that help narrow down the Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film category, you can suck it.

Best Motion Picture of 2011:

It’s come as no surprise that The Artist is pretty much sweeping awards season (and by sweep I mean winning most of its nominated categories at any given respective awards show); the Spirit Awards loved it, the SAG recognized some of its talent, and the HFPA gobbled it right on up. As a matter of fact, the HFPA have had quite a bit of agency this year, no? They were among the first to broadcast this awards season, inciting a mid-race change of tide in a few key categories, namely in both female acting and Lead actor categories. But, hell, it wouldn’t be a Best Picture winner without the Weinstein name attached, and The Artist has that in spades.

Part of me is holding out a faint glimmer of hope for The Tree of Life, however. Since the winners this year are based on the number of “#1” rankings a picture gets on AMPAS member score cards, I’m not too sure Malick’s masterpiece should be counted entirely out of the race. It’s a film that, when people (especially critics and guilds) loved it, they really loved it. That love carried it through to a surprise Best Picture, Best Director, and (expected) Best Cinematography nomination. It’s not a lot, but two strong categoriacal nominations for a film most had ruled out before the HFPA even announced their nominations in December (a shut out for Tree, mind you). I hope passion really has a play in tonight’s awards.

Predicted Academy Win: The Artist

If That Doesn’t Win, Then: Hugo will.

What Should Win: The Tree of Life

 

Best Director:

As elated as I am that Malick was included this year over David “Let’s take a brilliant novel and make a glorified episode of CSI out of it” Fincher, I can’t say I’m entirely happy with the Best Director category this year. More painful than another Scorsese nomination is another empty Woody Allen nomination. Don’t get me wrong, the aging auteur is one of my all-time favorites. It’s just, his contemporary crop hasn’t generated more than a “meh” (asided from Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point) out of me.

Predicted Academy Win: Michel Hazanavicius

If That Doesn’t Win, Then: Martin Scorsese will.

Who Should Win: Terrence Malick

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

If I had a penny for every time the Academy outright used Meryl “I have two Oscars already” Streep, I’d probably be able to buy Nicki Minaj a much needed new weave (“get that child a proper hairpiece, a nice shade of pastel beige if she insists on a color. On my Platinum Card” Streep would say). While it’s an honor of profound levels to even be nominated (as the losers tonight will tell reporters), Streep’s record breaking number of nominations has also turned into a record breaking number of losses. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s resorted to using her two golden statuettes as book ends (or perhaps earrings? Nah, those are what her Golden Globes are for. Shameless HFPA zing #1, check) for all of this “you’re great, but not 1980s-era Meryl great”. It seemed like Streep would collect her third Oscar up until the SAG had to go and goof on us (really? You’ll tie Streep with Anne Hathaway but won’t single her out over Viola freaking Davis?), and that notion holds true through tonight. It truly blows that some of the best, most memorable moments of her career (Doubt, in all it’s ludicrosity, anyone?) have fallen victim to the likes of Kate Winslet and Sandra Bullock (yes, I’m still bitter). At least Davis is a worthy adversary. Look for Streep to be brushed aside yet again tonight.

Predicted Academy Win: Viola Davis

If She Doesn’t Win, Then: Meryl Streep will.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

A film like Up in the Air, that truly harnesses the star power of one of Hollywood’s most consistently familiar, relevant actors and turns it on its head, is exactly the kind of film The Descendants, the latest George Clooney vehicle, is not. We’ve seen good old (and yes, I mean literally, old…when did he become an Ent a’la Lord of the Rings on us?) George gobble up and spit out roles like this before, and his inclusion in this categoryonly speaks to his power as a star and not to his talent (which he posseses) as an actor. Dujardin is part of what elevates the self-aware Artist past the point of representational, re-creational mimicry; he’s part of why the film has a soul of its own. He’s the actor in the film, not simply the star. And that’s a very hard thing to do in today’s industry.

Predicted Academy Win: Jean Dujardinin

If He Doesn’t Win, George Clooney will.

Who Should Win: Jean Dujardin

Best Supporting Actress

This is my “Sophie’s Choice” category of the year. My heart remains in Jessica Chastain’s hands. I cried tears of pain as she wept for Octavia Spencer at the Globes. But I was also sort of crying for Octavia Spencer. She’s come such a long way since singing “like Mariah” on Ugly Betty (someone, anyone, please get that reference to the single most hilarious moment in the history of that show), and her work in The Help has been predicted to sweep awards season since last summer. Problem is, her performance is simply not the best supporting one in the film. Chastain is leaps and bounds ahead of her, creating levels of depth in what should have been a very one-tier character. Do I choose the personality I like better or the performance that I like better? Meryl, want to help me out with this one? (her little “let’s name and mispronounce every actress in a film this year so I don’t sound conceited” at the Globes qualifies her to help, here). Spencer came out of nowhere mid-race, leaving Chastain’s sweep of the early precursors entirely for naught. Damn you, HFPA.

Predicted Win: Octavia Spencer

If She Doesn’t Win: Jessica Chastain will.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain.

Can I just pull a “Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud” and say nothing on this one? Do I ever say anything about Supporting Actor?

Predicted Win: Christopher Plummer

If He Doesn’t Win: Kenneth Branagh will.

Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer

The rest of my predictions for the “lesser” categories are as follows:

Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris

Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Foreign Film: A Separation

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Editing: Hugo

Best Score: The Artist

Best Makeup: The Iron Lady

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Visual Effects: Hugo

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Shitting in a sink, dinosaurs with morals, and Meryl Streep; The Very Best Films of 2011

It’s become a standard for me to disagree with close to 99% (I’ve done the math) of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has to say this time of year. They’re the ones who, by some force of divine intervention, managed to convince thousands that Kate Winslet’s supporting role in “The Reader” was that of a Lead actress (and that it was worthy of praise in the first place); they were the ones who shoved “The Blind Side” into the Best Picture category, tacked on to soften the blow of Sandra Bullock’s wholeheartedly political win for Lead Actress (at least they got the category right). This is also the same organization I’ve slathered with praise in a gut-reaction post earlier today for nominating “The Tree of Life” for Best Picture (though I’ve had time to reflect; my sense of dread in realizing I praised an institution who left out Michael Fassbender and Shailene Woodley grew as today sloshed on).

While my relationship with the Academy has been Whitney/Bobby at best (I’m addicted and can’t walk away to their, um, “substances,” but they’re bound to be the death of me at some point), I always find it necessary for those of us who have no need to be political come awards season share our opinions on the best of the best of 2011. Granted, I’ve yet to see Shame, Pariah, A Better Life, A Separation, W.E., or Pina (Holla C-Market Pittsburgh status!).

Without further ado, here’s my personal Top 10 films for 2011 (#1 being the best, qualifier is being released in the United States theatrically sometime between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011) along with my personal nominations in every category the Oscars deems worthy to acknowledge in their own right (plus an ensemble acting category. Suck it, AMPAS).

Honorable mentions: Carnage – Roman Polanski, Hanna – Joe Wright, Like Crazy – Drake Doremus, Contagion – Steven Soderbergh, The Iron Lady – Phyllida Lloyd, Moneyball – Bennett Miller, The Descendants – Alexander Payne, The Debt – John Madden, The Help – Tate Taylor, Life, Above All – Oliver Schmitz, Viva Riva! – Djo Tunga Wa Munga, Crazy Stupid Love – Glenn Ficara + John Requa, Untouchable Girls – Leanne Pooley

10 – Beginners – Mike Mills

Imagine your father is dying. Imagine he was married to your mother for decades. Imagine the foundation of your life shattering to pieces once he tells you he’s gay. Your reaction might be very similar to that of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) in Mike Mills’ Beginners, a film which chronicles the post-rock bottom resurgence of a man who did each of the aforementioned. Christopher Plummer gives a beautifully intimate performance as the “born-again gay” in question, enveloped within a gorgeously crafted screenplay that ponders not only the mysticism of life itself, but the importance of finding a new one if yours isn’t, you know, working out. Melanie Laurent rounds out the superb cast in this wise, contemplative, progressive drama.

 

9 – Submarine – Richard Ayoade

Coming-of-age tales are a standard in any year-end film arsenal. Richard Ayoade’s Submarine introduces us to Oliver, a meek English teen whose demeanor perfectly matches the dreary, rain-soaked landscape which contains him. The film is characterized largely through its gorgeous aesthetic quality, with ingenious cinematography and intelligent editing elevating a somewhat standard tale to greatness. Submarine is, at its core, just another coming-of-age tale, albeit in beautifully alternative fashion that values the retention of the teenage experience as one ages.

 

8 – Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin

State of mind was a large theme running throughout the films of 2011, and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene takes no prisoners as it immerses you into the mind of a runaway schizophrenic. Big on atmospherics and narratively disorienting editing (intentional effect and affect, of course), Durkin’s film showcases the power of the medium when a talented mind takes advantage of its power to force an audience into submission and feel it instead of simply seeing it. Elizabeth Olsen takes out the entire 20-plus year acting career of her sisters in one fell swoop to round out this disturbingly underappreciated masterpiece from a first-time director.

 

7 – Bridesmaids – Paul Feig

“If this is only a chick flick, then call me a chick!”. Such is the most prominent text on the back of the DVD case for 2011′s smash hit Bridesmaids, written by The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern in his review of the film in May. There are two glaring issues here. The first being the fact that such a statement (no doubt wank to his own clever pairing of words) was made in the first place. The second being the decision of the marketing team behind Bridesmaids chose to feature it in their promo. It’s this kind of gendered pandering (that the marketing for Bridesmaids is fully guilty of as well) that unfairly pigeonholes a film like Bridesmaids into a categorical hole the critic in question clearly felt the need to dig it out of before he even saw it. It’s got an all-female focal cast. It’s written by two women. Thematically it tackles issues of feminine companionship and coupling–hell, it even concludes with a Wilson Phillips (cue the bro at the back of the bar, hands cupped to mouth; “GAAAY!”) musical number–most of which are explored while its leading ladies parade in four inch heels. But its elements like that which force a simple “comedy” one way or another into the realm of being “unacceptable” for a male audience to consume and, as Morgenstern would suggest, enjoy. In recent popular culture, critics and audiences alike will have you believe that ”Bridesmaids” is only “correct” when it’s trailblazing in the romantic comedy genre; when it’s “women telling really dirty jokes and succeeding” and not just “a really fucking fantastic script written by one of the most endearing comedic writers and character performers of today,” which a more appropriate form of praise would be. Bridesmaids is a film which relies more on the charismatic persona of Wiig to shine both on script and screen. It’s a seamless fusion of her screenwriting talents and her ability to work that script into a physical comedic spectacle. The screenplay for Bridesmaids doesn’t succeed on a “Film Studies” level, if you will, but rather simply on being an unpretentious, consistently hilarious vessel for an artist’s infectious talent. Is it so wrong to champion Wiig and Mumolo’s screenplay for simply being “funny?” Or have we in the realm of entertainment consumption strayed so far into self-important territory that we’re afraid to praise something simply for succeeding on the most basic of levels? (the millions who tune in to “Saturday Night Live” every weekend to watch Wiig’s character creations would probably argue otherwise).  Must we really pad a movie that includes a scene of a woman shitting herself in the street as a defining piece of “feminist” comedy in order to legitimize its presence on the awards circuit this year? Some will say yes, it’s not a high enough form of praise to analyze something on the basis of simplicity. I’d rather sit back and laugh.

 

6 – Young Adult – Jason Reitman

If there ever was a time where I enjoyed being whipped around in the “wrong” direction, it was when I saw Young Adult, Juno-writer Diablo Cody’s brilliant concoction, for the first time. The film is a challenge not only to the waning morals and standards of America’s women, but also to our classically-conditioned notions of what a film should and should not “do” for its audience. Closure and satisfaction are two things Cody’s screenplay denies its audience here; we’re presented with a character, Mavis (Charlize Theron), who we dislike at the beginning of the film and despise by its end. The screenplay flashes bits of hope in front of our face and snatches them away and punishes us for ever thinking we were right in the act of expectation. Young Adult is a powerful social comment thematically and structurally that succeeds largely on its refusal to let its audience win.

 

5 – Pariah – Dee Rees

 

4 – Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols

Another film which forces us into a daze of its beautiful atmospherics, Take Shelter showcases not only some of the finest performances of 2011 (Jessica Chastain shines as usual, Michael Shannon gives the best male performance of the entire year) but also some of the most inventive storytelling we’ve seen in years. The film is, at times, a muddled comment on our society’s clouded values, stifled prophets, and familial complacency.

 

3 – The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius

It could have easily become a gimmick; a contemporary picture paying the most intense of homages to the silent era which laid foundation for what we see on screens at megaplexes and art theaters alike, becoming a “silent” film itself. It was through the silence of the early 1900s that cinema was able to become heard throughout the rest of the world, and Michel Hazanavicius’ gorgeous tribute to the “father” era doesn’t rely on its best selling point as a crutch to tell a ho-hum story. The Artist doesn’t just use silence (and the eventual interplay of sound towards the middle and ending bits) as a gimmick, but rather utilizes aural emptiness to mean something within the context of its thematic structure, updating the style of 1920s silent cinema for a contemporary audience and intermixing it with modern cinematography and editing. Gorgeous aesthetics (costumes, makeup, and performance are all spot-on here) round out one of 2011’s most ingenious entries.

 

2 – Melancholia – Lars von Trier

Von Trier’s films aren’t the easiest to digest,  and Melancholia is no different. It’s a deeply depressing voyage into the mind of one of the most pessimistic (misogynistic) artists working in cinema. But judging a filmmakers’ personality versus their input is ludicrous, and Melancholia channels that personality into a cinematic representation of the apocalypse. Von Trier sets the tone for his film on a grim note and lets its implications simmer for the next 120 minutes, building upon the already infectious sense of dread in a gloriously terrifying crescendo. Gorgeous cinematography, haunting performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst, and the darkest tone this side of Dogville make Melancholia one of the most deeply disturbing films I’ve ever seen.

1 – The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life does everything the medium of cinema is supposed to do. It transports, it mystifies, it astounds, it affects, it makes dynamic the world we take for granted all around us. It’s a powerful testament to the medium, reflecting its crafter’s soul in a highly personal, lyrical encapsulation of life through the eyes of one of its subjects. It’s a film that largely defies words, that deserves to be experienced versus watched, absorbed versus interpreted. At its core it’s a tale of familial dischordance, but Malick’s inventive methods of filmmaking convey much more to us than could ever be reduced to a mere plot description. It’s a masterpiece of cinema, one which speaks to us through power which can only be conjured through visual language and affect. A true testament to why “film” gets under our skin, and why dreams like The Tree of Life blur the line between experiential fantasy and the reality  binding you to the couch you sit on, basking in everything Malick wants to show you.

My personal nominations for films from 2011 (Winners announced the same night as the Oscars):

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR: My Top 10 Films of 2011

1 – The Tree of Life

2 – Melancholia

3 – The Artist

4 – Take Shelter

5 – Pariah

6 – Young Adult

7 – Bridesmaids

8 – Martha Marcy May Marlene

9 – Submarine

10 – Beginners

BEST FOREIGN FILM:

Viva Riva!

The Artist

Life, Above All

Submarine

Trollhunter

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE:

Bridesmaids

The Help

Melancholia

The Tree of Life

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Contagion

Beginners

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Charlize Theron – Young Adult

Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life

Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia

Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Rooney Mara – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar

Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

Ewan McGregor – Beginners

Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

David Hyde Pierce – The Perfect Host

Brad Pitt – Moneyball

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Jessica Chastain – The Help

Harriet Lenabe – Life, Above All

Octavia Spencer – The Help

Manie Malone – Viva Riva!

Kim Wayans – Pariah

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Christoph Waltz – Carnage

Armie Hammer – J. Edgar

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Hunter McCracken – The Tree of Life

Charles Parnell – Pariah

BEST DIRECTION:

Lars Von Trier – Melancholia

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Jeff Nichols – Take Shelter

Steven Soderbergh – Contagion

Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

Mike Mills – Beginners

Joe Wright – Hanna

BEST SCREENPLAY (ADAPTED + ORIGINAL):

Take Shelter

Beginners

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Young Adult

Bridesmaids

Carnage

Pariah

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Pariah

The Tree of Life

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Hanna

Submarine

BEST FILM EDITING:

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Moneyball

Take Shelter

War Horse

Hanna

BEST SOUND:

Hanna

War Horse

Take Shelter

The Tree of Life

Trollhunter

BEST SCORE:

War Horse

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Hanna

Contagion

The Artist

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Artist

The Help

My Week With Marilyn

War Horse