Top 10 of 2011


The annual ritual of choosing the movies that thrilled, chilled, affected and otherwise dug into the critical consciousness with hooks of steel during 2011 is upon Cinema365 and while our list is posted a bit later than most others, think of it as being a labor of love rather than a necessary evil, a particularly unliked chore.

This is the part where I mention that like any other list, this one is completely arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis, nothing quantitative that I can point to and say “this movie deserved to be on this list because of this.” No, it’s completely from the gut my friends and like any gut this big change is constant. The list you see here today is not the list I would make tomorrow. That’s why it always takes me so long; I hem, I haw, I prevaricate. At last, I assign.

Generally speaking, this list reflects my tastes as I saw the movie. I take all the movies I gave an 8 or greater score to, put the 10s at the top, the 9s below and so on. The half points I generally don’t take into consideration. Therefore you might see an 8 ranked above an 8.5. See what I mean about arbitrary?

So this is all about whether I liked the movie or not. 2011 didn’t see any real game changers in terms of movies that will rank as all-time bests. It is somewhat telling that perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a silent movie whose style harkened back to the films of that era. Still, even if none of them may end up as classics that withstand the test of time (and I think a few of them will), all ten of these and the honorable mentions as well, should provide at least a good starting point if you want to take a cinematic  year in review viewing party and stock it up with really good movies instead of just really popular ones.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late. There are two films on this list that you may find difficult to find either in home video or theaters. Check your local film festival to see if they will be around, or the websites that I have included with the original reviews – you can access those by clicking on the movie title and you can read what I wrote about them way back when.

This is meant to invite discussion or perhaps a heated argument or two. Feel free to submit your own top ten, or harangue me about mine. My skin is thick and I don’t bruise easily. I welcome hearing why my list is full of crap and yours is so much better. That’s why lists are fun.  

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

In a Better World, Hugo, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Company Men, The Descendants, Margin Call, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I Saw the Devil, Thor, J. Edgar, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Holy Wars, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Double Hour, Win Win, Bridesmaids, Young Goethe in Love, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Happy Poet, The Whistleblower, In Time, Apollo 18, Submarine, Drive.

And with no further ado, let us get on with the countdown:

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Everyone in England. Directed by David Yates

Released July 15, 2011 The end of an era finally came to pass as nearly a decade of Pottermania had its final moments and the series went out with a glorious bang. Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron would take on the forces of evil in an epic battle that would shake the very foundations of magic itself as Harry and Lord Voldemort finally had the face-off that everyone had been waiting for.

WHY IT IS HERE: There are those who proclaimed it the best film in the series and in many ways they weren’t wrong. This was an emotional rollercoaster that had heroism, villainy, pathos and even a hint of comedy here and there. After the first part of the last book seemed to be all exposition and no action, this movie made for a wonderful payoff. Not everyone would survive but this was a more than satisfactory ending to a series many people grew up with. There were a lot of misty eyes in the theater when the final credits rolled, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers accountants who would see their biggest moneymaking series ever fade into history.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Harry prepares for certain death as he goes into the black forest to compose himself. There he meets the shades of his parents as well as those in the series who had passed on. It was remarkably moving and I for one had tears literally streaming down my face when I saw it. In fact, I’m a bit misty right now just writing about it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $381 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $1.3 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on HBO/Cinemax. Download/stream from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Blockbuster.

9. INCENDIES

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villanueve

Released April 22, 2011 This was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar, representing Canada but very little of it was set in the Great White North. It didn’t win but many thought it should have. A woman follows the path of her mother as she makes a search for the man who is her father, starting in the small village her mother came from in the Middle East. The more she looks the deeper the mystery becomes as she discovers her mother was caught in a vicious civil war between Christian and Muslim factions in that country, leading to a shocking revelation that turns her daughter’s life upside down.

WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie on this list that will grab your guts quite as much as this one does. While many explore the depths of man’s cruelty to man, here is a movie that takes that cruelty head-on and exposes the ugliness for all to see. Yet even with all this ugliness, there is still lingering hope that tinges the entire film and makes it ultimately an uplifting experience, despite the horror. Forgiveness trumps hatred every time.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene in which a busload of Muslim women meet a horrible end is one that will stay with you for a very long time.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.1 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $3.6M total.

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Streaming unavailable.

8. BUCK

(Sundance Selects) Buck Brannaman, Mary Brannaman, Reata Brannaman, Betsy Shirley, Robert Redford, Bibb Frazier, Betty Staley, Ali Cornish, Shayne Jackson, Smokie Brannaman, Ray Hunt. Directed by Cindy Meehl

Released June 17, 2011 Buck Brannaman is an archetype, a modern day cowboy who is equal parts Roy Rogers and Dr. Phil. His journey from being a trick roper for an abusive father to one of the top consultants to ranchers about horse behavior and horse training (the character of The Horse Whisperer is largely based on him) is a moving one. One look at the trailer which preceded it convinced me that this was going to be a special film and when I got to see it in San Francisco with Da Queen, I found it to exceed those expectations and Da Queen agreed – if you were to ask her, this would undoubtedly be one of her favorite movies of the year as well.

WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January and it’s easy to see why. Few films – and even fewer documentaries – have as much heart and compassion as this movie does and the reason for it is Brannaman. He is self-effacing, quiet and has a connection to horses that is rare as it is beautiful. He has challenged traditional methods of training for one that is more effective and less traumatic for the horse. These days it can be difficult to be proud to be an American but this movie will allow you to do so, at least for a few hours.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Buck comforts a rancher who realizes that her inexperience and poor decisions regarding her horse have led to the injury of one of her hands and the eventual termination of the horse.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4 million domestic (as of 1/18/12), $4M total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Stream on Netflix. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

(Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

Released April 16, 2010 There are some movies that you will not see outside of a film festival. They are labors of love, made on shoestring budget by filmmakers who are often just learning their craft. Sometimes those movies are learning experiences for the filmmakers; they will go on to bigger and better things eventually but sometimes, you run into quality that stands on its own merit and doesn’t need any sort of qualifier, be it low-budget or inexperience. These films stand proudly with movies that have studio backing and/or indie distribution to be among the year’s best.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Brown’s third feature is an often poignant, generally funny and entirely too human portrayal of a dysfunctional family imploding over the course of a Christmas dinner. On paper it sounds awkward and uncomfortable and there are a few moments where those emotions are present but for the most part you just saw the damage done by years of digging, disappointment and disability. Well-acted (particularly Pixley, Keen and Killingsworth) and droll when it needs to be, this movie should be sent to every studio mogul and director as a primer in how great films can be done on microscopic budgets.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene near the end of the film when Danny’s departure brings down the facade from his mother and shows her to be what she truly is. It’s a marvelous piece of acting by Keen.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:The movie worked the film festival circuit last year, culminating in a brief run at New York’s ReRun Gastropub Theater in December. The film’s website doesn’t mention any plans for the movie to be released on DVD; hopefully someday it will be available in that formula or for digital download somewhere. Check the movie’s website for updates.

6. THE HELP

(DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Released August 10, 2011 Based on a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this movie shot to big box office after its release. The amount of success was a bit of a surprise given the subject matter but the quality wasn’t, given the excellent cast. Spencer has already won a Golden Globe for her performance and has received an Oscar nomination, along with Davis. The movie is also up for Best Picture.

WHY IT IS HERE: Some of the strongest ensemble work of any casts this year, for one thing. The writers and director Taylor could have taken the route in which Emma Stone’s Skeeter character was the brave white girl standing up for the oppressed minority (which has been done in other films) but that isn’t the case here; Stone is portrayed as much a cog in the wheel as the axel turning it. This is clearly Davis’ and Spencer’s movie. It’s funny, heartbreaking in places and insightful throughout.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Hilly discovers the truth about the “terrible awful.”

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $169.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $205.3 million total.

BUDGET: $25 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Rachelle Lefevre, Saul Rubinek, Mark Addy, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Cle Bennett. Directed by Richard J. Lewis

Released January 14, 2011 While it’s true Giamatti would win a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character, it was at last year’s Golden Globes. This Canadian film was based on a Mordechai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. For whatever reason it was released in early January instead of late December, effectively ending any shot it had at Oscar contention.

WHY IT IS HERE: Amazing performances from an amazing cast, to be blunt. Giamatti as I mentioned won a Golden Globe and the rest of the cast, from the irrepressible Dustin Hoffman to the breezy Speedman to the gruff Addy to the lustrous Pike all did bang-up jobs. Barney’s journey isn’t an easy one and at times the movie is so heartbreaking you want to run out of the theater – or as the case may be your living room – but staying until the final credits roll is so very worth your while.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, the last 20 minutes of the movie is something special. I was very, very moved.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $8.5 million worldwide.

BUDGET: $30 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

(Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Released June 10, 2011 We saw this at the Florida Film Festival and have been a huge fan ever since. While this is one of the “found footage” films subgenre that has been getting overused over the past couple years, it may very well be the best of them, better even than the one that started it – The Blair Witch Project.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Irreverent and fun, this is a theme park ride disguised as a movie. The trolls themselves are obviously CGI but they look exactly how you’d expect them to. Definitely the humor is low-key which some might have trouble with. This is one of those hidden treasures that nobody knows about, but when you get a friend to see it they become instant fans.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Hans filling out paperwork after his latest successful troll hunt.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $253,444 domestic (as of 1/25/11), $4.2 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime starting February 23rd. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix. Stream on Amazon/Netflix.

3. THE ARTIST

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Bitsie Tulloch, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, Basil Hoffman. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

Released November 25, 2011 After a good showing at the Golden Globes, The Artist is an odds-on favorite at the Oscars, with ten nominations including Best Picture (which it won at the Globes) and Best Actor for Dujardin (which he also won). This is probably the most critically acclaimed film of the year.

WHY IT IS HERE: This isn’t just an homage to silent cinema but an excellent example of the style of silent films. The humor is a bit broad and the pathos a bit maudlin but the movie works on every level. Even though there is almost no dialogue (there is music on the soundtrack and some sound effects) the acting gets across every nuance of the screenplay without fail. Dujardin, a French comic actor and Bejo, an Argentine actress, make a great team. This is the kind of movie that those who ordinarily wouldn’t choose to go see it are made believers after they’ve given it a shot.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: George’s suicide attempt is a heartbreaker.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $12.4 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $33.4 million total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

Released October 7, 2011 Walking the Camino de Santiago has always held a fascination to me. I’m way too out of shape to do it myself; this is as close as I’m going to come to doing it myself. I wasn’t impressed by the trailer or the concept originally but was blown away when I saw the film. It is insightful, emotionally authentic and yes it will make you laugh and cry.

WHY IT IS HERE: I am not the most Catholic of Catholics, but this movie gave me a nostalgic twinge in my ecumenical muscle. I also must admit that James Michener’s travelogue Iberia is a book that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times in my life; the chapter about the Camino always sung to me. No movie released this year afforded the opportunity for self-discovery as this one did and much of the responsibility for that goes to Martin Sheen’s dignified but realistic performance, making me realize how much I miss President Josiah Bartlett. Movies this powerfully moving should get as much praise as can be heaped on them.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene where Sara confesses to Tom about her abusive background.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/26/12), $4.4 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

(AFFRM) Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Marc Gwamaka, Zaninka Hadidja, Mursari Jean, Cleophas Kabasita, Hassan Kabera, Mazimpaka Kennedy, Assumpta Micho, Kena Onyenjekwe, Edouard B. Uwayo. Directed by Alrick Brown

Released December 2, 2011 Some movies aren’t seen so much as experienced. This film tells several stories about the Rwandan genocide, from a teenager girl who comes home after sneaking out to attend a party to find her parents murdered, to a courageous priest who tries to save as many of his Tutsi flock as he can, to a pair of soldiers who have varying reasons to want to put themselves at risk in Rwanda. Each story has an enormous emotional resonance and is based on a survivor’s actual experiences.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that doesn’t seem like a first feature. Indeed, I have not seen a better film this year. Few films will affect you as deeply as this one; but while it is set during one of the darkest moments in human history, it is not a story of darkness. Rather it is a film about reconciliation and hope, of the extraordinary ability of the human spirit to give the divine gift of forgiveness no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the transgression. If the Tutsi can forgive the Hutu and move to becoming a single nation after what happened in Rwanda, there is hope for us as a species if we can, as the Rwandans are doing, appeal to our own higher natures. When a movie can provide that for its audience, it is an extraordinary film indeed.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where one of the soldiers who committed murder in the genocide realizes what he has participated in and what it has cost his soul – with tragic results.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $21,097 domestic (as of 12/4/11), $21,097 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Kinyarwanda has had a limited release mostly in large cities. It is listed on the Netflix site with an as-yet unscheduled DVD release date, indicating that there are plans to release it in that format.

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Incendies


Incendies

Lubna Azabal wants a bigger percentage of the gross - and she's not going to take no for an answer!

(2010) Drama (Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Our relationships with our parents can be complicated to say the least. Often we forget that they too are flesh and blood people who lived lives before we were even a gleam in their eyes – that they were once young and passionate, and lived through times both good and bad. Sometimes, we just don’t know our parents at all.

Twins Simon (Gaudette) and Jeanne (Desormeaux-Poulim) are summoned to the office of their late mother’s employer Jean Lebel (Girard), who happens to be a notary. He has, he informs them, been named executor of their mother’s will. She has asked to be buried naked and face down without a headstone or a name plate. Instead, the twins are given two envelopes – one addressed to the father they thought was dead, the other addressed to the brother they didn’t know they had. Once those envelopes are delivered, then she could be properly buried.

Simon, who obviously has some issues with his mommy, refuses to play her games but Jeanne, who is a graduate student in mathematics and deals with insolvable problems, has to fill in the blanks that have suddenly appeared in her life. She decides to retrace her mother’s steps, back to the unnamed and fictional Middle Eastern country (that is most likely based on Lebanon) where her mother was born.

There we find that her mother, Nawal Marwan (Azabal), was born a Christian in a country where Muslims and Christians don’t really play together well. She falls in love with a Muslim who gets her pregnant which is a no-no. After giving birth, she is forced to leave her village and stay with her uncle in the city of Daresh, where he is a newspaper editor and she attends university while her newborn is left in an orphanage. Years later when civil war breaks out between the Christians and the Muslims, she goes on a journey to find her son, one that will take her through as much suffering as it is possible for a human being to witness.

This may sound like a very dark tale and certainly it is grim in places, but it is also very uplifting. The movie is driven by the things that divide us, but the powerful element of forgiveness is also very much present.

Villeneuve proves himself to be not only an adept director, but potentially an elite one with his marvelous storycrafting here. The movie begins with a somewhat scattered feeling and as the movie continues, the threads begin to emerge into a pattern until at last the big picture comes into focus. The twist that brings it all together is a doozy; there were audible gasps at the screening I attended.

Azabal is a tremendous actress who starts out very emotional, wearing her feelings openly but becoming more guarded as the movie progresses (it’s a defense mechanism). That’s the opposite of how movie characters usually progress, and kudos to her and Villeneuve for pulling it off. Nawal is a complex women, one who has been through a great deal of trauma, who has seen men at their worst (Christian militiamen with pictures of the Virgin Mary on the butts of their guns massacring a busload of Muslim women) and yet manages to find a way through to grace, which she achieves near the end of her life and by sending her children on this journey, allows them to achieve it as well.

There are certainly socio-political elements to the movie as well, with a good hard look at the prejudices and hatreds of a region that seems doomed to wallow in it forever. Yet, there is great beauty there, and the warmth of family and hospitality that makes watching the country descend into the madness of religious civil war all the more heartbreaking.

This is one of the most provocative movies you’ll see this year. It was the favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year, although it wound up losing to In a Better World – both movies are about equally as good, to my mind and both deserved it. This movie, however, gets a bit of an edge when it comes to the issues raised and the character of Nawal, who is as extraordinary a woman as you’re likely to meet in the theater this year.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances and terrific images.

REASONS TO STAY: It takes a bit of patience to get on board.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some pretty intense violence not to mention a good deal of foul language and a twist with an extremely adult theme.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The stage play that the movie is based on premiered in France on March 14, 2003 in France and the title translates to “Scorched.”

HOME OR THEATER: I’d see this on a big screen if you can find it.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: An Education

New Releases for the Week of May 20, 2011


May 20, 2011

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Claflin, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Roger Allam, Judi Dench. Directed by Rob Marshall

Cap’n Jack Sparrow returns after a five year absence and this time he’s going for the biggest prize of them all – the fabled Fountain of Youth. Many have sought this elusive goal but none have ever succeeded; then again, none of them are Captain Jack Sparrow! He’ll have to traverse treacherous waters to find his treasure this time – waters filled with mermaids, monsters, the British navy and the deadliest pirate of them all – Blackbeard!

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo)

The Beaver

(Summit) Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence. A family man spirals into a deep depression, forcing his wife to kick him out. Despondent, alone, his life seemingly at rock bottom, he finds a hand puppet in a dumpster – a beaver. Somehow, this puppet allows him to begin to communicate and soon, allows him to become functional again. However as he comes back to life, the question becomes how much the man controls the puppet – or the puppet controls the man.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference)

Incendies

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard. When their mother dies, the contents of her will send a pair of twins on a journey into the past of the woman they thought they knew. Each step of the way changes their perception of her – and of their own place in the world. This French-Canadian co-production was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some strong violence and language)

Four-Warned: April 2011


April 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either. The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films perceived or otherwise but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (1.3)
2. INSIDIOUS (1.7)
3. HANNA (1.8)
4. SOURCE CODE (1.9)
TIE. THE CONSPIRATOR (1.9)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. 13 ASSASSINS (1.5)
2. INCENDIES (1.6)
3. IN A BETTER WORLD (1.8)
TIE. MEEK’S CUTOFF (1.8)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

APRIL 1, 2011

CAT RUN (LLeju) Genre: Action Comedy. A pair of amateur detectives stumbles onto a high-profile case that has everyone gunning for them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Director John Stockwell is usually pretty reliable.
CIRCO (First Run) Genre: Documentary. A family that has run a Mexican circus for generations is torn apart by the economic realities of the time and family squabbling. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles April 8). RATING: 2.8 Sometimes, the show shouldn’t go on.
HOP (Universal) Genre: Live Action/Animated Family Comedy. A slacker bunny who is meant to inherit the title of Easter Bunny longs to be a drummer instead. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 The trailer reminded me uncomfortably of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
IN A BETTER WORLD (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A doctor working in an African refugee camp and his son back home in Denmark must make a choice between vengeance and forgiveness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
INSIDIOUS (FilmDistrict) Genre: Horror. After moving into an old house, the small boy of a young couple falls into a coma and appears to be the portal allowing demonic creatures into the world. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 The writer-director team behind Saw look to scare up a new franchise.
THE LAST GODFATHER (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Martial Arts Comedy. The don of a powerful Mafia family in 1951 announces the heir to his empire – the illegitimate son of an Asian romance, which doesn’t sit well with the other full-blooded Italian members of the family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Korea has been churning out some really wonderful movies lately – but this doesn’t look like one of them.
QUEEN TO PLAY (Zeitgeist) Genre: Drama. A Corsican chambermaid with a talent for chess meets an American doctor to help develop her game, transforming both their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Kevin Kline is one of my all-time favorite actors; I’ll see anything he’s in regardless of how good or bad it sounds.
RUBBER (Magnet) Genre: Horror Comedy. A discarded tire unexpectedly grows sentient and finds it has the ability to destroy things with merely a thought and finds itself amused by destroying humans. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A very innovative concept and a movie that looks to be one of the most fun events of the year.
SOURCE CODE (Summit) Genre: Sci-Fi Action. A decorated soldier is projected into the body of a man killed in a bombing eight minutes before it happened in order to find out who did it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 From the director of Moon, this looks extremely promising.
SUPER (IFC Midnight) Genre: Superhero Comedy. A man whose wife leads him for a supervillain decides to adopt the persona of a superhero. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 I blow hot and cold on Rainn Wilson but the trailer looks suh-weet.
TRUST (Millennium) Genre: Drama. The lives of a suburban family are turned upside down when the teenage daughter meets an online boyfriend and discovers he isn’t who he claimed to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 An outstanding cast (including Clive Owens as the dad) and a timely premise make this one to watch for.
TWO GATES OF SLEEP (Borderline) Genre: Drama. A pair of brothers seeks to bury their recently deceased mother on the banks of the river she loved so much. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Could be a movie that will be insightful and affecting – will have to wait and see the trailer to figure out if I really want to see it.

APRIL 6, 2011

BLANK CITY (Insurgent Media) Genre: Documentary. A chronicle of the underground Super 8 scene in the Manhattan of the 1980s. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.9 I just never got into this scene and the fact that it’s only being released in New York gives you an idea of the appeal.

APRIL 8, 2011

AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (Variance) Genre: Documentary. The story of comedian and social commentator Bill Hicks who was felled by cancer at the young age of 32. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles April 15). RATING: 3.1 Hicks was one of the most memorable comedians of the late 80s and early 90s; he is sorely missed.
ARTHUR (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. A ne’er-do-well heir to a billion-dollar fortune must decide between love and money. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 I would have cast Russell Brand in the title role as well; question is, did this need remaking?
BORN TO BE WILD (Warner Brothers) Genre: Nature Documentary. This documents the dedicated people who save orphaned elephants and orangutans, and trains them to be released back into the wild. Release Strategy: IMAX only. RATING: 2.8 The success of the DisneyNature series was bound to inspire imitators.
CEREMONY (Magnolia) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A man tries to rekindle the romance with an old flame who is getting married to someone else. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The trailer looked pretty intriguing.
EXODUS FALL (Oakhurst) Genre: Family. Two teenage boys mean to rescue their sibling who is autistic and reunite their family with their grandmother. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 4.0 No. Just no.
HANNA (Focus) Genre: Thriller. A little girl is genetically created and raised to be the perfect assassin, but finds herself the target of a shadowy government agency. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Excellent cast and terrific trailer makes this one of the month’s most anticipated releases.
HENRY’S CRIME (Moving Pictures) Genre: Caper Comedy. After doing time for a bank robbery he didn’t commit, an amiable young man decides to rob one for real with the aid of his mentor and an amateur actress he’s fallen for. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles April 15). RATING: 2.4 A very strong cast with a premise that is quite intriguing.
MEEK’S CUTOFF (Oscilloscope) Genre: Western. A group of pioneers travelling the Oregon Trail must decide between a guide who has been proven untrustworthy and a Native American, who they’ve been raised to believe is their enemy and not even truly human. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 An acclaimed indie director takes on a genre that could use some fresh blood.
MEET MONICA VELOUR (Anchor Bay) Genre: Sex Comedy. A teenager sets off on a road trip to meet the porn star he has a crush on, only to find something unexpected. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The trailer is very appealing, a mixture of sexy and sweet.
MEETING SPENCER (Paladin) Genre: Comedy. A has-been theater director tries to put together financing for his comeback production during the course of a single night at Frankie and Johnny’s. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 A somewhat loving tribute to the Great White Way.
NO ERES TU, SOY YO (Lionsgate) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple from Argentina plan to start a new life in Miami. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A remake of the 2004 comedy It’s Not You, It’s Me.
SOUL SURFER (Tri-Star) Genre: True Sports Drama. A young female surfer who loses her arm in a shark attack determines to become a champion surfer once again despite having the use of only one arm. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 I’m not a big surfing fan but I must admit the story sounds compelling.
YOUR HIGHNESS (Universal) Genre: Fantasy Comedy. A ne’er do well prince must help his brother on a quest to rescue his betrothed from an evil wizard. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 The trailer makes the movie look a bit raunchy; could be a big disappointment.

APRIL 13, 2011

A SCREAMING MAN (Film Movement) Genre: Drama. A former swimming medalist who now cares for a pool in a civil war-torn African country tries to reconnect with his son after losing his job to a younger man. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 This won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

APRIL 15, 2011

ARMADILLO (Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Danish soldiers in Afghanistan violate the rules of engagement and allow their testosterone to overrule their sense and compassion. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Created quite a controversy when it was released in Denmark.
ATLAS SHRUGGED PART I (Rocky Mountain) Genre: Drama. Idealistic industrialists take on a corrupt American system in which innovators and mavericks are disappearing. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Ayn Rand’s watershed novel is as relevant now as it was in 1957 when she wrote it.
THE CONSPIRITOR (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Historical Drama. In the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, innkeeper Mary Surratt is put on trial for conspiracy; her lawyer comes to believe she’s being railroaded. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Robert Redford directs a tremendous cast; looks to be an early Oscar contender.
THE DOUBLE HOUR (Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. A couple who meet on a speed date are placed in danger when they go on a relaxing weekend trip and their past begins to catch up with them. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.7 Eva Green is indeed beautiful and sexy, but a prim girls school teacher?
FOOTPRINTS (Paladin) Genre: Mystery. A mysterious woman awakens at the Chinese Theater with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.7 A great premise but then the synopsis starts making allusions to a waking dream which always makes me think “artsy fartsy”.
THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE! (IFC) Genre: Mystery. An Arab-American woman in post-911 Manhattan meets a fascinating PhD student from Mexico and becomes embroiled in a romance that is charming but weird. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.6 Conspiracy theories run cheek by jowl with cultural idiosyncrasies here.
THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (IFC/Sundance Selects) Genre: Period Drama. A princess tries to survive the ruthless power games of the court in a time of civil war in 16th Century France. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 Bertrand Tavernier is one of the premiere filmmakers in France; any movie he directs is worth seeking out.
RIO (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. A rare breed of parrot is sent down from a pampered existence as a pet to Rio to be bred and winds up in an exciting adventure. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Yet another opportunity to market toys and Happy Meals.
SCREAM 4 (Dimension) Genre: Horror. Sidney Prescott once again does battle with Ghostface. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 I wonder if audiences will flock back after a nearly decade-long absence of the franchise.
SQUARE GROUPER: THE GODFATHERS OF GANJA (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. A look at the marijuana smuggling culture in Miami in the 1970s and the 1980s. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 4.0 I don’t think I could be any less interested.
TO DIE LIKE A MAN (Strand) Genre: Musical Fantasy. A drag queen having difficulty going through with a sex change operation enters an enchanted forest. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.4 Those crazy drag queens and their fantasies – sounds like a Vegas revue!!

APRIL 22, 2011

AFRICAN CATS (DisneyNature) Genre: Nature Documentary. Two families – one lion, one cheetah – try to survive on the wild African plains. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 The latest Earth Day release by Disney’s nature documentary arm will at least have lively narration from Samuel L. Jackson.
THE BANG BANG CLUB (Tribeca) Genre: True Life Drama. A quartet of photojournalists chronicle the last days of apartheid at great risk and great personal cost. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.8 A terrific trailer and an intriguing concept equals a movie to keep an eye out for.
COUGAR HUNTING (Aspen Entertainment Group) Genre: Sex Comedy. A trio of recent college grads, unlucky with girls their own age, decides to go cougar-chasing in Aspen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 The trailer for this looked really bad – direct-to-video bad.
DEEP GOLD (Bigfoot Entertainment) Genre: Action Adventure. When the boyfriend of a world champion free diver disappears, she is drawn into a world of mystery and intrigue to try and discover what happened to him. Release Strategy: Wide (I’m unfamiliar with this distributor and while it’s possible this will see wide release, I wouldn’t necessarily count on it either). RATING: 3.7 Looks like a movie made in the Philippines that is about up to our direct-to-video standards here.
DUM MAARO DUM (Fox STAR) Genre: Drama. The lives of five people will intersect at the Goa airport and change their lives forever. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Seems to be a crime and punishment type of thriller; not having seen a trailer, I’m not sure how this will turn out.
DUMBSTRUCK (Truly Indie) Genre: Documentary. World-class ventriloquists descend on a small Kentucky town for a convention. Release Strategy: New York City (Opens in Los Angeles April 29). RATING: 3.4 Could be worth seeing if there are some decent character studies but the trailer doesn’t really get that across.
INCENDIES (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. The passing of their mother prompts a pair of twins to go to the Middle East to find out the story of the mother they thought they knew. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 Recipient of an Oscar nomination, this looks amazing.
LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (Variance) Genre: Martial Arts. A masked fighter tries to get justice for the people of Shanghai in the 1920s when foreign interests threaten to tear it asunder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Even though the hero is dressed a bit like Kato, there are some wonderful martial arts sequences in the trailer.
POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. Bad Boy Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tries to get corporate product placement to pay for his film, showing how pervasive the practice is in Hollywood. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer looked hella funny.
STAKE LAND (IFC) Genre: Horror. A nun leads a group of survivors of a devastating war between men and vampires towards what they hope is safety. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a little bit like it’s from the same world as Priest.
TIED TO A CHAIR (Process Studio Theater) Genre: Comedy. A housewife decides to return to her acting career and is embroiled in a series of increasingly dangerous mishaps. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Quite frankly, the trailer looked amateurish.
TYLER PERRY’S MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY (Lionsgate) Genre: Urban Comedy. The health problems of Madea’s niece Shirley take a back seat to the problems of her children. Leave it to Madea to sort things right!. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.6 I wonder if the series is losing a bit of steam?
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. A penniless veterinary student falls in with a second-rate travelling circus during the Depression, where he falls in love with the wife of the ruthless, unbalanced ringleader. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 From the looks of the trailer one of the movies I’m looking forward to most this month.
WHEN HARRY TRIES TO MARRY (108 Pics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A young Indian-American bachelor, traumatized by his parent’s divorce goes the arranged marriage route only to fall in love with another. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 These Indian culture clash movies can be awfully good, or awfully dreary – not sure which one this falls under.
ZOKKOMON (UTV) Genre: Superhero. An orphan, abandoned by his cruel uncle, journeys to transform himself into a superhero. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Apparently Disney released this in India, where it was made with pretty sharp production values.

APRIL 27, 2011

THE ARBOR (Strand) Genre: Documentary. The life and times of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, who enjoyed a brief meteoric rise in the 1980s after emerging from the slums, only to die at the age of 29 of a brain hemorrhage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Uses unusual storytelling techniques to tell her story; not sure if I like it yet or not.

APRIL 29, 2011

13 ASSASSINS (Magnet) Genre: Martial Arts. A group of unemployed samurai try to prevent a sadistic feudal lord plunge their country into war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 The great Takashi Miike directed this, a departure from his usual horror films.
BRIDE FLIGHT (Music Box) Genre: Drama. A trio of women immigrates from post-World War II Holland to New Zealand to begin new lives with their fiancées; their lives will intersect, along with the dashing pilot of their flight, for the next 50 years. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 There is a soap opera feel to it, but the trailer is awfully compelling.
CAVES OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (IFC) Genre: Documentary. Filmmaker Werner Herzog leads an expedition into the Chauvet Cave in France, home to some of the most compelling cave drawings in the world and a place rarely allowed to be photographed or filmed. Release Strategy: Limited (3D). RATING: 2.7 Herzog has become a wonderful documentarian and this might well be his crowning achievement.
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (Omni/FSR) Genre: Horror Comedy. A living detective in New York City specializes in cases involving the undead. Release Strategy: Wide (Again, this is a distributor I’m unfamiliar with so this may not be opening in every city). RATING: 3.4 A European comic is given the Hollywood treatment which may serve to alienate moviegoers on both continents.
EARTHWORK (Shadow Distribution) Genre: Biographical Drama. The life of crop artist (those are folks who use soil, rocks and plants to make environmental art pieces) Stan Herd is examined through the preparation of a single installation. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles May 20). RATING: 3.4 Even though John Hawkes, an actor I respect, is starring, not sure how enthusiastic I am to see this.
EXPORTING RAYMOND (Goldwyn) Genre: Documentary. Phil Rosenthal, the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is called to Russia to help adapt his show for Russian television and discovers a culture clash bigger than Hollywood and Main Street. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The trailer looked pretty interesting – fish out of water documentaries are like catnip to me.
FAST FIVE (Universal) Genre: Action. Players from the first four Fast and Furious movies create an all-star crew for their biggest heist ever. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 2.8 Vin Diesel vs. Dwayne Johnson? I’m down!
HOODWINKED TOO!: HOOD VS EVIL (Weinstein) Genre: Animated Feature. The covert Sisters of the Hood team take on a wicked witch who has kidnapped Hansel and Gretel. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard and 3D). RATING: 3.1 Oft-delayed usually doesn’t bode well.
PROM (Disney) Genre: Teen. As prom approaches, all sorts of drama ensues. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Teens and drama? NO! Who’da thought?
ROAD TO NOWHERE (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A young actress with an eerie resemblance to a murder suspect is cast in a movie about the crime leading to unexpected revelations. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Has a little of that Laura-esque quality to the concept.
THE ROBBERS (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A noted Austrian marathon runner has a double life as a bank robber. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 Based on a true story, albeit fictionalized.
SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS (Maya Entertainment) Genre: Drama. A paralyzed DJ in Los Angeles mysteriously develops the power to heal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 This is the directorial debut for actor Mark Ruffalo who also acts in it.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Hop, Source Code, Born to Be Wild, Hanna, The Conspirator, Rio, African Cats, Arthur, Water for Elephants

Florida Film Festival 2011


As many of you know, I’m a huge supporter of the Florida Film Festival which takes place every year here in Orlando. Presented by the Enzian Theater (a non-profit group dedicated to bringing independent and foreign cinema to the people of Central Florida), it is an event like no other. It is not about deal making and studios finding the next hot indie property; it is about ordinary filmgoers rubbing elbows with filmmakers and fellow filmgoers. In other words, it’s as friendly and interactive a film festival as there is in the United States.

I was fortunate enough to receive press credentials for the Festival and can share with you some of the wonderful and amazing films that will be presented at this year’s event, the 20th anniversary film festival. The theme this year is Florida, a tribute to the state that the Festival is being held in and noted critic Scott Foundas of Variety will be curating a series of films inspired by, made in or created by Florida and Florida-based filmmakers. Included in the series is River of Grass, Ruby in Paradise and A Beautiful Belly. The festival kicks of on April 8 with the screening of Project Nim, the latest documentary from filmmaker James Marsh, the Oscar-winning filmmaker of Man on Wire.

Da Queen and I will be attending screenings of Incendies (a 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film), Potiche (a French comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu) and Troll Hunter, a Norwegian film that looks absolutely breathtaking. We will also be attending a variety of other films and events to be announced as time goes by. We will also be reviewing a variety of other films as well, including Fannie, Annie and Danny (whose filmmaker Chris Brown and lead actress Jill Pixley we’re hoping to interview at the Festival).

For those attending, there are some really awesome films not mentioned above that are going to be at the Festival and that we hope we’ll get a chance to see, including Meek’s Cutoff (a new kind of Western), Holy War (a contraversial documentary), Hesher (a slacker comedy), Hamill (the true story of a deaf MMA fighter), Kinyarwanda (set in the Rwandan genocide), Super (A DIY superhero film), Terri (a coming of age film about an overweight teen desperately trying to fit in) and Bobby Fischer Against the World, a look at the late chess prodigy.

Expect surprise guests and more news in the weeks to come. If you live in the Orlando area or are planning to visit, the Festival runs April 8 through April 17 and will screen over 160 films and shorts during the duration of the Festival. Tickets are onsale now, both in packages (starting as low as $40) and for individual films (usually $10 for most films, although there are several free events throughout the Festival).

If you’ve never attended a Film Festival, this is the one to go to. It’s laid back, friendly and full of really impressive movies ro see. For more information or to purchase tickets, go here. Look for a full slate of reviews, sometimes more than one a day (heavens! a change in site policy – can anarchy be far behind?) when the mood is right. Hope to see you all there!