Film Review

Film Review
The Tree of Life: Counting down.

Best Films of the Year (So Far)

Film Review / It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” As for films this past year, it was more a whimper in between. Within are those that actually had a voice.

Of those on our Weekly year-end list (in alpha order), three star Jessica Chastain, six funny women headline the only comedy worth remembering, two are understated gay romances and one was shot in our Hawaiian backyard. Due to release dates, a few have yet to be considered–The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Iron Lady, Pariah–so here are the standouts from Jan. 1 through Dec. 21, 2011.

Bridesmaids

Not only the funniest film of the year, it has three of the funniest scenes under one marquee: Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne trying to one up each other’s engagement party speeches; the gross-out bridal dress fitting; Wiig’s exaggerated drive-by attempts to get a police officer’s attention. That much versatility in one body makes you wonder: Is Wiig this decade’s Parker Posey?

Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s ingenious story about what might happen if a pandemic struck. An all-star cast in this cautionary epic gives its all, far from the predictable “epics” of the past few years. Not some shoddy, FX-driven cartoon, but intelligent and beautifully acted.

The Debt

Shifting back and forth in time, this drama, about the Mossad seeking out Nazi war criminals, is smart and surprising–especially in the performance standards set by an inspired Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren. The last l5 minutes are riveting.

The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s comedy-drama about modern-day Hawaii was selected by the LA Film Critics Association as “Best Picture.” George Clooney gives one of his two best performances in this modestly-mounted film based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel.

Hugo

Martin Scorsese’s homage to moviemakers of yesteryear in this period piece about a turn-of-the-century orphan looking for a home. Many cameos by Brit performers. Good 3-D. A good family film.

J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio gives his best performance in this illuminating drama about the rise and fall of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, as directed remarkably by Clint Eastwood.

Margin Call

The most human and intelligent of all the Wall Street movies, with Kevin Spacey giving his best performance in many years. It explains more than any Wall Street–narrative or doc–before it.

Rise of the Planet of Apes

Not simply popcorn fare, Andy Serkis’ surprisingly nuanced performance as Caesar injects this film with a welcome moral edge. An unconventional summer blockbuster that resurrects a dead franchise and pushes the CGI envelope. Two opposable thumbs up.

Take Shelter

An inventive drama about a man going through the dark storms of psychological anguish, but, in addition, does he have valid precognitive dreams? Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon star.

The Tree of Life

Where to begin with this? Terrence Malick’s magnum opus–the most ambitious, not only of the year, but the past few–is the film we thought about most. Impossible to sum up in a few sentences (ultimately what’s so stunning about this cinematic love letter to…life), here’s a few words: Idle. Urgent. Courageous. Confused. Self-indulgent. Sincere. Searching. Audacious. Flawed. Humble. Human.

Weekend

This slice-of-life indie-drama about two men who meet at a bar speaks to anyone whose ever felt immediately connected to another–gay or straight. With understated acting and direction, most pioneering is its depiction of guys, in general, with doubts, insecurities and feeling. A refreshing way to say, “Welcome to the year 2011.”