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Moneyball (2011) – 96/100
Perhaps the best film of the year, either tied for 1st place with Drive, or an overall winner in my book. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are incredible. The dialogue is genuine and funny. This film entangles elements of spiritual type camaraderie with cerebral economics, and with some perfect use of post-rock, it totally absorbs the viewer. Special interest in baseball is not required.
Shame (2011) – 92/100
Fantastic stylized view of a sex addict. It’s surprising, in a way, how such a potentially detestable character becomes so involving and so moving. For me, this film is a very close number 3 for the year.
The Future (2011) – 89/100
It starts off with slightly witty but completely ridiculous humor, and follows with a the dilemma of what to do when there’s nothing to do. If you can’t tell already, this film is totally representative of the current generation (in my eyes). In story and presentation, it is experimental, new, and original. It may seem dissatisfying in that it presents the problem of, but not the solution to contemporary despair, however this does not mean the film is not a unified picture. A very, very close 4th best film for the year.
Melancholia (2011) – 84/100
More disturbing than you might imagine. It is essentially a character study of a severe depressive whose terrible view of the world starts to come true in the events of Melancholia. While everyone breaks down around her at their intense new realizations of illimitable chaos and nonexistent personal agency, the protagonist is unchanged, since this is how she felt about the world in the first place. As everyone’s spirit is pressed down and leveled to a pulp, the protagonist rises above and helps the people around her, comparatively uplifted by the accuracy of her dark perception of the world.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) – 81/100
Subject matter is the draw here. It was a mystery to me when I started watching, and as the story continues, telling the haunting past through intermittent flashbacks from the present, it gets intriguing and horrifying.
50/50 (2011) – 71/100
I had to see this because of my crush on Judd Apatow, and overall, although predictably too unnecessarily crass at times, the film is a funny and appropriate telling of a young man with cancer.
Ides of March (2011) – 68/100
Bad things about this film: annoying recurring inside jokes referring to some massive hidden world of politics (comes across as unconvincing), the only personalization of Gosling’s character is a 5 minute insert about morality (i.e. the protagonist remains totally vacuous of personality), the music, and that the actual specific events in this film are minute and pathetic (only within the shroud of mystery can they function as plot points). Good things: George Clooney appears on screen for very little time appropriately making him seem hidden and powerful, personal manipulation and lack of integrity are shown as the only consistencies of the lonely people in politics, the president to be is portrayed as a figurehead of interest groups rather than an individual decision maker.
Take Shelter (2011) – 68/100
Anything about insane people, I generally like.
Contagion (2011) – 60/100
Just not very exciting. My favorite part was the font, nice spacing.
Adjustment Bureau (2011) – 52/100
The trailer hit hard, made it seem like an emotionally charged story of desperation. However, though I could easily get over the initial plot assumptions, the film doesn’t stay desperate. Although the characters keep running, it feels like it slows down. Ridiculous and not exciting is not a good combo.
The Debt (2011) – 41/100
Terrible. Just terrible. The final climax is laughable while it is taking place. If you want a nationalist film about revenge, specifically for Israel, watch Munich, not this. There are some well directed parts, and some nice fight choreography, but the majority of the story that takes place in present day with the old half of the cast is a boring, slow, and tired version of the 30% of the film with the young half of the cast.
In Time goes down in flames spectacularly. It starts off with some improbable assumptions, though they are not too hard to come to terms with. Time is literally money, once you accept this, the first 20 minutes are pretty pleasing. It turns into an intriguing darkish sci-fi flick. Then, the story picks up, things start going well for the protagonist. The film turns into a fantasy fulfillment, taking on the “if I were a rich man” spiel. It refers to classic fish out of a barrel, poor boy in a rich world, street smarts trump book smarts, type stories. Though cliche, these remixes of the old are always appealing on the level of day-dream fulfillment. Halfway through, low budget scars signal disaster. Immediately after a not so convincing CGI car crash, the story starts to take a serious downturn. Improbable micro-events, the sort of: “wait how did he get there so fast?” and “how does he know that?” plot holes start showing up. Disgustingly cliche shots start appearing, and the whole naive “crime is fun” attitude is overemphasized. The protagonists appear indestructible, and somehow are excellent shots and naturally intimidating to everyone but the audience. Such great success is unwarranted, and the film starts to seem like empowerment propaganda. Then to top it off, morality is brought into the picture: a fight for personal survival turns into a social quest to redistribute wealth, or in this case time. There is also an incredibly pathetic standoff near the end, which is not in the least convincing, and is too easily manipulated and won by the protagonists.
Of course, sprinkled in between is weak dialogue, and inconsistent arguments of why hierarchies exist and why they shouldn’t. The film can be summed up in that it is a dissatisfied rant: it voices distrust in capitalism, and competitive systems, with no coherence and under the guise of a poorly cut action flick. Seriously, the scenes are forced together after the 1st hour, in total parallel to a fragmented argument lacking all unity. In Time is a collage of anti-hierarchy sentiments, as shakily pasted together as the second half of the story. I am very disappointed in the film. The trailer looked too low budget, but then I was impressed by the first hour, and finally the second hour was an ideological train wreck of an overtone tainting a very unconvincing series of events. However, I’d like to see Justin Timberlake in some more films. His role in this film wasn’t too convincing, but he has an amiable screen presence. And, Amanda Seyfried is definitely the best part of the film; so so ridiculously sexy.
Drive is an unbelievable film that though pushed as mainstream media, is a sneakily subversive film. I think that the mass appeal of the film’s story is a misunderstanding, mediated in part by uneven cutting of the film, but mostly due to audiences superimposing the world’s most popular tale over a film that criticizes that very structure. Yet regardless of content, cinematic style is a key factor in this movie’s success.
I’ve heard comparisons to Ryan Goslings character as a “white knight” similar to the nameless hero that Clint Eastwood plays in Spaghetti Westerns, but this is not the case. Ryan Gosling is at least superficially a strong “superman” type character, but what stops the film from becoming instantly kitsch is the lack of any morality. Even before the film’s action starts to develop, Gosling is portrayed as a void and distant person, to such an extent that his few words and strange behavior start to look like symptoms of some social disorder rather than just confidence and self-sufficiency. At a point in the film, Gosling is watching a cartoon with his neighbor’s kid, and asks if a shark is a “bad guy” while the child responds “of course.” This kind of an insert into the film is for me a clue away from the “superman sets things right” impression that many seem to have gotten from the picture.
Another interesting difference between typical “rightful revenge” type movies and this one is the fragility of the world. Injuries that don’t go away, and the incredible ease of hurting and killing people in the film vilainize violence, and separate the human beings that chose to be violent from the rest of the world. The fact that Gosling doesn’t approach a single situation with a firearm, rather a melee weapon, makes each of his kills a display of heightened brutality to ravage recklessly rather than a superior skill used to subdue the sinister.
The delicate condition of the world makes strength peripheral to killing, so is there anything really “superman” about Gosling? An instant response would be his unbeatable driving, but, I was very surprised at how little driving there was in this film. The most exciting car chase showcased Gosling’s lack of fear for danger to a greater extent than his skill. The camera movement, as well as the shrieks of a woman, showed the chase as a chaotic situation that couldn’t affect Gosling, and to me seemed an ode to his lack of connection the the world.
Yet, the film is not even in presenting Gosling. There is a scene where he argues with his boss and seems just like a normal person protecting his interests. Gosling gets frustrated in this scene, and actually has an involved back and forth dialogue. The rest of the film has Gosling sporting an awkward slight smile and scarcely tossing out hollow lines into conversations.
The film shows Gosling as a distant character taken advantage of. His boss tells others of how he doesn’t give Gosling fair pay for his work, and as an employee his talents seem to be milked to the fullest extent in many fields. The violent acts Gosling commits are all reactionary or goal driven in an impersonal way, and are not driven by revenge; he doesn’t kill to get even, but ultimately kills to protect his neighbor and himself. Goslings selflessness is not a trait of nobility, it is shown as an alien quality that exposes him to situations where he must do wrong. People try to make him the victim, but he refuses.
But that’s all content, and though it seems that the message of the film seems quite malleable, the form of it is the real draw. Camera placement and lighting are mastered in Drive. A very dirty Los Angeles River is beautified as a spot to spend an afternoon with your date, sweat drips down to the camera as Gosling stands over a victim to accentuate nerves and fright in a state of apparent power, shadows convey a murder to show how action and movements are only a silhouette of a character. Image choice and manipulation are incredibly powerful storytellers in this film, and I’m sure there’s plenty of photographic choices with a significance that I missed on my first watch-through. Hopefully I’ll glean more the second time round, this is a film I would definitely re-watch, and I hope even the squeamish will see Drive, because it’s thick with awesome-ness.