Monday, January 30, 2012

Five Favorite Films of 2011

Last week, the 2012 Oscar Nominations were released, with Martin Scorsese's Hugo winning 11 nominations & Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist with a close 10. It's interesting that these two have the most nominations, because these two are similar in themes. Many reviewers have said of both films that they are love letters to cinema, but isn't every film a love letter to cinema (as one reviewer said that Fast Five was a love letter to film). Even so, here is my short love letter to the films of 2011 that I found significant.

5. Poetry- Directed, produced, & written by Lee Chang-dong, Poetry follows Yang Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee), a grandmother who is searching for the beauty in life. Mija found out that she has Alzheimer's disease & her mental condition is expected to get much worse. On top of that, her grandson & his friends raped a schoolmate, which lead to her suicide. In order for the victim's family to keep quiet, the boys' parent must pay them off & money is something Mija doesn't have. Still, the poetry class she is taking causes Mija to look at the world differently & inspires her. Jeong-hee gives one of the best performances of the year in this film, which makes unexpected yet quiet turns in this sad & elegant film.

4. The Artist- This film has been making quite a stir because it is a modern-day silent film, but it is not just a gimmick. Director & writer Michel Hazanavicious wanted to transport the audience back to the day when silent films were dying & talkies started popping up. He does it with a story about a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) who loses everything when he isn't able to transition to the new Hollywood films. The film is charming, romantic & proves the old cliché that "silent films were never silent" & silent films aren't really dead.

3. Beginners- Inspired by his father, Mike Mills created a bittersweet film about an artist, Hal (Ewan McGregor), whose father, at the age of 85, declares that he is gay. Hal starts a relationship with a French actress (Mélanie Laurent), but their past relationships & the relationship of both their parents cause uneasiness with the new couple. The film is assembled with many interconnecting flashbacks that give greater depth to characters who are searching for what we're all looking for in life: happiness.

2. Melancholia- In this apocalyptic film, a Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is miserable on what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. Her wedding turns out to be a complete failure thanks to family tensions & the bride's depression. Also, a rogue planet, Melancholia, is heading directly to Earth, threatening to destroy everything. Anyone who has seen a Lars Von Tier film knows that they are emotional, uncomfortable, & unique & this may be the clearest vision I have seen from the Danish filmmaker. It is a depressing film, but that's what you get from a film that is an allegory of depression.

1. Tree of Life- Tree of Life may be one of the most controversial films this last year, not because of its content, but because of its form. Sean Penn, who had a supporting role in the movie even said, "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that emotion on the screen." What he's talking about is the film's jump cuts, the arbitrary lines spoken over astronomical visions & the soft plot center, which is what I loved about the film. It follows a boy, Jack (Hunter McCracken), who has a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). We view a year in the life of Jack & his family living in Texas during the 50's, yet we are also met with a 17-minute, creation of Earth sequence & juxtaposed together, we get a spiritual journey that is reminiscent of & 2001. I viewed Tree of Life as visual poetry that is meditative, epic, & enlightening.

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