Asides

So, I found this draft I’d done early this year. I realized I might never get round to finishing or perfecting it so I just posted as I found it. Bear with any mistakes, if any.

I felt like 2011 was a year for morally upright films: characters facing a dilemma and choosing to do the right thing. There were also a number of films about familial and developmental responsibility, like We Need To Talk About Kevin. Some like The Artist, Hugo and My Week With Marilyn took us back through different eras of a golden age in filmmaking,dealing with the art’s early days and celebrity.

There was also some great effort from first time writers/directors like 50/50, Margin Call, Like Crazy. Some had great performances but maybe the stories weren’t good enough to get a notice, like The Help.

Some like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were masterfully crafted but no effort to simplify it made it confusing. There were surprises, too. Some films you wouldn’t really expect to shine did, like Fast Five and Real Steel. And some you expected to do better like the costume dramas (Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) did not. Sadly, I missed out on some films Margaret, The Mill and the Cross, Certified Copy among other noteworthy films. So, here are my favourite films from 2011. If I have mentioned a film in the above paragraphs, then it did not make it in my top 10, not even top 17.

Here are the ones that almost made it: Rango, Winnie the Pooh, 13 Assasins, MI4, Terri, Crazy Stupid Love, Source Code.

And the actual list:

10] The Descendants

Matt King is on top. He is the custodian of his legendary family’s estate. A whole island’s future/reputation, and resultantly, a huge fortune lies in his hands. But he is a frustrated man. How believable is it for one of the best looking men in the world play a man with a beautiful family and still very believably portray the frustration? Maybe even harder was having his wife cheat on him with a man played by the guy who played Shaggy on Scooby Doo. A dramedy about a father who, together with his daughters, traverses the Hawaiian islands in search of the man who his wife cheated on which solidifies Alexander Payne as the go-to director for heartfelt comedies.

9] Attack the Block

Never thought I’d ever watch an alien movie I wouldn’t consider sci-fi. Swap the huge guns you see on MIB with fireworks and former war heroes coming out of retirement to save the earth one more time with a handful of London wannabe teen thugs. A more fun and human alien story. Nothing is quintessential about this film, even the aliens aren’t the kind we’re used to. They’re cuter, and the fact that they’re not presented as super-intelligent beings, scarier. You know they can’t be all diplomatic.

8] Senna

Some stories are better told as documentaries. Ayrton Senna’s life was as colorful, controversial, suspenseful and successful and any Hollywood studio would love to adapt. But the realism of documentary makes it even better. Using preexisting footage to tell the life of the Formula 1 driver, mostly concentrating on his career years, Asif Kapadia brings to screen one of the most exciting sports stories to screen.

7] Take Shelter

This is a calculative film. It slowly builds up to one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. In between, it’s a man’s struggle with himself, whether to trust himself or his instincts. Michael Shannon constantly gives great performances and here, he tops everything he’s ever done. Question, how do you win a battle where you’re psyche is the enemy?

6] Drive

A hammer, a bullet, a satin jacket, toothpick and gloves. That’s all.

I’ve heard people say that Drive had drive scenes too few to earn the title. But if we have to be so literal, it’s a film about a stunt driver who is a getaway driver in his free time and fixes up cars in his freer time. And oh, wants to be a race car driver. What more could one ask for to justify a title? To me, it was more about his drive, his discipline. He probably survives in the dangerous field because of his strict guidelines. He does what you hire you hire him to do, no questions asked. When he sets out to do something, he’s on it to the end. He’s resilient and never changes his plan for nothing and no one. Man’s driven. Drive’s overall style is hard to put down. It’s shot ‘60s-style and very non-conventionally. The only thing Hollywood about it is the cast. It’s a bad ‘80s movies that looks good for the 2000s. The styish pop-ish soundtrack picks by Cliff Martinez don’t help.

5] Win Win

We rarely see moral tales out of Hollywood anymore. Is it because they don’t have entertainment value? Or because the tainted industry wouldn’t want the world to think it has a conscience? Tom McCarthy is one of the greatest directors ever, but no one has really heard of him. Every film that he has artistically been involved in has 90% or more on RT. A TV show he’s starred in is considered to be the best of any long form art. He played a morally flawed character on it and here he writes one that’s just trying to do the best in his circumstance. Paul Giamatti brilliantly plays a man who finds the easy way out of a problem and all the trouble that comes with it. Can’t think of a film that had better chemistry between characters.

4] Bellfower

A true indie, if there ever was one. A product of passion and love for the art, and it shows. Evan Glodell writes, directs, stars and takes part in every artistic, technical and supportive art role in his amazingly cheap film to create what we can look at, years to come, as something close to a masterpiece. A gritty love story, groundbreaking cinematography and seemingly disturbed writing come together to give birth to one of the most affecting endings I’ve ever seen on film.

3] Moneyball

A different kind of sports film. It’s almost miraculous what the director managed to do with a story that a lot of people already know, thus no suspense. It’s amazing how Pitt manages to top off every last performance, bringing color to a seemingly uninteresting character. The story is a miracle, how the film itself got made, even more so. If Jonah Hill takes the approach he explores here, this will be remembered as the film that started that ascent. But it can’t underscore the exaltation the most quotable film of the year brings to the sports genre.

2] Tree of Life

I understand people who didn’t like ToL. After all, it didn’t have guns or sex scenes. What I don’t understand is people who didn’t understand it. Watching it, I thought, “at last, a film for everyone.” Beyond the lush cinematography by one of the most overlooked DoPs in the business and a breakthrough performance by Hunter McCracken that everyone chose to ignore, ToL is one of the deepest films ever made. It confirms Penn and Pitt’s *consistency, we see the blossoming of Chastain and the promise in McCracken. Despite this barrage of talent, the film’s spirit still manages to stand out from the biggest, emerging and future stars in film business.

1] A Separation

A simple plot, great performances and focused, colorful writing coalesce into the most powerful film of the decade. The best ensemble cast of the year’s realistic performances anchor a story that—could have but—never gets lost in the complexities of legal jargon and instead centers around human emotion. It’s easy to make a legal battle into a documentary about protocol and law but Asghar Farhadi totally bases the films on the characters point of view, their hopes and beliefs. A father fights for his daughter’s trust, maybe his wife’s, too. It’s not about who’s lying or who’s right. One character’s trust—or lack of—might free the other and when it’s tested, brings the film to a shattering conclusion. The film leans, but doesn’t rely, on Iran’s culture, outlook and norms about the legal system, class and religion. Films not only condition us to pick sides, but also show us which one to lean on. A Separation does neither. Despite its duel-esque structure, the winner here is the story.

Best of 2011

“If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what.”

The Driver drives for the movies, he does stunt works commissioned to Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who also supplies the cars for the movie industry. Shannon walks with a limp, which probably points to a history doing the same work The Driver does now. The Driver has a quiet demeanor and selfless work ethic. He works extra hours as a mechanic at Shannon’s garage. As if those aren’t enough jobs, he also drives robbers. Unlike a lot of heist movies where robbers are a tight unit all in on the deal, Drive takes a different route.

Robbers outsource the driving work to The Driver and he drives them in and out of their ‘jobs.’ His work is to make sure they come out of the situation with as little interference from the cops as possible. With a one-way radio, he outwits the cops, smartly, not driving around the city, burning rubber and hitting grocery stands. In fact, in some of the police chases, he seemed to be doing less than 35 miles an hour.

Shannon has bigger dreams and notices potential in The Driver. So much so that he convinces local ‘mogul’ and former film producer, Bernie, to help him get into the professional racing business. Meanwhile, The Driver starts getting close to his neighbor, who is a single mother to Benicio, who he also seems to be connecting with. Awkwardness and complication ensue when the kid’s father, Standard, returns from jail.

Drive is one of those films that you either really like, or you don’t at all. And mostly, it’s don’t at all. That is a little understandable, the trailer and the title being somewhat misleading. But I think if you’ve followed Gosling’s career or know the kind of films Nicolas Winding Refn does, then you would’ve known what to expect. I understand the people who don’t like it because it didn’t have a lot of driving in it (I mean, the main character’s name is The Driver), but I’m not sure if the film is really as slow as people have said. I would like to call what they experienced ‘subtleness.’

I found the whole film exciting, from start to finish, full of suspense, mostly emotional, though. I know a fast-moving film for a lot of people involves guns and explosions, and (understandably in this case) high speed car chases. The only ones that come along are a couple of car chases but only one is even close to exciting. I particular loved the sequence where a car hits barriers on the road. The point-of-view is from inside the car in the front. I realized I’d never actually seen such a shot in a film. This and other aspects make Drive a not so conventional film.

Drive’s best asset is the story. I felt that maybe the title comes from the main character’s disposition. His focus and precision is what has kept him disciplined in his work and in the challenge that is presented to him in the middle of the film. The choices he makes are well defined by his drive whereas for a mere being like me, it would present a dilemma.

When the performances of characters in a film are very in tune with each other, none seeming over-the-top more than the other, I feel like it’s the director’s doing. There’s some individuality and maybe polarity in the performances but they all seem to come from the same DNA. The Driver’s quiet nature, Shannon’s excited giddiness all somewhat find a place in a mellow but exciting film. And that would explain his best director prize at this year’s Cannes.

Benicio (Kaden Leos) and Irene (Carrey Mulligan) are adorable. Heartthrob, Rob Perlman’s Nino is menacing as he should be alongside Albert Brooks Bernie. You’d expect Standard to be repulsive, because in such a movie, it’s the only way there would be a happy ending (The Driver ending up with Irene) but in this film, it’s different. In fact, you hope that he’ll come out of the situation. When it was very easy not to, the writer creates a sympathetic character out of him, which helps in further complicating the situation and in so doing, creating a unique storyline.

Gosling is almost always quiet and seems to be those people who never have filler words in their brains. Only speaks when absolutely necessary. For some reason you get used to the mouth on his innocent-looking face producing some bad-ass threats.

If I was to point out anything remotely negative about the film, maybe the music. It was really good but sometimes it never really seemed like the kind of stuff you want in the film. The score was good, especially when it was punctuated by The Drivers rubbery gloves squeezing into his hands. And who else can make a shiny silver jacket look manly.

NB: One more thing, is it me or is Christina Hendricks, who plays Blanche in this movie, built like an African woman?

Drive