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Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 ANNUAL FILM ROUNDTABLE (FINAL ROUND: ACTION MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES)

On our fourth and final day of debating the hits and misses of the year in film, Sean, Brian, Julian and myself focus on documentaries and action movies that made an impact. But first, Sean and myself touch on a few things we missed about women performances and comedies (from our last round).

Read our thoughts below:

SEAN:



I have been kicking myself for 24 hours for having forgotten to mention the brilliantly dark and fierce Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when I raised the topic of leading ladies. Mara was phenomenal here as she was in The Social Network. I have a feeling she's going to be around for a long time and she'll make sure that I or anyone else won't forget her.

Brian brings us to the topic of The Artist which is arguably the frontrunner for Best Picture this year. That said, I wasn't sold on The Artist. I admire the artistry of the film, the multiple staircase scene is maybe the most artful scene in any movie in 2011, but I never found the point of it. As you so correctly pointed out Brian, the film is not truly an homage though it may qualify as something of re-creation of a classic silent film. Without a point or a purpose other than being a distracting bit of entertainment I don't see why The Artist is anymore an Oscar contender than Bridesmaids? Is The Artist really just getting by on novelty?

Brian also raises the topic of Midnight in Paris; my favorite movie of 2011. Midnight in Paris is pure delight. The film is romantic, smart and funny with the best ensemble cast of 2011, especially the Oscar deserving Cory Stoll who damn near stole the whole movie with his blustering yet friendly Ernest Hemingway. There was the high potential for this material to become camp but the cast, Stoll especially, never lapsed into the kinds of caricatures necessary for camp. Instead, the film is true to the notion of it's time traveling idea and the actors aren't merely mimics but fully fleshed characters who happen to be brilliant historical characters.

I loved Owen Wilson's performance which is neither Owen doing Woody nor is it typically Owen Wilson. Wilson has been terribly overlooked this year. With Midnight in Paris, The Big Year and the quite funny comedy Hall Pass, Wilson had every bit as good of a year as Brad Pitt. Returning specifically to Midnight in Paris, I loved the way that Wilson and Marion Cotillard's twin longings for the past mirrored one another. The plotting of these two characters and their almost romance was wildly clever.

A few more random notes before I wrap up:



A few weeks back on Twitter I mentioned that I wanted you three to see Bellflower as I was eager for your expert analysis. Bellflower left me baffled and a little angry over the many cheats and artful dodges the director employs to get to his ending. Many of the hipster critics ignored those narrative cheats, ones they would chide a mainstream feature for, because Bellflower has an air of cool to it. I didn't buy into the cool. That said, to be completely fair to the filmmakers, there is something to be said for a movie that can inspire such anger and passion in its audience.

On the topic of The Descendants, I think I liked it more than the rest of you. George Clooney is one of the most fascinating actors working today. I found his sad, desperate quest to be dark but quirky in the same vein as Jack Nicholson's performance in About Schmidt. I love the very specific characters that Alexander Payne creates. These highly self-destructive, desperately driven characters combine dark comedy and a deep poignancy that I can't resist.

We've not had a chance yet to talk about an extraordinary weak year for documentaries. I enjoyed the recent Roger Corman documentary as well as a documentary called Undefeated that is receiving an Academy run soon with plans to launch in limited release in January. Undefeated is the story of a High School football team and the unique characters who coach and play for the team. It's like a real life Friday Night Lights.

CANDICE:

You know, I never really checked for Rooney Mara before, not even in The Social Network. I mean, she was the girl who arguably set off the genius of a young college student, but I didn't think her screen time--since it was limited--was entirely memorable.

But The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Wow. It says a lot about you if you could spearhead a David Fincher movie (a director who I think is so extraordinarily underrated it's criminal. He's right about there with Darren Aronofsky, for me).



Sean, while you were kicking yourself about having to mentioned Mara's performance, I was seething at the fact that I didn't properly gush over my number two film of the year: Midnight in Paris. So luscious, so poetic, and so romantic I fall in love with this movie every time I think about it. I agree with both you and Brian that Owen Wilson is so terribly under-appreciated this awards season. I really can't think of a better actor to play into the wide-eyed, hopeless romantic yet sheepish character Wilson play. He carried this whole movie, to me. Yes, all the actors who played the great historical characters were spot-on, but it was Wilson who I held our hand and brought us to each era. It was such a remarkable trip down memory lane. Sean, as you've already mentioned, I agree that the cast could not have been better for this film. Everyone was simply captivating and helped move along a film that, in the wrong hands, could have been very sloppy. I haven't even been much of a Woody Allen fan before this, but i am simply drooling over this movie.

I haven't seen The Descendants yet, but I have to comment on Sean's mention that George Clooney is a fascinating act. I find him anything but fascinating. I think he could be a fascinating director at times, but in front of the camera he just doesn't seem committed to any role, which is why to me they all come off similar.



While we're on the subject of documentaries, I want to throw in The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, which was so raw and so beautiful. I didn't love it at first watch, but later I have really come to strongly appreciate the historical and personal value of the movie. I wish more people jumped on this when it came out (I believe, in limited release).

Real quick, what are your thoughts on action movies this year? I know there was a strong divide on Fast Five (which I enjoyed, for what it's worth). I also enjoyed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Where do you think action films (and horror films) are going to go next?

By the way, you guys rock. I can't wait to do this again next year!

JULIAN:



As for action-oriented features this year, I wasn’t much of a fan. Green Lantern aside, superhero films hit a high this year with Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and my personal favorite, X-Men: First Class. Not sure if we’re counting those as action films, though. Hanna was a really strong entry for the genre, even though it’s a heavily subdued action feature.

Besides that, the action films either didn’t grab my attention enough for me to watch them or didn’t satisfy me enough for me to consider worthwhile. There was Super 8, which I genuinely loved, but I feel that it fits more into the science fiction genre than action. Fast Five was a hugely admired action film that I just didn’t understand the praise for. Even the big brawl between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson didn’t do anything for me; I blame the editing in the scene.

Haven’t caught Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol yet, but I’m looking forward to it, mainly for the additions of Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner. As for your question regarding the future of action films, Candice, I’m really hoping that Hanna somehow signaled a shift where there’s more focus on character motivation and perhaps less emphasis on overly flashy sequences. I like a good blockbuster-type explosion flick every now and again (the last two Transformers films have been guilty pleasures of mine), but I’m curious to see if the genre progresses beyond its supposed limitations.



You also brought up horror films, and I think this year brought forth two really exceptional features in that genre: Insidious and Paranormal Activity 3. The former nicely hearkened back to the old days, where one didn’t need buckets of strawberry syrup or women baring it all to strike up some scares. The latter turned out to be the best film in an already acclaimed and admired series. I can’t imagine how the fourth installment could be any better, but I had similar doubts about Paranormal Activity 3.

On a final note, thanks again, Sean, for inviting me, and thanks to all for the great conversation in film. Despite our sometimes very different thoughts about film, we all made it through the conversation again without going into an all-out brawl.

It’s always awesome chatting about film with three fellow movie lovers. Thanks again to all for the great conversation, and here’s to the next year in film – and our annual year-end chat.

BRIAN:



I remember the impulsive Twitter-verse predicting two things--that Harry Potter 7.2 will be nominated for Best Picture and Andy Serkis will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I think, by now, most have abandoned hopes of either of those two things happening. It's probably for the best since they're both pretty preposterous notions in my opinion. That being said, I think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was a wonderful end to a really magical series of movies. Not only is it the highest grossing film of the year, it's infinitely better than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 which I despised.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was another film that I wasn't expecting to like as much as I did. J remember watching the remake of Planet of the Apes in the theater and absolutely hating it. I still consider it among the fifty worst films I've seen. Rise of the Planet of the Apes dialed down the scope of the battle between humans and evolved apes and made it a human drama which was exactly how the story needed to have been told. It all built up to a climax on top of the Golden Gate Bridge which didn't work perfectly, but still proved to be a satisfying conclusion to a really smart movie. I think it's refreshing when films prove better than my expectations going in. Both Harry Potter 7.2 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes did just that.

I also really enjoyed Duncan Moon's Source Code quite a bit. Sure, the ending was absolutely ridiculous, but Jake Gyllenhaal proved to me once again (after Brothers) that he's actually a really good actor. Also, it was exciting and smart. It's another example of action movies which are better because they have actual character development and an intelligent script. I don't consider myself a fan of action-adventure movies as a whole, but I do admit that the best in the genre are usually the most enjoyable and satisfying films of any genre.



I've only seen a few documentaries this year, though I have a bunch on my list to see. I actually think documentaries are one of my top 3 favorite genres. The best doc I saw was Errol Morris' Tabloid, which was really fascinating. It's not a great film, but it's pretty entertaining and thought-provoking. The biggest disappointment for me in 2011, by far, was going to the AFI Film Festival to see The Swell Season documentary. 2007's Once was my favorite film of the decade, and I love the band The Swell Season, which was started by Glen Hansard and Marketa Herglova after the success of Once. It looked like it was going to be a fascinating look into the lives of talented musicians who were unexpectedly vaulted into stardom by a sleeper hit. Instead, the documentary The Swell Season was tediously boring and singularly unpleasant. It was completely unfocused, and for most of the film, we hear whining on the part of Herglova about how awful it is to be famous. There wasn't nearly enough music or insights into the human condition or Once nostalgia or...well...anything of quality at all. It did have a short theater release in October. It should be out on DVD soon. I highly recommend avoiding it and watching Once again instead.

As I've said before, I still have a lot of 2011 releases to go through, but participating in this discussion with you three has really gotten me excited to check out so many of the great films I've missed. I'm glad that you three continue to write and continue to be a presence on Twitter. I'm hoping to spend more time at the movies and writing for my blog. Hopefully, I'll do both enough to merit invite to participate in this discussion.

Here's to 2012, hopefully a great year for film!

For more information about our contributors, you can follow them via their various social networks:

Sean: Twitter (@SeanPatriKernan), website
Brian: Twitter (@bpdreview), website
Julian: Twitter (@202chicago), website

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