Month: December 2011

Top Ten Films of 2011.

This is my list of my favourite films of 2011.
The list is in alphabetical order, and includes films released straight to DVD in Australia, cinema releases, or film festivals here in Australia or overseas (which have been viewed in Australia).

 

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ABSENT (Ausente)
Winner of the Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
‘Absent’ is the story of a 16 year old schoolboy who finds an attraction to his swimming teacher.
With outstanding performances by Javier De Pietro and Carlos Echevarria, the film very respectfully and emotionally guides us through the hidden and built up emotion of a 16 year old’s crush. 
Spanish Language w/ subtitles.  Directed by Marco Berger.  87 mins.

 

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BURNING MAN, THE
At the 35 minutes mark of the film, I got it.  It all came together for me.  The opening scenes of the film are a mismatch, deliberately disconnected from each other, but ultimately connected.
And once I understood the film, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the performance of Matthew Goode, as the falmboyant chef trying to deal with life and dying. His performance was one of the best of 2011.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky 

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DOGPOUND
Possessing all the rage a juvenille prisoner has built up, Adam Butcher’s performance in this film elevates the movie into the top ten of 2011.
Set at a juvenille detention centre, we focus on the lives of three new prisoners as they arrive to see out their prison term. 
Butcher’s performance at times evoked memories of James Dean’s rage and angst on screen.
Directed by Kim Chapiron. 91 mins 

 

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HEARTBEATS
There was nothing more beautiful than Niels Schneider burning up the screen in Heartbeats. There was also nothing more heartbreaking than watching Xavier Dolan’s lust and pain towards an object he so desires.
By the end of the film I was infatuated by the character, the manner and the appearance of Niels.
Heartbeats was beautifully shot and many times had me smiling at the terrific use of music.  But it was Dolan’s performance (he also directed the film) that stays with me, and a terrifying scream he lets out spoke more than any image of the whole film.
Directed by Xavier Dolan.  95 mins. 

 

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HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER
Set in an isolated arctic polar station – ‘How I Ended The Summer’ was more about what didn’t happen, than did.   With a simple plot twist half way during the film, this slow moving drama turns psychological and guides us through the extraordinary imagery of mountains and snow.
Sometimes the best films of the year are the ones which have minimal dialogue and force the viewer to question character motives.
Directed by Aleksey Popogrebskiy.  130 mins.

 

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HUGH HEFNER – PLAYBOY, REBEL and ACTIVITST
This documentary completely and utterly changed my perception of Hugh Hefner.
His stance against racial inequality was unknown to me,  so too his important television show ‘Playboy After Dark’ which broke the colour barrier on television. 
Brigitte Berman (Oscar winner for ‘Artie Shaw’ in 1986) directed this film and uses archival footage and present day interviews to convince you that Hefner was, himself,  a revolution.
124 mins

 

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HUGO
Not the best film of the year by a long shot, but such an important film in the canon of Scorsese. Promoted as a family film – I felt this film was more of a history lesson for would-be film buffs, and was an excellent introduction to the spirit of early cinema.
But the highlight was undoubtably the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. The edit between Ben Kingsley in the top hat and tails, to Meilies in a 100 year old silent film – will stay with me all my life.  
Directed by Martin Scorsese.  126 mins.  

 

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RABBIT HOLE
Unfairly criticised for her acting style and her ‘plastic’ look – Rabbit Hole is the best performance by Nicole Kidman since ‘Moulin Rouge’.
She anchors this film with her wonderful performance of grief and the way that she feels the need to cope with loss.  Told with utmost care and sensitivity by John Cameron Mitchell
91 mins.

 

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SENNA
Undoubtably the best film of 2011. And for me, a film that instantly is elevated into my top ten favourite films of all time.
You don’t have to be a Formula One fan to appreciate this film.   Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a brilliant example of storytelling and editing. He has managed to shape Senna’s life story into an engaging and emotional journey, with the most amazing footage.
I highly recommend the director’s commentary on the DVD which highlights some not-so-obvious film and editing techniques and decisions which Kapadia decided on during the making of this film.
106 mins.  

 

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SUPER 8

Quintessential 80’s.  The perfect combination of E.T and Goonies.  The look of the film was so nostalgic and the performance of the young actors, in particular Elle Fanning, was wonderful.
When Goonies came out, I was six years old, and just slightly too young to appreciate the film. When E.T came out, I was three years old.  So Super 8 finally gave me the 80’s childhood I just missed.   Beautiful in every aspect. 
Directed by J J Abrams.  112 mins.  

 

Worthy mentions:   George Harrison – Living In A Material World, The Trip, L Amour Fou,
                            The Next Three Days, Le Illusionist, Bullhead 
                            Source Code, Armadillo, Tin Tin, Money Ball, Oranges and Sunshine 
                            Better This World, Joan Rivers A PIece of Work , 
                            Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Bengali Detective,
                             I Love You Philip Morris, Margin Call, Drive, The Magnificent Tati,
                            Midnight in Paris, Red State, Sleeping Beauty

 

2011

– Rhett Bartlett 
@dialmformovies

 

A Useful Life [ 2.5 stars ]

There are many films, that on the surface, have a tantalising story that instantly instills a sense of nostalgia into my heart.
‘A Useful Life’ (La Vida util) is one of those films.

It’s the story of a film projectionist, deeply passionate about the history of cinema, slowly watching his beloved picture palace erode under financial and structural defeat.  He realises that soon, all that he is passionate about, and all that has kept him going, will slowly be leaving his life.

Directed by Frederick Veiroj, ‘A Useful Life’ is shot in black and white, creating a grainy, retrospective feel of an inevitable ending.   The look of the film, conjures up memories of Italian dramas from the 1950’s – that lush loud audio, slightly shifting camera work, and occasional scenes of characters expressing their love through movement and dance.

The film does change course at the half way mark, bringing a subplot to the fore, that may disappoint some viewers.  But in essence Veiroj’s decision to make the bold change only drives home further the yearning for things past.

Time moves on for the film projectionist, (played by Jorge Jellinek) and so decisions must be made about what to divert his passion and love towards.  
I found ‘A Useful Life’ at times very charming.  It’s hard to resist a main character who loves his cinema so much, he personally sits on each chair to test for its structural sturdiness.  The first half of the film includes subtle yet effective homages to silent films, and how some cinemas still resist the temptation of commercialisation. 

‘A Useful Life’ was Uruguay’s submission for Academy consideration at the 2011 Oscars.  It didn’t make the final list of 5 films up for the award.  Yet the first 40 minutes of  ‘A Useful Life’ is a deep, rich love letter to cinema and loss,  that still resonates in my mind and heart long after its viewing. The remaining 30 minutes of the film lacked the emotional connection that had been built up.

 

Director:  Frederick Veiroj
Country:  Uruguay
Runtime: 70 minutes
Score: 2.5 stars 

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Unknown Chaplin – DVD review [ 5 stars ]

Unknown Chaplin, a documentary made by Kevin Brownlow and David GIll in 1983 and newly released on DVD is as close to a perfect film documentary as you can get. 
If you’ve never watch a Chaplin film, or have claimed to see all his films – then Unknown Chaplin will amaze you with the content it unravels.

Running 189 minutes, divided into 4 main chapter ‘My Happiest Years’ , ‘The Great Dictator’ ‘Hidden Treasures’ and Extras‘ – it is the ultimate in archaelogical finds.  

Never before seen shots of Chaplin at work. Outtake after outtake of him refining jokes, reworking stage movements and prompts, and creating gags on the fly. The genius who many assumed meticulously planned his shots and scenes, reveals his ability to think within the moment – if a gag doesn’t feel right, he tries it again, perhaps with a different actor beside him.

It is almost implausible to think, that such a significant trove of incalculable work was hidden away for years from the public.
But there it was, in the private film vault of Lady Chaplin, not in decay reel tins, but pristine tins neatly laid out across shelving, each with a blank paper denoting their content – ‘City Lights’ ‘The Kid’. 

The genius of Chaplin’s work is one thing, the genius of Kevin Brownlow and David Gill to create this documentary is another.
Lovingly attached as a special extra on the DVD itself, Brownlow relates the story of obtaining the rights to publish such important film moments.  Couple that with the fact the film is narrated by James Mason, who himself narrated the flawless earlier silent film documentary ‘Hollywood‘ by Kevin Brownlow (which may never get a DVD release due to numerous right issues.)

Everything you witness in the documentary has never been shown to a film audience before. If anything, it lay stored in the Lady Chaplin vaults, occasionally viewed by a family member or maybe Chaplin himself in a moment of nostalgia.

Every scene in ‘Unknown Chaplin‘ will surprise you.  Mason’s narration guides you through different short films of Chaplin, pointing out key differences in the takes, suggesting reasonings for it, and somehow managing to bring you closer to Chaplin than anything you could have imagined.  Watch the alternate opening to City Lights, or Chaplin playing it up in a Douglas Fairbank home movie of 1929 – there he is portraying a Grecian spirit – childishly playing with a globe of the earth;  a scene that shakes you when you suddenly realise it is a precursor to his famous ‘Great Dictator’ balloon scene.  The edit from the home movie to the film extract is wonderful.

The quality of this DVD is outstanding.  From the definitive collation of the unseen Chaplin material, to the three additional extras:

‘How Unknown Chaplin was made‘  – approximately 12 minute interview with Kevin Brownlow about the journey to get this documentary to screen.

‘The Making of The Count’  – an insight to a Chaplin short, showing you the inner workings of him on set.

‘Chaplin Meets Harry Lauder’ – two silent comedy geniuses play up for the camera in a lovely 10 minute shoot.

Unknown Chaplin is one of cinema’s finest documentaries.  
It’s one of those rare moments in cinema history –  a trove of cinema magic and the silent film magician working together to bring us a documentary that makes you so lucky to be alive.

 5 stars / 5 stars

 

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Scott Feinberg – Awards reporter.

Scott Feinberg is the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, as well as owner of ScottFeinberg.com.
I spoke to him in Dec 2011 about life as a film critic, covering the Oscars season, and his favourite films.

Part 1:
How he got into the film critic world.

Part 2:
His thoughts on other award blogs, the Oscar telecast of 2011, and his suggestions regarding a revamp Oscar

Part 3:
The films that Scott Feinberg would take to him to a deserted island.  (13mins)

Part 3

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Brigitte Berman – Oscar winner.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel  is an insight into the other side of Hugh Hefner – his rebellion against discrimination in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
Told through interviews with those who knew him, through Hefner’s own words and his own scrapbooks – this documentary will change your opinion on the Man with the Mansion.
Receiving only a limited Melbourne International Film Festival release in 2010, this documentary finally gets a DVD release in Australia on April 14th 2011 through Roadshow Entertainment. 

 

In this phone inteview I speak to Brigitte Berman, about creating the documentary on Hugh Hefner,  on people’s perception of him, and of her own film career – which has included an Oscar.

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