Film reviews are in their nature subjective and reviewers in turn opinionated and in some people’s minds arrogant, as if to assume their opinion about anything is valid or required reading. ‘Top five’ lists proudly continue this tradition and multiply it by ten. However, regardless of your personal taste in movies the following five films should be on everyone’s must see list for this year. Each is unique, compelling and most importantly highly enjoyable in their own ways and represent my personal favourite films of 2011.
Midnight In Paris, Super 8, Take Shelter, Project Nim
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best selling novel is a haunting look into parenting and motherhood. Particularly the emotions some parents feel that are not discussed openly or presented as apart of having a child. Resentment, disconnection, isolation and anxiety to name a few are all expressed by a gripping performance from Tilda Swintonwho seamlessly tows the line between cold and authoritarian, vulnerable and helpless and outright horror. Ramsay tackles the films unpleasant subject matter with a brutal and unsettling honesty that is both gripping and gut wrenching. The film openly questions nature versus nurture and what makes people bad and will make some question parenthood as the credits roll. Read our full review.
Tree of Life
It’s been an interesting year for Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life. One filled with both critical praise and condemnation of the film’s vision. A vision that as I described in my original review ‘almost dares its audience to leave the cinema. There is no conventional story and there are long stretches without any dialogue or any characters for that matter’. Not to mention Sean Penn, who is billed as the film’s second biggest star, is hardly in the movie. The ambitious film’s scope is extraordinary but at its heart is a story exploring how our families shape our lives, as children and as adults. To try to describe it further is an intimidating task but would not do the film justice. There is no doubt Tree of Life is challenging and asks a lot of modern audiences and their short attention spans. Some people may fall asleep while others will connect to this film in a profound way. I wasn’t as deeply affected as some but this film continues to haunt me in a way not unlike We Need to Talk About Kevin. Read our full review.
In a year that included the ambitious Tree of Life, Hanna remains the most refreshing and unique film of the year. With distinctly breathtaking and original direction from director Joe Wright, Hanna is a stylistic thrill ride we haven’t really seen before, at least not in the multiplexes. Set to a perfectly fitting Chemical Brothers soundtrack Wright’s film is an exhilarating and tense experience anchored by a mesmerising Saorise Ronan as the titular character. Ronan plays the perfect amount of innocence and menace which compliments Wright’s blend of breathtaking art-house with enough Bourne, Bond and Nikita to please the masses. Read our full review.
Richard Ayoade’s debut coming of age film has met its fair share of criticisms and comparisons to other well-known quirky coming of age movies of years gone by. However while similarities exist and a love for those film makers is evident throughout the film, Submarine is an intelligent, sweet and very funny introduction to Ayoade as an up and coming director, not to mention its two compelling and charismatic leads in Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige. There is so much to like about Submarine and Robert’s character Oliver Tate, who like the film is a perfect mix of awkward and endearing. A lot of the laughs from the film come from its uncomfortable awkwardness but its enjoyment comes from its dark yet charming story and its great engaging cast.
Although one of the most over hyped and trendy films in recent memory, Drive is still my favourite movie of 2011 and it is also the coolest. Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylish neo noir fllm is certainly not the masterpiece of modern cinema Facebook and Twitter would have you believe, it includes a barely there and underdeveloped Carey Mulligan, an incredibly overhyped wooden performance by Ryan Gosling (pretty, though he is) and a plot that struggles to balance realism and outright fairytale. However, even with its noticeable flaws Drive remains a compelling, beautifully shot and well cast film. From its opening minutes, Gosling’s star making vehicle is a gripping and tense ride which threatens to burst at any moment. When the film hits its second act, Gosling’s no name hero and Winding Refn’s stylistic direction become an unstoppable force that captures the audience’s imagination and challenges even the most critical viewer to dislike it.
Drive may not deserve the amount of hype it has received but in a year of great movies this ultra stylised, 80’s saturated not so subtle mix of retro action and art-house visuals is for me the most enjoyable film of 2011. Read our full review.
Film Review: Booksmart
Booksmart is the wonderful story of complicated, messy but hopeful and joyous young adulthood
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart has had a rough time at the box office since its release a few weeks ago. Pundits have placed blame on poor marketing by Annapurna Pictures (the studio releasing it) but in truth, the film just isn’t a big cinema flick. But there’s nothing wrong with that because, in every sense, Booksmart is a brilliant film. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s wonderfully written, well-directed, and filled with stories that are relatable across generations. But box offices are intrinsically built on those first weekend numbers, it is why it exists, and it is a shame the team behind the film has made a big deal out of the lack of box office draw instead of building on what will surely make it a cult classic- word of mouth.
The film tells the story of Amy and Molly, two high school seniors who have spent their high school careers being great in class, but not so great socially. The day before graduation they realize that their plan of spending their high school careers buried in books, getting straight A’s, and then transcending into the upper echelon of higher education is thwarted when the very people they thought they were escaping, have, in fact, accomplished the same. The difference is that they all had fun during high school while Amy and Molly didn’t. What ensues is a smart pastiche of college humor comedies and high school coming-of-age flicks that have been a staple of cinema across generations. Taking cues from Superbad and the recent Blockers, Booksmart takes raunchy humor and gross-out jokes but injects them with contemporary social dynamics. Universal stories of high school joy, friendship, and heartbreak are told with the kind of relatable charm that is rare- relatable regardless of age, gender, or sexuality. Its inclusivity has been praised not because it is gratuitous or forced, but because it feels genuine and heartfelt.
The two leads, played by Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2) and Kaitlyn Dever, are brilliant. If you watched the sitcom Last Man Standing you always knew that Dever was destined for greatness, so it’s no surprise that Booksmart is a great vehicle for her and Feldstein to show their talents. They both act with enough nuance when it is needed, but both sizzle with chemistry when they need to be riotously funny- the screen becomes their canvas and it is hard to escape their presence. Dever and Feldstein are flanked by an assemblage of funny people- Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Jessica Williams, the funny kid from Santa Clarita Diet– who all contribute to the film’s balanced characters. It is only at times that a few of them seem a little too much like a cartoon that it detracts from the film (still not sure what Billie Lourd’s character is about).
Wilde’s first turn at directing has proven that she’s got a keen eye for it. Booksmart does all the basics right and when Wilde wants to shoot outside of the box, they get that right too (the scene in which our leads are trippin’ daisies on hallucinogens, in particular, comes off as both funny and well done).
Its strengths, aside from the leads, is the writing and the seemingly truthful way in which the film depicts teenagers (in this case, teenage girls) living through that period of high school transitioning off into college and the so-called ‘real world’. Much has been said about its authenticity, and even if you can’t directly relate, you can still feel and understand the emotions and the relationships. And that is something that is hard to do, and the writers, the cast, and Olivia Wilde have accomplished that.
So what exactly is the problem with Booksmart? And why haven’t people flocked to see it? It still feels like a “small” movie, hindered perhaps by its very Netflix-like production. It doesn’t have that big-budget, must-see-at-the-cinema demeanor that films like Superbad or even Blockers had. Even films like Neighbors and its sequel felt much bigger in scope. Booksmart just FEELS like a television movie, even if it’s not.
Poor box office runs haven’t been the death knell for small-budget, indie successes. There have been plenty of critically acclaimed films that have been dwarfed in the numbers by superheroes, cartoons and sinking ships. Hopefully, ones that fuel conversation (like Booksmart), will keep studios making them. It’s a shame that a lot of the news has relegated Booksmart to “box office failure” because it deserves more. In time, with good word of mouth, and as more and more people see it and realize its resonance, it surely will. It has to because the heart of this movie, the way in which it tells the story of complicated, messy but hopeful and joyous young adulthood will not let it die without a fight.
Booksmart is in US cinemas now and opens in Australian cinemas June 27.
Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Written by: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Jessica Williams
Released by: Annapurna Pictures
Runtime: 102 mins