Tag Archives: 2011 movies

Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block doesn’t offer much new to the alien invasion genre, but somehow it manages to chop things up and remix them in a way that feels fairly fresh. The movie centers around a gang of tough-talking teens living in a rough London borough. When mysterious extra-terrestrial monsters invade their “block” (which, in this case, means their apartment complex), the gang takes matters into their own hands in hopes of defending their turf.

First-time director Joe Cornish brings great style to this movie. It has a high-contrast kind of colour scheme, and the use of blues and other bright swatches of colour really make the film (which is set entirely at night) pop. The monsters even manage to be stylish, and the whole film has a very young, heightened look to it.

The opening couple scenes of Attack the Block made me think that Cornish was going to favour style and mayhem over an actual story, but he actually did a great job of developing characters with little fuss. As the film progressed, I became more and more engrossed in the relationships and the story. The film progresses in a very natural, smooth way, and, wisely, it never slows down to give extensive backstory on the characters.

In terms of acting, there are definitely some unconvincing moments, but in general, the young cast does a good job. The standout actor for me was Luke Treadaway (who, to be fair, does have considerably more acting experience than most of the others). He’s very charming as the collegiate pothead, Brewis, who unsuspectingly gets ensnared in the adventure. Treadaway makes the best of his small role and provides many of the film’s funniest moments. Also good is John Boyega, who presents a steely front as the gang’s anti-heroic leader, Moses.

Attack the Block won’t provoke any deep thought, but it’s definitely a fun ride for 90 minutes. It knows exactly what type of movie it wants to be. It not only succeeds as an alien invasion flick, but it also presents interesting characters and plenty of humour.

7/10

2012 Oscar Winner Predictions!

Well, it’s finally Oscar weekend. In honor of that, I’m posting my final set of predictions for who I think will take home the Oscar in each category. Click here to see the full list of nominees.

Picture: The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Actor: Jean DuJardin, The Artist

Actress: Viola Davis: The Help

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Original Screenplay: The Artist

Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Animated Feature Film: Chico & Rita

Cinematography: War Horse (tough pick!)

Art Direction: Hugo

Costume Design: Hugo

Make-Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Film Editing: Hugo

Sound Editing: War Horse

Sound Mixing: Transformers Dark of the Moon (no idea with this category)

Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Original Score: The Artist

Original Song: “Man or Muppet”, The Muppets

Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Documentary Feature: Pina

Documentary Short: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (yay for guessing!)

Live Action Short: Time Freak (ditto!)

Animated Short: A Morning Stroll (and again!)

The Times Like Those Alternative Oscars!

Every year, the same movies snatch up a big portion  of the Oscar nominations. Then, we hear about these movies for months as we lead up to Oscar night. And while this year has been a pretty exciting race (I’d say the winners for both lead acting categories are up in the air), and there were a few surprise nominees that snuck in at the last moment (what’s up, Demian Birchir?), it  can get a little bit repetitive to hear about the same movies over and over again, even if you enjoyed them.

In hopes of offering a change of pace, I’ve compiled my own “Oscar”  list of sorts. For my categories, I ignored all of the existing Oscar nominees and focussed on films and performances that didn’t receive as much awards attention this year. I also omitted people like Shailene Woodley, who did not receive an Oscar nomination but still got lots of attention from critics, bloggers, and awards groups leading up to the nominations.

Also, keep in mind that there are still lots of films from this year that I need to see. Shame, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Martha Marcy May Marlene are just a few on that list.

Enjoy, and feel free to post your own “alternative Oscars” in the comments.

Best Picture

Drive

The Ides of March

Meek’s Cutoff

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Win Win

It may be a small, unassuming film, but Meek’s Cutoff stuck with me in a big way this year. The film is unconventional in almost every way (the pacing, the mumbled dialogue, the refusal to punch up the story with high drama), and it’s a true achievement in cinema.

Best Director

Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Clooney, The Ides of March

Carey Fukanaga, Jane Eyre

Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive

Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff

Again, I have to give this one to Meek’s Cutoff. While Nicholas Winding Refn offered a masterclass in cool and Tomas Alfredson built insane tension around old guys sitting around talking in a room, Kelly Reichardt created something truly unique. I didn’t care for her last project, Wendy and Lucy, but her deliberate pace and sparse, terse tone worked wonders in Meek’s.

Best Actor

Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double

Ryan Gosling, Drive

Tom Hardy, Warrior

Ewan McGregor, Beginners

Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Cooper masters not one but two challenging roles in this messy film. He’s chilling and downright crazy as Sadam Hussein’s son, Uday, and also deeply sympathetic as Latif, the man hired as Uday’s double. It’s a towering pair of performances, and Cooper finally realizes the potential he showed in small roles in films such as Starter for 10 and An Education.

Best Actress

Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Keira Knightley, Last Night

Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre

Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids

Robin Wright, The Conspirator

Wiig gives a downright brilliant comedic performance in Bridesmaids, and sometimes that is enough for me. She throws herself into every gag headfirst, and she comes out in the end with a highly charming, perfectly executed performance. McCarthy is also great, but for me, Wiig is the reason to watch Bridesmaids.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre

Colin Ford, We Bought a Zoo

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March

Simon Pegg, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I thought Fassbender was a tad overrated in X-Men (sorry), but he reminded me why I loved him so much in Fish Tank with a similarly physical and subtly threatening performance in the gorgeous Jane Eyre. He oozes charisma here, and makes for a completely magnetic screen presence. Kudos to Mark Strong, too, for fantastic scene-stealing work in Tinker Tailor, and for converting me into a Mark Strong fan.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

Anna Kendrick, 50/50

Carey Mulligan, Drive

Amy Ryan, Win Win

Michelle Williams, Meek’s Cutoff

It was the year of Chastain, and my favourite performance of hers (though I haven’t seen them all) was as the ethereal wife in The Tree of Life. It’s a beautiful, moving performance, and she slips seamlessly into the languid tone of the film.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)


I have a confession. I’m someone who tends to struggle to follow even moderately complicated movie plots. I have a bad habit of zoning out at the exact moments when I should be paying attention. You probably know which moments I’m talking about. It’s the ones where one character spends five minutes carefully laying out detailed plot exposition to another character, and to the audience. This is usually done in really unrealistic, heavy-handed ways that grind the movie to a halt. And while I’m definitely to blame for this shortcoming (I really should just listen more closely), I also like to pass the buck to the filmmakers. Maybe if they set out their exposition in more interesting, subtle ways, I would be compelled to pay attention, no?

This is where I give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a lot of credit. This is a complicated film. I imagine that even people more perceptive than I will struggle to follow every intricacy of the plot. However, it lays out its spiderweb of a narrative in compelling, unique ways. By switching between time periods, countries, and about a dozen different characters, things could easily get muddled. And while I wasn’t always 100% following every detail, director Tomas Alfredson did a great job of keeping things coherent and interesting.

At its core, Tinker Tailor is a who-done-it film. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British Intelligence agent who must help his old crew figure out who among their group is actually a Soviet mole. That’s literally it. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but I’ll let you sort out the finer details on your own.

The story is complex, and it gives you a lot to think about while watching. But the film can also be enjoyed on many different levels. Most notably (to me), it’s just gorgeous to look at. Alfredson’s visual style is right up my alley, full of damp tones, and sparse cinematography. Some of his shots of the London streets are absolutely breathtaking. His style seems very well-suited to the Cold War era, and he evokes such atmosphere. The tension and paranoia is almost palpable through the camera, and that is arguably the film’s strongest suit.

Of course, you also have to talk about the performances. Gary Oldman is magnificent, as always. George Smiley is such a repressed character, and Oldman nails it. Smiley plays his cards close to his chest, yet Oldman brilliantly gives away tiny hints in his expressions and body language to let the audience in on his emotions. These hairline cracks in the facade are far more telling than any over-the-top “freak out” scene that most movie character inevitably experience. I give Oldman huge kudos for having the steely, commanding screen presence to pull of what could have been a completely bland character.

The most surprising performance for me was from Mark Strong, though. It seems like Strong has made a career out of playing villains in blockbusters like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen him in at least half a dozen films, and while he’s always fine, he’s never made much of an impression on me. But he is brilliant in this movie. From the first 10 seconds of his performance, I knew that this was a different Mark Strong. He plays a British intelligence agent sent on a mission to Hungary, and he shows such a range of emotions and a great amount of soulfulness. This could easily have been a throwaway character, but Strong inhabits every inch of this role. I wouldn’t have thought that Strong would suit this type of movie, but he actually gives my favourite performance in the film, and one of my favourite Supporting Actor performances of the year.

Tom Hardy is also very charismatic as Ricki Tarr, a British agent accused of betrayal. It’s nice to see his character get a personal story arc, since much of the rest of the film is centered around the characters’ professional endeavours.

That’s actually one issue that I had with the film. It would have been nice to bring a little more warmth to the story and some of the characters. Of course, this film is all about the mystery, rather than the character study, but a little back story would help it feel less dry.

However, that’s not to say that it’s a boring movie. Quite the opposite, even if the pace is a bit slow. Alfredson is an expert at building tension, and the screenplay is taught enough to prevent Tinker Tailor from dragging. This movie would be worth seeing for the performances alone, so the fact that it’s also a beautifully shot, well-constructed thriller is just a bonus.

8/10

84th Annual Academy Award Nominations

Well, well, well. There were definitely a few surprises in this morning’s nominations. In fact, I’d say that there’s at least one surprise in all of the major categories. It keeps things interesting, which is fun. Let’s take a look.

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

WOW, okay. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was definitely a surprise. I think most people (myself included) had given up on that one. The Tree of Life is less surprising, but I still would’ve thought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would’ve gotten in ahead of it. However, I do have to pat myself on the back a little bit for predicting that Dragon Tattoo would miss out. All of my predictions were correct in this category were correct – I just missed two of them.

Best Actor

Demian Birchir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean DuJardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Gary Oldman: Academy Award Nominee, at last! Guess this category wasn’t nearly as obvious as it seemed. Surprising about Birchir (guess I should have watched A Better Life when it was in the house), but I do feel a bit bad for Leo and Fassy (even though I’m not THAT surprised to see the latter snubbed).

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Oh, snap! Mara is a surprise (especially since she only got a Globe nom). Everyone else makes sense, but I am surprised that Swinton was the one to get snubbed over Close. I thought that this category would be pretty predictable.

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When I saw EL&IC on the Best Picture list, I had a feeling von Sydow would be in. However, I thought he’d replace Nolte or even Hill – not the former frontrunner Albert Brooks. Brooks was obviously slipping after missing out on the SAG (and I had him ranked 4th), but I’m still very surprised. All of the critical favourites are missing out, it seems. Good for Nick Nolte, though. He was fantastic in Warrior.

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Damn, Woodley was the one to miss out after all (but I thought she might be when Albert Brooks was snubbed). A lot of people saw that coming, but I definitely think she should have gotten in over McCarthy (she was great in that movie, but Oscar worthy?) and probably Bejo, in my opinion. Ah, well.

Best Director

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

The Malick fanboys will be happy, the Fincher fanboys will be pissed. A lot of people thought this category would match up with the DGA nominations. I figured Fincher would miss out, but I’m a little surprised that Malick was the one to bump him (especially since War Horse did get a Best Picture nom. I guess the fact that The Tree of Life also got one should have been my hint.)

Best Original Screenplay

The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

Midnight in Paris

A Separation

Two surprises with Margin Call and A Separation. They were both very much in the discussion, but I’m a bit surprised both made it in. Yay for Bridesmaids, though. (Academy Award Nominee Kristen Wiig!)

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants

Hugo

The Ides of March

Moneyball

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Wow, I am really surprised that The Help missed out. Very, very surprised. I’m glad The Ides of March got in, though (even if it does mean yet another nomination for Clooney). I’m off to see Tinker Tailor later today, so we’ll see how that one measures up to the rest of the category.

Click here to see the full list of nominees. Want to know how many categories I correctly predicted all five nominees in? That would be zero.