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Feb 24, 2012

Motifs in Cinema, 2011: The Dichotomy Between Fantasy and Reality

Perhaps because it’s one of the youngest artistic forms, cinema is often assessed in much different manner that literature, or the visual arts. We discuss it in terms of genre, not in terms of thematic offering. Comparing, for example, Corpse Bride and Up because they’re both animated leads to some dubious discussion especially when – like any art form – thematic elements examined in cinema and the way different filmmaker address them make for some stimulating discussion. Motifs in Cinema is a discourse, across nine film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2011 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of the artist or the family dynamic? Like everything else, a film begins with an idea - Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a single idea changes when utilised by varying artists.

- Andrew K.


Hugo
Accidentally or otherwise, every year we get several films that deal with the same themes. Often, similarities between these films are so many and so clear that a narrative starts to build around one of these themes. Everyone spoke about the omnipresence of nostalgia in 2011’s films, for instance. Most of these motifs give way to different ones once everybody stops talking about one year and moves on to the next. One theme that never really disappears from the conversation is the dichotomy between fantasy and reality, which is why I chose to write about it as soon as Andrew introduced his Motifs in Cinema mini-blogathon to me.
  
Fantasy, in the strictest sense of the word, is inseparable from the cinema. What are fictional films if not the fantasy of those who imagine them, write them and act them? What is fantasy if not the imaginary world we immerse ourselves in for a few hours in the dark? Here, I want to write about filmmakers who, aware of the power they hold over their audience and making the most of their psychological advantage, presented an image of fantasy that changed the way we think of reality. Needless to say, different directors had different approaches, they worked in different genres and affected us in distinct ways.

Midnight in Paris

Feb 21, 2012

A Look at Oscar's Live Action Short Nominees

In the same vein as the animated short nominees, which I reviewed here, I'm back at The Film Experience with a look at the year's best live action short nominees. Reviews and predictions for all five films await you! Have a read and chime in with your thoughts!

Ciaran Hinds in The Shore

Feb 17, 2012

A Look at Oscar's Animated Short Nominees

Over at The Film Experience, I've written my short reviews and final predictions on the Animated Short Film category at the Oscars. They're an interesting bunch, if a little on the underwhelming side. But there are at least three films in there completely worth your time. So head over and have a read, and if you have the chance to catch them in theatres, please do!

Pixar's La Luna

Feb 14, 2012

Highlights: 2011’s Most Depressing Truth...

...is the year’s Box Office!

Taylor Lautner in Twilight: genuine mediocrity earning gazillions in theatres
30 years ago, On Golden Pond - a drama that won three Oscars and was nominated for another seven, and more importantly, was adapted from a play entirely revolving around an old couple – came second on the year’s list of best selling films. Further down the top twenty, films like Chariots of Fire and Reds appeared.

20 years ago, Silence of the Lambs, the film that won best picture at the Oscars, came fourth on the list. Immediately above it was Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s original take on an old tale (and an all-time favourite of mine) and the only animated film to ever be nominated for best picture in a field of five. Also among the top twenty were films like Cape Fear and JFK.

10 Years ago, Monsters, Inc., Shrek (the original), Ocean’s Eleven (the first one), A Beautiful Mind (best picture winner at the Oscars) and Black Hawk Down made enough money to make the top twenty.

The glorious Monsters, Inc. Even Pixar produced a cash-grab this year in the shape of Cars 2.
If those years seem like a long while ago, let’s look at 2009, when Avatar, Up, The Hangover and The Blind Side – all originals – made the top TEN list. Heck, even one year ago, just one freakin’ year ago, Inception, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon and The King’s Speech (best picture winner at the Oscars) were all in the top twenty.

In 2011, the top 9 films are all sequels. In fact, among the top twenty films at the box office, only two are not based on some sort of previously existing commodity: Bridesmaids and a mediocre animated film called Rio. The Help, a film that a lot of people have deemed a box office success story, is based on a book of equal popularity. This is the state of cinema today. When are the days when people used to watch foreign films? Where did they days go when originality was a virtue? What are the chances that next year’s list isn’t occupied by The Dark Knight Rises, Spiderman, Avengers, and another disposable Twilight sequel?

I’m not expecting the public to rush to the theatres for A Separation or Senna (though I wish they would) but couldn’t we at least get a star vehicle like Drive up there? A quality comedy like Win Win? A star-driven sports film like Moneyball? Even a teen-targeted effects-driven piece like Attack the Block?

Is it time to give up all hope?

*This concludes my 11 highlights of '11 series. Next week, we'll get the ball rolling with traditional awards categories and final Oscar predictions!

Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year
Most Overrated Film of the Year
Alpha Male of the Year
City of the Year
Sexiest Actress of the Year
Best Scene of the Year
Best Physical Work of the Year

Feb 11, 2012

Highlights: 2011’s Best Body/Physical Work...

...is the choreography of ALPS.


(This is awarded to the team behind the best stunt work or choreography or motion-capture, based on the suggestion of fellow bloggers, Craig and Andrew)

Anyone who’s seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth surely remembers the iconic dance sequence. If you think that was absurd, wait till you get a chance to see ALPS. The choreography in this film is much more diverse and pivotal since one of the leading characters is a ballerina. You’ll get to see her improve through her practice routines, but you’ll also see plenty of mad people flailing their arms around aimlessly and octogenarians slow-dancing. Whoever is in charge of designing these sequences is a bona fide genius.

Personal story: During the Q&A session after the screening of the film at TIFF, I moved up to sit in the first row and asked Aggeliki Papoulia, the lead actress, a question about these dances. “Does Mr. Lanthimos make you dance like that, or are the dances so absurd because you can’t dance better?” I was trying to be cheeky of course, and the theatre obviously got the idea and laughed out loud. She responded, laughingly, with “Are you calling me a bad dancer?” and the director jokingly said that I’d insulted them. Though they obviously knew I was joking, I had an uneasy feeling that something might have gotten lost in translation and that I might have actually offended them. Luckily, as I was telling my friend about this suspicion outside the theatre, they came out the building. So I tapped Aggeliki on the shoulder and told her that I loved the dances and I was obviously kidding about their being bad. She, and her co-star Ariane Labed, were good sports and I felt a fool for doubting their English skills. And then, this happened.


One of my fondest memories from TIFF.
Anyway, once I start dishing out my awards, you’ll see that the film features on the lists prominently, so if you get a chance to check it out, do not pass it up.


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year
Most Overrated Film of the Year
Alpha Male of the Year
City of the Year
Sexiest Actress of the Year
Best Scene of the Year

Feb 9, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Best Scene...

...is “New York, New York” from Shame.


Steve McQueen can sustain a static frame like no other director. But such scenes also depend heavily on the consistency and focus of his actors. Like Liam Cunningham and Michael Fassbender’s astonishing conversation in Hunger, Carey Mulligan brings on her A-Game here. With melancholy eyes and a rich, searing voice, she sings a pitch-perfect rendition of this classic tune, and makes it impossible for us to take our gaze away from the screen. What makes the scene so powerful is the way Fassbender and Mulligan communicate their mutual emotions without words. Though never seen together in the frame as she sings, their chemistry is as intense as any shot they share. Their eyes really speak a thousand words.


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year
Most Overrated Film of the Year
Alpha Male of the Year
City of the Year
Sexiest Actress of the Year

Feb 8, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Sexiest Actress...

...is Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol)


Unlike many men I know, “kicking ass” is not a quality that particularly attracts me to women. Yet, from the moment she steps on the screen, there’s a striking quality to her presence that makes kicking and shooting sexy. “What if I still don’t find action sexy?” I hear you ask. That question only goes unanswered until the party scene. As soon as she steps out of the car in that green dress, everyone’s bound to think “Halle...who?” Paula Patton’s where it’s at.

Now, can we get this woman a leading role please?


Feb 7, 2012

Highlights: 2011's City of the Year...

...is Paris.


The city of light has always been prominent in cinema. In fact, New York is probably the only city that rivals it in terms of the number of memorable portrayals on the silver screen. This year, though, Paris was exceptionally ubiquitous. Midnight in Paris is of course the first film that comes to mind. Woody Allen carved a character from the city and examined it at a specific time period with specific residents. The film’s opening sequence, with Darius Khondji’s postcard-ready cinematography is as explicit a love letter to a city as I’ve ever seen on film. Then there’s Hugo. Like Allen, Martin Scorsese’s also renowned for his depictions of New York, but he, too, packed his stuff and picnicked with the French. Hugo also looked at Paris in an earlier period and centred its story on the city and one of its famous residents. There’s also the Oscar nominated French animation A Cat in Paris, which is a children’s adventure that, as the title suggests, happens in Paris (and involves a cat!)

If all that is not enough, the year’s biggest awards behemoth, The Artist, despite being set in Hollywood, adds even more Gallic flavour. Having seen these four films a total of seven times, it almost feels like I’ve taken a week-long vacation in Paris this year. The magic of the movies, people... the magic of the movies...


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year
Most Overrated Film of the Year
Alpha Male of the Year

Feb 6, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Alpha Male of the Year...

...is Ryan Gosling.


From his perfect chemistry with three of Hollywood’s most attractive young actresses (Stone, Mulligan and Wood) to swinging his “equipment” in Steve Carrel’s face with utmost confidence, from the ladies' man of Crazy, Stupid Love to the dapper politician of Ides of March, from the Scorpion Jacket and the leather gloves to the toothpick and shades of the mystery man in Drive, Gosling has covered a whole lotta range to deserve this award.

Stardom always seemed only a step away from this promising actor. Not anymore.


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year
Most Overrated Film of the Year

Feb 5, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Most Overrated Film...

...is The Descendants.


Generally, I don't use the "overrated" distinction. Just because I don't like a film doesn't mean others shouldn't. I've talked about who and what I think is underrated often enough, but not the opposite. This time around, I'm allowing for an exception. Because for my money, except for brief moments in Shailene Woodley’s performance, and even briefer ones in George Clooney’s, The Descendants doesn’t really get anything right.

I’m not really sure what critics found between the redundant character of douchebag par excellence Sid, the implausible character arc of Woodley whose entire adolescent crisis is reduced to an about face after she jumps and cries in the pool, the obnoxious treatment of the film's defenceless antagonist, Judy Greer’s over-the-top anti-climactic visit to the hospital, the on and off narration, and worst of all, the ineffective incongruous Hawaiian melodies that reflect not mood (or atmosphere) but merely location. Whatever it was, I never found it. But the film’s success, sadly, did not end after the critics’ awards. The academy saw fit to nominate the film for five major awards (including freakin’ editing!) and will likely get George Clooney to the podium ahead of the infinitely more deserving Brad Pitt.

I’ve already forgotten about this film. I’ll re-watch Election whenever I need a Payne fix.


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year
Best Andy Serkis of the Year

Feb 4, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Andy Serkis Award for Best Andy Serkis...


...goes to Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes).



No one can do mo-cap acting as well as he does. It becomes evident every time we watch any film that uses the technology without him. So, here's to more of his awesomeness in The Hobbit.


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year
Dog of the Year

Feb 3, 2012

Highlights: 2011’s Dog of the Year...

...is Snowy in The Adventures of Tintin.


This award is not an annual citation but 2011 was unusually fruitful for the canine community. The puppies in Bridesmaids were the cutest of the bunch and contributed to one of the funniest scenes in the film. Arthur (played by Cosmo) was as significant in the emotional arc of Ewan McGregor’s character in Beginners as his human co-stars. Jack (played by Uggie in The Artist) was life-saving, both for the film’s leading character and the film itself when that third act was falling completely apart. And Blackie, whose character isn’t really integral to the narrative, was quite marvellous in Hugo. Yet, none of these dogs can win the top award. The puppies’ work is too much of an ensemble for any of them to shine through. Cosmo’s screen time is his biggest constraint. Uggie is too cute for his own good off-screen so my affection for him has gone considerably down since I watched the film. And Blackie is too vicious and freaks me out a little bit.

Snowy, however, is just my type of dog. He’s loyal till his last breath. He’s adventurous enough to follow Tintin anywhere. He’s powerful and smart enough to save Tintin’s life. And most importantly, he looks cute as hell all the while. A better companion than Captain Haddock even? Definitely!


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year
Most Underracted Actor of the Year

Feb 2, 2012

Highlights: 2011's Most Underrated Actor...

...is Ewan McGregor in Beginners.


But isn’t he always? I mean, how does anyone manage to win no awards for performances as strong as the ones he gave in Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, The Ghost Writer, and I Love You, Phillip Morris?

McGregor’s charming presence and genial face has been taken for granted long before 2011, but this year it particularly stings because his film is in the thick of the conversation. Beginners’ case is like Moulin Rouge! all over again. Like Nicole Kidman, Christopher Plummer’s performance has gained so much attention – deservedly so, I must add – but few people seem to attribute their seamless chemistry to McGregor’s subtle work. That is also true of Melanie Laurent and many other actors who have shared scenes with him in the past.

McGregor might just be the most generous actor working today. Will he ever get his due?


Previously on 11 Highlights of '11
Sex Scene of the Year

Feb 1, 2012

Highlights: 2011’s Hottest Sex Scene...

... (SPOILER ALERT)
is Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig’s intimate moment in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


By the time this scene rolls around – at least for those of us who are unfamiliar with the story – the film is in dire need of any human contact that does not end in rape, murder, or some other type of disgusting circumstance. This encounter, so wonderfully performed by Craig and Mara, is both expected and totally out of the blue, but it's bound to get your heart racing. It also forms the bedrock for the film’s emotional finale.
I’m not the biggest fan of this icy thriller, but every time I think about it in retrospect, this is the scene that first pops up in my head. And I assure you, I don’t mean that in a creepy way!