Films viewed in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘90s’

485. American Movie

In Documentary on February 17, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Dr. Chris Smith

An aspiring filmmaker attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

MY TAKE

I don’t know if I’ve ever loved two “characters” in a documentary more than Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank. The hell-bent hero and his loyal sidekick make American Movie so damn touching, hilarious and determined that I wanted to cry. Director Chris Smith brilliantly goes behind the scenes of an average man’s dreams to craft a cautionary tale and love letter to filmmaking.  If Ed Wood managed a career, it seems unfathomable to me that no one has given Borchardt his big B-movie shot by now. My constant pleasure and (nervous) laughter watching the film, however, was probably reminding me that if I had never left Saskatchewan, that could have been me and my buddy up on screen.

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474. Kissed

In Canadian on February 3, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Dir. Lynne Stopkewich

Over the years, a child’s romantic ideals about death blossom into the most profound relationship of her life.

MY TAKE

When you think about films that could only be made by a woman, I’m guessing Kissed isn’t what immediately comes to mind. But this artsy romp into necrophilia is handled with a delicate touch that would surely be beyond the reach of most male directors. Molly Parker plays the naïve nympho in question, possessing just the right balance of beauty and wide-eyed wonder to sell us on a deviant debutante. Peter Outerbridge can’t keep up to her fantasies, and brings the film to a logical if not shocking ending. One more example of why Canadian cinema has built the infamous reputation of weird sex and snowshoes.

472. Happiness

In Drama on February 3, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Dir. Todd Solondz

The lives of many individuals connected by the desire for happiness, often from sources usually considered dark or evil.

MY TAKE

Happiness is likely the most disturbingly watchable film of all-time. With uncomfortable ease, Todd Solondz, a master at dissecting raw human impulses, is able to take us into the depths of sexual deprivation with an unparalleled balance of humour, understanding and dispassion. The storyline of a suburban father pedophile is certainly the most shocking, but there are so many incredible performances here that it’s hard to isolate what makes this film such a masterpiece. Suffice to say, incest, murder, rape, divorce, isolation and general misery have never been so pleasantly combined and packed such a unexpected emotional punch.


468. Flirting with Disaster

In Comedy on February 2, 2012 at 9:22 AM

Dir. David O. Russell

A young man, his wife, and his incompetent case worker travel across country to find his birth parents.

MY TAKE

David O. Russell toys with dark humour in the bumpy journey to self-discovery Flirting with Disaster. Ben Stiller is the one driving this dysfunction family road trip, playing the first of his many similar “how did I get into this mess?” leading straight man roles in a comedy. Outstanding support work by Patricia Arquette and Mary Tyler Moore, however, make this one worth checking out. The best part, however, may have gone to Josh Brolin as the bisexual Casanova who has at least one disgusting trick up his sleeve to seduce the ladies. The film may have flirted with disaster, but it stays married to a winning formula for big laughs while teasing us with discomfort.

464. Rude

In Canadian on January 31, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Dir. Clément Virgo

The stories of a reluctantly recidivist ex-con, a woman recovering from a breakup and abortion, and a shy boxer who’s bullied into gay-bashing are woven together by a freelance radio deejay.

MY TAKE

Aside from Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, Clément Virgo’s Rude is the only feature film from the Canadian Film Centre to have really dented Canuck cinema. Premiering at Cannes, the writer and director undoubtedly bore comparisons to being Canada’s Spike Lee, but this film stands alone as a fresh and energized voice, no matter what the nationality. Stylish in design and “verbal intercourse” (as the film’s sultry radio DJ says), the film has a pounding pulse that feels in sync with a restless truth. The inter-connecting stories of people being pushed and pulled through a violent society are each compelling, and round out a film that makes no apologies for what it has to say.

461. Shallow Grave

In Crime on January 30, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Dir. Danny Boyle

Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash.

MY TAKE

Oh, Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle, you’ll get knocked down, but you’ll get up again, and it all starts with Shallow Grave. This edgy black comedy deservingly shot the director to international attention, even if the premise may no longer be as shocking as it probably once was. That doesn’t diminish the returns, however, to a smart and slick film that seduces us with great chemistry and light laughs before propelling us into a world of greed and darkness. Equally notable for launching the career of Ewan McGregor, this is a notable first film that’s worth digging up.

460. Hard Eight

In Crime on January 30, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

A veteran gambler teaches a stranger the tricks of the trade to try and turn his luck around.

MY TAKE

Before fully hitting his auteurish groove in Boogie Nights, writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson took a calculated gamble in the crime drama Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney). John C. Reilly, as always, is a convincing down-and-out figure who gets mentored into the world of scamming casinos by a mysterious but personable Philip Baker Hall. The early dialogue-heavy scenes are particularly strong, when we’re introduced to the rules of the game but still aren’t fully aware of the stakes involved. Gwenyth Paltrow is also good, and balances her eventual breakdown well in the climactic motel sequence that takes the brave final step of following logical choices instead of pursuing dramatic conveniences.

429. Henry Fool

In Comedy on January 5, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Dir. Hal Hartley

Socially inept garbage man Simon is befriended by Henry Fool, a witty roguish, but talent-less novelist.

MY TAKE

Henry Fool is the best and worst kind of friend imaginable. He’ll fuel your dreams, then screw your sister. Make you millions, then make you feel worthless. Hal Hartley’s bizarre odyssey of a simpleton rising the literary ranks is itself an allegorical and nonsensical tale that is nothing if not original. It may be a bit long in the tooth, and light on substance for James Urbaniak as the protagonist, but Thomas Jane Ryan as the agent of chaos in the titular role gives the film a pulse, albeit to an unorthodox beat. Avid cinema-goes will find the film refreshing, but the often inaccessible characters will hold most others at a distance.


418. Cape Fear

In Thriller on December 20, 2011 at 8:43 AM

Dir. Martin Scorsese

A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a 14 year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

MY TAKE

Home and family invasion thrillers have been around for decades (as the film’s remake status will attest), but Juliette Lewis single-handedly takes the sub-genre to a new level. Her finger sucking naughtiness is sold with uncomfortable conviction and twists the drama to dizzying levels. Robert DeNiro is also a tour de force as he gleefully squeals through evil performance that makes Al Pacino’s take on Scarface feel down to earth. It’s hard to take the film seriously at times, but Martin Scorses sure knows how to rock the boat when he wants to.

 

413. Dance Me Outside

In Canadian on December 5, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Dir. Bruce MacDonald

Silas and Frank are trying to get into college but find themselves having to deal with girls, family and murder.

MY TAKE

It’s entirely possible that Aboriginal films, being unique and uncommon, are over-enthusiastically lauded when they land with general audiences. Yet Bruce MacDonald’s Dance Me Outside pulls off the rare trick of being a dysfunctional family film, a crime drama and coming of age story all without losing a distinct sense of place and humour. Enjoyable characters and performances are given enough moments to shine in a narrative that doesn’t concern itself with tight plot points, but is also focused enough to bring closure where appropriate. This is a worthy departure from Macdonald’s road trilogy and proof that outsiders are sometimes the best fit for taking us into a culturally specific story.