Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

The idea of a year-end, top 10 list being anything resembling authoritative is a fundamentally silly one—while there are (and always will be) those who beg to differ, it's not that hard to come up with a consensus of the films that are well-made, engaging, entertaining, etc., which is why you see so many of the same movies on so many year-end lists, critics awards press releases, and Oscar nomination prognostications. Where it gets personal, specific, and thus debatable is in what one viewer finds separates certain films from the established pack of "well-made films, " because that's where everything from pre-identified preferences to the movie-goer's mood at the time of viewing to the persistent whispering of some jackass in the seat behind you comes into play. The easiest part of the list that follows was the "honorable mention" section—those are good movies, and there is a fair amount of agreement on that. The titles in the top ten are ones that, for whatever reason, spoke to me more loudly, more urgently, and with greater force. The reasons vary, and I'll do my best to explicate them.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In Theaters: "Angels Crest"

Reviewed at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

Gaby Dellal’s Angels Crest has a palpable feeling of unease in its opening scenes, as young father Ethan (Thomas Dekker) loads his three-year-old son Nate into his pickup truck and drives him out to the woods so they can watch the snow fall. But Nate falls asleep on the way, and Ethan sees a deer he wants to track. So he leaves the heat on, locks the door, and leaves the kid in the truck. No points for guessing that this idea doesn’t work out well, for anybody.

In Theaters: "A Separation"

Reviewed at the 2011 New York Film Festival

The opening scene of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation finds Simin (Leila Hatami) and her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) in front of a judge, asking for him to grant their divorce. The setting is present-day Iran. Simin wants badly to leave the country with her husband and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), but Nader refuses—he must stay to tend to his father, who has Alzheimer’s. She does not want to stay, not only for herself, but for her daughter: “I’d rather she didn’t grow up under these circumstances.” (“What circumstances?” the judge demands suspiciously.) The lengthy and difficult dialogue scene is played in one unbroken take, directly into the camera, which is subjectively placed in the position of the third person in the room—the camera as “judge.” But what is so fascinating about A Separation is that, for the rest of the film, Farhadi refuses to allow his camera to judge his characters. It just observes, and sees every character with empathy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Theaters: "The Iron Lady"

We first meet Margaret Thatcher in the new biopic The Iron Lady in her twilight years—long after her time as British prime minister, just another old lady buying milk. Confused and delusional, she sees (and converses with) her deceased husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent); though still smart and perceptive, her sense of reality is a little hazy, and she finds her mind wandering into the past. “You can rewind it, but you can’t change it,” Dennis tells her.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On DVD: "A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy"

You wouldn’t expect a movie titled A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy to be this charming or likable, but improbably enough, it is just that. This is not to imply that it is not raunchy; this is a dirty, dirty little movie, filled with nearly non-stop sexual conversation, including verbal descriptions of sex acts rendered in cheerfully graphic detail. But it’s all about how you approach these things, and somehow, writer/directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck make the movie salacious without making it either crass or mean-spirited. There is a sweetness to its ribaldry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Theaters: "Pariah"

I don’t know these girls. We don’t see them in movies very often. Alike (Adepero Oduye) and Laura (Pernell Walker) are teenage black girls, although the opening scenes deliberately obscure their sexual identities; in the dimness of a nightclub, in the mass of bodies on the dance floor, we’re not sure who’s what. They’re “AG” (short for aggressive—and yes, I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary), lesbians who dress and act like thugged-out guys; they listen to rock music and have their own specific style. On their way home from the club where they hang out with other AGs and the bi-curious girls who are drawn to them, we see Alike (“Lee” for short) undergo a transformation—she loses the baseball cap and loose-fitting rugby jersey, revealing a form-fitting tank top underneath, and snaps in her earrings. Lee is 17, and she’s already living a double life. Pariah is her story.