Friday, 30 December 2011

The Best of 2011 part II

Here we go! I welcome you, dear reader, to read the second part in my look at what was best in cinema in the year 2011. I will start this off with a reel in rememberance of the talent that passed away this year.


Pete Postlethwaite (Feb 7th 1946–Jan 2nd 2011. Actor, The Usual Suspects, The Town)
Anne Francis (Sep 16th 1930–Jan 2nd 2011. Actress, Forbidden Planet)
Juan Piquer Simón (Feb 16th 1935–Jan 8th 2011. Director, Pieces, Extraterrestrial Visitors)
Peter Yates (July 24th 1929–Jan 9th 2011. Director, Bullitt, Krull)
David Nelson (Oct 24th 1936–Jan 11th 2011. Actor, Day of the Outlaw, Cry-Baby)

Bernd Eichinger (Apr 11th 1949–Jan 24th 2011. Producer, Downfall, Baader Meinhof Komplex)
John Barry (Nov 3rd 1933–Jan 30th 2011. Composer, The James Bond series)
Maria Schneider (Mar 27th 1952–Feb 3rd 2011. Actress, Last Tango in Paris, The Passenger)
Tura Satana (Jul 10th 1938–Feb 4th 2011. Actress, Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!)
Kenneth Mars (Apr 4th 1935–Feb 12th 2011. Actor, Young Frankenstein, The Producers)

David F. Friedman (Dec 24th 1923–Feb 14th 2011. Producer, Love Camp 7, Color Me Blood Red)
Annie Girardot (Oct 25th 1931–Feb 28th 2011. Actress, Rocco and His Brothers, The Piano Teacher)
Jane Russell (Jun 21st 1921–Feb 28th 2011. Actress, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
Michael Gough (Nov 23rd 1916 – Mar 17th 2011. Actor, Dracula (1958), Batman)
Elizabeth Taylor (Feb 27th 1932–Mar 23rd 2011. Actress, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra, Voice of Maggie Simpson)

Farley Granger (Jul 1st 1925–Mar 27th 2011. Actor, Strangers On A Train, Rope)
Sidney Lumet (Jun 25th 1924–Apr 9th 2011. Director, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Network)
Tim Hetherington (Dec 5th 1970–Apr 20th 2011. Co-director, Restrepo)
Jackie Cooper (Sep 15th 1922–May 3rd 2011. Actor, The Champ, Superman)
Jeff Conaway (Oct 5th 1950–May 27th 2011. Actor, Grease, Alien Intruder)

Gunnar Fischer (Nov 18th 1910–Jun 11 2011. Cinematographer, The Sevent Seal, Wild Strawberries)
Ryan Dunn (Jun 11th 1977–Jun 20th 2011. Stunt performer, Jackass: The Movie)
Peter Falk (Sep 16th 1927–Jun 23rd 2011. Actor, Columbo, The Heaven Over Berlin)
Bubba Smith (Feb 28th 1945–Aug 3rd 2011. Actor, Police Academy, Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach)
Francesco Quinn (Mar 22nd 1963–Aug 5th 2011. Actor, Platoon, Top Dog)

Shammi Kapoor (Oct 21st 1931–Aug 14th 2011. Bollywood legend, Actor, Prem Rog, Rockstar)
Gualtiero Jacopetti (Sep 4th 1919–Aug 17th 2011. Director, Mondo Cane)
Cliff Robertson (Sep 9th 1923–Sep 10th 2011. Actor, Three Days of the Condor, Spider-Man)
Charles Napier (Apr 12th 1936–Oct 5th 2011. Actor, Silence of the Lambs, Rambo: First Blood Part II)
David Hess (Sep 19th 1936–Oct 7th 2011. Actor, Last House on The Left (1972), Smash Cut)

Sue Lloyd (Aug 7th 1939–Oct 20th 2011. Actress, The Ipcress Files, Revenge of the Pink Panther)
Antonio Molino Rojo (Sep 14th –Nov 2nd 2011. Actor, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly)
Ken Russell (Jul 3rd 1927–Nov 27th 2011. Director, Women in Love, Mahler, The Lair of the White Worm)
Zdenek Miler (Feb 21st 1921–Nov 30th 2011. Creator/director, The Krtek (Mole) series)
Bill McKinney (Sep 12th 1931–Dec 1st 2011. Actor, First Blood, Deliverance)

Don Sharp (Apr 19th 1922–Dec 14th 2011. Director, Curse of the Fly, Bear Island)
Cheeta (Reportedly, if he was the real one, that is. 1932? – 28th Dec 2011, Chimp Actor, Tarzan The Ape Man, Tarzan Finds A Son!)

The Best Soundtrack / Score:

No contest.

Festival Films:

This past year, I attended to more film festivals than ever before. That's why I also got a big pile of interesting film experiences that merit their own list here. Since each and every one of them has been dealt with in this blog before, I'll keep their reviews short and sweet, and put a link to their name for details.

Bubbling Under: Another Earth, The Death of Pinochet, Our Day Will Come

10. Red Forest Hotel 
Director: Mika Koskinen

An eye-opening look at the damage western companies are allowed to do in countries such as China, where people are unequal yet there is still a lot of natural resources to harvest. At first it seems that this documentary isn't going anywhere with the government officials constantly following the director. But when in the end it gets to the truth it is harrowing. A true achievement.

9. The Mountain (Fjellet)
Director: Ole Giæver 

A raw, emotional look at a couple trying to rekindle their flame by going on a hiking trip. Problem is, past tragedies come to haunt them, and thus the bitter bickering starts. The mountainside nature of Norway is unforgiving, people must find inner peace within themselves alone.

8. Cold Fish
Director: Sion Sono

A tough, uncompromizing, yet darkly comedic vision of the crumbling of the traditional japanese nuclear families. With a push-around as the head of the family, they all are forced to the edge of their lives, and getting exploited. The villain, one of the most memorable in a long time, is a truly twisted criminal. He is able to get away with murder and even fucking with the yakuza, because he relies on timid people not to fight against him. The film's a bit too long, but when it's great, it's great.

7. Bullhead (Rundskop)
Director: Michael R. Roskam

Another tough crime film with an unique vision of an individual's place in the spiral of violence and madness. The Belgian countryside would've been one of the last places where I would've imagined such a story to take place in, yet the fields are just steaming with blackness. Roskam is one to watch in the future, too, as well as Matthias Schonenarts as the lead.

6. Public Speaking
Director: Martin Scorsese

In Fran Lebowitz, Scorsese has found such a rewarding documentary subject, that he himself has trouble to keep up with her. Like the auteur's classic works, this also picks an interesting character from New York and follows her around the city. Lebowitz is a straight-spoken woman, whose opinions may offend many, but she is also hilarious, and a good speaker, so it's no effort to hear what she has to say about the modern way and life in general.

5. Play
Director: Ruben Östlund

The Swedish Funny Games, without all the navel-gazing and vague threats instead of physical violence. This takes a distant, documentary-like, look at bullying and problems that arise from multiculturality in sleepy Swedish suburbs. The problems are not caused by the immigrants themselves, but rather the Swedish-born adults, generally turning a blind eye to the acts of children. When something bad happens, they take it out on innocents. The film leaves the viewer with a lot to ponder about.

4. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Director: Werner Herzog

Herzog has found good use for the 3D technology, and allows us common people to see one of the most incredible pieces of art in the world as it was meant to: the 20,000-year-old cave paintings of the Chauvet caves of Southern France with all of their surfaces, curves and shapes. The viewer would be content by just watching the beautiful pictures, but Herzog also finds his trademark madcap interviewees and has his own philosophical ponderings about the subject. Very captivating and a strong film.

3. Finisterrae
Director: Sergio Caballero

A weird little film that I'm sure will divide opinions. But it's tongue-in-cheek humour, metaphysical ponderings and sense of oddness won me over. The film has a sort of pilgrimage for ghosts, who wish to become alive again. The religious symbols and kitchy Halloween-imagery will clash. The film is like a Jodorowsky film made on a budget of about 50 cents.

2. Tyrannosaur
Director: Paddy Considine

Paddy Considine proves to be one of those actors that has paid close attention when working with auteur directors. His debut film is so dark and violent at parts that even strong-stomached viewers are forced to flinch. Yet it has a glimmer of hope in that even bad people can redeem themselves, and make the world around them a better place. Considine's film defies expectations. At first it seems like a vigilante picture waiting to happen, but it actually has more liberal viewpoints. A film about trust, love and friendship, that features a dog getting kicked to death.

1. The Kid With A Bike (Le gamin au vélo)
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne brothers are some of the most interesting filmmakers today, and they have produced their most accessible film to date. That's not to mean that it's without substance, au contraire. The film features the young Cyril being tempted by a juvenile criminal on one side and a surrogate mother on the other. The kid has learned to fight for himself so how can one teach morality to him, when even his father has abandoned him? The film's characters have three-dimensional motifs, and more than a hint of tragedy in them. The film's plot moves steadily forward, and manages to be both exciting, and truly surprising at times. It's neither a moral lesson, nor a feel-good film, but works in so many levels, it can easily pass as either.


A lot of interesting films go straight to DVD in Finland. The audiences here are so small that international films or anything reeking of art-house has to struggle to get a theatrical release. A lot of the most interesting films of the year thus end up straight to DVD. They also merit their very own list for that.

Bubbling under: Alien vs. Ninja, Killing Bono, Lemmy

11. Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren)
Director: André Øvredal 

I'm betting subsequent viewings of this goofy handheld-shot fantasy film won't hold togather as well as the first. The best parts of the film are whenever trolls are revealed, which is a source of much comedy and "ooh aah" -feelings. It's a good sign that modern genre film makers have started to mine some lesser-used creatures than always the same vampires and zombies. So, while the film doesn't offer anything radically different it holds its own and entertains for the duration of the film. And also, the main Trollhunter in the film is a badass.
10. The Trip
Director: Michael Winterbottom

Winterbottom's films have tended to always be a sort of a mixed bag, and this road trip makes no difference. It's being sold as a comedy, and it stars the comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves. But really, as the film goes along, the actual jokes diminish by the minute. At its core this is a melancholic look at middle-aged men. Coogan is successful but unhappy. Brydon is only known for a single joke, but he chooses to embrace this fame, and has a happy married life. Coogan in the middle of a crisis starts to loathe Brydon and tries wreck him at all possible points. Watch as Coogan tells Brydon to have more subtlety ih his impersonations. Brydon develops his initially apt Michael Caine -imitation to the point of bland. Coogan, who never had it in the first place, but he tries to add subtlety himself, and in the end makes a total fool of himself as he doesn't sound anything like his source material.

9. Easy A 
Director: Will Gluck

I'm a sucker for a good John Hughes teen film. This comedy is a sort of tribute to them, in the sense that it also explicitly calls them out. But it's a charming one by itself as well. Emma Stone proves to be suitably dreamy, quircky and funny to pull off such a lead role. Her Olivia says a single lie about losing her virginity, and that snowballs to the point where everyone is asking her to lie for them. Aside the movie references, the film also refers to plenty of classic books everyone should read aduring the American High School. It doesn't offer wonders but for fans of adorable teenage girls and a funny romantic comedy, one could do a hell of a lot worse than this.

8. Cell 211 (Celda 211)
Director: Daniel Monzón

I've long held the stance that Con Air is the best action film of the 1990's. So, when a new, spanish action film imitates the plot of that classic, I'm bound to like it by default, right? In a high-security prison, a new prison guard gets caught inside as a big riot takes place. He has to fake to be a convict as well. He has to gain the trust of the riot leader, the intimidating Malamadre, if he wants to see his wife and children ever again. Another thing this film has in common are the heroic bloodshed and brotherhood-based Hong Kong action dramas of the late 80's, early 90's. The film has a few twists, and is not that easy to guess what's going on next. The end result is solid entertainment.

7. Inside Job 
Director: Charles Ferguson

Here is a documentary film that should've had a premiere in Finland, as well as in any other country that is currently being ravaged by the financial crisis. It makes complex economical systems seem simple by going to the roots of all current finance problems. Watching it is also entertaining as well as infuriating, as some fat cats walk away from the fireball with their pockets lined with cash with no one stopping them. This sort of film should inspire Occupy Wall Street -movements everywhere in the world. Take the Power Back!

6. Route Irish
Director: Ken Loach

Ken Loach has directed a familiar-seeming conspiracy thriller involving soldiers in the war against terrorism with his familiar, virtuoso skills. Loach has an eye to the local side of the war, to keep things interesting. But the best thing about the film are the way relationships between the film's characters are presented. They all border somewhere between utter love and ultimate contempt towards each other, and it's intriguing to see their tides shift back and forth. The backstory of the characters is told in the lines, not in flashbacks, and they colors the entire story in such a way that everything in the films feels more tragic for it. It's not the kind of social realism Loach excels in, but it's a captivating enough pseudo-thriller.

5. I'm Still Here
Director: Casey Affleck

This is an odd, experimental film. Joaquin Phoenix is the American Jussi Parviainen in the sense that he's willing to wreck his entire life for the sake of entertainment. I'm not sure whether this is supposed to be a comedy, even though it is highly hilarious. A straight-out documentary it certainly is not. I think like Parviainen, Phoenix also forgot at some point where the limits of his performance end and his actual self began. Do we get to witness this breakdown here or just the performance we were meant to see? The viewer gets to be the judge. The film also works as a bitter letter to Hollywood and it's wide army of back-patters.

4. Anvil! – The Story of Anvil
Director: Sacha Gervasi

It's a wonder that this film came to Finland so late, and without any big screen release. We are a big heavy metal country, and Anvil is a popular performer in the country. Perhaps the reason this only came out on DVD after it had gained a cult reputation is that it doesn't treat heavy metal or its fans with kid's gloves. It's a hard living, with pointless tours that earn little to no money for the artists. You get easily forgotten and shoved off the spotlight. The film shows all this with much hilairity. In fact, to make it as a rock star, one has to love playing rock more than anything other. The Anvil guys clearly do, and won't give up, no matter what hardships they have to face. That's why they've certainly earned their newfound fame.

3. Exit Through The Gift Shop
Director: Banksy

Another film in which truth and fiction are hard to separate. But it's a good story and that should be sufficient enough. The film invites the viewer to ponder what exactly is art, who can be an artist, what does one have to do if he's an artist, and the most crucial of all, the commerial side of producing art. We Finns had to wait for this film so long, it's starting to get dangerously close to it's Best Before-date. But it's still a hugely hilarious film, no matter how much things keep changing in the art circles.

2. Hobo with a Shotgun
Director: Jason Eisener

Look, you either get it or you don't. You either find someone's head getting yanked off, or someone kicked to the back with an ice skate hilarious or you don't. And I happen to do. Some have complained that Hobo is nothing more than a bad re-hash of the Troma films of old. That's quite a handout for Troma. I wish that Troma films were as well directed, as inventive in their violence, and had someone even close to the charisma of Rutger Hauer as their lead. Either the budget is also a lot bigger in this, or the special effects have gone a lot cheaper since the late 80's, early 90's. Nevertheless, it also requires skill to use them in just the right way. Jason Eisener is black-hearted and mean-spirited enough to make a postmodern exploitation film that doesn't just laugh at the exploitation films of old. Rather, he works by the same principle: Be violent for real and entertain the audiences while doing so. And has thus delivered the funniest splatter film in ages.

1. Blue Valentine 
Director: Derek Cianfrance

This complex story is sold as a romantic film, and by that I can imagine it having caused more than its share of breakups around the world. It is a look at the arc that one couple goes through, and it intercuts between the past and the present to reveal intimate details and some sense of history repeating itself. At the same time as it is a story of a blossoming romance, it is also a story of a withering marriage and since the main characters in the both are same, it has a very gloomy sense of fate leading the characters. But also, the film invites to remember and to treasure the good moments and even the pain that love has caused. Without them the prize one gains from it would seem futile.

This is a raw, emotional film, that doesn't white-wash even the most dark aspects of a relationship. The frankness of the film are pulled by the amazing Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams who have never seemed to frail and vunerable on screen. They make the romance between the characters, as well as the falling out, believable. See it.

To be seen:
Dinner For Schmucks

So have a happy New Year, and in case I don't see you, also Easter, May Day, Midsummer's Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Rise of Cthulhu! See you next year!

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