Saturday, December 31, 2011

Films I consumed in 2011. I tend to feel frustrated by how thinly I spread my cultural consumption. It seems that all I do is shovel films and books and TV shows and albums and internet memes into my brain, and rarely regurgitate them as thoughtful, considered reviews and essays.

I also feel ashamed of how comparatively few of these I manage to get through compared to other people I know. In some cases I feel philosophical, going, "Well, X is mainly a film person, so of course they'll have got through 300 films this year." But in other cases I feel ashamed, thinking I'm just making excuses for wasting my time on the internet when I could be chewing through popular culture.

But anyway, in lieu of a 'top 10' or whatevz, here are my brief notes on the 123 films I consumed in 2011. I meant to do four blog posts – the films, the books, the music and the comedy – but honestly it feels too much like work. This is mainly for my own reference – this is the first year I've kept such a list. If I've reviewed the film in question, I'll link to my review or paste it in below.

127 Hours
I invariably referred to this film as "CKHHHH", with accompanying karate-chop gesture on my forearm. Poor old Aron Ralston. Recently an Australian lady was trapped under her car and tried to pull a Ralston, but she didn't even have a utility tool so she had to wait to have her leg amputated until she was found. But she only had to wait 70-odd hours.

13 Assassins
Like I said, seven is probably the largest number of samurai any one film can reasonably expect its audience to keep track of.

This was one of the most inadvertently hilarious films I saw this year. Taylor Lautner has the charisma of a piece of two-by-four, and Michael Nyqvist, who played Mikael Blomkvist in the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has really joined the ranks of Hollywood Euro-Villains (he's also in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). He has one of the best lines here: "I'm going to kill all your friends on Facebook!" But perhaps the most explosively funny moment is when baddies break into Taylor's house and tell him, "There's a bomb in the oven!" And Taylor checks! AND THERE IS! And there are like seven seconds left on the clock! Why would you put a bomb in the oven? Whose idea was that? And how did they manage to install it when they've been so busy assassinating Taylor's adoptive parents?

The Adjustment Bureau
I quite liked this, in an old-fashioned (pfft, it's been like 15 years) Matrix or Dark City sort of way. I've always been fascinated by films about predestination versus free will, and this film combined those themes with the idea of a 'city and the city' – the oddly retro Adjustment Bureau within the interstices of New York City. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt don't immediately strike you as a plausible couple, but for me their chemistry was enjoyable enough.

The Adventures Of Tintin
People go on about the 'dead eyes' of the motion-capture, but for me what was more frustrating was that this film made Tintin look like another actor – not Jamie Bell, who portrayed him – but another actor I somehow recognised but could never identify. The action setpieces were vintage Spielberg of the Indiana Jones variety, full of coincidences and witty chains of events, and the sequence in which an uncharacteristically sober Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) is in the desert, recounting the story of his piratical ancestor, is extraordinary, imaginative cinema.

A pretty pompous, stilted effort, including Derek Jacobi's opening and closing monologue that in another film would parody 'Shakespearean acting'. But honestly, did you really expect doomsday king Roland Emmerich to produce something thoughtful and intellectual regarding the Shakespeare authorship question? My favourite bits were the scenes imagining the debut performances of Shakespeare's plays, bringing to life how they might have been staged and received by their first audiences. It didn't help that in this screening I was sitting next to Anthony Morris, who giggled like a schoolboy throughout and ended up ranking this as his worst film of 2011.

The Arbor
Grim doco about a playwright from the grim West Yorkshire housing estates I recognised from the Red Riding telemovie series. It screened at ACMI, so you might've missed it. But it was a bracingly original 'docudrama' approach to the subject, in which actors lipsynched to audio from interviews with those who knew Andrea Dunbar.

This was the last film I saw this year; it isn't out until 12 January next year. The latest work from Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away; Ponyo), its traditional 2D animation is wonderfully impressionistic as it adapts Mary Norton's beloved children's novel The Borrowers (which I loved as a kid) to a Japanese context. I found some of the voice casting quite annoying (the version to be released here uses the British rather than the American dub), but then people have told me that Arrietty's mum Homily was annoying.

Attack The Block
This UK alien-invasion adventure was pretty adorable, crammed with hugely quotable dialogue and unafraid to show us the worst as well as the best natures of its teen hoodie characters. Clem Bastow at The Vine compares it unfavourably to Super 8, but I feel that both films were full of the delight of multiplex cinema, and only incidentally had similar themes.

Bad Teacher
I really enjoyed this film's cynicism, and the way Cameron Diaz's character isn't punished for her badness the way women are in so many Hollywood films. I was just thinking about it the other day, because there's this totally bogus moment when Justin Timberlake explains to Diaz that he can't date her because he's more 'simpatico' with Lucy Punch. It reminded me of all those times when some dude I like has mansplained why he really values my friendship but he won't fuck me.

Battle: Los Angeles
This film did Glenn Dunks's head in, but honestly I didn't find it bad enough either to enjoy or to find repugnant. It was just a bog-standard disaster flick-cum-video game with aliens who were basically pop-up targets for marines to quip about and shoot at. Aaron Eckhart has the perfect chiselled jaw to play the heroic soldier lead, but the script was pretty shit, from "Maybe I can help – I'm a veterinarian" to the rousing, inspirational speech that ends "…but none of that matters right now!"

Beautiful Lies
A strangely insubstantial, crappy French romantic farce. Next time people moan about American remakes, I'll point to this as evidence that not every French comedy is witty and hilarious.

Beauty and the Beast
No, not the Disney version, but the 1946 Jean Cocteau version that screened at MIFF this year. There were some beautifully surreal moments, and Jean Marais was a memorably soulful Beast, but the screening I saw was marred by a guy who was coughing so hard I was afraid he would actually die.

The Beaver
Mel Gibson's mental instability was the elephant in the room in this film about a mentally unstable man.  I liked it more than I thought I would, and I appreciated that it went beyond the quirky Sundance gimmick of 'sassy beaver puppet saves sad dad'.

Man, I cried in this. Christopher Plummer is extraordinary as a guy who discovers his true joie de vivre late in life. (I also worry that I over-used the phrase 'joie de vivre' in my reviews this year.) However, I hated the hipster love affair between Mélanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor.

Bill Cunningham New York
This guy is just adorable! I was fascinated by his hybrid accent (I adore his podcast-style On The Street videos), and to me there was something melancholy about the way he is a final relic of a vanished New York City. (I'm still mourning the loss of The Mad Men Time.) I felt similarly about Smash His Camera but Ron Galella is a jerk so it didn't bother me so much. Whereas I get the feeling that if I ever met Bill Cunningham, he would be friendly and lovely.

Feels like I saw this film ages ago, but it only came out in March. It felt too long and wallowed in its abjectness, but there's undoubtedly something solemn and mysterious about it – something they felt the need to literalise in the plot as Javier Bardem's character can speak to the dead.

Black Swan
One of my favourites – a film that stayed with me for ages despite coming out this time last year. The review was so hard to distill into 200 words as I had so much I wanted to say. I felt a visceral thrill from the very first scene, when I first heard Tchaikovsky's wonderful music. The sound design was excellent.

Black Venus
Another film that felt over-determinedly abject. Lots of people walked out when I saw it at MIFF, but that could've been because it was so absurdly long. But I felt it was important to bear witness to the sad life of a woman I first encountered in the feminist writings of bell hooks when I was researching my essay about white people's fascination with the booty.

This WA-made drama about a bungled vigilante murder felt much more like a filmed play than a made-for-cinema excursion. There's something stagey and overly talky about it. In yet another spoilt nymphet role, Sophie Lowe does nothing to ameliorate the dislike I feel for her.

I saw this twice at the cinema – once in the review screening and then again with Leith and Tash, and honestly I didn't enjoy it as much the second time. I worry that it's one of those comedies that doesn't improve with repeat viewings and am afraid to watch it again in case this proves to be true. But anyway, it was side-splittingly hilarious that first time, as well as wonderfully honest about female friendship and rivalry. Melissa McCarthy was a revelation, and that Irish dude from The IT Crowd was sweet. He could be my boyfriend if he liked.

Brighton Rock
Firmly fitting into my shameful obsession with book-to-film adaptations, this Graham Greene meditation on Catholicism is (in my opinion) cleverly updated to the '60s to include the mods and rockers riots of the time. I read the book after I saw the film, and I enjoyed the differences between them; the book focuses much more on the dissonances between the 'right and wrong' morality of Ida (a jollier presence than Helen Mirren makes her) and the 'good and evil' morality of Pinkie and Rose.

I caught this doco at MIFF, but it's coming out next year. It's a wonderful portrait of Buck Brannaman, the wry, stoic horse trainer who consulted on the film The Horse Whisperer, and whose own traumatic past helps him understand that 'troubled horses' are much more likely to be owned by 'troubled people'.

I feel annoyed with myself that I didn't let myself relax into what was one of the most preposterously entertaining cult classics of 2011 and beyond! I could hear Bastow and Dunks hooting their traps off down the back of the cinema, but I only permitted myself to laugh about halfway through, and then I couldn't stop. So many great musical numbers and classic lines, from "I will not be upstaged by some slut with mutant lungs!" to "When you do your makeup, it's like you're an artist, but instead of painting a canvas, you're painting your face."

Burning Man
So annoyed I never got to review this, because it was one of the most moving, memorable films I saw this year, and possibly the best Australian film. Jonathan Teplitsky tells the story of angry English chef Tom's (Matthew Goode) mental breakdown in an intriguingly non-linear way. Each scene is like a little puzzle that's paid off in subsequent scenes. Goode is… well, really good.

Cane Toads: The Conquest
Such a lot of fun! Director Mark Lewis isn't afraid to be really, really ridiculous. The scene with the stoned dog is brilliant.

Captain America: The First Avenger
A disappointing origin story. Chris Evans again demonstrates his superpower of appearing in as many comic-book adaptations as possible. He looks faker as his buffed 'real' self than he does as a painstakingly digitally nerded-up version.

This doco was released in January, but I'd seen it at MIFF 2010. What struck me was the generosity and compassion the filmmakers wring from a denouement that could've been a cruel 'gotcha' moment. Debate still rages about how real or fake the set-up was.

A really dreary based-on-a-true-legal drama, like the most boring John Grisham movie of all time, in which redneck Hilary Swank is so convinced her brother Sam Rockwell isn't a murderer that she goes to law school as an adult in order to spring him from the slammer. Yawn-a-rama. The worst bit is that in real life the brother died only months after being released, after falling off a wall while drunk.

Cowboys & Aliens
This film had so much going for it – James Bond and Indiana Jones, plus Sam Rockwell and the director of Iron Man – yet it was really tedious, not to mention horribly racist. The 3D conversion was also really terrible – so dark and muddy that at one point I took off my glasses to see what was actually happening on-screen. Basically, it was like when you mix all the colours in a palette and it turns poo-brown.

Crazy, Stupid, Love
The film that made me understand the Ryan Gosling obsession, even though I own The Notebook on DVD. Emma Stone spoke for womankind when she ogled Gosling's naked torso and said, "It's like you're Photoshopped!" I enjoyed the farce-style coming-together of several plot strands, and the film also inspired the most hilariously tenuous promo merch of 2011: the Crazy, Stupid, Love Stealth Gardening Kit. Because Steve Carell's character returns secretly to his ex-wife's house under cover of darkness to do the gardening!

The Debt
Worst casting of 2011. Distractingly bad Israeli accents. But apart from that, I quite enjoyed it.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
From the endorsement factory of Guillermo del Toro (that dude will lend his name to anything) comes this genuinely scary kids' adventure that's notable for being filmed in Victoria and hence giving Melburnians drip-feed coverage of Baby Suri Cruise's outfits. Plot-wise, it reminded me a lot of Joe Dante's The Hole.

One of the most extraordinary films of the year. Definitely one of my favourites, it haunted me for weeks, and I found the review really hard to pack into those pitiful 200 words… and not just because I was groping for words to describe Gosling's general perfection. Incredibly stylish and evocative, it tapped into a certain yearning, swooning fatalism that's the trademark of the most satisfying films noir.

End of Animal
Man, I thought this Korean thriller (screened at MIFF this year) would be a lyrical monster movie in the vein of Monsters. No. It was draggingly pointless and tedious, with a protagonist of alienatingly frustrating passivity. Afterwards I apologised to Tash and Ghita for putting them through it.

The Eye Of The Storm
There was something very grown-up about this Patrick White adaptation – but in that way you think is so sophisticated when you're a kid, yet that seems rather stodgy and old-fashioned when you're an adult yourself. It was nostalgic in that it felt curiously out of its proper time, like it ought to have been made in the early 1980s when Australian cinema was self-consciously sweeping and artsy.

Friends With Benefits
For me, this was the better of the two fuck-buddy comedies of 2011, yet I still found it oddly disappointing. Despite Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake having a sparky chemistry, I didn't laugh very much and nor did I find it very moving. Maybe it was the script? And who thinks flash mobs are cool? Flash mobs are not cool.

The Future
Writing for a hipster media outlet, I have to feign interest in the career of Miranda July. Perhaps because they have figured my lack of enthusiasm out, I can't find my review of this film on the Thousands sites any more, so here it is below:

Miranda July movies cater to a certain disposition. You probably know in advance if you have it. So yeah, if you like watching a couple of 35-year-old babies with matching mop-top hairstyles have adorably stilted conversations and struggle to invent suitably YouTubeable dance moves to Beach House, you’ll eat this up. You will probably also enjoy that the film is narrated by Paw Paw (Miranda July doing an odd, growly voice), the injured cat whose imminent adoption plunges our slacker pair into existential crisis, because now they’ll have to be responsible (read: old).

While those around me chortled, I spent the first half of The Future unable to get especially involved in the travails of Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July). But this uneven, self-indulgent film gets better when the weirdness kicks in and the underlying bleakness peeks through. Sophie’s yellow T-shirt crawls in search of her through LA streets, and she dons it in a bizarre dance. Meanwhile, Jason’s claim he can stop time turns out to be more than just a cutesy quip – it literalises that fatal inertia just before everything comes tumbling down.

Get Low
I remain eternally disappointed that Lil Jon was not featured or asked to participate in this film. It would've been much less treacly and sentimental if he had been. To the windoooooow! To the wall! To the sweat drop down my balls! It stars Robert Duvall!

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest
The original Swedish adaptation staggers to a close. I am LOLing as I re-read the last line of my review: "…their final scene here is so perplexingly anticlimactic that it has you longing for the masterful trilogy-ending power of the Ewoks’ “Yub nub” song."

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher's new adaptation, however (out in cinemas on 12 January) is slicker and fresher, with the advantage of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's uneasy electronic score. The opening credit sequence is visually startling and abstractedly sexy, like something from a Bond film, and the rest of the film never really lives up to it. I was worried that Rooney Mara would be too pretty as Lisbeth, but I liked her awkwardness, although she's a more ethereal presence than the stockier, more athletic Noomi Rapace.

The Green Hornet
This film, aka The Green Lantern Hornet Man, was lots of fun! Michel Gondry blends his trademark in-camera effects with imaginative use of 3D, and Seth Rogen has a glee that's infectious. Christoph Waltz ably demonstrates his membership of the League of Euro-Villains.

Green Lantern
This film is mainly memorable for the way some fusty, ancient critic sitting next to me in the cinema objected to my raucous laughter during the Abduction trailer that preceded the main feature. He made me feel afraid to laugh during this film… but in the end it felt depressing to even attempt to rescue this plodding superhero flick through supercilious irony. It took itself so seriously.

Griff The Invisible
Some people really liked this Aussie film – and I was ready to – but ultimately I found its stance on mental illness troublingly uncertain. The tone was also really uneven, and not in a way that suggested creative control. For me, this is what happens when writer-directors don't have anyone keeping them on track.

The Hangover Part II
What a revolting, ugly film. I found the first one quite bawdy and charming, but this sequel takes all its worst bits (for instance, the casual racism and the idolisation of convicted rapist Mike Tyson) and amplifies them, while basically repeating the previous plot in a tired, humourless way. These guys don't even really seem to like each other. No wonder they drink to forget.

I really liked the fairytale analogies here, and both Saoirse Ronan and Jessica Barden (who played the horrid, meddling teenager in Tamara Drewe) are terrific. Some people have praised the soundtrack, but personally I thought it was pretty corny and late-'90s to use the Chemical Brothers during arse-kicking scenes.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
My knowledge of the Harry Potter franchise was embarrassingly patchy before I went away for Cup Day weekend and watched all the films in order as a marathon, but I still really enjoyed this film… except for the risible postscript in which the young actors pretend to be 19 years older than they are.

The Help
Sitting in an uneasy spot between Steel Magnolias and The Blind Side is this Southern-fried drama about the put-upon black maids who get treated like shit during The Mad Men Time by the grown-up babies they once nursed… until plucky Emma Stone in a terrible frizzy wig comes to magically free them from their bondage by tellin' theyah storehs… Phew, thank god for whitey! Cynicism aside, there are some lovely, affecting moments. Viola Davis is compelling, Octavia Spencer does some hilarious work with facial expressions, and Jessica Chastain adds charm and pathos to what could've been just a ditsy bimbo character.

Hobo With A Shotgun
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Some marvellously pulpy dialogue and inventive gore.

The Hollywood Complex
Provocative, clear-eyed doco about the wannabe child stars who gather in LA each spring for pilot casting season. The saddest of these was Megan Haun, whose natural flair for comedy is overshadowed by her insane lack of self-insight and vulnerability to Hollywood hucksters. On the advice of one of those, she is now known as Presley Ca$h.

Holy Rollers
This DVD release, based on a true story about an ecstasy-trafficking Orthodox Jew, isn't nearly as funny or action-packed as I'd expected. Rather, its gritty feel, decadent club settings and mood of imminent disaster reminded me of Boogie Nights.

(You'll have to scroll down to read my review; it doesn't seem to have a page of its own.) While I found the animated sequences pretty literal and embarrassing, James Franco convincingly channels Allen Ginsberg in this inventive docudrama about the creation of Ginsberg's landmark poem. Having seen this film, I had the poem in my head when I came to write this essay on Rebecca Black, which is the thing I wrote in 2011 that I'm most proud of.

Out on 12 January next year, this valentine to silent filmmaker Georges Méliès is also a touching fable about a fatherless boy (Asa Butterfield) who applies his fascination with fixing broken things to people as well as clockwork. Martin Scorsese's 3D is possibly the best use of the technology I've seen this year, and the production design is a dream. Sacha Baron Cohen is great in a supporting role that calls for both slapstick and subtlety.

The Hunter
Daniel Nettheim's adaptation of Julia Leigh's novel feels as though it's had trouble conveying some of its nuances from page to screen, which doesn't surprise me, considering the opacity of Leigh's directorial debut Sleeping Beauty. I liked it a great deal, but that didn't stop me having a silly conversation in the foyer with Anthony Morris and Thomas Caldwell about whether it would have been better done in Alien vs Predator style.

I Am Number Four
Deeply ridiculous and incoherent (lots of reviewers couldn't resist jokes about "number two"), but Alex Pettyfer and Timothy Olyphant (aka Team Y-No-Vowels?) were nice to look at. Adapted from a young adult novel by the absurdly pseudonymed Pittacus Lore (author James Frey and creative writing graduate Jobie Hughes) – apparently the two co-authors feuded and ended their partnership after the second book in the series, but the film was shit enough to kill any sequels stone dead anyway.

I Love You Phillip Morris
From the directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love, this was one of the slyest, funniest films I've seen in ages. It has no compunctions about toying with viewer expectations and emotions, but so good-heartedly you don't even care. It's a crime that because it's a gay romance, it took forever to show up outside festivals.

The Ides Of March
George Clooney's political backroom-dealing drama was really nothing special, apart from offering another chance to gaze upon the features of Ryan Gosling. The story felt familiar but I couldn't put my finger on where I'd seen it before. Definitely not The West Wing, because I never got into that show. I know.

The Immortals
After Clash of the Titans I was really expecting very little from this sword-and-sandal flick, but it was solidly entertaining. Not brilliant, but not distractingly bad either… although I giggled immaturely whenever Poseidon was pictured in his ridiculous headgear.

In Time
Well, I feel I've already said what needs to be said about this film in that previous blog post. Oh, the shitty 'time' gags we were making as we left the cinema. Can I just say that I really enjoy seeing films with reviewers around my own age who don't have the stick-up-arse spectatorship (of even the worst cinema) that you find among the old fusty critics.

Based on a play, it's the world's most eventful episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Can I just say I picked the twist.

Inside Job
Anticipating the Occupy movement, this documentary forensically lays out how the global financial crisis was allowed to happen, and why nothing has changed since then. I left the cinema feeling incredibly enraged and yet hopeless.

The Iron Lady
The perfect holiday panto! I would actually love to put this on as a proper stage panto. It doesn't deserve to be treated seriously, because to do that would be to contemplate the way it completely whitewashes Thatcher's appalling legacy of social disharmony, economic hardship and the paradoxically simultaneous indifference and brutal interventionism of the state into ordinary Britons' lives.

James Cameron Presents Sanctum
Using the same 3D camera that Cameron developed for Avatar, this caving disaster thriller was one of the most spectacular, immersive uses of 3D I saw this year. But the script was – how shall we say? – abysmal. There were many jokes among the reviewers about its weird predilection for summary euthanasia whenever a character is injured or ill. "With that paper cut, he'll only hold us back!" "Remember, she had McDonald's for lunch. She died doing what she loved."

Jane Eyre
A lovely, impressionistic adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel, which I got especially, ahead of watching this, so I could claim to have 'read the book first'. I liked it a great deal – one of my favourite films of 2011.

Julia's Eyes
Was this thriller about blindness and murder meant to be a Dario Argento homage or was that just accidental? So many things about the film seemed to be. The lurid twists started coming thick and fast in the final act, but they suggested an out-of-control plot rather than any deliberate finale.

Again, another film I only gave myself permission to enjoy about halfway through. At first I found Gregg Araki's cheap VHS aesthetic and quippy dialogue irritating, like an edgy '90s TV series aimed at Gen X. But then I really started to enjoy the silliness. I remember distinctly the line that set me off was "I got your email address from the Explosions In The Sky Facebook page". The ending is an absolute triumph – possibly the best ending of 2011.

The Last Circus
Some reviewers really enjoyed this, but I filed it under WTF? I liked sad clown Javier and mourned when he transformed himself into a twisted villain. From that point on, I was basically watching with a mounting sense of bewilderment.

Like Crazy
This indie romantic drama, which comes out next February, emotionally ravaged several of my fellow film critics, but honestly it left me cold. While I like Anton Yelchin, I disliked the British lady, and there was so much to hate about their hipster courtship. I don't know why it was so important for them to be together; I liked their B-team love interests much better, especially Jennifer Lawrence. Blue Valentine did ill-starred indie romance much, much more affectingly.

The Lion King 3D
I was really looking forward to the cub-thrusting possibilities of the 3D conversion (aka "the Sphere of Life"), but what surprised me (and probably shouldn't have) was how flat the animation still looked. However, it was intriguing how such an old, familiar film was still able to provoke audience reactions – laughter, gasps of fear, etc.

There was a small child in the cinema near us whose father was photographing her – WITH FLASH – as she (and we) watched the film. When Tash took the dad aside to say that was not considerate to other viewers, the dad had a sob story about how the kid's mum was in hospital and the photos were to document the kid's first 3D film. That made us feel like dicks for having a problem with it. But what does this episode tell you about people's inability to: a) experience life in unmediated ways; b) evoke their experiences in conversation rather than just by showing pictures to each other?

Mad Bastards
I was worried this would be one of those didactic, right-on indigenous films, but it was feelgood and funny as well as being unflinching about the troubled masculinities it discusses. The music was especially good, and well integrated in the film. I was also impressed by the performances – most of the actors weren't professionals.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
I saw this at MIFF but it'll be in cinemas next year. Don't miss it – it's almost perfect. Elizabeth Olsen is mesmerising in the central role.

Basically I feel strongly that Lars Von Trier is fucked in the head and has serious problems with women, and I was prepared to hate the shit out of this. But it was strangely, viscerally gorgeous. It was big-R Romantic, in the sense of the sublime – that existential terror of realising one's smallness and insignificance in the face of nature. Delirious dread that edges into euphoria. The key scene is where Charlotte Gainsbourg stumbles across her sister Kirsten Dunst luxuriating, naked, in the night glow of the planet that's about to engulf the world. It's as if she's calling a lover to her. And Wagner's orchestra kicks in like a cold hand clutching Charlotte's heart.

Midnight In Paris
What a lovely film. As I walked home afterwards in the warm spring night, I thought that it would be the perfect date movie, then I felt melancholy that I didn't have anyone to take with me on a date. I'm pretty constantly wallowing in nostalgia, but what I liked about this film was that it showed longing for the past ultimately to be elusive and unsatisfying, instead throwing its lot in with finding magic in the present.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Get this – I had never been to IMAX before I saw this. But it's not so big. (Apparently Melbourne IMAX is not even the IMAXiest IMAX.) I was looking forward to seeing Simon Pegg as the Headset Dude, and he didn't disappoint! I was also very pleased that there was a Cocktail Party With Earpieces, which I regard as one of the best aspects of the spy caper genre. In the screening I sat next to Martyn Pedler and we tittered every time Tom Cruise donned the hoodie in which he looks so ridiculous in the promotional poster for the film.

I couldn't get over how much, as he ages, Brad Pitt is coming to resemble Benicio Del Toro. Also, that chewing tobacco and then spitting it into a cup is a disgusting habit.

Mozart's Sister
Stodgy French biopic covering the teenage years of Nannerl, Wolfgang's elder sister. ("Hey Nannerl, what's wrong with Wolfie? I can hear him barking. Is he okay?""Wolfie's just fine, honey. Wolfie's just fine.") A musical prodigy in her own right, she ended up being a total doormat to her dad's wishes, even giving her son to him to raise in case the kid turned out to be another prodigy. Here, she's played by Marie Féret, the director's daughter (Trivia: Alexandra Schepisi in The Eye of the Storm is another 'director's daughter' of 2011), and given a fictional romance with the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin). The main thing I remember about this film is how loudly the voluminous 18th-century dresses rustled when the wearers moved and sat down.

Mr. Popper's Penguins
I was looking forward to this – another adaptation of a book I loved as a kid – and it was not good. Just meh, really. Anthony Morris's review is pretty memorable, but one thing he fails to mention in an otherwise comprehensive analysis is the supremely irritating personal assistant Pippi (the preposterously Bond girl-named Ophelia Lovibond) who speaks only in words beginning with P.

My Suicide
Cheerful, huh! This teen drama did the festival circuit in 2009 and went straight to DVD here (although it had a limited release in the US under the more palatable title Archie's Final Project). Features David Carradine, who died in suspiciously auto-erotic circumstances; I'm not sure the filmmakers intended this intertextual meaning but it does slot nicely into the general atmosphere of metacommentary and media-saturation.

Never Let Me Go
Again, I read the book before I saw the film, and initially I was disappointed, feeling that my favourite subtexts hadn't made it onscreen, and annoyed at new elements that had been introduced. But I came around to it.

New Year's Eve
I sat down in the cinema feeling surly at the prospect of a saccharine couple of hours, yet somehow by the end I found myself caring whether these stupid, clichéd characters would be shoehorned into love by midnight. Stockholm syndrome! I can't get behind a film that asks me to view Josh Duhamel and Sarah Jessica Parker as star-crossed lovers, but I was struck by the vocal way that the overwhelmingly female audience in my screening reacted to the film, sighing and giggling on cue.

No Strings Attached
The first, not so good, fuck-buddy romcom. Honestly, Natalie Portman is like half Ashton Kutcher's size. It's like Shaquille O'Neal and his Munchkin girlfriend 'Hoopz'. However, I remember laughing a lot at the time, I enjoyed Mindy Kaling's deadpan performance, and I really liked the gag about the period mixtape including 'Bleeding Love' by Leona Lewis.

Norwegian Wood
Oh, man. This film looked lovely, but it was the dreariest, sappiest stuff and seemed to go on forever. I couldn't understand why the dude was agonising over choosing between two women, when one of them was batshit crazy, sobbed all the time and had actually told him to forget about her, and the other one was fun and cute and relatively normal and, more importantly, didn't freak out at the idea of having sex with him.

I'd actually forgotten I saw this film until I started compiling this list. It had some really striking nature-doco footage, but nothing you wouldn't see on TV.

One Day
Anne Hathaway's accent moved all over England in this romantic drama focusing on how two people spend St Swithin's Day each year. I get the feeling I was supposed to find this terribly romantic and cry and stuff, but I think perhaps I am a little too young for this to really 'speak to me'. Mainly I enjoyed the awesome '90s soundtrack.

Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times
Since reviewing this doco, I've started following NYT media reporter David Carr on Twitter and he tweets some pretty good stuff. This was self-serving (will newspapers survive! YOU BET THEY WILL!), but Carr is a fascinating character.

Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
After seeing this, I went directly to the supermarket to see if they had any of the title pomegranate juice. They did not.

Project Nim
This doco made me feel profoundly sad about how humans can be blinded by their own best intentions when it comes to animal welfare. We can never be truly empathetic because we're so obsessed with the ways that animals remind us of ourselves. Everyone who encountered Nim Chimpsky seemed to want the best for him, but he just got more and more messed-up.

Puss In Boots
I was dubious about this fairytale western, since Dreamworks films tend to use sight gags and pop-culture references where Pixar films use heart. It's certainly not the greatest animated film ever, or even this year, but it's cheesy fun. And whenever something mildly risqué happens, a cat appears with its paw over its mouth, looking shocked and going "OOOOH…" I laughed at this, every time.

Rabbit Hole
I spent most of this film being pleased to see Nicole Kidman as a redhead again, and trying to see if I could catch her face moving. Grim viewing.

Red Dog
I went to see this the day after Steve's notorious party with the mystery punch. Last night Steve told me another embarrassing fact about that party: he'd put me in a taxi when, at 4am at the Peel, I said to him, "Who am I?" Anyway, I only made myself go to this screening because Koko the dog was going to be there in person. (In dog?) At one stage I had to dash out of the cinema to spew in the Jam Factory toilets.

Red Riding Hood
What a deeply silly film. LOL, I just realised that the actor who plays the blacksmith is called Max Irons. Another ridiculous thing about that film. I could have really hung shit on it as lots of other reviewers did, but instead I talked about "the inarticulate violence and eroticism of the gaze". That week, the Thousands had terrible trouble with spam filters because I also used the phrase "explicitly psychosexual adult fairytale".

Red State
The best film Kevin Smith has made in ages, because it's the least Kevin Smith-like film he's made in ages. I hadn't seen John Goodman in anything for a while and was astounded by how much weight he's lost.

I thought this was quite sweet at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more it irritated me. But then I swung back the other way and didn't mind it. Also, I couldn't get over how much the lead actor looked like Phil, this guy I know.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Having recently seen Project Nim affected my viewing of this unexpectedly excellent prequel. I was expecting the mo-cap ape special effects to be distracting and obvious, but they were seamless and natural.

A truly amazing collage approach, driven (fnar!) by the abundance of archival footage of F1 ace Ayrton Senna, meant that his colourful life and tragic death plays much more like a gripping biopic. 2011 really was a good year for unusual, dramatised documentaries.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
I talked about this on Triple R Breakfasters on Thursday – basically, the problem was that it seemed Ritchie had identified certain aspects of his perfectly entertaining previous film and just done more of them. The slo-mo seemed excessive, the homoeroticism between Holmes and Watson was quite overstated and irritating this time around, and the female characters (largely, Noomi Rapace as a gypsy fortune-teller) didn't have much to do.

The Skin I Live In
Everyone was going on about the twist! Oooh, don't give away the twist! It's okay, I didn't. This was actually much funnier than I was expecting; my only previous experience with Almodovar was Talk To Her, which was pretty grim. Then there was the one with the wheelchair basketballer – was that Live Flesh? Anyway, dude is kind of obsessed with flesh, and the textures were one of the striking things in this film.

Sleeping Beauty
Another entry in the WTF? category. Usually my strategy if I don't understand what's going on is to wait patiently for the payoff. Burning Man rewarded me; Sleeping Beauty did not. Gorgeous film; fearless performance by Emily Browning; but frustratingly opaque.

Smash His Camera
Another ACMI release; a nice contrast with Bill Cunningham New York because Ron Galella isn't interested in photographing the zeitgeist but in penetrating the glamour surrounding celebrity. He lives for the chase. His photos have little artistic value and are mainly interesting because of their subjects.

When watching this, I had a powerful feeling of relief at knowing that when it was over, I could escape from this world, unlike the protagonists. One of the most striking scenes is when lumpen teen Jamie can't take the screams of murder any more and retreats onto the front verandah. In the background, a kid coasts by on a bike – a reminder of the innocence Jamie has lost and of the everyday banality of John Bunting's evil.

Source Code
Basically, this film reminded me of so many other films it was distracting. It was very romantic in its way, and of course, since it dealt with predestination I found it absorbing. An interesting companion piece to The Adjustment Bureau.

This was sweet and quite atmospheric, but honestly it's pretty much a cookie-cutter hipster coming-of-age film along the lines of Rushmore. Noah Taylor was great as the depressed dad. It was a big year for crisis dads in cinema, between The Beaver, Crazy Stupid Love, Take Shelter and this.

Sucker Punch
Bombastic and pointless. My eyes feasted on it at the time, but it was so hollow and unsatisfying. And then there's the general objectification-of-women bizzo.

Caught this at MIFF, and it's the best vigilante film I've seen in ages. I enjoyed this much more than the similarly themed Kick-Ass, and it was much darker. Rainn Wilson is terrific as a sensitive dweeb who reacts badly to Kevin Bacon stealing his wife Liv Tyler and starts brutally injuring people with a pipe wrench as the superhero Crimson Bolt. Ellen Page is chilling as his perky comic-book-store-clerk sidekick who has absolutely no moral compass. What I found provocative was that the film made me laugh and then made me feel worried about my sanity that I had. "SHUT UP, CRIME!"

Super 8
Just adorable – this film made me feel like a kid again. It's special when cinema can re-instill such wonder.

Take Shelter
For some reason I kept confusing this film with Higher Ground. Some synapse is broken in my brain. It's one of the most amazing films I saw this year, but its unremitting sense of dread was difficult to sit through. The apocalyptic ending, like that of Melancholia, was oddly comforting. Michael Shannon deserves to win buckets of awards for his incredible performance.

Tamara Drewe
Based on a serialised graphic novel, this underwhelming British satire basically irritated me. I wanted the smug Tamara (Gemma Arterton) to go down. However, Roger Allam and Tamsin Greig were great as the author-and-wife team who run a writers' retreat, and there are some cheap LOLs to be had at the expense of pretentious literary types. (I always like a film set in the literary world – the last one I enjoyed was The Eclipse.)

I went to see this with Tash (we never miss a Disney movie) and while I enjoyed it (the horse was particularly funny) and we both cried in different parts of the finale (for me, it was when Rapunzel was reunited with her parents), the musical numbers were severely disappointing. It was as if Alan Menken was just flipping through old notebooks and rehashing his previous work.

The Tempest
Oh, Julie Taymor. They don't call her Julie Tayless, do they – and this film felt very heavy-handed and artsy. Helen Mirren has an inner stolidity that made her Prospera compelling to watch, and I've just realised that the chick who played Miranda was Felicity Jones, the lead actress in Like Crazy. But honestly, I spent most of the time trying to spot Ben Whishaw's wang. (I think they had him in some sort of cricket box so he looked like a Ken doll.)

The Thing
I haven't seen the original John Carpenter horror film to which this is a prequel, but I know enough about it that this felt familiar. Basically, it was an opportunity for me to writhe around in my seat gasping and squealing and generally making a silly sausage of myself. Joel Edgerton's bogan earring kept annoying me, but there's a plot reason why he has it!!

I have a real soft spot for Kenneth Branagh's directorial entry into the superhero genre. I liked the Shakespearean heft to the scenes in Asgard, and I also liked the mild fish-out-of-water comedy of Thor's presence on earth – for instance, how Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are just openly ogling beefy Chris Hemsworth, and the dorky hilarity when his Warriors Three mates show up and are really excited to see him.

Tower Heist
Eddie Murphy's role in this was surprisingly small. He didn't even show up until halfway through. Matthew Broderick is perfectly cast as a formerly cocky guy whom life has ground down to the point where his quips are weary rather than cute.

The Tree Of Life
One of the most astounding cinematic achievements of 2011. Immersive, meditative, unafraid to examine life on the largest possible scale. I'd heard about the dinosaur scene but I wasn't prepared for how moving I would find it. I was growing weary by the end, but for most of its running time I was in sheer awe.

Troll Hunter
The Blair Witch Project-style conceit of 'found footage' quickly wore thin, and it doesn't really work as a horror/thriller, but I really enjoyed Troll Hunter as a quirky mockumentary comedy. I just loved the matter-of-fact way that the myths and legends about trolls were incorporated into bureaucratic troll-handling procedures.

True Grit
The gravity of Hailee Steinfeld's debut performance was incredibly impressive. The Coens do good western; they have a great ear for mordantly funny dialogue. But the intriguing thing is how much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the Charles Portis novel (which, predictably, I read after watching the film).

A cheesy but still unremittingly tense thriller from Tony Scott. I loved the way he shot the trains from below, making them seem like ravening beasts. I also really enjoyed the workaday nature of the film; rather than elite forces, the protagonists are ordinary people doing their jobs.

Waiting For Superman
Phew, I am pretty glad I live in Australia and don't have to have anything to do with the absolutely busted American education system.

Wasted On The Young
A shame this Perth-made film sank almost without a trace, because I felt it was very stylishly made. I really enjoyed the cool, crisp palette, the almost complete absence of adults and the way text messages and IMs appear onscreen as subtitles. Plotwise it felt as though it lost its way in the final act, but Oliver Ackland impressed me as the nerdy hero who becomes a teen white knight.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
I said this a lot at the time, but they need to talk about how they ended up with a child of a different race. (HOSPITAL SWAPSIES.) Probably Taylor Lautner in Abduction could have figured out he was adopted in a similar way, without having to resort to "a site that shows you what missing kids would look like now".

The Whistleblower
Well-meaning Rachel Weisz thriller, based on a true scandal about UN involvement in sex trafficking in Bosnia. Mainly notable for our jocular banter afterwards about a potential exploitation film called Whores of War. I just laughed and laughed when Anthony improvised some dialogue: "I heard there were some whores in that old abandoned warehouse."

X-Men: First Class
I missed this at the cinema and caught it on DVD with Leith and Tash. I enjoyed the casting, especially seeing the adorable James McAvoy using his telepathy to be a sleazy dick in pubs. Kevin Bacon puts in another excellent villain performance. He's becoming a great villain between Super, Crazy Stupid Love and this.

Young Adult
This drama with impeccable hipster credentials (written by Diablo Cody; directed by Jason Reitman; co-stars Patton Oswalt; soundtrack full of '90s alt-rock) has kind of precipitated a crisis in me about how meaningless my life is. I really empathised with Charlize Theron, who has never really grown up, drinks too much and has nothing in life to be proud of but her writing, which is shit and unpopular.

Your Highness
Such a disappointment. I thought this was going to be a hilarious stoner fairytale. It was an incredibly unfunny stoner fairytale. I found myself being annoyed at the anachronisms, which shows I was not really on board. Even James Franco couldn't save it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Le problème de la langue française. Ce soir j'étais sur le tram, et j'ai entendu trois hommes parlant en français. Ce qui m'arrive de temps en temps. J'ai savais peut-être un mot de trois, ce qu-'était frustrante parce que je me souviens savoir parler français mieux que j'en parler maintentant.

C'est particulèrement frustratant parce que j'aime la langue française, mais je ne savais pas le parlé depuis presque vingt ans. (C'est probablement pertinente d'écrire ce que j'ai trop bu ce soir, et de ces pensées sont celles sentimentale.)

Mais je souhaite que je pourrais parler français correctement. Comme j'adore cette langue. Je me souviens lire Cyrano de Bergerac en original, et le comparant aux translations anglaises. Je ne me souviens pas de savoir comment l'écrire.

Mon amie Mélanie enseigne cette langue à sa fils (dont le père est québécois), et je me sens jalouse de lui. Il a de cerveau en plastique, mais je lutte pour les mots justes. J'ai lu récemment que les cerveaux des chauffeurs de taxi de Londres changer à mesure qu'ils apprennent de nouvelles informations sur les routes. Ce me rend espoir que peut-être si j'étudier le français, je me souviendrai le vocabulaire que j'ai connu.

Probablement il y a plusieurs erreurs grammaticales dans ce text. Je me sens si humilié. Je suis désolée. Je n'ai plus ma Bescherelle.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Hooray! Maru is only feline after all. I get so resentful about how Maru is such a funny and awesome cat whereas I have this matted-furred animal that poos on the floor, claws and bites me, won't eat sardines and miaows insistently when I am really stressed trying to meet a deadline.

But then I see a photo of Maru's own triple-threat attack, and I feel better.


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