5 Hollywood Films That Got It Right in 2011

The Artist (****)

A silent film in the time of 3D invasion! What more can we ask to revisit the glorious time of Hollywood as it experimented different genres. The Artist is a splendid entertainer.

The Descendants (****)

George Clooney is at it again. This time, he’s playing the not-so-cool dad who tries to repair broken relationships with his comatose wife and rebellious daughters. Apart from Clooney, Shailene Woodley as the troubled teenager comes next in terms of fine performances.

Midnight in Paris (****)

Woody Allen’s love letter to the literary greats of 1920s, Midnight in Paris is astonishingly a rework of the Allen magic last witnessed in Annie Hall and, Hannah and Her Sisters.

50/50 (****)

Male tearjerkers are slowly building up thanks to the efforts of indie filmmakers. In 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves why he’s the new face of comedy-dramas. Based on the actual experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, 50/50 is a sensational film.

Margin Call (***)

J.C. Chandor’s impressive film has a fine grip on its viewers. Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto perform well in this cast ensemble that also includes the likes of Paul Bettany, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci. Margin Call is not a mystery film. But, it has the likes of a thriller.

The following films are included in the “Ten Best Films of 2011” list:

Beginners

Hugo

Jane Eyre

Shame

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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Comedy Dramas galore!

Whether it’s 50/50 or The Descendants, this is a sign that comedy dramas have become the winning stake for independent and art house cinema. Read on…

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in 50/50.

50/50

Rating: ****

As a slowly building male tearjerker, 50/50 connects to the viewers only because of its first-person narrative. And our first person here is a simpleton like the rest of us with a normal job and a stale relationship with his girlfriend and mother. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as enthralling as he could be. I remember mentioning in my reviews of (500) Days of Summer and Inception that Gordon-Levitt has the charm to carry any role and 50/50 is just another feather in his cap. But, what makes 50/50 so special is that, the protagonist Adam appears undervalued to an extent that when he learns that he’s suffering from cancer, he manages to hold a mental breakdown until the last-minute.

Seth Rogen appears as his usual self, spitting four-letter profanities and providing marijuana. He tries to exhibit his acting skills in a movie that demands more than his usual crankiness. But, his failure in making a commendable supporting actor is covered by Will Reiser’s screenplay that moves rapidly like a comedy, and then freezes like a drama. Hence, 50/50 is a perfectly scripted comedy-drama. Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard co-star in the film and they use the limited space given to them. Huston as Adam’s mother succeeds with her exceptional use of deadpan humor, last noticed in The Addams Family.

A coming-of-age tale that circles on the rediscovery of a cancer-stricken youngster, 50/50 is accompanied by witty humor. The strength of the film lies in Gordon-Levitt’s charismatic performance.

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

The Descendants

Rating: ****

Clooney is no stranger to comedies or comedy-dramas. His career is spotlit by many films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading, and most notably Up in The Air (a personal favorite). The Descendants explains why a filmmaker can entrust a dangerously treading role to Clooney. The scene in which he confronts his comatose wife about her affair with an unknown man tops the list of reasons on why The Descendants is a nod to a possible Oscar win.

Shailene Woodley stars as the out-of-control teenage daughter who comes second in terms of acting skills. Shailene’s strength lies in her ability to speak dialogues with frustration. The father-daughter bonding is generally a go-to sign in chick flicks. But, this comedy-drama dwells in that issue and the outcome is a success story for filmmaker Alexander Payne, who is well-known for his films Election and Sideways.

This really is one of the finest films of the year. Clooney deserves the accolades and as far as the movie goes, death shatters the family, but it brings them closer.

Review: Inception

Zero Gravity time!

Is this a mind-blowing marvel or a Memento revival?

Inception (PG-13)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cottilard, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy

Genre: Sci-fi Action Drama

Rating: ****

Memento is not the last. We have an even more confusing film – Inception. None could actually realize the movie was in In Media Res mode. But, it certainly needs to be watched a second time or maybe, even a third time. I believe that Inception is a commercial sci-fi entertainer despite all those dark moments. Nolan tries his best to mix both, but inadvertently fails to do so.

Stuck in film-noir mode, Nolan’s dark sentimentality may seem classical to naive filmgoers. But the way his clichés manipulate viewers’ perception of the world and human behavior is merely timely, not profound. Inception manipulates the digital audience’s delectation for relentless subterfuge. Nolan’s CGI set pieces are all large-scale fight scenes, like Gordon-Levitt levitating/grappling with anonymous henchmen or Page and DiCaprio observing various apocalyptic destruction scenarios.

“I am the most skilled extractor,” Cobb announces. “I have to know your mind better than your wife or your therapist.” Mind rape, Nolan’s specialty, is a perfect conman’s scheme that involves undermining a mark’s confidence. As Cobb’s dream warriors battle inside the heads of industrialists, Nolan’s narrative goes from reality to dreams and then dreams within dreams. And then, there’s the master plan to plant an idea (inception). To do this, you go down three levels of dreams. The first involves a rainy day where the extractors are chased by bullets and SUVs. The second takes place in a hotel and the third takes place in an Alps-like mountain range where an old stone fort is located. Unknowingly, we slip into a fourth dream where Cobb encounters his wife for the last time and it is of strange nature that we don’t really realize we’ve slipped into more dreams as we reach the end credits.

On a positive note, Inception is one of the first movies to interact with the audiences. You are cast along Cobb, Saito, Arthur, Ariadne, Eames and others on this seamless adventure. It is a rarity that a movie deceives you so much that you feel cheated in the end; a rarity that a movie goes on a straight line and then the thrill is applied and you finally come to your senses and realize: wait, it’s not over yet.

It is natural for filmmakers to grow up from their own movies. Truffaut, Tarantino, Reitman, everyone has been regarded to use a certain style or certain elements which they have used in their earlier films. George Clooney’s promiscuousness in Up in the Air was a distant reminder of Aaron Eckhart’s same nature in Thank You For Smoking. A 1957 short film, Les Mistons inspired Truffaut to create Antoine Doinel, the lead character of The 400 Blows. For Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs gave way to stylized violence in Pulp Fiction.

For Nolan, it is The Following that shaped him into observing darker tones of men and women of the civilization. The Following was just one of the many capitulated movies that could prove to be the creation of a heavy dosage of thinking. It is nowhere in sight that Memento could have been more immune to darker tones that we thought it would lead to the rise of psychological thrillers. I’m saying it again, Memento is not the last. Inception is a leaf taken out of Memento. Both movies deal with a guy savaged by a random memory of a shattered past which includes a dead wife. The protagonist just looks at them and tries to mend everything which has already been knit to fate. The protagonist tries to change the unchangeable and whether he succeeds or not, Nolan just loops it over and over. Inception deals with Cobb trying to protect his hallucinating wife in his head and keeping her safe although she is dead. In reality, Cobb is just trying to change the unchangeable.

Technically, DiCaprio is the right choice to play a tortured soul. As for the wife, who is a prisoner in his dreamland, Marion Cottilard is a charmer. Ellen Page plays that girl who interrupts when you’re in the middle of a rather emotional scene and says “I know what you did.” Instead of asking “What are you doing?” As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he plays his role with enough charm.

The scene where the hotel lobby becomes a subject of gravity is probably one of the best scenes in the film. Horror of horrors is that Nolan draws you into his world and while Cobb is training his new recruit, Ariadne, Nolan indirectly is training us. Nolan devastatingly takes us into his world and sets us afloat.

Here’s a film which cannot be deterred by spoilers. It’s because of the movie begins the way it ends. Inception is a high-budgeted Memento with A-list stars and visual effects.

Review: (500) Days of Summer

Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster

Boy next door meets new girl at work and they fall in love (or do they?)

(500) Days of Summer (PG-13)

Director: Michael Webb

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

Genre: Romantic Comedy (romcom)

Rating: ****

It is strange that filmmakers try to attack relationships from every obvious direction. Some like Woody Allen make up new directions to produce love on screen. Here is debutant Michael Webb trying a hand at producing romance on screen. And yes! He does a splendid job. He is accompanied by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. But, what these men try to convey to the audience is beautifully portrayed by a charismatic Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a beautiful Zooey Deschanel.

One of the best romcoms I’ve ever seen. It is kept alive every minute either by the wacky insane jokes or the romantic dialogues or the brilliant soundtracks. Being an independent film, it has better scope of knocking off in the worldwide market as a funny and charming romcom. The title cards are a good addition to the film.

The story opens with a narration which introduces Tom Hansen and Summer Finn, who work in a greeting card company. Days later, their bonding gets stronger but there are no labels marked yet. Are they friends? Are they dating?  Or are they in love? These questions pester Tom who decides to ask her about it. The sense of romanticism can be easily extracted from the film for it brings a bridge between men and women.

Returning as yet another wild at heart chick is Zooey Deschanel, who fulfills all the requirements to make a beautiful actress. After playing a disappointing role in G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Joseph Gordon-Levitt hits back with a neatly knit role.

Perhaps, a toast to love and relationships, (500) Days of Summer will probably remain as the best film which talks about a boy’s reformation after breaking up. Watch it for the enchanting visuals, witty jokes and remarkable performances by the cast. Oscar nominations anyone?