Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stephanie Huettner's tops in 2011

Stephanie Huettner [aka Rumblefish in the comments section] gets to have last say when it comes to 2011's best moments in cinema. Regular readers have come to expect a great "tops" list as Stephanie has participated in this yearly event here and here and here. Now currently residing in Austin, Stephanie's a Tulsa native who has worked in a variety of roles in a bunch of independent productions and recently went to Taiwan as a producer of the upcoming short, Running Upside Down. Before we get to her favorites, there's the four question quiz to start us off.

1. If you could transport yourself into any movie in history and live the rest of your life in the film's story, what movie would it be? Oh boy, the eternal question for film lovers. I’d have to say Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Bobbing along, singing a song, on the bottom of the beautiful briiiiiiiny seaaaaa.

2. Can you recall the last movie that made you cry? What got you? Yes, I cried at the end of Hugo. Quite simply, Asa Butterfield’s amazing performance got me from the first minute to the last.

3. Can you recall the first movie you saw in a theatre as a kid? Who did you go with? I don’t remember if it was the first (my mom can probably tell you that), but I have strong, vivid memories of seeing both Pippi Longstalking (I don’t know where) and Back to the Future 2 (at the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa).

4. First movie star you had a crush on? What depths did you go to live out that crush in real life? [if applicable funny stories arise...] I had (and to some extent still have) a crush on Kevin Bacon since about age seven. Footloose, White Water Summer, The River Wild, Tremors, Quicksilver. What’s not to love? I don’t think I did anything in real life except watch his movies over and over again.

If you want to see Stephanie in a video, check out the following clip that includes not only some kick-a*s kung-fu action, but also a well-timed double take. The only thing that beats a double-take for me is an old-fashioned spit-take! Enjoy.

And now, onto Stephanie's list of 2011's best in the world of cinema.

Honorable Mentions:
Harold’s Going Stiff, In a Better World, X-Men First Class, Super, Jane Eyre, Midnight in Paris, Tabloid, Shame, 13 Assassins, Moneyball, Rango, Cold Weather, Meek's Cutoff, Buck, Bill Cunningham in New York

Haven’t Seen:
The Guard, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Project Nim, The Help, A Separation

12 – Hanna
Director Joe Wright leaves behind period pieces to take on this dramatic thriller about a young girl trained by her father to be an assassin. Saoirse Ronan is perfection in the titular role and Eric Bana is in top form as her father. Also splendid is Tom Hollander in a creepy, disturbing turn as a bounty hunter. As for Cate Blanchett, it would be just if she has as many Academy Award nominations as Meryl Streep one day. The story makes the most of its fairy tale allegory, some scenes occurring in a fairy tale theme park complete with a gingerbread house. What the script lacks in the third act the film makes up for in imagination and genuinely thrilling action scenes.

11 – Win Win
Thomas McCarthy’s third directorial effort is another satisfying drama. A tight ensemble cast works together flawlessly to create an array of nuanced characters. The story of a young runaway who becomes involved with a struggling social worker/wrestling coach is refreshingly free of cliches and engaging from beginning to end.

10 - The Trip
OK, I know that this one is actually a British TV series that was cut down for American audiences in to a 90-minute movie, (you know, we have those short attention spans blah blah blah) but I think it qualifies. I’ve seen it several times, and can’t wait to get my hands on the entire series, as I could easily take 4 ½ more hours of what was served up here. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon set off in to the countryside of northern England to dine at and review various restaurants. The plot is an excuse to get Coogan and Brydon in a car/room/restaurant with each other for long stretches, and that’s just fine with me, as all of their conversations are comedy gold. Michael Winterbottom’s film isn’t just meant to tap your funny bone, however. There is a through line of meditation about middle age, friendship, and what their careers mean to them at this point in their lives. Highlights include Brydon and Coogan’s Michael Caine impersonation contest; the two discussing which one of them makes a better Bond villain; and Coogan’s choice of Joy Division as their driving music. Don’t walk a-wwaaaaaay, in siiiiiiiilence.

9 – Page One: Inside the New York Times
The state of traditional news and the newspaper business in particular has been in a state of upheaval in recent years. Page One spends a year at one of the world’s most prestigious news outlets as it adapts to new methods of reporting. Media Desk Editor David Carr is the star of this documentary. His wry wit, journalistic integrity, and impatience for those who don’t shoot straight make him a fascinating character. One of the most rewarding scenes finds Carr rhetorically bitch-slapping an arrogant wanna-be journalist from Vice Magazine. The exploration of this brave new world of technology and how it effects the validity of the news we receive is a fascinating, tightly edited winner. Go to print!

8- Seamonsters
This British drama from first-time director Julian Kerridge made its debut at the 18th Annual Austin Film Festival in the Narrative Feature Competition. Adapted from the Royal Court play “Outside of Heaven,” the screenplay was adapted for the screen by Kerridge and Martin Sadofski (who wrote the play). The film gives a glimpse in to the daily lives of a group of young adults living in an English seaside town, none of whom have a clear direction in life. The screenplay manages a smooth transition from play to film, avoiding the overly staged feel that many such adaptations suffer. Where it truly triumphs is in its deft characterization of both the leads and supporting roles. At turns playful, melancholy, and captivating, the film effectively pulls the audience in and instantly makes it feel as though it has known this place and these people for many years. Those in the market for a solid drama that will make them both think and feel will not be disappointed by this import.

7-The Descendants
I didn’t expect to like this George Clooney drama as much as I did. I always like Alexander Payne’s films, but this one hit the mark for me in a way that his last few haven’t. Clooney is at the top of his game as Matt King, a descendant of the last royal family of Hawaii who is facing the possibility of being a single parent after his wife has a boating accident. He refers to himself in the voice-over as “the back-up parent,” who hasn’t picked his kids up from school for 7 years. When Matt gets several unexpected pieces of life-changing news, it takes his life, and that of his kids, in a whole new direction. Let’s talk about the kids. Shailene Woodley plays older daughter Alexandra and Amara Miller is 10-year-old Scottie. Both are excellent; Woodley in a studied and subtle way and Miller in a refreshingly awkward, naturalistic way. Nick Krause of Austin (yeah!) is along for the ride as Alexandra’s friend, Sid.

6– I Saw the Devil
Another ultraviolent film from South Korea that also happens to be one of the finest revenge films in years. Byung-hun Lee gives a stunning performance as a husband who goes beyond mere revenge tactics against his wife’s killer. The viewer is pulled in to a calculated series of attacks against the man and others in his circle, culminating in the final devastating shot of the film. The film recently won Best Foreign Language Film from the Austin Film Critics Association.

5 – The Artist
A traditional silent medium is used to tell the story of a silent film star at the end of the era. Sound is used occasionally to great effect. Jean Dujardin’s performance is the stuff on which old Hollywood careers were built. Personally, I could have used more Malcolm McDowell in black and white. John Goodman continues to move beautifully through this stage of his career as an agent who bellows most of his unheard lines. Full of heart, charm, and lots of good comedy with a dog (played by Uggie, who recently attended the Golden Globes in a bow tie). To paraphrase my old friend Vern Snackwell, “If you don’t like this movie, you may just not like movies.”

4 – Tree of Life
An ambitious, visually stunning film that employs Terrence Malick’s non-traditional storytelling method, which has been his weapon of choice since returning to the director’s chair in 1998. A mosaic of images from the beginning of time to the modern day, Tree of Life encompasses a lifetime of emotions through the experiences of one family. Bolstered by three brilliant new child actors (Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan), Brad Pitt’s most mature performance to date, and a strong turn from Jessica Chastain, the film is a challenging and enriching experience. Fun fact: Sheridan, the youngest of the three boys, is the star of Jeff Nichols’s new film, Mud. If you don’t know who and what those last two things are, let me direct you to #3 on my list.

3 – Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols’s sophomore effort reunites him with Michael Shannon to create a haunting, heartbreaking, and deeply moving film. Shannon gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who becomes increasingly disturbed by visions and dreams of an apocalyptic storm. This performance combined with Nichols’s screenplay creates a character who remains sympathetic even as his actions become harder to justify. In personal news, I’m currently a Post Production Assistant (intern to the Assistant Editor) on Nichols’s third feature, Mud. I’ve even gotten to see a few deleted scenes! If you haven’t already, try to get your hands on his first film, Shotgun Stories (also starring Shannon), a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. That plus Take Shelter have made Nichols one of my favorite new American directors. This film recently picked up a slew of awards from the Austin Film Critics Association including Best Actor (Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (Chastain), Austin Film Award (Nichols), and 3rd place for Best Film of the Year.

2 – Hugo
A brilliant adaptation of a beloved children’s book, Hugo is filled to the brim with brilliant performances, gorgeous set design, and the best use of 3D to grace the screen in the modern era. The perfectly cast Asa Butterfield plays the titular character, a young orphan who lives secretly inside the walls of a Parisian train station, winding all of the clocks as his uncle (who has since disappeared) taught him to do. You can read about the plot elsewhere if you like, but if you go in to the film not knowing anything (as I went in to the book), it’ll probably be a lot more fun. The cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone, and Jude Law, are uniformly stellar. In fact, I’m quite surprised that with all of the acclaim Hugo has been given, it has yet to receive one nomination for Kingsley or the ensemble. While it doesn’t seem like it on the surface, Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema, Paris, literature, magic, and life is possibly his most personal work yet.

1 – Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn’s eighth feature film is a blistering tale of an enigmatic stunt driver who willingly walks in to a world of danger to help a man and his family. It is the most innovative and creative film of the year. Refn’s homage to 80′s action flicks combined with an elegant sensibility made this a visceral and beautiful experience. Gosling gives his finest performance since Half Nelson as "the Driver," and would get an Oscar nomination if there were any justice in this world. Ron Perlman is a nerd’s delight as "Nino," a Jewish gangster (!) who owns a pizzaria. Bryan Cranston (fresh off his three straight Emmy wins for Breaking Bad) is solid as a rock as "Driver"’s co-worker and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s not really a father figure, more like a crappy uncle. Albert Brooks has become the front-runner for this year’s Best Supporting Actor for his on-the-money portrayal of quietly sadistic con man "Bernie Rose". Perhaps the most underrated performance in the film is Mulligan’s: subtle and quietly powerful. If anything, she’s more likely to get noticed for her loud and boisterous role in Steve McQueen’s Shame. But for my money, she and Drive itself deliver the goods while barely saying a word.

Best Supporting Actor:
-Ben Kingsley in Hugo
-My 1st movie star crush! Kevin Bacon for his combined work in X-Men First Class and Super.
-Albert Brooks in Drive

Best Supporting Actress:
-Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
-Cate Blanchett in Hanna
-Ellen Page in Super

Best Actor:
-Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
-Ryan Gosling in Drive
-Michael “Fassy” Fassbender in Shame, X-Men First Class, Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method
-Jean Dujardin in The Artist

Best Actress:
-Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn

Best Director:
-Nicholas Winding Refn for Drive
-Martin Scorsese for Hugo
-Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded video in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***


Rumblefish said...

Too bad I was off the mark with Albert Brooks being a Best Supporting Actor front-runner. It sure seemed like he was at the time. I'm still shocked he wasn't nominated.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Kind of a joke he didn't get nominated. How could he have not gotten a nomination? Nuts.

Going to see TAKE SHELTER next week at New Beverly. I'm a little late, but excited to see it.