Reviewing the best of the year

127 Hours

It would seem near impossible for a film depicting a man with his arm wedged between a boulder and a canyon wall to be tolerable and interesting, let alone one of the most dynamic and unexpectedly uplifting films of the year. But it seems director Danny Boyle has managed to strike gold yet again.

With adrenaline pumping, caffeine-fuelled cinematography, editing and a beautifully fitting soundtrack, Boyle infuses a stationary setting with a peerless kinetic vibrancy.

Furthermore, while steering clear of traditional emotional expectations (instead of in clichéd slow motion, Ralston’s fall and entrapment is shot as an offhand surprise), Boyle manages to find an affirming undercurrent of the human will to survive in the midst of his desolate subject matter, making the film’s infamous gruesome scene almost unnecessary, a means to an end.

The spectacular James Franco completes the package, remaining perpetually captivating in his transition from hyper hiker to despairing, self-questioning victim. Far from an easy watch but an endlessly fascinating and very important one, 127 Hours is without question one of the strongest films of the year.

—Kevin Hatch


The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech is an impressive movie. From Hooper’s gorgeous direction, to one of the best casts of the year, the film delivers on all accounts.

It tells the story of Britain’s George VI (Colin Firth), who suffers from a crippling stutter. Firth’s performance is spectacular, conveying the internal shame and fear of public speaking that paralyzes his character.

He seeks help from unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), which proves to be infuriating, yet ultimately tremendously helpful. Rush’s performance compliments Firth’s perfectly, as the pair’s scenes together range from dramatic to hilarious to heart-warming. Helena Bonham Carter completes the stellar main cast as George VI’s wife Elizabeth.

Expertly written and beautifully translated on to the screen, Hooper’s film takes the audience on a journey through George VI’s excruciatingly uncomfortable transition from the son of a king, to the brother of a king, to the king of England on the brink of WWII.

If this film wins Best Picture, it will surely be deserved.

—Sarah Murphy


Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 both heart-warmingly portrays the endurance of true friendship and is creative in a manner that only a film from the imagination can achieve.

The movie reintroduces the familiar group of toys, led by Woody and Buzz Lightyear, coming to terms with owner Andy growing up and no longer wanting to play. They end up at a daycare with other abandoned toys, but then must escape when their new acquaintances take a domineering twist.

The inventive plot conquers the negative “all sequels must be bad” stereotype. Additionally, Toy Story 3 is a tribute to the computer-animated world – its original film being the first made entirely with CGI.

The humour makes it a movie to be enjoyed by all age groups, and, it carries through the same message of its predecessors that friendship conquers all.

Just as Andy has grown up and no longer plays with his toys, the generation that originally loved Toy Story have left their VHS copies behind. But they certainly haven’t been forgotten – there is a place in all our hearts for the Disney-Pixar friends we grew up with.

—Colleen Connolly


The Social Network

Last year Columbia pictures released the loosely biographical picture the Social Network starring Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake to eager audiences around the world.

Director David Fincher, best known for movies such as Fight Club and Seven has done an impeccable job recreating the inception and controversy behind the enormously popular social networking website Facebook.

The movie is delivered by alternating between the stories of creator Mark Zuckerberg’s journey to success – the initial creation of the website and the hefty legal battles that ensued after the site’s launch.

Eisenberg does a great job playing the brilliant, calculated and uncompromising Zuckerberg, who defends his actions and shows his brilliance in the face of pissed off former best friends and business partners.

Armie Hammer takes on the role of both privileged and successful Winklevoss twins with the aid of some very convincing editing. The twins are a pair born into prestige and wealth who take Zuckerberg to court upon realizing that their idea for the website had been stolen.

Timberlake plays Napster founder Sean Parker, who facilitates the role of mentor and navigator of the company as he wins over Zuckerberg’s confidence for how to run a successful online business.

Garfield plays Zuckerberg’s former friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin. Saverin soon finds himself with the short end of the stick when his business relationship with Zuckerberg turns south. Although an important character for the movie, Garfield’s performance was not very memorable one for me.

With a whopping eight nominations The Social Network has high prospects of taking home some serious gold this year. I predict an Oscar for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay for both its expert crafting, but also because it has tapped into the vein of a popular social movement and culture like none other before it.

The Social Network is an incredible film that has beautifully captured a moment in recent history that has seen the rise of social networking as a powerful and influential force.

—Drew Higginbotham


Black Swan

Black Swan is an absolutely gorgeous movie from director Darren Aronofsky and with five Oscar nominations it looks promising for Oscar night.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is the troubled lead in the film’s production of Swan Lake, which Portman plays with eloquence and fire, in what might be her best acting performance to date.

The movie is also filled with other notable performances such as Vincent Cassel’s overly-demanding, perfectionist ballet director Thomas Leroy. Throughout the movie, it’s hard to place a finger on the likeable, yet shady character.

Barbra Hershey plays Nina’s overbearing mother excellently, contributing to the ever increasing demands that are placed on Nina’s troubled existence.

The cinematography in Black Swan is superb with picturesque dance sequences that awe and inspire. The black and white visual contrast and the use of lighting and shadows is another well utilized motif in the movie , contributing to the overarching themes of innocence and evil.

The only performance that lagged behind the others was Mila Kunis’, who does an only sufficient job in her role as Lily, Nina’s rival for swan stardom.

This movie is not for the squeamish; there is a lot of blood and gore, which some may find disturbing. Also, those who doubt the Black Swan’s ability to thrill and surprise will be in for a real shock.

The loss of innocence in Portman’s character is depicted through experimentation with drugs and girl-on-girl action. However, the plot is rather obvious, which contributes to an ultimately lacklustre ending.

I believe the film will be a frontrunner in the Best Actress and Best Cinematography categories.

—Drew Higginbotham


Inception

Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight, returned to the realm of the summer blockbuster with the release of Inception. Inception is a sci-fi suspense thriller with a brilliant cast and intricate plotline.

The storyline is strangely imaginative, yet leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next mind-blowing twist and pieces of cinematic eye candy.

Cobb (DiCaprio) and his crew members consisting of Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enter the dreams of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) to understand his psyche and plant new ideas in his subconscious. They soon realize the potential dangers of these forms of “dream hacking” known as extraction and inception, which carries dire consequences should their plan fail.

Due to the strange and avant-garde nature of the film, however, Inception is difficult to follow at times and the multiple layers of dreams that the characters work their way through can be confusing. Frustratingly, the viewer is continually trying to distinguish between what is real and what is not – but this is the film’s best quality.

The characters and plot twists toy with the audience’s mind throughout and by the end of the film, several interpretations are possible, each one as fascinating and as puzzling as the last.

Far surpassing the lacklustre quality of most summer blockbusters by producing a thought-provoking, action-packed thriller, Inception lives up to the hype it has garnered over the past few months.


The Fighter

For a film that looked like it would be so phenomenal, The Fighter was surprisingly disappointing. What did set it apart from just an entertaining sports film were its incredible performances.

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, playing Mark Wahlberg’s offbeat and destructive family members with good intentions, stole the show. Bale, who played Wahlberg’s crack-addicted brother with redeeming qualities, proved once again that he is one of the most versatile and memorable actors in film. Amy Adams also did a stand-up job, giving an edgier, tougher performance than audiences are accustomed to.

Even Wahlberg gave an expertly subdued performance, letting the more vivid characters shine through. The boxing scenes were also convincingly energetic, keeping the audience thoroughly engaged.

What made the movie a let-down was its poor flow. A misfit score with tracks ranging from the Rolling Stones to the Red Hot Chili Peppers made some parts feel unnatural. And the mood of certain scenes – namely the prison detox scene – gave it a disjointed, cut-and-paste quality, almost like it was sampling from another film.

While Leo and Bale should win both supporting categories, that’s as far as I’d award the film.

—Rebecca Vasluianu


Winter’s Bone

This independent film from director Debra Granik tells the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who has to hold her family together when her meth-cooking father Jessup disappears after putting their house up for bond.

Lawrence delivers an incredibly strong performance as an unfalteringly determined teenage girl, searching for the truth about her father’s whereabouts, while taking care of her two younger siblings and her sick mother.

Defiant and relentless in her pursuit of Jessup, Lawrence plays the part so well it’s easy to forget just how young Ree is. Equally impressive on Lawrence’s part were the few scenes where the weight of it all catches up with Ree and adds a touching vulnerability to Lawrence’s performance.

John Hawkes also contributes an exceptional performance as Ree’s sinister, though ultimately loyal uncle Teardrop.

Driven primarily by the superb acting, the film explores the harrowing ways in which blood ties can strengthen or sever a family and provides a refreshing storyline for being the token independent Oscar film.

—Sarah Murphy


The Kids Are All Right

The overwhelming critical acclaim afforded to this film continues to baffle me. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s inherent star power has seemingly blinded critics to the reality that The Kids Are All Right is another family/coming of age film, only this time with lesbians.

Most troubling is the plotline involving Jules (Moore), who cheats on her wife Nic (Bening) with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor to their now-teenage children. Though the film is trying to send a clever message on the non-binarism of sexual orientation, it lacks the self-awareness to realize the message received is ‘all lesbians just haven’t found the right man yet.’

Though Bening – who has received her fourth Oscar nomination for her role – has been snubbed by the Academy too many times, it would be a disservice to her career to strike Oscar gold on this generic mess.

—Morgan Alan


True Grit

True Grit is a Coen Brothers movie through and through. It might be a tad tamer than a few of their previous efforts, but the consistently ingenious duo have come up with another darkly comedic, genre classic.

Touched with the best cinematography of the year from frequent collaborator Roger Deakins, the remake comes off as its own movie while not straying too far from the original film’s script.

The film’s performers provide a clinic in acting, beginning with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld and carrying forth all the way to the end when a very under-appreciated Barry Pepper shows up to provide the final confrontation.

Another actor may have been frightened away from taking on the character of Rooster Cogburn, a role that originally won John Wayne his only Academy Award. But Jeff Bridges rides head first into the one-eyed bounty hunter. Once he fades into his overly-heavy accent, he makes his Cogburn both an homage to the Duke and a truly original creation.

Overall, the film provides both entertainment and that Coen Brothers fix that more than a few people expect from one of their films. It is classy and brutal and one damn fine film.

—Wade Thompson

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