Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Month(s) in Review: April+May 2011

It's been a while (January) since I've been able to/remembered to do this series, but since May is the 1 year anniversary, I figured it's about time to give these posts a second life. Unfortunately, February and March will be left out, but I will expand this entry to cover April as well. As usual, the rule is one award per film:

Best Film (Theaters): The Double Hour (my review)
A tricky littler thriller, Giuseppe Capotondi's debut feature, while not for everyone, packs one hell of a punch thanks to some knockout twists. The drama may tend towards being lightweight, but solid performances, strong direction, and fantastic cinematography lift this Italian answer to Tell No One up enough that it becomes a memorable mix of love, grief, and deception.

Best Film (DVD): La Ceremonie
Ever the 'observer,' Claude Chabrol's hit 1996 domestic thriller throws you for a loop, in part because the director refuses to manipulate via heavy-handed foreshadowing or ominous music. The directness with which Chabrol and his excellent cast bring the story to life, from the banal early scenes, to the downright chilling finale, only further cements his status as one of the all-time masters of French cinema.

Best Direction: Andrei Tarkovsky - Solaris
As difficult as this sci-fi odyssey can be at first glimpse, Tarkovsky's guiding hand holds your attention, even as Solaris enters increasingly vague and unexplained territory. Tarkovsky is able to get good work out of his cast, while creating an quietly unnerving atmosphere amid an increasingly abstract plot. At three hours, Solaris isn't always an easy watch, but Tarkovsky compels you to pay attention, and to try and figure it all out for yourself, all while providing the details with an elegant sense of mystery.

Best Male Performance: Anton Yelchin - The Beaver (my review)
Mel Gibson may be the main talking point of Jodie Foster's latest outing as a director, but the show really belongs to Anton Yelchin as Gibson's estranged son. To be fair, the screenplay does give him a more complete (and gimmick-free) character to work with. However, all of that would be for naught if Yelchin wasn't able to convincing embody the role of a teenager desperate to be like anyone but his father.

Best Female Performance: Juliette Binoche - Certified Copy (my review)
No awards-giving body would be complete this year without at least some mention of Juliette Binoche. Originally released in 2010 (Binoche picked up the Best Actress award at Cannes last year), the film has finally made its way to American theaters (and Oscar eligibility) this year, and I'll be more than a little miffed if I don't hear her name thrown around at least once. This is truly first rate work. She's subtle, engaging, complex, and deeply human, and like the film around her, she becomes stronger with each new level of mystery added (or pulled away). Unless 2011 really decides to knock it out of the park in terms of leading ladies, the rest of the year has its work cut out for it to top Ms. Binoche's work here.

Best Ensemble Cast: Bridesmaids (my review)
Clearly out to reverse the outdated (and rather stupid) idea that women aren't funny, the cast of Bridesmaids delivers in spades. Whether it's the charming oddities of Kristen Wiig, the Mean-Girls-style bitchiness of Rose Byrne, or the gut-busting non-sequiturs courtesy of Melissa McCarthy, this is a film overflowing with female comedic talent. With the exception of one scene (which was, tellingly, suggested by a male producer), Bridesmaids presents genuinely laugh-out-loud scenarios that don't revolve around gross-out moments. Not only are these women funny, but they're actually *gasp* better at comedy than many of their male counterparts.

Best Screenplay: Guillaume Canet - Tell No One
The end of Tell No One, unfortunately, comes down to a rather massive expository monologue. It remains interesting, though, because of how much goodwill writer/director Guillaume Canet (aka Mr. Marion Cotillard) builds up over the majority of the film, by carefully parcelling out information instead of dropping blocks of dialogue on us. The story keeps moving as twists come together, some true, some red herrings, and it all happens with an understated sense of movement.

Best Cinematography: Alwin Kuchler - Hanna (my review)
Joe Wright's Hanna is an imperfect film, one that is elevated from a flawed script by strong performances, direction, and marvelous artistic and technical aspects. And one of the best (aside from The Chemical Brothers' pulsating score) is the cinematography, courtesy of Alwin Kuchler. In an age when so many movies seem auto-corrected with balances of orange and teal (read), Hanna actually has a range of color to it. Blues, whites, greys, reds, greens; they're all present in this gorgeously lit film. Kuchler captures all of the film's locations, from snowy forests to neon-lit bars, with tremendous artistry and skill, and gives this art-house thriller a real sense of visual style.

Special Mention: The Costumes and Art Direction of Orlando

Aside from Tilda Swinton's breakthrough performance, the other big draws to Sally Potter's 1992 gender-bender are the stunning sets and costumes. Potter's film richly captures four centuries of style, both in decoration and in clothes. It's one thing for a film to be pretty, but the design of Orlando helps emphasize the story's impressionistic journey through time, with remarkable use of color and detail. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the work here, by Sandy Powell (costumes) and the team of Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs (sets), is some of the most exquisitely beautiful ever put on the silver screen.

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