Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Month in Review: July 2011

Best Film (Theaters): Beginners
My favorite movie of last month, and currently one of my favorites of the year, is this charming gem from writer/director Mike Mills. In addition to juggling multiple story strands in a non-linear fashion, Mills also gets wonderful performances from his small cast, especially Ewan McGregor. Whatever it may lack in aesthetics (it's not really well shot, barring a few scenes), it easily makes up for in its sensitive direction, insightful writing, and strong acting, making Beginners one of the best films of the summer.

Best Film (DVD/Rental): Memories of Murder (2003)
I never had a chance to write anything about this excellent film from Mother director Joon-ho Bong, so I guess this is my chance. Set in 1986 (and reportedly based on real events), what starts as a simple enough police procedural evolves into a lengthy and compelling piece of cinema. And, in keeping with the best of Korean cinema, it mixes expertly designed scenes of high tension with oddball humor. As the murders pile up, and the signs begin to point to a serial killer, Bong's strangely elegant thriller only gets better. It's not built on elaborately staged killings or excessive gore, but rather on the way the case wears away at the men leading the investigation as time passes. That it's book-ended with a surprisingly subdued ending, rather than striving for a last minute twist, is simply icing on the cake.

Best Director: Jee-woon Kim - I Saw the Devil
His film may have all of the traits of any number of sleazy, exploitative thrillers, but I Saw the Devil is proof that graphic violence doesn't have to be meaningless dreck. From the jarring (albeit expected) opening kill, to the sickeningly poetic ending, I Saw the Devil is filled with gruesome images, yet under Jee-woon Kim's guidance, it all feels as though it has purpose in the actual story, which is quite fantastic.

Best Male Performance: Ewan McGregor - Beginners
McGregor is sometimes described as being an invisible actor, one who slips so seamlessly into his roles that it feels as though he's not acting that much at all. Let's hope Beginners can help shake that silly label. For even though McGregor's character is another sweet nice guy, the range that the actor displays is impressive, and it all rings true.

Best Female Performance: Olivia Colman - TyrannosaurIn reading this, I've discovered that I accidentally awarded this film in my Month in Review for June (for screenplay). However, now that I've found my mistake, I'm free to give this to one of my favorite performances of the year. Though better known in the UK for her comedy work, Colman's performance in Paddy Considine's directorial debut is a dramatic tour-de-force. The film's protagonist may be Peter Mullan, but when Colman lets loose in her big scene, it's damn near impossible to take your eyes off of her. Let's hope this hugely successful foray into drama is just the beginning.

Best Screenplay: Beginners by Mike Mills
A sensitive and finely attuned film needs a sensitive and finely attuned screenplay, and that's exactly what allowed Mike Mills' latest film to be such a success. Elegantly jumping around in time, his story of love and loss is filled with moments of hilarity and poignancy, and populated by a small group of lovingly rendered characters.

Best Ensemble Cast: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
The final curtain call for the Potter series may not have given everyone a full good-bye (Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson), but by and large, this hugely successful send-off works because it knows which characters to put in the spot light, even if it's only for a moment. Whether it's Neville taunting a horde of Death Eaters and killing Nagini, or Luna Lovegood yelling so loud that Harry stops and listens amid the chaos around him, The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, showcases its massive cast to beautiful effect.

Best Cinematography: Eduardo Serra - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
There have been great strides in the artistic design of the Potter films from The Sorcerer's Stone, but The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 took it to another level, in large part thanks to Eduardo Serra's rich cinematography. Though often very dark, the images are stunningly lit, whether it's a scene full of chaos (the courtyard battle at Hogwarts) or the static, opening shot of Snape framed in a coffin-shaped window. The series went out with a bang, and Serra made sure to capture every frame beautifully.

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