If 2011 Were A Movie…

In recent years we have seen Hollywood tap a variety of different resources in its ongoing search for new ideas. Stopping just short of sticking its hand down the side of the sofa and rummaging for loose inspiration, Tinseltown has instead chosen to adapt everything from the usual books, video games and television shows, to websites, theme park rides and – I still can’t quite believe it –  even board games. So, why not an entire year?

If 2011 were a movie, aside from reflecting such recent events as The Royal Wedding, the London riots, the Eurozone crisis and those pandas arriving at Edinburgh zoo, it would also have to reflect the trends and tendencies prevalent in the films it has seen released during its tenure. As such, it would most likely be a remake of a foreign language prequel, a motion-capture throwback and a steamy tale of friends with benefits, with no strings attached.

If 2011 were a movie it would star Michael Fassbender as a man haunted by an unsuppressable Irish accent, Ryan Gosling as someone who can wear clothes really well, and Natalie Portman in the midst of what must amount to the most productive pregnancy ever. Stellan Skarsgård would play a man with a hidden agenda, Felicity Jones’ character would ultimately win your heart and Justin Timberlake would appear as a surprisingly capable actor.

If 2011 were a movie it would be set in Rio de Janeiro, where endangered birds come to mate, the fast are as fun as they are furious, and vampires routinely honeymoon.  At least, that is, until Michael Bay crashes a Transformer into it, forcing our heroes to set sale, on stranger tides, in search of the secret of the unicorn. On a Zeppelin. It would see McLovin slay some vampires, James Bond team up with Indiana Jones, and Queen Amidala wooed by a bunch of carrots and a period mix.

If 2011 were a movie it would be called 2011: The Movie – Part II Of The Rise Of The Planet of The Apes Of The Moon 3D (in 4romascope). It would have more punctuation than characters, more dimensions than punctuation, and in all likelihood be prefixed with Green. It would be a kid’s film by Martin Scorsese, a superhero movie by Michael Gondry, a live action movie by Brad Bird and an animated movie by Steven Spielberg.

If 2011 were a movie it wouldn’t be as good as the book, the original or the trailer for Sucker Punch made it out to be. It would miscast Liam Neeson, boast too much Nicolas Cage, and at some point feature a fat character shaving his head and shitting into her dress. Worst of all, however, New Year’s Eve would kill the finale. And it would be inexplicably steampunk.

More importantly, however, if 2011 were a movie I would pay to see it. I would marvel at its melancholy, gasp at its production values and laugh unabashedly at its failure to kill Bono. It would be surprisingly heartfelt for a summer blockbuster, unexpectedly jaw-dropping for a low budget Norwegian flick, as funny as the TV show, and a fitting conclusion to a much loved franchise.

If 2011 were a movie, 2012 would have a lot to live up to.

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Films of the Year – 2011

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but one year ago, in a fit of madness, I started a blog. In deciding to name that blog popcornaddiction, I hoped to convey not only a truth about my unrecommendable diet, but also aspects of my palette that were decidedly more cinematic.

I like my movies big, brash and full of the kind of high-octane emotion that leaves women crying incoherently on the floor and men spitting loudly into telephones. Although I like so savour masterpieces and worship at the feet of the auteur as much as the next person, my tastes are predominantly more mainstream. Having worked in a seven screened multiplex for most of my university career, I love nothing more than to have my blocks busted and popcon flicked by the latest tent-pole release.

I realise that this probably makes me less of a critic, and more of a drooling fanboy, but this is my blog and while I do pride myself on relatively broad horizons I have no intention of pandering to some ideal that dismisses 3D and thinks children’s movies are just for kids. As such, my favourite films of the year are unlikely to be representative of other bloggers, critics and journos, and for that I do not apologise. Other opinions are available, but in my own personal opinion they are wrong; X-Men: First Class was fine, Drive was perfectly alright and True Grit was, well, a bit rubbish actually For me it was a year notable for the welcome return of Scream, a surprisingly decent Footloose remake and – don’t judge me too harshly – the ludicrously entertaining Fast Five. In that vein, my pick of the year’s best are as follows:

10. The King’s Speech

I know The King’s Speech has undergone a bit of a kicking since its January release, but still, it won an Oscar didn’t it?  Tom Hooper’s film, which starred a stutteringly brilliant Colin Firth and a surprisingly sane Helena Bonham Carter, proved as profoundly moving as it did achingly funny. Aided ably by Geoffrey Rush’s elocutionist, the filmmakers managed to tell a grand story against a grandiose backdrop while maintaining a humour and humanity which managed to charm even the Fuck Police. A compelling script, subtle direction and triad of exceptional performances conspire to create one truly unforgettable movie with magisterial presence and timeless elegance.

9. Life in a Day

Life in a Day – the cinematic experiment executive produced by both Ridley and Tony Scott – is an extraordinary and ambitious insight into a day in the life of the human race. Compiling and consolidating over 4,500 hours of amateur footage, from 80,000 submissions and 140 nations, director Kevin MacDonald has created a coherent, compelling and delightfully accomplished snapshot in time, an invaluable time-capsule to chronicle the YouTube generation. Babies are born, deaths are mourned, teeth are brushed, animals are slaughtered, rituals are practised and crimes are committed. Thrilling, you might easily scoff. But it is.

8. Midnight in Paris

Having come to terms with the fact that I might never ‘get’ Owen Wilson, it certainly came as a surprise when a collaboration with Woody Allen had me drawn swiftly to my senses. Leaving the cinema at midnight, in Nice, I was utterly enchanted by this tale of nostalgia for some ever-changing Golden Age. Midnight in Paris tells its story with a verve and emotionality that handles the rampant nostalgia with expert precision, boasting enough wit, charm and cameos to keep even the stubbornest Francophile entertained, quickly atoning for the bloated pictorial prologue that precedes it.

7. Thor

The first of two fledgeling Avengers to receive the big screen treatment this year, Thor was always a much more intriguing prospect than July’s Captain America movie. Trapped in development Hell for years, it was always going to be a difficult endeavour breathing cinematic life into one of Marvel’s most outlandish properties, made ever more unfashionable with Christopher Nolan’s recent reign of darkness. With director Kenneth Branagh (an inspired decision on Marvel’s behalf) refusing to shy away from the goofier aspects of the character’s mythology, Thor is a very different – a very necessarily different – superhero movie. And it is all the better for it.

6. The Troll Hunter

Following a slight case of found-footage fatigue – hot off the tails as we are of REC and Cloverfield – you could be forgiven for thinking the genre overcrowded and the format flagging. Rather than feeling tired or derivative, however, The Troll Hunter is an engaging and innovative return to form for a technique caught up in an endless cycle of American remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels. Thrilling, funny and absolutely breathtaking, The Troll Hunter is an unmissable piece of stand-out cinema from director André Øvredal’s. Even if I’m still not entirely sure what it’s called (The Troll Hunter? TrollHunter?).

5. Melancholia

How many times has the world ended now? Ball-point figure? While we have seen it attacked by aliens, riddled with comets, conquered by apes, ravaged by virus and infested with zombies, I for one can’t say I have ever seen the end of the world through recognisably human eyes. Or through the eyes of anyone eighteen or over. While it is undoubtedly not for everyone, Melancholia is a masterpiece in mood and menace, building to a sense of completely hopeless acceptance as Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland’s characters deal with the inevitable apocalypse in different and yet wholly realistic ways.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

To say I cried at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II would be an understatement of Grawp-like proportions. The biggest compliment I can bestow on this final chapter is that it hit me like a bat-bogey hex. It is testament to not only the work of Yates and his team of filmmakers – Alexandre Desplat, I love you – but the underestimated talents of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that a story so high on Pumpkin Juice should ever deliver an emotional punch of such ruthless affect. As we leave Hogwarts for the last time – awash with rubble and barely recognisable – it is with the utmost closure on what really has been the motion picture event of a generation. I’m welling up again just thinking about it.

3. The Guard

I don’t really like comedies. I tend to find studio offerings like Tower Heist and Just Go With It too broad to make anything approaching an impact, while this year’s Bridesmaids embodied everything that isn’t funny about genre maestro Judd Apatow’s sense of humour (except the bit where they all shat themselves, LOL). John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, as with his brother’s sister movie In Bruges, however, managed to deliver solid, hearty laughs without ever resorting to the ruinously try-hard schtick that plagues most contemporary comedy. Lampooning cop shows, subverting comedy conventions and gently poking fun of Irish culture, The Guard was unarguably the most fun you were likely to have in the cinema this year.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Something has happened. Something bad. Lynne Ramsay’s Kevin is – almost from birth – a truly terrifying creation. Ezra Miller’s performance is cold, calculating and counter-intuitively compelling; he is perfectly horrifying without once raising his voice, jumping out of the shadows or making that petrifying clicking noise attributed to cursed Japanese children. From its matter-of-fact title to Ramsay’s bi-linear adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel, this is no-frills masterpiece-making at its most devastating. There is no period dress, no operatic over-emotionality and no delusions of grandeur, just an exquisitely unrelenting build-up of tension that deserves – heck, demands – your recognition. All of it.

1. Super 8

Super 8 has it all: production values, solid stakes and performances that more often than not leave you utterly speechless. The film – both within the film and the feature itself – is as fun to watch as it looked to make, the nostalgia and unreserved love that has gone into each frame making it onto the big screen. In a sea of superheroes and sex-comedies, Super 8 is a breath of old air; compelling, heart-stopping and packing some seriously impressive performances, J. J. Abrams’ latest is the best Spielberg movie Spielberg never made. And then some.

August 2011 – Smurfity smurf smurf smurf!

So. Cineworld.

After four years spent scouring various Vue cinemas for the latest releases, I have finally sucked up, bought an Unlimited Card and sacrificed comfort, competence and not hearing the hand-drier during the quiet bits for the easy life in good old Dundee.

To compliment this fresh start, I decided to overhaul the blog, adding an archive option to help organise my reviews by year (whether 2008, 2009, 2010 or 2011) and add a few more reviews of films I have enjoyed or shaken my fist at through the years. As such, I finally got around to reviewing The Dark Knight, The Hole in 3D, Charlie St. Cloud, Star Trek and, er, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.

My first point of business, however: Super 8. Easily my favourite film of the summer, Super 8 proved impossible to follow, as the likes of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which admittedly came pretty close), Cowboys & Aliens (less so) and Conan The Barbarian (…) arrived and quickly departed cinemas to little effect in order to prove.

August was all about the pleasant surprises; a unexpectedly enjoyable Gargamel in The Smurfs, a generous helping of hysterics courtesy of The Inbetweeners Movie and welcomingly jovial turns from Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits more than made up for the relative disappointment of Final Destination Umpteen.

Similarly, an invitation from Talisker Whiskey for popcornaddiction to visit the Isle of Wight caught me completely by surprise, as did the offer of a complimentary bottle as way of consolation for my inability to attend (stupid Scotland and it’s Northness). From HeyUGuys I received my very first poster (and TV spot) quote for The Troll Hunter, a revelation that (not) quite literally blew my mind.

With my birthday turning me 24 this week, all that was left was the traditional Blogalongabond. Moore took over from Connery for this month’s Live and Let Die, and you know what? It wasn’t entirely awful. Surprise indeed.

Roll on September (and The Man With The Golden Gun).

Film of the month: Super 8

The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, 2010)

Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) are three aspiring filmmakers attempting to document the work of alleged bear poacher Hans (Otto Jespersen). Tracking their subject to a stretch of woodland, they are surprised to find him fleeing the trees amid frenzied screams of “Troll”. Sceptical, the group decide to accompany the “troll hunter” on his rounds – tasked as he claims to be with killing any troll which dares escape the designated territories littering Norway.

Following a slight case of found-footage fatigue – hot off the tails of REC and Cloverfield – you could be forgiven for thinking the genre overcrowded. Rather than feeling tired or derivative, however, The Troll Hunter is an engaging and innovative return to form for a technique caught up in an endless cycle of American remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels.

The film’s success is largely down to star Otto Jespersen, a controversial Norwegian comedian making his big screen début. Armed with a brilliantly dry sense of Nordic humour, Jesperson breathes irreverence and wit into a role that could have skirted unintentional parody in lesser hands. This being a mocumentary – and an accomplished one at that – tongue is firmly in cheek as Hans, malcontent in his underpaid and undervalued position, addresses every delightfully absurd “myth” about the trolls in question.

Thrilling, funny and absolutely breathtaking, The Troll Hunter is an unmissable piece of stand-out cinema from director André Øvredal’s.

EIFF 2011 – Films of the Fest

The 65th Annual Edinburgh Film Festival has had its critics. Dropping the awards aspect and suffering an unceremonious temporal relocation – just two manifestations of the well publicized budget cuts – this year’s festivities have been lambasted for their organizers lack of ambition. Fearing they might never be able to compete with Cannes or Sundance, Edinburgh appear to resigned themselves to an unfair fate which – combined with the technical difficulties which plagued the opening ceremony – appear to have lined the way for Glasgow to take over as the premier Scottish film festival.

Such negativity, however, is completely unfounded. Sure, the films this year could have been better, sourced from a greater number of national film councils, but bemoaning with hindsight when the festival is only today finishing is to do many of this year’s films a disservice. Israel. Norway. Japan. Spain. Each of these countries produced some outstanding film’s, while Britain didn’t do so bad itself. Ignoring, then, the Fast Romances, the Weekenders and the Stormhouses of the world, here are my top five film’s of the 65th EIFF.

1. Rabies (Kalevet)

Opening with a scene indicative of your average torture-porn – a bloodied woman trapped and later drugged by a deranged cat-person – the rug is quickly pulled from beneath your feet as the filmmakers take an inspired wrong turn into largely unexplored territory. We meet the usual hapless teens, the obligatory bumbling police officers and a forest ranger husband and wife, yet not once do your undoubtedly informed predictions come to pass.  To say any more would be to do the innovative and whimsical script a gross disservice, needless to say Yaron Motola’s “killer” may be the most incompetent yet.

Like an earnest Scream, a softly-spoken The Cottage or a ruthlessly efficient Severence, Rabies is less a horror than a gore-soaked comedy. If this particular tonal balance is one of the hardest in cinema to achieve – Black Sheep anyone? – you wouldn’t know it thanks to the assuredly effortless direction and enthused performances that make Rabies what it is: a darkly comic joy. At times hilarious, at times uncomfortable, but always relentlessly engaging, the movie is such a constellation of memorable characters, moments and dialogue that you can’t help believe it to be the result of some serendipitous planetary alignment.

2. The Troll Hunter

Charting the attempts of a trio of students to document the work of supposed bear poacher, Hans (Otto Jespersen), it is soon revealed that the budding filmmakers have bitten off far more than they can chew. Tracking Hans down to a stretch of woodland, they are finally introduced to their subject as he flees from the trees screaming “Troll”. Believing him deluded, the group – consisting of Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) – join the titular “troll hunter” on his mission to track down escapees from a selection of designated territories around Norway, uncovering an inept government conspiracy along they way.

The Troll Hunter’s crowning achievement, above its expert handling of tension and polished sheen, is the jaw-dropping creativity evident in the troll designs. Split between two types – mountain and woodland – and distinguishable by their choice of self-destruction, there is a truly incredible amount of variety and imagination on display. Each variation proving more ridiculous than the next, and yet steadily more horrific at the same time, the otherwordliness of the setting somehow allows these behemoths to merge seemlessly with their stark surroundings. Undercut by some note-perfect Nordic humour, and with a winning irreverence to its own stupidity, The Troll Hunter amounts to an unmitigated success.

3. The Bang Bang Club

Initially working freelance, Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe) soon finds himself under the tutelage of Kevin “forget the long lens, bro” Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach) and Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld), having won their respect with a series of provocative pictures taken inside one of the warring townships. Working for photo-editor Robin Comley (Malin Åkerman), the quartet are eventually dubbed “The Bang Bang Club” as they put their lives on the line to capture the brutality and desperation of a country nearing the end of Apartheid.

Perhaps fittingly for a film about award-winning photographers, The Bang Bang Club is itself beautifully shot. Not only does cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak rise to the logistical challenge of recreating a number of the photojournalists’ most famous shots, but also in bringing a sense of reality and authenticity to the film. The scale of The Bang Bang Club is truly breath-taking, with many of the battle scenes requiring innumerable extras. What could easily have just felt like four guys taking pictures for 106 minutes is instead a delightfully dynamic, relentlessly engaging and hugely watchable piece of filmmaking.

3. The Borrower Arrietty

The latest offering from Studio Ghibli, Arrietty follows the misadventures of its titular “borrower” as she learns to take just enough from her human neighbours so that her family might survive. When discovered by a young boy with a heart condition, the curious Sho, Arrietty Clock cautiously begins a friendship with the boy to her parents’ disquiet. The last of their kind in that particular house, it’s not long before news gets around to the meddling maid that the “little people” are back.

Like all Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty is sumptuously animated. Innocent, engaging and utterly enchanting, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi makes an accomplished debut with what amounts to one of the year’ most breathtaking animations. Ladened with the studio’s trademark wit and whimsy, the film realy is more than just a visual treat.

5. A Better Life

Set in eastern Los Angeles, the film charts one man’s pursuit of a better life for himself and his teenage son. A humble gardener, Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) has done his best to make a life for his family in America, struggling through his wife’s betrayal and the gang culture threatening to engulf his son, Luis (Jose Julian). When his boss informs Carlos of his plans to leave the business, Carlos turns to his wealthier sister (Delores Heredia) for the means of buying the company vehicle for himself. However, when Carlos’ trusting nature is betrayed by a new employee, Carlos and Luis must set aside their differences in order to track down their ill-fated truck all the while remaining vigilent to the threat posed by the country’s deportation office.

Weitz brings his honed Hollywood sheen to a side of the City of Angels rarely glimpsed in multiplexes, working with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe to create a studied portrayal of life in east L.A. Having spent months researching the the city’s immigration culture and even going as far as to cast ex-gang members in relevant roles, Weitz’s paints a picture of resilience and integrity in the face of deprivation and isolation that is often incredibly moving.

You can find my full coverage over at HeyUGuys.