Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011: The Best & Worst Movies of the Year

This year in film was a crazy one. Between sequels for just about every big franchise in the known world, we’ve gotten two Steven Spielberg movies release in the span of mere days, remakes no one asked for that actually turned out really good, two movies that rejoice the silent film era, a whole bunch of nostalgia trips, ballsy films that attempt no less than to show audiences the meaning of all of life, films about hot chicks escaping into their imaginations to avoid being raped, films about tires coming to life to explode people’s heads, and the final installment of what is literally the most lucrative franchise in movie history. If that’s not a crazy year, I don’t know what is.

It certainly was a unique and incredibly interesting year of film, and I’m here to count it all down in what is probably my biggest blog post I’ve ever written. With 20 of my favorite films of the year, and also my favorite performances, my worst movie of the year, most overrated/underrated, and tons of other miscellaneous crap. Hold your breath, because this is gonna be a long one! The best & worst movies of 2011 begins now…


The Silver Soap Bar Awards For The 10 Best Runner-Up Films of the Year

#20: Bridesmaids (Directed by Paul Feig)

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A funny, raunchy, female-driven comedy that also works as a surprisingly strong character study showcasing Kristen Wiig’s talent. Bridesmaids is hilarious and heartfelt exactly when it needs to be.

#19: Source Code (Directed by Duncan Jones)

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Duncan Jones’ sophomore effort isn’t as strong as his debut Moon, but Source Code moves at an incredibly brisk pace, managing to be both a thought-provoking sci-fi and an intense action thriller.

#18: Meek’s Cutoff (Directed by Kelly Reichardt)

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Incredibly slow-paced but always intense. This slow-burn of a western thriller is subtle and restrained, yet always keeps your nerves on your toes thanks to a strong atmosphere (unusual for a western) and a performance from the always-wonderful Michelle Williams.

#17: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Directed by Brad Bird)

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Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol is how all action movies should be made. The set-pieces are mind-blowing, the pace exciting, the performances entertaining, and it’s all tightly directed by Brad Bird.

#16: 50/50 (Directed by Jonathan Levine)

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A difficult balancing act of drama and comedy that’s incredibly effective on both fronts. I was surprised to find myself laughing hysterically one minute, only to be swept up by emotion within the same beat.

#15: Another Earth (Directed by Mike Cahill)

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A thought-provoking sci-fi drama with ideas and emotion to spare. Another Earth also features a strong performance from newcomer Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film, and marks her as a talent to watch.

#14: The Descendants (Directed by Alexander Payne)

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Another film that balances drama and comedy expertly, The Descendants feels real and genuine through every minute of its running time, and features George Clooney in one of his most fantastic performances.

#13: The Future (Directed by Miranda July)

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Strange, dark, and whimsical. The Future, unlike most indie comedies, uses its quirks to reveal darker truths about human nature. A worthy follow-up to July’s debut Me and You and Everyone We Know.

#12: Crazy, Stupid Love (Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa)

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One of the more surprising films of the year. Crazy Stupid Love is a fantastic romantic comedy that pretty much has it all: Wonderful performances, a lot of heart and charm, a hefty dose of romance, and hey, it’s really funny! Who would’ve thunk…

#11: War Horse (Directed by Steven Spielberg)

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A manipulative melodrama that, despite how much it desperately and obviously tugs the heartstrings manages to really work. Of all the people who can make a script like this work, it’s the legend himself, Steven Spielberg.

The Golden Soap Bar Awards For The 10 Best Films of the Year

#10: Super 8 (Directed by JJ Abrams)

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Many of Super 8‘s detractors have complained that the film loses itself in the final act due to having an unsatisfying resolution for the big monster at the heart of the movie. And I strongly disagree. If anything, I usually don’t care about CG monsters in most movies anyway. What I want in a film is characters to care about and it is then that the action sequences have meaning. And Super 8 delivered on that front. Not just a thrilling sci-fi adventure, but a nostalgic ode to childhood and the Spielberg films of yesteryear that feels sincere and genuine in all the right places.

#9: Melancholia (Directed by Lars von Trier)

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Melancholia is a punishing experience that tortures the viewer with unholy amounts of depression and despair that can become too much to handle at a certain point. At the same time however, it rewards the viewer as much as it drowns him/her in misery thanks to beautiful imagery, affecting emotion, and two of the best performance of the year in Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s not for everyone, but those who are willing enough for a big spoonful of hard-hitting sadness will be rewarded for one of the most artfully captivating films of the year.

#8: Midnight in Paris (Directed by Woody Allen)

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Midnight in Paris is in the exact opposite end of the spectrum of Melancholia. Of all the movies this entire year, none have left as wide a smile on my face quite as much as this one did. Thanks to the best Owen Wilson performance I’ve seen in years (Seriously, it regains your faith in Owen Wilson), Woody Allen’s ode to the City of Lights lights up with ridiculous amounts of charm to the point that it becomes infectious. The screenplay is wickedly playful with sharp dialogue and clever usage of historical characters, and it just feels like Woody Allen had a marvelous time just making the film. Pretty much one of the most enjoyable experience of the year.

#7: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Directed by David Fincher)

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Yes, the detractors are all correct when they say that David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is very, very similar to the original Swedish film directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Despite that, however, this remake felt much more effective thanks to some small but strong improvements. The characters feel more like human beings for one thing; the bad guys are a bit more morally ambiguous, the character of Mikael Blomkvist is more interesting, but most important of all is that Rooney Mara plays the film’s title character, Lisbeth Salander, with incredible gusto, making for one of the most memorable performances, and easily the most memorable character, of the entire year. It also helps that David Fincher supplies the film with more suspense and dread than the previous film. Despite the glaring similarities, this is without a doubt a superior remake.

#6: The Artist (Directed by Michel Hazanavicius)

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Another film that made me smile and smile throughout all of its running time, The Artist is a lovingly made throwback to silent films of yore. As much as I love Super 8, it really felt like JJ Abrams was desperately hitting the marks to be like a classic Steven Spielberg film, but not quite getting there (despite being so close). The Artist, however, really feels like a silent film from the ’20s that history has only uncovered until recently, and can now be shared with the world for anyone to enjoy. And damn is it enjoyable. Probably the best crowd-pleasing movie of the year, The Artist is just pure cinema magic that no matter how much you try to resist it, makes you wanna stand up and cheer.

#5: Hanna (Directed by Joe Wright)

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Hanna is probably the most surprising film I’ve seen this year. I came into it with little expectations on what to expect, and came out blown away. Less of an action film (Though there’s plenty of wonderful action) and more of a modern fairy-tale, Hanna brings us into the psychological mindset of its young assassin with such an incredible amount of depth and style. Joe Wright creates a surprisingly surreal atmosphere that makes the film stand-out, but he also choreographs and shoots action sequences with amazing flair and intensity. All while the thumping sounds of an irresistible Chemical Brothers score (more on that in a bit) echo in the background. Surreal but absorbing, Hanna is both badass and strange, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

#4: Hugo (Directed by Martin Scorsese)

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Without a doubt the most uplifting film of the entire year. Martin Scorsese’s love-letter to silent cinema, Hugo is beautiful, sincere, gorgeous, and heartfelt beyond all measure. One of those films about films that really captures the joy of the movies and what makes this medium so special to all of us, it’s simply impossible for any self-respecting movie-buff to see this movie and not be swept up by its unabashed love of cinema. It also helps that Martin Scorsese uses this film to grace moviegoers with what is literally the best use of 3D you will ever see in your entire life. Wondrous and uplifting, Hugo is a movie-lovers dream come true. #blurb

#3: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Directed by Sean Durkin)

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This may come off as over-exaggeration, but Martha Marcy May Marlene is honest to god one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. Strange considering how quiet, subtle, and restrained the entire picture is. But the film’s psychological intensity really seeps into the viewer causing unbearable amounts of tension and unease. It got to the point that I was shaking throughout the entire second half second half of the film, and I would’ve left ill from it all if I wasn’t so enthralled by the film’s talent. First-time director Sean Durkin really nails the tension down, truly bringing you into the exact psychological mindset as its tortured, titular character so effectively that it becomes almost painful to watch. Making it even more effective is Elizabeth Olsen’s performance, who is easily deserving of an Oscar after her work here. Coming from both a first-time director and an actress in her first major film role, it’s strange to see that everything comes together so perfectly. Martha Marcy May Marlene simply must be seen. It’s a terrifying psychological thriller that will stay with you months after first viewing it.

#2: Drive (Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn)

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What exactly is Drive? Is it an action film? Why yes it has action scenes and car chases here and there, but they’re few and far between and the film seems to move at a slow-pace. So, I guess it’s a drama then. Well…no, because it also features brutal violence straight out of a horror picture…or a crime movie! That means it’s a crime movie, right? Well…not really, since the main focus is actually on Ryan Gosling and Carrey Mulligan’s relationship. So does that make it romance? Well not exactly, they mostly just exchange glances at each other with very little dialogue.

It wasn’t until later that I finally came to the conclusion of what Drive is, and why everyone who expected a Fast and Furious-inspired car movie left disappointed: It’s a character study on a man with no character. On paper, that sounds stupid, but it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year (Obviously, this being #2 in my top 20 list). Ryan Gosling takes the enigma of The Driver, the film’s unnamed central character, and makes him incredibly compelling, even though he still remains a mystery by the end. What makes it work is that what he lacks in personality he makes up for in tension. You never know what the Driver is gonna do next, when he’s going to do something nice, or when he’s going to just snap and let all hell break loose. It also helps that Ryan Gosling gives out literally the best performance of his entire career (And considering a career involving Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, that says a lot). He’s always intense, always unpredictable, impossible to read, but is able to showcase lots of visible emotional scars so effectively that he manages to gain your sympathy even while he’s performing unspeakable acts of brutality.

Everything about Drive oozes tension. The action sequences play out less like action sequences and more like graceful games of chess in which the main character is in checkmate at all points throughout the film. The rest of the cast, including Carrey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Ron Pearlman, Bryan Cranston, and an incredibly unexpected turn as the villain by comedian Albert Brooks, is also fantastic, especially Brooks who brings ridiculous amounts of menace to his villain. Every single performance is simply, utterly pitch-perfect for this film.

Stylish, surreal, and intense–and like Hanna, a modern fairy tale–Drive is a unique, nerve-wracking experience that keeps you at the edge of the Driver’s seat (See what I did there guys?!?!….okay I’ll shut up now).

#1: The Tree of Life (Directed by Terrence Malick)

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When I walked out of The Tree of Life, I didn’t feel like I just walked out of a movie. I felt like I had just finished a profound, soul-searching journey through my own life. It all sounds incredibly cheesy, sure, but Terrence Malick’s opus to all of life truly is one of those rare once-in-a-lifetime experience that deserves to be called “profound”.

The main reason it is that effective is how sincere Terrence Malick is in his approach. Everything comes straight from the heart. It feels like a deeply personal film that may have more meaning to Malick than to the viewer. Yet it never feels that way in the traditional sense. What’s amazing about The Tree of Life is how personal it feels from Malick, yet it still manages to feel like something out of the viewers’ life, that is if the viewer allows the movie to wash over him/her. Everything is painted in a broad, easily identifiable stroke, yet the canvas is so huge as it attempts no less than to encapsulate all of existence, that everything still feels intensely intimate.

The childhood this film depicts feels so much like my own, even in spite of some notable differences. Mostly because it captures the emotion of childhood. While Super 8, The Artist, and Midnight In Paris were all well-done in their use of nostalgia, The Tree of Life not only makes you remember your past, it feels more like you’re re-experiencing your childhood. And then there’s the philosophical side of the film, which brings the film to much higher meaning through addressing all of existence and what could possibly be the afterlife. These moments feel like beautifully written, meditative poems that have been brought to life by imagery. To say that I could not contain myself throughout the final act of the film is a massive understatement. This movie broke me down. Hard.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those with an open mind ready for a one-of-a-kind experience, The Tree of Life truly is unlike anything else you will ever seen.

Well that was fun. BUT WE’RE NOT FINISHED YET! Now it’s onto some miscellaneous shenanigans!

The “Suck On This, Michael bay!” Award For Best Action Movie

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Directed by Brad Bird)

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There are set-pieces in Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol that I find impossible to not find completely thrilling exciting. Everything about the action scenes in this film is so well-done, so properly shot, edited, choreographed, structured, just everything about them is about as well-done as you can possibly do with an action scene. Sure there were action movies that I thought were better if not more slow like Hanna and Drive, but in terms of pure balls-to-the-wall, pants-wetting, non-stop action, this was the high-point…literally, because that Burj Khalifa tower is fucking HUGE!

Honorable Mentions: Hanna, Drive, Fast Five, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (If only for the forest chase scene alone)

The Tickle Mah Balls Award For Best Comedy

Horrible Bosses (Directed by Seth Gordon)

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As far as movies that just made me laugh, this one was the caper. It’s not on my top 20 list because it definitely has script problems, but it’s hard to complain when you have Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis doing what they do best, Charlie Day knocking it out of the park in what is the equivalent of The Hangover‘s breakout performance by Zach Galifinakis, and of course we have the horrible bosses played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrel at their most deliciously evil. It isn’t as dark as it could’ve pushed like, say, World’s Greatest Dad, but it’s definitely the film that made me laugh the hardest in the theater.

Honorable Mentions: Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, Crazy Stupid Love

The Golden Shat-On Pants Award For Best Horror Movie

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Directed by Sean Durkin)

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Okay, Martha Marcy May Marlene isn’t technically a horror movie in the traditional sense, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t admitting to it being the most terrifying experience I had in the theater. It’s bone-chilling tension from start-to-finish, elevated by haunting performances from Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes.

Honorable Mentions: Fright Night, Paranormal Activity 3, Insidious

The James Cameron-Approved Award For Most Overrated Movie

Rango (Directed by Gore Verbinski)

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There were plenty of films that I found overrated this year, yet I could still get why people would like them. I found just about every Marvel superhero film this year to be overrated (Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America) yet I could still get why people liked those films because they all had some good actors in their respective lead roles. I also found The Adventures of Tintin rather overrated, but it was still light, innocent, and inoffensive; and there were moments in it that I really enjoyed.

The one that took the cake for me, however, was Rango, but even this film had some qualities of merit. The animation is gorgeously detailed, able to find beauty in hideousness, there are some nice nods to westerns and noir films that I appreciated, and Johnny Depp did a pretty damn good job playing against type as a CG bumbling chameleon. That being said, nothing in this movie grabbed my enjoyment.

One of the main complaints people had over Super 8 was that it was basically just referencing a bunch of old movies that you loved yet left the plot elements very weak and unsatisfying. I didn’t have that problem for Super 8 because I cared about each of the characters involved. I did, however, have that exact problem with Rango which just seemed to be referencing a bunch of old movies, but felt completely hollow in the story and character development.

And I honestly can’t comprehend how people can say that the ending of Super 8 is unsatisfying, when the ending of Rango is so abrupt and ho-hum, that I honestly felt like even the people making the movie didn’t care much about what was happening. While Super 8‘s story did have problems, I cared about the characters enough that I could overlook its problems. With Rango, there was nothing for me to latch onto, nothing to make me care, and thus the script problems were amplified. Thus, of all the overrated films this year, this one was the most frustratingly overrated for me.

Honorable Mentions: Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America, Moneyball

The Flaming Cowpat Award For Worst Movie of the Year

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Directed by Michael Bay)

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When I initially discussed Transformers: Dark of the Moon with my friends after seeing it, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t very good, but I didn’t hate it either.” As the film sunk with me, however, I began to realize just how much this film sucks. I mean, I knew it was bad from the beginning, but its badness really seeps into you much later. It’s still not as horrendous as Revenge of the Fallen, but still just as intelligent, i.e. retarded.

Yes, there’s some decent action in the final 45 minutes of the film, but in order to get to that, you have to slog through an hour and a half–that’s the length of a god damn normal-sized movie–of some of the worst writing and acting you’ll see this entire year. Firstly, Shia LaBeouf somehow got even more annoying than his character from Even Stevens, and constantly shouts for no apparent reason, while great actors like Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and once again John Turturro, are all wasted by having almost literally nothing to do.

And speaking of nothing to do, there are characters that literally have no point. At least some pointless characters are there for one retarded, contrived reason like giving out information leading to the macguffin, etc. In this movie, however, the pointless characters literally have no point. John Malkovich accomplishes almost nothing other than get Shia LaBeouf to stop whining by giving him a job that has no point of being in the movie (the entire job-hunting sub-plot was useless altogether). Frances McDormand is even more pointless since all she does is talk through a radio signal when action is happening somewhere else to explain information the audience already knows.

And yes, while the final one-hour action-palooza is well-shot, it doesn’t feel exciting like Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol does, because you simply don’t care about anything that’s going on. Simply having an entire hour of unbroken action does not a good movie make.

Keep in mind, reader, that I haven’t seen too many of the really awful movies that other people seemed to have despised. I didn’t see Jack & Jill, Alvin & The Chipmunks, The Smurfs, or Spy Kids 4D (Seriously, I have no idea how that one ended up being made), but of all the movies that I personally have seen, this was the one that stuck out the longer it lingered in the mind.

Honorable Mentions: Priest, Battle: Los Angeles, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Straw Dogs

The Cyanide Ice-Cream Award For Most Disappointing Movie

The Green Hornet (Directed by Michel Gondry)

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Would you like to know how much I love Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Oh, how about it being my favorite movie of all time tied only with David Fincher’s Fight Club. Yeah, I love it.

So when I heard that Gondry would be teaming up with Seth Rogen, who’s one of the funniest dudes working in Hollywood right now, to make a buddy-cop/superhero-without-super-powers movie that had lots of kung fu and Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds playing as the villain, I got fuckin’ stoked! I was ready to marry this project before it even came out! And…then I watched the movie.

What. A. Fucking. Letdown.

The movie itself is not terrible, but it is rather bad and really poorly scripted. What is terrible, however, is Seth Rogens character as The Green Hornet/Britt Reid, who is so ridiculously obnoxious and unlikeable that the film just does not work. I do admit to the action scenes do having a lot of flair thanks to Gondry’s typically stylish direction (All of the “Kato-vision” moments are beyond cool) but Rogen’s character was just so filled with douchebaggery that I wanted to punch myself throughout the film. Considering the talent involved, this should’ve been better.

The 16-Legged Guinea Pig Award For Most Interesting Failure

Bellflower (Directed by Evan Glodell)

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I still don’t know what Bellflower is about, or whether I liked it or not. I knew I was interested and mesmerized at all times throughout the movie, but I was also left scratching my head throughout the ambiguous ending and the jarring tonal shift from mumblecore-y romantic comedy to psychological drama/action/horror/David Lynch mindfuck. All I can say is that it’s one of the most interesting and original films of the year, but a true success it unfortunately isn’t.

The “YOU THREW A SHARK AT AN AIRPLANE AWARD” For Most Bat-Sh*t Insane Movie

Rubber (Directed by Quentin Dupieux)

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A sentient tire goes on a killing rampage by blowing people’s heads up with the power of its psychic mind….that’s really all you need to know.

The Star-Gate Award For The 5 Best Scenes of the Year

There were so many amazing scenes this year that I decided, why the hell not, let’s give this award to five awesome scenes…

#5: The Burj Khalifa from Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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When it comes to action set-pieces, I don’t think I’ve seen a recent one that’s as jaw-droppingly thrilling as Tom Cruise climbing the tallest building in the world with only a pair of sticky gloves. The nauseatingly high elevation should be enough to do all sorts of nasty things to your vertigo, but even worse is when the sticky gloves start to malfunction. The scenes oozes suspense and excitement.

#4: The Subway from Hanna

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I find it so awesome when directors decide to shoot something in one long continuous shot. Not only does it bring a sense of fluidity, but also lets the director really flex his directing muscles and show off what he/she can do. Joe Wright has always seemed to be a fan of the one-shot take (See the WWII sequence in Atonement) but he outdid himself with this one, as we see Eric Bana just walking into a subway station. It starts out normally as we see him exit a taxi and onto a street, but then we start to notice something. The camera hasn’t cut at all, and strange men are following Bana around. What’s going on?

It isn’t long until he enters the empty subway station and 10 hitmen have surrounded him. All Eric Bana could use is his wits and special assassin skills to take all of them down, and Joe Wright choreographs the fight scene in one long steady take that circles around Bana as he simply annihilates everyone in the room.

#3: The Prologue from Melancholia

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The 7 and a half minute prologue to Melancholia features some of the most stunning and haunting imagery of the entire year. Unlike most apocalyptic films, Lars von Trier begins his with the world ending then goes back from there. And if there’s one man who can make the apocalypse look stunning and gorgeous, it’s Lars von Trier. Featuring some effective CG effects for the colliding planets and what is honestly some of the most gorgeous uses of slo-mo you’ll see in your entire life, Melancholia opens hauntingly, and gets more deranged from there.

#2: The Elevator from Drive

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Unlike most of the scenes in this list, this one doesn’t really have that much in the way of stylistic tricks or gimmicks. It is, however, one of the most powerfully done sequences I’ve seen all year. As the Driver finds that he’s trapped in an elevator with a man who’s ready to kill him and his only love in life, Irene, in just a few mere moments, he realizes what he has to do in an instant, and realizes the grave consequences of his actions, and he knows that he’s going to lose Irene whether he succeeds or not. He decides to take advantage of his final moments with Irene by holding her back and kissing her in spectacular slo-mo and silence.

And this tender moment is immediately followed up by the Driver proceeding to smash the man’s face in with the heels of his boots. Emotional and brutal all at once, I’ve seen the film twice in theaters and this sequence always sends chills down my spine.

#1: Creation from The Tree of Life

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The one sequence that got thousands of moviegoers walking out of the theater in befuddlement is without a doubt polarizing. And it is also one of the most beautifully shot, meticulously crafted, gorgeously composed, and emotionally powerful sequences I’ve seen since the Star-Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it is all done with zero dialogue and nothing but the unbelievable images on the screen.

In just a mere 20 minutes, Terrence Malick tells what is quite possibly the greatest story of all: How all of the universe formed seemingly out of nothing, and how all of life was created. Beginning with the literal Big Bang; viewing the formation of planets, stars, and nebulae; the creation of molecules, which in turn form into matter; and finally the first living creatures of the earth: the dinosaurs. Wondrous, stunning, powerful, and visually awe-inspiring, it’s a sequence that leaves you with your jaw on the floor.

And you thought this list was over? Oh, but you thought wrong. For I have lots of time on my hands, which says much more about my social life than you think. We still have to honor some of the people who helped make these movies possible, and we’re counting all of these people down too. Don’t worry, you’re almost done, you’ll be untied from that chair in no time…

The “HEEERE’S JOHNNY” Award For Best Actor

George Clooney from The Descendants

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Who doesn’t love George Clooney? Seriously, from his square jaw to his silvery gray hair to that chiseled face and his suave demeanor, I find it impossible for anyone to really hate George Clooney. It also helps that he’s grown from his General Hospital origins into a legitimately great actor, and his work in The Descendants is some of his strongest stuff yet. Playing not a single note wrong whether it be confident, charming, emotional, or intense, he hits every emotional beat successfully, and considering how Alexander Payne writes his scripts and how authentic he makes every character feel, that’s no small feat.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Hardy – Warrior, Ryan Gosling – Drive, Jean Dujardin – The Artist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt – 50/50, Owen Wilson – Midnight in Paris, Brad Pitt & Hunter McCracken – The Tree of Life

The “You Were Such A Superlady” Award For Best Actress

Elizabeth Olsen from Martha Marcy May Marlene

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I loved Natalie Portman’s psychotic turn in Black Swan as much as the next guy (She got this same award from me last year), but it was definitely a very external performance involving lots of crying, screaming, and self-mutilation. The thing that makes Elizabeth Olsen’s psychological trauma so disturbingly real is actually how internal she makes all of her struggles. She rarely ever acts out or lashes out on anyone, but just the subtlest hints of paranoia can convey the most powerful emotion. Even just the blank stare you see on the image above is able to show how damaged she is emotionally as a human being, and that she’ll never be able to go back to normal. It’s a haunting performance that is going to stay in my nightmares for a long, long time.

Honorable Mentions: Charlize Theron – Young Adult, Saoirse Ronan – Hanna, Brit Marling – Another Earth, Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids, Rooney Mara – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg – Melancholia

The Disappearing Pencil Award For Best Supporting Actor of the Year

Patton Oswalt from Young Adult

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Young Adult is a film that is centered around one of the most amazingly despicable and unlikeable characters to grace the silver screen with Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary. How do you ground a film with such a horrible human being as your protagonist? By having one of the nicest guys as a side character to balance things out. Yet Patton Oswalt doesn’t overdo niceness as his character. He still remains grounded with his own flaws and bad habits. Yet he’s probably one of the main reasons why Young Adult ultimately works. Even in spite of all of this, he’s the most sympathetic character in the film and plays him with a surprising amount of depth coming from a former comedian. While he might not get Oscar recognition this year, he’s still a winner in my book.

Honorable Mentions: Andy Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Albert Brooks – Drive, Ryan Gosling – Crazy Stupid Love, Ben Kingsley – Hugo, Alan Rickman – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Seth Rogen – 50/50, John Hawkes – Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Kathy Bates With A Sledgehammer Award For Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life

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About one year ago, we had no idea who in the hell this Jessica Chastain girl was. Then, out of nowhere, she makes her debut in Terrence Malick’s masterwork and now she’s seemingly in everything now, and she’s heading on to even bigger roles such as playing Princess Diana in an upcoming biopic. To say that she’s the big breakout star of the year is an understatement, but it also helps that she was fantastic in her first major film role with The Tree of Life. For playing a character that’s supposed to embody all of the virtues of grace and compassion, she truly does exude that quality from her. She’s like a paragon of all that is beautiful in the world: Graceful, eloquent, always forgiving, incredibly meek, naturally beautiful. Despite conveying what is essentially a quality rather than an actual human being, she does it with such beauty that you’re enthralled the entire way through.

Honorable Mentions: Marion Cotillard – Midnight in Paris, Jennifer Aniston – Horrible Bosses, Julianne Moore – Crazy Stupid Love, Cate Blanchett – Hanna, Carrey Mulligan – Drive, Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

The Travis Bickle Award For Most Memorable Character

Lisbeth Salander as played by Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

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A goth, piercing-laden, tattoo-covered, high-functioning autistic, bisexual, supergenius hacker riding a motorbike. That is interesting by default, but there’s more to Lisbeth Salander than just those unique traits. She actually bears heavy emotional scars from years and years from abuse from men. The entire point of the story in both the book and the films is that she literally takes revenge on misogyny (The original title of the Swedish book was literally “Men Who Hate Women”). And while she’s definitely screwed up, she’s honestly a much better female role-model than the likes of all the Mary Sues and Bella Swans that dominate our culture. She’s actually strong, fierce, independent, and hey, she can kick your ass. And even in spite of her problems, she still displays strong hints of humanity, especially in the film’s heartbreaking final moment. While not exactly perfect, she’s one of the most fascinating human beings ever to grace the silver screen and she’s played wonderfully by Rooney Mara.

Honorable Mentions: Martha in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Mavis Gary in Young Adult, The Driver in Drive, George Melies in Hugo

The Typist Award For Best Screenplay

Sean Durkin from Martha Marcy May Marlene

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What makes this script stand out the most for me is how effortlessly it shifts from reality to flashback, and how it gives small hints that one may or may not be the other or that those flashbacks may be just part of the protagonist’s imagination rather than real memories. It makes the film that much more disturbing and terrifying when you can’t pinpoint exactly where you are in the movie and how each of the transitions are so fluid that you really can’t tell reality and memory apart. It may not be Aaron Sorkin or William Shakespeare, but it’s definitely one of the most effective screenplays of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Steven Zallian – The Girl WIth The Dragon Tattoo, Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life, Michael Hazanavicius – The Artist

The Kubrick-Approved Award For Best Director

Terrence Malick from The Tree of Life

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Note: That’s not actually Malick in the picture, but it’s the best I could find of a behind the scenes pic considering how reclusive and secretive the director is

Few directors have accomplished the audacity and ambition that Terrence Malick has brought with The Tree of Life. It’s deeply personal to him, yet it’s able to connect with just about anyone who puts their mind to the film. He’s honestly this generations Stanley Kubrick, as foolishly high praise as that might seem, yet he has something that Kubrick didn’t: A warm, heartfelt sense of intimate emotion that contrasts nicely with Kubrick’s cold cynicism (Which there’s nothing wrong with, but it’s nice to have a different perspective). He attempts no less than to capture all of life with The Tree of Life and that’s enough to call him one of the most ambitious directors of all time. The fact that he succeeded in his vision so profoundly and so beautifully just makes him not just one of the most ambitious directors, but one of the best directors of all time period. Not that you needed more persuading considering he’s been creating masterpieces since the ’70s (Days of Heaven, Badlands, The Thin Red Line, The New World). But it isn’t until now that he’s basically reached a peak that will be tough for any other director to climb. Even if you weren’t a fan of the film, there’s no denying the artistry and talent that he employs with his camera. Give him a round of applause.

Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Winding Refn – Drive, Sean Durkin – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Phew. That was a long one. If you’d like to complain about how long this list was, agree/disagree with my opinions on the list, or ask how I was able to drug you and force you to read it all in the first place, you can leave a comment or something. You can also be notified of more of my shit by following me on twitter @Enigma6667.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get pumped for 2012. Happy New Year, everyone!

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2011: The Best & Worst Games of the Year

To say that the holiday season of gaming was overwhelming would be an understatement. With such a ridiculous amount of games coming out within the span of a mere couple of months, it was nigh impossible for the average gamer to keep up with all of the goodness that was coming out all around. And as such, I obviously couldn’t play every game to release this year. While I did play some of the big heavy-hitters, I didn’t have a chance to check out Uncharted 3 (due to not having a PS3), Modern Warfare 3 (Due to my general dislike for the Call of Duty franchise), and plenty more.

So please be aware reading this that I haven’t played every game to be released this year, but you can bet your ass that there were some amazing games that I loved. And I’m going to count them down, and throw in some other fun shit along the way. So here’s the year of 2011 in gaming, as determined by I, Enigma Bigglesworth VanNoLastNameInParticular.


The Golden Soap Bar Awards for the Best Games of the Year

#5: Dead Space 2

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A lot of people (Or to be more specific, very few people since not that many people really follow my work here, let’s be honest) seem to think that I “hate” the Dead Space games for not being scary. And that’s only half-true. I hate how unscary the Dead Space games are. I hate their cheap jump-scare tactics, the way they half-heartedly rip off of concepts and scenarios from superior sci-fi horror such as Alien and Event Horizon, how it’s setting a standard for modern survival horror games despite using the cheapest and easiest horror tactics imaginable, you get the gist.

So yeah, I still didn’t think that Dead Space 2 worked as a fantastic horror experience. However, I did think Dead Space 2 was a fantastic game. With lots of fun shooting that made great use of strategic dismemberment; amazing set-piece moments that were some of the most thrilling and exciting since Uncharted 2; and a plot that, despite still lifting concepts from Event Horizon and Aliens (And a little bit of Bioshock, believe it or not), was more intriguing than it had any right to be.

Is it scary? No. But is it still a well-paced, incredibly fun, highly enjoyable sci-fi shooter?Absolutely.

#4: Gears of War 3

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While most shooters offer up an amazing multiplayer experience hindered by a mediocre campaign and an almost non-existent co-op mode, Gears of War 3 is the full-blown deal. The frenetic and insane multiplayer is exactly what you’d expect, and remains as incredibly addictive as before, but every single other mode wasn’t given the short shrift either. Co-op is ridiculously fun with a new and improved Horde mode that features more strategic tower-defense elements and chaotic boss waves, and a newly added Beast mode that lets you take control of the enemies with a vastly varied array of the different playstyles to choose from.

The most surprising aspect, however, was the campaign. Despite still having the usual Gears flaws, like the meathead dialogue and the overwhelmingly gray/brown color palette, the plot is much stronger this time around. For one thing, it actually makes sense and you can actually follow what’s going on in some way or another. Another thing, Epic did a surprising job of making the characterizations stronger, thus leading to some emotional moments that I would’ve never expected out of a Gears game. It also helps that there are lots of varied set-pieces to keep the action interesting throughout.

So when it comes to getting the full circle, Gears 3 was by far the most satisfying title of the year.

#3: Batman: Arkham City

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I liked Arkham Asylum a lot, but it didn’t really click with me the same way it did everyone else. This sequel however, was an amazing single-player experience. With two playable characters that offer up variety, and a wonderful balance of intense stealth, ridiculously fluid brawling combat, and a ridiculously huge amount of content in a large open world, the entire experience just clicks even more. Probably the biggest improvement is the story, which, unlike the first game, doesn’t involve a cliche plot to release a bunch of chemicals. There are a surprising amount of twists and turns that turn up, including a really ballsy move at the end involving the deaths of two really major characters in the Batman fiction. All in all, an unforgettable experience filled with really fun gameplay and an incredibly interesting plot.

#2: Portal 2

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To give you all a little backstory here: I love the first Portal to death. How much do I love it? How about putting it at #2 of my favorite games of all time? To say that I was hyped about this game is a massive understatement. But there was still the looming possibility that it could’ve sucked. Sure it was still Valve making it, and those guys can do no wrong in my book, but part of what made the first Portal so wonderful was how self-contained and compact in length it was, and making a full-blown sequel at full price could’ve ruined it by stretching it out until reaching its tedium point.

So when I finally beat it and it actually ended up exceeding my expectations, I was pretty much ready to marry the game already. The puzzles are even more brilliant than ever, the dialogue funnier than ever thanks to fantastic vocal performances from Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant, and J.K. Simmons (“I don’t want your damn lemons!”), and the newly added co-op so incredibly rewarding. My one gripe is that while the dialogue is stronger than ever, the actual plot is a bit on the simplistic side, taking away the subtle Kubrick-ian horror elements of the first game, as well as the beautiful simplicity. But it’s hard to complain when the dialogue is this well-written, and I’m laughing my ass off at every minute of the game. It’s just as good if not better than the predecessor. And that’s saying a lot.

#1: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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Oh. My. God.

Skyrim.

Motherfucking Skyrim.

This game is so good I can live in it. In fact, that’s what I’ve been doing the past month or so. Every chance I can get, I’ll just play this game non-stop, 12+ hours straight and absorb myself into its world.

Fanboy gushing aside, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Oblivion but Fallout 3 is another one of my favorite games of all time. Except while I think Portal 2 equaled its predecessor in quality, Skyrim completely blows every other game Bethesda has ever made out of the water with a fully upgraded FUS DO RAH (Slap me in the face for that joke, please). The world is so rich in detail and lore, the glitches aren’t as obtrusive as previous Bethesda games, the gameplay is insanely balanced–truly allowing you to play your own way with stealth, bows, two-handed blades, magic, the like–, and the amount of content is staggering.

There are hundreds thousands of things to do in this game, and 90% of all of it is given the same amount of polish and quality control as what other developers would’ve only put into the main quest. It’s one thing to give a game a vast quantity of quests. When there’s both quantity and quality in just about everything you’re doing, you might as well marry the game.

Skyrim is a god damn masterpiece of a game, and no amount of arrow in the knee jokes can ever ruin that for me.

Honorable Mentions: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Catherine

The Flaming Cowpat Award For Most Piece of Sh*t Game of the Year

TIE: Duke Nukem Forever & Bodycount

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“That’s right. Just try to write something about why you’re so great. Just try. Because you can’t. You know why? Because you suck. You suck so much, Duke. Hail to the king, my ass.”

I’m always careful with my gaming purchases, so there’s not a single game that I’ve ever bought that I would ever say is bad (I’d always try a demo or borrow it for a friend before seeing if it’s worth a purchase or not when I could). So this isn’t so much a “Worst game of the year” award so much as a “worst demo of the year” award, and this year there were two fucking awful demos.

First and foremost: Duke Nukem Forever. Now, I’m not going to beat the dead horse of “We waited 12 years for this?!”, because I never really cared that much about Duke to begin with, but I do have to sympathize with the ones who truly felt that way. The targeting was so laughably sticky and awkward to control, and the fact that the textures were so horrendously ugly that you couldn’t tell anything apart made shooting things that much worse. The humor is simply not funny. Plain and simple. Duke’s poor attempts at modernizing his ’90s sense of humor don’t even count as attempts. We still get terrible pop culture references to old shit no one cares about (You’re still making Olsen twins references? Really?), but added into the mix are terrible internet memes (“Uh…PROFIT!”) because God knows we haven’t had enough of those. And if the terribleness of the game doesn’t sink in on you at first, don’t worry because you’ll have plenty of time to let it sink in while the ridiculously long loading screens break up the action like a bulldozer breaks up a retirement home.

Up next is Bodycount, and I remember some of the things that the developers said while the game was still in production. Things along the lines of “Oh, we’re not doing cover-based bullshit, we’re not doing space-armor bullshit, we’re not doing any gimmicky bullshit at all. It’s just you and your gun, and you can shoot pretty much god damn ANYTHING in the game and it will have an effect”. I was skeptical of course, but hey, considering how horrendously Duke went out, it would’ve been nice to see a fun, arcade-y throwback in the vein of Serious Sam or Painkiller that wanted nothing more than to let yourself hang loose and have fun obliterating guys with massive guns. And indeed, it would’ve been fun if any of the controls were worth a damn.

Generic brown favela environments all wrapped around generic enemies that can be obliterated to bits, but only through generic weapons. Even worse is that it’s claim that it “wasn’t about cover” was a complete lie because instead of an ironsight system, in its place is an awkward zoomed-in “lean” mechanic that you hold while crouched behind cover, that allows you to pop out in any angle you want, but considering the destructibility of everything, is made completely useless. Plus you can’t move while in lean mode so if you just want to really zoom in on an enemy, you’d have to do it while lying prone so either way you’re a bullet sponge.

If I had to pick which one was worse, I’d have to go with Bodycount, but Duke Nukem’s horrid humor allows it to share the spot with Bodycount’s horrendous gameplay. Because sharing is caring, folks.

The Diamond Killstreak Award For Best Multiplayer Experience of the Year

Battlefield 3

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Short version: Military shooters usually bore me to tears. Long version: In a medium that is oversaturated with military shooters, it’s almost impossible to stand out in a septic tank of gray, brown color palettes and funny Russian and/or Middle Eastern accents. That being said, Battlefield 3 is one of the most fun shooters of the year. Not because it has some of the smoothest controls you can possibly want in an FPS, which it has. Not because the multiplayer is filled with a vast amount of unlocks that’ll have you playing for ages, which it has. The other big FPS release this year, Modern Warfare 3, had all these things as well, but that ended up being yet another boring corridor twitch-shooter. What made Battlfield 3 so fun?

What makes Battlefield 3 stand out from the pack is the strategy. Whereas most shooters are strictly in the confines of small corridors, the battles in Battlefield 3 are huge, open, and massive. Combined with the inclusion of numerous vehicles, there’s a level of strategy that is incredibly rewarding when playing with a good team that no other shooter does nearly as well. The only reason why it isn’t ranked in my top 5 list is because the campaign is very mediocre and rather poorly done, but Battlefield 3 is still one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year.

The Silver Points-Card Award For Best Downloadable Game of the Year

Bastion

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Granted, I haven’t played any other downloadable games this year aside from Trenched/Iron Brigade, which I haven’t played enough of to really have a full opinion on. But Bastion really is a quality game. Fun combat with a nice use of RPG elements and upgrades that are deep enough to offer strategy but not overwhelming enough to distract you from the real meat of the game, an interesting and fully-realized mythology with some great world-building that is slowly revealed through gameplay rather than cutscenes, and what is literally one of the sexiest-sounding narrators in the history of anything ever. Seriously, the man’s voice is like a man’s chocolate-dipped fingers massaging your earholes while the sounds of Scarlett Johannson’s orgasms fill-up the background noise…sorry what was I talking about?

Oh yes, the plot wasn’t as good as I had heard, but it has a killer of an ending that is strangely beautiful and heart-warming in a really strange way. It also helps that the game is incredibly vibrant both in visuals and sound design, with a wonderfully inventive art design and great music. While I do agree with some that it’s kind of overrated, it’s still a hell of an experience that really does feel unlike anything else I’ve played. And on that regard, it does deserve mad props.

The Stripper With A Heart of Gold Award For Most Underrated Game of the Year

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

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Crikey, I haven’t bought that many games this year. So as such, I wasn’t able to put in a “Best Downloadable” or “Best DLC” award this time because I haven’t played that many, but I would love to turn your attention to a demo that I played that I wholeheartedly fell in love with.

I am not over-exaggerating when I’m saying that El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the most gorgeous, soothing, zen experiences I’d ever had with a game, and all I played was a 20 minute demo. The art direction is flawlessly inventive with rich, abstract environments and a gorgeous, painterly style (And from what I’ve heard, it constantly switches numerous other styles along the way too). The sound design is moody and atmospheric, creating a surreal sense of calm that feels unlike anything else I’d ever experienced in a game. And the combat just has this strange rhythmic energy to it that feels as soothing as the back and forth of the waves in the background of a Hawaiian sunset.

All this culminates to a truly zen-like experience. The game grabs you in this trance and doesn’t let go, and I would love more than anything to play the full game and give the developers who made this game the money they deserve.

The “YOU THREW A SHARK AT AN AIRPLANE!” Award For Most Bat-Sh*t Insane Game of the Year

Catherine

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Calling Catherine crazy doesn’t do the game justice. Between anthropomorphic sheep, nightmare monsters that try to eat you with their anuses, block pushing puzzles, and regular trivia about numerous alcoholic beverages, Catherine is another one of those games that’s unlike anything else you’ll ever experience. It should also be noted that, even though it isn’t entirely as deep as it thinks it is, it’s probably the first game to look at sexuality in a mostly mature way (anus monsters aside). Combined with a story that goes through tons of crazy twists and turns throughout, Catherine is sheer madness from beginning to end, and it’s hard to put down.

The Nathan Drake-Approved Award For Coolest Moment Of The Year

Dead Space 2

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Dead Space 2 has a ton of amazing and epic set-piece moments that really ratchet up the action, but the one that surprisingly stuck out the most was a small but incredibly tense moment involving Isaac having to use an eye-needle machine (for reasons that aren’t incredibly clear, but hey, it’s a cool moment, shut up). Having to guide the needle into the iris of Isaac’s eye proves difficult as he starts twitching out, making it hard to center. As the needle gets closer and closer, you just hope to god that he doesn’t fuck it all up for himself. Even better is when you see what happens when you fail. It’s a surprisingly, incredibly tense moment in what is usually not a scary game (Okay I’ll shut up now!).

The “What Is This, I Don’t Even” Award For Most Ridiculously Contrived Moment Of The Year

Modern Warfare 3

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Imagine yourself in Infinity Ward’s shoes. Your lead designers have left the company due to your publisher’s douchebaggery, you’re stuck making the sequel without them, your last game had a controversial scene in which the player could massacre an airport full of civilians, and despite a recent big win for “games are art” and free-speech at the Supreme Court, your medium is still under close scrutiny, especially after some douchebag in Oslo, Norway decided to go on a shooting rampage at a daycare center and call your game part of his (exact wording, here) “training simulation”.

So what do you do? Make the controversial scene even more tasteless, manipulative, and contrived, of course! So you decide to, in a cutscene rather than an interactive segment like the airport scene, depict the death of a child in the most egregiously tasteless depiction of the death of a child you can possibly think up in a Modern Warfare game: Blowing her up. BECAUSE WE WANT OUR INDUSTRY TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS AN ART FORM! THIS WILL TOTALLY HELP, RIGHT GUYS!!….Guys?!……guys?…..gais….

The Cyanide Ice-Cream Award For Most Disappointing Game of the Year

L.A. Norie

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Okay, let’s get one thing perfectly straight: I really liked L.A. Noire. But there were lots of crippling flaws that kept it from greatness. The facial animations: Awesome. The voice acting: Awesome. The attention to detail in its recreation of late 40s/early 50s Los Angeles: Awesome. The Story: Awesome until the ending makes you realize you didn’t really have much of a connection with the characters at all. But that’s okay. The Sandbox: Aweso–no, scratch that, there isn’t really much to do in the open world, which is such a shame considering how much detail was put into it. The Shooting: Awe–no, wait, that’s actually kinda crap. The Missions: Awesome…that is until they start repeating themselves over and over again. The Interrogations: Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that this one is awesome because the way they did it hear was really poorly handled (I HAVE THE EVIDENCE RIGHT HERE, WHY WON’T YOU LET ME USE IT!!).

All in all, L.A. Noire has the elements of a great game, but it’s bogged down by some questionable design decisions and some not-incredibly-well-developed characters. The potential is there, but the execution leaves something to be desired.

Of course there are still so many more games that I have yet to play. I still need Saint’s Row: The Third, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a PS3 so I can play Uncharted 3, and all those other games. But this was still a wonderful year for gaming. Of course, it’s all for naught, because I won’t have time to play any of those games for months because–OH MY GOD SKYRIM!! Why am I still writing this when I could be playing more Skyrim!?!

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ride off with Shadowmere into the sunset to kill dragons and such. Bye!

Note To Developers: I didn’t make ACTUAL, physical awards, per se, so I suggest just getting them yourself. Bethesda, go wash yourself with the best soap money could buy! Team Bondi, go eat a Cyanide Ice-Cream cone. Gearbox, scoop up a cowpat and set it on fire in your house. El Shaddai, fall in love with a prostitute. Infinity Ward, just…don’t be near me.

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CinEffect Podcast Episode #12

Episode #12: Young Adult, Dogville, Hugo, Skyrim, and Spaced

Welcome to the CinEffect Podcast. In this podcast of constant douchebaggery, me (Chris), Alex, and Brady talk about film, games, and everything in between. This week, we harken the return of Brady, splooge over Skyrim and Spaced, discuss our favorite actors of the year in our reviews for The Descendants and Young Adult, Chris expresses his hatred for Lars von Trier’s Dogville, and conclude with He-Man singing while we confess to being naked the entire show…wait, what?

EPISODE TIMELINE
(0:00) Some Weird Blooper Thing…
(0:18) Skyrim Theme
(0:40) Introduction/The Return of Brady
GAMES
(4:27) Some Random Discussion
(5:48) Chris – Batman: Arkham City, Bastion
(10:40) Brady – Batman: Arkham City, Skyrim
REVIEWS
(21:11) Alex – Hugo
(35:42) Brady – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
(43:54) Brady & Chris – Spaced
(49:58) Chris – Dogville
(1:01:57) Chris – Bellflower
(1:09:04) Chris – The Descendants
(1:15:36) Alex & Chris – Young Adult
CONCLUSION
(1:30:57) Links And Twitters
(1:32:50) What We’re Seeing Next Week
(1:36:15) He-Man Singing “Hey, What’s Going On”

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Movie Review

[The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, and Christopher Plummer
MPAA: R – For Brutal Violent Content Including Rape & Torture, Strong Sexuality, Graphic Nudity, and Language]


The word “remake” has become associated with so many feelings of vile contemptment in the movie-nerd world. With so many horrible and unnecessary remakes being churned out each year, from classics to more recent foreign films, it’s hard to forget the remakes that are handled well. Last year we had the incredibly under-appreciated Let Me In (Remake of the Swedish Let The Right One In), Martin Scorsese turned a pulpy Chinese gangster film (Infernal Affairs) into a new crime classic with The Departed, and most people tend to forget that many classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly were remakes.

Sometimes, being first doesn’t automatically make you the winner. Because when an assured director is able to own up the source material and make it his/her own, then it stops being a remake and becomes a full-fledged great movie. And while David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo simply can not be discussed without mentioning the original Swedish film which was based on the original Swedish bestselling novel, it is still able to stand on its own. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is quite simply one of the best thrillers of the year, remake or not.

So, I guess I need to summarize my opinion of the originals first before beginning my review of this remake. I’ve actually read the first book and watched the first film, but I haven’t seen or read the other two stories in the Girl series. The book was great, if not too long and overly-detailed for its own good, though I was willing to let that slide since having an insanely detailed narrative works well in a literary format. The film didn’t lend itself to that nearly as well, but it was still a solid movie with a strong central performance from Noomi Rapace (Who you can find making her English-language debut in another big blockbuster coming out this month, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows). I didn’t love it nearly as much as everyone else seemed to have, but as far as a faithful adaptation of the book goes, it was perfectly serviceable.

The stories of all three versions–book, original film, and remake–center around an investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, in this version) who is called forth to a private island to solve a 40-year-old mystery involving the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, who was part of the large, wealthy Vanger family. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who was basically like a father to Harriet, has been being tormented by her killer for 40 years since her disappearance, for he has been annually receiving wildflowers, something that Harriet used to give him all the time, since the time after her death. Blomkvist, eager to solve the case after being offered a deal he can’t refuse, enlists the help of the titular and iconic Lisbeth Salander, a goth cybergenius who can hack her way into the White House if she wasn’t so emotionally fragile. Together they piece together something far greater than they could’ve ever suspected: a sadistic serial killer of women who may or may not be part of the Vanger family.

Now, it’s weird to discuss why I find this film much superior to the original. On a basic plot and structural level, everything has mostly remained the same. There are a couple rather major alterations here and there, but 95% of the film is incredibly faithful to both original source materials which its basing itself on, plot-wise. Where it differs is the style, which may not seem like a big deal since style is all for naught without substance, but the Fincher’s assured direction actually elevates the film’s plot rather than detracts or distracts from it.

Being shot on a bigger budget and all, the film has a much better sense of atmosphere and dread. Bleak and cold in every sense of the word, Fincher creates a real sense of place in the Vanger Island that creates tension and unease throughout the entire picture. To me, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is David Fincher at his Finchiest…I promise I’ll punch myself later for typing that. It has the sadistic violence of Se7en, the strong characterizations and dialogue of The Social Network, the sprawling and detailed narrative of Zodiac, and the nail-biting suspense of pretty much all of his movies wrapped up into one.

I’ve heard many of this version’s detractors describe the film as “bland”, and I couldn’t disagree more. If this is what bland is, then bland should become a standard that every other mediocre thriller should aspire to. I can see why some people would say that though. This remake, despite its subtle differences, is still incredibly similar to the original film. So similar, in fact, that it’s weird to find the same people who praised the original call this remake out as “bland”. It could perhaps be that they’ve literally seen this story before, and I can understand that, but I think that that’s a disservice to what Fincher brings to the table.

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While I did like the Swedish film a lot, there was never a moment that really let me into the movie. It was a really solid thriller, but it ultimately never transcended “solid” due to a straight-forward approach in its directing. While some prefer that the straight-forward approach of the Swedish director, Niels Arden Oplev, created a sense of objective clarity and directness in the plot, I thought that Fincher’s direction allowed for more complex characters and a more refined sense of dread that helps establish its themes of misogyny and the ugliness of human nature much better than the original.

Whereas Oplev was more direct, Fincher is more murky, but in a good sort of way. The characters all have a sense of moral ambiguity that gives each of them, even the side-characters, more depth than the original. Many of the characters in the Swedish film felt almost like archetypes rather than real people. Here, the characters are harder to read, but more captivatingly real, which creates a certain tension throughout every scene in the film.

And speaking of tension, it should go without saying that Fincher has always been a master of creating suspense and dread. While the Swedish film certainly was brutal, it never felt brutal. Here, everything is amplified. Some of my favorite scenes involved characters who clearly know of each others’ ulterior motives simply just having a conversation with each other, trying not to give a hint at what they’re really after. It reminded me a lot of the spectacularly intense moment in Zodiac, where Jake Gyllenhaal, after hearing that the man he’s talking with wants to head down over to the basement, remembers that the killer he was looking for had a basement, and that not many people in California had basements to begin with.

And on the other end of the spectrum, the brutal scenes, such as the much-talked-about rape scene and another involving a metal dildo, feel much more visceral and shocking than the previous iteration. Thanks to the atmosphere, and a spectacular score by Fincher’s The Social Network collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, these sequences feel more raw and unflinching than before, though it’s obviously not enjoyable to sit through by any means.

As bleak as the film is, I think that the film totally earns its darkness because it still manages to be so captivating. Not just because of Fincher’s direction. I also forgot to bring up the excellent performances. Daniel Craig is the A-lister of the cast, playing the film’s protagonist Mikael Blomkvist with his usually suave debonair, but it’s Rooney Mara, who plays Lisbeth Salander, that steals the show. Salander is just one of those characters that catches your attention automatically. She’s unique, interesting, hides deep emotional scars, and is always unpredictable. As played by Rooney Mara, who hasn’t really had any other major film roles until this, she is more spellbinding than ever. Mara, like pretty much everything else that makes this version superior to the original, creates a much better sense of unease and discomfort without over-playing it or making her character too detached from reality to sympathize with.

There are still a few flaws to be had, but they’ve been inherited from the original film. Like the original, it takes a long while for Salander and Blomkvist to actually team up (They don’t officially work together until the one hour mark), and it goes on a bit too long, reaching many points where you think it’s supposed to end but instead just keeps going and going. But I was willing to forgive that flaw this time around because unlike the Swedish film, they decided to go with the book’s beautifully bitter ending rather than just end it on a completely abrupt note.

Final Verdict: While it doesn’t really differentiate itself too much from the original film, Fincher’s version of the The Girl WIth The Dragon Tattoo is a perfect example of how small, subtle changes can make a huge difference, and ultimately make the film stand on its own despite its similarities. It’s a smart, captivating thriller that has strong performances–including a star-making turn for Rooney Mara–, and assured direction from David Fincher that ratchets up the suspense. It’s a rare remake that, despite being so similar to the original, ends up being so much better than it at the same time.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a good tattoo remover. I have no idea how I got these in the first place…

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Bellflower Movie Review

[Bellflower
Written and Directed by Evan Glodell
Starring: Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, and Tyler Dawson
MPAA: R – For Disturbing Violence, Some Strong Sexuality, Nudity, Pervasive Language, and Some Drug Use]


One of the best things about how movies have evolved over the years is that basically anyone can make a movie now. If you can handle your budget accordingly, and you know some people who can act or do technical asides, you’re set to go. The DIY-era of film-making is on a gigantic rise and it’s led to some incredibly interesting products ranging from mega-hit mockumentaries like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, to experimental projects such as the mumblecore movement started by the Duplass brothers and the enigmatic Lynch debut Eraserhead.

There’s just something so inherently cool about learning that just a bunch of average schmoes like us funded their own movie, got their friends to do all the acting and camerawork and such for them, and sent it out to the world via YouTube, film-festivals like Sundance, and the like. Even if the movie winds up not being a total masterpiece, you can admire the craftsmanship and energy that went into making it.

Such is the case of one of 2011’s Sundance darlings: Evan Glodell’s Bellflower. Bellflower is probably the epitome of the DIY movie. The film was written, produced, directed, and has a protagonist played by one man, Evan Glodell; he got most of his friends to play the other major roles; he filmed on location at his hometown on the titular Bellflower Street; he designed all of the explosives, flamethrowers, and muscle cars heavily inspired by Mad Max that are prominently featured in the movie; he even built his own camera rig from scratch. If that isn’t commitment to get your vision across, I don’t know what is.

The film’s low-budget charm is incredibly admirable and the film is definitely one of the most unique and interesting experiences I’ve ever had with a movie all year. I just wish that it worked as a legitimately good movie.

Bellflower has been marketed as an “apocalyptic romance”, which can be seen as false advertising since it has almost nothing to do with the apocalypse. The main characters are Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and his friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson), who are master tinkerers (Both in the movie, and in real life) that spend their days preparing for the apocalypse after becoming obsessed with the Mel Gibson film Mad Max. They create everything from flamethrowers to biker gang emblems, all surrounding their own Mona Lisa: The Medusa, a badass muscle car that belches flames at top speeds and is perfect for traversing the wasteland around.

Along the way, Woodrow sparks up a romance with a blonde, vulgar maiden named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) who beats him at a cricket eating contest at a local bar. They drive all the way to Texas, eat at a crummy restaurant, buy a motorcycle, and do all sorts of other shenanigans together. But it becomes clear from the start that this relationship won’t end well. After a dramatic break-up, the film takes turn upon turn, twist upon twist, and genre upon genre, layering itself into a messy but mesmerizing sandwich that tastes unlike anything you’d ever eaten, but still probably gave you some bad indigestion.

Now, when I say that it’s unlike any other film I’d ever seen, I meant it. As mentioned earlier, Glodell literally made his own camera rig out of dozens of other camera parts and Russian lenses, creating a look and feel that’s fitting for it’s apocalyptic themes. Everything is grimy, grungy, and overly saturated in color. It’s a look that feels wholly unique and original without even really trying; an impressive feat coming from a first-time director.

However, it should be made clear that this is very much a style-over-substance film, and while Glodell clearly has an eye for visual candy, his first time out writing and directing shows clear signs of a first-time student trying to make it to the big leagues in his first swing, like Richard Kelly and Miranda July before him.

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To say that the film’s tone dramatically shifts during the second half is an understatement. Bellflower incorporates so many genres than you’d think from an “apocalyptic romance”. There are elements of comedy, mumblecore, action, horror, psychological drama, Lynchian indistinguishability between dream/memory/reality, etc. It is never boring. The way the film infuses all these different elements together is wildly inventive at all times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel natural like, say, The Evil Dead II careening effortlessly between slapstick comedy and straight-faced horror.

First and foremost, with a movie that features so many elements, certain ones aren’t as strongly developed as others. Namely, the romance between Woodrow and Milly doesn’t feel terribly strong. It’s nice and there’s some charming dialogue here and there–and it also helps that the actors do a fine job–but it never really becomes a relationship that you truly care about. This makes the film’s dramatic crutch, the break-up, feel loose and wobbly, thus making it hard to hold up the more serious shifts in tone.

Even stranger are the moments in which it takes a Lynchian turn of mind-bending confusion. Yet the film feels more like it’s trying a bit hard to be like David Lynch or David Cronenberg rather than really being as successful. Whereas Lynch was able to turn the nonsensical into poetry by creating an intense mood and a clearly abstract visual language that allows for numerous interpretations.

Glodell gets as far as the intense mood, but still has a long ways to go to match the genius of Lynch to make a language using his imagery. Instead, it feels more like a haphazardly assembled collage of cool images that don’t really seem to thematically connect. I’m sure that there’s a clear meaning in the ending that I’m probably not getting, but Lynch’s endings are also like that too, only far more successful. But what made it that way was because the entire movie was nonsensical and abstract. Bellflower shifts its tone so much that the Lynch ending is treated more as an enigmatic aside rather than making the entire film a riddle that ropes you in so you’re dying to untangle it yourself.

And yet, despite all of the shifts in tone, Bellflower remarkably has its own identity. It feels unlike almost any other movie I’d ever seen, and for that I won’t forget it. I just wish that the script was more fine-tuned, the direction was more clear, the tonal shifts more fluid, and the striking imagery more of a complement to its thematic material rather than a separate entity to stare at. Otherwise, it could’ve been the next Donnie Darko cult classic.

Final Verdict: I wouldn’t say that Bellflower is a good movie, and it’s tough for me to recommend it. But if you have an hour and forty five minutes to sink in on a maddeningly absorbing but destructive experiment of a film, then it’s worth a watch. The film has a clear style that feels unique and cool, and there are some interesting ideas lying somewhere, hidden beneath the dusty cracks of the movie. But the tonal shifts are too awkward, the romance isn’t developed enough, and the direction still amateurish and unable to make it all thread together nicely. An insanely interesting failure of a movie.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna whip out my copy of Fallout 3 again. Cuz I don’t want to set the woooorld on fiiiiire…

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CinEffect Podcast Episode #11

Episode #11: Melancholia, VGAs, The Descendants, Hugo, Skyrim, The Muppets, Breaking Dawn

Welcome to the CinEffect Podcast. In this podcast of constant douchebaggery, me (Chris), Alex, and Brady talk about film, games, and everything in between. This week, Chris & Alex discuss the trailer hype in the VGAs, Chris’s addiction to Skyrim, how batshit insane Ichi the Killer and Breaking Dawn are, Alex’s hatred for The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, and conclude with an in-depth review of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.

INTRODUCTION
(0:00) The Thief by Howard Shore (Hugo OST)
(0:46) Introduction & Sundance Line-Up
VIDEO GAMES
(9:56) Chris – Skyrim
(13:00) Alex – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D Land, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, Dungeon Defenders
(23:13) VGAs Round-Up
DVD
(45:30) Alex – Elf, Wayne’s World, John Adams
(52:07) Chris – Beautiful Boy, Ichi The Killer
REVIEWS
(1:04:39) Alex – The Muppets
(1:07:26) Alex – Like Crazy
(1:15:04) Chris & Alex – Sideways & The Descendants
(1:24:39) Chris & Alex descend into a rant about The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
(1:30:55) Chris – Hugo
(1:39:12) Chris – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn
(1:46:49) Chris – Melancholia
CONCLUSION
(2:03:32) Links/Where To Find Us On The Internet
(2:04:17) What We’re Watching Next Week
(2:09:38) Tristan Und Isolde Prelude by Wagner (Melancholia OST)

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Melancholia Movie Review

[Melancholia
Written and Directed by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirstin Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland
MPAA: R – For Some Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content, and Language]


The end of the world is a concept that has been completely overused by Holywood for years now. We’ve seen landmarks of all shapes and sizes demolished by Roland Emmerich, we’ve seen giant monsters, aliens, zombies, and preachy Al Gore messages end the lives of a good portion of the human race, we’ve seen idiotic ways of preventing the end of the world such as nuking the asteroid before it hits earth or having the President pilot a fighter jet to kill aliens…

Simply put, we’ve seen the end of the world so many times, but when you think about it, has there ever been a movie that truly looks at an intimate portrayal of what would really happen when the impending apocalypse loomed ever closer? Has there ever been an apocalyptic film that didn’t star a cutthroat hero like Will Smith or Bruce Willis, but instead depicted everyday people reacting to such a situation? Have we ever seen an accurate portrayal of what a regular person would do when faced with the inevitability that everything that they know and love will be wiped out in an instant and there’s nothing they can do about it?

In reality, the end of the world would be a bleak, depressing affair with zero hope to be found. There would probably be nothing an average joe could do to stop it, or even survive it. The end of the world would mean the end of all of humanity as we all know it. And the big question is: Will anyone miss it when it’s gone? Will anyone miss us when we’re gone?

Lars von Trier’s latest film, Melancholia, is perhaps the closest a film has ever gotten to succeeding on such an apocalyptic vision. It begins with Justine (Kirsten Dunst) having an expensive wedding with her new hubby (Alexander Skarsgard) in a lavish mansion in the middle of the woods. Her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) have planned the expensive wedding for her and wish her the best, but it becomes increasingly clear to the audience that nothing about this marriage is going to work out.

After a marriage that, believe it or not, lasts shorter than Kim Kardashian’s betrothment with Kris Humphries (I’m getting topical, guys!), Justine battles through severe amounts of depression and decides to temporarily move in with her sister in the mansion. What should be a therapeutic vacation becomes an unsettling descent into despair when a giant planet five times the size of earth named Melancholia is seen heading for a collision course for earth. It’s the perfect apocalypse: There’s absolutely nothing anybody can do to stop the planet, and all our characters can do is sit and watch as the planet grows bigger and bigger in the sky.

The genius behind Melancholia‘s bleakness is in how the film opens. The first seven and a half minutes are an almost disconnected prelude featuring a collage of images of destruction and despair in the most grandiose slo-mo you’ve ever seen. It’s probably one of the most gorgeous openings I have ever experienced in a film. A perfect marriage of stunning imagery, meticulous detail, excellent shot composition, and beautifully fitting classical music. But it also works on a narrative level as well. By showing the end of the world first, there’s no suspense on whether everyone will live or die. Instead, we have a fantastic sense of impending doom. It’s a brilliant use of dramatic irony: The audience knows much more than the characters, and we know that nothing is going to end well for any of them. The opening seven and a half minutes alone are worth the price of admission.

Directly after that, the film shifts gears to what is titled “Part 1: Justine”, which documents Justine’s wedding night. And this is where the film’s flaws drop in. If you saw Part 1 of the film without seeing the opening prologue, and you weren’t told what the concept of the film was, you’d honestly think it had nothing to do with the sci-fi aspects at all. I get what von Trier is trying to do here: Ground the film in reality, show us the calm before the storm, and draw parallels between the end of Justine’s happiness and relationship with the end of the world as we know it. But what makes this prolonged wedding scene not work is that it drags on for too long.

At first, we can kind of sympathize with Justine. She clearly didn’t want to marry this man but did so anyway to make a better person out of herself, and she’s now faced with the prospect of a life of unhappiness with a man she never really loved to begin with. However, this sequence goes on 25-30 minutes too long. At that point, Justine becomes an unlikable shrew of a woman who isn’t given enough reasons to be depressed at such a lavish party with a man who clearly cares about her other than “because she’s kind of crazy”. There are hints of her being bipolar, but it’s never extensively explained, and still doesn’t excuse how she acts within Part 1. It would’ve been much better executed if Lars von Trier decided to cut this sequence down by 10-15 minutes or so. As it stands, it’s something to press the fast-forward button on when you get the DVD.

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Thankfully, things pick back up in Part 2 of the film which is titled “Claire”, and focuses more on Charlotte Gainsbourg. Now, I’m probably in the minority when I say this, but it’s well worth mentioning: Everyone has been praising Kirsten Dunst’s performance in the film, but in my personal opinion, Charlotte Gainsbourg brings a much stronger presence, character, and overall performance than Dunst. Not to discredit Ms. Dunst, who gives us a very raw and brave performance, but Charlotte Gainsbourg is given a more nuanced character to work with.

In general, Charlotte Gainsbourg is one of the most underrated actresses of our generation. I’ve only seen her in three films (The Science of Sleep, Antichrist, and this) but in all three, she was absolutely phenomenal. She has a natural beauty to her that feels genuine, can evoke strength and independence alongside fragility and fear. Her work here is phenomenally well done and I hope she also gets the same recognition that Dunst has also been getting .

The fact that Part 2 focuses more on Claire isn’t the only reason that the last two acts work so well. It’s also because it’s the moment when Lars von Trier introduces the sci-fi aspects and the threat of Melancholia. Seeing ordinary people deal with an apocalyptic event in this fashion is something very refreshing in the movie landscape. They react naturally, like real human beings would act in the threat of such a situation. The five stages of grief apply: Denial that it’s actually happening, anger when they realize the inevitable, bargaining for a way out, depression when they realize that there is no way, and finally, the acceptance that this is the end of all things.

Whenever I see films like Independence Day, inoffensively fun as they are, there is never a true sense of loss when you realize that everything that you know and love is coming to an end. Melancholia is the first film to truly make you feel sadness for the death of the world. Like you are watching the end of something beautiful, and you realize that you’ll never see it again. It is this sadness that elevates Melancholia from other films that are just depressing for the sake of being depressing.

Lars von Trier, a man who is normally known for shocking his audience, has created his most tasteful, beautiful, and–in it’s own weird way–uplifting film of his entire career. Despite the true sadness on display, what makes it even sadder is that there are moments of sheer beauty and real emotion throughout the picture. It’s a hefty balancing act of beauty and sadness that makes the film work, even when it is punishingly depressing to view. I’m glad that Lars von Trier didn’t indulge himself in pretentious symbolism and shock-value this time like he did in Antichrist. If anything, I’d like to see him make more films like this.

Final Verdict: It can be a punishing experience to view. It’s unpleasant in every sense of the world, but at the same time it’s also one of the most mesmerizing films of the year. While I have my gripes with the first act of the film, seeing the gorgeous prologue and the emotionally heavy final two acts more than make up for it. Combined with fantastic performances from Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland, plus the best and most assured direction that Lars von Trier has ever brought with him, and Melancholia is an unforgettable experience. Even in spite of its overwhelming sadness, there’s no denying that it’s a hard film to shake off after viewing it.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to nuke Melancholia before it hits us. If I can’t save us, and Bruce Willis can’t save us, then no one can. Bye!

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