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The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards

As the year is approaching its end, it’s customary for bloggers and critics alike to do a top ten list of the best movies of the year. I won’t be doing that, because I haven’t seen nearly enough films of 2011 yet. A list like that from me is still a good half year away from meaning anything. So rather than reflecting strictly on the films released this year, I’d like to reflect on all the films I saw this year.

Thus, I present A Swede Talks Movies’ The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards! Or ASTMTFIWI2K11A, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. A bunch of random categories will be conjured for whatever films I feel like singling out for one reason or another.

This year I watched 229 movies I hadn’t seen before, from 19 different countries with release dates spanning from 1925 to 2011. A lot of it is from recent years, but I did check out a couple of older “you haven’t seen that one!?” flicks too. I saw my first ever films from Belgium, Brazil, Greece and Russia (Ben X, City of God, Dogtooth and Night Watch, respectively). I saw my first ever Charlie Chaplin movie (The Gold Rush) and got my first glimpse of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. I watched highly regarded classics like Casablanca, The French Connection and the Alfred Hitchcock films Vertigo and Rear Window, as well as newer stuff like the brunt of the Best Picture Oscar nominees from the last ceremony. I saw great films like Man on Wire and A Single Man, and I saw crap like Season of the Witch.

For these awards, I’m only counting films I saw for the first time in 2011. Rewatches need not apply.

And now, on with the show!

Most Eyebrow-Raising “And Introducing” Credit Award
Winner: Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures

It kind of feels like Kate Winslet has been around forever, always turning in great performances. And yet there she was in Peter Jackson‘s teen murder drama Heavenly Creatures, her arrival on the big screen loudly heralded in the opening credits. As for the performance itself? A bit rough around the edges perhaps, but full of energy and enthusiasm.

Best Use Of A Urinating Baby Award
Winner: Hard-Boiled

Hard-Boiled was pretty kick-ass all around and could have gotten a shout-out for plenty of different things. But that baby putting out a fire by wetting himself really stood out. Patently ridiculous, but so good.

“What’s The Big Deal?” Award for A Beloved Film That Left Me Underwhelmed
Winner: Carrie
Runner-up: Withnail & I

While I did like Withnail & I less than Carrie, that one seems to be more of a cult classic than anything. Carrie has more wide-spread acclaim, which made it all the more disappointing to me. I’ve had more fun discussing the film with people afterwards than I had watching it.

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Posted by on 27 December, 2011 in Year End Awards

 

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Review – Beyond (Svinalängorna)

When we experience bad things in our lives, our natural instinct seems to be to distance ourselves from them. We do our best not to dwell on them. We move on, hoping that if we just ignore them they will fade away. Often, this works. Maybe we’ll carry the memories with us for the rest of our lives, but as long as the bad things in our past don’t affect our current lives, we’re content. This is what Beyond‘s main character Leena (Noomi Rapace) tries to do. She’s married and has two daughters and seems to lead a happy life. But as it tends to do in films, the past rears its ugly head. A phonecall from a distant hospital informs her that her mother Aili (Outi Mäenpää) is on her deathbed and that she very much wants to see her daughter before her time is up. Leena curiously rejects the idea, but her husband Johan (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s real-life husband at the time) talks her into it. Off goes the entire family on a trip to the farthest reaches of Sweden where Leena’s mother is waiting.

That’s one of the two time periods the movie hops back forth between. The other one is back when Leena was a 12-year old girl (played by Tehilla Blad), and we get to follow her life as her family moves into an apartment and tries to settle into the community, having just arrived from Finland. Her mother is constantly suspicious of others. Her father Kimmo (Ville Virtanen) is a recovering alcoholic, but one where a fall off the wagon seems more a matter of “when” than “if”. And her younger brother Sakari (Junior Blad) quietly and curiously observes everything the way some children do. Moving in to the new home is a joyous and hopeful time for the family, but we alreade see the warning signs of what may come. As the film progresses, the tumultous family life becomes more and more evident and we see just why adult Leena is none too keen on getting back in touch with her mother.

Beyond (Swedish title Svinalängorna) is the feature directorial debut of veteran actor Pernilla August. Swedes know her from many films, whereas those of you from other parts of the world might be most familiar with her from her role as the nanny Maj in Fanny and Alexander or her part as Anakin’s mother in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Beyond is an impressive directorial effort, especially in the ways it ties together its two different time periods. We might see something of present Leena that seems odd, only to have its origin explained in a flashback much later on, only for the film to segue back to the present with another cause-effect detail. This might get a bit too explicit at a point or two, but for the most part it’s engagingly orchestrated. I found myself fascinated by the story and structure, which lends the movie a potent mystery feel amidst all the drama. The two time periods are given equal importance, constantly intersecting and showing parallels. The fact that the present parts start out during daytime only to then take place entirely at night is another nice touch, providing a sense of a journey into darkness as Leena reconnects with her childhood.

It’s the actors who stand out in this film, however. Noomi Rapace garnered plenty of well-earned praise when she portrayed hard-as-nails Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium trilogy a few years ago. She’s even more impressive here, almost toying with the lingering memory of the Lisbeth role as Leena first starts out seeming stoic and indifferent only to gradually crack. Perhaps even better is her younger counterpart Tehilla Blad (who also played Lisbeth as a child in those three movies). There’s so much to recognize in the ways she copes with the mounting distress in her life, the way she hurries off to occupy herself with some mundane task when her parents fight or how she looks after her brother just as much for her own sake as for his. And yet happiness shines through in the rare times when she’s met with her parents’ approval. This is a tough task for someone so young, but Blad nails the performance. The supporting parts are equally good, with Mäenpää and Virtanen in particular providing brutal emotional energy to their parts. And in a less flashy role we find Ola Rapace, playing husband Johan as a calm and collected supporter, rolling with the punches to the best of his abilities. I’m somewhat reminded of Stanley Tucci‘s fine turn as Meryl Streep‘s husband in Julie & Julia, even if that film was decidedly more light-hearted than this one.

It took a little time to win me over, but I ended up really liking Beyond in the end. It’s a potent tale of domestic hardships, showing that the past can be hurtful no matter how much distance we put to it. There are scenes here of great discomfort, such as the icy indifferent stare of Leena as she watches her mother in the hospital bed, the painful arguing going on in her youth and how this manifests itself in the present with her and her own family. It’s a heavy film, not so much in content as in emotional toll. The story doesn’t break any new ground perhaps, but it’s fascinating and gripping nonetheless. Pernilla August has put together an impressive movie, and I’m eager to see what she’ll come out with next.

Beyond is Sweden’s submission to the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. I’m guessing the Academy will like it, but whether that’s enough or not to win the award is anyone’s guess. I do hope it makes it past the first round or two of the nomination process, if only so that more people will become aware of it and check it out. It’s a film well worth seeing.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 29 September, 2011 in Reviews

 

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Some Oscars thoughts this early in the race

With Venice, Toronto and Telluride over and done with, awards season is underway. This is always a fun time of the year for me as a movie fan, so I’m sure I’ll be chiming in as the journey to the Kodak Theatre progresses. What fascinates me is of course the films themselves (though I won’t be seeing any of them anytime soon myself, unfortunately), but also the race. The PR strategies employed by the studios. The jockeying for position. The films that fail to gain traction despite heavy pre-hype. The contenders that arrive from out of nowhere. Trying to gauge the Academy’s taste is something people often say is easy to do (hence the idea of Oscar bait), but AMPAS can be very fickle indeed. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

But it’s very early in the race, and speculating about what’s going to win at this point still seems a bit premature to me, especially considering all the films that haven’t been seen by anyone yet. As I said, I haven’t seen any of the films myself, and I don’t have any juicy inside info to offer. There are other sites than mine that offer more up-to-date news and analyses of the whole thing (I highly recommend In Contention).

So what do I have to offer Oscars-wise at this time? Just my own random thoughts and observations.

We still have no clear frontrunner for Best Picture, which is a pleasant development. Anything can still happen. By this time last year, The King’s Speech was the film to beat already (though doubts would arise as the year came to a close). Same with Slumdog Millionaire three years ago. But now there’s still life in the race. The Descendants is looking strong so far, but it’s a comedy, and AMPAS are generally reluctant to give films like that their big prize. There’s summer’s big surprise hit The Help, but it’s going to need a good push to stay fresh in people’s minds. Political drama The Ides of March seems like it would be right up the Academy’s alley, but it has met with solid-but-not-great critical reception. The Tree of Life remains a big question mark. And there are plenty of big ones still unseen, such as Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar, Stephen Daldry‘s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse.

Gary Oldman, Oscar hopeful

In contrast, the Best Actor field seems to be stabilizing somewhat. George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gary Oldman (looking for a long overdue first nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) have all gotten the necessary praise and seem safe bets, along with recently unveiled Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt. And barring a complete flop by J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio appears likely to join them. Who could oust any of them? Michael Fassbender, for one. Both Shame and A Dangerous Method could do it for him. Ryan Gosling maybe, whether it’s through Drive or The Ides of March.

Speaking of Drive, I have no idea what it will have any chance at being nominated for. Critics have loved the hell out of it, but what branches of the Academy will take a liking to it? Maybe none at all. I could easily see that happening.

People have been talking for way too long about how Best Actress will come down to Glenn Close vs Meryl Streep. The latter’s The Iron Lady still hasn’t shown, but I’d put my money on Close of the two. There’s a better story to be told with her winning for Albert Nobbs. Hopefully something will heat up this discussion though, because it’s been stale for months. I’m hoping for a late resurgence of Tilda Swinton love myself. What happened to We Need to Talk About Kevin anyway?

And what’s going to happen to Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris? It raked in more money at the box office than any of the director’s previous films and was being called the first possible Best Picture contender of the year. But therein lies the problem: it arrived way back in spring. What can be done to keep it in the running? An Original Screenplay nod seems likely, in any case.

Not happening.

Remember when people were talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Super 8 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes as possible Best Picture nominees? Oh the joys of summer speculating. None of them seem very likely anymore, do they?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to be a return to his dark 90s thriller roots for David Fincher. Which is great, because those movies of his were excellent. Don’t expect the Academy to fawn all over it, though. They were very happy to ignore Fincher until he started playing to their tastes with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I am not expecting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an Oscars contender at all, except possibly for star Rooney Mara.

Pixar’s Cars 2 made tons of money this summer but is by far the studio’s worst received film yet. This means that their usual playground Best Animated Feature might be an exciting category for once. Will The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn strike gold, or will its motion capture make the Academy deem it ineligible? If that one’s out of the running, Rango might be the horse to beat.

Nobody’s talking about Sweden’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pernilla August‘s Beyond (Svinalängorna). We haven’t won that Oscar since 1983. I don’t think that’ll change this time around.

Finally, some largely baseless early Oscars picks. Please don’t hold me to these even a week from now. I’m just guessing. I still reserve rights to proudly proclaim “I told you so!” if I happen to be right, however.

Best Picture: War Horse

Best Director: Steven Spielberg – War Horse

Best Actor: Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Best Actress: Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte – Warrior

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: J. Edgar

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film: Poland – In Darkness

 
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Posted by on 20 September, 2011 in Oscars

 

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