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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2011

Remember when I made a list of 22 movies I needed to see before making my Top 10 of 2011 list?

Remember when, in December of 2011, I said that it would be half a year or so until I got around to making said Top 10?

Well, as it turns out, that was what we in Sweden call “being a time optimist.” Better late than never though, right?

The funny thing is that there are still movies from 2011 that look really good which I haven’t gotten around to yet. Into the Abyss, This Must Be the Place, Damsels in Distress, Weekend, Warrior, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Another Earth, and A Separation are all unseen by me still, to name but a handful. I could have held off on making this list longer to get even more stuff in, but I feel like I’ve waited enough already. These lists are never set in stone, so it’s not like I’m committed to these being the year’s best for ever and ever.

For those wondering how I’m doing on my 2012 backlog, well… Let’s just say that my Top 10 for that year is probably still a good 12 months or so away.

But this is 2011. On with the show!

Honorable mentions: 50/50, Attack the Block, Carnage, Headhunters, Young Adult, Your Sister’s Sister

 

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10 – HANNA (Joe Wright)

“Adapt or die.”

Equal parts stylish action flick and off-beat coming-of-age story, mixed in with plentiful fairy tale elements, Hanna is a unique beats of a movie. Saoirse Ronan is great in the lead, playing a girl who knows all about survival, little about human interaction, and who has to rely on both to escape the bad people who are chasing her.

 

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9 – THE INNKEEPERS (Ti West)

“Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.”

The Innkeepers is kind of like what Clerks could have been if 1: it had been a horror film, and 2: if the lead characters had been interesting, entertaining, and brought to life by gifted actors. The work by the lead duo Pat Healy and (especially) Sara Paxton really helps to make you invested in protagonists, so that when the frights start piling up, you actually care about what’s going to happen, rather than just jump because something said “boo!”. This is a quality horror film.

 

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8 – THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Steven Spielberg)

“Give me those oars! I’ll show you some real seamanship, laddie! I’ll not be doubted by some pipsqueak tuft of ginger and his irritating dog. I am master and commander of the seas!”

Speaking of creating investment in characters, that’s an area where The Adventures of Tintin had it easy, since I’ve been invested in Tintin, Captain Haddock and the others since childhood. But Spielberg’s film doesn’t prey on nostalgia. It feels very much like a modern thing, especially in the clever shots and action sequences where it really takes advantage of its animated form by pulling off stuff that would be hard to do with live action. Pure entertainment, this one.

 

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7 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (Brad Bird)

“A crude drawing, but by your description, that could be Kurt Hendricks. 190 IQ. Served in Swedish Special Forces. Professor of physics, Stockholm University. Specialist in nuclear endgame theory. Asked to resign… well, because he’s crazy.”

It has been about 10 months since I saw this film, and I still haven’t recovered from that tower climbing scene.

 

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6 – TAKE SHELTER (Jeff Nichols)

“You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it.”

An affecting drama with some real power acting on display, particularly from the always commanding Michael Shannon. I love the story in Take Shelter, about a man whose chief want is to keep his family safe, but who can’t be sure whether he’s justified, paranoid or delusional. And it looks great too.

 

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5 – THE RAID (SERBUAN MAUT, Gareth Evans)

“Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout.”

It’s amazing how much variety you can have with your badass action when it all takes place within an apartment building. Evans here mixes gunplay with martial arts to craft an action film that keeps you on your toes from start to finish, and where every scene could be the stand-out scene in most other movies of its kind.

 

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4 – DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn)

“From now on, every word out of your mouth is the truth. Or I’m going to hurt you.”

At the end of 2011, I called this the best movie of 2011 that I had seen so far. Almost two years later, only three have managed to top it, and even then, it’s a close call. Drive remains an excellent and tense experience, like a spring that just keeps getting pressed and pressed and pressed until it explodes into scenes of horrific violence. Ryan Gosling in the lead is superb.

 

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3 – BRIDESMAIDS (Paul Feig)

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you look ugly, and that makes me kind of happy.”

The only real comedy to make the cut this year, Bridesmaids is everything that’s good about Judd Apatow comedies; it’s absolutely hilarious, but there’s also a lot of heart and emotional resonance with the characters, here focusing on the nature of friendship. Kristen Wiig deserves the lion’s share of praise for this one, both putting in a pitch-perfect performance and having co-written the script.

 

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2 – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynne Ramsay)

“Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. You’re used to me.”

In a long line of great performances, the one as distraught mother Eva in this movie might be the best work Tilda Swinton has ever done. This is a character stuck in awful circumstances, and just how Swinton mined the necessary emotions for the part, I have no idea. Remarkably, the story and directing is every bit as good as Swinton’s performance. As I’ve written (though not yet posted) in my Monthly Report for November, this is a film that would have blown my mind had I seen it when I was first getting into movies. And even now, it still does.

 

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1 – SHAME (Steve McQueen)

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”

While we’re still on the subjects of awesome performances and blowing my mind, there’s Shame, the best movie of 2011. This is a truly spellbinding film with a number of utterly convincing role portrayals, none sharper than Michael Fassbender‘s powerful performance as sex addict Brandon. McQueen peppers the movie with impressive long takes that, unlike many usages of them, feel like a part of the complete package rather than a cool gimmick. What’s not to like about this movie? Nothing.

What are you favorite films of 2011? What do you think of the movies on this list?

 
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Posted by on 14 November, 2013 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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14 actors I really dig

There’s a bit of a meme going on in Swedish film blogging circles. The idea is simple: list your seven favorite male and female actors. I’m participating too, although loosely. I’m not saying these are my very favorites, as that tends to change from day to day and I might have forgotten someone. These are, however, seven men and seven women whose work I really enjoy, either because they constantly deliver great performances, or because they possess some hard-to-define quality that makes my brain happily go “ding!” whenever I spot their names on a cast list.

First, some honorable mentions…

Kevin Spacey: Had I written this post 10 years ago, he’d be a shoo-in for sure. Alas, he hasn’t had many truly great roles lately.
Kirsten Dunst: She has been underrated ever since she lit up the screen in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, and only recently has she started getting the critical acclaim she deserves.
Al Pacino: Another one whose heyday is behind him, Pacino has tons of maniacally energetic performances on his CV.
Rosario Dawson: Effortlessly charming, possibly the hottest woman on this planet, and probably with her best work still ahead of her.
Jason Statham: The bona fide action star of the millennium.
Ellen Page: At 25 years of age, she has already amassed a number of impressive lead and supporting roles. What does the future hold for her?

On to the list proper. This is in randomly generated order.

MV5BMTMzODkzOTU4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU0ODE5NA@@._V1._SX640_SY920_Catherine Keener

When I watch Keener play one of her evil characters, I can not imagine here ever being good. When I watch her play one of her good characters, I can not imagine her ever being evil. Her impressive range is perhaps her strongest quality and she has proven to only get better with age. When she got her first Oscar nomination for playing manipulative seductress Maxine in Being John Malkovich, she was already 40 years old. Since then – and before – she has kept putting in affecting performances no matter how small or large a part she plays.

3 great performances
Living in Oblivion – pulling off the difficult task of acting like you’re acting, both badly and well.
Being John Malkovich – toying with John Cusack with equal measures of bitchy and funny.
An American Crime – playing one of the most despicable abusive mothers in recent history.

Anthony_Hopkins_0001Anthony Hopkins

While there is a lot to be said for physical transformations and chameleon actors who are nigh-unrecognizable from one film to the next, perhaps even more impressive is someone like Hopkins. He always looks more or less the same, and yet he disappears into roles like few others. A master of mannerisms, body language, and voice, Hopkins portrays clearly defined characters utterly convincingly. Never one to turn down a paycheck, he appears in many films that might not make full use of his talents, but you will never see him slumming it or sleep-walking through a role. Hopkins always delivers.

3 great performances
The Silence of the Lambs – somehow making a mere 16 minutes of screen time into the one thing people associate the film with.
The Remains of the Day – redefining “emotionally restrained”.
The World’s Fastest Indian – completely inhabiting a man jovially dead-set on accomplishing his dream.

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Posted by on 18 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: October 2012

Hot diggity damn, what a movie month October turned out to be! With 28 new movies seen, it’s handily the most densely packed month since I started this series of blog posts. Netflix launching in Sweden certainly helped a bit, but it’s also a simple case of film once again rising above other pastimes of mine, as it tends to do sooner or later. Summer was a down-period; now I’m back into the swing of things again.

But it’s not just quantity that makes October a great month for film. The vast majority of what I watched these last 31 days has been good. Only three films failed to make my passing grade of 3/5, which is pretty impressive. It got to the point where I started second-guessing myself: “Can I really give another movie a positive mark? Shouldn’t I give out a low score to show some kind of… I don’t know.” In the end, I feel like I’ve been fair to every movie I’ve seen. Except the Bergman one, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
Structurally, this is familiar prison/asylum/escape stuff. It’s competently made for sure, and certainly not boring. That said, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table plot-wise. It is notable, however, for bringing cruelties performed by certain members of the Catholic church to the public consciousness. Young women were sent off to asylums to become, in effect, slave laborers indefinitely. Why? Because they sinned. They flirted with boys, or had children out of wedlock, or were raped. While being based on a true story is never a free pass for a movie to be considered important or anything, it does lend this one a certain weight it might not otherwise have had.
3/5

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Rodman Flender, 2011)
A bit repetitive at times, and not a very revelatory look at Conan O’Brien, but it – and its subject – has enough energy and drive to make for a fun watch. I haven’t seen any of O’Brien’s work other than the occassional clip here and there online, and I’m not sure I learned much about him here other than what the title reveals.
3/5

Faster (George Tillman Jr., 2010)
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this one expecting a straight-forward frantic action flick. That’s not what Faster is. It’s a revenge thriller with only sporadic scenes of gunplay and driving antics. For what it is, it works quite well. I was particularly fond of the attempts at characterization of the main players, with all three getting some unexpected depth added to them. The ending kind of flies in the face of what led up to it though, which is a bit of a shame. Still, this is a decent movie, and I’m actually vaguely curious now to see what else the director has made.
3/5

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Posted by on 1 November, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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Fifty Wishes

John LaRue over at TDYLF recently wrote a fun blog post called Fifty Wishes, which was just that: fifty things he wished for when it came to movies. I really like the idea, so I decided to steal swipe borrow it for a post of my own. Make sure to head over to John’s blog and read the original post as well, though; he’s a great writer.

There may be some mild spoilers for certain movies in this list, but I’ve done my best to limit it to things that are either fairly common knowledge or what can be reasonably expected. Still, if you don’t want to know how Rocky ends, proceed at own peril.

(I’d like to apologize preemptively for any grammar mistakes. I pride myself on having a good grasp of the English language for someone who doesn’t have it as his primary tongue. However, “wish” is a tricky thing grammatically, and while I have tried to look up what verb forms to use, I’ve probably messed up here and there anyway.)

1. I wish Shannyn Sossamon were a major star.

2. I wish David Fincher will find better use for his considerable talent than directing the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

3. I wish to someday get the chance to see the unreleased Glitterati.

4. I wish I had gotten interested in movies earlier.

5. I wish all films ever made were available through digital distribution all over the world.

6. I wish there were a wider range of theaters around where I live.

7. I wish the story in Nine were as good as some of the song numbers.

8. I wish more screenwriters had the level of imagination that Charlie Kaufman has.

9. I wish I “got” war movies and westerns.

10. I wish Julie Delpy‘s plans to stop acting don’t come into effect before there’s a sequel to Before Sunset.

11. I wish Amélie lives happily ever after.

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Posted by on 23 April, 2012 in Lists, Memes

 

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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

 
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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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I’m making a list, to check twenty-twice…

As you may know, I haven’t made a Top 10 of 2011 list yet, for two reasons. 1: There have been so many of them published in the blogging world lately that mine wouldn’t add anything new to the discussions. 2: I just haven’t seen enough films for the list to really mean much. Such a list made now would nigh-assuredly look vastly different to the same list made a year from now. While it’s true that all ranked opinionated lists are fleeting by nature, this would probably be a particularly big shift.

So when will I have seen enough to make my list? I didn’t make my 2010 list until just this past September. It was right after catching up with Scott Pilgrim vs the World, which I then haphazardly decided was the last 2010 film I had really high hopes for. In hindsight, I could have waited a bit longer. I have since seen some movies that could might well have made it onto the Top 10, such as Easy A and Cyrus. While the latter wasn’t really on my radar at that point, I had been wanting to see Easy A for quite some time. I really should have held out for that one. It slipped my mind.

So for 2011, I’m getting organized. I have compiled a list of films I must see before making my Top 10 for the year. These are films I figure there’s a good chance I might really like, and thus would have a good shot at making my 2011 list. After some reminding research, I ended up with a collection of 22 movies. For some, it’s because they’re by a director whose prio work I admire. For others it’s because of the actors involved, an intriguing premise, strong word of mouth, or just a gut-feeling. Many are among the current slew of Oscar hopefuls.

By no means are these all the 2011 films I want to see, or the ones I’ll see before any others. Some haven’t been released here in Sweden yet. Many I’ll catch up with through rentals, so the randomness of Lovefilm will also play a part (unlike Netflix’s neatly ordered rental queues, Lovefilm only offers a tiered system of organizing). Also, this list was put together on the spur in 10 minutes or so. There might be films that have slipped by my attention, so there could be later additions.

Here is the current list in alphabetical order.

The Artist – because crowd-pleasers can be pleasing.

The Beaver – because as polarizing as the response has been, the premise fascinates me.

Bridesmaids – because it’s Judd Apatow.

Carnage – because it’s Roman Polanski.

A Dangerous Method – because why wouldn’t I want to see Keira Knightley get a beating?

The Descendants – because it’s Alexander Payne.

The Future – because I have never been able to forget Me and You and Everyone We Know.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – because while I think it’s an unnecessary idea, it’s still David Fincher doing a thriller.

Hanna – because it sounds fresh and people I trust have recommended it to me.

Horrible Bosses – because I’m a big fan of comedies and Kevin Spacey.

Hugo – because of a gut-feeling and Martin Scorsese.

The Ides of March – because of Ryan Gosling.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – because too many people have talked about it for too long for it not to be worth seeing.

Melancholia – because it’s Lars von Trier.

Rampart – because The Messenger showed great potential in the Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster trinity.

The Skin I Live In – because I can’t look at that poster without being thoroughly intrigued, plus I haven’t seen many Pedro Almodóvar films.

Sleeping Beauty – because I need more Emily Browning to wash the taste of Sucker Punch out of my mouth.

Submarine – because I like the main character’s coat.

Take Shelter – because I want to be prepared for the end of the world.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – because of Tilda Swinton.

Win Win – because the trailer made it seem so by-the-numbers, yet everyone has so much love for it.

Young Adult – because Jason Reitman seems incapable of making films that aren’t great.

What 2011 films do you still really want to see?

 
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Posted by on 14 January, 2012 in Lists

 

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Gazing into the crystal ball for 2012

Now that I’ve done my required looking back at the year that has been, it’s time to look forward to 2012 and make some predictions. Some of these will be bold, while some while fall more into the “well, duh” category. I suspect a lot of these will not come true, but that will solely be blamed on the crystal ball being flawed rather than any perceived incompetence of the fortune teller. These are not thing I necessarily want to see happen, I should add.

The Dark Knight Rises will of course be a juggernaught at the box office and will receive plenty of praise from both critics and movie-goers alike. There will be no massive love for any particular performance a la Heath Ledger, however. General consensus will be that Anne Hathaway‘s Catwoman is vastly inferior to Michelle Pfeiffer‘s in Batman Returns.

The Artist will not win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Despite a strong marketing push, Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus will underperform business-wise. Noomi Rapace‘s Hollywood career will be off to a rocky start, and she’ll return to Sweden before the year is done.

A film premiering at Sundance will be showered with critical acclaim, and by the end of the year, it will be considered one of the leading contenders for the Best Picture Oscar.

The Hunger Games will do respectable numbers at the box office but will not become a mega-hit, because the main character is a girl and it’s not Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence will start heading towards mediocre romcom hell, following in the footsteps of Kate Hudson. Winter’s Bone will seem a lifetime ago.

Ryan Gosling will be able to maintain his fame and prominence from 2011 better than both Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain.

The Avengers will be torn to shreds by critics. Words like “bloated” and “overblown” will be thrown around. American cinema audiences will flock to it regardless, but international reception will be lukewarm.

Daniel Day-Lewis‘ performance in Lincoln will be hailed as one of his best ever. The film in general won’t fare as well.

Pixar will bounce back from the critical failure of Cars 2. Brave will be a major hit and restore everyone’s faith in the studio. The Best Animated Feature Oscar will seem imminent.

The surprise hit of the summer: Rock of Ages. “The musical is back!” review quotes will proclaim in ads.

Michael Cera will do nothing to show versatility and make himself more respected in the world of film. He’ll still rake in money doing his usual schtick, though.

Norway will emerge as a major player in the field of international cinema. Swedes will groan and moan.

Mel Gibson will go a full year without any PR catastrophes.

Lars von Trier won’t, despite his self-imposed vow of silence.

The Amazing Spider-Man will do about as well as Superman Returns did, in all fields.

The ratings for the Oscars broadcast will be up a bit from previous years. Billy Crystal will be announced as returning to host the 2013 ceremony as well. Bloggers will cry out about how the Academy are a bunch of old phogeys scared of change. Then AMPAS will change the rules of Best Picture nominations again.

News will emerge that Jason Statham has signed on for a family comedy in which he will play some form of child caretaker. When questioned about this, Statham will debunk the rumor with harsh words not fit for print. To drive home the point, he will then announce plans for seven new action films to be released in 2013, including a third Crank movie and his directorial debut.

Speaking of third films in a series, a sequel to Before Sunset will be formally announced.

Last but not least: lots of great films will be released. Some expected, some not. 2012 will be a good year.

Have a great New Year’s Eve, everyone! See you in 2012!

 
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Posted by on 30 December, 2011 in Misc.

 

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