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Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar Recap 2011

        As all those not living in caves are already aware, the 84th Academy Awards were last night, and they were... fine. No introduction can avoid this fact, no flowery wording could disguise it: 2012’s Oscar ceremony was mostly engaging, but completely forgettable. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to jot down a few quick notes about the show, just to make sure it doesn’t fade out of our collective memory over-night. Here are some pros and cons of last night’s show.
Waste not, want not:
        Last night had to be one of the most tightly times annual events that I personally have witnessed. Awards flew off of shelves at a rate of two or three per commercial break, and, more importantly, former time hogs like Best Original Song performances, and tributes to each of the Best Picture nominees, were omitted completely. This need for speed did occasionally belittle the grandiosity of the evening, but it held the viewer’s constant attention far better than your average Oscar.

Christopher Plummer finally nabs him:
        One of the most iconic side-performers of the last many years, Christopher Plummer finally took home his very first Oscar last night for his lovely work in Beginners. Now the oldest thespian to ever win an acting Oscar, Plummer joked that, at 82, he was just a couple years younger than the Golden Man himself. The rest of his speech was equally good-natured and heart-warming, and it was great to see the savvy vet finally take one down.

A Big Night for the History of Cinema:
        It was a big night for movies about movies last night, as both The Artist and Hugo, two of the very finest flicks invited to the ceremony, absolutely cleaned up. The Artist was the predictable big winner, taking home Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (among others), while Hugo won just about every technical award in sight. The two snatched up just short of half the night’s prizes between them, and I for one can rest easily with their success.
Poor, poor Tree of Life:
        I was pretty ecstatic when my Number One movie of 2011, The Tree of Life, managed last second surprise nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Those two prizes always belonged to The Artist, but losing Best Cinematography? That was just rough. If any film had to beat it, I’m glad that it was Hugo, but even that movie’s visual wonderments just don’t hold a candle to the immesurable beauty of Tree. This of course all goes without noting that the man behind the camera, Emmanuel Lubeski, was similarly wronged the last time that he was invited to the dance, for his jaw-dropping work on Children of Men. His next flick, the Alfonso Cuaron-directed Gravity, is supposed to be positively flooring. Let’s hope the Academy finally gives this poor guy his due.

The Blah of it all:
        Trust me, I’d take Billy Crystal over Anne Hathaway and James Franco any day of the week, but he sure didn’t rock the boat too hard, did he? He told some good jokes, introduced things with class, smiled, and then told us to drive home safely. This would have been better had the ceremony itself managed to provide more surprises, but almost everything fell into place as anticipated. The biggest shocker of the night had to be when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won Best Editing, and when that section holds your biggest shocker, you’re probably playing it pretty close to the chest.

25 Years of Trying, and that’s all it took?
        I found 2011 to be a banner year for lead female performances, and yet none of last night’s five nominees did much of anything for me. So when the favored, zero-time winner Viola Davis had her seat usurped by Meryl Streep’s third win, I didn’t take offense at who had just lost, but rather who had won. Streep is great in The Iron Lady, but the movie that contained her is another story completely. Painfully sloppy, structurally inept, and politically cowardly, it’s the kind of movie that Oscar ought to just ignore all together, even if a single performer takes over. A shipwreck is still a shipwreck, and after all of the great Streep performances over the years that Oscar decided to pass up, its a bit disheartening to see this be the movie that breaks her dry spell.
How did I do?
        Pretty dang well, thank you very much! Of the 24 winners that I predicted in my last article, 18 emerged victoriously, my blunders coming in the fields of Best Actress, Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects. That's good for 75% for the whole show, and 7/8 in the major categories. And while I'm bragging, I'd better point out calling all three short categories correctly! Yes, even if last night was something of a bore, it sure stoked my ego.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Predictions 2011: Round Five (Final Predictions!)

Best Picture:
And the Nominees are...
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

        If we're being honest, the biggest prize of the night is set to be a snoozer. After winning the PGA (Producer's Guild of America), cleaning up in critics' circles, and scoring a hefty 10 Academy Award nominations, The Artist seems just about unbeatable, but a few challengers still linger in the ranks. Martin Scorsese's Hugo led all movies with a staggering 11 nominations, though the fact that none of those came in acting categories is a major reason for concern. The Help, conversely, features the year's most beloved cast, and a very voter-friendsly subject, but its low nomination total (4) sure doesn't show much support for the flick beyond the thespians who will be checking off ballots. The rest feel like they're on the outside looking in at this point.

Final Prediction: The Artist
Next in Line: Hugo
If Things Get Crazy: The Help

Best Director:
And the Nominees are...
Woody Allen---Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius---The Artist
Terrence Malick---The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne---The Descendants 
Martin Scorsese---Hugo

        Bet against Hazanavicius at your own risk. Not only is he that man behind the all-but-certain Best Picture winner, but he also won the DGA (Directors Guild of America) last month, a precursor that has existed for over 60 years, and has only disagreed with the Academy's choice 6 times, most recently in 2002. If anyone can take it from him, it's Scorsese, who still owns just one golden man despite being widely considered one of the all-time greats, directing a movie about what the Academy really loves... movies. Being a surprise nominee shows that Malick has more support than one initially thought, but he's a pretty big long-shot. No one really believes that this is Woody's finest hour, and Payne just never had the momentum in the first place.

Final Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius---The Artist
Next in Line: Martin Scorsese---Hugo
If Things Get Crazy: Terrence Malick---The Tree of Life

Best Actor:
And the Nominees are...
Demián Bichir---A Better Life
George Clooney---The Descendants
Jean Dujardin---The Artist
Gary Oldman---Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt---Moneyball

        Hard to believe that a non-speaking Frenchman could really unseat Clooney, but it's sure looking that way. Much like his director, Dujardin is not only a part of the biggest flick of the night, but also won  the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) leading in to the big show. Clooney, always an Oscar favorite, still threatens to steal his first Best Actor prize, though his somewhat recent Supporting Actor victory (Syriana) seems pretty damning to his odds. Pitt could also be the beneficiary of some Movie Star love, and he hasn't won anything yet, so... maybe? Bichir and Oldman are just happy to be invited.

Final Prediction: Jean Dujardin---The Artist
Next in Line: George Clooney---The Descendants
If Things Get Crazy: Brad Pitt---Moneyball

Best Actress:
And the Nominees are...
Glenn Close---Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis---The Help
Rooney Mara---The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep---The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams---My Week with Marilyn

        Despite my previous claims otherwise, it is clear now that Viola Davis is the frontrunner, and has been for some time. Streep's got a chance to knock her off, but with 17 career acting nominations, and only two wins, the Academy obviously doesn't mind sending her home empty-handed. The race is mostly between those two, but Williams could benefit from playing a real-life icon. Mara gets in on the New Face slot that the Best Actress roster almost always has, and Close is rewarded for her passion project with a nod, a win remaining completely out of the question.

Final Prediction: Viola Davis---The Help
Next in Line: Meryl Streep---The Iron Lady
If Things Get Crazy: Michelle Williams---My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor:
And the Nominees are:
Kenneth Branagh---My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill---Moneyball
Nick Nolte---Warrior
Christopher Plummer---Beginners
Max von Sydow---Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

        The biggest snoozer of the whole night, Plummer has had this thing in the bag since the middle of 2011. He's got veteran status (he'll be the oldest acting winner ever), and plays a sagely sort, who even has cancer! It's the kind of role that Oscar eats right up, and if there's any way whatsoever to take down Plummer, it's also down the veteran's path. That's why you can't quite rule out von Sydow, or, to a lesser degree, Branagh.

Final Prediction: Christopher Plummer---Beginners
Next in Line: Max von Sydow---Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
If Things Get Crazy: Kenneth Branagh---My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actress:
And the Nominees are...
Bérénice Bejo---The Artist
Jessica Chastain---The Help
Melissa McCarthy---Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer---Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer---The Help

        This one belongs to Spencer, the winner of the SAG, and the frontrunner here for months. If The Artist goes on an absolute rampage, Bejo might be swept up in it, which keeps her in the race. And McCarthy... let's face it, for as absurd role to get a nomination, there has to be some real support. I won't count her out.

Final Prediction: Octavia Spencer---The Help
Next in Line: Bérénice Bejo---The Artist
If Things Get Crazy: Melissa McCarthy---Bridesmaids

Best Original Screenplay:
And the Nominees are...

The Artist---Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids---Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Margin Call---J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris---Woody Allen
A Separation---Asghar Farhadi

        Usually, a heavyweight the size of The Artist would gobble this prize right up, but there's just one problem: There's nearly no dialogue. That puts Woody in the driver's seat, though the silent flick still has a solid chance. Being a foreign film invited to this category shows some love for A Separation, though its odds remains slim.

Final Prediction: Midnight in Paris---Woody Allen
Next in Line: The Artist---Michel Hazanavicius
If Things Get Crazy: A Separation---Asghar Farhadi

Best Adapted Screenplay:
And the Nominees are...

The Descendants---Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Hugo---John Logan
The Ides of March---George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon
Moneyball---Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy---Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan

        The Descendants and Moneyball are in a neck-and-neck race here, the closest of all the major categories, but the former film might have dealt the final blow by winning the WGA (Writers Guild of America). They remain in a dead heat, with the recent passing of Tinker Tailor scribe Bridget O'Conner keeping the film in voter's minds

Final Prediction: The Descendants---Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Next in Line: Moneyball---Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin
If Things Get Crazy: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy---Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan

Best Animated Feature:
And the Nominees are...

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung-Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Final Prediction: Rango
Next in Line: Puss in Boots
If Things Get Crazy: Kung-Fu Panda 2

Best Foreign Feature:
And the Nominees are...

In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar
A Separation

Final Prediction: A Separation
Next in Line: In Darkness
If Things Get Crazy: Bullhead

Best Cinematography:
And the Nominees are...

The Artist---Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo---Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life---Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse---Janusz Kaminski

Final Prediction: The Tree of Life---Emmanuel Lubezki
Next in Line: The Artist---Guillaume Schiffman
If Things Get Crazy: Hugo---Robert Richardson

Best Editing:
And the Nominees are...

The Artist---Anne-Sophie Bion, and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants---Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---Angus Wall, and Kirk Baxter
Hugo---Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball---Christopher Tellefsen

Final Prediction: The Artist---Anne-Sophie Bion, and Michel Hazanavicius
Next in Line: Hugo---Thelma Schoonmaker
If Things Get Crazy: The Descendants---Kevin Tent

Best Art Direction:
And the Nominees are...

The Artist---Laurence Bennett and Robert Gould
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan
Hugo---Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo
Midnight in Paris---Anne Seibel and Hélène Dubreuil
War Horse---Rick Carter and Lee Sandales

Final Prediction: Hugo---Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo
Next in Line: The Artist---Laurence Bennett and Robert Gould
If Things Get Crazy: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan

Best Costume Design:
And the Nominees are...

Anonymous---Lisy Christl
The Artist---Mark Bridges
Hugo---Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre---Michael O'Connor
W.E.---Arianne Phillips

Final Prediction: Hugo---Sandy Powell
Next in Line: The Artist---Mark Bridges
If Things Get Crazy: W.E.---Arianne Phillips

Best Make-Up:
And the Nominees are...

Albert Nobbs---Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, and Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, and Lisa Tomblin
The Iron Lady---Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Final Prediction: The Iron Lady---Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
Next in Line: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, and Lisa Tomblin
If Things Get Crazy: Albert Nobbs---Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, and Matthew W. Mungle

Best Original Score:
And the Nominees are...

The Adventures of Tintin---John Williams
The Artist---Ludovic Bource
Hugo---Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy---Alberto Iglesias
War Horse---John Williams

Final Prediction: The Artist---Ludovic Bource
Next in Line: Hugo---Howard Shore
If Things Get Crazy: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy---Alberto Iglesias

Best Original Song:
And the Nominees are...

The Muppets---Bret McKenzie (Man or Muppet)
Rio---Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrett (Real in Rio)

Final Prediction: The Muppets---Bret McKenzie (Man or Muppet)
Next in Line: Rio---Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrett (Real in Rio)
If Things Get Crazy: ...They'll save us the time, and eliminate this category altogether.

Best Sound Mixing:
And the Nominees are...

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Bo Persson
Hugo---Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Moneyball---Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, and Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon---Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, and Peter J. Devlin
War Horse---Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, and Stuart Wilson

Final Prediction: Hugo---Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Next in Line: War Horse---Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, and Stuart Wilson
If Things Get Crazy: Moneyball---Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, and Ed Novick

Best Sound Editing:
And the Nominees are...

Drive---Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---Ren Klyce
Hugo---Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon---Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
War Horse---Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Final Prediction: Hugo---Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Next in Line: War Horse---Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom
If Things Get Crazy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---Ren Klyce

Best Visual Effects:
And the Nominees are...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, and John Richardson
Hugo---Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, and Alex Henning
Real Steel---Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, and Swen Gillberg
Rise of the Planet of the Apes---Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett
Transformers: Dark of the Moon---Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, and John Frazier

Final Prediction: Rise of the Planet of the Apes---Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett
Next in Line: Hugo---Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, and Alex Henning
If Things Get Crazy: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2---Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, and John Richardson

Best Documentary:
And the Nominees are...

Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front 
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Final Prediction: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Next in Line: Pina
If Things Get Crazy: Undefeated

Best Documentary Short:
And the Nominees are...

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God Is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom 

Final Prediction: Saving Face
Next in Line: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom 
If Things Get Crazy: Incident in New Baghdad

Best Live-Action Short:
And the Nominees are...

The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic 

Final Prediction: The Shore
Next in Line: Tuba Atlantic
If Things Get Crazy: Raju

Best Animated Short:
And the Nominees are...

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Final Prediction: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Next in Line: Wild Life
If Things Get Crazy: Sunday

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2011:

Coming Oscar Week:
The Second Annual Elwyns (If Hype Starts Here was in charge of the Oscars)
Oscar Recap (Coming 2-27-2012)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Second Annual Elwyns Awards!

        Hello, and welcome to the Second Annual Elwyns Awards, a ceremony (see: blog post) dedicated to celebrating the greatest accomplishments set to film during the past year. This is, of course, my personal chance to play god with the Oscars, righting what I perceive to be the Academy's wrongs, replacing them with my own glorious, irrefutable selections. Sounds cool, right? I knew you'd think so. I had intended on replicating almost every category seen at the actual Oscars, but a technical problem has forced me to only discuss the awards that you would actually care about (oh no!). I've got a bone to pick with the golden man this year, Only four of the Academy's nine Best Picture nominees slotting in my Top 40 Movies of 2011. I'm not usually this much of a contrarian; Four of my Top five of 2011 were up for the big prize, as well as my Top three from the year before (A Serious Man, Precious, and Up). So, what is a movie-obsessive like me supposed to do to heal this pain? Declare nominees, winners, and runner-ups of their own for almost every category! Without further delay, The Elwyns:

***A Special thanks to my big sister, Brittany Elwyn, for helping me out with all of the lovely graphics featured below***

Best Picture:
And the Nominees are...
Attack the Block
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Tree of Life
Young Adult

        Just a few short days ago, I discussed all of these picks at length, so I won't bother kicking a dead horse. A small note, however: I think that, despite its near-deplorable first execution, the Academy's idea of nominating anywhere between 5-10 movies for Best Picture is a brilliant plan, so I adopted it. These seven are the flicks that represent the very top tier of filmmaking in 2011.

And the Collin goes to...
The Tree of Life
        What can I say? The Tree of Life is beautiful, majestic, hypnotizing, and trail-blazing. Even if it's occasionally maddeningly imperfect, no other 2011 entry had half the ambition, and the fact that the film's staggeringly enormous scope was in any way realized, let alone gloriously, should be celebrated.
Runner-Up: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Director:
And the Nominees are...
Sean Durkin---Martha Marcy May Marlene
Terrence Malick---The Tree of Life
Mike Mills---Beginners
Martin Scorsese---Hugo
Lars von Trier---Melancholia

        Sean Durkin is the definition of a natural, crafting an absolutely terrifying, spell-binding, and electric movie on his very first attempt. Malick is a mad man with an undeniable eye for beauty, and no other human being on earth could have concocted the cosmic opus that is The Tree of Life. Translating his own personal story without ever coming off as self-congragilatory, Mike Mills helmed a terrific cast in one of the most artistic and heartening films of the year. Scorsese pulled yet another rabbit out of his seemingly bottomless hat, showing us jaded film-goers just how revelatory and amazing 3-D can be, all whilst poetically expressing his boundless love for the medium. Melancholia might be one of the most powerful films ever made about depression, and it's thanks to von Trier that the audience not only understands how it arises, but comes to understand how it feels.

And the Collin goes to...
Terrence Malick---The Tree of Life
        Malick, not pictured above due to his notorious avoidance of all things public, conceptualizes and executes movies like no one else in the history of film. The Tree of Life might be one of his messiest flicks to date, but it's also his most elating, transcendent, and purely awe-inspiring. His work here makes jaws drop.
Runner-Up: Sean Durkin---Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Actor:
And the Nominees are...
Jean Dujardin---The Artist
Michael Fassbender---Shame
Michael Shannon---Take Shelter
Filippo Timi---The Double Hour
Jacob Wysocki---Terri

        Jean Dujardin, previously unknown in America, and thought of primarily as a comic actor in his native France, pulls off what could have been one of the most obnoxious lead performances of the year with deft dramatic balance, and spectacular physicality. Eating up the screen every moment that he's on it, Fassbender's Brandon Sullivan is a spectacular mess, displaying both the charm, and the utter depravity that it took to get where he is today. I might not be the biggest fan of Take Shelter, but Shannon positively dominates the film, performing a rare feat of under acting on his part, displaying the confusion and fear of his character without ever over-doing it. Timi is the brooding, masculine center of one of the year's finest romances/mysteries, never showing his cards until the very end. In his feature debut, Wysocki is an understated natural, senses of pain, isolation, and even wonder crossing his face with complete believability.

And the Collin goes to...
Michael Fassbender---Shame
        As fierce, committed, and breath-taking a performance as any given in 2011, Fassbender tops off his incredible 2011 by putting on an absolute clinic in Shame. He's the captain, MVP, and closer of one of 2011's best films, and his work towers over the competition.
Runner-Up: Michael Shannon---Take Shelter

Best Actress:
And the Nominees are...
Juliette Binoche---Certified Copy
Kirsten Dunst---Melancholia
Tilda Swinton---We Need to Talk About Kevin
Charlize Theron---Young Adult
Jeong-hie Yun---Poetry

        As the center of Certified Copy's mysterious romance, Juliette Binoche navigates three languages, and some treacherous emotional territory without a single false step. Dunst begins Melancholia as a seemingly happy-go-lucky sort before slowly revealing palpable inner devastation. Swinton experiences similar pain, but her character's reaction is to bottle those feelings up, allowing subtle movements and flickers behind eyes to tell her story. The only actress of the bunch who gets to have genuine fun, Theron is the gloriously awful creature at the center of the monster movie that is Young Adult. Like Dunst, Yun travels from one emotional extreme to another, all bubbly and open-armed before the metaphorical storm comes, leaving her broken.

And the Collin goes to...
Juliette Binoche---Certified Copy
         Binoche's face registers every emotion in the book, capturing the joy and excitement of good conversation, beautifully rendering the pain, confusion, and (potential) misery of her character with the utmost grace.
Runner-Up: Jeong-hie Yun---Poetry

Best Supporting Actor:
And the Nominees are...
Bruce Greenwood---Meek's Cutoff
Patton Oswalt---Young Adult
Brad Pitt---The Tree of Life
John C. Reilly---Terri
Corey Stoll---Midnight in Paris

        Somehow, each and every, 'End of the Year,' list has completely forgotten Bruce Greenwood's theatrical, unrecognizable turn as Stephen Meek, but I won't let the gruff mountain man escape my list. Oswalt, in one of his largest acting roles to date, plays the self-effecing side of his character perfectly, burying his misery under a paper-thin veneer. As one of the two cosmic forces holding the key's to a young boy's fate, Brad Pitt gives the best non-hyper-showy performance of his career, his southern clenched jaw masking what might be a gentle man beneath the surface. Reilly does much of the strangely eager act that he's worked in many films, but Terri is savvy enough to linger on his insecurities for longer than most movies do, and what it finds there is fascinating. Finally, Stoll delivers Midnight in Paris's finest performance as a hilariously masculine Earnest Hemingway, offering life advise as he parties and scowls the night away.

And the Collin goes to...
Brad Pitt---The Tree of Life
        In one of the most careful performances of the year, Pitt completely changes his body language and mannerisms, morphing into the iron-fisted southern Father figure than many boys idolized and feared in the 50's, alternating between friendly giant, and fearsome tyrant.
Runner-Up: Bruce Greenwood---Meek's Cutoff

Best Supporting Actress:
And the Nominees are...
Elena Anaya---The Skin I Live In
Bérénice Bejo---The Artist
Jessica Chastain---The Tree of Life
Carey Mulligan---Shame
Ellen Page---Super

        Anaya lights up the screen in The Skin I Live In, sexy, wounded, and glamorous in just the way that her seedy, faux-noir flick needed. Bejo, like her co-star Dujardin, turns a potentially disastrous performance into one of the year's most memorable and endearing, her spark and pep radiating off of the screen. As a sort of surrogate for Mother Nature, Chastain delivers the most beautiful performance of the year, misting through her film, giving The Tree of Life's etherial concepts a face. No actor this year impressed me more with the sheer versatility of a performance than Mulligan, shedding her normally innocent, controlled shell to play a reckless mess of a woman with complete believability. Page, in one of 2011's most over-looked turns, morphs from intrusive comic geek to costume-wearing psychopath, gleefully reveling in every action.
And the Collin goes to...
Jessica Chastain---The Tree of Life
        Malick uses Chastain as his explanation of grace in the world, and it's a testament to the illustriousness of her performance that she completely lives up to this calling.
Runner-Up: Carey Mulligan---Shame

Best Ensamble:
And the Nominees are...
A Separation
Attack the Block
Midnight in Paris

        A really fun SAG category that has thus far escaped the glamour of Oscar night, I love this section. A Separation is littered with fine thespians, each doing their part to drive home one of 2011's biggest emotional roller coasters. The five youth's at the center of Attack the Block have a kind of chemistry that just can't be taught, and the way that they riff of of one another is the main reason that their movie is the funniest of the year. Contagion rallies together a handful of the planet's greatest actors, all believably employed in this thought-provoking examination of a world in crisis. Hugo is jam-packed with characters, each played with gooey nostalgia, perfectly expressive and sweeping. And what is Midnight in Paris if not an excuse to feature great performances from actors playing literary idols, though we'd be wise not to forget that it's Owen's charming innocence and naivety at the center of the film that makes the whole thing work.

And the Collin goes to...
        It's such a big, flashy, show-casey kind of movie, with so many winning turns in what could have been cloying roles... this has to be the one.
Runner-Up: Midnight in Paris

Best Screenplay:
And the Nominees are...

Joe Cornish---Attack the Block
Mike Mills---Beginners
Kristen Wiig, and Annie Mumolo---Bridesmaids
Scott Z. Burns---Contagion
Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi, and Stefano Sardo---The Double Hour
Denis Villeneuve---Incendies
Sean Durkin---Martha Marcy May Marlene
Woody Allen---Midnight in Paris
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver---The Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Patrick Dewitt---Terri

And the Collin goes to...
Mike Mills---Beginners
        There was hardly an Adapted Screenplay worth mention this past year, so I just picked the ten that I liked best, regardless of distinction. My favorite is Beginners, a film that finds an adorable, gorgeous way to tell a very difficult, personal story. The love letter to Mills' late father never misses a beat.
Runner-Up: Patrick Dewitt---Terri

Best Foreign Language:
And the Nominees are...

Certified Copy
The Double Hour
The Skin I Live In

And the Collin goes to...
        An epic that's Shakespearian in scope, Incendies is an enormous, captivating effort that keeps you guessing until the very end. One of 2011's most engaging entries.
Runner-Up: The Double Hour

Best Cinematography:
And the Nominees are...

Joel Hodge---Bellflower
Alwin H. Kuchler---Hanna
Robert Richardson---Hugo
Jody Lee Lipes---Martha Marcy May Marlene
Emmanuel Lubezki---The Tree of Life

And the Collin goes to...
Emmanuel Lubezki---The Tree of Life
        What a year for camera men! Both Richardson and Lipes deserve a lot of credit, the former hurling us through a 3-D world beyond our imagination, the latter putting us in a trance with his images. But the award has to go to Lubezki, who, simply put, shot one of the most staggeringly beautiful movies ever committed to film.
Runner-Up: (tie) Robert Richardson---Hugo, and Jody Lee Lipes---Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Editing:
And the Nominees are...

Guido Notari---The Double Hour
Paul Tothill---Hanna
Thelma Schoonmaker---Hugo
Paul Hirsch---Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol
Zachary Stuart-Pontier---Martha Marcy May Marlene

And the Collin Goes to...
Zachary Stuart-Pontier---Martha Marcy May Marlene
        Martha Marcy May Marlene owes a ton of its power to Stuart-Pontier, who's mysterious juxtapositions keep the film's mystery moving, and audience members on the edges of their seats.
Runner-Up: Paul Hirsch---Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

Best Score:
And the Nominees are...

Cliff Martinez---Drive
The Chemical Brothers---Hanna
Howard Shore---Hugo
Dario Marianelli---Jane Eyre
Hans Zimmer---Rango

And the Collin goes to...
The Chemical Brothers---Hanna
        As far as which I'd most like to listen to on its own, I might choose Hugo, but the manner in which The Chemical Brothers power and color the year's greatest action movie is too stunning to be denied.
Runner-Up: Howard Shore---Hugo

Best Sound:
And the Nominees are...

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol
The Tree of Life

And the Collin goes to...
        Hugo is a textural masterpiece, and its owes this as much to its lush visuals as its amazing sound design. The Train sequence is almost worth this award by itself.
Runner-Up: The Tree of Life

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2011:

Coming Oscar Week:
The Second Annual Elwyns (If Hype Starts Here was in charge of the Oscars)
Oscar Recap (Coming 2-27-2012)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror (Release Date: 2-21-2012)

        Ah, the weight of expectations... When Sleigh Bells debut album, Treats, was released way, way, waaaaaaay back in May of 2010, it was immediately shrouded in critical praise, and endless buzz. The music of Boy/Girl duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss arrived fully formed, the two crafting a singular aesthetic that rendered them impossible to mix up with other bands. Krauss, a child of girl-pop groups, set her small, feminine voice on top of Miller's raging guitar lines, all amped up and distorted, even when played at low volumes. It was an engaging, exciting sound, made all the more captivating by its raw, devil-may-care attitude. It only took me one listen to discover why the band's follow-up, Reign of Terror, was going to have some serious problems living up to that Freshman disc. If the pair left their scrappy style completely untampered with, folks would accuse them of being a one-trick pony. If they leaned more into their pop sensibilities, they'd be seen as going soft in their old age. How does Reign navigate this schism? Well, pretty carefully, actually. Perhaps too carefully.

         As if naming the LP Reign of Terror wasn't enough, Sleigh Bells commit the disc's opening track to the sole purpose of reminding us of their bad-ass-ery. True Shred Guitar is only a song in a very loose sense; The live cut's first half is occupied with crowd noise and audience interaction on the part of Krauss, the second section given over to loud, monotone guitar thumps, the tune's title shouted on repeat. It's over within two and a half minutes, sliding straight into Born to Lose, another number safely planted on their gnarlier side. The tune stomps along, gaining power from that pre-chorus machine gun sound that made much of Treats so delectable. It's a crushing earworm, the exact kind of track that the band made their name on, spruced up just the tiniest bit in the wake of their increased popularity and studio resources. It all leads into a song called... Crush?

        As previously alluded to, much of Reign of Terror feels like a balancing act, and Crush is a perfect exemplification of this fact. Where Treats used songs like Kids and Rachel to poke fun at Krauss' girly croon and sensibility, Crush gets lost in it, bouncing along on a hard beat, but refusing to do anything hard with it. This is not to say that Sleigh Bells is always at their best when they're playing harder; End of the Line and D.O.A. are among the best tracks here, and album highlight Leader of the Pack is one waling axe riff away from being a total softy. But, as a whole, Reign of Terror seems largely unsure of exactly what angle to attack from, marrying a sing-songy mentality to enormous, ill-fitting sounds. Demons, for instance, seems to exist only to remind you of just how hard these guys are, and, in the end, plays like a calculated bit of over-compensation. 

        It's no wonder that the only track here that completely, fully nails the sound concoction for which their shooting, Comeback Kid, is the album's first single, Krauss' voice clearer and higher in the mix than Treats ever dared, Miller still rollicking like a man possessed. Sleigh Bells might have a tough time replicating the success of their first album: It was fresh, unexpected, and charmingly clumsy in a way that people only really want to hear on your first effort. After that, some clean up is expected, and for bands that are thrillingly messy, that can be the death knell. Thankfully, SB is a good enough band to be able to modify and stay afloat, but expecting them to catch lightning in a bottle again might be a bit overly-optimistic.

Grade: B

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2011 (10-1)

10. Terri
        If there's any sort of unifying theme between much of my Top 10 this year, it's the notion of taking something familiar, and twisting it into your own. On the surface, Terri is pretty simple to peg down. It's a High School movie, seen through the lens of Mumble Core, all pasted together on a shoe-string budget. At its core, however, the film is much savvier, much more observant than all of that, almost playing out as a sort of Anti-John Hughes flick, reinforcing the social rules of high school rather than tearing them down, asking its protagonist to travel a different road to enlightenment. Jacob Wysocki, in his feature acting debut, stars as the titular teen, a grossly overweight misfit who has resigned to wearing pajamas to school every day. Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), the school's social stress-inducing Assistant Principal, places himself in a sort of guardian angel role with the youth, a relationship that proves heartening and strained in equal parts.

        If Terri weren't such a defiant little movie, a number of things would line up and fall into place. His relationship with Fitzgerald would be a lot more easy-going, and would evolve into some sort of deep-seeded bond. Terri's home life would likely improve, and the way-too-cute girl that he falls for at school (Olivia Crocicchia) would be replaced by an appropriately less-attractive mate by the end credits. But Director Azazel Jacobs isn't one to take the easy way out. He instead fills his movie with deft observations, symbolism, and hard lessons. The comedy in it is so underplayed that many of its jokes took me until the next day to laugh, but the humor is stinging, and always true. Wysocki has an unnerving nobility about him, and Reilly, who's characters often come from a place of lonely desperation, adds another name to his growing collection of captivating misfits. Terri is more social commentary than High School pick-me-up-er, but its perceptive eye catches things that have always been hiding within that genre, just waiting for someone to unearth them.
9. Hanna
        After two period pieces, and a based-on-a-true-story tale of a failed violinist, it was easy to think that Director Joe Wright might always be the type to prefer somewhat stuffy material. The man has had a knack for handsome visuals from the start, but the kind of energy and movement that's needed to pull off an action movie is completely absent from his first three films. Hanna sees him break loose from those shackles, crafting his own entry into the vast, ever-growing canon of, 'Super-Spy gone rogue,' movies, pulsating with the sort of Euro/Electro energy that sets Run, Lola, Run apart from the Bourne movies. The wronged assassin? A pale-white Cherub of a young teen named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), who lives in a vast frozen tundra, with only her father (Eric Bana) for company. The two train together with merciless intensity, all with sights set on the day that Hanna will finally meet a mysterious government agent named Marisa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

        Hanna's hunt leads her across the world, from grey, anonymous government buildings, to searing, orange deserts, to abandoned theme parks overgrown with lush, eye-popping green. Cinematographer Alwin Küchler paints it all in bold, striking colors, and when he isn't gazing off into some beautiful distance, he's capturing some of the best action sequences of the year, many rendered in glorious long takes. It's a very distinct brand of movie, done ridiculously well, but what really sets Wright's movie apart is the way that it melds this aforementioned framework to Fairy Tale mythology and imagery. Hanna discovers the world around her step by step, the same way that Ariel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and just about every other princess of lore was thrown out of a life of ignorant solitude, right into the center of a narrative. The coming-of-age story that unfolds, the manner in which she creates a character for herself as the movie goes along, is compelling to witness, and makes the moments where she goes back to cracking skulls that much more exciting. Hanna is action done right, bringing the mayhem and style, without skimping on the characters and drama.
8. Midnight in Paris
        Woody Allen's name has always operated as a sort of synonym for cynicism. His more morose side has now been the prominent feature of a bundle of his films, a heavy concentration of them released in the recent years, and even his comedies always come from a place of lingering insecurity, and self-doubt. And while Gil Pender, the Allen stand-in played by Owen Wilson who serves as protagonist in Midnight in Paris, may largely share this nihilistic out-look, there's no doubt that he stands at the center of one of the warmest, funniest, and most charming movies of 2011. A Hollywood hack on a getaway to Paris with his bride-to-be, Pender revels in the graces and beauties of the city, lamenting that he couldn't have lived there during the Roaring 20's, until a strange and magical occurrence offers him a peak into the era of his dreams.

        Midnight in Paris is a film constructed with the primary goal to delight, and it does this almost every waking second. Allen has always been obsessed with capturing the essence of whichever city his film is located, and his Paris positively drips with beauty and nostalgia, all the buildings and streets in ravishing gold, the gorgeous faces of his actors all lit-up and stunning. It's also consistently funny, running the gambit of standard Allen topics, from high art, to intellectual snobbery, to crippling fear of death. These aren't usually laughing matters, but that hasn't stopped Allen in the past, and it certainly doesn't stop him here. Midnight in Paris is a romantic indulgence, like a box full of smooth, dark chocolate, but it also comes packaged with a small but personal little moral at the end, about living your life to the fullest, and not letting the lust for years past get in your way. I smiled until my mouth hurt.
7. Melancholia
        From one of the most jovial, delicious movies of the year, to one that wants nothing more than to see you writhe in agony... give it up for Melancholia! No need to avoid the truth; The latest from Insane Dane Lars Von Trier is a pretty damn bitter pill to swallow, but it's harrowing out-look proves miraculously empathetic and insightful. When we meet her, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is getting married, giggling with the groom in the back of a gaudy stretch Limo. All her friends and family are there, all putting on shows of good faith until the fissures within the group start to reveal themselves, sending Depression-riddled Justine into a dire state. This tumultuous night takes up the entire first half of the film, and when it's finally over, a new, decidedly more daunting problem arises; A previously undiscovered planet named Melancholia is declared to be on a crash course for the Earth, threatening destruction for all.

        While these two disparate halves might sound too distinct to properly mesh together, Von Trier uses them in perfect harmony with one another, each reflecting upon and revealing hidden treasures within the other. This thematic duality is also taken up by camera man Manuel Alberto Claro, who alternates between the sweeping, glorious slow-motion that is featured so hauntingly in the film's unforgettable opening, to the sort of jumpy, hand-held style mastered by Von Trier in his Dogma days. The Writer/Director has made his struggles with depression no secret over the years, and while many of his film's seem to grapple with his sense of unending devastation, Melancholia is his movie that finally makes us understand, thanks in no small part to Kirsten Dunst's mesmerizing performance. Her isolation from the world around her is palpable, and when end times appear to be on the way, her steady defiance dominates the screen with the power of certitude. Melancholia is unlike any apocalypse movie you'll ever see, taking you inside the mindset of depression, revealing just where it comes from, why it stays, and, miraculously, how it feels. When it's characters declare that the end is nigh, you'll believe them.
6. Young Adult
        There are a million movies out there with stories just like Young Adult, where a beautiful but terrible woman is unleashed on a world of primarily good people. The template was even used earlier in 2011 with Bad Teacher, some of its stock characters appearing again in Bridesmaids, What's Your Number?, and Larry Crowne. Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is just such an anti-heroine, a ghost writer of Young Adult fiction who's life consists of late nights, and painful hangovers. Gary's booze-soaked existence is given a jolt one day when she learns that her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), has just fathered a baby boy. Fueled by distorted romantic memories of their past together, Gary sets out from Minneapolis to return to her hometown of Mercury MN, to take back the heart that rightfully belongs to her.

        Familiar trappings, yes, but the ways in which Director Jason Reitman and Screenwriter Diablo Cody flip every last element on its head is a rush to watch. Mavis may be a terrible person, but she's a perfect conduit for the social climber in all of us, unable to properly see herself outside of favorable comparisons to others, only truly letting her guard down while alone, or surrounded by who she sees as lesser beings. The film's depictions of desperation, alcoholism, and impenetrable vanity all sting with the unrelenting clarity of truth, and the performances of Theron and Patton Oswalt bring them all the way home. Somehow, the movie also registers on the comedy scale, the joyful kick of being bad slathered on every frame, many of the film's societal critics played out in perfectly cringe-inducing scenes of social discomfort. That whole linage of movies that I listed in the first paragraph all has one thing in common; All of their narratives served the purpose of teaching an unruly woman how to behave. Young Adult has no interest in such corny and regressive notions: It holds up the most twisted, ugly mirror that suburban American culture has seen on screen for years, discussing how people are ranked, filed, and judged, daring you to disagree. As they say: No guts, no glory.
5. Attack the Block
        The Alien Invasion Epic. The Stoner Comedy. The Blaxploitation Action Flick. The B-Movie. Attack the Block takes its cinematic cues from a variety of hyper-specific genre classifications, but there's one distinction that proves more important than the rest: It's the most pure, unadulterated fun that I had at the movies in all of 2011, twice over. The film follows a band of five South London teen hood rats on a wild night that starts with the simple snatching of a purse, before elevating into all-out extra-terrestrial invasion. Determined to defend their housing unit (known as, 'The Block'), the gang scrounges up whatever make-shift weaponry they can find, and heads in to battle.

        While Attack the Block makes no quips about the inherent silliness of its story, first time Writer/Director Joe Cornish plays his movie with a much straighter face than, say, Edgar Wright's parodies like Shaun of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz. Where those film's used a wink-wink, nudge-nudge mentality to playfully take you out of the movie from time to time, Attack is more self-contained, and its action sequences are much, much better for it. The five unknowns that serve as the movie's leads deserve a place in Rag-Tag Movie Gang lore, their dialogue both free-flowing, and side-splitting, their sense of chemistry and shared history mind-bogglingly natural. Attack the Block is a tight hour and a half long, and there's not a single frame in the thing that doesn't rock. The monster moments make your pulse pound, the visual and audio bad-ass-ery is almost too cool to believe, and the funny bits will send Coke shooting out your nose. It's cinematic nirvana, silly, foolhardy bliss for 90 straight minutes.
4. Hugo
        It's a marvel to me that some people can stay motivated. Martin Scorsese, viewed by just about everyone as one of the very greatest living directors, has nothing to prove to anyone, having lit up the screen time and time again over his long, storied career, and yet Hugo sees him absolutely swinging for the fence. The child of the film's title, played by wise youngster Asa Butterfield, is an orphan living alone in a 1930's Parisian train station, manning the clocks all by his lonesome. This isolated existence meets its end when an item of great importance (a book filled with mysterious drawings and instructions) is commandeered by a Toy Store-running grump (Ben Kingsley), sending Hugo on an unpredictable adventure to get it back.

        No one asked Scorsese to reinvent himself for a family audience, but the maestro did it anyways, and the results are staggering. The man best known for gritty gangster movies is a magician when it comes to conjuring up a feeling of child-like wonder, and his use of 3-D, all immersive and tactile, is the most impressive that the medium has seen since its sudden late 2000's resurgence, Avatar notwithstanding. This might sound like a gimmick, and, in truth, 3-D always is, but when the film reveals itself as an homage to Georges Méliès, the father of all cinematic trickery, it all starts to make sense. Movie magic is movie magic, and each generation makes their own, wether it be Méliès' giant props and signature editing style, or Scorsese's spell-binding rendition of olden-times Paris, all ticked-out with CGI wizardry and exhilarating, rushing tracking shots. On the surface, Hugo is a lovely story of a lost boy who comes to find a purpose, but it's also more than that. It operates as a sort of fantasy biography for Scorsese, every fleeting moment expressing the man's deep, unwavering, life-long love for the medium. The whole thing is nothing short of enchanting.
3. Beginners
        Many of 2011's best movies were among its most personal, Hugo, Melancholia, and my Number One pick among them, but only Beginners featured the particular kind of bravery that its takes to translate literal chapters of your life up onto the big screen. Writer/Director Mike Mills, in only his second movie since his promising but flawed debut Thumbsucker, has crafted a film that is at once cutesy, romantic, and impossibly sincere. Ewan McGregor stars as Mills stand-in Oliver, a pessimistic graphic artist who's life has been upended over the past few months. In the present tense, he's seeing a beautiful, non-committal actress named Anna (Mélanie Laurent), but his hopes and reservations about their relationship have more to do with his recent history, as revealed to us via flashback. Following the death of his mother, Oliver's mid-70's father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), announces that he's gay, and will be living an openly homosexual life for the rest of his days. This span of time is soon cut short by cancer, but the way that Hal positively blooms into a brighter, happier soul in his last days places Oliver's life of fear in a completely different context.

        Mills, who had the very same experience with his father a few short years before the release of the film, adds little dashes of endearing surrealism through-out the film, such as a dog that speaks through subtitles, and a meet-cute for the ages between McGregor and Laurent. None of these potentially artificial moments would play so well if it weren't for the film's steadfast commitment to real emotion, the father-son relationship nestled right at the center of its enormous heart. Beginners is a beautiful movie, from the gorgeous original music, to the rosy lensing by Kasper Tuxen, to the small bits of conversation that are played to perfection. It's a film about acceptance, love, commitment, and bravery in the face of the unknown, and it feels like the warm embrace of a long-time friend.
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
        Sean Durkin. Whatever you do, don't forget that name, because it's going to be up in lights some day. Martha Marcy May Marlene represents a lot of things, but first and foremost, it is the bold, blaring announcement of a brand new voice in American cinema. Durkin makes his feature debut as a fully-formed entity, displaying a mastery over all things technical, delivering his story, from the screenplay he wrote, with the steady-hand of an aging veteran. The woman to whom the title refers to, or all three, rather, is played by Elizabeth Olsen, a girl in her early twenties who suddenly reappears into the life of her yuppie older sister (Sarah Paulson), refusing to explain her multi-year absence. Though Martha keeps these secrets from her sibling, we watch as she flashes back to her life on what appears to be a Manson-style commune, lead by the charismatic, devilish Patrick (John Hawkes).

        Durkin gets it all right. The performance that he prompts from Olsen is top shelf stuff, and he surrounds her with a strong supporting cast, ever pulling her in opposite directions. The film's score and soundtrack ratchet up tension to positively cruel degrees, all as cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes films the proceedings in an almost hypnotic manner, long takes, curious angles, and distinctive filters glueing your eyes to the screen, making it impossible to look away. The central juxtaposition, between the fundamental hiccups of both cult and privileged lives, is uncannily noted, but what really sticks with you about Martha Marcy May Marlene is the sheer brute force of its foreboding atmosphere. Durkin turns the screws as if he's done it a thousand times before, and if a more impressive directorial debut has come out in the last five years, I've yet to see it. I'm still catching my breath from this one.

And Hype Starts Here's Number One Movie of 2011 is...

1. The Tree of Life
        Love it or hate it, you've never seen anything quite like The Tree of Life. It's a movie that takes all norms of convention and rhetoric, be they cinematic, narrative, or otherwise, and throws them in the trash can. Some, like me, will praise it until the day they die for its endless ambition, and commitment to being true to what it wants to be. Others will look back on it as an insufferable test of patience, taste, and logic. I've had the pleasure of seeing the film a number of times now, and one of the many things that makes it such a bewitching experience is how easily I can understand the way that my treasure could be another person's trash. It's an undeniably pretentious movie, possibly the first one I've ever seen that could be described as being about everything, the polarizing strength of its constantly strong decisions forcing each viewer to make of it what they will. It was the most audacious, must-talk-about movie of 2011, the most singular entry into the annual canon, proving so challenging to both the expectations and iterations of art itself that even if I didn't think it was the best of the year (and I do), its standing as 'The Movie of the Year,' is pretty hard to deny.

        So, what is The Tree of Life about, you ask? Well, it's about a young boy (Hunter McCracken) growing up in an Eden-like Waco, TX in the mid-50's, struggling to reconcile the tough-love shown to him by his father (Brad Pitt) with the doting, permissive parenting of his mother (Jessica Chastain). But it's also about the present-day schism between technology and natural wonder, as well as the creation of the universe, and how its sentient inhabitance came to choose between the diverging paths of Nature and Grace. Yes, some heavy stuff, made even more so by the non-linear presentation afforded it by Writer/Director Terrence Malick. The reclusive story-teller, who famously won't discuss his movies, knows that themes as eternal and etherial as the ones he's exploring here can't be communicated through simple plot mechanics. Instead, he weaves the picture together in a fashion that replicates the movements of the human mind, running through snippets of memory, lingering on particular moments, zooming in and out of space and eons of time to arrive at a sort of internal peace and understanding. It's a beautiful movie, propped up by brilliant performances, absorbing camera work, and rushes of emotion that come from deep down in your chest. The Tree of Life might not be the perfect movie, but it possesses the grace, oddity, mystery, and expansiveness of the universe itself, and if you can open yourself up to it, you might just be able to see the world change around you.

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2011:

Coming Oscar Week:
The Second Annual Elwyns (If Hype Starts Here was in charge of the Oscars)
Final Oscar Predictions (Coming 2-24-2012)
Oscar Recap (Coming 2-27-2012)

A Few Notes: All highlighted titles contain links to full reviews, or earlier mentions on the site. Also, no Documentaries were considered for this list, as I view them as a completely different art form altogether, and thereby impossible to adequately compare to narrative features