Drama

The Hunger Games (2012)

Film #28: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games is the highly anticipated film adaptation of the 2008 Suzanne Collins novel of the same name. I read The Hunger Games and its two sequels last year, so I’m familiar with the world of Panem and Katniss Everdeen. Since the books are interesting and easy to read, I’m assuming that most of the people going to see the movie have also paid dues with the source material. For those who haven’t, I’ll recap the backstory: In an undisclosed point in the future, North America has become Panem, a nation split into a Capitol and 12 subservient districts. At one point, there was an uprising from the districts against the Capitol. After this rebellion was put down, the 13th district getting destroyed in the process, the Capitol instated a rule to remind the districts of their failure every year. An annual raffle is held (“the reaping”), during which one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are drawn from each district. These 24 children are placed in an arena and have to fight to the death. The winner takes home a lifetime supply of food (valuable in the resource-scarce world of the districts) and glory for their district. This deadly battle royale is called The Hunger Games.

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50/50 (2011)

Film #27: 50/50 (2011)

50/50 is a movie about cancer. Well, a movie about cancer and coping with cancer. Written by Will Reiser, who based the script loosely around his own experiences with the big C, and directed by Jonathan Levine, 50/50 takes a comedic-dramatic approach to the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old journalist who finds out he has a rare form of spinal cancer. It’s a total shock, of course. Not only does Adam not smoke or anything, he’s so safety-oriented that he waits for crosswalks to turn white before jogging across the street. This huge disruption shakes him, as well as everyone around him: His almost live-in girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend and co-worker Kyle (Seth Rogen), and his worrisome mother Diane (Anjelica Huston), already burdened with taking care of his father who has Alzheimer’s (Serge Houde). Adam begins to undergo treatment for his affliction, but his survival is pretty much a coin toss: The survival rate is 50%.

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Cyrus (2010)

Film #25: Cyrus (2010)

Cyrus is a comedy-drama written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, and released in 2010. With the exception of its professional actors, the film has all the hallmarks of the indie “mumblecore” movement that the Duplass brothers partake in: Low-budget filmmaking that’s character-based and dialogue-driven. The tenets of mumblecore can be divisive enough for a movie-going public more acclimated to high-concept films; Cyrus doubles down on its disconcertion by featuring a nearly incestuous Oedipal relationship. Plenty of people are probably interested in this movie based on its cast. Many will probably end up disappointed.

Personally, I absolutely loved it.

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War Horse (2011)

Film #21: War Horse (2011)

For the past half-decade, Steven Spielberg has been much busier producing films than directing them. Since 2005’s Munich, the only film he directed before 2011 was the regrettable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. Perhaps to make up for that dearth of direction, last year saw the release of two Spielberg-directed films: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. While the former was released to much acclaim – even taking home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature – the latter had more of Spielberg’s ‘epic blockbuster’ feel to it. War Horse received plenty of accolades itself, nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, but its sentimental tale set during World War I didn’t quite win over everyone. After watching it myself, I’m not surprised.

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The Descendants (2011)

Film #20: The Descendants (2011)

George Clooney starred in two films last year: The Ides of March and The Descendants. While the former has a special place in my heart since it was filmed in Ann Arbor while I was at school there, the latter received far more critical attention. In director Alexander Payne’s film, Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer in Honolulu who is the sole trustee of a large plot of land on the island of Kaua’i. He and his huge network of cousins are on the verge of selling the land to a native Hawaiian for development, but his life becomes complicated when his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) has a boating accident that puts her in a coma. All of a sudden, “the back-up parent”, as he calls himself, is in charge of their two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). As if things weren’t complicated enough, Alex tells Matt that Elizabeth had been cheating on him.

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Hugo (2011)

Film #18: Hugo (2011)

Hugo is unusual fare for director Martin Scorsese, whose films usually revolve around violent crimes or troubled psyches (or, in the case of Cape Fear, both). Instead, Scorsese’s latest work is an about-face, a family mystery film following its 12 year-old title character in 1931 Paris. Hugo lives within the walls of a large railway station, a drab existence resulting from an accident that killed his father (Jude Law) and the negligence of his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone). Before his father, a clockmaker, died, he infected Hugo with the wonders of machinery, especially in the case of an old broken automaton. Hoping to find some sort of message from his late father, Hugo sets to work fixing the machine with the help of Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of an angry shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) who resents Hugo for his thievery.

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The Artist (2011)

Film #17: The Artist (2011)

When was the last time a silent movie came out? I certainly couldn’t tell you, and I have a degree in film studies – but after this year, any casual film fan will be able to tell you. The Artist, a French film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is a silent film emulative of the earliest popular Hollywood era, even choosing the classic 4:3 aspect ratio instead of modern-day widescreen. It’s also set during that time period, between 1927 and 1932, and in a very Singin’ in the Rain-esque story, examines the impact that talking pictures had on the industry’s original silent stars. The Artist made a huge splash when it came out late last year, and it’s nominated for no less than ten Academy Awards at this year’s Oscars. Is it possible that all this acclaim stems from the film’s harkening back to a glamorized past of the industry? Probably a bit, but that doesn’t mean The Artist isn’t a great movie in and of itself – it most certainly is.

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The Tree of Life (2011)

Film #16: The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life is probably the most controversial film nominated for an Oscar this year. It’s not controversial because of any graphic violence. It’s not controversial because of any sexual imagery. Rather, it’s controversial because some people have complained that it’s too “artsy”. Too “experimental”. People have literally walked out of theaters during the film. They’ve even demanded refunds, apparently because they didn’t “get it”. I’ve gone through the IMDb message boards for this movie, and it’s riddled with posts asking “what’s the point?”. I knew all of this before sitting down for Terrence Malick’s latest endeavor (his first since 2005’s The New World), and, as such, I was prepared for some real Stan Brakhage-type craziness.

Instead, I got a quiet, philosophical, and admittedly ambitious film that is among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

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Stay (2005)

Film #13: Stay (2005)

In the mood for a mystery, I consulted my film library and randomly chose one. I had never heard of 2005’s Stay, written by David Benioff and directed by Marc Forster, but its attractive cast made the case for a spontaneous viewing. The film begins with a rollicking POV shot of a car accident on a bridge. Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), a 20-year-old survivor of the wreck, goes to see his usual psychiatrist, only to find a “substitute shrink” in the form of Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor). After Henry tells Sam that he plans to kill himself in a few days’ time, Sam is distressed enough to confide in his girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), herself a suicide survivor. Sam starts to investigate Henry’s background more in-depth, and as he does, his reality begins to unfold, leaving him unsure of who, exactly, is the crazy one in all of this.

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Film #10: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a film with sensitive subject matter. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) lives in New York City and very possibly has Asperger Syndrome. It’s not debilitating or anything, but he does have some trouble in social situations and he has a strong proclivity for logic and order. It’s hard for him when something happens that doesn’t make sense. And when his dad (Tom Hanks), the only one who seems to really “get” him, is killed in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, Oskar has a hard time coming to terms with it. A year after “the worst day”, Oskar finds a key hidden inside a vase in his father’s closet. Convinced that this is the start of an elaborate game set up by his dad, and hoping that by solving it things will make more sense, Oskar sets out to contact 417 people with the surname “Black” scattered around New York City.

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