The 6th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2011:

At times entering a movie theater was like wandering into a vast wasteland in 2011…but there was light…I swear…

Box office receipts were down in 2011 – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a very solid year for cineastes.  A sluggish economy; the ascendance of launching specialty films through VOD; and an unseemly glut of similarly minded, awkwardly titled sequels, prequels, threequels, reboots, preboots, 3D flicks, animated tales and family films left most moviegoers either broke, confused or disillusioned.  Despite this seeming rut, there were still plenty of diamonds in the rough both in the art houses and the cineplexes during this long, weird year in film.  Like Smetana’s Die Moldau (used so righteously by Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life) these great films whispered to us quietly at first, almost like a hum from the distant past…and then announced themselves with bombast.  Memory, myth and the magic of cinema were boldly on display for those willing to indulge.

For those lucky and daring enough to see it, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul took us down the cosmic rabbit hole and cycled through time in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (a film technically from 2010, but that didn’t see its limited release stateside until March 2011).  It was a fitting way to start the year, as what emerged from this cosmic cycling for the observant filmgoer was nostalgia run gloriously amuck.  All year-long nostalgia was evidenced in just about anything that gained traction – from multiplex concoctions like Super 8 and Captain America, to art house fare like Midnight in Paris and The Artist, to populist Oscar-grab flicks like Hugo and War Horse.  This longing for the simpler, happier days of the past seemed to be at war with films overwhelmed by an impending doom (see Melancholia, Take Shelter or even Margin Call). Filmmakers were simultaneously hung over from the global economic crisis and fascinated by the 2012 apocalypse predictions.  Meanwhile, the big studios lazily greenlit a ton of stuff we’ve seen before…but in handing these projects over to up-and-coming directors trying to prove something rather than the usual hacks, films like X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were far more entertaining than they had any right to be.  Continue reading

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A Horse is a Horse Of Course Of Course

…that is of course unless that horse is a War Horse!

People have been crying for years that they don’t make films like they used to, but don’t tell that to Steven Spielberg. That silly Jewish lad from Haddon Township, NJ has been making films like they used to since the 1970’s.  His patented brand of cloying sentimentality perplexed me even as a child (I say BOO to you, Mr. E.T.!) but when he was able to combine that with a true sense of wonder (Close Encounters of a Third Kind, I have always loved yee) or found ways to mature it and place it in the context of history and war (cough cough Saving Private Ryan…sniff sniff Schindler’s List) he catapults himself into the ranks of the greatest of pop-culture entertainers. 

With his latest, War Horse, Spielberg pays homage to the grand Hollywood epics of the 1930’s and 1940’s in the same manner with which he paid homage to the low-budget matinée serials of the 1930’s and 1940’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He also conjures up some of that old Spielberg magic by taking the subgenre of the “Horse Tear-jerker” (a female-targeted niche) and serving it up avec “Epic War Movie” to get guys in the seats.  Release it on Christmas Day following a lush marketing campaign targeted to discerning filmgoers of all ages, and gosh dang it, Stevey Old Boy, you’ve done it again!  It’s a bloody crowd pleaser, I say, old chap!

Essentially this is a simple tale of a boy and his horse and their adventures, trials and tribulation during World War I.  Continue reading