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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Unenlightened Young Adult

Charlize Theron comes home to rot in YOUNG ADULT.

Dark comedies are so hard to do, and when done right they will appeal only to a limited audience.  The latest Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody concoction, Young Adult, is one such film.  Those looking for a laugh-out-loud “Hot Chick Gone Bad” riot better look elsewhere.  Those looking for a painfully honest character study should sit down and have a drink.  Anchored by a scathingly deadpan turn from Charlize Theron, Young Adult is as sharp as a tack and will burn in your throat like a shot of home-distilled bourbon.

Charlize Theron is Mavis Gary, a recently divorced semi-successful ghost writer for a once popular series of YA novels (both the series and Mavis are past their prime) who is spurred to return to her “hick” hometown when she receives an email announcing the birth of her ex-boyfriend’s baby.  Mavis Gary joins a solid line of Jason Reitman anti-heros/anti-heroines (just like the lead characters in his Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air) – people who think they have life all figured out, hold steadfast to their sense of self and of the world around them, and then are thrown for a big loop.  Charlize Theron fully inhabits this character (according to interviews, she played Mavis as if this were a drama), and although she physically looks like a more frazzled version of her real-life smoking-hot self, she still puts her whole body into the role with the same gusto she used to become a serial killer in Monster.  Theron must have the worst agent in Hollywood with all the crap she has been in (Aeon Flux anyone?) but every so often she turns in performances in movies like this that make you think if she had a better agent she could be the female Daniel Day-Lewis.  Theron gets that lost in her best characters – and Mavis is one of them. Continue reading