Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Best and Worst Films of 2011… And a Few Honorable Mentions

by Steve Habrat

Another year has come to a close and I know I will fondly remember 2011 as the year nostalgia ran rampant through cinema. We couldn’t get enough of the retro throwbacks that Hollywood dumped onto us! It touched horror (Insidious), superheroes (Captain America: The First Avenger), dramas (The Artist), thrillers (Drive), and even more than that. Many proclaimed that the year was lacking strong, well-made films that will live on but I have to disagree with those statements. I found 2011 to be a very good year for film with a number of wonderful films flickering across the silver screen. I will admit that, yes, the awards season was a bit dry with the usual awards tailored releases but one could make the argument that they were spread throughout the year. Hell, Spetember, which is usually the dumping ground for crappy movies, saw several great releases. So, my loyal readers, here is my picks for the 10 Best Films of 2011. I will follow the best with the honorable mentions and the 5 Worst Films of 2011.

 The Best:

10.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This Cold War thriller about a group of spies at the upper levels of British Intelligence trying to locate a Soviet mole that has apparently been walking among them for years is tense, paranoid, dry, and quietly threatening. With a discreet but brilliant performance from Gary Oldman and a slew of supporting acts not far behind (Toby Jones, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy all give it 110%), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy becomes a film not about the mole but about the casualties of the Cold War. The casualties are the egos, careers, and lives of the men and women battling this war where accusations are fired instead of bullets. I remained on the fence about including this film in my Best of 2011 list but as the days pass, I find myself being squeezed tighter and tighter by its frosty grip.

9.) The Help

You know that chick flick that wasn’t Bridesmaids or Crazy Stupid Love (both awesome movies, by the way) that your girlfriend really wanted to see but you groused about going to? Yeah, The Help. It was really, really good and you missed out. The Help was a dazzling and patient film that was a cry for female camaraderie while never isolating the male viewer. It was a film about speaking your mind while opening up and listening to those around us. It was a film about unlikely friendships and cathartic confiding in one another. It was also a really great drama with moments of howling hilarity and stinging heartbreak. So yeah, that film you refused to see because it was just a “chick flick”? Yeah, you might want to see it because it happens to be a whole lot more than just for “chicks”. See it also for the show stopping performances from Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis.

8.) Moneyball

Moneyball is to baseball what The Social Network was to Facebook. Featuring a crackling script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and top notch performances from Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as the number crunching Peter Brand, Moneyball is consistently engrossing. If you can’t get enough of the babble about how to properly recruit a player, you’ll be thrilled to watch a film about a man on a search to make concise and solid decisions yet has failed to make the best ones in his own life. Pitt throws himself into Beane and for the first time in quite a while, disappears completely in the skin of his character. Hill breaks from his funnyman typecast and delivers a brainy performance that will open up more doors for him in the future. Even if you are the furthest thing from a baseball fan, you will find yourself hanging on every word and every frame of Moneyball.

7.) War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s majestic and epic interpretation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book is a touching and traditional opus. The film is pure Spielberg, a feel good blockbuster that leaps across Europe spying on the regal horse Joey and the several lives that he touches as he navigates through war torn landscapes. The film is complimented with an extraordinary score from John Williams that will become just as iconic as his scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws. Whether you are jolted by the intense WWI battle sequences, marveling at the jaw-dropping cinematography, or still reeling from the barbed wire sequence, everyone can agree that War Horse is a cinematic triumph for, yes, all ages.

6.) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director David Fincher’s frigid crime thriller that follows a disgraced liberal journalist and a punk rock hacker is a mature thrill ride that will leave you the viewer scarred. Refusing to pull any punches, Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s source material is fully realized, confident, and just as unpredictable as its heroine Lisbeth Salander. Mara transforms herself into the troubled and prickly hacker while also making her extremely charismatic. Daniel Craig has fun as a man trying to repair what is left of both his dignity and his career. Just as graphic as you’ve heard (there is not one, but two squirm-inducing rape sequences), intense, and featuring the coolest opening credit sequence of any movie in 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves you pinned to your seat. You will also never listen to Enya’s “Sail Away” the same way ever again.

5.) The Artist

The nostalgia of 2011 hit its peak with the silent French film The Artist, a vivacious film about a silent film actor facing the death of the silent film. The Artist proved that we do not need loud action sequences, explosions, or words, for that matter, to be deeply affected by a motion picture. It also stands as a tribute to artists themselves, who stand by the medium that they contribute to. The Artist thrilled us with haunting images, on point slapstick, and gooey gobs of cuteness. Good luck getting the performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo out of your head. You’ll also eat up all the affection that director Michel Hazanavicius bestows on every single frame. You’ll find yourself longing for a musical sequel and to relive the chemistry between the two leads. Trust me.

4.) The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s cosmic symphony of creation and evolution is so resplendently beautiful, it will practically drive you crazy. You’ll never forget the vivid swirls of the creation of the universe sequence or the crystal clear wonder in 1950’s suburbia. While the film is truly a work of art to gaze at, the film is made even stronger by the performances at the heart of it. Brad Pitt as a stern and cynical father who possesses an explosive temper will strike child-like fear into the viewer and Jessica Chastain as a naive and awe-struck housewife is graceful and inviting. The real beauty of The Tree of Life is in what you take away from the film. To me, Malick seems to simply be reminding us that life will throw some emotional curves at us, but don’t ever forget to stop and take in the glory around us.

3.) The Descendants

Paradise is not all its cracked up to be in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. George Clooney gives the best performance of his career as Matt King, a man whose wife is comatose from a boating accident and while she is in the hospital, he learns she was having an affair. Doleful and sporadically hilarious, The Descendants moved me beyond words and at times, is almost unwatchable due to the mental and emotional beatings that King takes. While Clooney steals the show, his troublemaker teenage daughter Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley, is the life vest keeping King’s head above water. You’ll feel every blow that life dishes out to King but that is what makes The Descendants so emotionally raw, real, and just plain great.

2.) Drive

Nicholas Winding Refn’s rough and tough thriller Drive has been wrongfully overlooked this awards season. It’s an unabashedly cool art house thrill ride that is one part homage to the 1980’s and one part existential tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Featuring moments of angelic tranquility and fits of nerve frying rage and unflinching gore, Drive dared to be different and all the more power to it. Featuring the one-two punch of Ryan Gosling’s loner, nameless Driver and the erratic brutality of Albert Brooks’ gangster Bernie Rose, Drive isn’t simply all muscle with nothing under the hood. The film boasts the coolest soundtrack of the year, features moments that are instant classics (the head stomping scene, the opening car chase), and is the epitome of badass, all while taking you for a ride you’ll never soon forget.

1.)  Hugo

There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo where our child protagonists Hugo and Isabelle take a trip to the movies. Scorsese’s camera captures their wonderment, their gasping thrills, and their imaginations running wild all while they have smiles plastered across their faces. They are watching their dreams of adventure play out on a larger-than-life screen and they haven’t a care in the world. This is why I go to the movies. For two hours, I get to forget the outside world and I get to step into another, one where my dreams come alive and my imagination is at play. While Scorsese’s ultimate message is the call for film preservation, one I can stand behind, Hugo is alive with the love of cinema. If you are willing to immerse yourself in its glorious 3D universe that Scorsese meticulously creates, you will want to remain in the world along with Hugo and thrill as he darts around the 1930s train station that he calls home. A film that is tailored for film fans and film students a bit more than the casual moviegoer, Hugo is a love letter delicately written and magnificently composed by a living legend.  Hugo is why I go to the movies.

Honorable Mentions:

–       Crazy Stupid Love is a return to form for the romantic comedy genre.

–        Midnight in Paris is a return to form for Woody Allen and is unapologetically charming.

–       Thor, Captain American: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class were all stellar comic book offerings from Marvel Studios.

–       Super 8 was a super cool retro action/science fiction film that fans of 1980s Spielberg gushed over. Myself included.

–       The Adventures of Tintin was a rollicking nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark and stood as the best animated film of the year.

–       Rango was quirky tribute to Chinatown, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Sergio Leone.

–       Insidious was a flawed but fun haunted house freak out.

–       Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was the best and most nerve-racking action film of the year.

–       50/50 was at once hilarious and heartfelt. Be prepared to wipe away a few tears.

 

The Worst:

2011 also had its fair share of cinematic duds and man, were they disappointing. For my Worst Films of 2011, I chose not to go for the easy choices (Bucky Larson, Jack & Jill) and go for the films that had potentially but fell short of their expectations. These were the ones that hurt bad and were an immense challenge to sit through. These are the films you should have stayed far away from in 2011.

5.) Cowboys & Aliens

Not a downright awful movie but given the talent surrounding this science fiction/western mash up, it should have been a hell of a lot better and much more fun. Flat and one note, this clunker threw one lifeless action sequence after another at us, never once getting an “Ooooooh” or an “Ahhhhh” from its viewer. The aliens were also pretty lame looking too. Daniel Craig tries his hardest but he can’t save this one. Heck, not even a naked Olivia Wilde had the magic!

4.) Green Lantern

The only superhero outing from DC Comics this summer turned out to be a candy colored nightmare of trippy special effects and a cluttered script. Ryan Reynolds as the cosmic cop was also a pretty horrible choice on the part of the filmmakers. It didn’t help that Warner Brothers tried to make this the successor to the mega successful Batman franchise and they ended up marketing the film to death. Weird and with more shifts in tone than you could shake a green ring at, Green Lantern was headache inducing and laughable, with enough plot holes to fuel a dozen terrible blockbusters. If you don’t believe me, just watch the massive climax of this thing. You won’t believe your eyes.

3.) Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

America, don’t you feel the slightest bit of shame that this passes for pop culture in our country? The Twilight Saga struck again in 2011 and left countless girls and grown women (You all should know better) swooning over Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson yet again. With nothing resembling a plot, Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 existed for simply one reason: To cheat young girls and grown women out of ten bucks. And sadly, they flocked right to Lautner’s abs like moths to a light bulb. If you are not a part of the hysterical hype, you will want to bash your head against the wall while you watch this.

2.) The Hangover Part II

Before all the girls were robbed blind while hyperventilating over the sight of Lautner’s abs, bros everywhere were robbed blind while howling over the painfully unfunny jokes by Zach Galifinakis and his brutish wolf-pack. An unnecessary sequel that did nothing to elaborate on the mostly unfunny first installment, The Hangover Part II was offensive in almost every possible way. If you missed this while it was in theaters, don’t fret and certainly don’t go seeking it out. It seemed like near the end of its theatrical run, the film lost steam as many people started realizing that this was a flat out horrendous movie. Maybe there is a God. Seriously, folks, this is an ugly, ugly movie that should have never seen the light of day.

1.)  Battle: Los Angeles

Bad doesn’t even scratch the surface of the vociferous, stupid, and aggravating Battle: Los Angeles. You couldn’t tell if this abomination was supposed to be the most expensive commercial for the Marines ever made or the unholy brainchild of a kid who watched District 9 too many times and was obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Whether you’re cringing over the eye-rolling dialogue, trying to decipher just what the hell is going on in the non-stop gun fights, or trying not burst out laughing when the film goes for the dramatic territory, one thing is for sure, Battle: Los Angeles was the worst thing Hollywood dumped on audiences in 2011! Avoid it like a plague.

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The Tree of Life (2011)

by Steve Habrat

The Tree of Life is the first film from reclusive director Terrence Malick that I have had the pleasure of seeing. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that someone who has studied film has yet to see a film from the acclaimed and beloved director. It’s not that I have objected to seeing one of his films, I’ve just never been presented with the opportunity. I have finally had the opportunity to see The Tree of Life, the divisive and perplexing cosmic offering from Malick. I’m sure you heard about this how this film makes absolutely no sense and how it was met with mixed reviews at Cannes Film Festival despite the immense hype from the art house crowd. Most who see The Tree of Life walk away either loving the film, praising its visual artistry and contemplating the questions of life, nature, grace, and how we got here or hating the film, feeling cheated, confused, and rejecting its disjointed narrative. I fall on the side of loving the film, admiring its beauty still in the hours after I have seen it and my mind still trying to wrap itself around the point of the film.

The Tree of Life has three main plots. The first plot is the creation of the universe that is utterly breathtaking to watch. The second is set in the 1950s and follows the O’Brien family. We voyeuristically watch their upbringing of Jack (Played by Hunter McCracken) and his two younger brothers. Malick then focuses on the boy’s relations with their placid and naive mother Mrs. O’Brien (Played by Jessica Chastain) and their stern and forceful father Mr. O’Brien (Played by Brad Pitt). Early on in the film, we happen to learn that one of Jack’s younger brothers dies when he is when he is nineteen in the 1960s. The third plot is adult Jack (Played by Sean Penn) reminiscing about his days growing up and his deceased brother.

Boasting cinematography that practically knocks you out, The Tree of Life dazzles us, like many other films this year, with images and expressions over hollow CGI. Even if you find yourself loathing the film, there is still much to admire in the images. I marveled at the creation sequence and was chilled to my core by the glimpses of the afterlife. I was wrapped up in the time spent with the O’Brien’s, feeling like an invisible, otherworldly visitor floating around their home. But while the images scorch the viewer, there are also sequences that were immensely powerful in their subject matter. Jack and his friends go on a trek through nature, setting off firecrackers in a bird’s nest and tying a frog to a rocket. A scene when Mr. O’Brien lashes out at two of his sons, sending the third to his mother’s arms, sobbing and terrified is one you’ll never forget. Adult Jack reuniting with his father in the afterlife is warm and overwhelming despite their thorny relationship.

Malick’s pet project relies on its unforgettable imagery to carry it but if it weren’t for the flesh and blood performances, The Tree of Life would be nothing. This is Pitt’s film from the first frame to the last and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. He puts the fear of God in the viewer in the way he lashes out at his children. His character has so many layers; multiple viewing will be needed to pull them all away. He is a cynical man who gave up on his dreams and doesn’t fully appreciate what surrounds him. He is intimidating and stern, putting you on the edge of your seat in the way he commands Jack to return to the screen door and shut it properly several times as punishment for slamming it. Then there is Jessica Chastian’s Mrs. O’Brien, a woman in awe of everything around her and bursting with affection for her children. She preaches a message of love to her children and whispers about the sky being where God lives. When she has to convey the devastation of losing a child, there are no words to describe what Chastain pulls off. She’s a delicate flower to Pitt’s whirlwind force of nature.

And what about Sean Penn and the cosmic opening sequence? Yes, they are all there too. Penn isn’t given much to do by Malick and that is one of the downsides to the film. He wanders around in a city staring up at the sky, skyscrapers, and then in visions, he wanders the desert in a suit. For the most part, he sits around and broods. Penn really gets to flex his acting muscles when he is reunited in the afterlife with his family. The opening cosmic sequence and the closing end-of-the-world montage are sublime and feel like something ripped from a planetarium. You have to see it in HD to really get the exhaustive effect. Malick even gives us a few dinosaurs! But what do these scenes of creation have to do with the story of the O’Briens? Malick mirrors the creation sequence with the progression of the O’Brien family. The family grows, matures, evolves, and experiences overwhelming devastation just like the universe itself.

The Tree of Life takes some contemplation and it is certainly not for casual moviegoers. The film is like a Rorschach test to the viewer with Malick being the one asking us what we see. I feel that anyone who sees The Tree of Life is going to emerge with a different viewpoint on the film, but I suppose I can offer up what I thought the film was trying to convey. The film pits evolution against creationism but it never seems to ask us which side we fall on. In fact, it seems like Malick points these two theories out to us and then asks: does it really matter how we got here? He instructs us to stop, take a breath, and just look around at, as Mr. O’Brien calls it, “the glory” around us. Things will happen that disrupt our existence (anger, heartbreak, pain, grief, loss), but those should not distract us from living and loving. There was a beginning and there will be an ending but with that ending comes a reuniting. Is that reuniting spiritual or natural? That is up for you to decide. Either way, I was immersed in the cosmic voyage that Malick took me on and I will never forget it the eye-opening splendor it presents.

Grade: A

The Tree of Life is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Anti-Film School’s Academy Awards Coverage: The Best Picture Race

by Charles Beall

Throughout the next month, I will be contributing articles about the Oscar race this year.  To start things off, let’s talk about the big race, Best Picture.

9 Best Picture nominees

When the Academy announced that there would be a new voting system to select a Best Picture nominee (a film has to have 5% of first place votes to gain a nomination), I aired on the side of skepticism.  At first, when the Academy announced that there would be 10 nominees two years ago, I cried foul.  This is the Academy Awards!  Why would we sully it by letting in five other films?  However, take a look at these ten films (the first five released in 2009 and the last five in 2010, respectively): District 9, The Blind Side, An Education, A Serious Man, Up, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, and Winter’s Bone.  Aside from The Blind Side (total turd), these ten films are exceptional “unconventional” films that never would’ve been nominated if there were only five nominees.  Sure they can’t win, but they definitely were deserving of a nomination for Best Picture.  I decided that I liked this 10 Best Picture nominee system.

However, per the new Academy rules, there could be anywhere between five and ten nominees for the films of 2011.  The movies that were to be nominated had to, as I stated, receive 5% of number one votes.  So, with this complicated system, I assumed there would be between five and seven nominees.  Yet, there were nine.

Here are the tiers these films fall into:

(Note: films with an * are films I have not seen yet.  I can only give the impression I get from them, whereas the films I have seen, I can attempt to attest to why they were nominated.)

The Five– these would’ve been the five nominated films if there were only five nominees:

The Artist*
This is a film that has Oscar written all over it.  A nostalgic look at Hollywood, a silent film in black and white, and a feel-good, original idea, this movie is the kind of warm hug Academy members like.

The Descendants
The Descendants is the tailor-made, quirky Fox Searchlight Oscar bait we’ve all come to expect, yet don’t let that detract from how great of a film it is.  Alexander Payne is a wonderful filmmaker and this film, his first since the incredible Sideways, goes along with his theme of middle aged men “coming of age.”  Anchored by a wonderful performance by George Clooney (I think he deserves the Oscar), The Descendants is worthy of the respect heaped upon it, and even though it oozes of “Oscar prestige,” it truly is a great American film

The Help
The Help is the type of crowd-pleasing hit that the Academy loves to recognize to show that it isn’t a bunch of out-of-touch, pretentious white people.  I enjoyed The Help, yet I have some reservations about it.  First, it is entertaining without being overly confident in itself; it doesn’t wear its message on its sleeve.  We know that segregation in the South is a disgusting stain on our nation’s history, yet The Help doesn’t delve into how blatantly horrible it was to make the actions of the white people in the movie seem more noble than that of the Help.  With that said, it almost does go off the deep end.  Yes, it portrays the bravery of certain white women and certain African American women, but it comes off that without the white women, the Help would’ve never had their story told.  The film teeters on that cliff, but the filmmakers realize that that is too easy of a plot device, so I commend them for not taking the easy route.

While I would’ve liked a more “intense” portrayal of racism in the South, The Help suffices for reaching such a wide audience.  The film is honest and takes its time to develop its great characters.  In a year with only five nominees, I wouldn’t have selected The Help; however, when there are ten spots, I think it is deserving as one of the ten nominees.


Hugo
Hugo is a marvel and the best film I’ve seen this year.  This love letter to film, imagination, and life is completely engulfing.  As Scorsese’s first 3D film, he utilizes the technology to add, well, another dimension to the story.  There are no gimmicks and you are literally immersed into a world that could only come out of careful planning and love of source material.  I cannot praise this film enough, and in any year, this would be in the top five, if not number one spot.  Hugo deserves all of its 11 Academy Award nominations.


Midnight in Paris
The Academy loves Woody Allen, which is ironic because Woody never shows up to the ceremony.  However, if there is any comeback film for Allen after some flubs in years past, it is Midnight in Paris.  This is such a cute, original movie that offers an escape for not only the main character, but for the entire audience.  This is one of the best movies of the year and worthy of its four nominations.

The “honor-to-be-nominated” Crew– if there were five nominees, these wouldn’t have been nominated, but with the current voting system (and the former 10 nominee system), they are:

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film is a simply beautiful, undeniably maddening meditation on life.  If there were only five nominees for Best Picture, this wouldn’t have been nominated (even though, I believe, he would’ve been nominated for Best Director-the Academy would oftentimes nominate a director whose film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture) but with the new system, it got in there.  There is an almost cult-like following for this film and I was honestly surprised that it was nominated.  It is a unique film, and this definitely “diversifies” the Academy’s canon of nominated films.  It won’t take home the big prize, but it definitely has been honored with its 3 nominations.


Moneyball*
A movie about math and baseball, written by Aaron Sorkin, and starring Brad Pitt.  I haven’t seen it, but heard it is great.  This is the Academy trying to be cool, I suppose.


War Horse*
Steven Spielberg.  World War I.  Epic.  Is the Academy still sorry for snubbing Saving Private Ryan?


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close*
This smells Weinsteinesque (more on that later).

Harry Potter WAS NOT snubbed

Fans are crying foul on the “snub” of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in the Best Picture race.  Folks, there was no snub.  This film did not deserve a nomination for Best Picture; it was the worst film in the franchise.  Now, before you call me a death eater or a Slytherin, I urge you to do some soul searching and ask yourself if this really was the movie you thought it was.

Now, in defense of the Academy, they have opened their minds somewhat when it comes to films of different caliber.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, was nominated for 30 Academy Awards, winning 17 (including a clean sweep for The Return of the King).  Yes, the Academy has been stingy on which films they nominate (fantasy/science fiction-wise), but The Lord of the Rings films were exceptional, bridging fanboy/girl devotion with a mass audience appeal.  That isn’t to say the Harry Potter franchise didn’t do such a thing; it did, but not to the extent of respecting the source material in such a way that the LOTR filmmakers did.

Now, as I stated earlier, ask yourself if the final film really was that incredible.  Take a look at both the entire final book and the penultimate film in the series.  Both of these took their time developing both the story and the characters; the final film did not.  There was a checklist of obligatory plot points to be filmed and they were done in such a rapid succession that one did not have time to emotionally process what was happening to the characters we have grown to love.  The final LOTR film was 200 minutes.  The final Harry Potter film was barely over two hours.  With so much story left in the second half of the book, the filmmakers didn’t develop it into drama; they shot it and sent it off to 3D rendering.

Is the Harry Potter film series terrible?  Absolutely not.  I believe that for such a massive, original world that J.K. Rowling created, the filmmakers did a reasonably excellent job in adapting it for the big screen.  However, after seven well-made films, the eighth just floundered, portraying itself as something that it was not and seducing loyal fans into thinking it was the best in the series.

Don’t hate on the Academy for this “snub.”  There have been sequels that were nominated for Best Picture (and some that won) that were far more deserving than Part 2.  True, The Return of the King won Best Picture for two reasons: it was a great film, but also the conclusion to a flawless motion picture trilogy.  That is what gets rewarded by the Academy, not an “easy” sequel to an otherwise great film series.

“But The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture,” one might say.  I know…I never said the Academy was perfect.  However, there is a huge difference in an unworthy film getting nominated for Best Picture and an unworthy film not getting nominated for Best Picture.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 falls into the latter category.

In conclusion, it must be said that the Harry Potter film series, as a whole, stands as a landmark in motion picture history, and for that, both as a lover of the series and as a cinephile, I sing its praise.

What should’ve been the “ninth” and tenth films?

I put “ninth” in quotes because, while the 8 films that were expected or had a reasonable chance of being nominated for Best Picture were, the ninth film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was a shocker.  There is a hardcore group of fans of this film, and while I have not yet seen it, I can tell you that it is one of the worst reviewed films of the past ten years (according to Rotten Tomatoes) to be nominated for Best Picture.  So what happened?

As I stated earlier, the way the Academy has changed their voting rules over the last three award cycles allows films like Loud (and The Blind Side) to sneak in and nab a spot.  What happened with Loud is that there were 5% of people who loved this movie so much that they put it as the number one spot on their ballot among the list of 300 plus eligible films from 2011.  There is a great article from Entertainment Weekly that explains this whole system, and the link to that is right here:  http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/01/24/oscars-best-picture-why-nine-nominees/

So, now that you have your head wrapped around that, let us look at which films were “bumped off.”  I believe that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Bridesmaids were bumped off by Loud.  Some may argue that The Tree of Life also was a surprise, but with its devoted fanbase, I think it was always a shoo-in for a nod.  As explained in that Entertainment Weekly Article, Tattoo and Bridesmaids were probably voters third or fourth pick for their favorites of the year, which would’ve helped in other years, but not this one.  So, Academy members, if you find yourself passionate about a particular movie next year, make sure it gets your number one spot.  If The Dark Knight Rises is as incredible as its predecessor, you know what to do.

So, that concludes my analysis of the Best Picture race for 2011.  There will be more to come before and after the Academy Awards, so keep checking Anti-Film School for more updates.

The Nominations Are In…

Hey readers, 

This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announced their nominations for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. You can find the nominees of every category below. We will have Charlie’s reaction to the nominations posted tonight. In the meantime, leave us your reaction to the nominations. We love hearing your opinions! 

-Steve

BEST PICTURE
“The Artist,” Thomas Langmann, producer
“The Descendants,” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, producers
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Scott Rudin, producer
“The Help,” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, producers
“Hugo,” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, producers
“Midnight in Paris,” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, producers
“Moneyball,” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, producers
“The Tree of Life,” Nominees to be determined
“War Horse,” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, producers

LEAD ACTOR
Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy “
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

LEAD ACTRESS
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”

BEST DIRECTOR
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
“The Descendants,” Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
“Hugo,” John Logan
“The Ides of March,” George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
“Moneyball,” Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
“The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius
“Bridesmaids,” Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
“Margin Call,” J.C. Chandor
“Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen
“A Separation,” Asghar Farhadi

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
“A Cat in Paris,” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
“Chico & Rita,” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
“Kung Fu Panda 2,” Jennifer Yuh Nelson
“Puss in Boots,” Chris Miller
“Rango,” Gore Verbinski

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Bullhead,” Belgium
“Footnote,” Israel
“In Darkness,” Poland
“Monsieur Lazhar,” Canada
“A Separation,” Iran 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
“Hell and Back Again,” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
“Pina,” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
“Undefeated,” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement,” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
“God Is the Bigger Elvis,” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
“Incident in New Baghdad,” James Spione
“Saving Face,” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
“Dimanche/Sunday,” Patrick Doyon
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
“La Luna,” Enrico Casarosa
“A Morning Stroll,” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
“Wild Life,” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
“Pentecost,” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
“Raju,” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
“The Shore,” Terry George and Oorlagh George 
“Time Freak,” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
“Tuba Atlantic,” Hallvar Witzø

ART DIRECTION
“The Artist,” production design: Laurence Bennett; set decoration: Robert Gould
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” production design: Stuart Craig; set decoration: Stephenie McMillan
“Hugo,” production design: Dante Ferretti; set decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
“Midnight in Paris,” production design: Anne Seibel; set decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
“War Horse,” production design: Rick Carter; set decoration: Lee Sandales

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

COSTUME DESIGN
Lisy Christl, “Anonymous”
Mark Bridges, “The Artist”
Sandy Powell, “Hugo”
Michael O’Connor, “Jane Eyre”
Arianne Phillips, “W.E”

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

MAKEUP
“Albert Nobbs,” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston 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

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
“The Adventures of Tintin,” John Williams 
“The Artist,” Ludovic Bource
“Hugo,” Howard Shore
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Alberto Iglesias
“War Horse” John Williams

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets,” music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio,” from “Rio,” music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown; lyrics by Siedah Garrett

SOUND EDITING
“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

SOUND MIXING
“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, Dave 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

VISUAL EFFECTS
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
“Hugo,” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
“Real Steel,” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan 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 Butler and John Frazier

Let us know what YOU think!

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

by Steve Habrat

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mondo cane, Cannibal Holocaust, and Dawn of the Dead were thrown into a blender and then the mixture was combined with vomit, maggots, inappropriate stock footage and horrible dialogue? You would have Bruno Mattei’s (or Vincent Dawn’s, according to the opening credits) Hell of the Living Dead, a Dawn of the Dead wannabe that is so desperate to be Dawn of the Dead, it even has commando heroes and lifts the iconic Goblin score from Romero’s masterpiece. A grind-house classic of the highest degree, Hell of the Living Dead is the anti-Romero, a film so blank, slapped together, and poorly dubbed, it’s a wonder it has even seen the light of day. Rising from the grave in Italy, this ziti zombie film is practically the definition of a guilty-pleasure midnight movie, only for those who are zombie fanatics.

Hell of the Living Dead picks up at a research facility called Hope #1 in Papua New Guinea where a chemical leak and an infected rat cause the entire staff to be turned into flesh eating ghouls almost instantly. After the accident and the loss of contact to the facility, an elite SWAT unit led by Lt. Mike London (Played by José Gras) travels to the island where the research center is located. When the commandos arrive, they find the island infested with zombies and the local tribes in mass hysteria over the outbreak of this strange virus. After teaming up with a beautiful journalist named Lia (Played by Margit Evelyn Newton), the group sets off through the jungles to find Hope #1 and discover the secrets behind the mysterious chemical named Operation Sweet Death.

Hell of the Living Dead is a film so bad, so outrageous, and so asinine that it actually manages to be bareable in a weird way. It is almost like seeing a horrible car accident that you just can’t look away from even though you desperately want to. The film tries to pass itself off as a horror film but there isn’t a scare to found. Well, that is unless you find cross-dressing terrifying. Truth be told, there are a few scenes in Hell of the Living Dead that echo with slight potential. A zombie army descends on a secluded home in the jungle and it manages to be properly claustrophobic and eerie even if every character acts like a complete moron. Some of the shots of zombies staggering out of the jungle are slightly uncanny but quickly grow corny due to their uniformity.

Whether you’re shaking your head at missed opportunities or gaping at the dreadful dialogue the film is notorious for, the reason the film is at the bottom of the barrel as far as zombie films go is because it is so desperate to be Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, it even slathered its zombie extras in blue make-up. To be fair, Romero’s blue zombies were not intentional. Make-up artist Tom Savini wanted them to be a pale, grayish color but when they were photographed, they turned out blue. In Hell of the Living Dead, I feel like it was no mistake. The film brazenly lifts Goblin’s iconic score from Dawn of the Dead, completely out of place for this film. Mattei’s use of blue jumpsuit clad soldiers is also glaring noticeable. If you are new to zombie films and you begin with Hell of the Living Dead, it is best to shut it off and put in Romero’s epic classic instead of watching this. But if you are a seasoned pro when it comes to this stuff, my advice is to make a drinking game with your buddies. Call it “Spot the Romero Reference!”

Hell of the Living Dead has it all for the exploitation fans. It has senseless nudity, jaw-dropping gore, and copious overacting from elapsed actors. The film has also become infamous for its improper use of stock-footage that serves only to add a few more shocks to an already fairly deplorable experience. It doesn’t help that much of the plot is unintelligible either. Long forgotten by most, Hell of the Living Dead isn’t a film for staid film viewers. You’ll be turning it off in the first five minutes of its runtime. If you are like me and you get a kick out of forgotten Z-grade pictures like this, then seek out Hell of the Living Dead. I enjoy making the film a beer drenched double feature with Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, as it creates a nice balance between beyond awful and surprisingly respectable. Hell of the Living Dead falls into the beyond awful even if it does make the trash fan in me smile.

Grade: F

Hell of the Living Dead is available on DVD and yes, it is a part of my exploitation collection.

The Artist (2011)

by Steve Habrat

After its sweep at the Golden Globes, the silent French film The Artist finally received a wide theatrical release. With all the hoopla and chatter about how wonderful this film is, I braved a snowstorm with two of my buddies who were intrigued by a silent film but were conflicted on the idea of seeing one. So is it worth the hype? Yes, The Artist is a testament to our imagination and is a vivacious spectacle without explosions. It’s comical, touching, smooth, and cute with two leads who have classic Hollywood movie star stamped all over them. To be fair, it is a intrepid move on the part of the filmmaker and the studio to take a risk on this film, mostly because American audiences wouldn’t give it the time of day. Yes, it is silent and yes, you have to pay attention to the screen or else you will get lost. That means you have to slide your phone back into your pocket, pause the Angry Birds, and ignore that text for an hour and forty minutes.

The Artist picks up in 1927 with amiable silent film star George Valentin (Played by Jean Dujardin), who proudly wears a pencil-thin mustache, greased back hair, and bops around with his dog costar, at the height of cinematic fame. As he departs the premier of his new film, A Russian Affair, photographers swarm Valentin and in the hysterics, he bumps into a strikingly beautiful woman named Peppy Miller (Played by Bérénice Bejo). She plants a big kiss on Valentin’s cheek, igniting a swarm of speculation in the papers: “Who’s That Girl?” Peppy uses her tabloid fame to get a job as a back-up dancer for a movie studio where she slowly climbs the ladder of celebrity. While in production on another film, studio boss Al Zimmer (Played by John Goodman) approaches Valentin and tells him he has something to show him. Zimmer introduces Valentin to a new kind of film—the talkie! Valentin waves the talkie off as just a fad that will never catch on, but as the years pass, Valentin watches as audiences embrace the new approach to this medium. As a result, Valentin’s fame and fortune slowly fades away, leaving him a broken man. Peppy, on the other hand, finds herself rapidly rising as the new “It” girl in Hollywood.

The film tells a timeless tale, one we are all accustomed with—a story of swallowing one’s pride, adjusting to the new times, and reluctance to accept change. Yet director Michel Hazanavicius tells it with a fresh visual approach, making us forget we have heard this story before. I would say that The Artist turns itself into an event film, yes, like Avatar or Grindhouse, because it dares to show us something we do not go to the movies and see every week. Sure, it doesn’t feature blue aliens or go-go dancers with machine guns for legs, but it does transport us to the early years of cinema, much like Grindhouse took us back to the rundown movie palaces of the 1970’s and Avatar felt ripped from the distant future. It is not satisfied with simply evoking, much like the other nostalgic films of 2011 were. It is a blockbuster of romanticized imagery. I found myself wishing that I would have worn a three piece suit and the theater would have been filled with cigarette smoke.

The Artist features some dazzling physical performances from both Dujardin and Bejo, both sweeping us up with the batting of an eyebrow and a smile. Dujardin is so damn magnetic that I can’t wait to see what he does after this film. While he flashes pearly smiles and looks cool strutting in a tux, he is capable of dramatic emotional lows. We feel for him as his marriage and career unravels even if we are saying, ‘Told ya so” in the back of our minds. Dujardin really sparkles when he breaks into a tap dance or performs slapstick with his four-legged companion. Bejo blazes up the screen with her bouncy sexuality and old Hollywood glamour. She is classy even when she is haughty, an imagine she embraces even if she is aware that it isn’t her true character. When the two share a scene, they have unlimited chemistry that Hazanavicius is fully aware of. A tap dance sequence at the end of the film left me wishing for a musical sequel that would feature George and Peppy together again. Goodman as the studio boss is right on the money. It was strange not hearing his gruff voice but even silent and chomping on a cigar, he is just as scene stealing.

Don’t worry if you feel like a fish out of water when The Artist first rolls onto the screen. It will take you a minute to adjust to it but when you do, you will forget that it is silent. Ludovic Bource’s old-fashioned score is a standout, as the music was the punctuation to the stories being told in silent films. The real beauty of The Artist comes from the message it sends to the audience. Film doesn’t need sound or flashy set pieces to send a profound statement and sometimes minimalism can stir up the strongest emotions in any given individual. The most important aspect of any work of art is the love, care, and attention the artist gives to their work and their willingness to stand by it. The Artist is bursting with Hazanavicius’ love, care, and attention in every single frame, which is why this film wins us over. It speaks a universal language without saying anything at all.

Grade: A

The Great Silence (1968)

by Steve Habrat

For those who are not familiar with spaghetti westerns, a movement within the western genre during the mid 1960s, The Great Silence may not be your best introduction to the subgenre. You are probably wondering, what is a spaghetti western? A spaghetti western is an Italian made western that is usually set in a rundown frontier town and features ugly, weather worn characters. Among these characters is usually a protagonist who walks a fine line between good and bad and an antagonist who is usually beyond loathsome. And usually everyone is really, really sweaty and the violence is really, really gruesome. The best-known spaghetti westerns are Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) and Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. If I were a novice to the genre, I would begin with the four films I have just listed and if you feel the genre is for you, then immediately see The Great Silence, a spaghetti western that embraces every single attribute I listed above and replaces the sweaty, dusty setting with a snowy backdrop. This film is just as uncompromising as the environment it takes place in and, boy, is it violent.

The Great Silence follows a mute gunslinger known as Silence (Played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) on a quest to find the bounty hunters responsible for the slaying of his family and taking away his speech. Silence kills off his targets by picking fights with them and then shoots them in self-defense. He wanders into the town of Snowhill, Utah, set high in the snowy mountains and in the clutches of a brutal blizzard. The craggy, snow-caked hills are a safe haven for poor and starving refuges that the merciless bounty hunter Loco (Played Klaus Kinski) and his bloodthirsty gang have been hired to drive out. The rough weather has caused the refuges to become outlaws themselves in order to keep themselves alive. After Loco kills an African American outlaw, his wife Pauline (Played by Vonetta McGee) hires Silence to kill Loco, setting into motion a bleak and nasty showdown.

Director Sergio Corbucci frames several unforgettable moments throughout The Great Silence. One scene finds Loco dragging an outlaw through the snow while he interrogates him. The opening sequence finds Silence shooting off the thumbs of one gunfighter, making sure he can never pick up a weapon again. There is a saloon scene where a repulsive gunslinger gnawing at a greasy piece of chicken makes the mistake of picking a fight with the glaring Silence. But the reason the film gained notoriety is the climatic gun battle, which is horrific, tense, bleak, and unforgettable. Some countries were upset over the dark ending of the film and demanding Corbucci shoot an alternative ending that was much more optimistic. I prefer the grim end–the way Corbucci intended the film to be seen, as the Wild West wasn’t always a forgiving place where heroes triumphed in the face of evil.

The Great Silence also features a jangly, lingering score by spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone, who seems to have scored every single one of these films (He must have been a busy guy!). Everyone on the face of this earth is familiar with his score for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (That famous whistle?). It has been said that the spaghetti western is supposed to be the rock-n-roll version of the American western and Morricone’s music was meant to exemplify that statement. With The Great Silence, the score is a bit less scruffy and more romanticized, even when paired with the soft and epic long shots of snow-covered mountaintops. The Great Silence isn’t just a party for the boys, as it features (surprisingly!) a romance between the strong Silence type and wounded Pauline. Even the new firm sheriff of Snowhill, Burnett (Played by Frank Wolff, who also shows up in Once Upon a Time in the West, another surprisingly romantic spaghetti western) seems like more of a character who stepped out of a John Wayne western than a world full of grotesque money hungry murderers.

The Great Silence doesn’t go soft on the viewer. Oh no, just get a load of Kinski’s Loco, a breathy bounty hunter who likes to play with his prey before he puts it down. He buries bodies in the snow and then returns later to claim them (No respect for the dead), hides weapons all over town, and will gun down anyone without batting an eye. He is the personification of evil and a true spaghetti western antagonist. Kinski, who was a sensational actor, enjoys going bad in this one and who can blame him. He’s a self-centered character out to only benefit himself and certainly not the residents of Snowhill. Kinski was always so good at adding multifarious emotions to his villainous turns (See Nosferatu the Vampyre to see what he does with Dracula) and Loco is no different. I got the sense that if and when he laid waste to the refuges in the hills, it would not be for the sake of law and order and the only emotion he would feel is desperation, desperation to find more outlaws with a big price tag attached to their head.

It is a shame that the DVD print of The Great Silence isn’t better than it is. It seems as if the print of the film wasn’t properly cared for, as some shots are hazy, sometimes scratchy, and crude. Yet The Great Silence provides haunting entertainment for those who wish to subject themselves to the climax (You’ll feel this one, folks) and is just as grim as the era it was released in (1968, for those interested). The drastic change in location also makes for a western of a completely different breed, making it all the more memorable and distinct. Even the gunslingers have a more flamboyant feel to them and are not simply the tough-as-nails type. If you are a person who enjoys the romanticized west, you may want to skip this one. I recommended this film to a family friend who loves westerns and he reported back with a negative reaction to the film. If you enjoy spending time with some truly revolting and morally corrupt individuals, you’ll want to head to Snowhill immediately.

Grade: A

The Great Silence is now available on DVD.

The Prowler (1981)

by Steve Habrat

During the heyday of slasher horror flicks, when Freddy, Jason, and Michael roamed movie theaters slashing the throats of helpless, horny teens everywhere, the 1981 gem The Prowler was overlooked and lost in the sea of exploitation imitators. It is a shame because The Prowler is far scarier and better than any given Freddy or Jason romp. Sure, its premise of a crazed WWII veteran who received a “Dear John” letter during a tour of duty and then goes on a killing spree when he returns home is the stuff exploitation films dream of, but it is actually an invigorating direction with a killer introduction and some seriously wicked gore effects by FX wizard Tom Savini. If you consider yourself a fan of the horror genre in anyway, you need to get your claws on The Prowler. You are in for a real treat.

The Prowler begins with a vintage newsreel that shows soldiers returning home aboard a boat called the Queen Mary. A voiceover declares that while the homecoming is a happy event, some of the soldiers returned depressed and heartbroken from receiving a “Dear John” letter from their beloveds on American shores. The film then bounces to the 1945 graduation dance in Avalon Bay where Rosemary (Played by Joy Glaccum), who recently sent her boyfriend a “Dear John” letter, arrives with her new boyfriend Roy (Played by Timothy Wahrer). The two slip away to a secluded gazebo where they begin necking. Suddenly, the power is cut in the gazebo and the lovers find themselves brutally slain by a killer in unnerving combat gear. The film speeds ahead 35 years and finds Avalon Bay setting up for the same graduation dance. Despite the fear that the murderer may return, Sheriff George Fraser (Played by Farley Granger) departs on a fishing trip and leaves his steadfast deputy Mark London (Played by Christopher Goutman) in charge. As the dance gets underway, the combat clad murderer descends on the dance and begins racking up a body count. With the help of his crush Pam (Played by Vicky Dawson), Mark desperately tries to figure out who this prowler is before any more innocent victims meet their demise.

Director Joseph Zito makes a mature and atmospheric hack-and-slash romp that isn’t as concerned with how many naked girls he can squeeze into his runtime. Sure, there is the gratuitous nude scene but he practices infinite amounts of self-control, focusing more on delivering a proficiently made whodunit complete with a nod to the Psycho shower sequence. Yes, The Prowler holds the conservative mentality of all eighties slasher movies that, yes, if you have sex, plan on having sex, or fool around in any way, you will find yourself gutted by a pitchfork wielding nut job. But maybe it was the expert acting (the young cast is surprisingly strong for a film that seems to have been made on a shoestring budget), a creepy killer, and shifts into extremely gruesome violence that keep The Prowler afloat.

Zito also stages a well-rehearsed chase sequence to finish off the film, a climax that gives way to two major twists, one including the shocking reveal of the combat clad prowler. Gore guru Savini also lets loose and fills the screen with splashes of blood from sawed off shotgun blasts, bayonets to the throat, a pitchfork sealing two embraced lovers in each other’s arms for good, and an exploding head. I guess blowing one head up in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead didn’t quench that thirst. And how about that killer? A faceless killer who rivals Michael in the boogeyman department when he has his mask on! In a way, it is a disappointment when we do discover who the killer is because it removes some of the fear that this could be anyone causing the chaos. In the recent horror film book Shock Value, critic and author Jason Zinoman argues that once events are explained and there is a meaning given to the horror on the screen, the film looses its fear factor. In a slight defense of The Prowler’s reveal, once you process it, it is actually quite chilling that this person could be the one responsible for it. Either way, the reveal is a blessing and a curse.

The Prowler does have some moments where it takes a big bite of cheese. A scene right before the big reveal has to be one of the most gauche and uncomfortable scenes to watch. Zito must have been having an off day when he shot and edited the scene together. The scene features two characters staring at each other with smiles on their faces. They must have forgotten that there is a person who has just been blown away by a sawed off shotgun lying right next to them. I know that I would either be in hysterics or sick to my stomach from the grizzly scene. There is also an agonizingly slow scene where the killer flings his pitchfork around a room in search of Pam. Either the killer is enjoying dragging his work out or Zito was desperate to drag the runtime of the film out.

The good outweighs the bad in The Prowler and the result is a creepy exercise in boogeyman slash. It may be no deeper than the pool one victim meets their demise in and the beginning may be depressing, but The Prowler is high art compared to some of the installments in the Freddy and Jason franchises of that came out around the same time. If one were to watch it in the dark by themselves, this would make for a pretty good freak-out. I wish the film would get a bit more recognition than it does, as Zito has made more of a rewarding mystery than a teen fright movie. At the time, the film must have been a godsend of an option to Friday the 13th Part II or My Bloody Valentine, two slasher films that were doing their best to ruin the subgenre that same year. Love it or hate it, The Prowler puts a unique spin on a genre where the knives have long since rusted over. Pray that Hollywood never discovers it and remakes it.

Grade: B+

The Prowler is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Feature: Steve reacts to the 69th Annual Golden Globes

Ricky Gervais hosting the 69th Golden Globes.

by Steve Habrat

Last night, cinema fanatics, fashionistas, and celebrity gossip gurus tuned in to the 69th Annual Golden Globe awards eager for the lax, unbuttoned atmosphere the awards show is known for. I for one was excited to see what host Ricky Gervais would unleash upon the hoards of celebrities that showed up for a few glasses of champagne and to bullshit with one another. What we were treated to was a lukewarm show that for the most part failed to entertain its viewers and had a handful of winners that were even less dazzling. It didn’t help that the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored films that SHOULD have been nominated. Seriously, where the hell was Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Instead, we watched as the silent French film The Artist, a film that has yet to receive a wide release and mainstream audiences have not seen, cleaned house and Meryl Streep was handed ANOTHER award for The Iron Lady, another film NOBODY has seen. Can you say yawn inducing?

The show looked bleak from the get go. Uninteresting films, mediocre performances, and a slacking awards season were mostly to blame for the bland show. But it was infuriating to watch as Drive, a blood-soaked art house thriller that managed to be multilayered and boast a handful of stellar performances was waved off. It was nice to see Albert Brooks get a nod for his sinister performance of a gangster with the shortest temper known to man and a thing for stabbing forks into eye sockets but what about Ryan Gosling? Gosling had a nod for his suave turn in Crazy Stupid Love but his Drive performance was the one to talk about. And furthermore, what about Cliff Martinez’s retro score for the film? The soundtrack climbed the iTunes charts, had everyone who saw the film buzzing about it, and was the epitome of cool. Despite glowing reviews, the film was noticeably absent from the show.

Another film that was overlooked in the Best Motion Picture-Drama section was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a bold and unflinching serial killer thriller that, despite the lengthy runtime, was a chilly adult mystery. Instead, The Ides of March filled a spot just so more people could line up to kiss George Clooney’s ass. Mara received a nod for her jaw dropping performance and we watched as the award was handed (naturally) to Meryl Streep. Streep has won three other times! There was also the absence of Fincher in the Best Director category, his spot filled by Clooney. I would have been content if Fincher OR Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn had filled the spot. At least they had the good sense to give Martin Scorsese the award for the wonderful Hugo.

Another glaring omission was Gary Oldman’s performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oldman displayed grace, restraint, and eyes that were filled with heartbreak. The film may not have been one of the best films of the year but it was also loaded with expert performances. Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, and Colin Firth could have also nabbed a supporting actor slot. And am I the only one who loved Sasha Baron Cohen in Hugo? He was a villain who worked his way into our hearts, even if he did get a bit lost in all the action of that film.

Most of my disappointment comes from the sweep by The Artist, a film that Hollywood seems reluctant to give a wide release but has been subtly generating buzz throughout 2011. My suspicion is that they assume there most likely isn’t a wide audience for this type of film but they have showered it in awards and praise. Critics have placed it at the top of their Best of 2011 lists and raved about it since early last year. Lets see what the fuss is about! Even if I had absolutely no interest in silent films, I would want to know why everyone is giddy with it. Do not take this as I’m downing the film before I see it. Oh no, I’m excited to see this French gem but come on, a wide release before the Golden Globes would have been nice.

Overall, it was a major disappointment to see Gervais pulling punches with his hosting. I expected there to be a few more cringe worthy comments from the British funnyman. It was nice to see Scorsese make off with the directing award and it was great to see Woody Allen snag the screenplay award for Midnight in Paris. It was a nice welcome back for Woody. Streep and Clooney grabbing up the Best Actor and Best Actress awards came as absolutely no surprise whatsoever. I still have yet to see The Descendants so I cannot comment on its win of Best Picture-Drama. There is no one to blame but myself for not having taken a trip to the theater to see it. As a big fan of The Adventures of Tintin, I cheered when Spielberg accepted the award for Best Animated Picture. There was really no competition as there was a disturbing lack of quality animated films last year.

I certainly hope that the Academy Awards embraces some of the films that the Globes overlooked. The problem with last night was there was no hold your breath moment. There seems to be no competition like last year’s battle between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. I doubt that Drive will get a Best Picture or Best Director nod when nominations are announced but I could be wrong. Maybe it was the lack of excitement throughout the season but I hope that there is a spark of life in the next few weeks and that we can finally get to see The Artist so that when it cleans up at the Oscars, we can actually be familiar with it.

 

Let us know what you thought of the 69th Annual Golden Globes by voting in our poll attached below or leaving us a comment! We’d love to hear from you.

2012: The Year of Steven Spielberg

by Charles Beall

Image

If you know me, you know that I love Steven Spielberg.  I credit him with my discovery of cinema; if it weren’t for his films, I don’t think I ever would have fallen in love with the movies.  Without his films, I never would have discovered other filmmakers, nor the love of filmmaking and film watching.  Simply put, the man is my idol (the number one thing on my bucket list is to shake the man’s hand and get a picture taken with him that will be my Facebook profile picture until the day I die).

So, with the lead up to his film “Lincoln” in November of this year, I will spend the next months reviewing all of his films, chronologically, finishing up with his most recent endeavors.  It could take me a few weeks, it could take me a year; we’ll see how things progress (job searching is a pain, man).  However, here is this list of films that will be reviewed by yours truly, in  the“eras” that I have classified his films.

The Boy and His Camera Era

Amblin’ (1968)
Duel (1971)
The Sugarland Express (1974)

Note: I will try and track down television episodes Spielberg directed in this time period, however, I cannot guarantee it.

­The Wonder Era

Jaws (1975)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

1941 (1979)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)*

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The Goonies (1985)*

The Growing Pains Era

The Color Purple (1985)

An American Tail (1986)*

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Always (1989)

Hook (1991)

Jurassic Park (1993)

The Messenger Era

Schindler’s List (1993)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Amistad (1997)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Minority Report (2002)

The Versatile Era

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

The Terminal (2004)

War of the Worlds (2005)

Munich (2005)

The Wonder Era, Part II

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Super 8 (2011)*

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

War Horse (2011)

A New Era?

Lincoln (2012)

 

*These films were produced by Spielberg (aside from “Poltergeist”-I am sorry, Tobe Hooper, I like you and all but this film reeks of Spielberg) but are important nonetheless and are a testament to his influence in the films of others.  Therefore, they will be reviewed as a part of his filmography.

Now, let’s dim the lights, shall we?