Take a few hours and discover these specialty films of 2011:
Flowers of War – Nanking, 1937 finds Christian Bale posing as a priest in the local Catholic Church and acting sole protector of a combined group of frightened school girls and pretentious prostitutes. As the invading Japanese army moves beyond the courtyard walls, John (Bale) uses his skills as a mortician to change the appearances of the older women to save both lives and honor. This movie shows the value of selfless sacrifice and anonymous love amidst the brutality of rape and war. Introducing stunning Chinese actress Ni Ni, a powerful supporting cast brings emotion and suspense to a moving story.
Tree of Life – This slow character study of an adolescent’s loss of innocence is a raw and thorough presentation of evil existing within the earthly realm. Filmed with a sense of impressionistic emotion, the story chronicles eldest son John’s tumultuous relationship with a world seasoned by his parents’ differing philosophies. Sean Penn, Brad Pitt with Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain lead the cast of intense and dedicated veterans of inner-dialogued actors. The film requires an open mind for the stylistic choices but delivers all promised complexity of existence by the title: a tree of life.
War Horse– Driven by the lure of beauty rather than practicality, farmer Narracott buys a horse meant for showing and not plowing. Soon after the purchase his son trains “Joey,” knitting both trust and friendship. When poverty separates the horse and his boy they are united years later in the pits of World War I despair. Their faithful love is tested thoroughly by injury, doubt, lies, abandonment, and enslavement. As they make their way to a simpler life, Albert and Joey embark on a journey beyond their world. The film is refreshingly honest in the absence of CGI and gratuitous violence, and deserves its PG-13 rating only for the realistic brutality of war.
The Descendants– “What is it that makes the women in my life destroy themselves?” George Clooney plays an inspiring role as husband of a comatose wife and father of troubled teens wishing he could better understand his life. As an Hawaiian landowner, Matt King reconnects with his two daughters on the quest to find his wife’s lover revealed after a tragic boating accident. It’s a touching story of the realistic irony and humor that can accompany death when received in the safe arms of family.
Albert Nobbs – Starring severely underrated actress Glenn Close, this is a fascinating story of one woman’s dramatic choice changing her life forever. With attentive habits of cleanliness, order, and thrift, Albert works as a butler in Dublin’s most prestigious hotel. When a handsome painter arrives to the hotel, every dream which Albert has gently nursed is given new life. The makeup and costume design only heighten the exquisite transformation from woman to man without driving any political or social agenda, but simply telling the story of an astonishing person.
Attention: the following films have been watched and reviewed for your future enjoyment.
127 hours – This is perhaps the best performance ever given by James Franco in his film career. Portraying real-life hero Aron Ralston, a cocky mountain climber seeking adventure in the isolated Utah, Franco encourages the audience to examine their own lives at the agonizing point of death and the lingering fear of “what if?” The determination and self-discipline is equally profound in this exhausting story of survival. Courage is facing fear, not evading it.
Made in Dagenham – Set at a Ford factory in the later 1960s, this spirited account of an historical British strike to fight female discrimination is well worth your time. What begins as a local attempt to vamp up wages soon turns into a national endeavor to equalize women’s rights in the workplace.
Oranges and Sunshine – The truth will set them all free. Placed in the heart of Nittingham, UK during the 1980s this strong but charming tale depicts a woman’s courageous determination to bare truth. While conducting routine research for her job, social worker Margaret Humphreys uncovers evidence of British government- organized deportation of children to Australia. As the reuniting of these children to their families takes supreme importance, Margaret’s own family suffers in her absence. Be sure to watch until the end credits when the date of the nation’s apology is revealed and proves as appalling as the story itself.
Rabbit Hole – Based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire, this film tells the story of a seemingly perfect couple who is using all marital strength to cope with the loss of their only son. Using therapy, confrontation, and each other’s grief in an attempt to make a healthy recovery, their differing views of moving forward cause split tensions and rash decisions. Becca (Nicole Kidman) sterilizes her life and reaches out to the teenage driver who killed her boy, while husband Howie (Aaron Ekhart) immerses himself in past videos and pictures. Their choices test more than a marriage; they test a fate.
True Grit – Film veteran Jeff Bridges plays a hardened US marshal in the story of a young woman’s driven revenge of her father’s death. Fourteen-year-old feisty farm girl Mattie hires the marshal and insists on accompanying him in the bounty search for murderer Chaney. Also joining their group is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who seeks Chaney for a personal debt. While the three members of this unlikely party grapple with the bounds of pride, their true gumption is tested by compassion and sacrifice.
Here are the movies of 2009, ranging from comedy to drama and lovesick to sick of love:
TiMER– Toying with theidea of soul mates, director Jac Schaeffer brilliantly weaves together drama, comedy, and fantasy in this story of love. It goes like this: a timer is implanted into a person’s wrist and begins a countdown to the moment of meeting one’s soulmate if and only if the other person has a timer. Until both parties have a timer the clock flashes blank. In desperate impatience to find her other half, Oona allows herself to fall for an inappropriately young and immature store clerk who has a ticking timer himself. The story challenges the quest for love, fate, freedom, adventure, knowledge, and ultimately self.
A Single Man – Colin Firth dons his familiar inner life of desperation in this movie about a man’s last day alive. The sensual palette which director Tom Ford presents the audience is a burst of color, texture, sound, and heightened observation. When English professor George finds life unbearable after the loss of long-time partner Jim, the loneliness drives him to embrace suicide. We follow him on the plotted day as various people present him with different world views, thereby making life seem once again attractive. He learns that recovery of the heart also needs a recovery of the mind.
The Road– In a post-apocolyptic world filled with rubble and ruin a father and son struggle to survive against the elements. The sky is dark, the food is low, and their skills are wanting but in fidelity to each other they stay alive and push on toward the south. It is a classic tale of survival with a not-as-familiar boundless love starring Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron, and rising Aussie star, Kodi Smitt-McPhee as “The Boy.”
(500) Days of Summer – “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” Growing star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and reserved painted doll Zooey Deschanel star in this offbeat romantic comedy about a girl whose past experiences don’t allow her to believe in true love, and the guy that falls hard for her. In the 500 days they spend together leading man Tom Hansen is convinced that Summer Finn is his soulmate. They work together at the greeting card company, she inspires his architectural dreams, and fulfills all feminine standards—why wait to be in a relationship forever? According to Summer: forever is never.
The Last Station – Even if you aren’t president of the Russian literature and political tumult fan club, this film will still capture you in the beautiful humanist dialogue surrounding the great Leo Tolstoy. Supported by an inspiring cast (Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti among others), this historical drama portrays Tolstoy’s challenges of living with his own proposed life-theory. Can a balance exist between wealth and fame with total rejection of the material world, or will his life’s work fade into the dust from whence it came?
Think back to where you were in 2006. Myself, I was finishing up junior year in high school and desperately deciding to which colleges to apply. If only I’d watched a few more movies to take the pressure off school, cheerleading, and theater I might have decided I wanted to be an actress far sooner! Try out these great finds from that year:
The Painted Veil – Named for a first line in Shelley’s poem (“Lift not the painted veil which those who live/Call Life”), this beautiful love story stars Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, bringing the 1925 novel of the same title to film for the millennium audience. Wild and frivolous Kitty meets the shy and intelligent Dr. Walter Fane, a British medical doctor en route to fight cholera in a small Chinese village. They marry in haste, he for love and she for convenience. Their marriage turns from disappointment to respect to finally love in their service to the people and each other. Directed by John Curran, the film is worth every minute of its thorough two hours.
The Fall –Also donning the 1920s theme is the Tardem Singh film, The Fall. It was shot over 4 years, piggybacking on travel for commercial shoots, and includes footage from over 20 countries. It also boasts no digital graphics, and knowing that information will add to the grandeur of the story. Lee Pace (“Pushing Daisies”) plays Roy Walker, a movie stuntman whose suicidal attempt from a broken heart is forestalled upon meeting precocious Alexandria, also in the hospital. Together, they embark on a heroic adventure of courage and honor to vanquish Death.
The Fountain – Hugh Jackman stars in this independent film covering three historical periods of Mayan history, modern medicine, and future spirituality. Most well known for his hit, Requiem for a Dream, director Darren Aronofsky again rips open the human heart, this time probing for the value of sacrifice and the nature of love. The movie requires an open mind, and if Jackman’s incredible performance doesn’t have you in tears, the soundtrack will.
Pan’s Labryinth –The year is 1944 and fascist Spain is still warring with its rebels. Deep in the Castilian countryside a young girl wanders into an ancient labyrinth discovering a mystical faun, spirited fairies, and the strength within herself to carry a courageous burden. The adventure is nothing less than thrilling when the lives of everyone surrounding young Ofelia are threatened. Reality becomes fantasy when it no longer bears fidelity to love.
Stranger Than Fiction – Emma Thompson once again makes a beautiful collaboration of theatre and film in this semi-science fiction film about a writer who meets her real-life hero. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor who leads an atrociously mundane and calculated life until he meets the voice of fate. In an attempt to escape a foretold death, Harold learns to embrace the true joy of fulfilled dreams, the love of a feisty baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the acceptance of life lived unpredictably.