14 January 2012

Top Ten Films of the Year 2011 #8: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt/USA/105mins)

Something rather fine and creatively fortuitous happened within the process of Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ production and release that ensured it looked and played like one of the better summer blockbusters in recent years. It managed to arouse that particularly fulfilling thrill of immediate excitement that happens after you’ve just sat through something vastly, gleefully entertaining. It also managed to be substantially engaging for a long time thereafter – and on further viewing, too. The nimbleness of Wyatt’s direction played a healthy part in its evocation of the beginnings of the end of the human-dominated world. His camera takes in the vast detail of landscape and scrutinises man’s and ape’s eyes for signs of defeat/deceit. He has grand fun with it all, too: an epic ‘jail’ break resulting in the scariest shrewdness of apes trashing the streets of San Francisco and the staging an evolutionary-challenging face-off on the Golden Gate Bridge made for barmy, big-screen-happy ideas. Unnatural selection runs rampant. The effects team make everything look effortless – and deserve to be rewarded handsomely for their creative digital toil. Andy Serkis, as ex-Semper Fi simian Caesar, swings away with the acting honours, of course. But the rest of the cast work around him well enough. The astuteness of Wyatt and co. making a fresh Apes movie – another variant of Pierre Boulle’s source novel – whilst, at the same time, actually resetting a franchise (so that a probable sequel might then be a true remake of the original 1968 film that this Apes is now overhauling) was a move that sat on the right side of savvy. Everything about it was so brilliantly crafty. This was 2011’s best bout of destructive summer fun.

7 January 2012

Top Ten Films of the Year 2011 #9: A SEPARATION

 A Separation  Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (Asghar Farhadi/Iran123mins)

A rich and remarkable drama about two families – one well-off, the other scraping an existence together – living in contemporary Tehran, A Separation has the structure of a quietly unassuming mystery. Traversing its subtly multifaceted plot was like attempting to solve a perplexing, almost unanswerable puzzle to which we’re only half-shown most of the pieces. The separation of the title – a rift in the familial, religious and class dynamic of a couple, the carer they hire and both their families – was aroused by an initially straightforward yet ultimately devastating act; the narrative that spins off from the film's opening premise was entirely riveting. I could fully understand the widespread acclaim it received at festivals earlier in the year and, more recently, when it started to crop up on many people’s year-end lists. I concurred heartily after I saw it. It’s a fine polemic about social and gender issues within Iranian domestic life; and it’s an emotive, yet never overemotional, tale played with utmost integrity to its characters (check out that last group scene). Peyman Moadi as Nader, the fraught husband, and, in particular, Sareh Bayat as Razieh, the home help whose life is unalterably set off course by her involvement with his family, both gave devastatingly poignant performances. It’s a film about dubious fates and hidden facts – and the desperate people negotiating the often vast, and sometimes narrow, divisions between one another. Farhadi shows us that we should never be complacent about the matters that affect those within our closest quarters.

4 January 2012

Top Ten Films of the Year 2011 #10: SNOWTOWN

Snowtown (Justin Kurzel/Australia/119mins)

The eruptions of violence in debut director Justin Kurzel's Snowtown come sporadically, intensively and often with gut-churning abstraction. It’s an expertly crafted drama. A frank, corrosive study of evil’s many rhizomic strands.The bravely headlong approach to the infamous story of Australia’s worst murder case is deftly handled with breathtaking confidence and fluency of image. It’s intelligent filmmaking that questions a full range of unsavoury, hot-button subjects. Suitable post-Xmas dinner viewing this certainly ain’t! Kurzel’s smart, thoughtful directorial approach opens up many complex avenues of enquiry as to how we might ponder and understand the events of the story. With total keen assurance Kurzel utilises a variety of filmmaking techniques that equally dislodge and enthral our sense of grim spectacle as the film progresses. It depicts with convincing authority a whole repugnant mess of issues relating to the real-life case; but it's essentially about the indoctrination of a young man into a life of foul criminality. It’s this, the film’s central, unfalteringly bleak narrative thread that remains fixed in the mind for a long time after the film's last image. Snowtown is harsh, relentless and grips with a despairing force. It's positively caustic filmmaking.

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