Saturday, 24 December 2011

My Top 10 Films of 2011

Another year behind us... I've been looking through all the reviews from 2011 and I have to say, this was one good year for cinema. I actually struggled to decide which ones to keep in the top 10 list, so in order to filter my selection, I thought about whether I'd watch any of the films again (choosing the top 3 was a no-brainer). To make things a little easier I decided to go by genre, so each film in the selection represents a particular type of movie. Also, the films I chose have all come out in the UK and Belgium (where I watch most films) in 2011, although, of course, this varies across other countries.

Anyways, hope you enjoy reading this and get inspired to watch some of these wonderful films.

10. Thor. Dir.: Kenneth Branagh. With: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman

There were so many superhero films out this year, but for me, 'Thor' stands out by virtue of its undiluted self-mockery. It does not take the whole mythology and the hero himself too seriously and manages to produce a very decent a-wildling-in-a-modern-town type of movie, much in the style of 'Crocodile Dundee', 'The Visitors' and 'Blast from the Past'. The casting was very good but the best actor was Tom Hiddleston as Loki....I see a big future for this man. Full review can be read here.

Favourite moment: Thor looking for a ride.

9. Potiche. Dir.: Francois Ozon. With: Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu

From superheroes to a bit of French charm. Deneuve and Depardieu re-unite in this romance for the elderly set in the 70s France. He is an old communist and she is a trophy wife of a rich factory-owner. Their onscreen chemistry is an absolute pleasure to behold. The movie is funny, slightly kitschy and has certain dark overtones; nevertheless, it is a very French romantic comedy in the purest sense. Full review can be read here.

Favourite moment: Catherine's revelations about what a naughty girl she used to be back in the day.

8. Midnight in Paris. Dir.: Woody Allen. With: Owen Wilson et al.

Staying in the same location but changing the period. Or, rather, periods. This was Woody Allen's highest-grossing film ever. EVER. If this does not impress you then maybe this will - I've been listening to the soundtrack from the film for months on end after watching the movie. Still not impressed? Well, it also features half of the acting world, portraying various famous artists, writers and thinkers of the Parisian boutiques from the 1920s. And one of them delivers the best line about art: artists should not be defeatist about life, their job is to offer a way of coping with it. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Salvador Dali.

7. Pina. Dir.: Wim Wenders.

This year was also quite big for documentaries but nothing compares in its sublime beauty to 'Pina', a film commemorating the life and work of Pina Bausch, a German choreographer. It presents some of the most celebrated dance performances by her Tanztheater and the dancers' memories of her. The 90 minutes flew by like five; I cannot find the words to describe how ephemeral, beautiful and moving this film is. The plasticity of the human body does not fail to astonish from one piece to the next. Full review -  here.

Favourite moment: this.

6. Drive. Dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn. With: Ryan Gosling, Carrey Mulligan.

The following four things should be enough to make anyone go and watch this - Ryan Gosling feeling the need, the need for speed; double-denim a-la Steve McQueen; armed robberies gone wrong; and a theme tune by Kavinsky. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Driver's scorpio jacket.

5. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.  Dir.: Steven Spielberg. With: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis.

Since I am a self-professed connoisseur of children's films, I can say with full confidence that 'Tintin' was an absolute marvel of a film. I mean, it does not happen every day that you have a Scottish alcoholic as the protagonist of a PG animation. I don't mean Tintin of course, but rather his friend, Captain Haddock, brilliantly voiced by Andy Serkis. The film was a feast for the eyes and imaginations, it was funny, crude, exciting and deliciously mad. You could get a real sense of adventure and for the first time ever I thought that a movie really benefited from being shot in 3D. I didn't actually write a review, but believe you me - it deserves to be watched and I cannot wait for more!

Favourite moment: The chase through the town of Bagghar.

4. 127 Hours. Dir.: Danny Boyle. With.: James Franco.

This mock-documentary set in the beautiful mountains of Utah stayed with me for a long time after I watched it. It is a brilliant presentation of a human being's reactions to a seemingly hopeless situation, his resourcefulness and an endless amount of courage. I was moved, disturbed and carried away by this film. James Franco's performance was one of best this year. Full review here.

Favourite moment: The talkshow scene.

3. The Tree of Life. Dir.: Terrence Malick. With: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain.

This was the longest, slowest, weirdest and one of the most intriguing and beautiful films I have ever seen. It was curiously engaging and somehow I found myself completely entangled in the little family drama of the O'Briens. The eldest son, Jack, goes through what some may call an existential crisis at a very tender age; it is a treat to watch how this forms his character in the future. This is one amazing psychological study of life, death, childhood and family bonds coupled with an enchanting soundtrack. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Jack admiring a neighbour's silk nightdress and stealing it.

2. The Skin I Live In. Dir.: Pedro Almodovar. With: Elena Anaya, Antonio Banderas.

Wawawiwa. This was one crazy cocktail of mystery, obsession, revenge and sexual deviance with an incredible twist right at the end - basically, everything I want from a movie. Especially, a movie by Almodovar, who is probably the best director of women's stories. Everything in it is designed to mislead the viewer, nothing is what it seems: the beautiful landscape of Toledo, the lavish villa, the artwork - they play the roles of witnesses to a horrible crime. But wait, what crime? Was there a crime? And if yes, then who is the victim? Dun-dun-dun....Full review - here.

Favourite moment: well, apart from the AHA! moment in the end of the film which I shan't disclose here, my favourite moment is being introduced to Vera for the first time through the eyes of Dr Ledgard.

And the winner is.....

1. The Artist. Dir.: Michel Hazanavicius. With: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo.

The only silent film out this year, 'The Artist' obviously had to be included. But it is not its originality, charming as it is, that makes it my favorite film of 2011, but its joyous message and the all-encompassing love of films and filmmaking that runs like a red thread through the whole movie. This film has the heart and soul of the old Hollywood romances like 'The Roman Holiday' and its three stars, including Uggie the dog, will become iconic characters in the years to come, I am sure of it. 'The Artist' will make you howl with laughter and wipe your tears away and you'll be smiling for a week after leaving the cinema. I am also really pleased to remind you that it is coming out on the 30th of December in the UK, so go with your friends and family - this film transcends generations. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: George Valentin's nightmare.

Happy New Year to you all!!!

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Dir.: Brad Bird
With: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom-Tom is back on form! Despite all the rumours, the haters, the gossip, the occasional raised eye-brow, the proud winner of the toothiest smile of the decade award is back with the funnest, most entertaining action film I have seen in a while. It puts to shame many recent attempts at thrilling the audiences ('Quantum of Solace' included) and Agent Ethan Hunt walks proudly again, after a 6-year hiatus.

Tom is 49, he is fit, ripped and focussed (he probably dyes his hair though) and he does a hell of a lot of running, banging and smashing around in this movie. The film has a mediocre plot but it really does not matter all that much because it manages to catch that rare bird and actually wow the viewer. It made me think of the first ever film made by the Lumiere brothers of a train arriving at a platform and how the audiences ran in horror from it. The whole Dubai sequence, especially the gravity-defying Burj Khalifa shots made me gasp and clench my hands together in absolute awe. I don't remember the last time I rooted so much for a character from an action film. It must have been Indy (not counting the fourth film).

The support cast was great too - Simon Pegg is absolutely hilarious as Benji, the computer man, often providing comic relief at tense moments. Paula Patton or Agent Carter is beautiful, intelligent and deadly and Jeremy Renner is his usual fine self. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie, globe-trotting as it is, made the most of local talents - you have Anil Kapoor (from 'Slumdog Millionaire'), Michael Nyqvist (from the Swedish 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo') and Vladimir Mashkov. What? You don't know Vladimir Mashkov? Well, let me tell you about Vladimir Mashkov. He is a Russian sex-symbol (one of the two haha), no really, he is super famous there and always plays extremely virile macho men of dubious moral standing with so much charisma that women fall head over heels in love with him. So it was nice to see him here. Check him out on Imdb. He is hot. Speaking of Russia, the Moscow sequence was pretty good too and Tom Cruise spoke such perfect Russian that I really wanted to give a big bear hug to the little man.

The gadgets were deliciously outrageous and fun as were the cars and the beautiful settings. My only real criticism is that there were too many moments when the characters explained the plot in mid-conversation after a new idea had been introduced. Filmmakers - attention - DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE YOUR AUDIENCES! We are not as dumb as we might appear and can follow a basic plot perfectly well, thank you. But you know what, once I hear the first notes of the famous theme tune, I just forget everything and go 'Mission accepted'.

And for desert - a clip of Tom Cruise doing some runnin'. Lotsa runnin'.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Dir.: Martin Scorsese
With: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kinglsey

This is definitely a curious one. A children's period piece, directed by Martin Scorcese. Hmmm.

In retrospect, it was very enjoyable and the cinematography, enhanced by a clever use of 3D, was spectacularly beautiful. However, since it's been marketed as a children's film, I was really surprised by its length and the slow pace. The first hour especially felt like an old gum - dragging on and on and on with nothing much happening. Later on the story picked up and the ending had a bit more panache, so, overall I forgive the director for this unfortunate bit of editing. I asked a member of the target audience (aka my brother) if he liked it and he said he did although he was very tired and restless by the end, so really Mr Scorsese, do you not have any grandchildren yourself?

I liked the story a lot because in a way it was almost like a beginner's guide to cinema, a really nice way to  introduce younger audiences to the history of cinematography. As you might have heard, Scorcese has supported film study and preservation throughout his lifetime, so his interest in this is quite understandable. There was a strong nostalgic feeling and, when compared to 'The Artist' which I reviewed earlier, the two films go almost hand in hand ('The Artist' being by far superior of course).

The performances by both Asa Butterfield (a smaller version of Cillian Murphy) and Chloe Moretz were good but somehow I found them too measured, too timid, too controlled. They did not come across as children, but as little adults, trying to meddle in other people's lives. Ben Kingsley, on the other hand, was wonderful and I very much enjoyed his take on French enigmatism. Sacha Baron Cohen was also pretty good, as was the rest of the support cast - mainly British actors, last seen in the 'Harry Potter' franchise.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Dir.: Guy Ritchie
With: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law

To be perfectly honest, I found this second instalment of the revised Sherlock Holmes story much more enjoyable than the first. It seems that the scriptwriters and the director actually listened to the critics of the first movie, dispensed with the less successful elements and concentrated on making the second film a funny, entertaining and very charming story. ‘Game of Shadows’ has all those things that I loved in the first movie in abundance – the funky Victorian London vagabonds, plenty of Robert Downey Jr madness, A LOT of homoeroticism, phallic symbolism and old-couple bickering between Sherlock and Watson. On top of that there were many wonderful and memorable one-liners like ‘Shirley no-mates’ and, most importantly, the one and only Stephen Fry played Mycroft, the insane/genius brother of Sherlock.

Of course, the actual plot is completely incoherent and unrealistic, however, this doesn’t matter at all as the film has so much spirit and action shots that simply overshadow everything else. It is unnecessarily long and there are a few moments when things get a little slow, but the movie picks up again towards the second half. I have to say that Professor Moriarty played by Jared Harris from ‘Mad Men’ was great. Charismatic, scary, psychotic and obviously brilliant, he was able to hold his own against Downey’s Holmes and rebuke his attempts at deduction. Noomi Rapace from the Swedish ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ was very boring as a random gypsy, and to be honest, she generally annoys me. She just does. It’s personal.

I wonder whether the Sherlock Holmes films would have been this popular if Robert Downey Jr wasn’t involved. I think not. The actor is good-looking enough to be more than watchable but not strikingly so. His looks are indeed very likable and his personality shines through in this film. He is quick-witted and self-deprecating, completely nuts and quite inspiring. His comedy timing is perfect, both in dialogues and in slapstick. The final scene of the film is properly laugh-out-loud funny; I think I found my next Halloween costume. For those of you going to see it, two words  - urban camouflage.  

Monday, 12 December 2011

Happy 1st Birthday to Me!

It's been exactly one year since I've started the Big Bark Blog :) Can't believe it's been so long!

Admittedly, I wasn't very good in the last few weeks and haven't written much, but that's all about to change with all the Oscar contenders finally being released.

So, in a way of commemoration, here are my favourite birthday movie scenes -

The Best Party.
'The Birds' by Alfred Hitchcock

The Cutest Birthday Girl.
Hit Girl from 'Kick-Ass'

The Best Birthday Surprise.
'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'

The Best Present.
Frank from 'Old School'

The Best Speech.
Bilbo, 'Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring'

And last but not least, although not a movie scene strictly speaking, Best Birthday Wishes.
Marilyn Monroe

Sunday, 4 December 2011

REVIEW: My Week With Marilyn

Dir.: Simon Curtis
With: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh

J’adore, j’adore, j’adore!

Movies about movies often make for the most interesting cinematic experiences, in my humble opinion. This particular one is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark (son of the famous art historian Kenneth Clark) called ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’ that tell the story of his first love. What sets his first affair of the heart apart from millions of others is the fact that it happened whilst he was working as a third assistant director on the set of a film called ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ in London. Oh, and his romantic interest was Marilyn Monroe.

It was lovely seeing how the 23-year-old protagonist makes it into the film business in the first place. Patience and determination are key to the much-coveted (and unpaid) position as a gofer. Colin, however, happens to be very likable and soon becomes a trusted presence on the set. And trust is something that is quite hard to come by in this particular case. Sir Laurence Olivier, played by Kenneth Branagh, is the worst drama queen known to man. In a true diva style, he yells and curses and constantly demands something and has his own crisis of confidence. Branagh’s performance is humorous, with a tinge of irony and sadness; the two Shakespearean actors really are similar on many levels.

But it is of course Michelle Williams’s performance that has been the talk of the town lately. She does a very decent job as the iconic actress, playing her as an extremely vulnerable, insecure and very troubled human being. She also manages to mirror the playfulness and the natural charm and charisma of the real Marilyn, known and loved by millions. My only problem is that Michelle Williams is a bit, well, plain to play this part. Yes, she is blonde and has similar soft features but to me she is not nearly as pretty as Marilyn. Most importantly, she lacks the pazzazz, that je ne sais quoi that Marilyn had in abundance. Good effort overall though and very enjoyable 2 hours and 10 pounds spent.