2011 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

A funny thing happened at the movies this year: absolutely nothing blew me away.

There were things I really liked, but my list of favorite movies is kind of a joke, really. They’re not bad movies (not in my mind, anyway), but there are few, if any, Best Picture candidates in the bunch. Compare that to last year, where six of my top 10 movies were nominated for Best Picture. This time around, that’s just not happening. Just want to lay that out up front.

Worse, there isn’t one movie that stands above the others. I liked my favorite movies equally, more or less. That might sound like a copout, but it’s true. Of the movies I’ve seen so far, this was the year where movies were just sort of…there. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

My Favorite Movies of 2011


Margin Call
Selling one’s soul is a popular subject in movies, since no two people are willing to settle for the same amount. “Margin Call” explores the subject on a massive scale, since the ripple effect of the actions of a few will be felt around the world. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but it’s absolutely gripping. Kevin Spacey shines here, as does the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci.


Super 8
It probably helped that I grew up in a small Ohio town not terribly unlike the one in “Super 8” (though no one used the word ‘mint’ the way Riley Griffiths’ character does here), but “Super 8” wasn’t merely an exercise in nostalgia; the movie delivered top-notch thrills, well-drawn characters, and the most spectacular sequence of the year with that jaw-dropping train crash. Elle Fanning, meanwhile, put on an acting clinic, and she’s only 13. Wow.


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David Fincher’s obsession with detail

There’s plenty of buss around The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the new film from director David Fincher. Wired has a great profile of Fincher, with some interesting stories about his obsession with detail.

For much of the past year, Fincher has been filming The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, his roughly $100 million adaptation of the macabre Swedish mystery that centers on a punk-hacker heroine with distinctive skin art. On one of the first nights of shooting, Fincher and his crew were in Sweden, filming a murder scene that takes place alongside a gloomy dock. But after a night’s work, Fincher didn’t have the shot he wanted, and the film’s ultratight schedule meant he wouldn’t be able to return for months.

When Fincher began planning the reshoot, he learned that the property had been sold to one of the guys in ABBA. Apparently, the new owner—either Benny or Björn, it’s not really clear—wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having his evening stroll interrupted by a simulated drowning, and he refused to let the crew come back. Rather than find a new location or make do with the footage he had, Fincher decided to build his own Swedish dock.

Which is why, on a late-summer afternoon, we’re standing on a Los Angeles soundstage, examining a replica of a rural-Scandinavia mise-en-scène: mossy rocks, foliage-fat trees, and—perched high above the docks, turtlenecking out of the woods—a squat, deceptively cozy faux cottage. Like most sets, it looks a bit weird naked. But once the lights hit and the smoke drifts in, we are suddenly in the land of stunted summers and moderately high suicide rates.

I guess his approach is a bit different than that taken by Clint Eastwood, who loves going with the first take when he feels it’s good enough.

  

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A trailer double bill: “The Black Swan” and “The Red Shoes” and some movie news too, I guess (updated)

I’m miles from home, I’ve left my mouse at home, and the barristas where I am are annoying while talking about movies, which is extra annoying to me. Can’t they talk annoyingly about sports instead? Why am I here? I got here early to beat the traffic and am across the street from the New Beverly Theater where I’ll be frittering hours away doing something unspeaking geeky on the occasion of the birthday of a fellow film geek blogger.

So, there’s no time for discuss the more interesting than usual casting news that Idris Elba will be taking over the role of James Patterson’s Alex Cross in the upcoming series reboot, that January Jones will try something different from tantalizing and annoying “Mad Men” viewers as Betty Draper and will be taking over the role of Emma Frost in “X-Men: First Class” or that Noomi Rapace, who originated the role of Lisbeth Salender in the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is about to be heavily promoted for an Oscar nomination and may be taking on some blockbuster roles in big time American flicks, except that I just did. Instead, I’m presenting the really terrific — and outstandingly creepy — trailer for “The Black Swan” which seems destined for the title of most unnerving ballet film of all time, which I guess is just what we should expect from Darren Aronofsky after all this time. 13 year-old Chloe Moretz has already endorsed it in my recent interview with her. [UPDATE: Anne Thompson has thrown some very cold water over the Nikki Finke/Noomi Rapace story. I’m sure readers of both blogs may be seeing more about this one.]

I think I’ve presented it before here, but what the heck, after the flip is the trailer for the rather strange and very ravishing classic film Aronofsky pretty much had to have been thinking about as he made his film. I hope Mr. Scorsese, whose directing her “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” guides young Ms. Moretz to “The Red Shoes” — I can’t imagine he wouldn’t, seeing as he’s said it’s his favorite movie.

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Movie news for a semi-new week

I was going to put this off as long as possible this week, but the movie news tonight is like a burden upon my soul.

* In case you haven’t heard, the epic speculation about just who will play the Pippi Longstocking-via-the-Velvet-Underground Lisbeth Salender of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (American style) is over. The part has gone to 25 year-old Rooney Mara. Anne Thompson has the inside dope on this relative unknown.

rooney-mara

Still, I find the comparisons with the legendary battle to cast the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” to be slightly much. It’s more like casting Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter or Sean Connery as James Bond.

The obvious differences aside, Connery was, by the way, very much like Mara. He was actually the second person to play the role. The first was Gene Barry in a nationality flipped 1954 TV version of “Casino Royale” in which “Jimmy Bond” was American and “Clarence Leiter” was British.

* As if we Angelenos don’t have enough problems with aliens invading our town and the ensuing legal battles therein. The President’s in L.A. raising money from the godless sodomites of H-wood with help from communist money hating writer-producer-director-moguls John Wells and J.J. Abrams. And we know what this means — a new round of liberal criticism of the Obama Administration for, yes, the traffic. Even Hef was bothered.

* I once transcribed and informally partially edited an “as told to” book by the son of the entrepreneurial founder of a major multinational with huge ties to the film industry through his son. Nikki Finke today reminds me of a quip the second-generation captain of industry quoted: “There’s nothing wrong with nepotism, as long as you keep it in the family.”

* It sounds like he’ll be okay, but think good thoughts for Michael Douglas anyway.

* Because of my recent roundtable piece with Kevin Pollak, I’ve been giving his interview program a listen. Ironically, Christopher Walken, like William “the Shat” Shatner before him, is jumping into the interview game, perhaps inspired by Pollak for all anyone knows. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’ve heard.

* Some of my best friends have post-graduate degrees in psychology but, Lord amighty, headline grabbing psychologists and their journalistic/PR enablers can really produce a special kind of stupid and shallow when they go all pop-cultural on us. Get this:

“In today’s media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have,” said Lamb. “Boys are told, if you can’t be a superhero, you can always be a slacker.”

They were writing the same thing when I was kid, only the terms were different. I’d give you a more detailed case on why I consider this complete idiocy, but since I’m clearly not a superhero, I must be a slacker. (H/t Anne Thompson.)

slacker

  

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Post Comic-Con movie news

I’m still recuperating a bit from last weekend’s insanity at Comic-Con and a busy week looms ahead, but the recent film news is just a little too interesting to ignore/gloss over.

* Mike Fleming broke the news this afternoon that Daniel Craig has signed on the line which is dotted to play the male lead in the upcoming American film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” In case you never set foot in your local Barnes and Noble outlet, that’s the first novel in so-called Millennium Trilogy of mystery thrillers by the late Swedish author/political activist Steig Larsson. The series is becoming a sort of adult/non-geek HarryPotter for the Trader Joe’s set and the first U.S. film of it has attracted the powerhouse twosome of writer Steve Zallian and director David Fincher.

Judging from having seen the solid, but not excessively over-awesome, Swedish film version of the novel (which I’m really going to have to try and read at some point), Craig is probably a much better choice than the earlier floated Brad Pitt for the part. 007 or not, it’s just easier to see Craig as a down on his luck journo. Also, as Fleming points out, this puts Craig in the unique position of having at least two and, if you count a potentially huge “Cowboys and Aliens,” possibly three franchises to keep busy and well-compensated. Craig is not only an extremely good actor, he’s apparently got some very good agents.

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