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The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell, Penelope Ann Miller


Jean Dujardin
The Artist

Jean Dujardin covers such an emotional range in The Artist that he would deserve to be on this list even if he had done it with the help of dialogue. But, of course, he moves from swaggering egomaniac, to downtrodden sad sack, to resentful cauldron of pride, to lovestruck fool, all without speaking a word. There are reasons apart from Dujardin that The Artist did not end up as a gimmicky imitation of silent films, but nevertheless Dujardin’s ability to make his physical acting evocative and real to life rather than a mere screen exercise was essential As the centre of the film’s arc, he keeps us enthralled at every moment, his smile and frown carrying a charm and splendor that goes beyond mere expressions of emotion. Tomas Hachard


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The Descendants

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges


George Clooney
The Descendents

No one does middle-aged malaise better than George Clooney. With his classic Hollywood good looks and ability to parlay said ‘prettiness’ into a slow burn descent into melancholy, he’s become an awards season fixture. While he and the movie he made two years ago—Up in the Air—remains an sadly unheralded masterpiece (watch it now and see if you don’t agree), he’s upped the ante once again with this Alexander Payne adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel. As the soon to be single father dealing with two unhappy daughters, Clooney commands every frame. When confronting his dying wife’s lover, he’s even more luminous. Rarely has an actor been able to be both charming and challenged at the same time. Clooney can do it in his sleep. Bill Gibron


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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong


Gary Oldman
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It’s about time Gary Oldman was given his due. Granted, his recent forays into feature filmmaking—the noxious Red Riding Hood, The Book of Eli—have placed him on the precipice of irrelevancy, a ledge currently monopolized by Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, but every once in a while, he reminds us of the spunky young lad who turned Sid Vicious into a tragic punk idol. As John le Carre’s seminal spy, George Smiley, in Tomas Alfredson’s clever big screen adaptation, he transforms into a creaky Cold War fixture out to discover the mole within their secret spy midst. With his aging face and forceful presence, he is the perfect guide through this wicked web of intrigue. But more than this, Oldman retakes the role back from the original TV Smiley, Sir Alec Guinness, and truly makes it his own. Now that’s quite an accomplishment. Bill Gibron


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Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Shea Whigham, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisa Gay Hamilton


Michael Shannon
Take Shelter

Michael Shannon has given us barely contained rage in Boardwalk Empire. We’ve seen him overtaken by paranoia in Bug. His performance in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter forcefully synthesizes these two qualities into the body and mind of a man trying to be the head of a household while losing touch with reality. For much of the film, Shannon goes inward, playing Curtis as a man increasingly trapped by his cataclysmic visions and uncertain of their meaning. When he begins to act on the visions of storms, dog attacks, and other horrifying events, the effects on his family and friends are heartbreaking. Several films released in 2011 dealt with what might be called domestic disaster. The best of these were Melancholia and Take Shelter. Whereas Kirstin Dunst masterfully transitioned from depressed catatonia to oblivion-seeking superciliousness across a two-act arc, Shannon goes the slow-burn/volcanic route and uses a Lion’s Club dinner-set, table-flipping outburst as the culminating eruption of his building madness. Curtis is a man fundamentally unsure of the line separating real life from paranoid fantasy, and Shannon keeps the audience in that same position, up to and beyond the film’s final frame. Thomas Britt


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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks


Ryan Gosling

For a while now, Gosling has been the almost-superstar waiting for the moment when his ample indie cred and superficial Hollywood hunkiness merge into a mesmerizing bit of acting. It almost happened in The Believer, and came equally close with Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl. Now, with this disarming take on classic film noir, he enters the stratosphere, rarified air shared with such equally adept luminaries as Jack Nicholson (Chinatown) and Jason Patric (After Dark, My Sweet). Here, as the unnamed driver for hire, he comes across as cold, calculated, cynical, and cruel. But when given a chance to open up and help out a young mother and her son, he transforms into a complicated character worthy of every bit of performance praise. At the start of this film, we feel like we’re in for one long and very violent ride. By the end, we care more about Driver than the reason he drives. Bill Gibron

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