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Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Cameron Spurr

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Melancholia


One’s appreciation of Melancholia rests partly on whether, unlike David Edelstein at New York for example, you can “champion a film that is, in the end, so loathsomely anti-life-affirming”. Of the various apocalyptic films that screened in 2011, Lars Von Trier’s appeared the least upset about the oncoming end times. But its resplendent colours, painterly visuals, and perfectly choreographed marriage sequence were equally a demonstration of Von Trier’s incredible filmmaking prowess. Add on a powerful performance from Kirsten Dunst and yes, Melancholia may endorse nihilism, but it does so with a level of skill that cannot be ignored. Tomas Hachard


 

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwon, Wallapa Mongkolprasert
Review [8.Apr.2011]

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives


In many ways 2011 was a year of reconciliation for some of the world’s best filmmakers: Terrence Malick, Abbas Kiarostami, David Fincher, and Aki Kaurismäki all did exceptional work mining themes and aesthetics they’ve alternately pioneered and proliferated throughout their careers. With regards to innovation, debates can and have been waged over works of this nature and perceptions of their creators’ continued vitality and versatility within these perspective veins. It’s interesting, then, to consider the comparatively brief career of Apichatpong Weerasethakul—already amongst the world’s most vital young filmmakers, with such landmark mid-aughts works as Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century—who has, with his Palm D’or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, subtly pushed the medium forward via natural artistic evolution and, ultimately, arrival.


Even as Apichatpong streamlines his typically mirrored narrative dialectic into linear exposition, Uncle Boonmee nevertheless represents an aesthetic synthesis of sorts, recycling, reconstituting, and re-imagining themes, techniques, and even characters utilized in his prior work, parlaying these associations into a brave new landscape of monkey ghosts, talking catfish, and innocuous apparitions. By transposing and reconfiguring his major stylistic and narrative concerns, Apichatpong has crafted arguably the young decade’s most forward-thinking work. Jordan Cronk


 

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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

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The Descendants


Alexander Payne’s most recent movie comes with the strong script we expect from him, effortlessly weaving one family’s personal tragedy into the history of Hawaii with a laid-back, island-time pace. But what’s most remarkable about The Descendants is how Payne coaxes great performances from unlikely places. Sure, George Clooney, who carries the meat of the storyline, is as good as ever. But supporting him are career-making turns from Shailene Woodley (best known from The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Judy Greer (normally relegated to playing rom-com best friends), and Matthew Lillard (most often used for his goofball qualities). You wouldn’t expect to be able to throw a teen soap star, a perpetual best friend, and the comic relief onto an island together and get something so emotionally rich from them, but Payne did. Marisa LaScala


 

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Brian Cox, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes


When it was announced that Fox would be giving the Planet of the Apes franchise another try, the geek community mostly granted the news with a collective groan. The damage done to the Apes brand name by Tim Burton’s disastrous 2001 reboot was perceived to be so great that almost nobody gave the new movie a shot to succeed. But the strong trailer assuredly convinced some people to give it a try, and maybe the general public is more forgiving than the geeks. Regardless, Rise of the Planet of the Apes became a surprise success, both commercially and creatively. Rise takes a lot of chances for a big-budget summer blockbuster. The first half of the movie is nearly all story and character building, with very little action. But the time getting to know super-intelligent chimp Caesar (played in motion-capture by the excellent Andy Serkis) and his surrogate human father Will (James Franco) is well-spent. As if that wasn’t enough, long stretches of the inertia-heavy second half are dialogue-free. Caesar plots to free the other apes from captivity and also make them as smart as he is, and he doesn’t do it by speaking to them. Director Rupert Wyatt’s confidence in his story and his actors pays off in the year’s most interesting summer movie. Chris Conaton


 

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Le Havre

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Cast: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel

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Le Havre


The most uplifting film you’ll see all year about illegal immigration, death, and poverty Aki Kaurismaki’s fantastic new film is is ultimately a modern fairy tale underscored by a searing realism. A light tone and hopeful tenor runs through the entire film, but Kaurismaki never turns away from the sad realities that his characters must live through. It’s an important lesson to learn: that a movie can leave you smiling without having to be blind to the most basic sources of pain in our lives. Tomas Hachard


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