It’s 2011 and time for a new Film Fight. I’ve been considering changing the format this year, but have decided against that for now so it’ll be the usual: a paragraph or so for each film, with the best selected as the month’s winner. All the winners are compared, and the year’s film is selected. Easy.
January is always a packed month, with Oscar-baiting meaning that the quality is kept suitably high. In January 2011, there are six movies to be reviewed.
First up, is It’s Kind of a Funny Story: an indie film that tries to show how mental illness can affect anyone and is easily misunderstood by non-sufferers, by taking a slightly comedic look at the issues. It doesn’t go far enough in it’s exploration of the issues, often opting for shorthand and stereotypes to make it’s points, which is somewhat disappointing. It does, however, move the plot forward at a good pace, balancing comedic elements (Zach Galifianakis plays a big part, but more does so more seriously than usual) and a romantic subplot with relative ease. It’s not a classic, but it’s a good, kind-hearted film. (See my It’s Kind of a Funny Story Twitter review).
The King’s Speech humanises King George VI in a way I hadn’t thought possible. By focussing purely on his speech impediment and his years of suffering and humiliation because of it, we begin to see him as a sympathetic man, rather than purely as an elite Royal. He is, of course, both, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that they manage to get this across so clearly. This is successful in large part due to Colin Firth’s fantastic performance; the crushed dignity of the soon to be king made clear in every embarrassed look and stammer. An excellent film. (See my The King’s Speech Twitter review).
Blue Valentine is almost an anti-love story. It doesn’t focus on things being difficult and then working out. No, instead it contrasts the beginning and end of a relationship, showing a couple at their worst. Communication break downs at the end of a marriage are intercut with two younger versions of the leads with hope and kindness trying to find their place. It’s sad and well-done, if a little slow. It does a remarkable job of showing how people change. Worth seeing. (See my Blue Valentine Twitter review).
127 Hours does some unexpected things, not least of all because of what everyone expects from the premise: a climber (played by James Franco) is trapped by a boulder against his arm in a cave and, over several days, is forced to make a very difficult decision. Despite being on his own, and their being relatively little dialogue, Franco brings out an extremely likeable character that you want to get out of this hopeless situation. Every tiny triumph and minute failure will see you gasp in just the right way. When the inevitable happens, the film has really earned it’s most painful moment. A few moments aside, this is a very good film. (See my 127 Hours Twitter review).
Darren Aronofsky has another classic on his hands with Black Swan, the tale of seeking out perfection when the pursuit itself makes perfection much more difficult. Natalie Portman is excellent as a ballerina who practices obsessively, even when her obsession – her madness – stops her from seeing the world correctly. It’s surreal, dark, sensual and unnerving: we’re never allowed to know how much of what we see is real and what is imagined. I won’t spoil it, but the ending is excellent: finding the right mix of closure and mystery to round out an altogether astounding movie. Very worthwhile. (See my Black Swan Twitter review).
Finally, NEDs shows how one young boy is repeatedly failed by those in authority around him, forcing him down the path he’s been trying to avoid for years. We see his fall into violence and crime, despite his brightness, and can imagine how it could have been avoided if people had acted with a little more kindness and less judgement. NEDs, then, is a morality tale; a look a reaping what we sow and then blaming the crops for withering. Brutal in places, but a stunning watch. Very good. (See my NEDs Twitter review).
As I mentioned in my preface, there are a number of good films this month. Five of the six would easily have won in other months (and the sixth, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, would’ve done well in some). If forced to watch just one again, I’d pick Black Swan; and that’s why it’s the first winner for 2011.