2013 Cannes Marathon: Le Fils - *(Winner of the Best Actor Prize to Olivier Gourmet at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival)* Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, *Le Fils*...
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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, an adaptation of the famous graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is without a doubt one of the most fun movies of the year. Wonderfully directed by Edgar Wright, who brings his signature style and cinematic skill to the table, as previously seen in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this highly stylized and lightning fast-paced picture makes for one of the best comic book adaptations in recent years, remaining true to O'Malley’s work while also translating well as a cinematic experience. Michael Cera stars in the leading role as Scott Pilgrim, a twenty-something hipster and aspiring bass player who falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Flowers (played perfectly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but in order to become her boyfriend he must defeat her seven evil exes, who have sworn to mercilessly control Ramona’s love life for all eternity. In just under two hours, Edgar Wright manages to fit all six volumes of the graphic novels without losing the essence of what the series so amazing, resulting in a funny, magnificently quirky, brilliantly cast and thoroughly entertaining movie. Also features an awesome soundtrack, for that matter.
The King’s Speech is a powerful and thoroughly uplifting tale of friendship, courage and humanity. This period piece revolves around Britain’s stammering King George VI, documenting the years leading up to his eventual ascension to the throne and depicting the growing relationship between him and his unorthodox speech therapist. Starring Colin Firth in the leading role, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in supporting roles and brilliantly directed by Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech is a film boasting both cinematic artistry and feel-good characteristics. It gains most of its power from the outstanding performances of its three central actors, with Colin Firth flawlessly portraying the speech impaired King, Geoffrey Rush elegantly fulfilling his supporting duties and Helena Bonham Carter showcasing an acting range rarely seen from her side. Marked by top-notch cinematography and occasionally enhanced by use of clever humour, The King’s Speech prevails in a strong and decisive manner.
As South Korea’s highest grossing movie of the year, The Man from Nowhere is quite reminiscent of Hollywood blockbusters, but it is also comprised of qualities rarely found in high budget American action films nowadays, retaining a style of artistic filmmaking while also adding first rate action to the mix. Despite being somewhat clichéd and borrowing from other similar films, The Man from Nowhere tells a touching story of the friendship between a former special agent turned pawnbroker and a young girl who lives nearby. After an organized crime group kidnaps the girl and her mother, it is up to the lonely pawnshop keeper to come out of hiding and save them. Well-acted, especially from lead actor Won Bin and the young Kim Sae-ron, and marked by beautifully choreographed and flat-out stunning action scenes (particularly a knife fight which no doubt counts among the greatest ever), The Man from Nowhere is another riveting South Korean success.
Enter the Void is an experimental piece of filmmaking from the mind of Gaspar Noé, the same person behind the controversial Irréversible, and while his newest project is not as violent or shocking as the one preceding it, it is bound to convey emotions that are just as powerful. Taking place in the underworld of Tokyo, Enter the Void depicts a young American drug dealer’s final hours leading up to his death and the subsequent out-of-body experience that follows. Gaspar Noé pushes boundaries in terms of visual storytelling, letting his film drown in a sea of colours and fascinating imagery. As such, Enter the Void is wonderfully unique when it comes to its visuals, but it also impresses in terms of sound mixing and editing. At a running time of nearly three whole hours, it is bound to feel like a drag in some places, but it is well worth sitting through in its entirety simply because it delivers a cinematic experience like no other before it. Enter the Void is one of a kind and deserves to be seen.
South Korean director Kim Ji-woon is known for his unflinching depictions of violence in his films, as previously seen in A Bittersweet Life and A Tale of Two Sisters, and as now seen, perhaps more so than ever, in I Saw the Devil. This unconventional revenge thriller focuses on the game of cat-and-mouse between a secret agent and the serial killer who murdered his pregnant soon-to-be wife. Lee Byung-hun and Oldboy’s own Choi Min-sik star in the leading roles, both turning in outstanding performances, especially Choi Min-sik, whose transformation into a cold-blooded murderer is both fascinating and incredibly memorable. I Saw the Devil is brutal, uncompromising and often disturbing, with Kim Ji-woon sparing nothing when it comes down to the amount of violence on-screen. The result is a beautifully raw thriller, but also one that all viewers will be able to stomach. However, those who will not flinch away will surely find themselves captivated by Kim Ji-woon’s haunting tale of vengeance, adorned with a sublime score and powerful performances from its two leads.
After last year’s The Princess and the Frog, a film which marked a departure from Disney’s underwhelming recent years as a production company, comes another fine release, this one sure to secure the studio’s long-awaited redemption. Based on the story of Rapunzel, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Tangled is an animated musical following a long-haired princess trapped inside a tower her whole life and her rescuer, who is a swashbuckling and charismatic thief in this version of the story. Tangled stands out first and foremost because of its amazing visuals, featuring a beautiful cartoony style and characters both unique and fascinating in appearance. The animation is incredible and the facial expressions of the characters communicate a range emotions rarely found in other animated films. In addition to that, the plot presents little flaws and it is characterized by brilliant writing and simply flawless use of humour, making Tangled not only an eye-popping ride, but also one of the funniest films of the year.
Contrary to what some might believe, the Coen brothers’ new film, entitled True Grit, is not a remake of the 1969 western that won John Wayne an Academy Award, but rather a reimagining of Charles Portis’ novel upon which the first movie was based on. Nevertheless, this new version will still be compared to the 60s classic, but thankfully the Coen brothers succeed in delivering a picture worthy of its well-known name and perhaps one that is even better than the praised original, though that remains a matter of opinion. Starring Jeff Bridges, the young newcomer Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon, this western tells the story of a young girl looking to avenge her father’s death by hiring a tough U.S. Marshal to aid her in tracking down the man responsible for the crime. True Grit is amazing acting-wise, with Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon delivering truly remarkable performances in the main roles, making it hard to even pick a favourite out of the three. It is also the Coen brothers’ least eccentric work up to this point, but also one of their greatest accomplishments, making for a powerful western featuring a well-constructed plot, a surprisingly affluent amount of humour and all-around highly memorable performances from its cast.
Darren Aronofsky creates a psychological tale of ballet and surrealist horror in one of the most amazing films of the year, Black Swan. Natalie Portman plays a young aspiring ballet dancer who wins the leading role in a prestigious production of the ‘Swan Lake’ play, but soon she becomes engulfed by a world of lies and deception, slowly blurring the line between reality and fantasy and falling prey to a never-ending mental and physical nightmare. With an extraordinary central performance from lead actress Natalie Portman as the driving force behind the film, Darren Aronofsky turns Black Swan into a beautiful, dark picture exploring the madness of the human mind told through artistic downfall and redemption. Incredible dance scenes marked by impressive choreography and gorgeous, perfectly fitting cinematography help make Black Swan a thoroughly thrilling ride and one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of the year.
What could have been simply a story about the founding of social networking site Facebook turned out to be one of the best films of the year after David Fincher signed on as the director and Aaron Sorkin took on the duty of writing the screenplay. Needless to say, The Social Network was not just a movie documenting the founding of Facebook anymore, but instead it became a powerful story dealing ancient themes such as friendship, trust, greed and betrayal. Jesse Eisenberg, an up-and-coming actor mostly known for playing awkward and shy teenage characters, adopts a completely different persona as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the protagonist of the film and no doubt one of the most interesting antiheroes in modern cinema. Much like with many other David Fincher directed movies, The Social Network is marked by a subtle visual style that makes it wonderfully unique and gives it a distinctive appearance, much of which is owed to the top-notch cinematography present throughout the film. The final touch is added by the incredible score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and much like the last piece of a puzzle, it makes The Social Network a flawless picture and one that is ought to be (positively) associated with the early years of the 21st century for a long time in the future.
It goes without saying that Christopher Nolan has had a truly outstanding track record up to this point, and his newest film, entitled Inception, most definitely does not break his streak of success, but instead further elevates Nolan up the cinematic podium, if that were even possible. Inception is without a doubt Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious work yet, stemming entirely from his own mind, supposedly having worked on the script for the film for almost ten years. The result is a summer blockbuster as daring as some could only hope for, completely original and remarkably unique. It is a science-fiction heist film of sorts, taking place in a world where technology has made it possible for people to enter the subconscious mind. The story follows a highly skilled thief and his group as they attempt one of the hardest tasks possible: to invade the dreams of an individual and plant and idea inside his subconscious. An ensemble cast consisting of actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and many more ensure that Inception is features first rate acting all-around, each of the actors doing a great job in their roles—some more than others, but none of them disappoint. Inception also achieves quite a rare feat: it is an incredibly smart film, delivering a story that’s undoubtedly one of a kind, but it always remains easy to understand and wholly accessible by almost every viewer. Christopher Nolan also outdoes himself when it comes to the action scenes, occasionally even taking it to a whole new level with the introduction of a flat-out amazing zero-gravity and an hour-long climax that is thrilling and entertaining throughout. A real mind-bender, Inception lives up to all expectations, perhaps even surpassing them in some cases, and becomes one of the greatest and most memorable blockbusters of all time.
Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama which depicts a young man’s initiation into the life of crime. James Frecheville stars in the leading role, playing a 17-year-old teenager who moves in with his estranged grandmother, the matriarch of a notorious criminal family, after his mother’s ill-timed death. Relentless in its depiction of a criminal lifestyle, Animal Kingdom is gripping and wonderfully crafted, portraying crime in a raw and brutally honest manner. Devoid of any kind of glamour, this fine Australian gem succeeds with help of its well-written storyline and the strong performances of its cast, particularly Jacki Weaver’s memorable portrayal of a mother figure trying to hold her collapsing family together.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple at breaking point in their marriage, trying to resolve their issues with one another before it’s too late. The film portrays the two lovers both during the period of time when they first met each other and during their final days together. Blue Valentine tells a bittersweet love story, depicting of the hardships of marriage in the most honest and untainted manner. Lead actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams could not have been more perfect for their roles, having brilliant chemistry as a pair and both delivering performances that stand among the best of the year. Blue Valentine may be bleak and depressing, but it truly manages to capture the essence of romantic relationships, becoming one the most powerful romance films in recent years.
After winning the Academy Award for Best Director a few years back for the critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle returns with another daring project, this time adapting a real-life story to the big screen. Starring James Franco in the leading role, 127 Hours tells the incredible story of a mountain climber who accidentally gets his arm trapped under a boulder while on a canyoneering trip. Much of the film takes place in a single location, following the protagonist’s countless attempts of freeing himself from the life-threatening situation that he has gotten into. 127 Hours is visceral and often surprisingly relentless, especially during one climactic scene that will stay with viewers for a long time, but it is ultimately a truly extraordinary tale about the human will and the triumph of life over death.
The Ghost Writer marks Roman Polanski’s return to the world of mystery thrillers and it stars Ewan McGregor in the role of a ghostwriter assigned with the task of completing the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (played by Pierce Brosnan), but the more he learns about the circumstances of his employment the sooner he realizes that his life may be in danger. Dark, suspenseful and marked by a sense of modern style, The Ghost Writer succeeds as a fine mystery film with help of both Roman Polanski’s refined directing and the performances of its cast, particularly Ewan McGregor in a solid, convincing leading role.
From a narrative standpoint, The Fighter mostly plays out like a conventional boxing film, centring around the life of a professional boxer (played by Mark Wahlberg) struggling to overcome the obsessive control of his dysfunctional family and stop living in his brother’s shadow. However, The Fighter makes for a memorable experience with help of all-around outstanding performances from its cast, especially from supporting actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, with Christian Bale’s incredible transformation into a manic and chaotic drug addict quite possibly being the greatest performance of the year. After a six-year hiatus, director David O. Russell returns in top form, and The Fighter, as ordinary as its storyline may be, manages to excel in other aspects.
Martin Scorsese is without a doubt one of the greatest American directors in the history of cinema and some will therefore find his most recent film, entitled Shutter Island, somewhat underwhelming. It is certainly not one of Scorsese’s greatest accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean that this mystery thriller is a failure. Quite the contrary, Shutter Island is an excellent picture, thoroughly exploring the human mind from a psychological standpoint and delivering a well-constructed storyline that presents surprisingly little flaws when viewed as a whole. With long-time Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role, Shutter Island follows two U.S. Marshals who are sent to a mental hospital located on an isolated island to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous patient. Top-notch cinematography, solid performances from the cast and a haunting score make Shutter Island a clear winner.
Kick-Ass is one of the most unique and daring comic book films, essentially mocking the superhero genre while also being a solid entry into it. The plot of the movie, revolving around an ordinary teenager who one day decides to become a real-life superhero and fight crime, is marked by the kind of cinematic power found in other films of the genre, but it is also surprisingly gritty, unrelentingly portraying wanna-be superheroes in a world filled with merciless criminals and cold-blooded mobsters. Perhaps the most memorable—and at the same time most disturbing—thing about Kick-Ass is the character of Hit-Girl, an eleven-year-old girl turned superhero who does as much cursing as she does killing—played to perfection by Chloe Moretz. Kick-Ass is fun, thrilling, action-packed and unflinchingly brutal, but in a good way.
Toy Story 3 proves to be a worthy conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies in the history of film, animated or otherwise. Following another one of the toys’ adventures, Toy Story 3 strikes a perfect balance between flawless storytelling, an adequate amount of humour and an upbeat tone while keeping its silliness and children-oriented side to a minimum. Furthermore, this animated feature film also includes splendid voice acting from its entire cast and a terrific score. Visually breathtaking and backed up by a well-written storyline, Toy Story is a most excellent addition to Pixar’s continuously expanding arsenal—one that continues to put that of other animation studios to shame.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s latest picture, Mother, is a profound and powerful character study wrapped inside a thoroughly intriguing mystery drama. Veteran Korean actress Kim Hye-ja stars in the leading role as an elderly mother desperately trying to prove her mentally disabled son’s innocence after he is convicted for a murder. Gritty, captivating and ultimately memorable, Mother is outstanding from every point of view, with Kim Hye-ja’s sublime performance representing the foundation around which Bong Joon-ho carefully constructs his vision. There are plenty of things to look out for throughout the film and multiple viewings will surely be required for those looking to fully absorb its elaborate narrative, but the remarkable cinematography, acting, directing and storytelling persistent from start to finish make Mother a picture well worth revisiting.
Ben Affleck both directs and stars in his latest Boston-based crime film, entitled The Town. It follows a group of bank robbers taking on increasingly dangerous jobs, but it also focuses on the growing romantic relationship between one of the robbers and a woman who was held hostage by the group during a previous robbery. The Town is a truly excellent picture, perfectly combining action-packed scenes with calculated, dialogue-oriented parts in-between to form an impressive whole. Thrilling, well-acted and thoroughly entertaining, The Town is a fine entry into the recently established genre of crime films set in Boston.
The power of rumours is not to be trifled with, as demonstrated in this clever and witty teen comedy called Easy A. Emma Stone plays an average high school girl whose life is turned upside down when she becomes the main star on the school grounds after false rumours of her promiscuity start spreading around. Teen comedies, deplete as they may be nowadays, are sometimes graced by genre films such as Easy A, whose rare mix of smart storytelling and good laughs proves that a comedy can still be funny without having to dumb itself down a notch. Solid cast performances are also abound, especially Emma Stone’s charismatic portrayal of the main character. Easy A is a beacon of hope in times when teen comedies seem to have forgotten the good old days of John Hughes.
The Kids Are All Right takes an intimate look into the life of a married lesbian couple and their two artificially conceived children as they decide to meet the birth father. As a drama-slash-comedy that relies mostly on the performances of its cast in order to convey an emotional and realistic picture of family life. Thankfully, both Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are outstanding in their leading roles, followed by a solid performance from supporting actor Mark Ruffalo. Striking a perfect balance between comedy and drama, The Kids Are All Right is an enjoyable and noteworthy picture that reminds us of the importance of family values in modern society.
Unlike the rest of the novels from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the final book is split into two full-length films. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 marks the first part of the grand finale, and, while it does have a hard time standing on its own as a feature film, it is undoubtedly one of the best Harry Potter movies in recent years, delivering a cinematic experience as visceral as it is thrilling. The trio consisting of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint is back and better than ever, delivering performances that well illustrate the newly-found maturity in their characters. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is easily the darkest one in the series up to this point, fully taking advantage of the fact that Harry and his friends are now on the loose and everything is at stake.
Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has Jim Carrey delivered a performance as powerful as the one in I Love You Phillip Morris, where he plays a homosexual con artist and impostor who goes through life carelessly until he is caught and sent to prison, where he meets the man of his dreams: the titular Phillip Morris, played by an Ewan McGregor at the top of his game. Putting the incredible chemistry between its two leads to good use, I Love You Phillip Morris manages to tell a dynamic love story wrapped around the fascinating life of a conman and his often hilarious escapades. This remarkable film, directed and adapted to the screen by the same people who wrote Bad Santa, works both as an unconventional rom-com and as a funny and clever life story.
Never Let Me Go is an adaptation of the 2005 same-named novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and it stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley in the roles of three individuals who grow up together and become entangled in a love triangle while at the same time trying to come to terms with the fact that they were specifically created in order to donate their organs during early adulthood. Sad and heart-breaking, Never Let Me Go tells a bittersweet love story hindered by a dystopian world, beautifully portraying human will and the necessity of letting go with help of strong performances from its main cast.
Buried is quite an ambitious indie film revolving around a man who awakens buried alive inside a wooden coffin. In a race against time, he must find a way to escape from this dire and potentially deadly situation before he runs out of oxygen. Ryan Reynolds stars in the leading role, confidently carrying this one-man show from start to finish. One can only imagine how difficult it must be to film an entire movie in a single location without giving in to dullness or monotony, but Buried remains not only entertaining, but also thrilling throughout its running time. The creative use of different lighting techniques and varying camera angles present in the film turn Buried into a claustrophobic and thoroughly engaging ride.
Four Lions mercilessly satirises the state of modern terrorism in today’s society. It tells the story of a group of British jihadists bent on getting their 72 virgins as early as possible—often resulting in unfortunate deaths and tons of laughter. Yes, Four Lions is a comedy—a very black one at that—and its no-holds-barred approach to the subject matter is as cruel as it is hilarious. Rarely does one stumble upon a comedy as unique and daring as this one, making it one of the most memorable independent pictures in recent years. Surprisingly enough, it also boasts quite impressive performances from its cast, particularly the main actors, who could not have been more convincing in their roles as zealous Islamic terrorists. Who knew that people blowing themselves and others up could be so funny?
Highly praised and regarded as one of the best foreign films of the year, In a Better World is an extraordinary tale of friendship, forgiveness and regret. Two Danish families cross paths with each other as their sons start to form a bond, ultimately leading to times of both great suffering and redemption. The acting is strong and impresses, the cinematography is beautiful, and the story told is deeply inspiring. Susanne Bier skilfully creates compelling characters and puts them in realistic, gripping situations, resulting in a film that is universally comprehensible and undeniably powerful.
Animation films started off on the right foot in 2010, with How to Train Your Dragon hitting it big both commercially and critically, its fantastic use of 3D wowing audiences worldwide. Set in a fantasy world where Vikings and dragons are sworn enemies and battle each other on a daily basis, How to Train Your Dragon follows the growing relationship between a boy and his newfound pet dragon. Featuring by beautiful animation, solid voice-acting and effective comedy, this animated feature film transcends the boundaries set in place by its cliché storyline and makes for a memorable and highly enjoyable ride. To be watched in 3D for a truly eye-popping experience.
Dogtooth is without a doubt one of the strangest films of the year, but its message is powerful and thought-provoking. Depicting a dysfunctional family where a married couple keeps their three young adult children confined in an isolated house, we, the viewers, are but intruders observing the odd lifestyle of human beings resulted from an upbringing devoid of society and its rules and instead enforced by the harsh regulations of their half-crazed parents. Distressingly raw, disturbing and occasionally imbued with dark humour, Dogtooth is a film that should be avoided by the faint of heart and grasped in its entirety by those who are willing and able to handle it.