Ok, you can’t really anticipate a film if you’ve already seen it, right? And while that doesn’t apply for every member of The Playlist, many of us were lucky enough to get early sneak peeks at 2011 by attending film festivals around the globe like the Cannes, Toronto and Vancouver Film Festivals, the Melbourne Film Festival, the London Film Festival and more; yes, we’re global. We basically ran through our lists of the films coming out in 2011 that we’ve already seen and made a list of 27 worth discussing. Not all of them are great, some are downright terrible, and some are pictures you should absolutely go out of your way to see. It’s a mixed bag, much like a film festival generally is, but consider it our user’s guide to the 2011 films we know the most about; and take the info to follow under consideration when shelling out your hard-earned dollar. We’re here for you, really.
“Everything Must Go” – Roadside Attractions – dir. Dan Rush
Synopsis: Inspired by a Raymond Carver short story, the film follows a recovering alcoholic who holds a yard sale of his life belongings after he gets fired and comes home to find that his wife has thrown all his stuff on the lawn.
What You Need To Know: Though this one split our reviewers at LFF and TIFF the one thing they did agree on was that Will Ferrell’s performance is one of his best non-comedic roles to date. He stars as Nick Halsey, a once-functioning alcoholic whose bad days have caught up to him enough times that he’s lost his job and his wife, and is struggling to decide what to do next. The material is a tricky balance — alcoholism, unemployment, a failing marriage — but Rush mostly makes it work and it benefits from strong performances by his cast which includes Rebecca Hall and Michael Pena. Yes, it’s serious stuff but not without humor either, and the film’s breezy tone keeps it from getting too mired in the typical clichés of the “alcoholic movie.” While we may not all agree as to the films’ merits, there is enough here to like to make it worth seeking out and we think it has the potential to be a sleeper indie hit when it arrives later this year.
Release Date: Spring
“Passion Play” – TBD – dir. Mitch Glazer
Synopsis: An angel under the thumb of a ruthless gangster is saved by a trumpet player down on his luck.
What You Need To Know: The screenwriter behind “Scrooged,” “Great Expectations,” and “The Recruit” (who’s also married to Kelly Lynch), Mitch Glazer is the kind of unique Hollywood royalty who can call up the elusive Bill Murray in a pinch and ask him to play a fairly significant role in his debut film and have Murray respond with, “when and where?” This is what happened with “Passion Play” when British actor Toby Kebbell dropped out of the villain role last minute. Alas, it means absolutely nothing. Yes, the film is a fairy tale, but it still dares to boast an “it was all a dream” conceit and Megan Fox and Mickey Rourke essentially embarrass themselves beyond belief in this incredibly ill-conceived and laughable drama. Sorry Mitch.
Release Date: We called the film “excruciating” and “unbearable” so it is almost inconceivable that it was picked up by Image Entertainment. No release date yet.
“Certified Copy” – IFC – dir. Abbas Kiarostami
Synopsis: A man and a woman spend an afternoon in the Tuscany countryside discussing love, life and art.
What You Need To Know: By far one of the best films to come out of Cannes in 2010, Kiarostami’s latest is a funny, moving, intellectually absorbing and emotionally rich investigation and dissection of a relationship in crisis. The narrative trick employed by Kiarostami is whether or not the onscreen couple — played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell — is “real” or as the title suggests a “certified copy.” But it really doesn’t matter. The emotions and observations are definitely real and authentic. Falling somewhere between “Before Sunrise/Sunset” and “Scenes From A Marriage” the latest from Iranian master Kiarostami may be his most accessible yet but don’t let that fool you, it’s also one of his best [read our review].
Release Date: March 11th
“London Boulevard” – Film District – dir. William Monahan
Synopsis: A recently freed ex-con (Colin Farrell), trying to stay on the straight and narrow, takes a job with a faded movie star (Keira Knightley).
What You Need To Know: The directorial debut of Oscar-winning writer Monahan (“The Departed“), this is a gangster drama with an outstanding British cast (aside from the leads, it also features Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Anna Friel, David Thewlis and Stephen Graham.) Unfortunately, despite a promising script, and all the right influences — Nic Roeg, “Poor Cow” etc — the cast are squandered in the nonsensical mess of the finished film. The actors, bar Thewlis, are either wasted or miscast, and it all ends up feeling terribly familiar. Monahan displays some potential, and there’s a few decent lines, mostly delivered by the excellent Thewlis, but for the most part, it’s understandable why it was quietly snuck into U.K. cinemas at the end of 2010, and why Film District is unlikely to make a big noise when it finally hits U.S. screens (read our review).
Release Date: Spring/Summer 2011, although there’s no firm date as yet.
“Henry‘s Crime” – Maitland Primrose Group – dir. Malcolm Venville
Synopsis: A depressed Buffalo toll booth worker (Keanu Reeves) is going through an existentialist crisis when he is falsely accused of robbing a bank in Buffalo.
What You Need To Know: It’s written by Sacha Gervasi who directed one of 2009’s best documentaries, “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil” (he also wrote Spielberg‘s “The Terminal“) and it is directed by Malcolm Venville, the man behind the British gangster drama, “44 Inch Chest.” However, we certainly didn’t love that picture and even James Caan and Vera Farmiga can’t save this one either. Our reviewer at TIFF called the film “a bland and mild offense” that is “colorless and mostly devoid of animated moments” and said maybe Keanu should just stick to action films (though we do appreciate the effort to try something with more gravitas, it just doesn’t fly here). Critical reception overall was poor too. If there is any redeeming value in the film, its the awesome vintage soul-funk and afrobeat-laden soundtrack largely delivered by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and The Budos Band.
Release Date: TBD
“What’s Wrong With Virginia?” – TBD – dir. Dustin Lance Black
Synopsis: A charming but psychologically disturbed mother holds a secret 20 year affair with a sheriff now running for state senate. Their relationship is tested, however, when the mother’s 16 year-old son begins a relationship with the sheriff’s daughter.
What You Need To Know: The mainstream directorial debut of Oscar-winning scribe Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”) of course has Gus Van Sant on board as an executive producer and also scored Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris as the leading adults as well as Emma Roberts, Alex Frost and Carrie Preston. Not bad for a debut, and probably what you would expect from a writer who wins an Academy Award his first time out of the gate, but everything is wrong with the tonally challenged ‘Virginia.’ It really can’t decide if it’s a comedy or drama and then devolves into silly farce at the end as it races to its largely telegraphed and banal conclusion. Not the worst film we saw at TIFF 2010, but close (read our review).
Release Date: TBD, it’s unclear if anyone will pick this film up.
“Meek’s Cutoff” – Oscilloscope – dir. Kelly Reichardt
Synopsis: Based on a true story, experienced mountaineer and frontiersman Stephen Meek leads an ill-fated wagon train through a shortcut on the Oregon Trail, a journey that involves starvation, a legendary lost gold mine and a Native American scout who might or might not be inclined to save the day.
What You Need To Know: Reichardt’s no-budget take on a Western and follow-up to “Old Joy” and “Wendy And Lucy” was written by Jon Raymond and managed to draw an impressive cast consisting of Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Bruce Greenwood and Shirley Henderson. In the vein of an arty, very minimalist anti-Western, like her past work, “Meek’s Cutoff” is stark, singular and subdued. Not everyone at the Playlist that saw it has loved it wholeheartedly, but it is a very original work and its meditative, almost spiritual tenor gives it a haunting quality that lingers and gestates in the mind. The austere, yet beautiful cinematography by Chris Blauvelt is gorgeous to look at and a droning score by Jeff Grace gives the picture hypnotizing qualities. An IndieWire poll conducted during last year’s 2010 Toronto Film Festival named it the favorite picture of the fest.
Release Date: April 8 (limited)
“A Serbian Film” – TBD – dir. Srdan Spasojevic
Synopsis: An aging male porn star reluctantly unretires to work for a director with unsavory ideas of what constitutes pornographic art.
What You Need To Know: Sick. Vile. Reprehensible. In more progressive times for global cinema, these words don’t show up too often, but they have strongly marked “A Serbian Film,” which has only been exhibited at festivals in lieu of a release outside of Serbia and the U.K. (heavily edited in the latter market). Spasojevic claims, “This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government,” a statement that, combined with the actual content of the film, is the strongest anti-tourism message you could ever send to people curious about visiting Serbia. “A Serbian Film” carries a powerful transgressive message underneath a story so unspeakably upsetting — involving our protagonist being drugged and forced to participate in exceedingly ghastly acts — that it’s impossible for the film not to haunt your nightmares. We haven’t seen what the horror genre has in store for us in 2011, but if there’s anything nearly as obscene as “A Serbian Film” on the docket, we’re gonna take a knee on the entire genre for now.
Release Date: TBD
“Blame” – TBD – dir. Michael Henry
Synopsis: A group of young vigilantes seeking revenge for a sexual betrayal fall far from grace. When the truth is out they find themselves on the dark side of justice.
What You Need To Know: This is the exact kind of directorial debut we like to see. While the crime-thriller genre does have its familiar tropes, young Australian filmmaker Michael Henry delivers a film that is taut and well-executed. For North American context, the film might be best known for almost convincing David Fincher to cast its exceptional lead Sophie Lowe (pictured above), as his “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” star (she was part of the final four casting choices for the coveted role). Lowe is rather fantastic in the film and the entire cast is a who’s who of upcoming Australian talent including Kestie Morassi from “Wolf Creek“, Ashley Zukerman (HBO‘s “The Pacific“), Simon Stone and Mark Leonard Winter.
Release Date: TBD. As far as we know the film is still without U.S. distribution, but hopefully that changes as it’s more worthwhile than a few flubs on this list that likely only found buyers because of the brand-name actors involved.
“Snabba Cash “ – The Weinstein Company – dir. Daniel Espinosa
Synopsis: This taut crime drama is a three-tiered story centered around drugs and organized crime, and focused on an ambitious young business student who becomes a runner for a coke dealer
What You Need To Know: Let’s trot out the familiar, but important context for “Snabba Cash.” In early 2010, months before most folks had seen “Easy Money” (its English title), Hollywood started going ape for this Swedish picture. Soon, director Espinosa became a hot commodity, taking meeting after meeting for lucrative properties like “X-Men: First Class,” “Wolverine 2,” the Blacklist script “Prisoners” with Leonardo DiCaprio loosely attached, and several other big-name gigs before eventually settling on “Safe House” with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds (not bad for your first Hollywood gig). Buzz continued and Zac Efron‘s production company snatched up the rights for the inevitable U.S. remake (yes, he’ll star too). And while “Snabba Cash” certainly doesn’t re-invent the crime-thriller wheel in any way, it has a pulsating momentum and well-edited pace that has obviously convinced the industry that everyone involved should be making films in America. Solid Swedish lead Joel Kinnaman also scored a role in “The Darkest Hour” alongside Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby and Max Minghella. While it’s unclear if the film will make as big of a foreign film splash in North America as say, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” did, it’s far more deserving of your time and energy. [read our review].
Release Date: Originally pegged for a late 2010 release date, the film is now coming out TBD in 2011.
“The Conspirator” – Roadside Attractions – dir. Robert Redford
Synopsis: When the entire nation turns against the lone female (Robin Wright Penn) charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer (James McAvoy) to uncover the truth and save her life.
What You Need To Know: For his eighth directorial effort Robert Redford seemingly went for broke, pulling out all the stops and hiring an all-star, character-heavy cast that included, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Alexis Bledel, Danny Huston, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Johnny Simmons, Stephen Root and Toby Kebbell. “The Conspirator” script played out like an injustice, post 9/11 fear-mongering cautionary tale, and well, so does the film. Which is a shame because the actual historical story is pretty fascinating, and not widely told, but Redford just can’t help himself in making overbearing, not-entirely-there parallels with modern history. And when the film doesn’t go to the political pulpit, it plays like a stodgy, musty period version of “Law & Order” complete with sneering lawyer and shifty, obviously dishonest witnesses. Worse, Redford’s approach gives the film weird stylistic flourishes which would have made it a very awards-worthy drama if it was made maybe ten or fifteen years ago, but seem woefully out of place now. It was originally viewed as a 2010 Oscar-bait frontrunner, but those hopes were quickly dashed when the film made its premiere at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival and was universally panned (read our review).
Release Date: TBD
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” – IFC/History Channel – dir. Werner Herzog
Synopsis: It’s Werner Herzog’s 3D cave documentary! No, seriously, that’s what it is. The documentary is filmed inside France’s fabled Chauvet Cave, which is filled with some of the world’s richest (and oldest) cave paintings.
What You Need to Know: Well, first off, it’s not quite as cool as it sounds. We were almost uncomfortably excited about the prospects of what Werner Herzog, whose documentary work of late has easily trumped his narrative stuff, would do with both the 3D technology and the way he would tackle something like this… Sadly, a few minutes in and we were threatening to drift off into our own cave of forgotten dreams. That isn’t to say that some of the film isn’t achingly beautiful, because it is, and the movie is peppered with some choice Herzog moments like him asking some technician about what the cave means to the very essence of human existence and humanity’s quest for understanding (we’re paraphrasing), to which the technician can only shoot back a puzzled look. But mostly, this is like the fairly sleepy 3D version of the ride inside of the EPCOT Center’s giant golf ball — an overlong, “hey, isn’t communication fascinating?” trifle; something we’re rather loathe to say since we normally love Herzog (read our review).
Release date: “Late April” is all we know
“Tabloid” – Sundance Selects – dir. Errol Morris
Synopsis: A documentary about a former Miss Wyoming who allegedly abducted her husband (a Mormon missionary) and attempted to de-brainwash him by holding him captive and having sex.
What You Need To Know: After spending years delving into the political, Morris turns the spotlight back on the bizarre, focusing on the eccentric Joyce McKinney. The story itself is worth the price of admission, following the exploits of an abductor, her descent into depression, and her multi-cloning of a dog; but Morris amplifies the experience with his signature wham-bam of personal monologue interviews and chilling music selection. While McKinney grabs interest and refuses to let go, Morris channels this and creates an intimate, enjoyable tale that also happens to be his best-paced picture, period.
Release Date: TBD
“Poetry” – Kino Lorber – dir. Lee Chang-dong
Synopsis: Mija, a victim of alzheimers, tries to find a new life in the art of poetry. She soon finds herself in a questionable situation, one in which words fail to describe her feelings.
What You Need To Know: “Oasis” isn’t just one of the strongest, most affecting Korean films ever, it’s a great film, period. Mr. Lee had a tough picture to follow up, and while he didn’t surpass it, “Secret Sunshine” is a very fine piece of work, one that tackles a variety of topics with finesse, maturity, and a dash of humor. “Poetry” was the logical next step for the director, squeezing in even more elements and subjects into one picture and seeing if they’d hold up. The end product proves that the filmmaker bit off a little bit more than he could chew, with too many balls in the air, not to mention the always difficult comedic potshots at artists (there must be a different way to do this other than showing people passionately into awful art pieces). In comparison to his preceding films it doesn’t hold up, but taking it on its own (and after letting it simmer), Lee’s newest is a very fine effort, one that begs a rewatch and features a wonderful performance by Jeong-hie Yun. Maybe the filmmaker works best when the story is more simplified, but we’ll be damned if he doesn’t get credit for trying something more.
Release Date: February 11th, 2011
“Kaboom” – IFC – dir. Gregg Araki
Synopsis: A sci-fi story centered on the sexual awakening of a group of college students.
What You Need To Know: Queer cinema ringleader Araki returns after the perplexing misfire “Smiley Face” with a film sounding somewhat reminiscent of his last real triumph, “Mysterious Skin.” Araki’s latest, “Kaboom,” had been described, most intriguingly, as a “hyper-stylized ‘Twin Peaks‘ for the Coachella Generation,” and a “sex-drenched horror-comedy thriller.” We essentially called it “Saved By The Bell” meets David Lynch, but sadly, while that sounds kind of awesome, it’s not. Candy-coated, and with production values that look like they’re ripped right out of a sitcom, the plot is much more somber than the soulful and provocative ‘Skin’ (any of you hoping Araki would return to that form will be sadly disappointed). 18-year-old Smith (Thomas Dekker, of TV’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles“) hangs out with arty friends and hooks up with beautiful, free-spirited women, while trying to unravel a monstrous conspiracy and tripping on some hallucinogenic cookies. It’s utterly ridiculous and those who majored in advanced irony might squeal with glee over how ludicrous it is, but the only thing saving the picture from being an utter waste of time is its ambition. Still, buyer beware, the only tolerable element of the film is the great Juno Temple (read our review).
Release Date: January 28
“Heartbeats” – IFC – dir. Xavier Dolan
Synopsis: Two friends, Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), vie for the attention of their mutual crush, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Their friendship soon turns to rivalry as they spend more time with Nicolas.
What You Need To Know: This new effort from French Canadian wunderkind Dolan, whose previous effort, “I Killed My Mother” made quite the splash at Cannes a few years back (and was quite good in this writer’s opinion), is the kind of misfire one might expect from a young, gifted director who suddenly has oodles of praise heaped upon his first film. Not only is it frustratingly derivative (seriously, if you’ve seen anything from Godard, Truffaut or even Woody Allen you’ll just be bored with the whole affair), but it feels incredibly padded, as Dolan doesn’t have any qualms beating a dead horse time and time again (ex: count how many times ‘Bang Bang’ performed by Dalida in Italian is played over slow motion shots of people walking). All the characters have the kind of cloying ticks and quirks seen in standard, middling indie fare, and what could have been a great chance to poke fun at a certain, all-knowing age group (early-to-mid 20-somethings), is instead a missed opportunity. Too bad. Dolan is still one to watch, but we’re more excited for what his fifth, or sixth film will be like, after he matures and learns to come up with his own ideas.
Release Date: February 24 (limited)
“Monogamy” – Oscilloscope – dir. Dana Adam Shapiro
Synopsis: A cautionary tale about sex, photography and fear of marriage; the trials and tribulations of a young couple’s relationship.
What You Need To Know: Everybody already loves Rashida Jones, but everyman Chris Messina has been on the verge of leading man status for a few years now after playing the harmless boyfriend role in countless romantic comedies over the last few years (he must be getting frustrated at the pigeonholing; see “Julie & Julia” for the last “nice guy” example). Perhaps more notably, the indie romance comedy is the feature-narrative debut of Dana Adam Shapiro, the co-director behind the winning 2007 documentary, “Murderball.” He wrote the script with his documentary scribe cohort, Marc Wiener who also co-penned Larry Clark‘s “Savage Innocents.” So all in all, pretty good pedigree surrounding it, right? Only “Monogamy” screened at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and came off as a self-important, poor man’s “Sex, Lies & Videotape.” It’s essentially about a 30-something goofball/man-child (Messina) who torpedoes his perfectly good relationship (with Jones) because he gets obsessed with some tart he’s been photographing. In the end there’s lots of tears and you don’t really feel an ounce of sympathy for these vacuous twats (read our review).
Release Date: March 11
“Ceremony” – Magnolia – dir. Max Winkler
Synopsis: A young man (Michael Angarano) looks to crash the wedding of a thirty-something woman (Uma Thurman) with whom he’s infatuated.
What You Need To Know: The son of Henry Winkler, Max Winkler and his writing pals, Matt Spicer and this kid you may know named Jonah Hill, caused a splash in Hollywood in 2009 when their script, “The Adventurer’s Handbook,” was sold for a king’s ransom (seven figures). Winkler and Spicer also have another project, “The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things” that is set up over at Fox Searchlight which Jason Reitman is producing. Not too shabby for guys that are just over 25. Jessie Eisenberg was originally set to star, but left to be in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” giving the underrated Angarano a chance to shine and frankly, we can’t imagine the movie with Eisenberg now. While we slightly dogged “Ceremony” for being a little too indebted to Wes Anderson tropes (music montages, similar tone, similar tracking shots, etc.), the comedy is a very assured piece of work and it announces an excellent new filmmaker who could easily be the next Jason Reitman once he finds his own voice. Lee Pace and Jake M. Johnson co-star and steal almost every scene they’re in, hence including them in our our 10 Actors We Expect Great Things From feature we ran last year (read our review).
Release Date: April 8
“Cracks” – IFC – dir. Jordan Scott
Synopsis: The lives and relationships among the girls at an elite British boarding school go awry when a new foreign exchange girl from Spain enters the mix and threatens to undermine the allure and power of their bewitching, favorite teacher (Eva Green).
What You Need To Know: Ridley Scott‘s daughter Jordan proves she’s another very capable member of the filmmaking dynasty with a strong observational eye. The film sports a great cast — British stars in the making Juno Temple, Imogen Poots, plus María Valverde — and Green is as captivating and sultry as ever. It’s a solid and mostly engaging piece of work (except for perhaps the ending which we didn’t quite buy) and we’re glad it’s coming out, but it’s also not necessarily the most memorable film we saw at TIFF in ‘09.
Release Date: IFC picked it up for distribution in late 2009 and its now finally coming out March 18. Don’t let the fact that it sat on the shelf for over a year scare you off. It’s still better than your average studio picture created for mass consumption.
“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” – Strand Releasing – dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Synopsis: Uncle Boonmee is dying, and his loved ones are gathered to usher him into the afterlife.
What You Need To Know: Shed no tears for the elderly farmer, because in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s world, it’s only a transition phase. He soon starts seeing spirits, visions of the past, but when they appear to others, its clear they are nonthreatening. It’s this attitude that Boonmee, a restless spirit in life, is able to settle on in death. Warm and funny, this Palme D’Or winner in Cannes is touching in an altogether unexpected way. Read our ‘Uncle Boonmee’ review here.
Release Date: January 27th, 2011
“13 Assassins” – Magnet Releasing – dir. Takashi Miike
Synopsis: It’s 1844, at least 20 years before the overthrow of the shogunate. It’s a peaceful time, which means most of the best samurai are bored with nobody to fight. Climbing the political ladder is the nasty, murderous villain Lord Naritsugu. The elder council decides to act against the Lord before he attains too much power. The stage is set for a memorable battle.
What You Need To Know: Our review from VIFF called Miike’s film “one hell of a rousing piece of entertainment… easily his most accessible film to date.” It’s been a festival favorite, ending Fantastic Fest in Austin and playing at TIFF to solid reviews. Perhaps most surprising is Miike’s adherence to convention this time out, with this remake of the 1963 Eiichi Kudo film and an obvious homage to Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” The buildup is worth the wait though, as the film concludes with a near hour-long battle between the titular 13 assassins and a 200-strong army that is, simply put, fucking awesome. Miike has fashioned a solid film here, and it should play well to his fans (despite lacking most of his bizarro stylistics) and to fans of the genre.
Release Date: First quarter of 2011.
“Aurora” – The Cinema Guild – dir. Cristi Puiu
Synopsis: An abstract character study examining a man’s (played by director Puiu) slow break from society, and eventual path towards violence.
What You Need To Know: After 2005’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” this is the second film in director Puiu’s planned series “Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest.” “Aurora” also sees him stepping in front of the camera to portray the lead character Viorel, whose motives early on are hard to distinguish, as the film moves at a deliberately slow pace tracking his daily actions and interactions. Then he buys a shotgun, and well, all his frustrations and moodiness become clear. Certainly a tough watch due to its subject matter and pace, this is definitely further proof of the strength of modern Romanian cinema, but not for everyone. Though we said it runs “a tad too long and is maybe a little too simplistic in its conclusion” in our NYFF review, “it’s really a hard film to shake from your head. Predictable it is not, and those willing to be absorbed in this existential piece are likely to find suspense in its original approach to the subject.”
Release Date: TBD
“Of Gods and Men” – Sony Pictures Classics – dir. Xavier Beauvois
Synopsis: Christian monks living in a monastery next to a Muslim village find their faith tested when Islamic fundamentalism begins to sweep the region.
What You Need To Know: The official foreign film selection by France for this year’s Oscars, we were hearing awards talk all the way back in May when the film premiered at Cannes and it’s easy to see why. Solemnly directed by Beauvois, “Of Gods And Men” is a very sober look at the battle between faith and tolerance amid the rise of fundamentalism. And while most critics were impressed with the film back in the spring, we were less enamored, even put off by the film’s self-important tone that oddly doesn’t explore the implications of a crisis of faith as deeply as one would expect, instead getting caught up in the maneuverings of the plot. But this is the kind of film the Academy eats up: it’s about an important issue and even though it’s set in the 1980s (and based on a true story) it draws easy parallels with current politics. Expect strong reviews for this one when it lands in theaters next month, but proceed with caution. “Of Gods And Men” is not as illuminating as it thinks it is [read our review].
Release Date: February 25th
“Serge Gainsbourg: A Life Heroic” – Focus Features Intl. – dir. Joann Sfar
Synopsis: A cradle-to-grave biopic of the French musical icon and dark prince of sleaze, Serge Gainsbourg.
What You Need To Know: The films boasts a great French cast, but not necessarily an all-star one known outside France. Unknown actor Eric Elmosnino plays Serge, former supermodel Laetitia Casta inhabits the comely body of Brigitte Bardot, the late Lucy Gordon (RIP) takes on the role of Jane Birkin (the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg), Anna Mouglalis (“Coco Chanel & Stravinsky“) is playing elegant chanson singer Juliette Gréco, actress Sara Forestier (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer“) plays mousy, French yé-yé singer France Gall and French/Chinese actress Mylène Jampanoï takes on Gainsbourg’s late-life muse, Bambou. Yet despite the great cast and ripe subject matter, ‘A Life Heroic,’ is a disappointing misfire finding a traditional biopic framework marred by an ambitious animated conceit. Sfar’s attempt to illustrate Gainsbourg’s inner voice/conscience with two weird looking puppets that pop up intermittently through the picture is simply distracting, while the two hour plus film races through every event in the legendary performer’s life without a moment of pause. Both major and minor, nearly every moment of Gainsbourg’s life is touched upon with nary any context [read our review].
Release date: TBD, no U.S. distributor yet that we know of.
“Hahaha” – TBD – dir. Hong Sang-soo
Synopsis: Moonkyeong (Kim Sang-kyeong) decides to move to Canada where he meets Joongsik (Yoo Joon-sang) only to learn they have a rather unusual connection. Moonkyeong wants to be a movie director and meets a tour guide Seongok (Moon So-ri) who wants to live a new life in Korea. Joongsik (also played by Yoo) is having an affair, but his wife and girlfriend are now taking a summer vacation together.
What You Need To Know: Hong is a gifted and prolific low budget filmmaker due for more love from American audiences, and this is one of his strongest works to date, even if it’s nothing new as far as subject matter is concerned. “Hahaha” is the kind of romantic comedy you don’t see anymore. In fact, Woody Allen was the only one making films like this, back in his strong years of the ’70s and ’80s. Our review from Melbourne mentioned how the film is “skillfully framed by a reminiscing conversation shown on-screen only by still photography and voiceovers (á la Chris Marker‘s iconic “La jetée“),” and said the film is a “fleeting, retrospective depiction of the interconnected lives of two friends over a particular summer in a small Korean seaside town that’s refreshing, humorous and heart-warming.”
Release Date: TBD
“Incendies” – Sony Pictures Classics – dir. Denis Villeneuve
Synopsis: After their mother Nawal’s death, twins Simon and Jeanne embark on a journey to the Middle East that shines a disturbing light on their mother’s past and culminates in a shocking revelation.
What You Need To Know: Canada’s submission this year for Best Foreign Language Film, “Incendies” is an adaptation of the acclaimed play by Wajdi Mouawad and is directed by Genie and Jutra award-winner Denis Villeneuve (“Polytechnique”). Though it has received quite a good deal of praise in the festival circuit, and was picked up during TIFF by Sony Pictures Classics, this writer was not so taken with it. It’s a piece in the style of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Fatih Akin. Like “Babel” or “Edge of Heaven,” this film wants you to feel something from the constant misery and struggle of its characters. Personally, this writer is growing tired of the cross-generational, everyone-is-connected-through-coincidences type of storytelling. It’s damn near as boring as faux found-footage or vampire movies these days. That’s not to discredit Villeneuve‘s efforts entirely, as the film has some powerful moments (just like the other titles referenced above), but it ultimately rests on the strength of its climactic reveal, which some may find to be devastating and powerful, but left us wondering, is that it? [read our review]
Release Date: April 2011
“Cold Fish” – Sushi Typhoon/Nikkatsu – dir. Sion Sono
Synopsis: The weak-willed owner of a fish shop descends into madness after encountering a successful rival who also happens to be a nasty serial killer (apparently based on a real person).
What You Need To Know: Japanese filmmaker Sono is batshit insane, but an exciting talent. His 4-hour masterwork “Love Exposure” needs a U.S. release on DVD (please!), but his latest, which we caught at VIFF, is another strong, transgressive work that sees him exploring similar topics of interest (manipulation, religious iconography, weak-willed fathers, dead mothers and horribly cartoonish, hateful stepwives amongst all the blood-letting) and pushing the gore to even further levels of absurdity than in “Love Exposure.” It’s a crazy, but ultimately rewarding watch, and we sure hope more of Sono’s films make it to US theaters in the future, as he’s making movies his way; and his way is unlike anyone else’s.
Release Date: TBD
— Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Erik McClanahan, Chris Bell, Gabe Toro, & RP