Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Movies Galore

By Skip Sheffield

We are heading into the home stretch of the holiday film season. There are so many films coming out, I couldn’t possibly get to them all, but here are a few notables.
I belong to two film critics groups: Florida Film Critics Circle and Southeastern Film Critics Association. Because of this, I am invited to advance screenings and some of the studios provide DVDs for viewing at home.
SEFCA asked each of its 47 members to submit a top ten favorite film list. I voted “The Artist,’ which opens Dec. 23, No. 1. The rest in descending order were Melancholia at 2, Moneyball, 3, War Horse 4, My Week With Marilyn 5, Descendants 6, The Muppets 7, J. Edgar 8, We Bought a Zoo 9 and Young Adult 10.
The rest of the SEFCA writers voted The Descendants No. 1, followed by The Artist 2, Hugo 3, Moneyball 4, Tree of Life 5, Drive 6, Midnight in Paris 7, Win Win 8, War Horse 9 and The Help 10.
George Clooney was voted Best Actor for Descendants while Meryl Streep got Best Actress for Iron Lady.
Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting actor for Beginners and Janet McTeer was Best Supporting actress for Albert Nobbs.
The Help won Best Ensemble and Martin Scorsese was Best Director for Hugo. Good ol’ Woody Allen got Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris.
The very funny film Rango was voted Best Animated Film and the very strange The Tree of Life got Best Cinematography.
It will be very interesting to see who scores at Academy Award time. I suspect The Artist will do better because A: it’s a masterpiece and B: it is all about Film.

The Artist is the first major silent, black-and-white film in more than 30 years. The production crew is French, but the film is set in Hollywood in the late 1920s at the ending of the silent film era. The film is written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius and it co-stars his wife Berenice Bejo as aspiring starlet Peppy Miller, who rides the coattails of a married movie star named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) to stardom.
George is a dashing Rudolph Valentino- Douglas Fairbanks kind of action star. George is at the peak of his stardom and wealth in 1927, but all that is about to change because talkies are coming and George thinks silent film is the only pure art film form.
“I am an Artist not a puppet,” he declares to ruthless studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman). George is so convinced silent film is the only way to go that he invests his life savings in a silent epic.
It is not hard to guess how this will go. What makes The Artist so great is that it tells its poignant story through body language and facial expression, not words. Minimal titles are used, and there is a bit of sound at strategic moments. At its core The Artist is a love story for and about film, and it is also a romantic love and redemption story; not just about a woman for a failing man, but of a servant’s devotion to his longtime employer. For that role of Clifton, George’s butler-chauffeur, James Cromwell will surely be recognized.

“Iron Lady”

If you like British history and great acting, I recommend Iron Lady. America’s most versatile actress, Meryl Streep crawls right into the skin of indomitable British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. If you don’t care for British history, you may find it on the dull side.

“Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse”

Yet to come is Steven Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. I have not seen the former, but I have read great things. The latter opens on Christmas Day and I assure you it is a most wonderful cinematic present. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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