Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: Coriolanus

Coriolanus (2011)
Directed By: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain

The plays of William Shakespeare have been adapted, dissected and pulled-apart on screen since the invention of film. Over the decades, various directors have attempted to sell the Bard's timeless tales to new generations of audiences, all to varying degrees of success. While some purists may shrug off the adaptations that have supplanted the plots to modern times, this latest re-imagining of Coriolanus is an exceptional argument as to why it's sometimes appropriate to give a modern twist on a classic tale.

Roman General Caius Martius 'Coriolanus' (Ralph Fiennes) is a creature of war. Raised single-handedly by his a tyrant of a mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), Coriolanus only knows how to communicate with weapons of warfare. Egged on by his ambitious mother, he seeks election to the powerful office of Consul. However, the few times he ventures forth to speak to the public, the end result is chaotic as his starving countrymen voice their outrage over the prolonged war and famine they've suffered at his hands as a General. Not one to keep his rage in check, Coriolanus' verbal outburst results in a full-blown riot which forces him to flee Rome and join ranks with his bitter enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Coriolanus will take back Rome on his own terms -- his fellow countrymen be damned.

Although little is known about Coriolanus' political motivation (does he really crave the Consulship for any other reason than personal gain or is he just following through on mother's orders?), he remains a fascinating character nonetheless. His all-consuming arrogance sometimes briefly gives way to quieter, more emotional moments, often shared with his mother or wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain). Although these scenes of psychological vulnerability are few and far between, they suggest an inner-torment; a softer, more human, side to Coriolanus that, unfortunately, always recedes into the background when his rage comes to the forefront. As played by Fiennes, Coriolanus is a commanding presence -- capable of instilling fear in even his most strongest opponents. Fiennes is a force to be reckoned with and his performance is nothing short of captivating. The reason you want to learn more about the actual man behind the facade of the feared General is because of his wonderful performance.

Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave
The rest of the cast are all equally excellent, specifically Redgrave as Volumnia, Coriolanus' mighty mother. Her ambition and unwavering love for her only son is beautifully executed in all of Redgrave's scenes. An absolute powerhouse of a performance, it's a shame Redgrave wasn't recognized with an Oscar nomination. Chastain is solid in the underwritten role of Coriolanus' wife. We aren't sure why she's so loyal to her violent husband or why she's so submissive to the will of his mother, but Chastain more than holds her own in a performance that rounds out a terrific debut year for her. As Tullus Aufidius, Butler is all barely concealed rage -- he loathes Coriolanus and, when he reluctantly agrees to help his sworn enemy reclaim Rome, it slowly begins to dawn on him that he may have made a fatal error in judgment in trusting Coriolanus in the first place.

Filmed as though it were a modern political documentary -- its jerky, handheld war footage revolves around issues like democracy, class wars, political egos and the nation state -- Coriolanus is a stunning technical achievement, nailing all of its brutal scenes of familial intimacy and violent warfare out in the field. Wearing camouflage, his face covered in blood and warpaint, the audience is left to wonder if Coriolanus -- reduced to a deadened shell of a solider -- even has an ounce of humanity left in him, once all is said and done.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Film Noir Series: Gun Crazy (1950)

My latest Film Noir Spotlight entry for Next Projection. The seventh film on my list is Gun Crazy (1950).

A gun-crazy man sets his sights on a dangerous dame. Their shared infatuation with pistols – memorably captured in one of the most bizarre seduction sequences in American cinema – results in a whirlwind of criminal activity for this trigger-happy pair. A precursor to Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic Bonnie & Clyde, Gun Crazy is a stunning technical achievement capped off with two electric lead performances.

Originally released in 1950 as Deadly is the Female, the film came and went, rapidly falling off the radar when critics panned it and audiences failed to show up. Later re-titled as Gun Crazy, director Joseph H. Lewis’ once underrated gem is now recognized in films circles as an innovative crime drama that has since been included in the National Film Registry.

As a youth, Bart Tare (a young Russ Tamblyn) is sentenced to time in a reform school and, later, a stint in the military, after stealing a pistol. The aimless, gun-obsessed youth grows into an aimless, gun-obsessed adult (John Dall). His first day of freedom starts with time spent at a carnival with two former childhood pals and ends with him falling head-over-heels in love with an English sharpshooter named Annie “Laurie” Starr (Peggy Cummins). Their intense attraction is mutual and the two quickly wed and set out for a life spent robbing banks. Gun Crazy is an unfettered social commentary on gun worship in America. Based on a short story by MacKinlay Kantor, the film crackles with barely contained energy, fuelled by the chemistry between Dall and Cummins.

Lewis insisted on giving his actors breathing room, encouraging them to improvise dialogue, specifically during their heist scenes. The main bank robbery sequence at the centre of the film was shot in one long take from the backseat of the getaway car. Equipped with a groundbreaking portable camera, it elevated Gun Crazy above and beyond what a typical B-movie could achieve. It’s a beautifully executed series of events, from robbery to getaway, which later influenced the likes of Arthur Penn and Quentin Tarantino. You’re just grateful that, as an audience, you feel as if you’re an accessory to their crimes.

John Dall and Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy
Bart is a killer shot, but he’s no killer. His love for guns contradicts his discomfort with the notion of murder. His years in the military didn’t harden him in that regard. Emotionally fragile, yet twitchy in his constant need to reach for his gun, Bart is a quietly sympathetic figure. He sees his gun as an extension of himself – his reason for living; that is, until he meets Laurie. He’s a fundamentally decent man who is easily swayed by a dangerous woman: in short, the archetypal noir protagonist. As Bart, the lanky and jittery Dall gives a charming performance; imagine Jimmy Stewart as a Clyde Barrow-type.

As Laurie, one of the most dominant femmes you’re likely to come across in a noir, Cummins is dynamite – both sexy and vulnerable, she exudes a fiery confidence. She hints at a violent past, but her nature is more primitive and bloodthirsty than even Bart knows. She’s an alluring enigma but her love for Bart is undeniably genuine, an interesting twist on the traditional femme fatale.

Dall and Cummins exude a raw sexuality rarely seen in American cinema at the time. Their romance is so believable that the quieter scenes they share together are just as compelling as their bank robberies. As Bart tells Laurie, they go together “like guns and ammunition.”

Gun Crazy remains as fresh and thrilling as it was during its initial release. It’s one of those quietly heralded Hollywood pictures that few audiences have seen. It deserves to be dissected, discussed and admired for its technical achievements and largely improvised performances from the exceptional Dall and Cummins. Captivating from start to finish, Gun Crazy is must-see cinema for any film connoisseur. It’s as entertaining as it is influential.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Movie Rant: The debate over the Oscar nominations

Every year, film critics and fans around the world get a severe case of amnesia and forget how the Academy Awards often leave us disappointed and bewildered. Every year we come back for more, only to relive disappointment all over again. I think we all keep coming back for more because, deep down, we are waiting for the year when the Oscars do something right -- and start taking risks for once.

I know most people brush off the Oscars as trivial -- and they are, essentially! However, the movie fan in me would just love it if it would actually become what it proclaims to be: a place where true artists are recognized for their body of work. Alas, it's all about gaining viewership and nominating movies and actors that either buy their way in or get nominated purely on popularity and monetary value. So, each year, we go through this cycle again -- wondering why we even bother watching in the first place.

For a full list of this years nominees, click HERE.

The Oscars had the chance to take some risks this year -- we all know they are long overdue, especially since 2011 was such a wonderful year for smaller films like Shame, Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Midnight in Paris, among others. All are worthy contenders, yet only Woody Allen's hit was recognized by the Academy. When I wrote about my disappointment over the SAG Award nominations last month I still held out hope that the Oscars would correct some of their mistakes -- mainly in their decision to not nominate Michael Fassbender, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Shannon and Andy Serkis. I was mistaken and should have known better.

There are nine Best Picture nominees this year -- they just couldn't make it an even 10 and give the last spot to Shame, eh? They just had to snub what is arguably the best film of the year simply because of its explicit rating? But, I guess no one ever said the Academy wasn't comprised of a bunch of old, backward prudes anyway.

Oddly enough, the best category this year is Best Director (with the exception of Alexander Payne for The Descendants, whose spot should have gone to Steve McQueen for Shame). But it is wonderful to see Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) all in the running.

On a lighter note, it's lovely to see Canada get a couple of shout-outs with Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar receiving a Best Foreign Language Film nomination and Christopher Plummer's well-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Beginners. It's also nice to see a lot of love for The Artist, Hugo, The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris and Moneyball (with the awkward exception of Jonah Hill being nominated ...A-BUH?!).

So, what do you think? What do you like or dislike about this years nominations?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Movie Review: The Descendants

The Descendants (2011)
Directed By: Alexander Payne
Based on the Novel By: Kaui Hart Hemmings
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard

When it comes to Alexander Payne, one expects to meet quirky and beautifully drawn characters surrounded by everyday issues that ultimately set off a series of events that eventually reveal the inner humanity of its main players. Dark and satirical, Payne's films tend to leave memorable, and emotional, impacts. The acclaim his previous work has garnered over the years is well-deserved, especially when discussing the wonderful and underrated About Schmidt (2002). Expectations were high with the release of The Descendants, Payne's first film in nearly seven years. Thus far, the film has become a critical darling, with both film circles and audiences singing its praises. Imagine my surprise when, after finally viewing the Oscar frontrunner, I was left disappointed and bewildered by the high praise it has received.

Matt King (George Clooney) is a direct descendant of some of Hawaii's original settlers and, through a line of inter-marriages, a native princess. As the chief trustee of the King family's 25,000 acres of land on Kauai's South Shore, Matt must make the final decision on whether or not his family should sell their private piece of paradise to a bunch of developers. His decision is quickly put on hold with his wife's Jet Ski accident -- an accident that puts her in a coma and on the brink of death. As his wife clings to life, Matt, a self-professed "backup parent", must grapple with impending widowhood while struggling to bond with his two daughters; rebellious teen, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller). To add to the rapidly thickening plot, Matt discovers that his wife had been having an affair with a realtor named Brian (Matthew Lillard) whose own wife (Judy Greer) was also unaware of the relationship. Matt sets off to investigate his wife's affair, dragging his daughters along in an effort to force a bond between them.

Payne manages to balance multiple narrative threads, weaving them into a coherent story focused on the struggles of the King clan. However, despite the fact that the film was meant as a character study, the film is surprisingly devoid of any real emotional heft. Payne, a usually insightful and evocative storyteller, has left his audience hanging. The Descendants barely scratches the surface of the inner turmoil of his characters, resulting in an emotionally detached story about some guy trying to come to terms with where life has suddenly taken him. Everything about the film is "surface" right down to the cloying voice-over narration that insists on having Matt tell us what he is feeling, but rarely showing us. Where Payne utilized voice-over narration to both heartbreaking and hilarious perfection in About Schmidt and Election (1999), he struggles here to truly reveal anything of substance about Matt.

Clooney and Woodley are both good and play well off one another, although I think Miller, as the precocious Scottie, is the true standout in the film. It's well-acted, considering what little the actors were given to work with in terms of character nuances. In a year where there was a wealth of standout films (and performances), it's hard to believe that The Descendants is what is really hitting an emotional nerve with critics and audiences.

Check out this REVIEW by Jason McKiernan of Next Projection. He perfectly put into words how I felt about The Descendants. I couldn't have said it better myself.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Movie Rant: Why I Dislike the Term 'Chick Flick'

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
In the year since I got Twitter (@laura_grande13) I've become a bit obsessed. It has introduced me to a whole bunch of film fans from around the world and I'm grateful for it. It has also led to some interesting conversations, like the one I had earlier this week about the term "chick flick."

I recently got a comment from some guy who was writing in response to a tweet I wrote regarding the fact that I wasn't a big fan of the movie Love Actually and that I'd never actually seen The Notebook. The guy responded with: "Pfft. What kind of woman are you?" What the what?! Apparently, all women are expected to swoon over tales of romance and unrequited love. I guess we all love movies where a woman has to sweat it out for two hours before a guy finally admits that he loves her. Well, I never got the memo. I didn't say anything in response to the guy's tweet (which is very unlike me), but it irritated me to no end.

A few days later, I got into a Twitter discussion with a follower of mine about the term "chick flick" and we went back and forth discussing the reasons behind our intense dislike of the term (many other women, and some men, that I know also loathe the term). But before you say we're merely overreacting, hear me out.

First of all, I think "chick flick" shouldn't be classified as a genre (or sub-genre) -- most movies of this type arguably fall under the category of romantic comedy. Or even a romantic drama. A "chick flick" suggests that the film will likely be fluffy, formulaic, far-fetched and devoid of a decent script -- i.e. something only women will (and should) enjoy. It stereotypes women in terms of their sex, suggesting we all want the same things in life, i.e. marriage and kids. It's that assumption that only certain movies appeal to women and are, as a result, somewhat of a "lesser" film because of it.

That being said, I realize that not everyone objects to the "chick flick" label. I even know some women who use it themselves and don't find anything wrong with the term. But, I can't help my reaction towards it.

Gender specific genre terms are unnecessary. For example, Die Hard is an action movie -- it's not a "male action flick." Sure, most action films are lambasted by critics the same way romantic comedies tend to be (for a lot of the same reasons, too); however, an action film is never brushed off and dismissed with quite the same flippant attitude that comes with a movie labelled as a "chick flick." I think the label "chick" in and of itself to represent the female gender is derogatory, but that's a whole separate issue.

Naturally, there's our understanding that films are marketed to a specific target audience; obviously certain films will appeal to certain types of people. However, it should never be used to automatically assume an audience. But that is, unfortunately, what happens and the majority of the film-going public buy into it. For example, I love Die Hard but I really, really disliked Pretty Woman. So what does that mean? According to Mr. Twitter Guy, it means I'm not making a "regular woman" choice when it comes to films. But, what it really means is simply that I liked one movie more and didn't enjoy the other. That's it.

Bruce Willis in Die Hard
So, when I see a trailer for a movie starring Reese Witherspoon or Kate Hudson, they aren't "chick flicks", they are romantic comedies. And romantic comedies just aren't my cup of tea (with a few exceptions like Bridget Jones' Diary, for example). It's not because I'm rebelling against a stupid term, but because romantic comedies just aren't usually my bag, and that should be fine.

It's alarming how often movies that aren't even romantic comedies are considered "chick flicks" simply because the cast is mainly comprised of women, like The Help. Yet, male-dominated films, like something directed by Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, for example, are films, not "prick flicks" (as Gloria Steinhem wrote).

I know a couple of guys in my life who enjoy the odd romantic comedy (Notting Hill, in particular, comes to mind), yet you'd be hard-pressed to see them admit that outside of their circle of friends. And that's just silly. Why does one's gender have to be a factor in which films we like?

Like what you want to like. Watch whatever film you prefer. Despite the fact that the Hollywood studio machine tells us that certain films are geared towards specific audiences, don't buy into it. I'm tired of people assuming I love Julia Roberts' romantic comedies simply because I'm a woman (it happens more often than you'd think). My favourite film is The Godfather -- because I love film and I think it's a great one. But I also love An Affair to Remember and I still bawl when I watch Titanic.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Film Noir Series: The Set-Up (1949)

Robert Ryan as Stoker Thompson
My latest Film Noir Spotlight entry for Next Projection. The sixth film on my list is The Set-Up (1949).

Before there was Raging Bull, there was The Set-Up, Robert Wise’s brutally devastating glimpse into one night in the life of an aging, struggling boxer. It’s no great surprise, then, to hear Martin Scorsese waxing poetic about the influential merit of the film on the DVD’s commentary track. The Set-Up is a potent noir classic; a gritty documentary-type film made well before such a style even existed.

Right from the opening frame, it sets itself apart from other Hollywood releases in the late-1940s. Devoid of any soundtrack, the opening credits pan over a brutal fight in a boxing ring – a perverse, violent “dance” that only ends when one man is finally knocked out, to the crowd’s roaring approval. Robert Wise, a director often associated with his upscale musicals like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), zeros in on the sights and sounds of a boxing match to recreate an authentic atmosphere.

Based on a Joseph Moncure March poem (which, in actuality, had a black ex-convict at the heart of its narrative, not a white boxer), The Set-Up moves along briskly in real time. At 35 years of age, Bill ‘Stoker’ Thompson (Robert Ryan) is considered “over-the-hill” by the bloodthirsty mobs that flock to the sweat-drenched boxing matches at the Paradise City arena. His own manager (George Tobias) is so sure that Stoker will go down in his match that he takes “dive” money from a gambler who goes by the pseudonym Little Boy (Alan Baxter) – and neglects to inform Stoker. Despite desperate pleas from his wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), to retire, Stoker insists he has one more big fight left in him.

The film unfurls slowly, gradually familiarizing the audience with Stoker as he prepares for his duel in the ring against a much younger opponent. With its revolving door of compelling secondary characters, all of whom offer their own personal tales of woe and victory, The Set-Up is a stripped down tale of the physical and psychological struggles of men like Stoker. All the boxers in the room are big dreamers although, judging from their anxious chatter, they are all too aware that their one-time shot at fame is fleeting.

Lensed by cameraman Milton Krasner, you can practically smell the stale air and feel each punch thrown. Alternating between intimately brutal, bloody close-ups and jarring wide shots, the fight scenes demonstrate both stunning choreography on the part of the actors and superior camerawork by the crew. Like gladiators in the Coliseum, the men in the ring are modern day warriors, complete with a powerful fan base that can be heard screaming and stomping from their dressing room. The crowd is comprised of those who place the bets and those who just love a bloody exhibition – like the blind man who has his friend narrate the fight sequences and the housewife who embarrasses her husband by screaming obscenities in her quest for more blood.

With his weathered features – complete with cauliflower ears, five o’clock shadow and upper lip sweat – Ryan breathes life into the role of Stoker. Considering his years as a boxer in college prior to acting, Ryan is a natural, carrying himself like a battered, yet determined, athlete. Looking as though he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Ryan gives a remarkable performance. His Stoker is one of the finest incarnations of a struggling athlete in film. His scenes with Audrey Totter as his wife, Julie, are particularly compelling, adding depth to both of their characterizations.

The Set-Up remains a startlingly raw slice-of-life narrative that more than earns its place as an influential noir classic. It balances a superbly crafted story with exquisitely choreographed fight sequences, all of which is anchored by an understated, naturalistic performance from Robert Ryan. It’s a knockout.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Film Noir Series: Born to Kill (1947)

My latest Film Noir Spotlight entry over at Next Projection. You can check out the review HERE. The fifth film on my list is Born to Kill (1947).
A beautiful woman watches a tall, brooding man playing a game of craps at a casino. She watches him out of the corner of her eye as he rolls the pair of dice. When their eyes eventually meet, the man’s mouth lifts into a tiny smile. This wordless exchange lasts only a couple of moments, but the powerful connection between the two leads at the centre of Born to Kill is undeniably palpable.
Based on the James Gunn pulp novel, Deadlier Than The Male, this oft-overlooked noir is arguably one of the nastiest incarnations of the genre. Adapted for the screen by Eve Greene and Richard Macaulay, Born to Kill goes against type by featuring a female in the lead – a woman just as despicable as her male counterpart. This unconventional noir doesn’t rely on the familiar tropes of the genre. The film is devoid of any flashback narratives or voice-overs provided by a down-on-his luck private eye. Instead, the plot revolves around the two villains at the centre, one of whom happens to be a man with a seductive edge.
Beautiful socialite Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) finds her soul mate in the form of a psychotic murderer named Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney). After her first glimpse of him at the casino, she’s drawn to his dark good looks and finds his grim persona irresistible. When she discovers that Sam is behind the grisly murder of an acquaintance, Helen keeps her lips sealed, preferring instead to recount the bloody scene with him privately, with breathless passion. It’s violence as foreplay for Helen and Sam. In a reversal from the traditional femme fatale seducing the lead male, it’s actually Helen who can’t help but get caught up in Sam’s tangled web of violence and deceit. There’s just something about Sam that immediately draws a person to his side – everyone agrees to help him get away with murder, from his loyal friend Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) to Helen’s own foster sister, Georgia (Audrey Long).
Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor
Despite its stationary camera, the visuals in Born to Kill create a compelling, sometimes haunting, atmosphere – whether it’s a shot of dark shadows obscuring the corpse of a young woman or the image of Sam menacingly crouched in a corner of the room only moments before committing a double murder. Such visuals serve only to heighten the tension, more than making up for the films often-static camerawork.
As Helen, Claire Trevor is nothing short of a revelation. Her barely concealed desire for Sam and her flippant attitude towards his violent nature touch on the dark recesses of her own soul. She hides her true nature beneath a warm and welcoming exterior, a fa├žade that only begins to crack when her own freedom, or that of Sam’s, is under serious threat. As one character tells her: “You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw.” Shrewd and manipulative, Helen takes what she wants and it’s a pleasure watching Trevor triumph in the role. She’s so good that you’ll catch yourself rooting for Helen.
Despite not being a strong enough actor to bring out the smaller nuances in the character of Sam, Lawrence Tierney is still strangely alluring in the role. We don’t know why Sam is so angry, only that he’s a hardened sociopath who can “make people or break them.”
In the minor role of private investigator Matthew Arnett, Austrian actor Walter Slezak excels as portraying the sleazy underbelly of a man less interested in justice and more interested in monetary gains. Although the role is under-written, Slezak succeeds at portraying yet another loathsome character in a film full of such types.
With two mesmerizingly evil lead characters, Born to Kill manages to wade through its melodrama to present an exciting and unconventional noir that is both dark and deliciously wicked. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Movie Rant: My Favourite Films of 2011

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in Shame
Another year has come and gone and, like every other film fan on the planet, I've decided to compile a list of my favourite films of 2011. Going through reviews from the past year, I realized that I hadn't seen enough truly great films to make a list of 10. So, instead, I'll have to settle for a list of eight.

Keep in mind I haven't seen the following films (some of which likely would have made the list had I seen them on time): The Descendants, The Adventures of Tintin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Separation, Albert Nobbs and Warrior.

My Top 8 Films of 2011
1) Shame
Controversy over its explicit rating aside, Shame is a close study of the isolating nature of addiction -- that gradual separation from the tangible and the emotional. Some of the most revealing scenes in the film are often the ones with little or no dialogue and Michael Fassbender's performance is nothing short of astonishing. Shame will stay with you long after the final credits.

2) The Artist
It's a vibrant and richly texualized film. Although the idea may not be new and some may argue that the premise itself is a bit of a gimmick, it's an undeniable crowd-pleaser and a beautiful one at that. With its two charming leads at the centre, The Artist is, above all, a love letter to cinema's past.

Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life
3) The Tree of Life
Audiences and critics alike will be hard-pressed to come up with a list of other films that are as ambitious, unique and full of meaning as Terrence Malick's latest. The Tree of Life is a bit of an enigma -- an often puzzling, yet incredibly powerful, film that deals with love, loss, death, nature and the universe. Without a linear narrative, the film includes long interludes of vivid cosmic and prehistoric visions. Spiritual and artsy, The Tree of Life challenges mainstream ideas of what a Hollywood film can achieve.

4) Hugo
One of the most visually beautiful films of the year, Hugo wraps you in a blanket of movie passion and nostalgia. Led by a wonderful ensemble cast, Martin Scorsese has created a haunting, yet whimsical, ode to the original pioneers of film.

5) Moneyball
There's no denying the long love affair that American cinema has had with the game of baseball. Moneyball is the best sports films to be released in years as it delves into the behind-the-scenes drama and inner workings of what it takes to build a winning team. Thanks to Brad Pitt's greatest performance to date, Moneyball reminds us that, despite the abundance of riches in professional sports, there are those who really do care -- for love of the game.

6) Martha Marcy May Marlene
Writer-director Sean Durkin has crafted a compelling debut feature that is ultimately a fascinating commentary on familial ties and paranoia. Elizabeth Olsen gives the kind of breakthrough performance that most up-and-comers can only dream about. She's quietly devastating and she makes it impossible to look away.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain in Take Shelter
7) Take Shelter
With its slow-burning narrative, Take Shelter is a quietly unsettling indie hit that is more character study than apocalyptic thriller. In the lead role, Michael Shannon is remarkable. His quietly commanding performance is one of the highlights of the year and it's fascinating watching this gentle character battle his inner demons.

8) Midnight in Paris
With its commentary on the folly of nostalgia and the assumption that everything was a whole lot better "back in the day", Woody Allen has crafted a welcome escape from blockbusters and franchise sequels. Guided by Owen Wilson in the lead, the film takes a delightful, whimsical tour of Paris in the present day and the 1920s, where it once seemed as though only intellectuals and artists roamed the streets.

What are your favourite films of 2011?