10 movies of 2011 – and more: part 2

And here are another 5 movies in my list.

6. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is a pleasant comedy which may be one of Allen’s best films in the last decade along with “Match Point”(2005). It is quite funny and amusing, and it ends with a familiar bittersweet life lesson which somehow uncannily resonates with old Korean proverb: “The rice cake in other’s hand always looks better than the one in your hand.”

But let’s face it: the guy who will learn this lesson gets the fantastic chance every English literature major will crave for. Our hero Gil(Owen Wilson) is a modestly successful Hollywood writer, but his dream has not fulfilled yet – being recognized as a good novelist. Though he has been working on his first novel, he has not finished it yet, and he has been stuck with a fiancée who is definitely not his muse to help him – and her parents do not like him, by the way.

At least, when he goes to Paris with her and her parents, he is happy to walk around the streets, and, through some sort of time warp phenomenon on a certain street, he finds himself walking into Paris during the 1920s. He goes there every midnight, and he meets many famous figures in the art/literature world at that time, played by the stellar cast assembled for this film. He has a great time with them while getting some advices on his novel, and he even finds a possible new love. We all know the lesson we have learned through our life is waiting for Gil in the end(after all, the life is a one-way road, isn’t it?), but the movie is a charming stroll.

 7. Confessions

“Confessions” is a cold-blooded psychological thriller filled with dark, vicious humor which smirks at us and the victims even at the very end. With an uncompromising attitude, it handles well its disturbing subject with the impressive visual style and savage wit. In its warped reality, the young students are doing terrible things, and a teacher retaliates, and then the classroom becomes hell on earth.

It begins on the last day of the semester at a classroom of some Japanese junior high school. Though they will return to their school after a month, most of the students are very excited while waiting for the time to leave their classroom and enjoy spring break. They are mostly occupied with talking with or texting to their colleagues in the noisy classroom. They do not give a damn about what their teacher is going to tell to them, while never imagining the terror she will soon unleash upon them.

Compared to this terrific opening sequence, the rest of the film is relatively weak, but the film remains compelling, and it eventually throws a savage, powerful punch to us in the name of a perfect revenge with no mercy. It is so flawless and ruthless that you feel a little sorry for the target, but, as the perpetrator points out, he has it coming. Some of you may not like it because the movie single-mindedly cares about serving a dish called revenge very, very cold, but, what the heck, isn’t it a diabolically sweet, elegant revenge to be appreciated by the dark side inside all of us?

8. Mysteries of Lisbon

Watching “Mysteries of Lisbon” is like reading a book full of the stories to tell. There is one story at first, and then there are other interesting stories coming from here and there, or inside and outside. When part I was over with the line that amused me a lot, I wanted to see more stories, and I certainly got what I wished for in the part 2.

Based on the 19th century Portuguese novel with the same name written by Camilo Castelo Branco, the running time of this epic film is more than 4 hours, but it is not as boring as it seems. The movie is densely packed with the characters and the stories about them; starting with a young orphan, there are his mother, her lover in the past, a sleazy criminal who gets the luck of lifetime, and a wise, mysterious priest who seems to hover over almost all of the characters in the film, and there are more to come for your surprise and interest. The director Raoul Ruiz(this is his last work) make a sumptuous period drama, and there are lots of things to engage you into the stories in his film. The characters are constantly shuffled under the confident direction, and years and years have fluidly passed meanwhile… or haven’t they?

Its finale made me recall Marcel Proust’s “In Search for Lost Time”, the book I read at least twice during my reckless teenager years. I do not think I understood everything in that long masterpiece, but I am glad that I read it, because, thanks to this wonderful film, I started to understand what Proust tried to achieve in the later part of his book.

 9. Moneyball

The underdog sports dramas are usually about fighting against all odds for win, but “Moneyball” is a different kind of underdog sports drama – it is about managing with odds and numbers for win. For assembling the baseball team with the best chance to win the games, they tried a different way, and the result was a remarkable success.

Based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”, the movie is about how Billy Beane(Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, tries to assemble for a better team with the limited assets available to him. He encounters one nerdy analyst named Peter Brand(Jonah Hill), and Brand suggests a new way of recruiting players based Sabermetrics, the specialized analysis based on the statistical mathematics.

It works, and that eventually opened the door for a new way of managing baseball team a lot different from the tradition of more than 100 years. However, through its somber handling of the ending, the movie seems to imply that it is rather critical about the system which regards the players as something more or less than a bunch of digits in the computer data. People love baseball, but it has been strictly business to some people. They will try anything to control or increase the odds in plays if it seems to work; Sabermetrics only accelerates that trend. At least, there is still good old unpredictability on the field – for now.

10. Le Havre

It is now late December, and it is getting colder here in South Korea. The shabby arthouse theater I visited a week ago was a cold place with a very few audiences at that time(Besides me, there were only four audiences), and the theater manager even offered us the blankets, but it was okay for me at least, because watching “Le Havre” was a small warm experience that has grown on me since I left the theater late at that night.

Kaurismäki’s films are usually set in the urban area of Finland, and his unhappy characters are stuck in hard time while yearning for the escape from the ennui and dreariness of their daily life, as shown in “Shadows in Paradise”(1986) and “Ariel“(1988). But this time, ”Le Havre“ is a little different. Set in Le Havre, a French port city in Normandy, he presents us a middle-aged couple content with their poor lifestyle and happy to be together – and he makes a movie warmer and more accessible than before.

Marcel(André Wilms) is a shoeshine living in Le Havre. One day, he happens to meet an illegal immigrant boy named Idrissa, and he soon not only protects him but also tries to help him see his mother in London. Besides these two characters, there are also a cop chasing after them, Marcel’s helpful neighbours(except one guy), and Marcel’s sick wife. At the end of the film, something miraculous happens, but we can accept it as much as the other realistic parts of the story. As one South Korean critics once said, a good fairy tale does not come from nowhere; it comes from the reality, and, in its own droll way, “Le Havre” provides the hard reality to make that the small miracle in the film more precious and real. It is a small, sweet, and warm mug of hot cocoa feels warmer than I thought.

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