There remains one month left in the decade, and soon we'll see 2020. This begins the first in a series of articles compiling some of the UCFS execs' favourite films of the past ten years.
The start of a new decade brings new promise and an endless amount of possibilities for the world of film and entertainment. We definitely started off the year with a bang with Kathryn Bigelow’s history making win of the Best Director award at the 82nd annual Academy awards. Her win sparked discussions regarding the wage gap, lack of female filmmakers and what exactly makes a feminist film. The beginning of the decade also served as the start of the end of one of the most popular literary/filmic franchise, Harry Potter. Other highlights? Toy Story 3 busting out as the highest-grossing film of the year, both in terms of money and tears shed from moviegoers, Hailee Steinfeld’s breakout performance in True Grit and the world’s introduction to the term Catfish (and we’re not talking about the animal). But what were the best films of the year? Read below to see what our executives and members picked:
Scout Tafoya of RogerEgbert.com considers 2011 to be the best year for cinema, countering arguments for 1939. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was the highest grossing film of the year, also the highest grossing film in its franchise, and set the single-day and opening-weekend record in the US and Canada. 2011 was also the year that the Shrek franchise became the first animated film series to gross more than $3 billion with the release of Puss in Boots. In world news, Japan was rocked by tsunamis that reached run-up heights (how far the wave surges inland above sea level) of up to 128 feet, causing a level-7 nuclear meltdown. Osama bin Laden was killed, and the world was rocked by the Arab Spring. In good news, over two billion people worldwide watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the world was cursed with the song “Friday” by Rebecca Black. 2011 was also the year that the Space Shuttle Discovery launched for the final time after nearly 27 years of spaceflight.
Rule #2: The Double Tap
Zombieland: Double Tap | Directed By Ruben Fleischer | R | Horror-Comedy | 99 Minutes
by Jocelyn Illing
Watching Zombieland: Double Tap was like seeing an old friend. Although the two of you have not seen each other in quite some time, you have not forgotten the special bond that you share and the memories that you have made together. Being separated for so long has made you forget just how great they are and how much you have missed them. At this difficult time in your life, they are just what you needed.
The film picks up years after the previous film left off with the gang now living in the White House. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Wichita (Emma Stone) are still together, but their relationship is far from domestic bliss. Although Columbus seems content with where they are, it is obvious that Wichita has become restless and craves independence. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), on the other hand, has settled quite nicely into his father figure role towards Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). However, as she is now an adult, Little Rock has inherited her sister’s taste for independence and adventure, leading her to steal Tallahassee’s car in search of something new to call her own. What follows is a wild goose-chase as Wichita races after her sister and Columbus and Tallahassee follow close-behind.
What made the original film a classic, and the latest film a success, are the expertly written fearsome foursome. Columbus is a cute as ever; a dorky geek boy obsessed with order lists and rules. Awkward with girls and the possessor of a heart of gold, Columbus is the underdog that the audience loves and roots for. Woody Harrelson reprises his iconic role as Tallahassee the hilarious and outrageous scene-stealer, the vessel for a string of quotable one-liners. In this instalment we see an even softer, paternal side of Tallhasse as he struggles to hide his fear for Little Rock as she wanders the country alone. Just like the last film, Emma Stone proves to be the true bad-ass of the film. However, although her character continues to kick ass and fight to protect her sister, I could not help but feel that Stone was not putting a full effort into the character. Now that she is an Oscar winner, is she too cool for action films? Finally we have Little Rock, who is now an actual ADULT if you can believe it. Like many young adults, she is struggling to find her own identity and prove to her family, and the viewers, that she isn’t a kid anymore.
The film also includes a few new characters, who proved to be both excellent and questionable additions to the series. One of the best additions is Nevada (Rosario Dawson), the smart, sassy and resourceful owner of an Elvis-themed motel who proves to be quite the match for Tallahasee. Less interesting is Zoey Deutch’s character Madison, a girly-girl dumb blonde whose squeaky high-pitched voice will definitely make you want to wear earplugs. Although she provides a contrast to the other characters, with her bright pinks clothes and aforementioned vocal style, Madison doesn’t really add anything to the narrative, apart from being the butt of a slue of dumb blonde jokes.
The film’s plot almost parallels the original’s. It relies heavily on references and the formula of the first film; killing zombies, a surprise swam and a climactic moment in which you think all is over for the heroes. However, it is these specific narrative points that made the first film so successful. True fans of the film will welcome them again with open arms, as they will remind them just why they love the franchise. You will watch as the characters struggle to acquire vehicles, list off the rules for surviving Zombieland and follow Tallahassee in his search for his favourite dead celebrity.
In conclusion, I truly believe that this film is a movie for the fans. It brings nothing new to the world of cinema but provides the audience with a type of nostalgia, transporting them back to a time when the world was more simple. It’s simply a feel-good, Friday night, fun movie. However, if you are not a fan of the first film, this is not the movie for you.
Keeping Secrets Are Ye?
The Lighthouse | Directed by Robert Eggers | Horror | 14A | 1 H 49 MINS
by Anton Carpentier
Robert Eggers returns with another New England based horror film titled The Lighthouse. A film centered around two men, in a phallic structure, on a rock, in middle of the ocean. What could go wrong? According to Eggers, absolutely everything can and will go wrong. The film is brutal exploration of our psyche, using horrific physical elements to portray the fragility of our minds. This guttural depiction of sanity, body, and trauma is embodied in the films two characters: Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Winslow is a nomad and rookie in the world of being a wicky (a lighthouse attendant). Wake is his polar opposite, he is old and experienced, having dedicated most of his life to “the light”. What that means is really for you to find out. Their relationship ebbs and flows from being combativeness and being intimate friends. With alcohol being the catalyst for the latter.
The film wastes no time getting into the story. Within the first few minutes we understand the atmosphere, location and have met both characters. Unlike most horror films which chose to build up to scary elements, The Lighthouse attacks the viewer with almost immediate discomfort. Not a scene goes by without something strange occurring. This is mainly accomplished by the excellent performances and the director’s faith that the audience can experience fear through these characters. That’s not to say we feel empathy towards these men, in fact, I’d argue it’s a fear of not truly knowing who these men are. A sentiment that’s reflected in the film’s unpredictable nature.
Speaking of nature, the film brilliantly uses natural imagery to convey thematic elements and when the wind changes, so does the direction of the film. Additionally, the use of oceanic imagery to illicit an alien feeling of fear is a reoccurring motif. Gulls and crabs are an ever-present source of discomfort, emotionally and physically. That isn’t even mentioning the odd mermaid that will make you reevaluate how you see, well, mermaids. I focus so heavily on this because it’s what makes this film truly unique, and I feel makes the meat and bones of the film worthwhile. To say anything else about the actual film, would sully the experience of this film.
I have to say this movie is a real treat, it’s disturbing, it’s gritty, and it’s hard to recommend. The best kind of movie. Should you watch it? Yes. Will you hate me for telling you to see it? Depends. Could this movie ruin your love of East Coast cuisine? Probably. Although, I still think you should see it.
Overall, this movie has to be one of the best of the year. It’s fresh, it’s fishy and it’s weird.
Does It Float?
By Jacob Bews
It Chapter 2 | Directed by Andy Muschietti | Horror | R | 2 H 50 MIN
The Losers are back in It Chapter 2, as they face off against the return of the surreal horror of Pennywise the clown. The story picks up 27 years later, the Losers are grown, relatively successful adults, who seem to mysteriously have forgotten their past battles and friendships in their hometown of Derry, Maine. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls the Losers back to Derry to finish the task of putting down the ferocious Pennywise—then, all the memories, both the happy ones and the traumatic, begin to flood back.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The book’s narrative is a back and forth between the Loser’s past and present, with the story of their childhood narrating in turns with their present. To adapt the book to film, the screenwriters chose to divide these simultaneous stories into two films: the first film following the Losers as kids, and It Chapter 2 following them as adults.
Andy Muschietti (director the first It (2017), and Mama (2013)) returns to direct It Chapter 2, along with screenwriter Gary Dauberman (of Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018) and Annabelle Comes Home (2019)). The style of these two filmmakers comes through in It Chapter 2, as the film feels like a modern horror work such as Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Paranormal Activity (2007), or The Conjuring (2013)—replete with build up/payoff jump scares, complex sound design, and a reliance on typical ‘transgressive’ horror tropes (creepy old people, yucky disease man, etc.).
The second film boasts a nearly 3-hour runtime, 1 hour more than the first, which I felt quite heavily. The spectacle of the horror elements is dampened by the slow pace and long runtime of the film. Where I wanted to enjoy the hysterical insanity of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, I found myself bogged down, not only by the runtime, but also by the film’s ignorance of its own themes and narrative logic. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll look at what should’ve been a positive change for the film.
Taken from the novel, the opening scene features a hate-crime against a gay couple, which exemplifies Pennywise, who is tied at the roots to Derry, as a normative force which feeds on alienated people. As a departure from the novel, Richie (Bill Hader) is portrayed here as a closeted gay man, struggling with specific taunts from Pennywise (“I know your secret, your dirty little secret”) and the loss of the man he loved. The film does not close the thematic conflict from the opening of the film—the mob hatred of minorities, epitomized by the lynching scene—by having Richie own his identity in defiance of Pennywise (i.e. Derry) by showing that the Dancing Clown has no power over him, that the creature cannot use his sexuality against him, and so no one else can either. Rather, Richie stays silent. Richie never tells anyone, to the very end. A result which Derry, Pennywise, and the bullies would probably prefer. While Richie’s sexuality was (arguably) in the subtext prior to It Chapter 2, here it is the text, yet the filmmakers neglected to make this a meaningful change. What could’ve been an interesting and consequential departure from the book, becomes a superficial attempt at representation. Instead, I watched a film with a graphic hate-crime, and no attempt to address it, reducing it to shock value.
This issue with the film is only one piece of its baggage: Beverly’s (Jessica Chastain) central conflict is her relationship to men, and whether she will choose the right guy; Native American mysticism stereotypes which should have been left behind decades ago, and which reek of irresponsibility and indulgence on tired and racist horror tropes; and countless numbers of jokes at the expense of women, gay people, and fat people.
I really wanted to enjoy this film. There are attempts at sympathetic portrayals of the characters, at least. Most of the film, however, the characters felt more like vehicles to get from jumpscare to jumpscare. The humour does work at times, though mostly hit or miss. The chemistry between the Losers was mostly left behind in the last film, with each of the adults trying to act like their young counterparts, succeeding at times, but usually smelling of the awkwardness of 40 year olds repeating dated memes. Where their chemistry does return is in flashbacks to the young actors, with new scenes added from their pasts. The gory, fun, and amazing horror set-pieces, I found, were much overshadowed by its juvenile attitude towards the issues of oppression and societal violence that it brings up. It Chapter 2 remains unable to throw off the feeling of the filmmaker’s own ego, ignorance, and perceived reverence of a genre they claim to love.
You can reference The Thing all you like, but you can’t achieve the ambiguity, terror, and excellent pacing with superficial references.
It Chapter 2 has so much promise on which to float, but only manages to sink from its own overinflated ego.
A Giallo in Paris
by Marcus Ogden
Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart is a film I recently fell in love with. I first saw it at CUFF and was only recently able to watch it again, where I enjoyed it even more. The film takes place in Paris, 1979. Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn producer and alcoholic, wants to re-spark a flame between herself and her editor/ex-lover Lois (Kate Moran). Anne decides to base an ambitious new film around the recent murder of one of her actors. The masked killer behind the murder begins killing more members of Anne’s production one-by-one and the police have no interest in pursuing the case, so Anne takes it upon herself to find and stop him.
Knife + Heart is an homage to the Italian giallo, a genre of films from the 60’s-70’s I would describe as the lurid transition between noire murder mysteries and 80’s slashers. Giallo films are particularly obsessed with themes of female sexuality, violence, sanity, and the supernatural. The film has legs of its own to stand on and avoids the traps of shallow imitation or sledgehammer subtlety that a lot of other ‘homages’ typically fall into. The generic characteristics of giallo are incorporated in inventive new ways that give them a touch of genuine originality. However, for those in the know, there are subtle winks to the films of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and other notable giallo directors.
Knife + Heart stays true to the style of giallo in that it is a continuously stimulating sensory experience. The film has excellent cinematography and construction as it is rich with popping colours and contains many creative and interesting uses of lighting, editing, framing, and staging. The costumes all look great and really sell the 70’s atmosphere while still being clearly designed with purpose and character in mind. The killer in particular has one of the few great and memorable villain designs of this new era of horror. The soundtrack, composed by the band M83, is a great mix of synthwave jams and electro-fantasy music. Each track perfectly sets the tone of the scene and ties together in a film that takes on a wide range of tones. This blend of a great soundtrack and an exciting image that Knife + Heart achieves is a tribute to what made many Italian giallo films fun to watch, but even without that in mind both the sound and the visuals still hold up in a contemporary context as prime examples of quality.
The performances in Knife + Heart are worth taking note of. Vanessa Paradis captures the tragic nature of her character Anne but maintains an endearing quality throughout. Even when Anne does wrong, the viewer wants to see her redeem herself. The rest of the cast all have well defined characters that come together neatly and bring their own form of charm to the film. The plot itself is really fun to follow as it takes unexpected turns, shows some creative kills, and the mystery unravels. The film seamlessly shifts tonally from dark, to dreamlike, and even to comedic at points.
Knife + Heart is a film I wholeheartedly recommend, especially for giallo fans and LGBTQ+ film fans. I can see there are lots of other interesting points, other than its resemblance to giallo films, for other viewers to pick on when approaching the film from different stances such as its treatment of homosexuality or its approach to ideas of loss, obsession, and moving on. Sadly, the film has just finished its run on the streaming service MUBI. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind for when it may pop up for streaming or physical viewing in Canada again.
A Shot For Shot Remake Featuring Beyoncé? Yes Please.
The Lion King | Walt Disney Pictures
The Lion King | Directed by Jon Favreau | Adventure | PG | 1 H 58 MIN
Written by Anton Charpentier
There isn’t much that Jon Favreau brings to the table in this literal shot for shot remake of the original, other than removing the censorship of the word 'fart.' Yet, the film roars new life once more into the timeless story of The Lion King. This time as a “live action” retelling. Some may scoff because the film is still very much animated, as in they didn’t make real lions sing several songs by Elton John, much to our disappointment. What they did accomplish is something quite incredible: outstanding visual effects that very well could be considered real. Looking at the film through the mindset of visual prowess, it might be one of the best ever made, especially paired with such a great tale of growing up and discovering ourselves in the journey of life. An amazing ensemble also greatly benefits this film, dramatically and comedically. The only downside is that it shows restraint, read as fear, to become its own film and stand apart from the original; something I think this films precursor The Jungle Book (2016) actually managed to do.
The Lion King | Walt Disney Pictures
So, should you go see The Lion King? Well did you read the title? This thing has Beyoncé in it why haven’t you seen it you dummy! In all seriousness, it’s worth checking out, you’re not going to have a bad time watching this movie unless you suck as a person. Sure, you might be able to be a snob and question its relevance or even call it a cash grab, and you’d be right, but you’d also definitely annoy everyone. Yes, we all know the film is owned by Disney who owns half the world at this point, and yes, it’s not something you can bring up to earn yourself some cinema buff cred, but gosh darn it, those baby lions are so goddamn cute. Honestly, as I write this, I realize there’s no point in this review, either you’re going see it or you’re going to see it. The good news is that it’s better than the Aladdin movie that came out like two months ago, and better than Dumbo which came out four months ago. My god, they really are just pumping out these remakes, let’s just hope the Moana remake is at least two years away.
Overall, it’s a great story packaged with incredible animation, it’s hard to dislike. If you’re looking for a new movie, this isn’t what you’re looking for. If you love the visual effects and new film technology, this movie is an absolute treat, and the fact that it’s at times shot for shot give an impressive reference to what the animators were trying to reproduce. If you love Disney as much as I do, then you’re going to love this movie. If you prefer to watch edgy movies that you suggest to family and friends, many of whom pretend they will watch it but really never do because the movies you watch scare them, then go back to your cave and talk about Gaspar Noé with your Michael Haneke dolls. I’m kidding, we still love you film weirdos, just let us eat dinner in peace and quiet.
Family, Friends, and Finding Yourself
Actor Ellar Coltrane and Director Richard Linklater
Boyhood | IFC Films | Universal Pictures
Ellar Coltrane and Richard Linklater, years later.
Boyhood | IFC Films | Universal Pictures
Boyhood | Directed By Richard Linklater | R | 2 H 45 MIN
Written by Jocelyn Illing
Richard Linklater is a director who makes films that appear astonishingly real due to his enthralling scripts, and the impeccable talent of his actors. His 2014 drama Boyhood took realism to a whole new level by filming the project over the course of 12 years, allowing the audience to watch the actors grow alongside their characters. Through his film, Linklater proves that human expression finds its most powerful form in storytelling. Apart from being a form of entertainment, storytelling acts as a sort of oral history and allows voices to be heard. People to relate to one another’s experiences through their stories. Filmmaking has created a new form of storytelling that is both auditory and visual. Many filmmakers strive to use the tools at their disposal, such as lights, cameras, costumes and actors, to tell a story that is as authentic as possible. With Boyhood, Linklater has taken these tools and created a film that accurately displays a specific part of the vast human experience: growing up in early 21st century middle class America.
Boyhood chronicles the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from ages six to eighteen as he grows up, learns about life, all the while struggling to figure out who he is. His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is a hardworking woman, trying to make ends meet for her family. His father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke a.k.a. The Love of My Life) has been divorced from his mother for many years but continues to have a strong presence in his children’s lives by taking them on weekend excursions and appearing as the “good cop” parent in comparison to Olivia’s “bad cop.” His older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) often argues with him, and has a charming fascination with early 2000s music and pop culture. Over the course of almost three hours we watch as Mason changes schools, attends Harry Potter midnight releases, has his first drink and goes off to college, experiences that might resonate with many people, including myself.
Boyhood | IFC Films | Universal Pictures
As previously mentioned, what makes this film so fascinating is the fact that this film’s production history spans over a decade. Linklater’s artistic choice to shoot the actors as they aged alongside the characters not only adds authenticity to the film, but it also abolishes the jolt that many audiences experience while watching a film in which different actors play the same character at different stages in life. Many times, while watching a film, I have experienced this disruption and it has almost ruined the movie for me, as it forces me to work to figure out who is who. Boyhood’s continuity with its actors helps to hold the audience’s attention and made them truly believe in the character’s growth, making it seem as though we are literally watching Mason grow up. I have never seen something quite as ambitious, or successful, as Linklater’s style of filmmaking. His ability to pick out the important pieces from our adolescences and create a realistic portrayal of growing up is commendable. It is as if I grew up with Mason, experienced the same struggles as him and found myself in similar situations.
At the 87th annual Academy Awards, Boyhood received 6 nominations – Supporting Actress, Motion Picture of the Year, Supporting Actor, Achievement in Directing, Original Screenplay and Film Editing – with only one win for Patricia Arquette for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Although, in my opinion, the film did not receive the complete recognition it deserved, namely a Best Director Oscar for Linklater, Boyhood continues to be an extremely relatable film. It tells the story of a middle-class family coping with love and loss at all the stages of growing up. My hope is that this ambitious project will continue to resonate with audiences and cause future filmmakers to question what it truly means to make a realistic film. Boyhood is not only a classic coming of age story, but also a lesson in the endless possibilities in film as a storytelling medium.
Where John Wick Shoots Up Everything