Every thirty days, I like to post a list of my favorite films I’ve recently watched. Here are the best films I’ve seen throughout the month of September. This list is based on movies theatrically released here in Canada, and I do not include what I have seen at film festivals.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Ridley Scott’s ambitious quasi-prequel to Alien may not answer all of its big questions (or any for that matter), but it’s redeemed by its sheer visual spectacle, technical wizardry and emphasis on tone and atmosphere. Prometheus is not without problems – just ask the fine folks over at Red Letter Media – but director Ridley Scott takes chances and while some of his choices don’t always work, Prometheus is at least never boring. While weighing heavily on familiar science fiction conceits, Scott still injects enough horrific elements to label this sci-fi horror. After-all, stripped to its visceral essentials, the franchise began with a horror film meant simply to frighten us and gross us out. Unlike any of the sequels between this and the original, Prometheus is a horror movie first and foremost; a haunting visual grandeur eating away at subconscious terrors. But if there is any reason to see Prometheus, it is simply for the compelling performance by Michael Fassbender as a fastidious android named David. Fassbender plays David with a mixture of curiosity, detachment, and arrogance, an android who models his appearance intentionally like that of Peter O’Toole’s iconic Lawrence of Arabia – a performance so good it might help launch Prometheus into the cult stratosphere.
2: Killer Joe
Directed by William Friedkin
Screenplay by Tracy Letts
Killer Joe marks an unshakeable return for William Friedkin, the legendary director of The French Connection, To Live And Die In L.A. and The Exorcist. This vigorous mix of sex, violence and family values gone wrong is a roller-coaster ride, designed for those who like their thrillers spiced with some KFC-flavored rape. Killer Joe doesn’t hold back from its opening scene – full frontal nudity and all – with Gina Gershon’s assets in full display. Freidkin delivers a sleazy and insanely dark pic, but one that is also damned hilarious and which features one of the memorable onscreen maniacs since Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth.
Joe marks the director’s second collaboration with the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Tracey Letts. The two previously collaborated in 2007′s underrated, paranoia-laden thriller Bug, starring Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd. Joe pales in comparison to the brilliance of that near-masterpiece, but this Southern neo-noir thriller, sprinkled with a heavy dose of black humour, offers up an irresistibly bold dose of crazy. Soaked with gruesome and downright disturbing material, the pic is bound to offend sensitive viewers. Needless to say, there are moments that go well beyond the bounds of good taste.
3: The Intouchables
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Screenplay by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
The Intouchables finally had a North American release after breaking box office records in its native France and across Europe last year. This irreverent, uplifting odd-couple-buddy-comedy about trust and human possibility, is based on a true story of friendship between a handicap millionaire (Francois Cluzet) and his street smart ex-con caretaker (Omar Sy). The film will make you cry, laugh and gasp whether you want it to or not thanks to its strong cast and remarkably sensitive direction. Omar Sy and François Cluzet are superb in their roles making this another unexpected crowd-pleaser of 2012.
4: Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Director Wes Anderson might continue to be ignored and bypassed by mainstream movie-goers but fans of indie-art-house films will always flock to see his latest project. Moonrise Kingdom is best described as an offbeat underage love story that resembles a fractured fairy tale. Kingdom is lovingly crafted with an attention to detail that is breathtaking. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman, Anderson’s usual collaborator shoots on 16-millimetre stock that gives the images a warm nostalgic feel and the soundtrack/score is not only incredible – but one of the greatest ever assembled for the big screen. Anderson may be a little too calculated and a little too clinical in his direction, but he still gift wraps this package with some wonderful scenes: Without a doubt the goofy dance sequence which leads to an uncomfortable first kiss is by far the highlight. The leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are excellent given it is their first major film role, exhibiting none of the stiltedness and uncertainty that you would expect from amateur actors. Moonrise Kingdom is tender, sweet, awkward, smart, low-key and very much worth your time.
5: Magic Mike
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay by Reid Carolin
While at times a bit cliched and predictable, the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has a gift for making the best with undercooked characters and wafer-thin plot lines. Magic Mike is nonetheless extremely entertaining; a sexy, stylish film that while flashy, is never once trashy. This is a cautionary tale about aging, self-destruction and about the perils of having too much, too soon. The dance routines choreographed by Allison Faulk are lively and engaging in their own right, and Soderbergh clearly has a blast staging the performance scenes that involve campy props, workman-uniform-costumes, and physically demanding hip hop dance moves. The film’s energy is loose, infectious, carefree, liberated and undeniable. Channing Tatum is impressive and mesmerizing on the dance floor – for reasons other than his physique, and whatever his character and performance lack in terms of depth, he compensates for in sheer charisma and likability. But much like Killer Joe, the real scene stealer here is Matthew McConaughey, who literally throws himself into the part dominating every scene as Dallas, a father figure, trainer, coach, and shady businessman. Magic Mike may not be anything new, but Soderbergh’s sensitive direction, the simple screenplay, and strong performances make his one hell of a crowd-pleaser.
6- Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Nacho Vigalondo’s sophomore directorial effort unspooled at last year’s annual Toronto International Film Festival to a mixed audience reaction. The director has already proved himself a talent after his smart low budget time-travel debut, Timecrimes, but Extraterrestrial is a different beast, an idiosyncratic romantic comedy that masquerades as a sci-fi alien invasion flick. Vigalondo continues to sharpen his skill in not only merging genres but also directing a pic that gleams with spunk and a wicked sense of humour. Comedy is the hardest genre to tackle, but the director, along with his fabulous cast (consisting of only five actors), succeed in spades. Extraterrestrial might not be cluttered with grand action set pieces, thrills or violence, but it’s still very funny and extremely charming.
For those hoping to see aliens in this film, I can tell you right now that you won’t. Apart from one UFO hovering amidst the skyline, the film contains no other science fiction elements. The alien invasion is simply a device to keep the four characters confined to one location while shedding light on some of the less vivacious aspects of human attraction. Think Garreth Edward’s 2010 hit Monsters, only in place of a road movie, Extraterrestrial maintains a claustrophobic atmosphere situating itself entirely in and around an apartment complex. As the narrative unfolds, the spaceships remains immobile, the neighbourhood vacant, but the tension in the love triangle gradually increases. Vigalondo utilizes his environment wisely, directs his cast with confidence and delivers a a better-than-average feature by a filmmaker who merits watching.
– Ricky D