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January 2012

A Little Too Much Black and White

MOVIE REVIEW
Red Tails (2012)

Red-tails-elijah-kelley
Tina Mills/20th Century Fox

The true story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a fascinating examination of bravery and patriotism. These black men enlisted in the U.S. military during World War II and became successful fighter pilots to protect a country that would not even give them basic human rights. This slice of American history has all of the ammunition necessary for meaningful filmmaking. Think of the complexity of such a narrative; think of the conflicting emotions the young black soldiers must’ve had at the time; try to empathize with them. George Lucas, the executive producer and architect of “Red Tails” needs to go back to his dictionary, because empathy and sympathy are not the same things. His new creation is an unsophisticated World War II action film stripped of all gravitas. ”Red Tails” is little more than a superficial Hollywood product that cheapens the real achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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Working for the Skin-Deep Trade

MOVIE REVIEW
Girl Model (2012)

Girl-model-nadya-vall
Dogwoof

The dichotomous nature of the modeling industry is brutally exposed by documentarian duo David Redmon and Ashley Sabin in this stark exposé of the realities of the business. It’s a bleak and damning indictment of a trade that shatters any glamorous or aspirational illusions that may have still surrounded it, instead revealing it to be as sordid as many might have suspected.

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This Bird Has Flown

MOVIE REVIEW
Norwegian Wood (2010)

Norwegian-wood-kenichi-matsuyama-rinko-kikuchi
Soda Pictures/Red Flag Releasing

How do you make a movie that feels like 1967? Is it a special type of film stock? A perfectly chosen soundtrack? A kaleidoscope of peace signs and bell-bottoms? In the case of “Norwegian Wood” — the film adaptation of the Haruki Murakami novel — director Tran Anh Hung tapped into something much more nuanced and ethereal in his treatment of the story of two lost college students in love (or lust) in 1960s’ Tokyo.

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When 'Pirates' Becomes the Pirated

A-brighter-summer-day-lisa-yang-chang-chen
Central Pictures Corporation

If you were one of the 9 million people who illegally downloaded “Fast Five,” it might not occur to you that 2011 was a magnificent year at the movies. And you wouldn’t be interested in any of the myriad 10-best lists, let alone one you’re about to read from some obscure critic. This is not about fancy art films with subtitles being more legitimate than Hollywood blockbusters. If you pride yourself on being a movie buff, you would insist on seeing “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” in Imax. Then you would agree that 2011 was indeed awesome. But since you already know movies like “Hugo,” “A Dangerous Method,” “The Tree of Life,” “Melancholia” and “The Descendants” to be great, this list champions films that need a little cosmic extra push.

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Art of Darkness

Las-acacias-german-de-silva-hebe-duarte
Verve Pictures

The year 2011 was probably not one that will be best remembered for its cinema. As the world swirled with upheaval, the movies we saw didn't quite manage to capture the frenetic pace of change around us. Since movies usually take about three years to make, this is not completely surprising; but it does seem a shame that so few of our artists are ahead of the times. This is also the year in which Steven Spielberg — executive producer of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" — proclaimed his disappointment that so few truly great movies were being made these days. Darkness was one theme very visible in the year's films, usually darkness without real reason other than the director wanted to see what he could get away with. So among other things we had — spoiler alert — a father selling his child for cash ("Real Steel"), a man sleeping with his girlfriend's mother in a fit of pique ("Beautiful Lies") and — possibly worst of all — Buzz Aldrin lending credibility to Michael Bay's hard-on for space-program conspiracies (the aforementioned "Transformers"). This is very depressing. No wonder we’re not as interested any more. To top it off, when all the comedies that actually like their characters have moved to television, is it any wonder that people stay in?

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Finish Line, With a Lick and a Promise

Senna-aryton-senna
2011 Los Angeles Film Festival

I’m going to caveat my choices with this: These are probably not the 10-best films of 2011. I suspect that the list lacks much-admired critical darlings — "Drive," "Melancholia," "Margaret" and "The Artist" — but for whatever reason, these and others have passed me by; and so while risking critical castigation for neglecting them, I simply cannot pass judgment on what I have not seen. What this list is, though, is the best of what I have.

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