Star Wars: 15 seconds at a time

From the project’s YouTube page

In 2009, thousands of Internet users were asked to remake “Star Wars: A New Hope” into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from Star Wars however they wanted. Within just a few months SWU grew into a wild success. The creativity that poured into the project was unimaginable.”

Finally, the crowd-sourced project has been stitched together and put online for your streaming pleasure. The “Director’s Cut” is a feature-length film that contains hand-picked scenes from the entire collection.”


(via Star Wars Uncut)

Favorite Films of 2011

Below are my Top 10 favorite films of 2011. I had some difficulty paring down the list so make sure to see the honorable mentions at the end.

As always, if you’re sensitive to certain content, please do a little research before seeing any of these recommendations. A film like Drive, for example, is extremely violent.

10. Young Adult 

Diablo Cody’s script and Jason Reitman’s directing are solid, but Charlize Theron’s performance as Mavis, a self-delusional, teen-fiction writer, absolutely propels this film. It’s not often that I have a visceral reaction towards a fictional character but Mavis really got under my skin. Young Adult serves as a funny, yet often unflinching examination of immaturity and the difficulty certain middle-aged individuals have with casting off puerile mindsets. The film is set and filmed in Minneapolis and Twin Citians will recognize several locations.


9. Terri

Don’t mistake this thoughtful film for a Napoleon Dynamite clone. While the film centers around a band of idiosyncratic high school students fumbling humorously at times through their daily routines, Terri ventures into darker, weightier areas of teenage life. Realistic adolescent pressures and anxieties are put on full display as well as the often tragic ways young people cope and self-medicate. Terri succeeds due to the understated attention and palpable sympathy afforded the characters. The story plays out free of the tired conventions often associated with this type of genre and we’re left with a satisfying piece of film-making.


8. Moneyball 

A rare sports movie that doesn’t conclude with a last-second shot or come-from-behind victory. Moneyball is a film that chronicles the birth and culmination of an idea, an idea that changed the sport of baseball. In the early 2000s, Oakland Athletic’s general manager Billy Beane was faced with a dwindling team payroll and All-Star players jumping ship for organizations who could pay them big money. In order to field a competitive team, Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is forced to re-examine the consensus wisdom of how professional “[baseball] is managed, how it is played, who is best suited to play it, and why.” Jonah Hill gives a solid performance as Beane’s numbers-brilliant protégé and the script, co-written by Aaron Sorkin, reveals the inner-workings and daily struggles of a professional baseball team.


7. Drive

Did any actor have a bigger year than Ryan Gosling? The man was is a number of solid movies including Drive where he plays a stunt driver by day and get-away driver by L.A. night. Steeped in film noir and 80′s aesthetics, Drive is a taut crime thriller that kept me riveted to the closing credits. This movie is not a Gone in 60 Seconds knockoff as some of the advertisements might indicate. Instead, it’s a far more cerebral experience than I think most people expected. A thinking man’s action flick, if you will.


6. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Hands down the scariest, most nerve-racking piece of indie cinema I saw last year. Newcomer actress, Elizabeth Olsen, plays a woman attempting to integrate back into normal life after having recently escaped a backwoods cult. Reality and delusion begin to blur from paranoia that the charismatic commune leader may be in pursuit.  I knew very little about this film going in and I think that’s the best way to see it so I’ll stop writing. If you’re in for a creepy movie experience, Marth Marcy May Marlene is the ticket.


5. Melancholia 

Lars von Trier contemplates the end of the world in this gorgeous to look at effort. Split into two sections, the first half of the film gives us a fly-on-the-wall view of a bride’s (Kirsten Dunst) family disfunction during her lavish wedding reception. The marriage seems doomed from the start and the bride’s mental stability seems shaky. The family chaos of the first hour pairs nicely with the apocalyptic focus of the second half when a rogue planet threatens to collide with the Earth. The main characters handle their impending demise with various coping methods and the climatic scenes are a triumph of special effects and cinematography. Von Trier doesn’t seem to mind humanity’s destruction and the cynical worldview of the film makes for an interesting counterpoint to The Tree of Life which examines similar themes of life and death with a more hopeful outlook.


4. Take Shelter

A construction worker (Michael Shannon) has a reoccurring dream where a massive storm destroys his home and neighborhood. He responds by building an underground shelter in his backyard. His wife, neighbors, and coworkers try to be understanding. Are his visions accurate? Or is mental illness, which runs in the family, taking control of his mind? As the slow burn story uncurled, I found myself vacillating between these two possibilities right up to the final scene. Take Shelter taps into fears of  job loss, financial ruin, family sickness, and isolation from friends. A true film for our time.


3. The Artist

Ninety minutes of cinematic joy. The Artist is a gushing love letter to the silent film era and serves as a bright, happy contrast to much of the year’s darker movie fare. Yes, it’s a silent film, but it’s more entertaining and emotionally satisfying than any big studio tent pole. If this movie is playing near you please see and support it. Oh, and I love that dog!


2. Midnight in Paris

If you chose a BA over a BS in college, this movie will make you appreciate that decision.Woody Allen’s best film since 2005′s Matchpoint provides a light and humorous, yet insightful study of nostalgia. Owen Wilson plays a writer who wishes he’d been born about a hundred years earlier. Spending time with his fiancee in modern Paris, he’s caught up in romantic notions of what the city was like in the early parts of the 20th century when Hemingway, Dali, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Stein, et al. graced its clubs and haunts. If only he’d lived during that time, everything would be better. One late night during a walk in the city, he’s picked up in an antique car and taken to a party populated by all the literary and artistic luminaries of the Jazz Age. These nightly excursions continue and ultimately give him a new perspective on the time and his own life. Just a sweet and endearing film.


1. The Tree of Life

Terrance Malick’s first directorial effort since The New World proves to be the year’s most polarizing film and also its best. With dazzlingly beautiful artistry, The Tree of Life ponders the origins of the universe, life and death, grace and nature, family and belief. Malick skillfully fuses philosophy, theology, and human experience into a film that left me pondering the bigger picture for weeks. Many viewers (including respected cinephiles) may be put off by the film’s art house qualities and pretentious ambitions. Fine. Through many discussions I’ve learned someone either accepts and “gets” this film or they don’t. Personally, I can’t help but applaud any film with such dedicated vision and genre-defying temerity.



Honorable Mentions: 50/50, Another Earth, Contagion, The Descendants, The Ides of MarchInto the Abyss, My Week with MarilynRango, Shame, Source Code, Super 8, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, Win Win