Friday, 23 December 2011

Audrey Hepburn

The greatest actress of all time, in all her glory.

For my entry to Thomas Pollock's 100k Writer's Competition, I have decided to do it on my favourite actress: Audrey Hepburn. As cliche as it may be, there's no denying that she is my favourite actress. I love everything she did, onscreen and offscreen. But, before I go any further into that, here's some facts about Audrey Hepburn:

Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born an only child in a small town called Ixelles in Belgium on the 4th of May 1929, to parents Ella van Heemstra and Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston. As a young child, she spent a lot of time travelling between different areas of Belgium, England and The Netherlands, in an attempt to evade the Nazi onslaught. Her family survived the war, although her father became a Nazi sympathiser and left the family, but Hepburn remained in contact with him until his death. 

Hepburn was educated from 1935-39 at Miss Rigden's School, an independent girl's school in a small village called Elham in southeastern England. When the war started, her and her mother relocated to Arnhem in The Netherlands, where she attended Arnhem Conservatory throughout the time of the Second World War. Due to her English sounding name, she was forced to change it to a pseudonym, Edda van Heemstra, a derivative of her mother's name. 

During her time at the Conservatory, Hepburn trained in ballet, which eventually led to her raising money for the Dutch Resistance, performing in her then proficient ballerina skills. Shortly afterwards, Arnhem was devastated by enemy artillery fire, causing a famine. Hepburn and many others lived in terrible conditions until the end of the war, but the entirety of her family, consisting of her two half-brothers and mother, survived. It was these wartime experiences that ignited her devotion to UNICEF later in her career.

Hepburn moved to Amsterdam shortly after the war, and trained further in ballet, and it was there that she starred in her first role as an air stewardess in an educational travel film by the name of Dutch In Seven Lessons (1948). Shortly afterwards, she traveled to London with her mother, and in the same year as Dutch In Seven Lessons, she starred in a theatre revue called High Button Shoes and then in the following two years respectively, Cecil Landeau's Sauce Tartare and Sauce Piquante. During her theatrical experiences, it was noticed that her voice was not as strong as it could be, and needed developed. During her voice training, she obtained minor roles in four 1951 films: One Wild Oat, Laughter In Paradise, Young Wives' Tale and The Lavender Hill Mob

Audrey's first major film, The Secret People (1952).

Audrey received a major role in a Broadway play called Gigi, when she was noticed by French novelist Colette, who whispered "Voila. There's your Gigi.", pointing out Hepburn. The play ran for 219 performances. However, it was after her voice training and Gigi that she received her first major role, in Thorold Dickinson's The Secret People (1952), in which she played a prodigious ballerina, and performed all of her own moves. A year later, however, Audrey Hepburn received the role that would make her famous - the 1953 Italian-set romantic comedy, Roman Holiday - directed by William Wyler, in which she played a British princess by the name of Ann, who simply wants to live a normal life. She would star alongside Gregory Peck.

A collage of shots from Roman Holiday (1953).

Roman Holiday garnered acclaim from all angles, but what got the most attention was of course Hepburn. She lit up the screen with her sophisticated yet innocent persona, and it was with this role that she won herself her only Oscar in her first major role. Despite only winning one Oscar, she received many nominations and wins from other major award organisations:

Key: Win = Green. Nomination = Red.

Academy Awards
Academy Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Sabrina 1954).
Academy Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1959).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1961).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Wait Until Dark 1967).
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (A special award for her dedication to helping children in poverty across the world throughout her life in 1993, shortly after her death).

BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Sabrina 1954).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (War And Peace 1957).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Charade, 1965).
BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award (1992).

David Di Donatello Awards
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1961).
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (My Fair Lady 1965).

Emmy Awards
Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming (1993).

Golden Globe Awards
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
Golden Globe Award for World Film Favourite -- Female (1955).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (War and Peace 1957).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Love In The Afternoon 1958).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1962).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Charade 1964).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (My Fair Lady 1965).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Two for the Road 1968).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Wait Until Dark 1968).
Cecil B. Demille Award -- Audrey Hepburn (1990).

Audrey also managed to accrue many other awards for various reasons. She won awards from the Grammy Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Theatre World Awards, Tony Awards, and countless awards for her humanitarian efforts. 

Post-Roman Holiday 
After the huge success of Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn became far more prevalent within the film world. Her next success came with Sabrina (1954) a romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder, in which two wealthy brothers (played by Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) battle for the love of Hepburn's character, who carries the name of the titular character. Sabrina, like most Hepburn works, received critical acclaim.

An iconic image from Sabrina (1954).

By the mid 50s, Hepburn was becoming one of the most loved Hollywood icons around. She was adored by fans worldwide for her bravura performances and her stylish charm. Hepburn, who was garnering fame by the minute, went on to star in many more successful films which attracted box office attention. First up, there was War And Peace (1956), a film set during the Napoleonic war starring Henry Fonda and then husband Mel Ferrer. Next up was Funny Face (1957), a musical starring Fred Astaire, followed up by a similar film called Love In The Afternoon. She then start in The Nun's Story (1959), a film starring her and Peter Finch in which she plays a nun struggling to succeed as one. These films were all successful to some degree, and skyrocketed Hepburn's success in the late 50s. A poster for War and Peace:

War and Peace (1956), starring her then husband Mel Ferrer.

And for Funny Face;

Funny Face (1957), perhaps one of Hepburn's more well-known ventures.

And to conclude, The Nun's Story:

A less known endeavour of Hepburn's but still successuful.

Breakfast At Tiffany's
In 1961, Hepburn partook in a film which would produce (arguably) her most iconic character, Holly Golightly. This film was Breakfast At Tiffany's, a quaint, hilarious, legendary film starring George Peppard and Hepburn and directed by Blake Edwards. To this day, few films can compare to Tiffany's irresistible charm and iconic scenes, including Hepburn's rendition of Moon River, (which won an Academy Award for Best Song), and the hunt for the cat. Audrey Hepburn managed to idolise the character and the film in many ways - her clothes (particularly the little black dress she wore), her mannerisms, and her sublime delivery of lines.

The legendary poster for Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961).

Hepburn went on to star in more successful films, including Charade (1963) and and Wait Until Dark (1967). But perhaps her final extremely famous role came with My Fair Lady (1964), an iconic comedy in which she played Eliza Doolittle, which also starred Rex Harrison. My Fair Lady was branded as "the most exciting thing to come out in the film industry since Gone With The Wind", and it did indeed accrue success. Audrey Hepburn had many acting credits that were perhaps less known. Here is a full list of her credited performances during her illustrious 41-year career, and any relevant facts:

Dutch In Seven Lessons (1948)
Monte Carlo Baby (1951)
Laughter In Paradise (1951)
One Wild Oat (1951)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Young Wives' Tale (1951)
The Secret People (1952) -- first major role.
We Will Go To Monte Carlo (1952) -- French remake of Monte Carlo Baby.
Roman Holiday (1953) -- won her the only Oscar she won.
Sabrina (1954) 
War And Peace (1956)
Love In The Afternoon (1957)
Funny Face (1957) -- her first musical.
Green Mansions (1959)
The Nun's Story (1959)
The Unforgiven (1960) -- her only Western.
Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
The Children's Hour (1961)
Charade (1963)
Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
My Fair Lady (1964)
How To Steal A Million (1966)
Two For The Road (1967)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Robin And Marian (1976)
Bloodline (1979) -- her only R-rated film.
They All Laughed (1981)
Always (1989) -- cameo.

Marriages, Miscarriages and Children
Hepburn was involved in two marriages. Her first was with Mel Ferrer, which lasted from 1954 to 1968. She met Ferrer at a cocktail party hosted by Gregory Peck, and starred with him in one of her films, War and Peace. She had one child with Ferrer - Sean Hepburn Ferrer. 

Hepburn and Ferrer on the set of War And Peace (1956).

Her second marriage was to Andrea Dotti, lasting from 1969 to 1982. She also had one child with Dotti, by the name of Luca Dotti. She and Andrea Dotti met on a cruise, where she fell in love with him and eventually married him. Hepburn unfortunately suffered two miscarriages, in 1955 and 1959. 

In late 1992, Hepburn discovered that she was suffering from abdominal cancer, which has metastasised, covering her small intestine. Unfortunately, the surgeons operating on her decided that it was too late to remove the cancer. After coming to terms with the seriousness of her illness, her family decided to spend one last Christmas with her in her home in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland. On the 20th of January, 1993, Hepburn succumbed to her illness and died in her sleep in her home. Shortly after her death, Gregory Peck weeped as he recited Hepburn's favourite poem, "Unending Love" by Rabindranath Tagore. Funeral services were held at the church in Tolochenaz, and Hepburn was buried on a small hill overlooking the village.

Why I Love Audrey
Now, after that huge abundance of facts (that I'm sure you all found inherently interesting), I'm sure you're bursting with anxiety to find out why I actually love her. Well, thanks to Thomas' endlessly general word limit of FOUR THOUSAND, I have the space and lenience to tell you. Just to get it out of the way first, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most unique and beautiful people I've ever seen - there is no denying that she has an ethereal beauty that is unmatched - but this is more about her acting talent and personality rather than what she looks like - so I thought I'd just clarify that before I go any further.

A perennially iconic shot from Roman Holiday (1953), in which Hepburn and Peck drive a moped manically through the streets of Rome.

One of the most special (and often delectable) things about Hepburn, is that every seemingly ordinary character that she tackles turns into something unparalleled and unique. Take Sabrina Fairchild from Sabrina, simply a chauffeur's daughter and a maid to a rich family. Hepburn transforms her into a deep, fascinating and enchanting character, by manipulating her role and putting passionate profundity into it. The result of Hepburn's (likely arduous) efforts is always something to be astounded at, a character to love and to care for - which is perhaps why many women apotheosize many of Hepburn's characters - and also why her characters will always have a high class within the vast landscape that is cinema. Hepburn never fails to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling every time she pops up on the screen, which is exactly where she belongs - delighting people, young and old.

Hepburn performing her rendition of "Moon River" in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961). The song won an Oscar.

Audrey Hepburn has a vast range of character traits that only add to her magnificent splendour. She always manages to balance out her characteristics - be it innocent, charming, strong-willed, strong, weak - or be it her social class - upper, middle, lower, rich, poor - she always manages to deliver and capitalise on whatever qualities or traits she possesses, which is wholly admirable. In every role, she exudes emotion and intricate personality. She always manages to connect exceedingly with her audience and delivers beautifully on every single line and scene that she performs in, which is perhaps why many people rank her among the greatest.

Hepburn gazing upon her hometown in Belgium.

Another stupefying ability that Hepburn holds is her aptitude and capacity to maintain a strong chemistry with anyone accompanying her in a lead role (usually a male). In Roman Holiday, Hepburn and Peck are the perfect duo; a stunning contrast between people of differing social class, perhaps my favourite onscreen couple of all-time. Her relationship with George Peppard's character in Breakfast At Tiffany's is oddball but nonetheless bewildering, enjoyable, bright and pleasant. Hepburn is (and will always be) the most recongised and acclaimed film about Breakfast At Tiffany's, but a lot of the atmosphere and quality within that film is down to her connection with Peppard. In Sabrina, Hepburn had the task of trying to bind two strong relationships with two separate actors - William Holden and Humphrey Bogart - in a film which radiated the message that when it comes to love, age doesn't matter. Therefore, Hepburn had to adapt her personality to suit the older character and the younger character, and succeeded admirably, solidifying Sabrina as one of my favourite love stories of all-time.

Hepburn with shorter hair, a style she used for many of her characters.

Hepburn makes roles that could be easily interpreted as difficult look effortless, even with here divine sense of potency that is embroidered into each individual persona she takes on. Just by doing one certain thing in a scene, Hepburn can create many interpretations and sentiments. For example, when she takes a tantrum within the character of Princess Anne in Roman Holiday, you are immediately given an insight as to some of the possibilities as to the problem that her character is facing - perhaps she is a princess who despises the life she leads and wishes she could live the life of a normal person, or contingently she may have trouble with someone that she knows within the royal family, or potentially she is just breaking under the stress of her aristocratic duties. Whichever it may be, Hepburn encloses us into her role and keeps us gripped, because in an instant, we care about the character.

Audrey Hepburn modelling for fashion.

As much as I love Hepburn as an actress, I also have a love for the person she was. She was genuine, seemingly intelligent and endlessly charitable. As I previously mentioned, she aided and worked with UNICEF for the most part of her adult life. I am aware that plenty of celebrities are involved with charities, but rather than just giving money to charity, Hepburn went to various sterile and destitute countries across the world, in various different continents, which is something I (and most other people) can respect. Hepburn never appeared to be too indulged with herself and appertained to helping others more than herself. Her efforts are among the most noticed in terms of charity by countless charities, despite her main reputation deriving from her efforts with UNICEF, evidence of her kindheartedness as a human being.

An older Hepburn carrying a child, whilst aiding a poverty-stricken Chad.

I have little no doubt that I will one day have seen all of Audrey Hepburn's films, and that I will always admire her, as an actress and as a person. She astounds me with her sheer beauty, outside and inside. I can't help but fall in love with every single character she plays and every feature that she performs in. Little can compare to her majestic and magical charm and her godlike capacity to make a character that is in one word: unforgettable. She lights up the screen as soon as she comes onscreen and continues to do so until her final frame. She is acting in its finest form. I do truly believe that Audrey Hepburn is up there with the best actresses, such as Meryl Streep, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis. There isn't a single thing that I dislike about Audrey Hepburn, and I look so much forward to experiencing all that she has to offer.

Audrey Hepburn.. well, grinning.

This may not be a masterpiece essay on the life of Audrey Hepburn - well, maybe it is, who knows - but all I can say is that what you read here is pure honesty. It is a detailed description of her productive and fruitful life and an equally detailed description of my eternal love for her. Without trying to repeat myself too much, Hepburn is the most colourful, genuine, honest, charming, delightful, wondrous, enjoyable and remarkable actress or actor that I have ever come across, and to sum up in a few words the previous few paragraphs I have written, that is exactly why I love her. She epitomises a great actress and is the quintessential innocent, sweet yet solid and strong character for just about any film. So, as much as it saddens me that she met a rather untimely death, I am comforted by the knowledge that she will be regarded irrevocably as a sublime actress, who will be forever remembered for her beyond amazing films and for being such a largely amiable person. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Top 15 of 2011 Thus Far

Because you're all eternally interested in what I have to say, I have decided to construct a Top 15 of 2011 list, with pictures and explanations, instead of just printing it in numbers and names without a hint as to why they even deserve their place. So, read on if you please, it's not pivotal (in all honesty, this is about 40-50% due to boredom), but any comments and opinions would be appreciated. On with the list.

P.S: These short reviews I'm giving are not full depth analysis' of the films, they are merely just a few, simple points on why I loved them, but enough to get a general idea. Enjoy.

15. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Despite being slightly disappointed by how underwhelming this film ended up being after months of intense anticipation, Tinker, Tailor is still a brilliantly crafted, finely acted, extremely clever film that just happened to have a few major pacing problems, which thoroughly deteriorated my enjoyment of the film. Nonetheless, this will be a lot of people's cup of tea. I thought it would be mine, but sadly, I misjudged. One thing has to be said though - if the film was this difficult to follow in film form, I would hate to imagine what it would be like trying to keep a track of the plot whilst reading the original John Le Carre book. Anyway, to conclude, thus far, Tinker, Tailor is in my Top 15 of the year, and even though it probably won't be by the end, this does not mean it's not worth seeing, because believe me, it is.

Rating: 3/4

14. Thor

Thor, although not a flop among Marvel fanatics and critics, didn't receive nearly as much praise as it ought to. X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger were two of the biggest disappointments of the year for me, yet they seemed to get more acclaim and notice from fans - X-Men: First Class, yet another entry in a tired out franchise, being drawn out for the sake of money; Captain America, a vapid film with no character development and an unconvincing villain get praise, yet Thor doesn't? Thor, for me, was one of the most entertaining films I have seen in a long time, and not only that - I thought the characters were solid, the script was a mixture of many emotions, which all slotted perfectly into the film's atmosphere, and enjoyment all the way through. My favourite superhero film of the year, without a question asked.

Rating: 3-3.5/4

13. Super 8

To absolutely nobody's surprise, everyone was a sucker for Super 8, myself included. What's wrong with it? A lot, actually. The ending is absolute dog feces, it milks the absolute crap out of this cheesy kid relationship and the character of the father is as bland as watching paint dry. But I had a lot of fun with it, I really did. Led by two impressive child actors, (despite the cheesy relationship) Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, Super 8 thrives on wonderful cinematography and a delightfully Abrams/Spielberg feel, which is probably why most people fell over in love with it. Super 8 is by no means even close to perfect, but as a nostalgic film and in simple terms of enjoyment, Super 8 is absolutely brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not something that I'm in a huge rush to watch again, but I will, someday, because it's worth it.

Rating: 3-3.5/4

12. Hanna

With two females that I have the utmost respect for (Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan), I was bound to enjoy this, and that's how it ended up. With solid performances, stunning cinematography and a very unique feel to it, Hanna impressed me a great amount. I was taken on a thrill ride, and of course a contributing factor to my enjoyment was the fact that I live films of Hanna's ilk, with the father figure and the badass killer girl, but Hanna was more than that to me, it had a justified level of emotion without shoving it down your throat in extreme amounts and it never lost its pacing. With sharp, often humorous dialogue, Hanna wraps up a place in my Top 15 as an enjoyable, well directed thriller with technical advantages to back it up.

Rating: 3.5/4

11. Moneyball

Just to clarify straight away, you DO NOT have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Moneyball, a film that is more about the integrity, teamwork and togetherness of being in a baseball team, and perhaps the stress of trying to point one in the direction of success, with thousands of fans hearts on the line of the decisions you make, and the strategies you choose to use. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill make the absolute most out of the characters they have, and also the solid script they are given. Moneyball, like any other film, has its flaws - the players aren't explored nearly enough and the director obviously seemed to concentrate on making the baseball scenes look nice rather than any other scene, but Moneyball is strong in heart and strong on a technical level, and is worth seeing, baseball fan - hell, even sports fan - or not.

Rating: 3.5/4

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part ||

Harry Potter, until the sixth entry, never really matured - but thanks to David Yates, we were given three wonderfully made Potter films right at the last, the strongest being this film's predecessor, but only marginally. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part || is glowingly magical, enticing and exciting, and is everything that I could have hoped for after the thoroughly impressive previous entry. Yates concentrates on bringing out the characters in full right before they disappear off our screens forever and his effort is shown throughout, by Alan Rickman, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint especially. Deathly Hallows: Part || is one of the strongest entries in the Potter series and a film that I feel I will enjoy watching on countless occasions.

Rating: 3.5/4

09. 50/50

50/50 is not only one of the most touching, heartfelt films of the year, it's also one of the funniest, something many films would struggle to do, and do struggle to do. When you put 50/50 as "a comedy about cancer" it doesn't sound particularly amusing, but when you actually sit down and watch this film, it embroiders itself in your heart and takes you on a moral journey through the eyes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. To no surprise, Gordon-Levitt was impressive, with a charming and often sarcastic performance, but I was seriously surprised by Rogen, an actor I usually can't stand, who added an array of emotions into his performance, and made a perfect partner to Levitt. Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard also impress to formulate one of most charming films of the year, earning a deserved spot in my Top 15.

Rating: 3.5/4

08. The Help

Oscar-Bait or no Oscar-Bait, I adored The Help. It has one of the best assembled female casts in a long time, featuring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Chastain, all with apt and enjoyable performances. The Help, despite milking as much as it can out of its PC topic, is relevant and enjoyable and touching to watch. It is a colourful and bristles with snappy dialogue and powerful scenes backed up by being well filmed and powerfully acted. The Help will inspire you and lift you up on a bad day, because it succeeds at doing what it was always supposed to do - make audiences feel good. The Help, whether you like emotional films or not, is worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5/4

07. Hugo

Hugo is a magical journey, fit for all ages, full to the brim with ancient movie references (most of which I got) and a terrific performance from everyone involved, especially my favourite child actress, Chloe Grace-Moretz. Scorsese offers us what most kid's films cannot - maturity - and although that it sounds stupid to say that, considering that IT IS a kid's film, but watching the maturity of the picture flow throughout really is joyous, and maturity often suits kid's films. The film is without a doubt entertaining, I was never bored. The film has a few minor flaws, such as some jarring tonal shifts and Sacha Baron Cohen for the first hour of the film, but Hugo makes up for it by being enticing, joyful and an absolute pleasure to watch. I stick to the fact that I said that the film looked bad, but I am equally as willing to say that I have been indeed proved wrong.

Rating: 3.5/4

06. Drive

Drive should be the dictionary definition of 'encapsulating'. In fact, Drive should be the dictionary definition of many complimentary words, but there are so many that it would be far too challenging for my tiny little brain to go into. Drive features a standout performance from Ryan Gosling, an apt and wonderfully funky soundtrack that I can listen to again and again, some mesmerising cinematography, especially some simply unforgettable scenes in slow-motion, and a gripping plot. But one thing, as the great Rohit Ramachandran once said - "Multiple viewings are mandatory." These words are nothing but truth. I thought the film was weak when I first watched it, but upon multiple viewings, I have found its greatness. Carey Mulligan accompanies Ryan Gosling with a sweet, subtle performance as per usual, and all other supporting performances are solid. Drive is an essential of 2011.

Rating: 3.5-4/4

05. We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a tale of torture, pain and struggle, yet somehow manages to be beautiful in the meantime. Perhaps down to its wonderful cinematography, or maybe even the award worthy performances from Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton, but I think mostly it's because the director managed to make a menacing killer deceive the audience by changing his persona throughout, looking sweet and innocent at certain times and looking beyond salvation at others. The other wonderful thing about Kevin is that almost every point and moral issue brought up in the film is moot, leaving room for wonderful post-watching discussion. On a film level itself, Kevin is simply unforgettable, worthy of every piece of praise it receives, and a must-watch for any lover of psychological thrillers - you'll get a bit more than that, too.

Rating: 3.5-4/4

04. La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In)

Pedro Almodovar, being the genius that he is, has spurned another masterpiece out of his beautifully twisted mind, that being The Skin I Live In, a hypnotic journey through moral standpoints, trust and issues. Full to the brim with cultural/technical codes, differential decoding and preferred reading, The Skin I Live In thrives upon its fine performances all round, from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya particularly. The Skin I Live In has some of the most impressive and captivating scenery I have ever come across, and some of the topics that are embroidered within this cavern of fascination and beauty are as effective as you can get. The Skin I Live In is by far my favourite foreign film of the year, and one of my favourites of the year overall. An absolute must-see.

Rating: 3.5-4/4

03. Midnight In Paris

Midnight In Paris is essential for any lover of history and quaint, anachronistic settings. That is just one reason why I love Midnight In Paris, but although you're probably asking why I love this film, my question is - how can you NOT love this film? It's charming, it has Owen Wilson NOT being a stuck-up prick, it has Marion Cotillard at her peak (which is a joy to watch) and its unforgettable screenplay should nab it a nomination at the Oscars this year, and if it doesn't - they're even stupider than they were prior to not nominating this. Woody Allen has crafted a modern masterpiece in Midnight In Paris, and I will buy this upon release simply for the reason that it will make me feel on top of the world if I ever feel down, and that also the fact that it is a fantastic film, and one of the most impressive of the year.

Rating: 4/4

02. My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn is a deep, beautiful study of a star (played by a PERFECTLY casted Michelle Williams) torn between her love for show business and fame and the overwhelming desire to lead a normal life. Williams is accompanied by Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson among others, all of whom impress. My Week With Marilyn is my kind of film, and this was definitely a contributing factor to my undying love for it, but I do believe that by itself it is a fantastic film, one with little flaw, and perhaps the best one based on the life of the late star. The touching dialogue will tear you apart as Marilyn has to make her choice after falling in love with a normal man, and the fun aspects of the film will balance out a mellow, enjoyable experience, regardless of whether you love it as much as me or not.

Rating: 4/4

01. Melancholia

The moment I set eyes on Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, I knew that not only would it be my favourite of the year, but perhaps one of my favourite films of all time: a fascinating study of human life crossed with an emotional journey with two sisters, one, Justine, who fears nothing due to her deep depression (studied beautifully) by Von Trier and her sister Claire, a paranoid woman who believes that passer-by planet Melancholia may strike Earth, eradicating all life. Dramatic irony is shown within Melancholia, as the depressed Justine (played by the mesmerising Kirsten Dunst) who is supposed to be vulnerable and feeble, fears nothing of a planet threatening to kill all life, yet a woman who has a husband, who continuously assures her that nothing bad will happen, and a child, is living in fear of death. Melancholia is intrinsic, captivating, and in all honesty I could probably write for hours about my love for this film, but for times sake, I will leave it here - but if you have not seen this film, make it your priority.

Honorable Mentions:
The Adjustment Bureau
Friends With Benefits
Horrible Bosses
Source Code
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Thank you for reading. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) Review

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Year: 2006
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Adriana Gil
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish
Runtime: 112 minutes

Pan's Labyrinth
Ofelia is just like any other little girl. She loves fairy tales with princesses, adores exploring the world and believes in fairies. When she stumbles upon an ancient labyrinth at the mill where she is now living with her pregnant mother Carmen and her fascist stepfather Captain Vidal, she is informed by a faun by the name of Pan that she is a lost princess called Moanna, who died 
an extremely long time ago after her curiosity got the better of her and decided to explore the outside world. To prove that her "essence is intact", she is told that she must complete three tasks, and then she will be sent back to the underworld to be with her real parents again. As Ofelia ventures off on her quest to become a princess, problems face those around her - her mother is ill because of her pregnancy, the doctor and one of the maids at the mill by the name of Mercedes try their hardest to supply the rebels opposing Francisco Franco's fascist regime undetected, and everyone - in some way or another, is being badly affected by Vidal's narcissistic and demonic ways and personality. Each character deals with the problems at hand in their own ways, with twists and turns pleasantly appearing along the road. But the film mainly concentrates on the character of Ofelia - whose desperate attempt to become a princess leads her into numerous problems and troubles. And that is where one of the greatest films ever made begins.

Pan's Labyrinth isn't just an adventure film - it is a magical journey, an enticing one, a completely unforgettable one. It takes you through the roller coaster story of such wonderfully developed characters, and albeit the fact that these characters are all in situations more extreme and unlike any that most people have ever had to face, they are so easily related to in such an intriguing manner. However, do not reflect the adjectives I have used to describe this film thus far onto the overall mood and atmosphere of the majority of the film - it is, in reality, an extremely dark and shocking experience. The film starts off not happily, but at least comfortable. The thing you do not expect to happen next is to see the captain smashing an innocent man's face in, only to shoot his father moments later. This is what makes the film so artistically brilliant though - it doesn't hesitate to shock its audience. It is honest and brutal about its villain almost right from the start, which automatically constructs emotions for the audience to feel towards the character - hate, anger, and sympathy towards the characters that suffer from his actions. Captain Vidal is indeed a ruthless, cold man, yet he is one of the most interesting characters that I have seen develop in a film.

Although throughout the film you are going to feel a high level of hatred towards Vidal, the film always gives you a slight benefit of doubt. The man does seem intent on raising his child to be brave, strong and fit for the world, and while it is blatantly obvious that he doesn't want his son to put this to a good cause, I still felt a slight hint of admiration for his passion and aspiration. Although they seldom appeared, I felt there were also scenes where there were morsels of redemption within the character, that perhaps he regretted some of his past actions, and that he is not completely soulless and hasn't been completely overwhelmed by the idea of fascism. Sergi Lopez (who gives a mesmerising and perhaps career defining performance) gives off an aura of this simply with body language and facial expression. This villain was one of my favourite things about Pan's Labyrinth, mainly because he was a deep character study - villains are often just placed in films as an obstruction to the protagonists, but Vidal is rather unique - you see it as much from his point of view as you do from the protagonists, which has a stunning effect and reflects Del Toro's lenience to show the film from the perspective of the antagonist in an equal amount to the protagonist.

All of the other characters also live up to the depth of Vidal. Ofelia can be related to by children of almost any age, and not only by the female species - the character captures the adventurous spirit of almost any child growing up. As an individual character, Ofelia is also an absolute joy to watch. She aspires to what a large percentage of little girls aspire to, but she does it in her own way and adds her own flavour to everything she does, says and the way she communicates with others. She is the most effective and brilliantly characterised child character I have ever had the pleasure to view in a film. This is of course thanks to the obvious passion and effort put into the character by child actress Ivana Baquero. The third character I admired greatly was Mercedes. Her character showed a lot of stereotypical attributes and emotions displayed by characters in similar situations to her in films - courage, faith, unity, passion, love - the list goes on - but again, like Ofelia, she adds her own twist to it, although she holds similar attributes to other characters, she is not like any other character. Maribel Verdu created yet another unique character within this modern masterpiece.

Pan's Labyrinth does not at all falter on technical and dialogue levels either - the script is beautifully written and in the wonderful language of Spanish, it sounds all the better. All the dialogue is extremely apt to the atmosphere and personalities within the film. The camera work is statuesque and captures all the emotion and commotion throughout. The entire film is a reflection of Del Toro's direction, which is culminating, exciting, untarnished and skillful. I will be completely honest, I did expect to love this film. It contains a lot of what I love to see in a film - a mystical and dark atmosphere, a strange feeling of nostalgia and very well crafted shocks along the way. Those are obviously personal things that I love within a film, but I don't see how anyone could dislike Pan's Labyrinth. It is stunningly made and it is one of the best films of the past decade. This is, evidently, recommended to anyone who has not had the fortune of setting eyes on this almost faultless work of genius. There really aren't many films akin to this, it is unique in almost every way. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I absolutely adore this film. I have such a huge level of admiration and adoration for it.