Archive for "Movie Reviews"

Movie Review: “The Dark Knight Rises”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, July 20, 2012 at 8:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures)

Summary: Same old plot, villains are hell-bent on destroying the great Gotham City and Batman must save the day. This time around, Batman is in hiding since the death of Harvey Dent. But after financial ruin and the rise of a new villain, Bane, the Caped Crusader is inspired to make another attempt at saving the day.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises is not one of the most anticipated films of the year — it is the most anticipated film of the year. No matter what critics say (critics should be careful because those who gave mixed or bad reviews are getting death threats), Christopher Nolan’s third and (alleged) final installment of the Batman franchise will be a success, even if it is the weakest film in Nolan’s series.

The Dark Knight back in 2008 was an Oscar-winning, superhero masterpiece (well, at least the scenes with Heath Ledger as the Joker).  Does Nolan feel cinematic pressure to top the sequel?  Maybe that could explain why the Inception director tackled a plethora of issues: depression, greed, childhood trauma, relationships, corruption, revenge and anything else that could be stuffed into a gaudy two hours and forty-five minutes.  Be well-rested because you can fly from New York City to Miami and The Dark Knight Rises will still be rising — the person next to me who was in a deep sleep for at least 20 minutes was a clear indication the film needed serious editing.  No matter how great, there is only but so much time an audience can endure before their interest wanes — even a Broadway show gives you an intermission.  About 90 minutes of the The Dark Knight Rises is near genius, the rest is useless.

What we really look for in the Batman films are the villains. Here, Batman’s main villain is Bane, played by Tom Hardy, whose face is covered in a Mortal Kombat-type mask — between Batman’s husky voice and Bane’s muffled face mask, the film needed subtitles. While Bane was evil, there wasn’t much to the muscle-bound jock. With the Joker or even the Penguin, they delivered a campy psychosis — coupled with incredible acting — which made them likable villains. Bane was not likable or fun to watch, nor were you wowed by his tricky, which is what made the villains in Batman films shine. Quite frankly, Bane was just bland.

We all gave the side-eye when we learned Anne Hathaway would play Catwoman. The Oscar nominee is no Michelle Pfeiffer or Eartha Kitt, but she was the most interesting character. Selina Kyle wasn’t padded with exhaustive back-story and epic chord arrangements, Catwoman stayed true to form. She had the best lines, the most interesting on-screen presence and, when she was off-screen, you were hoping for her return. Hathaway bucked the naysayers.  Dare I say — with the right script, Catwoman deserves another scratch at her own flick.

Then there is Batman. As if he was swept away in a storyline made for an opera, Bruce Wayne is in constant emotional turmoil.  Batman has fallen. Batman has retired.  Batman is broke — it took Bruce Wayne fifty minutes to suck into his bat suit!  Critics are ranting the film is too “dark” due to Batman’s hero complex.  Not me, I love a creepy flick full of grit and grime.  The Dark Knight could’ve went even darker for my taste.  But the hardest blow is not the somber storyline, it’s Nolan’s lofty execution — Dark Knight Rises could’ve been titled Inception: Gotham City Edition.  Nolan’s signature style swallowed the heart of Batman.  At one point, I forgot it was a Batman film, especially when Bruce Wayne was locked away in a lengthy isolation.  To quote Jack Nicholson as the Joker in 1989, “And where is the Batman?”

The most interesting plot-twist is the discourse on the rich versus poor, how the rich should suffer and the 99% must take over.  But commentary on excess and greed is rather ironic considering the budget of The Dark Knight Rises was approximately 250 million. Maybe Occupy Wall Street should Occupy The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is equally as great as it is below average. For all of its flaws, much of the film is redeemed by the spectacular visuals: An epic scene at a football stadium, a monstrous attack on Gotham and the opener, all of which prove Nolan is a visionary director with substance.

Overall, an endurable two hours and forty-five minutes, but I would never sit through it again — unless I could fast-forward to Catwoman’s scenes.

The Dark Knight Rises is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, June 22, 2012 at 11:46 am.

(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

Summary: After a nine year-old Abraham Lincoln sees his mother killed by a racist vampire, it’s his life’s mission to hunt all of the undead.

Review: Abraham Lincoln and vampire hunter is an unlikely match. What could these two possibly have in common? And although it was a best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, can it translate onscreen? It is a cinematic challenge to take a film seriously that shows Abe Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker, doing Matrix-like butt-kicking with the backdrop of the Civil War. The critics already damned Abe and the vamps to hell the minute they heard the title. Therefore, it has no fighting chance.

Is the Timur Bekmambetov-directed film a brilliant piece of work? No. But expecting brilliance from a film with this title is like expecting a moral compass from pornography. But it’s just as good as Twilight (yeah, I said  it) and there isn’t a trite teen love story or a sexist ideology that says: “Lose everything for a man, including your soul.” In the genre of vampire films, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a good flick. Outside of the genre, it’s below average.

Moving on to the part of the plot set during slavery, many are giving it the side-eye. Unlike high-brow flicks which tackle race and the South, there was no shuffling. Nor were there any deep country accents, mammies or slaves whistling “Dixie.” Anthony Mackie plays William Johnson, Abe Lincoln’s best friend (who existed in real life), a free Black man who was trying to avoid slave masters attempting  to take his freedom. William and Abe’s friendship is almost like Batman and Robin, but the topic of race is handled respectfully, which some argue even The Help couldn’t get right.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is uselessly in 3D and soaked with annoying CGI and slow motion action, which can account for the nearly $70 million budget.  If anything, the cheese-ball effects and superhero-like stunts give it a stake through the heart — I enjoyed the characters more than the action. Nonetheless, audiences just might latch onto Honest Abe and his disdain for vamps. I can’t deny it, there is enough fun to enjoy the quick running time. Be sure to revisit your history books, however – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not for history buffs.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is in theaters now.

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Movie Review: “Chely Wright: Wish Me Away”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:30 am.

(Photo: Courtesy First Run Features)

Summary: A documentary on country superstar Chely Wright, who came out as a lesbian in 2010 — rocking the conservative world of country.

Review: We have yet to see an openly gay artist in hip hop and R&B, but in a genre like country music, which is probably thought of to be one of the most anti-gay, Chely Wright caused a media firestorm by coming out as a lesbian.  She was known for hits like “Shut Up and Drive” and “Single White Female” and well respected in the music industry. After years of hiding and paranoia, Wright came out of the closest. In a time where African-Americans are labeled as the most homophobic, Wright’s doc proves that homophobia transcends all groups.  And Chely Wright should only be praised for her bravery.

The doc is part video diary and part polished film with Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf as directors. Documenting her time before she came out as a lesbian, the audience witnesses the tragic effects of living an inauthentic life. Wright is stressed, fearful and, at times, looked clinically depressed. Wright isn’t the stereotypical, bold and proud gay woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  In the film, she constantly cried that she wanted to be accepted. She looked like she took a bullet each time one of her friends, family and PR team drilled in her, “Not everyone is going to accept you!” Even her accepting pastor asked, “Are you ready to be rejected?” Is telling her truth worth all of the backlash? There are closeted artists in every genre of music who would never do what Wright did.

Birleffi and Kopf shined at showing the vulnerable side of Wright, who finds strength at the film’s finish. But this isn’t a happy ending where everything ends with a coming out party. While Wright was grateful for her truth, she was rejected by her country roots — and even her mother.  For the country world to reject her is unfathomable, and I am no expert on country, but Wright’s vocal chops and songwriting skills, which we hear throughout the film, are excellent — think of her as the Mary J. Blige of country.  Nonetheless, the truth is sobering. This is reality, not an after school special.

Wish Me Away is hard to watch at times. The rants of ignorance she endured from her religious, small town are haunting. But the zinger is when she snaps on her book editor, who has no problem with her being gay, but chops Wright up for wearing a bikini in a photo-shoot years ago, insinuating that she was faking it. As a “hardcore feminist,” her book editor says she would never do that. In the realest moment of the First Run Features film, Wright rants, “For her to say I was playing straight — what does she want me to do? Put on khaki pants and a button down? F–k you, Vicki! You don’t know! You grew up in Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard.  You don’t know me.” Even with those who “accept” you, you might still experience judgment.

Wish Me Away is not just another doc on coming out; it’s a unique story from a brave woman whose truth was more important than fame and glamour.

Wish Me Away is playing in select cities now.

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Movie Review: “Battleship”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, May 18, 2012 at 12:00 am.

: The Navy attempts to save the world from aliens at sea.

Review: “You sunk my battleship!” is the line from the legendary Hasbro board game that is now a feature length, sci-fi/action adventure film.  Even without knowing the film’s plot, one can imagine the movie will be no classic.  Therefore, the stakes are wildly low, explosions and fight scenes will suffice for a flick that has no expectations of brain and wit — and Battleship brazenly lacks both.

The movie opens with a dopey scene based around a chicken burrito, then transitions to a spoiled slacker, Lieutenant Alex Hopper, who is threatened to be kicked out of the Navy if he doesn’t become a better solider. On a training session, aliens attack and it’s in Alex’s hands to save the planet. In addition, maybe he will prove to his girlfriend’s father — who happens to be his commanding officer — that he will be a good husband.  A standard, formulaic flick that is a low-budget hodgepodge of Deep Impact, Armageddon and Transformers with useless emotional punch that seems pulled from Gossip Girl.  But there’s a lot of explosions!

That said, I thought the Peter Berg produced and directed film could not redeem itself, Battleship had a good dose of eye-popping action and special effects.  Once Battleship got started, the film moved quickly with a fiery energy that border-lined on being a solid action flick.

We can’t forget Rihanna, who made a smart move by taking a small role in Battleship as Petty Officer Cora, a fearless, tough chick.  She wasn’t in the film enough to know if she can act, but she wasn’t in the film enough to know if she can’t act.  Nonetheless, her safe role was admirable considering some pop stars want to dive into a leading role when they are unprepared and clearly struggling on screen.  Side note: Rih’s hat deserves recognition!  That cap was sealed on her head — weathering ocean waters and alien attacks!  Who needs a lace front with a hat like Rih’s?

The best character in the film was double amputee Colonel Gregory D. Gadson who played Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales.  The 20-year Army vet gave Battleship some soul and credibility.  While Battleship definitely has an all-American political agenda that would make Republicans cheer, Gadson was a stamp of approval and a joy to watch.

Battleship is in theaters now.

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Movie Review: “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, May 4, 2012 at 8:00 am.

(Photo: Marvel Studios)

Summary: Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America, Nick Fury and a whole lot of explosions bond to save the planet.

Review: When it comes to superhero films, there are legions of loyal fans who disregard poor scripts and are easily swayed by bombastic special effects. There are also the fans who anonymously rage in the comments section, as if men in spandex and metal costumes are as serious as war and the economy.  Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and all the others are throwbacks to being a child, when you believed that a superhero could possibly save the day.  Is there some type of defensive euphoria in seeing your childhood heroes come to life?  That said, is Marvel’s The Avengers a great film? No. Will people love it? Yes!

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Marvel’s The Avengers stomps, roars and explodes on the big screen — at least in the last hour. The film, which is six mediocre plots crammed into one, is an exhaustive two hours and twenty minutes of serpent-like machines, New York City being destroyed (it is always New York City, isn’t it?)  and sassy folks in tights. Is the grand running time due to so much action that couldn’t be contained in less than two hours? No. The first hour oozes with forgettable dialogue and weak character building, as if Whedon, who is clearly talented but seemed to be thinking, “See, superhero films can be deep!”  Line after line there are talks about attacks and strategies – take off the Lycra and Avengers could be a behind-the-scenes peak at the art of war.  There is a simple formula to superhero films — stick to the simplicity of the comic book!  Whedon’s stretch to add some brain, only made The Avengers more brainless. 

Within the characters rambling in laborious monologues, there are several campy one-liners that provides a few chuckles — especially from the charismatic Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, who is more enjoyable in an ensemble.  The always excellent  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury blends well as the leader of the pack — although I would’ve liked to see him kick more butt.  The supporting cast is just as strong with actors who have the chops, just not the best script.

After yawning through unnecessary character development, finally, the action kicks in. Yes, the CGI is decadent but audiences crave the epic special effects.  Thankfully, the battles were big and the explosions almost loud enough to make you forget the useless first half.

Like many before it, the film is critic proof.  The money is in the bank and I am sure there is already a sequel the works.  Not a terrible film, but not one to remember.  Thankfully, there are better superhero films making its way to a theater near you this summer.

Marvel’s The Avengers is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: “Marley”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy Cowboy Films)

Summary: Directed by Kevin Macdonald and co–executive produced by Ziggy Marley, the long-awaited doc reveals the journey of the late, great Bob Marley.

Review: Born in 1945, Robert Nesta Marley’s music changed the world.  His music has been the anthem for love, revolution and peace.  Over thirty years since his death, he is still a relevant artist with countless musicians from R&B to rock who attempt to emulate the legendary rasta. There have been many stories told about the “One Love” icon, but none with the backing of the Marley family and zero with the emotion, fever and soul of Kevin Macdonald’s Marley.

In select theaters today, Marley will go down in cinematic history as one of the greatest music documentaries of all time. Even at a whopping two hour and 24 minute running time, Bob’s story is exquisitely delivered with not one unnecessary frame.  The polished narrative takes us to Marley’s Kingston, Jamaica roots, where he grappled with racial identity. We see his rise to stardom, making reggae music a household name. But he was never hungry for fame, he was passionate for progress.  Sadly, we learn of his final days fighting cancer. With unseen archival footage and interviews with his family and close associates (even the wife of the doctor who tried to cure Bob Marley of cancer), there isn’t a stone unturned.

Most importantly, Marley smoothly humanizes the “No Woman, No Cry” singer-songwriter. Yes, he was gifted, but he was not perfect.  Bob was a “rolling stone” with 11 children with seven different women.  Although Bob was married to Rita Marley, in his mind he didn’t believe in marriage. Macdonald tastefully tells the side of the other women in Marley’s life, never sensationalizing the story, but answering all of the whys.

Other details discussed include: the assassination attempt on his life, his love for marijuana, his frenetic musical process and his other-worldly live performances. Even if you are not a fan of Bob Marley, the triumph in Macdonald and the Marley family’s storytelling skills trumps fandom.

When Bob Marley was alive, he was frustrated that Black American audiences did not embrace him. However, in an odd way, Bob Marley’s hopes of one love have come to fruition via his music. Bob Marley and the Wailers are not white, Black, Asian or Latino music; nor is the music solely for the poor or rich, Democrat or Republican. Bob Marley is music for the soul, regardless of your background, a universal sound that the globe has embraced.  Although he died of cancer at 36-years-old in 1981, there will never be a time when Bob Marley is an afterthought.

Hats off to Kevin Macdonald and the Marley family for properly, respectfully and finally telling the story of a worldwide icon. Marley is worth the wait and the first must-see movie of 2012.

Marley is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: “The Hunger Games”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:00 am.

Move over Twilight, another teen dream flick is about to pulverize pop culture.  The highly anticipated Hunger Games is predestined to bring in billions of dollars and lock in a loyal fan base.  However, don’t think Hunger Games is another Twilight. Outside of the initial audience the Lionsgate film will attract; the movie, based on the popular novel, is mostly sophisticated and has the potential for broad appeal.

Surprisingly tolerable from the start, the Gary Ross-directed film opens with a poverty-stricken Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) preparing for the “Reaping,” which randomly selects two teens from each “district” to fight to the death.  The death-match is titled The Hunger Games, an annual televised event that brings in millions of dollars and viewers. A total of 24 teens fight until there is one survivor.

In an era of reality television, where people are stranded on a deserted island (Survivor), eat the genitals of animals (Fear Factor) and fight till blood is drawn (Basketball WivesJersey Shore, etc.), the morbid plot isn’t far-fetched.  Many of the characters on reality television are either starved for attention or money.  The twist with The Hunger Games, however, is that these teens are selected by a creepy lottery system and their deaths are publicized (Honestly, we may not be too far away from that today.  We once had the draft, which forcibly sent young men off to the Vietnam War).  That said, the flick is not cramming a message down your throat; it’s your interpretation.

Overall, one cannot deny its entertainment value, especially from lead Jennifer Lawrence, who is miles ahead of  Bella Swan, the victimized damsel in distress from Twilight.  Lawrence represents a strong young woman with integrity and her performance, which could’ve easily gone down cheese ball lane, was as solid as it could be for a pop film.

Hollywood A-listers and Oscar nominees like Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci help validate the flick in roles they could’ve played under anesthesia.  Unfortunately, most of the other characters are terribly underdeveloped.  For example, Amandla Stenberg as Rue had a meaty role but her characters needed back-story.  Nigerian-born Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh had one solid sentence, he was the one character who died that got a sigh from the audience.  But these two did add some needed diversity.  Hopefully, these newcomers will receive more chances in Hollywood, considering they both have star quality.

Speaking of the plot, Hunger Games is no groundbreaking story.  You can predict the ending within the first 20 minutes, but it’s the journey of how the characters get there that is most interesting—despite some embarrassing dialogue here and there.  One of the film’s massive flaws was the shockingly awful cinematography during the action scenes.  A spinning camera ruined several high-energy moments.

What made The Hunger Games eventually starve the audience was the ridiculously long running time: two hours and twenty-minutes. By the time the epic finished, people were running out of the theater like they just listened to a three-hour college lecture.   The art of editing has vanished in film.

All things considered, The Hunger Games had just enough attractive people to satisfy pre-teens, enough gore to bring in teen boys, a sweet (and at times annoying romance) to make teen girls swoon and a sophisticated enough plot to engage others outside of their demographic.  Dare I say, The Hunger Games might be a deserving hit.

The Hunger Games is in theatres now.

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Movie Review: “Chronicle”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy Adam Schroeder Productions)

Summary: After three nosy teens find a radioactive hole, they are given unexplainable powers of flight and telekinesis. However, the resident “nerd” of the group, who is constantly bullied, lets his powers get the best of him.

Review: Teens with superpowers is no new concept: examples include X-Men, Heroes and one of the originals, Carrie. Unlike those imaginative flicks, Chronicle is a rehashing of everything we’ve seen before, it’s almost good and almost bad, but not without moments of entertainment. Directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis, the 20th Century Fox film struggles to take flight — it could be the overused Blair Witch Project-style of a hand-held cam or the cumbersome special effects that looked like with each passing the scene they were running out of money. By the end of the short 83 minutes, the result is a disappointingly mediocre film that needed some serious creative superpowers versus relying on docu-style gimmicks and trite morality tales.

Chronicle is the type of movie you walk out of and say, “Well, it could’ve worked if they did this,” or “If they only would’ve tried this.” For example, the lead actors (Dane DeHann, Alex Russell and the up-and-coming Michael B. Jordan), have great chemistry. However, their characters are shallow with ridiculous shifts — within five minutes the nerd goes from shy geek to a Magneto-type madman terrorizing the hometown of Starbucks.

Also, references to blogs and “chronicling” life on an HD cam soaks the Chronicle.  Yes, the youth of today might be obsessed with documenting every detail of their lives, but it’s implausible that anyone would be that camera-hungry (unless you’re Paris Hilton) to film as they are about to rob a gas station or fall to their death in a car that is being thrown across the skies of Seattle.  If it didn’t work for Cloverfield, it certainly is an epic fail for Chronicle.

Chronicle had tons of potential and who knows how well it will perform at the box office. There were moments of genuine talent in the work of the director, writer and actors. Overall, Chronicle was a film we have seen too many times, and done much better. One plus: It wasn’t in 3D!

Chronicle is in theaters now.

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Movie Review: “The Iron Lady”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, January 6, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Film4, UK Film Council)

Summary: The biopic on the first and only female Prime Minister of the U.K., Margaret Thatcher, shows the controversial politician reflecting on her life while nearly senile and dealing with the death of her long-time husband.

Review: The Iron Lady, which stars the Aretha Franklin of acting, Meryl Streep, as Margaret Thatcher, is another film in the Oscar race. However, the praise for the Phyllida Lloyd-directed film is solely for Meryl Streep’s performance rather than for the movie as a whole.  Due to its mild script, casual avoidance of the controversies that surrounded Thatcher and not teaching audiences anything new, The Iron Lady does not live up to its potential.

All of the elements were there for a biopic home-run: Meryl Streep, big Hollywood budget and iconic figure in history. But somewhere between the montages of the U.K. in unrest and flashbacks to a conservative Thatcher, Iron Lady went down arduous biopic lane, which has known the likes of Amelia, Evita and the hodgepodge of Cadillac Records—all movies that had strong actors but a dead script.

The most troublesome element of Iron Lady is the iron-clad praise of Thatcher being the first and only female Prime Minister of the U.K. Despite the history, she was a rigid conservative known for disregarding the poor in a way that would make the current Republican candidates blush. Thatcher being the “first” is not enough to ignore her failed and hurtful policies.

Nonetheless, the script, Margaret Thatcher, the history—that’s all the background. The Iron Lady is solely about Meryl Streep landing her third Oscar. But it’s going to be a tough battle to beat out Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn and what seems like the current favorite, Viola Davis in The Help.  However, it is still fascinating to watch Streep’s transformation, saving an otherwise forgettable film.

The Iron Lady is in theaters Friday.

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Best Films of 2011

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 12:00 am.

2011 was a wildly rough year for film.  The box office suffered and audiences finally grew tired of 3D and remakes. However, there were a handful of unforgettable movies over the past 12 months. Check out my third annual list for the best films of 2011 (click on the quote to go directly to the review).

10. Gun Hill Road

(Photo: SimonSays Productions)

Raw, disturbing and educational, Gun Hill Road is sure to shake up what the average audience might think of someone who suffers from being born in the wrong body.  The first must-see indie of the summer.

9. Johnny Mad Dog

(Photo: MNP Enterprise)

Educational, truthful and important.

8. London River

(Photo: Arte France, 3B Productions)

Bouchareb’s greatest accomplishment is successfully tackling class, grief and Islamophobia.

7. Attack the Block

(Photo: Studio Canal)

Deserves the praise it’s received.

6. The Skin I Live In

(Photo: Canal+ España)

Almodovar ups the sicko factor with arguably one of the best plot twists in the past ten years of movie-making.

5. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

(Photo: Rival Pictures)

A hip-hop version of The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and one of the best music docs to come out in recent years. Whether you love hip-hop or not, this is a documentary not to be missed and one that will not be forgotten.

4. Kinyarwanda

(Photo: Blok Box IMG)

All respect to Alrick Brown for giving audiences a fresh take on the Rwandan genocide. In a movie that was shot in 16 days, viewers will be educated and moved.

3. Desert Flower

(Photo: Desert Flower Film Productions, Majestic FilmProduktion)

Desert Flower is a superbly told story with unapologetic conviction, noticeable fire, and the purest intentions of moving your soul. The first must-see movie of 2011.

2. Bridesmaids

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

The funniest movie of the year. Unlike Hangover, the film doesn’t rely on sexism, homophobia and racial epithets to hit a punch line.

1. Pariah

(Photo: Focus Features)

It takes a village to get a film like Pariah on the big screen. But the village came together for the best movie-going experience of the 2011.

Honorable mentions: Shame, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey and Limelight.

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