8:00 PM, 4th November, 2011
Mel Gibson stars in this bittersweet comedy about a successful toy executive, Walter Black, who is kicked out by his wife one night after years of growing apart. From here, Walter descends into a deep alcohol-fuelled depression that seemingly has no end - until he finds a beaver puppet discarded in a garbage skip. Deciding to take a break from reality, Walter distances himself from the world around him by letting the puppet speak for him in all aspects of his life, including to his family and in the running of his company.
Jodie Foster directs and stars as Walter's estranged wife, whom he attempts to reconnect with through the beaver (voiced by Gibson, though sounding remarkably like Ray Winstone), in order to ultimately bring his dysfunctional family back together. Recent publicity related to Gibson's personal life has rather overshadowed this film, even to the extent of delaying its release, but the wait was nevertheless worth it with Gibson himself in fine form, giving an impassioned and harrowing performance. Foster is equally excellent, with the younger members of the cast - Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence - providing strong support.
In the end the film, which given its absurd premise could easily have come off as mawkish or descended into broad farce, emerges as a serious and sensitive portrayal of mental illness, a testament to the power of human creativity to overcome adversity. If you enjoyed similar films like Ryan Gosling's Lars and the Real Girl, then The Beaver will fit you like a glove.
10:15 PM, 4th November, 2011
While director Darren Aronofsky may now be best known for last year's Oscar-winning Black Swan, it was this, his second film, that cemented his status as a director to watch. Based on Hubert Selby Jr's novel of the same name, Requiem for a Dream is a tale of hopes and despair (befitting its title) that focuses on four people with aspirations that eventually lead them down ugly paths of addiction and self-delusion.
Harry (Leto) and Marion (Connelly) are lovers, hoping to start a fashion store. Their friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) wants to make it big and treat his mother right, while Harry's mother Sara (Burstyn) is in the running to go on her favourite game show and takes up a strict dieting regimen to look her best.
The film deals with addiction in all its forms, leading to the characters' downfall and eventual self-destruction. Aronofsky uses many creative and surrealistic techniques, including multiple shots in quick succession (over three times more than usual) and progressively shortening scene lengths in order to reflect their increasing addictions - all leading to the harrowing final minutes that every viewer will keep with them for a while.
Requiem for a Dream is dark and depressing but essential viewing, thanks in large part to the fantastically disturbing performances from its cast, particularly Burstyn, whose performance netted her a sixth Oscar nomination. The score by Clint Mansell is instantly recognisable and the musical requiem played over the closing minutes is a tragic, fitting end to a hard-to-watch yet unforgettable film.