THE HELP
2011, Walt Disney Pictures, 146 min, USA, Dir: Tate Taylor

In the summer of 1963, recent college graduate and aspiring author Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns home to Jackson, Mississippi for the summer, only to discover that the friends she left behind (a fire-breathing Bryce Dallas Howard among them) have become malignantly conformist housewives-in-training, with nasty racist opinions suddenly in full swing. Stunned by how the same young girls who were so lovingly raised by black domestics could grow up to be such biggots, Skeeter suddenly realizes the book she wants to write: a collection of interviews with black maids in her community. Particularly hesitant is Abileen Clarke (an excellent Viola Davis), who doesn't want to stir up trouble, but when the racist atmosphere of Jackson reaches a dangerous fever pitch with the assassination of Medgar Evers, she knows her story must be shared at any cost. With an impressive supporting cast including Jessica Chastain as the good-hearted, bottle-blond outsider in town, Octavia Spencer as Abileen's smart-mouthed friend and fellow domestic and Allison Janney as Skeeter's cancer-stricken mother. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Davis) and two for Best Supporting Actress (Spencer and Chastain).


THE TREE OF LIFE
2011, Fox Searchlight, 139 min, USA, Dir: Terrence Malick

A young boy's troubled upbringing in the 1950s and the creation of the Earth are depicted with psychedelic reverence in Terrence Malick's visually operatic meditation on existence. Hunter McCracken stars as Jack, a Waco youth grappling with his relationship with his bristling father (a clench-jawed Brad Pitt, never better) while forming a close unit with his mother (Jessica Chastain, in a radiant performance) and younger brothers (Laramie Epler and Tye Sheridan). Powerful music by Mozart, Bach and Berlioz (to name only a few) accents the consummate soundtrack, while the designs of famed special effects artist Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) offer a staggering and kaleidoscopic crash course on the evolution of the universe. Director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki’s lyrical cinematography is perfectly harmonious with Malick’s poetic style. With Sean Penn.


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