Friday, January 28, 2011

Sunday SAGs

Now that the Golden Globe sideshow circus has left town, maybe the Screen Actors Guild awards can give us an honest glimpse at who will take home the Oscar.

That isn’t to say that they haven’t been known to shy away from being the deciding factor in close races. In 2000, the Best Actor race was split between Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator). The SAGs awarded Benico Del Toro (Traffic), who later won the Oscar for Supporting Actor.

Also, in 2003 Sean Penn (Mystic River) and Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) were in a dead heat, and they both lost to Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean.

In the past ten years, the SAG-Oscar correlation has matched up as follows:
Actor: 6 correct out of 10
Actress: 7 correct out of 10
Supporting Actor: 5 out of 10
Supporting Actress: 6 out of 10

So on Sunday, it’s all about the ladies. Can Natalie Portman keep riding her streak? And can Melissa Leo best her four worthy opponents? We shall see.

Jeff Bridges- True Grit
Robert Duvall- Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network
Colin Firth- The King's Speech
James Franco- 127 Hours

Should win: From this list, Firth. From a more accurate list, Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine).
Will win: Firth.
Franco is Firth's biggest competition. 
Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman- Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence- Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman- Black Swan
Hilary Swank- Conviction

Should win: Portman
Will win: Tough call. Flip a coin. Tails. Portman.
I'm still a little confused why Swank is here.
Christian Bale- The Fighter
John Hawkes- Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner- The Town
Mark Ruffalo- The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush- The King's Speech

Should win: Bale.
Will win: Bale.
Don't worry, one day soon you'll actually win one of these.
Amy Adams- The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter- The King's Speech
Mila Kunis- Black Swan
Melissa Leo- The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit

Should win: I’d be content with any of them. If I were voting, I suppose I’d go for Adams.
Will win: Leo… probably.
No Oscar nom for "Sweep Lips" :(
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Should win: Honestly, in terms of all around acting, I’d go with The Fighter (I mean those sisters…Jesus).
Will Win: The Fighter (or The King’s Speech).
Would you take them on?

The SAGs air Sunday at 8 p.m. on TNT and TBS. Click here for a full list of nominees.

For more OSCAR coverage, click here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

UPDATE - Oscars: What You Need to See

As I said a few weeks ago: hype changes things.  Case in point: before today, I thought Christopher Nolan (Inception) would edge out David Fincher (The Social Network) and win Best Director.  But now that Nolan isn't even nominated, the game has surely change.

The following is a hype-update of my eariler post.  You don't have to see every nominee to see the winners.  Stick to this list, and you should be good.

The King’s Speech vs. The Social Network
With The King's Speech nabbing the most nominations (12 total) and the Producers Guild Award last week, it's now the favorite over The Social Network.

David Fincher for The Social Network vs. Tom Hooper for The King's Speech
This is tricky.  Even if The King's Speech wins Best Picture, I don't see Hooper taking Director.  Fincher is still the safest bet.

Colin Firth in The King’s Speech vs. James Franco in 127 Hours
Firth is this year's lock.  If, in the next month, James Franco rescues 13 crippled infants from a burning building while renegotiating peace treaties with Iran, he may win.  But, still, probably not.

Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right vs. Natalie Portman in Black Swan
I think Portman is now the favorite.  She's got the number one movie at the box office (No Strings Attached) a new beau with a baby on the way.  She's Hollywood's Homecoming Queen.

Christian Bale in The Fighter vs. Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
There will be Bale (I hope).

Amy Adams in The Fighter vs. Helena Bonhman Carter in The King's Speech vs. Melissa Leo in The Fighter vs. Hailee Steinfield in True Grit vs. Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom
Any of these women could walk away with this award.  Weaver is the dark horse, but she's also the best, so see Animal Kingdom for your own sake of cinematic wonder.  If there's an edge right now, I'll give it to Leo.  But you honestly can't count any of them out.

Click here for continuing OSCAR coverage.

Oscar Noms: Surprise Snubs

Hey everyone, did you know that the most original, inventive film in years didn’t have a director?  It had a screenwriter, and even a few producers, but no director.  It had an art director, a cinematographer, a lead musician, a visual effects artist, a sound editor; hell, it even had a sound mixer, but, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Inception had no director.  At least not one worth recognizing.

Here’s a breakdown of other areas in which the Academy blew it this morning when it released its nominations for the 83rd Oscars.  (And, yes, a few places where they got it right, too.)

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

No real surprises.  It was whispered around town that The Town would snag 127 Hours’ place, but to no avail.  However, with The King’s Speech leading the pack with 12 total nominations (and a surprise PGA victory last weekend), it is now the frontrunner for Best Picture.  Eh.

Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
David O. Russell- The Fighter
Tom Hooper - The King’s Speech
David Fincher - The Social Network
Joel and Ethan Coen- True Grit

The King’s Speech was better directed than Inception?  Really?
Javier Bardem- Biutiful
Jeff Bridges- True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network
Colin Firth- The King’s Speech
James Franco- 127 Hours

Congrats Julia Roberts, you’re nagging worked!  Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) should have Bridges’ spot, just as a courtesy. 

Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman- Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence- Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman- Black Swan
Michelle Williams- Blue Valentine

I have no real beef here.  Go Natalie!

Christian Bale- The Fighter
John Hawkes- Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner- The Town
Mark Ruffalo- The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush- The King's Speech

Ruffalo is kind of a surprise, I was hoping for Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) or even a sympathy vote for Pete Postlethwaite (The Town).  Love seeing Hawkes here.

Amy Adams- The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter- The King's Speech
Melissa Leo- The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit
Jacki Weaver- Animal Kingdom

Probably the biggest shocker of the morning was Weaver stealing Mila “Sweet Lips” Kunis’ spot.  Here’s the thing: I just saw Animal Kingdom last week and I can say, with zero hesitation, that Weaver deserves this award over all of the other nominees. This is easily the hardest race to call.  I could see any of them taking it. 

I’m glad the overrated Waiting for “Superman” got snubbed from the Best Documentary category.  Likewise Burlesque’s exclusion in the Best Song group.  Props to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their nominated Social Network score.  And please Academy, for the love of God, give Alejandro González Iñárritu the Oscar for Best Foreign Film (Biutiful).

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Green Hornet

It appears, to me, that there are three major types of comic book-to-film adaptations.  The dark, gritty kind cemented in realism (The Dark Knight), the we’re-having-fun-just-for-the-sake-of-having-fun kind (Iron Man) and kind that takes itself way too seriously (Daredevil, Jonah Hex).  There are subsections to each of these categories, but this is usually how the game is played.

And just because The Green Hornet so clearly, and purposefully, belongs in the second category (the fun one), that doesn’t mean it should be cut any slack.

Michel Gondry’s boring, never-ending mess of a film, in which a spoiled rich brat and his talented Asian sidekick try to fight all of the crime in LA,  has all the standard elements of a comic book flick, which could be its main problem. The drawn out action scenes seriously suffer from Transformers fatigue, while the appalling “acting” only makes you question how the hell some of the cast are considered A-listers.

Look, The Green Hornet isn’t trying to win any Academy Awards, I get that.  But despite the fact that it openly embraces its place in the world as a throwaway popcorn flick, its dialogue isn’t funny, its special effects aren’t impressive, and its runtime isn’t short enough.

The Green Hornet has been slaving away in production hell for years now, and it’s a shame that the hip Euro dude who made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can’t elevate its status. Gondry is a true visionary, and it’s disheartening to see his inventive methods trumped by a cookie-cutter story. 

Oh well, it’s January, every movie studio’s dumping ground.  Moving on.  D

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Producers Guild: A King Sized Upset

This is huge. Last night, The King's Speech was awarded Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America (PGA), causing a major chink in The Social Network's Oscar hopes.

For those unaware, the guilds are the safest bet at determining what will take home the Oscar. Most everyone has heard of the Screen Actors Guild (which air Jan. 30), but there exists a guild for almost every branch of the filmmaking process, including writing, directing, and producing.

Since it's inception in 1989, the PGA has accurately awarded the future Best Picture Oscar winner 16 out of 22 times.  But despite their solid track record, they have been known to award some huge curveballs (Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed).

Does The King's Speech's big win change the Oscar race?  You bet your ass.  Which, to be honest, is kind of a let down.  The Social Network wasn't my favorite film of the year, but it was better than the familiarities of The King's Speech.

The catch?  Only members of a particular guild can vote in guild awards.  So only members of the Producers Guild (aka a bunch of old, white dudes) chose to award The King's Speech with its highest honor.  Whereas with the Oscars, every member of the Academy votes in every category.  That's what causes upsets.

At this point, the Directors Guild award will be a far better judge at handicapping the Oscars.  That guild has matched up to the Oscars all but six times since 1948.  Whatever happens, I'm glad there's some life back in the Best Picture race.

Awards Schedule
Oscar nominations: Tuesday Jan. 25
Directors Guild awards: Saturday Jan. 29
Screen Actors Guild awards: Sunday Jan. 30
Writers Guild awards: Saturday Feb. 5
BAFTAs: Sunday Feb. 13
Indie Spirit awards: Saturday Feb. 26
Oscars: Sunday Feb. 27

Friday, January 21, 2011

No Strings Attached

There are two things that can get my ass into an Ashton Kutcher movie on a Friday night: Natalie Portman and the Norbit syndrome.

No Strings Attached isn’t good.  It’s predictable, lame and, worst of all, completely ordinary. But following her flawless, Oscar-worthy turn in Black Swan, I’d watch Natalie Portman type out passages from the phone book for two hours.  She makes No Strings Attached (moderately) worthwhile, bringing her customary wave of charm and playful spitefulness to her role as a doctor unwilling to commit to her happy-go-lucky friend with whom she shares sexual benefits.

You don’t need me to tell you where the movie is going, but, if I’m being honest, I didn’t completely loath it.  I genuinely laughed out loud a half a dozen times (thanks much in part to its foul language-embracing R rating), and was left with a feeling of contentment once the credits rolled.  No Strings Attached isn’t going to change any lives, but it won’t make you wish for your time back, either.

But there’s something else to mention here, which may indeed be the main reason No Strings Attached isn’t deplorable.

During the early months of 2007, one thing was clear as the Oscar race heated up: Eddie Murphy was going to win Best Supporting Actor for his revelatory performance in Dreamgirls.  Then Norbit came out.  Norbit proved to Oscar voters what they had been trying to forget for the past few months: Eddie Murphy is… Eddie Murphy.  His Dreamgirls role was a fluke, and he shouldn’t be rewarded with an Oscar just weeks after releasing a God awful embarrassment like Norbit. 

Norbit, and its star, received awful reviews.  Alan Arkin won the Oscar.  And Eddie Murphy went back to being… Eddie Murphy. 

That was my fear of No Strings Attached.  Norbit proved that it is possible for an actor to ruin his or her chances at winning a shoe-in Oscar.  Will Natalie Portman appearing in a generic rom-com damage her chances of nabbing an Oscar for Black Swan?  Not a chance.  Hell, if No Strings Attached hadn’t casted a talking mannequin as its lead actor, it may have actually been, dare I say, good. C-

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The BAFTAs Grow a Pair

After the laboriously predictable and flat-out mean-spirited Golden Globe awards last Sunday, much credit needs to be given to the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (aka the British Oscars) for shaking things up a bit.

Predicting who will win a BAFTA is usually pretty easy: if you’re British, you win. But in recent years, the BAFTAs have seen a subtle shift in the effect they have on the Oscars. In 2007, for example, Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) took home surprise BAFTAs, which remained the only major award they won before the Oscars.

It’s pretty clear that The King’s Speech will sweep most of the major BAFTAs this year, but just looking at some of the nominees, you’ve really got to appreciate BAFTAs lack of convention, deciding instead to color outside of the lines.

Black Swan
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

The King’s Speech should enjoy this award, it’s the only time it’ll win Best Picture this season.

Firth in The King's Speech
Danny Boyle - 127 Hours
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
Christopher Nolan - Inception
Tom Hooper - The King’s Speech
David Fincher - The Social Network

Nolan is a Brit, keep that in mind. It’s between him and Hooper.

Hooper on the set of The King's Speech
Javier Bardem - Biutiful
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Colin Firth - The King’s Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours

Bardem is a surprise, maybe Julia Roberts’ constant nagging is working in his favor. Bardem, Bridges, Eisenberg and Franco should enjoy the free trip to London, because that’s all they’re getting out of this.
Bardem in Biutiful
Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Noomi Rapace - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit

Perfect example of the BAFTA’s audacity. We haven’t seen Moore make the Best Actress shortlist anywhere. Likewise Rapace (I’m glad someone remembered her). But Steinfeld is the big shocker here. Widely considered to be a supporting performance, Steinfeld’s BAFTA nomination could help shift her to the leading actress Oscar race. Either way, it’s still a Bening/Portman showdown.
Steinfeld in True Grit
Christian Bale - The Fighter
Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
Pete Postlethwaite - The Town
Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush - The King’s Speech

Postlethwaite got the sympathy vote, which I’m not complaining about, but Bale and Rush are the top contenders. Tough choice, but I imagine Bale will add this BAFTA to his increasing crowded mantel.
Postlethwaite in The Town
Amy Adams - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King’s Speech
Barbara Hershey - Black Swan
Lesley Manville - Another Year
Miranda Richardson - Made In Dagenham

No Melissa Leo is interesting, as is Hershey nabbing Mila “Sweet Lips” Kunis’ Black Swan spot. Carter is the safe bet here.
Carter in The King's Speech
The BAFTAs will air Sunday Feb. 13 on BBC.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 10 of 2010

The best thing about 2010 is that it’s over.  I’ve been writing film reviews, free hand and on this blog, for 11 years, and this past year was easily the worst.  I usually have trouble slimming down my end of the year list to just 10 films.  This year, I was hard pressed to think of 10.  My top four are solid; they are game-changing measures of the film medium and will be remembered and mimicked for years.  The rest are all worthy of your time, but they aren’t classics.  Sorry if some of the titles don’t ring a bell; most of the mainstream movies didn’t really do it for me this year.

Top 10 of 2010

10. The American
I think I’m one of seven people who have actually seen this, but that matters little, because a good film is a good film, popularity be damned.  Despite its title and leading star George Clooney – in a wonderfully restrained performance – The American is anything but domestic.  It’s slowly paced, tersely written, and shot with purpose.  Most of you probably haven’t paid this movie the time of day.  Shame.  It’s one of the best hidden treasures of this year. (Currently on DVD)

9. Winter’s Bone
Not many films released before November have the luxury of being remembered come Oscar time.  And the margin slims even further when you’re talking about independent films.  So, it’s a testament to Winter’s Bone – a beautifully realized, meticulously detailed drama about an impoverished teenager barely keeping her family afloat – that it has stayed above the radar since July.  Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey are all fascinating; much like the film as a whole, you can’t take your eyes off them.  (Currently on DVD)

8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
I was tempted to clump the Millenium Trilogy together, but on second thought, this is the only one that best stands alone as an individual film.  Crafting together source material that Hitchcock would be jealous of, in such a wildly successful way, is enough of an achievement.  Having a force of nature like Noomi Rapace be the face of that great venture, well, that’s something else all together.  Okay David Fincher, let’s see what you’ve got. (Currently on DVD and Netflix Instant)

7. I Am Love
Another indie darling that I came across by chance one lonely night while scouring my Netflix Instant queue.  Thank God I did.  Tilda Swinton delivers the best work of her impressive career as a quiet, out of place Russian woman who married into phenomenal Italian wealth.  The film’s overall look and sound seem effortless, but they're the work of a very skilled, very purposeful director. (Currently on DVD and Netflix Instant)

6. Never Let Me Go
A great counterpoint to the lavishness of Inception, Never Let Me Go is most definitely a science fiction film, but you wouldn’t know it unless you pay close attention.  Stamping this film with a one sentence plot description would do it a grave injustice.  It’s far too original and engaging to have it ruined here.  (On DVD Feb. 1)

5. Somewhere
The real shocker on my list is this indie curveball, which I had next to no interest in seeing, and was utterly blown away by the final result.  It’s painfully slow, yes, but wholly deliberate.  Stephen Dorff delivers a performance of such restraint and candor, it should vault him to the top of the A list. Critical response has been positive, but Somewhere isn’t attracting crowds, which is why it most likely won’t reach your local theatre.  Bummer.  All’s I want to do is watch it again, and then again.  I’m dying over here. (Currently in, some, theatres)

4. The Social Network
One surprising thing about 2010 is that it has every major critic aligned, as most of them have chosen David Fincher’s Facebook flick as the best film of the year.  It’s a wise choice, one backed by the year’s best screenplay and an ensemble of flawless acting performances.  You can’t just watch The Social Network, you have to listen.  A rare critical darling that everyone can enjoy.  Don’t be surprised if it snags the Best Picture Oscar. (Currently on DVD)

3. Inception
It’s easy to knock a film like Inception, given its plethora of praise.  Hype does that to pop culture: everyone else likes it, so we start to find things wrong with it.  While Inception may have its fair share of naysayers, you have to make one hell of a compelling argument to call the film unnecessary and anything but completely fucking mind blowing. Me?  I’m thinking ahead.  Inception, like the greatest films stuck in the science fiction genre, is years (possibly decades) before its time.  Just wait.  Ten or 20 years from now, when the only sci-fi movies being released are about the effects of dreams, you’ll wonder what movie started it all.  (Currently on DVD)

2. Blue Valentine
I didn’t know two characters better this year than Dean and Cindy from Blue Valentine.  Maybe it’s because Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Cutris’ script was so poignant and honest.  Maybe it’s because Cianfrance’s direction made us feel like a fly on the wall in the best, most shocking way.  Those are two good reasons, but I suspect that I knew Dean and Cindy so well because they were played so flawlessly by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  Many roles demand a broad spectrum of emotions from the actor, and many roles demand that those emotions be played out simultaneously.  But rarely are those emotions carried out so convincingly.  I saw Blue Valentine only five days ago, which is to say, it’s the film on this list that is freshest in my mind.  That hardly matters, due simply to the fact that I haven’t been able to shake it for one waking minute. I think Blue Valentine will be lingering around my subconscious for many a cold night to come. (Currently in threatres)

1. Black Swan
“I just saw Black Swan. The whole drive home from the theatre is a blur, now I’m sitting in my car trying to remember how to get out and walk. It was that good.  Also I feel physically ill and am afraid to take a shower or look in the mirror.  I’m 100% serious.”

That was the reaction my best friend had after seeing the best film of 2010.  Loyal readers know I haven’t shut about this movie since I saw it in the beginning on December.  And for good reason.  It’s everything a contemporary movie should be: new, inventive, emotionally gripping, and wholly convincing.  Natalie Portman delivered the best acting performance of the year as a tortured ballet dancer, and she should be awarded accordingly.  Black Swan is the highlight of Darren Aronofsky’s already impeccable career.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Perfect.  It was perfect.” (Currently in threatres)

Most Disappointing Films
The Cove was my second favorite movie last year, but this year, I was left confused and dumbfounded by most of the mainstream documentaries.  Waiting for “Superman” and Inside Job are earning rave reviews (one of them will likely win the Oscar) but I thought they came off as boring history lessons.  And don’t even get me started on Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’m Still Here; they had their moments, but a fake documentary is not a documentary, it’s a lame marketing ploy.

Foreign films
While A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes and The White Ribbon were all released in American theatres this calendar year, they were technically 2009 releases.  Where the hell were the good foreign films of 2010?

I love Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) and what he’s learned from the school of Wes Anderson.  But I detested Greenberg, a trite, overzealous, boring mess of a film.

Robin Hood
Note to Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott: you guys got lucky with Gladiator, but you’ll never duplicate its success.  Stop trying.

Sex and the City 2
I wasn’t exactly disappointed by this film, I figured it was going to suck.  But while Sex and the City 2 did manage to suck, horribly, it also pulled off the grand feats of being offensive and racist.  On top of all that, seriously, who wants to watch a two and half hour movie about rich white women bitching about being rich white women?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine is the hardest kind of film to review.  It’s so finely tuned and impeccably crafted, that describing any particular scene would be a great misfortune to potential viewers. 

I didn’t know much about Blue Valentine walking in, only that it chronicled the highs and lows of a relationship and was initially slapped with an NC17 rating for sexuality (which, for the record, is utter bullshit).   And to be honest, it’d be a sin to divulge any further plot details.  This is the delicate balance of reviewing films: if a movie is good, which this one very much is, then it’s my job to get you to see it, without ruining it for you.

Dean (Ryan Gosling, never better) and Cindy (Michelle Williams, never better) meet and fall in love under a set of audacious, yet warmly endearing, circumstances, but are living their 30s in flux.  They have a small house, modest jobs, and a lovely young daughter; the type of couple that is able to share a gentle laugh one moment, then scream each other senseless the next.

We get the sense that Dean is content with living life under his full potential.  It’s evident, with his skillful sarcasm and tricky wordplay, that he really is an intelligent guy.  Cindy has grown to resent him for this, constantly nagging him for not being more.  Dean resents her resentment, and the two go round and round.

The film is written in play form, with long scenes of dialogue used as its primary storytelling method.  It’s during these long-winded (but never boring) conversations that we get to know Dean and Cindy.  Really know them.  It’s in these scenes that we are given one of the best, most fleshed out screen couples of recent cinematic memory. 

It isn’t important to detail what Dean and Cindy argue about, and the ultimate resolutions of those arguments.  What is important to highlight, however, is how well Gosling and Williams pull off a happy couple gone wrong.  A lot of movies about couples take place right as the honeymoon phase is wearing off.  But I’ve never seen one like this. 

Minus an occasional hiccup, Ryan Gosling has made every effort to assert himself as one of the most emotionally charged actors of his generation.  His talent has been on full display in a wide range of films, from The Believer to Half Nelson to Lars and the Real Girl.  So to say Gosling is a revelation as Dean would be to imply that he didn’t have this performance in him, which is not the case.  We always knew Gosling had the acting chops demanded of such a challenging role, and as Dean, he finally gets to flex them.  It’s a performance of such effortless skill and self-pity, that you can’t help but sink with him during his downfall.  Even before his death, Gosling said Heath Ledger was one of his biggest influences.  I believe now is a suitable time to file him among those ranks.

Michelle Williams has, well, seriously impressed me only once, as Ledger’s sorrowful wife in Brokeback Mountain. But here, she adds enough layers and depth to Cindy to comfortably fill five characters.  At first, I didn’t know how I was supposed to react to Cindy.  Is she the victim?  The perpetrator?  The loving mother?  The bitchy wife? After a while, it clicked: she’s all of them, and more.  Cindy is a deeply flawed, emotionally crippled individual, and Williams embodies her marvelously.  Both of these actors deserve whatever recognition is floated their way this awards season.

Blue Valentine isn’t exactly easy viewing.  Like all great films, its content forces you to examine where you are in your life.  Each scene of Blue Valentine emotionally builds on top of the other in a way that is grueling yet strangely cathartic.  It isn’t sad, it’s just simply real.  And if life is depressing, then so be it.  Films are meant to evoke emotional reactions from you, whatever that reaction may be.  On that criteria, Blue Valentine fires on all cylinders.  It’s as gut wrenching a film about American marriage as I’ve ever seen.  A

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Somewhere is that rare kind of movie that knows exactly what it is doing.  Every camera angle, every editing transition; every chosen frame is presented with purpose. Everything is deliberate. I mention this for one reason: Somewhere is slow.  Really slow.  Its scenes drag on for what feels like an eternity, there isn’t a single shred of a plot, and several times throughout the film, you’ll ask yourself why the hell you’re watching what you’re watching.  In short, if you don’t like Somewhere after 20 minutes, go try to get your money back, or turn the DVD off. The film’s pace doesn’t change, which, of course, contributes to its lasting brilliance.

Yes, brilliance.  It’s taken me a week to write this review, far longer than I like to wait.  But there’s a very simple reason for this: I literally had no idea how I felt about Somewhere, even days after I had seen it.  When the credits rolled, I sat still in the theatre, curiously listening to other attendees moan about why they stayed the whole time, and others declare it a masterpiece. I didn’t know where I stood.  Until now.

Somewhere tells the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a popular action movie star in his mid-30s, living out his life at the hipster Chateau Marmont hotel in LA.  Johnny isn’t an asshole, which is normally how actors playing popular actors are perceived in movies.  He doesn’t do things out of malice, but instead out of lazy overindulgence.  He’ll order gourmet room service as easily as he will a pair of blonde, twin sister strippers.  A random naked girl in his bed is as common to him as smoking cigarettes and drinking beer alone in the dark.

This is how the movie carries on for the most part.  Johnny sitting around, drinking, smoking, getting laid, eating food, and, occasionally, spending time with his irresistible 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning, as talented as her older sister, Dakota). 

Unlike director Sofia Coppola’s most famous movie, Lost in Translation, Somewhere isn’t about its main character drastically reassessing his life after a female comes in it.  In fact, Johnny is pretty much the same around his daughter.  He takes her on weekend trips to Italy, drives her around in his Ferrari, dines with her at nice restaurants, and so on.  The two have an amiable rapport of mutual gratification; he lives the life, and she humbly enjoys it.

But again, this is not what the film is about.  In fact, it isn’t really about anything, unless you want to play up the whole metaphysical “wow, what does it all mean” effect, which I tend to stay away from.  Although it may not concern itself with an obvious plot, Somewhere is indeed anchored by a woman who has a sharp and purposeful eye for cinema.  Better than anything, is Coppola’s ability to gently ease out breathtaking performances from her actors (her pops was pretty good at this, too). 

Stephen Dorff is best known for playing the bad guy in Blade 12 years ago.  He’s popped up in memorable, albeit minor, roles in a variety of other movies like World Trade Center and Public Enemies, but, for the most part, he’s stayed hidden behind the Hollywood A-list curtain, a place I doubt he’ll be for long.  To say his performance as Johnny is the best of his career is a lame understatement.

There’s nothing flashy about this role, no screaming moment of catharsis or long monologue of clarity.  Instead, Dorff simply becomes a character you can’t take your eyes off of.  There’s a scene late in the film when he sits on the floor of his hotel room, talking blankly into the phone.  At the risk of giving anything away, I can say that I was simply in awe of how Dorff played that moment.  It is, I firmly believe, the single best-acted scene by a male actor this year. 

When Roger Ebert first saw Pulp Fiction at the Cannes Film Festival, he walked slowly out of the theatre in a daze, wandering aimlessly around the lobby.  He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. “So… what’d you think?” Tarantino asked him.  Ebert paused for a few moments, then said, “That was either the best film of the year or the worst film of the year.”

I had a similar feeling walking out of Somewhere.  And after a week of letting it stew, I can tell you that Somewhere isn’t the best film of 2010, but it is damn far from the worst.  A
Listen to my podcast on Somewhere:

Remembering Pete Postlethwaite

Pete Postlethwaite, who died yesterday after a long bout with cancer, was the perfect character actor: you may not have known his name, but you damn sure knew his face.  With his thick British accent, he was known for his subtle charm and lacerating intensity.  Here are five of my favorite scene-stealing Postlethwaite performances.

In The Name of the Father (1993) - Giuseppe Conlon
Despite being blatantly innocent, British officials found it easy to convict thieving screw up, Gerry Conlon of a terrorist bombing.  What’s worse, however, was the conviction of Gerry’s blameless, at-no-way-involved family, including his father Giuseppe.  Postlethwaite plays Giuseppe as a kind man, willing to forgive and accept his ultimate fate behind bars.  His scenes with Gerry (played flawlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis) earned them both Oscar nominations.  It’s a remarkable performance, the highlight of an impressive career. 

The Usual Suspects (1995) – Kobayashi       
It’s impossible to recall the brilliance of The Usual Suspects without hearing Kobayashi’s soothing, relaxed demands.  As the face of Keyser Söze, Kobayashi is responsible for laying down the law, consequences be damned.  The scene when he gently threatens the lives of the people closest to the four main characters is utterly terrifying, and bloody brilliant.  I can think of no better actor to share the last laugh with Mr. Söze.

James and the Giant Peach (1996) – Old Man          
When I was compiling this list, I inadvertently put down James and the Giant Peach.  But why?  Postlethwaite only has one brief scene as a wounded Confederate soldier who gives James a bag full of green… crocodile tongues.  Huh?  For some reason, I’ve never been able to shake Postlethwaite from his moment in this film.  Like most people my age, this was the first time I was exposed to that skinny, chiseled face of his.  It isn’t his most showy performance, but it’s stayed with me.

The Lost World (1997) – Ronald Tempo
After filming this Jurassic Park sequel, Steven Spielberg called Postlethwaite the best actor in the world.  Not too bad.  This movie isn’t that good, but Postlethwaite, as a mild mannered and morally sound dinosaur hunter, is easily the best part of it.  He delivers his smooth one-liners with a lack of spectacle.  It’s like he knows that the sound of his voice is enough to soothe anyone, no matter what he’s saying.

The Town (2010) – Fergie the Florist
I’ve used the word subtle frequently in this post, usually bookended it with highlights of Postlethwaite’s charm and innocence.  Such is not the case here.  Postlethwaite does indeed play Fergie as subtle, but we know from his first moment on screen that Fergie is an awful, villainous man.  Despite being bone skinny from his cancer, Postlethwaite was able to make Fergie instantly feared, which is enough to call the performance a revelation.  

We kept seeing new depths to Postlethwaite’s craft.  His slender, weathered face, soothing voice and mild mannerism will surely be missed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the ‘90s

1. “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.”

2. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”

3. Bruce Willis sits at a stoplight, singing along with the radio.  Ving Rhames walks by, box of doughnuts in hand.  The two make eye contact.

4. The little girl in the red coat

5.Cuba Gooding, Jr. screaming for the life of his best friend in Boyz N the Hood

6. The seven minutes directly after this smile

7. The look Tom Hanks wears on his face as he stands outside Denzel Washington’s law office in Philadelphia.  Arguably the best acted scene of the decade.

8. The editing of the first 20 minutes of Good Will Hunting

9. Elisabeth Shue giving Nicolas Cage a flask (more here)

10. “Gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy.  You can expect five more of these.”

11. The delivery of the final word of Eyes Wide Shut

12. “Why are there frogs falling from the sky?”

13. Chazz Palminteri studies the wall, then drops his cup of coffee.  He’s got it, and we’re still trying to figure out what the fuck just happened.

14. “Malkovich? Malkovich.  Malkovich Malkovich.  Malkovich? MALKOVICH!”

15. The epilogue in Malcolm X

16. These guys

17. Steve Buscmi burying a million dollars deep in the snow, only marked by a messily red ice scrapper

18. Rubin Hurricane Carter in solitary confinement, trapped with two versions of his subconscious

19. “Honestly… have you ever seen anything like this?” “No.”

20. “You got any a dem French fried taters?”

21. As the sound of tanks and foot soldiers grow closer, Matt Damon stares off, lost in his grief.  Edward Burns stares at him for a moment. Damon looks over and the two make eye contact.  Burns nods his head ever so slightly. All is understood.  All is forgiven.

22. “You ever listen to K Billy’s Super Sounds of the ‘70s?”

23. Eddie Adams from Torrance

24. “Always. Be. Closing.”


26. “Nobody fucks with the Jesus.”

27. “Shut the fuck up, Donny!”

28. “Man, if my fuckin' ex-wife asked me to take care of her fuckin' dog while she and her boyfriend went to Honolulu I'd tell her to go fuck herself.”

29. The only Russell Crowe performances I’ve ever liked

30. The cinematography of Three Kings

31. The sound design of Three Kings

32. Basically, everything about Three Kings

33. “I’m a free man and I’m walkin’ out the front door.”

34. Brooks was here….So was Red

35. Everything that comes out of this guy’s mouth

36. Tom Cruise in Sydney Pollock’s billiards room

37. The ringing bells that close Breaking the Waves

38. The way Denzel Washington closes his eyes as The Hurricane’s verdict is read

39. Bruce Willis looks around the store, a hammer… too small.  A bat… too light.  A chainsaw… too loud.  A samurai sword… just right.

40. Future Man

41. The guy who played Aaron Stampler, Alan Isaacman, Worm, Derek Vinyard, The Narrator

42. “You know, we’re sittin’ here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.”

43. This force of nature

44. Fargo’s use of a wood chipper

45. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue

46. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  White

47. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  Red

48. “All’s you can do is pray for a quick death, which you ain’t gonna get.”

49. Clint Eastwood slowly taking a swig from a bottle of whiskey, without us even noticing

50. “Lust for Life” as used in Trainspotting

51. Sharon Stone as Ginger

52. “There was Jimmy and Tommy and me. And there was Anthony Stabile, Frankie Carbone. And then there was Mo Black’s brother Fat Andy and his guys Frankie the Wop, Freddy No Nose.  And then there was Pete the Killer, who was Sully Balls’ brother.  Then you had Mickey Eyes and Mikey Franzese and Jimmy Two Times who got that nickname because he said everything twice.”

53. The fact that Donnie Walhberg is the best part about The Sixth Sense 

54. “Do you like scary movies?”

55. "Fahgeddaboudit"

56. Bill Murrary blocking some kid’s layup


58. Soderbergh cross cutting Clooney and Lopez’s conversation in the bar with them undressing in the bedroom

59. Oops

60. “You want answers?” “I think I’m entitled.” “You want answers?!” “I want the truth!”  “_____________”

61. Edward trying to sleep on a water bed

62. “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”

63. What Kathy Bates does with a block of wood and a sledge hammer

64. “Shut your fucking face, uncle fucker.”

65. Back when I liked Disney:

66. “Keep the sand out of your weapons, keep those actions clear, and I will see you on the beach.”

67. The makeup in Dick Tracy

68. “WHOO-RAH!”

69. Tom Hanks translating an opera

70. “Now, a question of etiquette - as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?”

71. The opening scene of Husbands and Wives

72. These Oscar winners

73. Jason Patric’s sauna monologue in Your Friends and Neighbors

74. The seven films directed by Oliver Stone

75. “Wait, wait, wait, I’m forgetting somebody... Jerry Maguire, my agent.  You are my ambassador of kwan, man.”

76. Dumb and Dumber, despite it being so... dumb

77. “Carol the waitress, Simon the fag.”

78. The 170 flawless minutes that make up The Thin Red Line

79. The monster that is this man

80. “Respect… the cock.”

81. Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena

82. “You never open your mouth, unless you know what the shot is.  You fuckin’ child.”

83. Michael Bay’s first film (no bullshit)

84. The screenplay Andrew Niccol wrote in 1998

85. “Some folks call it a sling blade I call it a kieser blade.”

86. Welcome back, welcome back, wel-come baaack

87. “Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi!”

88. The gut-wrenchingly realistic resolution of Hoop Dreams

89. “Now go get your shine box.”

90. Best Documentary, 1996

91. The only discernible trait that Terminator 2, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and Desperado have in common

92. “So… where’s your spark now?”

93. Welcome to America, stick around for a while

94. The birth of the Kaminski/Spielberg collaboration

95. Joe Pesci entering a courtroom in a ridiculous tuxedo

96. The fact that Sleepers remains, by and large, the most underrated film of the decade (more here)

97. … along with Jackie Brown

98. These two pros at the top of their games:

99. “I have to go see about a girl.”

100. “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

101. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.  But don’t worry, you will one day.”

“Answer” Key
1. Goodfellas
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
3. Pulp Fiction
4. Schindler’s List
6. Heat
9. Leaving Las Vegas
10. Se7en
12. Magnolia
13. The Usual Suspects
14. Being John Malkovich
16. From top left: The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Flawless
17. Fargo
18. The Hurricane
19. Se7en
20. Sling Blade
21. Saving Private Ryan
22. Reservoir Dogs
23. Boogie Nights
24. Glengary Glen Ross
25. Point Break
26-28. The Big Lebowski
29. L.A. Confedential, The Insider
33. In the Name of the Father
34. The Shawshank Redemption
35. Dazed and Confused
36. Eyes Wide Shut
38. The Hurricane
39. Pulp Fiction
40. Bottle Rocket
41. Edward Norton
42. Heat
43. Bad Lieutenant
48. Reservoir Dogs
49. Unforgiven
51. Casino
52. Goodfellas
54. Scream
55. Donnie Brasco
56. Rushmore
57. Miller’s Crossing
58. Out of Sight
59. The Crying Game
60. A Few Good Men
61. Edward Scissorhands
62. American History X
63. Misery
64. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
65. From top left: Aladdin, A Goofy Movie, James and the Giant Peach, Beauty and the Beast
66. Saving Private Ryan
68. Scent of a Woman
69. Philadelphia
70. Fight Club
72. The Wrong Trousers
74. The Doors, JFK, Heaven & Earth, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, U-Turn, Any Given Sunday
77. As Good As it Gets
79. Schindler’s List
80. Magnolia
81. Boys Don’t Cry
82. Glengary Glen Ross
83. Bad Boys
84. The Truman Show
85. Sling Blade
86. From top left: Primary Colors, A Civil Action, Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off
87. Home Alone
89. Goodfellas
90. When We Were Kings
92. The Thin Red Line
93. All About My Mother
95. My Cousin Vinny
98. True Romance
99. Good Will Hunting
100. Silence of the Lambs
101 .American Beauty

Next month: 101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the ‘80s

Click here for the 101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the '90s